How To Receive Mercy

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  MT 5:7

Mercy is “compassion to one in need or helpless distress, or in debt and without claim to favourable treatment” (Trench).

Mercy is an attribute of God, as Jesus showed when questioned about eating with sinners:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:12-13

Jesus viewed sinners with compassion as those who were suffering from sickness.

Not only should we view others with compassion, but should remember God’s incredible mercy to us as Jesus points out in MT 18:

“Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’” (32-33)

“[Mercy] is called into exercise when we contemplate the wondrous grace, pity, and long-suffering of God towards such unworthy wretches as ourselves.” – A W Pink

Joseph’s mercy

When their father died, Joseph’s brothers feared he’d take revenge on them for them selling him into slavery.

His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:18-21

Joseph was merciful to his brothers because he knew a sovereign God turned their sin to blessings. Rather than exacting justice, he comforted them and treated them kindly.

When we sow mercy we’ll reap it: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Once an irresponsible young guy scratched the top of my beautiful accoustic guitar. God gave me grace and I didn’t get angry. “That’s ok,” I said, “It’s only a piece of wood.” (A real expensive piece of wood, I thought, but didn’t say it). Anyway, I was merciful.

The next day, at the gas company where I worked as a draftsman, I dozed off and spilled India ink all over the only copy of a particular map. My boss, who was out of the office that day, was known for his angry outbursts and intolerance for mistakes. He’d kill me when I told him the next day. That night I prayed, “Lord, I showed mercy to that kid who scratched my guitar. You said if I showed mercy I’d receive it. PLEASE let me find mercy when I tell my boss. PLEASE have mercy on me.”

The next day I immediately told my boss what I’d done. I braced for his fury. “That’s ok,” he said, without a hint of anger. “We can piece together a new map from others.” I was stunned. I’d never seen him respond so kindly. “Thank you Jesus!” I prayed silently. “It worked! You gave me mercy!”

Puritan Thomas Watson said “Bishop Cranmer (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1533-55, in case you’re ever on Jeopardy) was of a merciful disposition. If any who had wronged him came to desire a courtesy from him, he would do all that lay in his power for him, insomuch that it grew to a proverb: Do Cranmer an injury and He will be your friend as long as he lives.”

Lord Jesus, give us hearts of mercy.

When Pain Is Front And Center

When we are suffering it’s so tempting to focus on the pain, because the pain is front and center. It’s right in front of our eyes.  Intense. Grievous. 

Pain is like a smear of black paint across a painting.  At first it’s all we see.  But if we look closely, we can begin to see little dabs of color around the edges.  Little splashes of mercy shining through the black.  And when we begin to examine the canvas diligently, we’ll find hundreds of mercies dotting the landscape of our pain.

Even in the hurricane winds of affliction, mercies cling to us. There are new mercies to see every morning if we look for them or remember them. Mercies like God working all things together for our good.  Like our Father giving us comfort and strength. Mercies like our great high priest praying for us on throne of grace.  And his prayers are louder than any hurricane winds. 

In mercy God promises to be with us in the valley of the shadow of death. In mercy he counsels us with his eye upon us. He gives us his Word and promises to infuse us with strength and hope.  Glimpses of heavenly sunshine break through the clouds that overshadow us.

There are more mercies. God provides family,  friends, and Christian brothers and sisters to pray for us and care for us.  He gives medication, doctors and nurses.  And he gives merciful relief from each day’s suffering – sleep.  Very often God still gives us distracting moments of joy and laughter. Moments when we forget about the raging storm. 

Years ago I twisted my ankle really badly and to be on crutches for two months. Now I know that this is absolutely nothing compared to what so many suffer.  But I was tempted to self-pity at times, like one morning when I had to crawl and push my coffee across the floor because I couldn’t carry it on crutches.  Thinking back I am embarrassed at how easily I slid into self-pity at such a tiny trial.

One day God reminded me of his commands to rejoice always and in everything give thanks. So I decided to try. “Lord, thank you for this sprained ankle. Thank you that I didn’t have to go to Vietnam and get my legs blown off like many guys. Thank you that I sprained only one ankle instead of both. Thank you that I have a comfortable home to be in. Thank you for the wonderful medical care we have in this nation.  Thank you for my wife and kids. Thank you that I’m healthy in every other way. Thank you that I can think read and speak and see and hear…

God showed me I had thousands of mercies to praise him for. My salvation, eternal life, forgiveness, adoption into God’s family, etc.  The more I praised him for his mercies in my peewee little trial, the more joy I began to experience.

