God’s grace isn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card

Everybody screws up. It’s just part of life. And when you screw up, you should do what you can to make amends. You should pay what you owe. You should take responsibility for your actions, and often that means facing up to the consequences of your choice.

Maybe you have to pay a fine or fee. Maybe you have to do community service. Maybe it’s something like losing privileges at work or even at home. Either way, it takes a good deal of humility to accept punishment or correction after you’ve done something wrong. It’s a lot easier to play the role of a victim, but if you choose that route, you’ll never learn what you need to learn.

Either way, don’t be surprised when consequences come your way after you make a choice. Good or bad, every action causes a reaction, but unlike physics, consequences are rarely equal or opposite of your original choice. If you make a bad choice, you’ll always face bad consequences, and usually they’ll be on a much larger scale.

So what about grace? If we’re saved and we follow Jesus, doesn’t that mean we’re in the clear? Doesn’t that mean we don’t have to face the consequences for our actions?

3BBC051F8BToday’s verses are Romans 6:14-16.

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 

Christ-followers, we get this whole grace vs. consequences concept all turned around somehow. When Christ saved us from our sins, He freed us from our eternal death sentence in hell. That’s grace. That’s 100% right. If you trust that the price for your soul is paid by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross alone, you’re saved. Absolutely.

But what happens if you take something that doesn’t belong to you? What happens if you lie or cheat or gossip? Do you think you’ll get away with it? Or when you get caught (because you will get caught), do you think people will just let it go? Do you actually think you won’t have to face some kind of consequence for the bad choices you make?

Because of God’s grace, we won’t face hell if we belong to Christ. But if we choose to sin, we will have to face the results of our choices. Like sowing and reaping. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. It’s a natural law.

We blunder through life making foolish decisions without asking God what’s right. We run over people. We run into people. We hurt others without thinking. We selfishly chase our own ambitions and ignore God’s warnings. We do it our way because our way is easier, faster, more fun. And we end up doing things God says we shouldn’t do. And then we’re shocked when God expects us to take responsibility. We accuse Him of abandonment. We shake our fist at heaven and demand to know why He’s treating us this way.

Friends, God’s grace isn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card. We still have a responsibility to live a life that honors Christ. And, no, there’s nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love, but God loves us enough to not let us act in ways that will ultimately lead to our own destruction.

But God is so good. Even in the midst of our own messes, God is still with us. He’ll step in and give us strength to face our consequences. He’ll give us wisdom when we need it, patience when we need it, peace when we ask for it. But that’s not grace. That’s mercy.

Are you facing consequences today because you made a wrong choice? Or because someone in your life made a wrong choice? Don’t be a victim. Maybe you are innocent in all of it, but take the opportunity to get humble before God anyway. Accept responsibility. Own up to it. And ask God to help you face the consequences of your actions with faith.

He has never turned anyone away who came to Him truly seeking. He won’t stop now.

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Seeking mercy even though you don’t deserve it

Nobody’s perfect. We say that all the time, but do we ever really think about what it means practically? If you’re not a perfectionist, maybe this doesn’t happen to you. But when you screw up, how long do you spend beating yourself bloody because you should have known better? How long do you lock yourself in the dudgeon of self-incrimination where you proclaim awful truths about yourself? Or am I the only one who does that when I make mistakes?

We all screw up. We all jump the gun. We all fall on our faces. How much is worth to us to know that God understands?

black-and-white-person-woman-girlToday’s verses are Deuteronomy 30:1-3, 9-10.

In the future, when you experience all these blessings and curses I have listed for you, and when you are living among the nations to which the Lord your God has exiled you, take to heart all these instructions. If at that time you and your children return to the Lord your God, and if you obey with all your heart and all your soul all the commands I have given you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes. He will have mercy on you and gather you back from all the nations where he has scattered you…. The Lord your God will then make you successful in everything you do. He will give you many children and numerous livestock, and he will cause your fields to produce abundant harvests, for the Lord will again delight in being good to you as he was to your ancestors. The Lord your God will delight in you if you obey his voice and keep the commands and decrees written in this Book of Instruction, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.

God knows that we’re going to fail. He wants us to do our best not to, of course, because that speaks to a heart attitude. But He knows that we can’t be perfect. He knows that we can’t earn redemption. That’s why Jesus died for us.

