Tag Archives: restoration

The world-changing power of forgiveness – Philemon 8-25, Part 4.

29 Aug
Photo by Priscilla du Preez on Unsplash

Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to forgive someone who hurt you? Did you find it difficult to do so? It can be scary to forgive, especially when the pain runs deep. Will that person respect your forgiveness? What if they hurt you again? Are they really sorry? How do you truly know? There are many questions surrounding broken relationships, questions that can make forgiveness seem murky. In our study of Philemon, Paul is addressing a situation of brokenness, and one that needed forgiveness. But this wasn’t any ordinary brokenness, and what Paul is asking is, well, a lot.

If you want to catch up on the broken situation I’m talking about, start with Part 1 of this series, and continuing reading Parts 2 and 3. Then look at verse 17 of the letter to Philemon.  Do you see where Paul says to Philemon, “If you consider me a partner”?  It is almost certain that Philemon would have considered Paul a partner.  Guess what Greek word Paul used there for “partner”? Koinonia.  Remember that from the previous series on Philemon 1-7, when we discussed verse 6? “Sharing” is the word koinonia, and it means “fellowship, sharing or participation.” Paul has come full circle, and then some!  Paul says, “Welcome Onesimus as you would welcome me, as a close friend, because that’s what Christians do!”  Further, if Philemon is to welcome Onesimus, just as he would welcome Paul, do you see how Paul is putting Onesimus on an equal level with himself!  That’s the kind of amazing equality that we all have in Christ.

Paul continues.  In verse 18 he says that if Onesimus has done Philemon any wrong, or owes Philemon anything, he should charge it to Paul.  As we said in Part 2 of this series on Philemon 8-25, it is highly likely that Onesimus did something more than just run away; in the process of running away he probably stole money and possessions from Philemon.  Paul knows this, and does not want that offense to get in the way of Philemon embracing Onesimus as a brother.  Paul wants this reunion to go well.  This could be an amazing example to many people of the power of Jesus, and how Jesus wants to reshape the world.  A master welcoming back his runaway slave who stole from him?  The normal response for Onesimus’ behavior would have massive punishment, maybe even death.  Also Philemon’s honor was at stake in the community.  Paul knows that if Philemon acts in a surprising upside-down Jesus kind of way, Philemon’s forgiveness and brotherly-welcoming of Onesimus could have significant ripple effects in Colosse. Imagine the people in the city talking as word gets out: “Did you hear that Philemon welcomed back a slave who ran away from him, and stole from him?” That would get notice! Sure some people, maybe even many people, would think Philemon is crazy, but they would still be seeing an amazing example of forgiveness and brotherhood that Jesus brings to the world. What an impact that could make in the church!  In the world!

Therefore, what we see Paul pushing for is the beginning of the eradication of slavery.  This is how Christians can clearly say that slavery is not supported by the Bible.  This is an upending of the social order and seeing God’s Kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven.  Paul is teaching Christians to be willing to go against the conventions of their day, in the name of Jesus.  To cross color lines sacrificially, lovingly.  To repent where they need to repent.  To forgive.  To pay for crimes they didn’t commit.  This is a distinctly Jesus way of life, isn’t it?  That kind of self-sacrifice, Paul says to Philemon, is what it takes to be the church.

Still Paul isn’t done.  In verse 19 he says he is writing this with his own hand.  Often Paul would just talk and one of his friends would write.  But he is writing this one himself.  It is very personal and important to him.  It could be that his friend wrote the rest of the letter, but at verse 19, he picks up the pen and says, “Philemon, I’m serious about my offer to you to charge Onesimus’ damages to me.  I will pay it back.”  And then he gets back to some, well, could we say, urging?  Manipulating?  Maybe.  Paul says, “by the way, Philemon, remember that you owe me you very self.”  I don’t know what that means.  Paul doesn’t say.  It could be that Paul guided Philemon to faith in Christ. We don’t know. Clearly, though, Paul is pulling out all the stops to help Philemon see things his way.

Then he lays it on a bit thicker in verses 20-21.  Read those verses. How much does Paul want Philemon to forgive Onesimus and welcome him as a brother?  So much.  He wants a benefit from Philemon, so Paul tells Philemon to refresh his heart, as he said Philemon was so good at back in verse 7.  Then he says in verse 21, “Philemon, I know you will do even more than I ask.”  Maybe Paul is trying too hard here.  What we know by all his cajoling is that this situation is extremely important to Paul.  I read this letter and think, “Did Philemon have any choice but to do what Paul is asking of him?” Then Paul finishes up the letter with some further greetings and a closing blessing of grace.

But let’s go back to that question: Did Philemon have a choice?  Sure, he did.  With Paul far away in Rome, Philemon had a choice.  Paul couldn’t make Philemon agree and receive Onesimus, no longer a slave, now a brother.  Philemon would have to overcome his personal anger, embarrassment, and hurt.  He likely felt betrayed by Onesimus.  He would also have to overcome societal pressure that said masters do not forgive slaves.  In a society of honor and shame, Onesimus had greatly shamed his master, and the common response by the master would be severe punishment.  What Paul is asking Philemon to do, then, is radical, earth-shattering, Jesus kind of forgiveness and acceptance.   Paul’s teaching that all are one in Christ, that Jesus removes the distinctions between slave and free, is right, but it presents a tall order for Philemon.  What will he do?

What did he do?  We don’t know for sure.  Ancient historians tells us that there was an Onesimus who eventually became a Christian bishop.  Maybe it was this Onesimus, and if so, that would indicate a possibility that Philemon did exactly what Paul asked him to.  We really don’t know.  Scholars also point out that because we still know the content of the Paul’s letter to Philemon, that, too, is an indication that Philemon received Onesimus as a brother. Why? Because this letter was almost certainly private, and Philemon could have crumpled it up, thrown it away, and burned it. Most likely, he didn’t, and instead allowed the letter to become public, copied and transmitted to many other churches, so they could also benefit from Paul’s teaching. Again, how did Philemon respond to the letter? We don’t know for sure.

The better question is: what will we do? And we attempt to answer that next in Part 5.

How to have restorative church discipline – Titus 1:10-16, Part 2

2 Jul

When you discover troublemakers in the church, what is a faithful way to respond to them? Confrontation is difficult, so we might be tempted to avoid the troublemakers and think the problem will work itself out on its own. It rarely does, though. Instead, as we will see in our continuing study of Titus 1:10-16, Paul teaches Titus that he (Titus) and the leaders in the churches in Crete will need to confront the troublemakers. Paul has some very specific guidelines for this action, and it might surprise you to learn that it is filled with grace.

First in verse 11, Paul says, “They must be silenced.”  This is a bold claim, and it doesn’t sound gracious, does it?  Shouldn’t there be freedom of speech in the church?  Yes…and no.  Let’s see what Paul has to say about this. 

Having heard Paul describe the rebellious circumcision group in verse 10, we can see why Titus had to be so careful about who he picks as church leaders, and why it is so important that those church leaders are strong in the faith, self-controlled and blameless.  Those church leaders are going to have to implement church discipline.  In verse 9, for example, Paul said the church leaders will refute those who oppose sound doctrine.  Now in verse 11, he is saying that the church leaders silence the people in the church who are teaching false doctrine.  This is a very picturesque word.  It is the idea of putting a muzzle on an animal.

Our dog is so loud when he barks.  If you pull into our driveway, he immediately hustles to our backdoor like a sentry, barking incessantly.  He will not stop until whoever has arrived enters the house and greets him.  I can understand why muzzles were invented.  Paul is saying that when there are rebellious, idle talkers in the church, deceiving people, they have to be muzzled.

Why?  Look at how Paul describes the consequences of their teaching in the rest of verse 11: “They are ruining whole households.” Here I suspect he is talking about the fact that the churches were house churches.  But how could it be that false teaching was breaking up families?  How many of you have families where you can’t talk about certain things without starting a shouting match?  My guess is that relates to just about every family, and Paul knew the same thing could happen in these families who were new Christians, hearing conflicting doctrines because these idle talkers were teaching things they ought not to teach.  He’ll explain the content of what they were teaching when we get to verse 14. For now Paul teaches Titus, and the leaders Titus will appoint, “Muzzle those people.”

Paul goes on to say that the idle talkers are teaching false doctrine for the sake of dishonest gain.  He doesn’t explain how they get money from their teaching, but we know from the historians that Cretans were known for their greed.  One of those ancient historians, Polybius, said this about Cretans, “So much in fact do sordid love of gain and lust for wealth prevail among them, that the Cretans are the only people in the world in whose eyes no gain is disgraceful.”  Cretans were known for their love of money. That still doesn’t tell us how the false teachers gained wealth through their teaching. All we need to know is that it was an issue, revealing their selfish desires rather than a commitment to Jesus and his Kingdom.

In verse 12 Paul supports his claim about the character of the greedy Cretans, using a quote by one of their own, Epimenedes, describing how rough the Cretans were.  We do not need to read Paul as saying that every single person on the Island of Crete was like this.  But this tendency of Cretans being wild and unruly was prevalent enough that Paul says, in verse 13, this quote is true. He is saying, Epimenedes knew what he was talking about, it is true. Sadly, that wild rebellious spirit was present in some who were in the church.  So Paul builds on what he said in verse 11.  There he said, “Silence them,” to stop the false teaching, and now in verse 13, he adds: “Rebuke them sharply.” 

Those are strong words.  It is the idea of a public, audible statement to the person, saying to them, “You are wrong.  Here is the proof.”  When people are wrong, church leaders are to silence them, and to correct them.  Paul adds the qualifying word, “sharply,” which can be translated “to deal harshly with someone.”  When I read that I think, “Really, Paul?  Are you saying that when someone is acting sinfully or teaching false doctrine, we can be mean to them?” I doubt that’s what Paul is saying.  Here’s why:

Paul could have suggested that these people should just be put out of the church immediately.  See Paul’s heart here.  It is not a heart of shunning and just getting rid of people.  Instead his heart is for reconciliation and growth, so that the people who are not dwelling in the truth would be corrected and become healthy. 

Again, we need to refer back to verse 9 where the leaders are to encourage others by sound doctrine.  Paul wants the rebellious ones to be encouraged.  He wants the leaders to see their task of correcting as a task of encouragement.  I love that.  If we encounter those with whom we disagree, or those who we believe are rebellious, Paul has now said that those behaving badly in the church must be silenced and they must be rebuked. While those sound like harsh words, remember that he is also saying that the posture of the one doing the rebuking should have a heart and a tone of encouragement.

Rebuking is for the purpose of healing.  How do we know this?  Because he says in the next phrase, “So that they will be sound in the faith.”  What does it mean to be sound in the faith?  Sound doctrine.  What is sound doctrine?

Paul first explains what it is not.  Look at verse 14.  He wants the false teachers rebuked so that they will pay no attention to Jewish Myths or the commands of those who reject the truth.   Here again we can make the connection that Paul is talking about Jewish Christians who believed that Christians needed to follow the OT Law.  But he is saying that they need to be rebuked so that they don’t pay attention to that stuff anymore. 

Turn over to Titus 3:9 briefly and notice how Paul reiterates his teaching.  There were numerous speculative teachings within Judaism, some pertaining to the genealogies the OT Law, and Paul says that disciples of Jesus should avoid all that.  Sounding very much like he does in 1:10-16, in chapter 3, he says, “warn a person about this.”  He calls them “divisive” meaning that their teaching was dividing the church.  So warn them to stop.  If they keep going, give them a second warning.  If they keep going, he says in verse 10, “have nothing to do with him.”  Again, these are very strong words from Paul to Titus and the church in Crete.  Paul is taking decisive action against false teaching to the point of breaking fellowship with people who are unwilling to repent.  But note that he teaches a process, and it is not quick.  As we saw above, church discipline should involve grace and multiple chances to help restore people. 

How lament can bring beautiful restoration

14 Dec

Image result for restoration

Throughout this second week of Advent 2017, we’ve been talking about restoration from Psalm 85.  We’ve seen how God is at work to bring restoration and revival.  We’ve also learned our responsibility to work alongside God.  It can seem too hard sometimes when the restoration is going to require lots of sacrifice and effort.  So we lament.  We ask God to help.

And when we participate with God in the work in restoration and revival, a beautiful thing happens.  The psalmist describes in his final section of Psalm 85, verses 10-13. 

Verses 10-13 are some of the most amazing words in the whole Bible.  Worth printing here for sure.

Love and faithfulness meet together;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
    and righteousness looks down from heaven.
The LORD will indeed give what is good,
    and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before him
    and prepares the way for his steps.

These final verses point us to the future.  They are an assurance that God will restore and revive.

Look at how the psalmist portrays the renewal of the land.  He envisions the promised land that had become a waste land return once again into the promised land.  And it is God who does it.

What we read in this section continues the psalmists flow of thought started in verse 9, where he describes the God’s glory dwelling in the land.  A logical next question is, “What will happen when God is in the land?”

