Publication: One-to-One, Spring 2006
HOW TO OVERCOME ALIENATION AND BRING HEALING TO INDIVIDUALS…AND TO THE NATIONS
The need for reconciliation applies wherever alienation exists. We cannot know the blessing of reconciliation until we have known the bitterness of alienation. Alienation is a wound not healed, a loss of love, and a loss of life. It is a tragedy that can cause sickness, disease—and ultimately—death. Most of us have experienced it in some fashion and bear the scars of it. It is a massive and systemic human problem.
It would be foolish to treat the subject of reconciliation as easy or merely academic. The truth is, if we take this issue seriously, reconciliation is tough work. However, it is not only biblical, it is commanded.
No amount of religion seems to cure our problem. Muslims fight Muslims; Jews fight Jews; Catholics fight Catholics; Baptists fight Baptists; and on it goes. It is a genetic flaw in all of us. Where did this come from? In the very beginning it was not so. It was all good. Adam fellowshipped with God; Eve was one with Adam; and that place of fellowship was called “Eden.” It was heaven on earth. But the same one that caused trouble in heaven also brought his evil work to earth. Soon questions were raised to Adam about God’s word; disobedience occurred and murder shattered the first family. The entire earth was affected. Some may doubt the Genesis account, but the evidence of alienation and strife is here for all to see.
We seem to have a natural weakness in discerning good and evil. Separation from God has blinded us, and we go on inflicting damage upon ourselves and others. General Omar Bradley said, “We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.”
Satan’s sin was pride, and with his craftiness he seduced the first couple to want to “be as God” (see Genesis 3, Isaiah 14:12-15). Alas, we were bitten by the “pride bug”, and pride is the primary ingredient in conflict (see Proverbs 13:10). It seems very strange that with all the evidence around us, human pride has not diminished, and alienation continues. Much of our psychology and theology is still self-centered. How can we defeat the roots of division and alienation?
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
God is “Our Father in Heaven.” He loves us even in our sin. Earthly fathers usually still love their children when they are disobedient. But our Father in heaven loves us with a greater love. He sent His unique Son to teach us, and to give His life for us, so that through Him we could be reconciled to our Heavenly Father. It is amazing that after all of the disobedience, after all of the cursing of Him and killing each other, He still loves us.
So, He sent His Son to reveal His heart for us, to reveal His truth to us, and then to be the sacrificial Lamb Who took our sin upon Himself. “He paid it all.” He took His own blood to the heavenly altar to obtain our redemption—to buy us out of alienation and self-destruction. Then He became our Mediator before God and our High Priest, making continual intercession for us.
What right did we have to such love and mercy? None. What did we do to earn our redemption? Nothing. At what price did we gain our justification before God? His blood. There is no cure but God’s cure, no offering for our release but His offering. We were “dead” in our condition and totally helpless; He purchased us and made us alive. Therefore, we can no longer live for ourselves.
WHO IS COUNTING?
Jesus came but He did not count our trespasses against us. Can God count? He has counted the stars and the hairs on our heads. But He did not count our sins against us (see 2 Corinthians 5:19). Indeed, He dismissed the old and made everything new. It was as though the past never happened.
Counting is a problem. God doesn’t count the past, but we do. And we keep counting.
Some cultures have counted for liter- ally thousands of years. And some people count for a lifetime. Offences are like stones that pile up to build high walls. And the walls that we build around us become our own prison. Counting adds up to seclusion and separation.
If we learn anything from history, it is that we do not learn from history. We keep missing opportunities to prevent conflict before it begins. Yes, there are “just wars” and righteous people must resist evil. Some are more right than others – but it is “being right” that often hinders being righteous. If we are RIGHT, we should not humble ourselves RIGHT? WRONG!
God was right above all right. Jesus was right and never wrong. Yet, He humbled Himself and made Himself of no reputation. Was He right to do that? We owe to His humility all that we are, and ever hope to be. In fact, we owe our lives to Him. What He asks of us is, stop counting; it is not the way to reconciliation. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart…” (Matthew 11:29).
Sometimes a poor memory can be a good asset. When we forget trespasses, we can act accordingly. God deliberately forgets (see Micah. 7:19). If we are to be known as His sons and daughters, we must forget also (see Matthew 5:9). Of course, we do forget our own offenses, but we must also forget the offenses done against us.
Let me confess that I am not a passive person. I thought “turn the other cheek” was for a “previous dispensation”. My ancestors were not given to ignoring offenses. I am a Scot- Irish-German. That is a pretty tough ethnic cocktail! I also boxed; that is not a good preparation for reconciliation. This message of reconciliation has come to me—and I give it to you—with great difficulty and only partial success. Pride and aggression have followed me as relentless hounds, and sometimes they have overtaken me.
So how can we become ambassadors for Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:20)? No, I do not mean, “How can we become Christians?” or members of some religious body—that is not enough. The question is, how can we represent Christ our Lord—represent His attitude and His purpose? How can we represent His Kingdom?
For starters, we must eliminate our own attitude and purpose. We legally died when He died. The old is gone—remember? We have no rights. Dead men have no rights. The Cross is where we ceased; we are now His. How we felt, or feel about the world or some- one, no longer matters. The Cross deals with our feelings. There is no reconciliation apart from the Cross.
Secondly, we must receive a measure of divine love for transgressors that will help us to look past their offenses and bridge the gap. It is not a better method that we need as much as a better motive. Given our own past and weaknesses and how Christ went all the way for us, we should be able to relate to transgressors.
Then we should get specific. Generalities and platitudes are worthless until applied to a specific person or situation. Loving “everybody” is a delusion; loving somebody is a reality.
The next step is the hard one: Humility is more than sweet talk; it is accepting responsibility for what someone else may be unable to accept responsibility for. Galatians 6:1 says, “You who are spiritual restore….” Humility is to take the initiative and demonstrate spirituality. In God’s example, the offended one took the initiative upon Himself and the blame upon Himself, though he was without fault. The Son of God humbled Himself.
When we do these four things, the rest is up to the other person or persons. But our prayer is that our efforts will succeed. Having provided an example, we can then be ambassadors and effectively proclaim our message, “Be reconciled to God” (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). This is our problem. An un-reconciled church afflicted with pride has a great struggle to reach an un-reconciled world.
As you receive this issue of One-to-One, I will be gathering together with many friends and co-laborers at our annual CSM Leadership Conference in Tennessee. As I prayed about and planned for this conference, I believed that God was telling me that it should be about Reconciliation. So, I discussed it with some friends and proceeded with preparations. As I thought about speakers for the conference, the Lord told me to invite Bob Mumford. Bob and I used to minister together often for more than 15 years. Then, division came. For 20 years, until now, we have never been together on the same platform. What a tragedy. Of course it was all Bob’s fault—right? Wrong. Bob accepted the invitation, and we will minister together at this conference. Thank God!
How does God, the Father, view the world? We know that He loved the world. He told us to love even our enemies, and pray for them who persecute us and despitefully use us (see Matthew 5:43-48). He said that if we did so, we would be like our Father in heaven. Were the ones to whom He spoke “born again?” I will state something that may offend some who still hold a view that I once held: God views all people as His children in the natural sense. He is the only Father Who is the source of life (see Ephesians 3:15 and Acts 17:24- 29). The Devil is only the “father” of certain attitudes.
I believe that He views the unbeliever as His separated child with whom He longs to reconcile. Unbelievers are not children of His Kingdom. They are not a willingly part of His government, but they are His by creation. And therefore, we have a kinship (not fellowship) with them. Our message to these people is: “Be reconciled to God.”
No, I do not believe in “ultimate reconciliation” or “universalism.” In the end, all rebel- lion will be judged. That however, is not our task. Our ministry, or service, is to bring about reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5:19).
We are not here to criticize or condemn the world or to “inspect other people’s fruit.” An adversarial posture will only exacerbate the problem and nullify our message. Unless we come to understand our own Lord, His message and ours, we are positioned for more strife. We are at present a house divided.
I went with my friend Ken Sumrall to Indonesia in 1968. Prior to our trip, I had writ- ten to various Christian leaders in the city of Jakarta. None replied. I discovered later that they couldn’t afford postage or the cost of sending a cable. When we arrived, every leader to whom I had written was at the airport. Not one of the leaders knew the others would also be there. Later, one of the leaders told me that they were embarrassed and uncomfortable because they did not fellowship with one another.
It was in my hotel in Jakarta that God spoke to me about reconciliation—almost 40 years ago. Since then, I have seen and have been part of much division. May God forgive us. But the message remains and the world waits to see the power of a united people in the Holy Spirit. It will be like the first Pentecost, only much, much greater in scope.
Indonesian Christians have gotten more close together and are growing in larger numbers. Persecution there has changed their perspective toward each other. I pray that we can be led to our message and not have to be driven to it by serious difficulty—such as more 9/11-type tragedies.
Alienation is the problem. Christ is the cure. The unreconciled may not see Christ until they see Christ in us. Then they will hear our message (John 17:21) and the Lord will again confirm His blessing and power upon us(see Psalm 133).
Scripture Reference: Genesis 3; Isaiah 14:12-15; Proverbs 13:10; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Matthew 11:29; Micah 7:19; Matthew 5:9; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Galatians 6:1; Matthew 5:43-48; Ephesians 3:15; Acts 17:24-29; John 17:21; Psalm 133