Tag Archives: judgment

Mercy, not sacrifice

This evening I listened to a message on the scripture passage which makes up the title of this blog:  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”   It was a short homily that God whispered into Father Jake’s ear in order to meddle in my life and remind me (again) of what matters most.

When Jesus informs the religious leaders of his day that the Father’s desire is mercy and not the age-old sacrificial system under which they lived and breathed, he was without a doubt dropping an atomic bomb into their world of law and order.    Jesus was making it clear that God’s heart is one that favors mercy over judgment, grace over law.  Law and judgment ought not trump grace and mercy.    What was an A-bomb in Jesus’ day is no less world-shattering for me today.

Because every day I find myself withholding mercy from someone when it suits me.

My wife pointed out to me not too long ago that I seem to have an endless supply of mercy to extend towards addicts and atheists.    She went on to point out, lovingly, that my mercy bucket seems to be very limited towards Christians who voted for Trump.    She is right about that.

Most recently she and I found ourselves in the midst of an argument – a power struggle – where I was unwilling to give.   My desire to be right was outweighing my mandate to love.   I was withholding mercy because I felt that extending it would mean I have to surrender my right to be right.    My perspective on the situation left me feeling like unless she sacrificed something, I had every right to stand in judgment.

Jesus said he desires mercy, not sacrifice.

This is humbling as I realize the countless ways my Pharisaic heart has a bent towards sacrifice.   And it’s not just with others.   I demand it of myself, too.    Have you ever tried to please God by being a better person?  Ever mess up, relapse, do something you know is wrong and then avoid spending time with God because you felt like you had to clean up your act – make sacrifices – before you could be in God’s presence?   Have you ever felt convinced that your flat tire was God’s punishment on you because you weren’t doing enough right things – making the right sacrifices – to please him?   Ever felt like if you could just stop acting out in your addiction than God would love you?   Yeah, me too.

Jesus said he desires mercy, not our sacrifices.

So yes, while it’s humbling to face the reality that I am still a person who needs reminded to be a person of mercy rather than sacrifice, it’s also liberating and, perhaps a bit surprising, that God is already this way in spades towards you and I.    God is surrounding us in bucket loads of mercy amid all our faults and failures.  God loves mercy and he loves making it new for us every morning.   There is no sacrifice you and I need to make to settle up with God because that has already been taken care of in Jesus.

God lives in mercy towards us and invites us to do the same with each other.    This sounds like a far better way to live, don’t you think?

Mercy Wins

Have you ever been offended?  Ever feel as though someone wronged you, misunderstood you, didn’t treat you with the respect you thought you deserved, looked at you funny, ignored you or responded to you in a way you didn’t like?

Every one of us should be nodding yes right now.

What do you do when that happens?    Maybe you respond by ignoring it as though it never happened, just smile and walk away.  Or perhaps you retaliate with a zinger of your own.   Maybe you seethe over it throughout the day and into the night, reliving the event in your mind’s eye and wishing you had said this or that to defend yourself.    Maybe you cry.

In this post I want to give you something better to do.  I want to teach you a prayer that changed my life and the way I respond to almost everything, including being offended.  It’s called the Mercy Prayer.

I’m teaching through the book of James at my church and this past Sunday we were in  James 2:1-13.   Here James calls out those of us who would show favoritism to others based on their wealth or status and calls such favoritism sin.   The scene has two parties:  the ones doing the offending (those showing favoritism) and the ones being offended (the ones being told “sit over there“).    In both cases, judgment happens, does it not?   The easy one to point out is the one looking at how someone is dressed or how much money they have is judging by appearance.    Most of us will intuitively hear that as wrong on some level.    The other case where judgment happens, the one we are less likely to see (or not want to see), is the one perpetrated by the offended.    This is the judgment we cast upon those who wrong us in some way or another, where we secretly revile them in our heart of hearts while we are being told to go “sit over there.”    It’s the easiest sort of judgment to justify because we feel an injustice has been done to us, and if we don’t execute some sort of judgment (even if it is in the scenarios we live out in our thoughts) then who will?

James levels all of us in this passage by calling all of the judgment we cast upon others as sin and reminds us that judgment is without mercy to those who show no mercy.   Mercy, he says, wins over judgment (James 2:13).

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So how do we do that?  How can we start winning with mercy rather than losing in judgment when we find ourselves being judged unfairly by others or offended by everyone else?

What has worked for me and many others is learning and praying this prayer by Rex Andrews called The Mercy Prayer.    Over time I have learned to say this prayer, in whole or in part (one or two lines of it), over myself and over others, almost without ceasing.    Here is the prayer in it’s entirety:

Lord, I thank you for _____________
I thank You for saving him. Thank you for what You have done and are doing in his life

Make __________ to know Jesus (more)
Help him to increase in knowledge of God. Destroy speculation and every lofty thing raised
up against the knowledge of God, and help him to gbring every thought captive to the
obedience of Christ

Make __________ poor in spirit
Bring him down Lord; but please do it gently. Help him to see his neediness. Help him to
see himself in light of You. Put him in his rightful place Lord.

Fill ____________with Your Holy Spirit
Immerse him in Your Spirit Lord. Come to him in power and in might. Baptize him in fire Lord.

Life ___________
Life him according to Thy loving-kindness. Pour out Your life giving mercies into his soul.

Bless __________ Lord, bless him in everything he touches
Bless him spiritually, physically, and financially. Bless his loved ones.
Do for him Lord, instead of me

Mercy __________
Flood him with need-filling mercies. Pour them out in super abundance.
Find and meet every need in his life as You see it Lord.

