KDs are designed/developed/inspired/mused/auto-suggested/indigested to make folks think; an especially uncommon experience among Democrats, Republicans, and jingoistic mainline denominationalists who continue to discourage dissent with their ever-threatening thought police.
Everyone around my age agrees, “Life begins at 50 and then it’s patch, patch, patch.”
Unless you’ve got Jesus in your head, heart, and gut, the piling up of prescriptions, pills, and referrals that range from preventive to critical to padding another MD’s bank account when winding down can be so overwhelming, disconcerting, unsettling, and depressing that the overrated twilight years seem like a death watch.
Yes, the inevitable is, uh, inevitable and nobody escapes the last breath in time.
I’ll get back to that and how Jesus changes that horror show into calming, certain, courageous, confident, and triumphantly living anticipation of His best life after this life when He, again, is in your head, heart, and gut.
Pero, for now, let me share what’s coming for those of you who are under 50 as you see the nods and hear the affirming yet agonizing groans of those who are over 50.
Ever hear of a colonoscopy?
That’s a thrill.
Just ask someone about the 24 hours before they stick that big hose with snippers up…
I’ll never forget my first one that comes as a birthday present when you reach 50. Just before we got going, I asked, “Do yu’uns wash those things between patients?”
Yeah, like you, more snickers than laughs.
Well, I got through that one at 50…and 60…and I’ve got another one coming in around 4 years.
In the meantime, because I had one fainting spell back in the fall of 2018 and told my wife and primary care physician about it, I got to do a mini-version of a colonoscopy called cologuard.
They send you a kit and you, uh, poop in a can and hope there’s a local UPS store to ship it off in 24 hours to some laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin so you can wait to find out if there’s been more padding of someone’s pocket or you’re about to cash in.
Get the picture?
If you’re under 50, you don’t; but just ask anyone over 50 and they’ll scare the hell out of you which is good because you’re going to have to have heaven in your soul when the patching commences.
Mike comes to mind.
Many months before he went home to Jesus, we met at Starbucks and discussed then prayed about a very bad doctor’s report.
“I’m going to beat this,” he said.
I responded, “Yes, you are, Mike. One way or the other, you are going to beat it.”
Then we began many months of trips to the table of Holy Communion and conversations about what Jesus is ultimately all about.
Just as a reminder, Jesus is ultimately all about eternal life after this life that is so much better than the best that this life can offer that Jesus describes it as paradise.
That’s why all believers are larger than life.
So many of our conversations reminded me of Psalm 34.
While commentators are convinced 1 Samuel 21 is the historical background for this psalm – you can read it sometime – it doesn’t really matter because the meaning of the psalm transcends any particular historical moment to the blessed assurance of knowing for certain that we are eternal and heaven-bound for paradise after the last breath in time.
Believers like Mike and you and me join David to praise and thank God because He helps us to endure and overcome the meanness, madness, misery, and miscreance of life in our world: “I praise God every chance I get! His love for me is always on the tip of my tongue! Whenever I think things aren’t going well or there’s a daunting challenge, I remember He has always delivered me from tight spots. He did it before and He’ll do it again.”
Then David provides the key to unlocking this safety and security and salvation in the meantime: “Worship God if you want His best. Worship opens the door to all His goodness.”
That’s not occasional, irregular, sometimes, only if you don’t have something “better” to do, irresponsible, disrespectful, ungrateful, trifling with God worship.
That’s worship as the first priority of your life.
That’s worship because you’re so thankful that He helps you to overcome the meantime as preface to the best time that lasts forever in heaven.
Again, David sings out with gusto, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy are people who take refuge in Him.”
David concludes with a warning to unbelievers and promise to believers.
To the unbelievers: “The wicked commit slow suicide. God won’t put up with rebels.”
To the believers: “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous. The righteous cry out to God and He hears them and delivers them from all their troubles. No one who runs to God loses out sooner or later, usually sooner than later, and definitely in the end.”
Getting back to Mike, he beat cancer because cancer has no eternal hold on a believer.
God has an eternal hold on believers.