Normally I would look to the next verses, 10-11, to tells us what will happen when God is in the land, but they are a bit cryptic.  Poetry is beautiful, but it can also be hard to decipher.  Do you see all the figurative language there?  It is delightful poetry, but it is not clear as to what it means. Love and faithfulness are made out to be like people who meet each other.  Righteousness and peace as well, compared to lovers who kiss one another.  What is the poet trying to say?

Perhaps he means all these qualities to be flowing from God, as his presence will be in the land when his people fear him.  Maybe.  But I think the psalmist is being a bit more creative than that.  Follow me here.

I think that in the first line of verse 10, love represents God because in verse 7 he had already called for God to show the people His love.

Then I think, still in that first line of verse 10, that faithfulness represents people who fear God because in verse 8 the psalmist calls them faithful servants, and verse 11 faithfulness springs from the earth, the domain of people.

Now go to the next line, and I think the word righteousness represents God, because in verse 11 righteousness looks down from heaven.  Then peace represents people because in verse 8 he promises peace to his people.

To summarize, if my poetic interpretation is correct, verses 10-13 describe what happens when God and his people are in right relationship.  It is beautiful.  There is restoration and revival of the land.  In verse 12 this impact is beheld as the waste-land has been transformed and bears a harvest.  The psalmist sees a time in the future when the land is restored and revived.  Verse 13 once again depicts righteousness, once just looking down from heaven, now going before God, preparing a way for him.

And so in Psalm 85’s lament, we come full circle.  Restoration in the past shows the psalmist his immense need to lament for continued restoration in the present, which, if it results in obedience and faithfulness, will lead to ultimate restoration between God and his people in the future.

Yes, lament is right and proper when things are so bad there is no where else to turn, when the bottom rots out.

But lament is also right and proper when God has begun to restore us, and there is much work to do to keep the restoration going.

Lament. Call for him to help.  Follow his lead.

As you look at your life, do you see how God is at work restoring you?  Maybe you see areas that still need a lot of work, areas that feel like they are too much, too difficult?  If so, lament!

Cry out to God!  Tell him how you feel.  You can be brutally honest with him.  Ask for his revival and restoration in your life, in your family, in our church, in our community, in our country and world. Always hold before you the beautiful vision of restoration that is possible when God and people are in right relationship.

Lament to God, ask his help for full restoration and revival, with a determination to obey him and to work hard for the restoration and revival.

Who is responsible for restoration and revival? God? Us? Both?

13 Dec

Image result for restoration in progressRestoration and revival might take a lot of work.  I just did a Google image search on the phrase “the hard work of restoration”, and almost all of the pictures are about car restorations.  Some furniture.  Some homes.  There is restoration from natural disaster that can take years.  I suspect only a few of us will get involved in that kind of restoration.  Maybe most of us work on our homes, but rarely do we do full restorations.

But just about all of us work on a different kind of restoration.  Relationship restoration.

My guess is that nearly everyone, at some point in their lives, must work towards restoring a relationship that has become broken.  In this week’s posts we’ve talked about the experience of seeing a new spark of life in a relationship that seemed to have been dead. That new hope is a wonderful thing.  But it carries with it the reality of the mountain of work yet to occur.

As we continue our study of Psalms of Lament this Advent, we have started looking into the four sections of Psalm 85.  You can review the previous sections here (one), God’s blessing in the past, and here (two), a lament for restoration to continue.

In this post, we look at section three, verses 8-9, and what do we see? The promise of present blessing for God’s people is connected to their obedience.  Three times in these two verses the psalmist mentions obedience.  Isn’t that interesting? He is lamenting to God, asking for God to keep the restoration going, to bring revival, but he also knows that he and the people have a part to play.

Do you see the three times he mentions obedience?

In verse 8, he says I will listen to God.  God will be his source of wisdom and truth and knowledge.  He will learn from God how to live.  No more living based on what he thinks is right and good.  Look where that got him and the nation.  Now he places his focus on listening to God.

Second, still in verse 8, he says that God promises peace to his people, but let them not turn to folly.  They wanted the peace.  They wanted peace badly.  After living in captivity for 70 years, and finally being allowed to return to their own land, they want peace.  They don’t want enemies and fighting.  We all want peace.  Enemies and fighting wear us down, gives us stress and generally ruin life. We want peace.  God promises peace, but they must obey.  They must not turn to folly.  Folly is foolish choices.  Behaving badly.  They must follow God.

Third, in verse 9 he says salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in the land.  That’s what they want.  They want God to be with them in the Promised Land, because he is stronger than their enemies.  He can protect and save them.  But again, there is a condition.  They must fear him.  Go back a few weeks and review the sermon Emerald gave on the fear of God from Deuteronomy 6.  Fearing God was vital to the people of Israel being restored and revived.

