Mercy

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April 2

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

In the midst of this pandemic we are going through right now, we are also seeing great acts of giving, of serving. We hear or read of people who are going out of their way to serve. One of the men from the church found himself in the ER parking lot the other night because he was not allowed into the ER after his father suffered a stroke. There were some people (I’m guessing from a local Bloomington church) who were singing and praying in the parking lot for the workers in the ER. There are people who deliver meals and supplies to the house bound (for free).  We have a local grocery store delivering groceries for free. We have local restaurants making food for pick up but also, in some cases, delivering food for free.  There are those performing random acts of kindness. And many more.

What many people are experiencing, perhaps for the first time, is the joy of giving. There have been times when I have experienced a day of the blahs. I found one of the greatest ways of getting out of the doldrums is to give myself away-visit a nursing home, or a hospital, or a shut in. Visit a widow or widower who is lonely. Focus on someone other than myself. What I found is that it wasn’t the other person who was blessed, as much as it was me.

People got the wrong idea when they read “God loves a cheerful giver” and immediately think $$$$. But that’s where they are wrong! There is much more to giving than $$$$. Give your time. Give your talent. Do something for someone else and see the joy that comes back to you.

“Father, help me not to always be looking out for myself. Help me to give myself to others.”

March 26

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

Years ago I remember reading the story of Kitty Genovese. (I can’t remember the name of the book but the author was Fritz Ridenour.  It was a book on evangelism. I also remember he used the story in John 4 to show how Jesus did evangelism with the woman at the well and how it served as a good example for us). Okay…back to Kitty. 🙂 Anyway, Kitty was brutally knifed, raped and murdered outside her apartment one evening. I googled it this morning and recent updates say she was knifed 13 times and no one lifted a finger to help or even call the police.  As an aside, her story helped institute 9-1-1 and also what was called The Bystander Effect.

That kind of apathy and “unfeelingness” stuns us. It should stun those who talk about the goodness of man and how we are all basically good inside. I simply cannot fathom that no one came forward to rescue her, to help her or to even call.

Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. A man is beaten, left for dead and two religious people walk on by as though they see nothing. It took a foreigner- a Samaritan- to stop, bind his wounds and take him to a hostel where he could recover. Jesus’ teaching was easy to see-for them and for us. What I need to ask myself, what you need to ask yourself, is who will I choose to be in that story? We live in a time where so many are living in fear and panic.  So let me issue this challenge: instead of asking yourself who will I choose to be, why not BE the answer! Why not ask God how you can BE someone’s answer?  Pray for God to lead you to someone-especially in this time of fear-who could use your help. Instead of being a need; why not meet a need? And yes, I know we are to take precautions. And we should. There are other ways-creative ways-we can help reach someone’s need. 

“Father, you have not asked me to sit idly by or to pass by on the other side. You have given me the challenge to be an answer. Lead me to someone whom I can help.”

March 4

Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

All of us want and need someone to care about us. Without exception. Oh, I know there are people who say they don’t need anyone else.  I want to say to them “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” And I know there are those who pretend to be “hard” and try to push people away, but they aren’t kidding anyone. We all need and want someone to care. Our world is filled with people who go through life feeling hopeless, abandoned, empty, and lost.

Sadly, just as there are many who go through life feeling that way, there are those- many who call themselves followers of Jesus- who basically say, “I don’t care.”  They have cocooned themselves in a cloak that says, “My world” and have tried to shut themselves out from others.They give off the air of “I don’t care” and “Don’t bother me.”

That philosophy goes against the very teachings of Jesus in Matthew 25 when Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats and who would inherit the kingdom. Our response to those who are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison will go a long way in determining if we are a sheep or a  goat. Will we, as followers of Christ, reach out or hunker down?

I recently read that Stephen Foster, the writer of “O Susanna” and “Camptown Races”-songs that made the world sing- died at the age of 36 as a derelict in a 25-cents-a-night flophouse, looking twice his age. I can’t help but wonder what got him there? How does someone with so much going for him/her end up lost and hopeless, a slave to drink? Then I ask myself did no one care?  Did no one reach out?  (I can’t answer that honestly because I don’t know).  It might be easy to say, “Alcohol did it” and that may be true. But what drove him to the alcohol? Was it loneliness? Hopelessness?

“Father, give me a heart for the hopeless, the lost, the hurting, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the sick. Help me give hope where there is none.”

February 11

Tuesday, February 11th, 2020

I wish I was alone in this. I wish I was the only one who experienced this. I wish it was an isolated case and it died with me. I’ve done it (sadly and ashamedly) and had it done to me. I’ve seen it done to others as well.

What is it?  Well, let me give you two Scriptures and see if you can figure it out:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. James 3:1-2

And I’m suspecting you know of the ensuing words related to the tongue (a further commentary on verse 2). I also hope you can see my quandary. We are quick to judge and criticize, to put down and to sweep aside someone who stumbles BUT forget to look into our own mirror and to check our tongue.