One day it struck me that only one person received no mercy in his affliction – Jesus.

As he hung on the cross, he received only the unmitigated wrath of God.  Jesus had no comfort from or fellowship with his father.  No sense of his Father’s love. For his Father had turned away from him. Jesus experienced not one drop of relief God’s wrath, no break in his agony, no letting up of the horrific torture his soul.

And he did all that so we could experience God’s mercies new every morning.  So if you are suffering today, I don’t minimize your pain. Some of you are suffering horrific pain and sadness.  But I would encourage you, even in your pain, to look for God’s mercies in the midst of it. As much as you can focus on those little dabs of color glistening around the edges of the blackness and glowing in the background.  The more you become aware of God’s mercies and praise him for them, the more joy you will experience.

They Are All Around Us – But Do We Notice Them?

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  Lamentations 3:21-23

God’s mercies are new every morning.

It’s God’s mercy you woke up today. God’s mercy you have a sound mind. His mercy if you woke up without being in serious pain. God’s mercy if you can breathe.  And God’s mercy if you have the strength to get out of bed by yourself.

It’s his mercy if you have eyes to see the sunshine, ears to hear the robins and taste buds to enjoy your coffee.

It’s God’s mercy this morning if you know Jesus Christ, the living God.  God’s mercy you have his Word.  There are multitudes who don’t.

It’s God’s mercy you didn’t wake up in a prison camp this morning because of your faith in Jesus.  Thousands of believers in North Korea did.

Do you have God’s joy today?  Any hope in your heart? If so, these are wonderful mercies from God.

The eggs and toast on your table are fresh mercies from God. And the children around the table screaming and spilling their Cheerios and milk? Mercies!

Do you have running water? A hot shower? Indoor plumbing? A job? A car? Money for gas? Are you able to drive?  Mercies!

Even in affliction there are mercies if we look for them.

There are respites from pain. Sleep. Distractions. Loving family members and friends. And in God’s mercy, our afflictions aren’t meaningless – he causes all of them to work for our good.

God’s mercies are all around us.  But do we notice them?

A good exercise is to write down God’s mercies.

Some folks write down something they’re thankful for every day. Before you start asking God for things, consider thanking him. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.

When we notice God’s mercies we become joyful and thankful. When we become joyful and thankful we bring God pleasure. When we bring God pleasure we glorify him. When we glorify him we fulfill his purpose for our lives. Notice God’s mercies.

The Rapture Didn’t Happen Because…

I’ve got to admit, I’m a little bit relieved that the rapture didn’t happen this past Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, it would have been incredible if Jesus had returned. I get pretty sick of this world sometimes, and I’m eager for the day that Jesus returns and undoes all the sadness and wrongness and this-is-totally-messed-up-ness of the world. I’m ready for disease, and tornadoes, and rape, and abortion to be swallowed up by the brilliant rule of King Jesus.

But I also have lots of friends and family members who don’t yet know Jesus. And to be honest, on Saturday I was thinking about them a lot. If Jesus came back before they repented of their sins…

But the rapture didn’t happen on Saturday, and the reason it didn’t happen was because of my unsaved friends and family members. And yours too. 2 Peter 3:9 says:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

The rapture didn’t happen because the Lord is full of patience. He doesn’t want anyone to perish in their sins. God isn’t some sicko who delights in inflicting pain on people. Yes, he is full of justice and will bring wrath on those who reject him, but I also believe that his heart breaks when a person dies in their sins. So he gives them more time to hear the gospel, more time to turn from their sins, and more time see their desperate need for Jesus.

The delay of Jesus’ return also gives us more time to passionately pray for the salvation of those around us, and more time to tell them the good news of the gospel. In some ways I’m grateful for guys like Harold Camping. Does he give Christians a bad name? Yes. I couldn’t help but notice the number of rapture jokes being cracked on Facebook and Twitter on Saturday. But he also reminds us that someday Jesus really will return in all his glory and splendor and judgment. I need to be reminded of that fact because sometimes I get lulled to sleep by the world.

