The Mercy of Clarity

I have always appreciated perspective and its remarkable value. Perspective provides clarity. A lack of ambiguity removes confusion. I recall taking algebra in high school. I have never been one to fully understand the value of algebra and my mind is skeptical about what it provides, so I start with a certain skepticism about anything that I struggle to make sense of. That was especially true of me as a high school student in an algebra class. But Mrs. Kirby was a masterful and convincing teacher.

You could tell that she loved two things. First of all, she had a genuine love for the practicality of mathematics. She spoke with conviction and passion for math and she seemed to want to pass this love on to her students. The other thing she loved was teaching. She had such a joyful, friendly way about her and she had the teaching thing down to an art. Her classes loved her. I loved her as a teacher because she would stop midstream to provide perspective if she saw a single confused face (a regular occurrence among us football players). Mrs. Kirby knew the importance of perspective and it’s value in creating clarity. A simple, “This is why we do this” was always helpful for me. Then, and only then, it made sense to me. Once I had perspective I was able to move on and grow in my understanding.

That’s what God has provided for us, too.

In II Samuel we see some pretty disturbing things. It’s easy to get lost in all of the violence and the insane choices that people make. Some of the craziness bothers our Western sensibilities and unless you look under the surface you might be in danger of losing perspective. It’s important to have a sense of your surroundings and hang on to all the facts. Context is vital. Some things will not make sense because we’re not used to that culture or the issues that were and are true of that particular time. Learning those particulars is helpful to gain perspective.

It has been said by some critics of the Scriptures that the Old Testament is all about judgement and has a harsh and unrealistically deafening message about a despotic God. I humbly beg to differ. I think the New Testament is more about judgement (that is why Jesus had to die). The Old Testament is actually a display of amazing grace and mercy. How many crazy people does it take to test God’s patience with their covenant breaking ways over and over and over? It would seem that everyone in the Old Testament was a bit on the disobedient side (and those were some crazy people). But, mercy is extended time and time again. God shows remarkable patience in the life of Israel. So, one would be inaccurate to accuse God of being cruel, ambiguous or cryptic. He is crystal clear and, at first pass, it may seem difficult to understand that kind of wisdom. But it is really quite loving.

You see, in paganism one must appeal to whatever god he can because he has no sure way of knowing which god he has offended. Dale Ralph Davis writes in his commentary on 2 Samuel 21, “This miserable agnosticism plagues mankind as a whole – no one knows if he is committing sin or doing good as he lives out his life. That is paganism – nebulous, hopeless, cruel. But Yahweh is kind: he declares our guilt to us. That is the mercy of clarity.” He never beats around the bush. We are guilty of rebellion and self-centered thinking. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that our hearts are desperately evil. But God continues his clarity by providing a way toward him. 

Indeed, God says to us that we must be perfect as he is. Then he covers us with this holiness through Jesus. He doesn’t stop with clarity on our rebellion. He then provides mercy. Clearly, that is perspective giving mercy. That is amazing grace. He is remarkable.

FN: Dale Ralph Davis. “2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity.” p. 26.

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Joy in a Dangerous World

As we approach Christmas day there is much to rejoice in. This has been an interesting and challenging year for the world. There has been a lot of heartache and suffering and the human experience continues to be a challenge for everyone. We should, however, recognize that rebellion and suffering have been a significant part of humanity since the fatal day that man chose to doubt God. What a sad moment it was. We can each confess culpability. Amazingly God had Jesus in mind from the start (Genesis 3:15) and the mysterious but remarkable story of redemption began in what we call time. Isaiah records this amazing event like this.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder,and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

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By observing the chaos we see each day it is easy to become discouraged by what we “see” instead of what we know. Adam and Eve foolishly questioned God’s character and care for them. When we do that we begin to feel alone and our brokenness leads us to trust in our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) instead of the flawless and consistent nature of our God and Creator. One of the things I most appreciate about God is his fatherliness. Not all of us had trustworthy fathers (and none of us had perfect fathers), but in the Heavenly Father we have a perfect Father who cares for us and protects us in ways which we are not aware (Matthew 6). This is true even when we get cancer, suffer from abuse and violence, are sinned against, become afraid, or any number of confusing things that happen in the valley of the shadow of death. Our finitude does not allow us to see the whole panorama of God’s plan and quite honestly sometimes that is extremely difficult. But depending upon our own ability and judging God by our particular circumstances will lead to deeper confusion. This is when we must rest in his character and his stellar reputation. We can trust God not because we understand Him, but because He is consistent, peerless, and has shown us consistently his love and pursuit of us. How do we know?

First of all, Scripture tells us not to lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). Why? Because it is flawed. When we depend upon our thinking perspective usually worsens. It leads toward unhealthy introspection and solutions that are best described as shortsighted and self-interested. Note that it doesn’t say to not use your understanding. It says don’t lean on it. That means I have been made in God’s image and am a problem solver by nature. That’s not the dangerous part. Leaning on my problem solving leads to frustration. Instead we are encouraged to trust the Lord with all that we do, say and think. Only God has displayed a protective interest in us. The enemy and the world display destructive and selfish interest in us. They cannot be trusted.

A second way we know that God is a good Father is what he has done as a father. He made provision for our brokenness. He says to the world that because he is holy and perfect we must be holy and perfect. Then he says we cannot do it, but he will do it for us. And he sent his Son. This is what we read in Scripture. This amazing Father loved his Son and then loved us through his Son.

We have much to rejoice in this season because Jesus was born. There is much to anticipate in the future. Paul said that the suffering of this time cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us! Merry Christmas.

The Sky at Night

Tonight I saw the sky like I haven’t seen it in a long time. I’m away from the city and way out in the country. At home our altitude is a shade over 300 feet. Tonight I am sitting at 2800 feet and some change. The only sound I hear is the river outside the house I’m in and, unfortunately, the tinnitus ringing in my ears. But the ringing doesn’t drown out the incredible quiet of my environment. It is still here. When you combine the quiet and the bitter cold of the air with the remarkable sky you end up with humbleness and gratefulness.

It would take effort for me to not feel small under the stars that I am seeing tonight. It would be dismissive to not embrace this smallness that I feel when I stand under the canopy of stars. No, this remarkable display draws me in and the cold air cannot overwhelm the warmth in my heart as I ponder the magnitude of this remarkable creation. And to think I can enjoy it all, almost as if it was left here for me to experience. Of course it wasn’t created for me alone, but I feel connected to the Creator as I stand there. I know the Creator….personally. He’s my friend and remarkably He considers me his friend. As I look up tonight I am drawn into His overwhelming presence. It makes me think of Psalm 19, which reads

The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech,

and night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words,

whose voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.

In them he has set a tent for the sun,

which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,

and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.

Its rising is from the end of the heavens,

and its circuit to the end of them,

and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

     Maybe this is why I am an avid outdoorsman. It shows God to me. It displays His intricacies, His creativity, His firm grasp on astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, art, humanity, and His compelling love for this world (John 3:16). Being outdoors reminds me of God, but it enthralls me to know that I am to be with Him forever to enjoy and to worship. The joy that the stars bring will not end in the morning. Why does my heart respond this way? Perhaps it is true what C.S. Lewis says, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Tonight is a taste of that world to come.

Creation is personal to me: the sounds, the smells, the textures, and the beauty. It is personal because I know the One who created it. Nothing else makes sense without Him. I love how He displays Himself when I am outside. I love Him. I am satisfied in Him. In the words of Thomas Ken (1674) “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” I saw the sky tonight like I haven’t seen it in a long time. I praise God for that.