Category Archives: forgiveness

Log?..What log?

By the grace give me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you…Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.

(Romans 12.3,9&10)

..And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, “Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,” when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

(Matthew 7.1-5)

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

(1Corinthians 13.4-7)

How tempting it is to use higher standards when we judge the conduct of others than when we review our own…and how very humbling when God mercifully reveals to us just what we are doing! This is the thrust of Jesus’ warning in the passage from Matthew, when he points out that all too often the very fault which we are so quick to identify in another person is present in much more significant measure in our own hearts!

The exaggerated image makes the point very clearly, laughably even – I can picture the listeners being very amused by the thought of a person with a log in their eye trying earnestly to undertake the delicate operation of removing a speck from another..How easily we overlook our own persistent sins, and criticise others, blaming them all too often for our troubles – when in fact we will answer to God for our reactions to them, as they will answer to him also for their actions. If a person is rude or deceitful, difficult to live with, proud or quick to anger, then my first reaction must be to humbly examine myself before God, asking where these things are in my life; and secondly to pray lovingly for that person, forgiving them as I have been forgiven, and seeking their good as God does.

My excuses and evasions, attempts to pass responsibility for my failures to other people, are all exposed as the sins they really are – with their roots in Eden, when Eve blamed the serpent for her disobedience. Such behaviour is far removed from the love in action to which we are called as followers of Jesus – the love which is patient and kind; which seeks the good of the beloved; which honours them above itself and delights in all that is true and of God.

Yes, the sins of others will have an impact on me, but with God’s help and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in me, I can react in a Christlike way – a way which I need not be ashamed of before God when he calls me to account. If God reacted to us in our sins, in the way that we react to one another, what hope could we have?! And we are called – and crucially enabled, by the new Christ-life pulsing in our transformed hearts – to be like God.

Peter encourages his readers in his fourth letter to “love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1Peter 4.8). He is pointing our that it is our business as followers of Jesus, to love our fellow believers – the business of dealing with each others’ sins belongs to God. Our love is not blind, but our awareness of sin in others should humble and soften our hearts, reminding us that we too are always in danger of falling – not driving us to harden our hearts and sit in judgment.

When we love like this – humbly, forgivingly, prayerfully, then our fellowship becomes a safe place in which to receive God’s exposure of our own sins – and this is crucial, since it can be a very painful experience in which we will need the loving support of others.

May we be given grace to love in this way; understanding our own need of forgiveness and vulnerability to sin, and dealing as gently as Jesus with those who – like us – have fallen.

 

Praying from the shadows

How long, o Lord, how long?

I stand here in the shadows, looking at the light of your power and might in creation; your boundless inventiveness and artistry; your generous provision for the physical needs of all that you have made and the sheer mind-blowing scale of your works. I consider the great dance of the planets in their galaxies, and am crushed by a sense of insignificance and transience. You, my God, are beyond telling great, and your works praise your name.

I stand here, in the shadows, looking at the light of your salvation in the lives of millions around the world today. I see hope restored, purpose bestowed, forgiveness received, and the beauty of Christ shining in faces of so many races, tribes and tongues. Your power to save is marvellous in my eyes, and I join with all the redeemed in worshipping you.

I sit here, in the dark shadows, considering all the ways that I fall short of perfection in Christ, the good things I have not done, and the wrong things I have said or thought or done. I take hold of the forgiveness freely offered in Christ, that blessed washing away of stain and blemish, so that even as you forget my wrongdoings, I also may not be haunted and burdened by my past. I throw myself on your mercy, and for the sake of Christ, you declare me blameless.

I sit here, in the dark shadows, looking at answers to my prayers in the lives of others, and thanking you for them. Your hand is mighty to work all things together for the good of those who love you and who trust in you. It is a mystery and a comfort, this praying, this beseeching for and sharing of all things with you, our maker and Father.

