The most dangerous words you may speak today

Words could casually cross your lips today that feel completely innocent but are extremely dangerous.

You see every time you talk about what someone did to you, you strike a match in your heart and light a bitter flame once again. That’s why referencing your past could be the most dangerous words you speak today.

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The difference between being a bitter and broken person or a healthy and happy person is often determined by the simple way you talk about our past.

How you talk about your past really is a big deal.

Now, if anyone was ever entitled to be a victim, it was Jesus. Instead, Scripture points out that Jesus often did something a little odd.

“When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.” — Matthew 27:12-14, emphasis added

Jesus said nothing.

No story.

Silence.

I read that story and I want Jesus to speak up and defend himself, shame Pilate, and ‘wow’ the crowd. C’mon Jesus, speak up!

But our Savior said nothing.

The maker of vocal cords stood in complete silence.

Jesus knew something we forget: casual words about our past put us in enemy territory full of landmines filled with bitterness.

Talking about your past can be dangerous. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your painful past can become a healing story. In fact, it can become a platform for ministry. But you’ll need to transform your story.

Here’s the first step to transform your story from dangerous to healing:

Find meaning in your pain

This is different than simply being positive. Finding meaning allows you to identify how you have grown from your difficult experience without calling that experience good.

Here are three questions to help you find meaning in suffering:

Would your suffering be worthwhile if it helped transform another person?

What good has already come from your suffering?

What good could come from your suffering?

In my new book, I offer the H.O.P.E. Tool to help you discover purpose in your past pain. This helps you transform your story.

Imagine if you were able to honestly look back at your past and, instead of talking only about your pain and your offender, you could reference God’s hand and the good that came from it?

Your past hurt is capable of producing the most dangerous words you speak today or the most impactful words you speak today.

As we approach Easter weekend, we will acknowledge our Savior’s painful crucifixion followed by his glorious resurrection.

Our stories should reflect that pattern. Pain followed by resurrection.

I love how Joseph talked about his past pain with purpose, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20)

3 Ways to Know You HAVE Forgiven

I’ve had people ask me, “I think I’ve forgiven them but how can I know for sure?”

This is a GREAT question because it reveals we’re genuinely searching our heart.

But sometimes it’s hard to tell. So how can you know for sure?

Last week, I shared seven ways to know you have not forgiven yet.

Today, I share three ways to know you HAVE forgiven.

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1. You talk like an overcomer

When you talk like a victim you’re overly focused on your offender and you give your offender too much control over your story.

Forgiveness recognizes that God is in control not your offender. When you transition your language from “victim” to “overcomer”, you draw the focus back on our Creator and Redeemer.

Like Joseph we can say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen. 50:20)

Despite being falsely accused, betrayed, and crucified, Jesus never focused on how unfair his offender’s behavior was but instead focused on God’s sovereignty and overcoming their actions with forgiveness.

When you can refer to your past as an overcomer, it’s a great sign that forgiveness has taken place.

2. You own part of the problem

It’s easy to think it was 100% their fault. Even though it may be mostly their fault, chances are there’s something you can own.

For example:

He clearly mistreated you, but as you pause and look back, maybe people had advised you to beware of him.

She consistently demeaned and hurt you, but as you pause and look back, maybe you kept answering her texts and letting her back into your life.

She seduced you, but as you pause and look back, maybe you stayed too long.

He stole from you, but as you pause and look back, maybe you rushed past all of the warning signs.

Owning your part (even if it’s only 5%) unleashes an accurate perspective and a forgiving heart. After all, there is only person who has ever lived who was 100% innocent.

CAVEAT: There are exceptions when a child is abused, someone is attacked, etc. when one person is 100% responsible. However, most of us have a percentage we can own.

When you own your part of the problem, it’s a great sign that you have a forgiving heart.

3. You genuinely wish them well

This has nothing to do with your offender, their guilt, their remorse (or lack of), etc. You may forgive them but decide that it’s not wise to give them access to your life.

However, when you wish them well you are recognizing that in light of the cross, we’re all needy people. In the New Testament, Jesus challenges us to pray for and to love our enemies.

When you genuinely wish your offender well, it’s a great sign that you have a forgiving heart.

Anything else you would add that reveals forgiveness has taken place?

7 questions that reveal you haven’t really forgiven

As a pastor, I have people ask me, “I think I’ve forgiven them but how can I know for sure?”

I love hearing this question because it shows that a person is genuinely searching his or her heart. It’s an important question.