Believers are larger than life.
Let’s be more specific about what comes the first nano-second after the last breath.
Surely, I shared the good news with Mike as I’ve always shared the good news with anyone who needs good news and is willing to hear it.
Jesus, of course, put it/Him best: “God loved the world so much that He came in the flesh in the Messiah; so that whoever believes in Him will not vanish from reality but have eternal life in the pure and perfect place of personal peace where there is no more crying or pain or tears or anything negative. Paradise!”
Yet after over four decades of repeating that good news, Mike was the first to ask, “What will I see first?”
“Well, Mike,” I said, “I don’t know. I haven’t been there yet. But from what I’ve read in the Bible and know from faith and anyone who has ever witnessed to what comes after the last breath, it sounds pretty good…I can’t wrap my head around that, but it sounds pretty good.”
I added during another of our sacred moments together: “Mike, I’ve been thinking more about your question – “What will I see first?” – and while I’m sure you’re going to see mom and dad and…the apostle says you’re going to see face to face and know completely what you only knew in part before. That sounds pretty good to me. I can’t wrap my head around paradise and knowing completely what we only knew in part before, but it sounds good to me.”
“Me too,” he said.
Well, we had one more discussion about his question in the last clear conversation that we had before he went home to Jesus.
It was sparked by a dream that I had that I know was inspired by his question.
“Mike,” I began, “I asked God to be more specific about what you will see. I had a dream and was blessed with a taste of heaven. I don’t know if anybody else but you can understand this dream because it’s about the refreshment and restoration and forgiveness and healing and harmony and perfecting of all renewed and reborn and restored relationships in heaven.”
Then I shared the dream: “I was in a large barracks with bunks side by side. Separated from me by one bunk was a woman who loved me a lot long before I met my wife. I didn’t love her back and ended the relationship. We weren’t meant for each other. “
I went on, “Well, she reached out to me from my bunk; but I did not reach back. For some reason, I got up and went into a room filled with the whitest white light that I’ve ever experienced; upset with myself for not reaching out to someone who loved me in time but who I, well, uh, did not love back to her satisfaction.”
“All of a sudden,” I continued, “the door to the room burst open, she runs in, embraces me in a hug that transcends any human definition and, though my face is pointing one way and hers is pointing another way, I can see her face filled with peace, calm, total joy and forgiveness, healing, and every other emotion and thought and longing and…that cannot be articulated.”
It was heavenly.
No more wouldas or couldas or shouldas.
No more wasted time.
It was total final forever reconciliation…refreshingly regained time.
I asked Mike if he understood the dream.
“Yes,” he said.
“That’s what you are going to see first, my brother, and I won’t be too far behind you…That’s our taste…Enjoy the full course, amigo!”
Then Mike and I shared a final strong, manly, confident, certain, and calm fist pump.
As I walked out of his room, I said, “I’ll see you later.”
He said, “I know.”
“I’m gonna beat this,” he said months before that moment.
He did because believers are larger than life!
The apostle put it/Him this way: “I consider any suffering in time not worth comparing to the glory that comes in heaven by grace through faith in Jesus.”
David knew it.
Mike knew it.
If Jesus is in our heads and hearts and guts, we know it.
Believers are larger than life.
Life begins and never ends as soon as Jesus is invited into the head, heart, and gut as Lord and Savior.
Blessings and Love!
Wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus! Shatter the sound of silence! Salt! Shine! Leavenate!
Not long après the inaugural Pentecost sometime around A.D. 30, Karen McClenthen began her ministry at our family of faith occasionally known as First Presbyterian Church on the corner of Lincoln and Main in Belvidere, Illinois.
While she will always be a year older than me and has Benedictine stability in that she has never served in any other ecclesiastical capacity, I’ve been ordained a few more years than she’s been employed at First.
Well into the second decade of ministry avec her, I know my place as highlighted by a letter printed in our December 2018 newsletter: “A big thank you to Karen McClenthen and Mary Taylor for the beautiful luncheon at the bazaar and for all their hard work putting on the lunch after the concert. What will we do without them?”
