Forgiving ourselves

Wallpaper featuring Dan Fouts, Quarterback of the San Diego Chargedr from 1973-1987

Wallpaper featuring Dan Fouts, Quarterback of the San Diego Chargers from 1973-1987

On Saturday, August 23, I sat in my recliner after a busy week of ministry to watch my favorite professional football team, the New Orleans Saints, face the Indianapolis Colts in their 3rd preseason game.  The announcers for the game were Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts,who was providing the color, or expert, commentary.  Dan Fouts certainly qualifies as an expert in the game.  A pro football Hall of Fame member, Fouts threw for 43,040 yards and 254 touchdowns during his 15 years with the San Diego Chargers (source

During the game, Colts quarterback, Andrew Luck, underthrew a receiver late in the second quarter and the ball was picked off by the Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro.  What surprised me about the play was not the interception, nor the underthrown ball, but Fouts’ reaction to it.  Fouts said that Andrew Luck would remember that throw, just as Fouts said he remembers every one of the 242 interceptions that he threw in his career.

I found it surprising that Fouts remembered the exact number of interceptions he threw and that he claimed to remember every one of those mistakes.  I wondered if he could remember the great plays and throws he made over the years and if he knew the the exact numbers of all the positive things he did in his career such as the many touchdowns and thousands of yards mentioned earlier.  My guess (and it is only a guess) is that Fouts could probably not remember all of the great throws and great moments he had to help San Diego have so many successful seasons.  I couldn’t help but wonder why it is the bad things that we remember rather than the good things.  Why is it so  hard for us to let our past go and forgive ourselves for our past mistakes, which are sometimes much worse than an interception in a football game?

The Bible is full of verses about God’s forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Micah 7:18-19 says “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”  My favorite verse on forgiveness is Psalm 103:12, which reads “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” These are only a few of many bible verses about God’s forgiveness. So if God is willing to forgive us and remove our sins and mistakes from us, why is it so difficult for us to forgive ourselves and forget our mistakes?

I am reading a book by Adam Hamilton titled “Forgiveness:Finding Peace Through Letting Go.”  I am reading and studying it in preparation to use it as our fall study at Pine Ridge and Tangipahoa United Methodist Churches.  While studying and considering the content of the book, I discovered some unforgiveness in my own life and I am trying to let it go.  Who was the one I had to forgive the most? Myself!  I was still holding on to mistakes and regrets in my own life that were stumbling blocks to me personally and professionally.  Maybe that is why what Adam Hamilton calls the six hardest words to say (I am sorry; please forgive me) are in the first person tense.  Maybe that is why Dan Fouts remembers the 242 interceptions rather than the 43,040 yards and 254 touchdowns.  Maybe if we are going to get serious about forgiveness, we need to start with forgiving ourselves and letting go of our mistakes.

Questions to consider:  When have you had a hard time forgiving yourself for past mistakes?  Why?  How did (or have you) made peace with those mistakes?  If God is willing to forgive us, why is it so difficult for us to forgive ourselves?


Rolling out the Welcome Mat

Sign welcoming us to the City of Fairbanks

Sign welcoming us to the City of Fairbanks

We arrived into Fairbanks via train.  As we were coming into Fairbanks, I saw something I had never seen before.  A family had pulled on to the side of the highway as our train passed by, pulled out a homemade “Welcome to Fairbanks” sign, and waved as we passed.  As far as I could tell, they were just a regular family, not tourist professionals, but they seemed excited that we had traveled to their city.  Not just in Fairbanks, but all across Alaska, the people seemed to really appreciate and welcome us to their state.  In almost every store the clerks said “thank you for visiting” even when we didn’t buy anything.  It was as if the people of Alaska realized that their state wasn’t “just around the corner” for many of their visitors and they really appreciated the time, effort and money that the visitors (like us) put in to visit Alaska.

Now I’m not saying that there aren’t crabby and obstinate people in Alaska (though I don’t recall meeting any), but I couldn’t help but wonder how we receive people here in Louisiana.  Like Alaska, the Louisiana tourist industry is a big part of our state.  This commercial by Louisiana Tourism that I have seen on television recently, states that we have over 25 million visitors to  Louisiana, and 1 in 11 jobs in our state is related to tourism.  Tourism brings in over $10.4 billion dollars to our state.  And there are great things to see in our state- Audubon Zoo, D-Day Museum, Aquarium of the Americas, Superdome, Poverty Point, Antebellum homes, state parks, and so much more.  Who wouldn’t want to come and see these great things?  But for those of us who are “home folks”, I sure hope we say “Welcome to Louisiana” and “Thank you for visiting Louisiana.”

