Archive for December, 2014|Monthly archive page

The power of forgiveness

A few days ago, I heard a story about an employer who forgave his employee for stealing money.

The employee had written a cheque and forged the signatures of his employer and the financial officer.  When the fraud was discovered, the employee ultimately confessed.

The employer and financial officer forgave him.  They then put him on a repayment plan.

But, perhaps the most important step was that they have decided to assign him new responsibilities in an area where he is particularly gifted.  They know him to be a good-hearted young man who comes from a troubled background.

Think about that act of forgiveness.  It has the power to turn around a young man’s life.

Of course, forgiveness plays a vital role in the story of Christ – and in our lives as Christians.

Christ came in human form to suffer and die for us so that our sins might be forgiven.  Unlike the young man I mentioned, there is no repayment scheme for us – Christ is our repayment.  He made the payment on our behalf.

Christ also demonstrated forgiveness in other ways.

Peter Horrobin notes in his book The Most Powerful Prayer on Earth that Jesus called out to the Father on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”  He said those words while dying on the cross as people mocked him and gambled for his clothes.

As Horrobin says, Christ was going beyond offering personal words of forgiveness.  He was asking the Father to spare the mockers from the punishment they deserved.

Jesus also forgave Peter for denying him after his arrest.  He commissioned him to be a leader in the church after Christ’s ascension to heaven.

We, too, are asked to forgive others.  Failing to forgive has serious consequences – sometimes leading to emotional, physical and spiritual problems.

This is something I have learned relatively recently in my life.  The full impact of unforgiveness only hit home to me when some friends and I were doing a study on healing prayer seven years ago.

I realized that there were people I had not forgiven for hurts that dated back 60 years.

Forgiving should flow from a heart that is grateful to God for forgiving me.  It pleases God and it frees me, too.

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How to wait

We all know what it’s like to wait – and sometimes it can be frustrating.

In many cases, there’s not much we can do about it.  If the doctor is late, we have to trust that he will eventually get around to seeing us.

Trust is vital, too, in waiting for God.  But I am learning that there are good ways – and poor ways – of waiting for the Lord.

If I’m waiting for the doctor to see me, I can read a book or solve a problem I have been wrestling with or – even better – pray.

I can make good use of my time, too, if I’m waiting for God to deal with an issue in my life.

As I have just mentioned, I must begin by trusting that God knows what he is doing and is working on my problem.  I must believe that he wants the best for me – that’s what the Bible says.

A good beginning is Psalm 46:10 where God says: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

I must begin by quieting my spirit and drinking in the fact that I am in the presence of God.  Sometimes, I simply stop and focus on the fact that God is with me right now.  I don’t ask anything of him or even ask him to tell me anything.

That can be very calming.  I don’t know what lies ahead, but, whatever it is, it cannot be bigger than God.

The great faith chapter – Hebrews 11 – speaks of men and women who looked forward to the Messiah and died – some horribly – before the highly-anticipated coming of Jesus.  They went to their deaths believing that some day the Messiah would come.

Once I put myself into God’s hands, I can heed the apostle Paul’s wonderful words in Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but, in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

That’s excellent advice – particularly good advice for me.  I was born worrying.

For me, the words that stand out in that verse are “with thanksgiving”.  Paul is saying that I must be thankful even in the midst of troubling times.

When I obey those words,  I do find a measure of peace.

I’m human.  I find I need to constantly relearn these lessons when problems – even trivial problems – crop up.

But these lessons from scripture actually work – because they come from the heart of God.

Through God’s eyes

What would my life look like if I were peering at me through God’s eyes?

Different, I’m sure.  I would be able to see what is coming down the road – good things and bad things.

I would see, as well, how I fit into God’s greater plan – my little part of his plan.  I would also see that the end of it all is wonderful, beautiful – enough to draw adoring praise from my lips.

Even with my own eyes, I can see that heartaches years ago have helped mould me into a different man – even, I will say, a wiser man.

I find it easy to get caught up in the current problems and troubles and to forget that God sees things that I don’t and knows more than I will ever know.

I’m like the man who pushed the brand new car because he thought that was the way it worked.  All he needed to do was get inside and start the engine and the car would carry him to where he wanted to go.

I need God’s insights just like that man needed the car instructions.

I am constantly drawn to the apostle Paul and the way he confronted trouble.

