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Choose Forgiveness

“The community of the saints is not an “ideal” community consisting of perfect and sinless men and women, where there is no need of further repentance. No, it is a community which proves that it is worthy of the gospel of forgiveness by constantly and sincerely proclaiming God’s forgiveness…Sanctification means driving out the world from the Church as well as separating the Church from the world. But the purpose of such discipline is not to establish a community of the perfect, but a community consisting of men who really live under the forgiving mercy of God.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

I never expected to be disliked–especially among a group of fellow believers.  But during the last few months, I’ve discovered truths that have long been avoided– perhaps out of my own naïveté or a false sense of the goodness of humanity.

The lessons have been difficult.  Painful.  Revealing.  Still, they only confirm my belief that a Christian is not someone without sin–merely a person who realizes her need for something more…Someone more.

Thank you, Jesus, for being that someone!

As a child, I rarely felt accepted.  Quiet and unassuming, I was an easy target for playground bullies and lunchroom remarks.  During my teen years, I was the girl everyone liked–but nobody thought was special.  And now, I’m reminded that even adults feel the sting of rejection.  Perhaps you are struggling with that hurt, as well. Be encouraged, Friend!

Consider those the world disregarded because they held unapologetically to God’s standard.  Noah?  Just a crazed old man shouting out useless warnings–until the day the clouds let loose their wrath.  Moses?  A prince turned pauper begging the most powerful king in the world to release thousands of Hebrew slaves–laughable.  Then, the King of all severed a sea in half–the road to freedom revealed by God’s own hand.  Christ himself suffered the ultimate rejection–death– at the hands of  family….friends….and people who chose a murderer to a miracle worker. But three days later? They found the stone rolled away.

You are in good company if you have been slandered, maligned, or disregarded for doing the right thing…if you have spoken the truth in love…or lived your faith out loud as a workman unashamed.  Isn’t it better for us to face the possibility of human rejection than to willingly brush off the obligation to share words of gentle rebuke or correction with a fellow Christian we claim to love?  If we don’t risk an offense then we do not love.

And, if our fears are realized?  If that person now counts herself an enemy?  Or, her anger and discontent infect the Body?  We are responsible to respond as Christ did when he was surrounded by those gaping and sneering at his mangled body hanging on the tree…”Father, forgive them.”

Forgiveness–in spite of anger…the need to self-promote…the temptation to respond in kind.  This is when faith becomes real, dear one.  Let’s choose Christ today–choose to forgive.

Reminders from Scripture

“…and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”  Matthew 28:20

“…he alone is my Rock, my rescuer, defense and fortress.”  Psalm 62

“When you are reviled and persecuted and lied about because you are my followers—wonderful! 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! for a tremendous reward awaits you up in heaven.”  Matthew 5:11

“Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong.” 1 Corinthians 13:15

What matters more than material blessings are the things He is teaching us in our spirit.

Charles Stanley

It all began much earlier for him, but most of the nascent signs were quiet and crept into life bit by bit–a silent predator slowly introducing the victim to its presence. Then two years ago, the boy’s everyday life shifted with such suddenness there could be no doubt. Our son knew what it was to struggle with anxiety and depression.

Sleep oscillated between the extremes of non-existent and constant.  Recurring migraines…weight loss…lack of appetite. And my adventurous, full-throttle son retreated to a solitary world that seemed impenetrable.  Once in a great while I would catch a glimpse of the boy , but the cloud of oppression that hung over him was normally the more visible of the two.

There is no heartache quite like that a parent has for her suffering child and in my grief I confronted God.  I wept.  I raged. I begged.  I prayed.

Please, Lord, please!

After more than two years of trial and error…missed school days and fading dreams, we discovered the right combination of interventions and supports–not the least of which included medication.  Finally…some relief for the boy I had soothed with lullabies not so many years ago.

During this time, my boy continued to seek after God.  He wanted more of Jesus–and, unlike me, didn’t seem to struggle with blaming God for allowing this trial in his young life.  Despite the depression…regardless of the anxiety…in spite of the weariness.

One evening he returned from youth group, his face transformed by joy.

We asked God to heal me.  I don’t need my medicine anymore.

christian : Man worshiping god shot at yellow grass Stock Photo

I was skeptical…fearful…doubtful.  I believed in miracles, but this? A young man’s life could be at stake.

Slow and methodical in my response,  I have taken the “yes, but” approach to this precious boy’s healing. “Yes–God can heal, but…”

Yes, but…healing is not probable…practical…likely.

Yes, but…this could be temporary…time-inhibited…explainable.

Yes, but…are you sure you can sleep…function…manage?

And he continues to do well.  Feel well.  Live well.

I have begun to relate to the Bible verse, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” in ways I never expected.  And I wonder if any of you understand?  If you’ve lived it, too?  At some level, those of us who are Christians must grasp the mystery of such things–at least a little bit.

We trust in Jesus, after all.

Yes, but…a virgin birth is impossible…unimaginable…implausible.

Yes, but…a resurrected Messiah is unbelievable…incredible…miraculous.

Yes, but…can we know we are sanctified…rescued…redeemed?

Yes, but…He was born of a virgin, died on a cross, and rose again in three days.

Scripture for Reflection

Mark 9:24

Genesis 15:6

Isaiah 43:10

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
                                                    I well remember them and my soul is downcast within me.                                                          Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.  (Lamentations 3:19-23)

Image result for images broadview montana

Image result for images broadview montana

It sits on the edge of the wind-blown prairie and the Montana sky–an unknown town to most.  A strip of slender asphalt bisects the small rows of homes where Highway 3 snakes through the rock and golden grass.  A stranger passing through probably wouldn’t bother to wonder about the people living there or notice the two quaint churches pointing their steeples toward heaven.  A casual passerby wouldn’t care that the bar–a gathering place for regulars most nights- becomes a family hangout when the basketball team scores a victory.  And few will thank the farmer–the one pulling his hat down low on his tanned brow as he gazes across miles of burnished wheat–for getting dirt beneath his nails so that others can enjoy bread on the table.

But to me?  Well…Broadview is much more.  Broadview–and her people–are a significant part of my story.  It is a place of family…of pain…of remembrance–and of promise.

I left home when I was eighteen–certain I could evade memories…redefine myself…become.  What I didn’t realize was that God allowed me to have memories–both good and bad–in order that I would also have hope.

Through the eyes of hope I can look back and thank God for his mercies to me.

My family was broken, but the Father gifted me with 200 other people who cared–from the youth pastor and his wife to the school janitor.  My English teacher…the basketball coach…my 4-H leader.

Image result for images broadview montana

My grandfather lay in a hospital–his chest stitched from stem to stern while the fields were ripe for the harvest. A line of red and green combines dotted the landscape–each trolling the field and spitting shaft in the air.  The Life Giver sent his workers so that a farmer and his grandchildren would know the feeling of satisfied stomachs in the winter.

My childhood home lay smoldering–a heap of ashes.  Yet the Provider gave more than needed when donations from a lone Pancake Breakfast were stacked in front of us.

Broadview.

Insignificant?

Not at all–those 200 people made a difference.

What is the road we take toward each other,

and how do we show forth the love of Jesus,

even when our disappointment wells up fiercely in the gut

and threatens all we thought we knew about the other?

-Diedre Riggs

 

Months before I spoke words meant for all of us.

Foreshadowing .

A warning.

“We will offend one another, but we are called to bear with one another in love.”  Each of us smiled, heads nodding in agreement.  Sure of own hearts…certain of our own character…established in our faith.

But somehow…in some way….I managed to offend.  And in the space between us?  Instead of peace, compassion, love?  A spirit of dissension grew, fed by Dear Ones who follow hard after Jesus.

“There is a fine line between sharing concerns and gossiping,” one explained.  In the meantime, harsh words tore at the tender flesh of my heart like scalding water peels flesh off of bones.

Can you relate?  Have you ever been slighted, rejected, or even hated by those for whom you have prayed?  Cared for?  Done for?

Yesterday, a man ambled past our home.  I peered at him dismissively.  Garbed in low-hanging, baggy jeans, an orange beanie, and head hanging heavy I knew the neighborhood pot-head was heading toward The Place where he makes the sale.

Then the unwelcome whisper of conviction reminded my heart.  Guilty.  You are guilty of the same sin!  You may not have spoken the words, but you judged The Man.  What do you know about him….his life…his wounds?  He needs love….hope….forgiveness.  Pray for The Man—this one who is an enemy of all you believe.

And my spirit knows the truth.  I judge others unfairly….just as others may judge me unfairly.  Oh, may we learn to love like Christ!

Friend, when the Son of Man stood before his accusers and felt the weight of an unfair judgement—even a judgement to death—He refused to utter words of condemnation.  Instead, Christ loved The Man whose roughened, soiled hands marred the back of The Innocent with a razor-edged rope.    Instead, Christ forgave The Man who took pleasure in piercing the hands of The Innocent with hard edges and merciless pain.  And instead, Christ loved The Woman who had not yet been born.   I, too, would have been like the Dear Ones at the foot of the cross—perhaps hurling insults—or those cowering in fear in a hidden corner.  I don’t know Him!

