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Author: Tom Rose

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Something too Precious Not To Share

Friday, August 27, 2021

Something Too Precious Not To Share

By Tom Rose

What things are precious to us?  They are generally objects: a favorite dress, sweater or perhaps a wedding gown; an old pair of sneakers or perhaps a baby’s first shoes; a special locket, pin, or ring; maybe a record, scrapbook or a special book or Bible possibly with a flower in it; certificates, trophies and plaques; collections of coins, stamps or rocks; books, letters, newspaper clippings, and of course, the pictures.

Mentally take yourself up in the attic and let me join you as you open the boxes, open the trunks.  As I watch the way you handle and linger over the contents, and listen to you tell your memories about their meaning, and watch your facial expressions, I’ll tell which ones are precious to you. 

This sentiment was expressed by Amy Grant in her song, “Heirlooms.”

“Up in the attic…down on my knees,
Lifetimes of boxes…timeless to me;
Letters and photographs…yellowed with years,
Some bringing laughter…some bringing tears;

Time never changes…the memories, the faces,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious family is more than an heirloom to me.”

Isn’t that the sentiment we hear survivors of a house fire or natural disaster tell us after their devastating loss?  “Well, even thought we lost everything, at least no one lost their life.”  I believe that is what this song is suggesting.  In this life people, and our relationships with one another, are more valuable than “things.”

However, there is something of even greater worth to consider – one’s soul.
In our everyday lives, do we ever think of our spiritual (i.e. non-material) life as being precious to us?  The apostle Peter in explaining how Jesus redeemed His believers from a life of sin, sets up another contrast of values by saying,

“…Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” (I Peter 1:18-19)

The price of our freedom was not perishable possessions, it was the life-blood of the Son of God, a far more costly gift than any amount of earthly treasure.  I Cor. 6:19-20 emphasizes this point by noting,  

“You are not your own, for you have been bought at a price.”

In the second verse of this song, we find the writer is telling us that spiritual and eternal concerns are truly more important than earthly matters.  

“Wise men and shepherds…down on their knees,
Bringing their treasures…to lay at His feet;
Who was this wonder…Baby yet King,
Living and dying…He gave life to me.

Time never changes…the memory, the moment,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious Savior is more than an heirloom to me.”

The Puritan Thomas Watson thoughtfully observed, “Great was the work of creation, but greater the work of redemption; it cost more to redeem us than to make us – in the one there was but the speaking of a Word, in the other the shedding of Christ’s own blood.”  That thought gives the word precious a whole new meaning.

Perhaps, however, this song has yet a deeper meaning.  Do we view our faith and our salvation as just another “heirloom” to be left in the “attic” of our minds?  Looking honestly at our daily actions, do we rather than sharing with others our love for the Lord, just keep our memories from the past to ourselves?  When was the last time we spoke of the events of our own baptism or that of our friend or relative?  How often do we speak of the ideas expressed at a Gospel meeting, or mention to someone the words of a prayer or hymn at the funeral of a loved one?  When was the last time we talked with a friend about what the Bible says it takes to inherit eternal life?  Do we ever treat Jesus as just another object along life’s pathway? 

Let me share with you some recent research to highlight the importance of these questions.  Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of Fixed Point Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the public defense of the Christian faith.  Over the past two years, he launched a nationwide campaign to interview groups of college students who belong to the atheist equivalent of Campus Crusade (e.g. Secular Student Alliances and Freethought Societies). The rules were simple: “Tell us your journey to unbelief.”  From several hundred subjects, a composite sketch of the American college-aged atheists began to emerge, and it would challenge our assumptions about this demographic.  Most of the participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions, but in reaction to Christianity.  These students had heard plenty of messages encouraging: “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible.  They were serious-minded, but often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant.  Although, students would often begin by telling the researcher they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons, the results of their testimonies made it clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. Finally, and perhaps most poignant, they showed a deep respect for those teachers and ministers who took the Bible seriously.  Two responses give insight into their thinking.

Phil was once the president of his church’s youth group.  He loved his church when they weren’t just going through the motions.  He recalled Jim, one of his Bible teachers, did not dodge the tough chapters or difficult questions.  Although he didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, he didn’t run away from the questions either.  The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart.  During my junior year in high school, the church in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more.  Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal.  He was replaced by Savannah, and attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil “Didn’t know a thing about the Bible.”  The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew.  But it lost Phil.

Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he was drawn to Christians that unashamedly embraced Biblical teaching.  He added, “I can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”

As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual among non-believers as one might think.  It finds resonance in the comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian.  He says, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize.  I don’t respect that at all.  If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

In summary, three points clearly stand out from a thoughtful study of the scriptures coupled with a reflection of the above research.*  First, most young atheists come out of churches whose mission and message is vague.  Second, one must never confuse a desire for people to accept the gospel, with creating a gospel that is acceptable to people.  And third, Christianity, when taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it (Mk 16:15-16).

*Taunton, Larry Alex “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity,” The Atlantic, June 3, 2013.

Something Too Precious Not To Share

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Something Too Precious Not To Share

By Tom Rose

What things are precious to us?  They are generally objects: a favorite dress, sweater or perhaps a wedding gown; an old pair of sneakers or perhaps a baby’s first shoes; a special locket, pin, or ring; maybe a record, scrapbook or a special book or Bible possibly with a flower in it; certificates, trophies and plaques; collections of coins, stamps or rocks; books, letters, newspaper clippings, and of course, the pictures.

Mentally take yourself up in the attic and let me join you as you open the boxes, open the trunks.  As I watch the way you handle and linger over the contents, and listen to you tell your memories about their meaning, and watch your facial expressions, I’ll tell which ones are precious to you. 

This sentiment was expressed by Amy Grant in her song, “Heirlooms.”

“Up in the attic…down on my knees,
Lifetimes of boxes…timeless to me;
Letters and photographs…yellowed with years,
Some bringing laughter…some bringing tears;

Time never changes…the memories, the faces,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious family is more than an heirloom to me.”

Isn’t that the sentiment we hear survivors of a house fire or natural disaster tell us after their devastating loss?  “Well, even thought we lost everything, at least no one lost their life.”  I believe that is what this song is suggesting.  In this life people, and our relationships with one another, are more valuable than “things.”

However, there is something of even greater worth to consider – one’s soul.
In our everyday lives, do we ever think of our spiritual (i.e. non-material) life as being precious to us?  The apostle Peter in explaining how Jesus redeemed His believers from a life of sin, sets up another contrast of values by saying,

“…Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” (I Peter 1:18-19)

The price of our freedom was not perishable possessions, it was the life-blood of the Son of God, a far more costly gift than any amount of earthly treasure.  I Cor. 6:19-20 emphasizes this point by noting,  

“You are not your own, for you have been bought at a price.”

In the second verse of this song, we find the writer is telling us that spiritual and eternal concerns are truly more important than earthly matters.  

“Wise men and shepherds…down on their knees,
Bringing their treasures…to lay at His feet;
Who was this wonder…Baby yet King,
Living and dying…He gave life to me.

Time never changes…the memory, the moment,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious Savior is more than an heirloom to me.”

The Puritan Thomas Watson thoughtfully observed, “Great was the work of creation, but greater the work of redemption; it cost more to redeem us than to make us – in the one there was but the speaking of a Word, in the other the shedding of Christ’s own blood.”  That thought gives the word precious a whole new meaning.

Perhaps, however, this song has yet a deeper meaning.  Do we view our faith and our salvation as just another “heirloom” to be left in the “attic” of our minds?  Looking honestly at our daily actions, do we rather than sharing with others our love for the Lord, just keep our memories from the past to ourselves?  When was the last time we spoke of the events of our own baptism or that of our friend or relative?  How often do we speak of the ideas expressed at a Gospel meeting, or mention to someone the words of a prayer or hymn at the funeral of a loved one?  When was the last time we talked with a friend about what the Bible says it takes to inherit eternal life?  Do we ever treat Jesus as just another object along life’s pathway? 

Let me share with you some recent research to highlight the importance of these questions.  Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of Fixed Point Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the public defense of the Christian faith.  Over the past two years, he launched a nationwide campaign to interview groups of college students who belong to the atheist equivalent of Campus Crusade (e.g. Secular Student Alliances and Freethought Societies). The rules were simple: “Tell us your journey to unbelief.”  From several hundred subjects, a composite sketch of the American college-aged atheists began to emerge, and it would challenge our assumptions about this demographic.  Most of the participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions, but in reaction to Christianity.  These students had heard plenty of messages encouraging: “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible.  They were serious-minded, but often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant.  Although, students would often begin by telling the researcher they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons, the results of their testimonies made it clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. Finally, and perhaps most poignant, they showed a deep respect for those teachers and ministers who took the Bible seriously.  Two responses give insight into their thinking.

Phil was once the president of his church’s youth group.  He loved his church when they weren’t just going through the motions.  He recalled Jim, one of his Bible teachers, did not dodge the tough chapters or difficult questions.  Although he didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, he didn’t run away from the questions either.  The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart.  During my junior year in high school, the church in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more.  Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal.  He was replaced by Savannah, and attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil “Didn’t know a thing about the Bible.”  The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew.  But it lost Phil.

Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he was drawn to Christians that unashamedly embraced Biblical teaching.  He added, “I can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”

As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual among non-believers as one might think.  It finds resonance in the comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian.  He says, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize.  I don’t respect that at all.  If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

In summary, three points clearly stand out from a thoughtful study of the scriptures coupled with a reflection of the above research.*  First, most young atheists come out of churches whose mission and message is vague.  Second, one must never confuse a desire for people to accept the gospel, with creating a gospel that is acceptable to people.  And third, Christianity, when taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it (Mk 16:15-16).

*Taunton, Larry Alex “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity,” The Atlantic, June 3, 2013.

Forever is Composed of Now

Friday, November 13, 2020

Forever Is Composed of Now*

By Tom Rose

 

Forever is an easy way to think of eternity.  It never stops; it just keeps going on.  It’s timeless.  After this life is over and judgment occurs, each of us will continue in an endless existence in either heaven or hell.  As shocking as this statement may seem to some, Christ Himself said as much in Mt. 25:31-33, 46.

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.  And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. And these (goats) will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous (sheep) into eternal life.”

So what determines whether one is a “sheep” or a “goat?”  Again, Christ answers that question in Mt. 7:21-23.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

In essence, whether we choose to obey God and His laws in this life will determine our place in the next.

Returning to the title, you are probably wondering how Now is composed of Forever.  When I reflect back on the moment when I decided to be baptized, I recall an unmistakable urgency.  It was not a casual action, and it was not something to be put off for a later time.  Although I was raised in a 5 generation Methodist family, at barely 18 years of age I obeyed the Gospel and was baptized during the first semester of my freshman year in college.  I had learned God’s plan through dating my future wife while attending Sunday evening church services and needed to act upon my understanding.

Although that was almost 60 years ago, it modeled exactly what had happened in first century Christianity.  In Acts 2:38, a crowd of three thousand were baptized on Pentecost.  In Acts 8:26-39, an influential Ethiopian eunuch was baptized by Philip in a desert. And in Acts 16:25-34, Paul baptized a Philippian jailor and his family at midnight.  In each case, and every other recorded baptism in the Bible, the believer was immersed in water as soon as possible after the individual recognized the need for it.  Thus, the operative word was Now.

In modern society, to leave a “legacy” ordinarily means to specify the distribution of property – money, in most cases – to heirs according to the terms described in a will.  However, it is a relatively rare event for most people to be mentioned in a will.  And yet, people talk all the time about the life of a person, now deceased, how it enriched them.  Aside from the obvious things, each of us will leave behind for all the world to see the value system that marks everything we did.  Somehow, people who never asked us directly what we valued in life never doubt for a moment what it was.  They know what we thought of people of other colors and creeds by the language we used and the lives we connected with.  They know how we treated strangers, how we loved the individuals closest to us, and how we cared for those who loved us - even how we spoke to them in hard times or gave ourselves away to satisfy their needs.  They know the depth of our spiritual life by the way we treated those around us, and what we thought of life, and what we gave our lives to doing.  Therefore, our legacy is far more than just our fiscal worth.  And though we add to it every moment of our lives, during our lifetime, we are given both the vision and the wisdom to understand that our legacy is what we choose it to be.