I lie here, in the cold, dark shadows, wondering if I will ever feel the warmth of the sun and see the light upon myself again. I see it on others, and know that they feel the warmth, strong and healing, life-giving and sustaining, but I do not.

You know all things Lord, you know what it is that comes between me and your light, like a moon eclipsing the sun and causing darkness to fall upon all under its shadow! You know and see the things that blot out the warmth and while I know your power and your love are undiminished, yet I cannot seem to receive their benediction.

You are almighty, all-knowing, eternally good and loving to your children. I believe this, and believing it must somehow make sense of my darkness.

You promised never to leave me alone – therefore you are with me here and now, in spite of the deadness at heart which cripples me.

You promise to hear and answer my prayers – therefore you know what I am asking and what troubles me, and are chosing to answer in ways which I cannot see or understand. I must believe that you are planning blessing for me or other people through this, and that is why I must remain in the dark.

O Lord, give your word power to comfort me in the darkness, that I may have courage to remain.

Let me see that your strength is made perfect in my weakness, that you are a real refuge and fortress to your children when they are weary and sad.

Let my words come to you from the shadows, Lord, and be swift to answer me!

……………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness in stead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. 

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.

(Isaiah 61.1-3)

Amen, Lord let it be..

 

Living with failure..

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness… My dear children, I write this to you so that you will  not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence – Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

(1 John 1.8-2.2)

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Saviour.

(Psalm 24. 3-5)

I am perhaps not alone in being of a rather self-critical frame of mind – I am invariably the first to apologise in a painful situation (often when I haven’t actually done anything that I can see was wrong!); and given the opportunity for introspection will tend to dwell more readily on my failures than my strengths and successes.

As a parent, I have a great deal of material on which to dwell, looking back over 21 or so years where I have missed opportunities to model a lively faith; a healthy marriage; a missionary spirit…There are friends whom I have neglected, or unwittingly hurt deeply; siblings whom I have failed to support in their times of need as I feel I ought to have done. And that most poisonous of regrets – things I failed to do for my parents while they were still alive and within reach of my words and hands.

I have failed to pray for the tormented and suffering in the world – near and far – as faithfully as I could have done; I have failed to give thanks for answered prayers – for myself and others. I have not studied my bible regularly, not committed the words to memory, not learnt to share it with others in a way that can reach and bless them.

I look up to the hill of God with the psalmist and recognise that I am not the man of clean hands and pure heart who may ascend and stand there by right. It is a high and glorious mountain, the beauty of God dwells upon it, and it is where I long to be – but my persistent sin keeps me so far from the summit.

 As a follower of Jesus, one who claims his atoning blood to cover all my sins, I know that God has forgiven me and that I start afresh each day with a clean sheet. I know that the power of sin to enslave me has been utterly destroyed through the death of my Saviour – the holy and pure sacrifical lamb – and yet I still succumb to the temptations of idleness, selfishness and that dreadful immobilising self-pity. I do not claim to be without sin, but so frequently confess my shortcomings that I fear God must be weary of me.

Yet I cannot find any word in the bible of God wearying of his people’s repentance, nor a reluctance to forgive them when they come again in their need. Why then do I find it so hard to live with my continuing failures and shortcomings, when God’s forgiveness is assured and abundantly available? He has forgiven me; why can I not forgive myself for these things? I fear it is pride, a stubborn desire somewhere in my heart to prove to God that I am capable of better, of purer, holier living if I just try harder. And my disappointment is sore because my pride is hurt, my idealised ( and foolish) picture of myself as a mature follower of Christ, is shown to be a delusion. I am so tired of failing, that I want to give up, my courage is gone and my confidence in God’s power to sustain me as a faithful and cheerful witness for the remainder of my life is completely undermined.

May I be forgiven, for such foolish weakness and pathetic pride. May my heart and mind be increasingly filled with the beauty and power of my Saviour, who has ascended the great mountain on my behalf, and who every day is making it possible for me to keep climbing. May I rejoice and triumph ever more in what he has done – and keeps on doing – as his love drenches me, soaking out the sin stains and breaking the chains of regret for past failure. May I trust ever more in his power to work all things together for the good of those who love him – including their own failures – so that all the glory goes to him!

