Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Surrendered Warriors Part 6 - Things Can only Get Better!

This is based upon my new book and I would ask that no part is reproduced without permission. Many thanks.

This is my last message at Life Church before embarking on the adventure of becoming a full time missionary along with my wife. Please check out our website 

Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
4  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever. 
Today we are going to look at two phrases that conclude this most famous of Psalms.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

The Chase is On!
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life... 

It seems that no Hollywood blockbuster is complete without a chase scene. Dramatic pursuits, on foot or using cars, heighten the tension. Will the good guys win out, will the villain be caught or will the heroes escape? Engrossed in the acton on the big screen in the cinema, popcorn being munched mindlessly, the action unfolds to its ultimate crescendo.

Do you ever get the feeling that you are being followed; an indefinable feeling that you are being watched? Normally these feelings are associated with something sinister. However, the Surrendered Warrior is being followed. David says, looking back over his life experience, but also to the future, says, surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life… 

I once heard of someone who named their Labrador puppies, famed as a breed for their loyalty and the fact that they often followed their owners around, goodness and mercy; then he could say goodness and mercy were following him. Whilst this might seem quite humorous, are these promises to be understood as exuberant puppies wandering around after us wherever we choose to go? 

Others have described goodness and mercy as the names of angels who guard our back. There may be some element of reassurance there, but is that what David was meditating upon? 
Followed or Run Over?
It depends on what interpretation can be assigned to the phrase ‘follow me.’ It does sound rather a passive exercise, just to mindlessly follow the one ahead. 
Is that what David meant? That there would be a simple rolling out a trail of goodness and mercy after he has passed through that way? Well, no as it happens. David was deliberate in his choice of words. 

The English translation ‘follow’ does not really convey the force of its Hebrew origin, which also means to ‘pursue, chase, and attend closely upon.’ 

There is something more forceful than just passively following like a puppy dog. It gets better, the sentence construction in the Hebrew text indicates the deliberate, intentional and continuous action of the pursuer. 

You are being chased! There’s a forcefulness and an intentionality on behalf of the Good Shepherd in regards to your life; He is actively acting on your behalf, every day of your life, to overwhelm your history with His goodness, mercy, love and grace. 

There is such a forcefulness in this, such a movement in the pursuit of your wellbeing that if you were able to stop moving through time for one moment you would be caught up in the tsunami of His love for you and swept along by the enormous waves of His mercy and resolute goodness towards you. 

Yet these are also enjoyed in the present moment too! When you reflect upon your life you realise that He has gone before you some many times as the Shepherd who leads you. You’re surrounded by Him! You’re being chased. It’s a pursuit of the Shepherd of your soul. He will catch you, His blessing will overrun you, He will not tire of this lavish display of love towards you.
Reclaimed Past
What skeleton is in your closet? What is in your past haunting your memories and tainting the dreams of what could have been? A failed marriage? An unfaithful spouse? A job that turned sour? A child who walked away from God? A bankruptcy or failed business? A health problem that would not abate? An argument with a friend that still poisons your relationship? 

Whatever your answers they are all wrong. Oh, they may have happened, those things and far worse, could have been a part of your life experience until this point in time. They, however, are not the complete story. Yes, those things happened. I am not advocating a denial of the past. There has been pain, failure and disappointment. There have been griefs and trials of every variety. But the Shepherd does not leave it there! 

What is in your closet? What is in your past? The whole answer is: my failure overwritten by His goodness and mercy! 
More than a Conqueror
There is a saying that history is written by the winners! You are the winner, the more than a conqueror, in this life! The Shepherd transforms your past, heals the wounds in your soul, consumes your sin with His amazing grace, and creates a legacy that you have not earned or created but is outweighed by His love. 
When the enemy comes to remind you of your past is takes and past failure, look over your shoulder! It's alright, you'll see goodness and mercy!

At times you may not feel like you’re more than a conqueror described by Paul in Romans 8:37. Yet Paul lists things that will never conquer the Surrendered Warrior, things that will never separate you from the love of God displayed and enjoyed through Jesus Christ. 

