Today something happened that brought these words of Jesus to mind: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13). When I got home, I then thought about this verse in connection with the first one and with my experience today – again in the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). And finally, I thought of James 2:12,13 that I read last night: Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What do you take these to mean all together and how do you apply them to your circumstances - especially in “mercy triumphs over judgment”? I can understand what “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” means because of the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35). To whom do we choose not to extend mercy?
Fill in the blank. My life matters if and only if:
- I have a prestigious position in my field
- I’m considered beautiful
- the “cool kids” are my friends
- my body is chiseled/I am slim and sleek/am a certain weight
- I have a head of hair (as an adult male)
- I drive a luxury car
- I’m in high society
- I have a certain amount of Twitter, FB, or blog followers
- I’m famous
- people trip over themselves to get my attention
- I’m in a relationship/married
- I have children
- I’m 50 years old or younger
- I have a high IQ
- I live in a prestigious neighborhood
- I have more than a 3.6 million dollar bonus
- my skin is a certain color
- I get into a prestigious program/school
- people affirm me
- I have lots of money
The above are some I thought of off of the top of my head. Personally, what have I had to fight back against lately? My Life Matters If And Only If…
- I sell a certain number of books
- certain people notice me
- I’m younger than I actually am
- my body is a certain composition (which is hard when I’m two days away from being 8 months pregnant)
Tonight I had to remind myself of this truth, a truth I remind myself of over and over: what God cares about the most is that I love him and love those who he puts in my path (and of course that I love myself, that I am kind to myself, and gracious towards myself as he is towards me).
When I stand before God I will not be judged by how many books I sold or who noticed me. I won’t be judged by my age or my body composition. I will not. Life is short. I am middle-aged now. Who knows how long I have to live? What matters is how I love God and those he puts in my path (and how I respond to those he brings before me who are far away).
I was also wondering how Jesus might have felt, how Jesus might’ve been tempted to fill in the blank during his time on earth. Would Jesus say, I matter if and only if:
- everyone accepts my message
- the religious leaders accept me
- I have hundreds of thousands of followers
- I am Caesar
- I’m rich
- everyone accepts that I am the wisest person alive
- everyone accepts that I am God
I don’t know exactly how Jesus would’ve responded. But, I do know that he had to fight the temptation to measure himself by the world’s standards and continually turn his face toward the Father. Jesus had to fight the temptation to measure himself by the ways of the world and instead measure himself by the truth, by what his and our Father says is true.
We all, everyone of us, need to tell ourselves the truth that God tells us. We are his beloved children. He delights in us. His love is deep and wide and more expansive than we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:14-21). And everyday, and also in the end, what matters is how we love.
* I must add this caveat: we all matter because we are God’s children. Some may be severely disabled, but they are God’s children. He loves them deeply and so should we. We all are to love each other and receive each other as gifts.
The Trouble With Epiphanies – by Ben L’Heureux
About hospitality Dennis Okholm says*, “what I find most irritating about practicing Benedictine hospitality when it comes to receiving the guest is the timing of the guest’s appearance. In the spirit of Benedictine hospitalilty I used to make a simple request each morning: ‘Lord, send someone today whom I can serve.’ But inevitably this someone would show up five minutes before I had to deliver a lecture . . . or before I was dashing off to lunch with a growling stomach. It got to the point that I could not pray this prayer with sincerity–unless I was in greater control of my encounters with guests. And that is precisely the point: the stranger at our ‘gate’ is as unpredictable in his appearance as Christ. To top it off, this stranger is often the kid who irritates me most, yet the one whom I must envision as Christ. That often takes not only patience but a lot of envisioning.”
* Monk habits For Everyday People
Okholm goes on to share this poem (I posted it once before within a text of a homily. But it is so good, I wanted to share it once more).
Christ came into my room
and stood there
and I was bored to death.
I had work to do.
I wouldn’t have minded
if he’d been crippled
or something–I do well
with cripples–but he
just stood there, all face,
with that d–ned guitar.
I didn’t ask him to sit down:
he’d have stayed all day.
(Let’s be honest. You
can be crucified just so often;
then you’ve had it. I mean
you’re useless; no good
to God, let alone
to anybody else.) So I said
to him after a while”
well, what’s up? What do you want?
And he laughed, stupid,
said he was just passing by
and thought he’d say hello.
Great, I said, hello.
So he left.
And I was so damned mad
I couldn’t even listen
to the radio. I went
and got some coffee.
The trouble with Christ is
he always comes at the wrong time.
Whether we believe God is generous or stingy makes all the difference in the world. It makes all the difference in how we live. We say God is generous, or at least, many of us do, but we relate to him as if he is stingy.
I talk about this in my book when it comes to God’s provision and his attitude toward us. We live out the theology we hold, not just the theology we articulate. A college student, Emma, shared this excerpt from of A Beautiful Disaster, an excerpt she appreciated:
“It is we who must learn to receive God’s gifts. Only a soul wide awake, a heart tenderized through suffering and sacrifice while in communion with God, learns to receive with gratitude. God desires that we know Him as loving and most gracious, always providing for His children and for those who do not even acknowledge Him. With the same affection expressed toward the older brother in the story of the prodigal, He beckons us, saying, ‘Everything I have is yours (Luke 15:31).’ He enthusiastically provides us with His life and His joy.”
