Connecting in Christ

Connected in Christ: Extreme Forgiveness

Focus Passage: Luke 6:27-38

How would you define extreme love? Is such love defined by a man rescuing someone from a burning building? Is it a young girl raising thousands of dollars to cure cancer? These people are different and we respect them for what they have done. Yet Jesus defines it as a radical way of life that we can all embrace.

For Jesus, it was the  extreme forgiveness that sets some Christians apart from the world around us. It is a love that others can recognize right away by the way that these people treat others and live out their relationships. You can have that kind of extreme love, Jesus will tell show you what it means and will help you to live it out. Jesus mentions three elements of such extreme forgiveness.

Extreme love v. 27 Jesus is really radical. He wants you to love your enemies as well as your friends. In a world where we teach people to defend themselves, he wants us to love everyone. His love is not selective. His love says to see the value in every person we meet. It is a choice that we must make whether it is saying nice things about a harsh boss or being kind to the neighbor who likes to complain about our kids or dogs. Jesus is saying that we should love others and show we belong to God.

Extreme mercy v.29a What if the world hurts us as we try to love them. Jesus says that we should not hit them back. Don’t go over to the “dark side” if the Darth Vader’s of the world attack. So what do we do when the world does hurt us? Can you believe that Jesus is telling you to not hit back? Forgiveness is letting go. It is refusing to be sucked into the world’s concept of an eye for an eye. Refusing to hit back is the way to break out of the downward cycle. Show them God’s light when they are dark.

Extreme generosity v.29b Now Jesus takes it one step further. Forgive if someone takes your property as well. We often want to fight to the death to save our stuff. Jesus has a different way, a radical way – let them have it. It is only property. We should not be so attached to our property that we would sacrifice ourselves to get it back. Trust God to provide for your needs and don’t let things destroy your life. Let them have the things of life so you can keep your soul and your values.

How is it possible to be that generous? v.37 It goes against everything that we have been taught. It is only possible for those who live in the shadow of the cross and its forgiveness. We have been forgiven and have felt the freedom that the cross gives to us. We never want to go back to the greedy and grubbing ways of the world. We never want to go to the dark side and become so wrapped up in trying to make things even or gain the other hand. We would have to give up to much to gain so little.

Jesus was more radical than most of us give Him credit. Just stop and listen to what He is saying. He is telling us to do nothing when we are wronged, but offer love and forgiveness instead of the hate. He wants us to create cycles of good that lift people up instead of cycles of hatred that just spiral downward.  Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a world where people watched out for one another and shared so that every person was cared for? Pray for people who are filled with anger and hatred. Bring their hurts and pains to the cross so that Jesus can bear the sin and overcome the dark side. Yes, that is extreme, but it is the love of Jesus and we can only love like that if Jesus is in our hearts and lives. 

Connected in Christ: Truthful, But Tender

Focus Passage: Matthew 16:13-28


Most of us are people pleasers. We want someone’s approval and find it very hard to be honest. Who wants to disappoint people? Let’s say that your child brought home his art project. He is beaming and says look Mom what I made. With horror in your gut, you notice that the project he is so proud of is just plain awful. What do you say to your beaming child? What if it isn’t an art project, but it is a coworker who is stealing or a friend who is into drinking or x rated videos? How do you tell someone that they are messing up their life? Jesus gives us the answer as He speaks to Peter. He is tender but truthful to a disciple who has got it all wrong.

Jesus is not afraid to compliment Peter v.17. Jesus is always spending time with the disciples. He asks them questions. He gives them challenges. He is always seeking to build them and expand them so that they understand what God’s plan is. And when they get it, He commends them. Peter must have felt good when Jesus complimented him in front of the others disciples. Jesus built up the disciples and showed them that He cared. He earned the right to be truthful by being so tender.

Jesus must be honest, too v.22. Peter then makes a drastic error. He has assumed that if Jesus was the Messiah that the things that Jesus was saying could never happen. It was like putting your arm around a friend and saying “I doubt that you know what you are talking about”. Jesus sees the horrible unfolding of that logic. If unchecked, Peter and the others will think that anyone who serves the Lord will never face crisis or difficulty. When they all face persecution later in life, their faith may fail.

Jesus tenderly explains the truth v.26 Jesus doesn’t just correct Peter, He explains why Peter’s words were wrong. In a speech that they probably didn’t want to hear, Jesus taught them what it really meant to be the followers of the Messiah. The rewards will come in the end, but they will face hardship at first that will test the limits of their faith. A true friend doesn’t just tell someone that they are wrong but encourages them with the right answer so they know why their answer was wrong.

When you correct someone, examine your motives. We all know people who like to point out everyone else’s faults. As we see a flaw out of control in another’s life, we must be truthful for the sole purpose of saving that person from the firestorm that will come and destroy them. We must love them enough that we want to save them from the affair, from the drugs, or from their workaholic tendencies. The truth is always to lift them up not tear them down. The truth is to build them up so that they can be better not bring them down so that you look good.

Just have the courage to care. The other extreme is one of silence. When someone is wrong, it is easy to walk away and say nothing. You never know how they will react to being told that they are wrong. Jesus shows what real love is. He has built the relationship so that the disciples know His honesty is based on love. He explains why their views will hurt them and helps them understand the truth. That is not always easy, but it is what a friend does for you. It is a gift of love when you have the courage to care enough to say something. Having examined your motives, tell the person in love what the truth is and you will give them a great gift that they may cherish all their lives.


Connecting In Christ: Loving Flawed People

Focus Passage: John 8:1-11

The sun was low in the sky on this day after the Feast of Tabernacles. The pilgrims were ready to start home, but many had crowded around Jesus to hear him one last time before they left. Pushing through the crowd, a group of Pharisees brought a woman half dressed and forced her to stand before the crowd. With anger in their eyes, they practically spit out the charge, ‘we have caught this woman in adultery – Jesus, what do you say should happen to her?” His words disarmed them. “You who are without sin, cast the first stone.’ His response serves as an example of how we are to deal with the flawed people that surround us in life.

It is so easy to focus on another’s flaws. What would it have been like to be part of the crowd that day? The accusation was clear, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.” V.4 The woman never argued that she was innocent. Her clothes and appearance probably made everyone know she was guilty. Have her stoned to death. She is guilty and deserves the right penalty. Why is it that we cheer when someone else if found guilty?

It is so easy to feel self-righteous. The Pharisees know what should be done, “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?" (v.5) They want Jesus to make the pronouncement so that they can feel smug. Yet, what happens when we are the one who is less than perfect. We get caught in a lie. We overextend our credit cards and are deep in debt. We all have deep secrets. Maybe that is why we are glad when the spotlight gets turned onto the problems and sins of others. In the shadows, we can look a little more perfect.

Jesus’ pause makes us feel uneasy. I find myself wondering what Jesus wrote in the dust. Was it the sins of those who were accusing – as God he would have known who was naughty and who was nice better than Santa Claus. When he does speak, he tells them "If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." (v.7) As I read the story, I find myself squirming. Just at the time that we think we are safe, our flaws are exposed. Yet, the perfect Jesus reaches out and surprises us all.

Jesus surprises us with grace. It must have been awkward to stand before Jesus as wrote in the sand. His words – “then neither do I condemn you” (v.11) must have been a surprise.  Having her sin laid raw before Jesus and having been humiliated before the crowd, Jesus forgives her and gives her back her dignity and her self-worth. She is forgiven under the cross of Jesus. Seek out the forgiveness of the cross. Only the cross has the ability to heal the flaws that we all have.

Before he lets her leave, Jesus gives her a word of encouragement and a direction. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (v.11)  He is saying that now that I have begun to unwrap you of your sin, do not go and get tangled again. For Jesus, it was not enough to just forgive her of her sin, he wanted to pull her out of the sin. To give her forgiveness only to have her go back to the same sin doesn’t rescue her. The forgiveness must be given as a chance at a new life. It must be the same for us. Jesus’ command to the woman sums up the mission. Free people by the forgiveness of Jesus from their sin and love them enough to help them sin no more.