In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until he has something to forgive.”
One of the lesser discussed topics right now is the idea of forgiving President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government for the evil and illegal invasion of Ukraine and the abuse of its people, especially innocent children.
Maybe it’s too early to have this discussion.
It appears that Putin and his army have taken a page from the radical jihadist playbook and believe that there are no innocent ones in this war. They have decided that any person or place is worthy of attack to bring the Ukrainians to submission. The world will likely be discussing, if not pursuing, the issue of war crimes for years to come.
If we were Ukrainians, we’d have a huge mountain of forgiveness to climb.
My purpose is not to discuss geopolitics, but I am angered, frustrated, offended, and outraged at Putin for his choices. I’m not “super noble” in this thought. I confess I knew virtually nothing about Ukraine, its people, and its president until a month ago. I know only slightly more about the history of Russia and the ambitions of its president.
Another global threat?
I’m still sorting through my feelings on the situation, but one emotion that came early on in this conflict was a renewed level of anxiety.
I’m angry that, after two long, grueling years of global Covid-19 death and uncertainty, we are now confronted with this new global crisis.
We all sensed from the Russian build-up in January that if war on the European continent came, there would be no ignoring or avoiding it. That has been, should be, and will be true. The world has always been too small to ignore what happens in places near and far from us.
Recall Dr. King’s well-known words: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Psalm 46 is a balm for anxiety
One place that’s helped my anxiety as a person, husband, father, grandfather, and friend has been Psalm 46.
I stumbled onto the song “Psalm 46 (Lord of Hosts)” by Shane and Shane based on this poem. I’ve listened to and sung the song dozens of times in the last thirty days. I especially like the video of when they sang this psalm for the National Prayer Breakfast. I plan to preach from it.
Here are the first three verses:
“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.”
—Psalm 46:1–3 NIV
“Refuge” means a powerful shelter, a secure place to hide. In this way, God defends and shields us.
“Strength” means power, capacity, capability. When Jimmy Johnson coached the Dallas Cowboys, I recall him saying that to win a football game you must understand the three parts of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. To win, you must win at least two of the three phases. According to the psalmists, God plays both defense—providing a refuge—and offense in the form of strength as we walk with him.
When I hear those bold and encouraging words, I want them to be true.
I want this protection and power from God daily. I want my experience to be “therefore, we (I) will not fear.”
I wonder if the psalmist is stating a fact or an aspirational goal. I’m finding it to be both in these days of constant disruption, stress, and difficulty.
Are you a wounded leader?
Jesus told us to forgive our enemies. How much more countercultural can you be than that?
I hope you don’t have anything you need to forgive this morning, but likely you do.
Pastors and church leaders get wounded. The wolves of Satan’s ambassadors take jabs at ministry leaders knowing that if “you strike the shepherds, the sheep will scatter.” We get kicked sometimes by the “goats not yet made sheep” mingling among the flock, and even the precious and priceless sheep and lambs we get to oversee sometimes take a bite or two out of us when we’re not looking. Usually, hopefully, that last group is mostly unintentional, but they do sometimes draw blood.
Ministry leaders who have served even a little while have open wounds, scabs, scars, limps, and limitations to show from their work.
Today will be more about faith than fear, I pray, for you and for me, and for our families and churches. I pray that our confident experience of God’s protection and power will overflow (Romans 15:13) and serve as the savor of salt and the bright, warm light of hope for others, especially those walking in the darkness of disbelief.