Tag Archives: Reconciliation


Return, O faithless children,
    I will heal your faithlessness.
“Here we come to you;

     for you are the Lord our God.”
Jeremiah 3:22 (NRSVCE)

I recall an episode with one of our daughters a number of years ago. The details of the episode are irrelevant. Our daughter had placed a considerable amount of relational distance between herself and me. She made some choices that she assumed would not make me very happy, and she basically hid from me for a period of time.

When things were eventually revealed I was, admittedly, upset. My anger, however, was not so much with the choices she feared would upset me as it was with the fact that she felt she must hide and distance herself from me.

“When have we ever been unable to talk things out?”
“When have I ever been unreasonable?”
“When have I ever demanded my own way of you?”
“When have I not allowed you to make your own choices?”
“What must you think of me that you can’t be honest with me?”
“Do you honestly think I would reject you?”
“Do you not realize how much I love you?”
“Do you honestly think my love for you is so conditional?”

These are the questions that plagued me. The injury I felt ultimately had less to do with the choices she had made, for they affected me very little. The injury I felt had more to do with the relational choices   between her and me. They affected me deeply. I love her so much.

Eventually, we talked. We reasoned. There were injuries and misunderstandings that lay underneath the surface. I am not a perfect parent. She is not a perfect child. We slogged through the hard stuff. We forgave. We reconciled. We restored. We learned valuable lessons about ourselves and each other in the process. We let go of what was behind and pressed forward. Old things pass away.

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah’s prophetic poem is about a heavenly father’s frustration with wayward Israel and wayward Judah. Anger and frustration are present, but ultimately there is simply a call to return, to come home, to be reconciled, and for relationship to be restored.

“Return” is a recurring theme throughout the Great Story. Jesus took it to a new level in the beautiful parable of the Prodigal son. Jesus would experience the theme interpersonally in Peter’s denial and ultimate restoration on the shores of Galilee. It is a human story and a Spirit story. We all experience it in various forms both relationally and spiritually in our own respective journeys.

This morning in the quiet I am thinking about the theme of “return” in my own multi-layered experiences across 50-plus years. I’m thinking about my own wayward actions as a son of my parents. I’m thinking about my experiences as a father. I’m thinking about my own prodigal stretches in life when I walked in the shoes of my own daughter; When I made the same mistaken projections and misguided choices.

It’s easy to read God’s Message and to feel the weight of a Father’s frustration so acutely as to miss the heart and the hurt of a loving parent aching for His child to return. Jesus came to recalibrate our thinking and to reconcile us to God…

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.”

Return. The Father is waiting.

The Messiness of Family

The Josephites—Manasseh and Ephraim—received their inheritance.
Joshua 16:4 (NRSV)

Family is messy.

We all have ideals of a nuclear family that remains in-tact and everyone gets along in peace and loving-harmony through the generations. The reality is that few of us are blessed to experience anything near idyllic. It is true that our society today has experienced more and more fracturing and blending of families. I have a divorce decree in the file cabinet next to my desk as a testament to that reality. That does not, however, mean that family was less messy in an age when social, religious and cultural constraint held families locked together in tenuous unions.

As I have dug into my family history I have discovered that the messiness that results from our human flaws and frailties is universal through the generations. Underneath the stoic glares in the black and white photographs of our forebears, our family histories are rife with illegitimate children, children born out-of-wedlock, couples who hurt one another body and soul, parents who marred their children emotionally and spiritually, and a host of other injuries we flawed human beings foist upon one another out of a diverse host of motivations. It used to be that these things were buried, covered over, ignored, and only hinted at in whispered conversations. Most of them are forgotten and lost with history. It doesn’t change the fact that family is messy.

Under the stoic, ancient legal text of today’s chapter we find a reminder of the messiness of family. The 12 tribes of Israel were sons born from four different mothers. Two of the mothers were sisters, and the other two mothers were their handmaidens. Talk about messy, blended family.  The ten elder sons of Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) hated their young half-brother, Joseph.  They were jealous of their father’s love and favoritism (Favoritism? More messiness!) for the baby of the family. So they threw him in the bottom of a well, sold him into slavery and then told their father that he was dead. Joseph ends up in Egypt where he rises from slavery into power and is used by God, many years later, to save his birth family from famine (and inspire a Broadway musical that would resurrect Donny Osmond’s career). Jacob adopts Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim, as his own. They are grafted into the family and given Joseph’s portion of the family inheritance.

Today’s chapter is the fulfillment of Joseph’s sons receiving their share of the family inheritance. Under the legal property description of todays chapter is a family history of deceit, polygamy, jealousy, sibling rivalry, favoritism, violence, and disregard for human life. It is also, however, a story that is ultimately about divine providence, purpose, reconciliation, forgiveness, and redemption.

Today I am reminded of the messiness of family and the misery we so often inflict on those to whom we are closest on this earth. I am equally reminded that God is a master story-teller who seeks to weave the broken threads of family together with His themes of purpose, reconciliation, forgiveness, and hope. For those willing to seek Him, there is redemption to be found in the messiest of families.

The Mediator

source: eulothg via Flickr
source: eulothg via Flickr

If only there were someone to mediate between us,
someone to bring us together,
someone to remove God’s rod from me,
so that his terror would frighten me no more.
Job 9:33-34 (NIV)

There is a line that exists somewhere between despair and self-pity, between honest expression of negative emotion and the self-centric surrender to it. The former is a sincere processing of the emotions in an effort to progress through to a place of understanding. The latter is stagnation and wallowing in the emotions as a means towards self-gratifying pity of self and others.

In today’s chapter, Job is sinking deeper into despair. Job feels condemned and judged by God, but I find that he himself has already tried, judged, and condemned God in his own mind:

  • God is so great as to be inconsiderate.
  • God is so lofty as to be unconcerned.
  • God is so aloof to the point of injustice.
  • God has already tried, judged, executed perverted justice on Job.

Job feels shunned, alienated, and condemned by a distant and impersonal Creator. In his despair he laments that he has no mediator to stand in the gap, to bring he and God together, and to remove God’s rod of wrath and condemnation. In this cosmic plea Job ushers us all to the universal human point: we someone to reconcile us to God. Job’s cry now lifts us out of the momentary circumstances of human suffering into the eternal theme of God’s story. Job speaks out of the depths of recorded human history for all of us who have despaired and felt alienated, shunned, and condemned by the one we perceive to be a distant, uncaring God.

If we are willing to progress through our pain and despair to a place of understanding, we discover God’s answer born in a manger, subjected to unjust suffering, condemned to an unjust death, executed on a cross, and raised to Life. The one who bridges the distance and stands in the gap to bring us and God together.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

Clean Hands, Clear Conscience

Pope Benedictus XVI
Pope Benedictus XVI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Now testify against me in the presence of the Lord and before his anointed one. Whose ox or donkey have I stolen? Have I ever cheated any of you? Have I ever oppressed you? Have I ever taken a bribe and perverted justice? Tell me and I will make right whatever I have done wrong.”

“No,” they replied, “you have never cheated or oppressed us, and you have never taken even a single bribe.”

“The Lord and his anointed one are my witnesses today,” Samuel declared, “that my hands are clean.” 1 Samuel 12:3-5a (NLT)

This past year the world witnessed something it had not seen in hundreds of years as a living pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church retired from the papacy and turned over his office to another. I thought of Pope Bendedict and his successor, Pope Francis, this morning as I read Samuel’s retirement speech as leader and judge of Israel. Reading through the historical narratives of the Judges, it appears that the Judges carried out their national leadership until death much like the leader of the Roman church has done for centuries. To have Samuel retire and transition his leadership and authority to King Saul was something of a unique moment in Israel’s history, as was his retirement speech in today’s chapter.

I found it interesting that Samuel’s first concern with retiring his office was to make sure that he could do so with a clean conscience. He stands before the people and asks any who he has wronged to step forward and make it known so that he might reconcile the matter. When nobody does, he declares “my hands are clean.”

I have worked in the business world for twenty years and have been involved in one form of church leadership or another for over twenty five years. I have met precious few leaders who seem at all concerned with retiring with clean hands. I have met far more men and women whose lives are layered with feelings of guilt, shame, and regrets for past words and actions which haunt them. Key relationships from their past remain broken. In many cases, I observe that they have little interest in washing their hands, but appear to cover the dirt and stink of their past with a spiritual pair of good looking gloves and some cheap perfume.

As I read Samuel’s speech this morning, I felt an intense desire to be like him. I want clean hands and a clear conscience when it comes to my business dealings and relationships. If, like Samuel, I don’t want to face a long line of people bearing witness to the dirt of my life at my retirement party, then I better be careful how I think, speak and act today.

Sometimes, You Have to Go Back

broken chainI am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.
Philemon 1:12 (NLT)

Sometimes the words are impotent outside the context of the story. Philemon is one of the shortest books in all of God’s Message. It is forgotten. There aren’t a ton of pithy statements worthy of a graphic on Pinterest. It’s not really inspiring in great ways. It’s simply a short letter from one friend and follower of Jesus to another.

But, the little told story behind this brief epistle is nearly Shakespearean.

Paul is in prison. He has been imprisoned for telling others about Jesus and creating a stir wherever he goes. So, he serves his time and shares about his experience on the Damascus road with anyone who will listen. He shows love and kindness to his fellow prisoners.

Enter Onesimus. He is in trouble too. A runaway slave from the town of Colosse, he stole from his master and took off. Both offenses are punishable by death under Roman law. Onesimus runs into Paul and the talk. Paul shares with Onesimus about Jesus and Onesimus chooses to become a follower himself. Then, the realization. The man from whom Onesimus stole and ran is none other than Paul’s good friend, Philemon. Imagine the conversation Paul had with Onesimus:

Paul: Onesimus, you have to go back.

Onesimus: Back? To my OWNER?! The man who considers me his PROPERTY?!

Yes. You have to go back to him and make things right.

Onesimus: What’s all this talk about if Jesus SETS YOU FREE, YOU’RE FREE INDEED?

Paul: Your soul will not be truly free until you make right what you have wronged.

Onesimus: Do you get it, Paul?! He OWNED me!

Paul: And now that you’ve both taken up your crosses to follow Jesus, you are both owned by God. You are not your own. Neither of you. You’ve been bought with a price: Jesus’ blood. Philemon is now your brother in Christ. You must go back to him and beg his forgiveness.

Onesimus: But, he can have me KILLED!

Paul: Yes. Yes, he can. But, he can also give you what both of your souls truly need. You both need grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The chains that bind you, both you and Philemon, are not physical. Don’t be anxious. I will send a letter with you. Philemon is a brother in Christ. He is a good man, just as you are, Onesimus. He will listen to me. But, make no mistake, my friend. You must go back to Philemon. You must make things right.

I can only imagine the scene when Onesimus arrived back at Philemon’s house and confronts the man who “owned” him, letter from Paul in hand. What were Philemon’s emotions as the sight of the slave who stole from him and ran away? What was his reaction when he reads Paul’s letter to find out that God orchestrated a divine appointment between Paul and Onesimus? What conflict of heart, if any, did Onesimus feel looking into the eyes of a runaway slave and seeing a spiritual brother in Christ for the first time?

Sometimes, you have to go back and confront the past before your future can truly begin.

Sometimes You Have to Go Home

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...
Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1662–1669 (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. Genesis 35:27-29 (NIV)

There’s something fascinating to me about the theme of going home. I find it one of the most powerful themes in life and in literature, and it is the core theme of a play I wrote. As a matter of fact, it’s also one my favorite things about baseball. How cool is it that the object of a game is to arrive safely home? Jesus even tapped into this theme in the parable that has become arguably his most famous and powerful story: the prodigal son.

One of the common experiences of being human is leaving home. Sometimes the leaving is a natural and healthy part of the process of becoming an adult and making your own way in life. Others have a more harrowing tale to tell of brokenness, abandonment, or escape from an unhealthy family situation. No matter the personal story, I’ve discovered along the journey that at one time or another almost everybody faces this life situation of returning home. Sometimes it’s a fun an nostalgic event, sometimes it’s a journey of repentance, sometimes it’s a confrontational situation or an event fraught with anxiety, fear and uncertainty. Very often, that return home is forced upon us by the death of a loved one as it was for Jacob as he returns to bury his father, Isaac.

I’ve also come to realize that this concept of going home is about reconciliation and about personal peace. I’ve witnessed a restlessness of spirit in those who live with broken relationships or unfinished business back home, especially with parents. The process of facing the issues which are churning that restlessness of soul can be one of the most pivotal and powerful in a person’s life journey. No matter what the outcome, the journey home and the confrontation can be the key to finding a sense of healing – even if it’s only with one’s self.

Sometimes, you have to go home.

Peace and Family

The Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, as in Ge...
The Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, as in Genesis 33, oil on panel, at the National Galleries of Scotland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. And they both wept. Genesis 33:4 (NLT)

Jacob had every reason to fear his brother Esau. Esau had been deceived by his younger brother and had stolen both his birthright and his father’s blessing. Furthermore, Esau was a man’s man and a man of the wild. Jacob stood little chance against his brother if it were to resort to combat. Yet there was an obvious desire to reconcile with his brother.

We sometimes forget in the midst of all the stories that Esau and Jacob were twins. Having grown up with twin brothers you realize that there is a connection between them that is at once natural and mysterious. They shared a womb, they shared all of the experiences of the formative years together. Despite the obvious differences between them it does not surprise me that both Jacob and Esau had an intimate desire to be at peace with one another.

Along the journey I’ve been blessed to live in peace with my family. Relationships ebb and flow as our respective journeys take us on divergent paths, every family goes through periods of tension or strife, yet I would drop everything in a moments notice if any of my family were in need and I trust the same to be true of them. I’ve also witnessed friends who don’t have that blessing of love and peace with their family. In every one of these cases, however, I’ve also observed a desire to be at peace with their distant family member(s) and a restlessness of spirit that occurs in those who have family relationships that are broken, distant or have never been reconciled.

Today, I’m offering thanks for my siblings and my family. It is a good thing to live in peace.