Tag Archives: forgiveness

Breakfast with Jesus? Bring Some Fish

During Jesus’ last post-resurrection encounter with the disciples in the book of John, he gives them two invitations which display beautifully the heart of God.

First, some context, though:

Peter, in John 18, denies Jesus while warming himself around a charcoal fire. He does it three times when accused, and after the third a rooster crows fulfilling Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial in John 13:38. What guilt he must have felt, what shame! In the moment he fears for his own life more than he cares for his master, his friend.

Later, in Galilee, Peter declares to the other disciples that he is going fishing which the fishermen in the group decide to join him in. And there, on the beach near where their boat is, is Jesus. Peter is so excited to see Jesus that he literally throws himself into the water and splashes to shore. Where he sees a charcoal fire burning, with some fish already on it.

I wonder if the smell from the fire triggered his memory, back to that day in the courtyard when he denied Jesus? I wonder if he felt shame temper his excitement?

And here is where the encounter becomes beautiful to me: Jesus doesn’t bring it up at all (he will later, though, in verses 15-19), instead he gives Peter and the others two invitations: “Bring some of the fish you have just caught,” and “Come and have breakfast.”

“Bring some of your fish”

This invitation is an invitation to participate. Jesus already had a fire going with fish on it, he doesn’t need the disciple’s freshly caught fish at all. But he invites them to contribute too. This is an invitation of acceptance and inclusion.

And it’s an invitation that God extends to all of us, to participate in his work in this world (see Eph. 2:10). He doesn’t need us at all, frankly, but he desires to include us. He wants us to do it with him, and makes space for us to do it.

“Come have breakfast”

This is an invitation to fellowship, to communion. Jesus is saying “be with me.” Jesus wants to spend time with the disciples enjoying their company, as much as he wants them to enjoy his. And so it is with us too. We tend to think of God as “up there” and we are “down here,” both spatially and hierarchically, and he really is farther above us than we could ever understand. But he is also here with us, God Immanuel, surrounding and encompassing and filling us, and just as he wants us to be a part of his work here on earth, he also wants to be involved in our lives – from the mundane things like doing chores, driving or taking public transit, shaving, and even pooping; to the less mundane like working, raising children, having hobbies, and being in relationships.

Friend of Sinners

friend-of-sinners

The thing to remember about these two invitations of Jesus, “participate with me” and “be with me,” is that he gave them to Peter before Peter was ‘restored,’ that is, before Jesus confronted Peter with his denial and desertion at Jesus’ arrest. He dealt gently with Peter, which really characterized his life – gentle and kind with the broken and oppressed, the trodden on and ‘sinners,’ and angry with the religious hypocrites who considered themselves ‘righteous’ in their own right. So much so, that those righteous called Jesus a “friend of sinners.” They meant it derogatorily, but Jesus really was a friend of sinners.

Which is good news, because I am a sinner. Even as someone who desires to follow Jesus and his teachings, I still sin, even willingly sometimes. We all do. It doesn’t mean that Jesus is cool with it or permissive about it (he asked one time “why do you call me Master but do not do what I tell you to do?” Luke 6:46). But it does mean that as we in repentance turn to him, he doesn’t meet us with a brandished hickory switch, leather belt, or wet hand. Instead he meets us with a plate of bacon and eggs and a bowl of warm oatmeal.

“Participate with me. Be with me.” These are the invitations of Jesus, and these invitations are for us. Whether you know Jesus or not, he is inviting you, to be a part of his family and his work on this earth.

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The Role of Forgiving & “Forgetting” in Unity

One of the greatest killers of community is unforgiveness.

There can be a myriad of reasons we may harbour unforgiveness against someone, from minor things like “he didn’t put the toilet seat down again,” to the horrific like the continued Boko Haram atrocities, the Charleston church shooting, or Guido Amsel sending bombs to his ex-wife and their lawyers here in Winnipeg .

In church settings the effects of unforgiveness always lead to disunity; fellowship is broken, and I’ve heard of people going to the same church for decades and never speaking to each other. This is very sad, and extremely contrary to the way of Jesus, who at the end of His life prayed for our unity (John 17).

Forgiving

And while forgiveness doesn’t negate consequences (a forgiven murderer still goes to jail, a forgiven slanderer still needs to recant their words), we know that repentance or the lack thereof is not dependent on us forgiving. This makes it one of the hardest things we can do; and also, one of the most Christ-like. As I know only too well, the act of  ‘dying to self’ is greatly needed in order to forgive sometimes.

But because we have been forgiven by God, God expects us to in turn give that same grace to others. Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15 sound harsh to our ears: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” but there’s really no way to understand these words except at face-value (this is not to say that we earn God’s forgiveness by works of our own forgiveness of others, but shows the seriousness with which God expects us to love others the way He loves us (see Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18)).

“Forgetting”

Often forgiving someone is not enough to restore unity, however. At least not the way we practice forgiveness today (a shallow, un-christ-like type of forgiveness which says the perpetrator is forgiven, but will never be trusted/spoken to/loved again). This is why Miroslav Volf, in his “Exclusion & Embrace“, talks about the need to forget, or “nonremembering,” in order to forgive in such a way that unity and relationship can be fully restored. This nonremembering properly takes place after “perpetrators have been named, judged, and (hopefully) transformed” (131), and after the victims are safe and have healed/mourned. For without it “as long as it is remembered, the past is not just the past; it remains an aspect of the present. A remembered wound is an experienced wound” (133). This forgetting is not a complete obliteration of the memories, which is frankly impossible, but a sort of “backgrounding” of the memory that allows us to move beyond the offense and pain of it. Volf says that this is the final, and most difficult part, of reconciliation (131).

This week, before next Sunday, examine your heart and see if you are holding any unforgiveness or bitterness towards anyone in your community; and if you are determine to forgive them in the strength of God’s forgiveness given to you. And keep forgiving them for as long as you need to in order to “forget.” It will be difficult, but it will be more worth it than you can imagine beforehand.

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How to be Perfect in One Easy Step

Do you want to be perfect like God is perfect?

Jesus tells us how to do it, and it’s shockingly easily.

Being good at this game is not what Jesus had in mind...

Being good at this game is not what Jesus had in mind…

 

There’s an interesting section in the Sermon on the Mount that I believe we easily overlook in our reading of it. Here’s the pericope:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48 NRSV)

We readily see “love your enemies” (hasn’t that become something of a catch-phrase?), and then we skip over the rest. Maybe we think “I don’t have enemies,” or “that’s too hard,” or “he/she doesn’t deserve that!!”

And, if we have enemies, we should love them of course (though how many of us in the West truly do?). But Jesus expands this message from “enemy” to everyone, in the proceeding verses. He says “if you only love those who love you… if you only greet your friends…” thereby including those who are strangers to us, or indifferent, or Other. Jesus is essentially saying love everyone, and greet everyone. Reminds me of how he summed up the law and prophets: Love God and love others.

But the way Jesus ends this section is what blows my mind. He says ‘if you do this, you will be perfect like God is perfect.’ How simple sounding, eh!

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The young adults at a church I worked for all saw the need to reach out to new people and visitors, and welcome them and say hi and invite them to join the community, but every week they would still clump together in their closed groups of friends and exclude everyone else (there were exceptions of course). One of them told me that it was hard because they only saw their friends in real life on Sundays, they were so busy during the week.

At my current church one of the guys told me that, as a single late-20’s guy, he won’t talk to new married couples or families, or those who are in an older generation than him.

But this is why I think Jesus says we will be perfect when we do extend our welcome though – God, in the trinitarian oneness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the most perfect, complete, whole, unified, loving friendship anywhere – sent Jesus to earth to love and welcome us into God’s family. We who were not friends, we who had nothing in common with him.

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So, on the surface this is the most easy thing in the world for us to do (unless you’re an introvert, like I am – but if I can try do it so can you!). Yet in practice it’s hard for us to break out of our patterns, our comfort zones, our friendship groups, our mindsets. But if we do, we will be perfect like our Father in Heaven, who reached out to welcome strangers like us into his Kingdom, and into his union with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

“Be perfect, therefore, like your heavenly Father is perfect.”

 

 

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An Outline for Prayer Meetings

Last night, the young adults at my church had a prayer meeting. I’ve posted the outline below, based on the Disciple’s Prayer*, for anyone who comes across it to adapt and use. I decided to include some of the general items that we prayed for, by way of example.

It was a fantastic night, and God’s presence was felt as we sought His face together!

1. Begin by silently preparing your heart, and asking the Holy Spirit to pray through us tonight (facilitator will close). If desired, a worshipful song may be included here.

 2. Read the Disciple’s Prayer together

 Our Father who is in the heavens, Your name be sanctified;

Your kingdom come; Your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth.

Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

Amen**.

 3. Pray

 Our Father who is in the heavens, Your name be sanctified;

Read: Psalm 105

           Pray: Take this time to praise and worship God for who He is and what He’s done.

Your kingdom come; Your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth.

            Read: Luke 13:18-21; 1 Cor. 4:20; Rom. 14:17

Pray: For national and international issues and leaders.

Among other things, we prayed about Bill 18, for the new Pope Francis, for the salvation of the Dalia Lama, and for Madagascar, which was experiencing a terrible plague of locusts (no joke!).

 

Give us today our daily bread.

            Read: Matt. 6:25-33; Phil. 4:19

Pray: For personal needs.

 

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

            Read: Matt. 6:14-15; 1 John 2:1-2; Psalm 139:23-24

Pray: A time of personal and corporate confession & forgiveness. Silence is an appropriate option for the personal confession time.

– Confess (by name) the ways our church has fallen short of being a Light to those inside and outside its community

– Confess the social injustices (by name) that we Christians have allowed to exist and thrive in our city

– Confess how we’ve made it more about church/Christianity/ourselves etc. instead of Jesus

– Repent for the way we’ve treated those outside the Kingdom- with anger, fear, & hate instead of love

 

And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

            Read: 1 Cor. 10:12-13; 2 Sam. 22:3-4; 2 Thess. 3:3; Eph. 6:10-18

Pray for:

Here we prayed predominantly for a renewing of God’s Spirit in our churches, and for revival to break out in Winnipeg, especially its young adults. We prayed for other Christian organizations and gatherings as well. We prayed against the darkness in our city.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

            Read: Psalm 146; Rev. 11:15; Rev. 21:5

Pray: Take this time to thank God for His answer to prayer, His sovereignty, and His other attributes

Amen.

*a.k.a. The Lord’s Prayer – props to Jamie Aprin-Ricci for the better moniker

** Matt. 6:9-13, The Recovery Version

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The First Saying of Jesus on the Cross

Today I spent some time meditating on the first of Jesus’ “Seven Sayings from the Cross”: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

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Father

Jesus is in the midst of experiencing both physical and mental torture, humiliation, and agonizing pain, and yet He does not forget or question both who and whose He is, nor His mission (or calling, if you will). He is God’s Son (not to mention the Second Person of the Trinity). God’s love for Him & Hand on Him will never – can ever – change (even when later we read Jesus cry out “My God why have You forsaken me?”). Even Christ on the cross, taking on the sins of the world, could not separate Him from the Father’s love. And so He addressed God as ‘Father.’

For those of us in Christ, this is also true; the well-known passage in Romans 8 reminds us: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God” (vv. 38-39). Yet how often do we question our status before God when everything seems to be going to pot? Either by our own doing, or by circumstances around us, and we cry out “God, where are you? Why have you forsaken me?” When in reality He has not. God’s love for us – the love of a father – will not ever change.

Forgive them

Jesus, in the midst of suffering and agony, asks the Father to forgive those crucifying Him (and by extension, all of us). He asks this of God from a place of authority; He doesn’t say “please” because He has the right to forgive sins (Luke 5:24). For our sakes He entreats God to forgive us. That is the whole purpose of His act on the cross: that we might obtain forgiveness in Christ and adoption in to God’s family. But I wonder if He isn’t also saying it for the Father’s sake as well? Not to anthropomorphize God too much, but I imagine what it must be like for a parent to lose their only child, and the feelings that they’d feel towards those responsible. Anger, for sure. The want for justice or revenge. For the perpetrators to experience themselves the pain that they cause. How much more would God have felt these things in that moment of seeing His Son (of experiencing Himself!) on the cross. I imagine God wanting to go all Old Testament wrath on them. This is His only Son! Look at how they’re treating Him! But the Son is saying “remember why I came to this place; they don’t know what they’re doing, but we do.”

But as Jesus says this from a place of power based on His authority, He’s also saying this from a place of weakness. He is, after all, the one hanging from the cross. And there He is experiencing the full extent of its pain; His divinity does not shield Him from any of it; He is fully human in every respect, including in His body (Phil. 2:7). But this is how much He loves us – He deems us worth it.
“Forgive them. This theme of forgiveness runs throughout Jesus’ ministry, and so many times in His teaching He commands us to forgive others (for example Matt. 6:12-15, 18:21-22; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37, 17:3-4). This is the way of the Kingdom that we have been made members of. A kingdom, Stanley Haurewas says, “governed by a politics of forgiveness and redemption,” through which “the world is offered an alternative unimaginable by our sin-determined fantasies” (Cross-Shattered Christ, p. 31).

So we’re commanded to forgive, but as we all know, easier said than done. This is why I think Paul’s command in Philippians 2:3 needs much more emphasis in our culture than we give it: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (NIV: “with humility value others above yourselves”). This goes against the deafening message of individualism our culture shouts at us and holds up as virtue, “only look out for #1!” And the same is true of forgiveness. The world teaches revenge & justice; Christ teaches forgiveness (and God will sort out the justice), and it is because of Christ’s work on the cross that we can forgive others.

They do not know what they are doing

     Does Christ say this because they don’t know who He is, or because they don’t know they’re doing it to fulfill prophecy? Either way, I know that I sin often unknowingly. I think we all do; giving offense without meaning to, saying and doing hurtful things oblivious to their affect. And then being surprised when we hear about it later. “We didn’t know.” Yet how often do we attribute malicious intent to others’ words and actions? So the lesson I take out of this is to remember that, when offended or hurt by a careless remark or action, the one doing it probably didn’t mean it that way; probably didn’t realize what they were doing. Giving the benefit of the doubt like that is one facet of valuing others above ourselves, and frankly, makes it easier for us to forgive them.

Having said that, there will be times when the intent is there and when it is malicious, but we are no less required to forgive in those cases. There are times when I intentionally sin too, if I’m honest, and one of the reasons for that is because I, too, “don’t know what I’m doing.” That is, I don’t fully comprehend who God is, or who I am in Christ. I don’t fully know the harm to myself and others that my sin causes, or how sad it makes God. Also, I don’t know myself as well as I could/ought/should, and the brokenness in me that leads to my intentional sins. But because I recognize all these things about me, this too, makes it (at least a little) easier to forgive those who intentionally sin against me. I am of course simplifying things too much, and not accounting for the enormity of the sins that people can do to one another (like abuse in all its ugly forms for example), but Christ’s command is clear, and through the cross, with much grace, and with the Holy Spirit we can obey all that He has commanded us to.

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