December 2004

Give a rip - recommend! : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

December 30 2004 by Tony W. Cartledge

Give a rip - recommend! : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

Give a rip - recommend!

By Tony W. Cartledge
BR Editor

This is a test. Not a test of math, chemistry or English skills. Not even a test of mettle or character. It is a test of concern. It could be called a "rip" test, because it is designed to indicate those who give a rip, and those who don't.

Speaking of which, does anyone out there know how the phrase "give a rip" originated? My unabridged dictionary lists colloquial meanings of "rip" as a worn-out horse, a worthless person (probably from "reprobate"), or a worthless thing in general. The expression "I don't give a rip" implies that the "rip" one is not willing to give is relatively worthless.

A suggestion I found on the Internet is that "don't give a rip" originated as "don't give a rap," with "rap" being an 18th century Irish term for a counterfeit halfpenny, an imported German penny stamped with an eagle so crudely drawn that it was known as a "rabe" (raven).

A counterfeit penny (or halfpenny) would certainly be close to worthless. Throw in an Irish accent and a couple of centuries, and it's not hard to imagine that "not give a rap" could become "not give a rip" as an expression of unconcern.

In any case, who gives a rip? Evidently, lots of people do - or don't. A Google search for the phrase turns up about 15,400 citations, including many from Christian publications.

English slang is populated by dozens of colorful (and off-colorful) expressions beginning with "I don't give a ..." As it turns out, "don't give a rip" is one of the few that can be used in polite conversation or a family newspaper.

Back to the test - Americans of every stripe, including the various shades of Baptist, are demonstrating less and less interest in denominational life. It's getting harder to find church people, even Baptist State Convention folk, who give a rip about Baptist life beyond their local church.

As a result, it takes a real rip-roaring effort just to get people to think about associations, state conventions and national conventions.

Older readers may remember seeing the posters that younger readers only know from history books - the ones in which a thin, bearded gentleman dressed like a flag points his finger and says "Uncle Sam needs you!" - usually for the U.S. Army.

Maybe we need to create a representative figure for the Baptist State Convention to put on posters, pointing his finger and saying, "Uncle Bob needs you - to give a rip!"

How can Baptist people in the pew show that they give a rip about Baptist life beyond the bounds of their own church house?

There are many ways. Praying is one - praying not only for sister Sue and brother Delmer, but for Baptist Children's Homes and Retirement Homes, for colleges and camps, for campus ministers and congregational coaches, for church planters and mission planners, for agencies and institutions that minister in so many ways.

We can also give a rip by giving money. The BSC has flexible Cooperative Program Missions Giving plans that fully honor the autonomy of the local church while enabling every church to join together in accomplishing ministries that none of us could do alone. Cooperative giving as a percentage of church income has trended downward long enough - if we truly give a rip, we'll reverse that trend and strengthen our conventions' abilities to do what we cannot do alone.

A third way to "give a rip" is to get involved, and to encourage others to be involved in denominational life. This is the perfect time of year to make that happen.

Each year, the BSC's Committee on Nominations and the Committee on Committees solicit recommendations for the various positions they must fill. State Baptist colleges, social ministry institutions, and other agencies all have trustees or directors to support and guide their work.

Even the BSC itself needs directors to guide its work. The 120 or so members of the BSC's Board of Directors (known in pre-incorporation days as the General Board) are empowered to act for the Convention between annual sessions. The board's work is extremely important, and it is vital that it contain a good representative sampling of Baptist men and women from across the state and from both sides of the pulpit.

Board members are nominated by the Committee on Nominations, but the Committee on Nominations relies on the people of the pew to recommend potential directors of the BSC as well as its various entities.

You'll find a copy of the recommendation form for the Committee on Nominations on page 6 of the Jan. 8 printed issue of the Recorder. The Committee on Committees form will be printed in a future issue. Forms may be photocopied or clipped from the Recorder, and multiple submissions are perfectly acceptable.

It takes some time to think of good people to recommend, and some effort to fill out the form. But more than that, it simply takes someone who is willing to give a rip.

We can be ripless people who complain about the direction our Convention is (or isn't) heading, or we can be involved in the process. The latter option is far more preferable.

Give a rip, and send in your tips today!

