Forgiving Others

“But I tell you: Love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you”
(Matthew 5:44)

 Reflection:
Jesus instruction for us to love our enemies is a great challenge. Our normal reaction is to do anything but that. However, His words and life leave us in no doubt.

There are three very good reasons for us to hear what Christ teaches us. Firstly, we were once ourselves “God’s enemies” and He reached out to us in forgiveness and love, so that we could be reconciled to Him and enjoy the blessings of His eternal love. Secondly, God loves the people who might fall into the category of enemy to us and would want us to love them for His sake and out of our love for Him – even if we are offended by their actions.  And thirdly, for as long as we do not forgive the anger and pain live like an open sore within us, eating away at our life and peace and relationship with the Lord. Forgiveness can be a great healing for us as well and sets us free from the influence of the perpetrators.

There will be many who have been terribly hurt or harmed through the violent or careless actions of others. For them forgiving and loving their enemies may be a longer and more difficult road to walk. The most important thing is then to openly acknowledge our emotions and reactions to the Lord. Ask for His healing and strength within to enable us to begin responding more fully to His command. As we do so our own inner healing will begin to be liberated. On this journey of forgiveness it will help if, every time our emotions rebel at the memory, we say deliberately and even out loud “In Jesus Name I forgive ….”

Never think for a moment that in this God is implying that our pain does not matter. It matters to Him very much but He does not want it to cripple and destroy our lives and relationship with Him. When we forgive we are placing the matter back in God’s hands for Him to deal with – which He will.

The best response that we can all make towards our enemies is, as Jesus taught, to pray for them. It is what He did – even from the cross. To pray that God will bless them with love, and healing and truth. Then we need to pray for ourselves, that we will decide to forgive them and, with God’s help, not stoke the fires of hurt and anger within us. We also need the love and healing of our Father – and can ask for it.

Response:
Don’t hold on to hurt. Pray it out. Speak to a counsellor if necessary.

Prayer:

Father You have forgiven me so much, and never stopped loving me. Please help me to be more prepared to forgive and to love others – for the sake of Jesus who died for us all. Amen.

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Set Free

“Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,
“Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
(Matthew 9:2)

 

Reflection:
Not all paralysis is caused by the sin of the person. However sin can paralyse us in certain ways and in some areas of our lives. Anyone who is in bondage to a way of life, a way of thinking and a way of acting may find themselves unable or unwilling to change into a different and better way.

The first step towards healing is to recognise the problem and the second is to do something about it. Many people would love to be healed but are not really willing to go through the process or to abandon their relationship with the problem itself – which may have become their escape route from emotional pain. Some receive healing but fall back again. They may either give up or go through a period of despair, self-loathing and fear of the displeasure of God before re-trying.

There is absolutely no doubt that God wants us to be set free and is prepared to help us. Jesus first words to the paralysed man are filled with compassion, life and love. He did not belittle or condemn him, but said,

“Take heart, son.”

He then freely forgave him and offered him healing.

“Your sins are forgiven ……
Get up, take your mat and go home.”

The ball was now in the man’s court. He had to respond by getting up off the ground. The story does not go further but, in effect, the man would have to keep doing the same thing every day. He would have to stand up and walk in newness of life. He could no longer rely on others to cart him about or to provide for him. He was free now to live life himself, and to take responsibility for himself, if he would.

For many of us the process is rather like a child learning to walk. We try and fall a number of times before we begin to stay on our feet. Then we can find that not only are we walking in a new way but running and dancing with a wonderful and glorious freedom in areas and ways that we would never have believed to be possible. It is all because of the love of God, the salvation in Jesus and the help of the Holy Spirit.

We need God if we are going to be set free – for our strength and will are often inadequate. We may need others as well – just as this man needed his friends – to help, encourage and support us along the way. We may even need the professional help of those gifted and with experience in our areas. However more than anyone else we need the Lord. The one Who says to us, and does so as many times as is necessary,

“Take heart, your sins are forgiven, get up and walk”

It is His power that enables us to respond to His words.

Response:
Ask God to show you where you may need healing. Ask Him for forgiveness and help. If you fall don’t give up – go back to the Lord!

Prayer:

Lord, please forgive me, heal me and help me. Please renew my vision, strengthen my faith and give me the courage to carry on with You in newness of life. Amen.

