Open the Vents

In the most claustrophobic and confining spots, sometimes I have to remind myself to just breathe. Especially on a plane, and nowadays, especially with a mask on. Remember to breathe in slowly and out slowly. Full breaths, no partial breaths. I’ve always wondered why stressful situations bring about a reduced intake of fresh air. Why we forget to breathe. Why exhaling is such a relief after a near car collision, and why inhaling (of course) is such a literal lifesaver. Yet sometimes we forget to do it.

Rerouting physical air is a thing I do in my house with the HVAC vents. As an allergy sufferer, I close off vents or partially obstruct vents that are directly pushing air toward me. I also redirect the air flow in directions that reduce my sensitivity. If only air didn’t carry dust with it or other non-fresh things. And why do we all like to get outside and get some “fresh” air? Likely because staying inside the house, air recirculates and gets stale. Likely because outdoors, unless someone is blowing leaves, the air seems clean and big. I can only imagine that God designed our lungs to breathe perfectly balanced clean air, fully and deeply, in the pre-fallen world before sin entered the picture…

Similar to HVAC vents, as if I didn’t want to experience God’s encompassing grace fully and freely, I am so often guilty of closing the vents of my heart, sometimes slightly, sometimes completely. I can easily start off a day closing the vents of my heart to the outflow of God’s Spirit through me to others. I cannot count the times that I have shirked intentional gospel conversations with others. How often do I tug myself away from God’s strengthening power to try to do good things in my own strength and understanding? Too many for sure.

The unobstructed flow of grace I have received from God through faith is the same flow of grace that I should be able to freely give to others. Tamping down the vents of my heart is the same thing as withholding God’s best. Moreover, it is subtle, but second best to live life for the heart of Christ or for the smile of God when first best to live life from the heart of Christ or from the smile of God. The difference is in the “openwideness” of the vents of my heart. When I live from my identity as a child of Christ, the action flows out of my motivational headquarters. It’s not an external thing, but something from inside. “From” the heart of Christ is the way I reflect the actual Person of Jesus instead of a set of doctrines or a church. Unrestricted flow of gentleness, tenderness, and loyal loving-kindness is the “from” version of open vents of my heart, open to the heart of Christ living in me.

Galatians 2:20 says it better, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.” In this way I am living out the life Christ has planted within me without reservation, with the full force of flow from vents that are wide open.

As my heart here refers not to my flesh-and-blood circulatory system pump, but to the seat of my will, inclinations and actions, I love the open vent metaphor. I know a legal spirit of judgment and spiritual blindness is what often pushes the vents of my heart shut. Yet in Christ, I really don’t want the air of my heart to get stale or stagnant. There might be some good deeds that I’ll do, but they will flow from something much lower than the fresh blow of God’s Spirit when He cleans out the impurities and prepares me to live from His heart.

Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” God has promised to remove the stone-like qualities of a heart that constricts its own vents. Imagine days where the vents of our hearts are wide open and nothing is flowing except the fruits of God’s Spirit. Imagine days where all that is blowing is the fresh air of God’s Spirit coming from within us. Imagine days where our new heart of flesh sees stone no more.

Praying God opens the vents of my heart and your heart today.

Lessons of Sadie

I love to read novels, especially historical fiction. Beach time is one of my favorite times for reading. I recently returned from an Isle of Palms vacation and read Lisa Wingate’s book THE LANGUAGE OF SYCAMORES. Why did this novel make me want to comment here? I guess because the story character Sadie reminded me that every family on earth encounters dysfunction. In the story, Sadie’s name had been scratched out of the family Bible… Serious right?

