When we say, “I’m sorry.”

It is never easy for any of us to say, “I’m sorry.” We don’t like to admit that we have done wrong and need to seek forgiveness. Recently Rupert Murdoch has apologised to the family of Milly Dowler for things done by a News of the World employee in the hours immediately following Milly’s disappearance. A private investigator employed by the paper hacked into Milly’s phone and even deleted some messages to make room for more recordings, giving false hope to the family that the 13 year old was still alive. Mr Murdoch has personally apologised to Milly’s family and offered to donate a very large sum of money to a charity of their choice.

There is something very powerful in a heartfelt and genuine apology. It is creative and offers the possibility of a new beginning. So why do we find it so hard to say we are sorry? One reason is our pride. We don’t like to admit our mistakes to anyone; we prefer to make excuses or to blame somebody else. In some parts of the world there are shame cultures which encourage people to go to great lengths to avoid any loss of face. So it is a significant thing when a very rich and powerful man publically says, “I’m sorry”, and shows his sorrow by his actions. Perhaps you need to put right a relationship with someone by going to them and saying, “I’m sorry.”

Jesus once met a man named Zacchaeus and went to his house for a meal. Zacchaeus was a very rich tax collector. The Jewish people hated tax collectors because they had betrayed their own people by working for the Romans, who occupied their country. Many tax collectors were dishonest and collected far more tax than the Romans required. Because of this they became social outcasts.

This encounter with Jesus brought about a great change in Zacchaeus’s life. He said to Jesus, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Do you need to make peace with God by asking for his forgiveness? Why not do it today? God promises forgiveness and salvation to all who confess their sins. He promises to forgive our sins and to remember them no more.

Forgive us our debts

Debt is in the news. Some of the richest nations in the world are facing massive debts. Personal debt in Britain is also very high. The average household debt, excluding mortgages, is £8,064. The personal consequences for many are devastating. They have no hope of repaying their debts and live in fear of the post, the telephone and the door bell. The unemployed, the elderly and single parents are especially vulnerable. When we are in debt there may be few people who are willing to help us.

We all also have another debt; one to which we may give little thought. Every day we sin against God and break his commands. Throughout our lives this debt accumulates and becomes impossible to repay. The moral fabric of our nation is deteriorating. There are few people who truly fear God. Some sin arrogantly and flout God’s moral standards. Yet he holds every one of us accountable for what we do. We need to face up to the debt we owe to God and seek to make peace with him.

Against this dark background the message of the New Testament is wonderful and a source of great comfort to all who realise their need to find peace with God. Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, came into the world to deal with human sin and the moral debt we owe to God. Jesus paid the debt of sin by his death on the Cross, as he endured the penalty that our sins deserve. The Cross was an act of reconciliation as, through Jesus, God reconciled the world to himself, and did not count our sins against us.

There comes a time when everyone who is in debt must face up to the consequences. So, too, we need to put things right with God. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who are indebted to us.” Such a prayer is not simply words, but must come from our heart as we express our deep sorrow that we have rejected God and his kindness to us. It is also accompanied by a full resolve that, with his help, we will change and deal graciously with others who sin against us. God always answer such prayers. You may have prayed those words many times, but have you ever prayed them with full understanding and experienced the joy of complete forgiveness in Jesus Christ?

Overcoming Evil with Good

Even though the events of 9/11 happened 10 years ago the images remain fresh in our minds. Seeing the planes crash into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre and then, just 2 hours later, the 2 towers collapsing is still a vivid memory. Nearly 3000 people died in the attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93.

These events remind us of the uncertainty and brevity of life. Those who died had no reason to think that 9/11 would be the last day of their lives. After hearing the news of the attacks relatives and friends tried desperately to call those they knew might be in the Twin Towers, but there was no reply. Many families were plunged into grief and sorrow and some still struggle to come to terms with what happened that day.

Amazingly, however, some survived. One lady, who was on the 63rd floor, spoke of how she was rescued from the rubble and brought to safety. As she lay under the rubble she prayed to God. As a child she had attended church with her parents, but had decided that following Jesus Christ was not for her. She had come to the big city and was enjoying the night life and hoped she might become an exotic dancer. As she lay under the rubble she asked God to give her a second chance and promised that, if he did, she would dedicate the rest of her life to him. God heard her prayer and within a few minutes a man called her name and held her hand and she was rescued. To this day she has never seen that man again. There were many unsung heroes that day.

It is not easy to know how to respond to events like 9/11. In the past 10 years Western nations have been waging war on terror around the world. It is still unclear how effective this will be. The teaching of Jesus is challenging and truly radical. He taught his disciples to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecuted them. Despite all the good things he had done he was unjustly condemned to die. On the Cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” With God’s help, in a world of continuing conflict, we need not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good.

Praying for all those in authority

Life for the first Christians was very difficult because they experienced great persecution. Jesus was crucified on the authority of Pilate, the Roman Governor. The apostle Paul was imprisoned and then executed by the Roman authorities. The Roman emperor, Nero, falsely blamed Christians for the great fire of Rome in AD64 and commanded that many of them should be put to death by burning, or in the arena, or by crucifixion. Christians were persecuted because they refused to worship the Roman emperor and say, “Caesar is Lord!” They were not disloyal citizens, but could only worship God and affirm “Jesus is Lord!”

Yet, despite the appalling treatment they experienced from the governing authorities, the apostles encouraged all Christians to respect the civil authorities, to pay their taxes, and even to pray for them. Paul wrote, “I urge that requests, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and come to know the truth.”

In the 21st century we need to pray for those who govern the nations. We are living in days of great instability. Governments and rulers are being overthrown and nations that possess military power are using that power more widely than ever before. People have great, and often unrealistic, expectations of what their governments can do for them. How should we pray for those who rule over us?

Pray that they will rule justly and not oppress their people. In some countries many people are arrested and never seen again. Sometimes soldiers are used to kill those who protest against injustice. It is important for all who have authority to fear the living God and remember that one day they will have to stand before God and be judged. He will deal with them justly.

Pray that they will rule morally and uphold God’s laws. Today some rulers are encouraging immorality by their own lives and by the laws they pass. God cannot be mocked. The Roman Empire was never defeated by their enemies, but was destroyed by its own inner moral corruption.

Pray that they will continue to allow the freedom to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. He is the King of kings and is able to save us all from death, destruction and despair.