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Archive for May, 2015

mercy

Like a single song lyric stuck on loop in my mind, I wake with a verse.  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

It’s Sunday.  Upon arrival at church we’re met with a request to fill in and teach the children’s Sunday school class.  With no lesson and nothing prepared, I muse at God’s provision.  Well, I’ve got a verse.  Curiously, we open to Matthew 9:13.

“Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.  For I came not to call the righteous, but the sinners.”

“What does it mean?” I think to myself.

I listen as the mechanic reads the context to the kids.  It is the calling of Matthew – a man who was hated for his profession.  Matthew – a tax collector who doubtless made a habit of lying, cheating, and stealing from the have-nots and the hard-working.  Jesus – the God of all creation called him away from a life of deceitful money-loving idolatry and into his very own small group of close disciples.

Matthew listened.  He followed.  He quit his unpopular job.  He threw a great feast for all his unpopular, crooked, money-loving friends and had Jesus be the keynote speaker.  Pretty impressive for a new convert, I’d say.

Still, there were some who were less than impressed.  There were some who were angry that a man who claimed to be of God would entertain such a motley crew.  They were none other than the most religious men of the day – the Pharisees.

It was to these men that Jesus spoke the words, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The one requirement for following Christ is being a sinner.  Of course we all are, but Jesus’ point here is that only some of us know it.  It is the those who find their identity and most closely associate themselves with the church that have the highest risk of self-righteous fellow sinner snubbing.  It is those who should be known as “Churchians” rather than Christians.  It is they who seem to have a secret club, clique, and code which wholly excludes anyone who is not so shiny on the outside.  The problem is that these ones are not shiny on the inside.  They are jealous and full of animosity towards others unlike themselves.  They have no regard for what – or who – Jesus wants.  They offer “sacrifice” to God for show and the praise of men but they treat others with ignorance, exclusion, contempt, and biased injustice.

Matthew Henry says, “They are very strict in avoiding sinners, but not in avoiding sin; none greater zealots for the form of godliness, nor greater enemies to the power of it.”

If we are honest, we have to admit that there are times in all of our lives that we encounter people with whom we would rather not engage.  As Christians, though, we really aren’t at liberty to pick and choose.  When Christ puts a soul in front of us, we have a great responsibility to serve them in whatever way he calls us to.  Don’t have that burden?  Repent.

Jesus has news for the “No sinners allowed people hater club.”  He exposes them by pointing to the fact that not associating with sinners – whatever brand you most dislike – is hardly a sacrifice.  Of all the grandiose, pompous, showy sacrifices they made, this was yet another piece of detestable garbage to God.

Jesus proves that he is in the business of mercy.  Mercy responds when called to a feast full of lost sinners – even if there’s a feast full of self-righteous teachers going on at the same time.  Mercy spends its time saving those who do not deserve to be associated with.  Mercy includes the worst of sinners because it understands that excluding people from its sacred circle is no sacrifice.  No.  That is utter selfishness, self-protection, and pride.  Mercy, by definition, is an offering one gives that is undeserved – the opposite of what is deserved, even.  That is why it is called mercy.

The name “Matthew” means “the gift of God.”  We are the gift of God to others – not our shiny, showy, so-called sacrifices.  When God calls us, his call is all enveloping.  It is all of life.  If you find yourself immersed in a sea of Churchians content to mingle among themselves, excuse yourself.  Find some sick.  Leave the pretend healthy people and begin offering the Great Physician to those who know their need.  Invite them into the parts of your life that are outside of the proper protocol of a weekly handshake, hello, and see you next week (but hopefully not until.) If God has been merciful to you, be merciful to others who don’t deserve it any more than you did.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be the one unwelcome than the one unwell.  Christ expects us to be merciful to sinners because he is merciful to we who are sinners.  When we are not, it proves than we, neither, have received mercy.

