Meditating on the Commands of Christ (53): What Are Your Favorite Earthly Treasures?

Jesus told us not to lay up treasures for ourselves on earth. This is excellent advice, and as I survey my life, I realize how badly I’ve failed in this area! I’m surrounded by such abundance that my closets and drawers are stuffed. What is wrong with me? My lame excuse is what I call “Depression Consciousness” I wonder if it’s a diagnosis . . . I took too much to heart the training of my parents who lived through America’s Great Depression during the 1930’s (nearly a hundred years ago now!) and learned that every bit of scrap anything was worth keeping because it just might come in handy someday. However, that’s really no excuse for hoarding more than I need, which is in fact what I’ve done. I need to change my ways!

Many of you are probably neat as a pin and this is not your weakness, so hats off to you!! I grew up helping my spiritual mother (who was a millionaire) empty the last crumbs of bread from the wrapper onto her bird feeder (along with commercial bird feed). “Waste not, want not.” Good training, for sure, but some of us (like me) need to relax our grip on material possessions and unload our overabundance into the hands of charitable organizations whose mission is to help the poor (not just get rich on our donations; there is a difference, so I hope we’re all intentional about where we contribute our used clothing and no-longer-needed house wares). As a Christian, I like to contribute to organizations whose mission is to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world, but if you’re not a believer, you may have other priorities.

On an even deeper level, I’ve been exercised by meditating on this command to recognize that my favorite earthly treasures are actually not “things.” “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew 6:19). My favorite treasures are the people I love, and my guess is that—if you stop to think about it—this will be true for you also. So, what is Jesus trying to teach us about not laying up treasures in this context? Moth and rust may not cause the demise of the people we love (more likely illness), and it’s rare (although it does occur) that “thieves break through and steal” our loved ones.

Still, all earthly treasures, whether people or possessions, will not last on this earth, and I think this is the point. Jesus is warning us that what is physical is not eternal, and we should not set our hearts on that which is only ephemeral. Instead, God wants us to “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3).

I’m sure this does not mean to withhold our love from those around us. The Bible from beginning to ending teaches us to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 37-40). So, Jesus doesn’t ask us “not to love” those around us, He tells us not to “set our affection” on them.

What does this mean to you? To me, it means I need to stopping hoarding material possessions and adding to my collections of “things.” (Yes, even tea cups!) I need to open my hands more completely to the needs of the poor and clean out my closets! AND—I need to hold my family and friends with open hands, recognizing that even my most precious possessions on earth are gifts God has granted me for time rather than eternity. I need with great soberness to acknowledge that only those fellow human beings who are reborn into spiritual life will go into eternity with me, which intensifies my desire to pray for others and shout out the good news of the gospel from the rooftop of my life! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

Jesus Saves
(—Priscilla J. Owens, 1881, Public Domain)

“We have heard the joyful sound:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Spread the tidings all around:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Bear the news to every land,
Climb the mountains, cross the waves;
Onward! ’tis our Lord’s command;
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

“Waft it on the rolling tide:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Tell to sinners far and wide:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Sing, you islands of the sea;
Echo back, you ocean caves;
Earth shall keep her jubilee:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

“Sing above the battle strife:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
By His death and endless life
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout it brightly through the gloom,
When the heart for mercy craves;
Sing in triumph o’er the tomb:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

“Give the winds a mighty voice:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Let the nations now rejoice:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout salvation full and free;
Highest hills and deepest caves;
This our song of victory:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!”

Matthew 6:19 “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.”

Finding Our Way Into the Presence of God

Want to get closer to God but sometimes feel confused by all the voices out there describing their experiences in ways that seem contradictory to your understanding and foreign to anything you’ve experienced? How can you tell what’s real, what’s imaginary, what’s possible, and what’s impossible?

