Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Romans 7: 24, 25

 

Paul is agonizing over one of the greatest challenges that all followers of Christ face. This is something that impacts each of us in a deeply personal way in that we engage with this struggle of our old flesh verses the new person that we are in Christ internally and we are confronted with it in other people that we encounter. No one that I know has escaped from the challenge of this conflict. Although we are newly born into righteousness through relationship with Christ, our bodies still carry around with us the brokenness of sin, and its impact upon us does not fully cease in this life.

 

Although many things that we can do will help to minimize and to control the urges, drives, and desires of this old self, nothing that we do will fully prevail against them. Even the Law that God gave to Moses was weak and insufficient for this purpose. In fact, God knew that this would be the case; so, that law truly served as a form of beacon that led people to more fully understand our need for something more, for something that was beyond our own strength and that was out of our control. Paul had personally encountered the enormity of his own need, and God had stepped into the void of Paul’s false perfection with the filling of His Spirit.

 

This transition from service to sin and control by the flesh was gained through Christ and was made effectual by His sacrifice. Paul had encountered the miracle of redemption in a moment, but then he lived in the moment-by-moment reality of surrender to His Lord. We each personally go through a similar process and so do the other followers of Christ who we meet along the way of life. In these times of collision with our own un-Christlike thoughts and actions and with those of others in His body, we are granted the opportunity to engage in this process of change and growth. For these are times when love, grace, mercy, and a desire to be a peacemaker need to prevail. These are times when Christ alone is the answer to my own need as His Spirit pours truth and grace into my thirsty flesh.

For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2: 13

 

What is mercy? By definition it is granting pardon or favor to someone over whom one has the power to judge. It is probably seen most frequently in the way that a parent treats a child, for children seem to go through life in a constant state of testing and suffering the consequences of those actions, and parents are thus forever responding with judgment that is tempered with mercy. Although it has many of the same characteristics, God’s mercy is much more significant than this. God sits in judgment of the life or death of every person, and He also possesses the final authority over the eternal disposition of our most essential selves in that aspect that we refer to as the soul.

 

Thus the sacrifice of Jesus was an act of ultimate mercy on the part of God so that every person who chooses to believe in Christ will be forgiven of all sin and escape the promised final judgment and sentence of death for the soul. In Christ we are set free. God’s mercy is an integral part of His nature and is an expression of His character. So, as we are new beings in Christ, we are transformed into people who manifest God’s nature and reflect His character. The grace that God has poured out on us is something that we possess in abundance to grant as His gift to our world, and it seems that mercy is an active expression of that grace.

 

So, back to the question of what is mercy? I think that it is much more than what we often first consider, for the mercy that God grants to us is very broad and applies to an incredibly wide range of acts and thoughts on our parts. All people deserve God’s judgment. We earn it with great ease as rebellion and defiance of God are our birth nature. Still, God pursues us in order to grant us His grace and tender His mercy to everyone who will respond to that loving effort. As I reflect upon God’s mercy as it is shown to me, I am led to seek His will for my response. I believe that Christ is telling me to be merciful. That is to be slow to judge and to grant grace to all. I am to love those who are unlovely to me, and I am to pursue to lost with that love so that they might see Christ.

 

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

James 2: 1

 

We are born showing partiality, and there is much to commend about this fact. Babies are partial to their mothers from the moment of first breath. They rapidly learn to seek out and to favor the people who provide their primary care, too. As we develop we tend to be drawn to certain foods, colors, activities, and interests. These are among the things that define our individuality and that also gather people into groups of like-minded individuals so that various forms of community are formed. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of this. Yet, there is partiality that causes separation and that leads us away from God’s desire for the way that humanity should function.

 

There is no doubt in my mind that God desires for people to live and to function in various forms of in-gathering that we reference as community. Some of these are civil in structure, others are governmental, and some are based in interests or for common good. Yet, the ones that God cares the most about are the ones that are organized around commonality of faith and the beliefs that come out of that faith. It is in this setting that we best learn to function in a manner that begins to imitate the way that God calls upon His people to live. Communities of faith, what we often call the church, are that human expression of Christ that operates within our various cultures. This is the organic place where we learn to grow in our knowledge and our understanding of Christ, and this is a platform from which He can be demonstrated to our world.