Sadie’s sister Rose was the grandmother of the central character (Karen) in the novel. Rose had two sisters in life, but Sadie was the one sister scratched out of the family Bible. What could possibly have caused this kind of estrangement? We might find ourselves asking the same question in our own families. Now about Sadie – stop reading now if you don’t want to discover a partial spoiler in Wingate’s story. This is close to the ending, an excerpt from a letter that Grandma Rose wrote to Karen before she passed away, but which remained regrettably unread by Karen for a few years after Rose’s passing:

“There is one last thing I must ask you to do for me, my practical girl. Make amends with your sister. Do not harbor the little grudges of childhood. How I wish I could deliver this message to my own dear sisters: I am sorry. Just that. I was wrong. I held a grudge when I should have forgiven. I criticized when I should have loved. Most people need love much more than they need critics. Remember that, and you will live a good life. I Love You, Grandma Rose.”

I’m thinking there are even bigger grudges in adulthood because we are more sophisticated in our opinion-forming and blaming energies. And lots of us are the practical ones, with pretty good arguments. I can relate…

But, Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This made me think of what it often takes to forgive – and that is very often giving up my right to be right. It is taking time to listen. Taking time to respect. Taking time to consider. Taking time to be grateful. Taking time to remember what is good and praiseworthy. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

My opinion-forming energies are always working in overdrive until something reminds me to wake up out of my slumber. Recently, that wake up call was a car accident that could have taken out one of my children or grandchildren or all of the family. If I remember how much I have been forgiven, then I have no other motive except to know the Lord God and act like a forgiven child and recipient of His grace. God’s Truth has a melting effect. I have the freedom to forgive freely as I have been forgiven. And I have the freedom to spread grace around. What a wonderful use of precious time.

There is work that is worthy: I must cast off my non-forgiving motives. Cast off my self-reformation. Cast off my success-building in interpersonal relationships. Cast off being right about all my well-nursed grievances. Truly, love trumps every issue that might steal my joy, slurp up my emotional energy, or threaten my sense of justice. Love reminds me of the tremendous loss and grief that I would have experienced had that car accident turned out differently than it did. And the tremendous loss and grief that would have been experienced by others in the family Bible, those scratched out and those not scratched out.

Thank you Sadie for reminding me of the forgiveness that it is a privilege for me to extend to others for God’s glory. Thank you my Dear Parents for drilling this quote into me and my brother when we were growing up – “let us love one another.” Dear God, please make me less practical, less critical, less graceless. Help me never to write anyone out of the family Bible.

Powerless Positions of Jesus

After Daniel’s lion’s den rescue, King Darius issued an edict to the people of his kingdom. Daniel 6:26 says, ” ‘I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For He is the living God and He endures forever; His kingdom will not be destroyed, His dominion will never end.’ ” Pondering Daniel’s situation before his miraculous rescue by God, it’s hard to imagine that he could feel anything other than powerless.

Sometimes I run across words that express something so well that I have to write them down for safekeeping. That is what follows. This is a quote from Gary W. Moon, Ph.D., in his article “Finding Serenity in Today’s Traumatic Culture of Anger and Contempt: Part II Learning from Jesus and a Black Christian Mystic” (Christian Counseling Today, Vol. 25, No. 1):

It’s a quote within a quote: In Moon’s article, he shares highlights from the book Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman (author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader). And here’s what got me. Moon reports that Thurman said in an interview that all must consider the “unprecedented empathy of Jesus built on three seldom-pondered realities from His life. The Son of God, charged with bringing healing to the world, chose to enter into humanity from the perspective of three, powerless positions: 1) Jesus was a Palestinian Jew in an occupied land, 2) Jesus chose to be born into poverty… (Jesus’ parents offered the sacrifice of two turtle doves at His dedication – which was allowed in Leviticus if a lamb was beyond the family’s financial means), and 3) Jesus was a member of a minority group whose history included being slaves in a foreign land and living in the midst of a dominant and controlling group.”

