True confession.I spent several years as a disciple of Jesus oblivious that I reeked of arrogance born of a wrong-headed understanding of Salvation. I was grateful for being saved, of course, and I gave Him the praise for this mighty life transforming work. I knew I needed to love him with heart, soul, mind and strength and I thought that was what I was doing. But I wasn’t. Why? Because I had come to believe the highest, or more accurately the only required, form of love was service. This has little to do with affection; it has only to do with obedience and duty. This meant, though it never occurred to me at the time, that in my head I was paraphrasing John 3:16 to read something like this: “For God, who had decided it was time for humans to learn how to get into right standing with Himself, sent his obedient, dutiful Son to serve this purpose and provide a way out of sin by dying on a cross. Jesus showed his love for his Father by gritting his teeth, setting his face like flint and agreeing to serve him in this way.”
My walk with God was not enjoyable, but it was, I thought, commendable-- the honest way I conducted myself; the degree of control I exerted over my emotions and impulses; my faithful attendance at expected meetings and worship times; the amount of service I provided to the group of believers I’d chosen to commit my life to; the dutiful way I took care of my wife and children; all the things I didn’t do that the sinful world around me did. Since I was convinced that by serving God in this way I was fulfilling the 1st commandment, I felt I was in a very secure place. I was SAFE. The wrath of God could come [at times I even wished it would] but I knew he’d protect me and deliver me into his coming Kingdom without a scratch! Come Lord Jesus!
My attitude towards all other humans was a combination of fear, judgment and confusion. I feared the power of the flesh and the devil with sort of magical thinking. I erroneously believed that the unclean automatically causes the clean to become defiled and so avoided at every turn contact with people who were sin-controlled. This of course left them with an accurate feeling that I thought I was better, more holy than them. At the same time I was honestly confused about how to share the good news since my ‘righteous’ life style precluded intersecting with those who needed to hear the message!
At one point I joined a friend who was going into the County jail and offering a time of worship and scripture study to inmates. After several months, he asked if I wanted to speak to the group. What I discovered coming out of my mouth was not a message of mercy and grace. It was the Pharisaic filth I’d been living under; a mixture of ‘This is how Jesus loved and saved me’, along with ‘and he will love you too but only if you live in such and such a manner.’ Even as I stumbled through what I was trying to say, I felt the Spirit’s heavy presence convicting my heart! ‘Pat your message has no power, because it is not true! I love each of these men in this room, regardless of what they have done. I want them to know me now, today! To experience my mercy and love now is my heart for them. Don’t ever try to tell someone I won’t love them unless…’. So began a journey for me from being the loveless but dutiful ‘older brother’, to a grateful, forgiven, undeserving, rescued prodigal sinner, saved by a loving God who above all longs for my heart to beat with affection and reciprocal love for Him.
Over the next several years the Lord slowly shaped in me a growing compassion for any who don’t yet know the beauty, the joy, the privilege of being part of the Bride of Christ. My constant prayer is that He overshadow my weaknesses (my fear of other’s negative opinion of me if, by following the leading of the Spirit and say or do something that offends) and cause me to partner with Him to extend the presence of his Kingdom (His felt mercy and love along with opportunities to dialogue about his nature).
As I examine scripture, I find there is one people group that often is on God’s heart. In fact, scripture is adamant that we focus our attention on this group with dire consequences if we do not. I believe that we, who know we have an accepting, forgiving Father, a diverse warm family, a love-motivated Bridegroom and powerful gifts from the Spirit of love are called today to look and find Him in these for whom He died. The Spirit is asking us to listen with an ear to discern which area of need mentioned in the following passages He wants us to address, and then to do the part we can.
What is the Spirit saying to you as you read?
Psalm 82:3 3 Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Proverbs 14:31 Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
Proverbs 22:16 One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich—both come to poverty.
Ezekiel 22:28-30 28 Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says’—when the LORD has not spoken. 29 The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice. 30 “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.
Amos 5:4-6, 11-13 4 This is what the LORD says to Israel: Seek me and live; 5 do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will surely go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing. 6 Seek the LORD and live, or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire; it will devour them, and Bethel will have no one to quench it. 11 You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. 13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.
Zechariah 7 Justice and Mercy, Not Fasting 7 In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. 2 The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the LORD 3 by asking the priests of the house of the LORD Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” 4 Then the word of the LORD Almighty came to me: 5 “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? 6 And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? 7 Are these not the words the LORD proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’” 8 And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ 11 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry. 13 “‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the LORD Almighty. 14 ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate. ’”
Luke 4:17-19 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Matthew 25: 31-45 The Sheep and the Goats 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Did you take time to listen? Will you talk with a trusted friend to consider where the Lord is calling you to start (or continue) to partner with Him? I believe glory awaits you as you do; the glory of seeing God at work in the lives of those around you; the glory your life brings to God as you abandon yourself to flow in gifts he’s given.