Breaking The Chains of Hatred

During one of my journeys to South Africa I visited the Robben Island penal colony, where Nelson Mandela was held captive for almost twenty years. I have visited South Africa many times, including during the Apartheid and it had always been a goal of mine to see firsthand where President Mandela wrote his journals. Of course his cell is now empty and it stands as a symbol of hope for all those who continue to suffer unjustly. 
I too experienced the absurdities of Apartheid when I arrived Johannesburg one morning aboard a KLM flight, only to be told my visa had been cancelled and I was to return to Amsterdam on the next flight. Apparently, as best I can determine, I had been spotted on my previous trip, associating with and visiting the homes and churches of a number of black South Africans. 
They were absolutely correct. I had, and as I stated to the immigration police, I was ‘jolly proud of it.’ Their only response to my defiant admission was to restrict me to 'airside' whilst I waited to board the same aircraft from which I had just disembarked. But their actions in the eighties only strengthened my resolve to return and join the global swell of voices protesting against this oppression of humanity.

The struggle to rise above injustice and even love those who have treated us badly is a theme, which the Bible often explores. One of its greatest character studies is Joseph, sold by his brothers into slavery, then imprisoned for 14 years on false charges made against him by his employer's wife.

Here's part of the narrative when after his release from prison and elevation to the second highest role in Egypt; Joseph explains to his family how he now understands the past.

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. "We are your slaves," they said. But Joseph said to them, "don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."

On one occasion after Mandela's release and rise to prominence in South Africa, President Bill Clinton asked him how he felt about those prison warders who had brutalized his life or the politicians who ignored his case. "Was there ever a time," he asked, "when he had wanted revenge?"

Mandela replied "If I had held onto anger and bitterness during those dreadful days, I would have been twice in chains. Through my forgiveness they no longer had control of my spirit, even though my body was theirs."

By such remarkable determination, Mandela not only saved his own life but also built a platform for the peace and reconciliation process which is saving so many lives throughout Africa.

I've saved my old passport bearing my cancelled South African visa for years. It serves to remind me that the determination to do kindness shall always surpass evil. 

Heavenly Father, help us to love our enemies, to return evil with good and as far as is possible to live at peace with everyone. Prosper those who are working for peace and justice in the world. Amen

Killing For Jesus

More than anyone else, Jesus understood the human heart. And as He looked into the future, He could see the troubles that His followers would have to face, sometimes because of their own blindness and sometimes because of the self-deceptions and rationalisations of others.
‘A time will come,’ He said, ‘when anyone who puts you to death will claim to be serving God!’ What an extraordinary statement and what an accurate prediction of what has happened again and again across the centuries. In our own times we’ve heard more than once that cynical injunction to ‘kill a commie for Jesus.’ And more frighteningly, today, people are adapting the phrase for almost anything- homosexual, Muslim, Jew, black- the list is endless.
What could be further from Jesus’ vision? He urges us unceasingly to enlarge the circle of our love and concern until there’s room for everyone inside and no one is left outside - not even those with whom we differ on the most fundamental and crucial of issues.
Whenever you feel an attack of self-righteous indignation coming on, just remember how often in the past you have been thoroughly wrong in your judgements and entirely mistaken in your strongly held opinions. And then leave the judging and the punishing to God, who sees things ever so much more clearly.

As you begin to see yourself more clearly with the passing of time, you’ll be glad you stayed your hand.

Gracious Lord, teach me to be compassionate in all my ways; helping me to pray for others with empathy,  knowing that You care for all Your children.

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The Act of Forgiving

I couldn’t understand how the man could be falling behind so badly in his responsibilities in caring for her needs. The house was a mess, laundry was piling up, there was no food in the fridge. It concerned me greatly. And when I confronted him, expressing my concerns, he told me that caring for her required his 24-hour attention. He said he was exhausted catering to her needs every hour – so much so that he could do virtually nothing else. 
I hurt desperately for them both. I pitched in and did what I could to help. I sent him to the store. I did the laundry, cleaned the house from top to bottom, and my son cleaned their windows. And by the end of the day things looked much better. There was order in his life again and I hoped that it would help him to fulfil his responsibilities. 

But that evening, when the visiting nurse came on her home-visit rounds, she surprised me by what she had to say. She told me that virtually every time she came, he was on the computer playing games. He had become so addicted to them that he completely ignored her and the other staff when they came. She said it wasn’t her position or authority to point out to him that his home was collapsing around them because of this. And so he continued. 

Self-knowledge is a hard-won treasure, and even the best of us are blind to much of what our friends see clearly. Too often we blithely give convoluted explanations of our actions and intentions, which convince no one but ourselves. Fictions like 'I was just resting my eyes during the third act,' or ‘ my work has taken away all of my time for coming to church’ may make us feel fine, but fools no one. 

The self-deception may reach far deeper. We may well end up like the Pharisees, who clearly thought they were sinless and needful of no forgiveness, and therefore seemed apt critics of Jesus’ decision to consort with sinners. What they said sounds foolish and the height of arrogance, and indeed it was. But we do the same thing whenever we put ourselves outside the circle of the world's fools and sinners by ridiculing or denouncing them. 

If we were forced to depend solely on our lifetime record, unamended and uncleansed by any unearned forgiveness, we would all be doomed - without exception. We are all in trouble if left to our own devices. God gives His forgiveness freely; but there is no earning it. He asks but one thing in return, that we extend forgiveness with equal abandon to one another. 

If you want to be forgiven, then first learn to forgive.