The Awe of Heaven is Mercy

Any chance I have to write or have a conversation to talk about mercy, I take. Mercy is an astounding quality in God. The All Powerful restrains his judgment because of His goodness. God patiently withholds the full measure of punishment in favor of a loyal love for His creation, His friends, His Son’s Bride. God, who always catches us in the act of our sin, who knows every anxious and sinful thought, chooses compassion.

What got me thinking about all this is the mercy seat in the Old Testament and how this mercy seat is flanked by two cherubim facing one another while there wings hover over the mercy seat as a covering. And they there stand simultaneously in awe and in protection of the covering to the Ark of the Covenant.

Mercy seat - Wikipedia

I don’t want to get into a full blown theology lesson; we don’t have time for that. Nor do we really have time for information unless it leads to some type of encounter with God. Jesus himself says, ‘Go and find out what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (In other words I want the experience of loyalty in relationship over your constantly giving up things just to appease me).

So I will massively summarize any historical/metaphorical significance to say that the mercy seat is best understood as the covering to the covenant. It is the place of provision for those who would inevitably break the Old Covenant. Thus the mercy of God is the only provision for His people to avoid judgment.

Mary Magdelene sees her own glimpse of this in the tomb where 2 angels are sitting facing each other at the head and feet of where Jesus’ body had been lain. And all they ask is “Woman, why are you weeeping?” Likely because they are not sad but in awe.

I believe it is confounding for the angels to understand that God has made a provision through atonement for humans when there appears to be none made for angels. I believe they stand or sit in awe and in silence and reverence as they see a God who allows Himself to be wounded to make a way for His beloved.

I think they probably for a moment felt: “What is even the point of the covenant or the commands if You had a covering? Did You always intend to offer forgiveness through the shedding of the blood of Your Son? Was this always the plan, to cover them? Was this your ploy, to show them unmatched loyalty, love and kindness? Your wrath melted way by Your desire for mercy? How?”

I don’t think they can figure it out. I know we cannot figure out how it operates. Why does God desire to relieve us so, from the sin we choose? Why does he offer to place the blame elsewhere and give us an out by drawing us in to trade sin for Spirit?

All, so he can dwell in us, with us, close enough to breathe on us and through us. God has a seat of mercy so we will be seated with Him at His table, enjoying His presence and one another as we are forever enamored by the fact that He made, for us, a way.

Mercy is always making a way.

Sing with what we Got: Habakkuk 3

What we have in Christ is so much more than what we’ve lost.

This might be hard to believe, harder to feel, and sometimes we are not at all able to see it, perhaps even moreso now in this season. Which means now more than ever remembering and hearing what God has done is so necessary.

“O Lord, I have heard report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in hte midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.”

Habakkuk 3:2

The starting point of faith is believing what we have heard. Romans 10:13-15 reminds us that faith is formed in us by receiving through revelation the Communicated Word. This in itself is a gift.

But why is good news resisted rather than received? Broken promises, crushing disappointment, dashed expectations. Sometimes these things happen because we are unreasonable in what we expected, hoped, or thought we needed. Sometimes they are completely reasonable expectations, and we have been failed because the world and people are broken. Sometimes the why behind the failure is crystal clear and most times no explanation is sufficient.

But God doesn’t break promises. One of my favorite lines from the song “You Pour Out Mercy” by Luke Wood goes: “All man’s empty promises lie broken at Your feet, but You have never broken One.”

And it is in the confidence of God’s unbroken promise that Habakkuk rejoices even sings out to God despite less than ideal circumstances, circumstances where the Israelites have been invaded:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor the fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls. yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s’ he makes me tread on my high places.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Song is a weapon against temptation to sin and temptation to despair. Song is how King David stirred his soul from a stupor. Song is how we share our voices in unity. Song gives melody to our prayer and displays passion in our power. Song is the sound and sign that let’s the world know we are alive and ready to love.

It’s what we’ve got.

The Purpose of Our Collective Tears

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I don’t know how prepared you are to give of your tears or how familiar you might be with what that entails. I’m going to write a bit about mourning this morning. Grief, loss, and death, I know are not necessarily fun topics to read about. I don’t know a lot about pandemics, the spread of viruses or the long term effects of these things, but I am  fairly confident that if political leaders and people are willing to show any hint of prioritizing stimulating the economy and bailing out large financially irresponsible big businesses at the risk of spreading a deadly virus, it’s safe to say that some compassionate folks may have to take up the business of empathy and grieving.

*Scroll to the bottom if you just like practicals*

And that person might be you or me. So here’s how:

Tears are beautiful. One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more use for them. But here, now, tears of the emotional variety are a visual display of our pain and our stress and our empathy. As they are released chemicals are typically released in our body that calm our mind and relieve us of physical pain. In this way they are chemically associated with doing good for the inside.

It is important to keep in mind that the capacity for tears or crying is more important than volume. So like anything crying too much or persistent crying amidst a depressive episode could yield little to no benefit. It’s important to discern and distinguish between the two.

IMG_0333

For instance:

Yesterday, my mom put her cat Tabitha down who was 19 years old and had kidney failure. I cried a bit on my drive to her house thinking about my mom during this season of quarantine, thinking a little about Tabitha and how interesting of a cat she was. Those tears were in some ways helpful because I was prepared to empathize with my mom and imagined what it was like to lose a pet but also adjust in a season when being home a lot and perhaps for a extended season is necessary.

Later on that evening, I cried again while being exceedingly frustrated and uncertain even scared about what decisions to make, feeling like life is still out of my control and being frustrated and double-minded about how to live out what I feel called to in the midst of my current vocation after a season where I already felt isolated for the previous 5 months. These tears were less helpful, but still helpful. In part because these tears were more a response to an unclear uncertain emotional framework that had me stuck on myself. If I was still crying those same tears now they would not be helpful and perhaps self-indulgent.

Let’s return to loss and grief and death though for a moment. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one. It was a deep loss that you may have not been prepared for and suffered or may suffer still as you learn to adapt to a new rhythm without that individual. Sometimes their loss might still illicit tears or sadness but hopefully, that loss has not kept you unable to find fullness in life.

Hopefully, you found a helpful ritual or prayer or found ways to accept the loss and have been given new eyes of appreciation for others. Hopefully, also, you will be presented with the opportunity to help others walk through their own grief and loss.

My hope is that this will not be a season that you will be called upon to do that, but there is a chance in the coming weeks even months you might know several people who lose something or someone due to this virus.

Not all loss is death, but death feels the most permanent. And in seasons where isolation is already becoming the norm if someone were to die while others are isolated and may not be able to mourn as easily communally, we will need to be diligent in helping to heal those who suffer loss.

We have power to minister and bring healing to others when we stay alert and aware in the midst of our own loss, to not checkout and isolate, but to remain available. To be reminded that others too will suffer the loss of spouse or grandparent or parent or child, that while our grief and loss is unique in the individual or thing lost, the experience of losing is not unique to us.

So a couple of practicals:

-Imagine you are in their position, in the coming weeks it might not take that much imagining (we’ll see)

-Listen more than spouting advice or cliche phrases of optimism (Scripture written in an encouraging note or a timely word spoken gently might be helpful but listen first)

-Pray for them

-Make sure they are fed and checked in on

-Affirm that they are loved, again gently

-Maybe not a reminder for the one suffering, but death is not the end of everything and it is a part of life; death might become more normalized, but Jesus has promised us eternity with Him for those who believe. So yes, a priority on the restoration to or perseverance in their most important relationship.

-Remember God is with us in our tears

Psalm 56:8

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

The Tender Year

I have now lived in Charleston, SC for a full year. I have approximately 3 weeks left of my residency. Several weeks ago, I was praying on the beach about my future, my next step in the next season. And it was such an uncertain time of prayer.

This time last year I knew what I was heading into and for how long, with a clear path ahead. It was the culmination of 7 months of waiting.

