The Whole Story

When my father-in-law was still on his faith journey he asked me, “How can you reconcile the differences in God’s temperaments in the Bible? In the Old Testament He is full of judgment and in the New Testament He is all mercy.” 

Quite simply, both are God’s character. They are two sides of the same coin. In fact, we more dearly appreciate God’s mercy and grace when we’ve clearly seen how we are subject to His justice and wrath. 

Amos talked about both of these attributes, too, but he does so in a masterful way in which mercy and justice swirl around each other. It’s almost as if Amos can’t talk about justice without mentioning mercy or vice versa. 

How do we know God’s judgment is coming? Because God said so! Amos quotes God saying judgment is coming “because of three sins, even for four” (see these verses in Amos’ first and second chapters). Even as Amos uses that phrase he is pointing to God’s mercy. He’s stating, “God could have punished you the very first time you sinned, but He is giving you another chance, and another chance, and another chance….” 

But make no mistake: a day of judgment is coming. God concludes, “Now then I will crush you” (2:13). 

God tries to get people’s attention by sending famines and plagues and disasters, but after each one of these God sadly notes “yet you have not returned to Me”—five times He says this in Amos 4!

But even as God calls them out on their lack of repentance He reminds them twice of the solution—“Seek Me and live” (5:4-6). 

Finally, Amos concludes his book by letting us know God’s judgment IS coming, but so is God’s mercy (9:1-4, 11-15)!  

Dear Christians, our responsibility is to let people know that there is a Heaven to gain and a Hell to shun. We must boldly and lovingly tell people of…

  • … God’s justice AND His mercy 
  • … God’s wrath AND His grace 
  • … Heaven for the repentant AND Hell for the unrepentant 

God loves people AND He hates the sin that keeps people from Him. It’s a message people need to hear, although they may not like to hear it. Like Amos, can God use you to warn this world of His judgment AND to woo this world by His love? Our world needs to hear BOTH-AND. They need to hear the whole story. 

Join me next week as we continue our journey of learning the major lessons that the minor prophets teach us. 

9 Quotes From “Surprised By Paradox”

Jen Pollock Michel has given us a thought-provoking look into her thoughts of some of the and solutions to the either-or challenges many Christians face. Please be sure to check out my full book review by clicking here. 

“Allowing for paradox does not represent a weakened approach to theological understanding. On the contrary, it allows for a robust theology, one that is filled with the sort of awe that not only regards God as unimaginably wondrous but also awakens in us the same desire Moses had to see Him as He is.” 

“As psychologists have described it, awe is ‘the experience of encountering something so vast—in size, skill, beauty, intensity, etc.—that we struggle to comprehend it and may even adjust our world to accommodate it.’ Awe is our slack-jawed response to natural phenomena like waterfalls and childbirth. To feel awe is to confirm a beautiful, wild universe, a world we neither made nor control. … For those of us inclined to religious belief, awe nurtures our certainty about God.”

“Modernity gave us more certainty than uncertainty—or at the very least certainty in certainty. We’ve come to an unassailable confidence that mystery, by dint of inquiry and scientific effort, can be wrestled and pinned down and made to cry uncle. We are no longer victims of the unknowable: we are masters of our own understanding. The great modern lie is one of infinite human autonomy and control.” 

“It is an old sin seduced by an old lie that we can be like God, perfectly knowing as He knows.… As soon as we think we have God figured out, we will have ceased to worship Him as He is.” 

“I also get tricked into thinking that the world must quiet around me if I mean to meet God. I forget the paradox of the burning bush: that Moses met God at Horeb on an unspectacular day, that his encounter with God was less planned and more happenstance. God did not speak to Moses as the prophet sat cross-legged and silent, his hands folded in reverent to prayer. God blazed up in the landscape of an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. This seems to be how it goes with God: a spiritual life is a material one.” 

“The paradox of God’s story is that He’s chosen to write its timelessness in the ticking heart of His Son and that He’s choosing to write it in our ticking hearts too.” 

“If the kingdom is good news, it surely isn’t safe. Because there is no square inch of our lives Jesus doesn’t intend to rule.” 

“To define grace apart from the Cross would be to say that God is simply given to leniency. It would be to essentially say that there are rules which we break and break badly, but God reassures us kindly that ‘it’s no big deal.’… The Cross speaks a thundering word about the cosmic big deal that is sin.” 

“To receive grace, we need humility. The only prerequisite for grace is empty hands. We have done nothing to make God notice us, and He is not impressed by us.” 

One-And-Done? Ongoing? Later?

If I were to ask five different Christians to give me a definition of sanctification, I just might get five different definitions!

Part of this comes from incorrect either-or thinking. However, Jesus seems to tell us that sanctification requires a both-and thinking.

In Christ’s prayer for His followers in John 17, He uses the word sanctified three times (see verses 17-19). Although He is using the same Greek word each time, He uses a different “flavor” of the word to make it really clear what He means.

First of all, the Greek word for sanctified means the process of being made into a saint. So sometimes I like to say the word this way: SAINT-ified.

Check out Christ’s prayer. First He says, “I sanctify Myself,” and then He says, “that they too may be truly sanctified.” Same Greek word, but each time is slightly tweaked.

Jesus uses a “flavor” of Greek which means sanctification is something that He has done completely and totally on His own once and for all. In other words, Christians are completely and totally sanctified at the very moment they surrender their life to Him.

But when He talks about His followers, the “flavor” of Greek means sanctification is something that is an ongoing process. In other words, we are being SAINT-ified.

So which is it? Sanctified once, or sanctified through an ongoing process?

It’s not either-or. It’s both-and!

Think about a married couple. From the moment the pastor says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife” they are married. It is done; fully completed. There is nothing the bride or groom can do to become more married.

However, the groom can begin to look at the marriage through his bride’s eyes. Then he can serve her in a way that helps her feel more joy, more satisfaction, and more fulfillment within the marriage. Neither of them becomes more married, but they can get more enjoyment within the marriage.

The same thing for Christians. At the moment we ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior we are saved from the penalty of our sins. We can’t be more saved. But through the process of SANIT-ificiation we can experience more joy, more satisfaction, and more fulfillment within our relationship with Jesus.

My paraphrase of 1 Peter 1:15-16—But just as He who called you has paid for your once-for-all saint-ification, so keep on being saint-ified in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

What about you? Are you satisfied with just being saved, or are you striving for a joy-filled, more fulfilling, increasingly satisfied relationship with Jesus Christ? It can truly be a wonderful both-and relationship!

Does Either-Or Work?

Sometimes I read about this debate whether churches should be “attractional” or “missional.” The first approach says that church should attract people first, and then share the gospel with them. The second approach says that if churches simply focus on sharing the gospel they will then attract people.

Either-or. Either missional or attractional.

What about both-and?

Consider the life of Jesus. No one would ever argue that He wasn’t “on mission” all the time. In fact, numerous times He says, “I’m doing what My Father wants me to do,” or even, “It’s not time for me to do that yet.” Jesus was missional.

And yet… “Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that He was associating with such sinful people — even eating with them! (Luke 15:1-2). People loved being around Jesus. Jesus was attractional.

Jesus exemplified both-and missional-attractional. I think He was able to perfectly balance this because of the work of the Holy Spirit. I can aim for the both-and of missional-attractional in my life … I can give it my best shot. But the only way I can truly achieve anything is by allowing the Holy Spirit to shape and direct my life, just as He did for Jesus. Henry & Melvin Blackaby, in their book Experiencing The Holy Spirit, wrote —

The world doesn’t need to see good people giving their best to God; they need to encounter God doing in and through us what only He can do! …Our best isn’t good enough when it comes to kingdom work; we need the Holy Spirit in our lives if we’re going to be of use to God.”

I need the Holy Spirit in my life if I’m going to be of use to God, and be of any benefit to people.

I need the Holy Spirit in my life if I’m going to balance both-and missional-attractional like Jesus.

Both-And Compassion In Action

At 10:30 this morning I picked up my cell phone to call Barney. I knew his daughter, Alysia, had gone in for a routine tonsillectomy early this morning and I wanted to check on her. Just as I was scrolling down to his number, my phone began to ring: it was Barney calling me.

“Hey, Barney, I was just getting ready to call you….”

“Pastor,” he interrupted, “we’re in trouble. Before they could do Alysia’s surgery, she stopped breathing and her heart stopped beating. It seems okay now, but my daughter almost died. They’re taking her to ICU right now. I don’t know what to do.”

I hurried over to Hurley Hospital and went right into the ICU. Alysia was doing better, but her blood pressure was still very low, and her heartbeat was racing. After spending some time talking with the nurses and praying with Alysia, I slipped out so her Mom, Maria, could stay with her, and I went back out to the waiting room to see Barney.

“Barney, I think she’s stablized now. It’s going to be okay. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Yes, Pastor, would you pray with these kids.” He motioned to four crying teenagers sitting together in the opposite corner of the waiting room. “Their friend, Christopher, just passed away. I’ve been talking to them, but I would really like you to pray with them.”

Pray with them?!? His daughter is laying in an ICU room, and he’s concerned about some teenagers — whom he has never met before — in the midst of their grief. Wow! I immediately thought of the Apostle Paul’s words, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). Jim Collins writes about The Genius Of And, and Barney beautifully exhibited that. He was both concerned about Alysia and Christopher’s friends too. In my trials, how often do I become completely self-focused? Thanks, Barney, for a great example of Both-And compassion in action.

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