Become a slave for love

Matthew 20:25–28

There are three things we can do to get better at living for others. Last Sunday we looked at the first one, so today we can think about the other two.

As we said last week, the first thing that will help us get better at living for others is to focus our thoughts on what our saviour, Jesus, wants for each of his children.

We said that what Jesus wants is for all of us to give ourselves to others, just as he daily gives himself to us.

Jesus gave us these instructions, as recorded in John 13:34: ‘Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.’

The second thing we can do to get better at living for others is to choose to live for others.

It may seem too obvious to say, but we need to realise that we have a choice.

We are tainted beings, our vision is discoloured by sin, our hearts are stained with sin. We are filled with self-centredness. We are sinners.

Even though you are a sinner who naturally is self-centred, you are free to choose to be different. No sooner do you become a Christian than Jesus sets you free. When we give control of our lives back to God through Jesus, his holy spirit gives us new life. We are reborn. This new life in us seeks to manifest itself in the same way it was manifest in Jesus, but it is blocked by our pride and our unwillingness.

We must be willing to choose to trample on our pride, we must seek to rise above our past and grasp our new future. We have to open our eyes and choose to live for others. That is the second step in living for others.

In our reading this morning in Matthew 20:25-28 we heard how Jesus took his disciples aside to teach them how to live. He said this: “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

We have to ‘choose’ not to live as people of the world live.

How do they live? For example, they appoint a school principal or a chancellor, and under her are deans and teachers, and the world sets up a strict hierarchy. In nation states for example there is a queen or a president at the top, and under her there is a prime minister. A corporation has a CEO with managers, and assistant managers and so on under him. That is how it is in the world. High officials lord it over the people.

Jesus said that with us it must be different. ‘Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.’

Jesus showed us the example of this, as described by Paul in Philippians 2:3-5 – “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

True life is about giving, not getting; it is about being more interested in others than in yourself. Jesus also talks about this in his sermon on the mount in Matthew 5.

Here are just a few Bible verses that say the same thing.

Romans 12:10-13
Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Galatians 5:13
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

Galatians 6:10
Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

1 Timothy 6:17-18
Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others.

Hebrews 13:16
And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.

Matthew 5:16
In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

These all point to the fact that Jesus expects us to serve others. There are many more, and as you read them let them penetrate your spirit and overturn your old ideas.

But you need to ‘choose’ to do this.

The third thing you can do to get better at living for others is this: start to think of ways in which you can serve others.

Again, it is a deliberate act. It doesn’t just happen to us, we have to put in some effort.

We make an effort to steer our minds in a new direction that seeks ways to serve others. We try to develop an attitude of giving rather than receiving. With a better attitude we shall find we have better actions.

One of many Scriptures is one we read earlier, Philippians 2:3-7 – “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.”

Here is a short true story. A man was sitting in a church listening to a woman describe how she had come to believe in Jesus. She described how one day she had very little money and was feeling suicidal because it seemed that everything in her life was going wrong.

She said that suddenly a stranger stepped out of a pastry shop and handed her a bag of the most wonderful taste treats. He said: ‘Your heavenly father has told me to give you this. God loves you and so do I.’ And then he walked away.

The woman sad that this event made such an impression on her that she sought out a Christian to find out about Jesus. When she learned what Jesus had done for her, she gave her life to him and asked him to be her Lord and saviour.

Afterwards the man went up to the woman who had given the testimony and he introduced himself. He said, ‘I was that man.’ She asked him, ‘Why after you had given me the gift did you not ask me if I should like to be a Christian?’

He replied simply, ‘My motive was not to save you but to bless you. I left what follows in the hands of God.’

We are never more like Jesus than when we give ourselves to others. It’s a law by which all of us should live. It’s our fifth law of spiritual success.

Amen

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The Servant King

John 13:1–17

Søren Kierkegaard said, ‘To love another person is to help them love God.’

C.S. Lewis said, ‘To love is to be vulnerable.’

And as we said, two weeks ago, the fifth law of spiritual success is, at heart, all about loving one another.

To love another person you have to let down your guard. You have to move towards them without any protection, and open yourself up to rejection and pain. Most of us don’t like doing that. Most of us build walls to protect our sensitive hearts from hurt.

Loving well means that when your own heart is hurting and your own problems are about to crush you, you put others first. When you are feeling rejected, worthless and unloved, you still put others first and seek their welfare before your own.

This is a tremendous challenge, as you well know. Striving after this kind of love has been the biggest challenge of my spiritual life, and I’m still not good at it. Just ask my wife. How many times have my thoughts been more important to me than what she was saying? Does God do that to me when I come to him in prayer? No, he doesn’t. God gives me his full attention. This is how I should be.

I am so very sorry to everyone who has had to suffer from my shortcomings. They are many. Please forgive me. Let’s all strive to help each other be better at love, because when we love we cast out fear.

One reason we are so bad at love is that we are so selfish. We are obsessed with ourselves. We are self-centred, arrogant, proud and insecure. We are narcissists.

There is a very good reason for this. It is explained in Genesis, which tells us the story of the fall of man in the garden of Eden. The reason is sin. You are infected with sin. You were born with sin. All around you are people who have sin. You don’t know anyone without sin, and you think it is normal.

The Bible tells us that sin is abnormal. We were created out of love to be beings of love in the image of the God of love. Love is normal. Other-centred living is normal.

Try to think how you judge all the things in your life as either good or bad. How many times do you call things ‘good’ because they please you, or ‘bad’ because they displease you. That is a self-centred world view, it is a self-centred paradigm. It is vain, egotistic.

Take for example the state of our planet. How many of you went without air conditioning this summer in order to help the planet? And how many of you turned it on, even with a guilty conscience, because you felt you ‘needed’ it. How much did you care about the planet, and the millions of people who will die from climate change, and how much did you value your personal comfort?

There are so many examples. At lunch after the service, do you wait until last so others can get Yuri’s best sandwiches or the best seats? Or do you go first? Do you help clean up after, or leave it for others? It is natural to think of ourselves first. But it is wrong. The fifth law of spiritual success requires you to stop living this way and to put others first.

We have made a good start on this. As Christians we have repented of our past and asked Jesus to cleanse us of our sins. We have put Jesus in charge of our lives, asking him to run our lives the way he wants. We have promised to learn how to be obedient disciples. We have invited the Holy Spirit to come and dwell in us to give us the strength to follow Jesus.

What else can we do to get better at living for others?

Selwyn Hughes says there are three specific things we can do.

Let’s look at the first one today and the other two next week.

The first thing that will help is for us to focus our thoughts on what our saviour Jesus wants for each of his children. What Jesus wants is this, that we all should give ourselves to others just as he daily gives himself to us.

That is what he said, isn’t it – ‘Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.’ It is written in John 13:34.

Jesus is our saviour, he is the Jewish Messiah, he is the one man in all of history who has lived totally for others. Jesus is the only person ever who has lived a life totally free from self‑centredness. He tells us why he came into the world.

‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ – Mark 10:45

‘I am among you as one who serves.’ – Luke 22:27

The apostle Peter said of Jesus that ‘he went about doing good’. Jesus put others first all the time, even to the point of death. He showed us how to be other-centred. He longs for us to live as he showed us. He prayed for us, ‘May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.’

We need an attitude of washing the feet of each other. It used to be the job of a slave, who was posted at the door of a home to wash the feet of guests as they arrived and slipped off their sandals. But Jesus did this job, not a slave. When everyone in the room thought they were too important to wash the feet of others, when everyone in the room was hoping to have their feet washed, Jesus picked up the basin of water and washed the feet of all the people.

Look at the Bible passage we read earlier, John 13:1-17. What do you see?

People with proud hearts. They were ready to fight for a throne, but no one wanted to fight for the towel and the bowl of water.

What would you have done? Contrast yourself with Jesus. It is one thing to read about this story, but another to live like this. Do you want to follow this example in your life, applying it to all you do all day? Jesus said his action was an example for us to follow.

Verse 15 – ‘I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.’

The first thing to do then is to take Jesus’ example seriously.

Let me finish with a poem by Ruth Harms Calkin.

I Wonder

You know, Lord, how I serve you
With great emotional fervour
In the limelight.
You know how eagerly I speak for you
At a woman’s club.
You know how I effervesce when I promote
A fellowship group.
You know my genuine enthusiasm
At a Bible study.

But how would I react, I wonder,
If you pointed to a basin of water
And asked me to wash the calloused feet
Of a bent and wrinkled old woman
Day after day
Month after month
In a room where nobody saw
and nobody knew.

~

전 궁금합니다/알고 싶습니다

전 알고 싶습니다.

그런데 주님, 아시지요.

