FAQ . . . “Unforgiving; Unforgetting; Unhappy”

Forgiving and forgetting are so simple to say and in concept so simply correct but in life so complex and often times so difficult to carry out.  Even the Disciples asked Jesus how many times they had to forgive a person of transgressing against them.  Examples of unforgiving and unforgetting abound in our world.  From the pages of history, global politics, national headlines to the “war” between the sexes, exes, and those with whom we have some nexus, we all struggle with giving forgiveness when injured and moving forward in wholeness.   Forgiveness is the transcendent quality of our faith and is at its core.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son .  .  .  .” 

Forgiveness is one of the pillars of good relationships and without it any relationship will be unstable at best.   I know of no person or relationship that is perfect, without defect or occasional dysfunction.  We all mess up, act unbecomingly and badly.  My mirror attests that this is no lie.  Therefore, in order for relationships to thrive, forgiving and forgetting, are essential.  From the tiniest transgression to the apparent deal breaker God instructs us to forgive.  We all have experienced and witness people deteriorate because of long held unforgiveness.  Even in the short term, holding such feeling makes us unhappy.  I have been at times miserable because I have harbored an unforgiving nature towards my wife or my boss.  One of the ironic twists is many times the person not forgiven is oblivious and feels no ill effect and we stew in misery.  So how do we forgive and forget?

I believe this is key; the foundation and incentive to forgive lays with God’s treatment of you and me.  Using Psalms 103 Pastor Ed excellently presented a glimpse into how extensive God’s love translates into forgiveness.  It seems a universal phenomenon that people react magnanimously when they remember they have been treated kindly and graciously; so too with forgiveness.  Remembering brings about a change in heart.  Deeply remembering the grace and mercy of God brings our hearts to a tender and grateful place.  It is from these depths of mercy that the forgiving spirit springs forth.

I have been told, “You don’t know what I have been through.  After this, how do I forgive and forget?”  You have heard this or said these words yourselves.  The spiritual stuff stated above is fine but how does it work in real life?  As Christ-followers, first, you must remember this, God forgave you and He asks that we “pay it forward” and forgive.  Second, forgiving someone is an act of will and not an emotion.  It is an intentional act.  Strong emotions will be encountered but this is still a matter of choice.  God will honor your choice in obedience to Him.  Third, forgetting is very emotional and a huge step in faith; Faith to allow God to heal your broken heart, mind and soul because it is so emotional.  I hold this perspective; it is better when considering the forgetting aspect of forgiveness, to view this as getting to the place where the offense has no more power over you.  It doesn’t mean we have our memory erased but it does mean when it does come to mind, the sting and agony, are dim. 

When you forgive out of obedience and faith, God shows up.  Pastor Ed referenced Joseph.  If there was a man who had reason to not forgive and forget, it was Joseph.  Joseph stated in Genesis 41:51, “God has made me forget all my trouble . . . .”  How did God do that for Joseph?  Honestly I do not know and I do not know how He will show up in your lives when you choose to forgive.  I do know He is a personal and loving God having compassion on His children.  Pray and ask.   As a child of God, He will respond in ways that are best suited for you.  I have seen God use His own Words in the Bible to impact and impress.  Sometimes I have seen the contrite and humble approach of the “other person” help but sometimes this never happens and you are left with resolution all on you.  I have seen God use the passage of time to heal but more often I have seen Him use the loving-kindness and support of faithful friends and family.  I have seen God use the guidance of a counselor or therapist.  I have seen God use our own GateWay Church in amazing ways.  I have seen a heart attack bring two estranged hearts together.  I have seen God use the birth of a child to transform relationships.  However He chooses to work, His blessing are new every morning; great is His faithfulness.  

Is it time for you to make the choice to forgive someone then patiently allow God to bring healing? If you are having a hard time making a decision, let us at GateWay help.

Shalom.

