Posts tagged ‘Forgiveness’

A Tale of Two Lamechs

Credit: “Lamech and His Two Wives” by Phillip Mendhurst / Wikimedia

A week ago on this blog, we looked at the genealogy in Genesis 5, which recounts the lineages of the first humans. We focused on one member of this genealogy in particular, Enoch, who, we are told, “was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5:24). Though Enoch’s life of 365 years may seem outrageously high compared to our contemporary lifespans, compared to the other people in the genealogy, many of whom lived nearly 1,000 years, his life could be said to have been “cut short.” We discovered, however, that a life cut short is not an indication of a curse. God can bless a short life with eternal life, as He did with Enoch.

This week, I’d like to focus on another character in this genealogy – Lamech, a descendant of one of the sons of Adam and Eve, Seth, and the father of Noah:

When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.” After Noah was born, Lamech lived 595 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Lamech lived a total of 777 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:28-31)

This is the second Lamech we meet in Genesis. The first was a descendant of another one of the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain. This first Lamech was filled with anger and vengeance:

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” (Genesis 4:19-24)

Here we find history’s first instance of a polygamous relationship and the second instance of a murder. This first Lamech walks in the footsteps of his forefather Cain as he kills a man, just as Cain killed his brother Abel. This Lamech even refers to his ancestor Cain, to whom God gave the promise of protection in a stroke of grace even after his heinous murder of his brother. After punishing Cain by sending him to a distant land, God promises him: “Anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over” (Genesis 4:15). This Lamech tries to outdo God’s vengeance with his own vengeance, threatening vengeance seventy-seven times over (Genesis 4:24).

This leads us back to the Lamech of Genesis 5. This second Lamech serves as an antithesis to the first Lamech. Whereas the first Lamech willingly participated in the curse of death brought on by sin, this second Lamech seeks to stymie that curse. When God first cursed Adam after he fell into sin, He said:

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:17)

This Lamech says his son Noah will:

…comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed. (Genesis 5:29)

The second Lamech seeks righteousness and comfort while the first Lamech sought vengeance by death.

Notice also his lifespan – 777 years. God’s vengeance on Cain’s behalf was seven times over – one seven. The first Lamech’s vengeance on his own behalf was seventy-seven times over – two sevens. But the second Lamech’s righteous life is 777 years – three sevens. It turns out that righteousness and comfort outdo vengeance and violence. The second Lamech’s three sevens crush the first Lamech’s two sevens.

It can be easy to follow the way of the first Lamech. When someone hurts us, we reflexively want to take vengeance. But the way of the second Lamech is where hope is found, as we yearn for someone to undo the curse sin has brought into this world. The second Lamech’s son, Noah, survived the curse of a flood, but was ultimately not unable to undo the curse of sin. But there was One who came from this line who did. Indeed, He reverses the curse of the first Lamech. When one of His disciples, Peter, asks Him:

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

The first Lamech’s vengeance is overcome by Jesus’ forgiveness, who is the second Lamech’s hope. May He be our hope, too.

July 12, 2021 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Anger and Forgiveness

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

A new study published in the Oxford Journal of Gerontology finds that those who work to resolve arguments quickly – or avoid arguments altogether – improve their long-term health. Researchers from Oregon State University found that the longer a person lets an unresolved conflict linger, the heavier and more significant it begins to feel. Robert Stawski, the senior author of the study, explains:

Everyone experiences stress in their daily lives. You aren’t going to stop stressful things from happening. But the extent to which you can tie them off, bring them to an end, and resolve them is definitely going to pay dividends in terms of your well-being. Resolving your arguments is quite important for maintaining well-being in daily life.

The study found that, if possible, it is best to resolve a conflict the same day it arises. Dr. Stawski added:

The extent to which you can tie off the stress so it’s not having this gnawing impact at you over the course of the day or a few days will help minimize the potential long-term impact.

Of course, this insight of resolving conflict within a day is not new to this study. Long before there was this study, there was the apostle Paul who wrote:

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27)

Unresolved anger is dangerous, Paul writes – not only emotionally, but spiritually. It gives the devil himself a foothold in your heart.

As a pastor, it is not uncommon for me to have a conversation with someone who is nursing a grudge and stewing in anger. And, to put it bluntly, they’re miserable. The problem is it’s difficult to stop a feeling. When I become angry, I don’t consciously choose to become angry. Anger just, well, happens. But even if I don’t consciously choose to become angry, I can consciously choose to calm down. I can talk to a friend who I trust to give me perspective. I can talk to myself and remind myself that my anger solves nothing. I can talk to the Lord and ask Him to bring me peace. And I can forgive. To quote the apostle Paul again:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31)

In other words, even if you can’t stop anger from bubbling up in your heart, when it does, you are called to get rid of it as fast as you can. But how? Paul tells us in the very next verse:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Anger, Paul says, is nothing forgiveness can’t fix. Yes, forgiveness is hard. Choosing to release a grudge against someone when they have hurt you is a heavy task. But anger is dangerous. And it’s heavy, too. So, choose what is better for them – and for you. Choose forgiveness.

April 26, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Fig Tree Undone

Yesterday began Holy Week, which commemorates the final days of Jesus’ life along with His crucifixion and resurrection. On the Monday of Holy Week, Jesus performs one of His most puzzling acts:

Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to find out if it had any fruit. When He reached it, He found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then He said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And His disciples heard Him say it.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree You cursed has withered!” (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21)

What an odd episode. Jesus fierily curses a fig tree for no apparent reason. What is going on?

When Adam and Eve fall into sin after disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Genesis records:

The eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)

An old Jewish tradition claims that the forbidden fruit itself was figs, with a Talmudic rabbi writing:

That which caused their downfall was then used to rectify them.

In other words, Adam and Eve tried to use the fruit with which they sinned to cover their sin.

But Adam and Eve’s pitiful fig leaf getups prove useless. They cannot hide their sin from God. God confronts them in their sin, curses them because of their sin, but then blesses them despite their sin:

The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)

God sacrifices and skins an animal to make a garment far better than anything they can make for themselves.

Jesus’ strange fig tree curse hearkens back to Adam and Eve’s fig leaf failure. Our pathetic attempts to hide our sin never work. So, on His way to the cross, Jesus graphically condemns every human attempt to fix ourselves in our sin when He curses a fig tree and its leaves. But in its place, God sacrifices His Son and gives us a garment infinitely better than anything we can come up with by ourselves – “a robe of His righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10)

Jesus’ curse on the fig tree undoes the curse of our sin and reminds us that there is a better tree – not a fig tree that brings death, but a cruciform tree that grants life.

March 29, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Cain, Kenites, and Relationships

File:The Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah 31. Cain and Abel make an offering. Genesis cap 4 vv 3-7. De Vos.jpg
Cain and Abel make offerings / Credit: Phillip Mendhurst / Wikimedia Commons

Right now, at the church where I serve, we are in a series on relationships. One of the points we made this past weekend is that no relationship is perfect. Even those who are very close to each other and have a deep love for each other can offend and hurt each other – often unintentionally. If such offenses and hurts are not confessed and addressed, envy, bitterness, and resentment will take root and the relationship will fracture.

The problems of envy, bitterness, and resentment in relationships, of course, are nothing new. Near the beginning of history, we read of a relationship that not only fractures; it is violently ended:

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also brought an offering – fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:2-8)

The story of Cain and Abel is tragic. But perhaps what makes it most jarring is that it is not particularly unique. Countless relationships throughout history have ended in terrible violence due to envy, bitterness, and resentment.

Perhaps you grew up in a household where envy, bitterness, and resentment were common. Perhaps these sinful roots resulted even in physical violence. Or perhaps these roots resulted in anger, mistrust, verbal altercations, or divorce. No matter what you have come from, for you, things can be different. In your relationships, things can be better.

Later in Scripture, we read of a people called the Kenites, which, in Hebrew, means “of Cain.” There is some debate over whether these people were actual descendants of Cain or whether they simply shared a name with Cain. I tend to favor the latter view, but regardless of where one stands on the debate, this much is clear – they chose a different relational path than their namesake Cain did. Moses’ father-in-law was a Kenite and his descendants lived among the tribe of Judah:

The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms with the people of Judah to live among the inhabitants of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad. (Judges 1:16)

The ancient envy, bitterness, and resentment that was so apparent in Cain and separated him from his brother gave way to a desire in the Kenites to be brotherly to the Judahites. And this brotherhood ran quite deep. Just a few chapters later, in Judges 4, Jabin, the king of the Canaanites, and Sisera his general, are oppressing the Israelites. The leader of Israel at this time, Deborah, leads a campaign against the Canaanites that is broadly successful, but Sisera manages to escape – that is, until he flees to the tent of a Kenite named Heber. Heber’s wife, Jael, invites Sisera into the tent only to seal the Israelites’ victory in battle by driving a tent peg into his head while he is sleeping. Yes, it is a gruesome episode, but it is also revealing. The Kenites, it turns out, were fully vested in and fully loyal to their brotherhood with the Israelites.

So, what does this mean for us? Like the Kenites with Cain, we can do relationships differently than those who have gone before us. We can form relationships that are stronger. And we don’t even need a tent peg to do so. The Israelites were commanded by God to fight their enemies, the Canaanites:

The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: “Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.” (Judges 4:6-7)

We are commanded by God through Christ to love our enemies:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43)

Jael drove a tent peg into Sisera in judgment of his sin and proved himself a brother to the Israelites. God drove nails into the hands of His Son because of our sin and made Him a brother to us:

Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:11)

Jesus’ relationship with us as our brother is the inspiration and foundation for our relationships with others. Envy, bitterness, and resentment really can give way to brotherhood.

February 8, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Very Good Blessing for Esau…and Us

“Esau and Jacob” by Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari / Wikipedia

In the story of Jacob and Esau, Jacob famously steals his brother’s blessing from his father, Isaac. Jacob, who dresses up like his brother to dupe his near-blind dad, receives this blessing from Isaac:

Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness – an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed. (Genesis 27:27-29)

In this blessing, Isaac promises Jacob four things. First, he promises Jacob material blessing – he will be blessed with much food and drink. Second, he promises Jacob political power – that nations and people will bow down to him. Third, he promises Jacob familial patronage – he will be the patriarch and guardian for his whole family. Fourth, he promises Jacob a spiritual legacy. Isaac’s words “may those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed” echo God’s words to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:3). Jacob, rather than his older brother Esau, will be the one to carry the spiritual mantle of Abraham forward in the family – and for the world.

This is quite a blessing. And unsurprisingly, when Esau finds out that his brother Jacob has received such a stellar blessing, which his dad intended to be his, he is furious – and desperate. He pleads to his father, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me” (Genesis 27:36)? What his father musters for him sounds quite meager:

Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck. (Genesis 27:39-40)

This seems more like a curse than a blessing! Isolation from others and subordination to a scorned sibling hardly sound enticing. And yet, embedded in this “blessing” is a glimmer of hope: “But when you grow restless, you will throw off his yoke from your neck.” When Esau first hears these words, he immediately interprets them as a license for violence. In the very next verse, we find Esau looking forward to his father’s imminent death and saying to himself: “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob” (Genesis 27:41). Murder is how Esau believes that he will throw off the yoke of his brother’s betrayal.

But things don’t turn out the way Esau plots them.

Instead, Jacob, learning of his brother’s secret plot, flees. Over five decades pass before they see each other again. But when they finally do, the scene is moving:

Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. (Genesis 33:4)

At first, Esau believed that he would be able to throw off the yoke of his brother’s betrayal by exacting vengeance from him. But, it turns out, he was only able to throw off the yoke of his brother’s betrayal by forgiving him.

As the holidays approach, many of us have family members – or others – by whom we may feel betrayed. Perhaps this is the time of year to trade a weak hope for vengeance for a better blessing of forgiveness. This is the only way the yoke of the betrayal someone has committed against you can truly be removed from you. This is what Esau learned, and this is the way Jesus shows.

