Tag Archives: conflict

The design of chaos

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confusion

When we lived in England I witnessed a scene of purposeful chaos.

It took place in a convenience store and was unsettling to say the least.

We had stopped to fill up on petrol and grab some beverages before heading out for a day of soaking up and reveling in the local history.

My husband was filling the tank and I went in to buy some drinks and pay for our gas when suddenly a large group of loud and very excited people pulled up between the store and the pumps in 3 or 4 tall vans – all with no windows.

Guessing, I’d say there were 30-40 men and women who poured out of the vehicles, into the store, all speaking a language I couldn’t understand.  They pushed and shoved each other, and those of us in the store. There were about 8 of them who stood at the counter shouting at the clerk  – it seemed like it was over candy bars.  The rest bullied their way through every aisle, shouting and demanding that people get out of the way while the shouting continued at the counter.  And then, as suddenly as they had arrived, they took off.  It was as if a switch was flipped and in unison they rushed out of the doors, into the vans, and sped out of the parking lot.

Dumbstruck, those of us who had been in the store stood in open-mouthed shock at what had just occurred.  The silence was interrupted when my husband, who had no idea of what had taken place inside, came in to see what was taking me so long.  I said, “Did you SEE THAT?!?”  Because the vans had blocked any line of vision into the store, he hadn’t seen much of anything except that the vans were there, and then they were gone.

I was rattled, but I couldn’t even really explain why.  In probably what was less than 10 minutes a whirlwind had just occurred in our midst but none of us could think of a single word to describe what had actually transpired.  It was just a bunch of people in a convenience store.  So what if they were loud and rude?  Nothing really happened, right?

Wrong.

We found out later that the convenience store had actually been robbed – not at the cashier, but from the shelves.

The chaos that ensued in those moments was designed to distract us from what was actually happening all over the store.  It was confusing.  It was unsettling.  It was scary!  And it was meant to be so.

The thing that struck me was how successful the chaos was in keeping all of us from seeing what was really going on.  We were in the midst of the crime scene and we didn’t recognize that a crime was taking place!

I’m telling you this story because I think that the evil one is using the same tactic right now, fairly successfully against God’s people.  Things are chaotic right now, and it’s so easy to focus on the chaos and miss what is actually taking place in front of us.

The issues are important – racial tensions, immigration laws, economic policies – I get it.  They affect real human beings and I’m not trying to diminish the significance of the impact of what people in power do.

But let us remember that, for those of us who follow Jesus, we serve the King of Kings who holds the nations (and their leaders) in his hands and who does with them as he pleases.  Let us remember, that he is redeeming for himself a people – from every tribe and tongue and nation – to enjoy his fellowship forever.

I am finding that the anxiety that the chaos is designed to produce is effectively turned into peace and joy by lifting my gaze to the One who holds the whole world in his hands.

NONE OF THIS is out of his control or outside of his will for us.  EVERY EVENT AND CIRCUMSTANCE we are experiencing is both for our good and for his glory.  ALL OF THIS – is for good purposes.

Do not let the chaos of these days distract you from what is really happening!

As we each seek to be good citizens of the lands of our birth, let us more fervently, more ardently, more rigorously seek to be good citizens of the Kingdom in which our true citizenship lies forevermore.

Let us refrain from adding to the din.  Let us not allow the chaos of these days distract us from the purposes God has called us to.  Let’s not be sidelined from following hard after him and telling others what great things the Lord has done for us.  Do not let the turmoil of kingdoms that will be blown away as dust is from the scales, trouble you in the slightest, but keep your hearts and minds stayed on the solid Rock – Christ Jesus.

Remember to Whom you have been called.  Remember to Whom you belong.  Remember the promises of true and lasting peace and justice which have been given to us by the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe.

Remember and don’t forget, for we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

Satan may love to stir up chaos that is designed to distract, confuse, and even frighten us, but remember, God delights in taking chaos and making order out of it.

Stop Teaching Your Children to Be Nice…

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You’ve heard it, I’m sure, a thousand times – “be nice!”

Most of us have contributed to the chorus of mothers and fathers bending low, looking their little ones in the eye, and in the face of some conflict with siblings or peers instructing them to, “be nice!”

STOP IT!

Webster’s defines “nice” as:

          Pleasing; agreeable; delightful.

         To behave in a friendly, ingratiating, or conciliatory manner.

Those are all “nice” ways of behaving – of interacting with our fellow human beings.

But are they good?

If we consider the messages that these words convey we will start to notice a nasty trend…  At the root of each of them is people pleasing.  What we usually mean when we tell our kids to “be nice” is to give in, yield, capitulate, surrender.

