Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

Joshua 10:1-15 (Part 1 of 2)

Israel Defeats the Southern Armies

You know that is an old saying that says, “Forgive and forget!” I think that forgiveness is really in the remembering but forgiving anyway. We cannot “forget” situations where we have been betrayed. It is simply impossible to un-remember or forget what someone has done to us. Forgiveness truly is the ability to forgive someone even though you have vivid memories of what they have done to you. That is real forgiveness. Forgiveness is still feeling the pain of the deception or betrayal when you think of it, but, yet, giving that person grace. By all rights we should be able to tell them to take a long walk off a short pier. Or any of a number of clichés about ill will toward another person.

 

I remember this concept well when it came during the first separation that I had with my second wife. We had been separated for about 9 months at that point in our first separation. There were mutual reasons why we separated. I did some stupid things with money that put our lifestyle in jeopardy and she reacted to it by returning to the party lifestyle she had before we met and ended up having an affair at work (she had returned to work after having been a stay at home mom for the previous two and half years). She would stay out all night and when I would get angry about it she would withdraw further into her circle of single friends, which made me further insecure. It was a vicious circle from which we could not escape. We finally separated over these issues. Even though I still loved her, by nine months later, I had accepted the reality that she was seeing other people and was enjoying the single life and had no desire to be back with me. On the other hand, it had been difficult for me to recover from our separation. It was really, really tough because I was still pining away for her. However, one weekend in November 2000, when she had gone to the beach with her cousin and some of her single gal pals and this guy friend and some of his guy friends. It was to be this wild weekend where she celebrated her birthday at the beach (in November!). But in the middle of the night, like at 1am in the morning, she calls me on the house phone at the lake house of my parents in Anderson, SC where I had been living for the previous 9 months since the separation.

 

“Come get me!” were the first words she said to me over the phone. Not even a “hi” or a “hello”. Just “Come get me!”. I could have easily said “go to hell, bitch!” and hung up the phone. There had been so many times during that separation that I wanted us to get back together but was rebuffed to the point that I was actually, finally dating again after 6 months or more of sulking away. By all rights, I could have told her to go to that place of the gnashing of teeth and burning of flesh. But I didn’t. I knew all the pain that I felt over what had happened to our marriage but I got up and drove to the beach in 4 hours, including getting a speeding ticket on the way. Something had happened between her and the guy that she rode to the beach with and she was now stranded with no room and no way home. I set aside all the pain and went and rescued her. Because I rescued her from God know what (which I never asked about and she never told), she decided to ask me to come back to our marital home. I severed ties with anyone whom I had been dating and rushed back home. It was what I wanted. I was happier than a pig in slop at the notion of us getting back together.

 

But I think God’s reasoning for us getting back together was so that I could guide my second wife and her two youngest sons through the death of her oldest son. Three months after we got back together, her oldest son was killed in a car accident on the night of February 25, 2002. I think that my second wife and her kids would have come completely unglued and gone off the deep end if I had not been part of their lives in the aftermath of his death. But ultimately, the ungodly jealousies of my kids vs. your kids, one of the many undercurrents that were at play in our relationship undid the marital bliss than had been re-established that one night when I rescued her from that bad situation in Myrtle Beach. When my daughter went off to college, she though our obligations to my child had ended and wanted me “to cut the apron strings” as she said. I could not do that to my oldest child. That comment led to me hiding my financial support for my daughter from my second wife. It all came to light in August 2004 and our marriage ended again. All the old struggles and jealousies were just too much for it to survive. And she wasted no time meeting someone and was living with another guy within three months. Although I left the marriage initially because I chose my child over the second wife, I was able to get a divorce on the grounds of her adultery. This time the separation was permanent and I never looked back again. No more pining away for her. I knew this was the end. There was just too much that this marriage not centered on God, not established in God, could survive. I knew I was doing the right thing. My children were my priority and I should have never had to choose between my girls and my second wife. I knew this time it was final and it was for real.

 

Isn’t strange how this all worked out though when you look back at it? God brought us back together because he could see the tragedy that was going to happen. We were back together from November 2000 until our final separation in August 2004. Her oldest son’s death was almost perfectly right in the middle of that time frame. That’s the thing that I see as one of the two reasons for the reconciliation. One was for me to be there during the tragedy and the recovery time after it. The second was for me to see that nothing much had changed in our marriage (my kids vs. your kids) and to see my second wife with the rose colored glasses off. That had to be the purpose. There was a clarity about the future when the marriage ended for good. No longer was my second wife my god. I saw her with fresh eyes of clarity.

