THY WILL BE DONE

Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. [Matthew 6:10b (RSV)]

zinniaIn our house, we have an unwritten agreement to accept each other’s choices when it comes to giving. God had laid it on my heart to help a young family in our church through some difficult financial times. When I told my husband I’d written a generous check to them, he said I didn’t need to ask him. “I wasn’t asking,” I replied, adding that I hoped he was in agreement with me. Although that check was not dependent upon my husband’s authorization or approval, I still wanted him on board with my decision to write it.

I thought of our exchange while praying, “Thy will be done.” I’d mistakenly thought I was merely consenting to or accepting God’s will with those words. God, however, certainly doesn’t need my agreement for His will to be done any more than I needed my husband’s permission to write that check. God is all-powerful and whatever He wants to do, He easily can do without my prayers, input or approval. Why then then did Jesus tell us to pray those words?

“Thy will be done”—are they simply words of resignation and surrender? While that sentence is one of humble submission, I think there is much more to it. We’re asking God to reveal His will and praying for the obedience, wisdom, guidance, and means to accomplish it. We’re asking God to reassure us so that we can trust Him and go about achieving His purpose in eagerness and joy. We’re not offering a prayer to authorize or strengthen Him; we’re praying that He will strengthen and empower us. With those words, we’re thanking God for knowing what is best for each and every one of us.

In our daily walk, we have a choice. God can drag us along (much I had to drag the dog into the vet’s office) or we can eagerly follow Him. Either way, whether we’re kicking and screaming or moving enthusiastically, God’s will shall be done. Nevertheless, in praying, “Thy will be done,” we fully commit our hearts to that will. It’s saying, “Here I am, Lord. Put on my armor, send me into battle and keep me strong in the enemy’s attack!” Heavenly Father, thy will be done!

Prayer is not so much the means whereby God’s will is bent to man’s desires, as it is that whereby man’s will is bent to God’s desires. [Charles Bent]

And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” [Luke 9:23 (RSV)]

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ACCEPTING AMENDS

God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. [Matthew 5:7 (NLT)]

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. [Luke 6:37 (NLT)]

beach sunflowerYesterday, I wrote about making amends; today, I write about accepting them. In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the young man realizes the error of his ways, returns to his father, admits his failure, and is forgiven. Although the son offers to act as a servant, his father doesn’t ask for amends or acts of penance; rather, he welcomes him back as an honored son. It’s a beautiful story about God’s redeeming grace and forgiveness. Like any good story, however, there’s conflict—the prodigal’s older brother. When he returns from working in the fields to the feast celebrating his brother’s return, he becomes angry and resentful. The parable concludes with the father’s explanation that the celebration is because, “He was lost, but now he is found!”

If, instead of a parable, this was a true story, what would happen next? Even with his father’s forgiveness, the boy still would face the consequences of his foolishness; having already gotten and squandered his money, there would be no inheritance when his father died. Although making amends wasn’t necessary for the father’s forgiveness, a truly repentant son would want to find a way to make things better. Perhaps he would work extra hours in the fields, help the homeless or counsel rebellious young men. While the boy’s relationship with his father was restored, I doubt the relationship with his elder brother mended so easily.

The older boy rightfully resented all of the extra work required of him during the prodigal’s absence, but there was more to his anger. He’d watched his father walk out to the gate each morning to wait hopefully for his younger son’s return, only to see his father return crestfallen each evening when he didn’t show up. He’d heard his father’s sobs when news of the prodigal’s disgraceful life reached his ears. When famine hit the land, he saw his father pace in the middle of the night as he worried how his younger son would survive. He knew his father, having given so much money to his younger son, was having financial difficulties. He’d seen the toll his brother’s abysmal behavior had taken on the entire family and wanted to see his brother chastised rather than given a party. He wanted to see him in sackcloth and ashes rather than wearing the best robe in the house. His brother deserved punishment and humiliation rather than a celebration. Being forgiven just shouldn’t be that easy!

As sinners, we should try to make things right with the people we’ve offended. Yet, in the prodigal’s situation, whatever he did to make amends probably would never be enough for his elder brother. Unable to understand his father’s amazing grace, rather than apologies or amends, the older boy wanted retribution. Nevertheless, as offended parties, we don’t get to choose how apologies are offered or amends are made, nor do we get to withhold our forgiveness if we’re not satisfied. When someone comes to us with a repentant heart and asks forgiveness, we can’t demand the type and amount of humble pie he must eat before getting it. We just have to forgive.