Have you forgiven . . . really? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

I’ve heard people say things like, “I’ve completely forgiven so-and-so but I still can’t stand to even think about him or her. If you only knew what they did. It was awful.”

Some people are convinced they’ve forgiven while everyone else can see that the wound is still raw.

It’s sort of like an athlete showing up out of shape at the beginning of the season declaring, “I’m fit and in shape!” But then fails the physical assessment miserably! Everyone knows the athlete is unfit except the athlete.

What if there was an assessment that revealed your forgiveness fitness?

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I’ve put together a 7 Question Test. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you probably haven’t forgiven. (Next time, we’ll look at some indicators that reveal you have forgiven.)

1) Have you told your story more than once to the same person?

You know that feeling when you’re talking to someone and you can tell they aren’t interested because you see their eyes glazing over? Suddenly you remember, “Oh, I’ve already told them this story!”

When you haven’t forgiven, you tell the story over and over not because your memory failed you but because the wound is raw and it dominates your thinking.

2) Do you replay the past events at least once a day in your mind?

Most people don’t like to watch the same movie twice unless it’s really good. Even a great movie would get old if watched every year. Who in the world wants to relive the same event every single day? Only a person who hasn’t forgiven.

3) Do you have imaginary conversations with the person who hurt you?

We want the bad guys to pay! That’s why we cheer for Luke Skywalker over Darth Vader; Marty McFly over Biff Tannen; and Neo over Agent Smith. We all want justice!

Imaginary conversations (arguments) are part of our natural desire for justice and seeing the bad guys pay.

Jesus reveals a very different . . . and much better way.

4) When you think about your pain does it cause a mental fog?

“We often react in extremes about our past. We either deny or exaggerate the damage. Why? It’s a psychological defense protecting us from anxiety.” -Dr. Robert Enright.

I offer a personal assessment tool in my new book to help you accurately identify your injustice and remove the mental fog.

5) Is it hard to explain to others why your hurt bothers you so much?

I often hear people say things like, “No one understands how much I’ve been hurt. They just don’t get it.” Honestly, I always hurt a little when I hear this because that’s exactly what I used to think.

When you think your situation is unique it makes you feel isolated. However, even if your circumstances are unique, your injury/injustice isn’t. Once you discover your injury, you discover that you have an injury in common with many other people.

In my book, I share a thorough list of the most common injustices.

6) Does your story focus primarily on your pain and what you have lost?

Talking about your past from the “victim” position focuses mostly on you, your pain, and your loss. When you’re still telling your story from the “victim” position, you probably haven’t forgiven.

Forgiveness provides a bigger perspective while unforgiveness remains mostly focused on us, our pain, and our loss.

7) Have you made a commitment to not tell your story again and then broken your commitment?

Two things happen after a deep hurt and we rarely connect the dots: 1) we tell our victim story, and 2) we can’t forgive. It turns out; our story is part of the problem.

The best time for you to hold your tongue is the time you feel you must say something or bust. –Josh Billings

If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you have not forgiven. You’re not alone. Most of us can relate.

Here are some ideas that might help you move toward the freedom of forgiveness:

The Day My Best Friend Fired Me

Today I want to share the story behind my new book STUCK. Here’s when it all began. (I include this story in the book.)

The Day My Best Friend Fired Me

As soon as I read the email from my pastor, my heart skipped a beat: “Mark, come to my office first thing this morning.”

You know that feeling when you sense something isn’t right? I told my wife about the odd email, then I drove to the church.

As I walked into my mentor’s large office, he said, “Hey man, why don’t you close the door?” My heart was pounding. I shut the door and sat in the green wingback chair facing his desk. This man whom I’d worked alongside for so long began reading a prepared letter. Apparently, there would be no small talk. I didn’t know it, but he was about to make a shocking announcement and instantly end our friendship.

My mind replayed our relationship like a DVR on rewind: when we flew to Boston to watch the Red Sox play the Yankees at Fenway Park, when we flew to Chicago to tour Wrigley Field, the many times we drove to The Ballpark in Arlington to catch a Ranger’s game. We’d even watched countless games of baseball and basketball at each other’s houses.

He was the senior pastor and I was his associate pastor, his “right- hand man,” the Tim Cook to his Steve Jobs (minus the fame, money, and power, but you get the point).

To be blunt, we were a great ministry duo.

