When the Tigers Come

I’ve always been a fan of Les Misérables. I’ve seen it on stage more than once and enjoyed it immensely every time. When the movie was released in 2012, I remember marveling at the performance of Anne Hathaway as Fantine, and thinking to myself of her dual roles as actor and singer, “How can any one person be so incredibly talented?” And Hathaway sang every take live in the film!

As Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel comes to life, one song in Les Mis is particularly arresting: I Dreamed a Dream. The song represents a powerful moment of lament within the musical’s first act, as Fantine has been fired from her factory job and thrown out onto the streets. Feeling completely discarded by fate, she is remembering happier days, and wondering aloud where everything went wrong.

“But the tigers come at night with their voices soft as thunder, as they tear your hope apart, as they turn your dream to shame.” If you have a pulse, at least on some soul-level here on this sin-stained and fallen planet, you can relate. So can I.

There are many times in life when hope seems lost. Particularly as we sense the reality of our aging, we become vividly aware that many chapters of our lives will not end like a Disney movie. Dreams are fun to embrace for a season, but life quickly teaches us that fairytale endings are, well, for fairytales. How do we push forward when the tigers come?

My current preaching through Hebrews 11 has inspired me to relive a significant chunk of our Old Testament history, which has been quite heart-refreshing for me. Just hours ago, as I reread portions of Abraham’s life, I stopped to reflect upon the death of Sarah, Abraham’s beloved bride. In Genesis 23, it becomes crystal clear that Abraham’s story will be one of unfulfilled dreams. That’s not the totality of the story, of course, but it’s a part of the story that really matters. You and I can relate.

Sarah dies in the land of Canaan, and the Bible drives home the point that she will be buried there. Abraham, pushing through his personal grief, negotiates the purchase from the Hittites of a small parcel of land which becomes Sarah’s grave. Abraham and Sarah have been sojourners, and they own nothing. But this tiny piece of real estate becomes in the story a token reminder that the Promised Land will one day belong fully to God’s covenant people.

Lament is an important and necessary part of living. We tend to recoil at even the thought of lament, preferring instead to pretend that the yellow brick road is right under our feet. After all, who in their right mind has time to grieve? But grieve we must. Some important dreams and hopes continue to hang out in the “unfulfilled” column of life’s ledger. As Christ followers, that column might better be described as the “not yet” column, but that fact doesn’t always remediate the present moment of anguish.

Abraham is a nomad and a resident alien. He has no legal rights. But, by faith, he walks forward one step at a time. He politely suggests an appropriate burial site, and the Lord blesses Abraham’s interactions with the powers that be. By leaving their bones in Canaan, literally, our spiritual patriarchs spoke loudly of the hope they possessed in the promises of God. Keep in mind, friends, that there was nothing happening around them which made believing those promises easy at all. Nothing!

So fight the good fight, friends. Stay the course. Run with endurance until you cross the finish line. Some of our dreams for this life will pan out nicely. Others will wilt in the excruciating heat of life’s bitter trials and overwhelming disappointments.

I dreamed a dream. So did you. But who needs a fairytale ending here when we’re headed for a homeland that’s absolutely out of this world?

So get your jollies now, all you ferocious tigers. You’ll soon lay down with the Lamb.

One day more!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

A Solace There

“What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!” Joseph Medlicott Scriven penned those simple but profound hymn lyrics in 1855.

The United States Congress, by Public Law 100-307, calls upon the U.S. President to issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a “National Day of Prayer.” Today is that hopeful day, and our President has issued America’s annual proclamation.

But … a solace where? Though I greatly appreciate President Biden’s continuance of this time-honored tradition, I must admit that I am disappointed that his proclamation today never mentions God. Not even once is the Creator of heaven and earth referred to by name. I understand the desire of government leaders to be inclusive, which can be a noble objective under the appropriate circumstances, but I fear that we are attempting to honor “prayer” and “faith” without honoring God.

What is prayer? There is no inherent power in prayer! What is faith? There is no inherent power in faith! There is power only in the Sovereign God to whom we pray. There is power only in the object of our faith. Any other religious notion is sheer folly. Any day devoted to such folly would be better spent at a video arcade.

Today’s proclamation “celebrate[s] our incredible good fortune,” and well we should. America has been blessed beyond measure! But from whom has that “good fortune” come? It clearly has not come from us.

The proclamation of 2021 feels desperately humanistic, at a time when America’s secular humanism has been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Is the strength really in us? Is the hope really in us? Biden’s proclamation includes a reference to “the divine” in a quote from the late John Lewis, but the quote itself exalts humanity. Within that context, “the divine” is open to a world of possible interpretations blowing in the wind. Mr. President, we don’t need nebulous. We need God.

This omission of God is grievous to me, and from my little corner of Western Kentucky I call upon the leader of the free world to consider, and take to heart, the grave dangers of such an omission. Perhaps this was an oversight, but my hope is that President Biden will correct it with haste.

The drafter and signer of our Declaration of Independence, and the third President of these United States, Thomas Jefferson, humbly observed: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.” Like every other chapter of our history, Jefferson’s private and public life was marred by sin. But he acknowledged a fear of God. We could learn from that example.

My hope is that President Biden will recognize this critical opportunity to be more precise in his language and that the Lord of every nation will breathe fresh hope into the hearts of a weary people. Before my critics assail me, I clearly acknowledge that this responsibility falls much more squarely upon this nation’s pastors than its President. And I publicly repent of my own equivocations as a leader and plead unto Almighty God that He would, by undeserved grace, restore my own soul first.

Pastor Charles

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Toward a Gospel Culture (Part 3)

Today seems like the day when I should wrap up, at least for now, my thoughts on the subject of gospel culture. So thank you for letting me share a few more of my ideas, and next week we’ll move in a new direction.

COURAGE. I’d like to unpack that word just a little, and challenge you to think about the connection between grace and courage. As you and I trust Jesus by faith, we are called to hold on to gospel truth with a steadfastness that makes us “immovable” (First Corinthians 15:58). We’re to be rock-solid in our resolve to follow Christ, no matter the price we may have to pay. Such courage is not of our own doing, ultimately, but it is a work of the persevering Holy Spirit in us.

So an outworking of grace in our lives is a holy determination to do what we’ve been put on this earth to do! That sounds exciting, and it is, but it also requires a great deal of courage. Courage to go the distance. Courage to stand strong in the face of fierce opposition. Courage to fight on our knees.

And here’s why I’m raising the issue of courage: it requires that we work together! No one can sustain a lifetime of Christian courage without having the support of the body of Christ. We weren’t designed to walk alone, but we were designed to pour love and blessing into each other along the way.

A courageous discipleship will require some risk-taking. But we’re willing to step onto the field of life and to engage fully in whatever challenge is before us because we’ve been bought by the blood of Christ! Our personal sense of worth and value doesn’t rise and fall with our “successes” and “failures,” because we’re drawing from an endless supply of amazing grace. Come what may, because of the cross, you and I are already approved. “It is finished.” In that environment, and only in that environment, can we love each other boldly and deeply — through and beyond the multitude of inevitable mistakes which will mark each one of our lives this side of heaven. 

Where a gospel culture exists, Jesus always comes first. So you and I don’t have to pretend to be something and someone we’re not, because we’ve traded self-assurance for Christ-assurance! Strange as it may sound, the place where everybody loses (dies to themselves) is the place where everybody wins!

That’s the church I want us to become, and to be, for each other.

Will you go there with me? Will you pray for, and heartily pursue, gospel culture? Will you love as you’ve been loved?

I’m imagining a place where we’re not the big deal, but where Jesus is. A place where we’re not the hope, but where hope permeates every fiber of our shared life together. A place where we’re willing not even to be noticed, but where Christ is arrestingly beautiful in our midst.

Sometimes my heart feels heavy, and my soul seems full of doubt and fear. It’s in those moments that I need you to hold up my arms, and to help me see again by faith that the finish line is just over the next hill. And I hope to provide for you, even on your weariest day, at least a small dose of that same peace and refreshment. That’s gospel culture, friends. So perhaps we can learn to sing to each other the words of the great theologian, Kenny Loggins: “Please celebrate me home.”

