Monthly Archives: June 2016

Class Reunion

It all began with a poem.

Lynda Frederick, who lives in New York, wrote it and posted it on her old high school’s Facebook page. The poem spoke of Lynda’s sad and tormented experiences being bullied by her classmates.

She also wanted everyone to know that life had gotten a whole lot better for her over the intervening 25 years.

Lynda wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

Her Facebook post was flooded with heartfelt apologies from her onetime bullies. They begged her for the chance to make the past right. And they did more than that. They also raised $800 in order to bring her to California for a class reunion.

Moved by the reach for reconciliation, Lynda was reflective. “We can’t fix yesterday,” she observed, “but we can try to fix today.”

While the past cannot be undone, it can be redressed.

Reconciliation begins with forgiveness – that sweetest and most profound of virtues.

In his model prayer, Jesus urges us to seek God’s forgiveness for our offences and in the same manner to extend forgiveness to those who have offended us. Jesus goes so far as to assert that God will not forgive us if we refuse to forgive others. [Matthew 6:15].

Neither Jacob nor his brother Esau could “fix” the many years of deceit, treachery and rivalry that had marred their relationship. What was done was done. But when they finally met again, “Esau ran to meet [Jacob], threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. And they both wept” [Genesis 33:4, NLT].

The tears of forgiveness melted away the frozen bitterness of wounded pride and lost opportunities.

His brothers feared his power to retaliate, but Joseph was overcome by a deep and compassionate forgiveness for them. He was led by a love that never died despite the long separation caused by their betrayal. Nothing in his fascinating and eventful life tells us more about Joseph’s abiding character than his willingness to forgive his brothers for what they did to him.

How could Jesus ever forgive that disciple who had pledged loyalty to the death and then in the crisis denied three times he even knew the Savior? There is hope for each of us in those moving and powerful words of the angel:

“But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7, NET, emphasis added).

Yes, even Peter – even you and even me.

Forgiveness is the sincerest form of love.

It’s often the costliest and most difficult. But an unforgiving spirit has no place in the believer’s life. It is flagrantly unhealthy. Holding a grudge is not only a sub-Christian attitude – it’s an emotional grind.

Over time, such poison in your system will weaken your spiritual constitution and make you vulnerable to other diseases of the soul such as vengeance, gossip and envy.

An unforgiving spirit is a moral and spiritual cancer. It may begin small and undetected, but it grows inexorably and spreads until it has consumed the heart with cynicism and malice. Only when unforgiveness is cut away by the scalpel of God’s grace and transplanted with genuine, Christ-centered forgiveness can new life breathe into the soul. Only then can love be rekindled, hope renewed and joy restored.

This is why Jesus ties forgiveness to the very heart of worship.

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

We must put first things first.

Jesus tells us that the first order of spiritual business for each of us is forgiveness and reconciliation. Even if we are already sitting in the church pew and about to drop our offering in the plate, if we recall the slight that hurt, we must stop and go and seek forgiveness.

Reconciliation precedes worship and authentic worship is conditioned upon forgiveness – and virtually impossible without it.

Paul tells the Ephesians to flush the bad attitudes and rotten behavior out of their lives. “Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” [Ephesians 4: 32, NLT].

For Lynda Frederick, it was a poem that led to forgiveness, reconciliation and a new lease on life she hadn’t expected.

Perhaps the past was gone and forever shrouded in regrets. But Lynda’s old classmates proved that seeking, offering and finding forgiveness can turn a class reunion into something far grander and more lasting than the petty cruelties of a high school hallway.

Forgiveness – what a beautiful thing.

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Brown Eyes Hiding in the Car

It was as perfect a day as you could hope for.

Early October. The foliage was nearing its vibrant peak.

This Saturday morning was unusually clear and crisp.

Maine is beautiful everywhere 24-7. But this day exceeded the exquisite norm.

I came inside and began stuffing my briefcase. The past week had been a blur and I hadn’t had time to prepare for two major public hearings coming up the following Tuesday at the Maine legislature.

As executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine I was not only the statewide group’s chief fundraiser and public spokesman – I was also its only registered lobbyist. I never spoke off the cuff but carefully prepared written testimony which I delivered to the legislative committees.

The press often covered these hearings, especially the controversial ones, and there were plenty of those during a legislative session.

I had to be fully prepared. I had to weigh every word. After all, this was for God.

I wished I could have stayed home on this beautiful Saturday. But duty – and of the most noble kind – called me to defend truth, justice and the American way against the liberal interests that in Maine were never far removed and always persuasive and well-organized.

When you’re in the minority you have to be constantly vigilant.

As I grabbed my loaded briefcase and headed for the door, my four-year old daughter Olivia came running up to me nearly out of breath.

“Daddy, Daddy! Will you go for a walk with me on the trails? The leaves are so pretty!”

Behind our house were several acres of wooded trails that wended their way to the fields near Colby College. On this fall day they would guide a traveler through breathtaking colors, by bubbling streams and scampering wildlife.

“I’m sorry sweetheart,” I gently explained, “Daddy can’t right now. I have to go to work. But when I get home, then we’ll go for a walk on the trails.”

I knew it would likely be dark before I got home. Olivia might be in bed.

Offering such disappointment is easier if the recipient is forty rather than four.

Livy sadly dropped her head and slowly walked away.

I was sad too but knew that someday she would be proud of her dad standing athwart against the world.

There’s a little story tucked away in the Bible in the first verses of the sixth chapter of II Kings.

It’s a cautionary tale.

A group of godly prophets band together to build a new house of worship for God. They are enthusiastic and dedicated. They invite the prophet Elisha to join them on the banks of the muddy Jordan River for the capital campaign.

Elisha agrees.

