Luke 17:1-4 – A Person Is a Person, No Matter How Small

Horton Hears a Who

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So, watch yourselves.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (NIV)

“A person’s a person no matter how small” said Horton the elephant to all the people that were completely unconcerned for the residents of Whoville living on a clover. The people were uninterested because the Who’s were invisible to them. Dr. Seuss chose to make Horton an elephant, a large creature able to hear with big ears and be attentive to the small.

Largeness can only come through becoming small.

“Little ones,” people who no one sees or notices, matter to Jesus, and so they ought to matter to us, too. Invisible people need to become visible to us. They need to become visible to us because Jesus sees them – they are not invisible to him. Jesus often mingled with little people – children, women who had no rights, social misfits like lepers, the chronically ill, religious outsiders, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Our world is filled with similar people – angry adolescents, unwanted babies, forgotten old people, the mentally ill, moral failures, immigrants and refugees, and, if we have eyes to see and big ears to hear, lots of underprivileged people who reside on the dark underbelly of society. They are around us, even if they are invisible to us.

Jesus envisioned a community that sees, honors, and protects little people. Truth be told, we are all little people before God, and he notices us. And, so, we are to become humble enough to see the little people around us. The only way to become great in the kingdom of God is to descend, not ascend, into greatness. The chief enemy of any community is a desire to be prominent, to be the Big Cheese – it is called “pride” and it will separate us from God if we hold onto it.  Which is why we must do all we can to radically cut it out of our lives.

This is a big deal to Jesus. So, here’s the deal: We are not to welcome people because they are great, wise, rich, powerful, good-looking, and look like you and me – we are to welcome others because they are noticed by Jesus. Like Horton the elephant,

Christ the Lord hears the cry from the place of smallness and is determined to do something about it.

The proud person who seeks prominence is always looking for greener pastures and impressing others. The proud connect with people who will help advance them up the ladder of success. Through that process of advancement, the proud do not care who they step on along the way. The Christ follower, however, is to be different. Christians are to give small, insignificant people of society the time of day, treat them as important, and advocate for their needs.

It was the Apostle Peter, a guy who learned the hard way about paying attention to those different from himself, who quoted the Old Testament in saying, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:9) That is, basic love for another prevents them from committing the sins they would have if they were unloved. If we do not love, it would be better for us to be killed in a tragic millstone death. Jesus does not want people acting like leeches, just sucking the life out of others to get what they want.

So, what do we do about it? How shall we then live? A person’s a person no matter how small. We need humility. We need to lower our sights and our bodies to see little people. We cannot truly see a two-year-old toddler unless we lower ourselves to view them as equal and important.

The way to see another requires slowing down, observing, and stooping or sitting to look them in the eye and give them the dignity of attention they deserve.

The danger of reading a post like this is the thought that all this stuff is really for someone else. After all, I don’t want to hurt anyone or see anybody deprived, so maybe the experts and professionals ought to handle it all. Yet, the fact remains that we do no one any good when we neglect getting on the floor. When we assume blessing for ourselves without the intent of giving it to others, we have come under the judgment of Christ. Perhaps we fear forgiveness – either accepting an apology from another or offering one to someone we have wronged. Out of sight, out of mind, is the approach of the one who causes others to stumble and make them fall.

Christ’s admonition is to watch ourselves, to be vigilant of both overt and covert sins against the unseen and forgotten among us. The pyramid below concerning racism is just one example of many other forms of causing others to stumble and fall:

white supremacy pyramid

Even though I write this warning, dear friends, I am confident of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation, deliverance, and liberation for all persons. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped others and continue to help them. Continue to show this same diligence so that what you hope for may be fully realized; and, imitate those who through faith and patience are doing good work. May the Lord be with you.

For those deprived of their human needs and their human rights: Just God, may they may be given the dignity by others which you confer on all his people.

For all who are forgotten and unseen, especially the poor, the sick, and the aged: All-seeing God, may you move us to love them as the image of Christ.

For all who are lonely or afraid, for teenagers on the street, the elderly in nursing homes, prisoners with no one to visit them, and all whom the world has forgotten: Lord Christ, may you lead us to them.

For those who suffer mental illness or disorder: Attentive God, may we cherish the gifts you have given them, and in their lives hear the voice of your love.

For each human life: Creator God, may we value every person as you do. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

Ephesians 1:7-14 – God Is Good

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Ephesians 1:8, Contemporary English Version of the Bible

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” (Common English Bible)

Believe it or not, verses 3-14 of Ephesians chapter one, 12 verses in all, are one single sentence in the Greek language the Apostle Paul originally wrote this in.  Thankfully, and understandably, English translators have created multiple sentences for us so that we can better make sense of the text.  It’s almost as if Paul was so excited to talk with the Ephesian church about who they are in Jesus Christ and what they possess in him that he blurted out with enthusiasm and wrote with fervor without stopping to take a breath.

