Thursday, September 28, 2017

Giving what is needed not what is deserved

When push comes to shove.

You reap what you sow.

You get what you pay for.

We have many colloquialisms that remind us to expect to be treated in the way we have treated others. It should be no surprise when our self-righteous anger generates self-righteous anger in response. We have been doing this since we were infants and first used our mirror neurons to understand and use emotions. When we do it as adults it is called complementary behavior – or complementarity.

When our spouse comes down the stairs in a nasty mood,  nasty mood neurons are stimulated and we just might respond in kind. When a coworker treats us with kindness we are predisposed to react similarly. Likewise, if our child’s behavior indicates hopelessness and helplessness we compliment that behavior by giving help. We don’t even have to think about it. We simply react.

Non-complementarity, on the other hand, is responding in the opposite way of what is expected. Whereas complementarity will continue a behavior – anger begets anger. An unexpected response is more likely to change behavior.

Sometimes we have to give people what they need, not what they deserve.

A child expressing helplessness might be best helped with encouragement that another try will accomplish the task. Without the encouragement to keep at it, the child will continue to feel helpless. It might be just what is needed.

Similarly, the nasty mood of the spouse might be best helped with a healthy dish of empathy, a kind word, and an offer to help with a chore. It is not what is deserved, or expected, but probably what is needed.

Matching emotions is what comes naturally to us. Responding with the opposite emotion takes patience and consideration and that is an example of grace.

Think how God responds to our sin with forgiveness. How He handles our anger with love. How He reacts to our weak faith by applying His faith-nurturing Word and Sacraments.  God gives us what we need, not what we deserve and this changes us. 

In fact, it changes everything.

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows His love for us in that  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. Romans 5:7-9

Because we are justified through the sacrifice of Christ, we are changed. We are no longer slaves to our mirror neurons or our natural sinful responses. We have been loved with an Agape love.

We could not survive long in a world that only mirrored our actions and emotions. We cannot grow and learn in a world that only gives us what we deserve. We should not expect the people around us to improve with only are complementary responses.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. I John 4:18-19

We are justified; our sins are covered; we experience the non-complementarity of grace every day.

With joy we are able to express this grace to others in our little worlds. We can meet anger with compassion, frustration with encouragement, meanness with forgiveness. We can do this because Jesus did it first. God’s blessings abound!

This link below is a fascinating, and hard to believe, story about a non-complementary response. The host of Invisibilia insists that no miracles occurred. As a fellow recipient of what we’ve needed instead of what we deserved– a fellow recipient of grace – I will let you decide.

Disarming a Robbery . . . With a Glass of Wine

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

An Ineffective Club

Anyone who has been in a confirmation class is familiar with the three uses of the law:

Curb – to maintain external discipline

Mirror – show us our sin and lead us to Salvation

Guide – after justification to show us how we should pattern our lives.

But lately I have seen a different use of the law; a use of the law that is most certainly in error. I have seen the law used as a club.

I notice it most often when good Christians, most of us who are well aware of the receiving of grace in the right-hand kingdom, seem to fail to apply grace in the left-hand kingdom. Instead we justify our beliefs or throw up our hands while hiding behind the law.

When we behave this way, I believe we are rightfully condemned by our non-believing peers.

I am not thinking that grace needs to be applied all of the time. That is not any more correct than applying law all of the time. However, there are some situations where we need to be reminded of the message of these verses:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. I John 4:18-19

Just like the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-34) we err when we feel so confident about our cancelled debt that we neglect to show mercy to others. We may begin to believe that somehow we deserved our forgiveness.

And people, that is very dangerous territory. It is a fallacy that implies that I earned my forgiveness so now this poor fellow must earn his.

Don't go down that road.

The law becomes a club when it is used to self-righteously beat someone down:

  • A justification for insulting comments. 
  • A refusal to practice empathy.
  • A denial of opportunities that might bring about change.  
  • An obsessive devotion to the punishment and reward system of behaviorism.
  • A false belief that we can solve the problems of our world with more law, with tougher law, with unrelenting law.
  • A simple, sinful, arbitrary refusal to apply grace to a contrite sinner who needs something the law cannot provide.

We dare not ignore the warning of the parable. The servant was forgiven a huge debt – a lifetime’s worth of sin, if you will. That same servant could not see clear to forgive even a small debt for another. It did not end well.

I know I am a sinner. The mirror effect of the law shows me this every day. Yet, every day God forgives me. I live as simultaneous saint and sinner as the blood shed at the cross covers my sin and brings me into the folds of righteousness. This is a powerful, precious gift. It is a gift that demands to be appropriately shared.

I cannot change opinions, I cannot change lives, and I cannot correct wrongs or improve relationships when I use the law as a club. Only God can bring about these changes and His preferred tool is grace.

I found both law and grace in this quote from Martin Luther posted by a wise friend. May this be my guide as I expound my opinion on social media.

“For you are powerful, not that you may make the weak weaker by oppression, but that you may make them powerful by raising them up and defending them.” Martin Luther: Two Kinds of Righteousness: Luther’s Works AE: 304

Lord, remind me daily of my sin and Your grace. Enable me to show that grace to those who may not deserve it, but like me, desperately need it.

 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5: 19-21

Amen, amen, amen.