Forgiveness

It has been a very reflective 2016 for me thus far, at times poignant. If there is a key or prominent word that keeps occurring, it would be Forgiveness. There has been many quotes from the bible about how we have received forgiveness, especially with Good Friday and Easter recently. After his resurrection, when Jesus appeared to his disciples, he said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47 ESV). I am ever grateful for his love and forgiveness for me but I realised it is not that simple. The other key word is repentance, without which forgiveness would not be in effect.

A big shopping mall is giving away a free gift to the first 100 customers who walk in when it opens tomorrow. Even though the gift is free, the person has to go there to get it. Of course, there will be other considerations like whether it was worth the effort and time, etc. However, it is clear that you need to go to the mall and meet the conditions to get it. In a way, repentance is the condition, the state of heart, mind and spirit that will enable one to receive forgiveness.

When I was younger, I have always thought that I was not good enough and weak willed. I find myself guilt ridden because I thought that I was not able to overcome temptations. Every time I fell, I would ask God to forgive me and somehow it would be like a hopeless vicious cycle that I would once again be asking God to forgive me for the same sins. It was even worse when I realised that my list of wrong doings kept growing. Eventually, I gave up. I gave up not only from asking for forgiveness but also from believing that I would ever be able to overcome. To add to this sorry state, I would not forgive myself for all that has happened and considered myself a hopeless case.

Many years later, I realised that as hopeless as I thought I was, it was really my pride that was the real problem. I have placed the judgement (sentence) on myself and made the decision to go it alone blaming it on my `hopeless’ state. It was I who chose not to believe in the saving power of God for my weaknesses and failures and went ahead on my own schemes and ways. It was I who decided to be the judge and controller of my past, present and future in my so called hopelessness, ironic isn’t it? I thought I could ride through my life with all my imperfect and sinful nature and carve out a decent life with some christian values thrown in. I cringed when I think that I could have gone on the rest of my life in that state.

All the years of growing up in a christian family and environment means nothing if I never really experience repentance and forgiveness in its true sense. It is like what Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36 ESV). A repentant person would be like this, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV).

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV) and he said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV). I came to this point like Martha, “Do I believe?” Will I be like Martha who said she believed even though her brother Lazarus has been dead for four days? Clearly my situation was not as drastic as hers but to believe that God will deliver me from my perceived hopelessness was drastic for me. I found it really, really hard to believe as it has been so long, so very long that I am weary just thinking about it.

I realised that my inability to forgive myself stems from my thinking that I can be the judge of who is deserving of forgiveness. This seems utterly ridiculous as who am I trying to be, God? Not only was I unrepentant, I was high and mighty too. It’s like I am stuck inside a deep, dark and murky well and someone came to rescue me by lowering a rope for me to hold on to but I said, “No need I’m fine, just let me rot in here”. This is a prime example of foolish pride.

To truly believe in God, I need to repent – acknowledge and recognise my sinful nature and the need for deliverance (to be rescued) through Jesus Christ who has paid the price for me and through him I can receive the forgiveness of sins. I believed and stopped judging my hopelessness and lay myself down before God, warts and all. I received the forgiveness of my sins whom only Jesus can wash clean and I am set free! I am forever grateful for his love and grace for me and that he will continue the work in my life as I press on to live this life in his light and joy that I may be a blessing to others and let them know that indeed, Jesus saves and is coming again. I can now testify the verse quoted earlier, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”!

Now I can say with much joy and gratefulness, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 ESV) and Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10b ESV).

Reflection

Well, I am forgiven but it does not stop here as being forgiven also requires that I forgive others, among other things. It makes sense doesn’t it that as we have been forgiven, we should also forgive others. However, it is not so simple yet again. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;” (Luke 6:37 ESV). This should be covered next.

 

Advertisements

The Will of God

image

How do I know that I am doing the will of God?

Do I want to do the will of God?

These are simple yet the most difficult questions for me to answer.

Attempting to answer the first question, I began to look at verses that cited people who choose to do the will of God, for example;

In John 4:34 Jesus said, My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

In Galatians 2:20 Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The following are more verses that touch on the will of God:

1 Thessalonians 5:18 – give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Peter 2:15 – For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Romans 8:27 – And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

1 John 2:17 – And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Ephesians 6:6 – not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart

Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Here are some other verses that were implicit on what the will of God is:

Proverbs 2:5 – then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 22:37-40 – And he said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

It has to do with the heart of man first, to seek His kingdom, then the deeds should follow suit. Sounds rather straightforward and not something that requires much reasoning or discussion to understand.

The second question is much harder for me to answer. Do I want to do the will of God?

It is so easy to stand and put up your right hand to take an oath of allegiance or pledge loyalty to a country or cause you believe in. To stand and say I will do the will of God is about the same. It’s easy to say it but will it be true? Will it stand the test of time? Will I succeed and remain true to the call and not waver or falter? Seriously, I do not know and cannot guarantee that I will or will not succeed when put to the test. I can say I am willing and want to be true to God no matter what but when put to the test, will I be like Peter who denied Jesus, or like Thomas who doubted even when Jesus was right in front of him?

Already, I find myself wavering when uncertainty strikes over what lies ahead, be it career, finance, family or relationships. Fears and anxieties are not far when such times arise and I get all shaken up, often depressed and pessimistic in conversations or outlook on life. One thing good out of this is that I get to see the real side of me, my true colours. How I turn myself around by the decisions I make at that time will also reveal my heart’s desire or condition. If I am a coward or a fraud, it will show. If courageous or faithful, it will show too. It is not through the outcome of events but made known perhaps by conscience or when one choose to reflect on the true intent.

I realised that seeking God’s favour and pleasure do not come naturally to me and that is telling on my current heart condition. The song lyrics come to mind, “My heart is a stone and it’s chipping away, every piece that goes is making me OK.” but what really cheers me on is what God can do for and to me, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 NIV. Thank you Lord for your unfailing love and mercy upon me.

Reflection

I pray the following verses for my heart to be true:

Psalms 139:23-24 – Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Psalms 51:10-12 – Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Of Kings and Chronicles – Asa, king of Judah

This is the second post on Of Kings and Chronicles where the first was about king Abijah of Judah. This is about his son Asa who took over as king of Judah when he died. You can see from the left of the chart (which is the beginning of the era of the divided kingdom), he was the first king positioned in the `Good’ area.

In contrast with his father, Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD (2 Chronicles 14:2 ESV). Abijah had foreign idols and altars but Asa set out to have them removed and destroyed. He even had his mother removed from her position as Queen due to her idolatry.

When Asa was faced with the threat of the Ethiopian army of over a million soldiers going to attack Judah, he called upon God to save them. God heard Asa and routed the Ethiopians and Asa and his men pursued the fleeing Ethiopians slaying every one of them.

Asa also began to reform Judah by making the people follow the laws and commandments of God and his heart was wholly true to God all his days (2 Chronicles 15:17 ESV). God gave Asa rest, peace and prosperity during his reign. Everything sounded hunky-dory for Asa until the thirty-sixth year of his reign. What happened?

There was a threat from Israel, so Asa sought the help of the king of Syria. A messenger of God then asked Asa why he had sought the Syrian king’s help since God had delivered him from a million Ethiopian forces before. Instead of repenting, Asa was enraged and imprisoned the messenger. Three years later, “Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.” (2 Chronicles 16:12 ESV). He died two years later.

I have 3 main questions:

  1. Asa’s heart was wholly true to God but as time passed, he decided to rely on others for help instead of God. God had delivered him from major battles before but why did he seek a foreign king’s help this time?
  2. When he was reprimanded by the messenger of God about his reliance on a foreign king, Asa was enraged and threw the messenger in prison and took out his anger on some people. Given a revelation of where he was going wrong, why did Asa choose to be angry instead of making good of it?
  3. When he was stricken with a severe disease on his feet, why did he turn to his physicians instead of calling upon God for help?

This was the man who called upon God for the battle against a million Ethiopians and witnessed how God gave every one of them into his hand.

This was also the man who brought reforms to the idolatrous nation of Judah by removing all idols and altars of other gods and turned them back to follow God’s law.

What happened to Asa?

I wonder whether it was the period of rest, peace and prosperity, when all the wars and threats were over and reforms have been completed, that Asa began to forget God.

I believe that when we forget God, we become reliant on ourselves, other people or things. In other words, we become independent and self-sufficient. In the context of society today, being independent or self-sufficient is a good thing isn’t it? Especially when it’s all about progress and productivity, we should be self-reliant and self-made. However, in the matter of the soul and creation, who can lift a finger at the birth and death of life or the turning of the earth around the sun?

Reflection

This is where the heart before God has to be in the right place constantly. The moment we shift or look to the left or right, we have misplaced God in our lives. Perhaps that was why these words were repeated many times as part of the laws:

“You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.”- Deuteronomy 5:32-33 ESV.

There is a book `Half Time’ by Bob Buford meant to help people in their mid-life and a few years later, he wrote the book `Finishing Well’. If I have to choose between the two books, I will give Asa the latter as it was really, really so important for him.

We need to endure in order to grow and finish well in our lives and God, through our Lord Jesus has given us much more than we need to do that (way, way more than in the Old Testament times).

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” – Hebrews 2:1-3a ESV.

My prayer

Is that we will “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”- Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV.

Thank you Lord that we can take courage and have full confidence in you because you began a good work in us and “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6 ESV.