That idea of remembering betrayal but forgiving anyway so that we can reap God’s true blessings for us was what I thought of this morning as I read through Joshua 10:1-15 for the first of two times. Lets read it together now:

 

10 Now Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed[a] it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and had become their allies. 2 He and his people were very much alarmed at this, because Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters. 3 So Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem appealed to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish and Debir king of Eglon. 4 “Come up and help me attack Gibeon,” he said, “because it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites.”

 

5 Then the five kings of the Amorites—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.

 

6 The Gibeonites then sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: “Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us.”

 

7 So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, including all the best fighting men. 8 The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.”

 

9 After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. 10 The Lord threw them into confusion before Israel, so Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. 11 As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.

 

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

 

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,

    and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”

13

So the sun stood still,

    and the moon stopped,

    till the nation avenged itself on[b] its enemies,

 

as it is written in the Book of Jashar.

 

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!

 

15 Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.

 

In this passage, we see that Joshua has integrity. After having been deceived by Gibeonites, Joshua and the leaders of Israel could have been slow to respond (or not at all) to the Gibeonites’ request for the armies of Israel to save them. Instead, they responded immediately to the call for help. How willing would you be to help someone who had deceived you even though you had forgiven that person? We should always take our word, our promises to others as seriously as Joshua did here.

 

When I look back on my own situation where I forgave despite remembering pain and deception, I wonder what if? What if I had not responded to her cry for help in November 2000? What if I had not jumped out of bed, not thinking of the hurt, the pain, the deceptions, the arguments, and drove all night to get her. I would not have been in the place where God needed me to be in February 2002 and I would not have learned the true nature of that relationship. Sometimes, we have to forget deception and pain and our pride to do what God calls us to do or what God wants us to learn. Sometimes God calls us to do things that will require us to forgive even though the pain and pride are painful. Sometimes, we must forgive even though we remember so that we can obtain what God has in store for us.

 

If I had been able to see what my second marriage was really made of by that getting back together in November 2000, where would I be today. I would not have the blessings that I have now. If I had not forgiven though I remembered, I would not have ever seen my second wife for her true nature and been able to set myself free from worshiping her as a god. I would not have ever grown up. I would been her puppet for years. I would have never opened my eyes to her without that reconciliation period. I would not be where I am today without saying yes to God’s plan that night in November.

 

Just as Joshua could have easily told the Gibeonites to go to hell because of their deception and the pain that it caused him. But he forgave, though remembering, and came to their defense. If he had not done that, he may have never had another opportunity to have the armies of all the hill country kings all together in one place at one time – ever again. Pride can cause us not to forgive. Pride can cause us to miss out on what God really has in store for us.

 

God could have pride if that were in His nature. He could have pride and literally tell us to go to hell. He remembers each and every betrayal we have committed against Him. He remembers every one of our sins and betrayals and deceptions against Him. He could forever hold it against us. God has a long memory. He does not forget our sins. But he loves us enough to not want to see us permanently separated from Him in hell. He gave up His Son on the cross as the permanent resolution to our sin problem. God forgives us through His Son’s sacrifice. He loves us that much. He loves us even though we have hurt Him so badly with our sins and our raising our fist in the air at Him. When we say to the Lord, even though we do not deserve His grave, “Come get me!” God comes to us through Jesus Christ. He remembers all our sins but comes to us regardless. What if God did not come to us and rescue us? He has every right not to! He is not God and we are sinners. He does not need us. He could just write us off and tell us to go to hell, literally. But he offers salvation to all those who call out to Him to come rescue them.

 

Joshua could have said go to hell to the Gibeonites, but He kept his word. He was able to reap great blessings from not being prideful and saying go to hell to the Gibeonites. Sometimes our inability to forgive others because of the pain they have caused us, prevents us from being freed from that pain and obtaining the real blessings that God has for us. Sometimes it’s hard I know. But by forgiving (even though we can never forget), we let loose the idol that the pain has become and only then can we find the path that God wants us to walk down.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 15:1-11

Release for Debtors

Yesterday, we talked about a story of a girl who cried a river and changed the whole world. We borrowed the chorus from a song by a group called Nine Days as a lead-in to our story. It was a fictionalized story with real examples that we see every day. It was a story about a single mom who had two kids that made some poor choices as a teenager and was now deeply awash in a lifestyle where it was difficult for her to rise above her financial situation. She is the type of person who gets locked into poverty by some poor choices of their own, the choices that others sometimes force upon us, and sometimes by the combination of life choices and the expectations of the world around us. There are those around us who live on the edge of disaster on a daily basis.

 

Many of us look upon those who are poor as deserving of their poverty and/or that they simply want the government handouts that are doled out to them. Sometimes, that may well be true. There are certainly those out there that “are just working the system” to get what they can get without having to work for it. They actually feel that the world has made them this way (not their own choices) and they deserve to live off the government and the guilted generosity of others. Probably the majority of people that come seeking help at our church each day the church office is open are the career charity seekers that bounce from church to church and from agency to agency trying to get what they need. The story is always urgent and they typically always want cash. These are the career charity seekers. However, there are those who are genuinely in need. Being able to tell the difference is often difficult because the natural inclination becomes jaded after a while and you automatically think that a person is just “working the system.”

