Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Breaking Down Walls of Hostility

Hatred first reared its ugly head after the fall, resulting in the murder of Cain. It drove Joseph's brothers to plot his death and then settle for selling him into slavery. It caused the Egyptians to slaughter babies born to Jews. It drove Haman to plot the destruction of Israelites being held captive in Persia. It showed its ugliness in Israel's treatment of Gentiles, the Gentiles’ treatment of Jews, and the treatment of both groups toward the people who were the products of mixed marriages between the two. It was displayed when women were mistreated in marriages and discarded by arrogant husbands who used them and tossed them out like evening garbage. It was displayed in the way the Old Testament society viewed women as second-class citizens. It has shown itself when fathers who desired sons mourned the births of precious daughters. It shows its ugly head in the legal systems that fail to serve justice on behalf of victims. 

Hatred is still growing as we see everyday on the news. Hatred in the form of prejudice has roots running deep in human hearts. Prejudice may be birthed when fear becomes so intolerable that the power of hatred feels safer than the fear it covers. Prejudice may be born in insecure hearts where anxiety is calmed by refocusing it on something external to be angry with. It may be birthed by longing deeply for acceptance, notoriety, supremacy, prestige, and significance when one mistakenly believes hatred can ensure one can get or keep the things longed for. It can be born in pride-filled hearts as people seek to elevates themselves over others. It can be born in hearts deeply wounded by victimization, providing a destructive hot protection that kills the chance of forming loving relationships. It can be born in a heart given over to evil when the conscience has become seared by one hateful choice after another. 

Hatred often takes root when distorted thinking rules hearts. When we exaggerate or minimize the importance of events, experiences, and mistakes, we breed hate. When we employ catastrophic thinking and see only the worst possible outcomes, we may not see valuable life lessons that need to be learned, we may not sow seeds of love that God is asking us to sow, or we may not take the opportunities to be a part of needed changes. Fear caused by catastrophic thinking can breed self-protective, but destructive biases. Making broad sweeping generalizations can spawn  hate-filled viewpoints. For example those abused by a man could begin to hate all men. Those ridiculed by a teacher can begin to hate all teachers. Those were assaulted by someone of another race can begin to despise all people from that race. 

I've been praying the last couple of weeks about what to write in light of what has been happening since George Floyd was killed. There aren't words to describe the grief and the shock of watching the video and the powerful pictures of protestors who laid down on the ground with hands behind their backs for the amount of time George laid there only to have the unity built by the outrage hijacked by extremists instigating riots, murder, looting, and all sorts of lawlessness. We have all had experiences that bias our way of thinking and yet we know Jesus came to abolish hostility. Ephesians 2:14-21 says, For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of the commandments express in ordinances that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in who the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a Holy Temple in the Lord.

Jesus, a Jew born in the Middle East, broke through all sorts of prejudicial barriers when He came to this earth. He turned over the tables of money changers who were taking advantage of the poor who wanted to offer sacrifices in the temple. He broke through the biases towards marginalized people as He rubbed shoulders with the blind, the crippled, the deaf, the mute, the lepers, the demon possessed, and with a woman who was unclean because of constant bleeding. He broke through the biases in the religious culture by allowing all sorts of people to sit under his teaching--boisterous fishermen vying for positions, to the educated doctor, to the tax collectors. to Lydia the business woman, to the homemakers, to children who never had direct access to God before, and even to the prostitutes that longed for real love. He even gave the gospel to a mixed-raced Samaritan woman and then entrusted her to share it with her town. He was a bridge builder, not a division maker. He bridged the hostility between Jews and the Gentiles (all other races and people groups). 

We would do well to remember prejudice of any kind is driven by the Enemy who wants to convince people that Jesus is something He isn’t and to divide the people to whom He is reaching out. If we don't examine our hearts and acknowledge and change our biases, we are prone to be used by the Enemy to distort the image of God and His love and to stir up the very hostility that Jesus came to destroy. This is serious as God is not a biased God. He makes it clear in his Word that there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, and neither male or female and we would do well to pattern our attitudes and our actions on this truth.   
One of the things I believe we all have in common is the desire for perfect justice. We hear it in the cries of the protestors. We hear it in the cries of those who lost loved ones to senseless violence. We hear it in the cries of those victimized by sexual predators. We hear it in the cries of those who have been forever impacted by drunk drivers. We hear it in the cries of those who sit through court and see victimizers get off due to technicalities. We hear it in the cries of spouses going through ugly divorces whose judges discounted truth to grant custody to unhealthy, unstable, or dangerous parents. 

But, I believe our desire for perfect justice is often skewed by our own biases. Years ago I asked a pastor why he thought God was so specific in the law. He explained the law was partly put in place to restrain our imperfect, fleshly sense of justice. He pointed out if a person lost their eye in a fight, he wants to destroy someone's whole face. If a person lost a family member, they want to take the killer as well as his family out. Cities of Refuge were set up to protect those who were responsible for accidental killings because of reality. At first I wasn't sure I agreed with the pastor about man's tendency. But, soon after that conversation I was victimized and found myself struggling with strong, graphic thoughts of revenge that scared me. I realized my own sense of justice was warped by both my pain and my fear. I came to realize the way for me to regain internal peace was to speak truth when I could and then to lay my desire for my warped justice at the feet of the Perfect Judge and trust Him to work His will in it. It was a process, but it was freeing and only possible because I knew Jesus death was God's perfect justice carried out on my behalf.      

Right now I just want to cling to the One who came to destroy hostility and who desires His church to be comprised of all nations and of all races--a church bursting at its seems with people reconciled to God, unified in Jesus Christ, being led by the Holy Spirit worshiping together and proclaiming the gospel. We would be wise to examine ourselves for residual biases and Pharisaical judgments that we might possess as individuals and as churches. These things not only destroy peace and divide the body, they keep others from knowing our God. I want to be sure in my passion, that I don't take on the very hatred that God detests. His nature is love and I want my heart and life to reflect Him and His humility. I am thankful His Son was not given to hateful biases, but in an act of supreme humility lay down His life, breaking the barriers of hostility between us and God and leveled the field between all people. 

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!