Results tagged “mercy” from Reformation21 Blog

Closely Connected Care

With each cultural crisis or natural disaster, our minds are freshly flooded with a litany of images and calls to come to the aid of our neighbors who have been the victims of an injustice or who have suffered loss. One of the downsides of living in a media-connected age is that we can't escape the constant barrage of information about all of the miseries of this life. Additionally, we have an overwhelming number of para-church ministries that, by virtue of the fact that they are specialty ministry organizations, often give the sense that their thing is the thing in which all should be invested. Many of us begin to feel undue guilt about not rising to the occasion, so to speak, when we become aware of all of the needs of those around us in the world. Surely, there must be guiding principles in Scripture that help us know when God expects us to help and when it is outside of our ability. Without wishing to fall into the ditch of undue guilt or the ditch of inactivity, here are three principles to keep in mind as we are daily confronted with global scale needs. 

1. The moral proximity principle. In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine articulated what has become known as "the moral proximity principle" when he wrote: 

"All men are to be loved equally. But since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you. For, suppose that you had a great deal of some commodity, and felt bound to give it away to somebody who had none, and that it could not be given to more than one person; if two persons presented themselves, neither of whom had either from need or relationship a greater claim upon you than the other, you could do nothing fairer than choose by lot to which you would give what could not be given to both. Just so among men: since you cannot consult for the good of them all, you must take the matter as decided for you by a sort of lot, according as each man happens for the time being to be more closely connected with you."

In short, Augustine suggested that we have a greater responsibility to assist those who live more closely related to us by time, place or circumstance. You have a heightened sense of responsibility to come to the aid of those who are "more closely connected with you." This means that we must start with our own family members (1 Tim. 5:8), neighbors (Luke 10:25-37) and residents of the community in which we live. The proximity we have to those with whom we are most closely connected determines the moral responsibility we have to assist others. As Paul Tripp notes, "A man...needs a clear sense of what God calls him to do as a husband, father, neighbor, relative, son, worker, and member of the body of Christ."

2. The ecclesiastical priority principle. "The moral proximity principle" paves the way for the priority that we should place on caring for the members of the body of Christ--those in the local church in which we worship, first of all, and then, Christians in the wider church. This is clearly articulated in Scripture when the Apostle Paul wrote, "As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10). A believer is to have a desire/commitment to assist those in the household of faith. Since we have limited time, energy and resources, we are to first and foremost focus our attention on how we can spend these talents in coming to the aid of our brethren. When there is a hurricane, we should think about the needs of the saints in the churches with whom we have ecclesiastical affiliations prior to thinking about other churches/community needs. We often begin to feel undue guilty as we are bombarded with calls to give to charities/networks. Instead, pastors should help guide their congregations with well researched and tangible ways that members of one congregation can assist members of another. This principle was exemplified by the Apostle Paul who took assistance form the Macedonian and Corinthian churches to the impoverished church in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:1-3; 1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 9:5). 

3. The collective provision principle. As believers seek to care for those who, within their moral proximity and ecclesiastical priority, have needs, it is important for us to remember that we can do a great deal more if churches work together to care for the needs of others. One of the great tragedies of the church in America is that there is often a pernicious territorialism that hinders a more widespread caring for others and co-laboring for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Each of our churches belong to Christ. Believers are members of one another on account of our union with Christ. Pastors should labor to create partnerships with one another so that collective care occurs in the hour of needs. This principle applies to supporting missionaries and should also help govern our efforts at local mercy and outreach. 

While seeking to act on these principles certainly helps us narrow our focus, unburden our consciences from unnecessary guilt and walk in the good works for which Christ has redeemed us, a great deal of wisdom is needed in pressing forward. Additionally, caring for others costs time, energy and resources. Yet, as we remember that Christ poured out his soul and offered His body for us in order to care for the deepest needs of our soul, we too should be motivated to seek to assist those in need. 

Nothing Like It in All the World

Recently, in my Bible reading, I came to the book of Jonah (I've been working through the Minor Prophets). It struck me how remarkable this message is compared to everything else in the ancient world. Homer was a contemporary of Jonah (mid 8th century b.c.), and his epic books of the early Grecian world fascinate readers today with themes of war and peace, honor and disgrace, love and hatred. A few decades later, Hesiod would put down the definitive version of Greek mythology, starting with the god Chaos and ending up with the petty, self-absorbed deities of the pantheon. In such radical contrast, Jonah tells of the prophet's frustration with God amidst the terrors of the Assyrian threat to Israel. What is Jonah's complaint? That God has grace for the wicked. The Lord sends his prophet to preach judgment to the capital of the enemy nation. But Jonah knows the Lord intends mercy through repentance and faith. The final chapter of Jonah explores the pathos of a holy man who struggles to embrace the surpassing grace of a God who forgives the ungodly out of his own wellspring of love. As literature, where will you find something to rival this message, which is also the sacred revelation of the true and living God?

