The Challenge of Forgiveness

This week you have probably heard the remarkable sound of family members of those killed in Charlestown addressing the man accused of being the shooter. One by one representatives of each of the victims stood and said “I forgive you”. The grandson of one of the victims said

“I forgive you, my family forgives you. We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one that matters the most – Christ. So that he can change you. Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”

In words heard around the world. they offered this young man not only their forgiveness, but an encouragement to follow Jesus and their prayers that God would have mercy on him. What an amazing witness to the very real difference following Jesus makes.

For some people it raises the question is it unfair to expect this kind of forgiveness? Can (or should) we really forgive someone who has not repented? After all, doesn’t God only forgive us when we repent?

The answer to that last question is, thankfully, no. Romans 5:8 tells us

 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

While we were still sinners. In Jesus’ death on the cross it was God who took the initiative. Before we even considered repentance, he had already done everything necessary for our forgiveness. Our repentance is simply us accepting what is offered, while we are still sinners.

In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) Jesus tells a story of a servant whose large debt was cancelled by his merciful king. Yet, when he is owed just a little by his fellow servant he shows no mercy. When the king hears this he is furious and asks the question

“Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (vs 33)

Jesus makes the point that our debt before God is much larger than what is owed to us. If we have been forgiven this debt, surely we should forgive others in debt to us?

The trouble is forgiveness is often very hard. I doubt that forgiveness is easy for the families of the Charlestown victims. One family member put it this way “For me, I’m a work in progress.” This is true of all us. We are all works in progress. I pray that the work being done in us would make us quick to forgive, as we have been forgiven.

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Jesus & the Charlie Charlie Challenge

There’s a new game sweeping the internet; one that you’ve probably never heard of before. It’s called the Charlie Charlie Challenge. Search for it online and you’ll find countless videos of teens playing a game they probably believe is just harmless fun.

The Charlie Charlie Challenge, which works a lot like a ouija board, involves using a grid of yes/no answers on paper, and two pencils balanced on top as a dial. Then you say a special chant that is intended to summon a Mexican demon called Charlie to answer your questions, which he does by moving the pencils to indicate his answer.

Charlie-Charlie-challenge

Reactions to the challenge vary from terrified scream, to youtube parodies, to scientist trying to explain the movement of pencils.

There’s nothing new about the fascination with the supernatural. It’s a search for something beyond the tangible world in front of us. Last week as we started looking at the book of Ecclesiastes, we saw Solomon fail to find meaning in the life “under the sun”. If this world doesn’t satisfy, turning to the supernatural, spiritual world seems logical.

As we read the New Testament there’s no denying the supernatural world is real. Jesus came face to face with demons, and he himself did things that can only be explained by supernatural forces.

In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. Luke 4:33-37.

There’s a lot to say about the supernatural world and how we should respond, but I think this part of Luke’s gospel shows us 3 important things.

The demon’s response

This evil spirit immediately recognises Jesus for who he is; the Holy One of God. His question – Have you come to destroy us? – shows that he knows he and Jesus are on 2 different sides of a spiritual battle, and that Jesus is the one with the power to win. The question for us is if we know we are on the winning side, why would we team up with the losers?

Jesus’ response

Jesus is stern in his reply. He is completely in control and yet there’s no mucking around, or stopping to chit chat. Jesus has no fear of this evil spirit and yet he is quick to send it away. When our trust is in Jesus we have no need to fear the spiritual world, yet, like him, we should treat it seriously. In the case of the Charlie Charlie Challenge, this means we should walk away.

The people’s response

Far from being fascinated by the evil spirit, it’s Jesus’ power that amazed those watching, so much so that the news of his power spread around the area. The Charlie Charlie Challenge gives us an opportunity to speak to our kids, friends and others about the amazing power of Jesus, whose death and resurrection conquered evil once and for all.

Preschoolers, the Bible & the True Survival Guide

Each Tuesday morning I have the joy of visiting our local preschool to do a Bible talk with the kids. It’s short and sometimes chaotic but it’s one of my favourite things to do.

I arrive as the kids are finishing morning tea and occasionally while I’m waiting a parent comes in to drop off a child and get to say hi and introduce myself. This week a woman I’ve meet a few times before came in with her preschool daughter and school aged son. As I was chatting to them both the son asked if he could stay for the ‘survival talk’. I must have looked confused because mum immediately told me that’s what her daughter calls the Bible talk when she tells them about it at home. I’m sure that’s because to a 4-year-old the word survival and Bible sounds so similar. But it’s actually a good way to think about the Bible.

In fact I hope all of us will think of the Bible as a survival tool. It’s essential for our faith

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. Romans 10:17

… and for wisdom in this life

My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding –
indeed, if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.  Proverbs 2:1-5

… and for eternal life

Simon Peter answered [Jesus] “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68

I’m sure my preschool friend doesn’t yet grasp all of this. But she knows that what she hears about God is important and so, naturally, she goes home and tells others about it. I wonder what would happen if all of us read the Bible like it was our survival guide, then told others about it too?

Love and Injustice – Luke 23:39-42

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise”.

You don’t have to look very hard to see the world we live in is one lacking justice. Pick up a paper and read about the royal commission, asylum seekers, political corruption, civil war, religious persecution … the list goes on and on. As we read the paper and watch the news, the natural and right response from us, the public and from the media is to demand justice. When we look at the evil acts perpetrated by those unknown to us, it’s easy to cry out for justice.

But what happens when that cry for justice turns on us? When we face the consequences of our actions would we still demand that justice be done?

This is a question faced by two men who hung on crosses beside Jesus. Both convicted criminals. Both being punished for their own actions. Both seemingly without hope. Yet they have two very different responses to their situation.

The first criminal doesn’t ask for justice. He does just the opposite. He joins in with the rulers and soldiers who have been mocking Jesus. He too hurls sarcasm at him – ‘if you’re really some kind of king, prove it. Save yourself!’ But he goes one step further. “Aren’t you God’s chosen king? Save yourself and us.” His cry isn’t for justice. His cry is for Jesus to save him from justice. He demands injustice.

The second criminal is different. He knows his crime and he knows he is getting exactly what he deserved. And he recognises Jesus’ innocence. He knows that on the cross next to him is no ordinary man. He is a man to be feared, because he is also God, and he is suffering innocently.

But then, he too cried for injustice. He turns to Jesus and says ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom’.

This request is outrageous. This man is a criminal. He’s been judged by human authorities and they’ve hung him on a cross to die. This man knows that he’ll be judged by God and that he doesn’t deserve any mercy. Yet he dares to ask Jesus to remember him.

When you stop and think about what he’s asking for it’s quite amazing. A criminal is talking to the king of God’s people, and asking him to keep a place for him in God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ response is even more amazing. “Today you will be with me in paradise”. Yes, I will remember you. Yes, you will have a place in my kingdom. How is it possible that in this 11th hour confession this criminal has found some kind of favour with Jesus?

The answer is found in the biggest injustice of all – the death of an innocent man. Jesus’ death was a huge injustice, but not an accidental one. It was intentional. It was willing. And it was motivated by love. God’s love for his people, his desire for them to be reconciled to him and his knowledge that reconciliation would be impossible without him stepping in to act. So he stepped into the world in the person of Jesus, and dies a death that he didn’t deserve, so that when someone cries out ‘Jesus, remember me’, he can answer ‘yes, you will be with me in paradise’.

This is a tremendous promise to the criminal on the cross. But it’s not just for him. All of us are in the same position as the criminal. We may not be judged by our peers, or be hung on a cross, but we will all stand before God and will all be found wanting. We will face the same choice the two criminals faced. Join in the mocking and demand temporary salvation, or recognise Jesus as the king who is able to provide eternal salvation.

The criminal’s words from the cross are more than a confession of his crimes. He has come to believe and declare that Jesus really is the King of the Jews. He confessed his need for forgiveness and turned to the only one who is able to meet that need.

Will you do the same?

Church: Don’t set up your “singles”

Here’s the problem with teh interwebz. For every great article/blog post/comment you read, there are a million not-great ones that you have to sift through to get there.

Sometimes you don’t even have to go looking for them. More often than not it appears in your Facebook feed. That’s what happened a few days ago. This article was shared by a fb friend, as despite knowing their good intentions in sharing it, this article is so wrong it’s not even funny.

Before I tell you why, let me be up front and say as soon as I saw the title of this article (Church: set up your singles) I knew I was going to hate it for 2 reasons – 1) a ‘single’ is an individually wrapped piece of cheese. I am a person. The whole Christian world should STOP. CALLING. ME. A. SINGLE. 2) The article wasn’t called “Church: encourage all people to follow Jesus, regardless of their marital status”.

There’s too many things wrong with the theology of this article to possibly mention all of them, but let me tell the 3 most discouraging and dangerous errors.

1. Is singleness good?

A friend asked me recently, “If God said it is not good for man to be alone, but all he does is good, is my singleness actually good?” Sometimes the best answer to difficult questions is to just say, “I don’t know but he is good,” and so I did.

