Merciful to the Merciful
One of the accompaniments with a degree in physics is this: your
friends want you to explain Einstein’s theory of relativity to them.
Without the math, of course. The usual result is their confusion;
when you tell them that nothing goes faster than light, they’ll ask
you how warp drive works on Star Trek.
Of course, relativity explained to relatives is nothing compared
to quantum mechanics. You begin by explaining that when you examine
things of one atom or less in size, the results depend very much on
how you examine them. If you look at them with equipment expecting a
particle, they are particles. If you look at them expecting waves,
they are waves. One physicist simply said, “They’re wavicles.”
The principle is not new, however. The Scripture tells us here
that your character determines how you see God. In particular, if
you are a merciful person, you will find that God is a merciful God.
· Are you quick to forgive? The kind of person who wants to
settle the dispute rapidly? Ready to compromise in order that
harmony might prevail?
· Are you slow to take offense? The kind of person who realizes
that others sometimes have a bad day, a mouth too fast for their
brain or are just plain rude?
· Are you one who doesn’t hold a grudge? Let yesterday be
yesterday, bygones be bygones?
Then guess what? You will find God to be merciful to you. He will
be quick to forgive you at need, lovingly tolerant of your
personality faults, and never allowing Satan to throw the past in
your face. But if you are one who wants others to grovel for
forgiveness, who is offended frequently by little things and little
people, with a memory like an elephant—well, God will prove to be a
stern taskmaster over you. Your righteousness will need to pass the
most scrupulous inspection.
Mercy, like beauty, proceeds from within. It not only determines
how you appear to others, but also how others appear to you.
Including God Almighty.
Lord, teach us to be merciful, as you are merciful. May those who
are merciful to us be richly rewarded; may our mercy be a fine
reflection of your own.
It sometimes seems as if the Christian life is a puzzle. In a
sense it is; it is a jigsaw puzzle.
· Like the jigsaw puzzle, there is only one way in which the
pieces will fit. Similarly, we are not free to pick and choose which
aspects of Christian life we will (or won’t) have. We must take all
that the Puzzle Maker gives.
· The jigsaw puzzle is used to teach patience—especially to the
young. It cannot be completed in a hurry; in fact, hurrying usually
makes it go more slowly (but with much frustration). Likewise, we
need to build our character in patience, learning over time the way
in which the Lord would have us go.
· But when you put those last few pieces together, there is a
sense of relief, accomplishment and triumph. There is a similar
sense of satisfaction and triumph in the Christian life when it
begins to bear fruit.
We may examine two of the pieces here, and how they fit together.
The two pieces are truth and mercy (your translation may have
“lovingkindness” or simply “kindness.”)
· Truth, like Sgt. Joe Friday, desires “just the facts, ma’am.”
The truth is, we’re sinners. But without that there is no mercy, for
mercy implies a prior judgment.
· Sin deserves its particular punishment, given in God’s Law on
Mt. Sinai. But in that same law there was provision for atonement.
· Now we have the reign of grace: Christ has become our
atonement. But mercy is not finished; the mercy of Christ should be
seen in his followers.
The world sees a puzzle in the behavior of the Christian. At one
time seeming to be stern and resolute when the rest of the world
says, “be flexible.” But the same Christian can be tender and
forgiving to the sinner. It puzzles the outside world—but to the
Christian it is simply how the puzzle pieces fit. Christ did not
condemn the woman taken in adultery; that is mercy. He told her to
go and sin no more; that is truth.
Lord, the world may think us inconsistent—and we are, to the
world’s way. Teach us always to be consistent to you and your
commands, and may those who see, ask.
Favor and Good Reputation
One of the recurring tragedies of life is this: a man sacrifices
a good name to gain something of trivial value. My father taught me
to protect my reputation; it’s hard to build a good reputation. It’s
even harder to rebuild it.
So we are told not to let truth and mercy go. Just exactly how do
truth and mercy slip away from your reputation?
· There is the temptation of vengeance. When you are the one who
has been oppressed, and you’re now the one with the power, the
temptation is to give in to the desire for vengeance. Vengeance
belongs to God; do not steal it from him. Be merciful even to those
who were not merciful to you.
· There is the moment of anger—when your wrath rises up and
cruelty feels so good. Learn to control your anger, or it will
· There is the temptation to expediency. Sometimes truth or mercy
seem to be very expensive; couldn’t we just omit it just this once?
Sometimes it’s worse; just this once couldn’t we simply take the
These are the ways in which truth and mercy slip away from your
character. But this is more than “thou shalt not.” You must work to
cultivate these things.
· You must be consistent, regular in the habit of truth and the
habit of mercy. Not all habits are evil!
· Such habits support—as well as come from—the heart after God.
Seek him first, and these habits will come naturally.
Truth and kindness—the two are paired together. This is so that
you will not be merciful in an unmerciful way. It is no mercy to a
juvenile delinquent to dismiss his punishment because of a mushy
sentimentality. Nor is it truthful to apply punishment by rote
without thought for the individual.
But if you will practice both the results will be exceedingly
worth the effort. You will find that people will think well of
you—and in so doing favor you over others. More important, God will
do the same. Why? Those who love truth and mercy are men after his
Lord, line upon line, precept upon precept, teach us the practice
of truth and mercy—that we may grow to be like you.
Proverbs, we are told, were written primarily for the young.
There is a reason for this; several, in fact. But I submit that the
primary reason is that the young simply haven’t been around long
enough to see what happens “eventually.” Sometimes it takes a few
years before a man gets what he deserves—with interest. In the
meanwhile, it appears that he is profiting from his evil, and the
young might be led astray.
This is just such a proverb. Any of us can look around and see
someone who is cruel and hard—and prosperous. A man with no sense of
mercy, charity or generosity seems to make a higher profit
margin—and for now, perhaps, he does. So why would our writer
(Solomon) tell us otherwise?
Why indeed: blessed are the merciful.
· First, though it is seldom done in a spectacular manner, the
Lord blesses such men. It is not the Lord’s way to bless his
servants and arrange delivery with a brass band. The mighty do not
need to shout.
· More importantly, trouble happens to all—and the Lord delivers
the merciful man in his time of need.
· Indeed, the matter is one of your personal yardstick: if you
measure things generously, they will be measured to you in the same
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
The cruel man—I’ve worked for some—has it differently. Those for
whom I’ve worked were convinced that “being tough” was the secret to
success. Only the tough will survive! For a while, it appears to be
so; we can delude ourselves for a long time. Even if judgment is
delayed past death, such a man is never quiet in his soul.
When the Day of Judgment comes, we shall each reap what we have
sown. For the cruel, the fires of hell.
But the merciful shall experience God’s grace. Those who are
merciful imitate their heavenly Father—and show their spiritual
family ties. On that day the merciful will receive the grace of
God—and hear the most blessed phrase, “Well done, good and faithful
Lord, our pains seem so large and our mercies so trivial. Teach
us to be merciful, as you are merciful.
Kindness to Animals
Although we could hardly say it is a major point of the ancient
Law, it is clear in the Old Testament that God commanded man to show
kindness to the animals. For example:
· Farm animals were not to be worked on the Sabbath, but rest
like God’s people did.
· If you chanced upon your enemy’s donkey, collapsed under its
load, you were to help the donkey to its feet.
· When the ox was used for threshing, it was allowed to eat
directly from the grain being threshed—just as any human laborer
The matter makes a goodly amount of logical sense. Sometimes the
logic behind the Old Testament Law is a little out of focus to us in
this day, but this can be shown fairly easily:
1. Mercy is, by definition, something the superior shows to the
inferior. God shows mercy to us, we don’t have the chance to show it
to Him (though we can show it to his children).
2. God has told us that in his creation, man is superior to the
animal kingdom. Therefore, we can show mercy to them; we can also be
cruel. Both come from being superior.
3. God has also told us that the righteous man is kind and
merciful to animals. This is quite consistent with the example he
sets to us; as our superior, he is merciful to us.
It should be noted that eating such an animal is not forbidden by
this. Torturing the animal to death to do so, however, would be.
But in our modern day we have thrown away God’s teaching and
substituted our own. Now we proclaim that man is not spirit and
animal, but just animal. We just happen to be smarter, that’s all.
No longer superior to the animals, we are (logically) relieved of
any duty of mercy towards them.
Now, you might not think that our modern mental midgets would
sanction such a thing. But cutting loose from God’s teaching means
that you must make up your own rules. Clubbing a cute, cuddly harp
seal pup to death is bad, even if it’s not a cruel death. But these
are the same people who look at an unborn child and see only an
animal—which can be killed; might makes right. If we are just
animals, is abortion a sin? Or just convenient?
Lord, how easily we accept the thinking of the day as if it were
your truth. Open our eyes, Lord, to the carnage around us.
The Merciful and his Maker
It is sometimes instructive to look back at your feelings—even if
they were not really all that appropriate—as they are a good mirror
of what’s happening in your soul.
Such a “look back” happened to me recently. I was searching for
something on the Internet, and by chance I came upon a reference to
an on-line bookseller. The merchant in question was peddling a used
(but in excellent condition) copy of the first devotional I ever
wrote. In a very short time I went through a series of emotions:
· First, of course, I was outraged that anyone would do such a
thing to a literary work of such brilliance. This was made all the
worse by the description of its condition: obviously untouched.
· This was followed by a moment of sincere sympathy. The poor
soul was either desperate for money or had no idea of the value of
the work. Either way, it’s a cause for a throb of tender pity.
· Finally, I realized that this was undoubtedly God’s way of
using this masterpiece to influence yet another poor soul. Humming a
few bars of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” I let the matter drop.
It provided me some gratification that the used price was half
again what I paid to get one printed.
Seriously, it shows us just how much we cherish the things we
have worked hard to create. Can you imagine, then, just how much God
cherishes his children on earth? Therefore,
· The man who oppresses God’s children is, in effect, telling God
that he thinks he can get away with. Presuming he thinks about God
at all; most likely it’s just the money.
· But the man who is kind to God’s children is saying, in effect,
that God has created something worthy of that kindness. By imitating
God’s way with us, such a man honors God twice: first by blessing
his children, second by imitating God.
“As often as you have done it unto the least of these, my
brothers, you have done it unto me.”
Lord, we look upon the poor and see those we think are not
deserving of our mercy. We never deserved your mercy either. Teach
us to be like you: merciful even to the least deserving.
Mercy, Justice and Humility
One of the more popular fashions of our day is that of repenting
for someone else’s sins. The world doesn’t give it that name, but
that’s what it is. It sounds good, but it’s really a cheap
substitute for real repentance.
Here’s an example. You’ve probably heard some liberal politician
engage in the mournful breast beating of apologizing to some ethnic
group—let’s pick American Indians, shall we? - sadly regretting and
“atoning” for the misdeeds of his ancestors. For the sake of the
argument, let’s assume those misdeeds were indeed sinful. Why is
this man repenting for them? They’re not his sins.
The reason is simply this: since they are not his sins, it is
very easy to be “merciful” to the man. Mercy is rightly judged a
virtue, and this allows the Indians and the politicians to appear to
As is usually the case, this fraud comes from a slight twisting
of the truth. Mercy is indeed a virtue, an imitation of God. But it
must be done with both justice and humility.
Why does mercy first require justice?
· First, there is the very definition of mercy—relieving the due
penalty of sin. If the defendant is innocent, it is not mercy to cut
his sentence in half. Without justice, there is no mercy.
· Second, if justice is not done, the guilty party will soon see
that mercy has become laziness—we don’t really want to deal with the
· Third, if we make a habit of this, then the sinner learns that
grace is cheap; he need only ask. Grace is expensive beyond price;
the charge was paid at Calvary.
But humility is needed too. Pious pride can masquerade as mercy
(“I am so forgiving”). The humble man knows better. In humility we
see the sinner as one of us; deserving justice, appealing for mercy.
Both justice and mercy then become clear.
Perhaps even more important is that in mercy we avoid the stern
judgmentalism of looking down on the sinner. That we must not do.
Christ desires the return of the sinner, not his destruction. We
must be merciful to obtain mercy, just so that the wicked may be
warned, and humble so that we “judge not.”
Lord, may we not forget our own sins when dealing with those of
others—by your grace, guided by your justice, in humility.
Mercy to the Merciful
“The way of showing mercy is manifold, and this commandment is
To be merciful carries with it a number of meanings. Some see it
just as forgiveness when asked, others extend that to forgiveness
which has not been requested. Does it make a difference?
Suppose, for a moment, you work with a person whose language is
rough; whose sense of humor tends to the crude; whose manners are
deplorably lacking. Such a person is usually unaware of the offense
they cause as they go through life; in fact, they think these
characteristics quite admirable. Our society no longer praises
either charity or manners but exalts “do your own thing.”
Such a person will give you—a hundred times a day, it seems—the
opportunity to show mercy. It is the privilege and honor of the
noble to overlook such things. So it is that the truly merciful will
need such mercy with regularity. It is a masculine sort of mercy;
you “put up with.”
We are often motivated to do so by this verse. It seems, after
all, that being merciful is fair. We forgive the uncouth clod whose
shoes are always stepping on another’s toes; God then forgives us
for our trespasses. Fair, right?
Wrong. It is not fair. It is by no means an equal exchange. I
give man’s mercy; I get God’s mercy. I give mercy in the manner of a
sinner, with whatever baggage comes with it. God pours out pure
mercy to me. For the tainted mercy of man I receive the holy mercy
of God. It is not an exchange; it is an imitation of God.
