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Seventy Times Seven

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness lately, and wondering if it’s a little bit like hope, which we discussed on this blog back in December. In December we discussed whether we could truly understand hope without knowing hopelessness. Similarly, forgiveness is a complex and difficult concept that cannot be understood without a betrayal, a hurt, a wrongdoing that creates a need for forgiveness.

I’m not sure if forgiveness must be continually practiced in order to be understood, but Jesus does command Peter (and us) in the New Testament to forgive an individual person 70 times 7 times. Whether this is for our sake or the other person’s, we probably can’t be entirely sure, but I suspect it’s for our own sake. Sure, if we manage one giant act of forgiveness after a huge betrayal, we might in that instance realize the power and joy and peace of forgiveness, and all its other many and varying complexities, and never need to bother with it again. The deeper we have been hurt, after all, the greater our opportunity to understand the depth of the complexity of forgiveness.


That isn’t usually how life works. Usually we are experts in righteous indignation, in sanctimony, in holy offense. Instead of being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, as James commands us, we are often slow to be gracious, and slow to forgive. Quick to judge, quick to take umbrage. Slow to offer a benefit of the doubt. Slow to consider another perspective.

And are these usually instances of justified hurt? Are they usually grand stories of deception and betrayal and lies spun so thick we can’t even reach through to find the initial first thread of truth? No. Usually it’s the minor inconveniences or annoyances that we tell ourselves are enormous personal injustices. Like someone cutting us off in traffic, or having too many groceries in front of us in line, or telling us they can’t attend our party when we know (read: think) they’re just sitting at home.

It’s not usually of a magnitude that would require a great deal of effort on the part of the wronged person to forgive, except for that fact that it is enormously difficult to step outside our own self-centered worlds and consider others. But, in the everyday injustices and annoyances we encounter in our lives, it is important to practice forgiveness because an interesting quality of forgiveness is that it is very powerful no matter how small the sin. After all, as we can infer from Jesus’s conversation with Peter, the act of forgiving is not always for the forgiven. It’s more often for the forgiver.

Hijacking the Word ‘Blessed’

In February, Huffington Post featured an article by Scott Dannemiller on the way Christians use the word blessed, and it resonated with us. Check it out and see if you agree or disagree. If you disagree, why? If you agree, how can we do a better job of communicating with our teens about the difference between reaping the benefits of sound financial investments or good business decisions, and the ways God actually chooses to bless God’s followers?

The Great Redeemer (not the Great Fixer)

In Christianese, we use the language of redemption to describe a variety of situations. But often we misuse this term, questioning God’s “redemptive power” when we expect God to fix our problems and nothing changes. Perhaps we invoke the language of redemption without understanding what redemption really is.

To redeem is not to fix. These words and their definitions are very similar. Fixing and redeeming both involve restoration. But there is an important difference.


We as human beings have agency to fix. We fix broken things all the time, including relationships with people. We even, in fact, often try to fix people themselves, but we quickly learn that is not an agency we have. God made people in God’s own image, and God gave people free will to do with what they would. Therefore, God is not first and foremost in the business of “fixing.” Though God, in God’s great omnipotence, certainly can fix anything on a whim, the experience of most of us along this journey of faith is that God lets things play out as they will, especially—so it would seem, in the worst of times—suffering.

God is very interested, however, in the redemption of entire people.

When we encounter troubles in this life, we often call on God to redeem our situations, but usually what we’re really asking is for God to fix things, and that typically isn’t God’s way. God’s gift of free will allows us to make our own mistakes, and it also allows us the opportunity to clean up our own messes. But it doesn’t promise that we won’t make the same mistakes again, and it doesn’t promise that God will tidy up our messy bits for us.

What God’s gift of redemption does do, however, is free us from the burdens of our past mistakes. It allows us to live life with the confidence that, though we have erred, and though we will err again, we belong to someone. We are marked and chosen and purposed. We are restored and holy, though not sinless. We are forgiven, though not fixed. We are, simply, redeemed.

Lent: (Surprise!) It’s Not Really about Chocolate

Lent can be a controversial tradition in the church. Many Protestants believe Lent is not applicable to them. Many others (Catholic and Protestant alike) who do observe the season miss its point entirely, giving up caffeine or sugar, and mistakenly believing they’re somehow suffering for the sake of Jesus.

