Lessons from “A Christmas Carol”

“A Christmas Carol” (1999)–Ebenezer Scrooge & the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

Most of us have seen a movie version or read the book by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) titled, A Christmas Carol,” published in 1843, that was probably the most popular piece of fiction that Charles Dickens ever wrote, and he wrote a lot including his famous book titled, The Tale of Two Cities,” published in 1859 (source here). Here is a very brief plot summary of “A Christmas Carol” by garykmcd:

Ebenezer Scrooge is a greedy businessman who thinks only of making money. For him, Christmas is, in his own words, a humbug. It has been seven years since his friend and partner, Jacob Marley, died and on Christmas Eve. Marley’s ghost tells him he is to be visited during the night by three spirits. The Ghost of Christmas Past revisits some of the main events in Scrooge’s life to date, including his unhappy childhood, his happy apprenticeship to Mr. Fezziwig who cared for his employees, and the end of his engagement to a pretty young woman due to his growing love of money. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him how joyously is nephew Fred and his clerk, Bob Cratchit, celebrate Christmas with those they love. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows him what he will leave behind after he is gone. Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning, a new man intent on doing good and celebrating the season with all of those around him. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on December 21, 2013, titled, Ebenezer Scrooge: a story of inner transformation,” by Paul Thompson, blogger at YourLifeForce.com, he states:

The Christmas classic by Dickins is a life-affirming story of the ability of each person to grow and transform their own life and the world around them, from the inside out, not the outside inRead it. It is actually a very short book, won’t take long and it packs a hefty punch. I think the story of Scrooge is inspiring about the fact that it is possible to transform one’s life and the lives of others. Second, while Dickens wrote the book to also highlight appalling conditions in Victorian times, it continues to be relevant to the point in history we are now in, with gross social and economic injustices still scarring our world. But importantly, we can all play some kind of part – small or big – to try and make this better, or at least not make it worse.

At the heart of “A Christmas Carol” is a person’s awakening – intense and deeply personal – that unmistakably changes his life and irrevocably alters the lives of others for the better.  By the end of the tale, Ebenezer evolves from a life of enjoying cruelty to offering generosity; from experiencing inner pain to reveling in healing and joy, and a transformation from appalling selfishness to selflessness.

Ebenezer’s example demonstrates something about the ‘revolutionary’ nature of ‘Love’ and its quiet, but fierce power to bring out what is really best and most true about us. His story is a reminder that the way to a better sense of self that lasts a lifetime starts from inside, from attitude, from the mind, from awareness of what is going on around you and how you choose to react to circumstances, since life and its happy times and not so happy times will always happen. (Quote source here.)

Scrooge was, obviously, a miser totally consumed with the making of money. In answer to the question which is the title of this brief article, What is the moral of the A Christmas Carol?” at Study.com:

The moral of “A Christmas Carol” is that the pursuit of money will not make a person happy. Scrooge devotes his life to amassing wealth, but in doing so misses out on the joys of family and friendship. The three spirits remind him of happier times, show him how others are enjoying the relationships he has shunned, and predict his sad end. He realizes that his money is best used making others happy and that his happiness will come from other people, not from the pursuit of money. (Quote source here.)

However, there is a bigger picture to “A Christmas Carol” that includes us. In an article published on December 23, 2015, titled, 10 Surprising Lessons from ‘A Christmas Carol,” by Bob Welch, speaker, author, award-winning columnist at The Register-Guard, Oregon’s second-largest newspaper, and adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, he states the following observations:

Isn’t the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge really what God seeks in us all?

Scrooge is now a dictionary-recognized word in the English language, and the phrase “Bah, humbug” is as much a part of Christmas as carols and killer mall traffic. But, frankly, come holiday, Ebenezer Scrooge gets a bad rap.

We hold his character up as the epitome of selfishness, but that’s to overlook how “A Christmas Carol” ends. To see Scrooge as a loser is to see Rocky Balboa as a loser, too, instead of hanging around to see how his fight with Apollo Creed turned out.

Rocky, of course, wins. And so, too, does Scrooge, defeating a lifetime of selfishness, a culture of class snobbery, and the materialistic demons that shackle him as they did his former business partner Jacob Marley. When Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning, he is nothing less than a new man, flinging open the windows of new possibilities and given to an entirely new outlook on life.

