The God Who Implores: Can we contemplate worshipping a God who would beg for anything?

Read 2 Cor 5:11-21

Try and remember the last time you begged for anything. I mean, seriously pleaded and entreated anyone for something. After we get past the trivialities of begging as a child for a puppy, or pleading with an adolescent son to get out of bed and go to school, we start to struggle. Perhaps the more common examples of serious begging are in situations of life change: a cancer, unemployment, relationship breakdown. No doubt, we’ll find a few examples of serious begging there.

As I read 2 Cor 5:16-21, I find myself challenged by the images in v.20

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. ” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV)

Or as it read in the Authorised Version

“Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. ” (2 Corinthians 5:20, AV)

Can we conceive of God as a begging God? As a God who implores?

Some time ago I tweeted the same thought: If God would beg for anything, what would it be?

My fiend Wid responded: I find it so difficult just to imagine how God can beg for anything…

Me too.

But that does not change the fact that this passage opens our eyes to the God who begs. We read of God ‘making his appeal through us’ (v.20).

I think we get that: God as paraclete. God who comes beside to encourage. God who urges us forward. God who draws us close, and into his own grace. We can live with that.

But God begging? A mendicant God? An imploring God?

Luke tells us of a man, covered with leprosy, who fell with his face to the ground and begged Jesus to cleanse him (Luke 5:12). He tells is of a father, desperate for his son to be relieved of his demonic oppression, begging Jesus intervene (Luke 9:38). And he tells us of a demon possessed man in a graveyard, begging Jesus not to torture him (Luke 8:28)

This is the word, the image, Paul uses in our passage: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. ” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV)

Could this be one of the most astounding images of God we find in the Scriptures? The creator God, the Sovereign Lord, the everlasting father, the omnipotent one … imploring, begging, entreating people to be reconciled to him?

Could this be one of the most astounding images of God we find in the Scriptures?

John Calvin says:

[this passage is] an unparalleled commendation of the grace of Christ, inasmuch as He stoops so low, that he does not disdain to entreat us

Think of a few other Scripture passages:

In Luke 15, the parable of the prodigal god, the younger son has returned, there is a glorious reunion with the father, there’s a celebration, but the elder brother is so angry that he refused to go in and join the party. But the father went out and … pleaded with him (15:28).

As Jesus draws near to Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), making his way to his own death, he looks on that city, the geo-spiritual heart of Israel. This is the city where he will die. It is full of people who will bay for his blood. They will prefer Jesus Barabbas to Jesus, Son of the Father. He pictures the thorns, and the nails, and his own disgusting death. And he weeps for that city, beseeching them, that they may still change.

Even in the OT we hear this gracious Lord pleading with wayward, rebellious, adulterous Israel:

““Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! ” (Ezekiel 18:30–32, NIV)

Are these words of anger? Or do they reveal such a depth of grief that has our Covenant God imploring his hard hearted people toward grace, forgiveness and life? Isn’t this the heart of our gracious Saviour, our loving Lord, for the lost? The rebellious? The broken? Those far from him?

And could there be a more poignant illustration of the God who begs for people to find life than the Cross, upon which the Prince of glory absorbs, for all eternity, the sin and punishment of his people?

See how much God loves us? O how he loves us!

Thinking about my ministry, and yours, the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ God has entrusted to us, would we say the priorities, behaviours and actions of our ministry reflects the heart of this imploring God?

Does my congregation image this God, and beg for the life of sinners?

Is it a place where God implores people, through us, where we implore people, for God?

Is our denomination an imploring denomination?

Can our communities hear God imploring them in our words?

Can they see, and feel, this God imploring them in our actions and our ministry priorities?

Perhaps the more challenging question is this: Are God and I actually interested in the same things?Do we really share the same heart for the lost?

Despite the strength of these words, it is not hard for us to think these thoughts as we read them now. It is harder to act on them beyond this moment. And to keep on acting on them. And to lead from them, and to serve into them.

Around one year from now, the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia will be meeting in Synod. God forbid that all our discussion, planning, and decision making be reduced to one or the other theory, or view, or approach, or process.

Think of all the discussions we have had and are yet to have about
Mission. Whether fourfold task, or some other strategy, whether we should lean more into church planting or not.