-A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves
Do we really believe God is generous or deep down do we really believe he is ripping us off? Reflect on Luke 15:31: “Everything I have is yours.” What does that mean for your life? What is God saying to you? Do you have to wrestle with him over the truth of that statement? Call him to accounts? Maybe you do. That’s alright. I think when we really start to believe that statement, that everything he has is ours and that his is a disposition of generosity, we are transformed.
It’s really okay to wrestle with him and to tell him that you don’t believe it. Ask him to show you the truth of “Everything I have is yours”. It could take years. But he’ll do it.
Click to the right on my book cover (or on this link right here) and you can order A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness from Byron and Beth Borger at Hearts & Minds Books. They are independent booksellers that I admire and support. You can also pick it up at Barnes & Noble or order it through Amazon.
‘The higher, the more in danger’. The ‘average sensual man’ who is sometimes unfaithful to his wife, sometimes tipsy, always a little selfish, now and then (within the law) a trip sharp in his deals, is certainly, by ordinary standards, a ‘lower’ type than the man whose soul is filled with some great Cause, to which he will subordinate his appetites, his fortune, and even his safety. But it is out of the second man that something really fiendish can be made; an Inquisitor.
C.S. Lewis, Reflection on the Psalms (New York: Harvest Book, 1964), 28-32.
How have you (if you have) clung to Jesus and his community after supposed Christians have acted the part of robbers on the road to Jericho beating you and leaving you for dead? That happened not too long ago to me, my family, lots of friends, and now I think the number is up to more than fifty people. I write about this wilderness experience in chapter five of my book, A Beautiful Disaster (<click here to order it). Many have asked me how it is that I am still a Christian. And I’ve had some readers comment that they too have suffered in this way at the hands of supposedly Christian brothers and sisters that act more like the devil than a lover of Jesus and his community. I’d like to hear from you – how have you learned to forgive? Or maybe you’re still in the process of forgiving. Why haven’t you walked away when betrayed by some of the people of God?
Excerpt from Chapter 5 of A Beautiful Disaster
What happens when sin spreads through a community? I must admit that I have seen not only Jesus but also the devil standing in the midst of community. I’ve experienced the downright diabolical within Jesus’s family. Serpents will always be hissing about in the garden. As a result, we must watch our steps. No matter how many times this sabotage of community happens, I am still horrified when it appears that a fellow believer has morphed into one of Satan’s agents. Coming face-to-face with evil masquerading as Jesus is the vilest of all evils—a soul-scourging experience. No wonder some of us never recover. No wonder some of us abandon the faith or cannot bring ourselves to trust the church and its kind. We’ve seen the devil take a peek out from under his Jesus mask one too many times, and we want nothing to do with him. As Pascal noted, “Men never do evil so completely or cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” So we take flight, running for our lives from community lest we be completely devoured. This is a legitimate effort at self-protection. I used to have a radio program on a Christian radio station. The general manager once told me that churches were the worst groups of people with whom he did business. Too many didn’t pay on time or didn’t pay at all. At the time, his words greatly surprised me. I didn’t have a clue. Now, I’m no longer surprised. I am greatly troubled but not surprised. When I was younger, I thought like a child. And for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why so many people despised the church; all the church folk I knew were beautiful. But since then, I’ve been on staff at churches and Christian institutions. I’ve met the most beautiful people and tasted life. But, unfortunately, sometimes I’ve been severely tempted to take up permanent residence in disillusionment. I’ve grown up since the days I couldn’t imagine any wickedness within the church, for I’ve seen and heard plenty to sober me up. I’ve seen greed, lust, and vicious power plays cloaked in piety behind the veil of leadership. This reality begs me to shout, “Amen!” in solidarity with a line out of the Woody Allen movie Hannah and Her Sisters: “If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he’d throw up.” To me, it is very ironic that, frequently, unbelievers are more adept at spotting Jesus imposters than we are. Despite mounting evidence of wickedness, sometimes we don’t want to believe that our leaders, friends, or even we ourselves could be guilty of wrongdoing. We are blind to our own sin. Why do some of us casually gloss over odious and harmful behavior—why do we excuse sinful behavior in ourselves or our Christian leaders with, “We’re all sinners saved by grace”? More often than not, sometimes without knowing it, we pick and choose who gets a pass for their sin. We are inconsistent in our judgments and confrontations and with whom we choose to turn a blind eye.
Not long ago, I witnessed serpent-like Christians engaging in a full-scale witch hunt. Their sinister behavior almost destroyed the livelihood and Christian hope of an entire community.
[i] Blaise Pascal, Pensees (894), www.gutenberg.org/files/18269/18269-h/18269-h.htm (accessed December 26, 2013).