Christian Devotions

Archive for the ‘Reconciliation’ Category

Martyrdom and Forgiveness

Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.

Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:

Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him (Stephen) with their teeth.

But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.

And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.

And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. ~~ Acts 7:51-8:2 (KJV)

Stephen is called the first martyr of the church because this death is the first one recorded in the Book of Acts. For many years it was just a so-so story for me. After all, this happened many years ago. I was probably not going to be martyred, so what did it have to do with me?

Then a member of my family was murdered. It was a senseless, random act. He simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Anger at the perpetrators of this heinous deed boiled and seethed. But then I remembered Acts 8:1.

Saul of Tarsus (whom we now call Paul – yes, the same Paul who wrote more than half of the New Testament) was at this event. Not only was he there, he gave approval. I can see him now, egging the crowd on. It’s a Cecil B. DeMille crowd scene in an epic movie. Lots of noise, lots of anger, lots of yelling, dark clouds, ominous music. Then a break and light and glorious paean of praise at the climax.

Of course, Saul wasn’t “participating.” He was there, giving his approval. He certainly wasn’t throwing stones, but he might as well have been.

And Stephen, as he is dying, repeated the thoughts of Jesus. He asked the Lord not to hold this sin against the members of the crowd. That forgiveness was powerful. It was one factor that freed Saul to become Paul.

If God can take the chief persecutor of the early church and use him to write the larger part of the New Testament, He can do anything. He can even forgive the people who murdered that member of my family.

Forgiveness is not a matter of the emotions. It is a decision that we make. We can decide to forgive. That doesn’t mean feelings will not surface from time to time. It does mean we can decide to override those emotions. We need to agree with God that even the most heinous crime is forgivable if the perpetrator repents.

We hear “forgive and forget” or “kiss and make up.” But those are not really forgiveness. Forgiveness is being able to look at the offense as fact, accurately recognizing the perpetrator’s part in the offense, and then seeing that person through the eyes of God, as a beloved child who has strayed from the path, whom He wants to bring back into the fold.

Father, God,

Help us to see those who have offended us through Your eyes. Grant us the strength and grace to move from anger and hurt and bitterness to forgiveness and peace.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen.

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Forgiveness and Reconciliation

And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.

And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying,

So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.

And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants.

And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.  ~~  Genesis 50:15-21  (KJV)

Forgiveness and reconciliation give us great difficulty. In the first place, they are not the same thing. You can have forgiveness without reconciliation. But you cannot have reconciliation without forgiveness.

Joseph’s brothers were afraid that Joseph was being kind to them only for their father’s sake. So when Jacob/Israel died, they needed to find out what Joseph’s attitude would be toward them. So they – the offenders – went to Joseph – the offended – with their apology. And Joseph forgave them and was reconciled to them.

Forgiveness is something you do for yourself. Holding a grudge takes time and energy and effort. It makes you unhappy because you dwell on the offense, not on the present joys you may have. Worst of all, however, holding a grudge puts you at odds with God. Not a pleasant place to be.

You can forgive unilaterally. The offender need not ask for forgiveness.

Reconciliation is another matter. It involves a recognition of the offense from both the offender and the offended. It requires forgiveness. And it requires a rebuilt sense of trust between the offender and the offended.

Joseph had seen the remorse of his brothers, first when they came to Egypt to purchase grain and in the intervening years between their dad’s settling in Egypt and his death seven years later. We have a tender reconciliation scene in which Joseph indicates his forgiveness of this brothers as well as his desire that they be provided for.

Can you recall an offender that you haven’t forgiven? Is there someone with whom you need to be reconciled? What steps can you take to remedy these issues?

Father, God,

You have commanded us to forgive. Give us the strength and stamina to forgive, even when there has been no apology. Grant us the faith to put our reconciliations into Your hands.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen.