Mercy

Christians, preach the mercy of God to yourself.

–From Pastor Daniel

Christ has received the punishment for our sin–there is no revenge on us.

–From my Sunday school teacher, Kevin

Have you ever been afraid you made one too many mistakes?

Missed one too many dental appointments?  Forgot one too many birthdays?  Flunked your New Year’s Resolution one too many years?  Botched one too many tests?  Failed a friend one too many times?  Lost your phone one too many times?  Told a lie one too many times?  Wrecked your car one too many times?  Gotten fired from a job one too many times?  Lost your way one too many times?  Gotten one dollar too many in debt?  Argued with someone you love one too many times?  Broke your promise one too many times?  Wasted the day one too many times?

Disappointed God one too many times?

Sometimes I live in fear that I just broke the last straw.  I broke the rule one time too many.  I missed the last chance.  I went too far.

Can I come back?  Have I ruined everything?  Do I still matter?  Do you still love me?

These are the questions of the insecure heart.

Sometimes we try to ask forgiveness like we are offering God lambs to be sacrificed on His altar.  We try to be sorry enough, pay it all back, make up for it, do something good enough to offset the bad.

We forget that the Lamb of God has already come.  There are no more lambs to offer.  The sacrifice is over.  The new life has begun.

To be a Christian is to receive the sacrifice of Christ.  The merit is all Christ.  The life after is learning to be like Him.

It would be something like if I flunked a chemistry test (which is very believable).  A student approaches me and offers to give me his A+ paper.  I receive his paper and receive his grade.  But he doesn’t just walk away.  He begins to coach me in chemistry.  But the whole time he coaches me, and the whole time I improve, I must still have his A+ paper to save me from flunking.  The test is already over.  I’ve already failed.  And I’ve taken his paper for my own.  None of that changes by my improvement.  (And besides, if at any point I was the one tested, I would still fail to make that A+.)

Christ is the only one who lives a perfect life on this earth.  He is the only one who can coach us towards holiness.  He’s earned the right.  But it is always only His sacrifice that brings us to Heaven.  One day, we will die to our flunked self, and the only thing left in us will be the perfect work of Christ Jesus.  That is what God will see in us.  But it is not this work He has done in us that brings us to Heaven.  It is the work He has done for us that brings us to Heaven.

That is mercy.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)

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Can God seriously expect people to be perfect in this world?

We all seriously expect that if someone wants to live in our city they must live to my standard of perfection.  That is, no murdering, at the very least.  And most of us probably don’t want vandalizing or stealing, either.

But if we can seriously expect that of each other, and yet you and I do not even own the city, what can the Creator of the world expect of its inhabitants?

In theory, the idea of allowing imperfection at first sounds very appealing to the imperfect (like me).  I used to like to watch sitcoms, reality shows, and movies about imperfect characters who through their imperfections achieved something ‘wonderful’.  But is this really real?  Does this really happen in any of our lives?  Are our lives wonderful because of our sin?  Mine certainly isn’t.  All sin has ever brought me is fleeting pleasure, followed by guilt, darkness, loneliness, and regret–and that’s what it’s brought me.  What about the pain, injustice, and trouble my sin have brought others?

God can be expected to not allow people controlled by the will to hurt other people into Heaven.  The bad news is, all of us grow up controlled by that very will.  The good news is, while God can seriously expect people to be perfect, in His grace He gives us a way to be perfect through Himself.  Jesus Christ came and died for our sin so that our will towards sin could be destroyed, and He rose as our High Priest to cover us forever in His nature.

Christ himself suffered for sins once. He was not guilty, but he suffered for those who are guilty to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18ab, NCV)

Why does God expect perfection? Part 2

Why Does God Expect Perfection?  Part Two

Now that we’ve established that everyone has a standard of perfection, the question has changed from, “Why does God expect perfection?” to, “Why does God expect the standard of perfection He does?”  The problem, then, has changed from disliking that God has a standard to disliking God’s specific standard.

There are two major problems people have with God’s standard:

  1. Why do we have to be 100% perfect to get into Heaven?

Examples of complaints:

  • “I think God is mean.”
  • “I don’t think God can’t seriously expect people to be perfect in this world we live in!”
  • “Mistakes are errors or miscalculations, not sin.”
  • “Mistakes are valuable, because we learn from them.  If they’ve valuable, they must be good.”
  • “I believe everybody makes mistakes.”
  • “I think God makes mistakes.”

2. What if I don’t like what God considers perfect?

Examples of complaints:

  • “I think God is a bully.  I wouldn’t want to follow Him.”
  • “I think God is too harsh.”
  • “I think God is unfair.”
  • “I think God is inconsistent.”