 

Then, there are those who genuinely need help that want to be above the poverty line but circumstances are keeping them there. There is a girl that my wife knows that has made some poor choices in life for sure – the biggest of which are two choices to sleep with men that she was not married to and that resulted in pregnancies. She has an oldest son who is ten who lives with her mom’s choices every day. A gentle little soul is he and he has bounced around from crisis to crisis with his mom. The second pregnancy resulted in another sweet little boy but this boy was born with down syndrome. This mom loves her children immensely but the needs of her youngest child keep her from holding a steady job of any kind. He requires constant attention. Doctors appointments galore. Development challenges are daily. Yes, she made poor choices and it seems that those poor choices are going to haunt her for a long, long time. This single mom knows now that she is living with her poor choices. She knows her poor choices have caused her to live permanently on the edge of one financial crisis to the next. However, she is truly one of those people that are not able to work. My wife invests much time and tenderness with this woman and just loves her. My worry with any investments that we make in her financially are just band-aids. My worry is how can we get her to a place of independence. My worry is that such a day will never come. How can you continue to help someone when there is no way to improve their situation. You want to think that your help will result in making permanent life changes in someone’s else life. But what if there is no way to change things. Having a child with down syndrome is a lifetime commitment that strains even the best of marriages not to mention what is doing to this single mom. But when you watch this mom love her youngest child, it is a reminder that love never questions. Love just loves. This single mom is in love with her child and will do anything she can for him. She doesn’t care that never gets a moment of peace and that the demands are so demanding. She just loves her child. I know that she wants more out of life than she is getting. It is not that she wants to live in poverty and live from financial crisis to financial crisis. She wants to be free. She wants to climb out of the poverty hole. But she will probably remain there for the rest of her existence. So, do we not help her because she will never get out of the hole.

 

Then, there are those whom you help that are around us (sometimes even those that related to you) that never seem to get it. They always have reasons for their crises. They always have justifications. They seem to want to live out of an entitlement mentality. Maybe they grew up spoiled and think that the world is supposed to take care of them. They never seem to get the concept of that their own hard work will result in the improvement of their situation. They have amazing capabilities and they have nothing other than their own fears and rationalizations that hold them back. They, too, live from crisis to crisis and often only seek you out when there is a financial crisis that they need to avert. You want them to see that there is nothing that a little hard work and dedication and working at a job for more than a year can’t cure for them. You pray that someday they will get it. They often, upon receiving your help, say that they do get it and will do better in the future. But year after year you see no change of the crisis to crisis mentality and just a sense that they do not see past the next weekend. Do you have someone in your life like that? They live crisis to crisis. Maybe, they are the result of your unwillingness to let them show them tough love. Maybe they need to crash and hit rock bottom. Is this the story of someone close to you? What do you do? Do you stop helping? Do you cut them off and refuse to help in the slightest? Do they blame you when you don’t help them?

 

These are the tough choices of generosity. Do you help once. Do you help twice. Do you quit helping? Do want to see results as a condition of your help? We are called to be generous but we are also called to be wise. These were the things that I thought of today when I read about the forgiveness of debts that God called the Israelites to with the cycle of forgiving debts every 7 years in Deuteronomy 15:1-11:

 

15 At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. 2 This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. 3 You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. 4 However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. 6 For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

 

7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

 

In this passage, God told the Israelites to help the poor among them when they began to live in and possess the Promised Land. This command was an important part of possessing the land. Many people think that the poor are responsible for their lot in life. And if they just got off their rear ends and worked that it would change their story. In some cases that may well be true. But there are those among us that are going to always be poor because of personal limitations or by limitations of someone in their family that they must care for. Does the assumption about those who are working the system excuse us from helping anyone who is poor? This kind of reasoning helps us make our heart hard toward anyone in need. We are not to invent reasons for not helping the poor. We are to not ignore the issue altogether. We are to engage those who are poor and understand their story. We are called to be a generous people. Each one of us with the right sequence of circumstances and right length of those circumstances are only a couple of paychecks and a savings account away from losing everything we have. Everything that you and I have is simply a blessing from God and it could all be taken away in an instant with an extended period of unemployment, an illness of ourselves or of a loved one that saps the family’s finances, a major life event that sends you reeling into poverty because you can’t handle life for a while. We are all just a step away from being on the street.

