God’s forgiveness is easy

This week’s blog is about forgiveness.

Let’s look at the passage about the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32:

There was once a rich man who had two sons. The younger son went to his father and asked for his share of his inheritance so his father gave him his half of the estate.

The younger son went to a country far away from home and partied his wealth away, spending it all on women and wine. Then disaster struck. There was a famine in the country he was in and since he had spent all his money, he began to be in need. Desperate to fill his hungry stomach, he took a job feeding pigs. Now pigs are considered to be unclean animals for the Jews, so for the younger son to be feeding pigs showed how desperate he was, how low he had sunk from being a wealthy playboy.  He was in such a bad state that he even envied the unclean pigs – at least the pigs had pods to eat, while he was starving. The younger son remembered how well his father treated his servants, giving them ample delicious food to fill their bellies, so the young man decided to return to his father. He decided to beg his father to forgive him and say – “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”

The young man embarked on the long journey back to his father. Now he didn’t know that his father spent his days sitting by the window, looking out for the younger son, waiting for his return. So even while the younger son far away from his home, his father spotted him in the distance. Filled with love for his son, he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

The father told his servants to bring the best robe in the house and dress the young son. He gave the son a ring and sandals as well. The father was so happy that he prepared a feast to celebrate the son’s return, slaughtering a fattened calf for him. The father rejoiced, saying – “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. The servants told him that his father had killed a fattened calf and was having a feast to celebrate his brother’s return.

When the older brother heard this, he was furious. The father went to the older brother and begged him to join the feast. But the older brother answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

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The thing that struck me when I last thought about this parable of the Prodigal Son was how easily the father forgave his son.

When we do something wrong, depending on who we have offended, we always worry that we have to do a lot to make up for our offence. And even if we have done a lot to apologize, we might have begged and pleaded for forgiveness and offered a great item for restitution, the person we offended might still not forgive us, depending on how merciful he/she is.

When we think about how holy God is, how He is perfect and sinless, and how much he hates sin, it would be logical to imagine that it would be very difficult for God to forgive us.  In Romans we are told that the wages of sin is death, and it’s easy to imagine God as an angry deity who zaps us with a giant thunderbolt, killing us as a punishment for our sins.

So the story of the Prodigal Son is a wonderful surprise, as it shows us how merciful God really is, how eager he is to forgive us, how forgiveness is easy for those who believe in Christ. Romans also tells us that the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, and through Christ, we have access to the easy forgiveness of God, as forgiveness is a great gift that comes through our faith in Christ.

The story of the Prodigal Son shows us how enthusiastic God is to forgive us. God is like the father in the parable – he is actively looking out for us to return and even when we are in the far distance, when he sees us, he runs like mad to greet us, to throw his arms around us and kiss us. God, like the father in the story, wants to forgive us, not grudgingly, but with great passion.

Some of us might be like the son. We feel that we have let God down when we sin, and that we don’t deserve to be treated like a son anymore. We think that if we go to God, we will have to face awful consequences.

But God, like the father in the story, rejoices when we repent and return to Him. Instead of punishing us (like we expect), he throws a party to celebrate our repentance! It’s so easy to gain God’s forgiveness. We don’t have to do anything other than to repent and return to God – he’s hungrily waiting for us to come back to him.

If you think that God is angry with you for your sins, then you may be tempted not to go to God because you fear his punishment. Your sins lead you to condemn yourself, and your guilt stops you from having a relationship with God. However, the story of the Prodigal Son shows you that you do not need to live with fear and condemnation. God longs to forgive you and to show you His compassion. If you’ll only repent and walk on that road back to God’s house, you’ll find love and forgiveness beyond your imagination – you’ll find that instead of punishment, you’ll get a party, as God celebrates your return with joy beyond belief.

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How God can transform our weakness into strength

This week’s blog looks at Paul’s testimony in 2 Corinthians  12:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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We all have things in our lives that we don’t like, maybe it is a personal weakness or unpleasant circumstance. This thing is our “thorn in the flesh”. With our thorns, we naturally ask God for help – to take away that weakness or change that distressing situation. Sometimes, God surprises us with His answer. He won’t take away our thorn, but He will give us the extra strength we need to endure the thorn. Despite being handicapped by the thorn, we can still be victorious in what we need to achieve because of the additional power that Christ will provide us.

God, in His divine wisdom, sometimes handicaps us with weakness so that we will not depend on our own strength for our success. He wants His power to be “perfected” in our weakness. The term “perfected” does not mean perfect in the moral sense, but means being “completed” or “fulfilled”. When something is weak, this weakness causes its need for God’s strength to be more obvious. When God strengthens what is weak, it makes His divine power shine brighter. Using a weak person is one of God’s favourite ways of demonstrating His loving power. Sometimes, we face difficulties because God wants to use our weakness to enable us to access His power to achieve what would otherwise be impossible.

At times, God is showing us that it is more important for us to experience His supernatural strength than for us to live a stress-free, comfortable life. Paul’s life was filled with difficulties – he’d been stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, beaten, betrayed by friends – all because he chose to preach the gospel. Yet despite all these hardships, Paul’s attitude was one of joy – “I delight in weaknesses” he says. As he faced one difficulty after another, Paul learnt to rely on Christ for his strength, and when Christ faithfully strengthened him to face every difficulty, Paul learnt to delight in God’s system, of human weakness being transformed by divine strength.

There may be things you want to do for God, but you feel that you are too weak to do so. Maybe you don’t have the education or funds or connections to make a big impact in this world. Well, it’s time to rejoice because God is looking for people just like you! God is looking for people who can be a channel for His power, who know they are weak and are hungry for Him to take over their lives. God is looking for people who will take on challenges that are too difficult for them to overcome by their own strength and trust Him for the victory. God is looking for people who are used to being weak, but daily rely on Christ’s strength.

Your greatest weakness is actually God’s greatest opportunity. Instead of asking God to take away your difficulties, ask Him to supply you with strength to overcome those difficulties. Sometimes God allows weaknesses in our lives to weaken our dependence on our selves. As we learn to rely on God’s power to achieve things, God will enable us to do greater and greater things with our lives. As we triumph in His power even when we are weak, we will eventually be able to boast as Paul did and say “When I am weak, then I am strong!”

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The Goodness of God

One thing that has really struck me recently is the goodness of God. By that, I mean not just that God is morally good, but that He is good in the sense that He wants to bless us and give us good things. These good things are not just material gifts, but also dealing with our well-being, so this includes good health, good friends, happiness, peace and love.

I didn’t always believe this. This is partly due to my difficult childhood. My father was abusive towards me, always losing his temper at me for no good reason and beating me even though I had done nothing wrong. Living under such stressful situations as a child, where bad things happened to me even when I didn’t deserve it, I formed a world view that the universe is bad and unjust, and to come to expect and dread bad things to always happen to me.

However, a few years ago, I started meditating on the fact that God is a good God and so I can expect good things to happen to me. This exercise has changed my life and ever since I started believing in the goodness of God, more good things have started happening to me.

In Psalm 106:1, the Psalmist sings, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” This sentence is repeated six times in the Bible, so God obviously wants to emphasize this aspect of His character – that He is good. Because of God’s goodness, we can expect good things to happen to us and live in anticipation of positive developments occurring in our lives. Jeremiah 29:11 says that God has plans to prosper and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future, so the belief that good things will enter our lives is one that is based on the Word of God.

Romans 8:28 tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him”. So even when bad things happen to us, we can trust that God will transform it for our good.

In James 1:17, James writes that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

Everything that is good in our life comes from God. So when something good happens to us, we should make it a habit to thank God for it. As we develop gratitude and appreciation to God for the good things that happen to us, we will see more and more good things happening to us, since what we focus on, we tend to multiply.

One mistake we can make is in our view of God. Some people, especially non-believers, believe that God is an angry and judgemental God, always on the lookout for our failures and eager to punish us for our sins. These people live in fear and always expect bad things to happen to them as a penalty for their wrongdoings.

But Christians do not live with that fear. Christ’s death on the cross means that God has forgiven us of all of our sins and we can have access to the blessings that come from his goodness.

In Matthew 7:11, Jesus tells us that  “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Jesus encourages us to pray to God for good things to come into our lives. Because God is good, we can ask Him to bless our careers, our marriages, our children, our health and our friendships. No area is too small for God to bless. God wants to bless every area of our life. And He wants these blessings to be huge, as John 10:10, Jesus promises to bless us with the abundant life.

In Deuteronomy 28:1-13, God tells us of all the blessings that we can expect if we trust in Jesus:

28 If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.

The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.

You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.

The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.

The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. 10 Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. 11 The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.

12 The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. 13 The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.

So I’ll encourage you to meditate on the fact that God is good. The more you thank and praise Him for His goodness, the more of His blessings and goodness you’ll receive!