Be Reconciled

23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)
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Why do we find it so difficult to be reconciled? We crave God’s forgiveness, but we withhold our own toward our neighbors, or family members. We let anger and bitterness keep us apart. We let pride keep us from doing what we know is right in God’s eyes.

I speak from conviction. I have been estranged from a cousin of mine. Years have passed since we’ve spoken. We argued about something, and simply stopped talking. I tell myself that I have nothing for which to apologize–that’s just the way things ended. And my life is far less stressful since we’ve stopped talking. I do not “hate” my cousin, or feel bitter toward her. In fact, I tell myself that I only wish her the best– I just don’t want to be involved in her life, or have her involved in mine.

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I know this is not what God wants. I know I should get in touch, and reassure her that “we’re okay”. Yet I am afraid to reach out and re-establish contact. Not because she poses any sort of physical threat, but she threatens my pride and my comfort. I find her difficult to talk to; difficult to understand. We have different ideas about boundaries and expectations–I find her “needy,” and she finds me “aloof.” I don’t think time will have made our relationship “easier.”

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But God finds her precious in His sight– and worthy of my effort to reconcile our relationship. That doesn’t mean that I must allow her to manipulate me or abuse my emotions, or that I must demand that she be someone she is not to make me more comfortable. But it does mean that I may be embarrassed or inconvenienced at times. I need to be willing to listen, even when it is difficult, and so speak, even when it seems like I’ve said the same thing before. And it means that I must learn to set healthy boundaries and insist on them– not to shut her out as I have been doing, but to keep our relationship balanced and safe for both of us.

God puts a great premium on our willingness to be reconciled to one another. So much so, that Jesus told His listeners in the Sermon on the Mount, that if they were ready to bring an offering, and they remembered that someone had something against them, that they should leave their offering– unoffered– and go be reconciled first. Being at odds with others puts us at odds with their Creator and the One who loves them. Whenever possible, we should seek to reconcile. Broken relationships are sometimes a reflection of our relationship with Him. It hinders our prayer life, as well as our witness to the Power of God to redeem and reconcile the world around us.

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God is aware that we are sinful people. And there are some relationships that are absolutely toxic. Reconciliation and forgiveness are NEVER about allowing another person to continue to abuse or manipulate you. Especially if this involves physical or sexual abuse. Forgiveness is not the same as accepting someone else’s manipulation or abuse. God, and only God, can redeem us and make us a new creation. Some relationships cannot be fully “reconciled” in this life. But “letting go” is not the same as “locking out” or “running away.” We must let others know that God can do what we cannot–He can restore broken relationships. He can make all things new.

Connectors

My husband and I own a shop. It is a dual shop: one part is a resale/collectibles/vintage and antiques shop, while the other part sells amateur radio equipment. We sell new and used radios, antennas, coaxial cable, power supplies, amplifiers, and other, smaller accessories, including connectors.

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Connectors are small (usually only about an inch or two in length). But there are dozens of different types, connecting various sizes of cable and wire to various types of equipment. We have BNC connectors, SMA connectors, PL259 connectors, “male” to “female” connectors, and many more, with different sizes and styles in each type! I find it very confusing. It seems as though it would be much simpler if there was just one universal type of connector, that would work for all the radios and accessories.

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I have a similar sense of confusion with other electronic connections– jacks and USB ports and charging ports–without the correct connection, many of our electronics just don’t work!

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Human beings often have trouble with connections, as well. We speak different languages (even different dialects of the same language sometimes), have different interests and personalities, different life experiences– we just can’t seem to understand one another or connect to one another. We end up being confused, offended, hurt, angry, and isolated. Worse yet, our connections can break down– interests change, resentments build up, life experiences pull us in new directions, and sin corrupts relationships.

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I’m so glad that God is the Universal Connector! No matter what I’m going through; no matter what I am thinking or feeling; no matter how I express myself, God understands me– even better than I understand myself! Others– even those closest to me– may misunderstand my words, my motives, or my emotions, but God knows exactly what I mean. And that connection is eternal. If I feel “disconnected” from God, there may be something wrong with my understanding, or I may choose not to listen to His wisdom. I may be “plugged into” something that distorts or distracts the message. But God never “tunes out” or loses the ability to hear my prayers or understand my thoughts.