The matter is not one of contractual exchange. Rather, Christ
here gives us wisdom; like Solomon of old, his proverbs are short,
memorable—and pointed. Wisdom:
· Consider well the worth of such wisdom; it marks you as a man
· Consider well the discipline of such wisdom; you must practice
it every day.
· Consider well the reward of such wisdom; our Lord shall return
and separate the sheep from the goats.
It is our privilege to be merciful; it is God’s character.
Lord, like children, we learn from imitation. Open our eyes to
your mercy, so that we may be merciful.
Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness
This passage is extremely instructive. It gives us the warning
signs of hypocrisy amongst those who rule in our society.
The tithing Jesus mentions here is a part of the Old Testament
Law. The particular things being tithed are exquisitely minor in
value; a parallel today might be someone who had a vegetable garden
growing tomatoes. Bringing in some of them to the preacher would no
doubt be a good thing (home grown tomatoes!) but should hardly be
confused with justice, mercy or faithfulness.
Just how does a hypocrite appear to be just?
· Justice is delivered with great pomp—and at great expense.
· Fine speeches proclaim the purpose of protecting the public.
· But justice inconvenient is justice neglected.
What about the appearance of being merciful? How does the
hypocrite show us that?
· Start with the substitution of sympathy for mercy. Words of
compassion to those in trouble sound fine but help no one.
· More deadly is this: they confuse their listeners by rewarding
those who deserve it, as if this were an act of grace.
And faithfulness? How does the hypocrite portray faithfulness?
· One way is to be in church every Sunday!
· Another way consists of the right words. Fashion afflicts the
church as well as the public, and knowing the current buzz words
gives the appearance of being involved.
· Worst of all, cultivate the right friends. Those who are
genuinely faithful are slow to judge and often afraid to call out,
The method of the hypocrite is relatively simple. Substitute
words for actions. Substitute the small for the great. Substitute
the artificial for the real.
If you know such a man, remember that it is no mercy to allow him
to continue in hypocrisy. The gentle Jesus reserved his wrath for
such—as nothing else could have shaken them from it. If you are such
a man, heed the words of our Lord. He is not deceived by fine words
and small things. Even if you deceive yourself.
Lord, shake us from all hypocrisy. May our justice be true, our
mercy pure and our faithfulness plain.
Merciful, Like the Father
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” What’s that
supposed to mean? That we are to be merciful is a command, and
simple enough; but to be merciful just as God is?
Well then, let us consider the ways in which God is merciful, so
that we may learn what he would have us do:
· Do you remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? You will
recall that God spoke with Abraham about it first. Abraham argued
him down to the point that if there were only ten righteous people
in the city—out of thousands—he would spare the city. This goes a
long way towards explaining why San Francisco hasn’t had a
devastating earthquake lately. And for us? Have you ever blamed (for
example) a company for the faults of one of its employees? Or a
nationality (for example, Arab) for the deeds of its few?
· We are told that his anger is short lived, but his favor lasts
a lifetime. This is indeed a blessed assurance for the Christian. We
can hardly want to escape his discipline, yet we have no desire to
feel his wrath. So it is that our Lord disciplines his children
quickly, but his love is life long. We too can do the same thing.
Every parent gets angry with children at one time or another. We
should follow our Lord’s example: the anger is over quickly, but our
love for our children is life long.
· God is also quick to forgive. Have you ever noticed how we like
to hold on to our anger? The dreams of vengeance are sweet; but they
are forbidden dreams. How we love to hold out the promise of
forgiveness, but “only if…” Yet our Father forgives us swiftly and
· God in his mercy does not simply beat upon sinners, he
instructs them. Surely we too could take the attitude that those who
offend us could be viewed as students?
· God rejoices over the one lost sheep. When the prodigal came
home he was sure he would be treated as he deserved; but the Father
had other ideas. How do we treat the prodigal sons of our life?
God’s example is worked on us. Follow Him.
Lord, vengeance, wrath, bitterness—all these tempt us every day.
Give us strength to be like you.
Mercy With Cheerfulness
Confession time: when I first saw this passage I was greatly
puzzled. I could understand being generous in mercy; being swift in
mercy recommends itself. But why would one be commanded to render
mercy with cheerfulness?
Upon closer examination the matter becomes even more strange.
This is the same “cheerful” that God loves in the “cheerful giver.”
Evidently there is a style to giving, whether it is money or
mercy—and that style is cheerful. Indeed, the Greek word used says
even more: it is the root word of our word, “hilarious.”
Why does this seem so strange to us? I submit that this comes
from our experience in showing mercy. Those to whom mercy is shown
are often those who are rather peevish characters—the sick who have
come to the point where every sentence is a whine, the poor who are
broke through their own foolishness. In short, people that (in our
opinion) don’t deserve our mercy.
But who does? If someone deserved it, would it be mercy? Even
Christ made no effort to separate the worthy sinners from the
unworthy; he died for all.
But still, they are rather unpleasant people, often resenting the
fact that they need our kindness and mercy. This does not do much
for recipient’s pride—or the donor’s disposition. If you think this
way long enough, cynicism sets in. The cynical soon cease to be the
merciful. You are commanded to be merciful; but how could he command
cheerfulness in it?
Our ancestors understood the same thing. John Wesley considered
this an occasion of rejoicing—that God has given you the opportunity
to show mercy. You could be the recipient, you know.
Chrysostom took this higher. You show mercy cheerfully to avoid
the onset of such cynicism. Do not mind the cost of the mercy;
rather, consider it as evidence that you are indeed receiving the
kingdom of God. If you were to receive an earthly kingdom, would you
be a sourpuss about it? No! So if you are receiving the heavenly
kingdom, how much more cheerful should you be? Remember: he who sows
sparingly, reaps sparingly. The bountiful receive bountifully.
Lord, it is hard to be cheerful when being merciful. So often we
see that those receiving it are hardly noble souls. We think our
mercy small, and our annoyance great. Teach us to remember the
widow’s mite in giving—even in giving mercy.
The Style of Mercy
Having been blessed with a body not particularly suited to
graceful athletic maneuvers, it was with a touch of envy that I
discovered the films of the most graceful dancer of our time: Fred
Astaire. I suppose I could be taught (eventually) to waltz; style
like that is completely beyond me. Fortunately, God does not judge
me on my dancing.
There is a style to mercy, as well. Christ showed us mercy on the
Cross, the highest example. But will you note that he did so with a
style, a grace, which we should imitate? Here it is described: it
comes from the heart:
· Compassion. He did not give himself grudgingly but willingly,
for he had compassion upon us. We are not saved because we earned
it—but because he loved us.
· Kindness. Such mercy was delivered to us in great kindness.
Christ took upon himself the form of humanity—a terrible
condescension—so that we would not be terrified of the God of the
pillar of fire; we would know and love the man Jesus.
· Humility. Surely you know that if you have a heart of
compassion and kindness, you cannot be arrogant at the same time.
