Monday, September 26, 2016

Grudges



A certain city in Germany has a castle often frequented by tourists. When we were there, we noticed that one of its four turrets was broken and crumbled. We asked about it and were told that when the castle was restored, they left that turret as it was — “to remind us of what the French did to us” in a war that happened a few hundred years ago.

Passing a grudge down through generations seems a waste of energy. Besides that, carrying grudges is harmful to health. There are other options. The Mayo clinic website says this: “When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge — or embrace forgiveness and move forward.”

Their website goes on to say holding a grudge brings anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. If I do it, I can become so wrapped up in past wrongs suffered that I can't enjoy the present day. Grudges cause depression and/or anxiety. They can make me feel as if my life lacks meaning or purpose, and certainly puts me at odds with my faith. Grudges are not popular with others, so I can lose friends if I carry them.

Jesus says: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23–24)

Jesus is not referring to my mulling over what someone did to me, but those times when His Spirit reminds me that I did harm to someone else. I’m to do something about it. Even if I was the injured person, He does not want me to retaliate or just forget about it. He wants reconciliation that includes forgiveness. It is about having nothing between me and another person, about restoring open and full fellowship.

This tells me a great deal about the will of God and about His nature. He wants that kind of relationship with me, one in which I do not let anything interfere with our fellowship either.

I’m to keep short accounts with God and short accounts with others. The biggest difference between the two is that God will never sin against me. However, I sin against Him, and when I do, He notes it and pokes me with conviction. He does this so I will come to Him and be reconciled through confession and repentance. This is to be my way of life, as Chambers says, as natural a breathing.

Being at peace with others in God’s family is a priority. This attitude of mind is also important in my relationship with those outside the faith. If I offend them, I’m to admit it and seek forgiveness. However, if they offend me, some may not care or even notice, yet the desire for reconciliation and forgiveness ought to be my attitude, not anger and holding a grudge against them.

Some people say, “Don’t get mad; get even” but this is not what God says. If I withhold forgiveness and stay angry, it will not only raise a barricade to relationships, but harm me personally. God does not want that either. He wants all issues settled so I can freely offer my life to Him. 




Sunday, September 25, 2016

Christianity is a crutch?



We live in a world of retaliation. It begins in childhood with that “touched you last” taunt and grows rapidly to riots and wars: “You do a bad thing and I will do a worse thing back to you.”

God’s people are supposed to break that chain, change that pattern. However, this is not pacifism as it is a loving attitude of life:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38–42)

As Chambers says, this is a supernatural work of God in those who believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is a constraint we cannot get away from; we can disobey it, but we cannot generate it. It is the kind of life that the world looks at and says, “What is going on here? How can this be?” It is one mark of distinction that sets Christians up as people of the Book, people whose lives are either attractive or draw to themselves a horrible hatred and persecution.

This non-retaliation goes beyond non-resistance. It is a supreme kindness that reflects the love of God. This love changes lives. We are all sinners. I have hated God, shoved my fist in His face, enjoyed His benefits without gratitude, begged His graces without any plans to change my ways — and He loves me with an everlasting love and with loving kindness continues to draw me to Himself. He sent Jesus to die for my sin, to persist with my resistance, to bless me with all that I need, to work all things together for my good, and to abide with me forever. And in this remarkable Sermon on the Mount, He asks me to be perfect, even as He is perfect.

How dare anyone say that Christianity is merely a crutch for weak people!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Forgive and be forgiven



Whatever I offer to God in service could have a caveat. That is, if there is something in my life that displeases Him, my offering is of little value until I get that something cleared up. The only way to do this is God’s way.

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:23–26)

Lest this sounds harsh, when someone is upset with me, I am agitated and troubled. I want it fixed. I certainly don’t want it to become a nasty fight or a legal battle. More than that, I don’t want to be disqualified from serving God because of it. If I feel like that, no wonder God tells me to take care of it.

However, reconciliation is a tough assignment even though admission of guilt and a sincere apology often produces wonderful results. Up front, going to a person I have offended is agony, yet a restored relationship is worth it.

The agony happens because of a great fear that forgiveness and reconciliation will not happen because the other person is not interested. If that happens, then what?

I remember the worst thing anyone ever did to me. Apologies were not part of the aftermath. I was angry and in pain for some time before I realized my anger was hurting me. I wanted that person to be sorry, to ask for forgiveness. I also wanted to forgive that person, but because we lived a long distance apart and I had no phone number, I offered forgiveness by a letter. There was no answer.

Someone told me the next best thing was to do it as if that person was deceased, so I pulled up two chairs, sat down and imagined the other person in the other chair. I said aloud how badly I had been hurt and then offered forgiveness. It was a long and one-sided conversation, but at the end, my burden was gone. I no longer held on to any anger or bitterness. It was the final step in putting the ball in the other person’s court.

