“Four years ago today, we all woke up early, excited to go snow skiing. It was going to be Lacey’s first time on skis, and Lane was excited to get back out for some more practice, while little Leanne who was two, would get to hang out with Grandma Sara in the lodge. Heather, who was about 20 weeks along with our fourth child, opted to stay home and relax. She hadn’t been feeling well, and I hoped the rest without the kids might help. She had been prone to preterm labor with both of our girls, and seemed to be having similar issues this round. In fact, she was concerned she might be miscarrying. Still thinking that rest and quiet would be a good thing, we loaded up our gear, and crowded into the van with Heather’s brother, Jim, and his oldest, Lizzy, and headed off to the slopes for our long awaited group ski trip.


In retrospect, that was a very foolish and insensitive thing to do. We were still on the gravel road, about a mile from home when Heather called to say something was wrong. She had miscarried, and was hemorrhaging – lots of blood!  We flipped around quickly and were back a few minutes later. While Jim stayed in the car with the kids, I ran into help Heather and analyze the situation.


Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw as I walked quickly into the dining room! Heather had tried to go from the bathroom back to the bedroom, but only made it about 10’ before getting so unsteady she went down. There she was, lying in a growing pool of blood! I don’t believe anything before, or since, has ever scared me that bad! I’ve been an avid hunter all my life, and especially within the bow-hunting realm where hemorrhaging is the primary issue in assuring quick, ethical, and humane kills.  Blood has never bothered me in the least.  But all that experience gives me a pretty good feel for the effects of rapid blood loss, and seeing my most beloved person in the world, in a pool of her own blood, shook me to the core!


I got her sort of cleaned up, bundled up, and loaded up, while Jim took our kids back to his and Rachael’s place for the day. Poor Jim and Rachael got a bit more than they bargained for, as we ended up going from the ER in Harrisonville, up to Research Hospital for the night. We did not realize it at the time, but that was just a liability shuffle as they never ended up doing more than keeping Heather “under observation” for a while. It did serve to give us some piece of mind though, so the exercise was not totally futile.


That was a lot to deal with for me, and undoubtedly, for Heather as well. Nobody wants to lose their child, or spend their birthday (Heather’s on the 25th) in the hospital concerned about hemorrhaging. The full impacts of that event are still being lived out I’m afraid, for that was what I see as the beginning of the end for our marriage and our family, though no one could have known so at the time. I just wrote a bit about the concept of “emotional freeze points” that Gary Smalley and John Trent introduced in their book, “The Two Sides of Love”. I believe we both experienced that in the course of this event.


It was not a conscious thing, but we both went “shields up” relationally with each other, as well as with others. I now see how even our children were emotionally deprived of our involvement, as they quickly sought attachment to other sources of love and acceptance. As the husband and father, I lacked the tools to adequately lead my family through that event. I lacked the ability to emotionally seek healing for myself, and therefore, I had nothing to offer my wife and children but the pain that I shoved out of sight within myself. I rode bulls for a decade, and I knew how to continue to function through physical pain, and naturally applied the same methods to the soul-wrenching emotional hurt of losing a baby, and by all appearances, my wife. But what is helpful and positive in dealing with physical pain, is neither healthy, or good, in coping with emotional pain, which does not simply heal with time.


While there are emotional implications of dealing with physical pain, it is more of a surface issue. Physical pain sort of floats on the surface of the emotional pool, and over time it floats to the edge and gets pulled out as our bodies naturally heal. Then, it is only a memory. In contrast, emotional pain is like a bottle of iodine being dumped into the pool. It can quickly mix throughout, and thoroughly contaminate the whole body of water in a very short time. It is below the surface, and its concentration is impossible to assess from without, and difficult to judge even within ones’ own self.


What is an antidote? Sympathy, compassion, empathy, and understanding are a good place to start from without. These are all necessary components that we can exercise through loving one another, and as Christ says “bearing one another’s burdens”. But there is more to it than just that. Unlike physical injuries that result in pain, emotional pain goes deeper, and requires some conscious self-evaluation and exercise to heal. Time may do wonders where the physical is concerned, but emotionally, time often just results in poisoning the soul. Instead of healing, it festers and infects us more and more.


How do we experience this infection? Discontentment, fear, anger, bitterness and strife are all indicators of unhealthy emotional conditions. Undoubtedly, there are many more, but you get the picture. In the Bible, unforgiveness is a big one.


So what are we to do if we are experiencing this emotional infection? Well, from a practical standpoint we must start with the cross of Christ. Understanding our forgiveness of sins due to His sacrifice on the cross for our sins is critical to experiencing the healing power of Christ in our lives.


But wait, you may say, didn’t you grow up in a Christian home, in solid Biblically based churches? Why yes, as a matter of fact I did. I know intellectually all of the answers, but I failed to correlate them to my emotions. There is a dramatic difference between ‘knowing’ something and ‘applying’ it. Therein lies the danger for those in our Christian culture who can so easily separate the emotional and intellectual elements of truth. Plus, God has created us as individuals with different strengths, weaknesses, and needs. In addition to our unique entities, our environment also has a major influence in forming our character. It is especially important to understand these characteristics and their implications in our spouse. I did not.


