Friday, May 28, 2021

BlindSpots - Reprise

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9) 

Our topic for this week was how to be a peacemaker, how do we resolve conflicts. Pastor Tim encouraged us to make the first move (Matthew 5:23-24) and start with confessing our own faults, our blindspots. 

Part of the problem is ME!

But there's still that stubborn problem. If it is a blindspot, how do I see it?

We need to start with the assumption that in any conflict, we all have a part, even if it is small.  And even though our part may be small, it is the only part we have the opportunity to change.

So I pray the prayer of King David: Create in me a pure heart, O God (Psalm 51:8) Lord, how can I see my faults? And so here are the questions to ask ourselves, to see our blindspots...

  • WHAT is important to me? What exactly am I fighting for, upset about?
  • WHY is it important? 
  • How important is it? On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 = "I do not prefer this but can live with that" and 10 = "Over my dead cold body", how would I rate this issue?
  • Is there any part I can overlook? What points of compromise can I make?
  • What old wound is this triggering? Is this conflict a repeat of a similar one I have had before, maybe with someone else? What feelings are coming up? Are the intensity of my feelings in proportion to the situation?
  • What unreasonable expectations do I have for the other person, or for the relationship?
  • What assumptions have I made about the other person and their motives that I need to check out with them?
  • What questions do I  need to ask the other person? Could additional information about their past, other circumstances, their feelings, hurts, hopes and dreams help me understand them better and be more empathetic?  
  • How am I thinking only of myself and not considering the needs and desires of others? Have I considered how I have impacted those around me in negative or hurtful ways?
  • How much am I being motivated by fear? Bitterness? Selfishness? Pride? Impatience? Am I being judgmental? Perfectionist? Maybe just not minding my own business?
  • What boundary must I establish in order to make this relationship work again? Sometimes we are dealing with a wicked person who can derail our relationship with Christ and His purpose for our life. Sometimes we need to forgive but walk away to have peace. We need for pray for wisdom to see that clearly -- not just jump to that conclusion. Even in that case, we still must examine our own heart. 

Before we engage to resolve conflict, we can come to our heavenly Father first and examine our heart to discover our blindspots. Even if the relationship cannot or should not be restored, we can count on the Holy Spirit to empower us to forgive and find peace. 

Father, help me to stop and pray and examine my own heart, to be the first to confess my faults and in this way bring You glory. You desire peace and unity! I trust You will give me all the wisdom and courage I need. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Oppression: Instruction and Retribution

After God freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, He instructed them. 

And God spoke all these words:  
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Exodus 20:1-2) 

First God reminds them who saved them. Their Savior was God alone. It was not Moses. It was not by the strength or craftiness of the Hebrews themselves. It was God. As the story of the Hebrews continues, God repeats this over and over. Annually the Jews continue this tradition of repeating the story of God setting them free in their Passover celebrations.

Then God instructs them how to treat each other:

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him." (Exodus 21:2-3) 

God knows there will be rich and poor in the world. He does not deny that. There will be those who can afford to have servants, and those who need to be servants. But He wants justice. He wants to redeem. Service is temporary and has an end date unless the servants chooses to stay (see the following verses here, 4-7)

God also instructs them on how to treat foreigners: 

"Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt." (Exodus 22:21- 22)

It is human nature to look at people who are not like us and be suspicious. That is how the Hebrews became slaves in the first place (see Exodus 1:8-11). God reminds Israel of the pain of their own bondage and warns them not to inflict that on others. The Hebrews must live above that, in kindness with justice for all people. 

God continues to speak to them about selling and returning land:    

"In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another. According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years of crops he shall sell to you. According to the multitude of years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewer number of years you shall diminish its price; for he sells to you according to the number of the years of the crops. Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 25:13-17) 

And about run away slaves:

“You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him." (Deuteronomy 23:15-16) 

And about employed workers and their pay:

“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you." (Deuteronomy 24:14-15) 

In all things, God requires the strong to care for the weak, the rich to be fair to the poor, the free to release the enslaved. 

