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Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 (NIV)

Who should we be merciful to? Before telling his disciples to be merciful he gave them and us a list (Luke 6:27-35) that includes our enemies, those who hate, curse, mistreat, abuse and hurt us, those who take from us, ask of us and want to borrow from us. If you ask me, those are the people who make me less merciful, who make me think twice about being compassionate, or not think of it at all. Depending on what they have done to me, inflicted on me, or how they have taken advantage of me, the last thing I want to be is merciful. Chances are, that if you can read this, you have been hurt, burnt, and used. Being told to be merciful to those who did that to us feels like being told to be a sucker, an enabler, to be someone who doesn’t learn from experience. And yet, against all our possible objections, apprehensions, fears and feelings Jesus commands us to be merciful like God the Father. How do we do that?

1. Ruminate on the Father’s mercy. Contemplate how vast, how multifaceted, how indiscriminate, how continual, constant and eternal God’s mercies are. Consider the ultimate expression of God the Father’s mercy in and through his Son Jesus Christ (for more detail read part 1 to this pastor’s note). Ruminating on, contemplating God’s mercy is like looking at an inspiring picture that makes you go, “Wow,” and wish you were there. Pictures like that are good to have on the walls of our heart and mind.

2. Remember when you needed mercy. Everyone has needed mercy sometime during their lifetime, and most likely many many times. Remember a time when you had to ask for help, for assistance, for forgiveness, for another chance, or maybe you were merely hoping that someone would see and respond to your need. We are much humbler when we need mercy and we will be much more empathetic when we remember the times we were in those shoes. The Apostle Paul, for whom mercy wasn’t always a strength, remembered and wrote, “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all (how I needed mercy). But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life” 1 Timothy 1:15-16 (NLT2, parenthesis mine).

3. Recall when you received mercy. It is one thing to ask, hope, and wish for mercy but it’s quite another to actually receive it, Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around” Proverbs 13:12 (MSG). Recall the joy, the relief, the gratitude you felt when you were on the receiving end of mercy.

4. Recognize and seize opportunities you have to be merciful. God doesn’t tell us to merciful and then not give us opportunities to be merciful. Before Jesus said “be merciful,” he already had told his disciples, Do to others as you would have them do to you,” or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases it, Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!” Luke 6:31 NIV &MSG. Think about how many “little” opportunities to be merciful daily come your way. I suspect, the better we become at seizing the small mercy moments the better we will be at the larger and more challenging ones.

Let’s go practice.

To God be all glory, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 (NIV)

Some things are easier to be than others. It is easier to be ignorant than to be informed, to be thoughtless than to be thoughtful, to be foolish than to be wise, to be undisciplined than to be disciplined, to be nasty than to be kind, to be stingy than to be generous, to be unforgiving than to be forgiving, to be critical than to be caring, to be watching than to be involved, to be cynical than to be doing good, to be merciless than to be merciful. But Christ never told his followers to settle for what comes easier but he was persistent in commanding and encouraging them to pursue that which better, to reach for the best, to emulate God the Father, to model their lives after himself.

It is easier to practice a little mercy here and there, to be generous every now and then, to be kind sometimes … than it is to be merciful … in our very being, in our core, as part of our character, like the Father.

So, what do we know about the mercy of the Father, and how can we become and be merciful like him?

God’s mercy is vast, like an immense deep sea. Scripture speaks of his mercies being great, extending over all his works (Psalm 119:156, 145:9), and King David chose to be judged by God rather than men because he was certain of God’s vast mercy (2 Samuel 24:14).

God’s mercy is also multifaceted. Jeremiah the prophet found comfort and hope in the midst of carnage and destruction because he remembered that The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23,ESV), and the Apostle Paul concurred when he encouraged the Corinthians that to bless God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all of our affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3, ESV).

God’s mercy is indiscriminate, Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:35-36 ESV).

God’s mercy is continual, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23,ESV). Every sunrise and every rainstorm (Matthew 5:45) remind us that God’s mercy is both inexhaustible and that it gets up every morning.

God’s mercy finds its ultimate expression in Jesus Christ, All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay (1 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT2).

And just like that, I have run out of space for this pastor’s note, I guess you will have to wait till next week for some thoughts on, “How can we merciful like the Father?” But, I suspect that even before you get that p-note will have occasions and opportunities to be merciful. So, how can what you just learned about God’s mercy help you with that?