In the beginning of our relationship I was certainly more attuned to my wife, but failed to maintain that basic relational component as our marriage progressed; the distractions of children and making a living trumped knowing and being known. Never underestimate the value of strengthening your relational foundation while the weather is nice. For when the storms of life come that will test your foundation, you are out of time to build anymore. And while you are probably thinking, well, if Christ is that foundation….? I assure you, both of us would have adamantly claimed He was.


Yet, here we are:  Divorced after four children and 9 ½ years of marriage. I sit in prison while my ex-wife and kids live in another state and only interact with me via a court ordered provision in the divorce decree stating she has to let the kids send me a card, note, or coloring sheet once per month.


I failed my family. The foundation that was my responsibility to build as the husband and spiritual leader of my home was insufficient to weather the trials that God allowed to test us. So often, and so pointlessly, I catch myself thinking, “If I only knew then what I know now…” But that opportunity is blown. Perhaps not forever—I pray for mercy for my family. My marital sin of sexual unfaithfulness is certainly mine to bear, and I daily hope and pray for the restoration of my marriage and my family. I assure you, there are dire consequences for flagrant sin. But the God I serve can resurrect the dead, and certainly has the power to change hearts and circumstances to restore a broken family.


Regardless, please learn from my mistakes! If by telling this painful story I can help save someone else’s relationship, it is worth the pain of doing so. Even if it is simply improved and strengthened, to God be the glory! I pray that my pain might be your gain. Trials will come no matter who you are. Work on your foundation with that in mind. Confess your sins and struggles one to another. Provide a safe environment for your spouse to do so, or I guarantee they won’t, at least not very often. We get pretty gun-shy with someone hammering on us, and nobody can do that with the kind of precision your spouse can! I have come to believe that forgiveness is a critical component of your foundation. Learn it, and practice it, just as Scripture commands us to do. I pray you survive the beatings of life intact.”


Sex Offenders and the Church

“How does the Bible instruct us, as the Body of Christ (the church), to deal with sex offenders? This is an issue that has seen a lot of media coverage lately, and seems to be driven much more by social pressure than biblical truth. In fact, this has probably become the most stigmatized issue of our current culture– or, at least, competes with school shootings for the number 1 spot.

First, let us look at some statistical information even though it really has no bearing on our biblical responsibilities.
According to national statistics, sex offenders have an astronomically low recidivism rate in comparison to any other felony type crime. The latest report I read put it at 3.5% nationally, and 4% in Missouri. Contrast that with nearly 70% recidivism for drug offenders… and your sex offenders are under considerably more scrutiny as well as registration and a plethora of other requirements they are required to meet.

We also must realize that this is primarily a political issue, not a religious one. The society is all about taking their agenda and trying to conform the Church to it. To have this conversation we must realize Scripture as the final authority, and be willing to submit our personal and cultural views to the Bible– both on the offender and the victim side of the equation. This will deal primarily with the Biblical response to the offenders. It is easy to make a social target of a stigmatized class of people who are in every way just as human as you. Keep that in mind.

The Bible says that the “church” is the Body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27 – “Now you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it.”
The Body of Christ is made up of believers who God has made alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5), by faith through grace (Eph. 2:8-9), through no merit of our own. 2 Corinthians 6:16 tells us that “we are the temple of the living God.”
So, all Christians, all times, all places, are “the church” according to the Bible. How are we to identify these believers? Romans 10:13 says: “For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The criteria for our recognition of a fellow believer is one who has called upon the Lord, and is further evidenced by a new believer’s public confession, and in the obedience of faith by being baptized. Beyond these outwardly observable acts, we are not given the liberty of judging another man’s heart or pretend to know another man’s future. (The pretention assumes one who has been convicted will be a repeater as in a dog returning to it’s own vomit). In the New Testament, the word “church” or “churches” primarily means “called out”, or in other texts, “assembly”. What a church is, is a group of believers who come together for love, good works, encouragement, and worship (Heb. 10:24-25). Not the building, nor the corporate entity of a 501(c)3 organization (as in obligated to embrace the current political opinions), but the individual members that comprise the body of Christ.

How should our assemblies (churches) receive a fellow believer whom the State has labeled a sex offender? 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 addresses this pretty directly– “…punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him…”
Keep in mind the context of a fellow believer; either one who sinned and repented, or one who became converted after the fact, they are both members of the body of Christ.
Yet, many churches are required by their insurance providers to usher, monitor, restrict, and chaperone a previous sex offender 100% of the time on their premises. These conditions must be looked at in a biblical light and a practical application.

Why does the secular culture have a voice in how believers are to be treated when we come together to worship Him who called us? 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 condemns the church in Corinth for taking matters outside their assembly for judgment by the secular establishment. Verse 1 says, “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?”
Verses 4-6 says, “So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?”
Obviously Paul thought the Body of Christ should have enough wisdom to deal with even legal matters internally. (But Paul was not a recognized 501(c)3 entity).

