Refuge

Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Escaping the Pain of Offense



My wife had a toothache that developed into unbearable pain the day before the recent holiday.  Her dentist’s office was closed for an extended time and she decided to make an appointment with another dentist who handles emergency situations.  The x-rays from the visit revealed a likelihood of an infection that was treated with a medicine.  Thankfully not a root canal needed, but the pain drove her to seek relief even though the timing was not good.  
Emotional pain can be similar to a physical pain in many ways. Disappointment, worry, anxiety, depression, or feelings like abandonment, shame, fear, powerlessness, damaged, invalidation, and hopelessness are common and come in varying degrees for different people. The pain can be intense.  It pops up unexpectedly.  It can pop up with bad timing.  If you try to ignore it, it will only get worse.  Sometimes the source is hard to identify. The only lasting solution is not a quick fix, but takes time to heal.  For true healing to occur, the root cause must be identified and dealt with properly.  
Root causes of emotional pain are often not easy to determine.  It may take the help of a “soul doctor” (counselor) to get better.  The root cause of emotional pain almost always involves some sort of offense.  At the very least, it takes the form of a  perceived threat to a person’s comfort, pleasure, or power.  At worst, an offense is a gross injustice or disregard for truth.  In my experience as a counselor, I have found that when a person is willing to do the hard work of identifying and rooting out offense, it transforms their inner life for lasting results.  In the previous few articles I have written a lot about offense, but this article deals with the best solution;  that is forgiveness.  
  The things I learned about forgiveness during the 3 year research project to culminate my seminary degree, changed my life forever.  I still consider myself a learner on the topic.  One only learns about forgiveness if he practices forgiveness.  Since offense creates the need for forgiveness, and since offense is part of an inescapable human condition, the only way to learn about forgiveness is to practice it.  How does one practice forgiveness?  As an answer to this question I authored the book called Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart.  
Below  is an overview of the book.  The goal is to help people in three aspects of life:  understanding what true forgiveness is (and isn’t), applying this understanding to inner life change, and applying it to relationships with people.  I divided the content into three sections of three chapters each.  
The first section, Part One, is called Foundations.   The chapters in Part One are called The Cycle of Offense, Misunderstandings, and Divinely Initiated (the basic theology of forgiveness with many biblical references).  
Part Two of the book is called Transformational Healing: Between God and Man.  This section is the heart of the matter, distinguishing forgiveness from reconciliation.  The simplest definition I have discovered for forgiveness is “surrendering to God the right to judge.”  Forgiveness is a matter of getting your heart in the right place before God, and nothing (or at least very little) to do with how the offender responds (or doesn’t respond).  The three chapters of Part Two are called Receiving God’s Gift, Surrendering to God, and Trusting God for Change.  
Part Three, applying forgiveness to relationships, is called Conflict Resolution: Between God, Man, and Fellowman.  Whereas forgiveness is for the offended person restoring right relationship with God, reconcilation adds the offender to the mix.  The Bible is clear about the necessity for brothers and sisters in Christ to relate to one another in love, peace, and harmony as much as possible.  When God’s Gift of forgiveness is truly received in our hearts, we are genuinely prepared for the reconciliation to be pursued.  Reconciliation requires two hearts surrendered to a higher judgment, not just one. In some cases complete reconciliation is not possible (eg. Death, imprisonment, lack of safety), but again, the freedom of forgiveness (escape from the pain of offense) is still possible.  The three chapters in Part Three are called Forgiveness and Reconciliation, Reconciliation in Relationships, and Conclusions.  I refer to marriage, church, and community relationships for practical application.    
