Sunday, May 17, 2015

Relationships A Mess Worth Making: Mercy

The chapter opens with a favorite passage of mine and is capped off by one of my all time favorite verses and they are all found in James:

" My brothers as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here is a good seat for you" but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

LISTEN, my dear brothers; has God not chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of Him to Whom you belong?

IF you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the WHOLE law and yet stumbles at just ONE point is guilty of breaking all of it. For He Who said, "Do not commit Adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder."If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. 

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement "(James 2:1-13)

I think many of us struggle with this.  Man judges from an outward appearance, and so we shy away from anyone who doesn't look like us, or act like us. We clump together in little groups that make us comfortable. I don't think God wants us comfortable. He wants us mature.

The authors share with us a situation they had, a situation they prayed about and they happily went into. I'm going to paraphrase it here for you:

Our authors were feeling led to open their home to hospitality. Not the "once a week invite someone home from church for a meal hospitality" but the "over night see you in your robe be all up in your business hospitality". They viewed their home as a God-given resource and wanted to bless others with it, and so they did. Many of their guests were there for just a night or two and then their lives would resume a regular routine, but then....SHE came. They received a call late one Sunday evening about a young girl who had been tossed out of her home and so they opened their home to her. What they got was not their usual, charming house guest who was in and out in a day or two returning their house to "normalcy" but someone who rocked their world. They took on this "project" because they were motivated by the way God could use this experience to transform this young woman's life, and in the process He transformed them as well.

*MERCY'S STRUGGLE

The authors point out that there is corollary to Murphy's Law that says, "Everything you decide to do costs you more than you first estimated"  There HAS to be a commitment to do more than just survive the people you are in relationship with, there has to be something deeper than your own happiness, you MUST be willing to be an instrument in the hands of the Almighty.

No relationship can be lived without mercy, and God has called us to have a tender heart of mercy when dealing with one another. It's what Paul was emphasizing in Galatians:

"Even IF a man should be detected in some sin, my brothers the spiritual ones among you should quietly set him back on the right path, not with any feeling of superiority, but being yourselves on guard against temptation.

CARRY each others burdens and so live out the law of Christ

If a man thinks he is "somebody", he is deceiving himself, for that very thought proves he is a nobody. Let every man learn to assess properly the value of his own work and he can then be glad when he has done something worth doing without dependence on the approval of others."

(Galatians 6:1-4)

It is harder than it sounds. Our author found himself thinking that he wanted to be obedient to his calling of hospitality but he didn't know how much it would cost him. It was HARD. This young lady was immature, rebellious, rude, self-centered, illogical, messy, and nosy. Just when he thought she was improving in one area she would irritate him in another, and his home lost any sense of normalcy.Yet, he knew that God had brought him past the place where he was standing in line with is hand extended waiting for mercy, he wanted to be a mercy-giver as well. He knew their home was SUPPOSED to be a place where mercy could be found and he had a heart for those less fortunate than himself. He wanted his mercy to point others towards God's mercy, and isn't that what we do when we become his hands and feet? We direct others to Him by our actions. Like we mentioned though, mercy is costly though and when that bill comes due we sometimes forget the beautiful reasons we started the tally.

Our author began to realize that his commitment to mercy was weak as he encountered challenges and it humbled him. It has humbled me. When we are running around offering mercy to others we often lift ourselves above the fray, FALSELY believing that WE are FUNDAMENTALLY different than THOSE people who NEED mercy when in fact WE ARE THE SAME. WE ARE "THOSE" PEOPLE. Please re-read that last sentence. We are sinners too and our need for mercy and grace is just as great (sometimes it is greater) than those we minister to but we have it twisted in our minds and have somehow elevated ourselves to positions of STRENGTH and AUTHORITY while we look down our noses at those who are POOR, WEAK and NEEDY, and we have become double-minded. Isn't it more comfortable to GIVE mercy than to receive it? Although we we wish what we were giving was not so costly or quite as revealing!

Mercy is an equalizer. It levels the playing field. It reminds us that each of us is in desperate need of this thing called mercy and that none of us is exempt from this struggle with sin. Each of us needs compassion, sympathy, forgiveness and rescue. Every single one of us is poor  in some way. We all lack SOME THING we desperately need, and each of us dwells with a weakness that many others may know nothing about and we struggle with the results of our own poor choices (also that others may know nothing about). Yet even with this knowledge in our heads and in our hearts, even as we enjoy God's forgiveness and mercy ourselves and we look on others with forgiveness and mercy there are times we find it nearly impossible to bear with another person in their own sin and weakness. If we just look in the mirror we will be reminded that we are ALL the same.

*WHAT IS MERCY ANYWAY?

Dictionary.com defines Mercy as: "Compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one's power; compassion, pity or benevolence."

