Mercy


Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!

Then your peace would have been like a river,

and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Isaiah 48: 18

 

Only if? This is one of the great regret questions that people ask of themselves. Only if I had responded differently, or my attention had been given more of the time. Things would have been so different, and the outcomes would have been so much more enjoyable. Yet, what is done, is indeed done. Things said already resonate off of the hills as our actions have already brought about pain, grief, and separation. At this moment, each of us has cast a shadow of the past upon the future, and that shadow is now a tangible part of the landscape that we will need to navigate during the coming aspects of life’s journey. Yet, God has always wanted each of us to understand that this situation does not mean that life is hopelessly diminished or that joy is beyond redemption during our days.

 

Christ offers the true hope of redemption to anyone who will enter in to His life-giving sacrifice and so allow grace to bathe a weary soul in His healing blood of rebirth. This does not eliminate the relational and the life pain that our actions and words have caused, but it does grant to us a form of forgiveness that brings freedom to the soul and that frees the body to take the steps of repentance and restoration that the situation requires. We may not be able to repair all of the harm that we have done during our days, but Christ walks with us in the attempt to do so, and He empowers and equips us to enter into the effort. With Christ we are baptized in the rushing current of God’s river of peace, and we can ride the waves of His righteousness as they break down barriers that sin has built around people’s hearts.

 

We might like for God’s peace to be a calm and a soothing place for us to dwell, but it isn’t. Righteousness is not smooth and placid, either. The peace that Christ gives to His followers is active, powerful, and compelling. His righteousness is challenging, disruptive, and forceful as it assails the defensive barriers that sin has constructed in our world and within our relationships. When we enter into Christ’s peace and engage in a life that is compelled forward by His righteousness, we are swimming in an unstoppable current that is intent on pulling all who will yield to its Lord and Master into its redemptive flow. The power of this river is found in the love and the grace that Christ grants to everyone who enters into Him and engages in a life that is now defined by God’s Word of truth. God’s peace is active, engaged, and often leads us to venture into turbulent waters, but at the same time, it allows us to do all of this while experiencing a calm, a joy, and the sure knowledge of salvation that come directly from Christ.

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He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 2: 24

 

Jesus carried a great weight on His back and in His spirit when He was placed upon that cross of torture and death. When I consider the event itself, I am hit squarely in the face with the extraordinary harshness and brutality of what happened, but the human and physical aspects of that day are light and minor in comparison with the spiritual and emotional aspects of what transpired. In that moment, Jesus took with Him all of my sin, my disobedience to God, and all of the sin of every person who would ever walk upon this earth. Every simple unloving act, angry thought, deceit, violent action and contemplation, and all of the rest of the harsh and troubling history of existence that is outside of God’s perfect will and way was heaped upon Him and was there to torture Jesus in those final hours of life on this earth.

 

What is even more remarkable to me is that Christ did all of this knowing how brutally painful the specific act of sacrifice would be and also with knowledge of just how unworthy each of us, myself certainly included, would be. I do not deserve to receive the sacrificial love that Jesus pours out over me, but He loves me still. I have done nothing to earn my place at God’s table of grace; yet, Christ has granted me a seat there. My life has been lived out in a manner that is far short of God’s standard of righteousness, and still, Christ calls me into service to His name and in His Kingdom. None of this makes sense when it is considered in light of worldly and human standards of earned privilege and responsibility that is granted based upon merit. However, God does not desire to make sense in human terms or to operate by worldly standards. His view of life and of human worth come from outside of all that we know and experience here, and His concept of grace and of forgiveness transcend this world’s standards of worthiness as they overcome their limitations.

 

In this world, we are held back and constrained by our status in many ways, and worth is often granted based upon external factors and conditions. To God we are all extraordinarily beautiful and our worth is measured in terms of Christ’s presence within us, for in Christ, we are healed from all of the brokenness and the loss that sin has brought to dwell within our hearts, minds, and bodies. This is a form of healing that takes place on the inside of our beings and that influences and effects all that we are. Christ’s beautiful and blameless blood, which was poured out as the essential sacrifice for my sins and for yours, is the agent of healing for our souls. So, as we surrender to Christ, we are made spiritually alive, granted a home in God’s eternal kingdom, and given place and purpose in Christ’s here and now kingdom come on earth. Christ takes the weight of sin from us, and He sets us free to serve Him by loving the world as God does, for the eternal righteousness that we now possess is founded on love and is carried out in acts of grace, mercy, and justice.

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
not been restored?

Jeremiah 8: 22

 

This is a lament. There is no healing to be found in the land, and the children who should be the great hope of the future and the delight of our eyes today are wasting away and falling to the ravages of disease and under the violent hands of war. When we see them being consumed by all that is anti-god in our world, we seek to find a physician, a ruler or leader, who will apply a healing salve to their wounds, but there are none to be had. Instead, too many of our nations are being led by war-mongers and by self-aggrandizing people that desire to profit upon the misery of others. This is truly a sad state of affairs, and it is one that leads us ever farther away from God’s will and takes us deeper into a growing wilderness of isolation from God’s truth and righteous justice.

 

This is also a challenge that followers of Christ face today. We desire for our nations to be led by people who apply the balm of justice, mercy, reconciliation, and love to the wounded souls that are being churned up and damaged by the conflicts, struggles, and other evil actions that run rampant upon the earth and in our communities. Yet, many of our leaders seem to be more intent upon placing bombs of protectionism, greed, fear, and isolationism along the pathways that should lead to safety than they are desirous of granting that safe harbor to these troubled souls. They also focus their peace-making energy on approaches to ending conflicts that are based upon over-powering the opponent and are accomplished by dropping bombs upon those opposing forces. Force, violence, and coercive victory have seldom been the answer to our world’s disagreements and struggles, and they hold little promise of leading us into peace today.

 

As John Newton, the writers of African-American spirituals, and even Edgar Allen Poe recognized, the balm that truly brings healing to the land and restorative health to its people is found in Christ alone. We cannot place our hope in our nations or in their rulers, for they will not provide what is needed to bind up wounds and to stop our violent ways. Our laws, in and of themselves, will not bring life where death has taken hold, and our armies and weapons will certainly not grant peace to our world. Christ is the answer to poverty, to greed, to violence, and to all other forms of chaos that is running rough-shod across our planet. Christ works in people to transform our thinking and to empower our hearts with His desire for healing and restoration. Then, He uses people to go forth into our world to make His redemption tangible and real. In Christ we must hold our leaders accountable to words and actions that model Jesus and that honor God. By Christ’s love we must bind the wounds of the broken, embrace the stranger, feed the bodies and the souls of the lost and the homeless, and grant asylum to the victims of our world’s aggressions. Christ is that balm that brings about healing and peace, and we are called by Him to apply its soothing salve to all of our world’s wounded and need-filled people.

 

All the ends of the earth shall remember

and turn to the LORD

and all the families of the nations

shall worship before you.

Psalm 22: 27

 

This is not true today, and it has never been true in the course of humanity’s long history, either. There have always been people who went their own ways, and these people live in all of the corners of the globe. We have formed families and those families are organized into nations while still seeking to follow after some other guidance than the truth and wisdom that God provides for us. We humans have been a stubborn and a stiff-necked people from our very earliest of days, and we show little inclination to change now. Yet, the Lord is an optimist, or more accurately, He knows where the story leads, and. He gets to write the ending of it all with His bold and gracious hand of redemption.

 

God desires that we would be a people with strong character and well thought out responses to the vital issues of life such as faith, loyalty, justice, and love. He gave us the ability to form our own thoughts and feelings knowing that this would also create tension and lead to disobedience and rebellion on the parts of many people. However, it also causes us to be people who enter into a relationship with God that is committed, volitional, and engaged. When we come to Christ, we have done this because we desire to surrender our lives to Him and to be transformed by Him into people who dwell in the righteousness and truth of God’s Word. God is working in our world, and He is present in every corner of it. Christ is calling to hearts across the globe with His appeal to surrender and to return to the grace, love, and restoration that our Creator, God, provides for us.

 

Today is a good time to enter into God’s visionary view of our world. Where we see brokenness and loss, Christ sees need and potential. As we encounter opposition to our faith and rejection of our God, Christ views these same people as individuals who need to experience His love and know His grace. In Christ we have not been granted an exclusive place at God’s eternal table, instead we have been granted an endless supply of invitations to the feast that we can hand out to everyone that we encounter. We have been handed an unstoppable reservoir of mercy and grace to pour out with unchecked generosity onto the wounds and the heartaches of others. Christ will touch every corner of this world with His message of new life, restoration, justice, love, and peace, and He will be carried there as we believe in God’s vision for people, for families, and for nations.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surly I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Revelation 22: 20

 

Persecution, trouble, and trials are not new, and they are not reserved for a place in ancient history, either. They are a part of the reality of a world gone far off the rails of righteousness as it has continued to exist in a rebellious state when it comes to following God and to honoring Him as Lord and King. As he set down these words of revealed truth, John was living in an age where it was dangerous to be a follower of Christ. Today there are many places and situations in our world where that is still the case. We also live in a time when interest in God’s truth and people’s will to follow His just and holy path of love and care for all seems to be far out of fashion. This is a time when the ancient plea and expression of deepest desire, “Come, Lord Jesus!” is more powerful and desirous than it ever has been.

 

We long for all to be set right in our world. We desire to see the pain, grief, sorrow, and trials of our days come to an end, and this is something that Jesus has promised to do. He will return to walk upon the earth in tangible, physical form, and when He does this, the forces that are arrayed against God will be thrown down and permanently defeated. Their influence and effect will cease, and all that has been broken, torn, and shattered in our world will be restored to the perfection of God’s original work in creation. This restored state is a beautiful dream and the hope of all who know Christ. It is also a desire, a dream, a hope, and an aspiration that we can all embrace and enter into during these turbulent days that we are in now. This is true even as we await that promised restorative return.

 

The plea for Jesus to come is one that we can embrace ourselves today. He is not absent from our world, and He is not distant from each of His people, either. As a reminder, when Jesus left us He provided His Spirit to dwell in this world and within His people. Also, God has breathed out His Word of Truth for us to enter into and to follow in all aspects of life. The Lord has never been absent from us; so, each of us has the opportunity to enter into the love, peace, grace, and justice that is Christ’s heart and calling for His people. As we desire to live as redeemed people and submit our lives to the Lord’s leading, He is faithful to work within us to transform us into people who live more fully in the reality of redemption. Christ wants each of us to live as people who are actively bringing the hope of that new life into the world that we touch, and that restorative work begins by personally speaking out this plea of submission and commitment, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come into me fully and use me to live and to work for Your glory today!”

I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

Ephesians 4: 1

 

It is my belief that we all would like to be considered as being worthy. This goes for almost everything that we do and each position that we hold. Very few people seek out or strive for something less; for, this quality of aspiring to live in a manner that truly merits recognition is something that God designed into people when He made us in His image. Yet, none of us, no one, actually lives in a worthwhile manner. We all come up short of the standard that our Creator sets for us, and we do so with great regularity, and we do it out of a form of practiced skill, too. People, I am a true pack leader in this, fail to love, to show mercy, to care for others, to embrace truth, to live righteously, to be faithful to Christ, and to follow Him in ways that are numerous and on-going. As Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God.

 

Yet, that is not the way that God wants for us to see ourselves, and it is certainly not the manner that He desires for us to live. He made us for much greater things than that. God designed and created people to be the highest expression of Himself and of His creative nature. We are intended to spend our days in intimate relationship with God, and He calls us to express this relationship in the manner that we love and care for each and every aspect of the world and every one of the people that inhabit it. God has entrusted us with a very high calling and an immeasurably important set of tasks. There is no one else who understands all of this as well or who has the access to the eternal wisdom that is required for it other than people who know the Creator, Himself, through knowing the Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Christ is the answer to the great challenge of how we, unworthy sinners that we all are, can hope and aspire to actually be worthy in God’s eyes. We are not capable of living in this sinless and love-infused way, but Christ embodies all that is holy, righteous, loving, and pure, and as He enters into each of us when we believe in Him, His character and qualities become our own. So, as we become, like Paul, prisoners of Christ, we submit our lives to following His calling for us. We turn from serving our own will and from seeking what we want and desire to living as servants of the Great King and to seeking to bring the love, truth, grace, justice, and righteousness that are the center of Christ’s heart into every interaction and engagement along the road that we are traveling. It is through this continual submission to Christ that we become truly worthy of His calling, and as this worthiness infuses our being, the world will see the glory of the Lord standing before them in the form of human love and care.

 

 

What then shall we say of these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Romans 8: 31

 

This is very confident verse. It is the sort of idea that can compel bold action and incite brave words. It is also an idea that has been seriously misused on many occasions, for much that is unjust and unrighteous has also been done while claiming the name of God as the impetus behind the deeds. I think that there is a basic line of determination to be observed in considering what is within the realm of serving God and what is done in service to self and to the world. In one sense it is as simple to discriminate as asking the question, “Is this something that Jesus would have done?” However, that question is never all that simple when placed into the complexity of the world as it is experienced. The other determinate that comes to mind involves the question, “Does this bring glory to God and serve the purposes of His Kingdom?”

 

These questions tend to sift out actions which are violent, oppressive, greedy, based in fear or anger, and other sorts of words and deeds that gain power and control for people instead of pointing toward Christ as the One who holds all power and who we trust to be in control of it all. So, I am led back to the question that Paul raises in the text. Who can be against us? Well, experience, both personal and that of people throughout history, says that many can oppose people who seek to serve Christ. In fact, this opposition is guaranteed in God’s Word, and the narrative of opposition is clearly one that runs throughout Jesus’ life.  We also live in a fallen and a broken world where nothing works as it was intended to in God’s creation design. Thus, people and things do work against us, bodies and minds fail, and the earth itself erupts and blows forth winds of destruction and chaos.

 

With all of this wreckage and destruction running about in our world and impacting our lives, how can the idea that none can oppose us in Christ still be true? We need to look at the setting of Paul’s words, for he is specifically speaking about our standing before God as people who have been made holy and blameless, justified, by the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us. This does not guarantee an easy path through life or that we will not be opposed in small and in great things along the way. We will encounter many difficult and trying situations and antagonistic people, and these are the times when it is most important to remember that in Christ no can stand against us. When we are acting out of love, seeking after justice, lifting up the oppressed and the weak, and doing other things that reflect the heart of God in our world, we may get bloodied and battered, but we will be held up by Christ and the truth of what we do for the glory of God in our world will be known by the Father as Christ does proclaim us to the heavens to be beloved daughters and sons of the one True King.

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