Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Parable of Unmerciful Me

When I was young, I had never been a "big" sinner, broken one of the "big" rules. This is the way I saw life : Being a Christian wasn't hard! I had a great track record. Lots of little sins, sure, but NONE of those big ones that all of my peers were making! I didn't party! I didn't drink! I didn't do drugs! I didn't cuss! I wasn't promiscuous! I went to church 5 times a week! I was in 4 Bible Studies! I was on Youth Council! I was part of an evangelism team! I had it all figured out. I had a Bible verse for everyone, a comment for every situation. I gave spiritual guidance to people whether they needed it or not because I thought it was my place. It was easy to point a finger at others because I felt I had the right. My own life was "pretty good" so it was easy to point out the bad in the life of someone else. I put my nose in other people's spiritual lives because I thought I could help them, thought that by MY insight, they might grow and become better people. I would tell someone what they were doing wrong, rattle off a list of verses, then tell them "I love you brother/sister" and walk away whistling as though my good deed for the day was done. I thought I was doing GOOD, thought I was HELPING. ... I see now that I came across to others as naive, self-righteous, and judgmental. I realize, only now, that my "great track record" was actually a source of pride for me. I was "better" than most of the other kids my age. I would have NEVER been able to voice such a thing at that age though - I always THOUGHT I was humble!! (So if any of you who are out there from high school are reading this - I'm truly sorry to have been so arrogant.)

I THOUGHT I walked in love. I THOUGHT that I was humble. If someone had approached me to tell me that I behaved self-righteously, I probably wouldn't have believed them, and just would have thought they were upset that I spoke the "convicting truth". Pretty sickening to say these things about myself, BUT ... I am growing and learning.

In high school, I thought it was easy to walk the straight and narrow and scoffed at those who stumbled off the path. ...Pride cometh before a fall!!!... When I fell into one of the "big" sins for the first time, I lost a lot of my pre-conceived notions about how easy it is to stay on the right path. I also came to the shocking realization that the whole time I was on the "right side" of things, that I had been considering people who stumbled off the path to be "bad people". If you drank, you were "bad". If you had sex outside of marriage, you were "bad". If you did drugs, you were "bad". (And there were various other "big sins" that apparently made one "BAD" in my twisted view of Christianity.) And good Christians stay away from "bad people". Once I found myself amongst the "bad" people, I realized that we are ALL just PEOPLE. And people (even good Christians!) make mistakes - it doesn't make someone "bad" when they make a mistake, it just means that they've made a poor choice. We are all just sinners in desperate need of God's grace. The line between someone who has participated in a "big sin" and someone who hasn't isn't NEARLY as well-defined as I had thought it was - in fact, I had drawn it! It wasn't really there in the first place. Just a convenient way for me to elevate myself (good) from the others (bad). It took quite some time, but I finally realized that I had pridefully always considered my self-worth to be based in how much I WASN'T like the "bad ones".

My life spiraled out of control for awhile. I aggressively gave into my rebellious nature. I had the wrong feeling that since I had already lost my "track record" that somehow, my entire testimony was lost. I was no longer the girl that defied the odds and stayed "good" despite everyone around me. And when I came back to the throne of Jesus, and placed myself at His Feet ... It was THEN that I KNEW that This should have always been my place. My place wasn't on the "good" side, or the "bad" side. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to return myself to that status of being on the "good side". But I am learning - now, even! - that it isn't about that. Where I belong is at the Feet of Jesus, begging for His Mercy. Even when I was on the "good" side as a youth, I realize now that I reeked of pride, so how good was I really??

But now, I have been forgiven of much. The Lord reached into my life and saved me from all kinds of muck and mire. And it is here and now that I realize that I am worthless. I amount to nothing. Left on my own, I quickly run to my sinful nature. But the LORD sees all my trespasses, all my pride, all my "bad" things ... and loves me despite them. He reached in, and saved me, where I was. He brought me into His MERCY, His tender Mercy. Did I deserve it? No, I deserved DEATH! But He PAID for me. Jesus paid it all. And all to Him I owe. And so at Jesus' Feet I will stay. The point of view from here is much different than the one I had before my fall. The view from here is a much more merciful one. As I watch people stumble and make the same mistakes I used to look down my nose at people for, I can look at them and say "I've been there. I know how easy it is to make those mistakes. I'm no better than you. Before, I would have pointed my self-righteous finger at you, but now since I understand - I can offer you my hand to help you get back up. See over here? These are the Feet of Jesus. This is where I have found WHO I AM. I'm no longer "good" or "bad", but HIS. Fully paid for by His Blood."

I would never say that God had it planned for me to spend time in rebellion. But He is faithful, and so He has now turned even that evil time in my life around for GOOD!! Praise be to Him! Because now that I have been there, I have a much greater understanding for a mercy on the people who follow in my not-so-good footsteps. I know how easy it is to stray, and once you've strayed, how easy it is to slip even farther away. The fall away is effortless. It is the climb back up that is so hard.

Without God's tender MERCY, I am nothing. I will never be righteous enough, good enough, holy enough. But it is His Mercy and Grace which draw me to Him and stir me from within to change for Him. And if I eagerly desire His Mercy for my life, my own wretched life, then I must also pass that same mercy on to everyone around me. Christ's mercy on me should radically change my life. It calls me to be humble when pride wants to devour me, to be forgiving instead of bitter, to be understanding when my heart wants to judge, to offer a hand up instead of pointing a finger, to listen when I want to clamp my hands over my ears, to be open-minded when I want to get defensive, to admit I have done wrong when my pride wants to excuse my actions, to be loving when I want to be rude, to be peaceful when my emotions wants to wage war, and to see a person who needs Grace just as much as I do, instead of seeing a "bad person".

I don't have it all figured out. Even though I know with my mind that I need to be radically changed like I listed above, I still war with my heart to be RIGHT. Just in the last few days, I've been guilty of NOT doing pretty much all of the above.

I have been shown Mercy, I want Mercy for my friends, AND I want Mercy for those that my pride sometimes tries to tell me shouldn't get it. So I'm sorry, and I'm sad, and I've resigned myself to being in an ever-constant state of "working on it".

But - I am renewed and I am forgiven. I am changed. I AM HIS.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Or seventy times seven)

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt. 18:21-35)

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