Monday, November 17, 2008

Scattered Sheep

I've had something on my mind to write for a week or two, and have been mulling it over. A passage in my children's read aloud today pulled it together in my mind. We were reading from Mountain Born by Elizabeth Yates. A young boy named Peter was sent out to "shepherd" the flock for the first time. (A wise old shepherd remained close by, working at another task.) Peter fell asleep after lunch, the sheep dog was tending to an anxious ewe and her twin lambs, and the sheep scattered. When Peter woke up, the sheep were gone, the dog was gone, and he didn't know what to do. Benj, the wise old shepherd who had not been far, helped him to gather them and right it all.

"It doesn't take much to keep them together," Benj said quietly, "but once they get separated, it's a lot of work to bring them together again."

Jesus commanded us one major thing in regard to how we treat each other. Love one another. He said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34,35)

Romans 12 says, "Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality..."

I've been thinking about how love without hypocrisy ought to behave toward the body of Christ. Whenever bitterness comes in, we excuse ourselves from Jesus' commandment to us. "They wronged me. They're hypocrites." We exempt ourselves from this command when our brother or sister has hurt us, or wronged us, or paid us less than we were worth, or just didn't respond to our need that they didn't know we had. Their failure is all too evident to us. We see every flaw, because we're family to them. We know every mistake they've made, every time they've tripped. And we count their sins as worth twice as much as ours, because their mistakes cost us something.

Beloved, let us love one another -- LOVE is of God. Accusing the brethren is not of God. Love is of God. Preferring others over myself is of God. Kind affection toward my brothers and sisters is of God. Patience in tribulation is of God.

I love my husband. Shall I then make a long list of all his failures over the last 11 years of our marriage? Every sin against me? Shall I post them on a website's message board? Who is the hypocrite in love if I do that? I am. Love suffers long, and is kind. Love acts like Shem and Japheth acted toward Noah (they were blessed). Knowing him to be drunk and naked in the tent, they went in backwards to cover him -- to protect him from shame. It doesn't act like Ham, who exploited his father's failure: who mocked -- and told everyone he saw.

Love comes alongside to help lift a heavy burden that his brother is carrying. It doesn't watch him falter under it and post a picture in the news. I may be right in every assessment of my brother's sins, failures, and negligence. Where does that leave me? Will I act like Jesus, reaching out to heal? Or will I grab my camera and my notepad to document their wrongdoing and publish it abroad?

I was sickened to read lists of grievances online by Christians against members of the body of Christ. They probably didn't see it that way, because it was against "the church".

We were forgiven so much. Can't we forgive our brothers? So what if we were wronged? Does nursing my grievance serve Christ? When we forgive, we unite ourselves in action with Christ, who forgave us. When we make lists, and check them twice, and accuse our brothers, we unite ourselves in action with the accuser of the brethren.

There is a place to pour out our hurts and our anger. To our Father in prayer -- not to the world. Pour it out to Him. And if someone has sinned against me, Jesus told me to go to that person.

I am asked by the One who forgave me to forgive. How can I refuse Him? Are even His commands trumped by my measly little owie? Is my dignity of such value to me that when my Savior asks me to forgive my brother I will not? Have I forgotten Him? No one owes me a debt so great that my own debt to Christ is not bigger. And He took it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Can't I nail my brother's debts there, too? It may be a real debt I am owed. SO WHAT? I owed more. Christ is worth more to me than the sum of all the debts of every brother who ever stepped on my foot.

"If he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account." (Philemon 18)

"Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by Whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil-speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us..." (Ephesians 4:30-5:2)

"Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ."

"May the God of patience and comfort grant you to be likeminded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God." (Rom. 15:5-7)