Have Mercy

“Oh, Lord GOD! You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for You! 

Jeremiah 32:17

There are times in our lives when things don’t go as we thought they would. The unexpected always has a way of popping up, unannounced, interrupting our preconceived notions, testing us, putting us through trials for which we are totally unprepared. Life is messy, and when things get so out of control that they are basically a dumpster fire, prayer suddenly becomes our BFF. We instinctively know it can help turn things around.

But prayer without repentance is merely a hollow recitation of words. Repentance is what gives prayer power, because its prerequisite is humility. A humble attitude is the polar opposite of pride and arrogance. It’s the one thing that makes us stop and realize the situation is beyond our purview, beyond our ability to control. It forces us to recognize just how imperfect we are, that we aren’t as smart or wonderful as we’d like to think.

Humility is, in fact, the key that unlocks the door of repentance. Without it, we cannot turn or perspective in another direction, away from who we are and toward whom we are meant to become, which is what repentance does for us. Even king David realized the importance of humility and repentance as a primmer to prayer when he wrote:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.”

Psalm 51:1-4

Sometimes the most powerful prayer we can pray is simply: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It’s saying, I’m not in control, and I’m at a loss for what to do, only You can do this, Lord. That’s why the tax collector’s prayer was so powerful; he knew that there was nothing he could do to help himself – not a lot of pretty words, or creative justifications, or a laundry listing of the many things that he thought he had done right or better than anyone else. He knew that he didn’t know, that when he measured himself against the precepts of the Almighty, he was found lacking – only God’s mercy could save him from the abyss, nothing less.

So, today I say, Lord have mercy. Have mercy on me, for I am a sinner. Have mercy on this stiff-necked nation, for it has lost its way. The great city on a hill that You raised up has lost its light, those who You set up as salt for the world have lost our saltiness. We are not worthy to even raise our eyes heavenward, for we have failed You in so many ways. But with You, there is forgiveness, there is mercy, so I also say:

“Create in us a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within us. Do not cast us from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from us. Restore to us the joy of your salvation and grant us a willing spirit, to sustain us.” Amen.

Psalm 51:10-12

~SLM

What God Sees

When evening came, the disciples approached him and said, “This place is deserted, and it is already late. Send the crowds away so that they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

 “They don’t need to go away,” Jesus told them. “You give them something to eat.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is five-loaves-two-fish.jpg

“But we only have five loaves and two fish here,” they said to him.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. Then he commanded the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them. He broke the loaves

and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. Everyone ate and was satisfied. They picked up twelve baskets full of leftover pieces.

Matthew 14:15-20

There are so many things happening in the world right now that are hard to wrap my head around, and it has me thinking of the miracle of the fishes and the loaves, and the fact that what God sees is vastly different than what we see.

So many times, we are so focused on our lack, that it’s impossible for us to even consider what God has in store for us. Like the disciples, we see an impossible task. We see what it will take, and compare that to what we think we have. Jesus told them to feed the multitude. He tells us to “feed our multitude” too, and like them, the first thing we think to do is argue, to say to God, look this is all we have, how can we get more at this late date? It’s impossible. We’re so concerned with how we’re gonna do it that we forget two things: One, we forget that no matter how great or small, what we have was given to us by God, and more importantly, we forget that God can do anything, nothing is greater than His ability!

In his book, The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson tells a story about how his struggling church was led to start a praise band. An opportunity presented itself for them to buy an awesome set of drums, but they weren’t sure what to do. They had no drummer, and they had no money. So they prayed about it, and God told them to buy the drums, and they threw caution to the wind and used money they needed for other things, which in human terms seemed to be more important than a set of drums.

No sooner than they took their “imprudent” step, a new fellow started attending their church, and he was a drummer. You see, God knew he was sending them a drummer and He needed them to be prepared. They didn’t know what God had planned, and the whole thing seemed like an insane idea, but from that praise band their numbers swelled. God blessed them.

Many times God asks us to do something that goes against all logic. While we see two fish and five loaves, God sees a multitude fed and twelve baskets of leftovers. 

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.

 Isaiah 55:8

God  see things differently than we do, and He simply wants us to give Him what we have, so that He may bless it. Even if what we have seems woefully inadequate to cover the need. All we need to do is offer it to Him and let Him bless it, let Him multiply it, let Him do miraculous things far and above our wildest imaginings.

~SLM

Well Maybe, I Guess

Say just a simple ‘Yes, I will’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Your word is enough. To strengthen your promise with a vow shows that something is wrong. Matthew 5:37

Sandy, mom Sharon and I (Sheryl is MIA- must be the photographer, or in the kitchen with granny!).

When I was a teenager, one of my mom’s best go-to answers for many of my adolescent requests was “well maybe, I guess.” It was standard issue, when I asked her permission to do something or go somewhere that she was skeptical about. It drove me crazy because I didn’t consider it a “real” answer. Actually, it was the perfect non-answer. It gave me hope while giving her an out at the same time. It was a way to deflect, to not commit, because it wasn’t exactly yes or noOver time, I came to realize that what she really meant was “no” and for whatever reason, she just didn’t want to say it outright.

Sometimes, as believers, I think we’re a lot like my mom was with me back then.  We can be dubious about what we think the outcome should or could be, so we say “well maybe, I guess,” too. It’s a way to keep our options open, a way to have things on our terms, especially when we don’t agree with what God has in mind, with His timing, with the people He brings into our lives and the things He uses to to accomplish His purposes. We get too caught up in trivial things, or better, yet, we get too full of ourselves to remember who is He is and what He can do…”He leads forth the starry host by number; He calls each one by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:26). We doubt His intentions. We doubt His faithfulness. 

One thing I’ve come to have no doubt about is this: God is true and faithful to His word. He says what He means, and He does what He says. He tells us exactly how it is – do this and that happens, do that and this happens – straight up, no sugar coating. We are the ones who play games with words, who “tweak” their meanings to fit our idea of what is good and true. We even try to use His words against Him, twisting them to suit what we want, saying things like, “you say ‘ask and it will be given to you,’ but you still haven’t given me what I’ve asked for,” never realizing that what we’re really asking is for Him to bow down before us, to acquiesce to our will. 

Now that mom is in full-blown dementia, she uses her old stand-by a lot. She says “I guess” because she can’t remember, and is therefore unsure, and sometimes that doubt is expressed in emotional outbursts. As I watch her slip further and further into the abyss, I have a new appreciation for the breadth of God’s love for us. It brings to mind 2 Peter 3:9 which says, “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.”  We can be so defiant and “stiff-necked,” and no matter how many times we deny we know him, He’s still there, standing beside us, patiently forgiving our doubts, helping us when we cry out to Him. He’s willing to wait, to take the insults, the accusations, the disbelief. He’s willing to die for us –  that’s how much He loves us – even when we tell Him, “well maybe, I guess! “

~SLM

The Trouble with Weeds

“The field is the world; and the good seed–these are the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one.”  Matthew 13:38

close-up-crop-cropland-539856

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (weeds) is a lesson drawn from the garden, about seeds and planting and weeds and harvesting. Gardening is something I really enjoy doing, and if you’re into it too, you’re very aware that gardening can be tricky, especially if you start your plants from seed. When your newly planted seeds begin to emerge, it’s difficult sometimes to tell the difference between your intended crop and the weeds that sprout up to choke them out. The trouble with weeds is that they have an incredible ability to mimic other plants. I think that’s why the master tells his workers to let the young sprouts his enemy has sown be, until it’s harvest time, when it’s much easier to tell what’s what.

Recently, I read an interesting commentary on Matthew 13:38, where Jesus is explaining to his followers the meaning of the parable he just told about the wheat and the weeds. The most striking part of the commentary was this:

“He [Satan] has spies, moles, and plants right in the church…smack-dab amongst us, and they are so cleverly disguised that we cannot tell the difference between them and true Christians. They are so well disguised that they do not know who they are! “

Wait, what? They don’t even know who they serve? We’re normally taught that we live among the weeds, but we sit with them in church, too? Yes, we do. It’s so tempting to get wrapped up in the idea of Satan having sons and servants that we can easily misunderstand what Jesus is telling us, and what I thought was a key point presented in the article: Weeds are not easily recognized when viewed at ground level, when we’re stuck in the mud right next to each other. Did Caiaphas know that he wasn’t serving God when he hatched the plot to have Jesus arrested and killed? No, he didn’t. He thought his actions were responsible and righteous, that he was serving God! What about Paul? Did he know before that fateful day on the road to Damascus, when God smacked him up side the head and asked, “why do you persecute me?” He, as well, thought he was serving God, but wasn’t.

The point of the commentary was not that Satan has sons, servants, ministers and even apostles, which according scripture is most certainly true, but that they are like the young weeds in the garden. They, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:15, “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness,” making them practically indistinguishable from true believers. Like the weeds in the parable, they are planted among us, and not just in the house next door, the cubical beside us, or, sometimes, at the Holiday dinner table, but also, in the pew in front of us, unwittingly working against us, against the tender, young sprouts of “good” seed which the Master’s servants have sown. Our enemy is that subtle in his efforts hijack God’s plan and to steer us in the wrong direction, away from the path that Jesus came to show us, and ultimately away from the Father.

~SLM

“but test everything; hold fast to what is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21

 

Mustard Seeds

Recently, our Pastor gave a sermon on Matthew 17:14-20. In this story, Jesus is up the mountain with Peter, James and John, and when they come down a man approaches Jesus to ask him to help his son, who is demon possessed. The man had asked the disciples to help, but they could not do it, so Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, telling it to leave the boy, and it did. The disciples didn’t understand why they were unable to cast it out, so Jesus tells them about a mustard seed.

Our pastor was using these passages in scripture as an example of how faith works. That it only takes the smallest, really almost microscopic, amount of faith to move whatever your mountain, because nothing is too large for God to accomplish. But as he was telling the story, I couldn’t help but think that maybe there was more to the story, maybe it wasn’t just about how faith works, but also about how misplaced faith never works.

In the story, Jesus says, “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” and I love the Contemporary English Version which states, “You people are too stubborn to have any faith.” When he says this, Jesus is not only talking to the people who are continually hounding him for a miracle, but because they ask about why they couldn’t do it, he’s also talking to his disciples. He tells them they have a faith problem, that they “don’t have enough faith,” and that if they had “faith no larger than a mustard seed, they could tell a mountain to move and it would.” A mustard seed is really, really small, and Jesus tells them that they didn’t have even the tiniest bit of faith. 

Wait, what? They didn’t have faith the size of a mustard seed? That would be like having no faith at all, and they’d been healing the sick and such all day, so they had to have something, right? It occurred to me right then, what Jesus was alluding to. It wasn’t necessarily that they had no faith, but moreover that their faith was resting in the wrong hands. It was misplaced. They had started to convince themselves that they were the reason the miracles were happening, they got full of themselves, and when they came up against a hard one, they lost sight of God, lost faith and gave up. Their faith in their own abilities had begun to eclipse their faith God’s ability, and because of that, they had no faith.

Whenever we forget about the “one who brought us,” failure is always waiting in the wings.  We lose faith, because we realize that we can’t, and we forget that with and through God, nothing is impossible! That’s why he told them about a mustard seed. Saying look you don’t even need a lot of faith. All you need is faith the size of this small seed, because that small seed, when planed in your heart grows into something much larger than yourself – trust me just this little bit and see where it takes you, and what you are able to accomplish, put your faith in me, instead of in yourselves.

It also got me thinking of Lazarus. Jesus wept for his friend, and just before he called Lazarus out of the tomb, he said a little prayer, he said, “Father I thank you that you have heard me. I knew you always hear me, but I said this on account of  those standing around, that they may believe…” And this, to me, is the most powerful example of faith; a simple prayer that doesn’t ask God if He can, but rather states, “I know You hear, I know You can – thank You.”

~SLM

And When You Pray…


Prayer is such a tricky subject. It’s a concept we all think we know, one that we tend to overuse as well as over simplify, but is it really as straight forward and easy as we assume? When asked, most people today, would say that it’s a one-on-one conversation with God, and that’s not entirely wrong. It is that, but it is also a great deal more.

For context, here’s how the Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines prayer:

an address (such as a petition) to God (or a god) in word or thought; an earnest request or wish

And the word pray is defined as:

to entreat, to implore, to address God (or a god) with adoration, confession, supplication or thanksgiving

In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches us about prayer, what it is, what it is not, and that we should pray in a certain way. He says, “don’t make a big show of it, so that others can congratulate you on how great a “prayer” you are. If you do that, you are really praying for your own benefit, for your own praise. And, he says that there is no need for using lots of empty phrases, thinking that the bigger and more elaborate your prayer, the better. God knows what you need, before you ask him, so pray like this:”

Our father who art in heaven hollowed be thy name – Our creator, our progenitor, who resides in eternity, whose name is sacred to us, holy. We acknowledge and remember Your rightful status, Your greatness.

Thy Kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven – We recognize your sovereignty and authority in all things, and pray for Your will to be done, not ours, even when we don’t understand it, and especially when we think it is “wrong.”

