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Responding Like Jesus

“He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” -Isaiah 53:3NLT

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” -Hebrews 5:7NIV

The Sadducees and Pharisees harassed and heckled and challenged Jesus everywhere He went. Yet He always responded with patience and wise teaching. Most of his tormentors rejected this, slinking away silenced. But others who witnessed these encounters, including some of the Sadducees and Pharisees, noted and learned from Jesus’ response. Our amazing Lord turned His challenges into teachable moments for others instead of letting His enemies put Him on the defense. Later, when He was alone, He prayed for those enemies—and most likely for Himself—for needed strength to face them again and again.

Father, please help me to remember Jesus’ example in this. Teach me how to respond to challenges and insults with patience and wisdom and sound teaching. Then remind me to bring and release the pain from such encounters to You. Help me forgive those who hurt me and pray for them as well. In Jesus’ name, I pray. I choose to follow His ways. Amen.

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A Prayer about God’s Way

Romans 5-8

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:6-8

Lord, how did you do this? I really need to know. While we were still sinners, while we were at our very worst, knowing all that we had done, were doing, would do, and still have yet to do, You chose to give Your life for us—to give us hope, to make it possible for us to live as children in Your Kingdom now and to enjoy eternity with You forever.

What an amazing and absolutely undeserved gift! I thank You, Lord. Forever, I thank You.

But how did You do this? We hurt You, Lord! We still hurt You today. Even those of us who love You and live for You and serve You sometimes fail. And so many aren’t even trying, won’t hear Your voice, have no interest in Your will or believe that You are there.

When people hurt me, Lord, I build walls. My natural inclination is to protect myself from anyone who causes my heart pain.

But this is not Your way. And I know Your way is better. So teach me, Lord. I’m listening. Please help me understand.

Your Word says that You know how we are formed. You remember that we are dust. (See Psalm 103:14). Is this the key, Lord? You know that we are human, prone to act according to our own interests instead of in obedience to You. You know that our understanding is limited, our instincts hard to recognize and overcome. We are children still learning so much; there is so much to learn.

Is knowing this what gives You such fathomless compassion, grace, patience . . .

Hope?

Do You view us with hope, Lord? Not hope that we might be okay, like children hope they might get something for Christmas, but with that certain-knowledge-of-a-future-in-Heaven-with-You type of hope that You give to us once we chose to become Yours? No matter how we’re behaving now, You know how we’re going to turn out. Is that a kind of hope? Is hope something You can do?

Hebrews 12:2 says, “For the joy set before [Jesus], he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus endured great suffering and humiliation because of the joy that He knew would follow someday. That sounds like looking forward with certain hope to me.

Whether the terminology is right or not, it’s not something I can enjoy or apply to my relationships with difficult people. I don’t know how they will turn out. You haven’t chosen to reveal that to me. (I can see how that may be a good thing.)

But I do know that we are all formed in Your image and that we are all works in progress in Your hands—still dust. And because I know we are all in Your hands . . . and You love us . . . and You are faithful, able, and good, I can trust You, follow You, obey. I can choose to do right even when other people don’t. How else will they ever see You through me?

You loved the world so much You gave Your one and only Son that whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life. (See John 3:16.) I live not to protect myself from harm but to trust You with my life no matter what so that “whoever”—no matter how sinful, hurtful, or hateful—may come to believe in Jesus and enjoy eternal life with You some day.

I do want all people to come to know You, Lord. Yet sometimes I struggle over being the one You call to love them in Your name—especially if they happen to be hurting me through the process. Please continue to help me with this. In doing whatever You lead me to do, I’m learning to trust You with me.

Lord, thank You for loving so much—for sending Jesus to make our salvation possible, to teach us how to live. Help us to follow His example, loving others for Your sake. We love You, Lord. Our lives are Yours. Always. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Intentionally Removing the Bitter Root

Inch Plant Bloom“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” -Hebrews 12:15

We have an interesting plant in our yard. It’s called an Inch Plant. The flowers on this plant are a pretty shade of pink. The rest of the plant is a purplish, kind of leafy vine. It’s trying to take over the yard.

