Friday, September 28, 2007

Mercy in Misery

“Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy.” Psalm 28:6

Have you ever been in a desperate situation? Maybe you’re there right now. You see no hope in sight for a better outcome. You’re crushed underneath the weight of your struggle. You’re at the point of absolute despair, feeling like you can’t breathe another breath.

Hold on, dear friend, and lift up your hands, lift up your voice, lift up your soul – for the Lord God is rich in mercy.

The writer in Psalm 28 found himself about to tumble into the pit of death, and he cried out in desperation to the Lord, his Rock. He felt the weight of despair about to overcome him, and probably had for some time with no relief in sight. He pleaded for God to not be silent, but to hear his cry for mercy. He called out to Him for help, for the Lord was his only hope of rescue.

And he received mercy in his time of misery.

The Bible is full of men and women and families and nations who cried out to the Lord in the midst of desperate situations. Here are just three examples from Matthew’s gospel:

  • The blind men who shouted out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” (Mt. 9:27)

  • The Canaanite woman whose daughter was suffering terribly from demon-possession cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mt. 15:22)

  • The man whose son suffered greatly from seizures knelt before Jesus, “Lord, have mercy on my son.” (Mt. 17:15)

Read these accounts in their contexts and you’ll see that Jesus is the God of mercy. Even though He didn’t just snap His fingers automatically to heal them, He still heard their cries. Even though He may have seemed to delay a response to their need, He still heard their cries. And He rewarded their persistent faith.

God responds in mercy because He is merciful. I don’t know of a single account in all of Scripture where anyone who comes humbly before the Lord asking for mercy is denied. Even the thief on the cross in his final hour asked Jesus for mercy, and He gave it saying, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Surely He is also the God who will “judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5), and will soon come to “convict the all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words the ungodly have spoken against him” (Jude 1:15). But His mercy is offered right now to all who call upon the name of Jesus for salvation, repenting of sin and trusting in Him. “Our Lord’s patience means salvation” (2 Peter 3:15), so “seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (Isa. 55:6).

Call upon the name of the Lord, you who are troubled and desperate! Call on Him day and night – in faith – until you receive His mercy. Come humbly before His throne of mercy and grace, through Jesus, and you will find help!

You’ll never get a busy signal or a recorded voice greeting you with, “All our representative are assisting other callers right now. Please hold. Your wait time is approximately 30 minutes.” You’ll never get an, ““I’m sorry, that’s not my department. Let me transfer you.” You’ll never hear Him say, “Well, it looks like we’ve run out of mercy today. You should have come sooner.”

The Bible says, “The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29). God’s mercy is promised not the unrepentant, rebellious and defiant, but to those who belong to Him. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Mt. 5:7).

Yes, He may delay His answer for His own purposes. Perhaps to test the genuineness of your faith. Maybe to see how dependent upon Him you truly are. Sometimes He may even allow you to experience the consequences of your actions as a way of disciplining you in love.

But be assured, dear friend, that the Lord hears the prayers of His people. “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17).

May you have cause to give praise to the Lord today, and proclaim your thanksgiving aloud, knowing He has heard your cry for mercy.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Refreshing, Restoring Rain

For those who know how dry it’s been lately in Southern Illinois, yesterday’s rain was a blessing. It was much needed relief to the dry and thirsty land. It was a glad and welcomed sight to behold. It was good to feel the rain again.

I was surprised at how quickly such a rain brought restoration. The yard at the parsonage was all but dead. Except for a couple of passes along the ditch and near the sidewalk, the front yard has not needed mowing for nearly two months. It had turned brown by early August. Walking on it made me cringe with each step as it crunched beneath my feet. It was struggling to survive, and with the passing of each day’s heat and parchedness hope dimmed.

You have to understand something – I love my yard! In the spring it came up more thick and luscious green than the Amazon rainforest. With nary a weed or bald spot in sight, it was a perfect barefooting lawn, great for the boys to run around on. Even in the hotter weather of early summer it kept its luster beautifully.

But my affections for the yard are not wrapped up in its pleasant and tidy appearance. This yard symbolizes the labor of the church’s love. Every time I pull up to the house, each time I mow the grass, and anytime I see the kids playing outside I am reminded of the work that George and Tom put into replanting the yard. When we moved to Ridgway three years ago, there was nothing but dirt where the grass should have been. The yard had been in such poor shape that it needed more than just a little help – it needed new life. So these men killed off the old in order to plant the new. It’s for the love shown in their efforts that I thank the Lord as I brag on how great my yard looks!

So, it hurts to see the yard deteriorate as it has in the past several weeks. Yet, the rain that fell on its arid soil yesterday has already begun to spring it back to life! I distinctly noticed green growth appearing in the midst of the browning stubble. Now, I’m sure there are some farmers around here who can tell a more passionate story about what the rain means to them and their livelihood, but I am thankful and rejoice in the Lord for the showers of His blessings.

