True Christianity Seen in Charleston’s Forgiveness

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Last week WAToday journalist Neil McMahon described Fred Nile’s views on marriage as ‘jurassic’. Apparently, anyone who upholds a traditional, let alone a view of marriage grounded in Scripture, is a bit of a dinosaur.  McMahon’s words are another indication of the growing distance between traditional Christianity and current views in society. The challenges are huge, and sometimes confrontational.

Much could be said about the often ad hominem nature of such attacks on Christian leaders and the church, although most can see these ungracious and unthinking words for what they are. Even so, I welcome the challenge being placed before the church today. Every new question, even words of attack, give Christians an opportunity to give account for the hope they have.

If you were ever wondering what Christianity is about, and why it has survived for 2000 years, and then, through trials and in circumstances considerably more foreboding than our current social climate, you need go no further than what we see unfolding in Charleston, South Carolina.

Last week the world looked on in horror as reports unfolded of how Dylann Roof entered the American Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the oldest African American congregation in the country, and murdered nine innocent people. Those murdered had warmly welcomed him into their Bible discussion groups just one hour earlier. At Roof’s first court appearance last Friday, family members were permitted to make statements to the Court where Roof made his first appearance after the shooting.

What did those people say? What characterised their words? Bitterness? White knuckled rage? Seething desire for revenge?

No. What we saw was Christianity in action. We saw the power of there Risen Jesus at work in his people. We were confronted with words of grace and forgiveness. These words were so powerful, so other worldly, they could only have come from those possessed by the Spirit of Christ.

See for yourself:

“I just want everyone to know, I forgive you. You took something really precious from me [her mother]. I will never be able to talk to [my mother] again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. May God have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you. And I forgive you.”

…words were so powerful, so other worldly, they could only have come from those possessed by the Spirit of Christ…

“I forgive you. My family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ. So that he can change it. Change your ways no matter what happened to you, and you’ll be ok. Do that. And you’ll be better off than what you are right now.”

“We welcomed you Wednesday night to our Bible Study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful people I know. Every fibre in my body hurts. And, and, I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But, as we said in our Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on your soul.”

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof, that they lived in love and their legacies live in love. So hate won’t win.”

“Depayne Doctor was my sister. And I too thank you, on behalf of my family, for not allowing hate to win. For me, I’m a work in progress. And I acknowledge I am very, angry. But one thing that Depayne taught me, is that we are, the family that Love built. We have no room for hating! So we have to forgive. And I pray God [have mercy] on your soul.”

Christians everywhere are deeply moved by their example. We thank God for their grace and courage. May their words be echoed, repeated, whispered – through our tears – for years to come.

What is Christianity? It is how God, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, breaks the power of evil in human lives, and through his Spirit begins transforming them, and their world, so Jesus’ new life comes to glorious expression .

This is the Christianity, the Jesus, the Gospel our world needs to see and believe.

And yes, Neil McMahon, such words are old, but they carry more power and grace than you can imagine. They change lives. They heal hurts. And they breathe life into our world’s most broken and tragic places.

This Is What Forgiveness Looks Like

On May 20, 2012, 18 year-old Takunda Mavima was driving home drunk from a party when he lost control and crashed his car into an off-ramp near Grand Rapids, Michigan. Riding in the car were 17 year-old, Tim See, and 15 year-old, Krysta Howell. Both were killed in the accident.

Takunda Mavima lived.

Mavima pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to between 30 months and 15 years in prison.

Despite their unimaginable grief and anger, both the sister and the father of victim, Tim See, gave a moving address to the court on behalf of Mavima, urging the judge to give him a light sentence.

“I am begging you to let Takunda Mavima make something of himself in the real world — don’t send him to prison and get hard and bitter, that boy has learned his lesson a thousand times over and he’ll never make the same mistake again.”

And when the hearing ended, the victim’s family made their way across the courtroom to embrace, console, and publicly forgive Mavima.

Make sure this image sticks with you forever:

Hug
Photo Credit, Chris Clark, Grand Rapids Press.

There will be a time in your life when someone will wrong you. God forbid they take the life of your child. But it will happen. And what matters most isn’t how it happened, but how you respond to it.

And if you’re a person of faith, the calling is even greater. The gospel of forgiveness isn’t a high calling for the heroic individual, or a counter-cultural description of heavenly perfection. It is a principle central to the gospel itself – the very heart of our faith in which we are called to embody.

In the swelling sea of human destruction, the little story of Takunda Mavima and a family from Michigan is a lighthouse on a hill, a beacon of hope, guiding the way for all our ships to pass through.

Right now, how can you prepare yourself with a clear plan of action to forgive in the darkest of times?

This post was written by @JustinZoradi and is used with permission. It first appeared on Justin’s blog, and later on Don Miller’s Storyline

Justin

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 God’s Nature (5)

I have never been able to understand those who say that the God we read about in the Old Testament is angry and vindictive, while the God we read about in the New Testament is loving and kind. The reality is that God has always been gracious and forgiving, and this flows right out of the core of his being.

Think of the account of Moses on Mt Sinai in Exodus 34. Moses had asked to see the glory of The Lord, and God agrees to pass by and allow Moses to see ‘his back’. There is much in this passage that is hard to grasp, but one thing that is very clear is the nature and character of The Lord. As God passes by he proclaims his own name to Moses: “The Lord, The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness and sin, yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Sure, punishment is mentioned. But the thing to note is what receives the emphasis. The first things mentioned are compassion, grace, slowness to anger, love, faithfulness, more love, and forgiveness. This provides the backdrop for any words about punishment: if God is going to be compassionate and gracious and loving, then he must call to account those who are not compassionate, gracious and loving. But that’s another post…

The main thing to see is how close forgiveness is to the heart of God. Right at core of his character is his desire to forgive.

Forgive is an interesting word. The Hebrew word is nāśā. It means to lift, to carry, to take up, to lift off. So, right at the core of God’s heart is his deep inclination to lift off the burden that weighs people down. God desires to lift off the weight of sin and guilt. He does not want to see people bent and broken by wrongdoing and the fall.

It reminds me of John Bunyan’s Christian, who makes his journey with a ridiculously huge burden strapped to his back. That burden is his own sin. Christian can’t get rid of it, no matter what he tries to do. But here’s the deal: God can get rid of it. And if we pay attention to what God says is at the core of his being, it’s clear that he wants to lift that burden: he forgives wickedness and sin.

In case you wondered whether this desire to forgive was at the heart of God, we see the same thing said about the Servant of The Lord in Isaiah 53 “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering”. The ‘giveness’ of God is expressed in the giving of his Son, Jesus, who took up our pain and suffering, our transgressions and iniquities.

So these are core realities for God, for how he reveals himself, for how he sees himself, as well as the core mission of his son, Jesus Christ. God’s giveness is the foundation of his forgiveness. Our sin and guilt can be forgiven and forgotten because our wonderful God lifts it off us, and carries it away from us, in all he has done through Jesus his son.

When it comes to being forgiven, and being forgiving people, we have to start with the nature of God, with his core characteristics, and the clear reality of what he has done through Jesus. He is a deeply gracious God, and his desire is to forgive all your wrong and every sin.

Is this how you are used to thinking about God?

What does the fact that forgiveness is at the core of God’s heart mean to you?

Forgiveness is being honest with what happened (4)

Forgiveness is not only about being honest with people. It is also about being honest about what happened. We are not just blaming people, we are blaming them for what they have done. Smedes reminds us that talking about blame is risky. It sounds as if we’re laying all responsibility at the feet of the others and none at our own. But that’s not what it is about. When we talk blame, we are just saying that something has happened and someone has done it. We need to recognise that. Some of the blame may be laid at our own feet. We may have contributed to the situation, so we also need to be honest about our part in it all.

So something happened. Something was done. And people were hurt. If we want to do the work of forgiveness well, and if we want it to last, we need to name what has happened.

Was it something they said? An attitude expressed toward you, or someone close to you? Was it an act of passion? A crime? An assassination of character? Was it neglect, perhaps unintentional, but nonetheless hurtful? The more specific you can get, the more your work of forgiveness will benefit.

If we want to do the work of forgiveness well we need to name what has happened.

This is can be a little dangerous. Remembering what has been done can open the door to resentment and bitterness. Bitterness is a broad and easy road, and many are those who walk on it. It’s so easy to be nurse our pain. We turn it over, over and over again. But as we do, forgiveness and freedom move further away from us, and the poison of bitterness starts to work it’s way through our being until we are all but paralysed.

The other side of the coin is that sometimes our resistance to naming what happened stems from a fear of owning up to what we have done. At other times it is because the hurt is so deep, and what happened was so ugly that we are just happy not to have to talk about it. So, keeping it general and non specific is form of defence mechanism.

More often than not, what we are trying to protect ourselves from is our own guilt. Like a husband who has cheated on his wife might say ‘sorry for how it all ended up’. What does that really mean? Couldn’t his grieving wife say the same? Even their counsellor could say ‘sorry for how it all ended up.’ That’s a coward’s way to say sorry. That guy needs to be honest about what he has done. As long as he refuses to own up to his actions, his wife’s grief is trivialised, her pain is ignored, and his wrong still has his heart bound.

Being honest about what has happened makes good practical sense. More than that, God agrees. When Nathan the prophet confronted David about Bathsheba, he was more than angry about how it all ended up (2 Sam 12). When Jesus spoke with the woman at the well (John 4), his probing question made her uncomfortable, for sure. But if he hadn’t gone there, she would not have known the reality of her need. And without that, she would not have been able to revive the healing and restoration Jesus gave to her.

Because forgiveness has its root in God’s giveness, it is about giving something. We give someone who has hurt us a new start, we give ourselves a break, and – if we can talk about it like that – we give God an opportunity for his better way to come to expression. But we need to be honest: honest with people, and honest about what has happened.

In the next few posts, I want to look at some of the things the New Testament says about forgiveness. We’ll be working towards what actually happens when we forgive, and some of the consequences when we don’t.

Have you ever found it hard to get specific about what has happened? Was that because of something you had done, or because of something someone else did to you? Is there someone you need to talk to about this?

PS. Thanks for sharing this journey with me. Your comments are encouraging, and your questions are challenging. Keep it up!

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?