제가 주님을 어떻게 섬기는지
제가 정말 열정적으로 섬기지 않습니까?

무대의 조명 아래 있을 때는요
아시지요, 주님.

제가 얼마나 열심히 여선교회 모임에서
주님에 관해서 이야기 하는지
아시지요, 주님,
성경공부시간에는 얼마나 열심히 배우는지
그러나 전 알고 싶습니다.

과연 내가 어떻게 행동할는지
만약 주님께서 저에게 물동이를 가리키시면서
딱딱하게 굳은살이 배인 발을 씻기라고 하신다면.

구부러진 허리에 주름살이 온 몸에 가득한 어느 노인의 발을
몇 날 몇 칠, 여러 달 씻으라고 하신다면.

그것도 아무도 쳐다보지 않고 알지도 못하는 방에서 말입니다.

Amen

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Your story, your mark

1 Corinthians 2:1–5

What is the mark of the Christian? What marks out some people is that they wear a cross around their neck or as jewellery. Other people wear distinctive clothing that is a mark of their faith. It may be a dog collar or a monk’s habit and cowl. Some people may have a fish symbol on their car or t-shirt. In the past, there were even special hair cuts that were a mark of being a Christian.

The Bible talks about two marks. The most famous mark in the Bible is the mark of the beast in revelation, which signifies that the person on whom it is written belongs to Satan and not God. This is the same mark as the mark of Cain in Genesis. This mark does not appear suddenly in Revelation, it is in the Bible from the very beginning. If you have this mark on your forehead then you are in the wrong army.

For this reason some people think that getting any mark on them is an evil sign, not just the number 666. But the Bible says we should all have a mark. God hands out his mark to signify those people on his side. Revelation 7:3 says – “Don’t harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants.”

It is not a matter of whether you have a mark or not, it is a matter of whose mark you have. The mark is on your face. It is on show for all to see.

And it signifies that the real mark of a Christian is the light that shines from them. This light is the light of love. Jesus said that the way people will know we are his disciples, in other words how they will see his mark, is if we love each other.

John 13:33—35 …

“Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

We can give many reasons and arguments for our faith to persuade those who do not believe. But Francis Schaeffer says the ultimate reason, the bottom line so to speak, is this.

Jesus gave the mark that will arrest the attention of the world. What is it? Love — and the unity it attests to — is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.

This mark is what we all should have on our faces. With this mark we go out into the world and the world can see his mark on us. This is how others will come to faith in the savour of the world.

This morning we have two people who will share with us their stories about this mark and how it has changed their lives. I pray that it will inspire you to wear this mark boldly and go wherever he leads you.

We have with us one woman who feels called to go out from here so the mark is shown in places where few have ever had a chance to see it. And we have one woman who was born and raised in a place that knows almost nothing of God’s mark, and has had her life changed since escaping from North Korea.

Amen

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Improve your serve

Romans 13:8–14

We are making progress with our laws. Today we have reached the fifth law of spiritual success.

This is a law that will require some of you to learn a whole new way of thinking and feeling. You may need to throw out your old way of looking at the world.

Over 500 years ago, Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus had to discard the old ways of thinking in order to make his scientific breakthrough.

Copernicus did not build on Ptolemy’s theory that our earth is the centre of the universe. He tossed that view out and declared that the sun is the centre of the universe.

Later on Newton came along and brought a new way of thinking about the universe. Over time everyone got used to Newton’s way of thinking and it became accepted as truth – until Einstein introduced a new way of thinking.

The frameworks we use for thinking about issues are the source of our attitudes, our behaviour, and the way we relate to others. Our desires colour our view of the world.

In 1962 the Harvard professor Thomas Kuhn invented an expression to describe this switch in the way we view things. He called it a ‘paradigm shift’.

The paradigm I should like to examine today is your motives.

Why do you do what you do? Examine your motives. Are you motivated by a desire for success, recognition, security, love, peace, wealth, power, influence, fame? Or does some other desire motivate you? Are your motives good enough? How many of them are selfish? And how many are sacrificial?

A successful writer called Arthur Gordon lost his zeal for writing. It became a chore that brought no reward. He got no pleasure from his writing any more. When Arthur looked into his own motives he says he found that if one’s motives are wrong nothing can be made right. It makes no difference if you are a postman, a taxi driver, a hairdresser, a housewife, or an insurance salesman. Whatever! As long as you feel you are serving others you do your job well. When you are concerned with helping yourself, you do it less well – a law as inescapable as gravity.

That was Arthur Gordon’s paradigm shift. It was the moment when he realised that life is not about serving yourself. Life is all about serving others.

As Christians, we have to serve someone. Family, friends, neighbours – anyone. If we don’t, we start to shrivel inside. Life becomes tasteless.

The reason is simple. God didn’t create us to live for ourselves. God created us in his image, in the image of the trinity. When I first began to understand this, my paradigm was dramatically shifted. I had always been preoccupied with truth. I thought truth was the essential reality, and Christianity was best because it had the best truth. Now I see that truth merely describes reality.

In the trinity, the father loves the son and gives him everything. The son always does what pleases the father. The Holy Spirit shows us the father and the son. He does not glorify himself. From the trinity we learn that the essence of reality is relationship.

And therefore the essence of our existence is our relationships. And we also learn from the trinity that the essential character of our relationships should be concern for others. Just as in the trinity each person is concerned about the other two.

Relationship is the most important thing in life. Relationship should be fundamentally about concern for others. As important as truth may be, it takes a back seat to the ultimate reality of relationship.

Truth, says C.S.Lewis, is always about something. That ‘something’ is reality.

Now how do your life motives look? How do your motives compare with the ultimate motives of God? God is always motivated by concern for others, and this is encapsulated in the trinity.

If you are motivated in something by self-interest, you have sinful motives. You are unrighteous.

You may call that normal, or natural. But in fact you can only say it is normal or natural in terms of this sinful world, because when you look at sinless God there is no such motivation in the trinity.

If you are motivated to prove that you can do something, your motivation is wrong. Do you want attention, recognition, approval?

The fifth law of spiritual success is ‘Give yourself to others’.

We are not to compete against others. We are to serve them. We are not to strive to win, but to always help others do better.

James 2:8 declares: “It is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.”

Paul said the same thing in our reading this morning from Romans 13. And of course Jesus made a point of it in Matthew 22:37.

Jesus is commanding us to love our neighbours. He is commanding us to want the best for others. He is telling us we should want others to succeed, to be happy, to be healthy, and so on.

Our new paradigm tells us to be concerned for others first. Concerned that they have enough healthy food to eat, wherever in the world they live. Concerned that they are free to worship, as we are free to worship. And so on down a long list of our concerns for ourselves. It is not wrong to desire organic food, or nice furniture, for yourself; but you must also desire these things for everyone else. You want to have clean drinking water, you should want the same thing for all other people. What will you do to get clean drinking water for yourself? Will you do as much to get clean drinking water for others?

Our purpose for living is loving involvement in a relationship with God, and a loving involvement in a relationship with others. Jesus explains this attitude in John 13:34 – “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”

We cannot be more like Jesus than when we do this.

I hope you begin to see that all life, all creation, all purpose and meaning, is bound up in this fifth rule of spiritual success. The reality of the universe is relationship. It is physical relationship and it is spiritual relationship. And when we talk about spiritual relationship we are talking about concern for others. Life is about putting others first, or at least on an equal level with ourselves. Never about putting ourselves first or higher. And that is love.

Love is what I want to examine next week as we continue to look at the fifth law of spiritual success: Give yourself to others.

Amen

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As you have been forgiven

Matthew 18:21–35

We know we need to forgive and forget. We don’t do it. Why?

We know we should, but we say we can’t. We say our problem is that we can’t forgive. I’ve done it. You’ve done too, haven’t you.

Well, you are wrong! That isn’t your problem. Your problem is that you don’t know how much you have been forgiven.

Some say it was Jewish custom in Jesus’ day that if you were asked for forgiveness three times, you had to forgive a person.

Others say the custom was that you had to forgive up to three times, but you didn’t need to forgive the fourth offence. Either way, as they say in baseball, three strikes and you are out.

In our Scripture this morning Peter has more than doubled the number of times to seven, perhaps to show Jesus how magnanimous he is.

When Jesus says no, not nearly close, you must forgive 70 times 7, he is not setting a limit of 490 times. Jesus is signalling that your forgiveness must be infinite.

This point is so important that Jesus takes the time to tell his disciples a story that will really grab their attention. A man owes an astronomical amount of money. Some experts have calculated that it’s more than the entire tax revenue from Samaria and Judea combined. It is all forgiven. That is amazing, but now Jesus really shocks us. Another man owes a pitiful amount, about 10,000 won, to the first man. But the first man won’t forgive the second man’s tiny debt!

What is Jesus’ point? Since we have been forgiven a huge amount we should be able to easily pass on a little of that forgiveness to others for their small sins against us. We have to allow our knowledge of the forgiveness we have received make the short journey from our brain southwards to our heart.

Your real problem is that you don’t realise how much you have been forgiven. You have never been overwhelmed by the incredible reality that God has forgiven all your sin.

Perhaps it is partly because you never realised how sinful you were. You’ve never been aware of the great burden of sin you once had, because you’ve always thought of yourself as ‘a pretty good person’.

Here’s a tip. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the real value of God’s forgiveness for you. When you know this it will be less difficult to pass that forgiveness on to others.

Still Jesus is not finished. He ends with these words: “Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

Take note: the man in this story is sent off to be tortured at once. This is not about what happens after he dies. It happens as soon as he commits the sin of unforgiveness.

If you refuse to forgive now, you will suffer right now. You will experience gnawing resentment right now. You will experience bitterness now, and drink the awful gall of hate and envy. The acid of resentment will eat away at your peace and calm. You will be tortured just as Jesus warned, and your life will be consumed.

It will happen to you if you refuse to forgive.

‘Instead, be kind to each other, tender hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.’ (Ephesians 4:32)

‘Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.’ (Colossians 3:13)

I’ve had to forgive my share of people in the past. I know from experience how easy it is to self-righteously feel that they don’t deserve to be forgiven. Being self-righteous just means we don’t see things the way God sees them.

One of the hardest things to do was forgive my parents. For a long time I blamed my parents for everything wrong in my life. I especially could not forgive them for being imperfect parents. I could not forgive them for being flawed. Now I thank God that I had Christian parents who, despite their failings, encouraged me to read the Bible.

At that time I saw only the sin in them. What set me free was the words of Jesus on the cross, when he forgave the people who were torturing him to death. If Jesus could forgive them, then I could certainly forgive my parents.

Of course I had flawed parents. All human beings have sinned and fall short of God’s standards. It wasn’t my imagination that my parents had faults. It was also a fact that they too had grown up with imperfect parents. It was also true that they had an arrogant selfish unforgiving son, and it was true that God had to suffer for my sins. So I forgave them, all the way back to Adam and Eve. After I said sorry to God and forgave them, all of the resentment just vanished like a mist. I don’t suppose it much affected them. They never knew, but forgiving my parents sure affected me.

Remember that you have no debt to pay, because Jesus has paid it. You don’t need to work hard to pay off your debt. Jesus has paid it all for you. Don’t let the torturers get you.

Now that we know this, let’s look at three steps we can take to forgive and forget.

Step One, focus on how much you have been forgiven.

Think about the extent of God’s mercy in your life. Maybe you were born in a good Christian family and all your sins have been small sins. But with God a sin is a sin. There is no small or big sin. Every sin is an affront to our great big holy God.

No one has ever done anything nearly as bad to you as the things you’ve done to God.

You have ignored his requests to join in your life. You have rejected his offers. You have spurned his love. You have betrayed him. You have locked him out and insisted you knew best.

Reflect on the fact that he has forgiven you all these things and more. Reflect on it until it penetrates deep into your spirit.

Please repeat after me these words from Galatians 2:20. Apply them to yourself. Make them personal. Believe them. Mean them.

‘I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’
‘나는 나를 사랑하시고 나를 위해 죽으신 하나님의 아들을 믿는 믿음으로 살고 있습니다.’

Step Two, deal honestly with lingering resentment.

This is hard. Some of us have been bitterly hurt or experienced deep horror. I invite you right now to recall that person who hurt you or abused you, slandered or libelled you, tortured you, rejected you. As you recall them, release the poison of bitterness in Jesus’ name. Let it flow out, and tell Jesus you want to be free of it now. Ask the Holy Spirit to take it away now. Do it now.

Be prepared to go all the way. Forgive and forget. You cannot half forgive.

Holy Spirit, please come to us now and help us to totally forgive and completely forget.

Allow the Holy Spirit to come into you now. Let him wash away the poison of bitterness. Let the toxins drain out. Until you do this you cannot be the person God wants you to be. God does not want you to have resentment and bitterness festering in your heart.

Keep doing this at home.

Step Three, ask God to help you forget.

If you accept your responsibility to forgive, God will accept his responsibility to help you forget. Let go of your unforgiveness. Let God work.

You do what is possible. God will do what is impossible.

It really is as simple as that.

Amen

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Forgive and forget

Matthew 6:25 – 7:5

Have you noticed how, as you get older, your memory gets worse? You walk into a room and don’t know why you are there. You turn around and cannot remember the name of the person you were just talking to. Not only have you forgotten where you put your car keys, you can’t remember where the car is. You eventually find the keys in the car, which you left in its normal spot, and you drive into town. But now you can’t remember who you are meeting, or where. Or even if you are late or early.

There are downsides to memory loss and there are upsides. It saves a lot of money on books, because you can just read the same one over and over.

I’m told that this process of memory loss starts when you are in your mid 20s. For most of you, your best years are already behind you. But don’t worry, you won’t remember how good your memory was. It’s not an illness, it’s just a natural process.

In actual fact, forgetting is a blessing from God.

If we didn’t forget the traumas in our lives, we would soon become emotional cripples. People who are unable to forget awful experiences, such as victims of rape or torture, experience living hell. They keep reliving the most awful moments of their life over and over again.

This is what happened with Robert Park, who was tortured by the North Koreans after he walked into their nation to declare God’s message to them. Even now he is daily tormented by the horror of what happened to him, and has been driven to suicide.

Scientists do say, however, that no one actually forgets anything. It is all stored in our brains forever. What we actually lose, except in cases of brain damage, is our ability to recall our memories. The memories are still in here, but we have mislaid them.

Our fourth law of spiritual success is ‘Remember to Forget’.

This is the deliberate act of marking some memories with a tag that says ‘do not recall’. Do not resuscitate this memory. Stop thinking about this past experience. Forget it.

What the Bible says is this: 1 Corinthians 13:5 – keep no record of being wronged; Psalm 119:165 – love so you won’t stumble over offences; Matthew 7:1-5 – don’t harbour a judgemental attitude.

Our spiritual health depends on our ability to forget the hurts and betrayals and injuries inflicted on us by others. Not remove them from our memory, but deal with them in a way that makes them powerless. We won’t change the facts, but we can alter how we view the facts and how we feel about them.

How many marriages have been destroyed by people who refused to forget? How many congregations have been split over small issues that should have been forgotten? When we decide we aren’t going to keep score. When we put away our hit lists. Then God gives us his divine power to live free from bitterness and resentment.

Do you remember Joseph son of Isaac? He was thrown into a pit by his brothers, and sold to slave traders. He was betrayed by a lustful woman, and tossed into a foreign prison. He was suddenly made the second most powerful person in Egypt.

Joseph had good reason to keep a list of enemies. When Joseph had a son, he gave him the name Manasseh. Genesis 41:51 – Joseph named his older son Manasseh, for he said, “God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.”

‘Manasseh’ means “to cause to forget, allow to be forgotten”.

Some people believe this is an entirely natural process. It is why we have the saying ‘time heals’. Over time the open wound of bereavement becomes the scar of loss. We find the hard edge of the feelings, for which we can never really prepare, have dulled and the pain has faded.

But this natural process alone cannot deal with all the hurts and betrayals of life. Joseph named his son Manasseh because he recognised a supernatural process at work.

In addition to natural forgetfulness there is God’s process of helping us to deal with the nasty and unpleasant situations of our past. With God’s healing hand at work, those unpleasant past events no longer rankle our soul.

Sigmund Freud said, ‘The mind will return again and again to that which gives it pain.’

But when God replaces the source of pain with his peace, the mind is at last able to escape from this prison. It can at long last get out of this hell.

Do you have a problem with remembering to forget? Is there some area of your life, some past hurt, that has trapped you? Have you been deeply sinned against? Has someone libelled you, or slandered you? Has a person you trusted betrayed you?

Has someone you loved done a terrible injury to you? Do you nurse feelings of revenge? Do you hope that justice will come, and that they will one day experience what you are going through now?

If you said ‘yes’, then this is for you. I beg you to follow the advice God gives. For your sake, decide right now to deal with this today. For God’s sake, do not delay. However right you are about the wrong inflicted, however justified you are to feel this resentment, it is poison. It is killing you. It has taken you a prisoner and locked you in a spiritual cell.

Every Christian has to be three things: a giver, a forgiver, and a forgetter.

The secret to being a ‘forgetter’ is to first be a ‘forgiver’. If you refuse to let God help you to forgive, he will be unable to help you forget. You will have blocked his way. If you are willing, then he is able.

It isn’t easy to forgive such big things. It’s one of those things that seem a nice idea for other people, but not for us when we have someone to forgive. But God will help us.

Forgiving is not a nice idea. It is an actual command from God. You must forgive. God says you ‘must’. Colossians 3:13 – ‘Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.’

Perhaps that seems unreasonable. Perhaps it seems as though God doesn’t realise just how deeply you have been hurt, and how impossible his request is. You cannot do it.

Jesus says why you must forgive. Matthew 6:15 – “But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

I leave you with the example of Pastor Sohn Yang-won, whose twin sons were brutally murdered in 1948 by a leftist student named Ahn Jae-sun. Sohn took the murderer into his own home and adopted him as his son. For many years Yeosu has been remembered by Korea’s Christians as the home of this remarkable pastor and the example he gave us all of how to forgive.

This is Pastor Sohn’s prayer at the funeral of his two boys:

My God, I thank you, for having allowed martyrs to be born in the family of sinners such as mine.
첫째, 나 같은 죄인의 혈통에서 순교의 자식들이 나오게 하셨으니 감사합니다.

My Lord, I thank you for having entrusted me, out of countless believers, with such precious treasures.
둘째, 허다한 많은 성도들 중에 이런 보배들을 내게 맡겨 주셨음을 감사합니다.

Among my three sons and three daughters, I thank you for my blessings through which I could offer you my two most beautiful children, my oldest and second oldest sons.
셋째, 3남 3녀 중에서도 가장 아름다운 두 아들 장자와 차자를 바치게 된 나의 축복을 감사합니다.

I thank you for the martyrdom for two of my children, when the martyrdom of one child in itself is much more precious than I could bear.
넷째, 한 아들의 순교도 귀하다 하거늘 하물며 두 아들이 순교하게됨을 감사합니다.

I thank you for the martyrdom of my sons who were shot to death while they were preaching the gospel, when dying peacefully on his deathbed in itself is a tremendous blessing for a believer.
다섯째, 예수 믿다가 누워 죽는 것도 큰 복인데 전도하다 총살 순교당함을 감사합니다.

I thank you for my heart is at peace as my sons, who had been preparing to go and study in America, are now in a place that is much better than America.
여섯째, 미국 유학 가려고 준비하던 내 아들, 미국보다 더 좋은 천국에 갔으니 내 마음이 안심되어 감사합니다.

God, I thank you for giving me a heart of love for repentance of the enemy who murdered my sons and compelling me to adopt him as my own son.
일곱째, 나의 사랑하는 두 아들을 총살한 원수를 회개시켜 내 아들 삼고자 하는 사랑의 마음을 주신 하나님께 감사합니다.

My Father God, I thank you for there will now be countless more sons of heaven through the fruit of the martyrdom of my sons.
여덟째, 내 두 아들의 순교로 말미암아 무수한 천국의 아들들이 생길 것이 믿어지니 감사합니다.

I thank and thank our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given me these eight truths in times of such adversity, the joyful heart seeking faith and love, and the faith that provides me with composure.
아홉째, 이 같은 역경 중에서 이상 8가지 진리와 하나님의 사랑을 찾는 기쁜 마음, 여유 있는 믿음 주신 주님께 감사합니다. 열번째, 이렇듯 과분한 축복 누리게 되는 것을 감사합니다.

Amen

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The secret power of delight

1 Samuel 29:1 – 30:5

Before we move on to the fourth law of spiritual success, I want to spend just one more week talking about perseverance. We have focused on four of the things that prevent us from persevering: Difficulties and trials, persecution, our doubts, and our own sins.

Consider this story. Two young frogs were hopping along, not looking where they were going, when they hopped right into a big jug of cream. They swam around in the cream for a while and then tried to hop out. Each time they tried they fell short and slid back into the cream. It looked hopeless. They could never jump high enough out of the cream to escape. One one young frog gave up and slid under the surface, where he drowned in the cream. The other frog kept trying even though every time he jumped he failed. But what this frog didn’t know was that all of his kicking and swimming was changing the cream. And after the longest time of failing, the cream turned to butter and he could easily hop out.

Of course, the moral of the story is ‘don’t give up’. Persevere.

Some great examples of perseverance come from the Bible. Take for example the prophet Jeremiah. This faithful bloke had an awful life. It started off with God giving him both a warning and a promise.

In Jeremiah 1:19, God says to Jeremiah: “They will fight you, but they will fail. For I am with you, and I will take care of you. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Jeremiah was attacked by his own brothers[12:6], beaten and put into the stocks by a priest and false prophet[20:1], imprisoned by the king[37:18], threatened with death[38:4], thrown into a cistern by Judah’s officials[38:6], and opposed by a false prophet[28]. His difficulties went on for years and years until God’s promise was fulfilled. When Nebuchadnezzar seized Jerusalem in 586 BC, he ordered that Jeremiah be freed from prison and treated well[39:11].

How did he endure? I don’t think he knew how long it would last, because God doesn’t tell us things like that. So he didn’t make a plan. He didn’t have a mark on the wall for each year he would have to persevere, and cross them off as he counted down.

I think he woke up at dawn each day and saw the new day as God’s day. He didn’t wake up to face persecution. He woke up to meet with God. He didn’t get out of bed so that he could endure more mockery and suffering. Jeremiah got out of bed so that he could be with God. This was how he could keep on keeping on.

This is the secret of perseverance. We are not focused on the long road of pilgrimage that lies ahead. We are not constantly thinking of how far we have to go. It’s a long way by road from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, but when you are walking El Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James) you look only as far as the next step. And then, one day you wake up to find that you are there.

The secret is this. Do not look with dread at the long road ahead, but look with delight and expectant hope at the present moment.

When my son was small, he used to spend endless hours building things with his toy bricks. He created Lego castles, Lego villages, Lego fortresses, and Lego space stations. He copied what he saw in the world around him or in books, and it was easy building these things. You wanted a space rocket, just give him two minutes and he’d give you one.

But in real life it isn’t so easy to build these things. It takes a lot more effort and skill and resources to make a real space station. Some people are playing at being Christians, but to be a real Christian requires strenuous effort, discipline and resolute will.

The first woman across the finish line in the 1980 Boston Marathon was Rosie Ruiz. She received the winners garland and was greeted with cheering crowds. But someone soon noticed something strange about her. She wasn’t fit. She didn’t look like a runner.

And it was soon discovered that Rosie had run only the last mile. She was playing at running a marathon.

There are Christians like this. They turn up in the service on Sunday, but the rest of the week they do not persevere in prayer. They don’t engage in a personal life with Jesus every day of the week. They don’t wrestle with their faith and call out to the Holy Spirit. They don’t go through the tough times with prayers and tears. They don’t stay faithful in the lonely anxious hours.

Rosie Ruis was a sociopath. These people are ‘religio-paths’.

Paul was determined not to be like that. He says in 1 Corinthians 9:26–27,

‘So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadow boxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.’

In our reading this morning we heard about David, who has had to flee from the land where God has said he is to be king and live with the enemy. It’s not a good place to be, but he is ever a man of faith. David goes off with the king to fight against the king’s enemies, but the other generals don’t trust him and the king has to send him home.

And when he gets home he finds that other enemies have stolen his wives, and the wives and children of all his soldiers. Their entire village has been pillaged and everything taken. Can you imagine their feelings when all they have done is to be loyal and faithful, and this is what happens. They cried until they had no tears left.

The story tells us how angry and bitter the men were, so angry that David was in great danger. They were about to kill him. Verse 6 – ‘David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him.’

It is at this point that David shows us how to persevere when everything has gone wrong, and even your friends have turned against you. Continuing in verse 6 – ‘But David found strength in the Lord his God.’

David didn’t quit and run away, he ran to God. He was depressed and defeated. ‘But!’

And so he became the ancestor of Jesus the Messiah.

David didn’t think about the problems he faced. David didn’t think about the injustice of it all. David didn’t think how unfair it was. David didn’t think that God had abandoned him. Instead, David thought about how great God is, how faithful God is, how powerful God is, how God always brings good out of evil. So David turned to God and filled his mind and heart with God. David worshipped.

Then David asked the Lord, “Should I chase after this band of raiders? Will I catch them?”

And the Lord told him, “Yes, go after them. You will surely recover everything that was taken from you!”

And he did, all the wives and children and possessions were recovered after a long and hard chase. Endurance and perseverance claimed the victory.

No matter what happens, God always gives us the strength to cope. So no matter what happens we must turn to God.

This is not a game, people. This is a struggle of life and death. It takes enormous effort on our part. When it gets so hard that we cannot go on, we can rely on God for the strength we need.

So never, never, never give up.

Amen

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