As for you, you meant evil against me,
but God meant it for good, Genesis 50:20
A few local pastors and I heard some helpful insights this week at a faith leadership summit sponsored by our local hospital. Two of those insights come together in Joseph’s words to his brothers in Genesis. First: When we change our mind, based on new information, we can change our hearts. Second: We can choose how we will remember a harmful event, for good or for evil. Fearing Joseph would seek revenge upon them for selling him into slavery his brothers did not expect him to apply these insights for a forgiveness point of view.
To review, God had raised up Joseph from slavery and imprisonment to a position of authority second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. In that position he was able to save his family from famine, but he had to choose whether to forgive his brothers or to get revenge on them. It all depended on how he would remember past hurts, as destructive or redemptive. The fact that he was able to save his family empowered him to see the good God intended and to change his heart toward his brothers. Therefore, He chose not to focus on the hateful jealousy which motivated his brothers’ past sins.
What choice are you making? You can decide whether or not to remember the past as a link to a greater good that you could not see at the time. What was the potential good God was bringing about through your difficult time? Focus on that good and you can forgive the one who hurt you. Forgiving someone who hurt you is the gift of healing you give yourself.
It is the choice Jesus made when he hung on the cross to earn forgiveness for the harm we have done. For those who put him on the cross and mocked him in his suffering He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” He was not overcome by evil, but overcame evil with love. His powerful grace enables us to do likewise.
Pastor Tom Konz
Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful Joel 2:13
We know we could all be more giving to one another than we normally are. Christmas reminds us of that and we embrace it. We know we could all express our love for each more than we do. Valentine’s Day reminds us of that and we embrace it. We know that we should repent more often and more sincerely than we do. Lent reminds us of that, but do we embrace it for that reason?
Like gifts and cards, repentance can become half-hearted. We do it because it’s expected. But the prophet Joel preceded the words above by saying, “rend your hearts, not your garments”. He meant “Don’t repent outwardly, but inwardly.” True repentance will lead to true change in attitude and action. When’s the last time you took a hard look at your heart and assessed your sincerity before God? Not that you can’t and shouldn’t do it every day, but why not at least let the Lenten season provide you a focused time to bear down on that? If it’s not given special attention, will you really think much about it on your own?
Lent is too often defined by superficial sacrifices or disciplines of our choice—as one blogger put it, a second chance to achieve those New Year’s resolutions that we have already failed to do. Some meaningful sacrifices can help us grow in self-discipline, and that’s always a good thing.
But consider some weightier Lenten challenges. How about sacrificing to God your willingness to so easily brush aside his commands in favor of your own pleasure? How about simply doing what he commands and avoiding what he prohibits? We can get pretty Pharisaical when we decide what spiritual disciplines please God. But in his Large Catechism Martin Luther simplified our quest for spiritual growth when he wrote, “What God commands must be much better and far nobler than everything that we may come up with ourselves. … by commanding such works He shows that they please Him.”
So how about just taking time in Lent to evaluate how you’re doing on the basic Ten Commandments. When understood in their depth they will show that we have fallen woefully short of God’s will. And that’s where the repentance comes in—and we discover over and over again that for those returning to the Lord, He is gracious and merciful. That daily discovery answers the question, “why Lent?” It ends at the cross and empty grave, where God validated Joel’s words.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22–23
My wife and I viewed The Vow on Valentine’s Day. Probably the most instructive line went something like this, “You just treated me like a person”. That’s what it took for a man to win back his post-comatose wife who had no memory of him or their marriage. He didn’t make assumptions about her, place demands on her, or take her love for granted. In fact, he couldn’t. He just treated her like a person and she fell in love with him all over again.
I say that was instructive because shouldn’t we all treat each other in a similar way? What if we took nothing for granted from our spouses, children, parents, co-workers, and friends? What if we wiped the slate clean each day of past errors and live in daily forgiveness? What if we treated people as unique individuals, explored who they were and wanted to be instead of viewing them only through the lens of our own expectations? What if we lived with the goal each day of “winning” one another’s heart all over again? What would that do for marriages, families, friendships, and work places? Just a thought.
Isn’t that what you want from God, and isn’t that what He gives you? The apostle Paul wrote, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 Should we expect from God anything that we are not willing to give to others? Jesus, who by His mercies revealed on the cross, makes us new every day with the gift of grace, said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12 Not just a thought, a command.
Pastor Tom Konz
What is the World to Me?
There are different answers to the question, “what is the world to me?” An old hymn by that title reminds us, The world seeks after wealth And all that mammon offers Yet never is content Though gold should fill its coffers. The epistle writer John would agree: “Do not love the world or the things in the world… (which are) passing away along with its desires”. The hymn writer continues, My Jesus is my wealth. What is the world to me! In a word, the world to us is “Nothing”.
And yet from another perspective, the world is “everything”. Protestant reformer John Knox prayed earnestly to God, Give me Scotland or I die. He wanted to win the nation over to Christ. Rather than shrink from the world. Paul the apostle sought the same goal by becoming all things to all people that by all means he might save some. Jesus sent his disciples to make disciples of all nations. So from that perspective, the world is “everything”.
The follower of Christ is then both to hate the world and to love it. A proper disdain for the world’s fleeting vanities keeps us from getting caught up in its deadly passions and dead-end pursuits that rob us of our faith. It is wise to take stock of how much the world already has its hooks in us and then to ask God to free ourselves from those hooks.
Yet, we are also to love the world as God does, who so loved it that he sent his Son as a sacrifice to reconcile it to Himself. Those who claim to follow him will also make loving sacrifices in order to share His message of salvation to those in the world. For the world is nothing to us, yet everything to God.
It’s that time of the year when the best two teams in the National Football Team compete for the Lombardi Trophy. Visiting Flambeau Field in Green Bay before last year’s Green Bay Super Bowl victory I saw the first three of their four trophies up close. They are indeed impressive.
However, to those engaged in the struggle to win them it means much more than just a sterling silver football. It represents a long season against many opponents, working around injuries and mistakes and emotional ups and downs. It takes discipline, focus, and an eye on the prize. An athlete can never relax over a victory the week before. Interviewed this week about the game between the Patriots and Giants, one of the players had it right when he said that it didn’t matter what they did the last game, the team that plays the best game this week will win.
If that much effort is exerted for a trophy in this life how much more fitting it is that we strive for the eternal prize. While salvation is ours by grace alone through faith alone that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to obtain. There are all kinds of opponents to the faith that would keep us from the prize. Sin and Satan are constantly trying to derail us so that we would despair of our failures and lose faith. On the other hand, if we do well in our walk pride can whisper that damnable doctrine that grace isn’t enough because we’ve contributed to our own salvation by being good. That too can lead to a loss of faith in Him who is the only way to heaven.
The winning team this Sunday will be the team that best executes the basics skills of the game, is most committed to the coach and the game plan, and keeps its eye on the prize. The Christians that will receive the eternal prize in the end will be those that stick to the basic belief of the forgiveness of sins through the crucified and risen Christ. They will seek to stay away from sin, trust the plans and promises of God, and regularly strengthen their faith in those promises with prayer and Scripture. Only one team wins the Lombardi trophy, but all who call upon the Lord will receive the imperishable prize—eternal life in Christ.
Pastor Tom Konz