FAQ . . . “Run Over By Grace ”

The longer my spiritual journey with Christ, the more I travel down the road named the essential nature of grace.  I am convinced on a human level and especially on the spiritual level, the absence of grace leads to death.  Every meaningful relationship requires grace.  As Pastor Ed mentioned the painted rock defined grace as “the face love wears when it meets imperfection.”  I experience imperfection all around me, especially when I look in the mirror.  We all need grace as no one is perfect for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. 

Understanding grace and its impacts seem to be so difficult for humankind.  The current human climate of our nation post-election is more than sufficient proof.  We are all steeped in what I label as the “Exchange Theory” of human interaction whether it is economics, politics, human relationships and even the salvation offered by God.  Everything is based on exchanging something of value for another item of value and without this transfer, nothing is accomplished.  This quid pro quo or “I scratch your back and you scratch mine” environment may make sense for financial matters but can be quite hostile in relationships.  Most of us have grown up in relationships that operate with exchange theory and have passed the same down through our children.  Scenarios such as you like me and I will like you; be nice to me and I will be nice to you; if you obey me I will give you a reward, or if you love me you will do what I say are common. Such conditioning of our love and affection leads to self-doubt, insecurity, co-dependency, bullying, and many emotionally charged illnesses and add to that, the inability to give or receive grace freely.  I find that any relationship is doomed to misery or death without grace and its sibling, mercy.

My sister’s birthday is this week.  I am the elder brother and back when we were children, I was not a good big brother.  I was mean at times, selfish often, teased her regularly and on occasion struck a single blow to her thigh to end an argument.  It wasn’t with all my might but with enough force and located on a specific spot that the talking stopped immediately.  Yet, as a child, she still wanted to be connected with me and treated me kindly.  This continued through junior high and high school.  If you are wondering, by then, I stopped giving out the “Charlie horse” blow.  I saw things in a different light once I received Jesus in college and her in high school.  When she received Christ she ran up to me and gave me the biggest hug.  It was very special.  Not too long ago out of the blue she purchased a car for me when I first became a pastor on staff at GateWay.  She said she wanted to support my ministry.  It wasn’t like she had a large cache of cash.  She made payments monthly from her paycheck as a high school counselor.  This certainly was undeserved and uncalled for; a tangible example of giving and receiving grace.  She has continued to be gracious, generous and merciful as she has all the reasons to mete out punishment on me.  And not by coincidence but by divine guidance, my sister’s name is Grace.   

What if we all lived daily giving and receiving grace and mercy?  How different would our life, our families, our workplaces, our community, our nation and our world be?  I think it is past time we Christ-followers take up the challenge of giving grace and mercy daily and in concrete ways.

Shalom.

FAQ . . . “Sinful Living”

I was on the treadmill again at the gym with ESPN on the screen watching and listening to a variation on former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem.  The debate in front of me focused on the Cleveland Police Association’s response to several members of the Cleveland Browns kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner in a recent pre-season game.  The response was the refusal of Cleveland police officers holding the flag during the national anthem at the first game of the season.  The claim is it would be hypocrisy to hold the flag when the Cleveland Browns condone the disrespect of the flag by its players.  ESPN’s Steven A and Max K spoke of the players’ and Kaepernick’s Constitutional right of free speech.  Then Coach Herm Edwards was given the mic and his words struck home.  He said in essence “protesting the flag is wrong; it’s not the flag; the flag didn’t do wrong.  Name names and make your protest there.”  