 “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless." (Exodus 22:22-24)

God hears the cry of the oppressed, His anger is aroused, and He will repay. God is clear in His instruction: justice and mercy is required of this people whom God had freed. And He outlines the penalty for their failure to comply. It is not a retribution paid with riches. It is paid in blood. 

The United States claimed to be one nation under God and yet it broke God's law of oppression. And the nation paid in blood. On March 4, 1865, as President Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address, he deemed the war casualties to be God's retribution on our nation.

 
"Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether". 
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

Even then, the nation continued to oppress people of color. God sees, God frees, and we continue to pay in blood.  The Lord raises up men like Lincoln and like Martin Luther King Jr., to save people from oppression, and yet we still revert back. We are just like the Judges...

Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do so. And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way. (Judges 2:16-19) 

Who can save us? Only the Lord. We must trust in God alone. We must seek Him in prayer for our nation. We must obey His word to show mercy and justice for all the people. 

Beloved Father, save us again, we desire to repent before the bloodshed!


Monday, April 05, 2021

Oppression - What does God say about it? From the beginning

Racism. White supremacy. Oppressed people. Privilege. There is so much discussion. I have joined a group to talk about it, to learn about it. 

But what does God say about it? I don't want to cherry pick verses. I want to really listen. I want to hear God's heart for the oppressed. For those who are the oppressors. So I went back to the beginning and I looked to see what God thinks of oppression.

Moses, son of Israel, sentenced to death in Egypt and yet his mother hides him and then sets him afloat in the waters of the Nile. He is plucked out by a daughter of Egypt. As he grows in the palace of Egypt, he sees the oppression of his people and tried to fix it one day himself (Exodus 2:11-12) which turns out to be a disaster for him. 

Fast forward 40 years in exile, Moses meets God on the mountain in a burning bush. Here we first find the word oppression, coming from the mouth of God. The people who were oppressed? His nation, Israel. His intent? To save them. His tool? Moses.

"Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt." (Exodus 3:9-10)

God's sees the oppression and desires to rescue them. 400 years have passed in Egypt already. God, for His own reasons, does not seem to be in a rush. God intends to use Moses to save the people, but in God's own time and in His own way. Not in Moses' time or in Moses' way. 

Moses is afraid. He is reluctant. He has questions, concerns. In the end he outright refuses. But God manages to use Moses anyway. Praise God.  

God is familiar with oppression. He hates it. He plans to fix it. But He has His own time and His own way. Maybe He will use me in my corner of the vineyard. 

I too am afraid. I am reluctant. I have questions, concerns and I can try to run away in frustration and confusion. Please God, use me anyway. 

And I will praise You.  

 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Call Out to Jesus

He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Silvio passed away on Tuesday in the early morning. The hospital called us and said he was gone. 

Silvio was the youngest of four brothers. I met him when he was a teen, his head full of wild black curls, long as it was the custom in those days. He seemed awkward and shy until he grabbed someone's attention, like my dad who was a patient listener, and then he would talk on and on. 
 
As a boy, Silvio had an anxious heart and so he used repetition and he collected things, ordinary silly things like used cups and paper towels, to calm his heart. He grew more and more anxious until he had to quit high school and was never able to find a job he could handle. He spent his time at home, caring for his father, his mother, and the family pets. He fed stray cats and gave away things to neighbors who would stop by. He was a voracious reader and very smart but his quirky ways and shyness kept him isolated. 

One of the things that gave Silvio comfort was attending mass. It was on a return walk home from church in 2011 that he had a seizure so intense that he was taken to the hospital for the first time. It was a brain tumor. The tumor was removed but Silvio was never able to return home again. His body healed but his mind was confused and his anxious heart made him angry. 


Years went by and because Silvio was in a care center, Al and I actually saw him more. On these visits, we would listen to his complaints, his anxiety, his confused thoughts. We would bring him items he asked for, like notebooks, pens, vitamin C and materials to read. We would joke with him and show him photos of his nieces and nephews. I would take his arm and walk with him through the hallways of the center that was his home. 

And in his small room he would have a bible on his table and a few symbols of his faith. His TV was turned to the catholic channel, allowing him to attend mass from his room.    