Give us this day, our daily bread – Feed us, Lord, each day, not just our bodies, but also with “the bread of life.” Help us to know and understand your Word, fill us with your wisdom.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us – Forgive us for our transgressions into your realm, for trying to fill your shoes, for how we fall short, for grieving your Holy Spirit, and give us the courage, the strength and temerity to forgive those who have wronged us.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (the evil one) – Lead us away from the things that tempt us, the things that ensnare us and hold us in bondage, that mire us down in hopelessness and deceit, and save us from ourselves, from our propensity to make the wrong choices. Help us to recognize evil in all its forms and give us the strength to overcome, to turn our back, to walk away from it, as You did in the desert.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever – It’s your creation, Lord, your playground, you are the potter, and it is through your might, your will, your love that you distinguish yourself, striking awe into the hearts of men that they may sing your praises without end.

I find it rather curious that in his example, Christ uses “our” and “us,” not “me” and “my.” As if to say, pray collectively while you pray individually. It also occurs to me that prayer was never meant to be about us individually, like a laundry list of things we’d like to get done, but an all encompassing notion that’s done best when we pray for more than just ourselves. Daniel didn’t pray for just himself, but for the whole nation of Israel (Daniel 9:4-19), and when Job prayed, it was his friends that he prayed for. As a result, the Lord restored his fortunes, giving him twice as much as he had before. (Job 42:10)

Whether we call it meditation, supplication, or whatever other name that strikes our fancy, prayer is a powerful tool. It’s something we all practice in one form or another, whether we realize it or not.  In Ephesians 6:18, Paul encourages us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

~SLM

The Price of Contempt


When Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ 12 closest followers, goes to the chief priests and asks, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver.” (Matt 26:15) Saying I will give you X pieces of silver for something seems such an odd way to express it’s worth, especially the value of a life. Yet that’s the phraseology the priests used and the number they gave.
The Greek word used in Matthew 26:15 is argyria, meaning “silver coins.” So, thirty silver coins was the value of that life, the price of betrayal. In 33 A.D., the Tyrian shekel was the coin that contained the highest silver content – about 94% pure – which translates to 14 grams of silver per coin. Since these coins were the most pure, they were also most likely the only coins accepted for the required temple tax, which is where the priests procured the 30 coins. At today’s spot price for silver of $0.48 per gram, they’d be worth $201.60. And, while it’s interesting to note what the coins are worth today, it’s more complicated and far more nuanced than simply saying, “Judas betrayed Jesus for 200 bucks.”

So, the priests paid Judas with silver coins, but how did they arrive at that sum, and why was it phrased as “30 pieces of silver?” Surprisingly enough, it’s scriptural. It’is a reference to Mosaic Law as it relates to the disablement/death of a slave in Exodus 21:32, which reads:

“If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull is to be stoned to death.”

Matthew’s choice of the phrasing is also intriguing, because it is an allusion to the prophet Zechariah as well. After he [Zechariah] had done all that God had asked him to do as a “shepherd” among the Israelites, in Zechariah 11:12-13, it states:

Then I said to them, “If it seems right to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” So they weighed my wages, thirty pieces of silver. “Throw it to the potter,” the Lord said to me—this magnificent price at which I was valued by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw it into the house of the Lord, to the potter.

Thirty pieces of silver, that’s what the sons of Israel reckoned were Zechariah’s “wages” for shepherding the flock as the Lord had commanded. As if he were no more than a slave that was rendered useless by a bull. As if God’s word was useless. It was meant to be an insult; they didn’t value his prophecy, or what God had to say. So, God told him [Zechariah] to throw the coins back to them. Isn’t it revealing that God tells Zechariah to “throw it back to the potter?” He is prophesying that the “wages” will be thrown back to the temple, they will go to the “potter,” and that’s exactly what happened. In Matthew 27:3-5, 9-10, we read:

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; he went away and hanged himself…Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set by the sons of Israel , and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

By using the same phrase, Matthew not only ties the price of a slave’s life to Jesus’ betrayal, but also to Zechariah’s prophecy about him. In context, thirty pieces of silver was more than simply the price of betrayal. It was in fact nothing, not to the priests, nor to Zechariah, but to God it was the price of contempt.

~SLM

 

More Than A “0”

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. Proverbs 16:9

Recently I had a “0” birthday – a passage birthday, where you mark the end of one decade and the beginning of another – it was a BIG one, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, either!

In my family, I’m the party planner, the one who makes sure that “0” birthdays are duly and appropriately marked. As the big day loomed, I wondered whether anyone was planning anything for it, especially since it was on a weekend day, making it much easier to coordinate a family get together. Then the weather forecast turned up with snow, a winter weather advisory type of snow, and all bets were off.

So I set my sights on something that’s traditional in our family, a “pity party.” I told myself that I mattered to no one, that after all the efforts I make to mark milestone birthdays of those I love, no one could be bothered to do the same for me.  It’s funny how the mind can play tricks on you, how the smallest suggestion of uncertainty, of misgiving can snow-ball into full-on fear and dubiety.  I even tried to go down the“God-doesn’t-care-about-me-either” road, but try as I might, I just couldn’t do it.  Every time I got myself worked up to a good “poor me” cry, letting doubt and self-righteous indignation get the best of me, the voice within whispered, “who knitted you together in your mother’s womb and wrote all your days before you were even conceived?” The voice of truth reminded me that I didn’t get here of my own volition. I wasn’t the one whose plans had directed my steps and carried me to this day.

Sometimes, it’s easy to get things a bit mixed up, backwards.  We live in a topsy-turvy world steeped in self-obsession: We talk of self-worth and self-help, admire the self-made and the self-reliant. In fact, we’re so obsessed with self-importance that there’s little room for anything else. We tell ourselves if only this would happen, then I’ll be happy, or when I get that, I won’t need anything else out of life, but these yearnings are all about self-gratification. When we attach our feelings, our self-worth, our hopes to external things, focusing so intently on how great we think we are, becoming a “god” unto ourselves, we completely forget who it is that “numbers our days and sets forth our paths.”

“I will lift my eyes unto the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” We are called to walk by faith, which is trust, and not by sight. But, it’s so easy to have a blind spot in our thinking – a “board in our eye” – that keeps us from seeing the truth, from trusting, from knowing the fullness of God’s love for us, which assures us that we are so much more than a mere “0.”

A Happy Birthday comes from remembering to dance with the one who brought you and celebrating the grace by which you have arrived at this place in time.

~SLM

Our Daily Bread

“Give us this day our daily bread…” (Matt 6:11)

Flat Breads
When I was a kid, I could tell when my mom was baking from halfway down the block. Even today, the smell of goodies fresh from the oven evokes a certain sense of comfort, abundance, blessing and love. There’s just something about bread that speaks to the human psyche. It’s something we share with each other in the spirit of fellowship, something for which many people around the world will stand in line for hours hoping to get, and something we long for in our daily lives.

Sometimes, we are forgetful about how lucky we are to have “daily bread” in our lives and how thoroughly God provides for us. I’m reminded of Exodus 16, which tells the story of the manna, and how the Israelites, who had been liberated from their oppression for just a little over 2 months, began grumbling and complaining. All they could think about was food, not how they had been miraculously saved from oppression, but how hungry they were, even telling themselves how much better it was in Egypt, because there, at least, they had their “daily bread.”

The Israelites were indeed hungry, and in a way that went far beyond their physical need for food, they just didn’t know it. Daily bread is more than mere sustenance. It’s a yearning to recover what was lost at the fall of Eden, an unconscious desire to hear the voice of God. In Matthew 4, after he had fasted for forty days, Christ was confronted by the “tempter,” who said, “If you are the son of God, order these stones to become bread.” Jesus replies by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, stating, “it is written, that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Today, we’re not so unlike the Israelites of Moses’ day. We, too, are hungry, to the point of starving. We pine for our youth, for that time when every word from the mouth of God seemed far simpler to believe, and far less complicated to hear. We search for it in churches that seem to be more like social clubs, than sacred spaces to “tabernacle” with the Lord. We listen to preachers who are more interested in teaching us “political correctness” rather than God’s righteousness. When we pray for daily bread, we’re asking God to provide us with more than a marble rye to fill our bellies, or a good story with some anecdotal truth attached, we’re asking Him to fill us with the everlasting bread of His holy spirit, His presence in our daily lives so that we may be counted among the blessed.

How blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness! For they will be filled. (Matt 5:6)

~SLM

Prayer of Gratitude

I am in awe of You, Lord, that You would call my name from among the millions of others You could speak. I am grateful for it. Even when I ran like hell in the opposite direction, alone and lonely, confused and afraid, You called to me, reaching out to take my hand and draw me toward You. Your loving kindness has blessed my life in so many ways – ways that I’m still discovering – that have lifted me up, when I needed lifting and knocked me down a peg, when I’ve gotten too full of myself.

Thank You for choosing me, Lord, for seeing in me what I could not, what I would not see in myself. You have brought me in and covered me with Your mercy, given me purpose, given me life.

From a parched and dry land you have led me to streams of “living” water that I may drink fully of Your grace. You have fed me with the bread of Your presence, Your mana, the mana that is every word that comes from Your mouth.

I will praise Your name all of my days, until my last breath.  ~ Amen

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Based on Matthew 18:12-14 ( The Parable of the Lost Sheep), “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury is a favorite of mine and is the inspiration for the above prayer.