 

No one is immune to poverty. We should not pride ourselves in what we have accumulated. We could lose it all in very short order. Therefore, we should be generous to the world around us. We do not judge others for their poverty. We simply help. Sure, we ask God for discernment when we are dealing with habitually lazy people but we do not write off all people as lazy. We do not ignore the poor. We get to know them. We get to know their story. We help. We love. We give. We help. We love. We give. We do this because God so loved us that He was exceedingly generous to a fault with us through Jesus Christ. God is a generous God. We are to be a generous people.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 20:14-21 (Part 1 of 2)

Edom Refuses Israel Passage

Have you ever held a grudge against someone? A seething anger toward someone that makes you grow cold toward someone over time? It may have started as a small offense and has now grown to this major deal that causes you and the other person to not speak, to distrust, to suspect, and not to associate. Unless you are lucky, you have probably held a grudge against someone or someone has held a grudge against you. I have seen grudges in action both by my first ex-wife toward me and by my uncle toward my paternal grandparents.

 

With my ex-wife, it was a lifelong desire of hers to show anger toward me for having ended what had become a violent relationship. We had both had affairs during our marriage. There was her drug abuse, my co-dependency for years, just a toxic relationship where God was nowhere to found. Although I had forgiven her affair, by the time I had mine, it was a breath of fresh air that I was unwilling to give up. That does not make my affair justifiable in hindsight but it was my view at the time. I was literally afraid to leave her because of her vindictive nature. And, that assumption certainly played itself out in the years after she and I split. Any subsequent relationships that I had after her were marred by her anger and her hatred. She would tell anyone who would listen what a horrible person that I was. Her hatred toward me consumed her life. It was her raison d’etre. It was her reason for being. The grudge was its most intense during the three years between my split with her. It involved harassing phone calls. It involved preventing me from seeing my children to the point I had to take her to court over the issue. Her reaction was to justify the withholding of visitation rights by accusing me of having molested my oldest daughter during one of the visitations that I did get to have with my kids. That began years of vindictive behavior, particularly toward my second wife, that was only calmed in intensity when she remarried in 1996. Even after that, though not as vocal or expressive, I always learned through my daughters that my first wife still had this seething hatred for me. Even years later. My anger toward her for the things that I had put up with since our breakup (and during our marriage) became forgiveness and then pity. My first wife let her anger toward me become this all consuming reason for being that became her god and destroyed her life and what was once a promising nursing career.

 

With my one of my five uncles on my dad’s side of the family, it was my grandparent that said something about my uncle’s manhood when he and his wife had to adopt children. They were unable to have children of their own. My paternal grandpa said something really base to my uncle about his manhood and my uncle stormed out of my grandparent’s house in 1966 and never returned, never reconciled with the other brothers even after my grandparents’ respective deaths in 1979 (Pop) and 2008 (Granny), and my uncle’s death in 2014. My uncle went as far as to “adopt” a family in Inman as his “parents”. He would claim to others that his parents had died in a train crash. The irony of it all is that my uncle was a minister in the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. He was a very successful pastor and worked his way up to the largest United Methodist church in South Carolina before he retired. He refused to come home for Christmas, Thanksigiving, or any other family event, even the funerals of his parents. He refused to give the forgiveness he preached. My grandparents were equally as stubborn over the disrespects shown them over the years. They refused to forgive those things. And each year the list of offenses and reasons not to forgive and grew ever larger. And it all started with a remark made by my Pop in 1966. Knowing my shoot from the hip Pop who was rough, gruff and said everything that was on his mind no matter what, my Pop probably made the remark flippantly. I am sure that it was insensitive and maybe even deeply hurtful to my uncle but that was Pop. He had no filter to hold back comments that came to his mind. I was too little when my uncle left the family in 1966 to know the exact details of it all, but knowing my Pop and some of the rough, gruff and sometimes personal things he said to me and even my firs real long-term relationship (with the woman who became my first wife), I can see him saying something that was nothing to him but something big to my uncle. A flippant remark became a family feud that never ended even with my grandparents passed away and even to my uncle’s death. Even in his obituary, my uncle claimed no relationship to our family. Even in his death, there no forgiveness for his parents by reclaiming them as his valid and very real parents.

 

Grudges. Man can they kill your joy! My own experiences with major grudges is what I thought when I read through today’s passage, Numbers 20:14-21. This passage is a classic of an old grudge still living on years later:

 

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying:

 

“This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come on us. 15 Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors, 16 but when we cried out to the Lord, he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.

 

“Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”

 

18 But Edom answered:

 

“You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”

 

19 The Israelites replied:

 

“We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.”

 

20 Again they answered:

 

“You may not pass through.”

 

Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army. 21 Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.