Does Scripture profile a sex offense as that one unforgivable sin? Does Christ’s blood shed on the cross for my sin, not quite cover this category? Certainly not! Perhaps that is why God didn’t single it out. His atonement is sufficient. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all” have sinned, and since God didn’t classify sexual sin outside the context any other sin, it would seem prudent to treat it like He does. We don’t want to confuse atonement with the practical application of our sanctification.
How are we to treat a repentant sinner? If God forgives, do we have the freedom not to? Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
From a brother to brother standpoint, Jesus told Peter that if his brother expressed acknowledgment of his sin in repentence, he should be forgiven seventy times seven — and that in one day! Colossians 3:13 “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive.”
That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for us to debate “genuine repentance”, does it? In fact you could probably argue that if your brother offended you even just 70 times in the same day, the personal responsibility for his sin is apparently a battle requiring assistance rather than questioning sincerity of the confession. Yet Jesus made it clear that our imperative is to forgive.

With forgiveness and restoration being clearly seen as the biblical response to repentance, what then? How should that look? One possible response is more rules!
Yet, what does the Bible say? Jesus was rather harsh in addressing some of the greatest rule makers of all time: the Scribes and Pharisees. In Matthew 27:4, Jesus addressed the “heavy yoke” they imposed upon the people through many rules in a self-righteous way. Humanity sure loves to make rules! Again, in Matthew 23:7, we see Jesus condemning the religious leaders for “adding to” the commandments.

It is also of interest to note how Jesus handled the issue of sexual sin when the Pharisees brought Him the woman caught in the very act of adultery. In John 8:3-11, the Pharisees had an ironclad case, with the law clearly stating her punishment of death by stoning. It was very clear cut, and Jesus did not disagree with them, but simply said: “Let him who is without sin among you, cast the first stone.”
Notice there was only one man who met that sinless criteria, and He wasn’t scrambling for the rock pile. Instead, after all her eye-witness accusers went a way, Jesus did not condemn her either, but told her to “go and sin no more.” (John 8:11); Suggesting that even for sexual immorality that self-control is the preventative solution.

Jesus extended mercy and forgiveness prior to there even being any sort of repentance even mentioned! Christ was the sinless one who, according to His own statement, could have cast the first stone, yet He chose mercy! But surely Christ doesn’t want us to follow His lead in that– we want justice! Justice is a scary concept that we as believers must very carefully consider. We seem to think natural and legal justice, in a cultural context, must be served and fail to realize our very salvation is based on injustice. Christ paid the penalty for sin on the cross– the just for the unjust– while we were yet sinners, He died for us (Rom. 6:23). The possibility for attaining salvation on our own merit is totally out of the question (Eph. 2:1-10). Do you not realize that you also were extended a grace and mercy that is beyond your comprehension to even rationally pursue?

We need to very, very carefully make sure our presuppositions are based on Scripture, rather than social or cultural influences. Please look up the words: mercy, grace, forgiveness, and justice. Then, show me how you can pair forgiveness and justice in a biblical light. Please, examine the way Scripture handles the “victims”. Fact of the matter is that we live in a sinful, fallen world, and nobody is unscathed. Everyone has been hurt. We all need grace, mercy , and forgiveness.

Let’s move onto the subject of repeat offenses (dealing with that 3.5%– of which how many do you think would ever have anything to do with Christianity or the church in the first place…?).
How do you handle them, should the situation occur? The exact same way! Scripture only gives us one option. Matthew 18:15-20 lays out the process of confronting him, then restoring a repentant brother, or exercising church discipline. Our available biblical options as a church are both based upon rebuke and repentance. If repentance is expressed, restore them.

The secular world will look on (as will many believers) and say that biblical church discipline is not enough to provide a true consequence and, thereby, risk a repeat. Personally, I believe we are treading some dangerous water when we say that what God says isn’t good enough. Since He created us, and the universe we exist in, I’m going to go out on a limb and say He knows what He’s talking about. As He commands us to forgive, we need to realize this can be a one-sided thing. We extend, or grant, forgiveness. It does not need to be accepted to be total. Is there a cost for forgiveness? Absolutely! There is always a price to be paid for sin against a holy, righteous, and just God. And Christ did that on the cross. He is the only one who can absorb that cost, even in person to person offenses/forgiveness. It’s all Him! His mercy is the only antidote for the true justice God demands.

When David was confronted by the prophet Nathan over his adultery with Bathsheba and the ensuing cover-up by having her husband killed, he [David] said, “Against You, and You only have I sinned.”
The reason we can, and must, practice forgiveness with fellow believers is because Jesus paid it all.

As an interesting side note, both Joseph (falsely accused) and David (rightly accused) would be classified as sex-offenders in our modern era.
Sin is sin. Sin is against God. We all sin, and hurt others, and are hurt by others. Grace is the only antidote to this problem, both with God and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Be bold in following the path laid out in God’s Word. Realize repentance is of God, and be careful not to judge another man’s heart, and learn to bear one another’s burdens.

