The Best Book I’ve Read About Forgiveness

I’ve read a few books on the subject of forgiveness. None of them match the one I just finished.


Alongside her exceptional writing, Leslie Fields makes this subject approachable through transparency and relatability. She doesn’t exploit or overstate. She tells her’s and other’s stories while paralleling them with familiar biblical ones. And although she’s addressing her journey to forgive her father, little of the biblical stories share the same context. The common need is becoming forgivers to the degree we have been forgiven.

The application and “what do I do with this” additional work by Dr. Hubbard makes this more than a well-told story. You have tools to do your forgiveness work. Outcomes or successes aren’t guaranteed, but you have what you need.

Here are seven examples of these ladies’ excellent work:

  • You can’t grow up and be full adults until you can forgive your parents.
  • We are all Jonahs who, in our unforgiveness, question whether we can or want to do the work of building the bridge of forgiveness that gives us the grace to see both good and bad in the one who has wronged us.
  • No other religious faith claims that everything you’ve done wrong can be utterly covered and forgiven by another, by God himself.
  • Sharing and crying with another is much more effective in moving us toward healing than all the crying done alone in our rooms. Talk therapy brings healing and has a positive impact on our brain chemistry.
  • Boundaries are not steel doors slammed in a person’s face, but rather, loving and firm ways of saying no, not now, not here. Setting boundaries honors both people involved by not allowing either one to dishonor the other or the relationship through unacceptable words or actions.
  • We can choose to reclaim our past for good-instead of replaying the same story over and over expecting something to change in the unending repetition. We do this by allowing ourselves to grieve, to mourn, to lament, to remember, to release, to revive, to live on, so that all may be well with our souls.
  • We have made forgiveness too private, too small, and too hard. It is not a feeling we have to conjure up; it is an attitude of humility and love that seeks the good of the other, apart from worth or deserving. It is the living out of a daily decision to extend to others what God has extended first to us.

Hanging Up on God

This week I’m reading through Genesis. Familiar stories. Yet, always new things to see-like watching a movie several times and observing or piecing something together you missed before.

This happened when I read chapters 32-33. If you want, pause reading this and read those two chapters. See what you observe.

Here’s the main thing I got this time: Jacob didn’t know what he didn’t know. Hate it when that happens.

He responded two ways: terror and prayer. Not a bad combo. If balanced. Well, probably should lean more to the latter.

When he heard his brother was coming with 400 men, he was terrified. He immediately got his mind working. But he paused to pray. Good move.

That prayer is a mixed bag. Nothing wrong with the prayer. He expresses his emotions, recognizes his family’s history of following God, reminds God of his promises, and pleas for rescuing from what he’s afraid Esau plans to do. The end. Back to work.

I propose he hung up on God. We’ve all done it. Dialed up, checked in, checked out. A one-way conversation. “Hey God! Here’s my situation. Remember what you said? I’m counting on you. Gotta go.”

Suppose Jacob didn’t hang up. Suppose he paused and listened. Suppose he asked questions like, “What should I do? Will you calm my fears? Am I missing anything? Am I thinking straight?”

Is it not possible that given the opportunity God could have saved Jacob a lot of work and emotional stress? And maybe that whole night of wrestling could have been avoided. And think of the fear he placed on his family. Terror does that when you hang up on God.

Application: When you don’t know what you don’t know, ask God a bunch of questions before you do anything. And wait for the answers. Stay on the phone.

(Photo by Dewang Gupta on Unsplash)

A Minister Myth

There’s a leadership philosophy that ministers and other leaders are often encouraged to adopt. I believe it’s a myth. I’ll go a step further to say it’s not biblical; in fact, an argument could be made to the opposite.

This philosophy, which I’ve never heard spoken on in any seminar nor was it taught in any of my seminary classes, goes something like this: Pastors can’t have, shouldn’t pursue, and must avoid friendships in the church. If you’ve never heard that before, read that again. And stop and meditate for a moment about it.

One commentary note I come to is this: No wonder ministers find themselves in unhealthy places. For whatever reason, they ignore the “one anothers” of scripture, miss the example of Jesus, then find themselves isolated in a kingdom of one wondering where everyone else is.

I’ve observed everyone else is enjoying and learning to embrace the benefits of the kingdom. In the kingdom of heaven, the citizens receive both encouragement and challenge to be like Jesus. While on earth, he intimately lived this out with his disciples. And it appears his relationship with three of them was a deeper level-one would probably call them friends.

I can’t imagine the last 23 years of my life had I lived by this philosophy. Do I get exemption because I’m single? May I say for all the single people, “Wake Up!” Your marital status doesn’t automatically determine your friendship need. All kingdom dwellers need other dwellers to encourage and challenge them. We all need friends.

Today, thank God for your cheerleaders, your encouragers, your challengers. Pastors and leaders, if these people are scarce in your life, what are you willing to do about it? Your isolated kingdom lacks. Take a step toward the life of your Redeemer. Pursue friendships. Live in the blessing of Jesus’ hope for all kingdom dwellers (John 17).

The Flood: A Pandemic Observed

Read Genesis 8-9 today. Three God observations:

  1. “The ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” God was in control, even to the detail of placing the ark where it needed to be. He made sure it rested and stayed put. OBSERVATION: Take care of the ark’s inside. God will take care of the outside.
  2. They were in the ark about a year, mostly waiting on the water to recede. While they waited, God had provided what they needed. Why was this important? Once they entered the ark, nothing was ever the same. The Flood was the pandemic of pandemics. There was no returning to normal.  OBSERVATION: God is God of before, during, and after.
  3. Noah lived 350 years after the flood. Noah’s life lasted 950 years. Scholars estimate the entire ark season of Noah’s life was anywhere from 75 to 120 years-at most 13% of his life. What’s the story of the other 87%? Through the “mundane,” God prepared him, sustained him, and multiplied him. OBSERVATION: God is there for all 100%, from the headlines to the footnotes.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Cam Adams

Prayer for Assumers

I pray you’re better at this than I am. It’s a work in progress. Unfortunately, it’s a thing for many professing Christians. I’m talking about assuming.

There are many reasons why we do it, but none of them are good. Assessing society, it seems unlikely Christians recognize assuming’s impact when we make assumptions based on…

…where someone goes to church, or that they don’t. (In 2020, are they attending in person or online.)

…how someone is dressed.

…how they respond to current events.

…what they drive.

…where they live.

…where they went to college, or that they didn’t.

…what we read, hear, or observe about them.

…what they are or aren’t passionate about.

…how they view past history, or that they don’t.

…what we believe the future does or doesn’t hold.

This prayer by author Stephen Mattson was on my Facebook feed today. It spoke to me because I had already confessed more than one assumption today-assumptions made in church of all places. As I said, a work in progress.

I’m grateful God’s mercy and forgiveness are unending-something assumers should add to this prayer.

“John, take a look at freedom!”

Occasionally God shows you what freedom looks like. If you’re paying attention, it’s more beautiful than a sunrise. It’s soul transformation beaming through human eyes.

Today, I was honored to witness God free his worried, fearful, lonely, grieving, scared, bound, coiled, anxious, tearful, exhausted, and insecure child. All I did was cheer. As the layers unpeeled, they brightened, eased, smiled, bounced, shined; years washed off their face. I don’t remember a transformation so obvious, so instant. 

What made it possible? Trust. Prayer. Safety. Courage. Honesty. Ownership. Confession. Awareness. Desire. Empathy. Calm.

We all wanted it. We all witnessed it. But none more so than the child freed to fly like a released bird from its lonely cage of fear.

Why do I believe in God? Only He could do what I witnessed today.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Yukari Harada

2020: Restorative? 

