Tag Archives: forgiveness

How Does God Deal with Our Choices for Evil

When a child dies. A well-intentioned friend sometimes offers comfort to the grieving parents with, “God needed your child in heaven.” A natural disaster, or strange misfortune is greeted with, “God must have had a reason.”

The Bible story of Joseph, the favored child, is often cited as the basis of this kind of thinking. Joseph’s older brothers, in their anger and jealousy, sold him to merchants travelling to Egypt. They told their father that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast. Years later, his brothers, come to Egypt as refugees from famine. They meet Joseph as the prime minister, who now has the power to save his family from starvation. Joseph explains, “It was not you who sent me here (to Egypt), but God.” (Genesis 45:8).

THIS MAY COMFORT SOME PEOPLE, BUT NOT ME. The loving God I have encountered in my life and in the Bible stories of Jesus, tells me a different story. Our God given gift of free will means we can make good choices to love and care for each other and we can use our free will in anger and jealousy, as Joseph’s brothers did. Our loving God is never defeated by our choices. God has the power to bring goodness out of the worst we can do, BUT God does NOT need us to do bad things or to experience misery to accomplish goodness.

I believe Joseph had the position and therefore the power to rescue his brothers, because our loving God worked with Joseph to use his intelligence, his location and his faith to prepare him to forgive and help his family. God brought new life, amazing new life out of Joseph’s brother’s evil choices, just as God brought the resurrection out of our choice to crucify Jesus.

Some people would say this is just a matter of semantics, playing with words. I don’t agree. I believe that God’s love can take the worst that we can do, and the worst that can happen, and create goodness. But God doesn’t need us to make evil choices or experience painful things in order to create that goodness.

With this mind-set, we are not puppets in the hands of a capricious, often vengeful God, who requires war and death, evil and violence to accomplish goodness. No! No! No! With this mindset, we have freedom to make choices, good choices of love and care, poor choices, and sometimes even choices for evil. God can draw from within the results of our choices, even at our worst, the means to create goodness.

For me this applies to our resurrection story. My theology of Jesus tells me that he loved us so much that he wouldn’t stop loving us even when we were at our worst. God used that endless, generous love to bring the lesson of forgiveness and resurrection, NEW LIFE, not just for Jesus but for all of us.

When we trust in a loving God, when we open our hearts to that love, we will eventually see and experience that goodness. In fact, God invites us to participate in the creation of that goodness.

For this understanding of God, I give God thanks.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

What is poetry

I’ve seldom tried writing poetry. It’s not my gift. This morning, I was having my daily conversation with God. First thing after waking I like to “feed my soul” with the writing of others. I picked up James Taylor’s Everyday Psalms and checked out the Psalm 85. (set out in the lectionary for this week). I was inspired to write the following. It might be a poem. I don’t know. It doesn’t rhyme so it could be blank verse. It came from my pen in short lines. MY QUESTION IS, WHAT COULD I DO TO TURN THIS INTO POETRY? MAYBE NOTHING. This morning I feel called to share it. Please comment.

Forgiveness?

That present looks spectacular.
A gift of beauty sent from God.
And on My shelf.
Chefs know presentation is everything.

I see that gift every day.
Sometimes I turn it to catch the sunlight,
Appreciate it from a new angle.
I lift it. Check it’s weight. Even shake it.
Still the gift remains unopened.
Why?

I don’t need it.
I’ve done nothing that requires this.
Opened now, there’ll be nothing for the future.
It’s meant for someone else.
The one who believes.

But I long to open it.
If I were starving and this a gift of food,
I would surely open it.

It doesn’t disappear, or fade.
It’s always there.
Can I? Will I?

It’s my choice, always my choice.

Why “Good” Friday?

An Act of Love
An Act of Love

For our Good Friday service a number of years ago, a professional actress in my congregation portrayed Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she stood at the base of the cross. Those of us who risked coming to worship that morning experienced some of the pain, horror, helplessness of the crucifixion of Jesus. After the service, many who were present said, “Please don’t make the Good Friday service so graphic. I don’t ever want to experience that again…”

Our inhumanity to our fellow human beings didn’t begin or end with Jesus. Every day we hear and see pictures of soldiers dying in wars around the world. Film clips and books written about life in refugee camps, the direct result of war, touch our hearts. Like the story of the crucifixion, we don’t want the pain of these experiences to penetrate our hearts.

In Jesus’ time, torture and death by crucifixion was the absolute worst punishment. Yet even in the midst of his pain, his disappointment with us, the story tells us that God spoke words of love through Jesus – “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) God’s loving mercy poured forth from the cross.

