Why did Jesus come to us at Christmas?Ray Pritchard answers in Dear Sarah

Posted on by Thomas Smith

Church in my study today I found this and felt compelled to share. It is the most common affliction that robs our Joy so needlessly.

Unforgiveness. I pray  "Dear Sarah" will help those that struggle with that self inflicted pain. Pastor Tom

 

Why Christmas? Why did Jesus come? For people like Sarah....
Dear Sarah: A Letter About Forgiveness at Christmastime
Pastor Ray Pritchard

(A few days ago I received a letter that took over a month to finally reach me. It came from someone I have never met. Because of the unusual nature of the letter, I began to think about the question, “What does forgiveness mean at Christmastime?” This week’s message is actually the letter I wrote to her. To protect her privacy, I have changed her name. I am passing it along because many people struggle with hard questions of forgiveness. In this case, “Sarah” waited too long to forgive. What do you do then?)

December 14, 2006
Dear Sarah,
Although you wrote me over a month ago, your letter did not reach me until a few days ago. Thank you for writing and sharing your story with me. It is quite unlike any other letter I have ever received. After I read it, I thought about it for a while because the question you raise is very challenging:
How can you let somebody know you still love them and forgive them, and you’re sorry and live with it every day, when they’ve gone to be with the Lord?
I know from your letter that you are over 80 years old, and that your husband died eleven years ago. The two of you were married for 49 years. But there was an issue of forgiveness that stood between the two of you. This is how you put it:
There really wasn’t anything to forgive, only a little white lie he told over 48 years ago.
And then you add: “We had a great marriage.” I do not doubt you when you say, “I loved him dearly.”

You didn’t say what the white lie was, and after so many years, perhaps it doesn’t really matter. Perhaps he did something foolish and then tried to cover it up. Or maybe he didn’t tell the whole truth about something. But whatever it was, it must have really bothered you because as you said, “I didn’t let it go.” You made a very human mistake, one that all of us have made many times. You held on to whatever it was. Forty-eight years is a long time to hold on to a “little white lie.”

But the hardest part, the saddest part, comes next:
“He asked me to forgive him two weeks before he passed, and I wouldn’t say the words. I grieve every day that I didn’t forgive him. I would have but he passed suddenly.”
Now your dear husband has gone to heaven to be with the Lord. And you are haunted by the memory, not of his “little white lie,” but of your unforgiving spirit. As a result, you are still carrying the burden of what you wish you had done but didn’t do. That brings me to your bottom line:
“I know that at over 80, I could go any time. I just need to know the Lord will forgive me. And where to look in the Bible. This is urgent.”
You are right on all counts. You could die at any moment. And you do need to know if the Lord will forgive you. And you need to know what the Bible says about this matter.

Finally, I note that you even enclosed a stamp so it would be easy for me to answer your letter. That touched my heart. I would have answered anyway, but I’m going to use your stamp when I send this letter back to you.

Self-Inflicted Wounds
Your letter illustrates a truth that is as old as mankind. Generally speaking, as we look back on life, our greatest remorse comes not from the things we did, but from the things we didn’t do that we should have done. I have often thought that there is no pain greater than a self-inflicted wound.
Others rarely hurt us as deeply as we hurt ourselves. And sometimes the pain comes, not from foolish things we did or said, but from a time when we could have shown kindness but didn’t, when we could have shown mercy but were harsh instead, when we could have reached out to someone in need but turned and walked away. As we journey through life, all of us end up with a long list of things that we wish we had done differently.
Often our deepest pain comes from knowing that we should have forgiven when we had the chance, but we didn’t do it, we let things fester, we nursed our grudges, we hung on to remembered hurts, and we ended up the loser because the time comes when we can no longer say to someone we loved, “I forgive you. It’s over. By God’s grace, I have put it behind me. Let’s move on from here together.” I know you wish you had said that to your dear husband.

