Why Should I Pray for My Enemy?

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Matthew 5:44 (ESV)

The obvious answer to the question in the title is that Jesus commands it. But what practical and spiritual reasons are there for such a counter-intuitive action? Jesus himself continues:

43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

Matthew 5:43-47 (The Message)
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If we are following Christ and asking His Spirit to help us grow in Godliness, we should be acting– and reacting– like God. God makes the sun shine and the rain to fall on everyone. He is Mercy and Grace personified. That takes away nothing from His ability to exact justice. But His true desire is to show mercy– and that includes mercy THROUGH us!

But there are other good (and related) reasons to pray for our enemies.

  • Such prayers put things in perspective. If I focus on the injustices that my enemies have done (or continue to do), they become larger than God’s power to restore and redeem. If I focus on God’s power, the injustices, while still real, take their proper place. God is bigger; God is greater; God is wiser; God is Sovereign.
  • Such prayers remind me that I am not immune from causing pain and distress to others. It is natural for us to see our enemies as completely different from ourselves. “They” are evil, callous, and deserving of punishment. But, if we are honest– we are also deserving of punishment. We, too, have been callous, careless, selfish, angry, or bitter with someone, somewhere, at some time. God has dealt with us mercifully. How can we be grateful for His mercy and fail to pray for others who need it?
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  • Praying for our enemies may not change them, but it will change US. Praying for my enemies forces me to release my anger and bitterness, so that I don’t become trapped in a cycle of letting my enemy become my obsession or even my role model. I say this from negative experience; NOT praying for someone I considered my enemy led to me say and do things that were unkind and vicious– because I thought she “deserved” the same treatment she had given me and others. One day I woke up and realized that I was slowly becoming like her– letting her behavior determine who I was in return: suspicious, hard-hearted, critical, and vindictive.
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  • Praying for others reminds us that our true enemies are not other people. Once again, it is easy and natural to create a monster out of the person who is our “enemy.” They have often caused very real and very intense pain and suffering– personal, physical, psychological, emotional, financial, and sometimes chronic and catastrophic–sometimes, they show no remorse; sometimes, they refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. God knows all this. He sees all this. He aches for our pain– and for their rebellion. But the root cause is not a person– no matter how involved they are in delivering the pain. The real cause is Sin and Brokenness. That’s why WE can’t fix it. That’s why WE don’t have the power or authority to administer righteous judgment over it. And that also means–
  • Such prayers can free us of the burden of guilt, shame, bitterness, and hurt of the past. That doesn’t mean that we must deny the very real hurt we have felt. But we no longer have to be bound and shackled by it. When we can lift up our enemies and our past, and give them to God– really let go and give them to Him–He will carry that load, and let us run the race before us.
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One caveat here. Loving your enemy; praying for them– these are not the same as believing their lies or consenting to their abuse. There may be people in your life that you must pray for– from a distance! You can love someone, and still set clear boundaries to protect yourself and others. God will never abandon us. But He doesn’t call us to enable others in their evil actions. This is especially true in cases of domestic violence. Love your enemy, but get help and healing. And continue to pray!

Suing God

I have a friend who wants to sue God. She’s not entirely serious, but she has a lot of anger toward God. She feels that God “owes” her an explanation for her life circumstances, as well as a general justification for war, famine, and other evils that she reads about in the paper or sees on the news. She believes He (or She or S/he or It– my friend isn’t sure that God exists, but cavils at the idea of calling God “Father” or “He”–she finds it sexist) is being unfair in a thousand different ways.

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My friend doesn’t read the Bible, and is only vaguely familiar with the story of Job. Job wanted to take God to court. His life had crumbled around him, and he wanted God to explain why, especially as he didn’t “deserve” the circumstances he faced. Amazingly, in the Biblical account, we learn that Job was “right.” He didn’t deserve to lose his family, wealth, and health. He had done nothing “wrong.” That doesn’t mean that he was sinless. But he confessed any sins, made atonement– he even sacrificed to make atonement for any sins his children might have committed. Job was a “righteous dude!” My friend– not so much. Like most of us, she would probably be ready to admit that she’s made some mistakes here and there, though she doesn’t feel that they are particularly heinous. She’s more than willing to “let bygones by bygones” for herself and others– shouldn’t God do the same, without making us confess and humble ourselves? Who does God think He is, anyway?!

