Next worship gathering – Saturday, Jan 14 @ Faith Community Church @ 6:30pm (3450 CR210, 32259)
Connecting with people can save your life.
This week, I heard a conversation on public radio highlighting one of the many studies that show the importance of relationships. In short, older folks who aren’t lonely live longer than their peers. (Did we need a study to prove that?)
Such studies have been coming out for a while. Married people live longer, healthier, wealthier lives than single people. People who regularly spend time with good friends are happier than those who don’t. People who maintain relationships with family and extended family are healthier and less likely to end up homeless. One of my favorites from the 1990s was a study that showed smokers who regularly attended lived as long as non-smokers who didn’t.
Relationships are good for us.
I hope this is not a surprise to anyone who follows Jesus. He told his disciples to love God, to love one another, and to love their neighbor as themselves. He even told us to love our enemies. He went on to point out that people would know they were his disciples by their love for one another.
At LoveFirst Coast, we take this seriously. Our church is designed to place a priority on developing intentional loving relationships among one another an in our relational networks and neighborhoods. We talk about our ministry being highly relational. We believe community is essential for both discipleship and mission.
But loving others involves a major risk: if you love people you will get hurt. It’s pretty straight forward. People hurt people – sometimes intentionally and often by accident. It happens. If you love others over an extended period of time, you’ll be hurt (and to be honest, you’ll probably do some of the hurting of others, too).
Fortunately, Jesus told us what to do when we get hurt. He told us to forgive. He even illustrated it for us. In the Parable of the Unforgiving Steward (Matthew 18:21-35) Jesus addresses the problem by directing our thoughts to how much God has forgiven us. Focusing on the forgiveness of God helps us to forgive those who’ve harmed us. When we forget how much we’ve been forgiven, we are likely to withhold forgiveness. He made it clear: it’s foolish not to forgive. We need to forgive.
It sounds simple – but of course, its is really hard to let go of an offence.
But refusing to forgive is harder. It’s like carrying a heavy weight around hoping the person the offender will come and take it from you. Another expression that captures unforgiveness like this: it’s like drinking poison hoping the other person dies. We need to develop the skill of forgiving so we can release the burdens of those times we’ve been offended.
A number of years back, a co-worker who’d been a partner in ministry and a good friend let me down pretty badly. I felt betrayed. We had it out – and things didn’t go well. In the weeks and months that followed, just thinking about it would get my imagination going. I could imagine different things to say and how I’d put him in his place, come out on top, and “win” the battle. Of course, it was just imagination. But the emotions that welled up in me were real and sometimes as powerful as the day of our confrontation.
Over time, God convicted me about it. Then I was surprised when friend confronted me about it, too. Apparently, some bitterness was leaking out. I knew I had to put down my pride and forgive my friend. Two things really helped me. 1) I came to realize that there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation is about the restoration of a relationship. It takes two for that to happen. Forgiveness is something I can do all by myself. It’s choosing to let go of the offence. The way Jesus put it, it’s like letting go of a debt you’ve been trying to collect. Forgiveness, by the way, always precedes reconciliation. There’s little hope for reconciliation until you forgive. But sometimes, reconciliation won’t happen this side of heaven. We eventually reconciled about two years after I determined to forgive him. 2) Forgiveness is something that often requires repeated action. I remember they day I chose to forgive my friend. I remember feeling the release and moving forward without bitterness. Much to my disappointment, my mind and my heart returned to feeling offended a few days latter. I learned that’s not unusual. And I learned that I could just forgive my friend, again. And it was easier the second time – and easier every time after that. And eventually, the sense of being offended was gone. When we finally met for reconciliation, I was able to confess my part in our conflict and ask for his forgiveness. That was a good day.
So, wherever you are, I hope you have people in your life – because studies have shown… No really, because God created us for relationships. He created us to love and bless people. So I hope you are living into that purpose. And I hope you get to spend time in a community of people whom you love and who love you, who know you well and whom you know well, and with who you serve the world. And as you go forth within that community, may the Lord bless your relationships and develop among you the wonderful skills required for forgiveness, so that we can pray together in full sincerity…
Oh Lord, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
If you want to learn more about this, join us for worship this week – or better yet, get involved in one of our discipleship huddles or missional communities.