 

Let us go back in time to reflect on this passage. Two brothers became the ancestors of two nations. The Edomites descended from Esau and the Israelites from Jacob. Thus, the Israelites were “relatives” of the Edomites. Because of their common ancestry, Moses sent a brotherly message to the Edomite king. The Edomites refused. Why? Do you think it had its roots in the saga of Jacob and Esau? Most likely it did. There was distrust of the Israelites by the Edomites. This distrust and maybe even hatred had its roots in the two brothers, Jacob and Esau. The Edomite king not only said no but sent troops to prevent the Israelites from even touching their land. Jacob and Esau were the classic sibling rivalry. They even struggled with one another in the womb. The rivalry was so bad that Jacob bamboozled Esau into selling Jacob his birthright for a pot of stew. That began the enmity between Esau and his descendants for Jacob and his. A pot of good smelling stew to a weak minded man began a family feud that grew and grew and never relented. This confrontation here is not the end of it either:

  • Israel’s kings had constant conflict with Edom
    • Saul 1 Sam. 14:47
    • David 2 Sam. 8:13-14
    • Solomon 1 Kings 11:14-22
    • Jehoram 2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chron. 21:8ff
    • Jehoram 2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chron. 21:8ff
    • Ahaz 2 Chron. 28:16
  • Edom urged Babylon to destroy Jerusalem – Psalm 137:7 Remember, O Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”

 

What is our takeaway from all of this? Let us go to Psalm 130:3-4 If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? [4] But with you there is forgiveness. Let us go to elsewhere in God’s Word:

 

  • 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
  • Matthew 6:14 says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
  • Luke 6:37 indicates “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
  • 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
  • Jude 1:20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,

 

We have been forgiven by God through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We did not deserve forgiveness. We stand accused before a mighty and holy and perfect God. We are dead to rights in our sins and should be justly sent to hell. But God in his infinite love for us gives us a way out, a way to be reconciled to Him. So, then, how can we withhold forgiveness for others? How can we keep a record of offenses and yet claim the forgiveness and clean slate that we have in Jesus Christ? That’s pride my friends. Pride is sin. So, we compound sin with sin when we refuse to forgive.

 

True forgiveness is to forgive those who are not forgiving us. When we wait to do some mutual forgiveness thing at the same time or are waiting for the other person to step forward first, the list of offenses will simply grow. We cannot make these offenses against us our god. We cannot let them rule our lives. Take the first step. Be Jesus to those who have a grudge against you. Don’t let it last a lifetime. Don’t let it last generations. Be the change that you seek in others. Be the first to forgive. Step forward. Give you anger and hurt to the Lord and let Him guide your steps in reconciliation. Do not let your anger or your hurt be your god. Let God be your God. Be Jesus to the very people that have hurt you. Be the one who opens their life up and lives transparently in front of the other. Let them see that you are a sinner just as much as they are a sinner. Let us be the one that starts the peace process by opening up our lives to the other person even if they don’t ever forgive you. Getting payback of I forgive you if you forgive me is not what Jesus seeks. He gave his life for us when we were yet sinners. Someone has to stop the madness. It is you, the Christ follower. We must show the same love without expectation of payback that Jesus showed us. Jesus loved us so much that He died for us even before you and I were born and even before you and I accepted Him as Savior. How’s that for taking the first step? Love instead of hate. Trust instead of suspicion. Open book instead of hiding things. Take the first step. Be the change you seek. End the grudge now! Amen and Amen.

Luke 24;36-43 — There are two things that are striking about this passage that are important to consider. First, let us consider that Jesus said, “Peace be with you!”. Second, let us consider that Jesus invited the disciples to touch Him. These things point us toward the fact that Jesus has forgiveness sufficient to cover our failings through our repentance and the fact that Jesus invites us to question Him. Today, we will focus on Jesus’ statement, “Peace be with you!” Tomorrow, we will look at how Jesus invites us to be inquisitive about Him. So, today, Peace Be With You is the subject. Why in the world did Jesus say that to the disciples?

When Jesus appears to them, He is not an angry as one might be if you were in Jesus’ shoes. If you drift back to your teenage years and most of us guys were often mischievous. We would often do things that were either close to breaking the law or clearly over the line of the law. In a group, it always sounded like a good idea, right? And, then, when you were the one that got caught, all your friends scattered like roaches and left you holding the bag. Though Jesus had done nothing wrong as we may have done as teenagers, his disciples scattered on Him like roaches when you turn the light on. They had abandoned Him to die alone. One of them, Peter, even denied that he even knew Jesus. Talk about friends, huh? When crunch time was on, they failed miserably. We, though, cannot condemn them much. We often fail Jesus miserably on a daily basis. Sometimes, we even deny that we know Him rather than feel uncomfortable. But Jesus appears to them and the first thing he says is what? He doesn’t say, “you dogs, you let me down” or “dudes!, you left me hangin’!” No, Jesus, amazingly (after seeing what cowards the disciples had become in that decisive in the Garden), says, “Peace, be with you.” Shalom. The peace that passes all understanding.

