Lent- Forgive part 2

Forgiveness is important enough, and hard enough that it needs more than one Reflection. Here is a story about a time where forgiveness was very hard, but where it eventually became very life-giving for many people.

This is about following through on forgiveness. Forgiveness is tough, but once you’ve made a decision, it’s significantly easier than dithering over the choice. With God’s grace it can happen, but the hurt might not always disappear overnight. By showing forgiveness in a practical way you help to heal the wounds.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Micah 6:8 (NIV)

If you’ve heard about the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990) you’ll know that there is a considerable negative history between Lebanese and Syrians, and that Syrian troops did not completely leave Lebanon before 2005. Before the Lebanese had time to forgive and forget painful memories, the Syria crisis started in 2011, and with it came an influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon, such that our country today has the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world, with one in every four persons a Syrian refugee, 80 percent women and children.

Yet how does the church respond to the needs of this multitude of Syrian refugees when its congregations include people who were themselves, or members of their families were, hurt during the Civil War. God, in His wisdom, started working within us. A colleague of mine openly told her church: ‘The best I can do is pray for them, but don’t ask me to get involved! I still have not forgotten when at gunpoint my husband and I were lined up against the wall to be shot at. It’s only through God’s intervention that we’re still alive.’ Yet as she heard of what the Lord is doing in their lives, she went through a paradigm shift: ‘God is revealing Himself in dreams and visions, miracles of healing, answered prayers to these people whom for years we considered to be the enemy! I want to be where God is at work.’ And so she is today directly involved, both at her church and through LSESD, in serving refugee children and families.

As LSESD we carry out our humanitarian response to the Syria crisis in partnership with local churches and community-based organisations. Each person involved has their own story to share of how God changed their heart. One young man, who had lost loved ones during the same war, shared that at the time he and his community had prayed that God may bring on Syria the same calamities that the Lebanese were going through. Yet, he told us, ‘When the refugees started coming into our country, we rushed to their aid, for who can better empathise with them than us Lebanese who have been through it all?!’ Today, he pastors one of our partner churches in Lebanon that is serving around 2000 refugee families.

God is working both within and through our churches in a magnificent way! All agree that as we serve the refugees, we’re learning a lot of new things about God! God is teaching us how to forgive, and He is teaching us about Him through them.

Today’s blog was written by Alia Abboud from Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD).  Find out more about her here.

Here are some ways to respond to today’s Reflection, building on the first Forgiveness Act. Green for a small step forward, Yellow for a bigger step, and Red for a generous leap.

GREEN:If you are having trouble forgiving, spend today getting closer to forgiveness. Pray for yourself, and pray for the person you want to forgive.

YELLOW:Finding a practical way to show forgiveness starts with sincerely putting the other person first. There are two ways to approach this: (1) think, yourself, of a way to show forgiveness; (2) ask the person you’re forgiving what might be a good start.

RED:Give more than they deserve back. If you’ve forgiven someone, how do you actively demonstrate that with kindness?

Lent- Forgive part 1

This Reflection is one of a pair I read last week, but didn’t have a chance to post until now. Forgiveness is central to our faith, and it is easy to talk about, but really hard to do, sometimes near impossible. But, like giving and living generously, it is often of as much, or even more benefit to us when we can forgive.

Bitterness will eat at you. And it can be properly hard to let grudges go. If you’re holding a grudge or a wound against someone who’s hurt you in the past, make this Easter the time you find a way to forgive them. God says he’ll give you strength to find compassion. In forgiveness, you not only set others free from a debt they owe you, but you also transform yourself – imagine what the world might look like if even half of us practised forgiveness like this.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:8–9 (NIV)

 

I once suffered a painful betrayal from a close friend, and it took me years to forgive her fully. I recount this story in my book The Living Cross, and although these big stories stick in our minds, perhaps equally important are our day-by-day acts of forgiveness that help to keep our souls clean. But we can find it hard to forgive those with whom we have regular contact, partly simply because they are so close to us, and we know them well – foibles and all. We can cling to the ways they have let us down or acted unkindly, but when we do, the unforgiveness builds up like a wall between us. And our hearts form a hard crust, bit by bit, each time that we fail to forgive.

Yet we don’t have to live like this. We can ask God to dismantle these walls and dissolve that crusty layer as he helps us to forgive. Although we may not feel like forgiving, he can change our feelings. For forgiveness is an act of the will, which means we may not feel anything at all, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t working to bring freedom. He is.

How can we forgive? I suggest coming before the cross where Jesus died – this, the living cross – to name and then release each specific sin or wrongdoing there. We may be extending forgiveness to others, or we may be asking God to cleanse us. We wait, and we will receive from God his forgiveness and the power to forgive. We receive his gifts of love and new life. And we find that we are the one who has been set free from the prison of bitterness and unforgiveness.

Why not give it a go today?

Today’s blog was written by Amy Boucher Pye. Find out more about her here.

Here is a suggestion for how to Act in response to today’s Reflection (just one option for now- check out further options in Forgive part 2!):

If you’re in a place where forgiveness is really hard, start by praying: ‘God, I want to want to forgive.’

Lent- Against the Tide

Sometimes it can be easy to go along with the crowd, but in a few days, we hear how the crowds cried out for Jesus’ crucifixion. How can we be generous and compassionate when the people around us make it more difficult?

 

Following the crowd is easy, but it’s not always a good thing. Especially when what’s popular excludes people, or isolates the already lonely. Swimming against the tide is the biggest challenge. But trying it – even just giving it a shot – can be life-changing.

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…”

2 Corinthians 5:18 (NIV)

 

It’s the end of a lovely evening where a group of my friends and their children have gathered to mix batter, toss pancakes and sample a range of toppings whilst chatting and drinking tea. The washing-up done, people gather their children, get their coats and adjust their hijabs before leaving the house.

‘Thank you so much; it’s been really fun,’ I exclaim, as we embrace goodbye.

‘Yes,’ says another, ‘some of us have been here seven or eight years and we’ve never been invited to an English home before; thank you.’

Another day I stop to chat to the new (Somali) owner of a local eatery being refurbished. He tells me a little about his dream for the cafe and, as he warms to his theme of creating a new kind of meeting place, he describes a venue which will attract a wider, more diverse clientele.

‘The trouble is the white people are just not integrating into this area,’ he says, ‘so anything we can do to change that will be positive.’

Never been invited? Not integrating? Who’s keeping who at arm’s length?

Jesus did something positive when he moved into the ‘neighbourhood’ (John1:14 The Message) and spent time with those not usually invited to the parties of the day. His life ended with arms outstretched in sacrificial surrender to the reconciling work of God. Now all are invited to step out of alienation from God and each other and into friendship with Love Himself. It’s the ultimate triumph of friendship over fear.

In a culture which seems to thrive on negative perceptions and suspicion of difference, building friendships with people from other faith communities is one way we can do things differently. How will you swim against the tide of mistrust and fear? In which ways will you live out the message of reconciliation with which we have been entrusted?

Today’s blog was written by Jan from Mahabba Network.  Find out more about her here.

Here are some great ways to respond to today’s Reflection. Green is the simplest, Yellow takes a bit more effort, and Red is more of a challenge!

GREEN:Have a think. Are there any situations where we’re in danger of following the crowd? First stop is social media. Review last week’s posts. Are we ungenerous in how we talk about others on Facebook and Twitter? Resist joining in for the sake of it especially if it might take you to narcissistic or gossipy places.

YELLOW:Office gossip? Train delays making everyone grumpy with train staff? Collective moaning becoming a habit? Think about how you can turn against the tide. Or, something tougher: Who have you been pushing to the back of your mind during the 40acts challenges? Take the challenge to do good to that person today, even if you think they won’t appreciate it.

RED:Challenge ungenerous behaviours that damage communities, our country, and the world. For example? Well, are we locked into a worldly pattern of consumption? Thinking about how our shopping choices affect the world? Generous in the things we like and share on social media?

Lent- Gulp

Giving is not just about the transfer of things from one person to another- it’s a spiritual act in response to how much we have been given by God.

Giving when it’s comfortable is definitely an important part of our lives. But God didn’t call us to only give when it’s comfortable. Does our giving ever make us gulp or cause a sharp intake of breath?

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

Luke 11:42 (ESV)

 

Back in the days when I was teaching full-time, I was faced one morning with the sight of a 14-year-old boy quietly sobbing, his head on his desk. I gently asked him what the trouble was and he told me that he was being forced to leave his foster home after nine years. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Because the subsidy they received wouldn’t be paid any more,’ he answered. He was devastated. Then he looked at me and said the words: ‘Who will want to adopt a 14-year-old?’

‘We’ll adopt you,’ came out of my mouth before a moment’s thought.

‘But I don’t even like you,’ he said.

‘Well, I’m not that keen on you either,’ I said. But I knew there and then that I would go home and speak to my wife, Priscilla, who already had her hands full bringing up our three children – all under the age of six – and explain to her what we needed to do.

She looked at me, took a deep breath and then she said, ‘Let’s take him.’ And we did.

Jesus points out that the Pharisees give: they tithe; they are generous. They give people ‘every herb’. But they are generous only to a point. No deep breaths, no big gulps: they stop when the giving hurts. They do what’s required but they neglect justice and the love of God.

When you come to one of those ‘big gulp’ moments, you don’t always know what the cost is going to be but you know it’s going to be big – it might hurt a little or a lot – but God’s love is big enough to take it.

Today’s blog was written by Charles Osewalt. Find out more about him here.

Here are some great ways to respond to this Reflection. Green is for something simple to consider, Yellow takes more planning, and Red is a longer term goal.

GREEN:

Look back at the list you wrote on day one. Is there anything you’re holding back on that you could give right now?

YELLOW:

If it needs a bit of planning, get to work now. If it’s money, you might not be able to give a ‘gulp’ sum away in one hit, but what if you put aside some each month? Then, at the end of the year, you could reach a significant amount. Start saving, set a goal.

RED:

Review your regular giving (or start in the first place) and challenge yourself to sacrifice so you can push your financial giving further.

Lent- Step Out

Speaking to people about our faith can be a scary thing. We often feel as though by mentioning what we believe, we will be accused of proselytizing. But you never know who might need to hear words of hope at that moment. Today’s reflection is about opening ourselves up to being brave and stepping out of our comfort zone.

That little voice in your head that tells you it’s okay to hold back when you see an opportunity to step out for God. Today we’re ignoring it.

“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

Philippians 4:5 (NIV)

It sometimes feels like I spend my life on buses and trains, travelling from one meeting to another. Most of the time it’s just routine but sometimes, when I least expect it, God gives me a nudge and highlights someone He wants me to talk to. It’s at that point I can choose to go with Him or ignore the prompt, but when I go with Him it’s a real thrill!

So there I am during the last Tube strike, on a jam-packed bus full of frazzled people, and an elderly Sikh gentleman sits opposite me.

I sense God telling me to speak to him.

Now? When I’m running late for my meeting?

But I put away my phone and I smile. He smiles back. Maybe I can leave it there. But God has other plans. The stranger starts to talk to me and it turns out he’s from India, from an area I’d spent time in, so I share my smattering of Hindi with him.

We swap names.

Mr Singh is delighted and we end up speaking about all sorts of things – his wife’s death, his own battles with illness and his family’s wish for him to live with them in the UK so they could look after him. He shares how much he misses his community back home but finds solace in the community at the Sikh temple and then speaks about one of the founding fathers, a guru who’d sacrificed his family life to pursue his faith. His next question is my God-given chance: ‘Do you know anyone who has sacrificed like this man did?’

On that heaving bus, amid the noise and jostling, I said to him, ‘Mr Singh, I do. I know someone who gave his very life as a sacrifice so that you and I could have life. His name is Jesus.’ I told him about the miracles I’d seen when working with a church in India. I answered his questions and shared my faith with him. Mr Singh listened and so did the other passengers nearby.

We got off at the same stop and shook hands, exchanging blessings. I told him how wonderful it was to meet him and he thanked me and said that he could see God in me. We left it there and then I ran full pelt to make my meeting.

A chance encounter? There’s no such thing in my experience, so even when you’re feeling like you’d prefer to keep yourself to yourself, step out and God will be with you every step of the way.

Today’s blog was written by Ros Turner. Find out more about her here.

Here are some great ways to Step Out today! Green is for the simplest Act, Yellow takes a bit more effort, and Red means opening yourself up to a challenge!

GREEN:

Share a bible verse on social media, or with someone in person.

Note from Kristin: This is one of my favourite verses, and I saw this video a long time ago and it never ceases to make me smile.

YELLOW:

Really reflect on how you can be an everyday example of Jesus. Practise sharing your faith with others; brush up on simple tools to help share your faith. If you’re stuck for a tool, why not try Two Ways To Live?

RED:

Pray for an opportunity to share your faith today and look out for it. Go find it.