Jesus didn’t return on Saturday, but make no mistake, he is returning. May our prayers and our proclamation burn hot until he does.

Dear Tech Support

Dear Tech Support,

Last year I upgraded from Boyfriend 5.0 to Husband 1.0 and noticed a distinct slow down in overall system performance — particularly in the flower and jewelry applications, which operated flawlessly under Boyfriend 5.0.  In addition, Husband 1.0 uninstalled many other valuable programs, such as Romance 9.5 and Personal Attention 6.5 and then installed undesirable programs such as NFL 5.0, NBA 3.0, and Golf Clubs 4.1.

Conversation 8.0 no longer runs, and Housecleaning 2.6 simply crashes the system. I’ve tried running Nagging 5.3 to fix these problems, but to no avail. What can I do?

Signed, Desperate

————————————-

Dear Desperate:

First keep in mind, Boyfriend 5.0 is an Entertainment Package, while Husband 1.0 is an Operating System.

Please enter the command: ‘I Thought You Loved Me.exe’, try to download Tears 6.2 and don’t forget to install the Guilt 3.0 update. If that application works as designed, Husband 1.0 should then automatically run the applications Jewelry 2.0 and Flowers 3.5. But remember, overuse of the above application can cause Husband 1.0 to default to Grumpy Silence 2.5, Happy Hour 7.0 or Beer 6.1. Beer 6.1 is a very bad program that will download the Snoring Loudly Beta.  Whatever you do, DO NOT install Mother-in-law 1.0 It runs a virus in the background that will eventually seize control of all your system resources. Also, do not attempt to reinstall the Boyfriend 5.0 program. These are unsupported applications and will crash Husband 1.0.  In summary, Husband 1.0 is a great program, but it does have limited memory and cannot learn new applications quickly. You might consider buying additional software to improve memory and performance. We recommend Food 3.0…

Good Luck, Tech Support

………..

My friend Dave Harvey used the above humor in his introduction to an incredible teaching he did called “God’s Mercy and My Marriage,” which is available here.  I recommend it for all believers, not just married couples.  The truths about the mercy of God in Dave’s message are life-changing and have application far beyond marriage.

photo by tim caynes

The Last Day Of Darkness

Today begins for me, like every other day for the past decades, in darkness.

Not because the sun has yet to rise, but because my eyes are worthless. Dead, unseeing stones in my head. Sightless appendages draped with needless eyelids.

I shuffle in my hovel, groping for the putrid rag I call my cloak. My fingers slide up the leg of a small stool, on which they locate the crust of bread I saved from the day before. I put it to my cracked lips and take a bite.

Today will be another empty day in an endless string of empty days. Another day sitting in the heat and the dust by the road, begging for spare coins. Begging the laughing ones, the busy ones, the working ones, the seeing ones. Scavenging like one of the dogs that wander the streets. Only I can’t wander. I can only sit in the stifling darkness.

I’m sitting by the road, taking in the sounds of wagons, and carts, vendors and shoppers, the normal cacophonous background to my darkness, when I hear the growing commotion of a large crowd drawing near. Is today a holiday? Is there a procession? Is a prefect or governor about to pass by? Maybe he’ll look down on me from his royal coach and toss a coin my way.

“What’s going on?” I call out. “Who’s coming? Can someone tell me?”

“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” someone yells down to me.

Jesus of Nazareth? Yes, I’ve heard of him. He heals the blind, the crippled, the deaf. No one has ever done the works he has done. And did not the prophets foretell that the Messiah, the final and glorious son of David, will do these very things? And he’s coming my way!

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” I shout, as loud as I can. “Son of David, have mercy on me!” I shout again and again.

“Shut up old man,” someone hisses.

I shout still louder, against the chaotic noise of the crowd. “Son of David!”

“Quiet you old fool!” another voice yells.

“Have mercy on me! Have mercy on me!”

Suddenly someone touches my shoulder, then grabs my hand. “Come my friend, he’s calling for you – Jesus is calling for you. Well, are you just going to sit there?”

He helps me to my feet, and leading me by the hand, calls out, “Make way. Let us through. The Teacher has summoned him.” We stop, and the crowd grows silent. I stand there, listening, waiting. And then I hear a voice, a wonderful, tender voice. A voice I have longed to hear my whole life.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

My cracked lips speak. “Lord.” My heart is pounding. “Let me recover my sight.”

