22 September 2017

Forgiving Yourself

"We've forgiven you, so forgive yourself."
lyric excerpt from "Up Against the Ropes" by August Burns Red

The concept of "forgiving self" is a statement commonly accepted without critical thought.  But does the Bible in any way support the idea of a person's need to forgive self?  There is plenty written about how God forgives sins and that we are called to forgive others, but forgiving self?  This self-focus stinks of humanism and suggests God's forgiveness is insufficient.

I don't believe people are malicious with their encouragement to "forgive self," but I see no biblical evidence this exhortation comes from God.  Instead of self-help, God tells us to deny self.  Naturally self is our primary focus and our feelings and desires are central to our existence.  1 John 1:9 says concerning believers, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  Whether we feel forgiven or not is beside the point.  All sin is primarily against God, and He is the only One who has the power to release us from our guilt.  A man who claims to have this power or authority proudly sits in God's judgment seat.

Think about this in terms of the judicial system.  Say I am guilty of a crime and justice requires a large fine far beyond my means to pay.  Say a person with financial means heard of my plight and decided to pay the fine in full.  After the exorbitant payment was paid, justice was satisfied.  Since the fine was paid I would could legally leave the courtroom a free man.  Wouldn't it be ridiculous for me to hang my head over my guilt and hold out my wrists to be shackled and led away to prison?  "I just can't forgive myself for what I did.  I deserve to rot in prison forever."  The incredulous bailiff would say, "Didn't you hear the judge?  Get out of here.  What's your problem?"  Shouldn't I be thankful to the one who paid for me to be free?  Wouldn't I be overwhelmed with love for such generosity and grace of my saviour?  "Forgiving self" has no bearing on my legal standing before God and any prison I remain in is imaginary, a paper tiger fashioned by my refusal of receiving God's gracious gift.

There is something about penance that appeals to the flesh, that we need or can afflict ourselves to pay for our wrongs.  Again, this is a arbitrary refusal of God's grace.  It is ridiculous to make forgiveness dependent on my feelings or to seek to earn forgiveness only freely received by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, the One who makes sinners free indeed (John 8:36)  Instead of urging others to forgive themselves, it would be better for people to repent, receive, and rejoice in God's forgiveness which is all of grace.  We have a part to play in the matter to be released from the guilt of sin, but forgiveness of self is not a legitimate part of the process.

20 September 2017

Bitter and Blind

Bitterness and disappointment ruin our perspective.  A friend told me an amusing anecdote he was taught in sales which displays the power of perspective.  A shoe salesman was sent to sell shoes to people in a remote area and he returned despondent:  "Nobody wears shoes!"  His efforts were wasted because it was a dead market.  Another shoe salesman went and returned bubbly, his eyes wide with excitement:  "Nobody wears shoes!  Think of the potential!"  The little story shows we can be negative over things which can be a great boon when viewed from a different perspective.

Naomi in the book of Ruth was embittered by her losses.  Naomi, her husband, and two sons left Bethlehem due to a famine and moved to Moab.  Over the course of time her sons were both married, but eventually her husband and sons all died.  When the famine was over in Bethlehem, Naomi decided to return.  She sent her daughters-in-law away to their families and gods, but Ruth refused to leave Naomi.  She was so determined to stay with she affirmed only death would separate them.  When Naomi returned home despondent and depressed, she told people a more fitting name for her was Mara, (literally "bitter").  Ruth 1:21-22 says, "I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?" 22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest."

Naomi had left with a husband and two songs out of necessity, and she had returned from Moab with Ruth the Moabitess who faithfully loved her and came of her own free will.  Yet because Naomi's perspective was fixed on all she had lost, she did not value what she had in Ruth.  She saw herself as empty because she had no husband or sons, and remained bitter despite having a loving daughter.  Over the course of time I believe Naomi came to recognise the treasure she had in Ruth.  After Ruth was married to Boaz and Naomi loved her grandson as her own child, perhaps she began to see how the seemingly ill-fated trip to Moab actually enriched her by God's grace.  She saw God as afflicting her when He provided blessing upon blessing.  Bitterness blinded Naomi to the goodness of God.

The women of the town came to see the blessing Ruth was, as did her husband Boaz.  Ruth 4:14-15 reads, "Then the women said to Naomi, "Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! 15 And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him."  Not all who fear God are as Job who blessed God in the day of terrible news and during a long season of affliction, but may we be those who rejoice in all we have by God's grace instead of being bitter over our perceived loss.  Ruth was better to Naomi than seven sons because she loved her, and may we rejoice over the love of Jesus toward us.  May we value above our own lives the love others have shown us, not allowing our disappointments to overshadow such blessings God provides.  Those who make their hope in God have fullness of joy no one can take away.

