Upon the Mercy of a Heavenly Court

Perhaps David wrote Psalm 25 while languishing in the desperate consequences (vv. 16-17) of his great iniquity (v. 11), namely the murder of a faithful man named Uriah.  David had Uriah killed to cover up the adultery with the man’s wife, Bathsheba.  The adultery resulted from an abuse of authority and the king’s own idleness.  And yet he prays the following in verses 6-7:

Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old.  Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; according to Your mercy remember me,  for Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.

Remembering and Forgetting

David desires that God remember mercies and lovingkindnesses, but forget the sins of his youth and his transgressions.  “Remember me …forget my sin!”  Who wouldn’t want that outcome when it comes to prayer!

This is unadulterated boldness in prayer.  David prayed for an outpouring of God’s mercies and lovingkindnesses (note the plural) even though he had been disobedient and was suffering the consequences from it.  I don’t normally want to ask God’s blessing upon my life after I’ve sinned grievously; yet, that’s exactly what David is doing.

When you think about it, it makes sense.  After all, who needs mercies anyway?  Who is desperate for the lovingkindnesses of God once again?  The answer is those whom need it most …those who have sinned greatly and are so needy.  That’s good news for you and me!

Unchanging God

For I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.  -Malachi 3.6

The same could be said of us.  God hasn’t changed; therefore, we are not consumed (even though we deserve to be consumed).  The essence of mercy is that God does not give us what we deserve because His character is constant …He is governed by His compassion and lovingkindness.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.  – James 1.17

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  – Romans 11.29

So if David asked God to remember former mercies and lovingkindnesses, we ought to ask for the same.  We ought to plead with Him that He will continue to grant them to us as individuals, families, and a church.

For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people.  -1 Samuel 12.22

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.  For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’  – Hebrew 13.5

If Jesus loves you (and if He died for you, He loves you), you can rest assured that He will love you to the very end!  So, are you in deep distress?  Do you really think God has dismissed you from His presence?  Do you believe that He will not extend tender mercies and lovingkindnesses toward you once more?  Then, you don’t know much about His unchanging character.  Throw yourself upon the mercy of God’s heavenly court!

An Early Christmas Gift

I went through a time when I really struggled with the concept of celebrating Christmas.  Most of my objection to the holiday has to do with the pagan origins of it and our modern-day commercialization of Christ.  I could do without much of the baggage that comes along with the holiday, but find it very difficult to deny my children the experience of it.

Christmas is tailor-made for children.  Wide-eyed wonder as they notice all the lights in the neighborhood for the first time, warm-hearted movies that make eyes misty, traditional hymns and carols, and gifts on Christmas morning are just a few examples of what a special time of the year it is.

It is the concept of a gift that I’ve been thinking about today.  Christmas is a beautiful illustration of the grace of God.  Grace means gift.  The Father gave the gift of His Son at the incarnation.  Of course, there is no mention of the concept of giving gifts at Christmas in the Bible.  But I wondered, “What did Jesus, the gift of eternal life in His Person and Work, say about the concept of a gift when he was on this earth?”

  • Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23–24)
  • If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11; cp. w/ Luke 11.13 which says, “give the Holy Spirit” instead of “give good things”)
  • But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God…” (Matthew 15:5; cp. w/ Mark 7:11)
  • And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?” (Matthew 23:18–19)
  • Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”” (John 4:10)

Jesus uses the concept of a gift to teach us the power of His grace to reconcile relationships and answer persistent prayer with good things (the greatest of those good things is His presence in the Holy Spirit).

But He also speaks of those who use the concept as a form of abuse.  Religious leaders actually proclaimed certain property they possessed as a gift to God (corban) in order to default on their responsibilities to their parents.

These same religious leaders thought the gift was the important thing.  But it’s God’s altar which sanctifies the gift.  God makes everything valuable …eternally valuable.

John speaks of the infinite worth of the Father’s love gift in His Son, Jesus Christ.  He is the Living Water.  Once we drink from the cup of God’s grace, it is certain that we will never thirst again.

Paul’s Word: Can You Take It or Leave It?

“Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 7:25)

I was listening to a sermon this evening on being single.  A preacher referred to this verse and then made the following comment:  “This isn’t God talking …if you disagree with Paul, ‘Relax!’  You’re not disagreeing with God.”  I was stunned.  What do you think about that?

Paul earlier in the chapter distinguished between his commands and the Lord’s commands (verses 10, 12).  Here, he writes, “I have no commandment from the Lord.”  This simply means he has no command from the Lord Jesus to interpret for them.  However,  he gives judgment as a trustworthy and ready-writer for the Lord.  Paul is the source of knowledge for the Corinthians.  It is how they know the commands of the Lord or how we know for that matter.

The apostle did not believe that everything he said while he was living was inspired.  He  certainly could not invent things that Jesus never really said.  But he knew that God was using him to write certain things that were the inspired words of God.  Those are preserved for us (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7.25).

He gave them his judgment (as in purpose or intention) not an opinion (some unfortunate translations use this word) that they could take or leave.  Verse 40 makes it clear that He has the Spirit of God on what he has revealed to them.

