There is a story about a teenage boy who was a compulsive liar. If deception was paint he’d be considered a world class artist. His mother once found a letter from his teacher hidden behind a bedroom dresser. She confronted him with the teacher’s charges and the boy painted such a picture of deception--it would make the “Mona Lisa” look like paint by number. The letter was in her hand, she shook it in his face, and he denied it existed.
One day the boy lied to his best friend Frank. Hurt deeply when his friend denied it, Frank carried a grudge for months. One day they were arguing, the way kids do about something unimportant, and the grudge reared its ugly head. In a moment of self-righteous anger--Frank swung a baseball bat at his head. In an instant, he became judge, jury, and quite nearly, executioner.
Jesus cautions us against acting on personal grudges. He says,
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matt. 7:1-2 NIVO)
Frank’s judgment was terrible and he wouldn’t wish it on anyone--especially himself. But there was another reason for him to be sorry. After being betrayed, Frank was consumed with the evil of bitterness and the need to retaliate. That was harmful, but the remorse he carried for the rest of his life was worse. Perhaps this is why Jesus also taught,
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Lk. 6:35-37 NIVO)
Seems to me, this story is not just about how we treat others. To practice mercy and forbearance, and to forgive--is also about how we treat ourselves. It is about our mental health, and our spirit. To be merciful and to forgive is at the heart of what it means to be Christian. And it’s at the heart of peace.
Yesterday, I cleaned my study (a little bit) and came across my old Bible. It was given to me in 1977 by my parents. I was 14 at the time. I remember carrying it on the church bus that took me to Sunday school. It came in handy because when zipped--it made a good shield against spitballs. When I was 16, it was on the pew when the pastor dunked me in the waters of baptism. At the little mission church that opened in the heathen wilderness that was my neighborhood--I read from it during worship. On days when mired in teenage angst, I searched it’s pages for comfort.
At 18 years old, I enlisted in the Army National Guard. My Bible was with me for basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was the first time I’d been away from home. My high school sweetheart had ended our relationship just before I left. In the pages of the Psalms, many broken hearted and homesick teenage tears were shed. In the quiet times of anxiety and grief, that old Bible was a dear friend that anchored me to something lasting and true.
In the pages of my Bible I met God. It showed me who he is and assured me of what he can do. I learned of his abiding presence with those who love him. In my worst moments, through his Word the LORD spoke to my heart and lifted me from the pit. In Christ, I experienced the profound promises and hope we have in God’s mercy. Scripture taught me there is always reason to hope because all things are possible with our Heavenly Father.
When training was done, I was still homesick and still missed the girl I desperately loved. But I was sure God was guiding my every step:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Prov. 3:5-6)
Upon returning home, I had my old Bible in my hand at the airport. I squeezed it extra tight when I saw that girl who broke my heart--walking with my parents. We’ve been together ever since. Praise the LORD for keeping my path straight.