When you pray….

..when you pray don’t rattle off long prayers like the pagans who think they will be heard because they use so many words…God, who is your Father, knows your needs before you ask him. Pray then like this –

Our Heavenly Father, may your name be honoured; May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day the bread we need, Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil.

(Matthew 6.7-13, JB Phillips – The New Testament in Modern English)

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

(1Thessalonians 3.12&13)

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(2Thessalonians 1.11&12)

Do you notice anything about these prayers? Anything unusual in your experience of praying and hearing others pray? On a purely superficial level, we could note the complete absence of the word ‘just’, and also ‘bless’…both useful in their place, but perhaps too frequently on our lips to add much to the sense of our words!

Seriously though, what do we find? Our Lord Jesus in teaching his disciples to pray sends them straight to the heart of the gospel – that God might be glorified, lifted up, recognised and worshipped as God above all, mighty, merciful, holy and pure.

How is this to happen? By the coming of the kingdom which has been ushered in by Christ, and which will be fully realised when he returns from glory to wind up time and bring his people into the eternal joy of life with him. We can pray for this to happen – we are commanded to pray, to do our part in furthering God’s great plan for the world in this way. We may not see immediately how we are part of the process, but if we faithfully pray for it to be happening, we are obeying Christ and that is enough.

In order for us to play our part, we need food (and a few other necessities of life), so we ask in full confidence for God to provide these, but move on swiftly to a greater need – forgiveness (and the reminder that our willingness to forgive others shows the extent to which we are aware of our own great indebtedness to God). God’s work in realising his kingdom is accomplished through forgiven human beings, who know that all they are is God’s gift to them. It is right to continually remind ourselves of this debt. And finally to acknowledge our ongoing dependence on God to make any progress in our spiritual lives and to achieve anything in his service – it is his power which enables us to follow Jesus’ example and resist temptation; his power in Jesus which has defeated the Evil One and protects us in turn.

Do you find that we pray for one another like this? Or in the wonderful ways that Paul prayed for his young churches – who faced persecution and hardships that most of us will never know? He makes no mention of praying for their safety, or their health, the schooling of their children or the security of their jobs!

I am deeply challenged by these prayers, as I respond to the needs around me, and the challenges faced by friends and family.. Do I pray for their faith to grow, their love to be strengthened and for God to be glorified regardless of what happens in their lives? What is most important in the light of eternity? How do I pray for my children – that they might be successful, or that they might be godly, faithful, recklessly obedient servants of the King of heaven?

Is it not good to think before we pray, and put God’s priorities for his children at the top of our prayers for them too?

Oh Lord, let us become wiser in our praying, discerning those things which really matter, and praying your promises for one another that our lives might show more and more clearly your love, power and holiness, and bring you glory.

Give me eyes to see..

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God…

..once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!

(Ephesians 5.1,2 &8)

You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

(1Peter 2.9)

The image of light is a very powerful one, and used in many ways in the bible. Here, Paul and Peter are using it to contrast the before and after state of the believers to whom they write. We know from our own experience how much we depend upon light in order to function.. Only the other night, awaking in the pitch dark of a strange bedroom and trying to  creep out quietly to visit the bathroom, I ended up nearly in tears in a corner frantically trying to find the door handle…My long-suffering husband was wakened by my increasingly agitated fumblings, and putting on the bed-side lamp was able to show me the way out!! It was an educational experience; the next night, I used my phone as a light.. The glow from the screen was minimal, but enough for navigational purposes.

But what does that say about our need for spiritual light? How much is enough? With a tiny glow in the darkness, we suddenly see that things could be so different, and embrace the illumination which God’s offer of salvation brings. And as we grow in faith and walk with Jesus through the maturing experiences of life, it is as if the light within us grows steadily stronger.

