Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

bigDon’t get mad – get even! That’s been a well quoted mantra for a very long time. But is it the best option available to us?

In his latest book, “The Big Picture: Building Blocks of a Christian Worldview”Brian Harris, Principal of Vose Seminary in Perth talks about three options in dealing with our apparent need for revenge. I talked about it this morning in the latest of a series I am preaching on at Maida Vale Baptist Church – “Facing Giants”. My topic this morning was revenge.

The first option is presented by a man called Lamech. Genesis 4:17 and 18 gives a quick summary of the descendants of Adam’s son Cain. Four generations on from Cain, we are introduced to Lamech.

Lamech had two wives and he said this to them in verse 21 of Genesis 4: “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

Lamech had been injured and in return he killed the person who hurt him, and claimed his right to avenge that hurt 77 times.

The second picture is in Exodus 21 where instructions are given about personal injury.  The law it would seem, was to overcome the problems associated with Lamech’s approach. Verse 24 says: But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Now that was helpful, because it showed that indiscriminate murder of people who injured you wasn’t appropriate, and it introduced a process of thinking that still exists in law today regarding compensation and just forms of punishment. That was the law that the world lived by for thousands of years.

Then Jesus came, and he introduced a third picture. And that picture was of grace and forgiveness. In the Matthew 5 we read these words:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ they certainly had heard that, because that was the standard by which society had learned to live.  But then he went on: But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

And a bit later on Peter comes to Jesus – he’s obviously been thinking about the issue a bit and says: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” He’s got the message that forgiveness is something he needs to take seriously. To forgive someone seven times was radical Christianity for Peter. This was counter-cultural.

But surprisingly, Jesus answered, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. In that statement Jesus showed that the precedent set by Lamech was completely overturned. The law had partially dealt with the Lamech problem, but Jesus came to complete the picture. No longer is revenge to the 77th degree appropriate.  No longer is simply an eye for an eye appropriate. The new law under Jesus is forgiveness to the 77th degree.

IMG_0453We’ve just had the carpet cleaners in to shampoo the carpets and clean the chairs in the church. It was a pretty big job and took quite a while.

I think there’s something therapeutic about the deep washing of carpets because as you go, you throw out buckets and buckets of mud and grime that have accumulated over time. Then when you think you’ve finished and go over it again, there’s still more.

Yet, before you do that you can walk over the carpet on a regular basis and not even be aware of the dirt that has been ground in to it. The carpet doesn’t necessarily look all that dirty, but the process of cleaning drags that dirt out and the buckets of muddy water that are thrown out are evidence that the carpets were probably dirtier than you thought.

We proceed through life every day, and we’re generally not aware of the dirt that accumulates in our life. I’m not talking about the dirt we get on our hands and feet, but the dirt that accumulates on our minds and in our very being.

As we watch television shows about crime and violence year after year, we become a little bit immune to it. Things that may have shocked us a few years ago don’t shock us any more. We enjoy relaxing in front of the TV to see comedians or to watch comedy, but over time discover that we laugh at things that once we thought were crude or inappropriate.

Little bits of dirt have accumulated on our minds, and we’re not aware that its there, But it builds up bit by bit and over time we don’t notice that we’re a little bit grubbier than we were before.

There was a time when you avoided people who told dirty jokes, you were more careful in the way you drove your car, you were less judgmental of people who were different to you.  Now, of course, you’re older and wiser, more tolerant, but somehow when you look back you realise there has been some slippage. Little bits of dirt have accumulated, and you haven’t noticed it.

In fact, somewhere in the Bible it says: All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.  Now, you may think that’s a bit steep. After all, we like to think we’re basically good people.

But the reality is, the bits of dirt and grime we accumulate in our minds and hearts actually builds up into something quite disgusting when we compare ourselves with the purity, and beauty and holiness of an almighty God.

But there’s a solution. You can walk over carpet for years and put off the day you have to bring in the cleaners because you’re not prepared to admit how bad the carpet really is.  Same thing goes for our lives. The Bible also says that if we confess our sins … that means we actually admit that we’re sinners, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Sometimes we have to admit that even though we vacuum the carpet regularly, we still need to bring in the carpet cleaners to do a proper job. We may assume we’re basically good people, but there comes a time when we have to admit that compared to God we’re nowhere near perfect.

If we’re prepared to confess our sin, and admit our need of God, he’s assured us he’ll hear that prayer and put us right with himself.

les-miserables_1Last night Robyn and I went to see Les Miserables at the Crown Theatre in Perth. Unintentionally we found ourselves at the front seats, close enough to see the expressions on the conductor’s face as he led the amazing orchestra and cast. It was a wonderful production – much better than the movie adaptation, I have to say.

Les Miserables is based on Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel that tells the story of a ticket-of-leave convict, John Valjean who finds himself treated as an outcast, and steals some silver from the Bishop who had given him shelter for the night. He is arrested by the police who take him back to the Bishop who, surprisingly, lies to the police in order to save the man. In fact, he gives him a couple of silver candlesticks and tells the man, in front of the police, that he had given these to him, but he must have forgotten to take them. After the police have gone, the Bishop tells Valjean to use the silver to make an honest life for himself.

The story that follows tells of the effect this act of grace has on his life as he seeks to protect and save the lives of others.

Reviewer Benedict Nightingale describes the impact of the story like this:

Our increasingly cynical world finds it near impossible to believe that goodness exists, let alone that it can be a compelling passion. But Les Mis take the opposite view, presenting us with a bitter, brutalised criminal who is converted by another man’s generosity in to someone who tends the weak, needy and outcast, is prepared to sacrifice his own safety and happiness to others, and refuses to hurt his most unforgiving foe when he has him in his clutches; the show has the imaginative thrust and the emotional authenticity to make you believe that this could be true. Perhaps that’s the reason that I don’t just like Les Mis, as I like the score of other great musicals. I love it.

While Nightingale simply describes Valjean’s change of heart as the effect of another man’s generosity, the grace of God is clearly evident in that act of generosity and in Valjean’s attitude thereafter. When he is faced with choice between revenge or forgiveness he says:

How can I ever face my fellow men?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on.

The grace of God is so powerful and so restorative that, when received, can be paid forward in ways that are beyond our natural human capacity.

If you get the chance to see Les Miserables on stage, don’t just look out for great acting and amazing music, look out for a brilliant script that tells the story of grace-at-work.

I was at the museum one day with my grandson, and while he was more interested in the dinosaur, I found an interesting display about diamonds.

Everyone loves diamonds. According to the song by Carol Channing back in 1949, diamonds are a girl’s best friend and James Bond in 1971 said diamonds are forever. They’re pretty popular and most people are attracted to a piece of jewellery that contains a diamond.

And it’s interesting that we are often attracted to colourful diamonds, but that was the bit of information I particularly noticed at the museum display.  You see the purest diamonds are clear, but the colour in diamonds is created by chemical impurities or structural defects.


The Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond is often described as the most valuable diamond in the world. It is deep blue in colour and is worth up to 250million dollars US. So the colour certainly doesn’t reduce its value, but what makes the difference is the way it is cut and prepared for display.

Now that got me thinking because we often see impurities as being something ugly and unattractive. And of course they are, and when I think about myself I know that any impurities or defects in my life contribute to me being unlikeable.

When the Bible tells us that all the good things we do are like filthy rags, it’s pointing out that the defects in our life – the Bible calls that sin – have the effect of separating us from God.

So how do we fix this problem?

When someone sits down to produce a high quality piece of jewellery they will spend a long time cutting and polishing the diamond and preparing it, so that when you finally get to wear it, it looks perfect.

People come up and notice the diamond and comment on its beauty, to the point that although the colour was caused by impurities, now the diamond is presented as something very beautiful.

When we give all our impurities to Jesus he can take us and cut off all the sharp edges, and design something absolutely beautiful.

The funny thing is that even when we come to Jesus and give him all our impurities and we are assured of being forgiven through what he has done for us when he died on the cross, the defects are still there.

We still seem to make a mess of our life and often get frustrated because things don’t work out the way we would like them.  You see, the beautiful colours in the diamond are always there as a reminder of the impurities and defects that were in the original stone.  They haven’t been removed but the jeweller has created something beautiful out of that rough stone.

The effect of our sin often stays with us as a reminder, not of what we have done wrong, but how creative the master jeweller has been in dealing with our sin and creating an opportunity for us to grow.

It’s a reminder that no matter how hard we tried, we were never able to solve the sin problem, but through the grace of God we are no longer condemned by it.

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.  I’m glad that Jesus is my best friend and that he’s making changes in my life.  Jesus can be your best friend too.

This post was the transcript of a message you can hear on Sonshine fm 98.5 on Sunday mornings.