All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved...so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us.... -- from Ephesians 2:1-9
My youngest son, who is in kindergarten, is getting reading to celebrate his birthday soon. He would like to invite everyone in his class to his party, except one child. This child, whom I will call Tommy, is mean-spirited, and a bit of a bully. I was tempted to let my child not invite Tommy to the party. After all, Tommy has threatened to harm my child. He and my son are sort of enemies.
However, I woke up very early this morning (3 a.m!) thinking of a devotional I had read the night before. I had read, "When you stop and consider all the ways there are for people to go wrong, it's a wonder any of them go right. Yet what young people seek is no different than what any of us seeks. They want to know that they belong, that they matter to someone, that they are loved.... What they need to know is that they are children of God. They do belong. They do matter. They are loved.... Lord, help us see the young people with your eyes and love them with your heart. Amen." (God Pause, for March 11, by Joel Wudel, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary).
I had just written a post yesterday, too, that reflected a bit on loving one's enemies. In it, I wrote that the kind of people I find most difficult are those who exclude others from the Kingdom of God. Yet, what was I about to teach my child? That it's okay to exclude people, especially if they are mean. Thank you, God, for the wake-up call!
Why did Jesus say, "Love your enemies"? I think it is because only love breaks down hate. Love alone has the power to make enemies into friends.
God loves us despite the fact that we sometimes do bad things, and that we sometimes act against him. I know I often go wrong. My own behavior is not always so good. Yet God continues to love me. God offers me love continuously. He does not withhold his love until I say I am sorry. He forgives me already. He gives his love freely, so that he may be glorified and worshiped. And, "so that none may boast."
God doesn't exclude anyone from this love. We alone keep ourselves from God. We distance ourselves from God when we doubt his loving presence in our lives, when we let our fears of the unknown sway us, when we think only of our own desires, or when we think we don't need God. Nothing physical keeps us from God's grace. The only barriers to God's grace are in our minds.
God gives us the freedom to deny him or to choose him. He gives us the freedom to deny love or to choose love. And he longs for us to make the right choice. God is steadfast in his love, even when we are not. He waits patiently with love and longing because he wants us to know what true love is all about. He wants us to know the "immeasurable riches of his grace."
Dear God, thank you for these insights into your grace -- I am humbled. And thank you for waking me up early enough so that I would have time to think things through before the children wake up, and for arranging a way for me to take a nice long nap in the middle of the day! Love always, Pam.