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Dealing With Life's Leftovers

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In times past, most people heated their houses using fireplaces, stoves and coal furnaces. Some people still do. It makes no difference which of these forms of heating one uses, there are always ashes or clinkers to get out of the house and hauled away without leaving a mess behind.

As a boy growing up, it was my job to take out the leftovers from the furnace. I had to put the ashes and clinkers in a large trash can and lug them up the basement stairs and out to the back alley, whether it was raining or snowing, where someone came by and hauled them away. And my mother and father always reminded me not to make dust that went throughout the house. It was a tedious and tiresome job.

The point I'm making here is that it is not always easy to get rid of the useless remnants of living, in this case, the left-over ashes.

When you prepare and eat a meal at home, you have to wash the dishes or put them in the dishwasher and cleanup the kitchen. There is the laundry you have to do or have done. There are the various tasks connected with housecleaning. There is the wear on carpets, floors and furniture that result in leftovers that have to be cleaned, sanded, painted or replaced. And don't forget about the necessary maintenance on a bicycle, motorcycle, car, truck, tractor and farm or manufacturing equipment that is required as the result of how they are used and taken care of. All of these are dealing with the leftovers or residues of living normal lives.

Or what about the person who pays no attention to weight and ends up with a heart problem; or the smoker who develops lung cancer; or the worker who fails to wear ear plugs around noisy equipment and ends up with hearing problems; or the many other examples we can all think of or identify with -- all are leftovers of living that have to be dealt with.

These are examples of various kinds of life's residues we have experienced personally or have seen and are easy to picture in our minds. The point I'm making is that past activities result in consequences for the present and future.

As a parish minister for thirty years and a college president after that, I worked with many individuals and families that were dealing with major problems that were the consequences of what I would call personal behavior, the residues of which are much more difficult to identify and deal with.

Unfortunately, our mental institutions, reform schools, jails and prisons are full of people who are dealing with the consequences of past actions -- their own and those of others. Psychiatrists, therapists and counselors are kept busy helping people deal with many of life's major leftovers.

As an ordained clergyman, I am well acquainted with helping people deal with guilt that results from their moral lapses. In searching for how to deal with the residue of their wayward behavior, they say such things as: I know that I have become morally corrupt and have forsaken the expectations of God and society. Is it possible for God to forgive me for the things I have done? And what about the people I have wronged; will they forgive me? Is it possible for society as a whole to accept me again as a trustworthy person after what I have done?

As a Christian clergyman, I will discuss what Christianity teaches concerning forgiveness -- about how God deals with our transgressions and how we and our fellow human beings should handle our mistreatments of one another.

The basic concept of forgiveness starts with the belief that we are all guilty of sin, that our sin has destroyed our relationship with God, and that the restoration of that relationship or communion with God starts with God's forgiveness. The Scriptures make it clear that it is God who takes the initiative in this process -- that God wants to forgive even our most flagrant sins.

This concept is summed up in John 3:16-17: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (Revised Standard Version).

But God makes it clear that salvation or forgiveness takes more than apologies and good intentions. It takes action on the part of the person wanting God's forgiveness. Matthew tells us that Jesus began his preaching ministry with these words: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17) And time and again Jesus calls on people to repent. The Greek word for "repent" comes from an old military term: "about face," that is, turn around and go the other direction. Repentance involves not only a change of mind, but a change of behavior. That is what being converted is all about!

In our Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray: "forgive us our debts (trespasses), as we forgive our debtors (those who trespass against us)." (Matthew 6:14) Jesus makes it clear here and in several other places that the degree to which we forgive others will be the degree to which he forgives us -- if we truly forgive others, he will truly forgive us, but if we hold grudges within our hearts and look for ways to get even and do not wholeheartedly forgive those who have wronged us, then we can expect the same treatment from God. That may sound harsh, but that's the way it is.

Everything we do in life has it consequences. Some are good and others are bad, and some are more significant than others. God shows us how to deal with life's most consequential leftovers. And God's ways require action!