If they are simply defending their own selfishness, then yes, by all means, encourage them to yield to righteousness.  But there are better ways to instruct them in that then simply saying, “be nice.”  Calling out their selfishness is a great place to start.

But all too often, what we want when we tell our children to “be nice” is for them to stop whatever behavior is taking place so that they (and we) avoid conflict.  Have you ever interrupted your child telling auntie that she needs Jesus because you know that auntie is a dyed-in-the-wool God-hater who has already raged in furious indignation over your “arrogance” in telling her how to live her life?  What if God is pleased to use the voice of a little child to disarm her fury and penetrate her heart of stone?

What we do when we tell our kids to “be nice” is interrupt a different lesson that ought to occur.  Even if auntie decides to rage at your little one – isn’t that a good (albeit hard) lesson to walk through with your child?

We know that God often teaches us the most profound lessons through the hardest things.  Why do we want to take those things away from our children?

Following are five reasons I can think of – I’m sure there are more.

We teach our children to “be nice” so that…

  1. Conflicts will either stop or not arise at all rather than teach them how to resolve conflict in a God-honoring way (which is harder, takes more time, and more prayers for wisdom than we ever dreamed we’d need!).
  2. They will be well-liked among their peers.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being well-regarded amongst one’s peers, but if we give the message to our children that this is our goal rather than the pleasant outcome of living with integrity, we have simply begun laying the foundation of building up little Pharisees rather than Disciples of Jesus.  We are teaching them to care more about what others think about them than what God thinks about them.
  3. They will be well-liked among our  Our children see to the heart of this pride with laser-like accuracy.  We might not say it out loud, but we say it loud and clear nonetheless:  “it matters more to mom (or dad) what my friends think of me than the person you are turning out to be.”  (ouch!)
  4. They will climb the social ladders set before them.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being successful in relationships – that’s actually a good gift from the Lord.  But when we teach them that climbing social ladders is important we distort and pervert the true nature of God-honoring relationships. Rather than being willing to invest in the life of the other person because they have value and worth as image-bearers of the Almighty, we actually train them in manipulation techniques; I’ll be nice to you if you give me social standing – I’ll give you social standing if you “stroke” me by being “nice.”  Incidentally, these are the “friendships” that crumble in the face of hardship, but understanding what they are based on makes it clear why they collapse when “nice-ness” is gone.
  5. Because we want them perceived as those who get along, don’t rock the boat, keep things smooth and so on.  We want to save our children from the heartache of trials and tribulations.  We want things to be easy and comfortable for our kids… because that is what we really want for ourselves. (ouch again!)

Our culture has elevated “nice” to a place of pre-eminance.  We demand that “being nice” rule our public discourse.  We demand that “being nice” rule our educational institutions.  We operate in a way that places “being nice” as the highest form of virtue and have ceased to tolerate anything that disrupts the peace and harmony of “nice-ness.”

But is this what the Bible teaches us to value?

In a singular and resounding word – No!

Here is what the Bible says about our expectations of “getting along”:

  • If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)

Living as believers guarantees that we will not be well-received.  Let that sink in.

Don’t get me wrong – we’re not to go looking for conflicts, strife, and persecution.  They’ll come along just fine on their own – trust me.  And when our troubles are caused by our own foolishness or wickedness, we need to own the consequences, repent, and learn the lessons we can from them.

But in the course of living lives defined by the transformation of the Gospel within us – lives marked by Spirit-given gifts – we will not always be perceived as being “nice.”  And as parents, it’s our job to prepare our children for the blows that will come as a result of being a disciple of Jesus.

Standing against sin will always bring with it trials of various kinds.

Rather than teaching our children to “be nice” how about if we use words like these as each situation demands:

Be…

    • Loving.
    • Kind
    • Strong.
    • Of good courage
    • Forgiving.
    • Merciful.
    • Truthful.
    • Patient.
    • Gentle.
    • A man/woman of integrity.
    • Compassionate.
    • Humble.
    • Generous.
    • Wise.
    • Someone who stands up for the widows and orphans among you.
    • Holy.

Each of these things will require you to take the time to explain them to your children according to their understanding.  You will need to show them, for example, why avoiding a difficult conflict is not actually good for the other person – even when confrontation opens us up to false accusations and gossip.  You can help them see how God is providing an opportunity to enter into the sufferings of Christ by allowing them to experience insults, and malicious claims against them the way Jesus did before he was crucified.  You can help your child learn to bear the weight of other’s sin in this way because Jesus did it for him – and you will be, at the same time, helping your child to love his Savior all the more as the realization of the cost of the Cross becomes clearer to him through his own suffering.

