I Was There

I sit here tonight
     and pray as I should.
As I do reflect
     on this day we call “Good”.
I try to imagine,
     if I had been there.
Would I have noticed,
     would I even care? 

People are dying
     out there on the hill.
That’s just what happens
     to that kind of swill.
The crowd’s cheering loudly,
     is that my voice too?
I want no part of this,
     this king that’s a Jew. 

Why do the shouts seem
     so loud in my ear?
What did I do that
     has brought me so near?
It seems I am stuck here,
     suspended in air.
I wish that the truth was,
     this punishment’s not fair. 

But as I consider
     the things I’ve done wrong.
It starts to sink in,
     this is where I belong.
I lived like I wanted,
     life was all about me.
It was my sinful choices
     that put me here on this tree. 

There are two men with me,
     quite different are they.
As I listen closely,
     I hear one of them pray.
“Father, forgive them”
     were the words that I heard.
From where I am hanging,
     that sure sounds absurd. 

The other man’s yelling,
     and mocking the first.
As the man they call Jesus
     cries out, “I do thirst!”
The insults continue,
     but I’ve had my fill.
I say, “We deserve this
     for what we thought was a thrill.” 

We got what was coming
     from the choices we made.
But that’s not the case
     with Him, I’m afraid.
There’s no fault within Him,
     He’s innocent for sure.
Yet He still hangs there
     and I watch Him endure. 

I realize this moment
     requires my all.
So I turn to the Christ
     and on His name I call.
Jesus, remember me
     when you reach your kingdom.
He says I’ll be with Him,
     then He says “It is done!” 

It was quite a journey,
     I’ve not left my chair.
But I look at my life
     and I’m sure I was there.
My sin hung there with Him,
     it was nailed to that tree.
I must make a choice,
     which thief there was me? 

The one I have chosen,
     I pray you do too.
Is to cry out to Jesus,
     let me be with you!
So my life did not end
     as it looked like it would.
It is only beginning
     on this Friday called “Good”!

 © 2014 by Tom Lemler

We had a great Good Friday service and I was spending time in my office praying afterward as I waited for the building to clear so I could get it ready for Sunday.  As I did so, God put this poem in my mind so I typed it out to share with you.  I pray that it helps you to examine the events of Good Friday from a fresh perspective.  I pray that you choose to cry out to Jesus to remember you!  I pray that this poem brings glory to God and accomplishes His purposes for it.

In prayer,
Tom

 

Our Mission

I have a mission
      and so do you, too.
It’s a mission for all
      and not just a few.
There are so many
      who still need to know.
Jesus commanded
      to tell as we go.
To live it and teach it
      and help people see.
My life has real purpose
      with Jesus in me.

To always be ready
      to share the Good News.
To share it with all,
      not just those we choose.
But as we do share
      with people each day.
Be gentle and kind
      in the things we do say.
To set apart Christ,
      as Lord of our life.
Treat the Word carefully,
      it’s as sharp as a knife.

We want to help healing
      and not cause a mess.
There’s times I have botched it,
      of that, I confess.
God’s Word can be cutting,
      right down to the bone.
So we must be careful,
      we don’t act on our own.
God’s Spirit lives in us
      to help as we talk.
And sometimes He leads us
      to silently walk.

To speak up or show up,
      should not be our choice.
If we listen to Jesus
      and obey His voice.
Sometimes He leads us
      to sit for a while.
It could be a person
      only needs a big smile.
When words are in order,
      how careful are we?
To point to the Savior,
     instead of at “me”?

We like to have answers
      to show we are smart.
But it’s only God’s power
      that can transform a heart.
So as we consider,
      a commission so great.
We must be about it,
      lost people can’t wait.
We tell a great message
      that they can receive.
God’s goodness and mercy,
      if they would believe.

That is our mission
      that God calls us to.
To share the Good News
      that can make us all new.
We tell of Jesus,
      immersing in His name.
His blood does cleanse us
      and removes all our shame.
We teach His commandments
      as response to His love.
And He remains with us
      as He reigns from above.
©

I was spending time with God this afternoon in preparation for tonight’s Bible study I will lead from 2 Kings 7.  The chapter deals with the story of some men with leprosy discovering some very good news and then having to decide what they would do with that good news.  As I reflected on that story, God put this poem in my mind dealing with the Good News that we have in Jesus and the decision we must make about what we will do with it.  I pray that this poem brings glory to God and accomplishes His purposes for it.

In prayer,
Tom

Everyone

I am part of a group
     to which I belong.
It is not for those others,
     for their lives are lived wrong.
I do take for granted
     all the good things I’ve got.
Don’t ask me to share them,
     of course I will not!
It is easy to think
     I deserve all these things.
Don’t blame me for their lack,
     they just got what life brings.