Can a voice smile? Can it dawn upon you like the first sunrise in creation? Can a voice flood your being with infinite joy? He says, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.”

My head explodes with blazing light. I’m blinking and tears flood my eyes. Slowly my eyes begin to focus for the first time, and…I am seeing…a face. A smile. And laughing eyes. I’m gazing into the face of the Son of David. The face of the One I will follow for the rest of my life.

photo by Salva [Om Qui Voyage]

You Want To Talk About Hopeless?

Homeless

Based on John 5:1-9

You want to talk about hopeless? I’ll tell you about hopeless. Thirty-eight years ago my legs stopped working. Things like walking, and running, and playing ball in the streets – shot to pieces. You know what happens when you can’t walk or work or play for thirty-eight years? Your friends stop showing up. You pull yourself along by your hands until you reach an empty street corner, and there you spend your days, hoping that someone will toss you a scrap of food or coin. You also start spending your time at places like the Sheep Gate pool.

You don’t want to know about the Sheep Gate pool. It’s a sick place. Literally. The place is littered with hopeless people. The filthy, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. All desperate, all miserable, all hoping for some sort of miracle. No healthy person ever comes down to the pool. Just being there sucks the life and hope out of you.

I lay by that pool of misery for years, desperately hoping that I could be the first one into the water when it was stirred by the angel. Yeah right. Who was I fooling? When you’ve got dead legs and no friends, there’s not much chance of getting into the pool. It’s a hopeless life.

But yesterday everything changed. This healthy, normal looking guy comes down to the pool and picks his way through the bodies until he’s standing right over me. And he asks me if I want to be healed. I think he’s talking about the pool, so I tell him that I’ve got nobody to put me in the pool.

Then the strangest thing happens. He tells me to pick up my bed and start walking. As he says the words, I feel bones popping in my legs. Joints slide back into place and decayed muscle are rebuilt. My body obeyed his words, and I stood up and started walking.

I found out later that this guy was named Jesus. He must be more than a man. Not just because of his power, but also because of his compassion. He’s a friend to the hopeless, and he brings light to black places. He came and found me in the midst of all that muck and misery, and he gave me hope. How can you not love someone like that?

Do you remember when Jesus found you? Do you remember when he brought you hope, even when you were hopeless?

+photo by the_jim

I Should Have Died in the Flood

Flood

I recently realized that the story of Noah and the ark isn’t a nice story. In fact, it’s kind of shocking to my modern sensibilities. In case you’ve forgotten what happens, here’s a quick run down.

God looks upon the world and sees that all of mankind is utterly depraved. We’re not just talking about a few cuss words now and then. This the depths of wickedness. Genesis 6:5 says:

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

This doesn’t just describe the people living in Noah’s day. This is a snapshot of humanity today. This is a snapshot of our wicked hearts before Christ takes over. Every intention of every thought is continual evil. Perpetual perversity. That’s sickening.

How does our wickedness affect God? Genesis 6:6

And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

Our willful rebellion against God causes Him sorrow and grief. Our rebellion makes us repulsive in God’s eyes. It disgusts him.

So God brings justice to bear upon humanity. In one swift motion, he opens the floodgates of the earth and sends millions of people to a watery grave and an eternity of wrath. And this was the right thing for God to do. God’s holiness makes all punishment of sin just and right. This wasn’t God flipping out on humanity. This was good, beautiful, justice.

Yet in the midst of all this justice, one man received mercy. Noah was spared. I can imagine Noah standing on the deck of the ark, and seeing human bodies floating in the water, and asking the question, Why did I receive mercy?

All of us should be asking Noah’s question. I should have perished beneath the waters. I was a rebel against God, full of wicked thoughts and perverse desires. Justice cried out that I be crushed under the wrath of God, just like everyone who died in the flood, and just like everyone else who has died apart from God. Yet I received mercy. Christ was buried beneath the floodwaters of God’s wrath, and I received mercy and forgiveness.

Why me? I don’t know. But I’m so grateful for the mercy of God. Aren’t you grateful for the mercy?

+photo by cikaga jamie

Do You Ever Wonder Why?

When was the last time you asked why? There are some serious mysteries in the universe that we take for granted. For example:

Why does ibuprofen work? Have you ever looked at two of those brown little pills and wondered, “How do you guys work? How do you know where my pain is?” Ibuprofen is a deep mystery.

Why is Kenny G so popular? This is a profound mystery that I don’t believe will ever be explained. Perhaps a Kenny G fan would care to comment.

Why are baby clothes so expensive? This one baffles me. I was recently at the shoe store and saw a pair of baby shoes that were approximately two inches long. Yet somehow they managed to cost as much as the shoes I was buying.

Why are the Rolling Stones still doing concerts? The combined age of Mick Jaegger and Keith Richards is 432. You do the math. Why are they still on tour?

These are stupid questions. There is one question however, that is a true and profound mystery. Why did Christ show mercy to me? Why am I the recipient of God’s mercy? Why would God choose to show mercy to me, and not my next door neighbor? Why would Christ come looking for me, and not one of my close friends? This is a mystery of divine proportions.

Titus 3:3-5 says, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…”

We were foolish, disobedient, slaves to sin. We hated God, and we despised one another. We weren’t looking for God, we were running from Him. We didn’t deserve mercy, we deserved wrath.

But then the goodness and kindness of God appeared. Do you remember the sweet day when God showed his mercy to you? Do you remember when Christ came looking for you? Do you remember when God began drawing you to Himself, winning your heart with His mercy? Why would God do this? Why would He show you mercy? This is a glorious, beautiful, wonderful mystery.

We are surrounded by those who have not yet received mercy. Many of our close friends have not experienced the mercy of God. Why have we received it? Today, let your heart be filled with gratitude for the mercy of God. Let your heart overflow with deep affection for God, the One who poured out His mercy upon you. Today, take some time to ask, “Why?”

When the Light Stopped

Blackness has been your constant companion. For years you have sat by the road, wallowing in your poverty, wallowing in your blackness. You haven’t seen the sun, or a cloud, or a tree, or another human face in years. The blindness has robbed you of your dignity, forcing you into a life of roadside begging and humiliating poverty. Everyday you stumble down to the road and ask for the charity of others, begging for coins from those passing by. A few stop and press a coin into your hand, others curse you as they pass by, nobody likes you. And why should they? You have nothing to offer them. You can’t offer friendship, or money, or even a pleasant smile. You’re a filthy, dirty, helpless, hopeless beggar. All your days blend together into one, endless, miserable night.

That is until the day The Light comes looking for you. You’re sitting by the roadside, pleading for alms, when you hear many voices. A crowd is passing by. Who is it? A king, a dignitary? You call out, “What’s happening? Please someone tell me what’s happening!”

“It’s Jesus of Nazareth,” says a voice. “He’s coming this way.” Jesus of Nazareth! You’ve heard of this man. He casts out demons, and raises dead people, and even heals the blind. But will he stop for one so lowly as you? Will he take notice of a dirty, blind beggar who has nothing to offer? You can’t offer him money, nor can you offer him service. You must throw yourself on his mercy.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,” you scream at the top of your lungs. Over and over you cry out, pleading for the mercy of Jesus. Those in the crowd tell you to shut your mouth, that Jesus isn’t interested in beggars, that Jesus has more important things on his mind. Maybe they’re right, but your desperation forces you to continue your earsplitting plea for mercy.

Then the crowd is silenced, and you sense a change in the light, as if someone is standing in front of you. Sweet mercy, Jesus has stopped! You hear him say, “What do you want me to do for you?”

With a passion born from years of darkness, you cry out, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” Jesus speaks, light floods into your eyes, and you find yourself gazing into the face of mercy itself. Oh what joy fills your heart! After years of darkness, you can see! The King stopped for you, and poured out his mercy on you. Gratefulness, love, and thanksgiving overflow out of your heart. You must follow Jesus, no matter where he goes. He stopped for you, and so you will follow Him. [Taken from Luke 18:35-43]

***

Do you remember when the Savior stopped for you? Do you remember when Jesus first opened your blind eyes to the glories of the gospel? O what sweet mercy we have received from Jesus. Let us be like this blind beggar, and joyfully follow the one who gave us our sight. Let us rejoice today that The Light came looking for us.