Just Mercy

I saw the film Just Mercy a few weeks ago with my wife and some friends. The entire film, following the work of Bryan Stevenson, was a sobering and somber reminder of the injustice that often takes place in our midst. The whole film has been rattling around inside my mind, but one scene in particular has kept me enraptured mentally.

One of the men that Bryan Stevenson represented was a man named Herbert Richardson. Richardson survived an attack in Vietnam that killed his entire platoon, leaving him with major PTSD. This led to his bombing of a house, leading to the death of a young woman. While this was an action that he took, his PTSD was never considered and he was not given a just and fair trial.

As a member of the audience, we watch as Herbert Richardson was walked from death row into a waiting area, as the guards prepped him for death by electrocution. We watch as they shave his body, give him his last meal, and strap him in. All this takes place while the song “Old Rugged Cross” plays over the loud speakers, the song he chose to be his last listen.

Man, my heart was in my throat.

As I sat there watching this scene, I couldn’t help but think of the injustice and brokenness in my own community. I couldn’t help but think of my indifference to it. As a pastor, I’m at church every Sunday. I sing songs just like the Old Rugged Cross about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet at the same time I too often ignore the needs of those around me.

In the book of Isaiah, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah about what is on His heart, about what He despises.

And here’s the message. God despises those of us whose lips claim allegiance to Jesus, but whose hearts are indifferent to the needs of others around us.

Convicting much?

That definitely convicts me.

I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals. They have become a burden to me; I am tired of putting up with them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. 

Wash yourselves. Clean yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Please the widow’s cause. 

“Come, let us settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are crimson red, they will be like wool.” – Isaiah 1:14-18

God despises when I attend Sunday school, pray, read my Bible, evangelize, tithe, sing hymns, and teach Scripture, but don’t care for those in need around me.

The church should unashamedly stand for the value and dignity of every human life, from the fetus to the foster child to the foreigner in our midst.

How many times have you sung the hymn “Jesus Paid It All”? I’ve probably sung that song a thousand times throughout my life. And only this weekend did I realize that the context of this passage, and thus that song, is not primarily about sin in general. It is about the stain and blemish on me when I dare to ignore the call of Christ to care for ALL people.

In the scene I opened this blog with, as Richardson is being executed, those on death row are banging against the cell doors and yelling “We’re right here! We are with you! We’re right here! You’re not alone!”

And honestly, again, as I was watching it I wondered what those in need in my community were hearing from me. Maybe they’re hearing “I don’t have the time for you” or “I don’t have any resources with which to help you”. Maybe worse yet they’re hearing “you put yourself in that position” or “I don’t trust you not to use and abuse the system”.

Am I proclaiming “We’re right here!” to those in need?

To be candid, they’re probably not hearing that from me. It’s easier for me to sit in my ivory tower studying and proclaiming the Word of God than it is for me to get my hands dirty in acts of service to meet very real needs in my community. God forgive me for that.

This final verse we looked at together is encouraging and full of the gospel. God will wash me white as snow. The beauty of that verse is not only that God will forgive my indifference which is despairingly sinful. God also promises to wash the crimson stain of my indifference away.

That means that as I ask God, He will give me a greater heart for those around me.

Church, we will close our collective doors if we keep standing above those in need.

Church, we will miss the heart of Christ if we don’t go to meet the needs of all people.

Church, we will push our communities away if all they see from us is the decrying of sin in a sinful culture, constant outrage and outcry, and no heart for the souls of men.

Church, our God despises our religious traditions devoid of a passion for justice.

Church, our mission is to rule and reign, dispensing the justice and MERCY of God.

Jesus did not come decrying the sins of Roman culture.

He came decrying the sins of the religious like me.

Jesus did not come to avoid service.

He came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.

Jesus did not come trying to change a culture.

Jesus came to save the world.

My greatest witness is not my moral high ground (I don’t know about you but I’ve got some very wicked private sin in my heart). My greatest witness is humble service.

My community doesn’t need my religious outrage.

They just need mercy.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

 

I don’t own rights to the picture above, and no copyright infringement is intended.

