Monday, April 19, 2010

The Fenceposts of our Lives

Being someone who preaches once in awhile, I sometimes wonder how much people remember from the sermons I preach.  You'd expect a preacher to feel that way.  Because if my sermons are meant reflect the heart of God, I'd obviously want people to remember enough to apply it to their everyday lives.  And besides that, if you knew how many hours I spend preparing messages, you'd understand why I'd be eager for them to make a lasting impression.  No one wants to fail at something they work so hard at.  But the truth is, many of us -- myself included -- forget the Sunday sermon before we're even eating our cereal on Monday morning.

But every so often, something sticks.  Like the sermon illustration I heard over 35 years ago as a ten-year old boy.  It was probably summertime when there was no Sunday school.  There I was, my feet dangling as I sat in those big wooden pews, listening to an adult Sunday morning message.  I recall sometimes being so bored in those adult meetings that I spent more time counting the huge wooden beams in the cathedral-style ceiling than listening to the details of the 30-40 minute messages.  But on one Sunday morning, something caught my attention.

The gentleman preaching was Pastor Hanneman of the First Baptist Church of Royal Oak.  He was a caring man who loved children, and I was no stranger to him.  He always seemed to have time for kids.  If I ran up to him, he would stop whatever he was doing and lift me up high.  When he set me down, I'd happily run off, satisfied that I had just been affirmed by the closest person to God my little mind knew of.

I don't remember the Bible passage he was speaking about that memorable morning, but it was probably something like, "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him..." (Psalm 32:1-2).  Pastor Hanneman described our sins as being like nails in a fencepost.  Sins pierce us and hurt us, and God sees that happening from His heavenly perspective, looking down on our lives from above. It's as though God's perspective is straight above the fenceposts of our lives, and He sees those nails sticking straight out of the post.  Meanwhile, people all around us are fenceposts as well, and we can see each other's sins from a sideways perspective.  But when we go to God in repentance, God reaches down and pulls those painful nails out from us.  And from that point forward, He sees those sins no more, and nor does He even see a trace of them, just as you'd see no trace of a nail having been in a fencepost when looking down at it from above.  All around us though, are people who can see the scars from where those nails once were, and they may have nail-scars themselves.  The question is, will we judge one another by the nail-scars we see in one another's lives -- scars that God doesn't even see?  Or will we see each other the way God sees us -- as forgiven, without a thought of the sins God forgave us for?

The illustration has stuck with me all these years, but I still struggle to live it.  I'm not always convinced that the Lord no longer counts my sins against me as I struggle with self-condemnation.  And I don't always see people from God's perspective as I focus on the nailholes in their lives rather than on the absence of nails.  I pray though, that just as God has helped me to remember this illustration for so long, that He'd also continue to help me to apply it to how I see myself and the people around me.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

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