Reconciliation Day

peaceGenesis 33

Last week we left Jacob walking in the morning light after his life changing encounter with God. He has a confidence in him that he never knew he could have. And there will be more surprises ahead for him… for… This. Is. His. Reconciliation Day!

Years ago he left town with just the staff in his hand and the clothes on his back. And though He has made a good life since then, something has been holding him back. That something was the need to go back home and make things right with his brother Esau.

But as we have learned… and is repeated in this chapter’s text… Esau has rounded up a welcome wagon consisting of 400 men. 400 armed men. Hell’s angels on horseback.

The hairs on the back of Jacob’s neck had to have been standing straight up as he enters into this meeting with his brother. He pushes his family out in front. (Least favorite wives and their kids in the front… thanks a lot dad!) And then he himself steps toward his brother…

He is now staring… in the face… the challenge of reconciliation.  And amazingly… that face is smiling!

Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. …  10 Jacob said, “No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably.

Esau’s face was the face of God to Jacob. He could see that it was ultimately God that was gracing him through the miracle of reconciliation with his brother, Esau.

He could see the hand of providence in the situation. Reconciliation is not a common thing in our world. In our own strength we get mad and stay mad. To me “reconciliation” is a mark of a true Christian. And it proves to me that the Gospel works. BLESSED are the peacemakers, Jesus said.

Now… this doesn’t always mean you trust everybody and make yourself vulnerable to someone that has hurt you. Verses 12-17 seem to indicate that though there was a pleasant outcome, Jacob still keeps himself and his family a safe distance from his brother.

Reconciliation is complete only when trust is rebuilt between two willing hearts… and that can take time. Take your time and do it right. “Love your neighbor as yourself; but don’t take down the fence.” (Carl Sandburg)

But having said that… you will never reconcile by wishing your neighbor ill.  Reconciliation begins when we wish for the other party the love of Jesus.

Sue Martinuk shared in Christian Reader about a tiff she had with her roommate in college.  They dealt with the anger by not communicating with each other.  She came in one night and found a note from her roommate: “I wish you Jesus.” She cried. Then wrote a note asking her for forgiveness. She placed it on her pillow and went to sleep.

Later, her roommate came home and shouted from the hallway that she had left a note on her desk–“Your sister called and asked me to send her the music for “I Wish You Jesus”!”  Sue remarks:  “We both had a good laugh–and were reconciled.”

What do you wish for others? If it is Jesus… it is bound to be the solution to a lot of conflict.

Is there someone in your life that you need to reconcile with?  Can you begin by “wishing them Jesus?”  Here is hoping that you will see the face of your enemy “as the face of God.”

Blessings!

 

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Love is the Whole Ball Game

love is the whole ballgameGenesis 4:1-12

John Ortberg in his book, When the Game is Over it All Goes Back in the Box, has an interesting paraphrase of the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter):  “If I make a fortune, get the cover of Time magazine, and become attractive, comfortable, and secure, but have no love, I have rolled snake eyes. No matter how much I win, if I win alone, I lose. Love is the ball game.” (p. 203.)

In Genesis 4 we encounter the first sibling rivalry.  Cain murders his brother Abel in a fit of jealous rage.  When quizzed about his brother’s whereabouts, Cain responds: “How should I know?  Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The source of Cain’s beef with his brother was that God accepted Abel’s animal sacrifice and snubbed his own fruit and vegetable offering.  In other words:  Abel’s work was #1 and Cain’s work was an “also ran.”  So Cain played hard ball and took care of his competition.  Cain’s rival for God’s affection was removed.  So Cain won the struggle with his brother, right?  Of course not!

God says to Cain:  “What have you done?  The voice of you brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.”

How we respond to others when they block our goals matters to God.   When we treat with contempt a person that He has created… one precious to Him…  it does NOT escape the hearing of the Almighty! “His blood cried from the ground!” God told Cain.

Abel’s treatment broke the heart of God… for God loved him as His very own.  And God feels the same way about your rivals and your enemies.  And that can be a difficult thing to remember in the heat of competition.   Empathy is an emotion tossed aside when we are denied victory.  So we vent and we back stab and we claw our way to the top…  and in the end we MAY win.  But our win is entered in the loss column.   Life was never about winning or striving for perfection.  It was always about love!

I am called to be my brother’s keeper.  But who is my Abel?  An Abel today could be anyone who has been hurt, abused and discarded by others… anyone oppressed or forgotten.  God still asks of you and I:  “Will we continue to pursue selfish agendas or will we become look out for our brothers and sisters?  The call to love them is rooted here in Genesis… and blossoms in the words of Jesus:  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  In the Kingdom of God there is one one game we participate in:  Love.  And it will be that way for eternity!

Author N. T. Wright wrote:  “Love is the language they speak in God’s world, and we are summoned to learn it against the day when God’s world and ours will be brought together forever. It is the music they make in God’s courts, and we are invited to learn it and practice it in advance. Love is not a “duty,” or even our highest duty. It is our destiny.”  (After You Believe, p. 188.)

Go live your destiny!

 

 

Overcoming Compassion Fatigue

A Christian Response to EvilGalatians 6:9

This is the third in the series “A Christian’s Response to Evil.”  In this series we are looking at common responses in a season of terror and how we as believers need to be responding.  Last post I wrote that the common first reaction to evil is rage… but how our response needs to be Godly anger or resolve.

In this post I want to address the common response in the wake of tragedy of weariness or compassion fatigue.  The last 7 years in American history have shaken up all of us.  Clackamas Town Center, Oregon shooting (12/11/12)… Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin (8/5/12)… Aurora, Colorado theatre shooting (7/20/12)… Cafe Racer Espresso shooting in Seattle, WA (5/29/12)… Oikos University shooting in Oakland, CA (4/2/12)… Chardon High School shooting in Chardon, OH (2/27/12)… IHOP restaurant shooting in Carson City, NV (9/6/12)… Safeway shooting in Tucson, AZ (Rep. Gabby Giffords shot in the head) (1/8/12)… Fort Hood Shooting (11/5/09)… Virginia Tech Shooting (4/16/07)… Amish Schoolhouse shooting in Lancaster, PA (10/2/06)….  that is just seven years back… and I didn’t include all of the mass killings in the list.

If you are like me when you heard about the Boston Marathon bombing last week your first thought was:  “Again?”  It is so easy to want to give up on caring… to get tired of helping.  Because the tragedies don’t end.

Last Monday in Boston someone literally blew up the finish line.  Weary runners that had been on the course for 4 hours… exhaustionwith the end in their sights watched as chaos ensued.  Have you ever felt that way about life?  You help and help and there seems to be no keeping the darkness back.  Then… there goes the finish line.  You want to sit on the track and cry.  You reach the point that your heart shrinks and you want to go back to caring for  “me and mine” and leave all that saving the world stuff for somebody else.

The Scriptures teach that as believers we are not to “… lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

Jesus taught us to go an extra mile.  Some of the runners at the marathon crossed the finish line and didn’t stop running until they ran to the nearest hospital to offer blood.  Some dehydrated runners in medical tents with IV’s in their arms, ripped them out to clear the tent for the wounded.

Let me ask you, believer… “What extra mile are you running?”  For the hurting, the downtrodden, the exploited, the lost in this world.

Romans 12:17 & 21 teaches us: 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. …21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  The goodness that comes out of you thwarts the efforts of the “terrorists.”  So give, help, serve and love.

How can I help a city that is 1,100 miles away?  You can start by helping your neighbor across the street.  Don’t lose heart… instead offer  a compassionate “extra mile” kind of compassion.

Mark Buchanan in his book, The Holy Wild, shared an excerpt from a letter written by a missionary couple in Brazil:

“Driving through the Christmas traffic, fighting the drizzling rain, I chanced on a four-year-old little girl.  She was wet and cold and shaking.  Her clothes were ragged, her hair was matted, and her nose was running.  She walked between the cars at the stoplight, washing headlights because she was too short to wash windshields.  A few gave her coins, others honked at her to get away from their vehicles.

As I drove away only some fifty cents poorer, I raged at God for the injustice in the world that allowed the situation.  “God, how could you stand by, helpless?”  Later that evening, God came to me softly with that still small voice and responded not in like kind to my rage, but with tenderness, “I have done something.  I created you.”  (The Holy Wild, pp.  86-87.)

God hasn’t moved the finish line.  The finish line is Christ-like character.  And every crisis is another chance to grow in His grace.

Is It Okay to Be Angry?

A Christian Response to EvilEphesians 4:26-27 / Colossians 3:8

“Can I be angry?”  That is the #1 Question that has been asked of me as a pastor coming out of the Boston Marathon tragedy.  As I mentioned in last week’s blog (“A Christian’s Response to Evil”) even this pastor was not immune to “simmering” a bit in the aftermath.

lit match 2But is such anger okay?  In Ephesians (4:26) Paul says to “Be Angry and do not sin…” but Paul also writes in Colossians (3:8) to “…put them all aside:  anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

Which is it?  To be or not to be… angry?   There was a deacon in the first church I served in as a youth pastor who believed it was NEVER okay to be angry.  When I showed him Ephesians 4:26 (in my naive attempt to “set him straight”) he was still unconvinced (and slightly angry with me).

I have come to believe in these past few decades that though he still wasn’t right, he might be close to telling the truth.  Our human anger is seldom righteous and without sin.

And yet… I still firmly believe that there are times (such as the events in Boston last week) when it is wrong NOT to be angry.  As Henry Ward Beecher wrote:  “A man that does not know how to be angry does not know how to be good.  Now and then a man should be shaken to the core with indignation over things evil.”

Now this Scripture offers qualifications:  Don’t sin with your anger.  Don’t let it stay the night.  Don’t allow Satan to get a foot hold in your life through it.  Vengeful rage is not okay… but a Godly anger is.

