Sunday, August 29, 2010

Stuck on Mercy

Is that grounds for complaining that God is unfair? Not so fast, please. God told Moses, "I'm in charge of mercy. I'm in charge of compassion." Compassion doesn't originate in our bleeding hearts or moral sweat, but in God's mercy. The same point was made when God said to Pharaoh, "I picked you as a bit player in this drama of my salvation power." All we're saying is that God has the first word, initiating the action in which we play our part for good or ill.

Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free. For if you refuse to act kindly, you can hardly expect to be treated kindly. Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.

God makes everything come out right; he puts victims back on their feet. He showed Moses how he went about his work, opened up his plans to all Israel. God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he's rich in love. He doesn't endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever. He doesn't treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs. (Romans 9:14-18; James 2:12-13; Psalm 103:6-10, The Message)


My pastor helped me out with this post not once, but twice this weekend. He had been planning to finish up a mini-series on the Beatitudes, but told me he got "stuck on mercy" and planned a message just on that particular trait. Then, during that message, he said that in Roman culture, mercy was viewed as a very bad thing. The Romans were big on justice, but showing mercy just showed a lack of character and weakness. How odd that even before I hear this, God pressed on my heart the passage from Romans. To the ears of those people, calling out the fact that God was in charge of mercy must have left many of them thinking this was a pretty weak God indeed. Who among them would want a God who held back His justice in favor of providing mercy?

The subject of mercy caused me to do some pondering of my own. The strange way my brain often works takes me in multiple directions when this happens, and a quick check of a dictionary website confirmed a definition related to compassion shown toward someone who had committed an offense or otherwise was in debt. Then, I considered the final scene in the movie Braveheart where Wallace is being tormented and even the man performing the act ends up begging him to cry out "mercy" and end it all. I was also reading excerpts from C.S. Lewis where he calls out the simple principle from the Lord's Prayer that says we need to forgive in order to be forgiven. Matthew quotes our Lord as saying those who are merciful will get more mercy themselves, so all that began to come together as I thought more about the subject. Mercy and forgiveness, as provided to me from God, should naturally flow from me to others.

Two examples from Jesus' teaching hammered home the concept (both of them coming from Sam's message). The story of the impossible debt (Matthew 18:21ff) and the parable of the Good Samaritan. The men in these brief stories who show mercy are a reflection of God's heart. In the former story, the servant who so graciously received the merciful act failed to let it change his heart and found himself stripped of what he had been given. In the latter, we never hear about the man who was beat up, but the teacher of the law who posed the initial questions must have left the encounter shaking his head. A lowly Samaritan was portrayed as having far more mercy than two men appointed to God's service.

As I walk the Crooked Path, I need to be mindful of the fact that God has given me a great deal of mercy. His grace and forgiveness provided in Christ have made it possible for me to see Him more clearly than ever before. And what I see is the loving gaze of a Father who wants only the best for me and who wants me to turn what He has given around and reflect it out to a dark and dying world. My own impossible debt has been cancelled and I need to live each day in the light of God's merciful act toward me. So, maybe being stuck on mercy is a pretty good thing. After all, it puts me in a better frame of mind to love those around me like my Father does. Oh, and mercy wins every time ... that's a promise worth remembering.


  1. So, just how merciful are you in your daily life? Or do you find yourself with a judgmental attitude far more often?
  2. Does it bother you at all that God says we need to show mercy to others in order to really experience mercy in our own lives? If you aren't generally a merciful person, how does that make you feel?
  3. When was the last time your heart was moved with compassion toward somebody else, the kind of compassion the Samaritan showed to the traveler? Has it been far too long?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Different Perspective

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." And he laid his hands on them and went away.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:13-15 & 18:1-4, ESV)


As I try to listen to God and search out what He would have me write in each entry, the sources sometimes come from unexpected angles. Not long ago, a friend posted something on her social network status about a young boy in her Kindergarten class. He came in one day and announced that he had seen Heaven that morning. She laughed to herself as she was reminded of the conversation she and one of her sons had that same morning about how the sky looked. Perhaps if you close your eyes, you too can see a majestic sunrise or sunset with the clouds billowing around and the sun's rays beaming down at all manner of angles. And maybe, just maybe, this is a glimpse of Heaven if our perspective were a little different.