Pastor Ed named names this past weekend expounding on the FAQ Why Is Sin Such A Big Deal.  I think we have all heard it said, “Deep down everyone is good” or “we are born good; it’s how we are raised, and our environment that determines if we remain good or turn bad; or “you just have to believe in yourself.”  Layer on extrapolations from the Theory of Evolution such as “Education is the key – the more educated we are the better we are.”  These and many other variations have been with us since the beginning of civilization.  The result is not pretty.  We are left with a lot of moralizing, political correctness and ineptness, and plenty of hypocritical intolerance.  (Witness the diatribes heaped on Tim Tebow a few years ago when he kneeled in the end zone after a touchdown to honor Jesus and the current glowing support of Kaepernick taking a knee.)  The evidence is mounting that whether you voted for Trump or Clinton, are liberal or conservative, or prefer ketchup to Sriracha, humankind still struggles and struggles after two millennia since the birth of Christ.  We have not evolved; we have regressed in many ways.  Its name is sin.  Matthew 15:19 says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”  Romans 3:23 records “For all have sinned and fallen short . . . .”  We have a heart issue; not simply a lack of education or voting wrongly.   

Contrary to the notion that we are born good, our hearts reveal major self-centeredness leading to actions that harm others for self-gain.  This holds true in economics, politics and in relationships.  If we want better human outcomes then we need better hearts.  History has shown evolutionary theory as the answer to better hearts is a bad myth at best.  So what can truly change hearts?  The answer is the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ.  History has shown that where hearts have been changed by Jesus, hospitals, orphanages, universities, social change and human compassion have bloomed.  Let’s name names; John Newton, slave ship Captain to abolitionist who witnessed slavery abolished in England and wrote Amazing Grace.  Mother Theresa touches the untouchable in Calcutta.  C.S. Lewis leaves atheism in exchange for a life of faith in Christ and influences millions and generations through writing.  A self-centered, arrogant, skeptical university student bargains with Jesus and begins a journey of spiritual discovery closing his professional life writing a blog for his church home.  

Shalom.

FAQ . . . “Truth Living”

Sadness to gladness as this weekend marked the start of the new sermon series Frequently Asked Questions about doctrinal matters.  In his excellent first message, Pastor Ed, addressed a long standing question asked by non-believers, skeptics, the curious and believers who wonder, “Is the Bible Completely True?”  Instead of adding to the abundance of data to support the reliability of the Bible as first intended, I now plunge down this tangent:  If the Bible and its principles, commands and guidance are true, then what are you going to do with the truth?  In a dramatic movie about a military tribunal, Tom Cruise portrayed a military lawyer who demanded to know the truth.  Jack Nicholson’s character, a crusty and well-seasoned general, shouted back, “You can’t handle the truth.”  Truth be told, I never saw the movie, I just remember this particular scene from the trailer.

A rich young ruler came up to Jesus one day and wanted to know how to obtain eternal life.  He had kept many important rules so he thought.  To his chagrin, Jesus told him to do one more thing – sell all he owned, give the proceeds to the poor and come follow Me.  The young man walked away.  We live in a world where many people want life to the fullest.  Young and old pursue wealth, professional success and respect, longevity and beauty, a fulfilling relationship with love at its core, and some just want sex.  I venture to guess, many have tried “religion” and some have tried Jesus in this pursuit but in the end, they walked away.   The reasons may be many but allow me to propound this one – they could not handle the truth.

The truth demands that you do something with it.  Either you accept and live it or you deny and avoid it maybe even denying that it is truth.   Jesus saw the truth of the rich young ruler’s heart and whatever it was; Jesus saw it was keeping him from a personal relationship with Jesus.  The young man was unwilling to let go and accept the truth.  I think on a deeply interior level the “World” knows the truth of the Bible but will not let go of its own self-seeking view of life.  Whether one is an intellectual, leftist, conservative, liberal, Christian, scientific, patriot, or whatever label is attached, acknowledging Jesus and the Bible means something has to be done in response.  In the face of overwhelming evidence (Ed merely scratched the surface in his sermon) many people have walked away.  They don’t want to change their behavior and thinking to align themselves rightly with the truth of God.

