Posts Tagged ‘mercy’

Read: Matthew 12; Exodus; 1 Kings 1-11

In his short little book simply titled Following Jesus, NT Wright waltzes through several New Testament books and explores their main themes and ideas. Among the books explored is the Gospel according to Matthew. Of Matthew he writes:

Matthew's whole gospel is, in fact, a Coronation Anthem. And the only sensible reason for going to church and hearing Matthew read is so that we can learn how to join in.

But who is being crowned King? Matthew gives him two names, and explains them both. He is to be called 'Jesus', which means 'YHWH saves'–because, says Matthew (1.21), he will save his people from their sins. That is, he will deliver his people from their exile, which was the punishment for their sin. He will be the King who will go down into exile with his people and lead them up and out the other side. And the real exile is not the Babylonian one. It is the satanic exile of sin and death.

The second name is 'Emmanuel', which means 'God with us' (1.23). Matthew has drawn together the two threads of Jewish expectation. First, God will save his people from their sins; yes, and he'll do it through the King, Jesus. Second, God himself will come and dwell with his people. Yes, says Matthew; he'll do that, too, through the King, Jesus. This book celebrates the coronation of the saviour, the God-with-us-King. (25)

Well, that's a wonderfully beautiful way of saying it. I've said it with several more words, to be sure, and so has Matthew. But Matthew is building his Gospel brick by brick (if I may change the metaphor) and will not be satisfied until he laws the final brick, the capstone to the entire edifice: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In the meantime there's a lot of ground to cover. This is where we meet chapter 12 of Matthew. And it is overwhelming.

One thought, governing two aspects of Israelite history, bookends this chapter and thus defines for us everything going on in the middle. First, in verse 6: "I tell you, something greater than the temple is here." This must have absolutely sent shock waves through the community. People just didn't talk about the temple that way, but Jesus did. I think perhaps he wanted them to keep the temple in perspective or maybe he wanted them to think about the temple in a new way–not so much as a place, but as a person in whom all that the temple offered was reserved and unleashed.

I suppose we are kind of that way with our own buildings now too. And the sad, sad reality is that in our modernish ways we tend to invest a lot more of our time and resources in our properties than we do in our people. And maybe Jesus was making a similar judgment about the people of that generation. The key is found in what he says: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. In other words, I care far more about people than I do about your rituals. They never escaped that trap. I wonder if the church of now will? Jesus said this. Jesus said that mercy is more important than ritual.

This is a message the church has yet to hear.

There's so much kingdom talk in this chapter. One thing that stands out is that now the agitation and aggression towards Jesus is heating up. Now the Pharisees are openly plotting to 'destroy' him. Now they are actively thinking that Jesus is a mere agent of the devil. Jesus keeps on going. He will continue to be a man of healing and hope. He will continue to be merciful to all who desire mercy. I guess Jesus' thinking is that the more people line up against him, the more merciful he will be. I mean seriously: how depraved does one have to be to plot against someone who heals another person? Yet that's what they did. Jesus heals, and he's in league with the devil. Jesus heals, and he's a threat to the power structures and must be destroyed. Jesus lets his people eat, and he's little more than the leader of a sinful band of degenerates.

No one says such things about the church. I suspect that's because we don't do these kinds of things that arouse the suspicions of others.

The chapter ends much as it began, in verse 42: "The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here." Solomon, man of wisdom and wives, was indeed a great king. He wasn't as great as his father, but he was special. Now Jesus says that even Solomon is eclipsed by Jesus.

Jesus is greater than the temple. He's greater than Solomon. He's greater than sacrifice; he's greater than wisdom. And he will keep pressing on doing good to people and preaching the kingdom of God.

You have to admire Jesus…even though 'admire' is a poorly chosen word. Something greater. And? This something greater says that what really matters is mercy. Jesus, the King, Emmanuel, the Son of Man, says that what matters for his disciples, for those who would follow is this: mercy.

NT Wright concludes his chapter on Matthew in Following Jesus with these words, "In the kingdom of the Son of Man, the power that counts is the power of love. It is the rule of Emmanuel, God-with-us." (31) Jesus says he is building a family of brothers, sisters, and mothers around himself. He is the center which holds us together and how does he hold us together? Mercy, love. And what is he saying to us? Be merciful. Love.

This is the something greater: the teaching, embodied in Jesus, that what matters here and now is mercy, not sacrifice.

Go and be merciful.

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Sometimes I'm not even sure why we bother. I have a wish for peace. I have a wish that the people of this earth will get along and throw down their implements of war. I'm sick of war and death and famine and disease. I'm sick of violence. I'm sick of politics and intrigue. I'm sick of all the hate and discord. I'm sick of the church being a place of ego and not Jesus. I'm sick of the lines that divide us being so apparent.

I'm sick of debt. I'm sick of disease.

I'm sick of the hate that lifts our hands

And raises us from our knees.

Hate, rising, filling us with heat.

Today's readings are as follows: Psalms 128-130; Numbers 22:41-23:12; Romans 7:13-25; Matthew 21:33-46.

Psalm 130 Who hasn't been here? Sunken deep into the pits of some filth, swallowed whole by the depths. It's the proverbial bottom of the barrel. It's the bottom of the ocean. There's no place to look but up. We can't reach out and save ourselves. We can't walk out on our own. We can't see the face of God or another human. We can't taste hope. We can't smell salvation. Our muscles have atrophied. All we have left is a voice filled with the salt of our tears and with that voice, and no one visble near or around us, we simply cry out: "Out of the depths I cry to you Lord; Lord hear my voice." That looks like a present tense verb to me. It's not, "I cried out," or "I will cry out." It's: "I cry to you." It's present tense. Maybe what we do not realize is that in one way or another we are always in the depths and that we need to constantly, every day, cry out to the Lord. Maybe this is a way of saying something like, "Lord, wherever I am, compared to you, I am always in the depths. Lord, wherever you are I am always crying out to you, my voice is always filled with tears, and my eyes are always laden with the burdens of life. Lord as often as I cry out to you, hear my voice. Hear my words to you through the tear choked misery of these blackened depths. Lord, mercy!"

Then the Psalmist waits (5-6). Five times in these two verses the Psalmist waits. I wait. We wait. It's kind of sad that the Psalmist seems to have to wait alone. I wait. I wait. I wait. Isn't that like us though? Wouldn't life be better if we had someone to wait with while we wait? Wouldn't it be better if we had someone in the depths with us? Wouldn't it be better if we had someone to wait through the long dark nights with us? Nevertheless, who else can we wait upon but the Lord? It's almost like the Psalmist knows that no one else is going to show up so there's not much point in waiting on anyone else. Or perhaps it is because he knows that no one else can even come close to helping him in whatever depths he happens to be in at the time. I might pastorally ask you, as I have asked myself many times, "Who are you waiting on?" I think the answer to the question also reveals who we are hoping will show up.

And we are told in this Psalm several things about the One whom the Psalmist is waiting for: with the Lord there is forgiveness; his word is full of hope; with the Lord there is mercy; with the Lord there is unfailing love; with the Lord there is redemption. There is, in other words, a lot to wait for if we are waiting for the Lord. But I guess who we are waiting for tells us a lot about what we are waiting for, doesn't it? I mean, are we hopeful for hope? Are we hopeful for love? Are we hopeful for redemption from an empty, hopeless, loveless life? Are we hopeful to be rescued from our sins or are we content to live within their depths? At its heart this is a Psalm about needing rescue from ourselves, from the sin we are mired in deeply. And the Psalmist is correct: being mired in sin prevents worship (v 4). So the question is thus: do we desire the fellowship of the Lord? Do we desire his presence? Do we want his mercy? Do we want his love? Do we want his hope? Do we truly want to worship him again? Are we stuck in the pits of sin?

There's only one way out of it. Cry out. Take your throat dry with sin and wet with tears and lift up whatever last breath you have to him. Cry out for his mercy and forgiveness. Keep crying out. Keeping hoping and braying like a broken animal. Do whatever it takes to get your voice into the halls of heaven. Do whatever you have to do to be heard by the one who seeks and saves. He'll find you because that is far more important than you finding him. He is our hope.

So if you are waiting alone, if you are mired in the depths, if you are stuck in sin, if you are muted by your suffering and drinking only tears, where are you going to turn? Who is your hope? Who is your help? If you had one last breath to cry out one last song for mercy, to whom would you sing it?

For more information, see Luke 23:42-43

Grace. "It's a name for a girl" (U2). Grace falls all over us and colors us clean. Grace marks as children of the living God. Grace prevails upon us when we have no clue who we are, what we are doing, or where we are going. Grace guides, teaches, sustains, and reveals to us the mystery of God. All we need to know is found in grace–charis.

And why not? While all the other gods of this world demand from us, Jesus gives to us. Grace enlivens the heart and enlightens the eyes. Grace creates space inside of the void of our selfish and survivalist existence and then fills the vacuum. Then slowly it begins to expand like a universe and what started as a mere pinpoint of light eventually has expanded into a galaxy full of light and life within us. We are consumed. We are lost and found again in grace. We are destroyed and made by Grace.

Grace is our peace. Grace is a thought we can never lose, yet we can never track it down. We can scarcely pin down and yet it never lets us go. Never let me go. Never let us go. Let your grace conquer the abyss of wickedness that swims and swirls in our hearts and minds. Dear Father replace our inclination to evil with a bent towards your mercy and love and forgiveness.

Grace like rain. Grace like a waterfall. Grace like an ocean. These are all ways various artists have spoken or sung about grace. It's always about drowning, being overwhelmed by a fluid density that we cannot stand up under: we are lost, we are drown, we are suffocated, we are consumed and of us there is nothing left when grace is finished. Can we overstate the case for grace? Can we condense grace to a single point? Can we contain grace or keep it from expanding in our lives until it replaces all of us we hate and even bleeds into the lives of others? I think not.

If grace once infects us, we can neither contain nor control its growth. It grows and spreads with a rapidity we cannot imagine or believe. We cannot stand before the flood, the rushing tidal wave of forgiveness, mercy and love. Once we see it, it's too late. Grace utterly wrecks and makes us less useful to the world of self-interests and more useful to the ministry of Jesus.

And we cannot stand before God any longer without fear and trembling once grace has taken over our lives. So with reckless abandon we hurl ourselves and are ourselves hurled into a broken world where the Father invites us to trust and believe and hope despite all that speaks against such things. We are asked to live as though his grace is all we will ever need–it is sufficient–and that it will somehow sustain us now and forever come hell or high water.

We need grace just to live in grace.

Friends,

Several years ago I wrote a book-length series of devotions that, at the time, I sent around to everyone in my email address book. All of the devotionals were based on my experiences as a dad to three boys (the oldest of which, at the time, was 10; he is now 15.) I never did anything with those devotionals except send them around to my friends. I had ambitions at one time to try and have them published, but never did anything about it. So I have decided to share them here at my blog. All told, there are 28 of these devotionals and I will publish them all here. I have also decided that I will be leaving them for the most part ‘at the time’. That is, I won’t be updating them to reflect the five years of so that have passed since their original writing. I will update some thoughts and grammar, but other than that, they are unchanged. I hope you enjoy. jerry

__________________

In many ways I am fortunate to be who I am. There are days when I think I would be better off to be someone else, but most days I am content and have no regrets whatsoever. Undoubtedly the best part about being me is that God has blessed me with three sons.  What more could a man ask for?  “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate” (Psalm 127:3-5).

Being a dad has taught me more about faith, Christianity and God than all of my college courses combined. I earned a degree from college by completing many courses of study, but for the last 10 [now 15!] years I have been earning my degree in manhood by being dad to three boys. This is no small task, as you will read about in the upcoming pages.

So why is it that being a dad is so much fun? As I said I have three boys. Could life be any more challenging, rewarding or full of adventure? I think not. Being a dad is teaching me a great deal about how God must feel most of the time. Sometimes when I am disciplining my children I can hear God talking to me. (My sons sometimes listen to me!)  God’s family is magnificent and grand. It is a motley group of children from every tribe and tongue under the sun. What a joy it must be for God to be Father to so many children, but also what a burden!

I say this because God also has to deal with those parts of being a dad that are not especially wonderful. After all, we are children, and more often than not we act childish and not childlike. There is a difference you know. We play childish games with one another and treat each other poorly. We deliberately disobey. We cry when we are hurt. As a dad, I have to be ready at all times for whatever shenanigans might happen upon our path for the day. In a sense, God, as Dad, is no different.

