Friday, October 29, 2021

Rich in Mercy

Mercy. Such a sweet, gentle word, isn't it? Hearing it may generate thoughts of a priest speaking the words, "You are forgiven," to a parishioner behind the screen of a confessional. Or, a woman whose son is brutally murdered by a young man not much older than her boy; she prays for this boy and funds his education, helping him turn his life around. Perhaps, when you hear the word "mercy," you think of God flooding the world. No? Well, sometimes mercy doesn't always look like we think it should.

Three years ago we were faced with the very sudden decision to put down one of our dogs or to choose surgery. He was suffering. The vet didn't hold out much hope for his recovery after surgery. So, we said our goodbyes and let him quietly cross Rainbow Bridge unmolested. It was heart-wrenching, but out of our love for him, we made the choice we did. Yesterday we came to a similar crossroads with our Tinkerbell: put her down or ease her pain with medication until her time. We chose the latter. In both cases, we tried to demonstrate mercy toward our beloved canine friends, though there is a great difference in how mercy was manifested in each situation. Did we change? Did we love one more than the other? No, it had more to do with circumstances than any of that. Bishop was suffering --greatly; Tinkerbell is alert, active, and she doesn't appear to be ready to leave.

Ephesians 2:4 tells us, God is rich in mercy. Rich! He is not simply merciful some of the time or only to certain people, but He demonstrates His character to all. He doesn't drag His feet and reluctantly let folks off the hook, but He sent His only Son to die in order to show mercy to the world. He gave His all. He is rich in mercy! The provisions He has taken to ensure none would eternally perish are more than apparent. Some, however, may not be so obvious. Like a cataclysmic, worldwide flood taking all but a few lives. Genesis 6:5-6 tells us, prior to The Flood, humanity was greatly wicked and "every intent of the thoughts of [the] heart was only evil continually." Sin multiplied exponentially. Anarchy. More merciful to allow humanity to destroy itself, or better to quickly eradicate evil and preserve a remnant? The evil and disorder in the world today cause me to wonder if we are repeating history, destroying ourselves again. It's painful to watch and reminds us how desperately we need mercy, even the kind that severs and tears asunder like the knife of a surgeon. Which brings me back to all God has done to save us from ourselves, the wonderful gifts of forgiveness through His Son and newness of life through His Spirit living in us, eternal gifts! Mercy is His nature and He doesn't change. If we are sure the gift of the cross is a merciful gift --and it is indeed!-- we have to trust His character. And though we may not see the entire reasoning, inside and out, or the scope of the story, beginning to end, we know He can. We believe who He is.

Sometimes mercy looks just like we think it should: gentleness, kindness, forgiveness. But in the times it appears cruel and difficult, trust the character of God, His ability to see the situation from an eternal, reigning perspective, and His great love for you. He is rich in mercy!

Monday, October 25, 2021

Goodness or Godliness?

I heard my husband as he was helping our grandson dress for church. "Good men pray," he said. "God's men pray," he amended. Oh, my! To hear my husband teaching this little man to be not simply a good man, but God's man... How it melted my heart. Don't we want our children to be good? After all, goodness is fruit of the Spirit. Being good is a reflection of what God is, but being good as a means to being godly is putting the cart before the horse, as they say. 

Mark 10:17-22, tells us a man came to Jesus wanting to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. He addressed Jesus as, "Good Teacher." This guy had goodness on his mind. Jesus responded by reminding him of the Mosaic Law, which this guy said he had kept from childhood. That's good, right? Jesus said the man lacked one thing: he needed to sell all he had, give the proceeds to the poor, take up his cross and follow Jesus. The man was despondent when he left, "for he had great possessions."

First of all, if you were paying attention, the man asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Does anyone do anything to inherit something? Isn't inheritance at the discretion of the one writing the will? I mean, you're either an heir or you're not, right? But hang on, we'll come back to that.

Secondly, this guy must have really been something to have kept all of the Law since childhood. He must have really been good. 

Third, Jesus told him the one thing he lacked. Do you remember? Sell all he had, give the proceeds to the poor, take up his cross, and follow Jesus. I know, sounds like four things, right? Well, this is where we see the difference between a good man (or woman) and God's man (or woman). Good was keeping the Law, doing the good things as a means to get something: satisfaction, reward, recognition, even as a way to keep someone off your back. But being godly, or God-like, starts in the heart. If he'd been willing to leave his past life behind --including his Law worship-- if he'd been willing to love on those in poverty by blessing them with the money from the sale of his stuff, if he'd been willing to crucify his own plans and ideas, if he'd been willing to faithfully follow Jesus with all he had, into any circumstance, if he'd been willing to start keeping the Law out of love for God and in humble worship of Him, the man would have become an heir. Without a death --in this case, the death of the man's ego and his method of earning things-- there would be no inheritance. You can't do anything to earn an inheritance. This pathetic man was all about checking the boxes, however; about doing things to be counted good. Perhaps, he had been fairly successful up to this point, but when faced with the choice to continue striving toward goodness or to surrender all and be godly, he went away sad.

God is good. Being a good person is imitating what He is. But when we lay down our agendas and schedules, and follow who He is, Jesus, we become godly men and women, for no one is good but God.


