Coexist, Crush or Be Changed and Reconciled

Yesterday, Walter mentioned that bumper sticker that I actually see with some regularity.  It has the word “coexist” written using all the different religious symbols which people might claim as their own.  He referenced it as a good thing that we should all be able to live together without killing each other, but that we should want more than that.  For example, if I were to describe my marriage as a situation where Terrell and I “coexist”, I hope you would find that sad.  A marriage where two people coexist may at best indicate a lack of bickering, but it also implies not really interacting much at all.  I picture a death occurring in the house but people just step over the body to get a cup of coffee, some essential part of their humanity lost in the numbness.  To coexist seems to indicate parallel lives, not raucous celebrations or knock-down-drag-out fights either, just shared space.  I find it interesting that on the whole, we as human beings seem to prefer a state of coma-like existence to any scenario which might provoke disagreement or a disruption, even if it means a home or community or church full of dead bodies. 

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Luke 19:10

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— Col. 1:19-22

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  2 Cor. 5:14-19

Look at this pattern of the Gospel which pushes me past being satisfied with coexistence to something more vibrant, more dynamic, more disruptive and more life giving!  He has pursued me to reconcile me to Himself, not because I am so winsome, but because the fullness of God’s character, plan and redemptive purpose prescribe it.  So, when I settle for “peace faking” in my relationships rather than enter the mess of genuine peace making, I am settling for something less than God is content to do with me.  His love compels me, not as a new law but only as a product of His Spirit at work within me, to live a life of reconciliation with those who are as equally in need of His mercy and forgiveness and grace as I am.

And then the pendulum swings to the other side and snares me almost every time – the person and work of Jesus not only calls me out of sleep walking, but asks that I extend the same patience, compassion and love to others that He extends to me regularly.  What I mean is this:  I can get so exuberant about the Good News of Jesus’ mercy extended to me that I can disdain anyone who doesn’t see what very good news it is, nor that they need it.  Suddenly I become angry with those who may even oppose this grace I have been given, as if we just signed our own selves up for competing teams.  (How does my faith, for example, get tangled up and joined to political teams?)  Rather than coma-like, peace faking coexistence, my other tendency is to just want to crush those who are not lined up with every nuance of my thinking on every point.  Oh how grateful I am that this is not how Jesus deals with me!

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  Matt. 5:44-48

I love that the Gospel always offers me a third way.  Jesus isn’t picking me for a team but calling me to Himself because apart from Him I can do nothing.  This third way is only possible because of the person and work of Jesus, both in His complete fulfillment of the Law on my behalf and His work in and through me now.  Do I believe what He said, that once I was His enemy (and sometimes keep trying to be!), or have I convinced myself otherwise?  Only when I see myself as the one who still does not see in full can I love genuinely the “enemy” or parallel living individual who also doesn’t see Jesus clearly.  Only when I realize how deeply I need a Redeemer, not a set of core values, can I start hearing the same tunes being sung by the hearts of others who may not even realize their need nor that it has been met.  Reconciliation requires change, which God alone can effect in the hearts of men.  This change comes by His person and His work and invites me into something so much richer than merely a coexistence with or crushing of those around me.  Oh may I seek peace and pursue it, not by me natural means but with the same love, perseverance and sacrifice with which Jesus reconciled me to Himself.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Eph. 2:11-18

Condemnation or Conviction?

In junior high, I had to read The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson.  It was a fascinating and inspiring story, for sure, and as I think of it now certainly far more shaping in my life than I’ve ever considered.  But, the reason I mention it today is that he uses this wonderful illustration from his grandfather about trying to feed and attract a stray dog.  He pictures a stray, perhaps even abused dog in an alley chewing on a rotting, old, overly consumed boned.  Should you walk up to that dog and try to grab the nasty bone from it, the dog would growl, bark and perhaps even get very aggressive with you.  However, if you instead lay a big, juicy lamb chop down on the ground, the dog will drop his worthless bone and come to the feast.

Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.  Acts 14:15

That illustration is such a helpful picture to me of the difference between accusation/condemnation and conviction from the Holy Spirit.  Condemnation looks at my sin, acknowledges it to be sin, and cares more about removing the comfort I’ve taken in the wrong thing than my heart’s need to be comforted and saturated in the person and work of Jesus.  The Gospel comes in and sees my heart’s need, acknowledges my sinful (and ultimately ineffective if not detrimental) way of trying to satisfying my need on my own, and offers me true comfort in Jesus.  Condemnation points it’s finger at me.  Conviction points me to Jesus and the deep relief His completed work on my behalf promises.

Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? Romans 2:2-4

Why am I quicker to judge a thirsty person drinking soft drinks than to offer them cold water?  What is the sick pleasure I receive in pointing out the failings and short comings of others rather than in offering them the juicy lamb chop of the person and work of Jesus instead?  (OK, so maybe not my future nickname for Jesus, but work with me here.)  When I am in conflict with someone, is it more important that I leave feeling exonerated for being more right in the given scenario or that we both leave with an even deeper assurance that it is in His rightness/righteousness alone that we both are dignified and exonerated, and the only basis for our requirement to love one another deeply.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34

How has He loved me?  He has loved me with gentleness and patience, with compassion for my blindness and lack of understanding, with longsuffering even as I am the very one behind His own suffering, and with mercy and unmerited (by me) forgiveness.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24

He loves me by bearing my wounds (both given and received) in His own body and heart.  How then am I to love others, even in conflict?  Do I care more about being right and grabbing that disease infested bone from them or do I care even more so that I offer them a Gospel feast that I need to eat with them?  How can I resist pointing a bony finger of condemnation at others and instead walk beside them to receive the grace and transformation we both need, and have both been given, together?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Gal. 5:22-25

I cannot do this.  I cannot love this way or even go through conflict this way.  It is against all of my natural instincts.  But thanks be to God who leads me, dwells in me and will fulfill His law of love through me…even if only in part for now.  His grace will be enough today.

Asking for a King

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:43-44

Yesterday, when I picked Ellie up from school she asked, in a distant yet demanding voice, “Where are we going today?” to which I answered, “Home of course.”  Her question annoyed me because it carried with it an expectation that we should have some elaborate plan for fun and entertainment at every turn.  Now of course, the follow up question to me as her parent should be, “And where did this expectation come from?”  Hmmm…perhaps the fact that this past weekend alone began with her brother’s birthday party, followed by a friend’s birthday party, followed by an overnight at Terrell’s parents’ which included going to see a movie, followed and finishing up with a “Back to School Bash” at Chad’s school with pony rides, rock wall climbing, etc.  I guess the idea that we would simply go home after school would seem a little mundane and even awkward.  Is it any wonder that the heart of a child is so much quicker to demand to be served than to desire to serve?

I share that insatiable demand to be served, to have immediate attention given to every slight hunger and thirst I might feel as an adult, and I expect it from my church community, friends and family just as Ellie expects it from me.  This expectation that my family, friends, leaders, neighbors and acquaintances exist to “fill my love tank”, to bandage my insecurities, and to serve my needs is something familiar and consistent in the biblical history of redemption.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.  They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”  But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD.  And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”  1 Sam. 8:4-9

Israel had a King, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  But the other nations had human leaders who would go before the people, fight their battles and tell them what to do.  I can only guess, going by my own tendency to prefer picking up the phone to kneeling in prayer, that a human leader felt more tangible, more manageable, and more immediate.  With the right corporate structure, the right strategic plan, the best practices implemented for rapid communication, things feel more in control to me than God’s tendency to work more slowly, not answer every one of my questions and pretty much never spell out His strategic game plan for me.  Like Ellie’s natural preference to be entertained, I prefer looking to people and structures to be human kings for my heart’s protection and leadership than the King of Kings.

As Jesus’ disciples fought for His life before His crucifixion, denied Him and then were left forlorn and scattered before encountering Him after the resurrection, it was quite clear they did not understand Who He really was nor His intended purpose.  They had their own plans for His life and they had their own vision for His kingship.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18:36

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.  Luke 24:25-27
Like God’s own people in all of history, I too am slow of heart to believe the power, intimate love, protection and redemptive leadership of the person and work of Jesus and so I look for other kinds of kings.  The problem comes, though, not just in the looking but when I then take out my anger on my replacement kings for not being the King of Kings who I really need.  Just as the people’s rejection of Samuel was actually a rejection of God’s kingship, my own rejection of God’s kingship plays out in a rejection of the people around me.  I cannot love my church, my leaders, my family or friends well when I go to them to be served rather than to serve.  The king I am choosing to worship and to whom my heart submits is quickly revealed by this very expectation that people in my life are supposed to serve me with roles that only God can fulfill.  Oh, would my heart be not merely satisfied with the better King, the only true King, but so engrossed in His Kingship that a true desire to serve those around me would overcome my demand to be served.  I need that kind of King and oh what very Good News that I have One!
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.  Is. 9:6-7

Gracious No

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Eph. 3:10-19

I tend to associate the answer “yes” with being loved, valued, cherished, respected, wanted and favored.  I actually have the expectation that I will receive a “yes” to my requests and desires based on this assumption.  Lurking within this expectation and assumption is an equation between value and blessing, between my own loveliness and the favor shown me.  Understandably, when I receive a “no”, it is startling, hurtful, and disorienting.  When I am not shown the unique favor of getting what my heart most wants, it throws my status as “special to God” or “beloved of the Lord” into deep question. Further more, if I follow all the rules, don’t I deserve blessing?  (I do hope Gospel alarm bells go off as you read that one.)

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Mark 14:35-36a

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.  He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?” Jonah 4:1-4

Genesis 37-50 records the suffering and mistreatment of Joseph, at the hands of his own brothers and then of those into whose service he had been sold.  Like Jonah and ultimately Jesus, to whom all the stories point, the “blessing” of God was not simply relief for the individual but rescue for the nations.  God’s favor on Joseph’s life was not demonstrated by rescuing him immediately from the schemes of his brothers or the hardships of slave life in Egypt.  His favor was in using Joseph to rescue his entire family, the nation of Israel and the line of the promised Seed and ultimate Rescuer.  God’s “no” to a quick and early rescue was a yes to a deeper love and commitment to all of His people, very much including Joseph.  This is the theme throughout redemptive history, culminating certainly in the cross.

Jesus is the only one ever in history to earn God’s blessings.  He is the only righteous one, the only holy one, the only one never to have mixed motives, selfish ambition or vain conceit.  He is the only one to remain sinless from birth through death while all the rest of us have fallen short and continue to do so.  My blessing is entirely upon His righteousness which also means my hardships and disappointments must be entirely upon His goodness and redemptive work in and through my life.  He is not punishing my sin as if what Jesus did was not quite adequate and lacking.  He is purifying and completing me and all of His creation through suffering.  He is making something new and better than the Garden.  His not is not petty but purposeful.

So why does it still sting when the very noble desires of my heart are deferred or answered with “no”?  Why does it feel like rejection or neglect?  I don’t actually have an answer to this, but I do have some guesses.  I think it may have something to do with an overestimation of my own righteousness and an underestimation of His deep, deep love.  How glad we are that Joseph was given endurance so that the line of Israel did not die in the famine.  How beautiful to see the inclusion of many nations, even through Ninevah, in the Old Testament to remind us it is not a New Testament concept but the plan from the beginning.  How grateful I am that Jesus did not walk away from the painful trial He had to endure so that we may have life.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 2 Cor. 1:3-9

Who I Am

Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” John 7:28-29

From the earliest age I can remember, the repetitive question asked by grown-ups was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  This was clearly a really important thing to decide because we painted pictures of the answer to it in school, wrote essays about it, and kept trying to answer it through junior high, high school and college.  Who am I?  What do I want to be?  Who do I want to be?  And, the most insidious version of the question to be answered:  How do you want to be remembered!?

My answers started with “cow girl” after seeing Coal Miner’s Daughter (about Loretta Lynn), then gravitated to “the first female Pelé” and I would always select the number 10 for my soccer jersey just to help reinforce for others who I was aiming to emulate.  Then, Martin Luther King, Jr. awoke in me a passion for a life well spent, followed similarly by the movie Bravehart which made me want to go fight for Scotland then and there.  Not only is it interesting that not once did I say, “I want to be that lady waiting at the bus stop”, but the drive was to be a hero…the hero.

More subtly, the question always lingers at the fringes of everything from the car I might desire or the way I want to decorate our home, choose my clothes or present our life choices to others.  I want each of these aspects of my life to answer for onlookers who I am.

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation. Ex.3:14-15

But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  Mark 14:61-62

The number of pop songs and county songs with choruses touting “Look at me now” or “how do you like me now” or “I’m going to be somebody some day!” only reinforce this obsession to be known, to be a hero, to be the hero.  And more than just the obnoxious flavor of self-absorption, it is a deeply divisive way to enter into community.  It makes me anxious at a party or a business meeting or even at church when my name is not highlighted, when my opinion is not sought, when my contribution is not appreciated or pursued. 

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”  John 1:19-23

There is only one I AM whom knowing brings life and life abundantly.  And like John the Baptist, I’ve got to start to believe that I am not that One.  I am not the hero of the story, of my community, of my church or of my family.  That role is not only taken, but perfectly and powerfully filled by Jesus.  And I begin to wonder, what if instead of my home or work or contribution showing people who I am, they could become places where onlookers more clearly see I AM?  When I am dead and gone, whose work, name and very being will endure, change lives and redeem the world?  Who do those around me most need to see, hear, recognize, honor, appreciate and know?

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Matt. 16:15