Sometimes as God’s children we break things.

Recently, my eldest son Jerry had one of his friends over to play. While the friend was here they were in the upper portion of our house [at the time we were living in the church parsonage] playing, when all of the sudden, the brainstorm came over them. They decided it would be the right thing to do to bounce on the beds.

Great Idea.

What is great is that they did not decide to bounce on Jerry’s bigger, sturdier bed. No, instead they went into Jacob and Samuel’s room and bounced on the smaller, older, repaired-several-times-over-the-past-five-years-beds. These beds are literally held together with a prayer and some sort of drywall screws, putty, and duct tape. They serve their purpose with great dignity when there is only one 20-35 pound baby boy sleeping snug under the covers for eight or nine hours a day. But let just one 40-50 pound child start jumping on those beds and the stress is too much for those bored out, gnarly old boards. The screws literally snap in half. Now, add another 40-50 pound child to the fun and you can see the dilemma faced by those gallant old bed frames.

All that we heard was a loud crashing sound accompanied by a sickening thud. Jacob’s bed had fallen into many pieces: A headboard, foot-board, and two side rails, a mattress, a mattress board, several screws, etc., etc. The beds were designed for sleeping, not Olympic caliber athletic competitions but what did the kids care?

When I got around to repairing the bed about 3 weeks after the incident, (go-ahead laugh) I made certain that Jerry was with me so he could help with the repairs. Have you ever had to find a solid place to put a screw where the wood has been screwed into 40 or 50 times prior? To be sure, it is not easy.  It’s like asking a sponge to hold a nail or Swiss cheese to hold mustard.

You might have guessed that this is not the first bouncing on the bed incident. The room was in tatters and I said to Jerry, “Son, I want you to look around the room. See the bed, broken apart? See the hard work we are doing to fix the bed that was broken by your violation of my rules? Do you see how much work I had to do to fix what you broke?” He did, and acknowledged his newfound wisdom.

Bouncing on beds is fun. We have probably all done it with the exception of that portion of you who never broke any of your parents’ rules. So when it comes to our faith does God ever think the same thing about us? “My child, look how much work I had to do to fix what you broke. Do you not think it would have been better if you had simply obeyed the first time around?” And the story goes on and on and God is still going around fixing all of the messes we manage to make, and cleaning up all of the milk we have managed to spill, and repairing the relationships we have managed to destroy, and chasing down all the pagans we have driven away in our zeal to keep our churches clean. “And behold, the Lord saw all the he had made and said, ‘It is very good.'” Then comes chapter 3.

What is really strange about the whole story though is this: Just as I required Jerry to help me fix the broken bed, so also does God require us to help him fix the things we have broken. So he tells us that when we sin against our brother we are to go and ask for forgiveness, and when someone comes to us in repentance we are to forgive. Or when we are estranged from a sister we must go and be reconciled to them. Or when we run away from home we must return in humility to the father who does his part by waiting for, watching for, and, finally, welcoming us. Those things we break he expects us to fix.

I can tell you from first hand experience and because I am a preacher that fixing those things we break is hard. It is complicated. It is time consuming. It is humiliating. And it’s all in a days walk.

“Therefore, this is what the LORD says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the LORD Almighty. “Proclaim further: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’ ” (Zechariah 1:16-17)

What we ruin God repairs. Jerusalem was destroyed because of sin; it was rebuilt because of love. God certainly returned to Jerusalem, but he made the people do the back breaking labor or rebuilding it stone for stone. He provided a way for it to be rebuilt they provided the labor. There is always work that must be done. God will provide the means, we provide the sweat.

Being a dad has taught me that perhaps it is better if we obey the rules the first time around. Then we will not have to do the back breaking work of God’s reconstruction projects. (Understand that even the work of forgiveness is difficult.  Bouncing on beds is fun; broken beds are not fun to repair. We may enjoy breaking things; we may not enjoy the work God requires when He decides to get around to fixing them. I am not convinced that our Father cares for us to take three weeks to get around to it either.

If one of my followers sins against you, go and point out what was wrong. But do it in private, just between the two of you. If that person listens, you have won back a follower. But if that one refuses to listen, take along one or two others. The Scriptures teach that every complaint must be proven true by two or more witnesses. If the follower refuses to listen to them, report the matter to the church. Anyone who refuses to listen to the church must be treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector. I promise you that God in heaven will allow whatever you allow on earth, but he will not allow anything you don’t allow. I promise that when any two of you on earth agree about something you are praying for, my Father in heaven will do it for you. Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you.

Peter came up to the Lord and asked, “How many times should I forgive someone who does something wrong to me? Is seven times enough?” Jesus answered: Not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!

This story will show you what the kingdom of heaven is like: One day a king decided to call in his officials and ask them to give an account of what they owed him. As he was doing this, one official was brought in who owed him fifty million silver coins. But he didn’t have any money to pay what he owed. The king ordered him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all he owned, in order to pay the debt. The official got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you every cent I owe!” The king felt sorry for him and let him go free. He even told the official that he did not have to pay back the money.

As the official was leaving, he happened to meet another official, who owed him a hundred silver coins. So he grabbed the man by the throat. He started choking him and said, “Pay me what you owe!” The man got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you back.” But the first official refused to have pity. Instead, he went and had the other official put in jail until he could pay what he owed.

When some other officials found out what had happened, they felt sorry for the man who had been put in jail. Then they told the king what had happened. The king called the first official back in and said, “You’re an evil man! When you begged for mercy, I said you did not have to pay back a cent. Don’t you think you should show pity to someone else, as I did to you?” The king was so angry that he ordered the official to be tortured until he could pay back everything he owed.

That is how my Father in heaven will treat you, if you don’t forgive each of my followers with all your heart. (Mat 18:15-35  Contemporary English Version)

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Today the author of Slice of Laodicea is lamenting things that are now, in her words, ‘optional’ in the church. She wrote:

This is an apt description of evangelicals as well who now increasingly view cardinal doctrines like the deity of Christ, a literal hell, the substitutionary atonement and the Second Coming as optional.

I agree with her assessment, but I’d like to add a few things into that:

  1. Civility (in the sense that we treat one another with respect)
  2. Charity (in the sense of treating one another with respect)
  3. Grace
  4. Mercy
  5. Grace
  6. Love (in the sense of loving even those with whom we disagree)
  7. Joy (in the sense that some bloggers have no sense of it at all)
  8. Grace (in the sense that it not only justifies us by also sanctifies us)
  9. Latitude (in the sense that most of us are not yet perfect)
  10. Grace (in the sense that it is sufficient also for people not named ‘Ingrid’ or ‘Ken’ or ‘Pastorboy’)
  11. Humility (in the sense that ‘I’ might be wrong about a great many things)
  12. Laughter (self explanatory)
  13. Grace
  14. Love
  15. Patience (in the sense that we give people time to ‘grow up’ or ‘mature’ in their faith)
  16. Kindness
  17. Gentless
  18. Self-control (in the sense that we don’t assume we are the judge, jury, and executioner)
  19. Peace (in the sense that there are far too many ‘wars’ being fought on the internet world of blogdom over who is right, who is and is not going to hell, and who ‘is head of the church’)
  20. Goodness
  21. Faithfulness (in the sense that we understand who is the real enemy of the church; hint: it’s not other believers in and followers of Jesus)
  22. Justice (in the sense of Micah, Isaiah, etc.)

Well, this is just off the top of my head. Surely I have missed something. God and learn what it means, “I desire mercy.”

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:20)

And:

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I agree. Some bloggers, many Christians, need to learn this. As per my promise, I prayed for the author of Slice of Laodicea this morning.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Here’s a thought from someone you might not guess. Take your best shot:

Our kindness ought to extend much farther in tolerating imperfection of life, for here there is great danger of falling, and Satan employs all his devices to ensnare us. For there always have been persons who, imbued with a false persuasion of absolute holiness…, spurn the fellowship of all people in whom they see that something human still remains…For seeing that among those to whom the gospel is preached, the fruit of life is not in accordance with its doctrine, they at once conclude that no church exists there…But in this those of whom we have spoken sin in their turn, by not knowing how to set a boundary to their offence. For where the Lord requires mercy they omit it, and give themselves up to immoderate severity.”

I think you will be surprised by the answer and it is probably not who you think it is. Please take a minute and guess the author of this most outstanding observation.

jerry