The Poor in Spirit

The Poor in Spirit

I’ve always found the Beatitudes–the Sermon on the Mount beginning in Matthew 5–to be a beautiful redefinition of what life should be about. What we should be striving for. There are so many lines in it that make me pause and reflect and ask myself, “Am I doing that? Is that how I’m living my life?”

Yet it starts off with a line that’s had me puzzled for years.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?

For many years, I assumed it meant something like “sad.” Like, you know, “poor in health” is sick, so a sickness of the spirit would be depression or sadness or something like that. Except that Jesus addresses “mourning” in the next couplet…and why would He want us to seek sadness? Yeah, my initial interpretation leaves something to be desired, LOL.

In some other reading I’ve done over the last few years, I came across ideas of it meaning one’s spiritual poverty–which is to say, our need for God. That struck me as true…er. But again, is that the state we’re supposed to live in? A perpetual state of spiritual poverty? Doesn’t He, when we recognize our need for Him, fill us up and make us spiritually rich? Hmm.

I recently heard a sermon that touched on it and made a light bulb go off.

Let’s look at these lines together. The poor in spirit have–own, possess–the kingdom of heaven. Okay. Well, these verses are all about the contrast to the traditional wisdom, right? So what’s the opposite of these worlds? “The wealthy in spirit” and “the kingdom of the world.”

Ah. That’s beginning to make sense. Because who “owns” the world? The rich. The wealthy. They are the ones with power, political might, sway, all the possessions, and so on. What’s more, striving after that is the natural, worldly, “given” thing to do. Even if we aren’t rich, we want to be. We work harder, seek higher paying jobs, vie for the promotion, the raise. We invest our money and try, always, to increase it. We long for the nicer this or that. We spend, spend, spend on our own pleasures and luxuries whenever we can afford to. This is a “spirit of wealth” whether we actually have much of it or not. This is yearning for wealth.

What is the opposite, then? It isn’t necessarily yearning for poverty, per se. But it’s yearning for something beyond worldly wealth. It’s holding everything we own out to God and saying, “This isn’t mine. It’s yours.”

It’s recognizing that we own nothing. NOTHING. It’s all His. Which means He can ask us, as His stewards, to do something “else” with our possessions at any moment, and we willingly obey. Maybe that means selling it all and following Christ into a mission field. Maybe it just means putting something extra into the offering plate. Maybe it means leaving a  crazy tip for that down-on-her-luck waitress. Maybe it means giving sacrificially to someone in need, even when you can’t really spare it. Maybe it means turning down the better job to stay where you know God put you. Maybe it means simply listening, waiting, being ready to give up any one thing or all things.

A spirit that is poor holds nothing tightly. Holds all things loosely. Is ready to give, at any moment, because nothing is truly his.

An image I’ve been falling back on a lot lately is that of holding things only in open, cupped palms. God can pour in…and I’ll pour it right back out, onto whomever He wills. This is how I’ve been working to view my writing. God pours stories into me, He gives me glimpses of His truths to share. I write them, I do the best I can on them, and then I send them out into the world. What happens from there…that’s not the important question. Oh, I’ll do everything I can to make them succeed–investing the talents He left in my care, knowing He sows where He doesn’t reap, like the parable says. I’ll be the best servant I can be. But I’ll do all that knowing it isn’t for me. It’s for Him. He is the one who reaps the benefits. He is the one who gives the increase. He is the one who controls the markets.

When we view the world that way, it keeps us nimble–ready to pivot in whichever direction we see Him moving, to whatever need He draws our attention to. It keeps us unattached to material things, worldly pleasures, and focused on exactly what the Beatitude promises us: the kingdom of heaven.

And it should make us pause, every day. It should make us wonder, which kingdom are we striving for, yearning for, working for? Are we concerned more with the earthly things that the world’s spirit of wealth tells us we should want…or are we striving, yearning, and working for the invisible things that God promises?

What do we need to hold out in open palms today?

The God of . . .

The God of . . .

There are some phrases we’re all familiar with if we read the Old Testament of the Bible…

The God of Israel
The God of Jacob
The God of Jerusalem

We’re told that Jerusalem is “His holy city,” especially in the Psalms. So much of the poetry and songs revolve around that city, the Temple, and the God who has claimed it as His own. Who dwells there. Who protects the place and the people.

For the Ancients, this wasn’t a weird thought. In the polytheistic societies that surrounded Israel thousands of years ago, each city had its own patron god. It was that god’s protection that led to prosperity; it was that god’s abandonment that led to its demise. If one city and its king defeated another, the assumption was that their god had triumphed as well…but also that by taking over the city, one became the new darling of its god. Victors would incorporate worship of that town’s god into their own worship, but also introduce their new, stronger god to its citizens.

Then there was Israel. Israel, who claimed “No, there is only one God. He is our God whether we win or lose. He is our God in exile. He is our God whether we’re in Israel, in Jerusalem, or in Babylon. He is our God when we prosper. He is our God when we starve.” And they dared to add something no other ancient society claimed about their gods: “He loves us. Everything He does is for love of us.”

As Christians, we still lay claim to that old covenant between God and Israel, even though many of us have no Jewish blood. Why? Because Christ’s blood fulfilled that covenant and extended it. The promise God gave to Abraham was not “and through you I’ll have one city to claim as my own.” He promised, “From you will come a nation, and through them, all the world will be blessed.” That’s how children in Sunday School can sing, “Father Abraham…” and claim him as their own patriarch. We were adopted into God’s family.

But…what does that mean in terms of nations?

It’s something I pondered, and then pondered some more as I heard so many Americans claiming, especially during the last election cycle, what basically amounted to God being the God of…America. I’ve read some HUGE bestselling books that spell out how America has taken on that old covenant with Israel for its own. How we’re the new Israel, more or less. And so He is our God. The God of our freedom, the God of our land. We pray His blessings upon us, from sea to shining sea.

We should pray for our nation–for our leaders, for our neighbors, for the people. But the idea of Christians claiming God as the God of their land comes with some definite problems. I’ve quite literally been chewing on this for a couple years, so let’s see how coherent I can be in parsing it, LOL.

First of all, what about the Christians who live in other countries? What do they think when Americans claim this? I can tell you, because I’ve heard from them–they’re offended. God is their God as much as He’s ours, after all. He adopted them too, whether they’re English or Spanish or Mexican or African or Scandinavian. He loves the Russian farmer as much as the Chinese factory-worker as much as the politician from D.C. Do we really think about that as we contemplate how proud we are to be American? Or have we linked where we live with the God we serve?

Last month, I read a book called The Lamb’s Supper that put a new lens on the book of Revelation for me–but in fact, a very old lens. It talks about how the book makes sense when viewed as a liturgy, and how, in fact, nearly every step of liturgy is there in Revelation–they informed each other, built each other, as a matter of fact. In Revelation, we see the New Jerusalem descend. The new dwelling of God. It’s part of the new heaven, the new earth. And do you know what it is?

The Church.

The “holy nation” that Peter talks about in 1 Peter 2–what is that? Is it Israel? No. It’s the Church.

That is the nation to whom we should be most loyal. Not America or Canada or Britain, not Mexico or Germany or Australia, not Portugal or the Netherlands or Uganda. The Church. Those other places…those are where we live. Where we serve. Those are the neighbors we’re called to love and show the ways of God. We are supposed to have affection for our homeland–it’s built into the human DNA. God made us that way–tribal. But we have to be careful. We have to be careful not to begin thinking we’re superior, that God loves us more, has favored us more, has blessed us more. We have to be careful we haven’t begun to think of ourselves, as citizens of a human nation, as the caretakers of God’s Word and His promises.

We are that–but not because we’re American or Western or Eastern or even Israeli. We are caretakers of His Word and His promises by virtue of the cross. By virtue of being members of His bride, the Church.

In Back to Church by pastor Cara Luecht, she asks, “Are you an American who happens to be a Christian, or are you a Christian who happens to be an American?” That, I think, is a great focusing question. Because He isn’t the Lord of our land–He is (or should be) the Lord of our hearts. When we are baptized into the family of God, we don’t gain a citizenship in an earthly country–we gain a citizenship in Heaven.

God is still the God of Jacob. He is the God of Israel. Jerusalem is still His holy city–but Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem that John saw descend, is us, my friends. We are the Church. We are His dwelling place. Where we live…that’s nothing but a circumstance. It’s not a definition.

Before I’m a West Virginian, before I’m an American, before I’m a Westerner, before I’m even an Earther, I am this:

I am a Christian. All else is just smoke and vapors.

Love on Repeat

Love on Repeat

We can never hear “I love you” enough. Right?

Well, we may need to add a little more–we can never hear “I love you” enough when the person saying it means it. We can never hear it enough when it’s given as a gift, not meant to manipulate. We can never hear it enough when it’s true and free and welcome. If those conditions are met, those are the sweetest words in the world. We thrill to hear them the first time, and while the hearing becomes less surprising with repetition, it’s no less welcome.

I love you, repeated often, becomes a strong thread woven through the tapestry of our lives. We know, by hearing it regularly, that it’s true. We know that it means something–we know that the meaning goes far beyond the syllables and to the implications of the word.

We can trust that person.
We can depend on them.
We can be vulnerable and open with them.

And that’s just the little miracle that happens when we receive that repeated affirmation of love. What happens when we give it?

It could be hard for us to say those words the first time to someone. What if they don’t feel the same way? Is it too soon? What if you think it’s love, but it’s not? That hesitation goes away with “practice,” though, right? The more you say it, the easier it is to say.

No, not just that though. The more you say it, the more you mean it. The more you say it, the more you become aware of its truth. The more you say it, the more it becomes part of what defines you. It becomes who you are. You are both beloved and lover. You are part of something greater than yourself.

The same thing holds true with God, and with our repeated words of praise and love for Him.

Jesus warns us against “vain repetitions,” and for good reason. It’s easy to forget the meaning of words we say a lot. It’s easy not to think about them. It’s easy to use them to manipulate others, or to try to manipulate God into doing what we want. We can say your will be done and mean my will be done. We can say to God be the glory and mean look how holy I am. We can say praise Jesus and mean well that was lucky.

But I think many of us think the “repetition” part is the problem, and so think we have to eschew any old, memorized prayer.

Here’s the thing. Growing up, I never said the “Now I lay me down to sleep” rhyme, largely because it was “vain repetition.” Instead, I made up my own prayer. And you know what? I said that same exact prayer every night for years. Oh, there was a place to “personalize it” and name particular needs. But even those were the same so often that eight-year-old Roseanna would sometimes just say, when she was really tired, “and all of those others.” Did the repetition ever become vain? Sure. There were nights I rattled it off, barely thinking about it. But that wasn’t the norm, and it wasn’t my habit. My habit was to pause and think about it.

With my own kids, we’ve prayed together every night since they were little. And guess what–it’s the same basic words every night, the same basic pattern. Oh, we fill in different blanks, and I have a few variations…but in general? It’s the same. Why?

Because when we find the words that capture the meaning of our hearts, we use them over and over again. And that’s good. There are words and phrases and prayers we should repeat!

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit!
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts–heaven and earth are full of your glory!
Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world–have mercy on us!
Our Father, who is in heaven, may your name be set aside as holy!

I remember years ago, there was a member of our church who asked me why we said the Lord’s Prayer in every service. “Don’t you think that’s vain repetition?” she said. This was no novice of the faith, either–this was someone who’d grown up in the church and was in full-time ministry.

I just blinked at her. I mumbled something about wanting to make sure the kids knew it. But the real answer should have been, “It’s only vain if it’s vain.”

Let’s look at the main definitions of the word, shall we?

1: having or showing undue or excessive pride in one’s appearance or achievements
2: marked by futility or ineffectualness
3: having no real value

It isn’t the repetition of a memorized prayer that makes it vain, now, is it? No. The only thing that makes a prayer vain is our intention. Are we saying it to look good? Vanity. Are we saying it without believing it will do anything? Well, God may still surprise us, but if we truly don’t believe, I’d call that vain. Do the words themselves have no meaning? Same.

But that’s on us. Not on the words. The words themselves, no matter how many times we repeat them, are good words. They’re the words God Himself gave us in His Word. They can bring life and hope and promise and joy…if we use them right.

We don’t render the mathematical table “useless” by memorizing it. We learn its value, in fact. We don’t render our declarations of love futile by repeating them often. A million heartfelt thank-yous will be a million times genuinely received. The danger is when we say “you’re welcome” and really mean “I resent you.” It’s when we speak of love but feel bitterness.

It’s when we pray, but want God to comform to our will.

In our lives, whether we’re talking to our spouses or our children or our God, repetition can be one of the best things we do–as long as we keep our hearts right. Say those words a lot. Put them on repeat. And every time you say them, hear them, or even think them, let the truth of it sink deep.

Dwell in the words. Dwell in what they represent. And mean it.

God of Eternal Promises

God of Eternal Promises

It’s winter in the northern hemisphere. January has turned to February, February will soon be March, and we’ll start looking for the first signs of springs. Daffodil greens … buds on the trees … the return of birds that migrated south. We’ll start looking, but the temperatures where I live will still be mockingly low. It’s cold. It’ll be cold for a while yet. Every day I’ll hope it’s a little warmer, and every day when it’s not, I’ll think, Will spring ever come?

I know it will. But when winter refuses to loosen its grip, it’s easy to forget. It doesn’t feel like spring is on its way.

This weekend, we’ll celebrate my son’s fifteenth birthday, so of course my thoughts drift back in time, to when I was, to put it biblically, “large with child.” I remember sitting at my mom’s birthday party, what turned out to be three days before Rowyn came, but still three weeks from his due date, and thinking, I am so uncomfortable. I need this kid to come soon. That pregnancy hadn’t been fun–I’d been sick the whole time, I hurt from my insides to my skin, and while the thought of actually giving birth again gave me a rather hilarious moment of panic, I also felt that impatience that pregnant women are rather famous for feeling. Is this ever going to be over? I want my baby NOW! We know that days in the womb equal health for the baby (most of the time), but even so. We’re impatient. We want to move from potential to actual. We want fulfillment.

We know they’ll come. The child in our womb will not stay in our womb. But it doesn’t always feel that way.

God, when He created the universe, created it with motion. We mark that motion and call it time. He made us that way, as creatures who live in time and rely on time. He gave us minds capable of dividing that time into smaller and smaller portions, down to nanoseconds … and into larger and larger portions, counting millennia and epochs. We can count it. But we can’t escape it. We are children of time.

And we’re impatient. We look at the march of seconds and hours and days and weeks and months, and always, we yearn for that next fulfillment.

We wait for things–and we don’t always wait well.

We wait for the next season. The next break. The next vacation. We wait for that promised child, the promised job, the promised raise. We wait for the healing we need, the new treatment, the answer.

We wait. And we resent the now that isn’t the then, when we have the thing we need or want. We stretch always forward, thinking the future a bright and sparkling thing, and we look back, remembering the past as something better than where we are. How long, Lord, we pray along with the psalmist. How long must we wait for You?

But we don’t serve a God who is slave to the motion of time He created, as we are. We serve a God who exists outside it, who looks on all of creation through all of time with omniscient eyes. He sees the then. He sees the now. He sees the was and the will be. He shapes time in His hands, sets us exactly where we need to be within it.

And He makes us promises.

I remember the days when my kids were toddlers. The span of their lives was so short–every day felt BIG to them. Every promise seemed to take forever to happen. “Is it time yet?” and “Are we there yet?” and “Mama, now?” were familiar phrases.

I remember a few snippets of those days from my own life. Do you? I remember being maybe four or five and visiting my grandparents. My parents were telling a story–I don’t remember about what–and they said it had happened a week ago. “It did not!” I remember yelling. “It was months ago!” It wasn’t. It’s just that it seemed so long ago to me, and I would have sworn–did, as a matter of fact–that it had been far longer than a few days.

How often is time, is fulfillment, is the promise skewed by our perception?

As I read through the Bible in a year last year, I marveled time and again at how this plays out in Scripture. God made a promise to Abraham. He promised him, first, a son. It took decades for this promise to be fulfilled. Decades! How many of us would be that patient? If a child is the deepest desire of our hearts and God had promised us one, would we just wait on Him to fulfill the promise? Or do we think, Maybe He meant I’d be a parent through some other means? like Abraham did.

God made promises to David, to the prophets, to Israel as a nation. He promised them a Savior, He promised that they would be the means by which the whole world was blessed, He promised them they would be His people and He would be their God. He made a covenant with them–far stronger than just a promise, than just words–and that covenant came with expectations. Things they needed to do–things He would do.

But it took time. Decades. Centuries. Millennia.

Is it any wonder, then, that Israel got impatient? That they forgot? That they slipped away? To their eyes, God was taking too long. He’d forgotten them. It didn’t feel like the promise was ever going to come.

Looking back from the 21st century, we know that it did. That He kept His word, gave His Word, and fulfilled His covenant. We know that in another blink of His eternal eye–whether that’s a day or another million years–He’ll fulfill the final promise of a Second Coming, of a New Heaven, a New Jerusalem. We know that eternity will overtake us and time will pass away.

But it doesn’t feel that way, as we’re struggling and striving against our own sins, our own limitations, our own weaknesses. Does it?

It’s never easy to wait. Not for the things we most need, we most yearn for. It’s never easy to be stuck in time and yet serve a God who is outside it. And yet … and yet there’s comfort there, too, really.

