Forgiveness

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT

That’s a pretty comprehensive list of negatives. Paul listed “bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander” and then almost as an afterthought, and just to make sure he hadn’t missed anything, he added “all types of evil behaviour”. I wonder what prompted his thinking? Perhaps, as he languished in his prison cell, he remembered his friends back in Ephesus and thought about how they lived. Perhaps he was thinking, “I remember that lady with the blue robe – she was a very bitter woman”. Or, “I wish Sparticus (would that be the name of someone in Ephesus?) wouldn’t erupt in an angry rant every time someone disagreed with him”. Perhaps Paul found himself holding his tongue when he heard the way they spoke about each other. But from his prison cell he found the freedom to write about it. Somehow his suffering added weight to his message. His message was relevant in his day and is still relevant today. It is timeless. Human nature hasn’t changed much over the centuries. So often our behaviour is learned from our circumstances. So a child watching an angry father might copy his behaviour. Another child hearing a gossiping relative might think that they can do the same. Others might see the trolling on social media and join in, trying to outdo the vile comments left by someone else. As an aside today, I wonder if Paul would have had a Facebook page or a Twitter account? If he had the posts would have been amazing, I’m sure. Regardless of what behaviour we learn from others, though, sometimes the ways we speak, the emotions we display, the ways we react – they are all driven by the sinful person we are inside. 

Anyway, Paul encouraged his readers to replace all their negatives with the word “instead”. And the second of our verses today sets out the ways in which we should behave. Instead of being bitter and angry we should be kind and compassionate. The word “tender-hearted” is used. There is a man living near me who had a horrendous upbringing, being brought up in acute poverty with a mother and ten siblings. But now in his retirement, he helps out with feeding and caring for a few animals on a small-holding near him. He is a very soft-hearted man, and I pointed that out to him yesterday. His response was that he was soft with animals but not with people. A man tender-hearted by nature but hardened by exposure to a life of contact with people displaying “evil behaviour“.

How are we with our fellow members of society? Are we pilgrims secure within hard walls that we have erected to protect us from the hard knocks in life? To prevent the barbed comment and nasty insinuations from hurting us? Or are we tenderhearted, feeling the pain of others? Allowing, in a spirit of forgiveness, “harsh words and slander” to wash over us? Responding with kindness and love, compassion and mercy? That is the Jesus way. When nails were hammered into His hands He responded with “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). He loved His enemies even to the end. So what else can we do? We can only echo Jesus’ love for others in the way we face into life. Interface with those around us. Forgiving others as Christ has forgiven us.

Theft

“Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:28‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

I wonder why Paul added this instruction in his letter. Perhaps there was someone in the Ephesian church who was a thief. Perhaps there were even more than one. But he must have had a reason, and you can just imagine the person or persons involved in theft squirming a bit in their seats while the letter was read out, perhaps flushed with embarrassment or feelings of guilt. In the society at that time perhaps being a thief was an easy way to earn a living. But whoever it was, they had a choice and Paul made it clear – get a job, he said. But, as an aside, if the miscreant had been caught thieving I can imagine the penalty would have been rather severe – we remember that two thieves were crucified along with Jesus not that many miles away from Ephesus.

But stealing is not a victimless crime. It impacts other people’s lives; honest people who would have wondered who the culprit was. Suspicion builds up and when the Ephesian church met together you can just imagine the thoughts that would have been flying around. Knowing that one of their number was a thief, they would have been looking around at their fellow Christians wondering, “is it him”, or “perhaps she did it”. And the bonds of unity and love that Paul was writing about in his letter to his friends at Ephesus would have been broken. 

In a church near where I live, and a few years ago now, money seemed to be disappearing on a regular basis. Sadly, the leadership had to make a determined effort to find the culprit, and eventually found that a church administrator was responsible. But the grace and love that was poured out in that church was absolutely amazing. Without involving the police, they arranged for the return of what had been stolen and forgave the person concerned, who repented and asked for forgiveness. A person restored and forgiven. Church unity unbroken. Dealing with theft the Jesus way.

