Heaven’s Gentle Rain

You don’t have because you don’t ask God. James 4:2

All you need to do in order to start God speaking is fix your attention on Him first thing in the morning. Look up at the ceiling and say: Lord, speak. I’m listening. If your own noisy, feverish ideas have subsided enough, there often begins to flow a gentle rain of ideas fresh with the clean flavor of heaven. – Frank Laubach

When I read the above quote by Mr. Laubach, I decided to ask God to do that for me. I wanted to join God in what he was doing in the world. I asked him to give me eyes to see his activity. I asked him to allow me to join him in his work.

I’ll have you know that is a dangerous prayer. Don’t pray that prayer unless you are willing to do it. Because then, I feel, you are responsible for the opportunities that God puts in front of you to join him in his work.

When I got up in the morning, I said, “God, help me. Help me be present to what you are doing today.”

The very day I started praying that prayer, God might has well have put a pulsing neon sign over a guy saying, “Here you go, big fella.”

It happened as I was in the Oakland airport flying home to Seattle. As I was getting ready to board a Southwest Airline flight, I noticed a young man with white bell bottom pants and a dark blue wool Pea Coat on. He obviously was in the Navy. He had a cell phone to his ear and had his head pulled down into his coat like a turtle trying to pull its head into its shell. His face was contorted, his knuckles were white as he gripped the phone. He was crying; in fact, sobbing into the phone.

I normally try to send out signals to everyone on a plane that I do NOT want to be approached on a flight. I put my headphones on and shoot the stink eye at everyone. Sometimes I get a Bible out and set on the seat beside me. Leave me alone! I had full intentions of doing that on this flight as well, but God said do different. God said, “Joe, be present for this guy.”

As I boarded the plane I said to Lord, “Jesus, I am tired and more grumpy than usual. I am not a good candidate to help this guy, but if you want me to do something, then when I get on board let there be an open seat next to him. I felt comfortable with this plea. The sailor was in group A and I was in group Z. Southwest does open seating, so chances are the seat next to him would be taken.

I started down the aisle and there he was and guess what…there was not one, but two open seats next to the sailorman.

Dang it!

I sat down beside him. When we got air born, I started a conversation with him. Said he was about to be deployed on the USS Abraham Lincoln for 3-4 months and he was leaving his new bride. As he told me this his eyes began to brim with tears. We talked some more about his home town, his hobbies, his favorite football team—and the entire time I was whispering to the Holy Spirit how I was supposed to spiritually help this guy.

As we approached our descent into SeaTac airport, he seemed to be getting more apprehensive and told him he was going to be okay. Then we landed and deplaned and I walked with him down the concourse with his duffle bag over his shoulder. Just at the escalators to go down to baggage, I stopped him and said, “Nick, would you mind if I prayed for you?”

He allowed that it was Okay. I said, “How about right here and now.” He sheepishly nodded. I laid my hand on his shoulder and prayed a prayer that only he and Jesus could hear as people walked by us like water flowing around a boulder in a river.
When he looked up, he had tears running down his face and said, “Thank you, Joe. God must have put you on that plane just for me. I will never forget this.”

I lived in Seattle at that time where it rains as a matter of course, but that night as I crawled in bed, I knew something of a different king of rain; a gentle rain of ideas fresh with the clean flavor of heaven.

And I prayed, “God, I did what you asked. I joined you in the work you were doing today.”

Then I spoke Nick’s name one more time to the Father and fell asleep.

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Surprising Prayer

While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him. Acts 12:5

I wonder if you really believe that you have the ear of the God of the universe when you talk to him. Does God listen to you?

There is a crazy story about the apostle Peter in Acts 12 where Peter is in prison and the fledgling church is praying for his release. God sends an angel to facilitate the prison break and Peter is set free, avoiding almost certain execution.

After leaving the prison, Peter looks this way and that way and then runs to the house of Mary where he knows the Christian community has gathered and are praying for his miraculous release. When he gets to Mary’s house, he bangs for dear life on the door. A maid named Rhoda answers the door and when she figures out that it is Peter, she’s so overjoyed that she leaves him outside in the cold and runs to tell the people in the prayer meeting that Peter is outside.

