Dawn and I love to travel. We find beautiful vistas at mountain overlooks. I am powerless to stop myself from taking hundreds of very similar pictures of the mountains rolling away into the distance with mist, sunshine, rocks, trees, colorful foliage, rivers or any other feature a person finds in the mountains. It makes me think of this verse:
A person's wisdom yields patience; it is to one's glory to overlook an offense. (Proverbs 19:11 TNIV)
We are in our 25th year together and I am thankful. We have something special. It is special for its value and beauty to me, not for any particular feature of our relationship that nobody else can have. This scripture sentence says volumes about what can make a relationship, whether it's a marriage, a friendship, or any other family connection good. It's in the overlooks.
Ask yourself this: "Can I be patient with the other's flaws?" If you can't chances are you are also not being wise according to Solomon. When I am being wise I am considering my own flaws. I am realizing that the other person in my life is not perfect just as I am not perfect. Chances are we have different imperfections from each other, but that does not make my imperfections any better or more acceptable than the other's. The fact that they are mine makes them look, to me, easier to live with. When I get short fused or demanding with the other, I am simply letting my own folly run away with me, and that too is a flaw. And now for the hard part.
I may be patient when I am wise, but I am glorious if I overlook an offense. What about that other person offends my sensibilities, my sense of order, my feelings of being cared for, my image of goodness, my conception of intelligence? If I can just realize that I am no easier to live with than anyone else and that my own quirks are just as annoying, just as upsetting, just as niggling as anyone else's, I can reach a point of give and take, a place of forgiveness. There are places in conflict resolution for confrontation and compromise, but in our self-centered society we often bypass this first obvious step: to simply choose to overlook something that offends me. Make no mistake, it is a choice, one that must be exercised often, sometimes constantly. We are unique individuals and that means we are different from each other and those differences will feel out of place. It is in the nature of being different.
It's like that mountain overlook. If I could get down into that mountain from my lofty height, I would see the litter left by campers, the droppings left by animals, the dangers, the impassible paths, the holes, rocks, and ruts, the rotting logs. But if my view is to be glorious, from that ridge looking down into the valley, I choose to ignore those trouble spots and see the bigger picture, the majestic panorama of the whole rather than the distraction that the smaller parts can become.
We are called by Solomon to allow our wisdom to shine like a glorious star, to be and, as a bonus, to appear to others to be a wonderful person of depth and beauty. We can be that person. It is in the level of personal stability we can find in living with the differences and the flaws of others. When my friend, spouse, sibling, parent, or adult child becomes an irritant, it's probably more my problem than it is theirs. Often others are just being who they are while I am expecting them to be someone else for my benefit.
Of course some readers will be thinking, "I need to show this to someone else, so they can be wiser and more glorious in their patience and willingness to overlook something." Resist that defensive posture. Instead look at it for what you yourself can gain. Be the example in the relationship, the one who finds personal internal stability in accepting the other. Stand at the overlook and see the majesty of the bigger relational picture rather than allowing yourself to be sidetracked by smaller things. We are eternal beings in a temporary world. All of this is passing away as we speak. When we are weak, or old, or prone to problems these are manifestations of immediacy. Things of the spirit will last. That's where the glorious overlook can be found.
Since December (as well as, of course, a long time before that) The Mennonite Church has been in a state of some anxiety over actions taken concerning the homosexual community by a couple organizations under our umbrella. These same anxieties are bound to become stirred any time, and for any reason, the long-held views of a group of people are challenged. The conclusion of these challenges always leads to change, whether in shifting to incorporate the new views or in reaffirming our commitments and seeing not the policies but the faces in our churches change. In any debate, no matter which way things go, the fallout is painful and the struggles are deeply felt by many.
A recent document released by Lancaster Mennonite Conference called Healthy Sexuality Resources: A Toolkit of Resources for Leaders and Congregations includes a selection of websites containing a number of important documents that shed light on the teachings of the Mennonite Church. The documents while clearly defining a position, also take a strong stand on love and forgiveness as well as repentance. Equally important, they discuss some other issues that tend to be obscured by the issue close at hand. I am including links to a few of the more focused of these sites for anyone who would like to take a look. The leadership of Lancaster Mennonite Conference has made comments and sent out documents that reaffirm our commitment to these statements and call for a renewed focus not on controversy, but on the mission of the Church: growing disciples for Jesus.
Much of what we find in the Old Testament about repentance shows the LORD repenting of decisions He had made. This helps us a great deal in separating the idea of repentance from sin. It is a change of mind or a change of heart. One of the images is “to sigh” or “to breathe strongly”. It is an expression of regret, but in the case of the LORD it also communicates being moved to grief or pity on those who are experiencing trouble, because their trouble is directly caused by or at least allowed by the LORD himself. Modern translations have tended toward words like "relent" and "grieve" instead of repent, but following the thread in the King James Bible or the American Standard Version helps to show the strong usage of the concept in the Old Testament. Comparing them with these newer renderings we see nuances in the idea of repentance we might otherwise miss.
In those same early times, the concept has more to do with practical regret than with an intention of the mind. It is during the establishment of the Temple when the word becomes an expression of a human heart condition, when Solomon refers to people who have been carried away as captive because of their sin, and in their place of captivity repent and pray toward the Temple invoking God to hear and forgive. Also in the Wisdom Literature, which is associated with Solomon’s writings, Job speaks of personal repentance for sin. Later a few references to human repentance arise in the prophets. This human repentance, though, is in the definite minority of the Old Testament idea of repentance.
For the most part, when the LORD is spoken of as repenting, it has to do with decisions He made regarding human action. Most of the time people sinned and God judged them, then later He repented of His own harshness and followed up with mercy. Sometimes God expresses a definite reluctance or even a refusal to repent of His harshness.
In the New Testament the idea of human repentance takes full form. Here it is almost always a human change of mind. It sometimes carries the implication of a wish that something had never happened or never would be.
John the Baptist and Jesus draw a great deal of attention to the human concept of repentance speaking of it bearing fruit and of repentance causing a change in action. For example, Judas “repented” of what he had done and brought the silver back to the priests who gave it to him. As it moves into the book of Acts and Paul’s epistles, the idea of repentance is closely associated with baptism and with salvation. It is occasionally spoken of as something that is given to people, described almost as a grace from God.
As the idea is raised in Revelation we come again to God’s repentance, his regret that He had given grace to some who did not take advantage of it. At the same time a great many people are judged in Revelation because of their refusal to repent.
As humans then we should see repentance not only as a thought of distancing ourselves from sin, but of action. We should see it as something that spurs certain feelings in us:
We can think of repentance not just as a human action regarding sin, but as something we can learn from God Himself, using Him as our model for repentance. Even He, when He acted strongly in response to Holy righteous indignation, sometimes repented of His harshness and was moved to kindness.
We all learned in our early years of school how to write different kinds of notes. One was a bread and butter note. I always found that one to have an interesting name. It is a special kind of thank you note. Perhaps you owe somebody a bread and butter note for their hospitality this past Thursday. Thank you notes were another form we were taught, and which most of us treated like an academic exercise and quickly forgot.
Do you write thank you notes? The Thanksgiving season is an interesting time to think of such a thing, because we don't write thank you notes to God but to people. Thank you notes come back into play in about a month ... at which time many of us will forget about them again.
I think Thank you notes are nice. Many of us probably think of them as overly formal. We stick them in the same category as an engraved invitation and assume that people in our tax bracket do not indulge in such frippery.
However, they are not froth. All we have to do to realize that is to consider how we feel when we receive one. In our adult years we grow jaded about mail. It is full of fliers and bills. But once in awhile a personal envelope makes it to our door, a card, or (it still happens even in these digital days) a letter. When it does, at our house, it gets placed in a special pile as we sort the mail: junk, bills, interesting or important, personal. It is the last thing we open, relishing the idea that somebody thought about us enough to spend time and some effort to send something we could hold in our hand.
Thank you notes are expressions of personal regard. They say "You were nice to me and I have not forgotten." Giving thanks to God is easy. We simply send up a prayer. Give thanks to Him by thanking him for somebody else. Then let them know ... in writing.
Remember Joseph? Rembrandt did. Life was not fair to Joseph ... or was it life?
At some point or another, every parent or leader of children hears it. "It's not fair!"
Most adults will automatically and even a bit bitterly retreat into the truism, "Life is not fair."
And it is true, but why is it true? Certainly bad things happen to people in ways that are completely undeserved. That is not fair. Random trouble comes everyone's way.
But are we certain that when we retreat into the truism, "Life is not fair" we are not simply hiding behind a general truth to cover a more pliable problem? Certainly when we deliver our edict from on high to children, this timeless wisdom they will have to learn sooner or later, the child knows, deep down as an inexpressible fact, "Life may not be fair, but people should be."
But it's not just a children's problem. People are prone to take advantage of a situtaion that will give them benefits not received by others. The unfairness of life is fueled by oportunism, our chance to get our own way, to do unto others before they do unto us, to do what the other guy would do if he were in our place. Is it not more the way of Christ to be more blessed by giving rather than hoarding blessings by receiving at the expense of another?
May it be ever truer that when we acknowledge the unfairness of life that we are not simply making excuses for our own unfairness. May it be ever truer that we are not evading a responsibility we might be able to shoulder to enter into an unfair situation and transform it. When we say "Life is not fair" may the subtext never be, "therefore I need not be fair."
It was for Joseph. When he finally emerged from prison, he did not stick it to his brothers because they stuck it to him ... perhaps that would have been fair to them, but not to their hungry families back home. Instead he showed generosity, forgiveness, and grace. That is the way of Jesus. Is it the much debated definition of Justice, to act fairly in unfair circumstances?
Pastor, Norma Mennonite Church.