Silvio's mind no longer had a good grip on reality. But that did not stop him from calling out, reaching out to Jesus.

The brain tumor never fully went away. It was removed two more times. This week, when symptoms returned, the tumor was too massive and it won. 

I have spent most of my adult life studying the Bible. It is important to me that I know Jesus deeply and understand His words to us accurately, and how He would want me to apply them to my life. I pursue this with passion and a desire to know truth.

But today as I read this passage of the blind man calling out to Jesus, I understand that all Jesus wants is for us to reach out to Him, to call out to Him for our comfort, for our healing, for His forgiveness. And when we turn to Him and call out to Him, He is delighted, He praises our faith, He heals us. 
 
Those who led the way rebuked the blind man and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to Him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 

 “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. 

Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. (Luke 18:38-43)

Tonight, Silvio is with Jesus. He is standing straight and tall. He is not anxious but at peace and in his right mind. He has his full head of wild black curls. I look forward to meeting him again there, hearing his goofy laugh, walking with him, holding his hand. His faith has healed him. So let us also praise God.  

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Engage

Some people are conflict enjoyers. Some are conflict avoiders. I have always been the avoider. I want people to like me. I want my family and friends to all get along. I want to keep the peace, so I make excuses, sidestep the argument, and convince everyone that it is all right. Even when it is not all right. 

But Jesus was not a conflict enjoyer or avoider. He engaged and resolved conflict. He taught: 

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” (Matthew 5:23-24) 

Our offering to God is less vital to our souls than our relationship with others. So what does He instruct us to do? 

Go and Be Reconciled. 

I don’t want to do this. Not when I am at fault. Not when I am sure they are at fault. Not when they are angry, nor when I am angry. I make all kinds of excuses. They will not listen to me. It’s all their fault. It is past the point of repair. But then I remember Paul’s words, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18) 

Jesus is our Peace

What does this mean? I must engage. If I am disturbed listening to other people’s grief, sorrow, disappointment or anger, if I refuse to listen to their side, if I want to fix things too soon for my own comfort, then I have failed to engage, and failed to bring peace. Instead of hiding, avoiding, ignoring, I must engage. Instead of arguing, manipulating, berating, pushing, I must use humility as I engage, listening to understand, assuming the other has good reasons and motives for their position, their beliefs, their actions. 

And it’s hard. It’s listening when it hurts. It’s opening up when I would rather run away. It is trying to empathize when I would rather support my position. It’s having the patience to trust the process, believing Jesus will reveal truth and write His best story as I obey His call to go and be reconciled. 

Engage. That’s my word for 2021. I am not good at it. But I want to get better. Only You, my Beloved Jesus can give me the power. But You have called me and so I must trust You can also empower me. 

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. (Ephesians 2:14)

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Year of Suffering

This photo expresses 2020
Does God cause suffering? Or does He just look the other way? Why does He wait so long to stop it? Why do we have to suffer? 

2020 has been a year of suffering. We’re experienced political unrest, disease, racial division, cultural polarization, riots, murder, hurricanes, and wild fires. We’ve lost jobs, businesses, savings, homes, special events, holidays, public figures, close friends and family members. We’ve been isolated, depressed, afraid, angry, and confused. 

As the year drew to a close, there was renewed optimism. We have a vaccine, a new president, a new year. Certainly 2021 will be better. But will it be? Will all the negative aspects of 2020 somehow be trashed along with our old paper calendars? That would be nice! 

Sadly it does not work that way. The troubles of December will creep into January. When will it end? How will it end? 

For the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land, they knew how long their suffering was going to last. God had told them 40 years. That’s a good long time. So it is no wonder they were impatient and frustrated. It was towards the end of their journey that this story is recorded: 

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient, depressed, and much discouraged because of the trials on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” 

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 

For the Israelites things went from bad to worse. In this case we know, because scripture tells us, who caused the suffering. It was God. He sent the snakes. Why was He making a bad thing worse? It is easy to blame God but let’s look again. The reason why the people are wandering 40 years is because in year two, they refused to enter the Promised Land when God led them there the first time (See Numbers 13). Here again they are rebelling against God and against Moses, the leader God has appointed to lead them. This is not the first rebellion. This is repeated theme all through the book of Numbers. So God, reminiscent of our own parents when frustrated with our misbehavior (“You want to cry? I’ll give you something to cry about!”), He intensifies their pain and demonstrated His power. His goal? To have them return to Him. And they do. 