After hearing her breathless announcement about Peter, what do they do? They shshsh her and say, “You are crazy!”

The knocking is persistent and getting louder from the big fishermen, and they say out loud, “It must be Peter’s angel.” In other words, they thought he had already been executed and this was his ghost coming to pay them a visit.

The pounding on the door makes them think that the ghost is having trouble with the latch, so they come to the door and find Peter standing there in the flesh. He comes in, quiets everyone down, tells his story, and then he makes himself scarce before the sun comes up.

Think about the absurdity of this scene. Peter doesn’t believe what God is doing until he finds himself standing on a strange road. He shows up at the house where people have been praying for him and they think at best it is Peter’s ghost and are shocked to see that is really Peter himself.

Not a lot of high-caliber faith going on here, is there?

But this story vividly shows us God responds to fervent prayer, even if that fervent prayer is only half-hearted…because they are all shocked when the prayer is dramatically answered.

Half-hearted fervent prayer will move the hand of God. Why? Because most of the time that is all He has to work with.

The story begs the question of whether or not we really believe we have the ear of the God who rules everything. The Peter story dares us to believe that there is nothing that almighty God cannot do. And that he listens to people who pray to him in Jesus name and for Jesus sake about things that he cares about.

This doesn’t mean that God is a cosmic genie in a bottle. This doesn’t mean that God exists to simply give you all of the things that you would like to have. God shows us here that when we pray to him, in Jesus name and for Jesus sake, God hears, God answers, God acts.

So, I want to invite you to take the temperature of your own life. Do you pray as if God could or would actually do anything?

Four years ago, I learned that a little church in the mountains of Colorado was looking for a pastor. I looked into it and learned all I could about that little church. I flew out here and took a tour of the facility. After that tour and meeting with the Search Committee, Lynette and I were driving down to Poncha Springs where we were staying with my Dad and I remember praying, “I sure would love to pastor that Church, God.”

The next day they unanimously voted to have me be their pastor. And I couldn’t believe it!  I was shocked. I prayed a fervent half-hearted prayer—and God said, “Yes”!

Do you approach God as if you have the ear of the God of the universe? That’s the question this story of this divine escape asks us.

The psalmist reminds us, The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. (Psalm 34:15)

God is listening to you. Never forget that.

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The Divine Echo

“You are an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.” – Dallas Willard

In the summer of 2013 I hiked the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail. It was 440 miles through the Cascade Mountains of central Oregon. I met a lot of very interesting people. People from many foreign countries like Switzerland, Finland, Australia, Ireland, and Texas.

One young lady named Megan was hiking with her dog, Zoe. She had long brown hair with strands of gray streaking through her braids. I came upon her sitting in the shade one afternoon trying to cool down in 93-degree heat reading a Steinbeck novel. We chatted about Mr. Steinbeck for a while and then I moved on.

Two hours later I was taking a break in the shade of a tree and I heard singing from up the trail. Not particularly good singing but singing—the kind of singing you do when you have ear buds in and don’t think anyone is within earshot. Not something you hear very often in the wilderness. It was Megan and Zoe hiking at a good clip down the trail towards me singing along with Alanis Morsette. She blushed, waved, and kept walking.

We kept meeting on the trail and having clips of conversations about life on the trail for about 60 miles. One time a few of us were stopped at stream and she mentioned that her father had dropped her off at the trailhead in northern California. I asked her a typical patriarchal question, “What does your father think of you hiking the trail all by yourself?” She shot me a defiant look and asked, “What does your father think of you hiking the trail all by yourself?” I felt I might have offended her, so I said, “He’d be jealous.”

She said, “Yeah, my dad is jealous too.”

Another time I asked this hippy, bohemian, Californian girl what she did away from the trail. She said she was a “Sustainable Transportation Planner and Program Developer for a small college in Monterrey, California.”

I asked her to repeat what she just said.