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But this is the point. God is GOD–He is not a man, or even a superman, that He is compelled to explain Himself to us; to seek our approval or accommodate our whims, wishes, or plans. In the story of Job, God never gives Job the explanation he’s looking for (again, amazingly, WE the readers are given a “behind the scenes” look and told exactly why Job is being tested and allowed to suffer). Nor does God justify Job’s circumstances or spell out his list his “rights.” Instead, He presents Job with a few keen questions to remind Job (and us!) of who God is, and who Job is not!

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Like my friend, I am often disturbed, puzzled, and saddened by some of life’s circumstances, and by the evils I see around me. But when I begin to question why, the Bible reminds me to ask a few keen questions: Did I create the world? Do I have the power or authority to re-create or re-order the world around me? Can I change my own circumstances, or those of others? Can I change nature, weather, geography, biology? Can I make times and seasons obey my instructions? Can I see a thousand years into the future, or remember a thousand years in the past? Am I immortal? Omniscient? Omnipotent? Holy?

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But more than that, I have to ask: If God never gives me answers or explanations for what has happened or is happening, or will happen– what will change? If God answers all my questions– what can I say or do about it? Can I teach God how to oversee the Universe? Can I explain to God what He already knows better than I do? Job’s ultimate response was worship. I have a choice to rage against my creator, or I can trust Him with my past, present, and future. I can worship God right now, in my “not-knowing,” or I can rebel against the one who gives me life and breath– the one who created everything around me, before me, behind me, under and over me– the one who is sovereign over the entire universe.

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My friend wants to sue God– or at least demand answers from Him. I hope she will consider pur-suing Him, instead. He is big enough to meet our anger and our questions, and He is big enough to handle all the things we don’t know or understand.

“I Would Prefer Not To..”

Years ago, our high school class read a classic short story by the American author, Herman Melville. Bartleby the Scrivener tells the story of an unusual clerk– one who begins as a good worker, efficient and conscientious, but ends up dying in prison, hopeless, ruined, and broken. His tragic downward spiral begins one day when the lawyer for whom he works asks him to examine a short document. This is a commonplace request, much like asking a writer to proofread her final draft before submitting it to the editor. However, Bartleby responds by saying “I would prefer not to.” The startled lawyer decides not to force the issue, and gives the task to someone else.

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Bartleby’s refusal to do what is expected of him escalates until he no longer does ANY work. He refuses to work, refuses to leave the office, and refuses to eat. He isn’t angry or violent, but he remains defiant until the very end.

So it is with us when we are living in sin and rebellion against God. It may start out small– some little habit or attitude. We know it is wrong, but instead of obeying God’s word, we calmly say, “I would prefer not to…” not to tell the truth, not to turn away from porn, not to help my neighbor, not to agree with God about my behavior.

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8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:6-12 (ESV)

God is patient. He is gracious and kind. He does not treat us as our offenses deserve. He gives us the chance to repent. He offers forgiveness. But every time we say to God, “I would prefer not to,” we get a little more like Bartleby– isolating ourselves, wasting our potential to be all that God created us to be, growing more defiant and more rebellious, until we waste away into a prison of our own making, and, finally, death.

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One of the things that makes Melville’s story so disturbing is that the narrator keeps trying to explain away Bartleby’s defiance–perhaps he is having trouble with his eyesight and doesn’t want to admit it; perhaps he was traumatized at a previous job; maybe there is a reason for his passive aggression. But in all of his attempts to understand, the narrator cannot save Bartleby from prison and death.

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Understanding sin cannot change us. Excusing sin does nothing to stop its consequences (see Romans 6:23). No one killed Bartleby, yet he died because he “would prefer not to” do the things he needed to do to live. His small act of defiance, which starts out singular and almost heroic (after all, who wouldn’t like to tell the boss, “I would prefer not to,” every once in awhile?), sounds innocuous. Such a little thing to refuse. Surely God would not punish us for so small a thing…until one small thing leads to another…and another; a bigger rebellion; a numbing complacency; loss of perspective; a heart of stone; isolation; starvation; imprisonment; death.

