March 22, 2018- Rest for the Weary- Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 23:1-2

weary rest

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together! Who are my adversaries?  Let them confront me.

It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Isaiah 50:4-9 (NRSV)

In light of current events, much has been said about the role of bullying and violence in schools. Being spit on, having one’s hair (or beard) pulled out, and being beaten on are not pleasant experiences. In the storms of pain and humiliation it is human nature to want to lash out and retaliate rather than to simply endure. Endurance is harder than revenge, even when we know that our rage is pointless and will not make a difference in the amount or the duration of the pain we endure.

If there is one thing common to the human experience it is suffering, whether it comes from our own human failings or it is inflicted by the hands of others. Even if one is not literally being spit on or beaten, the storms of life wear us down. We all get weary.  We all long for rest and resolution.

Jesus knows what it is to share in our suffering. He did not fight back against His tormentors. Instead, He silently endured the punishments that we deserve.  He knows our pain and anguish when we are tormented and weary.  He is with us and He shares in our pain.

The One who vindicates us, who restores us, who brings us rest, has been where we are and worse. Jesus knows the humiliation and violation of being mocked, spit on, of being scourged, and ultimately of being nailed to a tree.

It’s not easy to stand in times of trial. Even so we can have the courage to say along with the Suffering Servant as He stands with us: Let us stand up together! Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me!

Jesus knows our weariness. He has fought our battles.  He walks with us through the valleys of shadow and leads us to refreshment and rest.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-2 (NRSV)

July 3, 2017- Speaking the Truth in Love- Ephesians 4:11-16

loving god

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. Ephesians 4:11-16 (NRSV)

Speaking the truth is generally a good thing to do. Jesus followers are called and equipped to speak the truth. But what do we do when the truth is potentially dangerous?  The Old Testament prophets certainly didn’t win any popularity contests by telling the truth.  Jonah ended up spending three days in a fish’s belly- all out of fear of what would happen to him when he confronted the people of Nineveh with news of God’s judgment. Jeremiah was thrown in prison- and later into a muddy cistern- for telling the truth, because it was a truth of judgment and of bad things coming.  Jeremiah’s message didn’t make the people in control- especially the king- very happy at all.  We humans don’t like to hear that we need to change course or that our actions are going to get us in trouble.  We don’t like to be challenged, even when we really need it.

But sometimes it is necessary- and there are times that God calls us- to sound a warning.

What do we do when speaking the truth isn’t nice?  It’s easy to get being a good Christian and being nice confused, but sometimes being loving isn’t nice.  Jesus wasn’t being nice when He toppled over the money changers’ tables in the temple, but He was acting in the cause of truth and defending what was right.  Exacting consequences upon a child who has violated rules may not seem nice, but carrying out punishments when appropriate may be the most loving thing a parent can do to prevent a child from making future and more damaging errors.

Enabling a family member or friend to continue on in a destructive habit or to endure another’s abuse may seem “nice” but those acts are neither loving nor Christian. Enabling another’s destructive habits or tolerating another’s abuse also denies the truth that we are children of God, worthy and deserving of giving and receiving love and respect.  Sometimes loving means tough love and confronting others with hard truths.

Speaking the truth is something we are called to do with humility, with the heart of Christ- always with the best interest of the other and of the relationship with that person in mind. It may be true that Uncle Bob has a big mouth, or Cousin Jack could stand to lose a few pounds, but how do we confront that person in love about their offensive or destructive habits?  How do we offer support and help rather than just cutting criticism?  How can we build another up instead of tearing another down?

Every person is an example. Some of us are examples of what not to do. It is easy to criticize but far more difficult to empathize and to walk with each other and to admit our own faults and shortcomings to God – and maybe even to a trusted Christian confidant as well- first before we dare to confront another person.  Jesus taught us that we should remove the logs from our own eyes before we go digging around trying to remove other people’s specks.  We should go to Him with an honest inventory of our own behaviors and sins and wrongs before we approach someone else about his or hers.

 (Jesus said): “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5 (NRSV)

Every human being alive is a fallible and fallen sinner. This is the most important thing to bear in mind before approaching anyone to speak a hard truth. Love is the key.  Love for the other person that reflects the heart of Christ, and love that says, “I am in this struggle with sin and missing the mark right along with you.”  Love that says, “Let’s get closer to the heart of Christ together.”