We are not called to be people-pleasing, ease-and-comfort seeking survivors of this world.  We are called to be God-glorifying, disciple-seeking, victorious citizens of the next.  Let’s help one another teach our children how to do the same.

Fighting for joy…

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Acrylic on paper by James Winn

Acrylic on paper by James Winn

I’ve referenced the above painting before by my friend James Winn  – it’s one of my favorite possessions.   While the bleak mid-western Winter imperceptibly creeps slowly, oh so slowly toward Spring, it takes a lot of faith to believe that things will ever look differently than they do in this painting.  Winter is long and hard – brutal at times – on the plains.

Intellectually we know that Spring will come – it always does.  But there are days, cold, dark days, when it is difficult to believe it.

I don’t live on the Plains anymore.  In comparatively balmy Delaware, Winter just isn’t that bad.  But the painting continues to lift my thoughts to higher things.

Some days – weather aside – that long-endured battle to be warm grips my soul.  The grass is green, the humidity and temperatures are high, and flip-flops are still the norm, but lurking in the corners of my mind are the dark days of endless, frigid, face-numbing cold and the struggle against it when feeding animals out in our barn or shoveling 4-ft snow drifts just to go to work.

As I struggle to replace that feeling of dread with truth I am reminded how easy it is to believe a lie.

It’s all too easy to believe my emotions, or gut, or whatever you want to call it, and dread the coming months, believing they will be filled with hardship and struggle – simply because that’s how they have been for so long.

My experience wants to rule, which is understandable, but false.

Faith is the same way.

Sometimes what I have lived wants to dictate what I believe.

Experience tells us to look at a certain set of circumstances and presume the outcome:

“This will always be this way…”

“She’ll always do these things…”

“He’ll never change…”

“This is what I can look forward to…”

But faith says,

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough care for itself.”

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for a future and a hope…’”

“For I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that day that which has been entrusted to me.”

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…”

I’ve been kicking around the phrase “The Joy of the Lord is my strength” for the past few months and have been wondering, “What does that mean – really?”   What does the Joy of the Lord look like?  Is it the happy “season’s greetings” kind of “joy” that tv, or hallmark, or Hollywood puts forth?  Is it supposed to be that 30- or 60-minute contrived, happy-ending kind of gladness, that is somehow meant to mysteriously last longer… if you just get a few things right?  I don’t know anyone who really lives like that – do you?

As is often the case for me, turning the phrase around a little bit has helped me to think about joy from a different angle.  Rather than a church-y cliché that people sometimes use to mask the struggles they are really having, the Lord’s Joy is something altogether deeper and more meaningful than silly jingles or whatever dumb choruses might conjure up for us.

The Lord’s Joy is my strength.

Think about that.  The Lord’s joy – not mine, or yours – is given to us.  Far from the “find it inside yourself” “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of joy that we try to manufacture, the joy of the Lord isn’t something we come up with at all!

The perfect, full, rich, abundant, and over-flowing joy that the Lord possesses has been given to us.  How much joy does God possess?  Infinite amounts.  What kind of joy does God have?  The very best of perfectly complete joy – and nothing less.  What is he joyful about?  In a word, Christ.  And, inconceivably, that includes you and me.  We are his and he delights in us.  All of creation has been racing toward one fantastic fulfillment – redemption!  That is you and me living for eternity in sweet, joy-filled fellowship with the Father because of the Son.  Wake up!  That is the great news!  We get to be there.  FOREVER.  If that doesn’t fill you will the Lord’s Joy, what can?

What is meant by joy strengthening us?  If all this joy is ours, why do we need to be strengthened at all?

Because sometimes, often times, My experience wants to rule, which is understandable, but false.

Life can be unimaginably hard.  We have trials.  We have pain.  We have searing disappointments and heartaches.  These things can threaten to undo us.  They can cause us to want to give up.  They can cause us to question the goodness of God and the purpose of his will.  They can gnaw at our confidence in Christ’s work on our behalf and they can attempt to grind our faith into dust.

The Lord’s Joy is our strength.  It’s there.  It’s already been freely given.  But sometimes it is so buried under our circumstances that we have to fight to hold onto it the way Jacob clung to God in the wilderness and would not let him go until God blessed him.