What am I refusing to do for God today? What am I refusing to give up? Refusing to admit? Refusing to listen to? Am I excusing myself? Do I tell myself I am not in rebellion because I have been polite in my refusal to obey? Do I comfort myself that my rebellion is really just a matter of “preference,” and will not be consequential? That God’s Holiness is less important than my comfort or convenience?

Many people coast through life in the belief that God is SO merciful and SO loving that He can’t also be Holy and Just– that His commands are really suggestions; that His wrath is mythical; that our own wisdom is sufficient for living a “good” life and pleasing Him. But God isn’t concerned about whether we live a “good” life– He wants us to have an abundant life– filled with joy and peace, love and relationship, both now and forevermore. In fact, He would “prefer not to” punish us. He is not “willing” (i.e. desirous) that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), but that everyone would some to repentance. That doesn’t mean that He won’t punish those who refuse to obey Him, or those who refuse to turn from their rebellion and trust Him; only that He will continue to give us the opportunity to recognize our need for forgiveness.

10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15:10-15 ESV– taken from biblegateway.com

God has made it possible for us to be more than servants. We don’t have to respond to God as Bartleby responded to his boss– though God has the ultimate authority to demand our loyalty and obedience. Through Jesus, we are sons and daughters and friends! When God gives us commands, like “Love one another,” they are still commands. But His heart is that we should trust that all of His commands are righteous, life-giving, and in our eternal best interest. But some of us are still saying, “I would prefer not to.”

Of Yeast, Mites, and Mustard Seeds

God is interested in the little things. We praise Him for his glory, majesty, and power–rightly so–but He is also the God of atoms, and quiet moments, and insect wings and snowflakes.

animal antenna biology black background
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God celebrates with us in our smallest victories–biting our tongue instead of bragging, shaving a minute off our 5K run, not burning the dinner rolls, remembering to put gas in the car for my spouse.  He also sees our smallest sins–when no one else is looking; when no one else knows our motives or inner struggle– God sees every detail, every motive. God hears our prayers– not just our big urgent prayers, but our whispered secret prayers; our quick cries for help; our relieved sighs of gratitude; our shameful confessions.

photo of woman looking at the mirror
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God often uses yeast as a metaphor for sin–just a tiny bit can ruin everything.  One tiny act– a fib, passing along a rumor, snubbing a neighbor at the store, watching “soft” porn on TV, hanging out with the “fun” crowd and taking dangerous risks, gambling “for fun” with money you promise to pay back later, drinking a little too much just a little too often, spending more time with that co-worker who “understands” your marital woes better than anyone…Most of us don’t set out to become addicts, thieves, adulterers, bullies, sexual predators, rage-aholics, embezzlers, or compulsive liars.  But Jesus warns us that big sins start small: “murder” really starts with disdain and anger and hate (Matthew 5:21-22);  adultery begins with lust; and the love of money (greed) is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).  Selfishness, pride, envy, rebellion– they lurk in little lies and delayed obedience and easy justification we allow in our daily lives.

But God is not only watching us under a microscope, waiting to catch us in some small act of sin.  In fact, that is not His primary desire in watching us.  God is searching  eagerly for signs of obedience, faith, goodness, love, and kindness.

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Jesus used parables about small things– a lost coin, a mustard seed, a pearl, a speck of dust, the eye of a needle, a narrow door/gate, a lily of the field– to illustrate joy, faith, self-control, obedience, trust, and even the kingdom of God.  Small things are important, sometimes even glorious, in God’s eyes.  Even some of Jesus’ miracles started with small, humble, simple things– water, five loaves and two fish, a few quiet words, a few tears.

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Today, I want to pray that I will see God moving– not just in grand gestures and eloquent sermons (though I love to see Him move in those ways, too!)–but in the small moments.  I pray that I will be sensitive, not to the world’s crushing words of hatred and deception, but to the still small voice of encouragement; to the hopeful smile of a stranger; to the rushing wind that lifts dust mites to glory in the sun; to the unshed tears of a widowed friend.  I want to plant the mustard seed of faith and watch how God will grow it.  I want to be that cheerful giver of my last coins in gratitude for the riches of Grace that cost me nothing but cost my Savior everything.

A Garden of Prayer

It’s gardening season– many with gardens are reaping an early harvest of tomatoes, peas, beans, and other vegetables. I live in town, and have no space for a garden, but I have memories of working in my mom’s and grandma’s gardens. Gardening takes a lot of work, and involves a lot of elements. A life of prayer also requires a lot of discipline and certain elements:

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  • Plowed ground– we need hearts that are softened and humble, ready to listen and respond.
  • Seeds of faith– even those as small as a mustard seed!
  • “Son”-shine–we can follow the examples of the prayers of Jesus, as well as His teachings on prayer.
  • Living Water–Jesus gives us living water in His words and His life. The more we spend time with Him (through prayer and in His Word), the more we will experience the nourishment He provides!
  • Cultivation– it is not enough just to plant a seed and leave it. We need to spend time in devotion, worship, prayer, scripture reading, and fellowship daily if we want growth. We also need to “weed out” sinful habits and thoughts that keep us from trusting God’s will and timing.
  • Workers for the harvest–Our lives should be producing fruit. But fruit that isn’t harvested and shared will go to waste! And we should also be ready to harvest the fruit of others– encouraging and building one another to better growth and adding to the Kingdom.
  • Helper “Bees”– like Bee Kind; Bee Patient; Bee Humble; Bee Generous; Bee Industrious; Bee Joyous; Bee Faithful; Bee Grateful; Bee Truthful; Bee Gentle; etc.
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Prayer is always “in season,” and always produces a harvest. It takes dedication and faith, but it is so worth it!

Looking at the Negative

(Please note: This is a re-post from a couple of years ago..)

Growing up in the age before digital cameras, I remember waiting for photos to be developed from a roll of film. We would drop off a roll at the pharmacy or photo shop, and pick up a package containing the prints and several strips of negatives from the original roll of film.

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I was fascinated by these negatives–images with the exact opposite of the prints– dark was light, light was dark, and everything seemed topsy-turvy. Sometimes things seemed creepy and even somewhat sinister–people with white hair and white pupils shining out of dark eyes; icy trees against a dark sky.

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Of course, the negatives were not the prints, nor were they intended to be the finished product. The negatives were included so that new prints could be made at a later time. We didn’t put the negatives in our photo album; we hid them away in a dark place, out of sight and far from the light. Most of them eventually got ruined or degraded over time, while the photos they produced were preserved and cherished.

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Life holds a lot of “negatives”– negative experiences, negative emotions, negative thoughts, bad memories, scars–we all have them. But we are given the opportunity to produce something positive out of even the most negative of circumstances. It’s what God does– His light shines in the darkness and changes our view.

But we need to be exposed to the truth, and developed by faith, just like film. And we need to come back into the light, not as a negative, but as a faithful image of what (and who) God intends us to be.

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The world is full of negatives– distorted images and situations caused by exposure to sin, pain, grief, anger, bitterness, and hatred. We can dwell on such images, and fill our days staring at the negatives, never seeing the reality of what God has done all around us. Or we can allow God to develop the negatives in our life and create albums of God’s Grace–filling our eyes and minds with the truth and beauty that comes only from our Loving Father.

Philippians 4:6-8 NIV

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (taken from bible.com)

Someday, God will finish destroying all the “negatives” in this fallen world, and reveal His full Glory. What a sight that will be!

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Fishers of Men

Earlier this week, my husband and I went fishing. As we were enjoying our time on the lake, and catching a few fish, I was reminded of the old song I learned in Sunday School:
“I will make you “fishers of men”…if you follow me.” Jesus said these words to His early followers, who were fishermen by trade (see Matthew 4:19). But what does it mean to be a “fisher of men?”

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The primary meaning is that we have a commission– found in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations..” We are to go and “catch” men and women, taking them out of the sinful lifestyles we see around us, and bringing them into the Kingdom of God, much as fishermen take fish out of a lake or sea and bring them into the boat. But what practical implications can we take from the practice of fishing, that might help us as we carry out our spiritual commission?

