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.

 

Stop sign at the end of the road at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Love God, love people

What matters to God? When we look at our life and our choices, what matters most to Him? What does He want from us? Because He’s not just some distant figurehead floating in the sky somewhere who knows everything that’s going on and doesn’t care. He’s present and involved in our lives at the most basic level. He cares about what happens to us. He cares about the choices we make. He wants to be a part of our lives.

I’m so distracted by all the busyness of life that I need to remind myself of what really matters. And when I think about what really matters I think instantly about the rules. I’m a performance-driven perfectionist, so I actually like rules. I’m not a big fan of breaking them either. So even though I know that the rules don’t make me righteous (only Christ can do that), I still want to follow them because if God hadn’t given them they wouldn’t be important.

But while I don’t know all there is to know about the Bible, I do understand that there are a lot of rules. There’s a ridiculous number of commandments, not just the ten we’re familiar with from the Charlton Heston movie. And I love the commandments. I love God’s laws. But that’s a lot of rules to keep track of, and it would be really great if there were a summary somewhere.

Cue Christ, the storyteller. One of the marks of the greatest storytellers is to be able to cut to the heart of the matter and tell you what the point of the story is, and Jesus was great at that.

Stop sign at the end of the road at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Stop sign at the end of the road at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 22:36-40.

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Love God. Love people. That’s a summary of the Law.

Want to know what matters to God? Love Him first. Then, love people around you.

Want to know how to live? Love God. Love people.

Want to know how to make decisions? Love God. Love people.

Don’t know how to handle a situation at work? Or at home? Or at church? Or at school? Love God. Love people.

It’s basic, but it’s real. And it’s true. If you love God and love people, the decisions you make and the choices you make will begin to change your focus. Actually, your focus will change. When you’re serious about loving God and loving people, your entire outlook on life will change.

God wants us to love Him. But not just love like a passing fancy. He wants to be the most important relationship in your life. And that can be difficult sometimes because it’s hard to relate to someone you can’t see. At least, we can’t see Him like we see each other. But there are other ways to know Who God is and where He is and what He thinks. And most of the time, I don’t find it hard to love Him. I mean, He’s God. And personally, He’s everything to me. But then, I don’t have a spouse. Or children. So I can’t speak to the difficulty of balancing those aspects of life with my relationship with God.

And then there are the days when He doesn’t do what I want Him to do. But even then, I don’t stop loving Him. But I can tell you that many times He’s not the priority in my head. I want Him to be, but my attention wanders.

But the one I really struggle with is Most Important Command Number Two: Love People.

People make me mad. They frustrate me to no end, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve developed this bad habit of speaking my mind. And my mind isn’t always a good thing to let loose on the public. It’s got some snark and sarcasm in there that can be hurtful if not tamed, and though I hate to admit this, as someone who loves words, I know just how to use them to manipulate. So for me it’s a constant battle of knowing when to open my mouth and when to seal it shut because I don’t want something I say to be damaging.

God loves people. He loves me. And I’m a person. He loves the world, and the world is full of people. The trouble with people is that they usually only think about themselves. And I’m lumping myself into that people category too. But what this commandment tells us to do is to go against what is natural to us; we are commanded to love each other rather than ourselves. That’s not normal. And that’s dang difficult. But that’s what matters to God. Love Him. Love people.

Does He deserve it? Absolutely.

Do they deserve it? Absolutely not. But because He loves them and He loves us, we need to do it anyway.

Granted, I’m not saying love people at the expense of your health or your sanity, but at the very least, change your mind about them. People are people. They do stupid things. Guess what? So do you.

Everybody needs grace.

So today, make your choices and decisions remembering that the most important commandments are to love God and love people. If you can live by that, I’m willing to be you’ll see a difference not only in your relationships but in yourself as well.