Holy Friday is a story about God showing us unconditional love. God became flesh and walked among us as Jesus. His stories called us to love our neighbours and our enemies. His teaching called us to let go of tradition that was imprisoning us. He accepted us all, Jew and Gentile, as God’s beloved children. Jesus’ last act of love was his excruciating death on the cross. Jesus lived God loving us at our worst, just as we are.

We tell this story because we need to see our role in the horror of today’s chaos. We need to feel Mary’s all-consuming grief at the base of the cross. Only through experiencing some of the pain and horror, can we begin to understand the depth of God’s forgiveness. Good Friday becomes Holy when we allow our hearts to open even a tiny crack and feel the desolation of the crucifixion. Through that crack, God slips in with a love so strong and deep that it brings new life.

 

How Did They Know?

Couldn’t sleep last night. Finally, got up to pray and do my morning meditation early. Read my Bible – Luke 19:28-40 – The Triumphal Entry. I felt the need to write. The following is what came from God through my fingertips. At least that is the way it felt for me. It’s twice as long as my usual blog because I haven’t edited and polished it. I offer it to you as you head off for church on “Palm Sunday”.

How Did They Know About the Parade?

In the Bible the title for the story is “the triumphal entry.” We read about the preparations that Jesus and his disciples made. He sends two ahead to get a donkey for him to ride. Jesus has made his plans. He knows what he is doing. He will ride through the gates of Jerusalem on a donkey – the symbol of a victorious king arriving home from battle.

The roadway was lined with people waving palm branches, laying their coats on the road before him. As a teenager, I wondered, how did the people know he was coming? What did Jesus do to ensure that there would be a crowd to greet him? Today of course, Jesus would use social media. He’d put his plans on Facebook. His followers would post the story of getting the donkey with a picture. Surely Jesus would know the key words necessary so that the post would go viral. After all if politicians can do it, Jesus would be able to do it.

Back then, there would only be word of mouth. There would be no flyers to distribute. Most people couldn’t read. Yet the story says they lined the roadway. This was an important parade.

By this time Jesus had a reputation at least in the outlying areas. He’d been to Jerusalem before. And it was Passover. People were streaming into the city from all over the world. There would be lots of Galileans in the crowd. Many of them would have seen Jesus do miracles, heard him preach, at least heard of the raising of Lazarus. Those who didn’t know would be curious. The people of Jesus time were like us. If they saw something happening, people gathering, heard the noise and shouting, they would run to see what was going on. So Jesus had a crowd.

Some would be Jesus enthusiasts. Some would be curious onlookers. Some would be there to heckle, or criticize. According to the story most got caught up in the mood of the crowd. Most cheered and waved palm branches. After all this was a parade.

One of the neat things about the Bible is that it captures life on earth, not just 2000 years ago but today as well. The details have changed but the basics are the same.

This joyful, celebrating mob of people just one week later become the crowd that cries “Crucify him! Crucify him!” It’s the same now. Politicians certainly know that. Today the news media and the internet can be manipulated to swing the crowd from loving you to condemning you, almost overnight.

What then is the lesson in this age old Bible story? Is it a warning. Be careful. One mistake, one failure and you’ll be condemned. Your good name ruined. For sure that is truth but I believe it’s more than that.

Jesus was God with us. Surely he knew that the crowd was fickle. Up till now, he hadn’t planned big gatherings they had just happened. Why did he do this?

Theologian, James Taylor in his book Last Chance tells us, this parade marks the beginning of Jesus’ last chance to teach us about God’s love for us and God’s call to us to love others. The week we’ve named Holy Week is the week in which Jesus gave up telling and doing God’s love in order to live it totally. Jesus knew when he entered Jerusalem that last time he was putting his life at risk. He knew that he was surrounded by enemies. He knew when he trashed the temple. He knew with each step he took, each word he said that he was totally vulnerable to those who wanted rid of him. He went forward anyway. He loved us all and he wouldn’t stop trying to teach us how to love.

Jesus had to have that big parade in order for people to recognize him as he carried his cross to Golgotha, as he hung there in disgrace. He wanted the city to know who it was they were crucifying.

He wanted us all to know that he loved us so much that nothing we could do would tempt him to condemn us. He spoke the words of love from the cross – “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” He wanted his last words heard. He wanted his death to count and it did.

For 2000 years we have told and retold the story. For 2000 years we have heard his words of forgiveness; we have heard his love for the convict hanging beside him. For 2000 years, Christians have celebrated the fact that God’s love is with us.

