Tag Archives: mercy

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?

Advertisements

I’m going to love you, anyway

Last night I finished Anne Lamott’s beautiful book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy.   There is so much goodness in this short book that I could go on and on about it but there was this one line that arrested me which I needed to get down in writing before the impression it made upon me was forgotten.

Before I share the quote, some context.    She is riffing on Saint Paul’s “thorn in my flesh” (2 Cor. 12:6ff) affliction, something he could not shake but it helped him learn humility and reliance upon God’s grace.   She alludes to this passage in the context of admitting her own character defects, like being judgmental and conceited.   These are “thorns” she would rather not have and wrestles against them, sometimes successfully, other times not so much.   And then she writes the line which stirred my soul:

We don’t know if Paul was ever healed of his affliction.  I do know that being told I could keep my awfulness made holding on to it much less attractive.

I don’t know if Anne meant this the way I took it, but when I read these words what I heard God say to me was,

Chad, you can keep the stuff that is making you miserable if you wish. I am going to love you, anyway.

This is such good news to someone like me, who, historically would hang on to my character defects like Gollum holding onto his precious ring.   What’s more, I would cling to them even tighter if I thought that your love for me was conditioned upon me letting them go.  

Paradoxically, my disease often led me to cling tighter to the things I suspected were preventing people from loving me well.    Maybe this is because I’m super stubborn.  Maybe it’s because my disease needed this in order to thrive.   If you won’t love me for who I am, it told me, than I’ll just act out. 

But upon reading Anne’s line above, the insanity of all of that made sense to me.   I heard God say to me that he was going to love me regardless of my “thorn.”   God’s love for me isn’t conditioned upon me letting go of my awfulness.

Surrounded by God’s unconditional love makes holding on to my character defects, my disease, my awfulness far less appealing.   My addiction has, upon this realization, nothing or no one to rail against or stubbornly defy.  It has no one to blame, no one upon whom to justify it’s self-damning cycle of insanity upon.

God says to you and I, hey, you can continue being miserable if you’d like, I’m going to love you, anyway.    Somehow that makes hanging on to my junk seem like a colossal waste of time and energy.    Would you agree?

Acceptance is the key to all my problems and I’m angry about that

I both love and hate this:

Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”

(Big Book of AA pg 417). 

I know this to be true but it’s so damn hard and I’m struggling with it.    I have been agitated, angered, saddened, shocked, and hurt by what I have been watching on the news this week.   I want to say I am feeling all of these things about the children that are being detained because their parents – heroes in my eyes – dared to want a better life for themselves and their family.    I want to say that it is their cries that are breaking my heart and making me feel so agitated.  And to some extent it is.  But if I’m honest, it’s more than that.

The truth is, the real root of my anger is directed toward the people who are OK with that.   I’m angry that there are people who I know profess Jesus as their Lord who are OK with treating immigrants like they are trash.    I’m angry that there are people who lack mercy and empathy but seem to have plenty of law and judgment to dish out.

But more than that, I’m angry that I can’t change any of it.   I’m angry at myself that I have anger towards those people rather than mercy and love.   I’m angry that I cannot seem to accept the world as it is or people as they are.

And more than that, I’m angry that my refusal to be merciful and accepting of “those people” means I am no better than them and I’m left with nothing but my own self-righteous anger to stew in.

I’m angry that deep down I know the Big Book is right, and until I accept them as they are where they are for who they are that I will never be happy.

I’m angry that God is asking me to extend mercy to the merciless.

Mercy is that thing I want all the time from God and everyone, which I’ll give aplenty to those who demand nothing of me personally but will horde from those whom I think should know better.   Why can I have so much mercy for the addict who has lied a million times and ruined everyone’s life but none for the pious elder brother who has never left home?

If I don’t find a way to love the latter I’ll once more become the former.  I know this.

So I picked up Anne Lamott’s meddling book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, and began to binge.  I knew I needed to gorge myself on mercy lest I die of thirst.    She diagnoses me on the first pages.

Mercy means that we soften every so slightly, so that we don’t have to condemn others for being total shits, although they may be that (Okay: are.)  If I do so, it makes me one.  As Father Ed Dowling said, sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses.  When we put them on, we see the awful person, sometimes even ourselves, a bit more gently, and we are blessed in return.  It seems, on the face of things, like a decent deal.

