Lions relaxing in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A little love goes a long way

All this week, I’ve been focusing on friends, but what about the people in your life who aren’t your friends? What about those folks you have to spend time with who don’t like you? If you spend any time in the Psalms, you will realize that David talked a lot about people who hated him. He mourned how many enemies he had. And (just being honest), sometimes I wonder if the Psalms are always applicable to me because I don’t really have enemies.

I was looking for this one clip off of my new favorite television show, BBC’s Sherlock, where John Watson and Sherlock Holmes are talking about arch-enemies, but I couldn’t find it. Watson points out that people don’t have arch-enemies in real life. They have friends. They have people they like, people they don’t like, etc. And that’s how I feel about enemies mostly, at least when it comes to flesh and blood humans.

And I’m positive that there are people in my life who don’t like me. There have to be. I just choose not to think about them, because I’m such a people pleaser that if I start focusing on the people who don’t like me, I’m going to lose my mind. And I won’t be very useful to the people who do like me. But as nice as it would be, you can’t avoid people who dislike you forever. And even though it would be great to be the kind of person who everyone likes unconditionally, life doesn’t work that way. And if you’re going to stand for anything that matters, people will dislike you. Eventually, you’ll stumble across someone who is diametrically opposed to everything you believe in, maybe passively, maybe aggressively.

So how do you handle people like that?

Lions relaxing in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Lions relaxing in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 12:17-21.

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

This is a difficult one to keep to. It’s so much easier to reciprocate when someone hurts you. It’s natural to want to hurt them back. And, of course, sometimes reciprocation is necessary. Sometimes for justice’s sake, people need to pay for what they’ve done. But that’s a legal issue. That’s a law issue. And I’m not a law enforcement officer. I’m not involved in legal matters in any way. And I don’t have the right to dole out punishments to people around me.

So what do I do when someone turns against me? How do I treat them when they purposefully set out to hurt me or hinder me or discourage me? I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have few influences like this. Most everyone I’ve met has always been an encourager, but there have been times when people I thought were friends turned against me. And, yes, my first response is to strike back, to make them feel what I feel. But that’s not how we’re supposed to respond.

We are to respond to the negative influences in our lives with love. If they hurt us, we love them in return. If they hate us, we love them in return. If they seek to destroy us, we love them in return. See the pattern? And I’m not talking about the fake smiles that hide the sneers behind people’s backs. Showing “love” to someone with the only intention of hurting them in the end isn’t love, and that’s not what this verse is talking about. When we’re supposed to respond in love, it means real love. It means the kind of love that only God can help us show.

And it doesn’t matter what they do to us. It says never return evil for evil. Not sometimes it’s okay. Not usually. Never. Never seek revenge. Never take matters into your own hands. That’s not your job. That’s God’s business. It’s our responsibility to live the way we’re supposed to, and God will take care of the rest.

But it’s not easy, especially when we have so many means at our disposal to hurt each other. That’s why we need God’s help. We need Him to move in our hearts and help us love the unlovable in a real way. One of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives us is love, and not just love for those who believe the way we do but love for everyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. That’s the love we need to ask for. That’s the love we need to show the world, because it’s that kind of love that makes us different.

So when you run into someone who doesn’t like you today, remember to show them love. Granted, don’t go out of your way to track them down and shower them with compliments. I mean, you can if you want, but that might make the situation worse. But if you can’t avoid them, if you have to see them, be kind to them when they are cruel. Thank them for their help when they treat you like dirt. Encourage them when they discourage you. It’s not easy, but God will help you do it. And who knows what might happen? You never know how God can work in someone else’s heart. Maybe all it will take is a little love.

Otter playing in the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Choosing to love when you won’t be loved back

When somebody does something mean to me, my first inclination is to do something mean back. I tend to hold to the Golden Rule. I treat other people the way I want to be treated, but there’s a part of me that wants to treat other people the way they treat me. I want people to understand that there are consequences for their actions. If somebody hurts me, I want them to hurt too. Not out of a malicious spirit necessarily (unless we’re talking about bad drivers, and then I just get mad) but because I want them to understand that actions have consequences, which is a lesson our world doesn’t seem to teach anymore.

But whose job is it to teach that lesson? It’s certainly not my job. I’m not responsible for someone else’s behavior. And if I weigh myself down focusing on how other people treat me, I’m going to lose focus of the things in my life that actually are my responsibility.

Otter playing in the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Otter playing in the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:38-41.

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.”

This set of verses is still from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus is talking about the way His followers should live. It started with the Beatitudes, which were (and still are) a revolutionary approach to living. What was so shocking about these statements that Jesus made was that in the past it was just the actions that caused the issue. There was only a problem if you did something, but what Christ is saying is that even if you think it, it’s as good as doing it. Because what you think affects what you do.

Likewise, He goes on to say that revenge isn’t something that we need to pursue. If somebody hurts us, we shouldn’t hurt them back. You’ve heard the old saying about turning the other cheek? Well, this verse is where that comes from.

True, some people take this to extremes. And I’m not one of those ones who believes that we shouldn’t go to war if we’re attacked. Nation versus nation is a very different concept than person versus person, and this statement is talking about our relationships with each other. So I don’t see that this applies to a government standpoint. Government as an entity has a different set of things to focus on. But I’m not involved in the government. I’m just me. Just a regular person and what I’m supposed to focus on in my life is my relationship with God and my relationship with people.

And that means when some one does me wrong that I’m not to reciprocate. I’m to love them. When someone hurts me, I’m supposed to do something kind for them. When someone steals from me, I’m supposed to give more to them. When someone takes advantage of me, I’m supposed to apply myself cheerfully.

Granted, I think we need to communicate. I think we need to make sure they know they’ve hurt us or that they know what they’re doing is wrong, but then we need to communicate why we’re showing them kindness when they deserve to be shown something else. Otherwise they won’t understand. People who don’t follow Christ don’t understand love. Half the time, people who do follow Christ don’t understand it either. But that’s the point here.

Loving people. It all comes back to that. If you want to know what matters to God, that’s one theme that is repeated over and over and over throughout Scripture. Love people. Love people. Love people. And let God take care of everything else.

We aren’t going to prove to the world that we’re different by how many Bible verses we know or how much money we give to the church or how well-behaved our children are. None of that matters to them. What will show them that we are different is when we love them when they don’t love us back. That kind of love takes a power greater than all of us, and that’s the kind of love that God gives us when we choose to follow Christ.

So if you’re walking into a circumstance today where you know you’re going to be hurt or you know someone is going to take advantage of you, be honest about it. Don’t lie to yourself about it. See, that’s my tendency. I live in denial half the time because I don’t like conflict and it’s easier for me to shrink away from it than to face it. But denying circumstances doesn’t do anyone any good. Be honest. If someone is treating you wrong, recognize it. And make a conscious effort to treat them kindly in return. And when people ask you why (and they will), tell them. You’re choosing to love people who don’t love you because that’s what Christ said to do. And that will make more difference than you know, not only to the people who are watching but also in your own heart.

Pile of pine cones at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Love mercy

When someone wrongs you, how do you respond? Do you get angry at them? Do you hold a grudge? Do you respond in kind? After all, if they’ve been mean to you, it’s only logical that you should be mean back, right? An eye for an eye?

Well, that’s not what we’re supposed to do. It feels right to reciprocate when someone does wrong to us, but it’s not the way we’re supposed to live. And it’s not what God expects from us.

Pile of pine cones at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Pile of pine cones at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Micah 6:8.

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Yesterday we talked about doing what is right, and today we’re going to talk about what it means to love mercy. I would love to tell you that I have this figured out, but I don’t. Actually I struggle with this one a lot. Because I don’t have a problem loving people who are kind to me. It’s loving buttheads that comes hard.

If someone is unreasonable with me, I tend to think they’re just being difficult because they can. If someone is rude to me, I tend to think they’re stuck up and snobbish. If someone acts hateful or treats me like a lesser life form, I tend to treat them the same way. But that’s not what loving mercy is about.

Mercy is withholding just punishment. It means you don’t get what you deserve. The best example is what Christ did for us on the cross. He died a brutal, savage death in our place–in my place. I deserve to go to hell, but because Christ loved me and gave Himself for me, I don’t have to. That’s mercy. That’s God not giving me what I deserve.

God loves mercy. And God expects us to love mercy too.

God gives us mercy every day. I mean, unless you’re perfect all the time, you need mercy every hour. I do. Maybe you’re a better person than I am, but I think things I’m not supposed to. I think hurtful things. I think dangerous things. I say mean things. And each one of those expressions of discontent or attitude or pride demonstrate that I love making myself feel better more than mercy.

If loved mercy like I was supposed to, I would jump at the opportunity to forgive someone for how they hurt me. Loving mercy is being kind especially to the people who don’t deserve our kindness. And I’m not talking about running out your door and finding someone who you barely know and looking for ways to be kind to them. You can do that if you want, but I’m willing to bet that there’s someone in your life–someone you already know–who could use some mercy.

People are people everywhere. I know a couple of people who drive me insane. I just want to throttle them half the time, and the other half of the time I usually just try to ignore them. But neither response is very merciful.

And please don’t misunderstand. There’s also a verse in scripture about throwing pearls before swine. You don’t want to waste your time and effort investing in someone who is just going to turn around and attack you. But whether they attack you or not, whether they waste your time or not, you can still be kind in your dealings with them. And that’s what it means to love mercy.

So that’s my goal today. I want to love mercy. I want to focus on being kind to people around me, especially if they don’t deserve kindness. I want to look for opportunities to extend mercy to people around me, and then I want to be brave enough to tell them why. Because if you’re just being kind to people without them understanding why, what’s the point? But if they can wrap their head around the fact that you are choosing mercy over how the world says to live because you believe in Christ, you never know how that might change someone else.

Focus on what matters. Love mercy.

Revenge!

I am a super overly protective friend. I also tend to be an overprotective sister and daughter. I just don’t do well at handling people who either hurt the people I love or say things about them that are hurtful. And many times, in seeking to protect the people I love, I have caused more problems than I have solved, generally because I go about it the wrong way.

Revenge is one of the most romanticized concepts in our culture. Taking vengeance for someone you love. Payback against the unfeeling machine of commercialism or the corporate world. It’s in almost every movie, exalted high on a pedastal that it should be the ultimate goal in any relationship, to hurt the ones who hurt you or to hurt the people who have hurt people you love.

It’s my first instinct to jump up and defend my loved ones immediately, regardless of what they have done or said that might have been hurtful. And when someone hurts someone I love, it’s my first response to jump in and hurt that person back. I mean, after all, there are a lot of ways to take revenge on people in today’s world. You don’t actually have to hurt anyone physically. There’s a marvelous little thing called Facebook with which you can verbally tear down someone’s reputation, especially if you have a gift with words.

But every time I am tempted to go after someone for hurting somebody I love, I usually get this nagging feeling in the back of my brain. Because it’s not my place.

And this is the verse God always uses to cool my overprotective temper off: 

Hebrews 10:30-31

30For we know the one who said, “I will take revenge. I will pay them back.” He also said, “The Lord will judge his own people.” 31 It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Okay.

I’m sorry, but this is a terrifying verse.

It’s one thing to fear retribution from another person. But to be on the receiving end of retribution directly from God? Think about that.

What could I do to a person who has hurt me or someone I love? I could say mean things about them. I could lead a campaign to convince others to believe lies about them. I could hurt them physically. I could end his or her life. (I’m totally speaking metaphorically, you realize. The thought of me doing anything harmful to some other person is kind of laughable actually, no matter what they’ve done, seeing that I can’t even point fingers at people who deserve it most of the time.)

 But what could God do to someone? Gosh. I don’t even want to think about it.

Now I know someone would say that God is a God of love and He would never take revenge on anyone. Well, that’s true. God is absolute love. But the thing about Someone Who is absolute is that we who are not absolute can’t understand Someone Who is. God is also absolute wrath.

And, honestly, I don’t think that God has taken revenge yet. He will. We just won’t be here to see it.

But there’s a specific part of this verse I want to focus on.

“The Lord will judge His own people.”

Again. Terrifying. This isn’t talking to people who don’t believe. His people is us, those of us who believe in Christ and follow Him. Now is this verse saying that God will judge us and punish us and send us to hell?

No. If you believe in Christ, there is nothing you can do that will cause God to turn His back on you. But even God’s children do things that are wrong and need to be punished. And it’s up to God to judge for Himself.

The Amplified Version says, “The Lord will judge and determine and solve and settle the cause and the cases of His people.”

For those of us who are believers, God is watching us. God is paying attention to how we live our lives and how we treat others, and if we step out of line, you can know that He will judge how you are living and set you straight. Not in an eternal damnation sort of way, of course. We are already saved from that. But He may let you go through some things in your life to help you get your head on straight.

And for anyone who has been mistreated by a fellow Christian, you can believe that the God who is just is watching and won’t let His children get away with behavior that is unsuitable.

In either case, though, it isn’t our job to set things right. It’s not my job to jump in between God and one of His children to try to settle a problem in my own meager way. It’s not my job to jump between God and someone who needs to be chastized for their behavior. That’s neither my responsibility nor my right. How can I correct someone else when I’m just as guilty as they are?

In most circumstances, when someone hurts me or hurts someone I love, it is my job to sit back and pray and forgive that person and let God take care of it.