Benevolent

Ezekiel 23: 30

And I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.

Perhaps you have heard this verse before. It is usually taught as a lament that God could find no one to pray for the land. There were no faithful people anywhere; no one who was willing to dedicate themselves to prayer. There is another aspect to this verse worth considering for there is another player involved, i.e. Yahweh Himself.

What was going on in God’s heart here? Take a moment and consider. Did God wish to destroy the land? Answer: no. He explicitly did not, which is why He went in search of a man to pray. There is consequence to sin. Sin destroys. However, God’s intent is never for destruction. His desire is to build, to create.

Compassion was ruling in God’s heart. The people of the land had nurtured a destructive pattern. They had sown the seeds of their own destruction, yet God was searching for a way to save them from themselves. His remedy was to seek out someone who would agree with Him in prayer for the salvation of the land. He wanted to intervene so as to interrupt the natural consequences of the people’s actions. Their seed was about to produce a crop so God hastened to arrest the process before that crop could manifest. However, to His chagrin, He could find no one willing to stand for the land and pray.

What I am attempting to point out is that God’s heart was operating in compassion rather than destruction. Some people read this verse and see a destructive, angry God. They could not be more wrong. Their hearts are tainted. The situation is that God was trying to prevent the destruction that was on its way. He is a loving, caring God who intercedes in our lives to prevent unwanted consequences. He encounters an issue to this day as He did at the writing of this verse. He can’t find anyone who will pray. We’re so obsessed with the bad things in life that we fail to listen to the voice which is attempting to lead us from the path of destruction or is importuning us to pray for someone else.

Let’s not be the people of this verse. Let’s see if we can learn from it. Let us turn our hearts and ears to the benevolent God of the Bible and follow where He leads. He is leading us beside still waters where we can commune with Him and receive His instruction. Expect God to be good because He always is, and He is looking for some partners who will help Him usher His goodness into the environment.

Haters Hate

John 15: 18 – 19

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

It can be pretty confusing and disheartening when someone dislikes you or treats you badly when you have never done anything to them. And here is the bad news. The more godly you become, the more they will hate you. But take heart. They hated Jesus first and more so. You are in very good company.

I have great compassion for you because I know how it feels but the one who is greater has even more understanding and compassion. He has been through an even worse experience, so he is completely able to comfort you. The world hates you because you love him. In fact, we might ask ourselves what is wrong if the world does not hate us.

This is very difficult to handle at first. It is not fair. But once you understand what is going on, you begin to find it more tolerable and you actually begin to have compassion for those who persecute you. You will increasingly see them through your Father’s eyes and you will see that it is just their own brokenness that is causing them to malign you. Soon, very soon even, you will find their lies and criticisms do not touch you. You know the one who is the truth and that really is enough to comfort you. Take heart my beloved. You are in the best possible company and the master is well able to take care of you.

Anger to Compassion

Psalm 56: 7

They don’t deserve to get away with this! Look at their wickedness, their injustice, Lord. In your fierce anger cast them down to defeat.

This verse stands alone well enough but take in consideration the previous two days’ verses because all three of these have been from Psalm 56. David said that people attacked him, plotted against him and twisted his words against him, hounded him, slandered him and sought his life. He had it pretty rough and surely, he was angry and wanted vengeance. He wanted God to punish them for what they did to him. I’ve been angry like that before too and I’ll wager you’ve been in a similar situation at some time in your life. Sometimes you just want God to pay them for what they’ve done, you want them to get what they deserve. Oh, but God has introduced us to a new way of life. It is a life full of God’s compassion and forgiveness.

David wanted God to make those people suffer for all the wrongs they did to him. We know David knew God personally so he would have known God is compassionate and eager to forgive. David’s songs reflect his own experience with God’s unending mercy. Why, then, would David pray for an angry out lash from God?

There is some basis for David’s prayer. In Chronicles God warned, “Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm,” (1 Chronicles 16: 22). David probably meets the requirements of each of those offices, and he was the king designate, anointed by Samuel. David respected the office of king, prophet and those anointed by God. He wouldn’t harm Saul even though many would have thought him justified simply because Saul was the king who was appointed by God. David did want God to strike his enemies though. However, God doesn’t have to send a lightning bolt from heaven to strike those who touch his anointed. God’s warning was given as a protection measure just as you warned your children not to touch the hot burner on the stove. God’s anointing carries protection with it so that when someone harms the anointed, there is a backlash against the offender. God doesn’t have to unleash His anger. The anointing is potent enough.

David was angry and wanted God to strike those who harmed him, but he probably also knew that their own acts would betray them. Seeds of aggression always bite the aggressor. Always! Sometimes it appears they have gotten away with it, but it isn’t true. Those offensive acts, like a snake, turn and bite the hand of the wielder. That is why we should pray for these people. As much as we don’t want to, as surely as they don’t deserve it, they need God’s grace and mercy more than anyone. If they have harmed you, plotted against you or twisted your words, they have an axe of doom hanging over them, an axe of their own making, no doubt but a sharp, severing blade none the less. They have sown the seeds of their own demise. Pray for God’s great compassion to wrest them from their deserved harvest. Let your heart feel compassion for them because they are truly wretched, pitiful creatures. Pray that God’s forgiveness and mercy will save them.

God’s heart is not for punishment but for rather for saving grace. He doesn’t want to vent His anger. He wants to redeem. You are His beloved and anointed. Use your standing to save those who have brought the curse on their own head. They don’t deserve kindness and forgiveness but then, neither did we.

Tender Mercy

1 Samuel 16: 7             (NCV)

God does not see the same way people see. People look at the outside of a person, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

I just watched the movie Saving Mr. Banks. It is about Walt Disney’s trials and efforts in acquiring the rights to make the movie Mary Poppins. By all indications, the author of the Mary Poppins books was difficult and even unreasonable. Disney was committed to turning the Mary Poppins book into a movie. It took him 20 years of cajoling, negotiating, and pleasing Mrs. P.L. Travers in order for him to finally do so.

I said Travers was unreasonable. For example, she told Disney she was “off” the color red, so she didn’t want to see any red in the movie. Disney was pretty astounded explaining that the movie is set in London where phone boxes and mailboxes, are all red. He figured out that she was testing him but when confronted she, nonetheless, stuck to her position. It was a test. She was looking for an excuse to deny him the movie rights. Disney, who was very influential by this time, agreed to bar the color red from the movie. He did not berate her, did not point out that she was being unreasonable.

The real climax of the movie is when Walt Disney flew to England to have a cup of tea and a conversation with Travers. He spoke to her heart without judging her and without criticism. He shared part of his own story showing Travers compassion rather than condemnation. He asked for her trust but more than that, he earned it by being trustworthy, insightful and kind.

This movie moved me for a number or reasons but predominantly because I so admire the way Disney interacted with Travers. I know me well enough to realize that I would have failed her tests, and the Lord’s, tragically. Travers wanted someone to believe in. She wanted Disney to be who he made himself out to be, but her heart didn’t believe anyone could be who she needed him to be. In fact, she set Disney up to fail. Though she wanted to believe, she set stumbling blocks in front of him for 20 years trying to get him to reveal his true colors. It turned out, though, that the fruit on his tree was consistent with the words of his mouth. He was true to the pledge he gave her.

It would have been the easiest thing in the world, normal even, to have been very critical of Travers. It would have been tempting to try to bully her into a more cooperative attitude. You might even think Disney justified in taking issue with her and calling her on her unreasonable demands. Instead, he looked beyond the outer symptoms pondering what it was within her that made the process so challenging for her. He looked from her perspective rather than becoming judgmental. In the end, not only was the movie Mary Poppins made as Disney imagined it, but it turned out to be a source of emotional healing for Travers who went on to write five more Mary Poppins stories. It is hard to imagine a more difficult person than Travers. In the end, though, she and Disney made a movie which has brought joy to generations of movie goers and blessed their own hearts to boot.

The moral of the story is pretty clear. People have a tendency to judge others based on actions and words and that seems fair. We are to be fruit inspectors. There is a line between judging someone’s fruit and judging them. If you are asked to invest financially in someone’s project, wisdom dictates that you inspect the fruit on their tree. That is not to say that we should succumb to the temptation to judge them. We can decline their project without rejecting them. Only God truly knows what is in a person’s heart. All too often we assume we know and then we judge people as unworthy. If we follow Walt Disney’s example, we can tenderly engage others without getting embroiled in the chaos and dysfunction. We can choose to believe that there is a good person beneath the outlandish demands and negative outbursts. This is hard to do, no doubt, but I think if you watch this movie you will find that you are drawn to the way Walt Disney worked with Travers. Ultimately, he helped her and though the movie Mary Poppins is, and was, a towering success, what he did for Travers was an even greater accomplishment.

Page Two

Lamentations 3: 22 – 25

The Lord’s lovingkindesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.

I didn’t want to leave you with the woe of Israel. Some of you remember Paul Harvey and his radio broadcasts. He used to say, “Page Two” as he moved on with his story telling. There is often a page two in life. As you see in these verses, Jeremiah knows, and tells, “the rest of the story.” He knows from where salvation comes. And let us not only think of salvation as the divider between heaven and hell. God wishes to save us from every unfavorable situation. In these verses, God’s saving grace is exposed and proclaimed.

There is trouble in life. Jesus told us that. Read David’s psalms and it becomes clear. Of course, there is an entire book of lamentations. However, at the end of the day, at the end of the book, behind every worry there is the faithfulness of God. He is always there to scoop us up and carry us away from the turmoil and tribulation. He is our shield and our fortress. We really can hide in Him while the world spins away.

In the Old Testament, specifically the Psalms, we read about our Father as the stronghold, the fortress, our refuge. These are all places into which a person can retreat and find security. In the New Testament, Jesus calls this being “in Him.” In Christ and in the Father, is fullness of compassion and hope. We have a promise here in Lamentations that God shows His goodness to those who wait for Him, to those who seek Him. So, the way I hear this is that God has little choice. I have power in this situation. If I seek Him, if I wait for Him, He will pour out His good upon me. I mean, the formula is already there, just plug in the variable over which you have control and it has to produce its equivalent counter-part which is the goodness of God.

Our father waits on high to pour His goodness out upon us. He longs to show us His tender mercies and benevolence. He is so overflowing with lovingkindness that it is without end or limitation. Each day He begins with goodness to give to us. So, though there is trouble in the world, there is goodness, salvation and kindness is our Father. We do not have to reside in the trouble, we can choose to move into God’s loving nature.

Let Him pour Himself out to you. He is without end. Everything you need or want in this hour is in Him. Seek His face, even right now in this moment. Let Him hear your voice and let Him be a loving Father.

Compassionate Grace

Exodus 34: 6 – 7

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.

How often have you heard about the angry, vengeful God of the Old Testament? Well, here He is full of compassion, grace, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. You know, we’ve got to be careful about what we listen to. Show me the scriptures! Give me evidence! When we actually look at the Old Testament, especially in its entirety, we find a God who was long on patience and whose actions were characterized by lovingkindness.

God is love and He so loved all of us that He sent His only begotten son to the cross for us. No one sends there only son to suffer and die for people He doesn’t love. He gave everything precious to Him so that we could be saved. Is that evidence of a vengeful God. And think about it this way . . . didn’t Jesus come to earth, suffer and die in the Old Testament? The new dispensation and the new covenant could not be ushered in until Jesus went to the cross, died and arose so all that we celebrate in the Christian faith about resurrection, salvation and the new birth is based on the Old Covenant love of God.

Yahweh has always been a full of compassion and lovingkindness. When Moses hid himself so that God could pass before him, what he saw and reported was that this God was full of graciousness, truth and compassion. We learn that God was and is slow to anger. How can we justifiably describe Him as angry when He is slow to anger? Does that make any sense at all?

The truth is that God is as He always was. He has not changed. His love for us has always motivated His actions. The fact that He did not send a lightning storm and strike down the grumbling, complaining Israelites in the desert is proof enough of His long suffering. Not one among us is as patient or as slow to anger as our Divine Father and yet we accuse Him of being impatient and merciless. It is just not true. We’ve been lied to but now we know.

Never be afraid of your heavenly Father. Never fear seeking counsel and communion with Him. He is gentle and kind. In fact, He is the most gentle being that has ever inhabited this universe. His compassion knows no boundaries. I love Jesus and I know you do too but we must remember that Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father. Jesus is the way. The way to what? To the Father. Jesus’ mission was to bring us back into relationship with the Father when we, like the prodigal son, sinned against Him and went astray. All the while, the Father was awaiting us, His eyes searching the horizon, a gold ring and new robe in Hands readied to drape us in the family colors and crest. He is the one who was deprived yet He longingly awaited our return, every day searching the road in the anticipation of our appearance. He never lost faith. He put the sacrificial lamb on the alter so that we would be able to approach Him with a clean conscience. This is the act of love, not anger.

The God of the Old Testament is a loving God, full of grace and mercy, abounding in compassionate concern.

Kindly

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Let’s not leave this kindness topic just yet. In fact, for those of you who do word studies, look this one up on BibleGateway.com (There is also a link to Bible Gateway on my website). You will be impressed at how many times God brings this up.

Today’s verse gives us a little better insight into what kindness looks like in application. The first is so obvious that we sometimes miss it. Kindness is Christ. As we read the scriptures and watch his interactions with the world we begin to see what a sanctified life really looks like. Jesus was moved by compassion. That means that he did something. He was moved to do something. Also, though, let us not lose sight of the fact that he felt compassionately. What does that mean but that he allowed his heart to feel something for someone else’s situation. Of course, we know that love is not selfish but when I think of Jesus experiencing emotions based on a life not his own it makes me think how I should be less absorbed with how I feel about my world. It also highlights for me that Jesus was a person of emotion rather than one of a stoic stiff upper lip. We should feel and those emotions should not be spent only on our own stuff.

Secondly, God wants us to be tender-hearted. What? Does He not realize we are western, rugged individualists? What is He thinking? I remember a commercial from many years ago were the announcer declared that something was “rough and tough like alligator bags.” I was young and was influenced by that slogan. I thought we were all supposed to be rough and tough. I have worked on it for many years now and believe I have developed proficiency in this only to find that Abba, Father wants me to be tender-hearted! What a kick in the teeth. Don’t you feel like you open yourself up to being hurt if you go through life tender-hearted? Well, I certainly did but I am learning a new reality, a reality born of the Kingdom of God rather than of the world. It turns out that when we live in the Spirit, walking hand in hand with him, he cares for our hearts. We can be tender because he has our hearts in his hands. Who knew?

Kindness is important to God. If it is important to Him then it stands to reason that it should be important to us as well. Is it? Have we ever prayed asking Him to teach us and lead us in kindness? Most of us need that kind of help. There are some of you who are just nice but the rest of us need direction. We can no longer be self-centered and achieve a kind heart because kindness requires us to think of other people’s needs and comfort. This is an area that we really must proactively pursue with God. It may not always be easy but it is the way of God’s heart.