Category Archives: Repentance

3 Signs of Repentance Every Church Leader Should Learn

Regular readers will notice that I have posted little of late. The combination of too much to do at this point in the semester (2 weeks to go!) plus nothing much to say are the reasons why. However, I have a new post over at the faculty blog at This post is a version of a short essay that I wrote for the AACC Christian Counseling Today magazine in 2006.

On regular occasions church leaders request consultations about complex pastoral cases in their churches. The most frequent consultation has to do with some form of abuse or offense by one parishioner against another. The offending party wants to be reconciled with the victim party but the victim party is hesitant if not downright refusing such reconciliation. In other situations, the church is trying to figure how long to discipline or restrict the parishioner. The big question is commonly,

“How do we know when [name] is really repentant?”

Here’s the problem with answering this question. The fruits of repentance are quite hard to distinguish from their counterfeits. Tears, words, and time are poor estimates of true repentance. However, there are some very good evidences of repentance. Click GRACE Repentance for my 3 signs every church leader should know.

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Filed under Abuse, Relationships, Repentance

Receiving mercy leads to…bold sin?

You’ve just been caught doing something unlawful and harmful to others. You are stopped by the authorities. Time passes and you realize you will not be held accountable for your crimes. There will be no court case. There will be no punishment.

Would this make you more likely or less likely to continue your criminal activities?

My wife is reading a biography of US President Andrew Johnson. Johnson was VP under Lincoln and thus became president after Lincoln’s assassination. Johnson was roundly hated by both abolitionists and southerners. Fellow southerners saw him as a sell-out and abolitionists hated his obvious racist beliefs.

The biography noted that southerners were quite worried that they would face many northern reprisals for their actions during the Civil War. Not only were these reprisals not forthcoming, Johnson provided clemency to many of Confederate leadership. The biographer points out that when it was clear that individuals weren’t going to be held accountable, there seemed to be an increase in racial hatred and violence against freed slaves.

I know post Civil War politics was more complex than my simplistic statement above. And yet, consider this: can mercy embolden more sin? In fact, it may provide that temptation to sin more. Consider St. Paul’s comments in Romans 6. Do we sin more since we receive grace? Apparently, he felt the need to comment on this because we might be inclined to think that a free pass allows us to keep on going down the wrong road.

Just in case you think I’m suggesting we shouldn’t be merciful to sinners, I am NOT saying that. I’m grateful for unmerited favor in my life. I need more of it. However, let us be careful to recognize that mercy may produce in us something other than humble repentance.


Filed under Historical events, Repentance, Uncategorized

Accepting our part of the problem

Notice how hard it is to own our own stuff? Especially when the other person is the bigger problem? Consider the following conversation:

Speaker A: He’s such a jerk! I never want to talk to him again.

Speaker B: What happened?

Speaker A: He never told me that the assignment was due today or that it had to be done up professional. He just yelled at me when I asked him a question and told me I was going to get written up and reported to _____.

Speaker B: Wow that was so unlike him. He must have had something that was bothering him. Aren’t your assignments listed for you ahead of time?

Speaker A: Yeah, they are listed, but I wasn’t there when they put them up and because I have so much to do I couldn’t check what was listed and anyway he should tell me or at least cut me some slack since I work my butt off for him.

Without considering the wrongs or the mistakes of leader (which may be numerous!), notice that speaker A doesn’t tell you that he/she has a habit of forgetting to look at the assignment list nor that when the unnamed “he” called speaker A on messing up, speaker A then spoke in sarcastic and demeaning and defensive tones.

This is a fictional account. And yet we all struggle with saying, “I didn’t like how he treated me but to be fair, I keep forgetting to do what he asked.” “I wish he didn’t yell at me in front of everyone, but I have to admit I was goofing off and talking when I shouldn’t.” If I yell at my kids it is because I was tired or they deserved it. If I speed, it was because I was late. If I’m late it was because of bad traffic. If I didn’t finish my writing assignment it was because of some last-minute crisis. Notice how we take truths and turn them into defenses and thus avoid any blame at all.

What if you are only 10% of the blame for a conflict and your child/spouse/coworker/parent is to blame for the other 90%? Do you find it hard to say, “You know, when we were fighting yesterday, I said _________ and that was hurtful and wrong. Will you forgive me?” Do you find it hard to stop at the end of the sentence without adding, “but you….”

I do. So do my clients and my kids. We seem to think that if we acknowledge our part we let the other party off the hook. In fact, most frequently, when we own our part, the other party is MORE likely to own their stuff too.