Paul heaps word after significant word on top of each other in a flurry of provided spiritual blessings the believer in Christ enjoys.  Redemption, forgiveness, insight, protection, inheritance, and salvation are just some of the blessings given.  If that wasn’t enough, God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the one who comes alongside and helps us to live into the blessings we possess because of the person and work of Christ.

redemption

It’s as if we came to Christmas day expecting a package of underwear and found instead a bunch of big boxes with some of the most lavish and expensive gifts we’ve ever seen!  This says much more about the giver than it says about us.  It was according to God’s good pleasure in Christ that believers in Jesus have such privileges.  Like the parent who sits back and watches the unpackaging of presents happen with great joy, so God delights and is pleased with what he has given to us.

First and foremost, in the entirety of Holy Scripture, all the stories and narratives, teachings and writings, are about God.  He is both the subject and object of each book of the Bible.  Every good thing we have in this life is because of God’s grace.  Each positive experience is a direct result of God’s steadfast love toward his people.  All good gifts come from a good God who is pleased to give them.

Not a one of us purchased our own gifts and stuck them under the tree.  God bought them all with the precious blood of Jesus and sent the Spirit to deliver them to us.

Take some time today in a quiet place and reflect on just one of these words in the text.  Think about redemption or forgiveness, salvation or grace, or any of the words which grab you.  Say it over and over, quietly and loudly, thoughtfully and with flavor.  Consider what God did to bring you that gift.  Contemplate the way(s) in which you have received the gift.  Plan one way in which you might share your gift with another person.  Then, give glory and praise to God for his grace to you.

May your meditation lead to a deeper appreciation of what God has done for you; and may that revelation result in praise, honor, and glory to the One who accomplished so much on your behalf.

Gracious God, you have revealed and made known the way of deliverance from the power of darkness and brought me into your marvelous light.  Help me to better understand all the ways you have acted on my behalf so that my life might reflect your grace and steadfast love to the world; through Jesus Christ, my Savior, in the enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Hebrews 9:23-28 – Once and for All

atonement modern

“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (New Revised Standard Version)

Once and for all.  Those are some of the most gruesome and beautiful words in the entirety of Holy Scripture.  The sacrifices of bulls and goats in the Old Testament had its place.  But those were mere shadows pointing to the reality of Messiah – the one whose sacrifice is so potent as to do away with sacrifice forever.

Christ’s cross was the once for all sacrifice that has settled the sin issue forever.

This is the heart of the New Testament’s good news.  Forgiveness of sins comes through the sheer grace of God in Christ.  Through faith, we have the privilege of entering the realm of new life.  In other words, Jesus has paved the way for eternal life, everlasting salvation, and complete remission of sins.

If it has not yet become self-apparent as to why Christ’s once for all sacrifice is such a game changer, then let’s take the cross from this angle: guilt is done away with, forever.  Do you think your life would change forever if you never had guilt hanging over your head?  What if all your past indiscretions; stupid life decisions; failures to speak or act; overt things done which you cannot take back; or, even the little things said or done in anger or hate; were all washed away, forever?

The precious blood of Jesus has nailed guilt to the cross once and for all.  There are three options of dealing with a guilty conscience when it happens.

1. Rationalize

First, you can rationalize it away, as if you have no responsibility or no culpability.  This is a one-way path to hardness of heart.  Whenever we sin in speech or in action, and don’t acknowledge it as our fault, then there is a little piece of us which hardens.  The next time it happens, it’s a bit easier to respond with callousness.  If you’ve ever encountered someone who seems utterly unfeeling to your situation, then there has likely been a pattern in that person’s life of keeping distance from pain.  It only leads to hardness of heart.

2. Punish

A second way of facing guilt is just the opposite of rationalization.  It is to punish and beat yourself for your faults and sins.  Heaping abuse on ourselves for our sins takes two different tracks with either: discouragement, defeat, and depression resulting in inaction; or, working like crazy to try and earn God’s favor with hyper-activity.  Both ways are a kind of self-imposed penance to try and atone for one’s sins or failures.

3. Confess

The third way is a biblical path to facing guilt.  When there is true guilt for things done or undone, said or unsaid, we must confess it, repent of it, and believe God has taken care of it.  Unlike dealing with guilt in unhealthy ways resulting in callousness, discouragement, and super-activity, the path of confession and repentance allows the person to have a clear conscience, resulting in freedom.  Christ’s once for all sacrifice is completely able to clear the conscience of the worshiper so that he/she may live into the grace and freedom of an enjoyable daily life.

Nothing needs to hang over the believer’s head because Jesus Christ, the pioneer of our salvation, has accomplished deliverance from and forgiveness of sin, once and for all.  He didn’t just put a nice-looking veneer over sin; he took care of it, thoroughly.  Jesus didn’t whitewash things so that we looked okay; the salvation he offers is permanent.

