Posted in reflections

Lavish mercy: Luke 6:38

Jim Bedient, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus had a lot to say about mercy. Luke 6:38 is one of the best known passages:

Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure – pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.

Now wait just a minute! I thought this verse had to do with giving our resources. Give a little, and you’ll get a lot. (How many times have we heard this referenced in relation to tithes and offerings?) But when you read the verse in its context, Jesus isn’t talking about money; he’s talking about mercy. Just two verses earlier, Jesus says: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Rather than judging or condemning (v. 37), “give” (extend) mercy. I can do this when I realize that the speck in my brother’s eye is nothing compared to the log in my own (v. 42).

Sometimes we consider “mercy” to be synonymous with “grace,” and indeed they are in the same word family. When seen from God’s perspective, grace is God giving us something we do not deserve, but mercy is God not giving us something we deserve.

Mercy can be unsettling. How often when something bad happens to a nasty person do we think: “They got what they had coming to ’em.” Sometimes we’ll boil it down to one word and simply say: “karma.” Reaping what you sow was the theology underlying the responses of Job’s friends when his world fell apart. In so many words, they said: “These hard times look a lot to us like chickens coming home to roost, Job. Fess up – what sin have you committed that would have earned you this comeuppance?”

But Jesus wasn’t content to keep the discussion on the vertical plane, i.e. between God and the individual. Instead, his teaching moves to the horizontal plane, looking how we as human beings treat each other. “Be merciful,” he says, “just as your Father is merciful” (v. 36). When Jesus says in v. 38 that the “standard of measure” used will “be measured to you in return,” this has nothing to do with give $ 1,000.00 and you’ll get that and more back. Rather, he is saying if we want to receive mercy, we first must give it.

For Steven McDonald, a Christian, that path to mercy ran through forgiveness. McDonald was a New York City police officer. On patrol in 1986, he was shot by a 15-year-old boy, Shavod Jones. Though McDonald lived, he was paralyzed from the neck down. All of his daily needs had to be cared for by others. He could no longer hug his wife or his young son. Over time, he learned to forgive they boy who had shot him, and wrote to him in prison to tell him so. McDonald spent the final years of his life traveling and speaking about forgiveness. How could he forgive? It took years, but eventually McDonald concluded: “I forgave Shavod because the only thing worse than receiving a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart.” (Read the whole story here).

The forgiveness that McDonald showed toward Jones was lavish. Though he could have wished for Jones to suffer in the same way he had inflicted suffering, McDonald chose the much harder way of mercy and forgiveness. I’d like to think that we – in a similar situation – could do as much.

There’s so much we have done that merits heaven’s punishment, yet God in Christ has been merciful to us. Paul says: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). What mercy! May the Lord help us show the same attitude toward those who have wronged us, hoping and praying that they, too, might come to know the only One who could possible enable us to react that way.


All Scripture quotations are from The New American Standard Bible (2020, Lockman).

Posted in sermons & addresses

A New Song

Greg preachingNote to the reader

I preached this sermon on Thursday, September 27, 2018 in the chapel on the L.T. Marangu campus of Africa Nazarene University (Ongata-Rongai, Kenya).

N.B. – All Scripture references are from the Common English Bible.

Text: Colossians 3:12-17


Have you ever had an earworm? You know what I mean by that. Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head? Maybe it was the first song you heard when you woke up, or the last song you listened to before going to sleep at night. However it happened, it’s stuck in your brain and you can’t get away from it. At first, it was pleasant, but how that you’re hearing it for the 57th time, it’s just plain annoying. In fact, if you don’t get the song out of your head soon, it’s going to drive you crazy! What do you need? A new song, a better song. To drive out the old, find something new.


In Colossians 3:16, Paul invites us to sing a new song, a better song. He writes:

The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts.


Earlier in chapter 3, Paul details the sour notes of the old song. These are the dischordant strains, the off-key melodies of the life of sin and selfishness. Verse 5 lists these practices: sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed. Then v. 8 adds anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. Verse 9 wraps up the list with a simple command: “Don’t lie to each other.”

These 11 practices, this dirty laundry list, make up the old song we used to sing before we came to Christ. But now, God has given us the Holy Spirit. The Lord has put a new song in our hearts, a better song. Verse 2 puts it this way:

Think about the things above and not things on earth. You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (CEB).

If we continue in our old ways, in the ways of sin and disobedience to God, there will be a price to pay. I’ve never met a person who practices the 11 sins Paul enumerates who in the long run is well-adjusted and who lives in peace and contentment. And the reason is simple: Every one of the practices mentioned – in one way or another – destroys community.

This is Africa, where Ubuntu teaches us that “I am because we are.” Yet greed, moral corruption, rage, and slander (to mention a few) push others away. And in the end, this old bitter song on our lips will have people plugging their ears so they don’t have to listen to it. You will be singing off-key, all alone.

Continue reading “A New Song”

Posted in pastoral care, reflections

God’s four-step path to healing

DSCN4860Three words on a package of bananas – “Do not refrigerate” – instantly transported me back in time.

I was 16 and it was my first day on the job at the supermarket. My manager gave me simple instructions:

Take the skids off the truck, then stack the boxes of produce in the cooler.

The truck arrived, I did my work, then clocked out and went home.

The next day, my boss was furious. “Why did you put boxes of bananas in the cooler?” For the next several days, blackened bananas sold at deep discount on the sales floor. I’d messed up…majorly.

Most of us can recall times when we’ve missed the mark not just by a little but by a lot. However good our intentions, the end result was disastrous. We let someone down and may have even caused them deep pain. A shattered marriage, a bankruptcy, a broken trust – the consequences of our failure are plain to see and cut deep.

Thankfully, there’s a four-step path to healing.

First, let us resist the temptation to call sin by any other name. Instead, we have to admit we were wrong and be willing to change. Proverbs 28:13 reminds us: “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy” (NLT).

Secondly, let us accept God’s forgiveness. “As far as the east is from the west,” writes the Psalmist, “so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12, NIV).

Third, let us ask forgiveness from the person we wronged. James 5:16 promises healing, yet there is a prerequisite. We are to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other. Three of the most powerful words in any language are these: “I forgive you.” Reconciliation between people allows God’s healing to take root deep in our heart.

Finally, let us forgive ourselves. In Tramp for the Lord, Corrie Ten Boom talks about what God did with her sins once she confessed them: “When I confessed them to the Father, Jesus Christ washed them in his blood. They are now cast into the deepest sea and a sign put up that says, ‘NO FISHING ALLOWED.’ ” Like Paul, ours is to forget what is behind us and stretch toward what God has in-store for us (Phil. 3:13-14). God long ago forgave us. Are we willing to cut ourselves a break?

All of us have our own “bananas in the cooler” moment. There are times when there’s no way around it. We blundered, big time. Yet God doesn’t want us to stay mired in our guilt and shame. The Lord offers a path to healing. Are we ready to walk it, together?