Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Book Review: The Book of Forgiving By Desmond M. Tutu and Mpho A. Tutu

The modern history of South Africa has been a compelling and astonishing one. From the system of apartheid, with its inherent racism, accompanied by atrocities of the most horrendous kinds on both sides of the racial divide, a unified nation arose without a violent takeover or civil war. The rest of the world watched in awe as lengthy queues of people waited to change their nation at the ballot box and appoint Nelson Mandela as president of a multiracial parliament in 1993.
Part of the process of stabilizing the new nation was to appoint a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to address the atrocities which had occurred in the recent past. The aim of the commission was to allow those who had been wronged to tell their stories, as a matter of justice, and for perpetrators to acknowledge what they had done. Its aim was not to incarcerate criminals but to promote healing, peace and unity.
Archbishop Tutu has written extensively about these events and is in a unique position to pen a book about forgiveness. Together with his daughter Mpho, herself an ordained Episcopal minister, Archbishop Tutu has authored a book which contains many stories about personal experiences in South Africa and elsewhere. Mpho contributes an account of how tragedy affected her own family and the process which they had to experience in dealing with it.
Forgiveness can easily be misunderstood by those who are grappling with it, and the authors provide insight into what forgiveness is, and what it is not, and who it is for. They then provide a system of steps of forgiveness which they term “The Fourfold Path”. The four steps comprise Telling the Story, Naming the Hurt, Granting Forgiveness and Renewing or Releasing the Relationship. Specific chapters take the reader through this process step by step. The book concludes with chapters which address the issue from the other side – what to do if you have wronged someone else and are the one needing forgiveness, and the importance of forgiving oneself.
This book is clearly written and presented. At the end of each chapter there are summaries of the main points therein and a short meditative verse which reads somewhat like a prayer. The reader is invited into the process of forgiveness with specific tasks and exercises at each step of the journey. These include journaling, visualisation exercises and use of concrete objects.
If I have any reservation about this book it is that it is written by Christian ministers, but is without any direct reference to the forgiveness of God and His directions for us to forgive others. A whole dimension of the grace that can only be imparted through the Holy Spirit is missing. The book has probably been penned so as to be available to many people of varying faiths or no faith at all, and as such will probably be used by a wider readership that an overtly Christian resource. The widespread reputation of Archbishop Tutu and the respect that he commands will no doubt encourage readers to delve into this area that affects so many and the exercises will certainly promote psychological wellness. One can only hope that because it is written by Christian ministers, the reader will be encouraged to further investigate Christianity and the aspects of our faith that promote further healing – prayer, Bible reading, fellowship in community, worship, the counselling of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
This book is a worthy starting point for personal study and growth and can certainly help the reader to step away from a path of bitterness and futile revenge onto another path, one of hope and peace. It’s not an end in itself, but an invitation to step into another course. The steps one takes after closing the final chapter are up to oneself.
“The Book of Forgiving” by Desmond M.Tutu and Mpho A.Tutu , William Collins 2014.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Fear of death.

Many people have a fear of death. Working as I do with the elderly and others in community health, it's not uncommon for people to express fear and agitation in relation to what we know must happen eventually to each of us - barring the rapture happening. (The rapture is the an event mentioned in the Bible where all the Christians alive on earth will be taken up into heaven. Opinions differ as to when the rapture will occur in relation to the great tribulation which will destroy the earth as we know it.) From what I have heard from anecdotal reporting within the health system, people who exhibit a fear of death before it is their time are often very calm and peaceful when it happens. We do not know the workings of God in the last days, hours and minutes of a person's life.

Death was not part of God's original plan for humanity. God warned Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or they would die. When Satan tempted Adam and Eve he told them that they would not die, rather they would be like gods. Satan's purpose is always to lie and deceive and ultimately destroy.
With Adam and Eve's original sin, death entered the world and all living things eventually die. Even inanimate objects such as rocks and buildings crumble and decay. The Bible tells us that the wages, or what we receive for sin, is death. As we are all sinners we know that we deserve it.
The good news of the gospel is that Christ, by becoming human, chose to die in our place. It is only because of  His death on the cross that we who have committed our lives to Christ have the promise of eternal life. Our physical bodies here on earth will die, but we will have a new body and a new life with Christ in heaven.
The Bible provides some verses in which may comfort those afraid of death:

" Since the children have flesh and blood, He [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—  and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham’s descendants."  (Hebrews 2:14-16)

"For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." 2 Corinthians 5:4

"For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?" (1 Corinthians 15:53-55)

"The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you--they are full of the Spirit and life." John 6:63

A baby in the womb doesn't know what life will hold. He or she has some limited inkling of this life through what he can hear and sense in the womb. When the child is born, hopefully there will be people waiting who love and want this child, who will welcome the baby with loving arms and gentle words. We have every reason to believe that our Heavenly Father who loves us far more than any earthly parent, will be waiting to welcome us into a Heaven more wonderful than we can ever imagine here on earth. 
Jesus said:

"Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.…(John 14:1-3)

In addition, there are some wonderful testimonies available of Christians who have experienced near-death incidents. These encourage us to be assured of the reality of heaven. I would recommend the testimony of Ian McCormack, an atheist who became a Christian following his near death experience. See
also Don Piper "90 Minutes in Heaven" - book and Youtube testimonies.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Pause to think of Kenya

It seems particularly heartbreaking that as we remember Christ's suffering and death we hear of yet another atrocity perpetrated against Christians, this time in a Kenyan university. The victims were singled out and killed for being Christian. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families and loved ones and we pray that they will be surrounded by the love and care of the Christian community in Kenya. We pray for peace in that nation and a turning to Jesus. May even these events be a witness to those who do not yet know the love and peace of Christ in their lives, that many will be drawn to the message of hope that only the Christian gospel can bring.

Communion at Easter

communion : Communion elements represented by bread and wine over a red background Stock Photo

 “And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Luke 22:14-20

On Thursday night I attended a church service and took part in communion. It’s so appropriate to do so at Easter time, when we remember anew the steps that Christ took and the path he trod to the cross. Christians across the world remember His suffering and death.

Communion demonstrates our commitment to Christ. By partaking of His body and blood we demonstrate that we want Him to enter our lives and reign in us, to fill us with His Holy Spirit and cast out our evil, sinful nature which has been part of humanity since the fall of Adam and Eve.

As the above Bible verses clearly show, it was Christ himself who instituted communion amongst his followers, at the time when the Jews were celebrating Passover. Jesus became the Passover Lamb of God, slain to glorify His Father, and to save sinful mankind from the punishment of death.

Communion is a sacred act. Our salvation was paid for at a very high price, from One who was without sin. Whilst Christians may differ on their opinions regarding transubstantiation, the elements of communion, the bread and wine are the only symbols which we use to denote Christ’s body and blood.

For this reason, I do not believe that Christians should enter into the practice of performing a Passover meal around Easter. We are partakers of a new covenant in Christ. What is that lump of roast lamb on your plate supposed to represent? Are we play acting? Being disrespectful to our Saviour?

“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:7-8

I do not believe that what Paul is saying in these verses is that we should still be celebrating Passover in the old way, particularly those of us without a Jewish cultural background. What is clear from the verse though, is that we should be celebrating the new covenant, with the love and joy which is at the very heart of the gospel message. We should not partake of communion with bitterness in our hearts towards others, nor should we partake of communion and go straight out into the church carpark and gossip about anyone, just to give a couple of examples. I know I've done this. Christ's body and blood deserve better. 

As Christians, Easter Sunday is the most joyful day of the year, the day which we in fact celebrate every day that we know Jesus. The trappings of Easter – hot cross buns, eggs and rabbits (which originated in pagan fertility festivals) are a hollow sham without the real message of the cross. What we celebrate is the wonderful truth that Jesus died and rose again. “It is finished.” Jesus said on the cross. He completed all that His Father had ordained for Him to do. He glorified God. He ransomed fallen, sinful people, like me, like you. He made a way for us to come to Him, not through any work that we could do, but because of what He, Jesus had done for us.

Love conquered death.
Hope was given.
Broken people were redeemed.
Everlasting life was offered.

Jesus said: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20

How do I become a Christian?

The Bible tells us that there is only one way to relationship with God and that is through Jesus Christ:

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
“Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. (John 14:5-6)

To become a Christian, you need to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He died on the cross to honour God and for the forgiveness of sin and that He rose again and ascended to His Father God.

You also need to admit or confess that you are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness through Christ. This is known as repentance. Repentance involves confessing that we have done wrong, saying sorry to God and committing to living a life in obedience to God's ways. Becoming a Christian does not make you suddenly perfect. We all still struggle with temptations and failures in this earthly life and continually need God's grace and forgiveness. Repentance does mean that we look to God for wisdom and guidance to resist temptation.

You then need to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. Just as a wedding ceremony begins a marriage, so a prayer of confession and faith can begin, but is just the beginning, of a relationship with God. An ongoing relationship includes learning about God through Bible study; baptism, conversations with God through prayer, and encouragement through Christian fellowship in a caring church.
The following is a prayer which could be used to begin this relationship. You may wish to pray it alone, personally, or you may wish to discuss your decision with a Christian friend or pastor first to fully understand:

Dear Heavenly Father God,
I come before You acknowledging You as the only one God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thank You for revealing Yourself to me. Thank You, Father God, for sending Your only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross, honouring You and making a way for sinful people to come back into relationship with You. I acknowledge that I am a sinner. Please forgive my sin and cleanse me I pray. I receive Jesus Christ into my life to be my Lord and Saviour for the rest of my days. May You give me strength through the power of the Holy Spirit to live my life as a Christian. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour. Amen

May God bless you with an ever-increasing knowledge of His wonderful presence and endless love as you continue to seek and serve Him.