Archive for July, 2012

Good Company

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Psalm 107:1

I drank slowly and deeply of Psalm 107 Saturday morning, while the sun peaked from behind soon-thunderous clouds, and the coffee was especially good. Our back porch seldom fails to be a special meeting place with God when the sun is rising.

The Psalm sings of my favorite biblical teaching. Usually, because of the richness of Scripture and the amazing gift that God meets with us there, the truth I’m studying at the time becomes my favorite. I love this about the Word of God. (Do you experience this, too?) But the one that rises to surface more and more, and endures year after year is the mercy of God. Maybe it’s because I need it the most. The Apostle Paul is my traveling companion when he says, “I am the chiefest of sinners.” I’m hanging out with good company.

I think it’s a little like an incident in a show about mountain-living survivalists I saw recently. One family patriarch groaned at the necessity to slaughter a cow that had been in the family for sixteen years. He said as he aged, it was harder and harder to kill anything. For me, it is harder and harder to live without remembering and being thankful for God’s ever-present kindnesses in the face of the real potential outcome without the mercy of God opened to me by Jesus Christ.

Psalm 107 is saturated with mercy-seekers. They are: wanderers whose souls are fainting, prisoners trapped in their rebellion against the words of God, fools engulfed in their sinful ways, and fearful, senseless worker-travelers reeling under the discipline of God. I see myself in these real-life characters.

They “cried to the LORD” and he rescued them from their trouble! In mercy, God clothes his just justice with steadfast love (often translated mercy) and withholds what is due them—me. I believe the “cry” is more than a pleading for relief. It is repentance, i.e., a turning from self-dependence to fully trusting God’s words and ways.

And what was their response to deliverance? With other mercy receivers in worship, they told their story, sang, and gave thanks. If wise, the Psalmist teaches, they actively live in gladness, giving heed to the words and ways of God, and pondering the steadfast love—mercy—of the LORD.

I once casually noted to my favorite college professor that I had been thinking about mercy. I can still see where we were standing at that very moment when he compared grace and mercy. “Grace,” he said, “is God’s unmerited favor.” “Mercy,” he went on to say, “is God’s unmerited favor to those who deserve just the opposite.”

Ouch—and Hooray for both—but especially for mercy!

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A Better Country

Like never before, the patriot in me is on overload this July 4th season. You see, I am writing from Washington D.C.

In the last week I have seen our founding documents with my own eyes and walked with historical giants through amazing exhibits of art, artifacts, sounds, and words. I have seen the original Star Spangled Banner (huge!) and gawked at the Shuttle Discovery in the midst of dozens of planes that fought for our freedom. Cheryl and I quietly cried at the war memorials, pausing to offer thanks for the soldiers that gave their lives for our family. Dad, we tossed a symbolic coin at the Korean Memorial fountains with appreciation for your military service. I invite the public figures who talk about such acts as “cheap patriotism” (I actually heard someone famous say this in the news this week.) to stand quietly and humbly among the nearly 60,000 names at the Vietnam Memorial.

My feet hurt and the budget is busted. But every step and hour has been exhilarating. Even the infamous Metro subway provides scrapbook memories, e.g., rush hour and an “arcing incident” while the trains backed up. (I was wondering if we were in store for an electrifying experience.) People watching is memorable, too. I watched a man with a two inch book of brain teasers stay focused while standing—and hanging on to a vertical rail—as the train maneuvered curves at high speed!

The sweetest experience has been to be alongside Cheryl all week, holdings hands day after day, walking in amazement. I don’t think we’ve held hands this much since dating forty years ago.

My cup is full. I admit there are challenges facing our nation. But I am deeply devoted to it and again steadfastly believe it is the greatest nation on earth. But I wonder: Can Christians overplay their devotion to country?

For sure, love of country is honorable by example of the Father’s words and works, and the Apostle Paul’s anguished, inspirational devotion to Israel, both ideas clear in Romans 9:1-5. God loves Israel and the nations so much He sent His Son, Jesus Christ. Dying for nation is part of God’s plan.

Hebrews 11 tells us we have a country worth shouting about—and it’s even greater than the America I am appreciating this week. “These all died in faith…they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Am I as devoted to the real “God’s country”?

At dawn on September 14, 1814, following a night of bombardment and a significant victory in the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key observed a large flag over Ft. McHenry and said, “Then in that hour of deliverance and joyful triumph, my heart spoke.” From that moment he wrote the poem that became our National Anthem! Cheryl and I stood in awe of the “large flag,” too.

But imagine our thrill that first moment in our “better country”! See you there?

The Herald News, July 5, 2012



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