I wonder as we read our Bibles, returning to long-familiar books like Jonah, if we realize that we are encountering a message that is like nothing else in all the world. Where else will you discover that your own sin is the great problem of your life - not the sins of others and the petty squabbles about which you obsess - and that a God of love is working in you to surrender to his grace. Where else in all the world will you discover a message that tells you to rest in the mercy of God and spread his gospel of hope to all the world? The answer is that there is nothing like the Word of God in all the world. As Micah marveled right around the time that Hesiod was conjuring up tales of Zeus and his cronies: "Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing mercy" (Mic. 7:18). There is no God like our God. There is nothing in all the world so marvelous and true as his gospel of grace.

The Gentleness and Fierceness of Christ

Isaiah's first Servant Song (Is.42:1-4) pictures a Servant who is gentle, patient, unthreatening and tender hearted. It is a magnificent portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect Servant of the Lord. It is remarkable that in his recorded public ministry, on only one occasion did Jesus draw attention to his personal character: "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am gentle and lowly of heart" (Matt.11:28-30). There are few more heart-warming and encouraging words in the Bible. This is God the Son, in the frailty of our flesh, holding out himself to weary, broken and burdened sinners, calling them to come to him and be made whole in his merciful, gentle and kind embrace.

But there is another "side" to the Lord Jesus Christ. Commenting on Ps.110:6, "He (i.e. God's Messiah King) will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter Chiefs over the wide earth," John Calvin wrote: 

"Should any one be disposed to ask, Where then is that spirit of meekness and gentleness with which the Scripture elsewhere informs us he shall be endued? Is. 42:2-3; 61:1-2; I answer, that, as a shepherd is gentle towards his flock, but fierce and formidable towards wolves and thieves; in like manner, Christ is kind and gentle towards those who commit themselves to his care, while they who wilfully and obstinately reject his yoke, shall feel with what awful and terrible power he is armed. In Ps 2:9, we saw that he had in his hand an iron scepter, by which he will beat down all the obduracy of his enemies; and, accordingly, he is here said to assume the aspect of cruelty, with the view of taking vengeance upon them. Wherefore it becomes us carefully to refrain from provoking his wrath against us by a stiff-necked and rebellious spirit, when he is tenderly and sweetly inviting us to come to him."

Over the past centuries, men and women who should know better (and who do know better but "hold down the truth in unrighteousness," Rom.1:18), have constructed an amenable Jesus, a non-threatening Jesus, a Jesus who is the mirror image of their hopes and desires. This "make believe" Jesus is always affirming but never condemning. He is ready, of course, to speak out against sins, but not the sins that are imbedded in the hopes and desires of God denying, commandment despising, gospel rejecting men and women. This Jesus is a fiction. He is little more than a "cut and paste" Jesus, a Jesus emasculated of his passion for God's glory and his whole souled commitment to God's law (Matt. 5:17-20).

It should not surprise us that the NT tells us, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb.10:31). Jesus himself warned his hearers not to fear those "who can kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do." Rather, they should "fear him (that is, God) who after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell." To reinforce his admonition, Jesus said, "Yes, I tell you, fear him!" (Lk.12:4-5).

There is a wonderful incident in the Gospels that brings together Jesus' gentleness and fierceness. In Jn.8:1-11, we have recorded for us Jesus' encounter with the woman caught in the act of adultery. Her accusers brought her to Jesus to discover what he would say and do. Jesus' response stunned the woman's accusers, they melted away ashamed, and she was left alone with Jesus. Augustine captured the moment brilliantly when he wrote, "There remained but two, mercy and misery" (Relicti sunt duo, misera et miserecordia). It is in the Lord's final words to the woman that we hear his gentleness and fierceness: "neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more" (Jn.8:11). He freely and fully and mercifully pardons the woman. But he leaves her with a 'sting in the tail', "go, and sin no more." This woman was being embraced in the loving, gentle mercy of the Saviour, but she was also being warned to sin no more; to show her new life in a new lifestyle. Imbedded in Jesus' command was a scarcely veiled warning: "God takes sin seriously. Be warned."

All this is simply to say, make sure the Jesus you follow and confess is the Jesus of Holy Scripture. The full orbed Jesus. The Jesus who is both gentle and threatening. Not a Jesus who allows you to live any which way you choose.

Free grace

Preparing to preach tomorrow, I came across these stirring words in a suprising place:
1. All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that "formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul," and stamped on that soul the image of God, and "put all things under his feet." The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God's hand. "All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us." These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

2. Wherewithal then shall a sinful man atone for any the least of his sins? With his own works? No. Were they ever so many or holy, they are not his own, but God's. But indeed they are all unholy and sinful themselves, so that every one of them needs a fresh atonement. Only corrupt fruit grows on a corrupt tree. And his heart is altogether corrupt and abominable; being "come short of the glory of God," the glorious righteousness at first impressed on his soul, after the image of his great Creator. Therefore, having nothing, neither righteousness nor works, to plead, his mouth is utterly stopped before God.

