Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Quality of Mercy

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:6

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "Sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and Sinners?""

On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who needs a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means; I desire meercy, not sacrifice.  For I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners."
Matt. 9:10-13

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." Matt. 21:31

I have a friend at my job who is not a Believer, but she has an excellent quality of mercy.  I complimented her for it the other night.  As is usually the case with a character trait like this, she didn't even realize's just something she does.

I notice it, because it is in very short supply.

For practical purposes, Mercy is when you cut someone plenty of slack for their faults.  Often, this is a result of having a good memory for all of the stupid things you did once upon a time. (Not that I would have the foggiest idea about any of that.)


So this morning I got new tires for my VUE.  I love that car, and if it were not a violation of God's law I would consider proposing to it.  Now my car is a much happier car.  It is also much safer to drive now that a Minnesota winter is staring at me from behind the bushes next door.

My Dad came with me so that we could have breakfast.  There is nothing to do at the tire place, and not even an area to sit down.  So in lieu of picking my nose for an hour in public, we went and got pancakes.  This was a good option.

So dad and I were eating away and he asked me some questions.  He asked me what I thought about salvation for those who do not know Jesus.

This is always an interesting question.  More often than not, if asked by an unbeliever it is usually a tactic to change the subject. "Yeah, so what about people who have never had the chance to even hear of Jesus?" Something along that line.

Generally speaking, in this country, even with the horrible preachers on the TV and radio, there is no excuse.  But even so, it isn't my place to make decisions for Jesus.

I do believe that when Jesus said that he was the way, truth & life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him, he meant it. (It's also really hard to misinterpret that line unless you really put some effort into it.) But I also know the verse; "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Joel 2:32) and that was pre-Jesus.

Many years ago, Billy Graham was being interviewed by Robert Schuller.  Billy said that he thought that there were many people around the world who were "Christians", but didn't even know it.  He caught more than a bit of flack for that.  But I think he is correct. (If you are a High Calvinist, this would make complete sense.)

It's easy to wear a label.  However, God is the only one who really knows the heart.  I theorized to my Dad that maybe there are folks out there who are so stuck in their sin, so down trodden, so broken and shamed, that they can't get out from under it.  Maybe, just maybe, in that state of being they simply cry in their heart for mercy to that thing that they know is greater than they.  They know deep in their bones that they have and are nothing, so they just cry out.

I do not believe that my God is deaf.

I can't get past the chastising that Jesus gave the Pharisees about Hookers getting into heaven while they were left behind.  It just strikes me that Jesus might know something we don't.

I am not a Universalist by any means.  I know plenty of people who are fully aware of Jesus, and they hate him.  Some even actively oppose him.  It breaks my heart because I know that someday they will have to answer to him.  Not to be flippant, but their way has a terrible retirement plan.

I am a big believer in the quality of Mercy.  I am convinced of God's mercy because I am still here.  As much as I try his patience, I have yet to receive the big squish.  I need to remind myself of that when I interact with other people.

We live in a world without much in the way of mercy.  America is a dog eat dog nation, and our politics and economics has little value for mercy.  This country will answer for that some day.  You and I work with people that rarely show any mercy to others.  But when you see it in action, it is such a beautiful thing.

My friend is beautiful because of this quality.

Mercy and patience go hand in hand.  It difficult to have one without the other.  God has been patient with me, and as a result has shown me great mercy.  The attributes of God are many, but I tend to like that one the best.





P.S. As a bonus, here's a couple of Secular versions of this attribute.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Your Love Never Fails

But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
Titus 3:4 & 5

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Eph. 2:6 & 7

So yesterday I was driving to work after having had a particularly enjoyable morning and lunch.  For some reason I began to reflect on how kind YHWH has been to me.  And I really do mean the word "Kind."  Sure, God has been gracious, loving, forgiving...plenty of that, merciful, funny, tolerant, etc.  But for some reason I seemed to focus in on his kindness.

That's kind of a rather funny word to think of when you contemplate the divine.  Still...

I assume that he must have a massive streak of it in him to put up with me as much as he does.  I'm sure that I must try his patience the majority of the time.  Yet, I can't help but figure that he understands my waywardness better than I ever will.  I suppose when you have that type of big-picture perspective, you are open to being a tad more gracious than I might be.

So anyway, I was driving to work and a song came on the radio.  I'm sure I've heard it before, but this was the first time that the lyrics really sank in.  It made me smile.

Nothing can separate, even if I ran away.
Your love never fails.
I know I still make mistakes, but you have new mercies for me everyday.
Your love never fails.

You stay the same through the ages.
Your love never changes.

There may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning.

And when the oceans rage, I don't have to be afraid.  
Because I know that You love me.
Your love never fails.

The wind is strong and the water's deep, but I'm not alone here in these open seas.
Cause Your love never fails.
The chasm is far too wide.  I never thought I'd reach the other side.
But Your love never fails.

You make all things work together for my good.

So anyway, I was driving out to the cabin today re-thinking everything from yesterday.  Sure enough, I began to re-think that song.  I started playing it in my head and just being thankful for all the kindness God has shown me.

I turned on the radio and guess what song was just beginning?

Coincidence?  :)



Monday, October 1, 2012

Following Jesus into the woods.