-By Ben Mullet and T.S. (contributor desired anonymity)

Questions and disagreement welcomed, just bring it from the Bible. :)”


Forgiveness – 2


This is sort of a follow-up to my last letter on Forgiveness. Although I fear that I may not do the material justice, I would like to give you a bit more information on Enright’s book “8 Keys to Forgiveness”, and tell you some of the points that made a strong impression on me.

I have always been a fan of scientifically ratified information, and Enright opens with a series of case studies proving the validity of forgiveness. Without getting too deep into the details, here is a list of the benefits proven from his case studies: 1) Reduction in psychological depression– this from a test group of incest survivors following a 14 month forgiveness therapy of clinically depressed women. 14 months after therapy ended, they were all still depression free. 2) Reduction in anxiety, 3) reduction in unhealthy anger, 4) decrease in PTSD, 5) increased quality of life, 5) increased focus, 6) increased self-esteem, 7) increased cooperation and reduced bullying in children. All are proven benefits of practicing forgiveness.

Enright says, “Science supports the view that you can be emotionally healed from the unfair situation or situations that have been a part of your life. Forgiveness can help bring about this kind of healing for you.”

Furthermore, forgiveness restores order, prevents disorder, prevents further chaos after the original injustice, and results in a recovery of your self-worth. All that just on the victim side of the coin. Enright shows the data to back up those claims too. Very fascinating to me, in that these are outside the religious realm, which I am most familiar with.

What then is this forgiveness he refers to as doing all these great things? He debunks several of the things to come to mind, like “just moving on”, or saying “I forgive you.”
He says, “Forgiveness is not only about what is said but also what is in the heart.” Forgiveness is not primarily about you, nor does it deplete you emotionally. It is not finding excuses for the offending person’s behavior, nor a quick formula to follow. Forgiveness is goodness. Enright puts it like this: “The kind of goodness that is central to forgiveness is love. As we forgive in the deepest sense, we try as best we can to love the one who has hurt us.”
He defines love in this context as wanting what is best for the other person. He goes on to say that a specific form of love in the process of forgiveness is mercy. Are any of these terms sounding familiar? Not normally terms that we see outside the faith-based realm of Christianity.

Enright defines “mercy” as “offering to others what they have not deserved because of their lack of respect, kindness, generosity, and love toward you.” Put simply: “Mercy is to give what was NOT given to you.”
Boy does that ever sound like our Christian definition of grace! That “unmerited favor” bestowed upon us through Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins on the cross. Matthew 6:14-15 would seem to indicate that even within the context of our salvaiton, there is still considerable emphasis on our necessity to forgive others… but I don’t want to go off on a rabbit trail.

In a sort of summary of the components in the path to forgiveness, Enright puts it like this: “So on the path of goodness along the journey of forgiveness we start with the largest form of goodness: love. We then extend that love and mercy specifically to those who have been unfair to us. This is forgiveness.” Where does all this start? In your heart, then flows out from there to others.

At this point, the better question to ask may well be, HOW does all this start? This, for me, was the major question. My faith in Christ, and understanding of Scripture had more than established the necessity of forgiving others simply based on how much He has forgiven me. While the aforementioned benefits of practicing forgiveness are really great, I didn’t need to be sold on the concept. My struggle was/is how to get to the emotional state of forgiveness while totally isolated from those I need to forgive.

Enter Key 2: Become Forgivingly Fit– this is where the rubber meets the road. Formula– I love this kind of stuff. Kind of like working out your muscles the right way, with the right amount, you get strong rather than injured. Those same weights that will injure you at the beginning, only make you stronger once your muscles are properly conditioned for them.

So, what qualities must we develop to become forgivingly fit? Enright lists seven that are so important that: “As you practice them, you will be strengthening and increasing your ability to forgive, and perhaps even transforming your whole character as a person.”

These principles are:
1) Make a commitment to do no harm.
2) Cultivate a clearer vision.
3) Understand and practice love.
4) Understand and practice mercy.
5) Practice forgiveness itself in small ways each day.
6) Practice being consistent in your forgiveness.
7) Persevere in your practice of forgiveness each day.

There is a whole series of exercises that go with each principle to strengthen and develop it. Exercise #1 is committing to forgiveness, which Enright says is often the most difficult one for people to accomplish. He gives a series of ten questions and practices to help one grow to attain this first goal. Needless to say, I was blown away by how quickly practicing these principles changed my perspective on things. Ultimately, you could boil it all down to the practice of the Fruit of the Spirit. Enright simply provides a very practical framework through which they can be applied.

Hopefully this will simply generate enough interest for you to get the book and read it for yourself. Forgiveness is such a critical element for humanity, and is a biblical command too.

Please, please, do yourself, your family, friends, and even your enemies a favor, and work towards developing a spirit of forgiveness!


