Leave It

     When my large yellow Labrador retriever was a small and somewhat manageable puppy, we trained her on simple commands: Come, Stay, Wait, and Leave It. She came from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania, and it didn’t take us long to realize that she only spoke German. Or maybe it was that obstinate thing that dogs have when they want to do life their own way. In any case, “Leave It” was never quite accomplished. There are many things she still refuses leave: my boot in her mouth as she trots around the house, a prize piece of meat that she has procured from the counter, the geese who live in her back yard, and that toy that she insists on bringing everywhere. “Leave It” is not in her vocabulary.

     I think the same thing goes for us. God’s command to “Leave It” goes ignored and rejected. We love to hold onto our sinful behavior, our anger, our addictions, our inappropriate relationships, our arrogance, etc. Our refusal to leave things that are dangerous grieves the very heart of our Lord who wants what is best for us.

     Paul tried to train his church in Rome to leave behind things that would be harmful to their walk as new Christ-followers. He encouraged them to be people of peace who relate to others as equals. His most challenging words are in regard to repaying evil for evil. He contends that vengeance is not for us to pursue, but something we should leave entirely up to God.

Romans 12: 16-21 (Common English Bible)

16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.

18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord.20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.

     This may be the hardest lesson for us today. It is a normal and natural response to strike back when we have been struck. Who among us has not dreamt of seeing an enemy receive their comeuppance?

     But God calls us to a better way. God’s word invites us to the standard of humility that Jesus exhibited. God’s word tells us to live peaceably with everyone. God’s word demands that we only do good to those who have opposed and betrayed us. God’s word requires that we not be defeated by evil, but that we defeat evil with good. And so if our enemy is hungry or thirsty, we are commanded to supply what they need. 

     This is the way we will win the world for Christ. To take on his servant aspect and serve others, even our enemies, will be a witness to the power of the unconditional love we received at the cross. And the world will know us by our love.

     There is genius in this. Do you know the best way to defeat your enemy? Make him a friend. Thus your enemy no longer exists.

     Where is God calling you to “leave it” … to leave your self- righteous anger or your need for retribution? Leave it up to him, and you will find peace.

Leave It All Behind by Michelle Robertson

A Shoot from the Stump

We are moving into the Advent scriptures that focus on the peace on earth that will prevail when the Messiah comes to reign. I have always loved reading Isaiah in preparation for Christmas. I can hear Handel’s Messiah in his beautiful words of prophecy. In Chapter 11, Isaiah described what will happen to “the proud trees that God will chop down” which he had warned about in Chapter 10. After taking Jerusalem down to the stump, God will send a savior who will lead Israel back to prosperity after Assyria has done its damage. He foretells that a shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse:

Isaiah 11 (Common English Bible)

A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;
    a branch will sprout from his roots.
The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,
    a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    a spirit of planning and strength,
    a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.

Jesse, of course, was the father of King David. Jesus, of course, was from the line of David and so our New Testament glasses allow us to read this as a prophecy about Jesus’ coming. Seeing Jesus through this lens, look how perfectly Isaiah describes our Savior:

He will delight in fearing the Lord.
He won’t judge by appearances,
    nor decide by hearsay.
He will judge the needy with righteousness,
    and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth;
    by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
Righteousness will be the belt around his hips,
    and faithfulness the belt around his waist.

Indeed, Jesus suffered no fools. When we focus on the gentle baby cooing in the manger, we forget about the radical Jesus who threw money lenders from the Temple steps and delivered many a harsh word against sin and unrighteous behavior. This picture of Jesus reminds us that he won’t play favorites with the rich and that equity for all will be the rule of law. He will be adorned in righteousness and faithfulness.

What will you be wearing this Christmas? As you adorn yourself in party clothes and that special Christmas Eve ensemble, will you also wear the clothes of your Savior and put on righteousness and faithfulness? Are you working for equity among all of God’s people?

Isaiah then turned to the “peace on earth” theme and wrote about the most extreme opposites getting along together. Do you suppose there will be a time when Democrats and Republicans will act this way as well?

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
    the calf and the young lion will feed together,
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow and the bear will graze.
    Their young will lie down together,
    and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
    toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
    The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,
    just as the water covers the sea.

Someday, SOME day, we will all be under Jesus’ reign and our differences won’t matter. We will all seek Jesus with our whole hearts, and this stump of Jesse born from a trunk that was cut down due to its arrogance will flourish and grow to lead us as a nation of peoples. And that place will be glorious.

10 On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the peoples. The nations will seek him out, and his dwelling will be glorious.

Oh, come, oh come Emmanuel!

A Branch Will Grow by Becca Ziegler