Slimeball Sibling (How Not to React When a Brother Reaps What He Has Sown)

How do you respond when someone suffers a mess of their own making? Do you find your attitude is different when it is one of your own, when a loved one suffers the consequence of bad or even immoral decision? Are you gracious and understanding or do you say “I told you so”?

When foolish people are brought down, we might cut them some slack: “there may be reasons, pressures and influences that we know nothing about”. Or we might think “good, they are getting what they deserve”. Sometimes we are gracious and sometimes we add to the pain the already suffer.

In the Bible we are given an example of how not to be a brother. Back in Genesis we read about two brothers, Esau and Jacob. Esau’s descendants were the Edomites. Jacob’s descendants were the Israelites which split into two kingdoms, Israel to the North and Judah to the South. The Edomites were neighbours and relatives to the the people of Judah when Babylon came along and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Here is what the Lord had to say to the Edomites through the prophet Obadiah:

10 “Because of the violence you did
to your close relatives in Israel [Hebrew is “your brother Jacob],
you will be filled with shame
and destroyed forever.
11 When they were invaded,
you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.
12 “You should not have gloated
when they exiled your relatives to distant lands.
You should not have rejoiced
when the people of Judah suffered such misfortune.
You should not have spoken arrogantly
in that terrible time of trouble.
13 You should not have plundered the land of Israel
when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have gloated over their destruction
when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have seized their wealth
when they were suffering such calamity.
14 You should not have stood at the crossroads,
killing those who tried to escape.
You should not have captured the survivors
and handed them over in their terrible time of trouble. Obadiah 1:10-14 (NLT)

Out of all the nations, Edom was the closest in blood relationship to the suffering people of Jerusalem. According to the prophet Obadiah, the Edomites ought to have helped rather than heaping on more hurt. Edom acted more like an enemy rather than a brother. Do we serve up opportunities for healing, or dish out further hurt? When our loved ones mess up, do they feel they can come to us? Does our presence feel like a safe place, where they can experience grace and growth? Or does coming to us just feel like yet another war zone?

“But they deserve it!” That might be our next thought. However, Judah deserved the consequences. God had said all along that if He was kept in the picture, He would be in the picture. But if not, then the people were on their own among stronger empires bent on expansion. Judah messed up and paid the consequences. Yet Scripture records that Edom still did the wrong thing in heaping on more hurt rather than helping. When fallen loved ones reap what they have sown, it is better for us to focus on what we are sowing rather than on what they are reaping. We have the opportunity to sow good seeds of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). We have the opportunity to help.

So we ought to be gracious to loved ones when they suffer the consequences of their misdeeds, but we can stick it to to everyone else, right? Not so fast. Esau and Jacob parted ways long before Edom heaped hurt on Judah. In fact well over a thousand years had passed which makes these “brothers” very distant relatives indeed! God expected Edom to be helpful rather than hurtful despite that distance.

How big is our family? Those of us who are Christians are part of a very large family. Having been adopted into the family of God we have brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world. Many of them may seem distant. Some of them might seem odd. Some of them might even make us want to shake our heads in disgust. Nevertheless, are we giving space for healing when we see a brother or sister in Christ suffer a mess of their own making?

Our family is actually even bigger than that; much, much, bigger:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. Ephesians 3:14-15 (NRSV)

Never mind just loving our relatives, Jesus taught us to love our enemies as well!

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven . . . Matthew 5:43-45 (NRSV)

Not only did Jesus teach it, he did it:

For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. Romans 5:10 (NLT)

Fact is, you have never had an enemy you are not related to.

How can we start living out this message from Obadiah? Since we tend to be more gracious and understanding toward our own, we can start by treating everyone like one of our own. When people get themselves into a mess of their own making, ask, “what if it was my son or daughter, mother, father, brother, sister? What if it was the person I most admire and love in the world?” Keeping in mind the Golden Rule we can also ask “what if it was me? Would I want everyone saying ‘serves you right’ or could I use a good friend right now?”

We know that love for family is important. Being gracious and understanding is part of that. We get that. We want to help rather than cause further hurt. What we tend to forget is just how big our family really is. Love for family is super important. Grace within family is super important. You have a big, big family.