Humility is required for this. No greater example is there than
Christ, who emptied himself of divine glory to walk among us—and die
· Gentleness. The Pharisees might not have seen it this way, when
he drove the money-changers from the Temple. But Christ uses no
force to bring us home; softly and tenderly Jesus is calling.
· Patience. We often ask why God does not immediately slay the
wicked. His patience is a part of his mercy; he wants all to be
saved. For some he has waited many years; I know a man who became a
Christian after the age of 80. Mercy is never in a hurry.
All this must accompany mercy—whether that mercy is the mercy of
forbearance or forgiveness. Forbearance is the gentle, constant rain
of mercy; forgiveness, a cloudburst. In either we give the water of
life to a thirsty world.
Lord, your mercy is to every generation—and so models for us your
patience. May we grow like you, even in mercy.
The field of sports opens a window into the soul of man. May I
take you back a few years? In the 1980 Olympic Winter Games at Lake
Placid, the United States ice hockey team was given no chance to
defeat the mighty team from the Soviet Union. The defining moment of
the games came when the Americans, against all odds, triumphed.
Picture in your mind, please, the joy , the exultation of the
American team as the final buzzer sounded. See the exultation, the
triumph, the rejoicing—that’s exactly the word used here to describe
the triumph of mercy over judgment.
Triumph in athletics, that sense of exultation, is measured by
· The higher the reputation of your opponent, the greater the
· The greater the difficulty of the task, the greater the
exultation in victory.
· The longer the struggle, the sweeter the triumph is.
What may we say about the triumph of mercy over judgment?
· Over what does the mercy of God triumph? Nothing less than the
judgment of God, righteous and true, applied to the sins of mankind.
· How difficult was this triumph? It was achieved at great cost,
far beyond our ability: this victory was won with precious blood of
Jesus, shed at the Cross.
· How long was the struggle to obtain such triumph? It began when
God first spoke to man; it continued through the Cross and through
our day. It will end only at the return of our blessed Lord and
Savior. As long as the history of man.
If this is the esteem of the opponent, if this is the degree of
difficulty, if this is the length of the struggle—then how great
will the rejoicing be in that day?
But like the athletic world, triumph for one implies trouble for
another. On that day there will be trouble for those who have
refused to show mercy to others. No mercy will be shown to them;
only the standard of pure righteousness. Triumph, or tragedy? Your
mercy determines the answer for all eternity.
Lord, keep us mindful of your mercy to us—and our need to be
merciful to others.
1 Samuel 24:17
David is said to be a man after God’s own heart. We might wonder
what that means; but this passage exemplifies the concept. Let’s
examine the history: Saul was anointed king over Israel, but God has
withdrawn his favor from him. God instructs Samuel—the prophet and
priest who anointed Saul—to anoint another. He anoints David—and
propels him into seven and a half years of tension. Saul is the
Lord’s anointed; therefore David will do nothing to harm him. Saul
has no such compunctions.
From David’s point of view, he has ample reason to destroy
Saul—if only in self-defense. But he refuses. His heart tells him
this should not be. To understand this, we must see the nature of
· Evil is to good as shadow is to light. Evil does not exist if
there is no good. Therefore, if there is evil, there must be a
· Evil is often the twisting of good. Self-defense is good. To
kill a man while he sleeps, however, presses the definition of
· Evil is also the corruption of good. David has been properly
anointed by Samuel; getting rid of Saul is therefore good business.
In all this, David is scrupulous to leave such matters to God.
Indeed, when Saul dies in combat, the man who claims the credit for
it is executed by David. There are several such incidents where
David takes great care for Saul and his family.
David, we see, repays evil with good. It is the high road of
morality, and the great clue to God’s heart. Evil cannot exist
without good, but good can exist without evil. It is a high
imitation of God to repay evil with good. In so doing, we discover
that evil has no power over good. What can Saul say when David has
treated him righteously for the evil Saul has done him? It is clear
to David; it is clear to those around—and it is even clear to Saul
himself: David is more righteous because he imitates God in repaying
evil with good.
Would you like a weapon of invincible power? Search as you may;
evil may conquer evil, but it has no power over good.
Lord, we know the truth: your good surpasses all evil. We also
know this to be difficult. Give us strength to follow your way .
God the Merciful
This passage is a wonderful source text for sermons on the mercy
of God. It appears so natural; here is the patriarch Abraham, the
friend of God, pleading that the Lord be merciful to this town of
Sodom. We are taught the virtue of persistence in prayer from this
passage. It is all in all a passage of beauty.
But it doesn’t have anything to do with mercy.
It doesn’t? Read it again. The basis of the appeal made by
Abraham is simply this: God is righteous. The appeal is made not for
mercy but for justice. The misconception is that—since we are all
sinners—God could toast any city he wants. But by his own
righteousness he will not.
· Abraham could have pleaded with him on the basis that a death
sentence is too severe; in other words, he could have pleaded for
mercy. But he didn’t; he knew that they were unrepentant, and God
has no mercy for the unrepentant.
· Abraham could have pleaded with him on the basis that these
people were simply misunderstood. If only God would put himself in
their position, and see their point of view… But he didn’t. Abraham
knows the difference between right and wrong—and he knows that God
· Abraham could have pleaded with him that they were just living
in an “alternate lifestyle.” After all, aren’t they entitled to
their own view of right and wrong? But he didn’t; he knows the God
who is righteousness himself.
Mercy is shown to the repentant; Abraham is pleading for the
righteous few. And how highly God esteems those few! The guilt of
Sodom is a fact; but see how God rescues Lot.
The sins of Sodom are still with us—homosexuality is now thought
to be pure righteousness. But the ancient standard still stands; we
do not invent righteousness, we borrow it from him. And he greatly
loves those who do.
In our own time we have had cause to wonder why, with so many
earthquake faults beneath, God has not destroyed San Francisco.
Perhaps Sodom provides both example and explanation.
Lord, when we plead for justice, it’s usually because we are the
ones offended. May we learn from Abraham, to plead for justice
because of your righteousness, not our anger.
A Jealous God
Well might the Christian ask: how can anyone hate God? I’m told
that atheists are angry with him for not existing. Any number of
agnostics are staying away from him because he won’t do miracles for
them on their command. But hatred?
God, by his very nature, forces a decision. To know God means
that you must decide: with, or against him? Those who know him and
decide against him tend to fall into certain ways:
· There are those who find God most inconvenient. “I want to
sleep with my girlfriend; therefore there is no God.”
· There are those who find it unbelievable that God would not
recognize them as a superior intelligence. Of what use is a god who
won’t take my advice?
· There are those who have substituted a little god in the corner
for the Living God—who asks far too much of them.
Pursued long enough, God goes from non-existent to nuisance to
enemy . There are those whose lives are consumed by the hatred of
It is a sad fact of this fallen world that the innocent suffer.
When one who hates God arises, the consequences are exactly what you
would expect: punishment so severe and so swift that it gives that
sinner a chance to learn repentance.—and the consequences spill over
to another generation. Sometimes this is done so that those who
waver will see and learn.
