Mercy

Matthew 7:1-2

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

For the past few weeks, my husband and I have been dealing with terrible flooding in our area. After seven days of being trapped in the house and surrounded by water, my husband took a boat out to pick up some groceries. When he returned, he remarked on how strange it felt being in public after such a long period of worry and isolation. He said that someone made a joke to him as they walked by, and he was so unused to conversation that he did not reply to them in time and they walked away with no response. Now, anyone who knows my husband knows how unusual this is for him. Nick loves to talk to people, and is one of those guys that typically ends up in some gas station for an hour telling stories to strangers. I bet the stranger in that grocery store left thinking that Nick was perhaps rude, or at the very least not very friendly. When in fact, that is not him at all!!

So quickly we judge others in society. One conversation, one look towards someone, one action can completely shape our view of another person. I have always thought that I held the spiritual gift of mercy. I have always tried to consider another person’s situation or point of view before jumping to conclusions about them. How easy it is though to lapse on this, and to make snap judgements about someone. This story from my husband reminded me that we often have no idea what is going on in another person’s life. Our friends, our coworkers, and even people that we pass by in the grocery store may be struggling with some terrible situation or event. We can all remember a time when perhaps we did not put our best foot forward, or were preoccupied with our own worries instead of thinking about those around us. As such, it is our Christian duty to always behave towards others with compassion and mercy, even when we feel like it is not being returned to us. It is not always an easy thing to do every day, but sometimes these little reminders help us to continue to try.

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Being a Good Steward of our Pain

A couple of our authors have blogged in the past about pain, both emotional and physical.  Henry Nouwen, who was a Dutch Catholic priest, writer and theologian believed that pain is something we can use.  He said:

“Your pain is the concrete way in which you participate in the pain of humanity.”

According to Nouwen, we have two choices when it comes to pain.

  1. We can focus on the specific circumstances of our own pain, which can easily lead us into anger, resentment and even vindictiveness.
  2. We can move from my pain to the pain. We can realize that our particular pain is only a share in humanity’s pain.  This view allows us to forgive and enter into a truly compassionate life.  It makes our suffering easier to bear.

The second option is the way that Jesus took when he prayed on the cross:

“Father, forgive them;  they do not know what they are doing.”  Luke 23:34

If we are good stewards of our personal pain, we will come to understand and appreciate the pain of others.  We can let pain teach us to be more like Jesus.  He suffered pain to save us from the ultimate pain of separation from God.  How are you using your pain?  Have you let it make you bitter?  Or better?

A Family Prayer

This prayer by Rev. R.H. Raasch is from The Lutheran Prayerbook.

O Lord, I thank you for my family.  You have created our lives and intentionally brought us together to live in our home.  It is within the family relationship that we learn how to share Your gifts of love, forgiveness and mercy.  It is here, in our home, that we learn to be patient, as You are patient;  compassionate, as You are compassionate;  and caring, as You care for us.  Bless our relationships that we may serve You here in our home and when we go out into Your world.  In the mighty name of Jesus we pray.  Amen

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A Parent Who Never Forgets

“Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.  Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands;  your walls are continually before me.”  Isaiah 50: 15-16

Sunday was Mother’s Day and you may have read Kate’s post about a mother’s love.  She talked about how unlikely it was that a mother would ever stop loving her child, even when the child was ungrateful or disappointing.  Even when a child chooses to walk away from the family, or behave in hurtful ways, most parents still yearn for that relationship to be restored.

The verses above tell us that God is that kind of parent.  We can’t survive without Him, any more than a newborn infant can survive without mother’s milk.  He won’t forget us.  Love for us is part of His unchanging nature.  The welfare of each of us is His continual concern.  That’s why He sent Jesus.

So on Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day, when we give thanks for our earthly parents, let’s also give thanks for our Father in Heaven who will never forget us or leave us or forsake us.

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Let Thanksgiving Lead to Action

O God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work,
help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a home,
help me to remember those who have no home at all;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer,
And remembering,
help me to destroy my complacency;
bestir my compassion,
and be concerned enough to help;
By word and deed,
those who cry out for what we take for granted.
Amen.

-Samuel F. Pugh

This prayer is a good reminder that giving thanks should not just be a passive exercise.  It should spur us on to love and encourage others so that they will come to know and understand the grace of God.

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All You Need is Love

Love has been on my mind lately. No, not because of Valentine’s Day or my wedding anniversary, it’s just been coming up again and again in the weekly epistle readings. That really isn’t surprising since love is at the heart of the Christian life. The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:16) and Jesus Himself teaches that the greatest commandments are “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind …And … love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39).  Church tradition says that when the apostle John was very old he would be carried into church where his entire sermon consisted of the statement:  “Beloved, let us love one another.” (1 John 4:7)  Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit poured out into us (Galations 5:22) and the identifying mark of all Christians (John 3:35).  The New Testament commands us to love more than fifty times!

So why do we find it hard to love certain people? I think the answer lies in the way we define love.  For most of us, love means certain feelings:  tenderness, affection and attachment which we expect (or at least hope) to have reciprocated.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of people, even in our own churches and families, for whom we cannot muster up those feelings.  We struggle to “love” people who have qualities that annoy us, who have hurt us or treated us badly, who disagree with us.  How can we love people we don’t even like? How can we love people who don’t like us?

A careful reading has convinced me that Biblical love is not about feelings, but actions. We can’t control our emotions, but we can control what we do in response to them. We are to love others in the way we behave toward them. The apostle John, in his first epistle tells us to love “not in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”  The love verses in the Bible are filled with action words:  “serve one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2); “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15); “spur one another on to love” (Hebrews 10:24); “pursue love” (1 Timothy 2:22) and if fact “do everything in love” ( 1 Corinthians 16: 14).  In some verses, the instructions are even more specific: “… outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10); “if you enemy is hungry, feed him (Romans 12:20); bless those who persecute you (Romans 12:14); “ …pray for those who abuse you(Luke 6:28).

Next time (and it will be soon) I am confronted with a person I find difficult to love, I plan to ask the Holy Spirit to help me behave in accordance with the love qualities described in Colossians 3:12-17: “ …compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other.”  The apostle Paul calls this “walking by the spirit” (Galatians 5:16) Loving actions lead to freedom and peace; and as Paul adds, “against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:23).

This article was previously published in The Ambassador Facebook Page, an AFLC (Association of Free Lutheran Churches) magazine