How often do I rush through my day and miss the magnitude of God in the simplicity of what I could see around me if I would stop and take the time to notice it? How many complex games and strategies do I attempt to devise so that the world will work a little more like I think it should work? How many times do I blow right by what is simple and enjoyable because something else "needs my attention now"? If you are like I am and if we are both honest to any degree, I'm thinking the answers would put us to shame.

Our Lord placed an extraordinarily high value on a childlike perspective of life, both temporal and eternal. When others around Him thought He had "important" stuff to attend to, He stopped them with a gentle (but firm) rebuke and called out what really mattered to Him. Kingdom perspective, it would appear, is far more in line with a childlike innocence than it is with our grown-up perspective. In fact, along with those meek, lowly, and poor called out in Matthew 5, the Kingdom belongs to children, or at least those who can conduct themselves from the perspective of children. Any way you look at it, the result is quite different than our "mature, adult mindset" might think.

Tony Campolo, in one of his books, chooses an illustration that I believe sums it up pretty well. He talks of parents frantically searching for their 4-year-old daughter in their own house during a strong thunderstorm. As they both rush into the little girl's room, they are stunned to see her standing on the window sill with her entire body pressed up against the glass. As they move to get her down to "safety", she turns to them and says, "I think God is trying to take my picture." In that brief story, the point the Savior makes is driven home. It takes the innocence of a child to even consider that God wants a picture of us for His desk or wall. And in our adult mode, we miss the reality that He really does think that much of us.

As I travel the Crooked Path, I need to slow down and gain a fresh perspective. Yes, there are times when my adult approach is warranted, but if I listen to God's heart, I believe I will clearly hear the call to return to a more childlike perspective. If I can do that, perhaps I will laugh and play just a little bit more and know that doing so brings the Father great joy. And as I travel, perhaps instead of walking, I will skip for a while … just like a child on his way to see his Father.


  1. When is the last time you stepped back and took a fresh, childlike perspective to your life? What is holding you back from doing so?
  2. Has your life become far too hectic, far too planned, and far too difficult for you to manage? Are you getting more than a little tired of taking on your "adult responsibilities"?
  3. What would it take for you to change your perspective back to a more innocent one? Can you even imagine that God wants your picture on His desk, that He values you that much?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

In Remembrance

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:14-19, NIV)


Somewhere, deeply coded in our DNA, is the innate desire to look back and remember people, places, and events that served some purpose or made some impact in our lives. We raise monuments to fallen heroes, create movies about great historical moments, and mark our calendars to ensure we remember specific dates. Even the most remote people groups who have never codified their languages into written form have a tradition of oral history designed to pass memories down from generation to generation. You need only to speak dates such as December 7th or September 11th to evoke strong feelings in people as they vividly recall what they were doing when some traumatic event faced them and their world changed. Yes, we are a people who not only love to remember ... we must remember.

It dawned on me a few weeks back that we sometimes get our priorities messed up in terms of what we choose to remember and how we go about celebrating that. My pastor was giving a very simple message on that communion Sunday and I had been tapped to help serve since vacation had depleted the ranks of others. I thought about the words I had seen carved in every communion table I had ever seen in my life. And then I thought about what Sam was saying.

Our call to remembrance is a call to return to the Cross. It is a call to look back to the core of our faith and see Christ crucified and to remember that He did this for me in the most personal sense. In so many churches, we have lambasted the Catholics and others for the mystic meanings and events they have attached to communion. We have been clear to call it out as "only symbolic". Yet we carve the words in our communion tables and have the service once a month without really going back and remembering what it is all about. Instead of a clear, strong connection to the crucified Christ, it becomes no less of a ritual than we accuse others of making it. And the remembrance is somehow lost, or at least takes on a "fuzzy" quality.

The call to remember the Cross is to be a reminder of living under its shadow every day of our lives. It is a call to daily take up our own cross and thank the One who first did so in order to provide us life as it was truly meant to be lived. We take up our cross and our communion elements in remembrance of who He is and to participate in what He did on our behalf. We remember so that we will continually be people of the Cross.

