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Posts tagged ‘forgiveness of sins’

God’s Household

As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord.  Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.”  Ephesians 2:20-22 (CEB)

This passage is such a wonderful reminder of who is in charge of the church – God’s household.  We so often let ourselves become carried away with what WE think should be done or HOW it should be done, that we often forget to stop and ask GOD what to do.  It seems to me that churches who become divided or in trouble have forgotten to ask God for guidance and then really listen and discern what that guidance may be.

Years ago, I heard a story about a church that was deeply divided.  People drew sides, and there were many bitter words exchanged, arguments, and devastating consequences.  Some people left the church, and others were determined to “stick it out” until they got what they wanted.  Eventually, though, the church ended up closing because the congregation could never come back together; too much damage had taken place in their relationships.  What was the issue that caused all this?  It was about the color of new carpeting that was going to be installed in the sanctuary.

Why do we do we let such things become issues?  When one of the churches I serve had to pick the color for the carpeting in our newly built fellowship hall, I was a little apprehensive.  We stopped to pray first, and we began the process of narrowing down what we thought would work the best.  I would jokingly throw in a suggestion of shocking pink or bright yellow, and we all laughed.  In the end, we had narrowed the colors down to three, and everyone ended up picking the same final one.  We were all amazed, but then we DID pray for guidance and took that seriously.  Our fellowship hall looks great; we were good stewards of our money and choices including good quality but at a decent price.

As the Church of Jesus Christ in the world, we are called to set an example for others.  If we fight, argue, and have constant dissension, others not connected with the church will notice.  If we work through it and find ways to work cooperatively, resolving differences, others will also notice.  The church (congregation) is the training ground for living our faith actively in the world.  We are joined together in Christ to glorify God in all that we do, and we are empowered by the Spirit to carry that work out wherever we are.

Of course we will have times of tension, strife, and disagreement, but we can set an example of how to live faithfully in the world (but not of it) by reacting differently and treating each other differently than people watching us might.  It’s really a matter of claiming Christ as the cornerstone of our lives together and individually.  All that we do we do to God’s glory.  We learn about and from Jesus’ teachings, and we trust the Holy Spirit to lead us and help us figure out what to do in all circumstances.

When have you experienced challenges in your life – your church?

How was it resolved?

What could have been done better?

What worked well?

In what ways was the church affected?

What did you learn from the experience?

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Being Acceptable to God

We live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, and we would prefer to leave the body and to be at home with the Lord.  So our goal is to be acceptable to him, whether we are at home or away from home.”  2 Corinthians 5:7-9 (CEB)

Every summer I challenge myself to preach on a scripture passage that I normally wouldn’t choose.  Most of the time, I preach on the gospels, and many summers I have chosen the Old Testament lectionary passages.  Many summers have passed since I started as a pastor, and this particular summer of 2015, I have challenged myself – finally – to preach from the epistles.  Oh, I’ve preached from them other times, but I’ve never spent the majority of the summer focusing on them.  Let me say, it definitely is a challenge for me!  And yet, it is also proving to be a blessing as I read, meditate, read commentaries, pray, and seek the message God wants me to share.

Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church are pastoral as well as a call to them to be accountable for the ways in which they live out their faith.  This was a struggling church that had been divided by a number of factions, some having loyalty to one pastor and some to others.  Many had questioned Paul’s authority in spite of the fact that he was their “founding father.”

In this passage from 2 Corinthians, I was struck particularly by the phrase in the Common English Bible “. . . our goal is to be acceptable to God . . .”  What makes us acceptable?  Is it “being good?”  Is it following Jesus’ teachings in exemplary ways?  Does it mean we have to be model Christians? Are we supposed to be perfect?  I don’t think Paul is saying that; rather, he reminds them later in verse 13 that what we do, we do for God’s sake.  In other words, we do our best, and we point to God – we glorify God in what we do.

When we choose to follow Christ, we shed the old sinful nature and take on new life in him.  As humans, we continue to sin, but we can have confidence in the grace of God, and the forgiveness we have because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus who carried our sins for us and opened the doors to reconciliation and new life with God.  Our human bodies are only temporary housing for us, so we are called to live life productively, sharing the love of God with others through offering forgiveness, grace, mercy, compassion, and care in our relationships – all of them.

And we can rejoice in the knowledge that when our old nature – our human nature – fades away and dies, we continue to wholeness and a new body, a new home in heaven with God.  We live in the now here on earth with the promise of life beyond this world with God.  We are acceptable to God because God loves us enough to die for us and give us eternal life.  There is always hope.  There is always a new beginning.  There is always forgiveness.  There is always God’s grace.  There is always God’s love.

We don’t earn it – it is a gift!  We are called to share it.  That is our gift to all God’s children, and that is our gift to God.  Being who we are called to be to the best of our ability is acceptable – and then some – to God!  Thanks be to God!

Following Directions

“. . . repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [the Messiah’s] name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”  Luke 24:48

I have always taken the story of the ascension of Jesus rather casually.  It seemed way too much like a fantasy with him being lifted up into the sky and disappearing from the disciples’ sight.  Yet, as I read this passage again for this coming Sunday, I took notice of what is probably more important than how Jesus went to heaven:  his instructions to those who would carry on his ministry.

So often we hear popular Christian culture saying that “being saved” is the most important thing that counts, and truly that is important.  We believe we are saved by faith alone, so often the actions that develop and are grounded in our faith do not receive as much focus.  Yet, when I read the words above from the Luke 24 passage, I was struck by the emphasis on repentance and forgiveness of sins as what was to be preached.

In Matthew 28 we read the great commission:  “Go make disciples of all nations” which is the theme of United Methodism, but Luke has a different emphasis:  repentance and forgiveness of sins.  I suspect that is the key to opening doors for making disciples because faith often begins with repenting of our sins and receiving forgiveness, so it follows that even as we have received forgiveness, we are to offer it to others and encourage them to forgive and know God’s forgiveness as well.

I had an experience of forgiveness this week that was rather an unusual way of receiving it.  When I was growing up, I had a good friend named Susie (not her real name).  Her father owned the local pool hall, and the family lived over it.  My mom didn’t particularly approved of our friendship, although, if I remember correctly, the family was a decent type and raised their children well, even though they didn’t attend church much.  Susie attended Sunday school and was confirmed with me.

As a rather naive child, I made a stupid decision to try to end the relationship one day, so I passed her a note saying that we had been friends long enough and should stop.  Where did I ever get that?  Who knows!  It hurt her, and she cried which made me feel badly, so I made up with her after class.  Our relationship was mended, but never quite the same.

When I was in Junior High, I had a crush on a boy in our class, and he liked me.  During one sleep-over at Susie’s house, she goaded me into telling her who the boy was, and I did.  The next day on the bus as we road to school, she told everyone who I liked.  That hurt, and maybe it was her way of getting back at me for the stupid de-friending thing.  Of course, at thirteen years old, both the boy and I denied it, and that ended the crush.  However, Susie and I continued to be friends through our sophomore year of high school until I moved away to another town ninety miles down the road.

I lost track of her, but heard from a friend that she was dating the fellow I had the crush on – I thought it was rather ironic.  It turned out that we both attended the same college, and Susie was still dating this young man.  I found out later that she got pregnant, and they were married.  Well after I moved to the East coast, one of my high school buddies told me that Susie and her husband had divorced.

Okay, so fifty years has passed since I have had any contact with Susie except for those few bits of information from former classmates.  Last night I was friended on Facebook by Susie!  I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t even recognize her from her picture, but I saw the name of her son which would have been the same last name as her first husband, and she has remarried.  In fact, I believe she is living only thirty or forty minutes from where my parents live.

What felt like forgiveness was having her friend me – ME!  The one who had tried to de-friend her way before we even had internet technology in every home and way before Facebook was even possible.  Through the new social media, I had found my childhood friend again, and she “friended” me!  It felt like forgiveness, and I wrote on her wall telling her how excited I was to reconnect again after all these years.

God is good!  And we are to PROCLAIM REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS in the name of Jesus Christ – what a great reminder to me of the love of God that can come from such unexpected and seemingly tiny places.  Thanks be to God!

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