Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: forgiveness

Can there be peace in Babylon?

Jerusalem had been destroyed and the Jewish people carried away as captives to Babylon. There were prophets among them telling them that God was soon going to set things right, punish the horrible people of Babylon and bring them back to their own land. Jeremiah sent a letter to the Jews in Babylon, saying essentially, “Not so fast. You are going to be there a while. Build houses, plant gardens, raise families and just make the best of it.”

Then he added this shocking admonition: “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”

Well, here we are in the 21st Century, smack dab in the middle of Babylon. There are prophets, from the political, ecological, sociological and religious spheres, loudly and incessantly warning us of impending doom if we don’t implement their solutions right here and now. And there is is truth in all that is being said.

Two thoughts lead me to believe it would be wise to ignore those prophets:

  1. Didn’t we get into this mess in the first place by believing them?
  2.  Won’t their solutions squeeze out the good that yet remains in Babylon?

Jeremiah’s admonition offers direction for us today. Why don’t we just ignore all the doom and gloom talk and look for the good that remains around us? Let’s open our eyes to all that is good and beautiful, talk about it, encourage it. It may be that there are many people around us who would blossom into influences for good with just a little encouragement. The more that we can encourage peace in our own neighbourhood, the more we will be able to live in peace.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring forgiveness.
Where there is discord, let me bring unity.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in forgiving that one is forgiven,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

Advertisements

Raised eyebrow Christians

I was going to write supercilious, but that’s just a fancy latin word meaning raised eyebrows. So I decided to speak plain English.

There was a time in my mid-twenties when I was quite sure that everyone who claimed to be born again thought they were better than anyone else. Then there came a time in my life when everything was going wrong, at work and in my personal life. I wanted to run away and start over somewhere else, but I had already tried that a few years earlier and it didn’t work. My troubles were my own doing and there didn’t seem to be a way out. I mulled this over and over in my mind. There is much more to the story, but I finally came to the point of believing that God was real and I was a sinner. I prayed for forgiveness and for help to find a way through my troubles.

The only immediate change I was aware of was that the turmoil was gone and I believed I could find a way through my troubles. Over the next few weeks I realized that more had changed, my attitude, the things that I thought were important and the things I wanted to read. Eventually it sunk in that this was what the Bible called being born again.

Years have passed. After many years of being a born-again Christian, I see that I am also in danger of being one of those raised eyebrow Christians who thinks he is better than others.The gospel is so plain and simple, why can’t they grasp it? Why do the short-lived pleasures of the world have such a grip on them?

Why do I find it so hard to remember that I was once like they are? Even the apostle Paul needed to remind himself what kind of man he had been before he met the Lord on the road to Damascus. He reminded others, too, of what they had been: “Such were some of you.”

I need to remember that if it was possible for me to be saved, it is possible for anyone. I need to communicate that to others, not just by words but by attitude and action. I am not made of any better material than others, they are not made of inferior material, the only difference is forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

And I need to ditch the Christian jargon. It has become so familiar, but there was a time when it was an unknown language that made me feel that Christians though they were above me.  I don’t want to make someone else feel that way.

Miserable comforters are ye all

“I have been hurt more by Christians than by non-believers.”  This was said, not so much as a complaint but as a simple statement of fact, by a friend with whom my wife and I were visiting the other day.  This lady has many heartaches and struggles in her past and I don’t doubt her statement. But I began to ponder why such a thing should be.

This led me to the story of Job and the misfortunes that befell him. In one day he lost all his children and all his wealth. As if that wasn’t enough, he then lost his health. His three closest friends came to comfort him. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were God-fearing men and their hearts were moved with compassion for their friend. They wept and mourned with him for seven days and seven nights without opening their mouths.

The trouble came when they began to speak. They truly wanted to help their friend and the only cause they could think of for his misery was that he must be suffering punishment for some hidden sin. The more Job protested his innocence, the more they were sure they understood the problem. Finally Job said: “ I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all.”

I am a Christian, I care about my fellow believers and all the people around me. I want to “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” Yet when I try to put that into practice, all too often I have come across much like Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. I want to understand what has happened, offer some helpful suggestions, when it would be better to keep my mouth shut.

Job never accused his friends of sin for the way they spoke to him. One time he called them “miserable comforters,” another time he responded with this little zinger: “No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you.” But he never sinned in accusing them falsely.

At the end, God asked Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar to go to Job and ask him to pray for their forgiveness. I think the most significant part of the whole book is found in verse 10 of chapter 42: “And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.”

Isn’t forgiveness always the answer? Job was not restored until he could forgive his friends and pray for them, and we won’t be either. Our friends may do and say hurtful things. Forgive them. Or they may not know what to do or say and so avoid us for a time. Forgive them.