Nobody has ever written anything like that about me in a newsletter; though I think the sentiment goes something like this: “What will we do with him?”
Actually, I’ve known my place in the lives of pewsitters and other church-dwellers since my first session meeting not long after May 8, 1977: “If I die on Sunday afternoon, there will be ham and cole slaw in Fellowship Hall on Wednesday and people lining up on Sunday to get on the pastor search committee so they can get the pastor they really wanted before I arrived.”
Getting back to that first session meeting, I’ll never forget an elder’s reaction to my first pastor’s report that included recommendations for the church’s future: “If you think we’re going to do any of that, you’re crazy!”
Getting back to my boss, I think I’ve only had one really, uh, challenging moment with her over the years.
Karen was, uh, commenting on how hard it is to get volunteers for some things and how some of our own family members don’t show up for special stuff and…
Catch the drift?
Well, I said we’ve got to stop longing for the way things never were
or maybe were but are no more: “You know, Karen, all churches are having a hard time paying the bills and filling the pews and getting volunteers and dealing with inflated egos and my-way-or-the-highway types, irregulars, irascibles, irreconcilables, and…I work with a lot of churches and pastors and, really, we’re doing a lot better than most and…”
Kindly, she interrupted me and lamented, “But this is our church.”
My heart ached for her…and me…and you…and anyone who remembers when…
Truth is Jesus and church and worship and…just ain’t what He used to be to most Americans these days.
Not speaking dispensationally, the church age is over.
American churches are becoming like churches in Europe - an afterthought except when someone dies or wants to get married or wants to get little Johnny or Susie done aka baptism or there’s a terrorist act or tornado or flood or…
That really hit home for me when I went home for Thanksgiving and preached at the Forty Fort United Presbyterian Church across the Susquehanna River from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (11/25/18).
Despite one of the most faithful and humble pastors that I’ve ever met – William Lukesh – the church is farther down the road in the concerns raised by Karen about what’s becoming increasingly challenging on the corner of Lincoln and Main.
Pastor Bill loves Jesus by the book and preaches to 5-7 folks on Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. in a church about a mile from his and then leads worship for another 2-10 saints on Sunday at 9:00 a.m. in a church about ten miles from his before doing the same for my parents and maybe 25 more in Forty Fort at 10:30 a.m.
Again, I work with a lot of churches and talk to a lot of pastors and it’s all the same regardless of franchise, ideology, theology, socioeconomics, demographics, and so on.
Churches in America are dying; and from the latest reports, well over a thousand are closing their doors every month.
It’s not about trying to find a different way to do church.
It’s about doing church when most people don’t want to do it anymore.
Yes, there are exceptions to the rule; yet exceptions to the rule are called exceptions to the rule because they occur so infrequently that they are called exceptions to the rule which means it is prudent to play by the
rules even while acknowledging the exceptions.
Psalm 33 is helpful in approaching the future of your church in a cultural environment when church just isn’t as important as it used to be.
Psalm 33 is about being church as the Korean and WWII generations go home to Jesus and younger generations aren’t inclined or able to pay the bills if they come at all.
Specifically, Psalm 33 reminds us of the church’s continuing purpose regardless of the cultural response.
Simply, the church will always exist to praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Whether the times are good, bad, or otherwise for the church, people who get Him - understand who He is and who we are as His and what He has done for us and our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus – will praise Him as creative Father, sustaining Spirit, and saving Son.
The primary purpose of the Church is to worship God with all of its ministries fueled by worship.
The most mission-minded churches in the world are the most worshipful ones; for being close to God is expressed through feeding souls and bodies.
Matthew 25 ministries come supernaturally to those who worship God.
Getting closer to God makes us more Godly; and when we’re more Godly, we’re more involved in the kinda things that He modeled in Jesus with grace, mercy, forgiveness, and agape as exclamation marks of fidelity.
God inspired David to write Psalm 33 for “righteous ones” and “the upright” or those who are intimate with God and want to please Him in all things at all times in all places with all people.
That’s what defines a saint – a person who knows God and wants to make Him known by confession, conduct, and countenance.
This psalm encourages saints to “sing for joy in the Lord…give thanks to the Lord…sing praises to Him.”
Peterson’s paraphrase of the opening verses of the psalm are spot on: “Good people, cheer God! Right-living people sound best when praising.”
David highlights some of the reasons why we praise God.
We praise Him for the beauty and splendor of His creation: “The skies were made by God…He breathed the word and the stars popped out. He scooped the sea into His jug…He spoke and there it was, in place the moment He said so.”
We praise God for being God and history being His story: “God takes the wind out of Babel pretense. He shoots down the world’s power-schemes. God’s plan for the world stands up. All of His designs are made to last. Blessed is the country with God for God.”
We praise God for saving the faithful: “Watch this! God’s eye is on those who respect Him, the ones who are looking for His love. He’s ready to come to their rescue in bad times. He keeps us together, body and soul, in lean times.”
We praise God because all blessings flow from Him: “We’re depending on God. He’s everything we need. “
When we understand those reasons for worshipping God, every worship service is a privilege as well as necessity and responsibility.
When we understand we worship God because He so obviously is to be worshipped as God our creative Father, sustaining Spirit, and saving Son, every worship service is filled with attention, allegiance, affection, energy, excitement, and anticipation of existential graces to overcome whatever the world throws at us and eternal assurances of paradise immediately after the last breath.
The music and message and all of the rest come to life in Him as soon as He is alive in us; and David said that means worship among the authentically faithful is never tired or old or ignored or taken for granted because it seems like “a new song” as refreshingly repeated by the repentant and redeemed.
Alexis de Tocqueville was a 19th century French diplomat who traveled across America to find the cause of our strength and reached this conclusion in Democracy in America (1835): “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her fertile fields and boundless forests, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her public school system and her institutions of learning, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution, and it was not there.”
His punch line: “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good; and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
In short, as David sang and every honest observer has had to conclude, a people’s peace and prosperity are inextricably woven into the fabric of faith expressed in praising God from whom all blessings flow.
Only the dimwitted or demonically oppressed to possessed cannot see America’s decline is linked directly to the decline of America’s churches.
America’s renewal depends upon the renewal of her churches.
Your church’s future will go a long way in determining America’s future.
I’ll never forget how humbled I felt when I heard about Pastor Bill Lukesh’s Saturday and Sunday worship schedules.
I’ll never forget how hopeful I became when I overheard him pray from the balcony as he walked alone through the sanctuary below not long before worship, “I thank You for this day to worship You. I thank and praise You for…”
Your church’s future depends on your passionate participation in worship.
Everything else that your church does will be fueled by the vitality of your worship or starved by your inattention to worship.
Your church’s future depends on worship.
So does your country.
That’s what Karen, Pastor Lukesh, and David have been trying to tell us.
Blessings and Love!
Wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus! Shatter the sound of silence! Salt! Shine! Leavenate!
“Give thanks in everything…Thank God no
matter what happens.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Ordained in its sanctuary on May 8,
1977, I preached at the Forty Fort United Presbyterian Church on November 25,
I hadn’t preached there in over four
So many memories.
David Meeker and I used to fill in the
o’s in the bulletin to make it through the services.
Mrs. Mante would march into the
service with children in tow within seconds of the call to worship; preparing
me for worshippers who must feel it’s rude to be on time.
Her husband who endured me in
Confirmation Class before enduring David and me working on our God and Country
Award as part of Danny Evans’ Troop 122 before guiding me through college and
seminary to ordination always yelled out, “Blessings on you! Keep the faith!” When I asked Rev. Mante what he meant by
that, he said with a smile, “I want God to bless you even though you don’t deserve
it and I want you to stay faithful in gratitude for those blessings.”
Then there was Miss Grace Blanchard
who taught a boys only Sunday School class until she was 104 and convinced me
that retirement is only for those who can’t or won’t
anymore. She’d say once a month, “O.K.,
boys, today is SOS Sunday! Same old
Today, they have a wonderfully
faithful pastor, The Rev. William Lukesh, who is a part of the remnant still
believing in Jesus by the book. I am so
thankful for him being my parents’ pastor.
Not long after ordination, I went to
New Jersey as pastor of Clark’s Osceola Presbyterian Church. Aside from the officers, staff, and
membership only being rivaled by our family of faith on the corner of Lincoln
and Main when it comes to loving Jesus, loving America, and praying and working
to make America Godly again, there were two sacred moments that have
shaped my undershepherding-to-the-Good-Shepherd ministry.
The first was a meeting of clergy and
rabbis about the uproar generated by a local public library that put a manger
scene in front of its lawn sign from just before Thanksgiving to just after
Not long after the meeting started, I
got up and said, “We’ve got to be honest before we’re going to get anywhere on
this. We’ve got an irreconcilable
difference in this room. Christian
clergy believe Jesus is Lord and rabbis don’t.”
An old rabbi stood after I spoke and
said, “My young Christian friend is right and I’ll be damned if he’s
right. But I’m betting my soul that
he’s wrong just as much as he’s betting his soul that he’s right.”
It cleared the air and we negotiated
The second shaping moment occurred
during the Community Thanksgiving Service at the Cranford Presbyterian Church
Because I was the new kid in town, I
had to preach.
With rabbis and other non-Christians
present, I said, “Well, I’m all for Thanksgiving as a national holiday. I love America and what we stand for. I like health and wealth and all of that
stuff. But everybody knows health and
wealth and even our country could disappear overnight. So I guess I’m going to reserve my highest
thanksgiving for eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus that can never be
taken away from us and helps us to overcome anything that life throws at us.”
It was a big hit with the Christians
Come to think of it, I was never
invited to preach at another community service.
Can you guess why?
Well, I haven’t changed over the
I still love the advantages of living
in America with so many freedoms and opportunities and those Bill of Rights.
I’m glad Massachusetts Governor
William Bradford made that first Thanksgiving Proclamation back in 1623:
“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest…spared
us from pestilence and disease…granted us freedom to worship God…listen to ye
pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”
I’m glad President George Washington
proclaimed November 26 as a National Day of Thanksgiving in response to God’s
granting American independence from the English.
I’m glad President Abraham Lincoln
revived the national observance of Thanksgiving in 1863.
I’m glad the United States Congress
sealed the deal in 1941 and decreed the 4th Thursday in November as
a national day of Thanksgiving to God from whom all blessings flow.
Pero I know Thanksgiving is
shallow if it’s just about heath, wealth, nationalism, and other stuff that can
become dust in the wind so quickly.
Thanksgiving only means something if
its about Someone who provides an eternal cause for praise and thanks that no
one nor no thing can take away from us.
No matter what happens to us in time,
we have cause to praise and thank God for eternal life in paradise by grace
through faith in Jesus that lasts infinitely longer than any accumulation or
advantage fixed in time.
That’s why Paul wrote, “Give thanks in
everything…Thank God no matter what happens.”
No matter what happens in time, it
No matter what happens in time, it
does not change our heavenly inheritance by grace through faith in Jesus.
Paul was right: “I consider that our
present sufferings…[or treasures that expire when time’s up!]…are not worth
comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
While I may be wrong but wouldn’t say
it if I thought I could be wrong, it seems to make a lot more sense to praise
and thank God for eternity with Him in paradise than 70 or 80 or even over 100
years of the best that life affords.
I spent a week with Eugene Peterson
back in October 2011.
I’ll never forget how he said, “Churches
don’t need motivational speakers because you don’t have to motivate
Well, Eugene went home to Jesus on
October 22, 2018.
Not long before graduating, his son
Eric asked how he felt about having only a few months left on earth; and Eugene
said with that calming, certain, and infectious smile, “I feel good about
I am reminded of how David Redding
explained our blessed assurance: “Anyone who feels sorry for a dead Christian,
as though the poor chap were missing something, is himself missing the
transfiguring promotion involved.”
So, yes, let’s celebrate Thanksgiving.
Let’s eat turkey and stuffing and
cranberry relish and watch football until our eyes are glazed and we drift off
Most of all, while praising and thanking
God for every blessing in time, let’s reserve our highest praise and thanks for
the ultimate blessing of faith in Jesus.
By grace through faith in Jesus,
everybody goes home for thanksgiving.
Blessings and Love! @#$% Wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus! Shatter the sound of silence! Salt! Shine! Leavenate!
For the first nine years or so on the corner of Lincoln and Main, I’d often say during messages, “Please don’t tell anyone that I’m your pastor because I don’t want anyone to think you got what you got from me.”
Part of it was only staff members Karen, Mona, Jeremy, and Murph were welcoming and nice to me when I landed; and part of it was Belvidere’s First Presbyterian Church had a reputation for being snobby, snotty, grudge-holding, and disrespectful to each other as well as clergy.
After some additions and subtractions – revival sometimes don’t mean bringing people in but getting the people out who don’t love Jesus and all of His children – I haven’t said that too much over the past five years.
Of course, every once in a while when the wolf is at the door…
Truth is at least 95% of the folks on the corner of Lincoln and Main have always been better than worse; pero just a few fleas can make a big dog itch and just a few irregulars, irascibles, and irreconcilables can taint a church’s reputation and, if not held accountable to confession and repentance as prerequisite to restoration, make things more miserable than merry.
Mark Twain’s conclusion about too many churches remains chastening: “The church is always trying to get other people to reform. It might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little by way of example.”
Pointedly, churches could – ah, let’s say should - be a lot more convincing to the unchurched who are like the churched who need Jesus to feel existentially loved and eternally secure.
Specifically, churches could be a lot more convincing if they were known exclusively for agape expressed through mercy, grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Sadly, too many churches have really bad reputations; especially when it comes to the lack of forgiveness among its pulpiteers and pewsitters.
It seems too many churches talk a lot about it without knowing and making known what forgiveness means, how to do it, and why it’s so important to Jesus and people who say they love Jesus.
Forgiveness is really important to God.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Yeah, debts, debtors, trespasses, and trespassers are synonyms for sins and sinners though sins and sinners are a lot more literal to the original languages of the Bible not to mention original sin.
You say potato, I say…
Moretheless, that part of what we call The Lord’s Prayer is the only part of the prayer that Jesus explained immediately after finishing the prayer: “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, God will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, God will not forgive you.”
It’s really hard to say this but Jesus is saying our forgiveness from God is conditional upon our forgiving others.
Forgiving = forgiven.
Unforgiving = unforgiven.
I’m reminded of Karen McCoy who went home to Jesus on June 24, 2015.
A few days before graduation, she said, “If people won’t forgive, hell with them; and, Pastor Bob, I didn’t say that. Jesus said that!”
Herbert Lockyer is sobering about the connection between forgiveness and God’s favor in Everything Jesus Taught: “There is one sin…[that]…Jesus said a forgiving God cannot forgive. It is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit…the willful, conscious, and final rejection of the pardon God offers in Christ…God cannot forgive such a soul for such a soul is unable to receive and appreciate forgiveness. It has gone too far ever to return.”
Lockyer goes on, “Jesus emphasized the relationship between the two aspects of forgiveness, namely, God’s forgiveness of man, and man’s forgiveness of man…At the heart of the teaching of Jesus was the insistence that the human who would not forgive the human could never be forgiven by God…Jesus seems to say, ‘How dare you ask God to forgive you when you refuse your forgiveness to a brother?’”
He concludes, “We must do to others as we wish God to do to us. If we refuse to forgive, our own forgiveness is denied.”
I think of a conversation between John Wesley and an unforgiving man.
When Wesley asked him to forgive someone, he said, “It’s no use, Mr. Wesley. You know, sir, I never forgive.”
Wesley snapped, “I hope you know you will never be forgiven; or else I hope you have never sinned.”
So there it/He is.
Our forgiveness from God is indisputably and eternally connected to our forgiveness of others.
Forgiveness is really important to Jesus and eternally consequential to us as it makes things a lot more merry than miserable in the meantime.
I was really miserable about all of this for the longest time because nobody really explained the meaning of forgiveness to me.
I’ll never forget my third grade Sunday School teacher who said, “If you can’t forget, you can’t forgive and you’ve heard what Jesus said about that.”
I thought I was going to hell for sure.
I mean I have a pretty good hard drive and don’t forget too much.
Told that if I could pull up the sins from the past from my noodle’s files, it meant I was not forgetting ergo not forgiving and therefore damned.
It was a lot to take for a third grader.
With thanks to God for people who spend a little more time in the Bible than others, I learned the meaning of forgiveness as intended by Jesus.
He used words that meant forgiveness is kinda like forgetting in that we don’t hold the past against each other.
We kinda forget even if our divinely designed noodles can recall the infractions of the past.
Biblically, forgiveness occurs when the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual barriers of the past are torn down and the past no longer inhibits present and future relationships.
That’s what God has done for us by grace through faith in Jesus and that’s what God expects from us for others: “Love each other just as much as I love you.”
Forgiveness doesn’t mean we like people who have caused problems in our lives or trust them or want to go to the movies with them.
It means we are not out to hurt them or retaliate against them while using the past as rationale for not trying to get along now and then and forever.
Nobody is suggesting it’s easy.
Heaven, Jesus went to the cross over it.
It’s not easy.
It’s freedom from the resentments, grudges, and other emotional dung-holes that weigh us down.
Forgiveness yields freedom from manipulators and mean-spirited and hateful and hurtful and other miscreants.
Being forgiven by God and each other is almost paradise.
It’s a taste of heaven.
While grudge-holders are gravediggers with the only graves being dug being theirs, the forgiving and forgiven by God and each other know unparalleled peace and calm.
Forgiveness transforms misery into merry and glum into glad.
It lightens the step because the load has been lifted.
David sang about the joys of forgiveness in Psalm 32: “How happy is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered…How happy we are to get a fresh start and clean slate…Reconciled with God and each other sparks joyous celebration.”
David cautioned against holding onto sin: “When I kept it all inside, the stress and pressure never let up…All the juices of my life dried up.”
Then David moved to the formula for forgiveness from God and each other that was echoed in 1 John 1:5-10. Here’s the apostle’s punch line: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” David put it this way: “Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my sins to the Lord, and You took away the guilt of my sin.’”
I like Peterson’s paraphrase: “I said, ‘I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God’…Suddenly, the pressure was gone…my guilt dissolved…my sin disappeared.”
That formula for forgiveness from God is supposed to be our formula for forgiveness with each other; and God has made it clear that if we don’t exercise that formula in our relationships with each other, we forfeit it in our relationship with Him.
The rest of the psalm reiterates the most common theme of Holy Scripture: “Trust and obey! For there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey!”
It doesn’t take much discernment to know David most likely wrote this psalm after getting caught in the sack with Bathsheba and then knocking off her husband so he could stay in the sack with her and then experiencing God’s forgiveness after confession and repentance.
That’s the usual formula.
Confession and repentance are prerequisite to restoration between us and God and each other.
Yet – and it’s a very big yeeeeeeet. A yet that I’m still praying about and reading about as I continue to scratch the surface of my relationship with God by the book – I’m still trying to understand how our incarnate Lord’s last act of forgiveness could/should impact our relationships with others who have not confessed sin nor made any attempt to repent from sin.
The crucified Christ said from the cross in the presence of those who were among the most guilty of denying, torturing, and murdering Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
This is among the most unpredictably astounding things that Jesus ever said. He is asking Father God not to hold the sins of everyone culpable for His passion and death against them; but rather to forgive them as ignorant.
How often have we heard ignorance is no excuse?
One of our Lord’s last words disagrees with that sentiment; and there’s no way on earth to understand such forgiveness.
All we can do is praise and thank Him for forgiving our unconsciously and even consciously ignorant unconfessed and unrepented sins: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Maybe, as Twain suggested, we could/should model Him a little bit better with each other as others watch us.
Maybe we could be a lot more convincing if we took our forgiveness to the next level.
Blessings and Love!
Wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus!