Monday, September 08, 2014
Learning How To Love Extravagantly
I can remember when my oldest son Dylan was in first grade. He came home one day and told us about a boy in his class who was choking him and kicking him at recess.
At first, I was enraged. I could only think of how to get that kid kicked out of school, or how to talk to the school principle about protecting my son. I even considered putting my son in a karate class.
Instead, my wife and I sat down with my son before bedtime each night and prayed for this boy together. We talked about what this boy must be going through at home. We prayed for his parents, and for his brothers and sisters. We asked Jesus to change this boy's heart. We also talked to Dylan about how he should try to avoid being alone at recess. We encouraged him to go to his teachers if he saw this boy coming after him again, and we explained to him that Jesus wants us to love those who mistreat us.
This process of praying for the bully at school took several weeks. Eventually, my son had a birthday party. He invited every kid in his class, including this boy who had bullied him.
During the party, this boy was included in every game. He was treated as one of my son's friends. My son, and our family, gave him the clear message - We don't hate you. We really love you.
I think this party was the tipping point, because, after this, the boy no longer bullied Dylan at recess. He didn't treat anyone else this way either. The love my son had shown him really did transform him. It touched his heart and changed his behavior.
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." - Luke 6:32
Jesus takes the time to contrast the love the world has with the love that God demonstrates. In comparison, the love of the world is nothing special. The most evil among us can return love to those who are loving them. Big deal. I'm sure we could find a serial killer who loves his Mom and a rapist who loves his best friend. Even a racist loves someone. So what?
As followers of Jesus, we are called to demonstrate the amazing, unprecedented, unexpected, over-the-top kind of love that Jesus has lavished upon us. Why? For two reasons. First, so that even the most evil people can experience the undeserved kindness and mercy of God. Secondly, to teach you and I how to die to ourselves and to become more like Jesus every day.
See, the command that Jesus gives us to love our enemies is intended not only to change the hearts of sinners, but to change you and I as well.
We cannot love this way on our own. We just can't. The only way we can follow Jesus and obey his command to love those who are trying to harm us is if we take up our cross daily, die to ourselves, and throw ourselves completely at His feet and beg to be filled with His love for them. It just won't work any other way.
In the book, "The Grace of Giving", author Stephen Olford tells the story of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution named Peter Miller. Miller lived in a small town called Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and one of his dearest friends was a guy named George Washington. (Maybe you've heard of him?)
In the town of Ephrata their also lived a spiteful troublemaker named Michael Wittman, who did all he could to oppose and humiliate Mr. Miller.
One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to death. When he heard the news Peter Miller set out Philadelphia to plead for the life of his enemy.
After walking seventy miles - on foot - Miller petitioned his friend, General Washington, to spare Wittman's life.
“No, Peter,” General Washington said. “I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”
“My friend?” exclaimed the old preacher. “He's not my friend. In fact, he is the bitterest enemy I have.”
“What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I’ll grant your pardon.”
And he did.
That day, Peter Miller and Michael Wittman walked back home to Ephrata together. When they arrived home, they were no longer enemies. They were friends.
As amazing as that story is, the bottom line is that Peter Miller had a different perspective when it came to difficult people, trials and persecution. He saw those things - not as battles to win, but as opportunities to love like Jesus loves.
You and I are expected to do the same.
"Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." - 1 Peter 3:9
As followers of Jesus, you and I are living examples of the redemptive, transformative power of undeserved kindness and love.
I pray that we can see difficult people and uncomfortable circumstances in a new light. I pray that in the worst of situations, you and I might crucify our flesh and bury our pride. I pray that when others insult us and mock us, we (the followers of Jesus), might be filled with the Spirit of the Living God and demonstrate to those who hate us most that the love of Jesus is truly powerful enough to change hearts and lives.
I pray this for myself most of all.