On God and gummy worms

NCSPCJXHSeveral Sundays ago, right in the middle of singing a familiar worship song, God showed up. My eight-year-old son was singing next to me. His attitude had not been the greatest, and mine could have used a few adjustments too. He was fidgeting, and I was trying hard to keep my thoughts in order for the message that I was about to give. That’s when it happened — he stopped fidgeting long enough to tug on my sleeve. “Dad” he whispered, as his lower lip quivered. I leaned down to listen as he continued. “Remember the other night when you told me not to eat any more gummy worms after I got in bed?” He pauses, his eyes refusing to look at me. “Well, I did.”

I stop singing, and sit down next to him. I touch his chin to redirect his eyes to mine. “Are you asking me to forgive you?” He nods. His lip still quivering. I smile. “Well, I do.” He throws his arms around my neck, refusing to let go. The music is still playing. The congregation is still singing. But God’s message is rising above all of that. He is speaking his familiar story of repentance and forgiveness through a little boy who is clinging tightly to the neck of his father.

I set my son down and continue to sing with the rest of the congregation, but there is a voice that is singing more loudly than mine. I stop singing again, and listen to the eight year old next to me singing with all of his heart:

God of wonders beyond our galaxy; You are holy, holy.
Precious Lord reveal Your heart to me, Father hold me, hold me.
The universe declares Your majesty, You are holy, holy, holy, holy.
Hallelujah, to the Lord of heaven and earth!

My son isn’t only singing loudly, but he’s smiling — the kind of smile you can’t hold back no matter how hard you try. The kind of smile you have when you no longer have to hide a secret.

God, do you feel this kind of joy — the father’s joy I feel right now — when I come to you in repentance, seeking your forgiveness? I look at my son again, who is still belting the song with everything he’s got.  And is that what I look like when I’ve been forgiven — unable to contain the joy of a burden lifted? 

His voice raises at the refrain: Hallelujah, to the Lord of heaven and earth! I think to myself: I couldn’t agree more.

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A great story on forgiveness

Ravensbruck prisonI shared Corrie Ten Boom’s story on forgiveness this past Sunday. This is a story that never grows old.

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. …

And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent. …

“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.

“I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us.”

“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, …” his hand came out, … “will you forgive me?”

And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” …

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!” For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/questionofgod/voices/boom.html