NOT REMEMBERING

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. [Matthew 18:21-22 (RSV)]

Several authors tell the story of a friend of Clara Barton who reminded the nursing pioneer and Red Cross founder of a spiteful act someone had done to her years earlier. When Barton acted as if it had never happened, her friend asked, “Don’t you remember it?” She vehemently replied, “No! I distinctly remember forgetting it.” Forgiveness isn’t easy and it requires real (and continued) determination on our part. Sadly, without our deliberate effort to put the offense aside, it’s easy for past hurts to weasel their way right back into our hearts and minds.

When Moravian missionaries first came to the Arctic, they found no word in the Inuit language that properly captured the Christian concept of forgiveness. Using Inuit words, they came up with issumagijoujunnainermik meaning “not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore.” That’s what forgiveness is; it’s choosing not to let the thoughts of that harmful person or their harmful deeds consume our thinking. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting; it’s deciding not to remember.

In writing about forgiveness today, I came across another interesting word: ilunga.  Found in the Tshiluba language spoken by the Bantu of the Congo, it is considered by linguists to be the most difficult word to translate. Ilunga describes a person who is ready to forgive and forget any first offense, will tolerate it a second time, but will neither forgive nor tolerate it a third time. It’s a three-strikes-and-you’re-out kind of person whose attitude changes with each offense. Jesus, however, didn’t tell us to forgive only once; He said to forgive seventy times seven times (or endlessly)!

When asked if she was ever troubled by past offenses, either hers of those of others, an elderly Christian lady is said to have replied, “Never!” She explained that if Satan troubled her about her sins or other people’s offenses, she simply sent him east. If he returned, she sent him to the west. Recalling the psalmist’s words that God “has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west,” [103:12] she explained that by sending Satan back and forth, from east to west and back again, she never allowed him to stop at her house.

The choice is ours. Will we choose to be like an ilunga or like that Christian lady and Clara Barton, people who practice issumagijoujunnainermik?

Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future. [Lewis B. Smedes]

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (RSV)]

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COULD IT BE TODAY?

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

black vultureA few years ago, unaware of what the day would bring, a family friend kissed her new husband good-bye as he left for work. While riding the train that morning, the young man collapsed; he died of sudden cardiac arrest less than an hour after that tender kiss. That same year, another friend, whose wife’s body was ravaged by cancer, knew how short the time was he had with her. “While watching TV,” he confided downheartedly, “I looked over at Maureen and realized that next year her chair will be empty and I’ll be alone!” Today is Patriot Day, an annual remembrance of those who died or were injured during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Thinking about that tragic morning seventeen years ago when so many lost their loved ones unexpectedly, I remembered these two widowed friends. Which is worse: watching the one you love deteriorate and knowing that you’re running out of time for kisses or kissing a loved one in the morning and not knowing that will be the last kiss you’ll ever share?

I can’t imagine the anguish of either scenario and am thankful that God doesn’t give us a choice in this matter. But, I do know what would be more heartbreaking than either scenario. Instead of kissing one another when parting, it would be worse if our last words were angry or harsh ones. How tragic if, instead of sharing a few loving words, we spent our last moments together in heated discussion or spiteful silence. What if we squandered our last opportunity to say “I love you,” to apologize or forgive, to pray together, to laugh with one another, or to share a kiss?

Whenever we say good-bye to my mother-in-law, we always give her a kiss and express our love. Since she’s nearing her 102nd birthday, we understand that each time we see her might be the last. This day of remembrance, however, is a powerful reminder that we can’t see what the next day will bring. There is no guarantee of tomorrow or even the next hour. We don’t know when our last moments with someone may be, whether they are 102 or only 12, dying of cancer or in the prime of life. We mustn’t waste the time with which we’re blessed. Let’s fill our lives, and the lives of others, with love, peace, and joy.

Father in Heaven, may we all learn to live each day as if it is our last. Remind us, O Lord, that this could be the final day, not just for us, but for those we love. May your Spirit guide us so that we truly appreciate the time and people you’ve given us. Let us leave no forgiveness denied, no love unexpressed, no apologies unoffered, no conflicts unresolved, and no thanks unspoken.

I expect to pass this way but once; any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. [Stephen Grellet]

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

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ALL FOR THE GOOD

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, the True Judge,” is a blessing often said by Jews when they undergo a death or tragedy. “This is all for the good,” or “Blessed is the true judge,” is often said by other Jews in response to their tragic news. Rather than being about God’s final judgment of a person, these words remind them that only God can judge whether events are good or bad. To illustrate this point, the Talmud has a story about the second century sage, Rabbi Akiva. One night, the rabbi, along with his rooster and donkey, arrived in a village. When no one would give Akiva a place to stay, the rebbe said, “All that God does, He does for the good.” He then walked to a field outside of town, set up camp, and lit his lantern. That evening, a gust of wind knocked over the lantern breaking it, a fox came and ate the rooster, and a lion came and killed the donkey. In spite of all that, Akiva said, “All that God does, He does for the good!” Just before dawn, marauders came and attacked the village but, camped in the field without light, crowing rooster or braying donkey to reveal his presence, the rabbi remained safe.

The Talmud explains this story by saying that we must bless God for the bad news that comes our way in the same manner we bless Him for the good things that befall us. Indeed, when Scripture tells us we are told to love God with our whole heart, soul and strength it doesn’t mention any exceptions for circumstances we don’t like. While it’s easy to love God with our entire being when all is good, we must also love Him that same way in our suffering, sorrow and misfortune. Rest assured, in the long run, whatever happens to us is for our good. That, however, does not mean everything that happens to us will be good. Indeed, even when we don’t know why, pain, grief and adversity are blessings. All that God does, He does for the good! Blessed be the true judge.

God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist. [Saint Augustine]

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:35,38-39 (NLT)]

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FAREWELLS

DAISIESJesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house; I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you. After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me so that you may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” [John 14:1-4 (NCV)]

“Why can’t they be happy for us,” my daughter-in-law plaintively asked many years ago. “We’re going to where we want to be. This is our dream!” I certainly understood about her friends’ reaction to their news. My son, his wife and their two children (my precious grands) were moving to California. Instead of living a mile from us, they’d be over 2,000 miles away! I was no different from her friends except that, since taking Mother-in-Law 101, I’d mentally duct-taped my mouth and managed to silence my protests.

I felt her words in my heart. Why couldn’t I be happy for them? I was so blinded by my loss that I couldn’t see their gain: a beautiful new house, an ideal climate, a super school, and their dream location of surf, sand and sunshine. I asked God to change my heart: to take the sadness and replace it with gladness and to take my self-pity and replace it with encouraging words and enthusiasm. I knew this wasn’t the last time we’d see each other; after all, we only would be a plane ride apart.

It’s been several years since their move. When I see how happy they are in California, I can’t believe I ever allowed my sorrow at their departure blind me to their joyous arrival in a new location. Besides, my husband and I now have a wonderful place to visit.

Many of us are at the age when our friends and family are departing, not to live across the country, but to move from this world into the next. Why is it so difficult to be happy for them? That final move is the best one yet for them. They are leaving a place of pain, sin, anxiety, and sorrow and going to a new home: one where there is peace and joy and love. Moreover, they’re going to a place where, eventually, we all want to be! It’s just so difficult to stop focusing on our loss to see our loved one’s gain: a home in heaven – no pain, no tears, and the presence of God! Remember, this won’t be the last time we see them!

Heavenly Father, when our loved ones leave us, let it be less about us and more about them. Please lessen our sorrow at their departure and increase our joy at their destination.

Death is an incident, not an end. It is a transition for a Christian, not a terminus. [Billy Graham]

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 21:4 (NLT)]

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OUR PRAYERS

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King over all the earth. Praise him with a psalm. [Psalm 47:6-7 (NLT)]

O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer! Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged, Take it to the Lord in prayer. [“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” by Joseph Scriven]

ZINNIA“That’s more like it!” I thought as I read Psalm 47; I certainly preferred it to the curses of the previous set of Psalms I’d read. I’m reading the Bible in chronological rather than in canonical order which means that the various books and chapters have been divided and rearranged. As a result, the psalms of lament and complaint were grouped together during David’s trials and the praise psalms were placed after the chapters outlining the duties in the Temple. These psalms of worship, adoration and thanksgiving seem more appropriate for Israel’s book of hymns than the earlier ones about wickedness, treachery, calamity and vengeance.

Although I prefer the joyful psalms, there is a reason Israel’s prayer book has lasted over 3,000 years and continues to be our prayer book today. Rather than a sappy feel-good book of poetry, Psalms reflects the gamut of human experience and emotions. When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, I’m surprised He didn’t tell them they already knew and direct them to the Psalms for guidance. The Psalms’ words are intense, raw and honest; they conceal nothing. If the Psalmist is suffering, fearful, angry, depressed, or exhausted, he says so as readily as when he expresses his elation, adoration and thanksgiving. Never pretending that all is well when it isn’t, he fearlessly lays out his emotions before God. Wretchedness and joy, pain and jubilation, wickedness and virtue, despair and hope, grief and thanksgiving, fear and confidence: all are articulated. It is in that depth of personal expression and experience that we find words of consolation, faith, trust, and hope.

When I seriously evaluate my own prayer life, I’m nowhere near as honest and bold as the psalmists. Of course, God knows my personal struggles but, unlike David and the rest of the psalmists, I’m not as willing to lay them so passionately or openly at His feet. When Joseph Scriven wrote the words, “Take it to the Lord in prayer,” he meant all of it, not just the pretty stuff. I’m sure God would prefer honest words of grievance to false words of praise any day.

A human heart is like a ship on a wild sea, driven by the storm-winds from the four quarters of the world. Here it is struck with fear, and worry about coming disaster; there comes grief and sadness because of present evil. Here breathes a breeze of hope and of expectation of happiness to come; there blows security and joy in present blessings. These storm-winds teach us to speak with earnestness, and open the heart, and pour out what lies at the bottom of it. … What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid these storm-winds of every kind? Where does one find such words of joy as in the psalms of praise and thanksgiving? … On the other hand, where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? … And, as was said, it is the best thing of all that they speak these words to God and with God. [Martin Luther, Preface to the Psalter]

The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. [Psalm 145:18 (NLT)]

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THE PLAN

“For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” [1 Samuel 1:27-28 (ESV)]

Maligne Lake - CanadaRichard Williams was watching TV when he saw a tennis player awarded a $40,000 check for winning a tournament. He decided then that his as yet unborn children would become tennis stars. Williams wrote a 78-page plan detailing their future, taught himself how to play tennis and, when his girls were four, started teaching them to play the game. Before they were even born, he’d planned the future for tennis greats Serena and Venus Williams.

Hannah did much the same thing for her child Samuel. Heartbroken at her inability to get pregnant, she promised God that, if He gave her a son, she would give him back to God as a Nazirite. Although the Nazirite vow was to be voluntary and temporary, Hannah committed her as yet unconceived child to a lifetime of separating himself from the world, dedicating himself to the Lord, and never cutting his hair, consuming wine (or any grape product), or getting near a dead body. After giving birth to Samuel, she fulfilled her vow; once he was weaned, she brought him to Shiloh and left him in the care of Eli the priest.

Can you imagine the youngster’s tears as he watched his parents leave? Every year, when his family returned to Shiloh for worship and sacrifice, Hannah brought a new coat for the boy and, every year, Samuel remained in Shiloh while his family went back home with the five siblings that arrived after his birth. Instead of playing whatever little boys played in 1100 BC, Samuel remained as an apprentice to an old priest in the temple. Can you imagine his loneliness and grief? Nevertheless, this is the life Hannah decided he should have.

Perhaps, however, it wasn’t Hannah but rather God who wrote the plan for Samuel. Hannah had no children because “the Lord had closed her womb.” Could He have been waiting to open her womb until she became desperate enough to make such an amazing sacrificial vow?

The priest Eli had two grown sons, Hophni and Phinehas. In spite of being priests, they were wicked worthless men who cheated, seduced women, stole from the people, and were unworthy to carry on Eli’s priestly duties. Could God have arranged circumstances so that someone worthy of the task could grow in godliness while apprenticing to Eli? When Eli and his sons died, it was Samuel who became the priest, prayer warrior, first of the prophets, and last (and most effective) of Israel’s judges. It was Samuel who anointed both Saul and David. It was Samuel, the child given to God before his conception, who was listed by Paul in the Hall of Faith.

At first glance, Hannah seemed a bit like Richard Williams (and a host of stage moms and sport dads) who decide their children’s dreams for them. Looking closer, we see that God mapped out a scenario even more elaborate than Richard William’s 78-page plan. I’m sure it didn’t make much sense to Hannah when she made the vow that took her son from his family and it certainly didn’t make sense to the young Samuel when he watched them wave farewell. In retrospect, however, it makes all the sense in God’s world; He has a way of making sense of it all!

And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. [1 Samuel 3:19-20 (ESV)]

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