Ephesians 2:4-5 “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
I grew up in the shadow of a military training base. My Boy Scout leader was a drill instructor. Many of the adults in the periphery of my life were in the military. My father was in the Naval Reserve and wore his Senior Chief uniform proudly. He tried to keep my brothers and sister shipshape. Everything had its place, and everything should be in that place. To his dismay, it was seldom as he would expect. I grew up with absolute expectations of proper behavior and most often came up short of my father’s spit and polish.
I have spent years living and breathing in the world of expectations of other people. I lived in constant threat of disappointment to the socially acceptable norm. My ingrained nature is one of trying to live up to someone else’s imposed expectation. I failed a lot. Trying as I might, I could not be what the world expected because their expectations never included mercy.
I have found a new life. Now I live in mercy. I have experienced it. I have cultivated it. I have a great need for it. I cannot exist without it. And when it becomes a part of me, my life finds truth, purity, holiness, peace, wisdom, completeness, delight, joy, and victory. My years of living in this great mercy cause me to show mercy.
Lord, remind me again and again that in your mercy I need to show mercy.
I Peter 4:12-13 “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice since you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
From these words from Peter spring two emotions. One of fear of an impending trial of my faith, and second hope. These words tell me there is little to shadow my current joy. Yes, things happen. Yes, there will be events in my future that could well rock my belief in my fellow man. Peter tells me don’t be surprised at the inhumanity of man. He tells me there will be events that could well steal away my personal peace and personal comfort. “It rains on the just and the unjust.” The manner in which I have become accustomed, can and will be disturbed. It will happen. It may cause strange and disturbing thoughts and even actions. Nevertheless, when the skies seem to be falling and the enemy presses hard and heavily, I am called to reflect on the hope that never fails. I have an “inheritance incorruptible and is undefiled and will never fade.” That is my peace.
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in my heart. I have learned to live in the question.”
Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Paul, writing to the Romans disturbs me. How do I know that God is causing the infinite and the totality of things to become good? War, pain, pandemic, unrest, in the large, and the weakness of my life, the small, become good? I live a life of gradual delegation to inactivity and frailty, how can these things become good? Ministry seems so far off. I struggle to be all that God wants of me. I must take the voice of Paul who faced terribleness and trust God to be in my imperfect world. I must love God and acknowledge his purpose. I must keep making one step at a time. I well understand the happenings of my life are to make me different. To make me better. I already have received the greatest miracle of all, which is eternal life. I will continually keep crying out to God knowing His Word is true. All things transformed into good. It is a miracle.
Colossians 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
The electricity was out for a while this early morning. No coffee, no heat, no internet, and no TV. When it came back on I heard the wistful and melodious words of my wife, “Thank God.” Emotions pointed at the supplier of our power were not that good when all went black. But the moment it returned, attitudes changed. All was forgiven.
Why does God care so much as to forgive me for all the dumb decisions, willful acts, nurtured bad habits, and purposeful neglect? Why would the personified perfection of God desire to have such a flawed, imperfect person like me be a part of His family? Why would God want to call me “beloved”, “child”, or even “heir”? We are saved to save. WE ARE FORGIVEN TO FORGIVE. It is the greatest Godly act we can do. Forgiveness is love acting out. It is not keeping records of wrongs. Forgiveness is being kind when wronged. Forgiveness does not dishonor. Forgiveness is not self-seeking. It is love.
Acts 7:59-60 “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
As the stones of unrighteous indignation were being thrown, Stephen knew that Christ was the Judge and not the crowd of hurlers. He knew that in just moments he would be standing in Christ’s presence. His prayer was not, “forgive me for the life I have lived” but “Forgive those who sin against me.” Stephen did not ask for forgiveness for himself. He was not thinking about the judgment that he was going to meet so soon. Stephen was forgiven before the first stone hit his brow. He had no fear about judgment for himself, and so when the last stone struck, the desire of his heart and mind was for those who were hurtling stones and breaking his body. Without hesitancy, Steven’s focus was not on the stones and pain, but on his persecutors. I am closer than most to my earthly end, but I do not fret about it. Like Steven, I am now more concerned about you.
1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Occasionally I receive remarks and comments on my writing. Not too long ago, I was called up short by a comment on the harshness of God’s view of man. God does see his creation as flawed and corrupted, and this willfulness on our part separates us from Him. Further, I understand how God has interacted with and often tested his people. The result of this testing has been mostly repeated failures. It is terrible to fall into an angry God’s hands. It is a terrible state of mind to only think of yourself as constantly unworthy. Conviction of my state is the first step to understanding my need to be forgiven. A need to experience God’s mercy and grace. Everyone, including me, has corrupted the image of God in which we were created. This feeling of being less than expected or even unworthy should point to something more than dwelling in the slough of self-loathing.
I am saved by grace. I am forgiven of my multitude of flaws. I have felt the mercy of God upon my face. I walk boldly in the calm, sweet, renewed path set before me, and I don’t look back.
Acts 3:19 “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,”
The sun is out this morning. It seems like there has been rain or a threat of rain for almost a month. There are showers of refreshing for all those who are willing to stand out in them without fear of getting soaked. A sign on my wall so aptly states, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but learning to dance in the rain.”
God’s favor is for those who have been made clean, made into new creatures, being made in His image. Similar to the hymn we used to sing in church:
There shall be showers of blessing,
This is the promise of love
There shall be seasons, refreshing
Sent from the Savior above.
Showers of blessing we need
Mercy drops ‘round us are falling
But for the showers, we plead.
Refresh me again Oh God.
Revelation 21:5 “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Revelation, the last book of the Bible, is difficult to understand. Visions of beasts, horses, fire, judgment, and images that are simply unimaginable. It is just weird. But then again, I am weird too. To the world my belief is weird. I am weird enough to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, survived in the wilderness 40 days, walked on water, healed the sick, raised a man from the dead, was hung on a cross, and rose from the dead, was and is God and now sits at the right hand of the Father. If I am weird, so be it. Join me in my weirdness. Perhaps, our stubborn defiance of the norm will make a difference in the world.
Colossians 3:9-10 “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
In California, winter snow is delegated to the high mountains. The stark contrast of white is seen from the valley and is a welcome sight knowing the coming summer will have enough water. Winter is the far edge of spring. At this point in my life, I too am at the far edge of my beginning. At this time of year, I listen to the rain rhythmically on my roof. The leaves have been raked, and all else has been put away for protection. In the summer we pray for rain. In winter we pray for sunshine.
Nevertheless, with winter comes a promise of spring. Spring is putting off the quiet for the new. I look forward to the spring. It is about pressing on to bigger and better things. I am not exaggerating when I say last year was tough. As I move on with my life, I often must stop and remember to cleanse my mind from the negative and fill it with the wonder, splendor, grace, and mercy that pours from the creator. Renewal in the knowledge of my image moving toward the image of Jesus.
Romans 6:4 “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
It seems like an eternity ago. A little creek outside Red Bluff, California became the assigned place where the church gathered that special day. My church had come to see, among a few others, a brash, loud, red-headed kid be baptized. It was a public display of my faith. The word baptized just means to be well-wetted. I was dunked for what seemed an eternity and up out of the water I came sputtering and coughing. I had forgotten to hold my nose. An outward sign of an inward change in my life. It was giving up on the past forever. It was cleansing of my soul. Clean for a new life, a life worth living. A life with an objective. A life with hope. A life with a goal. A new life.