Every Friday, I join an online Christian writing community, Five Minute Friday. We are given a one-word prompt and write – unscripted, unedited, pure free-write – for 5 minutes.
The prompt this week is ‘Chance’
I work in a charity shop called Second Chance. People donate their clothing, books, music, film, toys, ornaments – anything that has outlived its usefulness to the owner, but could still be useful to another.
Some of these second-hand donated items are deemed ‘not good enough’ to sell from our shelves, so these, which still deserve to be more useful than landfill, are donated on for other companies to recycle and reuse in other ways. For example, some coats we donate on to a local homeless shelter and towels and blankets go to PDSA and similar uses. Others may be sold on as rags and metal is also recycled.
We all have different ideas about what is good enough to sell, what is worth buying – and of course, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Sometimes what is old is worth more than what is new. An item’s worth is not always of monetary equivalence either – many of us have objects that are of enormous sentimental value to a family or individual, that another would consider ‘old tat’.
But for many varied reasons, our shop is blessed with a great many bags of donations every week and it is our privilege to sell these items on, to bless new homes for a fraction of their original price, and to give the items themselves a second chance to be valuable. They may go on to have a third, fourth or more chances too.
For those who know the film ‘Toy Story’, I often feel that same panic and nostalgia that Woody feels for himself and the other toys, for these donated items moving on to be loved again, rather than rotting in an attic.
How much more valuable are we? Jesus told us not to worry about what to eat, drink and wear etc, because our loving Father cares for us. He said we are more valuable than the sparrows. We are also more valuable than the clothes and furniture that we care so much about. We are more valuable than money itself. How much is a life worth?
God loves us so much that He gave us His Son – surely that is the most treasured and valuable possession that He had – He gave Him up so that whoever believes in Him, and His death and resurrection – so that that little me or you – could have eternal, abundant life.
What is more valuable than life?
Abundant, eternal life.
He gave the most valuable of His own to save the most valuable of your own.
By this He forgave you, not once, but, if you are anything like me, He forgives you again and again and again. I have had multiples of second chances!
How often do I give others even one second chance?
Do I ever give another?
May He teach me to hold lightly not only to the material things around me, but to not hold on to resentments and unforgiveness at all.
Let me be one who is willing to give as many second chances to others, as God is giving to me.
Last week, while scribbling out my pen and paper rant on freedom, I also had a go at God, (which I chose to omit from the blog) for giving us this so-called ‘free-will’, but knowing the mess and suffering it would cause. I felt, as I considered the ‘options’, that ‘free-will’ had been a mistake, and not real freedom, as it felt like another, “Do it my way or die!”
I didn’t publish that thought, or a few others, as it was already becoming too complex for my little brain to hold together in one post, but I had asked God the question and a couple of days later, a clarity and peace infused my fragile doubts with a sweet smile. I will share those thoughts that were given to me:
The answer I heard, soothing my itching distractions, was that God knew! He knew we would make mistakes all the time. He knew it would take us lifetimes to learn. He knew we’d never get everything perfect, BUT He cherishes our freedom, He cherishes our feeble attempts, He cherishes our creative, eruptions of joy and kindness and love, because they are real expressions of a love response. We are made in the image of Creator God who is love. Just like we love to receive and treasure those cards and offerings lovingly made by our adoring children, so does father God enjoy our love offerings.
AND He KNEW we would need direction and teaching and He PROVIDED it. He knew we would need a role model, constant support and encouragement and He provided it. He knew we would need forgiveness over and over again AND an ‘out of jail free’ pass. He knew and He planned and provided for it all, before He even created us. At human creation, in God’s own image, the redemption plan was already in place, even then. God knew that He would love us to death, that He would become one like us, and with us, and have to sacrifice His life, so that we can be free of death, to be one with Him in His Kingdom and glorious delight. But He knew. It was not a mistake or a trick or an illusion. (Now as I read this back, I’m reminded of Max Lucado’s excellent story, ‘Because I love you” – He made the wall, with a hole in, and a staff to come find us when we climb through the hole!)
God provided for us a Perfect Role-model, directions, a conscience, support, encouragement, love, mercy, forgiveness, healing, restoration, the Holy Spirit to remind us of what is good – He gave Himself as our deliverer and Redeemer. So what do we need to do? We need to listen to the guidance He gives and to know that every time we slip or tumble, we can admit it, repent and get back up for another go. Persevere in doing good. Always get back up.
That love is an example for how we are to live, for our children and for one another. Not just forgiving ‘my brother’ when he says sorry, but a constant holding lightly of our strict expectations of perfection. Forgive as He has forgiven me. Let me give you room to practice using your own feet and discover your own wings, not shackle you to the confines of my own limitation. Let me be expansive with my children and myself and to remove the concept of ‘failure’ as that ugly, smelly, untouchable thing to be feared, but to look at it as an opportunity to learn, to be humble, to grow and stretch out my wings…
Lord, if you give someone freedom, you give them freedom to make mistakes and get it wrong – let me give others freedom to make mistakes and get it wrong too and allow for that in how I live – to encourage, support, tolerate, love – as others also make mistakes… just like young infants learning to walk or talk, we don’t punish them for not speaking a clear sentence, we coo and clap and encourage each sound and attempt and we cherish it.
