Tag Archives: mercy

The Way Up Is Down, Part 4: Seeing It Through

The way out is through.

For Lent this year, I chose to do the Whole 30 eating plan. I wasn’t feeling well in the area of digestion. I never felt hungry, always a bit bloated, and quite lethargic. I knew something had to change in the way I was eating. The Whole 30 isn’t a diet, per se, rather a gastric reset. The goal isn’t weight loss, but digestive health. The Whole 30 prescribes eliminating all processed foods, added sugars, grains, dairy, legumes, and alcohol. It wasn’t easy, but with the program being time bounded, 30 days, it was doable. I made it.

Even though I saw the program through, I don’t feel that I made much progress. There was more to the process than I anticipated. I think this may be true with anything we do to bring about change in our life. We start the process by implementing a program. We reach the end of the program, expecting to be done with the process, only to find out that the program was only the beginning of the process.

Programs reveal, empower, and relieve. They show us what needs to change and give us tools to make changes, which provide a sense of relief. If we are honest with ourselves, though, this is only scratching the surface of a much larger, longer, and deeper process of change.

I know that I need to revisit the Whole 30. I also know that there are a few other programs that I need to revisit in order to continue processes I previously started. This begs the question. Will I ever be done? Will there be an end to the process? I feel the answer is yes and no.

Yes. Most processes will come to an end. The process will have done its work. You will emerge in a better place, state, stage, etc. Even though the active work of the process will be done, you will continue to carry the work of the process. It will be assimilated into your life and will inform how you live your life. The work won’t feel like work, because it will just be life.

No. We will never not be in some sort of process. Life is full of destinations and arrivals. Finally arriving, in which we will never need to be in process, is not for this life. Sanctification, enlightenment, or whatever you choose to describe this arrival, has within it a recognition of incompleteness. Our completeness is found when we realize that we are a part of a larger whole. We are incomplete, and yet we make whole that which is incomplete without us. These little arrivals empower us to continue on in the process of living this life and even encourage others to begin their own process.

The way out is through.

“Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me?’ Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”
John 16:19-20 (NIV)

Seeing a process through can be very difficult. From the passage above, Jesus said you will weep and mourn. It will seem like you are the only one going through your process. It will feel like others are rejoicing. They’re not. Their life will just look different than yours. There will come a time when the process will come to an end. Your grief will turn to joy.

The way out is through.

Grace and peace,

semicolon tattoo

I got this tattoo for my 45th birthday. It reminds me to stay engaged in my processes. When people ask me what it means, my short answer is, “My story is not finished.”

In All Things

Recently I have been watching prior seasons of the reality show Survivor. One scenario that is in the back of everyone’s mind, both contestant and viewer, is the blindside. A blindside is where contestants work together to get a player voted off the island, except the targeted player is usually clueless of what’s coming. From the recipient’s perspective, blindsides are never good, unless God is orchestrating the blindside. Let me briefly share my “God blindside” that happened this morning.

My day probably couldn’t have started any more off than it did, outside of some major tragedy. When I came into the office, a faithful friend and co-worker, sensed I wasn’t doing well, so he asked if I was ok. All I could verbalize was that I wasn’t ok. He gave me a gentle encouragement to trust that God is at work in whatever is going on.

I sat with that encouragement as I started work for the day. An email from a friend regarding this Sunday’s worship gathering at VLC was also a source of encouragement. Her proposed theme comes from 2 Peter 1:2-8. Soon after that, God reminded me of Romans 8:28.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

Sunset through distant trees as tall grass waves in foreground

What I referred to as a “God blindside” is nothing more than being surprised by God’s proactive lovingkindness on my behalf. God’s benevolence intersected my path and drew me into the present moment, where God’s presence fully dwells and the only place where God’s love can be fully recognized and experienced.

As I reflected on the passage above, the phrase that stood out to me was “in all things.” I realized that up until this point, I was asking “why” questions regarding my situation. This passage helped me to see that I needed to be asking “how” and “what” questions. For instance, “How can I participate with God not only for my benefit, but for the benefit and benevolence of those who are walking with me in these painful times.” (You can read “for my benefit” as submitting myself to God’s presence to learn and grow with openness, graciousness, and love.) Another question is, “What can I do to become and remain mindful of God’s active presence in all things, moment by moment?” These are the questions that came to me as I reflected on God at work in all things.

If you are questioning, struggling, or needing an encouragement of God’s love for you and yours, please know that God is at work in all things, and that we can trust that God has our best at heart.

May the promise of God’s active presence and lovingkindness lead you to the experience and trust of God’s goodness and love.

Grace and peace,

Being Mercy

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
(Matthew 5:7, NIV)

sunrise through the treesQuite often it is the understated that houses the greatest treasure. As I was looking at this passage, my initial thought was that there wasn’t much going on with it. I basically said to myself, “Well, of course, the merciful will be shown mercy.” I just wasn’t getting it. I actually had to sit with it for a few days asking the question, “What was Jesus trying to teach us with this simple couplet.” The answer I found was much richer than I had anticipated.

It was like Jesus answered my question with a question. “How is it that the merciful are able to show mercy?” 

I realized that in order to give mercy we must be able to identify with the need of the one seeking mercy. In other words, it takes empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel with someone. Empathy, though, is a by product of a much larger practice of being present. To be present is simply to pay attention to the opportunities to love someone as you would love yourself.