These are death, life, angels, or spiritual authorities, or any kind of power, or the present, of the future, big things, trivial things, nothing in all of creation, can sever you from the love of God known in the core of your life. 
That means when these things come against you, and they will, they are approached from a different vantage point than those without Christ! 
  1. When you die, and if the Lord tarries and doesn’t return in your lifetime, then you will face death with the strength of Jesus coursing through you! 
  2. You currently live life and ‘do’ life with Jesus, not alone, not abandoned, but facing life with the courage of the King who resides within you! 
  3. No spiritual power, good or evil, is faced without the energy and force of His all powerful love within you!
  4. Your present day situation is tackled with the inseparable love of God flowing through you; whether today is a good day or a bad day, it remains a God day! 
  5. Momentous challenges are to be engaged with and overcome by the powerful love of God in you. 
  6. The depths of our lives, the physical lows, anxiety, depression and that feeling that God is far away is challenged by this love which begins to build the pathway back to wholeness. 
  7. In case the list is not comprehensive enough, Paul says, “nor any created thing,” can cut you off from this inextinguishable love. 
    1. That includes things in God’s creation, 
    2. schemes of people that they’ve created against you, 
    3. or anything else that has been conjured up from the pit of the dark one, none of it can place you physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually outside of the love of God. 

Why not? Because those known by Him and who know Him discover that His love becomes and integral part of who they are. It is a love and a power that cannot be fathomed by those who don’t know Him but it becomes so intrinsic to your daily life that you will not be able to recall what life was like without it or comprehend facing the next day without His love. 

It’s yours to enjoy for you are His to enjoy!

You're Track Record is His
A life lived for God will produce two legacy fruits - goodness and mercy. The Goodness of God will be seen. The mercy of God in you life will also be seen. 

These remind you that you are never self-made, but God led. What follows you in life has to do with Whom you are following.

Nevertheless, godly lives lived for Him still face challenges.

Even so, you are still being relentlessly pursued by the goodness and mercy of God. He does not tire if this.

Whatever your challenge today it is temporary. It may last a day, a week, a month, or years. The trial may even last to your final breadth, but in the context of eternity laid out before you as one who possesses eternal life, this is time limited too. Weeping may last for the night, but His favour lasts a lifetime, joy is coming with a new dawn and the test of today will be the testimony of tomorrow (Psalm 30:5)

You’re Place is Reserved
…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The default setting of the Surrendered Warrior is worship. The desire to dwell in His presence is to honour Him, to put Him first in all things! David loves the house of the Lord. He loves to worship, is a songwriter who has been used to calm Saul’s anxieties with the soothing lyre (1 Sam. 16:23). 

This phrase means that this more than any other Psalm, tends to be read at funerals as a promise of our eternal comfort. There is hope; life beyond this present age. There is an eternal destiny that those who know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour will one day be united with Him and the saints gone before in eternity. 

Is this what David meant when he penned these words? In short, probably not. It is not that these promises are not a reality for the Surrendered Warrior, but that this is not the verse to build this hope upon (Isaiah 25:8-12; Matthew 5:17-20; John 14: 2-4; Revelation 7:13-17). 
Not Comforting for All
In fact, these words are not the most comforting for all people of every tribe and tongue around the globe if this verse means hope is only an eternal reality in heaven. 

An example of this dilemma can be illustrated in the example of the Khmus tribe of Laos. For them this Psalm evokes very different feelings around this last clause in David's most famous song. A literal translation of this in English for them reads:
And I will live in the hut of the Great Boss until I die and am forgotten by the tribe.

Did you notice that the emphasis for them is on this present life? Until I die. Bible translators have in mind when explaining this verse to them that this residing in the house of God is for now, not in heaven one day, and this makes sense to the Khmus tribe and many, many other people groups around the world. They are much more interested in promises that declare that God will make His dwelling among humankind (Rev. 21:3). 

Why? Surely heaven is real for them? For this tribe leaving ‘here’ and going ‘there,’ even if the ‘there’ is paradise, is the worst state imaginable. For them, they are much more drawn to the idea that God’s Kingdom has come now and in the future a new heaven and new earth will be the natural order of things. They’re are drawn to promises of being in community, together; leaving their tribe is unthinkable and incomprehensible. 

To dwell or reside in the hut of the Big Boss for their whole lives is a much more attractive invitation. It is not that they have a problem with eternal reward but that this idea in the West seems to be communicated in individualistic terms.

So who is right, is this phrase about eternity or about here and now? Surely, in our sophistication in our vast knowledge and education we have it correct? Again, probably not. 

Spoiler alert, I’m about to bust a myth about this verse (if I haven’t already)! The idea that you have to leave ‘here’ and go ‘there’ to get to the presence of God has its roots in Ancient Greek mythology; where the dead were described as having to cross the cold River Styx to get to Hades. Plato tweaked this thought into a migration of souls that he depicts in the Myth of Er, by which our souls cross from ‘here’ to ‘there.’ Over the centuries Christians began to adopt this way of thinking, biblicising this Greek myth; we are seen as crossing over the Jordan into the Promised Land of Heaven (E. Randolph Richards & Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2012), 91-92)

Are the Bible translators right to put an emphasis on the present life for the Khmus tribe and others? 

This verse is not talking about eternity. In fact, our English translations do not define the ‘House of the Lord’ and our ‘dwelling’ there ‘forever’ as a future, eternal state, but actually as a present condition and a present place. 

Essentially we have read eternity into this verse, wrongly!

What Does Foever Mean Then?
What did David have in mind when he penned these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? He wrote in Hebrew and the words he used that we translate ‘forever’ have the meaning of ‘many long days.’ 

David doesn't have eternity in mind or an eschatological reality, he is thinking about how he can enjoy the presence and worship of God in the House of God uninhibited. Whilst there are eternal promises of the Surrendered 

Remember there was a time when David was on the run, fearful for his life; perhaps as he jotted down this lyric whilst he is hiding from Absalom. He could not go and participate in the worship of Yahweh with his fellow Israelites; he is broken off from fellowship with the community and corporate worship too. He expresses this desire in another famous Psalm:
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:1-2).

Those deprived of the opportunity to worship the Lord with other believers will soon begin to yearn for the opportunity again. For David, because he did not know when he would ever be able to join in worship with others again, expressed this as his very soul panting, suffering from spiritual dehydration, for the worship of God.

David’s underlying message is that the worship of God in the community of believers is essential for the spiritual survival and development of the soul. It is a place he wants to dwell, for many long days, unhurried, without fear, to bask and bathe in the presence of God, in this life, now.

Church is Such Hard Work at Times!
Today we can find the local church to be a chore, a place where we have to be involved, with little thanks, serve in areas that we don’t like, and generally resent it on a sunny Sunday morning when we could be out spending time with our family. At times we have lost the importance of the role of being in church, sharing together and growing together. 

Yet the Spirit of God has not stopped working in and through local churches all over the world. Do you have to give your time to the local church? Do you have to join in corporate worship as a Christian? Must you join in its main activities? Yes, yes and yes! When people have asked me over the years, “do I have to go to church to be a Christian?” I answer, “Only if you want to be a strong one!” David missed it when he could not go and worship. Here’s why:

Church is Where Spiritual Rehydration Takes Place
David’s mentioned this in Psalm 42. He’s dry without the corporate worship of God. There is something powerful when we join together with other believers in the worship of God. Worshipping with other Christians fulfils the desire for the participation in mystery of God.

Church is where the dry soul encounters God afresh. Not exclusively, obviously, for God can reveal Himself to an individual at any time. Yet there is something about the local church that He has ordained as necessary for the believer. Church is where Surrendered Warrior’s sing their stories, their faith, they sing God’s word, praise and prayers are offered to the Lord, where the celebration of God’s gifts is done. 

In fact there is nowhere else quite like it anywhere else in the world! In the local church all this happens; not in gyms, stadiums celebrating a sporting event, in clubs, pubs or even protest marches. 
Nothing else can quench the spiritual dryness of the soul like a good does of church on a Sunday (or whenever yours meets)!

Church is Where Corporate Worship Is Expressed
This may seem obvious, but the uniqueness of the local church includes the worship of the Creator. 
There has been much said over the last decades that worship is not merely sung, that it is a lifestyle, not something contained to the Sunday morning liturgy. Whilst this is true, it has unintentionally diminished the importance of worship in church as, not just a valid form of worship, but a primary act of worship. 
He is God of music and the musical God. He even sings! When the church engages in worship in this way there is a connection made with the living God that would be lacking otherwise; mystically there is a place created where the presence of God is invited and moves amongst His people. Again this is unique to the worship of God. Nothing else draws His presence like the worship of Him.

Church is Where The Hurting Find Healing
Churches are meant to be places of restoration and the worship of God is a major part of that; intrinsic to that worship is the side effect of the well-being of the believer. Worship is not primarily a form of therapy for the Surrendered Warrior. Worship is principally concerned with drawing attention to God and His greatness, His faithfulness, His works, His majesty, His glory, His beauty. In doing so there is the benefit that the believer is touched and changed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

The Surrendered Warrior is involved in their totality when involved in worship, the whole person, body, mind and spirit is involved, as well as their emotions and imagination. 