“I’m a Sustainable Transportation Planner and Program Developer for a small college” —spoken a little slower as if I couldn’t keep up.

I smiled and said that is so cool. I asked her to tell me about her work.

She said, “I advocate a vision of a transportation system that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, moves the most people in the least space with the least energy, and promotes public health through exercise. I promote strategies for transit service, transit capital improvements, transportation demand management, automobile parking, pedestrian connectivity and safety, bicycle connectivity and safety, and wayfinding.”

“Oh,” I said.

I learned more about the environment than Al Gore sitting on that log beside that stream. I kept affirming her work of stewarding the environment, and the more I affirmed her the more she talked.

Finally, she sighed and said, “I want this earth to be alive and well long after I’m gone and I’ve dedicated my life to make that happen.”

“How long do you think that this earth is going to last?” I asked.

“Not very long if we don’t do our part,” she said.

“I couldn’t agree with you more, Megan. I think the law of entropy is clearly at work. As you know it states that anything left to itself will become more disorganized and more random. Like my garage. If I don’t clean it out and put everything away, after a while it becomes cluttered and disorganized. The universe acts in the same way.

The earth is not sustainable because the Universe is not sustainable. But we want it to be. I certainly want to be. But the best minds this world has ever produced have said it will one day end. Our sun will one day go super nova and burn out. It will all one day end. I believe in doing everything we can to care for it, but ultimately it is fading away. There is an old Jewish proverb that says, “The grass withers, the flower fades and surely the people are grass.”

She stared at me and then said, “So, are you saying that I should not be trying to save the planet?”

“No! Keep doing it! We need you to do your best to sustain this good earth. I’m just saying that ultimately it is winding down. But you aren’t. You will live forever.”

“What do you mean?” she asked

Mount Jefferson

“Just as thirst proves that there is water and hunger proves that there is food, your passion for a sustainable earth proves that you have eternity in your heart. You long for significance, you long for sustainability. It is in your DNA, in fact it is deeper than that, Megan. You have sustainability in your soul. Taste the huckleberries at your feet, look at Mount Jefferson, and listen to that woodpecker rapping away on that tree…you are similar and yet you are very different. Another old proverb says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity in their hearts.”

She blinked and asked, “Who are you, really?”

I smiled and said, “I’m a Soul Sustainability Transportation Consultant and Program Developer for a small group of Christ-followers in Seattle, Washington.”

She blinked at me.

“I’m just messing with you, Megan, I’m a pastor. I hope you will continue to do your good work and listen to what your soul is trying to tell your head.”

“Okay,” she said. “Do you have any extra coffee?”

That was her signal that she was ready to change the topic. We said our goodbyes and I never saw her again.

Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” 

So, I listen to that divine echo of eternity in my soul, believe, and rest.

And pray for Megan.

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Waiting for Christmas

From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him. Isaiah 64:4

I hate waiting.

I am the sort of person that when I stand in a grocery store, I mark my place of where I am visually so that I can time whether I picked the fastest cashier to check out with or not. I suspect you probably don’t enjoy waiting either. We live in a cultural moment that is allergic to waiting.

However, one of the most deepening soul-exercises I’ve learned over the years is the discipline of waiting. And the season of Advent is about waiting. Waiting for the transcendent God of the universe to enter time and space and put things to rights. As Tolkien has said, “To make everything sad come untrue.”

If you’re a follower of Jesus, you are someone who lives as an advent person in an instant-everything-world. And waiting teaches us to hope in God even in the moments when the world seems uncertain and we don’t have a whole lot of confidence in ourselves.

Almost twenty years ago my wife and I were rebuilding our marriage. It was summertime and I had sent her and our three young boys to spend four weeks here in Colorado with her parents and family. I stayed in the Seattle area to work.

We made plans to meet in Idaho, just outside of Yellowstone, and I would take them back to the Northwest. We had turned the corner in our relationship towards healing and the anticipation of seeing each other was beyond words.

As I drove through the winding roads of the mountains of Idaho towards the campground, my heart began to beat faster, and my foot got heavier on the gas pedal. A song came on the radio that reminded me of my love for her and I had to pull over to the side of the road because I couldn’t see through the tears in my eyes.

