Forgiveness

Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son-James_Tissot

On Wednesday I wrote about repentance, today I’m looking at forgiveness.

Repenting from sin and turning to God holds the promise of forgiveness of sin as Peter preached in Acts 3:19. Being restored to a place of unhindered fellowship with God is more than worth any humbling, grief or sorrow that repentance entails.

There is also an interpersonal aspect to repentance and forgiveness.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
(Matthew 18:21–22 ESV)

I think this incident was recorded especially for people like me. I not only sin and disrupt my relationship with God, but am also distressingly consistent at damaging my relationships with other people.

But I cannot expect forgiveness from people I have let down in the same way I can from God. People have smaller capacities to cope with such selfishness and failings than God does. There is also a need to earn trust again after letting people down. God knows us too well to trust us not to let Him down.

When I have put my selfish wants over consideration for someone I claim to love, they are rightfully skeptical if I say it won’t happen again. In this situation the roles of Peter’s question are reversed: ‘How often can I presume upon another’s forgiveness?’ Don’t try to tell me the response would be, “seventy times seven”!

From Matthew 5:23-24 it seems the answer would be more like, “Less than one time.” God is not happy to receive my worship until I have gone out of my way to be reconciled with the person I have offended. Also, I must take the initiative, as soon as possible (see Matthew 5:25). As much as it depends upon me, I must seek peace and reconciliation in all my relationships (Romans 12:18).

Finally, because my selfishness has most affected my wife, I am keeping in mind Peter’s word to husbands:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 ESV)

I’m not sure about the ‘weaker vessel’ bit, I’m pretty weak myself. The point is that a disrupted marriage relationship leads to problems with prayer (a topic for another day).


About the image: The Return of the Prodigal Son (Le retour de l’enfant prodigue) by James Tissot. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. I chose this image because the story of the prodigal son is the classic story of unconditional forgiveness and I particularly like this artist’s depiction of the father embracing his son.

Acts 3:19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, (ESV)

Matthew 5:23-24 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (ESV)

Matthew 5:25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser… (ESV)

Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (ESV)

Rock bottom

What I am aiming for is to be a better person. Not perfect, not even ‘the best’, just better than I am now.

The inside of an old industrial chimney shaft photographed from the bottom - circular stone wall with tree growing from it and blue sky with white clouds in the opening in the centre, verticalIn 2014 I hit rock bottom.

In just one year I dug myself into a huge credit card debt, gained 10 kg of excess weight, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in a suicidal state, and almost ruined my marriage. Not my best effort.

Fortunately my depression has improved and my wife is graciously giving me a chance to make things better. I urgently need to change how I “do life”. This year my blog will trace my journey to ‘a better me’.

This is not about ‘radical’ or extreme changes, there is no room for such things when I am in debt, have health problems and have to work full time to support my family. It is also not a quest for perfection, all of us let ourselves and others down every day. What I am aiming for is to be a better person. Not perfect, not even ‘the best’, just better than I am now.

Because I have made such a mess of things and failed in a multitude of ways, this self-improvement project will range over many areas. Of particular interest to me is how to make changes stick and finding what will have the biggest payoff for even small improvements.

Loving God

loving-god

Over the last few months I have been slowly re-reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. This week I read the final chapter and seemed to finally grasp what she is getting at. It now makes sense why Ann included a chapter about her trip to Paris and her response to a Rembrandt painting.

I could bless very God.
Not take anything. Not ask anything, demand anything, petition anything. I could simply give something to God. A gift to Him! (One Thousand Gifts, p216)

When we love someone it is a delight to give to them. I can bless my wife by giving her some thing she would like, or by doing work for her which relieves a burden from her, or by praising her – letting her know how I delight in her. This is powerful, to be given the gift of being deeply valued for who you are. When genuine and truly given with no motive other than love, such a gift goes deep into the soul of the recipient – an act of love.

This seems to be what Ann means when she writes:

God, He has blessed – caressed.
I could bless God – caress with thanks.

It’s our making love.

(One Thousand Gifts, p216)

A brief passage which has upset some folks. Yet deep spiritual interaction with God is what most of us are desperate for, even in our crazed pursuit of everything other than God. To find the core of what it means to truly live is a source of constant unrest, unease and anxiety because we know it is essential to find it.

I know this is what drives me – beyond all else I must know God. So when someone describes knowing Him in the closest way possible, I pay attention. Even if a word used forces me to reach for the OED to confirm the meaning as being: “communion between human beings and God.”

… this is intercourse disrobed of its connotations, pure and unadulterated: a passing between. A connection, a communicating, an exchange, between tender Bridegroom and His bride. (One Thousand Gifts, p218)

If God is saying, “enjoy Me”, I am a fool to not do so. Purposely being mindful of thanking and praising God for all He gives is a precious interaction with Him, the form in which we each do so is not overly important. I continue to write out my thanks to God, but am no longer numbering or keeping count as this can be a distraction for me personally.


Image: WikiMedia Commons

Missing them

Alone at work in the middle of the night.

My Friday effusion of words in 5 minutes. The theme today is together, something I have both been greatly blessed with and am also missing all in a single week.

Go:

Alone at work in the middle of the night.

I don’t enjoy this. I want to be at home with my wife and three children, together in the same house, sharing our lives.

This separation is the way it has to be during this particular season. There are some benefits but the cost of separation is high. For some, perhaps, not having the family routine we had become so accustomed to would be a trivial thing. I have a good job, an adequate income, this is a great blessing.

Yet the evening routine with it’s ‘jungle hour’ when the kids become hyped-up and unruly, the wrestling of baths and pyjamas and nappies while trying to catch snippets of today’s news and tomorrow’s weather from the telly. Wanting to collapse with a cup of tea, just my lovely wife and I, but needing to do the bedtime routine first. The dishes to wash, toys to pick up yet again, stories to read for the hundredth time (does he ever tire of Thomas the Tank Engine?).

I miss these things, the mess of being a family together.

Stop


I trust you because


To Heather,

In writing on this topic (‘I trust you because’) it took me a long time to figure out why I trust you – I just do. There are plenty of reasons, here are three:

Promise

You made a vow to me in the presence of God. I know you well enough to understand this makes a difference – that it was made before God.

We are both well aware that it was God who brought us together, and know His warning about ripping apart what He made one. So this is the unconditional fence guarding our marriage, but there is much more than obligation holding us together.

Vulnerability

I know I can trust you because you have already entrusted so much of yourself to me. You have made yourself exquisitely vulnerable to me, mere words from my mouth could crush you. Having opened your heart to me so deeply as to need me in order to function, I know you are not going to walk away or intentionally injure me.

This goes both ways. My weaknesses are blindingly obvious to you and with this knowledge you could have a powerful weapon. Yet for over a decade you have chosen to unload that gun and lock it away to prevent accidental discharge. Your proven record of trustworthiness.

In some situations vulnerability, even when mutual, can lead to fear. Fortunately we do not have a ‘cold war’ in our marriage.

Friendship

We like each other. Our idea of a good time is to sit together with a cup of tea in our wonky cottage looking out over the harbour and just chat, passing the time of day with no particular point to the conversation aside from being together.

That you care about me is evident, your smile when I come home always lightens my burdens. There is no doubt in my mind that you like me and want to have me around, and I hope my enjoyment of being around you is also obvious.

Perhaps an indication of our friendship is our mutual desire in life to simply grow old together.


What’s this all about:

A blog I follow is running a series of posts called Marriage Letters in which they write a ‘letter’ to their spouse with the idea that by enriching their own marriages they also enrich the marriages of those around them. I’ve been enjoying the series and had good intentions of joining, this is my first attempt. The topic for this week is ‘I trust you because’. Amber hosts a link-up on her blog where you can check out letters from other bloggers.

Becoming a father

As I left the hospital after my daughter was born I wanted to shout, run, jump, dance. Life had changed forever, this kid who lived in my skin was now a Dad!

Ten years ago my life changed dramatically.

I became a father. I had always thought of myself as just a boy, not as someone’s father! A 2695 gram (5.9 pound) baby girl captivated me, gazing knowingly into my eyes as I held her after an epic delivery in which her heart nearly stopped and her Mum was left utterly exhausted.

There is a violent intensity in the arrival of a baby, Ann Voskamp expresses it well (and better coming from a woman than a man:

“Birthing babies are like earthquake fault lines ripping up the very earth under your house….babies tear the hard crust of existence open, allowing you to peer down into the secrets of being, of what it means to be human.” Night Watches

I had been impatient to finally see her face-to-face and it seems she also was eager to get to know us; a quiet, alert little person intently soaking in every detail of our faces for over an hour after she was born.

I don’t actually remember driving back home, though I did write:

As I left the hospital I wanted to shout, run, jump, dance – in actual fact I just walked to the car and drove home feeling utterly stunned by what I’d just seen and experienced. It is the most miraculous thing I’ve ever witnessed.

I do recall getting home and playing Carl Orff’s ‘O Fortuna‘ loudly while watching the sun rise over the city. I felt exhilarated, stunned, shocked, overjoyed and fearful all together. Nobody had told me about this bit – the sense of awe and dread at now being a father and responsible of a fragile little life. So little that when her head was cradled in my hands her tiny feet tickled the inside of my elbows.

One of my big fears was simply that my daughter may not like me. Perhaps that seems silly, but some fathers are feared by their children rather than being liked by them. I did not, and do not, want to be such a father. Then there were fears over job security, stretching my pay to cover all the bills, the world in fear of terrorists, and a whole lot of pressure and expectations from our own parents.

Other fears were of being too rough with such a tiny little person, or letting her get too cold or too hot. But soon nappy changing, bathing, dressing and feeding a baby became normal. It is normal – this is how life is, not having children is a rather unusual situation for the bulk of humanity. Yet in our society there is a massive disconnect between generations, leaving a parenting vacuum in this nation.

This first decade of her life has had some tough times. I had good intentions of maintaining balance between work and family and faith. At times I became quite unbalanced in these. There were external pressures upon us, looking back I’m not sure that I’d be up to the challenge anymore but we somehow got through. Every child has difficult phases, but God certainly blessed us with our first in her placid temperament and gentle nature. We needed that grace!

By the time she was two years old my wee girl had a propensity for dressing herself in the oddest array of brightly coloured clothes she could find so I started to call her ‘Ragamuffin’ and the nickname kind of stuck. My Ragamuffin has had plenty of tough times herself; changing day care more often than we would have liked, dry skin and ezcema from birth, experiencing the dark side of human nature from kids at school, bullying, eczema of Job-like severity (Job 2:8) and a restricted diet.

Through all this she has remained happy, loving, friendly and a great violinist!

The next decade will have different challenges, and I think the song below sums up well how I feel as a Dad:

The secret to praying for your wife

As the Nike logo might suggest, the ‘secret’ is nothing new – just do it! However, I do encourage you to follow this link and read this encouraging article.


If you are a guy and are married you should pray for your wife, with your wife.
But most of us don’t (myself included), there is a big psychological and emotional barrier to actually doing it. Check out the article below for some encouragement to get on and get praying: What is a surprisingly difficult task for some pastors to do with their wives?

Celebrating beauty

Today is my wife’s birthday.

In our family we use birthdays to celebrate the person who is entering another year of life. I love to celebrate Heather, she is a wonderful person and blesses our lives far more than she knows. She is beautiful, to look at and to live with. The sort of beauty that gets better with age rather than fading or deteriorating. Beauty that God has given her, not a glossy veneer painted on to cover flaws.

We all have our flaws in this family. Each of us stumbles and makes life a bit rough for the others from time to time. The grace which makes it all work out comes from Christ.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:22-25 ESV)

Our biggest blessing is that God deals directly with each of us, reminding us that “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” and we “were straying like sheep”, it is by His grace that we can live together without sin ravaging us like wolves.

When room is made for grace, the beauty of Christ is able to shine through as we hold to his word and to Him who is our life ( Philippians 2:15-16).

My wife shines in this way, she doesn’t see it very well, but her gentle spirit and humble serving reveal the beauty of her Saviour. Her smile is the delight of my days. I love our evening yarns over cups of tea. To her husband and children she is very precious, and I know that to God she is also.

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:3-4 ESV)


An external post related to this topic:

Companions for the journey

Being alone in fellowship with God feels nice. However, we are designed to be part of a community rather than loners so attempting to chart a course for heaven as a solitary adventurer is doomed for failure.

In January I resolved to make this a year of focusing on essentials, using the analogy of going on a trip into our wilderness areas. Given that was six months ago I think it is worth revisiting this topic to consider what really are the essentials.

When I first used the analogy of venturing into the NZ wilderness I was thinking in terms of stuff that is needed, but something which is at least as important as the gear you take are the companions with you on the journey. Being alone in the Southern Alps is fantastic – provided everything goes according to plan. If anything goes wrong, being alone is frightening and may cost you your life.

Walking the narrow way of the kingdom of heaven is similar, being alone in fellowship with God feels nice. However, we are designed to be part of a community rather than loners so attempting to chart a course for heaven as a solitary adventurer is doomed for failure.

Sure, there were some seemingly solitary figures in the Old Testament era; Elijah, Jonah, and John the Baptist. But as Christians we are called into a community of faith, God distributes strengths and weaknesses in such a manner as to ‘strongly encourage‘ us to work together to build up the faith of all. Jesus commands us to love one another (John 15:12).

Church fellowships come into this, though that’s not what I want to discuss here except to say that we need real, face-to-face interaction with other Christians together in a group if we are to grow and bear fruit.

When journeying we need a travel companion. This gives us someone to help us up when we stumble (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10), confront us when wrong (Galatians 2:11–14), encourage us (Colossians 4:7–8), help bear the burdens (Galatians 6:2) and restore us when tempted (Galatians 6:1). In John Bunyan’s classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian is always on the lookout for suitable companions to travel with, some try to lead him astray and only a few prove to be worthy.

It is also good to simply hang out together – my favourite is to have a cup of tea with my best friend, or coffee with friends is good too. We recently spent all weekend with another Christian family and it was so refreshing to be able to yarn about all manner of things in life with a common understanding that Jesus has to be at the centre of it all.

I am naturally a strong introvert so need to keep reminding myself that I need companions on my journey of faith. God wants me in community and He wants me to share my journey with others. So part of my checklist of essentials is: ‘companions for the journey’.

He gave Himself up for her, will I?

At the beginning of this year I decided that for me 2011 should be a year committed to essentials. I have given this some thought at times but, as is human nature, it really isn’t until things start getting a bit unbalanced that I have paused to consider whether I am on track with what I should be doing as opposed to what I have actually been doing. And then there is all that I have not been doing, such as:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
(Ephesians 5:25 ESV)

When I think about Christ loving the church and giving Himself up for her, I am reminded of Philippians 2:5-8, which in turn reminds me of the immediately preceeding verses:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
(Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)

Pulling this together, I need to love my wife as Christ loved the church, which means serving her and considering her needs more than my own interests. A good example of considering her needs would be to not promptly fall asleep after coming home from work, leaving her to get three children ready for bed alone when she is already exhausted and I know it.

Over the last couple of months we have been attempting to adjust to me doing shift work, which has meant a bit of an upheaval to our usually quite routine days. As part of this there are now days when I am at work all evening and asleep in the morning so am not available to help at either of these busy parts of the day for families. This puts a huge load upon my wife, especially if I do nothing to reduce the other work she has to get done to keep our home running. On the surface it seems easy to come home from work tired and just want to rest, but I am not the only tired person – the kids are so they are cranky, my wife is so she has a thumping headache and twenty things to get done at once. Am I now going to simply have a rest myself while someone I love is being drained utterly empty?

The answer should be obvious, unfortunately I don’t always think things through like this before being selfish and unloving.

Gifts I have noticed this week (251 – 261):

251) Problems which cause me to consider what I believe and why.
252) Physical labour on a sunny day (Ecclesiastes 3:13).
253) A shed slowly filling up with cut firewood and pine cones.
254) Neighbours who at least have good taste in what music they play loudly.
255) A lovely paediatrician who genuinely likes children.
256) Gentle reminder from a friend, that I need to encourage a brother.
257) Figuring out that the computer can do a tedious task for me.
258) Love, which causes me to want to make her a cup of tea and give her the nicest cheese roll.
259) The depth of Scripture (Mark 12:24).
260) Cold tea because I fell asleep in the sun before drinking it.
261) The Third Strand in our marriage (Ecclesiastes 4:12).