Keys of Mercy

Your heart stops. Then it races like Secretariat with the Triple Crown in her sights. The color drains from your face and there’s a slight tremor in your hands.

“I’m a dead man.”

It’s that moment you realize you’ve really messed up and there’s simply no way to explain it away. There will be steep consequences. You briefly think about trying to lie your way out of it, but your momma taught you better – time to man up.

I imagine we’ve all been there. The first time I encountered this situation was in Mrs. Ellis’ fourth grade class. I know this may come as a surprise to you, but I was kind of the class clown, always looking for an opportunity to get a laugh. Let me set the scene on this fateful, Friday afternoon. I was standing around Mrs. Ellis’ desk with a few other students. I noticed her keys lying on the desk. I thought if I pretended to slip her keys off the desk in an obvious way then I’d get a playful response such as, “Not so fast Lane, you delightful little scamp, put those keys right back where you found them.” I executed my overt maneuver, thinking she certainly saw me slip them into my pocket. Nope. She didn’t notice and then I must have had an “Ooh, shiny” moment and forgot all about them.

I got home later that day, had a snack, watched a little Schoolhouse Rock and then went to change clothes. When I pulled Mrs. Ellis’ keys out of my pocket, my eyes and my mouth grew wide in disbelief. Time stopped. I broke out in a cold sweat as I realized the unthinkable…I had stolen my teacher’s keys.

I walked the green mile to the kitchen and told my mom the whole sordid tale through a quivering voice. She placed a call to the school and spoke to Mrs. Ellis. She had been tearing the room apart looking for her keys. Yep, I was a dead man. Mom hung up the phone, took the keys to Mrs. Ellis and they agreed to handle it on Monday. That was the longest weekend of my life.

When I slinked into class on Monday, I told the entire story to Mrs. Ellis and apologized profusely. I stood awaiting the index finger that would point me to the principal’s office, but to my surprise, I saw compassion in her eyes. She said, “It seems like you’ve suffered enough; try to be more careful next time.” She was right; I had imagined every kind of punishment imaginable over the weekend. When she dismissed the punishment that I clearly deserved, I was overjoyed. The weight of guilt that I carried all weekend was lifted and I’m pretty sure I levitated off the ground a few inches.

Pastor Scott continued his sermon series on the beatitudes with “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” He defined mercy as “not getting what we deserve.” I certainly deserved punishment for the grief I caused my teacher, but Mrs. Ellis taught me a lesson greater than state capitals and multiplication tables; she gave me a lasting lesson on mercy. Scott’s sermon reminded us that mercy is compassion in action. It flows from love, leads to forgiveness, and is balanced by justice.

There was another time in my life that I realized I was a dead man. I clearly deserved punishment for my actions. But, the Father showed mercy and sent His son to take my punishment. Jesus showed “compassion in action” as he made His way to the cross. Are we following His example?

By the way, has anyone seen my keys?


Chicken Finger Theology

I was a pretty finicky eater when I was a kid. My primary staples were chicken fingers and plain hamburgers. Remember the old Burger King commercial “hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us?” Well, for me it was “hold everything but the meat.” The only vegetable I would even consider eating was hominy. I was the poster child for bland diets.

Food just wasn’t that important to me. I wasn’t your typical teenager that ate everything in sight. I got hungry, but a Pop-tart would suffice and I could get back to riding my bike or building a fort in the woods. My son has my DNA. Food isn’t important to him either. The other day he was complaining about a headache and said it was probably because he didn’t eat until 7PM. Dumbfounded, I asked him why. “Well, Kayla wouldn’t go get me anything” was the reply. I proceeded to lecture him on all the food that was in the pantry if he’d just go make himself something. After a few minutes I realized I was channeling my dad so I just gave up – he’ll eat when he gets hungry. Someday the appetite will catch up to him just like it did with me.

This past Sunday, Scott preached on the next beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Scott relayed some startling statistics on true hunger in the world:

  • 225,000 people die every day because of starvation or hunger-related diseases
  • 3.6 million people die every year because of a lack of clean drinking water.
  • 842 million people in our world do not eat enough to be healthy (1 out of 8)
  • 1 in 4 children have stunted growth because of a lack of nutritional food

The precious souls impacted in these statistics would do anything to quell the gnawing hunger they face on a daily basis. That’s the kind of desperation that Christ is referring to in this scripture. But, instead of physical food, Christ is referring to a hunger for spiritual things. Psalm 63:1 says “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

As I pondered that verse, I had to admit; sometimes I’m a finicky spiritual eater as well. Just like my appetite as a teenager, I can pass up a spiritual meal and not really feel deprived. Maybe I can feel a little spiritual hunger, but a quick Pop-Tart devotion is enough to tide me over and I can get back to my busy schedule. When I do sit down to eat, am I guilty of “chicken-finger theology” – only reading the verses that appeal to me and not addressing some of the weightier topics that God would like to use to transform me?

