ACCEPTING AMENDS

God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. [Matthew 5:7 (NLT)]

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. [Luke 6:37 (NLT)]

beach sunflowerYesterday, I wrote about making amends; today, I write about accepting them. In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the young man realizes the error of his ways, returns to his father, admits his failure, and is forgiven. Although the son offers to act as a servant, his father doesn’t ask for amends or acts of penance; rather, he welcomes him back as an honored son. It’s a beautiful story about God’s redeeming grace and forgiveness. Like any good story, however, there’s conflict—the prodigal’s older brother. When he returns from working in the fields to the feast celebrating his brother’s return, he becomes angry and resentful. The parable concludes with the father’s explanation that the celebration is because, “He was lost, but now he is found!”

If, instead of a parable, this was a true story, what would happen next? Even with his father’s forgiveness, the boy still would face the consequences of his foolishness; having already gotten and squandered his money, there would be no inheritance when his father died. Although making amends wasn’t necessary for the father’s forgiveness, a truly repentant son would want to find a way to make things better. Perhaps he would work extra hours in the fields, help the homeless or counsel rebellious young men. While the boy’s relationship with his father was restored, I doubt the relationship with his elder brother mended so easily.

The older boy rightfully resented all of the extra work required of him during the prodigal’s absence, but there was more to his anger. He’d watched his father walk out to the gate each morning to wait hopefully for his younger son’s return, only to see his father return crestfallen each evening when he didn’t show up. He’d heard his father’s sobs when news of the prodigal’s disgraceful life reached his ears. When famine hit the land, he saw his father pace in the middle of the night as he worried how his younger son would survive. He knew his father, having given so much money to his younger son, was having financial difficulties. He’d seen the toll his brother’s abysmal behavior had taken on the entire family and wanted to see his brother chastised rather than given a party. He wanted to see him in sackcloth and ashes rather than wearing the best robe in the house. His brother deserved punishment and humiliation rather than a celebration. Being forgiven just shouldn’t be that easy!

As sinners, we should try to make things right with the people we’ve offended. Yet, in the prodigal’s situation, whatever he did to make amends probably would never be enough for his elder brother. Unable to understand his father’s amazing grace, rather than apologies or amends, the older boy wanted retribution. Nevertheless, as offended parties, we don’t get to choose how apologies are offered or amends are made, nor do we get to withhold our forgiveness if we’re not satisfied. When someone comes to us with a repentant heart and asks forgiveness, we can’t demand the type and amount of humble pie he must eat before getting it. We just have to forgive.

We are to forgive so that we may enjoy God’s goodness without feeling the weight of anger burning deep within our hearts. Forgiveness does not mean we recant the fact that what happened to us was wrong. Instead, we roll our burdens onto the Lord and allow Him to carry them for us. [Charles Stanley]

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)]

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CLEAN IT UP

Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today…” [Luke 19:8-9a (NLT)]

dogI laughed at the picture of a large dog, with what looked to be a smile on his face, on his hind legs, holding a poop pan with one paw, a rake with the other, and scooping up a pile of dog dirt. The sign read: “Pets, people and parks – When you pick up your pile, everyone smiles.” Yes, we all smile when people clean up the mess left behind by their dogs. Unfortunately, it takes more than a pooper scooper to clean up the mess we leave behind when we sin.

There’s an old Jewish tale about a loquacious businessman who learned a secret about another man in town. It was so sensational that he couldn’t help but pass it along to his family, friends, and neighbors. When the man who was the tale’s topic discovered how his personal life had been broadcast throughout town, he complained to the rabbi who then summoned the tale bearer to his office. At first, the gossiper defended his actions—after all, the story was true! True or false, responded the rabbi, the story was not his to tell and he’d done incredible harm to the man’s reputation. Asking how to make amends, the gossipy man was told to return the next day with his best feather pillow. Once back in the rabbi’s office, he was told to slit open the pillow and shake out all of the feathers. When the rabbi told him then to collect the feathers and put them all back into the pillow, the man protested. The window had been open and a breeze had taken the feathers all over town; getting them back was impossible. “That,” replied the rabbi, “is what happens whenever a secret leaves your mouth. It flies on the wind and can never be gotten back.” Aside from being a lesson about gossip and guarding one’s tongue, it also points out the difficulty of cleaning up the messes that we can make in the lives of others when we sin.

Sometimes, it’s relatively easy to make amends for our failings; other times, there’s no way we can ever make something right or undo what’s been done. Fortunately, making restitution is not a requirement for God’s forgiveness; for that we just need genuine repentance. Although making amends wasn’t a requirement for Zacchaeus’ salvation, his repentance led him to do just that. While the New Testament doesn’t specifically require us to make restitution for our wrongs, Jesus did tell us that if we’ve hurt or offended our brother in any way, we must go and be reconciled.

Unfortunately, while God will forgive us our sins, not everyone else is so willing or able. Reconciliation is not always possible and, unlike a pile of poop, not everything can be picked up or made clean again. The mess left from some sins, like the feathers in the wind, can never be made right. Other sins are best left buried in the past; making direct amends in those cases would only do more harm or bring more pain. While the sins of the past don’t affect our salvation, they do affect our present and often leave us with regrets and guilt. If we can’t make amends directly to the people we’ve hurt, we can prayerfully consider other ways, such as service or giving (as did Zacchaeus), to indirectly right our wrongs. While we may not be able to fix everything we’ve broken, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can live new and improved lives and make the world a better place in which to live.

Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. [Matthew 3:8 (NLT)]

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. [Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT)]

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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” [Revelation 21:3-4 (NLT)

star jasmineIn a recent Close to Home comic (drawn by John McPherson), we see the back of a white-haired gentleman at a podium. Several people are facing him with hands raised. “Does the universe really go on forever or is there a brick wall at the end?” asks one. “Who would win in a total fight to the death? Attila the Hun or Mike Tyson?” asks another. The caption at the bottom says, “Once a week, God holds a question and answer session for new arrivals in Heaven.” It reminded me of a quote by Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer who, at the age of 13, survived the loss of her left arm in a 2003 shark attack.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to why bad things happen to good people. But I do know that God knows all those answers and sometimes He lets you know in this life, and sometimes He asks you to wait so that you can have a face-to-face talk about it. [From “Soul Surfer” by Bethany Hamilton]

Later that day, I was talking with a widow friend. It had been just three months since her husband died in her arms and she has many questions she’d like God to answer. Thinking of the young surfer’s quote, I reminded her that any questions we don’t get answered in this lifetime will be answered in the next. We then looked at each other and almost simultaneously said, “But, will we care?”

It occurred to us that, once in heaven, all of our earthly questions will be insignificant. We think we want to know why someone suffered or a child’s innocence was violently stolen. We think we want God’s reasoning for a partner’s betrayal, the barren womb, a loved one’s addiction, or a spouse’s death. Once in God’s presence, I wonder if those questions will seem as ridiculous as the questions posed by the people in McPherson’s comic strip.

As Job learned, our “whys” are not likely to be answered on this side of the pearly gates and I doubt we’ll need those answers on other side. The repentant thief on the cross beside Jesus was told, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Do you think when he got there, he spent time asking God about his abusive step-father or the unfairness of his death sentence? Our last breath here will be followed by our first breath in heaven (a place without pain or tears—one of joy and perfect peace) and all of our earthly concerns will be gone. When we arrive in God’s dwelling place and come face to face with Jesus, I seriously doubt we’ll have any questions that need answering. Knowing God’s love for us, it will all make sense.

You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. … No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. [Hebrews 12:18,22 (NLT)]

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DIGGIN’ UP BONES – NEW YEAR’S DAY 2018

Sunrise - Duluth MN harborNo, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. [Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)]

I’m diggin’ up bones, I’m diggin’ up bones
Exhuming things that’s better left alone
I’m resurrecting memories of a love that’s dead and gone
Yeah tonight I’m sittin’ alone diggin’ up bones. [Randy Travis]

I was listening to Randy Travis sing, “I’m diggin’ up bones, exhuming things that’s better left alone.” It seemed an appropriate song for this time of year when we tend to dwell on the past—not just past loves, but past losses, mistakes, oversights, misunderstandings, injuries and pain. As one year ends and another starts, we often dig up all the grievances, regrets, and ”if onlys” of our yesterdays.

The word Randy Travis uses is “exhuming” and that’s a powerful word. When we exhume something, we’re not just digging in the dirt for weeds or post holes—we’re digging a corpse out of its grave and that’s a gruesome ghoulish thought. Once a body is buried, it’s meant to be left undisturbed; that also goes for all those old memories of things dead and gone.

When we dig up the past, we’re trying to rewrite history. Even if we could, we would do no better the second time; we’d just make different mistakes and still have regrets! From any time-travel novel or movie, we know that time-traveling is complicated; small changes in the past can have major, and often bad, ramifications. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly nearly erases himself when he accidentally becomes his mother’s high school romantic interest. In Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, after the protagonist prevents JFK’s assassination, he sadly discovers that the world is worse off because of his actions. Moreover, it’s our history—all of those sad, terrible, painful, embarrassing, frightening, and distressing experiences, along with all the good ones—that make us who and what we are today. We’re us, not in spite of the past, but because of the past.

If we don’t like who or where we are in life, that’s not the past’s fault and it’s certainly not God’s. Today is the start of a brand new year and we can start fresh. The good thing about God’s mercy, love and forgiveness is that we don’t need to wait another 365 days before we can start fresh again. God specializes in fresh starts and we can begin anew any moment of any day. Each minute we waste digging up the bones of the past is a minute we’ve lost to the wonders of the here and now. The only moment we have is this one; let us use it wisely and leave the old bones where they belong—dead and buried.

 The only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. [Phillips Brooks]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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SEASONS

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest [Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 (NLT)]

aspens and pines - Steamboat COWhile some might groan, others may cheer on this the first day of winter. I remember being asked my favorite season and, since we were skiing in the mountains at the time, I said it was winter. I loved it for the powder days on the slopes, pines laden with snow cookies, and aspens glistening with hoarfrost. Winter meant snuggling by the fire with a hot drink while watching the snow fall and the wind blow the trees. Then, I remembered that winter brings shoveling, cleaning off the car, cold toes, drippy noses, falling on the ice, and heating bills so I quickly changed my answer.

Perhaps spring was the favorite—the snow starts to melt, song birds reappear, snowbells and crocuses peek out of the ground, coats and boots are shed, and we again feel the sun’s warmth. Then I remembered the crowds and traffic jams of spring break, rain, mud, spring cleaning, and tax day! Summer was a possibility with its peonies, peaches, butterflies, sandals, tank tops and lazy days at the lake. Then again, summer brings mosquitoes, allergies, humidity, weeding, mowing, and tornadoes. When I remembered the autumn colors, the cranes and geese gathering before migration, Thanksgiving dinner, and the sound of leaves rustling while walking through the woods, I thought my answer should be autumn except for the box elder bugs, gloomy days, leaf raking, more allergies, and hurricanes.

Years later, I’m still unable to give a decisive answer to which is my favorite season; I hope to never see it as one of those problematic online security questions. Fortunately, with the passing of each year, we get to return to all the things we like about a season and, when we tire of that season’s challenges, we know a new season will arrive within a few months’ time.

Unlike the calendar’s seasons, we only get one spring, summer, fall and winter in life. Unfortunately, much of our time in any season often is spent trying to move into the next or return to the previous one. The four-year old proudly tells you she’ll be five at her next birthday and, the day she turns fifteen, she claims to be almost sixteen. She may be OK with being twenty-two but she drags her heels as thirty approaches. Trying to hold the next season at bay, she “recently turned forty” at forty-five and, when the invitation to join AARP arrives at fifty, she bursts into tears. By sixty, she looks longingly at the clothes she used to wear a decade earlier, hates having her picture taken, and refuses to share her age. It’s not until her nineties that she again brags about how old she’ll be at her next birthday.

While we know the date and length of the calendar’s seasons, we have no such knowledge of our own personal seasons. My mother-in-law, at 101, is enjoying a lengthy winter; my mother died at 47 and had none. In answer to that question about a favorite season, perhaps the wisest answer is that our favorite season is the one we’re in! We can’t recapture yesterday and tomorrow comes way too quickly so let us thankfully and joyfully accept our today.

It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had. [Elizabeth Kübler Ross]

This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. [Psalm 118:24 (NLT)]

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

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DISAPPOINTMENT

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. [2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

OrchidPeople disappoint. Consider Moses’ disappointment when, fresh off Mt. Sinai after a 40 day meeting with God, he returned to find the Israelites worshipping a golden calf. Can you imagine David’s disappointment when Saul, the man he’d comforted with his songs, plotted his death? Picture Nathan’s disappointment in David when he confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba. Think of Joseph’s disappointment in the brothers he thought loved him as they callously sold him into slavery. Consider Jesus’ disappointment in the denying Peter, the betraying Judas, and His sleeping disciples. For that matter, consider the disappointment of the disciples as they saw their hope for the end of Rome’s tyranny die a criminal’s death on the cross.

People let us down. I remember back to 1974, when the Watergate cover-up began to unravel. My in-laws were deeply disappointed and saddened when the president they’d supported resigned in disgrace. Today, that sort of public betrayal doesn’t surprise us. Every day we learn of another betrayal of the public’s trust, abuse of power or lack of integrity. Manipulation, deception, and falsehoods are daily events. Nevertheless, when they’re done by someone we actually know—someone in whom we believed—we’re shocked and hurt. Recently, I’ve learned that people I thought I knew—people I trusted and respected—are not worthy of that trust or respect. That some others, knowing of their duplicity, have chosen to tolerate or gloss over it adds to my disappointment. Yes, people can let us down.

When efforts at rectification and reconciliation failed, my initial response was anger and indignation. That’s when the one most hurt by this betrayal of trust reminded me that I must always lead with love. Resolution is not possible, anger and retaliation are wrong, so forgiveness, prayer and grief are all that remain. With a forgiving heart, I will pray for both the betrayers and betrayed and grieve for what has been lost. Then, putting this disappointment behind me and trusting in God’s guidance, I will move forward into tomorrow.

It’s been said, “People will let us down but God never will.” Indeed, people let down Moses, David, Nathan, Joseph, and Jesus and they will continue to disappoint us. Jesus, however, never let down the disciples. Their hopes were briefly dashed when He was laid in a borrowed tomb but, with His resurrection three days later, they saw the end of sin’s tyranny and the beginning of life eternal. God will never let us down. As I lay my disappointment before Him in prayer, I know He will take my sad heart and restore it with strength, confidence, faith, and love. He will never disappoint!

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. [Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)]

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