Recalculating: When You Don’t Change Direction!

When We Follow The Directions But Without The Heart Of God—We Become The Refuser Of Festivities—And The Consumer Of Blessings

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We are looking at the process of discovering God’s vision for you and this church, to discover God’s purpose for this place.  To do this, I want us to look at a couple of examples we need to learn from:  Jonah and Esther.  Today, let’s look at Jonah 1:1-5

 1 The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh.  Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord.  He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish.  He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.

4 But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. 5 Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.  But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold.

If You Can Remember Only One Thing, This Is It: When We Follow The Directions But Without The Heart Of God—We Become The Refuser Of Festivities—And The Consumer Of Blessings.

When God gives us a Recalculating Moment, He does so to transform us into what can only be described as Becoming Peculiar People.  In other words—to stand out from everything else.  Always to be different from the world.  But sometimes God’s Recalculating Moment is for us to be different from the Religious Culture.

Don’t you want to be a peculiar people?  The phrase is Peter’s, from the King James Version of 1 Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a Peculiar People; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 

In Greek, the phrase A Peculiar People means “a purchased possession”—something that uniquely belongs to God, acquired at great cost.  We are to be Holy Oddities—Sacred Misfits. You can’t make heads or tails of us unless you bring God into the equation.   But we’re going to look at one way to not be peculiar.

It’s the story of Jonah.  When I was a child in Sunday School, I heard the story of Jonah from the perspective that here is a hero of the faith.  At first, he didn’t want to go—in fact he would rather die than go.  But God showed grace in the form of this big fish.

Jonah changed his mind and would go.  The Hero, right?  Wrong.  Jonah refused God’s Recalculating Moment at first.  Eventually he followed God’s Recalculating Moment, but he did so without The Heart Of God.  Jonah shows us that it’s not enough to simply change direction.  Here’s the Lessons he teaches:

1.  Jonah Was A Prophet Who Wanted Nothing To Do With God.

Jonah—his name means dove.  Ironic, isn’t it?  Jonah’s name doesn’t fit his heart nor his attitude.  Biblically, the dove was a sign of hope and peace.  In the Old Testament, Doves represented hope, renewal, grace, beauty, innocence, swiftness, sacrifice, peace and good news.  In the New Testament, the dove is one of the principal symbols of the Holy Spirit—a sign from Heaven.  Jesus instructed his followers to be “harmless as doves.”  

Hope.  Renewal.  Grace.  Beauty.  Innocence.  Spirit.  Swiftness.  Sacrifice.  Good News.  Peace.  Jonah is none of this.  Jonah’s no dove!  He’s a hawk, a vulture.  Jonah’s a harbinger of judgment, a conjurer of despair, and a herald of bad news.  He’s a scrappy, noisy, crow!  And that’s the point.  Jonah is a prophet that wants nothing to do with God.  He’s an evangelist who wants nothing to do with the lost—except to see them punished and banished. Jonah Is A Portrait Of Those Who Were A People Of God But Who Have Lost The Heart Of God.  

He’s a picture of a person who is Christian in name only—not in character, conduct, or conviction.  He is an example of what happens to many Christians and many churches—we get turned in on ourselves, self-satisfied, self-indulgent, and happy to let the world go to hell.  Jonah avoids sinners.  When that’s no longer possible, he crusades against them, picketing their towns.  

He first tries to ignore their existence, then he protests against them, and then he seeks to annihilate them altogether.  If I had to identify the primary question that drives the Book of Jonah, it’s this:  Will Jonah Ever Learn To Be A Dove, Not Just In Name But Also In Heart?  And that’s the question the church must continually wrestle with: Will We Ever Learn To Be Christian, Not Just In Name But Also In Heart? This is Lesson 1 from Jonah.

2.  Jonah Rejects God’s Word.

The Book of Jonah begins with a miracle—God speaks to Jonah.  But Jonah resents and resists the word of the Lord, finding it to be a mighty inconvenience.  It doesn’t fit into his plan.  It doesn’t meet his expectations.  It doesn’t agree with his beliefs.  But the word comes anyway.  

The miracle is that the word of the Lord still breaks in on those who have long given up listening for it or attending to it; it still comes to those who have not hungered and thirsted for it for years—if ever! 

The word that comes to Jonah is firm and fixed:  Go. Jonah is to proclaim the Word of the Lord to Nineveh.   Nineveh was the capital of the blood thirsty Assyrians.  They are the enemy.  Jonah is called to go to the enemy.  But the crucial thing is how God sees this enemy.  

First of all, He sees they are wicked. In fact, their wickedness has come up before God and reached a tipping point in heaven.  God’s had enough; He’s going to act.  

