Tag Archives: love

God Loves Mercy – Thoughts on Hurricane Sandy

Many bloggers and many prominent Christians have spoken on the question of whether natural disasters are the result of God’s judgement against nations and against people. I have felt prompted today to write my own prayerful thoughts following the terrible events from Hurricane Sandy in the US.

Firstly I am praying that I may be sensitive to the fact that some have lost their lives, both in the US and previously in Haiti and other Caribbean islands. Many more have lost possessions, homes and livelihoods. My heart goes out to those affected and my prayers have been and will continue to be with you.

We should be very careful when writing on such a subject that we present God and His nature truthfully. I would be lying if I denied that God is a God that loves justice. I would also be lying if I said that God is never moved to wrath. Yet we should be clear that the primary and all-consuming nature of God is Love. God the Father sent Jesus to save His people from their sins, and if you have, or would, receive Jesus and make Him your Lord and Saviour then you can be assured of mercy.

The Psalmist once spends every other line of a Psalm declaring “His mercy endures forever”.

So does God send natural disasters as a punishment for wickedness? In some instances I believe He does, but I shall qualify that by saying that God takes no pleasure in the death of a sinner and that God does not will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

God, if and when He is moved to wrath, is not like a mortal man who is in a rage and conceives murder in his heart, but rather makes His power known in order that, perhaps, the people may be brought to turn from wickedness and embrace the fullness of joy that is freely available in Jesus. God does not send trials and disasters as mere punishment, but uses them as a means to bring many to a close relationship with Himself.

A passage which I am not the first to point to tells when Jesus was confronted by some Jews who were advocating that very attitude too many preachers seem to take: that disasters happen because of the victims’ sins.

There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?
3 “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
4 “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Sī-lōam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?
5 “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 13:1-5

Here it is clear – those affected by disasters of whatever sort are no more deserving of that fate than us all. We cannot point the finger and say “Your sins are to blame.” If we even approach this attitude it must be such that “Our sins are to blame.” We have inherited the curse of sin through Adam, and this has been passed on to every person, you and I included, and part of that curse is the curse upon the earth – hence natural disasters.

It is only through Jesus that we may be saved from that sin and eternal wrath, and the disasters that strike us are not formed in the mind of God to punish us, but are allowed by God and used by God to bring us into closer union with Him and may accomplish the real desire of God which is eternal, intimate relationship with you and I.

And note how God loves to show mercy in the verses following Luke 13:5:

He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.
7 “Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’
8 “But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.
9 ‘And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ ”

– Luke 13:6-9

I believe that this passage shows how merciful God is, as the planter is representative of God and the servant representative of God the Son, Jesus, Who pleads with God to spare the fig-tree, representing us, until He has nourished it and built it up. It is here we see that though God is just and must punish sin yet God the Son pleads on our behalf and God the Father shows mercy and puts off the just punishment in order that we may be nourished and fed.

In summary, God is sometimes moved to wrath, yet it is always His first desire to show mercy, and even wrath is used to this end. Natural disasters are the result of a world under sin and the wrath of the devil, but even through these God works things together for good. Our proper response to such disasters is not to point out other people’s sins, but to look at our own sin and repent of it and to show mercy to those who are afflicted.

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The Practice of the Presence of God

God’s Presence is with us Always – Image courtesy of SXU/fotoviva

I am currently reading through The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence and it is a profoundly inspirational book.

Although not compiled by Brother Lawrence itself it provides a great insight into his practice of seeking constant communion with God. It details his methods and practices and gives a good inspiration to fulfil the words of the Apostle Paul when he states that we are “to pray without ceasing”. Brother Lawrence seems to have mastered this during his religious life.

A word of warning, though – it appears that Brother Lawrence was devoutly attached to the Romanist Church and the monastic life, and there are aspects of both that make me, as an evangelical Christian, somewhat uneasy.

Yet the descriptions in this book, through a series of conversations and a series of letters, give a good impetus to me to seek to be in greater and closer communion with my God and remain in fellowship with Him.

Brother Lawrence’s view is quite profoundly stated in the opening section of this book:

[He] related that we should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence by continually conversing with Him. It was a shameful thing to quit His conversation to think of trifles and fooleries. We should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of God which would yield us great joy in being devoted to Him

It is too often in the Christian life that our minds wander from a sense of God – yet Brother Lawrence, after many years of struggle with sin and condemnation, seems to have found that by constant prayer he was able to enjoy a peace and joy that is truly the mark of the Holy Spirit working in us.

Brother Lawrence did have times when this conversation slipped, and also had times when upon a reflection after tasks had been done had found himself to have fallen short. In such instances he advises: “Without being discouraged on account of our sins, we should pray for His grace with a perfect confidence, as relying upon the infinite merits of our Lord.”

Brother Lawrence would confess his sins and shortcomings and then think upon them no more as he returned to his conversation with God.

So much can be learned from this book and from Brother Lawrence’s experience and practice and I would thoroughly recommend it to your reading.

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Putting the Poor in Their Rightful Place

A short while ago I wrote a blog post saying that we should not place the poor as equal to the Lord – we should not base our doctrine on our relationship with the poor but rather on our relationship with Christ.

Run down housing

We must love the poor and provide for them

Yet it is also important to say what the proper regard of the poor should be. In Matthew 25 Jesus Himself identifies Himself with the poor:

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ – Matthew 25:37-40

Jesus makes clear that if we love Him we will love the poor – if we truly love Him we will consider the poor and give to them, because it is primarily with the poor which Jesus identifies Himself. He is the outcast, the rejected, the oppressed. He is the Man of Sorrows.

We should regard others before ourselves and be interested in the welfare of others before our own welfare – now that is a continuing challenge to me and I am sure to many – for it is through loving our brother whom we can see that we demonstrate that we are capable of loving Jesus whom we do not see. If we neglect the poor we are, effectively, neglecting Jesus. Whilst our doctrine must be based on our relationship with Jesus, the application of that doctrine should effect in us a compassion towards the poor.

Psalm 112 speaks of the nature of the righteous:

Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness;
He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.
A good man deals graciously and lends;
He will guide his affairs with discretion.
Surely he will never be shaken;
The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance.
He will not be afraid of evil tidings;
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is established;
He will not be afraid,
Until he sees his desire upon his enemies.

He has dispersed abroad,
He has given to the poor;
His righteousness endures forever;
His horn will be exalted with honor.
The wicked will see it and be grieved;
He will gnash his teeth and melt away;
The desire of the wicked shall perish.

– Psalm 112: 4-10

Do not neglect the needy. And do not neglect the Lord.

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Aspiring to greatness? Or for Jesus’ Name to be Honoured?

The following post I have directly purloined from a fellow blogger.  I do not usually do this, but it is just too good not to re-share.  Indeed, Arthur Sido, who wrote this, took it himself from a fellow blogger.  It is just superb.

Aspiring to be a nobody

Loved this from Dave Black yesterday regarding the desire to raise up leaders.

Personally, I’m not all that eager to raise up a new generation of leaders. I want to raise up a new generation of butlers and scullery maids. A generation of nobodies who are content to be obedient to the simple teachings of Jesus. A generation of Christ-followers who die to family, fame, fortune, success, patriotism, and the American Dream. A generation of Dietrich Bonhoeffers who realize that “when Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die.” I want to raise up a generation of men and women who give without counting the cost, who deny themselves, who willingly take the cross as the path of union with Christ, in whom there is no trace of triumphalism, who put their lives at Christ’s disposal with unconditional surrender, who place Christian allegiance over their national allegiance, who act as though they were part of an upside-down kingdom, who die to all claims of the self-indulgent life, who refuse to lionize success or repudiate pain, who “share in suffering as good soldiers of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3), who stand high and lift their drooping heads because the Son of God inhabits their lives in the power of His resurrection. We cannot all be seminary grads or professional ministers. But we can all be engaged in fulltime Christian ministry. We can all bring others to faith in the Savior. We can all be devoted to prayer. I am concerned not so much with raising up a generation of leaders but with training a generation of men and women who are consumed with a passion to understand Christ better and make Him known. This does not invalidate the educational enterprise. It gives it purpose.

I just liked that a lot. The best word in that entire paragraph? “Content”. If only we were content I think we would see so much more zeal for Kingdom work.

What is missed in so many circles is the utterly Biblical sense in which the true leaders in the church are universally the servants, the nobodies. Not only do we miss this, we tend to go in just the opposite direction. We raise men up, we elevate them, ordain them, exalt them. We buy their books and listen to the talks and attend their conferences. We cleverly drop their names and post their quotes on Facebook and Twitter. If they are dead, that is even better! I believe more each day that those who we will see as “great” in the Kingdom of Heaven will be people we never heard of or those we know but rarely paid attention to.

We don’t need more leaders, we need more nobodies!

 

Credit: Arthur Sido @ The Voice of One Crying in Suburbia

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We the People of God – Our Citizenship is of Heaven

We are a People once not a people, but now the People of God
As Christians we cannot be separated by politics, culture, locality or language. We are One Body, and our first and foremost loyalty should be to God and then to each other

We cannot, seriously, be consumed in a system that pits Christian against Christian. Yes, we will sometimes (maybe often) disagree in areas where political, cultural or ideological views are divergent, and possibly all three to the extent that much of our political and ideological view is coloured by our cultural heritage. But we must not let that hinder the work of the Gospel nor let it hinder our love for one another.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous theologian, died in the concentration camps. His loyalty was not firstly to his government nor his nation. His loyalty was to God, and he died for an attempt to bring WWII to a speedy end. In that way he showed more love to the many British and American Christians that were suffering in the battle against Hitler. Was he a traitor? No, because his primary nationality, his real citizenship, was heavenly, not German.

In our disagreements over whether the political left or the political right; the capitalist or the socialist; the libertarian or the anarchist are correct or more correct, we must be careful that we do not lose sight of the undeniable fact that we are of the same eternal Kingdom and we belong to God and to each other, and not to the systems of this present world.

Taking self-profession as sufficient and not a cause for argument over doctrinal and practicable ideologies, President Obama is the brother of former President Bush, and they (and we) are a nation of God, not of the world.

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The Offence of the Cross

I have been prompted to make this entry in my blog because of the debate about Christianity and homosexuality.  Note that this was the prompt, but I am not going to focus on gay issues as my main point in this post.

There is a difficult, and at times un-Christianly bitter, debate within the Church between those who stand on Biblical principles in moral behaviour and those who suggest that the grace of God and the requirement to love all means that all or any behaviour is acceptable, providing it conforms to the World’s standards of morality.

For example, the liberals would say that a homosexual priest is fine, but a serial murderer priest is not.  The Bible, in fact, and in the New Testament, classes both sins as equal.  The liberals dispute this.

Yet to move beyond the homosexual debate is, I believe, important.  The conflict over gay rights is currently to the fore, prompted by moves in the UK to prohibit Christian principles in the workplace and by moves in the US ordaining openly homosexual bishops.  But the charge is now often brought that the Church is obsessed with “gay bashing”.  Although the debate wasn’t started by conservative Christians, we have risen to the bait and it seems that much campaigning has been focused on this.

But it is important, I believe, to move the debate forward.  The UK, and the world, are being swamped by sinful behaviours, and they are not exclusively to do with sexual behaviour.

My own particular struggle,  with drink and drugs, needs to be brought to attention.  I would take the same approach to heavy drinkers and drug users as I would to homosexual practice, for the Bible treats them as equal sins.  Show love, offer help, but do not shy away from saying such behaviour is sinful.  I have a deep sorrow at my past drink and drug use, and now I would not thank those who said “never mind, roll around on the floor dribbling, God doesn’t mind”.  The truth is: God does mind, He calls it sin.

