Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 and other sins and the mercy and forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus

Should we forgive them? Who ? Johan Blake the world champion of the men's 100M final and still a superstar Usain Bolt. Both of them issued apologies for " horsing around" during the playing of the National Anthem in Daegu in the recently concluded World Athletic Games, and assuming that that are contrite, of course we should forgive them. They also need to receive proper counseling and careful handling from now on, but forgiveness is justified. What about Serena Williams who almost had another " meltdown" during the finals of the US Open tennis match today - the Aussie Stosur finally prevailed? Is this once too often, and suppose she is not contrite should we still forgive her? Can the Americans who, ten years ago during what the entire world now refers to as 9/11, find it in their hearts to forgive the evil planned and executed in the name of Allah which sent three airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and almost three thousand souls to an early grave? Can Russia forgive the " sins" of Stalin and Lenin? Can the people of Cambodia ever forgive the Pol Pot regime for committing genocide against its people? Perhaps we should ask the South Africans whose leader Nelson Mandela displayed extraordinary vision and forgiveness in rescuing his country from the brink of anarchy and civil war! Finally can Israel and the Palestinians ever live in peace and learn to forgive, even though they do not forget, and help to prevent other atrocities being committed in the name of Allah, which is what many experts believe sparked the concept of 9/11 in the first place? Perhaps the Jews should follow the example of their God and our God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and the God and Father of our Lord Christ, who sent His Son as an Atonement for the sins of all mankind, as the Bible makes it clear, " even when we were still enemies of God". This is the lesson that the Lord taught me this week. As we have been forgiven, so must we forgive. But there is a price for that forgiveness. And because the price paid is so precious and so powerful, all sin, not just an unforgiving heart, needs to be destroyed and not just corrected. The powerful Word of God, set me free this week, by my being led to reflect on one of the most profound passages in Scripture. " What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin, how can we live in it longer? or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has any mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin and once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ. Therefore do not let sin reign in mortal body so that you obey its evil desires....for sin shalll not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace". Romans 6:1-14 NIV The context in which the passage was written was the debate in the church at that about the difference between living under the law and living under grace - the free undeserved and unmerited mercy of God. But what struck me as the Lord led me through the passage, was the fact that although all of us who have been redeemed by the Blood of Christ, and who have " died with Him in Baptism", will be forever under the temptation to sin until we die, in Christ, we do not have to sin, nor let sin reign in our mortal bodies. Since we will not gain perfection in Christ in this mortal life, we will sin, and we will need the continuous forgiveness of God and man. But as we grow in Christ, we will do so less and less as the power of sin and death over us is destroyed the but indwelling of the gift of Holy Spirit imparted to us during Holy Baptism. So, we don't have to have a unforgiving heart anymore, regardless of whatever wrong, or perceived wrong has been meted out to us. The Peace of God that passeth all human understanding can help us to forgive - even murder. That is the only way Nelson Mandela, no doubt heavily influenced by the grace of God through persons like Bishop Tutu, could actively seek the forgiveness of those who mercilessly were responsible for the killing of Children of Soweto, the killing of Steve Biko and the many other freedom fighters and advocates for freedom who paid the ultimate price for their belief. That same grace can help us to forgive genocide and rape, as happened in Rwanda. There are many countries which are in desperate need of healing and forgiveness in order that the society may begin to move on to greatness again. And my country is one such nation. For years, and we are approaching fifty years of sovereign rule, the two political parties in their quest to gain and preserve power, have been guilty of spreading abroad in our society a level of violence and mayhem previously unknown to us, and which has resulted in unfulfilled dreams, unrealized potential of our people, mass migration and widespread poverty of thought and resources. Only the mercy of God can help us to break this vicious cycle. The sad thing is that unredeemed leaders cannot lead us out of this " Babylon" that we are in, except of course they are willlig to either seek the Lord for themselves, or avail themselves of spiritual guidance in the same way that Mandela did. Not from false prophets however, or for selfish political gain, as some, not just one or two, have done and tried to " manipulate God" for their own purposes, and received their just reward of failure. But there is more to this passage than the " big picture". Those who are in Christ, do