It turns out Esau received a pretty good blessing after all.

November 9, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Holy Week for Unholy Times

art-cathedral-christ-christian-208216.jpgThis week is the beginning of what is, in the history and tradition of the Christian Church, called Holy Week. It is a commemoration of the final week of Jesus’ life before His death on a cross in anticipation of His victory over death on Easter.

Yesterday, we celebrated Palm Sunday, which recounts Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey while crowds hail His arrival by laying palm fronds at His feet (John 12:13). Palms were a symbol of Jewish nationalistic pride. In 164 BC, after the Greek tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who had persecuted and murdered many Jews, was defeated, the Jews waved palms in celebration of their victory. On Palm Sunday, the crowds are hoping that, just as their Greek oppressors were taken down almost two centuries earlier, Jesus will be the revolutionary who takes down their Roman oppressors.

Then, this Thursday, we will observe Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” is a derivative of the Latin word mandatum, which means “command.” On this night, Jesus gives His disciples two commands. This first command is one of love:

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

The second is a command given when Jesus institutes a supper, which we now call the Lord’s Supper. Jesus instructs His disciples:

Do this in remembrance of Me. (Luke 22:19)

Thus, on Maundy Thursday, Christians across the world will partake in the Lord’s Supper – not just to obey a command, but to receive what Jesus promises in this holy meal: “the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

The day after Maundy Thursday is Good Friday – the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything good about it. Jesus is arrested by His enemies and condemned to die not because He has committed a crime, but because the religious elites of His day hate His popularity among the crowds in Jerusalem. Even the man who condemns Jesus to death on a cross, Pontius Pilate, knows that it is “out of envy that they had delivered Him up” (Matthew 27:18). This is a dark, unholy moment. As Jesus says to His accusers when they arrest Him: “This is your hour – when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53). And yet, even in this dark, unholy moment, holiness cannot and will not be defeated. Righteousness will reign. For even though Jesus’ enemies commit an unholy crime against Him, He is giving His life for them. His sacrifice is what makes Holy Week truly “holy.”

The times in which we are living right now feel dark and unholy. “Stay-at-home” restrictions are getting stricter. The curve of infections and deaths from COVID-19 is rising steeper. For millions of people, life is getting harder. And yet, this week – Holy Week – can remind us that holiness is found in the most unholy of places. After all, an ancient instrument of torture and execution – the cross – has now become a worldwide symbol of consolation and hope. And so, even if this week feels unholy, this week can still be a Holy Week – not because we live in a holy world, but because we have hope in a Holy One.

April 6, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Hug of Forgiveness

It was the hug felt round the world.

When Brandt Jean, the 18-year-old brother of Botham Jean, who was murdered by Amber Guyger, asked if he could hug his brother’s killer, the courtroom flooded with tears.  Mr. Jean’s hug capped an extraordinary – and, honestly, supernatural – expression of love, compassion, and forgiveness toward Ms. Guyger.  When Mr. Jean first took the stand last Wednesday, he was supposed to, following Ms. Guyger’s conviction, offer a victim impact statement – something common in cases like these.  But Mr. Jean’s impact statement was unlike any other and is worth recounting in full:

If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you.

And I don’t think anyone can say it – again I’m speaking for myself and not on behalf of my family – but I love you just like anyone else.

And I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother did, but I personally want the best for you. And I wasn’t going to ever say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do.

And the best would be: give your life to Christ.

I’m not going to say anything else. I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.

Again, I love you as a person. And I don’t wish anything bad on you.

I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please? Please?

I’m not sure how he did it, but Mr. Jean managed to honor his brother’s memory, extend forgiveness to his brother’s killer, and invite her to trust in Christ, all in a matter of moments.

This was a complicated case.  Ms. Guyger claimed she shot Botham Jean because she believed she was entering her apartment while accidentally entering his.  When she saw him, she thought he was an intruder and was afraid, so she shot him.  At the same time, there was plenty of evidence introduced at the trial to call into question her character.  She, herself a police officer, was having an affair with another married officer, to whom she also sent several racially tinged text messages.  Then, she shot an unarmed black man.  There were plenty of reasons Mr. Jean could have been suspicious of her and angry at her.  Instead, he decided to extend forgiveness to her.

