Mercy Pursues You

I’m not the only one with good ideas. Obviously.

It’s one thing I love about Bible study. When we open the Word, insights come flying of the page, and your insights will probably look different than mine. The same message will apply differently depending on the given day, moment, season, or struggle in life, along with the sure and certain message that transcends time and space – that hits home for the hearer in the First Century and is exactly the same for the hearer 2000+ years later.

I am convinced that one gigantic benefit of the Body of Christ is the gift of connection and insight. When we gather to be vulnerable and share what we hear from the Word for our own lives, we also reach across the table in a way we cannot completely understand to touch the life and offer insight for the person in study with us.

Last Fall, one of the women in our Bible studies at I Love My Shepherd shared with me a simple insight, passed along from her pastor to her years before, to those of us in the Word that day –

Mercy pursues.

Open your Bible to Psalm 23:6 –

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. (ESV)

The Greek root word for follow here is radaph. It can mean to follow, to pursue, to chase, or even in certain circumstances, to persecute. Context helps translators choose which are most usable in Biblical translation. Look at the character of God, according to the Psalm as a whole:

He shepherds.

He leads.

He disciplines. 

He comforts.

He prepares.

And it is in His nature to pursue, as well as follow.

How many of you have had a situation in life that you can point to and say, “Mercy pursued me? He was after my heart, my mind, my soul, all of me.”

God is patient. He is loving and kind.

He is also jealous for His children. He sent Hosea to chase after Gomer. He sent the spies into Jericho for Rahab, among other things. He handed His mother to John from the cross. He found Saul on the road to Damascus.

He has a plan. He has a great big awesome plan that involves Mercy in your life, with a capital M.

Sometimes He sits and lets us do our thing. Sometimes we wonder what in the world He’s doing, where in the world He is. Sometimes we wonder if He’s even listening, but He has a plan. He is active, when we cannot see Him. He is active when we cannot feel Him.

His plan is for our good, for mercy to come in, for loving-kindness to infiltrate, and He knows just the right time. His plans are always best and oh so worth the wait.

In all of this He is always, always pursuing us; never for a moment are we not on His mind and in His heart.

Some days, friends, I need to know that I’m worthy of pursuit. Because God calls me Child, He also calls me pursued. When I look to other people to seek after me, to honor me, and deem me worthy… I can look around and find His mercy, which was the only thing that ever mattered all along.

So, what do I do with this insight? I shared it with my friend, Melissa, and we created a reminder. This Summer we’ll be coming out with the Mercy Pursues line on the I Love My Shepherd Products with a Message page.

Someone needs to know Mercy pursues them, so let’s tell them.

Here’s a downloadable Facebook Cover, which is also a sneak peek at our new line. Orange suns, grey and white goodness – clean and simple.

Free downloadable Facebook cover

 

Christ Jesus pursues me.

Christ Jesus pursues you.

Today, know that Goodness and Mercy is after you, because you are worth chasing after. Radaph

Mercy pursues.

 

My slightly crooked Crown of Life

*image made with the retype app

My oldest daughter, Macee, and I are avid watchers of the Netflix original series, “The Crown”, which depicts the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II in 20th century England. It’s a lovely show with deep emotion and tenderness. It is careful to show many and various perspectives, but highlights that of a brand spanking new queen.

The queen at the time of the first season is young. Shockingly young almost, since in my entire lifetime I remember Queen Elizabeth as a classy lady of at least retirement age or older.  The young Queen has immediate responsibilities, expectations, budgets, and the needs of a nation. While this is just a show, it brings to mind all kinds of monarchs throughout time and the weight of the crown, any crown.

It sounds like a nice idea to be a princess, a queen, a king, royalty of any kind, but we would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t also think it was hard. A crown, even when ceremonial, bears with it the weight of a thousand and some expectations.