At the end of each of the three sections I include a few pages of material to encourage looking into more detail on the topic.  These sections are called Follow-up and Practice.  I include End Notes that correspond to numbered references throughout the text.  These references are included in an eight page Bibliography at the end of the book.  These are great resources for further study of the topic.   At the end of the book, I also include a Study Guide.  This study guide presents questions for further exploration and deeper reflection.  The questions can be used for self study or group study.  
Finally, the book includes three Appendices.  Appendix A includes a number additional resources (sample prayers included)  that have been meaningful in my own journey and have helped others in our counseling ministry.   Appendix B is about my personal healing journey including forgiveness.  Appendix C is the content of a pamphlet entitled Overcoming an Abortion that has been distributed by the thousands and helped many find Christ Jesus as a Refuge for their pain.  It highlights the truth of Jesus being our pain bearer and our escape for the debt of our offenses and payment for the debt of offenses against us.  No matter how much guilt or shame we carry, Jesus is our Refuge, and best solution to the pain.  
You may have heard of the three typical responses to emotional pain; flight, fight, or freeze.  Escaping the Pain of Offense is not a book about escaping in the sense of a flight (nor fight, nor freeze) response to pain.  The above details about the book show that substance and sufficient effort  is necessary to become a victor and not a victim. The book is different from other books on the topic of forgiveness in that it emphasizes the inner life transformational growth journey.  Personal growth occurs by embracing forgiveness as an ongoing process of changing our inner person.   
  Forgivenss does not solve all the problems a person may have, but it prepares the heart for answers to be implemented.   I recommend John C. Maxwell’s book called The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. Maxwell’s book contains a chapter called “The Law of Pain.”  He shares how to turn pain into a growth experience.  Maxwell elaborates on 5 specific ways to grow through struggle.  I would add (perhaps as a per-requisite) “Seek Corrective Understanding and Consistent Practice of Forgiveness” to his list below.  
You grow best when you::
1. Choose a Positive Life Stance
2. Embrace and Develop Your Creativity
3. Embrace the Value of Bad Experiences
4. Make Good Changes after Learning from Bad Experiences
5. Take Responsibility for Your Life
Maxwell’s book will help you with many aspects of personal growth.  But all the growth expertise in the world will not help a heart that is unwilling (or lacks the emotional capacity) to change.  And it’s not all or nothing.  Any part of your heart that resists positive change will hold back the entire growth process.  The human heart changes bit by bit, incident by incident, offense by offense, forgiven offender by forgiven offender, etc.  For the Christian, fully surrendering judgments to God is the path to growth.  A mere decision does not qualify as full surrender.  Thoughts and beliefs must be accompanied by surrender of the soul (mind, will, and emotions).  Growth is only as current as the last time you allowed God to take his rightful place as Judge in life circumstances.  
Is there an area of your life in which you know growth needs to happen?  Maxwell’s book is filled with very insightful practical application to help.  But is there a part of your heart that feels pain,  stress, or negative feelings mentioned at the beginning?  I wrote the book Escaping the Pain of Ofense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart to help people find freedom through forgiveness.  The book has helped many people already.  For those who think their level of understanding and practice of forgiveness is adequate, I encourage you to rethink whether your beliefs are holding you back from God’s best for your life.  I am not saying this to sell more books.  I am sold on the idea that greater measures of truth about forgiveness are essential for positive change.  My book is available online or by contacting me.  I am so convinced of the message that if you cannot afford to buy a copy, I will make it available at cost.   Write me and remind me of this offer.  Check out more about the book at http://book.bluerockbnb.com .
Also write me with your feedback or requests for more input on the topic.  May this not only be the beginning of a successful New Year, but also a new beginning for a brighter future of real, healthy, and new growth in your life!  
#EscapingThePainOfOffense

