Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mercy, mercy

Luke 6:27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 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. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." 

Growing up, I heard a lot of teaching about the gift of Mercy defined as "being able to sense the feelings in the room" or "charitable work such as helping the poor and sick" or "having compassion for people who are hurting." I think we see a little bit of all of that in Scripture's examples of mercy, but really, that picture of mercy is much easier than the mercy I see in Scripture. As far as I can tell, mercy in Scripture is rarely just a feeling but is almost always accompanied by an action that demonstrates mercy to someone who would be otherwise condemned.

I was at a prayer meeting last night and felt God saying he was going to deepen my power to show mercy to those who had hurt me and to bring healing to people who are hurting. I thought, "Cool! I really need more mercy, and I love healing people!" Well, this morning, God made it clear that being given the gift of Mercy is not just warm fuzzy feelings. It is being given the power to show mercy to people, in action and heart, who I would otherwise condemn. I had these grand visions of myself showing mercy to and embracing sinners when everyone else was judging them... their defender... their advocate... their restorer... And then God said, "Ok, now go show mercy, in that same way, to the people who have hurt YOU. Today." Oy... That vision doesn't seem so grand now... This isn't an abstract concept of feeling sorry for people I barely know who are in a mess but have done me no harm. No. Mercy exists for those who have harmed us and who could never undo the harm.

The passage above is a description of what mercy is like. Doing good to those who hurt you. Treating your enemies as friends. Withholding judgment and condemnation and being generous instead. All throughout the Bible we are told of God's mercy on us. The heart of mercy is showing goodness, acceptance and forgiveness to those who could never repay us back and who deserve to be condemned. In Mt 18 in the parable of the merciful master we see mercy portrayed as the master forgiving a debt that he knows will never be repayed. The servant says, "just give me time! I'll repay it!" But the master knows this is impossible so he erases the debt instead, like what God has done for us. Titus 3:5 reminds us that "he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit." Mercy is never deserved. It is given because the person receiving it lacks something, and it does what they cannot do. When Jesus healed the sick, the people would say, "Jesus, have mercy on me!" They did not say, "I am a good person. You are obligated to heal me now." No, they asked for mercy. Essentially they were saying, "I have nothing, no means for healing, no other hope. You are my only hope, and I do not deserve it. I am asking for your mercy. Please help me or I am lost!" Jesus always responded to a cry for mercy with a touch of healing, forgiveness of sins, restoration and acceptance. Not once did he respond with judgment, condemnation or rejection.  He brought them in.   

So what does this mean for us? It means that when someone harms us in a way that can never be repaired, taken back, or repaid, we show mercy. We acknowledge that the person who harmed us does not deserve mercy, just as we don't, and it is because of this that they need our mercy all the more. It means we give to that person what they could never earn and remove their condemnation. Even more, just like in Titus 3:5, it means bringing healing and renewal where before there was brokenness and need. 

This morning for me it meant treating a person (or persons) as if they had never sinned. The way God treats me... It meant embracing that person again, a generous conversation, the removal of condemnation in my eyes and the giving of acceptance and protection once again. Giving healing. 

Mercy is not easy, and sometimes it hurts. Jesus suffered an excruciating death in order to show mercy to us, to treat us as if we had never sinned. And he suffered to show mercy to the person who harmed us too... Far from being unjust, mercy is a reminder that whatever that person did to us has been paid for by Jesus, that he received the punishment for it already, so that now we are free to show mercy instead. Mercy is not easy, and sometimes it hurts... but it always brings healing, and the reward is amazing: the same in return.

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. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." 

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Little Like Flying

"Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
'My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God'?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? 
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.... 
But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:27,28,31

I was sitting the other day marveling at why I don't need to be worried about my future. One by one I was listing all the things that God knows and sees. He knows what my retirement will be like. He knows who I will or won't marry. He knows what ministry I will be doing in two years. He knows my heart, how I feel, what I think about and care about. He knows the hearts of the people around me. He knows what my next job will be. He knows everything that will happen tomorrow. He knows whether or not I will make it home safely today. And not only does he know all these things, but he cares about me! "So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows." Mt.10:31 

When I forget this amazing truth I begin to worry about what will happen and to stress over decisions I make. I unintentionally start believing and acting as if my way were "hidden from the Lord" or as if I were "disregarded by my God." But it is not, and I am not... He knows, he cares, and he is always at work. This is what gives me the ability to wait. When all my decisions and plans seem foggy, I can sit contentedly waiting and trusting, or I can walk or run, even without direction, because I know that though I cannot see through the fog, the one who created my path AND the fog sees far beyond the road I'm on. He sees me at the finish line, with him, walking me home. He knows where my feet will land. So... whereas waiting is usually very frustrating to me, right now I'm quite enjoying the newness of each moment spent just trusting God for my next step as my foot meets the ground. Real trust actually makes the waiting fun. It's very freeing! A little like flying...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Whisper

There's a hummingbird outside my window. It is like a whisper of God to my soul. Years ago, another hummingbird created in me a longing for its lightness and freedom, as it flitted about, wings beating 1500 times/minute, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do. Its body is a machine of power, speed and beauty, and yet, as I watched it, it seemed as light and easy as a dandelion in the wind. That day I prayed that God would make me as joyful and light as that little bird.

Today, a word was spoken to me. A wounded bird, with a broken wing, longing to fly, work and be strong, but unable to move. "Your healing will come," the word said, "but for now, rest."

For several months now, my hummingbird has visited me almost every morning as I pray and read scripture by my ceiling to floor windows, overlooking the skyscapers of San Diego. Where on earth this hummingbird came from I could not say. But he comes, feeding on the nectars of a pine tree in between my building and the apartments next to mine. I thank God he found it because he speaks to me of rest, joy and life. A reminder from God that my healing will come. That the joy I long for is in His hands.

Life... It makes me think of Elijah, the great prophet who called down fire from heaven and wowed the nations with the power of God... and then ran like a frightened child from an angry queen. (1 Kings 19) What happens in the life of a prophet, or leader, that changes that confidence in the greatness and goodness of God, to a fear and depression that cripples one's ability to even listen to the same God? There could be a million answers, but look at God's response to Elijah: "Rest." Even as he runs away, God does not rebuke him, but heals him through provision, rest and whispers. Elijah sleeps, in the middle of nowhere, exhausted. An angel touches him and brings him food. Elijah sleeps again, and again the angel touches him and gives him food saying, "the journey is too much for you." Elijah regains his strength physically but continues to run, straight to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God. Again, God descends, not with words of condemnation or telling him to go back, but with a question: What are you doing here? Twice he asks Elijah this question, accepting Elijah's condition while drawing him close and inviting him to think about his heart. "What are you afraid of...? Think about it... Look at me," He says. Elijah is depressed, discouraged... the words of the angel ring true in his soul... "the journey is too much for you." And God sees his soul. Twice God invites him to speak, and then listens. Just listens. Wow... God listened. And then he healed. Before confronting Elijah's doubt, speaking truth, or giving a command, God invites Elijah into his presence, saying, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Elijah doesn't need a Bible lesson or a rebuke, a command or a promise even. He needs an encounter with a loving God! He has seen God's power. Now he needs God's whisper to his soul.  A place of healing in God's presence.

God knows... He knows we are tired. He knows that, like Elijah, sometimes the pain and fear of this world suck out the life and joy from our souls and all we want to do is literally curl up under a bush and die. Sometimes He responds by setting us back on our feet and rebuking our doubt like he did to Peter. But sometimes... he lets us sleep. And He touches us, feeds us, listens to us and whispers. Those whispers are life. They are God Himself holding your soul, saying, "You are not alone. I am real, I am here, and I am for you. I am not just for your ministry, I am for you." God knows when it is time to rest, and He will be there with you. It is ok to rest. Where is the mountain where you hear the whisper? Maybe it's time to go there for a while, until God passes by and gives you life again.

God eventually did send Elijah back, but He also saw what Elijah needed. He did not send him back alone, but gave him a partner. Actually He gave him a whole team of helpers, along with a vision of new hope for what God had done and would do that Elijah could not see before. Many would say that Elijah's flight was weak, faithless and would be seen as shameful in our ministry culture today. Still, nowhere in the account do we see a hint of condemnation or anger from God. All we see is nearness, mercy, rest and restoration. There are times in our lives when all we need is rest as God touches our souls as we sleep and whispers his love and hope into our ears. This is my rest, and I am so thankful that I have a God who knows my weakness and my need and meets me right there, with a hummingbird in my window and whispers in my soul.