Posts Tagged ‘mercy’

tentWe don’t cry out much anymore. I mean, if I cried out from that deepest place, I’d probably be put in a straitjacket. So much. Just started pulling out of muck and felt a bit of hope again, then another disappointment, another unexpected challenge. I understand why people drown. Too much water.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
     Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy. . .
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning. [Psalm 130:1-2, 5-6]

I have my faith. Relax.

But I am crying out, down in that private place only God knows about; the place I reserve for tear collecting, the place I hide, the place I wait. No one can really tell. It’s small and protected. Like a fantasy tale, that place changes shape depending on my state of heart. Sometimes, like today, it’s covered in sound absorbing quilts. Not a black hole yet.


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I’m getting stuck in 2nd Peter Two. Holy Moly. Do I know any of these people? I keep checking back to the first verses, “they” this and “they” that; who are “they” who are on the short end of Peter’s wrathful indignation? False prophets, false teachers, and heretics! Whoa!

II Peter 2:10b,12a,17a
Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings; . . . these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. . . .These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm.

Peter is writing some strong stuff here and although I do not take him lightly, how do I apply this chapter to my own life now? Who are “these” people in my world?

Some time ago, there were folks who attacked Rob Bell for his book, Love Wins in public places like television shows, Facebook, blogs, and magazine articles. They reviled the author (and his family) and called him a number of names, of which heretic was intentionally the most inflammatory.

Just looking at Peter’s use of the word heretic shows it to be a compelling word that carries lots of emotional baggage. Interestingly enough, a modern day dictionary is less provocative. Heretic is defined as someone who “has opinions contrary to those accepted by his church and/or one who rejects doctrines proscribed by the church,” or “one who doesn’t conform to established attitudes, doctrines, or principles.” That doesn’t sound so bad; gives me pictures of those “Wild West” Americans or even the Pilgrims who left England for religious freedom.

An old friend of mine, Kathleen Kent, wrote a wonderful book called The Heretic’s Daughter, that chronicled the life of a woman accused of being a witch, from her daughter’s point of view. Good stuff. But clearly, heretic in those days of Salem, Massachusetts, was a label that could get someone burned to the stake quickly.

But Peter had other concerns: the teachings he condemned were teachers/prophets who seduced others and committed blatant sexual acts, used formidable cursing, flagrantly blasphemed anything and everything that remotely smacked of God, and worst of all, they “faked the faith.” [verse 13] The listeners who were most in danger were those he called “unstable.” Why? Because an insecure or unsettled person can be swayed more easily. A person without a solid sense of self and knowledge/faith of the presence of the Holy Spirit, will be blown about by the winds of charm or magnetism.

In October (2011) another book is coming out about Jim Jones and his “People’s Temple” (circa 1978), A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres. How could all those people be duped? How could nearly 1000 people commit suicide at the command of a single man? We shake our heads and yet, wasn’t Peter describing “heretics” of that order?

When I was a young believer, one of my greatest fears was that I would follow the wrong denomination or get sucked into something unholy because I didn’t know better. Since I came into my faith in those days of charismata, giftings, miracles, and exuberant praise, there were many in the mainline denominations who called those practices heretical at their worst, and misguided at best. Was I in danger? Had I missed it? Was my faith real? I have to assume I survived in tact: still a believer after thirty years.

Of course, Martin Luther had the same problem back in his day. And let us not forget Jesus, himself crucified for his heresies.

I’m not saying there aren’t heretical people in the world. There are, just as there is true evil and darkness. Some say it’s the culture itself that has betrayed humankind and is ultimately heretical and sexual and misleading.

I believe we are in a time of transition, much like Phyllis Tickle teaches in her wonderful book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why.

We need to spend less time looking for the heretics and more time looking for the hungry, the poor, the unclothed [Matthew 25]. Doing this, we will never need fear heresy, for love and empathy and mercy will drive us.

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I have studied wisdom in the scriptures off and on for some years. Wisdom, as she is personified female in Proverbs, intrigues me. I had forgotten, until now, that wisdom reappears here in James. And she is freely available to me, if only . . .

James 3:17
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

First of all, I think it’s important, in this case, to remind myself (and you, dear reader) that the kingdom of God is within me by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And yet, as big as God is, obviously, not all of God is within me either, just my share. But, as surely as that portion is within me, then my portion of wisdom is there as well. Both wisdom and the Holy Spirit are part of me, working in me to bring about my sanctification, my fullness in Christ, the light, released in totality, my actions a mirror of what is good and right, living through generosity, sacrificial letting go, and holiness.

These are the kernels which I have not yet appropriated from wisdom: purity (of thought, actions, motives); loving peace more than being right; being considerate of others without judgment or obligation; submitting my way to the Holy Way; offering mercy first; manifesting the good fruit of love in action; impartiality toward those who are rich or poor, sick or well, strong or weak; and above all sincerity and authenticity, plainly in view.

Wisdom is my fraternal twin who I have ignored most of my life.

What prevents our closeness, our unity? Envy and selfish ambition. These are my step-sisters. They are the ones I brought into my Christ relationship years and years ago. I hid them in the closet, believing they might still be needed one day, their personalities tempered by the Presence. Instead, when they came out, they were the same. And like Cinderella’s step-sisters, they were still cruel taskmasters, who take advantage of my every situation, point out what I am lacking, what I should have, who I could be, where I could live, if only . . .

They are the drum beat that never stops. They are the ones who taught me that what I have is never enough. They are the ones who encourage perfectionism. They are the ones who surround me like 360 degree mirror to show me all of my flaws and weaknesses and drive me to run faster, harder, longer.

Envy, Selfish Ambition, I want you to meet my other sister, Wisdom. She is going to live here now too. She is strong and knowledgeable. She is my advocate.

And she wants me to try on the glass slipper.

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As usual, I have been putting the cart before the horse. I’ve been waiting for the “outpouring” to descend before stepping out. I’ve been hoping for an umbrella before it starts to rain. But that’s not how it works. Call comes to us with the tools or resources at hand. Nothing more, at first.

I Timothy 1:14
The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Many times, when I feel a kind of God-nudge, I start overworking the left side of my brain: I analyze the demands, inventory my current storehouse of resources, and assess my chances for success. I don’t want to fail; I want to know all of my options and I want to see if there is a back door. And to make matters worse, my old enemy likes to whisper test me with all kinds of questions like “are you sure it’s God speaking to you?”

Let’s say, I finally do step up and say, “yes” to the call. Intellectually, I get it: if God puts a call on my life to serve a people, then God will provide what I need to accomplish it. Even Paul, one of the strongest and undoubtedly, most stubborn Christ followers, acknowledged it was God who gave him the strength and faith he needed to persevere. (I don’t believe he could have predicted how difficult his journey for Christ was about to become.) Although Paul was well equipped with law, history, and heritage, his new life as an apostle for Christ needed many other gifts and outpourings, some miraculous and many seemingly insignificant.

  1. God gives gifts, blessings, and tools to accomplish His work but they may not be the same ones I think I should have. I may think I need lots of money to make something happen but God may decide to give bushels of corn instead. I may think I need a week to do the work at hand while God plans to bend time so that all is accomplished in a day. I may think I need a team of a hundred to complete the task but God may only provide twelve.
  2. God gives mercy to whom God wants to give mercy. By its nature, mercy comes into play when a person is undeserving of it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be mercy. This is true for me as much as it is true for others.

When God extends mercy to me, or to anyone, there is a critical moment of decision. With the sin is covered, the mistake righted, or the obstacle removed, I am still at a crossroads. I can either move forward into a new direction that has been opened up or I can turn back. On the surface, it makes no sense to turn back once mercy has been poured out–unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens all the time. Before grace and mercy appeared, my situation was familiar, horrible even, but familiar. Like the Israelites who complained to Moses about their trials and hunger in the desert and despite the abundance of miracles (mercy and grace), they still wanted to go back to Egypt [Numbers 1:4-6]. Am I any different? Not so much.

Or, in the story of Jesus and the woman who was caught in adultery. Grace and mercy were extended to her in abundance, so much so that her captors fled. And yet, she was cautioned to sin no more, to follow the new and unfamiliar way. [John 8:10-11]

Yes, God will give an abundant outpouring of grace, faith, love, and mercy at unique junctures in our lives. Sometimes, it’s at a point outside of ourselves, a saving grace that gives us a second chance. This first type often manifests in that initial discovery process: there is a God and there is a Christ who died sacrificially for me.

But all the other outpourings come in response to my navigation skills on the path God has laid out for me. The outpourings don’t come before I encounter the challenges on the way. Outpourings don’t come early so I can freeze-dry them and then use them at will. Like the manna in the desert that was only good for a single day, God’s outpouring comes as needed.

I remember a Walk to Emmaus Retreat weekend I attended some years ago and the Spiritual Director for that weekend was leading the group in communion. Unlike most communions where one is handed a small round, white cardboard sliver or a miniature saltine cracker, she held up an entire loaf of freshly made bread. She said, “Christ gave up His body to torture and destruction for the sake of all humans. So, we are invited to take as much as is needed because from Christ, there will always be enough.” And from the cup, she said, “Drink deeply, for this well would never run dry.” The Body and the Blood, the first abundant offerings.

In our small community, there is a small group of people who are planting a new church called Restore Church that will launch September 11, 2011. My husband and I have been asked to become a part of this adventure. There will be many challenges and many needs and in my mind, it’s understood, anyone who enters into this ministry now is making a covenant for the long haul because every hand and heart will be needed. Each person must come as is, say “yes” to God’s call, and then step out in faith. The outpouring is available, just ahead: grace, faith, love, and mercy. In Christ, it will be enough.

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Somehow it’s easier to hang on to the idea that God is love moreso than God is just. Every day I read a newspaper and my mind reels with the breadth of injustice. Narcissism is the norm and earth-bound justice lines up with the powerful.

II Thessalonians 1:6-7
God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.

To hold tight to my belief that God is just all the time, no matter what I see, hear, feel, taste, I must be very conscious and very intentional. I must accept what I don’t understand. I must suspend my personal sense of “justice” and trust in the bigger picture.

When I was a younger Christian (both in years as well as experience), I was often stymied by those well-worn attacks on my God. If God is just, why do babies die? If God is just, why is their disease and suffering. If God is just, why are their orphans, widows, and abuse? If God is just, why are their wars and bigotry and extremism?

Gotta stand. That’s all I can do. Stand.

I have no answer except that God is just. God is merciful. God is love.

If God was none of these things, then there would be no justice anywhere, no love, no families, no births, no hope. There would be no joy, no laughter, no beauty and no faith. And yet, these all exist along side the pain.

I cannot know about the macrocosm of justice.

In daily life, there isn’t a parent who hasn’t heard the same attack: “That’s not fair!” My parent view of fairness and righteousness and justice will always be different from the child. We live the microcosm of justice vs. injustice in families. It’s not an easy road and rarely straight. There are too many obstacles in the road, too many unknowns. If I, in my little world, cannot mete out justice in such a way to please those nearest and dearest to my heart, what of those who work in ever-widening circles of responsibility.

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Paul is really pulling my chain in the entire 5th chapter of I Corinthians. I can’t say I’m going to disassociate with folks who are believers and yet behave badly. I’m too close to behaving badly myself. So what can I glean?

I Corinthians 5:11
But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.

Basically, whether we are believers or not believers, our behaviors will act like the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter novels. Unconsciously, we tend to either congregate with those who behave similarly or avoid those who don’t. Some behaviors I can simply tolerate. Others I cannot.

I struggle enough with “judging” others without escalating that condition. And yet, if I am personally hurt by someone through one of these negative acts, I don’t think I’d go out of my way to have tea with them either. But I cannot rail against them, for ultimately, I would merely be one of the angry crowd who chased after the woman who was caught in adultery. She had truly done that thing, but Christ offered mercy. Can I do any less?

(This post was started on May 2nd, but not completed until September. Oh well.)

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This is what a lot of contract lawyers get paid to do: one to make the covenant and another to find enough loopholes to break it. What contracts or promises do we have to today that are truly binding? Partnerships? Marriage? Last Will and Testament? BFF? Pinky swear?

Galatians 3:15
Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case [between God and Abraham].

The covenant promise between God and Abraham happened 430 years before the laws were established through Moses. But we are told, it was still rock solid after all that time. In fact, of the three parts of the covenant (land, blessings & a Messianic descendant), it is the third part that created the expectation or anticipation of a savior.

There are two kinds of covenants: conditional and unconditional. In the conditional covenant, both parties must agree and both must live up to their agreement. If either side breaks the covenant, then it is no longer binding. An unconditional covenant only requires the completion or fulfillment of the covenant by one side. The Abrahamic covenant only required God’s participation. Abraham just had to “show up.”

Once this covenant was completed with the arrival of the Messiah, he entered into yet another binding, unconditional covenant: Grace, which would manifest in eternal salvation (our sins covered by the blood sacrifice of the Christ).

Like Abraham, I just have to show up. I just have to say yes to this covenant. This is the contract of redemption.

But for me, the excitement is not in showing up. It’s taking full advantage of the covenant. It’s participating in the process. It’s being present in the story. It’s having a relationship.

Like a marriage, the wedding ceremony is nice and the symbols of rings, kisses and blessings are edifying and even memorable. But it’s what happens later that really counts.

Unlike a marriage, God is willing to take me back again and again when I fall away or stray. Though I be like Gomer [Book of Hosea], my God is patient, and gracious, and loving. This, then, is the covenant of hope.

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