I’ve never known if my forgiveness set that person free to serve God, but I do know that Jesus says whoever is concerned about the harm done needs to do something about it; either forgive or seek forgiveness. We cannot fight with one another and expect God to use us.

The other issue is that I may not know if someone has something against me. In Canada, jokes are made about how often we apologize to people, even saying “I’m sorry” for being apologetic! Yet a mere couple of words do not necessarily clear things with someone who has been offended.

I think of a child who does something that makes another child burst into tears. Mom tells the offender to say they are sorry, and even if the child knows what that means, the apology comes out mumbled and obviously not sincere. He could grow up thinking that “I’m sorry” will fix everything.

Reconciliation is not like that. It cannot be faked or used as a band aid. When done from the heart, there will be a sense of sweet release without a lingering cloud that ruins trust and intimacy. The best way to know how it works is to understand the forgiveness and reconciliation to God that I have in Jesus Christ. He was not only willing to forgive me, but willing to take the punishment from the Father that I deserved. Because of Him, I can forgive and be forgiven. 



Friday, September 23, 2016

Knowing the future



God didn’t tell me what my future would be like as I followed Jesus. He took my hand and leads me step-by-step, rarely letting me know where the next step will take me.
It was not like that for Jesus; He knew what would happen to Him . . .

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:31–34)

For me, faith is about taking those next steps in the dark as it were, yet Jesus also walked in faith even as He walked in the light of knowing what would happen next. I try to imagine it: knowing my fate and bravely moving toward it? Being able to say, “Not my will but thine be done”? Even telling those closest to me what would happen even if they didn’t get it?

Everyone wants to know the future and many try to predict it. Who will be in the World Series? What will happen in the current city because of riots? Who will be crowned the next beauty queen? Who will win the next election? Opinions and predictions make up most of the time on some television ‘news’ channels.

Do we want to know the future so we can prepare for it, or so we can change it? Is it giving us hope, or is it filling us with fear? Each day comes with thoughts about the future. I’ve guests coming for dinner tonight; will the meal be tasty? Or will I burn it? On a more important note, my sister called me last night with the news that our cousin’s son has cancer of the throat. What does his future hold? A cure? Or months of suffering and a painful death?

The gospel song “Because He lives” says, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow . . . my fears are gone . . . I know who holds the future . . . I can face uncertain days because He lives.”

Jesus knew and embraced His own future. He knows my future too, but like the disciples, this is hidden from me, at least the ‘this lifetime’ part of my future. I believe that is a mercy, not a mistake.

What He does reveal is the future beyond this lifetime. I know where I will go when I die, the first face I will see, even a small description of eternity. I know I will be with Jesus and that when I see Him, I will be totally done with this transformation process that seems far too slow right now. I also know that those truths about God that are now “seen through a glass darkly” will be clear and will fill my heart with eternal joy.

I will see a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth will pass away, and the sea will be no more. And I will see the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I will hear a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1–4)

I’m almost laughing because it just occurred that I have far more certainty about my future after I die than I do about today and whether or not I’ll burn the rice or put too much spice in the chicken!


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Context is important in interpretation



Twice this week I’ve noticed how variations in Bible translations can affect understanding. The first one was this verse in Proverbs from two translations:

“Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.” Proverbs 25:20 (ESV)

“Like vinegar on a wound is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. Like a moth in clothing or a worm in wood, sorrow gnaws at the human heart.” Proverbs 25:20 (NRSV)

Research. The first translation used from Hebrew texts. The second used the LXX which is a Greek translation from the Hebrew. They say basically the same thing, but use different metaphors. However a woman in our Bible study thought the first one was an error. She noted that singing hymns and spiritual songs to sorrowful people often lifts their spirits. While both are correct, for her the second verse was clearer.

The second example is from today’s devotional reading. Chambers uses the King James Version:

“Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.” John 13:13 (KJV)

“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.” John 13:13 (ESV)

While a master can be a headmaster in a school and thus a teacher, these two terms don’t usually mean the same thing in English. Chambers used KJV with “Master” and from that translation discusses what it means to have a master.

However, the ESV translates the same Greek word as “teacher” which gives a different sense to what Jesus is saying. While disciples need to obey Him as master and as teacher, Chambers’ slant heavily leans toward having a master and how that is like having a boss.
For me, the context is far more helpful in understanding which translation is better . . .

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (John 13:3–14)

Jesus is teaching His disciples by example. He tells his followers to love one another and then demonstrates how to do it by washing their feet. This was a task normally performed by a servant. Peter thought this was beneath Jesus, but Jesus told him that accepting a loving act was just as important as performing it.

From my perspective, a command given by a master is different from a command given by a teacher with an example of how to obey it. Jesus knows how easy I slip into doing things as my duty or as an obligation, rather than being motivated by His love. He also knows that most of us learn better by example.

Jesus tells me to love others. He sometimes gives commands as Lord of all, but in this passage He demonstrates the mark of an excellent teacher. He passes on what He wants of me AND then shows me how to do it by doing it Himself.