The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” 

So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, attentively, expectantly, with a steady and absorbing gaze, they lived. The Israelites moved on and camped at Oboth. (Numbers 21:4-10) 

God forgives them immediately when they turn to Him. He also gives them an immediate way out. A snake on a pole. It does not make sense until Jesus Himself references it again in John 4:14-15, and then we see a foreshadowing to eternal healing, eternal salvation, eternal elimination of suffering through Jesus’ death on a cross. Unbelief was their sin. They did not trust that God saw their suffering, that He cared about them, that He was able to sustain them. They did not ask God to help them. They tried to fix it themselves by complaining to Moses. 

Unbelief is the big sin that interrupts God’s power on their behalf. He does not force Himself on anyone; they must turn to Him. Belief was what returned them to health, as they demonstrated their faith by looking at the bronze snake on the pole. Like the Israelites, God desires a relationship with us but He never forces us. We need to participate in the relationship by expectant faith. We must look to Him and trust He can heal us, our bodies, our country. That is our part of the relationship. And God’s part is to show Himself faithful. 

We are not used to suffering because life has been good to us and we are taught by our culture to expect life to be all up and to the right. We believe we alone have the power to make a perfect world. But that is a lie. 2020 has reminded us life is hard, unpredictable, and out of our control. Our efforts to fix our problems often have caused other troubles and made matters worse. Like in this Biblical account, trials come, and they certainly came for us in 2020. 

Like the Israelites, we will get bit. Suffering is part of life we can’t avoid and cannot fix ourselves. But there is hope because Jesus has come. He has been raised up on a pole so that all who look to Him attentively, expectantly, with a steady and absorbing gaze, will be healed. Then we will live and travel on. 

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.” For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:14-18) 

So did God cause our suffering in 2020? In this life, we may never know. Will God heal our bodies and our nation in 2021? We may not know that quickly either. Let us not forget that none of us make it out of this world alive. While Jesus did heal many when He was with us and He continues to heal to this day, He has a bigger goal than a physical one or than a political one. Jesus has come so we can be reconciled to God, and with that, we can be reconciled to each other. In this way, He brings His Kingdom, and His peace, to our earth. 

We can be sure that when we turn to Jesus in trust, Him will heal our hearts and make a better 2021.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

A Covid Christmas


While I was looking for Christmas ornaments online today I found this one. My sentiments exactly: “2020 stink stank stunk!” 

It has happened already. Our family Thanksgiving celebration was impacted by covid. Usually my mother comes to stay at our home and we enjoy an extended weekend together celebrating her birthday as well as Thanksgiving. We often have a good crowd of 15 or so at our table. However since my mom is 92 years old and both our daughters teach young children in person daily, that large of a gathering was too much of a risk. Christmas does not promise to be much better. Isolation, fear, uncertainty has taken a toll on the most wonderful time of the year. 

But like the story of the Grinch, I remember that no illness or hardship or isolation can take away this holy day. Matter of fact, isn't the story of Jesus’ birth really about hardship and isolation? Mary and Joseph had great hardship as they traveled to a place far from their home. Plus Mary was in her final stages of pregnancy. I wonder, did she travel alone with Joseph, isolated from her mother, aunts, sisters and cousins who could have encouraged her, comforted her, directed and helped her as she gave birth for the first time? As her time came, she gave birth in a manger, really it was a cave, surrounded by animals and hay and cow dung. Finally, Mary’s story of giving birth as a virgin was something only believed by Joseph due to the divine intervention of a dream. It was considered “fake news” by many even today. 

The story of the first Christmas reminds us that the coming of Christ is not about decorations and presents. It is not about comfort and parties. It is about hope and light in the darkness. When we recall the truth of His story and we treasure it in our hearts, it is a light that no one and nothing can extinguish. 

Not even covid. 

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:16-20)