But notice the second thing God sees in Nineveh—she is a great city.  Her greatness is not just in sheer physical size.  The Hebrew word used in the text means more than magnitude.  It speaks of importance and weightiness.  Nineveh’s greatness is her potential—if only she turned from her wickedness. 

Unless We See People, Towns, Cities, Cultures, Civilizations, Neighbors, And Strangers As God Sees Them, We Will Never Experience God’s Heart For Them.  If all we miss seeing their greatness, we’ll miss their potential, and the dreams God has for them.

3.  Jonah Runs Away From God.

Jonah only sees Nineveh’s wickedness and refuses to see her potential for greatness, so he runs away.  He is called to something too hard, so he flees.  This is where the story gets interesting.  Jonah doesn’t just flee the call of God or sidestep his assignment; he tries to escape God’s presence. Verse 3: Jonah…went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord.  

Jonah is more than disobedient—he’s practically an atheist!  Jonah wants to live as though God does not exist—or at least as if God has no claim on him.  Those Who Have A Jonah Heart Want God’s Blessing But Want Nothing To Do With Either God’s Purposes Or Presence.  Jonah is not a worshiper—he avoids God’s presence.  He’s not a follower—he avoids God’s call,.  Jonah is a Consumer Of Blessings.

This Jonah heart is in each of us.  We all face a constant temptation to demand God’s blessing but avoid obedience and service.  Entire church communities can have a desire to seek God’s blessing, but not His Face or His Kingdom. Entire churches are sometimes preoccupied only with What’s In It For Me.  

Entire churches are tempted to be consumers but not worshipers or followers.  When that happens, everyone is impoverished. The church—which is to be the very body of Christ in the world, becomes just another country club—bored, snobbish and flabby.  The world that so desperately needs the gospel of Christ is left to stew in its own juices.  When A Church Craves God’s Blessing But Shuns His Presence And Avoids His Purpose—It Has Lost Its Heart For God.

Let’s finish the story, and see why Jonah isn’t a hero. Jonah flees, but he doesn’t get every far.  He books passage on a ship bound for Tarshish—a city at the edge of the known world.  Here’s something I learned just this week about the name Tarshish.  According to the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Tarshish is a Phoenician word from the Akkadian meaning Smelting Plant Or Refinery.  In biblical times, metals were obtained from the ore by fire.  He’s trying his best to get as far away as he possibly can. 

But Jonah jumps out of the pan and into the fire.  God Pursues Jonah Through A Storm, Still Wanting Jonah’s Heart The sailors on the boat force Jonah to confess his identity, and they discover that he’s the source of the trouble.  

At Jonah’s request, they throw him into the sea.  Jonah is suicidal.  God sends a large fish to swallow Jonah whole.  Three days later, the large fish spews him up on the shore.  Jonah, duly chastised, heads to Nineveh and does his duty.  He only does it because the pain of God’s chastisement is greater that his desire to run away.  

He preaches fire and brimstone and then goes and camps on the outskirts of Nineveh, waiting for God’s fireworks to fall on the city and its people.  But something strange takes place.  The king of Nineveh hears Jonah’s message, and he’s broken in his heart.  He puts on sackcloth and ashes and calls on the city to fast, pray, repent, and trust God’s mercy.  The entire city turns to God, and God shows mercy.  And Jonah couldn’t be more miserable.  

Jonah is a representative of a class of people we meet in the pages of Scripture, in the drama of life, and in the pews of our churches.  He is a Refuser Of Festivities.  He misses the grace of God and lets bitterness take root.  Like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he won’t join the party; he won’t live in grace.  

God is involved in an extravagant, surprising, mercy-drenched business—seeking and saving those who are lost, throwing feasts once they’re found—but Jonah and his ilk sit on the sidelines and sulk about how hard God is on them and how soft he is on everyone else.  They stew about things taken away from them, and things they never wanted others to have that God has given to them without measure. 

In C. S. Lewis’ story, The Silver Chair, a selfish little girl named Jill asks the great lion Aslan—the story’s Christ figure—if he eats girls.  Aslan responds, “I have swallowed boys and girls, men and women, kings and kingdoms.”  And here is an even more interesting question: Has He swallowed you? 

How are you handling God’s Recalculating Moments in your life?  With joy?  Or with the resentment of Jonah?

Your Next Steps:

  1.   Remember that to follow God’s directions, we have to change our direction.  And to change our direction, we need to bring along the right attitude.  What needs to change with your attitude?
  2.   It’s done by putting aside our fear of failing or the uncertainty of how it will happen.  Don’t wait for someone else to step up.  It’s time for you to step out.

Did You Really Ask That Question?

We all deserve to be punished for our sins, but Jesus took that well-deserved punishment upon Himself as He hung on that cross.

