UNFORGIVEN

In an ad promoting a new movie as “the best western since Unforgiven”, I was reminded of the impact Unforgiven had on Jan and me when we first saw it when it came out in 1992. We saw it in the afternoon, and even though it was sunny leaving the theater, we both commented to each other how depressing the story was.

Whether you saw the movie or not, (and I’m not recommending it if you haven’t see it), the title Unforgiven is attention getting, isn’t it? I’m not sure who was forgiven and who was unforgiven in the movie, but I do know forgiveness is important. Forgiveness is a central subject in the Bible in general and specifically in the teaching of Jesus.

Our greatest need is to be forgiven by God. Much of the Old Testament law is about what God wants and expects from his people as well as how to receive his forgiveness. The New Testament is about God’s ultimate provision for our forgiveness through Jesus. That’s why we call him our redeemer and our savior.

If our greatest need is to be forgiven by God, our greatest gift is to receive and have that forgiveness. I think we all agree with David when he declares, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Psalm 32:1). And it’s even more than that: God’s promise through Jeremiah is that he “will remember our sins no more” (31:34).

What could be worse than to be described as unforgiven by God?

Every one of us needs to be forgiven by God, and in the New Testament we are called to forgive others. Jesus makes the connection of God’s forgiveness of us with our forgiveness of others more than once in his teaching. Perhaps the best known is one of the requests of his model prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). He continues in verses 14 and 15, “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.”

My favorite teaching from Jesus about our forgiveness of others is his Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. It’s about a person who was forgiven an impossible debt by his master, who in turn was unwilling to forgive a small debt owed him by a fellow servant. When the master learned of this he reversed his previous kindness. Jesus concludes the teaching: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Is Jesus teaching in these passages that God’s forgiveness of us is contingent upon our forgiveness of others? You can wrestle with that question yourself. He certainly is saying that if we accept and understand God’s forgiveness we should do the same with others. But is our loving and forgiving heavenly father unwilling to forgive the sin of unforgiveness?

Three things I do know: I am grateful to be forgiven by God, I don’t want to be unforgiven by those I have wronged and hurt, and I want to be forgiving of those who have hurt and wronged me.

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MOVING ON AND MEMORIES

Can we move on and hold on to our memories at the same time? It’s a challenge, isn’t it?

Even if we don’t know the lyrics of the song, the title makes the point: Precious Memories. Obviously not all our memories are precious, but many of them are. We have precious memories of days gone by, of loved ones who have died, of places where we once lived, of friends with whom we have lost touch, of pets that added to our lives, and so much more.

A couple of Sundays ago at church I spoke with a man whose wife of many years recently died. I suggested the holidays had to be hard for him and he agreed saying something about his many memories. As with many similar situations, I told him he would never get over it, but it would get better.

As painful as it is, the death of a loved one is not the only way we experience loss. And when we deal with a loss, we eventually have to move on. We can’t do it immediately and we can’t skip the necessary grieving of our loss. But when we do move forward it does not mean we cannot hold on to our memories. Of course we can and do.

What sparked my thinking about this matter was an accidental coming across of a YouTube video last this week. It was the video of my “Talking about Transition” message the next to last week of my tenure as Senior Pastor at Discovery Christian Church in September, 2014. Watching it brought back many memories of my 30 years of enjoyable and fulfilling ministry at this church. (Here is the link for those who may be interested in watching it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgL2X7HVGl0.)

That was over three years ago, and both the church body and I have moved on. But moving on does not mean we don’t still hold on to our memories. Nor does moving on take anything away from the appreciation or love we had for one another during all those years.

At the age of 66 I’ve experienced all the losses I mentioned above and more, but up to this point I haven’t experienced many of the losses others have endured. My sense is that among the hardest losses would be the death of a child or a spouse. During my years as a pastor I’ve been present with many who have grieved such a loss, and their pain always impacts me. I pray my words are helpful: that they would never get over it, but it would get better.

Can we move on and hold on to our memories at the same time? With God’s help, yes.

(The above photo is of Jan and me with her parents in April of 2017; one passed away in June, the other in October.)

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A NEW YEAR’S TALK WITH MYSELF

The first Sunday of 1998 my message title was “A New Year’s Talk with Myself.” I learned from a staff member that her husband asked if they had to come. When she asked why he responded, “Because he’s just talking to himself.” This year – 20 years later – I am going to have a similar talk with myself; and I invite you to listen in.

I’m not making any New Year’s resolutions as such; I’ve done that in the past, and it never seems to work out the way I intended. My intention is to do better and to keep growing. I want to become more and more the person the Lord has called me to be.

Twenty years ago I used Titus 2:11-14 for my text. I’m revisiting that passage at the beginning of this year:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

In 1998, at the age of 46, I said very little about the Bible passage, but quite a bit about what I wanted to do in the coming year. In 2018, at the age of 66, I want to better understand, as well as be challenged and encouraged by, these four verses.

The premise of the passage in verses 11 and 14 is the grace of God shown in the giving of Jesus to be our Savior. I don’t know of anything more important than the grace of God when it comes to doing better and continuing to grow. God’s grace has been foundational for me the past 20 years and will continue to be in 2018.

Note also these verses include both some negative as well as positive instruction.

Verse 12 calls us to “say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passion.” I don’t know precisely what that would mean to you, but I have some ideas of what it means to me to do better and continue to grow. Isn’t it interesting that as we make progress and move forward by minimizing things we shouldn’t do that we better realize what we should be doing?

That’s where the positive instruction of verse 12 is helpful: “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.” Doing better and continuing to grow is not just about what we don’t do, it is also about cultivating the doing of what is right. Talking to myself now, I am aware of some ways I need more self-control that would contribute to my being more upright and godly.

In my 1998 sermon I was specific about attitude, spoken words, and actions. I won’t let you listen in to this part of my talk with myself, but 20 years later I still can do better with some of my attitudes, some of the things I say, and some things I do.

I am excited about the New Year and hope listening in on my talk with myself stimulates your thinking. I have so specific resolutions as such – but I do want to do better and keep on growing. How about you?

Happy New Year!

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