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Amazingly, God is connected in the same way to everyone! There is no need for Him to have hundreds of different connectors in order to get the message. He never needs a replacement part to enhance or clarify His understanding– no matter the language of the speaker, her/his life circumstances, or emotions. God understands the broken-hearted, the hurting, the overjoyed, the overwhelmed, and the confused among us. He lovingly listens to billionaires and bums alike. Drug addicts, rape victims, murderers, self-righteous snobs, “grammar police,” Pharisees, nose-pickers, thumb-suckers, braggarts, liars, thieves, model citizens, and PTSD patients– God “connects” with each one who seeks Him. God meets us where and how we are, because He knows and loves us without limits.

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It can be frustrating to try to connect with some of our neighbors, co-workers, enemies, and even some of our family members. That’s one great reason to pray about our relationships– God can make connections even when and where we cannot. God can also build, strengthen, and redeem relationships that lack connection or have broken connections. Even those relationships that seem solid need help from the Universal Connector. Instead of trying to “make things fit” with someone else, or working harder to force an understanding, maybe today is a good day to stop saying more, and start praying more!

Praying For the Past

I was thinking earlier this week about a past friendship– one that involved pain, abuse, and struggle. While we have moved on, and I hope we have both found peace and closure, there are still memories, both good and bad. The past has a way of popping up at odd moments, and sometimes, it pops up in pain.

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Prayer isn’t really about the past. What’s past is gone– but it can be redeemed. That is the Good News of the Bible. God is about redeeming our past, and transforming our present and future. When Jesus prayed, and when He taught His disciples to pray, He never mentioned the past. So what do we do with the past when it comes to prayer?

While I don’t have any complete or definitive answer to that, I do have a few thoughts:

  • Don’t wallow in the past. If Jesus has redeemed you, He has redeemed your past as well. Rejoice and be thankful for this incredible gift! We can’t erase the past, but we don’t have to keep living there.
  • Focus on the present, and give both your past and your future into His hands. It’s easy to say, and to write, but it takes time and effort and the work of the Holy Spirit to continue to do this. It’s a daily task!
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If you are still bothered by aspects of your past, ask for wisdom to do the following:

  • Pray for wisdom to learn from the past–both your mistakes, and situations you have had to face.
  • Pray for courage to face the past– to apologize, to make atonement, or to rebuild relationships where possible, and the courage to let go of situations you cannot “fix.”
  • Pray for those people and situations that were part of your past–acknowledge them, and lift them up before God’s Throne of Grace.
  • Pray for release from lingering feelings of guilt, and lingering temptations to return to past behaviors and/or toxic relationships.
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The past can be powerful in shaping our present and future. God knows this, but He wants to remind us that He is MORE powerful! That doesn’t mean that we will sail through the present, or that we won’t carry scars from our past. But those scars are not the whole of our story, any more than the grave is the end of it.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:5 (NIV)

Hannah and Her Rival

Hannah is a Bible heroine. Her story is an inspiration to many women who suffer, whether from infertility, depression, or being misunderstood. Hannah is a popular girl’s name.
Peninnah, on the other hand, is a name you rarely hear today. No one wants to name their child after a bully, and a rival to a Biblical matriarch.

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As we read through the story in 1 Samuel, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Samuel+1&version=NIV it seems hard enough that Hannah is barren. Especially as it is revealed that God is responsible for her condition. It seems unfair and harsh. But her trouble doesn’t end there. She has a rival–Elkanah’s other wife– who provokes, irritates, and taunts her, making her cry and keeping her in a state of anguish and stress. Peninnah has many children. She has reason to be joyful and proud. Yet she spends her time harassing and hurting Hannah, a woman who is already “beneath” her in society.

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Rivalries tend to bring out the worst in us. Catfights, gossip, taunting, undermining others–books, movies, and even TV series have been built on such pettiness. Whether rivals at school, rivals in romantic relationships, rivals in business, or rivals in our own inflated egos, we allow our world to be narrowed to focus on two people who don’t even exist! We magnify our rival’s faults, twist her motives, and hold grudges over what she “probably” meant when she said “that.” And we justify our overreactions, our grievances, and our tendency to see ourselves as innocent victims.

In the case of Hannah and Peninnah, their world was already small. They were sharing a husband and a household, and likely somewhat isolated from the kind of society with which we are familiar. We live in societies where polygamy is illegal and wives do not (generally) live together. Our families tend to live in single units of husband, wife, and children. However, we also live in a society where fidelity is becoming more rare. Marriages break down, couple break up, and “sharing” a husband, if not a household, is more common than we might admit. Even in divorce and remarriage, we may find a rival in our husband’s ex-wife, or our ex-husband’s new partner, or our partner’s ex-mother-in-law (or our current mother-in-law) or among our step-children.

Elkanah is not an innocent bystander in all this. We don’t know why he has two wives, and the Bible doesn’t say that Elkanah did NOT love Peninnah, but it makes a point of saying that Elkanah DID love Hannah (suggesting that he might have been indifferent to his other wife). Also, the Bible is silent about whether or not Elkanah was aware of the rivalry going on under his roof. He seems totally oblivious and largely absent. Even though he loves Hannah, he doesn’t take care to protect her from Peninnah’s spite.
Once again, we find parallels in our own situations– husbands who feel overwhelmed or blind-sided by the rivalries going on around them; husbands who ignore the firestorms; even men who revel in being the focus of so much attention.

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But, before we label Peninnah the great villain of this story (or turn our anger on Elkanah for letting their rivalry continue), let’s be careful not to rush to judgment. The Bible doesn’t call Peninnah a villain, merely a rival. It says that she provoked Hannah, and taunted her, and even made her cry. However, the story is focused on Hannah. Her reaction to this taunting was to do what so many of us do– to let it heap up on her and push her down into anguish. Hannah doesn’t fight back. But neither does she stand up to her rival. If Peninnah is trying to make Hannah feel worthless and depressed, she succeeds because Hannah allows herself to believe it.

I think there are several key lessons here, and I think God tells us the whole story because there He wants us to see these lessons.

  • Rivalries and conflicts WILL arise in our lives. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise or refuse to deal with them. If you have a rival in your life at this moment, stop and think of ways you can seek peace. Pray, reach out, seek help. This is especially important where children are involved. If you have a rivalry with in-laws, ex-spouses, your children’s step-parents, it WILL impact all your relationships. It will be the way your children learn to relate to others. Whether you are the “bully” or the “middle man” or the “doormat”, you have a responsibility to make an effort to restore harmony. You cannot change the other person, but you can (with God’s help) change the way you build your legacy. And God can change everyone involved.
  • While Hannah did well not to react to Peninnah with her own spite and malice, she let her rival “win” by saying and doing nothing. Jesus teaches us that we are not to ignore those who hate or despise us, but to love them and pray for them. Hannah could have offered to reach out to Peninnah and her children, but she remained isolated. Maybe that was because of Peninnah’s actions or bitterness, but the Bible doesn’t say that Hannah made any effort to end this rivalry, either. She didn’t seek help from her loving husband, and she didn’t seek help from her loving God until she was at the end of her rope.
  • Spite, malice, bitterness, or even self-righteousness (or whatever else may have prompted Peninnah’s nastiness) not only hurts others, it hurts us and blinds us to the opportunity to do good. Peninnah had many children and lived in the same household with Hannah. Instead of taunting her and causing her grief, she could have opened up her heart to allow for a happy, unified family. Peninnah’s hurtful actions are her legacy to every generation that reads this story. She may have been a wonderful mom, a talented women, a real beauty– but she will always be known as the rival who made Hannah miserable. Our actions, even in our own household, have eternal consequences. Small acts of pettiness and spite can follow us for the rest of our lives, destroying our reputations, and blotting out all our “good works”.
  • Our abilities, skills, talents, status, or fertility DO NOT define our worth. God closed Hannah’s womb– he never closed His heart toward her. He gave her a husband who loved her and provided for her. He kept his eyes on her until the time was right to bless her in a supernatural way. God had opened Peninnah’s womb, but she kept her heart closed, and bragged about her children as though she alone were responsible for them. God had provided Peninnah with a husband who provided for her and created a family with her. She had children and a secure home, and reason to sacrifice to God with thanksgiving, yet her focus, even during her visit to the tabernacle, stayed on destroying her rival.
  • What makes Hannah a heroine in this story is NOT the way she bears up under bullying. Even though she didn’t get sucked into anger and malice, she fell victim to despair and depression. Hannah’s victory comes ONLY after she turns everything over to God in prayer. Peninnah’s pettiness is crushed by God’s miraculous provision.
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May this be true in our lives, too– That we would turn to God, and replace bitterness, pettiness, pain and rivalry with His joy, fulfillment, and grace.

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