Do we act forgiven?

‘Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.’ Psalm 32.2

Being forgiven deeply affects our standing before God.  There is nothing that comes between us and him, but there are other implications.  The way in which we treat other people is one such example.

There is a powerful story in Matthew 18 about a man who owed a fortune, and as an act of mercy his debt was wiped clean and he was allowed to go free.  So what did he do with his freedom?  He promptly went out, found a man who owed him the merest fraction of his own debt that had been cancelled, and started to demand the small amount that he was owed.

Why he would act in this way, especially after experiencing such mercy, is a mystery and of course it is probably only a fictional story that Jesus told – but perhaps one reason behind his inability to forgive was that what the merciful king had done for him had not sunk in.  So often it is the fact that we do not appreciate the extent of our own forgiveness, and the extent of God’s love for us, that causes us to act harshly towards others.

The death of Jesus stands as the ultimate picture of how forgiven we are and also our amazing value to God, in that Jesus was prepared to give his life for us.  Let’s allow this to change how we relate to others.

How are you?

‘Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.’ Psalm 32.1

One of the most common questions we ask each other is, “How are you?”  Most of the time we answer with a simple, “Fine thank you!”  After all, we are hardly likely to entrust our deepest feelings to people we barely know!  This verse gives us a new perspective to that question and our response should be, “Blessed!”

The death of Jesus and the events of the cross achieved mighty things for us; all that we have done wrong, our transgressions, are forgiven.  They have not been filed away to be dealt with later, nor swept under the carpet, but rather they have been totally, utterly and forever forgiven.  Let us take a moment to ponder the implication of this.  It means that nothing we have ever done, or neglected to do, stands between us and God.  He is not holding anything back from us because of our past actions.

So the next time someone asks, “How are you?” you can look them in the eye and say – “Blessed!” But you probably won’t!

Surrender more

‘When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.’ Luke 22.14

At the point in the Communion Service when the bread and wine are to be consecrated as a memorial of what Jesus did at the Last Supper, the words usually begin with this powerful phrase: ‘On the night that he was betrayed…’  On that particular night – when his friends would leave him, another friend would hand him over to the authorities and when he was to feel desperate darkness – we are told that he gave thanks to his Father and entrusted his life entirely to him.

The point is this: we all have times when we feel let down and betrayed by other people – sometimes we might even feel betrayed by God.  The question is what do we do at these times?  Our temptation is often to withdraw and hide away, either physically or emotionally.  Yet in Jesus we see something totally different.  His reaction was to surrender even more; to see beyond what was happening to him and to keep alive a belief that despite his present circumstances, the pit was not the end.

There is a lovely detail in one of the healing stories in Mark 7, when we are told that Jesus raised his eyes ‘to heaven’.  It may be that he simply looked up, but perhaps he was looking to a different place or a different reality – taking his eyes off the situation that was immediately in front of him.  We need to learn that ability.

Right now, take your eyes off whatever is causing you heaviness or anxiety.  Instead look to the reality that you are loved by ‘Abba, Father’, that Jesus gave his life for you and that living within you is the very presence of the Holy Spirit.

Be my shepherd

‘Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them for ever.’ Psalm 28.9

It is a beautiful prayer of trust and surrender to say to the God who loves you – ‘be my shepherd’.  The truth is, of course, that he is our shepherd anyway, but perhaps we don’t always take it as seriously as we might.

Shepherds lead their flocks, but they don’t always consult them about where they are going to be led!  It might be interesting to ask yourself, “Where did my Shepherd lead me yesterday?”  If you were in a challenging situation, you may well rather not have been facing it – but what if the Shepherd led you there?  Perhaps he wanted you to learn something or to be there for someone else?

If this is the case, what about today?  Are there situations that are causing you some anxiety?  If so, what does this picture of a shepherd leading an anxious sheep say to you?  Surely if the shepherd is doing the leading he will protect, guide and bless – and his task is so much easier if the sheep is not constantly trying to turn back and head in the opposite direction!

Praying to the God who works wonders

“Who is like you … working wonders?” Exodus 15.11b

It is likely that we all believe that God works wonders; this must be within his capability or he would not be God.  What we are less certain about is the faith that God is going to work wonders on our behalf.  Of course, God sustains us and we are surrounded by his wonders – but could there be more?

We see wonders flowing from the ministry of Jesus – and he foresaw the work carrying on after him.  It is this continuation of his work that many of us are not so certain about.  It may be that we do not feel worthy recipients of such wonders, or it could be that we are only too aware of plenty of people in far greater need than us.  However, by thinking like this we are putting the focus on ourselves rather than on him.  He is the God who works wonders; it is about him and not us.

There is a moment when two blind men went to Jesus and the question he had for them was not about their blindness or why they were suffering in this way, but rather, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9.28).  His question seems designed to lift their eyes away from their condition and on to him – the one who works wonders and who wonderfully met their needs.

In the end it comes down to attitude.  Too often we approach God with an unspoken attitude of, “I don’t suppose you’re interested in this but I’ll mention it anyway!”  God is not ashamed to be known as the one who works wonders.  This is who he is so let’s recognise it and turn to him

Rooted to the spot!

“Who is like you … awesome in glory?” Exodus 15.11b

Awesome has taken on a new meaning in recent years and many understand it to mean ‘amazing’.  However, at its root the original word contains the concept of ‘fear’.  It conveys something of the feeling that can root us to the spot and over which we have little control.  When God is described as ‘awesome in glory’, this is what is being conveyed.  It is not just that it would be an amazing sight to see God, but that it would root us to the spot and render us helpless.

When we think of the presence of God within us, we might think of it in terms of a sense of peace or the ability to do something we might otherwise be unable to do.  Sometimes we may not feel anything at all.  God is probably being very good to us in this, for if we could sense the ‘awesomeness’ of his glory and presence within us, then we would probably be unable to move or do anything at all.

When the Bible calls on us to ‘fear’ the Lord, it is this sense that we are being encouraged to capture.  It is not about any fear or anxiety in approaching him, but is about the truth of what we do not necessarily experience – how awesome he really is, whether or not we feel it.

Capturing the wonder of how awesome God is – the fear of the Lord – is what is going to feed your worship, guide your path and give focus to your prayers.

Majestic Holiness

“Who is like you – majestic in holiness” Exodus 15.11b

We give holiness a very bad name!  We tend to think of it in terms of what we should not do or what we ought to give up.  Evidently the Bible thinks of holiness quite differently – holiness is something majestic.

This only makes sense if we see holiness in terms of what we gain rather than what we lose.  If we are commanded to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1.16) then surely we can expect to reflect something of this majestic holiness?  It has to be more than us looking miserable because of the harsh demands that we feel God puts upon us.  Holiness is more to do with having something than giving it up; it is about the presence of God within us.

The Bible commands us to be holy – not to act in a holy way – and this begins by us taking seriously the truth that the presence of our glorious God dwells within us. Whatever you feel, the majestic presence of God is with you wherever you go.

What do you expect today?

“Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” Exodus 15.11

What is your picture of God?  As a Christian, you would probably want to say that your image of God reflects the description of God in the Bible.  However this needs keeping alive and fresh, as too often we find ourselves reducing the God of the Bible to a smaller picture that fits in to our own experience of him, or a God that behaves as we expect him to behave.

This verse keeps the wonder of God alive for us and the more we dwell on it, the larger our image of God becomes.  Over the next few days we will be looking at the three glorious phrases expressed within it, and through them seeking to enlarge our vision of God.

However, as a starting point it might be worth taking a moment to reflect on what is your expectation of God today?  This is not a trick question and there are no right or wrong answers, so give it some thought – what do you expect to experience of God today?  How do you expect to interact with him?  In what ways do you expect to see his hand at work?  How do you expect to grow?

Aligning ourselves with God’s will

‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.’ Matthew 12.20

It is very easy to look at the gentleness and kindness of Jesus and confuse these qualities with softness.  As we look at today’s verse in which Matthew applies Isaiah’s words to Jesus, the gentleness of Jesus goes hand in hand with his mission – a mission that is nothing short of justice and victory.  Not only does Jesus have a deep love for those who are suffering, but he also feels the injustice of it.

This is so powerful for us to grasp because it presents us with a picture of Jesus who is not simply holding our wounded selves with a ‘there, there’ attitude.  Instead he holds us tenderly, but with an anger that we should be suffering and with a determination that injustice shall not prevail.

This is where prayer comes in.  Prayer is not simply expressing your wish to God, but is about aligning yourself with his vision for the wholeness of his people – including yourself and those you know.  So as you sit quietly, why not say ‘yes’ to God’s vision and invite him to intervene in your life and in the lives of those for whom you pray?

Difficult People!

‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out’ Matthew 12.20

 

In his Gospel, there comes a point when Matthew pauses to reflect on the nature of the person about whom he is writing, and he chooses these words from Isaiah that seem to
perfectly sum up Jesus.  The phrase he uses overflows with the gentleness and kindness of God to those who are in need.  Matthew tells us that what Jesus sees so clearly is that hurting people are like bruised reeds, and if this is true the last thing they need is to be broken.

Not only does this describe the way Jesus longs to treat us, but also how he longs to treat others as well.  It is so often true that those who need the most love are those who are most unlovable!  Whereas we can be quick to condemn and judge because we see the exterior of people, Jesus sees the bruised reed within; and just as he longs to bring the full nature of his gentleness to us, so he longs to bring it to those whom we could so easily dismiss.

If there is someone you are finding very difficult at this time, perhaps God is not looking at the exterior that is hurting you, but at the bruised reed within.