They work with a holy zeal, cutting down trees. One of the young men, especially ardent, wields his ax with focused determination. This was for God and nothing could be too good for the sovereign Creator.

With each swing of his ax, unbeknown to this worker, the ax head loosened. It was an imperceptible dislocation. Everything seemed fine.

Then suddenly, without warning, the ax head fell into the water.

The man was as alarmed as he was surprised. He had borrowed the ax, it wasn’t his and now what would he tell his neighbor?

The prophet walked up to the distraught laborer. “Where did it fall?” Elisha asked him (II Kings 6:6, NLT). When the man pointed to the place in the river, Elisha cut off a branch and threw it in the muddy water at the very spot where the ax head had fallen.

While the men looked on in amazement, the water quivered and there suddenly was the lost ax head, floating in the river.

When Elisha told the worker to take the ax head, the man obeyed, waded into the muddy current of the mighty Jordan and retrieved the most important part of the ax.

Never again would this godly man permit his zeal to cloud his careful observation.

When I finally made it out to the car and opened the door to get in, I was hit with a sight I’ll never forget. Trying to be as small as she could be, there was Olivia hiding on the floor behind the front seat.

Her big brown eyes were expectant through tears.

“Livy,” I asked, “what are you doing?”

“Daddy, I just want to be with you. I want to go with you. I’ll be good.”

I slowly helped her out of the car and delivered her to her mother in the driveway. I told her I loved her and we’d walk when I got back.

As I drove away, I noticed a lump in my throat.

I sat at the light wondering what had just happened, what it meant and what I was doing.

My ax head had dropped off into the swirling muddy waters of duty, schedules and pride.

I knew where it had fallen.

I turned the car around and headed home.

Years later Olivia told me she never forgot the day I came back and the walk we took on those beautiful trails.

“I love you Dad”.

And I never forgot those big brown eyes hiding in the car.

Dad, keep that ax head tightened.

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A Letter to Ruth

He detested typewriters.

He wrote all his personal correspondence – and it was extensive – with a pen. He believed the noise of a typewriter interfered with the flow of creative thought.

His brother later typed his letters, being the only one who could decipher the scrawled handwriting.

This particular letter on this day required thoughtful attention. It was the reply to a young girl named Ruth Broady. Ruth had written to say how much she enjoyed his books.

He smiled at the affirmation. He loved children as much as he hated typewriters. Taking pen carefully in hand, he wrote the date in the upper corner: 26 October, 1963.

“Many thanks for your kind letter, and it was very good of you to write and tell me that you like my books; and what a very good letter you write for your age!”

He paused for just a moment. Then he wrote:

“If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you, and I hope you may always do so.”

Then he paused again. This next part would be interesting:

“I’m so thankful that you realized the ‘hidden story’ in the Narnian books. It is odd, children nearly always do, grownups hardly ever”.

The Chronicles of Narnia, one of the greatest pieces of children’s literature ever written, was sometimes attacked by academics as racist. Others assailed it as sexist. Everyone had an opinion; everyone had an interpretation.

The scholars thought they knew. This work of allegorical fantasy was examined and analyzed from various perspectives and prejudicial mindsets in search of supposed underlying cultural themes.

In the end, CS Lewis knew that children would get it.

They would embrace it in its purity and creative beauty. They would accept it and enjoy it for the wonderful and imaginative story it is.

Children would cast no cynical judgment on the work nor offer any smug critiques. They would perceive “the hidden story” that “grownups hardly ever” recognized.

What Lewis appreciated about children is what Jesus also celebrated.

Jesus attached great importance to child-like faith.

When his disciples got into an argument about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven – a childish preoccupation typical of adults – Jesus stopped them and startled them.

“And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:2, KJV). Jesus didn’t want these arguing grownups to miss “the hidden story” and so he brought it center stage.

Jesus looked at the little boy and smiled. He caressed the lad’s tousled hair. And he held him tenderly in his arms.

Then Jesus looked at his disciples – the men who would be the first leaders of his church.

“Except ye be converted and become as little children,” he told them, “ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, KJV).

How often have men and women missed the profound simplicity of the Gospel because they’ve refused to believe it could be that uncomplicated? They’ve wanted to add to it, analyze it and work for it. Anything but simply accept it as God’s free gift.

That’s too easy. Nothing this important could be that simple.

People remain blinded by their sophistication and cynicism; by their success, their money and their power; by their intellect, the approval of their peers or political correctness.

Saddled by skepticism, they miss the “hidden story” of God’s great love. They fail to “become as little children” and so never enter the kingdom of heaven.

They miss it.

When the disciples scolded parents for bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed by him because they thought it was a distraction, Jesus brought them up short.

“When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples” (Mark 10:14, NLT). These men had a lot to learn about children and the Kingdom of God and this was another teachable moment.

“Let the children come to me,” Jesus told them. “Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children” (vs. 14, emphasis added).

Then Jesus said:

“I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it” (vs. 15, emphasis added).

Jesus gathered these little boys and girls lovingly into his arms; he hugged them and put his hands on their heads and blessed them.

Children are humble, transparent, trusting, affectionate and unaffected. Many lose these qualities as adults. When they do, the kingdom of God grows more distant.

The true Christian is one who has not lost the child’s heart.

Pray that you may always be child-like in your love and faith. Yes, there’s perhaps good cause for cynicism today but don’t let it overtake you.

“I’m afraid the Narnian series has come to an end,” Lewis wrote in closing his letter to Ruth Broady, “and am sorry to tell you that you can expect no more.

God bless you”.

It was one of his last letters.

Less than a month later, CS Lewis, who never lost his child’s heart and never stopped loving Jesus, walked through the Gates of Splendor.

He entered a heavenly kingdom more glorious, more beautiful, more colorful and more creative than even he could ever have imagined.

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