A pilgrim today will have many opportunities to take a short cut, tempted to steal rather than earn. Perhaps forced to think that way through personal hardship or family pressures. But there is no other way than the way of complete and total honesty. The Jesus way.

Breakthrough

Lord, if you measured us and marked us with our sins,
    who would ever have their prayers answered?
But your forgiving love is what makes you so wonderful.
    No wonder you are loved and worshiped!
This is why I wait upon you, expecting your breakthrough,
    for your Word brings me hope.”
Psalm 130:3-5 TPT

There will be many people hoping for a breakthrough in this New Year. People who feel as they have been ground down by an incessant tsunami of bad news from the media, who are traumatised from the rigors of the pandemic, successive lockdowns and societal restrictions. And in the UK, rising taxes and energy prices are threatening to increase the cost of living, bringing more worries and concerns, and adding to the misery mix. But it doesn’t matter which era we find ourselves in. Each generation has to face into its own set of problems.

However, there is one thing that never changes, regardless of the era in which we live, or have lived. And that is the goodness and grace of God. In the current age of Black Friday, Boxing Day Sales and other good deals, there is one deal that is unbeatable. Trust me – it really is! Can you believe it? God sent His Son, Jesus, to this world, to be born and live as a human being. To teach wonderful truths about His Kingdom, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, and in the process challenging the religious stereotypes of His day to the extent that the authorities crucified Him as a terrorist and thief. Sinless, He died a common criminal’s death, but in the process He took upon Himself all the sins of the world. And if we believe in Him and repent of our sins then – now here’s the deal – He will take on board all our sins and instead give to us His sinless righteousness. It won’t cost us a cent, or a penny, even. What a deal! What a breakthrough! And the only thing in the way of claiming our breakthrough this New Year is our unconfessed sins. Wearing Jesus’ cloak of righteousness we can stand before God as though we had never sinned. The breakthrough we experience will last for both this life, and our lives in eternity.

Looking at our verses today, the Psalmist spells it out. God forgives us our sins and answers our prayers. He dispenses His forgiving love to all who come to Him in repentance. And if we spend time in His presence, soaking in His Word, we will be infused with hope and can expect a breakthrough. Folks, it doesn’t get better than that. We have no need to spend time in misery because we are loved and forgiven by our wonderful Heavenly Father. Let’s make a commitment this New Year to move from misery to a new life in God, the breakthrough we have yearned for. Hang on a minute, I hear you say, “What about the misery mix I’m experiencing?” Don’t forget, as the Psalmist says, God answers our prayers.

Eternal and Infinite

For His unfailing love toward those who fear Him
    is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
    as the east is from the west.
The Lord is like a father to His children,
    tender and compassionate to those who fear Him.
For He knows how weak we are;
    He remembers we are only dust.
Psalm 103:11-14 NLT

David is back writing at the Psalmist’s desk. Scratching away with his God-thoughts, recording eternal words through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And once again his thoughts turn to how much God loves His children. In describing the relationship we have with God, he uses the word “fear” but that can have negative connotations. In our world and culture, perhaps a better word would be “respect”, though with a depth far beyond a man-limited meaning. In the Lord’s Prayer, we “hallow” His name. Another good word. And David points out that God’s love for His hallowers is so great that it is unmeasurable. The heavens extend a distance above us, a distance measured in eternal units, with a hint of infinity creeping in. In other words, God’s love is so great that it is unlimited and eternal, unmeasurable and unquantifiable. We must never think that there is insufficient to go around. 

And David then moves his thoughts away from God’s love to our sins. The reality is that once we have confessed and repented of our sins, God removes them. In fact, He puts them a place that is as far away from us as the East is from the West. A wonderful analogy, because we don’t know the start and finish of either place. No sooner then we define a place as being “East” then we know there is another place further “East”. The circular nature of our world, rather than the flat representation on a school room wall, drives the compass points. But what is the implication of all that? God forgets our confessed and repented of sins. They don’t exist anymore. That have been erased from the Heavenly record books. Have we ever been in a situation where we have repented of a past sin again, perhaps from many years ago, just in case we forgot? Well, God takes out His record books and can’t find any mention of it. So He comes back to us and tells us so. He is the perfect Father, divinely tender and compassionate. 

