Mercy

Jesus Holding MeThe story takes place towards the end of King David’s life.  Once again he has messed things up in his life.  Through the prophet named Gad, David was given a choice of consequences.  Sin does come with a consequence, though we don’t often get to choose what the consequence will be.  Consequences just happen.  If you don’t study for your upcoming test, you may not pass the class.  If you commit a felony, you may end up in jail.

As David is contemplating the consequences to his sin, he makes an interesting statement.  And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.” (2 Samuel 24:14)

I think that for some of us, this is backwards to the way we are used to thinking.  We think we can get away with certain things with certain people because they always let us get away with things.  But when we think about God, we use words like harsh, cruel, and unforgiving.

To be honest, David had it right.  People are not by nature merciful.  You may manipulate them for a while, but most will one day push back, and with a vengeance.  God on the other hand is by nature merciful.  He doesn’t hold a grudge.  And He wants nothing but the best for us.  The best may indeed involve consequence, but it’s only aimed at turning us around.  His mercies are indeed great.

Waiting Patiently

QuicksandHave you ever felt so overwhelmed with a sense of darkness and hopelessness that you just can’t do anything? Our life can seem as if we’ve been caught in quicksand. In giving us a list of things “not to do when you’re blue”, Barbara Johnson, in her book Mama Get The Hammer, writes, “Don’t weigh yourself. Don’t watch Old Yeller. Don’t go near a chocolate shop. Don’t open your credit-card bill. Don’t go shopping for a new bathing suit.”

Now, though it might help for a while to avoid depressing things, David gives us the best prescription of all. He wrote, “I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me, And heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, And established my steps. (Psalm 40:1–2)

It sounds so simple, but it does work. If we will stop to actually turn to the Lord and spend time truly waiting on Him, what joy awaits us! David waited on the Lord, and he found a song in his mouth, a song of praise to God (Ps.40:3). And the more David waited on the Lord, he found himself overwhelmed with the incredible love that God had for him (Psa 40:5).

If you’ve been depressed, don’t just avoid depressing things. Go to the fountain of joy. Go to the One who loves you like no other. And wait upon Him. Patiently.

Foolish Anger

AngerFoolI might have been tempted to call him an “idiot”, but his parents had already done the deed by naming him “fool” (Hebrew:  Nabal).  Nabal was a wealthy man with a reputation for being harsh.  His wealth consisted of large flocks that his shepherds tended out in the wilderness.  David and his men had been helping Nabal’s shepherds, but when they came to Nabal to ask for a contribution to David’s cause, Nabal responded with insults.  His ingratitude was going to cause him great trouble because David began to consider taking action against Nabal.  Nabal’s shepherds decided to go to his wife for help.  They told her, “You need to know this and figure out what to do, for there is going to be trouble for our master and his whole family. He’s so ill-tempered that no one can even talk to him!” (1 Samuel 25:17 NLT)

I don’t know how we get there, but we can find ourselves in that same place where our anger keeps people from being able to talk to us.  Sometimes our anger is just accidental.  We didn’t mean to get angry, but to be honest, sometimes anger works.  Sometimes it gets people to do what we want them to do.  But anger also alienates people.  Who wants to take important news to a person who is “ill-tempered”?  I think that sometimes the angriest among us can’t even see that our anger keeps people at arm’s length.  Could someone give you bad news, or even correct you, without you going off on them?  Think carefully about it.  Have you been a fool?

Rescue

LifeguardHave you ever been in a situation where someone really, really, doesn’t like you?  Even to the point where you feel your safety is being threatened?  I know that some of you have.  I’ve watched as some of you have walked down some scary roads.  We know that the psalmist David had certainly been in that position many times.  I love the way that David can express the very same things that we are thinking and feeling when we go through difficult times.  For example, he writes, “In the Lord I put my trust; How can you say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your mountain”? For look! The wicked bend their bow, They make ready their arrow on the string, That they may shoot secretly at the upright in heart” (Psalm 11:1–2).

I suspect that our survival in scary times is tied to whether or not we turn to God and count on His help.  Trusting in Him doesn’t mean you won’t be scared.  But trusting in Him does involve stepping back enough to see that God knows what is happening, cares about us, and is able to help.  David writes, “The Lord is in His holy temple, The Lord’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men” (Psalm 11:4).

They say that one of the most dangerous moments for a drowning swimmer is when the lifeguard arrives.  Sometimes the drowning swimmer actually fights against what the lifeguard is trying to do and frustrates the rescue. Beloved, God knows how to rescue you.  Don’t fight Him.  Trust Him.

In the same boat

Clown BoatHere he was in the middle of the Mediterranean, on a boat manned by a bunch of clowns.  A storm was raging and, as far as he could tell, he was heading towards a death by drowning.  I imagine he might have thought to himself, “Who am I?  I’m just one person on a ship of 276 people.” He might have tried to rationalize that he wasn’t even a full paying passenger, just a lowly prisoner traveling with his guards. He could have said to himself, “What do I know? I’m just a tent-maker. I don’t know anything about sailing.”  He could have spent his time looking for the nearest flotation device to save himself.  But that wasn’t the apostle Paul.  He prayed.  He asked God to save not only himself, but the entire boatload of idiots.  And he got an answer. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ (Acts 27:23–24)

Sometimes things in our life just seem overwhelming, like the waves crashing in a storm.  But my friends, you are most likely not alone on your “boat”.  Look around you. There are most likely others who are “in the same boat” as you.  It could be your family.  It might be your friends.  It could just be a bunch of clowns. You may not feel you have much to offer, but you do.  You know God.  You can pray.  And God can use even you.