Our authors though found these two definitions: "The kind, sympathetic, and forgiving treatment that works to relieve their distress and cancel their debt."

"Compassion combined with forbearance and action."

These definitions help us to understand WHAT mercy IS, WHY it is needed and HOW it expresses itself. It is more than the feeling you get when you see someone in need. The authors use the example of walking past the homeless. You SEE the homeless person, you FEEL sad for their situation, you may even THINK about how hard it must be to live in their condition, you may even be relieved that you are not him/her but a moment later you have forgotten them as you go on to your next errand or as you meet your friends for lunch. Your actions lacked mercy.

Mercy requires heartfelt compassion that results in action on your part. Mercy is not something you FEEL mercy is something you DO. It is a lifestyle that shapes everything we say and do. It says a lot about WHO we say we are and WHO we say we belong to.

Mercy SEES the distress you are in and notices your weakness and your failures, but rather than view these things through the grid of judgmentalism mercy views these things through the grid of compassion. You will find no condemnation in mercy's eyes. Mercy wants to forgive your debt and relieve your suffering. It looks for a way to help you out of your struggle and remove your guilt and your shame. Mercy is driven by three character qualities.

*Compassion: a deep awareness of another's suffering that leads to a desire to help. Leading one to see beyond one's own difficulties and to care about the difficulties of others. 

*Forgiveness: pardoning another for an offence without treating them like a criminal or harboring resentment against them.

*Forbearance: patient while being provoked. It is willing to stand alongside someone who is in trouble even if it makes life more difficult.

As I am typing this tears are staining my cheeks because I am struggling so much with showing mercy right now to a difficult person in my life. Like our authors though, I want more than to extend my hand FOR mercy, I want to let it flow through me so that it brings glory to The One who extended it to me.

*WHAT MAKES MERCY SO ESSENTIAL?

Mercy is essential because we live in a fallen world and the people who live here are riddled with sin. Our relationships take place smack dab in the middle of God's redemption story. Imagine a world where there was only pure justice. We would not last one day in a world like that. Thankfully His mercies are new every morning. He is patient, kind, long-suffering and forgiving. His compassion causes His justice to wait and His mercy to act. This knowledge should call our hearts to be MORE merciful towards our fellow men, and yet we raise our fists and demand justice towards those that offend us while crying out mercy for ourselves.

Mercy is an essential ingredient in any godly relationship. It is that commitment to live alongside of you in a broken world while suffering with you, sometimes because of you and even still doing everything I can to relieve your distress. THAT is what mercy is.


*YOUR RELATIONSHIPS AND MERCY'S AGENDA


When you finally make a commitment to choose mercy your relationships will change, but first it will dramatically change you.

*Mercy means you expect suffering in your relationships and are willing to endure it:

This means you are mature enough to accept with grace the distress of others and you are willing to allow your own life to be distressed. This is HARD. Mercy is COSTLY. This means you will stand with someone whose "spiritual lostness" troubles your heart, when your spouse's weakness seem to be more than you bargained for and a person who has NO manners offends you. Mercy means you are willing to get involved in a persons life even when it costs YOU personal sacrifice and inconveniences your schedule and your sense of "normalcy". 

Do your relationships demonstrate a willingness to suffer for another's sake?

*Mercy means you are willing to live with the poor:

James points out that our biggest struggle with mercy is in relating to those we see as beneath us. The authors point out that when we discover the "poverty" of another person we suddenly become disenchanted with the relationship and begin to plan our exit. They remind us that poverty is not always economic. A person can be poor spiritually or socially, and this makes them difficult to relate to as well. Your (and my) faulty thinking about mercy is exposed when we discover that we view ourselves as "rich" and the other people in our lives as "poor" when we are all poor! 

Do your attitudes and responses change when you discover that a person is "poor" in some way?

*Mercy means you reject the temptation to favoritism:

Again James assaults us our sensitivities as he  shows us that we Christians are a click-ish group. We love to have our little groups of like-minded individuals. We are thankful for God's forgiveness and His acceptance and we know WE are difficult messed up people but heaven forbid when one of the people in our circle of influence is difficult. Parents tend to favor a more compliant child, friends tend to favor the friend who seems to have it "together" (whatever THAT is) and in a church setting there will be more excitement when a wealthy family joins over the single recovering addict. If we are only committed to be hospitable to those we are comfortable with our hearts still lack mercy.

Are there relationships in which you have indulged in favoritism?

*Mercy means you are committed to persevere in hardship:

When difficulties come mercy does not run away, mercy jumps in and gets involved. Mercy's best work is done when suffering is evident and forgiveness is needed. Mercy doesn't look for the loophole. Mercy that doesn't persevere isn't mercy. We have been called to persevere THROUGH painful things in order to be a part of what God is doing. 