12/30/2004 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge | with 0 comments

Snakes in the house : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

December 30 2004 by Tony W. Cartledge

Snakes in the house : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

Snakes in the house

By Tony W. Cartledge
BR Editor

There's no more effective motivation for cleaning a kid's room than knowing he has let a snake go loose in it.

I had found the snake while raking and shaping the remains of a large, freshly ground tree stump. It was a cold Saturday morning, and I apparently interrupted the little garter snake's attempt at hibernation. It was coiled upon itself like a knotty figure-eight, sluggish, barely able to move.

Samuel's friend Julia is fascinated with bugs, snakes and other critters, so I explained why this particular snake was not dangerous, and let them take a break from yard work to put it in an old shoebox, along with some dirt and a few branches.

I had no idea they had taken it into the house until Samuel returned to report that they needed help getting the snake out from under the bed sheet. Once it had warmed up, the sneaky serpent had simply slithered away from its captors and disappeared. I can imagine it chuckling to its sly self when the kids misidentified a wrinkle in the mattress pad as its hiding place.

My response was panic, because I knew that one of three things would be true: I either had to find the snake and remove it, buy a new house, or support my wife while she moved into a hotel. Jan has rather strong feelings about snakes.

I quickly stripped the bunk beds, shook the sheets, and threw them into the hall, followed by the mattresses and all the toys under the bed. I was determined to find the skinny squirmer before it got to the no man's land of Samuel's closet, where bins and shelves of toys offered a labyrinth of dark hiding places.

Finally, as I prepared to start moving furniture, Julia spotted the critter under a low-hanging shelf of Samuel's computer desk.

I dove for the floor and grabbed that snake by the tail, carried it to the door, twirled it like a lasso and slung it as far as I could.

The snake is gone, but I've kept the metaphor to carry into the coming year. Instead of making New Year's resolutions, I'm visualizing unhealthy habits as snakes in the house, and feeling plenty motivated to root them out.

12/30/2004 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge | with 0 comments

Innovative? - What does that mean? : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

December 30 2004 by Chad Hall

Innovative? - What does that mean? : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

Innovative? - What does that mean?

By Chad Hall
BSC Innovative Church Team Leader

It never fails that when I am introduced as the leader for the Innovative Church Team someone will ask, "What does it mean for a church to be innovative?"

The word "innovative" brings to mind different things for different people: churches meeting in warehouses; guitars in worship; perhaps the pastor wearing jeans; certainly there must be some sort of screen with a Power Point outline of the sermon. While these may be fine characteristics of a church, they are not how I define "innovative."

Here is my definition. An innovative church is one that understands we no longer live in Christendom, and ministers out of this understanding.

What does it mean that we no longer live in Christendom? Christendom was that stage in western history beginning about 300 years after Christ, when Christianity was the predominant force in culture.

All of this began to change about 100 years ago and most people mark the mid to late 1900s as the end of Christendom in America.

With globalization, secularization and immigration, America has been ushered out of Christendom. In a way, America has become much like other countries where Christianity either no longer dominates or has never dominated culture.

In this post-Christendom society, churches cannot assume that most people go to church, know the Bible, understand the lingo used in church, or have a favorable opinion of church and Christianity. Though that may sound like a tough environment to do ministry, it is the world we live in.

While some churches are oblivious to the change, and others want to go back to the Christendom days, innovative churches understand they must minister differently in this different environment.

In this post-Christendom society, an innovative church might be a new church or one that just celebrated its 200th homecoming. An innovative church might be in a big city, a small town or a rural setting. An innovative church might worship using a worship band, a choir, a praise team, a quartet, or a guy with a guitar. An innovative church might have a Sunday School program, small groups, cell groups, or home fellowship groups.

The key is simply to understand the surroundings and minister in ways that match the changing surroundings.

