The Most Forgiven People in the World

And the most forgiving...

In the first session of the Crucified Life I say, “Christians are the most forgiven people in the world, and therefore Christians should be the most forgiving people in the world.” I recently had a parishioner ask me if I would elaborate on that statement.

Elevation of the Cross, Rubens

Christians believe that Jesus has forgiven all of our sins, past, present, and future on the Cross. He has paid the price in full for our entire debt and burden.

That is not to say that other people in this world who are not yet Christians do not have that same grace available from Jesus’ work on the Cross. They do. As we say in our Eucharistic prayer, Jesus’ offering of himself on the cross was “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.”  However non-Christians either do not understand the offering of Jesus, do not know about it, or do not believe it necessary or applicable to them. We have our work cut out for us. For, that same grace and forgiveness is available to everyone in this sinful and fallen world, and everyone desperately needs it. And so do we.

As Christian believers, we have seen the depth of our need and called out for grace to the living God. Yet, if a person on one hand trusts in the words of Jesus, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”, then on teh other hand harbors unforgiveness in the heart, we reveal a profound spiritual disconnect. To be forgiven and not forgiving betrays a character that has not truly internalized or comprehended the magnitude of God’s gift. Forgiving others is costly. Forgiving us was costly.

Christians are the most forgiven people on the planet. Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people on the planet. As we make the grace in which we stand our character, God reconciles the world to himself through our proclamation and character witness to the Cross. As we forgive those who trespass against us, we loose on earth those bound under the burden of guilt, shame, and law.

No other religion or belief system in the world offers absolute unearned forgiveness and grace for any and all who believe. The price is paid in full by God for us.

As Jesus taught, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

The Christian Life Trilogy (Houston, TX: Bible Study Media, Inc., 2014)

The Christian Life Trilogy is a formation tool for the church and individual. At the heart of the Christian faith stands the Cross, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus Christ. These three redemptive acts of Jesus shape the character of Christian formation for the church and the individual follower of Jesus.

The Christian Life Trilogy is a 20-week Bible study curriculum that is divided into 3 studies: 

Each study is designed to bring transformational change through in-depth study of what the Apostle Paul calls the “things of first importance.” “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

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The Crucified Life focuses on the Last Seven Words of Christ on the Cross, and it is intended for use during the season of Lent. The Resurrected Life is intended to begin at Easter and walk us through all the areas in which Christ brings us newness. The Spirit-Filled Life is intended for use around Pentecost, and it instructs believers in the power that can be found through life in the Holy Spirit.

In addition to the Christian Life Trilogy leadership materials, The campaign kit will include a sample study guide, a daily devotional book, and a teaching DVD for each of the three parts of the Christian Life Trilogy. Order your Christian Life Trilogy Campaign kit today!

Campaign Kit includes:

  • 1 Campaign Training DVD
  • 1 Campaign Manual
  • 1 Crucified Life Devotional Book (Paperback)
  • 1 Crucified Life Small Group DVD
  • 1 Crucified Life Small Group Study Guide
  • 1 Resurrected Life Devotional Book (Paperback)
  • 1 Resurrected Life Small Group DVD
  • 1 Resurrected Life Small Group Study Guide
  • 1 Spirit-Filled Life Devotional Book (Paperback)
  • 1 Spirit-Filled Life DVD
  • 1 Spirit Filled Life Small Group Study Guide

Christian Life Trilogy Campaign Kit

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Training Materials:

The Campaign Manual and DVD provide resources and training as to how to maximize the engagement of your congregation by doing the Christian Life Trilogy as a church-wide campaign. Each of the three titles can stand alone. Many congregations use the Crucified and Resurrected Life for Lent and Easter, and then kick off the Spirit-Filled Life in the Fall season.

The Training Videos provide teaching for the senior pastor and campaign leadership teams, as well as the small group hosts.








Why Matt Lauer’s Confession Statement Falls Short…

...And What We Can Learn From It.

When Savannah Guthrie of the TODAY show broke the story of co-host Matt Lauer’s sexual misconduct and abuse in the workplace, she acknowledged her pain with tears and words:

Matt Lauer

How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? And I don’t know the answer to that.

I appreciate the honest vulnerability of her question. Whenever someone behaves badly, the hurt caused by their actions spreads far and wide. Private immorality always has public consequences—the collateral damage of sin. In the case of Matt Lauer, the collateral damage caused by his sin has already spread far and wide, and will likely spread farther.

Ms. Guthrie then added,

But I do know that this reckoning that so many organizations have been going through is important, it’s long overdue and it must result in workplaces where all women—all people—feel safe and respected.