Filed under conflicts, deception, Relationships, Repentance

How to fail after hitting it big

Had an interesting talk with my boys about how money and fame does not protect from one’s sins being found out–whether in this life or the next. We were talking about faithfulness and keeping promises and how it feels when someone violates that covenant, and how much more it hurts when that violation goes public.

Right after that, my friend Doug forwarded me a Christianity Today article on the recipe for failing. It is written by Gordon McDonald and is directed at church leaders, especially those who lead big churches. But, you could apply it to your own life. Read the story here, but in short, here is recipe:

1. “Hubris, born of success.” It is interesting how we allow success to lead to pride. Moses told the Israelites that when they got into the promised land and received houses and gardens they didn’t build, they should not become arrogant and say, “look at what I have” and thus forget the Lord.

2. “Undisciplined pursuit of more.” Whether we have little or lots, we always want more. And we find all sorts of creative ways to make our pursuit right and good.

3. “Denial of risk and peril.” The more we succeed the more temptation to give in to brazenness.

4. “Grasping for salvation.” I think this works for successful people as well as those who feel desperate to succeed (after all, you can never rest on your laurels). We look for the silver bullet, the hail Mary, the lotto ticket to the next level of fame.

5. “Capitulation to irrelevance or death.” Once you go too far, you know you can’t recover so you just keep going. Why is it that we find it so hard to repent, to admit, to acknowledge our sins? Because we cannot give up our pride. We sometimes choose character death rather than admit, to stop. I think this is also why people commit hid and runs. We know we will get caught but we keep trying to run because admitting seems like death (when it often contains redemption possibilities).

Notice that the real recipe needs only one ingredient–deception of self and other.

Lord, save us from our prideful, self-deceiving selves.

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Filed under adultery, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, deception, Repentance, self-deception

Sebarenzi on reconciliation

Am just finishing up Joseph Sebarenzi’s God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation (Atria Books, 2009). Joseph, A Tutsi, tells his story from childhood experiences of Hutu-Tutsi violence and state-sponsored discrimination to the 1994 massacre (he was out of the country then) and meteoric rise to power where he became the speaker of the parliament and then was pushed out by the Rwandan dictator.

I’m not sure if his story is accurate (about how Kagame tried to have him killed, but I found his views on reconciliation (and the lack thereof thus far) very helpful:

Ever since the genocide, I have asked myself how the nation could heal. How could we live together again in peace? …

Reconciliation brings enemies together to confront the painful and ugly past, and to collectively devise a bright future. It brings together communities in conflict to tell the truth about all past human rights violations and to create a society where they can live in peace with one another….

Reconciliation is in many ways the hardest option, because it requires effort, humility, and patience–whereas revenge is quick and easy. Reconciliation is complicated. it cannot be reduced to retributive justice…nor to forgiveness…. Reconciliation…includes several components: acknowledgment, apology, restorative justice, empathy, reparation, and forgiveness–and several accompanying measures, namely democracy coupled with consensus, peace education, and international assistance.   pp 214-215

The author goes on to describe what he means by each of these components (and some of the weaknesses in Rwanda). He subscribes to a rather Christian view of this process. It is not merely Hutu groveling to Tutsi but both listening to each other.

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Filed under Christianity, conflicts, Forgiveness, News and politics, Repentance, Rwanda

Rwanda Day 5b

[Sorry for the delay. Recovery and vacation time to Maine took precedence to posting more Rwanda entries.]

In my last entry I spoke of our exposure to prisoners at a local prison–all innocent in their own eyes, or at least deserving of being forgiven and released. All had been convicted by either a federal court or a Gacaca (local) court of genocidal activities.

In the afternoon we invited victims and perpetrators to our retreat house to interview them about their experiences. Jared, a diocese employee, our driver, and wise man brought two victims and one perpetrator to us (in the same car!). We sat under a tree and drank Fantas together, first with the victims and later with the perpetrator. Here’s what we learned:

Victims. We spoke with a woman and two men. The following quotes are through a translator.

The woman told us she was hidden by a Hutu (this is one of the few times we heard this!). She lost her husband and some children in the genocide.

I saw it with my own eyes. People killed people who knew each other. Some of the criminals now live in the community. We share life. Their homes are close. Some of the criminal’s children are seen by me. Their father killed my family. I have forgiven him because he confessed. It is a formula…confess, be forgiven, and live together. But do I forget? No. I see him (the killer) hang back and hesitate to ask for help. Rwanda is a country of sharing but he hesitates to ask. I have to be the one who makes more efforts to connect than he does.

Older man.