Forgiveness – 1


I have been involved with a program called Celebrate Recovery ever since coming to Farmington last summer. It is a Christ-centered recovery program based on the Beatitudes. It seems to be a good program, and also provides another evening out of the cell, and fellowship with other Believers. A topic of particular interest to me has been that of forgiveness. The Bible is quite clear on the subject and the theological perspective given by Christian authors tends to be pretty straightforward. It is a foundational element of the faith which we adhere to. Yet, I have found it particularly difficult to move from an intellectual understanding of the principle into a practiced, felt thing. I highly doubt I am alone in my struggle to actualize the concept.

So, what do I do when I can’t seem to put a concept into practice? Find out more about it! I have found that when I spend time in prayer requesting wisdom and understanding about a particular thing in my life, it isn’t long before I am flooded with learning opportunities. One of the tools God has used to help my understanding and application of the forgiveness issue has been the Celebrate Recovery course. I really like the first paragraph of the forward of their course book, written by Rick Warren (I know, I know– my Reformed friends just choked on their coffee… but he actually does have a lot of good things to say). He states: “You’ve undoubtedly heard the expression ‘time heals all wounds’. Unfortunately, it isn’t true. As a Pastor, I frequently talk with people who are still carrying hurts from thirty or forty years ago. The truth is, time often makes things worse. Wounds that are left untended fester and spread infection throughout the entire body. Time only extends the pain if the problem isn’t dealt with.”

As most folks who grew up in Church, I was fairly familiar with the Scriptural side of the issue, but still seemed to lack the tools to apply it and make the intellectual/emotional conversion necessary to truly “feel” it. I really don’t like using the word “feel” in describing something that is clearly expressed in Scripture as an imperative, yet forgiveness has a major emotional element. From a personally healing standpoint, it appears to be of primary importance. So then, can one simply “will” to have a different emotion? Or is our emotional state a by-product of something else? As a Christian, the Holy Spirit that dwells within us certainly ought to give us a major leg up on the matter. Even so, I have been, and met, plenty of bitter, angry– dare I even say, unforgiving– Believers. Is forgiveness something we must actively pursue, rather than passively accept? Forgiving those who have hurt or wronged us seems to go directly against our human nature, especially if we are not fully confident that the offender is sincerely sorry. And what about those who are not sorry at all? What about them?

As I worked these struggles over in my mind, I kept coming across a book in the library called “8 Keys to Forgiveness”. It is in the relationship section next to some of my favorite authors like Gary Chapman, John Gottman, Brene Brown, and Susan Johnson. I had read the back of it some months ago, but wasn’t really interested as it wasn’t religiously affiliated. It is a social science perspective written by Robert Enright. I try to read at least three books per week, alternating from technical, business, religious, history, and relational. Last week, the next book on my reading list wasn’t in, and Enright’s book caught my eye instead. I thought, “I read science-based relationship books (Gottman) all the time, and really enjoy them. Maybe I should climb out of my little narrow box on the topic of forgiveness and see what they have to say.”
I figured if it was boring, or was too far off from the Christian perspective, I could just finish the other book I was working through (“The KJV Only Controversy”). With my back-up plan safely in mind, I bravely checked out the purple flower-covered book. I say “bravely” because this is a sex offender camp… and there are certain demographics that I try to avoid being affiliated with that seem to have an affinity for flowers, rainbows, and unicorns… just saying.

Enright’s “8 Keys to Forgiveness” turned out to be one of the best books I’ve ever read! Enright has been studying forgiveness for as long as I’ve been alive, and is a founding member of The International Forgiveness Institute, INC. I am very curious to see some of the testimonials of their website one day. The case studies in his book were really amazing. I absolutely love it when the results of scientific research simply validate Biblical truths!

What do you suppose a secular book on forgiveness would present as the foundation for being able to forgive? While Enright was very gentle in guiding the reader through empathy-creating exercises, the ultimate foundation is love. From that perspective, which is absolutely Biblical, Christians really ought to be the most enabled of all humanity to practice forgiveness, since through Christ’s loving sacrifice on the cross, we have been granted a forgiveness we could never otherwise attain. How is it then, that we are not characterized by forgiveness (which is a by-product of love), but often, of judgmentalism instead? I bet you’ve never seen someone leave your Church because they felt there was too much love, forgiveness, and sympathy being expressed…

To me, it seems absolutely shameful that the cause of forgiveness is being championed by secular science, instead of the body of Christ in this hurting world. That may seem like a slap in the face, but let me leave you with this question: Can you define the process, purpose, and benefits to practicing forgiveness in a temporal sense? Prior to reading Enright’s book, I could not.

But maybe I wasn’t paying attention in that sermon.


Coming soon: part 2

Great Forgiveness Results in Great Love


“Several weeks ago during a Chapel service, the speaker touched on a passage in Luke 7. I was having a hard time staying engaged with whatever it was that was being taught, and began to sort of scan through the rest of the chapter to get the context of the reference verse the speaker used. As I scanned through the chapter, my attention was arrested by the familiar story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair. Most folks raised in the church could probably recount this story in their sleep, but what really jumped out at me was the short parable Jesus told in response to what His host, a Pharisee, thought.

