I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the last day of Jesus Christ. -Philippians 1:6
I keep hearing people call Memorial Day the unofficial start of summer.
I don’t know if that’s true, but with the warm weather this past weekend, there was a certain feeling of “lightness” that people seemed to have.
I saw it in people as they walked their dog, were out for a run, rollerblading, or playing this strange game that a group of teenagers were playing on Friday and Saturday night. One of them would leave their bike in the street, ring someone’s doorbell (no, not ours), and run (rather than ride) away.
Based on the fact that the second night this happened the homeowner came out looking annoyed before walking to the street, picking up the bike, and putting it in his garage…I’m not sure of the sustainability of this game without some major revisions to the rules.
Anyway, this lightness pointed out to me how not being able to see or gather with the people I care about and the excessive amount of time I’ve spent in front of screens has left me feeling like life is on hold. I’m just waiting around for life to get back to normal.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is likely written while he was unjustly imprisoned in Rome awaiting a trial where if he’s found guilty, could result in his execution. In the midst of all he’s experiencing, before Paul says anything about his own situation, Paul is encouraging the church at Philippi that when they came to accept the gospel, God began a process of transformation that will continue until God’s goal for each one of those individuals has been completed.
So, this leaves me with two questions…
If God’s “good work in [me] is carrying on” right now, should I feel like my life is on hold?
When I think about the promise God’s transformation that is taking place, is what I envision as “getting back to normal” where I want to go?
“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” —Psalm 5:3
For much of my life, I’ve had on-and-off problems falling asleep at night. I’m susceptible to a racing mind, and late at night is apparently as good a time as any to solve the world’s problems, re-litigate past disagreements, or thoroughly explore my many regrets. Add to this that I often stay up too late looking at screens and I have a recipe for a bad night’s sleep.
One of the knock-on effects of having trouble falling asleep is that early morning is often not my best time. When I haven’t gotten enough good sleep, I often sleep later than I intended or drag myself out of bed in a haze.
And this is a problem for several reasons, not least of which is that the morning is an important time for my relationship with God. In Psalm 5, David writes about speaking with God in the morning. Of course, conversation with God can happen at all times, but it seems like there’s something special about the morning.
I think it’s like a lot of other things: What happens first tends to establish the tone for what happens later. When we greet someone warmly, we set the tone for a positive interaction. When our tithes are the first thing we do with our income, we set a tone of gratitude and generosity. When we wake up in the morning and raise our voices to God, we establish an awareness that our lives are being lived with and for God.
In the Jewish calendar, a day really starts with sundown. Keeping that in mind, it seems even more important to start the day well with what I do in the evening as I prepare to sleep. Good rest and morning conversation are the start to a day lived joyfully with God. I’m going to try to take this seriously as a real part of following Jesus.
But while the son was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. – Luke 15:20
My grandma was a poet. A couple of months ago, my mom found a poem she’d written (who knows when!) addressed to me. It was an apology for an event I don’t even remember – a time she’d scolded me, evidently, for losing something. The content of the poem surprised me. My memories of Grandma are all smiles and warmth. But something I’d done had upset her, and I guess she didn’t feel great about how she’d reacted. And baked right into her poem of apology was also an offer of forgiveness: it was obvious that whatever I’d lost way-back-when was much less valuable to her than our relationship.
Today’s passage from Luke comes from the Parable of the Lost Son. It’s the ultimate story of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. When we read this parable, sometimes we identify with the lost son who’s messed up and is seeking forgiveness; and sometimes we identify with the father, who forgives everything because he’s just so happy his child is home. (Sometimes we even identify with the older son, who did all the right things, and still sees his brother getting all the attention). Wherever you find yourself in this parable, the message about forgiveness is the same: whether you’ve sinned or been sinned against, forgiveness is always the goal. It’s what God gives us, what God wants for us, and what God instructs us to give. The state of our relationships with God and with people matter. This parable reminds us of some simple, essential truths: 1) We sin, and by God’s grace, we are forgiven. God loves us and nothing we do limits that love. 2) Because we have been forgiven, we must – we get to – imitate God by forgiving people, too. It’s the only fitting response.
Grandma’s poem reminds me of the beauty of both sides of the coin. She sought forgiveness and she offered it. This receiving and giving of grace is what God wants for our lives. We’re called to be like the lost son and like the forgiving father. May this sink in for you today. May you stand confidently in the knowledge that your heavenly father forgives you completely, and treasures your return to him. And may that knowledge cause you to overflow with forgiveness for the people in your life, also treasured by God.