I thank God I am alive. It is a miracle. I didn’t expect to survive. There was no place to hide because no friend was left. So, I hid in churches, bushes, and rushes. It was terrible to see. I lost 170 people in my extended family. Remembering is the problem not economical. I knew those doing the killing. I survived by some miracle by moving around and going to another town where they didn’t know if I was a Hutu or a Tutsi….Afterwards, we had to live with those who committed the crimes and now we are trying to cover. Among those who killed, some confessed. They blame the government’s teaching and mobilization. But now they thank God we have a government that wants unity. So, we have to forgive to live together.

Younger man.

I was 11 when the genocide started. Some teachers came to our class and told us, “Tutsi, stand up.” They counted the number of each. I was in the thicket when the killers came. Some Hutus covered me up. When it was over my father was dead. My brother was killed and my sister too in Kigali. Our family was nine. Now we are three. In 2005 I finished school. I have been a judge in the Gacaca courts. It is good that I survived but now I am head of my family and I have to support my mother and my two married sisters (their husbands have to support their own families of origin). But I have no job. I hope to go to university some day.

What is it like to live in the same village with those known to have killed family members?

We are taught to forgive by government but then we see the criminals with their family. So it hurts. His family can achieve what we cannot because they have their whole family. I can’t provide for my family because I am a widow. I could if my husband was still here.

They can hurt you with their words even now. During the three months of memorial they can say things that shows they are proud of what they did.

Does it help to talk about it?

Yes and no. You have to be selective who you talk to. Some one might be happy or proud that I am hurting. I don’t tell it in public because it might be used by someone without good intentions.

How are you feeling about your country?

Today we should build Rwanda together by using Gacac courts to build trust. We try not to be aggressive. Unfortunately, some confess only to get absolution.

Finally, we interviewed a man who is a confessed killer. He is admitted to kill our female victim’s husband. (Remember they came in the same car from the same village. We thought was hard by the woman didn’t think anything of it! EVEN MORE AMAZING, we learned that this man also killed Jared, our translator’s father. Jared didn’t bat an eye when this was revealed to us!).

Since 1967 we learned who is Hutu and Tutsi in school. In 1990 the RPF (rebel Tutsis from Uganda who later became the government) it became worse. People said Tutsis were snakes and taught us this division. “Cut bushes” meant to cut Tutsis with a machete. For me, the genocide started 6 April 1994. When the president was killed I thought Tutsis killed him. They asked us to take revenge and killed the Tutsis. We started the same day. I killed different people. I remember each and every one. It lasted one week. Only a few survived. The RPF stopped us. I was exiled in Tanzania. We came back in 1996. I was arrested and imprisoned. In prison, they mobilized us to ask for forgiveness. I learned that I could be forgiven by God if I confessed. In prison, there were two parties–those who confessed and those who wouldn’t because they wanted to finish the job. Those who sincerely confessed had charges dropped. I was given only 9 years. But in prison, some (we learned later that some meant his own father) some tried to stop me and said the government was tricking us. Now, I’ve been here for 6 years with no problems.

What did you hear in prison?

Some confessed in order to get free. Some wanted to kill me for telling the truth. But I don’t care, I just want to tell the whole truth.

What helped you tell the truth?

The church taught me that you must confess the whole truth to the victim so you can be forgiven by God. Also, once you do this, you have to tell it many times to get it off your heart and to realize what you have done. Yet, it is difficult to come back and live with people whose relatives you killed.

What is the hardest thing for you to deal with?

I’m responsible for their pain. I have flashbacks. I hear them (the victims) crying in my memory.   


Filed under christian psychology, church and culture, Cultural Anthropology, deception, Repentance, Rwanda

Apologies revisited: Heard a good one lately?

Public, direct, and heartfelt apologies are difficult…and rare.

I’ve written here numerous times about apologies and repentance. I find public apologies very interesting, especially by those who can afford to pay someone to help them “get it right.” Last week I listened to a public figure hold a press conference after his conviction for DUI. This person has a lot of money and access to all of the best “coaches”. And yet, his apology was all about himself. Asked what he learned? “I learned that life is full of second chances and I got one.” Now, that could mean that he realizes that he was protected from killing someone with his car. He avoided ending his career. Or, it could mean something far less than remorse. Really, his “apology” was all about himself.
Here’s my question to readers: Have you witnessed or experienced a “home run” apology? What made it so? What features were present? How did you know it wasn’t merely learning the right words? Did you ever think you received a real heartfelt apology only to discover later it wasn’t?

In “Machete Season” (book about Rwandan “killers”), one victim gives one requirement:

“If killers come to church to pray to God on their knees, to show us their remorse, I cannot pray either with them or against them. Real regrets are said eye to eye, not to statues of God.” (p. 163)


Filed under conflicts, Cultural Anthropology, News and politics, Repentance, self-deception

Why we give hollow confessions

On a way too regular basis we observe others making apologies and/or confessions for wrongs done. This morning in my house, my one son hurt the feelings of the other and in working through the problem he made his apology under our direction. Not to be outdone, the other son wasn’t truthful about the situation and so later he too made a directed apology (aka, highly encouraged, but not forced).

Have you noticed that these kinds of apologies, whether from a ten year old or a 50 year old, ring hollow? It is easy from our stand point to concur that they don’t really mean what they say.

I think, in general, that this assessment isn’t accurate. Here’s why.

To hurt another; to do something for ourselves at the cost of others requires that we divorce empathy and self, reality and fantasy. So, when we do apologize, we cannot quickly reconnect these parts. Often the person does feel bad, guilty, afraid of the consequences. Notice that these feelings are rather self-centered. In time, if they go about reconnecting care for others and their feelings, they will feel much more empathy and concern for the wounded party. However, at the outset of their confession, these two things are still divorced. Thus the hollow confession. They do not know what they are really apologizing for beyond a few facts. The longer the deception, the longer the disconnection and time taken to reconnect to the experience of the other.

There are other confounding variables that hinder empathic confessions. One’s goal (get out of trouble, stop the pressure, smooth it over, please the other) may also decrease the likelihood empathy.

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Filed under Christianity, conflicts, deception, Repentance, self-deception, sin

Access to short christian counseling articles

I’ve noticed that the American Association of Christian Counselors has made many of their magazine (Christian Counseling Today) articles available for free on their website. You can search by author or keyword to find what you might be looking for.  

My 800 word essay on repentance after abuse can be found here. A longer and very helpful article by another psychologist on the 12 features of spiritual abuse can be found here.


Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Forgiveness, Repentance

Divorce & Remarriage X: Is remarriage adultery?

We come to chapter 10 of David Instone-Brewer’s book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church(IVP). He starts with this question: “Do people whose divorces were not biblically valid have to stay unmarried for the rest of their life?” (p. 118).

In answering this question I-B starts and finishes the chapter with the problem of how we might know whether a divorce was valid or not. Unless there is a trial, pertinent information may not come to light (abuse, adultery, etc.). So, I-B takes the stand that there are many who have valid grounds who are considered to have divorced for unbiblical reasons. He considers that God is to be the judge of this. Second, I-B reminds us that he has already covered the issue of being forced into an unbiblical divorce. The wronged partner is not enslaved and is free to remarry (1 Cor 7:15)

Third, and this is the most controversial, I-B states that Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:32 (that the one who divorces for any reason other than unfaithfulness and then remarries commits adultery) is rhetorical and not literal. I-B believes this verse falls in a section of high rhetoric (5:21-31). Just as Jesus is not advocating gouging out eyes, nor is he saying that a woman has grounds for divorce if her husband lusted after another woman, neither is he saying that we ought to treat remarriage for groundless divorcees as literal adultery. This, I-B says, is not to take away the serious violation of groundless divorces. They should not happen and it is a sin if they do and all sin is serious!

Finally, I-B takes on the issue of whether an invalid divorce BEFORE conversion is any different from after conversion. Should they be treated differently as many churches do? I-B says no. He points again to 1 Cor 7:12-14 where Paul tells converts not to look down upon their marriages and not to leave their unbelieving spouses but only to let them go if they demand to leave. Here Paul is saying to honor the vow and not to be the cause of breaking up a marriage.

He concludes that since divorce is forgiveable, churches ought to be willing to remarry even the person who demanded an unbiblical divorce:

I think that a church should remarry somone even if that person had forced a wronged partner into a divorce–though only after that person has gone back to their former partner with a genuine offer of reconciliation and has truly repented of this sin. (p. 124)


I-B tries to steer clear of having churches decide guilt or innocence. Seems he wants to do this because we often don’t get all the information and don’t have clear procedures for how we do this. And yet, it seems that elders and pastors are called to be leaders and to make Solomonic decisions. Maybe the problem has been church leaders too unwilling to get their hands dirty in a messy situation, or too unwilling to take the time.

Following his mindset a person who forces an unbiblical divorce ought to remain unmarried and open to reconciliation until their former spouse remarries. However, he doesn’t really say this.

I’m reminded of Philip Yancey’s line in “What’s So Amazing about Grace.” He tells the tale of a friend who asks him if God will forgive him if he divorces his longtime wife and marries a young woman. Yancey says something like this, “Yes, but the question is whether you will want it” (meaning if you want God’s forgiveness then you have to repent and turn AWAY from your sin and back to righteousness).

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Filed under book reviews, church and culture, divorce, Doctrine/Theology, marriage, Repentance