It’s been said, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you less”. That is probably the best definition of grace I’ve come across, but I’m not sure I believe it. These days my self-talk doesn’t reflect that kind of grace—nor do I act as if it were true with any consistency. Yet once upon a time, I knew this truth so deeply. What happened? I forgot. In the busyness of life and swimming in the performance, work-based stew of this world—I forgot what is true and most important.
This Sunday we’re starting a short series entitled, “Mindfulness: Remembering What We Already Know”. Our brains are wired up to hang onto negative thoughts like Velcro, but let go of the positive ones. Linked to our basic survival instinct, it’s helpful as far as it goes, then becomes a liability. Life is meant to be more than mere survival, but in order to live, I need to connect, and to connect in a way that is life-giving, I need to acknowledge the negative, but mindfully focus on the positive. That’s where the spiritual practices like the Examen (see below) and the Twelve Steps come to my rescue. I need a daily reminder of what I already know in order to let go of that which is tripping me up in life and grab hold of the life God has created for me in Jesus Christ.
I’m starting with grace this week, and in particular, the aspect of grace that results in self-forgiveness. Later on in January we will talk about forgiveness of others as the gift we give ourselves, which is, oh, so important. Yet what usually gets lost in a consideration of grace and forgiveness is accepting it for ourselves, at least at the same time, or even before we tackle the challenge of forgiving others.
Jesus taught us the prayer we say every Sunday. It is what Augustine called “the terrible prayer,” because it is asking God to deal with us as we deal with others. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. (And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. (Matthew 6:12)
That’s true, but for me, I can’t help but think I’m missing something important. Jesus also said the great commandment is to, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27) Note the “as” of the last phrase. I’m realizing there is something so important there—something I know and don’t know at the same time. I can’t give away what I don’t have, yet connecting with God’s forgiving grace so I can love and forgive myself is what is missing in my life too much of the time.
I know that Christian orthodoxy has focused on our rebellious sin, sometimes called our “original sin,” which separates us from God, each other, and ourselves. And there is truth in all that. But it’s not the whole truth. Underneath the willfulness, anger, rebellion and sin is what some have called the “original wound.” Sarah Fields says that “Hate is just a bodyguard for grief. When people lose the hate, they are forced to deal with the pain beneath.” The pains beneath me are the wounds—wounds I can’t even wrap words around. I grieve for opportunities lost, paths not taken, mistakes made. I struggle to differentiate between my mistakes and the deep regret “I am a mistake”. Even physical failure becomes part of the mix as my body ages. I’ve laughed at the fitness report a British Army officer prepared for one of his men: “He sets low standards and fails to meet them.” I’ve laughed because if I don’t—I’ll cry. I see myself in that report.
I invite you to go with me as we remember what we already know. I can’t fix myself, but God can do for me what I can’t do for myself—including loving me, forgiving me, and nurturing me toward self-forgiveness and acceptance. But it will take some work. It doesn’t just happen. The Apostle Paul’s early life was one he deeply regretted. Blood was on his hands. Yet God forgave him and loved him into a new life. In Philippians 3:8, Paul acknowledged that what he used to count as so important, he now considered excrement. So while he was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, he was letting go of the past so he could pursue the future God had for him in Christ. You and I need to do the same. Forgiving ourselves as God has forgiven is a big part of that pivot from darkness to light.
Here are some Scriptures which I’m meditating on as I move toward Sunday:
Philippians 3:12-14: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 2:8-10: For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it. God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.
Romans 8:31-39 (TEV)
In view of all this, what can we say? If God is for us, who can be against us? Certainly not God, who did not even keep back his own Son, but offered him for us all! He gave us his Son—will he not also freely give us all things? Who will accuse God’s chosen people? God himself declares them not guilty! Who, then, will condemn them? Not Christ Jesus, who died, or rather, who was raised to life and is at the right side of God, pleading with him for us! Who, then, can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble do it, or hardship or persecution or hunger or poverty or danger or death? As the scripture says, “For your sake we are in danger of death at all times; we are treated like sheep that are going to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below—there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Become aware of God’s presence. Pray for light.
- Review the day with gratitude
- Take inventory. Pay attention to your emotions.
- Choose one feature of the day and pray for it.
- Look toward tomorrow. (What is the next right thing.)
Here’s what I have on my desk for the new year…
PLEASE JOIN US ON SATURDAY, JANUARY 21ST AT 5:00 PM FOR A MEAL AND CONVERSATION WITH THE SDA CHURCH— The Seventh-day Adventist Congregation that uses our facility on Saturdays would like to host a dinner for St. Andrew in the Fellowship Hall. Please plan to join us for great food, great fellowship and some special music from our own, Amos Munoz. If you haven’t already done so, please RSVP on your Communication Card THIS SUNDAY so we can get a head count.
BERGEN/MARTIN AND HAZEL BURNETT SCHOLARSHIP NEWS
Applications for the Spring 2017 Semester are now being accepted for the Hazel Burnett and Bergen/Martin scholarships. The deadline for applications is January 29, 2017. For information and to get applications, contact the church office at 707-996-6024 or email email@example.com
HOME HAPPENINGS IS COMING… WHAT IS HOME HAPPENINGS?
A place to enjoy Christian fellowship with other families at St. Andrew in an informal setting.
A place to know and become known by others
Fun! And includes the whole family and a meal!
Six “family units” (singles, families, couples—intergenerational) will be assigned to each group.
Beginning January 29th, groups will meet at member homes from 5-7 pm on Sunday evenings for six weeks. Each family will have an opportunity to host Home Happenings in their home.
The groups have a Happenings guide, with discussion starters, short bible study, and a potluck menu. It’s super simple, super fun, and a great way to make new friends. SIGN UP ON THE COMMUNICATION CARD THIS SUNDAY.