  • First we much go where the “fish” are, and actively work to catch them. I can go to the lake, dip my toes in the water, even get into a boat and go sailing, and never catch a fish. The fish will not jump into my boat, or jump out of the water into a net. I must make an effort. I can follow Christ, and go to church every Sunday, participate in many spiritual activities, even pray every day, but if I never interact with lost and hurting people I am unlikely to become a “fisher of men.”
  • Next, we must recognize that we won’t “catch” all the fish! I know some Christians who become discouraged and depressed if they go out for one day of “evangelizing” and don’t make converts. They give up after one negative or unsuccessful encounter. “I’m not an evangelist.” “I can’t share the gospel– I just don’t have what it takes…” Imagine if fishermen responded that way– “I cast out three times, and never got a fish– I give up!” This is especially discouraging because our Great Commission is not to “convert” everyone; not just to go out and “catch” men and women with a hook or a net, but to make disciples. It is a process, but it comes with risks and no guaranteed “return” on our investment. Some “fish” are not ready to be caught. Some are meant for other fishermen. This should not lead us to be apathetic about lost neighbors or relatives, but it should remind us that we are God’s witnesses, not His SWAT team. Even Jesus didn’t “convert” everyone He met! But He did love them!
  • Third, and closely related, we must expect resistance. It is not natural for most people to respond immediately to the Good News of the Gospel. After all, it involves admitting our need for salvation, and submitting to the will of God. Fish that are taken from the water will die! And we must “die” to our selves and our selfish nature if we are to become Disciples of Christ.
  • Finally (and this is a bit of a stretch of the analogy, but bear with me…), we must have the right bait. This is not to say that the Gospel is inadequate or insufficient for the task. Rather, that we are not meant to hit people over the head with only our words– even when they come from Scripture! We do not create disciples by offering a bare hook. People are hungry– hungry for answers; hungry for hope; hungry for peace; and hungry for love. The Gospel lives in US– WE need to offer more than just the words of the Gospel–we need to LIVE the Gospel! To offer only condemnation or smug arrogance makes a mockery of the very Gospel we are supposed to share. Likewise, we do not create disciples by offering a shiny but “fake” gospel of easy answers and “cheap” grace without truth or repentance. It may hook a few desperate or gullible people for a moment, but once again, it is not our mission to merely “hook” people.
FISHERMAN#3/OK, 5/30/01, 3:52 PM, 8C, 8808×10935 (0+505), 150%, FISH, 1/10 s, R120.4, G94.7, B105.7

David and I enjoy fishing– we enjoy spending time in God’s beautiful nature; we enjoy the quiet and peace; and we enjoy the challenge of finding where the fish are “biting” on a particular morning. And I’m so glad that Jesus gave us such wonderful analogies and word-pictures to help us understand His love for us and His plan for spreading the Good News. Finally, I’m glad that I’ve been taken from the “lake” of sin and given new life by the great “Fisher of Men!” I pray that I can help others find and follow Christ, as well.

Proclaim Liberty to the Captives

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…”

Luke 4:18 (ESV)
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Yesterday, we observed a holiday, relatively “new” on the national scale, of “Juneteenth.” Many people across the United States (and elsewhere) still don’t know the meaning behind this day. On the nineteenth of June, 1865, federal soldiers entered the city of Galveston, Texas, with news of the Emancipation Proclamation and the victory of the Union over the Confederate Army in the Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation, in which President Abraham Lincoln declared freedom for all slaves throughout the Confederate States, had been signed on January 1, 1863. The war had been over for more than two months. President Lincoln had been assassinated in April. But news of the proclamation had never reached as far as Galveston; nor had news of the defeat of the Confederacy. Far from the ravages of the war, and far from the events of Washington or Richmond, the people of Galveston continued with life as it had been. For two-and-a-half years, people who had been declared free continued to live as slaves. News of their freedom came with shock and joy! Finally, those who were considered free in the eyes of the law KNEW they were free, indeed!

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It would take more than 100 years for many of the injustices to be addressed that had grown up around slavery. Many of them are still being contested. But the celebration of the good news of Freedom continues, along with the hope that we will continue to build a better Union for All.

Civil Rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gesturing during sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. (Photo by Donald Uhrbrock//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Several centuries before the American Civil War, Jesus stood in the synagogue and read a prophetic passage from the book of Isaiah, in which He declared that He had been anointed to proclaim, among other things, “liberty for the captives.” He wasn’t talking about those who were in physical or institutionalized slavery, but for all of us who are slaves to sin. Unlike the slaves of Galveston, many of us are unaware of our captivity. But like them, we have been declared Free. What good news! Yet, we continue living in ignorance, both of our slavery, and of our potential freedom.

