Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: John Bevere's "The Bait of Satan: Your Responses Determine Your Future"


Falling in line with our social media focus this month of "A Lesson in Forgiveness", we will be reviewing John Bevere's "Bait of Satan". This book review was written by one of our counselors, Melanie Howard, who works in our Birmingham and Columbiana offices. Melanie has been a part of the Pathways Counseling staff for about 15 years, and we are lucky to have her. If you would like to learn more about Melanie, click here. 

Synopsis: 
Bevere’s “Bait of Satan” is a penetrating and challenging book. The title of the book doesn't immediately reveal the book’s theme which is the importance of forgiveness. We learn that Satan’s “bait” is any unforgiven offense that is stored in your heart.  Bevere explains that offenses will come because we live in a sinful, fallen world, but we have a choice as to whether or not we become “offended” by the “offense”.    Bevere teaches how to become free in Christ by practicing forgiveness and reconciliation.  The book uses the examples of Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers and David’s persecution by Saul to illustrate the how “offense” happens.  It’s a short book, but not a quick read as it will likely require time to ponder and reflect.  The book emphasizes the seriousness of the sin of unforgiveness as it shows how the trap of offense hinders your prayers, stifles your ministry, and damages your relationships.  Harboring offenses keeps us from experiencing the fullness of God’s plans for our lives. 

What do I find most helpful about this book:
I believe that this book does an excellent job of exposing the often hidden sin of unforgiveness.  Those who read the book with an open heart are very likely to find it convicting.  Many fail to recognize the bitter root of unforgiveness due to feeling “justified” in being “offended”.  Unless the Holy Spirt reveals it, people may be unaware when an offense has entered their heart and “trapped” them. 
In my 14 years as a professional counselor, I don’t believe I’ve ever had anyone walk into my office and tell me, “my biggest problem is that I’ve allowed unforgiveness to take root and I’ve become bitter towards God and others”.  However, I believe that unforgiveness plays a big role in marital conflicts, divorce, church splits, and conflicts at work.  Unforgiveness may also be a contributing factor in cases of depression and anxiety.
I also appreciate the way the books addresses the fact that people may become “offended” when God when he doesn’t act as they hoped he would. 

Words of caution: I highly recommend this book, but I’d like to mention a few things. While the book does an excellent job presenting the importance of forgiveness, I believe it may over-simplify the process of forgiveness, especially for those who have been victims of violent crimes and other “life-altering” types of offenses.  Those seeking more of a “step-by-step” process for forgiveness may prefer to read some of Ev Worthington’s writings on forgiveness. There were a few places where I have some doctrinal disagreements with the author.  Doctrinal issues aside, I still believe that it is a powerful work on the topic of forgiveness.  

Favorite quotes:
  • Our degree of maturity will determine how well we will handle an offense.
  • Our response to an offense determines our future.
  • When we retain an offense in our hearts, we filter everything through it.
  • When we filter everything through past hurts, rejections, and experiences, we find it impossible to believe God. 
  • Acquiring an offense keeps you from seeing your character flaws because blame is deferred to another.
  • It is righteous for God to avenge His servants. It is unrighteous for God's servants to avenge themselves.
  • A person who cannot forgive has forgotten the great debt for which they were forgiven.
  • It is not difficult to obey when you know the character and love of the one to whom you are submitting. Love is the bottom line in our relationship with the Lord. If that love is not firmly in place, we are susceptible to offense and stumbling. 
  • There is only one person who can get you out of the will of God, and that is you!
  • Physical growth is a function of time. Intellectual growth is function of learning. Spiritual growth…is a    function of OBEDIENCE. 
  • When we are settled in trusting God, we are not moved from the Father’s care.  We will not succumb to the temptation to care for ourselves. 
  • To give yourself in total abandonment, you must know the One who holds your life.


If you are interested in purchasing this book, click here

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Forgiveness

Q. I am feeling very angry and hurt.  I am struggling with forgiving someone in my life whom I trusted and never thought would do something so terrible to me. I am a believer and know that I should forgive this person, but how can I forgive someone who has really hurt me?

A.  I am so sorry to hear about your hurt. When someone that we trusted and put faith in lets us down and then goes even further to hurt us, it is a terrible amount of pain.  Thinking about forgiveness can be very difficult and can seem almost impossible.  But there is hope, and there are steps you can take to help yourself heal and arrive at a place of forgiveness.

