God’s “Not-So-Hidden” Arrow of Forgiveness

There is a notion that forgiveness and reconciliation requires that old wrongs be erased from the memory banks of the brain. Some folks even have the notion that God who knows the end from the beginning and exists in the eternal present, has no memory of our sins, once He has forgiven them. The mere existence of the Bible which records the sins of the saints of the past, gives the lie to that notion. God is all knowing and the facts of our sins are never forgotten. The risen Christ for all eternity bears in his hands and feet and side the scars caused by his death on the cross! They will always remind us that we were sinners for whom He died. So, what then does forgiveness mean? It is not a matter of WHAT we remember, but HOW we hold what we remember.

Forgiveness means that just as God looks at us through Christ and chooses not to remember our sins against us, so reconciliation requires us not to remember the sins of others against them.

For many years, I drove a school bus part-time. And periodically that meant as a school bus driver I had to pass a road and skills test to maintain my license. The inspector for the state DOT needed to watch me safely do student pick-ups, drop-offs and railroad crossings. On one occasion as a veteran driver, I blew the air brakes pre-trip procedure on a technicality. So, a retest was required a few weeks later. On that occasion, I was a bit nervous. Would the inspector remember my past failure? To make matters worse, on the retest, I came to a railroad crossing and while crossing the tracks realized I had not cancelled the master switch, with the result that my red SOS lights were activated and the crossing arm in front of the bus stuck out like a harpoon. He could not have missed it. I uttered an immediate loud “oops!” But before I could say anything else, the inspector said, “Good Ed, you didn’t stop until you had safely crossed the tracks. Is there anything more you want to say?” And realizing he wasn’t remembering my sin against me, I said, “No Sir!” Out of sympathy, I suppose, that inspector chose not to remember my faults then both past and present. But God does better than that!

God is not merely loving and sympathetic! He does not remember our sins against us, because He is RIGHTEOUS to forgive us our sins, because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. God’s Son took the full penalty for our sins upon Himself, such that all the just wrath of God was fully satisfied by the blood of Christ. The only thing God can now extend to us, is His love and forgiveness. Does he remember our sins? Yes, but they are never ever remembered against us.  And, so it is, that if a brother or sister repents and receives forgiveness, we can and must reassure them that because Christ bore it all, our sins as well as theirs, so, they need not fear we will revisit their transgressions. For as the apostle Paul mandated, we must:

“Be gentle and ready to forgive; never hold grudges. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13 TLB Paraphrase

Look, I know that forgiveness and reconciliation is not the easiest thing to which we are called, but there was One who did the most difficult thing in all history for anyone to do, and He did it for you and me. He bore your sins and He bore mine. On the cross His arms were stretched-out wide and they remain wide even today, open to all who have offended Him and seek forgiveness, if they will simply come to Him in repentance and faith. He asks us now to join Him in His work by proclaiming the message of reconciliation toward God for sinners, and living out the meaning of forgiveness and reconciliation in our relationships with others.

 

Finding God in the Conflict of an Ordinary Life

Count it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, be should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. James 1:3-5 NIV 84

Some years ago, while serving as the Social Services Director at a large skilled nursing facility in Florida, there was a sudden “regime change.” The administrator who hired me had been replaced by another from corporate, who had the reputation for firing department heads beginning with the Social Services Director, whenever she was assigned to a new facility.  In spite of the fact, that I had never gotten less than a superior rating from our state inspections, I began to “catch the heat.”

It felt like our new administrator was attempting to bully me into firing myself. Frustrated and ready to quit, I resorted to seeking help from “the Wonderful Counselor.” Rising early one morning, I prayed, poured out my complaint to the Lord, when He seemed to say to me, “If I want you to remain in place doing your best and enduring the heat for me, would you be willing to do it?” To this day, I don’t know what possessed me, but I said, “Yes, Lord, I’ll stay until you move me and not one day sooner!”

Suddenly the weight of all the abuse and nit picking was lifted. I went to work that day with a totally different attitude. And then it happened! At about 11:00 AM, the phone rang in my office. It was Larry B., the administrator of a modest 50 bed ALF just down the road. Larry knew nothing about my circumstances, nor did I ever disclose them to him or anyone else. His first words were, “I’ll bet you are wondering why I’m calling?” Somehow, I knew the moment he asked, that I was about to be hired as his replacement.