But Lent does not exist so we can suffer. The Lenten season does not call us to “suffer for Jesus.” In fact, Jesus himself suffered during these days so we wouldn’t have to. Jesus died so we could live. Ergo, the point of Lent is to highlight the opposite of suffering—our very great need for and dependence on Jesus, the Christ, our Lord and Savior.

When teaching our teens the significance of the practice of Lent, let’s go beyond the surface. Help them dig into the meaning of Lent in a way that will mean something to them. Assist them in identifying unhealthy habits in their lives, and—instead of teaching them that Jesus would want them to go without that one thing for 40 days—teach them what Lent is really about: bringing balance to our self-centered lives, and finding ways to make everything we do more God-focused.

Therefore, giving something up for Lent isn’t about a 40-day, one-time fast. It’s about learning to balance our hobbies or indulgences with our spiritual disciplines or healthy choices. If your teens are going to give up video games or Twitter, help them replace the time they would’ve spent doing that with something more God-centered, like a devotional book, or prayerful journaling, or volunteer work. If they’re going to give up coffee or soda or sugar, help them replace those unhealthy voids with natural stimulants and energy foods (like apples or bananas).

The point of Lent is not to suffer and then forget. The point of Lent is to examine, to fast intensely in order to see the positive difference a change can make in one’s life, and then—afterward—to adjust one’s life and practices to reflect something that is overall more healthy. Teens should understand that, once Lent is over, if they just resume their usual habits as if Lent never even happened, then they’ve missed the entire point. The goal is that they’ll want to incorporate their new habits and practices into their lives, even after the 40 days are up.


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GIVEAWAY: Cultivate, by Matt Wilks

Matt Wilks explores the various relationships in which youth workers must engage, and provides healthy and practical tips for getting the most out of them in Cultivate. And you can glean Matt’s wisdom for FREE if you win a copy of the book in today’s Friday giveaway. Click the Enter button below for a chance to win. Contest runs through Monday, February 24. A winner will be announced Tuesday, February 25.


Is Sacrilege a Myth?

Most of us probably know at least a couple of little old ladies whose favorite hobby is finding things to be mortally offended over. It’s no secret that the elderly have more trouble evolving than the rest of us, even if they were young and crazy world changers once upon a time. It seems that, more often than not, most of them get to a place where they stop appreciating change, and it’s never more obvious than in the church.

In the church, teenagers are often made to feel offensive just by existing. They can’t skateboard through the parking lot or play tag in the hallways or laugh loudly in the empty sanctuary after service because the old ladies tell them they’re being disrespectful. The ever-present villain we call Generation Gap does its best to drive a wedge between these two age groups so that the elderly assume teenagers don’t understand reverence and teenagers assume the elderly don’t understand that having fun is a kind of reverence and respect.

“Nothing is sacred anymore” is a popular refrain with the old people, and that is both true and completely false. The idea of sacred is one we use in the church to refer to things that are set apart to remind us that God is holy and worthy of our worship. But our understanding of sacred gets off track when we assume that God can be contained in human parameters. We often forget that God created the very world we live in. And, if God created it, doesn’t that make it sacred? That is to say, God created everything. Therefore, nothing is sacred because everything is sacred.

Which means that loud and boisterous teenagers being who they are is a sacred act of worship reflecting the beautiful creation of God.

GIVEAWAY: Equip, by Tim Milburn

Add to your Youth Worker’s Guide collection with this piece by Tim Milburn: Equip! Milburn guides you into effective identification and development of students who can become great leaders in your context. Click the Enter button below for a chance to win. Contest runs through Monday, February 17. A winner will be announced Tuesday, February 18.


What Are We Really Getting Out of Short-Term Missions?

True, The Onion is irreverent, and no subject is sacred with them. True, they’re not a credible source for serious news stories. True, they are willing to speak truth and and expose subtexts surrounding situations that the legitimate media outlets ignore or avoid or hide.

So how about this time? Does The Onion have short-term missions pegged?

And what if The Onion is wrong? It’s the type of media outlet many Christians would describe as ‘worldly’ or ‘secular.’ So, suppose short-term missions really can be life-changing and transformational in lasting ways. That’s all fine and good, except for the fact that, somehow, a worldly site like The Onion is still getting a different message. If the message we send is what’s reflected in that article, then what are we getting wrong, exactly? The act of short-term missions itself? Or the translation and explanation of its meaning and significance?

Whatever it is, we’re obviously going wrong somewhere.