Put these three statements about obedience together, and what conclusion do we have?  Restoration has begun, and restoration and revival will continue, as long as the people are faithful to God.  There is much work to be done. 

I get that.  I was once one who needed restoration.  When I was 17, I was a very reckless irresponsible driver, and as a result I got into a bad accident.  I unintentionally hit an Amish buggy, and a lady inside died.  If you want to read the whole story, you can do so here.  A couple Sundays ago, my parents and I, and my two youngest kids, visited the Amish family.  It was our annual visit.  For 26 years, every year around the time of the accident, we go visit them for the afternoon.

They had already forgiven me long ago.  In fact, they forgave me the day after the accident.  My fortunes were restored, but there was much work to do for the restoration to continue.  And so every year we go over to their house.  I’ll reveal to you a bit of my feelings about this.  Every year I have anxiety about going.  There is part of me that doesn’t want to go, and I contemplate saying, “My family can’t make it.”  And every year when we pull up to their house, I feel a heaviness, a bit of shame returns, and I have to steel myself, take a deep breath, and say “Let’s do this.”  It’s not overwhelming.  It’s just awkward.

The Amish family do not make it awkward.  It’s all within me.

The Amish family are wonderful actually, and they always have been.  And usually all it takes is a few minutes, after greeting and hugging and shaking hands, and the conversation starts to fly.  This time one of their sons was there too.  He has a tree-trimming business, and was doing a job over at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station. He remarked to us about how huge and impressive the cooling towers are.  Then he looked at my dad and asked, “What is nuclear power anyway?  Is it like a gas?”  And so for the next five minutes we sat there as my dad tried to explain nuclear power to an Amish man!

We were there two hours, and as we left, I thought how important is the ongoing work of restoration.  So important that it is well worth a visit once every year, even if it is for the rest of my life.

Restoration and revival are God’s work, no doubt.  But God invites us to work them out with him.  And lament calls out to God to do just that.

When we participate with God in the work in restoration and revival, a beautiful thing happens, and that is what the psalmist so gorgeously depicts in the final section of his poem, which we look closely at in our next post!

What if America was invaded? A thought project to teach us how to be restored

12 Dec

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Imagine that some nation invaded the USA, defeated us, and started carrying us away back to their land where we worked for them as slaves!  How would that feel?  Horrible, right?  And life in that foreign land would not be like life here.  It would be very, very hard.  And we would cry out in lament to God to restore us.  Perhaps we would rack our brains about why this happened.  We would like conclude that it was really our fault, whether due to complacency or apathy or internal moral decay.  And we would feel the weight of guilt and shame and embarrassment.  But then imagine we had a sudden restoration of fortune, as the foreign nation finally after 70 years allows those of us from Central PA to return.

By then our parents and grandparents had passed away, and we were returning, ourselves in old age now. We are bringing our kids and grandkids to see the wonderful land of Lancaster PA to show them all the places that to this point we had only been able to tell them about in story after story.  Our grandkids are to the point where they say, rolling their eyes, “Grandpa…you’ve told me about the farmland and Central Market and Tastykakes like a million times.”  Now you are actually getting to show them!

When you show up, brimming with excitement, what do you find?

A shock.  The land is trashed and scarred, with buildings burned out.  The Promised Land has become a waste land.  And you fall to your knees and cry out to God.  You remember the glory of what it used to be, and your heart aches, and what is worse you know you will never be able to show your kids and grandkids what you once saw.  Because that is now gone.  But it gets still worse.  You remember that the Promised Land is now a waste land because of you and your people and how poorly you behaved and it was your fault.

You’re restored, but there is still a lot of work to do.

I think something like that is happening in Psalm 85.  I also think something like that happens to all of us in many ways throughout our lives.  Let’s look at the next section of Psalm 85 to discover more about how to respond to the restoration that needs to take place.

In my previous post, I introduced Psalm 85 as our second Psalm of Lament in our sermon series for Advent 2017.  Psalm 85 seems to have been crafted in four sections, and in that previous post we looked at the first section, which talks about how God forgave the sins of the people of Israel, restoring their fortunes in the past.  Which restoration is the psalmist talking about?  Most likely it seems this psalm was written about the time when a small group of Jews was giving permission to return to Israel after having been exiled in Babylon for 70 years.  But when they returned, they were in for a surprise. And that surprise is what we read about in section two, which we are studying in this post.

Section Two covers verses 4-7, which is a lament for restoration and revival, for God to show his love and salvation in the present time.  If Israel has been restored to their land, if they have been forgiven, as Section One (verses 1-3) clearly states, then why are they asking once again to be restored?  Didn’t God already do that?

It seems that when the people were restored to the land, after the initial excitement wore off, they realized the immensity of the situation.

They were away from their land for 70 years, during that time working hard to maintain their traditions living in the midst of a foreign power.  So for 70 years they were dreaming of their return to Palestine, and they waited and they waited. Whole generations of them passed away, striving hard not to lose their faith, striving hard to maintain their culture.  And finally, after so many years and so many prayers, a group of them return to the Promised land.

And guess what happened.

It wasn’t what they thought.

The grand capital city of Jerusalem was in ruins.  The temple was destroyed.  The land was ravaged.  Most of them were still in exile.

Israel was a shadow of what they used to be.  And they knew why. It was their fault.  They had sinned against God over and over and over.  You and I have been there, right?  Imagine the guilt and pain that you feel when you know you are dealing with consequences of your bad choices.

Imagine being Israel looking at their holy city in ruins.  Yeah, God brought you back to the land, and that is amazing, but there is so much work to do.

Ever been there?

It’s easy to read verses 4-7 as if the psalmist is making it sound like this restoration is all God’s responsibility.  As if it was God’s fault that Israel was invaded, that the Promised Land was destroyed, that the people were in exile in Babylon for 70 years.  Yes, on the surface, verses 4-7 seem like the lament is a blaming of God.  But remember from our posts on Psalm 80, lament is deep like that.

In fact, in sermon discussion last week we wrestled with this a bit.  Is lament only appropriate when life gets so bad that there is no other option but to cry out to God?  No doubt that is an excellent time to lament.  When things are bad, lament.  But I think we can also practice lament when times are not at the point of no return.  It is not like lament is a kind of prayer we only practice when we have no other choice.  We can and should practice it then.  But we can and should practice lament before things get that bad too.

It seems to me that is what the psalmist is doing here in verses 4-7.  He knows the people have just experienced the kindness and forgiveness and favor of the Lord.  They are actually in a good spot.  They have been allowed to return to the Promised Land after being away from it for 70 years.  And yet the psalmist laments what is yet to be done.  It’s great to be back, but there has been so much loss, much of which will never be recovered.

 

This is not just a fictional story of America.  It’s not just the story of Jewish exiles returning to Palestine.

It’s also your story and mine.  I know you’ve been there.  I’ve been there.  It occurs in many ways in our real lives.

A relationship that is broken, but then it gets patched up.  The thing is that the patching up is just the beginning.  You know there is a lot of work to do yet.  Hard work.  And it seems like too much.

Or maybe you make some bad financial decisions, and now you find yourself in debt.  Maybe you have to declare bankruptcy.  Maybe you get help from a generous family member.  And you are saved.  But you know that is just the beginning.  You have lots of work to do to start making changes with how you handle money.

You’ve been restored, but there is so much work to do.  Too much work, it feels like.  Extra work that is your fault, and you’re hard on yourself, and you ache because it seems like it will be too hard.

And what do you do?  You lament.  Not because life is so bad that all hope is lost.  Sometimes you lament because life is just so dang hard.  Sometimes you lament because you know you need to do a lot of work to keep the restoration going, and you don’t know if you can handle it.  You probably think you can’t handle it. That’s a horrible feeling.

You love the progress that you’ve made.  A relationship that seemed dead has a new spark.  The bill collector that had been calling is paid off.  God has restored your fortunes.

But you know there is so much more to do for the restoration to continue.  That relationship is going to require a lot of time and energy, and you are going to have to stop some bad patterns, and you don’t know if you can.  That bill collector might not be calling today, but unless your income starts to grow larger than your expenses, he’ll be calling again soon.  And you know that you have a tendency to make bad choices with money.

Or maybe at your office, you work through your inbox, and your boss is pleased, but there were the ten previous times when you were lazy, and your work was late, and not only was your boss upset about it being late, but he also found all kinds of errors in your work, and it cost the company a contract.  You know that can’t happen again.  You’ve got a reprieve, but you have very little confidence that you’ll be able to work as fast and as good as your boss is asking you to.

What should you do?  Lament.  Get on your knees and passionately plead for God to intervene.  Ask for him to restore you again.  Ask for him to shower you with his unfailing love. When the work of restoration seems too much, lament.  It is a proper response to the weight of the world.