Sometimes we have to fight for the joy that already belongs to us.  We have to tell ourselves the truth – that we don’t know what the future will look like, but that we can trust the One who loves us and gave Himself over for us.  That we can depend on him for everything we need in the face of whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.  And that, in the end, everything, he puts before us is both for our good and His glory – even the trials.

The world may be looking a bit like that painting above – bleak and cold and dark.  But that is not the whole story.  Strength is growing under those furrows.  Perseverance and character and hope are being produced there.  Hope for the things that we know but remain as yet, unseen.

And just as winter always yields to spring and reveals what has been covered under cold and dark layers, the seen will yield to the unseen and we will see what we already know to be true: that every hardship, every tear, every lament has a purpose for good.  Nothing is aimless, nothing is a waste.  It is all making us fit in ways we can’t imagine, so that through them we will be made like the One we love.  Perfected.  Righteous.  Pure.  And most of all ready.   Jesus is gathering his people to himself and preparing us to live forever with him in beautiful, wonderful, perfect joy.

In the meantime, fight for joy.  It is already yours.

The Collateral Damage of a Parent’s Sin…

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“The wisest of women builds her house, but a fool tears it down with her own hands.” Proverbs 14:1

I watched a movie once called Collateral Damage.  It told the story of the horrifyingly negative effects on a couple’s life of “intervention” into another country’s affairs.  I don’t remember a lot about the story – something to do with oil companies in South America I think –  but I do remember the callous response of those individuals responsible for the mess that had been made.  “Oh well,” they shrugged.  “One has to expect a little collateral damage.”

What?!

This wasn’t even a war zone.  One might possibly come to some kind of terms in the context of war, but this? This was so… ludicrous!

And so is the nature of the collateral damage that we create with our own hands and mouths.  As we look ahead to Mother’s Day in a few weeks, and then Father’s Day beyond that, do your families a favor and think with me on these things.

Yes – I know.  This isn’t one of those cute and happy kinds of Mother’s Day thoughts… But if we can get this right, it is worth far more than the cards or candies or even expensive items that will be exchanged on those days and the lingering effects will last for many years to come.

Recently my husband and I were challenged to come up with a list of at least fifty consequences that happen when we sin.  The parameters were to think of things that happen in our personal, marital, and family lives – but for this post, I’m focusing on the things that happen to our children when we sin against them or in front of them.

To be honest, it was difficult to start this list.  I kind of felt like it was a big dragon that I was trying to capture by the tail.  Where do I start?  How do I get a concept like this down on paper?

So, as I often do when I have a puzzle to solve or problem that seems too big, I brought it to the table and presented it to my kids so they could help me organize this list a little better.  They’re clever people and all adults now (or very close to it) so I figured it was a good discussion to have around the table.

They, too, had some trouble grappling with the largeness of the category at first, but after a little discussion our collective thoughts came up with a few ideas.  We started grouping sins into categories, which was certainly an organized approach, but didn’t turn out to be very helpful in actually answering the question, “What are the consequences when we sin?”  It was all good food for thought, and they were actively engaged in the process, but we still hadn’t come up with a good list of consequences when they had to start leaving for various reasons.

I was alone again with my thoughts.

I tried again, trying to think through the many things swirling around my head.  Then I started to remember some specific times that I had had to go to them and ask for their forgiveness.  Painfully I remembered too many times I had hurt them with my words or accusations or tone.  Ouch.

The list started to flow more easily when I thought of how they felt, and how hard it was after some of those times to rebuild what I had carelessly wrecked.  I realized that I wasn’t talking about consequences like paying a fine when I’m late with a library book.  I was looking square in the face of damage.  I was the one who sinned, but they had suffered because of it.

The list (below) is still growing as I realize more fully how damaging my sin is to them.  Whether I have sinned directly against them, or have sinned in their presence, I do damage.  I create casualties out of my own flesh and blood!

How many adults do you know who are still heavily burdened because of how their parents treated them?  How many adults do you know who find it exceedingly difficult to say, “I’m so sorry I hurt you,” because it was rarely (if ever) said to them?  (Maybe you count yourself among them!)  What restoration could there be if we think about the lasting, hurtful effects we have on our children’s whole lives and change how we interact with them?  What love could we bestow on our grandchildren if we teach our children to quickly seek forgiveness?

This year, as we think about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, how about if we give the gift of humble repentance to our children?  I can tell you that the fruit is well worth it.  I couldn’t have had this discussion with my kids if I hadn’t first shown them that they could trust me with the brutal truth.  They have long felt the freedom to come to me and lovingly, call me out on my sin.  I usually don’t want to hear what they have to say – not because I don’t want them to tell me, but because I hate that it is true.  But I am so very grateful that they do come.  What a blessing to see them have the courageous love it takes to rebuke a brother – or, in my case, a mother – because they want the relationship restored and whole again.

Their loving rebukes have helped to change me.  It hasn’t always been easy to change some bad habits.  But habits can be changed and rooting out bad habits is worth all the struggle and failure and repentance and trying again and again that it takes.  It’s hard work.  It can be frustrating and wearisome, but the sweetness in the relationships is so very, very worth it!

Part of discipling our kids is modeling being discipled in front of them.  When we show them that we are willing to be humble and go to them when we have wronged them, then our exhortation that they humble themselves before God holds a lot of weight.  If we never do it, they see straight through us as the hypocrites that we are.

Remembering frequently that we are shepherding souls that will live for eternity helps me to keep things like this in the right perspective.   Unfortunately, we don’t take our sin seriously enough in general, and therefore, we don’t consider all that happens when we sin.  Writing a list of the collateral damage of my sin has been very sobering.  But hopefully it will bear much fruit for a long time to come.

You can read my list – but writing your own, and referring to it regularly, will reap the most benefits for you.  Adding to it as you realize the power of your influence in your home will reap rewards for you  – just as it has for me.  Every parent messes up.  Every parent messes up regularly!  The key to preventing it from becoming irrevocable destruction is to quickly go to even the youngest of children and own it.  Get down on their level, look them in the eyes, and say, “I’m so sorry for doing this to you (be specific).  I’ve sinned against you and it was wrong!  I shouldn’t have done it and I wish I had controlled myself so I didn’t hurt you.  I’m really and truly sorry! Can you please forgive me?”

It’s pretty tough for a child to resist the sincerity of a parent as honest as that.

This year, as mothers and fathers, give the gifts to your children.  Give them the gift of adulthood with as little “parental baggage” as possible.  If you have grievances to address – go to them and seek their forgiveness, not expecting anything from them.  Some things are long-standing and messy.  It may take them a long time to trust that you are sincere in your humility.  But do it anyway.  Your gift will be a blessing for generations to come.

 

Collateral Damage of a Parent’s Sin

What happens when we sin against or in front of our children…

  • We are poor role models for how to be godly men or women
  • We teach them to disregard what God says about humbling ourselves and asking for forgiveness because we disregard it
  • We teach them to disregard what we say about the same thing
  • Our home is not a warm, loving place, but a battle ground
  • Our children are afraid, rather than secure
  • They feel alone, rather than protected
  • They feel rejected, rather than loved
  • They are confused because we’ve violated the standards we’ve set before them
  • They are sad
  • They are broken
  • They feel despair
  • We cut down those we love the most rather than build them up
  • We hurt them now and for years to come
  • We communicate that we don’t trust them
  • We communicate that they can’t trust us
  • We communicate clearly that we don’t love them the way Jesus loves us
  • We sow seeds of doubt in their hearts that God is not who he says he is
  • We communicate that we think we are worth more than they are
  • Our selfishness communicates that we value our own desires more than we value them
  • Our indignation communicates that we haven’t given them permission to call us out on our sin
  • We build walls between ourselves rather than relationships
  • We preach a false Gospel to our children – one that worships self rather than God
  • We create an environment of fear and anxiety rather than love and safety
  • We use our position and authority as tools to get what we want rather than as ways to lovingly serve
  • When we put our needs above their needs it teaches them to do the same
  • We teach them to rebel against us rather than submit to loving parents
  • We create dependence on our approval rather than on the approval of God
  • We teach them to doubt that God has their best interests at heart because we don’t
  • We create cripples rather than soldiers fit for spiritual battle
  • We fail to teach them how to humbly and sincerely repent and seek forgiveness
  • Our selfishness begets selfishness – both in ourselves and in our children
  • We teach them that they have to protect themselves because we haven’t
  • We teach them that they have to build walls up to avoid future hurt
  • When we don’t listen well to them, we communicate that we don’t value what they think or feel
  • We create disillusionment in relationships
  • We teach them to doubt everything we’ve ever said about love and forgiveness because we haven’t lived what we’ve preached.

*This is just the beginning of the list… there is more, so much more to be added.  But you can do that with your own children.  Mine are happily helping me add to this one.  Not so they can point out my faults, but because they know they are loved and want to love their own children well.  None of us wants this to be our legacy.  Getting rid of sin together is a joy!

The Allure of Peace

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We long to live in peace. Wars and hostilities, international conflicts and personal ones unsettle us.  Toil that is endless, work that is fruitless, spinning our wheels at the daily grind – none of it satisfies.  It all makes us long for something better – much, much better.

