“Forgive… as we forgive”

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“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” (C.S. Lewis) And so Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” (Luke 11:4)

But the “As” is troublesome.

It suggests that there is a conditionality about my relationship with God (which, of course, there certainly is). It is confirmed in many other passages. The measure that you use to others will be the measure God metes out to you. No one can love God and hate their brother.

Jesus teaches that as we ask God for forgiveness, we should also confirm our practice of forgiving others. Of course, this assumes that we are in the practice of forgiving others, an assumption that may or may not be true for us. Martin Luther King Jr. said:“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”

How could we pray in the way Jesus teaches us if we are unwilling to forgive?

How could we ask God to forgive us if we hold grudges or become mired in the quicksand of resentment?

The “As” underscores the connection between receiving divine forgiveness and forgiving others. As we experience God’s gracious forgiveness, we are called and empowered to forgive those who have wronged us. If we choose to hoard the forgiveness granted to us by failing to forgive others, not only do we disobey the Lord’s teaching, but also we miss the full benefit of forgiveness. God’s purpose in forgiving us is that we might be reconciled to him and to each other. The experience of divine forgiveness enables us to do what otherwise is beyond our strength.

In my experience as a pastor, I have seen unforgiveness wreak havoc on individuals and their relationships. The failure to forgive can destroy marriages, families, business partnerships, friendships, and entire church communities. This is a big, big deal.

And more, unforgiveness fills our hearts with bitterness, quenching our gratitude and flowing out of us as poisonous anger.

A recent Christian novel that has approached this question in a remarkable and powerful way is Paul Young’s The Shack. Here’s a key passage, to which I return again and again.

“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat……Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established………Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation………Forgiveness does not excuse anything………You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness……”

How easy do you find it to forgive people who have wronged you? Do you hold back in forgiveness? Why?

  • Could you honestly pray in the way Jesus teaches us, connecting your forgiveness of others with your request for God’s forgiveness?
  • Are there people in your life right now whom you need to forgive? Will you?

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Heavenly Father, I must admit that I feel uneasy about this prayer. Yes, yes, I want you to forgive me. But there are times I forget to forgive others. I can fool myself into thinking that the offense against me is gone, but, in fact, it lurks in my heart, ready to lash out at others. Forgive me, Lord, for my unforgiveness. Help me to remember those who have wronged me so that I might forgive them.

I must confess that there are other times when I am aware of my unforgiveness and I don’t want to let go of it. I feel comfortable living behind the wall it builds between me and the one who hurt me. I like the sense of self-righteousness that puffs me up with pride. Honestly, I’d much rather stew in bitterness or spill out with gossip than offer the forgiveness you require of me.

Forgive me, Lord, for my unforgiveness. Help me to choose to forgive even when it’s hard, even when I really don’t want to.

I pray in the name of Jesus, who calls me to forgive, who shows me how to forgive, and whose death enables me both to be forgiven and to forgive others. Amen

Prayer from Mark Roberts, The High Calling

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“Our Bread for Today”

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It seems odd, at first glance, to have such a specific prayer for provision in the midst of those high-sounding phrases in the Lord’s Prayer. The God of Heaven, the eternal Father of all, whose very name is holy, and before whom all we can do is ask forgiveness…. some food please. Anyone spot the apparent bathos?

We pray that his kingdom might come, and are told that “the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” (Rom14:17), so why here do we ask for bread?

The key, I believe, is in that word “daily.

That is to say, the primary referent is not provision, but trust in provision. The God who creates, also sustains. The God who forgives, also gives grace upon grace on a daily basis, like the manna of old, sustaining the covenant people day by day. The God who is holy, also imparts his holiness and effects it within human lives.  He is able to keep us from falling and to present us before him without fault and with great joy! (Jude 24)

And so “daily bread” becomes a metaphor for joy in the journey and confidence  that we will indeed arrive.  It is faith and assurance that “he who began a good work” will see it through and that we will still be singing when the evening comes.

A few years back, when we were fostering children, it often happened that we would find food, taken from the dinner table, that had been hidden under a child’s pillow. Sometimes it made quite a mess!

It was a poignant reminder that some of the children in our care had not always known the luxury of regular meals. And some, -those from Kosovo and Afghanistan,- faced a daily anxiety that there would be nothing for them tomorrow. And so they had learned to survive as best they could.

It took a while for them to learn to trust us for their daily bread.

