Mornings at the Mission: The Patient Compassion of God

Each morning I offer a short devotion to the men under my care in the dorm. This is the spot where I share them with you, and keep a record of them for myself on the off chance I ever need them again.

 

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The Lord works vindication
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far he removes our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion for his children,
    so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
14 For he knows how we were made;
    he remembers that we are dust.
(Psalm 103:6-14)
Have you every read Romans 7? In it Paul wrestles with himself… it seems like no matter how hard he tries he always caves in, doing the evil he does not want to do, and failing to do the good he does want to do. I wonder if you’ve ever felt like that? Like there is this one thing that keeps you locked up in the darkness and there’s no way out; like no matter how hard you try you can’t seem to rule your temper, control your addiction, say no to just one more drink… you feel like a failure with no way out. And if there is a God–which seems pretty far-fetched to you at the moment–surely he’s pissed and wants nothing to do with you. Surely he’s rolling his eyes in disgust… “there he goes again,” you can almost hear him saying, “giving in to the same old sin. What a mess.”

 

If that’s how you feel today, I have some good news for you. God is not disgusted with you. The Bible tells us that he “works for vindication and justice for all who are oppressed,” and that he “is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” It also tells us that he is patient and compassionate towards us, and–perhaps my favorite phrase in this Psalm–that he “remembers that we are dust.” God knows how frail we are. He knows that our flesh is strong, and that we don’t have the strength to overcome our vices on our own. That’s the beauty of the gospel: Even though God had every right just to abandon us to our self-destruction, he chose to intervene. He sent his Son to deal with our sin, paying the restitution perfect justice demanded, and securing the redemption of all who would believe–those whom he had set his love upon from eternity past. Now “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), for as the Psalmist writes: “as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;” and “as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12).

 

Here’s some more good news: Redemption doesn’t stop with Justification. Once we have received Christ by faith our debt to God’s justice has been paid in full, but God isn’t done with us yet. He wants to see us transformed, he wants us to experience the wholeness–the shalom–he intended for creation before the fall happened back in Genesis 3. And so his Spirit works patiently within us, dealing with areas of woundedness in our hearts, applying his word as a healing balm, leading us into newness of life that we might more perfectly reflect the image of the God whose glory we were designed to magnify in harmony with all of creation.

 

If you belong to Jesus Christ through faith, you are eternally accepted by God, and no amount of failure can change that. He knows our frailty, and delights to demonstrate patience and compassion towards us, as he works within us to bring about a glorious restoration.

Mornings at the Mission: Yearning for Home

Each morning I offer a short devotion to the men under my care in the dorm. This is the spot where I share them with you, and keep a record of them for myself on the off chance I ever need them again.

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By the waters of Babylon,
    there we sat down and wept,
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
    required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord‘s song
    in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy!

(Psalm 137:1-6)

This powerful Psalm was written while the people of God were exiled in the nation of Babylon.  This was the judgement God had promised his people would come to pass if they refused to repent. Israel had ignored the warnings of the prophets, and so here they were. Their homes had been burned to the ground, their families separated, anything of value they owned had been taken. They were foreign captives in a strange land with no rights, and no hope that they could see of ever going home and rebuilding their lives.

Perhaps your feeling similarly hopeless right now, like everything has come crashing down around you. You’ve been living in “exile” for so long that you’ve given up all home of restoration.

Interestingly, the Bible says that all of us are in exile, followers of Christ even more so than others. The fact is that none of us belong in a fallen, broken, corrupt world. We were made to have a perfect relationship with God, one another, and the good world God had made. Sin has distorted all that, and we can barely live in harmony within ourselves, never mind with God or one another. We were made for wholeness, but we live in brokenness. We live in exile and we long for home.

Some of us go looking for wholeness in the wrong places, trying to get a taste of the Eden we lost. We look to relationships, food, money, alcohol… desperately grasping for the life we were made for. The reality is, though, that these things cannot truly get us home. They can only temporarily distract us. And though they promise hope, in the end they can only offer us more destruction. We have forgotten the songs of Jerusalem; we now sing only songs of the Fall.

Perhaps it is time we remember Jerusalem. Perhaps it is time we admit to ourselves and to God that the longing in our heart is for our heavenly home, and it is only there we can find the wholeness we crave… the Bible calls this shalom. The good news is that Jesus came to bring us home, to lead us back from exile, out of our bondage to sin and corruption and into a new life in His Kingdom (Colossians 1:13). It is Him that we long for, He is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). His body was split asunder like the red sea in the book of Exodus, that we might pass through his blood and be cleansed, washed, made new, made whole.