“Christ came not with an expectation of succeeding among the righteous, those who conceit themselves so, and therefore will sooner be sick of their Savior, than sick of their sins, but among the convinced humble sinners; to them Christ will come, for to them he will be welcome.” ~Matthew Henry

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father

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” ~Colossians 3:21

Moving on further in Paul’s practical instructions for human relationships, we find a different sort of command.  Up until this point, Paul has given positive commands. (Wives, submit; Husbands, love; Children, obey.)  Now, we find that he has shifted gears and given a negative command, “Fathers, do not…”

His emphasis on what fathers ought not do should give us heed to stop, consider, and caution ourselves when in authority over children – be they physical or spiritual children.

Perhaps he speaks this way because what we must avoid is of greatest importance in the grand scheme.

So, what does Paul highlight as #1 for the parent to whom he has given ultimate leadership and responsibility over children?

“Do not provoke your children…”

Do not provoke them.  Do not frustrate them.  Do not make them aggravated, angry, irritated, exasperated, or upset if at all possible.  If there is any other way to teach your children, do so.  If there is any method you can utilize that does not produce these kind of feelings and attitudes in them, use that.  Do not use these feelings and attitudes toward them either.

It seems that Paul is not so much concerned with what methods are used, save that they do not injure and discourage young souls entrusted to men.  Apparently there are many right ways to raise up children in the Lord but this wrong way proves most tempting and dangerous for fathers.

Children are often difficult to be patient, kind, gentle, and loving toward.  If they are particularly disobedient and obstinate, our greatest temptation is to become disobedient and obstinate towards God’s instructions right back at them.  It is a vicious cycle which teaches them nothing less than hypocrisy.  Little wonder why Paul gives the reason as to why we must avoid provocation: “…lest they become discouraged.”

Who would not become discouraged if every time they fail, someone treats them harshly and, being an authority, fails themselves to obey their own authority?  Such discouragement gives way to apathy, indifference, and a general distaste and distrust regarding respect for authorities in general.  Dare I say the church has lost much of its credibility as a result of dealing with God’s children this way.

When fathers – spiritual or physical – accuse, berate, belittle, and deal harshly with tender children who are seeking to learn and grow, those children doubtless become discouraged.  The reason is not only the former faults, but also because they are not being encouraged.  Authorities who only comment on bad behavior, who fail to recognize and encourage small steps, good work, and personal improvement – even when it is not perfect or spectacular – who overcorrect wrongdoing by harsh and repetitive accusation; who fail to praise and pray alongside calm correction, discourage.

Dads, do what you will by way of discipline, but do not discourage.  Do not provoke.  Deal kindly and gently.  Encourage.  This is one of the most important details in fatherhood.

“The bad temper and example of imprudent parents often prove a great hindrance to their children and a stumbling block in their way.”  ~Matthew Henry

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sheep

“Mommy, does God have a family?”

“Yes.  We are His family.”

“We are?”
“Yeah, remember?  He is our Father in heaven.  We are His children.”

My six year old looks puzzled for a moment and then resumes playing with her toys.  I think about the scripture verse next in line in my study.

“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”

The main task for children is always to obey.  I suppose the hardest time for children to obey is when they are most busy or when they do not understand.  How willing children are to obey at the moment of command – not the moment of understanding – is the true test of obedience.

It is a daily test with my children as well as with myself and my Father God.  It almost always starts with a simple one word command, “Child, come.”

“Come here, child.”

I’m sure you know what the response often is from my children when I call without further explanation.

“Why, Mom?”  “What do you want, Mom?”  “I’m doing something, Mom.”  Followed by a slow, “I’m coming…” and subsequent short term memory amnesia.

Somehow, when Daddy says, “Come.” a child quickly appears in front of him, no questions asked save, “Yes, Daddy?”

I have to say my oldest is, and always has been, most compliant.  She even answers with a respectful, “Yes Mommy”  almost every time I give her an instruction.  Maturity breeds obedience.  She has learned that disobedience does not end well for her.

Never am I more frustrated than when I call one of my children because I have exciting news or a gift for them and they fail to come.

Oh, that I would learn to quickly appear before my Father every time I hear his calling.  No excuses.  No inquires.  No stalling.  No willful amnesia.  Just a “Yes, Daddy?”  How well my day would go if I would just obey like a mature child rather than an immature rebel.  God, help me.

These are Paul’s instructions for children.  Obedience is pleasing to the Lord because obeying earthly parents without delay or excuse trains children to obey God without delay or excuse.  Failing to teach them to obey us as parents puts them at a great disadvantage in both their physical and spiritual life.  I often remind my kids of their duty to obey by asking them in the midst of their disobedience, “What is your #1 job?”  They know it is to obey mom and dad because obeying us is obeying God.

The good news is that our Father is not an unjust power hungry control freak.  His commands for obedience are rooted in our greatest good.  He is gracious and loving toward his children because we are the apples of his eye.  There is always a great and exciting gift waiting for those who obey heartily – the abiding presence of God himself.

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10bday

My oldest child just turned 10 years old.  Imaginative as she is creative, I rarely have to offer ideas on, well, much of anything.  She is always coming up with things I would never think of to make and do.  I am continually surprised by her unique ambitions and initiatives.

Just when I’m amazed that she got up and made us all breakfast, on her own, without burning the house down, I find perfect heart-shaped cheese gracing my eggs.  By the time I realize she has taught herself how to knit from youtube videos, I receive a home made scarf and she tells me she’s made one for her friend, too.  I bought her a rainbow loom and she followed a likely 807 step video that someone produced rubber band made Elsa, our dog, an owl, a unicorn for her sister, flowers, etc.  She can hang with Bob Ross and she wishes someone would just let her teach a paint and sip already.

Needless to say, birthdays are always interesting.  When she was 6 or 7, she wanted an Asian party.  We ate Chinese food, she wore a kimono, taught origami to her friends, and insisted the cake be written with characters rather than letters.  Another time we had a karaoke party.  This year she said she just wanted to shop with her friends.

Ok, daughter.  How do I give you a shopping birthday?  I guess we go to the “big mall” (as she calls it) and spend Daddy’s money.  Yeah, so this is definitely something I would have picked if I were thinking outside the box when I was 10.

Let me just tell you some things about our shopping birthday party, folks.  It was not really what I expected.

Mia brought two friends along with us.  The first place we stopped was at the convenient store.  Daddy just couldn’t wait to hand them a $100 bill and tell them to, “Get whatever you want.”

Do you know what we walked out with?  Three slushies – one for each girl.  That is all.  No piles of candy.  No goofy key chains or celebrity inspired sunglasses.  Not even a bag of Doritos.  “Weird,” I thought.

On to the mall.  As surprised as I was about the one slushie each episode, I was even more surprised that their self-control continued throughout the entire trip.  They bought a few necklaces and bracelets at the novelty store, always carefully checking prices.  Mia bought flower ribbons for her hair and a bracelet for her sister.  When the cashier told them they were being given free pearl-like necklaces with their purchases, the girls immediately announced how happy they were to have something to give to Mom for Mother’s Day.

They looked around some more.  They spent forever in “Justice.”  Mia wanted a canopy to put over her  bed.  When I told her it wouldn’t work with her top bunk, she didn’t whine or argue.  She looked around some more.  All in all, they really only bought a very few small things.  They were more excited to see Bath and Body Works and look for more things their moms might like.

We ate too spicy Chinese and the girls got overpriced pedicures before we left.

I realized that my 10 year old and her friends are more mature than I gave them credit for.  Somewhere along this short way, these girls have learned to self govern.  Growing up in a world full of adults and children who grossly lack this skill, I am thankful.  They have respect, responsibility, and regard for others.  Where I thought they would be greedy, they were thoughtful.  Where I thought they would be out of control, they were self-controlled.  If I am honest, I don’t think I’d split my birthday money among my friends.  I’m pretty certain I’d choose to shop alone!  I guess Mia gets the generous gene from her Dad.

There really never is a dull moment with Mia.  There never has been.  She is always full of fun surprises.  I couldn’t be more proud of the one who called me “Mommy” first.

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flowers

Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.

Husbands are called to love, that is, to show love in their actions and speech towards their wives.  Their natural tendency and temptation is not to.  Paul wouldn’t have specified this if it were not so.

This, the second instruction given by Paul for human relationships, is obviously not for me.  But I do know something of what he is talking about.  I don’t really like to focus on things that God instructs others to do because I feel our priorities lie in searching out the things he instructs us to do.  But I can tell you what a loving husband looks like.

Despite my undeservedness, I have a husband who tries very hard to show love.  He works hard and provides for our family.  He apologizes when he is wrong.  He buys me flowers for no reason.  He sacrifices his precious little time for me and for our kids.  He says good things of me.  He asks me what I need.  He prays for me and with me daily.  He compliments me.  He tells me he loves me.  He takes care of me when I am sick or tired.  He tries to do right.  He follows Christ.  He forsakes things that cause me pain or fear.  He forgives me.  He treats me as an equal.  He is growing out of harshness and replacing it with patience, kindness, and love.  He does good to me every day and I could not be more thankful.  God has richly blessed me with a husband who proves to look more like Christ every day.

Just as my failure or success in the area of submission and respect toward him can make it easier or harder for him to love me well, his obedience to love me well can make the difference in how difficult it is for me to submit to him.  Neither is responsible for the others’ obedience, however, regardless of the other’s failure or success.  In other words, just because your spouse is not obeying God in these instructions, it does not get you off the hook as responsible for obeying God in these instructions.  Obeying might just be the catalyst for their repentance.

If your husband is not loving, do not give up.  Obey God and respect him.  If he is harsh, answer kindly.  Try not to react.  Stop expecting him to change and instead expect God to work.  Pray.  The Lord will honor your obedience and fill up where your husband lacks.  If you are a husband, find out how to love your wife.  Ask her.  She will tell you.  Obey God and trust him even when your spouse fails.

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submission

Here’s Paul:

Dear Church,

Here’s the gospel – what Jesus did.  Here’s what to reject as a false gospel – what certain leaders say you have to do.  Here’s your responsibility – what you will do if you believe.

Honing in on Paul’s instructions on responsibilities, Colossians 3 leaves little room for error.  He’s told the Christians things like don’t lie or envy, avoid idolatry and anger, be kind, humble, meek, patient, forgiving, thankful, accountable, prayerful, and unified.

But Paul doesn’t stop there.  Paul puts the flesh on.  He knew we sheep would need more information.  So what does kindness, patience, and forgiveness look like?  Where and when do we most need to be humble, accountable, and prayerful?  Paul targets specific human relationships – namely the most common ones.

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting to the Lord.

Submit.  What does that look like?  I don’t believe Christian women go into marriage thinking of ways to disrespect their husbands.  But somehow we often find ourselves doing just that.  This is our natural tendency and biggest temptation.

Submission goes hand in hand with respect.  Respect is asking my husband before I make purchases and listening when he vetoes.  It is placing his priorities for my time above my own.  It is speaking respectfully to him and about him.  Submission is following my husband’s lead even when I think he is wrong.  It is giving him the reigns and trusting God for the outcomes.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed in this area despite vowing to “honor and obey” him.  But I can tell you what I’ve learned.

Submitting is better than refusing, even when I disagree with my husband’s decisions.  God says this is my responsibility.  In order to obey God, I must obey my husband.  It is my husband’s responsibility to make God-honoring, wife-loving choices.  If he fails, I may indeed suffer.  But I will not suffer as one who has disobeyed God.  That kind of suffering is never in vain.  If, on the other hand, I choose to usurp my husband and do as I think is better, I will suffer and be disciplined for my own disobedience to God.

Perhaps there is a reason Paul chose to start with wives.  Our influence and attitude matters immensely.  It effects how easy or how difficult it is for our husbands to love us well.  Our submission is not weakness, it is strength.  It does not mean we are inferior, it means we trust God’s design more than our own ideas.  It means we trust God’s order more than we fear our husband’s flaws.

I aid my husband’s ability to love me well when I surrender to God by submitting to him. This is God’s will for those he calls to be wives.

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