Monday, May 19, 2008

Christian Bloggers Should Be Vessels of Mercy

Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy (D-Mass.), who was hospitalized over the weekend for a seizure, is and should be in the prayers of faithful Christians who oppose abortion. This isn't because he "deserves" it -- that would suggest he merits prayer by virtue of his righteousness -- but because it is a practical way for the Christian to apply mercy.

That's why seeing this from a Christian blogger this morning was saddening:

Abortion is war. It is war on the unborn. I hope God takes out every last one of them responsible.

I do realize that some people come to the point of salvation and change. And that is great.

[...]

I hope that before Christians pray for this man's healing, that they stop and think about what he will do once back in his office of Senator.

Of course these sentiments aren't what we get from Scripture. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy," Jesus preached (Matthew 5:7). As Christians, we receive mercy from God by believing on His Son Jesus Christ, trusting in Him to save us from our sins by the merit of His atoning work on the cross. Knowing the depths of our sin, we forgive those who wrong us personally, as well as those who harm others by perpetrating and/or excusing evil committed against them.

These people are, truly, our enemies. But Christ calls us to love them:

27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic [2] either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)

Our heavenly Father is merciful and kind to the ungrateful and evil, and our expression of mercy will find itself in doing good to those who persecute us and who abuse the innocent. We are to pray for them, knowing that day after day they are storing up the wrath of God on the day of judgment (Romans 2:5) if they don't repent.

Sen. Ted Kennedy is still alive. God can change his heart, granting him repentance (II Timothy 2:25). He can still be saved and glorify God as an object of God's mercy as opposed to being a vessel of His just wrath.

That should be the prayer of any Christian, who by his/her very recreated-in-Christ nature is a vessel of mercy (Romans 9:21-24).

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mercy Me: F-Word Gaffe Calls for Grace, Humility

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. -- James 3:5-6


I'm sure Sue Simmons knows a lot about that today. The WNBC anchor may well lose her job due to an inadvertent incident of on-air cursing. While it certainly wouldn't be unfair to can Ms. Simmons for the slip-up, it would be far from gracious. And can't we all use a few heaping helpings of grace, particularly when it comes to our speech? After all, anyone who never fails in his speech to speak graciously is a perfect person. Too bad no one can tame the tongue, although certainly we are called to bridle and restrain it (James 3:2,8).

While I do think Simmons should be willing to accept some form of discipline, it seems to me firing the long-time anchor over this would be merciless. Would it be fair or just according to her contract of employment? I'm no lawyer, but most likely yes.

But gracious and merciful? Far from it.

But what about the children, some will ask. They must be shown that this language is unacceptable.

To that I'd argue that extending mercy and teaching children the value of forgiveness and reconciliation far surpass that of satisfying our self-righteous wrath over one F-word said carelessly on the airwaves. Yes, I do mean self-righteous.

Are we angry because Simmons offended OUR moral standards, or because she offended a holy God who calls sinners to repentance?

If it's the latter, then how much more should we be humbled by how great a debt of sin God has forgiven us for Christ's sake, and so then extend mercy and prayers for Ms. Simmons (Eph. 4:32). If it's the former, well, James tells us that "the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." (1:20)

For the Christian parent the Sue Simmons incident serves as a wonderful object lesson on extending mercy and forgiveness, and praying for those caught in sin.

How much better a witness is it for children to hear their parents explain that Simmons' cursing exposes a sickness of the heart that only Jesus can heal? Yes, you add, that doesn't mean she isn't responsible for what she said, but regardless, who are we to judge harshly when we too are sinners who have received grace and mercy we never deserved in the first place?

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Monday, May 12, 2008

The Sun [of Righteousness] and the Cloud [of Witnesses]

This week I'm reading and re-reading with my Bible study buddy Hebrews 11 and 12:1-2.

Why not just stop at the end of Hebrews 11? Because the next two verses wrap up neatly the prior chapter. Let's take a look:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The prior chapter was filled with a great "cloud of witnesses" but in each and every case their faith was in a sovereign God and in His purpose and plan of salvation. The author of Hebrews makes clear that they never realized in their lifetimes the fulfillment of the promise: the coming of the Messiah, but they believed and acted on that belief and it was credited as righteousness.

How much more shall we, having the testimony of the apostles to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all the more look to Jesus, "the founder and perfecter of our faith"?

To read the prior chapter as a pep talk in faith by looking at the "heroes of faith" would be to "cloud" up the point. The real Hero is Christ, while the "heroes" of chapter 11 are "commended" for their faith but serve us as "witnesses" to the surprassing glory of Christ.

While that point is mostly tacit, the author does draw readers to the hope of Moses in Christ in his keeping of the Passover (vv. 24-28):
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
At no other point in this chapter are the words "Jesus" or "Christ" invoked, but in this case, drawing the original readers of Hebrews (Jewish Christians) to the truth that Christ is the Lamb of God, foreshadowed in the Passover. His blood doesn't merely cover sins like that of sheep or goats, His blood satisfies God's wrath and cleanses from sin, as the author of Hebrews made clear earlier in his letter (9:22-28):

22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

And so let us eagerly wait, but await him as ones running towards him joyfully:
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Trial That Tests the Gift

When I was younger, the New Testament epistles seemed to me these long laundry lists of exhortations and proscriptions. Now, I still see these things in the Scripture, but in context of the whole thrust of the letter.

James is no exception. It's amazing how the whole letter is informed by the notion of persevering in grace, in God keeping us whole and secure in Him as we grow through our trials and response to temptation to conform to the very image of God's Son, Jesus Christ.

What really struck me last night as I read through my daily portion of James (1:1-18) was this:

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. [4] 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

It's tempting to read James in opposition to the Pauline texts, which more explicitly deal with grace and which demolish the notion of works-righteousness. But grace soaks the entirety of James, and we see it in this passage above.

We struggle with our own enticing desires, which "give[s] birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." We know from elsewhere in Scripture that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. (Romans 6:23)

James picks up on this theme, noting that of no doing of our own God has "brought us forth by the word of truth" so that "we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." (1:18)

It is God who saves us, by his initiative, by His will. In response to this He calls us to "receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." (1:21)

To be sure, we shall know trial and opposition, but we are to count it all joy (1:2) because the "testing of our faith" produces "steadfastness... that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

Our walk with Christ is not an uncertain works-laden quest to obtain salvation. Ours is a fiery trial of walking in Christ, having received our salvation, persevering in our salvation, so that at the end of our trial, we may "receive the crown of life" and that we may do so being "perfect and complete" in Christ, "lacking in nothing."

The key verb of course is "receive." Not "earn" or "deserve" but receive, a fitting verb connoting the object in question is a gift. And indeed we have this "good gift" and "perfect gift" that "[comes] down from the Father of lights." (1:17)

Praise be to God, who saves for Himself a people to glory in Him NOT on the basis of works lest any man boast, but wholly and freely of grace, received through faith.

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