Lament is not blaming God.  Lament is not a cop-out either, trying to get God to do what it is our responsibility to do.  Lament is a crying out to God for his help and empowerment while we work for the restoration to continue.  Just as God had restored their fortunes and brought them this far, the psalmist now sees the mountain they have to climb, and he knows that they can’t do it alone.  So he laments.  Calling for God to show them his unfailing love and salvation.

He calls for God to revive them again.  Restoration and revival.  They were words in Psalm 80 which we studied last week.  Lament calls out for restoration and revival!  “Bring us back to life again, Lord.”

Whether we are lamenting our own situation or lamenting the state of the church or the state of our country, we are asking for restoration and revival. It might sound like we are saying to God that we are blameless and our situation is not our fault.  That is 100% not true.  And that is not what the psalmist is doing.  That is not what lament is all about.  Lament is not blaming God, acting like we have no part in this.  When we lament, we know our part in it.  And we own up to our part.

How about you? Do you have a situation in your life that has seen the spark of restoration, but the ongoing work seems too hard, too much?  How can you lament to God?

How God wants to restore you

16 May

Betrayal and denial.  Jesus experienced both, from two of his closest followers, in a matter of no more than one hour.  That had to hurt deeply. You can read the story in Luke 22:47-62.

Yesterday at Faith Church we talked about what it feels like when we have been betrayed or denied.  We also talked about how easy it is, like Jesus’ disciples Judas and Peter, to betray or deny God.  Imagine how those two guys felt when the realization of their betrayal and denial of Jesus finally broke over them.

We are told that Peter had godly sorrow that led to repentance.  After Peter denied Jesus the third time, just as Jesus said he would, Luke tells us that Peter and Jesus were in close enough proximity to one another that Jesus turned and looked right at Peter.  Imagine being Jesus at that moment.  Heartbroken.  Imagine being Peter.  Sick to the stomach at his failure, Luke tells us Peter goes away sobbing bitter tears.

Judas had a different reaction.  We have to go to Matthew’s story of Jesus’ life to learn about it.  In Matthew 27:3-5 we read: “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’  And he went out and hanged himself.”

Peter wept, and Judas admitted his sin.

But there is a difference in the nature of their actions.  Judas acted with premeditation.  Peter did not.  Judas took time to plan out his betrayal, sought out the religious leaders, received payment, set up the arrest.  Peter did nothing like this.  Peter’s denial was not premeditated or proactive.  Instead it was reactive.  It was an unplanned act, a terrible choice in the midst of a horrible situation.

Judas’ response of suicide showed he had no hope.  Why would he have no hope?  Shouldn’t he have known Jesus and the grace, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus?  Yes, he should have.  But he didn’t, and that is revealing.  Judas didn’t really know Jesus.  Peter did.

Peter’s response is very different.  He is broken, sorrowful.

Have you ever been like Peter, caught by the proverbial crow of the rooster, reminding you of your failure?

2 Corinthians 7:10 says it perfectly: 

We can be sorry we got caught.  We can be sorry because we don’t want consequences for our actions.  When we examine our motives, we can learn that they are really messed up.

It is hard to be sorry with a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  All of us have messed up.  What does it mean to be restored?  To find restoration we can examine Peter’s story: What was it about Peter that led him to make a rebound?

This past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.  Do you remember what happened on Pentecost Sunday?

We read about it in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit first came to fill the disciples, while they were waiting in Jerusalem, waiting for what to do next.  The Spirit comes and they start preaching in other languages.  One guy takes the lead in the preaching.  One guy is particularly bold.

Guess who it was?  Peter.

Think about the timing.  The events of Pentecost, where Peter is so bold, are only about a month and a half after the events of his denial of Jesus.  A month and a half!

What we saw in Luke 22 is that Peter is a broken man.  He has just denied Jesus, three times, and Jesus knew it, and Peter runs out weeping bitterly.

Now a month and a half later he is preaching boldly about Jesus.

What gives?  How did that turnaround happen?

To find out we turn to John 21:15-17, a story that does not appear in Luke.

After his resurrection, the disciples went back to their jobs.  They were fisherman, and they needed to make some money, feed their families, and so they went fishing.   Jesus found them, made a fire on the beach, waiting for the disciples to return so they could eat together.  Though he had resurrected, he was about to return to his Father and turn the mission of his Kingdom over to them.  He had some unfinished business with them to care for.  The disciples return to shore, and Jesus pulls Peter aside and says “Do you love me?”

