Exalted to show mercy

Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
(Isaiah 30:18 ESV)

For me to obtain mercy, God must exalt Himself. Why this is so can be understood by reading Acts 5:30-32 where we see that Jesus is exalted as Savior; there is no possibility of mercy for me without a Savior from God. Not only that but God sends the Holy Spirit as a witness of the work of Christ.

An aspect of the mercy shown by God is that He guides us. As Isaiah 30:20 indicates, this may come through affliction — in adversity God will no longer hide Himself but will direct my steps. However, if I have already heard God’s Spirit correcting my blundering and I choose to ignore Him, am I not like those in Isaiah 30:9-11 who are unwilling to hear and do not want to be told about God’s will? In fact my state would be worse because it is not a prophet I am rejecting but God.

For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD; who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 30:9-11 ESV)

The anticipated one

We are familiar with Hollywood’s hype and the careful cultivation of anticipation by Apple for their latest gadget. Some of us even remember the eager anticipation and excitement surrounding the wedding of Charles and Diana. The magnificence and pomp and ceremony of the royal wedding had much of the world riveted to their TV screens on July 29, 1981. There had been a massive build up to the wedding, the media reported every detail they could discover about the preparations and plans, whether fact or rumour.

A similar sense of anticipation existed in Palestine around A.D. 30. The Jewish Scriptures were replete with prophecies anticipating the messiah (Christ) and the nation was desperate for a leader who would overthrow the Roman tyranny and lead them into the glorious promised inheritance.

So, when the camel-hair-clad, locust-and-honey-eating, wild prophet John burst onto the scene and was confronted with the question, “who are you?” He knew they were expecting the messiah (John 1:19-27). John told the people bluntly that he was just the herald, then when he did meet Jesus he told everyone who would listen who Jesus really was (John 1:29-36).

Our witness to the identity of Jesus is a bit more difficult due to the fact we don’t have a physical, walking, talking man to point to when we say, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” What we do have is actually superior — the risen and glorified Lamb of God. It requires faith to behold Him, but we still need to tell people who it is they are confronted with.

A few of the prophecies anticipating the messiah:
  • Genesis 12:2, see Matthew 1:1 and Galatians 3:16
  • Genesis 49:10, see Matthew 1:2
  • 2 Samuel 7:12-16, see Matthew 1:1
  • Isaiah 7:14, see Matthew 1:23
  • Micah 5:2, see Matthew 2:6
  • Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1, see Matthew 3:3
  • Numbers 24:17 and Psalm 2:6, see Matthew 21:5
  • Deuteronomy 18:15-18, see Acts 3:22-23
  • Psalm 110:4, see Hebrews 5:6-10
  • Psalm 22:1, see Matthew 27:46
  • Psalm 22:7-8, see Matthew 27:39; 43
  • Psalm 22:16, see John 20:25
  • Psalm 22:17, see John 19:33-36
  • Psalm 22:18, see John 19:24
  • Psalm 22:24, see Matthew 26:39 and Hebrews 5:7
  • Isaiah 52:14, see John 19:1
  • Isaiah 53:5, see John 19:1; 18
  • Psalm 16:10 and Psalm 22:22, see Matthew 28:6 and Acts 2:27-28
  • Psalm 68:18, see Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:9-11

Is the era of full-time ministry over?

As a member of a ‘lay’ preaching team in our small church family, I have found that the benefit to me of preaching far outweighs the inconvenience and late nights needed to fulfill this role. We certainly miss some of the benefits of having a paid pastor, but I am increasingly wondering if being paid to ‘do ministry’ as a full-time job like any other nine-to-five job is something we should not aspire to?

In musing along this line, I came across an interesting comment from Jim Elliston who resigned from a full-time position as worship pastor for Cornerstone church in California to start a design company and now leads worship as a weekend ministry, without being paid to do so. Here are his thoughts:

I still lead worship for Cornerstone (now I’m right around 2 weekends a month), but I’ve realized that ministry and vocational ministry are 2 totally different things. I know it’s scary, but I think those in vocational ministry need to examine whether or not they are truly called to take a paycheck to do their ministry. I know that if I would have stayed in vocational ministry, I would have missed out on so much of what God has really called me to. (Interviewed by Justin Taylor.)

I do not think this should cause every pastor to resign, but it warrants consideration. Also weighing in on this topic recently was Justin Wise with a blog post called Bi-Vocationalism and the New Pastor in which he (accurately I think) says that:

the role in the “superhero” pastor is, … not “scalable” for future generations. We’ve forced our pastors to be the Every Man and Every Woman that No One is capable of being.

While New Zealand doesn’t suffer much from the mega church phenomenon of North America, the expectations of some Christians can easily become an ‘entertain me’ mindset when it really should be an attitude of servant humility and fellowship. As church membership declines and people are less inclined to entrust themselves to ‘the clergy’, perhaps the idea of ‘pastor’ as a job title will be replaced by pastoring (shepherding, guarding and guiding a flock) as a role that is shared by several people in a congregation, none of whom is paid as though it were a job.

I realize that Paul considered it appropriate for a church leader to be paid for the work they did. Yet Paul himself refused to draw a salary from the churches he established, the impression given is that as the burden of pastoring a church grew and precluded the pastor from working at paid employment and shepherding God’s people, the churches shouldered the responsibility of providing his material needs (see 1 Corinthians 9:4-18). Now we are in almost an opposite situation in many churches – the church is declining and yet still having to pay a pastor. As an employee, the pastor feels a responsibility to show he is earning his keep so becomes a Jack-of-all-trades and desperately tries to keep the church from declining any further.

Maybe God is wiping the slate clean and destroying the church structures that became a crutch which enabled people to lean upon an institution rather than Christ? Perhaps God is removing the excuse we invoke that certain things are the job of a pastor and so not our responsibility? Could it be that we are being nudged out of the comfort and complacency that the Western church has wallowed in for too long now?


Addendum

It seems that I am not alone in considering that the role of pastor needs to be re-examined. Ed Stetzer has written on this topic in Debunking the Clergification Myth, positing that the economy’s toll actually may liberate church leaders—and members. I did not know about this article until today (14 July).

75 iPod-free days

It is now 75 days since I committed myself to going iPod-free for 100 days. During that time I have only listened to a smattering of music and three sermons from my iPod, all while it was plugged into the speakers in our kitchen (which was permissible under my plan). What have I learned from this experience so far?

  • The iPod itself is neither good or bad, it is what and how I choose to listen to it that can be good or bad.
  • My thoughts can be just as distracted without any audio input! I need to limit all sources of trivial input into my life.
  • I actually need a lot more ‘down’ time than I thought.
  • I am reading and then thinking about what I have read. My thinking is going deeper than it had previously been.

It has taken a while, but my thought habits have changed, I am now able to recall what I was musing over yesterday while waiting at the bus stop and pick it up to continue chewing over. I consider this somewhat bovine habit to be beneficial as I think, pray and occasionally write about where I am at with God (2 Timothy 2:7).

Interestingly, two weeks ago I couldn’t wait for this experiment to be over, now I am not sure if I will bother carting an iPod around with me even once my 100 days are done!

75-ipod-free-daysAs I considered the changes in my thinking I have realized how good it is to have ‘down’ time when my brain can just chill-out and not have to think about anything in particular, I can just let my thoughts wander. Coincidentally, I came across this blog post discussing why Being bored is a precious thing and was gratified that someone else shares my viewpoint (and a clever person at that!).

Maybe it is partly because my work requires me to be thinking and concentrating all day, but whatever the reason, I seem to need a lot of time to let my mind unwind before I can really re-focus upon God and living my faith. I do think about God and Christian stuff a lot, but generally on a fairly superficial, factual/informational level. I think it is important to go deeper, to wrestle with where I am at with God and what needs to be addressed in me. I want to know Christ, to get there I need to get real about whether I am obeying his call of ‘follow me’ (John 21:22). This requires quietness of heart so that I can notice as the Word of God addresses me. That might take five hours hauling firewood to get quiet enough internally to see what Christ is showing me.

I’m not talking about quiet time here — noise is fine, talking to the kids is fine, what is needed is freedom from having to concentrate on anything in particular, or needing to solve problems, or having my thoughts dragged off in a particular direction by whatever I happen to be listening to. Even if I am listening to sermons on my iPod for that time I miss what God is saying to me about me and Him. I might hear lots of other good stuff, yet miss what’s most important.

Distractions

Why am I more likely to be thinking about a computer game while waiting for the bus than to be mulling over this week’s memory verse or praying for persecuted Christians in Somalia?

I am interested in how to constrain my mental and emotional focus so that I ponder Christ and am captivated by Him rather than the useless shiny glittering junk of my everyday world. I suspect that this is an issue for many Christians, I know that it is a multi-million dollar industry in the business world as the popularity of books such as Getting Things Done by David Allen attests. The tendency to get distracted is common to all and seems to be becoming worse as technology delivers ever more of the world to our gadgets. It has been shown that multitasking is a myth, all we really do is switch quickly between tasks and this actually reduces concentration rather than making us more creative, efficient or clever.

Clearly a wise solution to distractions is to reduce the number and frequency of them. I also find that some distractions are more distracting than others — people talking loudly is more distracting than music playing, phones ringing are worse than traffic noises, emotional turmoil is harder to ignore than a cluttered desk. It is this last contrast which gets me closer to my concern about maintaining my focus on Christ, how to get my emotions more engaged with the glory of God?

The things that take my attention are those with the strongest emotional pull. They don’t have to be good emotions — anxiety, stress and pain are not pleasant but they certainly hold my attention! However, emotions are slippery things, very difficult to control or manipulate at will. So is there any hope of taming my distracted heart?

I think there is. It involves that awful ‘D’ word… discipline! I have to discipline myself to place my attention upon what is edifying for my soul, I have to monitor the ‘inputs‘ into my life and turn off those that are pulling me away from Christ and maybe even find some more that will turn my thoughts towards Him. Most of all though, I need to think deeply about Christ. This needn’t be a dry academic exercise — if so there is not much hope for me! The intention is to move beyond superficial thoughts of ‘Jesus meek and mild’ and ponder the meaning of who He is, who I am in relation to Him, and how I can relate to Him. As I grow in my understanding of Jesus Christ my emotions are moved in solid and positive ways. I join the quest that motivated the Apostle Paul:

that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11 ESV)

Why read boring bits of the Bible?

asleep_on_bible

A confession:

I find some parts of the Bible really boring!

While I am convinced that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that all of Scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16), there are some bits which seem most useful for putting one to sleep (such as the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles). Another repetitive portion of the Bible is Numbers chapter 7, in which the same four verses are repeated twelve times with only four words changed each time (the day, name of the chief, his dad’s name, and his tribe). Therefore, I was relieved to discover that John Piper also had to stop and think about why this passage is so tedious. Here are some of his conclusions:

  • Efficiency is not always the highest value. Slow, long, repetitions are sometimes the best way to make an impact.
  • Patience in reading God’s word may be a test of the frenzy of our pace and our demanding attitude toward the Bible that it be the way we want, not the way God made it.

This is difficult for me to get my head around — is there really anything to be gained by tediously plowing through long lists of dead people’s names, or how many gold dishes were donated?

There can be if I embed my reading within the assumption that these lists are in the Bible for a reason. My task in coming to the Bible is to take in what is written such that God can achieve His purpose (Isaiah 55:10-11). So the assumption I need to have is that there is something to gain from reading these lists.

Here is another angle on reading the Bible slowly and thoroughly, again from John Piper:

… much of the Bible is poetry. It is self-evident to me that poetry is not meant to be speed-read, but ordinarily read aloud. So I would encourage you to supplement your speed with slow savoring of the way things are written to be heard.(One Advantage of Reading Slowly)

There are, of course, advantages to reading quickly also – it is good to be able to read through the entire Bible relatively quickly and so gain an overview of the whole story and scope of it. For what it is worth, my advice would be to attempt to read the entire Bible through at least once, scanning some of those repetitive passages at a speed that enables you to get the idea of what they are on about without becoming stuck in a mire of boredom. Once you have read through the whole Bible once it is easier to grasp the context of the less interesting sections and pay attention to some of the details. My personal approach is to have several bookmarks, one of which is in a book of that Bible that I am reading more slowly and meditatively, and another bookmark that moves at a quicker pace so I don’t get tired of being stuck in one book for a month.


External Links:

Image: iStock

Guilt-free fudge

You are in for a treat — I’m going to share with you a recipe for the most guilt-free chocolate fudge that I’ve found yet:

  • 3 cups Fair-Trade sugar
  • 1/4 cup Fair-Trade cocoa
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 50g New Zealand butter
  • 1 cup New Zealand milk

Recruit your kids to help with the mixing and sampling on a cold winter afternoon.

Admittedly, the total cost of this fudge is about $5, which could have been halved by purchasing sugar and cocoa from a large multi-national company that cares primarily about profit margins (but then it would not be guilt-free). However, the selfishness of insisting on paying the absolute minimum for the ingredients to make a luxury treat when I know that my choice will reinforce the poverty of some farmer elsewhere in the world caused me to ‘waste’ my money on Fair-Trade ingredients. (See Proverbs 24:11-12 about our responsibility to act according to the knowledge we have of injustice.)

