Ripples of Faithfulness – A letter to Chuck

Hi Chuck!
In procrastinating typing a long story…I’ve been absent. But here goes. Feel free to read it in small pieces and please know that no long response is needed…

In September, I was supposed to go to a conference at the WWII History Museum in New Orleans; they had to cancel because the covid rates/hospitalizations/deaths were skyrocketing – one of the hottest covid spots in the nation at that time. AFTER they canceled it, the hurricane hit. So it was good they had already canceled.

But I was sad. I really wanted to GO – if not there, somewhere. I had no travel on my calendar and felt very constrained and homebound … and … no Dale. The trip was planned during the prelude to the “hard days of August” – eleven years but it still hurts. I already had a companion to stay with Sarah. I thought, “I’ll go somewhere anyway!” My first choice was north to see you, but I realized I only had four days total, and the driving alone is four days. And I really needed some uninterrupted time to work on some Christmas presents I’m sewing for the girls. So I found the closest hotel “ON” the beach that had a vacancy where I could sew for four days, walk the beach, watch the sunsets, have good Bible study time (it was just before the launch date of our 2021-2022 women’s Bible study.)  The closest I could find (and afford) was in Shelter Cove. I loaded my sewing machine, iron, boxes of tools, and fabric. It was four days of wonderful. Population – 580. 73 degrees and beautiful night and day. I slept with the balcony slider wide open and was lulled by the roar of the ocean only a few hundred feet away. I was the only guest in a “hotel” that had about six rooms.

I noticed a tiny white wooden church (the only church I saw) just a block down a mountain road, and I could tell it was evangelical. I was checking out on Sunday morning at 11:00, which was the exact time the service started. I knew I wanted to go.

There were five or six people on the tiny platform – with a mandolin, a guitar, an older woman pounding out some old revival music on an upright piano, a fiddle. Dudes our age with full facial hair and long hair in ponytails, probably Vietnam veterans, old ladies, a few young (40s haha) people. The total congregation in the pews was twelve plus the ones up front, so about 17 people total. They were joyfully and confusedly “winging it” – “Am I up next?” “Is this the time for prayer requests?” Someone in the pews always knew and called out clarification. It was just delightful. I think Jesus would have loved being there. There were praises and prayer requests — kids without jobs, people with cancer or covid, Laughter. Compassion. Openly and unapologetically expressed because of the size. Then was time for the sermon.

[And everything to this point was just the background to this…]

A 50s-ish man who had been one of those who spoke up freely from the back corner stepped up to preach. His name was Mike. He looked and had mannerisms and a way of speaking that was like seeing you 20 years ago. It was so striking. He told about his little girl saying, “Daddy, you never cry.” He thought about it and told her, “Yes, honey, I do.” And he told about being called into the principal’s office in about 5th grade and hearing them recommend that he be moved to the special education class, of watching his mother cry. Knowing he had caused his mother pain broke his heart. His mom died daily to care for the (6?) kids and they were poor. He cried. And he determined then and there to live in such a way as to never cause her pain again.

He stopped in the early part of this, and said, “My dad [who clearly was behind me] told me not to say something… but I can’t remember what it is!” (laughter all around.) Then he related that story to God’s love for us. His sacrifice, our poverty, our sin, His mercy that never flagged. He implored, “Do you understand???” Then he stopped. “That’s IT! THAT is what I’m not supposed to say! He said I say it too much! (more laughter.)

And he did. And now I noticed! But barely. I was just so moved as he continued to show from the Scriptures and his own life how deep and unconditional the Father’s love is for us, the sending of Jesus, His love and sacrifice. I was reminded of his supposed need to go to the learning-disabled class, yet here he was in the pulpit, expounding on the most important truth in the world and doing so powerfully yet in a way of profound simplicity and truth. And I thought of the verses in I Corinthians 1,

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.”

And Chuck, his physical appearance and mannerisms were so YOU. I was reminded of the early days of you and Dale as new believers handing out tracts, and telling anyone who would listen to the simple Gospel, uncluttered by hoity-toity theologians. And Mike kept asking, “Do you understand?” I was reminded of the Ethiopian eunuch on the desert road, and he is recorded as saying “Do you understand?” It was so earnest and compelling.

At the end of the service, I went to him, shook his hand, and thanked him for such a powerful and moving sermon. I told him never to worry about saying “Do you understand?” because he is just quoting Scripture! I reminded him of the verse, and that it was no different than Jesus saying  “Verily! Verily..” and he excitedly said, “That’s just what my wife told me this morning!”  Then I told him of how much he reminded me of you, and told him a very brief account of Chief Jackson, his zeal for the Lord, his ministry in your life, and how that led to you not only getting saved but in the salvation of many in your family, and of you chasing Dale down in Vietnam and leading him to Christ and to the power of the Holy Spirit, and finished with the fact that even though both yours and Dale’s were powerful emotional responses, that neither of you ever looked back. Both of you served God with faces set like flint on the finish line, on eternity, on pleasing God. Having decided to follow Jesus, “No turning back”.

Mike was listening intently then said, “What did you say his name was?” I said, “Chuck”. He said “No, the other one!” “Dale?” “No, the one on the ship!” Oh! “Chief Jackson!” “YES!” Then he began to tell me a part of his own story. He tried not to cause his mother any more reasons to cry, but he didn’t love God or serve Him. Life had been hard. He was a young man working at Walmart and was gathering up the carts in the parking lot when someone laid a hand on his shoulder and spun him around. It was a co-worker I’ll call John. John looked right at Mike and said, “I won’t ever mention Jesus to you again, because until the Holy Spirit puts His hand on your shoulder and turns you around, there is no hope for you.” That night, he gave his life to Christ, and has never looked back. The co-worker’s last name was Jackson.

I got in my car and cried. So grateful, so encouraged, so moved… by the whole thing! It was a Holy Spirit encounter that I know encouraged him as much as it encouraged me… And as I dried my eyes so I could see to drive, I reflected on the amazing details of the stories that dovetailed to this moment, these two people – a middle-aged man in a tiny church and an old lady far from home because of Covid and hurricanes, and Chief Petty Officers on ships fifty years ago, and the overlap of two brothers in far-off Vietnam, and of Dale’s mission being scrubbed at the last second giving him the whole day to spend with you – of God sending PopPop to HMB instead of Bishop or SoCal, so you boys moved near San Jose; Dale marrying me out of many tens of thousands; then sending me to that little chapel on that day. To see the fruit of you and Dale and your early simple bold zealous testimonies still bearing fruit fifty years later. And allowing me to see it and tell you. Ripples.

A long story, yet simple. So much goodness and faithfulness in God, in His love for us, in His giving us unmerited glimpses of it here and there like rainbows in a break in a huge storm. “Verily, verily” moments. Love notes from Eternity sent into Time and Space.

I’m so thankful for you – for the impact you have made through your faithfulness to God, and its subsequent impact on me and on so many people I love. The ripples keep spreading outward… still. Do you understand?

I love you, Brother. Thank you for your faithfulness to Him.


Easter in Isolation

Tomorrow is Easter. For Christians, it’s our most important and holy and joyful day of the year–a day we go to sunrise services, special Easter worship services, multigenerational family dinners with special foods like ambrosia and asparagus. We celebrate together! But this year we’re under mandatory “Shelter in Place” orders, so we will worship from home via apps and computers. We will have dinner with only our usual housemates. We still rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection, in His conquering of death and hell–making a way for all who will trust and follow Him to spend eternal life in Heaven with Him. It still feels like an important day–but it doesn’t feel like a holiday. Our spiritual rejoicing has a shadow of loneliness and loss. People are genuinely and justifiably grieving over so many losses in this crazy time, and this is one more.

These are my thoughts this Easter Eve morning, written in an email exchange with a friend.

Lately, I have been thinking about believers in prison. The apostle Paul, of course, but – as many might expect of me – also the many thousands or more who have been in POW camps, concentration camps, imprisoned for their faith in Islamic countries, criminals who come to – or back to- Jesus in prison. This has made me think, too, about those who are bedridden and home-bound due to health issues. Those in concentration camps tapped messages of encouragement in code on the prison pipes. They sang snatches of hymns to give each other hope. With eyes straight ahead, they muttered words of hope and snippets of Scripture when no guard was looking. They wrote letters and smuggled them out. They did this to strengthen each other, to build community, fellowship, in spite of knowing that getting caught would mean beatings or death. They were “being the Church.”

I have also thought of my husband Dale, of him telling how his brother spent days trying to find and reach him in Vietnam. Chuck was a Navy hard-hat diver on a ship off the coast of Vietnam and, also on board, was “Chief Jackson,” a powerful, Holy-Spirit-filled, zealous believer who ran Bible studies and prayer meetings on deck for these men who faced death at any moment. Chuck had been mightily saved through him, and was being mentored, discipled; in the subsequent fifty years, he has never looked back. His favorite song was “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, No Turning Back… though none go with me, still I will follow…” Then his little brother Dale arrived in Vietnam as a combat helicopter pilot with a high chance of not getting back alive, and Chuck had to find him to be sure he, too, would choose to trust and follow Jesus – before it was too late. Their deployments overlapped by only a month, so Chuck got a few days of leave and hitchhiked, did whatever he could, to find Dale, but, as a pilot, Dale was always on the move and Chuck was running out of time, chasing him from base to landing zone. He realized he could check just one more place, then had to get back, or he would end up AWOL. He walked up to HQ and was told, “I’m sorry, Dale just took off on a mission.” Heart-sick, Chuck walked out the doors and saw Dale walking up the same sidewalk; his mission had been scrubbed. They spent the rest of the day sitting on a hillside, with Chuck giving Dale an urgent, literal, “Come to Jesus” talk. Dale, like Chuck, had been ripe fruit, and he was quick to respond, so they prayed together, confessed sin, praised, had the sweet fellowship of brothers who were now also brothers in Christ. Chuck instructed him in the basics of the faith and how to grow deep and strong in his new life. Then Chuck had to leave. Talk about a crash course! Dale never looked back, either. Not once has either Chuck or Dale wavered. Unlike Chuck, Dale never saw another believer until he got back home. He spent eleven months in “spiritual isolation.” Dale had a pocket Bible that he devoured, and he and Chuck wrote letters, but that was all. Dale always said how God created us to be in community, but you’d better be ready to stand alone if necessary. God works there, too.

Isolation happens. It tests our faith. It purifies and sorts and shrinks and prunes and winnows the church — but it only shrinks the visible church, not the Invisible Church. It is a comfort and brings hope to realize that true believers -all over the world!- are meeting by zoom, facetime, YouTube, conference calls. Small growth groups, Bible studies, megachurches, and secret house churches, friends – worldwide the Church is isolating, (except in Sweden!) They are holding on to each other, encouraging each other, singing together via phone in huddles of 1, 2, 5, but in reality with 30 or 300 or 1000, all watching the same streamed service “in different places together,” all singing the same song from couches and breakfast tables. What a gift to have zoom, and texts, and Marco Polo, and landline phones held up to computers to connect! This, too, shall pass.

One of my sweetest, most powerful memories was on a trip to Europe. Our 1st stop was Naples, but we ended up with a day-and-a-half layover in London, landing at 6 a.m. Easter Sunday. We hopped on the tube and bee-lined for Westminister Cathedral. We’d been flying since the prior morning and had on travel clothes and backpacks. The man at the door gently told us it was not a tourist time, but if we wanted to worship with them, we were very welcome, but the church was full, so we would have to stand. We found a bit of wall, and spent an hour worshipping in an ancient church, singing centuries-old hymns, hearing the story of the ages, with people of all ages, classes, nationalities. I was so moved. I looked around and realized I was being given a gift, a glimpse of The Church, Universal, Triumphant, Eternal. It made me cry, of course, but that memory, that portal to Heaven opening for just a glimpse, surely will be one of my last memories when my mind fails me.

It will be okay; we will be okay. If this lasts another month or a year, we will worship with each other, confess our sins and needs to each other, pray for and with each other, check in on each other, encourage each other, reminding each other of God’s past faithfulness, and His assurance, His promises, that He is still in control, He is still strong, loving, steadfast, a good, good Father. That’s who He is, was, and will be.