The good news of Jesus
     is for people like me.
To spread it much further,
     that just shouldn’t be.
I hope that you’re thinking
     as you’re reading this poem.
The lights may be on
     but there’s nobody home.
The truth is much different
     than these lines that I wrote.
Like it or not,
     we are in the same boat.

As you consider
     the way it might seem.
When put down on paper,
     this view is extreme.
But when you look deeper
     at the things that you do.
Could this type of thinking
     exist in you too?
If you think that can’t happen,
     then you’ll need to meet.
A good man named Peter
     and an animal filled sheet.

Peter was godly,
     he did what was right.
But there were some people
     that he kept out of sight.
They’re just not like us,
     I’m not being mean.
But we are God’s chosen
     and they are unclean.
So God spoke to Peter
     when he went to pray.
They’re all my creation,
     they’re clean if I say.

Peter did realize
     the message God sent.
When the “unclean” did call him
     he got up and he went.
To a man named Cornelius,
     he brought the good news.
To all who would seek Him,
     God gladly would choose.
The lesson forgotten
     again and again.
We all need God’s mercy
     when it comes to our sin.

Before you quit reading,
     dismissing all of this.
The message is for you,
     no one does it miss.
There’s only one reason
     you have a great hope.
It’s not that you’re so good,
     to that, God says nope.
Unmerited favor,
     this thing we call grace.
Yes, it is for you,
     and the whole human race.

So do you remember
     how this poem began?
To make you think, “crazy”,
     was part of the plan.
Sometimes our actions
     need to be put in print.
To see them more clearly,
     or at least get a hint.
So when you see others
     you think don’t belong.
Remember God’s mercy
     and admit you are wrong.
©

As I was spending time with God praying and going through Acts 11 for a sermon I plan to share tomorrow, this poem appeared in my mind. I pray that God uses it as He chooses and that each of us would notice the people that we have a tendency to ignore and that we would choose to find ways to share Jesus with them instead.

In Prayer,
Tom

I Can Relate

Experience has a way of forming and tempering who we are.  Not only in the way we react and respond to a particular situation, but also in the way we view the words and actions of others.  Our presumed knowledge of another’s experiences often determines if we trust their counsel, advice, and help when we are in need.  We really are looking for two things, someone that has been in similar circumstances so we feel we can relate to them and we want that person to have overcome whatever difficulty that you had in common. 

We all probably know people who claim to have the solutions for all of our problems, all of our communities’ struggles, and all of the world’s ills.  I quickly become skeptical when it appears as if they have never struggled with any of the problems that I, my community, and the world face.  The answers are too neatly packaged because they do not reflect real life.  On the other hand, it is equally frustrating to have someone try to convince me they have the solution I need when they are worse off than I am.  I know many people who try to teach on the benefits of Godly financial stewardship, yet their personal financial picture is in ruins.  I believe there is great benefit to handling finances in such a way that God is honored and He comes first, but I’m not sure it helps a lot to have someone try to teach that principle when their life appears like they haven’t lived it.

That is why the verses in our study from Hebrews 2:14-18 are such an encouragement.

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.  For this reason he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Jesus not only experienced the human-ness that we have, and everything that entails, He overcame the temptations that continually cause me to stumble.  He knows how hard it is and He can relate to the difficulty you and I have in living life in faithful obedience.  He is not a “pie in the sky” God that looks down his nose at us and questions why we don’t get it right — He did it, why can’t we?  He knows that sin and temptation can be overcome, but He also knows how hard that is.  Jesus had the same struggles we have in facing the temptations to sin, yet he refused to give in.  In the struggles we have, He says, “I can relate”.  His mercy comes from an understanding of the frailty of mankind. 

This is a Savior I can trust!  He has been where I am at and He has successfully conquered every problem that I will face.  It wasn’t an easy, natural thing for Him any more than it is for me.  I can trust Him to walk me through each temptation without my having to give in to it because He has already been down that path without sin.  I can also trust Him to show mercy and forgiveness if I stumble and “don’t get it right” because He understands just how hard it is.  His challenge that I “have not yet resisted temptation to the point of shedding blood” is a poignant reminder that He does know just how hard it is — He shed His blood. 

Praise God!  His mercy endures forever! 

Mercy Received, Is Mercy Given?

I wrote in an earlier post, Seventy Times Seven, about Peter asking Jesus how many times he should forgive someone.  Not only does Jesus give the short answer of seventy times seven (or seventy-seven, depending on the translation), He goes on to tell a parable to illustrate why we ought to forgive and show mercy.

As you read this familiar parable, ask God to help you see accurately where you are in it.  In Matthew 18:23-34, Jesus says;

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him.  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
The servant fell on his knees before him.  ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’  The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.  He grabbed him and began to choke him.  ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.  Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
Then the master called the servant in.  ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.”

We read the account of that servant and we think, “What a jerk!”  His enormous debt was canceled and he goes straight out of his master’s presence and demands justice be served on a fellow servant who owed him a minute fraction of what he had just been forgiven of.  This servant had received mercy of a magnitude that is really hard to imagine.  In an American culture and equivalent, this debt that was forgiven could be approaching the five billion dollar mark (see note below).  I can almost hear Peter and the others who may have been listening, gasp when Jesus first brings up the amount of this servant’s debt.  It would have been clear to them that there was no way this debt would be re-payed — ever!  I can also imagine the surprise, and the relief — Jesus had said this story was about the kingdom of heaven — when the master took pity and canceled the debt.  Wow!  Who would have thought such a debt would ever be forgiven? 

That is why the second part of the story had to come as such a shock.  Here is a man who you would think would be filled with joy and gratitude.  A man that should have such an immense feeling of relief and freedom.  And yet we see this man go out and immediately abuse, threaten, and take to court a fellow servant who owed him much, much less than he had just been forgiven of.  Again, our American culture equivalent could approach ten thousand dollars (see note below).  Obviously not an insignificant amount — at least not until you compare it to the first servant’s debt.  I’m sure that nearly everyone who hears this story for the first time has the same response that the rest of the fellow servants of these two men had — they were outraged.  How could someone who had been forgiven so much treat another human being with such contempt?  The unfairness of it all took the fellow servants to the master to report all that had happened.  The result is predictable.  The master becomes angry that the first servant had not shown mercy on his fellow servant in the way that it had been shown to him.  The punishment is declared and swiftly carried out.  The man is thrown in jail to be tortured until he should pay back his debt — a debt so large it seems beyond repayment.

It is a nice, challenging story that we can walk away from thinking, “Good story.  Serves him right.  That guy deserves an extreme punishment.”  At least we could if it wasn’t for verse 35 where Jesus makes the application to us.  He says, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive a brother or sister from your heart.” 

So, where do you see yourself in the story?  We are all there — at least in the beginning.  It is a story about the kingdom of heaven.  We are all that first servant who has accumulated a debt that we can never repay.  As Christians, we have received mercy from God.  He has paid the debt Himself and canceled our obligation to the penalty of sin.  So, what is our response?  How do we treat other people, even fellow Christians, who “owe us”?  What is our reaction when a fellow servant sins against us? . . .  A servant of the same Master who has forgiven us our sin against Him.  How often do we abuse, threaten, and take to court a fellow Christian whose wrong pales in comparison to the sin God has forgiven us of?  Paul says this shouldn’t be.  Jesus says, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” 

You and I have received much mercy.  Our response needs to be a giving of much mercy. Just as the unmerciful servant was handed over to be tortured for eternity — until he could pay back an un-payable debt — Jesus says God will treat us in the same way if we do not show mercy.  May you and I be mercy givers because we have been mercy receivers.

  

         — note:  Here is my math.  The commentary I looked at listed a talent as 20 years of a day laborer’s wages.  To use round numbers, I used a figure of $25,000 a year for a laborer times 20 years is a half million dollars per talent.  10,000 talents times .5 million dollars is 5,000 million dollars, or 5 billion dollars.  The same commentary lists a denarius, or silver coin, as the daily wage of a laborer.  Using the same annual figure and a 5 day work week, I come up with $100 a day, or denarius.  100 dollars times 100 coins equals 10,000 dollars.  At least that is the way my math works with the information I have. 🙂

Mercy: What A Delight!

I had the opportunity to preach Sunday evening about the mercy of God.  Preparing for that made me think about the whole idea of mercy and what it is.  I looked up the word mercy in the dictionary and it gave the definition as “compassion: kindness or forgiveness shown especially to somebody a person has power over”.  While I would quickly agree that compassion, kindness, and forgiveness all have something to do with mercy, I felt that the definition given was just too weak . . . too inadequate for this characteristic of God that we call mercy. 

You see, I think the dictionary was missing a key element of mercy — at the heart of mercy is the fact that it is undeserved.  If we deserve the compassion, kindness, and forgiveness shown to us, then it is something we earned and not mercy at all.  No, real mercy comes when we know we deserve punishment, condemnation, consequences, or retaliation and it is not given out to us.  I used the following illustration Sunday night that I think many people can relate to.

A few years ago I was on my way to a graduation open house on a Sunday afternoon with my mind a million miles away.  I was in full time youth ministry at the time and Sundays were days that were jam-packed full of activities and responsibilities that kept my attention all day long if they were to be accomplished well.  Anyhow, this particular afternoon I was simply driving to my destination without paying much attention at all to my surroundings or where I was.  As we were nearing the house we were headed to, my wife tells me that the sheriff’s car that had just went by us just did a U-turn and was likely coming after me.  Sure enough, the flashing lights appeared in my rear view mirror and as I pulled over to let him by he simply pulled in behind me.  I was caught.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t really sure what I was caught at.  This section of road was actually a fairly notorious speed trap, so I assumed I was its latest victim.  However, I wasn’t paying any attention and didn’t even know for sure if I was speeding and if so how fast I had been going.  The officer soon approached my car window and asked the question, “Do you know why I stopped you?”  I don’t know if that is a normal question, but it seems like a strange question to me.  Especially at this moment because my answer was something like this, “I’m not real sure, but I would guess I was driving too fast.”  And so I told him the truth.  I was paying absolutely no attention to what I was doing and therefore had no idea how fast I was driving.  He took me back to his car to show me the radar reading and sure enough, I was doing 47 in a 35 mph zone.  I simply told him that if that is what it said, then I must have been doing that.  I apologized . . . I expressed my regret . . . I confessed my wrongs of driving too fast and not paying attention.  I acknowledged that I was caught and I was guilty.  And then the mercy came.  He calmly and mildly reprimands me and tells me to pay attention when I drive and watch my speed.  Thank you and have a good day!

Wow!  Individuals that know me and were also going to the open house, gave me a hard time about my little roadside visit.  When I told them the officer just wanted to chat about my driving habits and encouraged me to pay attention and do what I ought, they couldn’t believe it.  It seems that “everyone” who gets caught on that section of roadway gets a ticket.  For me, it was mercy in action.  I didn’t demand it, I didn’t really even request it.  I definitely didn’t deserve it.  I simply confessed my sin and humbly took responsibility for my actions that I knew were wrong.  Any other course of action would have made mercy unlikely at best. 

God is a lot like that.  Micah 7:18 says He is a God “who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance.  [He does] not stay angry forever but delight[s] to show mercy.”  God longs to show mercy if we would just come to him in humility.  A broken and contrite heart, He will not turn away.  His anger over our sin will melt away when he sees us come to Him in repentance.  God is always calling us to Himself, longing for us to recognize that we are guilty and in need of His mercy.  Mercy that is freely given to all who humble themselves and confess their sin as He is “faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

May you and I bring delight to God by being honest with Him in our need for His mercy.

Seventy Times Seven

Patience and forgiveness — how connected are they in your life?  As I consider these two qualities of God, I wonder if it is even possible to separate them. 

I think of the time Peter asks Jesus, “how many times should I forgive someone who sins against me?  Up to seven times?”  The response of Jesus seems to indicate that Peter missed the whole point of forgiveness.  True forgiveness — mercy — is undeserved each and every time it is given.  There is not a tally sheet that says I will forgive you this time because you are still within your limit and therefore deserve my forgiveness.  No, Jesus says to forgive seventy times seven — or some translations would say, seventy-seven times.  Either way, that principle is not setting up a score card, rather it is emphasizing the patience required in the act of forgiveness.

Think about the connection.  Consider yourself.  Would people say that you are a forgiving person?  Yes or no, does that answer not also fit the question, “are you a patient person”?  Patient people forgive.  Forgiving people must be patient.  Does forgiving in the manner and frequency taught by Jesus require patience?  Absolutely!  Does living out the fruit of the Spirit in practicing patience (long-suffering) with one another require forgiveness?  Without a doubt!

Look at your life a little closer and more deeply and you begin to see the patience of God at work.  Paul put it this way in 1 Timothy 1:15-17:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — 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 immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.  Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.”

How patient must God be with mankind — with you and me?  Do we want God to quit forgiving after the seventh time we ask?  Or even after the 490th time (70 x 7)?  I don’t think so!  I know I don’t want Him to.  God’s patience is defined by His mercy, both undeserved so that we know without a doubt it is all Him and none of our doing when we are saved.  God suffers long with us, not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance.  It is God’s patience that can take a man like Paul, or me, and show mercy to him in order that the purpose of Jesus coming into the world might be accomplished — to save sinners.

Paul wants you and I to know that no one need be without hope.  Yes, the justice of God with His wrath and judgement will come but His very nature of patience and mercy says that He is willing to forgive and forgive, longing for each person to believe in Him and accept His mercy. 

I am thankful that God is patient.  As he works in my life — in this jar of clay that I’ve made available to Him — He is patient and works with loving care bringing the hard and brittle surfaces of my life to a point of softness and flexibility.  His patience allows Him to form me more and more into the image of His Son, Jesus, while not breaking or destroying me.  I pray daily and thank God for His patience with me.  He has not given up, though there have been many times — okay, daily times that he probably should have by man’s evaluation.  But God is not man and man is not God so His patience forms me, carries me, equips me, prods me, challenges me, and changes me into what He desires this lump of clay to be.

May you and I appreciate the patience of God on a daily basis.  May we seek to live obediently and not “try the patience” of God by the things we do and say.