New Life

Catching up with my friend Scott over a lunchtime bowl of chili, we covered the conversation gamut as usual, from our families, to leadership, to what we were learning along life’s journey. At one point in our free-flowing conversation, Scott shared this observation: “I think of people as having three lives: our public life, our private life, and our secret life.” The profundity of his insight struck me like a jolt, my next heartbeat pounding a little harder and the following breath drawing a little shorter. Scott was right—we all showcase what we want others to see in us, reserve what we choose to reveal to but a few, and hide that which we resolve to show no one. As I pondered my friend’s comment that day, I recalled from my childhood a Sunday liturgy in which we acknowledged our sin against God “not only by outward transgressions, but also by secret thoughts and desires which I cannot fully understand, but which are all known unto thee.” It was a healthy confession of our human nature.

A centurion in the Italian Regiment, Cornelius was a Gentile and a Roman—a demographic normally drawing both political and spiritual scorn among the Jews of his day—yet this was a man “respected by all the Jewish people.”1 His public life and his private life were admirable and aligned, for “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”2 Even an angel appearing to Cornelius affirmed his integrity, saying, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.”3 We would call him a “good man,” yet something was missing from the humble centurion’s life. “Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter,” the angel commanded Cornelius, “He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.” 4 The “good man” had yet to become a new man, “a new creation”5 born of the Sprit into Christ.

The glory of transformation begins at the moment of salvation. Writes Paul of this grace: “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”6 All of us need Jesus, for in Him, all of our sins—be they “outward transgressions” of the public and private variety, or the secret ones we “cannot fully understand”—are washed away.

Father, my sins are all known unto you, and you love me anyway. Thank you for forgiving me and making me new in Christ. Change my heart to be like Him. Amen.

1 Acts 10:22 NIV
2 Acts 10:2 NIV
3 Acts 10:4 NIV
4 Acts 11:13, 14 NIV
5 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV
6 Titus 3:4-7 NIV

The Glory in Reconciliation

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

We had reached an impasse. My corporate team had analyzed performance trends and was revising our insurance pricing structure in one of our states, a joint effort we pursued in conjunction with the office managers responsible for daily operations in this region. Opposing opinions led to fomenting frustrations, and though I knew we would reach an agreement, I reported our stalled status to my manager, who offered this helpful piece of advice. “When negotiating, don’t approach the matter as though across the table from an adversary, but from the same side of the table as though confronting shoulder-to-shoulder a common enemy.” We were, after all, teammates facing the same outside competition and sharing the same internal goals.

Self-interest blinds us to the greater good; we are “lured and enticed by [our] own desire”1 and lose sight of God’s will and ways. How beautiful, instead, when we peer beyond our worldly skirmishes and behold our sovereign God actually pursuing his kingdom purposes through us, undeterred by our pettiness. Joseph’s identity now revealed to his brothers who had badly mistreated him, he sought not divisive retribution, but the shared understanding of a higher plan. “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance,”2 he said. Joseph realized that, in His sovereignty, God had turned sibling infighting toward their own good and His own glory, for in Egypt this entire family found not only immediate relief from devastating famine, but also an incubator of sorts in which they and their offspring would grow into a great nation under the protection of a world power. Israel would emerge from Egypt 400 years later as foretold, “a community of peoples”3 to possess the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And through this lineage the Son of God would enter into human history to save people from all nations and reconcile us to God.

God is glorified in unity. Though we were “alienated from God and … enemies in [our] minds because of [our] evil behavior,” God has “reconciled [us] by Christ’s physical body through death to present [us] holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”4 This is God’s desire for us; it was Jesus’s prayer for us: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.”5 We go, then, as one reconciled people—“Christ’s ambassadors”6—carrying this living, breathing message: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them… Be reconciled to God.”7

Father, as in Christ you have united us to yourself and each other, send us as ambassadors with the proclamation of forgiveness, reconciliation, life and love in His name. Amen.

1 James 1:14 ESV
2 Genesis 45:7 NIV
3 Genesis 48:4 NIV
4 Colossians 1:21, 22 NIV
5 John 17:22, 23 NIV
6 2 Corinthians 5:20 NIV
7 2 Corinthians 5:19, 20 NIV

From Confession to Unification

Peggy and I were touring the city of Belfast, Northern Ireland, an opportunity which, given the long-entrenched strife between Protestants and Catholics there, would have seemed improbable but for the “Good Friday Agreement” signed a little more than a decade prior to our visit. We viewed the dry dock where the Titanic was built—“She was alright when she left here,” the locals remind us—and as we drove along beside a section of the city’s “peace wall,” someone in our group asked, “What’s on the other side of that wall?” It was a tourist question, for sure, and though our driver maintained composure, there was a distinct tone of incredulity in his one-word response. “Catholics!” he exclaimed. We stifled our smiles before returning our thoughts to the sobering matter of peace by separation—a step, albeit, toward unity.

Reconciliation takes guts, for the real battle lies within, where fear yet cowers within a fortress of pride. Seeing his brothers for the first time in over 20 years, Joseph could have dismissed from his presence these he’d purposed to forget; instead, he skillfully led them on the more difficult journey toward a more glorious destination—forgiveness and oneness. He tested his brothers by recreating scenarios similar to those in which they’d once failed him: the opportunity to abandon a brother1, favoritism toward the youngest2, and the declaration of intent to enslave Benjamin.3 Implored Judah in response, “If my father, whose life is closely bound up with [Benjamin’s] life, sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die… Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers.”4 This sacrificial act in humility was, for Judah and the others, a tacit confession of their past wrongs. All eyes turned to the Egyptian ruler.

“I am Joseph! Is my father still living?”5 he cried, no longer able to control himself. Before his speechless brothers, Joseph “wept so loudly that all the Egyptians [in his household] heard him.”6 And as his sobs purged Joseph of his pain, he released his brothers from their guilt. “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”7 “He kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.”8 Theirs was no longer the mere absence of conflict, but the mature peace of reconciliation.

The apostle John wrote, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”9 Reconciliation with each other is to God as important as our reconciliation with Him, for in Christ—who is our peace10—there is no separation.

Father, guide me to reconciliation with those I have hurt and those who have hurt me. This is your will. Amen.

1 Genesis 42:15-20
2 Genesis 43:34
3 Genesis 44:17
4 Genesis 44:30-34 NIV
5 Genesis 45:3 NIV
6 Genesis 45:2 NIV
7 Genesis 45:5 NIV
8 Genesis 45:15 NIV
9 1 John 4:20 NIV
10 Ephesians 2:14 NIV