If you are interested in networking with other innovative churches - or perhaps interested in learning more about being innovative - the Innovative Church Community of N.C. meets every second Monday at Integrity Community Church in Burlington. For more information visit

12/30/2004 12:00:00 AM by Chad Hall | with 0 comments

Editorial distracts from real issue : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

December 30 2004 by

Editorial distracts from real issue : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

Editorial distracts from real issue

Tony Cartledge's article "Would Amos Agree?" exemplifies the communication problem between moderates and conservatives in the BSC. Cartledge covers up the legitimate question that conservatives are asking with a tedious discussion of yods, tittles and reflexive niphals. That question is, "Is there a minimum of commonality we must possess to live in unity?" Conservatives have never rested their case on a few obscure words in Amos, for numerous other Scriptures tell us that doctrinal or moral deviation can warrant separation, even from those whom we consider brothers. In 2 John 10-11 the Apostle tells his congregation to separate themselves from some who possess a certain variant doctrine. He goes on to tell them that by linking arms with those in error they are "/sharing in their evil deeds./" John thus implies that we are not only held accountable for what we believe, but also for what those to whom we join ourselves believe. But the editor implies that no doctrinal deviation warrants division. But can this be? Should we stand in league with those who deny salvation by faith? Or the Trinity? At some point we must go our separate ways, because can two who are walking in opposite directions walk together. Diversity is healthy, but not among the essentials. What are those essentials?

Cartledge's position is especially confusing coming from the pen of a Protestant. Wasn't the Protestant Reformation the triumph of truth over false unity? Luther was told that division in the church would belie the incarnation. But he responded with, "Better to be divided by truth than united by error." What would Dr. Cartledge have advised Luther on the eve of Diet of Worms?

I do not mean to imply that moderates are guilty of the doctrinal deviation of 2 John 10-11. It is just to refocus on the relevant question, "What do the essentials of the Baptist faith and message really need to be?" Articles on that subject will advance the argument. Both sides of this discussion should refrain from trite discussions that only distract from the real issue.

J.D. Greear

Durham, N.C.

12/30/2004 12:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Opposition to women preachers ignore some passages : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

December 30 2004 by

Opposition to women preachers ignore some passages : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

Opposition to women preachers ignore some passages

Regarding the article, Church leaves BSC over woman preacher, and other pieces and letters, too, I read the qualifications in 1 Tim. 3 as well. Most of the people that use that as a reason not to allow women to be in leadership roles will ignore other passages like having their head covered. In 2 Sam 15:30 David and all the men covered their heads; and 1 Cor. 11:5 says every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head. Wait ... women prophesieth? Isn't that maybe similar to teaching or preaching?

This isn't as simple as just 1 Tim 3. It is "selective" or it's interpretation related to the culture of those days.

Me? I'm more interested in what we're doing and who is effective as an encourager of the saints, a builder of the kingdom, ministering and witnessing.

One of the things that has always bothered me since getting involved in "Southern Baptist life," is that the same people who say women can't and shouldn't lead or preach, have their two big missions offerings named after women leaders in church history - Lottie Moon and Anne Armstrong. Did these women tell all the men that they couldn't teach them and asked them to leave? I find this very paradoxical and contradictory. Those who want to spend their energy arguing, go ahead. I'm spending my energy encouraging ministry and spreading the gospel.

Rich Dymmel

Greensboro, N.C.

12/30/2004 12:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Sullivan defined polity : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

December 30 2004 by

Sullivan defined polity : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

Sullivan defined polity

I noticed that James Sullivan, who served as president of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1953-1975, died on December 27, 2004 at age 94. He never knew that he taught me a lesson that every Baptist should know. Through Sullivan's book entitled "Baptist Polity As I See It" I learned that the cherished Baptist doctrines of the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local congregation "undergird every decision Southern Baptists have made in the field of polity."

Because of Sullivan the word "polity" that previously elicited a yawn from me now inspires respect and admiration. Because of Sullivan I have taught others that the foundation of our seemingly cumbersome polity are beliefs that must not be violated.

Let us honor his memory by protecting a Baptist decision making process that "takes away all threats and appearances of coercion so that each church and person can participate without question marks or reservations."

Dave Stratton

Supply, N.C.

12/30/2004 12:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Family Bible Study lesson for Jan. 16: Protect Human Life : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

December 30 2004 by John Pond

Family Bible Study lesson for Jan. 16: Protect Human Life : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

Family Bible Study lesson for Jan. 16: Protect Human Life

By John Pond
Focal Passage: Exodus 1:15-20; Jeremiah 19:3b-6; 33:6-9; Romans 8:1

John Claypool is credited with saying that life gets better and better and harder and harder at the same time. Science and technology have brought us into an incredible period of advancement and individual fulfillment; yet have forced us to face many moral dilemmas.