During the twelve years we worked together, the church had more than tripled in weekly attendance, financial giving, and staff members. Due to that kind of growth, we relocated to a much larger campus. We also transitioned an established church to use a relevant ministry style. As ministry leaders know, that much time “in the trenches” together forms a unique bond!

The man reading this prepared letter was not just my pastor; he was one of my best friends. We genuinely loved each other.

That’s what made his announcement so gut wrenching.

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THE BACKSTORY

Eighteen months earlier, I sat in that same green chair and told my pastor I felt drawn to lead a church with a unique focus on reaching people outside of the church. Seeking his wisdom, I asked, “Should I pastor an existing church or start a new one?”

He was supportive and encouraged me to start a new church. Now we just needed to decide where.

A year later, I returned to my friend’s office with some great news: I’d found a church-planting partner in North Point Community Church, pastored by Andy Stanley. I was thrilled with this prospect because they had proven themselves successful in starting churches focused on the exact kind of people I wanted to reach—those outside of the church. But we still needed to decide where this new church was going to be planted. Little did I know then that this issue would ultimately soil our relationship.

During the next few months, I felt our relationship cooling. I sensed my friend pulling away from me, despite the fact that I desperately wanted his help in discerning God’s will for this next phase. We’d always made major decisions together. He said he felt unqualified to help me with this process because he’d never personally started a church.

Several days prior to the day my best friend fired me, I told him that after much research and prayer, the leadership at North Point Ministries and I believed it made sense to plant this new “church for the unchurched” right there in our hometown. I requested that his church and my new church form a partnership, then I asked to transition officially out of my current role in three months. I also offered to stay longer or leave sooner if he preferred.

BACK TO THE DAY THAT MY BEST FRIEND FIRED ME

As he read from his prewritten letter, he announced that my resignation was effective immediately and there would be no partnership between our churches. He said starting a new church in the same town would hurt the church he pastored, so he didn’t believe God would lead me to do such a thing. As he continued reading, I felt the sting and shock of unexpected, unfriendly phrases like, “This Sunday will be your last day,” and “Have your office cleaned out by Monday morning.”

When he finished, he looked up and calmly asked, “Do you have any questions?”

We sat without speaking, a moment of silence for the death of our friendship. Then I said the only words that seemed appropriate, “I hate that it’s ending this way.” He agreed. I stood up and slowly walked out of his office. I already felt something hurting deep inside of me. My mind raced in a thousand different directions simultaneously.

Now what was I supposed to do?

Suddenly, I had no income, and I feared our church members would feel the pressure to take sides. Plus, I’d just lost one of my best friends. After serving together for twelve years, our relationship seemed irrevocably severed. We wouldn’t talk to each other for years to come. I walked out to the parking lot, each step heavier than the last.

I sat alone, motionless in my car, confusion and bitterness racing circles round my mind.

TWO WEEKS AFTER THE “BREAK-UP”

In the early aftermath of this professional and relational catastrophe, a friend told me, “Take a few days off, Mark. Get away, clear your head, and work on your heart before rushing into the next season of your life.”

My wife and I both thought that wise advice, so we loaded up our suburban and drove to Junction, TX, a familiar family getaway on the Llano River and a much-needed change of scenery at this particular point in my life.

I had one goal that weekend: to be completely healed by Monday morning.

I’m not kidding.

God wanted that. I wanted that. So why not? “Let’s do this!” I thought.

I spent the weekend reading scripture, praying, crying, journaling, walking, playing with my kids, and talking with my wife. I knew God was going to use this experience to shape me. I just needed him to do it by Monday morning!

That weekend I drove the proverbial stake in the ground to heal and move forward. I felt a twinge of hope. Monday morning came and I was determined to go home and be a healthy husband, father, and pastor. I could hear “Eye of the Tiger” from the Rocky III soundtrack in my head. Come hell or high water, I was leaving my hurt in Junction, TX.

So we piled back into our suburban, turned on some upbeat music, and began the drive home. Now new friends accompanied me: determination and hope. Ninety miles later, as we neared our hometown, something trivial caught my attention.

The “U.S. Highway 87” sign, which led to my former job, triggered an unexpected internal fight. Immediately, I felt a surprising surge of emotional pain from a deep place in my heart. Hurt brought his old friends anger and fear, and they quickly beat the living daylights out of hope and determination. In their dark and cruel way, they screamed that healing had never really happened. I felt discouraged and confused. “Eye of the Tiger” segued into a bugle playing “Taps” at a funeral. And all because of an otherwise innocent highway sign!

My hurt was turning into a grudge.

For the first time, I felt involuntarily attached to my past. For the first time, I felt stuck.

FAST-FORWARD TWO YEARS

“Mark, you keep looking back. You need to forgive and start moving forward.”

My well-intentioned, church-planting coach and friend from North Point Ministries had heard my two-year-old sob story before. On this day, as we sat across from each other at Smokejack BBQ in Alpharetta, GA, I chided myself for yet again rehashing what should have been ancient history.

I took a deep breath and nodded my head in agreement, like you do when someone says something completely true but completely unhelpful. “Forgive and move forward?” I thought. “Sure. No problem. While I’m at it I’ll solve world hunger and negotiate world peace. I want to move forward but I don’t know how. That’s the problem. I’m stuck!”

Once back at my West Texas home, I dug deeper within, hoping to pray a more genuine prayer of forgiveness. To my horror, my nasty grudge returned a couple days later. Over the next few weeks, I experienced that same vicious cycle: a prayer of forgiveness, followed by a returning grudge, followed by another prayer of forgiveness, followed by a returning grudge.

To be given a memory capable of instant and detailed recall without the ability to forget feels like the cruelest divine trick of all. My grudge was the heaviest weight to carry but the hardest burden to put down.

I was desperate. Well-meaning people advised, “You gotta forgive and move on.” Honestly, and this is not pastoral advice, I wanted to slap ‘em!

“What specifically can I do?” I thought. “Please! Somebody tell me! How do I forgive and move forward?”

I was exhausted. Something had to change.

WHAT’S YOUR STUCK STORY?

Can you relate? Have you been deeply hurt?

Maybe you’ve experienced something much more painful than me. Your ex-spouse, a parent, a co-worker, or a close friend may have hurt you.

Someone did something to you.
Someone took something from you.
Someone owes you something.

Your hurt may include a divorce, bankruptcy, a job loss, betrayal, abuse, or broken trust. The day you’re hurt is a bad day, but the unrelenting weight of a heavy grudge is even worse, isn’t it? When you want to forgive but don’t know how, you feel stuck.

Don’t know if you’re stuck? Consider these questions:

  • Have you told your story more than once to the same person?
  • Do you reference your hurt as an event, mentioning the people and the circumstances?
  • Do you replay the event at least once a day in your mind?
  • Do you have imaginary conversations with the person who hurt you?
  • When you think about your pain, does it cause a mental fog?
  • Is it hard to explain to others why your hurt bothers you so much?
  • Does your story focus primarily on your pain and what you’ve lost?
  • Have you made a commitment to yourself to not tell your story again and then have broken that commitment?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you’re stuck.

Being stuck is exhausting. It’s like plodding through pudding. Your life feels like it’s happening in slow motion. Your dreams are on hold. You want to forgive, but you can’t.

Be encouraged though: you’re not the only one walking in pudding.

In a nationwide Gallup poll, 94 percent of people said it was important to forgive, but 85 percent said they would need outside help in order to forgive. Apparently, many of us are stuck, and just because Christianity focuses on forgiveness doesn’t mean we’re adept at it. Many of us fail to fully forgive. Why is that? We don’t know how!

As John Ortberg says, “Many of us struggle, not so much with understanding the message of forgiveness, but with living in the reality of it.”

In my past, I was often not terribly helpful when it came to forgiveness since I tended to focus more on the why and what of forgiveness instead of the how.

If a church member had asked me, “How do I overcome an addiction?” I would have replied, “Here are a few specific steps you can take . . . ”

If a church member had asked me, “How do I grow my faith?” I would have replied, “Here are a few specific steps you can take . . .”

If a church member had asked me, “How do I forgive?” I would have replied, “Just do it!” Aren’t you glad I wasn’t your pastor?

So where should we go to discover how to forgive?

Jesus Christ, “History’s Greatest Forgiver,” is the most qualified person to teach us how to forgive. He spent his years on earth demonstrating exactly how to forgive. He lived history’s only grudge-free life. He’s forgiven the most people ever. Plus, he forgives me and you, and we both know how much our souls need that on a daily basis.

In this book, I identify six forgiveness behaviors that Jesus modeled. These six steps are not theoretical, but real, practical steps that will help you avoid common roadblocks to deep and lasting forgiveness. True forgiveness doesn’t occur by checking six steps off of your to-do list, but rather these steps will position you to allow the Holy Spirit to transform your heart into a heart that fully forgives.