True, we only get glimpses of our true home in this life. If we are to make it to the new Jerusalem we must first follow Jesus through the scorched desert of this present age. That means we must first suffer before we find release; we must first die to our old way of life before we can truly live. But we have the sure hope that one day we will make it there. Sure as Christ rose from the dead, sure as the Scriptures are true; we are promise that “He who has begun a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of redemption” (Philippians 1:6). He will come back for His Children; He will make all things right.

Mornings at the Mission: Psalms of Ascent

Each morning I offer a short devotion to the men under my care in the dorm. This is the spot where I share them with you, and keep a record of them for myself on the off chance I ever need them again.

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Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
    O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    that you may be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
    from all his iniquities.

(Psalm 130)

Three times a year, the people of God were required to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As they went, they would sing Psalms such as this one. Since Jerusalem was situated on a hill, regardless of where you were traveling from, you would always go “up” to Jerusalem, thus Psalms sung as pilgrims ascended to the holy city were given the name “Psalms of ascent.” Their purpose was to help pilgrims prepare their hearts for worship.

This particular psalm traces a movement in the singer’s heart that begins with despair over sin, moves to joy in the mercy of God, and then blossoms into genuine longing for communion with God.  Verse 3 is worth considerable meditation: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” As the Psalmist approaches to worship, he is reminded of God’s holiness… if He gave us what we deserved (justice) we would be completely undone! But instead (in Christ) he lavishes His mercy upon us, even going so far as to adopt those whom He draws to himself into His family (John 6:44, 1:12). We closed with an exhortation: Just as the psalmist recognized that his only hope to stand in the presence of a holy God was to throw himself upon Yahweh’s mercy, so we too must recognize that our only hope in life and in death lies in the mercy of God shown to us in Christ. For those of us who belong to Christ we rejoice in his mercy, that “with the LORD is unfailing love. His redemption overflows” (Ps 130:7, NLT)!

Friend in Christ, be confident that His grace is fully sufficient to cover all of your iniquities, heal all of your wounds, and instill in you enduring peace and joy. The blood is applied; Christ is enough.

Mornings at the Mission: The Lost Language of Lament

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I had a rough night last night, so as I often do when my spirit is troubled, I turned to the Psalms. What a privilege it is, to have to rich and vibrant a collection of inspired prayers and songs, passed down to us without error or corruption from our forbearers in the faith! In the Psalms we find moving confessions of faith, eloquent expressions of praise, exuberant songs of thanksgiving, and gut-wrenching prayers of penitence and lament. It is one of the latter I stumbled across this evening; Psalm 77.

I cried unto God with my voice,
even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me.

In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord:
my sore ran in the night, and ceased not:
my soul refused to be comforted.

I remembered God, and was troubled:
I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah.

Thou holdest mine eyes waking:
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

Will the Lord cast off for ever?
and will he be favourable no more?

Is his mercy clean gone for ever?
doth his promise fail for evermore?

Hath God forgotten to be gracious?
hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.

10 And I said, This is my infirmity:
but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.

11 I will remember the works of the Lord:
surely I will remember thy wonders of old.

12 I will meditate also of all thy work,
and talk of thy doings.

14 Thou art the God that doest wonders:
thou hast declared thy strength among the people.

(Psalm 77:1-4, 7-12, 14)

Lament is a lost language in today’s culture; we simply do not do it well. You’d think we would; after all, we daily see agonizing visions of sin and suffering… starving children, murdered loved ones, loathsome disease, rampant crime, corruption at all levels of government… there is much to lament in the 21st century. And yet we are also a culture that is so obsessed with convenience and expediency that it absolutely refuses to mourn. Even after the most tragic of losses, we are more likely to hear the encouragement to  “Move on with your life, just sitting in it like this isn’t going to bring her back,” than “You can’t rush grief, this won’t go away overnight; take all the time you need.”

In a world where there is so much to mourn, we would do well to learn how to truly grieve once again. The Psalms invite us to do just that; the words of the biblical writers resonating with the deep places of woundedness inside of us. The Psalmists teach us who to pray with honesty, directing us to express our hearts to God with reverence, without compromising the depth or intensity of our emotion. The Psalms also lend validation to our experiences, assuring us that we are not alone in our suffering; when it seems as though God is absent or unconcerned, we can cry out to Him with these venerable words, taking comfort from the fact that the path we walk is a well worn one; one that ultimately leads to healing. For in the Psalms, we at once receive the promise that God hears and answers our prayers (John 14:13), and the promise that His word will accomplish that which He sends it forth to do (Isaiah 55:10-11).

Beyond being a primer in the lost language of lament, the Psalter also imparts another gift; it teaches us what it looks like to have joy, even in the midst of suffering. When the Psalmist cries out to God in his agony, he is not simply wallowing in his pain. Rather we consistently see the Spirit of God lead him from his present pain, to a remembrance of God’s past faithfulness, particularly in works of redemption. How much more so should we who belong to Christ, as those who have found not just redemption from temporal circumstances, but a sure and eternal salivation from the wrath of God which is our just due, sing the praises of so sweet a Savior; One who is willing not only to rescue us, but in doing so to enter into our suffering, even as He invites us into His rest (Matthew 11:28-30).