Yes, we can never be good enough to earn God’s love but that isn’t necessary because God loves us as God’s beautiful children even at our worst. The rest of the world can continue to earn God’s love. That’s their choice. Our Christian Easter story tells us that God loves and accepts all of God’s creation, male and female, young and old, of every race and color, whether or not we know what we are doing. We can live in that confidence.

I’m sure glad the crowd was there to see the victory that Jesus lived that sacred holy week in Jerusalem.

What Three Words Will Guide Your Life in 2016?

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I love the feeling of a New Year beginning. Just think about it, 365 days – no 2016 is a leap year. We have an extra day, 366 days, 8784 hours. We can begin a new life. What a wonderful opportunity! Regardless of the mistakes or successes that surrounded us last year, this year we begin again. That’s why we make New Year’s resolutions. That’s why we celebrate. Oh yes, sometimes the consequences of last year’s mistakes follow us into the New Year, but we don’t have to repeat those mistakes in 2016. Sometimes, illness and grief follow us into the New Year, but we can change the way we respond. We’re not chained to last year. We have a fresh new start at living. Just the fact that we’re alive is significant.

Instead of resolutions to identify all the things I’d like to do in this New Year, I have chosen three words to live by. I’ve written them on post-it notes. There’s one on my bedroom mirror, one on the bathroom mirror, one on the fridge, one on my front door and one on the dashboard of my car. My hope, my dream for 2016, is that seeing these words every day, will lead me to live them. The words are:

  1. Gratitude  2. Appreciation        3. Forgiveness

I know these are just words. But over the years, I have learned that the words we think, we see, we use every day gradually become a part of who we are.  This year I have consciously chosen to surround myself with the words –  gratitude, appreciation, forgiveness. I want them to become, not just a choice for me, as they are now, but rather a reflex response to living. I challenge you to choose your three words of life and do the same.

St. Paul said: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things…put (them) into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

 

Why Let Go Of The Past?

Can I Forgive?
Can I Forgive?

Why Let Go Of The Past?

 

In July, I had the privilege of giving the eulogy for an old friend. At the lunch after, we shared cherished memories and soaked in the blessings that Jeanne had brought to our lives. We can gain so much learning, comfort, joy when we revisit past experiences.

Why then would we want to let go of the past? As well as being a source of blessing, our past can also be a prison, keeping us from moving forward to new life. When past mistakes fill us with shame and guilt rather than offering a source of learning, we know it’s time to let go. When our anger boils up every time we think of past hurts, we know there is a wound that is festering, spreading its infection into our life today. When we lament that the goodness of the past is no longer with us, we become blinded to the new joy that surrounds us.

I offer the following questions to help you begin the process of letting go.

  • In this situation what hurts me the most?
  • What is the worst that can happen if I let go of the past?
  • Who receives the punishment from my angry thoughts?
  • What do I gain by hanging on to my pain?

When we’ve answered these questions as truthfully and thoroughly as possible, it’s time to ask for God’s help in letting go. Rather than praying for the other person to change, it’s time to ask God for new life for yourself. This process may not clear your mind immediately. You may need to work through it several times, and pray lots. Eventually, peace will come and you will open up to the new life God is offering you.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:21-23

 

Show Me A Life-time Guarantee

Show Me A Life-time Guarantee

by Janet Stobie

While travelling in Vermont last month, I bought a pair of socks made of merino wool, labelled “Darn Tough.” These socks come with a life-time guarantee. If they wear out, shrink, develop holes, even if the dog chews them, I can return or mail them to the store and get a new pair. Now the price was $20.00 US, but my friends assured me that they had been wearing this brand of socks for a number of years. They had received replacements with no difficulty when the socks showed signs of wear and tear. As I handed over my $20.00, I imagined my feet at the age of 100, still clad in my “Darn Tough” socks.

God also offers us a life time guarantee. God’s love is ours forever, in life, in death, in life beyond death. That’s God’s promise. Regardless of the number of holes we develop. No matter how many times we mess up. God loves us even when we’re feeling tired, worn, beaten up. God’s life-time guarantee comes free, absolutely free. Starting with our conception in the womb, God loves us. And we don’t have to return our lives to the store to get them replaced either. God’s love is with us always through thick and thin, while the storms of life rage, when we’re happy and celebrating, when we’re filled with sorrow or remorse. And we don’t have to pay for it.

