I’ve been trying to write this post for a couple of days now. I started it Wednesday morning and here it is late on Thursday night and I’m still working on it. Maybe it will be done by Friday morning. Maybe. Sometimes it’s hard to say what really needs to be said. The words get jumbled up in the emotions. I think the Lord simply wouldn’t let me write this one because I was just too mad. I was told something by a friend that I just hated. How someone else was hurtful to her and those she loves with unkind, terribly insensitive words. And since I have a huge sense of justice (see Post-it Note #11) I just really wanted to set the record straight. But as I’ve prayed and thought and studied my heart isn’t angry any more. It’s sad.
Let me just warn you now…this post today…..it’s hard teaching that hits deep. It’s lengthy. And it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s for those who want a changed heart. If you want warm and fuzzy try Post-it Note #15 and read about Disney. This is not it. So if you’re ready for the challenge, let’s jump right in.
Jesus often used the ordinary things of life to teach lessons. Farming, caring for animals, cleaning house. He still uses the daily routines of my life to teach me. The most often used thing is my children. I think they have taught me more about God and life than any sermon ever has. The unfortunate part is that I find as adults in our Christian lives, we often act just like kids sometimes. Ever seen this scenario? My youngest 2 are fussing and they begin pushing each other. My older ones are more “mature”….they don’t touch each other with their hands, they just lash each other with their tongues. I’m standing there telling both groups to stop. As usually happens when my children disobey me, someone gets hurt. The littlest, whose mixing it up physically falls down against the fireplace hearth and gets hurt and starts to cry. The oldest are like………”Oooooh, you’re in trouble!”
Ok – bear with me for a moment here. How does this scene reflect our lives? Here it is.
- The first set of kids are disobeying me and it’s obvious……..Sometimes when Christians sin against God it’s obvious.
- That first set doesn’t stop until someone gets hurt…………..Sometimes when we sin against God people get hurt.
- The second more “mature” set of kids are just as disobedient, but they don’t think so because they only used words and not actions…………..Sometimes Christians think they can say whatever hurtful thing they want to their brother or sister and it’s ok, so long as they follow the top ten and dress a certain way.
- That second set of kids doesn’t see their sin, they only want to point out to the other that “Oooooh, you’re in trouble!”……………How often do we as Christians really look at our own hearts before we point out the wrong someone else does? I mean, really?
- When that littlest one is lying there in pain, very aware of the wrong she has done because she feels it, and knows her actions have caused the pain, what is a Mom to do? Stand there and scold her mercilessly for her disobedience or pick her up and kiss the boo boo?……………Now you tell me, when the child of God that is in pain because of the choices they’ve made and they are all too aware of their own sin, is lying there reeling, what should we do? Beat them over the head with what they already know, or scoop them into our arms and help them with the pain?
I don’t know what you think friends, but I take this scripture to heart: “3 And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed!” – Romans 2:3-5
It seems clear to me that kindness is the way that God often leads us to repentance. I know it to be true in my own life. The kindness of God, His lavish mercy and grace poured out on me while I’m still a sinner will break my heart a lot faster than someone standing in my face telling me I should be ashamed of myself.
Let me be clear. Sin is sin and should be called such. When we see believers in sin we have a responsibility to RESTORE them GENTLY. Galatians 6:1 makes it crystal clear. Restoration is the goal and it is achieved through gentleness. But if that’s not enough for you to rein in your “holier-than-thou” take a look at the way Jesus treated others. He demonstrated His headship and authority by taking a towel and washing dirty feet. He became a servant. And when faced with an adulterous woman the crowd wanted to stone He asked the one without sin to cast the first stone. They all walked away. When he was left with only the woman he spoke gently to her and told her to sin no more. He didn’t lecture, preach or belittle her. He gave her life and her dignity back to her. He ate with sinners and touched the sick. He served them. Those created in the image of God. Those we might label as less than, he labeled as precious. He saved his sternest words……words like: “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Matthew 12:34)……..he saved those words for the religious. Those who looked the part and wore the right clothes and knew all the rules. (We really need to think about that one here).
So, here’s my question. When did we forget that we were saved by grace? When did we forget that we don’t deserve one. single. thing? But God has lavished us with blessing anyway. When did we forgot that God loved us WHILE we were his ENEMY (Romans 8)? Seriously. Seriously. If we call ourselves followers of Christ. Christians. Then it is way past time we start acting like it. And here’s how we act like it: “Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.” Love. That means showing grace to your brothers and sisters. Demonstrating mercy. Believing the best. Hoping all things for them and believing all things for them and keeping no record of wrongs (I Cor. 13). It means that as soldiers in God’s army we DON’T SHOOT OUR WOUNDED!!!!! Who is harder on a fallen Christian than another Christian? The self-righteous sort. It’s heartbreaking. I’ve been the fallen. I’ve been the self-righteous. I’ve been the condemned by my brothers and sisters. I’ve been the one foolish enough to do the condemning. On all counts it’s heart-breaking and I need God’s grace and His forgiveness.
Do you remember the story of Peter? The one God called His rock. He’s the same guy that denied he even knew Jesus when it was put to the test. At times in our lives, our actions do deny Christ. And sometimes more than once. Peter denied Christ 3 times. Later, we see Jesus’ encounter with Peter. He didn’t berate him, belittle him or make him feel less than. He did not define Peter forever by his one sin. He did not label him a failure or a has-been or someone he couldn’t count on. He looked at Peter and saw his bright future. NOT the failures of his past. He sat and ate a meal with him and asked Peter 3 times if he loved him and each time gave him a Kingdom tasks to complete. Three times Jesus extended grace to Peter. Grace for each denial. You need to read this encounter in John 21. Here’s my point about Peter: He sinned. He knew it. He confessed it. God forgave it. It was over. Jesus did not shame him. He did not force Peter to wallow in his past. He freed him from the past, offered grace, and set him toward his future of Kingdom work. Peter became a huge voice in the early church (he was the rock after all) and he was empowered by God’s unbelievable grace toward him. But Peter wouldn’t have gotten out of the starting blocks….not even had a chance because of who he had been…….if he was dealing with most of us Christians instead of Jesus. Give me Jesus. I need Jesus not condemnation.
Condemnation is not of God. There is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1). Condemnation is the Devil’s tool and it can be wearing a 3 piece suit or a beautiful Sunday dress. It’s still the Devil’s tool. Friends, if you are listening to the voice of condemnation and guilt from within yourself or from the “righteous” then recognized it for what it is and that is a lie. Conviction, on the other hand, that is from God and it empowers you to move beyond what or where you are onto the future Kingdom work that God has set out for you to do. That is the voice of truth. The voice of God saying, “I forgive you. I value you. I have a purpose for you. Now let’s get to work.” That voice is the only one you need to listen to.
Friends, if you are caught in sin, then God’s mercy and grace and kindness stands ready for you. Repent and He will restore you completely. There will always be consequences for our sins but God can redeem and use anything that crosses our path. Anything.
If you are the person pointing out the sins of others, then you need to stop. Stop now. Look hard at yourself and remember that it is ONLY by God’s grace that you draw breath and if you have any strength at all to be righteous in any way it is because God and God alone has bestowed favor on you. If you can’t speak to someone gently about their sin, as the scriptures say to do, and you feel the need to berate, belittle or speak in anger, then keep your mouth closed, because you are only shaming yourself and the name of Christ. Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy (Matthew 5). A day will come when you will need mercy. It might come easier to you if you know how to give it away.
I’ll finish with this. James 3:7-13 tells us about the way we should speak to others:
“7 For every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is subdued and has been subdued by humankind. 8 But no human being can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in God’s image. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. These things should not be so, my brothers and sisters. 11 A spring does not pour out fresh water and bitter water from the same opening, does it? 12 Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a vine produce figs? Neither can a salt water spring produce fresh water. 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings.
Notice verse 9. We praise God in one moment and curse people in the next. Those people are made in God’s image and when we talk unkindly or without gentleness or with a critical spirit about or to others we are showing great disrespect to their maker who made them in HIS likeness. Verse 10 says, “These things should not be.” And James finishes verse 13 with this thought……..If we are not gentle, then we are not wise.
It doesn’t matter how righteous we think we are…..If we cannot humble ourselves and recognize the truth of God’s lavish grace towards us and we withhold that grace from another and are not gentle, then we are not wise.
I need God’s grace every day. And that person you are so critical of, they need it too. Your neighbor. Your fellow church members. The preacher. Your enemy. The broken. The fallen. The sinner. All are created in God’s image and they need God’s grace. But if you have a critical spirit, then you may need it most of all. Ask. God’s kindness is waiting for you too.
May God’s mercy wash over us. May we see the truth.