Drinking from a fire hose
Luke 6: Our Father is kind; you be kind.
Reading the Sermon on the Mount is like trying to get a drink from a fire hose. It’s not like the parables in which there’s a story followed by the lesson. Instead, there’s one wonderful, challenging, powerful concept after another. As I try to write a devotional for each chapter of the New Testament the challenge is not finding something to write about. Rather, it’s trying to dip into the huge stream of material and grab just one concept out of all the concepts and get my mind and heart around it. Right now I’m focusing in on how our Lord says we’re to relate to our enemies. I can’t help but note that Jesus doesn’t talk about how we’re to respond “if” we have enemies. He apparently takes it for granted that some folks aren’t going to like us and some will go so far as to wish us harm. What am I to do about such people? First, Jesus says, I’m to pray for them (“respond with the energies of prayer”). Second, I’m to return good for evil (“practice the servant life”). Third, I’m to have genuine love for them (“love your enemies”). Fourth, I’m to go easy on them (“be easy on people”). Fifth, I’m to realize I’m not so wonderful myself (“wipe that ugly sneer off your own face”). The key to my relationship to my enemy, according to Jesus is “kindness.” The measure of that kindness is the kindness our Father shows to us. “Oh Lord, let me live a life that reflects your kindness to me, even when I deal with people who aren’t very kind to me.”
Take Away: The Lord is quite interested in how we treat people who don’t treat us well.
Have you ever had anyone kick up dirt in your life?
2 Samuel 16: Shimei followed along on the edge of the hill alongside, cursing, throwing stones down on them, and kicking up dirt.
As David flees his son Absalom he encounters various people. Some come to help and offer to join him; others come to cheer his seeming defeat. Shimei can be included in the second group. He’s somehow related to Saul and this is his chance to let David know just how he feels about him. In his eyes, David stole the throne from Saul and is at fault for his death. It’s probably a bigger deal that. Had Saul’s family retained the throne Shimei would have some prime position in government. Whatever the reason, he comes to taunt David and his companions as they leave Jerusalem. One of David’s men offers to go up and lop off Shimei’s head but David forbids it. This guy is really nothing, just hot air and noise. After all, his own son is out to kill him! The fact that one of his enemies cheers that almost makes sense. Wouldn’t it would be nice if no one ever “kicked up dirt” in our lives and if everyone treated us with gentleness and respect. But that isn’t going to happen. Like David, we have to decide that not everyone’s going to like us and some people are going to be happy when things aren’t going our way. We can’t run around beheading all those who are pleased that we’re having problems. Instead, we’d better focus on being a people of God, doing his will and remaining victorious through the trial and leave such small potatoes matters alone.
Take Away: Don’t worry too much about people who oppose you – just focus on that which really matters, leaving their opposition in the hands of God.
Close encounters of the Third Kind
1 Samuel 24: There was a cave there and Saul went in to relieve himself.
I know this isn’t the most inspiring statement in this story, but it is attention getting. David and his men have retreated to En Gedi, an area with lots of good places in which to hide. Saul has received a tip concerning David’s location, so he and his army are working through the region, searching for David. Saul knows he’s closing in on David, but has no idea of how close he actually is. Then, as happens at inopportune times, nature calls. There are no rest stops in the area, so Saul picks a convenient cave for privacy, dismisses his aids, and enters by himself, never guessing that David and his men (likely a patrol and not the whole 600) are hidden farther back in the cave. Talk about catching a man with his pants down! At this point it will be very easy for David to strike Saul down. His men see this as a golden opportunity to kill Saul, but David sees it as a chance to show mercy and to prove his respect for the person God placed at the head of the nation of Israel. David cuts off a piece of Saul’s laid aside robe. Then, as Saul rejoins his troops, David appears at the mouth of the cave Saul has just departed. The fringe of the robe proves that David has spared Saul’s life and, temporarily at least, Saul’s heart melts. Centuries later one of David’s descendants will declare the principle that directed David’s action that day. He said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Before the Sermon on the Mount was ever preached David illustrated it at the cave in En Gedi.
Take Away: Don’t the right thing sometimes means we let a golden opportunity to force the issue pass by.