In Luke 7:41 Jesus tells a story of a money lender who forgave the debt of a man who owed him a small sum, and one who owed much more, when they were unable to repay them. Then, He asks Simon, His host, which of the two men would love the money lender more for cancelling his debt? Simon accurately deduced that the man with the larger debt would result in a greater love for the one who forgave that debt. Now, here is where it gets more interesting:
In verse 47, Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven– for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Wow. The amount we had to be forgiven of, correlates directly with how much love we are then able to express? Why had I never been able to grasp such a blindingly obvious truth? Right there in black and white (unless you have a red-letter version ;).

I tell you what, that sudden realization was enough to wake me up out of my bored, semi-conscious scan of the text that had nothing to do with the lesson being taught. That does sort of explain they typical lack of love often seen within the church. It also would be one of the reasons that those who have been raised within the church tend to struggle with legalism. In a very real worldly sense, though their sins may be forgiven, they didn’t have all that much to be forgiven of. And while I would never wish upon anyone the sin and resulting consequences that I and my family have had to endure due to my actions, it does help explain the drastic change I have experienced in my disposition towards others. He who is forgiven much, loves much. Straight up stated in Scripture!

Now, I realize there are many who like to play God, and apart from a direct work of Him in their heart, will persist in their belief that I cannot be forgiven because I never expressed whatever it is they believe to be true sorrow/guilt/remorse/confession. Before I go in the ways I have experienced an increase of love due to the forgiveness I’ve received from God, I would like to pose two questions to the naysayers. 1) Is your salvation due to your amazing ability to express your remorse for the sin you cannot even fathom, against a perfect, holy, just, and righteous God? Without being God, you don’t have the capacity to even know your own sin’s affront to Him. 2) Was Christ’s sacrifice on the cross less necessary for your forgiveness than for mine?

Few who have known me over the course of my life would probably consider me a sensitive guy. Empathy has, admittedly, never been my strong suit. So much so that I even considered it to be a weakness, and was proud of the fact that I wasn’t overly predisposed to it. I actually considered it to be a blessing from God that I was like that. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still had compassion. I was able to recognize a need and be willing to help out, but I didn’t really feel it at the emotional level.
Over the last few years, God took the tiny faultline in the hard shell of my empathy, and shattered it! I never, in my worst dreams, would have been able to fathom the amount of pain I’ve experienced and caused, nor the level of intense sorrow that accompanies it. Until this Luke passage clicked in my brain, I really wasn’t sure what to attribute my newly-found concern for others. I thought that perhaps it was a by-product of pain. I’m much happier to discover that it is simply part of experiencing the joy of forgiveness! That means it will be a lasting attribute, rather than something that may fade away, as does the memory of the pain. God has opened my eyes, physically and emotionally, to the immense pain and need that others have, on both the physical and spiritual level. Both need addressed by believers. It is my prayer that God opens our eyes to those who are hurting and in need around us, while providing us the material resources and spiritual integrity to do something about it.


12/24/2018 – A Response

“Hey Ben 🙂 Merry Christmas! I’m about to post your “Great Forgiveness Results in Great Love”. I wrote a “wrap-up” piece to tie up the loose ends of your original exposition. Here’s what I wrote:

“Often, those who grow up in a privileged and sheltered Christian environment are lulled gently into a sense of not being ‘that bad’, or not having that great of a need for a Savior; not THAT deep in debt.
When we learn– REALLY learn– of our spiritual bankruptcy, we are [more] aware of the great debt of which God has forgiven us, and charged to Christ, in our place. It isn’t necessarily a matter of ‘how much’ one has been forgiven, but rather that we know ‘how much’ we owe[d].
The more we know of God, and the more we personally learn of His greatness, the more we will notice our bankruptcy spiritually. We need Christ.
Know your God. Know your debt. Bought at a price– remember that!”

I thought that was an efficient wrap-up, as it appeared that you communicated a little loosely in parts. I think I know what you were saying, but if, as you communicated, “The amount we had to be forgiven of correlates directly with how much love we are then able to express”, then I, for one, am entirely disadvantaged in my ability to express great love. After all, I have never done anything “really bad”. How can I love someone who IS “really bad” or has done “really bad” things, if I am not forgiven of anything “really bad”?
But we know from Scripture (Jeremiah 17:9) that, actually, I AM really bad– equally as bad as you, even if you’re the one who is incarcerated. In fact, I’m so bad that I don’t even know in which areas that my heart is deceived. I’m so bad, I’m blind– ignorant of some of the evils within me altogether. Seared in conscience, blinded to my own need for a Savior, only aware of the pieces of myslef that are illuminated to be my the Holy Spirit. I’m pretty bad off. And because I’m aware of my ignorance of the depths of my own heart, I am also freed up to love you (who is DEFINITELY a really bad guy :), because I recognize that I owe just as much as you do to our Savior. Not only are we equal in need for forgiveness, but that list I detailed above describes you to a T as much as it does me. We are the same. The only aspect in which we differ is our levels of understanding of our own heart, and our particular understanding of God. We have a different emphasis on different aspects of God’s character that the Holy Spirit has revealed to us and developed in us through our life’s experiences and our responses, therefore we have a different understanding of our own heart, but bottom line: our heart is the same. Desperately wicked and deceitful– who can know it? God does.