 

I encourage you to print it off and memorize all or at least part of it.    I pray this prayer when I don’t know what else to pray (if you ask me to pray for an unspoken request, or for someone you name).   I also pray it when I feel wronged or offended or hurt.  I pray it over others instead of (on my good days!)  thinking evil about them (Matt. 9:4).

I admit that it does not come easy at first.    As I told my congregation on Sunday, you have permission to pray mercy over somebody through gritted teeth!   The battle for our heart is not one that is so easily won without some perseverance, where we learn to wage war against our flesh.    I have prayed “Lord, bless him or her” or “Lord, have mercy on him or her” hundreds of times in a row until my feelings began to line up with my faith.     I have been in the grips of temptation before and prayed this mercy prayer till I was exhausted, but the joy that comes from hearing “well done, my good and faithful servant” at the end of a long fight is well worth it.

How will you respond the next time you are offended or wronged by someone?    How will you respond to your spouse, your boss, your children, your fellow church members, your neighbor, your enemy?   Will it be with judgment or mercy?      Don’t forget….

Mercy Wins.

 

 

 

 

My House Shall Be a House of Prayer

With everyone else I am still trying to get my head and heart around the recent tragedy in Newtown.    As a father of 5, I can’t imagine the grief and sorrow of the many families affected forever by a few seconds of chaos.    May they find comfort and peace in the heart of God in the upcoming days, weeks and months.

When Newtown happened I was still in the midst of grieving another tragedy that occurred 2 days prior in a mall in Oregon, where a lone gunman took the lives of 2 innocent shoppers before ending his own.

Yesterday’s tragedies get eclipsed by today’s, and because human nature is what it is,  tomorrow’s seem all but guaranteed.

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Tragedies like these evoke in us a desire to see something change.    They upset our equilibrium.   They judge harshly our complacency.

Some of these hoped-for changes are laudable and necessary.   Some lament the ever-increasing secularization of our culture and believe these horrors could be averted if we re-instituted public prayer  in our schools.    Some believe better gun control laws are the answer along with repenting of our obsession with guns and the right to own one.

I would gladly welcome both proposals and and would be happy to see them incorporated.

Others will miss this opportunity for change altogether and divert our attention to heroic moments of brothers saving a wet cat or a millionaire athlete giving out an annual shopping spree to some lucky kid.  We will surround ourselves with appeasements of our innate goodness to prevent having to look very deep at the evil that lurks within.   We preach, “peace, peace,” when there is no peace.

But none of this – neither legislating public prayer or gun control, or focusing on the outward goodness of humanity – will resolve our crisis.

Our problem is not a political or legislative one, it is a heart one.

While prayer in schools is a good which I applaud, a friend reminded me this weekend that prayer in schools did not prevent the Amish school shooting of 2006.    And tighter gun laws, while no doubt necessary, will not protect the innocent.     In Beijing, China, the same day as the tragedy in Newtown, a man attacked 22 children and one adult in a primary school with a knife.   This, the latest of a barrage of knife attacks inside Chinese schools.

And as for appeals to remember our goodness, both our Scriptures (Rom. 3:10-12; Ecc. 7:20) and our experience say otherwise.    Fact is, there is an Adam Lanza in every one of us.  But for the grace of God, go I.

Jesus said that it is out of the abundance of our hearts that evil such as sexual immorality and murder comes (Mark 7:21).   He told us that we must first make the inside of the cup clean (our hearts), and then all else will be clean (Matt. 23:26).

Jesus did not allow his audience to take the easy way out by rallying to change the external forces around them (eg. lobby for prayer in schools or gun control) nor did he comfort their crisis by telling them they are basically good people who are just unfortunate products of their evil society.

No.  He told them, as he tells us today, to repent.  He calls each of us to the long, hard, dying-to-self life of obedience.    He brings judgment upon our prayers which say,

Thank God I’m not Adam Lanza

while justifying the contrite in heart who cries,

Have mercy on me, God, a sinner.

We long to see something change, but want to see it happen without changing us.

I believe there is an opportunity here for us to make some radical changes but it will begin where Jesus began:  By becoming more faithful disciples ourselves and making disciples of the nations.

And this, I think, is where those calling for prayer in schools have it at least partially right.    But it has nothing to do with schools.    It has to do with churches.

St. Peter said, “the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God.” (1 Pet. 4:17).     What is this judgment?    In large part I believe it is summed up in Jesus’ words:

My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers (Matt. 21:13).

How little our churches, let alone schools, are houses of prayer!    How little time we actually spend in pouring our hearts out to God, seeking His wisdom and direction and protection over our lives and our land.    There is something wrong in our churches when we can hold a pot-luck and raffle that draws hundreds but call a mid-week prayer meeting and you get crickets.

We as a “Christian nation” will rise up as one at 4Am for Black Friday but few of us will “rise before dawn and cry for help”  (Psalm 119:147).

While we ask in the wake of tragedy, “Where was God in this?” God may very well be asking of us, “Where are my prayer-warriors in my House?”

Jesus said my house shall be a house of prayer.  Perhaps before we make schools havens of prayer we should first make ourselves, and our churches, battle-grounds of the same.

Yes, something must change.  But the change begins in me.  And in you.   As for me, I resolve to continue in my morning prayer walks before the sun rises, beseeching God to become more in me that I would become less.    I resolve to pray with my wife and children at home, to model what it means to be desperate and thirsty for the voice of God in my own life.    I resolve to cry out to God for our nation, our schools, and our churches, that we would know the power of God to transform our hearts and minds and see revival in our day and age.    I resolve, by the grace of God, to stand in the gap for a growing majority in our country and churches who no longer fear God or believe He is really paying attention.     I resolve to make God’s house a house of prayer, and to cling to his promise which states,

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chron. 7:14).

What will you do?