Archive for December, 2013|Monthly archive page

The quality of mercy

We Christians – me included – need more of the “quality of mercy” in our relations with each other.

My wife and I have become aware of more and more broken marriages in Christian circles in Ottawa.

Over the years, we have seen bitter disputes in the churches we belonged to. Sometimes people say things about their Christian brothers and sisters that they never say to others.

Much of this comes from a critical spirit within us. We see things we don’t like in someone else and we can’t believe the person will change. Or, we don’t understand why that person is the way he is.

We have Jesus’ great example before us. Luke records his plea to the Father as soldiers nailed him to the cross:

“Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

I know this is beyond me if I rely on my self alone. It can only happen if I allow the Spirit to show me how he sees the person I am condemning.

I feel there is a close connection between mercy and forgiveness. God the Father showed us mercy by sending his son to save us from our sins. And when we respond to this gift, he forgives us our sins.

The Lord’s prayer includes a line asking God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. We are showing mercy to others when we forgive them for what they have done to us.

I admit that I often mentally judge others. And I am slow to forgive someone who hurts me.

But we are transformed as we allow God to pour his mercy through us to others. And sometimes our acts of mercy have a ripple effect, rolling out to many others.

As I have said before, I and many others were touched when an Anglican pastor in Taber, Alberta, and his wife forgave the teenager who shot their son at school, killing him.

There is a great passage in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice where Portia talks about the “quality of mercy”. She says it “blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

May we followers of Christ catch a little of the “quality of mercy” that he bestows on us.


Faith in God – or Santa Claus?

Our seven-year-old grandson has lost his faith in Santa Claus – something that happens to all of us at some point.

This week, he asked his mother: “Are you and Daddy Santa Claus?”

Caught by surprise, our daughter stalled: “What do you think?”

“Well, what do you think?” he asked, putting the ball back in her court.

Seeing his doubts, our daughter did what any good mother would do – she told the truth. Despite his evident doubts, our grandson was clearly devastated that Santa wasn’t real.

This episode set me thinking about faith and what we put our faith in.

Followers of Christ put their faith in God. Others claim that God is a myth invented by human beings – no more real than Santa Claus.

When I was 20, a fellow-boarder in an Ottawa boarding house suggested we read the Bible together. I was immediately gripped by the story of Jesus Christ.

I was fascinated by the character of Jesus and the very human qualities of the disciples. They were men like me, imperfect. I could almost see the events, the conflicts, the failures, the victories. This was real world stuff – people threatened by the power of this simple carpenter, reacting with anger and hostility.

But the story was about more than this. It was about God coming down to earth in love. God seeking me, among others.

The Holy Spirit caught my attention and I became a believer.

Is my faith in Christ like believing in Santa Claus? No. The story of Jesus is as well supported historically as that of Julius Caesar.

And it goes beyond this: I have the Holy Spirit – God – within me. It is not just my mind that tells me this is true – I have an unshakeable conviction within me that comes from God.

And finally, I see evidence in history and in the world around me of God at work.

The apostle Paul said in Romans 15:18-19 that he preached the good news of Jesus Christ, accompanied by the power of miraculous works of God. These miracles, he said, helped convince skeptics of the truth of the gospel.

Throughout the world today we see miracles such as divine healing and other works that Jesus Christ performed 2,000 years ago – even resurrection from the dead.

In John 14:12, Jesus says that “anyone who believes in me will do the works I have done”. His words have been fulfilled countless times through the ages.

So, my faith is built on solid rock – not fairy-tales.

What do you do when bad things happen?

A good friend asked my wife a question this week that many of us do when bad things happen to us.

This friend said something like: “Do you wonder why God would allow this to happen?” She was referring to an accident my wife had three weeks ago in Milan, Italy, when she fell head-first into a parked taxi, suffering a spinal cord contusion which left her in extreme pain in her arms and hands.

I love my wife’s response.

She said she was not worried because she knows God is in control. Although her path is difficult, she is confident God is with her.

She noted that God did not promise us a “bed of roses” in this life. But she knows God is going before her.

This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. My wife is very honest about what she feels and thinks.

I can attest to the fact that she never once questioned God throughout the pain-wracked days following the accident. In fact, we both felt God was seeing us through some trying circumstances as we struggled to get her back to Ottawa. We saw answers to prayer as family and friends prayed for us and helped us.

My wife’s use of her arms and hands has improved remarkably since the accident. Her doctors have said she will regain 90-95 per cent use of her hands over the next six months to a year. She is still in pain, but much less so than even a week ago.

With my wife, I believe pain is part of life. As many have pointed out, we live in a fallen world. We will not be free of suffering until we see Jesus face-to-face in heaven.

It is natural to ask why God allows suffering. There are many answers to that question.

But the much more significant question is: How will you react to pain? Do you blame God or do you turn to him?

My wife and I believe that God loves us and is working things out for our good, as the apostle Paul said in Romans 8:28. We have already seen a lot of that “good” in the love, help and prayers of our family and friends.

Perhaps in later life we will see other good things that emerge from this terrible accident. Or maybe we will only know the full story when we talk with Jesus in heaven.

No matter what, we know God is with us.