Wednesday, 27 July 2016

On Forgiveness 5: What Forgiveness is Not

I need to follow up the previous post with another one to prevent a fatal misunderstanding that some people have.

Karl had a gambling problem.  He nearly ruined himself, his marriage and his family through it.  He has confessed it.  God has forgiven him.  He is now doing fine.  He has a good job.  His wife and kids have forgiven him.  He has forgiven himself as well and he doesn’t wallow in shame over it.

But he realises he still has a weakness in this area.  So they have blocked the gambling sites on the internet.  He has stopped meeting his gambling friends at the pub and avoids the betting shop.  His friend checks him out every few weeks by asking him to tell him honestly how he is doing with the gambling.

In other words, he has forgiven himself but he does not fully trust himself in certain situations.  His wife has forgiven him, but in certain situations she does not trust him.

Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”  Matthew 5:29

That does not mean there are thousands on one-eyed people everywhere following Jesus.  He is just saying we may need to take drastic action to keep ourselves right.

What I am saying here is this.

Just because you have forgiven someone, it doesn’t mean you have to trust them.

In fact, when you forgive a person for a serious wrong they have done, you may still have to report them to the authorities, such as police or social workers or medical professionals for their own good and for the good of society.  We need wisdom here of course and maybe to seek appropriate advice.

Some churches have made the mistake of forgiving a leader who has fallen into serious sexual sin and putting them back into a situation where they can be tempted again.  Then the restored leader does the same things again.  The church in this instance has made a very serious mistake and shown a misunderstanding of what forgiveness is about.  It brings great dishonour to the name of Jesus Christ.  Restoring someone can be a slow process of regaining trust again and putting safeguards in place.

So here is a list.  Forgiving someone does not mean:

  • that what they did was right
  • you should blame yourself instead
  • you can trust them straight away
  • you shouldn’t report them to the authorities
  • you have to be their friend in future

And being forgiven:
  • does not take away my responsibilities
  • does not mean that due processes of justice shouldn’t take place
  • does not mean that I don’t still face the consequences of my actions
  • does not mean I don’t need help to overcome my faults
  • does not mean I don’t try to put myself right with those I have harmed

An abused wife may forgive her husband for being violent towards her and their children.  He may say sorry, be tearful and full of remorse.  But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to acknowledge his need for help, otherwise the cycle of violence may continue and she may be putting the family in danger by going back to him.  Remorse and repentance are two different things.

So, to sum up….

Monday, 18 July 2016

On Forgiveness: 4 What Forgiveness Really Is

Shelley Lubben spent eight years as a sex worker in Los Angeles.  She was a porn star.  She allowed herself to be lured into this, thinking it was a solution to some of her financial problems.  She suffered a great deal of abuse, became addicted to alcohol and various drugs and contracted an incurable sexually transmitted disease.  She then got cervical cancer, which she survived.  She had every right, humanly speaking, to feel deep shame towards herself and deep bitterness against the people who had taken advantage of her na├»vety.  She became a Christian and was delivered from that lifestyle.  It took another eight years for her to overcome the trauma and psychological problems that it had caused.  She now spends her time warning young people of the harm that industry does and campaigning on issues connected with the pornography industry.  She and her family still receive death threats for the work she does.  In order for her to be fully restored, she has had to forgive every single person who had abused her.

Because of the power of forgiveness, she is able to use what was done for her as a way of saving many more lives.
Joseph was sold by his brothers, trafficked into the hands of people smugglers who took him to a foreign country and sold him as a slave.  He became a housekeeper.  He was then falsely accused of sexual assault and thrown into prison without trial.  The brothers who sold him told their father that he was dead.  You may have read the account of this in Genesis 37-50.  Or you may have seen the Musical.

Because God was with Joseph, he was able to say to his brothers at the end of all this:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Genesis 50:20

Sometimes the people we forgive may never realise what they have done, they may not apologise, they may even continue to do bad things to us, as in Shelley Lubben’s case.  Sometimes we can get reconciled with the people we forgive, as with Joseph and his brothers.

In either case, we need to see that God always has a bigger purpose even in the harm someone does to us.  That helps us to forgive them.  We also need to see that we have done bad things too.  When we receive God’s forgiveness, we can then go on to forgive others.

I relate that story (and I could tell countless more) because I want to make the point that however badly you have been treated, forgiveness needs to flow from you in order for you to be restored.

We may not be able to forget what somebody has done to us, but we can take the sting out of it.  We can stop being bitter and angry with that person, we can love that person, be kind to them and want the very best for them.  In doing so, we can experience complete healing and freedom from any damage we have suffered as a result of their actions.

I choose to live with the consequences of your actions towards me and to remain thankful.

Incredibly, we can ask God to forgive us, to not count our sins against us, to treat us as if we have never done anything wrong.

When speaking of God’s forgiveness of us, the Bible says in four different places:

‘I will remember your sins no more.’ (See Isaiah 43:25, Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 8:11, Hebrews 10:17)

That’s incredible, isn’t it?  How can the all-powerful, all-knowing God choose not to remember something, let alone our wrongdoing?  We could get into an interesting theological discussion about this, but the fact remains that we may remember what someone has done to us and unable to forget it.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Why the UK Leaving the EU was an Act of God

Sunderland is famous for two things these days.