Paul’s arguments set forth in this passage are not something you can take or leave.  What Paul is not doing is laying down a universal law that is black and white concerning virgins (single people).  It depends upon the individual’s circumstances.  Paul is not addressing the issue at hand with one right answer.  The matter calls for discernment.  It is not a right-wrong thing but rather a right-better thing.

It is good to remember that Paul is one whom the Lord in His mercy made trustworthy.  Believers cannot dismiss what he says as mere opinion.  Paul’s words are God’s words in this text.  So while he may not have had a particular commandment from the Lord Jesus to elaborate upon, what he says to the Corinthians (and by extension us) is still the very Word of God.

Paul did have a command from the Lord Jesus on marriage and divorce (v. 10; cp. w/ Mark 10.1-12).  Thus, he elaborates upon that command.  So, we must be careful about all of this.  Many dismiss Paul as a homophobe or a misogynist (woman-hater).  Actually, they are creating a god out of their own imaginations and rationalizing Scripture away.  They do this to make room for their new doctrines which fit their fleshly lifestyles.  We cannot trifle with the words of God.  Everyone of them has authority, whether it is acknowledged or not.

The Cycle of Assurance

The Cycle of Assurance

“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (1 John 5:11)

Chart Credit: Case, David A. and David W. Holdren. 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude: A Commentary for Bible Students. Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2006.

Winning Souls

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise. -Proverbs 11.30

The greatest joy in my life came on a warm Pennsylvania evening in July of 1990.  That is the day that I came to Christ and asked Him to take away my sins and give me the gift of everlasting life.  The subsequent unburdening that occurred will never be rivaled in this life.  But there is something that comes closely to it.  I cannot think of anything that brings as much joy in life as winning souls.

But the interpretation of Proverbs 11.30 has been disputed a bit.  Some see a contrast in the Hebrew.  The Hebrew word ḥāmās (violent) is substituted for the word wise (ḥākām).  The reason the substitution takes place is because the phrase win souls can be translated take souls as in killing or murder.  Therefore, the contrast is between the fruit of the righteous (life-giving) and the violence of the wicked (life-taking).

I think it best to read the verse with the word wise.  The phrase win souls could also mean take souls in the sense of captivating them or influencing them for righteousness.  This would mean that the two thoughts in this Proverb are actually parallel and do not form a contrast (as in the NKJV).  If I am correct in my understanding, then the idea of evangelism would be a legitimate application of the verse.

One Sunday a car had broken down in the alley behind a church in Arizona, and the driver had jacked up the car and crawled underneath to work on the problem. Suddenly, the pastor and congregation heard him scream for help. The jack had slipped, and the car had come down on top of him.

Some ran for a phone to call 911. Several of the men gathered around the large car and strained to lift it off the trapped man. Nurses from the congregation were rounded up and brought to the scene. Somehow the men were able to ease the car’s weight off the man and he was pulled free. The nurses checked him over. He was scratched up and shaken, but otherwise okay.

When this man was in danger, people acted quickly and decisively.  They recognized the urgency to save this man.  They were willing and wise to do so.  We need this attitude with the many at risk of losing life eternally!  Are you willing and wise to win souls?

Cut to the Quick

Millard Erickson speaks of “individual eschatology” in Christian Theology.  Better to study last things and how they relate to one’s own personal life.  Study concerning the end of your life is confrontational.  You are confronted with your choices – good and bad.  You consider the high price of sin, the clear causes of suffering, and whether or not it was worth living the life you lived.

The Wages of Sin

The people of God in Lamentations 4 faced a bleak and brutal end.  Their desperation drove them to the very brink.  Children were neglected and worse.  The people had once donned scarlet finery, and they now are found embracing ash heaps (4.1-5).  Since they were the people of God and therefore highly culpable for their sinful choices, their end was torturous and painful (4.6 cp. w/ Luke 12.47-48).  Even the upper strata of society is brought low.  Once brighter than snow and whiter than milk, they are now blacker than soot (4.7-11).

God allowed this tragic end.  He fulfilled His fury and poured out his fierce indignation.  Every word in these opening verses is filled with misery and devoid of mercy.  This is the high cost of sin:  a face-to-face confrontation with one’s own end.  It’s our pit where there is no human hope of rescue in sight.  Isolated and alone we wonder what has led to all the suffering we are experiencing.

Two Causes for Suffering

The answer is found in the fact that we are sheep without a shepherd.  The religious leadership in our country is bereft of the spiritual discernment needed to lead.  Most are still optimistic and generally very positive about the outlook for our country.  They preach peace while all the while remain a cause of suffering.  They fail to bring people face to face with their sin and rebellion.

The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem.  Because of the sins of the prophets and the iniquities of the priests, who shed in her midst the blood of the just.  – Lamentations 4.12-13

A second cause for the grief and pain that comes upon us is found in our inclination to trust in the creation rather than the Creator.  “Still our eyes failed us, watching vainly for our help; in our watching we watched for a nation that could not save us” (4.17).  “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17.5).

