Category: Reaching Out

Faith and Forgiveness

The heart that really understands God’s power can afford to forgive, to live a generous, open life.

To resent and hold things against people is the mark of a shrunken, insular spirit, turned in on itself and trying to live on its own meagre resources.


Organized Religion

Many people these days harbour a deep suspicion or even a dislike of what they call “organized religion”. They consider themselves spiritual, but want to craft a belief system more agreeable to their own felt wants.

But is this wise, or even honest? Those who would go their own way expose themselves to great danger, for all humans are fallible and prone to error. They separate themselves from the believing community and the correctives it contains, from the wisdom of the crowd.

Ironically, they will often cite the judgementalism or hypocrisy of organized religion as the big turn-off, not realizing that in so doing they are themselves judging. They display little grace in their own attitude towards the church.

The community of believers is certainly flawed, because it contains redeemed sinners who are all works in process. What did we expect? We must never forget it is a hospital for souls that are being healed. And I suspect that most of the New Testament would not have been written if the Church were perfect, since most of the letters in it are addressing problems or clarifying points of belief.

The solution is to go deep, and to trust in Christ Himself, not our own dreams about what we think God should be like. If God is real, we are hardly in a position to make Him in our image. He can’t be a matter of interpretation or opinion. The truth about Him, like all truth, is discovered, not made up; in our search for Him we must always beware of inserting our own ideas and preferences onto our conception. We need to be honest with ourselves.

We need the Bible. We need the structure and community the Church offers, but even then we must put our trust primarily not in it (being composed of imperfect people), but in Christ Himself. Read the Bible deeply, let it shape your life, and benefit from the fellowship and counsel of those who are also doing their imperfect best to follow Jesus.

We need our fellow Christians, and as we understand the Bible and God’s wonderful grace we can help build up our fellow believers without being shaken by their inconsistencies – or our own. For we need grace and forgiveness as much as they do.

A real concern in the present crisis is whether those fleeing the violence will embrace our western values of tolerance and freedom of conscience. Hopefully, they all will, but militant Islamists realize that for their more moderate Muslim cousins to do so means giving tacit approval to our Christian roots. They reject that.

Ironically, much modern thought would do the same. Religion of all sorts is lumped together and orthodox Christians especially are vilified as part of the problem; “fundamentalist” has become a handy put-down for anything that suggests real devotion, regardless of its object.┬áIndeed, much of what passes for conventional wisdom in our day says that religion of any sort is the cause of much of the bloodshed and strife in the world today.

But they forget the Christian emphasis on the individual conscience is what laid the foundation for our modern concept of human rights. So when we speak of fundamentalist religion, we must bear in mind what the fundamentals of a particular religion are.

Martin Luther King Jr. found the moral basis of his human rights movement by appealing to our Christian heritage, rather than denying it. He insisted the problem was that society was not taking Christ’s words seriously enough when people allowed the oppression of the African American.

And he triumphed, because he had the right fundamentals: service, love, the real dignity of all people as those made in God’s image.

Many people, when they’re told they need to change the way they’re going, will tell you to stop judging them. That’s not always a fair thing to say, for we may genuinely wish their good and are honestly trying to help.

But we need to be careful of how we say it, and we really need to consider the state of our own hearts. None of us is perfect, and only an appreciation of our own faults, and an awareness of the basis on which God accepts us will give us the authority to tell it like it is. We’re all guilty, and are accepted because of Christ’s sacrifice for us – certainly not because we’re better than anyone else. A joyful recognition of this gift in our own lives is the only proper foundation for encouraging others to change.

Judging says, “You’re such a loser. Why aren’t you doing better – like I am?”.

Encouraging says, “we’re i this together, and I make mistakes too. Let’s both set our conduct according to God’s Word”.

Afraid to Forgive

Maybe the reason we have trouble forgiving critical people is because we’re afraid they’re right. By holding the hurt against them we feel we’re pushing back, that we are affirming ourselves against the pain they cause us. We shout back, “No! You’re wrong!” We fume and fret and want to put them in their place. Who are they to talk like that to us, anyways?

But at the root of it is our own insecurity – which is just inverted pride because It’s Still All About Us. As long as we are in that state we can’t help but worry about what others think.

We’re whistling in the dark. What if they’re right? We make an idol out of our desire to be respected.

Against this stands the Christian understanding of our true nature. We are told we are bent, that we were created good but separated ourselves from the only real source of life through our own pride and self-will. We understand right and wrong, but we still make poor choices, and this tendency is so ingrained and our rebellion so heinous that only the sacrifice of God incarnate could make a way back for us.

But the Bible also tells us we were that valuable, so intensely desired by God that He would do such a thing for us. We were built for an eternity with Him.

And that is where our true identity resides: redeemed sons and daughters of the One who made it all. Instead of shouting back at a world that sometimes seems indifferent to us, we can rest in God’s valuation. He thought we were important enough to die for, and if I fill my head and my heart with that, it’s easier to forgive.

“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly”. (Luke 21:34 NKJV)

We’re restless. There’s something we never quite have, and we try to fill the hole with sex, money, power, learning, new toys, new relationships.

If we are (as the Bible tells us) made for eternity, should we be surprised that we’re never completely content? That which satisfies lies outside ourselves, in other eternal things.

What will really make us happy? Really knowing and serving God, above all, and then putting others before ourselves, as our fellow travellers.

It occurs to me that if we went through life honestly wanting to help others before ourselves there’d be a lot less worry and pain in our lives. Concern about the impression we’re making accounts for a large part of what makes us unhappy.

A Reason To Love

By definition, love always looks away from self to the other, valuing them for themselves, not for what they can do for us. It is humility in action.

For love to be durable, we must take as a given that people have inherent worth and are therefore to be treated with dignity and respect – whether we feel like loving or not.

We know this in our bones. Look at the Ten Commandments: it’s basically a value statement, telling us to honour God and our neighbours because they are valuable; God as the source of all value, and others because they are His creation. As they say, God doesn’t make junk.

I’m told not to steal: why? Because to take what is another’s is to say that my wants matter more. I devalue them.

If we are all just accidents, the products of blind natural forces, we are no more significant than a rock or a tree and our sense of value is just in our heads.

But… we’re not accidents.

Faith and Weakness

Have you ever felt, “if only I could believe better, if only I had more faith”?

It’s like saying wishing you wish you trusted the seatbelts in your car better. But you’re going to go for a drive anyways.

Faith is not concerned with your ability to do anything at all, but in the integrity of what you trust. Whether I think so or not, my seatbelts are strong, and I go driving as if they were. Same with God: I rest not in my ability to believe, but in the Person I’m trusting.

There is rest and a tremendous sense of relief in this. Even when I blow it, even when a thousand voices in my head shout that I’m a failure, I can rest. He (not I) is God; I’m not saved, nor do I serve out of my own ability, but on His. In myself, I feel desperately inadequate. With Him, anything’s possible.

And so I lean on Him. I know what a waffling, diffident windbag I can be: but He gives more grace. I worry less what others think of me; I don’t even have to worry about what I think about me. But this self knowledge doesn’t lead to a pathological self-loathing; rather it forces me to consider and claim His work in my life. It’s not about effort or how skillfully I handle my path – it’s all about HIM. And I am secure, valued, and loved.

My weaknesses make me return to Him for this grace and rest. The trick is knowing to go to Him for relief.

It follows then that I need to do what I can to know Him better. Meditate on His word; spend time in prayer. Make a calculated decision to learn all you can; it’s very down to earth. And whatever you do, don’t give yourself religious brownie points for doing so; this is as sensible as eating your vegetables. The rules of relationship apply just as much to God as they do to anyone else: you have to spend time together if you want to get to know a person. You need to live life together.

People Are Precious

We often forget how precious every individual life is.

My mother is in mid to late term Alzheimer’s. A wise, vibrant and compassionate woman has been reduced to a frail shadow of her former self.

Her care has fallen first to my wife, then myself, and my siblings: and it’s getting harder. But if she were to pass, I know I’d move heaven and earth to have just another few minutes to walk her down her sidewalk, to hold a hand and to tell her I love her. She is slipping out of our lives an inch at a time.

We treat people like they will always be with us. They won’t; but the marks we leave on their hearts will follow them into eternity.

What deposits are we leaving in the lives of others? Are we encouraging, affirming (even if in spite of how they may treat us), or do we place things in their paths that they will have to overcome before they can function?

There are enough heart snares in this world. I hope and pray that I’ll not add stumbling blocks to the lives of others, but that I can serve and encourage with the same grace God has given me.

We will not always have the chance to love and encourage. Our neighbours are eternal souls who will be with us for such a short time – we need to make good use of the time we have to deposit into their lives.