We will offend one another, but we are called to bear with one another in love. Christ has borne all for us!  Oh, Church, let us do the same.

“EGR,” she quipped with a smile and an exaggerated sigh.  My quizzical look prompted a response.

“You know…extra grace required.”

Unexpectedly, our prayer for others had shifted from intercession to a Christianized version of gossip cloaked in false compassion.

And I wondered…how many people say THAT about her….me….you?

Wishing I hadn’t asked for an explanation and feeling stained by the knowledge, I realized Christ knew the truth from eternity past–I had been born wrapped in an invisible package of sin.

If others knew the truth?  If they only knew about the unkind–even cruel–words that have crossed my lips…the ugly thoughts that have flitted through my mind…the actions shadowed by regret. Can you relate, dear friend?

Extra grace required.

But, there is something beautiful about my story….about the story of every person who has a personal relationship with Jesus.   Even though He knew me as a sinner, Christ envisioned me as a saint.  Even as lies or curse words were breathed from my mouth, the Life Giver imagined a tongue calling out His name in praise.  Even my rash, selfish actions fail to stand between me and the person I will someday become–the one He had in mind more than forty years ago.

There is no doubt…before I ever took my first breath, Jesus knew.

Extra grace required.

And, He loves me anyway.

 

Scripture for Reflection

For it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)

…Everything that we have–right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start, comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 1:27 MSG)

 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

For years, I’ve struggled to understand.  How can there be rest in a world like this…in the here-and-now reality of government sponsored terrorist attacks, state approved drug consumption, and families reeling from the long-term effects of terminal illness…abuse…divorce?

Religion tells us we’ll find peace in doing…living life in a certain way…proving to God that we are worthy of approval. 

Television “experts”  and self-help gurus reassure that we create our own peace–“Happiness is in your spiritual DNA. It is what you experience when you accept yourself…” (Dr. Robert Holden).

The world promises we can find peace in the anesthetized power of sexual encounters…bank accounts brimming with wealth…or the uninhibited consumption of a non-demanding, high-resolution screen.Fish Symbol on Cross

No…religion robs us of joy and promotes the desire to help others–a desire born of a self-centered motivation to earn heavenly favor.

If happiness were  innate, then there would be no such thing as genetically based mood disorders.  Say “goodbye” to depression.  Adios, anxiety!  We have the power!

And money?  Sex?  Inanimate screens?  In and of themselves, they aren’t bad.  As givers of hope, though, they are only mere fillers for unmet emotional and spiritual needs!  As soon as the money has been spent, the comforting arms have disappeared, or the ‘off’ button has eliminated the constant Twitter and Facebook feeds then what remains?  Lonely, broken people.

Jesus?  He promised something more….a one-of-a-kind, once-and-for-all, happily ever after.  It may seem slow in coming, but there is a place prepared with you in mind, Dear One–your forever home with a tender Father willing to temporarily move into time and space in order to bear your burden and mine .

This is a sort of rest that extends beyond the ten o’ clock news and personal problems.  Soul-rest exists in the glorious triumph of Christ’s resurrection, His assurance of  forgiveness, and the holy grace of eternal restoration.

Scripture for Reflection–

Isaiah 53:3-4

Dare to Believe

This is a Christian–one who dares to act as if God tells the truth.”  –Pastor Mark Bates

His life reads like a Hollywood movie–the culmination of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, forced to seek refuge in a distant land, and then offering his life in place of the soldiers who pierced his hands and feet…suffering for the sins of those that pressed a crown of thorns on his head…pronouncing words of forgiveness to a discarded, frightened man bearing the shame of Golgotha.

But, this is not a child’s fairy tale or a superstitious myth dreamed up to explain the unexplainable.  This is Biblical truth; the great love story of God rescuing His people from that great enemy, Sin. The beautiful giving of His life for those willing to risk belief.

Yet the world threatens to overcome…to overwhelm…to overpower belief.

A young man just beginning to live takes his own life–desperate for relief from consuming depression, a child’s small bones ache from arthritis, a next-door neighbor submits to another round of chemo and hopes she’ll have enough energy to play with her children tomorrow.

But there is a story much bigger than our smaller stories–these lives of struggle and prayer, tears and hope.  It is His story–one recorded for us–that tells of the Lion and the Lamb…the Beginning and the End….the Resurrection and the Life.

And while the world threatens, He promises to give abundant life (John 10:10)…to provide freedom (John 8:36)…and to love us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).

I dare to believe–to act as if what God says is true. Won’t you? Let us encourage one another to hold to our faith, dear Friend, even when we doubt!

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