How do we change the “World?”  How do we turn people around?  How do we convince those who are genuinely seeking answers?  Legislating the truth is ineffective.  Protests by Christians are simply protests largely ignored.  I have seen from time to time the expression that our “life may be the only ‘Bible’ a person reads.”  This notion fits my bias in thinking.  The way we go about this is one life at a time, face to face, person to person.  Living out the truth of the Bible in daily life, in our relationships, in the workplace, in the casual encounters in our community speak volumes of truth.  A redeemed life well lived speaks to hearts longing for the truth.  If we Christ-followers do not live out the truth of the Bible, indicating we don’t believe it either, who in the World would bother.  As Pastor Ed stated, one form of external evidence sustaining the reliability of the Bible is transformation.  Do we have lives that are transformed by God’s redemption? 

Shalom.

Genesis . . . “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

Sadly, this weekend marked the conclusion of the Genesis series of sermons given by Pastor Ed.  Each week we were treated to a fresh and dynamic look at portions of Genesis previously worked over by many a pastor, in many a sermon over the ages.   Thank you, Ed.

Bonnie Tyler will reprise her hit song, Total Eclipse of the Heart, on board a Royal Caribbean cruise ship during the much anticipated total solar eclipse on Monday the 21st of August.  I’m not sure what this melancholy song of love lost and love desperately desired from 1983 has to do with an amazing natural event but in our pop culture it does and it does sell bookings.  Solar eclipses over the millennia have been powerful moments in shaping beliefs, ancient cultural norms, religious thoughts, and influencing behavior.  So perhaps there is a connection between song, ship, and solar eclipse.

As rare as this total eclipse will be, astronomically speaking, solar eclipses happen anywhere from two to five times a year.  By simple definition, an eclipse takes place when the moon crosses between the earth and the sun causing a shadow.  Most occurrences usually are partial eclipses as the right angles and distances of the moon, earth and sun must align in order to have a total eclipse but this does happen at frequent and regular intervals over time.  In fact, about every 18 months but the “kicker” is if it takes place in a region of the earth where people can actually observe it.  This is what makes this eclipse so special – it will be cutting across the whole United States and is in viewing range of 220 million people.

Our human lives are like the earth moving through the Solar System with the moon on its course circling the earth.  The sun shines on the earth and regularly the moon crosses and casts a shadow of darkness similar to the goodness of God in our lives and the concomitant times of shadow where His light appears dim.  The life of Joseph lends itself to this picture.  Joseph experienced many a partial eclipse in his life and several total eclipses.  I venture to say being sold into slavery and thrown into prison unjustly are total eclipse times.  The ups and downs of regular life move us in and out of the moon’s shadow and sometimes events or circumstances happen where the shadow looks like totality.  The reality is; God’s goodness and light never stops shinning on our lives.  The bad relationship breakup, the let down at the office or being ill sometimes obscures the light but it does not mean it has been extinguished.  Waiting and trusting in the ever-presence of God soon bears out.  The moon moves away and the sun shines brightly again.  It is wise, as Pastor Ed shares, to not sit in the seat of God and cast judgment from our vantage point.  It is also wise to appropriate the view from God’s perspective.  And because in all lives, eclipses take place in various locations and not all see the same eclipse, it is wise to give grace in loving kindness, forgiving and reconciling.

In ancient times, eclipses were fearful events not unlike what our life eclipses may bring.  Understanding, knowledge and wisdom overcame superstition and fear.  Many times it is very difficult to go through the personal eclipse, partial or total.  It is just this time when relationships founded in grace and love are most vital.  The wise and trusted friend, mentor, or small group can help you stay the course until the “moon” has passed and the Son shines again.

Shalom.

Genesis . . . “Esau, ESPN and El Shaddai”

I watched and listened earnestly to the discussion between ESPN personalities Monday morning while walking on the treadmill at the gym.  On a media network devoted to sports the conversation was highly charged by the weekend events in Charlottesville, Virginia and the continuing saga of sports stars refusing to stand for the National Anthem.  I found this repartee intelligent, honest and valuable.  I soon finished my time on the treadmill and went on to my yoga class where the instructor called on us to breathe and empty our thoughts to focus on the yoga practice.  This was hard today.  I despaired for lives lost and injured and for the graphic picture of peoples driven to extremes, to confrontation and doing harm motivated by beliefs based on moral equivocation.  Sadly down dogs, triangle pose or planks do not change current events, debates about moral equivalence (moral equivocation in my opinion) or the heart of man.

