Mercy

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November 28

Tuesday, November 28th, 2023

I found myself saying quite a few times this past month during my sermons that “we have been blessed to bless others.” (Sure is different than that clap-trap of the health/wealth people who bless themselves with planes, mansions, cars, etc). What has been given to us in the way of material blessings was never intended on being kept to ourselves or to enrich our lives. Being selfish is never a fun thing to see or to experience.

The same can also be said about something else: being hurt. When we are hurt-either by God (so we think) or by someone else-one of several reactions takes place: 1) we scream and shout in anger; 2) we “hole up” or withdraw within ourselves. We become almost numb to the world; or 3) we use that pain to help others. The first two are often out go-to reactions. “This pain is so deep the only person to blame is God. If not, then you, the one who caused it.” Or as I’ve mentioned, to withdraw in numbness, wondering if this pain will ever go away.

The third option is the best and preferred reaction. Instead of wallowing in anger and self-pity or misery, use this experience to help someone else. There is a saying” “Hurting people hurt people” and sadly, that is true. Childhood trauma acted out later is a perfect example of that. But let’s flip flop that:

Hurting people help people

Hurting people can turn their hurt and agony and pain and distress into empathy for others. Instead of turning inward and focusing inwardly, turn that pain outward and let your hurt minister/help someone else. Allow your life lessons-and if you are a follower of Jesus the lessons the Holy Spirit is teaching you through the Word and others-to make your heart sensitive to other hurting people.

I’ve noticed one HUGE gain from that: focusing on others-helping others-helps ease your own pain and aids in healing. If nothing else, the joy you feel from helping someone else is worth the effort. Don’t waste pain. Use pain to see another through different eyes.

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On Sunday morning, Jo’s sister went to be with Jesus. She has been in a nursing facility with diabetes, kidney dialysis, and dementia which went into full bore Alzheimer’s. It was a blessing in more ways than one. We leave this morning for Sandusky, OH to meet tomorrow with the nursing home and the funeral home (all arrangements were made a couple of years ago) and the graveside committal is Thursday morning. Following the service we plan to head to Columbus, OH to see our daughter and grandson. We will be back home Friday. You can pray for safe travels and you can pray for a smooth transition for all Jo needs to take care of.  I am not sure about posting any devotion over the next few days. It will depend on my availability. Thanks.

November 27

Monday, November 27th, 2023

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get lost? I’m not talking about those who are what we affectionately call “directionally-challenged.”  🙂 They are those who couldn’t read a map or follow directions to save themselves.

I’m talking about those who are “small.”  Not height-wise. They feel small. Unsure of themselves. Insecure to a point. They are those who feel that what they do doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. What they do often seems insignificant to the “bigger” people or things.

Years ago the late Francis Schaeffer wrote a book entitled No Little People, No Little Places. Not only is that a great book title, it is a great thought. The world is filled with people who feel “little.” Tragically, we have often been the ones who have made them feel that way.

Allow me two examples-one social and one Biblical.

* I recently read that when the funeral procession for the late Queen Elizabeth took place, thousands of soldiers were deployed to escort the casket. Insignificant? To the outsider. But not according to one soldier who said, “It was an opportunity to do our last duty for Her Majesty.”  One of thousands but what an outlook!

* In the Old Testament, the Levites were commissioned by God to set up and tear down the Tabernacle. Along with that to carry the furniture. What a seeming meaningless job. Set up. Tear down. Carry. Set up. Tear down. Carry. You get the point. Sounds like boredom to me. Sounds insignificant. We know the names of Moses, Joshua, Aaron, and others. Can you name one of the Levites?

Nothing we do-in service to God-is small. Nothing is insignificant. I may be the pastor of the church but in the eyes of God it is no more important than the teacher of children; the nursery worker who takes wonderful care of a child so the parents can worship; the one who does the Power Point; the one who runs the live stream; the one who controls the sound; the one who cleans up after the worship gathering is done; the janitor who cleans for Sunday; or myriads of others.

Why? Because there are no little people. In church. In life. That is one of the reasons I tell our waitress “Thanks for waiting on us today” (and leave a generous tip if they have done a good job). That is why I try to thank the hotel clean up crew, or the one who works in a gas station, or makes sure things are clean in a bathroom. Why? I repeat: because there are no little people.

Do you take the time to recognize and thank those who have seemingly insignificant jobs?

