Mercy

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December 21

Wednesday, December 21st, 2022

Today is the shortest day of the year. Not that we have less hours in a day but we have less light. Some might say, “That is good. I can go to work, then come and get ready for bed and then go to bed early in order to take advantage of the longer night.” Or you might say, “Hey. That’s great! That means the days (daylight) will start staying around longer.” In either case, we still only have 24 hours in a day.

What will do with those hours?

In Matthew 25 Jesus has a conversation with His followers doing what needs to be done while we wait for Him to return.

  • I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.
  • I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.
  • I was a stranger and you invited me in.
  • I was naked and you clothed me.
  • I was sick and you visited me.
  • I was in prison and you came to me.

“And when did we see you like that?” “When you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”

He then turns the tables and speaks about those who see all He has just talked about and do nothing.

Christmas is a time when we are bombarded by solicitations for help-St. Jude’s, Shriner’s, Coalition of Jews and Gentiles, homeless shelters, food pantries, legitimate ministries, abused pets. All of those are needy-some more than others. I”m not trying to be cold-hearted when I mute the TV. Some commercials really get to me (St. Jude’s) and some are really annoying, i.e. staged (pets).

Be discerning who you help and send your money to. I prefer to stay local, where my feet are planted in my community. I also give to those I know and trust. However, I cannot tell you who or who not to help. Just realize the importance of people over creation or animals, for example. Just give with a heart like Jesus talks about in Matthew 25: “When you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me.”

Don’t close off your heart to the needs of those around you. Just be discerning.

December 15

Thursday, December 15th, 2022

This is a hard devotion to write. It’s hard because I know not everyone can celebrate Christmas. I’m not talking about the Jewish person whose disbelief in Messiah stops them. I’m not talking about the atheist whose disbelief in a God speaks volumes. I’m not talking about the progressive politician and activist whose desire for vengeance, violent rhetoric, and anarchy shoots the whole idea of a defenseless baby in a manger who makes a difference in the foot. I’m not talking about the greedy secularist whose only reason for the season is to line his/her pockets.

I’m speaking of someone else. I’m speaking of the one whose holiday is haunted by ugly memories of past Christmases. I’m also speaking about those who have already talked to me this holiday season (started with Thanksgiving) to whom the holiday season is a time of hurt, anguish and loneliness wrapped in grief because of the loss of a loved one. (This song speaks of the reminder a holiday can bring.  And yes, it speaks of lost love but the sentiment can be applied to most cases. The lyrics are under the song in Show More if you have trouble understanding…which I don’t think you will).

I’ve had several conversations with people who are facing the Christmas season with an emptiness in their heart. They are facing the holiday without someone they love. The first of every one is the hardest. But even though time moves on and the wound begins to heal, the hurt is still there. The ache and loneliness never leaves.

One family told me yesterday they are helping out a family of 9 with Christmas because they believe their son/grandson/nephew, etc would like that. They are doing it in his honor. That is a phenomenal idea! There may be no better way to deal with hurt than to do something for someone else in honor of one you love.

My heart goes out to those who face this holiday with hurt. Do you know someone who needs a little love this Christmas? Take some of your time to give yourself away. Not only will it be meaningful to them, you will find a satisfaction in your heart you may have never felt before.

And remember the ONE who know your hurt or the ONE whom you can share.

January 27

Thursday, January 27th, 2022

Have you ever realized you needed something but didn’t realize you needed it until…well…you really needed it?  You are probably reading that again trying to figure out what in the world kind of double talk is that or simply what am I trying to say.

it is not uncommon to not know you need something until a situation arises and then you see that “Oh man, I’m missing something.” It could be a certain kind of tool, for example. Or this has happened to many: you or someone is cooking and they go to reach for an ingredient and its not there-a spice, a flavoring, or some essential ingredient. I mean…mac & cheese is definitely not the same made with water because you had no milk or it was sour.

Okay…so here’s what I think (I know you are waiting with baited breath): mercy is like that. We talk about grace a lot and when it comes to salvation we know we need it. But mercy is a bit different. Someone has defined it this way: grace is getting what we don’t deserve; mercy is not getting what we do deserve.

But let’s look at mercy differently for a moment…outside of salvation. We talk about showing mercy (Mt. 5: 7) or being shown mercy. But even as we know we need it, we often fail to show it. We celebrate God’s mercy but scream at our children when they mess up. We are grateful for God’s mercy in our relationship but harbor anger, bitterness, even a lack of forgiveness for others.

See what I mean? We need mercy but often fail to show it so we lose sight of needing it. I wish I could express it better.  Maybe it comes down to this: maybe to the degree I have been shown mercy is the degree to which I ought to show it. Only when I realize I need God’s mercy will I show it to others.

“Father, thank you for your mercy. Help me to show it to others.”

LOVE GOD DEEPER…WORSHIP HIM MORE

January 18

Tuesday, January 18th, 2022

A couple of nights ago Jo was watching TV and as I was walking through I stopped to watch. It was an episode I had seen before on NCIS about the death of a homeless vet. It was at the end of the show when Gibbs was scrolling through his computer looking at vets who died homeless.  Director Vance walked in and said, “There but for the grace of God.”  Gibbs said, “Yep.”

That is a very familiar saying (“There but for the grace of God go I”). It is also a saying which can be said with no religious connotation at all. It is simple an acknowledgment of gratitude and recognition that another person’s fate is not our own.

But for the Christ-follower that phrase takes on a much deeper meaning. Think about it: all we are/ all we are not; all we have/all we have not, comes down to grace. Consider these words: “All of us, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the wrongdoing of us all to fall on Him.” (Is.53:6- NASB2020)) Other translations conclude that verse with “and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity (sin) of us all.”

We were not left alone, lost, or hopeless in despair. Not with Jesus! Isaiah tells us that Jesus chose to identify with us and become our substitute all. because. of. grace.

I would be lost. I would be lonely. I would be hopeless. I would be aimless. “There but for the grace go I.”

“Father, thank You for Your unlimited grace. Thank You for rescuing my sorry and lost soul and raising me to new life.”

December 9

Thursday, December 9th, 2021

Am I alone? I think not. Here is why I ask that. In fact, I’ll answer that with a question:

Why is it that for many of us, Christmas is a mixed blessing?

I suspect some of you are saying, “What? What in the world is Bill asking that for?” Hang in there with me.

While I will smile and laugh and be jovial, there will be those who are sad, will cry, and feel as thought their heart will break.

While I will receive some gifts (I have, after all, been very good) 🙂  there will be those who will receive nothing.

While I will hopefully spend time with family and friends, there will be those who have no family or friends and will be alone.

While I will be warm and “snug and a bug in a rug” at night, there will be those who will shiver and long for a warm bed or fire.

You get my drift now? Happy. Sad. Laughter. Tears. A mixed bag. I realize life is like that. I’m not telling you anything your don’t already know. But while I am experiencing all the good of the season, there are those who have been forgotten, are forgotten, or long for what maybe once was.

The tragedy is that I’m not really sure what to do about it. I don’t live in a big town that has a homeless population or even a home for those on the street. So let me turn it to you: what do you suggest? Do you have this same dilemma? What is your solution? I’m open for suggestions.

“Father, help me not to close my eyes to the plight of others. Give me wisdom to see with Your eyes what others need.”

August 9

Monday, August 9th, 2021

Okay…slap me with a wet noodle. I didn’t post last Friday. We made a quick trip to Ohio and left Wednesday morning and returned Friday. Rather than throw a devotion together AND try to do it on my phone, I decided not to do anything. But if I was going to post, the following was on my mind.

As followers of Christ we are told to:

Hurt when others hurt.

Cry when others cry.

Laugh when others laugh.

Rejoice when others rejoice.

Love because we are loved.

Show grace because we have been shown grace.

Comfort when others hurt.

The reality is that God often puts us in hard places or takes us through hard moments so that we will be ready when others go through hard moments. When their heart cries out for comfort, we are ready, because our hearts once cried out for comfort.

I think of Mordecai’s words to Esther: “For such a time as this…”  And who knows? All the junk we went through; all the pain we experienced; all the tears; were not wasted just on us. Perhaps it was for us to have a heart that hears and listens and responds to another’s heart cry. Lessons learned were never meant to be kept to ourselves. They are sometimes a path for us to guide a fellow struggler.  Don’t waste the pain or the lessons by keeping them to yourself.

“Father, may I be open to using my pain and heartache to help someone else experiencing that same difficulty.

June 28

Wednesday, July 28th, 2021

I’m always skeptical when I hear someone say, “Jesus told me (fill in the blank)” or “God told me to do (ditto).” That is especially true when what they say Jesus or God told them to do is so far off base, so whacked, that I want to say, “No way! God would never ask you to do something so vile, so repulsive, so stupid, so hurtful to others.”

I’m not speaking of those-like the Muslims from 9/11- who say, “God (Allah) told them to hijack a plane and fly it into two towers and kill thousands.” There is a place for them alright, but it’s not with any vestal virgins.

I’m also not speaking of those who take an Uzi and open fire on a crowd of innocent people. Or the one who kidnaps another and tortures them to death.

No…that’s not God.  But we must also realize God does speak into our lives-through a still, small voice we hear in our heart/mind. He “speaks” to us through His Word, through circumstances, and other people. It is that latter one I want to focus on for a few moments.