We are to forgive so that we may enjoy God’s goodness without feeling the weight of anger burning deep within our hearts. Forgiveness does not mean we recant the fact that what happened to us was wrong. Instead, we roll our burdens onto the Lord and allow Him to carry them for us. [Charles Stanley]

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)]

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CLEAN IT UP

Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today…” [Luke 19:8-9a (NLT)]

dogI laughed at the picture of a large dog, with what looked to be a smile on his face, on his hind legs, holding a poop pan with one paw, a rake with the other, and scooping up a pile of dog dirt. The sign read: “Pets, people and parks – When you pick up your pile, everyone smiles.” Yes, we all smile when people clean up the mess left behind by their dogs. Unfortunately, it takes more than a pooper scooper to clean up the mess we leave behind when we sin.

There’s an old Jewish tale about a loquacious businessman who learned a secret about another man in town. It was so sensational that he couldn’t help but pass it along to his family, friends, and neighbors. When the man who was the tale’s topic discovered how his personal life had been broadcast throughout town, he complained to the rabbi who then summoned the tale bearer to his office. At first, the gossiper defended his actions—after all, the story was true! True or false, responded the rabbi, the story was not his to tell and he’d done incredible harm to the man’s reputation. Asking how to make amends, the gossipy man was told to return the next day with his best feather pillow. Once back in the rabbi’s office, he was told to slit open the pillow and shake out all of the feathers. When the rabbi told him then to collect the feathers and put them all back into the pillow, the man protested. The window had been open and a breeze had taken the feathers all over town; getting them back was impossible. “That,” replied the rabbi, “is what happens whenever a secret leaves your mouth. It flies on the wind and can never be gotten back.” Aside from being a lesson about gossip and guarding one’s tongue, it also points out the difficulty of cleaning up the messes that we can make in the lives of others when we sin.

Sometimes, it’s relatively easy to make amends for our failings; other times, there’s no way we can ever make something right or undo what’s been done. Fortunately, making restitution is not a requirement for God’s forgiveness; for that we just need genuine repentance. Although making amends wasn’t a requirement for Zacchaeus’ salvation, his repentance led him to do just that. While the New Testament doesn’t specifically require us to make restitution for our wrongs, Jesus did tell us that if we’ve hurt or offended our brother in any way, we must go and be reconciled.

Unfortunately, while God will forgive us our sins, not everyone else is so willing or able. Reconciliation is not always possible and, unlike a pile of poop, not everything can be picked up or made clean again. The mess left from some sins, like the feathers in the wind, can never be made right. Other sins are best left buried in the past; making direct amends in those cases would only do more harm or bring more pain. While the sins of the past don’t affect our salvation, they do affect our present and often leave us with regrets and guilt. If we can’t make amends directly to the people we’ve hurt, we can prayerfully consider other ways, such as service or giving (as did Zacchaeus), to indirectly right our wrongs. While we may not be able to fix everything we’ve broken, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can live new and improved lives and make the world a better place in which to live.

Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. [Matthew 3:8 (NLT)]

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. [Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT)]

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MAKE IT PERSONAL

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NLT

white peacock butterflyI recently read a devotion that suggested substituting our own personal anxieties and concerns for the troubles listed by Paul in Romans 8. Perhaps your version would read: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither old age nor loss of loved ones, neither cancer nor dementia, neither our fears for our wayward children nor our worries about finances—not even the powers of terrorism and hate can separate us from God’s love. No hurricanes or earthquakes—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Then again, maybe widowhood, heart disease, migraines, foreclosure, floods, stroke, bullies, loneliness, crime, hunger, depression, fires, hard times, debt, anger, betrayal, homelessness, violence, or tornadoes would be on your list. However you fill in the blanks, Paul’s words remain true and bear repeating. Nothing—absolutely nothing—can separate us from God’s love as shown in Jesus Christ.

That God is for us, however, doesn’t mean we have no enemies. In fact, Paul’s words were written to the Roman church, a church that underwent tremendous persecution for the following 300 years. We encounter threats from both physical and spiritual enemies daily. What it does mean is that those enemies, no matter how powerful they are, can’t turn God against us. Because God gave His only son to save us, we can be sure, not just of his unchanging and everlasting love, but of our salvation.

What troubles would you substitute for Paul’s in Romans 8? No matter what they are, rest assured in the promise that the battle is already over and overwhelming victory is ours through Christ our Lord!