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Forgive them

“.. as we forgive those who sin against us.”
(Matthew 6:12)

 

Reflection:
Suddenly, and for the first time, a condition appears. Where God’s love is unconditional, and where salvation cannot be earned but can only be accepted and lived, it appears that now something more is required of us. It is so important that Jesus went on, after teaching His disciples the prayer, to enlarge upon it,

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

 Both here, and in others teachings of Jesus, the message is quite clear. If we are to carry on receiving the unmerited and complete forgiveness of God we must not then presume to continue to hold anything against somebody else. If God is prepared to forgive us all and everything then we must be prepared to pass that love and forgiveness on to others, and in the same spirit.

 Peter asked Jesus,

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  (Matthew 18:21-22)

 That is, without limit.

 There are a couple of important points to highlight:

  • We sin – therefore we need to be fully forgiven by God – every day!
  • Others sin – and need to be fully forgiven by God – every day.
  • If we want God’s forgiveness then we have to forgive – or at least work towards forgiving – those who have hurt or offended us. Sometimes it is not easy and takes much prayer and perseverance. Remember, as you battle to forgive someone, that someone else may be battling to forgive you! (Hullo!!!) That means me too!
  • Not to forgive others creates a hardness in our hearts that stands between us and God as much as it does between us and others. Jesus, who came to reconcile us to God, seeks to reconcile us to others as well.
  • We are not entitled to withhold forgiveness until the other person comes and grovels before us! Jesus is our great example.

“When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:33-34)

 Finally, we are so incomparably rich in the love, grace and forgiveness of God – why should we then act as if we were impoverished frowns? It might mean that we haven’t yet appreciated the great love of God – for love and forgiveness travel hand in hand.

Response:
Examine yourself for people against whom you hold a grudge. Ask God to help you. Say your forgiveness of them aloud and ask God to bless them.

Prayer:

Father Your great heart longs to forgive me – please help me to open myself to You by forgiving others, in Jesus name. Amen.

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Forgive me

“Forgive us our sins”
(Matthew 6:12)

Reflection:
The problem that men and women have faced from the Fall has been that of sin. Sin came into the world through the action of the first humans and has not left. The consequence of sin, both that of Adam and Eve and that of each one of us, is that it separates us from God – as well as causing us to fall short of who we could be with Him! There is nothing that we can do to erase it or to bridge the divide that it causes. All sin is essentially sin against God and only He can do anything about it.

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4)

 It was because of sin that Jesus came into the world,

  • “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,” (Luke 1:76-77)
  • “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
  • “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
  • “He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47)

 When Jesus died upon the cross he took our sins, our guilt and our punishment upon Himself. He died in our place. However, He did not die only for the sins of the past, He died for the sins of the present and of the future – for everyone who had lived, was living and was still to be born. Without His death there would have been no forgiveness, no liberation, and we would all have nothing to look ahead to except the final judgement and eternal separation from God, whatever that might mean.

 When Jesus teaches us to pray for the forgiveness of our sins He is recognising that, no matter how committed to Him we might be, we will still sin today, tomorrow and the next day. In fact no day will go by in which we will not sin again and again. Having died for these sins He has opened the way for us to ask God for direct and immediate forgiveness and absolution.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”  (1 John 1:7-2:2)

 That does not mean that we can be casual about sin, and treat it as mere naughtiness. Sin is a horror and a rejection of God. Only in Jesus is there the forgiveness of sins and the gift of new life – today and every day. It is however vital that we understand that sin does not cast the true believer – who has entered into a new relationship with God through belief in Jesus and who has received the Holy Spirit – back into the outer darkness of separation from God. Although it may bring great grief and shame, cloud our relationship with God, and still cause us to fall short of our true potential, it no longer has the power to separate us from Him. Once we have received the adoption as His sons and daughters, then nothing

“in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

 Every day should see us approach the Father Almighty in honest acknowledgement of our sin, and in humble appreciation of His great love and grace.

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12)

Response:
Acknowledge sin as a reality – examine your life and conscience regularly.

Prayer:

Father, thank You so much for Your great and wonderful love and salvation. Please forgive us our sins in Jesus name and help us to trust You and accept it. Amen.

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Look inwards first

“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery”
(John 8:4)

 

Reflection:
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and asked Jesus whether He thought she should be stoned to death as Moses had commanded in the Law.

Jesus knew that no one cared whether the woman lived or died – she was merely a pawn in their efforts to trap Him. Her life was very much in His hands as she stood there in shame and fear, and very alone.

Once again His response stunned and silenced His critics. He did not speak to the woman but addressed her accusers instead. As they pressed Him for an answer He replied,

“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  (John 8:7)

Silently they crept away, not daring to claim that they were sinless. Finally, left to Himself with the woman, He addressed her.

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  (John 8:10-11)

Having received abuse, condemnation and demands for her death from the religious leaders she received gentleness, forgiveness and life from the Lord Himself– if she would have it.

Perhaps one day she would realise that He had given her life back to her because He had taken her sin, guilt and death into Himself – and would die in her place. He has done the same for each one of us – so we should think twice before we throw accusatory stones at others. God is listening and watching. Indeed He said to us all,

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Luke 6:41)

Response:
Listen to the way you talk and think about others – and learn.

Prayer:

Father thank You for forgiving me – help me not to be judgmental of others. Amen.

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Set free

“He went out and cried and cried and cried”
(Luke 22:62 MSG)

Reflection:
This has to be one of the most heart-rending moments in Scripture.

The big, bold and impulsive Peter had boasted of loving the Lord enough to die for Him. And now merely a few hours later, when Jesus was alone and could have done with a friend, he had denied knowing Him three times. After the third occasion Jesus turned and looked at him and Peter knew that the Lord was aware of what had happened, just as He had foretold it.

In that terrible moment Peter would have felt the full impact of His betrayal. He had broken relationship with his beloved Lord and Master, he had turned away from the Messiah, the Son of God, and therefore from God Himself. He was worse than Adam, worse even than Judas, for he had no excuse to offer. In his mind he would have revealed himself to himself and others as a nothing, a loud-mouthed imposter with whom no one would wish to associate. He had lost his self-respect, dignity and privileged position of leadership – in fact he had lost everything. There was no turning back, so in self-loathing he wept in despairing desolation.

“He went out and cried and cried and cried”

I am reminded of King David’s great cry of anguish to the Lord as he looked into himself and saw the horror of the sin of which he was guilty – and knew that he could not live with it.

  • “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4)
  • “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:2)
  • “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7)

And God does. He forgave and cleansed David and still referred to him as a man after His own heart. And although Peter did not then know it Jesus was to forgive and heal him, and was to restore him to his position of leadership in the Church.

God forgives because He loves us enough to want to – not because He is unwilling. Let Him forgive you too.

Response:
No sin is too desperate for Him to forgive and cleanse.

Prayer:

Lord please help me to bring my sin and despair to You and not to hold on to them. Amen.

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(Photo (c) Catherine Bondonno)

Home Awaits

“I will set out and go back to my father and say to him:
 Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you”
(Luke 15:18)

 

Reflection:
We may call Jesus Saviour and Lord but that does not mean that all areas of our lives are in submission to Him. This becomes a process that takes place over time as we journey with Him. We may be aware of some of these areas whilst others may appear on the way and take us by surprise. As long as they remain independent they will hinder our life with the Lord and prevent us from enjoying the fullness of the life that He has for us.

The prodigal son’s whole life had imploded on him and this is what eventually brought him to his senses. In his spiritual shame and isolation he did the only thing left open to him – he went home. There to his astonishment and delight he was welcomed, embraced and celebrated. The healing had begun.

When we realise that there are parts of our own lives that are distant from the Lord the most important response is for us to pick them up and take them back to God. This is where they belong and this is where the healing and restoration can happen. The longer we try and cope or fix them by ourselves the more difficult it may become.  As we take them to God we meet His love, His acceptance of us, His embracing and supporting arms, and His strength and help.

It might happen that in parts of our lives we keep wandering off again – pursuing some pleasure or giving in to some weakness. If this is the case and as soon as we are aware of it we need to go back with it to the Lord and ask Him for His forgiveness, healing and strength. Keep going home until you never leave again. This is not an invitation to become casual in our life with the Lord but an acknowledgement that some battles are harder and longer than others, for a whole variety of reasons.

Your home is in the Lord. Your forgiveness and healing is in the Lord. Your life and fulfilment is in the Lord. Bring all of yourself to Him all of the time – He will never reject you.

And now realise too that you are surrounded by people whose lives, or a part of whose lives, are distant from God. Some of them will feel isolated from Him whilst others will have no sense of Him at all. Inside each one of them somewhere is a lonely son or daughter who also needs love and encouragement as well as help. It might be that you are their only link at this time. Ask God to point out to you the one/s He wishes to reach and start by holding them faithfully in your prayers – asking for God’s light and blessing in their lives.

Response:
Have I any desert areas? Take them to the Lord now.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus I come to You as I am and ask You particularly to forgive, heal and set me free in these  areas of my life ……  Please accept them and bring them under Your Lordship and authority, for Your glory.  Amen.

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