Dear Thoughtful Pastor: The Bible tells us that as Christians Jesus forgives us for our sins (our sins are erased), but then it also says we will answer for them when we get to heaven. There is comfort in knowing that if we repent we are forgiven of our sins and they are forgotten, but are they really forgotten if we have to answer to them? I’m having trouble reconciling with this.
Let’s look at a parable of Jesus from Matthew 18. Here, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a powerful king/ruler who needs to settle accounts with some of his subjects. One man owes the ruler an amount so big that repayment cannot happen. The king pronounces judgment and orders him his wife and children to be sold along with all they own.
The debtor begs for mercy. The great man relents. He releases the debtor from all obligations. No longer is any repayment required. Nothing. The great do-over. Mercy upon mercy offered.
Later that day, this newly free man comes upon a colleague who owes him a small amount. The forgiven one grabs his colleague by the throat and demands immediate repayment. When his colleague, also unable to pay, begs for mercy, the forgiven one throws him into prison.
How do you feel about this man’s actions?
According to Jesus, the king didn’t like it, not one little bit. Because the forgiven one refused to pass on the mercies and grace received, he was handed over to torture until he repaid the entire debt.
Perhaps this is the final judgment: Will each of us insist that grace and mercy be only for ourselves or will we acknowledge that God gets to give it to anyone who is willing to receive it?
Perhaps if we want to freely enter heaven, we must also make way for others to freely enter. We hold open the door into the goodness of the Holy One for every person we hold grudges against and offer the freedom of forgiveness. Then our way is clear to enter.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: I am wondering about how much time I should be giving to my church. Looking around the church I see a few committed people who do most of the activities, missions and classes. A good majority of the people, like myself, have family and job obligations. In addition, some of us have other missions outside the church. When I try to reconcile the balance of my life with my commitment to Jesus Christ and my church, I am not sure of when to say yes and when to say no. Can you provide some clarification?
For years the church has run on generous volunteer work, primarily of the women in the congregation. This model worked well during that economic period when one income supported the family. Those without the outside employment obligations enjoyed freedom to do the necessary and vital work that glues our society together and permits the good work of the church to go out into the local communities.
This was also the time when social lives centered around the church, when stores closed one day a week, when no sports league would dream of scheduling practices or tournaments on Sundays, and few envisioned an electronically connected 24/7 on-call life.
No longer our world.
We all need to live with attentive faithfulness to the responsibilities before us. Those responsibilities include being in connection and service with our places of worship. But we often forget that proper self-care must be included as a responsible and holy duty. Few benefit when exhaustion and stress rule the day.
Personally, I decided years ago that changing a dirty diaper is equally as holy as going to a Bible study or on a mission trip, or any other church activity. It’s holy because it is an act of service to another, bringing comfort and doing for them what they cannot do.
With maturity comes discernment about what is right and what is not right in term of time and energy. “No, God is not calling me to that” is a reasonable answer to requests that do what I call “crunch your gut,” that is, give a sense that picking up an obligation is just not the right thing to do at this particular time. This is not a call to laziness or irresponsibility, but to reasonable expectations.
Unquestionably, the church will have to adjust to today’s economic world. Personally, I hate to see that era pass as I have wonderful memories of life-changing work and great friendships emerging. In those friendships, we molded and taught one another, offering support and giving safe spaces.
But we are dealing with different realities now–and we all need to pray through our volunteer work and go only in the direction we sense God leads.
It will be different for every person
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[Note: a version of this column will appear in the Friday, March 11, 2106 print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle.]