Unlikely Hope

Where’s the hope in that?  It’s found in the fact that in spite of gut-wrenching grief and pain, God will make it right.  Before the dawn of hope, one must identify the cost of sin and the causes of suffering.  You trace the rainbow through the rain.  As you consider your end as a child of God, consider also that guilt and culpability are gone.  Death has lost its sting!  Suffering is finished upon the cross of Christ!  God cuts to the quick so that we might become sensitive to the conclusion of our own story.

Compensated Beyond Comprehension

Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask? – Mark 10.35

These words were spoken to Jesus Christ by His apostles, James and John.  The words aptly express the sentiment of many nominal Christians today.  James and John, along with Peter, already enjoyed very close fellowship with Jesus.  The three men made up the inner circle chosen to be with Jesus during special times and landmark occasions during His earthly ministry.  Now, they come and and ask Jesus to commit to something without revealing what it is they desire.  Any parent knows how that feels!  We half expect them to say, “If you really love us, you’ll do this for us.”

It’s hard to see clear evidence of selfishness like this inside of us.  But it’s there.  Perhaps our conscience is quickened when we behave this way, but we still cajole and manipulate our desirable outcomes in life.  We want to make things the way we want them knowing all the while God will refuse us.  But still we pray, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask!”

Jesus’ response is surprising to us.  We expect Him to point out how selfish these guys are.  Instead, He asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?” (10.36) It really is quite masterful when you think about it.  Now these selfish men will actually have to verbalize their spiritual immaturity.  They blunder on by replying, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory” (10.37).  I imagine John cringing when think about this as an old man on the Island of Patmos.

The right hand was the most privileged position and the left second-best.  At least James and John left it to Jesus as to whom would receive each respective place of honor!  Jesus patiently explained that these two men didn’t know what they were asking.  The fact that they were asking for themselves indicates they were selfish, but the fact that they didn’t know where their request would lead indicates they were foolish.

Jesus patiently and compassionately used two metaphors to paint the bleak picture that He Himself faced ….that they too would face.

Drink the Cup – Active Participation in Suffering

You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink.  – Mark 10.38a

The men will later respond that they are able.  Jesus then affirms that they will indeed drink the cup from which He drinks.  Draining the cup in the Old Testament (the only Bible these men had) meant drinking from the cup of God’s wrath or indignation against sin.  Jesus drained the cup of God’s wrath when He suffered and died upon the cross for us.  James and John could never do this, but they would endure great suffering as apostles laying the foundation stones of the early church.  Recall that James was murdered by King Herod (cf. Acts 12).  John was imprisoned, beaten, and exiled to an island to die.  They didn’t understand the cost of being identified as disciples of Christ.  They would actively participate in the suffering of Jesus Christ.

Be Baptized – Passive Participation in Suffering

You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to …be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? – Mark 10.38b

Again, James and John affirm that they are able.  Jesus affirms that they will indeed be baptized with such a baptism.  Baptism is a figure that means being fully immersed in something.  Here a person is fully immersed in the suffering that comes from external means and not of his own doing.  Jesus experienced this baptism culminating in His death.  Were James and John able?  They believed they were able but didn’t fully comprehend what this meant.

Jesus continues by affirming that the baptism will come upon these men.  He then concludes by saying:

But to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared. – Mark 10.40

Matthew supplements the thoughts recorded in Mark by saying that these places of honor are actually prepared by God the Father (cf. Matt 20.23).  Honor is prepared by the Father for those whom He chooses to honor.  Also, the Father will prepare the men and women who take these positions of honor.  That should do away with any thoughts of envy or self-seeking.  Those on the left and right of Jesus in Heaven will certainly deserve those positions.  The character forged upon the anvil of suffering in this life will earn these positions because endurance for them came from the grace and mercy of Almighty God in the first place.

It’s hard to point out when someone is being selfish.  Some are overly cautious with selfish people.  They worry about speaking too bluntly when it comes to revealing such a character flaw in another person.  Others are overbearing and can hardly wait to point out such flaws!  Jesus show us the way in this passage of Scripture.  He used the selfish orientation of these men to instruct them carefully, compassionately, patiently, and effectively.

Jesus revealed the thinking of these men.  I understand that they were thinking of themselves instead of Jesus.  They were thinking of a temporal, earthly kingdom.  This means that they didn’t understand the yet third prediction of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection stated earlier in this passage.  They thought in temporal terms and were emboldened to ask for positions of prestige and power.  They were not thinking of the suffering and selflessness that paves the way to such positions.  Were they able?  Are you able?

I hope you desire position and privilege within God’s Kingdom.  I do.  But we must remember that such position is won through conflict, trial, and suffering.  Don’t look for ambition and privilege in this life.  Look instead for suffering, tribulation, persecution, and even martyrdom.  The Father is preparing special positions of honor.  Jesus is preparing a place in Heaven for us.  Our cup and baptism on earth may be difficult and beyond us, but one day a great exchange will take place.  We will be compensated beyond comprehension!