(This sermon was given by Paul Kaschel)
16 years ago I was walking through a field and looking over a piece of property that we were considering purchasing. I had looked at a plat map so I was pretty sure I was within the borders of the property, but then an angry aggressive looking man approached me from a nearby house. Wanting to put a friendly foot forward I said, “Is this your property?” He said gruffly, “If you don’t know, you shouldn’t be here!”
A few months later we moved onto the property, and this turned out to be my new neighbor. After we moved in I began walking the property lines in order to plan for our property and noticed that my angry neighbors satellite dish was 40 feet onto our property. That bothered me quite a bit, and I began a process to remedy the situation by sending him a registered letter.
Property boundaries are a big deal for people. I have heard local government people say that the only thing people get more wound up about than taxes, are property line disputes.
This idea of messing with boundaries, with absolutes, is a very important principle to God as well. He says in Proverbs 22:28, “Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors.” In fact, this was so important that when the Israelites crossed the Jordan and entered the promised land, it was one of the things that Moses commanded the Levites to read aloud, and the people were required to respond.
Cursed is he who moves his neighbor's boundary stone.' And let all the people say, 'Amen!'
Now I have to admit that these boundary stone verses have been real headscratchers for me, and finding out what was behind them is what got me started on this in the first place. Why was this so important to God back then, and why is it important to us today?
Land was associated with peoples livelihood, and for the Israelites, it was considered a gift from God. Property lines at the time were marked with stones that were heavy, but could be moved. If someone wanted to increase the property they had to farm, they could move a boundary stone a few feet at a time and it was not too noticeable. It was not likely for those with little land to do this, because they were poor, and if it was discovered, they would lose everything. So movers of stones tended to be wealthy, because those with wealth had power, and in their society, if it went to court, they would win the dispute anyway.
So in essence, moving the boundary stone was stealing, and not only stealing, but usually stealing from the poor and powerless.
There’s another reason even more compelling to follow God’s instruction not to move the boundary stone. Perhaps this is the reason you can bring to mind when you are tempted to move a stone over just a tad to accommodate “a few more rows of corn.” (We’ll talk about what those rows of corn may look like in a bit.)
Genesis 2 & 3 record how the serpent challenged the instructions of God. Chapter 3 opens up with the serpent just happening to be in the garden talking to Adam and Eve. He says, “Did God really say...” and during a brief interaction, the craftiness of the serpent dislodges the absolute that God had laid out for Adam and Eve. God had said, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” but after talking with the serpent, they saw that it might have some real advantages, so they ate. They moved the stone, and in that movement, sin entered the world. The stone moved and our entire world shifted. I’ve heard it said that Satan was the original boundary changer. God said, “This is how it will be.” Satan followed behind and said, “That’s pretty good, let’s just make it a little different”.
Do I want to be on the side of the serpent, following his lead and shifting the boundaries? Or do I want to be faithful to what God has said regarding my life and my absolutes? And though I can never do that perfectly, I want to walk in the awareness that when I fudge, I am leaning into the dark side.
What does this look like in my life or in your life?
There are many areas where we are tempted to move the stone, but I’m going to focus on some very basic ones, because I find that when we focus on the most critical and clear things God has called us to, that it helps with other things as well. There are three issues that immediately rise to the top as I think about boundary shifting thatdistracts, dis-empowers and deters people from a more fulfilling and peace filled life.
1. Forgiveness. When I do not forgive those who have either wronged me or I perceive have wronged me, I develop bitterness and resentment.
· Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (“as we forgive those who owe us something”)
· Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
· Mark 11:25 “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
· Colossians 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
We are called to forgive. We are given no room in scripture to walk in resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness. What are some reasons we might have to justify holding on to unforgiveness?
· they hurt me too bad to just let them off the hook
· if I forgive them it’s like saying what they did was OK.
· they deserve to be punished for what they did
· it seems unnatural. They did something very wrong, perhaps even evil, how can it be OK to forgive?
The truth is that humanly, forgiveness IS unnatural. Our human tendency is to even the score by holding it against the offender. Revenge for being harmed is commonplace. Forgiveness is hard and messy, and takes an ongoing commitment to reaffirm what has been forgiven, because even once we forgive, resentment will try to squeeze back in.
This struggle has been very personal for me. The reasons not to forgive that I mentioned above, and the unnaturalness of forgiveness hit home when the Lord convicted me that I needed to call the man my wife had an affair with and forgive him. I had despised him for so long that despising felt natural. When I called him, he seemed genuinely appreciative. We have not become close, but then we never were. The biggest change is that I do not wish him ill anymore.
Sometimes people do not know how to forgive and may feel that if they have truly forgiven, they will feel fine about that person. That may happen, but not always. The key to forgiveness is realizing that it is a choice that we choose with our volition, which is our chooser. We do it in obedience to Christ’s commands, because he forgave us, and in essence we are saying, “I forgive __________. What he did hurt me deeply and may continue to hurt me, but out of obedience, I give up the right to hold those things against him and to harbor nasty judgmental thoughts towards him. He owed me a debt because of how he hurt me, a debt he can never repay, and just as if it were money, I am canceling that debt—he no longer owes me. Today I make this choice and mark it as the time that I released him from this debt.” When vindictive thoughts return, it is an opportunity to walk out forgiveness by reaffirming the choice we made before God.
I spoke with a person recently whose boss had treated them poorly after a work accident that disabled them. They hadn’t been able to go near the business for 7 years and could not say the business name or the person’s name because of the rage inside them. They had suffered terribly carrying this resentment, and finally wanted to be rid of it and be obedient to God. That choice to give it up in this instance created freedom and release from the bondage they had been held in. They could then talk to the person and no longer needed to avoid the business. That was refreshing freedom.
*Stories of radical forgiveness have always inspired me. They show how people can move beyond revenge in a supernatural way that only God can produce. Here are 3.
· A Widower Forgives: In October 2006, after a long shift at the fire department, 20-year-old Matt Swatzell fell asleep while driving and crashed into another vehicle. He awoke to “the most God awful sound” he had ever heard, realizing he had crashed into June Fitzgerald, who was pregnant and with her 19 month old daughter Faith. Faith survived the crash, but June and her unborn child did not. According to Today, Fitzgerald’s husband, a full-time pastor, asked for the man’s diminished sentence, saying, “You forgive as you’ve been forgiven.” He meets with Swatzell regularly and their friendship continues years later.
· Healing of Rwanda: During the Rwandan genocide in the mid nineties, the entire family of a woman named Immaculle Ilibagiza was murdered in a massacre. Immaculee chose to forgive the people behind the death of her family and went on to write a best selling book entitled “Left to Tell.” She founded the Left to Tell Charitable Fund in order to help children who have been orphaned due to genocide. Rwanda’s history was marred by tragic cultural genocide, yet decades later, healing and reconciliation have begun throughout the country. This is an incredible reminder of the power of forgiveness to heal not only individuals, but communities.
· A Chemistry Teacher in Libya: According to Family Share, “Anita Smith and her husband Ronnie moved to Libya because, "We saw the suffering of the Libyan people, but we also saw your hope, and we wanted to partner with you to build a better future," Anita said in a letter published on VergeNetwork.org. Ronnie was a chemistry teacher in a Benghazi school.” On Dec. 5, 2013, Ronnie was shot and killed by an unknown gunman during his morning run. Anita addressed her husband's attacker in her letter, saying, "I love you and forgive you. How could I not? For Jesus taught us to 'love our enemies' — not to kill them or seek revenge."
God’s boundary stone is set solidly on forgiveness. Don’t move the stone. Don’t make excuses. Be courageous.
At the very foundation of our faith in Jesus Christ is Confessing our utter sinfulness and our deep need for his redemption and salvation. By this act Christ then transfers his righteousness to us. “God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Cor. 5:21)
So our salvation rests on our confession of sin and putting our faith in Christ Jesus. When we sin, confession to God is always primary. Every sin is first a sin against God. However, sin hurts those around us as well, and living honestly before God requires us to live honestly with each other.
In the passage in Genesis that I read, Adam says, “I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” Our human tendency when we sin is to hide. I don’t like to be exposed, and so I hide. But being obedient requires that I walk in the light (1 John 1:7), which is another way of saying that I’m not hiding. When I’m not hiding, I am open about my shortcomings and quick to acknowledge that I hurt someone if I notice it or it is pointed out. When I am hiding I blame, make excuses, rationalize, hide behind anger or resentment, or become stubborn or sullen. This might look like:
· the silent treatment.
· harsh words.
· indifference—or pretending I don’t care.
· explaining why what I did to hurt you was unavoidable.
· explaining why what I did to hurt you was OK because _________
Some people have secret sins that they keep hidden from everyone—the problem is that sin cannot be contained, and when we try to keep it hidden, it finds a way out. It creates distance in relationships, and tension, and irritability and paranoia and darting eyes. In the end, James 1 says that sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
How do we counteract this tendency to hide? How do we live in the light so we have fellowship with each another? Sometimes this means being open with trusted Christian friends about our own weaknesses or struggles, but often it also includes going to someone we have wronged, Christian or not, and confessing that wrong. When God brings things like this to mind, it doesn’t really matter how long ago it happened if we are being prompted to own up to it.
12 years ago I had a personal crisis in my life. I felt desperate, and reached out to someone I knew and respected that lived in another state. I asked for his help and counsel. He responded by saying some things that felt judgmental and callous. I hung up from that conversation and thought, There’s no way I am pursuing that any farther. I was able to find help locally and experienced a lot of healing and redemption over the years.
However, whenever this fellows name came up, as it would occasionally, I had this little twang inside me, like, “that pompous jerk,” and then it would go away as quickly as it had come and I would go on with life. Instead of noticing it less over time though, I began to notice it more. One evening I was in a small group meeting and we were taking 5 minutes to quietly think about something (I can’t remember what it was) and totally unrelated, I had a sudden realization (which I believe was the Holy Spirit) that I needed to confess my bitterness to this man in order to experience personal freedom. I spoke this out loud in the group, because I knew if I shared it with others I would feel bound to follow through. I purposed in my heart to call him and confess and to ask his forgiveness. When I called him, he was gracious, and apologetic. He had no idea. It was a fairly brief but healing conversation.
I share this as an example of how resentment unchecked can get a foothold in our life that is destructive, and that in some cases confessing this to God might lead to confessing it to the person whom you harbor resentment towards. Just because someone hurts us does not give us the right to harbor resentment. When we go to them to confess our bitterness, it provides a bridge in the relationship that I have found the other will perhaps walk over as well.
A great benefit to confessing my sin and living in the light, is that I am constantly reminded of my humanness, my weaknesses, and my need of Grace from others and from my Savior. It’s very hard to be judgmental of others when I am acutely aware of my own shortcomings.
Romans 12:8 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Confession is a call to humility, honesty, responsibility, healing, vulnerability. It is living in the light. If the Lord brings something to mind that is undealt with in your life, think seriously about dealing directly with it. If you have some questions about whether it is wise or right in your situation, talk to a trusted Christian friend or leader.
Don’t move the stone. The stone lies on the boundary that says to walk uprightly—to own your own sin, and confess your sin. Don’t move the stone by hiding or excusing.
This is a biggy. As believers and followers of Christ, we are called to love. We are called to love when it is easy, and we are called to love when it is hard. We are even called to love when it seems impossible. Here’s a very small sampling of verses that clearly teach us to love:
John 13:34 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
These words are from Jesus and shortly before he goes to the cross. He is talking to his disciples and sharing the most important things for them to hang on to as he leaves. And he gives this command: “Love one another” as he has loved them. And he goes on to say that is the way that others will know they are His disciples, by their love for one another.
Wow. So love is not only to characterize our lives, but it is also the mechanism that draws unbelievers toward Christ.
Now if we only look at the verses that talk about us “one anothering” (be devoted to one another, care for one another, accept one another, etc.), we can get the idea that we just need to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, but not so much the unbelievers who are living in sin and may have dirty habits or lifestyles. But one example of the verses that make it clear that our love is to reach beyond our brothers and sisters in Christ is 1 Thessalonians 3:12:
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.
So we are to love believers as well as unbelievers. But wait. The Word goes even further as Jesus says:
Luke 6:27-36 27“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
That is a really hard teaching. Would you agree? Does he leave any room for not loving certain people? The boundary stone is set very clearly on the line that we are to love others, both believers and unbelievers, and our enemies as well.
What does this look like?
· For me at times it can be petty things. We live on a dirt road, and when it is cared for it is not that bad. However, there are those who love to do donuts on the road, making ruts and crashing through puddles after it rains, continually putting water on the road and making pot holes. I feel anger well up in me when I see the results of this selfishness. On a bad day I say unflattering things about them under my breath. On a good day I force myself to pray for them and their future, and think about how I was at their age. For me in that situation, loving them well means praying for them and hoping that their future will be blessed.
· How about in your family, or in my family? What irritates you or stirs you to anger? Do you, or do I express the anger in a redemptive way, or a destructive way? Am I prideful or unbending? Do I think I am always right? Do I show grace to others when they mess up? Where is the boundary stone? Do I have a good excuse to move it?
· What about your neighbor? (which is a term used to describe anyone you might meet).
· Are they pleasant and its easy to love them? Or do they disrespect you? How do you handle that?
· How about the person with a political position you find ridiculous?
· How about the person who finds your political position ridiculous?
· Or the person whose choice of lifestyle or expression of individuality bothers you?
The more I have considered the requirement that God has put on our lives that we love, the more I see my lack of ability to love certain people. I pray and appeal to God and confess my inability to love others without His grace and mercy and love overflowing in my life.
We cannot love without the love of Christ being in us. This is not something we conjure up. We are to love others out of the abundance in our hearts. When we struggle to do this well, the best path is to ask the Lord to give us His love for the world.
The neighbor I mentioned at the beginning never opened the registered letter I sent him. That’s just the way he was, cantankerous and obstinate. I ended up going to him directly. In time he became a good friend. We spent a lot of time talking together, and once he knew his satellite dish was on our property, we disconnected it and dragged it off together. He moved away several years ago. You never know what people are like until you get below the sometimes crusty exterior. Below the crust, we are all a lot alike.
Proverbs 22:28 “Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors.”
You’re going to see many others in the world knocking over, ignoring, mocking or just sliding over slightly, the old boundary stones. Remember that Satan was the first boundary mover, and choose not to move the stone.