Sometimes our lives can get pretty dry, as well. Maybe you haven’t picked up your Bible in reading, meditating or praying to the Lord in several weeks. Maybe you haven’t engaged in serious Bible study with others for quite some time. Maybe you haven’t been active in the fellowship of God’s church, or even if you’ve gone to church the experience barely amounted to a sprinkle. Maybe you’ve been neglecting opportunities for ministry or evangelism and the ground of your heart is increasingly hardening with each passing day.

It’s time for you to soak up the refreshing and restoring rain of the Lord! Let the showers of His Word fall upon your thirsty soul today. Let the righteousness of Christ pour over your heart as you yield anew to His authority in obedience. Let the joy of true, Spirit-filled worship flood your being as you bow before the glory of the Lord, coming humbly into His presence, though boldly in Christ Jesus, with songs of thanksgiving and praise.

You may be surprised at how quickly the green growth will appear and begin bringing restoration to your spiritual drought.

Why not start in meditation and prayer in Psalm 27 right now.

PS 27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation--
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life--
of whom shall I be afraid?

PS 27:2 When evil men advance against me
to devour my flesh,
when my enemies and my foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.

PS 27:3 Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.

PS 27:4 One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.

PS 27:5 For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.

PS 27:6 Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the LORD.

PS 27:7 Hear my voice when I call, O LORD;
be merciful to me and answer me.

PS 27:8 My heart says of you, "Seek his face!"
Your face, LORD, I will seek.

PS 27:9 Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.

PS 27:10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will receive me.

PS 27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.

PS 27:12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing out violence.

PS 27:13 I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.

PS 27:14 Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Ultimate Transformer

Youch! It’s been too long since I’ve posted anything on this site. If you’ve checked in occasionally and found nothing new, I apologize. I’m resolving to publish more frequently, even if the whole chapter doesn’t get written.

Transform v. 1. To change markedly in form or appearance. 2. To change in nature or condition; convert.
(The American Heritage Dictionary, 1983)

My oldest son enjoys playing with transformers. It’s pretty cool how he can change them from a robot-looking guy into an airplane or army tank or something. I can’t figure them out, myself. I could look at the instructions all day long but never seem to make it work. My son doesn’t need the instructions. He just starts twisting and turning the figure around until it miraculously becomes an altogether different toy.

This is what God does with those who believe in Christ Jesus. He changes us – not in outward form or appearance, but from the inside out. He transforms our nature. He transforms our thoughts. He transforms our minds. He transforms our attitudes. He transforms our desires. He transforms our ambitions. He transforms us until we become an altogether different person. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17).

It doesn’t always happen overnight. Though we are made new in Christ – born again – the process of transformation takes time. I gave my life to the Lord at the tender age of six. No, I didn’t have the book of Romans memorized, nor did I fully understand the doctrines of election, regeneration, justification or sanctification. I’m still working on some of these things. But I knew that I was a sinner. I knew that God loved me so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for my sins. I knew that if I believe in Him that I would have everlasting life. So, with my mother guiding me, I received Jesus as my Savior and Lord.

That doesn’t mean that I became sinless. Yes, I was saved. Yes, I was in Christ. Yes, I became a new creation. Yes, I was born again. But the process of transformation was only beginning. The Lord is still transforming me into His own likeness with ever-increasing glory (2 Cor. 3:18). He’s making me more and more to reflect His glory in this world.

On our family vacation in August we experienced the trial of having a flat tire on our van. There was a day when I would have been very irritated at the situation. I would have been upset at the delay. I would have been angry at the expense of repair. I would have probably have been miserable for the rest of the trip, and taken my family down with me. But because the Lord is in the process of transforming my thoughts and attitudes and words and behaviors, He enabled me to respond graciously in this situation. Even miraculously, in order to demonstrate His grace, the Lord provided for our needs. That afternoon before we left on our trip, one of the members of the church gave us $200 to help with our expenses. The bill for two new tires totaled $200.21.

As followers of Christ we must live according to the Spirit. “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires…the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6). God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in the life of a believer in Christ transforms us as we live in Him and are led by Him. He produces in us “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

We are powerless to make the transformation ourselves. We must remain in Him, keep trusting in Him, keep in step with the Spirit, and He will transform us into His own likeness – for our good and for His glory. He is the Ultimate Transformer. Not that He changes, but He changes us.

Jesus changed the life of the leper with the touch of His cleansing hand. He changed the life of the centurion’s servant with just a word of healing. He changed the lives of the demon-possessed men by driving out the legion of demons. He changed the life of the paralytic by forgiving his sins, then proved His authority to do so by raising him to walk again. He changed the life Jairus’ daughter when He raised her from death to life. He changed the life of the blind men when He restored their sight.

By His unfailing mercy demonstrated when He shed His blood on the cross for our sins, He changes the lives of all who come to Him through faith. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -” Paul wrote to Timothy, “of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:15-16). What a transformation the apostle Paul experienced!

If you’re still tracking with this and have never received the mercy of Jesus that alone can save you from the wages of sin, which is death (Rom. 6:23), then the good news of the gospel is for you this very moment. Cry out to Jesus for mercy, acknowledging your sin, receiving His forgiveness, and you will be transformed.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1-2).