If someone asks you if their singleness is good the correct answer is yes! I know this because God has told us it is good.

1 Corinthians 7:7 says

I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

The 2 gifts Paul is talking about are marriage and singleness. (see the comments on this post for more detail on the Greek of this verse). Singleness is a gift. The Greek word used is charisma (literally ‘grace gift’) and is the same word used in chapter 12 about spiritual gifts. Singleness is a good gift from a good God. Of course, sometimes it feels like the kind of gift you get and give a fake smile in response, while inwardly thinking ‘what do I want this for? Can I exchange it for what she has, please?”

That’s exactly the reason I need to be reminded it’s good. When I’m finding it hard, and sad, and bitter I need my Christian family to remind me that God is good and he wants good things for me, and that even when I hate it, yes, my singleness is good.

(For those who are single, this what I want you to know about your gift.)

2. Is marriage a glimpse of the eternal marriage?

Help your unmarried brothers and sisters taste a glimpse of the eternal marriage by helping them get married.

Yes, it is. But in the same way singleness is itself a glimpse into eternity.

Andrew Cameron says it best

Jesus’ new teaching arises from the new future. It turns out that human marriages are not reinstated in the new future, because they point to the ultimate ‘marriage’ – a final union between Christ and his people (Eph 5:29-32; Rev 19:6-8; 21:2, 9-11; cf 22:17). But we need a little more theological detective work to determine how chaste singleness points to the new future.

In the new future, John looks and sees ‘a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the lamb’ (Rev 7:9). The significance of normal social identity markers (nation, tribe, people and language) has melted away. The markers remain visible – but people now gather on a new basis other than ties of culture genes or kinship. These structure social life now, but not then. As theologian Oliver O’Donovan puts it ‘Humanity in the presence of God will know a community in which the fidelity of love which marriage makes possibly will be extended beyond the limits of marriage.’

Single people offer a glimpse of this kind of society. They’re harbingers of an aspect of heavenly community, because they’re not constrained by family boundaries of genetics and kinship. They know how care and intimacy can go beyond family boundaries. They nudge members of families out of the introverted obsession with family life that becomes its dark side. They remind families that God calls everyone into the ‘great multitude’, and they call couples and families to attend to the wider community, and t0 point to heaven. (Joined-up Life, 234-235)

If I was to rewrite this sentence in the article it would say ‘Help your unmarried brothers and sisters taste a glimpse of the eternal marriage by sharing your life with them. Likewise, you too can taste a glimpse of eternal community by sharing in their life.’

3. What’s missing from a single person’s life?

It is not good for a man to be alone and he who finds a wife finds goodness, but it takes the beauty of a family to see the goodness far below the surface and in the crevices of these clay jars. Church, be that family, be the mothers and father, the sisters and brothers. Guide them, protect them, show them what is true and good and honorable in marriage, and then, please, help them get there.

It is true, it’s not good for anyone to be alone but as Christians we must recognise that our loneliness is only fully met in Jesus. Earthly marriage is but a shadow of this, and it’s a shadow that, no matter how good, will never completely satisfy our need. Jesus is the one who does that. The answer to the lonely single person is not simple ‘get married’ (though of course they may) but to enjoy Jesus and his people.

This paragraph should say “It is not good for anyone to be lonely. Church, to those who are lonely, be their family. Be their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. Guide them, protect them, show them what is true and good and honourable in following Jesus and run the race beside them.”

(Here’s more stuff I’ve written about singleness)

“I am making everything new “

IMG_7053This is beautiful, yet temporary hope in this broken world.

This is eternal hope for a world made new.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Revelation 21:1-8

Inside the mind of Alzheimer’s

Over the past few weeks podcasts have become my new obsession. I’ll admit it started because I was looking for something to listen to in-between Serial episodes (If you don’t know what I’m talking about stop reading and start binge listening to it immediately!).

One of the podcasts I stumble upon is Strangers. Though it’s not my favourite, I quite enjoy it and the latest episode (called Mind Shaft) blew me away. The host, Lea Thau, interviews Greg O’Brien, an investigative reporter diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Greg shares what’s it like to experience this horrible disease from the inside. He describes Alzheimer’s as dark and scary – ‘a mind that’s 5 miles deep’.

OnPlutoHe tells his story because ‘if I’m not pushing forward … I’m falling backwards’. He’s eloquent and charming and tells a fascinating story. But it’s also incredibly sad, because he knows how it ends.

Greg has also written a book about his experience called On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s. I’ve just bought it and will post more about it when I’ve read it.

Listen to the podcast here. Buy Greg’s book here.