God is with you – whatever is happening

A middle aged man grieves the loss of his father. Confused and confronted by some family reactions, he prays for peace among his siblings so they can honour their father’s life.

Two young people are prepare to marry. Their ‘right now’ a juggle of plans for a wedding breakfast, settling a guest list, a honeymoon, and their day to day lives.

A middle aged man sits in the morning traffic, mind blank with the yawning sameness of his daily commute. His mind flickers between being free from the grind, the financial reality of a mortgage, the boss’s expectations, and uncomfortable relational realities at home.

A young woman plans a community event, desktop stacked with schedules, memos, invoices. Under pressure. Phone rings. Plans change. Again.

Another walks home, weary from an early start. Thinks about her lack of love, and ponders shallow friendships. She doesn’t like to think about it, or where her life is headed. Or whether.

Some people say that God is only with us when we’re doing the right thing, when our lives are heading in the right direction, when we’re honouring him with right living and acceptable behaviour.

Others will say that God is really only present when were doing spiritual stuff. When we in ‘quiet time’. We read our Bible regularly, we use the right version, we pray in a humble spirit, we worship in spirit and truth, witness regularly.

Ask them, and they won’t have an answer for the people in the grind of life, except that faith is probably not strong enough, and that it’s no surprise they are doing it so tough.

The God of grace is not impressed with the musings of the comfortable, who believe their responses somehow make him present. Scripture reveals a God who is present and who is there, whatever is happening.

When the people of Israel gathered on the promised land’s fenceline, the Lord reminded them that if they were faithful to him they would be blessed in the field. He would protect them fro the enemy. Their sons and daughters would be strong, healthy. Their harvests plentiful.

Best of all: The Lord will dwell with them. He would be with them. He would be their God, and they would be his people.

Scripture reveals a God who is present and who is there, whatever is happening.

Later, when the Lord points out the implications of any future disobedience – and they are awful, horrible things – he never says ‘and I will not be with you, I will forsake you and leave you alone forever.’ Whatever happens, and whatever path his people would tread, whether faithful or rebellious, God would still be with them. Yes, he would despise their behaviour and hate its outcomes. But he would still be with them because of his covenant. His promise to be their God would never fail, because he is faithful, even when they were faithless.

Whatever is happening in your life today: whether it brings a cheer, or whether you are overcome with pain and grief, God is with you.

He knows your life is broken. And he gently whispers that his plan is to heal, and mend, and make right. He is with you. Trust him.

Upon a Hill

Three men shared death upon a hill,
But only one man dies;
The other two—
A thief and God himself—
Made rendezvous.

Three crosses still
Are borne up Calvary’s Hill,
Where Sin still lifts them high:
Upon the one, sag broken men
Who, cursing, die;
Another upholds the praying thief,
Or those who penitent as he,
Shall find the Christ
Beside them on the tree

“Upon A Hill”, Miriam LeFevre Crouse

Time Heals All Wounds …right?

You’ve probably heard it, and maybe you’ve even said it: “time heals all wounds”. Plenty of people have said it to me over the last couple of years. I guess they are saying that if you just leave something, the pain will eventually subside. Soldier on. Life goes on. People move on. Or whatever.

Maybe Lennon and McCartney were right. Sometimes, the best way to deal with a tough situation is to just let it be. Sometimes some of the hurts we carry just need to be left. It’s best for us. It’s best for others. In reality, there are some things that come our way that are not worth responding to. Laugh them off. Let ’em go through to the keeper. Forget about it.

I heard once about a conference speaker who had people throw balls to them while they were speaking. That was interesting enough. But what really caught my attention was that the speaker did nothing to catch the balls. They just bounced off, and rolled along the stage, out of sight. From from time to time, though, the speaker did catch one of the balls, and then used that occasion to speak specifically about a situation that had troubled them or hurt them. Meanwhile, other balls were thrown, and they continued to bounce off, and roll across the floor.

when things are thrown at you sometimes the best thing to do is to let it go

The speaker was making the point that she did not have to respond to everything that was thrown at her, and that she was quite intentional about what she would respond to, and when. Great lesson. And a reminder that when things are thrown at you sometimes the best thing to do is to let it go.

But there’s a part of “time heals all wounds” that bothers me, and which ultimately works against what God would have us do with our pain. While there are occasions where it’s best to let it go, there are other occasions where we should never let it go. A serious disagreement between two people? You should not let it go. A heated argument between a husband and wife? You should not just let it go. Growing resentment in a relationship? You should not just let that go.

Over the years there have been too many times when I have heard people say ‘time heals all wounds’ as an excuse not to do the very thing they needed to do. Then, ‘time heals all wounds’ was just a convenient and sometimes cowardly way to live in denial.

In a moment of anger a stressed husband makes a cutting remark to his wife, and she is hurt. The husband might think, “Well, I’ll just let it go. She’ll be OK in the morning, and she doesn’t understand the pressure I am under anyway.” The night passes, and in the morning he’s just pushing through but she’s still hurt. The wound is there, but time probably won’t heal it. If it’s left untreated, the natural reaction is resentment. To cover the hurt by not discussing work stress again. And so the dysfunction is multiplied. The wife is still hurt. The husband’s work stress remains a ‘no go’ area. In the end, it’s an area of the relationship which becomes closed. Have a few of them from time to time, and the relationship not only loses wonderful opportunities for growth, but it will start to wither in key areas.

Truth is, time only heals small wounds. Just leaving things alone, especially if they are big things, only increases the capacity for pain and dysfunction in the future. And it makes it easy to repeat the same mistakes down the track.

So, how can we tell the difference between an issue we can leave, and one which needs to be addressed? Is it possible to know which wounds time will not heal? That’s for next time…

Q: Does this resonate with you? Has the maxim ‘Time heals all wounds’ worked for you? Leave a comment to share your experience.

A better story – and why I haven’t blogged for the last six months

Let me start by apologising for not posting anything for the last six months. You might be wondering what happened…

Well, over time, I had gone cold on the whole idea of posting. My feelings varied. One day I wanted to pick it up again, and the next day I’d be thinking ‘who wants to read this anyway?’

I suppose with everything that happened with my exit from Redlands, my confidence had been slam dunked. I would be the first to say that I do not always find criticism easy to manage. But in this case what was said (admittedly by a small number of people) disturbed and appalled me. It left me bruised, broken, and damaged.

You can move on physically and take up residence on the other side of the country. But those voices stayed with me. They worked to undermine my desire to write regularly. They attacked my ability to pastor with confidence, to preach with a sense of urgency and passion, to do anything worthwhile, really. Maybe it was only those close to me that noticed my struggle, or felt it. Most of the time I survived by pushing through these darker times, praying that God would help me through, and that he would enable me to stand.

It’s an odd thing, really, how voices of untruth and ungrace can be so dogged and persistent in your mind. Rationally, of course, you can work it all through. You know what has been said is a lie. You know it is untrue. You’re aware of all the other dynamics in the situation. But beyond all your rationalisation, the evil one delights to use these voices as his own. He uses them to undermine the reality of what Jesus has done in you and for you. The accuser always attempts to recast Gospel reality into an ugly, chaotic falsehood.

In my case, those voices spoke to my own insecurities. They exposed my tendency to want to do things in my own strength. To protect myself with my own defences. To answer the voice of accusation with my own resources. What a curse self reliance is. How much better to have answered as Jesus did, throwing himself on the faithfulness of the Father, and citing the Word to the accuser’s face.

So, in reality, an absence of writing was an indication that the voices of the past were still demonising me.

So, what has changed? Well, I am seeking to live more in the strength of Jesus and his work in me and for me. It is his reality which determines who I am today and what I do. His truth sets the agenda, and it conquers every malicious voice the accuser might seek to use.

Of course, I have known Jesus’ reality for around four decades now. And it’s true that I never ‘unknew’ those wonderful truths. But it’s also true that everything which has happened has given me a fresh opportunity to embrace and own the good news again. It’s a daily decision to follow truth, and to place your trust in it.