Now what does Paul mean in Colossians?  The things Paul warns us about there are the steps we might potentially take beyond our initial emotion.  The word anger in Colossians 3:8 has as its root the Greek work, “oregomai.”  This word means to “stretch out one’s self in order to touch or grasp something or to reach after or desire something.”(Thayer)  The anger Paul is talking about here is one that we have “given ourselves over to.”  This is expressed in the next four things Paul tells the Colossians to be rid of…  1. wrath (a boiling up type of anger), 2. malice (a desire to injure the object of our wrath), 3. slander (to use our tongue to talk bad about them), and 4. abusive speech (foul and obscene speech toward that person, i.e. “cussing them out”).

Giving ourselves over to our anger seldom turns out well.  I read in a Daily Bread Devotional that “in the spring of 1894, the Baltimore Orioles came to Boston to play a boston ballpark 1894routine baseball game. But what happened that day was anything but routine. The Orioles’ John McGraw got into a fight with the Boston third baseman. Within minutes all the players from both teams had joined in the brawl. The warfare quickly spread to the grandstands. Among the fans the conflict went from bad to worse. Someone set fire to the stands and the entire ballpark burned to the ground. Not only that, but the fire spread to 107 other Boston buildings as well.”

That is a real life illustration of what happens when we give ourselves over to our anger… ourselves and those around us get burned.  Is it okay to be angry?  Yes… but we are not allow to nurse it, churn it over and over and then dispense it like a high pressure fire hose.

So what do I do with this anger I feel?  Many believe that Paul in Ephesians was quoting David in Psalm 4:  “In your anger do not sin.” (Psalm 4:4, NIV)  If that is the case, then we would do well to do what David suggests:  “Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.  Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord.” (v.4b-5, NASB)

So in the wake of the Boston bombings or whatever other violent act that is sure to follow… be angry that someone would think so callously about human life.   But then… calm yourself down… meditate in your heart on the Word of God (perhaps on Colossians 3:8!), and then put your trust in a God of justice who has things well under control.

A Christian’s Response to Evil

CaringProverbs 6:16-19

Not sure where you were when you heard the news on Monday.  I was at the church office.  My tablet buzzed on the desktop like when I’m getting an email.  But it was actually an update from my USA Today app:  “Blasts heard at the sight of the Boston marathon.”

I knew.  I just knew.  This was going to be bad.

And as the story poured out over the news the next few days… like you, I was in shock.  And I was filled with sympathy for the victims,… But also there was this angry, cranky thing that began to develop.  This normally calm and collected, peace loving pastor was getting increasingly hot.  It was kind of  a simmer because it was a “I’m in denial” kind of mad.  Eventually I was able to get in touch with my feelings.

And I took them to God.

Reading my Facebook newsfeed it seemed that everyone from my family members to friends to complete strangers and even corporate entities were offering words of comfort to the people of Boston.  But even so… there was this underlying bubbling up of rage.

One late night comic said:  “I know it is my job to make you laugh.  And I know some people need to watch TV or something to get their mind off of such things.  But I don’t want to.  I’m angry.”

Tuesday, as I was working on my Sunday sermon, I became increasingly convinced that I needed to change my topic from Christian friendship to the subject of evil.

I don’t usually preach topically.  I don’t usually preach on current events.  But I believe that some needs need to be addressed from the pulpit.  Not just because of Monday’s events… and not just because of the increasing onslaught of violence America has been experiencing, but because we as believers need to be prepared to talk to our neighbors, our co-workers, our hair-cutters, our unsaved family members, etc. in a time like this.

Many lives were saved at the Marathon that day because of a large number of first responders already present there at the finish line.  Not only were they close to the events to offer aid but these workers and others at Boston area hospitals had already been training for just such an unfortunate event for years.

How about us?  Are we as believers prepared if something like this happened close to home? At a Titans game?  At our block party?  In our family home?  What is the right response?  I’m pretty sure seething about it isn’t the solution.  So I went to the Scriptures.

Over the next few week or so, I will humbly offer some of what I found.  I hope it is a comfort.  For now, I have posted an old sermon of mine (“How God Will Deal With Evil”) on my sermon download page.   I included an article by Mel Lawrenz, titled:  “Facing Treachery, Again” on my “Around the Web” page (see tab above).   And Sunday from the pulpit I will preach on this topic and hope to post that sermon next week as well.

In the meantime, I want to share where God stands on Boston’s events.  He stands against those behind this terror (as of this writing, one suspect is dead and the other is in hiding).  Out of the seven things Proverbs 6:16-19 says that God hates are:  “…hands that shed innocent blood.  A heart that devises wicked plans.
and “Feet that run rapidly to evil.”

As to how God feels toward the victims?  Psalm 34:18 – “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  As those who claim to be God’s children… let us prepare our hearts as we near those hurting in our world today.