Category: Forgiveness

“It’s shocking. It’s awful. It’s tragic. There’s hope.”

“It’s shocking. It’s awful. It’s tragic. There’s hope.”

Those were my words when the first accusations against Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor of Willow Creek, came out in the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today last spring. My words were in response to a group of men who asked how it felt for me, knowing I had served on staff at the church for four years in the 1990’s.

Those words still hold true for me today; they are just stronger. As weeks have gone by more women have courageously stepped forward to reveal shocking stories of harassment, intimidation and inappropriate behavior they say they experienced from Hybels. He still denies the accusations and the elders are now re-investigating the claims, after months of their own denials and unkind characterizations against the women.

From the perspective of 20 years of distance following four years of immersion in the Willow Creek soil I pray for the following:

  1. That all the truth finally comes out. The scope and breadth of harmful behavior, crude touching or worse that Hybels apparently directed toward numerous women must come to light. As long as patterns remain hidden or denied they will remain festering and unhealed. For the sake of the women, for the church and for Hybels’ own emotional and spiritual health all of the truth needs to come out.
  1. For full confession and repentance from Hybels and the elders for their actions and words. Those who have harmed others privately and publicly must confess and repent privately and publicly. This means Hybels admits what he has done. This also means the elders and pastoral staff at the church, and leaders at the Willow Creek Association, many of whom have resigned and have begun to admit their previous errors, take personal responsibility for assumptions they made in defense of Hybels, as well as conclusions they reached and publicized against the women.
  1. For forgiveness when the time is right—for the women. I disagree with the apology approach that includes the words, “Will you forgive me?’ Those are not the words an offender has a right to say to those he has harmed, let alone a response he has a right to insist from them. The offender’s responsibility is to apologize and repent. It is up to the wounded one to determine when and how she will respond. For her sake choosing eventual forgiveness can bring her peace. But she has every right to decide when and how her heart is be prepared to do that.
  1. For the names and reputations of Willow Creek and the Association to be eventually restored. The global impact of Willow Creek can hardly be exaggerated. Certainly there will be hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who will spend eternity with the Lord because of the vision and message of the church. It’s my hope that some day, through genuine self-examination, apology and repentance, Willow will be held in high esteem once again.
  1. That the honor and reputation of the Church at large will be defended. Let those of us who claim to be brothers and sisters of those who have made terrible mistakes of judgment, as well as of those courageous women who have stood up and spoken up, make a commitment to examine our own areas of weakness, selfishness and condescension that harms other Believers, our families, neighbors, co-workers and others who trust us.
  1. That there might be a time when the women who have been harmed would see a spirit of contrition and humility in Hybels, a spirit already demonstrated by the elders and former pastors, that would cause them to welcome a restored relationship on whatever level is safe, healthy and right for them.
  1. That I would cease any arrogant spirit that might cause me to think I am incapable of the hiddenness, defensiveness and deceit that Hybels appears to have carried out. May I turn my eyes toward my own wounded story, healing, and repentance, and allow God to build in me a deeper spirit of humility and compassion toward others.
  1. That God’s name will eventually be magnified and honored because of how those in the center of this profoundly tragic story carry themselves as his followers. And because of how we who call him Lord conduct ourselves.

The challenges we encounter in life have the potential to destroy us. They also carry the equal potential to be defining and transformational steps in increased Christ-likeness. The impact depends on our attitudes and actions in the face of those challenges. I pray this deeply tragic episode causes Willow Creek, the Church at large, you and me to more deeply reflect the Spirit of Christ.

Your Gift to Your (Grand)Father

I was moved by the photography and message of this clip. It’s less than 3 minutes and definitely worth a look.

With Father’s Day right around the corner you may already be thinking of what you might want to say to your dad or grandfather. There’s a good chance your thoughts are also mixed with memories of regret or disappointment. I know how that feels.

Your Gift to Your (Grand)Father
Black Lives Matter; Blue Lives Matter; All Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter; Blue Lives Matter; All Lives Matter

Once again, I’m stunned at the video footage that confronts all of us:

BLACK LIVES MATTER

  • 49 patrons of an Orlando dance club are brutally slaughtered by a man who apparently hates gays, non-Muslims or both
  • A black man in Louisiana shot twice in the chest as he’s wrestled to the ground by two officers
  • A black man in Minnesota is shot four times after getting pulled over by an officer for a broken taillight, as his wife and 4 year-old daughter watch in horror
  • A protest in Minneapolis turns into a virtual riot as firecrackers, Molotov Cocktails and bricks are thrown at police, who then respond with smoke and tear-gas. Dozens on both sides are injured
  • A peaceful protest in Dallas, in response to these shootings, turns into a sniper attack where a black man kills five police officers and wounds several others

The development of live video footage anywhere at anytime has exposed us to shocking injustice as well as outright evil. Many of us experience the disorientation and overload of being exposed to more violence, mistreatment and bloodshed than our senses and thought processes were designed to manage.