3. If then sinful men find favour with God, it is "grace upon grace!" If God vouchsafe still to pour fresh blessings upon us, yea, the greatest of all blessings, salvation; what can we say to these things, but, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!" And thus it is herein "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died" to save us "By grace" then "are ye saved through faith." Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation.
There will be no prizes for guessing, and unimaginable shame for cheating, but I wonder how many of us might quickly guess the source?

Not Just a Soup Kitchen by David Apple

Today, so many churches are comfortable following the practice of previous generations that didn't involve themselves in ministries of mercy. Many today are fearful of thinking "outside of the box" and lack vision and biblical direction. In 1983, one small group at Tenth Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia challenged that same attitude and subsequently many others caught the vision. Wanting to feed the hungry, they asked the question, "How can our ministry be different from a soup kitchen?" Because of their actions, lives have been transformed and captives have been set free--both those outside the church and those in the pews. What would your church look like if you did the same? 

I came to salvation in Christ as a college freshman. This was through the mercy ministry of a Paterson, New Jersey inner-city church plant. Their leaders and members were passionate in their outreach to sinners like me. 

Today, I don't see the same zeal in church, whether urban or suburban. Whenever I consult with church leaders on diaconal and mercy ministry I hear reports of deacons and churches not being equipped for the word and deed ministry to which they are assigned. The questions I receive from them are always the same: "What do I do in this situation? How much do I give and when do I stop? How do I deal with difficult people? How do I avoid burn out? How do I partner evangelism and mercy?" And more.  Not Just a Soup Kitchen: How Mercy Ministry Transforms us All (publication date, September 9) is written to answer these and other questions. This work is the product of fifteen years' personal diaconal experience, over twenty-five years directing Tenth Presbyterian Church's Mercy Ministry, and my life's story.

Throughout the pages of Not Just a Soup Kitchen you will learn about how people serve and what initially stirs up a person's heart for ministry. I hope you will be encouraged by their confidence for serving in areas that most Christians refuse to go. I hope, also, that you will be encouraged by a user-friendly framework for diaconal ministry and answers to several of the frequently asked questions on mercy and diaconal ministry I've received. Finally, I've included other resources that will benefit your ministry and your walk with the Lord.

Not Just a Soup Kitchen is for churches that are desperately seeking answers on how to do diaconal ministry effectively. It is also for anyone who works with people ordinarily stigmatized and not welcomed in churches. The book deals with the fears many have of coming alongside those in need, and chronicles stories about homeless and addicted men and women, nursing home residents, prison inmates, and others, while providing a user-friendly guide to establishing relationships.

Church leaders, officers, and seminarians I've spoken to are hungry for this information.  Not Just a Soup Kitchen is in response to their needs. 

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has several copies of this book as a free gift. If you are interested, please sign up here.

Also, the Reformation Society of Indiana is hosting Dr. Apple for a free conference on October 31 and November 1, 2014. You can download the brochure here.

David Apple, in his many years of experience, has had two philosophies of ministry: 1) There is no mercy without the Gospel--we must provide an alternative to what the world offers; 2) Don't work harder than the people coming for help--encourage independence, not dependence. These philosophies are seen plainly in his work with poor and homeless persons, drug addicts, incarcerated adults and youth, nursing home residents, separated and divorced men and women, and others.

Winners of Anthony Selvaggio book, "From Bondage to Liberty" - thanks to P&R Publishing!
Jason Y, Boise ID
Shawn M, Newberg OR
Jonathan T, Glen Rose TX
Terry G, Portage IN
Glenn D, Helena AL
Buddy H, Tuscaloosa AL
Morris B, Byron Center MI
Carey H, E Hampton CT

"Let the praises of God's mercy"

8 7. 8 7. D (Dim Ond Iesu)
Let the praises of God's mercy
My poor heart and tongue employ;
Let each thought of grace and justice
Fill this soul with boundless joy.
Let me think on Christ my Saviour,
Let me dwell on his great love;
Let me serve with all my being
Till I see his face above.

Having known such great forgiveness,
And deliverance from sin's sway,
May the Spirit always teach me
To each truthful word obey.
Oh forgive me for transgression;
Grant me grace to do your will;
Keep my soul and flesh from sinning,
Every part with goodness fill.

Fill my mind with truth unchanging,
And my heart with holy fire;
Give me strength to work with gladness,
And with praise my lips inspire.
Let the Saviour be my pattern,
God the Spirit be my light;
God the Father, my protector;
And God's service my delight.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.