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Posts Tagged ‘Grace’

“For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:32-33 (NIV)

“How much did you save on Black Friday?”

This question looms large in households throughout American communities as the run up to Christmas begins now in early December.

The Thanksgiving Holiday is held on the fourth Thursday of November in the US. The day after this national day of feasting has been referred to for some years now as “Black Friday.” It’s a day when many people are off work for the extended weekend and major pre-Christmas sales begin.

This year Black Friday began on Thursday evening. Before their turkey dinner was even digested consumerism tightened its stranglehold over many Americans who gladly participated in the mayhem. Pandemonium was created when consumers shopping in certain locations began to attack each other hoping to be the first to escape with “Christmas blessings” in material form.   

My nephew wasn’t alone when he referred to the day as “Black-Eye Friday” on his Facebook page.    

As a product of a consumer society I now have a better understanding of myself, materialism and the number it does on my own soul. I come directly from a culture of people who constantly measure or quantify everything from bank accounts to beauty secrets. I want desperately to know “how much” of just about everything in my life.

“How much is my house worth?”

“How much do I have in the bank?’

“How much fun did I have at the party?”

“How well are my kids doing?”

“How does my marriage measure up?”

Not only do we have arbitrary measures for our own lives and all we possess in comparison to others, but we judge people based on their purchasing power and then feel satisfied and justified when we beat someone else out of a bargain.

Too often our treasure is in the things of this world of ours that can be measured.

A few years ago it gradually began to sink in that God’s Kingdom cannot be measured. The values that should dominate our lives are not measurable, at least by human standards.

Who can quantify eternity?

Who can find any measurement for the eternal God?

What about qualities such as love, kindness, patience?

If we look for it, we can see evidence of God’s grace all around us, but are never able to contain or quantify it. What are the statistics of heaven? Can we even dare to speak in those terms?

God designed His Kingdom to be just that way and Jesus His Son told us so. Somehow in God’s economy, He is the sole Judge of what’s valuable. We are told to seek His Kingdom and His righteousness first and then the material and the measurable will take their rightful place in our lives. 

This presents a problem for a consumer society. It’s been said that the best things in life are free, but perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the best things in life are immeasurable.

When we get focused on the measurements rather than the eternal value of God and people we lose sight of where true life really exists.  The measurements of the world are not the measurements of Heaven.

Next time you start feeling that you, your spouse, your children, your job, your income or your possessions don’t “measure up” to standards start asking yourself, ”Whose standards am I living by?”

The flow of our culture is to gather and compare and consume. The flow of God’s Kingdom, as embodied in Jesus Christ, is to receive gratefully from Heaven and joyfully give to others out of a heart captivated by love.

This year Black Friday’s values really spoke deeply to me. Or perhaps it’s better to say that true Christmas values spoke louder by way of contrast.

In the Christmas season we reflect on the reality that God sent His Son here to bring us through faith into a Kingdom that cannot be measured. How a consumer-driven society handles an immeasurable truth like that one is an issue that only an Eternal God can address. 

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“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’  Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  . .’ ” Matthew 18:21-23 (NIV)

“Here’s the deal,” coach blurted out. “I can give ALL of you one lick and we’ll forget about it, or I’ll give ALL of you three licks and THEN we’ll talk about it.”

Even though it was over forty years ago I can still hear coach Hall’s tone of voice and sense my feeling of helplessness.

It was my third year of secondary school and I was one of about fifteen second and third year students who were taking golf for their physical education requirement. There was a good system in place whereby we played a few holes of golf at local courses after school and then were required to hand in signed scorecards the following day proving we weren’t skipping out.  

Early in this particular year we had a stretch of frosty weather and by the time we got out to the courses they were closed. A few days of this went by and no cards were showing up at school. We all thought we had passed on clear information on the matter to Mr. Hall our basketball coach-turned-golf-monitor. But to our shock he decided to dispense with the perceived problem en masse. He called a short meeting after school and meted out the discipline he thought would rectify our infraction to the satisfaction of the school administration. It was a simple case to him that no cards were showing up and we were all guilty!

That day I and my teammates were victims of unexpected injustice as we all lined up for the ONE very painful and quick paddle to the backside while the coach was temporarily relieved to think that he had fairly rectified the situation. Little did any of us know what would happen next!

Being on the receiving end of unfair treatment brings wounds that can last for years. The deeper the wound the more difficult it is to forgive. Many have observed that the wounded who refuse to forgive are actually held captive by the offenders who often forget about their actions because they may be nursing wounds themselves.

I think we all find forgiving those who have wounded us to be a difficult matter.

Where we live in Ireland we find this repeatedly with victims of family and institutional abuse. One of my colleagues is a specialist in counselling adult victims of child sexual abuse. From all I have gleaned from her over the years I know that forgiveness in these situations is a process.  It’s one that can last for years and even over a lifetime.

We are also all too familiar with institutional abuse in this country. The Magdalene  laundries and their enduring legacy have returned to the Irish news in recent days. These were institutions which existed in Ireland, Britain and other parts of Europe and even in North America from the 18th to the late-20th centuries supposedly to house “fallen women.” Originally designed to be agencies of mercy they eventually became instruments of abuse and bondage for many girls who ended up there.

My heart goes out to the women who were victims of these institutions and no amount of whitewashing can take away the enduring emotional pain of the victims as well as perhaps the perpetrators of the abuse who were likely themselves victimized in their younger days.

Although no injustice  I have ever experienced has come anywhere near the abuse many like these women have experienced I do know that bitterness and a refusal to forgive others blinds us to our own sin and rebellion. When we consider forgiving  those who have wounded us it often causes us to forget our own rebellion and the harm we have caused others.

Ultimately the only way we can understand and cope with forgiveness is in the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He told a story in Matthew chapter 18:21-35 of two servants who owed debts. One’s debt was enormous and the other was pretty minor. The comparison  of the debt is between the first servant who owed  “ten thousand talents” or millions to his master vs. another servant who owed  very little, “a hundred denarii,” to the other servant.

The story is one of extreme contrast – the first servant, after begging for mercy was released from his debt only to go out and exercise harsh judgement against his fellow servant who owed him very little.

Jesus had a way of putting things in perspective. The implication is that no matter how great the infraction against us may seem, there is our Master in heaven whom we have grossly offended. Our debt is enormous – no matter how much we try to minimize it. From our perspective, what others have done against us always seems large and worthy of ultimate justice. In fact, just the opposite is true. The person who bows the knee to Jesus,  who ultimately paid the price for all sin and injustice at the cross, is the One who carried the brunt of the worst abuse anyone could suffer.

The simple fact is that we have no idea of the large debt we owe to our Heavenly Father. Despite the enormous size of the debt it has been cancelled at the Cross of Jesus. We who have been the  greatest recipients of Grace and Mercy are called on to forgive any debts that are taken out against us.

The message is all too clear and all too difficult to cope with at times.

When Mr. Hall thought that he had settled the matter of the missing scorecards, he didn’t realize that one of the student’s mother’s (mine) would issue a complaint against him to the Principal. After some quick deliberations the Principal cancelled the golf programme for us younger students for the remainder of the school year. We ended up in the gym for physical education instead of on the golf course.  Now I was working through forgiving my mother for making a fuss about the situation!

In a world where abuse, violence and injustice will probably be with us until the Lord’s return we still have to work through the actions and attitudes related to forgiveness. It’s only at the Cross of Jesus where Sin and Grace meet. Only there we glean insight into the forgiveness we need to receive and give on a daily basis.  

In the end I think we have to admit that those of us who are the recipients of greater mercy are to be greater instruments of forgiveness as well.  

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