Faith Journey 7: Son, I Forgive

Sometimes I need to be reminded that God has forgiven me. It’s something that I feel I need to come back to again and again. Even although I have been a Christian for most of my life, and have been training for full-time ministry over the last seven years, I still need reminded that God has actually forgiven me through Jesus Christ.

This was my “take home” message from my last session of Spiritual Accompaniment. During this session, I participated in a prayer exercise called Lectio Divina. I have found this exercise useful, and have used it many times before. The pattern we used on this occasion was as follows:

Lectio Divina (Praying the Scriptures)
Lectio Divina is a slow reading of a short passage of Scirpture, in the faith that it will somehow transform. It is an ancient way of praying. Many have had the experience of words ‘leaping off a page’ and its that experience, quiet or dramatic, which lies behind Lectio Divina.

The Four Stages

  1. Lectio: Read the passage slowly, perhaps several times. Is there a  word or phrase which strikes you? It may be encouraging, comforting, challenging. 
  2. Meditatio: Stay with the word or phrase and repeat it to yourself several times, letting it sink into you. Take some time to ponder and consider it. If you wish, write down your thoughts.
  3. Oratio (Prayer): Speak to God about where your thoughts have taken you and include some time of silence and stillness.
  4. Contemplation: This is a time of quiet being with God and often the hardest for us in the West. Use your breath to still yourself, repeat your word or phrase and wait.

If nothing strikes you, talk to God about what that nothing is like and what that nothing feels like for you.

The stages may well blend into one another as you practice this way of prayer. The Psalms or favourite texts from the Bible are a good starting point.

The passage we used on this occasion was Mark 2: 1-12. This is a fairly familiar passage, where Jesus heals a paralysed man after his friends lower him through the roof of a house. Because it is such a familiar passage, we used the Message paraphrase of the Bible, because this would force us to pay more attention to the words of the story.

The words which really stood out for my on this occasion were, “Son, I forgive your sins.”

In more traditional Bible translations, these words would read, “Your sins are forgiven”. When I read, “Son, I forgive your sins”, it made things seem more personal.

This phrase stood out to me in a few different ways, which I’d like to share with you. First, I read, “Son”. Jesus was addressing me personally, as His son. As I read this passage, the image that came to mind was the Lord of the universe, in human form, addressing me! I don’t deserve that…and yet, here is Jesus, calling me “Son”.

Next, I read, “Son, I forgive”. This tells me something about Jesus’ identity. This says something about why Jesus comes to me. He comes to forgive.

Finally, “Son, I forgive your sin”. This was the reminder I needed. Even although I am training for ministry, and have been a Christian for years, I still need reminded that Jesus actually forgives my sin when I am sorry.

It is easy to hold on to guilt and remorse for things I’ve done wrong. I am grateful for the reminder that Jesus has granted my forgiveness for my sin, and restored my relationship with God. What a source of comfort and hope this is!!

Faith Journey 5: Finding God

In the last post in this series, I spoke about taking part in Spiritual Accompaniment. This involves meeting regularly with someone trained to help me reflect on my faith.

This is something I was particularly keen to do in these last few months of training for full-time ministry. The focus over the last 7 years of training (It’s hard to believe so much time has passed!!) has been on Theology; on understanding the Christian faith; on giving me the skills and preparing me for the tasks of ministry. Very little has been done to actually encourage and deepen my faith: that has been left to me.

In some ways, it’s fair enough that I am responsible for my own faith: it is mine after all, and only I know exactly how my faith is developing. On the other hand, it is my faith which gives me a foundation for my ministry: if I didn’t have faith in God, I doubt I’d feel called to serve in His Church. So, faith is an integral part of ministry, but is rarely touched on during the training.

When I was last at spiritual accompaniment, the issue which was most apparent was my desire to hear from God more often. I acknowledged that God is with me and speaks to me: the real issue is that I am not very good at listening to Him! So, my spiritual accompanier asked me to do two prayer exercises in order to try and find God and hear from Him more. Here they are, if you want to try them:

The Prayer of Awareness
Find a place here you feel relaxed; if you wish, light a candle or lay a symbol in front of you. Settle yourself down and ask God for a light on the day.

Slowly think back over the day and allow the moments you enjoyed t emerge. Ask God to show you the people, the moods, the feelings. What circumstances brought life to you and for which you want to give thanks? Ask God what is being revealed. Give thanks.

Again, look over the day and recall the moments when you felt you were not at your best. What were the moods or feelings behind those times? Again, ask God what is being revealed. Ask God were you need forgiveness and ask for it.

Look forward to tomorrow and ask for God’s help. Entrust yourself and the future to God.

The Prayer of Silence
Spend at least one minute a day in silence. Try and keep your mind clear. When distractions come, acknowledge them, and put them to one side and continue in silence.

It may be helpful to focus on a particular word during this time. Either choose a word or ask God for a word. Listen for God speaking to you as you keep your mind clear and focus on Him.

I have not done well with the second exercise yet. But the first has been of great benefit far. I have discovered that I am more aware of God and feel closer to Him when I am:

  • Happy or having fun;
  • With people I love/like/feel safe with;
  • Have something for which I am thankful.

This has been wonderfully liberating: I am more aware of God being with me during the positive aspects of life. Also encouraging is the sense that God is never far from me: I may not be aware of Him speaking, but it’s like a comfortable silence between friends.

The next step is to bring this back to spiritual accompaniment, and see where it takes me.

One, Holy, Catholic Church

The title of this post is borrowed from the end of the Apostle’s Creed, which reads:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic Church,
The communion of the Saints,
The forgiveness of Sins,
The Resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting.

If you haven’t read the Apostle’s Creed in full, I recommend you do so: it is a great summary of the key points of belief in the Christian faith. Just search for “the Apostle’s Creed”, and your search engine should throw up something useful.

There are, of course, many wonderful statements of Christian Theology in the Apostle’s Creed, and I may spend some time one day writing a more detailed reflection on each verse. But here, I am focusing in on one particular line: “The holy catholic Church”, especially the connotations thrown up by the word “catholic”!

Now, those of us who are gifted in the English language will know that “catholic” with a small “c” simply means universal. Those of us who need to look this stuff up (and I include myself here: when I first read the Apostle’s Creed I had to look this up) you now know that “catholic” with a small “c” simply means universal.

But what of Catholic, i.e. the Roman Catholic Church? Certainly, its been a tricky old time for the Catholic Church in the past few weeks, what with the Pope stepping down, then the resignation of Cardinal O’Brien. Incidentally, if you are struggling to understand exactly what is happening with regard to the Papacy, I recommend the article from the Guardian below, which is a nice summary:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/28/pope-resigns-and-then-what

As an aside, I do appreciate the irony that this is my second post in recent times on something relating to Roman Catholicism, despite self-describing my blog as “Evangelical, Reformed and Presbyterian”, terms which usually appear as polar opposites to Catholicism (again, perhaps I will take the opportunity to reflect on these three terms at a later stage). Ideologically, I would place myself in opposition to some of the teaching of the Church of Rome. Yet, I also have some very good friends who are Roman Catholic, and I bear them no ill will, nor should I! I have friends who hold to many different belief systems, and although I disagree with them, I don’t let that ruin a good friendship.

I would add that, at this time, my sympathy and prayers go out to those who are Catholic, as they have just lost their spiritual leader, and now have to wait to discover which direction the Roman Catholic Church will go, as well as what it will look like under new leadership. Typically, people don’t deal with change very well, so I will be praying as people come to terms with what has happened.

But, I now want to ask a question; as I have said, “catholic” means universal. Therefore, the Apostle’s Creed would quite rightly read “I believe in one holy, universal Church”. If you have realised anything from this post so far, it may be this: the Church is anything but universal today. Even in this blog, I have highlighted several different strands of “church”: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical (the opposite being Liberal), Reformed (referring to a particular kind of Protestantism) and Presbyterian (referring to a particular form of church structure). With all this stuff going on, all this fragmentation, how can I possibly say that I believe in one holy, catholic or universal church?

Historically, the church was, for a brief time, universal or united. Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, and for a spell enjoyed political power. Then, with the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire, the only bishop remaining in power was the Bishop of Rome (the beginnings of the papacy). As time moved on, there was the great schism between the east and the west, creating the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church. The universality of the Church is broken.

Further breaks occurred at the time of the Protestant Reformation, which led to the Lutheran, Anglican and Reformed Churches. And on and on it goes! Rather than write about all this stuff happening, here’s some pictures that explains it all nicely:

File:Christianity-Branches-2013update.png

File:Protestantbranches.svg

So, again I ask the question, with all this stuff happening, to what extent can the church actually claim to be universal? In response to this, I am reminded of Paul’s words in his letter to the Galatians:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26-28 ESV)

As we read these verses, I don’t think it takes much work to understand what Paul is trying to say here. As long as a person confesses Christ as their Lord and Saviour, then they become a child of God, part of His Church. And God sees no distinction between people: all He sees are the beings He created, for “all are one in Christ Jesus”.

Yes, there are many different expressions of Church today. Yes, different Churches have different ways of doing things. Yes, different Churches emphasise different aspects of Theology. But who is to say which expression is the right expression? People respond to different forms of Church…so perhaps it stands to reason that there are many different expressions of Church for people to engage. It is unfortunate, however, that, more often than not, it is these little differences which cause disagreement between people who all confess the same God, the same Lord and the same Saviour: Jesus Christ.

A preacher I listen to regularly is known for making this statement: “The main things are the plain things.” What is the main thing of Christianity? It is the plain truth that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour, and through His death and Resurrection  we have access to the unending love and forgiveness of God.

And, as long as a person expresses this Truth, it does not matter which expression of Church they belong to, they are our Brother or Sister in Christ, and should be treated accordingly. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter which Church we belong to.

And it is this reality which gives me the freedom to say that I believe in one, holy, catholic, universal Church, which belongs to Jesus Christ.  As a Star Trek fan, allow me to express this statement of my belief through Captain Picard. I couldn’t have said it better myself…