Jesus does not rebuke his disciples. He offers them the peace of God. He had every right to dress them down for their failures. He had every right to slap each one of them in the face. He had every right to make them feel about two inches tall. And, by our human standard of tit for tat, we would not have blamed Him. However and instead, Jesus offers them forgiveness. Jesus offers them acceptance. He offers them restoration to His amazing love. Does this not speak loudly to you? Jesus has forgiveness for you even though you don’t think you deserve it. The disciples most certainly felt great shame for their failing of their Master. They probably did fear that He would punish them when He appeared to them. Even though we have shame for how we have been living our lives, if we come to Jesus with a repentant heart and desire his forgiveness more than anything else, He will grant us Shalom. He will grant us peace. He will grant us forgiveness. His love for us is far greater than any disappointment He has in us. Jesus sees what we can be in relationship with Him not what we were before. Just as we as parents see the potential of our children and not their failings. Just as we love our children despite their failings, Jesus is that way about us. He loves us and desires for us to make Him our Savior and the Lord over our lives. He has peace for you and for me!

Not only is how Jesus reacted to the disciples a direct example for us of the forgiveness we find in Jesus, it is also an example of how we should be with other people. Certainly, there are times when rebuke is necessary and required and Jesus often rebuked his disciples. Such rebuke was necessary at times, but He always did it in a way that help the disciples grow not tear them down and stomp on them. However, in this instance, Jesus did not rebuke. He knew the disciples were already beating themselves up. He knew that they were scared. He knew that they were fearful for their lives. We must learn from Jesus. There is a time for loving rebuke but there is also a time when we must simply love and reassure. It is amazing as a parent (we get no formal training on parenting and our kids do not come with customized instruction booklets) that we often do know the difference. Sometimes, we know when our kids need rebuke when they have done wrong and when they need reassurance that they are still loved despite the wrong. Jesus in this instance knew that reassurance was called for. Jesus knew that reaffirming His love for them was called for.

Regardless of whether rebuke is called for or simply uncommon acceptance in the face of betrayal, we must always have our eye on restoration and on reconciliation. Jesus restores and reconciles us to our Father in heaven. We should be the same about the relationships in our lives. If we are called to be little Christs, the literal meaning of Christian, then we can do no less. Everything must be motivated by our love for Jesus and our love for our fellow man. Even when we rebuke others, it must be done in love and with an eye toward reconciliation and an eye toward giving God glory. Sometimes, the situation will call for us to simply tell those that have betrayed, disappointed, or have been evil toward us that we must simply offer them peace. We must offer peace in reaction to hate. We must offer love in the face of evil. We must offer acceptance in the face of betrayal. We must offer restoration the face of disappointment from others. We speak of Christ when we say Peace Be With You to those who have bitterly disappointed us. We speak of Christ when we tell a person that knows they have disappointed us and fear retribution that we love them anyway. We speak of Christ when we restore a relationship rather than throw it away. We speak of Christ when we love when the expectation is hate. We speak of Christ when we seek to emulate our Savior’s behavior in this passage. Amen and Amen.

Romans 12:17-21 — Do you remember a movie from 20 years ago called, “The War” (starring Kevin Costner and a young Elijah Wood). It is one of my favorite movies ever. It speaks to our human nature. In that movie, whose setting was the Vietnam War era, kids build a tree house/fort and some other kids try to take it away from them. As the movie progresses, there is an ever-increasing level of violence to the point that on one summer afternoon the hatred of the two groups of kids for one another grows to the point that an all-out war for possession of the fort begins. In the end, the fort is burned to the ground. No one wins. There is nothing left to win.

It is this mentality that pervades our world today. It is to this mentality that Paul speaks through the ages directly to us in today’s verses. These verses summarize the core of Christian living and how it is often times the opposite of our human nature. It is our human nature to pay back evil with more evil. It is our nature to seek revenge for real or perceived wrongs done to us. In this day and age of ever increasing lawsuits, we demand that our rights not be abridged. In this world where we have become a people who says I can do whatever I want and I have inalienable right to do it, Paul speaks to us. Paul’s command sounds almost impossible.

When people hurt you deeply, in our sin nature, we wanna pay ’em back with what they deserve. Paul says to befriend them. Why should we forgive our enemies? C’mon Paul, that sounds so weak. That sounds like we should be doormats and let people just run roughshod over us. Why forgive our enemies? Man, that’s a hard one. My soul screams out for revenge. I want to be satisfied. I want to knock down my enemies and give them the same feeling of hurt and pain that they gave me. Can you feel that anger and pain? Can you feel it? Right now, you are drifting back in memory to a time that someone hurt you deeply. Right now, you may be experiencing that time all over again in your mind. The anger wells up in you and your stomach churns. Your pulse quickens. You mentally think about the revenge that you did take or should have taken. Why Paul? Why? Why do I as a Christ follower have to forgive me enemies?

