I’m sure elementary-aged boys are much more sophisticated and peaceful these days, but I grew up going to school with guys who whiled away their not-so-innocent childhoods inventing new ways to torment and maim their closest friends.

Who can forget the good, clean fun of trading punches, Indian burns, noogies, wedgies and Sylvester Stallone style knuckle-breaking arm wrestling matches? All of these twisted activities of my youth seemed to involve a unique combination of pain and utter humiliation. The school playgrounds of the 1970’s were like Lord of the Flies with a slide and a swing set.

One of my favorite, and at the same time most hated, of these juvenile gladiator matches was the sadistic game called “mercy.” If you’ve never played, let me assure you that the title is misleading to say the least. You play mercy by facing your opponent, interlacing your fingers with theirs and then promptly trying to twist their wrists clean off their arms. Apply pressure, create pain and force your adversary to yield. What could be more fun than that? At this point, the Lord of the Flies reference should start to make a little more sense.

I don’t think I ever won a game of mercy. Everyone I played with seemed to be doing some secret hand-strengthening exercise that I never discovered. The game, however, did teach me a valuable lesson about human nature. No one likes to admit weakness. Even when my fingers were being crushed to jelly I adamantly refused to say, “mercy.” I would whimper, scream and howl, but I did not want to say that word. It didn’t matter that my Neanderthal classmate was crippling me for life. I would not admit defeat.

The funny thing is that many of us still have the same problem. We don’t like to admit that we’re not as strong as we pretend to be. Weakness is unacceptable. Failure is not an option. Mercy? Who needs it?

Ironically, it is these cries of mercy that open the door for God to do His best work. When the pressure of life gets too much, when we feel ourselves crushed under the weight of our problems, the best thing we can do is tell God, “Enough. I’m done.” When we admit we’re done, that’s when we discover that God is just getting started. And when God steps into our situation, it’s a total game changer.

Just imagine if back in my playground days I could have brought my dad to school with me. Think of what it would have been like if I could have said, “mercy” and had my dad tag in on my behalf. How awesome would that have been? I would have absolutely dominated the game. Having a big, strong dad at my side would have made me invincible.

The same is true today. We have a dad in heaven who wants to do our fighting for us. He wants us to admit that we need His help and invite Him to join the game. He’s just waiting for us to tag Him in so that He can use His strength on our behalf.

The only thing that holds us back is pride. From the moment we’re born, we’re taught that we’re supposed to grow up to be self sufficient. The only problem is that the self is not sufficient. The self is made to be dependent.

So the next time you feel yourself buckling under the pressures of life, remember that crying mercy is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s actually the best thing because it unlocks the power of God to do what we could never do on our own.


Little Bo Peep Has Lost Her Mind

Yesterday I ran into one of my neighbors who had just returned from walking her baby at the park.  She told me that as they were walking down the path, she spotted two of the strangest looking dogs she’d ever seen.  Though she’s a dog lover, she couldn’t quite figure out what breed they were.

Then as she approached them, she discovered the reason.  They weren’t dogs at all.  They were sheep.  On a leash.  Sheep.   I’m not sure what the lamb leash laws are for Lexington, but apparently they’re pretty strict.

My neighbor went up to talk the, um, shepherdess, and the lady told her she was visiting her daughter-in-law so she brought her sheep.  Of course.  Who wouldn’t? 

The best part is that Little Bo Peep’s park sits between two fairly affluent neighborhoods in the city.  I love the idea of the sheep riding around town with their heads out the window of a Lexus. 

I wonder at what point you leash-train your sheep?  Do you have to start them as babies or send them to lamb obedience school?  Do they do any tricks?  Sit up, roll over, turn into a sweater?

Lamb on a leash.  Seems pretty ridiculous, right?  But how often do we try to do the same thing to Jesus, the Lamb of God? 

No, Jesus, you can’t lead me to that place.  We’re going over here.   No, Jesus, I can’t give that much.   I can’t afford it.  I’m sorry Jesus,  I can’t forgive him for that.  I can’t.

Heel, Jesus!

The Bible tells the story about John the Baptist hanging out by the river one day, and when Jesus walked over the hill, he said, “There He is, the Lamb of God!”

The whole park incident made me think about how insane it is to try put this all-powerful Lamb of God on a leash.  It’s been tried before and didn’t work out so well. 

The religious leaders tried to put Jesus on a leash, but he broke all of their rules, healing people when he wasn’t supposed to, loving people they hated. 

His friends tried to put him on a leash too.  When Jesus told them He was going to die on the cross, his friend Peter said, “Never.  No way.   I am not going to let that happen.”

Even his family tried to reign him in.  His half brothers thought He was out of his ever-loving mind and were ready to come and take Him home before this whole Son of God thing got Him into too much trouble. 

But the only the leash Jesus ever wore was self-imposed. 

Christ was truly God.

But He did not remain equal with God.

Instead He gave up everything and became a slave,

when He became like one of us.

Christ was humble.

He obeyed God

and even died

on a cross.

      – Phil 2:6-8 (CEV)

Even when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, He told Peter to put away His sword.  He could call down legions of angelic warriors to blow these guys off the face of the planet in a heartbeat.   But He didn’t.

Yeah, He willingly wore that leash. 

He willingly died in my place.  Scapegoat.  Lamb of God. 

But that was a long time ago.  2,000 years have passed.   And now that Lamb is a conquering King.   

Maybe it’s time I stopped acting like Jesus is my pet.  Maybe instead, today, I let Him lead.    

What would my life look like if Jesus were truly unleashed?

©Jason Byerly 2011

Me Do It!

For a two year-old, my daughter Kate has an amazing command of the Queen’s English.  Some of her favorite phrases include: 

1.      I want cheese (take my picture).
2.      I stinky (change my diaper).
3.      Dress (put some clothes on me, dummy).
As you can see, most of the words she uses are commands.  I think she’s convinced I’m her butler.  Her favorite phrase by far, though, the phrase that she repeats at least twenty times a day, is the ever-popular “Me do it.” 
“Here Kate, let me pour you some milk.”
 “Me do it!”
  “Hold still honey, I need to put your socks on you.”
 “Me do it!” 
“Where are you going with my car keys?”
“Me do it!”
For Kate every day is Independence Day, and every task takes ten times longer than it should because she insists on trying to do it herself.  No matter how hard she tries, eventually the milk gets spilled, her socks end up on her hands and, as for the car keys, I haven’t actually let her try that one yet.  We’ll just assume it would not go well. 
If I dare try to help her with anything, she gets really angry.  Often she’ll take whatever she’s working on to another part of the room so I can’t interfere.   Finally, though, she reaches a point of exasperation and says the words I’ve been waiting to hear.  “Daddy, help.” 
“Honey,” I say, “That’s what Daddy’s been trying to do all along.”
I wish I could say Kate has learned her stubborn independence from her mom.  So I will.  She definitely learned it from her mother.  But I suppose if I’m honest, her dad may have had something to do with it too.
No matter how many years I’ve been friends with God, my first reaction to the problems of my life is still, “Me do it!”  Even when the task is obviously beyond me, I have this illusion that I can handle any challenge that comes my way. 
I have a major financial decision.  Me do it!
I have to deal with conflict at work.  Me do it!
I have a persistent sin I can’t seem to shake.  Me do it!
A two year old saying, “Me do it,” is cute.  A thirty-eight year old saying it to God is delusional.  I mean, c’mon, He’s the God of the universe.  He has limitless power, limitless resources and limitless good will to help His people. 
Throughout my life I’ve struggled with overeating.  For me it’s not just a health issue but a heart issue.  When I’m at my worst, I use food to deal with stress and emotions.  That’s the kind of socially acceptable thing ministers do since they don’t drink or smoke.  So a couple of years ago I noticed this had gotten worse and I tried to buckle down and change my eating habits.  I found I just couldn’t.  I was stuck.  In fact, the harder I tried, the worse I seemed to do. 
Once again “me do it” was a total flop.  It was only when I became totally frustrated with myself that I gave up the fight and asked for God’s help, really asked for His help to the point where I was willing to do whatever He said to make the changes I needed to make.   
Within weeks my attitude towards food had totally reversed.  For God, this was a no-brainer.  For me, it was impossible. 
Like Kate, when my Father tries to help me, I often withdraw so He can’t interfere.  This always ends in frustration.  It’s only after I reach the end of myself, that I finally say the words He’s been waiting to hear.  “Daddy, help.” 
“Jason,” He says, ”that’s what Daddy’s been trying to do all along.”