We will get hurt in this life. Well-meaning friends will say that we should just forgive and forget. That may come as a fresh wound, the forgetting part is not always easy, or even completely possible. Let’s forgive our well-meaning friends and do our best to put the original hurt behind us by applying the healing balm of forgiveness every time it gives us pain.

And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment

Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus came to Bethany and was invited to a meal in the home of Simon, a man whom He had healed of leprosy. To get the full story of the event, we need to put together the accounts found in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and John 12. Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, was one of the guests and his sister Martha was serving the meal. At some point Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, came into the room with a container of very precious ointment, broke the neck of the container, poured the ointment over Jesus’ head and feet, then wiped his feet with her hair.There is no mention of a motive, but no doubt she was still overwhelmed with thankfulness over having her brother restored to life.

There is a somewhat similar account in Luke 7, but the differences are so striking that it must have been another time, another place, another Simon and another woman and another container of ointment. The host at this supper was a Pharisee, quite possibly one who had come to believe in Jesus. It was the other Pharisees who were his guests who murmured about the waste of the costly ointment, not the disciples as in the other gospels. The woman in this account is referred to as a sinner, which probably meant she was a Gentile. To the Pharisees all Gentiles were sinners.

We should not imagine Jesus and the other guests sitting on chairs at the table , as our custom is. The custom of that place and time was to place oneself on a couch in a semi-reclined position, which would have made Jesus feet readily accessible to be anointed.

There are two things that stand out to me in the account of Mary’s anointing of Jesus. The first is Jesus’ statement, recorded in Matthew and Mark, that: “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.”

The other is the mention, found only in John, that “the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.”

We talk of heroes of the faith, many today desire ardently to do great things for the Lord. What did Mary do? She broke a vial of ointment and anointed the head and feet of our Lord. That simple action has been told and retold for almost two thousand years. And what is the aroma that emanates from us when we strive to do great deeds for our Lord? Too often, we must confess, there is something pungent and disagreeable about the fruit of our efforts.

The image of the broken vial must become central to our Christian life. Only when our pride, our ambitions, our self-righteousness are broken can there come forth the sweet and refreshing scent of true Christianity.

Three cats in the house

We are two elderly people and three cats in a fairly small house, and it is winter. All five of us spend much more time inside these four walls than we would if the weather outside were more clement. This makes for some conflicts. We provide nice cushions for our cats, plus two recliners and two office chairs for ourselves. The cats prefer our chairs. Plus, they prefer to be in the same room as we are.

cat-834392_1280.jpg

Panda, the oldest at thirteen, coming fourteen in summer, is a big black Maine Coon cat. She wants to have her long hair brushed or combed several times a day. This grooming must take place in one specific corner of the living room carpet. If we try to brush or comb her when she is somewhere else she will get up and walk to this spot and lay down. She also loves to be vacuumed and will come whenever she hears the sound of the vacuum cleaner. The other cats maintain a respectful distance between themselves and that noisy machine. When Panda wants my attention she will use her claws to tug at my pant leg. She is a patient cat; if I speak to her emphatically she will lay down and wait for a more opportune moment.

cat-1101747_1920.jpg

Pookie, the youngest and smallest, will be five in summer. He is a flame point Siamese, and the most talkative of our cats. He will let us know vocally if he wants our attention, and if ignored will reach up and tap our arm with a soft paw, the claws fully sheathed. He will also respond well to being told to wait awhile.

cat-173885_1920.jpg

Angus is a year older than Pookie, a Siamese in conformation and temperament, but all black. Everything is an emergency to him. He begins by running back and forth, punctuated by plaintive cries:”The sky is falling! the sky is falling! Do something right now!” If we ignore him he will bite one of us on the arm to make his point. The bite is not a vicious bite, never leaves a mark, but it does get our attention. Most often, the reaction is a shriek from my wife which startles Angus enough to make him forget the cause of his anguish, at least momentarily.

Why do we put up with these nuisances? Why do we feed them, groom them, take them to the vet and vacuum up the cat hair? A few answers have come to my mind.

  1. Having other living creatures around that are dependent on us keeps us from becoming too engrossed in our own thoughts and health problems.
  2.  There is something very soothing and calming about having a cat jump on your lap and start purring when you sit in the recliner and put your feet up.
  3. Cats are very forgiving. It is reassuring to know that our cats still like us and trust us even if we accidentally step on one’s tail, or take one on an unwelcome trip to the vet.
  4. There is an object lesson in all this. If I can love and accept my cats, with all their foibles and annoying habits, why can’t I love and accept the people around me in the same way?

[The cats in the photos are not our cats, the pictures were downloaded from Pixabay. Our cats do look very much like the ones in the pictures.]