My husband has learned that if he trims the plant, he can take the trimmings and plant them in other parts of the yard where they’ll produce new plants. If he doesn’t pick up the trimmings and do something intentional with them, though, they will take root where they fall. And if he never trims the plant, it really will take over the yard—perhaps the whole neighborhood—and fast!

Bitterness is like that Inch Plant. When someone hurts us, we may choose to forgive—and even mean it. But memories tend to linger like the plant trimmings. If we don’t do something intentional with them, we may find ourselves dwelling on the memory, then on the pain. Just like that, bitterness can take root in our minds and hearts again.

Inch PlantTo be intentional, we need to take hold of the memory as soon as it forms. We need to remember that we chose to forgive and reaffirm that decision. Then we need to take the memory to God. Forgiving doesn’t mean that justice won’t be done. It means we choose to trust God’s method of handling the matter—without our action or input. We remove ourselves from the judgment seat—and even from the witness bench.

Then, instead of demanding justice or dwelling on how we were wronged, we can talk to God about how we felt when we were hurt and tell Him about whatever feelings returned with the memory. We can tell Him that we choose to forgive yet again—just as He’s forgiven us. We can ask Him to heal our hearts and take away the pain. We reaffirm our faith in God’s care and go on our way full of His peace.

Interestingly enough, God’s peace can grow and spread just like bitterness can. We can (and probably will) pass either along to the people around us, too. Rehashing a bitter memory may tempt us sometimes, but peace is a healthier option to let take root in our hearts and minds.

Father, remind me to treat bitterness like a weed and root it out whenever it appears. I choose to forgive those who’ve hurt me. I trust You to work in their lives—just as I know You are working in mine. Help me to surrender painful memories to You to cultivate Your peace in my life. Amen.

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Living Together in Unity

Psalm 133-1

It was like a Beatrix Potter story come true in our own back yard!

Two squirrels were fighting high up in our tree. My son turned to look just as one threw the other to the ground. The victim landed on his back and stayed there, stunned. As Seth was thinking about going to check on the squirrel, the neighborhood cat, who likes to hang out in our yard, beat him to it. The squirrel came to his senses just in time, jumped up, let out a screech of horror, and raced back up the tree.

I’m sure the brother squirrel apologized. The mother squirrel scolded. And everyone drank some chamomile tea.

Because the little squirrels couldn’t get along with each other, they left one of their number vulnerable to another threat. Thankfully, the drama in our backyard had a happy ending—for everyone except the cat.

Sometimes Christians struggle to get along, too. We’re still human after all. There are just so many different ways to not see eye to eye!

Yes. It’s challenging. But when we don’t make the effort to live in unity, we leave each other vulnerable to an even bigger threat:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” –1 Peter 5:8

Not to mention the damage our disagreements do to our testimony.

It’s good and pleasant when God’s people live together in unity. It’s dangerous to all, though, when they don’t. Let’s learn a lesson from the squirrels: be thankful for our shared refuge (for us, in Christ, rather than in a tree)—and stock up on calming, chamomile tea!

Father, thank You for all our brothers and sisters in Christ, for adopting us all into Your family. Though it’s sometimes hard to get along, help each of us with this. Please give us patience with each other and the ability (and desire) to forgive quickly. Show us the bigger picture: we’re vulnerable to Satan’s trickery whenever we fight. Give us a Spirit of unity to stand together in You, come what may, for the glory of Your Kingdom and the good of all humankind. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

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The Conversation Begins: Confession

The Conversation Begins“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long . . . Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.”Psalm 32:3 and 5

At the beginning of this Psalm, David writes, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.” The rest of the psalm tells us how to enjoy this blessing. We do so by confessing our sin.

Confession is agreeing with God that sin is sin, talking to Him about any sin in our lives, asking Him to forgive it, and promising to turn away from it with His Spirit’s help. When we argue with God about what is or is not sin, denying the truth that He has placed inside of us, there is deceit in our spirit. We are lying to ourselves and to God. Sometimes we’re really good at this, but God’s Spirit knows the truth and works to reveal it to us. Until we confess, we will feel God’s heavy hand on our hearts (Psalm 32:4).

Psalm 32-6When we sin, God’s Spirit convicts us—not because He wants to condemn us or make us feel badly about ourselves or our failures, but because He wants to heal us and set us free. Sin is a toxic disease! Whether or not we or our society agrees with God that sin is sin, if we are doing something that God has told us not to do—for our own good and for His glory, we will suffer sin’s effects. Psalm 32 shows this. Until David decided to confess his sin, to stop keeping silent about it and covering it up, he felt the pain of it clear into his bones. David’s sin made him miserable!

But once he confessed, God set him free. David wrote Psalm 32 to encourage others to find this freedom and to enjoy all of its benefits:

“Let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found” (v. 6).

“I [God] will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (v. 8).

“Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him” (v. 10).

Confession sets us free from actions and attitudes that cause us—and sometimes the people around us—harm. It also brings us into God’s presence where we’ll enjoy His love, His guidance, and His peace. God offers us an abundant life full of joy, and He has graciously shown us how to receive it. We start by asking Him to forgive and remove the disease of our sin.

Search us, God, and know our hearts;
    test us and know our anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in us,
    and lead us in the way everlasting. Amen. (from Psalm 139:23-24)

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Grace: The Stuff of Which Priceless Pearls are Made

Grace is The Stuff“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. I wait for your salvation, Lord, and I follow your commands.”Psalm 119:165-166

As I continue to study the topic of grace in my weekly Bible study group, I’ve been presented with many examples of people trying to find the grace to forgive the big stuff—the seemingly unforgivable, usually one-time, wrongs. At the same time, I’m trying to figure out how to come up with the grace to forgive little irritants—recurring annoyances that I must encounter again and again. Sometimes we are bound to people or circumstances that cause us much stress. How do we respond with grace?

My husband’s and my current irritant is an oppressive property manager. Before signing our lease, we read it carefully and asked many questions about everything that concerned us. Once we were sure we understood what we were getting into, we signed. This was about two weeks before we actually moved in. When we arrived in town and went to pick up our keys, however, the property manager presented us with one more paper to sign. This paper had all the deal breakers on it. Had he been up front with us, we never would have signed the lease. Yet our choice at that point, he made clear, was to sign and proceed on his terms or refuse to sign, forfeit our security deposit, six weeks rent, and non-refundable pet fee, and find ourselves without a home.

We signed under duress.

Most of the time it is okay. We love the house. But once or twice a month we have to deal with property-manager-related irritations. If he would leave us alone, we’d happily live here for three or four years and prove to be among the best tenants ever. As it is, once our lease is up, he’ll probably be looking for someone else to live in this house. Those last minute additions to our lease are just. that. annoying.

When I think of this situation, I pray for grace. Lots of grace! Here is what God is helping me to understand:

Irritants like our property manager are like the grains of sand that get into an oyster’s shell. The sand irritates the delicate oyster, but there’s nothing the oyster can do to get the sand out of the shell. Instead, the oyster produces some kind of secretion to coat the sand and ease the pain. Every time the sand irritates, the oyster adds another layer until a pearl is formed. Naturally, the greater irritations produce the largest pearls.

This is grace. When I feel irritation building up inside of me, I ask God to help me wrap it in grace. The grace doesn’t come from inside of me, though. I must go to God for what I need. He calms me down and comforts me. A pearl is born. If the irritation won’t go away, I must go to God again and again. The pearl grows every time I do. It occurs to me that this process works, over time, whether I’m dealing with a recurring, little irritation or trying to forgive a huge, unforgivable-in-my-own-strength sin. In either case, when I feel pain, I go to God and ask for more of His grace.

I saw this in action this morning as I read through Psalm 119. I’ve always seen this Psalm as a tribute to God’s Wisdom, praise for His Word—for His Law. This morning, though, I noticed there are actually two recurrent, almost parallel, themes. Along with expressing his devotion to God’s Law, the psalmist is pleading for salvation, deliverance, and freedom from oppression. This man was dealing with a serious irritant. Yet he responded by declaring his devotion to God, his loyalty to God’s law, his love for God’s Word as he asked for relief.

