Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mercy Triumphs over Judgment

       A number of weeks ago, Mark and I were traveling back from our trip down south.  It was snowy, cold, and windy.  Getting off of an exit, we saw a man along the side of the road with a sign that stated, 

“Disabled Veteran…”.

       I didn’t even read the rest of the sign.  I saw him standing in the cold and my heart welled with compassion and I cried, “That is so sad.”  The words had just come out of my mouth and Mark handed me some money to give to him.  I rolled down my window, passed him the money, and the man just kept saying “God bless you, thank you.”  
       I don’t share this story for a pat on the back, because I can honestly tell you that I would not have given that man money.  The Lord prompted Mark and I to do so and we simply responded in obedience.  But even as I was handing the man the money, the thought popped into my mind “what is he going to spend it on?  Is he going to buy alcohol or food?”  I have become so conditioned by my culture to be a judge of when someone deserves help or not that I have neglected the teachings of Christ.  I share this story because the Lord has been challenging me in this area and has been teaching me about compassion and mercy.
       I have been doing a study through Proverbs and have been surprised by all the verses that talk about taking care of the poor and needy.  The excellent wife of Proverbs 31 is praised because “she extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy” (v. 20).   “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor” (Prov. 22:9).  God is so burdened by the needs of the poor that he led Solomon to write that “he who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered” (Prov. 21:13).   
       Then there is James explanation of Jesus’s teachings about mercy and judgment (Matt 5:1-7:29).  James explains that if I make a judgment on someone based on their financial status then I am a “judge with evil motives” for we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves” and so fulfill the royal law of scripture (James 2:4, 2:8).  “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them ‘go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use it that?” (James 2:16).   
       What the Lord pointed out to me recently is that there is absolutely no qualifier in any of these statements.  Nowhere does God state that it is okay to help one person and not another based on their choices.  I tend to look at someone who is poor and think, “they need to learn how to manage their finances better” or “if they weren’t so foolish they wouldn’t be in that predicament.”  The Lord, however, looks at the poor and needy and sees that they are in need of mercy and he gives it.
       I am the perfect example.  The Lord looked at me fifteen years ago and saw the sad, sinful state that I was in and He extended me mercy.  He opened my eyes to see that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and in His grace offered me eternal life in Christ.  He knew how depressed I was, and filled me with joy.  He knew how lonely I was, and He gave me his eternal presence.  He knew how much I felt like an outcast, and He accepted me as I am because of Christ.  My life was a wreck because of the choices I had made and God helped me out of that state.  So why would I now turn around and cast judgment on someone in the same situation and think I am better than them.  They are in need of mercy and grace just like I was; therefore I should extend mercy and grace just like the Lord did for me for “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).  
       So even though it goes against everything I have been taught to give money to the beggar on the street, I am so thankful for a Heavenly Father who cares for that beggar and desires to fill his mouth (and heart) with good things.  I am thankful the Lord prompted Mark and I to give a little to that man, and I pray that as I grow in this area that my life will be marked by more generosity and mercy to the poor and needy for that is what Jesus would do.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

When I am weak....

 “I could never do that.” 
 "You must have a lot of patience.”  
 “I could never raise support.” 
 “You have to be strong to just pack up and move to Romania.”  
 “You are brave.”

       Those are just a few of the things believers have said to my wife and me over the last year, but it is so far from the truth.  We have been at work trying to raise up a team of financial partners for so long now that some days it is hard for me to even have faith that we will ever get there.  At least one week a month, I struggle with discouragement and the lack of percentage growth in our team of partners.  I many times find myself day dreaming that God would call our family to some ministry here in America.  More than once I have considered quitting.  
       Our Christian culture taught me that being a missionary or pastor means you are strong, brave, and spiritually mature.  It isn’t true.  Quitting my job and beginning ministry full time just showed me how weak I am.  I am just now beginning to actually understand faith.  I always thought faith was “believing God will do it”, but now I realize it is “Believing God even if He doesn’t do it.”  Faith is trusting God even if circumstances don’t go how you thought they should.  Faith is confidence in the unchanging character of God even when the world says you have no reason to trust Him.
       So even though this process of building up a team of financial partners has taken way longer than I envisioned or planned, the God we serve is just as capable today to provide all our needs as He was the day we started raising up financial partners.  The only difference is that I now see my weakness a little clearer.

And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weakness, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”   -2 Corinthians 12:9-10

       Being strong and brave are not qualifications for serving God.  The opposite is true.  The more clearly you see your weakness then the more useful you are to God.  I am not going to Romania because I am brave, strong, or mature.  I am going to Romania because that is what God has called my family to do and He promises that His grace will trump my weakness.  Even though sometimes I want to quit I don’t, not because I am patient, but because my God is faithful.