As you ponder this week's lesson, I have two stories to share with you. I pray that they will both challenge and inspire you to let the Gospel go deeper into your heart and life. The first story is personal and unquestionably convicting. The second could be seen as a corporate wake up call for us to let the Gospel change the way we as a group interact and work within the world around us. Both are about vision and action: seeing ourselves and the world through God's eyes and loving the world and ourselves the way that God does. That is what living the Gospel is all about.
If you were a spider on the wall that day you would have seen two people reading and having devotions. Each was in their own chair. Both reading something different and spending time alone, yet together. Nothing exciting. Without the context, there would be no reason to look further; go back to catching bugs. Yet, with the context, the fact they were having devotions was remarkable and about to become supernatural. God was about to break into that time and space. Context and experience change realities.
As I sat there reading, all of a sudden, my wife, Penny, lifted her head and said something amazing, "we should pray for Susan Smith." That was it. She looked at me as the words left her mouth, and entered my ear canals. My ear drums took the message in, and miraculously translated the sound waves into intelligible thought. Yet, in the next milliseconds as my mind tried to comprehend her words, I failed to grasp what she could possibly mean. Within moments my face registered my absolute confusion, even anger. Pray for Susan Smith? Are you OUT OF YOUR MIND?!?
My wife, who was still waking up some nights crying out for our babies who were stone cold dead and buried in Michigan, wanted to pray for Susan Smith? Susan Smith: the woman who strapped her children into her car, pushed it into a lake, stood and watched it go under, waited for the bubbles to stop breaking the surface of the water, and then called to report the car as missing. Susan Smith, a child murderer, pray for her? I will not tell you the thoughts that I was having in that moment. What could my wife want to pray about for Susan Smith? She and I were still reeling from our recent loss. We were only just beginning to function again and try to see God's love in the midst of our devastation. We had buried our children, she had killed hers.
Penny continued, "we need to pray for Susan Smith because she must have been hurting really badly to have thought that was the best choice she had to love her children." What??? Who was this talking to me? What could she, my precious, broken wife mean? In that moment, my wife was speaking for the heart of God. Because of something God was doing in her heart, she was responding to His amazing love and she was seeing the best in another. Penny's eyes discerned a desperate mother, hurting and trapped, with no more options, and my wife wanted to pray for Susan Smith's aching heart. Wow! That is God's love for the world. Let's listen to what Sister White has to say about God's abounding love.
"Theme for the most profound meditation! The matchless love of God for a world that did not love Him! The thought has a subduing power upon the soul and brings the mind into captivity to the will of God. The more we study the divine character in the light of the cross, the more we see mercy, tenderness, and forgiveness blended with equity and justice and the more clearly we discern innumerable evidences of a love that is infinite and a tender pity surpassing a mother's yearning sympathy for her wayward child." Steps to Christ, page 14 (depending on pagination).
That day those words became a reality. By the grace of God, we were beginning to see the world differently around us. Not because of anything we had or could do, but because of God's amazing grace. God wants us to see the world through His eyes of love like that.
The second story is shorter. More of an illustration really. I heard about this ancient Jewish group activity while listening to the book, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg. Imagine a group of people who would meet together on a regular basis to talk about others. Not too hard to imagine is it? Could be a church gathering, a prayer meeting, friends gossiping about others outside of their current circle. Lots of groups talk about others, often in less than flattering ways. But this group was different, almost divinely so.
Imagine a group who would meet together to think of good and plausible reasons for why people do rude things. People gathering together to construct possible reasons for why that person cut you off in traffic: maybe he was racing to the hospital to see his child who is dying. Or, the boss who bit your head off: maybe his meds were a little off and he was barely coping that day. Or, the person who hung up on you: perhaps they just dropped a mug and it exploded into a hundred sharp shards on the floor so they had to go. Over and over, whatever rude action, no matter how intentional or personal that could be thought of, the group would work to find a good reason. Like positive peer pressure to always see the best in another, each working together to come to a place that they could almost never be offended and always look upon others with grace, mercy, and love. They were thinking of forgiveness as an attitude! Likening it to a teflon coated pan that won't let anything stick to you. What a group! Wouldn't you love to be around people loving and living like that? A group too busy loving and seeing the best in others to ever succumb to petty offenses trying to sidetrack them from love. A group loving like Jesus, seeing the best in the world, even forgiving them as they nailed him to the cross!
This is the kind of love that Jesus had. It's the kind of love that we need in the last days and every day. This love comes when we realize that all of us are in exactly the same condition. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. No one is better than another and whenever we serve another it is because of the love we have already received not something we are doing to receive love. As one author says, "we work from love, not for love." Living the gospel means experiencing it firsthand and then sharing it with all we meet for the rest of our lives.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.