Thursday, October 30, 2014

Being Merciful without a Face (Luke 6:27-36)

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27–36, NASB95)

I think from time to time we all have events in our lives that consume our thoughts. Sometimes it might be a major event and other times it might be something rather minor. The unifying thing is that we are so mindful of it that we work through it over and over again wrestling with its various components (known and unknown). Yesterday one of those events happened to me, and today was the day that I worked it over again and again as I walked through my day. This was an easy thing to do as my current work has a lot of free thought time, allowing for ample opportunities to become mentally distracted or even forcibly focus thought. The event that happened was nothing really major, and in many ways and during most seasons of life would have been incredibly minor. But at this time and in this season it seemed bigger to me that it really should have.

So, what happened and what did I do in response? The “what happened” is simple. Someone took my sweatshirt and gloves. It was getting warm and I took my new longer sleeved rain defender sweatshirt off and set it in a relatively safe place. It was far from being totally safe as I left it where anyone really could get to it (my neglect). But it was out of the way up on top of something, and I really never thought that anyone would take it (my mistake). But someone did.

Did you notice the importance that I put on such a simple thing as a sweatshirt by the way I described it? I spent a great deal of time considering my needs and considering my affordable options. It was important that it have long enough sleeves considering that I have longer arms than many, and it was important that it handle the rain reasonably well considering the nature of my current work. This item seemed to fit the bill without forcing me to climb into a raincoat that simply does not breathe. And with it being on a slight sale and getting an employee discount the price was also within my reach. It worked, and I was happy with it. Enough on the description, I found a sweatshirt that I liked and we purchased it. I enjoyed the sweatshirt and it fit the need very well. But now the sweatshirt is gone. Someone took it. It was not theirs. It was mine, and they took it.

Sound trivial? Another worker had been borrowing his brother’s bike to get to work, and two days ago it was also stolen. In one way or another I think we have all experienced this kind of violation at the hands of another. I am no different than anyone else in this respect. So, not finding any solace in being subject to the same thing that every man is subject to, I repeatedly turned my focus back to God and placing it under the perspective of me belonging totally to Him and knowing that He has me fully enclosed in His hands. Resting assured there, I began to think more in terms of how man (including this man) has sinned against God and how we treat others the same way. Just as we have all sinned against God, we have all had others transgress against us and we have transgressed against them. The person who took my sweatshirt and the other person (assuming not to be the same) who took my co-worker’s brother’s bike probably didn’t even know who they were stealing from. What they knew was that they saw something they wanted, had an open opportunity to take it, and they took it. I don’t pretend to know their hearts or their motives. I don’t know them. All I know is that these things were not theirs. They were ours, and they violated a fairly universal standard which says, “Do not steal.” Clearly put, what they did was wrong no matter how you look at it.

Bringing this back to my relationship with God, I am thankful that He did not leave me in a state of unrepentant sin. He reached into my life, showed me Himself, introduced me to His Son, offered me salvation, and changed my heart such that I believed and was saved. I wish at this point that I could say that the comments that followed came in easy 1-2-3 steps. But they reflect a back and forth over several hours of wrestling before God and with my own heart. In the wrestling I was reminded of who I was before I trusted Jesus for my salvation. The simple truth was that I was lost in sin. I had not only done things against others, but I sinned against God even though I didn’t really even know who He was. I clearly knew the things I did were wrong, but I had not made the direct connection between those actions and the standards of a perfect God. I was born dead in my trespasses (going where I should not go) and sins (doing what I should not do), and there was nothing I could do about that.

I thought about how God loved me so much that He sent His Son to pay the price for my sins and to grant me the most incredible forgiveness having laid the full burden of that forgiveness on His Son. And then beyond forgiveness He also gave me something even more incredible. He gave me access to Him through being brought into His eternal family as an adopted child given eternal life. I did not know Him when He did this. I was not even born yet. Jesus went to the cross two thousand years ago, and Scripture says that He knew me and called me from before the foundation of the earth.

But I also thought about the fact that there are large numbers of individuals who will never trust Jesus and who will suffer eternal judgment in hell (called the lake of fire) because of their rejection. Jesus said throughout John, which I have been working through, that He knew man’s heart. He knows the heart of every man, and He knows those who will respond and those who will not. He knows those who when shown an act of great kindness and compassion will be moved and those whose hearts will become even more hardened. He knows me and He knows the thief.

God knows all of these things concerning each and every single person and He knows exactly how to deal with them. He knows how to respond to acts of rebellion and how to offer forgiveness. He even knows the things that we who are saved have not done yet that are offenses to Him, and yet He has declared us righteous with the righteousness of His Son. And he knows the hardness of man’s heart and those whose hearts will not be softened.

Me, on the other hand, I don’t know any of this about the person who stole from me. I don’t know their condition, their motivation, or their desperation. I don’t know if it was one of the many homeless people around work or a regular customer of the store. I simply don’t know. And if I spotted someone wearing my sweatshirt and my gloves (the gloves being more recognizable) I didn’t even know how I would respond. But as I spent the day reflecting on all of these things I did settle some things and was able to frame how I might respond it the opportunity is presented. First of all, God made it possible for me to obtain the sweatshirt in the first place, and He has full and absolute rights to it just as He does to the entirety of my life. If I never see the person again, I can trust Him with that. And if I see the person, then I have an opportunity to model His mercy and grace. 

Now, I can’t imagine demanding it back but rather in some way confronting the person with the act that was done, stating how much it hurt, and then to tell the person that I was willing to even let them keep it and forgive them not because they were deserving of anything, but because my God forgave me of everything I did against Him despite the fact that there was nothing in me that really made me worthy of it. Just as I had paid the price for the sweatshirt and was willing to let the have it at no expense to them, God sent His Son to pay for all that I ever did or will do wrong and then given me full forgiveness and eternal life. I would hopefully have opportunity to tell the individual that I was letting them keep it because I am reminded of how much Jesus did for me when I deserved absolutely nothing. I paid a few dollars for the sweatshirt, but Jesus paid the greatest price ever paid.

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6–11, NASB95)

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