November 8

Wednesday, November 8th, 2023

I was reminded again today of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story The Tell-Tale Heart. I can remember being in Homeville Jr. High (PA) and hearing it for the very first time. “Creepy” was my first reaction.  But as I got older and (supposedly) more mature, and now that I am in my 70s, I saw and still see the truth of the story and the result of the tell-tale heart.

I’ll encourage you to find the story online and read it. Short synopsis: one man kills an old man, hacks him to pieces and then buries him beneath the floorboards. The police come to investigate and the man is so cocksure of himself that sits with them in the room where he is buried and then sits in a chair above the spot. As the interview progresses, the man begins to hear what is a beating heart. It gets louder and he can’t understand why the police cannot hear it. He finally breaks and confesses.

Guilt does that. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I read David’s words in Psalm 32:3-5 to myself and to others: “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.” (NLT)

David lays out what we should know and have probably experienced: Guilt is a killer. It kills our heart. It kills our happiness. It kills our joy. It kill our peace. It’s like this scepter sitting on our shoulder (only it’s in the heart) whispering in our ear, “You’re done. It’s all over.  You’ll never survive. You’ll never recover. You’ll never get better. You’ve ruined everything.”

L.I.E.S.   ALL   L.I.E.S.

Guilt finds its release at the foot of the cross. Jesus took care of that guilt and shame and offers His forgiveness. Take it. Stop carrying around the extra baggage.

October 10

Tuesday, October 10th, 2023

I had a good day yesterday…my birthday. I did absolutely nothing. That’s good and bad. While I worked in the office early and had a staff meeting that lasted all morning due to various reasons, I was unable to go to the Y or for a ride.  🙁  However, I had lunch with Jo and Tami (our adult daughter who is on Fall Break from teaching K kids…thanks Tami), then drove to Terre Haute to pick up my Pathfinder. It had been in the shop since last Thursday. That’s when the fun began.

I did absolutely nothing. Unless you count reading, laughing and eating ice cream nothing.  I call it doing what I like to do when I don’t have anything else to do or want to do! 🙂

Honestly? I needed it. After a very busy weekend (I had a wedding rehearsal and ceremony), preaching twice in the morning, and small group I needed a slow day. Plus my schedule in 2023 has been full and hectic. Time away is needed by me and Jo, but such is our life right now and the holidays coming, that it isn’t going to happen. I do have several outlets  (biking and the Y), but sometimes one needs more. Sometimes time away is essential.  We are hoping 2024 works out for us.

What started me thinking of this (besides my own fatigue and realization)? I read a quote by former MLB player, Andrelton Simmons: “Most people carry scars that others can’t see or understand.”  He walked away from baseball in 2020 due to mental health issues.

Several thoughts went through my mind when I read about him. First, we are sometimes very good covering up the real “me.” “Never let ’em see you sweat” is the saying that goes through my head. To let someone see who you really are is often seen as a sign of weakness to admit we even have a struggle. NO. NO it’s not! It is a sign of strength to admit it.

Second, no one dare criticize another who is going through a crisis. I need to constantly remind myself that “there but by the grace of God go I.” That could have been me. He is right. We all have scars. I know I do. And I need to remember to do as Joe Simon once sang about: “Walk a mile in my shoes.” Truthfully, we all need to walk a mile in someone’s moccasins before we dismiss or criticize them.

Jesus empathized with us. Hebrews 5:15 says, “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He knows. He understands. He stands with us. Next to us. Holding us up. Giving us His strength.

Don’t hide. Don’t pretend all is okay. Get help. Be honest. You are not alone.

September 7

Thursday, September 7th, 2023

I was thinking this morning about the seeming coldness of so many people. Even those who are so-called “social justice warriors” are, when you come right down to it, often in it for themselves. They have a social agenda they want to accomplish-whether it be racial, environmental, lifestyle, or even religious. Instead of truly caring for people, many “front” their agenda with fake concern, fake activism. Whether it be for money, fame, a name, or an agenda, they truly don’t care for others.

How different from what the Bible says is true caring. Just a couple of Scriptures show that. Before I do though, let me add this: there is a big-no make that gigantic-difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy says, “I’m sorry” but does nothing. It reminds me of that annoying boy in Polar Express who says, “I’m sorry. I really am” but you get the feeling of “not really.” Empathy, on the other hand, truly feels sorrow but then does two things: 1) puts oneself in their place; and 2) does something about it.

Now for the Scripture…and trust me when I say no commentary will be needed. In I Corinthians 12, after speaking about how each member of the body-hand, foot, ear, eye, nose-need each other, Paul concludes with these words: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (verse 26 in ESV).

