FAQs for Mercy Season
Why do I need mercy for something I didn't do? I wasn't there when they killed Jesus, and I wouldn't have taken part in it if I had been there. I'm not that big of a sinner.
You may be a basically good person, but strange as it sounds, you are also infected with the same badness that put Jesus on the cross. We all are born with it. We all organize our lives around it.
What exactly is that "badness" that infects even good people? The universal human tendency to run our own lives, build our own kingdoms, fight for our own groups, and decide who we will or won't forgive.
How could such common and normal things bring a death sentence on people who are good otherwise? They put us into direct conflict with the first requirement Jesus wants to make as King of the world. We have to forgive everyone.
God is the only one who has the right to decide whom we forgive. We, even the good ones among us, have all usurped that right. The day we lay it down is the day we quit playing God. And that is what he really wants from us.
Good people may still listen to Jesus most of the time, describe him as a good teacher, etc. But if they want to reserve their right to decide for themselves who to forgive, they might as well look Jesus straight in the face and say, "Not my king!" They are repeating the exact mistake of the Jewish and Roman officials who killed him--claiming their turf and denying Jesus control of it.
This amounts to treason against the person God has appointed to rule the world! He has claimed that "our turf" is actually his turf, and we are denying his claim.
That's where our death sentence comes in. We might do many more good things than lots of other people but it doesn't really matter. If we are under a death sentence for treason, we can't work it off with community service. Our only hope is a pardon. And that is what we get because of Jesus and his merciful sacrifice.
Mercy Season shows us how that mercy cancels our death sentence if we accept it, quit playing God, and allow Jesus to turn us into merciful people.
Do we become doormats if we are too merciful, meek and mild? How does that work in real life?
Was Jesus a doormat? No. Did he ever confront anyone by saying something like, "You can't do this to me?" No.
Jesus showed us that there is a way to live a life of mercy without becoming a doormat but we have to look at his whole life in order to get the idea. This kind of living can't be boiled down to a line or two. We have to know his story well enough to get a feel for his style, his Spirit, his thoughts and his courage.
One part of his story is that he was not naively or predictably meek and mild. Sometimes he confronted people with shocking bluntness and name-calling. He called Peter "Satan" (Mark 8.33). He went on a long tirade against the Pharisees (Matthew 23.1-39) calling them "children of hell" and many other things. And he called Capernaum, the town where he spent the most ministry time, worse than Sodom, the scumbag town from which we get our word sodomy (Matthew 11.23-24)
He showed us that being merciful does not exactly mean being soft. It means identifying with the mercy that God has built into his campaign and strategy. Every time Jesus resorted to name-calling he was calling people out for opposing God's campaign. He showed no mercy for that.
Jesus showed us two other unusual and obvious things about mercy:
1. He never tried to settle old scores for himself, his followers, or his nation. Many people and groups fixate on the wrongs that some other person or group has done to them. They want the others to go back and pay for that wrong. Forgiveness is unthinkable. It would be so unjust! The "injustice" of mercy never bothered Jesus at all.
2. He never tried to use political or legal power to enforce mercy as a law. He did not set up a model kingdom of mercy in some town where he had a lot of followers. Nor did he teach his followers to do that on his behalf, though many today seem to think they are supposed to take power and force things. By contrast his strategy was to use mercy to evoke mercy.
That is the "secret" of the cross. On the cross he looked like a doormat, a helpless victim, a person whose strategy had failed, but if the life of Jesus taught the human race anything it is this--things are not what they seem.
What seemed to be the most doormat-ish moment of his life was exactly the moment when he was carrying out his prime assignment in God's campaign, mercifully making the self-sacrifice that changed everything for everyone for all time. A victim? Never. He was taking the mercy path to the power of the throne.
How do I know if I am already an authorized "mercy agent"?
The simplest way to tell if you are already a mercy agent is to ask yourself what kind of terms you are on with God and how you got that way.
If you realize that you were complicit in the crucifixion of Jesus and that he reconciled you with God anyway, you are a mercy agent. You get it. You have authentically accepted his pardon, he has put his Spirit into you, and you are changing inside, becoming merciful to everyone.
On the other hand, if you think you are on OK terms with God because you are a decent person and you sometimes let some wrongs go without paying people back for them, you are not a mercy agent yet. You are thinking that your terms with God depend on what you do for him not what he did for you. You have not asked for or received a pardon.
Another way to tell if you are a mercy agent is to ask what you are doing to spread the news of the pardon. If you know how to unlock people from the traps of bitterness and revenge, it comes naturally to bring up the subject with them. If you don't see or can't explain the connection between Jesus's sacrifice and people's resentments and retaliations today, you aren't a mercy agent yet.
If you still aren't sure, here is a third way to tell, though it is a little more work. Read the "Who Are We?" story called "Unforgivable" (see under "Story of the World" tab, 2 min. read) and ask whether you see yourself as part of that story. The "Reflections" at the end of the story include five ways to tell whether you are in or not.
If I wanted to become a mercy agent, how would I get authorized?
If you are not a mercy agent but want to be authorized as one, the way to do that is basically to respond to the "Unforgivable" story (see under "Story of the World" tab). After you read it, simply say, "I'm in," the same way you might say, "I'm in" when someone asked you whether you wanted to go along on a trip or take part in a business deal.
Obviously you have to understand the trip or the business deal. Otherwise it doesn't mean anything to say, "I'm in," and you may change your mind pretty quickly.
In this case, your "I'm in," means, "Yes, Jesus our High Priest, please authorize me as one of your mercy agents. I admit that I have not been paying attention to you as the Messiah whom God sent to spearhead his campaign to save the world from itself. I have been deciding for myself who I will forgive and who I won't. From now on, I forgive everybody. I want them all to know what mercy feels like, whether they deserve it or not. I want them to know the relief and joy that I know because I realize what you did on the final Day of Atonement."
Welcome to Team Mercy! Please spread mercy in all the territory God gives you. The world needs it, and nobody else gives it like Jesus does.
Aren't you over-emphasizing the importance of Jesus's sacrifice? Surely there are other ways to approach God sincerely.
God certainly cares about our sincerity, but think about it. If we have deeply insulted someone and we later want to approach him or her, we have to start by dealing with the insult.
If we are approach the person as if nothing had happened, that is not a sincere approach. The person will see that we either do not realize how we insulted them or we are trying to pretend it was not serious. Either way, our approach will be rejected.
"Sincere" approaches to God without honoring Jesus as King are like that. The first thing God wants to know as we approach him is whether we are still insulting Jesus by refusing to honor him as King.
How can we show no respect when the King walks into the room? If we see him but go on with our conversations and laughter like he isn't even there, isn't that an insult? And if we say, "What insult? What did I do?" that's a double insult.
And if the King himself laid down his life as a sacrifice for us, wouldn't we insult him if we said, "Thanks very much, Jesus, but I didn't really need that sacrifice in order to approach God. My good deeds outweigh my bad ones, so I'm sure God will welcome me on my own. It's nice that you did that for the bad people who needed it."
What does the Mercy icon mean?
Drops of blood are the SYNC icon for Mercy Season because Jesus sacrificed his own blood, his own life, to replace the judgment we deserved with the mercy we didn't deserve. His sacrifice is not meek and mild mercy. It is agonizing, heroic mercy! It is a spectacular payment of the price of our selfishness, paid on our behalf by a sinless person!
If we can look at those drops of Jesus's blood in the icon and not be motivated to live mercifully, we are truly clueless about God's strategy to save the cruel world from itself. Jesus is out to fill the world with merciful people! And he is not sending us out to do anything he has not already done himself in a more extreme way, pouring out his life-blood.
How does Mercy Season relate to the previous season of the campaign (Power Season)?