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How many of us, even those of us who claim the Salvation of Christ, continue to live as though we are slaves? How many of those around us live as slaves without knowing they can be free? Today is a great day to proclaim the Good News– Jesus Saves! We can walk in Freedom and Newness of Life! Hallelujah! Carry the Good News to those who have not heard. Proclaim Freedom to the captives, and Liberty for those who are oppressed.

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Juneteenth is a time of celebration and exhilaration– for those who understand the gift of freedom. God offers us freedom–not from the trials or work of ordinary life– but freedom TO LIVE–abundantly, eternally, and fruitfully! In Christ, life has purpose, promise, hope, and joy. Death and sin and shame have been defeated– the war is over! Freedom is ours!

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I hope that today (and every day!)is a day of celebration for all of us who know the Freedom of Life in Christ.

The Lord Does Not See Us..

In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign Lord came on me there. I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man.  From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal. He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood. And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain. Then he said to me, “Son of man, look toward the north.” So I looked, and in the entrance north of the gate of the altar I saw this idol of jealousy. And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing—the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.” Then he brought me to the entrance to the court. I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall. He said to me, “Son of man, now dig into the wall.” So I dug into the wall and saw a doorway there.And he said to me, “Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing here.” 10 So I went in and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and unclean animals and all the idols of Israel. 11 In front of them stood seventy elders of Israel, and Jaazaniah son of Shaphan was standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising. 12 He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land.’” 13 Again, he said, “You will see them doing things that are even more detestable.” 14 Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord, and I saw women sitting there, mourning the god Tammuz. 15 He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this.” 16 He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east. 17 He said to me, “Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the people of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually arouse my anger? Look at them putting the branch to their nose! 18 Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them.”

Ezekiel 8 (NIV) via biblegateway.com

We make a big fuss in our culture about privacy. What I do in my own home, with my own life, in my own time, is private. And, for many of us, our privacy is sacred. We rage and fight and panic about who may be invading our privacy– listening in or watching us when we least expect it.

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I must admit, I don’t like the idea of anyone spying on me or listening in on my private moments. I especially don’t like the thought of someone manipulating or using my private words, images, or ideas without my knowledge or consent.

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But there is a danger in our quest for privacy– we are inclined to believe that anything we do in private CANNOT ever be discovered; that we are safe to do whatever we please, regardless of the consequences. The internet has made this idea even more dangerous–we can be private and anonymous behind the screen. We can say things we know we shouldn’t; we can view things we would be ashamed to acknowledge watching; we can explore fantasies, mask our inadequacies, pretend to be who and what we are not; all behind the “safety” of the screen.

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And this is nothing new. In Ezekiel’s day, the moral, legal, political, and religious leaders of the day thought they were “safe” to indulge in idol worship behind closed doors. But more than that, they believed that God would never see as they practiced divination, witchcraft, ritual prostitution, violent orgies, even child sacrifice! They had built hidden rooms where they practiced vile rites and indulged in the very behaviors they taught others to avoid. Worse, they condemned and vilified others when they “got caught” doing the same things they practiced with impunity. And when prophets came to them with warnings–the very words of God– they had them ruined, imprisoned, tortured, and killed.

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In the eighth chapter of Ezekiel, God shows his prophet a vision. He allows Ezekiel to “go behind closed doors” and see the priests and leaders at their worst–over and over again–secret rituals, detestable practices, flagrant disobedience, arrogant rebellion…And all of this was happening as the nations of Israel and Judah had collapsed, and many thousands had died from war, disease, and starvation. People had been sent into exile– defeated, starving, enslaved. Yet their leaders were keeping up an image of righteousness and proud endurance, instead of turning to God for help and hope.

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God was very clear–Jerusalem WOULD be captured and destroyed. Babylon WOULD take God’s people captive and send most of them to the sword or to exile. Defiance and pride– especially relying on the great victories of the past– would not save them. Rebellion and violence would not hold back God’s judgment.

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The same is true today. It is easy to write about praying and walking closely with God–I’m hidden behind a screen. I can sound righteous and Godly for a few minutes three times a week. And it is easy to point fingers and call out the bad behavior of others behind the anonymity of a computer screen. We need to speak up, speak out, and defend the cause of those who are oppressed, abused, enslaved, and silenced. But we also need to beware that we are not crying, “Shame on you!” from a locked closet, while waving banners or buying merchandise supporting the abusers.

And God sees all of it. What we may find shocking and reprehensible, God has already seen through to its conclusion! God WILL bring judgment and punishment for those who shed blood and bring violence and injustice. But God also sees what I do in the watches of the night; when I’m alone with my thoughts; when I’m not on my guard against what I view on Facebook or YouTube. God knows what celebrity gossip I crave, or what I’m “watching” on eBay. He knows if I am ignoring or justifying evil happening all around me. He watches over my shoulder when I’m reading that new novel, or I’m driving down the road (hopefully not at the same time!), or when I’m wallowing in self-pity or jealousy or anger.

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When I read about Ezekiel weeping over the behavior of Israel’s leaders, I am convicted. How often do I weep and seek God’s mercy over the behavior of our leaders–all of them, and not just the ones I voted for? Or do I just fume and post about how awful “they” are (whoever “they” my be) and how “they” need to be punished? How often do I ignore my own bad behavior? I may not have a “hidden room” filled with detestable images and idols, but God is still watching how I react to challenging times. He knows if I am obeying His voice or merely pretending to follow Him while leaning on my own understanding or my own image of self-righteousness. He knows if I have made money, politics, status, safety, health, or even “religion” into idols, hoping that one or more of them will carry me through tough times. He knows if I am condemning others for their bad behavior, while hiding or justifying my own.

I want everyone to see me when I am noble and righteous–but I need to see myself as He sees me every day–His much-loved, and ever-needy, child.

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Father, may I be quick to remember that You ALWAYS see me– and that You ALWAYS want me to see You as well. Help me to see You in the middle of challenging times. Help me to see You when I interact with others. Help me to obey You in the private moments when no one else is watching.

No Greater Love…

This coming Monday we will be celebrating Memorial Day in the U.S. It is a day to remember those who gave their lives in battle, defending our nation, our people, and our way of life over the course of almost 250 years. We decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags and plaques honoring their sacrifices. It is a strange sort of “holiday.” We don’t like to think of wars and battles– we ache for those who are terrorized by wars in the current days. We don’t celebrate war and violence– our highest goal is to achieve and preserve peace and safety. And it can seem somewhat morbid to “celebrate” the fallen soldiers of bygone days.

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But we are not celebrating their deaths. We are celebrating the causes for which they fought and died. We celebrate freedom, and justice; the rights of individuals to pursue liberty and fulfill their dreams. These are causes worth fighting for, and yes, even dying for. We mourn the loss of life, and we grieve the necessity of fighting and struggling to preserve basic rights. But we are grateful for and humbled by the examples of those who have shown the courage and strength to give their all. We honor these sacrifices when we decorate the graves of fallen soldiers, or hold services and memorials at cemeteries. It is not meant to be a time of joyful celebration, but a time of solemn reflection and humble gratitude.

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But Memorial Day can also be a time of reflecting on an empty grave– that of Jesus Christ, who gave His all for a cause even greater than liberty and justice in a particular nation or time or for a particular group of people. Jesus gave His life to reconcile an unholy human race with a Holy and Righteous God. He fought against Sin and Death, and conquered them both. And we cannot decorate a grave to honor His sacrifice, because, unlike all the soldiers we honor next week, Jesus did not just preserve a cause or a way of life– He became Life for us. His grave is empty as a symbol of Death’s defeat!

It was Jesus Himself who said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 NASB) Soldiers who lay down their lives often do so to save the lives of their comrades at arms– their friends and fellow warriors– as well as their countrymen and women, their neighbors, and their families. And it isn’t just soldiers who give their lives. Recent news stories tell of teachers, police officers, and other individuals who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of innocent shoppers, students, and neighbors. Such sacrifices are tragic, but they are also heroic, and deserving of our acknowledgement.

We take time to honor those who died for a cause. How much more should we honor the One who died to bring eternal freedom and life to each one of us! And how much more should we be willing to give our lives for the sake His Kingdom! There is no greater love that we can show.

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