In the Cross, we find the ultimate convergence of justice, holiness, punishment, the Law, and God's incredible love for us. As we remember what Christ did in fulfilling what we could never accomplish, we see Him providing this gateway to life. We remember who God is and reflect on His timeless story of redemption. We remember the Cross because of all these things and because it is the pivotal point in the Story.

The Crooked Path begins at the foot of the Cross, passes through the Empty Tomb, and winds through our lives leading to the very feet of the Savior. As I daily pick up my cross - whatever that may be - and follow the way He has set before me, I need to call to remembrance all He has provided. As a people given to memorials, there is none greater than the one established to recall the Greatest Gift that has ever been offered. We must remember that we are people of the Cross and walk forward in faith, secure in the One who gave it all up. Now that's a memory worth keeping!


  1. What are your memorials made to remember? Are they deep memories of things that made a significant impact?
  2. When you come to the table of communion with your Christ, what comes to your mind? Is it a remembrance of the magnitude of what He did, or has it become just another ritual to go through?
  3. Are you truly living out the life of a "person of the Cross"? If not, what keeps you from taking up the cross He has given you and following His lead? How would others view you?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Tale of Two Conscripts

So it came about when the command and decree of the king were heard and many young ladies were gathered to the citadel of Susa into the custody of Hegai, that Esther was taken to the king's palace into the custody of Hegai, who was in charge of the women. Now the young lady pleased him and found favor with him. So he quickly provided her with her cosmetics and food, gave her seven choice maids from the king's palace and transferred her and her maids to the best place in the harem. Esther did not make known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make them known.

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king's court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king's choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king's personal service ... But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials. (Esther 2:8-10 & Daniel 1:3-5, 8-9, NASB)


Imagine young people taken from their homes and deposited in a foreign land. Take it a step further and imagine them growing up a generation or even two removed from their homeland. In each case, there is a fire within that burns for the life and country left behind, even if it has been known only through stories passed down from earlier generations. And for each, the reality is the same ... they are strangers in a strange land.

Two stories stand out for me when I think about the Israelites living in captivity under the rule of Babylon (and its successors). Those stories share the common threads mentioned above, yet each has a unique twist to it as well. Both Esther and Daniel find themselves conscripts under the scrutiny of the king of the realm. I highly doubt either one would have chosen their situations, yet their stories tell of choices they made in the midst of those situations. Each one turned to the same God who honored them and used them as instruments of His work.

Esther, under the counsel of her uncle, didn't reveal that she was a Jew. And following his advice, she found herself favored by the man who was running this little "replacement queen" project. The risk, from her perspective, was huge ... one night with the king and then, if he didn't care for her, she was off to an exile of an entirely different kind. Yet, though her story never once mentions God by name, it is abundantly clear He was present through all Esther went through and used her greatly.

Rewind in time to Daniel's story. He and many young men like him were segregated, had their education planned, and had their lives regulated almost to the degree of military training. Their food, wardrobe, and every aspect of their lives were planned out as directed by the king himself. And yet, Daniel felt uneasy with parts of it. He and his three closest friends asked for special dispensation to go on a strict vegetarian diet. Because he had found favor with the man running the program, they got their chance and God worked in miraculous ways through Daniel and the "fiery three".

In each case, we find an egotistical king, a willing servant, a person of influence who found "favor" with our heroes, and the same God who works His ways using those who love Him. Esther got the best food and accessories. Daniel chose to restrict himself. Both had ears for God and were sensitive to His leading. And in the end, the arrogant kings lost at least some of their swagger. Different choices; different tasks; same God.

As I walk the Crooked Path, I need to be careful I don't pigeon hole God into a particular way of working through me or others around me. God is not bound by me or anything I may choose. He very well may ask me to do something that is outside of my thinking, but I can be assured it will not be outside of His own character. He wants me to be an attentive, obedient servant who is ready to do His work at any time. I may never be asked to risk my life such Esther and Daniel were, but I should be willing to serve Him with the same attitude they showed. In the end, it is my own Crooked Path and God is still God. I think I can live with that.


