“Lord Have Mercy”

“For judgement is without mercy in one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.” James 2:13

For the past several months, I have been making a conscious effort to show grace to others, and to myself. I thought I had a clear grasp on what grace means, and of its purpose. I thought I was pretty good at showing grace, and I knew I was good at reprimanding others for not being gracious enough.

Last week, I came across the verse James 2:13, which says “For judgement is without mercy in one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.”

I paused to turn this verse over in my mind.

“Mercy,” I thought, “what is mercy? How is mercy different from grace?”

I considered what I thought grace to be. Grace was an act, a choice, something you extend to someone when you’re trying to be empathetic to their situation. Grace is what you practice when you choose to continue showing kindness and love to someone who doesn’t deserve it.

But how is that different from mercy? I couldn’t figure it out, so I turned to one of the most valuable resources I know of when it comes to finding meaning in scripture: other believers. I sent out texts to several friends and family members and received answers that were worlds different than my own.

“I think mercy might sometimes be deserved, as in the case of a prisoner of war. A king or leader may have the power to end their life, though they did no more wrong than anyone else in the situation. Mercy can be a one time thing, while grace is a way of life. Grace includes mercy, but is not limited to mercy.”

“This is what the bible says – Grace: unmerited favor (Ephesians 2:5) anything good we receive from God is an example of his grace. Mercy: to suppress judgement that we deserve and grant us forgiveness we don’t deserve (Psalm 51:1-2).”

“I believe the terms are similar but different as well. Mercy: God not punishing us even though it is what our sins have deserved. So being saved from judgement. Grace: God blessing us even though we don’t deserve it. Having kindness given to even the worst of the worst.”

“Grace is undeserved favor. Mercy is a little different because it requires patience with an offender. It’s even in the definition ‘compassionate forbearance.’ They work together but I think the difference becomes clear when we tap into them. Grace is given to all through Christ is a standing with him we could never attain. Mercy is when a person accepted by and living under grace messes up and still knowing that they can approach a God who shows patient kindness as I grow, rather than judgement, because I am living under grace. Grace makes it possible to give and receive mercy.”

“Grace is a blessing that God gives us and mercy is a free ticket away from punishment when we truly deserve it.”

“Grace: showing love and kindness to another without reason. Mercy: receiving grace from someone when you do not deserve it.”

What many of my wise friends are saying is that grace is an umbrella term; a category under which mercy falls. Being merciful is an act of grace, and a part of grace that I was totally missing. You see, while the terms do coincide, they are not mutually exclusive. Mercy is one of the blessings that God extends to us because of his grace, and if we are to live under his grace and share it with others, we must extend the same mercy to them.

In my case, I was ready to show grace as I saw it; I was ready to continue to show kindness to those in my life who hadn’t earned it. I was willing to try and love them to the point that someday they would miraculously stop doing the things that offended me. I think that a lot of us understand this, and many of us think that this is good enough.

But friends, if that is where our love for others stops, we are missing it.

Jesus didn’t love people to their face while condemning them in his mind. He didn’t share a meal with the tax collectors and spend the entire dinner anxious to get away from them. Jesus didn’t endure people, he loved them. He showed them mercy, and that is what we are missing.

What does living mercifully look like? It looks like living graciously. It looks like showing kindness and love to others who aren’t deserving.

But that’s the issue: being merciful isn’t always shown outwardly. The battle is in our minds. The fight is against our flesh. The belief that reflecting the love and kindness of Jesus outwardly is good enough is a lie! 

Let’s be honest friends; if your body is doing one thing while you heart is thinking another, is there a point to what your body is doing?

Paul speaks of this in his letter to the church in Corinth (which was not unlike the American church today.)

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” 2nd Corinthians 10:3-6

Let’s look at verses 3 through the first half of verse 5:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God…”

Destroying arguments and lofty opinions? Is Paul talking about correcting the political opinions of distant relatives on Facebook? For this half of the verse, we probably feel justified in our lack of mercy. After all, that’s what we do. We hear someone else’s opinion and perspective, while waiting for our chance to cleverly put them in their place and assert our dominance as Christians and messengers of God.

But we’re not done yet. Check out the rest of the verse:

“and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”

This is the part that we must begin to understand. Paul is not advocating that we destroy the arguments and opinions of others. He is not giving us the green light to dismiss any thought coming from the mind of another person who does not believe exactly as you do.

No, friends, Paul is telling us to destroy our own arguments and opinions. He says to take each of our own thoughts captive, and be prepared to tell yourself that you’re wrong.

Since I discovered the importance of showing mercy, I have also learned the crucialness of controlling your own mind and being aware of your thoughts. When we are living one way and thinking another, we accomplish nothing. We are living as hypocrites, and we are certainly not living like Jesus.

I encourage you to start practicing mercy. Every time you have a negative thought about another person, take it captive. Hold it up to the light, and examine it. Go through all the reasons you feel that way, and then consider your heart.

Instead of crucifying your relatives on Facebook because of who they voted for, choose to have mercy on them. Rather than stewing over the guy who cut you off on your way to work and calling him an idiot to yourself, choose mercy. When your boss attacks you personally, and all you can think about is how horrible that person is, choose mercy.

This is not easy, friends. But then, Jesus never promised easy. Jesus never promised safe. He promised a better life. He promised a way out of our imminent separation from God as a result of our sin, through his mercy. I remind you of the verse we began with:

“For judgement is without mercy in one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.” James 2:13

I challenge you to write this verse where you will see it often. Share it on social media. Remind yourself and others to be merciful. If the church truly begins to grasp this, we will see the world change.

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Broken

Today as I was scrolling through my news feed on Facebook, I came across an ad from Dr. Ben Carson’s page. This ad urged, and even pleaded with me, to sign a petition to encourage congress to stop Obama from bringing in 10,000 Syrian Refugees.

My first reaction was to reread the post to make sure that I hadn’t misunderstood. Until that moment, I had been in support of Carson. I didn’t agree with everything he had said or done, but generally I believed him to be a good choice for the next president.

I proceeded to read the comments. They included posts which said things such as “bring in the Christian refugees instead, they will assimilate better into our culture” and other comments that suggested bringing in refugees will “destroy our country”. Still others said that Obama was actively trying to harm America by allowing the Syrians to take shelter here.

America, I am disgusted with you. Americans who claim to be Christians, I am even more disgusted with you. I sat in a chair at my campus ministry’s building and cried for you. I cried for the refugees. I cried for the future of this country, and for the salvation of the many Americans who have a dangerously distorted view of who Jesus is.

Then I prayed. I prayed for those people who claim to be Christians and still believe it is okay to refuse shelter to people who desperately need it. I prayed that the compassion our president has felt for these people would be echoed by the whole nation. I prayed for Paris, because they have experienced the pain that the refugees have experienced every day for over four years.

If you think that all the refugees are terrorists, consider the facts. Do some research. When I did some research before writing this post, I found that more than 3,200 Syrians have been killed this year alone and more than 240,000 have perished since the conflict began. 12 million people in total have been affected by this crisis in some way, compared to the 1.7 million people who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. That statistic hit me the hardest. Our country had a rapid reaction to Katrina, mobilizing quickly to meet the needs of our fellow Americans and to provide shelter, food, and water to all those who needed it. Why is there a question about whether or not we should do the same for anyone else, regardless of their race or religion?

The arrogance of America will likely be its downfall, rather than its compassion. It’s incredible that the same people who voraciously opposed the legalization of gay marriage based on the belief that America is a “Christian nation” are the same people who are opposed to helping provide shelter for those who are so desperately in need of someone to save them.

Maybe it’s cliché, but I urge everyone who claims Christianity to ask themselves “what would Jesus do?” I can assure you that he would not refuse the refugees the help that they need, and he would not give preference to those of his own culture in any situation where others are equally or more in need. He would not throw a fit about someone making a decision he disagreed with, and he would not condemn him or her for it.

Change your perspective, America. Evaluate your heart, Christian America. Find your compassion, and you will likely find your hope for the future.

Christmas Came Early

I know what you’re thinking. “It’s OCTOBER, and you are writing about Christmas?” I understand; I’m skipping Halloween, disrespecting Thanksgiving, etc. I’ve already been reprimanded by my boyfriend for playing Christmas music this holiday season. Even in light of all this I will still write this post shamelessly, because I believe Christmas is just as important year-round as it is between November 27 and December 25. Recently, God has used the Christmas story to teach me something that will change my perspective for the rest of my life, and it’s something that I believe every person who claims Jesus as their savior needs to hear.

If you’re anything like me, the thought of going to class and/or work, doing an assignment for school, volunteering for this or that, and doing all the other things you said “yes” to makes you want to hide under the covers and never come out; but I say “yes” anyway. I am always piling more and more onto my plate, even though I have learned that I shouldn’t. Why do I do this, when I know I won’t have the motivation to follow through with it later? I have learned that this is the result of believing a lie.