But God is merciful. If he visits the consequences of a man’s
sins on his children and grandchildren, how many more generations
will see the blessing of an ancestor who loves God? His anger lasts
but a moment in his scale of time; his love endures forever.
We find it hard to believe that someone could hate God. Such
people usually don’t come to church, but they’re out there. Their
numbers are increasing now, especially as the church in America
continues to decay into lukewarm happiness. They can see no reason
to serve him, nor do they respect those who do. Things are only
going to get worse.
But take heart, Christian! He is not yet done visiting his mercy
upon the thousands who come from those who love him. The day will
come when we shall see it face to face, and rejoice.
Lord, how gracious you are to us! May we praise your mercy and
learn from the examples you set before us.
A Lender’s Mercy
In John Ford’s classic western, Stagecoach, there is a banker. It
is a small part; barely enough spoken to establish the character of
a grasping, swindling man absconding with the cash. It’s a
reflection on how Americans feel about lenders—or at least did,
during the Great Depression.
Most of us are not lenders—in the financial sense of that word
today. But the victims in this passage who cry out to God have their
counterparts in our society today. They are what my father called
“the invisible people.” They are waitresses, flight attendants,
people behind the counter, the person on the phone at the help desk.
They are the ones who are there to serve you, and cannot afford to
be easily offended. They must put up with rudeness and worse, and
they must smile. A sharp answer will cost them their job—and they
need the job. Dad often told me that the mark of a true gentleman
was how well he treated the invisible people.
We still have loan sharks with us. There are people out there who
will loan the money knowing full well that they are likely to
collect the collateral from the helpless poor. Aided by our legal
system, they grind the poor into fine dust. But most of us are not
loan sharks, nor would we want to be. So this little passage seems
to have no reference to us.
But consider how well you treat those who are in some way
dependent upon you. It is a common thing in our time that a day
laborer, often an illegal alien, is given a day’s work—but not a
day’s pay. If his patron chooses not to pay him, what can he do? To
complain to the authorities is to risk deportation. I have heard
Christians tell me that they deserve this treatment—as they are
But what if that worker turns not to the authorities but to God?
He has not changed since the time of Moses; he still hears the poor
man’s cry. Are you willing to tell God he deserves to be cheated? I
Even in the small things we may see this at work. My father
taught me, as a young lad, to be able to total the bill and
calculate the tip. It was training in arithmetic; it was also
training in dealing with others. Dad was always generous to the
Lord, we love to think ourselves important. Rather, teach us to
be generous in our tips and stingy with our anger. Thus we may be a
living ambassador for you to the invisible people.
The Mercy Seat
God is rather fond of drawing pictures for us. I suspect that
this is for two reasons. First, many Christians over the centuries
have not been able to read—so pictures were used to tell his
message. More than that, his pictures are like those of a great
artist. The simple meaning is clear, but looking more intently
reveals a deeper truth.
The mercy seat is such a picture. It may appear to be simply an
elaborate cover for an elaborate box, but by naming it the mercy
seat God has painted his picture for us.
· Beneath the mercy seat is “the testimony.” These are the items
of physical evidence of the rebellion of the Jewish people against
the God who brought them out of Egypt. This lid is also called the
atonement cover—because it covers over (and therefore “atones”) for
the sin of Israel.
· The cover is overlaid with pure gold—which does not rust or
tarnish. Can you see the eternity of God’s mercy in that?
· This place—between the cherubim on the cover—is the place where
man (Moses) met God regularly.
This, then, is a picture of the Christ to come, for he is our
atonement. When God looks down to see the evidence that would
convict us of sin, it is not visible to him - for he has placed the
sacrifice of Christ between himself and the evidence. Christ is, in
effect, our atonement cover.
More than that, Christ is the “place” where we can go to meet
God. Before the coming of Christ, man could not approach God
directly. He needed animal sacrifices for atonement—and even then
God could only be approached through his priests. It was not that
the priests were somehow “better” - their selection was rather
arbitrary—but God required it. Christ is now our High Priest; the
way to God is opened through him.
Mercy is often given in the form of overlooking some offense. It
is the privilege of those who are great to ignore the offenses of
those who are not. If this is true among men, then how much more is
it the pleasure of God to overlook the sins of those who have become
Lord, your grace is ever abounding to us. We know our own sins,
but it is your good pleasure to overlook them. There is a covering
over our sins—your blood, shed on the Cross.
Mercy Upon Whom
Much of the world around us—including many in the church—have the
“smiley face” view of God’s relationship to man:
· It starts with the assumption that we are such wonderful
people—intelligent, caring, compassionate (and extremely modest and
humble). God loves us because we are so lovable.
· When we perform our good deeds, such actions leave God deeply
in our debt. He is obliged to reward us for our labors; he is deeply
indebted to us when we endure ill treatment for his sake.
· Therefore, we feel, it is obvious that if God allows suffering
or persecution to enter our lives, he’s being unfair. We’re the good
guys. He’s supposed to smite someone else, right?
Once again, a solution which is neat, plausible and wrong. It is
sad that we must lay it out explicitly, but Christianity actually
subscribes to the “dismal face” view of God’s relationship to man.
· First and foremost, we are all—each and every one of
us—sinners. Not one of us is without fault; not one of us is
completely innocent. That some are more sinful than others is quite
true. We still jail the light offenders.
· In pure justice—the justice only God can give—we have no way to
justify ourselves. We may be better than the other guy, but justice
is owed to both of us. God, the holy God, can do no other than
condemn us for our sins.
· Therefore, when God does not condemn us (by whatever method he
chooses) the matter is strictly one of grace—unmerited favor, not
something we have earned.
Do you see it? God by his very nature is just; he is obliged by
his own character to punish the guilty (which is us). But for his
own purposes and in his own character he chooses to forgive some of
us. Is it because we are so wonderful? No; as this passage states,
it’s entirely at his divine discretion. Any such mercy is therefore
grace—the unmerited favor of God. It is not our choice; it is his
choice to offer grace; it is given in his timing; it is given so
that his purposes might be fulfilled. His plan, his favor—our
Lord, we know that it seems that you grant grace to the good
guys—only. But your word is clear: “whosever will.” Grant that we
may bring this good news to one and all we meet.
One Man’s Intercession
Intercession: from the Latin root inter, meaning “between” and
cedere, meaning to go to a place. In the original the word means to
go to a place in between—in this instance, in between the nation of
Israel and the wrath of God.
We are often asked to “intercede in prayer” for someone. In our
day it is interchangeable with “pray for someone.” For the most part
we are asked to pray for things socially acceptable (healing, safe
travel, etc.) There is no sense that in praying we are sticking our
necks out. But this is not the original sense of this word.
Suppose for the moment that someone asked you to pray for someone
that you knew quite well was a wicked sinner. Suppose you were asked
to go to God in prayer and ask that such a person did not get what
they deserved. Rather, you would ask, God should pardon this
individual and not visit upon him the justice he so richly deserves.
If you were asked to do that, you might react in one of these ways:
· You might look at it and say, “Not me; the rat deserves it.”
· You might overlook that—but such intercession would indeed be
an act of daring. You could plead lack of courage.
· You might even have the humility to think, “Who am I to ask God
for such a thing?”
All these excuses have one thing in common: they focus on us, the
one doing the interceding. They say, in essence, that I have not the
authority or power to ask for such a thing.
And you don’t. Moses here shows us the secret of such bold prayer
for those who don’t deserve it: he bases his intercession upon the
sovereignty, power and character of God Himself. Moses brings forth
no merit of his own to ask for favors; rather, he appeals to God by
means of God’s own character.
· Does the rat deserve it? What do you deserve, apart from the
grace of God?
· You have no courage? Take heart, you are commanded to approach
the throne of grace with boldness.
· You are not worthy to ask? It is not your worthiness but his
character that counts.
Lord, help us to pray in your will, based on your holiness. It is
not our righteousness we plead, but yours.
Heal Their Land
2 Chronicles 7:14
One of the things which would mightily puzzle the Apostles if
they came back to this age is simply this: the church no longer
proclaims God’s “Seal of Disapproval.”
What’s that? It is simply the idea that God will express his
displeasure, even his wrath, against a nation by means of events in
the natural world. For example:
· We were sure God had no message in the Northridge
earthquake—which stopped the production of hard core pornography for
· We know that God would never inflict something like the AIDS
epidemic upon us—even though a strict adherence to Biblical chastity
would stop the epidemic cold.
· We’re sure the destruction of the Twin Towers was not ordained
by God. After all, when did he ever use the enemies of his people to
chastise them? (Except all throughout the Old Testament, of course).
No, we just don’t believe God would act through his creation to
disapprove of our actions.
But, friend cynic, suppose he did. Just what would he want this
nation, so righteous in its own eyes, to do? He explains it here:
· Humble themselves and pray. Adopt the proper respect for God
Almighty; recognize who he really is. Then avail ourselves of his
mercy to come to him in prayer. And what kind of prayer?
· Seek his face. He wants us to turn away from our sins. Indeed,
until we do we will be little heard. But there is more. He wants us
to seek his face—seek out his ways and learn them. When we know his
ways, then what?
· Turn from their wicked ways. It is not sufficient to pray; it
is not sufficient to learn—we must make our actions show that we
have done so.
If we do, then he is ready to turn to us and heal our land. Heal?
Yes. The planet is his real estate, if you will recall. It is his to
do with as he pleases. For those who hear his voice, his healing is
available—for them, and for the land they love.
Gracious Lord, give us courage to proclaim the truth; wisdom to
set the example and faith to see the results.
In my youth I decided that I needed to be able to produce the
various diagrams needed for an education in physics. In that pre-PC
era, the tools needed were a board, a T-square, a pair of triangles
and an assortment of pencils—a drafting kit, as it was called. The
supplies were rather expensive; my parents were not pleased with the
expense. Considering what a poor draftsman I made, one can see their
But I did learn something about producing drawings. In drafting
there is a “point of perspective.” Given that you are drawing a
three dimensional representation of something on a two dimensional
sheet of paper, you use those triangles to provide the appearance of
perspective, using lines radiating from that point of perspective.
The artists call it a “vanishing point.” I am told that it is an
important technique in classical art.
You’re familiar with the concept. Imagine yourself on a long road
in the desert. You stop, and you look backwards. The road seems to
narrow and vanish in the distance—that’s a vanishing point. You look
ahead; there’s another one ahead of you.
That vanishing point is exactly the word that David uses here to
describe the eternal compassion and kindness of God. Examine it
looking back, you see no beginning; examine it going forward, you
see no end. Just a vanishing point.
It is attribute of God: He is the perfection of mercy. He is the
perfection of kindness. He is the perfection of love. Because his
mercy, kindness and love are perfect, they can never change—nor have
they ever changed. Gravity is more likely to change than the
character of God.
David knows that; in his plea for protection and mercy he appeals
to the very nature of God. His cry rings against God’s character,
and God will respond. Unlike us, for whom it may not be convenient,
to our liking or within our pocketbook, God moves in accord with his
loving, merciful, compassionate character.
The greatest display of this is at the Cross. Stand for a moment
on the hill of Calvary. Look backward; see the steady ribbon of
God’s love for us, back to the vanishing point. Look forward, and
see the same. His love has neither beginning nor end, and therefore
his mercy is sure.
Lord, we are but dust. Our minds cannot grasp your eternity; how
glorious, then, the sacrifice that gave us that eternity with you.
Seen My Affliction
It is a happy thought for the translators of the Psalms: they
rhyme in every language on the planet. How can this be? You know
that our poetry once rhymed in sound (“the rain in Spain stays
mainly on the plain.”) Some poetry rhymes in rhythm (think of the
characteristic patter of a limerick). Neither of these will
translate well—but Hebrew poetry, such as the Psalms, rhyme in
The basic unit of such poetry is the echo. For example, “The Lord
is my shepherd, I shall not want.” That’s a thought echo. This verse
has a pair of thought echoes which describe the very mercy of God.
The echoes are there for emphasis—so that you get the point. But
they are also there to show you contrasts, as we shall see.
The first of those echoes is “rejoice and be glad.” It’s an echo,
for the words mean basically the same thing. Yet, in the original
Hebrew, there is an additional punch. The word for rejoice actually
means to “spin around suddenly” - to react with sudden joy as you
turn from gloom to happiness. The word for “be glad” is different;
it implies someone who always has a smile on his face. So we see
that they say the same thing—but yet one is short term and the other
The second concerns the wisdom of God: he sees my afflictions and
has known the troubles of my soul. Again, there is an echo; again,
there is a difference. My afflictions are visible from the
outside—but the troubles of my soul are within me. Yet God sees and
Now you can see the structure of the thought: I’m afflicted and
troubled, inside and out. But God sees both. Because He does, and
because I know he is merciful, I will rejoice—both when the thought
strikes me and as I go through life. His lovingkindness will turn my
troubles into my source of joy—for He is in my troubles, and He is
In the New Testament we are taught to rejoice always. Sometimes
that seems very, very hard. But remember: your Lord knows your
troubles and his mercy is sure—therefore, greet your troubles with
joy, for they shall bring you and your Lord closer together.
Lord, so often we see only our troubles, doubling them by
brooding upon them. Help us to remember that nothing comes to your
children except by your will; that even the dark patches of life are
a source of your blessing—and our joy.
We Are But Dust
Each week it is the custom in our class to pass around a
clipboard bearing paper on which our members and guests write out
their prayer requests for the week. We’ve been doing this for some
time now; over the years I must have read thousands of requests.
There is a disturbing trend in them.
