how far?

Have you ever had an estranged family member? Many of us have one, or remember a conflict in the past that resulted in a period of estrangement – maybe including a crazy uncle or something. If you haven’t experienced it yourself, you probably know at least one person who has. I have experienced it before, but right now I’m in the thick of it, as I have an immediate family member who has estranged the rest of the family.

The pain of this is probably best exemplified if you’ve been through it.

If you’re anything like me, you might be a problem-solver. In my mind the question is: what solution is there when there is a misunderstanding or clear wrongdoing?

“Common sense” or logic presents a multitude of options: letting the divide stand for fear of upsetting them further, or feeling that they are being completely wacko, staying angry with the person/people who have wronged you and casting all blame on them, telling them that they have to meet a condition (going to counseling, apologizing to you)… I think that I have experienced all of these feelings in the past few years.

Misunderstandings, fights, hurt and pain happen to everyone, no matter who you are or what you believe. We all have choices to make regarding how we will deal.

Personally, I feel like these family issues have been very cyclical problems that aren’t going away, and I’ve been in pain over them for years. Nothing I’ve done has made them any better.

Here’s how I’ve decided to deal: I am not leaning on myself anymore. All that I know logically has failed me, and every time it has failed, the pain is refreshed, another brick is added to my burden, and I feel despondent.

And I forget the work of the Lord [in my own life] – which is really the key to overcoming it all.

[2 Corinthians 5] 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I love that: “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation” – we are to speak reconciliation with our lives. It’s something I’ve been realizing in my own life for awhile now: if I have been given grace, then I am to extend it to others.

Summed up: Jesus saves us, can love others through us and can speak a message through our lives that gives people the exact love/ forgiveness/grace that we have received from Him.

There’s one more aspect to “how far” we must go to reconcile, and we also have to base that in Christ. Because Christ laid down His life and sacrificed Himself for us, we have to lay down ourselves for reconciliation to happen.

Writer Ann Voskamp says that “Love is not passion. It is the pulse of sacrifice.”

Whether it’s saying, “I was wrong,” “I’m sorry,” “I forgive you,” or “I love you,” or driving hours upon hours to speak the truth into someone’s life, God wants us to be willing to go with the message. He wants us to stop looking at things in a way that demands respect and fair treatment for us. (I will add that these are things in which we will find freedom in doing, and they aren’t to be done without a genuinely loving/gracious spirit. Our goal must be reconciling in a Christ-honoring way, and not “doing my duty” or anything that would meet a requirement of man versus doing it with guidance of the Spirit.)

How far did the Lord go to meet you and become reconciled to you? He willingly died so that you could be His friend. How many wrongs have you done Him or others, days have you forgotten Him, times you have failed Him, and yet He loves you, hears you when you call on Him, and has saved you from death, hell and yourself?

I have committed to the message of reconciliation because my life is His, and without being reconciled to Jesus, there is no way I can hope to be reconciled to anyone else. You cannot give what you have not received. Lord, give me grace to love others as you love me. I want to be like the father of the prodigal son, who stood waiting and watching for his son when he came, and then gladly celebrated his return. For it wasn’t about what His son had done to him, but that the son had returned. And for that love to be shown in the moment of the son’s return, it had to have already existed beforehand.

I can’t wait for that day of reconciliation with my family, and I pray even now that grace and love will be cultivated in all of our hearts so that it will be fully abundant when the time comes.

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In what should we put our hope and trust?

I think that getting older provides opportunities to either get more bitter and discouraged with the state of the world, or to draw closer to Christ, putting our hope and trust ultimately in Him, believing that He is good.

Life can really feel hard though, you know? If I’m not bothering to focus on the blessings I have in Christ, and instead choose to feel sorry for myself and lose my focus, things can seem so crazy, chaotic and unfair. To be honest, sometimes I feel like I’ve been carrying a burden for years now. Family discord, spiritual workings-out, job dissatisfaction and changes in friends and my relationships with them are things that hang over my head some days, and it makes me not want to get out of bed. I had a recent day where I just needed to bawl.

I realize, though, that the difficulties I encounter need not be overwhelming. I am forgiven and given grace by Someone who loves me more than anyone else can, and yet knows me better than anyone else will. Let’s think on that: Jesus, the person whose grace we need the most, is the one who gives it to us most freely, though we don’t deserve it at all. And we still think we need, want or deserve more in this life than that?

Things that are life-changing, heart-changing and worthy of our hope and trust:

1. The fact that Jesus Christ, a real person, died for me–for you– because He individually loves you as His bride.
2. We don’t have to be scared or worried if we really believe this (the above).

I know that for myself, I don’t consider this the way that I should. When I wake up in the morning, it is not always my first thought. Instead I get wrapped up in myself, MY feelings, MY perception of things. And that’s why life seems hard. Because I’m thinking about what I think I need to do to have the life I want, when He’s already given me everything that I need.

I pray that Jesus will be your thought and my thought when we sleep, when we wake and when we go about our days.  Just think about Him, and tell Him that you want to hope and trust in Him. And if you struggle even to say that, just ask that He’ll help you believe in your weakness. Because He will.

The Lord is good.

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone in silence,
for the LORD has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.

31 For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.

–Lamentations 3

a statement of faith:

I believe that the thing God wants of us the most in this life is our hearts being turned toward Him.

David, said to be a “man after God’s own heart,” phrases it so beautifully and perfectly in Psalm 27:4:

One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.

David clearly narrowed down what is important: dwelling in the presence of the Lord continually and seeking Him out. He could have asked for greater power, earthly treasures, whatever, but it is clear from this passage that what he valued most was following after the Lord, not creating a better world for himself or for others.

God isn’t part of the systems of this world. He did not create politics, business, economics, church denominations or any other system that we use to make order of and understand how things work. He created the world, gave us bodies and breathed life into us; therefore He is not bound by anything that man has created.

If we are trying to know God by leaning on man’s systems, we are at the very least wasting time, and at worst, failing to know Him at all. Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and Searching For God Knows What, has a great quote that I’ve probably already used sometime: “I believe the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time. This is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious. If he can sink a man’s mind into habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God.”

If we are to be like David and seek after the Lord wholeheartedly, basking in His presence DAILY, we have to be willing to put aside systematic thinking that can just end up being a huge time-waster.

I’m not saying that systems of the world are completely irrelevant, but if we view God through a lens influenced by the world, we will never see Him clearly. If we instead look at our own lives and reflect on how each moment is an opportunity to let Him in, we will see a profound change in our hearts instead of seeking out a profound change through the systems the world wants us to believe in.

I hope that my point is clear and encouraging. In my own life, I have gotten caught up in trivial matters and wasted time instead of using my days to allow God to change my heart to be more like His. Even things done with good intentions can distract us from the ultimate prize: knowing Jesus (Phil. 3:7-16). For a while, I was distracted by how corrupt the world is, and what needs to be done to fix it. I was getting really frustrated by things that I saw as huge problems, and the worst part was that I have absolutely no power to change them. (Things like social equity, corporate corruption, management of US food systems and production) But I understand now that the biggest change that I can make in the world and the way that I can help restore things to the way God intended them is by turning my heart over to Him so that I myself will be changed. (And let me say now, lest anyone think differently, this is naturally a difficult process, even when the desire is strong.)

I just want to remind you that no matter who you are or where you feel you stand in your relationship with Jesus, He wants to change you further, put a new heart in you still, and make you into a reflection of Him. We are encouraged in scripture over and over to “seek the Lord” and that is truly what He desires. He does not desire for you to be a conservative right-wing Republican, He doesn’t care if you are stock-savvy and street-smart, and I personally believe that He is not keeping a tally of how many people you’ve invited to church this year or tried to witness to.

All He cares about is if you’re seeking Him or not. Yes, He calls us to certain things at certain times and seasons in life. But that is the only commitment He requires of you, and the only judgment He will make of you.

As for me, I WILL seek the Lord.

I pray that you will too.