So, this is what I’ve been thinking about, for what it’s worth. I am affected, certainly, by all the “holocaust and suffering” memoirs I read, but I’m grateful. Our world has changed, but God has not. He is up to something here! The Potter’s wheel is spinning!

And I’m thankful to be “with” each of you as we spin!

COVID-19 and other generational traumas

When I was a young child, it was polio. It got my two-year-old sister. She was hospitalized, put in social and physical isolation. Even our parents were kept away except one visit by one parent for five minutes a week. She, they, and we were forever changed. I remember vividly being in a long line of little children getting a sugar cube put on my tongue, like a holy communion wafer, from a lady with a tense, hopeful, forced smile.
In elementary school, it was air-raid drills and the threat of atomic bombs. Shelter under your desk!
In middle school, it was the scientists’ dire warnings about global cooling and a coming ice-age.
President Kennedy, Bobby, MLKjr,
Riots, marches, hunger strikes, struggles for civil rights
Vietnam, the draft, word of lost friends
California on fire.

I was thinking this morning about generational traumas. I am 68 and these were mine. We all have had them, will have them. We will be impacted by all of them, remember most of them.

Take heart, parents. This – now – can make your children strong, compassionate, wise. It can give them perspective on what really matters. They’re watching and listening and processing to see how we respond – how they should respond. You have their ear like no other time. This is boot camp for the rest of life’s troubles, and we get to teach them how to find the good. Every day. That’s a silver lining. A gift. A severe mercy. As I pondered these things, these song lyrics came to mind:

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”
–John Newton, 1725-1807
[once a prominent slave trader who repented, turned to follow Christ, and ended up becoming a leading abolitionist.]

Eric Liddell – a modern martyr and model of manhood

Eric Liddell – the unlikely runner whose slice of Olympic glory and moral struggle was portrayed in the well-known movie “Chariots of Fire” – was so much more than “just a one-time Olympic medalist.”

The movie gives glimpses of the real love of his life and the impact of that priority on the whole of his life before and after the 1924 Paris Olympics.  For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Medalist to Modern Martyr by Duncan Hamilton shines a spotlight on “the rest of the story.”

“For the Glory” is an excellent and unflagging telling of Eric Liddell’s life and gets it right, with one caveat: his dedication wasn’t to his church or missionary society, as Hamilton so often refers to it, but to Jesus Christ, and to the Gospel (which means “good news) of Jesus’ life and teachings. The church and missionary society was merely the structure by which his service was rendered possible and useful, and a tangible symbol of his higher devotion. Sometimes symbols are mistaken for the reality they represent.

Other than that parenthetical concern, I loved this biography. I re-read (listening to it read on audio, I kept pressing “replay”) – not because my mind had wandered but because I wanted to hear the words again and again – and sometimes pulled over in the car to write them down before I could move on (literally and emotionally!) When I finished the book I replayed the last two chapters at least twice. The only other time I have been so moved and enraptured with such inspirational eloquence was during certain pivotal passages in Pilgrim’s Progress.

I recommended it to my son-in-law for his commute to work and he loved it as much as I did, and will look for it in a format for his four young sons. Liddell’s life was a model of the kind of servant leadership, the epitome of “a good man,” that he wants his sons to admire and strive to emulate. In spite of [because of?] the lack of 21st-century psychological and self-elevating (narcissistic?) political correctness, Eric Liddell was a 20th-century classic hero, conscientiously striving to model his life of service after that of Jesus – the ultimate of self-sacrificial servant-hearted manhood. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Euodia and Syntyche, Syzygus and me

I recently coordinated the development of a Bible study on some of the overlooked women in Scripture. It turns out someone has counted them – just the ones whose names we are given – and there are 181 of them! Such a shock! How many can we name off the top of our heads? 20? 30? 40?  Eliminating Mary, Martha, Hannah, Eve, and other commonly studied women, I divided the women into groups depending on general context. I made a small group of women who were pivotal and critical in the life of the church – women such as those listed in the last chapter of Romans. There was a group of women who were known for how they used their gifts, like Lydia and Dorcas. Women who were mistreated and women who stood up against injustice, and women who were known by whose mother they were and their impact on generations. Each of the groups was taught by a separate woman from our local church, speaking for 30-40 minutes morning and evening, and writing 5 days’ of homework. I set aside for myself just two ladies – a pair in the book of Philippians – named Euodia and Syntyche. Mentioned only once, their story was the one I most needed to study and remember for my own life, and I am one beggar telling the other beggars where to find the bread. If you like, you can turn to Philippians 4:2-3 with me and let’s look at this little reference with the huge context, but I’m going to print it out here like an amplified version: I’m interjecting alternative translations from all the other versions, so you can get the full impact of what is said. “I plead with [urge; entreat; beseech; exhort; beg of] Euodia and Syntyche to agree [to live in harmony; to be of the same mind; to settle their disagreement; to have the same attitude] in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, [Syzygus] my true companion [yokefellow, partner] help these women, who have labored [worked hard, shared my struggle, struggled] side by side with me in the gospel.” This is a letter to the young church of Philippi established in a Roman colony by Paul and Timothy on the second missionary journey. Remember Lydia in Week Two?  The seller of purple cloth? She was the first convert in all of Europe! And a new little church was born here in Philippi. Fast forward a few years. Paul is writing a letter of encouragement to them. And he includes this reproof! By this time Euodia and Syntyche were important women in this church. But they’re bickering! We don’t know what Euodia and Syntyche’s beef was about, but we know it was petty, we know it was bad, and it wasn’t getting better. It was bad enough that Paul said here publicly “I BEG you, ladies, I beg BOTH of you: KNOCK IT OFF! NOW! And Syzygus, dear yokefellow, please be a dear friend and help them out! Make sure they reconcile and start living in unity!” This is in a letter meant for public distribution, addressed “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.” This makes all the believers accountable for Euodia and Syntyche’s reconciliation! It was THAT important. To bring this home, imagine if two of our College Ministry leaders got into a tiff, maybe a disagreement on how things should be done, or on a crabby day one offended the other, and were emotionally dueling whenever they had a chance to get in a snide comment, a subtle jab, or a sarcastic joke about the other. How would that affect College Ministry? It is important to remember that these verses have to be examined in the larger context of the epistle. It’s a pretty short, parental, intimate letter, not a formal one. Paul is pouring out encouragement for these young believers; He speaks repeatedly of GROWING in faith, and of having a proper spiritual perspective so they CAN grow. He encourages the believers there to see themselves more and more not primarily citizens of the Roman colony but citizens of a Heavenly colony where believers are bound together in unity and love. The bottom-line of Paul’s letter here is humility, servanthood, and unity out of love for God and for each other, as demonstrated by Christ Himself. In fact it is interesting to note that this is one of the few epistles where Paul doesn’t introduce himself as an apostle of Christ’s but only as a SERVANT.  In fact – he speaks of himself and Timothy as Bondservants/SLAVES!) but calls the young believers SAINTS. So in the Sweet Spot of the letter, Paul reminds them of the example Jesus set. He put aside His own glory and His “rights” and put on a Servant’s robe. Let’s read it, Philippians 2:1-8: “So if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition (rivalry) or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better (more significant) than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” (the most degrading and cursed form of death to a Jew.) Eternal Perspective: This then is the eternal perspective Paul gives us to look at the spat between Euodia and Syntyche, and then at the conflict in our own lives, the daily offences, hurt feelings, rude people, the ones sometimes kindly called “sensitive” but whom C.S. Lewis calls “domestic tyrants.” Dale and I liked to visit old cemeteries when we travelled. We were always planning our funerals and gravestones, and trying to glean wisdom from those who had gone the distance. We were