In closing, it is the power of the present that makes us aware of our future and how much of it may be left.  Although it is truly a gamble, you reason if you are young and healthy, sixty years, probably.  However, for most older adults, ten years, hopefully.  Five, surely.  But the truth for all of us is, tomorrow, God willing.  Thus, the question comes, “What could you do today that would influence your life for all eternity?”  The simple answer is: put on Christ in baptism (Gal 3:27), and if you’ve not yet done so, earnestly consider doing it because “Forever Is Composed of Now.”  Your life, your legacy, and your relationship with God will be immeasurably better – both in this life and the next - for having done so.  Indeed, “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

*This title came from a line in a self-published book by Kristen L. Crawford entitled, Within the Shadow of Myself: A Poetic Memoir, p. 28.  ISBN 9798644302284

Showing Brotherly Affection

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Showing Brotherly Affection

By Tom Rose

It has always been that way.  You dress up in your best to go to church.  Even if you have personal problems, are depressed or simply undone with life, you go to church and look normal, say everything is okay, and try to hide the pain that won’t go away.  Church is not the place to bare your soul and share your messy problems, because people will talk and people will judge – all the while saying they feel “so sorry” and “would do anything to help you.”   Why is it that we think of church as a place to go after we have cleaned up our act, not before?  “Church!” said the prostitute, “Why would I ever go there?  I was already feeling terrible about myself.  They’d just make me feel worse.”

But the scriptures show a different picture.  Think of Esau after Jacob tricked him out of his birthright and the anger he expressed as recorded in Gen 27:41 “So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’”  Yet, with the passage of time and a few chapters later we read, “But Esau ran to meet him (Jacob), and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Gen 33:4).  Almost the same scene of emotional healing is portrayed by Christ in His famous parable of a father greeting his prodigal son. “And he arose and came to his father.  But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” Lk 15:20.  If you noticed, both passages contain an embrace or a hug – the most beautiful form of communication that allows the other person to know beyond a doubt that they matter.

Perhaps the apostle Paul knew better than anyone who has ever lived what it meant to be forgiven by God and reconciled to Him.  Knocked flat on the ground on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), he never recovered from the impact of God’s undeserved grace extended to him.  Indeed, Paul knew what could happen if we believe we have earned God’s love.  In dark times, if perhaps we badly fail God, or if for no good reason we simply fall short on keeping The Faith, we could fear that God might stop loving us when He discovered the real truth about us.  However, Paul took pains to explain how God has made peace with human beings (see Titus 3:1-8) by giving up His own Son, rather than to give up on humanity – helping mankind know beyond any doubt that God loves people because of who God is, not because of who we are!

Just as God has challenged us to know the unsearchable riches of Christ (see Eph. 3:16-21), He also asks us to show that same devotion for our brethren. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10).  Two examples of Paul’s deep interpersonal relations with his brethren are found in Acts.  Read Acts 20:36-38 and notice the verbal and non-verbal emotional interactions as Paul and the Ephesian elders part from each other for the final time.  A second illustration is found in Acts 28:13-15 near the end of Paul’s perilous journey to Rome.  When Paul reaches Puteoli, Italy, brethren invite Paul and his companions to stay seven days.  However, other Christians in Rome get word of Paul’s arrival (a person whom they had heard about, but had never met), so they walk forty-three miles to the Market of Appius to greet him.  Others, possibly getting a later start, meet Paul ten miles closer to Rome at the Three Inns.  Deeply moved by their visible demonstration of love, Paul “thanked God and took courage.” In these greetings (and many others) were found open displays of affection probably including hugs and kisses.

Let’s suppose your car has a problem and is not working properly.  Would you take it to a dealer’s showroom or a service department?  Perhaps that is a question we need to ask about our meeting houses – do they resemble more a “showroom” or a “service department?”  And why is that?  One writer offers this observation:

“Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people. …Although we believe in God’s Word, the good news of the Gospel has not penetrated to the level of our emotions.”1

I believe the following statements, when pondered soberly, may help us look at the big picture – as God sees you and me along with all humanity.  “Jesus gave up worship for a womb, majesty for a manger, splendor for a stable, and heaven for a hamlet.  He went from being wrapped in glory to being wrapped in swaddling cloth.  He left breathtaking for breath taking and the infinite became the infant.  It was incredible to know that the baby Mary delivered had actually come to deliver her and everyone else.  He was born so we could be born again.  He lived on earth so we could live in heaven.”2

Sometimes we need to hear more than reassuring words of comfort.  Sometimes we need a hug – a hug where someone wraps their arms around you so tight and assures that everything will be alright.  That is in fact what Susan and Anna Warner did.  Born into privilege on Long Island, NY, their mother died when they were young and their father lost his fortune in the Panic of 1837.  Reduced family circumstances forced them to leave their New York City mansion for an old Revolutionary War-era farmhouse, both women began writing novels.  In addition, they began holding Bible studies for the cadets at the US Military Academy.  On Sunday after-noon, the West Point students rowed over to the island where the sisters had prepared lemonade and ginger cookies for their guests.  At the close of their time together, the frail women would offer a tender hug to each of these physically conditioned young men – knowing someday they might lose their life in battle.  After Susan died, in 1885, the Sunday classes became Anna’s “one thought in life.”  She continued teaching until her death in 1915 and that year’s graduates included Dwight D. Eisenhower – one of her pupils.  The sisters are buried in the cemetery at West Point, the only civilian women who earned this signal honor as Bible teachers to generations of cadets and their former home has become a museum on the grounds of the Academy.

Life is precious; may we hold it dear to us.  For it is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (James 4:14).  Thus, while we have today, may we endeavor, as God’s elect, to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness and longsuffering toward our fellowman (Col. 3:12).

1David Seamands, “Perfectionism: Fraught with Fruits of Destruction,” in

            Christianity Today, April 10, 1981, pp.24-25.

2Aaron Erhardt, Grace, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015, pp. 46-

            47.

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part II

Friday, September 30, 2016

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part II

By Tom Rose

Author, Philip Yancey, describes a friend who was battling with his fifteen-year-old daughter.  He knew she was using birth control, and several nights she had not bothered to come home at all.  The parents had tried various forms of punishment, to no avail.  The daughter lied to them, deceived them, and found a way to turn the tables on them saying, “It’s your fault for being so strict!”

Yancey recalls his friend telling him, “I remember standing before the plate-glass window in my living room, staring out into the darkness, waiting for her to come home.  I felt such rage, I wanted to be like the father of the Prodigal Son, yet I was furious with my daughter for the way she would manipulate her mother and me and twist the knife to hurt us.  And, of course, she was hurting herself more than anyone.  I understood the passages in the prophets expressing God’s anger.  The people knew how to wound Him, and God cried out in pain.”

“And yet I must tell you,” said my friend, “When my daughter came home that night, or rather the next morning, I wanted nothing in the world so much as to take her in my arms, to love her, and to tell her I wanted the best for her.  I was a helpless, lovesick father.”

When I think about God, I hold up that image of the lovesick father, which is miles away from the stern monarch I used to envision.  I think of my friend standing in front of the plate-glass window gazing achingly into the darkness.  I think of Jesus’ depiction of the Waiting Father of the Prodigal, heartsick, abused, yet wanting above all else to forgive, to begin anew, and to announce with joy, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

Compassionate forgiveness is at the heart of extending grace.  C. S. Lewis exclaimed, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”  Indeed, ‘forgive and forget’ are easy words to say, but can be difficult to do!  Yet, if we fail to do so, bitterness, rather than the Lord, will rule our hearts.  For a moment, let us look at what it means to forgive.  Forgiveness is not ignoring those who wrong us, ignoring the sin, nor putting the offender on probation – promising to “forget” if no other offenses occur.  Rather, genuine forgiveness means halting the cycle of blame and pain; breaking the cycle of ungrace. 

What blocks forgiveness; it’s not God’s reticence – but ours.  It may be our attitude toward the offender always wanting to put “conditions” on our efforts such as: 1) I am unable to forgive you – at this time; 2) I’m going to forgive you, but in the future I’m not going to have anything to do with you; 3) I’ll do it, but consider it a favor from me to you; and 4) I’m going to forgive you, but I’ll never forget it!  However, none of these actions are supported by the scriptures.  Mt. 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  On the other hand, it may be our attitude toward our own sins that contribute to our inability to accept forgiveness. Weighted down by repeated failures, lost hope, and a sense of unworthiness, we pull a shell around ourselves that makes us almost impervious to grace.  Like the friend’s  daughter’s refusal to listen to wide and loving admonitions of grace, so we stubbornly turn away as well.  And like a spiritual defect encoded in the family DNA, ungrace is easily passed on in an unbroken chain to others.

