‘I’m always challenged, how far am I willing to go to love someone… and what would I be willing to give up to do that… Jesus dying on the cross puts love into perspective.’
“How do we, in practice, put others first and build the kind of authentic community that truly is tangible evidence that a better world is possible?”
We often find it easier to respond to life’s challenges with fear (of change, of losing power, of giving up our comfort, giving up control) rather than seeking to understand God’s purpose. When we examine the life and death of Jesus, especially as we celebrate Easter – what we see is HOPE – displayed in the fulfilment of God’s plan to save humanity.
Welcome to the fifth week of Lent. Please take some time to listen to Rachael’s message.
Lent Devotional Week Five
We can read in the verses of Luke 23:32-43 about what was happening in those moments as Jesus hung on the cross. Jesus had been through so much already: arrested in the middle of the night, disowned by his friends, put through false trials, blindfolded, whipped, beaten, spat on, forced to drag his own cross through the streets, and nailed to it, high up and humiliated for all to see.
As He hung there, the soldiers who had been responsible for much of this mocked him. They gambled for his clothes and while they did, they made fun of him, saying, ‘if you were really God you could get down from there’. Jesus is bleeding, broken, exposed and in the midst of all of this, Jesus cries out these words: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This is incredibly challenging.
How could Jesus forgive them?
How could he petition God on their behalf and ask God to forgive them?
Why is Forgiveness so hard? Why is it so hard to forgive those who have hurt us?
Forgiveness is hard and for some of us it’s extremely emotive. Some of us have been hurt so badly that the very idea of forgiveness is too hard to even know where to start. Some of us struggle with the idea that God has forgiven us, and some of us struggle to forgive ourselves.
The Journal Psychology Today described forgiveness as: ‘a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness’.
Often in conversations about forgiveness we hear two main requirements for forgiveness. One that the perpetrator is sorry and repentant and has told you so, this would often mean they have come to you asking for forgiveness. But in the story of Jesus on the cross, clearly neither of these things happened. The soldiers were still in the actual act of crucifying Jesus as he said these words, they went on to continue mocking him, there was obviously no repentance taking place.
The other problem we usually hear when talking about forgiveness is that it makes the crime out to be no big deal. ‘If I forgive them, it’s like what they did doesn’t matter.’
The study continues on to say: ‘Just as important as defining what forgiveness is, though, is understanding what forgiveness is not. Experts who study or teach forgiveness make clear that when you forgive, you do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offence against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offences. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from legal accountability.
Instead, forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger. While there is some debate over whether true forgiveness requires positive feelings toward the offender, experts agree that it at least involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings. In that way, it empowers you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal and move on with your life.
Especially at times when we are really deeply hurt, words or those actions can stay with us for a long time. Hurt can embed itself in us, become a part of our core, something so tightly intertwined we don’t recognise ourselves without it. It can be something that’s carried on down through generations, when great crimes have been committed against people to start to talk about forgiveness can seem absolutely incomprehensible. There are no easy answers in these cases, all we can do is come before God.
Jesus is our example in everything. Jesus showed us what the father looks like, he showed us what his kingdom looks like, he showed us what living looks like, a Christian is a follower of Jesus and so we seek to emulate him in all that we do.
Following Jesus isn’t easy because like Him we take up our cross and live our lives to serve him and to love others. The nature of this is that is challenging, it’s always radical, always counter-cultural, and usually different to what we see all around us.
Forgiveness is extremely counter cultural, but this is the nature of God. All through the narrative of the Old Testament we can see God’s heart in bringing people back to him, to forgive our selfishness, our idolatry, our desire to have what we wanted. People would walk away, disregard God and he would make a way for them to come back to him. No one knows the journey of forgiveness like God.
The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 4 verse 32: ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’ God’s forgiveness is complete and absolute, ‘therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’ 2 Cor 5:17
Forgiveness is essential for life, it’s incredibly powerful. It’s proactive and assertive. Forgiving is not coming from a positive of weakness, but allowing God to work in us, to be counter-cultural, to stop the hold the pain has over our life.
Jesus has shown us what it looks like to forgive, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to forgive others when we need to. It’s not an easy journey, but it is one that God understands and will give us the strength to walk through.
Welcome to the fourth week of Lent. Please take some time to listen to Lou’s message.
Lent Devotional Week Four:
In her message, Lou says these words: “Human beings are a mess of contradictions, known as the idea of ‘the divided self’. We want opposing things, the Spirit is willing yet the flesh is weak, we want to go on adventures yet we want to be safe, we want to serve God yet we want to fulfil our own desires. Such is the chaos of our inner selves.”
Lou shares that betrayal and failure is part of what it means to be human, but it also means things such as love, warmth, beauty and kindness. This means that our human-ness will always form a part of what it is to follow Jesus too. We won’t be able to follow perfectly, because we are not perfect and we shouldn’t allow our conflicts to make us feel shame as God knows the desires of our heart. God never expects perfection.
This what we see with the disciples in Matthew 26 and especially with Peter. There are so many examples in this chapter of the disciples getting it all wrong, even though they had lived with Jesus for three years.
We see at the Last Supper the disciples debating who is going to be the most in the new kingdom, even though Jesus preached an ‘upside down kingdom’ of last first and first last. In the garden, we see the disciples fall asleep even though Jesus had poured his heart out and asked them to pray and be with him. Then Judas betrays him for money and another disciple uses violence to defend Jesus by cutting off a soldiers ear when they came to arrest him. Peter then in fear denies knowing Jesus, just as Jesus told him he would.
This chapter is an exhibition of humanity and the divided self. The self that wishes to serve God humbly but also wants to gain things. We see betrayal of deep moral convictions in the face of worldly concern. We see ego, the selfish desire to fall asleep, the power of money, fame and success, the desire to dominate through aggressive means and of course, fear.
As this is part of our shared human experience and we know the suffering it can cause us, when are the times where you have betrayed what it is to follow Jesus?
What call has God given you? What are you afraid to follow or revisit because of the fear of failure?
When we step up, as we risk more, there will be moments of failure however it’s not a reason to give up. God knows the contradictions that we face and the shame that we can feel, its why he has given us His Spirit to comfort us, to bring healing to us and to strengthen us in following the call that God has given us.
We are no different to the disciples, those who walked with Jesus and whom Jesus called his best friends. These ‘failures’ changed the world through their story.
Just like them, God will continue to trust us and entrust us with his call.
Welcome to the third week of Lent. Please take some time to listen to Andrew’s message.
Lent Devotional Week Three:
As we hear in Andrew’s message, Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem only a day or so after turning over the tables and casting out the money changers, again highlighting the social inequality and the religious imbalance that he saw. Jesus points out the rich and the religious and shows their heart for what it is, a heart that while outwardly showing service to God, was inwardly worshipping power and self.
When Jesus points out the widow He does so because he is making a statement about the heart of true worship He sees in her. Jesus remarks: “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” – Mark 12-43,44
Giving all that she had, she was living out the foundations of the greatest commandment that Jesus spoke of only a few verses earlier, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12v30,31.
This is what worship is really all about and this what we see in the life of Jesus, who, as Paul remarks in Phillipians 2:
Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Philippians 2v6-8
What we see as we look towards the cross is Jesus’ greatest moment of worship and the ultimate fulfilment of the greatest commandments.
When we remember the cross and remember the widow, we see that the heart of worship will always choose to intentionally and deliberately love God and love others no matter what it looks like. Worship always scorns the power, pride and control that sin craves and shows up the fallacy of the powerful and the religious because worship:
- helps us to live beyond our embarrassment and shame
- doesn’t allow the labels of others to determine who we are and who we see others to be, in Christ we see a new identity
- scorns suffering and pain because we love without condition and beyond circumstance
- shows the world the beauty of God’s love and His kingdom as we live to love him and others more than ourselves.
If when we remember the widow and cross, we see that worship is not about us or what we are seen to be doing, but who we really love, let’s ask ourselves:
Who do I really love?
How important is wealth and power to you?
Do I by my actions or choices exploit others?
Do I allow circumstance to dictate how and if I am loving?
Have I allowed circumstances to make my life more about me than anything else?
Welcome to the second week of Lent. Please take some time to listen to Wawira’s message.
Lent Devotional Week Two – Jesus Wept
Luke 19 v 38-44
When he (Jesus) came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the last time, he knew that his decisions would ultimately lead to his death. He knew that this ‘city of peace’ did not fully realise or appreciate His coming, nor did its people understand the message that He brought.
So often we too, fail to realise all the great things that God has given us that bring positive change. Sometimes this is because we cannot appreciate the gifts, skills, opportunities and abilities that we have been given and sometimes the price for real change seems too high.
Wawira shared her personal story with these struggles. That even in the success of Food for Education, she too has had her doubts and fears and has felt at times like she should give it up.
Being a radical follower of Jesus, Wawira shares, is to walk the journey to ultimately bring God’s peace through change. However, for us who seek to bring change, our peace may not be in seeing its fulfilment but instead is found in the promise of God’s presence with us as we walk that journey with Him.
As followers of Jesus we need to ask these questions:
- What is the change that I believe Jesus wants to see?
- What skills and abilities do I have bring that change?
- What opportunities/privilege has He given me to bring change?
- What often holds me back?
- The journey to bring change always comes at a cost, is it worth it?
Welcome to the first week of Lent. Please take some time to listen to Anthony’s message…
Lent Devotional Week One – Jesus Cleanses the Temple
When Jesus cleans the temple in Matthew 21:12&13, He declares “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” This is a direct reference to the words of Jeremiah in Chapter 7 verses 1 -11 in which it says:
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:
“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. 3 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your waysand your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” 5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
9 “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching!declares the Lord.
Anthony shares that by referencing the prophesy of Jeremiah, Jesus in cleansing the temple is protesting the injustice seen in the temple just as we read in Jeremiah’s prophecy. It is at this point that the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke record that the religious leaders began to plan to kill him. It is his protest which becomes the turning point in the life of Jesus that leads to his eventual death.
Jesus’ death paid for our sins but it also paid the price for protest.
In our journey to become more like Jesus this means we need to understand that…
- Living like Jesus is living a life which protests against a power structure that makes profit from religion and poor
- Living like Jesus protests a religion that excludes the poor
- Living like Jesus protests a religion that opposes another culture more than it opposes injustice.
Our lives too must become lives of protest.
Q – In what instances do you see exploitation and exclusion of the poor?
Q- How can you become a voice of protest?