Holy Thursday. Lord Have Mercy.

The Latin phrase Kyrie Eleison is translated to “Lord have mercy” in English. The power and need for this prayer from the church has become more valuable and more needed than ever. When we are at our weakest, we are most aware of our need for mercy. In America, we have deified love. We say that God is love, and that is true, but how we mean it is not. I think describing God’s love in terms of his mercy is a much better way to go.

Love for us holds a romantic notion in the Rick Astley sense we want a God who will never do anything to us that we don’t like.

Never gonna let you down

Never gonna run around and desert you

Never gonna make you cry

Never gonna say goodbye

Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

Rick Astley

When we think of God in terms of how we desire or experience love. We fail to understand the justice, the holiness of God that is seen in his love for us experienced in mercy. I love Ephesians 2. In it, Paul describes us and our sin that we are dead in our sins, following the prince of the power of the air. In his description of us, he says we are both guilty and lost. He then pivots and describes who God is. God is rich in mercy.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace, you have been saved— 

Ephesians 2:4-5

Mercy presupposes guilt and salvation. Love presupposes our experience with love. What we want is love. What we need is mercy. God comes to us in mercy. But again, we misunderstand what mercy looks like. Two of the greatest authors of the 21st century didn’t. Tolkien and Lewis both understood God’s mercy. In a moving blog post at Desiring God, the author describes Tolkien’s understanding of mercy.

“In October of 1958, Tolkien wrote a letter to a Miss Beare, an inquiring reader who had a host of peculiar and specific questions about “The Lord of the Rings.” In a follow-up letter (actually just a draft of a letter that was never sent), Tolkien pens the paragraph that so deeply impacting. Writing about the immortality of Elves and mortality of Men (a mortality the Elves coveted), Tolkien says,

A divine “punishment” is also a divine “gift,” if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing, and the supreme inventiveness of the Creator will make “punishments” (that is, changes of design) produce a good not otherwise to be attained. (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 286)

Therefore, a man who is subject to death and suffering and loss (like Tolkien and each of us) is to be envied for the precious good we receive because of the “punishments” we receive (the consequences of sin, the awful “changes” to the original design brought about by the fall). Tolkien goes on to say, “A ‘mortal’ man has probably (an Elf would say) a higher if unrevealed destiny than a longeval one” — that is, than an Elf who never dies.

The loss of a father, or mother, or brother, or child, then, as much as we would never want it, or ask for it, can be a gift, if accepted, says Tolkien because it can bring about a greater good, an ultimate blessing we would not have enjoyed without having to feel the pain and heartache.”

Mercy is the love of God acting in concert with his justice. Mercy is the love of God in concert with the other attributes of God. When we ask God for mercy, we are asking him to intervene in our world and in our lives, but we are also asking him to transform our hearts to see punishments as gifts.

Tolkien’s college C.S. Lewis shared his friend’s understanding of mercy. One of Lewis’ friends wrote to Lewis about the passing of his wife. Lewis’s response was one that had been marked by his own particular need for God’s mercy.

One way or another, the thing had to die. Perpetual spring-time is not allowed. You were not cutting the wood of life according to the grain. There are various possible ways in what it could have died tho’ both the parties went on living. You have been treated with a severe mercy. You have been brought to see (how true & how v(ery) frequent this is!) that you were jealous of God.

Vanauken, Sheldon. A Severe Mercy (p. 210). HarperOne. Kindle Edition. 

Lewis reminded him of the reality of death and the mercy of God, even when that mercy was severe. Lewis was telling his friend that every relationship must come to an end. There are many ways in which that end could have come, but Lewis reminded his friend Sheldon of the mercy of God towards him. That even though his wife was taken, God had not left him. In fact, Sheldon came to saving faith through the death of his wife. His loss was a severe mercy.

What we want is love what we need is mercy.

Grace Active

The Valley of Vision is a collected work of Puritan prayers. I read it daily as part of my personal devotional time. I have found it to be challenging, life-giving and encouraging. It has changed the content and goal of my prayers. Puritans prayed different prayers than I pray.

Today I felt overwhelmed by the cares of life the pain of so many in our church we have been praying for. It has been a particularly challenging season for our church. Today I was reminded about God’s superabundant grace. I pray that you too will be encouraged and strengthened in a season that is filled with stress and sorrows.

Grace Active

Lord Jesus, Great High Priest
Thou has opened a new and living way
by which a fallen creature can approach thee
with acceptance

Help me contemplate
The dignity of thy Person,
the perfectness of thy sacrifice,
the effectiveness of thy intercession.

O what blessedness accompanies devotion,
when under all the trials that weary me,
the cares that corrode me,
the fears that disturb me,
the infirmities that oppress me,

I can come to thee in my need
and feel peace beyond understanding!
The grace that restores is necessary to preserve,
lead, guard, supply, help me.

And here thy saints encourage my hope;
they were once poor and are now rich,
bound and are now free,
tried and now are victorious.

Every new duty calls for more grace than
I now possess,
but not more than is found in thee,
tried and now are victorious.

Every new duty calls for more grace than
I now possess,
but not more than is found in thee,
the divine Treasury in whom all fullness dwells.
To thee, I repair for grace upon grace,
until every void made by sin be replenished
and I am filled with all thy fullness.

May my desires be enlarged and my hopes
emboldened,
that I may honor thee by my entire
dependency
and the greatness of my expectation.

Do thou be with me, and prepare me for all
the smiles of prosperity, the frowns of adversity,
the losses of substance, the death of friends,
the days of darkness, the changes of life,
and the last great change of all.

May I find thy grace sufficient
for all my needs.

Gospel At Center Post: New Year’s Resolutions

The God who sticks to us.

Here is an excerpt from my newest post on New Year’s Resolutions over at Gospel at Center:

New Year’s resolutions are the annual reminder that we are really bad at sticking to things. Yet in another sense, they are grace, God’s tender mercy revealing to us his long-suffering nature that though we are fickle he is faithful. We are able to stick to him only because he sticks to us.

Read the full article here

What we can learn from Mark Driscoll and Acts 29

mark-driscoll-r12

There has been a lot of buzz around the internet about the removing of Mars Hill and its founding pastor Mark Driscoll from the church network he helped to create Acts 29. There are ideas, theories flying and everyone it seems is picking a side and digging in for virtual battle.

I won’t go into the details of the situation because that is covered in detail by other posts. Basically the Acts 29 Board felt sufficient cause for concern for Mark Driscoll, his church and the Acts29 that they have chosen to remove Mark and his church from any affiliation with the Acts 29 network.

This is a pretty significant step. You don’t typically see this type of action in many churches or church organizations particularly by an organization towards its co-founder. Mark Driscoll is a very polarizing person he says things strongly and clearly. I don’t know Mark but I do know that isn’t necessary a bad thing. We need leaders, particularly as orthodox viewpoints of theology are under assault from every side, to stand up and speak boldly. I do know a couple of people who have worked for him and none of them have ever said anything disparaging concerning his behavior.

The gospel and our feelings

Americans love the New Testament Jesus. I have read many blog posts over the past few weeks that talk about feelings, that paint Jesus as this hippie that talks about love all the time, unlike his grumpy dad who kills everyone in the Old Testament. The Old Man is harsh and Jesus is squishy and awesome. It just feels right. The problem with so many Christians is our reaction to legalistic judgmentalism isn’t to turn to Christ, who is both Just and Justifer instead we end up falling on the other side of the horse to squishy liberal theology of feelings.