Think of our discussions about developing leaders: What leadership models should we be looking at? How can we build an ethos that develops leaders and trains others?

Think about all the discussions we have had about worship: should we be progressive? Traditional? Conservative? Ancient? Emerging?

I sometimes wonder if all our discussions about such things amount to little more than an annoying squeak in the ears of this God whose passion is to implore people to be reconciled to himself, through us.

These few verses put all our efforts into stark perspective.

And I am challenged to lean more into this mendicant mission and ministry, into the heart of the God who begs.

Prayer: God, let us be deeply moved by how you implore rebellious humanity to be reconciled to yourself.

May we reflect this same divine passion as we gladly embrace this ministry of reconciliation!

Q: Identify one thing that would change in your church as a result of God’s passion to implore people to be reconciled to himself. What will you do to better reflect the ‘God who begs’ in your own life and ministry?

God and the Live Export Beef Trade

Read: Gen 9:7-17

In his book, ‘Engaging God’s World’, Cornelius Plantinga observes that Genesis 1 opens our eyes to the core character of God. In his act of creation, God answers the formlessness of the heavens and the earth with his creative word ‘Let there be light.’ While Plantinga does not make the point directly, I have wondered whether the essence of God’s grace is to give out of who he is, and what he has, to cause others to flourish.

Once you start thinking this through, you start to see it everywhere in the Bible. You see it in creation itself, in God’s call of Abraham, and ancient ‘nobody’; in his establishment of his covenant with insignificant Israel, the birth of Isaac, Israel’s entry into Canaan; even in King David, who simply did not cut it when it came to how a King should look. Most of all, we see it in Jesus’ coming into the world to bring grace and life and truth. We see it in his commitment to his mission, and his self sacrifice (Phil 2). We see it in God’s mission through the church, and to the church’s call to sacrifice and servanthood. It is everywhere: God wants his world to thrive and his people to flourish. This is not some prosperity driven gospel of success. The flourishing life God wants for his world is that they thrive in his self giving gracious character. He wants us to thrive in being like Jesus.

…the essence of God’s grace is to give out of who he is, and what he has, to cause others to flourish…

This passage in Gen 9 speaks of the covenant the Lord makes with ‘all life on earth’. I believe one of the applications here is that God loves all life. His Spirit makes life abound! These words in v.17 get us thinking about our responsibilities, not just to human beings, but to all forms of life, and the environments in which they live. A few days ago, ABC’s Four Corners exposed horrible practices of some beef export companies. It was ghastly footage to anyone who viewed it. Imagine, then what God thinks! Maybe he was weeping. Maybe he still is.

Maybe God weeps at the indifference shown by some of his people to questions of environmental concern. We all know there are priorities: the well being of other people is paramount. But that does not mean God’s people can dumb down matters of environmental stewardship and the just use of land and creation.

Since we are images of God, we are called to care about the things God cares about. He loves life. He wants it to flourish and thrive. And Jesus his Son is his means of reconciling the whole cosmos to himself.

Q: Do you think Christians have typically denied their environmental responsibilities? How have you seen this?

A Straight Line with a Crooked Stick: How God works in broken people like us

Read Isaiah 45:1-11

The Old Testament tells us that certain special leaders were anointed with oil: prophets, priests, and kings. In addition to that sort of ‘anointing’ we read passages that refer to a coming ‘anointed one’, God’s promised Messiah (see Ps 72:8, Ps 18:44-48). This promised Messiah is the one whom the New Testament identifies as Jesus Christ (see Matthew 16:16).

What surprises me in Isaiah 45 is that this term is applied to Cyrus, a Persian ruler. Cyrus was a non-Jew. He was not a worshipper of the One True God. He was devoted to Marduk and other pagan deities. Had he ever presented himself to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship the Lord, he would not have been accepted as a worshipper with the people of Israel, and instead he would have been confined to the outer courts. So it’s pretty amazing that the Lord calls Cyrus ‘his anointed’. The Hebrew is even more challenging: the words ‘messiah’ is used.

