I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather. Oh wait, that isn't me, that is Paul talking in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 (MSG) Now here was someone who had legitimate reasons to bewail his circumstances. Wow, jailed, beaten time after time. Shipwrecked, for goodness sake, not once but three times? You read his biography, there isn't a blockbuster movie that can compare. But the thing is, he isn't complaining about all of this. This is just a laundry list of events to him. What does he consider the hardest thing he has to go through? "Besides those external things, there is the daily [inescapable] pressure of my concern for all the churches," verse 28 (AMP). He is most bothered, he is most concerned not about those petty 'external' things, but about the condition of the church, the well-being of his fellow believers. He is more concerned for their lives and their souls than for his own physical body, than for his own welfare. "When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut," verse 29 (MSG).
When did concern for our fellow man, when did the burden for others turn into being self-absorbed and self-centered? We turn on the news and see people hurting each other, with words and with weapons every night. We see families being divided by political beliefs. We see horrendous abuse, blood chilling atrocities and we complain about being a little warm in this summer weather. I am pointing a finger at myself first here, so don't feel that I am picking on you. I have become overly comfortable in my little cocoon here and it's time to step out. We look at all that is going on in the world and it is easy to become overwhelmed. Where do I start, who do I help. I think biblically we start in our families, then in the church body and then the world at large. We help where we see a need and as the Lord shows us, we obey.
"And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut." How Paul had the heart of God for his people. He feels their agony when they are in despair. When they make a mistake and fall back into sin, he doesn't point a finger and lambast them. "Who makes a mistake and I do not feel his sadness? Who falls without my longing to help him? Who is spiritually hurt without my fury rising against the one who hurt him?" (TLB) When my children were young I tried to teach them to look beyond the behavior and see the person. That old story of the lion with the thorn in it's paw, roaring at everyone, but only because it was in so much pain. We look at how people act and the things they do and don't see who they are and why they are behaving that way. We don't want people to stay in their sin, but shouting and finger pointing never did anyone any good. The bible says we are to speak the truth in love, Ephesians 4:15. I heard in a sermon this past week that Jesus did not condone sin, but He also did not condemn the sinner. That is how we are to live. Can we save a man who is drowning if we don't throw him a life ring? How are we to pull them out of one lifestyle without showing them another, better one? We are so good at judging. We are so good at blaming. We are so good at the snide little remarks meant to show how spiritual we are and what poor humans others are. God must shake His head sometimes. He has given us such wonderful grace, and shown us such amazing, overwhelming mercy and we squander it with a head shake and the roll of an eye. Lord forgive me for being that Pharisee. For puffing up my religious chest all the while the person standing next to me is dying in his sin. God I am so tired of carrying the weight of my own self-rightousness. I lay that down at your feet Father and ask for Your loving heart for your people. I ask that instead of rolling my eyes I will fall on my knees. Instead of shaking my head I will hold out my hand. That rather than walking away in disgust I will reach out with Your love and Your mercy and Your compassion. Forgive me Father when my fear and my pride and my impatience get in the way of Your will and your grace. Lord help me to see through Your eyes and hear with the help of Your Spirit.
In the years I have been a Christian. I have seen so much. I have seen dedicated believers who would give their last penny to help others. I have seen others who spread gossip and tried to besmirch those in the church. I have seen hard workers and those just there for the snacks. I have seen believers struggle with addiction and lose time after time. I have seen people at their best and at their worst. I have seen it, which means God has seen it. And He has never turned His back on any one of them. Good, bad and ugly His grace is there for all of them, for all of us. So who are we to judge who deserves it or not. Who is there that can say, no you've stepped up to the grace table one too many times. Who can say that tomorrow won't be the day that they finally get it, that they not only believe that God can forgive, but that God does, and that He will for them? When I read the bible I never see Jesus condemning those lost in their sin. He only condemns those who believe they have no sin. His mercy ever reaches out for those 'duped into sin'.
There is a hope, there is a grace available to us all. We just have to recognize our need for it. We just have to reach out and accept it. We just have to believe that He made it available to us; once, for all. "I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t. I do what I don’t want to—what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. But I can’t help myself because I’m no longer doing it. It is sin inside me that is stronger than I am that makes me do these evil things. I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. Now if I am doing what I don’t want to, it is plain where the trouble is: sin still has me in its evil grasp. It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love to do God’s will so far as my new nature is concerned; but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind I want to be God’s willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin. So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? Thank God! It has been done[c] by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free." Who in the world is saying that? That is Paul again, speaking to the Romans in Chapter 7, verses 15-25. If anyone could understand what other Christians were going through he could. Because as much as he could boast of all he had done for Jesus, he could also be ashamed of all he had done to Christians before he met Jesus. But he knew the true power of forgiveness. The true effectiveness of Christ's power in his life and he could put the past behind him and move forward in the strength of Jesus' love and restoration. So don't beat yourself up for past mistakes, but also don't stand on the laurels of your past accomplishments. Walk today in His power, reach out today to those in need, give love today to those walking in self-condemnation. They don't need your condemnation too, rather speak the words of Jesus, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more," John 8:11 (ESV).
In full disclosure, those complaints at the top aren't mine, other than my laptop being buggy. We are doing great. And even if we weren't, I am going to be careful what I choose to complain about..my friend is in need of prayer for her marriage, my child is in physical pain from MS as is another friend of mine, another deals with addiction problems, another has financial issues, another thinks he doesn't do enough for God, there is a fire raging in my community and many have lost houses and businesses. That is a laundry list worth noting, worth taking to the Lord, worth reaching out and being Jesus with flesh on to those who need Him.