There are things that we intuitively know.   We know that goodness is good and evil is bad.  We know children should be protected and provided for and the elderly should be respected.  We know that mothers ought to love their children and fathers ought to be strong and courageous.

No one has to explain these things – they stand on their own.  We all agree that these things ought to be so.

We also long for a place where people live together in harmony and goodwill.  We long for a place where everyone has everything they need – not just to survive, but to thrive.  We long for a place where everyone loves perfectly – where self-preservation is no longer necessary and trust is a given.

We ache for paradise because paradise is perfect peace all the time.

But lately my thoughts about paradise and peace have been disrupted.

The news is replete with talk of terrorists being cajoled into blowing themselves up with the sweet-talk of “paradise” in the afterlife.  The promise of 72 virgins and endless self-indulgences seems to be a big lure.  This is paradise based on selfishness.

I teach a little apologetics class for my speech and debate students.  They’ve recently learned that Buddhism offers “Nirvana” as a sort of paradise – it is described as “a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth.” (Wikipedia)  OK, so I understand the allure of ending suffering and getting off the hamster wheel of living and dying over and over – that would get frustrating, I’m sure.  But to what end?? A state where there is no “desire, nor sense of self”…. Huh?  That is not paradise, that is nothingness.

Our recent history lessons have been focused on the events that led a large chunk of humanity to embrace Communism.  Communism promised paradise – a utopian society where everyone worked happily together for the common good – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”  Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot… How many bought into the lie of this ideology only to then be the leaders of mass murder in efforts to control their starving populaces? (…all of them.)  This is a paradise for the “elite” (however that is decided).

All of these promises of paradise are false.  They are based on injustices, lies, and “peace” for a select few that come at an exorbitant price for many others.  All of these promisers believed that paradise must be grabbed.  Seize it or lose it.

It’s striking, isn’t it, that Jesus, the originator of Peace, did exactly the opposite?

Jesus left paradise in order to open it up to us.  Rather than clawing at his throne, he willingly, lovingly walked away from it so that he could personally invite us to enter into his kingdom.

The Almighty Maker of the Universe left his Kingly position and entered into humanity has a weak, vulnerable, squawking baby.  The Word became wordless to tell us what we needed to know.

The Law showed us that we are incapable of earning the right to claim eternity at peace with God, so Jehovah Jireh – the God who provides, gives it to us as a gift, because it was his to give, not ours to take.

It is his to give, because this Sovereign King humbled himself and became the sacrifice, the Lamb of God to secure for us what we couldn’t grab hold of no matter how hard we tried.

The Just Judge became the Merciful Savior by paying the penalty himself.

The Offended allowed himself to be hung on a tree to be the Defender of his own and prove himself victorious – not just over a Roman cross but over Death itself.  Death is dead – do you understand how good that is???  We cannot be condemned to death a second time!

And the kind, compassionate, Wonderful Counselor offers us a place at his eternal table- in sweet fellowship with him, and guides us by saying, “take, eat… it has been all accomplished for you.”

The owner and author of Paradise says, “come to me, and I will give you rest.”  The Keeper of Peace says, “follow me for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

What a contrast to what we try to engineer for ourselves!

We all want peace.  It is written on our hearts to yearn for, ache for, long for.  But real peace does not come from our own making.  We are as incapable of making real peace as we are of obeying all the Commandments.  And so God has made it for us.  And made a way for us to receive it.

The allure of Paradise is real and good.  Eternal Peace is meant to make our hearts leap. But we can only have it One Way.

I’m sorry…

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I’m sorry…

Two of the most used, and abused, words in any language.

We’ve all seen it happen:

An offender offers the obligatory “sorry” to their offended – mostly just to get them (or the situation) off their back.

I’ve seen it with children frequently:  We say, “Jenny, tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him.”  But Jenny is not sorry.  She feels justified because Johnny did (fill in the blank), but we insist.  “It was wrong to bite Johnny.  You owe him an apology.  Now tell him you’re sorry.”  Jenny still isn’t sorry and you have other things to do.  “Jenny!  Tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him or you will (fill in the blank with some consequence of not saying “sorry”).”  The word “sorry” becomes Jenny’s ticket out of this mess, and getting out of the mess is worth more than maintaining her stance of justification, so she, begrudgingly, complies.  “Sorry for biting you.”

But everyone present knows it’s a sham.

