Last week I wrote about our visit to Big Sandy, Texas, the home of the former Ambassador College that many in the United Church of God attended. Then, this past week while we were here in Southern California, several of us stepped foot on the former Ambassador College campus in Pasadena.
These back-to-back stops made a deep impression, as my memories go back more than a half a century to when I first attended Ambassador College. In my case, my time was equally divided between Pasadena, California, and Bricket Wood, Hertfordshire, in the United Kingdom. Studying at Ambassador College gave us a unique spiritual perspective of God’s revelation as taught from the Bible. Here, life-long relationships were formed and careers were launched in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
While in these two diverse parts of the United States over two Sabbaths, I’ve enjoyed mingling and socializing with our brethren, some with whom have simultaneously tracked a similar lifelong journey. It’s been a trip with spurts of joy, grief, elation, sometimes disappointment, but in the end, seeing God working out a purpose. It’s not only His plan to save mankind, but also to individually work in our lives the pathway to eternal life. When looking back, I see everlasting lessons demonstrated and feel humble gratitude for the relationship with God that so many of have been privileged to comprehend and experience.
When on church visits, I very much enjoy and appreciate hearing feedback, advice, and suggestions from the members of the United Church of God.
Personal Appearance Campaign
Our Beyond Today team is here now in Southern California conducting an “America: The Time Is Now!” personal appearance campaign (PAC) in four areas. Darris McNeely, Steve Myers and Gary Petty deliver a powerful message. The presentation starts with the story of the prophet Habakkuk pleading to God to heal a sick child—representing a sick nation that is likened to the society in which we now live. The presentation moves to what is man and what is his destiny? This message gives hope, context and purpose to our lives. The evening concludes with a call to action. The action is facing ourselves and changing our lives. The order logically reveals context and a plan of action for those hearing it.
We invited more than 6,000 BT magazine subscribers through three letters stating exactly what message they would be hearing and why it is so important for them to hear it.
Last night was the 21st PAC presentation. I’ve been to all but two, and I will have to say that it was the most powerful and motivating one that I have heard. Our church brethren wholeheartedly and enthusiastically supported the event. It was heartening to mingle with the attendees—some of whom have pledged to take further steps in making important spiritual decisions and commitments. I give special thanks to the ministry for their support and promotion leading to the events.
Our mission as a church is to preach this message and do it with vigor as though its outcome depended on us, but knowing that it is God who calls people and opens their hearts in this blind and hardened society to the only words that will lead to eternal life.
We still have one more stop this coming Sunday in Costa Mesa, California. Our BT team is speaking in various congregations in the area this Sabbath. I’ll be in Redlands. We return back to Cincinnati on Monday.
The Power of Forgiveness
Three weeks from tonight we will engage in the most powerful event of the Holy Day season. We will observe the annual New Testament Passover, directly following the example of Jesus Christ. The subject of forgiveness represents a key element of the Passover.
The Passover reminds us and should instill in us a better appreciation for the stunning gift given to those who accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Christ’s sacrifice, eloquently pictured in the breaking of unleavened bread and the acceptance of a small sip of wine, pictures nothing less than God’s incredible forgiveness of our sins. That forgiveness extends to the sins we committed against our fellow human beings and is an example of how we should forgive others’ trespasses against us.
Truly, the Passover is indeed a very personal event, as we reflect on this act of Christ’s forgiveness towards us as individuals. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of dying for us wipes away our sins. That’s the incredible power of forgiveness. God’s unmerited forgiveness sets us mercifully on the road that leads to an eternal life of glory. How should one approach the Passover? The sobriety of the Passover evening demonstrates our personal understanding of the greatest event in all history: the expiatory sacrifice—the incomprehensible atoning for sin—given freely by Jesus Christ to pay a debt that we could never possibly repay.
Serious meditative thought about the depth of this act serves us well in the days leading up to this solemn evening. The Apostle Paul gives us specific instructions. First, he issues a warning: “whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 27 Why whoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
29 For he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
American King James Version×). How do we avoid this and seize the full value of the Passover? Paul continues: “let a man examine himself , and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (verse 29).
Here’s the ongoing challenge: as we examine ourselves in the days ahead, among the consideration of other personal issues, let us develop deep awareness of our need to forgive each other as a high priority in our examination process. Great reward awaits those who do this effectively.
In His instructive model prayer, Jesus taught His disciples to pray: “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us ” (Matthew 6:12 Matthew 6:12And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
American King James Version×, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).
Jesus fortifies this statement in verse 14 and 15: “ If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Can we do this? That’s the challenge before us. There is an old saying: when someone hurts us, we want justice. When we are caught hurting someone else, we want mercy. We need to understand our motives.
As we prepare, let us carefully review the entire Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Here Jesus further underlines the vital importance of forgiveness and reconciliation. While He was speaking to Jews at the time, the example for us today is plain: “If you are presenting a sacrifice…and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-25 Matthew 5:23-25 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has ought against you;
24 Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
25 Agree with your adversary quickly, whiles you are in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison.
American King James Version×).
Leviticus records that one could present offerings for sins and trespasses. If a person did something to cause offense, he could present a sacrifice to atone—physically “pay”—for the infraction. Jesus magnified the law. He showed what is more important: we are to make an effort to right any wrongdoing between offended parties as opposed to simply offering only a physical sacrifice.
Consider the example of David. When beseeching God for forgiveness of his terrible sins of adultery and premeditated murder, David pleaded for God to purge him of his sins and to give him a clean heart. Note what David prays: “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart —These, O God, You will not despise” (Psalms 51:16-17 Psalms 51:16-17 16 For you desire not sacrifice; else would I give it: you delight not in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
American King James Version×).
David seared his thoughts in profound pain. He genuinely grieved. He desperately wanted a fresh start. He had foolishly broken his direct relationship with God and desired healing, forgiveness, and restoration. He earnestly sought a pathway to restoration.
The good news? God mercifully answered David’s heartfelt prayers.
What do we learn from this? We must become like God. Learning and practicing forgiveness is a life-long task. It is not part of our human nature. We must become aware of the need to forgive and the need to seek the forgiveness of those we have harmed and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, continually practice forgiveness.
As we prepare to come before Jesus Christ in 21 days, let’s ask some tough questions of ourselves. Are we holding vengeful ill will towards another? The lack of forgiveness often produces deadly burning resentment. Resentment is a spiritual killer. Can we surrender it to God and let it go?
As we examine ourselves, be brutally honest. Paul tells us that true love “does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs ” (1 Corinthians 13:5 1 Corinthians 13:5Does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil;
American King James Version×, New International Version). Does that describe you and me?
Do we punish those around us who have made mistakes that involved us? Do we vengefully desire that they “get what’s coming to them?”
Or are we merciful like God, able to be forbearing, merciful and gracious towards those who have trespassed or violated us?
There’s no question that this is often tough to do. We’re not wired this way.
What are the benefits from shouldering this tough way of life? Forgiveness of sins is likened to forgiveness of debt. How wonderful and joyful to be out from under a debt to God and others. That’s what forgiveness is.
The Passover pictures this wonderful state: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalms 32:1-2 Psalms 32:1-2 1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
American King James Version×). That’s the power of forgiveness.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ means to embrace a lifelong learning process that requires constant awareness and action.
Let’s ramp up our Passover self-examination. Let’s avoid a “business as usual” approach, before and afterwards. And let’s all work towards building strong bonds among ourselves as we practice genuine forgiveness as taught by Jesus Christ.