Suffering

ARE THERE ANY ANSWERS TO THE PROBLEM OF SUFFERING?

1. Introduction.

I am married to Janet – we have 3 children Andrew [17], Stephen [14] & Vicki [12]. – average family with the usual — ups and downs of family life. – car gives trouble, the washing machine overflows and floods the kitchen – the children argue with each other on and off – just normal everyday things.

In 1995 – September – I woke up with abdominal discomfort; by 8:30 am I was vomiting from the pain – the doctor came – probably kidney stones – pain killers – “See me is two days” – Blood tests – The consultant haematologist wants to see you – bone marrow biopsy – My wife is a nurse teacher – we suspect what it could be – two weeks later after all test are complete

Gray you have cancer – non-Hodgkins lymphoma – cancer of the lymph system – it is in the blood and the bone marrow!”

How bad!”

“It is early BUT there is no cure!”

“How long???”

“It is impossible to say!”

I went home in a daze! and stayed like that for 10 days – Janet and I could not stop crying – we told the children – I wanted to cry every time I looked at them – Those 10 days were the worse of my life! Up to that point!!

WHY me God??! Is this my fault? God’s Fault? Satan’s fault?  Is it simply random bad luck? God, why done you pick on someone else – someone bad??  ILLUS.: Fiddler on the Roof – Yiddish comedy about Jews being relocated in Russia – The father (fiddler) “God I know we are your chosen people but do you think you could choose someone else for a change!”

  • Suffering – everyone at some time. You only have to live long enough and a loved one will die or become seriously ill. You yourself will eventually become ill and die!
  • Parents suffer when their children go off the rails – families suffer because of financial crisis’s – the list goes on …..

 

Suffering on a wider scale.

History is littered with suffering  – wars / famines / earthquakes / floods / slavery / abuse / rape / murder / torture /….

We in Western Europe live in a time and place of unprecedented political stability and economic prosperity – Yet there is tremendous suffering and heartbreak all around us.

Suffering and pain creates big questions in our minds – “Why doesn’t God do something?” — Isn’t he able to do something?

  • A Jewish Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book [1981] [after he lost his son – died from ageing disorder- “When bad things happen to good people?” a best seller overnight because it is a question that bothers us. (He makes the assumption however that we are good!!)

 

No easy answers!

trepidation – many written about suffering – I am not going to solve the dilemma!

– many suffered more than me and therefore are more qualified       to speak.

We can say that much suffering is caused by man’s inhumanity to man…

to a degree that is true

  • Distribution of wealth
  • wars
  • crime ………………….

but not all suffering can be explained this way.

– there are natural disasters (Acts of God) – Illus.: Turkey – earthquakes x2.

– unexplained suffering on individual level – Illus.: Paul De Vere – Why? fair?

The dilemma summarised!

“If God were good, he would wish to make his creature perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, he would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”

C S Lewis

  • people who really struggle – believers in a supposedly all powerful, good God!
  • Atheist – no problem – he says that such a God doesn’t exist anyway!  >> People simply products of matter + time + chance so consequently no moral basis for any absolute values. No right or wrong, good or bad. Suffering and pain is not evil or wrong — it simply IS.                                                          Simply a randomness in the evolutionary process – survival of the fittest!

Should be no ‘problem of evil’ for genuine atheist – no God so how can he be blamed!

Interesting how often a so-called atheist will curse a God he says he doesn’t believe in!

The person willing to entertain the existence of God has the problem.

We want to explain suffering – (What Rabbi Kushner tries to do)

2. If God Is All-Powerful, Is He Not Able To Stop Suffering?

 

The God of the impossible?

  • “If God is all-powerful then surely nothing is impossible for him!”
    • Can God do anything?
      • Some things are logically impossible – outside realms of  what even God can do for the simple reason that what is described is incoherent.

Illus.: It is logically impossible to argue that God can draw a square circle OR that God can create a stone too heavy for him to lift – or that he could make 2+2=5.

  • These are pseudo-tasks which are possible to describe in words but are logical nonsense. God can do things that are humanly impossible but NOT things that are incoherent or illogical nonsense.

Freedom and God’s power.

  • ISSUE – Why doesn’t God stop suffering?
  • Question – What are we asking God to do? To stop suffering? – BUT much suffering is cause by abuse of freedom SO to stop suffering God would have to stop our freedom to choose!

God can’t give a creature freedom & at the same time withhold freedom from it.

We need a stable world if we are going to relate meaningfully to each other!

  • ILLUS.: boys playing football without a Ref. = chaos (unstable)! With a ref. Rules/order and freedom to play within boundaries = enjoyment!
  • Impossible to relate to each other if the goal posts are constantly moved. We need a stable world!

On the other hand …

  • Relationships are meaningful because we are able to make free choices about how we treat each other. [ILLUS.: If Janet was programmed to love me it wouldn’t do much for my self image]
  • KUSHNER p.87 Choices — free choices must be genuine if they are going to be meaningful.

God can’t give freedom and at the same time withhold that freedom!!

A Stable world can be used by evil people to hurt others!

  • A stable world with Natural Laws and Moral Laws (given by God) will mean that I need to adjust my own behaviour to it – or bear the consequences.
    • Fire – benefits and dangers – if I move beyond the boundaries of legitimate freedom with fire it will destroy me.
    • Many things can be used to show kindness or evil!!
      • Illus.:. Recently I went over to my neighbour’s house – an old lady ( widow) – with a screwdriver in my hand. I could have used it to attack her BUT as it happened I had a few screws in my pocket and I went to mend her gate!
      • Why doesn’t God intervene to prevent abuses of freedom!
  • God does occasionally intervene like this, but it is rare, and for a reason.
  • Our capacity to make a free choice to follow or not to follow God; to love or not to love our neighbour; to serve or not to serve our communities, is only a genuine free choice if there is no constant interference!”

