Grace and Mercy


What is mercy? What is grace? Usually I would give a definition to explain what they both are.  I might reach into the mind of theological professors to find out what they believe grace and mercy are.  But today, I’m not interested in what the definition is.  I don’t need to know what others think they know about it.  Today, I have some real life situations I’d like to examine to show you what grace and mercy are.

Sometimes I get tired in my theology class, so I bring fruit chew candies to my class to keep myself awake. I decided I would offer two of my classmates a piece of candy.  The first guy declined my offer, and wouldn’t take a piece of candy.  The second guy accepted my offer without hesitation, and I gave him a Starburst.  But what if, in the minutes following, the first guy decided he did want the candy?  What if he changed his mind?  Would I have given him the candy? Would he have had the courage to ask me again? Or would he have waited until I again offered the candy?

In the movie Training Day, starring Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Dr. Dre, and Ludacris, there’s a great example that I’d like to use.  At the beginning of the story, Ethan Hawke is a rookie police officer and is about to get a one day evaluation by Denzel Washington. Denzel wants to evaluate him to see if he’s good enough to be on the undercover drug team.  Denzel is sitting in a Diner, and Ethan walks in and sits down. Denzel then offers Ethan breakfast, but Ethan turns down the breakfast.  After a few minutes of them sitting there and having a conversation, Ethan decides to get some breakfast after all, but Denzel yells at him, and tells him that he messed that opportunity up, and now, can’t get breakfast.

This scene in Training Day is a great example of what God’s mercy and grace IS NOT LIKE.  If we deny the grace God has for us, but ask for it at a later date, He will not hold out on us.  No matter when we ask for it, He will have that salvation for us.  Denzel Washington had no mercy or grace, and when Ethan Hawke asked for breakfast later, he wasn’t allowed to get any.  But when we say no to God, say no to God, say no to God, and then say yes to God, He is there with open arms.  God’s love is so abounding, that a sinner, someone who denied Christ, someone who spat at the name of God, can be saved.  That’s what we see with Paul in the Bible.  He murdered Christians, and laughed at Christ.  He hated these followers of Jesus, and did everything he could to put them in jail, and have them executed.  But when he realized Christ was the Saviour, and that he had been wrong, God did not hold out his mercy and grace.  God’s salvation was freely given, because God’s grace and mercy covers all.

The Bigger Picture


So what is the bigger picture?

Over the past decade, we have all been searching for the bigger picture in one way or another. The best example I can point out is that of the television. We have left the tube t.v. and found ourselves buying flat screen televisions. But why? Well the only answer I can give you is, that we want to see the bigger picture. The normal screen has been replaced by the wide screen, and almost every channel has formatted itself to be played in high definition. We all want to be able to see the details going on within the frame. We are called to the bigger picture. I believe that the same should be true for those in the Christian faith.

Every Christian has heard the passage in Romans 10 that says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  It’s a foundational truth that many Christians base their entire faith upon.  But many people just leave it at that.  They go through their life knowing that they are a Christian, and worrying about their own salvation. They will quote you Romans 10:9, and try to convince you that they are doing everything they need to do to be a “good” Christian.

About two weeks ago, I was in New Mexico attending a Christian student retreat.  The focus of the week was on missions, and how our lives as Christians should not be focused on our profession, or how much money we make, but on the kingdom of God and how we are called by God to further it.  You see, people will quote Romans 10:9, and try to convince you that they are doing all they need to do, but have they even read what comes next in the following passages? Well here it is:

Romans 10:9-15 (NLT)  If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

Romans 10:9 indeed does tell us how we are to be saved, but the passages following tell us what we should do after being saved.  Once we are saved, we should long for others to find the same saving grace that we did, and the only possible way for them to be saved is for someone to tell them.  Romans 10:15 tells us that whoever is the messenger is a beautiful person.  It literally says the feet of that person are beautiful, and in the days of the Apostles, when Paul wrote Romans, the common footwear was a pair of sandals.  I don’t believe their feet were aesthetically pleasing to the eyes at all.  Paul uses this analogy to tell us that whoever goes to the unreached and tells them about Jesus Christ is overly beautiful, because they left the comfort of their home, their culture, and many times their language to tell others that Jesus loves them.

As a Christian, we should strive to see the bigger picture.  We should not only focus on what we are doing right now, but also focus on what God is doing here, and around the world.  If we are able to see the bigger picture, God will use our skills to further His kingdom.

The Other One


It was right there in front of me, and no one was watching.  On a normal day, I never would have thought about it.  I had never considered myself a thief, but it was hard times.  I needed the money.  And if it was needed by the owner, he wouldn’t just leave it out all alone.  I grabbed the coin purse.  A few other silver pieces were laying on the table, so I grabbed them also.  but just then, someone exited the nearby building, and looked straight at me.