The other Scripture is found in James 2. James discusses favoritism (rich vs poor) in the church assembly by giving favored seats; partiality in morality (overlooking one sin for another sin); and then he hits my point: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Verses 15-17 in ESV)

No racial, environmental, or social agenda. Just a faith agenda: one where feet are put to our faith. Empathy, not just sympathy, is the calling card of a life of faith.

August 10

Thursday, August 10th, 2023

Recently, I witnessed a healing. No, not the kind you are probably thinking (although I wish I could in this case). Here’s the story:

In the past, Person B listened to the voices of others and told me to leave Person A as a friend and as a pastor.  He then turned his “guns” on Person A. He continued listening to the voices and sought changes which did not happen. A resignation happened and the “guns” were taken up by another. Meanwhile one of the voices was pretty much out of the picture. Again, changes didn’t happen and another abandonment happened.

In the meantime, Person B has come on hard physical times. Devastating actually. As Person B’s pastor, I made the conscious decision to forgive and made countless visits-many of them hours away-to minister and to bring healing. I truly believe God has been faithful in bringing the latter.

But what about Person A?

I make weekly visits to Person B to encourage, to pray, to laugh with, to offer communion (something he misses since we offer it weekly), and to share the amazing healing power of God in a relationship. My love for Person B and his family is real and I want them to know that.  I want him to know that.  In my visits I sometimes take others, friends from his past, to visit and hopefully encourage and let him know he is not forgotten. And to offer hope. I decided-with the wife’s blessing-to bring Person A with me some day. I saw God work!! Now, whether Person B even remembered the past I don’t know-such is his memory. But I saw Person A engage with Person B and his wife and offer some vital help where they have been stymied before.  What a phenomenal gift it would be if Person A can pull off the help he has offered!! I can’t speak for Person B’s feelings, although he did get emotional when Person A told him that he and his wife were praying for him. Person B’s wife, I think, was simply relieved someone was going to do something.

Mention healing and our immediate thoughts go to someone physically healed. Rarely do we think of emotional healing or relational healing. I witnessed both, especially in Person A. Personally? I think being witness to the relational healing does more good to my soul than all the physical healings I have seen God do (and I’m not speaking of the showy, TV, made up kind).

Somewhere angels were rejoicing, and the Father was smiling, as they witnessed “Forgive as you have been forgiven” come alive. I know I am.

August 2

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2023

There is a woman in the church I pastor whom I dearly love. She and her husband of over 50 years began attending after their daughter and son-in-law began months before them. They had attended another church for most of their married life. The hymns, pews, hymn books, and “church-like decor” was home to them. Through a series of circumstances, they began attending the church and I fell in love with them and their sweet spirit. It was hard for them to adjust. We don’t sing hymns or use hymn books. We have chairs not pews. Our building lacks church-like decor and has an industrial look. But they kept coming. He was once asked why they kept coming when it was hard to adjust to the differences. He said, “For the preaching. That man preaches the Word.” WOW! was I humbled by that.

Sadly, his health declined and several years ago he went to be with Jesus. She still comes and is a great encouragement. But I can see the hole in her heart, the loneliness, and every once in a while she will voice it. She is not flashy. She is not one who “works the room.” She is not “all over the place” personality-wise (unlike yours truly who knows no stranger).

She tickled me one Sunday. When she came it, I hugged her and said, “Good morning Jane (not her real name). How ya’ doing this morning?”

“Well…I’m vertical.”

I chuckled and said, “Well…I guess that is better than the alternative.”

There are different ways to look at that:

  • She’s awake not asleep.
  • She’s standing not laying.
  • She’s alive not dead.

Here’s another: Some people live horizontally, never giving thought to the vertical. Some live vertical, never giving thought to the horizontal. The former has no heavenly connection. The latter has little or no earthly connection. (So heavenly-minded they are no earthly good).

To my way of thinking we need both. We need the vertical connection with God, which in turn, affects our horizontal connection with people.

To put it another way: Love God. Love people.

July 27

Thursday, July 27th, 2023

We often use as a rule of thumb the old adage called The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That is a good ruler to use…

But…

What do you do with those who continually mistreat, continually belittle, continually demean, continually malign, and basically make your life miserable? What then?