We will take a look at both of these dilemmas in future blogs.

Published in: on February 1, 2011 at 11:56 am  Comments (1)  
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What If I Don’t Like God’s Values

If I don’t like the idea that I have been created by and serve a holy God, I won’t like His values, and if I don’t like His values you won’t like God.  I would be in a cycle that only ends in Hell.

If I look first at my values, and then we look to God and expect the same values from Him, I will find myself on a quest towards trying to defame of God.

Why?

I can think of it this way.  Suppose I am taking a trigonometry class.  Let’s seriously hope not (yikes!), but suppose I am.  If I go into the class thinking I am the unmatched authority on trigonometry because I can draw a triangle somewhat nicely, I am in for a very frustrating experience.  What’s more, I will probably walk out of the class knowing as little as I did when I came in because I elevated myself to a position of “professor” when I should have labeled myself “student”.

I am your servant. Help me understand so that I may come to know your written instructions. (Psalm 119:125, GW)

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Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 6:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Is God mean?

Mean by whose standard?

If I say by my standards, or public standards, or popular standards, I am talking about human standards that change with public opinion and culture, and vary from person to person.  So in order for my complaint to work, I must set up my standard as being higher or better than God’s.  I can do this quite simply, if I can create Him. 

Say what?

I can set up my standards as better than God’s if I can move my position from the created to the Creator.  In other words, not only must I be able to create the entire universe by yourself (and no copycatting, I must remember, because that wouldn’t be original creation), but I also must be able to reverse the process of God creating me and I must create God.  Then my standard can be higher.

If I think this is unfair or ridiculous, consider what I would have to do to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in the U.S.  If the Supreme Court absolutely refuses to change its mind about a decision–compare this to God with His decision about what perfection is–the only way I could overturn the decision would be to become a higher authority.  That is, I would have to become more powerful, in some way or another, than the Supreme Court.

Even though I can’t become a higher authority than God, I can still have hope–and confidence–that I won’t be treated unfairly.  Not because I can conform God to my standard, but because God is, by His very nature, fair.  I can discover that nature by reading God’s Word.  In our culture there’s a lot of name-calling and slandering going on about God, but every ill word is proven wrong by an examination of the Bible, and most especially by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ written in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

God is no bully; He is not unfair.  He is not a perverse God, but rather a purifying God.  He proves His mercy by sending His Son down to us, not to shred us, but to save us.  Nowhere in the Old or New Testament is  God “mean” or “unfair”.  From the very beginning, He has been just and very merciful.  I can try to convince you with my own words, but the Truth is the Word of God can speak perfectly on God’s behalf in that matter without any help from me.

I will proclaim the name of the LORD; how glorious is our God!  He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair.  He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! (Deuteronomy 32:3-4, NLT)

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See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Why do I have to be 100% perfect to get into Heaven?

Is there a ‘Heaven exam’?  If so, why isn’t 70% a passing grade?  70% lets you move on in an algebra or philosophy class.  But God expects us to get an A+.   Why an A+? Why not a C-?

I’ve come to realize that the question of why we must have perfection to be with God is only confusing to imperfect people (like me).

Even if I take educational grading standards as ‘the way to determine qualification into Heaven’, the question becomes, whose educational standards standards?  Standards vary widely and are even subject to change.  For example, in some educational settings, you can be promoted with a 60%.   In some education fields, you can’t stay in the program unless you make at least an 80%.  For still other programs, you can’t even apply or be considered if you make less than a 90% or even a 95%.

Sometimes the acceptable percentage depends on other classmates.  For example, in one class, the highest grade may be an 80%, so an 80% becomes a 100% and a 60% becomes an 80%.  Or, in a competitive program, a 97% might knock you out of qualifying because someone else got a 99%.  On a spelling bee, you can miss words so long as all the contestants miss their words, too.

But is this about a standard of perfection or a ranking system?

In our culture we see shades, degrees, and combinations of right and wrong, rather than what is really there:

right

and

wrong.

There’s no surprise, then, that our culture (myself included before God opened my eyes) has difficulty understanding the chasm between right and wrong, Heaven and Hell.

We have difficulty distinguishing right and wrong in ‘circumstantial’ and ‘ambiguous’ (and especially hypothetical) situations.  Philosophy works hard to create extremely complex and convoluted scenarios in which right and wrong are not easily seen, when, truly, if you lived out those scenarios and you were perfect, you would know exactly what to do.  It is the very reason that we are not perfect that we have so much trouble sometimes telling right from wrong!

It’s easier in real-life examples to tell right from wrong, but easier doesn’t mean easy.  Still, even with all our confusion and mess, we still at least sometimes exalt people who give their lives to helping the poor, protecting the weak, and caring for the sick and we still at least sometimes condemn people who murder, abuse power, and mistreat the defenseless.

The more extreme the example, the more we tend to agree on right and wrong.  For example, while not everyone might agree that downloading music illegally is wrong, almost everyone would agree that killing a ten-year-old child is wrong[1].

While we may leave some or even most things to wallow in ‘moral ambiguity’, we don’t leave the things that really matter to us to such ‘interpretive’ paths.  When something matters to me personally, I seem to suddenly know just exactly what is right and wrong!

When we sin, we create a debt that is incurable unless cured by perfection, our original state as created beings.

The book of Romans warns us that we cannot get 100% on our own.  It also gives us promise that Christ has come and has fulfilled the Law for those who believe in Him.

There is no such thing as 40% perfect and you are 65% perfect.  There is either perfect or not perfect: 100% or 0%.

But why do we often accept less than 100%?  The reason why less than 100% is acceptable in programs is 1) we are imperfect and we know it and 2) the information is hopefully not life-or-death.

If I get a 70% on a philosophy test, the school counselor probably isn’t going to tell me I’m doomed to spend the rest of my life in failure.

But what if I’m studying to be a doctor and I have a test on only essential questions that I must know to perform a surgery correctly?  Would the people I’m going to one day practice on be all right if I got 91%?  Or even 99%?

There’s going to be no attitude of, “Try, try again.”

My sin drops me from 100% to 0%, on my ‘life exam’, because it destroys my relationship with God and makes it impossible for me to do good, something like if I cut off my arms and then tried to wiggle my fingers.

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”  Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”   The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”  Christ redeemed us from that curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”  He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:10-14, NIV)

Jesus Christ becomes our 100% when we trust Him.

So now, those who are in Christ Jesus are not judged guilty. (Romans 8:1, NCV)

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[1] I put an age on the child in this example because not everyone agrees that it is wrong if it was a ten-week-old child developing inside the womb.

Photo by Amboo Who?, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/amboo213/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Why does God expect perfection? Part 1

This goes something like, “God, I don’t expect the people around me to be perfect (and, may I say, how generous I am in that, because some of them are real lousy).  Why do You expect me to be perfect?” or, more simply, “Why do You expect perfection when we’re clearly in a world that doesn’t have it?”

Before we look at this question, though, I want us to look at the assumption I’m holding with this question: I do not expect perfection from those around us, and therefore God should not expect perfection from us.

Here’s one problem (though not the biggest[1]): I do expect perfection.  Just to a different standard.

But wait a minute.  How can I expect perfection to a different standard?  Isn’t perfection is always 100%?

I’m not talking about objective–that is, a perfect being’s–standard of perfection.  I’m talking about subjective–that is, an imperfect being’ (my)–standard of perfection.

My perfection is subjective, capricious, and usually somewhat secretive.  But all people, whether they believe in the Christian God or another god or even if they don’t believe in any god, have a standard of perfection.  It’s impossible not to.

Everyone has things they will accept and they will not accept, and if you fail to meet that standard of perfection, you (at the very least) fall out of that person’s favor.

Fallen human beings all have different standards, but we always have standards.  I’ve tried to pick a few that just about everybody has:

  • People should not call me derogatory names.
  • The waiter or waitress serving me should not spit in my food.
  • My friends should not punch or kick me.
  • My parents should not boss me around after I have grown up.
  • My children should not get drunk when they are preteens.
  • People should not drive slower than the speed limit and then speed up when I try to pass them.
  • People who take care of my children should not beat them up.
  • People should not scratch unpleasant words into my car.
  • When I am in the nearly eternal line at a department store on Black Friday holding a five-pound Blu-Ray system for five hours, a total stranger on a cell phone with a cart full of goods should not butt in front of me.

Even the most psychotic egomaniac has a standard of perfection (e.g., You should let me butt in front of you in the five-hour line).  Everybody has standards of some kind, even if they are the opposite standards of other people (e.g., I should be allowed to murder you–the serial killer’s viewpoint.)

Before I examine God’s standard of perfection, I need to get one thing straight: we all have standards of perfection.  Some of us are just sneaky about not admitting it.

They [those who don’t have God’s law] demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. (Romans 2:15, NLT)

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Follow-up: Why do I have to be 100% perfect to get to Heaven?

[1] The biggest problem is that tiny little speck-of-dust me should not be challenging Almighty God.  Reading any part of the Bible, I see how God is boss, and I am absolutely, positively not.  And that is a very good fact.

Photograph by Nic McPhee, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/nicmcphee/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Published in: on January 29, 2011 at 9:47 am  Comments (1)  
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