Nobody’s perfect…making mistakes, or stumbling is a fact of life. We all do it. What we don’t need is someone pinning us down, stepping on us, criticizing us, judging us or body-slamming us, all while forgetting they are sinners, mistake-makers too. The air of superiority some develop is just as sinful as what and who they are pointing their fingers at. Sounds a bit Pharisaical to me.

Instead of shooting someone down-especially with our tongue-maybe we ought to harness our judgment gun and empty our bullets.  Maybe an effort to assist and to pick them up would be more in order. If we did that, more people would not need bullet-proof vests that cover their hearts.

“Father, help me to be so careful in my judgment of others. Instead of shooting them down or even pinning them while are down, help me to holster my gun and lend a hand to get up.”

January 16

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Forgotten vs Adopted.

I was reading today about adoption. What a beautiful thing! I know of several folks who have adopted-both here and in foreign countries.

  • My brother and his wife who adopted a baby girl from China (Lea) over 16 years ago.
  • A couple from the church who had just adopted a baby from China when I moved here in 2005 (Annalei- whom you may read about someday as an Olympic diver), and another in 2010 (Meilynn was about 7 or 8 and was a phenomenal gymnast now cheerleader with one of the prettiest smiles you will ever see).
  • Another couple adopted Lucy as a baby with severe clef palate damage. She is now in high school.
  • A former blogger, Jason, and his wife adopted a young man from Japan.
  • Zee (a blogger friend from Ukraine) and her husband, Sam, who have adopted Zhora (George) and Zhenya (Jenny), who sure look ornery but also a ton of fun in their picture. They are about 6 & 5.
  • Others who have adopted children in the states and those who want to. (The system is broken).

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I respect those people. Adopting someone not only means that couple taking a step forward, it also means giving a child a new life, a life they would have never known. Bought out of less than desirable circumstances and brought into a situation that says, “Family. You are wanted. You are loved.”

Can there be a much better picture of our welcome into God’s family? Our existence screamed, “Lost! No home! No love!” Ephesians 2 uses two words “But God” to show the line of demarcation from what once was to what it became and is now.  We are saved from and shown to. We are saved from a life of lostness and given a life to meaning, hope and purpose.

Then I read more this morning. It also says we are given a “spirit of adoption.” I was reading in Ezekiel and 36:26-27 says,

And I will give you a new heart, a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Can there be any better description of adoption? A new family. A new heart. A new spirit. All the rights and privileges of a natural member of the family.

“Thank you, Father, for adopting me into Your family. For rescuing me from no life to a life that is far more than I dreamed. Thank you for my new heart and my new life.”

December 25

Wednesday, December 25th, 2019

You SHOULD NOT be reading this today! You should be with your family and friends, not on the computer.  🙂  And I know what you are thinking: “If I should not be reading this you should not be writing this.”  True that. Except for the fact I still got up early to have my Quiet Time and to get my “mind juices” flowing before starting my day.

This morning the church I pastor will be offering a hot breakfast to the community. We typically have less than on Thanksgiving, but as Jo and I talked yesterday, it is a “crap shoot” to plan on how many to expect. We will still deliver breakfast to those who have requested it, plus to the civil servants and gas station workers who have to work this morning. At this point, we have about 30 deliveries to make to individuals and the number of workers is usually in the 30 range. So my drivers (I’m in charge of deliveries) will stay busy. We have generally served close to 20-30 on a typical Christmas morning. Who knows today?

Why do we do it?  For several reasons actually. One, several years ago I was asked by the Chamber of Commerce (of which I’m a board member) if the church does anything for Christmas. The local UMC does a lunch so we certainly weren’t going to reinvent the wheel. Don’t need two churches competing over that. So we offered a breakfast. Two, it had already been on my heart to do something so I took it as confirmation we were to take this step. Three, and this is my motivation: I don’t believe anyone should spend Christmas alone. For various reasons people do. I want to give them an opportunity to not be. Some are down and out on their life situations and are alone because of loss or because they have no family left locally. NO ONE should spend Christmas alone. And four, I believe it is what Jesus would do. His famous words “When I was hungry, sick, in prison…” motivate me to reach out. Those who help, those who give up some time on Christmas morning to help, are showing that same spirit.  I’m not opposed to but am not part of the social justice crowd. I prefer to do it one person at a time.

So very soon I will be heading off to the Lion’s Club where we offer the breakfast. It is right in the heart of the town and can be easily accessed by walking.  If you happen to be reading this, I would appreciate your prayers for safety for my drivers and for someone to not feel so alone this Christmas.

And I pray God’s blessing on your day of celebration of the birth of our Savior.

December 12

Thursday, December 12th, 2019

THIS IS NOT A CHRISTMAS DEVOTION!!! You can check my #ChristmasChallenge devotion on my other blog.

My title for this devotion is Love vs Wrath/Justice.

I’ve been reading the past couple of weeks in the book of Jeremiah. (Yeah…zzzzz). Least at times it felt like that. I’m not denigrating God’s Word; it’s just that some parts of it are hard to stick with. But in between these seemingly incredibly long moments of sheer boredom are nuggets of gold.

For instance, one of the hardest qualities for people to grasp is God’s wrath and justice. “Give me a God of love!” we say. And while I prefer the God of love, I’m also highly aware that God is a God of wrath and justice.  He has to be. Just like a parent needs to be a parent of love, he must also be a parent who disciplines and is not happy with some of the actions of the child. Sometimes discipline is called for, even punishment, if rules are broken or hurtful actions are taken.

Let me give you an example from Scripture. “Behold the storm of Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The fierce eyes of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intentions of his mind.” (Jer.30:23-24)

Then just a few verses later in Jeremiah 31:3 God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

Wrath. Justice. Love. They go hand-in-hand. And most definitely they do in God’s case. I’ll let you work that out in your own mind.

“Father, you are a God of wrath, of justice, and of love. There is no contradiction there. Help me to see how they work in tandem in my own life-helping me to make right choices, correcting me when I don’t, but always loving me.”

December 9

Monday, December 9th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Lasting vs Passing.

It is not unusual to hear or say-and I have-that Thanksgiving should be and is to be more than one day out of the year. Thanksgiving should be 24/7/365. The inference (although it is more than just inferred or implied) is that the spirit of Thanksgiving is so dominant in us that it weaves its way into every day of the year.

What would that mean if I said, “Christmas ought to be every day of the year? Does that mean we ought to have candy and cookies and eggnog and gifts and the other trappings of Christmas all year ’round? (I can say you will have a hard time with me saying no when it involves chocolate. But I digress… 🙂 )

In all seriousness, what does that mean? Seemingly endless shopping? No. Lights and decorations all year ’round? No. A tree in the foyer or living room? No on all counts. To say Christmas all year ’round is to have the attitude we find in Philippians 2: “Have this mind (attitude) among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Paul had just been talking about doing nothing out of selfishness or conceit. But instead, we are to look out for the interest of others.

THAT’S the spirit of Christmas! Humility. Selflessness. Who couldn’t benefit from an attitude like that displayed? Giving our lives away for the sake of the Gospel.

“Father, may my life exhibit the Christmas spirit of humility and selflessness all year ’round. May Christmas not be just a once a year event but a lifestyle of giving myself away on a daily basis.”

October 24

Thursday, October 24th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Meeting Jesus vs Rejecting Jesus.

I’ve always been intrigued by and enjoyed reading the story of the Gadarene demoniac in Mark 5. I read it again this morning.  And once again I was captivated by its lessons.

  • This man was so strong, so “possessed,” that nothing could keep him chained. Call him the Hulk; call him the Mummy; call him the Werewolf; call him uncontrollable.

Then he meets Jesus…

  • The demons that controlled him found themselves face to face with the greatest force they had ever met and then found themselves laying flat on the ground at the feet of Jesus crying out not to be tormented.

Then he saw Jesus’ power…

  • They were cast out of the man and into a herd of pigs. I’ve always found that interesting. What were Jews doing with a herd of pigs?

Then he received Jesus’ healing…

  • The people heard about the pigs and came to see what all the commotion was about. The man was clothed and in his right mind. Can you imagine the looks on their faces when they saw this man no longer a madman but sitting at the feet of Jesus and in his right mind?  But…but…but…

Then he received Jesus’ words…

  • Jesus was leaving and he wanted to go with Him. Who wouldn’t? Especially after what Jesus had done for him. But it was not to be. Jesus told him to stay at home and tell the people how much He had done for him and how He had mercy on him. He does exactly that. (v.20)

This changed man did what all changed people-including me-are to do. Tell how and WHO changed my life.  The most powerful testimony is the changed life. “I once was blind but now I see.”

“Father, I have been changed by You. Your love. Your mercy. Your grace.  My response should be the same as this man-go and tell. Help me to do just that-to tell of all you have done and of Your mercy which has been shown to me.” 

October 22

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019

My title for this devotion is Concern vs Aloofness.

Proverbs has many ideas and themes running through it. It is a collection of sayings. I recently journaled about the stream of verses dealing with speech. Another theme, which hit me as I read Chapter 22, was the concern about rich man/poor man and its impact upon daily life.

It actually started yesterday when I read Proverbs 21:3- “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” That sounds strangely familiar to Micah 6:8- “What does the Lord require of you but to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”

Then as I read chapter 22 more verses emerged:

“The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the maker of them all.” (v.2)

“The rich rules over the poor; and the borrower is slave to the lender. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity…” (vv.7-8a)

“Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” (v.16)

“Do not rob the poor because he is poor…” (v.22)

The mistreatment of the poor has taken place since time immemorial. That’s no excuse.  It was addressed by Paul in I Corinthians 11 concerning the observance of the Lord’s Supper and the “haves” eating and taking advantage of the “have not’s.” And I’m certainly not wading into the whole immigration issue here. What I am saying is oppression of the poor is spoken against. Condemned.

Micah 6:8 is very clear. Proverbs 21:3 is also very clear. I am to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. To do that is much more important than all the “religious things” I do. They are worthless if I don’t treat others as Jesus would. The question comes down to concern vs. aloofness.

“Father, is there concern for others or is there an aloofness I have developed?  Do I show the love of Jesus to those who are less fortunate than me or do I turn my back and walk away? Help me to have the heart of Jesus for all people.”