Prayer Day 6

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Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father.

We praise you for shepherding us and resting with us in lush gardens.

Feed our hungering and thirsting souls as we confront sickness and death.

Shelter us in your strong arms as we shelter the weak among us.

Prosper us in righteousness as we model your love to those around us.

Grant us your mercy through the storms of life until you lead us home (Ps 23).

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Prayer Day 6

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Mercy as a Path: Monday Monologues (podcast) June 22, 2020

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Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on Mercy as a Path to Salvation. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on this link.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Mercy as a Path: Monday Monologues (podcast) June 22, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

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Mercy as a Path to Salvation

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Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. 

For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matt 9:13)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Asking for mercy and offering mercy both evoke tension with God because we prefer not to shine a light on our own sin or the sin of others. In dealing with our own sin, Jesus cites the same verse from the Prophet Hosea twice after the Fifth Beatitude (Matt 9:13, 12:7): For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hos 6:6) Pagan worship attempts to manipulate the gods with sacrifices, which today can take the form of offerings, overt righteousness, prayers, church attendance, or XYZ actions done, not out of thanksgiving, but out of a desire to manipulate God.

An important lesson on mercy shows up the story of the Good Samaritan when a lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). After telling the story, Jesus asks,“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36), substituting the question—“who proved to be a neighbor”—for the lawyer’s question—“who is my neighbor”—and eliciting the lawyer’s response—“The one who showed him mercy.” (Luke 10:37) Notice how the story started out talking about neighborly love, but ended up talking about mercy? By turning a direct object (neighbor) into a verb (to be a neighbor) Jesus redirects the lawyer’s question from who can be excluded as a neighbor to how we can become a better neighbor.

Mercy is a fitting focus of the story of the Good Samaritan because Jews hated Samaritans. The Samaritan had to overcome prejudice (show mercy) in order to show love to the man left for dead. In the same way, we experience God’s love through his mercy, as in this verse: The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Exod 34:6) Notice that this verse includes both mercy and love, but mercy comes first.

James concludes much the same from God’s attributes when he observes: For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (Jas 2:13) Here James has restated Jesus’ Beatitude in the negative—it is a curse to be judged without mercy. Judgment requires truth, which—like love—follows mercy on the list of God’s attributes.

The link between judgment and mercy points us back to the atoning work of Christ, as the Apostle Peter observed:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet 1:3-5)

The path to salvation through Christ is by way of his mercy.

Mercy as a Path to Salvation

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Sanctification Prayer

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful God,

I praise you for the gift of your law and your provision of grace through Jesus Christ that we might approach you in prayer.

You are the God of mercy and grace, who is slow to anger, abounding in love, and faithful.

There is none like you; may I ever model myself on your immutable character remembering your law, being ever-mindful of your grace, and enjoying the support of your church.

May I be quick to share your mercy, grace, and love with those around me in thought, word, and deed through the power of the Holy Spirit, and in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sanctification Praye

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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God’s Core Values

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The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, 

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 

(Exod 34:6)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Immediately following the giving of the Ten Commandments, God proclaims his attributes to Moses, much like a herald might introduce the titles and accomplishments of an important dignitary. Scripture underscores the importance of these attributes by repeating them, almost word for word, in Psalm 86:15 and Psalm 103:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2. In the parallel context of the giving of the Law (Deut 4:31), only mercy is cited, underscoring its primacy in the Jewish understanding of God’s character.

The emphasis on mercy and the de-emphasis on faithfulness (or truth) in Exodus 34:6 suggests that God is soft-hearted. The passage mentions mercy, gracious, slow to anger (or long nostrilled), abounding in love (hesed), and faithfulness (emeth). Hesed love in the Hebrew is best translated as covenantal love because of the context here as God just delivered the Ten Commandments to Moses. Emethis often translated as faithfulness, but it also means truth. When Apostle John describes Jesus as full of grace and truth (John 1:14), he is making a claim of divinity with reference to Exodus 34:6.

Psalm 86 repeats each of the five words of Exodus 34 in the same order. Psalm 103 repeats the first four words, but drops faithfulness. Joel 2 repeats the first five words, but substitutes “relents over disaster” for faithfulness. Jonah 4 likewise substitutes “relents over disaster” for faithfulness but swaps grace and mercy. The emphasis on mercy and the de-emphasis on faithfulness in God’s attributes is important because they provide guidance on how to interpret law especially when conflicts arise or when a new context requires interpretation.

