Have you ever known you were called to do something, and you were good at it? As assured as you can be that you are right for this particular thing, we cannot escape our human instinct that manifests itself in a performance mentality—which is usually judged by numbers. I remember Michael Ramsden, who is the European director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, once admitted that he had lived by this rubric, and then at some point had retreated from it. Though his ministry was based around this numbers system, he says a turning point came when he was preaching in South Africa, at a golf club. A prominent member of the club had arranged an evening meal. Hoping for 60 people to come, it turned out that 137 came. There were more non-Christians than Christians. The group was comprised predominantly high class business types. Michael says that he was extremely excited about the meeting, but then minutes before it was time for him to speak, a colleague approached him and said that the meeting was a mistake—that this audience would not be receptive.
He said that he went on to give the worst sermon he has ever preached. None of his points seemed to connect—no one seemed to be moved at all by what he had to say. At the end, Ramsden gave an invitation—and he also handed out cards for people to critique what they just heard.
He asked them to mark their card, on each respective question: A to E. These people would essentially grade his sermon.
A = one of the best sermons you have ever heard
E = The worst.
The card also had a place for them to circle a statement. From “I became a Christian tonight” to “Never invite me again.” Ramsden says that after the meeting he couldn’t sleep. He was intently concerned about what had just happened.
The next morning at 7:30, the organizer called him. Michael said his wife answered the phone and told him who was on the line. He was hesitant when he put the phone up to his ear:
46 people ticked box A – ‘I gave my life to Jesus.’
48 people ticked box B – ‘I want to go to the Bible study.’
4 ticked box E.
Weeks later, most of the people from box B became Christians. 2 from box E did too.
Ramsden said he learned valuable lesson. He decided that from that day forth, to always give people the opportunity, no matter how I feel. He said, “My feelings are not a strong basis to operate this ministry from!”
He’s right you know. It’s about trust—Trusting God.
There is a problem though. Many Christians are not sure if they can morally trust God. Non-Christians like Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist, would say our God is morally abhorrent. He even goes on to say that the theology of the cross is abusive and sickening. Here is the thing—and I am not trying to exculpate Dawkins—but—if you don’t know God is trustworthy – you can’t trust him.
Well, is God trustworthy? What is his true character?
In the book of Jonah, which is arguably one of the oldest pieces of Biblical literature we have, we see a remarkable story about God’s compassion. The whole city of Nineveh was saved. Who was Nineveh? Just know that they were considered an enemy nation to the Israelites—if for no other reason than they enjoyed using the skin of Israelites for lampshades. Isn’t this remarkable that God would have mercy on them—and use an Israelite to bring the message to them? You’d think that was encouraging. Mass salvation of an enemy nation. So, just how does Jonah the preacher feel about it?
Chapter 4:1 – it displeased Jonah greatly – (literally gut wrenchingly exceedingly upset) and he was angry.
As Christians, we get displeased that revival doesn’t come. Here is Jonah made that it has come. He hated the people he was preaching to, but he knew God was gracious and compassionate. In fact, you could say it this way: The kind of God he was, is Jonah’s problem.
Often we can get angry and upset when we see the people who are our enemies forgiven and restored. Doesn’t it sometimes seem like God is schizophrenic? One the one hand he is loving and nice, and on the other, there is fierce wrath. We need to not set them in opposition to each other, but see them in the light of each other.
In Jane Austin’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, there is a scene where Mr. Darcy says he loves her (Elizabeth) against his will, his better judgment, and his character. (Unsurprisingly she rejects him!) If there are some people who know you (everything- the real thing), YET they love you – those are the most valuable relationships. To be known warts and all – and loved. What could be better?
Here is the truth of the matter: True love does not exist in the absence of judgment – but in the presence of it. Think of a marriage where as you get to know each other and in the face of flaws etc., you healthily grow in depth. As they get to know you and your faults better, the love gets stronger.
God really knows you. Do you have emotional stability that comes from knowing that God loves you despite your flaws? (Tis doesn’t mean God is happy with them or that we should excuse them). He knows it. God is not interested in covering things up. That’s not the path to true relationship.
Have you ever said something stupid to a friend and made them upset or hurt them? Lets supposing the next day you go to them to apologize. It’s great when they forgive you. All is well in the world, right? But, consider if they say, “It’s nothing” – and walk away, and you know – it’s something! And now there is something between you. It’s not the same. Things are estranged. Or suppose we try to make up for it. We make a fuss. We try to serve them in some way to earn the forgiveness rather than look at the problem. We no longer have real relationship. Covering up wrongdoing (in that sense) becomes a barrier to relationship.
Isn’t that what we are after? Restored relationship?
The word Compassion – comes from ecclesiastical Latin. It literally means ‘With Passion.’ It means to make a moral judgment and be moved from the depth of your being to do something about it. You have compassion when you say, “That’s wrong – we have to DO something!”
God is compassionate in this way. He looks at the world and all its sin, and he is deeply moved to step in. He goes to a cross, NOT to cover our sings—but to justify us by publically dealing with it. He has to deal with the wrath of God. God is fully merciful but also fully just. He cannot extend mercy while at the same time undermining justice. Justice isn’t served despite merry, it is served through it.
Through Christ on the Cross.
The message is nothing other than that while we were still sinners, he found us! He had already paid the price, he has moved! He knows exactly what we are like, and what was required. And he’s with us.
We hear the phrase, “God loves you” so much, it becomes meaningless. The truth is, God loves you and me because he knows exactly who we are—and what we have done. He isn’t deluded.
We don’t have to pretend to be someone we aren’t with God. He is already fully aware. It isnt any help to myself or God to refuse to be transparent with him. It also gives me transparency with others. I know I have been forgiven – because he forgave me.
There is only one basis for me to be forgiven:
If I have done wrong to someone – I should not be able to say ‘I’m forgiven’ – except and unless the other party is willing to forgive, and offers it – and through repentance I have received that forgiveness.
If that’s the case, it is not arrogant for me to say, “I am forgiven.”
We are dependent on him, his promise. God has said it! It’s dealt with. So I can be secure, whatever other insecurities I might wrestle with. Are you totally assured as to the character of God? Are you utterly sure of him? Are you utterly sure he really means his words of love and assurance? That he has chosen, called and loved you? That’s the reality!
Are you prepared to fail on that basis?
The basis on which I know I can fail, is that I know it’s not about me. I do and can blow it. When preaching or leading worship, it’s not about how many respond etc. I am okay of others reject me on the basis that God has accepted me.
We need confidence – to trust the God who transforms lives.
In all other worldviews God can be merciful, by passing over his justice. For us, it’s not at the expense of his justice, BOTH operate together.