Sound familiar? Plastered all over media, approaches that we see in today’s traumatic culture are: “Fight. Flee. Judge. Attack. Maintain power. Obsess.” Yet the Way of Jesus paints a radically different approach. Try instead abandoning the fear of Rome-like power grabbers and reverence only God. Try instead refusing to follow the path of “fighting, fleeing, power-brokering, and obsession ideation.” Try instead embracing the truth that “hatred begets destruction both to the hated and to the hater.” And try remembering that the enemy of our souls knows this all well…

So imagine a world in which hatred and deception are abandoned and exchanged for loving your enemy. Imagine when choices are made, living out instead the radical love of Jesus Christ. Imagine a heavenly kingdom more powerful than Rome. When alignments are taken up, imagine citizenship that is permanent in the kingdom of God. This is the hope of the Gospel. This is the completely transformative way of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

In Daniel 6:22, Daniel says, “My God sent His angel, and He shut the mouths of the lions.” In response, King Darius says in Daniel 6:27, “He [God] rescues and He saves; He performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of lions.”

Reverence only God. He endures forever. He shut the mouths of lions.

A Place to Call Home

Psalm 84:1-7 says, “How lovely is Your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near Your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.”

Life on earth is temporary. On our journey through existence on planet earth, it is wise not to get too attached. There is a real home for us that traverses beyond the universe and makes our valleys of despair dissipate into nothing except the road to that home. Gospel hope is about believers being “with” Christ and “at home” with Christ in this present world and the next. Because there definitely is a next.

There is also a “here and now” reality of the Lord’s dwelling place, the place we call home, our nest, our place with Him. The place where we worship Him. The place where we release our faintings and cries. The place where we recharge and experience the autumn rains of the soul. The place where God speaks His loveliness and strength to us. The place where we securely land in the the net that catches us and settles us and draws us close. Where homelessness and loneliness are impossible. With Christ.

One criminal who was crucified alongside Jesus at Calvary simply asked Jesus to remember him as Jesus would pass into His own kingdom and Luke 23:43 says, “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.’ ” The criminal was convinced that there was indeed a place to call home. A heavenly kingdom. With a heavenly Savior-King. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Philippians 1:21-23 says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” And I Thessalonians 5:10 says, “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.”

The Valley of Baka is simply a reminder that our home is truly with the Lord. That our tears point us in the direction of our permanent dwelling place with the Lord. That our pain motivates us toward the living God and His house. That our weaknesses, disappointments and battles with sin only push us into the arms of God Who is our sun and shield. That His tent is the only place to find soul rest, strength for the journey, and eternal destiny in Jesus Christ.

Psalm 84:12 ends with this and so should we: “Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in You.”

Not Uninformed, Not Unsettled

2 Thessalonians 2:8,15 says, “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of His mouth and destroy by the splendor of His coming… So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth of by letter.”

The continuities between the Old Testament and New Testament regarding the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ include references to blazing fire, punishment, destruction of the ungodly, stubble/ashes, worms that do not die, unquenched fire, and torment that does not end. Tough stuff. Yet, for believers, Paul says in his two letters to the Thessalonians, that we are not to be unsettled because we are not uninformed. We take comfort in that final justice is thankfully in God’s hands alone. It’s not if, it is when.

God’s Word cautions us about false teachings. Again, we are not uninformed. In 2 Thessalonians 2 we see that there will be a final turning away from God in the established church. Although hard to imagine and deeply disappointing, we find that Christ will not return until first, there is a massive falling away (apostasia/2 Thess. 2:3) within the covenant community (the Church) and second, there is the appearance of the antichrist. These two signs have not yet come in final form.

We are not uninformed. We learn about the man of lawlessness in scripture (also known as the antichrist). I John 2:18-20,22 says, “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us but they did not really belong to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have the anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist – denying the Father and the Son.”

We are living in a time of restraint, yet the mystery of lawlessness is already at work and we can sense this reality even if we don’t know exactly how it plays out. 2 Thess. 2:6-7 is a difficult passage because of the differing possibilities of who/what the “restrainer” might be. G.K. Beale, in his commentary on 1&2 Thessalonians, gives 7 possibilities (for your further investigation): 1) Roman Empire, 2) Civil order of law inherent in Rome, 3)The Jewish State, 4) Satan or one of his evil agents, 5) Power of false teachers, 6) God/Holy Spirit, or 7) Proclamation of the gospel.