in Scotland, and in the cemeteries on the west side, Glasgow area, the stones pretty much had only names and dates, but OH, on the EAST side, near Edinburgh – sites of great Reformation passion and martyrdom – the stones were wonderful! Filled with wisdom and proclamations of faith! One of our very favorite said this: “ONE EYE ON HEAVEN, AND ONE EYE ON THE GRAVE, BECOMES A MAN BOTH MORTAL AND IMMORTAL” That, my dear sisters, is an eternal perspective! We and the people we interact with are mortal – we have wounds and fears and insecurities and bad days; and we are also IMmortal, and have eternal value, cherished by God. If we treat each other as having eternal value to God, and as having heavy burdens we cannot see, we will be kinder. And when we see the results of our own mortality – see how our pain and sin and failure and fear  result in OTHER people needing to forgive us – AND we remember our own immortal worth, how much God has forgiven us – taking the log out of our own eye – then the resulting humility will bring out compassion, mercy, and grace in us, making us kinder, able to forgive more quickly, able to pity pain’s consequences in our sisters, and it will make us able to offer to share their pain, to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 Forgive and Forget: That leads me to my second point for today: In addition to an eternal perspective we need a better understanding of Forgiveness. We need to learn to get it and give it. I have observed both in my own heart, and in the stories of those who have confided in me or raged at me, that one of the foundational reasons it is so hard to forgive others is because it seems like a breach of justice. You will look at that more in your homework, because I wanted it as part of the written study, but I want to expand upon it here a bit. It’s a huge subject, one that could be a whole week’s study in itself! And it’s clearly one Syzygus had to have discussed with Euodia and Syntyche in helping them reconcile! We are created in the image of God, and in ourselves we have some of the wonderful characteristics of God, but they are broken, bent, imperfect versions. One of these is JUSTICE. God is perfectly JUST! It is His perfect justice which demanded that our sin be paid for and not just overlooked. It is the reason His only son, Jesus, who had no sin of His own to die for, suffered and died for us! God could NOT have just overlooked our sin, or said “That’s okay.” He couldn’t have done that and remained just. He could have left us to die, and remained perfectly just, but He is also a God of MERCY, so Jesus willingly lay down His life for us to bridge that gap. Now when we are the offended ones, we want justice! But when we are the offenders, we want mercy! In Jesus we have both. But it’s this desire for justice that makes it so hard to forgive someone when they have hurt us, especially when it seems intentional, repeated, or done for selfish reasons, not caring about its effect on us. I’m not talking today about true unavoidable accidents – Oh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you! Are you okay? But I’m dealing today with offense! With sin and its effects. I think there is one misconception we have that makes forgiveness even harder. It feels like to forgive someone is to say “What you did is actually okay.” When it’s NOT OKAY! It’s important to remember that TO FORGIVE IS TO ACCUSE. You don’t forgive someone treating you for lunch or paying you a complement. In Scripture, forgiveness is always related to SIN. Let’s look at just a few of the many Scriptures about this: Ex 34:7: “The Lord…forgiving INIQUITY & TRANSGRESSION & SIN.” Ps 25:18: “Oh Lord, forgive all my SINS” Ps 103:3: “The Lord forgives all your INIQUITY” Jer 31:34: “I will forgive their INIQUITY” Luke 7:49: “Who is this who even forgives SIN?” Heb. 9:22: “In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of SINS” 1 Jn 1:19: “If we confess our SINS, He is faithful and just to forgive us our SINS, and to cleanse us from all UNRIGHTEOUSNESS.” Nowhere in Scripture is sin minimized by euphemisms like “missing the mark” or “making poor choices.” But what whitewashing sin results in is not being able to forgive others and not feeling forgiven, by God or man. What a mess our concept of forgiveness is! To simplify the seeing, let’s look at children.  We –  as Christian adults – often command our children to lie, telling them to say “I’m sorry” when they aren’t. They know Johnny deserved what he got because he knocked down mine on purpose just to be mean! But the child either lies that he’s sorry or gets in trouble, so he lies. He might spit out “SORRY!” or hiss “Sorrrreee!”.  Then we order the other child to say “It’s okay.”  But everyone involved knows it’s NOT okay! It was wrong! Neither party feels good about any of it. And we carry over this harmful language, this watered down hypocrisy of inadequate repentance into adulthood. So it’s no wonder we as adults have a hard time forgiving! And we even whitewash our sin to God, because the core sins, the right names for what we’ve done, are too hard to look at and admit, so we softpedal what we’ve done and then only feel partially forgiven. So we had to invent the phrase “forgive ourselves” when what we really need is confidence that we have truly repented for the whole exposed nasty mess, nothing hidden or whitewashed, and that God has seen it all and truly forgiven it ALL! We don’t understand the dynamics of sin, repentance, and forgiveness! And Oh! how harmful the results are! So if I may, I’d like to suggest we begin to use more Biblical albeit politically incorrect! language – with God, with each other, and with our children. Let’s help our children – with our instruction and example – to name their sin, to understand WHY it was wrong, and to realize that it’s still wrong no matter how justified or good it felt. Let’s model and teach, saying “I was mean to call you DoodooHead.” And then teach them to ask the victim to “Please forgive me.” “It was wrong for me to hit you. Please forgive me. Are you okay?” Or “I was wrong to knock down your tower. I shouldn’t have done that. Will you forgive me?”  And then instead of “It’s okay” let’s encourage – but not order – the other to say “I forgive you.” We will teach that by modeling it. It’s easier when the child has been asked directly for forgiveness. We and they need to recognize that forgiveness can be given regardless of FEELINGS, and we can help the child learn that forgiveness is a CHOICE, an act of the will. A decision. A legal contract if you will. Feelings will come and go, before and after the pronouncement of forgiveness, but the will to forgive is an unmerited decision. Grasping these concepts will be a gift to them  – to have an accurate and Biblical view of sin, repentance, and forgiveness will help them all their life. We can then help them learn what that forgiveness looks like lived out. And what DOES forgiveness look like? Are we really required to “forgive and forget?”  How do we forget when we hurt so much? especially if the pain was intentional, or selfishly inflicted? Does God forgive and forget? How can GOD forget??? Doesn’t He know everything??? I am NOT a theologian. I have, however, read and read on this, and there are lots of opinions. I have spent many years struggling to learn how to forgive when the other person doesn’t repent, how to resolve conflict, what the Scriptures say about how to ward off bitter roots which “defile many.” I also spent years struggling to grasp God’s forgiveness of me. This whole week’s study is a taste of what I have learned. So – Does God forgive and forget? Let’s look at the Scriptures most quoted about this: Isaiah 43:25: “I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake,  and I will not remember your sins.” Hebrews 8:12- “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”   Isaiah 38:17- “in love You have delivered my life from the pit of destruction for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.”  Psalm 103:8-12 – The Lord … does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities … as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” Do you notice the willfulness in the wording of God regarding “forgetting” our sin. He doesn’t ever say He won’t be able to remember them. But He says “I WILL NOT remember them.” One translation puts it that “I will no longer hold their sins against them.” And another: “I will not call to mind your sins anymore.” Our sins will no longer be in God’s ledger as open debts. They are cancelled and will be remembered against us NEVERMORE. In Christ’s death on the cross, our sins were wiped clean, our debt forgiven, and atonement made complete. God hasn’t forgotten why His Son was put to death! But because He was, our debt is now marked “PAID IN FULL.” In Romans 8:1 Paul explains, “There is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus.” God has chosen to leave forgiven sins in the past, to not hold them against us ever again, but consider them like sealed legal records. He paid for them, then cast them behind His back. This is Divine will, not divine amnesia. It’s painful to forgive. It was painful for Jesus. It’s painful for us. Especially again. And again. And yet isn’t this exactly what God does for us every day? Don’t we tend to fall into the same old pit every time we fall? Don’t we each have our particular area of weakness, our own “pet sin” that we don’t really want to relinquish? Don’t we each tend to walk away from certain sins but leave a forwarding address? Don’t we all have what the puritans called “a traitor within” who causes us to say with Paul “That which I know to do, I don’t!  And that which I don’t want to do, I DO.” And every time – every time – 70 times 7 (in other words “To infinity, and Beyond!”) God forgives us again. He never tells us it’s okay to do what we did, but He does say He forgives us and puts it in the past, covered with the blood of His precious Son. And in the same way, it’s painful for us to forgive others, because we set them free, but then still carry the pain and memory of the person’s sin against us. Forgiveness means we willingly lay down our rights to hold it against the sinner, or complain, or hold onto it and get bitter. We can, however, take their sins, remembering God’s forgiveness of us, and lay their sins at the foot of the cross, and trust Jesus to make things right in the end. This is an act of faith in the goodness, grace, justice, power and love of God to forgive us, and to deal with our enemies. In fact, with every difficult person or conflict we are forced to make a choice.. We have basically 3 choices! We can sin right back at them! (And we know they deserve it!) Or we can purse our lips and become bitter. Or we can become conduits – we can choose to let God’s grace flow through us to them, and can take their offenses and carry them to Jesus, Who nailed them to the cross. “Let it go! Let it go!” 😉 I have three little exercises that help me when I am struggling to forgive someone. You will look at the first two in more depth in your homework. One is to pray FOR the other person. The second is to do seek out acts of kindness you can do for that person. The third is simple, but oh so hard.  It’s just this: Take a good look at the log in your eye. Make a list on paper of your own sins. Take a hard look at your intentional and unintentional sin. Then take a huge marker and write “PAID IN FULL” across it all. Spend time thanking the Lord for all He has forgiven. Tear up the list, or burn it. Or use a red marker and cross it all out. PAID IN FULL. Making this list and thanking Him really does make it easier to forgive others. Colossians 3:23 tells us: “forgive WHATEVER grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” And in Luke 7:47 Jesus said that the person who has been forgiven little, loves little. I’m reminded of a simple childrens’ song from “Bullfrogs and Butterflies,” – it’s a song on patience, but the lesson still applies. ♪ “Remember!  that God is patient too, and think of all the times when others had to wait for you.” But what about when I’m the OFFENDER?: What if I’m the one who offended another? There is only one solution: I have to REPENT. Whether it was intentional and malicious, or a Mr. Magoo accident as a result of being self-consumed, I can and must REPENT of any part I played in it, no matter how small. I have to identify my part, try to name the sin involved accurately, and ask the person to forgive me. I have to offer to make things right (it’s called restitution!) I have to be willing for the other person to respond in anger or self-righteous gloating. I have to be willing to be wrongfully accused, as Jesus was, and He didn’t say a word in His own defense. So whatever you do, don’t defend yourself, or make excuses for your part. That always makes things worse! There are few more powerful words in this life than a simple, heartfelt “I’m so sorry I hurt you.”  “Please forgive me.” “I care about you.” “What can I do to make it better?” But there are also hopeless cases: Sometimes, I realize that I’m just not Godly enough to be around that person without offending her or being offended, and my mere presence puts us both at risk of sinning or becoming bitter. Sometimes, the Scripture tells us, we just have to FLEE temptation. Not all relationships can be salvaged. Romans 12:18 tells us: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” We are accountable for our part before God – we are responsible for our own obedience – but we are not responsible for the consequences! That is God’s work. We can’t make people forgive us – or like us. Sometimes the wisest and kindest thing to do is to walk away. But whether I overlook, confront, go the distance and work things out, or walk away, I have to do it without sin, do it with kindness and respect and gentle words. Because forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation are commanded by God! And they aren’t really about me and that other person anyway, they’re really about me and God. He is faithful. I can trust Him. You can trust Him. We can leave room for Him to work. Conclusion: So I hope studying the lessons presented by Euodia and Syntyche’s story will give you some glimpse of an eternal perspective on conflict and unity in the Body of Christ. I hope you gain some tools and words to use to resolve conflict in your own life or in the lives of others. I hope God can use it to bring about more unity in His Body, the Church, and in your families and friendships, in your workplace and in your neighborhoods.  Whether we find ourselves as a Euodia or a Syntyche, or maybe a Syzygus, I hope that we can do better at our clear calling to be peacemakers. Did you know you are all ordained ministers? Yes, we all have been ordained to carry out the ministry of reconciliation – helping people reconcile to God, and to each other. Again, I speak all this to myself as well as to you, because for many many years I have needed repeated reminders of God’s desire and requirement that we live at peace with each other, and that we walk together in unity – one in purpose and love, and how that must be done. So thank you for reading! May the Lord grant you a life of grace and peace! Please pray with me: Oh Lord, thank You for Your Word. It is hard, Lord, but it’s life-giving! Help us to grow more and more like You and the example You set of laying down Your deserved glory, becoming a humble Servant, and calling us to be One, even as You and Your Father are One. We need Your help. We love You and long to please You. Help us go out this week with renewed desire to be peacemakers. In Your holy and loving name we ask.  AMEN.