Tim Anderson’s new book, Into His Presence: A Theology of Intimacy with God, comes out of more than thirty-five years of his own life experience in studying, practicing, and teaching the Bible. His book is a truly helpful resource for systematically working through the scriptures in order to understand intimacy with God as communicated in His own words (the Bible)—and as distinguished from some of the contemporary cultural ideas which may (or may not) be consistent with orthodox teaching.

If you’re anything like me, most of the time you want to just “sit and soak” in the soothing presence of God. I love to start each day by meditating on the Bible and praying, memorizing especially helpful passages and worshiping our great God. As a wise friend once said to me, “No day is wasted that’s begun with worshiping God!” Amen.

However, if you have more time to invest and are serious about developing intimacy with God, not simply soaking in the sunshine of our loving Father but in delving deeper into His glorious complexities, then Anderson’s book is definitely worth the wading. It’s very dense. Not a one-night stand! It took me weeks to study and process, and I didn’t agree with everything. (Specifically, I spent over ten years meditating my way through the Song of Solomon and am convinced that it’s a gorgeous [non-sexual, spiritual] allegory of God’s relationship with Israel and the mystery of Christ’s relationship with the Church as well as a human love song.)

That one exception aside, I found myself very much enriched and deepened as I did the hard work of pondering the scriptures focused on the various aspects of people in relationship with God. I especially appreciated Anderson’s chapters discussing intimacy with the Holy Spirit (chapter seven), the role of suffering (chapter 8), and how to assess songs (chapter 9).

Have you ever heard a worship song and said to yourself, “That doesn’t seem right to me!”? Well, it may be wrong! Tim helps the reader develop an ability to analyze music for content, which I think is very needed for our worship leaders! A great song isn’t simply about the music. We all love singable songs, written between C and shining C (at least if you can’t sing like a meadow lark). We all love catchy tunes. We all love lyrics that are fresh and have something new to say. However, if the lyrics aren’t consistent with what we know of God from the scripture, then no number of catchy hooks or riffs can justify a message that’s adrift.

Finally, and this isn’t one of the points in Tim’s book, but as a warning to those of us who’ve spent years in academic circles exercising our brains, the Bible says: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). Talk about pulling no punches! If we want to experience intimacy with the God of the universe, who is not only love and light and life but the epitome of goodness and holiness, then we’d better be prepared to pray earnestly: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Ultimately, to draw near to the God of Goodness, we must be willing to “abhor that which is evil” and “cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). Otherwise, no amount of study will help us come into the presence of God. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15). At the end of the day—and beginning of each new day—the bottom line is: Are we trusting and obeying God? If we are, we’ll be growing in intimacy with Him.

But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works” (Psalm 73:28).

Trust and Obey
(—John H. Sammis, 1887, Public Domain)

“When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain:
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

“Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

“Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

“But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

“Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (52): Putting the Feast in Fasting

“When God opens our eyes for his word, we see into a world of miracles. What previously appeared dead to me is full of life, the hard demand becomes the graceful commandment” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

Have you ever gotten into the habit of fasting? To date, I have not, but I’ve been thinking very hard about it! As a young person, every once in a while, I would get an ascetic urge to fast out of a desperate desire for God to move in someone’s life (based on Mark 9:29, “And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting“). I could make it for about one 24-hour period before I’d give up! Man, how did Ghandhi ever do it?? I marveled at his will power and my lack of it!

After marrying, my husband—due to his medical training—did not want me to fast even for one day for my own health’s sake while nursing or pregnant . . . which was most of our married life into my early forties. So, in the spirit of Numbers 30:8 (although I didn’t believe in taking a vow as such, based on James 5:12*), I (somewhat begrudgingly) gave up fasting as a favored means of focusing more on prayer and hoping for deliverance for beloved friends from various maladies.

Fast forward twenty years, and in my sixties, I began partial fasting during Lent, which has definitely had ample benefits: helping me focus on prayer and appreciation for Christ’s sacrificial life for me, as well as weight control, although I never really experienced specific answers to prayer as a result, nor did I end up feeling any more “holy” or “spiritual.”