Sunday, October 24, 2021

Still

Right now --probably not when you're reading this, but as I'm writing-- the house is still. I am as alone as it gets for me. Mom is out on the deck, enjoying the morning sun. Scott and the girls are out and about. The cat is curled up on a bed and even the dog is sleeping peacefully. Still. Such a wondrous state! I do everything I can not to waste these precious moments of stillness. For instance, in the time it took me to type these first few sentences, the teapot whistled, so I jumped up to make my tea. The dog sensed my movement and decided she must need to go out. Because the dog barked at the door, Mom supposed she should be doing something and came inside. The cat noticed the commotion and is now summoning me to let him down to the basement. Just like that, the house is no longer still, and neither am I. 

Psalm 46:10a says, Be still and know that I am God. The stillness that God is talking about is a "do nothing" kind of stillness. A "wait" kind of stillness. A "watch and see" kind of stillness. But, how is anyone supposed to remain still when so much is going on? How is anyone supposed to remain still when someone around here always needs something? The stillness that comes from God begins on the inside, where His Spirit resides, and works its way out. Obviously, when the smoke detector is screaming or the car is careening out of control or the paint can is tottering toward the new carpet, doing nothing, waiting, watching may not be an option --on the outside-- but inside, our attitude, our fear, our anger needs to take a still kind of approach. Still leaves no room for blame or rudeness or unkindness or unforgiveness. Still leaves no room for controlling the things that belong in God's control. Doing things makes us feel like we're in control. Who doesn't want to feel like they have some sort of control --at least, over their own lives? But, Proverbs 21:31 says, The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord. We need to do the things we're told to do and let God do what He does. And He does give us things to do, but when it comes to His work, we need to keep our hands off; and when it comes to His glory, He alone is worthy of it. 

Joni Eareckson Tada, in her book A Place of Healing, asks, "How do we bring God glory in a time of trial or limitation?" I think her answers apply, too, to the practice of being still, of doing nothing because this is God's territory, of waiting and watching to see what He will do:

  • Breathe in His presence. Notice Him. Wherever you are, He is there. Take time to look for Him and give Him thanks.
  • Don't despise the discipline of the Lord. Endure hardship as discipline. We often think of discipline as punishment, but discipline is about making disciples, pruning and sharpening us, leading us through the fire.
  • Stay supercharged. Keep your spiritual tank full. Read God's Word, praise Him, pray, attend worship regularly, fellowship with other believers, have others pray with you and for you, and serve.
  • Keep a humble heart. It's not all about you. If you are a believer, your highest goal should be to bring God glory. Relinquish your agenda.
  • Maintain a childlike wonder about life. Don't take yourself or your circumstances too seriously. This life is but a vapor and God will give and take away as He sees fit. Find the joy in it.
  • Serve wholeheartedly. Service to others takes us out of ourselves. When we serve with gladness, as we are commanded, we will know peace.
  • Pour out your all. You can't be still when you are wrestling to keep all the stuff you have; let go! When Jesus is all you have you can rest knowing He will never leave you or forsake you.
  • Don't hold back on life. Join the circus. God numbers our days, gives the increase, and decides where we will go. We are not totally, personally, irrevocably responsible for everything. 

Set your sights on bringing glory to Him --especially in the chaos. We cannot know what God will do until we are still.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Review: Word for Word Bible Comics' Jonah

So this is a bit different, but I couldn't resist. A cool opportunity from Bible Gateway's Blogger Grid arose (in case you haven't noticed, I've been displaying their badge for a few weeks now). They offered their members a digital preview of a Word for Word Bible comic being released here in the US. All I had to do was read my free comic book and write a review. WIN! Word for Word is a project by Simon Amadeus Pillario. He has several titles overseas, but currently just one (Matthew) is available for immediate purchase in the states; the one I enjoyed, Jonah, drops on November 1st (preorder it here). Allow me to say, our daughter has a friend in England who once had his fill of filet and crab legs at our expense and I just might be suggesting it's high time for payback. The least he could do is pick up one or two of the titles not yet available to us here. (Seb, you know who you are)

Pillario describes his comics as, "Unabridged, historically rich graphic novel of the Bible with a high view of scripture." I definitely agree. There is no skimping on facts or lack of research in these books. Included in the first few pages is Pillario's explanation of his treatment of biblical text. He genuinely makes an effort to rightly divide the Word of Truth. The end of the book is filled with pages of additional historical information, exegetical insights, and even a brief discussion of some controversy concerning the account of Jonah. This is not your second-grader's comic book. Additionally, I should mention, these graphics are recommended for those twelve years and fifteen years+. The advisory is due to the artist's renderings of topics addressed throughout Scripture. He in no way glorifies or exploits sin, but he does lend his talents to accurately portraying events.

And his artwork! As a kid, I loved to read. Words were always my thing. Sitting next to my dad on a Sunday afternoon reading the Comics was a moment in time worth putting up with all those pictures! After time, I began to enjoy them, and Mom bought me entire comic books of my own: superheroes and funnies. What I wouldn't give to have that collection! The artwork in Jonah not only brought back some wonderful memories, but it is top notch. Images and fonts communicate text in an entirely different way; the author creatively uses them to reinforce changes in language and tone. As a visual learner, I tend to picture events in my mind as I read. Seeing Pillario's interpretation of things that are not specifically addressed in Scripture adds a new dimension and new possibilities to ideas that have become so fixed in my thoughts. And his art is engaging. If you can find a fifteen-year old who isn't sucked in by these drawings, he's probably asleep. My husband has already requested I order a couple, and I'm planning to place some copies in our church library. 

I encourage you to check out Word for Word Bible Comics and preorder your copy of Jonah now!