Eventually, I saw the motorhome that held my family and I pulled into their rented space in the KOA campground. I got out of the car and knocked on the door. Someone looked out the window and yelled, “It’s dad!” I opened the outside door and could hear my young boys squealing with excitement.

Then Lynette appeared in the door opening. The only thing separating me from the bride of my youth was a screen door, but it was locked. Lynette struggled to unlock it…her passion to get to me was so intense I thought one of two things were about to happen:

One, she was going to start cussing.

Second, she was going to rip that screen door off its hinges.

Finally, the screen door released and out she came, threw her arms around my neck, kissed my face, bawled so much that she smeared snot all over my shirt.

What does waiting do to you? It increases the intensity of desire for the one you are waiting for. It enlarges our hearts. It deepens our capacity to love. It widens our souls and what our souls were designed for: Love for God and love for one another. Waiting on Jesus to come close does the same to our souls. It opens up caverns of space in our soul for the good Lord to come and abide inside us.

Perhaps it would be good during this season of Christmas music, tinsel, and peanut brittle for you to do business with the reality that perhaps the deep longings of your life that you are waiting for might ultimately be met in Jesus of Nazareth.

My grandfather used to say to me when I would work with him, “Boy, don’t just sit there, do something.” But I’ve learned over the years that more often than not I need to slow down and attend to God. I need to examine my motives and my heart. I need to sit with my deep longings and laments.

There is a stanza in Mary Oliver’s poem Such Silence that says,

I sat on the bench, waiting for something.
An angel, perhaps.
Or dancers with the legs of goats.
No, I didn’t see either. But only, I think, because
I didn’t stay long enough.

This Christmas don’t be content to race from event to event. Don’t be content to live with all the distraction and the noise and the glitter. Slow down, quiet down and expand your capacity to experience Jesus in the deep places in your soul. Don’t just do something, sit there.

If you sit long enough, you might be surprised at who shows up.

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Homeless Jesus

Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. – Jesus

A new religious statue in the town of Davidson, N.C., is unlike anything you might see in church.

The statue depicts Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench. St. Alban’s Episcopal Church installed the homeless Jesus statue on its property in the middle of an upscale neighborhood filled with well-kept townhomes.

Jesus is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away.

The reaction was immediate. Some loved it; some didn’t.

“One woman from the neighborhood actually called police the first time she drove by,” says David Boraks, editor of DavidsonNews.net. “She thought it was an actual homeless person.”

That’s right. Somebody called the cops on Jesus.

“Another neighbor, who lives a couple of doors down from the church, wrote us a letter to the editor saying it creeps him out,” Boraks added.

Some neighbors feel that it’s an insulting depiction of the son of God, and that what appears to be a hobo curled up on a bench demeans the neighborhood.

It’s hard for us to recognize Jesus when Jesus shows up dressed as the poor or migrant workers from Honduras trying to seek asylum in this country.

Scripture insists that experiencing God’s transforming grace in your life will lead to expressing God’s compassion in radical ways with everything that you have and everything that you are.

Why is that so?

Because of the essence of the Christian story. You see the very center of the Christian story, is the story of God becoming poor for us. Jesus himself would become hungry, thirsty, naked, and poor on a Roman cross for you, me, and the whole world.

The gospel tells us that you and I, in all the ways that matter— spiritually and morally—are desperately impoverished and yet at infinite cost to himself, God gives us grace. God extends us compassion when we could not hope to deserve it.

When that good news gets into the depth of who you are; when you are appropriately scandalized by the gospel of God’s grace, you will become the kind of person that naturally lives to extend compassion to everyone that you are around.

Jesus says do you want to grow as my follower? Here is how you do it: get close to someone in need. When you are around the least of these, whenever you get near somebody who needs friendship, welcome, compassion, and help— whenever you make the choice to be generous—Jesus says you are on Holy Ground.

Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy tells a fascinating story called Where Love, God Is. It is the story of a cobbler named Martin. Martin is someone who experienced deep tragedy. That tragedy grows him hard and cynical. He begins to be quite depressed. He drinks vodka like its water. But one day he happens upon a Bible and begins to read the Gospels. His life is turned upside down. Peace and joy flood his life.

One evening after Martin had finished his days’ work, he sits by the fire in the living room with his glasses drooping on his nose reading a place in the gospels when he falls asleep. And he has a vision in which Jesus comes to him in a dream and he says, “Martin, tomorrow look for me in the street for I will come and visit you there.”

The next morning Martin wakes up excited that today he is going to meet Jesus Christ himself. He stationed himself by the window in his house early in the morning. Down the street comes an old man from his town named Stepanich who has shoes that are worn full of holes. He can’t pay to have his shoes repaired. And so, Martin simply invites him in from the cold. He repairs his shoes for him. He spends some time with an old man who’s who lives much of his life quite lonely. Then he sends him on his way.

Later in the morning, he spots a woman who has a baby and she’s poorly dressed for the winter wind. So he invites her into his home. He gives her some of the cabbage soup that he had been making for his lunch. He gives her his cloak to wrap the baby in and then eventually he sends her on her way on her way.

And then in the afternoon as he is again sitting by his window, he spots an old woman who’s selling apple’s out of a cart when a teenager sneaks up on her and steals an apple and tries to run off. But the old woman being spry, grabs a tuft of the boy’s hair and she’s screaming at him and threatening to call the police. So, Martin runs out of his home. He separates the woman from the boy. He calms the woman down. He pays her for her apple. He gives that apple to the boy. He makes the boy apologize to the old woman and he gets them to befriend one another.

He goes back into his home and makes himself dinner. Then as he’s sitting by the fire, he remembers his dream and wonders where Jesus was and why Jesus did not come to visit him as he promised.

After supper he decides to read the Bible again. Here is how Tolstoy tells the story:

He intended to open the book at the very place where he had yesterday put a piece of leather as a mark, but it happened to open at another place; and the moment Martin opened the Testament, he recollected his last night’s dream. And as soon as he remembered it, it seemed as though he heard someone stepping about behind him. Martin looked around, and saw—there, in the dark corner, it seemed as though people were standing: he was at a loss to know who they were. And a voice whispered in his ear, “Martin—ah, Martin! Did you not recognize me?”

“Who?” uttered Martin.

“Me,” replied the voice. “It is I,” and Stepanich stepped forth from the dark corner; he smiled, and like a little cloud faded away, and soon vanished.

“And this is I,” said the voice. From the dark corner stepped forth the woman with her child: the woman smiled, the child laughed, and they also vanished.

“And this is I,” continued the voice; both the old woman and the boy with the apple stepped forward; both smiled and vanished.

Martin’s soul rejoiced: he crossed himself, put on his eyeglasses, and began to read the Gospel where it happened to open. On the upper part of the page he read:

“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.”

And on the lower part of the page he read this:

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25).

And Martin understood that his dream did not deceive him; that the Savior really called upon him that day, and that he really received Him.

Friends, this is the good news. Jesus has become the least of these for us. May we welcome him deeply into our lives. You will meet him in your life this week dressed as the least of these.

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Shameless Hospitality

I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. Luke 11:8

This story arises from a world in which hospitality was a serious thing. A guest could arrive at someone’s house no matter the time of day or night and expect to receive at least one unbroken loaf of bread when they arrive. Regardless of if they arrived unannounced. Regardless of what hour of the night they arrived.

Women in families often baked bread together in common courtyards. And so, in a small town everyone would know who had a spare loaf of bread at the end of the day.

Jesus is picturing a moment in which someone arrives at your doorstep and you’re out of bread for the day. So, you go to a friend’s house, who you know has a leftover loaf or two, and then bang on the door until they turn the light on and come and see what you want.

The word “persistence” in Luke 11:8 in the NRSV and “boldness” in the NIV in Greek can be translated “Shamelessness.”