What do you hear from others? Is it a voice of shame? A voice of condemnation? A voice of “you can’t do this or that”? A voice of “you’re nothing”? A voice telling you that you are worthless? A voice of insecurity?

If so, it is high time to change that tune, to change that voice speaking into your ear or your life.  I like what Bob Goff wrote:

We need to give the microphone to those who speak hope and joy into the world.” (p.250)

I would also add “those who speak hope and joy into your life.” We need to stop letting negative voices carry the megaphone. We need to listen to the voice of Jesus, not the dissenters or naysayers.

“Father, tune my ears to hear your voice.”

July 27

Tuesday, July 27th, 2021

For the past couple of years I have often thought that if I was to ever start a church (which I have no desire to do), I would call it “Second Chance Church.” I know. Even as I write that it sounds a bit cheesy. Corny. But please hear me out.

Having been a pastor for close to 50 years, I have seen many broken lives. Train wrecks. Twisted beyond recognition. Mangled. Messed up. Even hopeless (as in giving up). I will even admit to being close to that feeling a time or two myself.

Getting broadsided in my car- as I was recently- does not carry the same picture of a car wrecked so badly it is unrecognizable and the “jaws of life” have to be used. There are some people whose lives are dented, smashed into, even put on the shelf temporarily. Then there are those whose lives are truly a disaster. Addiction. Poor choices. Loose morals. Alone. Destitute.

No matter which…we all need second chances (in some cases third, fourth and fifth). One of the biggest roadblocks to that second chance is shame. I want to be able to help people get past shame. I want them to realize there are always second chances. Shame doesn’t have to hang around and keep us where we are; God wants to take us “onward and upward” (to borrow C.S. Lewis’ words in the Chronicles of Narnia).

Second Chance Church. Sounds like a great name. But even without that name, that is exactly what a church should be about.

“Father, my life is a testimony to second chances. May I be your church here on earth offering that to others in Your Name.”

July 14

Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

In this day and age of “justice this” and “justice that;” of riots; revenge; senseless killing and getting even, we need to hear and use and practice another word:

MERCY

Jesus once said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Please read it again. Is it saying the same to you as it is to me?

Those who show mercy will be shown mercy.

Mercy is a God-promise. Lamentation 3: 22-23 says, “The Lord’s acts of mercy indeed do not end, For His compassions do not fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” What does the word they refer to? Acts of mercy. Everyday God’s mercies are new. Mercy is a God theme.

Imagine if we would practice mercy instead of justice. God’s mercy runs throughout Scripture. Would there even be an Israel, a Jewish nation, if God only exercised justice and no mercy?  How many times do the Israelites merit justice but instead receive mercy? On the cross Jesus didn’t say, “Zap ’em good Father.” No. Instead He said, “Father, forgive them.”

I’m in that same boat. For each sin. For each wayward look. For each idolatrous attitude. For each angry thought or word directed toward Him or someone else. Justice deserved; mercy given.

According to Lamentations 3 God’s mercy will never end. It will never cease and grace will never disappear. Each and every day I/you experience God’s mercy. EACH. AND. EVERY. DAY.

And get this! It is not warmed over, stale mercy. Every day it is new!! Can’t beat that!

“Father, each day Your mercies are new. Remind me over and over of that truth and then to absorb it. Help me to live in the light of that mercy…with you and with others.”

Two notes: First, don’t think for a minute that I don’t believe there is a place for justice. I do, but that is a topic for another day. Two, all Scripture is from the NASB 2020 translation.

June 10

Thursday, June 10th, 2021

We are forgiven to forgive.

We are given grace to give grace.

Those are just a couple of sayings that we will hear and that ran through my mind this morning.

Tragedy: it is too easy to forget and too often done.

My thoughts were piqued this morning because of the Scripture in Matt.18:23-33.  (I’d like to suggest you stop now and read that passage). However, just in case you are short on time, here is a summary: Jesus tells the story of a man who owed a massive, unpayable debt; begs forgiveness; the debt is cancelled; and he moves on. He moves on to a fellow slave you owes him a small debt-payable over time- who asks for the same grace and forgiveness just offered to the other. The other man refuses to forgive and throws the man in jail. (I’ve always wondered how that will help pay the debt). Anyway, the result was not good.

It is important to remember that the grace I have been given is to be given to others. The massive “forgiveness project” which took place from God to me should stand as an example for me to follow when dealing with others.

Think about this with me for a moment. The best person to reach an addict is a recovering addict. The best one to show forgiveness is the one who has been shown forgiveness.

“Father, help me to learn from Jesus’ parable.  Help me to be the one who shows extraordinary grace and forgiveness to someone else because I have the recipient of that same grace and forgiveness.”