Our job is to take responsibility for our failures and turn our eyes to God. If we’ve broken God’s rules, if we’ve done what God says is wrong, we need to admit that. We need to confess to Him that we’ve screwed up, and then we need go back to doing what He says is right.

There’s something inside us that tells us He doesn’t want us. Our poor, confused, deluded hearts will point us in the opposite direction because of our shame. But God doesn’t care about your shame or your failures or your screw ups. He just cares about you. So turn around. Go back to Him. And He’ll restore what you’ve lost.

God is a God of mercy. He’s never turned anyone away if they came to Him truly seeking. That hasn’t changed. God hasn’t changed.

So you’ve screwed up? Join the club. God’s waiting with forgiveness and mercy and help. So what are you waiting for?

Be more willing to give mercy than receive it

We’re coming off the Independence Day holiday here in the United States. It’s a time of great celebration, family togetherness, cookouts, potato salad, and–of course–fireworks! I’m a big fan of fireworks, but I’m a bit of a pyro. Growing up in the city as children, we didn’t set off a lot of fireworks. And then, growing up on the farm, we lived in a county where you can’t shoot fireworks at all. So we’d go to friends’ houses where we could.

But something I noticed a lot this year was the comments on Facebook and other social media about people shooting fireworks off at all hours before, during, and after the holiday. As you can imagine, most folks were pretty upset about it. Their dogs bark. Their kids cry. Etc.

So wouldn’t it make sense to keep track of which neighbors are doing it? That way, next year, when they’re all done shooting off fireworks and scaring people half to death, you can set off your own fireworks and wake them up in the middle of the night?  Not immediate enough for you? Okay, instead, wait a few weeks and then go ring their doorbell at 3 a.m. That should teach them to wake you up with their fireworks.

I mean, it’s only fair, right?

fireworksToday’s verses are Matthew 5:38-42.

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.”

Of course, you know I’m joking. If you do that to your neighbors and tell them it was my idea, I’ll point them to the rest of this post, which says very clearly that repaying evil for evil is never a good idea.

This is Jesus talking in the passage above, and He’s teaching people how to respond when they’re wronged. Because it’s our first reaction to respond to being hurt by hurting the offender. That’s the natural reaction. But we aren’t called to a natural life. We are called to a supernatural life.

Jesus advocated turning the other cheek. This doesn’t mean He was weak–quite the opposite. But in personal relationships, you were never to pay someone back because they hurt you. Jesus believed in giving mercy more than receiving it.

Mercy is great as long as we’re the ones getting it, right? We love receiving mercy. It makes us feel good, all warm and fuzzy inside. Oh, but turn the tables, and mercy is a lot harder to give out than it is to accept. We don’t do so well when we have the choice to dole it or pour salt on the wound.

People are going to hurt you. They’re going to offend you. Heck, they’re going to wake you up at 3 a.m. because they’re shooting off fireworks. But do you know what you’re supposed to do? Go out there and make sure they have enough matches. Offer them a glass of water or something.

Makes you made, right? Makes me mad just thinking about it. Doing something thoughtful for people who are completely inconsiderate? That’s foolish. They’ll walk all over me. They’ll set off fireworks everyday if I let them think it’s okay with me.

Will they?

I really think we underestimate the power of mercy and kindness in people’s lives. And the thing we forget about this principle is that it’s not the world’s rules. It’s Jesus’ idea. This is what He teaches. To offer mercy and kindness to people who have hurt you. Take the risk that they’ll take advantage of you, and don’t be surprised if they do. Because they probably will. But don’t worry about it. Let God sort it out. You just be the person you’re supposed to be, and do what Jesus did–be more willing to give mercy than receive it.

It’s not easy, but Jesus never said following Him would be.

 

Mountain lions chilling under a ledge at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Mercy enough to share

Do you ever wonder why writers repeat words or phrases? Or why public speakers introduce, summarize, and wrap up their talks by repeating their points? On one hand, repetition is a literary device. Sometimes it makes paragraphs easier to read or it can help the flow of the text. But the main reason si because it helps people remember. If a point is important, both a writer or a public speaker is going to emphasize it. This is true in Scripture too. If you see a word repeated in close proximity, slow down and pay attention because it’s important. And it works the same way with concepts. If you run across a concept that is repeated, you might want to take it seriously because repetition means it’s important.

So, have you picked up on any recurring themes in this study of what matters to God? What about doing what’s right? What about living humbly? What about loving mercy? Today’s verse echoes one I already touched on.

Mountain lions chilling under a ledge at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Mountain lions chilling under a ledge at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:7.

God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.

Love mercy. We’re supposed to love mercy so much that we look for opportunities to share it. But unlike our last passage about loving mercy, Micah 6:8, Jesus gives us more of a reason why we need to, other than it’s what God requires. We’re supposed to be merciful because we will be shown mercy. And what’s more, you’ll be happy if you show mercy.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Oh, but don’t forget human nature. Human nature is not so easily thwarted. We’re not geared to show mercy. We love to receive it, but showing it is a different story. It feels so good to pounce, to overreact, to jump to conclusions about someone who has hurt your feelings. At least, it feels good at first. But if you’re a Christ-follower, that good feeling won’t last because pretty soon the Holy Spirit is going to start talking to you, and He’s going to start pointing out why you shouldn’t have done it.

Why? Well, friends, because if you follow Christ, you will be shown mercy at the end of your life, but you also receive mercy every day you wake up. Every time you jump to the wrong conclusion or attack an innocent, whether in your mind or out loud, or think something you shouldn’t, Christ’s mercy paid for all of that on the cross. We are still benefiting from Christ’s mercy today.

And if God can show us that kind of mercy, why can’t we extend mercy to someone else? It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. It doesn’t matter what they’ve said. Give them a break. If you were in their position, wouldn’t you want someone to stop being so hard on you? I’m not saying to lower your expectations because that doesn’t help anybody. But there’s no need to jump down someone’s throat because of a mistake.

Maybe it’s the time of year, but I swear everyone is walking around half-angry all the time. I’ve noticed people get like that around here as winter is on the way out and spring is on the way in. Here in Kansas, the weather can never make up its mind. It will be 70 one day and 30 with ice the next, and when you’re really looking forward to life coming back to the world, waking up to see everything coated in half an inch of ice can be dispiriting. So maybe that’s why people have such short fuses.

But it’s no excuse, especially for a Christ-follower.

We have been shown mercy through Christ’s sacrifice. For us to withhold mercy from someone else is prideful and selfish and arrogant. Yes, mercy has many forms, but chief among them is love. However you react, make sure you’re reacting in love. Speak truth, but speak it in love. Do right, but do it in love. Don’t compromise, but reach out with love. I fully believe that half of mercy is how you show it. Again, it all goes back to attitude, because if you’re demonstrating mercy to someone without loving them, it won’t make a difference to either of you.

Attitude isn’t easy to hide. It shows in everything you do, everything you say, and people can tell more about you by how you react than you think they can. And those who don’t believe are always watching.

So no matter how someone has hurt you, don’t strike back. Show mercy. Love them anyway and forgive them. It will be good for you, and it will be good for them, even if it feels like a sacrifice. And if it feels like your sacrifice is going unrewarded, remember what Christ has done for you and remember the future you’ve been promised. You have mercy aplenty coming your way. You have enough to share.

 

Snow on the chicken wire at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Do we have to deserve mercy?

Is it wise to show mercy to someone who refuses to learn? Is it a good idea to give mercy to someone who is just going to turn around and hurt others, someone who never had any intention of changing? No, we don’t know people’s hearts, and we can’t read people’s minds, and we should never judge. And we are commanded to love everyone. But are love and mercy the same?

 

Snow on the chicken wire at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Snow on the chicken wire at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Jeremiah 7:5-7.

But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.

We often refer to God as being merciful because of the sacrifice Christ made on the cross for us. But even God’s mercy only extends so far, especially when the ones who are asking for it don’t hold up their end of the bargain. But what do these verses actually mean? Do we have to deserve mercy? Because if we have to deserve mercy, I think that would defeat the point. We deserve damnation. We deserve to be punished because of the way we live. That’s where mercy comes in.

But think about it this way: What’s the point of showing mercy to someone who has no intention of using it? Mercy is something that is given to you to use, but we have a choice in how to use it. We can either use it to help other people, or we can forget about it. We can conveniently misplace it. It can be like the Christmas present you got that you don’t think you need, that gets stuffed in a closet somewhere. But how are we to know who will use mercy and won’t? How can we tell?

Maybe I’m wrong, but this is the way I see it: We don’t know.

I can’t tell you what you are thinking in your heart. I can’t know the thoughts you have. Sometimes I have a pretty clear idea, but even the people I think are an open book can turn around and become someone completely different at the drop of a hat. And it turns out I didn’t know them at all.

Sometimes believers get full, I think. We get so full of the good things that God has done in our lives, and that’s awesome. Because if you are living the way God has told you to live, God blesses you. That’s the way it works. And the closer you get to God, the more He changes you to be like Him, the more blessings you receive. And there are times when I just stand and marvel at the life that God has given me, because I don’t deserve any of it. But I have the life I have because I chose to follow God even when it didn’t make sense. That was my choice. But it’s easy to get caught up in that and forget how merciful God really is.

Because you see, God does know our hearts. He knows my heart, and He knows your heart. He knows what we’re all thinking right now and what we’ll be thinking tomorrow and ten years from now. And because God knows whether or not we will take advantage of His mercy, He has every right to withhold it until we come to our senses and live the way He’s told us to live. But that’s God. He has that prerogative and right, and He is justified.

But I’m not God. I’m nobody. I’m just a little beggar who made a choice.

Maybe this is a poor example, but I finally got to see Les Misérables the other day. And this morning, at reading this verse, the only thing I can think of is one of the beginning scenes when Jean Valjean is taken in by that priest. Frightened and broken, Jean Valjean steals all that silver from the church and runs away, but he’s captured and dragged back by the police, but he claims that the priest gave him the silver. The police put him before the priest and ask if it’s true. The priest has every right to be angry; he’d showed kindness to a man who had nothing, and in return that man had stolen from him. But the priest doesn’t condemn him. He verifies to the police that he had indeed given the silver to Jean Valjean, and then he turns around and gives him the two silver candlesticks off the table.

Mercy. Mercy in spite of the fact that he deserved condemnation.

I can’t see people’s hearts. So I really don’t know people. But because God has been merciful to me and because God’s mercy is a part of my life, I want to live a life that shows mercy to others.  I can’t determine whether or not someone will take advantage of the mercy I’ve shown them. Granted, if I show them mercy and then they turn around and bash me over the head or stab me in the back, then I’ll know. And then there are other steps to take, but until you take a chance with people, you’ll never know for sure. And while one might crush your hopes and dreams, another might turn out to be the biggest blessing you’ve ever had.

So don’t be afraid to show mercy to people, especially if they don’t deserve it.

Red rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden - Colorado Springs, CO

Undeserved

Do you ever wish that people could get what they deserve? Because many times it feels like they don’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been passed by a reckless driver when there’s no cop in sight. And then I get a ticket because I forget to signal a left-hand turn.  Or what about at work? It’s frustrating to watch people who don’t work receive the same benefits that you do when you’re killing yourself. Just like it’s irritating to watch people who live immoral lives prospering when you make all the right choices and are barely scraping by.

It makes me wish that people could get what they deserve because then maybe life would be more fair. But that begs the question: what do “bad” people deserve? What do “good” people deserve? And how do you define the difference between the two?

Because maybe someone is a good person but just tends to drive faster than is “safe.” Maybe someone is a good person and just has trouble concentrating at work. Maybe someone wasn’t raised to understand the dangers of an immoral lifestyle, but that doesn’t make them a “bad” person. The reverse is true. Just because you abide by the law, word hard and live right doesn’t make you a “good” person either.

When it comes down to it, I don’t think there are bad people or good people; we’re all just people. None of us are perfect, and if we’re honest about who we are and how we think and how we live, we’d understand that we really don’t deserve anything. At least, we don’t deserve anything from someone who is perfect.

Red rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden - Colorado Springs, CO

Red rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Romans 3:24.

Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

I get trapped into thinking that I deserve good things sometimes. After all, I follow Christ. I obey Scripture. I live the way God says. So shouldn’t I deserve to be blessed?

That’s where the fine line between deserving and expecting comes into play. I don’t think any of us deserve any good thing that God does for us. But at the same time, we should expect good things. Why? Because God has promised to do good things for people who follow Him, whether we deserve them or not.

Remember, God is perfect. Truly righteous. How can Someone who is utterly perfect ever owe someone who isn’t? Because that’s what deserving is about. I was curious about the word origin of deserve so I wandered over to the Online Etymology Dictionary, and this is what I found:

deserve – late 13c., from O.Fr. deservir, from L. deservire “serve well,” from de- “completely” + servire “to serve.” From “be entitled to because of good service” (s sense found in L.L.), meaning generalized c.1300 to “be worthy of.”

