Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

I have been studying the topic of Mercy for the last year. Prior to this, the last 4 years, most of my biblical studies have been about love, what scripture says about it, and how to walk it out. But sometimes God moves us on to new lessons and I just wanted to know how God feels about it. So I've been like a little archeologist and I've been digging in the scriptures to see what He says about it. I've also read other books on how modern day people walk it out, as well as listening to message after message about it. 
I was pondering Romans this morning and after reading the list of those that will suffer the wrath of God in Romans chapter one, I began reading chapter two, stopping at the end of the first paragraph. That's what grabbed my attention. I know I've read it before many times over the years but I'm not sure if I've ever connected what Paul was saying to the Roman church between the two chapters. 
I was so astounded at what it said, I had to examine how different the end of chapter one was to the second. I felt like I was stuck for a moment and the difference in "The wrath of God" and this kindness he was talking about. I suddenly remembered it was written as a letter. And that meant it wasn't separated by chapters. It was fluid from one paragraph to the next. 
The "You" that begins chapter two was strong to me. He says, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgement on someone else..." I went back and re-read the last paragraph of chapter one. 
Beginning in verse 28-32, "Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them."
Paul was speaking to the church. And I suspect they were very much like us today. Even though this was written in 57-58 a.d. it's still relevant in 2016. In 2 Timothy 3:16 it says, "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness..." So we can count on it leading and guiding us in the here and now.
I imagine as each of us are able to look at this list and hang our heads in shame, knowing we've committed at least one of them. If you don't think you do, well you're in denial. Romans 3:23 says, "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." In 1 John 1:8 tells us if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. So the reality is we all screw up. But that's not the issue here. Judging other's was the issue. Judging them for the doing the same thing they're doing! 
Isn't so easy to look on in disgust the blatant sins of other people? I know it used to be for me. I had no place of understanding of the struggles they were going through. I would say to myself, "I sure am glad I'm not like them." 
But then that made me just like one of them. See Jesus went on to explain in Luke 18 about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector. It begins in verse 9-14. 
"To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable; 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fact twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'"
But the tax collector stood at a distance, He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
The reality was when I would say to myself, "I sure am glad I'm not like them," it made me like a Pharisee! What an eye opener. Kinda just like when my eyes were opened to connecting the first and second chapter of Romans. 
See since I stumbled and fell flat on my face as a Christian, sinning with the like's of those listed in Romans chapter one, as well as Luke 18:11, I now know what it's like to be counted among sinners like that. I've felt their pain and shame because of it. 
I gotta take a little rabbit trail, over the last year, I've met quite a few interesting people. Many have colorful pasts. Much more colorful than mine. But what I've amounted to all the struggles they've encountered in their lives, so much of it is self-inflicted, it's just mis-guided love. And they're screaming for it by their poor choices, addiction, self-abuse, etc. Their actions are showing it by their behavior. Love me. Care for me. Am I worthy? Am I loved? 
I recently told someone that if their mother wasn't going to give them the love they needed, she had to love herself, fight for herself, because she was worth it and valuable and loved.
Now when I come across individuals like myself, like the tax collector, like those listed in Romans chapter one, I look at them lovingly, and I see the bottom line, not the thing they're doing. That's just the outward behavior of an inner problem. 
However when we judge people, we look at their behavior not their hearts. But that's what God sees. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, "...Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." He sees the "Why" behind the behavior. In Beth Moore's Breaking Free study she tells us "God sees exactly why we do the things we do." He sees and He knows. 
So what's the difference in God's wrath as opposed to "God's Righteous Judgement," which is the title of chapter two? Well when I consider God's judgment I think of harsh punishment and it's mean. But then Paul explains exactly what God's Righteous Judgement means. This is the NLT version. I like it a lot. 
"You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?"
Oh my goodness, "Can't you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?" Blown away!
God's Righteous Judgement is His kindness! Let me say that again, it's His kindness! 
My NIV says in verse 4, "Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance." 
Goodness gracious...I hardly can't believe what my eyes are seeing. 
Amanda Cook wrote a song called Mercy. It was my theme song last year. I desired it so greatly from my Christian community I sang it out daily, often many times. It was my heart crying out for mercy. But as we see even in the time that this letter was written to the Roman church, they weren't too good at showing mercy either. 
Here are some of the lyrics:

My past embraced
My sins forgiven
I'm blameless in Your sight
My history rewritten
You delight in showing mercy
Mercy triumphs over judgement.

I listened to Brian Zahnd's message called Mercy Please. He shares, "The one who calls on the Mercy of God will never be refused." As I heard these words they were like water to my thirsty soul. 
He warns us, "Of all the sins to avoid, avoid the one where you aren't merciful. Avoid it like the plague."
Jesus declares in Matthew 25:36, "I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me...I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
It's not punishment or wrath that turn people from poor behavior, or as Brian Zahnd describes it, "We are not saved by our moral development, but by the mercy of God." 
It's God's kindness that leads us toward repentance. 
And We have an opportunity to show His kindness to others as well. And that kind of kindness is mercy. 
Jesus showed us who to and how to in Matthew 25:36, 40. The blueprint has already been drawn up for us. How easy is that? 
However, if I'm being honest, it's not so easy. Cause loving your neighbor, your enemy, the sick, the poor, the imprisoned, it takes us out of our comfort zones. 
Consider this though, Jesus went way out of His way to reach us at our lowest. He left glory and took on the nature of a servant, endured torture, and hung on a cross for our sins. Way out of His comfort zone! So much so He cried out to the Father, "Father, if it be Your will take this cup from me; not my will but Yours be done." 
Maybe we could all do the same, be honest with Him and let Him know how hard it is for you. I understand, it's scary.  
But if we can look at it like Matthew 25:40, "...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
I am the least of these, you are the least of these, we all are the least of these. Let's show mercy to each other. 
"Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!" James 2:12-13

Peace and Love,
Julie