Now that the message of peace on earth, good will toward men, is neatly packed away with the Christmas decorations, we’re in danger of entering our annual relapse into business as usual. Though totally inconsistent with the message of the season we’ve been celebrating, this too often happens.
Those of us who live in a cold climate now brace ourselves for winter winds and lots of snow but we often look forward to a brief break, soon after the beginning of the New Year, called a January thaw. We could use one of those merciful warming times in most of our churches and in many of our homes.
Let’s thaw the frigid feelings that divide us from others. Icy stares and cold meaningless greetings must go. Bitterness and strife between members of congregations can thwart the work of God causing whole communities to suffer.
Melting spiritual ice is no easy task. Real and imaginary wrongs have often built up such strong barricades to blessings that true reconciliation among people who should know better seems out of the question. Yet our Lord came to reconcile us to Himself and commanded that we forgive others as we have been forgiven.
Through her tears, a woman told me how negatively her life had been affected by her unwillingness to forgive. Once she had been one of the most active members of her church. Then she had become bitter toward another person in the congregation and as a result had spent two unhappy years over their disagreement. Now she realized how foolish she had been to carry that old grudge and forgave her adversary.
The reconciliation of these two who had been at odds was great news. But the two years they had lost could never be regained. Readiness to forgive at the time of the offense could have rescued them from these years of misery.
A free flow of forgiveness would revive most churches. Barriers erected long ago would fall. Efforts now spent by church leaders in holding the church together and catering to warring factions could be given to reaching out to the community.
Power to forgive comes from realizing we have been forgiven. And both our own forgiveness and the ability to forgive others are the results of God’s love.
The first century church was a tiny minority in a dangerous and hostile world but they knew their situation called for unity so they laid aside their differences in order to fulfill their mission. They loved one other, forgave one another, shared their burdens and became known as people of one accord. We’re still benefiting from the thawing among them that enabled them to reach their world.
The warmth of love in any church can be felt by members and visitors, as can the chill of congregational conflict. What’s the feel of your fellowship?
We’re living in dangerous times and the message of your church is needed as much as at any period of history. What are you going to do about it?
Try forgiving those who have wronged you and you may able to start the needed January thaw that will revive your church and change your life.
Roger Campbell is an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.