In a world filled with unspeakable violence and unreasonable prejudice, forgiveness may be the most important thing we can teach our young people. We are so easily offended and so quick to seek revenge. Words escalate into bitter hatred and mob mentality, and then acts of brutal cruelty follow.
I have just finished reading two books about the Rwandan genocide that ravaged the people of that country just twenty years ago. And in two short weeks, I will visit that country and meet some of its people. Survivors now reconciling with those who murdered their friends and families. When reading about these things, two ideas push themselves forward. First: How inhumanly cruel people can be. Second: How only God helps people forgive and find new life.
We all know that forgiveness is the reason Jesus came willingly to die for us. Jesus, God incarnate, showed us what forgiveness looks like. He forgave Zaccheas. He forgave the sins of the paralytic. He forgave Peter for denying him. He forgave even his torturing killers. Peter asked, “How many times must I forgive my brother?” and Jesus answered “Seventy times seven.” (Matthew 12: 21-22)
And it is still very hard to do on an individual basis. Especially when injustice seems so powerful and forgiveness seems so weak.
“There is power in forgiveness.” I heard this man Andrew describing the new friendship he has built with his childhood friend, Callixte, after the friend had turned against his family during the Rwandan genocide.
“Forgiveness is all I have to give.” This is what Immaculee Ilibagiza said to the man who led the gang murder of her brother and mother and who had taunted her while she hid in a tiny bathroom.
If these individuals can forgive such atrocities, looking into the eyes that looked on them with murderous intent, and still offer forgiveness, what can possibly stand in the way of peace?
Teens who do not learn the power of forgiveness will grow up afraid and vengeful. How can we help them?
This should be a challenge for every parent and leader. Especially when it is hard, let us show teens how with God’s help, we can simply forgive, thereby releasing both ourselves and the offender. This is not easy for me. I have a weakness for judgment and have a hard time forgetting. But when I focus on others who have forgiven the unforgivable, I am inspired to do the same.
We talked about some of Jesus’ memorable forgiveness stories. Paul, too, forgave his tormentors, like the Philippian jailer, and the ones who persecuted him in every city. And what about Joseph, who famously forgave his brothers after they sold him to a passing Midianite caravan and told Jacob that Joseph was dead.
God is able to do exceedingly more than we ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20) By simply asking God to help them forgive, teens will begin to unleash the amazing power of God to fill our hearts with love. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that their action was right, or good, or just. It just means that you don’t hold on to the hurt and judgment that you placed between you and the other person. If we always wait for the other person to apologize, we may sink into bitterness, and become even more offended.
In this new year, let’s all strive to forgive more and show others how to forgive as well. God wants to fill us with love and mercy every day. This is the way that leads to peace.
By Sherree Funk | Originally published December 19, 2011
The Apostle’s Creed seems to leap quickly from Jesus’ birth to his death. This is not to say that all his teachings and miracles were of no importance, but that his greatest work, his essential work, the thing that we believe above all other things is this: Jesus – fully God, fully man – died a humiliating death by crucifixion at a particular point in history. That he really died is a key point. And this begs the question: Why did the eternal Son of God have to die?
Tennent, in his book, This We Believe!, points us to three reasons taken from Hebrews 2.
In a sense, Christ’s death proved that he lived.
In death Jesus faced the one thing that Satan thought he had over us. And then he triumphed over it.
Jesus did not live avoiding the evil in the world. He faced it head on without ever succumbing to temptation, without being conquered by evil. He was killed in a most evil way. No one will ever die a more unjust, humiliating, painful death. He tasted human death for us all.
I guess I always wondered why old Pontius Pilate got his name in this creed. It seems like he shouldn’t have gotten so much free press. But Tennent points out that this anchors the life and death of Jesus to a particular identifiable point in history. By mentioning Pilate’s name, a person who is well-known in history, whose name has been identified on a stone in Caesarea Maritima, the creed dispels any notions that this is just an abstract set of beliefs that may never have happened. While the crucifixion is not solely the fault of Pilate, he was a part of the evil plan to destroy Jesus. Satan was behind it all, but God had a bigger plan.
The previous phrase of the creed reminded us of Mary’s humble obedience while this one reminds us how we, like Pilate, often make wrong choices, and thus work into Satan’s evil plans. It is worth pondering this human condition, humbly confessing our sins, and earnestly seeking to obey.
Luke 23:23-35; John 19:18-20; Acts 4:10; 1Corinthians 15:3-4; Hebrews 2:5-18
A verse in Charles Wesley’s hymn, Amazing Love captures our gratitude:
He left His father’s throne above, so free, so infinite His grace;
emptied Himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race;
Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God it found out me –
Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou my God shouldst die for me!
Perhaps it makes Christmas even sweeter when we remember what love prompted His birth, knowing that it would lead to His suffering and death.
This blog was originally posted December 17, 2011 by Sherree G. Funk (The artwork is Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, by Ford Madox Brown, 1852)
The second line in the Apostles’ Creed is simple yet profound. It is a non-negotiable affirmation of the Christian faith. You cannot claim to be a Christian without a basic understanding of who Jesus is. So here it is laid out for us: Jesus Christ is God the Father’s only son, and he is Lord.
The relational language is very important. Some churches want to change the language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to “Creator”, “Redeemer”, “Sustainer” or “Sanctifier”. However, it is this relational language that is the essence of who God is, and who we are. Without it, God could be just a “clockmaker” or “commander” or “dictator of his will.” The Trinity is above all else a relational entity.
Tennent says, “If we lose the relational language that lies at the heart of the Church’s language about the triune God, then we are left only with the abstract God of the philosophers, or Allah (the God of Islam), who has no interest in revealing himself, only declaring his will.”
Hebrews 1:1 says: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in many ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son.”
Our Lord: This Jesus, this only Son of the Father, is NOT a created being. He is not one of an infinite number of gods. And he is more than a mere human teacher with extraordinary goodness. He IS the full revelation of God in the flesh. Read Colossians 1:16. Also Colossians 2:9: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodliy form.”
At Christmas we read the words of the angels in Luke 2:11: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Then remember the words of Jesus himself while speaking to Nicodemus in John 3: 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And the words of Thomas, the doubting one, when seeing the risen Christ for the first time: “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus is Lord not only because Thomas said so. His actions are the actions of God when he declares, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” He is showing his deity when he forgives the sins of the paralytic and the leaders ask,”Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And when he is worshiped – Tennent lists the following scriptures: Matt. 2:11, 14, 33, 28, 9, 17; Luke 24:52, John 9:38, and Hebrews 1:6 – he is none other than the unique representation of God himself.
And take a minute to absorb again the words of Hebrews 1:3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.”
As Tennent emphasizes in his book, This We Believe!, the words of the Apostle’s Creed are taken from Holy Scripture, deriving power from God’s Word.
I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, HIS ONLY SON, OUR LORD!