Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Monday, October 13, 2014

To Love Mercy

                                                               Reflections on Micah 6:8, Matthew 10:8

And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
                                                                                    Micah 6:8 (NIV)

                 Freely you received, freely give.
                                                                                                Matthew 10:8

There is a kind of mercy we can’t do in our own strength.

It belongs to God. It is given by God – freely. All we have to do is receive. And when we do, the miraculous happens. God changes us on the inside.

He makes us a people of mercy.

And suddenly, the motion begins. As we receive, we give. It’s how His mercy works. We can’t hold on to it. We can’t horde it, or hide it, or keep it to ourselves. When we’ve got it and we’re changed by it, we give it as freely as we received it.

But there are people…

Jesus warns us about them. There are people who receive but never receive. There’s no miracle. There’s no change. This, Jesus explains in great detail, is the story of a wicked slave. We are not to be like him.

But our Lord doesn’t leave us there. He also tells the story of a son, a lost son, who finds his way home again. This young man knows, in the depths of his soul, he doesn’t deserve the compassion and mercy of his family. But it comes, in full, and willingly, joyfully, he opens his arms and receives it.

This is everything.

It’s the very heart and soul of the good news: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.” 1

And when it comes to us, we are made new.

That change is visible. It reshapes how we think, how we act, how we engage the world around us, and all of it to our very core. This mercy shapes our character. We see it in the royal line of Jesus’ own family. We find it in people we least expect – those we’ve labeled and pushed away.

It’s meant to be in us.

And the only way for that to happen is to let mercy come. He – the Person of Mercy Himself – must do with us what He came to do. And when He does, one taste of it in our soul and Micah 6:8 comes alive. He gives us everything we need to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

And out we go – a people of mercy to live mercy. We are men and women on Matthew 10:8 mission holding in our heart His eternal promise: “His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”  2

New and full of surprise.

For this is our God! And He zealously wants us to hear with His ears and see with His eyes. Just as He did in the simple story of a blind beggar.

A person no one sees.

With a cry no one hears, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” But He sees. He hears. It’s everything to Him. He wants it to be everything to us. So we must start here, outside the town of Jericho, with a man on the side of the road begging.

And let the story of Real Mercy change us forever.

*       *       *

I didn’t understand it at first.

Isn’t mercy something we do?

I see it in my Aunt Barbie and Uncle Paul. Their love for the Lord led them to start two mission centers in Colorado that serve hot meals and provide food, clothing, toys, blankets, counseling, and financial assistance to those in need.

It’s what my sister Kate does every day in her social work. Her big heart of love overflows with compassion for the rural elderly in southwest Ohio. It’s my Dad, every Wednesday night, serving the poor in Stamford, Connecticut.

This I get.

It’s what Christians do: We remember the needs of the poor. 3

I was 34, pastoring a church in Pittsburgh, when the “light bulb” went on. I was simply reading a book by an East African pastor. He urgently tasked all church leaders to do the work of “building the character of God’s mercy in the Christian soul.” He went on to say, “If we’re going to tell people about Jesus, they need to see Jesus in us. If we’ve received His mercy, we must be a people of mercy.”

I liked it – a lot. I wrote it in my journal. I thought I knew what it meant. But, truth be told, I didn’t. Not until I saw it the eyes of one man.


We met coincidentally.

In March 1991, Bob Merriman was in the hospital dying of lung cancer. He’d been diagnosed just after Christmas. On his last Sunday in church, he got on his knees next to his wife, Dot, and prayed as Jesus prayed, “Heavenly Father, not my will be done, but Thine.” 4

He was in a coma now. The doctors said it wouldn’t be long.

In the bed next to him sat a twenty-eight year old man by the name of Jared. He sat hunched over, his face down, his legs outstretched, fighting for breath. The cancer had already taken his left arm and collapsed one lung. It was easier for him to breathe bent over. Easier not to talk.

But he was beautiful. His eyes were huge, set to perfection above high cheek bones and a strong, chiseled face with cocoa brown skin stretched tightly over each bone. There was gentleness in his face – even as he struggled for breath.

One afternoon, I heard Jared’s phone ring.

“May I answer it for you?” I asked. He nodded and I soon told him “Your wife wants you to know she loves you. She’ll be in about quarter to seven.” He reached for my hand, squeezed it and whispered, “That was nice of you.”

I blurted out, almost selfishly, “How do you do it, Jared?”

He lifted his head, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Jesus is all I’ve got.”

I already knew this about him. His family was a Christian family. His mother told me Jared had given his life to Jesus as a young man. “He did everything right,” she said, and talked about his time in the military, his marriage to a lovely woman, a nurse, and their two children, both under the age of five.

“He wanted to see his children grow,” she said, “and that’s not going to happen. He knows that now. We all do.”

Even so, I didn’t understand it. It scared me to think of myself suffering as Jared was suffering. Would I be able to say what he just said to me?

Night soon came and Bob took a turn for the worse.

By 3:00 in the morning, his breathing started to slow. Dot was the only one with him. She was sitting at his bedside, holding his hand, her chair next to the curtain separating the two men.

She leaned her head on the bed and began to cry.

Then came this familiar sound – the curtain rings sliding on metal.

And then she felt it. This hand – his only hand – gently resting on her shoulder. Softly patting, tenderly rubbing, as a son would comfort his mother. She could feel his warmth. She reached up, covered his hand with hers, and turned to look at him. There was enough light to see those beautiful eyes.

“He’s all we’ve got,” Jared quietly whispered.

It was, for her, like medicine from heaven to her soul.

And by morning’s light, Bob had somehow recovered. He’d come out of his coma and would spend the next six weeks at home before he passed into the arms of the Lord. For Jared, the story was different.

On the very next night, the curtain stayed closed between us. His family never left his side. When morning came again, the curtain was finally pushed back. It was the first time we’d seen Jared lying down -- peacefully. No more struggles. No more gasps of air. No more sleepless nights to come. The watch was over.

But I have never forgotten him.

Or that hand stretched out in the night.

He’s the one who showed me that mercy isn’t first what we do. It’s who we are. It’s who the God of mercy makes us in Christ. Because of Jared, I began praying the prayer the East African pastor taught me to pray: Build the character of Your mercy in me – and in us Your people.

For this is where it all begins.

+ + +
1 Ephesians 2:4-4
2 Lamentations 3:22-23
3 Galatians 2:10
4 Thaddeus Barnum, Where is God in Suffering and Tragedy? (DeBary, FL: Longwood Communications, 1997), 254-257, 266-269.

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John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?