Pastor Charles

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Woke Coke

I approach this subject with some degree of fear and trembling, but here goes. American corporate life, like nearly everything else, has become uber political. We’ve seen it with Major League Baseball and its boycott of Georgia over election law reforms. Pantene is not just interested in beautifying our hair but is using images of same-sex parents helping a boy become a girl to motivate us to lather up, rinse, and repeat. Similarly, the Oreo cookie has gone all-in for the gay agenda. Burger King is warning that cow flatulence may be causing climate change (I find that interesting coming from “Burger” King). There are so many examples of this kind of corporate political activism that I could go on and on – but I’ll try to spare you the excess. Except to say that Coke, too, is woke. Quite ironically, I’m writing this from a beautiful church desk which was likely financed, at least in part, from Coca-Cola money.

Now Coke tells its employees to “try to be less white.” I get it. Perhaps it’s well-intentioned – it likely is. But it ends up dividing us racially, yet again. We don’t need any more of that.

For goodness’ sake, I’m all for everybody having the right to speak their mind. That sounds like freedom to me. That sounds like America. What I am concerned about, however, is that we all need a break from politics. And we all need some things to enjoy which are free from political rancor. I’d like to live in a world where I can sip my Diet Coke without having to worry about what kind of political statement I’m inadvertently making by so doing.

Here’s what I fear is happening. Your average Diet Coke sipper, like me, is feeling further and further disconnected from the products, services, entertainment, and sports we previously enjoyed, simply because we don’t feel the need for a constant lesson on how we ought to think. The incessant political diatribe is demanding, and exhausting.

I just want to enjoy a Diet Coke. In peace.

And, if you do feel the need to lecture me, Corporate Giants, don’t be so obviously hypocritical about it. Stop signing backroom business deals with China. I’ve been there, and I’ve seen the human rights abuses with my own eyes. Stop turning a blind eye to Muslim slave labor. Stop ignoring the sale of baby parts. Stop telling people who believe in the legitimacy of voter i.d. that they are wicked, while requiring legal forms of identification for people who board your airplanes or attend your shareholder meetings. Just stop.

Better yet, just let me drink my Diet Coke. Please. I actually like your product. I’m already sold.

Let’s get real, friends. No one out there is really “woke.” No one. Every human being participates in some form of denying or suppressing the dignity of another human being. Perhaps not as a group, but certainly as an individual sinner. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that hurting others is what we do best. There is only one who was oppressed, yet never an oppressor. So there is only one who was ever truly woke: Jesus.

Is there a real danger in all of this politicization of everything? I think there is, but that’s not even my main concern today. My main concern is that Americans need some things which can pull us together. Right now. “Out of many, one.”

I’m old enough to remember it. Are you? The ad cost only $250,000 to produce in 1971, but it was the most expensive commercial ever created at that time. I can still see it in my mind’s eye. I can still hear the winsome tune. It ranks 16th among the “Greatest TV Ads.” The million-dollar message brought people together, without putting anybody down. In fact, leaders from South Africa asked Coca-Cola to send them a version of the commercial without any actors of color, and the company rightly refused.

I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to buy the world a Coke
And keep it company

I’d like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills
For peace throughout the land

That’s a song I hear!

I’m thirsty for a Coke that unites, not divides. It’s the real thing.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Toward a Gospel Culture (Part 2)

Last week I introduced the topic of the importance of creating a gospel culture in the church. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about that. I certainly have. What I’d like to do today is to expand a little bit further on the subject.

As you and I begin to walk in the grace of Christ, and by that, I mean that we’re personally experiencing the freedom of grace and sharing it with others, everything changes. We find ourselves more mindful of our own sin, and less concerned with focusing on the faults of others. That in and of itself is a seismic cultural shift! But we don’t want to be mindful of our sin so that we can wallow in it, or loathe ourselves, rather we want to be aware of our sin so that we can do our part to repair our damaged relationships. Jesus offers us a funny but serious mental picture of a man who has a huge log sticking out of his own head, but he’s obsessed with removing the tiny splinter from the eye of his brother (Matthew 7:1-5). That’s where we find Christ’s “judge not, that you be not judged” in its proper context.

You see, friends, a gospel culture humbles all of us. When the good news of Jesus is being lived out in, through, and among us, we quickly discover that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. A gospel culture frees us from dangerous and destructive judgmentalism. That’s the power of experienced grace!

