February 21, 2007

What Difference...? pt. 3

It turns enemies into friends.

Click here to learn the inspiration for my asking, "What difference does being a Christian make in my life?"

This past weekend, six youth from my church/community attended a weekend retreat for high schoolers. (My wife also attended as a counselor.) Two of the teenagers have had a difficult time lately. Each one offended the other, turning their friendship into a fierce rivalry. In the weeks leading up to the retreat, many of us were worried that their mutual animosity would lead to outright violence.

So, we prayed; dozens of us. And we prayed some more. And we talked to these two boys, and got them to agree to at least be civil with one another; or, if that wasn't possible, to at least leave each other alone for the duration of the retreat.

At the retreat, they were invited by the keynote speaker to imagine a more peaceful world, and how they could make that possible. Then one evening, when everyone was dismissed to their cabins for the night, one of the boys went to the other's cabin and said, "We need to talk."

They went outside into the moonlight ... accompanied by a handful of watchful counselors who wanted to give them space to talk, yet were fearful of what was about to happen. In the end, though, the two agreed to at least get along, and now they are beginning the difficult but important work of restoring their once-strong friendship.

For those of us who witnessed this reconciliation, there is no doubt that it has come about through the power of God's love.

In all of his interactions with people, Jesus spoke the truth with love. His purpose was never to prove people wrong, or to see that his adversaries got the punishment they deserved. His purpose was always to seek reconciliation, and to set people free from all the forces that enslaved them, whether they be external forces, or ones that existed within them.

Jesus knew that negative emotions like anger, resentment and animosity always hurt those who harbor such feelings more than they hurt those to whom they are directed. He also knew that expressing these negative emotions through violence or revenge helps neither party in the conflict.

Instead, Jesus chose the way of love; not just any love, but a specific type of love that, in Greek, is called agape. The power of agape love is even stronger than the power of force. It is the only power that, when exercised, builds up both sides in a conflict. It is agape that turns enemies into friends.

Unfortunately, very few people understand agape and its power for good. Gandhi did; so did Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet many Christians and others believe that it is necessary to fight for what they believe using weapons other than love, weapons that destroy rather than build up, weapons that divide rather than unite.

This is not the way of Jesus.

However, if we truly love our enemies, if we seek paths to peace, and if we work for the good of all people, then the number of enemies we have will decrease as enemies become friends. It's true whether you're talking about a relationship between two individuals, two races, two religions, or two nations. Followers of Jesus learn how to get along with others, show love, and turn enemies into friends.

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