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Big Renovations (Part 2: The Church)

We might think that the best days are in the past for the Church in Canada. The Church in Canada has changed as has Canada itself. Christianity seems to exert less influence. In many churches Sunday Schools which were once full are now mostly empty. Many churches feel like run down houses which have seen better days.

In the previous post we considered Haggai’s message for those who looked back at the glory days of the temple which could be summed up as “take courage . . . work”. God’s house had been destroyed, but in Haggai’s day rebuilding had begun then halted. However, the run down house can be renovated! Take courage and work!

We also considered that God no longer takes up residence in a temple building, but somewhere far more exciting for us:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV)

 

If we are God’s temple individually, then how much more are we the place of God’s residence collectively? What does “take courage . . . work” look like for us today as the Church? What does the renovation of the Church look like?

The building and rebuilding of the Church can be summed up in two words; disciple making.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

But what about opposition to Christianity today? Renovations may seem daunting in the face of societal changes. Temple building was a daunting task in Haggai’s day as there had been opposition to the rebuilding in the years previous. However, with a new Persian king amenable to the task, there was really now nothing stopping them from moving forward. While we may feel an opposition to Christianity here in Canada in our day, there really is nothing stopping us from moving ahead! Yes, there is a movement to take Christianity out of the public sphere. But we do not need the Lord’s prayer to be prayed in schools for God to be answering our prayers. Yes, there is a movement away from Christian values. But we don’t need laws against sharing recreational pot to share God’s love in Christ. We don’t need society to make discipleship or evangelism easy. What we need is courage. “Take courage . . .work”.

We have the same reasons for courage as the people of Haggai’s day; God is present, God’s promises stand:

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, 5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. Haggai 2:4-5 (NRSV emphasis added)

Plus, the day of God’s glory is coming:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory, ’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty.  ‘And in this place I will grant peace, ’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:6-9 (NIV emphasis added)

Do you see the best days of the Church as being ahead? If not, perhaps you are too busy looking behind. Don’t look back at the glory days of the Church in Canada, move forward into God’s glory.

Big Renovations

Are your best days are behind you? You may feel they are. You are not the young energetic person of the past. When we first entered the world we were carried up the stairs. Then we learned to climb them. Then we began running up the stairs, soon proudly doing two at a time. Then we reach the point of just walking up the stairs. Later we do what can best be described as climbing them again. Then we avoid them altogether. If you are in these latter stages you may think your best days are behind you.

Haggai has a message for those who look back at the glory days.

. . .  the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2 Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3 Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Haggai 2:1-3 (NRSV)

God’s people had endured the consequence of their rebellion spending seventy years in Babylon following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. They had now been allowed to return and even begin work on rebuilding the temple. However with opposition the work ground to a halt. Haggai points out the rundown nature of the house of God and brings a message from the Lord:

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work . . . Haggai 2:4 (NRSV emphasis added)

The run down house can be renovated! Take courage and work! In the prophet Haggai’s day that meant getting back to work on rebuilding the place of God’s residence, the temple. In our day God’s place of residence may well need some major renovations. But where is it today?

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV)

Since it turns out that the Christ follower is God’s temple, what does “take courage and work” look like for us today? It is the renovation of our hearts. This is God’s work in us. We are only scratching the surface here, but the affect of God upon us has been summarized for us:

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

Do you feel like your best days are behind you? If you do, you may be thinking of things like physical health and youthful vitality. What if we think instead about the impact God has on us, such as the fruit of the Spirit? The best days of your life may yet be ahead. You can be so deflated of physical heath that you are confined to a hospital bed and yet still be growing in things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we redefine our “best days” as those where we most powerfully demonstrate God’s impact on our hearts and minds, our best days are ahead! God’s renovating work in us continues!

So “take courage . . . work”. That is, make efforts to keep in step with God. Be open to His work in your life. I am not really a handyman, but I know God has the tools and know-how to fix up whatever needs renovating in my heart.

Do you see your best days as being ahead? If not, perhaps you are too busy looking behind. Don’t look back at your glory days, move forward into God’s glory.