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Forgiveness

I was retelling the story of Joseph and his brothers to my children this morning … the later bit of the story when Joseph is already a top bloke in Egypt and his brothers come to Egypt to find food. Aside from realising that the details of this story are extraordinarily complicated (pretense, guilt, hostages, journeys back and forth …), I was struck by the extent and thoroughness of the forgiveness that Joseph demonstrates. It’s a beautiful type of the love and forgiveness which God offers us.

So, Joseph first does a whole bunch of things to test the genuineness of his brothers’ contrition but when it is clear that they deeply regret the way they treated him and will even sacrifice their own lives to prevent something similar happening again, Joseph redeems them entirely.

1. “Have everyone leave my presence!” He doesn’t make a public spectacle of his forgiveness. He’s not trying to prove something or gain additional credit for his forgiveness. We sometimes do this: when we forgive we secretly hope that others will admire us for our graciousness and look down on the other party as a scoundrel. Joseph doesn’t. He sends everyone else out, he makes his reconciliation a private affair. His forgiveness is humble and focused entirely on the recipients of his brothers.

2. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” His brothers are terrified when they realise who he is but he draws them near. He doesn’t want them to fear him or his power. He wants them to feel his acceptance and love. Forgiveness is not just a theoretical concept. It isn’t paperwork It isn’t a check box and a signature from an unfeeling bureaucrat. God wants us to feel forgiven, He wants us to feel His love and His redemption. He wants us to feel close to Him.

3. His forgiveness is raw – it flows from the belly of his being. He throws himself on them and weeps over them. Its messy but there is nothing held back. He doesn’t partially reserve a little caution or a little dignity. Its all there. Unrestrained. An expression of overflowing love.

Joseph was only human and this can only be considered an incomplete representation of the forgiveness we receive in Jesus. Jesus grace is more glorious, more loving, deeper, purer and more enthusiastic whilst also being more narrowly defined. Being forgiven by Him is heartfelt, unrestrained, emotional and complete.

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Compassion during a crisis

Hi everyone. Its the weekend again. I’ve been thinking about how we, as Christians (little Christs, as it were), can best respond to the circumstances we’re in at the moment with dreaded viruses prowling around outside the door. And, I don’t think I’m overstating it here, these are extraordinary times for many of us.

Now, I’m sure there are lots of right answers here and, other than ‘love God and love your neighbour,’ I don’t know if anyone can pick out one response as being the most important or the most correct. So let me pick one today: compassion.

Peter (a chap not known for his mildness or reluctance) writes to encourage Christians facing suffering and persecution in 1 Peter. He says:

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. (1 Peter 3:8-9 NLT)

I love this passage. Of course, I didn’t always realise how hard it would be to remain united and ‘tenderhearted’ towards others when everyone is under pressure … and particularly when that pressure is a little more than moderate. Mildness, gentleness, kindness – these things don’t come easily when I’m feeling frustrated, insecure, threatened or stressed. You should see me glare at people who stray too close to us when I’m out with the kids. I currently bear grudges against joggers, dog walkers and care-free young couples (or maybe I’m just jealous). I have also noted an increasing tendency in myself to be suspicious of others’ motivations and cynicism taints my every thought. It’s particularly bad when it comes to social media or the news.

But even in the heat of this, Christ’s response would be compassion. When his cousin, John the Baptist was brutally and flippantly executed, Jesus was deeply affected. He tried to find some solitude but the crowds followed him. I think I would have lost my mind but Jesus (and I find this astounding) responded with compassion! He spoke to the crowds, healed the sick and then went on to provide them all (and there were thousands of people) with a miraculous meal. They didn’t consider him when he was hurting but he found the love and strength to consider them. Gosh. That’s a hard act to follow … but He is our example.

As I face new degrees of change – considering sending my kids back to school, spending more time out and about, going back to the shops and exploring ways of doing church again, I’m going to be trusting the Lord that he will help me overlay everything with compassion and kindness. I’m also going to try and refrain from making snap judgements when people comment on social media or when the government or other authorities make decisions: respond with humility and kindness before cynicism.

Here are a few things I’m trying:

  • pray regularly for all those around me and for the whole world, crying out to God for mercy in our suffering
  • try and remember that I don’t really understand what someone else is going through before I judge them for not considering me the way I would like
  • try not to solve people’s problems for them, just listen and be gracious
  • be actively kind whenever I can – Jesus gave his harassers attention and food, what can I do?

Of course, we have to be compassionate and kind towards ourselves as well. We can’t care for others if we are not caring for ourselves. I’m still learning how to do this.

Let me know your thoughts on these things and on the passage from 1 Peter. Your feedback is welcome.

‘til next weekend.

Phil