In your relationships, where are you struggling with God's call to persevere?

*Mercy rejects a "personal happiness" agenda:

The moment I inject the words "me, my, or I" into a conversation about my relationships I realize I have some self examination to do. If my needs are what is MOST important to me, if my comfort, if my ease, are my priority then I will find it most difficult to extend mercy, especially when things get rough. Mercy is willing to put itself out there when things are not happy or comfortable. Mercy finds MORE joy in doing God's will than in a comfortable predictable life. Mercy is willing to forsake its own comfort in exchange for being God's comfort to someone else. Mercy wants to advance the kingdom of God and is ALWAYS, ALWAYS motivated by what God is doing IN the relationship not by what we can get out of it. 

Where is God calling you to leave what is comfortable so that you can share what He has given you with another?

*Mercy means you live with a commitment to forgive:

Living with other's who are in need of mercy and who are sinners means you will inevitably be sinned against, which will require that you have a heart ready to forgive. Commitment to relationships means that your sins and your struggles become my experience. I get to see all of your "ugly" up close and personal. We play favorites with each other because we want to find someone who DOES NOT NEED our forgiveness. Mercy means I recognize that DAILY I am forgiven and DAILY I am in need of forgiveness and so out of a grateful heart I am able to offer that same mercy and forgiveness to others. Everything I am and everything I do is born out of a humble realization that everything I am offering to others I desperately need in my own life.

Are there people in your own life you are struggling to forgive?

*Mercy means you overlook minor offences:

Oh man, isn't it tempting to focus on every little irritating thing that others do while excusing your (my) own minor offences? Mercy isn't like that though. Mercy isn't easily offended or quickly offended. Mercy isn't hyper-vigilant. Mercy is so taken by the beauty of God's "big picture" that it doesn't wast time of things that are of no eternal consequence. 

Where have you allowed yourself to be distracted by the minor offences of others?

*Mercy does not compromise what is morally right and true:

When we extend mercy it DOES NOT MEAN we have to turn a blind eye to God's law. When I reach out my hand in mercy it does not mean I have to forsake what is morally right. Mercy, true mercy, real mercy, means that if you are sinning I will not ignore your sin. I will not get mad at your failure. I will not abandon you. Mercy says I will point you to God and the promises and principles found in His Word. My obedience to stick by you when everything in me is telling me to run gives God the opportunity to work those GOOD things in your life that only HE can do through your circumstances. Mercy understands that grace brings about change not condemnation, but mercy never compromises the truth.

Are there places where  you have confused compromise with mercy?

*A commitment to mercy will reveal the treasures of your heart:

The truth is that we struggle with offering real mercy because we desire something other than God and His glory. The ugly truth is that we are often MORE concerned with our own comfort our own need for appreciation, respect, for love and acceptance. We desire control over possessions and people and we want power and all of this is way more than we are willing to admit to anyone. The painful reality is we struggle because we have placed these things in the place that only God should occupy in our hearts. The authors call these things "god-replacements" and mercy in our relationships has been replaced by our subtle and sometimes not so subtle pursuit of them. 

Do your desires get in the way of offering mercy to others?

*Giving mercy demands mercy:

At the moment you extend mercy your own selfish heart is exposed. Suddenly you are more aware of your impatience. Why can you NOT forgive that ONE person in your life?? You are acutely aware of the inconsistencies in your own wretched life and how MUCH you need the constant work of the Redeemer in your own life. Mercy will drive you out of yourself and into the grace of Christ.

The authors conclude that the irritating house guest that stretched them so is now a grown woman with children of her own, and she is still a part of their lives. God radically changed that young woman's heart, but He also transformed the heart of our authors.

"In calling me to mercy God was actually extending mercy to me. He wasn't sacrificing His work in me to accomplish something worthwhile in her. When God chose me to be His instrument of mercy, it was not just a call to duty; it was a gift of grace. Even though I wasn't very willing and often blew it along the way, I am so glad for God's determined grace! He enabled us to stay the course even though at times I resisted. He was merciful --to her and to me."

What an amazing and inspiring testimony.

I know that this has been a tough chapter for me to get through. There are several people I am struggling with extending mercy to. This chapter has helped me to see that I am just as poor as they are. Mercy is costly. It cost Jesus something, why then should I think it would cost me nothing?

As I close out this blog post and I am sitting here feeling so small I am reminded that I AM small in the great plan of redemption, but He has allowed me to play a part by being His hands and His feet to those who are hurting, to those who are scared, to those who are ashamed, to those who are JUST LIKE ME.

I need to remember that, because the shame is we forget. We accept this amazing free gift and we forget and we throttle others who are scared, lost and alone like we once were.

XOXO