God had an opportunity for me that I didn’t seek in any way, but it wouldn’t have been mine unless I was truly willing to serve Him anywhere He chose regardless of the difficulties. Oh, and by the way, that new administrator, who made life so miserable for her staff and me, she left for another position just one month later!

A Visit with an Old Faithful Guide

A few years ago, I renewed contact with an old friend and mentor, a pastor who figured prominently in my childhood, influenced my conversion to Christ at seven years of age, and baptized me two years later. His name is Albert R. Siebert and he recently went home to be with the Lord at 96 years of age. More than 50 years had passed since we had seen each other, when I “Googled” his name and discovered that he lived just 20 miles from my home. I found his name and phone number, picked up the phone and scheduled a meeting at a local restaurant.

After reminiscing with him over lunch, Al, as he preferred to be called, invited me to his apartment overlooking Tampa Bay, and we began sharing God’s working in our lives. Just before  leaving, he pulled an old thin book from the top of the stand next to his easy chair. He said, “You know what this is?” Bending closer, the faded brown cover read, The Practice of the Presence of God, its author, Brother Lawrence.  “Ed,” he said, “I’m going to be sharing selections from this with my Golden Heirs group at Northside on Thursdays.” Al then shared with me how he had rediscovered Brother Lawrence a few months earlier and how it had encouraged his walk in Christ.

Al struggled with loneliness since the death of his wife Sue, a few years earlier. She had been his closest companion and friend for over sixty years, when she died quite unexpectedly in her sleep, after what seemed an uneventful day. They had kissed “Good Night,” drifted off to sleep, and she died. But then his eyes brightened as he spoke of experiencing God’s presence, even in his loneliness. And then he read the following passage from Brother Lawrence’s last letter,entitled “From his death-bed.”

GOD knoweth best what is needful for us, and all that He does is for our good. If we knew how much He loves us, we should be always ready to receive equally and with indifference from His hand the sweet and the bitter; all would please that came from Him. The sorest afflictions never appear intolerable, but when we see them in the wrong light. When we see them in the hand of GOD, who dispenses them: when we know that it is our loving FATHER, who abases and distresses us: our sufferings will lose their bitterness, and become even matter of consolation.

Let all our employment be to know GOD: the more one knows Him, the more one desires to know Him. And as knowledge is commonly the measure of love, the deeper and more extensive our knowledge shall be, the greater will be our love: and if our love of GOD were great we should love Him equally in pains and pleasures.

Let us not amuse ourselves to seek or to love GOD for any sensible favours (how elevated soever) which He has or may do us. Such favours, though never so great, cannot bring us so near to GOD as faith does in one simple act. Let us seek Him often by faith: He is within us; seek Him not elsewhere. Are we not rude and deserve blame, if we leave Him alone, to busy ourselves about trifles, which do not please Him and perhaps offend Him? ‘Tis to be feared these trifles will one day cost us dear.

Let us begin to be devoted to Him in good earnest. Let us cast everything besides out of our hearts; He would possess them alone. Beg this favour of Him. If we do what we can on our parts, we shall soon see that change wrought in us which we aspire after. I cannot thank Him sufficiently for the relaxation He has vouchsafed you. I hope from His mercy the favour to see Him within a few days. Let us pray for one another.

Those were Brother Lawrence’s last words!

Tears welled up as Al read those words, and I looked deep into the heart of a man who loved Christ more than life itself. Oh, that I would love Christ like Al, MY pastor, and my friend.

Peace and the Call of God

John Ortberg raises the question of whether or not “having peace” about an open door is a proper criterion for determining God’s call (All the Places You Will Go, pp. 137-138). He argues that “having peace” about the calling of God is not the usual pattern. In fact, and I think he is right, that not having peace is often an excuse for capitulating to unbelief and fear, resulting in disobedience. If we think about the calling of Moses, Gideon, Barak, Jonah, Jeremiah and a host of others, that would be correct.