Your letter is like a modern-day version of the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35. It’s all about a man who had been forgiven an enormous debt being unwilling to forgive a small debt owed to him. The shock of the story is that he was so unforgiving after having received such mercy himself. The man ended up being thrown in jail until he paid all that he owed. Jesus applied the story to his disciples in verse 35: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
You have already experienced this at a very personal level.
Jesus told this story in order to impress us with several truths: First, the greatness of God’s forgiveness. Second the enormity of our own sins. Third, the relative lightness of the sins of others against us. Fourth, the simplicity of forgiveness. Fifth, the danger of an unforgiving spirit.You see, we are like the unforgiving servant. We stand before Almighty God with our sins piled up like a mountain. The mountain is so tall we can’t get over it, so deep we can’t get under it, so wide we can’t go around it. That’s every one of us. Our sins are like a $25 million dollar debt we could never pay in our lifetime or in a thousand lifetimes. We come as debtors to God, come with empty hands and say, “I cannot pay.” And God who is rich in mercy says, “I forgive all your sins. My Son has paid the debt. You owe me nothing.”

Recent Research on Gratitude in America

Posted on by Thomas Smith

 How often, and in what circumstances, do people actually say thanks? The results reveal more evidence for a phenomenon sometimes called the gratitude gap—given how often they feel it, and how important they think it is, Americans do not express gratitude very often.

  • Almost half of people express gratitude on a daily basis to immediate family (spouses, children, parents—though elsewhere in the survey 63 percent indicated daily gratitude expression to spouses), and less than 15 percent express daily gratitude to friends or colleagues.
  • Bosses, regrettably, were placed the category of “never” being thanked by 35 percent of those polled.
  • Asked about everyday encounters, less than 50 percent said they would be “very likely” to thank salespeople that helped them, as well the postman, the cleaning staff etc. Only wait staff at nice restaurants surpassed this threshold, with 58 percent “very likely” to receive thanks. TSA screeners, at the other extreme, were only “very likely” to be thanked by 22 percent of people.
  • Asked about their children, people indicate expressing gratitude widely and often—a heartwarming and promising exception to the gratitude gap.

Who is grateful?

  • Women were more grateful than men on almost every measure.
  • People were least likely to express gratitude in workplaces…despite wishing to be thanked more often themselves at work.
  • Being religious was associated with greater feelings of gratitude.
  • 18-to-24 year olds express gratitude less often than any other age group, and are more likely to express gratitude for self-serving reasons.
  • Married people are more grateful—51 percent expressing gratitude on a regular basis compared to 35 percent of singles.

How does age affect gratitude?

To explore whether gratitude trends are changing, people were asked to rate their own gratitude over time.

  • On two different questions, 88 percent of those polled said that they were just, if not more, grateful today than they were 3,4, or 10 years ago.
  • 92 percent of people indicated that they have been feeling the same or more gratitude over the last few years.
  • When asked about “most people today” (e.g., not themselves), people said gratitude levels were declining; only 19 percent selected the option that most people today are “more likely to have an attitude of gratitude than 10 or 20 years ago.”
  • 60 percent thought that people are less likely to express gratitude today than 100 year ago.

The Church that grew without trying- Alan Kreider

Posted on by Thomas Smith

We tend to forget how surprising the growth of the early church was. Nobody had to join the churches. People were not compelled to become members by invading armies or the imposition of laws; social convention did not induce them to do so. Indeed, Christianity grew despite the opposition of laws and social convention. These were formidable disincentives. In addition, the possibility of death in persecution loomed over the pre-Constantinian church, although few Christians were actually executed. In many places baptismal candidates sensed that “every Christian was by definition a candidate for death.”

The expansion of the churches was not organized – it simply happened.
Nevertheless the churches grew. Why? After AD 312, when the emperor Constantine I aligned himself with Christianity and began to promote it, the church’s growth is not hard to explain. But before Constantine the expansion is improbable enough to require a sustained attempt to understand it. The growth was odd. According to the evidence at our disposal, the expansion of the churches was not organized, the product of a mission program; it simply happened. Further, the growth was not carefully thought through.

Early Christian leaders did not engage in debates between rival “mission strategies.” The Christians wrote a lot; according to classicist Robin Lane Fox, “most of the best Greek and Latin literature which remains [from the later second and third centuries] is Christian.” And what they wrote is surprising. The Christians wrote treatises on patience – three of them. But they did not write a single treatise on evangelism. Further, to assist their growing congregations with practical concerns, the Christians wrote “church orders,” manuals that provided guidance for the life and worship of congregations.

Most improbable of all, the churches did not use their worship services to attract new people. In the aftermath of the persecution of Nero in AD 68, churches around the empire – at varying speeds in varying places – closed their doors to outsiders. By the end of the second century, most of them had instituted what liturgical scholars have called the disciplina arcani, the “discipline of the secret,” which barred outsiders from entering “private” Christian worship services and ordered believers not to talk to outsiders about what went on behind the closed doors.

The early Christians attributed the church’s growth to the patient work of God.
Fear motivated this closing – fear of people who might disrupt their gatherings or spy on them. By the third century, some churches assigned deacons to stand at the doors, monitoring the people as they arrived. It is not surprising that pagans responded to their exclusion from Christian worship by speculation and gossip.

 

The baptized Christians, on the other hand, knew how powerful the worship services were in their own lives – early fourth-century North African believers said simply, “We cannot go without the Lord’s Supper.” They knew that worship services were to glorify God and edify the faithful, not to evangelize outsiders.

And yet, ­improbably, the movement was growing. In number, size, and geographical spread, churches were expanding without any of the probable prerequisites for church growth. The early Christians noted this with wonder and attributed it to the patient work of God. Teaching catechumens in Caesarea around AD 240, Origen observed that throughout history God had been faithful to Israel, sending them prophets, turning them back from their sins.
“See how great the harvest is, even though there are few workers. But also in another way God plans always that the net is thrown on the lake of this life, and all kinds of fish are caught. He sends out many fishers, he sends out many hunters, they hunt from every hill. See how great a plan it is concerning the salvation of the nations.”

The churches grew because the faith that these fishers and hunters embodied was attractive to people who were dissatisfied with their old cultural and religious habits, who felt pushed to explore new possibilities, and who then encountered Christians who embodied a new manner of life that pulled them toward what the Christians called “rebirth” into a new life.
“We do not speak great things but we live them.” –Cyprian

Twenty-first-century Christians must live with this heritage. We will not do things precisely as the early Christians did, but the early believers may give us new perspectives and point us to a “lost bequest.”As we rediscover this bequest, we will not make facile generalizations or construct how-to formulas. Instead, we will say with Cyprian and other early Christians: “We do not speak great things but we live them.”

To Let Go -author unknown

Posted on by Thomas Smith

In these tumultuous days, in these days of storms and fires and wars and such, as Jesus himself spoke of, I was reminded that I am not God and that Man as skilled and scientific as He has become still cannot change the track of the hurricane by one foot.Feelings of loss of control panic us. Yet peace can be created in our personal world by "letting go".

I thought this to be helpful in putting things into a perspective that would give us all more peace. Pastor Tom

To " let go": doesn't mean to stop caring, it means I cant do it all for you. It's not cutting myself off,its realizing I don't control another. To let go is to not enable further and to let consequences be the better teacher. Its admitting that I really don't have power, the outcome is not mine to decide.

To let go is to stop blaming and trying to change someone, and instead change myself. To let go is care about but not always provide care for. Its not fixing everything but showing support in other ways.

It is not judging others critically and realizing we are all fallible human beings. To let go means not constantly being the protector but trusting God to help someone through a hard reality. It means not living in constant denial of truth but accepting that truth. It is not being harsh and critical about another's actions while leaving my own not inspected.

It means living in the moment and recognizing that time cannot be saved. It means recognizing that the past is just that, past, and only the present and the next days to come, which also are the present, hold value. To let go means fear less and love more.