So far…

– not saying God cannot intervene miraculously in suffering. The fact that he doesn’t intervene does NOT mean that he lacks the power.

Because God doesn’t act it doesn’t mean he is unable to act!!

– to create human being with “freedom” is a fundamental necessity. If God was only interested in creating robots then we would need a different world and different laws to govern it.

3. If God Is All Good [Loving], Does He Not Want To Stop Suffering?

What is good — what is love?  We usually equated these with kindness / benevolence

  • Is God like a benevolent old Grandfather who likes to see  his grandchildren enjoying themselves -“What does it matter so long as they are all contented!”

Would this be the best way for us to live – though many would choose to!

Can goodness  & love  simply be equated to kindness! (giving what is wanted)

  • “Kindness to animal” may mean putting them down – to prevent suffering
  • So Called ‘Kindness’ may not produce concern for the development of a person [spoilt children are not necessarily loved children]

What is love? … [different types of love in order of value]

  • The love an artist feels for the painting.
  • The love of a man for his dog.
  • The love of a wise man for his young, inexperienced son..
  • The love of a man for his wife.

Christianity and God’s love for man. [God’s love is different]

God’s love is not – senile benevolence

– simply wanting to make us comfortable.

Problem is – we look at human love and then attach that kind of love to God.

We wouldn’t do it like that therefore if God acts differently – he does not love!

IF we see people and their happiness as the centre of everything, existing for their own sake then we will have problems reconciling suffering and a God of Love!

God’s love is not a pampering love – rather – when God loves he becomes a man and gives himself completely in service and sacrifice for us!

Christ’s death on a cross is a practical demonstration of that love – even to the unlovely and unlovable.

We are usually drawn to love only that which we find lovely and loveable!

  • The kind of love that God has for us – which demands that we acknowledge and worship him is based on the fact that this is the ONLY way we will find fulfilment in this life – and the life hereafter.

God knows what is best for his creatures – i.e. to have a relationship with HIM

SO FAR  …

..  I’m not saying that we can recognise the loving hands of God behind all suffering in the world.

BUT … to allow suffering when it could be alleviate it in the short-term is not necessarily a sign of greater love. It depends on what the long-term picture is.

The positive aspects in the longer term need to be enormous for God to allow so much pain in someone’s life, BUT simply because we don’t have a complete picture of the full benefits it doesn’t mean that they do not exist!

— Because we may not foresee the benefits it does not mean they are not there!!

4. What Has Gone Wrong?  [ Kushner book has 2 problems – here is one!]

  • With mankind.
    • God made people for a perfect relationship in a world free from suffering and pain.
    • They were free (freedom does not mean no boundaries – boys and football match) – only one command was given whereby they could demonstrate their submission and love for God OR their independence and rebellion.  They choose independence / rebellion!
    • That disobedience of mankind the Bible calls SIN.
  • With the world.
    • Sin affected not only mankind in his relationship to God and to each other BUT it also affected the physical world –

cf. ROMANS 8:18-25 – the whole universe is out of balance

5. Are There Any Benefits To Pain?

 

Suffering may have good effect but is not good in itself !

NB. These are NOT reasons for suffering!

a) It shatters the illusion that all is well.

Our ultimate good is to surrender to our creator!

We will never begin to surrender self-will /-centredness as long as all seems well.

Everyone knows something is wrong when he is being hurt  – the pain insists on being heard. (Medically those who don’t feel pain are in more danger than those who do)

  • God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” C S Lewis

NOT saying that when I experience suffering it is a direct result of personal evil!

BUT pain brings us face to face with the evil of the real world! Suffering reminds us that we are finite / mortal.

Suffering does not automatically bring us closer to God – anger and bitterness against God can drive us away from him

b) It shatters the illusion that the good things we have in life at present are actually enough.

Many – happy with present lot in life – everything is fine ‘Why bother with God?’

Illus.: Janet and I – Jesus Video – response “No thanks! I’m fine!”

Family, home, good job, health, etc. are  NOT enough to give ultimate meaning to life – all the things we enjoy in this life will come to an end — if we do not come to know God personally no ‘good things of this life’ will be enough!!

It is possible not to have the slightest idea of what one is rejecting when ignoring God!

ILLUS.: People – ‘I don’t believe in God!’

I – ‘Tell me about this God you don’t believe in!’

= Description usually not biblical =

I – ‘I don’t believe in that God either!’

A Personal  word. [Benefits]

  • Illus.: Jayne and Esther killed                                                                          – Dad came to salvation –       and then died 2 years later.                                  – Leigh a wonderful bereavement counsellor –  God through circumstances leads to a distorted view of God – circumstances from God perspective correct view of life!
  • My cancer – closer to my wife – always had a good marriage – now better than ever. Closer to my children.   —— been able to help others to face death as I have to face it myself!
  • Helped me understand God better – (last years in hospital in so much pain I wanted to die) I was angry with him – I shouted at him – not wanted to talk to him – BUT now I have learned / am learning that God is patient / has broad shoulders and he is not put out when I tell him how I feel. (I never stopped believing in him or doubting that he was there). MOST IMPORTANTLY – I am learning that God is the centre of existence NOT me. UNTIL I recognise that God is in control and surrender to him life has no ultimate meaning or purpose!
  • helps focus on important things in life – some things are more important than death – e.g. the salvation of my children – my own relationship with God .. “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his soul!” (in hell)
  • God gives us strength to cope – a wonderful experience —                      ILLUS. Corrie Ten Boom “Train Ticket”

6. What Is God’s Response?

What do we want God to Do about evil?? Come down and destroy everything evil? Where do we want him to draw the Line? [ Saddam Husseins, Hilters, Rapists, murderers, fruadsters, wife-beaters, liars, ….] We all admit we are flawed and have done wrong must he destroy us too?