Jesus is saying if we’re decent enough to help a neighbor banging on the door in the middle of the night, standing on our front porch in their pajamas, how much more will the God who is your true Friend answer you when come to Him and trust and in faith.

So, Jesus says be shameless in your prayers.

I want to invite you to take Jesus up on his invitation here.

As your pastor of three and a half years now, I want to invite you to join me in praying shameless and large prayers to our faithful Friend. You know everyone wants their church to grow. Everyone.

A pastor who says he is satisfied preaching to empty pews, lies about other things.

But I am not going to lead you into a marketing campaign to grow our church. We will not try to attract more people through slick programs or even shorter sermons. But here is what I am calling you to join me in doing: Would you pray that God expands our ministry here at Mountain Heights Baptist Church in whatever way He chooses to bring our way?

Demographically, we are a mature congregation. I don’t apologize for that to anyone. We are uniquely positioned at our stage of life to be a place of restoration and hope to those prodigals who are wandering and wondering. There will come a day when they will ponder where they can go when they are in their pigpen—may they think of us.

There are ministry leaders from around the state and country that need a place to come and be restored back to life. Why can’t they come here to beautiful Buena Vista and spend time with a seasoned pastor like me and sweet people like you and be loved back to life; refreshed to go back to their ministry and impact the kingdom of God for the next generation?

Christian leaders are in trouble. And when the leaders are in trouble the Church is in trouble. Our culture, both inside and outside the church is grinding down Christian leaders.

According to Thabiti Anyabwile one of the pastors of Anacostia River Church in Southeast DC, in an article he wrote for the website 9Marks back in 2014:

50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.

1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.

4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.

Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.

Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.

What if part of our calling here at Mountain Heights Baptist Church were to partner with Lynette and I to offer Soul Care and Restoration to Christian leaders and their families early and often?

In the early 90’s on a large game preserve in South Africa, the rangers began to notice that white rhinoceroses were being killed by much larger animals. Turns out the killers were adolescent bull elephants. These elephants had been orphaned and were left on the reserve to fend for themselves. In the wild, the males herd together and the older and much larger bulls keep the younger bulls in check. Without the older bulls to model adult elephant behavior and the gravitas to challenge the younger bulls—they were doing great damage.

I believe that many younger pastors need an older pastor—a seasoned pastor, a tough old pastor, a scarred old bull—to come alongside them and “be” with them. Lynette and have felt this calling for quite some time and we are wondering if God might be extending that call to our local church to partner with us in ministering to ministers.

We may not have very many children running around our facility on Sundays, but if this church could take up the call to rescue and restore ministry leaders from around the state and country as one of the major themes of our ministry, think of the scores of children that may be won for the sake of the Kingdom.

Would you join us in voicing a bold, persistent, and shameless prayer about Soul Care for Ministry Leaders that might be a part of our calling here at Mountain Heights Baptist Church?

Christian leaders are at risk, but we are not a people without hope. We have the time-tested disciplines of the Church that are simply waiting to be re-introduced into a modern age. I sense that the younger generations of pastors are very eager to learn from older leaders who value their souls, whether they know it now or not. We have the presence of the Holy Spirit, we have the energized dynamic of resurrection power, and we have wounded healers limping around who are willing to serve Jesus by serving pastors.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Proverbs 13:20.

african-elephants-ivory-tusks-615

Old bulls walking with young bulls.

That’s me on the left.

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Forgiveness is Hope

Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-35

At 2:15 in the afternoon on March 28, 2010, Conor McBride, a tall, sandy-haired 19-year-old wearing jeans, a T-shirt and New Balance sneakers, walked into the Tallahassee Police Department and approached the desk in the main lobby. Gina Maddox, the officer on duty, noticed that he looked upset and asked him how she could help. “You need to arrest me,” McBride answered. “I just shot my fiancée in the head.” When Maddox, taken aback, didn’t respond right away, McBride added, “This is not a joke.”

He had indeed, in a fit of rage, gunned down his fiancée, Ann Grosmaire, and she would die from her injuries days later. The Grosmaire family story was told in a long-form piece in the New York Times from several years ago called, Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?

