Monday, May 09, 2005

"It's Not Just You and Me." Love GOD

(This is a sermon I've prepared for a future service here on our FOB)

Luke 11 (New International Version)
1One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
2He said to them, “When you pray, say: “ ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’ ”
5Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’
7“Then the one inside answers, ‘Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

Do you ever wonder what God wants from you? You can probably come up with some basics, like reading the Bible, or saying prayers, or coming to church, or even doing some good things for your family or community. Maybe even serving your country in some way, whether under arms or not. And surely, these may all be things God wants you to do, what God wants all of us to do.

I would humbly suggest that while there may be as many missions for God’s people as there are God’s people, in essence GOD WANTS US TO:

I get in moods, sometimes. Not just the normal First Sergeant stuff, I mean go red in the face, pound in the keyboard, shout and curse and generally pop a cork. After I calm down, and sometimes how I calm down, is my co-workers tease me back to reality. This is not an attractive quality. Admired as a leadership quality by some, this is rarely appreciated by the targets of wrath, especially those who suffer collateral damage. I consider this a shortcoming.

I had a really difficult, humbling week a couple of weeks back, where God used several opportunities to illustrate this shortcoming for me. The first thing that happened was that I lost my patience with some building problems, and basically tore off an angry email blasting my colleagues who I felt were ignoring our problems.

Well I received a nice back-blast, pretty much deflecting all that criticism right back at me. Not only did I ignore the possibility that the people I was holding accountable were doing the best they could, I was being pretty selfish (even if it was for my own soldiers, too) in the face of a lot of other priorities that were pretty important to everybody.

I made the best effort I could to apologize, to make amends for my harshness. (My Captain thought maybe he needed to give me an email “time-out” for a week or so.)

But still I struggled with why I have been so angry, so full of righteous indignation, so short, so intolerant of shortcomings all around me, but not so aware of my own. I’ve been increasingly stressed, short-tempered, quick to anger, anxious and even enraged at every obstacle to what I think is the best way for the world to function.

(You might say I have a control problem. If so, being a First Sergeant might be a little like an alcoholic making a living tending bar.)

And that’s when God helped me tumble down a little path of insight that led back to the cross. (Doesn’t He always?)

I started thinking about the Lord’s Prayer, the two parts, forgive us, as we forgive others. Matthew relates that Jesus makes the connection very clear (Matthew 6:14-15):
14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

In Mark’s account, it’s like there’s this payment you must make before God’s mercy kicks in (Mark 11:25):
25And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Matthew documents Jesus’ use of the idea of “just measures,” and the sense that the standard we use to measure others will be the same standard God will expect from us (Matthew 7:1-2):
1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Luke elaborates that the mercy we show others is part of the blessing of God for us, and suggests that we will be given full recompense in the form of a very full measure (Luke 6:37-38):
37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

As any one who bakes can tell you, there is a big difference between a cup of sugar or flour tossed in and poured, versus a cup in which the contents are fully and completely packed, and then even with more running over the sides. We are not to be stingy nor sparing in measuring out our mercy to others.

I started feeling very ashamed, because I know I sit so often in judgment, and criticize, and do not forgive as I would want to be forgiven. And as if I owed a big debt I hadn’t paid, I started feeling like God was this Big Creditor in the sky, about to “repossess” my forgiveness.

It suddenly occurred to me, that maybe I was thinking about the whole thing backwards. I always thought that I needed to keep working and working at forgiving everything, and since there was always something I couldn’t forgive (at least not right away, and some things not really at all, ever), I never end up forgiven. I end up thinking I’m always just that much short of forgiven.

I think God means for us to approach His throne with grace. One of the ways we do that is to start behaving as if we are forgiven from the start, act like our sins are paid for in full. Be “illiberal” in our kindnesses towards others. Turn lots of cheeks, know that most of the time, others’ failures are our failures too, most slights and insults are unintended, that all of us have bad days and just lash out. We can chose to be graceful, full of His grace maybe before we’re even sure of it ourselves.

When I’m in a good place, able to treat others with kindness and understanding, I’m not as angry. Helping people fix problems (especially their own, leading to growth) makes me less stressed. Reaching out to people to help be part of a solution rather than radiate and amplify the problem – I end up without any passion for anger. There’s no box to hold it, and it flows out without building up. What am I feeling when I feel that way?

I believe that is how we receive God’s forgiveness in full, by ignoring the desire for “making it good” or “getting even” or “teaching a lesson” or even “righting a wrong.” When we show grace and mercy to others, we tie into His purposes, and it opens us to the floodgates of His love, such that our anger and resentments can be washed away like our sins.

Pride crowds out forgiveness. Pride is what allowed me to sit so often in judgment. I am so much better or smarter or wiser, which is what makes me that much more angry when I see all this ignorance around me. That’s pride! Pride blinds us to the simple fact that without God’s love, without the atonement for our sins by faith in Christ, we are all of us condemned.

And we don’t earn it, not by some gift of intelligence, nor by the skill of our effort, nor by some value of the products of our labor.

We were dead in our sins and condemned, until by faith in Jesus our sins were forgiven. They were nailed to the cross with Jesus.
7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace (Ephesians 1:7)

4But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (Ephesians 2:4-5)

8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Forgiveness is our inheritance in Christ, because we believe. Forgiveness is mercy.

I will close now, and pick up next time with the second half of Jesus’ instructions as found in Luke.

A very wise little man said, “The Word is our shelter.”

From Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

I know that I will have bad days again, I will pop a gasket from time to time, and I will sin, because I am a human being. But maybe as I grow in Christ, and watch for the ways I sin against others by sitting in judgment, I can keep short accounts by making amends. And I can meditate on the Word of God, which is surely our shelter in time of need.

May God Bless you and keep you in the center of His will.

Part Two here.


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