In summary of my own exposition here: it’s a good idea to study God and know Him well so that when we look at ourselves, we gain as accurate a depiction of our unworthiness as possible. Without Christ, we are hopeless. But we have CHRIST. So we are full of hope! Able to love the unlovely, because we are unlovely, and yet, loved by God Himself. We can love greatly, because we are LOVED greatly, and we recognize a degree of the greatness of that kind of love! We can forgive much only when we KNOW our great debt that we ourselves are HELPLESS to pay. We can love much, because we are forgiven much.


I’m not sure if writing both letters for the readers to see was actually necessary to communicate as carefully as possible, but Ben and I agreed that clarification was in order after we visited. If anyone would like to contribute to the dialogue, jump in 🙂 The conversation is still open and, as always, Ben appreciates feedback, insight, and desires interaction, to have “iron sharpen iron”.

I recently had some rather encouraging epiphanies while reading about Stuart McAllister’s experience of prison behind the iron curtain. Certainly the context of his imprisonment was of a more religious context and his suffering of a noble cause, as he was imprisoned for smuggling Bibles. Yet, he was there as justly as I am here, for he also broke the law of the land. The emotional impact of imprisonment, and the resulting spiritual challenges to his faith, in may ways, parallel my own.

Stuart states: “Contrary to some of the more starry-eyed testimonies I have read, I did not experience overwhelming grace or a profound sense of God’s presence. I did have the assurance that He was there, that He knew what was going on, and that “my times were in His hands” (Ps. 31:15). My feelings, however, became a source of a torment.”

My own prison experiences so far have definitely illustrated to me the differences that I had between an intellectual understanding of my faith in Christ, and the true, deep, unfathomable depths of security that I think can only be the direct result of the Holy Spirit working within me.

Stuart describes the doubt that began to creep into his mind while stuck in his Communist cell: “It was intense, it was real, and it was filling my mind and clouding my thoughts and my heart. My doubts seemed to focus on uncertainty on what God was doing, and whether I could actually trust what I thought was His leading.” Boy, can I ever identify with that!

I have never been quite able to decide if God blessed me with having a strong intellect and weak emotions, or cursed me with weak emotions, coupled with a strong intellect. One thing I am beginning to learn, is that God simply made me the way He wants me. The strengths, weaknesses, and struggles I have are what He uniquely designed into the spirit, soul, and body that make up me. It’s not an accident that God formed my being to function relatively comfortably within a hostile environment; that feature of my temperament, I have just recently learned through a program in which I am involved that was adapted to prisons from the Sarasota Christian Counseling Association called “Transition Training”.
It has been primarily through my intellect (lots of Ravi Zacharias and other great Christian authors) that God has brought me emotionally to the point of security in Him. My growth in this particular area certainly took longer to reach than did McAllister’s, but reflects his experience and process just the same. He says: “I can well remember a point of surrender. After several days, I resigned msyefl to the possibility that my imprisonment could last for years. I might not get out for a long time, so I might have to make the best of what was and to rest in God. It is a point where we accept the hardship, where we still believe in greater good, and where we surrender to what seems like the inevitable. I think I came to relinquish my sense of and need for control and simply accept that God would be there as promised, and therefore, to rest in Him.”
How well put.

I have also learned to be much more honest with myself about what I truly think, feel, and believe. In the past (and quite likely in the present, much more than I would like to think), I refused to acknowledge many of the hurts, fears, uncertainty, and cares that I carried within me– even to myself. In the back of my mind, to some extent, I was aware of their ethereal presence. But I did not want to know what they were. To delve into that hidden room within my soul seemed like opening Pandora’s Box. Who knew what might be there? Not I. I was aware that “something” was there, but not what it was. We cannot be honest with God in our prayers, if we cannot see the reality of ourselves. Nor can we be honest with others, for that matter.

What is the immpact of this spiritually? John Calvin put it like this: “Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God. Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts– the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
So, it would seem, that all self-understanding is a crucial element of our Christian faith. Certainly, it would be difficult to confess a sin we are unwilling to acknowledge the existence of. Our unwillingness to seek out and understand those hidden parts of ourselves does not mitigate the influence they may exert upon our thoughts and actions. In fact, just the opposite is true; it is only when we bring the hidden to light, can we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, break the influence they have on us.

A statement made by Ravi Zacharias that really hit home for me is this: “Pleasure gone wrong is a greater curse than physical blindness. And blindness to the sacred is the cause of all evil.”

It is my ongoing prayer that God will give me the wisdom and courage to search out the secrets of my heart and cast my fears, anxieties, and sin, upon Him whose blood was shed for my redemption.