As conversations about Mr. Jean’s offer of forgiveness have ricocheted across cable news networks, I heard one commentator worry that Mr. Jean had extended to Ms. Guyger “cheap grace.”  I would respectfully disagree.  There’s nothing cheap about the grace Mr. Jean extended to Ms. Guyger.  The grace Mr. Jean extended came at the cost of his brother.  And there’s nothing more valuable than a life.

But, I suppose, this is the way grace always works.  For the grace that God extends to us comes at the cost of God’s Son.  And there’s nothing more valuable than His life.

There’s a lot of pain – especially along racial lines – that has bubbled to the surface because of this murder.  Ms. Guyger’s ten-year sentence feels to many like justice denied.  And make no mistake about it: justice is important.  Crime and time go together appropriately and importantly.  But it also must be understood that what Mr. Jean offered in that courtroom was not injustice.  It was something totally outside of justice.  It was Jesus.

To Mr. Jean, I offer my condolences.  What happened to your brother is not only tragic, but sinful.  But to Mr. Jean, I also offer my thanks.  For what you did in offering forgiveness was not only inspirational, it was incarnational.  You brought Jesus into that courtroom with you.  And a whole nation noticed.

October 7, 2019 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Lamentation and Restoration

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Lament is not something at which we, as a culture, are particularly skilled. Our carefully curated posts on social media often show only the best moments of our lives, any pain being artfully disguised behind filtered photos of smiling faces in exotic places. At funerals, we often hear about how a deceased loved one would not want those left behind to cry. Instead, they would only want a celebration! And, of course, there is the ubiquitous answer to the ubiquitous question, “How are you?” Any answer other than “fine” may draw some disinterested eye rolls. After all, the question is not really a request for information, but the product of polite social expectation. Lament is not something at which we, as a culture, are particularly skilled.

And yet, in the Bible, there is a whole book called “Lamentations.” It describes the despair and despondency of the Israelites after their nation falls into the hands of the Babylonians and they are carried off from their homes into exile. The book opens with a haunting picture:

How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave. (Lamentations 1:1)

The capital city of Israel, Jerusalem, once the center of Israel’s life, now lies abandoned. So Israel laments.

But Israel does not just lament over an empty city. Israel also laments over her own sin, for she knows that her exile is a divine punishment for her rebellion:

Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean. All who honored her despise her, for they have all seen her naked; she herself groans and turns away. Her filthiness clung to her skirts; she did not consider her future. Her fall was astounding; there was none to comfort her. (Lamentations 1:8-9) 

In very picturesque language, Israel describes the blight of her sin and the resulting plight of her people. It is brutal.

So, what is Israel’s way forward? Is this the end of her story? We know the answer is “no.” She, however, is not so sure. Lamentations ends like this:

Restore us to Yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless You have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure. (Lamentations 5:21-22)

Israel is hoping for God’s grace, but she is not sure of God’s grace. She wonders if God has not rejected her forever.

Ancient Israel is not the only one who sometimes doubts God’s grace. We do, too. I have talked to many people over my years in ministry who struggle to believe that God’s grace could be for them. Their guilt feels too heavy. Their sin seems too deep. They truly wonder if God would ever, or even could ever, help people like them.

When Jesus is speaking with His disciples, He says to them, “The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected” (Mark 9:12). And Jesus is rejected – on a cross. He is rejected by men and, ultimately, by God as He takes on Himself the sins of the world – all of the things that God rejects. But because God rejected Jesus then, we have the promise that He will not reject us now. He will always restore us, even when we fall into sin. He will always invite us to return, no matter how far we stray. We have no reason to wonder about God’s grace. It is for us.

Lamentations ends with a doubt about whether or not a nation’s sin can be forgiven. We, however, have received a confident answer to that doubt in Christ. There is no sin too great for grace.