Medical science has provided the means for increased life expectancy and numerous methods for terminating life. Our postmodern culture has become a milieu of personal expression and freedom, a place for individual enrichment; yet, it has neglected to stress individual and corporate responsibility. In an attempt to celebrate life, we have denigrated its value.

It is within this context that the faith community must stand, challenging easy answers and being God's grace and truth.

Be warned about God's judgment

Jeremiah 19:3b-6

The prophet Jeremiah is summoned by God to pronounce God's judgment of impending disaster upon Israel. The people of Judah and Jerusalem are indicted for their idolatries, their sins and their refusal to listen. They are charged with abandoning the divine covenant made between God and His people. With the proliferation of strange gods and their false worship came the devaluation of human life. Practices forbidden by and abhorrent to God became commonplace. The apostate nation was guilty of infanticide and shedding innocent blood - all in the name of nationalism.

Their actions bring the judgment of God, manifested as a catastrophic disaster and environmental devastation.

Receive and proclaim His forgiveness

Jeremiah 33:6-9; Romans 8:1

God has judged His people. But, while He is a holy God of judgment, He is also a God of love and forgiveness. Jeremiah is asked to call to God and wait for His response: "I will answer you and tell you great and hidden things that you have not known" (33:3).

The great and hidden thing is God's forgiveness. He will restore the people to Himself. Out of His mercy, God promises healing and abundant prosperity. He revives the people with words of forgiveness and cleansing. There is hope and a new beginning of joy, praise and glory!

God's acts of mercy are never hidden from the eyes of the nations. The sin of Judah (v.7) was of international proportions. Their restoration will also be of international proportion. The nations will see and hear "of all the good I will do."

Today, this same forgiveness is offered to all through Jesus Christ. The same restoration is available - "no condemnation" - when one repents and receives Christ as Lord and Savior. Through Christ we are wholly redeemed, regardless of our sins.

Work to protect human life

Exodus 1:15-20

"The first right of natural life is the protection of bodily life from arbitrary killing" (Bonhoeffer). Human society is filled with vulnerable ones. These are the unborn, children, disabled, elderly and anyone who might be deemed "inconvenient." In a moral society, we should be advocates for the defenseless.

In an attempt to exercise population control, the Pharaoh commanded midwives to kill all male Hebrew children. In an act of courageous civil disobedience, the midwives allowed the babies to live, stating that Hebrew women were hearty and gave birth before they could arrive to help. Their actions were a result of a deep respect for God.

Regardless of policies instituted and enforced by governments, we must not respond with apathetic indifference, but with courageous faith. The church is a community of life; it should act to embody its commitment to receiving life as a gift from God (Richard Hays). We should work to protect the vulnerable - from conception to natural death. We must actively assume responsibility for them and provide a place of refuge and redemption, willingly receiving them into the care of the faith community.

12/30/2004 12:00:00 AM by John Pond | with 0 comments

Family Bible Study lesson for Jan. 23: Reach Beyond Ethnic Barriers : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

December 30 2004 by John Pond

Family Bible Study lesson for Jan. 23: Reach Beyond Ethnic Barriers : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

Family Bible Study lesson for Jan. 23: Reach Beyond Ethnic Barriers

By John Pond
Focal Passage: Luke 10:25-37

During the ethnic fighting in Rwanda and Burundi, I was traveling with a group of Rwandan Hutu believers. We were traveling in an area that bordered the two nations. On the journey we were discussing the history of the church and its growth over the last century. During the conversation I mentioned the impact the gospel had had upon the three tribes of Rwanda/Burundi. "Tutsis can never be saved!" one of my passengers stated.

I was amazed, "It's impossible for a Tutsi to be saved," he repeated.

"How is this possible? Isn't Jesus able to save everyone?" I asked.

"Yes," came the reply. "But, in order to be saved you have to admit you are wrong and need help. A Tutsi would never admit to ever being wrong, therefore he cannot be saved!"

In spite of more than 150 years of mission work and evangelism, ethnic hatred is still present within the church of Africa. In spite of several hundred years of church growth and revivalism in the United States, racial prejudice is still a sad reality in the church.

Peter, in Acts 10:34-35, discovered, "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him." Jesus commanded His disciples: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another ... By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35).

These words call into question any church that does not open its doors to everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity.

And who is our neighbor?

Love people unconditionally

Luke 10:25-28

In an effort to test and entrap Jesus, a lawyer challenged Him with a question concerning eternal life: "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Rather than be drawn into a debate Jesus asked for the expert's understanding of the law and the boundary-marker for inheriting life in the age to come. The lawyer's reply is the Shema taken from Deuteronomy 6:6 and Leviticus 19:18 showing that he knew the law so far as the words went. The commandment stated that we must love God and our neighbor unconditionally.

The lawyer's words were correct. Thus, Jesus encouraged him to "keep on doing this forever, and you will live!"

Overcome self-centeredness

Luke 10:29-32

Seeking to further define the boundaries of the shema, the lawyer replied, "And who is my neighbor?" He quickly shifted the focus of his theological snare to a question often discussed and heatedly debated. Though they would split hairs over this question, the Jewish experts excluded from "neighbor" Gentiles and especially Samaritans (A.T. Robertson). For them the neighbor was someone who looked, acted and were just like them - a Jew.

Jesus replied with a parable about a traveler, who in a foolhardy and reckless manner, travels to Jerusalem alone on "The Red" or "Bloody Way." He is surrounded and attacked by a band of robbers and left stripped and half-dead. Three individuals pass the wounded Jew - a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. The priest and Levite both respond in the same manner but with differing reasons. The priest could not risk losing his turn of duty in the temple by touching anything unclean. The Levite probably feared the body was a decoy left by the robbers and would not risk helping. Neither could afford to cross the line.

Reach beyond barriers

Luke 10:33-37

"A certain Samaritan" came upon the stricken man. He didn't bypass or dodge him, but had compassion on him. One who was despised by the Jew was a neighbor to a Jew, in fact his neighbor.

The lawyer had asked the prerequisite for life in the age to come. Jesus replied that it was not in ceremonial purity or pangs of pity, but spontaneous, practical compassionate deeds.

God created a world of diversity with each person bearing His image. The church is to be a community of love and life. As Jesus told the lawyer: "Go, and do the same!"

12/30/2004 12:00:00 AM by John Pond | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Jan. 16: Grace Gone Astray : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

December 30 2004 by Jeffrey Wisdom

Formations lesson for Jan. 16: Grace Gone Astray : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

Formations lesson for Jan. 16: Grace Gone Astray

By Jeffrey Wisdom
Focal Passage: Matthew 18:10-14

To the writer of Luke's Gospel, sheep are the lost - those who do not have a faith relationship with God and for whom Christ searches (v. 15). To the writer of Matthew's Gospel, sheep are those who already have a relationship with Christ - persons like the disciples, for example (Matt. 18:1).

For other writers of the New Testament, the church is the sheepfold (Heb. 13:20), the place where sheep gather. Through it all Christ is the single shepherd watching out for those inside and outside the gathering.

In each of the parables of the Lost Sheep, there are persons who become lost and then are found and who leave and then return. However, if Matthew's Gospel describes persons who have a relationship with Christ (18:10) and who are associated with others like themselves, what compels any one of them to walk away? And who are the sheep that go?

In all honesty I cannot describe all the types of sheep that leave the fold of faith. They do so for various and personal reasons. I can, however, speak to the sheep that I am. I am a pastor, and for others like me - shepherds of churches and sheep before God - the journey begins when you decide to walk away.

It is estimated that 1,600 to 1,800 members of the clergy leave the ministry each month. They wonder off to the hillside. Some go because they need to. Others leave because they are told to. Some wander off because of depression or other medical conditions that make it difficult for them to complete the necessary tasks. Others journey off because of circumstances beyond their control. Pastors are subject to the same conditions as anyone else.

In Matthew, Christ makes a desperate attempt to find the sheep that has gone astray. That is what is so appealing to those of us who have slipped away from the fold.

Christ still scours the countryside looking for us, even when we do not wish to be found. That is the gospel. What is not so evident is how the sheepfold will respond when Christ brings us back.

In Matthew, the sheepfold appears, at best, indifferent to Christ's return with the wayward member (18:13). Similarly, churches and clergy are not sure what to do with pastors who leave the ministry for whatever reason. They are considered damaged or broken, or abandoned by God somehow. Sometimes they are thought not to exist at all.

One pastor, when he told a colleague that he had left the church he had pastured, was met with a sigh and an "oh" that mocked his experience and pushed him aside.

Another pastor pulled beside a former church member only to have that member turn aside and ignore him altogether.

If Christ is so willing to search for the wayward, what can the church do to be ready when he brings them back?

First, do not be afraid of the reasons why he or she left - acknowledge the reasons when appropriate, and do not take their departure personally.

Second, if you have been directly responsible for someone leaving the church, learn from your actions, ask and extend forgiveness.

Third, do not ignore or forget any one who has slipped off - your memory and care for them may be something God uses to lure them back.

When I recently asked a professional counselor and friend about what the church could do for clerics whom Christ brings back into the sheepfold, he offered the three following suggestions: (1) re-clarify expectations, (2) provide for a sabbatical to lessen the accumulative affects of stress and vocational demands, (3) provide the resources for continued education, and (4) provide the resources for professional and confidential counseling or therapy.

If churches were more responsive to a pastor's emotional and spiritual needs, fewer of them would walk away.

12/30/2004 12:00:00 AM by Jeffrey Wisdom | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Jan. 23: Forgiving is Good for the Soul : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

December 30 2004 by Jeffrey Wisdom

Formations lesson for Jan. 23: Forgiving is Good for the Soul : Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

Formations lesson for Jan. 23: Forgiving is Good for the Soul

By Jeffrey Wisdom
Focal Passage: Matthew 18:23-35

A pastor friend tells the story of two families in one of his first pastorates. Both families seemed to be in constant conflict. Altercations ranged from trying to outdo the other in everyday situations to more disruptive outbursts usually saved for church business conferences.

The families never seemed able to forgive each other of anything. Instead, they were unknowingly making their situation worse.

A lack of forgiveness does nothing but increase our dependency on the one to whom forgiveness is denied. It diminishes the boundaries that help define who we are.

Henry Cloud and John Townsend discuss this in their book Boundaries. "(Boundaries) define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom . . . (And) nothing clarifies boundaries more than forgiveness. To forgive someone means to let them off the hook, or to cancel a debt he owes you."

Unforgiveness only reinforces co-dependency in a relationship already soured, but necessary to keep the cycle of failure and blame going. It denies all parties of what they could become. Being unforgiving robs people of their potential, self-control and self esteem.

"Unforgiving people allow other people to control them." Cloud and Townsend wrote. "Setting people who have hurt you free from an old debt is to stop wanting something from them; it sets you free as well. Forgiving can lead to proactive behavior in the present, instead of passive wishes from the past." Forgiveness, then, is an investment in your future.

In Matthew's Gospel, forgiveness is the focus of the text. Though Peter asks how often he should forgive someone (ch. 21-22), forgiveness is not a quotient. It is not something you do in your head. Forgiveness is a spirit and a trait of Christian living.

In Matthew, a servant is forgiven a sizable debt (18:23-27). He is loosed from a relationship that could have kept him tied up for years. He is set free to explore a new future. Instead, he takes all of his potential and his future and throws it away when he does not offer the same opportunity to another (vv. 28-30).

Although the first servant at first is forgiven, he is still controlled by someone else. He is more bound to those who owe him money then to his liberator. That type of bondage is what ultimately leads to his ruin and self-incrimination (vv. 18:31-34). He is at last thrown into prison to suffer a fate like the one he could not forgive. That is the outcome of un-forgiveness - it twists our fates to such an extent that we become a prisoner of our own making.

Consider how each of us has been like a servant who begs for the mercy of God. Our lives endangered by a debt we owe in order to satisfy a righteousness we cannot afford. We beg until we hear that our case is forgiven, then hold trivial grudges and senseless crusades of personal envy. How can we honestly call ourselves Christian when we cannot let go of other's failures and move into a new future?

If you read the text to its end, it is difficult to profess your faith without living it. Perhaps all any of us can do is beg again "Father forgive my disbelief."

12/30/2004 12:00:00 AM by Jeffrey Wisdom | with 0 comments

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