We can do this, too. No earthly oppressor has any kind of ultimate authority over us. We are members of God’s Kingdom. In His perfect timing, He will fight for us. He will set us free. When we look at any annoying, aggravating, or troubling situation from that perspective, the irritant seems to shrink. In fact, we can almost laugh at some; our God is just. that. BIG!

Paul wrote about this when he told the Corinthians about his thorn. We don’t know what this thorn was, but it irritated Paul. Three times, he asked God to take it away, but God refused. His reply to Paul was “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This is a challenging passage, but I think I’m starting to get it now. God’s grace is the stuff we ask for when we need comfort from the pain of life’s thorns. As the grace builds up, beautiful pearls are born and grow for the glory of God’s name.

In a future post, I’ll write a little more about how these pearls bring glory to God’s name. In the meantime, I’m still calling on God for grace in irritating situations.

  • What are you asking God to take away or free you from?
  • How can you remind yourself to go to God for grace when something irritates?
  • How has He comforted you in troubling circumstances that you have no immediate power to change?

Father, thorns are ugly and painful, yet sometimes we choose to endure the pain and complain. Please remind us that You have all the grace we need for any situation. We only have to come to you. Please comfort us until You choose to set us free. Create a beautiful pearl in our lives for all the world to see. Thank You, Lord, for grace. Amen.

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Gracefully Removing the Labels That Hurt

Ugly LabelIn my current Bible study class, we’re studying the topic of grace. In this past week’s lesson, we looked at the story of The Woman Caught in Adultery. You can read the story here if you are not familiar with it.

To summarize, this woman was dragged before Jesus by a group of legalistic religious leaders who were using her to trap Jesus. They wanted to know if He would enforce the letter of the law and have her stoned or deny the law and condemn Himself. They thought they’d wrangled Jesus into a no-win situation. But Jesus simply told them to let whoever among them who was without sin throw the first stone. The crowd slowly dispersed. When the woman realized that no one had condemned her, Jesus told her that He wouldn’t condemn her either. He told her to go and sin no more.

At this point in the lesson, our group leader asked us what we thought became of the woman. My imagination grabbed hold of that question, and I found myself thinking about it long after I’d gone home.

The Bible doesn’t answer this question for us. We like to hope that after an encounter like that . . . with Jesus . . . in person, the woman went away changed, happily following Jesus and living according to His Word.

Realistically, though, this woman would have had some issues to work through. The religious leaders exposed her sin to the whole community. The people hadn’t stoned her, but she bore a label anyway. Adulteress. Dead woman walking by Jesus’ mysterious grace. How did her husband and family feel about her sin? Her lover’s wife and friends? Was she welcome at the Temple? In the market? Or was she branded an outcast? Shunned?

When people receive grace from Jesus and try to change their lives as a result, people who liked the way they were often try to pull them back into sin while people who were hurt by their actions are afraid to trust them. Jesus lifts people like this woman up out of the dirt, telling them to go and sin no more, but other people continue to throw dirt at them behind His back. If they throw enough dirt, people who are trying to change are tempted to give up in despair.

Label of GraceI don’t know if this is what happened to the woman or not. I’d like to hope everyone there was changed by that encounter with Jesus that day. I’d also like to hope that, even if the crowd wasn’t changed, the woman knew Jesus forgave her and found His grace to be enough. (It is, you know. This is true.) I hope that, if this woman did find herself a Scarlet Letter outcast, she chose to leave what she no longer had anyway in order to stay close to Christ. If you are in this situation yourself, clinging to Christ is the key. Let Him strengthen, teach, and encourage you as you pray He’ll also work in the lives of those who are causing you pain. “Come near to God, and He will come near to you.”James 4:8

When I consider this Bible story from the what-happened-next point of view, I realize how important it is to follow Jesus’ example of grace. As His impromptu object lesson revealed, we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We find those words in Romans 3:23 followed by these, “and have been justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Justified: Just as if I’d never sinned. I learned that definition so long ago, I don’t even remember where. But it’s a perfect reminder here. When someone receives Jesus’ grace, that grace removes the sin labels. Therefore, our grace has to stop seeing those labels, labels that are no longer there. The shamed and humiliated adulteress has become the beloved daughter of our King. We need to learn to welcome her as our new sister and friend.

Since the afternoon of that Bible study, God has been working hard on me. He’s been bringing names to mind—people from the past, sometimes very long ago, whom I’ve labelled with concrete signs. The labels stick to people who’ve hurt me—or mine. I forgave but left the labels on . . . to protect myself . . . just in case. These labels don’t say things like adulteress. Instead, they say, “Dangerous! Beware.” These labels must come down. I must ask God for the grace to pray them down. I must entrust my heart to His care, and trust His work in their hearts as well.

At the same time, I’m realizing that there may be people out there I’ve hurt. Not intentionally, but maybe through a careless action, a misspoken or misinterpreted word. I’m asking God to give them grace for me—maybe even, if needed, give me the opportunity to make things right. I’m asking God to heal wounds given and received by filling all our hearts with His grace. May all the ugly labels go away.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for the grace You offer. Help us to receive it. Help us to pass it on. We’ve all sinned and fall short of Your glory, but You sent Your Son to make it right. Help us to remember the gift we’ve been given at such great cost. Help us follow Christ’s example toward us. Please make all the ugly labels go away. Help us to see each other as You do, so we can encourage each other along. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

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Devising Ways to Restore Relationship

“Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.” -2 Samuel 14:14

2 Samuel 14-14This verse from 2 Samuel appears in the middle of the account of one of the greatest tragedies of King David’s life. His son Absalom had murdered David’s other son Amnon to avenge David’s daughter Tamar. Then Absalom had fled to Geshur where he stayed for three years. Second Samuel 13:39 tells us that David longed to go to Absalom but refused to do so. The verse above was spoken by a woman sent to David by Joab, David’s nephew and the commander of his army, who wanted to help David restore the relationship with his son. Unfortunately, though David chose to allow Absalom to return to Jerusalem, he still refused to meet with him face to face. Absalom became bitter, tried to steal the kingdom from David, and was murdered by Joab.

I wonder how things would have been different had David welcomed his son home with open arms . . . or at least with a little face time at the day’s equivalent of Starbuck’s.

We can’t be too hard on David, though. We don’t know what Absalom was like before Amnon assaulted Tamar. He may have been rebellious and threatening from the start. And murder is a serious offense. If David wasn’t comfortable allowing a murderer, even his own son, to live under his roof, near his wives and other children, I’m not sure we can fault him for that. Still the ultimate outcome was tragic. Absalom’s death broke David’s heart.

I love the insights of verse 14, however. This verse is all about God and His relationship with us—an example the woman encouraged David to follow regarding his son—one we can follow regarding close family members or friends who wound us. Let’s look at this verse more closely:

“Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die.” We have wronged God, and we can’t fix it any more than we can pick up water once it’s spilled on the ground. What’s done is done. The consequence of death is inevitable.

Or is it? Keep reading:

“But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.”

God is God. What He wants will be. He wants relationship. He won’t force us into a relationship with Him because He wants us to come to Him because we want to. Yet He made a way to make relationship possible again.

I love that this verse was written long before Jesus came. He Is the way that God devised to save us from the consequences of our sin, to restore relationship. But the woman who spoke to David did not know about Him. She must have had great faith in God, in His mercy, and in His love and faithfulness. Maybe she was referring to the then-existing sacrificial system. Maybe she had noticed God’s work in the lives of people around her, His drawing them to Him. Whatever she was referring to, she knew our God wants relationship with His people and works to make it possible in spite of our sin.

This is why it’s so important for us to forgive those who have wronged us. Yes. We need to protect ourselves from further harm, and we have that right. Yet, as far as it is possible, we must strive to restore relationship. We must prayerfully devise appropriate ways to reach out with forgiveness and in hopes of fellowship even if all we can do is call or send a message once in a while to let the person know they’re still in our thoughts, we still care.