[Said – Kushner’s book 2 problems here is the other!]

Death and resurrection of Christ!

The past – God is not detached from the world – 2000 years ago he took the very cause of the world’s suffering on his own shoulders – Jesus suffered for mankind’s  rebellion – ..’a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering’. God is a suffering God – he enters into our suffering world to ultimately (not immediately) rescue us from suffering IF we trust Him. NOW he will give us the peace and assurance of knowing him IF we come to him in faith and acknowledge that he is Lord.

Wm. Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, said this, “ There cannot be a God of love,” men say, “because if the was and he looked down upon the world, his heart would break.”

“It is God who made the world,” we say. “It is he who should bear the load.”

The Church looks at the cross and says. “He did bear it.”

Today – God wants us to discover him and his support in suffering. When we turn to him we discover his special comfort; He is the one who helps those who suffer.  2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Sometimes he takes suffering away – to show his compassion and that he is still in charge.

Tomorrow – God takes a long term view of this world – our perspective is very small.

Justice is promised – those who continue to cause suffering and those who to reject God will not escape God’s judgement. We don’t want to sound condemning BUT if there is no justice, there is no hope.

This world is not all there is!!

I can’t makes sense of suffering if this world is all there is!! There is a new era coming the Bible promises.

Because of what God has in store for us that we live in hope! 1 Peter 1:3-7

Conclusion

The problem of pain and suffering continues to exist!

BUT not forever – this is only for the present time – Jesus died and rose again to make a new order of things possible  –   Rev. 21:3-5 “…Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God Himself will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.”

“If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, he would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”  C S Lewis

 

 “Our capacity to make a free choice to follow or not to follow God; to love or not to love our neighbour; to serve or not to serve our communities, is only a genuine free choice if there is no constant interference!”

 

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

C S Lewis

 

William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, said this, “There cannot be a God of love,” men say, “because if there was and he looked down upon the world, his heart would break.”

 

“It is God who made the world,” we say. “It is he who should bear the load.”

The Church looks at the cross and says, “He did bear it.”

Are There Any Answers To The Problem Of Suffering?

 

 

Introduction

 

The dilemma summarised

 

If God is all powerful,

     is he not able to stop suffering?

  •     God of the impossible
  •     Freedom

 

If God is all good,

     does he not want to stop suffering?

 

  •     Four types of love
    •  
    •  
    •  
    •  

 

  •     Christianity and God’s love for people

 

 

What has gone wrong?

 

  •     With mankind?
  •     With the world?

 

 

Are there any benefits of pain?

 

  •  

 

  •  

 

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What is God’s  response?

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

 

Grace, Mercy and Peace

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE!

 

What words of greeting do Paul and other NT writers use at beginning of letters.

Galatians 1:3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, (NIV)

2 Corinthians 1:2           2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)

1 Timothy 1:2  To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)

 

Illus.: Billy Graham in SA in early 1970’s – Cliff Burrows his music director preached at DNBC. Text and Topic I can’t remember but he referred to Paul’s three girlfriends – “Gracie, Mercie and Peacie”

 

Q> What was the trad. Greeting amongst the Greeks of the NT times? – Chaire = “Joy to you!”

 

Q> What was the Jewish greetings? Shalom = Peace to you

 

Paul and others join these two greetings together and form a distinctively Xn salutation BUT note the change in the gk. Word from chaire to charis = grace {get charismata – grace gifts}

 

GRACE

A concept the fills the Bible.

Genesis 6:8 8 But Noah found favour [GRACE]  in the eyes of the LORD. (NIV)

 

Titus 2:11  For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. (NIV)

 

Romans 3:23-24 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (NIV)

 

Romans 5:1-2 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. …. (NIV)

And on through this chapter….

 

How Does Paul often Finish his letters “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you”.

The beginning and end of Paul’s understanding of God’s dealings with us is based on Grace.

Indeed what is the last verse of the Bible?.. Revelation 22:21          21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen. (NIV)

 

Grace – describes in many ways – God’s spontaneous, unmerited favour in action. His freely bestowed loving kindness in operation. Given to guilt-ridden sinners who turn to him for refuge!!

PICTURE a Judge who not only remits the penalty BUT also cancels the guilt AND then adopt the offender into his family

 

SING “Only by grace”

 

MERCY.

How to distinguish between these two?

Grace pardons – mercy commiserates

Grace is towards the guilty – mercy towards the wretched, pitiable, helpless.

It is the word used to describe the Good Samaritan’s attitude – Luke 10v37.

 

Exodus 33:19  And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (NIV)

 

Psalm 52:1             Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man?

Why do you boast all day long,

you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?

 

Micah 7:18            18 Who is a God like you,        who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry for ever           but delight to show mercy. (NIV)

 

Ephesians 2:4-5 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. (NIV)

 

1 Peter 2:10 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (NIV)

 

It is more than just a technical term for pardoning the guilty –

Isaiah 54:7            7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you,

but with deep compassion I will bring you back. (NIV)

Isaiah 54:7 7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. (KJV)

Tender feeling, motherly-kindness, compassion, pity,

God’s mercy is his attitude / feeling with which he considers his people even if they are not in desperate straits at the time.

Divine lovingkindness.

 

SING “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy”

 

PEACE.

Grace and mercy bring peace.

Peace in the result of grace and mercy.

Describes both our state and our condition

State – reconciliation with God

Condition – inner conviction that as a result of God’ grace and mercy and subsequent reconciliation all is well.

Peace is the great blessing the Jesus gives to his Church.

John 14:27 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)

 

Philippians 4:7 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)

 

It is not external tranquillity of a mountain stream on a glorious summer’s day – BUT it is a cleft-of-the-rock peace in the midst of a raging storm.

OR it is the hiding place under the wings where the mother hen gathers her chicks to protect from the raging storm.

 

John 16:33            33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV)

 

Where does this grace mercy and peace find its origin and expression.

 

1 Timothy 1:2  To Timothy my true son in the faith:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)

Its origin in the heart of God and its supreme expression in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ our Saviour.

 

SING “Peace perfect Peace

Grace

“THE GOD OF ALL GRACE”   1 Peter 5:10

 

INTRODUCTION.

Grace – a Christian jargon word that we use so often and so glibly.

Most Bible-believing Christians can quote Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no-one can boast. (NIV)

We might even be able to give a concise theological definition of Grace “It is a gift of God’s unmerited favour”

We can trot out the difference between Grace and mercy.

Grace – receiving what you don’t deserve.

Mercy – not receiving what you do deserve.

These are helpful definitions and verses to know but they can so easily become familiar and commonplace.

We are coming to celebrate the communion and to remember the death of Jesus on the cross – this above all is the pinnacle / the ultimate demonstration of God’s grace.

I want us to not simply have a better intellectual definition of God’s grace at the end of the service. BUT my prayer is that we will experience in our inner being the grace of God.

Maybe you feel that you need to prove yourself to God to gain his approval. Maybe you feel unloved, a failure, you keep making the same mistakes / committing the same sins over and over again… “Surely God must be getting fed up with me I can’t keep on coming to him for forgiveness!!”

The Bible assures us that the God we worship is “… the God of ALL Grace …” [1Peter 5:10]

  1. 1.     A WORLD OF UNGRACE.

 

The difficulty that we face is that we live is a world of UNGRACE – a term used by Philip Yancey in his book “What’s so amazing about Grace?” – A book I highly recommend to all.

  • [NB – much of what I want to share with you tonight comes from that book. I make no apology for that as very little of what we have to share is original to us. Most – if not all of what we have learned comes from someone else!]

The world we live in is not a gracious place – we get nothing for nothing.

From the time we are born we begin to learn that we don’t get much for nothing and we begin to learn how to operate in a world of Ungrace.

  • The early bird gets the worm.
  • No pain, no gain.
  • There is no such thing as a free lunch.
  • You get what you pay for
  • You made your bed now lie in it. …………..

We could say much more about the gracelessness of our world but you get the picture..

  1. 2.     A CHURCH OF UNGRACE.

 

We must be honest and say that this ‘ungrace’ of the world is also found in the Church.

ILLUS. Story of a prostitute who rented out her two year old daughter to men for kinky sex. When asked if she had ever been to the church for help she responded, with a look of pure naive shock, “Church! Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”

Maybe an extreme story – but was it not such people who were attracted to Jesus because they saw in him a refuge? Has the church lost that gift?

ILLUS. Example of ungrace – Sam [not his real name] study with me at Theological college. A difficult character. Not in Church work. He has attended my brother’s Church in SA for 5 years and I all that time has never once offered one word of thanks or appreciation for Leigh’s ministry. BUT any little thing he doesn’t like he is quick to write to the Church leadership expressing his disapproval.

A recent straw poll asking what the words ‘Evangelical Christian’ brought to mind the responses included the following …. *strident pro-life activists … *opponents of gay-rights … * proposer for censorship … * references to the Moral Majority … *BUT not one mention of grace/graciousness.

What message are we giving to the World? Apparently the gospel of grace is not being heard by the World!!

Is it that our attitudes of ungrace drown out the message of grace?

{Am I being too negative? probably!! I’ll come to the positives in a moment!!}

3. A SELF OF UNGRACE.

I have picked on the Church BUT there is ungrace in every religion and system of belief.

If I am honest with myself and before God there is plenty of ungrace in my own life. It is a constant battle against some of the legalistic teaching I received as a child … don’t go to movies or parties, don’t smoke, drink, if you are a girl don’t wear make up or trousers …. It is fighting against the feeling that I must somehow earn God’s approval. — It is a daily battle against pride and judgmentalism.

So I must realise that the long tentacles of ungrace are in ME, in the CHURCH and in the WORLD.

4. A CRY FOR GRACE.

It is hard for our human nature to accept Grace. Grace goes against the grain of all we feel. People must get what they deserve. You must get what you work for and if you do wrong then you must get what is coming to you!!

And yet grace is the very thing that our human hearts cry out for!

ILLUS. A Story by Earnest Hemingway reveals this truth. “A Spanish Father decides to reconcile with his son who had run away to Madrid. Now remorseful, the father takes out this ad in the El Liberal newspaper: ‘Paco meet me at Hotel Montana noon Tuesday all is forgiven. Papa.’ Paco is a common name in Spain and when the father goes to the square he finds 800 young men named Paco waiting for their fathers.”

