Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lord Have Mercy





"Blessed are the merciful,

    for they will be shown mercy."

                                   Matthew 5:7



It is because of the mercy of God that we are saved.  Indeed, it is because of his unmerited love and unmerited grace that God extends his mercy to the undeserving -- the spiritually bankrupt.  We see this frequently expressed in the Bible.

In Titus Chapter 3 we are told:  "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."  Titus 3:3-7.  We find a similar and perhaps more familiar expression of this truth in Paul's letter to the Romans:  "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  Romans 5:6-8.

God is love, and because of that mercy is an essential part of the very character of God.   We see the mercy of God, exhibited both directly and through those people who were called according to his purpose, throughout the whole of the Bible.  When God told Moses He would pour his wrath out on the Israelites for worshipping the golden calf and for their rebellion, Moses pleaded to God on behalf of the people:  "But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?  Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.  Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’”  Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened."  Exodus 32:11-14.  Later, Moses would plead with God again on behalf of the people -- asking the Lord to blot his own name out of the Book if He could not forgive the sins of the people.  Exodus 32:32.

In the New Testament, if anyone should convince us that there is none beyond the mercy of God it is the Apostle Paul -- the former persecutor of God's church.  The mercy of God was never lost on the apostle.  He was acutely aware that he did not deserve salvation; much less to be used mightily by Jesus:   "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen."  1 Timothy 1:12-17.

So, what is the point of all of this?  Matthew 5:7 says "blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."  The question I think we need to ask ourselves is "what will those who are not merciful in this life will be shown?"  It is a sobering question, and raises a sobering thought.

We can dismiss the question easily enough.  After all, our God is a God of mercy.  But we should be careful if we so choose.  Yes, our God is a God of mercy.  But He is also a God of judgment.  And, the truth is that genuine followers of the Lord are being conformed to the image of Jesus.  He is merciful, and if we really love Him we will become merciful too.  We must become merciful too.

In the Catholic tradition there are what is called the "Seven Corporal Works of Mercy."  If you are not Catholic (or maybe even if you are) this may be foreign to you.  But, the acts themselves should not be.  They are (1) to feed the hungry, (2) to give drink to the thirsty, (3) to shelter the homeless, (4) to visit the sick, (5) to visit those in prison, (6) to bury the dead and (7) to give alms to the poor.

If most of these seem familiar, they should.  And, if you want the answer to the question "what will those who are not merciful in this life will be shown," Jesus answered that question in Matthew 25.  So, read it and discover this for yourself.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.


 






Saturday, January 14, 2017

Righteousness



"Blessed are those who hunger  and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled."






Looking back, it was at times impossible to see the progress.  There were certainly those light bulb moments -- we all have had them.  But most of the time the advance was in increments too small to perceive.  He was drawing us closer -- and He continues to do so.

At the same time He was humbling us.  To move forward we had to recognize and accept our own spiritual poverty.  The kingdom of God, as it turned out, would not be opened to the strong and the self-sufficient; but instead to the weak and the wholly dependent.  We needed to mourn over our sin -- to truly repent.  It is only from this place could we pursue righteousness -- that we could thirst and hunger for it.

To pursue righteousness from out own strength would prove fruitless.  It can not be achieved as a mater of self-discipline.  The Pharisees tried that and failed miserably.

We have, through Jesus, a righteousness that comes through faith.  It is a righteousness not our own, and it allows us to stand holy and blameless before God.  It is a righteousness that leads to salvation and that was paid for by the very blood of Christ.  See Philippians 3:8-10. 

It would be a miserable mistake, though, to think that this is the righteousness that Jesus has in mind in Matthew 5:6.  If we have true faith in Jesus the righteousness that comes through faith and that is now within us will display itself externally.  We will begin to live differently.

I am afraid that many "Christians" claim faith in Jesus but then see no real fruit in their lives.  They claim to be a new creation in Christ, but life looks not different after Jesus than it did before.  But the Apostle John warns us not to be deceived -- if we are truly righteous we will do what is right:  "Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.  The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning."  1 John 3:7-8.

The point of all of this is not to allow us to test the faith of others, but only our own.  When we look in the mirror do we see someone who increasingly is conformed to the image of Jesus, or are we the same person we have always been?

Soon, Heartland Church will begin twenty-one days of fasting and prayer to start the new year.  Do you want your prayer to be heard?  Do you want your fasting to mean something to God?  Then you might consider whether you are living a life a righteousness.  And you might consider what God has to say about fasting and prayer in the Book of Isaiah.

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.