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? … overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. [Romans 8: 31b-32,37b (NLT)]

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STRANGERS IN A STRANGE LAND

Then the Lord said to Moses, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have now allowed you to see it with your own eyes, but you will not enter the land.” So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, just as the Lord had said. [Deuteronomy 34:4-5 (NLT)]

southern fogfruitWe all know the story: when she could keep him hidden no longer, Moses’s mother put him in a waterproof basket and laid him in the reeds of the Nile where he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses’ sister appeared, offered to find a wet nurse for him, and Moses and his birth mother were briefly reunited. When he was older, the boy was returned to Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted him. Logically that would have been when he was weaned (around two or three). Unfortunately, with only eleven verses of Scripture about his childhood, there’s no way of knowing how much contact he had with his birth family or what he knew of his Hebrew heritage. Nevertheless, Moses must have been torn by the knowledge that he was living a privileged life in the palace of the man who was mercilessly oppressing his people. A Hebrew boy being raised as an Egyptian prince, was Moses ever fully accepted by those in Pharaoh’s court? Did he feel he belonged or and was he too much of a Hebrew to be considered an Egyptian?

When he was grown, Moses went out “to visit his own people” but we don’t know why. Was he visiting his birth family, supervising some labor, or merely curious? Scripture only tells us that Moses killed an Egyptian he saw abusing a Hebrew slave. The next day, Moses returned again to his people and saw two Hebrews fighting. When he tried to intervene, he was sarcastically rebuffed: “Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?” Apparently, Moses was too much of an Egyptian to be considered a Hebrew by his own people!

To escape Pharaoh’s wrath over the homicide, Moses fled to Midian. The man who was too much a Hebrew to be Egyptian and too Egyptian to be Hebrew was now a stranger in a strange land. Although his unique background was perfect preparation for the task given him, Moses didn’t know that. It’s easy to understand why he was so reluctant when God told him that he’d be the one to lead the Hebrews to freedom. What did Moses know of his people and God’s covenant with Israel? He hadn’t even circumcised his son Gershom!

Part of me finds the story of Moses incredibly sad. Having spent a third of his life as an outsider in Pharaoh’s palace, a third as an exile in Midian, and a third as a nomad in the wilderness, he was a man who never really belonged anywhere. Although he was the one who led his people to their home in Canaan, Moses never stepped into that Promised Land; he only viewed it from a distance. Yet, isn’t this what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he gave his examples of faith in Hebrews 11? He wrote of faithful people like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who, like Moses, only viewed God’s Promised Land from a distance. True faith, however, allows us to see beyond what is right in front of us. We’re all strangers in a strange land because this world is not our home. The Promised Land is not a piece of soil; it is the Kingdom of God and a piece of eternity.

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. … But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. [Hebrews 11:13,16 (NLT)]

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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” [Revelation 21:3-4 (NLT)

star jasmineIn a recent Close to Home comic (drawn by John McPherson), we see the back of a white-haired gentleman at a podium. Several people are facing him with hands raised. “Does the universe really go on forever or is there a brick wall at the end?” asks one. “Who would win in a total fight to the death? Attila the Hun or Mike Tyson?” asks another. The caption at the bottom says, “Once a week, God holds a question and answer session for new arrivals in Heaven.” It reminded me of a quote by Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer who, at the age of 13, survived the loss of her left arm in a 2003 shark attack.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to why bad things happen to good people. But I do know that God knows all those answers and sometimes He lets you know in this life, and sometimes He asks you to wait so that you can have a face-to-face talk about it. [From “Soul Surfer” by Bethany Hamilton]

Later that day, I was talking with a widow friend. It had been just three months since her husband died in her arms and she has many questions she’d like God to answer. Thinking of the young surfer’s quote, I reminded her that any questions we don’t get answered in this lifetime will be answered in the next. We then looked at each other and almost simultaneously said, “But, will we care?”

It occurred to us that, once in heaven, all of our earthly questions will be insignificant. We think we want to know why someone suffered or a child’s innocence was violently stolen. We think we want God’s reasoning for a partner’s betrayal, the barren womb, a loved one’s addiction, or a spouse’s death. Once in God’s presence, I wonder if those questions will seem as ridiculous as the questions posed by the people in McPherson’s comic strip.

As Job learned, our “whys” are not likely to be answered on this side of the pearly gates and I doubt we’ll need those answers on other side. The repentant thief on the cross beside Jesus was told, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Do you think when he got there, he spent time asking God about his abusive step-father or the unfairness of his death sentence? Our last breath here will be followed by our first breath in heaven (a place without pain or tears—one of joy and perfect peace) and all of our earthly concerns will be gone. When we arrive in God’s dwelling place and come face to face with Jesus, I seriously doubt we’ll have any questions that need answering. Knowing God’s love for us, it will all make sense.

You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. … No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. [Hebrews 12:18,22 (NLT)]

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