There’s a huge difference between hearing about something, and experiencing something. I’ve watched the Masters Tournament on television, but I’ve stood on the Swilcan Bridge. Which do you think I most remember? Hearing about grace is wonderful, because we begin to understand it. But, really experiencing grace sets us on the adventure of a lifetime! We begin to understand our new identity in Christ. We begin to understand the freedom of our salvation. We begin to understand the joys of radical obedience. We begin to triumph over our fears. We begin to love as we’ve been loved. We begin to worship God with all our heart. We begin to walk in victory over our past regrets and our crippling shame!

I’d like to quote a prayer by Scotty Smith: “Jesus, we’re thankful today for the healing truths of the Scriptures, and the liberating power of the gospel. Especially where shame lingers, doing its dastardly, disintegrating work. Indeed, the elimination of all shame is one of the things we’re most looking forward to when You return. Never again will we feel dis-graced, only fully-graced. Never again will we hide in plain sight, because of the wounds that took our voices, hearts, and dignity. Never again will we feel the contemptuous, paralyzing power of shame! There won’t be any desire to cover up, look down, or run away … O, blessed thought … O, glorious freedom!”

This side of heaven, you and I may feel at times like disfigured lepers who must hide the reality of our condition. The stronghold of our past mistakes can feel so intense that we feel compelled to try to disguise our disfigurement. But, now that we’re in Jesus, we can by faith hold our head up high! We sold our soul for a bowl of soup, but we’ve been bought back at a tremendous price!

Did you know that our Lord Jesus took upon Himself the full weight of your guilt, and mine? Did you know that Jesus obliterated the criminal charges that were justly hanging over our heads? Did you know that Jesus was disgraced so that you and I could be full of grace? Ah, the wonders of Calvary’s love! Sheila Walsh arrested my heart with two simple lines: “Grace was never meant to be rationed, something we nibble on to get us through tough times. It is meant to soak us to and through the skin, and fill us so full that we can hardly catch our breath.”

So let’s deeply desire that experiential freedom for one another. In the church, let’s help each other crawl out of the despair that marks a life trapped in the shadows, and let’s step into the healing and joy that can be found only in the burning brightness of the gospel!  

Romans 10:11 promises that believers in Christ will never be put to shame. I’m counting on that! And I’m calling on you to count on it with me! Let’s stand, together, on that promise!

Before this is over, I hope that you and I can hardly catch our breath.

Pastor Charles

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Toward a Gospel Culture

If the Lord permits, I think that I’ll spend a few weeks unpacking what it means for us, as followers of Christ and members of His body, to create and embrace a gospel culture. After all, you and I are gospel people!

Since our church family just completed a long journey through the Book of Acts, I’ll share with you a critical insight from the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer. Commenting on the believers whose lives and ministries we just studied, Dr. Schaeffer rightly observed: “One cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world could see. By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community. Our churches have so often been only preaching points with very little emphasis on community, but exhibition of the love of God in practice is beautiful and must be there.”

I’m simply trying to point out that, though gospel culture starts with sound doctrine (preaching and teaching), sound doctrine is only the beginning. In order for the gospel of Jesus to truly permeate our experience of “life together” (community), the life of Christ must extend well beyond the Sunday morning sermon. It must color every dimension of our relationships with each other. A gospel-centered pulpit is a must-have, but it’s when the saints in the pews are giving real-life grace to one another that the church is enjoying a gospel culture. That’s when the Holy Spirit can make us a safe place, where we’re all able to admit our own brokenness and to grow together from there. And that’s where the real beauty begins.

First Baptist Paducah, are we a safe place?

I’m inviting each of you to help me answer that question in the days ahead. And, if we conclude that we’re not a safe place, my prayer is that we will do whatever it takes to remedy that, and to create the type of church community which we all need (and secretly crave).

Here’s the deal: we want Christ’s gospel to press in on us at every level! That means that we’re not just passively hearing it preached, but that we’re actively living it out!

So let’s start this miniseries by my offering a few goals for our family of faith …

1. We want each person to feel free to be themselves. We all have plenty of room to grow, and there’s no denying that, but we want everybody to feel loved right where they are.

2. We want to feel free to confess our sins. We want to be, for each other, such a grace-filled community that nobody feels looked down upon (or gossiped about) because they came clean about how they’re really doing.

3. We want to be able to express our needs without having to fear that we’ll be labeled, ridiculed, or marginalized simply because we have needs. (Humans have needs.)

4. We want our church to be a space where it’s perfectly O.K., for anyone and everyone, to be “under construction.” We’re not there yet, friends. We want the climate of our gatherings, and in fact that of all of our interactions, to be a climate of patience and hope. Hope in God. Hope in and for each other.

The Apostle Paul’s great love chapter includes a powerful reminder: Love … believes all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). If you ask me, that means that you and I are to major in giving each other the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, just maybe, that’s where the grace-fuse gets lit!

More next week …

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Torn Asunder

Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45 describe an astonishing event. Upon the death of Jesus, the curtain – or veil – of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. There was an accompanying earthquake, according to the Scriptures, but the veil was so large (likely 60 feet long by 30 feet wide) that it could not have been torn in two by simply falling to the ground. God had to tear the curtain.

The curtain was a physical barricade. It was more like a wall of separation, which the Israelites clearly understood. At the center of the temple was the Holy of Holies, where the presence of God would rest. Thus, the clear separation was required. Only the high priest could enter, and only once a year – on the Day of Atonement – could he pass through that intimidating veil. In your mind’s eye, picture a curtain at least six stories tall. On behalf of the people, the priest’s uniquely symbolic role was to offer a substitutionary atonement for their sins. The message to everybody was perfectly clear: God is on the other side, and you can never go there.

If the Talmud is completely accurate in its description, the size of the temple veil was so daunting that 300 priests were needed to maneuver it. Ponder that for a moment. You thought our local Quilt Show featured some impressive works of art. This curtain was nothing short of awe-inspiring, and its intentional presence was a profound theological declaration in and of itself. In fact, the prescribed ceremony surrounding the veil was to be taken so seriously that an inappropriate method of entry into the Holy of Holies meant the immediate death of the offending priest. That huge curtain was the visible backdrop of a sad spiritual reality: between God and His creatures is a chasm so large that it defies description. “The wages of sin is death.”

But no longer! The Cross of Christ changed everything. By His own atoning sacrifice on our behalf, our Lord Jesus became for us the Way into the Holy of Holies. As our Great High Priest, Christ secured for us permanent access to God the Father. Now we need no human advocate, and we can speak directly to God anytime, and from anywhere. As the Mediator of a New Covenant, Christ gave His life to accomplish our complete forgiveness. The veil was not torn randomly, but it was torn with intention “from top to bottom.” God’s own hand split the enormous curtain right down the middle. And it was torn apart on Good Friday, precisely upon the loud death cry of our divine substitute: “It is finished!”

At that exact moment, the Lord of the universe flung open the doors of heaven. I believe that the massive and ornate temple curtain symbolized the best that humankind can craft with human hands. Its exquisite beauty represented our best designs, and our best efforts. Its specific details pointed to all of the specific laws of God which call every human being to perfection, but which leave every human being wanting. When it comes to the righteousness which God demands, you see, our very best efforts are never enough. We needed God’s very best instead!

And the veil was not torn from bottom to top. God came down to save. Our redemption came by God’s initiative, and by God’s initiative alone. Grace didn’t start with us. Grace never starts with us. Grace always starts with God. You and I are simply the recipients of such marvelous and unmerited love. “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Early Jewish tradition held that the temple veil was the thickness of the palm of a man’s hand. We can’t know the curtain’s thickness with certainty, and the actual measurements really don’t matter. Because, however thick that veil was, it represented a barrier that no human being could ever overcome.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Pastor Charles

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Deconstructing Deconstruction

There’s a huge movement underfoot in America. It’s often referred to as “deconstruction.” By that, I mean that a person decides to release themselves from the boundaries, and in fact much of the identity, which they held previously. Often it includes leaving behind once-honored traditions and values, and the related expectations, connected to one’s childhood and formative years. It is a deliberate shucking off of old patterns of belief, with the hope of discovering one’s authentic self. So we can think of “faith deconstruction” – which we’re seeing a lot of right now – as a person’s transformative quest for personal liberation from all religious understandings which no longer serve them well.

We’re seeing this pattern of deconstruction now trending among people who once considered themselves to be evangelical followers of Christ. A number of Christian “celebrities” have moved in this direction. On a broader scale, the largest “Christian” adoption agency in the U.S. has decided suddenly – at least it appears “sudden” from the perspective of onlookers – to place children with same-sex couples. In fact entire congregations are being shaken by cultural and theological evolutions which are some form of faith deconstruction. Not far from home, a prominent megachurch in Nashville embraced unbiblical sexual ethics just a few years ago, and today the church’s website indicates a clear questioning of doctrinal orthodoxy in general. That trajectory may not surprise you in light of the congregation’s earlier departure from Scripture, but it’s still quite alarming.

How should we respond?

First of all, I contend that we should recognize the value of authenticity, particularly among younger adults. We who are a little older should be the first to admit that some of this deconstruction we have brought on ourselves, by creating religious communities which have in fact not been honest and transparent – particularly when it comes to telling the truth about our own sin. All too often we’ve created church climates which give the impression that “we all have our act together – see how nice we look!” This has bred a spirit of pharisaic self-righteousness, which has been a huge turn-off to Gen Y and beyond. We should repent of that hypocrisy, and fast. (Isn’t it interesting how reversing a negative trend “out there” usually starts with reversing course in my own heart?)

Secondly, I think that we should come to terms with how poorly we have carried out, in many cases, the process of discipleship. Our easy-believism is catching up with us, friends. We have downplayed repentance, and we have assumed that thirty minutes a week of listening to a teacher explain the Bible is sufficient preparation for a young person who’s going out into a world where the pervasive ideologies exalt everything other than Christ. Said another way, the culture has discipled our young people better than we have discipled them. We need to own this, I believe, and make immediate changes to the ways in which we attempt to accomplish lifelong Christian discipleship among the body of Christ.

Thirdly, my hope is that we will humble ourselves to the point where people – all people – will feel free to be part of our fellowship, even if they’re walking through our doors will all kinds of serious faith struggles. People are drowning in grief and shame. People are starving for affirmation. People are bombarded with broken relationships, and broken dreams. People are suffering from a national crisis in mental healthcare. This is no time for the church to communicate any sense of moral superiority or any hint of “us four, no more,” but this is the time for the church to open wide her arms. Surely that is the way of Jesus for such a time as this.

Fourth and last, I’m urging you to put your arm around somebody younger. Tell them you believe in them. Tell them you’re on their team, and praying for them. (And actually pray for them, regularly.) Tell them that you’d love to be their friend through the ups and downs of life. Remind them over and over again that our strength is in our Savior and His gospel, and not in us. Live out the precepts of the Word before their eyes. Your steady encouragement of a younger person – whether they’re far from God or not – may be more life-giving than you could ever imagine! Ask God to break your heart, and then give it a chance.

Part of our own faith journey includes wrestling through our own doubts and fears. (Don’t even tell me you have no doubts. I know better.) What a great time to be honest about that! What a great time to invite others into the places where our faith is still under construction! What a great time to get real with each other, for God’s glory!

Perhaps real is the way to revival.

Pastor Charles

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To Forgive, Divine

We’re drowning in it. Unforgiveness.

The folks at Harvard are right. I’ll quote Dr. Tyler VanderWeele: “Forgiving a person who has wronged you is never easy, but dwelling on those events and reliving them over and over can fill your mind with negative thoughts and suppressed anger. Yet, when you learn to forgive, you are no longer trapped by the past actions of others and can finally feel free.”

This really matters. I mean, really matters! In Christ, you and I are called to forgive. Our new nature in Jesus enables it. We’re to be pursuers of peace on earth. And, where there is no peace, you and I are called to bring agape love.

I’d like to tell you a story from Spain. There was a father and his son who, over the course of their lives, had become extremely bitter toward each other. After years of verbal battles, the son finally left home angry, never to return. The father began to search for his son, but he was unable to find him anywhere. After months of frantic searching, the father came to the end of his resources, and sat down in a coffee shop in utter desperation. Suddenly the man had an idea. The father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. It said simply this: “Dear Paco: Please meet me in front of the men’s clothing shop at 2:00 p.m. on Friday. You are forgiven. I love you. Your father.” That Friday, at 2:00 in the afternoon, 800 Pacos showed up. All of those men were searching for forgiveness, and love, from their dads.

We’re wired for love. We all mess up, and we all mess up terribly. We all need forgiveness, from God and from others. Ephesians 4:32 is packed with punch in this regard. As new creations in Christ, our disposition toward others is to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Why? Because we’ve been forgiven! When you forgive, and when I forgive, we are expressing the very heart of God!

Forgiveness is not excusing. Forgiveness is not forgetting (though we may end up forgetting). Forgiveness is not overlooking. Forgiveness may or may not result in reconciliation. And forgiveness is always undeserved. We must also understand that forgiveness is much, much more than a feeling. In fact it’s not really even about conjuring up a feeling of some kind. Forgiveness, if we are to understand it Biblically, is all about sincerely committing ourselves to a promise: a promise never to hold this offense against the offender. Never again. In that profound sense, we set the offender free.

But, when we forgive, it also sets us free! You see, friends, forgiveness does not erase the past – after all, you and I don’t even have the power to do that – but forgiveness chooses to look upon the past with grace. Lewis B. Smedes used to say it like this: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

I’ll get brutally honest now. I want to tell you what most often imprisons me in unforgiveness. It’s my desire to control. In my sin, I can live under the illusion – and it is just that – that I can hold my offender hostage by keeping the offense alive. Nonsense! Any feeling I ever have of superiority – and that’s what it is! – will shipwreck my capacity to forgive. Any attempt to justify my unforgiveness will do the same kind of damage to my soul. If I’m ever going to forgive, I have to die to the illusion of control. Perhaps you can relate. But here’s the cool part: when I forgive, my vision is clear again!

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus couldn’t have been more clear. By His words, and by His life.

We are without excuse.

Pastor Charles

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A Long Way Off

When I really think about the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” in Luke 15:11-32, I wonder if I’ve ever really gotten it: God loves sinners! It’s really that simple, but I tend to make it much, much more complicated.

It’s a fascinating story told by Jesus, and our thoughts tend to focus on the “rebel” son. He wants his dad’s assets, and he wants them now. He says, in effect, to his father: “I wish you were dead.” It’s kind of gross, and it’s extremely disrespectful. We can see it clearly: “It’s all about me.”

But what about the older brother … the “righteous” son? I think the key to understanding this dude is found not in the parable itself, but in the chapter’s first two verses: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

The older brother is just as headstrong as we found the younger brother to be when he left home with all his stuff. The older brother is just as angry with his father as the younger brother had been, but for different reasons. The older brother doesn’t want his dad to show any love to his wayward brother. Again, “It’s all about me.” For a dad who’s all about love, that is not much different than your son wanting you to be dead.

I think you get my point. Both guys are messed up, but in different ways. But not really. Because they both really want dad to be somebody’s he’s not. The exciting part of the story is when the younger brother finally gets it – I don’t deny that – but I just wanted to make the point that both brothers are dogged by the same pride.

So here’s the scary part for me: maybe I’m the older brother. The one who doesn’t get it, at all. The one who is angry, and who refuses to come to the party. The one who is self-righteous, and clueless about it. The one who thinks that he’s on the right track, but doesn’t see the oncoming train. The one who thinks that he’s “serving” and “obeying” just fine.

There is a Pharisee in me, you see. I don’t like to think about it, but it’s true. There is a part of me that loves to feel superior to others. To feel like I deserve God’s love and kindness. To feel proud of my spiritual status. To feel confident in my piety and devotion. So when I see someone “less deserving” receiving blessings from the Lord, I can resent it – if I’m left to wallow in my own foolish, selfish pride.

I can forget grace. I can forget that the chasm of sin is so wide that nothing I do can bridge it. I can forget that God loves first. (I can be quite forgetful.)

And here’s the thing about Pharisees. They’re the hardest to reach with the good news of the gospel. They’re the hardest to penetrate with the truth. They’re the last to know that the party was really the place to be.

I’m grateful that we have a Father who loves us while we’re still a long way off!

So, my friends, whether you feel today like you’re near or far, come home. God loves sinners of all stripes, you see. So please come home.

The party is waiting.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts