Welcome to Becomning Closer! 

The Centurion's Tale


May 1

Merciful to the Merciful

Psalm 18:25

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. For example:

· 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.

May 2

Jigsaw Puzzle

Psalm 85:10

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.

May 3

Favor and Good Reputation

Proverbs 3:3-4

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 control you.

· 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 money?

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 own heart.

Lord, line upon line, precept upon precept, teach us the practice of truth and mercy—that we may grow to be like you.

May 4


Proverbs 11:17

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 way.

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 servant.”

Lord, our pains seem so large and our mercies so trivial. Teach us to be merciful, as you are merciful.

May 5

Kindness to Animals

Proverbs 12:10

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 would.

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.

May 6

The Merciful and his Maker

Proverbs 14:31

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.

May 7

Mercy, Justice and Humility

Micah 6:8

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 be righteous.

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 sin.

· 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.

May 8

Mercy to the Merciful

Matthew 5:7

“The way of showing mercy is manifold, and this commandment is broad.”


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 of God.

· 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.

May 9

Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness

Matthew 23:23

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, “Hypocrite.”

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.

May 10

Merciful, Like the Father

Luke 6:36

“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 completely.

· 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.

May 11

Mercy With Cheerfulness

Romans 12:8

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.

May 12

The Style of Mercy

Colossians 3:12-13

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 for us.

· 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.

May 13

Athletic Exultation

James 2:13

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 three things:

· The higher the reputation of your opponent, the greater the rejoicing.

· 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.

May 14

More Righteous

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:

· 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 corresponding good.

· Evil is often the twisting of good. Self-defense is good. To kill a man while he sleeps, however, presses the definition of self-defense.

· 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 .

May 15

God the Merciful

Genesis 18:26-32

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 does too.

· 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.

May 16

A Jealous God

Exodus 20:5-6

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 God.

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.

May 17

A Lender’s Mercy

Exodus 22:26-27

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 illegal aliens.

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 think not.

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 invisible people.

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.

May 18

The Mercy Seat

Exodus 25:17

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 his children?

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.

May 19

Mercy Upon Whom

Exodus 33:19

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 blessing.

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.

May 20

One Man’s Intercession

Numbers 14:17-21

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.

May 21

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 several weeks.

· 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.

May 22

Eternal Mercy

Psalm 25:6

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 point.

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.

May 23

Seen My Affliction

Psalm 31:7

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 thought.

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 long.

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 knows both.

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 my joy.

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.

May 24

We Are But Dust

Psalm 103:8-14

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.

May 25

Confessions and Repentance

Proverbs 28:13

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 himself?

· 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 knows that.

· Of course, I can just lie about it. First to others, then to myself.

· 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.

May 26

Where God Dwells

Isaiah 57:15

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 all things:

"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 gladness.

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.

May 27

Bragging Rites

Jeremiah 9:23-24

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 some presidents.)

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

· Lovingkindness.

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.

May 28

The Condition of Forgiveness

Matthew 6:14-15

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 understand.

· 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 own commands.

· 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.

May 29

The Riches of His Grace

Ephesians 2:4-7

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 his kindness.

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 warm.

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.

May 30

Approach With Confidence

Hebrews 4:15-16

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 of us.

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.

May 31

Not Slow

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 repent.

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.

Previous     Home     Next