Indeed, a reckoning is long overdue. The statistics on sexual abuse in the United States are staggering and heartbreaking:

  • One in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
  • Sexual assault is the violent crime that is least often reported to law enforcement officials. A 2000 study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that only 28% of victims report their sexual assault to the police.
  • Only about 2% of all sexual assault accusations reported to police turn out to be false. This is the same rate of false reporting as other types of violent crime.

Of course, there are false accusations that are made. But with the release of Matt Lauer’s statement on the TODAY show, we know that, in his case, the charges are by-and-large true. Here is the full text of Mr. Lauer’s statement:

There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions… To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.

Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly.

Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I’m committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full-time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by the people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.

As far as statements of regret and confession go, this one has much to commend as a start. There is some honest admission of wrongdoing and the expression of a desire to take personal responsibility for that wrong. I pray for him, that God will help him do the hard work needed to repent and recover from these sins, as well as for the recovery and restoration of his victims.

However, as an object lesson in confession, there are places where his statement falls short. I take Mr. Lauer at his word that he has a long road ahead of him of “soul searching” and “repairing the damage,” so this is just the beginning of his own personal reckoning with God and the people he has hurt. But with any statement of apology, there are vital components that need to be included—and here we can learn something for our own confessions.

The Seven A’s of a Good Confession

As a priest, I have often been called upon to hear confessions, make confessions, and work to bring about the reconciliation of parties through confessions. One tool that I have found to be very helpful in evaluating confessions and helping people make believable and effective confessions comes from Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker. Sande outlines the Seven A’s of a good confession:

  1. Address everyone involved (all those whom you affected).
  2. Avoid “if,” “but,” and “maybe” (do not try to excuse your wrongs).
  3. Admit specifically (both attitudes and actions).
  4. Acknowledge the hurt (express sorrow for hurting someone).
  5. Accept the consequences (such as making restitution).
  6. Alter your behavior (change your attitudes and actions).
  7. Ask for forgiveness.

The more egregious the sin, the more important it is to do a good job hitting all seven of the “A’s”.  Let’s evaluate Mr. Lauer’s statement using the Seven A’s as a test.

Address everyone involved (all those whom you affected)

There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions… To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.

Mr Lauer makes an attempt at the first “A” of a good confession here. But what is notably lacking is any specific reference to the victims themselves. While he does use the catch-all phrase, “to all the people I have hurt,” he then qualifies that statement by specifically naming “home” and “NBC.” What about his victims?

When we are caught in sin, often our first and biggest regret is over the consequence of the sin more than the actual commission of the sin. This is subtle, but we mainly regret getting caught and the consequences that we must now face (in Lauer’s situation, marital problems and loss of a job) rather than the fact that we sinned grievously (abuse of power, sexual harassment, and adultery).  Mr. Lauer is “early days” in coming to terms with his accountability. The more he looks in the mirror honestly (if he can do that, with God’s help), he will see that his sin was a heinous violation of the women who were victims of his abuse of power and influence.

It was also a grievous violation of God’s call to covenant faithfulness in marriage, by the breaking of God’s law against adultery and covetousness. This sin, as he has begun to acknowledge, has caused real damage to his own wife and family.

Avoid “if,” “but,” and “maybe” (do not try to excuse your wrongs)

Mr Lauer struggles here when he says:

Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.

While the trauma experienced by victims can sometimes lead to an exaggeration of the facts, by this statement Lauer discounts his victims’ charges off the bat.  In order to be helpful, a confession must be believable. When we qualify a confession with “if’s,” “but’s,” and “maybe’s,” we let ourselves off the hook from bearing the full responsibility of the pain we have caused. Mr. Lauer should have left out this qualifying statement. If there was enough truth in the stories, then there was enough to simply express wrongdoing without qualification or rationalization.

Admit specifically (both attitudes and actions)

Here is a real weakness that ties into the previous point about believability. A good confession admits specifically the wrong that was done.

While Mr. Lauer refers to his “words and actions” that caused pain, he does not specifically mention how these words and actions were wrong. Using terms such as “adultery,” “abuse,” “sexual harassment,” or “moral impropriety” would have helped to convince his hearers that he actually “gets it” that he did something wrong—seriously wrong. When we make a confession, it’s helpful to remember that those receiving it know the details; we do not need to rehash them, but we do need to include enough specifics to demonstrate that we understand the pain we caused, rather than using blanket phrases such as, “the words I said,” or “my actions.”

