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

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Overcoming the Cycle of Offense

          Included here is most of the contents of Chapter One of the book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart.

          God's Creation, including the human race He placed on earth as made in His image, is an awesome declaration of purpose and destiny most deeply experienced through the spiritual dimension of being.  Since the beginning of time, mankind has been pretty good at making bad choices and messing up the original design.   The Old Testament prophet Isaiah uses the imagery of imprisonment to communicate the condition of the human race and the mission of Jesus Christ to set us free.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
    because the LORD has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
   and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the LORD
    for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
As explained later, the poor, brokenhearted captive describes every person who ever lived including all of us today. Jesus came to proclaim liberty to that condition for all who believe in Him.  In Matthew 18 Jesus himself uses an illustration of debtor’s prison to show the condition of the human heart and the need for salvation from being “handed over to the jailers to be tortured” (Matthew 18:34). Torment “is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:35). These verses are discussed more later in the book, but for now let us understand that the Bible clearly connects a lack of forgiveness with imprisonment, hurt and pain in the human heart. 
          How is this hurt produced?  We are hurt through taking offense. In our hearts we harbor disappointment, guilt, condemnation, and other bad feelings toward God, ourselves, or another person(s).  How does the offense imprison our heart? Our heart is imprisoned by building fences: walls of perceived protection and security. These walls not only trap the pain inside, but they often keep out troops sent to rescue the prisoner. When we take the bait of the Enemy’s offense, we become offended and imprisoned in a cycle shown in an illustration (not included here).
          This cycle is common to each of us. Because we live in a fallen, broken, imperfect, wounding, and offensive world, experiencing hurtful emotion is inevitable.
          We become wounded by peoples’ mistakes, misunderstandings, mistreatments, betrayals, injustices, abuses or even crimes.
We nurse the wound by rehearsing in our minds what coulda’, woulda’, shoulda’ been done to avoid the pain.  Many times our anger becomes directed at God for allowing bad things to happen to us. Some blame self, and become imprisoned by self-rejection.
          We make condemning judgments and behave in ways that offend God, ourselves, and other people. Thus, we become an offender.  Bitterness, resentment and blame become an accepted way of life. Without God’s help we try to rectify situations in many ways including revenge, obsessing for justice, forgetting, excusing, ‘moving on’, self-inflicting condemnation, or finding some other way of replacing the negative feelings with positive ones.
          In our quest of human effort we may even find some relief, and so we justify our offense. Unable to surrender to (trust) God the sole right to judge our offender, we reject God’s provision through Jesus to break the cycle. Having agreed with the lie that holding offense solves our problem, we become offensive to someone else who becomes offended, and the cycle spirals on. 
          However, there is hope! Our hope is in Jesus and what God has done through Him. Through God’s Gift of forgiveness, we not only have hope to redeem this cycle in our own lives, but we can reverse this spiral in the lives of others as well.  You do not have to be enslaved by this victim/ predator cycle.  Stress, fear, anger, anxiety, depression and the like no longer have to remain when you allow Christ Jesus into the deepest parts of your heart to break this cycle down.
          The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus is the only true jailbreak for unforgiveness. Therefore, a significant portion of this book discusses the fundamentals of God’s purpose and plan through salvation in Jesus Christ. Before that, in Part One, we must discuss some background and rationale for a Christian handling of the topic of forgiveness.
          In Part Two we will discuss the human response to Christ’s accomplishments. The greatest hindrance to breaking free seems to be recognizing the imprisonment. Sometimes we have become so well-adjusted to imprisonment, it seems hard to imagine what true freedom is really like. Some of us like the comforts in prison. Some of us like the security it provides. Some like the decisions made for them and some are apathetic about change. Some doubt their ability to succeed at a better way, and many are just simply in denial about their condition or unwilling to change their perceptions.  We all choose living in illusion over reality to some degree.           Breaking free occurs from the inside out. As you walk out of the inner most cell, you come to the next barred gate. As you break free of the next courtyard and the next and so on, you eventually come to the outer court and can maneuver to leap the outer fence. This is when you realize that the offense that took you to prison (whether self-inflicted or inflicted by another offender) no longer has a grip on your life. God's original intent for you as a person to live in the freedom of your spiritual nature is engaged.
          In Part Three we discuss how this new freedom in the inner man can change and improve your relationships with other people. God made mankind for community.  Relationship with other people can only be experienced in the deepest way God meant for them to be shared when each individual has broken free of his own prison experience. Each person’s receiving God’s love and giving that love to others is our mission as we journey in the freedom of forgiveness.
          Appendix A of the book contains some additional resources for the reader's equipping and edification.
Appendix B shares a small portion of the author's personal story and how practicing forgiveness has transformed his life.
Appendix C is the contents of a pamphlet written by the author and his wife almost thirty hears ago.  The pamphlet was widely distributed across the U.S. and around the globe in an effort to help women (and men) struggling with abortion.  
The Endnotes contain references to Bible portions and books and articles further cited in the Bibliography at the end of this book.  

          The journey to healing is often like peeling an onion: to arrive at the core, the outer visible layers must be taken off first. The Follow up and Practice material provides some exercises for processing the content in each of the three parts of the book for deeper understanding and application. You will understand why this is true as you read. My suggestion is that you adopt a “long haul” and “forever growing” perspective of allowing God to change your heart. As you do, you will increasingly see fruit in your relationship with God and with others around you. A Study Guide is included at the end of the book to help you with reflecting, expanding, and deepening perceptions, healing, and maturity.
          Our understanding and practice of forgiveness holds the key to freedom. Chapter Two looks at some of the obstacles and misunderstandings of forgiveness.  Thereafter, the remainder of the book focuses on identifying and releasing elements that break down the cycle of offense. 
            For some immediate help from the Book of Refuge (the Bible) here is a small list of places that discuss some key points about forgiveness:  Romans 12:1-2,  Mark 7:20-23, Matthew 5:21-22, Matthew 7:1-3, Hebrews 3:12-13, Ephesians 1:7, 1 John 1:9, Matthew 18:21-35, Ephesians 4:32, John 20:23, ,2 Corinthians 5:18-21

            The book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart is  now available. I pray that you will find this book a helpful tool in finding and deepening Refuge in Christ.

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry