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Today I Saw God

So Watch Yourselves

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Here we are, America. It's been less than one month since we got a new president. For many, Facebook has become a place we visit with fear of what our friends and family might say about their approval or disapproval of President Trump's first few weeks in office. But the truth is, it's time to take a deep breath. It's time to remember that the same people you are avoiding today are the same people you were having barbecues with this past summer, making friendly small talk with at back to school night or inviting over for dinner just weeks ago.

Over the past three election cycles I have turned one of the three FM radio station sets in my car into "news central." I rotate between NPR, WTOP, WMAL, WHUR and 99.1 Bloomberg to try and hear the actual facts that lie buried in each station's spin on a story. It is a fascinating learning experience, and I encourage you to try it some time. What I've discovered is that very few facts are reported on a regular basis. Instead, reporters and radio hosts share their emphatic perspectives on a single action without providing any real insight into why those on each side of an issue are so irrationally upset. Even a show's callers support the craze of that view, with very few exceptions where the host welcomes callers with other opinions.

I have close friends on both sides of many of today's issues. Friends have said things to me that still sting at my very core months later, and friends continue to surprise me by spreading venom against one view or the other. It all leaves me feeling a bit hopeless really, because I believe that most of us actually share many of the same core views about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I believe that most of us love our country and want to see it continue to thrive and unite. But we have somehow become accustomed to taking sides instead of choosing to have discussions to seek greater understanding. So I've realized that I have some forgiveness to do. I need to forgive those that have said things that hurt me because of perceived differences in our belief systems. And I need to ask for forgiveness to anyone that I may have offended.

When I feel hopeless, I seek wisdom in scripture. In Luke 17:1,Jesus said to his disciples:"Things that cause people to stumbleare bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come." And later, in verse three he says, "So watch yourselves." That phrase, "so watch yourselves," really caught me off guard. It doesn't exactly sound like a phrase you might hear 2,000 years ago. It sounds like something you might have heard your mom say when you were a teenager. But like a caring parent, Jesus tells us not to push our own earthly desires so hard onto others that it causes them to stumble. I think the stumbling that we are to watch for refers to something that makes one waver from God's desires for our lives. The problem here, of course, is that not everyone knows what God desires of us. But during these times of quick emotional reactions, in person, on email and in Facebook, the advice is clear and simple: "So watch yourselves."

My favorite chapter in the Bible is Psalm 51, and in verse 10, it says, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." So join me in trying to avoid causing anyone to stumble, in watching ourselves and in cleansing our hearts in humility and forgiveness. By doing so, we can all turn back to our God as our Lord and Savior and not the latest protests or administration.

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I Chose Forgiveness

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Editor's Note: During Floris UMC's February 2017 sermon series, "Unburdened," we asked congregation members to anonymously share their stories of forgiveness. The following is one of those stories.

My life changed in July of 2010. I'd quit my job and uprooted my kids from their school and home to move out to Virginia. I took a call halfway across the county from my husband, who had moved a month ahead of us, that left me reeling. He didn't love me anymore, and my future had suddenly, to me, gone sideways.

I spent the next few years sorting through the pieces of my life. An affair, sex and porn addictions, verbal abuse, financial hardship and loss of my support network left me stripped bare. I couldn't imagine forgiving the other women or my husband. I couldn't bare to face the fact that he seemingly didn't care. I couldn't bare coming to church. I couldn't bare happy people. I couldn't bare couples.

I ran. I got a job. I started to tell my friends and family. I started to get my life back. I started talking to God again. I went to counseling. I fought for my marriage and family. I still hated the other women. I still hated my husband.

Then, with God and my support network, I gradually began to step back into my life. I know God placed people in my life to pull me through the darkest moments. I filed for divorce and began another battle. I still hadn't been able to forgive him, or the women, for the destruction of our family.

When the divorce was final, I made a conscious decision to forgive him. I would mentally remind myself that I chose to love my children, which means I can't hate their father. I felt the peace that passes no understanding when I let go of the hate, the hurt, the disappointment and the desire to control. I talked to one of the women. I looked her in the eye and wished her happiness in her life. Without forgiveness in my heart, I would not have had the strength to do that.

Some days I struggle with my decision to forgive him. I try, sometimes more successfully than others, to give it to God. I know God loves me too much to choose bitterness and hate. I chose forgiveness.

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A Poem on Forgiveness

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Editor's Note: This poem was written by Rick Wormeli. It was inspired by Floris UMC's sermon series on forgiveness titled, "Unburdened."

Dad, can you forgive me?

  • For the times I cursed your authority when I knew you were so wrong, but later found how right you were?
  • For the times of struggle when I did not turn to you, yet that was the very thing you wanted mostto be needed?

Mom, can you forgive me?

  • For the times I misinterpreted your encouragement of me as disappointment in me?
  • For the times I judged you as old and out of touch, when really you were showing me the compassion and courage this world needs most?

Brother, can you forgive me?

  • For the times I didn't come over and help rebuild your roof after the storm, or sit quietly and listen to you without judgment as you shared the things that frightened you?
  • For the times that I rebuffed your attempts to give me money when I needed it because I was too ashamed?
  • And for the time I let you take the blame for that hole in the kitchen ceiling when it was I who did it all along?

Sister, can you forgive me?

  • For the times I didn't have your back when you confronted tormentors in school because I was terrified myself?
  • For the times I told you that you would never achieve your dreams in schools of engineering because I was knew my own inadequacies and didn't want to be left behind?
  • When I judged you harshly for marrying someone outside of our family's race and religion?

Stranger, can you forgive me?

  • For the times I was too busy to lend a hand?
  • For the times I assumed you intended harm grounded merely on your skin color?
  • For the times I told a friend your life's story and political views as if I knew you based only on hearing your Pakistani accent from afar?

Lord, can you forgive me?

  • For the times I did not claim you as my savior because others might judge me if they knew?
  • For the times I wouldn't let go of grudges and it poisoned relationships with family and friends?
  • For the times I thought I could do it on my own and didn't need you?

Harriet Beecher Stowe quietly declared: "The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone." And so, from each and all of these comes the reply:

"Yes. You are forgiven."

In Grace, I am revealed.

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Forgiving Family

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Editor's Note: During Floris UMC's February 2017 sermon series, "Unburdened," we asked congregation members to anonymously share their stories of forgiveness. The following is one of those stories.

When it comes to family and money…I would have never thought that my family would choose money, but they did.

More than 20 years ago my aunt passed away without a will. My aunt had substantial wealth. She owned several homes in the area and lived on a big farm in Luray, Virginia. This was my mother's sister. So, when mom was talking to us about the inheritance, she said it would split three ways between my mom, her sister and her brother's kids (three of them). My uncle had passed away a few years earlier.

I thought everything would go easy and painlessly. Mom just thought to liquidate everything and split the money among the families. Real easy, right? Well, that is when my cousins spoke up and said they were promised this and that. There was nothing in writing; no proof of what they were saying was true. While our family and my uncle's family agreed on liquidating everything, my aunt's kids did not want that. They wanted the homes, the money, everything!

So, here come the lawyers and the court trails and the name callingangry letters back and forth. I have not seen my aunt or cousins in 20 years. My mother passed away in 2015 without ever seeing her sister (my aunt) again. I begged her to go and talk to her sister, but she kept saying that she was not ready. I would then say, "Well, when are you going to be ready, Mom?" Mom always preached to us growing up about staying together as a family, yet here she was just contradicting herself by not going and seeing her sister. I would tell her to not let it end like this. "You need to go and see her, go yell at here, talk or whatever." The one thing she would do was talk to her on the phone, that was about as close as she got to seeing her. It was a very sad ending because they were so, so close at one time.

Today, my siblings want nothing to do with my cousins at all. They call them evil and the devil himselfthe name-calling goes on and on. They get upset with me for speaking to them, but I tell them, "You all need to let go of the hate and anger as I have. It will just continue to eat at you for years and years." I would say, "You know they will have to answer for what they done to God." I sure would not want to stand in front of the creator and telling him why I went against all he taught us.

They tore the family apart all for the love of money. As a Christian, I learned long ago to let go of the hate and anger. I have talked to them on the phone from time to time. The only real question I ever wanted to ask them was, "Why?" "Why did you choose money over family?" I have been a Christian for over 30 years, and I must admit that it took me a long time to forgive. I pray that someday they will want to meet with all of us and ask for our forgiveness. That would be really something! Do I think it will happen? No, I do not. But, it would be a wonderful thing to happen to bring what is left of our family together again.

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God is Love

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Editor's Note: During Floris UMC's February 2017 sermon series, "Unburdened," we asked congregation members to anonymously share their stories of forgiveness. The following is one of those stories.

My mother was incapacitated from a stroke, and when she passed away my sister and I found out that our brother has spent quite a lot of her money only to better himself. We were always a very close-knit family so this came as quite a shock to me. The amount he spent was astonishing, but the real hurt came from his betrayal of our mother and of us sisters. There were difficult years that ensued, nasty letters from him and his wife to me and my sister blaming us for a multitude of things, but the real ache came from losing my brother, someone whom I had adored, as he was ten years older than me.

I prayed about forgiveness, but it didn't come easily. I would get a huge knot in my stomach whenever I went back home in fear of seeing him. We did meet on one occasion when I was visiting back home in at attempt to mend our relationship, but it was horrible, and I left feeling worse than I had before. Five years after my mom had passed, my daughter was engaged and I was praying to be led by God on whether it was the right thing to do to include my brother in the festive occasion. "Turn the other cheek," "Love your neighbors" and "What would Jesus do?" were all running in my head, but I just couldn't get a clear picture. Then I came across the passage in 1 Corinthians 13:4-13, the one I knew so well, but it came in a new light. The answer was clear: "Love endures all things."

I had been taught growing up that love is reflected in love and will come back to you if you just keep loving. I invited him and asked him to escort me and my sister down the aisle. He accepted. His wife couldn't attend the wedding, which I believe was a blessing, because the three of us siblings were able to be together and talk about wonderful family memories and start the healing process. It has been ten years since that wedding, and we have had other family life celebrations that he attended as well. We text and talk occasionally, always ending with "I love you." I'm so grateful to have been able to put this behind me and forgive. It has benefited me and my family. God is love.

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