It wasn’t until just lately, as I studied for this post, that I realized fasting was not a usual part of weekly life for Jewish people during Jesus’s time. In fact, my beloved husband was completely indemnified when I learned that the ancient rabbis forbade scholars and teachers from fasting lest it interfere with their studies! (And, I think caring for infants is every bit as important, don’t you?) I was also surprised to discover that there is really only one official fast day prescribed by the Mosaic Law: The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29). This is the holiest day of the year in Judaism, also known as Yom Kippur, and it was just observed this past week on October 8. This annual fast lasts approximately 25 hours, from the time the sun sets on Yom Kippur until three stars appear the following evening (October 9). The purpose is to set aside usual pleasures and activities (including eating and drinking) in order to spend the time in reflection both personally and communally, repenting of sins from the past year.

I love this explanation from ReformJudaism.org: “Yom Kippur is the moment in Jewish time when we dedicate our mind, body, and soul to reconciliation with our fellow human beings, ourselves, and God. As the New Year begins, we commit to self-reflection and inner change. As both seekers and givers of pardon, we turn first to those whom we have wronged, acknowledging our sins and the pain we have caused them. We are also commanded to forgive, to be willing to let go of any resentment we feel towards those who have committed offenses against us. Only then can we turn to God and ask for forgiveness. As we read in the Yom Kippur liturgy, ‘And for all these, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, and grant us atonement.'” Amen? This sounds exactly like the teaching of Christ on forgiveness too: ” For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).

So, what does all this have to do with fasting, or putting the “feast” into fasting, or the opening quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer? This is what I think after a lot of prayer about fasting: Jesus doesn’t tell us to fast, but he does tell us how to fast when we do. Unlike many religions, which require fasting as a means of obtaining grace or increasing spirituality, the Bible teaches us that holiness comes from trusting in God, repenting from sin and avoiding evil. In Isaiah 58:6, God declares, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” God doesn’t require intentional deprivation. Instead, He wants us involved in actively caring for others. And what about this one from Zechariah 8:19? “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace.” God isn’t looking for asceticism; He’s looking for positive action!

I really believe there will be times in our lives when we are so distraught over something that we don’t feel like eating, and we may even intentionally fast for a specific time in order to focus on prayer and seek God’s will and favor. (Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.) However, Jesus’s disciples didn’t fast routinely. In fact, when the Pharisees grumbled against Jesus for not requiring his disciples to fast, he answered, “Can the children of the bride chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days” (Mark 2:19-20). We don’t have Jesus today, but He has given us his Holy Spirit to abide with us forever. Therefore, I think it’s appropriate to turn our weeping into “joy and gladness,” with our thoughts being focused on loving the truth and peace and sharing what we have with others “in cheerful feasts.”

However, when you do feel a need to fast, do it with a pleasant face, uplifted heart, and trusting spirit. Remember that your heavenly Father sees your needs, hears your prayers, and will reward you.

Text for today’s meditation: Matthew 6:16-18, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”

*”But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation” (James 5:12).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (51): One Prayer Worth Repeating . . .

There is one prayer that can never be repeated too often. It’s so simple a young child can learn it but so profound that only those who have surrendered their hearts to God can confess it with sincerity. Through this prayer, we affirm God’s fatherhood, our sonship, and His holiness. We bow before Him in submission to His will, asking for his blessed kingdom to come to earth and for His will to be done on earth. We acknowledge our dependence on Him for the most basic of our needs and ask for His forgiveness based on our willingness to forgive those who have sinned against us and are indebted to us. We ask for relief from temptation and deliverance from evil. We confess these truths as self evident: God is the rightful king of the world; all power belongs to Him; all glory is and ever will be His. In this we rest content and live at peace.

This was our Lord Jesus’s prayer, and this is now our prayer! There are no end of reflections that could be made on this prayer. It is a model for us. Do we need to repeat it word for word? No, but why not? Was it intended as a model for what we should be praying for? Yes, but it also encapsulates all that we usually fret about, and all our needs are subsumed under this rainbow. It expresses our faith in God and our eagerness to see His perfect will accomplished. In this simple prayer, all of our material needs are reduced to the only thing we really need for continuing life: sustenance.

Years ago, I worked with a group of people bringing Bibles to believers in China. Many of the Chinese Christians were severely persecuted, and most suffered deprivation for their faith, as they were discriminated against by the Communist Party. Above all else, I was moved by one of the songs they sang, which said they didn’t need any bread but the manna from heaven (the Bible). It isn’t a song we sing in America, so I don’t even know how to share the lyrics with you, but the message always brought tears to my eyes. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Oh, to be so focused on the Word of God as that which nourishes our souls! Is it even more critical to our existence than physical bread? Do we treasure the Bible above any other earthly possession?

And, what about forgiveness? My sister sent me this bit of tongue-in-cheek wisdom from Orlando: “A happy home is one in which each spouse grants the possibility that the other may be right, though neither believes it.” Or, how about this rather pompous thought from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To be great is to be misunderstood.” I suspect most of the time, we’re not 100% in the right, but even when we are, God calls us to forgive. That’s one of the hardest things we’re ever asked to do, because we have to absorb the shock of injury and suffering at the hands of another person. But, that’s what Jesus did for us, and that’s what He wants us to give others as a gift of love from God through us to them. Mercy. Help us to be merciful!

What about this one? “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” This isn’t just about keeping us from getting shot when we’re innocently walking down the street. It isn’t only about helping free us from addictions that enslave us and make us miserable. It’s also about resisting that delectable piece of pie that we don’t need after we’ve already eaten an excellent dinner and are full. It’s about avoiding the mall when we don’t need a new blouse. It’s about cooking dinner at home when we’d rather eat out. It’s about visiting the sick or grieved when we’d rather sit at home because we’re tired. It’s about living out the life of Christ when we’d rather indulge ourselves. Are we willing?

What an amazing prayer! Have you learned it? Do you repeat it at church or before you get up in the morning? The prayer our Lord taught us to pray gets right to the heart of who God is, who we are, and what we really need. It’s worth repeating!!

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Combining Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. )

“Our Father Prayer” Sung by Andrea Bocelli at the New York DreamCenter

(Photo of painting by Yongsung Kim used by permission of Havenlight.com.)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (50): A Consideration in Prayer

Do you have a favorite prayer you recite at certain times of the day? When I was ten, my two best friends were both devout Catholics, and one wanted to be a nun. No matter what we did during the evening, Susie would always end her day by repeating a cycle of prayers on her rosary, explaining that if she could fall asleep without sinning after this recitation, she might be able to go straight to heaven without needing any time in purgatory. Being a cultural “Christian” (based on being born in America), I knew nothing about the mysteries of purgatory or rosaries or the meaning of “Hail Mary, full of graces,” but I did admire her devotion and would definitely try to fall asleep quietly (at least most of the time) to honor her wishes.

A few years later, after hearing the best news ever—that Jesus died to save us all from our sins and wants us to turn to him in faith, accepting his gift of eternal life—I began to pray too, although I went to a little baptist church, where we were taught that praying is more about talking to God, who is our Father. Instead of reciting prescribed prayers, we were encouraged to open our hearts and let all our thoughts tumble out, the way a small child pours out his heart to a tender-hearted parent.

I don’t want to deny the efficacy of memorizing or reciting prayers, but I do want to encourage anyone reading this to consider praying to God the way you would talk to your father. (Or, if your father was unavailable or not good to you, then pray to our heavenly Father with the recognition that He is better than the very best father who ever lived on earth!)

If this seems irreverent to you, or uncomfortably intimate, consider that we are instructed in Hebrews 4:16 to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” If you have never asked God to become your father and Jesus to become your savior, please do! Come to him for mercy and grace! His arms are wide open! No matter who you are, God loves you with an everlasting love and longs to receive you into his family! Last week a friend said there had been just 18 inches between hell and heaven in his life . . . the distance between his head and his heart. Until well into his adult life, Randy had a head knowledge of God, but it wasn’t until he embraced Christ with all his heart as his Lord and Savior that he was born again and on his way to heaven.

