At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued a series designed to go beyond just a new year’s resolution. This is an opportunity to get past what has kept you from becoming the person you were created to be.
You can watch the entire series at www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.
Ted Beasley shared the following insights:
“If you’ve been with us, you’ve taken some important steps. You admitted you’re not in control and you need God’s help. Even more, you’ve attempted to turn your will over to him. You’ve confessed your resentments and shortcomings, and appealed to God to take them away. Maybe you are feeling lighter today. Maybe you are coming alive.
Here’s what we’re going to wrestle through this week:
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
This is an abrupt shift in steps. We’ve been focused on ourselves and God so far, why do we need to bring others into this? Because shame can wreck our recovery. We can do steps 1-7, but still carry around painful memories and condemnation from the past that make us wonder, “Will God really ever accept me? Have I actually changed?” The Bible makes a distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt is seeing what you’ve done. Shame is seeing yourself as a failure because of what you’ve done. Shame puts distance between you and God, because you don’t feel worthy. And it’s not God’s desire that you would feel shame. He says:
Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. (Isaiah 54:4)
God knows, though, that some of our deepest shame has to do with how we’ve sinned against other people. Simply doing steps 4-7 doesn’t help us truly heal, because our own brokenness has caused damage to someone else we need to repair. One of the final steps to true freedom is being clean with other people.
Who is your One Person you know you need to reconcile with the most? Is there someone with whom you have unresolved conflict? Who is God bringing to mind right now? Who are you not living clean with? Picture their face in your mind. Would you be willing today to reconcile if God opened up an opportunity?
Let’s process this mammoth faith step and consider how God might want to restore us by looking at an amends story from the Old Testament about a great patriarch of the Bible named Jacob. Our story begins in Genesis 25:24-26. The story begins at the birth of two sons to the Isaac and Rebekah.
When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.
Names or titles have a way of shaping us. Ancient Hebrews had a great method of naming their children. The kid pops out, they look at him, and pretty much name him with the first words that come to mind. Esau, the first twin to come out, his name in Hebrew means “hairy.” He was covered with hair. The name Jacob means “heel-grabber” or “trickster”. Even at birth he was trying to pull someone down in order to get ahead. The birth was a kind of foretaste of the rest of Jacob’s life. He became notorious for being a liar and a cheat, but Jacob’s story is going to be an example for how we can become unchained.
Chapter #1: The List of People We’ve Harmed.
When you read Jacob’s story in Genesis 25-33, you marvel at the sheer nerve of his conniving schemes. For example, Esau is a man of action, while Jacob prefers to hang back in the tent village. One day Esau comes in from a long hunting trip. He hasn’t eaten in hours, maybe days. He’s tired, dirty, fatigued and hungry. Esau smells something good coming out of Jacob’s tent and walks in and find Jacob has whipped up some of his famous red stew. And he’s like, “Jake, I’m starving, can you ladle me up a bowl of stew?” And see how Jacob replies:
“First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. (25:31-33)
A birthright in that culture was an inheritance that went to the first-born son. It was typically a double-portion of the estate of the father, compared to the single portion that everyone else got.
There’s an even better episode in Genesis 26. Their father Isaac is on his death bed. He’s lost his vision and some of his senses. It’s time for him to give his blessing, which is basically conferring the birthright onto the firstborn son. Jacob dresses up in Esau’s clothes and even makes himself smell like his brother, and cons the old, blind man into giving him the blessing before he dies, instead of to Esau who rightfully deserves it. And this is the story of Jacob throughout his life. One theft after another. He flees Esau and his home, and moves in with his uncle Laban, and he deceives this man into giving his cousin to him in marriage. Read through Genesis 25-33. Step 8 says we made a list of everyone we had harmed. Jacob’s list would be long. The body count from his greed and dishonesty stretched for decades.
If you were to sit down and authentically make a list of the ways your sin has harmed others, would you come up with much? We tend to minimize the impact of our own wrongdoings on other people. Often we don’t see it at all. Don’t be misled into believing your own junk hasn’t hurt the people around you. Even in the bitterest mistreatment from someone else in your past, very often there’s at least some of the mess you can own.
So why are we dredging up the past in Step 8? Two reasons:
1. Because sometimes to really let go of the past, you have do what you can to repair it.
2. Because when there is something unresolved between you and another person, it limits your relationship with God.
This is why Jesus says the following:
If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God. (Matthew 5:23-24)
God says, If there is a break between you and someone else, there’s a break between you and me. Before you try to draw near to me, go make things right.
Chapter #2: Being Willing.
You read in Genesis 29-31 that Jacob has a pretty good run of about 20 years living with his uncle Laban. His business thrives. His family grows. His possessions multiply, but God started prompting Jacob about his relationship with his brother. God keeps saying, “What about Esau? You’re not going to have peace until you face him.” And at the beginning of chapter 32, Jacob becomes willing.
Step 8 asks you to look at your list, listen to the voice of God in your heart, and just be willing. Even if what transpired was a long time ago. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and pretending doesn’t make it so. Like Jacob, some of us can go years in conflict with someone, and be relatively happy by figuring out a way to live in an icy détente. We can eat holiday meals with them. We can sit near them at church. We can share custody of our kids. We can keep a safe distance.
However, John 16:8 says that part of the role of the Holy Spirit, God living in your heart, is to gently, or sometimes relentlessly, convict you about making a change. This step is only about a list and willingness. Don’t worry about the logistics or the how-to’s of amends. Don’t run all of the worst case scenarios in your mind. Just be willing. Because between willingness and terrifying action, God shows up in a powerful way.
Chapter 3: God Changes You.
Esau’s willing to go meet his brother.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you’ve struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. (Genesis 32:24-31)
Alone in his camp, out of the corner of his eye, Jacob sees a shadowy figure sneaking up behind him. Thinking it is probably one of Esau’s men come to assassinate him in the night, Jacob slides behind a large rock, then stealthily climbs on top of it. He springs from atop the rock and tackles the stranger. The two roll around in the dark upon the desert floor exchanging blows, twisting arms, kicking, body-slamming. It’s a desperate fight. A retelling of the story is in Hosea 12, which tells us that Jacob’s opponent was the angel of God. Jacob is wrestling with an immovable object, an angelic stranger who is giving him the fight of his life.
Neither opponent is yielding an inch. All night they rumble there in the dark. Sweat pours down, eyes are swollen, blood fills the mouth, skin is scraped all over. Seeing that Jacob is not going to quit, the angel finally chooses to use his divine power. He reaches his finger down and touches Jacob on the hip. Jacob collapses to the ground with a dislocation. He lies there in the dust, pain shooting up his spine, heart pounding, totally exhausted. This isn’t an ordinary man he is fighting. He’s staring divinity in the face and for the first time in his life, Jacob knows he has met his match. He doesn’t feel so big anymore. Eventually, the angel begins to get up and walk away, but Jacob reaches up a hand to cling to him. The angel says, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob is afraid of the coming morning. He has to face Esau; he has to own up to the treachery. Until this moment, he has done fine on his own all these years. He had never really needed God. Now he needs God’s blessing. He cries out, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The angel asks Jacob for his name. In ancient times, the act of giving your name to your adversary was an act of submission. God was asking Jacob if he was ready to surrender his will, if he would finally be willing to yield to God’s plan, rather than only pursuing his own. This is a moment of decision. Jacob could let go of this angel and go on with the status quo, probably very successful and rich and all of that. Or he could surrender his name to the one who was reaching out with redemption. In that split second, he choked back his pride, wiped the blood and tears from his face, looked the angel in the eye, and said, “My name is Jacob, the heel-grabber.”
“No, the angel replied, that isn’t your name anymore. Today God gives you a new name, Israel (which means struggles with God in Hebrew.) All of your life you have been wrestling with me, trying to hang on to control. But today you are changed. You are Israel, and I will be your God. And I will help you with Esau.”
God will wrestle you over your identity. He will come along at key moments and ask, “Are you ready for me to heal the past? Will you stop trying to fix it yourself?” All of us have a past, but for some of us it has become our identity. We have become ashamed of who we are. Our very identity keeps us from feeling loved by God, connecting with loved ones, and pursuing our purpose. There is a force in this world, there is a voice that murmurs in your ear, there is a prosecuting attorney named Satan, literally the accuser, who wages war on your identity by constantly shoving your past in your face, particularly about the way you have hurt other people. His weapon is shame, and for some of you, it’s working quite nicely.
God brings a defining moment to help you see the truth. He wrestles you. He intervenes, and God pins you to the ground, and he says, “Will you yield the past? I know you don’t know how to shake free on your own, but will you let me have it? Are you willing for me to slowly sweep it out of your heart? I died on a cross to pay for it. There was a day on a cruel Roman cross when your past caught up to me. Everything that you’ve ever done wrong. Every wrong that was ever done to you. And it was my joy to relieve you of it. Why do you continue to pay for it every day? Confess to me your past, and let me give you a new name. And because I have changed you, I will give you the strength to go make an amends conversation to try to redeem the past. As a sign of your new identity, will you go, with me alongside you, to people and make it right?
Chapter 4: Amends.
Amends often means a combination of three things.
A. Humility. You can see that all pride has gone from Jacob as he walks toward Esau the next morning.
He bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. (33:3).
When you plan an amends meeting, focus on the true purpose – healing and restoration. It’s not about you justifying what you did or defending yourself. It’s not about getting the other person to say they’re sorry, too. It’s not even about hearing the other person say the words, “I forgive you.” Amends is an act of faith in which you trust God for the outcome. Sometimes the outcome in the conversation can be really ugly, but you’ve got to believe that God can do something in that person’s heart later on in his own time. Romans 12:18 says:
As much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Let go of your pride and need to control.
B. Words. Any amends must feature honest, sincere words. You can’t minimize what you’ve done. You have to speak specifically about what you di and the damage that it caused. You have to express sorrow, as Jacob did when he finally met Esau. Of course Step 9 comes with an important caveat. Don’t make amends if you think it will do harm to someone. If bringing it up will be too painful for them or if it could potentially risk the safety of you, them or some other person.
C. Sometimes Restitution. Sometimes you need to take action to repay or fix the damage. Sent ahead of Jacob to his fateful meeting with Esau was a peace offering of 220 goats, 220 sheep, 30 camels, 40 cows, and 10 bulls. Jacob is trying to pay back the amount that he stole.
Esau’s response is even more profound. Here is his twin brother. The one who wouldn’t share a bowl of stew. The one who impersonated him to steal his inheritance. The one he wanted to kill. The one he plotted revenge against. The one who had disappeared for over 20 years. The brother he also missed. The man he should have been friends with. The sibling that part of his heart longed to go to. Chapter 33 says that Esau saw Jacob coming from a distance in the dusty field. Esau walked toward him with a mercenary force of 400 fighting men. But when he saw is brother, his heart melted. Verse 4:
But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.
Don’t you love happily ever after endings? You can have one.
This week God is putting before you one of the biggest faith steps of your life in front of you. For your recovery and healing to move forward, he’s asking you to make amends. And he’s saying, “I’ll give you the strength for this. Don’t worry about how it goes. I’ll be in charge of the outcome.”
Who is on your list? Who is your one person? What’s God telling you? Who is he talking to you about?”
For more ways to apply this message, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/nextsteps.