Meanwhile extreme voices on either end of the political spectrum take advantage of the horror to press their own predictable agendas.

Groups like Black Lives Matter, whose name and motto I fully agree with, seem too often to become violent and abusive in how they express their anguish. Sometimes it sounds like: Black lives matter more than yours. No, they don’t matter more: but they DO matter more than the prejudiced treatment they’ve lived under for centuries. I think we can agree on this, even though we may disagree with how it’s communicated.

Those espousing that Blue Lives Matter, whose name and motto I fully agree with, seem too often to ignore the demeaning, soul-crushing reality of what it feels like, as a black man or woman, to live in a society where you are constantly suspect, feared, over-looked or attacked. But, folks, where would we be without the courageously self-sacrificial service the great majority of police provide their neighbors? Utter anarchy.

Where do we land? For starters, though it sounds ridiculously simplistic to say it, we need to live with the unalterable conviction that All Lives Matter. Regardless of ethnicity, race or gender, the truth is that we have all been made in the image of God. (Gen. 1:27) That matters, or at least it should. You have never looked into the eyes of a person who God does not love with all his heart.

We also need to live with the unalterable conviction that every one of us, regardless of race, gender, demographic, addiction or sexual lifestyle choice, is deeply wounded. The Creator designed every one of us with deep longings for love, significance, security and joy. All of those were lost as a consequence of sin, pride and, ultimately, through self-centered separation from God.

As a result, all of us live with deep loss, brokenness and longing. We try to fill those longings with a wide variety of selfish behavior that still leaves us thirsty…until we discover the true Source of living water. (Jer. 2:13) And even then we all still have the capacity to live selfishly.

To me, this means we live with the unalterable conviction that, while the outward evidence and consequences of our self-centered choices may vary widely, every one of us has the capacity for prejudice, anger, pride, addictive behavior, destructive pursuit of pleasure and self-protection.

I’m not invulnerable to these; neither are you; neither are those whose lives are very different from yours. We’re all broken. We’re all longing for what our hearts were designed for, and then, was lost when mankind’s relationship with God was broken.

So how do we respond?

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  • We live in humility. We recognize that deep inside we are all broken.
  • We work to understand others. We all long for the transcendent relationship with God we were built for; we pursue different wounded paths.
  • We forgive graciously. Because we have been forgiven so much.
  • We speak with conviction. To remain silent in the face of sin or injustice we disagree with, is to allow it to continue.
  • We act courageously. Action almost always requires courage.
  • We love extravagantly. One of the most powerful stories Jesus told, commonly known as the Prodigal Son, is really about the Extravagantly Loving Father. Even as that son was rebellious and self-absorbed, his father watched the horizon for him every day. Our Father does the same: watching, waiting, embracing and forgiving every child who comes to him. We should reflect that same love.

Because all lives matter.

Racial Redemption

It has been so disturbing recent months to witness the series of events that have brought into glaring spotlight the differences that still separate the races—especially white vs. black—in the United States. We who long for genuine reconciliation and mutual respect, regardless of one’s race, are pierced when young black men are killed by officers […]

Prison Redemption

Prison Redemption

I haven’t spent a lot of time in prison. But I vividly remember each visit.

Last weekend I joined my friend, Ron, in a visit to the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, about 2 hours southeast of Colorado Springs. It wasn’t my first visit to a jail or prison, and just to be clear, none of them had anything to do with my misbehavior.

When I was in high school my dad and I joined a pastor on a visit to Cook County Jail in Chicago, one of the largest and notoriously violent jails in the U.S.

In 1998 I explored the possibility of involving men from Willow Creek Church in regular prison ministry in Latin America. I’ll never forget the awful conditions of the nearly 100 men living in a filthy holding cell designed for 30, in Quito, Ecuador. They were angry and violent; waiting endlessly for the trial that would determine their future fate.

The conditions at Arkansas Valley were far cleaner, organized and peaceful by comparison. The men I met at a large group Bible study were still facing a similar open-ended future of managed lock-up, but there was a pervasive sense of peace and hope. It was a shocking contrast to me.