The truth is that worship has a quality about it that is sometimes lacking without it. Music therapies have become fashionable yet there is a body of evidence that would suggest that Christian worship music, even if God is not especially present, is more effective at bringing healing to the individual than non-God centred music. The reason for this is the quality and content of the lyrics that are being sung, that look for the Truth outside of self: this does not negate the need to encounter God, but simply reflects that gospel music is more powerful than non-Christian music.

The Surrendered Warrior will not perceive that they have been involved in worship just by singing alone, the experience, the feeling of spiritual awareness, is sought. Emotions connect the intellect with the will, tears or laugher in worship are not the goal, but part of a legitimate response, and increase the potential for change in the Surrendered Warrior whilst avoiding manipulation.

There is a healing that comes to the soul when it is exposed to the presence of God through worship, worship that is in Spirit and in Truth, when joined together with other believers. Something powerful happens. It is the presence of God, through His Spirit, unleashed.

Whilst worship is primarily a vertical action, the worship of the church is directed heavenwards towards God, there is also an horizontal effect as people hear others worship and, are therefore, encouraged in their worship too. This horizontal dynamic begins to draw out a therapeutic benefit, for those suffering are encouraged by the music and song of the worshipping church, an effect begins to take place in which the perception of the reality of the outside world is questioned. New facts and new realities are created as the Surrendered Warrior embraces the truth about God through worship and consequently the truth about themselves as God reveals Himself to them.

Church is Where the Bible is Explained
In churches around the world each week the Bible is faithfully examined and explained through preaching. 

Oratory is a dying art in our society, and preaching has been diminished in the eyes of many; but true exposition of the Word of God is not about a person’s opinion, but about the unravelling if spiritual truth before hungry souls. It should be approached with reverence and diligence by the one expounding the Scriptures. 

It is essential that preaching carries on and is developed as a gift to the local church. It’s value lies in the seeds sown into the hearts of God’s people, where encouragement can be given, where errors can be rooted out and where God’s best can be sought, and is a way that God clearly speaks to you.

Church is Where the Unity of the Godhead is Displayed.
Jesus famously prayed for all believers to be one. 

Much has been made of this over the years as an argument against denominations, different local churches, and that Jesus will return for one holy Church. We understand being one as being the same. 

I often think something has been missed in our thinking. Jesus prays that we would all be one, just as He and the Father are One. In one sense the Father and the Son are the same, along with the Spirit, they are one in the same God, the Three in One and the One in Three; the Trinity. Yet they are different. The Son is sent by the Father, Spirit is sent by the Son and the Father, the Father is venerated by both Son and Spirit. They are one but they a different in function. 

The Godhead seems to have no struggle within itself of being One yet being diverse. The local church, likewise, is part of one holy Catholic Church (Catholic meaning universal, including all Christians). Therefore, we celebrate our sameness, One Church, and our diversity, the local church. 

Church is Where Life Long Friendships are Made.
Friendships are vital to our existence. We are made for relationships. 

People in large churches think that if the church was smaller it would be friendlier and people in small churches would like a larger church so that their business could be kept private.

This church isn’t friendly is often a complaint against large or small churches by visitors. The vast majority in a church may feel that the church was friendly. Why the apparent disparity? 

There is often a difference between a friendly church and a church where our friends go. Churches are great at becoming friendship centres, but they are not always adept at welcoming other people into those friendships. 

Church then becomes where the Surrendered Warrior experiences a sense of belonging together with likeminded people. It’s a foreshadowing of heaven, where we will share the same experiences of the Saviour’s unbridled presence. 

The Church is Where the World is Reached From
The local church is the hope of the community in which it resides. It is the place, week by week, where the Saints are equipped and sent out into their mission field. 

There may be a more efficient way of witnessing to a lost world from these worship centres dotted around a locality, a way in which the Gospel of hope is shared regularly through the faithful and consistent witness of the believers in a region. 
God, though, seems to have other ideas. He has vested Himself in and through the local church as His voice, hands and feet across the nations. There’s no plan B. That means the Surrendered Warrior is part of the biggest missional sending initiative on behalf of the Good Shepherd Himself. Your are the light of the world, the salt of the earth, the real change agent in society, the harbinger of hope and love on behalf of God.