Take, for example, a prayer request that asks God “to let her
find the right doctor for her …” Do you not see what this is? It is
not really a request for healing; it is a request that God Almighty
shall specially direct this patient to the appropriate M. Deity.
Note what we do not do: we do not pray for healing. We pray that God
will find some good help.
Why would we do such a thing? Is it because we believe God cannot
heal? I submit not; it is more likely that we believe he will not
heal. We’re perfectly willing to believe he could—in someone else’s
life. But in our lives, we want the right doctors. We believe that
man alone holds both the power and the will to act, and to heal as
he sees fit. God is simply a noble assistant.
In a sense this is self-fulfilling. Without faith it is
impossible to please God—and this is very close to a complete lack
of faith. It has grave implications for us. It is obvious, I hope,
that mercy is always shown by the strong and mighty to those who are
not. Such prayers as these are simply a proclamation that we believe
man to be supreme; man to be the strong and mighty one. This belief
is so strong in our society that many Christians accept it without
thinking. We would not ask mercy of God—but we might be prepared to
be generous in judging God for the way he’s messed things up.
There is an antidote for this: death. No matter what science
does, it can only prolong life. The power of life is not in it. God
is eternal; we are mortal—therefore he is the mighty one, not us.
Like the mighty should, and the righteous do, he offers us his
mercy. The offer is contingent: we must fear Him. Fear is not
incompatible with love; a car is a fearsome thing, able to kill—and
yet men love their cars. The question is one of our relationship: do
we see Him as He is? Or do we see him as a bit player in our lives?
Lord, how often we forget how awesome you are! Bring your
children to yourself, gently and with mercy, for we indeed are far
more frail than we know. Fill our days with you, for not one of us
is guaranteed tomorrow.
Confessions and Repentance
Human beings are marvelously inventive creatures. This is
particularly true in the matter of dealing with our sins. Despite
the fact that God places before us his method of dealing with them
(and the certainty of his mercy) we are too often too proud. We will
deal with sin in our own way:
· We may start with, “what sin?” A simple tactic; we just declare
ourselves to be righteous. (Don’t think so? Think about gay rights
for a while).
· Of course, we can always diminish the scope of our sin; “It’s
not as bad as all that.” If we get it small enough, we can then
plead guilty to the misdemeanor.
· Another fine technique is that of the bean counter: oh, it’s
bad; but I’ll make it up to God elsewhere. I’ll start to tithe!
Surely God will call it even if I do that.
· The verbal among us will plead extenuating circumstances. Could
you really expect a boy from my side of the tracks to behave
· A simpler solution is this: I have an excuse. And as long as I
have an excuse, I don’t have to face the consequences. Everyone
· Of course, I can just lie about it. First to others, then to
· And speaking of others, here’s a great technique: Blame “them”
- not “us.”
All these techniques share common characteristics. They will work
to deal with the guilt of sin—at least until your conscience
hardens. We hate the pain of guilt—but no pain, no gain. So what is
God’s (painful) method?
· First, give up the cover story and admit it. He already
knows—and you’d be surprised who else might.
· Then, turn around—stop doing it. Ask for help when you need it,
but get your life pointed the right way.
The result—the sure and certain result—is God’s mercy. He does
not change; his mercy is ever new.
Lord, how often we tiptoe around the subject of our sin! Open our
eyes to our folly—and your mercy.
Where God Dwells
David, the King of Israel, took it into his heart to build a
temple for God. God commended him for that—and told him to turn the
problem over to his son, Solomon.
David, being a rather rough and ready sort, saw no problem with
this. But Solomon understood the difficulty clearly: just how does a
mere human being build a home for the Lord God Jehovah, creator of
"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the
highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I
have built!” (1Ki 8:27 NASB)
The problem is that God is spirit; he is also creator of all
things, including things material. Therefore, those things cannot
contain Him –no matter how hard man tries. So if there is to be an
epiphany—an appearance of God among us—it must be because God
chooses to limit himself for the purpose of being among us.
This is certainly true in the coming of Christ. The one through
whom all things were made took upon himself the form of human flesh.
His purpose in doing this was to seek and save the lost.
Here we see the same thing, in a sense. It is the pleasure of
Almighty God to take up residence in the hearts (the spiritual
homes) of those who are lowly in spirit; the contrite. He is not
obliged to do so; rather, he wills to do so.
For what purpose? To revive their spirits. Consider it this way:
suppose you have sinned—and then repented. You feel pretty low about
that point; confession may be good for the soul but it doesn’t do
much for the ego. God’s purpose is then to lift you out of the guilt
of your sins and into fellowship with him—to raise your spirits by
welcoming you home. He needs no sour faced ambassadors of
reconciliation; the kingdom of God is entered into with joy and
The repentant, contrite heart will not be kept at a distance;
like the father of the Prodigal Son, our Father runs to meet us when
we turn for home. It is his purpose that we enjoy Him forever, and
for that purpose he has extended himself into the reaches of the
human heart. The Holy Spirit is given to us as an assurance—of our
warm welcome home.
Lord, we are sinners. But by your grace we are welcomed home,
turning from sadness to joy. The price you paid to bring this to us
is a measure of the love in your will.
As the great philosopher Leo Durocher once observed, “It ain’t
bragging if you can do it.”
That covers most of us when (with due Christian modesty, of
course) we begin to tell others how wonderful we are. Check and see
if any of these sound familiar:
· Bragging about money (“the only reason I got the Mercedes SUV
is that it’s so well built.”)
· Bragging about power (“Let me help you with that; I’m a shaker
and a mover around this town.”)
· Bragging about wisdom (“I personally have two masters degrees,
only one of them in physics.”)
The sum of such things is this: it’s bragging about who you are.
But sometimes we take up a different form of bragging. If we’re not
rich, powerful and (of course) wise enough to be modest about it,
there is another form which can be used by the poor and the weak:
bragging about who you know.
Of course, the “who” in question needs to be famous—or at least
notorious. When Bob Newhart was asked if he was really insult
comedian Don Rickle’s best friend, he replied (with a sigh):
“Somebody has to be.” But for most of us, being able to say that we
know the president personally is quite an honor (well, at least for
Of all the “who” that you could claim, the highest is God
himself. Interestingly, to tell someone else that you know God
practically forces you to praise him. By the very act of laying
claim to his acquaintance, you recommend him.
But for what? He tells you here:
· Righteousness, which gives rise to his
· Justice, which gives scope to his
Ah, but claiming to know God brings a burden with it: people
expect you to act like you know him—to imitate him. So there stands
the test: if you claim to know him, does it show in your character,
your righteousness, justice and lovingkindness? Those around you
know the answer; so should you.
Lord, when our mouths turn to you as topic of conversation, may
our lives show that we know what we’re talking about.
The Condition of Forgiveness
Suppose for the moment you could become the supreme ruler of your
society. Sound good? Fine. Your Excellency, it is my pleasure to
submit my advice on the administration of justice;
· First, whatever you do, it should be fair and just. Chopping
off the feet of jaywalkers will certainly prevent further offenses,
but does nothing for your reputation.