not have to fall prey to sexual temptations, as pervasive and as powerful as such temptations may be. Thus marriage vows can be kept. Young, and even old Christians can flee successfully from fornication. Sex before marriage does not have to happen. Fidelity to one partner of the opposite sex is possible, contrary to popular opinion and contrary to what purports to be the received wisdom which flows out of Hollywood, from the Television and from the Radio and the Internet. Those who are in Christ do not have to get angry and say and do things that they regret after, and worse do not regret at all. All ungraciousness can stop. Envy can be thwarted. Greed does not have to be in control of your life anymore. Selfish ambition, even in matters of the the church and of the things of God, can be destroyed. So can pride which makes us fee that we are better than non-believers, better than those in a different economic status or intellectual class or even worse better Christians than others. People who are truly in Christ and have died with Him, do not beat their women nor abuse their children nor those belonging to other the community or in the classroom. And so peace and quiet can reign in homes and communities. The peace of God can reign in the schools, in the business place and in the public square. But there is a price to pay. A quote from Oswald Chambers which I read this week, and sent out as a text message, hits the nail on the head. "Sin cannot be corrected. It must be destroyed". And that is what Jesus came to do, to destroy the works of the devil. By His blood and by the power of His resurrection. So the only way we can destroy sin, an unforgiving spirit, or any other sin, is by remembering that we have died, and therefore live the scripture that implores us to " count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus". And that kind of life requires sacrifice. Requires that we "put to death" some of the things to which we expose our minds. As that's where the struggle is either won or lost - in our minds. As a result, many of us have spent many years and many tears and prayers in pursuit of getting rid of many things that we allowed into minds and that corrupted our souls. We thank God for Jesus, who has helped us to destroy these things as we take deadly seriously the Scripture which warns us: " Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the patter of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The you will be able to test and approve what God's will is ---his good, pleasing and perfect will. This " renewing of our minds" constitutes the single greatest challenge in this ipad, Blackberry, laptop, and now aging PC world. And a desire to renew our mind and seek God in Christ, usually happens according to Chambers, only when our backs are against the wall. That's why the Cross of Christ is so central to the life of a Christian, as in that Cross we remember that " outside of Christ we were once wretches". That's why Christ died. Because our situation was hopeless. That's why we absolutely need him, every hour. But of equal importance, in the resurrection of Christ we are confident in the knowledge that in Christ, we are also raised to a new life, that is daily leading to holiness and righteousness. hence the need for the " discipline and the pruning". Finally, the Word of God is " living and active". And in it we have power to overcome sin. So make it your practice to memorize the Word of God and use it to fight against Satan as Jesus did. And be persistent and you will overcome, which is a promise made more real on reflecting on a story I read in The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers this week. " An ancient legend tells of a blacksmith who became famous for the magnificent swords he made; he claimed that he could cut a coat of armour in two with one sweep. The king hearing of his boast, summoned the blacksmith to his presence and told him to cut through his coat of armour and if he could not do it, he would be put to death for his boasting. The blacksmith swung his sword round and put it back in its sheath; the king was about to challenge him, when the blacksmith said, " Shake yourself, your majesty"; the king shook himself and fell in two." Chambers continues: The legend is an illustration of the tremendous power of the sword in God's hands, " the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. " The word of God is ...sharper than any two-edged sword", and it deals effectually with the sin in us; for a while we may not be conscious that anything has happened, then suddenly God brings about a crisis and we realize that something has been profoundly altered. No one is ever the same after listening to the word of God, you cannot be; you may imagine that you have paid no attention to it, and yet months after maybe a crisis arises and suddenly the word of God comes and grips you by the throat, so to speak, and awakens all kinds of terrors of hell in your life, and you say, " Wherever did that word come from?" Years ago, months ago, weeks ago, it sank straight into your unconscious mind, God knew it was there though you did not, and it did its damaging work and now it has come to light, the question is, will you allow yourself to escape the edge of the sword, or will you be destroyed with the thing the sword has pierced? A couple night ago, the Lord woke me up to read, with some terror, the Ezekiel passage about being a watchman to the house of Israel, and to warn his people. Let those who have ears to hear and eyes to see be warned. Amen