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Grace for the Stiff-Necked Me

Yesterday was just the most idyllic day starting with a festive morning at church, followed by family and friends joining us for an Easter lunch and neighborhood egg hunt. We got to visit with familiar neighbors and meet some new ones while the kids were searching high and low for more candy. After everyone had gone home, Terrell and I sat on our front porch, enjoying the breeze and a quiet moment. We finally rounded up our children and got them in the shower and were sitting at dinner when I looked out the window and saw someone who looked like a guy I know who frequently walks our street on his way to look for day labor and a few dollars. He was walking on the other side of the street and, though I didn’t recognize him after all, I did recognize the big red monster truck he carrying in his hand as he sauntered up the street. It was Chad’s! Then our across the street neighbor called to say she had just seen a man come into our driveway and take our child’s toy. By the time we processed it all and Terrell headed after him, he had vanished. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. Is. 9:7 The startling and agitating event of the theft of a child’s toy from our own driveway was a good reminder that “it is finished” but it is still being completed. There is still a bit of “not yet” in our “now”, but boy did we enjoy the shalomy day that encompassed that reminder of brokenness. And do you know how sweet Chad responded to loss of his truck? “Well, maybe his little boy doesn’t have toys to play with and now will have fun playing my truck.” While it is just as likely he stole it to get $5.00 from someone else, I was strengthened by that Kingdom perspective on our possessions as expressed by a child. His day was not ruined, his world did not end, his future wasn’t darkened by this loss. But guess who couldn’t stop thinking about it and churning over it? Me, that’s who. I mean, what a jerk coming onto our property, into our children’s chalk drawings on the driveway, and so brazenly taking what wasn’t his and not even sprinting away but coolly walking at a leisurely pace as if collecting leaves along his way. That was just wrong. It was mean…a grown man taking a child’s toy! And then I replayed watching him walking so casually and imagined several different scenarios where I confronted him with witty and leveling questions to let him know he was seen, that what he did was shameful and to be sure he didn’t think he had really had victory over us as if we were just naive prey. “You are always righteous, LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (asks Jeremiah of God)

“Many shepherds will ruin my vineyard and trample down my field; they will turn my pleasant field into a desolate wasteland. It will be made a wasteland, parched and desolate before me; the whole land will be laid waste because there is no one who cares. Over all the barren heights in the desert destroyers will swarm, for the sword of the LORD will devour from one end of the land to the other; no one will be safe. They will sow wheat but reap thorns; they will wear themselves out but gain nothing. They will bear the shame of their harvest because of the LORD’s fierce anger.”

This is what the LORD says: “As for all my wicked neighbors who seize the inheritance I gave my people Israel, I will uproot them from their lands and I will uproot the people of Judah from among them. But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country. And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the LORD lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people. But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,” declares the LORD. Jer. 12:1, 10-16

While the whole time I knew we could live without the monster truck, that we have plenty of toys and cars and trucks for Chad to enjoy, that it is just “stuff”, what I realized is was making me mad wasn’t the injustice of the theft but the disrespect and dishonor of me and of our family as the rightful owners of the property. What was burning me up was the idea that the thief clearly thought what he was doing was fine or reasonable in his view of the world and I wanted to make him know he was not at all correct in that thinking.

And then I thought about all the times I feel this way. A friend was essentially bullied out of a business partnership in which he had done the majority of the work on a project that was very successful for the group. The man who pushed him out was snaky and unethical, but powerful and therefore nobody else was willing to confront him on the behavior they all observed. In lesser matters, when I observe people handling conflict with a greater affection for personal victory than relational reconciliation or any number of other attitudes and behaviors that seem so contrary to the person and work of Jesus, I feel the same agitation I felt at this grown man walking away with my child’s toy. But God’s peace and confidence in His Kingdom coming confronts me in my thirst for judgment.

“Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Does this mean their “knowing not” makes them less guilty? Not according to Paul who said they die in their sins just as those who knowingly sin. What it does remind me, though, is that the heart is the control room of the thoughts, words, attitudes and behaviors of each and every person. Getting my toy back and attempting to shame the thief wouldn’t turn his heart to righteousness. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. Standing guard over my house with hawk eyes and becoming the woman not to mess with might keep our stuff from being taken, but it wouldn’t do much to change hearts. And until hearts are transformed, not much else will be, including me.

How often do my words cause my children and husband to burn with anger toward me or my attitude seek to dominate others into doing my will by shaming them? Yet God is patient with me and His kindness leads me to repentance. Am I more deserving of this grace than yesterday’s Easter Grinch? Am I less in need of His mercy than that guy? I suppose my answers to those questions lets me know how much I understand about the weekend we just celebrated.

But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. Nehemiah 9:16-20

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