Dr. Everett Worthington, a popular Christian writer on forgiveness, offers some very practical step-by-step guidelines when attempting to work through forgiveness.  Something important to note about Dr. Worthington is that he is not just writing from a clinical or research perspective.  This is a man who endured a great deal of hurt and trauma from the murder of his mother one New Year's Day.  He not only writes as a very gifted clinician, but also as someone who has experienced a horrific hurt that he had to process.  Ultimately, to his credit, he experienced forgiveness toward the man who brutally killed his mother.

First, let's explore what forgiveness is not.  Forgiveness is not saying that what the person did is okay.  It also does not have to include reconciling with the person (however, if that is the end result and it is safe, that is a much  better outcome).  Remind yourself of these truths when you make the choice to forgive.  Oftentimes, we think that by forgiving someone we are saying what they did is okay or we are condoning their behavior.  That is simply not true.  Think about God's forgiveness towards us as believers.  If by forgiving us God was saying our sin was okay, that would not measure up with the character of God.  We know that God does forgive us but does not condone our sin.  We, as children of God, are called to do the same.  Remember the Lord's Prayer, "...forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12).

Next, let's look at our motivation to forgive.  Oftentimes when we are experiencing hurt, we need to remember why we are choosing to forgive this person.  I want to offer you two motivations for forgiveness: 1) The Lord requires it of us, and 2) it is a much healthier choice to forgive than to stay angry.  Dr. Worthington says in his book Forgiveness and Justice, "Christians do  not forgive because it is easy -- it isn't.  Christians forgive because it is right and because we are responding to God's love and forgiveness to us."  We forgive because we first were forgiven by our Heavenly Father.  "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). There is also research that shows if you hold on to resentment, it actually makes you physically more sick than if you were to let go of the resentment and hurt you are experiencing.  So not only are we commanded -- and that is motivation enough -- but there is actual, physical benefit to forgiveness. 

Lastly, is it important to note that forgiveness is a choice.  I like to say there are two types of forgiveness: positional and progressive.  Dr. Worthington calls these types decisional and emotional.  Positional forgiveness is the choice that you make to forgive who hurt you.  This is a cognitive decision.  This is you making up your mind that you do not want to hold on to the hurt this person has caused you to experience.  You are giving up any right to exact revenge or hold on to resentment. Progressive forgiveness is the letting go and working toward the emotional healing of the hurt.  This is actually letting go of the negative feelings you have toward that person and replacing them with neutral nor positive feelings.  

Dr. Worthington employs an acronym in his work toward forgiveness.  He uses the word REACH to show us a five step approach on how to work toward forgiveness: (Taken from Forgiving and Reconciling: Bridges to Wholeness and Hope by Dr. Everett Worthington)
  • Recall the hurt -- You must work on becoming familiar with your story and work on lowering your anxiety when you are retelling the story.  Once you can retell the story without it overtaking you emotionally, it no longer has power over you. 
  • Empathize -- This one is hard.  He is asking you to see the wrongdoing from the other person's perspective.  Dr. Worthington encourages you to think about why someone might do what they did to you.  Again, remember, it is not about condoning, but about understanding the person who hurt you.
  • Altruistic gift of forgiveness -- You make the choice to forgive the person without an expectation of anything in return.  Remember, you can only change yourself, not someone else.  Forgiveness is more about you than it about the other person.  You are freely offering your forgiveness to them no matter what their response might be. 
  • Commit publicly to forgive -- This can include telling a group of friends about your decision, writing a letter to the offender, or telling a close, trusted friend that you are choosing to forgive and move on. 
  • Hold onto forgiveness -- There will be times when your hurt resurfaces.  Remind yourself that you have worked through this in the past and you have made a choice to forgive.  Continue to leave the hurt and walk away from it.  
If you find that you are not able to work through the above steps or that you are feeling stuck in unforgiveness,  you might need to seek out some additional help.  Sometimes, we need a neutral person to help us sort out our feelings.  This could be a pastor, trusted friend or a counselor.  Whomever you choose, make sure they are a safe person that you can trust and can depend on to help you through your hurt.

Good luck on your journey toward forgiveness.  It is a hard road with many bumps, but it is a road worth traveling for your emotional health.