“Hey! What are you doing?” He yelled, as I fidgeted with the coin purse trying to put it into the pocket on my robe.

I turned and ran.  My heart started racing, and adrenaline overcame me.  It was too easy to follow me, first of all, I left tracks in the soft dirt, and second, a cloud of dust was being formed behind me.  I had to outrun him.

“Stop him. Thief. Stop him!” Came the cry from behind me.  I obviously wasn’t alone.  I took a glance over my shoulder, and he was right there, only about ten yards behind me, on the pursuit.  I kept up my pace as best as I could, and so did he.  I wove around corners, and through the town, as if I was trying to escape a maze.  If he caught me, and turned me in to the authorities, the punishment would be harsh.  I knew I couldn’t get caught.

All of a sudden, my path turned into a dead end.  In front of me, was a wall.  I tried to think of a way to get over it, but it was impossible.  I turned around, and just like that, he was there.

I didn’t know what to do.  I thought about giving up, but giving up meant letting him turn me in, and the penalty for robbery was one that I did not want to accept.

“You’ll pay for this,” he said as he advanced.

I wanted to explain that I was in need of the money, but even then, that didn’t give me the right.  So I stayed silent.  I thought that if I fought him, and punched him a few times, I’d have a chance at getting away, and him never seeing me again.

So I moved closer.  He made the first move, and swung at me, but I leaned back and let his arm move right past my face.  And it was then that I saw my opportunity.  With my left arm, I jabbed towards his jaw, and made contact.  He definitely wasn’t ready for what came next. As I brought my left arm back, I used my momentum to produce a devastating blow with my right fist.  It whirled around his guard and caught his left ear, putting him on the ground.

I immediately took off running. I turned the corner looking back at my victim.

BANG!

I was on the ground and dazed.  For a few seconds, I was looking straight into the sky.  Then I saw a helmet, and a chest plate, and then a spear.  A Roman soldier!

There were two of them.  The one that knocked me over picked me up, and the other one grabbed my arm with a firm grasp.  I knew I was caught.  I knew this was very bad and that I had made a mistake.

The man I punched spent a bit of time on the ground.  The Roman soldiers did not assist him to his feet, for he was a Jew, and even though they were the authority, they didn’t like us Jews very much.  When he managed to get to his feet he came over to where they were holding me yelling.  He seemed very upset.

“What exactly happened?” The Roman soldier asked as he looked from me to the other man.

“Well, I was selling my clay jars outside of my home, and I decided to get a drink. I left my money bag on the table.  I was only gone for a few seconds, I didn’t think anyone would take it.  Then this man. . .” He said pointing at me. ” This man right here stole it, and I saw him take it right as I was walking back to my stand.  Then he ran and I chased him.  I know I’m out of shape, but when someone takes the money I have worked for all day, well, I am 15 again.  When I cornered him I tried to wrestle him down to get my money and he punched me in the face.  And then you two showed up. You should have been here earlier!”

The higher ranking soldier looked at me.

“And what do you have to say for yourself?” He asked.

I looked down in shame.  I had no excuse.

They marched me to the palace, well, more like I stumbled to the palace.  They chained both my wrists, and kept pushing me over as I walked to express their power.  They took me to Pontius Pilate.  He was the ruler over Jerusalem and I was about to be tried as a thief, and the use of violence was not going to help my case one bit.

When I stood before Pilate, there were no crowds.  The two Roman soldiers were there, and the one man whom I had stolen from.

He explained to Pilate what had happened.  And when Pilate asked me what had happened, I again had no answer.  I was guilty.  The punishment I was given was one that I thought was quite harsh.  Tears started to stream down my face as he condemned me to death, on a cross!  It was then that I tried to defend myself, but it was too late. Pilate had already left, and the soldiers turned me over to the prison guards.

I ended up staying in the palace jail for the night.  My one hand was bound in chains to the wall, and the other one was left free.  The floor was cold and damp.  I couldn’t sleep, but even if I was given a comfortable bed, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep.  I just thought about my life, and how I should have done it differently.  I prayed, and I prayed more.  I wanted God to save me.  I wanted God to give me one last chance.  Before I knew it, morning had come.  There were no windows, and the sunlight did not penetrate my cell.  The way I knew it was morning was that I could hear someone being beat out in the courtyard.  It signaled that the day had started, and someone was being beat badly.

The next thing I knew, a Roman soldier was standing at the door.  His keys clashed together as he found the appropriate one.  He grabbed me, and unlocked my hand from the chains.  He could tell that I was terrified, and didn’t even trouble with tying me up, he just grabbed me underneath the arm and walked me out to a courtyard where three wooden crosses lay.

Another prisoner was there.  He also was being held by a Roman soldier, but, he had his hands chained in front of him. I did not recognize this man.

All of a sudden, a couple of Roman soldiers marched a new man into the courtyard.  This man was bloody, and was only wearing his undergarments. I could tell that he was probably the man that was being beaten earlier.  As the man moved closer, he looked familiar.  And then, I realized who he was.  I had seen this man in the temple.

They forced me to pick up my cross. And they marched me out of the barracks and into the streets of Jerusalem.  There were crowds of people who lined the streets, watching as I trudged by, carrying the very thing that I would be nailed to.  I knew the crowd wasn’t there for me.  No one knew who I was.  I trailed behind the other criminal.  He was in front of me, he too carried his cross.  The crowd was not there for this man either.  The one that they were standing there for was a ways behind me.  He was the man who had been beaten and bruised.

When we got to the top of the hill which was called “The Skull”, they ripped my robe from my back, and laid me down on the cross that I had brought up with me.  Roman soldiers pierced my wrists, and my feet with nails as long as my hand.  The pain was overwhelming.

I turned my head to the right, and there he was.  His whole body was bloody, and he wore a crown.  It was a crown made from a plant; probably acanthus.  I watched as he was also nailed, and once all three of us had been attached, we were hoisted up, for all to see.

From Luke 23: 39-43 (NLT)

39 The other criminal on the cross turned his head as best as he could towards the man who was bloodied, and scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you?  Prove it by saving yourself- and us, too, while you’re at it!”

40 I inhaled real quick, and protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die?  41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”  42 Then I said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

43 Jesus allowed his head to swing partially towards me.  He took a breath and replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Missionary vs Humanitarian


Feeding the hungry, and taking a humanitarian stance on helping people in the world.

OR

Feeding people spiritually and showing them that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world.

Which one of these is more critical?  Which one of these would Jesus value more?  Well we see in the Bible, that Jesus spent a lot of time talking about how we should feed the hungry, help the widows and those who cannot take care of themselves.  We also see in the Bible that Jesus told his disciples that they should go into all the world proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and that they should make disciples.

In the last few years, I have run into a conflict.  I have heard Christian humanitarians say: “you cannot tell the truth of Jesus to those who are dead, so we should feed the hungry and be humanitarians.”  I have also heard Christian missionaries say: “What good is it if they are fed only to die later without hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.”

But to be honest with you, I believe that humanitarians and missionaries are not very different at all.  Why is it that they have to be separate?  I know of many organizations that do both, and I am very glad that they are, but I still hear about these conflicts between humanitarians and missionaries.

The church, which is the people who love and follow God do not need to be separate on this view.  The Bible, especially in Paul’s writing, calls the Christians to live in unity.  Paul writes that every believer is given different spiritual gifts, and that every spiritual gift works to further the kingdom of God.  Why is it that we argue the question of humanitarian or missionary?

This is my view.  I believe that the humanitarian should go to whatever country they go to and feed, love, give, and take care of anyone and everyone that needs it.  Providing this help is what Jesus wants them to do.  When they provide this help, when they connect with those people, they will be presented with opportunity to tell those people why they decided to go help. And then, they can explain that it is because of the love of God, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that they have come to give of themselves.  I believe that the missionary should go to whatever country they go to, and tell about Jesus and work as hard as they can to show Christ’s love in every situation.  And then, when those people are in need of food, or shelter, that missionary can become the humanitarian and provide what they need.  The humanitarian is also a missionary.  The missionary is also a humanitarian.

There does not need to be a conflict between these two positions.  God has called both the humanitarian and missionary to be witnesses of the true love and power of Jesus Christ.

-Zachary

The Great Surgeon


It’s bright. The light right above me, shines directly into my eyes. Around me they’re dressed in all white. Each one wears a mask over their mouth and nose; as to not catch my horrid disease. I lay still. The table upon which I lay is made of cold steel. My naked torso shivers as I lay. No one speaks, not even I. I have seen this room before; unfortunately, too many times. I am afraid. What shall He say? Will there be hope?

Then, He enters. He too wears white. But unlike the others, His authority is proclaimed in every step He takes toward the operating table. He does not wear a mask, there is no need. In His right hand, he holds a scalpel. So sharp there is no tissue that can withstand.

“I see you have a disease.” He says.

“Yes I do. I don’t know what to do.” I say in an unsure voice.

“Well there is hope.” He answers, as if He knew what I was thinking.

I don’t reply.  I have heard these words before, but somehow, I’ve left this table only to be right back in the same position; diseased.

He marks the spot upon my skin in which He will make the incision.  Right above where my heart beats.  Beating, yes!  Quite fast!

He makes the proper incisions, and removes the disease.  I am awake during the surgery, He wants me to see the work He is doing.  There is no speaking while he operates, and just like that, the last stitches are implanted into my chest. It’s over.

“It is finished.” He explains. “Your disease is no more, but stay in touch!”

“I will.” I answer.

I get up from the table, and quietly walk out of the room.  He stays in the room, preparing the table for the next patient.  At that, I leave the Great Surgeon to fix whoever else is in need of an operation.

Getting Closer


In my evangelism class, we were shown a video.  Here is that video:

The video shows a man with a certain handicap, and the only way that he is able to get people to show him affection, is by dressing up in this costume.  This video made me think, and from it, I bring you this blog post- Getting Closer

I think there is a lot that we as a society can bring away from this video, but, I’d like to expand it to a Christian dilemma. This man felt that he had to put on a full costume, and a mask to find affection.  From this video, I decided that he never did talk, but only spread his arms open; asking for closeness.

I think this means a lot to the Christian community.  Many Christians and non-Christians alike feel this same way.  They have sinned, as I have, and feel a lack of love from Christ followers.  They feel like the Christians around them won’t accept them for who they are.  Because of this, they put on a full costume.  From their head to toes, they wrap themselves in something that is more aesthetic to the eyes.  They know that they will be judged, and pushed away by the church, so they don’t allow their brokenness to be seen.  Furthermore,  they don’t speak- meaning they don’t allow themselves to unravel the hurt they are holding in.  They fear judgment and humiliation, when what they really need is someone to take the time to show them that God loves them no matter what they have been through.  Like I have said in previous posts, Jesus did not ask us to judge others, nor humiliate them.  He asked us to show them mercy.  There are multiple accounts in the Bible when Jesus talks about love and mercy, but there is no account of Jesus asking us to judge and humiliate each other.

God’s church is God’s followers.  A true follower of Jesus Christ will not push someone away because of what they have done.  No true Christ follower will avoid someone because of their past.  Christ did not push us away.  Jesus did not only hang out with the righteous.

In Matthew 9, Jesus is being rebuked by the teachers of law and the religious leaders for eating with tax collectors.  In their day, anyone who valued their reputation with the religious leaders would not have sat at the same table as a tax collector-they were viewed as sinners. Here is the passage.

Matthew 9:9-13 (NLT)  As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth.  “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him.  So Matthew got up and followed him.  10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.  11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”  12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor-sick people do.”  13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’  For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

We see here that God undoubtedly valued personal affection towards those who were sinners.  He did this not for personal gain, but so that they would know that Jesus was able to forgive them of whatever they had committed in their life.  That’s the same now.  Jesus calls us to reach out to the broken.  He asks us to love and show mercy.  If we are God’s people, why do we prick our noses up towards others in our own righteousness?  Righteous?  Really?  Nobody is righteous!  Only Jesus is righteous.  And because Christ showed us love and mercy, even in our brokenness, we too are called to show love and mercy. Get closer!  When you truly care about others and show them love, no matter how broken they are, then, and only then, are you getting closer.

Doors


I’m in a room full of doors. The room is circular, and all around me are doors. Everyone of them are the same; except one. The one door that differs from the others is shut. Every other door is open, and I hesitate. Every open door leads to a destination that I’ve already visited. The closed door though, is one that looks familiar, but I’ve never been able to actually step through it.  This one door, is made of mohagony wood, and looks brand new.  Unlike the other doors, this one stands out.  Every similar door is molding, rotten, and looks rough. I can’t seem to understand why, during my whole life, I’ve walked through the rotten doors, but haven’t been able to do the same with the mohagony door.  Every time I’ve gone through the molding doors, they all seem to lead right back to the same place; this room.  I mean, that’s how I got here anyways, by taking one of the rotten doors.  So here I am, a room full of doors.  This time I walk up to the mohagony wood, and turn the door handle.  It’s locked, and won’t budge.  I step back towards the center of the room, and right as I am about to choose one of the open doors, I get an idea.  I make my way to the mohagony door, and knock three times.  Firm knocks, I don’t want them to be unheard.  The door opens promptly, and standing there is a man.

“Are you ready now?”  He asks.

“Ready?”  I ask, as if I don’t know what He is talking about.

“Are you ready to start the journey?”

“Yes,” I answer, “yes I would love to take on this journey with you.”

He backs up to let me in.  “Then come on in, there is much for me to show you!”