Recently I received a copy of an essay about grief and COVID-19 entitled “This Too Shall Pass,” coauthored by Alex Evans, Casper ter Kuile, and Ivor Williams. My personal takeaway was I need to grow as a collective mourner.

However, the most intriguing content was the hope of restoration following the pandemic, following the grief. And believe it or not, they referenced two Old Testament concepts-Sabbath and Jubilee years-as their example. Here’s the excerpt:

The idea of self-sacrifice that leads to rebirth found its concrete application in the ancient concept of Jubilee. In the original biblical context, every seventh year was a sabbatical year: a time of “solemn rest for the land.” No crops were sown. Instead, people lived off what the land produced naturally, with the soil given time to lie fallow so as to maintain its fertility. Then, every seventh sabbatical year was a Jubilee, when in addition to normal sabbatical year observances, land ownership would be reset to prevent inequalities building up, debts canceled, prisoners freed, and everyone would return home.

In fact, Sabbath and Jubilee years were the socio-political version of atonement: a set of concrete procedures for how to correct economic, social and environmental imbalances through resting, slowing down, halting economic activity, and sacrificing the grasping ego that always demands more, in order to protect the covenant.

These principles turn out to be profoundly relevant to our own crisis today. Countries all over the world have released prisoners. Low income countries have seen $12 billion of debt payments suspended. Some governments are moving to find homes for all rough sleepers. Proposals for a universal basic income look closer to being implemented than ever before. With the world economy on lockdown, carbon emissions and air travel are in freefall while air quality has improved dramatically; in many cities, people can hear birds singing or see stars at night for the first time.

2,500 years after the rules for Jubilees were codified in the book of Leviticus, they have bubbled up from our ancestral memory once more.

Is there grieving? Yes. Most likely more than we may have taken time to grasp. 

Should we grieve? Yes. It’s natural. It’s healthy. It’s restorative.

Is 2020 restorative? Possibly. Looks like that might be up to us. You in?

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Jack Sharp

Thanks for the Exposure, COVID!

This past weekend over dinner and Rook, someone replied to a statement with a half-joke/half-serious, “Thanks, COVID!” If you have friends like mine, you’ve probably heard those two words also.

We decided we should actually make a list of things we are thankful for due to the pandemic. Before I go further, this post is not meant to make light of the trauma and loss of life many have and are experiencing. Rather, it’s an effort to “give thanks in all things.” Not always easy but can be beneficial. And if you’re reading this from outside the United States, this list may not be relatable.

The not-so, yet-somewhat serious list had these eight items:

  1. Less bad breath (masks)
  2. More solved jigsaw puzzles
  3. Less traffic
  4. More quality family time
  5. Less handshaking/hugging
  6. Greater appreciation for things we take for granted
  7. Spending less money
  8. Disney less crowded

On a run this week, I thought about this more seriously. And my thoughts landed on one word: Exposure. Let me expound on that with four statements of what has been exposed-and I find it good.

1) What we fear more than we should-Not long into the shutdown I heard a coach classify our fears being exposed into three categories: fear of the unknown, fear of death, and fear of not having control. These natural fears left unchecked can lead to dark personal times. When they are exposed, they can be addressed, better managed, possibly eliminated.

2) What we trust more than we should-We understand nothing’s perfect. That makes it hard to know what to trust. And left alone, we are challenged whether we can trust ourselves. This exposure is an excellent test for discerning where I’m leaning for my understanding and how much am I trusting God above all other trust options.

3) What we love more than we should-We Americans may have needed this exposure more than any other people group. We love excess, options, extra, more. That love leads us into loving whatever it takes to have it. We are in love with being busy. Extra and busyness are American idols. These idols also kill and needed to be exposed.

4) What we hate more than we should-Two hates that have been exposed are change and inconvenience. These hates have led to hate for one another. Why is this something to be thankful for? Because selfishness, superiority, and pride stay hidden in our normal superficiality. Now that it’s no longer hidden, we can look to God to forgive and heal it.

The pandemic has brought us more than physical exposure. May we work equally hard to address every exposure.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Courtney Anderson

Bumper Sticker Disturbance

Driving home from church last Sunday, I pulled up to a red light and apparently was behind another churchgoer. Anyone driving a van adorned by a bumper sticker including a Bible reference on a Sunday after lunch, it’s a sign. Unfortunately, this sign wasn’t positive. My spirit was immediately disturbed. I took a pic so I could chew on this disturbance.

When I got home, I looked up this verse because my mind was having a hard time connecting any scripture that would support this statement. Here’s what it says:

“No harm will come to you; no plague will come near your tent.”

My disturbance made sense. The statement of choice is a personal choice that, whether you agree with it or not, doesn’t have to cause disturbance. The verse read in its context and understood by the Psalmist’s intent doesn’t have to cause disturbance. The disturbance is when they are put together as if they belong together. They do not belong together. Here are three reasons why:

1. Putting them together abuses the Bible narrative. If you could use this statement to choose to not participate in the challenges of this world, then much of the Bible narrative doesn’t make sense. Driver, is that the message you wanted to send when you chose to buy that bumper sticker? Many of the most beloved characters in the Bible endured harm and plague. Suppose Joseph had declined to participate in the famine. Or if Daniel had chosen not to participate in denying the King’s decree. Or if Paul had decided enduring prison was going too far, not a choice he was going to agree to. Or if Esther had said, “My life is too good to choose to put it at risk.” Believer, if you want to know a better understanding of Psalms 91, here’s a link to an article that does it justice. An excerpt of the article says this about the message of Psalms 91:

Psalms 91 is God’s way of telling us that whoever runs to him and seeks his divine protection will be saved from calamity and destruction. When we pray the words of this psalm it becomes a powerful shield of protection from fear. However, some people mistakenly thought the teaching is an unconditional promise and proof that life will be smooth sailing, that we won’t face hardship, illness, or any other crisis. This kind of thinking is often preached by pastors and ministers who teach the false and deceptive prosperity gospel. Nothing can be farther from the truth. God promises protection, but it doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer even in the face of this pandemic.

2. Putting them together denies God’s sovereignty. It very well could be, Driver, that people you love will test positive, be hospitalized, come close to or succumb to death during this pandemic. It could be you. What happens to faith then? Is God no longer in control? Absolutely not. When we decide to make choices that make us feel good and in control, we’ve basically kicked God off our heart’s throne. And, thankfully, he has plenty of mercy and patience to wait us out. They go on forever. And when we realize our choice was wrong, that his ways and thoughts are indeed higher and better than ours, he will do what Psalms 91 is all about-offer us comfort by reminding us he’s in control.

3. Putting them together creates division and lacks love. Division and selfishness most likely aren’t your intent. You heard a leader declare this statement of choice was truth. Unfortunately, it’s not. If we know anything from today’s culture, false messages are divisive and self-serving. Christians cannot say they love God and people while declaring a false message.

So if this message is wrong, what’s the right message? Based on these three thoughts, here are three edits of the statement:

“I have chosen to accurately know God’s word in this pandemic.”

“I have chosen to trust God in this pandemic.”

“I have chosen to pursue peace and share love in this pandemic.”

Disclaimer: In general, I’m not a bumper sticker fan. You print one of these non-disturbing three, I might become one.

    God Hears Loser’s Prayers

    Part 5 of Skye Jethani’s book What If Jesus Was Serious is entitled “A Prayer for Losers.” He writes devotionals based on Matthew 6:1-15 where The Lord’s Prayer is found in the Sermon on the Mount. Rather than quote any passages from the devotionals, I’ll share the doodles from the heading of each one.


    Each of these six could produce excellent meditation. Up for it this weekend? Or maybe look at one a day this next week.

    However you engage them, believe God hears the prayers of all us losers.