Thankful for Grace and Forgiveness

Jesus in the Garden prays for you and me, asking that we may live in unity.
Jesus, in the Garden, prays for you and me, asking that we may live in unity. (John 17:21-23)

I have a friend who is a gym teacher at an all boys elementary school. He loves to tell a great story about watching kids line up for gym class.  You can see them, can’t you? All dressed identical in little navy gym shorts and grey t-shirts. Timmy pokes Jason in the side. Jason pokes him back. Timmy slaps Jason. Jason slaps him back. Soon, it escalates to shoving, and before you know it, one of them is on the ground looking up at the gym lights and rafters.

Sometimes, it is that way with grown-ups too, isn’t it? At work. In your family. Even at church. Mr. Smith says something to Mr. Franklin that just happens to push Mr. Franklin’s buttons. Before you know it, Mr. Smith is offended. At Men’s Bible study coffee the next morning, Mr. Smith is telling Mr. Thompson about how horrible a man Mr. Franklin is. Mr. Thompson sees Mr. Franklin the next Sunday morning and decides not to talk with him any longer.  Mrs. Franklin then sees Mrs. Smith at the Ladies Bible Study on Tuesday and gives her an earful and Mrs. Thompson stands off to the side and can’t imagine why her two dear friends are terribly miffed at each other.

Miscommunication.  Being misunderstood. A short email not intended to be mean-spirited turns into hurt feelings and an offended heart.  Holding grudges then turns into bitterness. And it can be like a malignant cancer that spreads not only through one person, but among a whole group of people.  And things get ugly.

And every one of us is susceptible to ugliness, because every one of us is human… and we are sinners.  Relational conflict is a part of a normal life. Solomon suggested it is healthy as it sharpens us. Ugliness and slander and gossip, however, are sin.

The Bible is full of great counsel on how to handle relating to one another.

If you look at the Ten Commandments, they are all about relating. The first four outline our relationship to God; the other six provide rules for our relationship with one another.  There are hundreds of scriptures that deal with relationships and communication. Here are a few:

A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.

Proverbs 15:1 (The Message)

Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.

Ephesians 4:29  (The Message)

Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.

2 Timothy 2:16  (NIV)

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

Proverbs 18:21

Or as the Living Bible puts it:

“Those who love to talk will suffer the consequences. Men have died for saying the wrong thing!”

The gospel according to my mom said it this way: “Ask these three questions before opening your mouth: Is it needful? Is it truthful? Is it kind?”

Words are important.

Think about that for a moment. Think about when words have lifted you up and given you life. “It’s a boy!” “Yes, I will marry you!” Or those times when you have been devastated by words, and even brought death… death to a marriage, death to a lifelong friendship, death to a dream. All because someone merely spoke some words.

Jesus takes it a step further by saying in Matthew 18. verse 18: “What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this.” Your words are eternal! Once spoken they continue on into the cosmos forever… like a stone that ripples in a borderless pond.

Yet, even with all this warning in the Bible, sometimes we say dumb things, don’t we? Sometimes we don’t think before we speak, do we? And when that happens, there is a “blazing flame of destruction and disaster” (see James 3).

So, if we can control our tongue that’s good. If we think before we speak, that’s good. But when we don’t, we often hurt other people. And then what happens next? There is anger. Bitterness. Friendships are strained. Lifelong relationships are fractured.

But Jesus… the grace of Jesus gives us some very practical tools to bring reconciliation. And that is why during this Thanksgiving season we can be thankful for His grace and His perfect plan of forgiveness. With the Holy Spirit guiding us, we have the ability to walk with joy with one another.

What is His plan for forgiveness? Matthew 18:15-17 and Ephesians 4 are great resources you can explore. Can you commit to walking in a Biblical model of forgiveness? Can you agree to this covenant:

  1. I will not pass along a bad report about anyone.
  2. I will first go to the one who offended me and seek reconciliation.
  3. Only if we cannot be reconciled person-to-person, I will meet with an elder or pastor to discuss the situation, with the goal being a meeting with the person who offended me and an elder or pastor.
  4. I will guard the unity of the Body of Christ.

This is a model that is not convicting, but rather freeing, in how we can walk in personal relationships.  When Jesus prayed for us in the garden in John 17, He asked the Father to give us the grace to walk in unity as the Father and the Son are unified.

Jesus is asking that we, fellow Believers, be one… just as the Father is of one heart and one mind with the Son. We can be united SO THAT the world will believe.  That’s key isn’t it? Yes, of course, we are human. We will have relational and communication issues as sure as the sun shines every day.  And even this week, when you get together with your family for Thanksgiving or next month at Christmas… sometimes those are the hardest times and the most difficult people to offer grace and forgiveness to, right?…  But we don’t have to let our differences, our offenses, destroy that which God has established.

Jesus has made a way for us to be reconciled… eternally with God and right now with each other. And that is something for which we can all be thankful.

If you’d like to hear the full sermon from this message, go here:
(c) 2013. Rich Ronald.

Thankful for the power of His words, His touch

The touch of His words bring healing and salvation

There were ten of us… we were forced to live just outside the gates of the city. One by one our group had grown to its present ten. I think I was the fourth or fifth to join the community.  We spent most of our days begging for scraps of food by the road under the shade of a single tree. At night we huddled together and slept in the dust around its trunk. My family had last seen me three years prior.

I’m not even sure how I got it… my skin began to itch and scratch… my fingers and toes began to look different, blood oozed from the simplest scrape.  I had heard about leprosy… who hadn’t? Believed that those who had it were responsible for it somehow… surely they had sinned or chosen a lifestyle that wasn’t appropriate.  Next thing I knew, I was scolded, yelled at, spit upon, cursed at… told I was “unclean!” And I was forced to the edge of town.

For 12 seasons I had learned to deal with this awful affliction. The touch of my wife? Gone. Holding hands and walking with my daughter? No more. Wrestling with my son? Not a chance. Oh, how I longed for their touch. For anyone’s touch.

I had little in common with the others. They were Jews.  I was from Samaria.  As castoffs, they observed their traditions as best they could. I just wanted to be normal again.

One day the Teacher they called “Yeshua” walked by. We weren’t really sure what He could do for us. After all, what could anyone do for us? It was so unfair. It wasn’t my fault I was unclean! Oh, how I wanted to be clean… but no one ever recovers from the incurable.

We shouted the same words to him as we called out to everyone: “Have mercy! Have pity!” Ironic now, looking back… we did not cry out “Heal us!”

He broke His stride, stopping long enough to show compassion in His eyes and love on His face.  He had nothing to give us. But His look… it was heartfelt, deeply sincere. His followers urged him to move along, but he motioned toward them as if to say “I want to linger here for awhile.”

We kept crying out: “Have mercy! Have pity!” though I, for one, did not know what He could do.

Then He spoke just six words. Six words. “Go. Show yourselves to the priests.”

We were stunned… I was not really sure what that meant. I wanted food. I craved a touch. But all we got from Him were words. Then the murmurings began. The Jews gathered together and moved as one.  Like a sheep, I followed the flock.  As we shuffled down the road I asked one of the Nine what the priests could do? “Don’t you see,” he said, “the priests can declare that we are clean.”

“But…” I stammered… “we are unclean…”

And with a second and third look, one at a time, we each began to realize the lesions had disappeared. One’s face was not blemished. Another’s hands were no longer bloody. The crusty sores up and down my legs were gone. What was happening?

The pace quickened as the whole group began to see a miracle right before our very eyes. We were being healed! We had been healed!

Suddenly I stopped in my tracks. The others ran ahead. I turned and looked back and saw the Master with a grin from ear to ear. Such joy! Such compassion… I looked as the Nine galloped toward the temple.

“I must go back and say thank you!” I said outloud to no one in particular.  “Praise God!” I shouted as I looked and saw my now-healed, outstretched hands.

The thoughts started to swim in my head: Do you know what this means? I can go back and tackle my son. I can squeeze my young daughter’s hand. I can hold and caress my bride again. “Praise God!” I shouted over and over.

I sped with the urgency of a sprinter on the final lap back up to the crest of the hill where He stood. His followers and He… all smiles as I topped the knoll with little breath left. I threw myself at His feet. I couldn’t believe what was happening, what had happened. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” I cried. “You don’t know what this means to me!” I said through my tears of joy and relief. And yet, somehow I knew that He indeed knew what it meant to me…

And as He put His hand in my tangled and matted hair He asked, “Were not ten healed? Where are the other nine?” And He looked at His followers and asked with an air of genuine perplexity, “Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Not being a Jew, I didn’t fully grasp what he was saying… I was so thankful… I was healed! I was going home!

Then He said the most intense thing anyone has ever said to me.  With an outstretched hand and loving eyes: “Get up. Go. Your faith has healed and saved you.”

Me? Faithful? Me? But I’m a Samaritan. I’m a sinner. Yes, I believed. Yes, I had faith… but it was only because my need was so great. I was desperate! Me? Healed? Yes! And saved? Yes, saved…

I had heard both Jews and Gentiles talk about being saved. It is something everyone longs for, I suppose. I’m not really a religious man… but  do I want to spend eternity with Almighty God? Absolutely.

I went on my way as He directed… ran up to the gates of my home, ripping off the ragged bandages with each step.  “I’m healed! I’m clean!” I shouted. “Praise God! The Teacher has healed me!”

My wife could not believe her eyes. My daughter squealed with delight. My son, now a young man whom I hardly recognized, gave me the biggest hug of my entire life. Ah, their touch… so sweet.

That was 25 years ago. I’m still clean… not a trace of the disease ever since.  And I still believe that what the Teacher did that day —  He touched me with His words — is reason to believe He will touch me for all eternity.


My interpretation of Luke 17:11-19.   May you be one to give thanks today, and every day, for His words, His touch!