But this time, this year, I think back on 3 weeks ago and remember not having a clear direction and resolving to pray this, “No matter what happens I ask to be tenderhearted.” And there is a strong part of me that loves that I prayed that prayer.

I love that prayer because it is my desire. I love that prayer because when I gently love and reflect on all the wonderful friends and family and enemies God has put in my life, I find it is in everyone’s best interest that I would be tenderhearted rather than hardhearted.

In Luke 1:76-79, Zechariah the father of John the Baptist prays this part of a prayer over his son:

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because the tender mercy of our God by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Tender Mercy

What beautiful phrase, the NIV, NASB, and ESV only translate this phrase into English 1 time in all of Scripture. NKJV has multiple instances of tender mercies in the Psalms and only additionally translated “tender mercies” in the epistle to the Colossians. Why does it matter?

I believe it matters because tender mercy is the gentlest of all mercy offered. It is the kind of tangible mercy offered in the darkness, in death, when we are in desperate need of sunshine, guidance and a path of peace.

Tender mercy is the mercy needed when suffering violence. Tender mercy is the mercy for lost-ness. Tender mercy is the tangible mercy needed when there is no other answer or explanation.

And yes, while I am desperate in my need for mercy for my actions against God and humankind, sometimes we are in need of the most tender mercy for our doubts in our darkness.

maxresdefault

I need tenderness of heart so as  not to become guilty of accusing God of having a wicked character when I have suffered or am utterly confounded by my circumstance.

We need tenderness of heart to mourn more victims of violence in the face of inaction. And while those are left asking why or will this be fixed, without any answer, or worse met with indifference, we remain in need of the tenderest of mercies.

This mercy is only available through the Spirit of God. Humankind cannot manufacture this kind of mercy.

But we can posture, we can kneel. I can move ever so slightly towards the light until I am warmed, softened, embraced, then set free to love and to give what I’ve been given.

Yet, I can only give what I have, and if I have not felt this tender mercy for myself, how can I give it?

I must have it again. I must know it, be immersed, even baptized anew in this maternal, vulnerable mercy.

It’s been a tender year for me. I don’t know how it’s been so far for you. I don’t know if you’ve felt like you’ve been connecting the dots from one disappointment to the next. I don’t know who you’ve lost or how many times you’ve lost them and to what degree of permanence. I don’t know to what extent you have been grieved or have suffered by the routine of mass shootings in America. Through it all, stay tenderhearted.

Let your heart feel hope for the future, for your obedience to the Lord, to follow Christ’s lead, perhaps hopeful for finding romance, perhaps hopeful for one day reconciliation to someone who has moved on the Heaven, hopeful for an end to meaningless bloodshed, hopeful for peace on a path guided by the sunlight in the tender mercy of God.

Wealthy Mercy

“But God is so rich in mercy…”

I believe you can tell how rich and deep someone’s faith is by how generous they are with mercy. I believe this because according to God’s sense of justice, people deserve harsh consequences for their wrongs, yet God is slow to deal judgment. In Ephesians 2:4, the Apostle Paul lays out what God’s rich mercy has meant for us. Destined for death as subjects of God’s wrath, we obtain a wealth of mercy, so we would experience the glory of relationship with God the Father.

Mercy pays a debt.

Mercy endures your wrong and the pain it caused, and instead of delegating the punishment we deserve to us, it says, “I’m withholding what you deserve in this moment because I desire to keep what we had prior to your wrong.”

1909736_507810336929_8035_n

I also believe for me and for many, mercy is harder to understand than grace. We associate grace as a gift for the helpless. With grace we are given something we have not earned. With mercy we exercise supreme self-control to not give someone what they have earned. A person has earned my anger even my extrication, yet I choose to process my pain, surrender it to Jesus, and offer consistent love in return.

While mercy is a gift, it is not a given or a guarantee, but Jesus compels us to store up a treasure of mercy guarded by thick skin while maintaining tenderness of heart. Mercy while giving the appearance of being trampled on is displayed by the one who has not been conquered or consumed by someone else’s hurt. It requires a resolve of strength and transparency that is soaked in a peace that can only come from the Word and breath of God.