This petition of the Lord’s Prayer, then, teaches us to come to God in confident dependence, asking God to provide what we need and to sustain us from day to day. We are not given license to ask for great riches, but we are encouraged to make our needs known to Him, trusting that He will provide.

 

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The church will grow…

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…if it is  outward-looking.

The more occasions for church folk to meet non-church the better. There’s no point in hiding within the church’s walls expecting people to come in. Invite them – or even better, go out.

…if it is useful.

A church is part of a community – so what’s it doing for the community? It may not be preaching, but ministry is witness.

…if it gets the basics right.

If everyone feels cared for, no one feels excluded and church life is reasonably well organised, incomers can soon feel at home.

…if it connects faith and life.

The three questions of a text – What does it say, what does it mean and what does it mean to me? – are excellent for preachers to keep in mind, especially the last one. Church on Sunday should fit us for life on Monday.

…if it is God-centred.

A church is different from the world, or there’s no point in it being a church at all. By all means be accessible – but be different. Pray. Think. Offer people a different way of looking at life, and a different drum to march by.

 

Just trying to get as simple as possible here.
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The Rescuer

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“Now, this is what the Lord says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43)

There are some passages in the Bible that speak to me more than others. This is one such passage. It reminds me that the phrase “The Authority of Scripture” is not a prescriptive concept but a relational one. If you get the balance wrong, then the Bible becomes a kind of magic spell book to blast people with.

No, as Alan Scott put it recently: “God revive your church so we know more about covenant than management, presence than program, authority than activity.”  That is to say: covenant, presence and authority are relational terms.

And here’s the relationship I need in order to make sense of life.

First: it’s a God who communicates, and “this is what the Lord says.” I need ears that are open and a heart that is tuned in to what God is saying.

Second: it’s a God who restores and creates value.I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”  Even if there’s a sickening quality of self-obsession in those adverts that declare “Because I’m worth it!”, there’s still something true about the sentiment! You are indeed worth it, because God says so. He summons you “by name.”

And this applies to any that you might be tempted to devalue or dismiss – someone of another class or IQ level, or religion, or race or gender. They too are worth it. They too are summoned by name.

Third, it’s a God who is with us in the hard times. He is “Emmanuel.” He never promises  a trouble-free life, but he does promise an accompanied one. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”

His accompaniment is like that of a coach who has gone through the race already, and knows the pitfalls and problems every step of the way. He is not daunted by the dangers nor tempted by easy-seeming shortcuts. And so “I will be with you” means, specifically, that “the rivers … will not sweep over you.”

Fourth, it’s a God of rescue.When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Every crisis is solvable. Every danger is doable. The reason for this is that not only is he present like a coach, walking me through the difficulties, but he is powerful, like a champion, a saviour. That last word is really the most important word of the whole passage. It means hero, rescuer, lifesaver, Doer. The Doer will get it done.

Yesterday, at the beach, my oldest son rescued someone from drowning. He wouldn’t want to make anything of it, so don’t tell him I told you, but reading this passage this morning, I realise just what it means to have someone there for you in the crisis, who is more equipped than you are to manage, who understands your weakness and is committed to being there for you on your behalf.

Jesus.

 

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Change begins at the end of your Comfort Zone

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Apparently, the times of greatest stress are those times when you undergo change. A bereavement creates a change in the family’s norm. A house-move creates not just a geographical shift, but an inner sense of upheaval that takes a while to adjust.

As Mary Shelley said (in Frankenstein!): “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”

Yet we should be used to it. The entire rhythm of life, with its pattern of day and night, work and sleep, winter and spring, birth and death is built upon the concept of change. So where does that stress come from?

Someone said to me “Life can change a person the way a parent can change a baby- awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.”

A few years back, I wrote a whole book on the idea. It was based on the experience of Joshua, who was summoned to the task of leading Israel through a period of momentous change.

Israel had become thoroughly used to one way of living, and Joshua was tasked with superintending a radical shift.It started with a bereavement (“Moses my servant is dead“) and quickly developed into a house-move (“Now go over this Jordan...”). Imagine the stress!

And Joshua was proposing a change that had already been voted down by a massive majority, remember.

But God was insistent: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

This is an important verse, because it tells us several things about change.

First, there’s a question.“Have I not commanded you?”  Now there was no doubt that God had indeed commanded Israel to go into Canaan. It had been the subject of prophetic proclamation for over five hundred years (since the time of Abraham).

