Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Repentance

On being an acrobat (I’m an expert)

I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
‘Cause I need it now
To take the cup
To fill it up
To drink it slow
I can’t let you go
I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that

U2, Acrobat

I was talking with some friends tonight, and we got on to opening up about the contradictions we live with inside ourselves, how we can appear all righteous on the outside but have the darkest of thoughts on the inside. And they can happen from one minute to the next.

I am amazed often by my own contradictions. I can be incredibly loving to someone, and then minutes later have thoughts that are so selfish I wonder where they come from. I can relate to the acrobat in the song quoted above, talking like this and acting like that. I know my own hypocrisy, how I appear to so many people, but how I at times feel like a fraud. There’s that voice inside me that tells me that a genuine person would never have thoughts that are that egotistical. It’s the voice that says you’re never really good enough.

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What does maturity look like?

Understanding peopleI’ve just been reading a bit of Larry Crabb’s book, Understanding People, again. It’s a book I got in 1987 and it has made a huge impact on me.

The sections I read today discussed maturity and what that looks like. The fact is that much of what looks like maturity in people is actually a commitment to self-protection.

Here are some quotes from the book that have really struck and challenged me. The fact that I find a lot of these quotes so uncomfortable is a sure sign that they apply to me.

  • “Maturity is less related to perfection than to a growing awareness of imperfection, an awareness that…drives us toward dependency on Christ for anything good to come out of our lives.”
  • “A mature pattern of relating involves whatever actions represent the abandonment of self-protection. The defensively pushy person will become more gentle as he matures, while the self-protectively gracious person will assert himself more.”
  • “Mature people relate to others without self-protection as their controlling motive. They love. Their actions may be gentle or brusque, silly or serious, traditional or progressive, quiet or noisy, gracious or severe, tolerant or confrontative, but they will be patient, kind, not envious, humble, sensitive, other-centred, slow to anger, quickly forgiving, haters of wrong, lovers of right, protective, trusting, hoping, persevering.”
  • “[Mature people] relate to others on the basis of a trust in God to look after their deepest welfare that frees them to direct their energies toward helping others.”
  • “In [the presence of mature people], our growth seems more appealing to us than required of us.”
  • “As people learn to love, the internal structures that sustain their emotional and psychological ills are eroded.”
  • “When the Scriptures give no clear instruction to govern specific choices, then the principle is always to do what is loving.”
  • “The effect of dependence on God is freedom to take hold of our worlds and to deal responsibly with them without being controlled by a fear of the pain to which our obedience may lead. The effect of clinging to God is the freedom to love.”

Overcoming disappointment

A couple of months back, Zondervan’s blog had an excerpt from a book by Christine Caine called Undaunted: Daring to do what God Calls You to DoThe excerpt contained steps to overcoming disappointment. They were profound, as they focussed on finding God in the midst of our disappointment rather than trying to feel better. The most profound statement for me talked about the power of worship and praise, and mentioned how filling it is to “remember his mercies more than my hurt.”

You can read the rest of the excerpt here.

Grace beyond comprehension

GraceJohn 21:15-19 is possibly the most profound story in the whole Bible. It shows the simply, well ‘extravagant’ is too small a word for it, grace of God to sinners like you and me. Jesus deliberately singles out Peter and purposefully asks him three times if he loves him. This is not a sign of neurotic insecurity from Jesus, having to ask three times if one of his best friends loves him. It is a declaration of forgiveness of the highest order.

It follows directly Peter’s denial of Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ greatest need. On the darkest night of Jesus’ life, a night so dark that no one before or since has had to endure anything like it, Peter deserted him. Ever the outspoken one, always quick to declare his undying loyalty to Jesus during their three years together, Peter fails when the true test of his loyalty faces him.

The extravagant forgiveness of Jesus as a new day dawns by the Sea of Galilee – a new day in a truer sense than even the disciples probably then realised – is simply mind boggling. The interesting thing is how Jesus forgives Peter. He does not simply tell Peter that it’s ok, don’t worry about it. Many translations put a heading above this story called ‘Jesus reinstates Peter.’ I don’t think this goes even far enough. Jesus actually gets Peter to step up to the plate. He forgives him by commanding him to be a leader in spreading the Good News that he is now receiving, and to look after the new movement that is about to change the world forever.

When a person in a leadership in a church confesses something terrible they have done, the usual step is to get them to step down from their position for at least a time. This occurs even if the person is fully repentant. You see it over and over. But as we see in this incredible passage, it is not the way of Jesus. Instead of getting Peter to step down, Jesus gets him to step up. He affirms Peter, telling him that he will be one of the main leaders in the fledgling movement.

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A response of gratitude

One of the things we tend to lose when we focus so much on following Jesus is the fact that he died for our sins. We lose sight of the forest for the trees. Jesus’ death on the cross served a number of purposes, which are ultimately tied to the fact that he died for the sins of the world.

CrucifixionSin has long been a dirty word in much of the church. It smacks of condemnation and conjures up images of hellfire and damnation. But what Jesus did in dying on the cross for our sins is just the opposite. Think of the worst things you’ve ever done. Sin has consequences; that’s just the way life is. We really do reap what we sow. If we sow destruction, we reap it; if we sow peace and love, we reap that. Sin in my life has produced tears, pain, agony, shame and despair. How can anyone not take that seriously? How can anyone dismiss that as not so bad? Anyone who does is not in their right mind. A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If we don’t take our own sin seriously and want to get as far away form it as possible, we will inevitably make the same mistakes again and again.

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The plank in my eye

Plank in your own eyeI just finished watching the movie Tsotsi with my wife. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t give away too much except to say that it’s a story of redemption. It’s the story of a young man who lives in a shanty town in South Africa whose life is changed after he carjacks someone and takes off in the car only to find a baby in the back seat.

This movie got me thinking about the reasons people do what they do to survive when they are living tough. It is always the poor who get a rough deal, who are blamed for being lazy or good-for-nothing. But it is also those same people who are going through the most incredible hardships. That is not to condone their destructive behaviour, but it definitely is to understand it. There is a huge difference. The ones who really should be criticised are those with a comfortable lifestyle who commit white-collar crime. But they can always afford the best lawyers and so get off more easily.

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True repentance

In my sermon, ‘Free to Love!’, I talked about the issue of repentance and how that word has such negative connotations. If you’re like me, you probably immediately think of someone yelling from a pulpit with his finger pointed straight at you shouting “Repent!”

Photo by Zsuzsanna KiliánUnfortunately the attitude that that image represents is quite accurate of many Christians. And, I have to admit, it has been true of me on too many occasions.

Fuzz Kitto has reminded people a few times that real repentance is not about repenting ‘from’ but it is about repenting ‘to’. The following story of the legend of Odysseus and the Sirens illustrates it better than I ever could:

Odysseus and his crew needed to get somewhere in their boat, but they needed to sail past an island which no one had ever passed before. The reason that everyone had floundered on this island was because of the beautiful seductive voices of the sirens on this island. When they would sing of their promises of wisdom and knowledge, no man could resist and they would turn their ship toward the island and be wrecked on the rocks. So Odysseus needed a way to get around this. He was advised to have his crew lash him tight to the mast of his ship, and then to plug their ears with beeswax so they couldn’t hear the sirens’ song. Odysseus was determined that they were not going to be seduced. He told his crew that when he heard the singing, even though he would be desperate for them to unleash him and let him be lured over to the sirens, they were not to let him. And so they made it through. But Odysseus was exhausted from his efforts at resisting the sirens’ song.

Odysseus then realised there must be a better way. So he took with him Orpheus, who had the sweetest voice in all the land. And when they were approaching the island from where the sirens’ song could be heard, they heard the sirens starting to sing, luring them over. But then Orpheus started to sing, and Orpheus’ voice was more beautiful than that of the sirens, and Odysseus and his crew made it through unscathed.

2,000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth walked the dusty roads of the Middle East living out the same message. The common people heard him gladly because in him they found not condemnation but acceptance. In him they heard words of life, words spoken for them. And in him they saw a life lived in sacrifice and service of others. After his resurrection, his followers became so enamored by his message that they turned the might of the Roman Empire upside down. They no longer had to try to prove themselves. They knew that something new had happened, and they devoted their lives to sharing this love with everyone around them.

The message of Jesus is about finding a better way. It is about repenting ‘to’. It is coming to see how attractive following him is that everything else fades into insignificance. God help me to be more like that.

Sermon – Free to Love!

Photo by Jerzy MüllerCheck out the latest sermon I preached at my church last Sunday. In it I talk about what it means to be loved unconditionally, how that is completely foreign to a culture in which we are forever having to prove ourselves, and what repentance means in light of that.

The word ‘repent’ has terrible connotations, but I’ll try to explain what Jesus really meant by it and how attractive it can be when seen in comparison to those things that promise the world but fail to come up trumps. The analogy of Odysseus and the sirens may leave you surprised as to the attraction of true repentance.

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