He Doesn’t Remember

It was a beautiful Friday morning. I had just got done taking a class at Vernon College’s campus in Wichita Falls and I was driving home. I was so stoked and excited to be doing just that because I had just procured my driver’s license three days before. I was driving down Southwest Parkway and approached an intersection at a normal speed. The light turned yellow and I made a dumb decision. I tried to speed up and get through only to have it turn red just prior to me entering the intersection. To make matters far worse, I immediately noticed a police officer pull out behind me with his lights on. Yes, I got a ticket and yes it was three days after getting my license (both my parents and their insurance company were not pleased with me).

Yet I was able to get this small (albeit stupid) traffic violation off of my record by taking what felt like a ten-thousand¬†hour course in defensive driving (it was probably only six hours). Now I don’t have a ‘running a red light’ traffic offense associated with my name. My offense has been pardoned.

In an exponentially greater sense and scope, it is incredibly beautiful that God has promised to not hold any of our sins against us. In the work of salvation through the sacrifice of Christ we have been forever forgiven. Not only that, but God chooses to not remember our sins any longer.

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will remember not your sins.” – Isaiah 43:25

In a human sense, we tend to separate these two realities. We may be able to forgive with sincerity, but it is immensely difficult to no longer hold peoples offenses against us no more. Try as we might, we struggle to truly pardon and choose to not remember the offenses of co-workers, family members, friends, strangers. Their offenses may slowly dissipate in our minds over time, but this is more often forgetting rather than not remembering.

There is a fundamental difference in forgetting someone’s sins and choosing not to remember them. Forgetfulness is passive while choosing not to remember is active. I forget things all the time. I forget where I put my wallet or keys. I forget to send an e-mail or respond back to a text. I forget what day in April is actually Jamie’s birthday. These are passive realities of being a human with a finite mind who can’t cling to every piece of info.¬†forgive

The trite old saying ‘forgive and forget’ may be worth adhering to in a sense, but it pales in comparison to the wonders of the gospel of grace. God has not forgotten our sins. He has chosen to not remember them. He has not in a passive sense forgotten that I sinned against Him today like I forgot how much meat goes in Hamburger Helper for that would make Him less than perfect. Instead, God in His wonderful and wondrous grace has elected not to remember my sins any more. When He thinks of me, He sees the righteousness and perfection of Christ. When He thinks of me, the immensely long laundry list of grievances against His holiness and perfection is nowhere in sight. Because of the sacrifice of Christ, my transgressions have been blotted out. Because of the sacrifice of Christ, God has chosen to not remember my sins. It is for His own sake that He does such a wondrous thing. It is for His glory.

If this is true, it should change everything.

If this is true, it should change how we respond to being treated poorly.

If this is true, it should change how we view ourselves in the day-to-day activities of life.

If this is true, it should change how we worship the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

The beauty of the gospel of grace is that IT IS TRUE.

Jesus commanded us in Luke 6:36 to extend mercy in the same way that we have had mercy extended to us.

Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. – Luke 6:36

This truth should change how we respond to being treated poorly. I am not advocating being a doormat or allowing yourself to remain in dangerous or harmful situations with family or friends. I’m not advocating a frivolous lack of accountability or justice. Yet how can we walk in the gospel of grace and extend mercy through actively choosing to no longer hold people’s sins against them? Can you imagine the spirit and aura of restoration would permeate the church if this level of forgiveness saturated all of our communities and relationships (I have no idea how exactly this would play out in such a manner but it’s something I’m prayerfully exploring)?

This truth should change how we view ourselves. I’ll be real honest here for a minute. I allow myself to feel condemned for sin that has been nailed to the cross of Christ. I will too often operate in a mindset and self-image defined by my mistakes rather than the victories and gifts of grace that God has put in place in my life (any good character trait in any of us comes directly from the grace of God [James :17]). But if God no longer remembers any of our sins and doesn’t hold them against us after we’ve repented and trusted in the work of Christ, we shouldn’t allow Satan to hold those things in our hearts and minds any longer. Journey with me in discovering what it means to walk in freedom and the beautiful promise that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Finally, this truth should change how we worship. Christmas is rapidly approaching and yet in these moments of excitement and fun, family and friends, we should be worshiping this God who became flesh, who lived the perfect life we couldn’t and died the death we deserve only to rise again from the dead in order to defeat the curse of sin and death. This same God who died for us also actively chooses to not remember our sins any longer.

Oh happy day.

Live in the freedom of God’s extravagant grace.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

(I appreciate any and all feedback, and you can follow my blog via the menu)