The stress and devastation of perceived personal failure can leave people in utter despair. The stress of expectation for achievement and acquisition in our world and communities can seem unbearable.
Let us offer an antidote to these cruel pressures and offer encouragement and support to choose life-affirming things, remembering that we need role-models to show us healthy, excellent ways to live, we need unconditional love, ready forgiveness and grace to support and restore the falling and fallen… we need this in our homes, relationships, schools, churches and communities.
We need to encourage one another to ‘have a go’, to ‘follow our dream’, to ‘step out of our comfort-zone’, to try something different, to create something new – to re-create a culture of exploration and creativity, but before we do this, we need to acknowledge, that like the baby learning to walk, that our new venture and our daring to change may land us on our bottom or nose, time after time, it may hurt and seem hopeless, but with practice and perseverance and baby-steps… one step at a time, one day at a time, one smile at a time, one more encouraging word… How many times? “Seventy times seven” – every time!
These questions came to me in my heart this morning, when praying for the needs of loved ones and my various communities. The question took me back to the story of Jesus, saying this – “which is easier, to say ‘your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘get up and walk’?”
I was struck by how our attitudes and expectations in today’s world are so different now than for the people in Jesus’ day. I don’t see a great many physical healings in my own day-to-day life, but I do believe that Jesus still heals. But forgiveness – do we take forgiveness of sins for granted, maybe? Or do we know we are forgiven and other things become more important to us? How important is the forgiveness of my sins to me?
How important was it/ is it to Jesus? Is that not why He came and died on the cross?
In this account, Jesus had healed many people and had driven out evil spirits and that’s why He had attracted such a crowd, so that people had come from all over, to hear Him speak and to bring the sick to Him… and hence, these 4 friends had faith to bring their paralysed friend directly to Jesus and to lower him through the roof… They expected Him to heal the paralysed man – straight up – but what they didn’t expect, was what He said instead – “Friend, your sins are forgiven”. I wonder how I would have felt, if I’d gone to all that trouble and heard Jesus say that? I wonder how they felt? That wasn’t why they’d brought him to Jesus and the religious were shocked and indignant – “Nobody but God can forgive sins,” they complained… which is why He said it – so they would “know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins”!
Imagine yourself there in the story as you read it – become one of the friends, or one of the crowd!
Luke 5:17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.
18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.
19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?
23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
Am I “amazed” and in “awe” of His forgiveness and do I still consider it more “remarkable” than miracles of healing?
We Christians know today that Jesus came to take away our sins, but I think that I largely take that for granted many days. I know it and am grateful, but the initial impact that forgiveness had, has worn off a bit – a bit like the “first love” feeling.
In the society that Jesus lived in the flesh, forgiveness was a cause for sacrifice, blood and ritual, but for me, it is not such a substantial much a part of my day to day or religious life, despite frequent celebration of Communion/Eucharist. Of course I am aware of my sinful nature, every day, and I ask for forgiveness at least daily, and keep “short accounts” with God – “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23)
But the people in that place and time came to Jesus for physical healings, and for their material needs to be met, and for His teaching; and I think that more often than not, that is when I cry out to Jesus – when I or my friend is sick, when I need to see a miracle of provision for the hungry and the needy, or when I have questions and seek answers from the Word of Truth. My focus is often temporal.
“Which is easier?” You said.
I, of course, will die one day. The poor we will ‘always have with us’. Our sufferings are “light and momentary” in comparison with the joy of eternity. But I am here now and concerned with health and wealth, and the things of my humanity press on me on a daily basis; and You know this Lord, so when You lived among us in the flesh, You had compassion to ease some of these burdens. You healed, You fed and You loved and provided for those You met. And I long to see lots more of those temporal miracles in the world around me. You know what is important to me and You care about every tiny detail. Thank You.
Which is easier? To make sandwiches for the hungry in my community or to forgive my enemies; to forgive the one who abused me or my beloved? Which is easier? To feed and respect the dirty man in the doorway, or to throw him some change and pray for him? Which is easier? To come alongside and speak out for those without a voice, or to forgive the oppressor? He went on to expand this truth of forgiveness by describing the call of Levi, the tax-collector. Everybody hates tax-collectors, right? (Or maybe the corrupt politicians are today’s equivalent.) Where is the cross I am called to carry?
I am challenged by these questions and by Him who said of His murderers and mockers “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing!”
Which is easier and Which is more important? You came to earth, not primarily to feed us and cure our diseases, but to forgive us and to offer us reconciliation with our heavenly Father and offer us everlasting life. Forgiveness was not easier for You. You paid the greatest price. You gave up everything to become as nothing – despised and rejected and crucified with the weight of the sin of mankind! That was not easy. I think the reality of what you did is largely beyond my comprehension. I am truly grateful, but the words I use, or my feelings, cannot do justice to the enormity of the reality. That was the greatest miracle of all time!!!
I ask that I will always have before me what is most important for You – the eternal – that forgiveness, reconciliation and Salvation of our eternal spirit, for which You gave Your all, is the most important thing on Your compassionate, merciful heart and plan. I ask that I will have the humility to accept my cross and to forgive those who most challenge me. May I work with You intentionally to promote not only good works, but though it, your Good News, for Your Glory.