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Well, things are really shaking and moving in California; and not in a good way. My heart goes out to all those impacted by this disaster. I’ve read a lot about “experts” saying this may well be the prelude to “The Big One.” Excuse me, now I’ve only experienced a few minor tremors (yes, in Alabama we do have earthquakes, small ones, but it was still an earthquake), but what could be bigger than a 7.1? Gee whiz, geologists, thanks for adding to their fear.

But those comments are not the cause of me writing this morning. It was a question posed by someone in a Facebook group of which I am a member. This person asked the group, “Do you think this earthquake is the result of God’s judgement against the people of California?” This picture must have been the expression on my face when I read it.

Being a Disaster Response Coordinator for my local Tribe, this and similar statements irk me on the scale of a 10.7. When a person goes through a natural disaster, they don’t need The Disaster of Poor Theology. Statements like:

  • “God needed them more than we did.”
  • “It was just things.”
  • “We have to accept it as God’s will even if we don’t understand or like it.”
  • “You’re young, you can always find someone else.”
  • “God just wanted your attention.”
  • “If y’all don’t repent, something worse is going to happen.”
  • I could go on, but I won’t….

Even as I’m writing, I remember something very dumb I said back in the early 80’s when I was in seminary. The Aids crisis was growing and I asked a fellow pastor, whom I looked up to because he was conservative like me, “Don’t you think this Aids epidemic is God’s punishment?” Even now, I’m hanging my head in shame for even allowing that thought to remain in my head. His response caught me off guard. “NO! All our punishments were put on Jesus while He was on the cross!” He then gently addressed my Poor Theology; and I’ve never forgotten it. Come to think of it, his facial expression was just like that picture above.

To say this latest earthquake is God punishing California, qualifies you for membership in that Wacko Westboro Baptist Cult. Look, maybe you or someone you know is going through a difficult time–a disaster if you will. Maybe you are thinking, “God is punishing me and I deserve it.” Well, you are half right.

We all deserve to be punished for our sins, but Jesus took that well-deserved punishment upon Himself as He hung on that cross. The prophet Isaiah foretold this truth:

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.

Isaiah 53:4-5 (NLT)

The next time you see someone going through a disaster–be it a natural disaster, man-made disaster, a spiritual disaster that resulted from poor choices in their life–don’t look at them and think, “Well, they got what they deserved.” And don’t you dare say it! Instead, be broken and cry for them. Then get up and do something to help rebuild their lives.

Yes, God disciplines–He disciplines those whom He loves and who loves Him. But disasters are not acts of discipline. They are reflections of our current reality–that we and our natural world are infected, affected and broken by sin. Not just Adam and Eve’s sin, but our sin as well. If you think God is punishing California, get your emergency kits out because He is about to punish you, too.

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

My Apology: “Why does HE Eat With Tax Collectors And Sinners?” (Like me?)

(This post is for those I wounded last week.  I am truly sorry.)

 

 

 

 

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Mark 2:15-16 (NIV)

We know the Pharisees, A.K.A. The Religious Police, loved to ask questions.  Many of their questions directed to Jesus were attempts to discredit Him or find just cause to put Him to death.  So today we often ignore and disregard their questions.  But this question…this question is a great question and deserves our full attention.  Regardless of their motives, it is a question that should be allowed to roll over in our gray matter.  And I believe the answer says something, not about the nature of the Pharisees, but about us and the very nature of God, Himself.

Sharing a meal in their culture was a very important moment.  Meal time was a moment of sharing life with friends or showing hospitality to a stranger.  It was deep and intimate, even sacred.  Perhaps in our day of take out, eating in front of the TV, families eating in shifts, meals don’t seem to be sacred moments.  And the images of the Walton Family around the dinner table are forgotten memories.  But when this question was asked, it shows the significance of the dinner table.  Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners, like ME?  Who are we to have Jesus share such an important moment?  Look at the people who would have been around that table that evening.  Better yet, look at ourselves as being at that meal.

  • Like the tax collectors, we can driven by greed
  • We become overly obsessed with our feelings
  • We put others down for our own reasons.  Yes, the Pharisees put down those tax collectors and sinners.  Don’t you think they did the same toward those Pharisees?
  • We allow ourselves to be over-inflated with a sense of self–self-importance, self-righteousness, selfish-desires
  • We make poor choices in our life
  • We do not consider the consequences of those choices
  • When wounded we lash out at even our friends in anger
  • We manipulate people for our own ends
  • We allow labels to become our sole identity
  • We point out the faults of others while ignoring our own
  • We ignore what matters the most
  • We close our eyes to the needs around us
  • We find all kinds of good excuses for our sins
  • We put blame on the doorstep of others
  • We gossip
  • We smear the good name of others
  • We withhold forgiveness when hurt and tightly hold on to our grudges
  • We give in to our lustful desires
  • We point out the problems without offering solutions
  • We worship idols of our own making, misuse God’s name, excuse ourselves from weekly worship, dishonor family, kill both literally and figuratively, violate God’s sexual ethic, take what is not ours, lie to and about others, and we want what our neighbor has
  • I know I missed some more of mine, and in case I missed your sin, fill in the blank here_____________________

I know that I am truly the least deserving of sharing a meal, of eating dinner with Jesus.  I fail Him more times than I care to admit.  I mess things up.  I assume.  I forget.  I become careless.  I surrender to the wrong things.  I fail to fight the right things.  I am sitting at Levi’s table.  And there HE is, passing me the mashed potatoes, smiling at me and my fellow sinners.  Laughing at our jokes and telling his own.  Why in the world does HE seem to enjoy sitting at the sinners table?  I hide it, but inside I’m twinging at the thought that here I am, eating a meal with Pure Holiness, with God Himself.  Inside I’m cringing, desperately wanting to run out the door and hide in my shame.

And then I overhear the Pharisees question: “Why does HE eat with tax collectors and sinners, like him (pointing that finger at me)?”  Or am I pointing my own finger at me?  (Heavy sigh, and some tears right now.)  “Why, Jesus, why?  Why me?  Why now?  Can’t you see what a mess I am?  I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror.  I am a man of unclean lips!  Why are you smiling at me?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Quit looking at me with that smile, I’m unfit and worthless.  I’m a failure!”  But HE keeps on smiling and says, “Would you like some more bread?  Here, let me refill that cup.”

More bread?  Refill the cup?  Me?????  Now I really want to run out that door and hide and bitterly cry.  I could, I should–I ought to run away now!  “Run, Randy, Run!”  My hands are shaking as I take the bread.  My legs are shaking as I take that cup.  Were I to stand up now, I feel like my legs would collapse.  So I stay at the sinners table, holding the bread in one hand, the cup in the other, and my eyes locked into the eyes of Jesus.  I just don’t understand, why?  I am so small, so unfit and unworthy, such a mess.  I feel like this failure is final and fatal.  Washed up and washed out.  But then HE says, “Eat that bread, I know you’re hungry.  And that Cup has the finest wine ever.  You should taste it.  It is really good.”

Could it be true?  Does Jesus still care about me?  Dare HE forgive me?  A fresh start?  Is there unfinished business that this sinner needs to do for HIM?  I’m still unsure, uncertain when He reaches out and touches my hand with HIS hand.  And I see it, clear as day–the Scar!  It’s the exact size of those spikes used by Roman Soldiers to nail someone to a Cross.  I have to ask, “Jesus, does that scar still hurt?”  He keeps on smiling and gently says, “Not anymore.  In fact, I’m rather proud of that scar.  I have a few more I could show you, but not at the dinner table, Randy.  And I’m just as proud of them, too.”  Vainly I hold on to my question, “But why?  Why Jesus?  Why me?”

The smile is gone but the look is serious, like urgent business, like something important needs to be said, MUST be said.  His lips begin to move and HE says, “Randy, just eat the bread, son, and drink the wine.  It really tastes great.  None better, I tell you.  If that doesn’t answer your question, then ask ME again.”  That scarred hand lifts my hand holding the bread to my mouth as if to say, “It’s OK.”  I taste that bread, and tears roll down my cheeks; not tears of shame I had been holding back.  They were tears of release.  With that same scarred hand, HE guided my hand holding the cup, and I drank.

There was a flood of relief coming over me.  Oh, I still had some uncertainties about the future, but I knew those scarred hands were holding me now and would not fail me later.  And reality hit me back to the moment; the moment of that question:  “Why does HE dine with tax collectors and sinners like Randy?”  Those disciples looked terrified.  Why don’t they put those Pharisees in their place?  I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hey!  Why don’t you just ask Jesus?  You cowards!”  The word cowards being directed at both the disciples and the Pharisees.

But it was like Jesus knew what I was about to do.  His hand gently pushed me back into my seat, at the sinners table.  HE leaned into me and whispered, “Don’t be so hard on My disciples there.  They don’t know what you know.  Not yet, but they will, they will.  Besides, I’ve got this.  And about last week?  If you had given your pain over to me, I would have handled it, too.  Excuse me for a moment, I need to say something.”