Forgiveness may break a cycle of retaliation that leads to destruction and bring about reconciliation. It may make your enemy feel ashamed causing a change in the person’s ways. Even if your enemy never repents and forgives you as well, you have relived yourself of a heavy burden of bitterness. When we forgive evil done to you, you quit obsessing about that person. When we forgive, we quit “letting them live rent free in our head.” Lend a helping hand, send a gift, or just smile at them. Right actions often lead us to forgiveness. If we forgive without having the payback we want for revenge, we are extending grace. Remember, grace by theological definition is an undeserved gift. By giving an enemy grace, we are not excusing what they did, we’re not recognizing, forgiving, and loving that person with a love that they do not deserve. Hmmm. Who else did that? Yes, it was Jesus Christ. God loves us despite our rebellion against Him. He loves us so much that He sent His Son to be a sacrifice for the sins that we committed so that we can avoid our proper judgment and be reconciled to Him. It is like a father who loves his teenage son despite the fact that the son blatantly has disdain for him in word and deed. If we have been given grace through Jesus Christ, should we not extend that same grace to our enemies.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting like the saying says. Forgiveness means remembering what was done but choosing, get that – choosing, to love your offender anyway. We do not have to be gushy friends with those who have hurt us. We do have to extend them grace. They may have their own motivations that we must try to understand. In our understanding, we learn to extend grace. However, it does not mean we have to be best friends. We can learn to respect them again. We can end the cycle of revenge. In my divorce from my first wife, it was the “divorce from hell” where my ex constantly attacked me with intensity for over two years – to the point that she made accusations that prevented me from seeing my children for six months. It was nasty. It was mean. It consumed life and all that was around it. Through it all, I tried to take the high road and not get down in the dirt. Many times, my sin nature got the best of me but I was able to get beyond it. Today, twenty years later, I have forgiven all the mean things that happened. However, we are not friends. I care about what happens to her and can have a civil conversation with her these days when we do in fact talk but I have moved on in life. There is no commonality other than our grown kids now. There is just nothing in common. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean that you have to be all up in their lives. Forgiveness is for us not for those we forgive. When we forgive, we give it up to the Lord. He may lead us to re-establish relationship but He may also lead us to just quit letting our enemy consume our mind and heart. When we forgive, He may lead us away to more healthy relationships. He may lead us to change playgrounds and playmates. We can’t have healthy relationships with others when we let our enemies consume our very soul. Our very soul should be consumed with the Holy Spirit not our enemies.

In the end of the movie, “The War”, the fort was destroyed. Nothing was left to win. The only thing, the one and only thing that broke the cycle of ever-escalating violence was when Elijah Wood’s character saved his enemies’ little baby brother from drowning. The war was over then. Although the kids did not become great friends in the end, the war was over. They learned to respect each other. They learned that revenge for revenge leads us to forget what the heck we were fighting for in the first place. Revenge becomes its own god. Revenge destroys our soul. Forgiveness frees us. Regardless of whether we get our payback or not, forgiveness sets us free to remove that idol from our lives. When we are obsessed with revenge, we are making ourselves god. Forgiveness puts God back on the throne. Forgiveness emulates our Father’s forgiveness for us. We have been given grave. Let us extend it to others. It doesn’t mean we have to be their best friend but it does mean that we let go of that obsession, that I idol that we have made of our hatred of that person. It is God’s job to judge. It is not ours. It is our job to extend the same grace that God gave us in Jesus Christ.

Otherwise, the fort is burned. There is nothing left. In “the War” the fort was never rebuilt. Destruction was complete and there was no desire anymore. Love has gained more than war every time. War just leads to more war. Love is a permanent solution. War consumes everything in its path. Love lets things grow. Forgive before the war consumes you. Forgive.

Romans 12:14 — “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” Here is an instruction on living the Christ-like walk that is difficult for us to practice with even the closest people in our lives much less a non-believer.

In the book of Acts, we find Stephen, the first Christian martyr, blessing those who had just stoned him to the point of death. How do we do this in our own lives? Proverbs 25:21-22 says, If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you.” This kind of behavior is contrary to our human nature. Our human nature is to lash out at those who are our enemies. Our human nature is to lash out at those who have hurt us. Like a football team that has that killer instinct that grinds their opponents into the ground, we want to completely destroy our opponents. How does God expect us to be this way? It is so hard. I want revenge on those who have hurt me! For example, how does one respond, say, to a spouse that leaves you for another lover. How can I not hate them both and want to punish them for what they did? How can I not hate that person that screws you over at work and seems to have gained great advantage from it? How do you not hate that mean girl at school who has spread vicious rumors about you just because you were beginning to have some popularity? We deal with these types of situations throughout our lives. From kindergarten to the senior center, we have to deal with people who have made us angry, have taken advantage of us, or who were just downright mean to us.