Disconnected

We don’t have a furnace in our mobile home. Where it once was, there is now a heat exchanger that takes heat from a hot water line that comes from our neighbour’s coal-fired boiler. A furnace fan mounted above the heat exchanger sends warm air through the duct work to heat the house.

A few evenings ago we heard strange noises from this apparatus. I took a look and found that an old stove pipe had worked its way down and was touching the electric motor of the fan. I turned the system off, worked that stove pipe out of the way, turned the switch back on and went to bed. The next morning the heat did not come on. I checked the programmable thermostat and it was calling for heat. Then I looked at the heating apparatus and at first all looked to be in order. Then I saw a little black wire dangling loose; there was a little connector on the end that looked like it might go with another connector on a switch box. I pushed the two together and we had heat.

I began wondering if there is sometimes a disconnect like this in my spiritual life. The warmth, the power, is right there, ready to be used. I want it, but nothing is happening. It must be that a connection is missing somewhere.

Perhaps I became frustrated and upset at someone, lost my temper and said words that I regret, but I haven’t been willing to apologize to this person.

Or perhaps someone did or said something that hurt my feelings and I am brooding over it. The other person probably has no idea that his action caused me any problem, but I just can’t forgive him and let it go.

Perhaps I felt the Spirit asking me to do something and I just wasn’t willing to do it.

All of these things, and many others, interrupt our connection to God and we find our spiritual life cooling off. We know there is a problem somewhere, but we are not able or willing to look where the problem really lies and make the correction needed. And when our spiritual life cools off because of disobedience in small things, we are more apt to give in to the bigger temptations, because there just doesn’t seem to be much benefit in trying to live a Christian life anyway.

That is why it is important to look after the small things as soon as we become aware that something isn’t working as it should in our Christian life.

 

That ye may be healed

My wife’s elderly cousin has been in Saskatoon a couple of days. This morning we went into the city and Chris spent a couple of hours with her. This cousin had two sons with her first husband, then divorced him. She married again, had four daughters, then divorced again. She loves her sons; she does not love her daughters. The sons do not get along with each other; the daughters are close — it seems they had a loving father. Neither of the sons is married, one of the daughters is a single Mom, the other three are happily married.

This is a brief portrait of a dysfunctional family. Even though the mother loves her sons, the relationships are often rocky. There are hurt feelings all around, between children and mother and mother and children, between the brothers and the sisters and between the two brothers. It seems that the mother had a cruel father and did not have a happy childhood. How many generations back does this go? How many more generations will be messed up by dysfunctional relationships.

Is there no balm in Gilead? I believe there is a healing balm, but only applying it on the surface will not bring about a reconciliation, it will need to penetrate through many layers to reach the deep wounds that cause the dysfunctional behaviour. First they will need to forgive each other. That would be the beginning, but only the beginning. Next they would need to admit how they have wronged and hurt each other. They are all victims, but they have also all inflicted wounds on each other. Finally, they would have to open up the deep-seated fears that cause them to lash out at one another and allow the balm to be applied so that they can begin to trust one another.

Of course, genuine, durable reconciliation is probably impossible as long as they continue to reject God’s call to repentance. (One of the daughters does make a profession of Christianity.) This led me to wondering how we are doing as Christians.

We say that we love everybody, that we have forgiven everybody. Wonderful. But how deep does the healing go? Why are so many among us struggling with hurt feelings?  “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (James 5:16). How deep are we willing to look in seeking a full healing?

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

(This prayer is usually attributed to Francis of Assissi, though its present form cannot be traced back further than 1912 when it was published in Paris.)

The healing power of forgiveness

There is a great peace that comes over us when God forgives our sins, a release from the load of guilt that we have been carrying and a soothing of the pangs of conscience. Yet we tend to soon forget the caveat that comes with this peace: ” But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:15).

Other people do and say so many irritating and hurtful things. Surely they should apologize and ask our forgiveness so we could feel better about what they have done. Some will, but we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for every single person who has ever wronged us to come and apologize.

The apostle John tells us: ” If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it” (1 John 5:16). He goes on to say that “all unrighteousness is sin,” that is, everything that is not done out of a pure heart is prompted by our own sinful tendencies, aided by the tempter. No matter how minor they may be, they are sin. Yet, as long as they are not deliberate, wilful sins, we should not consider them grounds for separation of Christian fellowship. We should rather pray for that brother, and hope that he prays for us when we do or say hurtful things that we really did not intend to be hurtful.

“Charity shall cover the multitude of sins,” (1 Peter 4:8). Charity is a healing balm in our Christian fellowship that helps us forgive others, accept them and feel accepted by them. There are serious sins that require a sterner approach, but let us consider two things. First, those sins are first and foremost sins against God. We should not put ourselves in God’s place in the judgment seat. Secondly, could it be that those sins are a result of a lack of charity among us? Let us examine ourselves lest the lack of charity become a stumbling block to others.