The cross which held Christ’s naked and tortured body exposed the true violence and injustice of sin.  The cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness and sin; and, a God of extreme sacrificial love and grace.

What this world, and you and me, need more than anything else is forgiveness – not a cheap sentimental forgiving, but a real forgiveness that is so costly that it lasts forever and ever.

Either to justify or to judge is God’s business.  Our business is to believe in the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus that brings permanent and lasting forgiveness; and, to share that life-giving message with others so that they, too, might experience deliverance from sin and its horrible effects.

“For he delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14, NIV)

May you know the freedom and joy today which comes from knowing Christ as Savior.

It’s Time to Forgive

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God is in the forgiveness business.  It’s a big deal to him.

If you and I want to be content in this life, we need to let Christ’s instruction to practice forgiveness sink down deep into our souls.  Jesus said it about as clear as anybody could say it when he taught us how to pray:

“Forgive us as we forgive everyone else.” (God’s Word Translation)

Yet, many people live with discontentment because they think to themselves: “I will not forget what you did, and I will not forgive.”  Persistent thoughts of revenge only serve as a cancer that destroys the mind’s thoughts, erodes the soul, and hinders the heart’s ability to love.  But people who practice forgiveness are much less likely to be hateful, hostile, and belligerent toward others.  They are healthier and happier, and more at peace.

I have had people tell me, “But you don’t know what I’ve been through.”  My typical response is: “You don’t know what I’ve been through, either.  You may not even believe some of the things I have experienced, and some of the things that have happened to me and were said to me.  So, can I tell you what I have done to forgive those who have sinned against me?”

1. When I am trying to forgive someone, I pray for them.

It’s hard to keep resenting someone and wish them ill-will when you are praying for them on a regular basis.  In the book of Genesis, Joseph was the victim of his brothers’ abuse.  If there was ever a dysfunctional family to grow up in, it was Joseph’s.  Being sold into slavery by your own brothers and being the target of their derision would cause anyone to be upset.  But, many years later, Joseph chose to forgive his brothers.  He acted with their best interests at mind.  He prayed for them and did not actively work against them.  What’s more, he eventually came to see the hand of God in it all.  Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

2. I write a letter of forgiveness (which I may or may not send).

In the letter I write in full detail how the person hurt me.  I leave nothing out.  I express exactly how it made me feel, and how it affected my life.  Then, I express forgiveness and say that I will not hold the offense over their head.  Here is a five-step process for forgiving others using the acrostic REACH which helps shape how I write:

Recall 

That is, name the hurt.  Name it squarely.  Don’t fudge on it by saying it’s not that bad, or as bad as others have experienced.  Call it what it is: deceit; stealing; harassment; assault; abuse; adultery; verbal shaming; or even, murder.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after apartheid was based on providing full disclosure of all crimes.  Those that stepped forward to do so would be offered a full pardon.  Desmond Tutu, who led the commission, was most struck by how many people wanted to hear what had happened to their loved ones from the perpetrators themselves so that they could know whom to forgive.  Methinks we have much learn from our African brothers and sisters.

Empathize

Try and see the offense from the other person’s perspective.  Attempt to put yourself in the other’s shoes.  This does not mean we paper over the offense; it just means we don’t demonize another as a monster.  That only feeds and fuels our own lack of forgiveness.  When we view others as non-human, then we feel no responsibility to forgive.

Altruistic

Choose to do the right thing and treat the other person well, not because they deserve it, but because it is within your control to extend grace.  Again, this is what Joseph chose to do with his brothers: “So then, don’t be afraid.  I will provide for you and your children.”  And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:21).

Commit

Commit to practice forgiveness.  Make the decision to do it.  Don’t wait too long for your feelings to catch up to you.  “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

Hold

Hold-on to your forgiveness.  Just because you make the decision to forgive does not mean you’ll never have to do it again.  Once you have forgiven, let it be a stake in the ground in which you look back to it again and again.  “I forgave him/her, and I will not let the enemy of my soul keep trying to make me bitter about it all over again.”  One of the reasons we repeat the Lord’s Prayer Sunday after Sunday in my church is to keep forgiving those who have sinned against us.

3. I talk to a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor about my effort to forgive.

Many people get stuck in discontentment.  They have an inability to forgive because they don’t seek a wise person to help them walk through the process of forgiving.  The easy path is to complain about the offense to someone we know will react with the same level of disgust and spirit of revenge that we ourselves have in our hearts.  But that only reinforces bitterness.  We need someone who can offer us what we need to hear, and not what we want to hear.

Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel, and, so, ought to be at the core of a healthy Christian life.  The Christian season of Lent is designed for repentance, grace, and forgiveness to shape our lives.  There is no better time than now to deliberately engage forgiveness.