The first is its Premier League football team, which with clockwork regularity bumps around the bottom of the league, then sometime in the winter or spring sacks (fires) its manager then via a stunning late surge in form, escapes demotion into the next league down, the Championship.

The second claim to fame is its ability to count votes in national elections very quickly.  If only we still built ships so effectively!  Sunderland’s council officers have the logistics off to a fine art.  So when the nation waits for the first election results to come in, we routinely see Sunderland’s returning officer, Dave Smith, reading out the first results of the night to a waiting nation.  This is followed by whoops of delight by the local Labour contingent and their newly elected MP (they always win by a country mile) followed by some quick analysis by the statisticians to deduce how the rest of the night is going to go for all of the parties.

So it was on the night of 23rd and 24th June, but this time the vote was arguably more important.  The British public certainly thought so.  Turnout was high, up by about 8% in the North East to over 69%.  And the rest of the world was watching attentively as well.  On this occasion, Newcastle’s super-efficient staff beat those of Sunderland and they announced their results (a narrow vote to remain in the EU) at the stroke of midnight.  Fifteen minutes later, Sunderland announced that they had voted 61% to 39% to leave the EU, a much bigger margin than anticipated.  From then on, most people knew deep down that the rest of the nation were going to vote ‘Leave’.

I believe that this result is of the Lord.  Let me spell that out.  I believe that God wanted the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.  We can have a debate as to whether that is God’s mercy on us, or his judgement.  But I think that it is in His purposes and the Lord wanted to show us this.  Why do I think this?  Because it was so unlikely, and because it has the classic signs of an act of God.

Let me explain.

11.   A commitment to hold the referendum was in the Election Manifesto of the Conservative Party when the General Election of 2015 took place.  None of the other parties made the referendum a manifesto commitment.  It can be said that this was against the will of most senior members of the party, including the leader, David Cameron.  The only reason it was in was to head off a challenge from the UK Independence Party, which threatened to take away millions of votes from the Conservatives (which, in fact, they did).  The only way this referendum was to be carried out was if the Conservatives won, outright.

22.  The General Election of 2015 was won by the Conservative Party.  They won more than half of the seats in the House of Commons, 330 out of 650.  This was a surprise result.  Nobody seriously foresaw this, not even the Conservatives.  At best they were hoping to share power with the Liberal Democrats or any of the nationalist or Northern Ireland parties.  In which case they could have avoided having the referendum.  Consider this.
a.      Up until election day, opinion polls indicated that Labour had 33% support, the Conservatives 34%, UKIP 14% and the Liberal Democrats 10%.  The Scottish Nationalists were likely to win most of their 59 seats North of the Border.  So a coalition of Labour and the Scottish Nationalists looked likely.
b.     The constituency boundaries are currently biased in favour of the Labour Party.  I am not making a political point, here.  But there is proportionally more inner city ‘Labour’ seats with smaller populations than ‘Conservative’ seats.  So if the two parties polled equally, Labour would win more seats.
c.      There were 92 opinion polls before the election.  42 had Labour in the lead.  35 had the Conservatives leading.  17 showed a ‘dead heat’.  Of the 35 showing a Conservative lead, the highest lead was by 6% over Labour.  When the election actually took place, the Conservatives actually polled 8% above Labour.  Not one of the 92 polls had them ahead by this much.
d.     The bookmakers were not predicting an outright Conservative win.  The odds were 7/1 against.

33.  Even though the new government was obliged to have the referendum, nobody seriously considered that people would vote to leave the EU.  The odds were against this right up until the night of the vote.  Remain was 6/1 odds on according to the bookmakers.  Even the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, was predicting that ‘Remain’ had the most votes.

44.  Now a look at the weather.  God has used the weather, sometimes good, sometimes bad, to bring deliverance to our nation at many moments of crisis.  To get an idea of this, look up the Spanish Armada, Dutch Navy 1688, Dunkirk in 1940, D-Day in 1944… I could go on.  So what was the British weather like on June 23rd?  Well, the area of England that was the most pro-Remain was London.  What happened in London and the South East?  Floods!  Torrential rain and disruption to travel in London.  Many commuters complained that they could not get home in time to vote.  And what happened in the pro-Leave North?  Warm sunshine all day.  Coincidence?

55.  Finally, I want to look at the issue of prayer.  I only have anecdotal evidence here, but from conversations I have had, I believe a lot of people were praying fervently for the nation at this time.  An organisation named ‘Intercessors for Britain’ used to have their main annual prayer event in London every January.  But 18 months previously, they decided to reschedule the meeting to July.  The 18th, to be precise – the Saturday before the referendum.  And this was planned long before the date had been set by the Prime Minister.  But God knew!

I I have kept a souvenir.  As the results are announced through the night, the newspapers are printed too early to announce the result.  So they have to ‘guess’ their headline.  And they got it wrong!  On the morning of 24th, I picked up a paper and decided to keep it.  Here is an extract from the front page.

But the Lord had the last word.