This blog post is not verbatim, so cut me a little slack if it’s a little disorganized in effort to communicate. It’s hard to write a secondhand story lol. Ben told me about it on the phone and I should have taken notes 🙂 But I didn’t. He was excited to share the story though and wanted me to blog it.

Ben told me that he had a book from the prison common library. It was a fat one, which I never did ask the title of. But apparently, it was boring, because he never finished it. He said he read about half way through it word for word, then skimmed the rest.
“It may have been the 2nd book I’ve ever not finished before.” He said, laughing.

His friend, Jerry, recently just moved “houses”, so they don’t see each other anymore. From what I understand, they don’t even get yard together. Jerry is one of the original men he met at Ray County jail. They did Bible Studies together using material that our Auntie Sue sent them. Ben and Jerry have been in contact with one another since 2015. When Ben bailed out of Ray, he continued to correspond with Jerry, and it was rather incredible that they ended up in the same prison facility, ultimately– even in the same house for a few months! Things like that bring encouragement, as it is evident that a very involved God is at work 🙂
My Auntie Sue continues to send Bible Studies to the men that Ben has met and engaged in prison. Until this move to the new “house” for Jerry, Ben had just been passing off to him the Bible Study my Auntie would mail in. Jerry would then pass it around his garden crew where he works. But, with the “house” change, that format had to stop. Jerry requested that my Auntie mail him his own copy of these Bible Studies, but he was some time behind in getting them (I’m not sure how far behind), and in fact, this morning, my Auntie just checked with me for Jerry’s inmate # to begin mailing his own copies, accounting for this housing change.

Well, Ben, with his fat, unfinished book, had been using these old Bible Studies as bookmarks. When he went to return the book to the library he discovered the library was closed. They do have a drop box, so he was going to use that when he realized he’d left those bookmarks in there, so he pulled out the sheaf of papers and, not really having a use for them at this point, searched for a trash can. The first trash can he was going to use had a couple of CO’s (correctional officers) by it, so he opted out of using that receptacle. CO’s go through inmate’s stuff quite a bit and can give you a CDV (conduct violation) at whim. Ben says he got called in once and questioned about the trash he was throwing away in his cell. Other inmates told him later, “Oh yeah, that’s common. You don’t want a CO to find anything with names on it. Tear up your old envelopes and stuff, because you don’t want the guards to get it. And you don’t want anyone else going through the trash to get ahold of your family.” Basically, avoid guards. They like to write CDV’s and it’s rarely for a purpose.

At any rate, he avoided the trash can with the guards by it, and opted for the trash can that was about a 20 minute walk across the yard. Well, lo and behold, Jerry is out on the yard with his garden crew for work over there! So, Ben was able to hand over the Bible Study papers and Jerry hasn’t missed a Bible Study beat since moving houses 🙂

Ben thought that was pretty cool, because 1) he always finishes books. But not this one. So he had the bookmark in the book. 2) The library was closed, so he had to use the dropbox, which was why he realized he had left the Bible Studies in the book. 3) He isn’t allowed to mingle on the yard with anyone not on the same yard time as he is, so usually he would have never seen Jerry, but this time, Jerry was with his crew, and where Ben could catch him. And 4) he was avoiding the more convenient trash can to not have a run-in with the guards, which prompted him to go right where Jerry was.

I don’t know about you guys, but this seems a little small for someone on the outside of prison. But we’re not bound by the same restrictions. Consider the orchestration that has to go in to make these things happen for these men… God is not bound. It is fun to see God showing special care for His people, even when it’s kind of unrelatable for me in this situation. This seems so small, but it holds such magnitude for Ben and for Jerry. God provided the way to share His truth and encourage these men!

Ben also wanted me to share that there’s a guy in his wing who is a believer. The guy has been struggling with hopelessness. I am not entirely sure, but by deduction, I’m thinking this is the same guy of whom Ben wrote in a prior letter, “One poor kid who was here on a 120-day treatment, with a 10 year back-up, found out yesterday that the judge denied his 120. He’s in his early 20s, but looks about 16. Poor kid. He works at the Chapel, and, in essence, just learned that his 20’s are gone to the system. Swallowed up, just like that. Now he has to go back to Diagnostics to be reclassified, and may, or may not be coming back to Farmington.”

So, Ben says this kid was asking him about hopelessness and depression. He asked Ben if he knew of Scripture he could memorize, or something he could read to help him be encouraged. Ben said that the very next morning, the Bible Study that my Auntie sent him was specifically on the suject of hope. Ben was thrilled to see God at work, yet again.

In summary, twice within the week, God has organized every detail to land perfectly on the day of need, and lifted the hearts of His men in prison.

Ben wanted me to emphasize that 🙂 TWICE within the week. EVERY detail planned out.

Also, prayer request: he’s been telling the Gospel to a Mormon in there. Apparently the man is not a very educated Mormon, so at least he’s not battling educated heresy 😉
He asks for prayer that the man’s heart would be changed, his eyes opened to the truth.