Despite difficult passages of scripture, it is clearly important for believers to grasp the reality of spiritual evil and to realize that the faithful will engage in a spiritual battle to the END. Our minds and hearts must be prepared. STANDING FIRM and HOLDING FAST are themes in the Thessalonian letters. Standing firm and holding fast are especially meaningful to those who are not unsettled because they are not uninformed. These are believers boldly living out the life of faith in Christ Jesus. But, what is their key to being informed and settled?

It is critical to realize that a believer’s confidence about present & future salvation is directly linked to one’s awareness and grasp of God’s Word. Therefore, we study diligently so we will not be uninformed, and therefore not unsettled. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 confirms, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” There is no need to be uninformed. And, there is every reason to be completely settled.

We have God’s complete Word. Amen.

My Tossings

Psalm 56:8 (ESV) says “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?”

Morning Prayer:

God, “You have kept count of my tossings.” My anxious musings and fears of failure; My panicky what-ifs, my phobias; My regrets and life-altering decisions; My disappointments in myself and others; My attempts to engineer circumstances; My relentless quest to control things; My unmet expectations and dreams; My leanings toward self-preservation and achievement.

God, “You have put my tears in Your bottle.” My hurts from companions and familiar friends; My judgments not in tune with Your grace; My prayerlessness at every banquet; My unfaithful heart and mind; My decaying body and energy of life; My secret shames and hateful attitudes; My motives not in alignment with Your purposes; My longings unfulfilled by people in my life; My endpoints resulting from sin and pride; My loneliness when absent from strong believers and gospel conversations; My drifting when I put aside Your Word for any length of time.

God, “are my tears not in your book?” You have said they are in Your Word. You hear my whole prayers and even my half prayers; You silence the noise of the enemy; You shelter me from pursuant persons and troubles; You listen to my ventings and settle me; You correct my erroneous thoughts; You regroup me with Your comfort; You remind me of Your love and care; You redeem my soul in Your tenacious safety; You give me a spacious place to recoup; You provide what I don’t even know I need; You infuse my life with creative outlets; You have called me to be Your child.

Surely, my tears count. My tears are received by You; My tears do not evaporate into the Universe; My tears remain in Your capable hold; My tears are in Your safe-keeping. Your bottle never reaches capacity.

Until one day, My tears will be transformed by You into tears of joy!

Amen.

Twisted But Beautiful

My head tells me that suffering is a natural part of life, but my heart tells me to avoid pain, to figure out a way to be exempt from pain, to do whatever I can to erase pain. My natural response to life is to slow down the aging process, vindicate myself against people who fail me, smooth things over, and work overtime to squelch the thorns of frustration involved in the regular recurring things of life on planet earth. Wishing to turn back the things that should have never happened – a fender bender, a broken dish, a jammed printer, a throbbing tooth, a fractured arm, a WiFi outage, credit card theft, the list goes on. Meanwhile laboring to prevent these frustrations of life as an ongoing occupation of the mind and body.

I have always loved the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 and the conclusion in Genesis 50:20 when Joseph says to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” If you follow the story more closely, you will find that God was always near and accessible to Joseph, even in prison. God did not leave Joseph alone, but blessed him with compassionate daily provisions that sustained him.

If we will simply dare to look, looking for those compassionate daily provisions is an ongoing occupation of the mind and body that is fruitful and life-sustaining. Finding those compassionate daily provisions is possible with an eye on the goodness of God and His promise in Romans 8:28 that “He causes all things to work for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

As believers, imagining our suffering as our number one enemy in life is terribly short-sighted and self-focused. However, interpreting our suffering in light of sincerely trusting God removes the wasting of pain. If we take the long view and focus on His glory, unwasted pain becomes an eternal investment. Trusting God in our suffering includes the heavenly dimension of the greater things He seeks to accomplish. Pain then possesses meaning, not randomness. And, God’s trademark is turning suffering into benefit, tears into joy, loss into redemption, earthly into heavenly, fear into courage, darkness into light, doubt into faith, death into life.

