How many of you remember a sermon, a book, a talking to from someone, a movie, a quote, an experience of God that affected you so deeply and profoundly you still remember it very clearly to this day? My experience took place in 1999 when Sue and I were living in Singapore. Stephen and Melissa were 6 and 4 at the time and Matthew was having a long siesta in Sue’s womb.
Sue had just flown back to Brisbane together with Stephen and Melissa, preparing to have Matthew. I was still in Singapore tying up some loose ends before joining them four weeks’ time. One day, out of the blue, the conviction of the Holy Spirit came upon me. In His graciousness, he helped me become aware of how unloving I had been to Sue in the previous 18 months or so. Life in Singapore had been extremely challenging for her. She was experiencing cultural shock on some level and isolation.
Weeks ago, Sue McQuay wrote a great article about the importance of leaning on each other, that God’s means of grace is not just His presence and His Word but also His people – ‘ Jesus with skin on’. The problem with my Sue is that she didn’t have anyone to lean on; not for a lack of trying.
She tried in vain to lean on me for support and understanding. I made things worse by expressing little empathy. After one conversation I said to her, “What’s wrong with you?” If someone had asked me to rate myself as a husband before this incident, I’d give myself, a 7 out of 10. But on that day when the Holy Spirit convicted me, I felt more like I deserved one, if that!
I couldn’t wait to see Sue so I could put things right with her and I did. Sue was pleasantly surprised and forgave me. By God’s grace when we returned to Singapore and lived there for another 18 months, I was still a changed man. My ratings started going back up again!
Immediately after Jesus appoints 12 disciples to help him with his ministry at hand and to carry on the work he had started, he lays out his manifesto in Luke 6:20-49 , his ‘to be’ and ‘to do’ list for them. The order of events is significant. If they are to flourish in doing the works he has called them to do, they must be a healthy community. His manifesto is a roadmap on how they can do this. It centres on our response to God and to one another in times of difficulty and conflict.
But it is impossible to read his words and not be affected deeply and profoundly. When our Life Together Group looked at it, all of us groaned in despair! “Lord, you cannot be serious! We can’t do what you’re asking”. But that’s the point. Take for instance the command to love our enemies in contrast to loving those who are loving and deserving. The latter requires no help from God at all but the former? Jesus is calling us to a far higher standard of ethics that requires faith in Him, that requires us to come to him in humility and absolute dependence on him for his grace and strength to obey him. When we do, can you imagine how many conflicts would be resolved? Can you imagine the level of unity and the powerful witness we will have in the community around us? While we will need to be careful and wise in how we apply Jesus’ manifesto, inaction and indifference in our response is not an option. It amounts to building a house without foundation.
“Lord, your manifesto is deliberately beyond us so that we will turn to you. Grow our faith in you!”