History tells us that in the first year of his reign, Cyrus issued a decree which allowed all exiles to return to Jerusalem, worship the Lord, and rebuild the Temple (2 Chr 36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–3; 6:2–5). So this pagan king was used by God to bring his promises to fulfilment. God used a crooked stick to draw a very straight line.

We are all crooked sticks, but God does his work through us

But then, was Cyrus so special in that regard? Sure he was, in the historical sense, and by reason of the fact that he’s the only pagan to be called a ‘messiah’ in the Bible.

On the other hand, doesn’t God use all of us to bring his purposes to completion? Even if we were to regard ourselves as mature Christians and devoted followers of Jesus, isn’t it true that we are all failed and fallen people? Crooked sticks, all of us? For sure. Still, God promises to work through us, and bring his will to completion as he works through people in his world. Even through people who would not identify themselves as ‘his people’.

When our culture is so driven by self interest and cynicism, it is overwhelming to know that we are not left at the mercy of random and naked forces. In some mysterious and incredibly comforting way, God is at work in our world. We are not on our own, not left to our own devices.

Today, this day, with all the stuff you have to deal with, this God has chosen you to do his will. He will work through you. He loves to do that, and he wants you to love him and honour him in return. Your commitment to delight in this is called ‘obedience’ – your glad response to his overwhelming love, grace and power.

Q: How does this truth help you survive in a world where there is so much evil? Does this truth help you worship God, or make it harder for you to do so?

Grace is free, but it’s not cheap

Read: Deuteronomy 7:6-16

Have you ever noticed that we love hearing about God’s grace, but we are not so keen to hear his call to obedience?

Do you ever wonder how God feels about that? Maybe he feels like a lover who showers their mate with affection, gifts, and security only to find that their mate is indifferent and does not reciprocate. I don’t know: would God be more grieved, or broken, or angered? Maybe all of that together, and more.

Grace is free, but it is not cheap. If we have little desire to obey, we cheapen whatever it cost God to give grace in the first place. The cross of Jesus tells us the cost to God was beyond our imagination.

If we have little desire to obey, we cheapen whatever it cost God to give grace in the first place

In Deut 7, we hear how God acted in grace to draw people to himself. And as much as we believe in grace, the verses which follow remind us that we still have a deep sense of responsibility to obey. They also remind us that how we obey will have profound consequences in our lives.

Obedience is no burden. Is a lover burdened when they respond to their mate with warmth, love, and commitment? Is a lover burdened when they rest on the shoulder of their mate, keen to do whatever will express their joy and happiness to be in relationship? Obligation doesn’t even come into it. This is all about opportunity, privilege, and joy.

Our responses to God should be like that. As we obey God, we get to live for the sort of world that he delights in. His love is our motive. His love is the cause. His love is the goal.

Q: Think of one area were you have been resisting obedience to God. Think about how much he loves you, and what that love cost, and then make a resolution to change some specific behaviour and attitudes

The Interference of Self

Read: Heb 13:1-6

Sometimes when I am met by a need or a context where I know I should move forward and respond, I push back and either procrastinate or simply turn away.

Why do I do that? Is it fear that my incompetence might be exposed Is it a sense that I might not be safe? Or is it prejudice? Or some combination of a whole raft of reasons? This passage speaks of ministering to prisoners (v.3) – do I fear their violence, and back off? We also read of strangers (v.2) – can they be trusted? Sometimes I am so prejudiced and governed by insecurity with moves me toward self protection and avoidance. Too easily, my fears blind me to what I really need to see. This is the interference of self.

Quite often the truth we need to hear is uncomfortable

Quite often, the truth we need to hear is uncomfortable. It interferes with the ‘realities’ we construct to protect ourselves from inconvenience. If one of these uncomfortable truths threatens my material wealth, my financial independence, or my leisure, I often try to push it away. Sometimes, I don’t even think I realise what I am doing. Yet through defensiveness or dismissal, or something as harmless as well directed humour, I persist in my denial. I would rather that people affirm me, and confirm the sometimes lesser story I have chosen to live at that time.

Well, there is only one affirmation that really matters. One reality worth living for. On Kingdom deserving the focus of my life, one relationship that brings love, peace, life and hope. And it is God (v.6). I don’t have to worry about what others may think, because living with God, or rather Him with me, I have all I need to survive the day.