The article describes the scene,

That night, Andy Grosmaire, Ann’s father, stood beside his daughter’s bed in the intensive-care unit of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. The room was silent except for the rhythmic whoosh of the ventilator keeping her alive. Ann had some brainstem function, the doctors said, and although her parents, who are practicing Catholics, held out hope, it was clear to Andy that unless God did “wondrous things,” Ann would not survive her injuries. Ann’s mother, Kate, had gone home to try to get some sleep, so Andy was alone in the room, praying fervently over his daughter, “just listening,” he says, “for that first word that may come out.”

Ann’s face was covered in bandages, and she was intubated and unconscious, but Andy felt her say, “Forgive him.” His response was immediate. “No,” he said out loud. “No way. It’s impossible.” But Andy kept hearing his daughter’s voice: “Forgive him. Forgive him.”

Andy Grosmaire knew what all of us know: forgiveness is hard.

Jesus taught that the same spiritual apparatus that gives forgiveness away is the one that actually receives soul-forgiveness. It is the same spiritual valve. If it is closed off towards others, then it is an indication that it was never open to receive from God.

The Forgiveness Principle: Forgiven people, forgive. And they only forgive others to the degree in which they have been forgiven.

To refuse to forgive someone is to allow resentment to build up in the soul. I can’t remember who said it, but it is so true, “Resentment is the poison we swallow, while we hope the other person dies.”

But when your soul has been ravished by God’s forgiveness, you are on the hunt for those who need to be forgiven. True Christians are world-class forgivers. We are the gold-standard for mercy.

Desmond Tutu from South Africa spent his life trying to get white and black South Africans to forgive one another said, “You and I have no future without forgiveness.”

Every time we take a step to begin to forgive, we are living the Jesus-rhythm of dying, rising, giving, and receiving God’s outlandish forgiveness ever more deeply into the depths of our life.

Never mistake forgetting for forgiving.

Forgiveness has nothing to do with forgetting. It’s easy to become confused.  The Bible teaches that God is able to forgive and forget.

For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”  Jeremiah 31:34

Notice that it never says that we are to do the same. We can’t. Only He can. One reason why God can forget is that there is nothing he needs to learn by remembering. There’re tons of important information that we can learn by remembering, even though we may not want to remember.

Does God forget the way we forget when we can’t remember where we left our keys?  No.  God does not have amnesia—to say God forgets is to say that he feels about us the way he would feel if he had forgotten.

Author Lewis Smedes reminds us,

 You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.

That’s why remembering, not forgetting, is the key to forgiveness. Forgiving does not mean forgetting.  It’s draining the past of its power to hurt us.

Be willing to take a step to forgive one more time.

Forgiveness always begins with a decision. It is an act of the will, even though we may not “feel like it” at the moment. I decide to work towards releasing you from the “debt” you “owe” me.

Often even after we have decided to forgive someone, the painful emotions rise up again and make us want to send an invoice on the relational debt.

Is Jesus saying that we only have to forgive 77 times? Then on the 78th time they hurt us we can bloody their nose? No. As often as I think of you and feel pain, I re-release you from your debt. The point is for a follower of Jesus you place no deadline on the willingness to offer somebody pardon.

It’s a journey, it’s not a moment. And the deeper the hurt, the longer the road. Jesus invites us simply to be willing to do it one more time to do one more time.

Eventually, Andy Grosmaire was willing to take that one more time step. He processed his rage, his grief, his sadness—and in the end he chose to take a step to forgive.

This is what the writer of that article says about his own journey. He says “Ann’s parents strive to model their lives on Jesus and forgiveness is deep in their creed. Andy says, “I realized it was not just my daughter Ann asking me to forgive her killer. It was Jesus Christ,” Andy recalls. and I hadn’t said no to him before, and I wasn’t going to start then. I felt just a wave of joy and I told Anne in that hospital room, “I’ll do it.”

This is somebody whose life has been marked by the outlandish forgiveness of God.

So, friends may you experience God’s forgiveness deep in your being and may you extend it because you and I have no future without forgiveness.

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