Saturday, March 14, 2009

Prayer for Mercy

Holy Father
Allow us to be transformed into your mercy
And so be your living reflection.
May your mercy pass through our souls to our neighbors.
Help our eyes to be merciful
So we do not judge by appearances
But look for what is beautiful in our neighbor’s souls.
Help our ears to be merciful
So we give heed to our neighbor’s needs
Not being indifferent to their moanings.
Help our tongues to be merciful
So we never speak negatively of another
But have words of comfort for all.
Help our hands to be merciful
So that we do good to our neighbors
And take up ourselves the more difficult tasks.
Help our feet to be merciful
Overcoming our own weariness
Hurrying to assist our neighbors.
Help our hearts to be merciful
So we feel the sufferings of our neighbors
And refuse our hearts to no one.
May we be locked into the merciful heart of Jesus.

What You Give to The, Give It To Me

"Whatever you make me desire for my enemies, give it to them and give the same back to me. You who are the true light, lighten their darkness. You who are the whole truth, correct their errors. You who are the incarnate word, give life to their souls. Tender Lord Jesus, let me not be a stumbling block to them nor a rock of offense. I beg your mercy on my fellow slaves. Let them be reconciled with you and through you be reconciled to me."
-Anselm of Canterbury

Jesus' Pain and our Own

"Dear Lord, you suffered so much pain in order to save me and all mankind from sin. Yet I find it hard to bear even this little pain in my body. Lord, because of your great pain, have mercy on my little pain. And if you wish me simply to bear the pain, send me the patience and the courage that I lack."
-Margery Kempe

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Three Aspects of Purity

Purity is a necessary, but neglected, part of our spiritual lives. Jesus said that without purity we cannot see God. Without purity, no one can be in God’s presence or even be heard by God. The impure cannot abide in God’s presence, nor will their prayers be heard—except for a prayer requesting purity. The spirit world cannot accept any but the most pure, the most clean things. Any gifts to God must be pure, and this includes our words, our actions, our intentions and our very lives.
Today, purity is no longer considered a benefit. When we think of “purity” we think of chastity belts, frowning aged faces and strict people wearing black hats with a buckle on it. To be pure is to be fundamentalist, to be a disciplinarian, to be judging, and to probably be a hypocrite. Purity in ancient times used to be something desirable, but we have so many negative images associated with purity that even if we love God we probably don’t want to spend much time considering it.

It is time for purity to have a makeover. Not that we need to change what purity means in some Orwellian fashion, but that we need to forcefully steal purity back from the judging and hypocrites. To do this, we must first understand what purity is, what God intended it to be:

1. Pure focus on God
Because most people understand that God is forgiving and merciful, they put their relationship with God on a low gear, low intensity. Although they feel that their relationship with God could be improved in some vague way, they know that God will overlook their faults and just be glad that they think of him at all. However, God is not content with a casual relationship. God wants us to have a mind that is purely on Him and His desires. God doesn’t need casual friends, he has billions of those. God is looking for a faithful spouse, a best friend, a lifelong companion. God asks for people to be completely surrendered to Him and to His ways.

2. Pure actions of holiness
The only time we use “holy” it seems is in the phrase “holier than thou”. Holiness is either considered a divine prerogative or a fa├žade someone puts on to make themselves seem better than they really are. But God told his people to be holy, to be holy as He is holy. This doesn’t mean that God is wanting his people to look down their noses on others who are not holy. Rather, holiness is a gift that we receive from God to be a people that is distinctly divine, not a card to play to stomp on others. Holiness is simply having religious, sexual, relational, and even clothing differences that distinguish us from “normal” society. But holiness isn’t something we just make up—the holiness code is something given to us from God. God commanded his people to not insult each other, to be faithful to our spouses in action and mind, to follow God’s sexual ethics, to keep our promises, to not get drunk, to not worship images, to do our religious actions in private at times. To be pure is to follow God’s code of holiness, even if others do something different.

3. Pure intentions of love
Purity, however, is not just a matter of action and devotion but of intent. To be pure is not just in relation to God and his desires, but to others and their needs as well. To be pure, we need to be more than holy. Purity is also an act of love, an act of caring for those around us. Part of God’s holiness code is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If, in our holiness, we attack or condemn others then we have forsaken our holiness. Purity is keeping in mind the weaknesses and misunderstandings of those around us, swallowing our revulsion of their impurity and caring for them as best we can.

Three Is One
To be pure is not any one of these three, but the whole. If one loves God with all of his heart and does everything he can to live rightly, but displays anger and disdain to those around him, then he is not pure. If one loves everyone around them and she does so because of her love for God, but she rejects a part of God’s holiness code for herself, then she is not pure. If one decides to live among the Amish, for example, and truly cares for everyone and lives according to their community code as a good way of life, but has little true devotion for God, then he is not pure. Purity is living for God, living according to God’s ways and living in love—all three without exception. Without all three aspects of purity, one will not be welcomed into the presence of God.

Purity of heart
The most difficult part of purity, however, is our minds. We all know that purity is not just a matter of action, but a matter of the heart. Mind you, one’s actions must be pure in order to be pure, but if one’s heart is not pure, then no matter how many pure actions one does, purity is beyond our reach.

The relationship between intent and action is complicated. One can do some actions, especially in public, and not have the intent behind it. But, ultimately, all of our true intentions come out in our actions. And we are so good at deceiving ourselves, often we do not know our true intentions at all, for our actions deceived everyone, even ourselves. So, if we desire to be pure, how can we truly know that we have achieved purity?

There are certain actions that indicate our true intentions, beyond our conscious desires. Here are a few areas we can examine to see our true intention:

• Money—
What we do with our money is an often unexamined area of our lives. We think of money to meet our needs, but God’s purity requires us to use our money to build God’s kingdom, for holiness and in care for others. Are we using our money in purity or impurity?

• Eyes—
What we do with our eyes is a small action, almost unseen by most people. But what we look at often indicates what we are most interested in, and our interest can show our intention. What do we look at regularly that we may not notice?

• Careless words—
When we don’t mean to be saying anything, really, what do we say? Do we express hidden insults or impure desires? Do we indicate our separation of God? What do our careless words show about our true intentions?

• Secret actions—
We all have actions that no other human can see. If we think that these hidden actions are insignificant, we might not have a deep relationship with God. Or if our hidden actions are unholy or unloving and we do not repent of them, it is an indication that we are not pure, acceptable before God.

• Sacrifice—
Everyone has to make tough choices in our lives. Some things have to be sacrificed in certain contexts in order to accomplish the greater good. What we allow to be sacrificed and what we give our sacrifice for indicates the priorities in our lives. If we are to live before God, then we would never sacrifice our relationship to God, our holiness to live before God or our concern and help of others. What do we sacrifice and what do we retain?

Achieving purity
Purity may seem like an uphill battle. To a certain degree, it is. Purity is not easy, and much in our human nature screams against our participation in the spirit world. This is why our flesh and the Spirit are not in communion, but battle one another. But this does not mean that purity is impossible. Many people have achieved it and God longs to have relationship with people. To obtain purity, we must do five things:

1. Commitment—
We must make a lifelong commitment to God. This commitment is often done by being baptized in Jesus or committing oneself to him for one’s whole life. But unless we commit to something, we will never know what it really means or how to accomplish it. The first step to purity is to commit to it. We can pray like this: “Lord Jesus, I commit myself to you and to your ways. I want to be in relationship with God all of my life, without exception.”

2. Longing—
Not only do we commit to it, but we must desire it with our whole heart. If we just think that purity is a nice thing that we want to do sometimes, then we will never accomplish it. We must eat, drink, live and sleep purity. We must work on having it be a deep part of our lives.

3. Prayer—
We cannot accomplish purity on our own. It is humanly impossible. But God can make us pure before Him through his divine effort. To gain God’s help, we must ask. Pray this: “Father, I want to be pure before you, but I cannot do it on my own. Please help be to be pure through the power of your Spirit. Help me to desire that purity and live in it all the time.”

4. Struggle
There will be times when we do not want purity. We want to live according to desires that overwhelm us. At times, we may even seem possessed by sins that drive us to impurity. While we must depend on the Lord's strength, we must resist ourselves. At times, the resistance internally will be so difficult we will sweat and moan as if we were in a physical battle. But we must deny that which wants to overcome us. We must strive with all our might to live as the Lord's people.

5. Separation—
There are many things that are driving us to be impure. There are things that tempt us to go away from God, to be unholy to be apathetic to others. If something doesn’t effect you, it doesn’t matter. But if something drives you away from God, if someone causes hatred in you, then it is time to separate from that thing or person. Whatever makes us apathetic or lustful or separated from God, we need to have nothing to do with it.

6. Community—
There are people who know about purity and can live it out. These people love God, live righteously, but isn’t holier than thou, and they are deeply concerned about others. Hang out with these people, learn how they do what they do and try to be like them. These are the people who can teach purity because they learned it from God and others who are pure. Do you see people who meet the three criteria of purity? Then be with them, in this way you will achieve purity yourself.

Judgment, Cheap Grace, and Mercy

• Judgment is immediate.
It demands the quick decision and the sentence is as swift and demanding as a guillotine.

• Mercy is slow.
Mercy takes its time, deliberating, mulling over options. Mercy is often second-guessing itself, repenting of former decisions as repentance is made known.

• Cheap Grace is careless.
It cares not what the issues are, and is as swift in its decision of forgiveness as judgment is of condemnation.

• Judgment is simple.
Black and white, clear cut, no recourse, no compromise. Judgment sees all situations from a demanding, no fills position.

• Mercy seeks truth—no matter how messy.
It deliberates, considers, ponders, discusses—but not without a goal. Mercy plods, the tortoise who wins the race, slow and steady. Mercy understands that truth cannot be found in a headline, but in a feature article based on many interviews.

• Cheap Grace triumphs the ignorant.
There is no need for determinations, deliberations or decisions. The decision has already been made—freedom and blessing for all, no matter what the situation.

• Judgment focuses on the law as a principle.
“The law is a standard which once broken cannot be mended. It is the Humpty Dumpty of God. It is an ancient china doll, needing to be placed behind glass—protected, served, and loved from a distance.” But the law of judgment is cold, hard and sharp as a steel blade. Judgment claims to be for the good of society, but the only one who benefits is Judgment itself.

• Mercy loves the law as a benefit to others.
The law is to “love your neighbor,” thus mercy is the heart of the law. The law is to train us in mercy, to see the Other as the beneficiary of all of our actions. Mercy considers the well-being of all—even the law-breaker. Mercy’s law is comforting, light, for it always seeks the benefit of all.

• Cheap Grace discards the law.
“The law was a plaything of youth, but is to be set aside as unworthy of consideration. Grace has set aside all law, especially the law of Jesus, as unworthy of God.” Cheap Grace claims to speak for Mercy, but denies the heart of God.

• Judgment demands recompense.
Judgment seeks equity to the cost of the action of the law-breaker. “You broke it, you pay for it.” It seeks a balanced account book for which each debit has its equal and opposite credit—the coin of which is blood and dishonor.

• Mercy pursues reconciliation.
Mercy can lead to dishonor, should repentance be the flip side of that coin. Mercy pleads for restoration, constantly seeking an ingathering together for all the saints.

• Cheap Grace rejects cost.
Cheap Grace points to Calvary and claims that all had been accomplished there. Cheap Grace ignores the man who said, “All who would follow me must take up their own cross daily.” Cheap Grace demands no personal cost, no change, no death, no discipline, and so gains no gift, no new creation, no life, no restoration.

• Judgment has no escape.
Once judged, there is no exit. The sentence is irrevocable, the differences irreconcilable, the community ununitable.

• Mercy offers an out—repentance.
The one who has harmed another—and so has defied the law—has an opportunity to be brought back under the law. To repent, to reconcile is the extent that Mercy demands, and will seek any way to achieve that goal.