When he was in prison in Rome, he wrote that some Christians were preaching Christ out of envy and selfish ambition, hoping to get him into trouble. But he rejoiced because “the important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.” (Philippians 1:18)

Paul understood what God was doing.  And he could rest in the knowledge that God was indeed working things out for good (Romans 8:28).

In Philippians 4:11, he writes that “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

In the same letter, he tells the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!”

To me, he is saying I should trust that God knows what he is doing and take pleasure in him above all.  I should be happy because God is doing good things in me – and even through me.

Indeed, trusting that God knows what he is doing is all that I need to find the contentment and peace that Paul knew.

Walking on water

I have never walked on water.

You probably thought: “So what? No one I know has ever walked on water.”

Yet Jesus and Peter walked on water.  For Jesus, it was normal.  He lived a life of miracles.

My question to myself is: Why is it so unusual for miracles in our society?

There are a number of common answers, some offered by church people I have known.

One response I have heard is that we don’t need miracles in western society.  We have modern medicine and technology.  Yet even advanced medicine cannot cure many serious illnesses.

Another is that miracles are no longer necessary to advance the Christian faith since we have the Bible while people in Jesus’ day did not have the New Testament.  But does that rule out miracles?  Why do we still see miracles frequently in Asia, Africa and South America?

Another suggestion is that western Christians rely less on faith than people 2000 years ago.  That seems to me to be a stronger reason.

Even in Jesus’ day, faith was vital.  And many people did not believe.

We read in Mark 6:1-6 that in his hometown of Nazareth, people could not believe that Jesus was who he said he was.  The result was that he was only able to do a few healing miracles because of the lack of faith of the Nazarenes.

The story in Matthew 14 of Jesus walking on the water is instructive.  We see Peter in the heights of faith and the depths of doubt – very much like us today.

Andrew Murray, the great South African pastor and author in the 19th century, touched on the story of Jesus walking on water in his book The Deeper Christian Life.

He notes that the disciples were terrified when they saw Jesus walking toward them on the turbulent waters while they fought the high waves in their boat.  They thought he was a ghost.

But Peter called out to Jesus and said that if it was really him, “tell me to come to you, walking on the water”.   Jesus did and Peter stepped out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.

He was fine until he looked down at the waves and began to doubt.  He started sinking and called out to Jesus: “Save me, Lord!”  Jesus reached out to him, grabbed his hand and together they walked back to the boat and climbed in.

Murray’s conclusion from this is that faith grows as we are in the presence of Jesus.

And, he says, we must spend time seeking the Lord in everyday life and, like Peter, crying “Help!” when we find ourselves too weak to deal with temptations and troubles.  It is then when Jesus reaches out his hand and gives us the power to do the impossible.

In the end, miracles bring glory to Jesus – they point to him as they did in his day.  And more people become believers.

Fatherhood

You have heard the story before – a child is deeply hurt psychologically by her father and is crippled for life.

Some never get beyond these early hurts – while some do.  If you’re the victim, what do you do?

I listened to a young woman tell her story at a weekend conference.

She grew up in a Christian home – a strict home.  Her father was a legalist and treated her coldly – leaching any joy out of her life.  She felt that he rejected her.

Despite her hurts, she became a believer in Jesus.  But it took her years to come to terms with her past.

Like many people, her view of God was affected by the treatment – and lack of love – she received from her earthly father.  She could not believe that God was happy with her.

She was asked what helped her to get past these psychological and emotional wounds.

She replied that several Christians gave her words that they felt God was telling them about her – words of support, encouragement and love.  These were “prophecies” – not the prophecies about the ultimate outcome of world history, but personal words of love from God to individuals.

Some might dispute such “words” from human beings.  But the Bible itself is filled with such declarations of love from God.

Indeed, the Bible tells the story of God’s reaching out to us rebellious children so that we can enjoy the wonders of his Father-love for us forever.

Psalm 103:1-14 gives a great picture of God’s love for us – a compassionate father who knows his children’s weaknesses and offers forgiveness and hope.

Psalm 139 shows how the Lord is involved in every aspect of our lives – from conception onwards.  He is not ignoring us – no, he wants a close relationship with us.

And, of course, John 3:16 is the clearest evidence that the Father cares for us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

How much more could he love us than that?

We need to turn to such truths if we feel worthless and rejected.

I had a great father who showed he cared for me.  Yet I know people who were not so fortunate.

But we can all find the love we need in our Father in heaven.  That is lasting love – far beyond the few decades we are on earth.