kingdom.experiment.5

Week 5 – The Merciful

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

My daughter and I were talking about the Kingdom Experiment as we were driving. She told me how she decided to be merciful to people who were slow or annoying drivers. She explained how it was really hard for her and that she felt she did pretty well, especially knowing that the other driver would never know the mercy she extended in her heart. As she was talking I got behind someone driving REALLY, REALLY slow. I grumbled and sped around him – OK – maybe I actually growled. My daughter exclaimed, “Dad!” with extreme shock in her eyes. I looked at her in equal surprise and said, “Hey, that was your experiment, not mine!”

My chosen experiment was a twist on the “pay for someone else’s traffic ticket” experiment. I am a bi-vocational pastor, so in addition to pastoring, I also work at an architectural firm downtown. We have one-hr parking on the street, but instead of meters, we have a guy who walks around the city chalking tires and writing tickets. My idea was to print out a little note that simply said “mercy” with The Kingdom Experiment website, on it – so that they would at least know that someone had mercy on them while I could remain completely anonymous. The problem was that every time I looked, there were no tickets!!!

At first I was frustrated at not being able to complete my task. But, God started twisting my heart and got me thinking. He asks me to be merciful – to take mercy on as a characteristic of my life – to become “mercy”. He does not want me picking and choosing when and where to show mercy, but to become “mercy”. My life should gush with mercy. As I write this, I am reminded of how mad and mean I have been as my coworkers and I have picked on the “little Gestapo ticket man” – behind his back. God, forgive me. God – forgive me. Make me become “mercy” – over and over again.

when.christians.hurt

Christians hurt. It is real hurt, about real issues. For Christians, part of our struggle during hurt is the sense of guilt about some of the things we feel about God while we hurt. We feel abandoned. We feel forgotten. We feel punished. We feel distrust. We feel bewilderment. We feel doubt. Yes, we “feel” these things. As we experience them, intense feelings emerge. And then we feel guilty about feeling these things, convinced that we’ve finally stepped out of His favor because of our lack of perseverance and strength.

I recently received a cry of help from someone I care about. As I wrote I searched for the Holy Spirit’s words because I had none. As I wrote, His words began to flow, and something that I had never considered came forth. I decided to write a blog post about it because I do feel it sincerely to be Holy Spirit inspired, and could give some comfort or perspective to some Christian who is hurting.

Here is what came forth (edited for grammar and clarity):

I’m not going to patronize you with the whole “all things happen for the good of those who love Him,” or “God is walking this road with you.” You know all that, but it doesn’t help. The fact is that life really sucks sometimes and “sometime” happens to be right now for you.

I wish, for all the people I care about, that God will immediately lift the burdens they are suffering. But, the painful fact is that for whatever reason, God permits our trials. Of course, we know that none of this is God’s fault – we are products of the failure of our first parents – the whole of creation bears it’s pain. But that hardly matters when we are hurting.

So what do we do? Do we curse God because of His permissive position regarding our suffering? Do we abandon Him because it feels like He has abandoned us? Do we just give up and let the flood overtake us – figuratively if not literally?

I am reminded of David’s struggles. While mostly self-induced, his pain was, nonetheless, quite real and quite debilitating. Yet even in his cries of frustration and anger – sometimes squarely directed at God – somehow David was able to overcome his pain and ultimately, time after time, he was able to praise God.

His praise was not because the pain was magically eradicated during his song, nor because the broken was magically restored. His praise was rooted in the knowledge that God’s love is perfect and His end-game plan was assured.

Could our comfort be so hokey as the promise of a “light at the end of a tunnel?” I struggle with that notion. That peace is found outside of my circumstances, in something that transcends my plight, is difficult to fathom. After all, doesn’t He care about every hair on my head? Isn’t He supposed to care when I hurt?