I so need God’s perspective to be able to see that pain doesn’t have to be wasted. If I believe that God uses pain to draw me into greater dependence on Him, I might stop to ask myself what I have erroneously been dependent upon other than God. If I realize that I am not just a physical being, but a spiritual being, I might be able to see beyond the assaults on my body and mind and claim the truths of Romans 5:3-5 which says, “Not only so, but we glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

The evil actions of Joseph’s brothers seemed to shatter his life as a teenager. Selling younger brother Joseph into Egyptian slavery was a monumental crime, yet his life was spared from death – a compassionate daily provision. Even as a slave, Joseph served Pharaoh diligently. Joseph maintained his integrity. Joseph depended on God. There were daily compassionate provisions as Joseph rose to roles of responsibility, even in prison after the false charges of Potiphar’s wife. Once again, Joseph maintained his integrity and was called out of prison to interpret Pharoah’s dreams. He indicated that it would be God only who could interpret dreams, not man. So, God enabled him to interpret Pharoah’s dreams. Another daily compassionate provision.

I’m looking for God’s compassionate daily provisions. Although I’m not in prison, I have had some self-pitying moments about the pandemic being like prison. Yet I’ve visited friends and family often, in non-traditional ways. I have been graced to have pretty days to go on morning walks with my daughter who lives close by. I have been blessed to have a car that works fine. And, I have been able to be creative in the acquisition of groceries and other supplies. Suffering might have simply been more mental than physical during the last year or so – with fears surrounding an invisible health menace, questions about life ever getting back to what was felt to be normal, concerns about a divisive and hate-filled country, wonder about a teetering economy, and general fatigue over inconveniences involved in waiting on God’s compassionate daily provisions. But, those compassions were definitely there.

I need to open my eyes. When pain isn’t wasted, I can be free to see the compassionate daily provisions of the Holy Spirit – perseverance, character, and hope. God will expose something important and turn a season of suffering into benefit. God is faithfully working out His purposes. Similar to the pattern of Joseph’s story, we can be sure that what God is now accomplishing is the saving of many lives, His ultimate purpose. We might not know the how or why, but we can be sure that each day contains a compassionate daily provision for those who are in Christ Jesus. This is when the twisting becomes beautiful.

The Goodness of the Lord

I love the Paul Tripp quote about the goodness of the Lord: “The goodness of the Lord frees you from being imprisoned by past regret, paralyzed by present doubt, and crippled by future fear.”

Psalm 119:65-72 says, “Do good to your servant according to your Word, Lord. Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust Your commands. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word. You are good, and what You do is good; teach me Your decrees. Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep Your precepts with all my heart. Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in Your law. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees. The law from Your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.”

When I think about these words from scripture, I am reminded of all the things that comprise God’s goodness. God the Creator is to be admired, but more importantly worshipped, because He is superior in all and over all. His qualities are beyond positive. They are otherworldly – He is immutable, infinite, impartial, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. In these qualities and more, I am assured that God is the embodiment of perfect goodness. He is kind, benevolent, and full of good will toward all creation. He is virtuous and righteous. Morally excellent. I must ponder the past, present, and future in light of His Word.

The key is – “in light of His Word.” I must know it. I must read it. I must meditate upon it. I must study it carefully. It must become a part of me. In Christ, I can know Truth through His Word. It sets me free, body, mind, and soul – from imprisonment, paralysis, and fear. Past, present, future.