And isn’t that what God seeks in us all?

With that framework, here are 10 lessons we can learn from Charles Dickens’ Christmas favorite:

1. Learning begins with listening.

Initially, Scrooge wants nothing to do with the three spirits who endeavor to show him the errors of his ways. But once he realizes they have his best interest at heart, he willingly lets them lead. “Spirit,” he tells the Ghost of Christmas Present, “conduct me where you will.”

When we listen, we learn. When we learn, we have the potential to grow and change in ways that will not only help us, but also those around us. Says Proverbs 18:13, “To answer before listening — that is folly and shame.”

2. Humility enhances vision.

Scrooge has a change of heart after the 3rd ghost’s visit (from Disney’s “A Christmas Carol,” 2009).

It always galls me when some athlete or otherwise famous person is caught in some sort of transgression and, at the press conference, says, “That’s not who I am.” Wrong. That may not be “all” of who you are, but at least for now, it’s part of who you are. And you’ll never get well until you admit that.

Scrooge does this. He feels sorrow at past memories. He feels remorse for having treated people badly. In short, he humbles himself. And when we see ourselves for who we are, we are able to allow God to help make us more.

3. Regret leads to renewal.

This is related to our previous lesson, but points out an important part of the process: letting that humility morph into regret, but not letting it shackle us to regret. Humility and regret are always means to a greater, God-breathed end. Regret is the rocket booster on a space shuttle that allows the craft to soar to new heights, then detaches from it and falls helplessly into the Atlantic Ocean.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation,” says 2 Corinthians 7:10. But because of God’s grace, it doesn’t us fix us in our sin. Instead, it empowers us to shoot for the stars. How cool is it that Scrooge cries out to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, “I am not the man I once was!”

4. Bitterness will poison you.

Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, is a wise man. It is Fred who points out that “the consequences of (Scrooge’s) taking a dislike to us, and not merry with us, is, I think, that he loses some pleasant moments . . . he loses pleasant companions.”

In other words, in rebuffing Fred’s invitation to join in the Christmas merriment, it’s Scrooge who loses. It’s been said that bitterness is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die. Wrong. The victim of bitterness is ourselves.

5. There’s joy in starting over.

Scrooge gets a bad rap. Too much attention is paid to his mean-spiritedness and not enough to the all-new Ebenezer. We see the sullen, bitter, biting Scrooge, but not the laughing, giving, joyful Scrooge. On Christmas morning, however, he reminds us that starting over washes us in newness.

“I’m quite a baby,” he says. “Never mind, I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby.” People get in ruts and forget that they needn’t stay there. Scrooge’s turn-around reminds me there’s hope for us all, if we’re willing to begin anew.

6. We must be present to win.

On Christmas morn, one of the first things Scrooge does after realizing he’s been given a second chance at life is to fling open his window. He moves from self to the world at large. He notices life around him instead of only himself. To notice is to see. To see is to feel. To feel is to build connections with those around us. And to build connections is to bring love to the world.

When Scrooge asks a young lad to deliver a turkey to the family of the employee he has treated so shabbily, Bob Cratchit, it reminds us of this: the former taker is now a giver, which begins with noticing the needs of others.

7. Seeking forgiveness is a strength, not a weakness.

Actions often say we’re sorry more than words. For example, on Christmas morning, the born-again Scrooge makes a financial pledge to one of the two solicitors for the poor whom Ebenezer all but threw out of his office the previous day. The amount of money is so much that the solicitor says, “My dear Mr. Scrooge, are you serious?”

Scrooge was saying, in essence: “I am sorry for being so stingy my entire life.” That wasn’t easy. But it affirmed that Scrooge’s turnaround is real stuff.

8. We need to live with the end in mind.

“Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on that stone,” says Scrooge when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows him the headstone with Ebenezer’s name on it.

The catalyst for Scrooge finally realizing he’s wasted his life on money and power is seeing that there’s an end to that life — and it’s a rather depressing end. To live with the end in mind is to be inspired to change now.

9. Redemption is about changed hearts.

We Christians try so hard to change people’s minds, but what needs changing isn’t views on presidential candidates or social issues. What needs changing is people’s hearts — ours and others.