God how do we do this one thing that you expect of us? The first thing is in submission of our will to that of God our Father. If we are truly submitted to Him as we say we are, we must give this up to Him. Let us take our anger out on God. I don’t mean being indignant with God or blaming Him but being like a child with a father. When the world dumps on us as children, we talk with our daddies. We ask him how we should respond. We cry. We vent our anger and frustration. We seek the advise of our dad. When we go to our eternal Father with anger over those who have hurt us, we vent. We cry. We cry out to Him. When we do this, it shows that we do actually believe that our unseen Father in Heaven is really central in our lives. Rather letting our anger fester and boil, we have a honest conversation with our Father. God doesn’t want our formula prayers. He wants to have real conversation with us. He wants us to express our true feelings to Him. When we let our anger rule our response, are we not playing god? We have been offended. We want to use our own power to respond. When we seek God, we are saying to ourselves that God is in charge. He really wants this type of relationship. He wants those real conversations instead of platitudes. He wants to hear when you are “so angry I cannot even see straight.” Be honest with your Father in Heaven. Seek His will. Ask Him how to respond. Ask for His help in controlling your anger.

Pray for those who persecute you!?!? Really? Paul, you have got to be kidding? How can I pray for a man who just stole my promotion from me? How can I pray for a man who just stole my wife? How can I pray for a person who assaulted my child? How can I pray for someone who just murdered someone I love? How can I pray for the drunk driver that just killed my family in a car accident? How can I pray for anyone who has hurt me? This is a tough one. There is a story I found on the internet that goes like this. A man went into the preaching ministry, worked for seven years, then resigned to go back to medical school and become a doctor. He came to the conclusion that “People don’t want spiritual health. They just want to feel good.” He said that after working as a physician for seven years, he again resigned, this time to go back to school and become an attorney. He said, “People don’t want spiritual health. They don’t even want physical health. They just want to get even.” However, when we commit to pray for a person who has hurt us, we don’t like it at first. In the process of praying for a person who has hurt us, we may begin to see them as a human being rather than a demon. We may, through the Holy Spirit’s help, begin to see what that person’s motivations were for hurting us. We may never fully understand nor get to the point that we want to have lunch with them or even get to know them. However, prayer leads us to let go of our anger. Prayer allows us to see that person as one who needs God’s forgiveness of sin just as much as we did and still do.

A lot of times when people hurt us, it is because they want and relish that we will respond in kind. When we seek and plot revenge. Are we not letting that person, as the old saying goes, “live rent free in our head.” Give it up. When we let a person’s actions so consume us, it can lead to their own destruction. Let that not happen to us. A woman who becomes so scornful toward her ex-husband that she becomes so obsessed with destroying him that she loses sight of her life is an example. This could be a husband as well. They get so consumed with destroying their spouse that they lose every friend they ever had, may even lose their children, all to the point that all they can talk about is their ex. They have no life. Is that what we want to be. The best revenge is a good life. The best revenge is rebuilding and moving on. The best revenge is to show them that they did not destroy you. The best revenge is to to pray for them. The natural inclination of everyone is to respond with hate to those who have hurt us. Our greatest witness of what a Christ follower is really like is to respond to hurt with kindness. It ain’t always easy. When our core cries out to strike them down, we must have a renewed mind. When anger is the common answer, we must respond in love. Does this make us doormats? No. We do not respond to others by letting them run over us but we do go against our nature and respond in love not hate. The old saying two wrongs don’t make a right is it. We must seek God first. We must pray for those who have hurt us. We must let the Holy Spirit govern our response.

How can we teach someone about Jesus Christ if we respond in exactly the same manner as an unsaved person? If we respond to the world around us in the same way that they do, how can they see Jesus? If it is our commitment to carry the gospel to the world, the world must see a difference in us? They must see that we are different in a way that they want? Lord, help us all as Christ followers to be in the world but not of it. Our response to hurt is the most telling tale of how we are different than the world. All the theology of Christianity is meaningless if we do not respond to the world any differently than they do. Lord, help me to seek your will always. Even when someone has licked the sugar of my Corn Flakes. Help me to seek your will for my response. Help me to take myself off the throne of my heart. Help me to seek how to glorify you and make Your Son’s name famous rather than to meet my needs for revenge. Help me. Help me. Help me with this one, Lord. Amen and amen. Gotta say amen twice on this one. Lord. So be it and So be it til I believe it.