Mercy & Justice: Equal in God’s Eyes

Mercy & Justice 2

While addressing a group of staunch legalists, Jesus accused them of being hypocrites because they only kept part of the law. The part of the law He mentioned was tithing, a human action. He said they were hypocrites because they “ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith.” (Matthew 23:23)

Although these two ideas appear together in other parts of scripture, my first thought when I read this verse was that justice and mercy were listed side-by-side—equal—as two of the “more important aspects of the law.” How can justice and mercy coexist on this list? And how can mercy be part of a law, any law?! Aren’t laws about being just and making things fair?

One of God’s attributes is holiness. This attribute compels Him to be just and expect holiness from all who interact with Him. He knew that our holiness would never measure up to His criteria (Romans 3:12). But another attribute of God is love. God is love (1 John 4:8), so His love also compels Him to have grace and mercy on those who call on His name.

In the time of the Old Covenant, God’s expectation for holiness and meant constant trips to the altar to sacrifice animals that the people either bought or raised—a sacrifice of the time and money as well as the animals’ lives. Now we live under the New Covenant. Jesus put an end to that type of sacrifice when He laid His life down for us as the ultimate sacrifice. His life meets the requirements of Justice—forever and throughout all eternity. Now the only sacrifice God requires for us to receive His mercy is a repentant heart and faith to believe that He has forgiven us.

These three “important aspects of the law” completely comprise our salvation. Justice requires us to admit that we were wrong, repent of our sin, and ask for His mercy. It is through our faith that His sacrifice was sufficient rounds out the law (Ephesians 2:8).

In this one statement to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, Jesus sums up the entire plan of salvation in which justice and mercy coexist peacefully and beautifully to bring us into a closer relationship with the Father. And in that closer relationship, we are able to be an example to those around us as we live out our faith, extend His mercy to others, and point them to a right relationship with Christ.

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Mercy on the Vine

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Mercy! It’s the gift that keeps on giving, but it’s not something we can do alone.

After following Jesus around for months on end, hearing His teaching and watching His healing, the disciples were unable to extend mercy in the form of healing to a boy with epilepsy. Jesus explained that they were unable to fulfill this father’s request for mercy because they were faithless, or were without trust, as the Complete Jewish Bible translates it. (Matthew 17:14-20)

So, who did they trust when they prayed for the boy? Perhaps they believed that since they were disciples of Jesus, they were capable of distributing that mercy in their own power. This story shows us that even when we desire to be merciful, we must depend on Christ’s power because apart from Christ, we can do nothing, not even have mercy on someone (John 15:5).

 

Ask for Mercy with Confidence

Mercy--Confidence & Courage

A Gentile woman needed mercy, but what right did she have to ask a Jewish rabbi for it? She knew she didn’t have the necessary status to approach Jesus and His entourage of burly Jewish men. But she had heard the rumors of miraculous healing, and she was desperate.

In her desperation, the Canaanite woman chased down the band of traveling hope calling out to the Son of David. Just by referring to Him in that manner she was acknowledging that she was not a branch on His family tree, yet it was a name that also showed honor and respect for the people of Israel.

It seemed that her cries, however, feel on deaf ears. Apparently, Jesus didn’t even give her a backwards glance. Yet, she continued calling out to Him to the point of annoying the disciples. The Message Bible says that the disciples asked Jesus to do something about her because she was “driving them crazy!” Bold persistence has a way of doing that, driving people crazy.

When Jesus finally stopped long enough to allow her to catch up with Him, she fell at His feet in worship. Although He told her His power was not for sharing outside the Jewish bloodline, she courageously countered the Rabbi. The disciples must have been taken aback by the nerve of this Gentile—a woman at that!

Jesus, ever looking into the heart, saw something else in her rationale. Looking past the cultural differences, He saw her trust emanating from a heart of worship. “Dear woman, your faith is great. Your request is granted.”

 

If we will also look a little deeper, we do not merely see rabbi who was oblivious to her cries or ignored her with feeling of racial superiority. Jesus said it was her faith—her confidence and trust in who He is—that healed her daughter. Had he immediately responded to her first cry, she would not have been a model of courageous, persistent faith for us today.

We must follow her example when we ask for mercy. We must confidently come to Christ with a heart of worship and be willing to ask more than once. When we demonstrate that we have great faith and trust in our Lord, He answers with great mercy.

 

 

The Lord’s Prayer for Educators

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Our Father, Who is in Heaven–and Heaven rules! Let Your Name be hallowed, reverenced, glorified, and lifted up at our school today.  Let the words and actions of every Believer on campus, whether they are students, staff, or parents, honor Your Name and cause unbelievers  to take notice and want to know what’s different.

I pray that Your kingdom would come and Your will would be done at our school. Let every decision for every student be in accordance with Your will. May our instruction advance Your kingdom by preparing our students to fulfill the purpose You have for their lives: to be students of Your Word and stewards of Your provision.

Give us this day, our daily bread. Give us the tools, resources, knowledge, and wisdom to provide excellent instruction in the same way the the Lord Jesus, our Great Teacher, provided us with excellent instruction.

And forgive us when we fail You as we forgive those who fail us. Give us the grace we need to build meaningful relationships within our school community and provide examples of a lifestyle that is holy and acceptable to You.

For Yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Malicious Intent…Miraculous Outcome

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“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  Genesis 50:20

Hardships in life are a given, and the spectrum of human trials is multi-faceted.  Some struggles are universal, such as resisting a sweet tooth, while others battles are unique to our personal circumstances.  Sibling rivalry is a common family malady, but few suffer from its consequences as Joseph did.  His brothers were so determined to end their father’s favoritism they sold Joseph into Egyptian slavery where he tumbled from a favorite butler in a wealthy ruler’s home to the bottom of the dungeon.  Ultimately, Joseph was released from prison by Pharaoh himself and promoted to a regal post.