• Cheap Grace is unconditional forgiveness.
It is spiritual bloodletting—seeking to heal the patient, while ignorantly killing him. Cheap Grace sees no need to gather in, to restore, for there was no separation.

• Judgment demands payment from the lawbreaker.
As the law suffered, so must the criminal. As society was harmed, so must the harmer. Judgment claims the lost deserve nothing, and so gives nothing.

• Mercy sacrifices.
Restoration also has a price, and the merciful takes that price on oneself. Mercy pays whatever the cost so the sinner can be restored. Mercy groans in prayer, endures attacks, forgives debts against it, pays debts against others, sacrifices its comfort, its family, its friendships, its resources, its very life—all for the sake of the lost.

• Cheap Grace gleefully ignores cost.
It is the thief, stealing from God’s honor. Cheap Grace receives no payment, demands nothing, gives nothing, since there is no debt incurred. Cheap Grace celebrates at the foot of grace delivered, but ignores the call of grace transferred to others. Cheap Grace requires nothing and so gains nothing.

• Judgment never forgets.
It is the elephant of virtues. It never trusts, never believes, never forgives, never restores. Judgment says “Once a sinner, always a sinner.”

• Mercy gives the benefit of the doubt.
Mercy does not forget, but allows complete restoration, a rebuilding of trust. Mercy believes in new creation, a new life, which has nothing to do with the old.

• Cheap Grace always trusts, even the hypocrite.
It always believes, even the liar. It always forgives, even the unrepentant. It accepts everyone and everything—except God’s truth.

• Judgment is Satan.
Judgment is the accuser of the brethren, the murderer of humanity for the sake of a bloodless law. It is the prosecutor seeking the death penalty.

• Mercy is Jesus.
It is the self-sacrificer, the reconciler to God, the perfect sacrifice. Mercy is the one who said, “Go and sin no more,” “The one whom the Son sets free is free indeed,” “I have come to seek and save the lost,” “Unless you repent you will likewise perish,” “I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance,” “Be merciful as your Father is merciful.”

• Cheap Grace is the Flesh.
It is self-seeking, self-upholding, self-deceptive. Ultimately, it upholds what is abhorrent to God as the will of God. They practice sin and gives approval to those who practice it.

• Judgment is a liar.
It claims that God does not forgive, sees the sin and not the sinner. It denies the power of God to change the one in Jesus. It is lost, for it has forsaken the mercy of Jesus. Those in the power of Judgment will die by God’s hand—“Judge and you will be judged.”

• Cheap Grace is a liar.
It claims that God’s standard is flexible, and so non-existent. It loves the lost to such a degree that it cannot be separated from the lost. It causes the lost to remain lost, and so dead. Those in the power of Cheap Grace will die by God’s hand—“Whoever does not obey the Son will not see life.”

• Mercy is the truth of God.
It upholds the law, which is to love all. It demands love, even as it offers love. It demands forgiveness, even as it offers forgiveness. It demands sacrifice, even as it sacrifices. It demands purity, even as it offers purity. It demands devotion to God, even as it offers devotion to God. “Be imitators of God, and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”

Few Be The Lovers

What do we desire as Christians? We want the salvation of God, everything that God promised to give us and more. We want the blessing of Christ—healing, joy, satisfaction, eternal life, love of God, forgiveness. What fantastic things await for us! And we also seek the blessing of the flesh—family, acceptance, respect, riches, guilt-free pleasure. This is what we are promised by the church. And, frankly, it is what Jesus offers us as well. That is why we want to be Christians, why we seek God and go to church. To gain what the world may promise us, but will never give us without being damned.