How much emotional distress, in ourselves and others, would be relieved if we could just learn to more ready to forgive? “So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:7). This was said in the circumstance of someone who had repented of a very serious sin. Surely it would not be wrong to apply it in less serious circumstances.

It is good to be zealous in upholding that which is right and true. We need to be careful however, that in our zeal we do not do more harm than good. There is a way to take a stand for the truth that does not leave people with bruised and hurt feelings. A readiness to forgive does not mean an acquiescence in sin. If we cannot forgive, we cause ourselves to suffer and do no good for the person who has sinned. When we freely love and forgive we have a much greater opportunity to point others to the source of forgiveness.

The Father himself loves you

My father was a man with high principles and good intentions, but a short fuse. And when he blew up, he would stay angry for days while my mother and I tip-toed around to avoid further aggravating him. He was never physically violent, but the verbal abuse was just as damaging.

It happened again one day after I was grown up and married. My father blew up and poured out his invective in loud, angry tones. After it was over I found a quiet place, knelt down and asked “Why can’t I have a better father?” The answer was immediate: “But you do. You have a perfect Father.”

My heavenly Father has often reminded me of the reality of His love in the following years. There are many verses in the Bible to tell me of the Father’s love, but I am not thinking here of a theoretical or doctrinal knowledge of His love. There have been times when He spoke to me, not in an audible voice, yet it was clear and unmistakable.

One time was during a series of revival meetings. The preaching was powerful and soul-searching; brothers and sisters around me were confessing their faults and their struggles. I wanted to be honest and open-hearted and allow the Lord to “search me, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me.” The answer I received was: “the most important thing you need to know right now is that I love you just the way you are.”

I have seen fellow believers struggle to find something to repent of so that they can believe that God is satisfied with them. That is bondage. I have observed others who try to prove to their unbelieving friends that they can do all the things they do and still be a Christian. This is also bondage. And then there are those who believe that God loves them because they are better people than the ungodly people around them. This is deception.

I am no better than anyone else — there is still something within me that sides with the tempter. And sometimes I slip, because of carelessness, impatience or other weaknesses common to man. But I also have a heavenly Father who warns me when I am about to slip and helps me get back up when I do slip.

None of us have had perfect fathers; I certainly have not been a perfect father. Some fathers are better than others, and some children have no father at all. Whatever the situation, we can find comfort and healing in knowing the heavenly Father who loves us, knows our sorrows and our needs and will be with us all the way through our life.

John 16:27:  For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.

Prayer

“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

How can we know if our prayers are effectual? How can we know if they avail anything? How can we know if they are fervent enough?

Daniel Whedon, in his commentary, considers that the original Greek words translated “effectual fervent prayer” denotes prayer that is prompted and energized by the Holy Spirit. This turns the questions around: am I listening when the Spirit prompts me to pray for a condition in my life, in the life of someone else, or for conditions in the world around me?

Sometimes we will know whether such a prayer has availed, or been effective; most of the time we won’t. When I pray for forgiveness for myself, I should be able to know that my prayer has been answered. If not, perhaps I am holding something back, unwilling to confess the seriousness of what I have done, unwilling to face the consequences. When our repentance is complete and unqualified, we will know that a burden has been removed and we are free before God. Perhaps there are things we need to confess to others, wrongs that need to be made right, we should also pray for courage and grace to do them as the Spirit leads.

We should pray for our family, the church, our ministers (and not only for the Sunday morning sermon), and our governments. We may never know what those prayers have accomplished, yet we need to pray as often as the Spirit prompts us.

We are disturbed and perplexed by the growing power of the forces of darkness in our land, and often tempted to blame the government. Perhaps the real problem is that Christians have not prayed as they ought for those in authority. We should also take into account that the situation could be much worse if there were no Christians praying for those in authority. Our prayers for those in government will accomplish far more good than our criticisms in casual conversation with our neighbours.

The apostle John’s instructions on prayer give us further direction: “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” (1 John 5:14-16).

Here is the assurance that if our prayers are prompted by the Holy Spirit, they will be heard in heaven. Here is also the instruction to pray for the faults we see in our brethren. They may do and say things that are not really in accord with Biblical teachings about how a Christian should conduct themselves. We are probably not so much aware when we do the same things, but feel hurt and offended when our spiritual brothers and sisters do them. These things spring from the corruption and weakness of our human flesh. As long as these are not wilful sins, the apostle tells us to pray for our brothers and sisters and God will have mercy on them. Hopefully they are doing the same for us. There is no such promise of a happy outcome if we talk to each other about the faults and weaknesses of others. Let us then be fervent in praying for one another.

%d bloggers like this: