Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dropping Stones and Extending the Hand of Mercy

Times of rest were few this summer, and only once did I take the time to blog in the midst of our travels. But I did have blog ideas constantly rumbling around in my mind and heart! Some of the questions that I’ve been pondering are: How am I judging people? How can I make others feel accepted and not judged by me? And how can God use me to walk alongside people on their journeys, wherever they are?

A story I’ve been reflecting on is the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11.

Narrowed eyes full of hatred, condemnation, accusation
Standing above this sinful woman who was caught in the very act
Stones held in tightly clenched fists
Presenting a carefully designed trap for Jesus
Waiting only for his word to stone her to death
And be rid of this worthless, shameful life
In the name of justice
They would have walked away proud
Exalted as a result of stepping on one so clearly beneath them

But Jesus, instead of patting those on the back who felt so deserving and right,
Challenged them to self-examination.
“Let those who have never sinned throw the first stones.”
And one by one they dropped their stones and humbly slipped away from the crowd.

Then as Jesus stood beside the woman,
His kind eyes looked directly into her soul and spoke of hope for a changed life
The only sinless one who had the right to judge
Chose instead to extend the hand of forgiveness and mercy.
“Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Where would I have been in this story?
Would I have been looking down on her, thinking that I would never sin like that?
Would my eyes have been accusing, condemning, even hating?
Would my hands have been clenched around stones, ready to throw?
Or would they have reached out to the one on the ground, labeled “sinful” and “shameful”
Extending mercy and forgiveness?
Would I have been able to offer the hope of a new life that He did?
Do I demonstrate an attitude of humble repentance and mercy to others now?
Or an attitude of judgment and thinking that I am “better than”?

I discovered Michael Card’s Immanuel: Reflections on the Life of Christ on my parents’ bookshelf this summer, and it has become one of my all-time favorites. I love the song that he wrote about this story called “Forgiving Eyes.”

“Surrounded with shouts, the cruel accusations,
Dragged to the court, no hope of salvation,
All hope was lost for those who had caught me
Knew who I was, they knew all about me.

I thought it seemed strange as we entered in,
They stopped a young Rabbi to ask his opinion.
Caught in the act, their reason for hating,
My body could feel the stones that were waiting.

My judge, a man from Galilee,
In His eyes so gentle I could see
A Father and a Brother and a Son.

Just as I saw Him the hope I had lost became born again.
I was not hopeless.
Though I’d been lost, now I felt I was found
When He looked at me
With His forgiving eyes.

The crowd gathered round so angry and violent.
But He stood beside me peaceful and silent.
Then with a word, with one question, He showed them
That they too were guilty and could not condemn.

The next thing I knew He asked me, ‘Where are they?’
When I looked around, the courtyard was empty.
The stones gathered ‘round, the warm morning sunlight,
He’d made the darkness perfectly light.

In this new light now I understood,
He would not condemn me though He could.
For He would be condemned someday for me.

Just as I saw Him the hope I had lost became born again.
I was not hopeless.
Though I’d been lost, now I felt I was found
When He looked at me
With his forgiving eyes.”

Another book from my parents’ bookshelf that I enjoyed this summer was The Other Jesus by Lloyd J. Oglivie, especially the chapter expounding on Jesus’ statement in Luke 15:7 “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not (think they) need to repent.” (author’s addition)

“Only the self-righteous religious leaders, who didn’t acknowledge that they too were lost and needed to be found, criticized Jesus. One day they leveled a judgment on Him that was really a compliment. ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ (Luke 15:2) The criticism is all the more a compliment when we realize that the word “receives” really means “welcomes.” The vindictive leaders could not have stated Jesus’ purpose more accurately. Jesus did not object; He simply agreed with them. There was no need to justify His concern for the lost. The real need was to contrast the Father’s heart in search of the lost with the judgmental exclusivism of the religious leaders...

We miss the Father’s party when we are not continually amazed that He has found us, and do not, out of gratitude, want to serve Him. Heaven stands poised to sing a new song of joy over us every day and every hour. The rejoicing that began when we first repented and became Christians swells with greater delight each time we take a new step of confidence and courageous faith...

A sure way to know we’ve been found is that we long to rejoice with the Father over others who are found. We become so busy sharing the searching heart of God over the lost around us that we have little time to sit around waiting to hear our song. The only satisfaction that’s greater than having heaven rejoice over us is to rejoice over others who have been brought home to the heart of God.

It’s awesome to know that we can bring pleasure to the Father. And His greatest joy—even greater than His joy at a repentant sinner’s first response to His love—comes when we allow our hearts to beat at one with the rhythms of His heart of concern over people who do not know Him...

Many of us have known a far country of rebellion like this younger son, the prodigal. Looking back, we are astonished at the freedom the Lord gave us. But what we could never get free of was our homesickness for Him. The memory of His love made us see how lost we were and how much we wanted to come home to Him again. And like the Father in the parable, He comes running to us each time we return. We know the joy of the Father’s party. And the wonder of it all is that the celebration is for us!

The startling thing is how quickly we forget, and how soon we take on the attitude of the elder brother. We find plenty of role models for that. Churches are filled with elder brothers. Some have a short memory of what it was like to, in some far country, repent and receive the Father’s grace. Others have never repented. They have been religious all of their lives. There’s been no party for them. How could there be? The most difficult far country to leave is the one inside our own hearts. It’s also a parched land devoid of the flowers of gratitude...

Just imagine what might have happened if the younger son had met his brother on his way home! He would never have made it to his father. Nothing in the far country was as bad as the bitter, judgmental self-righteousness of his older brother.

That makes us wonder about how many people returning to the Father have been met at the pass by elder brother types of both sexes and of all ages in their families, among their friends, and in the church. That makes us wonder about ourselves.

—Do we affirm or contradict the Father’s heart?

—Would anyone want to go all the way home to the Father because of the welcoming love and acceptance we communicate?

—Are we willing to walk with others and reintroduce them to the Father?” (p. 183-197)

Lord, convict me of self-righteous pride and a judgmental attitude toward others. As I have received your completely underserved gift of grace, help me to rejoice in extending your welcoming hand to those on their way home to your heart. Please keep me from standing in anyone’s way on their journey of coming home to you (like the religious leaders and the elder son did in these stories). Help me to step inside the shoes of others, to better understand their unique journeys that you already know so well. May others come to know you as a redeeming God of Grace through my attitude and actions toward them.

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