To God be all glory. Love you, pastor Hans

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 (NIV)

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Matthew 5:7 (NIV)

In order to be numbered among the merciful, you have to be merciful. But why should we want to be merciful in the first place? First of all, because God the Father and Jesus Christ are merciful, but also because we reap what we sow, and because a merciless world is a terrible world to live in and a merciless life is a terrible life to live.

My earliest memory of being merciless is in Kindergarten on a warm early summer morning that had us wearing shorts. We, the other bullies and I, had mentally and socially challenged Heinzi cornered in the corner of the blind spot of the play yard. On one side of the corner was the wall of the building, the other side was a fence, and the entire corner was overgrown with tall sting nettles. Sting nettles are nasty plants with leaves that have poisonous barbs at the edges of their leaves that burn like bee stings and leave nasty welts. “I’m burning! I burning!” Heinzi cried as he tried to escape but was sent back tumbling into the nettles again and again. He finally just gave up and sat there weeping, unable to comprehend why? We wandered off, laughing, but inside I knew it was wrong, I felt wicked without knowing the word. I should’ve gone back to help Heinzi, but I didn’t, I lacked the courage. And, I wish it was my only memory of being merciless, but sadly and shamefully it isn’t.

Heinzi never told on us, which is surprising because Heinzi told everything. Besides what was going on in our own consciences we suffered no consequences. It bothered me so much I left the bully club of five-year-olds and the picture of the incident still hangs on the main wall of my memory. Somehow, Heinzi and I became friends, which says more about him than it says about me. Somehow, this little boy whom we deemed inferior and weak met my mercilessness with mercy, with forgiveness, and a willingness to try again and be friends. It wasn’t until many years later that I figured out that whether he knew it or not he was being like “Our Father,” who told us through Christ, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” Luke 6:35-36 (ESV). Somehow, when I think if this evil I was part of in the corner of the Kindergarten yard I think of Christ, who in dying agony, unspeakable injustice and cruelty, and with one of his last breaths looked down at mocking, jeering, merciless crowd and with compassion and mercy said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” Luke 23:34 (NIV).

2019 needs more mercy not less, which means it needs more of us to be “merciful,” to act merciful like God the Father and Christ, like Heinzi weeping in the sting nettles.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

Christmas – Jesus, the Great and Most Needed Interruption

I remember the look in my kid’s eyes saying it all, “Somebody please stop him!” when I was on a parental roll, taking charge of the situation (usually without consulting Susie), laying down new rules, unleashing a fresh wind in the Frei household.

Have you ever wished for someone to stop you, interrupt you? Like when your mouth just wouldn’t shut up? When you were throwing a fit? When you were making a complete fool of yourself? When you were making lousy choices, spending too much, eating too much, texting while driving, …? When you were mean, petty, arrogant, unkind, or plain dumb or acting stupid?

Of course, there are much weightier things that need interrupting, like addictions, dysfunctional habits, violence, injustice, exploitation, oppression, tyranny, hatred, ignorance, poverty, excuses, lies, unforgiveness, hypocrisy, evil. However, just because something needs interrupting does not mean the interruption is welcome, darkness will fight the light to the bitter end, wrong and evil have no tolerance for interrupters.

“There was no room …” (Luke 2:7) for Jesus Christ in ordinary life, in political life, religious life, and in most people’s personal life. There was no room for the personified Word and will of God no matter how much it was, and still is, needed. Jesus Christ, Son of God, Creator, Source of all life and light came into this world, stepped into history, but he was not understood, human darkness recoiled at his light, and his own did not want him. The “grace and truth”, the innocence, goodness, righteousness, and hope interruption our world so desperately needs still finds few takers, few who will make room for it, welcome it, Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12 (NIV).

It’s striking, unless we outright reject it, how much we dress up Christmas, the incarnation of God, in sentimentality, quaintness, and feel good. Let’s make it a superficial, fleeting interruption. But Christmas, Jesus is about God interrupting us at our core, our worst, in our deepest depravity, in our evil, at our most sinful, our total helplessness, our utter hopelessness, and in the darkest reality of ourselves and all humanity. Will we welcome him there? Will we make room for Christ there? Will we praise God for interrupting us through Christ and proclaim the excellencies of him who called (interrupted) you out of darkness into his marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

Merry Christmas! Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

The Interruption of Me, My, Mine

It is an amazing thing to watch the acquisition of the words me, my, and mine.  If you happen to attend a Christmas gathering inhabited with a number of kids below the age of five you will have a front row seat to watching, me, my, and mine.  I guarantee, sooner than later there will be a ruckus because one child will play with a toy given to another child. Then the owner child will inform the taker child that the toy s/he playing with belongs to him/her, “That’s mine!” or simply, “Mine!” will be followed by a determined grab. But the rightful owner is unaware that the usurper is claiming the unofficial rule, or even natural law, that anything left unattended long enough to be taken and played with constitutes a transfer of ownership. Thus the determined grab by the rightful owner will be met by a jerk in the opposite direction and a claim, “No, mine!” And before you know it there will be a physical altercation accompanied with tears and screaming. At this point, the inattentive adults, who were happy that the children were  “playing so nicely together,” are alerted and jump in to correct the situation with various, although often ineffective, strategies.

Of course, these little people have been working on the concept of these words since birth, long before they can articulate it into words. They figure out very quickly who is “my Mommy,” which Mommy might interpret as her being super special (which she is, really), but it really is about that little cutie making sure about “me,” that s/he gets taking care of, is being fed, burped, changed, and cuddled. If you think I am being too cynical just watch what happens when someone comes along and does a better job of the things that are important to that little “me (first).”

Now check out the child who was jealous as she saw her sibling or cousin unwrap a present she really wanted. She is looking for an opportunity, the moment her cousin lays down the coveted toy, she looks around, sees that no one is watching, and swoops in. Meanwhile, the owner child is engaged in playing with something else, happy as can be, until she spots cousin with the toy she wasn’t caring about at the moment. Did you see her mood change? The different look in her eyes? The indignation? Me, My, Mine taking over? She glares with disgust at the intervening adults who are trying to encourage her to share. “Hypocrites,” she thinks, although she doesn’t know that word yet, “Let me see you do that when someone uses your toys without asking! It’s my toy and I get to use it when I want to use it.”

While addressing the child owner the adults are also trying to persuade or sidetrack the jealous taker child, who instinctively has tightened his grip. She’s not giving it up without a fight, logic and property rights be damned, in spite of not knowing those words either.

Human history, our personal history is marked and marred by the Me, My, Mine cycle and all the ills that accompany it. Many, if not most, of our laws mean to curtail it, rain it in, yet none have been able to eradicate it. Even the youngest, most untarnished members of our society are unable to be happy and generous in the midst of abundance.

Christmas – Jesus interrupts this Me, My, Mine cycle. It is one of the major reasons we struggle with Jesus (the real Jesus, not the one we have reshaped). He prayed, “Your (God the Father’s) will not mine.” He cared about God’s glory and honor not his own. He gave his life so sinners could live. He exhausted himself by helping, healing, caring. He lived a life that wasn’t about me and calls us to do the same. He didn’t hang onto what most of us wouldn’t dream of letting go. At no time in his life did he succumb to the Me, My, Mine cycle, nor did he excuse us to continue in it, instead he died trying to deliver us from it. “You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich” 2 Corinthians 8:9 (MSG).

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

In two decades of substitute teaching, I developed a morning introduction, “Good Morning class, I am Mr. Frei. I am not Ms…, I don’t look like her, I don’t walk like her, I don’t talk like her, I don’t smell like her, I don’t do my hair like her (I am bald), in fact I am nothing like her, so don’t be surprised that I don’t do things like her! Today, please don’t tell me, ‘But Ms… doesn’t do it that way. But Ms… always does it like this. Ms… lets us do that.’” But after this preemptive introductory speech, I would try hard follow as many of the routines the regular teacher had implemented in her/his classroom because the fewer routines I violated the better things usually went. We are creatures of habit, not just from K-12th grade but throughout life, and when our routines are interrupted we become somewhat disoriented.

Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth were good at the religious routines. In fact, their religious routines shaped all the other routines of their lives (a good thing), and their observances of religious routines sprang from sincere hearts, “they were both righteous in God’s sight …” (Luke 1:6). As a priest, Zacharias was in the middle of rotation of tending to the Altar of Incense, an assignment that was all about very specific routines, and it was then that God spoke to him. He clearly had no expectation for a personal God moment to occur, even though he was in the Holy Place of the temple (Luke 1:12). As helpful as routines can be, they can also be a hindrance, they can confine us, especially when it comes to God, and they can make us reluctant to and even reject the very voice of God.

Zacharias and Elizabeth did not only have their routine interrupted but also their resignation. They were childless, which was considered a blemish in their time. His response to the angel’s announcements that within the next year they would have a child was, “I am old and so is my wife” Luke 1:18. They were resigned to childlessness, to old age, to the stigma. God interrupted that too. Makes me think back to my substitute teacher days, one of saddest things to see is a young child already resigned to limitations real or imagined. Zacharias, who as a priest should’ve known better, got a stern nine-month rebuke for letting his resignation to childlessness diminish his faith in what God could do in his and Elizabeth’s life.

If we are honest, we don’t like our times of rest, of relaxation, of recreation be interrupted. We can get very grumpy, unkind, short, and irritated when that happens (probably not you), after all, that’s kind of “our time.” The night Jesus was born there were shepherds outside of Bethlehem watching their sheep (Luke 2:8). Sheep corralled and settled down it was time to get off the feet, sit by a fire, get out the harmonica, eat a snack, share some stories. The folks in Bethlehem were fast asleep, shops closed down, shutters closed, doors locked, comfy cozy under the covers in bed (Luke 2:17-20). Then the midnight ruckus of angels, the glory of God, and hollering shepherds in the streets. Goodbye sleep, adios relaxing, sayonara “my time.”

Christmas – Jesus is the great interruption, including our routines, our resignation, and our rest. The question is, “How do we handle it when God interrupts them?” Do we quickly return to what we are comfortable with? Temper God to our limitations? Try to get back as fast as possible to whatever we were doing? Grumpily crawl back under the warm covers? Or are we embracing God’s Jesus interruption and in the middle of the night are found responsive to his voice, adjusting to his will, and shouting his praises?

Merry Christmas! Love you, Pastor Hans

 

How much do you like being interrupted? In the middle of dinner? During an important conversation? While on vacation? By a phone call when you are up on a ladder? By your dog’s wet tongue while you are pinned under your car holding up a heavy part? By a pesky fly right when you dozed off? With a crisis just when everything is going great? …? By God?

Christmas, the incarnation of God, the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan, the coming of Jesus, was, and still is, the Great Interruption. It interrupted Mary and Joseph’s love story and future plans. It interfered with King Herod’s political ambitions. It shook Zacharias and Elizabeth’s religious routine. It scared the bejeebers out of the shepherds. It stopped the wise men in their stargazing tracks. It interrupted all of their lives, blew their expectations, forced them to make choices, and had eternal implications for each of them.

Jesus Christ is the greatest interruption in all of history, threatening to the powerful, startling to the wise, confusing to the religious, inconvenient to the young, frightening to the tough, too bright for the wicked, inexplicable to the rational, but as real as anything has ever been.

It’s one thing to be interrupted by a call, a fly, a dog’s slobbery tongue, a pushy or loud person, or even a crisis, it is quite another thing to be interrupted by God himself. The implications are bigger, the stakes of our responses are higher, the consequences are eternal. You have to quickly decide whether to dam up the breach, swat at the intrusion, ignore the interruption, or whether you allow Christ to flood into your life, invade your romance, change your plans, impact your understanding, alter your life and destiny, and surrender to God’s will and plans.

There are plenty of interruptions we don’t need, nuisances, pains in the behind – annoying altogether. We rightly swat them and try to minimize or eliminate their occurrences. Then there are the interruptions that are fantastic, like the falling in love interruption and interrupting the happy lovers’ lives with kids. Just those two made my life immeasurably better. But there also the interruptions we need and there is no interruption our world, humanity, and each one of us personally need more than the Jesus interruption. There are not enough decorations, wrapping paper, Christmas lights, and schmaltzy cash-filled Holiday Cards to gloss over the fact of humanity’s brokenness and our personal sinfulness. The week after Christmas the dumpsters will be full, the worries will return, and our need for God and Christ will still be as real as ever, This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’”1 Timothy 1:15 (NLT2)

“For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. … For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT2)

How you and I respond to the Jesus interruption will be the most important and most consequential decision we will ever make.

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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