Thursday, June 27, 2013

Just a Taste, a Little Sampling

Have you ever gone to one of those ice cream stores with all the esoteric flavors? Yes, they have the traditional vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, but they entice you to experience an ice cream adventure. A trip to the wild side of frozen confections.

Some of the flavors are easy to dismiss. Like marshmallow mustard swirl, or jalapeno banana garlic delight. No thank you. Or peanut butter mushroom truffle. Uh…no. And boysenberry walnut broccoli will always rank among my least favorites.

Once we've taken a taste, we can choose
whether we're interested in having more.
But there are other flavors that are intriguing. You see the name and think, “I wonder how that tastes?” Something like chocolate coconut mint. Or strawberry orange sprinkle?

Maybe you’re a bit tired of your standard butter pecan, rocky road or mint chocolate chip, and feeling frivolous enough for something new and different. But don’t want to risk a whole cone or dish on something that might sound better than it tastes. So you request a sample, and they provide it on a tiny spoon. You know, the size that would work well for a four-week-old infant?

You take the taste and decide, “Wow, that’s great! I’ll have some more,” or conclude, “Nope. Think I’ll stick with my usual, chocolate almond.” But at least you got to try it, right? Just a sample, to see if it’s for you?

In a sense, God does that for us with everyday life experiences. Much of every day is mundane, humdrum stuff of little consequence. But once in a while we encounter something spectacular, so far out of the ordinary it practically takes our breath away. A gorgeous sunrise or sunset, for example. A flower exploding with color, or a beautiful bird perched on a nearby branch. A baby or toddler so adorable you can’t help but giggle.

At such times I can almost hear the Lord saying, “You think that’s something? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” (Hey, if He chooses to use bad grammar, who am I to say He can’t?)

I’ve had times like that spiritually as well. A classic hymn striking a chord in my heart, making me feel so close to God I’m afraid to move for fear of losing that sense. Or hearing someone tell what the Lord has done in their life and I want to cheer: “Yup, that’s Abba. That’s my Father!” Or reading a Bible passage that seems written just for me.

The Bible says God delights in giving us a taste of what’s to come, but just a taste – not an entire meal. For instance, Psalm 34:8 tells us, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” Elsewhere we’re told, “Like newborn babies, crave your spiritual milk, so that you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3).

For some of us this taste, the occasional sampling God provides in our lives, is enough to make us long for more of the real thing. Jesus told His followers, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Especially as I get older, I figure if Jesus has prepared a place for me, I’m eager to check it out.

But like at the ice cream shop, where the taste of some flavors isn’t appealing, not all people sampling the “taste” from God want more. For whatever reason, it’s not for them. And just as the ice cream server doesn’t force us to eat a flavor we don’t want, nonbelievers aren’t forced to accept what God offers.

I’m not a theologian, but perhaps that’s why Hebrews 6:4-6 states, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift…who have tasted the goodness of the word of God…if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance.”

God doesn’t just offer an ice cream cone, or some little treat. He presents a lavish banquet, and invites us to be His guests. But like a gracious host, He doesn’t force us to come. On the heavenly RSVP, we can check the “I will not be attending” box.

His only response is, “You don’t know what you’re missing.”

Monday, June 24, 2013

Remembering Not To Forget

More than three decades ago, one of my first assignments as a new CBMC staff member was to attend a one-day training session to learn how to properly use the daily planner then called "Time:Systems." (You know a daily planner must be good if you need training to use it right.)

Actually, I did learn a lot, especially that every day significant mental energy is expended trying to remind ourselves not to forget important things. The training taught me a simple solution to such forgetfulness: Write it down.

For decades my daily planner has been the solution
to my "forgetter": I just write things down I must remember.
When you write down things you want to remember, you only have to remember where you wrote down the stuff you need to remember. Got it?

I also learned to maintain only one to-do list, not separate lists for work and for personal concerns. That helps you avoid making commitments at work when you already have family obligations, and vice versa. Write it down, keep everything together, and simply remember to review your list occasionally. This frees up your mind for more pressing matters.

One other memory trick I discovered – actually this one I taught myself – was when I think of something I don’t want to forget, wherever and whenever that occurs, write it down immediately. Even if I awaken from a sound sleep.

Early in my newspaper career I learned this lesson the hard way. On a couple occasions I woke up in the middle of the night with great ideas for articles or columns. “That’s good. I’ll have to remember that in the morning,” I thought, before turning over to return to dreamland. Come morning the marvelous idea, whatever it was, was gone. Vanished, like a vapor.

Perhaps it could been the seed for the next great American novel, the secret to world peace, or something of that magnitude. But whatever it was, it had been withdrawn from my memory bank.

So I resolved that whenever I have an idea good enough to wake me up in the wee dark hours, I’d write it down. Right then and there. Whether in a notepad on the nightstand next to my bed, or actually getting up to type it on my computer. In fact, I did that just last night. I woke up with a crazy idea rattling around my mind – no idea where it had come from – but thought, “If I don’t write this down, it won’t be there when I get up in the morning.”

Now whether this idea ever amounts to anything, time will tell. But the point is, I didn’t have to fret about forgetting it. I lost no sleep reminding myself not to forget.

This is one reason God often tells His people, in essence, “Write it down.” For instance, after God used Moses to lead the Israelites to a decisive victory, He directed him, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered…” (Exodus 17:14).

Instructing His people to never forget the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” God instructed fathers in Israel to “Impress them on your children…. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

New Testament authors frequently explained the importance of putting into writing the truths and principles that undergirded their faith. The apostle Paul wrote, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1).

There are numerous other examples, but the point is simple: Write down what God has done in your life. So when times come, and they will, that you want to ask, “Lord, what have you done for me lately?” you have a supply of written reminders not only to help you remember His provision in the past, but also His promises for the future.

You can maintain a spiritual journal, make notations in the margins of your Bible, whatever works for you. How you do it makes little difference – just do it. Write what God has done in your life and periodically review what you’ve written.

And while you’re at it, be faithful to regularly read what others have written – in the Word of God. Even Jesus, when tempted by Satan, would respond, “It is written…,” and quote from the Scriptures. If it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Those Were the Days . . . Weren’t They?

As people age, we occasionally indulge in reminiscing about “the good ole days.” I write another blog ( reflecting on my younger days. But you don’t need to be compiling personal memoirs to recognize that although days gone by weren’t necessarily better, they definitely were different.

How different? That’s obvious when you start talking about something from your past and youthful listeners give you puzzled looks, as if you’ve just arrived from another planet.

The good old days? When TVs had
rabbit ears and no remote?
For example, consider the TV remote, one of mankind’s favorite tools. When I was a boy, remote control hadn’t been invented. (What? A world without remotes?) To change the channel – all three back then! – you had to physically arise from your seat, walk to the TV, and turn the dial. We risked sprained wrists, but it had to be done!

The TV also had a tuner, used to sharpen the black-and-white image; “rabbit ears” to snatch the broadcast transmission right out of the air; and an assortment of mysterious-looking tubes in the back that periodically burned out and needed to be changed.

Recently a friend wrote about Kodak “Brownie” cameras. I had one, a small black box with a simple lens that permitted light to enter while you depressed the shutter button. Inside the camera, film unrolled like a scroll. In answer to the question, “Get any good pictures?” most amateur photographers – if they were honest – would answer, “Probably not.”

But in comparing the seemingly good old days with today, some of the most striking differences involve the telephone. Nearly everyone, regardless of demographic or economic status, has a cell phone. As a result, pay phones have virtually disappeared. Not long ago a friend lamented hunting 30 minutes in his hometown to find one.

Everywhere in the world,
pay phones and phone
booths are vanishing.
Once commonly seen on street corners, shopping malls and airports, pay phones are rarely seen because they’re not needed. In fact, I’ve heard people admit seeing someone in a phone booth makes them suspect a sinister, nefarious plot being hatched. Why else would someone want to make a call with the anonymity of a pay phone?

The point is, like it or not, things change. Inventors and innovators always search for better ways of doing things. At the same time, while methodologies may change, for the most part the things we do don’t. As the saying goes, “Form follows function,” and while forms are continually in flux, functions – things that need to be done – remain fairly constant.

When I began my career as a journalist, I used a manual typewriter. Today I used a remote keyboard linked electronically to my computer, but still do the same kind of work – only easier and more efficiently.

Old, rotary dial telephones have become relics, replaced by cell phones, texting, email and social media, but in the end we’re still just trying to communicate with someone.

King Solomon of Israel observed, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10).

Through the centuries, life has been pretty basic – doing the same things, but striving to do them better, more effectively, differently. Clothing has changed dramatically, even shockingly through the centuries, but it’s always been about covering and protecting. Whether it’s camels, horses or cars, they’re all for the same purpose – getting from point A to point B. And in its countless forms, housing has always been about shelter and security.

So if Solomon was right, there truly is nothing totally new under the sun, what are we to do? Is life nothing more than a rat race that no one wins? He even stated, ”Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

But the sage monarch finished with this upbeat perspective: "Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). This, too, is not new. It’s as old as the “olden days.” But, as Solomon observed, it gives life context, purpose and significance. And hope.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Confusion About This ‘Love’ Stuff

When I was a boy, I looked forward to the times my grandfather visited from Pennsylvania. He’d walk in with his little suitcase, along with a small box. The box contained treats – pieces of candy and chewing gum he’d collected for his grandchildren. In his rich Hungarian accent he called it, “kendee” and “choon gum.”

Grandpa Tamasy wasn’t an outwardly affectionate man, but this was his way of displaying his love for us. At first the sweets were a pleasant surprise. Then they became expected, as if we were entitled to them. If he’d arrived without them, we would have wanted to know why.

I remember a time while visiting him that I’d damaged one of my toys. An excellent, self-taught mechanic, Grandpa went to his basement to get some tools and repair the toy. He came back up and told me, “I can’t fix it.” I responded – to my shame today – “You can’t fix anything!” (Yes, I was a brat.)

The reason for recalling what I said is because I’ll never forget the hurt in his eyes after I’d said it. Without a word, my grandfather turned and went back to the basement. When he ascended the stairs again, he carried the toy, restored. No words of rebuke. He just handed me the toy, an expression of his love for me.

Sometimes when people repeat the passage from the Bible, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), I think that’s how they perceive it. God is like a kindly old grandfather, eager to bring us nice stuff, incredibly understanding and tolerant of our failings, and more than willing to forgive. No matter what we do, He’ll just smile and pat us on the head.

There some truth to that, but to thus confine our view of God’s love is to insult Him beyond words. It also limits our appreciation for all He is and all He’s done for us.

Continuing on in the “God is love” passage provides some clarity. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

As someone has said, God loves us as we are – but loves us too much to let us remain that way. God hates sin – our sins – so much that He paid the penalty for them, to redeem and reconcile us to Himself. Romans 5:8 states, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Elsewhere Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends” (John 15:13). He made this statement with full knowledge of the death He would experience on the cross.

So when we talk about God being love – or when a tragedy occurs and we wonder, “How could a loving God allow something like that?” – we should understand the love of God isn’t a warm, fuzzy, snuggly emotion, but a profound, self-sacrificing, unconditional commitment.

One that is willing to endure the most horrific of deaths…to repair a broken humanity.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Technological Umbilical Cord?

Remember the days before everyone had cell phones? No, dinosaurs didn’t roam the earth then, although it almost seems that way.

Today it’s like everyone’s connected by a technological umbilical cord, never farther than a ringtone from home, work, loved ones and friends. I was reminded of this recently when I did the unthinkable – I went to run several errands and left my cell phone at home! What a queasy, uneasy feeling. It seemed almost as if I’d forgotten to wear pants. Were people staring at me?

How did we ever survive B.C. (Before Cells)?
After realizing my oversight, I dutifully finished my remaining stops. Surprisingly I somehow survived my trip to Publix without even needing to make – or take – a call. When I got home and found my cell phone lying right where I’d left it, I discovered no one had called me in the interim. Talk about not being needed!

Isn’t it amazing how dependent we’ve become on our little handheld communications devices? Years ago an ice storm hit Chattanooga. I left work just before 4 p.m. and my 10-mile drive home, which normally took 20 minutes, lasted nearly three hours. That was in “the olden days” before even briefcase-sized cellular phones had been introduced. So I couldn’t call home to say I was okay.

Under the same circumstances today I’d just use my cell phone to call or send a text (when the car was sitting still, of course) to keep my wife updated. Someday one of my grandchildren will ask me, “Pop, what was it like in the 20th century B.C. (Before Cells)?”

And how about answering machines? For those of us still having landlines at home, we easily retrieve messages from people that called in our absence. We can check “missed calls” to see if someone “dialed” us (another antiquated term) and didn't leave a voice mail.

Before answering machines and phone messages, who knows how many calls we missed, totally unaware? (If a phone rings in an empty house, does it make a sound?) In those days, though, we were philosophical: “If it’s important, they’ll call back.”

This got me thinking about, of all things, prayer. The first Bible verse I ever learned was, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In the years since I’ve come to understand that means we can – and should – be ready to pray at all times, for any reason.

Thanks to communications media, today we can readily be contacted by phone or text or email – most of the time. Unless we leave our technology devices at home. Or fall into one of the dreaded “dead zones” where neither call nor text nor email can penetrate. Then we become hopelessly incommunicado until we’re within range of the next cell tower.

With God, we’re never “out of range.” There are no dead zones. He’s not restricted to office hours, doesn’t take holidays off, and never charges us for “exceeding our minutes.”

At any moment, without needing to close our eyes or assume a particular posture, we can call out to God. We don’t need to hunt for the nearest sanctuary or consult with a religious professional. Whether it’s in times of crisis (“God, I need help. I mean, right now!”), or in moments of euphoria (“Lord, what a wonderful day You’ve given us”), He’s always available.

We don’t even need to express audibly what’s on our minds. God is able to “discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). And we can pray about, well, whatever. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

The bottom line, even if you forget your cell phone, even if you’re in a meeting, driving your car, or the middle of a heated argument, God’s prepared to listen. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).

Monday, June 10, 2013

Memories . . . and Then There Are Memories

My sister, Ida, and me during our wild and crazy days!

A longtime friend, Jim Mathis, is a very accomplished photographer. I enjoy the craft, and think I’m fairly good at it, but Jim’s probably forgotten more about the art of photography than I’ll ever learn. So for me he’s the camera world's E.F. Hutton – when he speaks, I listen.

Recently he wrote about the problem with cherished photos from 30, 40 or 50 years ago. Many have become discolored or faded with the passage of time. Today, a service Jim offers through his photography shop is salvaging old photos. He says his restoration techniques can make the pictures last for hundreds of years. (I think he’s telling the truth, but don’t plan on being around to check the guarantee!)

What he’s doing, however, is more than preserving aging images. In essence, he’s assisting people in salvaging fading memories.

A few months ago I had several hundred old photos digitized. Reviewing them took me on a tour of Memory Lane: pictures of my mom, dad, sister and grandparents; my childhood home; long-departed pets; old cars; travels to picturesque settings like Europe, the Grand Canyon, Jamaica and Disney World; our grandkids not long after they were born.

My father explaining how my life was about
to change with a baby sister on the scene.
As I reflected on these images and experiences they represented, it occurred to me there are memories – and then there are memories. Some worth holding onto as long as we can; others we should discard as soon as possible.

With photos it’s easy. If it’s someone or something you want to remember, you keep the photo – even have it restored if necessary. Photos that carry bad memories? Those we can tear up or throw into the trash.

If only our cerebral memories worked the same way. The bad ones – hateful words directed our way, destructive relationships, painful losses, devastating failures – those tend to linger much longer than we’d like. If only they’d fade like old photographs.

Maybe that’s why the advice of the Bible is to remember the good, but to forget the bad. Put the negative stuff in the rearview mirror – and don’t look back.

The apostle Paul wrote about this. “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” (Philippians 3:13-14). He had a lot to forget – days he proudly persecuted Christians before he became a follower of Jesus himself.

In essence he was saying, “I could dwell on my vengeful, self-righteous past. But I can’t change that. God has forgiven me and for the rest of my life, my goal is to do what He asks of me.”

We all have things in our past we wish we could undo – if only God would grant us a “do-over.” But that’s not possible. And they haven’t invented time machines, at least not yet, to enable us to revisit the past and correct what we did wrong. So we, too, need to be forgetting what is behind.

But the Bible doesn’t tell us to forget everything. We can learn from failures to make course corrections. We can delight in happy memories that have helped make us what we are today. And as we seek to grow in our faith, we can – and should – remember what God has done for us, and for others.

The ancient Israelites often were commanded to do one thing in considering their heritage and what God had done for them: Remember. The 11th chapter in the book of Hebrews, sometimes called the “hall of faith,” is a series of remembrances about the Old Testament patriarchs.

Jesus’ very last words to His followers urged them to remember – and anticipate. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He also promised, And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).

So the lesson is this: Baggage from your past, memories dragging you down or acting like chains that keep you from moving forward, bury them in your “forgetter.” But memories of special moments, along with experiences that have helped to shape you into who you are and who you’re becoming, never let those fade. Restore them if necessary. And revisit them often.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Fathers and Failures

With Father’s Day approaching, I fear things aren’t all that great in the world of fathering.

Robert Young, with TV wife
Jane Wyatt, played a dad
worth looking up to.
You might not be old enough to remember, but in the 1950s and ‘60s, fathers carried more respect. Maybe the dads’ segment of the population just had better PR. I recall many of the TV fathers – guys like Robert Young of “Father Knows Best,” Fred MacMurray of “My Three Sons,” Andy Griffith and Bill Cosby on their own shows.

These were solid, stand-up guys. When they spoke, people listened – even their kids. They could solve any problem, tiny or huge, within their 30-minute time slots. As the late Jean Stapleton, who portrayed Edith Bunker on “All in the Family,” used to sing with TV husband (and dad) Archie, “Those were the days.”

The Ozzie Nelsons and Ward Cleavers weren’t perfect, but seemed to love their wives, care for their kids, and approached life with wisdom and common sense.

Compare them to the TV “dads” of today, Homer Simpson of “The Simpsons” probably being the standard bearer. Fathers depicted in popular culture are confused at best, blithering idiots at worst. If they’re present at all. Many shows have eliminated “TV dad.” Moms carry on without them just fine.

In the sitcom, "My Three Sons," Fred
MacMurray portrayed a sensible
widower who directed a trio of sons.
Even on my favorite show, “NCIS,” most of the key characters – Gibbs, DiNozzo, Ziva and McGee – have had troubled relationships with dear old dad. And come to think of it, when was the last time you watched a college football game and an athlete on the sidelines turned to the camera and said, “Hi, Dad!”?

As much as I’d like to attribute the current plight of fathers on the media (can’t we blame them for everything?), I don’t think we can. Wounds suffered by members of the once-revered office of fatherhood are largely self-inflicted.

A 2010 government study revealed more than 70 percent of African-American children were born to unwed mothers, and statistics for other races and ethnicities weren’t much better. Apparently, a large proportion of young men believe their “fatherhood” responsibilities begin and end with impregnating young women.

Andy Griffith - "Sheriff Andy" - would
not have thought much of fathers
failing to care for their children.
Similarly, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than half of custodial mothers got all of the child support they were legally entitled to receive. Many biological fathers seem unbothered about the responsibilities of providing for their offspring’s material needs.

Often, even dads that are at home become too consumed with work – or hobbies – to spend ample, quality time with their children. I’ve been guilty of that myself at times.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I greatly admire mothers and the tremendous job they do in juggling work, household duties, caring for their kids, and somehow trying to still manage some personal time. I don’t know how they do it. But we’re too quick to dismiss the consequences of absent or inattentive fathers.

Men, for the most part, don’t cry much. Maybe we’ve been socialized that way. But I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen men tear up while talking about their dads. As much as “experts” might argue to the contrary, a man’s relationship with his father – or lack of one – is a powerful force in his life. And for many of us, it remains so until we die.

That’s why the Bible’s perspective on fathers speaks so powerfully. It refers to God as our heavenly Father, but perhaps for many having had bad relationships with their earthly fathers, that might not seem helpful. But the apostle Paul takes a positive, affirming stance: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God…” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Elsewhere the apostle points out one of the best ways a father can communicate love for his children: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…. Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:25-6:4).

By demonstrating genuine, sacrificial love and commitment to their mother, a father shows his children a love willing to die to self for the benefit of others. And by being patient and compassionate, rather than responding in haste or anger, fathers can set the example of what a godly life should look like.

Women tend to be more naturally relational than men; men tend to focus more on tasks and outcomes. So the business of fathering, for most of us, is hard, arduous work. When you’ve met a work deadline, you simply cross that off your list and move to the next project. But being a father is a job that’s never done – even when the kids move out of the house. When you’re a dad, you can never say, “Well, I’ve finished that,” and check it off the list.

But the effort, if we’re willing to undertake it, is well worth it. If we want to know what kind of legacy we’ll leave after departing from this life, all we need to ask is, “How am I doing as a dad?”

Monday, June 3, 2013

Anger: The Gift That Keeps on Taking

No way around it: We live in an angry world. Wars being waged, vicious expressions of opposing ideologies. Terrorists killing and maiming innocent people, seeking revenge or making violent statements for their cause. Drivers reacting in “road rage” against other drivers. Citizens protesting vehemently against all manner of issues.

I heard recently of a woman who launched into a tirade at a local restaurant simply because her fast-food pasta meal wasn’t prepared to her satisfaction. Everyone within a half-mile radius knew of her displeasure. She made such an angry impression, people in the establishment referred to her as “the spaghetti lady.”

A small group I attend just completed a study on anger, its causes and affects. It’s a complex emotion, for sure. It seems some people were born mad. Others walk around with the proverbial chip on their shoulder, daring anyone to knock it off. Some people seem less prone to anger, but none of us is immune.

In some cases anger is warranted, especially in the face of injustice. But it’s the consequences of anger that we recognize the most.

Unresolved anger, for example, can spawn hatred and bitterness. Those emotions, sadly, can be to the spirit what cancer is to the body: Destructive, debilitating, potentially fatal. It’s been said hatred destroys the vessel that contains it. While hatred may be directed toward other people or things, persons harboring hateful feelings seem themselves most adversely affected.

Similarly, there’s no way to sweeten the cup of bitterness. Its poison can destroy relationships between family and friends, and ultimately it can disrupt one’s relationship with God.

Knowing bitterness often grows out of refusal to forgive when wronged, Jesus addressed that issue. When His disciple Peter asked, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”, Jesus responded, “I do not say to you seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). If you’re doing the math, I don’t think He meant it’s okay not to forgive the 491st time.

After presenting His model prayer, in which He stated, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12), Jesus proceeded to explain, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

He wasn’t referring to eternal salvation, but fellowship – maintaining a healthy, unimpeded relationship with God. Failure to extend forgiveness, requested or not, is a sin, Jesus was saying. And sin of any kind disrupts daily fellowship with God, interferes with our prayers and communication with Him, and takes away the joy of His presence in our lives.

Forgiveness serves as an antidote to the poison of unresolved anger. It’s the willingness to surrender our “right” to get even, as well as our “right to be right.” It’s trusting God for meting out any appropriate penalty or punishment for wrongs committed.

Is that easy? No. Having a cancerous tumor removed isn’t easy either. But it’s better than letting it remain there to continue doing damage and causing pain.

The old song told us, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Maybe what it really needs is a strong dose of forgiveness.