Granted, there are times when even that is not possible. The person, like Absalom, may be dangerous (physically, mentally, or emotionally) or may be uninterested in further contact. If that’s the case, our responsibility is to forgive, pray when God brings the person to mind, and move on. But when we can work toward mending a relationship, we offer the one who hurt us a great gift, and we receive an even greater gift from God in return as He uses our actions to make us more like Christ, His Son.

David refused to welcome Absalom home, but God has devised the perfect way to invite His banished children to enjoy a forever relationship with Him. Not all accept the invitation, but it’s there just the same. We thank Him when we follow His example and reach out with forgiveness.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” –Romans 12:18

Father, I’ll thank You forever for sending Jesus to make it possible for me and for all who want to to enjoy life with You! When others wrong me, help me to remember what You’ve done. Give me the desire to forgive and, if there is a way, reveal my part in restoring a healthy relationship. Amen.

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Confronting Others God’s Way

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.” –Matthew 18:15, NLT

Purple PansyConfronting someone we care about is hard. In fact, the closer we are to a person, the harder a confrontation may be because we fear rejection, hard feelings, even loss of relationship if the discussion is not well-received. That’s why we must carefully consider how we’ll handle confrontation when it’s necessary.

When someone we care about offends us, we have options to consider—lots of options! Sadly, not all of these are healthy, but all of them are hard. In fact, the healthiest choice may actually be the hardest one of all.

Let’s consider some of the ways we may choose to deal with an offense:

1. Retaliation. At first, this probably feels like the easiest option—if not the most tempting. An eye for and eye—a tooth for a tooth. Exact justice so all’s fair. Revenge is sweet, isn’t it?

Not really. Especially if we care about the person we’re getting vengeance on. Now we’ll not only have to suffer with the pain of having been offended but also with the guilt of having offended someone else and, possibly, the end of a relationship. At the least, damage on both sides will have to be repaired. Retaliation may feel good for a moment, but once that moment passes, we’ll have a bigger mess to clean up.

2. Avoidance. This may seem like an easy option, too—unless we live with the one who has caused us pain. Even then, it’s possible to go about our business pretending that what happened didn’t really bother us. Denial can become our happy place! But only for a time.

The trouble is, when we choose avoidance or live in denial, we’re actually waiting for the one who hurt us to come to his or her senses, apologize, and make things right. But how can another do this if he or she doesn’t even know we are hurt? Eventually, we’ll become frustrated and impatient or the unknowing offender will repeat the offense, pushing us to confront in anger or to make our withdrawal from the relationship permanent. If we care about the person who has offended us, we’ll want to avoid this.

3. Gossip. This one disguises itself as asking for help. We go to a disinterested (or overly-interested) third party with the story of our wound, inviting that party to give us advice or intervene on our behalf. At the very least, this newcomer will give us sympathy . . . we believe.

Unfortunately, this only burdens the third party in an unfair way. The matter to be resolved is between the offender and the offended (unless, according to Matthew 18:16, we’ve already confronted our offender, who then refused to acknowledge any wrong-doing). Once we tell our side of the story to a third party, that person will feel obligated to act—to confront for or with us, to talk to the offender to hear his or her side of the story, or to confront us with the offense that we are now guilty of. Worse than that, if the one who offended us learns we’ve talked about the situation to someone else, the offender will feel offended, too. We’ll find ourselves owing two people an apology instead of receiving the apology we believe we deserve. I don’t think any of us wants this.

4. Direct Confrontation. I’ve already said that this may be the hardest option, but it’s the only one that keeps us from committing a wrong ourselves, from taking bitterness or malice inside of ourselves. And, like pulling a bandage off, it will hurt for a moment, but then it will be over. We’ll be able to see healing—even if the offender responds negatively! Just telling someone they’ve hurt us, getting it off our chest, begins to free us of the pain inside and allows us to move forward in a Christ-like way—so long as we’ve confronted in a Christ-like way.

