Time for Atonement

This week the Jewish people are remembering Yom Kippur, which is also known as the Day of Atonement. I find it interesting that while we Christians may talk about it from the book of Leviticus, it’s not a day we set aside as holy. We look at Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter, and the Ascension, but not Yom Kippur. If it is the holiest day for the Jewish people, and obviously from a part of the Bible that we as Christians read, why isn’t it something we Christians really talk about?

Let’s start with what atonement means. Atonement is defined as making amends, reconciling, or reparation for wrong doing. Atonement is what people do when they have to pay a fine for a traffic ticket or do community service, and we also say ‘I’ll make it up to you’ on a regular basis. The issue or difference comes in because atonement isn’t always a step we take or a step we know we take in the forgiveness process, but I think it’s one we could take and recognize more often. Especially when it comes to relationships, it’s may be the difference between being able to work things out and repair them versus throwing them out and not trying to or being able to fix things.

So where does atonement fit in to our lives as Christians? Galatians 1:4 (ESV) says “Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.” We know that Jesus died to forgive us for our sins, to make our slate clean, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t recognize when we sin, shouldn’t ask for forgiveness for our sins, shouldn’t atone for our sins, shouldn’t learn from our sins and do/say differently if and when there is a next time.

There’s more shame in pretending you’re perfect and hiding your sins than admitting you have sinned and working through the aftermath. Admitting you have sinned means you’ve got the opportunity to be forgiven and be able to be healed of that sin and make changes going forward, which is way better than trying to live under an ever-increasing mountain of sin. Not every sin needs fixing, some need to be forgiven and forgotten.  But in the situation where it’s appropriate to atone and there’s a chance to make things right, grab that opportunity to get your life headed back in the right direction and showing that you’re as good as your word when you apologized.

Prayer and Restoration

School is in full swing, and while I don’t have plans to go back there are still some things that come up each year on the school calendar that I make note of for one reason or another. This week schools around the US are gearing up for See You At The Pole. It’s a student led spiritual ministry for students, by students at schools of all kinds, not just private spiritual based schools. In this day and age students have to communicate with the school about doing it, but back when it started in 1990 students would just show up around the pole and pray.

Each year they do pick a different theme to reflect on, but the ultimate goal of the event whether it’s done at a school or off campus (due to a request to disperse), is to pray for the school and students. Prayer is and has always been a central part of the Christian faith and it’s also a central part of many other religions as well. Faith and prayer is as natural together and intimately connected as peanut butter and jelly or fish and chips. This year the organization has chosen the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to be the focus for the prayers and topics of discussion on Wednesday:

“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”

It’s a great verse for many reasons, including the focus it has on the topic and importance of prayer. What so many people need today is restoration. But this verse, and others throughout the Bible, are clear that like many other things including the seasons, there’s a process that has to be followed. Restoration can only happen after realizing something isn’t right, admitting your part in it, making changes in your life, and asking for forgiveness.

I do pray for restoration, and also for the strength and courage to do what it takes to get to that point. Each student that stands up and joins around a flagpole on Wednesday is taking an important first step and showing great courage and strength. If we were all to stand up and pray for each other, could you imagine the healing, transformation and blessings that could occur in our lives?

Life may be just beginning for those students, but we’re still here too, so it’s not too late to say a prayer and begin a restoration process in your life as well. How will God heal you this week?

Getting through Lent with Grace

We’re a week into our journey of Lent for this year and I’m working through a couple of different Lent devotionals. I’ve been enjoying them because they each bring a different perspective to this journey that we’re on and to spiritual life as well. One of the things I struggle with regarding Lent may be something that you struggle with as well, and that’s the continual focus on our sins. I know it’s important to recognize our sins, to ask for forgiveness of them and to make changes in our lives based on not living those sins, but it’s not exactly encouraging to talk about our failings all the time.

Maybe it’s my fault because I’m immersing myself in Lent and not just reading one devotional each day, since it gives me a lot more exposure to the topic of Lent and those that go along with it like looking at your failings. On the other side of the story sometimes it’s good for us to really take a solid look at all aspects of our lives. About how we treat people, how we use our resources, how we treat ourselves, how we think, how we worship, how we go through our day-to-day lives. Taking 40 days out of 365 to make sure we’re leading lives God would be proud of isn’t so bad.

Since we’re human we know we’re going to mess up as we go through life, it’s a consistent messing up-seeking forgiveness-healing cycle. The reason we can do the solid 40 days of Lent and reflecting on our imperfections is because we know that after doing the hard work there will be a great reward, and that’s the celebration of Easter and the promise of God’s eternal love. Whether this Lent journey speaks to you and invites you to take time for reflection more frequently throughout the whole year, or you just take this time to experience God’s grace and love, I encourage you to be open to whatever God will be showing you.

“Lent is a time for us to take an honest look at ourselves and receive the grace of Jesus’ healing love.” Loyola Press

30 Days of Thanksgiving: A Little Forgiveness

Today in the US we’re taking time to be thankful.  That’s right, Thanksgiving has officially arrived.  I do hope that you’re able to gather either today or in the coming days with family and friends and celebrate being alive and all that you’ve been blessed with since last Thanksgiving.

Today though I want to take a step in a different direction and talk about something you may know about or have heard about, that the First Thanksgiving wasn’t all roses and sunshine.  It actually is directly tied in with the loss of thousands of Native American lives, and the poor treatment of settlers towards them, not just when they arrived but for over a hundred years after that.

It wasn’t right of the settlers to treat the Native Americans as they did, especially with all the stories we have of how they helped the settlers not only survive but thrive here in America.  It’s especially difficult to realize that this country is based on freedom and letting people be free to worship and live as they chose, and we didn’t let them live as they were or wanted to.

So today I raise the often challenging topic of forgiveness.  It’s not always easy to forgive, especially if you’re the one who was hurt.  But accepting and asking for forgiveness are two important skills we need to work on more often.  Why? Because not forgiving means you’re choosing to be stuck in the past and let that pain hold you back.  Forgiving doesn’t mean you don’t hold them accountable or that you forget and let others get hurt as you were, it just means you’re free to move forward with less of a burden or chip on your shoulder.

So this Thanksgiving I encourage you to consider forgiveness, both accepting and asking for it, if you’ve got some relationships in your life that you value but some mistake or failure or hurt has been damaging them.  Life is short and you don’t know what a day will bring, but forgiveness may mean that you’ve got a circle of friends and family surrounding you and supporting you through whatever life brings.

30 Days of Thanksgiving: God is gracious

I’m amazed that God still calls us His children, even after all the ways that we screw things up or don’t follow through in the right ways. It’s an honor and privilege to be called His children, one I think we forget about from time to time because we don’t have a relationship with God exactly like we do with most of the important people in our lives. Most of them we see on a regular basis or talk to on the phone or over Skype or something similar where we see them. Even long distance relationships aren’t the same as the relationship we have with God.

But God never forgets us, He continues to be giving towards us and one of the most important things is that He gracious and forgiving of us. God doesn’t want us to sin but knows that’s part of our human experience that we’re (hopefully) working on getting better at. It can’t be easy for God to forgive us as often as He does for some of us, but it has to be rewarding when He sees we’ve learned our lesson and don’t repeat the same mistake again.

While we shouldn’t enjoy trying God’s patience, and it’s humbling to realize exactly how patient He is with us, God’s patience is something I’m very thankful for. It’s a good lesson for us to learn, that if He can be that patient with us, surely we can be a little more patient with and forgiving towards the people we interact with on a daily basis.

If you’ve been trying of God’s patience lately I encourage you to find the motivation in you this holiday season to really step up and work on yourself.  Holidays are a time for celebration, and there’s no better reason to celebrate than personal growth and a closer and healthier relationship with God.

What God Asks of Us

Recently I have been thinking about the plans that God has for our lives and how they all work out. So today I thought I would share some verses I came across about what God asks of us and calls us to:

To be forgiving: “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

To live with honor: “If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Romans 14:8

To live with and show mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience: “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

To do what is right, love mercy and be humble: “No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

To pursue righteousness and unfailing love: “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.” Proverbs 21:21

To be a servant: “‘The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.'” Matthew 23:11-12

The things God has called us to and asked of us aren’t things we have to do alone, nor can we, they all require that we work with others to make it happen. This week I encourage you to choose one of the things God has called you to and make it a part of your life.  God doesn’t ask us to do or be things without a reason, I pray that He reveals some of that to you as you work with Him this week.

Reminders from God

Sometimes we get so caught up in life that we forget to stop and take a moment, or we’re so focused on one direction that we can’t see the way God is trying to lead us.  Let’s take a look at some of the reminders in the Bible:

There’s a lot we can’t see, and a lot to hope for:
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”  Hebrews 11:1

Use your words wisely:
“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”  Proverbs 15:1

Live with joy:
“I will be filled with joy because of you.  I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.”  Psalm 9:2

If God can forgive and be merciful, can’t we?:
“But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love.”  Nehemiah 9:7b

God saves us, leads us and teaches us:
“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.”  Psalm 25:5

God is generous, gracious, and loving:
“Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.”  1 Timothy 1:14

We belong to God, and are to worship Him:
“For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship…”  Acts 27:23 ESV

Choose patience:
“Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.”  Ecclesiastes 7:8

Don’t give up:
“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”  Philippians 3:14

Each of our days include thousands of interactions, experiences and relationships, each with the potential to teach us something, help us heal in some way, make us a better person, put us in a position to help someone else, or reveal another aspect of who God is to us and who we are to Him.  It’s up to us to be open to where life takes us and where God sends us, and to pay attention to what’s going on around us.  What has God shared with you recently?