I’m not one who feels one should continually be stepped on, stepped over, or discarded. Admittedly, it does take a lot to get me to the point of “blowing their doors off” but that is another story for another time. There are just some people, though, who seem to be happiest then they are miserably making others’ lives that way. They complain about every little thing. They put down others’ efforts  as maybe being inadequate, or misguided. No one does it quite right (least to their specifications).  Too little experience. Things aren’t quite straight enough, spectacular enough, creative enough…you get the picture.

If you are like me, you get tired of the grumbling. the judging; the “it’s not good enough;” or the like. It calls for you to either walk away, or ignore, become like them, or…

…you show them extra grace. There are just some people who require it. Instead of joining their club or ignoring their club, why not try to find the source of their attitude or sour disposition?  Maybe they are suffering some trauma? Maybe they have stuff going on that makes it feel like there is a vice on their heart or head. While it is never easy showing extra grace, Proverbs 25:21-22 is true: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head…”  (NASB2020)

Be an extra grace-giving person if you can. You never know whose life you can help make a difference in.

{Note: I know there is more to this topic and it can be much more complicated. This is just surface talk. Let me just say this: do not allow their attitude to determine yours and the way they treat others (or you) to determine how you do.}

July 19

Wednesday, July 19th, 2023

I mentioned in yesterday’s devotion that I thought there were more lessons we can learn from the David & Mephibosheth’s (M from here on), Jonathan’s son, story.

The first, which I wrote about yesterday, was the importance of keeping our word. Let your yes be yes and your no be no (as one of the comments said).

Another lesson we can learn is “spiritualizing” the text, but it is worth looking at. When the nurse caring for M heard about Jonathan’s death, she ran. In her haste she dropped M. At age 5, he was left a cripple. Although not an accurate application, a point can be made that there are many people who are “dropped” in life. Lousy upbringing. Ugly things done to them. Degrading things. Witnessing parents with drugs. Victims of a mother using drugs while pregnant. There are many scenarios. But God can take those who have been “dropped” in life, pick them up, and make them useful for His work.

Another lesson: M was found by David in a city call Lo-Debar. The name means “a place of no pasture.” It was dry, parched, a crummy place to live. I’ve not read why the nurse took him there, if indeed she did. Maybe she knew taking him there would hide him from evil eyes. Maybe he gravitated there as he got older.  It just was not a place conducive to “such a nice place to live.”

But think about this with me: when Jesus found us, we were all in a place of no  pasture. The effects of sin are on all of us. We are all in the wilderness-separated from God. But like David’s men, God found us and brought us into His presence, His palace, where we enjoy all the benefits of being the king’s son. Just like M did when David honored his promise to Jonathan  and brought him into the palace and had him sit at his table for the rest of his life.

We all know people like that. We all know people who need that. I look in the mirror every morning at one of them.

June 27

Tuesday, June 27th, 2023

Scenario #1: A man or woman is arrested for preaching or teaching, i.e. proselytizing. He or she is thrown into prison and on a daily basis is beaten or punished until he/she recants.

Scenario #2: A man or woman goes to work each day simply to do his/her job and do it well. That’s it. He/she doesn’t go there to be a troublemaker or to show anyone up; get a promotion; or to condemn. But their Christian faith is evident in how they do their job. But there is one co-worker who seems to have one mission: make life miserable for that person.

Scenario #3: A high school student excels in sports or academics or both. This student is motivated, not by a desire to prove he or she is the best, but by his/her love for Jesus to simply do their best in all things. But one student, one teammate takes offense, perhaps out of jealousy, or perhaps vindictiveness, to make life miserable by spreading lies or maybe getting “physical” in sports or in the classroom.

Scenario #4: A self-proclaimed “religious overlord” determines he, and he only, knows what is right and wrong. He makes an effort to oust the pastor or a teacher or a member because he/she is the self-proclaimed “church police of correct thinking.” That person leaves because they fail to get their way, but then returns one day expecting all to be forgiven and forgotten, even extending a hand to the one they policed. The motive for that extended hand is questionable.

In all four scenarios, there is a victim and a perpetrator. In all four scenarios the victim reacts differently than expected. Proverbs 25:21-22 tells us why: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is  thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

Showing kindness in the face of persecution, torment, ridicule, slander, or extreme hurt and betrayal, is counterintuitive to the way society operates. But not in the way God’s economy works. Peter tells us that Jesus was persecuted, tormented, and beaten but He didn’t open His mouth (I Peter 2:21-23).

Let’s be like Jesus. Let’s trust Him to make all things new and right. Let’s trust Him to give us the strength, and if things don’t get better, to follow in His steps. Let’s be “burning coal stackers.”