LET IT GO (Part 2)

frost aster - northern cataulpaInstead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:32 (NLT)]

After writing about forgiving ourselves as a step to experiencing the abundance of Christian life, I came across some classic Peanuts comic strips (drawn by Charles Schulz) that illustrate the importance of forgiving others, as well. In the first one (originally published Christmas Eve, 1972), Charlie Brown tells Snoopy that Poochie is coming for a visit. Snoopy responds that “it would be like getting the mumps twice! …You don’t forgive someone who does to you what she did to me!” The sulking Snoopy then whines, “Just what I didn’t need…a Poochie Christmas.”

A week later, Snoopy is lying on the roof of his doghouse when Charlie Brown tells him of Poochie’s arrival. “I don’t want to see her!” replies the dog. Saying that beagles have long memories, Snoopy relates his last encounter with Poochie. He was just a puppy when she tossed a stick for him to fetch. Eager to please the girl, he retrieved it just in time to see her walk away with an English Sheepdog. When Charlie Brown expresses amazement that Snoopy remembers the incident so vividly, the beagle replies, “How could I forget?” Showing the boy what he’s holding, Snoopy explains, “I still have the stick!” The following week, the story continues with Poochie’s visit. Wearing his sunglasses, Snoopy puts on his “Joe Cool” persona and snubs the little girl. Refusing even to speak with her, there is no reunion or reconciliation and a disappointed Poochie leaves.

Peanuts looks like kid stuff but Schulz’s characters show us what it’s like to live in a world of disappointments—where our baseball team never wins, the football is yanked away, kites get tangled in trees, big sisters boss around little brothers, people suffer from unrequited love, grudges are held, and a security blanket often seems like a good idea. Charles Schulz portrays the kind of world in which we live: one where we’re more likely to lose than win.

Almost certainly, the embittered Snoopy fretted about Poochie’s visit all through the Christmas holiday right into the new year and he probably spoiled another week or more reliving their unsatisfactory meeting. Although we don’t see it, I’m sure Snoopy still has that stick and continues to bears a grudge against the little girl who chose an English Sheepdog over him!

Snoopy is just an imaginary character, living in a comic strip, but he’s not much different from us. Granted, we may not keep a stick we fetched as a puppy but we often keep other mementos of heartbreak and disappointment, use social media to stay connected with the people who hurt us, or make ourselves miserable by replaying an offense in our minds or revisiting it in our conversations. Intentionally holding onto our grievances is like rubbing salt into our own wounds!

Being hurt by people, even people we love and trust, is part of life, but dwelling on what happened in the past can only rob us of today’s joy. If we ever want to experience the abundant life promised by Jesus, if we want to be filled with His joy, if we ever hope to enjoy His peace that surpasses understanding, we must love others in the same way He loved us. We have to let go of the stick and forgive!

When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. [John 15:10-12 (NLT)]

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LET IT GO! (Part 1)

But if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil. [1 John 1:9 (PHILLIPS)]

I’ve undertaken a series of “Abundance” exercises, the purpose of which is to take Jesus up on His promise of an abundant life. While my first assignment was to notice God’s abundance in His creation, the second was to let go of any guilt that I might be holding by asking God to forgive me (and believing that He truly has).

“Forgive yourself and let it go!” is easier said than done and this second exercise was more challenging than the first. Asking God for His forgiveness is less difficult than actually believing we’re forgiven and forgiving ourselves can be hardest of all. Sadly, the underlying guilt and self-reproach when we can’t let go of the past robs us of an abundant life.

I thought of Peter’s many failures that last night of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He protested Jesus’ washing of his feet, bickered with the disciples about their Kingdom status, boasted that he’d never desert the Lord, fell asleep in the garden, and then denied knowing Jesus! The lowest point of Peter’s life must have been when the Lord looked into his eyes after that third denial. By disavowing the man he loved, Peter did exactly what he promised he’d never do and, weeping bitterly, he left the courtyard. Peter’s despair and shame must have grown the following day when Jesus died after hours of suffering on the cross. Did guilt for his betrayal fill Peter’s heart?