On the other hand, if you are already saved by faith and a child of God, then the omnipotent creator of the universe has become your “Abba” Father! According to Strong’s concordance: Abbá – “Father,” “is also used as the term of tender endearment by a beloved child – i.e. in an affectionate, dependent relationship with their father; ‘daddy,’ ‘papa‘.”

So, prayers don’t have to be anything fancy or formal, any more than you’d ignore your two-year-old unless he could speak with the eloquence of an adult! God knows what’s in our hearts, and He wants us to share with him, just the way we long to share with our children . . . even our adult children! My “kids” are now 28 up to 44, but I will never stop wanting to hear “all about” whatever’s going on in their lives! Right?!

I have a girlfriend whose kids sometimes say she’s too nosy about their business. I love her response: “I ask too many questions because I love you too much!” God loves us more than the world’s nosy-est, most loving parent! Please, please talk to Him!! He’s here! Because he’s omnipotent and omniscient, He has all the time in the world for each one of us! He’s not too busy! He can carry on an infinite number of conversations at the same moment! He’s available. He’s knocking at the door of your heart! Have you let him in? If not, will you let him in? May we not only let Him in, but may we make the King of the Universe welcome as the resident King of our hearts as well!

Matthew 6:7-8 “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

“Abba Father” sung in Korean (with English subscripts)

(Photo of the painting of Jesus praying by Yongsung Kim is used by permission of Havenlight.com.)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (47): Be “Perfect” . . . Is That Even Possible??

My father grew up going to church but rejected what he had learned as a child and became a self-proclaimed atheist for many years, so when I was a child, I never went to church or heard anything about Christianity. In fact, my mother wrote as a “cute saying” in my baby book that at some point I said, “I think I should know more about the Bible.”

After eagerly trusting Jesus as my Lord and Savior the first time I ever heard the good news that God loved me and Jesus died for me, I immediately shared the Good News with my parents. I don’t remember what they said, but my mother’s attitude was sort of a non-descript “That’s nice honey,” and my father’s was a condescending, “Well, you’ll soon grow out of it.”

I was much older before I got my courage up to ask them why they didn’t believe. My mother (who was at that time agnostic) said it was because she didn’t feel certain God was real. She was afraid he was perhaps just an abstract construct, so she was unwilling to trust lest she be disappointed or discover that she’d been deceived. My father, on the other hand, had a more definitive reason. He remembered reading Jesus’ command from Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” and—knowing that he could never be perfect—decided to give up before he ever started trying. Why ascribe to an impossible standard? Why undertake an impossible quest?

My husband’s parents both believed in God and felt that the Bible was true, but Alan’s father had an almost exactly similar stance to my father’s. He said he could never be perfect, and that if he were to say he was a Christian, then he would have to be perfect, and since that was impossible, he would always feel like a liar and a hypocrite.

Why did Jesus tell people to be perfect, since he knew good and well they couldn’t be? Was he trying to turn people away? Was he just setting us all up to feel like guilty losers who are nothing but failures? Was he suggesting that unless we attain perfection, we’ll never enter heaven?

NO! But, well yes (in a way)! Jesus spoke the truth, which is that in order to go to heaven, we must be perfect. Thankfully, Jesus is also the way: Although we can’t be perfect, he could, and he was. He fulfilled the Laws of God perfectly, but then he offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins. If we are willing to humbly admit that we aren’t perfect and never will be, and that we don’t deserve to go to heaven based on our ability to keep God’s perfect standards . . . if we are willing to admit that we are sinners (law-breakers of God’s perfect laws) BUT are also willing to accept the free gift that Jesus offers us—his death as the full payment for our sins—then we become children of God, joint-heirs with Jesus, and possessors of eternal life. When we accept Jesus as our savior and surrender our lives to Him, He becomes our Savior and Lord. The Holy Spirit indwells us and begins the good work of making us more and more like our Master, until someday—when we see Him face-to-face in heaven—we will at last become perfect, not because we are, but because He is, and He has made us like himself.

Now, that’s not so hard, is it? Nobody told me I had to be perfect to become a Christian. All I heard was that God loved me and Jesus died to save me, and that’s all you need to hear. Believe in Jesus and surrender your life to him. He will receive you, give you eternal life, and the Holy Spirit will indwell you to comfort, guide, and teach you. Life is hard, but trusting Jesus is inestimably easier than trying to attain perfection without the aid of the one and only, truly holy, 100% good Higher Power, which is God himself!

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Also: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

P.S.—Thankfully, both my parents became believers in their eighties, and Alan’s mother became a believer in her sixties. I hope Alan’s father also became a believer, but I’ll have to wait until heaven to know for sure. At any rate, as long as you have life and mental faculties enough to choose Christ, it’s never too late. Hopefully, as we age, we’re better able to recognize our own lack of perfection and more willing to lean on God’s everlasting arms for help! He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). My mother was never disappointed in Christ after she believed. Instead, she became peaceful about her impending death, which assured me that her future was secure. God is so merciful!!

Photo Credit for Painting: “Love Everlasting” by Yongsong Kim, permission granted by Foundation Arts, website: Havenlight.com

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (46): Be Merciful

“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice” (Abraham Lincoln). Given that “Honest Abe” Lincoln was noted for truthfulness and integrity, that’s a pretty strong commendation for the value of mercy, and his assessment wasn’t unprecedented. In the Old Testament, we’re taught that God himself, the supreme judge over all the earth, is merciful (1), and that He desires us to be merciful (2).

So, what is mercy, how does it square with justice and the law, and why should we be merciful? “Mercy” comes from Anglo-French “merci” (which we think of as “thank you”) and Latin “merc” (“merchandize”) meaning “price paid; wages.” To show mercy is to extend forgiveness and grace to someone who has wronged us when it is within our power and right to punish them for misconduct, or more generically, it is “the compassionate treatment of those in distress” (Merriam Webster).

I doubt there’s anyone who would denounce mercy as “bad,” but strict moralists often cannot square mercy with justice. Moral radicals usually demand justice without mercy for those who fail to keep the law perfectly (be it the Ten Commandments, Shiraiah Law, or the requirements of any religious or governmental system). It is the oppressive “keep our laws or die” philosophy that makes life unbearably difficult for many people around the world.

Divine Mercy

One of the unique beauties of Christianity is the fact that our God is a God of great mercy and compassion (see verses listed below), but He also completely satisfies the requirement of justice. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, so that God can be both just and merciful. When we come before the judgment seat of Christ, we can say “Mercy! Thank you! The price for my sins has been paid by Jesus Christ!”

Sound too good to be true? It’s not! It’s the transcendent plan of our almighty, all loving God who has made a way for each of us to receive mercy and grace from his hand rather than the punishment we deserve for failing to keep His perfect laws!

Why should we show mercy to others who hurt and offend us? I’m not sure on what basis unbelievers choose to be merciful, but for me, it’s because I love God and want to please him . . . to be like him . . . to keep his commandments and extend the goodness and mercy I’ve received from him to others.

Have you experienced God’s mercy? Doesn’t it make you want to share his compassion and love with those around you?

Below are ten of my favorite verses on mercy from the Bible gleaned from hundreds. May our meditations be sweet! “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” Psalm 86:5

The Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him” (2 Chronicles 30:9).

Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy” (Psalm 33:18).

All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6).

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah” (Psalm 67:1).

Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart” ( Proverbs 3:3).

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Text for this meditation: Luke 6:35-36, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

Notes:
(1) “Thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Nehemiah 9:17).
(2) “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).