What’s fascinating about Scrooge’s journey to renewal is that when he arrived at Christmas morning his circumstances were utterly unchanged. What had changed was his heart. Says Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

10. It’s never too late to change.

Nobody would have bet a pound on Scrooge turning his life around. But that’s the power of God’s grace: nobody is beyond the reach of His love for us. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you,” says Matthew 7:7.

But if He is there, the final question becomes: Will we make ourselves available to Him? “It’s too late for me,” some may lament. Wrong. As someone once said, the best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago, but the second best time is now. It’s a lesson that Ebenezer Scrooge teaches us well every Christmas. (Quote source here.)

I’ve written two previous posts in the past eleven days on the subject of forgiveness and second chances: The Season for Second Chances” (published on December 6, 2018), and Serenity and Second Chances (published on December 12, 2018). And the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is definitely about second chances. Much like Scrooge, while we cannot change the past, we can change the future–and it’s up to us to do so. We all have regrets, but the choices we make right now can make all the difference in the world. So remember the words of Bob Welch in his article above when it comes to making amends and moving forward . . .

The best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago . . .

But the second best time . . .

IS NOW . . . .

YouTube Video: “God Bless Us Everyone (A Christmas Carol 2009)” by Andrea Bocelli:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here (short Disney video)

Serenity and Second Chances

There’s a line near the end of the movie,Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” where Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) says to his daughter, “Human beings… you gotta give ‘em a break. We’re all mixed bags.” He was in need of forgiveness from her, big time, and she gave it to him.

Six days ago I published two blog posts on the subject of forgiveness. The first post is titled, The Season for Second Chances,” published on this blog, and the second post titled, A Journey to Forgiveness,” is published on my Reflections on the Journey blog. I happen to believe that forgiveness and serenity, along with second chances, are very much intertwined.

Serenity is defined as “the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled” (quote source here), and it is often very hard to find in the fast-paced world in which we live in today. Most likely, it has always been hard to find.

Most of us are familiar with the Serenity Prayer.” It is the common name for a prayer written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) (source here). The best known form of it is the first part of the prayer (available at this link):

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

The complete, unabridged, original version of this prayer is as follows (available at this link):

God, give us grace to accept with serenity 
the things that cannot be changed, 
Courage to change the things 
which should be changed, 
and the Wisdom to distinguish 
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time, 
Enjoying one moment at a time, 
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, 
Taking, as Jesus did, 
This sinful world as it is, 
Not as I would have it, 
Trusting that You will make all things right, 
If I surrender to Your will, 
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, 
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

One of our main shortcomings that disrupt forgiveness and serenity in our lives stem from our relationships with other people, situations, and circumstances that we encounter in life that we have little or no power to control or change. It’s not that we don’t try to change them (like quitting a job we can’t stand or filing for divorce or having an affair or “fill in the blank”), but all too often we try to manipulate and coerce our way (either overtly or covertly) to get what we want. However, this life it is not just about us and what we want (contrary to the message often given to us by our surrounding culture).

In the short term we might and often do find some success at our manipulation of circumstances or people, but at what ultimate cost? Nobody knows the future, and all we really have is today. However, there is always a bigger picture going own beyond our own set of circumstances, and that picture is clearly stated in Ephesians 6:10-18. The J.B. Phillips New Testament modern English translation states those verses as follows:

In conclusion be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of his boundless resource. Put on God’s complete armor so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground. Take your stand then with truth as your belt, righteousness your breastplate, the Gospel of peace firmly on your feet, salvation as your helmet and in your hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Above all be sure you take faith as your shield, for it can quench every burning missile the enemy hurls at you. Pray at all times with every kind of spiritual prayer, keeping alert and persistent as you pray for all Christ’s men and women.

It’s hard not to focus on a particular person or persons we think might be the cause of our problem or circumstances, whether at work with coworkers, or in our families or among our friends, and even from complete strangers. Because we live in a physical world we often react accordingly, but the reality is that there is a spiritual world going on behind the scenes all around us, influencing both them and us.

In an article titled, When Life Is Hard: 9 Reminders that God Fights for Us,” by Debbie McDaniel, writer, pastor’s wife, dramatist, and blogger, she states:

Whether we recognize it or not, this truth daily confronts us, we face an enemy here in this life. It’s more than what we can see before us. It’s more than another person who we think has wronged us. It’s more than our own struggles and weaknesses we deal with, or the negative self-talk we sometimes battle….

Remember, your battle today may be more about what is unseen than what you see before you. (Quote source and complete article here).

This brings me back to the subject of forgiveness and, ultimately, serenity. In an article titled, What did Jesus teach about forgiveness,” by Fr. Michael Van Sloun, pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, and a former school principal, high school instructor and athletic coach, he states:

Jesus often spoke about forgiveness, forgave those who sinned against others, forgave those who sinned against him, and asked the Church to continue his healing ministry. Jesus taught, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you” (Matt. 6:14). Peter asked Jesus how often it is necessary to forgive, and Jesus replied, “Seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:22), a number to be taken symbolically, not literally, for the never-ending way that we ought to forgive.

Jesus liked to use parables to illustrate various aspects of forgiveness. During his conversation with Peter, Jesus told the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:23-35). Luke’s gospel has a series of five forgiveness parables: the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9); the bent over woman (Luke 13:10-13); the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7); the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10); and the greatest forgiveness parable of all, the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).

Jesus was extremely kind and merciful in the way that he forgave those who sinned against others. Jesus told the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5); when a sinful woman bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48); when a woman caught in adultery was brought before him, he said, “I do not condemn you” (John 8:11); and as Jesus hung on the cross he told the repentant criminal, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Even more compelling is the way that Jesus forgave those who sinned against him directly. For Jesus, forgiveness was not automatic; it was intentional, a conscious choice. After the Roman soldiers had scourged and nailed him, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). After the resurrection Jesus had every right to be furious. Peter had denied him. The others had deserted him. When he entered the Upper Room, they deserved a severe reprimand, but instead, with divine compassion Jesus said not once but three times, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21, 26).

Jesus asked his disciples to continue his forgiveness ministry. Jesus told Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19); and after the resurrection Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (John 20:22, 23). (Quote source here.)

The important of extending forgiveness to others (as in all others) cannot be underestimated. In fact, it is crucial, and without it, nothing else matters. In an article titled, Apologies, Forgiveness, and Serenity, a Day of Atonement,” by Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D., a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist, she states:

When friends, family, and community members take the time to reflect upon how they might have hurt each other, sincerely ask for forgiveness, and find it in their hearts to forgive themselves and others, they find themselves experiencing a deep and real serenity. (Quote source here.)

It is in extending forgiveness that leads to “a deep and real serenity.” And since Christmas is right around the corner, this is a gift that is truly priceless, and it has the ability to change everyone and everything it touches. and give everyone involved a second chance.

I’ll end this post with the words from Colossians 3:12-14 from The Message BibleSo, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on . . . .

Wear love . . .

It’s your basic, all-purpose garment . . .

Never be without it . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac [ft. Lacrae]:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Season for Second Chances

Tis the season of gift giving, and most folks are busy buying presents to give to others for Christmas, and often whether they can afford to do so or not. In an article titled, The Gift of Giving,” by Christie Hoos, wife, mother, writer and blogger, she states:

At a time of year when giving can sometimes feel more like an obligation and a burden than the privilege it really is, how can we become the cheerful givers God intended us to be? The first step is to look for opportunities to give more and to give better. Feeling follows action, not the other way around….

Gift giving is much more than an obligation. It is an opportunity to love somebody else. Since we all have our own love languages, to really show love to another person takes a lot more effort than simply grabbing the first thing you see at the store that fits into your budget. (Quote source here.)

This morning I read a chapter in Max Lucado‘s book, Second Chances: More Stories of Grace,” regarding a gift that fits into everyone’s budget as it doesn’t cost any money to give, but at the same time it costs us our pride, ego, resentment, and our propensity to seek revenge to give it. It’s a short story but the message is quite clear. The chapter is titled, “The Father in the Face of the Enemy,” and it’s in Chapter 30 in the book:

Daniel is big. He used to make his living by lifting weights and teaching others to do the same. His scrapbook is colorful with ribbons and photos of him in his prime, striking the muscle-man pose and flexing the bulging arms.

The only thing bigger than Daniel’s biceps is his heart. Let me tell you about a time his heart became tender. Daniel was living in the southern city of Porto Alegre. He worked at a gym and dreamed of owning his own. The bank agreed to finance the purchase if he could find someone to cosign the note. His brother agreed.

They filled out all the applications and awaited the approval. Everything went smoothly, and Daniel soon received a call from the bank telling him he could come and pick up the check. As soon as he got off work, he went to the bank.

When the loan officer saw Daniel, he looked surprised and asked Daniel why he had come.

“To pick up the check,” Daniel explained.

“That’s funny,” responded the banker. “Your brother was in here earlier. He picked up the money and used it to retire the mortgage on his house.”

Daniel was incensed. He never dreamed his own brother would trick him like that. He stormed over to his brother’s house and pounded on the door. The brother answered the door with his daughter in his arms. He knew Daniel wouldn’t hit him if he was holding a child.

He was right. Daniel didn’t hit him. But he promised his brother that if he ever saw him again he would break his neck.

Daniel went home, his big heart bruised and ravaged by the trickery of his brother. He had no other choice but to go back to the gym and work to pay off the debt.

A few months later, Daniel met a young American missionary named Allen Dutton. Allen befriended Daniel and taught him about Jesus Christ. Daniel and his wife soon became Christians and devoted disciples.

But though Daniel had been forgiven so much, he still found it impossible to forgive his brother. The wound was deep. The pot of revenge still simmered. He didn’t see his brother for two years. Daniel couldn’t bring himself to look into the face of the one who had betrayed him. And his brother liked his own face too much to let Daniel see it.

But an encounter was inevitable. Both knew they would eventually run into each other. And neither knew what would happen then.

The encounter occurred one day on a busy avenue. Let Daniel tell you in his own words what happened:

I saw him, but he didn’t see me. I felt my fists clench and my face get hot. My initial impulse was to grab him around the throat and choke the life out of him.

But as I looked into his face, my anger began to melt. For as I saw him, I saw the image of my father. I saw my father’s eyes. I saw my father’s look. I saw my father’s expression. And as I saw my father in his face, my enemy once again became my brother.

Daniel walked toward him. The brother stopped, turned, and started to run, but he was too slow. Daniel reached out and grabbed his shoulder. The brother winced, expecting the worst. But rather than have his throat squeezed by Daniel’s hands, he found himself hugged by Daniel’s big arms. And the two brothers stood in the middle of the river of people and wept.

Daniel’s words are worth repeating: “When I saw the image of my father in his face, my enemy became my brother.”

Seeing the father’s image in the face of the enemy. Try that. The next time you see or think of the one who broke your heart, look twice. As you look at his face, look also for His face–the face of the One who forgave you. Look into the eyes of the King who wept when you pleaded for mercy. Look into the face of the Father who gave you grace when no one else gave you a chance. Find the face of the God who forgives in the face of your enemy. And then, because God has forgiven you more than you’ll ever be called on to forgive in another, set your enemy–and yourself–free.

And allow the hole in your heart to heal. (Quote source, “Second Chances,” Chapter 30, pp. 183-186)

The gift we can give is the gift of forgiveness. In an article titled, The Many Benefits of the Gift of Forgiveness,” by Patti Armstrong, an award winning author, blogger, and former managing editor at Ascension Press, she writes:

Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.

When someone hurts us, the words “…as we forgive those who trespass against us…” stick in our throats. But according to science, we hurt ourselves even more if we don’t forgive them. It’s not that it’s easy, just necessary to follow God’s command, and for our good health.

Recent studies reveal that unconditional forgiveness leads to higher levels of well-being and less health problems. The studies also show that people who believe God has forgiven them throughout their life, find it easier to forgive others. Yet, forgiveness is anything but easy.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with malice. be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32).

The struggle with forgiveness is common, according to Linda Rose Igrisano, author ofStrength for Your Journey.” Throughout the past 36 years working as a singer/evangelist and retreat master, and serving in a healing apostolate, she often works helps people to forgive.

“Forgiveness is hard, yet it is commanded to follow Jesus,” Ingrisano said. “Otherwise, we hurt and destroy ourselves and each other by our hatefulness, and refusal to forgive, and I am sure that we also hurt our Lord.” She acknowledged that often we are innocent victims but still, we have the power to respond to God’s command to forgive although it may take perseverance and an act of the will.

“I often say to people: ‘I know it wasn’t right what that person did to you, but that’s between them and God,’” she said. “Keep repeating those words out of love and obedience to God and God will, in His time, fill you with that grace to forgive.” (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, When Forgiveness Seems Impossible,” by Ross Rhoads, D.D. (1932-2017), co-founder of Southern Evangelical Seminary, chaplain for the Billy Graham Association, vice chairman on the Board of Directors of Samaritan’s Purse and World Medical Mission, and former pastor at Calvary Church, he writes:

Why is forgiveness so difficult? It is difficult because it is so contrary to human nature. In societies and cultures not affected by the Judeo-Christian ethic, forgiveness is not a virtue, but a weakness. Offenses demand punishment and revenge becomes the only appropriate response. Or if forgiveness is offered, it appears to relieve and excuse the offender of responsibility. What if forgiveness is the willing offer of the person offended, but the offender refuses to acknowledge the wrong?

Throughout Scripture, forgiveness is expressed in various ways. In the Old Testament, forgiveness means “to take away, to atone by sacrifice and substitution.” In the New Testament, it is “to cancel a debt,” but it does not overlook the offender’s act or obligation. The debt is satisfied by the one to whom it was owed, or by someone else. This is the message of the grace of God: He cancels the debt of sin by the payment, or atonement, made by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Repentance and remission are inseparable in forgiveness. These are the means by which God can forgive: by the confession of sinful debt to God and acceptance of the Savior as the substitute sin-bearer. When God forgives, He also releases the offending sinner from the consequences of His wrath and eternal punishment. The forgiven are reconciled with God through Jesus Christ, and peace and joy prevail forever.

Jesus’ model is the secret to interpersonal forgiveness. The Scripture teaches, forgive one another even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32). The “even as” states the formula. Just as God forgives, we are to forgive. Confession admits the offense and states the truth. It does not ignore the wrong, or deny the reality. It thus releases forgiveness to the offender and restores fellowship. If God’s conditions are met, He is bound by His Word to forgive. But God’s forgiveness is effective only when there is the admission of sin. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV).

Likewise, in human relationships, forgiveness demands an apology, and that is the obligation of the one who caused the offense. However, apologies can be inadequate.

“Whatever it was that you think I did, I’m sorry.” This claims perception is the problem. “I’m sorry that you took it the wrong way.” This is reverse blame, a denial of responsibility. “I didn’t know you were so hurt.” A plea of ignorance doesn’t settle the wrong. Full restoration of the relationship and complete forgiveness are accomplished only when there is admission of wrongdoing, genuine regret over the offense and an apology that admits the gravity of the injury.

But what if the one who has offended us does not apologize? Are we free to withhold forgiveness? No. Many times withholding forgiveness is a form of subtle control, power and passive punishment in an attempt to get even. God forgives, but people view getting even and settling the score as an easier solution. Are there some offenses and hurts that can never be forgiven? Scripture teaches that we are to offer forgiveness as God does–freely. Whatever forgiveness we offer to others has been first given to us without limit.

Finally, what if we grant forgiveness to the offender, but the memory and pain of the offense remains? Is forgiveness incomplete? The truth is only God is perfect and remembers our sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34). But we must earnestly and prayerfully forgive, in spite of the painful memories. (Quote source here.)

In the last article on forgiveness titled, How to Give the Gift of Forgiveness,” by Alisa Nicaud at FlourishingToday.com, she opens her article with three verses on forgiveness, and ends it with some practical advice on how to genuinely forgive someone who has harmed us in some way:

Then Peter came and said to Him, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22 NLT

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. –Colossians 3:13 NLT

[Regarding those who have offended us, she states]:

We never know what people are going through. God will help us to see them the way He sees them if we ask. The truth is, I have been forgiven. Knowing how much I have been forgiven helps me to forgive others more freely. I’ve learned this about relationships: We have to create space for other people’s faults. We need to draw mercy from the same well that we receive mercy from… Christ.

Practical Tips for Giving the Gift of Forgiveness this Christmas:

Forgiveness

Who can you give the gift of forgiveness to? Is there someone who has hurt you that you need to forgive? Make a conscience choice to forgive them and ask God to bless them. Buy them a small gift that will express that you have brought closure to the issue and you no longer hold a grudge against them.

Check Our Hearts

We are given the opportunity daily to be offended by someone. Each day we can check our hearts and ask God if there is anyone that we need to forgive. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Pray

We need to pray for those who offend us. Ask God to bless them every time we think of them or see them. We can’t change people, but God can. Your prayers are powerful. (James 5:16) (Quote source here.)

So this Christmas may we let forgiveness rule in our hearts and lives. And let us also remember the words of Ephesians 4:32 which states: Be kind to each other, tenderhearted . . .

Forgiving one another . . .

Just as God through Christ . . .

Has forgiven you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by Matthew West:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Moving Forward (It’s About Second Chances)

Moving Forward (It's About Second Chances)When I resurrected this blog on July 8, 2011, after deleting the contents from the previous year when I originally started it (July 2010), I published a post I had previously written on March 19, 2011, titled, Moving Forward.” It was the story of my spiritual journey from the time I lost my job in Houston on April 21, 2009, until that point in time (almost two years later). I followed it up with a post written on March 26, 2011, titled, Don’t Lose Your Soul At The Crossroads,” which was a continuation of the first post and republished on the same date, July 8, 2011.

Several months later, I wrote a post titled Second Chances (published January 23, 2012), written almost a year later from the original dates when I wrote the above two posts and also as I was coming up to the end my third year of unemployment. In it I wrote about being a “late bloomer” much like what Jesus talked about in the parable about the workers in the vineyard who were hired throughout the day (from dawn right up until the very last hour of the work day) and how they were all paid the same amount of money regardless of how long they had worked (see Matt. 20:1-16).

Well folks, I’m about to end my fourth year of unemployment in early (April) 2013. Who knew, right? And it’s been a very long haul . . . . Looking back, I’m glad that on the day I was fired (April 21,2009) I had no idea what was up ahead and that I would still be unemployed several years later. If I had known that at that time, I would have requested that they take me to the roof of that building (a six-story building) and throw me off. The upside to that is that I wouldn’t have spent the last three years and eight months in an absolutely futile attempt to find employment and I would have been in Heaven all this time, too!!! However, that was obviously not God’s plan for me (and no doubt somebody at that former place of employment would be in jail for throwing me off the roof). I say all of that tongue-in-cheek as I certainly don’t have a “death wish” even after almost four years of unemployment. But this is getting WAY OLD, folks!!!

If you’ve read any of my previous posts (176 including this one since July 8, 2011), you are familiar with my journey and how it has taken on a whole new perspective and direction beyond the initial (and frantic) search to find another job, which is still certainly something I keep looking for as I need an income. However, God graciously kept it a secret from me that I would be unemployed for so very, very long. Not only that, but all of the thoughts I had back then about how I thought God would work in my life after being fired bit the dust (e.g., that I was sure God would bring me a new job within six months or at the longest a year since I am self-supporting and knew I’d be financially destitute by the end of that first year without another job). Well, here I am almost four years later and I’m not broke yet (that–in and of itself–is no small miracle).

Years ago I read a book titled, Your God Is Too Small,” by J.B. Phillips (1906-1982). Originally published in 1952, it was republished several times (the latest in 2004) and is available through Amazon.com. While the copy I owned has long since been lost (no doubt among the 1000+ books I lost when I left Houston in 2009), the title has always stayed with me. The book is broken up into two parts: Part One: Destructive (Unreal Gods), and Part Two: Constructive (An Adequate God). There is a long list in the “Destructive” section that I’m sure many of us can relate to–here’s some of the chapter titles: “Resident Policeman,” “Parental Hangover,” “Grand Old Man,” “Meek-and-Mild,” “Absolute Perfection,” “Heavenly Bosom,” “God-in-a-Box,” “Managing Director,” “Second-hand God,” “Perennial Grievance,” “Pale Galilean,” and “Projected Image.” Several of those titles most likely ring a bell in all of us as to how we personally view God. However, the one that really intrigued me was “God-in-a-Box.” A PDF of the book in plain text is available at this link but be aware that it is 97 pages in length.

In the chapter titled, “God-in-a-Box,” the topic of which is regarding denominations (pp. 22-25 in the PDF) J.B. Phillips states, “There are doubtless many reasons for the degeneration of Christianity into ‘churchiness,’ and the narrowing of the Gospel for all mankind into a set of approved beliefs (e.g., within denominations); but the chief cause must be the worship of an inadequate god, a cramped and regulated god who is ‘a good churchman’ according to the formulas of the worshipper. For actual behavior infallibly betrays the real object of man’s worship” (pp. 24-25). I think many of us would agree that those of us raised in a certain denomination tend to believe what we have been taught about God in that particular denomination. And in so doing, we put God in that particular denominational box and this extends into our own personal relationship with Christ and our own image of who God is. Unfortunately, most of the time it is very small . . . e.g., “destructive.”

We do put God in a box all the time whether we realize it or not. For example, we say we believe in miracles but do we really? Here’s an example from my own life: I was sure (well, greatly hoping) that God would not leave me unemployed for longer then my savings (and unemployment checks) would hold out (a year at the max from the time I was fired as normally unemployment benefits only last six months and my savings added to it would keep me going for an additional six months). I couldn’t “see” beyond what my bank account told me was “impossible” at the time–e.g., that I could survive almost four years of unemployment and still not be broke when my actual funds at that time would only last a year. When we find ourselves in a tight spot and look to our own resources, we forget all about the fact that Jesus twice fed crowds of 4000 (Mark 8:1-10) and 5000 (Mark 6:34-44) with a few fish and a few loaves of bread.

In the routine of our daily lives, we tend to live in a very small world when it comes to understanding God. And at times, He will intervene through circumstances to get us to see Him and this world of ours as being much larger than we can even imagine. Initially when I lost my job I viewed it as God’s way of taking me out of a bad situation (which it was) and in my way of thinking He was going to place me in a job better suited for whatever it was He wanted me to accomplish and do it within a year due to my financial situation. Of course, at that time I didn’t realize how small the box was that I had put God in until my “new” life of unemployment began to unfold. And unfold it did sometimes very painfully when I came close to getting a job but didn’t get it, and I didn’t understand why.

When God intervenes in our comfortable world, it turns our world upside down. For example, the Apostle Paul had it “made in the shade” when he was a Pharisee–highly respected, publicly recognized, most likely well off financially–he had all the trappings of “success” in his profession, and he was “religious” to the core–a Pharisee of Pharisees–and he didn’t even recognize that he was heading down the wrong road. Indeed, he wasn’t even looking for a different road because he thought he had it right. And then Jesus met him on the Damascus Road, and his encounter with Jesus Christ changed his life forever. He wrote about the change that happened to him in Philippians 3:7-14:

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

“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.”

In his comfortable life as a Pharisee he couldn’t see beyond the facade. But when Jesus intervened in his life, he couldn’t go back to what he once knew. Everything changed, especially his focus. It went from “living by the rules” to “knowing Jesus Christ personally” and the whole course of his life was forever changed . . .

. . . And that is what He wants to do with us–get rid of the box we’ve put Him in and the “religious” games we play and our assumptions about Him and how He works in our lives and in the lives of others. We need to stop judging what we don’t understand and realize that miracles DO happen everyday, and many times they are disguised in trials, and in my case, it has been this very long “trial” of unemployment. What He did for me wasn’t about just “finding another job.” No–it was about finding Him–not from a salvation standpoint as He has been my Savior since I was ten years old, but by taking Him out of the very small box I had put Him in which made my world small and self-contained.

I still don’t know what the future holds nor do I know how much longer this trial of mine will last, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is moving me forward and has given me a second chance. He has broadened my world and my view of Him in ways I absolutely couldn’t have imagined before I lost my job. He has become more real to me then a next door neighbor. And He is the God of second chances, and He loves to do it even when we initially shake in our boots and don’t understand because it is disguised as a crisis or trial. After all, as Isaiah stated a long time ago:

“I don’t think the way you think.
    The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
        God’s Decree.
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
    so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
    and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
“Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
    and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
“Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
    producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
“So will the words that come out of my mouth
    not come back empty-handed.
“They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
    they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.”
~Isaiah 55:8-11 MSG

I’ll end this post with two of my favorite verses which hold the key to taking God out of the box we put Him in (you’ll most likely recognize them, too):

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
~Proverbs 3:5-6

He does, indeed, make all things new.

YouTube Video: “Moving Forward” (2008) composed and sung by Israel Houghton and the Lakewood Church Worship Team:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here