The Lord told Isaiah that He knew how the story of humankind would end before He uttered light into existence (46:10). And, more personally, He had written your biography before you were even conceived (Psalm 139:16). The Father knew the trials that Joseph would face when He gave Joseph the prophetic dreams that incited the brothers’ vindictive jealousy. Joseph was not alone in prison, “the Lord was with him; He showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden” (Genesis 39:21). Being confident in God’s sovereignty brought comfort to Joseph and made his circumstances bearable. The enemy planned for Joseph to die in solitary confinement, but the Lord planned to use Joseph’s circumstances to save the entire nation of Israel from widespread famine.

God’s eyes are on you just as His eyes were on Joseph thousands of years ago. He knew your life story before you took your first breath, and He knows your students’ stories. Our enemy has evil plans for our lives and our students’ lives. He attacks from all sides to steal our faith, kill our hope, and destroy our lives (1 Peter 5:8). But God does not change. Though the enemy intends to harm us, God intends hardships to shape us into better people and perhaps become the conduit to change our future to fit His plan. In fact, hardships are a chisel that God can use to conform us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

This is a painful process, but our confidence in His sovereignty is what enables us to count it all joy. The Father’s foreknowledge of our triumphs and our trials is a comforting fact.  His eyes are on you just as His eyes were on Joseph thousands of years ago.  You can trust that through the struggles and pain the Lord will sculpt your life a beautiful masterpiece that bears a striking resemblance to Jesus Christ.

A Covenant Prayer for Educators

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Lord,

Thank You for Your divine design. Thank You that You have given me skills, knowledge and talent to fulfill the purpose You have placed on my life to advance Your kingdom. Thank You for the opportunity to be Your fellow worker. What a privilege to plant and water alongside the Master Gardner and receive a reward from Your hand! (1 Corinthians 3:8-9, Colossians 3:23, 2 Chronicles 15:7)

I ask for Your favor to rest on me and that You establish the work of my hands. I commit all my work to You and desire that my efforts powered by Your strength will accomplish Your purposes. I pray that You will replace my own agenda with Yours. Help me keep my attitude positive by thinking on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy. (Psalm 90:17, Proverbs 16:3, Philippians 4:8)

Father, I know the work You brought me to is too heavy to carry alone. Help me to lean into You and depend on Your yoke that You invited me to take on myself as I labor with You for Your kingdom. Thank You also for other believers You have brought together in our schools to co-labor in helping Your people. (Exodus 18:18, Matthew 11:29, Ecclesiastes 4:9, Hebrews 6:10)

Lord I ask that You give me wisdom when I encounter adversity whether the adversity is from students, parents, colleagues, administrators, political figures or legislation. Let Your wisdom show me the way to best serve each of my students and build positive relationships with all the people who are a part of my school community. Give me the grace I need as I make every effort to live in peace with everyone. (James 1:5, Hebrews 12:14)

Almighty God, I thank You that You are a just God. Thank You for demanding fairness in every business deal, even when that business is education. Thank You for setting the standard. Help me to rely on this truth and Your sovereignty when adverse circumstances are overwhelming or it seems that I have been judged unfairly or held accountable unjustly. I know that You have called me by name and that You are with me when I pass through deep waters and walk through fire. When I must pass through waters or walk through fire, help me to continue to do Your will with all my heart and to work with enthusiasm because I am working for You and not for earthly masters. (Psalm 16:11, Isaiah 43:1-2, Ephesians 6:6-7)

Father, thank You for Your promise that all hard work leads to profit. As an educator, my heart’s desire is that the children my work influences will profit! I long to see my hard work lead to students who can use the beautiful minds You have given them and ultimately be fit for service in Your kingdom fulfilling Your purpose for their lives. I desire that my hard work results in children who value relationships with others over their natural inclination to be self-serving. This is the only profit I seek from Your hand. (Proverbs 14:23)

For Your kingdom. For Your glory. In Christ Jesus’ name.

Amen

Be Salty

Sea salt wooden spoon on brown wooden background.

Recently I had the privilege of hearing Manny Scott speak in person. Manny was one of the students in the class made famous by the movie Freedom Writers, which I had never actually seen prior to hearing him speak. In spite of not seeing the Hollywood version of this teacher-hero’s class, Manny’s personal story and his charge to educators everywhere still had a powerful impact.

As he detailed his own history, tears came to my eyes many times. It is heartbreaking to hear the challenges of students in poverty. Although I have taught many students who are considered impoverished, Manny’s own struggles seemed to surpass the large majority of the students I have encountered. His words did inspire me to look past the students sitting in my classroom to see the whole child–their school life as well as their home life.

After sharing his challenges, he told the story of how his now famous teacher “studied her students like an anthropologist” and found a way to reach each of them and have an impact on their lives. He encouraged the educators in the audience to do likewise: Study your students and change your methods so that they can reach high expectations.

His conclusion was even more powerful than his story. He shared that in a recent keynote address he talked about those students that are hardest to reach, those who resist your every effort and seem to not want to let you into their lives. He referred to the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t……” He said that before he finished that familiar phrase, a cowboy in his audience jumped up to challenge that old way of thinking. Manny reported that the cowboy said it was indeed true that you could not make a horse drink once you led them to water, but you could put salt in their mouths and make them thirsty!

Christ said in His mountaintop sermon, “You are the salt of the earth,” Matthew 5:13. Being salt isn’t about adding flavor to the world, it’s about making the world thirsty. Thirsty for what? Jesus Christ, the Living Water (John 4:10, 14). Educators have the double-duty of being the salt that makes kids thirsty for learning as well as making them thirsty for the Living Water. Let’s get in those classrooms and shake it up!