If you’re not accustomed to reading dictionary entries, let me summarize. The word deserve comes from Old French, derived from Latin. Basically, the original word stemmed from the phrase “to be entitled to because of good service” which was generalized into “to be worthy of” later on.
 
To be entitled to because of good service.
 
Like a good waiter is entitled to a decent tip. Like an actor is entitled to a standing ovation after a brilliant performance. If you want to deserve something, you have to do something for the person who is rewarding you.
 
So tell me, when was the last time you did something for God?
 
The plain and simple truth is that none of us deserve anything from God, let alone kindness. Salvation, being made right with God through Christ, is a gift that’s greater than anything in the world. No one deserves it. No one can earn it. No one can change it. You can either accept it or reject it.
 
If God gave us what we deserved — what we really deserve — life would look a whole lot different. If God were truly fair, none of us would have salvation because none of us have done anything to merit it. Maybe we treat each other right every now and then. Maybe we put others first on occasion. Maybe we tell the truth most of the time. But all the time? Every day? That’s doubtful, even for the “best” person in the world.
 
In all of human history, there’s only been one perfect person, and God had Him killed so we could live free.
 
So how do you normally react when someone gives you something good you don’t deserve? Personally, I am so overwhelmed with gratitude that I don’t know what to say. I just know I want to say thank you however I can. And that holds true with what God has given me too.
 
So that’s what I’m pondering today: how can I show God how thankful I am for what He’s given me?
Old disc in the snow

Old, rusted tools aren’t beyond saving

My property is very old. My house is old, my land is old, my trees are old–everything about my home is old. And in the south pasture, next to the foundation of an old granary is a rusted disc. I guess the technical terminology is disc harrow, according to Wikipedia. I’m sure years and years ago, it was used to cultivate soil for crops, removing weeds, tilling up the dirt and so on. But it isn’t used now. It’s old and rusted and just sitting in the back pasture.

Part of me feels like it was irresponsible to let the old thing rust away in the south pasture. But what was I going to use it for? I don’t have horses, and I may have five acres but anymore that’s not enough to raise any kind of profitable crop. So it sits out there abandoned.

Old disc in the snow

Old disc in the snow - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 116:5.

How kind the LORD is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours!

On first thought, this verse really has little to do with that old disc out in my back pasture. But the more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized that it has everything to do with it.

God is the only Person I’ve ever met who could take someone who was abandoned and deemed useless by society and culture and use them to make a difference in the world. God is the kindest, most merciful Person I’ve ever encountered.

If you haven’t already, I really suggest reading the entirety of Psalm 116. The writer is basically talking about how God reached down and saved him from danger.

God doesn’t have to do things like that.

He’s God. He is self-sustaining, eternal, and all-powerful. He knows all and sees all, and He can do everything. He doesn’t need us. He doesn’t need anyone. So when faced with the choice to reach down and help someone who can do absolutely nothing for Him in return, why would God do it? Why does God insist on helping us, especially when we can’t repay Him?

What does it mean to be merciful? What does it mean to be kind?

Mercy and kindness, to me, go hand in hand. Because mercy is giving someone something they don’t deserve. Mercy is being kind to someone who doesn’t deserve kindness.

Mercy is extending a hand of forgiveness to people who have hurt us. Mercy is accepting punishment for someone else when you’ve done nothing wrong. Mercy is offering to help someone who can offer you nothing in return simply because it’s the right thing to do.

And that’s what God does for us every day, whether you believe in Him or not.

Some days I feel very much like an old rusted tool that isn’t useful for anything anymore. I feel used up and worn out and run down, like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel to find some grain of creativity when I’ve already given it all away. Some days I feel like I’ve lost whatever usefulness I had and that I’m not good for anything anymore. But on the days when I feel like that, I need to remember the old disc in my south pasture. And I need to remember Psalm 116.

God is merciful and kind. And no one is beyond His ability to save and restore. Even those facing death aren’t beyond His reach. He’s God. He can do anything, and He can use anyone, no matter who they are or where they came from.

That old disc out in my south pasture is beyond my ability to restore. Just like I know some people (including myself) are beyond my ability to help. But no one is beyond God.

And the irony is that we don’t even have to ask Him to use us. He does it anyway. But if we ask Him first and if we go along with it, we can experience a lot of joy.