Maybe I am a fool, certainly the Rich Dad/Poor Dad devotees will classify me as a poor Dad who is teaching my kids lousy money management principles. Or maybe I am making attempts to invest in a portfolio which is Creator-guaranteed and gives an amazingly good dividend (Matthew 6:19-21).

There is obviously more to social justice than buying Fair-Trade products, we must consider all that God has given us and how much of that should be used for our own needs and what can be used to alleviate the needs of others. There are no rules in this, though a good guide is the principle of fair distribution as explained by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:13-14. Remember the poor.

Only men and devils

“There is no creature that conspires against God but only devils and sinful men.” Jeremiah Burroughs in The Evil of Evils.

This sentence brought me to a complete standstill. The book it is from is not one to read quickly anyway, but the stark bluntness of being classed with Satan and demons because my sin is so evil is hard to swallow. It is true, I just don’t like it.

I have often envied the birds and animals in moments of Romans 7 frustration (see Romans 7:19-20). They simply do what God made them to do, we humans on the other hand have exchanged the truth for a lie and rebelled against God (Romans 1:25). That rebellion is sin, and sin results in death (Romans 6:23).

God is opening my eyes to see that whereas I like to refer to my sinful nature as ‘fallen’ and think of it in terms of being a bit bent and broken, God calls it evil — not that I do evil, I am evil. In the same way that demons are evil – in open rebellion against God (2 Peter 2:4, 1 John 3:8).

God is holy, totally separated from any hint of sin or evil. It is important to grasp some idea of how blindingly pure He is and that by nature we are sinners, we cannot stop ourselves sinning and so cannot exist in God’s presence. Frankly, in such a state we are doomed, not because God is mean but simply because we are evil. For people to exist in the presence of God they would have to also be holy as He is (1 Peter 1:15-16).

So, here we are, separated from God because of our sin and completely without hope (Ephesians 2:12). Then what does God do?

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

How should a christian live?

How Should a Christian Live? A question even veteran disciples should ask, certainly one that young Christians need urgent answers to. With this handy study guide and the audio of 1 Corinthians through to Philemon on your MP3 player you are all set to find some answers.

On its own How Should a Christian Live? gives an introduction to following Jesus that a 10-year-old can understand and enjoy. It could also form the basis of a guided discipleship program. There are even useful activities for bored kids to do while pretending to listen to their youth leader!

Strengths

A good introduction to New Testament principles of living the Christian life. Topics include: the authority of the Bible, God’s promises, God’s unconditional love, faith, God’s gifts, right thinking, humility, wisdom, fear/trusting God, wise speaking, holy living and seeking the prize of God’s kingdom. The audio Bible is great.

Weaknesses

Some guidelines/advice on how to get the most out of the journaling sections would be useful, given that the book is targeted at early-teens and tweens. A formatting error has set the wrong page template for the first odd page of each journaling section from page 41 onward. The devotions are quite ‘warm and fuzzy’, they do seem to be targeted at a fairly middle-class audience and may not appeal outside that audience.

Summary

Good introductory devotions and great audio Bible, use this to begin your discipleship journey but don’t stop there. Devour the studies, hear the Word, pray and meditate over it using the journal. Then live it and keep digging even deeper.

Disclosure of Material Connection

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review for bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The unpreached sermon

Faith is good – essential in fact. Faith that has been tested is even better. It is tested by trials and suffering, so when they come, don’t run away. If you do run away you might end up proving something else; that a comfy life is what you really believe in rather than Jesus Christ.

This is the sermon that was left unspoken on Sunday (see Sermon Preparation in Perspective for that story).

Peace with God

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:1-11 ESV)

In the privacy of you own thoughts, recall your lowest time as a Christian. Where were you at with God during that time?

Did you feel accepted by God and full of rejoicing, or rejected and cast out from His presence?

At such times the peace of God referred to in Philippians 4:7 which is supposed to guard our hearts and minds has deserted us, often to be replaced by an aching, screaming void of emptiness and despair. Our faith can be horribly messed up, our prayers full of questions, perhaps dominated by phrases such as; “Why?”, “How could you have …”, “I thought you were supposed to be a God of love…”, & etc. We wonder if what we have believed has been a farce, if we really have been a monumental fool. We can get angry at God. And all this confusion causes us to wonder if we could possibly be saved when such thoughts rage through our heart.

I am convinced that what I have described is part of the ‘normal’ Christian experience. Not normal in that we experience such doubts and despair every day, but normal in the sense that at some time all believers seem to go through such an experience. Different people plunge to different depths and for varying periods of time, but doubts and confusion are all part of living in faith in Jesus Christ. This, in fact, is what faith encompasses – faith is not escapism or a refusal to face the facts, faith squarely acknowledges the difficulties and trusts what Jesus says:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

And Romans 5:6-10 talks about the ultimate in weakness – being weak, ungodly sinners at war with God.

Consider for a moment the weak state of a mere human who cannot even control their own heartbeat or ability to keep breathing — such a fragile being rebels against God’s decrees every hour, putting himself at enmity, declaring war upon, the all-powerful Creator of the entire universe! God not only can snuff out my life in an instant, He can also cast me into a hell of torment for eternity! Any human at enmity with God is in the ultimate state of vulnerability and weakness (Matthew 10:28).

Only one thing can get us out of that state of weakness – faith: trusting Jesus Christ to hold good to his promise of justifying sinners. Mercifully, Paul takes care to assure us that regardless of how low we may be, faith in Jesus Christ is sufficient to obtain peace with God.

Romans chapter 5 opens with a ‘therefore’. Whenever we encounter a ‘therefore’ in the Bible it is effectively saying that whatever went before the therefore is the foundation of what you are now reading. Paul is kind to us, he summarizes what he has said in chapters 1 to 4: ‘since we have been justified by faith and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Because of this, we rejoice. But I think it is worth reminding ourselves of what is contained in that ‘therefore’.

Therefore:

Because there is a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Because all have sinned and are in need of justification. Because God is just. Because God justifies all people by the same faith. Because the promise of God’s blessing depends on faith and rests on grace, and because faith is based upon trusting God’s ability without refusing to face the facts or degenerating into escapism;

Therefore, we have peace with God.

And because of this peace we have hope. Because of the hope we have, we rejoice. We can even rejoice in suffering – why? Because suffering actually increases our hope:
Suffering produces endurance.
Endurance produces character.
Character produces hope.
Hope does not produce shame.

Why does hope not produce shame?

Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

How does that work?

Because while we were weak, Christ died for the ungodly. While we were still sinners Christ died for us. His dying for us has justified us.

Which sums up what that first ‘therefore’ of Romans 5:1 is all about. Since we are now justified, we will certainly be saved by Christ from the wrath of God.

How?

  • When we were enemies, the death of Jesus reconciled us to God (the hard thing).
  • Now we are God’s children, and Jesus is alive, so we can have even more confidence that God will save us from wrath (the ‘easy’ thing).

And so, even beyond being saved from wrath, we rejoice in God through Jesus.

But do we rejoice? In honesty I have to say that sometimes I do. If I think about the hope we have in God then I do rejoice, but a bit of suffering soon knocks that out of me.

Yet I stand by what I said earlier about all Christians having to battle through low periods, and I think this is the sort of thing Paul is getting at when he says:

…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. (Romans 5:3-4).

It is hope which produces Paul’s rejoicing, what suffering does over time is to give experiential grounds for that hope. So there is a hope of anticipation and a hope of experience – both are hope in God, both are grounded in faith in Jesus Christ. Going into and enduring through suffering, hope looks forward and trusts desperately that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35-39).

While enduring suffering, and after it subsides some, hope says, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10) and says that the suffering was worth it, “that I may know [Christ] and the power of his resurrection.” (Philippians 3:10). When I say that ‘suffering is worth it’ I don’t do so lightly, what it is worth is of such value that the cost is extremely high.

What suffering and despair do for us in the end is to test and prove that our faith is not escapism and that it does face the facts of our situation, and still trusts God! Inexplicably, despite lots of surface reasons not to, faith survives and gives us assurance that we do indeed have peace with God because faith is all God requires to justify us. When our faith has been tested and proven, hope rises and rejoicing really does happen.

So, faith is good – essential in fact. Faith that has been tested is even better, not because it makes you ‘more saved’ (it doesn’t) but because then you know it really is faith. It is tested by trials and suffering, so when they come, don’t run away. If you do run away you might end up proving something else; that a comfy life is what you really believe in rather than Jesus Christ.


Image: h.koppdelaney