Compassion

Withholding Good

The Bible is pretty clear about God’s intent that we help others. For instance, Proverbs 3:28-29 says:

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbor,
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—
when you already have it with you.

Likewise, James 4:17 admonishes, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

But for whom? For whom are we to do good? The verse above references a “neighbor.” And like the Pharisee, who—trying to justify himself—asked of Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”, we also tend to draw boundary lines on our goodness. But Jesus’ answer doesn’t allow for these artificial boundaries. Instead, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, wherein

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” (Luke 10:30-35).

Through this parable, Jesus taught the lesson that neighbors are not just those closest to us, but also strangers, and even enemies. And in Deuteronomy 10:18-19, we see that we are to “love those who are foreigners,” just as God himself “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” I don’t recall whether I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. There is a Mennonite saying that goes like this: “If I have two coats and my brother has none, then I am stealing from my brother.” This tracks with James’ instruction to the Jewish believers of his day (2:14-17):

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Paul echoed this by instructing us to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need” (Romans 12:13). So then, from whom may we withhold good? Enemies? Strangers? Foreigners? Friends? Family? I’ll let Jesus answer for us (Matthew 25:41-45):

“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.
For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
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.’

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?’

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.’

The least of these…who in your life, your path, your sphere of influence, is the least of these?

Lord, may we find them, and do the good we ought.

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Of Mist and Treasures

Have you ever heard the saying, “The days go by slowly, but the years go by fast”? I think some of the authors of Scripture had the same idea. David wrote in Psalm 144: 3-4, “Lord, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow.” He echoed this in Psalm 62:9— “Surely the lowborn are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie. If weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath.” And again in Psalm 39: 4-6, he pleaded,

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.
Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.”

And long before that, Moses—the man of God—prayed:

“Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away….
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Psalm 90: 10-12

And if my life is but a vapor, let me do with it what Matthew advises in verses 19-21 of Chapter 6— “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” For my heart and my treasure to be in the right place, I believe my second kidney needs to be in its rightful place as well. I can’t help but think of Jesus’ parable of the rich fool, recorded in Luke 12: 18-21:

“The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.
He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones,
and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself,
‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.
Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Likewise, His brother James declared (4:13), “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” 

I don’t want to hoard the life God has given me. I want to share it with as many people as I can in as many ways possible. And Lord willing, living kidney donation is one of those ways for me. And, while it may not be one of those ways for you, I feel quite strongly called and empowered to this act of compassion. So I have to try, because, again in the words of James (4: 17), “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

A breath…
A handbreadth…
A shadow…
A phantom…
A mist…
A vapor…

What will you do with yours?

 

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Train Up a Child

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 NIV

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home
and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

“What about your kids?” I often hear this upon mentioning to people my desire to donate a kidney. It’s an interesting question. One motivator for those who ask this question tends to be 1 Timothy 5:8 (NIV): “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I greatly value this verse. Growing up in relative disadvantage, my childhood was fraught with insecurity and uncertainty. I have always vowed to honor Paul’s command here, to protect my children from those feelings to the very best of my ability. In fact, the desire to hold tightly to this guidance is the main reason for having delayed my donation for these past 8+ years. But now that my kids are 8 and 7, and relatively independent—but more importantly, followers of Jesus! – I believe that they are in good hands, regardless of my short- and long-term outcomes as a result of donation.

Besides this, though, as I look at the totality of Scripture, I believe that the commands given throughout with respect to childrearing point to support of this decision, rather than opposition. For instance, Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV) states, “Train up a child in the way they should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” What is this way in which they should go? The way of Christ, of course….of Christ, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8 NIV). For this reason, Paul urges believers, “….in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3b-4)

I can think of no better way to raise children in the way they should go than by showing them God’s love in action, His compassion in action. As Psalm 127:3-4 (NIV) says,

“Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.”

Sara Groves wrote an amazing song, entitled, When the Saints. It enumerates some of the great saints from the Bible times and also from more “recent” history. There are so many, but in this context, I’m especially reminded of her reference to Jim Elliot, a missionary who was killed by members of the Huaorani tribe in Ecuador. Of him, she sings, “I see the young missionary and the angry spear, I see his family returning with no trace of fear.” And indeed, they did. His daughter, Valerie, was 10 months old when he died, and less than three years later, she and her mother, Elisabeth Elliot returned to live among the Huaorani for another five years. Valerie Elliot Shepard continues to live out the legacy that her father and mother began so long ago—like an arrow in the hands of a warrior!

What a privilege to instill such a legacy into future generations. It is my hope and prayer that my kids will be able to say the same of me, that I trained them up, through my example, in the way they should go.