Over recent months I have been reading posts from Don Miller’s Storyline blog. Miller’s blog has example after example of people impacted deeply by the grace of Jesus, and who want to live in that reality.

A few years ago, I read Miller’s book ‘A Million Miles in a Thousand Years’ Here again, the book works with the story metaphor. It challenged me to think of what kind of story I am living, what kind of part I am playing, what kind of character I am becoming.

Million Miles

Then, a few weeks ago, I had one of these ‘aha’ moments. It is reflected in how often the first person pronoun is used in the last sentence of the previous paragraph. Here is the profound reality: I get to make the decisions about my story, my part, my character. Sure, God is sovereign, and I believe that were it not for his love my will would be bound in all rebellion and the fall. But in his grace I am still a free agent. Jesus calls me to live his new life and his better way. On top of that, Jesus lives in me through his Spirit, recreating my inner nature, and empowering me – albeit imperfectly – to follow where he leads.

…because of Jesus, I get to decide how my story will unfold…

Here’s the point: Because of Jesus, I get to decide where my life is going, and how my story is unfolding. And those voices? Well, they don’t get to shape my story any more. No longer do they have the capacity to influence the unfolding events of my life.

I own my story. And in Jesus’ name I am embracing his work of change and transformation. Those ugly voices will still appear from time to time. But the grace of Jesus speaks a more beautiful and liberating reality.

Thanks for listening…

Dave

Forgiveness is being honest with people

Forgiveness, by its very nature, always involves people. It is people who get hurt. It is people who do the hurting. Forgiveness is always relational.

There are some terrible things that have happened to people, but they don’t need to be forgiven. In January 2011 an intense storm cell hovered over the Queensland city of Toowoomba. On any other day, Toowoomba hardly has a creek to its name, but that day it flooded so badly that cars were washed down the main street. The waters rushed down the range, and obliterated several small towns in the valley below. Lives were lost and livelihoods were dashed. Who was to blame? Who did this? No one did it. It was no one’s fault. No one was to blame. As Lewis Smedes reminds us, if there’s no one to blame, there’s nothing to forgive (The Art of Forgiving, p.77).

Forgiveness is only relevant when others are involved. In some ways this makes sense. It may be easy to remember hurts that others have done to us. At other times, who those ‘others’ are will sometimes catch us off guard. We’re not always ready to admit that sometimes the hurt has come from our own actions. So sometimes we have to forgive ourselves. On other occasions, hurt comes from a group of people. Truth is, forgiving is always messy. And you can be sure the more people are involved, the messier it gets.

people are always in the mix

So, when it comes to forgiveness, people are always in the mix. Real people. Real lives. Real pain and real grief. It’s easy to lose sight of this, and it’s often convenient to avoid it. It’s easier, if we have hurt someone, to just think about ‘issues’ and ‘events’ and ‘what went wrong’. When we avoid the people in the equation, though, we dehumanise the pain. This is sin on three counts:

We sin against them, because we are not willing to see their hurt, or recognise our part in it.

We sin against ourselves: when we refuse to see the pain we have brought to others we deny ourselves the grace of being forgiven.

And we sin against God. It’s not just that he wants us to forgive. It’s more that his plan in Jesus is to raise us to a new life and a better way. God wants our lives, through Jesus, to express his better grace. He deeply wants his ‘giveness‘ to come to expression in our lives. Paul says as much when he writes “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 4:32ff)

We have to be honest about the impact of our actions on people, and their impact on us. If we fail to see the people in the equation, sin, wrongdoing, and guilt will have its way with us. And guilt is such a tireless tormentor.

Which is easier, to just focus on the issues, or to recognise the people involved and the pain they are going through? Which is better?

Forgiveness: Let’s Start at the Beginning

Where does forgiveness start? This is an important question if we’re to get forgiveness right and do forgiveness well.

I think forgiveness starts with God and his nature. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. This very act says so much about the God we worship and the forgiveness he calls us into. It reminds us that God is a giver, One who at core seeks to bring life and beauty and joy into being. In the evening of each creation day God said “it is good.” On the sixth day, having created human beings, he said “it is very good”. At a very primary level, we understand that God gives himself, expends himself so that life can abound and people can thrive.

Cornelius Plantinga says “the first act in the world’s drama is God’s act of creation and sustaining ‘all things visible and invisible,’ out of a generous desire to enlarge the realm of being, to bestow life and goodness on others, and to assist others to flourish in the realm created for them.” [Engaging God’s World, p.44]

…forgiveness starts with God and his nature…

This tells us deep things about God: his core disposition is one of love, a desire to bless, to enrich, to cause to flourish, to bring life and beauty. There are a million other implications to pursue here about what the church should focus on, about how Christians should conduct themselves, and what defines the mission of the church.

What I want us to think about are the implications of this for forgiveness. This is very important, because it is easy for us to view forgiveness simply in a pragmatic sense: we want to forgive because it resolves a problem. We do it because it works. That is not bad, but it could be better.

When forgiveness is rooted in the character of God, and defined by his work in creation, we see something else. We wee that forgiveness is about bringing blessing into lives. When we go the full cycle of forgiveness, we don’t just resolve a problem, we bless each other.

That is a challenging thought. You may think of the trouble and grief that is part of your life, and seriously question whether you will ever be able to forgive. You may wonder whether you could ever see your way clear to bless the person or persons that have brought this pain upon you. Sometimes the terrors and evils perpetrated on us are so big and ugly that it seems impossible to contemplate any positive thought toward those who have done them. I agree – but for now, can we agree to leave that tension where it is, and come back to later?

The bottom line is that forgiveness is perhaps the most grace affirming, life enriching work you will ever do. It’s no wonder that if we’re going to do it well, we’ll need the sort of grace and strength and help that we can only get from Jesus.

Can you see forgiveness as ultimately a desire to see the other blessed? How does this challenge you or comfort you?

Can We Forgive?

We all have stories of pain and grief. Great hurts that engulf us. Ugly injustices that have ambushed and overthrown us. Persistent, leaden pain. Sometimes, these hurts have been brought into our lives by others. Sometimes it has come at the hands of friends. For others, the agents of hurt have not been known to them. And then sometimes the hurt has come through our own stupidity, lack of judgement, or foolish bravado.

We would like to think that dealing with this pain is as easy as ‘moving on’. Gathering our resolve and getting on with life, not letting these things settle on us. For some, it seems that the pain of life just rolls away like water off a duck’s back. For most, this is not a common experience. Be it rejection, betrayal, abuse, criminal act, or neglect, most carry the hurt for a long time. Maybe for their whole lives. They live with this hurt, as does everyone around them. It impacts on work, relationship, marriage, and pretty much very circle of interaction that we have.

Do you know what to do with all your hurt?

Do you know what to do with all your hurt? Many people do not. Each morning when they roll out of bed, or when they sit with their coffee, or in those moments when the pressure is off, and the mind starts to relax, the pain resurfaces. Like some stray dog, just when you think you have finally gotten rid of it, it returns to dig holes in your garden.

What to do? Is it as easy as managing these situations differently? Should you just fill your life with so much busyness and with so many things to keep the pain away? Is your ticket out of pain and hurt?

Chances are, trying that will leave you doubly bound. You will be stuck in your pain, and bound up in whatever escape you devise, and you will never get out of it.

There is a better way, and that is to forgive.

I know: forgiveness is not well understood. It seems such a slippery thing, and we wonder whether it’s all a bit too easy. Either that, or it seems too hard to do. But here’s the thing, God calls us into it. More: in Jesus he both models and empowers forgiveness.

If it’s true that the pain you carry changed your life, then it’s also true that they way you forgive will change your life even more.

Come with me on a journey, and let’s see how we can do this work of forgiving better.

What do you think is hardest about forgiveness?