Mercy


For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

2 Peter 1: 16-18

We live in a time in world history where there is a striking absence of truly authoritative leadership. We are surrounded by people that wield power and that hold out their wisdom as if it were of supreme value, but the test of truth calls the lie in all of these claims. The voices that demand our loyalty and that attempt to impose their wills upon our nations are speaking out of the shallow depths of their own human reason as they too frequently make demands that are not in any way related to God’s Word of truth and life. This sort of worldly authority is, in fact, fueled by arrogance, and it draws far too many people into its enticing wasp trap of Spirit quenching death.

Peter was present when the one and the only, the singular, Lord God of the Universe proclaimed that Jesus was truly His Son. So, at that time, God was also proclaiming the conveyance of authority to rule over all of the earth as its sole rightful King. Jesus retains the right to pronounce judgement upon all that transpires in our world, and through His Spirit, He also provides all of the wisdom and counsel that we need in order to live as godly people. That is, the Spirit guides us into thinking and acting in a manner that will please God and that will bring the Kingdom of God into view in our world. When we are following Christ justice, mercy, peacemaking, and love for all people prevail. As people in positions of authority submit to Christ, they can do nothing other than promote these same well-articulated Godly characteristics.

As God’s character and nature are seldom seen in the words and the actions of many of our world’s leaders, one must surely question whether these people are actually submitted to Christ. For the vast majority of us, those who elect leaders and whose voice they should desire to hear, we should be questioning the sorts of opinions that we express to our elected rulers as we should also carefully consider the Christ-likeness of those for whom we vote. For, if Christ was truly proclaimed to be King and was so granted the authority to rule over this world, as attested to by Peter, then it is His heart-felt proclamation of grace and love for our neighbors that must prevail in the outworking of all of our earthly governance. There is no authority on earth that is superior to Jesus, and there is no rule of law that exceeds the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

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The LORD is good to those who wait for him,

   to the soul who seeks him.

Lamentations 3: 25

What is so hard about waiting? Patience in times of stress or distress is just not the sort of thing that most of us a wired to engage in, and waiting is hard to do even under ideal conditions. We want answers or we desire relief from the pain, and taking a long view on the presence of these virtues is not something that most of us do not enjoy. Yet, the Lord sees all of human history. He knows its beginning moment, and He is fully in touch with the hour that it all will be transformed back into its created perfection. There is no instant in between that catches Him by surprise. This can be hard to grasp for us, and it can also be difficult to comprehend how the God of grace, mercy, and love can still allow so much hardship, pain, and suffering to exist in an environment that He sees so fully.

For I am convinced that the Lord has the capability, capacity, and power to engage with and to handle any situation or circumstance that He might so choose to do. So, the presence of brokenness in our world is not the result of God’s weakness or of His disengagement or distance from us and from our reality. Instead, the Lord does allow the natural course of life on earth to follow where we have chosen to take it. It was our ancestors that brought about the rejection of God’s perfection, and we are equally involved in perpetuating this process of living outside of God’s will. Still, He seeks after each of us, and He pours out grace and provides the means of redemption for any of us that accept God’s gift of His Son. Even Jesus and the presence of His Spirit with us does not grant immunity to the broken nature of our world, but He does show us the truth of eternity and provide its hope to us even in the midst of our hardest days and darkest hours.

So, the Lord asks us to wait on Him. We can trust in the salvation for our souls that Christ provides, and we can have faith in the reality of a glory that exceeds anything that can be experienced upon this earth. Thus, these moments spent in turmoil and anguished anticipation are nothing more than a brief pause in the journey that this faith in Christ takes us upon. When the place where we are residing in life turns hard and our heart is made heavy by the burden that is placed upon us by the cares of the day, we can turn to the Lord with whatever strength and attention that we can muster up in that time, and we can rest assured that our prayers are heard, that God’s Word will provide wisdom and guidance for that time and place, and that the body of faith will be a refuge of care and companionship through the hours that creep along before the dawn of a new day. Thus, this form of waiting can, in fact, be some of the richest time with the Lord that we will ever experience in this life.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

James 1: 5

There is almost a note of challenge in this “if” expression, for should I answer that I have it all, in other words that my wisdom vial is all filled up, thank you anyway, then I am probably labeling myself as a fool. For most people realize that absolute and total wisdom belongs to God alone. This thought also causes me to consider if I have all the wisdom that I need for what I am doing and have going on in my life at this moment. Again, the Lord is quick to show me how little of life I truly get and how much of a difference His grasp on matters can make in my success and in the real quality of my life.

The way that God hands out His wisdom and leads me to the understanding of life that comes out of it is one of the most highly valued and special aspects of knowing Him. The Lord isn’t like most people and He certainly isn’t like me, for we tend to make a big deal out of sharing our special insights and leading others to the profound truths of the universe that are stored away in our brains. People become overbearing, condescending, and seek to gain an advantage over others through the use and the manipulation of knowledge. Yet, all of these anti relational ways of interacting with others are unwise from God’s perspective. In contrast, God holds out His hand and says that here is a gift. Let me bless your day with all that you need to serve Me well and to bring My presence into the lives of others.

As for myself, and I speculate that this is true for all of us, I can change the conditional “if” of this verse into an absolute “when”, and I need to add that the time for my need for God’s wisdom is always. The Lord grants to me total access to His understanding of every situation, circumstance, and condition that I encounter in my day. Also, God uses this learning process as a way of showing me what righteousness looks like; thus, He brings me closer to Him through it all. Now I do realize that absolute and complete understanding of all that goes on in life and beyond will escape my limited and finite grasp, but I still trust the Lord to reveal to me all that I do need to travel through life as His child in this world. When I seek God’s wisdom, I am opening up myself to the wondrous, transformational, and restorative work that He desires to do in my heart and in my mind.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, but without sin.

Hebrews 4: 15

Let’s face it, there are days when I am not very strong. I don’t mean sore muscles or being weary from the drain of life’s activities, and I am not referring to emotional tiredness, either. There are just times in life when temptations of various kinds are more real than is the will to turn away from them. This is a challenging aspect of living in the skin that God has provided to me as a dwelling place for my heart, mind, and soul, and these are not times that make me feel especially good about myself when I look at what I am thinking and doing from the perspective of the cross that Christ allowed Himself to occupy for my sake. This contrast between my depravity and Christ’s holy yet bloodied presence makes me want to go away and hide in a dark corner with my shame and guilt covering me.

However I may feel about these things and in these dark hours of my soul, Christ calls to me to come out and to engage with Him in the truth of His gospel of love, grace, and redemption. My self-imposed cave of regrets is not the place where my redeemed soul is supposed to reside. My sinfulness does have consequences, and there is always human fallout to deal with, but isolation and separation are not the answers that Christ provides to me. Christ knows the intensity of the challenge that life in this world of brokenness and temptation provides as He experienced life in this place to its fullest without succumbing to those same temptations. Additionally, there is nothing that we can do or any place that we can journey that will take us beyond the grace and the forgiveness of the cross of Christ. Our Lord’s blood is more than adequate to cover any sin that we can commit.

Jesus wants each of us to live fully in His presence. He also desires for us to live out His calling to be people that proclaim the eternal glory of God in every aspect of our lives. We cannot do this if we allow our times of weakness to overcome Christ’s mission for our lives. However, we are directed by God to be people that recognize the destructive nature of sin and who, therefor, turn to God in repentance and with a desire to open up our areas of weakness to the restorative work of the Spirit. Sin does not need to win in this contest for our loyalty, for, in Christ, it has already lost the battle for the soul. Thus, our sins have been forgiven on His cross, we are granted mercy and grace by Christ, and His Spirit works within us to strengthen our resolve to live as holy and righteous people. As the writer of Hebrews went on to say,

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4: 16 

Owe no one anything except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13: 8

The daily news has been shouting at us for quite a while now so that almost everyone is fully aware that there is a “Debt Crisis” in our world. Our governments have entered into obligations that can’t be met with the available resources. Individuals continue to spend money that they don’t have and that they have no real hope of ever seeing. We also incur debt in many other ways, for we make commitments and we enter into relational obligations that we really have very little intention of meeting. As we try to keep pace with our culture we are driving our personal and our societal balance sheets deeper and deeper into the red.

Christ wants us to stop. Stop writing the checks, discontinue the charging, and put a hold on the new commitments. He wants us to step out of the swirling masses that are flocking to the newest and the most exciting of sales events. He tells us to get on our knees and to seek His face in prayerful submission to the wonder and the power of truth. In those moments of quiet meditation God’s Word and His Spirit will speak. When knowing God’s heart is the desired outcome, He will reveal the truth of what is real love. Christ demonstrated it for us every day of His life in this world. God has been relating to people from the perspective of love for all of our history. We are called by God to respond to Him by loving Him with such totality of being that we can do little else except to love other people as Christ does.

This is an ideal, and the life of absolute and total love is not an easy one to accomplish. It wasn’t easy for Jesus in that it required Him to set aside His position and its glory and to sacrifice all to do it; yet, that was what He did in response to God’s expressed desire. God’s expressed desire for me and for you is the same. He wants us to live in the simplicity of righteousness. He tells us to stop entering into agreements that bind our hearts and our minds to impossibly heavy burdens of debt. Christ leads us down a road that takes us into a state of being that transcends this world and its earthly obligations and that brings us into the place where we are dwelling in the perspective of the Father. In God’s economy we are indebted only to Him, and He requires that our payments be made in loving interaction with our world.    

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Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints,

   and give thanks to his holy name.

For his anger is but for a moment,

   and his favor is for a lifetime.

Weeping may tarry for a night,

   but joy comes in the morning.

Psalm 30: 4, 5

David knew a lot about life, for he seems to have experienced a wide range of that thing that we know as living. He knew victory, and he had experienced the direct relationship between faith in God and achieving the impossible. David had lived out human isolation and rejection, which gave him a deeper appreciation of the love and acceptance that came to him from the Lord. He had acted in direct opposition to God’s will and had rejected His Law of Life in thoughts, words, and actions; so, David had also incurred God’s anger and knew that a form of death always follows sinfulness. The king had been raised up by God, and he had become humbled and lowly by the actions of people; actions that the Lord allowed to happen. David had known many nights of sleepless tears, and he had gone through others that were filled with the deep despair that comes when all hope has slipped away. He had also seen many mornings when the sun came up, the song birds sang, and the presence of the Lord was the sweet aroma that filled his heart with song.

This morning song is the part of the on-going process of life that David wants us to grasp and to understand. There will be pain, and we will needfully cry tears along the way. These hard days and interminable nights when worry, fear, and grief are near at hand present us with the need to release emotions and to draw upon resources that come from outside of our strength. These are the hours of life when the Lord’s presence in its many forms can be the reality that takes us through until that first glimmer of the promised dawn’s light touches our troubled eyes. Hope is found in the certain knowledge of Christ’s victory over death and over all of that dark angel’s underlings in the form of disease, injury, broken relationships, and the many other forms of loss that come about due to the fallen nature of this world. We all sin, for we all think, say, and do things that are contrary to God’s will and that operate in rebellious disregard for His Law. Still, Christ has redeemed us from all of this, and God’s grace holds fast to our souls throughout these times.

So, even God’s anger and grief at our wandering away from Him is temporary. The Lord welcomes each of us back with open arms of love as He sings forth a song of restoration and hope. In reality, most of the hard times that we experience during the journey of life are not caused by any personal departure from God’s will. Instead, their presence is the result of the broken nature of our world. We do not bring about illness nor cause it to be present, we are not responsible for most of the injuries that we incur and almost none of them come about due to sinful acts. The pain of loss and the grief that follows are real, but life comes to an end as a result of the fact that this life is nothing more than the temporary first act in an eternal drama wherein our souls continue on into infinity. In Christ, the promise of morning’s approach is present in each of these hard situations. Christ went before us as He went through the darkest of all nights and then gave to us the gift of that resurrection dawn when hope is poured out upon all people of faith. Although we may be living in the dark hour of pain and loss at this moment, Christ’s light of redemption and joy is already poised to break out over the horizon at the dawn of a new day. 

We were buried therefor with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6: 4

The idea of baptism, as it has been practiced as a right and a sacrament by the church since days before Paul, is certainly being discussed here. Yet, it is not this act that brings about the important result that is mentioned. Without contemplation of means or of method, that is absent discussion of immersion verses sprinkling and babies and/or adults, the act of wetting down a person does nothing beyond announcing and proclaiming the reality of a relationship that is formed in the heart and is made real by virtue of the work of the Spirit of Christ within a person. Thus, the real baptism into Christ’s death takes place in the realm of the mystical and carried out by the Spirit. This is a work that is done as a part of that wonderous event that we often call conversion or new birth in Christ. In fact, this death of the old self is an essential part of the life-long journey of faith that is commenced when each of us surrenders our life to Christ.

We are allowed to experience the shame of the criminal’s death on the cross through Jesus’ literal pain, agony, and death there. He was innocent and undeserving of that fate, and we are each guilty and have more than earned the punishment that Christ endured. More so, the shame of this torturous implement is also ours as our sinfulness is viewed in contrast to God’s standard of holiness and righteous living. So, God requires that we surrender ourselves in full and total submission to Him; thus, we do place the comforts, the selfish pleasures, and the defining compulsions of our prior lives upon that altar of redemption. We undergo the process of dying to self with its literal, if spiritual, burial of who and what we were in a grave that also leads to our spiritual union with Christ. From this earthy and darkened place, we are raised up into the light of new life, and this is also something that is accomplished by the work of the Spirit alone.

From this point forward, we are called upon by Christ to seek to live out our days as followers of God’s way and doers of His will. Although this is something that we participate fully in as we are asked to set our eyes on Christ and ground our minds in God’s Word while surrendering our hearts to the leading of the Spirit, the strength needed and the power that living out this transformed life requires is provided by Christ through the presence of His Spirit. So, this is how we walk in the newness of life, and this is what it means to live in the fullness of the kingdom of God as it has come to be our own reality. In Christ we are made new, and through Christ’s work, as it is carried out in our bodies, the world that we touch is also transformed into a place where the Godly characteristics of love, justice, mercy, and peacemaking are tangibly present. Although this walk in the newness of life in Christ will never be easy as it operates in direct opposition to the ways of this world, it does place us in the center of the redemption that Christ has caused to exist here as a result of His resurrection in which we have now been joined.           

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