In all the world religions there is only one, Christianity, in which the worshipped god came down to earth as a human being. Jesus, God’s Son, therefore knows what it is like to be human, and he shared our weaknesses when He walked around the Palestinian countryside. He got tired and hungry as we do. He was tempted as we are. And when He returned to Heaven, we read in Romans 8 that He is sitting at God’s right hand, interceding for us. Our loving Lord is the only “god” who knows “how weak we are”.

Today, we have been granted another opportunity from our allotted time span on earth to come before our tender and compassionate Heavenly Father, resting in His presence, feeling His heartbeat of forgiveness, and assured of His love. Let’s not waste the moment.

Write it Down

“Let this be recorded for future generations,
    so that a people not yet born will praise the Lord.
Tell them the Lord looked down
    from his heavenly sanctuary.
He looked down to earth from heaven
   to hear the groans of the prisoners,
   to release those condemned to die.
And so the Lord’s fame will be celebrated in Zion,
    his praises in Jerusalem,
when multitudes gather together
    and kingdoms come to worship the Lord.”
Psalm 102:18-22 NLT

Psalm 102 details the troubles the poor Psalmist is enduring. But through it all he never lost his faith in God. And he appeals to his readers to make sure they record the Lord’s goodness for future generations. He highlights information about where God lives, and how He interacts with human beings, looking down, hearing and releasing. He looks down to see what is going on and straight away the injustice of those being imprisoned gets His attention. He hears their “groans” and he “releases those condemned to die“. And as a consequence the Psalmist points out that one day, at the end of the age, Jerusalem will see the congregation of all the world’s nations coming “to worship the Lord“.

But who are these prisoners? Those condemned to die? In the UK we have prisons bursting at the seams, full of people incarcerated for doing wrong. And I know in some countries, there are people languishing in death rows. Waiting for their end. But why would God single these people out for “hearing” and “releasing”? God is interested in all people. He loves them all. No, more likely, the Psalmist is referring to people who are prisoners because of their sins, and who are condemned to die as a consequence. God looks down from Heaven with a breaking heart, yearning for His people to understand that the prison doors are open. That their choices are keeping them there and, worse, keeping them on death row as well. The Apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the Galatians that, “But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.” That’s the open door, folks. 

Those of us who have embraced God’s gift of freedom, who are no longer locked in a prison of sin, need to write down our stories. Write down our testimonies of how God’s grace and mercy opened our prison doors. Because the generations coming behind us need to know too about our wonderful Creator God. About His love and compassion. About what He has done for us. 

If there is anyone reading this blog today, and feel as though they are locked in a prison cell, unable to escape. Oppressed by the enemy. Blighted by negative thoughts of how bad they are. Their self image plumbing depths of despair. Then reach out to the only One who can set us free. The only key to our prison cells is soaked in the blood of Jesus, our wonderful Saviour, our wonderful Releaser, our wonderful Lord.

The Son of Man

“Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; 
at Your rebuke your people perish. 
Let Your hand rest on the man at Your right hand, 
the son of man You have raised up for Yourself. 
Then we will not turn away from You; revive us, 
and we will call on Your name.”
Psalms‬ ‭80:16-18‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

After the frenetic and dark days of Psalm 79, Asaph, the Psalmist, seems to be calming down and looking at his predicament with a more contrite and objective heart. Three times in the Psalm he appeals to God to ”make your face shine on us”. And he ends the Psalm with the reason for his request – “that we may be saved.” But, in a prophetic glimpse in verse 17, he introduces “the son of man”. This was the phrase that Jesus used to describe Himself when He walked in the highways and byways of Palestine. A phrase used many times in the Old Testament and the Gospels. But in his prophetic glimpse, perhaps Asaph saw that the solution to the national distress of the Jewish nation was a Messianic figure who would lead the people and keep them close to God. He wasn’t to know that a few hundred years later such a person would emerge, the Son of God, but also the Son of Man. Jesus, the divine and human Messiah. Amazingly, and sadly, the Jewish people failed to recognise Him, because by then they had lost sight of the reason for the Messiah’s coming, which was, according to verse 17, to bring God’s people back into His presence. Instead their expectation was for a Leader who would free the Jewish nation from the tyranny of the Roman occupation. And then there came the dark day when they crucified the very Man who was their salvation.

But Jesus died once, not just for His people, but for all mankind. His mission was accomplished. And by believing in Him, that His death brought forgiveness for our sins, we can fulfil the prophetic insight from this Psalm, turning back to God. And then we will find that His face will truly shine on us.

Being an Example

My life is an example to many,
because you have been my strength and protection.
That is why I can never stop praising you;
I declare your glory all day long.
Psalm 71:7-8

Who can say, as David did in this Psalm, “My life is an example to many”. But how can he have the utter cheek to make such a claim after his very public and disgraceful affair with Bathsheba? Is he saying that anyone can behave in that way and it’s no big deal? Before we answer that question, it might be worth considering another similar occasion. When Peter was caught out by Jesus after denying Him, in His time of need, not just once, but three times. We can read the passage in Matthew 26. This wasn’t just a private occurrence – Peter made his denials publicly in front of a group of people. And we can read in John 21 how the risen Jesus took Peter through repentance to becoming a rock, on which Jesus said He would build His church.

So back to David. He also repented of his terrible sins and received God’s forgiveness. There are no sins that God will not cleanse us from. We have not done anything so bad that Jesus will refuse to pardon us. And like David, we too can be an example to many. In our communities we can be an example to our friends and neighbours, and by our lives we may the only glimpse of Jesus that many people will ever see. 

Those of us who have repented of our sins can stand before God wearing the righteousness of Jesus. How do I know? The Bible says so in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God“. So if God declares me righteous, as He did with David and Peter and countless others, I too can be an example to many. I have blogged before about the Pastor of a church in Glasgow, who was a drug dealer, imprisoned for his crime, saved through the ministry of Teen Challenge, and who returned to the very community in which he dealt drugs as their Minister and Pastor. I’m sure, at least initially, the community scoffed at him, as they did with Jesus when He preached in His home town of Nazareth. But the reformed drug dealer is now an amazing testimony to the grace of God. Like David, he too can say his life is an example to many. 

And so the challenge to us is this – as reformed sinners can we too be examples to those around us, telling about God’s strength and protection, and declaring His glory all day long? A thought for today?

Answered Prayer

You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Psalm 65:2-3 NIV

Another Davidic Psalm. He was certainly a prolific Psalmist, but so much of his writings bubble up out of a heart firmly fixed and grounded in his Father God. In verse 2 of this Psalm, David drops in the unequivocal statement that God answers prayer. In Matthew 21:22, Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer“. There’s the story of a woman living in the coal belt in Wales, who got so fed up with a slag heap located behind her house that she took the words of Jesus at face value and prayed one night for God to remove the mountain. The next morning it was still there. Her response was, “I didn’t think prayer would work anyway”. An example of unbelieving prayer? When Jesus spoke about asking for something in prayer, there is implied within the request the assurance that what is being asked for is in accordance with God’s will. There is also the implied requirement for having faith that God is who He says He is, and that He will grant the request. Sometimes we try and pray beyond our faith. For example if I pray for revival to break out in my nation, is that within the faith that I have? Perhaps I need to start with praying for my next door neighbour, developing my faith muscles in the process. Both belief and faith required a living, breathing relationship with our Heavenly Father. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you…”. The word ask in this context means to keep on asking, being persistent in prayer. 

But after all this, we have to accept that our believing, faith-filled, persistent prayer requests may not be answered in the way, or with the result, we hoped for. These are the times when we need to trust God, because only He knows what is best for us. However, there is one prayer that God always answers with a resounding “Yes”. That is the prayer for forgiveness for all our sins. In 1 John 1:9, the Apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” We need never be overwhelmed by our sins again. We can live a life free of guilt and sin. Thank You Lord!

No-one Does Good

The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 
All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
Psalm 14:2-3

This is a depressing Psalm in some ways, but full of hope in another. The phrase, “there is no-one who does good” appears in two places, in verses 1 and 3. And that’s the depressing bit, because David, the Psalmist, was perhaps meditating on what it must have been like to be God and, from his own experience of society, came to the conclusion that goodness was a quality severely lacking in the human race. Worse, he sees his fellow men as being “fools” because they deny that God exists and instead are riddled with corruption and do things he calls “vile”. Some of their nasty behaviour is listed further down in the Psalm.

The hopeful part of this Psalm appears in verses 5 and 7. In verse 5 David is comforted by the thought that one day, the evildoers will be terrified when they find out that, actually, there is a God, and He will be found in the presence of those who are righteous. But David’s cry in verse 7 was a prophetic glimpse, through the murk and mists of time, that there needs to be a Rescuer, from God’s mountain, who will restore His people. He was looking forward in time through a prophetic looking glass, yearning for the day when God’s plan of salvation would be enacted. We have the privilege of being able to look back in time to see that God sent His son, Jesus, who restored all those who put their faith in Him. The Apostle John wrote down the words of Jesus in John 3:16-17, “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  This was the fulfilment of the plan in God’s heart, that David only had a glimpse of all those years before. 

Verse 7 refers to Jacob and Israel rejoicing when salvation occurs. Perhaps there is a second part to David’s prophetic glimpse, and it is still to take place. That is the salvation of the nation Israel. But whatever our thoughts, we are truly a privileged people, living in an age of God’s favour. Let’s embrace it while we can.

Forgetful People

Don’t kill them, for my people soon forget such lessons; stagger them with Your power, and bring them to their knees, O Lord our shield.
‭Psalms‬ ‭59:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Psalm 59 continues the epic journey of David and his thoughts as he focuses on avoiding Saul’s malign attempts to end his life. In this Psalm, David rants before God about the nasty people who are out to get him, waiting for him to return home. They are “criminals”, “murderers”, “vicious dogs”, people with “sinful lips”. David doesn’t have much good to say about them at all. But at the end of the Psalm he again lapses into the comfort of his relationship with God, waiting for Him to rescue him. 

But today’s verse is interesting. David knows what people and their memories and thought processes are like. He knew that if God killed David’s enemies it would be a warning to some at the time but then quickly forgotten. Human nature is still the same today. Take for example someone’s driving behaviour if they see a road traffic accident caused by speeding. Their driving style and speed might moderate for a few miles, but for how long will it stay that way? Sooner or later they will forget or ignore what happened and carry on as they did before. The reoffending rate of people imprisoned for burglary is another example. Many soon forget their period of incarceration and return to their old ways. It is a trait of human nature to forget sinful events committed by others or ourselves, adopting an “it will never happen to me” mentality, or ”I’ll be more careful next time and not get caught”.  

However, David appealed to God to “stagger [such people] with [His] power and bring them to their knees“. He knew that someone repenting of their sins, on their knees before God, would have a far greater impact on the society around them. I know a lovely man in Glasgow, jailed in his teens for a drug offence. He found God in prison and is now the Pastor of a church in the very same community where he committed his drug offences. What an impact he has had! He is a constant reminder to the people in that community of God’s grace being available for all sinners, even him. David knew, and recorded in his Psalm, that a life snuffed out will have no future value, but one redeemed from sin will last forever. If my Pastor friend had continued in a life of drugs and crime, there would have been no lasting legacy, no outpouring of God’s grace, no constant reminder that there is a God in Heaven who cares for all mankind, and particularly those in his community.

So we need to be gracious. We need to pray, and keep praying, for those in our communities, workplaces, families, circle of friends, anyone we know who may be causing us difficulties. These people may not be enemies in the way David describes, but they may be telling lies, or posting unfavourable comments on social media about us. They may be ignoring us in the street. They may even be unpleasant to our faces. But prayer changes things. As we pray God will work on their hearts, and give them the opportunity to kneel before Him, asking for His forgiveness. And as we pray, He will change our hearts too, helping us see these people through His eyes, even loving them as He loves us. I can only say in response to such a gracious God, “What a Saviour!” Do I hear an “Amen”?