The question is, does that mean the usual pattern is the one we should emulate, or is the pattern of Joshua, Samuel, Isaiah and Jesus the one we should follow. While we might argue about the nature of the struggle Jesus had in the Garden of Gethsemane, the whole tenor of His earthly ministry was desiring to do but one thing, namely to do the will of His Father in Heaven, and it was His joy to do just that. Indeed, Jesus not only experienced joy and peace in the doing of His Father’s will, but told His disciples that His peace should characterize their lives as they followed Him (John 14:27; 16:33).

Often in discussions of God’s will, Philippians 4:6-7 and Colossians 3:15 are cited inaccurately. Context in both passages speaks to God’s mind on how believers should relate to one another. God wants believers living in peace with one another. But is there a better passage to which one might appeal to make a case that there is a peace of God which ought to characterize a calling of God?

God spoke to Joshua shortly before he was to lead Israel in the conquest of Canaan, and said to him:

“Have not I commanded you? Be strong and very courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged; for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 NIV84

May I submit that when we fear and are terrified by God’s calling, it reflects a lacking in our knowledge of the God who calls us? It may be the usual response to an open door, but it is the wrong response. Isaiah “saw the LORD seated on a throne, high and exalted…,” and once cleansed of His sinfulness, heard God’s invitation “Whom shall I send?” and he eagerly responded, “Here am I. Send me!” If our hearts are right with God, “having peace,” the kind that comes from God, ought to be the rule not the exception to the rule.

Too often, I have trembled when I should have experienced the peace that comes from knowing,

“The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24 NIV84

Have You Seen a “Burning Bush”?

Thirty years ago, I hit the proverbial wall in my walk with Christ. My family was breaking up before my eyes and with it my “identity” as a pastor, a husband, and a father. Everything was far beyond my control and there was no consolation to be found from family or friends. But from within there was an impulse that got me walking out of doors late at night, and all I could think to do was look up at the stars. Could God have been the mover behind such an impulse? I’d like to think He might have been. Has such a thing ever been recorded in Sacred Scripture (Genesis 15:5)?

I used to refer to those walks as “looking up walks.”  I didn’t know anything about “burning bush” experiences in my life, or developing spiritual rhythms that not only provide rest but time to spend with God. (I’m learning NOT to come into God’s presence with an agenda!) Sure, I had a discipline of morning devotions in the Word and in prayer, but this was different. It was just me in the presence of El Shaddai.  Strangely, I grew to love those walks, listening and then talking to a really big BIG God. It developed into a habit I maintained for several years. I hated it when it rained, because I selfishly coveted those evening times in fellowship with my Creator. It was during those times that God did heal my spirit, and helped me deal with the broken pieces, but mostly it was about His presence and about spending time with Him. I was His and He was mine! How awesome it was to know I belonged to Him?

Perhaps you are familiar with the old devotional, Streams in the Desert. In one of my favorite readings, I found these words attributed to George Pardington, “Waiting upon God is necessary in order to see Him, to have a vision of Him. The time element in vision is essential. Our hearts are like a sensitive photographer’s plate, and in order to have God revealed there, we must sit at His feet a long time. The troubled surface of a lake will not reflect an object” (Cowman, 1925, p. 73). Love those pictures!

Maybe you are like me, sometimes lamenting the kind of life that just doesn’t slow down. I thank God for my wife, Lynn. She knows how to slow me down, remind me to refresh my soul, and prioritize. But the flesh wants me going, going, going! And if I let it, I cannot see my Lord in a “burning bush” or during  a “looking up walk,” or anywhere else. So now I’m thinking, maybe I need to resume an old habit, the rhythm of those “looking up walks.” Who knows, there might be another “burning bush” along the way.

One Hidden Arrow with No Need for a Bucket List

She would be embarrassed if I mentioned her name, and propriety dictates that it would be inappropriate to do so anyway. I hesitate to call her “anonymous” but maybe “Ann” in lieu of “Ann Nonimus” will do for now. Ann is a tiny widow, a soon to be an octogenarian, and a tireless servant of Jesus Christ. Over the past several years, she’s invested herself quietly in the lives of incarcerated women, women who seem beyond hope, the kind of women you know but wished you didn’t, the kind who represent the worst elements in our society.

Ann shuns the light others would shine on her. But her life shines with the beauty of Christ, and shines most brightly on the broken women she has helped mentor into followers of Jesus Christ. Her commitment to Him and to them never ends with a jailhouse conversion. She remains committed to those who graduate from iron bars and need a hand up to live successfully on the outside. But her prison ministry is not what I will remember her for. No, if I were to identify Ann’s greatest virtue, I’d point to her devotion to prayer.  When Ann talks to God, He listens! Her honesty with God in prayer even in group settings is disarming and real.

But now Ann has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She has been given less than six months to live with us. Ann is about to embark on a trip with a friend to take in a few special sites, while she still has a measure of strength. But, it is more about her friend than it is about Ann. The truth is, as she told me last evening, with a smile that was wall to wall, “There are several who are praying for me, but I’m ready to go!” Ann has no bucket list, nor does she want or need one. She knows her destination. She is going to see Jesus, the consummate lover of her soul. She is headed to place called “Home.” She has reserved for her an inheritance in heaven that will not spoil or fade. There Ann will gaze upon her Savior’s unspeakable beauty,  knowing the fullness of His joy. There is no shred of fear, worry or anxiety in her, because Ann has been and remains quite content to live her life as a smooth arrow hidden in the Savior’s quiver.

Tribute to a Hidden Arrow

Yesterday would have been Dad’s 94th Birthday. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone for a year. Yes, gone from us, but home in heaven with the Savior he loved above all. During his lifetime, we often combined celebrations of Dad’s birthday with Labor Day Weekend. I still remember the barbecue turkey and strawberry shortcake! So, thoughts of Dad are very much present this Labor Day Monday.

This morning, Lynn and I read and talked about the familiar story of King David’s mighty men found in    2 Samuel 23:13-17. We gave thought to the three warriors who heard David’s complaint of thirst, while he sought refuge at the cave of Adullam from the Philistines in the Valley of Rephaim. And, it was not just for water that he thirsted, but for water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem. As the story goes, the three mighty warriors, risking life and limb, fetched water from that well and brought it to their beloved King. But, the King did not consume the water in huge desperate gulps. No, because of the supreme value he placed on the selfless sacrifice of the three mighty men, David poured the water out on the ground as a holy libation to the Lord.

It occurred to me, that God was speaking to me about my father, but also of my mother, and each of my grandparents, those “mighty for God people” in my life. So, in my journal this morning, I wrote these words:

“Grateful people pour out to others the blessings God has given them, which came to them on the shoulders of those who have gone before them.”

Dad, you may not hear my voice above the roar of the saints and angels who sing praises around the throne of God, but if perchance you can, please know I am grateful to God for you!

God help me pour out, what you’ve so richly poured into my life, through those upon whose shoulders I stand!

Aiming at What?

Remember the old saw, “Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time!” It occurs to me, more often than not, it isn’t the failure to aim that ruins a life, it is the failure to aim at the right thing. Failure in life results from investing too much time and energy aiming at the wrong target.

As I get ready to teach “Developing the Focused Life,” an online course to a new class of seminarians, I am reminded how easy it is to focus on things that make us feel significant or things we suppose others find admirable. To that I say, “Uncle!” Yes, too much time has been spent down that “rabbit hole.”

One of the young men being mentored for ministry at Cross Life Church spoke two Sundays ago, and hammered away at one simple idea. Our greatest need is to see Jesus as He is revealed in Holy Scripture. It is in seeing Him, that we become like Him, and the more we are like Him, the more others see Him in us. The goal isn’t ministry. The goal isn’t even my personal holiness. The goal is that others might see Jesus in us as He is and without distortion. Maybe that is why Paul’s words are so dear to me:

18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV

I wonder, are we aiming aright? Are we seeing Jesus? Is Jesus being seen in us?

It’s about the Archer

It’s about the Archer!

It is somewhat striking that arrows are spoken of several times in the Old Testament, but only once in the New Testament (Ephesians 6:16). Yet, arrows were the most commonly used projectiles for long range warfare and hunting long into the first centuries of the Common Era. Even today, my nephew John who serves as an upper level executive for a hunting organization with 60,000 members, has taken to bow hunting. He knows far more about arrows than I would care to know. All that to say, I’m sure he would tell us an arrow has no meaning or purpose apart from the archer who employs it.