When we manage a flash of mercy for someone we don’t like, especially a truly awful person, including ourselves, we experience a great spiritual moment, a new point of view that can make us gasp. It gives us the chance to rediscover something both old and original, the sweet child in us who, all evidence to the contrary, was not killed of, but just put in the drawer.  I realize now how desperately, how grievously, I have needed the necessary mercy to experience self-respect.

All I have to do in order to begin again is to love mercy, if I am to believe nutty old Micah.

Micah. She is, of course, referring to the prophet whom God told only three things were required of us mortals:  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.    I am a pro at dishing out justice.   But if I’ve learned anything over the past few years, riding the justice train is my fastest ticket to relapse unless it is tempered with gargantuan doses of mercy (for both others and myself) while staying low, low, low to the earth.

The path for me is acceptance.   I can only get there if I remember to love mercy.

Mercy.

I’m struggling this week having any for some folks, but I’m crawling up to the table like a beggar famished for some crumbs and asking God to give me some.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Battle Your Most Deadly Enemy

Uzziah was only 16 when he took the throne as king over Judah.  In the beginning, this young ruler “continued to seek God in the days of Zechariah and as long as he sought the Lord, God prospered him” (2 Chronicles 26:5).    As God blessed him, Uzziah’s fame increased throughout the land.  And then this happened.

But when he [King Uzziah] became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense (2 Chron. 26:16)

A few verses later we are told the fate of Uzziah.  His pride prevented him from heeding the correction of the priests and rather than humble himself he grew angry with them.   The Lord struck him with leprosy, and this once obedient, God-fearing king who could do no wrong died a leper, “excluded from the house of the Lord.”

Pride is not just ugly, it’s deadly.  It’s no wonder God hates it so much, and it’s no wonder all of Scripture seems to shout in various ways and means “Stay Humble!”

The number one reason people relapse back into their old sinful habits and addictions is because they fall prey to the lie that they are doing great.   They may in fact be “doing great,” at least in the eyes of the casual observer, but the moment they see themselves as well and in control, look out.   A fall is coming.

After reminding the church in Corinth (and us today) that Israel’s blunders and missteps were recorded to serve as warnings to us (like Uzziah above), he writes,

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12).  

Satan is waiting with outstretched arms and chains made of re-enforced steel to welcome back the one God had prospered and blessed who now thinks they can take the wheel.     Friends, whenever pride whispers it’s seductive lie that you can take it from here you need to crank up some Carrie Underwood or something, anything that will help ensure Jesus takes, and keeps, the wheel!

I have found in my own life that freedom is a daily choice and the choice is this: Will I live in my own strength and power and might, or will I turn my will and my desire over to God.    I must daily die to my self so that His strength, His grace, His power, His mercy, His spirit can manifest itself in me.    Left to myself, on my own, I am a mess.

killpride

So how do we do that?  What are some practical ways you can keep from taking the wheel back and do battle with this most deadly enemy called PRIDE?

1.  Pray, pray pray.    There is no other way.   Print out the Mercy Prayer which is HERE and keep it in your back pocket or purse and read it and pray it every day, all the time.   Pray it over others, yourself, your wife, your children, those who offend you, those you lust after, those you despise and those you cherish.     Praying mercy for others kills the root of bitterness and strife within us which pride thrives upon.

2.  Pray for humility.  Pray not just for humility, but pray that you would love to be humbled.  Andrew Murray, in his excellent book “Humility” (which you must read), taught me that I needed to pray for this queen of virtues.  It does not come naturally to any of us, and must be sought.    Jesus said we should seek the kingdom and his righteousness, and that blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.   Humility is to live rightly before God and neighbor.    Do you hunger for this?   Pray that you will.

3.  Read.  In addition to staying in God’s word daily, read books about pride and humility.    Murray’s book mentioned above is a great one.   The book I’m re-reading now, Irresistible to God, is another.   Going through Fenelon’s  Seeking Heart as a daily devotional is another excellent practice.

4.  Seek out ways to go low.   “Going low” is the opposite or “rising up” in pride.   Throughout the day there will be numerous opportunities where you can go low.    When someone says something that offends you, you can choose to ignore it and pray for them.  When you really want to ensure you get in line in time to get one of the few pieces of cake left, choose instead to hold the door open for others.   When your spouse has sinned against you and you just know you didn’t do anything wrong, be the first one to say you are sorry.    The more  you practice going low the more this virtue will grow within you and become part of you.   Every fiber of your being will resist it at first (and throughout your life, most likely), but press on by repeating # 1 above.