Before we confront, we pray for wisdom. We ask God for the timing and the words and the love we’ll need. We also choose to forgive. We decide to offer grace before we know how the offender will respond. In doing so, we put the value of the person and the relationship above the hurt of the offense. Once we know that our heart is in the right place, we find a convenient time to meet with the one who hurt us and gently and respectfully state our case. Our goal in doing so is understanding, reconciliation, and peace. If the one we are confronting cares about the relationship, he or she will work with us toward that goal. If not, we go back to God for direction from there, knowing we’ve treated our offender as Christ would.

Jesus loved us, forgave us, and offered reconciliation before we even knew we’d done wrong. He gently confronts us by His Spirit and through His Word. Then He leaves the response up to us. When someone we care about hurts us, we can follow His example, asking for His Spirit’s help as we confront . . . in love . . . gently . . . for peace that’s real.

Father, when we need to confront, help us to do so boldly for the sake of the relationship and the good of everyone involved. Amen.

Other verses to consider: Hebrews 12:15, Romans 12:18 (The links will take you to the verses at BibleGateway.)

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The Imaginary Israelite and His Secret Sacrifice

“Any Israelite who sacrifices an ox, a lamb or a goat in the camp or outside of it instead of bringing it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to present it as an offering to the Lord in front of the tabernacle of the Lord—that person shall be considered guilty of bloodshed; they have shed blood and must be cut off from their people.” –Leviticus 17:3-4

Pink FlowerBecause being cut off from one’s people is a pretty harsh sentence, I took some time to think about this crime of sacrificing something somewhere other than where God says one can. Not that I’m planning to offer any sacrifices anytime soon. Thanks to Jesus, our Savior, there’s no need for that. But I still wanted to understand this crime and its punishment.

The crime has to do with location and lack of obedience. Imagine that one of the Israelites has sinned, feels guilty about it, and wants to make things right. God has given clear instructions to him on how to do that: bring a sacrifice to the entrance of the tent of meeting to present as an offering to the Lord in front of His tabernacle. This Israelite is more than willing to offer a sacrifice, but he doesn’t want to offer it in front of the tabernacle.

Why?

The answer is probably shame with a healthy dose of pride. This person wants to be rid of sin but doesn’t want to deal with the shame of having sinned. He doesn’t want to admit in public that he’s a sinner. He wants to offer the sacrifice in secret. Just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after the Fall, he is hiding, even from God.

Unfortunately, it’s not the sacrifice itself that brings forgiveness and cleansing from sin. It’s the going before God. It’s the humble confession and the asking God on His terms which restore relationship and allow us to receive grace.

When our imaginary Israelite offers his sacrifice his way, he isn’t taking his sin to God. Rather, he is trusting in his own actions to save himself from sin. He is offering his sacrifice to a false god he’s created in his mind, one who will let him keep his secrets while privately paying for them. But with the secret stays the shame, and the real God says the shame has to go. That happens only with a public admission of guilt.

And because this person refuses to follow God’s instructions, insisting on doing things his own way, he is declaring himself not one of God’s people. Therefore, God won’t accept his sacrifice. This Israelite, by his own choice, must go on his way.

What’s this mean for us today? As I’ve said, Jesus already offered His own life as the only sacrifice needed for our sin. His was a very public sacrifice, removing all our sin and shame. Therefore, to be part of His Kingdom, we become living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2) for Him.

  1. We admit that we are sinners; we have sinned. (This does not mean that we always tell everybody everywhere every gruesome detail of anything wrong we’ve ever done. We share those details with discretion, as the Holy Spirit leads, if we need to talk about it in order to heal, if we need someone to hold us accountable so we won’t fall into that sin again, if our story can help someone else to overcome.)
  2. We ask God for forgiveness and for help to always live His way.
  3. We accept Christ as our Savior.
  4. We make a public confession of our faith. (In other words, we tell people what Jesus has done for us and that we’re living in His Kingdom now and for eternity.)
  5. We live for Him every moment of every day.

The Israelites had to offer sacrifices every time they sinned. But Jesus is the only sacrifice that we will ever need. We go to Him daily, however, for the strength and wisdom to live the way He wants us to live, sacrificing any part of our lives that displeases Him, not because that’s what saves us but because we love Him, we’re grateful to Him, and we want our lives to honor His name!