The primacy of mercy in the Jewish understanding of God’s character figures prominently in the story of the Prophet Jonah. Jonah refused God’s call to preach repentance to the sinful people of Nineveh (a city whose ruins lie cross the Tigris river from Mosul, Iraq; Nahum 1:1). Rather than answer God’s call, Jonah boarded a ship going the opposite direction (Jonah 1:2–3). After being caught in a storm, thrown overboard, and rescued by a whale, Jonah reluctantly responded to God’s call, traveled to Nineveh, and preached repentance to the Ninevites. When the Ninevites responded to his preaching, turned from their sin, and begged God to forgive them (Jonah 3:9-10), God relented from destroying the city.

Showing mercy to Nineveh seemed unjust to Jonah and it made him angry because Nineveh was the hometown of Sennacherib, king of Assyria who conquered Judah and made King Hezekiah his vassal (Isa 36-37), so Jonah:

prayed to the LORD and said, O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. (Jonah 4:2)

Jonah knew God’s attributes (citing Exod 34:6) and did not want to give the hated Ninevites the opportunity to repent and have God forgive them, as he knew God would.

Mercy is first among God’s attributes because as human beings we are born in sin and must acknowledge our sin before we feel any need for God. Our need is like that of a young man who, not liking the newly elected president, leaves the country, and tears up his passport; without being issued a new passport, he cannot return home. In our case, our passport into the kingdom of God is his mercy, without which we cannot experience God’s other attributes.

God’s Core Value

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Release_2020

 

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Mercy: Monday Monologues (podcast) June 8, 2020

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Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

 

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on mercy. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on this link.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Mercy: Monday Monologues (podcast) June 8, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Ready_2020

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Prayer for Compassion and Mercy

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

God of All Compassion and Mercy,

Forgive me, Lord, for the sins of my youth when I fell short of the plans you had for me. When in your great compassion you were kind to me and patient, teaching me your law and demonstrating your grace.

Forgive me, Lord, for the transgressions of my youth when I disobeyed your law when in your mercy you looked the other way and disregarded my attitude, teaching me forbearance and gentle persuasion.

Forgive me, Lord, for the iniquity of my youth when I failed to help those around me.

When in your everlasting love you sent your son to die for me, atoning for my sin, my transgressions, and my iniquity so that I might grow to be a man mindful of compassion, mercy, and love that were modeled for me all the days of my life.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Compassion and Mercy

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Show Mercy, Receive Mercy

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Honored are the merciful, 

for they shall receive mercy. 

(Matt 5:7)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Mercy highlights our tension with God because our flesh delights neither in practicing mercy nor in offering it. Rather than practice mercy, we prefer people to keep their promises and pay their bills; rather than ask for mercy, we prefer to pretend that we are sinless. Born in sin, mercy draws attention to our lack of holiness and our finitude, highlighting our tension with God.

Mercy is one of God’s signature character traits  (Wilkins 2004, 208; Guelich 1982, 88). It appears in the Golden Rule, in the Lord’s Prayer, and, most significantly, in a short list of God’s attributes given to Moses immediately after the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai:

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation. (Exod 34:4–7)

The Sinai context here is important because God exposes his character traits to Moses as a set of core values to be used to interpret the law correctly. Experienced lawmakers know that laws taken out of context can be misinterpreted and they frequently publish commentaries to assure proper interpretation. To interpret God’s character correctly, start by recognizing that God is merciful. God demonstrates his mercy in that Jesus willingly died on the cross to save us from our sins—our atonement through Christ confirms his divinity precisely because it exemplifies God’s mercy (1 Cor 15:3).

Mercy appears in many grammatical forms in scripture, but the adverbial form used in the Fifth Beatitude is used nowhere else. This form can be used to declare or be presented as a cause (Wallace 1996, 460–461). Merciful means “being concerned about people in their need, merciful, sympathetic, compassionate” (BDAG 2487) and is derrived from the same root as compassion. Mercy and forgiveness appear as two sides of the same coin (Guelich (1982, 88),  as we read:

Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! (Ps 25:6-7)

The Psalmist talks about mercy, love, and goodness, which together constitute forgiveness.

Jesus repeatedly talks about mercy, as when we read:

1. Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice (Hos 6:6). For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matt 9:13,12: 7).

2. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matt 23:23)

3. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? (Matt 18:33)

Jesus clearly values mercy more than legal compliance or punishment. He also talks about mercy using other words or phrases, as in:

1. So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 7:12)

2. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matt 6:12)

In the first example of the Golden Rule, he uses the reciprocal form (do as you would have them do) also used in the Fifth Beatitude (give mercy, receive mercy) suggesting through parallel construction that a parallel concept is also being discussed (France 1985, 110).

The reciprocal form of the Fifth Beatitude makes a convincing case for mercy. Mercy is not earned by being merciful, but mercy suggests God’s presence and we are blessed when we offer it.

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

France, R.T. 1985. Matthew. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Wilkins, Michael J. 2004. The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Show Mercy, Receive Merc

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

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Prayer for Presence

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Compassionate Father,

Be especially near me this morning—blot out my guilt; hide my shame; cover up my sin.

Though I am unworthy, share an intimate moment with me. Remind me of better times.

Grant me a new day in the sunshine of your mercy—a day when I could lose myself in your love and extend your love with abandon to those around me.

Open a bridge over the gaps that separate us—time and holiness and power—that I might spend more time with those around me, might share in your holy affections, might overcome my own weaknesses and bitterness, and turn to you, instead of into my pain, that I may experience godly, redemptive grief.

Through the power of your Holy Spirit and in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer for Presence

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Ninevites

 

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

No two doctrines of the church are further from the hearts of Americans than the doctrines of election and judgment, as Richard Niebuhr (1937, 137) characterized liberal Protestant theology: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministration of a Christ without a cross.” Without judgment there can be no election because the two doctrines are mirror images of one another. Still, election is misunderstood as a kind of holy huddle, when it is at the heart of salvation and the antithesis to judgment.

Blessed to be a Blessing

McDonald (2010, 190-191) observes that the holy huddle is a modern myth writing:  “…election is the expression of—and the chosen means to further—the triune God’s purpose of blessing.” The interpretative verse arises in the covenant of God with Abraham:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3)

Notice how this covenant begins with a stipulation: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house.” In modern parlance, Abraham, grow up and stand on your own feet. If Abraham is willing to take the risk of becoming an independent adult by leaving his father’s protection, connections, and wealth, then God says he will bless him to become a blessing to others. Even before the establishment of the Nation of Israel, God has laid out his plan to evangelize the world, anticipating the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20) . 

It is interesting that the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-15) depicts the son that “took a journey into a far country” as the son who eventually comes to love and appreciate his father. Thus, the inward looking church—the “holy huddle”—appears more like the spiteful, older son who stayed home and, in terms of the covenant, refused to be a blessing to others.

Sodom and Gomorrah

It is interesting that in our generation, the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is interpreted primarily in terms of the judgment of God on these two cities for their sexual sin, including homosexual sin. Yet, the context of the story is a dialogue between God and Abraham that begins with: 

“The LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” (Gen 18:17-18)

While the judgment of the cities is certainly topical, the focus of the story is on Abraham’s handling of God’s disclosure. What does Abraham do? Abraham immediately begins to intercede for Sodom and Gomorrah knowing that his self-absorbed nephew, Lot, lives near Sodom. 

The key phrase in Abraham’s intercession is: “Will you [God] indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen 18:23) God does not spare the cities, but he does send his angel to rescue Lot and his family.

What is interesting about this passage is that God reveals his judgment to Abraham, a stand in for the rest of us, to see how Abraham will react. In this example, Abraham passes the test when he exhibits compassion for the cities and engages God in intercessory prayer. 

The Reluctant Prophet

How many of us would pass Abraham’s test? In scripture the counter-example to Abraham arises in the story of the Prophet Jonah. In this short story, we read:

“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)

God’s disclosure to Jonah is similar to that of Abraham. Nineveh is another evil city that God that God has basically hinted to Jonah will soon be destroyed. But unlike Sodom and Gomorrah, God offers the city an alternative by means of Jonah who is sent to “call out against it.” 

Knowing that Nineveh was the hometown of Sennacherib king of Assyria who had seized all of Judea, except for Jerusalem (Isa,. 36:1), Jonah hated the Ninevites and, instead of going to preach God’s mercy to them, he got on a ship to escape from God and his mission. Then, as every Sunday school kid knows, a storm came up, the sailors tossed Jonah overboard, and he is swallowed by a whale who, after three days, spits him up on a beach. God then repeats his request for Jonah to go to Nineveh. Listen to why Jonah refused to go:

“And he prayed to the LORD and said, O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (Jon 4:2)

In this response, Jonah recites Exodus 34:6, which recounts God’s character traits. Knowing God is merciful, Jonah refused to preach repentance to the Ninevites, but later does so reluctantly and they do repent, averting God’s wrath, much to Jonah’s consternation.

Judgment and End Times

Knowing that we are blessed to be a blessing and that God shares his plans for judgment with us through scripture and revelation, our attitude about those under judgment has to change. Judgment of those outside the community faith comes as a test of the hearts for those inside the community. Think about John’s prophecy about the end times:

“The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” (Rev 11:18)

Do we cheer on the destruction of sinners, like Jonah, or intercede in prayer, like Abraham? Scripture is clear that God’s heart runs to mercy quicker than ours.

References

McDonald, Suzanne. 2010. Re-Imaging Election: Divine Election as Representing God to Others & Others to God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1937. The Kingdom of God in America. New York: Harper Torchbooks. 

Election, Judgment, and Reluctant Prophets

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