God did this for me. My past is fully forgiven because of the accomplishment of Jesus Christ in conquering death delivered to Him upon Calvary’s Cross. Although enemies meant His death to be permanent, Christ rose victorious and paid the price for me that I owed for my own sin. Why then would I cling to past mistakes and regrettable choices if this salvation victory has been sealed for me by the Good God of the Universe? Yes, I stray away from trusting God when I look away from His Word. This happens especially when things are going well and I appear to have a grip on my life. Afflicted with worries, what-ifs, frantic paces, perfectionistic burdens. This happens. But, God has erased my regrets through Jesus Christ. God did this for me.

God does this for me. When my present is crowded with pressures and pulls, when my daily existence shouts that 24 hours is not enough, and when my calendar is jumbled with activity upon activity, God invites me to spend time with Him before facing even another minute. His presence brings peace and calm, clear thoughts, gratitude, and faith that casts out doubt. His Word enables me to filter out lies and plots. His Spirit whispers life-giving truths that sustain me in the present. God does this for me.

God promises this to me. A future marked by hope. A future not built upon fear. A future that creates in me (now) an attitude of expectant preparedness. A delight in His Word. A willingness to be identified with Christ in the sufferings of the past and present, with the weight of His glory out in front of me. Alignment with His will and not my own. A day when all tears will be wiped away. A day when Christ will return and make all things new. A day when God’s goodness will totally triumph. A day when the enjoyment of the Lord will last forever and life will be lived in light of His majesty and glory. The real meaning of freedom. God promises this to me.

Psalm 119:48-50 says, “I reach out for Your commands, which I love, that I may meditate on Your decrees. Remember Your word to your servant, for You have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.” Therefore, I trust that God’s goodness completely enfolds me now and forever, and I will not be imprisoned by regret, paralyzed by doubt, or crippled by fear.

Self-Righteous Attorneys

John 16:13a says, “But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth…”

When not resisted in my life, the Holy Spirit points out my spiritual blinders and invites me to see the contradictions that need leveling, the hypocrisies that need equalizing, and the entitlements that need eradication. In daily musings, the worst of all my blinders is my inner defense of my own goodness. It comes so naturally. My conclusion that I am not as bad as human traffickers or drug smugglers; my satisfaction with the good things I have done; my pride in the things I’ve achieved. My not-so-badness as a wife, a mother, a friend, or an employee.

My whole case is built around personal satisfaction and fulfillment, and never about serving others in loving reflection of my Savior Jesus Christ. Never about kindness that is not burdensome to show. Never about laying down my life except for my own prosperity as a fundamental human right. As I excuse myself from some forms of service, celebrating my introvert personality style, I also take one step further into “church introversion” which seems sometimes to have forgotten the Great Commission. Conclusion: I’m not much embarrassed by my self-focus unless the Holy Spirit lets me see it up close.

While I have become a self-righteous attorney, daily defending my own goodness, the Holy Spirit has been whispering these questions in my heart: Why does my Martha-method-of-operating keep usurping Mary’s better way – sitting at the feet of Jesus? Why does my busy ministry schedule prevent me from spending time in life-changing prayer? Why do I hesitate to leave my comfort zone and help others when it is not convenient or when I don’t feel competent? Why am I enslaved to my own sense of perfectionism? Why do I attempt to do God’s work in my own strength and with my own resources?

I have rested my case out of self-righteousness on a daily basis. I give in to inward preoccupation. “Me” is what rules me and routinely hijacks my heart. “Me” is what replaces God. I should not be surprised at the human heart, of which mine is one. Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV) says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” No wonder something other than God is always ruling my heart. No wonder something is always impinging on my heart and not God.

For a Christ-follower, the great victory of salvation was won in my place by Jesus Christ, but day after day I fight battle after battle of self-focus…and I forget the Lord’s promise to be with me and to give me His power to meet these battles. Deuteronomy 31:6,8 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you…The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

In the battle zones of self rule, the Holy Spirit can surely be trusted to take my blinders down and redirect my heart so there is a spiritual sense of going upward, victoriously one step at a time. God faithfully overturns my verdicts of self-sufficiency, self-confidence, independence, right of ownership, freedom to boldly assert my opinions, and freedom to do what I want. I can trust Him in this process.

