Loving the enemy

My church is doing an in-depth study of the gospel of Luke. One of the most challenging spiritual lessons, on loving your enemies, is found in Luke chapter six, verses 27-36.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Luke 6:27

Jesus explains why we should love our enemies – because God is kind to the wicked and to the ungrateful. Anyone can love their friends. God expects more of us. We are to be merciful to others just as He is merciful to us.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.

Luke 6:32-33

Scot McKnight wrote about loving the enemy is his book, Living the Jesus Creed. He says that the enemy Jesus has in mind is the person who has wronged or wounded us. McKnight says that loving the enemy often begins in the mind and the memory. When you remember that you have been wronged, you can either “enjoy a feast of condemnation, the feast that never satisfies” and thereby let the enemy define you or you can let Jesus define you through grace.

Your enemy may be a person who hurts you. Your enemy may be a person who rubs you the wrong way or pushes your buttons. It may be a person whose interests are diametrically opposed to yours.

It has been fifteen years and I have not forgotten how wounded I was by a conflict with a coworker. We were so different! I have always been hardworking, conscientious, and dependable. The younger coworker was a slacker who always had an excuse for not doing his job. I was put in charge of training him. I couldn’t ignore his negligence of his job responsibilities. Large bills were not getting paid. I complained to the boss. The boss listened to my concerns but never held the coworker accountable. Instead, he acted like an indulgent parent and accused me of being contentious.

This conflict went on for months. I tried to deal with it on my own. I read self-help books. I spoke to a counselor. And yes, I indulged in a feast of condemnation that did not satisfy. I knew that I was becoming the kind of person God does not want me to be. I became critical and unkind to the coworker. I gossiped about him to friends. The conflict brought me to my knees. I resigned from my job but not before wounding my boss by telling him what I honestly thought of him.

McKnight reminds us that in the face of the enemy, we see an eikon of God – a person made in God’s image. Instead of “shrinking the other person to the size of our personal villain,” we should see them as someone whom God loves. To love the enemy is to see their humanity.

With time and lots of prayer, I learned to see the humanity of my enemies. I saw that the younger coworker was not a villain but the product of his upbringing. I saw that the boss was a good man with a personality unlike my own. I knew that I was not above reproach and that God has forgiven me for my role in the conflict. It didn’t define who I am.

Loving your enemy doesn’t mean that you forget that you were wronged. You can still condemn the wrong. But you should remember that God forgave you despite your own wrongdoing. With the grace of God, we can turn the memory of wounds into grace. We can pay God’s grace forward by offering it to others.

Jesus said to pray for those who mistreat you. McKnight suggests praying that God will make the enemy into the person God wants them to be. Lord, as I remember the hurts of the past, I remember how merciful you were to me. Thank you for using that difficult experience to teach me. I pray that you will make A and B into the people you want them to be.

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Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash

A Prayer for a Forgiving, Compassionate Heart

This is the ninth of ten strategic prayers I am writing in response to Priscilla Shirer’s book, Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer. Shirer wrote that if she were Satan, she would make sure that you keep thinking about old wounds and the people and circumstances that caused them to “ensure that your heart was hardened with anger and bitterness. Shackled through unforgiveness.” If you have ever harbored feelings of anger, bitterness, and resentment towards another person, you know the damage it does to you and to your relationship with the offender.

Strategy 9 – Against Your Heart

He uses every opportunity to keep old wounds fresh in mind, knowing that anger and hurt and bitterness and unforgiveness will continue to roll the damage forward (Hebrews 12:15).

PRISCILLA SHIRER

I have experienced the bondage of unforgiveness. For years, I resented my mother for cheating on my father and trying to turn us kids against him, for making me and my sisters buy groceries with food stamps under the condemning eyes of adult shoppers, for leaving me, at seventeen, in charge of four younger siblings while she stayed all night with her boyfriend. When Mom almost died, I finally found the grace to forgive her, to let go of these old wounds. I thank God that I had the chance to forgive her. I miss my mother, the wounded, flawed woman who taught me to have compassion for others, and regret not having had more compassion for her.

Forgiveness for the Offender (2 Corinthians 2:5-8, NIV)

If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 

Today, my mind is not tormented with thoughts of personal hurts and grievances. But I do grieve at what has happened in my country and I struggle with feelings of anger, resentment, and bitterness at the people I blame for it.

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Heavenly Father, before I bring my need, I bring my heart. Thank you for forgiving my sins. I confess that I do not forgive others as easily. I need more of Your grace and kindness.

Lord, I am troubled by the divisions in my country. The lies and conspiracy theories that fueled an assault on democracy make me angry. I am angry at the people who silently accepted, condoned, and promoted the lies.

Lord, I am struggling to understand and to forgive the people, including friends and family, who put a wicked man in power and voted to keep him there. It’s tempting to paint them with a broad brush but I know that his supporters are not all alike. Some of them claimed that You put him in power even though they chose to mark his name on their ballots. Some of them chose him because of the single issue of abortion or because he promised to stand up for Christians. Some of them chose him because they are Christian Nationalists and think that Republicans can “take back” America for You. Some of them chose him because they are xenophobic and he promised to build a wall to keep Mexicans out. His most radical and fervent supporters adore a wicked man because they are wicked, as we saw so clearly on January 6th.

Lord, I especially feel betrayed by fellow Christians who were willing to trade Christian values for political power. They were willing to accept racism and to tolerate dishonesty and vile, vengeful, divisive language in exchange for the Republican agenda. Of course, they have not betrayed me personally but their hypocrisy severely damages the witness of the Church.

Jesus, I need more of your compassion. Even as you faced death for testifying to the truth, you prayed for your enemies: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ Help me to have compassion for the people who see but do not perceive, who hear but do not understand.

Father, You are good to the ungrateful and the wicked. You cause the sun to shine on the evil and the good and send rain on the righteous and unrighteous. Help me to love my enemies, the enemies of truth. Help me to be good to them with no expectation of receiving anything back.

Lord, as I struggle to forgive those who have aligned themselves with wicked men, help me to remember that my struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers of this world’s darkness and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. The secret power of lawlessness is at work, deluding those who delight in wickedness.

Father, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon. For it is in pardoning, that I am pardoned.

Amen

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Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim on Unsplash

Matthew 5:44-45

Mark 4:12

Ephesians 6:12

2 Thessalonians 2

A kingdom of mercy

I am convinced that the hope of the world is found in a kingdom that is not of this world – the kingdom of heaven. I’ve been studying the kingdom parables because I believe that God’s kingdom is the perfect antidote to the troubles that plague this world. Of all the kingdom parables, I think the easiest parable to understand is also the most difficult to put into practice.

Jesus told the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant after Peter asked him, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus replied, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Jesus then told a parable that compared sins to debts.

In the parable, a servant who was deeply in debt to the king begged the king for patience in settling his accounts. The king was more than patient; he took pity on the servant and canceled his debt in full. The servant then went out and demanded payment from a fellow servant who owed him far less than he owed the king. The servant’s debtor also begged for patience but the servant refused. Instead of being merciful, he had the man thrown into prison. When the king heard that his servant had not shown the same mercy that had been shown to him, he was angry and handed him over to the jailers.

Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

I say this parable is easy because the message is clear. We are all so deeply indebted to God that we could never repay him. And yet, because he is merciful, he cancels our debts in full. We are to forgive others just as our Father forgives us. We are to be merciful just as our Father is merciful.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 (NIV)

I struggle sometimes to forgive others as I have been forgiven. The Lord’s prayer presupposes that we have forgiven our debtors. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” How can we pray this prayer if we have not forgiven those who trespass against us?

This parable is hard because many of us do not forgive easily. We hold grudges. We keep score. We are so full of pride that we take the slightest offense as a personal affront. We don’t use the same standard when judging others as we do when judging ourselves. Instead of being honest about our own transgressions, we minimize them and make excuses.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Matthew 7:1-2

How easily we forget how much we have been forgiven! God sees us at our worst and he still loves us. He sees the darkness in our hearts and still forgives us.

As I was contemplating how difficult it can be to forgive, I read a few stories of forgiveness (and unforgiveness) in The Washington Post. As the author notes, sometimes we have to choose to forgive over and over again because the wounds are so deep. And some people cannot bring themselves to forgive at all.

Forgiveness may feel unfair. It may feel like you are letting someone get away without paying the right price. But unforgiveness is an awfully heavy burden to carry. As Joyce Meyer points out, unforgiveness is a poison that hurts the person who chooses not to forgive. Forgiveness frees the forgiver.

To all those who struggle to forgive deep hurts, I pray for healing. I pray for an obedient and humble heart. And I thank the Lord for his never ending mercy and forgiveness.

Come out of hiding and confess your brokenness

My church studied 1 John in a sermon series called “Living Deep.” My pastor then gave us a list of practical steps to help us go deeper in our faith. I am slowly making my way through the list and am now on step six, “Come out of hiding and confess the reality of being broken.”

I am not a Catholic so I have never “been to confession.” I have no idea what it is like to confess my wrongs to a priest. When I became a Christian, I learned that “if we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I confess my sins to God directly because Jesus intercedes for me.

Come out of hiding. Many of us want to hide our sins because we feel guilty and are ashamed. But there is no point in trying to hide from God. He is all-seeing and all-knowing. In one of my favorite psalms (Psalm 139), David wrote that God knows everything I do. He knows my every thought. He knows what I’m going to say before I say it. God created my inmost being and knows everything about me. God is everywhere. It is impossible to hide or flee from his presence.

You, God, know my folly; my guilt is not hidden from you (Psalm 69:5).

For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (Eccl. 12:14).

He who conceals his sins does not prosper but whoever confesses and renounces finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

Sometimes we sin willfully and sometimes we don’t even know that we are sinning. For example, we may not be aware of our own pride. We often excuse the same selfish behavior in ourselves that offends us when we see it in others. God knows ever corner of our hearts. We can ask him to show us our hidden faults and to reveal the ways we offend him.

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. (Psalm 19:12)

See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:24)

Be honest. Just as there is no point in trying to hide from God, there is no point in lying about our sins and our struggles. There is no point in pretending to be better than we really are with anyone, but especially with God. He sees right through the kind of hypocrisy that Jesus called out. We can be real with God because he can’t be shocked by what he already knows.

In Psalm 139, David admits that he hates those that hate God. He counts the enemies of God as his personal enemies. I don’t find permission to hate anyone in David’s confession; I find the freedom to be completely honest with God about my feelings about wicked people. I am ashamed of myself when I catch myself hating God’s enemy, a man who opposes and exalts himself above all that is good, a man who sows deception, hatred and division. My heart convicts me because Jesus holds me to a higher standard – love your enemies. Getting real with God, I can say, God please help me not to feel this way.

Confess your brokenness. Confession starts with recognizing our brokenness before God. Many people don’t confess their sins because they think, I am not as bad as other people. They don’t understand that we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Too often, the sin of pride gets in the way of admitting out failure to live up to God’s perfect ways. People avoid facing the reality that they are broken because it’s painful and messy.

Confessing our brokenness is good for the soul. Confession breaks the spirit so that it is open to being transformed by God. It puts us in the right posture before God – humble and contrite. God is pleased when we come to him with a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).

We Are All Broken. That’s How the Light Gets In.

It is only when we confess our sins and renounce them that we receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is only when we confess our sins and repent that God can give us a new heart and a new spirit.

Reading List

Psalm 139:16-24
Proverbs 28:13
Ezekiel 36:26-28
Matthew 11:28
Galatians 3:4-7
1 John 1:9,4:16-18

Because I am a child of God

First John 3:1 says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

Because I am a child of God…

I am a child of the promise.

I am beloved.

I am forgiven.

I am no longer a slave to sin.

I am no longer alone.

I am joyful.

I am led by his Spirit.

I love as I have been loved.