Before you jump to conclusions, I am not saying that it is okay to be flakey and irresponsible. What I am saying is that the enemy is constantly reminding us that who we are and what we are doing is not enough. This is intensified by the fact that we know it’s true. We don’t need help from Satan to feel guilt over our inadequacy. This is where the lie begins to eat away at our very souls. When we start believing that we have to feel guilty, that we need to do more and be more than we are capable of doing and being, and that we have to do that on our own, we lose motivation, we fall apart, and we lose our joy.

I hope that what I am about to write will bring you freedom: God cares more about you than he cares about the things you are doing (or not doing) for him.

God wants a genuine relationship with you so much more than he wants you to join the church choir, more than he wants you to graduate from college, more than he wants you to be a good mom/dad or husband/wife. More than anything, God wants you to know him in a way that frees you from the guilt of not being enough. He already knows what you are capable of, and what you aren’t. He created you in love, and he desires so deeply to help you find freedom in that love. The fact that his children so often find being a Christian so exhausting breaks his heart, because it shows how truly unaware we are of the gift we have in Jesus.

This is where the Christmas story comes in.

Luke 2:10 – “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.'”

That great joy is Jesus, and the freedom he brought with him. He willingly chose to give up his position in heaven, and come to earth in human form, knowing that he would endure the most painful and cruel death to have ever been invented, all so that he could provide us with a way to have a better life.

So the next time you are asked to do something extra, I give you permission to say no. I give you permission to let yourself fail. I give you permission to live in a way that clearly demonstrates that you know and serve a God who is ready to forgive you for your humanity at any moment. I give you permission to live as though your life doesn’t depend on you.

Think about this. Meditate on it. “God cares about me more than he cares about what I am doing for him.” Let this simple thought bring you the incredible freedom that followers of Christ were always meant to have.

Don’t Tithe and Drive

As I was driving to work this morning, thinking about all the money I spent yesterday (I regret nothing), a startling thought hit me: I forgot to tithe. A large part of the reason for consistently tithing is that it is a great way to actively and intentionally put God first. The first ten percent of my income each week is given back to God as a way of acknowledging the importance of Him in my life. Not to say that it doesn’t count otherwise, but it does diminish the value of the gift.

Immediately after I realized my mistake, I thought, “That’s okay, I will do it as soon as I get to work.” Now that appears to be an admirable plan. Except it isn’t, because often when I receive a text message or email while driving, I check it and respond immediately. And before you freak out on me, no, I do not advocate texting and driving (or tithing and driving). But my own behavior in this case reveals much about my spiritual condition: I am much faster to respond to and more concerned about worldly things than giving God what belongs to him.

My church has an app on which you are able to give tithes, and that is why this concerned me so much. It crossed my mind that I could send my tithes right then, but I thought “That’s really dangerous, I had better wait until I’m not driving.” Why am I more willing to engage in a risky behavior (and using the phone while driving is risky behavior) for the world than I am for the kingdom of God? In my heart I said “God can wait, but my boyfriend, friends, and everyone else cannot.” 

It’s scary how much our automatic behaviors can reveal about our hearts.

“Crapalachia” by Scott McClanahan

This semester I am taking a course in contemporary literature. I went into this course expecting to read texts that are popular and part of the “modern canon,” if such a thing exists. My professor had a different idea about which contemporary pieces we should be reading. He had us purchase several novels, short story collections, and poetry collections (none of which I had ever heard of), and so I began the course with a severe case of disillusionment.

Now, as I begin to put together my final paper for the course (which is due this Friday… oops!), I am very greatful that my professor did this. One of the books we were assigned to read is a memoir by Scott McClanahan titled Crapalachia: a Biography of a Place. This book as been a journey, and I am forever thankful for it.

The author asks in the appendix that the text not be considered part of a genre that he refers to as “the Appalachian Minstrel Show”, and indeed it does not belong there. This book is many things: a search for truth, a quintessential bildungsroman, and ultimately a really good story that you can choose to find meaning in or that you can take at face value. However you choose to react, you will react.

The question I am posing for my research is what the author considers truth to be, and I am so very thrilled to find the answer.
P.S. Please read this book. It’s so important.

Hello there…

I’m new to blogging. I mean, I have a tumblr, but we all know that’s not the same thing.

I have a lot of random thoughts throughout my day-to-day, and I needed a place to collect them, write them out, and expand on them. I hope other people will want to be a part of my thought process as well, but if not that’s okay. This is mostly just for myself.

Still, I would love to converse with you any time. Any commentary is welcome.

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