Yet, even though I may not feel like it, I know, from others too, that somehow Grace is enough – not some self-absorbed notion of Grace, but a view of Grace that binds all of humanity to the hope of being redeemed – restored to our place in His purpose.

The trials that we face, as hard as they are to endure at times, are being creatively and actively redeemed and rewoven into the fabric of a restored creation. The redeemed threads of others are bound with ours as we walk this journey together – touching one anothers’ lives with Grace.

Nothing I said makes it any easier to endure, I know. But I can only offer the hope of God’s perfect plan. I believe that all of our pain will be redeemed to help someone else in their redemptive process. One day, I pray soon, your pain will be redeemed to help someone else in their redemptive process.

I don’t know how or when the end of your tunnel will come. But, the one thing I can assure you of is that He has already empowered you with the ability to see it through to redemption.

In His grip,

Pastor Herb

seeking.unity.about.justice

What follows is a copy/ paste/ edit of my comments on a blog I follow. The comments are to a post that references a story told at the  Sustainable Faith Conference about the exploitation of migrant workers in the USA. The discussion got interesting when one commenter asked,  “What has all this got to do with the mission of the Church?” You can read the blog post and the ensuing discussion here.

I decided to post my comments here as a post so that I and others might begin to explore a more unifying expression of the “good stuff” when it comes to “social holiness”.

After my first comment, someone asked me to expound on why I “squirm” at the term “social justice.”

— First comment —

I have to admit – I squirm at the term “social justice”. But, I find that seeking to restore people, rectify broken situations, love “the least of these” as if they were Jesus, and praying for a Holy Spirit ordained opportunity to share the Gospel are inseparable from my walk with Christ. I really believe that, in most cases, the privilege of sharing the Gospel with someone is earned through an authentic relationship. Because of that, the relational things come first, not because the Gospel is subordinate, but because it is, by nature, relational – “God so loved” (relational word alert) “the world…” But, rescue and restoration are not merely the means to and end, but integral to the process of building authentic relationships.

— Second comment —

First let me say that my issue with the term far predates the current hoopla in the media involving a certain media personality. I have no issue with the majority of the work that is being categorized as social justice, and I have no problem with the movement, especially among young adults, that we are seeing under that banner. Perhaps because I am old enough to relate to boomers, but still young enough to interact with millennials in a mutual respect, I also have an understanding of why a lot of the not so young have issues. I believe it revolves around connotation.

Most of the boomers were just as rebellious and idealistic as millennials seem to be, and when they got to a place where they could make a difference, they felt as if they had made a huge dent in addressing social inequities. When a younger set comes along and starts using terms like injustice there is a natural defensiveness that sets in – as if the good efforts of those boomers are somehow judged as ineffectual and as if no change had occurred in dealing with social difficulties.

They wonder, “are they saying we are party to this injustice?” Yet these are the champions of the social revolution that gave us Martin Luther King, Jr., and other pioneers in restoring society. Add to this, the prevailing understanding that no matter how much we do, this creation will still be broken until Jesus finally restores all things, and you begin to understand that perhaps there is a major difference in opinion about approach more than whether the work needs to be done or not. When secular proponents of social justice chime in and begin to elevate the work above the mission, an additional layer of resistance emerges – again, not so much with the work, but the motive – as if, under human intention we will somehow create the utopia that is not possible until Jesus returns.

So then we find ourselves in the midst of a division, primarily generational, but not entirely, that causes false assumptions on both sides about the other. One saying that the other does not care about the poor and disenfranchised and does not really understand the Gospel, and the other side claiming that the other group is about handouts and feel-good theology devoid of any remnant of the redemptive Gospel.

Some term needs to emerge, that is born of a synergistic intention of unity in God’s people – one behind which both “sides” can rally, champion, and immerse themselves. I’ve sought alternatives, like “social holiness”, which is misused by most, but I have not yet found that ideal term. I am currently finding favor in “restorative holiness” as a viable term – we’ll see how it plays.

— Your thoughts? —