Several months earlier, Peter had asked Jesus if forgiving someone seven times was enough. Jesus’ answer of seventy times seven meant there is no limit to forgiveness. While Luke tells us that the risen Jesus appeared to Peter, we don’t know how that first reunion went and what words were spoken. We do know that, when Jesus appeared on the lakeshore and told the men to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, Peter was so anxious to see Him that he jumped into the water and swam ashore. I can imagine Peter’s tears at their soggy embrace.

That morning, as the men stood around the charcoal fire while the fish cooked, did Peter remember warming himself by another charcoal fire when he denied Jesus the third time? We know that Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him and that Peter answered in the affirmative each time. Although we never read of Jesus explicitly forgiving Peter, we know that man who preached unlimited forgiveness certainly practiced it! That He told the apostle to take care of and feed his sheep certainly implies the Lord’s forgiveness. Indeed, Peter shepherded His flock and became the Rock of His church.

While Peter probably remembered that Thursday night with regret, he also knew there was nothing he could do to change it; his words of denial couldn’t be unsaid. Yet, if he’d chosen to hold onto his guilt, he would never have been able to speak of forgiveness and lead 3,000 to Jesus on Pentecost! Fraught with guilt and shame, he may even have taken his life as did Judas. Instead of holding onto the past, Peter sought God’s mercy and forgiveness and reaffirmed his devotion to the Lord. Believing in Jesus’ power to cleanse him from his sins, he accepted God’s forgiveness and lived the abundant life promised by Jesus. Peter forgave himself and let it go; let us do the same!

If we live like this, we shall know that we are children of the truth and can reassure ourselves in the sight of God, even if our own hearts make us feel guilty. For God is infinitely greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. And if, dear friends of mine, when we realise this our hearts no longer accuse us, we may have the utmost confidence in God’s presence. [1 John 3:19-21 (PHILLIPS)]

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YOU ARE LOVED – VALENTINE’S DAY 2020

Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever truth wins out. If you love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, and always stand your ground in defending him. … There are three things that remain—faith, hope and love—and the greatest of these is love. [I Corinthians 13:4-7, 13 (TLB)]

clouded sulphur butterfly on asterToday is Valentine’s Day and, contrary to popular belief, this holiday was not invented by Hallmark cards. Named for one of three Christian martyrs called Valentine, its real origins are in a Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia. For an unofficial holiday of pagan origin, it packs an enormous economic impact with Americans spending about $20 billion on candy, cards, flowers, dining out, romantic get-aways, jewelry and clothing. $933 million of that money will be spent on cards and $886 million on pets! With the neighbor’s cat getting a gift, you might want to think about doing something special for the one you love! After all, over 50% of American women said they’d dump their boyfriends if they didn’t get something for Valentine’s Day. Besides, you married fellows don’t want to come home empty-handed and be met by a cold shoulder and hot tongue.

Although nine million marriage proposals are expected today, love has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day or cards, candy, and candle-lit dinners. Giving or receiving a dozen roses, theater tickets, a back rub, perfume or even a diamond necklace doesn’t mean we love or are loved. While it is nice to have an excuse for a romantic evening or a day at the spa, let’s not allow this holiday to define our concept of love. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul does a far better job of that than any gift ever could. A good man or woman is hard to find so let’s not get our undies in a bunch over whether or not we received a $5 card or a $50 bouquet of red roses. Jesus called on us to love, not just on one day of the year, but every moment of every day and that kind of love has nothing to do with chocolate-covered strawberries or sexy lingerie.

Back in elementary school, valentines were sent to everyone in the class so that nobody’s feelings got hurt. Real life, however, doesn’t work that way. Even with 15 million e-cards being sent today, there still will be many who won’t receive Valentine’s Day greetings or gifts. Even if we have no one special in our lives, let’s not allow this holiday to make us feel unloved or unlovable. We don’t need a card or flowers to know we are cherished. Reading our Bibles, thinking of Jesus on the cross, or even opening our eyes to the beautiful world God gave us tells us that we are loved and special in His eyes! The Bible is God’s love letter to us and Jesus is His gift. God sent His only son instead of flowers, candy or a Hallmark card and His valentine to mankind was sacrificed for our salvation. God truly “cared enough to send the very best!”

And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love; and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself. [Ephesians 3:17-19 (TLB)]

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INCREDIBLE CREATION

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. [Psalm 19:1-4 (NLT)]

ring-tailed lemur - serval catAs a way of learning how to live the abundant life promised by Jesus, I am participating in a series of abundance exercises. In my first, I was to think of something God created and reflect on the different and incredible ways He expressed that creation. While at the zoo, I couldn’t help but notice God’s abundance in the diversity of His creatures: the speedy cheetah, the sluggish sloth, the crane’s sharp pointed beak, the giant anteater’s long tubular snout, the giraffe with its long legs and neck, and the python with neither legs nor neck! The gazelles’ long slender horns don’t resemble the muntjacs’ small antlers or the giraffes’ stubby ossicones; the zebras’ stripes were nothing like those on the bongo or ring-tailed lemurs; and the giraffes’ spots were different from those on the cheetah and serval. Even within each species, every animal had his own unique pattern of stripes or spots. The animals’ colors and coats ranged from the vibrant blue, gold and green feathers of the macaws to the brown-grey shell of the gopher tortoise and the heavy fur coat of the black bear. Because our zoo started out as a botanical garden 100 years ago, the setting was lush and we were surrounded by bright pink, yellow, blue, orange and white flowers along with mangroves, strangler figs, cypress, cactus, enormous banyans, and over 100 species of palm trees. God outdid himself when it came to flora and fauna. Having completed the week’s assignment in a matter of hours, it seemed too easy and I decided to notice God’s creativity throughout the week.

The next day, as we walked in the swamp, I used my ears. I can only recognize a few of the birds’ voices—the anhinga’s low grunt, catbird’s mew, fish crow’s uh-oh, egret’s squawk, woodpecker’s squeak, hawk’s plaintive call, and the jay’s raucous one—but plenty of other birds added to the avian symphony of chirps, whistles, warbles, tweets, and other sweet notes. God outdid Himself again with the variety of birds and songs!

At the farmer’s market later that week, we found fresh sweet corn, avocados, guava, eggplants, oranges, star fruit, grapefruit, tangerines, tomatoes, ginger, cauliflower, radishes, fennel, lettuce, and assorted peppers. I smelled paella cooking and popcorn popping and sampled five different types of jams, an “everything” bagel, fresh brewed coffee, olive tapenade, spicy mango salsa, and lemon-poppy seed bread. For the five basic flavors a human’s tongue can taste, God certainly provides an abundance of variations!

When picking out paint colors, I had to choose from a palette of over 800 samples (starting with eight different shades of black)! While my decision would have been easier with fewer choices, I realized how dull our world be if, like seals or whales, we only saw in shades of black, white and grey. Thankfully, God, in His extravagance of creativity, gave us millions of colors and three kinds of cones in our eyes so we can enjoy them all!

The purpose of the exercise was to open my heart and mind to the richness in our world and embrace the beauty and abundance of life by appreciating God’s amazing creativity. We probably don’t need over 5,400 species of mammals; 9,000 species of birds (each with its own song); 8,200 different kinds of reptiles; or some 2,600 species of palms. I don’t think we’d miss a few of the 10 billion galaxies in the observable universe, being able to distinguish between “blue horizon” and “timid blue,” or not having a red Caribbean habanero from the more than 130 varieties of peppers, but God gave us all those things anyway! Ours is a more than enough God and, from the first moment of creation, He provided the world with beautiful abundance. It’s not just the heavens that declare the glory of God—all of creation does!

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in. [George Washington Carver]

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. Here is the ocean, vast and wide, teeming with life of every kind, both large and small. [Psalm 104:24-25 (NLT)

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ENDLESS TREASURES

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. [John 10:10 (RSV)]

black swallowtail butterflyJesus said he came so that we’d have life abundantly and the Greek word translated as abundantly was perisson, meaning exceedingly abundant, beyond measure, or more than one would anticipate or expect. Jesus isn’t talking just ample or even plentiful; he’s speaking of something so fulfilling, so magnificent, that it’s beyond our wildest dreams! This abundance, however, has nothing to do with wealth, power, position, or possessions because none of those things will pass into eternity with us. Our new life in Christ is abundant by heaven’s standards, not ours and includes eternal life, the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, salvation, purpose, wisdom, hope, mercy, spiritual gifts, the church, and the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

In Ephesians 3:8, this abundance is translated as the “endless treasures” (NLT) or “unsearchable riches of Christ.” (RSV) Indeed, there is no bottom to our Lord’s treasure chest of blessings! Although this abundance will not be fully realized in our earthly lives, it begins at the moment of conversion but we can miss some of God’s treasures in the here and now when we don’t intentionally seek them. Jesus gives a whole new richness to our lives but, if we want to truly experience that abundance, we must give Him more than our Sundays—we must give Him our all. He must be present in every moment and all aspects of life—in the way we appreciate our surroundings, interact with people, treat the environment, deal with our emotions, take care of our bodies, apply our minds, select our entertainment, manage our money, utilize our talents, share our faith, spend our leisure time, and perform our work. It is only when there is more of Him and less of us that we will know how rich our lives really can be.

The abundant life given us by Christ isn’t found in what we already have or might get. It is found in the way we live: one day at a time, intentionally abiding in Him, choosing to be aware of His presence in all things, and by being good stewards of His many blessings.

Jesus set us free to live the abundant life by being all that He has created us to be and accomplishing all that He has planned for us to do. [Sharon Jaynes]

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. [2 Corinthians 9:8 (RSV)]

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EVERYONE IS SPECIAL

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me! [Psalm 139:17-18 (NLT)]

white ibisWhen speaking of the late director Mike Nichols, actress Anjelica Huston said, “He had that incredible capacity for friendship that makes you think you’re absolutely unique, that nobody matters to him the same way that you do.” Huston’s words were extraordinarily high praise for a friend and probably something we’d all like to have said about us. I wondered if I make every person who passes through my life feel extraordinary and valued. After coming up short on that one, I wondered if I have friends about whom I could say that same thing. While some come very near, there is only one who has the capacity to make each and every person feel unique and that he or she is most important person to Him; that, of course, is our good friend Jesus!

Psalm 139 is one of my favorites and the majority of it is an intensely personal song of praise in which David affirms God’s active involvement in every moment of his life. From the instant of his conception, God was there, forming him or, as The Message  translates, sculpting him, “from nothing into something.” God’s eyes remained on David and He knew his every idea and action. God’s thoughts about David were so numerous they were impossible to count. If God knew David that well, it would seem that He knows all of us that well. Indeed, God cherishes and loves each one of us as if we were His only child! He would join Fred Rogers in singing: “You’re special to me. You are the only one like you…You are special.”

While we never have come face-to-face with God, the Psalmist’s words tell us that He sees the unique beauty in each one of us. Moreover, when we look at Jesus in the gospels, we see how God behaved while walking on earth. Even without knowing Jesus’s true identity, everyone who came in contact with Him would have experienced His incredible capacity for friendship. Each person would have felt unique, special, and precious in His presence. Jesus didn’t see the sores on the lepers, the mental illness of Mary Magdalene, the uncleanness of the bleeding woman or the shame of the adulterous one. He didn’t see the filth of the beggar, the dishonesty of Zacchaeus, or the immorality of the woman at the well; he saw their pain—their innermost being. Instead of seeing a skeptic, He saw Nathanael’s integrity; instead of seeing a fisherman, He saw Peter’s ability to lead; instead of seeing a Pharisee, He saw Saul’s love of God. Jesus saw beautiful extraordinary individuals, each of whom was precious in His sight.

When writing his gospel, the Apostle John referred to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.” I think each disciple would have described himself that same way. Without a doubt, Jesus had an even greater capacity for friendship than did Mike Nichols. Everyone whose life He touched felt absolutely special. Each knew that no one else mattered to Jesus in quite the same way than did they. This is the God who formed us, knows the number of hairs on our heads, and has etched our names into the palms of His hands and He is our friend!

As disciples of Jesus, we are to be His hands and feet. To truly do that, we must look at people through eyes like His: eyes that see beyond what is right in front of us—eyes that see the essence and uniqueness of our neighbor. And we must love him or her as we love ourselves: with a heart that sings, “You are my friend. You’re special to me.”

I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. [John 15:15-16 (NLT)]

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