We can rest assured that what we mess up in the moment, He will redeem in the ever-after. When we can’t see the next step on the path, He’s looking on from above the maze, already knowing how it will turn out. When we think we can’t make it one more day, He already knows their full number and stretched them out just so for us.

We can know that those pieces we least understand will ultimately be for His glory; and that His glory means our good.

We don’t serve a God of the get-rich-quick, the instant-results, or the satisfaction-guaranteed. But we serve a God of eternal promises. A God of covenants. A God of His Word.

It isn’t easy. Neither is waiting for spring, or the arrival of that precious newborn, or the cure. But we wait, because that’s how He made us–creatures bound by time. We wait, and we learn, in the waiting, something more about Him. We learn what eternal means. And we learn, a little more, how awesome is our God.

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He Called Me by Name

He Called Me by Name

God knows us. He calls us by name.

We know this. We can point to Scriptures that say it, we can recite it to each other. For that matter, I even sign each copy of The Nature of a Lady with “He knows your name.” I’ve printed it on tote bags. I’ve put it in a pretty font and positioned it within a lovely floral frame.

It’s true.

But that doesn’t mean we remember it. That we embrace it. That we live it.

We know that not only does God the Father know us and call us by name–our true names, the ones that reveal our true selves even more than whatever name our parents gave us could possibly do–but Jesus died for each one of us. We know that He loved each one of us enough to suffer on that cross. We know that He laid down His life for us. For you. For me.

We know it. But that doesn’t we remember it. That we embrace it. That we live it.

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I attended a daily mass on Wednesday night, like we always do. We listened to the beautiful Scriptures. We heard a beautiful homily on the importance and sanctity of life. And then we went up for communion. Father John was there that night, an older gent with white hair and a face that testifies to many years of smiles, of care. He’s relatively new to our parish, just joining the team of three in October. He’s still learning everyone’s names, but he knows ours because of some classes we’re taking–and he gets excited when he sees someone whose name he knows. His eyes light up, and he shakes our hands with a bright smile, saying, “Roseanna, right? And David!”

He’s been making a point of learning all the names he can. I can imagine him repeating them to himself, trying to pair names and faces of any of the 2,000+ families of parishioners in our area that he sees regularly. It’s a job! But the importance of it is clear. And became even clearer that quiet Wednesday night during the Christmas season.

Because that quiet Wednesday night during the Christmas season, when he was talking to us about the children murdered for Christ in Bethlehem upon Herod’s decree, when he was musing about the value of each and every life, what each individual can bring to his family, community, and world, when he reminded us all to mourn the tragedy of each young life ended not only then but today through abortion or neglect–that quiet Wednesday night, Father John held out the communion bread, looked me in the eye.

And he said, “Roseanna. The body of Christ.”

Roseanna. The Body of Christ. Broken for you.

Tears stung my eyes as I accepted that humble little wafer, said, “Amen!” and put it on my tongue. Because even though I’d known this truth for decades, it was the first time in my memory that anyone had said my name while giving me the body of Christ. And it made something quiver within me.

He calls us by name. He sacrificed His body, that same body we take in communion, that same body He invites us into as the Church, for us. For ME. As He was hanging on that cross, Jesus looked out over the centuries, into the eyes of each one of us, and says, “Beloved, this is for you.”

“Roseanna, I’m doing this for you.”

“Karen, I’m doing this for you.”

“Jennifer, I’m doing this for you.”

“Stephanie, Lynn, Elizabeth, Mary, Naomi, Karlene, Kimberly, Danielle, Kerry, Hannah, Pam, Shaleen, Arwen, Barbara, Jessica, Sandy, Rebecca, Caroline, Latisha, Melanie, Bethany, Candice, Cindy, Tina, Terri, Justine, Julie, Alyssa, Rachel, Halee, Bonnie, Nicole, Laura, Margaret, Betty, Deanna, Emily…I’m doing this for YOU.”

It’s a truth we know. But have we heard those syllables echo in our hearts? Down to our souls?

Do we live like it? Do we let it change us, not just once but every single day? Do we strive, in every hour, to become more and more like our Savior?

That quiet Wednesday evening during the Christmas season, Father John made it crystal clear that each life, each person, each name, each one of us is so beloved by our Father and His Son that He would make the ultimate sacrifice for us…and he also reminded me that we are called to be a sacrifice too. A living sacrifice, as Paul calls us–living, but willing to follow Him wherever He leads us.

Today, I pray that you savor that sweet truth on your tongue and in your heart. And I pray, too, that you accept His invitation to share that sweet truth with others.

Because He knows their name too. And He loves them. He loves them so much, that He stretched out His arms on that cross, looked across the centuries, and straight into their eyes too. He calls them by name. And He died for them.  Just like He did for you.

Whose Sins You Forgive

Whose Sins You Forgive


We know it’s important. We KNOW that. It’s a key line in the Lord’s Prayer–forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. It’s not only something we’re commanded to do, we confess in that prayer that we will only expect forgiveness in the measure in which we’re willing to give it.

We hear that Jesus gave the power to forgive sins to His disciples after His resurrection, along with the Holy Spirit. John 20:22-24 (ESV) says:

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

But have we ever really pondered what that means? If you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.

I mean, whoa. Wait a minute. Is Jesus really saying here that we can choose NOT to forgive, and He won’t either? That God won’t? That someone’s sins can be held against him eternally because WE refuse to forgive?

I’m sure this is something theologians debate–and I’ll leave them to it. Whether He was speaking there to all believers or just His disciples, who became the Fathers of the Church, its first bishops, and so had authority that the common lay person did not. But even so…even so. Let’s consider.

And let’s consider with one particular example.

During the Twelve Days of Christmas, the Church celebrates the life and death of its first martyr, Stephen. We get his story in Acts, and I imagine it’s one we all know–he’s being questioned by the Jewish leaders and gives a stirring confession of Jesus as the Christ, he looks up and sees a vision of Heaven with Jesus sitting at the right hand of God…and that so infuriates everyone that they stone him to death then and there…and a certain man called Saul watched over the cloaks of those doing the stoning.

But there’s another portion of that story too. Stephen does exactly what Christ did in His final moments, exactly what Christ instructed us all to do: he forgave.

He forgave the people who were murdering him. He forgave the people who hated him. He forgave…Saul.

Saul, who of course we know went on to become Paul, the most prolific apostle, without whose writings the New Testament would be pretty short. Paul, who went on to bring the Good News of salvation through Jesus to the Gentiles. Paul, who was arguably one of the most influential Christians of all time.

So…what if Stephen hadn’t forgiven in those final moments? What if he–an ordained deacon in that earliest Church, appointed to service by the Apostles themselves–had instead “withheld forgiveness.” Or as other translations render it, what if he had “retained the sins” of his persecutors? If he had, therefore, withheld eternal forgiveness from Paul?

Would God still have called him…or would He have chosen someone else instead? What would the Church, the very Bible have looked like if Saul had never been blinded on the road to Damascus and converted to Christianity? I believe that the work would have gotten done, yes, through another person. God still would have given the spiritual instruction to His followers…but the words would be different. Biblical writers are God-breathed, but the character of the human author is still seen in them. They put their own touches, their own personalities into them. We even see Paul speaking in some of his letters from his own wisdom, not as a heavenly mouthpiece, per se, which he readily admits. So those instructions certainly would have been different.

The entire course of human history, of Church history, could have been changed if one man–Stephen–hadn’t forgiven.

Who are WE refusing to forgive? What bitterness are we clinging to? What grudges do we refuse to let go of? What people are we therefore hindering from some eternally significant task? Ouch, right? We know how clinging to unforgiveness hurts us…but have we ever considered that our unforgiveness could hurt everyone? That it could have an impact so far-reaching? Have we considered that, because God graciously invited us into His work, gave us authority through the Holy Spirit, our decisions can hold real authority over the spiritual well being of others?

Again, I’m no theologian. I’m not stating definitively that God wouldn’t have called Saul if Stephen hadn’t uttered those words. But I am saying that asking the question should make startlingly clear what Jesus tells us very plainly: forgiveness is inexorably linked to eternity. Forgiveness determines forgiveness. Forgiveness unites us with God. Forgiveness is powerful, for our own souls and for others.

So let’s take Jesus’s words in John 20 at face value: if we don’t forgive someone, they will be condemned for their sins. God will not forgive them.

Is our argument with them worth their soul? Are we willing to answer for that judgment?

Love is hard. Forgiveness is hard. But part of being called to the communion of saints, part of being a true part of the Church, means putting off our sinful natures with all their bitterness and embracing the heart of Christ–the heart that forgave even up until the last minute. An example we see His first martyr following in his last moment.

Don’t wait for your last moment, friend. Embrace forgiveness. Embrace it because it will help you heal; embrace it because it could lead them to salvation; embrace it because  we can’t know what sinners God will use to build a key part of His kingdom…but it could be them.

Embrace it because Christ did.