But how about you? What has God laid on your heart? What has to happen, as a matter of necessity? God  might be calling you out of a sinful habit. In fact, I’m pretty sure he is! He calls us into holiness.

He might be calling you into some kind of ministry or service, and you may contemplate that change with trepidation.

God might be calling your church into a new season of change, out of the comfort zone of wilderness living, into the battle zone that awaited Joshua just over the river.

But first, you must ask the question: What is it that God has commanded of me/ us?

It’s good to know, in the second place, that when God calls, he also equips. Where God’s finger points, his hand makes the way. And this is where God challenges that typical nerviness that we all experience when anticipating change. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed.”

Strength means the ability to do something, but courage means the guts to decide to do it. Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it. There’s a marvellous passage in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which picks up this business of gutsiness:  “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

The character, Atticus Finch, hears the question (“Have I not commanded you?“) as a moral imperative to do the right thing, but he is also “frightened ” by the opposition that rises up against him and “dismayed” by  their voices. And yet he finds the courage to do it anyway.

The third point is the kicker. “For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” This is the principle that enabled Moses to stand up to both Israel and to Pharoah himself: “Tell them ‘I AM’ sent you.” And it was the word that Jesus left with his disciples: “Lo, I am with you always…” 

In fact, it is worth saying that this discussion of change is only the human perspective of life. God sees things differently. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11) God charts our way, and is not flustered by what we call change! Indeed, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8) There is a solidness about God that is very reassuring. As I said, our worry about things changing is only our side of the coin. God knows what he is doing, and he is sure and unchanging both in his love and in his intentionality.

So get ready! Change is imminent and it begins just there, at the very edge of your comfort zone. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” 

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“Take your ordinary, everyday life…”

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“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)

According to this verse, there are only two ways of approaching the stuff you have to do today.  You either regard it from a worldly perspective ( with an eye to your “human masters“), or from a spiritual one, “as working for the Lord.” 

This last phrase doesn’t mean being a vicar or a missionary, of course, or doing some sort of “church work.” Paul is talking about developing a spiritual perspective to “whatever you do.”

He explains this in greater detail in Romans 12, which is paraphrased beautifully by Eugene Peterson in The Message:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

 I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.”

And here’s Steve Maraboli’s great piece on what that looks like, even on a Monday!:

“Dare to Be

When a new day begins, dare to smile gratefully.

When there is darkness, dare to be the first to shine a light.

When there is injustice, dare to be the first to condemn it.

When something seems difficult, dare to do it anyway.

When life seems to beat you down, dare to fight back.

When there seems to be no hope, dare to find some.

When you’re feeling tired, dare to keep going.

When times are tough, dare to be tougher.

When love hurts you, dare to love again.

When someone is hurting, dare to help them heal.

When another is lost, dare to help them find the way.

When a friend falls, dare to be the first to extend a hand.

When you cross paths with another, dare to make them smile.

When you feel great, dare to help someone else feel great too.

When the day has ended, dare to feel as you’ve done your best.

Dare to be the best you can –

At all times, Dare to be!”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

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Dream Big. Make it happen

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“As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” (Gen 9:7)

God’s intent is that we abound.

It’s the promised return upon our obedience in Deuteronomy 28: “if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. …”

But it’s also an intent based upon his own character. In Ephesians 3:20, Paul reflects upon a God “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”

And Jesus describes himself in the same terms: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

But what does that abundant lifestyle look like?

Psalm 37 promises that God-followers “delight themselves in abundant peace.” Romans 15 describes us as those who “abound in hope.”  And in 2 Corinthians 9:8, Paul refers to a God who  “is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

That last bit is significant. It’s not just a matter of being the recipients of abundant peace, hope and grace, but that all this treasure is poured out upon us” so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

We live generously, expansively, looking to bless others, giving and not looking for payback, loving and not setting conditions…

And that abundant lifestyle gets into our thinking, our dreaming for the world we live in. And this too is part of God’s plan for how we should live. “As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” (Gen 9:7)

As for you!

Today, as we begin again, get ready to say YES to God.

There will be a few times in your life when all your instincts will tell you to do something, something that defies logic, upsets your plans, and may seem crazy to others. When that happens, you do it. Listen to your God-shaped instincts and ignore everything else. Ignore logic, ignore the odds, ignore the complications, and just go for it.

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