Mercy in action

samaritanI’ve been challenged these last few weeks on the idea of mercy. For me, when I think about mercy I think about it in terms of withholding. One example of this is sports games. We have set in our game system a “mercy” clock. That is, if the opponent has scored an x amount of points in an x amount of time, to keep the other team from being humiliated anymore they keep the clock running to speed up the game.

Another example is when I was young I would wrestle with my friends or cousins ( I didn’t have any brothers and I never wrestled my sister!) to the point that one of us would pin down the other and be released, one had to say the secret word. Sometimes it was uncle, mercy, or another silly word the oppressor wanted to use. Mercy, at least for me, was always held with this assumption of withholding or restraint to someone. It almost blurs the lines between forgiveness and grace. However, it is much more than forgiving someone and extending grace to another. Mercy from the Biblical sense is altogether different.

Of course, mercy can have in it the components of grace and forgiveness, but that doesn’t end with these two ideas. One of the best examples of mercy being more is the story of the good Samaritan. A famous passage that we all look at and one that I have read over and over again and I have missed an important part in this story. In fact, the part I’m talking about is not in the story itself, but the interaction between the Pharisee and Jesus.

After Jesus finishes the story he asks the Pharisee which one of these was the neighbor. Of course, we know the two who were supposed to be the hero become the failures and the so-called failure/outcast of society becomes the hero. Interestingly thou is the response of the Pharisee. He doesn’t say, “the one who was kind”. He doesn’t say, “the one who had pity”. What he says is, “the one who showed mercy!” The Pharisee understood the Biblical sense of Mercy is more than just a feeling or withholding judgment on someone. It is the feeling of empathy, sorrow, pity, compassion and doing something about it. Richard Nathan in his book Both And describes Mercy as “Compassion in Action”.

I think he is correct. God’s mercy, like God’s love, is uniquely different than our version of mercy or love. When we think about mercy in this regard, think about the passages of God and mercy. Ps. 23:6 “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me…” or Eph. 2:4-5 “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” God looks upon us with compassion and does something about it!

God’s mercy is about walking with us in suffering and finding a solution to stop that suffering. One pastor that I know well has a famous saying, “New mornings, new mercies.” I find encouragement that despite the messes I get in, no matter how far I fall from grace, and no matter how deep the sin I’m in, God’s Mercy has no limits. Like the Samaritan, he goes above and beyond what was required of him to take care of the broken man. I also see Jesus hinting at the fact this is what he does for us. He goes beyond saying, “there, there, everything is alright” and putting an arm around us. He goes to the cross on our behalf and heals us of our suffering. He is both-and in this passage, the healer and suffering combined into one.

More importantly, Jesus also says this, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matt. 9:13

In other words, how can you have mercy in your life today? Where can you extend the mercy given to you towards others?

As quick as the Pharisee responded to the answer about the Parable, “the one who showed Mercy.” Jesus’ response was also quick to respond, “Go and do likewise.”

Where is Mercy showing up in your life towards others-Compassion plus Action?

Why A Baby?

mary and jesusChristmas time is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the whole season and all the holiday cheer. From the lights, parties, food, and presents; who doesn’t love Christmas time? Each year my family brings out the same traditions, the same tree, and the same ornaments. If you are like me, your church starts to sing the same songs, do the same activities, and preach from the same passages. As much as I enjoy the Christmas season, it has become normalized the older I get. The excitement and joy become routined and I find myself thinking, “yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard this song way too many times…” or I think, “Gosh, didn’t the pastor preach on this passage last year?”

The birth of Christ, the immaculate conception, the Angels, the wise men, they seem to become normal. Part of it, I think, is the older I get the more routined I’ve become to the season. The other part is getting caught up in how our society deals with holidays. This last October I walked into a hardware store only to see Christmas trees on display next to Jack-o-Lanterns! If I didn’t know any better I would have thought that Tim Burton made the arrangements. We are becoming so fast-paced in our culture that the slightest moment something gets boring or mundane we are ready to swipe left, click next or quickly tap into the next app. Christmas comes and goes as fast as you can put up and tear down the tree.  So this year, I’ve challenged myself to truly soak and sit in the Christmas story and ponder the event we build so much anticipation for and how quickly we move on from it.

When you stop to think about it, it all seems ridiculous. I mean come on, “virgin birth?” Angels partying in the skies, and Wise men putting trust in astronomy? We believe it so well because the naiveness of our childhood has allowed us to trust in the story, but there is something I have never considered before. Something that makes the reason for why God did what He did so important. I kept coming back to the same question and I just stopped to chew on it for a while.

Why a BABY!

Seriously, what the heck, Jesus? Why on Earth (literally) would God choose to experience the human side of things starting with a baby? I think for any of us given the choice, we would have made sure we came down with the best security, best provisions, and best stability to this Earth if we were God. Yet God chose the risky side. God chose to surrender comfort and security and become completely vulnerable. Utterly dependent on a teenage Jewish girl from a backwoods area of Israel, God said this is how this plan is going to go. It makes NO SENSE!!! Unless we begin to understand the heart of God.

The truth is, God was secured in the stable. God was comforted and God had enough provision to last Him a lifetime. The point of the whole reason for a baby, I’m starting to see is not just for God to partake in the fullness of humanity, but ultimately God’s choice was reflecting back to us the dire need we were in.

Like a baby, unless the mother comes to nourish, sustain, and provide for the baby, left on its own the baby will die. God is not just telling us. God isn’t drawing analogies for us. God is living out the dire position we are in as humans! Left to wander from God we will starve, become malnourished, and ultimately it will lead to our deaths.

Every year I see the same pictures, paintings, and post of Mary holding Jesus looking intimately into His eyes, yet as I have pondered this thought now I see the pictures as if God is saying this is how I desire you! To comfort, hold, have intimacy with my children in a way that I have designed a Mother to do so for her child. Jesus is also looking intimately back at Mary reflecting the very feeling as well.

Why a baby? To tell us that if God is willing to be vulnerable, then ought we not to also be vulnerable to Him? To reflect the mother-child relationship and dependence of a child to a mom as an echo to our reality and dire need of a relationship with God.

This next Christmas, I encourage all of you to think about this. Think about the willingness of God to be vulnerable. Think about the need a child has for their parent and reflect for yourself-am I vulnerable to God or have I walled Him out? Do I understand the depravity of my life without His life-giving power?

This is truly good news. This is peace on Earth, divine peace given to all. Don’t let go of the Christ child too soon as the Holiday comes and goes, God hasn’t let go of you.

The Lion and the Lamb 

“5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…” Rev. ch.5:5-6

The author of Revelation, the beloved disciple John, when seeing Jesus in his vision, reveals a nature of Christ by his Heavenly dwelling. An aspect that speaks to who Jesus is, the Revelation depicts him as both a lion and a lamb. Just as the writer of Hebrews depicts him as a king and priest, or the Gospels as son of God and son of man; John shows another dualistic view of Christ in heaven. The beginning chapter unfolds in a dramatic fashion. The One seated on the throne holds a scroll with seven seals. An angel proclaims, “who is worthy to break the seals and who is able to open the scroll?” Out of the entire heavenly realm no one can, out of the Earthly realm, and under the Earth, no one can. Hope, for John, begins to dwindle and he starts to cry. The entire universe, all living creatures, beholds the question from this angel and no one can do what the angel asks. However, verse five introduces one who can. He is the messiah, the Christ.

What is interesting is the comparison between John (Earthly being) and the elder (Heavenly being) sees. In verse five, when the elder comforts John, he reveals to him the one who can break the scroll as the Lion of Judah, the Root of David. In verse six, as John turns his gaze on this lion, what he sees is a slain lamb! To the elder, (heavenly) he is revealed as a Lion to John, (earthly) he is revealed as a lamb. The unique reality of Jesus’ nature is that he is both heavenly and earthly. He is a lion, royal, honorable, and a conqueror. He is a lamb, peaceful, patient, and sacrificial.

In verse five, John uses the word einkesen to describe what the lion has done. The Greek definition is to win in a battle. Meaning, the lion, as a conqueror, won the battle with death. As far back as Genesis 49: 9-10 Jesus’ victory was spoken by Jacob to his son Judah.

“Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

God, being a God out of time, works all things in His time. This word spoken to Judah came to fruition when Christ battled and defeated death. This victory comes in the state of a lamb. Christ coming down to earth as a battling lion sets his jaw to the cross as a lamb. To win the battle, Christ has to lose. Not just lose, but as John depicts with his word of choice in verse six, esphagmenon; meaning to be maimed violently.

This is the paradox of Jesus. Being both a royal lion and a sacrificing lamb, he is able to unite the heavenly realm with the earthly one. The lion shows up when there is grief and turmoil. When John’s heart weeps, because no one can accomplish the task set by the one on the throne, it is then, that Jesus shows up as a Lion; with all rights and power to accomplish the impossible. Hope has come, heaven has come to earth! Jesus understands to accomplish this he has to surrender. Evil and sin exist, because it has a means for resistance. To put up arms to evil, is to add fuel to the fire. Jesus instead approaches evil by not putting up arms, but by open arms. Being consumed with evil it inevitably kills Jesus. However, evil has no place to go but the grave and in that place, Christ left it. When Jesus came out of the grave he left sin behind, buried by his blood. Jesus conquered by being conquered. He loved when hate reined. He inherited by giving away. Christ became victorious by being a lamb of sacrifice and conquering as a lion.

Now Christ has asked us to do what he has done. Sin and death has been defeated, the verdict is out. Guilty! Yet the sentence has not been carried out yet, Christ has not returned. Evil still moves even thou it knows its own outcome. Jesus asks us to not fight this evil, but to become like him. Jesus asks us to know we are lions of heaven inheritors of the Kingdom, yet be like lambs of this earth, suffering for his name. The truth of Christianity is not wrapped in abundance and prosperity. It is the tension of living the heavenly life here on earth. Being able to find comfort in suffering and knowing in the midst of that pain we are victorious. Christ has asked us to follow him. To carry our cross leaving all things behind. We ought to live with a lion’s hearts and walk this earth with the feet of lambs.

Be on your guard…

In a time when society is changing its views in ethics and morality, Christianity is seeing tension towards the changing progression. As followers of Jesus, we have to take account for what we believe with these changes. This blog is designed to encourage, praise, and give insight in dealing with the issues that rise around the world. It is dedicated to seeing the stories of the New Testament in a perspective of the first century world. Seeing how Jesus, the disciples, and the apostles, lived and dealt with issue in there society, and how we can deal with issues in our time. Being an outdoors man, seminary student, and Army Chaplain candidate much of my writings are drawn from creation, outdoor activity, and theological study. I hope and pray, that by reading this blog, you are encouraged and refreshed in your pursuit of Jesus.

Mark 13:9-13 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. An when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. An brothers will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”