· Next, your enforcement must be easily seen as just. Even the
simplest of citizens must say, “that’s fair.” If fair, they will
support it, rendering your task much easier. Keep it easy to
· It is best if you can provide both positive reward and fearsome
punishment in your enforcement. Those who respond to fear and those
to whom reward is everything will both be diligent to obey.
· Finally, there is the practical matter: be sure that whatever
you decree, you can enforce.
Your Excellency might well ask if this program is well thought
through. Consider, then, that this is the program used by God in his
· Is he just? Consider that you are commanded to forgive others
like yourself, and for the same offenses. There is a beautiful
equality in that.
· Is it just even to the simple? Read for yourself; two verses
and he has said all that needs be said on the subject.
· Is there both reward and punishment? There is a heaven to gain
and a hell to shun.
· Is it enforceable? Indeed, by His power he enforces it now, and
by His sure word he will enforce it even more on the Day of
Judgment—so that even the dead will see both his justice and his
mercy, face to face.
I commend to your Excellency the study of this matter. It is
simple, sweet, short—and highly profitable.
Lord, it is not our privilege to enforce justice for ourselves.
But it is our privilege to grant forgiveness to all who offend us,
knowing that this pleases you, builds your church and brings pardon
even to the worst of sinners.
The Riches of His Grace
There is a difference between a business trip and a pleasure
trip. The airplane is the same; not much else.
At the end of a long project, requiring much travel, the team
decided to save a vacation spot as last on the schedule. This would
allow us to take wives along, a sort of reward for the tolerance
they had shown over the preceding months.
We chose San Juan, Puerto Rico. I had heard from others of the
“strictly business” attitude that Puerto Ricans had towards those
who came “from headquarters.” So I was greatly surprised (and very
pleased) when my counterpart in the office turned out to be the
absolute model of Latin American grace, charm and hospitality.
George took us all over the city—pointing out sights the average
tourist would never see, telling us of this or that shop owned by
some relative who would give us a good price if we mentioned his
name (they did), and in all ways being the model of hospitality. It
is fair to say that most of our pleasant memories there were due to
I did not find out until some years later what caused this. The
reason was very simple: I had my wife along. In his culture, that
changed everything from a business trip to an occasion for gracious
hospitality. So you see, it was for her sake that our welcome was so
God is doing the same thing for us—for Christ’s sake. It is his
love that gave us the Cross and redemption. But in the age to come
we shall see just how rich is the grace of God. In the age to come,
after the Resurrection, we will be seated with Christ—set beside him
to enjoy the outpouring of God’s grace, which we will see and enjoy
forever. We can know only a little bit of it now, but then we shall
see what God will do for us so that we may praise his glory.
In Puerto Rico, there is a tiny frog, the coqui—much beloved by
the islanders. It starts croaking at sunset, and the air is filled
with their sweet calls. They are in the trees everywhere, heard but
not seen. Like the coqui’s call, our Lord tells us of the great
things to come. They are heard, not seen—until the sunrise silences
the coquis and brings in the light of eternal day.
Lord, your coquis are small, but loud. May we hear them, telling
of your glory, until the dawn of your return.
Approach With Confidence
Here is your vocabulary word for the day: fragging.
Never heard of it? Even my spellchecker didn’t know it. Nor did I
when I saw it. The word for “help” in this passage is literally
translated as “a fragging rope.” So what’s a fragging rope? It’s any
rope on a ship which is not part of the standing or running rigging.
In other words, a rope just lying around on deck, to be used for
things like rescuing a drowning sailor. The picture in the original
then is that of a sailor throwing a rope to one who is drowning,
just in the nick of time.
One of the most vivid images of World War II came from the
sinking of the battleship Bismarck. It shows German sailors, after
the sinking, being rescued by a British cruiser. The German sailors
swam towards their enemy’s ship, confident that the brotherhood of
the sea would prevail and they would be rescued.
We are like those sailors. We are shipwrecked in the sea of sin;
we need a rope. How can we be sure that Jesus will throw it?
· Because he’s a sailor on that same sea—he knows our weaknesses,
he is human too.
· Because he knows the perils of that sea—for he was tempted just
as we are.
It is God’s will that each and every one of us be thrown that
rope. But a rope alone will not help; the other end needs to be
attached to a working ship. But his ship floats on the sea of sin,
for he is without sin. By his perfection and sacrifice, the rope
holds firmly to the good ship Grace.
So then, what should we do? Like those German sailors after the
battle, we need to swim towards the ship still afloat. As Paul puts
it here, we must approach the throne of grace with confidence. Even
though we have been the enemies of God, we can swim to his ship
secure in the knowledge that he intends to rescue each and every one
It is a wonderful thing, the brotherhood of the sea, which causes
a sailor to throw a rope to a man who was his enemy ten minutes
earlier. How much more wonderful, then, is it when Christ himself
throws a rope to us, pulling us towards eternal life!
Lord, your grace is beyond our imaginings—but not beyond our
grasp. Teach us to come boldly to you.
2 Peter 3:9
Every child should have a full complement of grandparents. There
are precious lessons for children in the hands of the old.
My wife had a grandmother like that. My wife, as a young girl,
decided to learn to sew. (This was in the days before such things
were despised by modern feminists, and therefore considered suitable
for a girl of nine years or so.) She picked out her first project
without understanding the skill that would be required to complete
it. As you might imagine, the results were not at all like the
picture on the pattern package.
Her grandmother, however, had a remedy for this. Each night, as
her granddaughter slept, she would carefully remove all the
incorrect, difficult stitching and replace it with her own work. The
result was not just a functional piece of clothing, but also a
lifelong love of the craft of sewing. Her grandmother’s patience,
revealed many years later, turned frustration into workmanship.
Have you ever thought of patience as a form of compassion? God
often tells us, as here, that his patience is indeed a form of his
compassion for us. His patience comes from his love for us, and
therefore his patience is very great.
Patience should not be confused with indifference. Patience, you
see, has a purpose. That grandmother’s purpose was to give her
grandchild the joy of creating. God’s purpose springs from his
compassion for us: his patience is there so that we all have time to
Sometimes we see this as “slow.” After all, the return of Christ
has been talked about for about two thousand years; what’s keeping
him? God’s view is that he has appointed a time—always an aid to
patience—and he will stick to it. The question is not whether or not
Christ will return; the question is what will he find when he gets
here? God is slow to anger, but eventually there will be the Day of
Wrath; what will he find?
My guess—it is no more than that—is that he will find a remnant
of the faithful. These he will set to one side with a “well done.”
The others he will deal with in justice.
Patience is greatly aided by an end date; but it is started and
sustained by compassion. So it is with our Lord; so it should be
with his children, too.
Lord, we so often ask for patience to still our anger. Teach us
compassion so that we may be patient, as you are with us.