Children are not the only ones who are guilty of this.  And, since I’ve been thinking on this and being more aware of how frequently it happens, we adults don’t seem to grow up and get much better at hiding our contempt or the ruse.

Who hasn’t heard (or been) a couple in the midst of a disagreement (where there really is something to be sorry about) where the guilty party is finally convinced that they need to admit it and do the right thing but end up much like the Jenny and Johnny above?  “OK, I’m sorry,” but we all know that’s a lie.

Or, worse still, there is a shouted, “I’m sorry!” with an expressed or implied, “now can you just drop it!” attached to the communication.

I’m sure we all have stories we could tell where we’ve witnessed it.  But if we’re honest, we must also confess that we’ve been “that” guy (or girl), too.

I ask, dear reader, because I wonder if real forgiveness can ever be offered is there is never real sorrow over our wrongs?

Jenny didn’t simply bite Johnny.  She injured his body, sure, but she also injured his person as well.  She bullied him.  She devalued him.  She placed her wants, her desires, her will above him – which communicates that he is worthless to her.  She violated his right to suffer no undeserved harm.  She abused him.

Can a muttered “sorry for biting you” ever express what really needs to be expressed to him without her realizing that she has done far more to him than leaving teeth marks?  (And yes, parenting a child’s heart is incredibly hard and takes much more time – but it is critically important.)

The same is true in adult situations.  When we offend or hurt someone, can the two words, “I’m sorry” ever really be enough?  Can that phrase convey heartfelt remorse over the wrong and the collateral damage that ensued without some evidence of sorrow?

I think not.

The original meaning of the word “sorry” is overflowing with a very different tone.  Old dictionaries use the following words to define “sorry”:

“distressed, grieved, full of sorrow”

“pained, wretched, worthless, poor”

These words paint a fuller picture of what “I’m sorry” ought to convey.  They get to the heart of the matter, don’t they?  Rather than a “can we get this over with” mentality, or “I’m sorry if you’re upset about this” attitude, “I’m sorry” should convey, “I am grieved and full of sorrow that I hurt you.  I am pained that my wrongdoing has affected you so profoundly.  I wish with all of my heart that I had not done it, because I love you and don’t ever want to see you hurt – least of all by me.”

But we don’t really recognize that our insults are damaging and costly beyond the seconds of time they take to express them.  We don’t acknowledge that our refusal to consider someone else’s needs is hurtful and reckless far beyond inconvenience.  We don’t want to admit that our threats or control or indifference express so, so much more than thoughtlessness or carelessness might excuse.

Instead, we defend our wretched behavior.  Or we justify it by blaming someone or something else.

Why do we do that?

Wouldn’t it be better to say, “No!  I’m not sorry!”?

At least if we did that we wouldn’t be adding deceit to the list of our transgressions.

Shouldn’t we at least be able to acknowledge that until we really are grieved over what we’ve done to the other person – in all its fullness – that what we are really communicating is that we are valuing ourselves – our reasons- our excuses – our justification – our position – our status – as more important and worth more than the other person?

You might ask me why I care about this enough to lay it out here.

I have two reasons:  The first is that more and more I see around me a thousand, maybe ten thousand ways we avoid the “little” conflicts in our lives to our peril.  We ignore the things that we don’t want to deal with for a variety of reasons, but they all boil down to this:  we don’t think the other people in lives are worth rolling up our sleeves and getting messy over.  In this area, we don’t want to spend the time or the energy it takes to try to work things out with someone who has offended us, or whom we’ve offended, so we “let it go.”

But it doesn’t go away – it builds.  It gets added to the next time and the next until we erupt and don’t even know where to begin to try to make things right.  Relationships are destroyed over the building up of a thousand unresolved opportunities to say, “I’m really, truly, honestly sorry for hurting you.”

But the second, and infinitely more important reason is this:

Can forgiveness ever be ours if we do not sorrow over our sins?  Can we possibly expect that an All-Knowing God is fooled by our “sorry if I upset you” words when we all know full well there is no real sorrowful remorse?  Can repentance ever be genuine if there is not also sorrow?

Psalm 51: 16-17 says:

For you will not delight in sacrifice (or an obligatory “sorry”),

or I would give it;

you will not be pleased with a burnt offering (or an, “I’m sorry if this upsets you”).

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  (parenthetical statements added)

 

Learn what being sorry means, friends.  Teach your children to understand it as soon as they are able.  And for the sake of the Gospel in your own life and in the lives of those around you, be quick to see the profound and magnificent work that can be wrought through a heart that has learned what it is to be “pained, wretched, distressed, grieved, and full of sorrow.”  All of heaven rejoices over one such as this.

