How to Have a Lighter, Brighter Life
September 16, 2007
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
1 Timothy 1:12-17
The Lord’s Grace to Paul
12I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the foremost. 16But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! I want to talk with you today about how to have a lighter, brighter life. Would you like to have a lighter, brighter life? I bet a lot of people would. Some people go through life with a heavy feeling that they drag around with them. That heavy feeling could come from the thought that someone did them wrong or that life has sent them a bad deal or that they just weren’t good enough, and they’ve failed. And they get out of bed just sort of hoping that they can muddle through the day.
There is more to life than that, my friends. Jesus said, “I am come that they [meaning you] might have life, and have it more abundantly.” That’s the scripture we’re concentrating on. And one of the ways you can have a more abundant life is to live a lighter, brighter life. We’re going to talk today about how you can do that.
I know somebody who needed to have a lighter, brighter life. His name was Paul. He talks about that in the epistle this morning. Let’s study this together. Why did Paul need to have a lighter, brighter life? He tells us in verse 13, where he talks about what he carries around with him – “formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.” What does that mean? A blasphemer is somebody who says negative things about God. A persecutor—was Paul ever! He took it upon himself to punish Christians. And a man of violence is a polite way of putting it. Paul sure was a man of violence—he took responsibility for the executions of Christians.
Can I just pause here and give thanks for America? You and I can gather here in our sanctuary and praise the Lord without a fear in our hearts, and we can go out of the this place and have our picnic without a fear in our hearts, because we have this great country that allows us to do that, and insures and protects us and lets us know that we can do it. Okay, there might be a little squeaking and rumbling here and there in our country right now, but you know what? It’s still America, and it’s still a place where we can worship in safety and freedom. I want to praise God for that and thank God for that.
Two thousand years ago, there were people like Paul, the man who wrote this letter. He had been going after Christians and doing violence against them. If ever there was somebody who had a dark life, it was Paul.
What else does Paul say? Look at the beginning. “I am grateful” – now that is a light bright statement – “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He judged me faithful and appointed me to His service.” There is a word of transformation. There is a fellow who came up from the miry depths. “Christ judged me faithful and gave me a job to do.”
Then what happens? “I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me” – there’s abundance! – “with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” What does grace mean? It means “God’s love.” There is somebody who came up from the depths and now has a lighter, brighter life. He was in a dark place, friends, but Jesus Christ can transform dark places.
And then there is that famous statement at verse 15: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.” Then he goes on to say, “But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in Him for eternal life.”
If there is hope for him, then there is hope for you, and there is hope for me. And Paul is so exuberant about this, that he sings a hymn (these are probably words to a hymn): “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” He was so lifted up by this thought of Jesus that he burst into song. And we can be so lifted, too.
Friends, we all want to live a lighter, brighter life. How do we do it? Here is the key: Jesus Christ is a fountain of forgiveness. Jesus Christ spent His ministry going around forgiving people, and my invitation to us today is that we would become fountains of forgiveness. A story is told about a minister’s mother, Mrs. Osteen. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given less than six months to live. This is a true story. She decided it wasn’t going to get the best of her, and she prayed. She prayed for healing, and she had friends praying for her healing. And it touched her that she needed to do a bunch of forgiving, so she went around to every person she could have wronged, and she asked for forgiveness. She prayed for forgiveness. And she gave forgiveness to a lot of folks that she was holding grudges against. And a wonderful miracle happened. Her cancer was gone.
That, my friends, was 25 years ago. And Mrs. Osteen is doing great today.
May that story be a metaphor for us. Do we need to clear anything out? Do we need to forgive and let go? By all means, friends, if you have it in your heart, be a fountain of forgiveness.
Didn’t Jesus do it all the time? There was one time when a bunch of Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus. They were ready to stone her because she’d been caught in an inappropriate behavior. And Jesus said, “Let the one who is without sin, gentlemen, cast the first stone.” An amazing thing happened. One by one, starting with the oldest, you could hear stones thudding to the ground. When the woman looked up, the only person she saw was Jesus. Jesus smiled at her and said, “Neither will I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” The operative word there was “go.” Your dignity is back. Your energy is ready to well up inside you. Don’t let this thing pull you down anymore. Just let it go. Jesus was a fountain of forgiveness, and He urged her to forgive herself.
Folks brought a man to Jesus. The man was lying flat out on a stretcher. Jesus looked at him and said, “Brother, I think I know what your problem is. You know what? Your sins are forgiven. Get up and walk.” And the man heard Him and took it to heart. He became a fountain of forgiveness for himself. He got up, and I’ll bet he danced around a little bit. Then he picked up his stretcher and walked away, hopefully with a bow of thanks for the Lord.
What forgiveness can do! Friend, be a fountain of forgiveness, because it can unleash the power in your heart. It can free you up to do the things that God wants you to do. Every moment of life is priceless and precious. We don’t have a single one to waste. Let the fountain of forgiveness well up within you and flow abundantly.
Who needs forgiving? Well, maybe there’s somebody in your life who needs forgiving. Maybe you need to let go of a grudge. Or maybe you need to let go of a slight. I know I always want to practice forgiveness when I’m driving down River Road in my little black Honda and I’ve got the lights of a pickup truck on my bumper or over the top of my car. The temptation is to get irritated and upset. But I don’t want to do that. I want to pull over and signal to that fellow that “yes, I’m a slow driver. I keep to the speed limit. You go on ahead, because you’ve probably got somewhere important to go.”
Let it go. Let your heart be a fountain of forgiveness. Maybe someone has wronged you at work. Don’t let it stick to you! You’ve got wings that need to fly. Be a fountain of forgiveness.
Maybe you need to forgive life. I know someone who lost a relative. The gentleman was 88 years old. He lived a wonderful, full life. He was hardly sick a day in his life. This fellow said, “Oh, if God were really good, this wouldn’t have happened.” I just wanted to care about him and love him. I thought to myself, “Oh, my dear friend, may you be reminded of the thousands of hours that were great.” Sometimes we have to forgive life itself, so that our energy can mount up mightily.
And friend, don’t forget to forgive yourself. Sometimes that can be the hardest of all. Sometimes we can feel the blame for everything. I know I have a bad habit of that, of taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong. Do you do that? We can say that, whatever goes wrong, somehow it was our fault. That’s dangerous thinking. Learn to let it go. Maybe the fall of the Roman Empire wasn’t your fault after all. Maybe the situation in Iraq isn’t quite your fault. Learn to forgive yourself and accept the blessing of God, the ultimate fountain of forgiveness.
In the night in which He gave Himself for us, Jesus took the cup, and giving thanks, He blessed it, and He gave it to His disciples, saying “Take, drink ye all of this. This is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you and for many, that sins may be forgiven.” Be a fountain of forgiveness, my friends. Won’t you consider doing these two things with me this week?
Number one, if you’ve brought tough feelings along with you today, if there’s difficulty in your heart, if there’s something that needs to be forgiven – yourself or life or someone else – won’t you just lay it here symbolically at the altar? And let the blood of Jesus Christ and His cross take care of it. Let it go.
And second, this week, whatever you encounter, don’t let anything pin down your wings. Say “I am a fountain of forgiveness. I can get through this. I forgive and I bless.” And you’ll be on your way to living that great life of abundance that Jesus Christ has in store for you. Because, God loves you. I do, too. Have a wonderful week. Amen.
© 2007 Anthony J. Godlefski