 

Genesis tells many stories of lives changed and unchanged.  As Pastor Ed alluded, Esau disrespected his heritage, his lineage and value even selling his birthright for a bowl of stew.  Disenfranchised, Esau likely harbored deep hurt, hate and heartache for Jacob.  After all, he did come to “the meeting” with 400 hundred of his men.  If revenge was on his mind, if righting a relational wrong was in his heart, or proving his superiority was his aim, then Esau approached with moral equivocation.  Jacob approached with similar moral equivocation.  Jacob made his way through life with conniving, con jobs, and conspiracy mixed with some righteousness.  Although not clearly stated in Scripture, haunted by his past choices, Jacob likely felt fearful, guilty and exposed in seeing Esau.  He did come to “the meeting” putting his wives and children first in line, in harm’s way, thus protecting him. 

 

In the 24-hours before “the meeting” Jacob has his pivotal encounter with God – El Shaddai.  Jacob is profoundly changed.  He has a different physical stance; he has an altered view of himself and a new and deep understanding of the nature, character, principles and person of El Shaddai.  Jacob steps up and forward humbling himself and opening his heart to Esau.  As Pastor Ed describes, Esau is literally and figuratively disarmed.  Connection, reconciliation and restoration of family and relationship happen.  There is no more equivocation because the moral view is now God’s view.  This clarity yields wholeness and worth.

 

Racism is wrong; hatred is wrong; revenge is wrong; violence in response to opposing views is wrong;  disrespecting another human is wrong; refusing to listen is wrong and justifying and excusing wrong is wrong.  It is wrong because it is not who God is and what He sets forth as right living.  How do we Christ-followers respond and act in the face of such divisiveness?  We speak up and clearly proclaim the love of Jesus.  We also must show the world what Christ-likeness does.  Esau stood down when he saw Jacob step up as a changed man.  I may not be able to change the KKK or the “far left” but I believe I can be an instrument to change the view of one disenfranchised, discouraged, discounted or damaged human being in our community.  How about you, GateWay?  That person is likely sitting right next to you at Sunday Service. 

 

Shalom.

Genesis . . . “Where Everyone Knows Your Name”

One of the most popular TV shows from 1982 to 1993 was the sitcom, CheersCheers was the name of the neighborhood bar in Boston where an interesting and eclectic group of characters would gather daily.  (You can go to Boston today and visit the actual bar that was the TV façade for the exterior shots.  The owners quickly adopted the name and signage making this spot a destination for tourists) Every week the theme song would play and the catch phrase from that song would find its way not only into the American psyche but also psychological studies, theological writings, leadership and management seminars, and church growth plans.  “Where everyone knows your name,” was the un-academic way of saying what sociologists termed a third place.  The first place was home and the second was the office or work site.  It was stated that everyone is looking for their third place, a space for community, bonding and hanging out because the first place, home, was stuck in dysfunction and the second place, work, was enveloped with dehumanizing monotony.  Even if home was wonderful and work was fulfilling, a place where “everyone knows your name” fills a special void.  Everyone is looking for their “Cheers,” just ask Starbucks.

Pastor Ed stated this weekend in continuing the Genesis series that God called Hagar by name.  With this simple gesture, assurance, value, and hope are transmitted to the struggling Hagar.  It is remarkable that the Creator of the Universe, the Infinite, and the Alpha and the Omega, knows names.  Psalm 8:4 records, What is man that You take thought of him expressing wonder that God does take note.  Psalms 139:13 reads For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb.   Verse 16 goes on to say, Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written.  With this intimate perspective, it is no wonder that God knows my name.  Being called by name can make a difference.

