It will be easy to miscommunicate on this subject, so let me state my premise, and then we’ll go to work on the subject: It’s my observation that most of the gifts of mercy that operate in our culture – both secular and spiritual – are messed up – out of control – and as a result, our mercy often does more harm than good. There are people who have what the Bible describes as a gift of mercy, and they’re real gifts. But too often, the gift is used inappropriately.
Let’s contrast this a couple of ways: First, there are others, who don’t have that gift, for whom it is less instinctive to respond with mercy; we’re not going to discuss these people today. Second, it’s possible to use this gift out of impure or inadequate motivation as it is for any other gift, and here is where there are some interesting lessons.
The other day I saw a mother and child in a grocery store; you’ve seen them too. The child is acting out in selfishness or in rebellion, and instead of disciplining the child, mom capitulates and the child gets her candy and is appeased for the moment. (We see the opposite often enough as well: a parent in the grocery store who disciplines the child to the point of abuse, but that’s not the point of this article.)
A friend of mine (we’ll call him “
The goal here is not to accuse or judge the addicted daughter, though doubtless she made her share of mistakes. The bigger error here may have been mom and dad not tempering their mercy with wisdom. Their choice was not between mercy and judgment (that one’s over: the Book is clear that “mercy triumphs over judgment”), but rather between the mercy of emotions and the mercy that is built on wisdom.
I tell these stories to illustrate my premise: most of the mercy gifts in the church today are out of control. First, we make the same mistake that
The second mistake we make is that we let the world tell us how we should express mercy, rather than letting God instruct us, and the world is not well informed in the wisdom of God. So the world says, “Do something, for pity’s sake!” and that may be part of the problem: pity is not the answer.
We see people making poor choices, and we want to make those choices for them. We see people hurting, and we want to ease the pain. But in reality, if we make their choices, then they never learn wisdom; if we ease their pain, then they never learn the lessons that discomfort can bring.
So rather than just jumping in to “rescue” and “fix it” and “save them”, I am proposing that we the church actually look to our Head for wisdom: “How would You like to meet this need, Lord?” Because none of us can claim to be more merciful than God, and certainly none of us can claim more wisdom than He. And because we’re damaging people by rescuing them unwisely.
So when we see people hurting, let’s stop and pray. Let's respond with the wisdom of God, not react out of our flesh.
For days, probably weeks, I thought about that problem. I drove the car and listened to the transmission noises. I talked with knowledgeable friends about my stupid transmission. I examined our finances (or rather the lack thereof) and how they would (or would not) apply to transmission costs. I studied transmission problems on the internet, and got involved in some chat groups that helped diagnose the problem. I whined. I worried. I probably cursed. I hated that transmission. It kept me from sleeping for days.
But for reasons that I still don’t understand, the transmission never improved as I examined it and its problems. It kept dropping out of gear on the freeway. It kept shifting funny. The problem never went away, no matter how hard I examined it, no matter how much I worried about it!
Talking about car problems makes this behavior look kind of obvious, but we do the same thing in our personal lives. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many people think that talking about their husband’s problems will fix him. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many church members act as if talking about the pastor’s problems will make them go away. When we ask for prayer, we do it in great detail, making sure that the folks we’re talking to understand every detail and feel every pain, to the point that we often forget to pray for the problem ourselves. (Sometimes such a detailed prayer request functions as gossip in a thin disguise; that's another issue altogether, which I am not addressing today.)
Looking at the problem will not solve the problem. I don’t care what the problem is, or how desperately I want it solved. Some of us – and I think this is worse in the church – seem to think that thinking about our problem, or talking about it, or worrying about it, will somehow solve the problem.
We seem to think that if we let the problem slide out of the center of our attention, somehow we’re being irresponsible, somehow we’re not doing our job, that if we worry enough, somehow we’re not responsible for the problem we’re worrying about.
Looking at the problem will not solve the problem; looking at the solution will solve the problem.
I can examine the problem seven ways from Sunday, and I won’t make it better. Until I stop looking at the problem and start looking at the solution, all I’m doing is losing sleep and generating excess stomach acid. Until I stop whining about my problem, all I’m doing is spreading my problem among my listeners; it’s like sneezing in their face: it does nothing good for me and it is likely to make them sick as well.
We live in a day and age when problems are all our culture wants to talk about. (Good thing we know how to separate ourselves from our culture, eh?) The news is full of problems. Gossip columns abound and are becoming more strident in their declarations of the woes of the rich and famous. Television is littered with commercials declaring our problems and why we need to spend our money on their products to solve a problem we didn’t have until they selflessly told us about it. It’s an all-out assault on our souls!
I’m convinced that Hebrews 12 is one of the more important weapons for the season we’re in.
There are two commands in here: Let us fix our eyes on
Look again: in between the two commands to look at
o He’s the author of my faith;
o He perfects (or fulfils, completes) my faith;
o He endured the cross by focusing on the joy set before Him;
o He has gone through the troubles and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
In other words, I can acknowledge the problem, but I do it from the perspective of the solution; I can look at the problem, but I must do it from His perspective!
If I stop to think about it this whole passage is all about me! He didn’t endure the cross because it seemed like a fun thing to do on a Friday afternoon in Palestine. He did it because there was stuff that kept me from Him (it’s called “sin”), and the cross was the only way to move it out of the way. He did it because he looked beyond the pain (the cross) to the joy set before Him. (Yes, Tinkerbelle, I am His happy thought!)
Now if the Incarnate Son of God needed to look past His troubles to the joy on the other side, what makes me think that I need to focus on my troubles? Am I somehow better or stronger or wiser than Him?
One last observation from the passage: the conjunction “so that” indicates cause and effect: do this “so that” that happens. Here, it’s “consider Him so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart.” If you’re weary, if you’re losing heart, this passage says it could well be because you’re not looking at Him. The solution is to change your perspective – to repent – and to look at Him instead of your own problems.
And that problem transmission? One day, I finally looked at the solution: I took the car to a transmission expert. He took a quick look at it, and said, “Oh sure, I know what that is! Come back in a two days.” He fixed it. And now my transmission is fine.
Looking at the problem will never solve the problem. Looking at the Solution is how to solve the problem.
I was awakened this morning in the middle of the dream. As I worked to get my bearings, the Holy Spirit whispered to my spirit: “You just had a dream. It was about the need to use a different weapon in each different season that comes upon you.”
After talking with my bride for a minute, I stumbled into the … er, the “library” and God & I continued our conversation. I’ll cut to the chase.
I believe that the circumstances we confront, the “battle” if you can handle the warfare metaphor, will be changing, perhaps rapidly. Moreover, every time the nature of the circumstances change, we’ll need a new weapon. For example, I was instructed that right now, I need to use the weapon of “Rest in the Spirit.” I’m actually pretty good at resting, at least at physical rest, and I’m gaining expertise at resting my soul – my mind, my will and my emotions. But I’m not as good at resting in Him. Nevertheless, that’s my weapon for this week.
I heard that, at least for me, the battle will be changing at the end of this week, when I will need the new weapon of “Confronting the Lie with the Truth.” Sounds cheesy, I know. Nevertheless, I believe that this is a legitimate warning for others as well: we’ll need to develop proficiency in a number of weapons (or “disciplines” if you like that better) to confront a variety of assaults against us in the coming weeks and months.
Later this morning, after this whole interesting conversation, I received an email from a friend in Canada, warning that he’s hearing God talking about what he calls “a major initiative by the enemy” in the realm of “dead spirits rising.” I translate that to include “Things that I have overcome are coming back for another shot at me,” and indeed many folks I know have been dealing with that in the past 24 hours or so.
So you can take this warning as you like: it has cost you nothing and it may be worth nothing to you. As for me and mine, we’re going to keep our eyes open for changes in the circumstances that confront us, and keep our ears open for appropriate responses in the Spirit to keep us in all this.
My kids are experts at videogames, as are their peers. I don’t know anyone of my generation that plays the kind of games that the teenagers do, so I took on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. My daughter is my tour guide through Zelda’s lands, and she coaches my battles with the bosses, but she still thinks it’s strange that her fifty-something dad is playing Zelda.
I’m playing the game for several reasons, but I think God has other reasons. For me, I want to have fun, yes, but more than that, I want to understand the mindset of the games because it influences their culture and generation: I want to understand that influence; after all, that generation is already assuming the leadership of the Church in North America.