September 23, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Dinner, Autumn, Fall, Food

Credit: Max Pixel

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  So much of my day-to-day life centers around what I must do.  There are tasks to complete and errands to run and bills to pay and conversations to have and decisions to make and Bible studies and sermons to write and preach.  These things to do are often, even if not always, joyous, but Thanksgiving reminds me that I must never get so caught up in what I have to do that I forget about what has already been done.  God has done great things for me.  He has given me a family I adore, a church I love, and a forgiveness I need.  And for these things, I am called to be thankful.

Thanksgiving keeps me humble.  When I am tempted to boast in all I have accomplished, Thanksgiving reminds me of all I’ve been given.  Even my life itself is a gift of God’s grace.  This is why I must continually and humbly rely on Him.

Each year, I make it my tradition to read a Thanksgiving Proclamation from one of our nation’s founders.  This year, I came across George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789.  In it, he thanks God:

…for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

President Washington rattles of a list of the many blessings for which, he believes, a newly minted nation should be thankful.  And he’s right.  These are things for which our nation should still be thankful.  But what I love most about his proclamation comes in what he says next:

May we then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions.

President Washington was under no delusion that our nation’s blessings were somehow the product of our nation’s – or her individuals’ – intrinsic merit.  This is why he offers not only a prayer of thanksgiving, but a prayer of confession.  For he knew that God had blessed this new nation in the same way He has always blessed every nation:  by grace.

When God chose Israel to be His people and gave to her a Promised Land, He made sure she knew her blessings came by His grace:

It is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.  Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the LORD your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the LORD.  (Deuteronomy 9:6-7)

God did not bless Israel because of her righteousness, but in spite of her unrighteousness.  God works this way with every nation and every person.

Ultimately, then, to be thankful is to be repentant, knowing that we have what we have not because we’ve earned it or deserved it, but because God has willed it.  Thus, each Thanksgiving, I am called to make little of myself and my accomplishments, which are few, and much of God and His blessings, which are bountiful.

As this long weekend draws to a close, my prayer is that the holiday of Thanksgiving becomes a habit of thanksgiving.  After all, I have plenty to be thankful for.

You do, too.

November 26, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Who Is God’s Enemy?

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There is a fascinating exchange between Joshua and an unnamed man right before he fights the battle at Jericho.  As Joshua is nearing the city and mustering his troops, he looks up and sees a man with a sword drawn in his hand.  He asks him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”  The man replies, “Neither, but as a commander of the army of the LORD I have now come” (Joshua 5:13-14).

This exchange, though somewhat cryptic, is extremely revelatory.  In this exchange, this man reveals who He is.  He is part neither of Israel’s army nor of the army of Israel’s enemy.  Instead, He commands the forces of God Almighty.  In other words, He is not just a man.  He is divine.  This is why this commander echoes the words that God speaks to Joshua’s predecessor, Moses, from a burning bush.  “Take of your sandals,” this commander says to Joshua, “for the place where you are standing is holy” (Joshua 5:15).  This commander speaks the same words God once spoke to Moses because He Himself is God, who is now speaking to Joshua.

But the revelation that is given to Joshua in this man does not end here.  For this man reveals not only who God is, but who God cares about.  Before one of the biggest battles in Israel’s history, this commander comes to Joshua and tells him that He is not somehow blindly for Israel and against Jericho.  But neither is he for Jericho and against Israel.  Instead, He is for God who, ultimately, is for all.  It is indeed true that God does rain down His wrath on Jericho’s sin in this story.  But this does not mean that He does not love Jericho’s people.  God is much more interested in saving people than in siding against them.

In our current milieu, I think it can be all too easy to forget that God cares about not only us, but those who we call “enemies.”  But if we took the time to actually ask Him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” God’s answer might just surprise us.  It might just be, “Neither.”  God is much more interested in loving the world than He is in making enemies.

The next time you are tempted to hate your enemy, remember this commander’s interaction with Joshua.  And remember the admonition of Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  And, most importantly, remember the action of Jesus: “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10).  Paul says that God’s enemy, before the cross, was you.  So, ask yourself, “How did God treat me when I was His enemy?”

Go and do likewise with your enemy.

October 8, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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