Mercy


And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the roster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

Mark 14: 30, 31

This is a very familiar story, and most of us are probably aware of this time when Peter spoke out of his impulsiveness and in his passion. Of course, he was not able to follow through and stick with Jesus through the Lord’s arrest and trials. Just as certainly, Jesus was exactly right in foretelling how it would all take place. Peter made promises that he could not keep, and he entered into commitments that he would not fulfill. So do I, and in all probability, so do most of you, too. This is our nature as humans. We say things that are not well thought through, and we fail to stick to the course when that path becomes too hard for us to handle. Like Peter, we attempt to go through life operating out of our passions with promises too easily given and without the resources to do what we swear that we will do.

Peter had available to him everything that he would have needed to remain strong, faithful, and true to his word, but he didn’t yet realize that it was so. Peter was standing in the presence of God in human form. He was serving Jesus, and Jesus was generous with gifts of courage and strength that exceeded anything that people could summon up from within their own resources. Still, Peter decided to do it all in his own power and out of his considerably more limited capability and capacity. When I look at Peter, I see myself. I see a stubborn unwillingness to admit when I am frightened by the situation at hand. Peter provides me with a look into a heart that is like mine in that it is uncertain and not willing to admit those areas of doubt in public for fear of looking less than competent and capable. In Peter’s story of gross failure, I see an example of the sort of thing that I have experienced in many settings over most of the years of my life.

So, in this same story, I also see something that gives me great hope, for Peter is not left to suffer in his failure and to live out his days in the misery that he was feeling in these hours right after Jesus was arrested and he refused to acknowledge that he even knew the Lord much less that he traveled with Him and served Him. Jesus sought out Peter, and He brought grace and redemption to the fallen disciple. Christ granted forgiveness to Peter, and then the Lord commissioned Peter into service to Him and in the newly formed Kingdom of God now established on earth in the form of Christ’s church. The setting is not as dramatic as was the one by the seashore when Jesus interacted with Peter, but the result has been the same for me, and this story of redemption and purpose are repeated continually in the lives of other people too. Jesus grants infinite grace to His stubborn, overpromising, and fallen sheep. His love and mercy are unceasing despite all that we might do or fail to follow through with. So, it is important to remember that when I fail, and I know that I will again and again, Jesus is ready to pour out forgiveness on my spirit as He is also there to send me out again into service to His Kingdom.  

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The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

John 4: 25, 26

It is very likely that you have known someone who acted as if they did truly know it all. This is the sort of claim that is very hard to sustain. Most people who act as if this were true for themselves are portraying a form of arrogance that is often mixed with some strong internal doubts. I would guess that this Samaritan woman had encountered a few people during her life-time who had acted in this manner, but this encounter with the Jewish stranger was different. He knew things about her that were not His to know, and He spoke with a form of authority that pierced through her protective outer shields in a way that allowed His words to penetrate to the center of her heart. This man knew her in a way that was both terrifying and exhilarating. A simple and routine action of going out to the community well to draw water had become the point at which her entire life was being transformed.

This woman had encountered a very practical and direct form of knowledge that Jesus had regarding her, for He knew all about the rather sordid and difficult life that she had lived up until this time. He both knew and understood why she was out at that well when no one else from her community was there. Jesus understood the hurt and the pain that filled her days as He also recognized her heart’s yearning for salvation from the burden that she carried with her every moment of her life. Jesus was fully aware of the woman’s story without her needing to say anything, and He had answers for the real questions that her heart was asking. This Jesus who just happened to be waiting at a particular well at a time of day when most people would have been indoors was seeking after this individual because He was attuned to the deep longing of her spirit. The Christ came to her just as He is continually seeking after all people.

Jesus does know all. He, as God, sees everything that we think, say, and do, and in an even more powerful demonstration of His complete knowledge and understanding, Christ is aware of the condition and the intentions of our hearts. He comprehends the pain and the hurt that we experience deep inside of our being, and He has the answers for us that will bring about true and lasting healing for those wounds and for the struggles that come about in life because of them. Most importantly, Jesus is the answer to the greatest questions that exists in all people’s lives, which are those of my own identity, my value and worth, and my purpose in being here. Jesus takes everyone who responds to His offer of answers into the presence of our Creator, God Himself, and Christ then opens our minds and our hearts to hearing the truth about all of these vital questions. Jesus comes seeking after everyone on earth, He waits for us at our own well of questioning, and He answers all of the doubts and fears that we may possess with His unfailing comprehension, grace, and love.     

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10: 31

This is one of the most inclusive statements in all of Scripture. Yet, it has a very narrow focus at its conclusion. Paul had lived out of a very ridged and fully articulated form of rules and regulations regarding what he could eat, how it was to be handled and prepared, and who he could take meals with. Now, in Christ, he had a form of freedom that he would have never experienced before. Still, he was a man who understood the importance of self-control, and he also understood that this self-discipline was a product of Paul’s submission to Christ and to following God’s will in everything. Thus, he comes to the broad and highly inclusive aspect of the statement in his letter to the church in Corinth when he tells them to “do all” to the glory of God.

This all is very big word, for it does not leave much out of its boundaries. There is no space for personal beliefs or for secret passions. This idea of living out each and every moment of life for the glory of God is not one that Paul invented, either. It is as old as is the existence of humanity, for fully engaged, all-in worship of the Lord a part of the way that we were created to exist. Thus, when we hold back parts of our lives or determine to live out aspects of it outside of God’s will and righteousness, we are actually setting a course for ourselves that is at odds with our deepest nature. People are most at peace in our souls when we are living in obedience to God’s Word and in harmony with His will. So, in order to do this with the totality of our beings, there is no area of life that we do not surrender to Christ and live out in the full instruction of the Word and the on-going council of the Spirit.

At the end of his thoughts, Paul takes us to the truly narrow and singular focus of what it means to “do all” in this context. God’s glory is made visible by the manner that His people live out our lives. When we pour out the presence of Christ into the world around us, we are reflecting that glory. This is seen in the form of sacrificial love that reaches out to others and seeks to uplift and care for them even when that means giving up something of importance to ourselves. It is also demonstrated when we are more concerned with justice and with mercy than we are with safety or gain. Christ’s presence is brought into the public square when we hold up righteousness as the standard for behavior and as the foundation for all forms of policy and practice in our society. There are many other situations and instances wherein we can choose to bring glory to God or to deny Him through our thoughts, words, and actions. Paul tells us to choose to do it all for God’s glory.     

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see the great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Mark 13: 1, 2

The temple in Jerusalem was impressive. There were beautiful finishes throughout its interior, and the outer walls were constructed by skilled stone masons and stood in proud relief against the surrounding city. As it was constructed upon a hill, it looked out over the city as a form of both guardian sentinel and also as a beacon to guide those who were seeking God into His presence. At least that was how it was supposed to function. In fact, the temple was just a building. Its impressive architecture and its grand furnishings did absolutely nothing to bring people any closer to knowing God. The leadership was too far gone along a path of corruption to care about what God wanted, and they were so consumed with the pursuit of personal gain that they failed to seek to truly serve His purposes on earth much less to aspire toward heavenly things. As regarded the temple that Jesus and His disciples were visiting that day, it would be gone in only a few dozen more years. Yet, Jesus is looking far beyond that moment, and He is speaking to an audience that was not contemplated by His hearers that day, either.