5.  Consider Jesus.   I have probably preached or mentioned Hebrews 12:1-3 more than anything else this past year apart from 2 Cor. 5:17.  It reads,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Whenever you feel like rising up inside (or presently are doing just that!), consider Jesus who, like a silent lamb who did nothing wrong, went to the cross for your sins and mine.    I’ve yet to be faced with a situation where just one glimpse of Jesus suffering on a cross for me hasn’t helped to diffuse.  It makes all my prideful assertions over my “rights” seem petty and cheap and gives me the strength I need to be obedient in humility.   Does it sometimes hurt?  Of course!   But count it joy that we get to share in the sufferings of Christ! (Rom. 8:17)

Practice these 5 things on a regular, if not daily, basis and avoid the trap into which Uzziah and so many before and after him have fallen.  Pride is not just serious, it’s deadly.

I’ll leave you with these words I have written in the front cover flap of my bible given to me by a great teacher on humility.  Feel free to put them in yours, too:

Chad, you leave your first love and lose the filling of the Spirit by a judging, critical heart which refuses to pass on to all others the mercy by which you alone live.   The love of lowliness and mercy defeats and destroys that spirit of emulation which is the love of achievement or place or plans.

 

That Could Still Be Me

Yesterday I received a phone call from someone I was involved with in my past.   It’s been nearly three years and this came as quite a shock.  I’m not sure how she found my number.   The conversation was short and one-sided. My side.   I told her that the person she thinks she is calling no longer exists and that she should never call or contact me again.   Ever.   And I hung up.   Later I told my wife all about it.   She figured this would happen sooner or later and hugged me and thanked me for telling her.  All is well at home.

The most haunting, frightful thought for me surrounding that phone call was this:  That could still be me.    Three years later this person is still seeking thrills over a phone line, consumed with lust and chained to fleshly desires.   It’s a living hell which I know all too well.   And but for the grace of God, that could still be me.  

Last night my wife and I gave thanks to God for this reminder of where we once were and where we are today.   Perhaps I was in need of a reminder of what God has saved me from and the ridiculousness of it all.   Because it really is, you know?    God made something so wonderful and yet millions of us settle for a cheaper, fake model.   We are fixated by pixels on a screen or a voice on a phone line or a stranger in a hotel.   AND NONE OF IT IS GOOD ENOUGH.    More is always desired and necessary and yet the itch never stops.   It’s absolutely ridiculous.   Yet at the same time it seems like the most powerful, intoxicating, necessary thing  and we can fathom nothing better, in heaven or earth.   Such is the pull and delusion of sin.  

Indeed, as Augustine said, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee, O God.

I was shaken by the thought that that could still be me.  Three years later I could still be a slave to my desires and passions, ruled by my flesh, no doubt divorced, alone, estranged from my kids and family, wanting nothing more than a cold pizza for breakfast and an internet connection.    That could still be me.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ Jesus broke the chains of the devil in my life and set my heart and mind free!   It is a wonderful thing to be able to say, “The man you seek no longer exists.”    God has made good on his promise to make a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17)!   The old has passed away, behold, the new has come !

newcreation

If you are where I was three years ago, and where she is still today, think about where your life will be three years from now if you continue on the path you are on.   All your best thinking has brought you to this point, and you have to admit it’s ridiculous and a mess.     Will you accept the offer of life that Jesus extends to you even now?    He loves you madly, and has gone to great lengths to prove this to you!   The fact that you are reading this now is a sign of His mercy on your life.    He is trying to break through the delusion of your sin and bring you to a place where you can, as though for the first time in your life, hear His words – pure words – afresh and new.      Matthew 4: 16 says,

For those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.

You have been there long enough, haven’t you?   Do you wish to be there still in three years?    It only gets darker and more hellish, my friend.

This morning during morning prayer time my wife and I prayed for that woman who called.   We prayed that God would flood her with need-filling mercy, that He would save her soul, that He would open her heart to receive the good news that Jesus more than satisfies and can do far more than we can even ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).    It’s the same prayer we pray for you, dear reader, every day.    In three years time may you, too, be able to say, that could still be me, but thanks be to God, it is no longer I!

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).

mercywins

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.