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At the Mercy

Mark 2:3-5

“Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the many was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”

John 5:2-7

“Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’”

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Have you ever felt helpless? As in, completely at the mercy of another person or people to do for you that which you needed, but couldn’t possibly do on your own. Especially these days, I think we place a high premium on self-reliance. So when we do find ourselves in a place of utter dependence, we don’t just find it humbling, we find it humiliating. We would rather suffer on our own than have to ask for help.

But as I read the Bible, helping those in need is a huge part of why we’re here—or at least of what we’re called to do. Consider in Mark 2, when the paralytic was saved and healed not by his OWN faith, but because of the faith of his friends, who went to heroic measures to bring their friend to Jesus. In John 5, we see a contrasting story, where a man had sat paralyzed for 38 years, for want of such friends to carry him into the pool of Bethesda when the waters were stirred up for healing.

I read an interesting passage in Leviticus recently—yes, there ARE interesting passages in Leviticus! And this passage was describing how someone was to be declared clean after being afflicted with a skin disease.

Leviticus 14:3-4

“The priest is to go outside the camp to examine him, and if the skin disease of the afflicted person is healed, the priest shall order that two live clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop be brought for the one to be cleansed. Then the priest shall command that one of the birds to be slaughtered over fresh water in a clay pot…”

Long story short, people were typically to bring their own sacrifices to the priests in Leviticus. But in the case of someone who’d been essentially quarantined outside of the camp, the priest needed to go to that person, determine that they’d been healed, and command that another bring that person’s sacrifice FOR them. They couldn’t do it themselves. Just as the paralytic friend who was brought to Jesus, and the paralytic man He approached, those afflicted in Moses’ time were at the mercy of others in their search for healing and restoration.

These seem like microcosms of another story, wherein those helpless to save themselves are rescued by the only one who could save them…

2 Corinthians 5:14

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

I’m drawn to the implication of Christ’s sacrifice—that “those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” In other words, I should live to help the helpless. I believe that, for myself, this looks like living kidney donation. At any given moment, over 100,000 people in this country alone sit waiting by their own pool of Bethesda, waiting for someone to usher in their healing. They wait, at the mercy of the system, the deceased organ supply, or another person to act on their behalf.

Can you imagine how immensely valuable you would feel if you were in those shoes, and you learned that there was someone, a total stranger, who wanted to give you that gift of life? I can.

Privilege

Matthew 20: 9-12

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’”

On this, the eve of my grandmother’s funeral, as many who knew her pray that she accepted God’s gift of salvation in her last days and moments here, it is not lost on me that there may be others who bear a certain resentment toward “deathbed conversions.” Like the workers hired first, we feel we have “borne the burden of the work…” Or, like the bitter other brother of the prodigal son, we might refuse to welcome him home because, ‘Look, all these years I have served you and never disobeyed a commandment of yours. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returns from squandering your wealth with prostitutes, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15: 29-30). So we look to the thief on the cross with resentment and indignance, rather than with compassion and generosity.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize one reason for this. We are too busy seeing the sacrifices we’ve made for the Kingdom to recognize the many blessings that are ours in Christ. Think about it—the workers hired first thing in the morning and the responsible brother had one of the greatest privileges: security. They didn’t have to wonder if they would find work that day, or have food to eat, or a place to sleep. They were free from fear and uncertainty. Sure, they had to put in an honest day’s work, but even that is a privilege, is it not? Having faced unemployment and underemployment in my life, I can say that it is quite stressful, even if it’s just for a short time. And during that time, I worked as a day laborer, showing up at the temp agency as early as possible each morning, to try to beat the others to the line, so that I would have the best possible chance of being hired. I remember once when a one-day job turned into a week-long position, and I remember how relieved I was to know that I had work lined up for the rest of the week.

We have so many blessings as followers of Christ and as people who trust and rely on the One we know to be a good God. I couldn’t possibly list them all here, but as examples, consider the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), grace that is sufficient for every challenge and trial we face (2 Corinthians 12:9), mercies that are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23)…and on and on. Indeed, as the prodigal’s father stated, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15: 31). Following Him, and doing the work of the Kingdom, is not a burden, but a privilege. So when I think of the alternate reality in which I would have to fend for myself—rely on my own strength to save me, my own ability to provide for myself, and all the other burdens that accompany a life lived far from Him, I’m left with compassion and generosity for those who live that way. And the parable of the generous landowner tells us that God’s generosity knows no bounds—their blessing doesn’t diminish mine. Micah 7:18 tells us that God “delights to show mercy.” So let us go and do likewise (Luke 10:37).

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Hope

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul reminded the believers in Thessalonica that we don’t mourn like those who have no hope, because we have the hope of heaven. Most funerals I attend do happen to be for believers, and I LOVE celebrating their lives, but even more so their “home-going.” So many happy tears, even in the midst of sorrow.

This celebratory feel is much more salient when we are (relatively) assured of our loved one’s salvation. But we don’t always have that luxury. Such is the case with my grandmother, who passed away on Friday, at the age of 88. Her quality of life had declined severely, due to complications of COPD and congestive heart failure. We all wanted to see her at rest and in peace, but saw her continued suffering as a gift from God, in his patience, mercy, and compassion. After all, He is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Perhaps He was just giving her more time.

You see, Grandma was never much into Jesus. She spent her life in the pursuit of self-reliance. She was strong, independent, fiercely opinionated, and proud—and all of the other things that help a person to survive here on earth, but that make it hard to surrender to God, or to admit to needing Him. Nevertheless, her friends and family poured into her the truths of the gospel. She knew the “answers,” even though she staunchly resisted them.

To the best of our knowledge, she never confessed out loud the lordship of Christ, she never verbally acknowledged her sins, her need for forgiveness, or her acceptance of Christ as her savior. BUT…as Grandma’s days grew short—in fact, on the eve of her passing—her daughter sat with her, and prayed a sinner’s prayer over her in intercession. She closed, saying “Amen.” And Grandma, quite surprisingly, echoed a hearty, “Amen!” Could she have finally accepted? We won’t know until we get to heaven, but this moment gives us what we are promised—hope that we may see her again one day.

Interestingly, the next day, as the end drew nearer still, Grandma rolled onto her side, and seemed to be talking to herself—albeit unintelligibly. Could it be, though, that just as the thief on the cross did so long ago, she was looking to Jesus, asking Him to remember and forgive her? If so, His answer would have certainly been the same—“Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Again, the gift of hope. Thank you Jesus!

In Memory  of Dolores E. Winget

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Worse Things

Psalm 34:18

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Today I decided it was time to wash the delicate clothes that had been piling up in my closet for months. In particular, I decided it was time to wash Laredo’s tights and leotard, in which she dresses up like a ballerina almost daily. But as I went to transfer the laundry from the washer to the dryer, I noticed that something blue in the load had bled on the pale pink leotard. I said to myself, “Thank God I didn’t put her fancy white Easter dress in this load.”

But then I stopped myself. I realized the fault in my perspective. You see, as Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath continues to cause destruction not two hours from here, I understand that there are worse things that I could have to worry about. There are far worse things that many people are facing at this very moment—even some people I know. And I don’t want to be the kind of person who dwells on silly and inconsequential things, when there are people out there in need of compassion, and prayer, and tangible help.

Please don’t misunderstand me. There are most certainly times in life when those worse things will happen TO YOU. I wouldn’t tell those who have lost everything and even loved ones to tell themselves that there are worse things. At some point, you need to recognize that you’ve just lived through the worst day of your life. When you’ve been evacuated from your home by boat in the middle of the night, and been shuttled around from one shelter to another in search of one that will allow your pets to stay with you… Or when you’ve faced some other tragedy, emergency, betrayal…some of you may know this feeling firsthand. You know what it’s like to feel helpless, hopeless, and lost. Be honest about it—let your family, friends, and community come alongside to help you.

But for those of us who aren’t suffering greatly right now, I would encourage us all to take a posture of gratitude, humility, and compassion. Let’s recognize that those little things that frustrate or disappoint us are exactly that—little things. Let’s remember that there are (unfortunately) worse things than what we are facing. And let’s pray that God will give us HIS heart for the brokenhearted. As is so often said, let’s ask Him to break our hearts for what breaks HIS. And I can just about guarantee that what breaks His heart is not a stained leotard, or even a ruined Easter dress.

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Ice, Mice, and the Lessons They Teach Us

About nine months ago, we moved into a new house and inherited an ice machine. That was exciting in itself, but even more exciting is the kind of ice the machine produces. It’s soft and porous, a little crunchy but not too much so. You can actually bite a cube in half with your front teeth! It does wonders for my oral fixation, but it is much less suited to my TMJ. While this condition has laid dormant for some time, this newfound ice-chewing habit of mine has caused my symptoms to flare up. They extend beyond jaw pain at this point, causing horrible earaches as well as sharp headaches throughout the left side of my head (I’ve even begun to wonder if they aren’t migraines). And yet, I sit here munching away. I’ve even been known to delay my bedtime routine some nights just so that I can eat a few more pieces of this marvelous confection. All of this, even though I am likely driving myself to one day need a titanium jaw replacement—and that is not a good thing to have to have replaced!

The whole thing reminds me of a research study I once read about, involving a bunch of lab rats (or mice, I don’t recall). These rats were placed in cages containing buttons that, when pushed, would allow them to directly stimulate the pleasure centers in their brains. What the researchers found was that the mice would literally pleasure themselves TO DEATH! They wouldn’t eat, or sleep, or do anything else. It seemed so sad and pitiful.

But my ice fetish got me thinking, aren’t we all a bit like those lab rats? It seems that many of us could identify something that might compel us to pleasure ourselves to death—literally or figuratively. It might be something that in itself is relatively benign, or it might be something highly destructive. It might be something that affects only ourselves, or it might affect our friends, families, colleagues, and communities. It might not reach MOAS (Mother of All Sins) proportions, but it might.

In any event, recognizing our own weaknesses, temptations, and vulnerabilities should awaken us from our delusions of self-righteousness. It should give us a frame of reference from which to reach out to one another in our shared humanity. And from this place, we can reach out in grace, and compassion—and yes, in accountability, but first and foremost, in LOVE…because after all, didn’t God first love us? (1 John 4:19).

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His Glory Revealed

I don’t cry very often, thanks to some well-dosed antidepressants, but every now and then I still have my moments. What landed me in that place the other night might surprise you. I had been waiting for some medical test results, and I received them earlier in the day. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” is what the nurse said. This might be a relief to many patients, but to me it represented one more failed attempt at an answer—and with no answers looming on the horizon that I could see.

Chronic pain and illness—some treatable, some not; some diagnosable, some not—has been my plight for years, and it’s one I try to endure with some semblance of grace. But sometimes one more symptom to add to the bray just feels like more than I can handle. You know?

Well, I’ve allowed the Spirit to comfort me in the past through verses like these.

James 1:2-4:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10:

“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Romans 8:18:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

But the other night, the passage that came and kept coming to my mind was John 9:1-3:

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”

I guess the reason I’ve never connected this story with my own is that Jesus chose to heal this blind man. And if we look at God’s glory as healing, strictly speaking, then I guess it might never apply to me. But even when our paths and journeys differ, God’s glory can still be seen, can it not? Regardless of what we face, God can use our circumstances to reveal His heart.

  • It may look like renewed compassion and empathy for others who suffer.
  • It may look like the encouragement you share with and receive from others.
  • It may look like a strengthened faith in God’s sufficient grace.
  • It may look like God walking alongside you—carrying you when the road becomes too long.
  • It may look like you walking alongside a fellow sojourner—helping them to bear a burden that is too heavy for them to carry on their own.
  • It may look like peace that passes understanding, in spite of swirling turmoil.

I could go on, I’m sure, but I hope you get my point. Chronic pain and illness are my cross to bear (and that of many others), but your struggles (or your friend’s, or your neighbor’s, or your colleague’s, or your sister’s) may be very different. They may include losses, addictions, hurts, sins, you name it. But they are no less usable by God, for the display of His glory—if we will allow Him to use them.

Look for God in your circumstances—chances are, you’ll find Him.

Lenten Blossoms

Burning Coals

Romans 12:18-20:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’”

I have to be honest, I’ve never liked this passage. I’ve always thought to myself, first of all, that we as believers shouldn’t be wishing God’s wrath or vengeance upon anyone, no matter their offense. We should hope, pray, and work for repentance, redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. So revenge has never been my M.O. And I’ve never really seen it as God’s, either.

The second reason why I’ve always disliked this passage is the idea of doing good to your enemy in order to “heap burning coals on his head.” That has always struck me as incredibly spiteful. And God doesn’t call us to spite our enemies. No, He calls us to love and bless them. So in my cognitive dissonance, I’ve just glossed over the verses, vowing to ask God about it one day. Well, it turns out that now I don’t have to—thank you Jon Green!

You see, Jon taught from this passage in his Sunday sermon this week, and he shed SO much light on the context of this passage for me. Specifically, he pointed out that this refers to a common-ish practice of the day, and one undertaken when an enemy was attacking. From the top of the city’s wall, soldiers would heap burning coals on the heads of their attackers in order to keep them at bay. And Jon rightly described this as a defensive action, a response from a position of strength, but one respecting appropriate boundaries. So rather than going on the offensive, or being spiteful, this heaping of coals was simply a strategy for protection. And for me, that changes everything.

So then, what about God’s wrath and His vengeance? Well, when Jon suggested that we are to leave revenge to God, I got to thinking that one reason for this is that we do not know how to properly wield vengeance. But God does. And do you know how we know that? John 8. You remember, don’t you, when a woman was brought before Jesus after being caught in adultery? And the teachers of the law wanted to stone her, but Jesus quietly called each one out in his sin, and said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b). “At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:9-11).

So when we turn our enemies over to God—who is righteous, just, AND merciful—we can trust that He will do the right thing. We can certainly have no such faith in ourselves. What a relief, then, to let go and give it to God—not asking Him to avenge us, but pleading with Him for mercy and forgiveness, on behalf of our enemy. Jesus Himself did no less as He hung on the cross to die for our sins. Let us live by His example, saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

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