I thought of that this morning as I ruminated on Matthew chapter 5 verses 3-16. Jesus said,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you    and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,     for in the same way they   persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?    It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. NIV 2011

I began wrestling with what felt like a subtle disconnect between what Jesus wants us to be in verses 3- 12 and what He wants us to do in verses 13-16.  And then it hit me. The Beatitudes describe the kind of heart that causes us to be an influence for good, for the proclamation of the “Good News” and for the enlargement of Christ’s Kingdom. It isn’t about the outward show of certain religious practices or traditions, but of the life hid in Christ in God. Oswald Chambers put it well when he said:

[Who] are the people who have influenced us most? Not the ones who thought they did, but those who had not the remotest notion that they were in influencing us. In the Christian life the implicit is never conscious, if it is conscious it ceases to have the unaffected loveliness which is the characteristic of the touch of Jesus.  We always know when Jesus is at work because He produces in the commonplace something that is inspiring. (My Utmost, August 21)

Father,

As I examine my heart, I must confess the sinful temptation to which I often succumb, to measure the impact of my influence on others by my deeds rather than focusing on walking with You, the living out of Christ who indwells me. God forgive me! May I not so live as to fulfill Your will with the desire to be admired for my piety. Remind me, O Lord, that I am but an arrow hidden in Your quiver for Your use at Your pleasure. Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.

It is the skill of the archer we admire, not the bow and not the arrow he uses!

 

Welcome to the Hidden Arrows Blog

Most every Christian I know has struggled to know God’s will and purpose for them in this world. To be sure, there are several things we do know about God’s will and purpose that are spelled out in the clearest possible terms in Holy Scripture: loving God, loving others, and making disciples. In short, we were created in Christ Jesus to glorify God by following Christ and joining Him in His work, building the Church and enlarging the borders of His Kingdom in this world.

But, there is in the heart of most of us, a sense that God has created us and gifted us in ways that are unique from one another. So, it isn’t surprising that we wonder why. Paul’s counsel in Romans chapter twelve, 1 Corinthians chapters twelve through fourteen, and Ephesians chapter four are helpful in ferreting this out. But, determining how it all works out in one’s day to day life can be a struggle, even for a theologically educated middle aged man with pastoral and teaching gifts. That is where I found myself almost twenty-five years ago.

Early one morning, sitting out on the lanai of my Port Charlotte home, I took an inventory of my life. An unwanted divorce prevented me, at that time, from serving Christ in the manner I thought I had been called. I became a single Dad with primary custody of my three daughters. My career track moved from vocational pastoral ministry to geriatric healthcare. I subsequently remarried and struggled with the reality that my new wife was seriously ill with cancer. So, I found myself in the midst of an emotional maelstrom, wondering how all this fit in with God’s will and purpose for my life. And, then my eyes fell on the 49th chapter of Isaiah, and God spoke to me in ways that changed my life from that day to this.

Listen to Me, O islands,
And pay attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called Me from the womb;
From the body of My mother He named Me.
He has made My mouth like a sharp sword,
In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me;
And He has also made Me a select arrow,
He has hidden Me in His quiver.
He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel,
In Whom I will show My glory.” NASB

This prophecy properly belongs to the Messiah as the “Servant of the Lord.” But as I read these words, it occurred to me that we who are the followers of Christ, have also been called from the womb, yes, even from before the foundation of the world. And, if we truly are His followers, we are hidden with Christ in God, and perhaps it is no stretch to think our role in this world is to be select, polished, smooth arrows in the Father’s quiver. It isn’t for us to map out how or when or where God should use us, but it is for us to be available to be used at His dispatch. There is no need for us to have the answers, but it is for us to remain available moment by moment. It is about Him in the end, and not about you or me. But what an honor to be counted as a prized arrow, made select, polished and smooth by His grace and the sanctifying work of His Spirit.

My second wife died soon thereafter, leading her best friend to Christ in the process. Then God did what some said was impossible, restoring me to vocational pastoral ministry. After 16 years in a successful ministry in New England, Lynn, my wife of 20 years now, and I retired to Florida. But we are enjoying new adventures in ministry without the stress of wondering what, when, where or how!

Hey! I would love to hear your “hidden arrows” story.