Study Guide: Love Mercy

Sunday April 17, 2016 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

*Please note that this message contains content that may not be appropriate for young children.* In this first message of the Love. Walk. Do. sermon series, Greg tackles the first portion of the prophet Micah’s depiction of what God requires of us – to love mercy. Loving mercy means loving it when people don’t get the negative consequences they deserve. If justice is about collecting a debt, then loving mercy is about hating debt collecting. In a very counter cultural depiction of the Kingdom of God, Greg examines how we can’t truly love mercy until we realize the extent to which we depend on it from God.

Extended Summary:

In Micah 6:8 the prophet shares three things that God requires of us. He tells us to love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with our God. In this first message of the series Greg focused on what it means to love mercy. If justice is about collecting a debt or someone getting what they deserve, then a good way to think about mercy is someone not getting what they deserve, or not having to pay the debt they owe. Loving mercy is very countercultural and we aren’t able to do it unless we first start with a truthful picture of our own standing before God.

Greg told a story from a few years ago in which he took his autistic son, who was struggling with depression out to Las Vegas to see some shows and experience the city. As the days progressed, the physical exhaustion of not sleeping well and struggling with back pain, the spiritual weight of visible sin everywhere, and the emotional toll of seeing his son struggle with the effects of his autism brought Greg to a breaking point. In the middle of the night he experienced and encounter with the presence of the Lord that was overwhelming. It started with an intense experience of his unworthiness and realization of the all the sin in his life, past and present. He felt his false self (which feels good about himself by comparison to others) being crushed before God’s presence. His exhaustion had brought him to a place of not being able to support the facade of the false self anymore in that moment. Of course he knew he was sinful and needed forgiveness, but by comparing himself to others he kind of saw how God could love a guy like him. In that moment the truth was laid bare and he realized the only comparison that mattered was to God. the façade died and he came undone realizing how inconceivable it is for God to love someone like him. God did not leave him in that place of exposure, but instead the presence ushered him in to a place of feeling the depth of the mercy God has had on his life and the safety of the Father’s love. God showed him how unnecessary it was to prop himself up on comparison self-esteem when Christ had already given him all he needed in terms of worth, significance, and value.

In reality our capacity to love mercy is directly proportional to understanding of how much mercy we ourselves need. Jesus confronts Simon the Pharisee in Luke 4:7 telling him that “whoever has been forgiven little, will forgive little.” Greg realized that even though he had been very intentional about collapsing judgments towards others, minimizing their sin and maximizing his over the years, he still had some Simon in him. He didn’t think he needed as much forgiveness as the next guy.

Unfortunately in the American culture and church we put great value on having high self-esteem instead of getting our worth and significance from what Jesus has done for us and spoken over us. The idea of sin in our culture, or missing God’s ideal, is quickly becoming irrelevant. Even in the church our awareness of sin is largely centered around pointing out the sins of others. We compare ourselves against standards other than God and thereby feel okay with ourselves on our own merit. The most serious kind of disease (and sin) is the one that makes you feel better for having it. This is the sin of the Pharisees. They were the ones that didn’t know they needed a physician and therefore couldn’t accept what Jesus had to offer.

If ever we think too highly of ourselves we need only to ready through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount starting in Matthew 5. We realize when we come in to the holiness of God our good works and façade are absolutely worthless in making us clean. Ephesians 2 says we were dead in our transgressions destined for destruction. But God is rich in mercy and it is by His grace that we have been saved. This is the unfathomable mercy and undeserved grace that can transform a sinner in to a saint – it doesn’t make sense that God would lavish his love on His enemies. Our call is to genuinely hope that the person we think deserves mercy the least would experience the transforming power of the love of God. In this practice we will become a lover of mercy.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Were there any sections of scripture discussed that need more clarification? What parts did you not understand?
  2. What parts of Greg’s story did you most identify with?
  3. How did you think of yourself in relationship to God’s holiness before and after this message?
  4. What keeps us stuck in the comparison / judgment / addiction to self-esteem game?
  5. What changes or practices do you think you need to implement in to your life to help move you toward being a greater lover of mercy?