Lord, forgive us when our spiritual diet consists of only hominy, plain hamburgers, and dare I say, doughnuts. Give us a gnawing, unquenchable hunger for a seven-course smorgasbord of spiritual food from your word.


Release the…Meek?

“Release the Kraken!”

That’s a favorite movie quote of mine. The Kraken is a mythical sea monster that was kept under control until it was time to do some damage. Scott’s sermon this past week was also about strength under control. The Bible calls it “meekness,” which some mistakenly equate to weakness. As Scott explained, an example of meekness is the idea of a tamed animal, such as a horse. Unfortunately, that’s a concept I’m very familiar with.

I grew up in a rural area where horses were plentiful, but I never really had a desire to ride. However, when some friends offered to take us riding I thought, “Sure, why not?” We followed the typical trail ride technique, horses following each other at a leisurely pace.

After conquering that, I started channeling my inner cowboy so I asked, “Hey, can I take her out in the pasture and try a gallop?” My friend reluctantly agreed and soon I was at one end of the field giving my valiant steed a swift kick and a “Giddyup!” That was obviously the cue for the horse to release the strength he had been keeping under control.

The next few minutes are still a blur of terror and shouting “Whoa!” Judging from the start out the gates, my horse must have had some unfulfilled dream of competing in the Kentucky Derby. I had no control over that animal whatsoever. Soon, we were headed straight for a group of three cows minding their own business. I swear when they looked up I could see their eyes widen. Cows may look slow, but let me tell you, they can jump out of the way quickly when they see a screaming, colorless rider on an out of control horse bearing down on them.

After successfully dodging the bovines, I realized the tree line was rapidly approaching. Luckily, as I was calculating limb evasion techniques, my little filly decided it was time to stop…and head back across the pasture at the same clip. When we got back to our starting place, my friend just stepped in front of the horse and said, “Whoa, girl.” I guess I had the wrong inflection in my voice when I said “Whoa” over a hundred times.   No matter, I was just glad to find the ground on my own terms.

At the appointed time, my horse released the strength that was previously held in check. As Christ-followers we have the strength of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. We keep this strength internalized most of the time, but consider these situations when our hidden strength needs to become visible:

  1. Boldly sharing our faith
  2. Defending our faith and biblical principles in a world marred by sin
  3. Coming to the aid of those in difficult situations to comfort and provide tangible support

Yes, we are to show the love of Christ in compassion and gentleness, but there are times when love comes in the form of assertiveness and a firm resolve to stand for what’s right. As we encounter those situations, we should pray and ask for wisdom. If the Lord gives the OK, “Release the meek!”


Really, I’m not a Vulcan

I never cry at funerals. While others around me are creating mounds of used Kleenex, I just get very quiet and reflective. Don’t get me wrong, the sadness of the loss is heartfelt, it just doesn’t generate tears. To be honest, it makes me feel a little self-conscious. “Why aren’t you crying, you heartless Vulcan,” is what I imagine people are thinking. Well, just to disprove that I’m not Spock’s long-lost brother, let me share with you two things that do generate tears for me.

Music – A powerful worship song with penetrating lyrics has been known to moisten the eyes. Music is powerful medium that can fiercely tug at my heartstrings. If you suffer the same malady, let me suggest something more up-tempo during rush hour on I-75. Gridlock + blurry vision = an increase in your insurance premium.

There’s one annual music event that causes my tear duct geysers to erupt like Old Faithful. When the first few bars of “Arise my Love” start playing at Easter, I just start waving the emotional white flag. When the guys get to the bridge and sing “the grave could not hold our King,” well, there’s no holding back the flood gates. See, I’m clearly not an emotionless Vulcan.

The other sure-fire way to start the waterworks is a movie that contains a redemption theme, especially if it’s a father redeeming himself with his family. You may find this odd, but the disaster movie Armageddon is one of my favorites because it has not one, but two father-redemption stories. The first is when Bruce Willis chooses to stay behind to blow up the killer asteroid to save his daughter on earth (sniff). But the one that kills me is Will Patton’s character, Chick. In an earlier scene we see him trying to make contact with his family. He’s obviously messed things up. When his little boy asks who that man is, his mom replies “he’s just a salesman.” Later in the movie when Chick is on his way to the space shuttle as part of humanity’s last hope, the little boy says “Mom, that salesman’s on TV.” She cradles her son in her arms and replies “That man’s not a salesman, that’s your dad.” I swear; I’m tearing up just writing that sentence. I know, I’m a sap, but redemption is a powerful theme. I think it stems from knowing that we were hopeless without the redeeming sacrifice of our Savior.

Pastor Scott continued his “Living with Hope” series with the second beatitude – “blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I’ve mentioned above what makes me cry, but what should make us cry? What should make us mourn and grieve like the loss of a best friend or family member? As Christ-followers, what causes us to grieve should be what causes God’s heart to grieve. Per Scott, God is grieved by “anything that separates people from God and from each other.”

In Isaiah 59:2 we see that our sin creates a distance between us and God. Christ’s redemptive act bridges that distance and restores our relationship with the Father, but sin can still interrupt our fellowship with Him. Sin also damages relationships with family and friends. That is certainly worthy of grief and shedding tears. I pray that we will all feel that sense of heaviness and grief over our sins and confess them to a loving God. If we do, He’ll “turn our mourning into dancing” as we experience his forgiveness and restoration. Sounds like a no-brainer to me; even Spock couldn’t argue with that logic.

Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”     Matthew 5:3

“I’ve got a hot stock tip for you!”

If you’ve ever dabbled in the stock market, you’ve probably heard this phrase. Translated it means, “If you take my advice you’re either going to make a lot of money…or lose your shirt (although that part is never discussed).

Let me share with you a recent shirt-confiscating investment. Ventrus Biosciences is a pharmaceutical company that was a few weeks away from introducing a new drug to the market. The FDA schedules approval dates in advance, so it’s typical to see the price rise as that date gets closer. From everything I could tell, this was a slam dunk. Testing had gone great and the company was gearing up to start marketing the drug. It was going to be a blockbuster.

With a “sure thing” on the horizon, I pulled the trigger with a sizeable investment. Then I set back and started planning my retirement on my own personal Caribbean island. Oh, I’d work a few more weeks so I wouldn’t put my coworkers in a bind. It was the least I could do for those poor schmucks that had to work for a living. It was a great plan…but somebody forgot to tell the FDA.

Yep, reeeejected! The FDA rejected the drug and before any mere mortal could respond to the news, Wall Street crushed the stock. My fingers were flying to enter the sell order, but the damage was done.   I lost 62% on that trade. You can still see the tear stains on my unused two-week notice.

Most financial experts preach diversification to avoid this kind of loss. “Don’t put all your eggs into one basket,” as the old saying goes. Solomon knew this; in Ecclesiastes 11:2 he writes “Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.” I wonder if Solomon had a run-in with the FDA?


Last Sunday, Pastor Scott began a new series on the Beatitudes. The first lesson was about being poor in spirit. He used the term “spiritually bankrupt” which got me to thinking. Poor financial decisions (and stock trades) can certainly lead to bankruptcy. Financial bankruptcy implies that things have gotten so bad you can no longer pay the debts you’ve accumulated. You have no choice but to throw yourself on the mercy of the court.

Spiritual bankruptcy is similar. It means we’ve reached a point in our lives where we realize we’ve accumulated debts (sins) that we cannot pay back. We take our broken lives to a loving God and throw ourselves on His mercy. His solution is different than the financial gurus. The Father wants us to put all our eggs in one basket – Jesus Christ. If we turn our lives over the Christ and single-mindedly invest in the Kingdom, those debts will be erased. I may not be able to retire early to a private island, but a mansion in heaven is a much better outcome.

Laughter Thoughts on the Beatitudes

I’m starting a new writing series today.  Our pastor at Summit, Scott Miller, delivers encouraging and thought-provoking sermons each week. This past week he began a series entitles “Living with Hope” based on the Lord’s teaching in the beatitudes.  As I listen, I often think of humorous anecdotes to compliment his main points. I’ll post my laughter thoughts here each week.  Hopefully, they’ll bring a smile and get you thinking as well.