Monday, October 05, 2009

mercy, my man and me: part 2

Welcome to part 2 of a proposed 3-part series (part 1 is here). I did change the name a *tiny* bit, since "men" is a little bit wide in scope -- really, I just have in mind one particular fantastic man. Who is a sinner :) Married to a sinner :)

Speaking of sinners being married to sinners, stay tuned for the next post for a FIRST-EVER GIVEAWAY on this blog! In the meantime, though, here are some fantastic words from Dave Harvey -- a summary of "God's Mercy and My Marriage," a talk by Dave Harvey at the 2009 Peacemaker Conference (download it for free from our website!).

It's nearly an hour long and I've triedtriedtried to summarize, but this is still going to be long.

Luke 6:27-36 is the text for this message.

One of the most common challenges in marriage: how do I respond when my marriage isn't going the way I expected. He's changed, she's drifted, and peace is a thing of the past. What does God expect of me now? I'm staring at a life of marriage to a habitual sinner and to one who has weaknesses to boot.

What does Luke 6 have to do with these questions?

Luke 6:27ff has mini-beattitudes from Jesus: "Love your enemies," "bless those who curse you," "pray for those who abuse you..." Dave keys in on this last one: "Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful" (v. 36).

Everything Jesus is saying is displayed in his life -- all these mercies have been embodied by God through Christ (love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you, etc). Because of his life and death and resurrection, we are now called and capable of living in the way that Jesus just described, and to be forgiven when we don't live that way.

This passage has extraordinary implications for our marriages, whether we are here fresh from our honeymoon or fresh from a conflict.

Looking at application through the two parts of that verse:

1. "Your heavenly Father is merciful." Mercy is a unique and exceptional word; it addresses how God relates to us as sinners. How God suffers for and with sinners. It describes his disposition of kindness, patience and forgiveness toward us despite the fact that we are fallen.

We can only understand the phrase "our Father is merciful" by looking at the cross -- the cross is what makes mercy real and applies it to us, defines what it means when Scripture says that God did not treat us as our sins deserve. The cross reveals a mercy so great that God paid the debt with his blood. Mercy has to do with how God deals with us in our sin: to those who are hostile, who opposed him, who were irrationally dedicated to their own way, who deserve the anger, opposition and judgment of God. He gave us his kindness.

Until we understand that, Luke 6 won't make sense. When we understand the mercy of God, then the call of Luke 6 begins to take form. Not just a call to a new morality ("Be kind, do good, be like Mr. Rogers or Mother Teresa.") It is a call to transformed lives by responding to sin in the same way that God responded to sin.

Do you know God as a God of mercy?

2. "Be Merciful."

Verse 36 calls us to reproduce this mercy, and it begins right where we live, with our spouses. What does it mean to "be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful, in marriage"?

Marriage is a place where two sinners are so close together that all of the masks and pretense come off -- that cleaving experience gives way to a comfort, which results in the dropping of guards, and soon our fallenness is on full display. Marriage then becomes a stage to display mercy -- a place where we see our spouse as God sees them, and we respond to them in their sinfulness in the same way that our Savior responds to us.

Without seeing our spouse through the cross, there is little hope. Mercy introduces ministry as a primary goal in marriage.

How I relate to others in their sin reveals my true grasp of the Gospel. This is where Luke 6 becomes such a powerful proclamation of the transforming power of Jesus: there is a way of responding to sin that sets us apart from the world and testifies to the authenticity of the Gospel in our hearts.

To help us come to grasp with this mercy, Christ isolates the "worst case scenario:" our enemies. And we are called to be merciful to the wicked -- by displaying the worse, Jesus covers everybody else in our lives, including our marriage.

Three Points on what it means to be merciful in marriage.

1. Mercy in Kindness.
How do you do when your spouse sins against you? Get angry, withdraw, retaliate, personalize -- "I spent years taking Kimm's sins personally, inserting myself into the center as if all sins were against me. I was reacting to her rather than caring for her if she was struggling with something."

God is "kind to sinners" -- the ungrateful and the evil (verse 35). How do you do when you engage an ungrateful spouse? Do you become a prosecuting attorney to show people how good they really have it?

Kindness is applied compassion in thought, word and deed. It's not just non-retaliation (but praise God if you've made that step!). Kindness is a disposition of love and care in the face of being sinned against: it's one thing to shut up, it's another thing to meet cutting words with kindness. It shows the power of the Gospel by meeting sinfulness with love.

God's kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans) ... it's not kindness after repentance, but leading us to repentance.

2. Mercy in Covering.

The cross gives us the special privilege of dealing with sins or hurts with the option of "forbearance." Forbearance is where you bring mercy into play by cutting someone free from the sins they have committed -- you bear it away, you forget it. It can happen without them knowing about it or acknowledging what they've done.

You're not ignoring that there's been sin, but you're choosing to overlook it. Love covers a multitude of sins.

Because Jesus paid the price for our sin, we don't need to exact justice from one another -- we cna cover it. The Gospel reminds us that because I did not get what I deserve, I'm not going to hold my spouse hostage to getting what she deserves. In other words, I will be merciful as my heavenly Father is merciful.

If we do need to address it/admonish/correct, we're not doing it for our satisfaction or punishment, but for reconciliation and ministry. When we detect mercy from a spouse, it tends to soften us and remove stumbling blocks to hearing truth. Mercy helps shape what we correct for and how we correct.

3. Mercy for weakness.

Mercy comes into play for frailty as well as fallenness -- the lights left on, the doors left open, the poor choices we make. Nobody's sinning, but we're not God, and our shortcomings cause difficulties for those around us.

Here he tells the story of the cell-phone that I mentioned yesterday. "A wife can play that in a way that makes a husband feel like a fool and feel condemned. Husbands have a habit of turning those moments into 'teaching moments.'"

But his wife instinctively helped him laugh, and it became a moment of ministry. Weaknesses are all around us, all the time, all day. Weaknesses can be significant and change can be slow and indiscernable. Without mercy for weakness, those things become the locus for small resentments and we find ourselves asking questions that we have no business asking -- "Lord, why did you give me her/him?"

Because of the cross, weakness becomes the place not for self-righteous ranting but for patient ministry from one sinner to the other. Mercy says to the other fallen person, "My love for you will not be conditional upon your change in this area of weakness." The Gospel reminds us that God sees beyond this temporal world and for all we know, that weakness in our spouse may be designed to build godliness in us.

It's a heart of mercy that stirs sympathy rather than self-righteousness as a response to mercy. We do unto others in their weakness as we would have them do to us in our weakness. Do you vote for patient help or for disapproval and withdrawing your affection?


If this thought of mercy/ministry in marriage is new to you, don't be condemned, but do realize: God has been patient with you.

Have you tried mercy in a difficult relationship and don't think it's produced the desired results? Are results the purpose of mercy? Ask a different question about the goal of mercy -- Luke 6:35 has a promise of reward, not results. Jesus doesn't promise to change our enemies. Instead, what he has in view for us is a loving relationship with our Father in heaven that will increasingly eclipse any hateful or hurtful actions toward us. You have been given mercy, and mercy is given to be shared.

"For those of us who can kiss a sinner good night despite being sinned against, marriage is sweet indeed."

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