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Archive for the ‘Walking with God’ Category

“As you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt.” The Mayo Clinic

Medicine and psychology would both encourage the benefits of the practise of forgiving. To do so can effect blood pressure, the immune system, as well as improve mental health, anxiety, stress and depression.

But, what does the Bible say?

When I began my study into Biblical forgiveness (a-lesson-in-forgiveness), I discovered that, on the surface, it was not as clear as I had always thought, particularly when I looked at the life story of Joseph, our man with the coat of many colours.

I decided I needed to understand the origins of forgiveness in Greek or Hebrew, in the various locations in the Bible where forgiveness is spoken of.

In Hebrew, there are three main words forgiveness is translated from. Kaphar, which means shelter or to atone. Naga’ is the most frequently translated word for forgiveness in the Bible, and it means to to lift up, as in the taking away of a burden.

Then there is salach, and it is special, for it is never used (biblically) for instances of human forgiveness. This is the forgiveness that only God can give … not only is forgiveness given, but it is as though the offence never happened (though the debt of it still had to be paid, but we do not pay this, for we cannot, only Jesus’ blood could pay that debt).

You and I cannot do this type of forgiveness.

In the Greek, the words used for forgiveness are aphesis means pardon, cancellation of a debt, apolyo which means set free, and charizomai  meaning God’s freely given grace.

Then there is aphiemi which means to set free … it not only forgives, but erases or covers, as in Jeremiah 31:34:

“I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more”.

This is not forgiveness on our own strength, but through Christ, and it is ONLY through Christ that we can forgive others. It is a miraculous thing, not a mental one for there is nothing within us that can forgive. This supernatural action is what Philippians 2:13 declares:

“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

And this is the crux of forgiveness from a biblical perspective … it is only in in the power of God, that our human need to forgive is covered and a working of the divine makes our effort successful, setting not just our offender, but also ourselves free indeed.

We must forgive, because it is in our weakness that Christ’s strength transforms our forgiveness, our naga (taking away a burden) and makes it aphiemi (erased).

I love what John Steakhouse has said:

“To forgive does not mean to forget (in human terms). It does not mean to pretend that there is no debt, or that the debt is less than it actually is, or that the debt is somehow other than what it is. To forgive is to refuse to claim one’s just deserts. It is to surrender one’s rights, to move on without vengeance, retribution, or even simple justice. It is to generously draw a line under the debt and say, “That’s over. Let’s move on.”” And  this is not something that can be done in our own strength, but only with and under the cover of Christ. 

This story creates a beautiful illustration of the beauty of choosing forgiveness:

One day when Stan Mooneyham was walking along a trail in East Africa with some friends, he became aware of a delightful odor that filled the air. He looked up in the trees and around at the bushes in an effort to discover where it was coming from. Then his friends told him to look down at the small blue flower growing along the path. Each time they crushed the tiny blossoms under their feet, more of its sweet perfume was released into the air. Then his friends said, “We call it the forgiveness flower.” This forgiveness flower does not wait until we ask forgiveness for crushing it. It does not release its fragrance in measured doses or hold us to a reciprocal arrangement. It does not ask for an apology; it merely lives up to its name and forgives-freely, fully, richly. (from PreceptAustin.com)


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IMG_4461 (1)When one is convicted by God, it is clear … unless you feel really uncomfortable with the lesson God has for you, then the instinct to flee and forget is greatest.

Such was the case when God was stalking me, prodding me to immerse myself into understanding forgiveness.

The first biblical reference that came to mind was from Luke 23:40, when Jesus was hanging on the cross and he cried out:

“Father, forgive them;
for they do not know what they are doing” 

But what if they do know what they are doing/have done?

This is the verse that is reminded to people when the their injury is still bleeding. Can forgiveness happen before the full weight of the trauma is felt? Can one forgive before the one who did the injury feels the weight of their actions?