 

So, as Jesus was absolutely impartial in His treatment of people, we must also be impartial. This is true for followers of Christ individually, and it is even more so true for His church. Although there exists structures of authority and order within God’s plan and design for our earthly community, even those authority constructs should not establish superiority, power, or dominion over others. Although James spoke specifically about wealth and social status in this letter, the implication of the concept expressed is clearly much broader than that. In our world we can include such things as manner of dress, education, intellectual capacity and even the currently hot topics of sexual orientation and national origin or beliefs within the areas where people who follow Christ cannot discriminate. We must be open to caring about and for all who come our way. We cannot act out of partiality to any greater degree than did Jesus, Himself. God calls upon His church to be a place where love and grace pour out into a world where these are precious commodities that lead straight to the glory of the Lord.

How lovely is your dwelling place,

O LORD of hosts!

My soul longs, yes, faints

for the courts of the LORD;

my heart and flesh sing for joy

to the living God.

Psalm 84: 1, 2

 

This is a song of longing and desire. It tells of the longing of God’s people to visit His holy temple so that they could again be in the presence of God. As this psalm anticipates an event to come and a time when that ideal will be achieved, today we could take it to indicate that time in the future when we are with Christ in heaven and possibly that promise of restoration in Jesus’ second coming. Followers of Christ can find great hope in the promise of eternity and in the understanding of God’s plan for a renewal of His creation glory on this earth. However, I don’t think that this is how we should take the meaning of these words today. To me, this psalm speaks to a living reality that has been realized in Christ.

 

We no longer need to travel to a place in order to find the fully realized presence of the Lord. His Spirit is in us and is active in our world. This place, even with its brokenness and its rebellion against God’s Word and His will, is a holy place, for it is the dwelling place of the Lord. He has not surrendered His original claim to the ownership of every inch of this planet. I recognize that God’s title to creation and His occupancy of this world are being challenged continually. It is apparent in the news of our days and in the events of our lives that this challenge is being carried out by determined and very powerful enemies of the Lord. The ensuing struggle is the real war that is on-going in our world today just as it has been since the beginning of its history.

 

As a follower of Christ, it is helpful to me to allow Him to reshape my thinking about my world by opening my eyes, my ears, and my heart to the presence of the Lord in this dwelling place where He has placed me. When I focus my vision on Christ and on His desire for all of creation, I start to see things differently. In that light, I see the imprints of the creative hand of God in the natural world that surrounds me, and I appreciate His imagination and intellect in what people have created. Even more importantly than all of that, I begin to embrace and to understand the truth of who and what every person on this earth truly is. We are all creatures who are made in the image of God, and each of us possesses a soul that is formed out of His breath. So, even when faced with people and with situations that are frightening, troubling, or uncomfortable; I can move forward with a song of worship on my mouth and the love, grace, and mercy of Christ extended to all who I encounter.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loves us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

2 Thessalonians 2: 16, 17

 

There are days when pain surrounds the heart. The losses that this world forces on us rub us raw, and any outer layer of protection that we might have nurtured and developed to surround that sensitive organ is removed, often in an instant. We are left speechless, breathless, and with nothing to hold onto or to bite into in order to relieve the aching in our heart. This is the unrelenting reality of life, and everyone faces it. No one escapes the circle of pain that loss draws tight and tighter around us. Yet, this is the place where God is also most present. This is the very place where Christ entered into our world at its most impassioned and painful peak.

 

Christ engaged the greatest form of earthly loss, which is death, directly, totally, and absolutely. He granted to people the Father’s assurance of life that extends through all of eternity and that eclipses anything that this earthly existence promises. In Christ, life is something that begins here and now, but it finds its full freedom and greatest expression in the glory to come as we dwell in the presence of God. However, we still live in this world, and we are faced with the challenges that come with the life that we have in the here and the now.

 

So God grants us certain assurances. He has defeated the ability of death to rule over us. Everyone who knows Christ is alive both in this world and especially after being freed from it. When we are assaulted by the grief and the suffering of loss, God is with us. His presence is real, tangible, and unending. He sits in vigil with us through all of the long hours of that night of sorrow. God pours out His love and His mercy on our wounded hearts. Then He leads us into worship; that is into personal and public sharing of the truth of His presence. Words that speak about our faith and of God’s working in our lives bring healing to the heart of the speaker and to those of the hearers. Christ also leads us into acts of care and expressions of love, for these good works serve to bring Christ’s body together in a manner that provides mutual protection and opportunity for healing for our wounded hearts.

And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.

2 John 6

 

The ideal of love that we see and hear depicted in our culture is one in which there is never any trouble, strife, or conflict. It lives in a land of harmony and complete satisfaction. Its roads are paved with rose petals, and the air is always sweet with the aroma of spring flowers. This love is unsustainable in our world. It is unrecognizable for most people on almost every day of their lives. Unfortunately, aspiring to it and holding it up as the ideal tends to confuse and to lead us astray from truth. In fact, it would seem that God holds a much higher view of love. He sees it as foundational to all of Creation, for true love is defined by the nature of God. Human knowledge of love starts with knowing God, and our ability to experience love is His gift to us.

 

What is so hard about living in a world where God’s perspective on love is the one that we seek is that His way of loving is not easy. It is not simple enough to be memorialized on a greeting card, either. God, the Father, sacrificed everything for the sake of loving us. He laid it all on an altar of suffering, pain, and shame in order for us to escape the eternal wrath that was due us on account of our rebellion. That is love! The road of love that Christ traveled for us leads through the heat of the desert and through the wild dangers of the jungle. It takes its followers into the war torn streets of our modern world’s endless conflict. It gives our last cup of water to the wounded enemy who only moments before was attempting to take our own life. Christ’s love brings peace by living, speaking, and standing strong in the truth of God’s Word. It does not compromise, and it is not modified by cultural context.

 

Regardless of the circumstances of our personal story of coming to faith in Christ, God’s part in it was founded in love. He cares deeply and profoundly for each person who walks this earth. He loves every life that is created. The strongest and the weakest, those who live to old age and the ones that are never born are equally the objects of God’s loving care and grace. It is God’s greatest desire that we would love Him in like manner and that our love of Him would naturally lead us to love everyone else as He does. This is a love that reaches out to save the life that is being sacrificed to greed and to selfishness. This love risks everything in this world in order to bring the face of Christ to its sin ravaged places. A love like this brings food to the starving but isn’t willing to stop without also sharing the deeply personal truth of satisfaction that comes from knowing Christ. Living life as one who is loved by the Most High God brings great risk, but it also leads our feet to travel in the footsteps of our Savior.

 

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.

Philippians 3: 8, 9

 

Most people are hoarders. We usually call it something else. We are collectors, frugal, prepared for any situation, stocking up, blessed by possessions, or fearful for where the next meal might come from. Storing up and holding on tightly to what we have seems to be ingrained deeply into our make-up. That is why the act of moving, of needing to pack it all and physically pick it up and put it some place else is often so healthy. This act usually causes us to consider carefully each thing that we have and consider why an item that hasn’t seen the light of day in over ten years is still essential. In a way, this is the challenge that Paul is throwing down for us here.

 

It is not my intention to be frivolous about the profound and the extraordinary change that takes place in people as we accept God’s invitation to enter into a relationship with Him by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. However, this is a bit like the idea of packing up and moving. Our lives are filled with all that we have collected throughout our years on earth. We also bring with us a large assortment of thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and responses to life that came from our parents and from others who have influenced our development. Regardless of our age, the dwelling place of our soul contains a lot of stuff. Some of it is very useful for living a full life in response to God’s calling for us. Yet, other aspects of who we are will continue to weight us down and to inhibit our ability to respond to Christ fully and absolutely. Paul shows us a truly ruthless attitude toward it all. He says that we should consider all of the self-satisfying and God-denying aspects of our former lives as noting better than the trash.

 

Rather than wrapping them carefully to protect them, we should toss them out. This sort of spring cleaning isn’t so easy to do. Yet, it is vitally important for us. If we wish to leave behind the old life of living under the authority of the law with its rigid demands and its utter futility, then we need to trust Christ fully so that His Spirit can guide us into and through the necessary process of purging our hearts and minds of old ways of thinking about who we are, how we see others, and the way that God wants us to respond to His calling for us. This sort of deep and personal house cleaning can be painful and it is often rather frustrating as the items that we toss out today seem to find their way back in tomorrow. So, we need to do it all over again. Still, God is faithful, and He will remove the old, death-bringing aspects of ourselves from us. As we trust Christ and have faith in His great purpose for our lives, He will move us in and settle us into dwelling in the kingdom of His righteousness.

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