It is more precise in the original language, Koine Greek, which has a variety of words, all of which we translate with one English word: “love.”

 

Jesus starts in verse 15 asking Peter “Do you agape me?”  Agape is perfect love.  This is the love that is used to describe God’s love, or to describe the love we should have for one another, as stated famously in 1 Corinthians 13.

Peter responds “Lord, you know that I phileo you.”  Phileo is brotherly love, very relational.  Phila-Delphia is the City of Brotherly love.

In a way, then, while Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Peter answers very relationally, saying he has brotherly love for Jesus.

So Jesus says “Feed my lambs.”  It might sound odd to us, this shepherd language. But Jesus knows that Peter felt terrible about denying Jesus, that Peter would be wondering if he was no longer acceptable to Jesus. Perhaps Peter should forfeit his position in the inner circle of Jesus’ twelve disciples.  Jesus, who had once said to Peter “on you I will build my church”, now reinstates him: “Feed my sheep.”

Then surprisingly, Jesus asks him again, “Do you agape me?”, and Peter repeats “You know I phileo you”.  You can see Peter internally, and maybe in body language on his face, wondering, “Why is he asking me again?”  You and I know how it feels when our spouse or loved one asks, “Do you love me?” and we respond “Of course I love you!”  And then they ask again, “But really, do you really love me?”  At this second questioning, we can start to get offended, thinking that they shouldn’t have to ask a second time!  Do they not believe us?  Why would they have any reason to doubt?  Peter is starting to feel this, to think these thoughts.

So Jesus says again “Take care of my sheep.” Again, reinstating Peter.

Imagine the shock as Jesus now asks Peter a third time, “Do you love me?”  But this time Jesus has used the word “phileo”.  Now Jesus is getting very personal.

John tells us in the middle of verse 17 that Peter is hurt.  As any of us would be when we are asked to repeat ourselves a third time.  But Peter now says a third time, “You know that I phileo you.”

And Jesus says a third time, “Feed my sheep.”

Do you see what Jesus has done?  Each of Peter’s three denials have now been overturned by three “I love yous”, and by Jesus’ three reinstatements of Peter to “feed his sheep.”

Peter is restored.

Jesus is in the business off restoration.  Do you need to be restored?  If you have denied him, if you have disobeyed him, if you have been ashamed of him, you can be restored!

He loves you with Agape and Phileo, and he wants to restore you.

So come to him, like Peter, with a heart, mind and will that show your godly sorrow, and he will restore you.

That’s how Peter could preach a powerful sermon just a few weeks later.  He was restored.  And he fed Jesus’ sheep.

If you have betrayed Jesus, if you have denied him, know that he loves you.  Let him restore you.  Then feed his sheep.

Stories of Restoration, Part 1 – Joel & Michelle

14 Oct

When I started as pastor of Faith Church, I remember standing before the congregation most Sundays thinking to myself, Look at all those smiling faces, those well-dressed people.  They don’t need to hear this sermon.  My feeling has long been described by the phrase “you’re preaching to the choir”.

Five years has passed, and my perspective has turned 180 degrees.  I now look out each Sunday morning thinking, they all need this! 

Why? Because I have learned a lot about your stories, your families, your struggles.  And most of all, I know about my family, my struggles.  All of us have them.  We are a people in progress.  We all have a story to share, a tale of what the Apostle John would describe as the light crowding out the darkness in our lives.

Yesterday, then, I shared three stories from Michelle’s and my life.  My car accident when I was 17, a difficult situation in Michelle’s past which led to her struggle with anorexia, and finally our year of personal pain as church-planting missionaries in Jamaica.

Ours is a story of restoration, of God’s healing in our lives on multiple levels, and we praise him. But you know what?  We still need restoration.  Michelle and I are still sinners in need of a savior to change us, and that is our prayer.  Don’t put us on a pedestal.  It’s not like we have been perfect for the last 12 years since our return from Jamaica.  Many of you have seen us mess up in big ways right in front of you.  If you haven’t, just ask our kids!  Our prayer continues to be that the Lord would change us and make us more like Jesus.  God wants to make us new!  He wants to do the same in your life too.

So what about you?  Do you need to share your story?  Might sharing be the beginning of healing?

(If you want to read a longer treatment of my accident story, you can do so here.  Also, my parents and I were interviewed once about the accident, and you can listen here, including my parents’ thoughts.)