Still many of us won’t accept the gift of God’s love. Even when we say that Jesus paid the price already, still some of us aren’t satisfied. We haven’t paid, so the gift doesn’t exist or has no value. I sometimes think it’s not a lack of belief in God, rather it’s just that we don’t want to owe anyone, not even God.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

 

Young children sometimes make poor choices. They run across the road without looking. They follow their curiosity down to the lake without supervision.  Sometimes, they just plain defy us by picking up a china knick knack they’ve been told not to touch, or a crayon and scribbling on the wall. Occasionally, they throw temper tantrums, screaming and hitting, Whether the misdeed is done by mistake or on purpose, once it’s revealed, our children come to us seeking and expecting forgiveness. Because we love our child, most of the time we have that forgiveness ready even before our child requests it.

With adults forgiveness isn’t quite so easy. We hold grudges. We judge and sometimes even crucify. The person we find hardest to forgive is ourselves.  It’s good that God is wiser, stronger and more loving than we can ever be.

Good Friday, the name we use to describe the day Jesus was crucified, gives us an amazing illustration of God’s forgiveness. Hanging on the cross, in excruciating pain, the human Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23: 34), because he knows we need forgiveness. And hanging on the cross, Jesus, God with us, offers that forgiveness, freely and with love.

Of course, we identify that sad day as “Good”. It’s the day we see and hear God’s forgiveness for our intentional and unintentional, individual and communal misdeeds. Each year, we tell that horrible story of Jesus’ crucifixion because we need to be reminded that God loves us even at our very worst.

We are called to receive God’s forgiveness and offer it to others not because anyone deserves or has earned forgiveness, but because we are all God’s precious children. God, the parent and lover of all, has forgiveness ready as a free gift even before we request it. This is “Good News”.

 

How Can I Forgive?

Anger dominated his thoughts. Like a slow poison, a litany of bitterness rolled over and over in his mind.

“I did my best. It’s just not fair. Their expectations are way too high.

All they do is nitpick. None of them are perfect either.

Two of them are out to get me. They just want rid of me.”

After several weeks, he offered his letter of resignation. His anger increased to a fever pitch when it was accepted. Now, rejected and bitter, feeling wronged and persecuted, he must move on. How?

Forgiveness is the antidote to the poison of bitterness Forgiveness isn’t easy, partly because we’ve been taught that to forgive we must forget. For some, forgetting means that somehow we must pretend the unfairness never happened. It’s as if we’re required to say it’s okay to be treated unfairly, or to be beaten.

For me, forgiveness means that I must stop fighting the reality of what happened.  Yes, my boss, my husband, my friend, took advantage of me. Forgiveness means shifting my focus from the people involved to how I can prevent that same situation happening again?

Demanding that others must see the error of their ways in order for me to feel good, can mean that I’ll have a life time of misery.  No matter how hard I try, I cannot force someone else to change. The only person I can control is me. Therefore, I must let go of the anger and pain because I need a clear mind to learn from what happened. I need to change myself so that I’m not in a position where someone can treat me unfairly again. For me, that’s what forgiveness is all about. That’s why, when Peter asked Jesus, “Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me”, Jesus could respond, “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22.

 

 

Lent

A friend of mine has been looking for work. The process is slow, and depressing. With each disappointment, frustration and fear mounted. Job hunting is tough. In January, she greeted me with a smile on her face and determination in her soul. “I’ve decided to use this miserable limbo time to care for myself,” she said. “I’ve joined a gym. I’ve met with my trainer and laid out a program of diet and exercise to strengthen my body. Being unemployed I can exercise every day. After two weeks, I’m feeling much better. My spirits have lifted. I have more energy. I’ve added prayer to the program so my hope has returned. I’ve decided to trust God with my future. I’m using this time to prepare. I’ll be ready for the job when it comes.
During the season of Lent, Christians set aside forty days leading up to Easter to care for our souls. Like my friend, we join the program. We spend time talking with God our trainer. We look at our lives, the times we’ve hurt others, the unnecessary luxuries we enjoyed while others went hungry, the things we intended to do but didn’t. Beginning with the service of ashes, we’re marked with the sign of Christ’s cross, a symbol of our repentance. As we journey through those forty days, the program can involve giving up something that we particularly like, not to punish ourselves but to help us focus on giving up our selfish ways. The days lengthen. The light and warmth of spring warms our souls. As we slowly accept God’s forgiveness, our minds clear, our guilt recedes. We’re on the road of thanksgiving. By the time we get to Easter, and the joy of the resurrection we’re ready to celebrate. Our faith is stronger, we’ve begun a new way of living.
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  (Matthew 6:22-23 NKJV)