I firmly believe that one of the most encouraging things about becoming more mature as a Christian is a growing awareness of how much about us is still needing to be changed! The stronger our source of illumination, the greater degree of detail we can observe, and that applies just as much to our spiritual lives as to the rest of life. I can’t sew properly unless I have sufficient light to let me see the needle and thread clearly, but a dim light is enough to show me the letters or cards for a board game.

I wrote last week about the struggle to take my thoughts captive, to exercise the victory which Jesus has won for me and to turn away from acting on wrong thoughts. But I realise now that I can be most deeply encouraged by my own distress over my thoughts! Think about it: if I was not – by God’s grace – being made more like Jesus, a little less sin-sick, and a little more holy, then I would simply not care about these rogue thoughts. As I am being re-shaped by God’s word at work in me, my spiritual eyes are growing healthier and the light within is showing more of the reality of remaining sin in my life. So although I may regret the necessity for the struggle, I rejoice that I desire to engage in the battle. I am on the Lord’s side in this, and more importantly, he is on my side. We are fighting together, and I have his power at my disposal, his spirit to help me to see as he does, and his love to inspire me.

The love and mercy poured out upon me are continually drawing out a response of gratitude, which manifests itself in a desire to bring delight to the one who has loved, God himself. That is why Paul exhorts his readers ‘as dearly loved children’ to respond to that love by imitating their heavenly Father. When we come to him in our struggles, sharing his hatred of the sin which clings to us like smoke in our clothes, and claiming the victory he has won for us; surely then our God is full of gladness and delights in his little ones. We are not perfect, we are not as nearly perfect as we could be.. but by his grace and to his glory, we are not what we were, and the light in us is growing stronger and stronger.

Out of the shadows.. into Christ!

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

(Colossians 2. 16&17)

One of my favourite images in thinking about the work of Jesus on the cross, is of a timeline, with the cross at the centre, casting a double shadow, back towards Eden, and forwards to the new creation and final judgment. The shape of the backward shadow is the temple, with all its sacrifical systems, rituals of cleansing and rules of life. Those were designed to demonstrate that a holy God, loving and desiring to be with his people, was nonetheless separated from them by their sin.

Until the time was right for Jesus to come, God used the rituals, sacrifices and physical exclusion of people from the holiest place of the temple, to point forward to the day when a single perfect sacrifice would fully accomplish all that the blood of lambs and bulls could not. There would be a spotless lamb one day, who would put an end to, by fulfilling, all the sacrifical system had been designed to do – turning aside the wrath of a holy God against the unspeakable pollution of sin.

One day there would be a priest who could enter the holy place without shedding the blood of lambs, because he had shed his own blood. One day there would be a  great priest who could enter that presence and remain for ever, bearing the people of God upon his heart just as the old priest bore twelve precious stones to represent the people of Israel upon his breastplate. Not only so, but the people themselves, because of the great priest’s sacrifice, would be in God’s presence, no longer waiting outside to know whether their offerings had been accepted. All barriers to fellowship would be removed, and the children welcomed home to their Father’s house.

On Good Friday, that day finally came, the perfect sacrifice was made, and the curtain in the temple ripped itself apart as the power of sin and death to bind us away from God were destroyed. From that day onward, there has been no need for ritual sacrifices or observances. In Christ, all the demands of the Law – for justice and purity – are met. We do not live under a shadowy promise of forgiveness to come, but under the glory of complete cleansing, the bright light of a fresh start in the love of God..

The ‘shadow’ which is cast forward into time by the cross is barely dark at all, except that it is pointing to a brighter and more glorious future than we can possibly imagine! The shape of this shadow is the table around which we – all who love and trust in Christ for salvation – remember and celebrate his death for us, and his resurrection guaranteeing our eternal future with him. This is not a ritual which we observe in order to avert punishment, or earn favour, but the very source of our lives, our true nourishment. If we neglect this, the feeding of our souls upon his body broken and blood shed for us, then we will perish indeed, our faith withering away under the slightest trial or choked by the pressures and pleasures of the world around us; or worse, poisoned by false pride in our own good deeds and upright attitudes!