If we welcome visitors to our state and businesses, shouldn’t we welcome them to our church?  After all church is where we gather to worship the living God, to remember God’s grace, mercy and love, as well as how faith has made a difference in our lives.  The first step, of course, is to invite people to church (see blog post “Fishing for People” from June 26, 2014), but once they come to church we must also welcome them like they are loved and appreciated children of God.  And we don’t have a lot of time to welcome them.  This article by Rick Ezell states that guests make up their minds about a church in the first ten minutes of their visit.  He also states that most church members aren’t friendly.  He writes “Churches claim to be friendly. In fact, many churches put that expression in their logo or tag line. But my experience in visiting churches as a first-time guest proves otherwise. The truth is that most church members are friendly to the people they already know, but not to guests.”  When we are not friendly to guests, then the guests remember that we aren’t the only game in town and may go down the street to the next church, just as we might choose to shop at another store if the one we usually shop at doesn’t have what we need or want.  Rick reminds churches that they are (or should be) in the hospitality business. “Though our ultimate purpose is spiritual, one of our first steps in the Kingdom business is attention to hospitality. Imagine the service that would be given to you in a first-class hotel or a five-star restaurant. Should the church offer anything less to those who have made the great effort to be our guests?”  United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase has even listed Radical Hospitality as one of the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (source:  The wonderful and scary thing is that how we treat and welcome others not only reflects on our church, our denomination, but on God.  If we don’t treat welcome guests with the love and respect they deserve, they could decide that God wouldn’t welcome them either or that God doesn’t love them.

So what can we do?  We can make a concerted effort to welcome those who we don’t know, even if we are not ushers, or the pastor, or if it is not our “job.” (Remember that homemade welcome sign to Fairbanks?)  Maybe one way to do this would be to follow the rule of ten, meaning that we greet anyone within ten feet of us, whether we know them or not.  Or we could follow the rule of three, which encourages us to spend the first three minutes after the service ends to welcome and greet those we don’t know, since most guests leave within three minutes after the service is over.  These are only a few ways to welcome and greet others, maybe you know of others.  Whoever we are and whatever we do, let us make an effort to roll out the welcome mat and greet others in church, in our businesses, and even visitors to our state.

Questions to consider:  When were you welcomed well to a city/state/business/church and how did it make you feel?  When were you not welcomed to a city/state/business/church and how did it make you feel?  What is God calling you to do to welcome others to your church and business?


Working Together for the Common Good

A group of Humpback Whales swims in the waters near Juneau, Alaska

A group of Humpback Whales swims in the waters near Juneau, Alaska

In Juneau, we went on a whale watching tour.  We saw eagles, sea lions, and the group of Humpback whales pictured above.  While we were watching we saw the whales dive, and a few minutes later they surfaced at the same time, mouth open wide.  We were amazed and even the marine biology students that were our guides were excited to see this behavior, which they saw only rarely even though they were on the water daily.  Scientists call this behavior “Bubble Net Feeding”.  The Juneau Humpback Whale Catalog describes Bubble Net Feeding this way;  “To summarize the bubble net technique; a group of humpbacks will dive down to herring schools where one whale (the bubble-blower) will release a ring of bubbles from its blowhole as it spirals beneath the prey. As this air rises to the surface, it creates a curtain of bubbles that acts as a physical barrier to frighten and retain the school of herring. Simultaneously, another whale in the

A group of Humpback Whales surface while Bubble Net Feeding.  (Photo credit- Fay Schaller)

A group of Humpback Whales surface while Bubble Net Feeding. (Photo credit- Fay Schaller)

group will produce resonating vocalizations, which also act to frighten the prey and trigger them to school up in tight balls within the bubble net. The whales then orient below the schooled fish and lunge, mouths open, to the surface through the center of the bubble ring, or bubble net. This motion drives the fish to the surface, where they are trapped from all sides (the surface of the water above, the bubble curtain on the sides and the open mouths of whales below). The whales will break the surface of the water in unison with mouths wide open, and then close their mouths while roll at the surface as they force the water from their throat cavity out through their baleen plates; the sieving process which allows them to swallow their catch without having to swallow excess saltwater.” Juneau Humpback Whale Catalog

It was amazing to witness this behavior.  Unfortunately, since we never knew where the whales would surface, I didn’t get a picture of it, even though we witnessed it several times.  The photo of Bubble Net Feeding is from a thumb drive of pictures purchased at Glacier Bay National Park and was taken by Fay Schaller.  But the most interesting thing I learned about Bubble Net Feeding is that the group of whales is unrelated and that it is passed from one generation to another.  “Most incredible of all, this behavior seems to be passed on from generation to generation, and between unrelated groups of humpback whales. The only other mammal known to pass on collaborative feeding behavior among unrelated groups? Humans.” (source:  The group of whales we witnessed included a Humpback Whale calf following behind the adults by about 100 yards witnessing and, presumably, learning this behavior.

I thought that if unrelated whales could come together for the common good, why can’t humans?  But in congress, the democrats blame the republicans and the republicans blame the democrats and little is accomplished to move our country forward.  In the church, one group threatens to leave and split the church over one issue.  Where is the common good in these things?  Why can a group of unrelated whales work together for the common good and yet humans cannot?

But when we do work together great things can be accomplished.  One of the churches I serve hosts a monthly breakfast on the fourth Sunday of the month and collects donations to help with local, state and global mission needs.  Yearly over $10,000 is collected to help others!  Just from breakfast!  When we work together, great things can be accomplished.  If Humpback Whales can work together for the common good, there should be no limits to what humans can accomplish when we work together to make a difference in the lives of others.

Questions to consider:  When have you seen people come together to make a difference in your church, community, and nation?  What is God calling you to do to work with others to make a difference in your church, community, and nation?