Mercy can be defined as: the moral quality of feeling compassion and especially of showing kindness toward someone in need. We all know what it’s like to need mercy, to need a helping hand, to feel the need to be released from the weight of judgement. This can be a tricky thing. Sometimes we don’t know that we need mercy. We’re struggling so hard that we don’t realize that someone is holding out a hand to help us. Sometimes we feel the pressure of judgement, but don’t realize that it’s only in our head. Understanding this and practicing being present toward others will give us the capacity to extend mercy.

Mercy will look as different as the opportunities there are to extend it. This is where the guidance of the Holy Spirit comes in. Mercy may be lending a helping hand, listening and reflecting with a dear friend, or extending forgiveness to someone who has hurt you.

Now, what about the second half of the passage? I don’t think this is a “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” type of situation. True mercy has no obligations attached to it. So, where will the mercy come from? I think it comes from the fact that the merciful know when and how to seek mercy, because they have made giving mercy a part of their own life.

May we be present to others and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, so that we will have a merciful heart, reflecting the heart of God for the world.

Grace and peace,

The Biology of Righteousness

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
(Matthew 5:6, NIV)

bee drinking nectar from fruit blossomWhen I’m hungry or thirsty, I usually don’t think of righteousness as something that would satisfy. A cup of coffee and a burrito, maybe! And, what is righteousness, anyway?! As you can see, I’ve been stumped by Jesus’ saying here. The more I thought about it, the more questions I had.
   • What is righteousness?
   • What does it mean to be filled or satisfied?
   • Why does Jesus use biological terms for a
seemingly spiritual activity?

These questions, and more, led me to some surprising conclusions. At least I didn’t see them coming!

The biggest hurdle for me was the aspect of righteousness and how it can be fulfilling. The most common definition I’ve heard in church is “the state of being in proper relationship with God.” This is a fine definition, but it didn’t seem to mesh for me with the idea of hunger and thirst. Hunger and thirst are earthy terms. This definition of righteousness spiritual, positional, and abstract. I felt like I needed a definition of righteousness that had feet to it. Then this passage came to mind.

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8, NKJV)

To be righteous is to do rightly with a view to justice, mercy, and humility. Logically speaking, it just feels good when we do good. It is satisfying feeling we get when we have just helped someone.

What does Jesus mean when he blesses those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness?” When we are hungry, we usually know what we want to eat. We can see it. We know what it tastes like. It’s something that lives inside of us before we even get a chance to do it. We see rightly before we do rightly. We know what it looks like, and we want to see it happen. Seeing the kingdom of God lived out in our world only happens when we see it lived out in us. To quote Josh Pinkston, quoting Jesus, “the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

So in wrapping my brain around Jesus’ words here I find that the satisfaction of righteousness is not static, but dynamic. It is alive like our appetites. The more we do rightly the more we are hungry to do it again. This doing comes from seeing what the world could look like when we all do rightly, justly, and filled with mercy and humility. I hope you can see it, just as I long to see it!

Grace and peace,

Embracing Mercy, Part 2

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies. (Psalm 23:5)

“Bread and Wine,” Albert York, 1966

“Bread and Wine,” Albert York, 1966

The table in this passage is a table of extravagant blessing. I’ve always wondered why it is prepared in the presence of my enemies. After studying about blessing and persecution for a talk I gave a few weeks back, I realize now that the table is not for me alone. A few verses later in this Psalm it reads, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” People who are known for their goodness and love are those who less concerned about what’s in it for them and more about who they can bless with what they themselves have been blessed with. As I see it, this table always has an extra chair and setting. When we choose to love our enemies, as Jesus taught, then the blessings of this table are all the more sweet, because it is a table where we people are loved and relationships restored.

All this reminds me of a quote I read on Twitter this week.

“I’ve found God is wanting to be known more in the person that annoys us, and less in sunsets.” @Sarcasticluther

This is never easy, and I’m sure we will find ourselves going around the mountain again and again on this one, but hopefully our company of travelers will grow with each successive trip as we learn to love God by loving others.

Grace and peace,

Embracing Mercy

I had a texting exchange with a good friend about coffee. He appreciates that I’m a coffee aficionado and has enjoyed the coffee I have roasted. Here is what he texted me.

coffeeConfession: When there are no means for good coffee while on a personal retreat, I turn into an amoral monster who will consume just about anything. Please forgive me.

Here is my reply.

coffee packetCounter confession: I keep one in my desk in preparation for the apocalypse!
Mercy granted for mercy received.

He replied with: Hahahaha!! Granted

It is easy for us to build bulwarks and facades around the things that we value. In this instance, good coffee. I often joke that I’m a coffee snob and wouldn’t touch anything less than specialty grade coffee. The reality is that I regularly drink Denny’s coffee when I go there to have breakfast with a friend.

The point is that we are finite carbon life forms. We have limitations. We are not perfect. When we grant mercy to others, we will most likely receive mercy in our time of need. Opening up to the mercies of our brothers and sisters opens us up to the restoring mercy of God. Loving our neighbor as ourself is as spiritual as it is practical.

Mercy granted for mercy received!

Grace and peace,