Let us not neglect to meet together, to feed together upon the truth of the gospel – all must be done, and has been done by Christ – so that we might grow in love for him, for one another, and in courage to share that love with our wounded and wayward world. In Christ, we stand in radiant glory, utterly secure, let us be the means by which God sheds his light into the darkness.

Behold Him there! the risen Lamb! My perfect spotless righteousness, 

The great unchangeable I AM, the King of glory and of grace!

One with Himself, I cannot die, my soul is purchased by His blood;

My life is hid with Christ on high, with Christ my Saviour and my God.

(Charitie Lees De Chenez, 1841-1923)

Return to Sender….

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

(Matthew 23. 37)

As human beings, the bible tells us that we are made in the image of God, the Three in One, whose existence is a perpetual delight in relationship and loving. We are made to connect with others – ultimately and most wonderfully with God himself! But while we strive all our lives to make and enjoy these relationships, we know that our flawed humanity conspires against us, undermining our ability to love, to receive love, and to delight in one another without a thought of self.

It is an unhappy position, to be made for something, and yet unable to ever truly find it, no wonder our world is filled with dissatisfied people. As Christians, we have the wonderful knowledge that our relationship with God is restored, and nothing can ever come between us again. But even there, the remnants of pride, selfishness and the baggage of broken lives can rob us of the full measure of peace and delight which are ours as children of God. He is always willing and glad to receive our love, but we often fail to give or to recognise as love what he gives.

In human relations both parties are flawed, and we are further compromised both in our giving and receiving of love. While it is true that we need to receive love, we also need to give it, to express affection and care for others in the ways that come naturally to us. Sometimes when my children were younger I recall being overwhelmed by the desire to express my love for them, and hardly knowing where to begin! In those days, they didn’t really mind if their mother hugged and cried over them, or played silly games and read and talked to them – how times change! The same applies to our parents, spouses and close friends. We want to show our love, and yet the gesture or word is firmly rejected – sent back like an unwanted gift.

How do we cope when those whom we love so dearly reject our loving? When our desire to be good for them can barely be expressed, because they have made it clear that our ways of giving love are unwelcome to them? It is this struggle which led me to Jesus’ yearning over the city of Jerusalem – and symbolically over all the nation of Israel, in its long history of rebellion against and rejection of the faithful love of God.

I know that when I do not express the love I want to give, I become sad, and somehow imprisoned – since I cannot express my loving, I cannot be myself. What is my right and proper response, the Christ-like loving response? How do I love people who do not want my love in the way I long to give it?

It seems that I have a choice, either to focus on my own rights – to express myself and be ‘fulfilled’ – or focus on them, their characters and needs, and to love them as far as they will allow me, in the ways that they can receive. Am I willing to trust God to look after my needs in this situation, to believe that I can experience this frustration and yet still go on living and giving joyfully because I am perfectly loved by Him?

What did Jesus do? He loved the world so much, and we would not receive or honour that love in the way he desired to give it. But he loved us well enough to give himself to save us – from all our broken bitterness – and trusted God to ensure that all would be well, that his utterly sacrificial loving would finally be received by his people. He gave what we desperately needed, and did not insist on his rights as Messiah, the Anointed one, the Judge and Ruler of the world. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul encourages the believers to ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ – Ephesians 5.21. The word submit can also be read as ‘do not insist on your rights’…

Is this my answer? To acknowledge before God what I desire to do, to offer what I can do to him in love, and do what I may for those whom I love. In the name of Jesus, and only by the power of his spirit within me, I will tailor my loving, and bring the frustration of unexpressed affection and pain of rejected love to God for relief, healing and comfort. He is faithful, will I not trust him?