Mercy and Justice: Better than Rules

According to the teacher, the word was “prophesy.” We were coming to the end of the sixth-grade spelling bee, and that was my word. I spelled it correctly, but was told that I got it wrong. I knew I hadn’t, but I sat down because that’s what I was told to do. The next person up spelled it, “prophecy” and got it “right.” I was a little upset. The difference is in pronunciation. The verb, prophesy, is pronounced with a long “i” sound at the end. The noun, prophecy, is pronounced like a long “e.” As soon as the contest ended, I challenged the judges over the incorrect pronunciation of the word. While they admitted that I was right, they told me it was too late to bring a challenge because the bee was over. That’s when I learned a hard lesson about legalism: The rules aren’t always about being fair; sometimes they’re just about the rules.

That is to say, sometimes laws are made not to preserve justice, but only to preserve order. Such order often comes at the cost of justice. Jesus was upset with the Pharisees who wanted to find fault with him for healing on the Sabbath because he broke their man-made rules. “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath,” he said, “wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep!” Sometimes, mercy and justice are more important than rules.

That’s something to think about.

Good Gifts

I love to give gifts. I love to see a person’s reaction when they encounter a pleasant surprise. I also love to see people get gifts from others. To see someone honored by the generosity of friends or family make me feel happy for them.

Jesus wants us to know that the Father is all about giving good gifts. Not only the good things of everyday life, but goodness in all ways. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

He also told his disciples to ask! Don’t just passively wait for God to act, but petition him for these good gifts. “Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”

So, ask. And trust him. He will not fail you. And while he may chose to withhold some particular thing from you, you can be assured that he has something wonderful in store.

That’s something to think about.

Even I

You’re just passing by, but in the corner of your eye you see something so beautiful that, for a second, you’re stunned. It just took your breath away. Perhaps it was a sudden glance out the window at an incredible sunrise. Maybe it was an old wedding photo that brings a wave of emotions crashing in upon your mind. Or the baby, sleeping peacefully in her crib. Whatever it was, it’s these moments, where we find ourselves plunged into wonder and awe, that pull us up short and make us really appreciate the life that we’ve been blessed with.

Something like that happened to me recently. I was just reading Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian saints when this statement hit me with the force of a freight train: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Think about that. The Sinless one became sin so that we could become righteous. Everything Jesus wasn’t, he became: thief, murderer, wretch—that even I might be saved.

This is super important, because, just a little before he said this, Paul asserted, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.”

Judgement is real. I know I’m not good enough to avoid the consequences of sin. I’m too human. But Jesus put on sin, wearing it like a mantle, so that I might put on Christ and be justified.

That’s something to think about.

It Is Enough

Have you noticed how we ask our kids if they have enough? It’s almost like a parent’s theme song. When it’s cold, we ask, “Do you have enough layers?” When it’s sunny, “Do you have enough sunscreen?” When they’re living on their own, “Do you have enough to eat?” We want to take care of our kids, so we want to make sure that their needs are being met—that they have enough.

God wants to make sure that you have everything you need to please him. He’s not going to let you go spritually hungry. The apostle Peter said, “God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.” He’s not some grumpy old man waiting for us to step one toe over the line so that he can shout at us, “Get off my lawn!” He’s not waiting to thump us on the back of the head for messing up. He doesn’t want us to sin! He wants us to be successful in our walk with him. So he gives us everything we need—he gives us enough.

If you start to feel ill equipped to deal with some hardship or spiritual struggle, just remember, like a loving father, God is on your side. He’s cheering you on, and he’s given you what you need to succeed. Trust him. It’s enough.

That’s something to think about.

On the Road Again

I love a good road trip. Actually, if it’s been a while since I’ve gone anywhere, it doesn’t really have to be a good road trip. I’m down with hitting the road, wandering to parts far away and discovering something new. Camping, staying with friends, or patronizing motels—as long as I can “get outta Dodge” I’m happy to go.

When I visit a new area, I like to indulge in the local scene. I want to eat at places and see things that I can’t back in Kansas City. I want to experience the local color—to do as the Romans, when in Rome.

While that’s a fine philosophy as you travel the land, always keep in mind that your real home is in heaven. “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices.”

As you live this temporary life in a foreign country, see the sights, enjoy the food, and love the people, but don’t let the world’s “local color” lead you away from God.

That’s something to think about.

Home of the Brave … Mother

“A mother’s love” is practically a cliché, but that’s because we know what that’s like. Whether you grew up with the mother who bore you, you likely experienced some woman (or women) in your life who was every bit a mother to you. You probably felt the sense of care and protection that a mother’s arms can provide, or the peace of hearing her voice sing you softly to sleep. Perhaps you can remember the times she taught you; whether it was showing you how to do some household chore for yourself or just sharing her daily advice and experience.

Some of us have even witnessed a mother’s courage. There are things that sometimes try our bravery—that call us to rise above our earthly cares and fears and be more than we think that we can be. Those instances of savage courage can make all the difference in the developing character of a child.

Look at John Mark’s mother: Mary hosted a congregation of the nascent church in her home. When king Herod killed the apostle James and saw how it pleased his constituents, he began to turn his hand toward more executions and apprehended Peter. There was no knowing how far he would go, or when he would stop. But still, Mary continued to encourage the church and host their meetings. In fact, when Peter was miraculously freed from the king’s clutches he knew right where to go to find the brothers in this time of persecution—Mary’s house!

In his later years Mark would minister to Peter and Paul in Roman prisons, undergoing trials of their own. He would go on to write his gospel, the first account of Jesus’ life and teaching, and ecourage the saints in his own way. While he ended his career as a mighty warrior for God, it’s important to remember that he began it sitting on the knee of his very brave mother.

That’s something to think about.


My friend Devin Warrington writes these words:

From the surface of the water, a duck looks like it has its act together. It seems to calmly drift across the water. But underneath, the duck is paddling frantically trying to keep moving, especially if moving against the current. If a duck were to look around at the other ducks it might be surprised or even disheartened. The duck might assume that while it’s working like crazy, all the other ducks are serenely gliding along. That duck might start to think it’s doing something wrong. Or the duck might think that the other ducks know something that it doesn’t. The duck may even start to believe it isn’t very good at being a duck. It’s not easy being a duck, but it is easy to get discouraged if one duck compares itself to all the other ducks around. Especially if the only thing visible is above the water. This is the duck effect.

Family, I want to make a few points about this metaphor of our lives. Just because people seem like they have it all together doesn’t mean they do. Some people do some of the time, but I pretty well guarantee no one does all of the time, and most of us have only brief periods of calm. Keeping this in mind is important for a number of reasons:

  1. We shouldn’t feel such pressure to pretend like everything is fine. Our lives are messy. It’s ok to need someone to cry with, vent to, or pray with. It’s ok to be struggling with sin and need support.
  2. We should reach out to encourage and support others even if it seems like they’re gliding along just fine. Build relationships that go deeper than small talk so that we’re able to better see what’s going on beneath the surface of each other’s lives.
  3. When someone else reacts in an uncharitable way toward us, maybe with a short temper, we should realize we have no idea what’s going on in their life right now. Perhaps their reaction wasn’t personal, but rather a reflection of the struggles they are going through. Consider giving them the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Realize that it can be hard for others to see when you’re struggling or that you feel like you’re about to drown. Ask for support rather than being surprised that no one is noticing that you’re nearly exhausted and about to get swept away by the current.

“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep,” Romans 12:15

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude,” 1 Peter 3:8

“Cancer” is a Big Word

There are some big words out there. Words like aidsleukemiacerebral palsy, and cancer. Maybe you’ve heard them spoken by your doctor or pediatrician. Maybe they’ve been whispered among others in reference to people you love. These words frighten us. They challenge our priorities. For many, these words are synonyms for hopelessness.

When I hear the Big Words others come to my mind, the words of David the Psalmist: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we trust the name of the Lord our God.” It’s so easy to come to trust things and forget the Maker of all things. We place our faith in the creation rather than the Creator. But then we hear the Big Words, and we realize that the creation is woefully inadequate to handle our fear and pain. Even though science and skill come from God, these are limited in our place and time. I know people close to me with cancer, ALS, and cerebral palsy. I know many who have suffered devastating physical effects from these diseases. And I know that, right now in this time and place, there is no cure. Science hasn’t the ken. Treatment options are limited. Our technology hasn’t yet caught up to our needs.

But God is not bound by our technology and knowledge. He gives us science and a mind of discovery, but there are many secrets we have yet to learn. God knows. He knows about the Big Words and what they do to us. He knows how to cure and make everything right. He knows why. And while our understanding is limited, when we hear the Big Words, we know that we have nowhere else to turn. The creation has let us down. God lifts us up. “Some trust in medical science, and some in doctors, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Doctors are good, and medicine is good, but ultimately, healing is from the Lord.

That’s something to think about.

My Favorite Things

We all have our favorites. You might have a favorite television show, a favorite music genre, or a favorite sports team. Perhaps you have a favorite color or a favorite tie. Your favorites reflect your personality. As that personality changes over the years, so may your preferences. That’s just the way we humans are.

It’s normal to have favorites. We’re drawn to people and things that appeal to us. But, in the Christian walk, we are called to overcome “normal”. Being godly is nothing like being normal. Normal people don’t always act with kindness toward others or share love with their fellow men. Normal people judge and find fault with those around them. Normal people are fallen sinners.

Perhaps you get my point. We are fallen sinners who are constantly in danger of being normal. That’s why we have to avoid distinguishing between people, exercising normal, worldly prejudices. James writes, “My brothers and sisters, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith in Jesus has no business hanging around with prejudice. Godliness is not normal.

That’s something to think about.

Here Comes the Son

Green is one of my favorite colors. I think that is what I like most about Spring—green pops up everywhere! The world is overflowing in verdure, and it seems like life pours out of every nook and cranny of the planet.

Spring holds promise. Every year we see the plants go dormant; birds migrate south; insects and animals disappear to while away the winter’s snows in a warm nest or den. And then Spring comes. Wildlife becomes active once more, birds return from their winter vacations, trees bud, and flowers bloom. The grass grows green again, and the world is refreshed and renewed in this change of season.

Jesus promises us the same thing: refreshing, renewal, resurrection. Peter, preaching to a crowd in the Lord’s name, said, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” After a long winter of guilt and sin, how marvelous it is to be refreshed by God! All we need to do is turn from the frigid shadows of sin and raise our faces to the Son.

That’s something to think about.