Q: Does relationship with God really make that much difference to you? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

Watch what God does, and then you do it

Read Eph 5:1-20

The command to ‘imitate God’ seems impossible to honour. How can failed and fallen human beings imitate God? True, but that’s not what Paul is getting at. He is asking us to imitate God in his values and character toward people and their world. This makes it more exciting than impossible, right?

The immediate context has to do with forgiveness and love, but as we move through the chapter we hear the writer dealing with the broad scope of life, and how relationship with Jesus transforms it.

Make no mistake, we do these things because God is making us new through Jesus, and because he is at work in us (Eph 3:14-21). God’s work through Jesus means the changes he calls us to are not impossible. What God calls us to attempt he will enable us to achieve.

With that in mind, here are a few questions to get you thinking about how you can watch what God does, and then start to do it:

* How can I show grace and forgiveness to those who have hurt me? Who are the people who are waiting for my words of grace? What will I do to bring grace in these situation?

* How can I help the people around me to thrive? What are their needs and how can I address them?

* How can I help my community to show grace to the poor, the needy, and the helpless?

* How can I help my neighbourhood to be a community that God would delight in? What needs to be done, or developed?

* What injustices are there around me, and how can I join others in addressing and correcting them?

Q: If we ere to do these things consistently, do you think Christians and the church would have more credibility?

Q: What other questions might be helpful as we consider this topic?

Not much to look at…

Read: 2 Cor 4

I don’t like being weak, and I certainly don’t like being perceived as weak. So I engage in the stupidity of covering up. It is a clumsy attempt to project some other reality, one of relative strength and having it together.

I think I shortchange God when I do this. Paul was a man who was in touch with his weakness. I can imagine his CV saying ‘excellent education under Gamaliel, and later, Jesus himself, but I am not much to listen to, and i have several persistent and debilitating personal issues…’ Would you hire someone like that?

When I seek to give the impression of strength, the focus is on me, and the Gospel is masked. We have all seen mega churches which advertise their senior pastors with larger than life airbrushed images. What images might there have been outside Paul’s church (even though he was regional and itinerant, and not bound to a ‘church building’). A cross? A gallows and noose? A broken terra cotta pot? A picture of disability?

Weakness is God’s favourite work context

God uses weakness to reveal the beauty of his grace and character. This may unnerve us. Even so, that is how it is. He chose weak and underdeveloped Israel. Abraham and Sarah were old and past it. Moses was not a great speaker. David was too small for a soldier’s armour. Jesus was viewed as a reject, and gathered other rejects to himself. The cross is seen as foolishness. Jesus’ followers, small in number and uneducated, were given the task of making disciples of all nations.

Weakness is God’s favourite work context. Weakness is how he perfectly shows his power (2 Cor 12:9).

So I have my weaknesses and so do you. I should not feed them, thinking that a worse situation will end up being a context for greater power. That’s like sinning more to get more grace (Rom 6:1).

So while I work on my weaknesses, I will simply pray that God’s grace and power will be at work despite my weaknesses. I will pray that God’s work, God’s character, and God’s grace might be more clearly seen. That my work, my character or gifts might not be the focus.

I am a jar of clay. A cracked clay pot. So let the treasure of grace and the wonder of Christ be more clearly seen.

Q: How might God use your specific weaknesses and frustrations to reveal his power today?

If you’d like further encouragement to be open about your weaknesses, check out Michael Hyatt’s excellent piece, published yesterday: ‘Tell Your Story, The Good and The Bad’

Motive, value and direction

Read Ps 131

I find myself still thinking about yesterday’s reading: Jeremiah 23. I suppose that as a shepherd I should take more time with passages that challenge those of my craft and calling who have strayed from the path.

Yesterday I wrote that a thousand prior decisions lead to an eventual change of value and direction. Today I am thinking that we can stay ‘in the Lord’s council’ (Jer 23:22) by ensuring that our ‘thousand prior decisions’ are one’s that honour God and reflect his character.

David (who wrote Ps 131) says ‘my eyes are not haughty, I do not concern myself with great matters, or things too wonderful for me.’ Instead, like a weaned child he has put his hope in the Lord.

What determines your direction, really?

These are remarkable words for a King. They expose motive, values of heart, attitudes of will, and direction of mind. They speak of priority and forethought. David has not set his heart on the big money, the great sets of numbers, or the wins. These things are not bad in themselves. They are generally good ‘goods’… it’s just that they are lousy gods.

Ps 131 reminds us that if we make God our priority, and his Kingdom and character the centre of all our values and ideals we will end up being more calm, with quieter ambitions, and being more content. And the outcomes we achieve, whilst they may not be world beaters, high end, or great, may in the end last longer that that which rusts and rots.

That’s what Jesus said, right?

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. ” (Matthew 6:33–34, NIV84)

Think about your own life. What are the first things? What has priority? What determines your direction, really?

Fuel for the fight…

Read: Leviticus 26:1-13

The book of Leviticus is a challenge at the best of times. One writer says ‘The contents of the book, perhaps more than any other book of the Bible, see so removed from the daily life of the contemporary Christian that one is tempted to avoid the effort.’

Even so, maybe today’s reading is a cameo of the book’s purpose, and perhaps God’s purpose, too. These 13 verses rock between the ‘I’ of God’s action and the ‘you’ of our response.

As they affirm the Lord for his blessing and grace, and call us to specific behaviour and attitudes, they also present a powerful reminder that the capacity for people to respond and obey starts with his work in our lives.

I know some Christians think differently about this, but I have never been able to accept that we initiate faith and belief and spiritual movement, and only then will God love us. It seems to indicate that God is somehow waiting for us, or dependent on us. I don’t think a God like that is much of a God, really. God is not waiting for us to act: He has acted. He has drawn us into grace, and we get to respond. Sometimes it seems as though we have come up with the idea, but God has always seeded that thirst and exploration in us. And the fact we think it started with us just shows how creative and gentle God can be.

Leviticus teaches us these truths. The central plank of the book, amongst all the other detail, is the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). God graciously acts to forgive rebellious and sinful people. In Lev 20:26 God says ‘You are to be holy because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my very own.’ So our motivation to obey find its source in his lavish grace.

Have a look at the passage again, and notice the rhythm: ‘I have acted’ and then ‘you will do this in response.’ The story of Jesus fits this same rhythm perfectly: while we were still sinners, enemies of God, and rebels, Christ died for us.’

God’s lavish grace is the fuel I need for life’s fight

I find this reality of God’s lavish grace is the fuel I need for life’s fight. Isn’t this the wonderful ‘resource beyond myself’ that enables me to give even when I am at the end of my rope? For sure.

Truth be known, this truth is not well enough known. Is it any wonder that I tire so consistently of doing what God calls me to do? Is it any wonder that sometimes it feels as though God is far from me, even though I know he never is?

And then, no wonder that I am surprised when God answers my tardiness with even more love and grace.

“I will put my dwelling place among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your god who brought you out of Egypt, so that you will no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” [Lev 26:11-13]

Q: What makes it so hard to believe that God just keeps giving grace, even when all we give him is brokenness and failure?

No longer I…

Read Gal 2:11-21

The theme for our readings these last days has been ‘The Lord is with us’. Could there be a more relevant passage than Gal 2:20?

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

I am deeply moved by this reality.

All ancient religions, and many modern religions speak of people making places where God can dwell. Temples. Holy places. Attitudes of contemplation. These are the things people create to so God might dwell with them.

Instead of people creating a place where God dwells, God creates a people in which he dwells.

The Gospel of Jesus is very different. Totally opposite. Instead of people creating a place where God dwells, God creates a people in which he dwells. In Jesus, you are a new creation (2 Cor 5:18). You have become his temple (1 Cor 6:19, 1 Cor 3:16,17) It is remarkable that in a place like Athens Paul would remark that it is not God who lives in our Temples, but that we live in him (Acts 17:28). In Ephesus, a city dominated by the temple of Artemis/Diana, Paul makes the point that the Gospel is not about gods made by human hands, but that by grace we have become God’s workmanship (Eph 2:8-10).

Could there me a more transformational reality that the fact that God lives in you? That through Jesus he is recreating you after his image and likeness? (Eph 4:24)

Q: What difference will it make for you today to know that at because of Jesus, every moment He lives is you and is with you?