Mornings at the Mission: The Power of God and the Heavenly City

Each morning I offer a short devotion to the men under my care in the dorm. This is the spot where I share them with you, and keep a record of them for myself on the off chance I ever need them again.

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There is a passage in 1st Peter I find myself captivated by: 1 Peter 1:3-9.  Particularly stirring for me is this phrase in verse 5: “[You] are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). Allow me to set the stage for us; perhaps you’ll see why I find this thought so compelling.

Most of the letters—epistles—we find in Scripture were written to one particular church. This letter, however, was not. The Apostle Peter (yes, the same Peter who continually stuck his foot in his mouth throughout the gospel narratives) wrote this letter not to any one church, but to various churches and believers scattered throughout the Roman empire. These believers lived as exiles, a persecuted minority in a pagan society whose ruler was famous for using Christians as human torches to light his dinner parties. Many of the believers who heard Peter’s letter were probably beginning to ask some hard questions. Was being a Christian really worth it? Wouldn’t be better just to go back to being a pagan or a Jew? At least then they wouldn’t be living in fear for their lives! Even if they weren’t questioning their faith, they may well have been questioning themselves. With the possibility of martyrdom looming large in their minds, many may have wondered wether they were really strong enough to stand up under the weight of persecution without being utterly crushed. Maybe you’re asking some similar questions today

To both these groups of people, as well as to you and I, Peter offers a gracious answer pointing us away from ourselves to the finished work of Christ, who bore the full weight of God’s wrath against his rebellious people at the cross. Peter reminds us of two precious realities: The power of God, and the heavenly city

First, the power of God. The fact is that we are frail beings. Our natures are weak and corrupt; wether we face affliction or simply wrestle against our flesh, we are more likely to cave in then to stand firm. Thanks be to God that he does not abandon His children to face trials and temptations alone! If you belong to Christ, He who created faith within you will be faithful to sustain that faith, regardless of what kind of trials or temptations you walk through. Hurl yourself upon His grace whole-heartedly and without reservation; He is more than capable of carrying your weight.

Second, the heavenly city. One grace God has given to his suffering people in every generation is the sure promise of a heavenly city. He has sworn to return one day and set all things right, and He will. He has promised us new heavens and a new earth with no more suffering sorrow or pain; eternity lived fully in His presence–free from the very presence and power of sin. In suffering and temptation, fix your eyes upon this sure promise; if you belong to God, through Jesus Christ, by faith, and you have forsaken all else for His sake, this is your birthright. Rejoice in it, and by it may God give you the strength you need to face whatever He ordains in your life.

Mornings at the Mission: Suffering in the Company of Christ

Each morning I offer a short devotion to the men under my care in the dorm. This is the spot where I share them with you, and keep a record of them for myself on the off chance I ever need them again.

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I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord,
and the praises of the Lord,
according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us,
and the great goodness toward the house of Israel,
which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies,
and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses.
For he said, Surely they are my people,
children that will not lie:
so he was their Saviour.
In all their affliction he was afflicted,
and the angel of his presence saved them:
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old

(Isaiah 63:7-9).

 How easy it is to feel isolated when we are afflicted. When life goes wrong, it often seems as though the whole world is against us: our boss doesn’t want us to succeed, our family has hung us out to dry, or our friends were only our friends long enough to take advantage of us. “Where is God in all this?” we might wonder. Does He care? Does He even exist?

In the midst of our questions and doubts, in the midst of our woundedness and fear, Scripture meets us with words of comfort and consolation. It tells us of a God who does not abandon us to our suffering, but who instead joins us in it. Verse 9 in the passage I read a moment ago contains an amazing statement: “In all their affliction he was afflicted.” In other words, when God’s people face hardship, God suffers with them. We see the ultimate portrait of this reality painted for us in vivid red on the cross, where Jesus, God made flesh, suffers to an extent that baffles the imagination… rather than abandoning us to our fate, God joins us in it, bringing with Him healing and peace. As Hebrews 4:15 says: “we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus is that High Priest, and the beautiful thing is that his compassion is not just empty sympathy: Repeatedly in the gospel accounts—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—we read of Jesus being moved with compassion for broken, hurting people. And every time we read of Him being so profoundly affected, we inevitably also read of Him intervening in that person’s life. Truly, He is willing and able to help us in our time of anxiety and need. He is the rock we can cling to when we’re drowning in the chaotic seas of life. He may not remove our afflictions, He may not even change our circumstances, but He will always be near to us in the midst of them, giving us the strength we need to endure. If you belong to Christ, draw comfort from the beautiful truth that you will never suffer alone.