5. A GOD OF ALL GRACE.

Grace is difficult for us to explain – especially to someone who has never known it.

There are hundreds of verses in Scripture that tell of the Grace of God….

John 1:16-17 16 From the fulness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 9:8 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Ephesians 2:8 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God —

1 Timothy 1:2       2 To Timothy my true son in the faith:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 Peter 5:10          10 And the God of all grace  ……………….., will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

When Jesus came he embodied the grace of God BUT to communicate the extent of that Grace he told stories.

I want to tell four brief stories in modern form that show something of the lavishness and extent of God’s grace.

STORY #1

A tramp lives under Waterloo Railway Bridge in a cardboard box. The noise of the trains and the traffic and the damp cold get to him BUT he has found a quiet spot where no-one hassles him. In the early mornings he scratches in the bins behind the restaurants and finds some uneaten garlic bread (cold and greasy) a half nibbled pizza, and few chips, and a half-eaten, half-squashed cream cake. He eats what he can and stuffs the rest into a supermarket bag for latter. As he stumbles through the rubbish bins he spots a lottery ticket – force of habit make him pick it up and stuff it in his pocket.

Later that day he remembers the ticket and compares it to the numbers in the newspaper he picked up. Three numbers match, four, five, six!! he can’t believe it. Tramps don’t win lotteries.

Later in the day a tramp in badly fitting clothes is being interviewed by a TV journalist in designer Clothes. “How do you feel?” No one has asked him that for years. He has just won £4million!!

He has been to the edge of starvation and back BUT will never be hungry again!!

STORY #2

An entrepreneur decides to cash in on the boom in the travel business. He does a lot of work putting together a package for the elite/ exotic traveller. A large part of the package includes travel in the Gulf. He secure a £million loan from a Venture Capitalist. One thing he didn’t bank on … The week before the first trip Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait. How will he pay back the loan???

He agonizes for weeks – puts together a repayment plan of £5000 a month! It looks pathetic BUT he visits his backer in the City – He is nervous and apologetic!

The venture Capitalist holds up his hands to interrupt. “Wait. What nonsense are you talking about? Repayment?” He laughes “Don’t be silly. I am a spectulator. I win some, I loose some. I knew your plan had risks. Its not your fault the war started. Forget it!”

He tears up the contact and put it through the paper shredder!!

STORY #3

From the Boston Globe June 1990 – A Most Unusual Banquet.  READ ..{summary-Wedding reception at top hotel – fiancée ditch bride after arrangements had been made – she went ahead with the banquet and invited all the Down-and-outs}

STORY #4

In a small conservative country town a 15 year old girl has just had another argument with her parents – her nose-rings, music, length of her skirts the issues.

“I hate you !” she screams at her father through the bedroom door. That night she does what she has planned many nights  – she runs away. Off to the city

She meets a man who says he will look after her – a few pills to make her feel better – a flat to live in. She was right all along she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun.

The man – she calls Boss – makes sure she has all the money, clothes, food she wants — she is under age so men will pay a premium for her!!

After a year the first signs of illness appear — she is amazed at how quickly the ‘Boss’ turns mean.

She is thrown onto the street – she can’t earn as much on the street to feed her habit — she ends up cold and living in a box.

‘Why did I leave home — My dog at home eats better than me!’

Three phone calls – three times the answering machine – “Dad! Mom! It’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I am catching a bus up your way tomorrow. It gets in around midnight. If you are not there I guess I will just keep on going!’

The bus journey seems eternal – “What if they are away and didn’t get the message? What will I say? Dad I am sorry/ Please forgive me!” She hasn’t apologised to anyone in years.

The bus pulls into to the bus-station. Fifteen minutes the driver announces. Fifteen minutes to decide the rest of her life!

As she walks into the terminal none of the thousands scenes that had played out in her mind prepares her for what she sees. Amidst the plastic chairs and table stands a group of 40 people – brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents all in crazy party hats and big “WELCOME HOME  banner. Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her Dad.

With tears streaming down her face she starts the speech she memorized “Dad, I am sorry. I know …”

“Hush Child! We haven’t got time for that. You’ll be late for the party. There is a Banquet waiting for you at home!”

 

God’s grace is extravagant!!

We are the spiritual Tramps! We are the debtors in over our heads! We are the ones invited to the wedding banquet! We are the ones who the father longs to welcome home!

When a sinner repents and comes to God he throws a party. He rejoices — not because all the world’s problems are solved — not because all human pain and suffering has come to an end — not because 1000s are convert. He rejoices when ONE comes.

ILLUS. the Love sick Father – Yancey p.56

God’s grace is extravagant!!

 

 

 

6. CHURCH: THE PLACE OF GRACE.

We said earlier that there was ungrace in the church – that is true because the Church is made up of people. BUT it is also true that the Church is made up of people who have been the recipients of God’s grace. Just as there is evidence of ungrace / criticism and selfishness there is also plenty of evidence of people unselfishly serving others/ giving sacrificial / loving each other / caring for the unlovely.

ILLUS. At conference in Britain many years ago delegates were debating what if anything was unique to Christianity.  C S Lewis happened to wander into the room “What is the rumpus all about?” When told he responded. “That is easy. It is GRACE!”

The notion of God’s love coming free to human beings, no strings attached seems to go against the grain of every human instinct. No other faith has this

Buddhism has its eight-fold path, the Hindus have the Karma, the Jews the covenant Law, the Muslims the Sharia (Code of law) — each offers a way to gain approval — only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional!!

Christians are called to demonstrate that love and grace. Times when we feel the we have been walked all over by others (Christians) with hob-nailed boots on. Our natural desire is to retaliate or withdraw because we are not appreciated BUT it is at that point that we are called upon to respond with grace.

The Church is the Custodian of this message – the gospel of Grace!

ILLUS. A book called “Growing up Fundamentalist” – a story of a reunion of student from a missionary school in Japan. “With one or to exception all had left the faith and come back!” one of the students reported. “And those of us who had come back had one thing in common: we had all discovered grace …” It is nowhere else to be found.

On the occasion when many of the crowd were turning away from Jesus…

John 6:66-68 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.   67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.             68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

The Church  – God’s people are the ones who have received God’s grace and they are the ones who are to communicate that grace to the world in attitude, word and deed!

The story of the Bible / of human history is of people turning away from God and breaking his father-heart. YET in spite of his anger and threats of judgement we see his love shine through.

Hosea – a wonderful and dramatic acted-out parable in the OT – God tells Hosea to marry a woman names Gomer. She bears three children .. abandons him and the children and lives with another man and works as a prostitute.

Listen to God instructions to Hosea ..   Hosea 3:1 1 The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods ….” (NIV)

Hosea’s emotions were probably like a roller-coaster .. he wants to murder and forgive ..to divorce and to reconcile .. against all the odds the irresistible power of love wins the day … he welcomes his wife back home.

Gomer didn’t get fairness, or even justice. She got Grace!.

Listen to what God says to Israel….

Hosea 11:6-9       6 Swords will flash in their cities, …….

….8 “How can I give you up, Ephraim?

How can I hand you over, Israel?  …..

…..My heart is changed within me;

all my compassion is aroused.

9 ……              For I am God, and not man —

the Holy One among you.

I will not come in wrath. (NIV)

He begins in anger and sternness and dissolves in tears. He allows himself to be humiliated and to come back for more. ….8 “How can I give you up, Ephraim?       How can I hand you over, Israel?

Put your name in there. “How can I give you up, Gray? How can I hand you over, Tanya?

Grace is hard to understand because our experience in human relationships is often smothered with ungrace. We get hurt, criticized, used and abused.

Grace is hard for us to understand because in the face of injustice a price must be paid. A murderer can’t just go free. A lair/gossip/cheat can’t go unpunished. The NT anticipated this and stresses that a price has been paid – by God himself. God gave up his own son rather than give up on humanity.

Grace means that there is nothing I can do to make God love me more.

Grace means that there is nothing I can do to make God love me less.

God loves me as much as a infinite God can possibly love.  THAT’S GRACE

The God of ALL Grace1 Peter 5:10

1.        A World of ‘Ungrace’

  • The world we live in is not a gracious place – we don’t get much for nothing.
  • The World’s philosophy is …

       .. ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’

 2.        A Church of ‘Ungrace’

  • The ‘ungrace of the world is also found in the church. Not surprising since it comprises humans.

 3.        A self of ‘Ungrace’

  • A constant struggle against pride, judgmentalism and selfishness.

 4.        A Cry for Grace

  • The cry of the human heart is to be forgiven and accepted.

 5.        A God of ALL Grace

John 1:16 “From the fulness of his GRACE we have

                    all received”

       2 Corinthians 9:8 “God is able to make all GRACE

      bound to you”

       Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by GRACE you have been saved”

       1 Peter 5:10 “The God of ALL GRACE”

 6.        Church: the Place of Grace

  • Grace distinguishes the Church from all other Faiths.

Forgiveness

FORGIVE ONE ANOTHER

Colossians 3v13

 

INTRODUCTION.

 

Bear with one another and forgive whatever

grievences you may have against one another.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you. [Col.3v13]

 

Paul is writing to the Church at Colossae. A group of people who have been forgiven by God and brought into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We could be tempted to think that as a result they would all get on very happily together BUT ….

 

We only have to read some of Paul’s letters [eg. 1 Cor.] to know that this was not so. We simply have to look at our own situation and examine our own hearts to know that relationships are never perfect.

 

Even in the best marriage in the world there are tensions at times. In a loving, caring, well functioning Church there are tensions. No community can continue long without conflicts. Whenever people come together in community there is always the probablity of pain, injury, suffering and alienation. Inter-personal conflict is inevitable – even in the Church. Some might even say esp. in the church.

 

For this reason forgiveness is an essential part of the Christian faith. We need to be forgiven because we wrong others and we need to forgive because others wrong us.

 

Every virtue, and forgiveness is one, has a counterfeit. There is such a thing as false forgiveness.

 

1. FALSE FORGIVENESS.

 

What do we mean by false forgiveness?

 

ILLUST: A man has had an intimate relationship with another woman. It has all come out into the open and he has faced the shame and guilt which follows public exposure.

His wife hasn’t left him!

Tentatively, doubtfully he asks, “Will you forgive me?”

“No!”  but her face shows acceptance not rejection. There is a gentleness in her voice.

 

“No! not the kind of forgiveness in which you are the offender and I the forgiver. I don’t want you to be beholden for the rest of our lives. We need to work through this so we both understand our parts in the problem”

“But”, he says, ” I am the one who hurt you!”

“Yes, but I helped create a relationship that was open to outside invitations. Let’s work it out together”.

You see this wife is not willing to accept a situation that puts her ONE UP.

 

The kind of forgiveness that has already judged you and found you guilty and placed you on an inferior moral plane. It has shown you benevolence when you were needy and generosity when you were guilty and now you are to show suitable gratitude for the rest of your life.

 

This kind of forgiveness is often too easily given. “Sure I forgive you let’s just forget it and go on! It really doesn’t matter”

We sweep things under the carpet – we pretend that they are not there – but eventually the pile under the carpet gets so high that we begin to trip over it.

When forgiveness is dealt out too cheaply we don’t deal with the anger, the hurt and the bitterness – it festers and comes out later in different ways.

It can end up with us being indebted to others or them to us so that this indebtedness can be used as a lever to manipulate each other in the furture.

 

Alternative translation of the Lord’s Prayer goes: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors

 

False forgiveness can run up debts so that we owe for the rest of our lives. We are indebted to Christ BUT we don’t owe anything – it is all paid.

 

We have just focussed on one aspect of false forgiveness. There are many!

 

We can soliciate false forgiveness by making a mountain out of a mole hill. We make our hurt mountain size when the offense doesn’t warrant it. But we want to make the other squirm. It makes them look worse and us look very magnanimous in forgiving them.

 

As human being we are very complex creatures and as a result our relationships are complex. Forgiveness is an essential part of an open relationship but as with other aspects of inter-personal relationships there are seldom quick-fixes.

 

In order to understand true forgiveness we have to look at the perfect model – God’s forgiveness to us in Christ.

 

2. CHRIST’S FORGIVENESS.

 

When they came to the plave called the skull,

there they crucified him, along with the criminals –

One on his right, the other on his left.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they

do not know what they are doing.” [Lk.23v33-34]

 

I can understand why others would want to hurt me – I have done many things to hurt other people. In Christ’s relationships with others he always did the best for them – he always did what was right.

 

ILLUST: Ever really gone out of your way to do something for someone. You have genuinely done it because you want to help or please them. And they have turned around and slapped you in the face. WHAT WAS YOUR RESPONSE!

 

“Well if that’s how you treat me I’ll never do anything for you again! Ungrateful wretch!!

 

God gave us everything! He did everything for us! He loved us and gave us the privilege of being made like him to enjoy an intimate relationship with him. We slapped him in the face and then when he sent his son to us we nailed him to a wooden cross.

 

If I was God I would have wiped mankind off the face of the earth! BUT Jesus said,””Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

 

Why did Jesus say this? How could he say it?  LOVE – love and forgiveness are inseparable!

 

ILLUST: South African elections have been the main news item this week. A lot of talk about putting the past behind. How much true forgiveness is involved? I’m sure that for some it is genuine forgiveness but I suspect that much is just mutual toleration – the alternate being civil war. The euphoria of the election will be tested in the day to day lives of the people.

 

For there to be genuine forgiveness there must be genuine love. For there to be true forgiveness it must be given willingly. Christ’s forgiveness is given willingly. But there was a cost – it cost him his life and separation from his heavenly father.

 

3. FORGIVING EACH OTHER.

 

” … forgive each other, just as in Christ

God forgave you.” [Eph.4v32]

 

Christ’s forgiveness is one way. It is we who have sinned against God and there is no question of us forgiving God. He bore the full cost of forgiveness.

 

There are times when we are called upon to bear the cost of forgiveness.

 

ILLUST: If I break a valuable antique while in your home and I can’t afford to replace it and you forgive me then clearly you bear the cost.

 

If the State pardons a criminal, society bears the burden of the criminal’s deed.

 

In all forgiveness there is a cost – a bearing of the penalty of anothers wrong-doing. With God it is always one way – God to us. Between us it is sometimes one way but invariably it is two way – two people – two movements towards reconciliation.

 

Our forgiveness of each other must be modelled on the forgiveness that we have received from God. The Parable of the Unjust Steward gives us an example of how not to behave.

PARABLE OF THE UNJUST STEWARD.

 

Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive his brother 7x. He thought that he was being very magnanimous as it was Rabbinic teaching that said 4x. So Peter was exceeding even the religious people of his day. NO! not 7x BUT 70×7 = 490. Two symbolic perfect numbers. Infinite forgiveness.

To emphasize the point Jesus tells a parable.

 

The servant owes his Master 10 000 talents. It would take a labourer 1000 weeks to earn [not save] 1 talent. Even if the servant was well paid it would take him a life-time to earn [not save] 1000 talents BUT he owed 10 000. The king has the right to take all his possessions and to sell him amd his wife and children into salvery.

The servant seeks mercy and offers to pay it back – an impossible task.

The Master is extremely merciful and doesn’t simply let him try to pay it back but cancels the debt completely. In today’s currency it would run into millions of pounds.

 

The servant meets a fellow-servant who owes him a few pounds [1/600 000 of the amounts he owed his master] and demands payment. He ignores pleas for mercy and opportunity to pay, which realistically could be done, and has the fellow-servant thrown into a debtors prison.

 

When the master hears what has happened he is enraged and re-instates the first servant’s debts and has him imprisoned until he can pay.

 

Without going into all the details of the story the main point is clear.  [Hendriksen] – Prompted by gratitude the forgiven sinner must always long to forgive whoever has sinned against him, and must do all in his power to bring about complete reconciliation.

 

The point is that no matter how much we may be sinned against. No matter how much we may be hurt. What we have suffered is minute in comparison to the sin that has been committed against God. Our sin against God makes another’s sin against us look like nothing.

 

If we have been forgiven so much surely we should be willing to forgive others!!

 

It would be naive to think that in a body of people like this we never hurt each other. We do – it is inevitable because we are not perfect!!

If we are going to have fellowship with one another as we talked about two weeks ago them forgiveness is going to have to play a part.

When conflicts arise – and they do – our goal should be reconciliation. If the hurt is deep it may take time and effort and possibly a lot of pain.

BUT sweeping it under the carpet, pretending everything is all right, or forgiving in order to be one up will not bring about true reconciliation and will only result in superficial fellowship.

 

4. IMPLICATIONS OF NOT FORGIVING.

 

A heart at peace gives life to the body,

but envy rots the bones [Prov.14v30]

 

Emotions like envy, anger, bitterness and resemtment are often linked to an unforgiving attitude.

When we are emotional upset we often find it difficult to sleep – we can’t eat or we eat too much – we get all churned up inside.

Not forgiving can have a detrimental on our emotional and physical well-being.
Not only does it effect us personally but as Christians it effect the whole body of Christ.

It affect your worship of God that is why Jesus warned in Matt.5v24:

… if you are offering your gift at the altar

and there remember that your brother has

something against you, leave your gift there

in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled

 to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

 

WHAT IF – you want to forgive or say sorry and ask for forgiveness and the other person is unwilling to be reconciled.  You are only responsible for your attitude you can try and try but if the other is unwilling you can’t restore the relationship.

 

ILLUST: Many a marriage is broken up because one partner is unwilling to work at it.

 

God’s forgiveness is freely offer but if a sinner refuses to repent and ask for forgiveness he remains outside the realm of God’s salvation in Christ.

 

You can’t force reconciliation it is a two way street. In a situation like this you can only pray for an attitude like Christ’s “Father forgive them ..”

 

5. THE BENEFITS OF FORGIVENESS.

 

Just as there are negative effects of not forgiving so there are positive effects of forgiving and recieving forgiveness.

 

ILLUST: Remember doing something wrong. Maybe as a child and then living in fear and anguish. When at last Mum or Dad talk about it with you and you are forgiven – what relief! What freedom!

 

ALSO when you have been wronged and you work through your anger and hurt and evetually are able to freely forgive the offender – what relief that brings.

 

Often we know we should forgive but find it exremely difficult to do so but when at last God helps us to forgive with no hidden agenda there is a tremdous sense of freedom.

 

Forgiving is seldom easy and there is seldom a quick-fix but with God’s help we can.

 

ILLUST: Corrie Ten Boom – “The Hiding Place” She and her sister were in a Nazi prisoner of war camp during World War II. Corrie spoke at many Churches after the war telling of her experiences and the need to forgive. She writes of one occassion:

 

It was at a Church service in Munich that I saw him, the former SS man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing room at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s [Corrie’s sister] pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the Church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message Fraulein,” He said, “To think that, as you say, he has washed my sins away!”

His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people of Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man. Was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I can not forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than it is on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When he tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

Bible Basics

BIBLE BASICS.

 

[Extracted mainly from Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R C Sproul]

 

#1. DIVINE REVELATION.

 

Passages to reflect upon:

Psalm 19v1-14.

Ephesians 3v1-13.

2 Timothy 3v14-17.

Hebrews 1v1-4.

 

Summary Points:

1. Christianity is a revealed religion.

2. God’s revelation is a self-disclosure. He removes the veil   that keeps us from knowing Him.

3. We do not come to know God through speculation.

4. God has revealed himself in various ways throughout        history.

5. General revelation is given to all human beings.

6. Foolishness is based on the denial of God. [Psalm 14v1].

7. Wisdom is founded on the fear of God. [Proverbs 9v10].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#2. PARADOX, MYSTERY AND CONTRADICTION.

 

Passages to reflect upon:

Matthew 13v11; 16v25.

Romans 16v25-27.

1 Corinthians 2v7; 14v33.

 

 

Summary Points:

1. Paradox is and apparent contradict which under closer      scrutiny yields a resolution.

2. Mystery is something unknown to us now, but which        may be resolved.

3. Contradiction is a violation of the law of non- .         contradiction. It is impossible to resolve, either in this      world or the next.

 

#3. IMMEDIATE AND MEDIATE GENERAL        REVELATION.

 

Passages to reflect upon:

Psalm 19v1-14.

Acts 14v8-18; 17v16-34.

Romans 1v18-23; 2v14-15.

 

Summary Points:

 

1. God’s glory is evident all around us. It is mediated   through God’s creation.

2. Human being are religious by nature.

3. God implants in all human being and innate knowledge     of himself. This is called immediate general          revelation. [Ecclesiastes 3v11].

 

#4. SPECIAL REVELATION AND THE BIBLE.

 

Passages to reflect upon:

Psalm 119.

John 17v17.

1 Thessalonians 2v13.

2 Timothy 3v15-17.

2 Peter 1v20-21.

 

Summary Points:

1. Inspiration is the process whereby God makes known his word.

2. God is the ultimate source of the Bible.

3. God is the ultimate superintendent [oversees and looks      after it] of the Bible.

4. The Bible is without error in its original form [the    original manuscripts].

 

#5. THE LAW OF GOD.

 

Passages to reflect upon:

Exodus 20v1-17.

Psalm 115v3.

Matthew 5v17-20.

Romans 7v7-25.

Galatians 3v23-29.

 

Summary Points:

1. God rules the univrse by law. Gravity is one example of

God’s laws of nature. God’s moral law is given in the   10 commandments.

2. God has the authority to impose obligations upon his

creatures.

3. God acts according to the law of his own character.

4. God reveals his moral law to our conscience and in the      Scriptues.

5. Only God has the authority to do away with his laws.