If he’s a jerk…

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Recently, on the same day but at different times during that day, I had very similar conversations with two of my grown daughters…

The first conversation started because of a clear demonstration of road rage that we witnessed between two other drivers.  The second conversation started as a result of watching someone become irate and argumentative with someone almost instantaneously after being “offended”, when in fact, he was the real offender.  His reaction started by being indignant and ended up with him changing the whole course of the conflict to being about him being the victim, rather than the person doing the offending.

Both scenes were spectacular, really.  Kind of like a bad accident you drive by – you don’t want to stare at something so horrible, but you can’t help yourself.  It was easy, as spectators, to watch these different scenarios unfold and see what was really going on.

In both cases, the angry person was blaming anyone and everyone other than themselves for their troubles.  They were quick and insistent on pointing fingers and calling others (among other things) the jerk.

And as we watched these scenarios play out in front of us (and a whole lot of other people as well!) I couldn’t help but wonder … “If he’s the jerk, why should you be so upset?”

If he’s the jerk, and cut you off without giving any warning or signal, why should that upset you to the point of rage?

If he’s the jerk, and was inconsiderate enough to have purposely turned slowly enough to make you have to wait for another light, why should your response be to yell and curse and scream?

If he’s the jerk, and selfishly and thoughtlessly ruined your work, why is your reaction to yell and whine and complain?

He’s been the inconsiderate one.  He’s been the thoughtless one.  He’s been the one without manners.

If he’s the jerk, and truly offended you by his words or actions it says a lot about him.

It says he’s insensitive and rude, or maybe cowardly, or arrogant, or harsh, or mean-spirited, or even malicious and despicable – or a whole host of other things all at the same time…

But your response says a lot about you as well.

Did you catch that?  Your response says a lot about you as well.

When we rage because of someone else’s thoughtlessness or unkindness or rudeness or … whatever, we are declaring for all the world to hear that we believe ourselves to be entitled to better treatment than what we’ve just received.   We think that we are owed politeness and consideration and complimentary words.

I’m all for good manners and pleasant behavior between the members of mankind, really I am.  But I don’t think we can go so far as to feel entitled to it.  We train our children to consider others.  We train ourselves to hold our tongues.  We like to think we are able to live by the “Golden Rule”  – “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

But can we demand it?  Are we entitled to it?

The following passages from Scripture come to mind very quickly when I’m tempted to think so:

“What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that you consider him?” Psalm 8:4

“How much less a mortal, who is but a maggot – a human being, who is but a worm”, Job 25:6

“Man that is born of woman is few of days and full of trouble.” Job 14:1

“For man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward.”  Job 5:7

“Do not be surprised if the world hates you,” I John 3:13

I don’t know – it seems to me that we should pretty much expect trouble and be happy when it doesn’t come our way.

We have a saying in our house that applies:  “Circumstances never excuse bad behavior or attitudes.  Never.”

There is never a time when someone else’s rudeness entitles me to be rude.  There is never a time when someone else’s thoughtlessness entitles me to be thoughtless.  There is never a time when someone else’s hurtfulness entitles me to turn around and be hurtful.  Never.

When people do those things, they are indeed sinful, but when I respond the same way it is never justified – it’s just adding another person to the sinful pile.

Paul Tripp uses a water bottle to demonstrate the same principle.  When he’s giving his talk he unscrews the lid of a water bottle and shakes the bottle enough so that water comes spilling out over the top and onto the floor.

He then asks, “Why did the water spill out of the water bottle?”

Invariably, people’s first response is to say, “Because you shook it and it spilled!”

But that is not the right answer.

It spilled water, because the bottle was filled with water.  It didn’t spill tea or soda or juice, but water.  The fact that it was shaken is largely irrelevant to the question.  What was in the bottle was what came out of the bottle.

It’s a small, but significant difference, isn’t it?

Amy Carmichael says the same thing a little differently.  She wrote, “A cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.”

So, back to my question – if he’s the jerk, why are you reacting so badly?  If his bad behavior has jostled you, why is that spilling out?

It was easy for my daughters and me to look at these particular situations and see two people behaving badly.  But it is harder to look at myself and recognize when I’m doing the same.  But I must.  And so must you.

Circumstances never excuse bad behavior or attitudes.  Never.

God is far from silent on the matter.  He says:

“But I say, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  Luke 6:27-28

“Do not repay evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”  I Peter 3:9

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:21

If your attitudes or behavior are not what they ought to be, it’s time to examine what is filling you up – because it will spill out.