Mercy is costly.

And often we don’t know the price tag the person who delegates it has paid. And sometimes we take for granted how much it is worth when we fail to see the value in the one offering it. Humanity does this in abundance with the common mercy that God maintains in patience with a fallen world.

Mercy absorbs rejection.

Yet mercy also abhors rejection because to reject mercy is to choose suffering. I am presented with an option in relation to God the Father and the other. I choose to receive a freely given mercy or I choose to stew in the suffering of my own sin. This second option is not viable, it is not reliable.

Mercy is my only hope.

I don’t know if you can say mercy is your only hope, but I am willing to bet it is whether you are aware or not. My only view of survival let alone thriving or revival is through mercy. I need a mercy that triumphs over judgment because my pronouncement over my actions is to abandon self. But God so rich in mercy…

Mercy is free for the one willing to receive it

The only way to be liberal with mercy is for either God or you or someone else to pay the cost.

Who will you let pay that cost?

The Cutting Gospel: Separating the Should and Should Not

John 18:1-27- Imagine the Divine Impulse

Have you ever been disappointed in yourself after acting on impulse? Considering how frequently in the Gospels Peter acts on impulse, I imagine he was disappointed in himself often.

But I am convinced that our impulsive action in ignorance does not disappoint God as much as it disappoints us. I’m not suggesting God is less disappointed when our impulse to sin is acted upon with a sense of knowing. I believe that disappoints God more than it disappoints us, but I could be convinced otherwise.

There is something about acting in ignorance, with good intentions, that I think Jesus has a large degree of empathy for. And I think the Gospel of John does a perfect job of showing us a Jesus that cares most about reconciliation and administering the grace to keep going.

holbein-passion-alterpiece-detail-250x309x72

Jesus is about to be arrested. He knows this. When the ones coming to arrest him approach him Jesus steps towards them and asks them “Who is it you want?” He asks a question but really he is making an authoritative statement. In asking, he is actually showing them that He is the one they want.

John paints us a picture of a Jesus that is steps into his mission willingly. And those bold steps cause the party seeking to arrest him to fall over.

I believe when we take steps in faith Jesus causes us to knock down our doubters and our doubts.

Jesus steps towards his arrest with confidence. And though he knocks down his doubters and enemies, he does not stop his eager friend with a sword who supposes he is lending support.

After the act Jesus says, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

See Jesus does offer rebuke, and in other gospels, he heals the ear of the man who Peter slices at. But Jesus does not have time for our impulsive decisions and our denials. In fact, while we sit there and deny or rush to act, Jesus takes the burden of truth and opposition to His will upon Himself. In His strength, he waits for our surrender through our posture of receiving.

In a span of 12 verses, Peter denies Jesus 3 times. In the span of one evening Peter goes from getting his feet washed to taking a sword in his hand. He goes from believing it is not within him to deny Jesus to executing what he did not desire.

But what would this story look like if Peter did nothing? What would the end of this book look like if Peter did not chop an ear off and did not deny? Or what if John left it all out?

005-gnpi-091-peter-denials

Without Peter, I don’t think I would fully understand the grace of Jesus and His appreciation for radical faith. I don’t think I would learn the difference between the divine impulse and the carnal (fleshly) impulse.

Because the divine impulse is one that follows Jesus not one that fights for Jesus. It is recognizing that Jesus fought for and bought me, which now means I obey in love.

It shows me that Jesus is able to sever my mistakes and my sin from my identity. Peter denies, but Jesus prevents denial from defining Peter. Peter denies and is spared while Jesus speaks truth and is slapped.

And God allows this to awaken the heart of Peter, of you, and of me to gaze at Jesus in life, death and resurrection in order to know that obedience to what God has called us to leads to eternal joy and the experience of genuine love.

But what happens first is crucifixion. Specifically Jesus’ crucifixion. Specifically, the imagination of God working itself out in human history to display to all that God’s plan, action, and work not only could not be stopped but worked out for the good of all so our imagination and purpose would be fulfilled in Him.

More on that next time.