  1. Have you fallen into a pattern of thinking God always acts the same way for you and everybody else? Do you think perhaps you've put limits on God that aren't really valid?
  2. When you consider the stories of Esther and Daniel, what do you think about? Can you see beyond the Sunday school version and recognize the same God working through them both?
  3. How has your perspective of God changed based on what He has asked you to do? Can you see that He takes an individual interest and approach to you and your situations?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Excluded Christ

Write to Laodicea, to the Angel of the church. God's Yes, the Faithful and Accurate Witness, the First of God's creation, says: "I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You're not cold, you're not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You're stale. You're stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, 'I'm rich, I've got it made, I need nothing from anyone,' oblivious that in fact you're a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless. Here's what I want you to do: Buy your gold from me, gold that's been through the refiner's fire. Then you'll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You've gone around half-naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see. The people I love, I call to account - prod and correct and guide so that they'll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God! Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I'll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That's my gift to the conquerors! Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches." (Revelation 3:14-22, The Message)


Imagine that you created an organization with your friends. You poured your heart into getting it started, deciding on the governance, and establishing the purpose to be accomplished. You were a respected leader, counselor, and advisor who people turned to and looked up to. And then the changes came. Slowly, you were left out of the decision making process. You found you didn't get called on to speak or were rarely asked for your advice anymore. The very organization you invested in so deeply now seemed to ignore you and cast you aside like yesterday's trash. It wouldn't feel very good, would it? And now, you find your key to the door doesn't even work anymore. You are trying to get back in the office, but nobody inside seems to hear you knocking.

That's exactly what the Spirit says to John in this letter to the Laodicean church. These people have become fat, dumb, and happy ... completely content in their self-made image, worldly wealth, and comfortable position. The city was a center for commerce, specializing in fine cloth and eye salve. Money flowed freely and we can easily infer that the members of this church benefited as much as anyone else in that region. Yet, in the midst of their complacency, Christ calls them out for who they really are.

They are poor. Their gold and worldly riches are worth less than nothing. He has gold to offer that cannot compare and will give it freely if they will ask. They are naked, despite their garments of the finest cloth. He offers to robe them in Himself so they will really stand out. They are blind. All the eye salve in their city cannot correct their vision. He wants to perform His work of healing on their eyes so they can see what is important rather than only that which cannot last. They've become so settled in that they actually make their Savior sick ... and He's had just about enough of it.

The Excluded Christ now stands outside the door to their hearts and knocks, asking to be let back in. And while this verse has been appropriated many times for evangelistic purposes, that really isn't the context here. This is about the Maker being left behind by a people who have "progressed" to the point where they feel they no longer require his direct involvement. He has so much to share, so much to give ... and yet, they continue to ignore the knocking and go blissfully on in their ignorance.

That's nothing like us today, now, is it? We don't exclude Christ from our lives, churches, or worship. We embrace Him and all He does ... or do we? Just how close are we to being as fat, dumb, and happy as the Laodicean's were? It doesn't happen in big steps, you know. It just happens. And, before you know it, we can't even hear that knocking at the door. Oh, we still go through the motions, but we aren't really any better than they were in the end.

As I travel my Crooked Path, I need to actively keep Christ involved in all I do. This needs to be an active, daily thing in my life. I need to guard not only myself, but my family and my extended church family as well. C.S. Lewis said it many times in Screwtape. All that need be done is to make me complacent and keep my eyes off the One who was there at the beginning. It takes an intentional action on my part to keep Christ in focus and include Him. It's what He wants for all of us, and what He brings to "supper" is beyond amazing. So, if you think you might have excluded Him, go check the door and listen for the knock.


  1. Has your life become complacent? Do you find yourself far more self-reliant than you should be?
  2. What about your worship experience? Have you let all the activity and such supplant the Object of your worship?
  3. Are you hot or cold? Or have you become tepid, like a glass of water that got left out overnight? If you listen, can you hear the knock at your life's door?

Scripture Reference Bibliography

Here are the various versions I've rotated through while creating this blog. I'm very thankful to publishers scholars who go beyond tradition and seek to bring God's word to life.

ESV - Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Message – Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

NASB - Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

NKJV - Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

NLTScripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

NIV - Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.