Bill Dixon is one of our older members who has been around the block a few times. He has seen God move in extraordinary ways and wrote a poem about it. Here's a video of him performing it and telling us his top stories of how he has seen God move. He also gives his tips for people just starting on the adventure Jesus is calling us into.
Forgiveness is a peculiar thing. And quite hard to receive or to give. We've asked Eleanor Masters to write a blog on how and why to forgive yourself. But first a song by Sons of Korah based on Psalm 19 which is about the perfect law of God.
Eleanor Masters - How to forgive yourself
I am writing on this subject not to provide a thorough and absolute doctrine, but rather in the hope of instigating or feeding your own meditations. We are all on a journey and walking this together as the family God has provided for us can get us so much further than going it alone.
Permission to Forgive
I work as a mental health nurse with adolescents aged 12-17, and one of the most prevalent reasons for young people coming to our ward is trauma which has effectively in one way or another trapped them in a horrific moment in time and rendered them unable to move beyond this. Unforgiveness can do the same thing: if someone else has harmed us, the wrong they have done can repeat in our minds; if we ourselves have done wrong, the horror we feel at our own actions can almost seem to hold us hostage and feel just as real as the present moment in which we live.
In Psalm 51 David says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit” in place of burnt offerings – in other words, God accepts David’s remorse as an atoning sacrifice. Remorse itself is not the end point here, and we are not called to remain in a place of perpetual torture over wrongs we have done – this is when remorse morphs into guilt and, as it says in Romans 8:1, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We are free from guilt and “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:9).
God’s grace is always there for you and immediately available for those who ask for it. Sometimes the hardest battle is seeing that “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ our Lord,” (Romans 6:23) and accepting this: he has already paid the price of our sin for us, but if we cannot forgive ourselves we cannot take the gift he freely offers us. Give yourself permission to take this gift – whatever it is you have done, God’s grace is big enough to swallow it up whole and blot it out forever; letting this be true for you is such a vital part of forgiving yourself.
Sometimes it is the conviction that we have not done all that we can to put things right which holds us back from being able to truly forgive ourselves for something. That is not to say that God’s forgiveness waits for action to be carried out or relies on what we do to be released to us, but Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” and in Matthew 5 verse 24 we are told to drop everything on the way to coming before God and make up with those we have fallen out with before coming back to worship him.
Ultimately, although we will not have to pay an eternal price for what we do wrong, we have God-given love for one another in our hearts and deep down it is very hard to tolerate hurting someone else in some way without ever apologising or taking obvious practical measures to put things right if we can.
If what you need to forgive yourself for is something you have ‘done’ to someone else, and you continue to feel ill at ease with yourself over it despite praying, meditating on and absorbing the fact of God’s infinite grace, it may be that you need to ask him what you need to do to demonstrate to that person that you are sorry. Forgiving ourselves cannot rely on whether or not they choose to forgive us, but I’ve found it’s sometimes not possible to let myself off the hook until I’ve let God show me if there is anything of this sort that I can do, and then carried this out.
What If There’s Nothing I Can Do?
When my little sister Alice was alive, there were times when I had a very difficult relationship with her – it is impossible to explain this in just a few sentences, but troubles in our childhood and her on-going battles with various mental illnesses caused a great deal of our interactions to be seen through a lens of suffering. I didn’t learn about her final hospital admission until she had already been a patient for 3-4 weeks because she had asked my parents not to tell me, saying that she blamed me for her needing to be there. I was devastated and crushed when I found this out, but I was also extremely angry at the injustice of it: I had not hurt her and could not cause her to become so unwell, but it felt like my parents were endorsing this belief. This and the fact that I was in another city looking after a newborn and a toddler while recovering from a caesarean meant that I very much delayed trying to arrange visiting her in hospital.
It took several weeks before I felt I could even phone her: I didn’t want to bring up what I had been told and make her feel worse, but it was hard to think of speaking about anything else. We did have a handful of conversations over time, and the last time I spoke with her I told her that I would visit the following Saturday. I had been hoping that when we saw each other she might see my love for her and that we could be fully reconciled. Unfortunately Alice died in the early hours of that Tuesday and I was unable ever to see her alive again. I had had no idea that the time we had was running out so rapidly, and therefore did not know how much I needed to ensure we had truly cleared the air. In all honesty, I was still angry with her at the time when she passed away.
I am sharing this because it is the clearest example I can think of in which there is nothing I can now do to put it right. In this case, I didn’t cause the hurt in the first place, but nor did I pursue reconciliation while I had the chance and now, two years on, this still fills me with sorrow.
Over the last two years, I have gone from trying to ignore thoughts and feelings about this (because the loss of Alice alone was more than I could bear) to being forced to face this and bring it before God many times. Finally I have arrived at a place of peace – not without sadness, but the anger and the feeling that I need to be punished are no longer with me.
If you are grappling with a complicated situation where there is no clear solution or no way you can do anything to change things, do not despair. Jesus tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33.) There is nothing, nothing he cannot heal. Do not be discouraged if there are some things you cannot instantly forgive yourself for: keep bringing them before God, keep standing in his presence and letting his love wash over you and keep coming back to the Bible. I would really recommend the book of Romans and 1 John as full of fantastically freeing truths about God’s forgiveness and a life lived in the light of this. Reading these, soaking up the truth and coming back to worship God again and again will help you forgive yourself for what he, our God, has already forgiven you.
There are so many things I haven’t even tried to cover here, and so much more that could be said on what I have touched upon, but I do hope I have given you some food for thought.
I also want to briefly acknowledge that there may be some specific but serious cases in which seeking professional help may be of use. For example, if you have been through something very traumatic but lost someone else to this and feel you may have “Survivor’s Guilt,” getting someone to talk to might be a good idea. I do not say this to downplay God’s grace and capacity to heal, but rather because you may be experiencing things which most people have little understanding of and this can be more damaging than helpful at times.
I truly believe and have found in every circumstance I’ve lived through that our Heavenly Father will walk with us through anything and can bring healing to our hearts no matter what we have done.
This week we'd like to challenge you to read the psalm Jess and Steve preached on last Sunday using the 'Lectio Divina' Method.
What is Lectio Divina?
Lectio Divina is a Benedictine practice of reading the bible prayerfully. The intention is not to study a specific Bible passage but to meet God by reading scripture. By reading the same passage a few times, each time with a different focus, we encounter God whispering to us, pointing out things in our life He'd like to change, encouraging us and drawing us near to His Father's heart.
Again, the intention is not to understand what the passage says, it's to hear God's voice speaking to us personally, so take your time in each step.
How to do Lectio Divina?
There are a couple of ways of doing this but the simplest way is to read the same passage 3 times.
- The first time you just look at the text. What is happening? Who is speaking? Are there phrases or words that pop out? We're not looking to work out why, just be aware of what captures your attention.
- The second time you read the text while praying "God, what are you saying to me today?". So now we ask the question why specific phrases or words stand out.
- The third time we ask what God is inviting us into. Are there opportunities God is highlighting for you to step in?
We would recommend this resource when you want to read Psalm 68 with Lectio Divina.
Thomas's Thoughts on Psalm 68
When I started reading this psalm with the intention of doing the three steps of Lectio Divina, I initially thought it was quite a long psalm with many movements and different themes. The first time through, I had to read a couple of verses multiple times to understand what was going on. To be honest, in the first reading not a lot jumped out to me. For clarification, I used the ESV when reading the Psalm. There was one word in verse 9 that jumped out to me as I was reading - 'inheritance'. I couldn't see a reason why it jumped out to me so I almost didn't pay attention to it but I underlined it anyway.
I prayed "God, what are you saying to me today?" and read the psalm a second time. This time a couple of things jumped out. Especially the movement we see in verse 24 where it speaks about a procession into the sanctuary. I saw a picture of Jesus on a horse entering the city with his warriors celebrating a victory. I felt an intense joy with this. I was standing in the crowd cheering.
On top of that, the line in verse 10 stood out to me that says: "From your bounty, God, You provided for the poor". This reminded me that, although the psalm talks about how God defeats His enemies, He doesn't want to have enemies and would rather save people, but there's no room for people intentionally going against Him.
The third time I asked what God was inviting me into. As I started reading, the first words of the psalm instantly hit me: "May God arise". Now the next thoughts are hard to explain so bear with me. Verse 16 jumped out as well and it was as if the mountain in the verse was an image for my heart. God invited me to not be in the crowd cheering during the procession, but one of the warriors. In order to become that, I need to have an undivided heart. Some things in me are enemies of God and there's just no room for that. So He invites me to let those things go and let Him be the ruler in my heart.
I shared these to give you an idea of how Lectio Divina can work, of course you will probably pull different things from psalm 68 in conversation with God!
What is God inviting you into?
Last Sunday we kicked off our new sermon series - Psalms that tell a story. We started with a Psalm written during David's life when he was being persecuted by Saul. David wrote a lot of songs while under adversity. We've asked Tony Bunker to write us a blog on how to reverse adversity, but first hear how Rend Collective puts their feelings into a song:
When it's just not OK - By Tony Bunker
Hi, my name is Tony and I am married to the lovely Maddy. We have three grown up boys who come home from time to time to eat all our food. I am writing this because I have a fair bit of experience of living when its not OK. I am disabled with a form of restricted growth which limits what I can do and causes quite a bit of pain. I also have some longstanding promises from God which have not yet been fulfilled…
We know our God is amazing. We know He regularly does frankly astonishing stuff like fixing bodies so they work properly, or fixing finances so that there is money when before there was just a horrible gap. He fixes relationships so that there is peace instead of tension. He fixes emotional hurt, career mess, addictions - the list goes on and on. Most of all, we know our God is amazing because He brings us salvation, wholeness and spiritual life. He brings hope, joy and a fantastic future. We know these things are true because scripture says so and because we have seen them
to be true in our lives and the lives of others we care about.
So what happens when they aren't? Or at least they aren't so far? What happens when all we are left with is unfulfilled promises and emotional rawness? When we just can't bridge the vast chasm between what we believe and know to be true, and the daily rubbish in front of our eyes? And what about when it isn't just a quick crisis but a grinding struggle, rolling on unchanging for months and years, stretching our hope very thin? What happens when we have to say ‘I’m fine thanks’ when people ask us how we are, because if we told them the truth we’d start crying and not be able to stop?
How do we respond when we find ourselves facing this - and many, if not most, of us will at some stage in our lives? David, Paul and countless others rolling down from the pages of scripture to the present day, have dealt with the most horrendous adversity and not been broken but actually seem to grow stronger in the midst of it. So what’s the secret? Here are a few thoughts:
- Be honest with God, if it hurts say so! Don’t pretend it's all OK when it's really not, God is big enough to deal with our anguish, frustration and questions, even our anger. But stay away from self pity and despair - that’s enemy territory.
- In your honesty, remember who God has shown Himself to be to you. Remember specific instances where He has shown you His grace, love and power. But most importantly remember who He is. David was sustained through some very difficult times by his deep inner certainty that God is good and full of love. Pray that God will show you more of who He is to help you in the same way.
- We are built to live in friendship with others. Find people you trust who you can tell how much it hurts and who can support you, pray for you, love you, and yes challenge you when you need it.
- Keep an eternal perspective. Your life belongs to God and ultimately what matters more than anything is becoming more like Jesus and building his Kingdom. It's hard, but hold things lightly here and now, and keep your eyes on the prize!
Remember, no matter how it seems it's going, it's still only halftime!
This weekend we'll be starting our new sermon series on the Psalms. These 'Food for Thought' blogs will be released every week to help us get a bit deeper into each theme.
As an introduction we'd like to explain a little bit about how the bible tells us the same stories from different perspectives.
But first, we thought you might enjoy this rendition of Psalm 77 by Sons of Korah:
The bible from different perspectives
Often when we are reading the Bible, we zoom in on one passage or book. It’s important to note that a lot of it fits together and the Bible gives different accounts of the same time period. We have 4 gospels that tell the story of Jesus in a different light, each with their own focus and style. Also in the Old Testament we’ve got different sets of literature that speak about the same events.
Traditionally, we divide the type of books in the Old Testament as follows; the Pentateuch (or the first five books of Moses); historical books; wisdom books and the Major and Minor prophets.
The first five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) have in themselves different ways of telling the story. There are big chunks of historical report mixed with a lot of poetry. There’s also direct instruction of how to live life, as it tells us how God gave His people the law and what the law was.
The Historical books are Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. We see some songs and even prophecies but they are primarily a historical account of events concerning Israel as God’s people.
Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs are books of wisdom. They don’t tell us an account of events. Most of these books are written in a poetic style and have a lot imagery in them.
Though these book are not historical books, it’s worth noting that there’s usually a story behind the poetry or a reason why they were written. We can often find the context of these books in passages of the Historical Books. For instance, Psalm 51 was written after David committed adultery with Bathsheba, which we can read in 2 Samuel 11.
Sometimes there’s a prophetic layer to these books as well. For instance, Psalm 22 was written by David, singing about his sorrows, but we can also see Jesus in this Psalm and how he was rejected.
Major and Minor prophets
The prophetic books are also not historical. The prophets received a word from God for different sets of people and we get an outsiders look into these words. These prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
Again these are written in a certain time period and for a specific reason. They have elements that are historical to explain why they received these words from God.
So how do they hang together?
If not all books are primarily historical, and they are not ordered in the bible chronologically, how do we know what goes with what? A psalm is written for a specific occasion, but can we get more insight into the psalm if we can figure out when it’s written?
If we look at the graph below we see that Job is one of the oldest books. We also see that Isaiah and Micah were contemporaries. We can see that Chronicles and Kings are talking about the same time period. They’re both historical books, what’s the difference between them? Do they have a different focus and why might that be?
It’s important to know when we read Isaiah that he wrote his stuff before the exile and that Malachi wrote after the exile while Israel was still under the rule of other nations.
When looking at a certain story, it might be worth checking if there was another Biblical writer writing in the same period or about the same events. This way we can get a clearer picture of what has happened historically and with what intention the writers wrote.