But first, a WARNING: if you don’t learn how to forgive, pride and resentment will eventually crush you. You already know people like that. So do I. One day they were hurt, then every following day they got a little bit colder. As years passed, the weight of their grudge deformed them. Now they’re only hard, bitter people.

When you’re stuck, doing nothing will cost you everything.

Jesus, who gave everything to set you free, wants you to know how to forgive and get unstuck.

If you’d like to continue reading STUCK When You Want to Forgive but Don’t Know How click below.

Click here for your copy of STUCK

What Others Are Saying

“Mark has started a conversation that the Church has desperately needed to have for a long time. Mark helps us get unstuck. Do yourself a favor and read this book.”
BEN REED, Small Groups Pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA

“Mark is just the man to help us navigate forgiveness. He lives what he writes, and I love that. I predict you’ll end up buying copies to give away.” Dr. DANIEL HAHN, Lead Pastor, ENCOUNTER, Ventura, CA

“Mark’s story is one based not on theory, but on his real-life story, and aren’t those always the best? Mark’s story and insights will help you release the grip of the grudge and move forward in freedom.”
JEFF HENDERSON,Lead Pastor, Gwinnett Church (North Point Ministries) Metro Atlanta, GA

“Pastor Riggins has written a highly informative book on how to forgive. He uses engaging stories and much practical, Bible-based advice to help the hurting learn how to forgive.”
Dr. ROBERT ENRIGHT, Ph.D., Professor, University of Wisconsin- Madison & Co-founder, International Forgiveness Institute

Click here for your copy of STUCK

What a month! A quick review since the release of STUCK.

Last month STUCK When You Want to Forgive But Don’t Know How released. What a month it has been! The book sales, enthusiasm, and incredible stories of forgiveness you’re sharing have exceeded my expectations in every way!

Here’s a quick review of the last month:

Feb 3STUCK officially released on Amazon!

Feb 4 – I was a guest blogger at Lifeway

“How to Help Your Congregation Forgive”

Every time I pull out of the driveway I panic a little bit. Why? I can’t remember if I should go left or right. Seriously. I’m horrible at directions. According to one national Gallup Poll, 85% of people surveyed said they need help to forgive other people. As I talk to Christians, more and more admit they are struggling with this . . . (to continue reading click HERE).

Feb 5 – I was a guest blogger for Pastor Ron Edmondson

“6 Ways to Release Anger & Bitterness”

You’re going to hurt people and people are going to hurt you. As John Ortberg says living with people is like “dancing with porcupines.” So what will you do when you get hurt? . . . (to continue reading click HERE).

Feb 14 – Book Signing at Abednego Book Shoppe

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Feb 23 – Released the new FORGIVENESS STARTER KIT free to those who sign-up for my blog by clicking HERE.

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Feb 23 – I was a guest blogger for Pastor Greg Atkinson

“When You Want to Forgive but Don’t Know How”

I’m embarrassed every time I admit this but I’m a pastor who carried a grudge for three years. My best friend (and fellow pastor) and I had ended our friendship over a significant disagreement. I needed to move on. I needed to forgive. But I couldn’t . . . (to continue reading click HERE).

Feb 26 – I was a guest blogger for Pastor Carey Nieuwhof

“6 Signs That Your Team Chemistry is Crumbling”

How healthy is your team . . . really? As you evaluate your team, here are 6 warning signs that your team chemistry is crumbling . . . (to continue reading click HERE).

Feb 28/Mar 1 – Book Signing at ENCOUNTER | Bible Fellowship Church

March 2 – Released the brand new 30-Days of Forgiveness Devotional. You can click HERE and receive Day 1 in your inbox shortly.

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Here’s a brief Thank You video for all who have purchased STUCK.

 

 

Announcing NEW 30-Days of Forgiveness Devotional

If you’re ready to forgive someone, consistent encouragement during the first 30 days would be helpful. That’s why I created the 30-Days of Forgiveness Online Devotional.

It includes encouragement, Scripture, prayers, and practical exercises to help you fully forgive. And, it’s free.

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Sign-up below and you’ll receive Day 1 in your inbox shortly.

Signup

Share this free devotional with your friends by forwarding this, sharing on Facebook, or Twitter. Let’s unleash the freedom of forgiveness!

This is a great resources on its own or along side my new book STUCK When You Want to Forgive but Don’t Know How.