We want cost-free, guilt-free, strings-free salvation. Jesus paid it all, so we have no charge, right? Of course, Jesus did die for our sins. He paid the ultimate price for us. But he never promised us a free ride. Jesus promises us the great life of God, but it is not without cost
• We cannot have forgiveness without painful separation from our sin. (Luke 24:47)
• We cannot have eternal life without suffering. (Luke 9:23-24;Acts 14:22)
• We cannot have a peaceful family without hating our earthly family and friends. (Matthew 12:48-50; Luke 14:26)
• We cannot have the pleasure of God without rejecting the pleasures of earth. (Luke 6:21, 25; Mark 8:36)
• We cannot have the respect of heaven without experiencing rejection from our loves. (Matthew 10:34-38)
• We cannot have acceptance by God unless we give up who we see ourselves to be. (Luke 14:26-27)
• We cannot gain healing unless we first experience suffering and humiliation. (Luke 4:18; Matthew 15:21-28)
• We cannot gain true satisfaction until we are sickened by the world we live in. (Mark 8:36)
• We cannot gain great riches from God until we first experience poverty. (Matthew 13:44-46; Luke 6:20)
• We cannot truly gain joy until we live with the utmost sorrow. (Matthew 5:4)

These seem paradoxical—how can one only gain peace and joy through it’s opposite? Yet it is no mystery, but based on three basic principles of life:

a. We learn what we need only by suffering want
If we didn’t suffer, we wouldn’t know we needed anything. If we never hungered, why would we eat? If we never desired companionship, why would we deal with conflict? Even so, if we never were sick, we would not seek healing. If we were never depressed, we would never seek joy. If we were never stressed or anxious, we would never seek peace. If we were never oppressed, then we wouldn’t seek release. If we didn’t die, we wouldn’t need resurrection.

b. We do not ask for a gift unless we feel its loss
If we give a child a toy they never wanted, they would throw it aside after a short time of playing with it. They don’t appreciate the cost of something, until they experience the loss. But if a child had and loved a toy and then lost it, then the child will cry until the toy is found again. Even so with salvation. If we have lost forgiveness and security and satisfaction, then we too will cry until we get it. And those who cry to God are those who receive.

c. We obtain God’s pity only by being pitiful
The rich and powerful, even the most compassionate, look only at the innocent who are helpless. The powerful and famous, the well-to-do and those who have everything “under control” do not stir the hearts of those who have it in their power to offer charity. Even so, God looks for the just who are weak and oppressed—the mourning and desperate—they are the ones whom God redeems and lifts up high. It is a matter of justice—those who suffer deserve joy, while those who already have joy gain nothing from God.

d. We prove faith through endurance
No one knows whether our faith be true or not unless it be tested. Everyone’s faith is strong in abundance and blessing—it can only be proven by testing and suffering. The one whose love endures through hardship—that is the one whose love is true.

So why do we seek only blessing? Jesus sought the curse in order to obtain the blessing. If the blessing only comes from difficulty and suffering, why do we seek only earthly joy and peace? It is because we do not seek the real Jesus. We have created a fantasy Jesus, a Jesus of our own imagining who promises us everything in this world and the next.

The truth is, many want the promises, but few want to gain the promises through the conditions Jesus offered. Many love the blessings, but few love the cross. The true followers of Jesus are those who take up the cross and follow him. The true lovers of Jesus are ready to follow him anywhere, wherever he leads. But few be the lovers of the cross. We need to love the real Jesus, not the Jesus of our fantasy.

If we are to gain salvation, we are to work hard and love that which Jesus told us to love:
• Benefiting others (Luke 10:25-37)
• Prayer (Luke 11:1-13)
• Commitment to God through Jesus (John 14:21)
• Giving to the poor (Luke 12:33)
• Rejecting the world’s ways of salvation (Matthew 6:1)
• Boldly proclaiming Jesus’ words and life (Matthew 10:32)
And we need to endure in all these acts of love and faithfulness through the crap the world gives us for faithfully seeking God. (Mark 13:13)

Who do we really love? Do we love the real Jesus, looking down on us, ready to endure with us if we are ready to pay the cost (Luke 14:28-30)? Or are we content with only a fantasy Jesus, an image of the true, who will give us what we want without having to endure anything? Let us not love the wealth of this age, the pleasures of the world, the satisfactions of our flesh. Let us be lovers of the cross.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it. For what is the profit, if one gains the whole world but loses his soul?

Be a lover of the cross.