Lent Reflection: The Gift of Forgiveness

forgiveness

If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven- if there was anything to forgive- I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
-2 Corinthians 2:10-11

As a Pastor, working in the church is difficult and sometimes ugly (can I get an Amen?). As church leaders, we get to experience some ugly situations that come about because of our brokenness and sin. While we like to think we have it all together in the church (with our plastic smiles as we shake hands before worship), I realize that each of our communities is a potential powder keg ready to explode if our brokenness goes unchecked. It is the same outside of the walls of the church where our relationships at home, at work, and in our schools feel the effect of sin everyday.

Paul, in 2 Corinthians, is writing to the church at Corinth who has had to use church discipline on an individual(s). We’re not told what they did or why they did it. But what is clear is that person(s) has repented of whatever it is that caused grief within the community. Paul encourages the church to forgive and comfort those who repent- and to reaffirm their love for him (v.8). As the church forgives, Paul as their spiritual father, also forgives and extends the repentant grace and mercy.

Forgiveness is a choice that each of us has the ability to make when someone wrongs us. There are instances where we are able to forgive quickly, wanting to mend relationships that are meaningful to us. There are other times when a person hurts us so badly, that it is only by the grace of God that we are able to forgive. Forgiveness is a powerful tool that we possess as Christians. It is not a weak “It’s cool, everything is ok.” Forgiveness calls us, and the wrongdoer, to name the sin/wrong done to us. It acknowledges that a relationship has been broken, that someone has been hurt, and that repentance is required. Forgiveness also gives us the opportunity to extend mercy and grace to someone who may not believe they worthy of it. The truth is, none of us are worthy of grace and mercy- but through Jesus.

This week is Holy Week- as we journey from the cheers of Palm Sunday, to the Cross of Good Friday, and finish with the celebration of Resurrection. Many of our churches will remember Jesus’ last night with his disciples tonight. I’m always struck by the grace and mercy that Jesus extends Judas in John 13. In John’s account he tells us that Jesus was aware of what Judas had done and still washed his feet. In Mark’s account of the last supper with his disciples, it is Judas who sits next to Jesus in the place of honor. Mercy and grace to the very person who was in process of betraying Jesus.

As we draw closer to the cross, where Jesus was broken and poured out for us- God’s love, mercy, and grace for us- sinners; who do we need to forgive? Who do we need to ask forgiveness of? Let us not give Satan a foothold because of our anger, bitterness, or unforgiveness- instead let us use the gift of forgiveness as a vehicle to reveal the love, grace, and mercy that God has for us and for the world. Amen.

Steve LaMotte (@steve_lamotte) is Pastor of Hope United Methodist Church in Dover, Delaware. He has been a speaker, teacher, worship leader, and dean at Delanco Camp. For Lent, he has chosen to abstain from watching The Bachelor and The Jersey Shore. Image credit: Matt Gruber, via CreationSwap.

Lent Reflection: Choosing to abstain

television

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

In this passage from 1 Corinthians 8, Paul is writing to believers in Corinth about food sacrificed to idols- and whether or not one should eat meat that has been part of a pagan ritual and later purchased in the marketplace. Paul states that, “an idol is nothing at all in the world,” because there is only “one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” (1 Cor. 8:6) Eating meat that has been sacrificed to a pagan deity is not an issue because that god is a false god. Paul does, however, give believers caution- and that is in regards to those who are weaker and that the consumption of this meat would lead them to stumble in their faith. For the believers in Corinth, Paul encourages moderation and wisdom in their practices. He writes in verse 13, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.”

I suspect that most of us don’t worry about meat that has been sacrificed in worship of a pagan deity. But what about those other areas or practices in our lives that are not explicitly sinful? If a weaker/less mature Christian or a non-Christian listened to the music on our iPod, saw some of the movies or TV shows that we watch, saw us smoking or drinking alcohol, wearing revealing clothing, participating in games that could be understood as gambling, saw our premarital physical relationships- could those things, though not necessarily sinful, cause someone else to stumble in their faith? This is the issue at stake in 1 Corinthians.

What Paul advocates is not strict legalism, but a check of our motivations.

Out of love and respect for those who Paul would call weaker (less mature) Christians- do we check our motivations for the freedoms we enjoy- and consider how they appear to others? What is my motivation for listening to a particular secular artist who may use foul or suggestive language? What is my motivation for the attire I choose to wear-To draw attention to myself or give God glory? Why do I feel the need to watch raunchy television shows- how would a new Christians perceive it?

Lent is a season of self-examination. During these 40 days, we fast from certain things and intentionally seek to spend time with God. Paul calls us to examine the freedoms we enjoy and our motivations behind our actions. Is it possible that there are times we should choose to abstain, not out of legalism, but because we love those around us and don’t want to be a stumbling block for their faith? As we move forward in our Christian walk, let us choose to put the cares, concerns, and challenges of those who are new in their faith and still seeking as an extension of our love of our Beautiful Savior.

Steve LaMotte (@steve_lamotte) is Pastor of Hope United Methodist Church in Dover, Delaware. He has been a speaker, teacher, worship leader, and dean at Delanco Camp. For Lent, he has chosen to abstain from watching The Bachelor and The Jersey Shore. Image credit: Corey Grunewald, via CreationSwap

Waiting and Anticipating

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Waiting is never easy. Waiting for Christmas is tortuous as a kid. My sister and I would agonize over our advent countdown and would take every opportunity to snoop through the house to see if we could find our gifts. We never did, until one year.

One Christmas morning- when my sister and I were about eight or nine years old, my sister just wasn’t very excited about her gifts. She opened them, smiled, and said thank-you to mom and dad. There was no paper throwing. No shrieks of joy. What we found out later was that my sister had found our parent’s super secret hiding place a week before Christmas and had opened all her gifts ahead of time before carefully re-wrapping each one so mom and dad wouldn’t find out. My sister’s impatience with Christmas backfired and sapped the joy out of Christmas morning.

Waiting is never easy.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of Ten Virgins. Some were wise and had plenty of oil for their lamps and would be prepared when the bridegroom came to pick them up. The others were foolish and did not have enough oil. The foolish virgins went out to buy more oil and, consequently, missed the arrival of the bridegroom and were shut out of the wedding banquet. Jesus says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour (Matthew 25:13).”

Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation. We anticipate the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and, we wait for and anticipate when Christ will return. Let’s be honest, people have been waiting for the return of Jesus for nearly 2000 years. Waiting is tough! But we have promises from God that Jesus will return- and when he does that creation will be redeemed and restored. Salvation will be fully realized.

Who are we in the parable? Are we the foolish virgins who were not prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom- therefore missing the wedding banquet? Or are we more like the wise virgins who were prepared and waiting for the bridegroom and welcomed into the wedding banquet?

This Advent and Christmas season, we must consider how we are waiting and anticipating the coming of Christ. Are we living a life that makes the most of our waiting? Will we be ready when Jesus returns? Are we telling others so that they, too, can be ready when Jesus the Bridegroom comes to take his bride, the Church, to the Heavenly banquet?

In Revelation 22:20- Jesus says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

“Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”

Today’s ReadingsPsalm 50, 59, 60, 33, Zech 4:1-14, Rev 4:9-5:5, Matt 25:1-13

Steve LaMotte is the pastor of Hope UMC in Dover, Del., and has served as a dean, speaker and several other capacities at camp. He blogs at stevelamotte.blogspot.com