As a leader in a local Bible study ministry, I was recently asked to consider God’s changing of Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:28) and to imagine what my own name change would have been if Jesus had assigned me these. It wasn’t difficult to decide – my old name was definitely “Rebel” and my new name was “Respecter.” I now have a bookmark that reminds me of these names. Am I still a self-righteous attorney? Sometimes. But, within the daily battles, I am actually ascending God’s stairway, not through works, but through deeper faith in Him Who has the power to change my heart. As a Christ-follower, I am learning to give up my right to be right as often as God’s Spirit convicts me. I am learning to lay my opinions, convenience, and ideals aside for the most important ideal – Christ in me, the hope of glory. I can definitely trust Him in this process, for He is my faithful attorney. He is the One Who will never leave me. He is the One Who will never forsake me. He is the One Who removes my blinders and gives me eyes to see.

Come Close to Me

Reconciliation is the reason Jesus stooped way down from heaven to suffer human brokenness in physical death, provide atonement for our sins, and provide the ultimate victory for believers – reconciliation with God from Whom we had been estranged since Adam. But, living out reconciliation as believers is still hard. Almost everyday I ask myself “why can’t we all get along?” And then I answer my own question with “I know why, I just wish it could be different…”

What we long for is what only Jesus can provide. Genesis 45:3-5 says, “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still living?’ But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.’ “

One key to reconciliation is “coming close.” God did this “coming close” when He sent His only Son to us to provide a way for our salvation through His death and resurrection. We in turn need to do this “coming close” in our primary vertical relationship with God and then our horizontal relationships with people.

We live with the possibility that we can offer one-way forgiveness to others when they have hurt us, but the reality that we may not be able to experience two-way reconciliation. Isn’t this the model Jesus gave us? He came to provide forgiveness for sin, but seemingly many do not accept the invitation into Christ’s reconciliation and choose to remain lost.

In my educational career, I found that all kinds of hostility and evil could be perpetuated by trying to communicate with colleagues, parents, and students indirectly through social media, email, texts, and letters. Misunderstanding abounded. The absence of body language and facial expressions made imaginations run wild. Missing tone of voice was a setup for confusion.

As walls of misunderstanding were being built up, it always seemed that they came magically tumbling down in face-to-face meetings. Of course, the magic is in the power of the Holy Spirit to break down barriers and move in with love and grace. Physical presence always seemed to light the path. Empathy was made possible. Forgiveness was easier to embrace.

Joseph had already forgiven his brothers for selling him into slavery and not knowing if he was alive or dead many years later. He had been freed from the slavery of unforgiveness. Yet, he longed for reconciliation with his brothers and God made a way for this. It involved “coming close.” Joseph initiated the process of reconciliation as a picture of the way God would initiate reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

If we live out faith in Christ by modeling Him, we need to be initiators of reconciliation. When we are sinned against, we need to make the first move. The first move deals with our own hearts. We need to repent of any part we have played in causing hurt and then forgive others for the hurts they have caused. But then, like Joseph, we need to keep doing the work that is our part – to move in close to those who have caused the hurt, to seek restoration, repair, and rebuilding if it can possibly be re-had.

What we find is that proximity and presence, being in person, being face-to-face, and “coming close” are all barrier-droppers. If you read the story of Joseph, you will see that, even though the process of reconciliation took years, that Joseph was constantly moving toward it. It was his hope, his dream, and his longing to be reunited with his family. It was the work to be done to which he was dedicated. It was the work to be done that depended on God’s grace and mercy to be completed. It was the work to be done that God used for the salvation of many lives, not just Joseph’s family. The picture is usually bigger than what we see, because God is working behind the scenes to continue His offer of salvation to many others.

“Come close to me” is the watchword for moving from forgiveness to reconciliation.