We, too, are builders. We plan and fabricate wonderful buildings with amazing details and with feats of engineering that would amaze those earlier workers in stone. We also put together plans and ideas in ways that bring into existence entities and organizations to provide order and structure to our worldly and sacred endeavors. As was true of the temple when Jesus was looking upon it, so it is still true today; there is nothing inherently wrong with putting up buildings or with developing systems and structures to operate our businesses, governments, and ministries. When Jesus was looking upon the temple, the problem was not in the structures; rather, it was in the hearts of the people. In our times, the same thing is true. We can also become worshipers of stone and brick idols that are in name alone places where God is to be found. We can craft governance systems and leadership models that make everything work smoothly and that contemplate every possible contingency or issue that might arise, but if these rules and regulations do not direct us to the foot of the cross, then they are worth nothing beyond the ashes that will remain at the end of days.

God desires that everything that we do, each thought that we have, and all of the plans that we devise be focused upon and committed to Him. He does not leave permission or allowance for there to be anything held out or reserved for our personal or secular lives. As we go about our business enterprises, they should operate as if Christ were the final authority in all of the decisions that are made. When we dwell among our neighbors, Christ wants us to place Him fully and clearly on display in that community. The government that we permit and the one that we encourage is to be run out of righteousness, with justice as its great concern, and in a holy fear of the Lord and with regard for the way of the cross. Finally, Christ calls upon us to gather in the fellowship of His Word with grace, love, and peacemaking as our unbreakable bond and with service to Christ as our greatest mission. When these things are true, the temple that is constructed is built up out of eternal materials as it is formed in the hearts of people and is held up for all time by the spiritual bond that is created by the hands of the Master Builder.   

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest you depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and to your children’s children.

Deuteronomy 4: 9

Does it seem as if everyone is in a giant hurry to get somewhere, but it is really hard to see what that destination might actually be? Thus, this world feels like a place that is filled with careless people who are continually crashing into each other without even realizing that there might be injury or damage left in the wake of their travels. Perhaps it is our accelerated pace of life that is the cause of the way that people interact so poorly with each other, or the harshness of our days just may be the result of a form of universal self-centeredness. Regardless of the source or the cause, the reality of life is that there are far too many of these collisions of the heart, mind, and body happening to people all around us. They may be people that we barely know or they might be the ones that we are closest to and most intimately involved with, but in the end, the pain is real and the harm can be catastrophic for relationships.

The same sort of thing is true when it comes to our relationship with God. We rush about and seldom, if ever, give a moment’s pause to consider the presence of God in our lives. He is there for that special hour on the prescribed day of gathering for attendance at a place we call church or some such name, and He is called upon when disaster or significant injury and illness strike. Yet, our careless hearts have generally pushed the Lord out of the schedule that we have so meticulously crafted for our days so that our time will be highly productive. So, I am led to wonder about that productivity and to look at the carelessness of my days in light of the way that God desires to be the One who sets the direction and establishes the tone for each and every hour of all of our days. If I do not have time to see the needs of others and to hear the pain in their hearts, am I really listening to Moses’ words of wisdom and keeping my soul diligently focused upon my Lord?

Moses make a point of reminding himself and the people that he was leading of the consistently powerful way that God had been with them and had provided for them in all situations, circumstances, and places. This same testimony is true in my life, for God has been present and active in it from its earliest days, and one of the most important aspects of the Lord’s involvement with me has been the way that He has opened my eyes to the hurt and the pain in the lives of others. I am not particularly good at responding to those promptings, but God does not allow me to ignore them for very long without bringing me back into His reality. I am reminded to take care of my relationship with Christ and to look intently upon His face as He leads me into meditation upon His Word. Christ’s Spirit takes care of my soul, and He calls me into regular, purposeful, and committed times of prayer and listening to His voice. It is during these times that the Lord reveals His heart of compassion and concern for others to me as He speaks healing and strength into my soul. 

And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all of those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything that she had, all she had to live on.”

Mark 12: 43, 44

Jesus is making a statement that is in the form of a parable; so, we need to consider the deeper or the hidden meanings in His words. For Jesus used parables as a means of both sifting out people who did not truly know God from those who were sincere in their desire to gain eternal truth and understanding, and He also utilized this obscured form of teaching so that His followers would be forced to dig deeper into God’s word and allow that those complex and mature ideas would be revealed to them in that process of seeking wisdom and truth. On the surface of it this is a story about the way that we hold our financial wealth and the relatively greater willingness to trust God with it that was held by the poor woman as opposed to those who we assume to be the far wealthier men that made up the group of Jewish religious leaders that were questioning Jesus.

Yet, I wonder if Jesus isn’t talking about something even more difficult to surrender than our money? We know that it was necessary in the world where Jesus lived to have some sort of income in order to live, and the same is even more true today, but there are other things that we hold, possess, and strive for that make up the full package of what we might consider to be necessities of life. These include our educations, homes, jobs, status in society, national identity, religious affiliations, and many other points of connection to our world that all work together to define who we are and to establish what we are worth in our culture. Perhaps there are aspects of all of this that we are holding onto tightly and so making only those show offerings of our deeper selves to the Lord while grasping with all of our might to what we consider to be essential for life?

Christ desires for us to trust Him to the point of fully emptying our pockets, wallets, purses, and vaults of everything that we might determine to be important or essential for us to live a meaningful and fulfilled life. He wants us to be widow-like in turning over tomorrow to God so that what we have and thus where we go are guided fully by His will and are provided by His hands of loving grace, mercy, and wisdom. We may think that we have a good plan for how we will live out our time on earth and even for the manner in which that plan will fulfill a calling that has come from the Lord. However, we just might be wrong, or God may have something far more significant to the purposes of His kingdom in mind for us. If we hold on rigidly out of our own strength and understanding to our plans and goals, we just might not be open to God’s greater plan. You see, the widow in this story was infinitely rich in spirit and in her relationship with the Lord, and we can be like her in these ways as well when we turn over every aspect of our lives to Him and trust in God’s goodness and grace to provide all that we will need to live today in the center of His will.

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5: 11, 12

A great trial is underway in our world. Evidence is offered up and presented on a regular basis, and the jury is soaking it in as it is set forth. Perhaps the greatest difference from this trial and those that we are most familiar with is the fact that this jury is not comprised of a set number of people who hear all of the testimony before rendering a singular verdict. This jury is populated with an ever changing group of people and their number is enormous. Although the stated object of the trial might be faith in Jesus; so, Jesus is on trial, the lives that are really on the line as they will be subject to the life or death outcome of the adjudication that is on view are all of the participants in the jury itself. They see the evidence, and each of them is placed in the position of making a decision, of rendering a verdict, that either accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior or that rejects Him.

 Those of us who know Christ are placed in the position of being living witnesses to the life that we have been granted in Christ. Our testimony is fleshed out and placed on view for the jury to consider in the form of the lives that we live as a result of the presence of Christ in us. The transformative work that Christ does in our hearts and minds presents a powerful expression of the grace, mercy, and love that God pours out upon His Creation and that Christ grants to each of us in His Spirit. All that we speak and do is seen by the world around us, and it is evaluated as either legitimate evidence of the effectiveness and the truth of the claim that Christ is the singular answer to the question of life or death, or it is rejected as fabrication or self-deception. The credibility of us as witnesses is primarily determined by the sincerity of our faith in Christ.

We can do nothing about the receptivity of others. These witnesses will evaluate and think about what they see with various forms of personal filters in place. Some will remain skeptical and unbelieving for the full term of their lives, others will turn away from unbelief and enter into a relationship with Christ in a moment, while still others will contemplate and consider what they have seen for a long while before rendering their final verdict. The only aspect of this courtroom drama that we do get to control is found in the way that we live and the consistency of the testimony that we give to the unfailing love that Christ provides to us. As followers of Christ, our lives are on view by this large array of jurors, and our testimony is heard over and over again throughout the course of our days. During each of those days there will be members of that jury who will render a verdict for themselves by choosing life in Christ or death without Him.   

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