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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

(John 13) Lavishly Loving those who Betray, Abandon, and Reject Us

I am currently reading an excellent book called “The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict” by Ken Sande. So far, I am having a hard time putting it down. I love the way it is focused on glorifying God in conflict, particularly through loving and serving those who have hurt and sinned against us. This is precisely what it means to imitate Christ and glorify God!

Ephesians 5:1-2 says “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This is no easy thing, and it often hurts deeply, particularly when our efforts to extend ourselves in love are not reciprocated or are even despised. I am beginning to believe that following Christ means having your heart broken over and over. In many ways, this should be no surprise to us, as our Savior was called a “man of sorrows” (see, Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised and rejected by men;a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”) Jesus is our prime example of what it means to extend lavish, scandalous, costly love and grace in the face of betrayal, abandonment, and rejection, and as hard as it is to practice, this is precisely what it means to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The cross Jesus bore was the ultimate act of grace and love extended on behalf of those who betrayed Him in the deepest way—you and me, who rejected, betrayed, and spat on His lovingkindness by sinning against His Holy Name. Still, Jesus pursued us at great cost to Himself—leaving His Beloved Father’s side, leaving His throne and demeaning Himself to be born a feeble man in the humblest of circumstances, investing in loved ones who would betray Him, and dying a shameful painful death as punishment for the sins of the world, though He Himself never committed a single sin. Jesus blessed those who hurt and betrayed Him. He humbly washed Judas’ feet even though He knew Judas was going to betray Him unto death. He lovingly restored Peter, even though Peter demonstrated his shame in associating with Jesus at the first sign of pressure when Peter denied Jesus three times. He graciously adopted me into His family even though I have sinned against Him countless times and continue to do so, spitting upon His Holiness, Righteousness, Beauty, Love, Majesty, Sovereign Rule, and Love. Jesus is characterized by loving those who betray, abandon, and reject Him. It is this very scandalous love that melts our harden hearts in surrender to Him when the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see it. (Romans 2:4)

I read John 13 and I want to learn to love like Jesus does, even if it breaks my heart over and over! I want the Holy Spirit to empower me to show such love that is not natural and is not intuitive—the kind of love that takes great risks to self and that is willing to pursue and extend grace and mercy and lavish blessing in the face of betrayal and rejection…the kind of love that blesses those who persecute me and that blesses my enemies. I can only do this by studying God’s Word (especially the example of Jesus) and by asking the Holy Spirit to fill me and empower me to obey God’s Word and to follow Jesus’ example of lavish love in my everyday life situations. Because this is entirely counter-intuitive to my natural desires and flesh, I must plead with God in utter dependence on Him so that I would not be a slave to my own pain in betrayal, rejection, and abandonment, but rather that I would be consumed instead by Jesus and His love for the Father, for me, and for others.

The opportunity to imitate Christ’s love arises particularly in conflict (I am defining conflict as situations where unresolved sin has separated two or more people). Indeed, Christ’s purpose in coming to earth was to mediate the conflict we had with God because of our rebellion and sin. In his book, Ken Sande reminds us that conflict gives us the opportunity to glorify God by: 1) trusting Him, obeying Him, imitating Him, and acknowledging Him; and 2) by serving others, showing mercy and blessing to others, by working together against a common problem, by carrying our opponent’s burdens, and by helping others learn where they need to change, and 3) by growing in Christlikeness by being more Spirit-led in utter dependence on God, by exposing our sin, and by learning Christlike habits, attitudes, and behaviors. Sande urges us to pursue these principles in our conflicts: 1) Glorify God; 2) Get the log out of our own eye; 3) Gently restore; and 4) Go and be reconciled to our brother or sister (pg. 38).

Here are some gems from Chapter 1 of Ken Sande’s book:

“…the Bible teaches that we should see conflict neither as an inconvenience nor as an occasion to force our will on others, but rather as an opportunity to demonstrate the love and power of God in our lives.” P. 31

“Conflict always provides an opportunity to glorify God, that is, to bring him praise and honor by showing who he is, what he is like, and what he is doing. The best way to glorify God in the midst of conflict is to depend on and draw attention to His grace, that is, the undeserved love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom He gives to us through Jesus Christ.” P. 31

“Instead of relying on your own ideas and abilities as you respond to people who oppose you, ask God to give you grace to depend on him and follow his ways, even if they are completely opposite to what you feel like doing (Prov. 3:5-7). Above all, hold on tightly to the liberating promises of the gospel. Trust that Jesus has forgiven your sins, and confess them freely. Believe that He is using the pressures of conflict to help you to grow and cooperate with Him. Depend on His assurance that He is always watching over you, and stop fearing what others might do to you. Know that He delights to display His sanctifying power in your life and attempt to do things that you could never accomplish in your own strength, such as forgiving someone who has hurt you deeply. As you trust the Lord in these “unnatural” ways, people will have the opportunity to see that God is real and Him for His works in your life (see Acts 16:22-31). P. 31-32

“One of the most powerful ways to glorify God is to do what He commands ( Matt 5:16; John 17:4; Phil. 1:9-10). As Jesus said, ‘This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples’ (John 15:8). Obeying God’s commands without compromise honors Him by showing that His ways are absolutely good, wise, and dependable. Our obedience also demonstrates that He is worthy of our deepest love and devotion.” P. 32

“As Paul knew, imitating Jesus in the midst of conflict is the surest path to restoring peace and unity with those who oppose us (see Eph. 4:1-3). More importantly, when we live out the gospel in our lives, we mirror Jesus’ humility, mercy, forgiveness, and loving correction, we surprise the world and give concrete evidence of the Lord’s presence and power in our lives (see Phil. 1:9-11; 1 Peter 2:12). P. 32

“Every time you encounter a conflict, you will inevitably show what you really think of God. If you want to show that you love Him ‘with all your heart and with all yoru soul and with all your mind’ (Matt 22:37), then ask Him to help you trust, obey, imitate, and acknowledge Him, especially when it is difficult to do so. This behavior honors God and shows others how worthy He is of your devotion and praise.” P. 33

“Many disputes begin or grow worse because one or both sides give into their emotions and say or do things they later regret. When you focus on trusting, obeying, imitating, and acknowledging God, you will be less inclined to stumble in these ways. As Psalm 37:31 says, ‘The law of God is in his heart; his feet do not slip. The other benefit of a God-centered approach to conflict resolution is that it makes you less dependent on results. Even if others refuse to respond positively to your efforts to make peace, you can find comfort in the knowledge that God is pleased with your obedience. That knowledge can help you persevere in difficult situations.” P. 33-34

“Clearly, we are not released from the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, even when that neighbor is hating, cursing, and mistreating us. Instead of reacting harshly or seeking revenge, God calls us to be merciful to those who offend us, just as He is merciful to us (Luke 6:36). We cannot serve others in this way in our own strength. We must continually breathe in God’s grace (through the study of His Word, prayer, worship, and Christian fellowship), and then breathe out His love, mercy, forgiveness, and wisdom to others through our words and actions.” P. 35

“The concept of stewardship is especially relevant to peacemaking. Whenever you are involved in a conflict, God has given you a management opportunity. He has empowered you through the gospel and entrusted you with abilities and spiritual resources. His Word clearly explains how He wants you to manage the situation. The more faithfully you draw on His grace and follow his instructions, the more likely you are to see a constructive solution and genuine reconciliation. Faithful stewarding will also leave you with a clear conscience before God, regardless of the actions of those opposing you.” P. 39

“Faithfulness is not a matter of results; it is a matter of dependent obedience. P. 40

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for making peace with us through your one and only Beloved Son. Thank you, Jesus, for paying the painful and costly price of making peace with us. Thank you for your tremendous example of love, mercy, and grace. Thank you, Spirit, for opening our eyes to God-glorifying scandalous love, and please produce this love in us! Give us the power to lavishly love those who deeply wound us. Show us every opportunity to do so, and enable us to take these opportunities in your power. Please enable us to learn more about you and more about how to glorify you in conflict. We pray that you would restore those relationships in which we are experiencing conflict. May you bring about reconciliation among us!! Even when those who oppose us do not want reconciliation, give us hearts of lavish love and enable us to do all that we can to live in peace with our brothers and sisters. Teach us how to bless those who oppose us in ways that honor you and show others your surpassing worth. Keep us humble before you, and show us our sin and weaknesses. Help us to remove the log from our eye before removing the speck from our brother’s eye. Where we are deficient in grasping your profound love, mercy, grace, and scandalous love, please open our eyes to the beauty of these things. May we imitate them by the Spirit in our relationships with others. We ask all of this in Jesus Mighty Name, Amen.

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