Acknowledge the hurt (express sorrow for hurting someone)

Mr. Lauer does a pretty good job acknowledging the hurt and disappointment he caused his family and NBC. The area in which he could have done a better job is in acknowledging the hurt to the victims of his “words and actions.” We’ve already discussed using more specific terms of what he did wrong, but he also could have more specifically addressed those to whom he did wrong: the women whose boundaries he violated. Acknowledgement of the very real hurt to the very real victims of our sin is one of the hardest but most important aspects of a good, believable confession. (Given the litigious nature of our society, it’s probable Matt Lauer’s lawyers helped craft a statement vague enough to allow themselves room to defend him from the legal consequences of his actions.) This is one of the places where his confession could have been more believable.

Accept the consequences (such as making restitution)

Mr. Lauer’s commitment to repair the damage through soul-searching as a full-time job is encouraging. This is actually the best part of his confession:

Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I’m committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full-time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling.

He uses the words “repairing the damage” rather than “make restitution,” but this is essentially the same thing. That damage repair will be needed not only to his home and career, but also—very importantly—to the victims of the abuse. Few are willing to openly state that they are prepared to make such amends and restitution for fear of just how costly such a process might be—materially, emotionally, and spiritually. But abusive behavior has real costs; restitution, to the extent humanly possible, should be offered and made. Lauer’s willingness to make “repairing the damage” his full-time job gives us hope for his future, hope that he will receive a measure of grace.

Alter your behavior (change your attitudes and actions)

Matt Lauer makes a good beginning here by soberly acknowledging the humility that has come to him by seeing his “troubling flaws.” The language of Step 4 in the 12 -Step Program to sobriety is helpful: “Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” To do a thorough job, this process takes a lot of time and soul-searching. With situations such as Mr. Lauer’s, such a process should be engaged in with the help of accountability partners, such as pastors or godly counsellors. It is not easy, but Matt Lauer is to be commended for his first steps.

Ask for forgiveness

The last “A” of a good confession is tricky. If we have not done an adequate job with the first 6 “A’s” of a confession, asking for forgiveness can feel inappropriate and even insensitive. It is probably best that Mr. Lauer left this part out because of the lack of specificity of this confession and the fact that it is too soon in the process for him to truly come to grips with the damage he has caused and the extent of the forgiveness being sought.

Ultimately, no amount of restitution can eradicate or pay for the violations against the dignity and personhood of another human being or against God’s holy law. Only Jesus accomplished such complete redemption through the ultimate sacrifice he made on the Cross. Matt Lauer will need to rely on the grace of God for help in his journey of restoration—as will his victims.


Under Guard for Christ and By Christ

In the book of Philippians, both Paul and the Philippians were experiencing difficult situations of persecution in their lives due to their commitment to the Gospel. Paul was imprisoned for the Gospel by the imperial guard in Rome. From an earthly perspective, this could become the occasion of tremendous stress, worry, and despair. Paul used the example of his own sufferings to help the Philippians see a different way of looking at the trials of life.

First, Paul sees the incredible fruit that is being brought forth by his imprisonment (1:12-18). The entire guard is hearing Christ proclaimed; the faithful are being encouraged to boldness because of Paul’s witness; and Paul’s rivals are seeing an opportunity to gain a place in the pulpit for their own selfish gain. Yet, in all of these things Paul rejoices because “Christ is proclaimed” (1:18).

Secondly, Paul has a different way of looking at the sufferings of this life because of the glorious resurrection life to come (1:19-26). In a “to be or not to be” reflection, Paul reveals that whether he lives or dies, he knows that he is blessed in Jesus Christ. He knows that if he dies, it will result in being with Christ. His continued life means more fruitful labor for the church. So either way Paul is filled with joy. Live or die, he simply can’t lose!

In chapter 4:6-9, Paul will encourage the Philippians to lay aside their own anxiety in their struggles by turning their worries over to God in prayer with thanksgiving and by setting their mind on that which is glorious and good. If they will give God their troubles in prayer, God will protect their hearts from anxiety.

Even though Paul is under guard of Rome, his heart and mind are guarded by the peace of God, so he can rejoice in the LORD. The same Peace of God will guard the members of the Philippian Church as they focus their attention away from their trials and onto the Lord and the blessings of their lives:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7

As citizens in a fallen world, you are guarded in persecution because of the Gospel. As citizens of heaven, you are guarded for eternal life in the unfathomable peace of God.

Prayer: Almighty God, today I am concerned about many things, yet you are in control of all of them. You are sovereign. Help me LORD that I may rest under divine guard and protection with my heart and mind trusting you for the outworking of your plan for my life. Amen.

This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge.