Boda-boda gospel partners

” I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-6 ESV).

As I traveled with Pastor George Mbonye to reach out to the Batwa Pygmies near the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the Kanungu District of Uganda, it became clear to me that transportation is a key ingredient to effectively carrying the gospel to this region. The roads there are terrible and barely deserve the name. Most of the pastors either walk or ride bicycles to visit their churches and their members.

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Pastor George Mbonye & Johnny Kinton

Pastor George is one of the fortunate few that own a dirt bike. Or as the people of Uganda call them, a “Boda-boda.” This gives him the ability to traverse the difficult terrain and visit the many people groups that he is trying to reach with the gospel and plant more churches.

One of the pastors that helps George lead the churches in the Kisoro Baptist Association, is Pastor Wilson. He tries to visit all of the 20+ churches regularly on his bicycle. But as you might imagine, this is very physically demanding. And it also means that he can’t get around to all the churches as often as is needed.

One of the prayer requests that Pastor George and Pastor Wilson asked me to remember is this need for transportation. When I asked Pastor Wilson how much he needed to get a Boda, he replied, “My church has already raised 2 million shillings, but we need 4 million more to get a Boda that can handle the terrain.”

As I quickly checked my currency converter app, I realized that 4 million Ugandan Shillings is only about $1200. So, I told Pastor Wilson that I would ask WCC members to not only pray, but to partner with him for a motorcycle.

After all, with a name like “Pastor Wilson,” shouldn’t we already recognize our partnership?

If you desire to partner with us in this, please designate your offering “Uganda Boda-boda.” We’ll make sure Pastor Wilson gets it, so the gospel can be carried with greater effectiveness in Uganda.

Of gentleness, scarves, and neckties

RuthBut we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 ESV).

We just returned from our second two-week mission trip to Uganda. My wife, Robin, and I led a 4-day Pastors and Pastor’s Wives Conference in Kisoro, Uganda for the Kisoro Baptist Association. On the last day of the conference, we gave out a few small gifts that church members in America had donated.

Pastor George Mbonye was our host again this year. He asked me to teach leadership principles from Nehemiah and he asked Robin to teach the book of Ruth.  So, my partner, Mike Laramee, and I spent the first two days of the conference teaching from Nehemiah and the final two days teaching how to preach through a book of the Bible using the book of Jonah as an example. Robin and her teaching partner, Donnas Kinton, taught a chapter a day from Ruth for the four days.

RobinScarfRobin gave the women small bottles of lotion and crochet scarves to illustrate the way that Ruth had prepared herself before going to Boaz on the threshing floor in Ruth 3. The women were very thankful and excited to receive these gifts. Robin said they actually danced after receiving their scarves. The joy and gentleness with which they responded was very moving. Robin felt such affection for these women.

GeorgeWe gave Pastor George several preaching books for the Bible school he is building for local pastors. We also gave each pastor a journal notebook, a WCC pen, and a copy of Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest. The surprising highlight of our gift giving time was the suitcase full of neckties that we gave away. We told the pastors to pick two ties each. They took great care in choosing ties that they thought would match their clothes.

NecktiesThere was only one problem: Most of them didn’t know how to tie a necktie. So, Mike and I ended up doing a necktie-tying clinic. My problem was that I can’t really tie a necktie on someone else, so I had to tie it on myself and then slip it over my head onto theirs. There was much laughter and good-natured fun during this time. The Ugandan pastors are so humble and gentle in their demeanor that it keeps me coming back to invest in them and in their gospel ministries.

In America, we can often be so brash and sarcastic in our communication with one another. But the Uganda Christians are so humble and gentle. The way they would introduce us to their church members was so honoring to us.

Intro“This is Pastor Gary from Wilson Community Church in North Carolina, USA. How many of you remember him?” Pastor George would ask at each church, as hands shot up and smiling faces nodded. Followed by, “And who remembers his wife, Mama Robinah?” To which many hands would go up around the church.

They made us feel like family. As the apostle Paul said, we shared not only the gospel with them, but our own selves because they have become very dear to us.

Who loves more?

Gary&Erin“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.”  (Luke 7:41-43 NKJV).

When my daughter was young we had a bedtime ritual that involved a competition of declaring who loved the most.

“Good night Erin. I love you.” I’d say, beginning the nightly ritual.

“Good night Daddy, I love you MORE!” She’d say, while leaning over my recliner to kiss my offered cheek.

“No, I love you the MOST!” I’d reply, quickly turning my face towards her, surprising her into kissing me on the lips (she still holds onto my face when she kisses me on the cheek to avoid this surprising possibility).

“No Daddy. I love you the MOSTEST! She’d exclaim. “I love you this much!” She’d quickly add, while extending her arms outward as far as she could reach.

Jesus once told a story about the one who would love God more. He said that the one who was “forgiven more” would love more.

According to Jesus, our capacity for love is measured by our receptivity for and awareness of God’s forgiveness. When we recognize our own great need for forgiveness and receive the gift of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sin, we become recipients of his great love. Receiving this great forgiveness opens our hearts to God’s love for us, and through us to others.

Do you love more?

This is an edited reprint of my blog from October 1, 2009.

The sincere faith of my mothers

Mom&Granny

“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5 NIV).

The church of my youth had annual revival services. We would often have an evangelist come and share how God had miraculously saved him from a life of sin. He would preach with fiery enthusiasm and through tears about how God had taken a former drunkard, (or addict, thief, murderer, etc.) and saved him.

These “Damascus Road” testimonies were amazing to me. I was envious of their certainty and passion. As a boy, I often doubted my salvation because I hadn’t had such an awesome conversion. I had no flash of light, no voice of God. At age eight, I had just decided to give my life to Jesus the way my mother and grandmother had taught me.

As I grew in my faith, I no longer doubted my salvation, but I still sometimes wished that my testimony was more exciting. Why couldn’t I have a testimony more like the apostle Paul’s?

Maybe that’s what Timothy was feeling when Paul wrote him that second letter. Paul was so fearless and certain when he testified of his faith, but Timothy was a little timid. When he compared himself to his mentor he just didn’t feel like he measured up.

Paul would have none of that. He reminded Timothy of the spiritual legacy that his mother and grandmother had given him. Timothy had been spared the suffering and sorrow of Paul’s many mistakes before coming to Christ. Paul reminded Timothy that the “sincere faith” which had “lived” in his mother and grandmother, now “lived” in him.

As a grown man, I’m glad that I have a “Timothy testimony.” The two most influential people in my spiritual development were women. They were my grandmother Ettie and my mother Wilda. They didn’t have the same names as “Eunice and Lois”, but they did have the same “sincere faith” living in them.

Sincere faith. The kind that is more than religion, more than rules and ritual. These women loved and lived for their Lord in such a sincere way that what they passed on to me was more caught than taught.

My mother and her mother are with Jesus now, but their sincere faith still lives here in me.

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

This article is a reprint of my original post on May 7, 2010.

Thanking God for gospel partners

11096506_10152892617333246_7594704329458691510_nI thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6 NIV).

The days leading up to Easter are some of the busiest for our church. Our members and staff go beyond expectation to take advantage of this annual window of opportunity to share the gospel in our community. This year, they did even more…

FOOD DRIVE

10516698_10152868824698246_141820563859059953_nWe went door to door in local neighborhoods on the two Saturdays before Passion week, to collect food for our annual Hope Station Food Drive. The first Saturday we hung 1800 bags on doorknobs inviting our neighbors to fill them with food. “Help us feed the hungry.” declared the flyer stapled to every bag. “We’ll be back at the same time next week to pick up your donation.”

21158_10152880663503246_5406645167201666983_nAnd our neighbors responded. We collected 522 filled bags or about 13,050 pounds (6 1/2 tons) of food the following Saturday. As we went through the neighborhoods collecting the food, we also put doorhangers on every door inviting them to our Easter EGGstravaganza event. We figured that since our army was already on the field, we may as well get full use out of them!

11072257_10152880666413246_5306369463901820389_nAfter collecting the food, we delivered it to the Hope Station. The director was ecstatic! She couldn’t believe how much food we’d collected. We brought in so much food that it completely filled the pantry, so we had to stack bags down the halls to get it all inside.

A TRAGEDY IN OUR CHURCH FAMILY

On the Wednesday before Easter, April 1, 2015, a tragedy occurred. Eleven year old, Julia Manuel, the daughter of Percy and Amanda Manuel, was hit by a pickup truck while apparently crossing the road in front of her house to get the mail. She was killed almost instantly.

I received a phone call from Percy to come to the hospital quickly. Arriving at the hospital, I sat with Percy and Amanda at Julia’s bedside as we prayed and surrendered her to God’s loving care. When we came out of the emergency room, we found nearly 30 people lining the hallway. Manuel family members, friends, and a great many WCC members had come to lend support. There were so many of us that we were hindering the hospital’s work.

Turning to one of our church members, I asked, “Since the Manuels are in your Community Group, and since your group normally meets tonight, may we bring them to your house to be with their family and receive comfort?”

“Absolutely.” She replied, before I could even finish asking.

In no time at all, we had the Manuel family at the Bryant home and their Community Group members and other WCCers had filled the house with food and support.

TWELVE STATIONS

11113578_10152887579968246_893789693578390280_nOn the Thursday evening before Easter, several members worked hard to set up a meditative experience called “The Twelve Stations of the Cross.” Our church family was so grief-stricken over the loss of Julia that we questioned whether we could accomplish all of our Easter week plans. But this was a night that helped prepare us for the Easter weekend, as we contemplated the cost of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins.

Each station depicted a scene from the story of Christ’s passion, offering a multi-sensory experience with instructions for Scripture readings, prayers and response. It concluded with a station for remembering the Lord’s Supper.

EASTER EGGSTRAVAGANZA

Some of our members wondered about having our annual Easter outreach after Julia’s death, but when Amanda Manuel heard talk of this, she said, “You better not cancel! It was one of Julia’s favorite events!” So, we decided to do it even better in honor of Julia.

11102936_10152890286583246_9190551342733519636_nOur WCCers wore purple, Julia’s favorite color, to the event. And so did most of the community who attended, because the Wilson Times had published a front page article the day before telling Julia’s story, and promoting our Easter event.

10676239_10152890302733246_1686427199770755432_nNearly the entire WCC family served in some capacity in order to offer this year’s EGGstravaganza event. I was astounded at the work that our WCCers put into this outreach. We stuffed 15,000 plastic Easter eggs with candy and offered age appropriate egg hunts. We offered everything free to our community. Games, bounce-houses, cotton candy, hotdogs, drinks, chicharrones, snow cones, live music, and demonstrations from local 11128188_10152890299538246_3132777766210079405_ndance groups and even a police dog demonstration from our local police were offered. Our mayor came and greeted our gathering and thanked WCC for its community work. Dozens of local vendors set up booths. We estimated that over 3,000 people attended our event.

EASTER SUNDAY

11150962_10152897089888246_9109617197257941532_nWe held four services on Easter Sunday morning, three in English and one in Spanish. Actually, we had a fifth service in our theater room on Sunday afternoon. A local church that had lost its building the week before Easter contacted us, so we offered to let them meet in our building. After all, we remember what it was like to be homeless as a church.

11140381_10152897089878246_3667195224934965938_nDozens of WCCers offered their weekly service of greeting, ushering, teaching, leading worship and serving. We had a baptism service during the first service, witnessing five candidates identify with Christ in believer’s baptism. We showed a video of the baptisms at the others service, so everyone had a chance to witness them and to praise God for their testimonies.

10155728_10152892617313246_8892548239864459805_nThe deacons had to set up the baptism pool the day before (while doing double duty at Easter EGGstravanza). Then, immediately after the third service they had to empty the 400 gallon pool and dry and disassembly it, to get ready for the evening visitation for the Manuel family. The deacons and their wives really worked hard all weekend. Setting up and then tearing down the baptismal. Ushering at both the visitation and the funeral for Julia. And also preparing and serving lunch to the family after the funeral.

CELEBRATION OF LIFE FOR JULIA MANUEL

11057909_10153175587000539_2530398418013648130_nBut Easter weekend was not over yet. On the Monday morning after, we held a Celebration of Life service for Julia Manuel at WCC.

The night before, the Manuel family had stood in our worship center for two hours while people waited in line to offer their condolences. The train of people ran from the parking lot, through our foyer and into the worship center for nearly the whole time. The publicity in the Wilson Times concerning Julia’s untimely death, and especially her life and faith, had deeply touched the Wilson community. We weren’t sure what to expect at the funeral on Monday, so we prepared for a large crowd. We had volunteers working late on Sunday night setting up a live-feed from our worship center to our theater room for overflow.

It’s a good thing we did. The worship center was packed within minutes as the crowd started to gather nearly 45 minutes before the service started. People were then directed to the overflow room, where we were happy to hear that the live-feed worked perfectly on the large theater screen.

The funeral service was Spirit-filled and marked by gospel preaching and congregational singing of worship songs. Our worship band did an amazing job of leading us. And the Lord gave me the words to say to celebrate Julia’s life and to offer the family godly comfort, while preaching the gospel to those in attendance that might be far from God.

THANKFUL FOR GOSPEL OPPORTUNITIES AND PARTNERS!

As we left the WCC campus for the graveside service, I was amazed to see the entire front parking lot and most of the side parking lot full of cars. What an opportunity God had given us to declare the resurrection of Christ and also because of the gospel, the future resurrection of the saints, to our community in Wilson!

Looking back on the last couple of days and weeks, I am filled with thankfulness to God for the gospel partnership we have at WCC! I am both humbled and amazed to be your pastor.

As one of our staff commented this past Tuesday, “The 80/20 rule has been turned upside down at WCC. Where most churches experience the usual 20 percent of the members doing 80 percent of the work, in our church, we have 80 percent of the members serving. This is not supposed to happen.”

Yet, it is happening in our church. Praise be to God! We give Him all the glory for our gospel partnership!

Two gospel thieves

Gospel Centered
“Just as Christ was crucified between two thieves,” so the gospel “is ever crucified between two opposite errors”
(Tertullian, early church father).

“If our gospel message even slightly resembles ‘you must believe and live right to be saved’ or ‘God loves and accepts everyone just as they are,’ we will find our communication is not doing the identity-changing, heart-shaping, transformative work…” of the gospel.  (Tim Keller, Center Church).

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NKJV).

I designed the above graph with the cross of Christ at the center to illustrate the way the gospel challenges both sides of the coin of human religion (this was inspired by Tim Keller’s graph in his book, Center Church). I describe it is as one coin with two sides because although both approaches seem radically different, they both have in common their avoidance of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and their desire to retain control of their lives. These two sides of the coin are like gospel “thieves” as Tertullian described them, misrepresenting and robbing the gospel of its appropriate focus on the person and work of Christ.

On one side is the legalistic/religious approach that takes the idea of truth and holiness to the extreme. It says that one must obey the truth and keep the rules/laws of God in order to be saved. On the other side is the relativistic/irreligious approach that takes the idea of love and grace too far. Believing that all are accepted by a loving God (if there is a God), they say that everyone has the right to follow their own sense of right and wrong.

The first approach emphasizes truth without grace. The second, grace without truth. But truth without grace is not really truth, and grace without truth is not really grace. However, the gospel is neither religion nor irreligion. The gospel is about having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ who is “full of grace and truth.”

The gospel is the good news that Jesus has already accomplished our salvation, reconciling us to God and satisfying both His holiness and mercy. The true gospel hangs between the two gospel “thieves” offering two striking corrections:

  • “I am more accepted and loved than I ever dared hope.” (vs. legalism)
  • “I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe.” (vs. relativism)

By believing and receiving the Person of Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord, who is full of grace and truth, we rightly respond to the gospel and put away the two gospel “thieves.”

 

This is a reprint of my blog entry from April 5, 2013.

The upside-down, inside-out effect of the gospel

upsidedownworld“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17 ESV).

“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’” (John 3:3 ESV).

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23 ESV).

The gospel is the good news that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose from the grave, and that anyone that would believe this news would be saved. This news, like all news, is either believed or not. But unlike other news, believing it has a surprising effect…

… It turns our world upside-down.

Many of us misunderstand the gospel. We come to it evaluating whether it will be helpful, make us happier, or more successful. Like reading the latest best-selling, self-help book, we hope to follow the model of Jesus’ life that we see in the gospel as a kind of guide for living. Or we see the gospel as a kind of worthy addition to our investment portfolio, helping us to become more prosperous. But the gospel works according to a different economy.

When the rich young ruler came to Jesus asking what he “must do” to “inherit eternal life,” Jesus gave him some upside-down instructions. He essentially told him that since he was rich, he should become poor, since he was young and strong, he should become weak, and that since he was a ruler, he should become a follower. The young man went away disheartened. The gospel demanded too much. He had hoped to add the gospel to his worldly endeavors, but instead the gospel demanded his letting go of everything in order to follow Jesus.

The religious Pharisee, Nicodemus, had a similar experience. When he encountered Jesus, he was told that his religious heritage and birthright as a Jew was insufficient. He was told he had to be “born again.” The gospel challenged his religious approach that only worked on him from the outside-in, barely scratching the surface of his life and failing at any heart change. Jesus spoke to him of being born of the Spirit, of a gospel that would go to work on him on the inside. The gospel that Jesus described…

… turns our lives inside-out.

The gospel introduces us to a kingdom economy where addition takes place by subtraction, living begins with dying, and greatness comes from following and serving. As Jesus described the effect of responding to the gospel on our lives, he said that it would look like self denial, cross-carrying and following him.

This is the effect of the gospel, that it turns us upside-down and inside-out. And in so doing, the gospel puts everything in our upside-down world…

…right-side up again.

 

This article first appeared in my blog dated April 19, 2013.

Is my work sacred?

sweatbrow“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24 ESV).

We have mistakenly divided our work today as either belonging to the sacred or the secular realm. We tend to identify the work of pastors, missionaries and other work done on behalf of the church as sacred. We view this as special work that is devoted to God. All other work is viewed as secular, or worldly work, as if it were somehow less important to God. This sacred/secular view of work is a misunderstanding of God’s intention for our work.

The apostle Paul rightly understood how all work is to be considered sacred when it is done from a heart that desires to glorify God. Whether he was making tents in the marketplace or preaching the gospel on Mars Hill, Paul viewed both as sacred work when done with a view of “serving the Lord Christ.” This is the view that needs to be preached from today’s pulpits.

How might we gain a proper theology of work to correct our view today? Here are a few biblical principles to consider:

1. God works. God is the Creator of all. The Scripture teaches that he worked for six days and then rested on the seventh day. After each day’s work God examined his results and declared them “good.” He was satisfied with His work. In John 5:17 Jesus said, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” God created all and then He sent His Son to do the work of redemption to save us from our sin.

2. God made us to work. Work is not the result of the Fall. It was part of God’s original plan. God designed Adam and Eve to do the work He had prepared for them. In Genesis 1:28, God said, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” They were to work at being parents, to govern the earth and the animals. Adam was instructed to “tend and keep” (Gen. 2:15) the garden. And God brought before him every animal that he might name them (Gen. 2:19). This naming was more than picking a name that had a nice ring to it. The language that Adam spoke was the one taught him from God. My thought is that it must’ve been so accurate as to put the exact picture in one’s mind when spoken. When Adam saw an elephant, the name would’ve been one carefully and scientifically considered, so that Eve would immediately know what he meant. The name captured the essence of the creature. God made us in His own image. He works and He made us to do work too.

3. Sin negatively affected our work. Work isn’t the result of the Fall, but it was certainly affected by it. Eve was designed to bear and nurture children as a partner to her husband. Her work was to continue, yet with sin’s curse it would be with pain, sorrow and unfulfilled desire (Gen. 3:16). Adam’s work to tend and keep the fields was to continue too. Yet, he would work by the “sweat of his brow” and the land would not yield to his authority as originally planned, offering up “thorns and thistles” when he planted grain (Gen. 3:17-19). The effect of sin on our work has led to two sinful attitudes concerning our work:

  • Laziness. We don’t want to work. We want comfort without effort. We see people who have nice things and we think they got lucky. So, we buy lottery tickets. We want what others have, so we steal. We get a victim mindset and feel that society owes us.
  • Workaholism. We put making money ahead of God and others. We work too much and rest too little. We eventually endanger our souls, our families and our health.

4. Work provides value for self and others. Work is God’s provision for us. He has given us the creation, but we must work in it to supply our needs. We are to work, so that we might have housing, clothes and food. The apostle Paul taught, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). We are to work as parents raising our families. Doing this work not only provides for our needs, it also has a moral impact on our identity and self esteem. We find meaning and pleasure in our work. We are able to join God in saying, “That was good.”

5. All work that glorifies God is sacred work. The word sacred is synonymous with the word “holy.” It means to be “set apart” for special use. Any work that we do for God’s glory and we use to provide a platform for the gospel is sacred work. This is why Bach used to sign his compositions with the letters S.D.G. (“Soli Deo Gloria” – “All glory to God alone”). Whether we work in a factory or on a farm, whether we work with our hands or our minds, we can do it with all our hearts unto Christ our Lord and give Him the glory for it.

6. God invites us to participate in His redemptive work in the world today. When we send missionaries to the field in a foreign land, they must learn the language and culture and they must find work to do, before they can even begin to share the gospel. They may work as teachers, doctors, nurses, businessmen, engineers, etc. But they view this work as a “platform” from which to share the gospel with others. We don’t have to be international missionaries to view our work as a platform for the gospel. We can be missionaries at home and do this too. Christ is looking for those who will join Him in His work. As Jesus said, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (Matt. 9:37-38). God invites us to not only pray this prayer, but to answer it with our participation in sharing the gospel through our work.

7. God has plans for our future work. Early retirement has become popular in modern times in the Western world. The accumulation of wealth has led to an expectation of living out our last days on earth in leisure. But rather than playing golf and fishing for the last 20 years of our days, what if we gave our “retirement years” to God? What if we took our Social Security checks, packed our bags, and started serving God full time at our churches, in our communities and around the world? Besides, when we graduate to heaven, that’s just the beginning of our work. Heaven isn’t an eternal retirement. It is a time of infinite joy when we may fully join the Father in His work. Why else do you think He says that, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4) in that future Day when Christ returns? Why else would we need “plowshares” and “pruning hooks,” if there wasn’t going to be more work to be done?

Is your work sacred? It is, if you are working with all your heart, not as for men, but as for Christ our Lord.

 

 

 

Is reconciliation required?

BrokenFriendshipWhat do we do when a relationship is fractured by an offense? How do we find forgiveness and reconciliation?

And what do we do when we are faced with the problem of the unrepentant offender that will not or has not reconciled to us.

We might even question God, saying, “Do I have to forgive them? Am I required to reconcile to them when they are unrepentant and still actively offending me?”

First, these are two separate issues. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. Listen to the definitions of these two words (Paraphrased from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary):

Forgiveness – The state of having given up resentment or claim to requital from an offender. To have granted relief from payment or indebtedness by an offender.

Reconciliation – The act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement. To have restored a friendship or partnership, so that harmony is regained.

With these definitions in mind, we may understand that the Bible offers different, yet related, instructions for forgiveness and reconciliation. Let’s restate the two questions, offering brief answers followed by biblical support:

  1. Is forgiveness of others required? Answer: Yes, always.
  2. Is reconciliation with others required? Answer: The attempt is required. The outcome is not.

Forgiveness is always required. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he taught them to say, “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12). If we don’t forgive, how can we pray the way the Lord taught us? We can’t.

We are always to forgive because God has forgiven us. We forgive whether the offender asks for it or not. Forgiveness is drawn from the limitless supply given to us in Christ. As the apostle Paul told the Ephesians,

Ephesians 4:32 (ESV) Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Forgiveness is the grace that oils the grinding gears of our human relationships. It keeps us right with one another as Christ has made us right with God.

Reconciliation is to be attempted (Unless it is either unwise or impossible due to circumstance). The truth is, we can forgive someone without them even being in the same room. But it takes both parties sitting at the same table to reconcile. We should attempt to reconcile, but we cannot determine the response of the other party. The only outcome we can control is our own attempt at peace. As the apostle Paul told the Romans,

Romans 12:18 (NIV) If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

What does an attempt at reconciliation look like? We have the teaching of Jesus to help us with this. He gave very specific instructions, I’m sure knowing that we would need it often. The following Scripture passage is often used by church leaders to help an offending member be reconciled, but a careful reading reminds us that it is addressed first to the one who was personally offended.

Matthew 18:15-22 (ESV) 15“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” 21Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Here is a summary of the steps Jesus taught for finding reconciliation with one who has offended us:

  1. Go privately to the person and name the offense. If you are reconciled, then you have found harmony again. This offense is not to be named again. But if not..
  2. Go again with a witness.The witness should come from your common fellowship (church, family, friends, etc.), showing that the offense affects a larger body of people. Notice, that the Lord is still advising us to limit the number of people that know about this. We are not trying to punish the offender by exposing his sin. We are trying to help him repent and be restored to fellowship. But if he will not repent and be restored…
  3. Tell it to a common fellowship (“Church” is the translation of “ekklesia,” which could also be translated “assembly”). If this does not involve a church member, perhaps the gathered assembly might be your family or circle of common friends. In this case, you are letting the others in your common fellowship know that the offender refuses to reconcile.
  4. Break fellowship with the unrepentant offender. You are basically allowing them to have what they have chosen. They have been made aware that continued offense without repentance and reconciliation has led to this break of fellowship. Now they are to be released. Yet, we must be ready to welcome them back, if they desire to return and repent.

Notice that all of these meetings are to be in person (Not texting, emailing, phoning, etc.) Notice again, that in verses 21-22 that Jesus taught us to forgive as many times as needed, but He did not teach that we have to stay in relationship with an unrepentant offender. Forgiveness is our Christian duty. We must always forgive. But sometimes we have to forgive without being able to reconcile.

Christ’s death and resurrection are God’s means of forgiveness for all of humanity, yet not everyone is reconciled to God. Many remain separated from Him. I’m sure that this grieves the heart of God because for His part, He has done all, in Christ, to make things right between us.

We are to be like God in this. We are to do all that we can to reconcile, but sometimes the only way to find peace is to let the person go their own way. Yet always praying for them that the possibility for reconciliation may someday come.

(I’m aware that this is a brief response to a very complicated issue. There are often extenuating circumstances that I did not address in this article.)

 

The greatest gift exchange

0829-leisure“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NKJV).

Do you remember “leisure suits?”

My grandmother Combs used to buy a suit for all her grandsons every Christmas. She was a very smart shopper and would have most of her Christmas shopping finished for the following year’s holiday, by shopping the after-Christmas sales every year. She even kept a locked bedroom at her house that she called the “Christmas room,” because that’s where she kept next year’s presents, most of them already wrapped.

She carefully chose matching shirts, ties and socks to go with the suits and wrapped them separately, so that the ensemble was revealed in stages every Christmas. This progression was somewhat taxing for the grandsons because we were all anxious to open the gifts that might contain toys. Plus, she invariably insisted that we take a break and try the suits on, which always aroused sounds of young boy groanings and parental corrections.

Looking back, I understand why she wanted us to try them on. Buying suits for her growing grandsons required her to make an educated guess as to their annual growth rate. She made us try them on to see if she guessed right.

I invariably disappointed her. I was a late bloomer. I don’t think I grew much at all between the ages of 9 to 14. Every year, we had to exchange my suits because they were always too big. Then at age 15, I shot up eight inches in one year. I finally grew more than enough to wear my Christmas suit.

So, that was the year that she finally guessed right. It was also the year she decided to follow the new fashion trend of the ’70s. That year, she bought all the grandsons, polyester leisure suits (with matching wide ties and white belts of course).

And my leisure suit was yellow.

Because of her previous failings, she always included receipts, so I could exchange the suit. But there was no need for a gift exchange that year. Not only did the suit fit perfectly, but I was ready to do some “styling and profiling,” wearing that yellow suit with a fat tie, wide white belt, bell bottomed slacks and stacked heel shoes (Imagine the sound of BeeGees’ disco music playing in the background here).

It’s fun to remember Christmases gone by, with stories of yellow leisure suits and gifts we received from our parents and grandparents. But remembering those past Christmas times exchanging gifts that didn’t fit, reminds me that the greatest gift exchange of all has been offered by God through Christ.

Christ offers to exchange our…

  • …sins for His righteousness. The apostle Paul wrote, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ took our sin and offers His righteousness to us.
  • …separation for His Sonship. On the cross Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). In that moment, Christ experienced our separation from God the Father. He took this in exchange, offering His relationship as Son to us. As the gospel according to John said, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
  • …death for His eternal life. Our need for this exchange is explained by the apostle Paul in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This death that Jesus died in our place is further explained in Hebrews, “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). This is the great gift of God! That in His mercy, Christ died our death, so that we might receive His life!

This Christmas, may our focus be less on what gifts we need to exchange from under the tree, and more about the greatest gift exchange that is offered because of the Cross.

Have you received the greatest gift exchange?