I visited my friends, Don and Bonnie, in Birmingham, Alabama two years ago.  Judy and I took the opportunity to attend Sunday service at Brooks Hills Community Church, at the time the church where David Platt, author of the transformational book, Radical, was the senior pastor.  As I drove our rental car on to the church property signs directed me to first-time visitors’ parking and there we parked since this was the very first time.  We were immediately greeted by a friendly man who introduced himself and asked my name.  He directed us up the stairs towards the main entrance to the Worship Center.  Once we climbed the stairs and walked a short way down the sidewalk towards the entrance, another unknown to us but friendly looking man approached.  While still several footsteps away he said, “good morning, Bill, welcome to Brooks Hills.”   He must have seen the perplexed look on my face when he called me by name and said the Holy Spirit works in many ways.  He then held up a walkie-talkie and we both laughed.  But I was greatly impressed and touched to be greeted by name at a church I have never been to before.  Maybe everyone at Brook Hills did not know my name but surely the first two people I met walking in did.  This sure set the stage that had I been a local, Brooks Hills easily could have become my home church, my third place.

I am not the best at remembering names these days but I am inspired to do better.  Even though Cheers was canceled in the previous millennium, people are still looking for their Third Place.  Is it possible that GateWay can be a Third Place?  We certainly have a great start since God already knows your name.  How much more special it would be if everyone at GateWay knew your name.  Let’s make the effort to get to know one another by name and by living life together.

Shalom.

Genesis . . . “Four Score and Seven Years Ago”

The life of Abraham is full of twists and turns.  One of the amazing facts about this narrative is it begins with a man who is 75 years old and ends when he is 175 years old – one hundred years; just thirteen years longer than the age of the United States at the time of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (which I contend is one of the greatest speeches ever given if not the best but I digress).  God tells Abraham to load up the camels and donkeys and go west “young” man and remarkably he does.  Over the next 100 years, we observe an imperfect man struggle with fear, shortsightedness, failure and family dynamics yet Abraham lands on the “A” list of men of faith.  Immediately three things jump out at me to consider; 1) God is gracious and merciful; 2) God partners with and uses imperfect people to carry out His plan; and 3) It is never too late, as long as one is still on this side of eternity, to get going with God.

I have observed many people avoid “Jesus” and church because they wrongly assume it is all about “religion” and not relationship.  They see “religion” as requiring perfect people living by the rules and doing no wrong so they see their shortcomings and feel disqualified.  (There are those who do not want to follow anyone’s rules but their own so they don’t but that is better suited to a lesson to take from the Tower of Babel.)  And there are always people who do come to church but are burdened with things, labor greatly to assuage the guilt and cannot connect.  Abraham’s life illustrates it’s all about the relationship and not the religion since it is clear Abraham had plenty of struggles and failures yet he walked with God.  God’s grace and mercy followed Abraham all the days of his life.  Thus, for those who struggle with inadequacy, disqualification issues, and failure, take heart, God is about the relationship and not the religion.  Jesus says, “Come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

Finally, it is not too late.  Abraham began his true faith journey at the age of 75.  Perhaps in those days, 75 was the “new 45” but I am thinking 75 is still 75.  Encourage your friends who may be older it is never too late.  This week we will bury my wife’s mother, my mother-in-law.  Grace was 91 but it was only a few years ago she opened her heart to Jesus and stepped into relationship.  My dad was in his later 60’s when he came to faith.  But this is not only a story of it’s never too late to receive Jesus, it is also the story of it’s never too late to become engaged in service with Jesus.  At age 75 God said the nations would be blessed through Abraham.  Maybe whole nations may not be blessed through you but one child, one friend, one co-worker can be.  I just turned 6ixty 6ix a couple of weeks ago. I am on Medicare and I am fully retired from paid employment.  I am challenged that my relationship with Jesus on this faith journey is not a spectator’s sport.  He is not just looking for fans, He wants players.  Whether you are twenty-five or seventy-five, as a Christ-follower the choice is yours.   Be in the game!  

Shalom