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I CHOOSE MERCY

Mercy 

My daughter Meredith has always had a very tender heart.  When she was little, she could cry the largest tears I have ever seen.  When she was 5 years old, she asked me if she could go outside and play in our back yard.  I gave her specific orders not to play in a certain area because we had discovered some fire ants.  When I glanced out the back window, guess where she was?  Immediately, I told her to come inside and asked her why she had disobeyed. The one gallon size tears began to flow. 

As we discussed her disobedience to my direct orders, I asked her what she thought I should do and if she thought she deserved a spanking.  She caught me off guard when she said, “Yes, but I choose mercy!”  Wow, that was the title of my last message, and I have to tell you that I hate it when people use my messages against me, especially my 5 year old daughter.  It was out of that encounter I was reminded of Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

There are three words I think we need to always remember:

#1.  Judgment – This is getting what we deserve.  I have heard people say, “Just give me what I deserve,” but I do not want what I deserve. The scriptures are clear that the payment for our sin is death, eternal separation from God.  Romans 5:18 says, “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”  Meredith deserved to be disciplined because she had disobeyed!

#2.  Mercy – This is where you do not get what you deserve.  2 Corinthians 4:1 says, “Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not;”  Paul was saying that the teaching of the gospel was what sustained him and kept him from fainting.  God shows mercy on us by withholding judgment on the unrepentant to give them the opportunity to receive Christ and he withholds it permanently from the redeemed.  Oh, I didn’t spank Meredith that day because I choose mercy too!

#3.  Grace – This is where you receive far more than you could ever deserve, earn, or gain.  Grace is the unmerited favor of God!  Romans 5:17 says, “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.”  Grace is God doing something for you that you could never do yourself.  Oh, by the way, not only did I not spank Meredith, we went and got an ice cream!

Recently, I ran across a new word, “Gracenomics,” and I was intrigued to find more out about it.  I have heard about autonomics, bionomics, economics, ergonomics, psychonomics, and one of my favorites, reaganomics, but I was unfamiliar with this one.  Upon looking further into this word, I found out that there was even a book entitled Gracenomics by Mike Foster with the theme of, “Unleashing the Power of the Second Chance.”  The idea is to give grace to everyone around us as God has given us grace.

During this Christmas season, and everyday of the year, may grace abound in our lives toward others.  My prayer is that we will live by the principles of grace as taught by the greatest grace giver of all times, Jesus Christ.  I know some do not like it when I have shared new ways of saying old truths.  Personally, I feel that it stimulates a greater awareness of whether or not we are practicing what we have said we believe.  Maybe a new way of expressing God’s truth could catch the ear or eye, hopefully the heart, of those seeking the truth.

The greatest way to teach grace is to practice it regularly.  We must never forget that we only have eternal life because of the mercy and grace of God in sending His son to earth in order to one day pay the price for our redemption.  Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

I agree with my daughter, “I choose Mercy!!!”

Dying to Succeed

Success

There are those who will do anything to get to the top.  They are dying to succeed and are killing themselves because of the stress and workaholic lifestyle.   These individuals are climbing the organizational ladder and will step on or over anyone who gets in their way.  Phrases such as “it’s a dog eat dog world out there,” “survival of the fittest,” and “lead, follow, or get out of the way” are often used.  Many see success as a title or position of power but it is interesting that when Jesus was on earth He had no title or position but He had ALL authority.  

#1.  Are you are driven by survival and motivated to just “get by?”   When you accept the status quo you just want to get along. 

#2.  Are you driven to succeed and motivated to “get ahead?”  This can be dangerous if you so driven you are willing to do almost anything to get ahead of others.

#3.  Are you driven by significance and they would like to “get affirmation?”  You desire to make a difference but you may be seeking others applause a little too much..

Ralph Waldo Emerson said this, “I fear the popular notion of success stands in direct opposition in all points to the real and wholesome success. One adores public opinion, the other, private opinion; one, fame, the other, desert; one, feats, the other, humility; one, lucre, the other, love; one, monopoly, and the other, hospitality of mind.”  The definition of success is subjective.  You must decide what success looks like.  How you define success will determine how you treat other people and how you carry out the responsibilities you have.

Success is not just surviving, accepting the status quo, or only doing what is safe.  Some define success as doing what is least dangerous for themselves, their families, and their churches.  They have accepted success to be about self-preservation.  Success, scripturally, can only be achieved when we value living radically and dangerously rather than safely and comfortably.  Success is not just giving our time, talents, and treasures but giving our lives for the sake of the kingdom.  Jesus said this, “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.”

Success to God is the opposite of worldly success.  The humble are exalted, and the exalted are humbled.  The weak are strong, and the strong are weak.  The rich are actually poor, and the poor are actually rich.  The wise are foolish, and the foolish are wise.  Death comes from life, and holding on to life brings death.  Neal Cole says it this way, “From our worldly perspective, the kingdom of God is backwards.  It is upside down.  In a sense, everything you think you know is right is wrong, and everything you think is wrong is right.”

For example, have we convinced ourselves that anything considered unsafe is outside of the will of God and foolish?  Jesus never talked about a safe way of following Him.  He did, however, tell us to watch out for wolves, let the dead bury their dead, die to self, and if we loved anyone more than Him we were not worthy of Him.  Matthew 10:39 says it well, “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”  We are to die to self because it is the only way we can live for Jesus.  We must die to succeed!

Self-preservation is not “success” because it actively chooses a cheap substitute to the life of faith God has intended for us.  It is a “churchianity” that is carried out by men, for men, in the name of God.  When we choose to preserve our lives by playing it safe we are actually choosing death but when we choose death we are actually choosing life.  Death is absolutely essential if we want to be a “successful” disciple of Jesus Christ.  We are unworthy of Jesus when we are unwilling to die to self.  To succeed you must die!

Success can only occur when we choose to live for Jesus and not ourselves.  There is no disciple without a death.  Once again allow me to quote Neal Cole, “I have come to believe that the health of any organization can be evaluated in direct proportion to its willingness to die.  The more vested they are in self-preservation, the less health they will have.  The more willing to die so the kingdom can flourish, the healthier the organization is.”  When we decide to die that is what actually brings life to our personal walk with Christ and to our churches! 

Bob Logan says that his father defined success as, “finding the will of God and doing it!” 

Planned Neglect

A young violinist delivered a virtuoso performance.  After the magnificent concert that showcased her gift she was asked by a music critic what she attributed her success and talent to.  Her response was “Planned Neglect!”  She explained a strategic decision in her life to neglect those things that were not necessary to her goal of becoming a concert violinist.  Leaders and churches must begin to eliminate the unnecessary so that we can get back to those things that are necessary for us to be who God wants us to be.  Planned neglect asks the question, “What is most important?”  “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”  —Michael Porter

 There are so many things we could be doing but what should we be doing?  What is it that God wants us to be busy about?  In Matt. 28:19 we are told to “Go and Make disciples…”  We are to be focused on disciple making. That has not changed and never will change until the Lord returns.  We do not have to scratch our heads or call another meeting to try to figure out what we should be doing.  Our mission is clear and we need to quit talking about it and just do it!  “God calls us to make a transformational impact on the world, not provide a carnival of frenetic activity for ourselves.”  —Thom Rainer

 Two questions need to be asked to decide how effectively we are doing the best things. 

#1  Are we going?  Are you living sent?  A sending environment should be a part of the atmosphere in your church.  There should be strong evidence of mobilizing our people to infiltrate the culture they function in.  We should not settle for a “come-to-us” mentality but a “go-and-find-them” attitude should permeate every ministry of our churches.  Instead of creating paths that lead those outside inside, we need to create paths that lead those inside outside.  Many focus on getting better at what they are doing but we must first focus on doing better things.

#2  Are we making disciples who make disciples?  A process and strategy of mentoring new believers should be in place that is simple, easily reproducible, and functioning in our churches.  Our mission is not just to win people but to cultivate the faith within them.  This involves meeting people where they are spiritually and moving them to where they need to be.  It is relational, a little messy at times, but always meaningful.  “Many people do not give themselves to developing other people because they never had it happen to them.” —Reggie McNeal 

 Be careful because it is much easier to develop programs than to win people to Christ and build them up.  Just because you have a program for discipleship does not guarantee that disciples are being made. We must first “go” if we are going to make disciples.  For far too long Christians have been ignoring their responsibility to evangelize!  This is where it must begin and until individual Christians once again embace this commandment from the Lord, churches will have to try to develop “programs” to reach the lost. 

 How are you investing your time and energy daily that proves you are concerned about the lost people in your circles of influence?  Multiplication of ministry has to begin with subtraction and you must figure out what you need to stop doing so that you can focus on what you should be doing.  All of us need to stop doing some things that are consuming our time and dedicate more time to reaching lost people with the gospel.  “A “stop doing” list is more important than a “start doing” list.  Stop something to liberate energy for what matters more.”  –Eric Geiger

 Dave DeVries puts it well, “What does the American church need to abandon to see the gospel move forward and disciple-makers made exponentially?”  Make plans now to neglect some things that really do not matter in order to focus time and energy on what does matter; Disciple Making!