The Great Exchange

Good Friday always used to baffle me as a kid.

‘Is there actually anything good about Good Friday?’, I used to wonder.

Last week I was helping a bunch of five-year-olds write about the story of Easter. Seeing it through their eyes I realised just how unique a story it is.

For many of those five-year-olds it was probably the first time they’d heard the real Easter story. And they, just as I used to be, were somewhat baffled.

Today is Good Friday. But where’s the Good?

On Good Friday, with thorns on his head and nails in his hands, Jesus stretched out his arms and uttered those words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

image Good Friday takes us right back to the heart of the gospel. Jesus received punishment in our place: we are forgiven. And we are to forgive, as we’ve been forgiven.

It’s good news because I’m forgiven. But it also means that those who’ve hurt me are offered that same forgiveness. It’s easy to get caught in wanting mercy for ourselves and wanting others to receive full punishment for their sins against us.

But that’s not the way of the Cross. No one, not one single person, is excluded from the forgiveness offered through the Cross.

That’s the scandal of grace: we receive forgiveness not because of who we are, but because of who He is.

And it’s offensive to our earn-your-grace mentality. And it confronts our “I’m right and you’re wrong” mindset. In the shadow of the cross we’re all wrong. And we can all receive His grace.

On Good Friday the Great Exchange took place:

His wounds, my healing

His blood, my peace.

His pain, my freedom;

His death, my life.

I didn’t earn it. There’s nothing I could do to earn it. It’s His free gift of grace.

And as we receive that grace He calls us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him. Sometimes there’s no harder way to pick up our cross than by offering forgiveness to others.

We want justice. We want to be proved right. We want things to be fair.

I know, because I want those things for myself.

But the way of the Cross, the Good-Friday-Way is forgiveness. When we forgive, we wave our “right” for justice and put it in the hands of God. When we forgive, we set others free as we release them from our judgement. And when we forgive we also set ourselves free:

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Lewis B. Smedes

So, today, this Good Friday, where righteousness and peace kiss each other, it’s time to receive that forgiveness afresh for ourselves.

And it’s time to lay our weapons down. It’s time to lay down our hurtful words, our poisonous thoughts, our bitterness and our anger. It’s time to be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven us.

It’s time to offer grace and forgiveness befitting the bride of Christ.

That’s the way of the cross. It cost Him everything. And it will cost us too. But as one young disciple said “Following God is always worth the sacrifice.”

There’s always a choice

There’s always a choice.

I remember the first time those words really hit me.  In many ways they were an offense to my inherently victim mentality. If there was a choice then I couldn’t always blame others for my situation, my circumstances, and my response. If there was a choice then it meant responsibility: the ability to choose my response.

But as much as those words were offensive they were also incredibly liberating. Because if there was a choice then my life no longer needed to be defined by external circumstances. As Victor Frankl said:

The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

I realised I have a choice each and every day. A choice to:

forgive or become bitter

love or hate

build up or tear down

forget or remember

give thanks or remain ungrateful

keep going or give up

pray or panic

surrender to God’s way or continue in my own way

In many ways each of these choices feel fairly insignificant. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt as a disciple of Jesus it’s this:

the grand gestures don’t really count for much. The one-off moments of victory are exactly that: one-off victories. But the seemingly small decisions to forgive, to love when I’d rather not, to pray, to persevere – it is those decisions that cultivate a life that slowly looks a little more like Jesus.

A few weeks ago I sunk into an all-time-low. I couldn’t see a way-out. I became lost in my own thoughts, in hurt, disappointment, unforgiveness and many other equally pleasant emotional responses. At the same time I was in the midst of a running programme. The first time I went  running I was left red-faced and out of breath after just 60 seconds. Perhaps this is why I always chose to run in the dark. But as my fitness increased and I looked back over the weeks of training I realised that I was able to run for 5,10,20,30, and now for 45 minutes because I simply chose to put one step in front of another and keep running. The programme took me through a gentle pace of gradually increasing my fitness and I just chose not to give up. And in my aforementioned all-time-low I ran like crazy. Everytime I ran I knew that God was teaching me: “This is how I want you to live as my disciple. Follow me. Put one foot in front of the other and don’t give up. Just keep going”

The apostle Paul had this thing nailed. He knew the importance of small choices, of putting one foot in front of the other, which is why He wrote things like:

“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you”

And He’d also nailed the not-being-defined-by-circumstances-thing as well :

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Paul says that he “learned” how to do these things which suggests that there was a process of Him getting to this place rather than sitting back and somehow hoping he’d reach a place of contentment. He was able to do this through Christ and the empowering of His spirit but this wasn’t in opposition to effort or making choices.  ’

As Dallas Willard said:

 grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning. Earning is an attitude, effort is action. Without effort, we would be nowhere. When you read the New Testament you see how astonishingly energetic it is. Paul says, ‘take off the old man, put on the new.’ There is no suggesting that this will be done for you…. We all know that Jesus said, (in John 15) ‘without me you can do nothing’. We need to add, ‘if you do nothing, it will be most assuredly without him.

http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=92

How about you? What are the small choices you need to make to put one foot in front of the other?

9 things I learnt over the summer

I think if I could summarize my summer I’d say it was all about going back to basics. As everything quietened down I felt God beckoning me back to the simple truth of loving Him and loving others. Many of the things I learnt or processed weren’t rocket-science but rather a gentle reminder of what’s important. And what isn’t. So, in no particular order, here’s 9 of the things I learnt, processed, or re-learnt this summer.

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when our kids need to hear “sorry”

I’m on the top bunk, curled under the Angry Birds duvet and right next to the Bear Grylls pictures. I’ve been granted my own pillow these days. It’s green with dinosaurs on it and waits for me each night before prayer and slumber.

We look up at the glow-in-the-dark stars and he tells me about his day in these moments. The highs, the lows, what he’s learnt, what God’s teaching Him.

And tonight he recounts an incident.

He’d taken a special lego construction into school as a treat, and his friend had broken it.

“Sorry”, his friend said “Do you forgive me?”

“And what did you say” I ask him.

“I told him ‘Of course I forgive you. Christians always try to forgive'”

I smile and think how much I learn from this little Jesus-follower.

And then I remember an incident. It was years ago but it comes to mind as if it happened today. This same child, this one I’m learning from right now, was the one who was banished in his room for yet again another “episode”. Those days were long and difficult and I felt helpless. Sometimes I forget just how helpless I felt. And I remember how he wouldn’t stay in his room and so I pushed the door and his finger was trapped in the door. In all the hysteria I didn’t realise what was happening and his finger stayed trapped in the door for long seconds.

And this little person, he still remembers that incident.

So I tell him “I’m sorry about that day, the day when your finger got trapped in the door. Mummy was cross and you’d been naughty but I didn’t tell you off in the right kind of way. And I’m sorry your finger got caught in the door. It was an accident but I know how much it hurt you. I’m sorry.”

He smiles at me, and with a gentle hug he says “It’s OK mummy, I forgive you.”

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niggled?

Ever felt annoyed with someone?

No?

Oh, must just be me that gets niggled by other people then.

Well from my experience you can’t just stop being annoyed with someone by  trying not to feel negatively towards them. You actually have to turn it on its head and think about what’s great about them.

I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse

Philippians 4: (The Message)

It’s funny how I can have fleeting thoughts about how great an individual might be and yet I can spend a good few minutes churning over what’s not so great about someone else. When we choose to reverse this natural human process and “meditate on the best,not the worst, the beautiful, not the ugly;” a miraculous process occurs. We begin to see that person with a different lens. It’s as if we begin to start pulling the treasure out of that person rather than the grime.

The overflow of a decision to meditate on what is good is that we genuinely begin to love others and what God has placed in them. What we’re really doing is choosing to see another as God sees them. I know that this works because over the last few years I have seen my head and heart change when I have chosen to meditate on what is good. Our mind is a powerful thing. And when we recognise our responsibility to take hold of our thoughts and surrender them to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is free to work in our hearts. We then begin to see some of the fruit of the spirit oozing out of us…. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I have less niggles and annoyances when I’m living like this!

It is likely that nothing has changed in the other person but our hearts have changed and that’s all we’re called to give account for. (Romans 14:12)

I have challenged someone I mentor to take this approach in a particular relationship she is finding difficult. And I am also challenging myself to take this on as a discipline.

How about you?

 

posted by Anna