Then there is the story of Joseph in the Old Testament (Genesis 37, 39-48). Our favoured boy in the coat of many colours, attacked, then sold by his brothers into slavery. After years of slavery, he became favoured by Pharaoh, a man with a position and power. Then, during a famine ‘chance’ gave them opportunity to reunite (unbeknownst to the brothers). And Joseph forgave them … NOT! Joseph played head games with them, putting them in prison, asking if they had any brothers at home, then having them leave Simon as a prisoner until their return with Benjamin. Placing their payment for grain, a silver cup in their sacks, to test their honesty. It wasn’t until he heard them speaking in Hebrew, saying, “now we must give an accounting for his (Joseph’s) blood” (42:22), that he knew they were repentant … then he forgave.

What? I have always been taught that we forgive regardless of the repentance of the one who wronged us!

Within the story of Joseph is a fascinating tidbit about how Joseph dealt with the sins committed against him by his brothers:

“Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” (Genesis 41: 51). What?! God made him forget what was done to him? But he never forgave them. I have always been told that forgiveness is for the victim, the one who is wronged … that we forgive so that we might have peace. It would seem that Joseph had peace simply by God granting him amnesia over the events that had been done.

Within the Lord’s prayer we hear the words, And forgive us our debts/transgressions/sins, as we also have forgiven our debtors/transgressors/sinners” (Matthew 6:12). But, does that only qualify if what someone else did to us was an actual sin? What if they said something thoughtless or mean-spirited? Is that forgivable? Does God only forgive us inasmuch as we have forgiven others?

So many questions!

Since I started immersing myself into the topic of forgiveness I have found myself with far more questions than answers. I find that much more of my understanding of the topic of forgiveness has to do with psychology, song lyrics and cliches than that of biblical instruction and application. I know there must be more to this topic and I am determined to unearth it.

So, for the next few weeks I am planning on spending my blog-writing time (basically every spare, waking moment) immersing myself in what it is to forgive. There will still be posts rolling out on this site … reposts of blogs posts of the past seven years.

Forgive my absence 😉

 

 

 

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Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 6.50.51 AMI grew up on the east coast of Canada, with rolling hills, spectacularly colourful autumn foliage and green, lush valleys.

It is my understanding of the east coast valley that has created for me the imagery of a valley in Psalm 23.

lush.

soft shadows.

cool.

life-giving.

Recently I came across an article about a valley between Jerusalem and Jericho. There are parts of this valley where the cliffs on either side are so high that the sun only reaches the bottom when it is at it’s noontime high. Most of the day it is

dark,

cold,

and every sound reverberates eerily throughout the valley.

This valley sounds more like the Valley of dry bones that Ezekiel wrote about after having a hum dinger of a dream.

I wonder which valley David was thinking of, when he penned the twenty-third Psalm?

Recently I realized that I am like a lifeguard. When a crises or emergency occurs, I become a person of calm, of peace. I think clearly, I speak wisely (ok, that might be a stretch), I care for those who are hurting, I do what needs to be done. Basically, I walk through the Valley of the shadow of death with ease and peace … as though I am being guided, confidently, through this death valley by the Shepherd himself.

Then, days, weeks or months after the crises or emergency I go from strolling through the lush valley with my Shepherd, to fearfully stumbling in the shadows, feeling lifeless, scared and so very alone.

I think that, like myself (like you?) David experienced both types of valleys. He experienced the shadows, and the presence of the sun. He walked through lush green growth, and the dry rocky paths. He heard nothing but the echoes of his own fear-filled heartbeat, and the comforting whispers of the Shepherd.

The thing is, the Shepherd (God) was and is present in both the valley of Ezekiel and the gentle ones I knew growing up.

In the one, Ezekiel is given a vision, by God, of dry bones in the desert. God told Ezekiel that these bones are his people, who say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely” (37:11). That’s a dark valley! A dark, shadowy, fear-filled valley. We have all walked through that valley! Then God instructs Ezekiel, to tell them to live. He told him to say, “I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live” (37:5).

Those dry bones might be quite representative of me when I am stumbling through the dark, shadowy valleys, feeling scared and so very alone. The thing is, though, that shadows are not really something to be fearful of, for a shadow cannot cause us harm, and a shadow is evidence that light is present, for shadows do not exist where there is no light.

In David’s valley there is not just an awareness of the presence of God, but of him leading  the way through the valley. For some that very direct leading can happen right in the midst of walking through the shadow of death. For others it is in retrospect, looking back on that time living under the shadow, that one sees that they were never alone, that they too, were being led by God himself.

The shepherd is there with us, deep in the valley of the shadow of death. He is gently guiding, whispering to us to inhale the breath that makes dry bones come alive. He never leaves us alone, whether we see the fertile lushness of our valley, or it is a mirage that leaves us confused. He is healing our souls … our broken, dusty souls, with his healing presence. He nourishes us, right in sight of our enemies, showing evil that good is being restored.

I wonder …

could it be that when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

that our Shepherd whispers sleep into our minds,

and while we are sleeping

our souls receive his refreshment from him?

Maybe, while our reality is the dark and deep crevasse, his presence transforms our souls to a restful, peaceful valley, where we can be restored.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
  He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

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Are you feeling broken?

If not today, there have been days, there will be days, when we all feel irreparably broken. Moments, days, years when it feels as though the very flesh of our heart is irreparably broken and you cannot imagine how it can still beat for the pain you feel.

Maybe it is a deep heartache of love lost, or the news from the doctor, or the academic goals that seem out of reach, or more bills than money at the end of the month, or the struggle of your child, your spouse, your parent, your friend, or the heavy darkness that simply

will
not
lift

or …

And you feel as though life as you know it … is gone.

And you cannot imagine it ever returning.

And you wish you could do something. Willing to do anything.

“Sweat, wrung from him like drops of blood, poured off his face.”
Luke 22:44

And you look in the mirror, at your hands … for you know, at this level of brokenness, that one can indeed sweat blood.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me …”
Luke 22:42

And, like Christ, you have prayed, you have asked and begged that God would take whatever this horrible thing is, from you. That you would not have to face this news, heartbreak, fear, discouragement or rejection. That you would not have to face tomorrow.

” … yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Luke 22:44

How did Christ say those words? How could he submit to what he knew would end his life? How could he end that life, apart from his Father?

He was walking the walk of the broken.

Like Daniel who with “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18). Some have interpreted the verse to “but even if he does not, he is still good.”

Matthew Henry would said, “true devotion calms the spirit, quiets and softens it” …

there is nothing like brokenness to prompt us to raise our hands in defeat, in weakness, in forfeit, and give up … or confidently let someone else take over, accepting that, in doing so

it is not our will, but his …

and even if he does not intervene, we will still serve him

and he is still good.

When I am broken, and I have experienced brokenness, the only thing that keeps me going is the hope, the belief, that God is in the business of redemption. That it is through our darkest nights, through our deepest pits, through our heaviest heartaches that he makes something new and beautiful from the devastation in our lives.

I want my brokenness to be birthed into his redemption story.

But, before redemption, before re-birth into wholeness, there is the labor of the brokenness. There is submission to his will, his plan. Finally there is the acknowledgement that he is good, even if …

 

 

 

 

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IMG_4462An early morning drive to take my son to his weekend job at a camp out of town was such a gift as the weekend began, and the previous week came to a close.

As I returned home yesterday, under the cobalt blue sky, as I absorbed the serenity of the silence in the vehicle, as I reflected on the week, I realized how many times I had experienced something like kisses blown from heaven, and was completely unaware.

When the week began I had a plan of self preservation, to ensure that I would not be working on empty. Within hours of deciding on my plan, it became apparent that my plan was thwarted before I even gave it breath.

Isn’t that a common human experience?

Don’t we all have days, times, situations
when our plans for good are halted?

Don’t such times
just make us throw our hands up
to the heavens in frustration? defeat?

The rest of the week passed … a week of  living for the weekend.

(don’t tell me you’ve never had one of those)

It wasn’t until I was contentedly driving home alone, until I whispered one sentence …

I so needed this drive full of visual beauty …

And, like a light being turned on in a dark room, pushing all that hindered full sight of what the room contained, the blessings of the week came into full view.

  • the end of the horrible, awful, terrible cold early in the week
  • the celebration of our son’s birthday with he and his friend
  • the laughter in the kitchen one night as our daughter regaled us with a spider story
  • attending the birthday party of a long since graduated student
  • the words of affirmation and thanks from another long since graduated student
  • a forecast of sun, sun, sun
  • the warmest greetings from a mom I barely know, whose daughter graduated with ours
  • an unsigned, cheery postcard in the mail

Each event, as I reflected, were like lightly placed kisses on ones forehead. The kind that  are more about adoration than passion, more about giving than taking, sometimes barely felt at all … yet they build up, are more intimate and last longer than any other.

Though we can interpret each of these events as simply just individual events, just the happenstance of life, there is more benefit from them, more purpose and life-giving in them if we can see them as (I believe with everything in my being) the gestures of love from a very loving God, who desires that we see his love and care for us as constant, as abundant.

And so, I look back at the events of this week and I can see the love my heavenly father has for me.

May I prompt you to also look back at your week, and see if you too were so busy living life that your missed the kisses blown from heaven into your week.

“For the LORD your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
Zephaniah 3:17

 

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Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 6.54.35 AM.pngIn Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving this coming weekend.

It is my most favourite holiday of the year, for it is always good to be reminded to give thanks … and there is always something to be thankful for.

Over the past number of weeks I have encountered, in a handful of places and ways, St. Ignatius’ prayer of Examen, and I find it to be a good outline for sincerely thankful prayer.

Ignatius of Loyola was born, in Spain, in the late fourteen hundreds and lived into the mid fifteen hundreds. He was a Catholic Priest who founded the Jesuits. The Prayer of Examen is from his book The Spiritual Exercises.

The Prayer of Examen is not rote but is reflective and personal/intimate.

The steps and order of prayer are as follows (from http://www.ignatianspirituality.com):

1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

Basically one starts out seeking God’s presence. Really this is more about us entering consciously, into his presence, then it is he entering into ours, for he is always with us … we simply are not always aware of this fact.

Then you look over your day, noticing all in it that you are thankful for.

Though we Christians do not normally put much stock into our emotions, and many would even say to not trust them. Yet God can speak to us in our feelings of joy, sorrow, melancholy, fear and anger. He may even awaken us, through the noting of our emotions of the day, to act in some way.

Then, choose one specific part of the day, it will come to you, to specifically pray about. Perhaps it will prompt to make an apology, a confession, a dinner for a friend in need.

Finally, pray for the day to come. For strength, for courage, for wisdom.

(click here for more details on how to pray the Examen).

Basically such reflective, personal prayer can not only be relevant when praying, but throughout the day, as our reflections begin to make us aware of God’s presence in all of our days. We can become sensitive to God’s presence in our life, in our days, not just when our head is bowed, or hands lifted in praise but when we are paying the bills, running kids to soccer and dance, standing in line at the grocery store.

It can convert us to followers of God who are intimately aware of his presence in every part of our day,  not just the times we bow our heads.

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They are with us from birth to death, from morning to night.

Tears. The overflowing of moisture from the eyes which originate in their very own ducts, prompted to release and overflow in the presence of pain, or joy, or sorrow, or strong scents or strong emotions.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 6.08.30 PM

Increases in the hormone estrogen can encourage their release, and an increase of progesterone can dry them up.

The Bible speaks, numerous times of tears in relation to Jesus.

From the prophesy in Isaiah 53:3, we know that well before his birth, Jesus the Messiah was to be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”. Tears were in the cards for him, right from the beginning.

Interesting, though, that in Revelation, it is not the tears of Jesus that are spoken of, but those of us, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17).

The shortest verse in the Bible has to do with tears … and Jesus. John 11:35 tells us that “Jesus wept.” Short and to the point, those two words remind us of Christ’s humanity, and of our being like him in our weeping.

When Jesus wept, he did so upon entering the home of Lazarus and finding him to be dead. Though he knew that he could and would raise Lazarus from the dead, facing his friends sorrow, over the corpse of their mutual friend … a corpse is always the symbol of a world in need of a bloody Saviour. So, he wept. He wept for the women there, for Lazarus dead before him, for sin that had swept, uninvited, into the world, for humanity whose only chance was a redeemer. And he wept.

That is not the end of our tear-jerking moments in the Bible, for our tears are of great importance to our God, for he not only sees and hears our cries, but, You (He) keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8).

tears

“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
Psalm 30:5

 

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