“Guys, you are right.  I am here eating with tax collectors and sinners.”  His scarred hand now rests on my shoulders, as if to say “Like this one”.  He continues talking, every eye in the room on HIM, including mine.  What will HE say?  “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. And these people around this sinners table?”  Now HE is looking at me, and smiling again.  “Unlike some, they know they are sick.  So they have come to the Doctor, all in hope that they could become whole again.  Now, if you will excuse me, MY patients are waiting for me and I don’t need to keep them waiting any longer.”

And as for me?  I don’t have to ask why anymore.  The wonderful taste of that Bread and that Wine are still in me.  He IS right, the taste is good, great, and wonderful.  I should have trusted Him last week.  I was just thinking, “You know, Randy, if you had done that last week you wouldn’t be sitting at the sinners table now.”  But, I thought again, “No, I need to be at the sinners table at every meal, because I am still sick and need what this Doctor alone will give me.”  Now excuse me, Jesus is about to tell another joke and I do not want to miss a word He says…

But What About…???

If you are not a United Methodist, or have not been following “The Great Controversy”, or are simply a United Methodist who has had their head buried in the sand while hoping “The Great Controversy” will just go away, these words from my heart and mind will probably not mean much to you and you will just pass over these words.  As “The Preacher”, called by God’s infinite Grace and ordained by God and my Tribe, I am compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak into “The Great Controversy”.  I do this with great humility because I know I am far from perfect; but I also know that God, through the Holy Spirit, is working on my imperfections.

To my friends who identify themselves as “gay”, and to my friends who support being “gay” as being acceptable to God, I know we are on different sides of this “The Great Controversy” and my heart and mind could cause you to “unfriend” me.  I pray that our connection is deeper than one issue.  I believe it is.

In a recent small group I was leading that focused on the question of human sexuality, the question was asked of me:  “Can a person be gay and be a Christian?”  Because I had spent a lot of time in prayer and meditation in The Bible before we began this small group, I know it was the Holy Spirit that inspired my response.  I replied, “Can a person who cheats on their income tax be a Christian?  Can a person who steals office supplies from work be a Christian?  Can a person who engages in premarital or extramarital sex be a Christian?  My answer is yes.  But one cannot be fully formed and developed in Christ as long as any sin remains in us.”  And to my hyper-conservative friends (and foes), I ask again that you refrain from using that horrible word “abomination” against the LBGTQ community.  Truth is, all expressions of sin is an abomination to God.  Those who insist that they don’t struggle with some recurring sin is not, in my humble opinion, being honest.  What they have done is made peace with their “sin of choice”.  And now the reason I am writing this blog.

That body known as the “Commission On A Way Forward” shared their report to our bishops.   (You can read about this report here.)  While I have been hopeful about the work of the Commission, I am not surprised by their report, nor am I surprised by the response of some of our bishops; and this deeply saddens me.

The article (you can see the entire article here) opens with this line:  “Placing emphasis on the values of unity, space and contextuality – all for the sake of mission – the Council of Bishops (COB) is exploring sketches of three models as possible directions for a way forward for The United Methodist Church over LGBTQ inclusion.”  But what about The Bible?  Does it no longer hold any value?  Is unity, space and contextuality more important than Truth?  More important than God’s Grace that transforms us into HIS image?

Here are the “options” presented to the bishops:

  • Affirm the current Book of Discipline language and place a high value on accountability. The church policy book says the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching” and lists officiating at a same-gender union or being a “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy member as chargeable offenses under church law.
  • Remove restrictive language and place a high value on contextualization. This sketch also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same-gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
  • Create multiple branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice.  In other words, “Choose which branch of the United Methodist Church you like. “

And what about The Bible?  Everything in each “option” is about “their view”.  And thus the source of humanity’s mess that goes back to “the view” of Adam and Eve.  Truth is that our view can and will violate God’s view without a commitment to and trust in God’s intended design and purposes.  I realize that mean and vicious people have twisted the Bible to fit their views rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to renew and transform what can only be called stickin’ thinkin’  so that we may be formed in God’s intent and design.  But alas, it seems the church that God used to save this wretch like me, would rather I and others, even everyone, be formed by “their view” than transformed by God’s truth.

So, as I await the decision coming in February 2019 from the governing body of my Tribe, a Tribe of which I have been in my entire life, I have made my decision.  My decision is to become the person God intends for me to become and be faithful to His design.  After all, HE created me.  Furthermore, as one called out because of God’s grace, I will no longer be tied to a group that emphasizes feelings over truth.  I grieve deeply over this informed decision in my heart, but I will be faithful to this decision with deep humility.  Though I grew up in the United Methodist Church, and have served Jesus for over 43 years in this church, I probably will not finish my race in this life in this Tribe if the decision is “choose your own way”.  As Joshua challenged the Hebrews, his challenge is now before me from Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

It is better to serve the Lord…and this is my choice, my only “option”…

The Other Side Of Grace And Mercy

3 The Other Side Of Grace And Mercy

DisclaimerI don’t know about you, but this has been and continues to be a difficult series for me; perhaps even more than the Messy Grace series last year.  And I’ve noticed that there are a few that are heeding the disclaimer and are staying away, like with the Messy Grace series.  And I am OK with this.  Who knows, if I was sitting in the pew I might do the same.  So let’s get to today’s passage found in Matthew 18:21-35 (KJV)

21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?  22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.  24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.  25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.  27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.  29 And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.  30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

31 So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.  32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:  33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?  34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.  35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

OK, did that last verse sink in?  Jesus said that if we refuse to forgive any person—withhold grace and mercy, God withdraws HIS forgiveness of us—and withholds His Grace and Mercy.  Does He really do that?  Wow!  Now, if you are a Biblical Fundamentalist, meaning every word in the Bible is absolutely true, then Yes, God will withdraw His forgiveness of our sins.  But I must ask, “Where’s the grace and mercy?”  Well let’s put our 2 questions up:

  1. 1. Is It Possible? NO!
  • Isaiah 43:25—“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.”
  1. Is It Consistent With The Principles Of The Kingdom?

So, this is obviously hyperbole.  Remember that even in His use of hyperbole, there is a Kingdom Message and Principle Jesus is trying to teach us.  To find it we turn to the 3 Questions:

  1. What Is Happening Just Before Those Words?

A question is asked by one of the disciples:  Who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of God?”  In other words, How Does God Measure Greatness?  What’s His standard?

  1. What Happened Or Was Said Right At The End Of Those Words?

Jesus moved on.  In other words, Jesus has made His point, and He doesn’t explain any more.  You may have noticed that I used the KJV this morning—for a reason.  The reason is the first 2 words in Verse 35—“So likewise”—there is a most important lesson in the story about that King’s decision to withdraw Grace and Mercy and those who refuse to show Grace and Mercy.

  1. What Is The “Point” Jesus Is Trying To Make?

Let’s go back to the question that started all of this:  “What does God consider ‘Great’ in His Kingdom?”  Greatness in the Kingdom of God is found as we show Grace and Mercy to everyone.  And here is the 1 thing you need to remember:  Failure To Show Grace And Mercy To Another For Any Reason, Cuts Us Off From All Future Grace And Mercy From The Father!

It is all about how well and how willing we are to extend Grace and Mercy others.  Though God doesn’t take back His forgiveness—He is making an important point.  It’s like this little poem I found:

to dwell

Grace and Mercy are the virtues we most enjoy—and least employ in our walk with Jesus.  We all love to receive Grace and Mercy—we expect it and want it.  But we find it a struggle to extend that Grace and Mercy.  We resist it, and oftentimes refuse to do it.  C. S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity“Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to forgive”

Look again at the story.  Peter asked a question:  “How often should I forgive the same person?  What about 7 times?”  Why did Peter use the number 7?  Was it because “7” is the number of perfection?  I do not think Peter was into numerology.  The rabbinical teaching said 3 times, and then you’re free to not forgive them.  Well, Peter is feeling generous that day, so he doubles that number and adds in 1 more for good measure. Peter is making sure his righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees.  The response of Jesus to Peter’s question doesn’t really provide an answer—but it points out that Peter is asking the wrong question.   The question should have been:  “Do I have to show Grace and Mercy to everyone?”

God has shown every Christian extravagant and expensive Grace and Mercy.  Grace and Mercy should never not be present in our lives and in our relationships.  That’s the issue. Grace and Mercy is part and parcel of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It’s the constant. Showing Grace and Mercy is neither a choice nor an option.

We want it to be a choice—and that’s at the heart of Peter’s question.  As much as we may want to be like Jesus, we cannot bring ourselves to accept or imagine the endless and immeasurable nature of Grace and Mercy that Jesus demands from us.  For anyone who has received Grace and Mercy from God, to choose NOT to extend Grace and Mercy to anyone for any reason—to God that is unimaginable—and it has consequences, especially when someone directly asks for it.

Listen again to the story.  A King calls in all debts.  One servant owes 10,000 talents—usually meaning in silver or gold.  1 talent weighed approximately 130 pounds.  So that’s 1.3  million pounds.  At just $17 per ounce of silver that comes to 353.6 million dollars in today’s dollars.  The King demands full payment, but he doesn’t have it.  He pleads for more time with the promise to pay it all back.  But instead of receiving a time extension on the debt—the King forgives it.  Now that’s 353.6 million dollars of forgiveness.  Got it?

Now this servant is having a great day.  He wanted an extension but received a pardon.  Life is oh, so good.  Then he sees another fellow servant who owes him hundred pence or denarii.  The value of a pence or denarius was known as a day’s wages, and in our terms, an average entry level job pays approximately $65 a day.