We as humans also struggle with two types of hoarding.  First, we are often unable to forgive ourselves as old memories clog our lives and Satan reminds us of our failures by bringing that junk that was once tossed to the curb back inside.  Secondly, we fail to forgive others as sometimes we feel we have a right to carry a grudge and thereby not only stack up our own junk, we haul in someone else’s too!  If the cycle of ungrace goes uninterrupted, in time it will lead to resentment – a word that literally conveys the idea of “to feel again.”  Resentment clings to the past, relives it over and over just as one would pick each fresh scab off a wound so that it never heals.

In our everyday interactions, ungrace behavior can cause cracks to fissure open between parents, parent and child, siblings, brethren, best friends, business partners, prisoners, tribes and races.  Left alone, cracks widen, and for the resulting chasms of ungrace there is only one remedy: the frail “rope-bridge” of forgiveness.  One can best understand forgiveness by observing what God does when He forgives us our sins.  He removes the notation from the record (Mica 7:18-19).  He forgets, putting it out of His memory (Heb 8:12).  He then treats us just like He did before we sinned, receiving us back wholeheartedly (Lk 15:20-24). 

In the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith.  By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am.  By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out.  I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.  And yet I never find forgiveness easy, and rarely do I find it completely satisfying.  Nagging injustices remain, and the wounds still cause pain.  I have to approach God again and again, yield to Him the residue of what I thought I had committed to Him long ago.  But I do so, because Jesus instructed us in His model prayer (Mt. 6:9-13) to say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  In 1984 Charles Williams has said of this prayer, “No word in the English language carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word as.”  Why?  Because Jesus plainly linked our forgiven-ness by the Father with our forgiving-ness of our fellow man.  In a world that runs by the laws of ungrace, Jesus requires – no demands – a response of forgiveness.  So urgent is the need for forgiveness, that it even takes precedence over “religious duties” (see Mt. 5:22-24). 

Thus, God granted us a terrible agency: by denying forgiveness to others, we are in effect determining them unworthy of God’s forgiveness, and thus so are we.  In some mysterious way, our own divine forgiveness depends on us.

But God took the initiative and shattered the inexorable law of sin and retribution by invading earth, absorbing the worst we had to offer, crucifixion, and then fashioning from that cruel deed the remedy for the human condition.  Calvary broke the logjam between justice and forgiveness.  By accepting onto His innocent Self all the severe demands of justice, Jesus broke forever the chain of ungrace.  And we as His children must do likewise.

Allow me to close with a true story of grace in action.  As 2013 came to a close, Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for the New Yorker and author of such bestsellers as The Tipping Point and Outliers, spoke publicly about his own rediscovery of faith.  He credits a visit with a Mennonite couple in Winnipeg, Canada, who lost their daughter to a sexual predator.  After the largest manhunt in the city’s history, police officers found the teenager’s body in a shed, frozen, her hand and feet bound.  At a news conference held at the family’s home just after her funeral, the father said, “We would like to know who the person or persons are so we could share, hopefully, a love that seems to be missing in these people’s lives.”  The mother added, “I can’t say at this point I forgive this person,” stressing the phrase at this point.  “We have all done something dreadful in our lives, or have felt the urge to.”

The response of this couple, so different from a normal response of rage and revenge, pulled Gladwell back toward his own Mennonite roots saying, “Something happened to me.  It is one thing to read in a history book about people empowered by their faith.  But it is quite another to meet an otherwise very ordinary person, in the backyard of a very ordinary house, who has managed to do something utterly extraordinary.  Their daughter was murdered.  And the first thing the Derksens did was to stand up at a press conference and talk about the path to forgiveness.”  He adds, “Maybe we have difficulty seeing the weapons of the Spirit because we don’t know where to look, or because we are distracted by the louder claims of material advantage.  But I’ve seen them now, and I will never be the same.”

 

For the above article, ideas and phrases were selected from: Grace, by Aaron Erhardt, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015; God’s Amazing Grace: The Sweetest Sound of All by Wilson Adams, Murfreesboro, TN: Courageous Living Books, 2015; What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997; Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.  

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