James tells us in James 1:12 that we also have a crown.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

But our crown isn’t a crown of expectation – heavy, overbearing, laden with the jewels of what we need to do and how. In order to understand the crown of life James references, we need to broaden our Scriptural vantage point. My study Bible encourages me to consider all of James 1 that leads into James 1:12, first. James 1, remember from week one of our study, is all about the faithfulness of God, the impartiality of our Savior, His wisdom, and His generosity. All those characteristics, James suggests, are first and only found in our Creator and Redeemer God, and then He shares them with us.

Listen to James 1:12 again…

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Christ Jesus remained steadfast under trial. He received the crown of life on Easter morning. He is Love itself and loved us first. But He never keeps it for Himself. That is not part of His character. I think this is part of James’s message-

God does not want to keep His gifts to Himself.

This week, we’ll settle on the gift He gives us called a Future. Today, that future comes to us as the crown of Life. Our crown can be gifted because of that particular crown worn on Good Friday.

Look at the following verses that use the same Greek word for crown – stephanon.

Matthew 27:29 – and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

John 19:5 – So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”

Revelation 14:14 – Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand.

All these crowns are the same Greek word, although to us, they seem a million miles apart. Isn’t He so worthy? He took the crown that was full of the weight of death so that we could have life, and really, really LIVE.

Yes, we will have trial and fears, struggle and temptation, but we see life from a crown bearing perspective. The Queen on the show “The Crown” had to practice for weeks before her coronation. She walked halls and stairs wearing this gigantic crown on her head. It didn’t make her less Queen when it shifted to the right because she wasn’t an “expert” crown-wearer.

Neither are we. There are no experts at life and “winners” who receive this crown. We don’t get it because we lived our challenges better than the guy next to us – we receive it because it is a gift. Crowns, like crosses, occasionally “feel” heavy, but we have a Savior who says,

28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This is the crown of LIFE, after all. LIFE! The Greek word for life here – zoes – insinuates not just present life but a fuller life that includes the future. Every time we undergo trial, a deep and personal struggle or even a trial of the everyday variety, we remember our crowns and remember Whom it tells us we belong to. The crown has been won, the victory secured.

Straighten that crown, friend. Look to the future. God is already there. He has this day and every day before us under His care.

My crown may be slightly crooked, but it’s 100% secure.

 

Discussion:

What things happen in life that make you most aware of your crooked crown? (This is an imperfect metaphor, but what in life makes you very much aware that you are less than perfect?)

What burdens are you most thankful that Jesus carries for and with you in this life?

Read 1 Corinthians 9:25-26. How does knowing you have been given the crown of life in Jesus’s death and resurrection change the way you run the race?

Redefining Good

We all want good. Bad is, well…bad.

But what is good? Is it universal or different for everyone? Is there a secret to getting what is really “good”?

More importantly, what does God say is good and is it the same as what I think is good?

In this week’s video lesson we’ll dig in to Scripture so we can begin to redefine what is good, based on God’s Word, rather than our own fleeting feelings and opinions.

You can find the video link for the lesson here:

 Good Gifts Live Week 1 Video Link

Share the following meme with friends on social media, during your church announcements, or through a method that is private to share the burdens of life together and offer them up through the Good Gift of prayer.

No one sits in the corner: the gift of impartiality

“No one puts Baby in a corner.”

Maybe this makes me sound old, but I’ll lean on the world’s general love of cult classics. This line from the movie Dirty Dancing is familiar to many of our ears. If not, you can easily Google this reference and see it for yourself.

Often, life feels like that corner. We feel less than at work, at home, in our families, our communities, even at church. On our bad days our internal dialogue goes something like…

Do I matter?

Do I have anything worthwhile to contribute?

Would anyone miss me if I’m gone?

This pop culture staple maybe stays with us so well, not because Patrick Swayze was often found on “Teen Dream Boys” magazine, but because we ourselves want someone to reach out their hand and bring us out of the corner.

To feel special. To say, “You matter.”

The problem comes in that in our concern to be told that we matter, we end up seeking, “You matter…more.” In our sinfulness, we take it too far. We need other people to matter less in order for people to see our worth.