Great Faith

GideonIt seems to be both the strangest and bravest of all victories.  Three hundred men conquered a massive army of 135,000.  Gideon’s army wasn’t picked because of their ability to swing a sword.  They went into battle armed with torches and trumpets.  When God unfolded the battle plan to Gideon, you would think that Gideon was a man of great faith to take on such a venture.  And so on that night, “When the three hundred blew the trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled …” (Judges 7:22).

Was Gideon a brave man of “great” faith?  Hardly.  In fact, as you dig into Gideon’s story, you see a scared man who had to be convinced over and over again that God was asking him to take action.  Several times Gideon asked God for a sign, just to be sure he was on track.  He had to see fire come from a rock (Judg. 6:21) and fleeces wet with dew (6:37) before he went too far. Yet even then, it wasn’t until he snuck into the enemy camp and heard the Midianites talking about their fear of the Israelites that he became convinced he was doing the right thing (7:9).

To be sure, Gideon is listed among the great men of faith (Heb. 11:32), but be careful if you think that he was different from you or me.  Having great faith doesn’t mean you don’t have doubts or fears.  It really doesn’t take as much faith as you think to be used by God.  It only takes a little.  Are you ready to say “yes” to God?

Wait For it

WaitForItIt started back in the days of Moses.  A man named Zelophehad from the tribe of Manasseh had been blessed with a family full of girls but no boys.  As the Israelites made their way through the wilderness and people began to hear about the land they would be entering, these daughters came to Moses with a concern (Num. 27).  They wanted so badly to have a place for their family in this Promised Land, but the current male-dominated inheritance laws were going to leave them without a share in God’s promises.  Moses asked God for direction in this matter, and God directed that the sisters were to be given an inheritance in the Promised Land.

Some years later, the Israelites had conquered the land and the property was being distributed.  Most of the tribe of Manasseh had already settled in the old kingdom of Og on the eastern side of the Jordan River.  It had been one of the first conquests of the Israelite army, and most of the tribe of Manasseh didn’t want to wait and see the rest of the Promised Land.  But not the daughters of Zelophehad.  They waited until the entire land was conquered before they came to Joshua and asked for their portion (Josh. 17:4).  I’ve been in the valley given to these gals.  It’s one of the most fertile places in Israel.  It’s way better than the high desert of Og’s kingdom.  Waiting isn’t a bad thing.  Good things come to those who wait.

Help Wanted

Help WantedIt wasn’t really all that glorious of a position in the church.  The position was created because there were problems in the early church – bickering and complaining about how the widows were being taken care of.  The apostles were overwhelmed with the growth of the church, and they needed some fellows to help out serving in the food ministry.  So this is what the apostles told the church:  “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3).  Now I don’t know about you, but those are interesting qualifications for guys who are just going to be handing out food.  What’s interesting is to see that these fellows would be used in far more ways than just passing out food.

Perhaps you might be excited one day with the notion that you are going to serve the Lord.  And so you go to one of the assistant pastors and ask them what you should do.  They might ask you to help direct cars in the parking lot, help with the food outreach, or clean the patio.  But before you go away disappointed because you were expecting to be put in charge of something “important”, I’d like to remind you about the character of the fellows you are talking to.  They started in the church by cleaning toilets, setting up chairs, and catching rats.

This is the way that ministry works, beloved.  It starts and ends with serving.

Praying Disciples

Praying DiscipleOh my how things change in a month’s time.  It didn’t seem all that long ago that Jesus had been meeting with His disciples in an upper room sharing that last Passover meal with them.  Later that evening they were in the Garden of Gethsemane.  While Jesus struggled in prayer, the disciples struggled to stay awake.  Jesus encouraged them to learn to pray so they wouldn’t give in to temptations (Luke 22:46).  In that garden Jesus was arrested, led off to trial, and crucified.  Three days later everything had changed.  Jesus had risen from the dead.

It’s now a month later, and what are those sleepy disciples up to?  They have been learning to pray.  Luke records, They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus. (Acts 1:14)

I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.  These old dogs were continuing to grow and learn.  That’s what a disciple does, he learns and grows.

What have you been learning?  Are you growing in your walk with the Lord?  A great place to stretch and strengthen your spiritual muscles is prayer.  Prayer isn’t mastered in a day, it grows over time.  It starts with praying a little, and it grows by praying more.  When sleeping disciples become praying disciples, you can expect God to do great things.

Strange

FrankensteinTherefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19)

It’s not hard to forget where we’ve come from.  Some of us don’t ever want to go back again.  We’re different.  We’ve changed.  And we’re grateful.  Yet sometimes it’s not a bad idea to remember where you’ve come from.

The children of Israel were forty years out of Egypt when Moses reminded them to be kind to “strangers”.  They had not just been “strangers” in Egypt, they had been slaves.  Life had been hard.  Bondage to a cruel master is not the way anybody should live their life.  But God had delivered them, and they were on their way to a new life.

It’s really not that different for us, friends.  God has shown such love to us that many of us are at times dumbfounded.  The places that some of us have lived in, the things that some of us have done, are not things you talk about in polite company.  Yet God not only reached out to us rebellious people, He has forgiven us and begun the work of changing us.  We are not the same.

You may run into a “stranger” this week.  They may not dress like you do.  They may have all the old bad habits you used to have.  They may be wondering deep inside if life is really worth living.  Don’t forget where you’ve come from.  Be open to reaching out to those who are a little bit “strange”.