Better a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.
Prov. 27:10

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Ecc. 4:12

I spent the weekend up in north central Minnesota with 21 other guys from Living Waters on a Men's retreat.  Twas most enjoyable indeed.  It has been said of our church body that we are the opposite of many churches in that our men are the ones who tend to be tight with each other and go do things like this, while the women are a bit less so.  I'm not sure if that is exactly true, but it is interesting.

We spent the time at one of the guy's cabins.  It is located in the Brainerd area, which has a massive chain of lakes all connected by channels.  Apparently this whole area lives off of conferences and such.  It has more golf course than I've ever seen.  I guess that even in the winter, the place is packed thanks to ice fishing and snowmobiles.

It is also home to the original Mill's Fleet Farm & car dealership. (Also known as The Man Store.) Their  motto is "If we don't have it, you don't need it."  All I know is that when I go into that store I seem to grow more chest hair.

Autumn in Minnesota is beautiful and lasts for maybe 2 weeks if you are lucky.  In this instance, we couldn't have asked for better weather, and colors were at their peak.  While most of the guys went up there to fish, golf and shoot at things, I told Pastor Scott that I wanted to just hear people's stories and get some writing done. (Both were accomplished.)


And now for some photos...

<--- b="b"> Naturally, our diet was horrible.  The only vegetable I saw was pickles for burgers, and corn as in corn chips.  There was plenty of bacon, steaks, brats and hotdogs.

It hit the gym hard this morning in a vain attempt to rid myself of some of this.

<--- b="b"> We had a large fire pit for steaks and witches.  Most of my clothes smelled like ash until they were washed this morning.

<--- b="b"> About half of the guys brought their guns.  For some reason, the older I get, the more nervous I am around them.  Never the less, the guys from Living Waters like to hear things go boom.

The boys headed off to some target range in the area for clay pigeons and stationary targets.  I think others simply wandered in the nearby woods hoping to run across a random terrorist.

<--- font="font"> Like I said, all the lakes are connected by channels.  I find it amusing that they needed to put up a warning sign for boaters to duck when going under a channel bridge like this.

I was told however, that more than one boater has whipped under one of these with their canopy still up, only to discover that they now had a convertible.

<--- b="b"> Brandon and his Miller beer.  It was an America made beer, so it doesn't really count as actual beer.

The stereotype of Baptists (Living Waters is a member of the Baptist General Conference...formerly known as Swedish Baptists until we decided to open heaven up for Danes & Norwegians.) is that they do not drink alcohol...or if they do, they will not wave at each other in the liquor store.

I have also heard that Baptists will not make love standing up because people would think they were dancing.

My personal thought is that if I asked Jesus if it was sinful to drink beer, he would respond by asking me which brand I was planning on drinking.


I was very happy that I got to page 12 of chapter 4 of my book.  Writing that thing is hard!!!  I get maybe a little over one page an hour.  Still, it is interesting to see how once I get going, the stories tend to write themselves and take on a life of their own.

Other than that, it was fun to get to know some of the guys better.  I've said it before that I often have a hard time around most people who call themselves Christians.  As a result, I fully understand why non-believers do too.  I want to trust them, but I have to be careful.

That having been said, Pastor Scott made me ride up with a guy who is relatively new to our body.  He was interesting.  The very first thing I noticed when he turned on his truck was that he had his radio tuned to Glenn Beck's talk show. (He's an Anti-Christ false teacher as far as I am concerned.) I figured that made any discussion of politics out of range.  Still, he was an architect, and he showed me some of the buildings he had designed up in that area.  I thought that was pretty cool.

I also got to hear the stories of some other guys, too.  If you think about it, everyone is a story in progress.  We are all walking auto-biographies if you will.

What all of these guys had in common, near as I could tell, was that they really did want to follow Jesus.  That means a great deal more to me than wether I agree with them politically, about sports teams, or on fringe theological issues.  I want them to help me follow Jesus better.  They want the same from the other guys.  That is what really matters.  Actually, at the end of the day and of our lives, that's ALL that matters.

As I listen to these guys, I discover who I am safe around.  I learn what issues I can discuss, and more important, who I can be vulnerable around.

I mentioned to a few that the last time I was on a men's retreat, I had one of my major depressive episodes and ended up turning into a puddle and sneaking out of there before anyone knew I was missing.  I told them that I had honestly been a little worried about that happening again.  The one guy who had been there before when that happened told me that he would just duct tape me this time until it passed.  This was good to know.

The other guys thought that was amusing and liked that I could be that open.  I can't emphasize enough how important the ability to be open and vulnerable is.  Pastor Scott is rather open about his issues, and other pastors have criticized him for that.  That's pretty stupid if you ask me.  Jesus never said that he was going to magically take all our baggage away.  He said that he would bring you through it with his strength.  There is a significant difference.

To many Christians wear masks to church.  "Yup, Jesus dun healed me and now I'm problems what so ever."  Jeez, that is so dumb!  If I am going to follow Jesus into his kingdom, then I need to be open about various struggles.  And to do that, I need other folks who are open about their own stuff.  We all have skeletons in our closets, and ghosts that haunt us.

Pastor Scott models that.  I try to model it too.  I have no confidence in myself...seriously, I don't.  But I am confident in the ability of Jesus to do his thing with my big, old mess.  I think that is what the other guys are looking for too.  It was nice to be around people like that.

Thank you, Jesus, for those dudes.