Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Revenge Business

"You know, it's very strange -- I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it's over, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life." Inigo Montoya in "The Princess Bride"

"Revenge is a dish best served cold"
Pierre Choderlos de LaClos in "Dangerous Liaisons"

Have you ever met someone who was consumed by a desire for revenge? How much fun were they to be around? Everyone that I knew who was dead set on paying someone back for a real or perceived slight was an unpleasant person to be around. Revenge tends to become an all-consuming passion that destroys everything and everyone in its path.

In the Princess Bride Inigo is out to kill the 6-fingered man who killed his father. He spends 20 years hunting the man and in the process he becomes a drunk and takes unsavory jobs because "there's no money in revenge."

The Bible has some stories of revenge that are enlightening. The sons of Israel at Shechem. Saul and David. Ahab and Elijah. Absalom and David. All were stories of people who believed that they or someone they loved had been wronged. And all of these instances led to disaster of some sort.

The sons of Israel lost their birthright to Judah. Saul lost his kingdom and life. Ditto for Ahab. And Absalom killed Amnon for raping his sister. Which led him into open warfare with his father, David.

Why do we so desire revenge? Pride I suppose. I know it has been part of our nature since Adam and Eve messed up the whole arrangement with God. But from the beginning God has been telling people that vengeance is his job, not theirs. Go through your bible or go to Crosswalk and do a search on vengeance. In nearly every instance it God reserves that for Himself, or those He instructs to take his vengeance. Other than the Avenger of Blood in the OT, I can't think of a divinely approved vengeance scenario that isn't directed by The Lord Almighty. If you know of one, let me know.

So what do we do with our desire for revenge? The easy answer is to "Give it to God" and let it go. That is much easier said than done. As with any other hurt requiring forgiveness, it becomes a day-by-day decision to forgive. I know that I have struggled with forgiveness and every time I remember the hurt and the anger wells up inside me, I have to choose again at that moment to forgive. The good news is that as I do that, it becomes harder for the anger to take hold and grow into bitterness. It's like beating back a pernicious weed. You may not be able to kill it at the beginning, but each time it gets whacked, it gets weaker. Eventually it will die. So will your anger, on a Cross with the only person who really had a great case for revenge. And he chose not to exercise his right. I'm glad it was Jesus and not me making that call.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Blue Like Jazz

I'm finally getting around to finishing Donald Miller's "Blue Like Jazz." It is a light-read that contains some very deep and challenging, nay convicting, thoughts. It is a series of essays on life that flow well together and give you a sense that you and Don are sitting in a coffee shop conversing.

Miller is an artist, and a bit of a recluse. Throughout the book you have a lens into his spiritual and personal live as he interacts with Andrew the Protester, Tony the Beat Poet and the other colorful characters he encounters, mostly in Portland, Oregon.

A couple quick observations where Miller and I intersect.

1. My pride gets in the way of accepting grace. He spends some time discussing how pride can stop people from receiving God's grace and living in the power of His love. We think we earn our lumps, and we do. But God will forgive them, regardless of how dirty we are. We just can't stay dirty forever.

2. I tend to see people only in how they fit into my world. God has been working on me rather intensively in this area, but it is one I lapse into easily. I'm a little task-oriented and tend to move through people like Sherman through Georgia, or so I've been told. God is helping me see people as valuable whatever their lot in life, whatever their mistakes, and whatever foolishness they are engaged in. They all matter to Him. I know that in my head, but He is teaching that to my heart as well.

Read the book. It is well worth your time.



Wednesday, June 07, 2006


I just finished re-listening to a Leonard Sweet presentation delivered in 2003 at the M3 Conference sponsored by the Church of the Nazarene. Sweet struck a few chords with me in his presentation. I attended that conference, so I can provide a little background for you on the audience.

It was the "Missions in the Third Millenium" (M3) conference, and focused heavily on the USA and Canada as mission fields. The attendees were primarily older, pastors and spouses, which will help you understand some of the illustrations he uses.

The illustration that struck me the most was about Christians being called to be light in darkness. He made a few points about the darkness that are worth reviewing. First, there is always darkness. Second, we do not get to choose our time or our darkness. Third, we are called to go into the darkness, not let it come to us.

Ours is a dark time. There is great evil in the world. In this country, Christ is persona non grata to many people because of the way the Christian church has behaved in the past. Every religion imaginable is here. Pornography is delivered into homes with or without invitation. In many ways our society has become extremely licentous and highly sexualized. This is our darkness.

Previous generations faced the darkness of communism and facism. Others faced plagues and pestilence. But this is our time.

So, how do we show our light in the darkness? First, we need to get out of our church buildings and stop using them as refuges from the world. They need to be used as refuges for the world, not from the world. And that requires us to go into the world. For too long the church, especially the evangelical churches, have written off parts of society and made little effort to redeem God's creation.

Second, we need to understand our darkness. Ours is an age where religious pluralism and tolerance are the norm. Christianity is not the norm in many places, and we need to accept that and move on. We may wish we were fighting the darkness of the antebellum era, but we are not. And our message and methods need to reflect the battle we are in, not the battles of the past.

Third, Matthew 28:19 is pretty clear. As Sweet points out, the only verbs there are GO and MAKE disciples. Not sit and pray, not sit and wait for them to find us, not hope and wring our hands. We have to go into the darkness.

How many of you have ever been in absolute darkness? The introduction of light to eyes accustomed to deep darkness is blinding at first. But it is also attractional. Our eyes gravitate to the light. And it compels us to draw closer. We are that light. We know where the darkness is. Now let's go.