I’ve been learning some really interesting life lessons from video games. Zelda, at least, encourages values like teamwork, curiosity, persistence, loyalty. But did you know that Zelda is an excellent training tool for learning about spiritual warfare? I was stunned!
Think about it: these games – Zelda included – are all about moving into a new territory, overcoming the enemy in those places, learning lessons, discovering treasures, and finding weapons in the new territory, taking out the big boss (the stronghold), and then finally occupying the territory. Along the way, we get shot at, we overcome enemies; if we fail the test, then we go back to the beginning of the level (“Game Over”) and we try again. If we succeed, then (usually) we’re given back our “life points” (we’re healed) and we emerge a more formidable warrior.
That strikes me as a pretty good picture of the real world, or at least one aspect of the real world: As we grow, God brings us into new territory – like He did with the Israelites in Exodus, but the new territory has not been pre-conquered for us.
Our job – like in Zelda – is to run around discovering what is waiting for us in the new territory: what opportunities, what weapons, what enemies, what treasures. We capture the treasures, pick up and learn the weapons, overcome the enemies, and grow in experience and strength through the whole experience. Eventually we confront a substantial enemy (the “big boss” of the level) and it takes everything we have learned and every weapon we’ve found to overcome him, but when we do, his plunder is ours, his territory is now ours, and we are more formidable than we’ve ever been.
When Israel had conquered Canaan, they suddenly had a homeland for themselves that was among the richest in the world. When we conquer the enemies and landmines in the territory that God gives us, we have new wisdom, new strength, new influence. Obstacles and temptations that would challenge and threaten us are suddenly insignificant. Life blooms around us, and people and ministries are strengthened by our presence in their lives. It takes everything we have, but the reward is worth the cost!Besides, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us – like my daughter is doing for me – to help us find the enemies, to show us the weapons and the treasure caches, to guide us along the way. We can do this!
It had been only three or four days since I heard first whisper to me, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you,” and in those few days, two other people have come to me with the same message. They’re the first two people who have brought that particular verse to me in more than a decade.
There is a commonly held opinion in the church today that we are now raising the last generation that will live on this planet, that the end of this world is near and that Jesus will soon come back to collect His bride and take home to Him in Heaven. I’ve known some young believers who jokingly engage in “Rapture Practice”: standing outdoors and jumping towards heaven, arms outstretched, as if to be taken heavenward any second.
And I’ve heard some Christians grow frustrated with the leaders of this world, and write them off with, “Aww, they can have it!” the clear implication being that they are soon to abandon this world for the next. I remember old hymns by the names of “I’ll Fly Away” and “I’ve Got A Mansion, Way Up Yonder.”
On the other hand, there are other believers who live from day to day, not paying much attention to the imminent return of
Both groups are in error, of course; the “Steady Eddie’s” for ignoring the approaching Day, and the Rapture Fanatics for ignoring their assignments on Earth.
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to be away of the drawing near of that day, and to make changes in our lives accordingly:
The way I see it, we’re supposed to live for heaven, but we’re supposed to live on earth. We live with our eyes on our Heavenly Father, but our hands on the work that He’s given us to do on this earth.
Scripture is given, you recall, as an example to us.
There’s a verse that I’ve been puzzling about for a long time. Finally, with this command of “Invest in your community, Son,” it begins to make sense:
A newer translation says it this way:
The English word “occupy” is a military word; it means you’ve already conquered the territory, now keep it governed for the new rulers. The Greek word for “occupy” or “do business” is pragmateúomai and it is a business term, but it’s a term of ownership, not busywork. It means both “Be engaged in a business for profit,” and “be occupied with reference to the affairs of state.
God is looking for a gain, a profit, an increase from us, which means that we must invest the resources that He’s given us into the people and circumstances that He’s placed around us.
Clearly, He’s not looking for money from us; “You can’t take it with you” clearly applies, but having money is a fine way to accomplish a profit in terms of lives, of influence, of relationship. Have you noticed how much influence the wealthy have as compared to the poor?
So the command is to invest in the community that God has placed you into.
Our place is to be in the world, not of the world. The other half of that, of course, is to be of Heaven, but not yet in Heaven: we have a job to do here.