Photo by Peter Miranda on Unsplash

I just started reading the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, and I think I had forgotten how harsh that prophetic message is. By the end of the second chapter God is basically saying, “Don’t come to me for help. Go to all those gods you’ve been worshiping” (Jeremiah 2:28).

So I began to wonder, at what point could I turn someone away who has been away from the church for a long, long time, but comes back for some a la carte spiritual food? Like someone who you haven’t heard from in about fifteen years who calls up one day and says, “Can I get my kids baptized this Sunday?” Or another who stops by the church now and again and sends an email asking me to do their wedding eighteen months from now. I denied both requests.

Of course I felt guilty. How could I not, seeing as how Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son being welcomed home? And there have been families who have been away for a while who have recently reconnected with the church. And I had no problem with them.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” I always thought Uncle Ben said that to Peter Parker (Spiderman). Actually, it is attributed to Voltaire. Anyway, it applies here. Jesus gives the church the authority to forgive or not, to loose or bind people in their sin.

But how do you know whether to apply mercy or accountability in a given situation? The catechism says you forgive the sins of the repentant. But how do you know if someone is repentant?

The bottom line is, you don’t. You can talk to someone and try to understand their story. You could look for the fruits of repentance. But in the end, you really don’t know. I tend to lean towards compassion, but in the two examples above, I just couldn’t do it.

Sometimes Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you.” Other times he said, “You’re already condemned” (John 3:18). Jesus didn’t like it when the Pharisees shut heaven’s door in people’s faces. Yet he also warned against giving pearls to the pigs.

But Jesus was better at sorting things out. He’s really good at reading hearts and minds.

And he’s great at keeping me on task. I’m not supposed to be a religious sub-contractor, providing various services. I’m just the messenger.


Gloom, despair, agony, repentance and mercy








I guess you have to pick your poison. Tornadoes in Oklahoma, hurricanes in Florida, superstorms in New England, earthquakes in California, shootings, bombs, abduction, epidemic, drought, infestation, pestilence, plague, processed meat — no matter where you go, there is a very real, imminent threat to your life, your family, your church, your friends and your community. What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?

Are there really more threats on our lives? Or is there just more breaking news about threats to our lives? Has anyone done the research? Are there really more people dying from those things, or is there just more gloom, despair and agony thrust upon me each day?

A long time ago, the apostle Paul wrote that “the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). He wrote that in the context of urging some Christians not to get too attached to the things of the world. They won’t last. And each tragedy, disaster and act of violence that claims life and makes us afraid is a powerful reminder that it’s all going to be gone someday (2 Peter 3:10-13), to replaced by something new and much, much better.

So how do we react to the events? How do we respond to the news? If someone close to us is affected, we show mercy help them through it in every way we can. If they are far away, we pray and contribute to support those who are in that place providing help.

But we also keep Jesus’ words in mind: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Headline news provides a vivid reminder of our sin and its consequences in this world, and the only cure is the forgiveness and life we have through our faith in Jesus Christ. Let the headlines send you running to Him, and then back out into the world with His mercy.