Archive for February, 2013

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’  Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  . .’ ” Matthew 18:21-23 (NIV)

“Here’s the deal,” coach blurted out. “I can give ALL of you one lick and we’ll forget about it, or I’ll give ALL of you three licks and THEN we’ll talk about it.”

Even though it was over forty years ago I can still hear coach Hall’s tone of voice and sense my feeling of helplessness.

It was my third year of secondary school and I was one of about fifteen second and third year students who were taking golf for their physical education requirement. There was a good system in place whereby we played a few holes of golf at local courses after school and then were required to hand in signed scorecards the following day proving we weren’t skipping out.  

Early in this particular year we had a stretch of frosty weather and by the time we got out to the courses they were closed. A few days of this went by and no cards were showing up at school. We all thought we had passed on clear information on the matter to Mr. Hall our basketball coach-turned-golf-monitor. But to our shock he decided to dispense with the perceived problem en masse. He called a short meeting after school and meted out the discipline he thought would rectify our infraction to the satisfaction of the school administration. It was a simple case to him that no cards were showing up and we were all guilty!

That day I and my teammates were victims of unexpected injustice as we all lined up for the ONE very painful and quick paddle to the backside while the coach was temporarily relieved to think that he had fairly rectified the situation. Little did any of us know what would happen next!

Being on the receiving end of unfair treatment brings wounds that can last for years. The deeper the wound the more difficult it is to forgive. Many have observed that the wounded who refuse to forgive are actually held captive by the offenders who often forget about their actions because they may be nursing wounds themselves.

I think we all find forgiving those who have wounded us to be a difficult matter.

Where we live in Ireland we find this repeatedly with victims of family and institutional abuse. One of my colleagues is a specialist in counselling adult victims of child sexual abuse. From all I have gleaned from her over the years I know that forgiveness in these situations is a process.  It’s one that can last for years and even over a lifetime.

We are also all too familiar with institutional abuse in this country. The Magdalene  laundries and their enduring legacy have returned to the Irish news in recent days. These were institutions which existed in Ireland, Britain and other parts of Europe and even in North America from the 18th to the late-20th centuries supposedly to house “fallen women.” Originally designed to be agencies of mercy they eventually became instruments of abuse and bondage for many girls who ended up there.

My heart goes out to the women who were victims of these institutions and no amount of whitewashing can take away the enduring emotional pain of the victims as well as perhaps the perpetrators of the abuse who were likely themselves victimized in their younger days.

Although no injustice  I have ever experienced has come anywhere near the abuse many like these women have experienced I do know that bitterness and a refusal to forgive others blinds us to our own sin and rebellion. When we consider forgiving  those who have wounded us it often causes us to forget our own rebellion and the harm we have caused others.

Ultimately the only way we can understand and cope with forgiveness is in the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He told a story in Matthew chapter 18:21-35 of two servants who owed debts. One’s debt was enormous and the other was pretty minor. The comparison  of the debt is between the first servant who owed  “ten thousand talents” or millions to his master vs. another servant who owed  very little, “a hundred denarii,” to the other servant.

The story is one of extreme contrast – the first servant, after begging for mercy was released from his debt only to go out and exercise harsh judgement against his fellow servant who owed him very little.

Jesus had a way of putting things in perspective. The implication is that no matter how great the infraction against us may seem, there is our Master in heaven whom we have grossly offended. Our debt is enormous – no matter how much we try to minimize it. From our perspective, what others have done against us always seems large and worthy of ultimate justice. In fact, just the opposite is true. The person who bows the knee to Jesus,  who ultimately paid the price for all sin and injustice at the cross, is the One who carried the brunt of the worst abuse anyone could suffer.

The simple fact is that we have no idea of the large debt we owe to our Heavenly Father. Despite the enormous size of the debt it has been cancelled at the Cross of Jesus. We who have been the  greatest recipients of Grace and Mercy are called on to forgive any debts that are taken out against us.

The message is all too clear and all too difficult to cope with at times.

When Mr. Hall thought that he had settled the matter of the missing scorecards, he didn’t realize that one of the student’s mother’s (mine) would issue a complaint against him to the Principal. After some quick deliberations the Principal cancelled the golf programme for us younger students for the remainder of the school year. We ended up in the gym for physical education instead of on the golf course.  Now I was working through forgiving my mother for making a fuss about the situation!

In a world where abuse, violence and injustice will probably be with us until the Lord’s return we still have to work through the actions and attitudes related to forgiveness. It’s only at the Cross of Jesus where Sin and Grace meet. Only there we glean insight into the forgiveness we need to receive and give on a daily basis.  

In the end I think we have to admit that those of us who are the recipients of greater mercy are to be greater instruments of forgiveness as well.  

Read Full Post »

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”. – Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV)

This week those of us who have an interest in the sporting world have been inundated with media hype about the Super Bowl, the main sports event in the US calendar year. This year’s game will be played tomorrow, February 3rd in the Superdome in New Orleans between the  San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens.

It’s been observed by some members of the media that the Baltimore Ravens have a very strong core group of Bible-believing Christians who are very expressive about their personal faith in Jesus Christ. On the opposite side of the field on Sunday the San Francisco 49ers are not disadvantaged in this area. Their second-year starting quarterback sensation, Colin Kaepernick, dons many tattoos on his arms which quote Bible verses and express the identical faith in Jesus shared by many in the sporting world these days.

When the Ravens were victorious over the New England Patriots a couple of weekends ago, Ray Lewis, a team leader for the Ravens was quick to acknowledge God and the role He played in the Raven’s victory. In essence Lewis commented that God would not have brought the team this far and allowed them to lose this major contest. The same team lost to New England last year in the NFC championship.

When it comes to the Super Bowl on this major world stage which team will God support, if either?

Does God have any favorites in the sporting world?  Or a related question is what difference does one’s faith in God have on an athlete or on a team and is it an advantage or disadvantage in competition?

At times, I have found it very difficult in my own life to reconcile the desire “to win” in sports or any competitive endeavor with my Christian faith.  Perhaps we try to re-form God in our own image when it comes to sports and justify our own self-seeking agenda.

If we look solely at the person of Jesus Christ for direction, which would seem logical since many people and sports stars make a claim to follow Him, we might be surprised at the implications of what His life and ministry mean for our passion for winning in sports and life.

One of Jesus’ key teachings to His disciples was  “the first shall be last and the last first.” Stated differently,  God is building a Kingdom of Jesus-followers who will, or should, live by different standards, as empowered by God’s Spirit. Those we think are “on top” by the world’s standards, may in fact come in “last” in terms of God’s Kingdom. In effect, God’s Kingdom, espoused by Jesus is an “upside down” Kingdom compared to most of society’s norms.

We might be shocked to know what God really thinks of what we consider to be our greatest “victories” in life and the lengths we go to in acquiring them.

Jesus also directly taught His disciples to follow His example of humility and grace. They  were known to jockey for highest position among themselves, playing favorites and rivalry games.  Jesus corrective  to them was “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

In thinking about my own hunger and thirst for victory in life, I have to admit as a follower of Jesus Christ that I believe God is much more interested in developing my character than filling up a trophy cabinet of awards, not that the latter is inherently wrong.

I do admire many of the athletes these days who compete at a high level and acknowledge Jesus Christ as having helped them reach the goals they have set in their area of expertise. In my formative years in America Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys and Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers were clear examples of this. In more recent times golfers Bernhard Langer, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, and American football stars Tim Tebow and Ray Lewis along with many others follow in their footsteps.

All of these individuals, and others like them, would be quick to point out, I think, that their victories did not mean that God was not passionately involved in the lives of their opponents as He was in their own.

In the end I believe God views our competitors differently than we do. We often demonize our opponents and treat them as enemies. Jesus taught His followers to love even their enemies. That surely applies to our competitors as well.

When the teams take the field on Sunday I believe that God will look down and see a level playing field. He’s intimately involved with all individuals on both sides of the field whether  they acknowledge Him or not. He’s also seeking to shape the life and character of any and all who will bow the knee and follow after Him.

After all, when all is said and done,  “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” –– win or lose.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: