Forgiveness

On Sunday we had a Q & A session looking at the question of forgiveness. In light of what has occurred in Nice, France recently and other acts of evil on a large scale, what is our Christian response. Are we to simply forgive? Are we to forgive automatically?
Below is an article I’ve written for a local community paper. Maybe you could read this and give some thought to important questions about forgiveness. Does God forgive unconditionally? Do certain have to be met before we can forgive? What do we do about forgiving people who have died? What do we do about people who have ‘sinned’ against others but not us? Can we forgive them? What about people who we feel have sinned against us, but they don’t se they have done anything wrong?

Forgiveness is not easy. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

‘’The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.’

Mahatma Gandi

I wonder what we make of this quote? I think we would agree that no one finds forgiveness easy. The concept has difficult questions that surround it. In the 23 November 2015 issue of Time magazine the headline article was ‘What it takes to forgive a killer’.

The story focussed on the murder of 9 people during a church prayer meeting at Charleston, Carolina in June 2015 and the church’s and community’s response to that heinous act. In the course of the article the follwing questions are asked:

“Can murder be forgiven, and if so, who has that power? Must it be earned or given freely? Who benefits from forgiveness—the sinner or the survivor? And why do we forgive at all? Is it a way of remembering, or of forgetting?”

These are thoughtful and important questions. It seems that we rush to forgiveness, but often questions like these are not asked first. We rush to it (forgiveness) because it seems noble to do so.

Of course the rush to forgiveness is not true of everyone, and indeed in the context of the Charleston shooting there were those in the church who struggled with forgiveness, and understandably so.

The trouble is that forgiveness involves a process, and often in that process some important observations about forgiveness are forgotten. Forgiveness does take time to unpack. Often the act that requires forgiveness has resulted in deep hurts, deep emotional scars.

To be true to these scars we have to acknowledge that forgiveness isn’t about denying that a wrong has been done, it’s not about excusing behaviour and sweeping it under the carpet and it’s not about pretending that the wrong has never been done.

Forgiveness has multi faceted components and they can’t be dealt with here. But an observations is important. Christianity has as it’s most basic assumption that we all have a need for forgiveness and that God offers it. The Bible says a lot about forgiveness. It says that there is a God who is willing to forgive in order for us to be brought back to a healthy relationship with him. A relationship that is ultimately for our good.

But at the heart of God’s forgiveness rests our willingness to ask for it and admit our need for it.

Christianity says more, not only do we need forgiveness but because we have received it from God, we are to be willing to offer it.’

Forgive us our sins as we forgive others

On Sunday we had a very brief introduction to the concept of forgiveness. A word many of us will be familiar with, but a concept that is difficult.

When Jesus teaches us to pray there are two things relative to forgiveness that are apparent:
God assumes we will forgive other;
God is willing to forgive us
When we pray this prayer we are, as Charles Spurgeon put it, reading our ‘death-warrant when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer.” Why? Because we are not forgiven unless we are forgiving.

We will explore this more in the coming weeks, because forgiveness is much more complex and nuanced that we tend to understand.
What we know is that God loves us so much that he longs for us to be in relationship with him. That the gift of forgiveness is God’s way of bringing us back to a relationship with him. A relationship with God without asking for forgiveness is impossible.
Isaiah 59:2 ‘But your sins have separated you from God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear’

We need forgiveness and we need to offer forgiveness. It sounds too simple, and if something sounds to easy we can dismiss it. But God’s word tells us 1 John 1.9 that if we confess our sins God forgive us our sins. If we don’t believe that then we are not believing in God.

Forgiveness is all about reconciliation. Us with God and us with each other. It is central to the Gospel message.

As we go forward on this, I’m praying we will understand more of what God has done for us and be motivated to be forgiving ourselves and see lives transformed

Prayer

Last Sunday was different. An interactive focus on prayer. An activity so central to the Christian life, and yet also so difficult.
What are your prayer rythmns ? What are your habits, what helps you as you pray. Do you use a devotional, have you a special space, do you read set parts of the scriptures, have you a list you work through as you pray?

Do you do a prayer walk? Do you pray through scriptures? Do you have a specific discipline? Maybe you have something you would like to share. Please let me know because what you have might be a help to others, even if it is a change, something to break a routine even for a little while to add freshness to your prayer life.

I’d love to hear from you. But most importantly God wants to hear from you, he wants us to be focussed on building a relationship with him. God is just a prayer away.

Hebrews 4:15- “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

1 Peter 5:7- “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”
Matthew 6:30- “”Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, what shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear? For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”

2 Thessalonians 3:3- “But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.”

The Lost Sheep

In Luke 15 and following Jesus tells us a number of parables, stories with a message, and one of them is about a lost sheep.

Most of us will know this story well. A sheep is lost and the shepherd goes out to find it.

The focus of the story isn’t the sheep, it’s the shepherd. And what Jesus is saying is that those who are lost, those who are lonely, those who are vulnerable, are valued by God. He actively seeks them out he wants to bring them home.

The picture that develops is a beautiful one. The shepherd goes out of his way to find the sheep, and when he does he puts it over his shoulder and carries it. Doesn’t that speak of the value of the sheep. He’s got another 99 at home, but it’s the one that is lost that concerns him. And when he finds it he tenderly cares for it.

We will all have those moments when we want to be loved like that. When we feel alone, vulnerable, lost. Jesus is looking for us, he’s looking for you, and he wants to carry you home. You’re not alone, you don’t have to be alone, you can surrender to the love of Jesus and allow him to carry you.

The shepherd doesn’t leave the sheep alone. He brings it back to the flock, to the other sheep.

As church we want to build our relationship with Jesus, but we also need to build our relationships with each other. There is no such thing as individual Christianity. We are meant to be together. God calls a people to be his, and that people are his church.World wide and local.

The local church is important. It’s the area of mission to the world, it’s where we love each other, build each other up, support and care for each other. All so that we are equipped to go into the world and change it one life and at time for God.

A part of that being together, it being committed to each other, and expressing that commitment. A way in which we do that is membership where we covenant (make promises) to each other and we allow others permission to speak truth in love into our lives.

We are not independent Christians we are dependent. The imagery of the church in the bible is of family, of a vine and branches of a body. Always a picture of connectedness. A picture of a life shared together.

We love being together as church, and we long for everyone to feel welcome and a sense of belonging whether a member or not to our church.

But if you think you want to express your commitment in a more formal way, such as membership then please speak to me or one of the elders.

Our Daily Bread

‘Love loves to be told what i already knows…it wants to be asked for what it longs to give.’

When we look at the Lord’s prayer and prayer in general, what do you make of the line, ‘give us this day our daily bread’?

Do we think of it as presumptuous? Who am I to ask God for anything? Or do we not give it any thought, we approach it as an inalienable right to come before God and demand he acts as we ask?

Or does it fill you with a sense of awe that the creator God invites us to make our requests known to him.

Jesus, in his model prayer, the Lords Prayer, seems to suggest that we rush in to prayer. We immediately become the centre of attention. We have our list and we want to get to it.

But he says wait a moment. Focus your attention on the giver of all good things. Remember whose presence you are coming in to. You’re are coming before your Father in Heaven. Take time to enjoy his company. Before he begins his prayer he says go into a secret space. Find a place, create a place to spend time with you Father. Enjoy him.

Then he moves on and he says, but don’t be shy to take your requests to him. It’s a relationship he seeks. He wants to hear from you, he wants to know about your day. You are free to bring even the most trivial things to him – ask for bread.

In doing that we are acknowledging that we are dependant on him for every area of our life.

This God longs to hear from us, he knows what we need, he knows what is good for us.

How about we take time to spend with him – poor out your heart. Don’t rush, tarry a while with him and enjoy him. Doesn’t that show him we love him? And then tell him what you need, and allow him to shape your needs to. Trust him, he won’t let you down

The Lord’s Prayer

Over the last two weeks we have looked at the Lord’s prayer. Prayer is a huge privilege for us, this invitation that we have to come into the very presence of God. A God who longs for us to come to him. Jesus instructed his disciples in how to pray, and the Lord’s Prayer is part of that instruction. But it is important to note, that it is a guide as to how to pray, we are not meant to be tied to its words, not to simply repeat it without ceasing.

It begins, ‘Our Father in Heaven’, here is this remarkable acknowledgement that God sees us as his children. He loves us, he knows us and he knows what is best for us. And in case we struggle with the concept of a ‘Father God’ for reasons that might be complex and hurtful, Jesus reminds us that God is not like our earthly fathers, he is our father in heaven. The perfect, wise, gentle and loving father.

We can get so caught up with praying, we struggle with it, and sometimes we feel that our prayers are not sophisticated enough, not spiritual enough, that we don’t pray we wait until we feel we are ready to pray.

But God wants to hear from us, warts and all. CS Lewis put it like this: ‘Lay before God what is in you, not what ought to be in you.’

We can’t hide anything from God. He knows us, he loves us and he wants to hear from us. Prayer changes us, not God. So pray, and keep on praying.

Your Kingdom Come

We can be conscious that our prayers are selfish prayers – often a model of self serving importance. But we are reminded to get our order right pray for what God wants – it’s a challenge.

Our western culture in particular can be a culture consumed with individual autonomy. We want to do whatever we want to do, however we want to do it, and whenever we want to do it. We want absolute freedom. We are our own kings and queens.

But Jesus says, no, there is a king who has a kingdom (which king doesn’t) and it is the will of the king the kingdom that reflects the king that we are to pray for. That’s some prayer. We need to put aside our desires and say God, you be king, you rule, let my life, my home my work, my school, attitudes reflect your kingdom.

Paul describes God’s kingdom as one of righteousness, peace and joy in the spirit. (Romans 14.17) We are to seek this kingdom, to see God’s character shape our lives and our world.

So try it this week. When you pray say, God here I am, you rule. let me understand what you want, what you want my life to reflect, and God let your kingdom come.

There is an alternate kingdom, we so easily fall into it, but God the Father has what is best for us in store, so lets seek what God’s plans for our lives are and expect him to change us.

Be imitators of God

‘…be imitators of God…’ Ephesians 5.1

That is some ask isn’t it. As others versions have it, follow God’s example, or watch what God does and do it.

Talk about parents having high expectations for children. Here we are told that we are to imitate God, to be like him. Why?

Paul puts it most clearly like this, because you are a child that God loves. Love is the motivation, imitate God because you are his child. The family’s honour is at stake – people are going to be looking at you and seeing in you God’s character when you follow him,

Imitate him, because you love him. If you love him, if you understand what he has done for you, you can’t help but imitate him. It’s inevitable that you will – its not forced your not compelled to, follow him. do what he does, imitate him because you love him.

Paul book ends this command to imitate God by referring to how God has forgiven us and loved us. That’s the motivation, and understanding of these two elements that lead us to be grateful. Gratitude is what motivates us.

What do we imitate? Those aspects of God’s character that we can know. His love, his forgiveness, his patience, his mercy, is understanding, his faithfulness, his kindness, his gentleness – his perseverance.

How do we do it? By loving extravagantly. Can we do it? Yes we can.

The greatest influences on our life will be those we build a relationship with and communicate with.

Are you going to imitate God? Then spend time getting to know him

What a great love he has for you – let that love motivate you

Can we do it? Yes we can

‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms – to choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose ones own way.’ Viktor Frankl

How often do you stop an ask, ‘what am I thinking.” How often do you consider the choices you are making; are they the ones that are glorifying to God?

Paul, in Ephesians 4.17-18 writes, ‘ Let me say this, then, speaking for the Lord: Live no longer as the unsaved do, for they are blinded and confused. Their closed hearts are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds against him, and they cannot understand his ways.’ (TLB)

Paul has moved on from his discussion on unity to talk about purity, and he says to a church, to people like me and you, you have to change the way you are thinking. God has saved you, now you have work to do, get your thinking right. As Christians we are called out of the world, we are set apart, and we are told to be a holy people a different people.

Paul goes on and uses the metaphor of undressing and dressing; take off those old clothes, your old life, they are no longer right for you, and put on your new clothes. You are a new creation, you are to live in a new way.

The old way leads to separation from God. The old way leads to a lifestyle of immorality and death. Paul generalises, but the truth is that the way of those who no Christ and those who don’t, are fundamentally opposed to each other.

Can we do it? Can we leave our old lives behind? Yes, Paul says, we can. Look at how the Gentiles live, he says. don’t live that. Listen:

Ephesians 4:21-24 If you have really heard his voice and learned from him the truths concerning himself, then throw off your old evil nature—the old you that was a partner in your evil ways—rotten through and through, full of lust and shame.

Now your attitudes and thoughts must all be constantly changing for the better. Yes, you must be a new and different person, holy and good. Clothe yourself with this new nature.

We must cloth ourselves, do the work, think differently. Look at how different we are to be in verses 25 to the ned. Have a look and put those things away. And how do we do it? Through the help of the Holy Spirit that lives within us, by daily reorienting ourselves to live as Christ asks us to. By daily reading his word so we know the life he wants us to live, and by daily praying for his help and direction.

Can we do it? Yes we can

YOU are gifted, and you can do it

When Paul introduces himself as a prisoner for the Lord in Ephesians 3, he’s simply stating a fact. I wonder what we make of that introduction. So often we can miss them as we move quickly on. Does it remind us that Christianity is costly, it’s risky, it’s dangerous. Does it remind us that Paul has been confined and has had a lot of time to think about what he is going to write?

Clearly Paul has thought deeply. He has written this letter to encourage a fledging church. Reminding them of the riches they have in Christ. Reminding them that the power of God demonstrated by Jesus in his resurrection is the same powerful God who is at work for us.

Reminding them that God is a God who has redeemed us. That is that God paid a price for our sins that we couldn’t pay ourselves, and that that price has brought us salvation – freedom from our sin.

In chapter 4 he reminds us that Christianity is not simply a belief but a lifestyle. He says life a life walk a walk worthy of what God has done for you. He has called you His child. Paul reminds us that Christianity is a lifestyle directed toward maintaining and guarding the unity within the church. That unity has as its focus obedience to Jesus.

We are all responsible for maintaining that unity, we are all gifted to encourage one another. We are all called to serve God wherever we are. There is a diversity of gifts and a diversity of people within the church. We are called to unity not sameness. We are called to be humble. gentle and patient with each other. We are called to love each other.

We are called so that His church witnesses effectively to God’s glory.

This week, as God by His Spirit to empower you to be the witness he wants you to be. Ask him to show you opportunities to share your faith and the courage to do it.

YOU are gifted, and you can do it

Don’t miss this opportunity

Don’t miss this opportunity. This seems to be what Paul says to us. He says you have this incredible opportunity to meet with the creator God of the universe. That what seems impossible almost incomprehensible has been made possible by Jesus Christ – we can meet with God. So, Paul says, approach God with confidence, fearlessly and with freedom. Don’t miss this opportunity – meet God. The NIV says ‘approach God’. Isn’t that cool! If you go up to someone it’s because you want to ask them something, and Paul says, ‘do it.’ And he says ask with huge expectations, ask Big things, and yet he seems to say no matter how big you’re asking, God can do way bigger things – God can do ‘immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.’

Don’t miss this opportunity ask God big things. And Paul says, do you know what the biggest thing is? It’s to know God’s love. and to know him living with you. He says I want you to know how high, how long, how deep, how side God’s love is. He’s got the four sides covered – and he says you can’t know it by yourself, you need the Sprit to help you.

Do you know God’s love? Paul does’t mean have you read about it or heard about it or thought about it – he says have you experienced it. Are you living it, is it changing you. That’s the big thing, that’s what we don’t want to miss – God at work living in us and loving us.

How big are your prayer? Make them big but make them God focussed – make them with your bible beside you so you know what God thinks – come to him and ask for his strength and power to know his love – and wait to be amazed