Have you ever heard of “sandpaper people”? These are the ones we have trouble getting along with, the ones who rub us the wrong way – and sometimes leave scratches! I’m sure we’ve all been with sandpaper people, and we’ve no doubt been one from time to time. Some authors and speakers give advice about how to handle them, such as give them the benefit of the doubt, pray for them, listen to them, or if necessary, stay out of their way.
That’s all good advice, but I’ve found a more effective way, at least for me. It’s easy to remember and reminds me of my title – a disciple of Jesus, someone who is learning Jesus and learning to think like Jesus.
Charles Stanley said, “Every unlovable person in our life is an opportunity to let God teach us to love.” That’s what Jesus did when he met sandpaper people – he loved them. In Mark 10:21, a young man asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus mentioned several commandments and the man said he’d kept those all his life. And what did Jesus do? He looked at him and loved him. The rich man probably wasn’t a sandpaper guy, but he didn’t understand and at least at that time, decided not to follow.
Whether the people we meet and interact with are sandpaper people, we simply disagree with them or we just don’t understand them, we can follow Jesus’ example: look at them, see them for who they really are, and love them as Jesus would.
The last few weeks, we’ve been talking about how the words and phrases we use about God really do matter. How we talk about him and represent him to others and even to ourselves, makes a difference in how we understand who he is and how he interacts with us. The way we think about him affects how we think of ourselves and others; it affects our behavior and how we treat each other.
I thought this series would last only a month, but more ideas kept popping up, which shows how many words and phrases we use that misrepresent him. It also shows the need for discernment in what we read, how we speak and how we think. When everyone is vying for attention, everyone wants to influence us to buy their product, and all the voices seem so loud they almost drown out each other, let’s think about and examine what we read and hear. We don’t have to listen to all those voices and we certainly don’t have to let them influence us to our detriment.
I hope this series has been helpful, but most of all, I hope it has encouraged you to think about what you read, hear and sing and ask yourself if it aligns with Scripture and Trinitarian understanding.
Sometimes we read or hear about our need to pray for God’s forgiveness. I just read that yesterday! It was in the context of how we need to confront our sins (as if we can do this on our own), and when we do, the Lord promises to forgive them, forget them and cleanse us. While there’s nothing wrong with being sorry for our sins and even asking for God’s forgiveness, do we need to be concerned he will withhold it? Depending on how it’s phrased, statements like this could leave one wondering if that’s the case. Is being forgiven dependent on how soon, how loudly, how heartfelt our prayers? And can we, as some believe, perform acts of penance to lessen the punishment or improve our chances of being forgiven?
When Jesus asked God to “forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34, MSG), he was including more than those who screamed for his crucifixion and nailed him to the cross. He was asking forgiveness for all of us – everyone who has ever lived. When the Father answered that prayer, we were all included in his immeasurable grace, all covered by his blood of reconciliation.
Those who have accepted God’s love and forgiveness and are disciples of Jesus, learning and growing in grace, have no worries about whether God will be forgiving. We live under the sheltering wings of his forgiveness and grace. Those who have not accepted it need simply turn to him and away from their old, earthly selves and then revel in the love he poured out at the cross. No doubt about it!
Do we deserve God’s love? A Google search will quickly reveal the consensus is no, we don’t. But is this even a valid question?
When God created humans, he did so because he wanted to share his love and relationship with us. Whether we deserved to be created and loved wasn’t part of the equation. And I’m pretty sure he wasn’t surprised when sin happened. He knew it was the highly probable, if not inevitable, result of free will. Before it happened, he already had a plan for salvation and redemption.
Do we deserve God’s love? Wrong question. How much does God love the world? He gave his only son for us. How wide and long and high and deep is God’s love for us? His unfailing love is as vast as the heavens and nothing can ever separate us from his love in Christ (Psalm 36:5 and Romans 8:35).
Because God is love (1 John 4:8), we don’t have to worry about deserving, earning or losing his love. He loves us unconditionally and forever, simply because of who he is.