This forgiven servant was owed in today’s dollar, $6,500—or about 100 days of work.  6,500 compared to 353.6 million.  The servant who had his debt canceled demands payment.  The other servant begged for more time with the promise to pay it all back.  Does this all sound vaguely familiar?  But the response from his fellow servant is totally unacceptable to the forgiven servant—so he has him thrown into prison until the debt is paid in full.  When someone is forgiven $353.6 million in debt, word spreads and spreads fast.

The other servants report it to the King, who calls this forgiven servant back before his throne, and lowers the boom.  He takes back the pardon of debt and has that servant thrown into prison until the $353.6 million debt was settled.  You may be thinking, “How could he just take back what had been given?”  Answer is simple.  He’s a King and He makes the rules.  Now we come to that hard saying of Jesus.  “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do…”

Now, we have established this is hyperbole—but it’s with a message and here’s the message:  Failure To Show Grace And Mercy To Another For Any Reason, Cuts Us Off From All Future Grace And Mercy From The Father!  Here’s why your failure to show grace and mercy is so serious:

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Disrupts

First, it cuts off the life-line between us and God.  Our need for Grace and Mercy doesn’t end at our moment of salvation.  Truth is, it has only just started.  There is not a one of us here who is a Christian, who does not realize that we did not stop sinning when we were first forgiven in Christ.  When you choose to withhold Grace and Mercy from anyone for any reason, God chooses to withhold Grace and Mercy from you—the connection is disrupted.

Second, it creates chaos in the community.  What holds us together as the body of Christ is God’s Grace and Mercy.  When you refuse to show Grace and Mercy, it destroys what God is trying to build—a community of broken people seeking and finding wholeness in the unmerited Grace and Mercy of God.  It disrupts our connection to the life-giving Grace and Mercy of God.

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Distorts

How does it distort whom God has made us to be?   First, it is hypocritical.  You demand from others what you think is right.   The sign that we are acting based on what you think is right and not Grace and Mercy is that, like this servant, you act harshly. You speak severely and sharply to the other.  It distorts the truth about God’s Grace and Mercy in you.

Second, it puts you back under judgment.  If you insist there is no more room for Grace and Mercy for any person, then God will insist that there is no more room for Grace and Mercy for you. “But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” (James 2:13).  When you fail to show grace and mercy, you will be turned over to those tormentors of consequences.

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Degrades.

First, it degrades you by filling you with a sense of self-righteousness.  You must see that your sins against God constitutes this kind of a debt, an impossible amount.  Your selfish acts and thoughts, your willful choices, your lack of love toward anyone, the hurt you have caused others, your pride, your anger, your bitterness, your hates, and your lies; all these add up through the years to a debt we owe God which we cannot repay.

Second, it degrades the worth that God sees in others.  Refusing Grace and Mercy to anyone is you telling them, “You’re not worth it!”  And it crushes their heart and spirit.

Third, it degrades the Sacrifice of Jesus.  When you withhold Grace and Mercy, you are telling Jesus, “You made a mistake dying on that Cross for them!”

So, how can you show Grace and Mercy to someone who has “trespassed” against you, the Grace and Mercy that has been lavished on you?  Remember that Grace and Mercy does not originate in you.  It begins with God.  That’s what the slave who refused to forgive didn’t understand.  It was not about him.  It’s about God.  You do not choose to offer grace and mercy.  You allow Grace and Mercy to flow out of you.  You share the Grace and Mercy you have already received.

Jesus isn’t talking about those initial moments when someone wounds you.  It is difficult, maybe even impossible to offer Grace and Mercy immediately after being wounded.  We need space and time to process it.  Jesus is talking about 2 specific circumstances:

  1. First, it’s that moment when someone asks you directly for Grace and Mercy, and you refuse. You may think you have some good reasons and are justified.  So likewise shall your Heavenly Father withdraw His Grace and Mercy to you.
  2. Second, it’s that moment when you have had time to reflect on your initial unwillingness to show Grace and Mercy—and you continue to refuse to offer Grace and Mercy. So likewise shall your Heavenly Father withdraw His Grace and Mercy to you.

On those days we need to remember the grace and mercy lavished on us.  If you withhold Grace and Mercy for any reason—God withdraws that grace and mercy from you.  Now, the difficult NEXT STEPS.

Next Steps

RADICAL! Mercy, Part 1

Jesus is a Radical and He calls us to follow His pattern for being the ultimate Radical.  I’ve been writing about Radical Grace, and we can’t talk about Radical Grace without also talking about Radical Mercy.  The radical nature of God’s mercy is that it is NOT a feeling or an emotion.  God’s mercy goes much deeper.  Often the view of mercy is like a cartoon I once saw.

2 boys were walking away from a church building and one said to the other:  “I think I got it.  Grace is getting from God what we don’t deserve and mercy is NOT getting from God what we do deserve.  I like grace, but I really love mercy.”  And that’s not necessarily a bad way to distinguish the difference from Grace and Mercy.  But Mercy is more, so much more than NOT getting what we actually deserve.  It’s more than an emotion; it is rooted in the heart and actions of God.  It’s more than what God DOESN’T DO to us—it’s more about what God wants to do for us—and here’s the really radical thing—What God Longs To Do THROUGH us.

Think about the story in Matthew 9:9-13.   Jesus had been on the other side of the Sea of Galilee where He put a beat-down on some demons who had possessed 2 men.  Now He’s back in His other “town” of Capernaum.  I know He’s from Nazareth, but think of Capernaum as His lake home.  He had performed 2 miracles on 1 man.  First He forgave the man of his sins and that got the local Self-Righteous Police up in arms.  And to back up His claim to be able to forgive sins, He healed the man of his paralysis.  That second miracle made the crowd go wild for Jesus, and this infuriated the Self-Righteous Police even madder.

Picture this:  He’s walking down the streets of Capernaum and there it is:  The Evil Tax Collector’s Office!  Those Pharisees, those Holier-Than-Thou, Better-Than-You, The Protectors-Of-Religion, would probably never walk on that side of the street.  They would have gone out of their way to avoid him.  He’s a traitor!  He’s Made The Bad Choices!  He’s gotten rich off the backs of hardworking, honest folks.  They would have seen him as disgusting—absolutely disgusting.

You know, like so many do to the homeless.  They look at them believing they had made bad choices.  That if they just tried harder, had refused the booze and the drugs, they wouldn’t be out there bumming on OUR streets.  So they look away in disgust, just like those Protectors-Of-Religion.  Have you ever done that to a homeless person?  Have you looked away as if they didn’t exist?  Did you ever feel disgust, like it was their own fault they were homeless?  I know I have and I am totally ashamed of myself.  When I do that, I’m not acting like Jesus—I’m not doing what Jesus would do.  There’s no Radical Mercy in me!  And I hate it!

And this tax collector has a name.  He’s called Matthew, but he has another name—probably the name his parents gave him.  It’s Levi!  Now there’s a name with a lot of potential—it’s a priestly name—the name of the tribe God selected to serve HIM in the Tabernacle.  I wouldn’t doubt that those Protectors-Of-Religion had even more disgust because this man was such a failure.  He doesn’t deserve the time of day—and he certainly doesn’t deserve to be in the synagogue nor the Temple.

Yet, Jesus does none of those things they would have done.  He walks right up to his booth, and gets right in front of his desk.  Here’s how I would imagine it happened.  Matthew knew he was a Rabbi and probably thought, “Oh, good Lord, another sermon aimed at me.”  But Jesus didn’t do that—I can see Jesus looking Matthew square in the eyes and then Jesus smiles—extends His hand and makes an offer that radically changes the life of this despised and hated man.  The fact Jesus approached him without judgment or condemnation, smiles, and extends His hand in friendship changed the course of Matthew’s life.  And it started with just 6 words—6 words mind you—“Follow me and be my disciple.”

 I bet you a dollar to a donut that Matthew didn’t see that coming.  And what does Matthew do?  With just an approach without judgment, then extending of a hand and an offer—look at what Matthew does:  So Matthew got up and followed him.  And to mark this change of direction in life, Matthew does what Matthew knows to do—He throws a party with Jesus as the guest of honor.  But what’s a party without people?  The only friends he has are fellow sinners, so he invites them.  And what does Jesus do?  He goes to the party!  And if the Protectors-Of-Religion weren’t mad enough, this infuriates them.  But notice, they don’t dare approach Jesus about the matter.

So they turn on the other disciples with the question:  “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”  You know my imagination; I would bet those other disciples were scared spit less.  After all, how can you answer such a question?  Everyone knows you’re not supposed to associate with that kind of people.  If you did, next thing you know they would be in church with us!  And the Protectors-Of-Religion knows you can’t have people like that in church.

But Jesus doesn’t know you’re not supposed to do that.  He hears them talking to His disciples and Jesus Steps Up And Steps In with a quote from the prophet Hosea in 6:6—“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”

He states it in a challenge:  “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture:  ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.”  Mercy isn’t the withholding of what is due.  Mercy isn’t an emotion or feeling.  Mercy is a verb.  In the Hebrew, this word mercy has 3 key meanings that we will look at tomorrow.

And remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!