I was welcomed at the classroom door by Deon, a kind-faced, friendly, eloquent inmate who helps lead the study. My friend Ron has a special place in his heart for Deon. Years ago Deon got into a heated argument with his best friend, also named Ron. In the heat of the moment, Deon was overcome by rage and beat his friend so severely that he was hospitalized suffering from trauma that will probably never heal. Deon nearly killed him, and now lives out a years-long sentence.

It was hard to connect this story of violence and rage with the kind man who greeted me at the door. On the way home Ron told me the incident that brought transformation and peace to Deon. He will most likely never see his friend Ron again, so his opportunity for any face-to-face repentance or reconciliation is virtually nil. But on one of their first meetings with each other Deon turned to my friend Ron, and asked him, since he shared the name of his friend, if he would personally “stand-in” for the Ron he nearly murdered.

What followed were intimate words of confession, apology, repentance; tears and weeping. Deon was looking at my friend, Ron; but he was speaking to his friend Ron. That day Deon embraced spiritual and emotional freedom.

It’s a tangible story of redemption. God takes awful brokenness and transforms it into power and compassion. That’s the only way the Deon, who nearly killed his best friend, could become the Deon of grace who leads others into deeper knowledge of God.

When we confess, apologize and repent, God can do the same for all of us.

How to Apologize

I’ve commented before, (see “I’m Sorry”), about the poor apologies we see in public, where the perpetrator essentially says, “I regret if others may have taken offense at what I was construed as having said.” Or some other mangled nonsense that absolves them (or us) of actual responsibility. Giving a direct, clear apology at times […]

Forgiveness—Even If You Don’t Love Me Anymore

Forgiveness—Even If You Don’t Love Me Anymore

“Craig, I know I need to forgive you…but it isn’t today. I’ll let you know when it is.”

So spoke a friend, I had seriously offended, once we met and he had a chance to clear the air of the anger he felt toward me.

“The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I figured out, I have to learn again.
I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter,
But everything changes
And my friends seem to scatter,
But I think it’s about forgiveness,
Forgiveness,
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore.”

So sang Don Henley of the Eagles when he came face to face with the gnawing realization that for his own health and the benefit of any future relationships he might have, he needed to forgive a person who hurt him, no matter her response.

His insights remind me of Christian author Neal Anderson who made the point in his book, The Bondage Breaker, that when we remain angry at others who we think we are keeping on the hook, in reality it is WE who are hanging on the hook. That other person may have no clue just exactly how miserable we are; they’ve moved on. We haven’t. He writes, “Bitterness is the acid that eats its own container.”

Men, I think practicing forgiveness is one of the biggest life lessons we need to learn. It is truly for our own benefit—yet it also becomes a gift to the forgiven.

Years ago I seriously offended a good friend of mine. When we met to resolve the conflict he said, “Craig, I know I need to forgive you…but it isn’t today. I’ll let you know when it is.” Several months later, on Dec. 31st of that year I picked up my ringing phone to hear that man’s voice on the other end. “Craig, I’ve decided I don’t want to take my anger at you into another year. Today is the day I forgive you.” That had the ring of genuine forgiveness, not just the shallow insincere words we sometimes say when forced to forgive.

With those words he gave me a significant gift. Yet the gift of release and freedom he gave himself was even bigger.

Following are two examples of forgiveness granted to another in extreme circumstances. Both come from other cultures that revere the act of forgiveness. It comes no easier to them than it does to us; it’s just that they may value it more highly than we do.

The first takes place in Iran where the family of a victim has the right to insist on retribution or to forgive the criminal, in which case he is released. Here a mother frees her son’s murderer from death by hanging. Mother Forgives Her Son’s Killer. She had no intention of doing so, but in this article she tells the amazing way she was released by releasing him. Rather than kick over the chair the murderer stood on, with a noose around his neck, the mother climbed it to reach over and take off the noose.

The second takes place in Rwanda where in 1994 the genocide began between two tribes that eventually resulted in the death of over 1 million people. Can you imagine forgiving the man who slaughtered your family? Watch how she does.

“How do they do this?” we might ask. My response is that they do it because they understand true forgiveness. In releasing their insistence on vengeance they free themselves from the acid of bitterness toward the person who caused them their greatest pain.

Men, all of you who read this have known unjust pain at the hands of another. Is today the day you need to finally forgive them?

What have you learned about forgiveness? How do we do it better?