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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Stop Signs of Life

1-3 Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day's out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ's law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.
(Galations 6:1-3 The Message)

STOP is a powerful word.  The are 39 individual definitions of this tiny word in the dictionary!  Did you have any idea?  When we come up to one of these signs in our drive to work this morning, we will obligingly bring the vehicle to a halt, look all four directions, and then take our turn in making the next move we need to make along the way.  That is the purpose of the sign!  Ignore it and you could find yourself with a dent in your fender, a ticket in your wallet, and a little late to work!

Our passage today calls for us to "stop" long enough to evaluate our response to our brother's actions - the things that bring "burden" into their lives.  It is a sad thing, but we rarely "stop" what we are doing, cease from what we are saying, long enough to actually look at the one who is hurting so badly.  Sin is a really simple word that really has compromise at the core.  We often know what it is we were SUPPOSED to do, but then do exactly the opposite of what that was.   When that occurs, we find ourselves standing in the need of forgiveness.

Not only do we need forgiveness, but we need restoration.  Is it possible to do one without the other?  I think we often give "lip-service" to our forgiveness without really reaching out to embrace the one who has sinned.  That is what restoration does - it brings that one who has compromised back into a place of being "unimpaired" by the sin.  Until there is restoration, forgiveness is incomplete.  

There is a saying I learned when I was younger, "There, but for the grace of God, go I".  I find myself sometimes being hard on the "sinner", not just the "sin".  Whenever I do that, God is faithful to bring this thought back to my mind.  Thankfully, I don't find myself as hard on the sinner anymore - because I have learned that I am really just one step away from the same fall from grace!  

Our passage points out some steps we should not just "gloss over".  First, we need to act in love.  It is impossible to really forgive - to restore - without love being at the root of our actions.  Forgiveness is more than a mental choice - it is backed by actions that reveal restoration has occurred.  Second, we might not realize how close we are to needing the same act of love!  We are probably just a few steps away from our own compromises in life and will need the love of Christ to prevail in our lives, as well.  

Last, but not least, forgiveness costs us something.  Really, it cost Jesus everything, but it does cost us something, too.  It costs us the "right" to be judgmental - harsh on the sinner.  We may feel violated by an action of another - immediate response being that we want to "hold it against them".  When we truly realize that forgiveness has a cost associated with it, we begin to realize that judgment does, too.  Judgment actually puts us in a place of bondage to holding the "grudge" - continually remembering the "debt" of another and allowing the "interest" on that debt to compound!

Paul is quite clear - we have to get out of our place of comfort in order to forgive.  Stooping down, sharing the burden, is really not suggestive of "being comfortable" or at ease as it comes to the restoration process.  If you have ever tried to restore an old piece of furniture, you will realize the tedious amount of work that goes into it.  Stripping away the old, getting rid of all hint that the old even existed, and then replacing that with the new is a lot of work!  The same is true with our sin and that of our brother.  

Compromise is often an "ingrained" habit, or an unexpressed need.  It takes time and effort to realize how to be free from those things that have been "worked into" our daily lives.  It also takes a whole lot of painful honesty to become aware of what lies beneath the choices we make.  As we go through this process, the process is made easier by those that embrace us lovingly along the way.  When we want to "stop" our compromise, "go" into a place of graceful restoration, and "remain" in a place free of things that impede our progress in our journey with Christ, we need each other.

So, the next time you see a stop sign in your journey, will you just take a moment to look inward?  Is there someone in your life who has been "hung up" at a point of "immobility" in their walk for a while?  Perhaps God is asking you to stop what you are doing long enough to reach out to that one who so desperately needs to get moving again.  Is there some place in your life where compromise has you "stopped" in your tracks?  Perhaps God has brought you to a place where you are face-to-face with your sin.  If so, you need the grace he gives, but you also need the "embrace" of another to help you walk out that forgiveness until it becomes "real" in your life.  When you come to a place of "stop" in your life - look up!  Your forward progress doesn't depend on what lays behind you, but on what is in front of you!