18 September 2017

Begging for Judgment

In world news lately there has been a ramping up of "rhetoric" and "provocation" between North Korea and the United Nations, spearheaded by the United States.  The script looks something like this:  North Korea fires a missile over Japan because of war games in the region.  President Trump threatens the offenders with "fire and fury."  Chairman Kim Jong Un makes inflammatory statements, claiming increased sanctions will only increase the push for nuclear weapons.  The United Nations slaps additional economic sanctions on North Korea.  North Korea then fires another missile over Japan.  And the cycle starts over - with no end in sight.

Despite the widespread international condemnation of these acts, these dangerous provocations continue.  As a follower of Jesus Christ, I have noticed another kind of provocation which goes largely unnoticed:  provocative deeds and proud words spoken against God.  To reject God's Word - adding or taking away from it - is a grave crime which arouses God's wrath.  A U.S. diplomat said recently the launching of missiles and rhetoric from North Korea is "begging for war."  North Korea aside, I am convinced the sins of people and nations is begging for judgment from God.  God is far more patient and longsuffering than any human court, but His justice is pure and absolute.  The anti-christ rhetoric and scorn of those who take a stand on the Word of God is like the verbal firing of missiles in opposition of God.  I don't believe any sensible person wants war, but judgment from God will surely come to all who remain stubbornly in sin.

Let us not delude ourselves to think the world is the source of problems Christians face, for the issue is sin in us.  Whilst God pronounced woe on heathen nations for their rejection of Him, God also spoke strongly against His own people who forsook His Laws and did according to other nations.  Here is a small sampling in Isaiah 5:20-25:  "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! 22 Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink, 23 who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away justice from the righteous man! 24 Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom will ascend like dust; because they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. 25 Therefore the anger of the LORD is aroused against His people; He has stretched out His hand against them and stricken them, and the hills trembled. Their carcasses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still."

As children of God, we must submit to and seek to uphold the Word of God.  The current upheaval in the world by storms, political upheaval, and the current plebiscite in Australia have many people pointing fingers at others.  The problems we are facing in the world are profound and we have no means within us to change a single heart.  Our wisdom is incapable of opening blind eyes or releasing the captives of sin.  Thanks be to God He is able to help us and will quicken us to accomplish all things He intends to do.  Those who follow Jesus will suffer for this stand, but there is great consolation for all who trust and fix their eyes upon Him.  The vitriolic and swelling words against God call for justice, yet let us choose compassion, grace, and mercy.  We will not be deterred from loving people, even if we are crucified for our beliefs and convictions.  They might be for war yet may we speak peaceable words, warning others of the certain results of sin.  If we do not love people as God does, our warnings are better applied to ourselves.

Singing in the Dark

One thing I appreciate about the scriptures is how they are true to real life.  There are intense victories won in battle, the unspeakable pain of losing loved ones, frustration over being slandered, and awe over the beauty of nature.  The breadth and depth of the human experience is expressed with insight and understanding of what matters to us.  Because of this agreement with our souls the people of scripture resonate with those who seek after God to this day.

A glorious revelation in the Bible about the nature of God that it is always time to seek Him.  Whether we win or lose, if we are healthy or feel sick, when we are filled with joy or deep depression, God is glorious and praiseworthy.  The book of Psalms is filled with people who knew and trusted God who found themselves in impossible situations.  Desperate times were often the background of David's songwriting.  It seems when he was in great danger the sweet psalmist of Israel was at his most melodious, writing prayerful lyrics to God.  Songbirds can be quiet at night, but it was in the dark times David's songs swelled to heaven.

How about you?  Do you sing to God in the dark times, bringing your petitions and adoration to a God who is the lifter of your head?  What great hope and comfort we find in Him, for when we pour out our souls to Him we are heard.  Psalm 61:1-4 provides an example:  "Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer. 2 From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. 3 For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy. 4 I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah"  David trusted in God, and at times he was overwhelmed.  There is great comfort here for those who trust in God who are overwhelmed today, for as God helped David He is faithful to help us.

May the LORD put a new song in our hearts to proclaim His praises, for He is good and His mercy endures forever.  You may not think much of your singing voice, but the LORD delights to hear it because He cares for us.  Whether we find ourselves in a cave, a dungeon at midnight, or feel like we are drowning, God will hear and attend to our prayer.  Praise Him forever!