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.

Advertisements

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.

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)

We will tell the next generation…

From Psalm 78:4-7

We will not hide them from their descendants;
    we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
    his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statutes for Jacob
    and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
    to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
    even the children yet to be born,
    and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
    and would not forget his deeds
    but would keep his commands.

Old Testament Israel had much to tell their children. Amongst the praiseworthy deeds of their Lord, was the salvation of a nation from slavery in Egypt. After such a miraculous display of power and love, you would hardly think they would need to be reminded to tell their children. Surely they would be telling their children at every opportunity because they want their kids to have trust in such a loving and powerful God. And wouldn’t they want their kids to be ready to tell the next generation too?

What about us? We’ve seen an act of salvation that exceeds the greatness of the exodus. Jesus’ death & resurrection is the greatest act of salvation the world has ever seen. It’s the greatest display of love, kindness, and power anyone will ever see. Surely, we should be telling our children of the praise worthy deeds of the Lord, at every opportunity – so that they would put their trust in the Lord and they in turn will tell their children?

Or do we, like the Israelites, need to be reminded to tell our children?

The responsibility to teach the next generation can not be delegated only to an elite group of people with gifts for teaching kids (though, certainly those who are gifted in that way should use their gifts!). Likewise, it can not be delegated only to parents. The responsibility to teach the next generation is all of ours. We are all members of God’s family, and this instruction is for all of us. From teaching kids’ church to SRE to simply reading the bible with a child, there are many ways for us to be a part of it.

How will you tell the next generation?

Book Review: True Friendship by Vaughan Roberts

9781909611511The past 2 weeks I’ve been taking advantage of school holidays (i.e. no SRE to teach) to give myself a little reading time each day. I’ve been working my way through Don Caron’s Love in Hard Places which is excellent, but a tough read. So today I decided to take it easy and start Vaughan Roberts’ True Friendship instead.

What a great book! Which I can say because I finished the whole thing in about an hour.

Friendship is such an important topic. Despite the multitude of social media that supposedly keeps us connected, one of the biggest needs we have is for true, deep friendships.

True Friendship is …

Crucial, Close, Constant, Candid, Careful & Christ-centred.

The book starts by reminding us that the Bible is a story of friendship. A friendship between God and man, ruined by sin & restored by God himself. The gospel is a message not only of restored friendship with God, but also restored relationships with others. We are called into a new community.

[Christians] have been called, as brothers and sisters, to belong to Christ’s family, as we travel along the way of the cross throughout our lives, with our eyes fixed on the destination of the new creation to come, which Christ will introduce when he returns. It is a long journey, with many challenges along the road. We will often fall and need someone to pick us up; waver, and need another to spur us on. Let us resolve therefore to obey the Bible’s instruction: ‘let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds … let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching’ (Hebrews 10:24, 25)

Roberts’ quotes a colleague of his who once said of her friends “For those of us who are single, our friends are our lifeline”. I love this. It’s so true for me. And yet as I read this book I realise how easy it is to forget how important friendships are, and therefore how important it is to put in the effort required to do friendship well.

Chapter 2 reminds us of what we should already know – there’s a big difference between being Facebook friends with someone and actually being friends with someone. There’s also a difference between friendship and marriage – though marriage should be more than friendship, it should not be less.

The Bible certainly has a very high view of marriage, but it is not designed to bear the weight that is placed on it when a husband and wife expect all their relational needs to be met by one another. The result is that they not only put impossible burdens on each other, but also give insufficient attention to other friendships. Single people suffer from the same delusion, too often believing the lie that they are bound to experience miserable isolates live unless they can find a spouse. In their commendable desire to protect marriage and the family from contemporary challenge, churches can unwittingly become part of the problem by giving the impression that romantic olive is an essential ingredient to human flourishing.

Something that really stands out to me is the need for friendships to be candid. I hate criticism. Yet I recognise they need for it and that, when it comes from a friend, it is motivated by love. As Oscar Wilde says ‘a true friend stabs you in the front’.

Above all, what we need from out friends is the application of the gospel in our lives. The ministry of God’s word is not limited to those with public responsibility for preaching and teaching out churches, but is shared by all of us. We are to teach and admonish one another with all wisdom’ (Colossians 3:16). As we seek to be helpful to out friends, we need to ask how we can bring the gospel to bear on their lives.

Very helpfully the book both starts and ends pointing us to Jesus. The final line of the book says

[Jesus] is the perfect friend who enable us to be true friends ourselves.

At the end of each chapter Roberts has helpfully includes some questions for reflection & discussion that are worth taking some time to prayerfully work through. It’s a great book and definitely worth the short amount to time it takes to read.

You can buy it here or as an ebook here.

Forgiving the unrepentant. Is it necessary?

Or even possible?

This series of posts from The Briefing are a few years old but an excellent exploration of this question.

I’m also slowly working my way through D.A. Carson’s Love in Hard Places. This quote is particularly challenging

Over against the personal hatred that some people thought was warranted on the basis of their selective reading of Old Testament texts, Jesus mandates something else: “Love your enemies,” he says, “and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). Here is a vision of love that is rich and costly: it extends even to enemies. It is manifested not least in prayer for enemies. We find it difficult to hate those for whom we pray; we find it difficult not to pray for those we love. In no one is this more strikingly manifest than in Jesus himself as he writhes on the cross and yet prays for his enemies, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). If Jesus is our example as well as our Lord, what arrogance, bitterness, pain, or sloth could ever justify our failure to pray for our enemies?