Monday, July 25, 2016

All the Peoples of the Earth

The grace of God was never meant to keep people out. But to bring people in. How easy it is as “insiders” to see those who are different as “outsiders.” Us and Them. Good and Bad. Right and Wrong. We tend to build walls around ourselves and stay safe inside with those who look and think and believe like us. Without even realizing it, we can live in a bubble in an attempt to protect ourselves, and develop a sense of superiority. Unless we are intentional to live a life of inclusion, we will likely default to excluding others because of a myriad of differences: religious background, skin color, ethnicity, social status...

One day long ago Solomon prayed about Inclusion:
As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel
but has come from a distant land because of your great name
and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—
when he comes and prays toward this temple,
then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you,
so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you,
as do your own people Israel,
and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”
(2 Chronicles 6:32-33)

In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller explores the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 (which he thinks would be better called The Tale of Two Sons). He writes:

“The targets of this story are not “wayward sinners,” but religious people who do everything the Bible requires. Jesus is pleading not so much with immoral outsiders as with moral insiders. He wants to show them their blindness, narrowness, and self-righteousness, and how these things are destroying both their own souls and the lives of the people around them.

Jesus' purpose is not to warm our hearts but to shatter our categories. Through this parable Jesus challenges what nearly everyone has ever thought about God, sin, and salvation. His story reveals the destructive self-centeredness of the younger brother, but it also condemns the elder brother's moralistic life in the strongest terms. Jesus is saying that both the irreligious and the religious are spiritually lost, both life-paths are dead ends, and that every thought the human race has had about how to connect to God has been wrong.”

Our Grace Group discussed this passage and Keller's book a few weeks ago and reflected on how we can all relate to the older brother in the story. In his pride. Self-righteousness. Sense of entitlement. And his anger when his father threw a party for his disrespectful, wasteful, sinful younger brother. We were all struck that the word Prodigal doesn't actually mean “wayward” but “spending everything one has.” Keller titled his book The Prodigal God to highlight the father in the story who, in unconditional love, spent everything he had. He chose to extend extravagant mercy to his undeserving younger son, while his unmerciful older son stood at a judgmental distance and refused to enter into the joy and celebration.

In Romans 2, we see that judgment doesn't help others or ourselves. “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, so you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?” (v. 1-4)

Last month Jonathan Cleveland from Pulpit Rock Church gave a great sermon based on the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard about the generosity of God. His challenge was that one of the best indicators of our spiritual health is how we respond when someone who is undeserving receives the mercy of God. When others don't work as hard as we do. Aren't as good as we believe ourselves to be. 

Who are the undeserving people in your life? What words would you use to describe them?

Do we want them to receive what they deserve or what they need? How do we feel when they receive God's mercy?

Do we see our God as a God of Grace or a God of Works?

Are we willing to identify our older brother tendencies and realize that we need God's mercy just as much as those we label undeserving? 
Are we willing to allow God's kindness to lead us to repentance?
Are we willing to drop our stones and extend the hand of mercy, like Jesus did?

One of our family's favorite songs is Jesus, Friend of Sinners:

"God, let our hearts be led by mercy. Help us reach with open hearts and open doors.
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours."

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 Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Get Ready. Because in preparing to cross cultures to reach and serve "the other," I think it's important to look into our hearts to see if we have hidden superior attitudes to those who are different than us.

2 comments:

  1. "Because in preparing to cross cultures to reach and serve "the other," I think it's important to look into our hearts to see if we have hidden superior attitudes to those who are different than us."

    Yes, yes, yes. Thank you Jodie!

    ReplyDelete

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