James hands us the mirror and says, “It’s not working for you.”

Read James 2:1-7 and see this struggle played out in the Christian church during the first century. They were sinners too, redeemed by the same God.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

James is going to have none of this sitting-in-a-corner business. First, he calls out the hearer for what he is, what we are. We are followers of Christ. Pay special attention to the words of verse one. Underline the words, “as you hold the faith” in your Bible, if you are willing.

Christ in us makes things different. Christ always shakes things up. We do not exist as the world exists because of Christ in us. We hold to Him, hold to faith in Him, rather than whatever praise or honor or lifting up the world would offer. It’s another kind of “fixing our eyes.”

Look further in at Hebrews 12:1-3 in the NIV translation to understand more of why holding to the faith changes our perspectives:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

It’s easy to lose heart, to feel like we’re sitting in a corner and no one notices. Jesus does. Jesus offers us the very best seat in His heart, as cheesy as it sounds, and so the other stuff, the need to be better than or higher than someone else, in order to be noticed, can be thrown off or as the ESV puts it, lain aside. You sit over here, selfish need of mine. You aren’t welcome to this party.

You see, if Jesus is invited, all that other junk isn’t, and isn’t needed. He fills in everything. He is the author and perfecter…Son of the good, good Father of all good gifts.

Now read James 1:9-11 to cement this idea, to help you hold the faith, rather than holding on to the titles or favors or specialness this world offers.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

We really are all just grass on this earth. We will perish in the blink of an eye. Whether we’re seen a beautiful, wonderful, the most fun, the it person of any event or time and space in history, it doesn’t matter. We’re the same in Christ.

Christ puts no one in a corner. He raises people up in His death and resurrection.

Who can we also raise up? How can we make a difference by holding the faith, rather than holding on to our own need for “special”? Christ is seated in the best place, so we can invite others to come near to His throne rather than taking a back seat.

No partiality, brothers and sisters. No one sitting in the corner. Christ rolls out the banquet feast and aren’t we blest to hand out the invitations?

Who’s coming to Good Gifts Live tonight? I hope to see you at 8pm CST on the I Love My Shepherd Facebook Page! Ask questions, interact, comment and share together in real time. Click here to go to the I Love My Shepherd Facebook Page.

https://www.facebook.com/ilovemyshepherd/

The video will be archived on youtube and available Friday morning on the blog.

 

Discussion:

What kind of things are you good at, have you received recognition for? We want to know! We all have skills and talents to share. (Remember, this is not shameful. Recognition is great! It’s when we need it for validation or when we diminish others that it is a problem.)

Can you remember a situation in which you wish someone would have noticed you? or you felt left out?

Who can you reach a hand out to and bring from the “corner”? Who in your life (or even a people group in the world) is God calling you to stand up for because they are getting the back seat?

Bonus work – How are wisdom and impartiality connected? Look into 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 and compare this passage to James 1:9-11 and 2:1-7.

 

Not forgotten

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So much of childhood is wrapped up in our search for belonging. We want to belong in our families, from the oldest trying to please and excel to the middle child vying for attention, trying not to fade into the wallpaper, and the youngest putting out sparks of humor and zest to liven up the party. These are sweeping generalizations but at least they’re research-based generalizations, right? You or I may not “fit” the mold, but one thing our birth order tells us is that we all want to belong. We want to fit, even when we are trying ever so hard to be rogue. Developmentally, our parents approval meant the world to us growing up, even if they were MIA. Our siblings opinions also mattered, whether they understood it or not. Our teachers and peers and youth leaders, we wanted them to see us. We didn’t want to be forgettable. Who wants forgotten. We want to belong and to be remembered. It’s why infants cry to alert us to needs, preschoolers ask for bandaids every 47 seconds, and teenagers try out new outfits and attitudes daily. Even as adults we make drama where there’s peace, we try to buy the very best and newest stuff, and we add friend after friend to our Facebook feed…the task of being unforgettable is exhausting.

Today we find out the Jesus-truth on this matter.

We are never forgettable.

Open your Bibles to Isaiah 49:13-17 or read below.

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
    break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
    and will have compassion on his afflicted.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.”

15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.
17 Your builders make haste;
    your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you.

He can not forget. All this vying for attention in life is really a search for the One who can not forget us, even if He tried. The questions God asks of Israel here are hard,

“Can a woman forget her nursing child?” (v.15)

Some of us may say, “No, of course not!” Others of us may say, “My mom did.”

Can you see how life complicates our ability to see Truth? Maybe this knowledge can give us compassion for those who still wrestle and are disconnected to church or Faith.

God understands this complication. Listen again to the next Words from Isaiah 49:15 –

“Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

God further drives home His promise in verse 16 –

“Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”

God makes promises to the city, but you better believe that each of the residents of those walls heard the promise in it for their own lives. When siege laid waste and Babylon breaks through the city walls, terror and fear struck every heart and every family. Their city was destroyed, the temple, God’s dwelling place among them, destroyed. Each of those people needed to know, “I am not forgotten. My God is with me.” He was giving them something better – Redemption.

And He wrote the promise on His hands.

On His hands, He engraved our names, the name of His Church, His people. How could he forget?

Turn to Isaiah 63:9-16. Feel free to start at verse 7 if you have your Scriptures open.

In all their affliction he was afflicted,
    and the angel of his presence saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

10 But they rebelled
    and grieved his Holy Spirit;
therefore he turned to be their enemy,
    and himself fought against them.
11 Then he remembered the days of old,
    of Moses and his people.
Where is he who brought them up out of the sea
    with the shepherds of his flock?
Where is he who put in the midst of them
    his Holy Spirit,
12 who caused his glorious arm
    to go at the right hand of Moses,
who divided the waters before them
    to make for himself an everlasting name,

who led them through the depths?
Like a horse in the desert,
    they did not stumble.
14 Like livestock that go down into the valley,
    the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest.
So you led your people,
    to make for yourself a glorious name.

Look down from heaven and see,
    from your holy and beautiful habitation.
Where are your zeal and your might?
    The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion
    are held back from me.
16 For you are our Father,
    though Abraham does not know us,
    and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our Father,
    our Redeemer from of old is your name.

Even when others fail to acknowledge us, God in Trinity remembers us.

Look back at the passage and look for the work of each member of the Trinity in our Redemption. I’ll highlight my vantage point below.

“You are our Father…”

There’s that familial language again. We need not look any further than to Our Father in Heaven to acknowledge us, to recognize us, to see us. As children and as adults we are not forgotten.

“In all their affliction, he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them…”

The Angel of the Lord is believed by Old Testament scholars to speak of God’s son before His incarnation. This is Jesus, plain and simple. He was afflicted for us. He saves us. He loves us. He looks upon us and redeems us.

“Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit…”

God placed the Holy Spirit into our midst, into each of us. The Spirit’s work is connected to remembrance. The Spirit isn’t just for our remembrance of God, but His remembrance of us. God sees us through His Spirit now, in Jesus Christ. We are remembered as faithful children because of the Spirit’s faithfulness in us. We might grieve the Holy Spirit by our rebellion (v. 10), but that alone is a promise. God sees our rebellion because He sees us. Only in having our rebellion, our sin laid bare, can redemption enter in. Thank you, Holy Spirit for seeing all of me – and loving me anyway!

Great are His promises. Aren’t they remarkable? We are not forgotten. No matter what this life and this world may hold, our Redeemer of Old is bigger, is greater, is more steadfast. We want to leave a lasting mark in this life, we want to be remembered, and we do it in the only place that matters – on God’s hand – engraved on His hands and held by His Spirit.

You are not forgotten.

 

Exploration:

Sometimes I think we speak of the Trinity in vagueness, because it is a slightly vague and complex idea to us. Which person of the Trinity gives you comfort today – Father, Son, or Holy Spirit?

Who can you share the message of not forgotten with?