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Unoffendable Heart



I explained in the previous article how self-honesty and humility are keys to building our mental and emotional health.  I discussed unrecognized offense as a barrier to experiencing the true benefits of forgiveness.  Since forgiveness is at the core of the Christian faith, I will explore this further specifically for the Christ-followers.  
I hear Christians use the expression “unoffendable heart,” but often what is being communicated is not healthy and not Christ-centered. I think the unoffendable heart is a myth.  I can say “yes” to refusing to allow offense to take root and wreck relationships.  I can say “yes” to not allowing offense to steal inner peace.  But denying the existence of offense can destroy inner peace and authenticity in relationships.
First, let’s explore the definition of offense.  The word offense has multiple meanings in the English language making it sometimes difficult to communicate about the topic.  The Webster’s 1828 dictionary list six definitions using the following words and phrases; displeasure, anger, scandal, cause of stumbling, transgression of law, crime, sin, act of wickedness or omission of duty, injury, attack, assault, or impediment.  The same word “offense” can be used to describe both the offending behavior, and the inner response on the part of the person offended.  The offense may be real or just perceived by an offended person.  It may be genuine or imagined.  It may be intentional or unintentional on the part of the offender.  The word, by itself, does not make these distinctions.  
Because of the broken world we live in, offense is part of life.  Sometimes we are on the offended side of the coin, but sometimes we are an offender.  We crave justice when we are the one offended, and we crave mercy when we are the offender.  Taking offense in our heart  is sometimes unavoidable.  Accidents happen.   Losses occur. Changes, criticisms, conflicts etc. are part of common human experience.  Feelings are hurt.  The greater the loss caused by offense, generally the deeper it effects our heart condition.  To deny or minimize the emotional impact of loss created by offense can be very destructive to our physical and mental condition.   While we cannot control many of the things (and certainly not the people) around us,  we CAN control our responses to them.  Though our heart can not always be shielded from offense, we can choose to respond in an unoffendable manner. Inner heart condition must be distinguished from outward actions and reactions, however, the inner life determines these actions.      
Jesus himself teaches about a requirement for heart transformation as part of discipleship.  He says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him or her.  For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23).  In the book of Matthew Jesus also taught that actions (offenses) like murder and adultery have bitter root offenses at their origin. The outward action is not the only offense, but also the inner life that created these actions.    “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’  But I say, if you are even angry with someone,  you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot,  you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone,  you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:21-23; NLT).  Thinking of a person with condemnation is both an offense, and the origin of offensive actions. As a person who has been offended, you become an offender yourself when you cross the line from judging their actions as wrong, to critically judging them for who they are as a person (calling them an idiot as Jesus is quoted above).   
Condemning judgments are also addressed in other parts of the Bible.  A strong warning says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).  
Inner bitterness and resentment are created by critical judgments which end in  “defiling” a person’s actions and relationships.  The anger we feel when we are offended contains the roots for bitterness and resentment to form.    It says in Ephesians, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).  It is not a sin to feel anger, but it is wrong to allow anger to create an inner condition of things like bitterness, resentment, and condemnation.   
So, as I see it, to claim an “unoffendable” heart is to ignore feelings God gives us as warnings of danger.  The enemy of our soul uses bitter roots to steal our peace and joy as well as causing the defilement mentioned above.  The truth is, without Jesus, our heart is “offensive” to God.  Being born into a broken world means we are born with a broken heart.  Our broken condition is not correctable without Christ Jesus.  We can try in our own strength to forgive an offense, or avoid being an offender on the other side of the coin, but those efforts are limited by our frail human condition.  It is the offended heart that points us to Jesus.  As a disciple of Jesus, the solution to offense is forgiveness (see John 20:21-23).   
Forgiveness is a Gift given by God.  The work of forgiveness has been accomplished by God’s Son Jesus.  We esteem Jesus (and the work he did in dying on the cross), by allowing Him to be the guilty one for our offenses (see Isaiah 53:3).  If we claim not to be offendable, we bypass what Jesus did, and take on the work that was done for us, through Jesus.  Decisions made solely based on our own human strength and will power amount to self-righteousness.  Our righteousness comes through faith is Christ alone (see Philippians 3:7-11).  Our faith is demonstrated by surrendering our offended heart to Jesus.  If we claim an unoffendable status of heart, we nullify any need for faith in Jesus.  
Too often the "unoffendable heart" becomes an excuse for not being willing to confront a critiical judgments.  Our default human nature prefers to deny offenses and pretend they don't exist.  So the “unoffendable heart” becomes a code word for saying, "I'm not going to let myself consider the possibility that I might be bitter, holding a grudge, casting blame, or feeling hurt in my heart.   That is not a good place to be!   
I hear people say, “I don’t get offended easily.”  That is a another myth.  All people become offended easily.  When a person believes they do not offend easily, they must spend a huge amount of energy to tightly control (sometimes unknowingly) situations and people around them.  I know because I used to be one of those people who thought I did not offend easily.  I learned that the ability to control eventually runs out.  Reality also tells us that very little (outside of our inner life) is in our control.  
Our broken, offendable heart offends easily and often.  Offenses are like weeds in a garden.  New weeds keep coming back even after the weeds are pulled from the garden.  Old weeds will return as well if they are not pulled by the roots. If left go, weeds will overtake the good plants growing in the garden.  Keeping the garden soil of our heart free of offense (weeds) requires surrendering our heart to God.   Pulling the weeds allows us to produce the good fruit of accomplishing our divinely created purpose for being.  
If there is an unoffendable heart in our universe, it is the heart of God.  The ancient King David wrote,
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
    abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
    listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
    because you answer me.
Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
    no deeds can compare with yours.
All the nations you have made
    will come and worship before you, Lord;
    they will bring glory to your name.
For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
    you alone are God.
Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.”  (Psalm 86:5-11)
God’s forgiveness takes care of ALL offenses (those of our own and others).  God’s solution (Son Jesus dying as a substitute) satisfies both mercy and justice at the same time.   We can come to God (offenses and all) and receive His Gift of forgiveness.  We then have the status of son or daughter (Ephesians 1:3-5), and can be taught to rely on His Father faithfulness.  We can join David in asking for an “undivided heart” (fully devoted) that comes through the transformational process of turning more and more of our offended heart over to Jesus.  What offenses might be in your heart to turn over today?   Let me encourage you to take the next step toward God today.  God’s heart is for you to know Him, and for Him to be known by you.  

Note:   A book I authored Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart discusses truth for dealing with disappointments, offense and finding freedom through forgiveness (from a Christian perspective).  See more about the book by going to this site: http://bluerockbnb.com/healing/book_main.htm .

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry