Take back ground!
I can’t go in that room…
Apparently some people didn’t get the message to stay at home and not come into work during this recent lockdown.
Actually, they decided to make work their new home, thereby avoiding the restriction altogether. Here’s a picture of the new home they created at work:
Yes my friends, we have mice at the hub.
We found their “home” when we returned from Christmas break. Then we found their food sources, and “signs” of their presence. Thank you, no thank you.
But can I confess something to you? I saw one run under a door into a room that I was sure had a food source.
But I didn’t open the door for a week.
I just didn’t want to know. I have to pass that door a couple of times a day going from my office to the men’s washroom.
Every day I passed it I knew the unwelcome house guests were in there, having a ball, probably getting bigger and stronger and more secure in their new home with each hour that they were left alone in that room.
But I just couldn’t’ bring myself to even open the door.
I didn’t want to know.
I didn’t want to see.
Most of all, I did not want to have to clean up the mess; to actually deal with it. As gross as the thought of it was, dealing with it seemed worse.
(you’ll be happy to know we have pest-control working on the situation, and I cleverly worked “clean up office” into the staff meeting agenda this past week, so I didn’t have to go into that room alone).
But come on – we all do this. Not with mice, usually.
But as we said this past Sunday, there are rooms in the house of our lives (our soul) that have stuff in them we’d rather ignore, not touch; So the room stays musty, dark, dusty and maybe vermin-infested. Dramatic, I know…but true, right? We made the observation on Sunday that the stuff in these rooms could be unconfessed sin (things we’re hiding from ourselves, God, each other) or unforgiveness (grudges, resentment and bitterness we’re allowing to “live” in our souls). What we’re doing when we leave these rooms closed is – according to the passage we read on Sunday from Ephesians 4 – giving the Devil, the enemy of our lives, ground, space, dwelling, room to move, opportunity to influence.
So this week in the daily reading we’re taking time to take back ground. To open up the rooms of our house, let the light of Jesus in, sweep away the lies of the enemy with the truth that Jesus gives.
Day 1: “Who is God”
Any undertaking of confession and forgiveness must always begin with who God is. Ephesians 4:32 says we relate to others as God has related to us. So how does God relate to us? Read these verses slowly:
Psalm 103:7–12 (NIV)
7 He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: 8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. 9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Read the passage slowly again, and pay attention to 2-3 words or a sentence or two which describe God’s heart, that really stick out to you.
Now let’s take a few moments to really take these truths to heart, in the context of our own sin.
Re-write these words or sentences, using your own description/words. For example, when I read that God is compassionate towards me, in relation to my sin, I would say that “He is understanding, his face is soft and not hard, his first response is not shock or indignance; I’m not afraid to turn to Him”.
Take a few moments and re-write descriptions of the words or sentence that stuck out to you, and what it means for you personally.
Spend a few moments confessing any way that you have believed something different about God than these words, and thank Him that this is who He is.
If any particular sins come to mind, freely confess them to Him, knowing that this is how he will respond.
Ask Him to help you this week – and the weeks after – to go through the rooms of your life and open up the doors. Ask him for the specific things you need to do that (e.g. time, courage, freedom from shame, clear thinking, etc.)
Spend a few moments, with your eyes closed, picturing Jesus taking you by the hand, and helping you walk through your “house”. Picture the confidence, peace and compassion that is on his face. Thank Him for his presence with you.
Day 2: You can be like God
Read: Gen 3:1-4 & Psalm 103:7-12
The first lie the devil told the first humans was that they could be like God, knowing good and evil, living with eyes wide open. This was of course true and not true. They WERE already like God (the previous chapter said that they were made in the image of God). They were meant to be like God in creativity, stewardship over a beautiful creation, bringing peace and beauty wherever they went, and living in a loving relationship each other. The devil tempted them away from that god-likeness towards one with power, knowledge and control over their own destiny.
Part of confession is coming back to the way we were meant to be like God. In fact, the passage we read yesterday and that I had you read again today is not just a description of who God is, it’s how we were meant to be like God to others: compassionate, merciful, abounding in love, not hanging on to our anger, not treating people like they deserve, not seeing people’s sins when we look at them (because when you’re looking east you can’t be looking west).
So this is a perfect place to begin confession.
Take a few moments and ask Jesus to bring to mind a particular relationship in your life, either one that’s very close to you or one with whom you feel at odds, distance or conflict (which might be someone very close to you😊)
Now slowly think about what it would mean to be “like” God towards this person:
- Have you been showing compassion and mercy towards them?
- Have you been expressing love in an abundant (frequent, creative, consistent) way?
- Have you been hanging on to anger towards them?
- Have you been merciful to them or do you live in a “you did this so I do that” kind of way?
- Are you constantly thinking about what they have done wrong, or need to fix or get better at?
- Are you frequently reminding them of their wrongs, their mistakes, what they aren’t doing or how they’ve fallen short, or have you been bringing up things they’ve done in the past?
Pray a prayer of confession to God in response to your answers to these questions.
Confession isn’t just about confessing to God. In fact, why does it seem easier to confess to God, and NOT to the person we’ve wronged? Is it possible that when we’re confessing to God we’re just letting ourselves off the hook? One way to make sure that isn’t happening is to confess to the person as well.
Take a moment and commit to writing, texting or speaking an apology or confession to this person that Jesus has brought to your mind.
Ask Jesus to help you have more breakthrough, more freedom, in your relationship with that person.
Day 3 – Cleaning House
Read: 1 John 1:5-10
This passage is both beautiful and sobering. On the one hand, it cautions us against the very real danger of believing a lie that we have no sin in our lives. The writer says that believing this lie means we are living in the dark; we don’t see things properly, clearly or honestly. We actually not only believe a lie then but we live it, and we (indirectly) call God a liar.
Part of the reason we want to believe this lie is because is protects us from feeling shame, embarrassment, or worse, despair and self-hatred. But this is not what we get when we own up to sin. This passage says we get the faithful, forgiving love of God. It says we get clean; it says that light starts to flood our lives.
It brings us back to the analogy of confession as house-cleaning. Our house – our lives – belong to God. But there are rooms and places that need opening, cleaning & “enlightening”.
We spent some time during Sunday’s gathering in reflection; asking the Holy Spirit to convict us of anything we need to confess, or make right. These are questions we can use regularly, as often as we want and need to clean house.
So let’s take a few minutes to work through these questions again.
As you begin, take a few deep breaths, and ask the Holy Spirit to do his work of convicting, cleansing and comforting.
- What words did I say/think that were unkind, selfish, angry, cutting, sarcastic, gossipy, or discouraging?
- What acts of selfishness (seen or unseen) did I engage in?
- What things did I look at or think about that were dishonouring to others?
- What opportunities to show love did I miss, ignore or avoid?
- Is there anyone toward whom I am holding bitterness, resentment or a grudge?
Take a few minutes and confess anything that the Spirit puts on your heart.
After you’ve done this, pray and thanks Jesus that He is faithful and just to forgive you, and cleanse you from all of this sin.
Take a moment to pray for our church. Ask Jesus if there is anything we need to confess as a whole community (sins, behaviours, attitudes or responses that many of us seem to struggle with). Listen to what he says.
Pray for our whole church – as many of us take time this week for confession – to be forgiven and cleansed.
Pray for “rooms” that have been closed up, hidden or never dealt with to be brought into the light.
Pray for our staff and elders to lead the way in confession, and lead our church into staying in the light.
NOTE: if there is anything that Jesus has spoken to you about what we as a church need to confess or bring into the light, please let me (Vijay) or your Site Pastor know. Perhaps God will use this week to bring even more cleansing and freedom to our church as a whole.
Day 4 – understanding the F-word
Read: Isaiah 53:3-6
From the time I could understand words or read them, I’m sure I had heard about two ideas relating to Christian faith:
- Jesus died on the cross for my sins
- Forgiveness is something I’m supposed to do as a follower of Jesus.
I’m pretty sure I also learned that these two ideas were connected – and if there was any doubt, verses like the one we heard this past Sunday – “forgive, just as in Christ, God forgave you” – sealed the deal.
But to be honest for many years I never really understood the connection. More importantly, I often struggled with forgiveness, or struggled to help those who were struggling to forgive.
It’s this thing we know we’re supposed to do.
Apparently it’s something we just decide to do (I heard often from others that it’s not based on feelings).
And once we say the words – to God or to the person – it’s done.
But that didn’t always seem to take. It didn’t often seem done.
The feelings and resentment and memories would rear their heads like ugly monsters from the deep that – just like those terrible cheaply made Sunday afternoon movies on Channel 4 (I’m dating myself) where no matter how many times you kill them they just seem to come back.
Or a friend or family member or congregant would say to me “I’m just supposed to forgive that – forgive and forget? Just let it go?” Usually this was said in response to the idea of forgiving something terrible, traumatic, grievous or a repeat offense. At times I would say “yes” in response, but in my mind I would think “that doesn’t seem fair, right or realistic”.
The key was this: I never saw the insight from that verse that we are meant to forgive in the same way that Christ forgave us.
The passage in Isaiah 53 that we read today has some clues as to what forgiveness really is. It says that Jesus took on himself our pain, sorrow and sin, by his wounds.
A former pastor on our staff mic-dropped this truth on me several years ago in a way I’ll never forget. She said this, paraphrasing:
What does the cross of Jesus Christ tell us about forgiveness?
That to forgive is to be willing to bear the marks, the wounds, of someone else’s sin.
The key word is willing.
The fact is, we already know that the sins of others left marks on us. Physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and relational marks. We know that. That’s what makes us angry (justifiably so, most of the time). But that anger can turn to bitterness, resentment, grudge-holding, unforgiveness (that’s the whole “in your anger do not sin” thing). Jesus also was marked up – physically (beaten, stripped, crucified), emotionally (mocked, abandoned), spiritually (separated from God).
But He chose to accept these wounds.
That didn’t mean Jesus was saying “it’s OK, no problem”. These words in Isaiah, and many other passages elsewhere, talk about how it was so not okay. How this was the work of evil and sin; the power and control of Rome, the jealously and pride of the religious leaders. There was nothing good, OK, “just let it go” about the crucifixion of the son of God.
But Jesus willing chose to bear the marks of someone else’s sin. Not just the sins of Rome and the religious leaders, and his friends (who abandoned him); but also the sins of the world.
So we learn to forgive in the same way. We don’t “just let it go”. We don’t simply say “it’s OK” or “I understand why they did what they did”, or “I’ll just forget and move on”.
Rather, we consciously make the journey of moving from forgetting, minimizing,
resenting or begrudging the marks, TO choosing to accept them.
To accept that this happened. To acknowledge the reality, depth and seriousness of the wounds.
Almost half of the gospels (the biographies of Jesus) are dedicated towards acknowledging and describing his suffering in some way. The season of Lent (coming up soon) takes 40 days to remember the suffering. This is not minimizing or forgetting IN ANY WAY.
So if we are going to choose to accept the wounds, we have to take time to do that; to be honest and real about the marks.
This seems counter-intuitive and somehow wrong – wait, to forgive I’m supposed to take time to remember, think about and acknowledge the wounds? Isn’t that the problem? Won’t that make me more bitter???
Ironically, no. The problem is that we live with the hurt and anger of what others have done, but we have rarely take time to grieve the pain and losses. Which means we don’t even know what we are forgiving. We don’t know what we’re saying “yes” to accepting.
Tomorrow’s reading is going to lead us in an exercise – one we can practice regularly – to help us actually do this.
But for today, just take a few moments in silent prayer to Jesus:
Thank Him that He is the one who has forgiven you and can help you forgive.
If you already have someone or something in mind that you know you need to forgive, ask Him for the time and courage to work through some of that tomorrow.
If you don’t have something or someone that immediately comes to mind, ask Him to reveal to you if there is any He wants to bring to your mind or heart.
Close your time of prayer reflecting on the words of this song, knowing that one day there will be a permanent healing and removal of all pain.
Day 5 – A (well-worn) path of Forgiveness
(NOTE: You will need a good 30-minutes for this reading today. If you have not had a chance to read Day 4, go back and do that now, and then go to Day 5 when you have the time)
Read: Matthew 27:27-44
If forgiveness according to the suffering and death of Jesus is willingly, consciously and freely choosing to bear the marks of other’s sin, then we need a practice that helps us learn to do that. Here is an exercise that can hopefully help you do this. If you’ve done it before then hopefully it’ll be a timely reengagement with this practice. It isn’t about doing it perfectly; rather the power is in your desire to do this, and the Holy Spirit’s help.
Close your eyes, and take 5 deep slow breaths, in and out. If it helps you can breath in “Jesus” and breath out “help me”.
Picture yourself standing outside. You look up and away in the distance, you see a hill with three crosses on it; you realize that this is the hill on which Jesus was crucified; though you can’t see any detail, you know He is on the cross in the middle.
You look down and in your hands you see that you’re holding a box; handles on either side let you hold it. It’s empty at the moment.
Now think about the person or experience of wounding or pain that you know you want to forgive. As you think about this, begin to write down, one line at a time, the grief or the loss you experienced because of this. These questions might help you articulate them:
- What did you feel because of this? Be specific, e.g. rejected, embarrassed, unseen, helpless, alone, unwanted, weak, afraid
- What relationships were lost or damaged through this?
- What things did you lose or miss out on because of this?
- What other things were affected or lost through this?
- What habits, responses or thought patterns did you begin to adopt in response to this hurt?
Take your time with these, don’t be quick or dismissive. The suffering of Jesus was not quick, easy or surface-level.
As you write each one, imagine you are writing them on separate strips of paper, and that you are adding them slowly to the box you were holding in your hands, in your mind’s eye.
As you add each one, you begin to feel the weight of the box increasing significantly. Feel the weight of it in your arms…your shoulders…your neck…your back.
This is the weight of what you have been carrying ever since these things happened.
When you feel like you’re done writing, look down inside the box. It’s fuller now. And you feel it’s weight.
Now picture yourself slowly walking, slowly, deliberately towards the crosses on the hill. As you get closer, you can start to see the form and the face of Jesus more clearly. You keep walking, slowly approaching His cross.
As you get closer, you see that He’s looking at you. He says nothing but you can see in his eyes that he’s inviting you to come, he’s been inviting you to come for some time; He’s understanding the weight you carry.
You arrive at the foot of the cross, still carrying your box with all its weight; you stand next to Jesus, and now you are suffering together.
This is what it means to share in the sufferings of Christ. You are more aware of his pain; you suffer with Him. And He is aware of yours. He suffers with you.
As hard as this is, realize that in this moment you are with Christ, and He is with you; you are together in your moment of pain, and in His moment of pain.
Now he looks at you, and at the box you are holding, and He says:
“I died for that…to forgive it, and to set you free from it”.
Now take the time to pray a prayer of response to Jesus. Make it honest. Whatever you feel you want to say. All your questions, your grief and your desire for healing.
When you are done, picture yourself putting the box down next to the cross, and slowly walking home. Feel the weightlessness in your arms, shoulders, neck and back. Look back at the cross and see the small path you walked to get there. This will become a well-worn path in your life. AS often as you need to, you bring your wounds, your griefs and losses to the cross.
It will not likely be finished, but you have begun the process of forgiveness and freedom.
Hear the words of the Apostle Paul to you:
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,
if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Take a moment to ask Jesus to help you continue to freely forgive. Thank Him for his grace and compassion and help.
NOTE: If after going through this week, you realize that you could benefit from receiving prayer ministry from our team at the Well, or meeting with a professional counsellor, therapist or psychologist, please contact your site pastor for next steps.