BE MERCIFUL

“Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

 Jude 22-23

 

The Church, the Body of Christ, has throughout the ages frequently missed the basic tenet of being merciful.    On the other hand the Church has been an instrument of mercy in society since its beginning.  It’s been a mixed bag.  In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus says,

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

God has shown us mercy, and he desires us to be merciful.  I believe our ability to be merciful depends on our ability to receive mercy.  Humility is the key.

 

To receive mercy, I must first recognize my need for mercy.  When I know that I have sinned against God, there is then the recognition of the debt I owe to God.  Secondly, I need to humble myself and become aware that there is nothing I can do to repay this debt.  God is willing and has made the way to grant me mercy by forgiving my debt.  I don’t have to work for it.  It’s free.  That is hard for me because in my pride I want to do something to earn forgiveness.  However, by holding on to this idea of earning forgiveness, I will never even understand mercy.

 

Now you can see why it’s a mixed bag for the Church.  Our pride often gets in the way.  In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says to the Pharisees, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”  And again in 12:7, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”  The Pharisees were caught up in a ritual of sacrifice that fed their pride allowing them to condemn others rather than show them mercy.  They were trying to pay their debt to God on their own merit.  They were blinded by pride and did not understand mercy.   Therefore, they could not extend mercy.

 

Mercy proceeds from a humble, forgiving heart.  This is God’s nature and his heart toward us.  By surrendering my will to God and allowing myself to be forgiven, I take the first step in understanding mercy.  I feel the burden of gilt lifted and the exhilaration of being free.  But, I must remember that I’m free and not fall prey to the lie that I must do something for this freedom.  That lie feeds my pride.  I must remain humble. Then in humble gratitude, I live under God’s mercy.  A life that is continually bathed in mercy emanates mercy.

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REBEL, THE RETURN HOME

Mrs. Grady’s eyes sparkled when she saw James standing in the doorway of her pantry.  “Come in James,” she said with revealing enthusiasm.  “I heard you were coming.  Have a seat here at the table.  Just so happens I’m making some of those cherry tarts you’re so fond of.  The tea’s ready.”

“I’d love a cup, thank you.”  James said with warm appreciation.

Time passed quickly as Mrs. Grady seemed to have an endless supply of James’ favorite foods and sweets.  He was also enjoying her flow of conversation.

When the servant let James know that the package was ready, he looked at his watch and realized he’d been there quite some time.  He thanked Mrs. Grady for her kind attention and headed out to the carriage.

“Come back soon,” Mrs. Grady said with affection in her voice.”

James turned and smiled.

The carriage was ready to go when he arrived at the stable.

“You’re all ready to go James,” the servant said.  “The master offers his apology for the wait.”

“That’s okay,” said James. “The time passed quickly.”

The servant gave him a knowing expression then said, “The fog’s beginning to set in, so be careful.  It’ll be especially thick near the river.”

James took his place on the carriage seat, gave a nod of thanks, and he was on his way.

The long trek to the river progressed well.  The two horses managed the road smoothly.  Rebel seemed to follow Josh’s lead without concern.  The sun was getting low in the west, but it still gave plenty of light.  The dappling of the light from the trees along the road produced a peaceful feeling.  As they progressed the fog began to appear first as a light mist then ever thickening.  They approached the river just as the sun set.  The fog was dense and visibility was minimal.  As the fog thickened Rebel’s trust began to thin.  James could see his uneasiness.  Near the bridge Rebel tried to bolt.

James stopped the carriage, gave a moment’s pause, and then proceeded slowly.  Josh was so familiar with this foggy bridge crossing that he moved ahead with confidence.  Rebel, not being able to see where he was going, was apprehensive and skittish.  Trusting Josh was out the window.  He felt on his own and afraid.  Rebel inched forward jumping at every sound and rearing at every dip in the footing.  James was patient, allowing the team to move as slowly as they needed.

On the descent from the bridge, the fog was especially thick.  James couldn’t even see the horses in front of him.  Fortunately, the road was wide and flat here.  They moved forward cautiously.  Josh could feel the edge with his hooves, and he was able to keep them on the roadway.  Eventually the road began to ascend, and with the ascent, the fog thinned.

Barney greeted them as they approached the stable.  “Good to see you finally home,” He said.  “We were worried.”

“There was a three hour delay at Grantham Estates,” James offered.  “I had to wait for the package.”

“Mrs. Grady take good care of you?” asked Barney as a friendly dig.

James just smiled.

 

Epilogue 

 

I had two scripture passages in mind as I wrote this little story.  Like Rebel I struggle with trust issues.  These scriptures delight my soul and challenge my flesh.

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Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct you paths.

 

I recognize that Rebel has trust issues, and I see that his journey would have been easy if he was able to trust in Josh’s knowledge of what lies ahead.  Being yoked with Jesus requires trust, but the rewards of that trust are peace and contentment.  I’m working on it. How about you?

TROUBLE

John 16:3 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

James 1:2-3 Considerate it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

1Peter 4:1-2 (The Message) Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him.  Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way.  Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.

I think these passages make it clear that “In this world you will have trouble”.  Since we will have trouble, it is not about the trouble; it’s about how we handle it.  I see two options: one trust in self and the world’s ways, or two trust in God.  In my early life, I chose option one; but now I’ve had enough years with the Lord to relish option 2.  The longer I struggle with these options, the easier it gets to live under option two.  The Apostle Peter in the above scripture paints a clear picture of how working through troubles frees us from the pursuit of our selfish will.

As a father, I have watched my adult children walk through many of life’s troubles. It was painful.  I helped when I could, but circumstances didn’t often allow me to intervene.  I learned that they are God’s children, and I need to allow him to be their father.

Now, how wonderful it is to see my children maturing in the Lord.  I am truly blessed, and so is our Father.  As I trust him, he is blessed; and as my children trust him, he is blessed.

Now he and I get to see my adult grandchildren go through the troubles of this life.  It will be at times painful to watch, but I know God and I will be blessed.  It’s his promise to me.

THE REAL ISSUE

 What is the real issue that Christians need to concern themselves with?  This question arose from a conversation I had last week.  A close friend and I were discussing the changes in morality that we’ve seen in our life time.  As we talked, it dawned on me that, though I’m saddened by the moral decline in America, this is not the real issue.

Jesus didn’t charge us with fixing the sin in others, and he warned us not to judge others (See Matthew 7:1-5).  However, he did charge us with two things.  The first is to love one another, and the second is to make others disciples.  Our job is to love our fellow humans, and bring them to him.  He’ll take care of fixing the sin.

Sin and evil are all around us, and this has been true since the fall of Adam and Eve.  Jesus has the only cure for sin.  So the real issue is do you know Jesus?  As Christians, loving sinners and bringing them to Jesus is the issue that should occupy our time.

GOD IS WITH US

A few weeks ago I had to face a medical procedure that I knew would be painful.  The normal way I handle a difficulty like this is to draw into myself and face it in my own strength.  Of course there is considerable anxiety that comes with this method of facing a difficulty, and I am usually stressed out.  But by God’s mercy this time was different.

I am finding it difficult to explain what caused it to be different, so I’ll just tell you what happened.  I found myself aware of God’s presence.  The more I focused on his presence the more relaxed I became.  While the procedure was going on, I looked to God.  When my focus began to shift, I reminded myself to keep my focus on God.  For the first time in my life, I walked through a difficulty not thinking that I was alone but recognizing that God was with me.  I tell you it made the procedure almost pleasant.

I am not alone!  I know this, but now I’ve experienced it.  I am thankful for my family and friends who prayed diligently for me.  They helped me break through to this new awareness.

Later that day, my daughter Ruth gave me a greeting card, and in the text was this line, “You rush to help when in faith we draw near.”  Yes, that’s it.  God’s presence is always with me.  I experience him when in faith I draw near.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

DO NOT WORRY

In the Bible the word “worry” is always preceded by “do not” or “why do you”.  Jesus doesn’t want us to worry because it hinders our ability to live in the peace and freedom that He purchased for us.  He wants us to trust Him and not worry.  He speaks to this topic in Mathew 6:25-34.  Jesus explains that our focus should not be on what we will have to eat or what clothes we will wear but on the Father’s kingdom and His righteousness.  God is going to walk us through the problems of today, and He has already worked out what’s going to happen tomorrow.  Yes, there are difficulties and trials for today, but don’t miss the blessings of today by worrying about what might happen tomorrow.  As the word says, “… For tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough troubles of its own (Matthew 6:34).”

It is very difficult to give up worrying.  Worrying is a human coping mechanism.  Somehow by working things over and over in our minds, we feel like we have some control.  Yet as we work the process of worrying, we pay the high price of anxiety.  Anxiety does all kinds of damage to our physical and emotional well-being.  Jesus knows this.

How do we get beyond worry?  The Apostle Paul gives us solid directions.  In Philippians 4:4-7 (The Message) he writes:

Celebrate God all day, every day.  I mean revel in Him!  Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.  Help them see that the Master is about to arrive.  He could show up any minute!  Don’t fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

THE NARROW GATE

Jesus died on the cross to pay the debt we owed for our sins.  He rose from the grave to demonstrate the new and eternal life he had purchased for us.  The cross is our place of entry into God’s eternal Kingdom.  It is the gate that Jesus prepared for us. We can come to God by no other path.  Salvation is found only at the cross. Our old life is left at the foot of the cross, and there we enter into our new life in Christ Jesus.

In the story of the Good Shepherd found in John chapter 10,   Jesus refers to believers as the sheep.  He makes it very clear that he is the gate for the sheep to enter.  He says, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep (verse 7).”  Many have looked for other ways, but the only way is through Jesus.

In John 10:17-18 (The Message) Jesus explains:

This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life.  And so I am free to take it up again.  No one takes it from me.  I lay it down of my own free will.  I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again.  I received this authority personally from my Father.”

God the Father gave Jesus the authority to redeem us.  No one else has been given this authority.  He alone is our redeemer.  Yes, the gate is narrow, but it leads to redemption and eternal life.