The Church is You
This is where you belong. The local church, not just mere attendance at church, is essential to the Surrendered Warrior. 
They know it is imperative to their growth. This messy, beautiful, precious, glorious, at times maligned and misunderstood place where believers gather is part of their heartbeat of life. 

It cannot be easily forsaken, it must be cherished, loved and explored for all its potential.

Its impact in representing Christ to the community is weakened without the presence of those who proclaim Jesus as King. It represents the place of heaven on earth. It is the place where the Surrendered Warrior longs to spend many long days, uninhibited and unhindered in the worship of God. 

Wrapping this up:

Know your past is transformed and that this is expressed through your relationship with Jesus and with others in the church and to the local community in which you live, work and worship!

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Surrendered Warriors 5: Dinner is Served

Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
4  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies... 

Over the years scholars have debated the timing of the writing of Psalm 23. There are those who feel that the Psalm was written when David was a lad tending the sheep, because it is a shepherd's psalm. 
However, there is evidence that this is not true. 
  • In verse three he was experiencing rest from his troubles. 
  • In verse four he was facing the danger of death. 
  • In verse five, he was old enough to have enemies and experiencing prosperity. 
These things all point to an older person, or at least one who had reached maturity or adulthood. Probably the Twenty third Psalm was written while David was at Mahanaim wondering how the battle was between his forces and those of his son, Absalom, during the civil war caused by Absalom's rebellion. 

Of course, David was grief-stricken and heartbroken. It may have been the darkest hour of his life and this is where he penned the beautiful words, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." It was probably written at a time when he was away from the corporate worship of the house of the Lord, for he yearns to be there in verse six. In any case David is looking forward to an event where he will be vindicated.

In truth, most Christians in the west do not have enemies. We are not (currently) heavily persecuted. We are ignored, that’s something completely different altogether, but actual enemies after our blood? 

We still live in relative comfort and privilege compared to our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church. 

We do seem to be very adept at suffering relationship breakdowns of various sorts; divorce, not talking to people in church, ignoring people, or just generally having the hump with those around us. 

David knew times when his very life was at stake; from Saul and later from his own son Absalom. What is being expressed here is the hope of a testimony. If David is in hiding from Absalom, he is believing for the time when the trial will be over.

Today’s test is tomorrow testimony and today’s testimony is yesterday’s test. 

What the Surrendered Warrior knows is that there will be trials in life, especially in the big five areas. 
  • Relationships do go wrong. 
  • Jobs do have moments, days, or months of stress.
  • Personal finances can be hard at times, sometimes through no fault of our own. 
  • Churches are, on occasion, the toughest place to be, where vulnerability should be welcomed but is sometimes silently criticised. 
  • Sometimes suffering enters our lives through grief, through health problems, through emotional and spiritual challenges. 

David expresses hope in Psalm 23; a table, a feast, will be prepared in the presence of his enemies.

Everyone wants someone to pay them back at some point in their life. Some wrong has been committed, some injustice done, a temper lost, a cross word exchanged, an atmosphere or an issue left unresolved. 

Is this Psalm implying waiter service from people who have wronged you? Are they to queue up to serve you? No.

It is God, the Lord Shepherd, who prepares the table and serves the meal in the prose. It is He who lowers Himself to lift you up out of the claylike stickiness of sin!(Psalm 3:3; Philippians 2:7-8; Psalm 40:2). 

He gives the honour, but others witness it. They may not expect it or even understand it: how could God bless someone like you after all the bad stuff you have done in your life? 

Because He is is the Redeemer of the lost, the lifter of your head, the glory of your life. He decides when that honouring will take place and in what way. 

The table He sets before you may be a healed marriage, a promotion at work, freedom from financial debt, a new ministry in church or physical healing. It may the salvation of an until recently lost child, the healing of your emotions, the joy of seeing old friends and being on on good terms with them again. 

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of ways that the Shepherd honours His children. All of this takes place in the presence of those who have maligned, wronged you, or broken off relationships with you. 

The Table is not Just for Your Benefit!
This table is not for the purpose of our gloating. Not so that we might look down on them pridefully, be superior to them, or in anyway claim that what is happening is a result of our spirituality over theirs. 

It is so that we may invite them to come and eat with us! 

“What! Keith, you don’t understand what they have done to me. Your don't see the harm they have caused; now you expect them to come and eat at my table of blessing?” 

Yes! That is why forgiveness is the gift of God that we must share with others, in the same way He has forgiven us (Matthew 6:14-15).

When we read that the table is prepared in the presence of our enemies we have this mental picture, that if they are not serving us, they are looking longingly on at the sumptuous feast but that they cannot partake of. As the banquet is thrown in your honour you are able to extend the invitation to them. The table in the presence of the enemies of your past is a redemptive place.

This table is reminiscent of another table and the instructions we have around the Lord’s Supper; to be in right relationship, to examine ourselves, to make sure that we are right before God through Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). 

It is for the Surrendered Warrior to make the first move, in the same way that Jesus made the first move for our salvation; as far as we can we are to live at peace with everyone (Hebrews 12:14). 

In the moment when the Lord pours honour and blessing upon you is the moment to share that blessing with others, even if they have wronged you in the past. That is the point of a testimony, to encourage others. 

  • Marriage healed? tell others, even those who said it would never work out! 
  • Career takes an upward turn? testify, so that others may know how they too can enjoy promotion. 
  • Financial situation improves because you have been obedient to God? share the news with others, so that they too may apply Kingdom principles. 
  • Energised and enriched by serving in the local church? share this testimony, that others may be encouraged into the Lord’s service too. 
  • Dark valley of suffering comes to an end? shout about it, honour God so that others may walk through their dark season as you light the way for them. 

One of the reasons the Lord provides you with a feast at the table that was once bare is not so that you can merely gorge yourself on His blessings, but so that you can use that new platform of experience to help others get to their table of feasting too; even your enemies! (Matthew 5:44).

What’s Acceptable to Forgive?
Here’s the kicker! No sin committed against you is unforgivable! There is no list of acceptable sins and those that are just too heinous to be forgiven by God. 

This maybe a tough truth to grasp in the depth of pain, but nonetheless, it’s true. 

The only unforgivable sin is to deny the work of the Holy Spirit in sending Jesus to forgive the sins of the world (Mark 3:23-29); reject Jesus and eventually He will reject you. Beyond that all other things are forgivable. 

Bitterness is crippling. If we harbour past hurts we end up on a lonely road that eventually leads us to a place of aloneness and health issues. 

Unforgiveness can turn us into an island with sharks swimming just off shore to protect ourselves from rescue. Open your heart today. 

Forgiveness Is the Tablecloth
Forgiveness is the tablecloth upon which the place settings of the love feast are set. Forgiveness for the Surrendered Warrior is not optional, but it is not easy; Jesus was unequivocal on this point, forgiveness is commanded (Matthew 6:15).

It is commanded for we may not always feel like it. It is vital to understand the realities of forgiveness:

Forgiveness is a redemptive response to having been wronged
It is the remedy for the bitterness that so desires to become a cancer to the soul. If someone injures us accidentally, we may excuse them; we only forgive the ones we blame.

Forgiveness requires three basic but essential actions. 
First, the right to get even is surrendered. There may well be consequences for the one who has aggrieved you; they may even have to spend time incarcerated, but you are not the judge. The wages for sin, despite inflation have remained the same, but the payment of the blood of Jesus deals with all our sins, and theirs if they are repentant (Romans 6:23). 
When we forgive we give the final outcome of the matter into God’s hands. 

Secondly, we discover the humanity of our wrongdoer. When wronged we build up a picture, a caricature, of the person responsible. When we forgive we discover that they are like us in so many ways, complex, weak, confused, and fragile. 

Thirdly, we wish the one who sinned against us well. Not only is the desire for revenge forsaken, but a desire for their wellbeing replaces the angst we once harboured. Is this too much to comprehend right now? Maybe, but it is exactly how God forgives. It’s how He has forgiven you. 

How many things in life have you got away with? How many wrongs have gone unpunished? How many times has God given a second chance to you? Therefore to complain when He does the same for others, even those who have hurt you, is a double standard. You cannot ask for grace for yourself and judgement for others. 

Forgiveness takes time. 
Don’t fret too much if you’re not there yet. Don’t wallow in the imperfections of your weak attempts at perfect forgiveness. God forgives instantly it seems. 

We struggle with the anguish in our souls, but actually movement in the right direction is more important than a supercilious response to the need to forgive. 

Time is needed. Time is not the healer, God is; over time good and bad things can grow. Time in itself is not the remedy; its the direction of spiritual travel that matters. 

Just before he died C.S. Lewis wrote: “I think I have at last forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who as darkened my youth. I had done it Mandy times before, but this time I think I may have really done it.” 
Had he lived longer perhaps he would need to do it again! 

One thing is for sure, forgiveness is a messy, crazy journey.

Forgiving others does not require forgetting. 
True, God says He would forget our sins (Isaiah 43:25). 
Does this mean God is an amnesiac? Clearly not for He could not be omniscient, knowing all things, if He were. 

It is as though He is able to detoxify the memory of the wrongdoing done to Him. 

If He asks that we forgive as he does then He must also expect that we too have the ability to similarly detoxify the memory - with His help! 

How do you know when you have truly forgiven? When you can remember the events with it hurting anymore. It is not a denial that bad things have happened; it is an acknowledgment of the healing touch of the King. 

It’s as though when these things are recalled that they happened to a different person in a far way land. 

Ideally, forgiveness leads to reconciliation. 
Ideally, but not always! Sometimes the forgiven one will not want to reconcile, they may have moved too far away, they may have passed away, or they simply may not care that forgiveness is the option you have chosen. 

It may not always be wise to reconcile either for reasons of personal safety; an abused spouse would not be wise to reestablish a relationship unless the other has truly changed, but equally forgiveness will release the abused one from ongoing abuse too. 

Forgiveness is an internal action that has an outward outworking. 

There can be no reunion without forgiving but there can be forgiving without a reunion. 
If they don’t want to, or cannot reconcile, you can make sure your heart is beating with love and the grace of the Good Shepherd towards them. It is liberating!

Forgiveness comes naturally to the forgiven
One of the greatest enablers of forgiveness is knowing the forgiveness of God in our own lives. It is unthinkable for a forgiven person to deliberately withhold forgiveness from others. Therefore, keeping short records or wrongs is vital (1 Corinthians 13:5). 

Don’t allow something to poison your heart, to be nurtured by the fuels of anger and indignation, to become so all encompassing that it infiltrates your thoughts, prayers and emotions too. 

Take steps towards forgiving the offender. 

When will the Dinner Be Served?
Often the delay in the blessing the Father wants to release is caused, not by the enemy, but by our own unforgiveness towards others. 

After completing a seven week series on forgiveness in a church where I served I was approached by a dear saint and this is an abridged version of our conversation:
Constance: “Pastor, I just want you to know that Angela and I are having lunch together today after church.”
Me: “That’s nice, Constance, where are you going?”
Constance: Looking slightly perplexed at my lack of understanding, “That’s not important! What you need to know is that we have not spoken to each other in over three years! Today I decided to forgive her, and she me, and I’ve got back my best friend!” 
Me: Now understanding why she was beaming and so excited, “That’s great! I’m so glad that you’ve come to this place in your friendship. Have a great lunch!”

I did leave that conversation pondering how two apparently godly women, mature in their faith, managed not to talk to each other in a church of less than thirty people at that time, yet sit on the same row each Sunday just three seats apart, and not talk to each other. That takes some skill and determination! 

I didn’t need to know what the original transgression was, nor who had done what to whom subsequently, or how they had managed the dynamic of sharing communion whilst carrying such pain; none of that now mattered in the light of fresh forgiveness. To this day I still don’t know what they had for lunch; I do know they didn’t chew on the past or on each other!
The point is though they could have reached this place three years earlier and had missed out on some beautiful moments in their friendship as a result. However, forgiveness is redemptive, and their friendship became stronger than ever. 

Sadly, though this story could be repeated many times over, in the churches I’ve led, but also around the world. Celebrations of the feast are delayed through unforgiveness. Bitter people are not better people in any area of their lives.  

The Shepherd desires that the feast prepared to you will will take place. Often these times of blessing do not come as quickly as we would like them to; but they do come. Know this though, David speaks in the present tense, “You prepare a table;” you may not be experiencing the love feast of blessing right now, but the table is currently being prepared. 

It may ultimately only be enjoyed in heaven, where we will all be invited to the greatest love feast by the Lamb if we have accepted Him as Lord and Saviour (Revelation 19:19).

Wrapping this up:
How many of you need a fresh testimony of the Lord’s feasting table in your life today?
Are you willing to let go the the hurt and the pain to obtain it?

Come forward for prayer - prayer team is coming!