There are other issues too, such as the oppression and exploitation of the poor.  The degree to which this happens in the UK, from the human trafficking to the exploitation by clothes shops in using overseas sweatshops, is appalling.  Christians need to speak on these issues.

I want to say one more thing: there has been a growing move in the UK to make Church “fashionable”.  To make Jesus attractive.  Sometimes this borders on attempting to con people into becoming Christians.  It is done in the name of “making Church relevant”.  Yet, the Bible is clear that we should “speak the truth”.  We cannot accept the “fluffy God” or the “it’s okay Jesus”.  God, Jesus, is Holy.

We must be clear.  A refusal to obey God will result in judgement.  But God is so loving that He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, that whosoever should believe on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

If we Christians truly live, breathe, and then speak the Truth, believe me we shall soon find, and rejoice in, the fact that Jesus Christ and His Cross are most offensive to those who refuse to believe.

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Why Doesn’t God Just Sort Things Out?

One question I remember hearing often is this: If God is so loving, why doesn’t He just stop all the wars and come down and make everything okay?

Perhaps, He did.  And we killed Him.

Jesus’ death upon the Cross marks the crossroads of life.  Many anti-Semitic Christians have asserted that it was the Jews who killed Jesus.  Christian Jews sometimes point out that it was the Romans who killed Jesus.  But we are all responsible.  The Jewish authorities orchestrated Jesus’ death, the Gentile (non-Jew) authorities carried the sentence out.  Both Jews and non-Jews bear responsibility.

Now, one may say: “But I wasn’t there.  If I had been, I would have had no part in it.”  Such a statement is understandable, yet profoundly arrogant.  Haven’t you ever said an unkind word about someone behind their back?  Maybe, as your friends laughingly mocked, you resisted for a while, but when you sensed that you’d miss out on the party unless you joined in, didn’t you throw in a smidgen of insult?  Trust me, no, trust God, when He says that “all have sinned”, and that if you had been present at the crucifixion of Jesus, you, like me, would have mocked.

But why did Jesus die?  Surely, if He’s God, He couldn’t die?  Some, such as the JW’s and Unitarians, deny that Jesus is God.  But Jesus Himself claimed to be the great I AM (one of the Names of God).  Thomas cried out “My lord and my God!”  Jesus said, “I and the Father are One.”  Maybe we can’t get our heads around God being three persons but only One God, but then I can’t get my head around the Hadron Collider.  It doesn’t make something not true just because we don’t fully understand it.

Okay, so God, as the Son, came to earth.  Why didn’t He just say: “Okay, I’m here now, stop fighting, stop bickering and we’ll have a party.”

There is the question of sin.  What would have happened if God had said that He would make everything perfect, bring justice and reward everyone.

Well, as God is just, He would have had to reward everyone according to the state of their hearts and their deeds.  Remember: all have sinned.  All are guilty.  All deserve to be punished.  So, God brings Justice and we all stand condemned.  It would have been a literal hell for everyone.

So, because God is loving, He sends His Son, who is One with Him.  God had already shown in stark clarity the method by which sin could be forgiven: only by the shedding of blood.  The Old Testament times are full with the blood of lambs, goats, pigeons and the like.  There is a law: sin causes death.  For sin to be forgiven, something had to shed its blood.

And so, at the Passover, God provides for Himself a Lamb.  A Lamb without blemish.  Perfect, pure, holy.  His Son Jesus.  Jesus’ shed blood makes the atonement.  If we accept that He died for us and believe in Him, we can receive that atoning work of the Cross: we can be forgiven.

We killed Jesus.  But Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  But that forgiveness only comes when we accept the Truth.  Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life, no-one comes to the Father except by Me.”  Jesus is the only Way of salvation, be you Jew or Greek or Roman or Indian or American or African or Australian.

So, a just God takes upon Himself our sin, a merciful God calls us to respond, and a gracious God offers us all, as many as would respond, life joyful and everlasting.

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