Forgiveness is possible after locusts destroy everything

This is the third of a 3-part note on the theme of forgiveness. After this I’ll move onto some other topics.
Part 1
Part 2


In this post I touch on a similar idea to one I mentioned a few weeks ago when talking about the differences between forgiveness and trust.
(read more at “Tell it to the Church“, “The truth about trust” and “Forgiving the untrustworthy or trusting the unforgiving“)

When forgiveness is mentioned in the Church today, it can sometimes comes across a little trite. Not always! But, sometimes, it can sound like being a Christian (especially the minister or pastor!) means you must “forgive” and “accept” and accommodate everything about everyone. If not, you can get charged with being intolerant, impatient, being a stumbling block and all sorts of other misconstrued names.

Meg Guillebaud’s book, “After the Locusts” is a story of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda during 1994, and the following years of healing and forgiveness still taking place. Meg goes through the idea of practicing forgiveness and makes a distinction between that and trust and is careful to not fall into the trite and false idea of what it really entails for each of us.

Christian Forgiveness does not:

  • Say that it doesn’t matter
  • Pretend that we have not been hurt
  • Simply obeying a command to do so
  • Simply “forgive & forget”
  • Find an excuse for what has been done
  • Gain peace at any price (sometimes involves a conflict)
  • Leave it with God (i.e. in a way that avoids personal responsibility)
  • Always end in complete reconciliation (between the people involved)
  • Come without restitution

Christian Forgiveness does:

  • Begin with an understanding of what Christ has done
  • Refuse to take revenge (c.f. Romans 12:19)
  • Require an act of the will, not just a feeling
  • Face reality (it is very often painful, but necessary)
  • Accept and forgive ourselves
  • Recognise God’s love and His justice go hand in hand

So it may be that “locusts” have attacked and destroyed your life. That doesn’t mean, as a Christian, you are expected to just shrug it off, absorb and ignore the pain and hurt. As a Christian, if you do that, you’re trying to do something that only Jesus can, did and should do. Nor should you be damning others for not doing so. Forgiveness is a decision – but is it not a choice to be naïve and ignorant or to overlook an offence. It is a means to refer something to a higher and more powerful figure who can address the problem fully and justly.

Forgiveness is not simple. It is not trite. But it is possible, even after your life has been ransacked. Whether by locusts or by heartless, gutless, uncaring buffoons.

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Posted by on 27/09/2015 in discipleship, Gospel, Theology


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Christians who do not forgive other Christians are not Christian

This is another edited repost and is the 2nd in a 3-part note, following yesterday’s post on bitterness.



At first the title sounds a little self contradictory. That’s a little like forgiveness. It contradicts our default self. Especially when the person we could forgive is another Christian.  So often in Churches today, people are harbouring hostility towards each other for the most trivial things. Unrealistic expectations and unreasonable demands turn into spiteful hatred. Instead of showing patience and compassion to someone having trouble, the default mode is to treat that as an inconvenience and then punish them for upsetting your default mode of selfish existence.

The familiar words of Jesus … “by this shall all men know” contradict our default mode of selfishness. Self interest takes precedence and our priorities must be preeminent. Someone gets in our way, slows us down, interrupts us or doesn’t act towards or respond to us in the way we want them to (i.e the way we think we are entitled to be treated) we insist on our rights & entitlements. We may not say it exactly, but the attitude is, “I demand you listen to me”, “You have no right to offend me”, etc.

When instructing Timothy, Paul said:

“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
1 Tim 1:5-12

The Christian gospel message has a consequence of faith that produces love, else our faith (that we pretend to have) is not “sincere”.  As John said:

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
1 John 2:4

This fills out the gospel. It is not limited to Jesus’ death for my sins & forgiveness. It is also about being introduced to a community through which I demonstrate that forgiveness towards others. The gospel emulates Christ’s incarnation. He became flesh, dwelt among us and revealed God to us through his life and obedience to God’s will. As the Father sent Christ, he on-sends us: The call of Christ is to “wear” (i.e. incarnate) the gospel as an act of service in and for Christ to extend his kingdom.

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
1 John 4:12

A lack of forgiveness results in bitterness and is indicative of spiritual death, disbelief & disobedience. Christians who do not forgive each other are not Christian at all.

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Posted by on 24/09/2015 in discipleship, Gospel


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Christians aren’t immune to battling bitterness

REPOSTED from 2008 – A pertinent self-reminder, after also being “ripped off” that there are better options than bitterness. This is the first of 3 posts on the topic of forgiveness.


Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” Hebrews 12:14-17

Contrasted with the great “cloud of witnesses” mentioned throughout Chapter 11, Esau represents the antithesis of faith. Each person mentioned in Chapter 11 knew to approach God in faith realising that it was otherwise impossible to please God. Esau, rejected God out of anger and bitterness, and result was a life of waste and regret.

It started with a dumb decision prompted by tiredness and exhaustion. In the field at the point of complete exhaustion and hunger he begs his deceitful conniving brother to give him some food. In exchange, Jacob rips him off by stealing his inheritance rights, giving Esau the modern equivalent of a cold Junior Burger. Jacob of course follows through with his coup (with his mother’s help) and deceives Isaac into conferring the full inheritance.

Esau’s reaction: anger towards his brother for deceiving him, anger towards his mother for helping Jacob, anger towards his father for not detecting the rort and ultimately anger towards God for not overriding the result of his mistake and stupidity.

Esau’s response: is to dwell continually on the mistreatment (forgetting it was his own fault that started the chain of events) and he became bitter. Turning to a life of immorality and unholiness he is no different to the teenager who takes to drugs, illicit lifestyle, mutilation or suicide. They engage in destructive behaviour, isolate themselves and spiral into an unrecoverable despair.

Forgiveness is the vaccine to prevent the “root of bitterness”.

First there must be the forgiveness of God through Christ – made possible by Christ dying for our sins and overcoming the ultimate despair and defeat proffered by Satan.

Second there must be the forgiveness of others. Bitterness is better prevented than recovered from as Hebrews 12 indicates – see to it that you don’t fail to obtain the grace of God and become defiled by the root of bitterness.

The grace of God only comes through Christ – thus our final remedy, restoration and redemption is through him. Education and counselling is helpful and can identify the symptoms or perhaps the cause event(s) of bitterness and they can help begin healing – Jesus can inspire and provide complete redemption. This prompts the author of Hebrews to say in Hebrews 12:3 – “Consider Christ”, he who endured the ultimate hostility was able to say from the cross, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

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Posted by on 23/09/2015 in counselling, Gospel, Jesus


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Forgiving the untrustworthy or trusting the unforgiving

the secretary

One of recurring themes of the Older Testament or first part of the bible (written before the time of Jesus) is found in the way the writers and speakers referred to Moses’ character creed of God found in the book of Exodus 34:6-7.

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Both supporters and opponents to the Bible have said much about what this means and implies about the character of the God of the Bible. One thing both will agree upon is that this is a particular reference to the unfolding story of the nation of Israel. As Israel’s story develops, forgiveness is one of the major features displayed by God towards the people he rescued from slavery in Egypt. Also, as a people group or nation, they were held to a higher standard of accountability as the ones who represent God.

When Jesus arrived on the scene, he taught how this applies to all people who follow God. If they represent him, they will experience his forgiveness, but will also have to live by a standard of justice and fairness. A standard, when they become mature enough, they will be expected to apply to each other. If you are going to be a God follower and enjoy the benefits of forgiveness, then you need to lead the way in integrity and honesty.

Jesus is quoted as recommending his people be indiscriminate in their forgiveness towards each other. He is also quoted providing a summary of how to be fair in addressing and dealing with each other’s failures and indiscretions. (mentioned in the last two posts.) Both of the quotes are simple and brief. They aren’t meant to be exhaustive processes but provide overarching principles.

Integrity requires that indiscretions be dealt with openly and publicly, not ignored or handled secretively. Forgiveness does not equate to fully entrusting someone who has not proven trustworthy. But how does this framework deal with trusting people upfront, i.e. those that haven’t (yet?) knowingly wronged you? Should you trust them? Is everyone to be trusted until proven untrustworthy along the same line of innocent until proven guilty?

This is especially relevant in a Church or Christian context. Is it healthy to have a slightly cynical attitude or suspicious concern towards a Christian leader until you get to know them better? For many people who have been hurt and betrayed by ruthless, dishonest leaders slight cynicism becomes overriding bitterness and hatred. This kind of distrust is found in other areas of life as well, for instance the endemic hatred of politicians or disrespect for police. Trying to come up with some superficial version of a solution only entrenches people in their bitterness and pain and makes others vulnerable to being exploited by the next corrupt leader. But there might be an indicator that can warn you off and help you avoid a dangerous situation.

This is found in a quote from Peter, one of Jesus’ followers. When describing trustworthy leaders who represent Jesus, Peter mentions they are “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock”. He goes on to mention “God opposes the proud.” There’s the warning sign. If you encounter a leader who thinks he’s above everyone else, then, as I’ve said before, “Get out of dodge!

In an interview to become pastor of a church, the leader (or secretary) of the group said to me, “My name is *Barry, I’ve been a Christian longer than you’ve been alive. What are you going to teach me?
At the time, I was a little nervous about the interview, but it did cause some alarm bells to start ringing. I should have run away from that job as fast and far as I could!

Sometime later, when, as the Pastor of that Church, I was explaining why I had ‘told the church‘ about the sinful actions of an ex-member who had been harassing and threatening my family, that same leader shouted, “You should have asked me first. I am the secretary and I am more responsible for the welfare of this church than you or any other pastor.

The alarm bells were screaming! But it was too late. This leader was being the opposite of what Peter was describing. In his mind, he, not God, was the most important person. He epitomized the reason that many people continue to leave Churches with hurt, hate and distrust of proud, arrogant and dishonest leaders.

He displayed the opposite kind of character Moses recorded in Exodus. He was a roaring lion seeking to devour anyone who stood in his way. So while I may forgive him, I certainly cannot and will not trust him. His behaviour and actions do not represent God and I do not need to allow him to affect my view of God’s character. I can take the anxiety he caused through his actions and commit that to God, who will not hold him guiltless for his injustice. The lion will become impotent.

wetsecretary*not his real name

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Posted by on 30/08/2015 in Bible, church, leadership


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The truth about trust


The 1994 Season One finale of X-Files featured the tag line “Trust No One“. It was a warning of the inevitable deceit and betrayal awaiting anyone gullible enough to buy into cover ups perpetuated by authorities about the real causes of unusual and paranormal activities investigated by the show’s characters each week.

As a meme it represents cynicism that eschews personal transparency and vulnerability. It often covers the frustration and pain suffered by those who have experienced betrayal, deceit and abuse first-hand.

A contrasting response promoted by some says that you can and should have faith in people, give them the benefit of the doubt and trust them. This is a well-intentioned attempt to avoid negativity and anti-social cynicism.

In my last post I outlined the simple starting point for an approach Christians follow when addressing one another when they sin. The approach is based on a brief quote by Jesus, mentioned in the book of Matthew, about one of the ways people of the Church represent God. The goal in that quote is forgiveness and restoration of relationships. A similar quote is found in the book of Luke, also stressing the importance of forgiveness.

Jesus said to his disciples: … “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Like the Matthew quote, this is brief and doesn’t cover every possible aspect or scenario. It doesn’t mention what consequences might apply for different types of sins. The context, in Luke, is the magnitude of God’s forgiveness. We can never put God in our debt. A humble follower of God will never consider anyone else in their debt either, whether through wrong-doing or otherwise. The Genesis story of Lamech, a descendent of Cain, comes to mind. Lamech insisted that anyone who injured him would receive seventy-seven times the vengeance. Here Jesus says, “No.” It’s no wonder the apostles with Jesus responded with a plea to increase their faith.

It is one thing to forgive. It was freely received, so ought to be freely given. It is another altogether to trust the forgiven one. Forgiving someone who has done wrong against you does not require that you trust them or freely allow yourself to be harmed by them again.

For example, if I owe a bank $5000 and I can’t afford to repay it. They may choose to forgive the debt and write it off. I will no longer owe the amount. They will not prosecute me for not paying and won’t pursue the payment. However, if I was to come back the next day and try to borrow another $5000, or even just $1000, the bank will not trust me to repay them and won’t lend me the money.

In the same way, if someone has hurt, offended, harassed, bullied, intimidated or abused you. You may, if you choose, forgive them and not seek to prosecute them or have them charged for the offense. You are not required to entrust yourself to them only to risk them repeating the offense. The Apostle Paul wrote of how he evaded capture and attacks. Sometimes the healthiest thing you can to survive and keep going forward in your life is to run away from those trying to hurt you.

This doesn’t mean you’re not forgiving. It means you’re not trusting the person or people to hurt you again. Women and children should never to be told to stay in an abusive relationship or to trust an abuser. The abuser may have said sorry. The abuser may be genuine in their remorse and regret for their action. But while forgiveness is given freely, trust is not.

How do you know if or when the person is trustworthy? Maybe you never will. But you have no reason to feel as though you have failed in some way because someone else has not yet proven trustworthy. Go back to the bank example again. In some cases after failing to meet a loan payment, you will need to wait seven years or longer and then show evidence of positive changes to your saving and payment habits before the bank will talk to you about borrowing. Someone who has “borrowed” your trust in the past and not repaid it isn’t in your debt in the same way you are to a bank. If they can’t show evidence of positive change then you have no obligation to “loan” your trust to them.

You don’t need to be as cynical as Agents Mulder and Scully, but you don’t have to believe everyone either. They are not in your debt, and you are definitely not in theirs. The truth is out there.

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Posted by on 26/08/2015 in Bible, church, Jesus


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Tell it to the church

sheepandgoatsMatthew 18:15-20 has a summary of the traditional process referred to by Christians as a method for addressing and disciplining one another when they sin. The method outlined starts with an individual, one on one approach and then as/if/when escalation occurs it moves the discussion into a more public sphere.

Generally it follows the trajectory of:
1. You see a wrong doing and approach the person privately
2. If, after private consultation, the wrong doing continues, you have another consultation, this time with witnesses
3. If, the matter continues after this, a public action takes place

It is a relatively simple approach that combines privacy, sensitivity and common sense. Many commercial managers and community conflict mediators follow a similar method. For instance a company performance management model follows this almost exactly: An employee will receive a warning, then a meeting with HR, then they are dismissed.

The stated intention is not to shame or discriminate against an individual for lack of conformity. Sadly though many managers have used the “three-strikes” approach to justify removal of unwanted employees and even sadder, many Churches have used the approach to excommunicate unsavory parishioners.

However the aim is a restoration. When restoration fails, the result is that the person is released (or dismissed!) from any organization when they, through their actions, show they no longer want to belong or be identified with their company or, in the case of the Christian, their church.

The summary given in Matthew’s gospel isn’t a detailed process and it doesn’t cover every possible aspect or scenario. The context indicates the inevitability of people straying and stumbling (vv.6-14) and the necessity that forgiving each other plays in identifying each other as co-recipients of God’s forgiveness (vv.21-35). But it doesn’t specify the exact detail, timing and process to follow in every single case.

The emphasis (of vv.18-20 in particular and the broader context of vv.6-35) centres more upon the identification and association of people with the “Father in heaven.” The conduct and association of God’s people, the Church, should reflect and represent the “Father” as though he, himself, is endorsing their actions. If something or someone is not reflecting this ethic, they are dissociating themselves with both the people of the Church and the “Father in heaven.”

For this reason there is a heavy burden for the people of the Church in how they relate to each other as representatives of God. Being harsh and unforgiving presents a view that God is spiteful, hateful and intolerant. Being indiscriminately accommodating presents a God that is unjust and lacking integrity. e.g. Consider the racism promoted in some parts of the USA that were or are sponsored by Churches or the involvement of Church organizations in the Stolen Generations of Australia’s past. Or on the other extreme, the Church choosing not to intervene in domestic violence or prosecute child abusers on the grounds of being “forgiving.”

In any of those examples, a Matthew 18 approach is insufficient. There are plenty of other Bible passages (and indeed civil laws!) that make it clear that no tolerance ought to be given to abusers. The Church ought not let Matthew 18 justify inaction when a woman or child is being hurt. (Or many other instances of “sin” that are too often excused in the name of “forgiveness.”)

The Matthew 18 passage doesn’t go into any detail or make any recommendation of how, where or when (precisely) you “tell it to the church”. The overall context of the chapter is public association, identification and reflection of the ethic of God the Father, and indicates, for the sake of transparency and integrity, the Church is told in an open forum. There may, of course, be instances, where for the sake of sensitivity towards a victim, that an announcement be handled tactfully. However, the church ought not be reluctant exposing an offender for the sake of their own corporate embarrassment.

Especially in the case of violence, abuse, harassment, intimidation and bullying where an offender has previously been warned off. Tell it to the Church and … well … if they don’t listen or act … maybe identifying with God the Father is not their priority. The church is not a kids petting zoo, get out of Dodge.

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Posted by on 21/08/2015 in Bible, church, Hermenutics, leadership, ministry


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Trolls and Bullies


Image courtesy of The Michael Leunig Appreciation Page

Bullies and trolls derive great hubris at others suffering. When you call them out for being what they are – idiots, jerks and soulless cowards – they demand the victim play coy or explain and defend themselves against the vilification. When a victim choses to retreat of the sake of safety and healing, the trolls and bullies hunt them down to taunt them further. The victim is the one who should apologise they say. They are rapacious with their prying, snooping and googling to saté their gluttonous appetite for the misery of their victim. When they find the victim may have moved on and may just be putting the past behind them they regurgitate their bile and spew further invective upon them. Each time the bully and troll open their mouth or touch their keypad they expose themselves as fools.

As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart. Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes. The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise. Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding them like grain with a pestle, you will not remove their folly from them. ~ Prov 27:19-22 NIV

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Posted by on 31/07/2015 in Culture, Testimony


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