Amazing (Grace) Mercy How Sweet the Sound

With apologies to John Newton, God’s mercy is as amazing as His grace! Where would we be today without the mercy of God?

Mercy is often associated with pity or compassion and is sometimes translated by those words. Both concepts are certainly part of God’s mercy but it is so much more. It’s more in any way you look at it. It’s more in intensity; it’s more in duration; it’s more in substance; it’s more in quality; it’s more in quantity – it’s just more than we can describe.

Over the years theologians, and others, have offered definitions to explain God’s grace and mercy, but none of their definitions get it completely right. One favorite way to explain grace and mercy is that God’s grace is giving us what we don’t deserve (His love, forgiveness etc) while His mercy is not giving us what we do deserve (judgment). Again, it’s true but there is so much more.

Simply put, and this is admittedly too simplistic, both mercy and grace are aspects of God’s love. Mercy is God’s love given to those who need it the most – the blind man (John 9), the cripple (John 5), the leper (Matthew 8) were all recipients of His mercy.

Grace is different. Grace is God’s love given to those who deserve it the least – people who are not just physically damaged but especially to people who are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:8). None of us deserves to be forgiven.

Not perfect definitions but they’ve helped me understand the distinctions a little better.

As much as we talk and sing about God’s grace it is His mercy that stands behind His grace. Grace is motivated by mercy (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Without God’s mercy there would be no salvation. Without His mercy there would be no healing. Without His mercy there would be no forgiveness for our daily sin. Without His mercy there would be no escaping judgment. Without his mercy there would be no hope for eternity.

Without mercy, grace would just not be the same.

Yes, grace is essential and we need to give it the importance it deserves. But so is mercy.

Think what your life would be like without the mercy of God. Think what eternity would be like without the mercy of God.

The old hymn says, O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be. We’re also immensely in debt to mercy.

Thank God for His grace – but also thank Him for His mercy.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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A Better Day is Coming

One of the New Testament books that people struggle with is the book of Revelation. Not only is it difficult to understand but even scholars disagree on its interpretation. However, there is still a lot of material that we can understand. One of the passages that gives us encouragement and hope is Revelation 21:1-4.

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.

Let me point out the obvious. In eternity we will no longer be separated from God. Three times (I’ve underlined them for you) we are told that God will be with us. The preposition means to be in company with or to accompany. The idea is that we will have a close intimate relationship with God that is different from what we presently experience. That relationship will be possible because we shall be His people and He will be their God. That is, we will be totally His, heart, mind and soul, and He will be totally ours. No sin to tempt us; no temptations to lure us away; no lust to divide our loyalties, we will be His. And He will be ours. Think about it. The Almighty God of the universe will be totally and only for us to enjoy.

The next statement is not only encouraging but it illustrates just how much He will be ours. Tenderly and compassionately He will wipe away every tear from their (our) eyes. As a father I can remember the times when my children were very young and one of them would fall down or hurt themselves. All I wanted to do was to hold them and wipe away their tears until the hurt was gone. Now I feel the same about my grandchildren. I just want to make it all better. That’s what God will do for us. We often think of God as austere and authoritarian. But He is also kind and compassionate and I like to think that someday He is going to take you in His arms, wipe away your tears and hold you until all of the hurts that you have experienced in this life are gone. I don’t know how He will do that with millions of believers, but then He’s God – I’m sure He can figure it out.

And life will be fundamentally different. No death, no sorrow, no crying, no pain. All of the things that bring you pain and suffering in this life will be over, never to be experienced again.

Some of you are going through trials in your life of pain and suffering and it’s easy for the rest of us to say, we’re praying for you. But sometimes that just isn’t enough. Perhaps you are battling cancer or something equally difficult, with endless rounds of hospital visits, doctor’s appointments, chemo therapy and you are facing an unknown future. Your prognosis is not good. You are suffering physically, emotionally and probably spiritually. To you I want to hold out the hope, the assurance, of rest in the arms of God. Of a future that will know no pain or suffering, but only the blessedness of the presence of God.

God Himself will be with [you] and [He will] be [your] God.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Some Thoughts on God’s Mercy

Mercy. There are various ways to define it – especially when you’re talking about God’s mercy. At its core it’s an aspect of the Love of God. Sometimes we equate it with compassion.

I’ve often defined mercy as God’s love given to those who need it the most. While grace is God’s love given to those who don’t deserve it. Not perfect definitions, but helpful in distinguishing these two aspects of God’s love.

Think of the people on whom Jesus had compassion – the blind, the deaf, the destitute, and the dead. People who were desperate; people who, humanly speaking, need God’s love the most.

The ultimate mercy is when God gave His love to sinners in the person of Jesus (John 3:16). Sinners certainly need God’s love the most.

We often pray for God’s mercy – for God to be merciful to us. What we want is for God to change our circumstances. To make our life better.

But how do we know when our prayer is answered? How do we know when God gives us His mercy?

If you’re like most people you equate the reception of His mercy with a change in your life. Life becomes better because God answered your prayer the way you wanted Him to answer it.

But is that a good barometer of God’s mercy?

What if in His omniscience He knew that what you cried out for, what your heart longed for, would not be good for you in the long run? What if His mercy was NOT to give you what you wanted? What if, in His love, He knew that it might even be harmful to you in some way?

Wouldn’t you prefer that God withheld from you something that you wanted but that He knew would be harmful to you?

Wouldn’t you prefer that God withheld from you something that you wanted but that He didn’t give you because He had something even better for you?

The truth is that you won’t always immediately recognize God’s mercy. Sometimes you’ll see it in hindsight. Sometimes far, far hindsight.

So in the meantime you need to live by faith. Not seeing the evidence but believing in what you cannot see (Hebrews 11:1).

Faith believes that God always acts toward you in ways that are merciful, even when life doesn’t go your way. It believes that God is merciful even when He disciplines you (Hebrews 12:5-6). It believes that God is always merciful. That there is never a time that He does not act in mercy (sometimes we draw a dichotomy between God’s wrath and His mercy – as if when God disciplines us He stops being merciful. That would mean that God would have to stop being God).

What if, as Laura Story has reminded us in her song Blessings (you can listen to it here), that God loves you too much to give you the little things you want instead of the greater things He has for you. What if the trials of life are His mercies in disguise?

Don’t judge God’s mercy based on how He responds to your prayer. He will always respond in love. He is always merciful.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What the World Needs Now is . . .

Back in 1965 (some of you can remember that far back) a song was released called What the World Needs Now is Love. It was destined to reach number 7 on the charts that year. If I remember right it was later used to sell soft drinks.

The message of the song was summarized in the words, what the world needs now is love, sweet love it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. No argument that the world lacks a lot of love. I think however that there’s something else missing in our world that is just as important as love and that is compassion. I know it doesn’t sing as well but it’s still true. We don’t live in a very compassionate world.

I’m not saying that our society is totally bankrupt when it comes to compassion. I just think that we’re very selective in our application of it. We show compassion to the person fighting cancer. We show compassion to the family who just lost everything in a fire. But in other areas we feel justified in withholding our compassion.

There’s little if any compassion for people who come illegally to our country to find a better way of life for their families. There’s often little to no compassion for the drug addict who wastes all of his/her money to support a bad habit. Or the prisoner who is serving time because they committed a crime. When it comes to issues like these our fallback position is that we are a country of laws. But do laws preempt compassion? Yes, they might have broken our laws but that doesn’t mean we can throw compassion out the window.

We often read in the New Testament that Jesus had compassion on people. He was moved by their sickness, hunger, and poverty – things over which they had little control. And we understand that kind of compassion and even agree with it. But there’s one story in the New Testament that puts an entirely different slant on the issue. It’s the parable of the Lost Son, or more commonly called the parable of Prodigal Son.

We don’t need to retell the entire story because you’re probably familiar with it. It might be a good idea, however, for you to read it again. You’ll find it in Luke chapter 15. Here’s where the story intersects with compassion. The prodigal son made all of the wrong choices. He rebelled against his father; rejected his father’s home, standards and love; and lived a wanton and wasteful life. Not unlike many people today.

But when he returned to his father, the Bible says that his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him (Luke 15:20). He didn’t lecture the son on his violation of the law. He didn’t make him serve a probationary period before he could return to the family. He didn’t make him grovel. The father related to his son, not on the basis of the law, but on the basis of compassion.

Isn’t that how God relates to us? Before Christ we were worse than illegal immigrants, drug addicts or criminals. In fact in God’s eyes we lived in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind (Ephesians 2:3). In other words we did what we wanted to do. It was all about us. And God, just like the father in the story, had compassion on us.

I’m not advocating that we ignore our laws. They are important. Without them we would live in anarchy. But for the Christian laws never preempt compassion. In fact for the Christian you could make the argument that compassion always trumps law.

Somehow we need to figure out how to implement compassion even in the most difficult situations because What the World Needs Now is Compassion. And if they don’t see it in Christians they won’t see it anywhere.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Finding Value in Suffering

I need to be clear from the start; I’m using the term suffering as a generic term for problems, hardships, trials or miseries that comes into our lives regardless of scope or size. For the purposes of this discussion, suffering is anything that causes fear, anguish, pain or discomfort. It includes disappointments, discouragements and sorrows. I’m not talking here just about the great sufferings of life. I’m talking about even the smallest sufferings.

The most common human response to suffering is avoidance. We don’t like to suffer and we don’t want to suffer so we will do anything to avoid problems. But suffering is a fact of life – and it’s a fact of life that we desperately try to explain as if our ability to rationalize it somehow makes it easier to accept. As a writer in the New York Times observed, even when we can offer some plausible explanation for our suffering does that change all the many times when suffering leaves us with no seeming benefit at all, and only a resentment of those who tell us to look on the bright side and count our blessings and recall that time heals all wounds (when we know it doesn’t)?

Perhaps without knowing it, the writer has put his or her finger on the crux of the matter – suffering leaves us with no seeming benefit at all. But what if, in our haste to avoid problems, there really is a benefit to our suffering? What if there is a value in all of the hardships, the disappointments, the sicknesses, the pains of life? What if good can actually come out of our suffering? What if, in the eternal scheme of life, suffering is really on the positive side of the balance sheet and not the negative?

For the Christian suffering is not only a part of life, it is part of faith. We know that suffering is redemptive – Christ suffered for us the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:8). That in itself gives eternal value to suffering.

But what about our suffering? What value is there in the sufferings of our lives that gives them value?

Here are some random thoughts on suffering for you to reflect on. If you are struggling with suffering I encourage you to take the time to read through this list. It may not make suffering any easier, but it does show that suffering is not arbitrary; there is value in our suffering.

Suffering . . .

provides us the opportunity to minister to others (2 Cor 1:3-5)

forces us to look beyond our limited self to see something greater (Hebrews
4:14-16)

reminds us of our mortality (1 Peter 1:24-25)

reminds us that something better is waiting for us (Hebrews 11:8-16)

produces thankfulness in us (Phil 4:6)

produces a spirit of rejoicing in us (Phil 4:4)

drives us to dependency on God (2 Cor 12:7-10)

motivates us to greater heights of prayer (Phil 4:6)

keeps our attention focused on the One who can help us (Hebrews 12:1-2)

provides us with an avenue to show God’s grace in our lives to others (1 Peter
2:11-12)

increases our dependency on God (1 Peter 5:7)

creates in us a desire for something better – heaven (Romans 8:18)

affirms that we belong to Christ (Hebrews 12:4-8)

keeps us from becoming complacent in this life (Romans 8:18)

shows us the ugliness of sin (Romans 5:12)

clarifies the things of real value in life (James 1:2-4)

deepens our compassion for others (Hebrews 2:18)

brings the reality of heaven into sharper focus (Hebrews 12:13-16)

reveals the genuineness of our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7)

brings us into a greater fellowship with Christ (Phil 3:10)

produces hope in us (Romans 5:3-5)

For the Christian there is value in suffering even when we cannot explain it. Don’t miss what God may be doing in your life through suffering.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Bless Your Heart!

It’s a Southern thing. If you’ve ever spent time in the southern states you’ve probably heard it. It’s said in that sugary sweet southern drawl that can only come from a true-born and bred southern belle: Bless your heart!

It sounds nice but it doesn’t always mean what you might think it means. As one southern belle explained; here in the South we believe in being polite, even if it kills us…so sometimes when we really want to say something nasty, we just say “Bless your heart” because it makes us feel better.

For the southern ladies the phrase has a wide range of meanings from can you believe she wore that dress (which would then be Bless her heart) to I wish I could make it better. Believe it or not there’s a real art in knowing how and when to use it. If you want more insight into the mind of a southern lady read this light-hearted article titled The Many Nuances of “Bless Your Heart” . . . written by a true southern belle. Check it out here.

On a more serious note we Christians have some of those less-than-helpful phrases. Things we say that on the surface can be taken to mean one thing but in reality mean something entirely different.

For example when someone catches you after church as you’re rushing out the door to take Billy to his Sunday afternoon soccer game – and they want to tell you all of their problems. And you throw them a I’ll pray for you. Which means if I ever remember whatever it was you said I’ll add it to the end of my next prayer – and then promptly forget about it.

Or – and here’s one from the book of James (James 2:14-17), someone shares their burdens with you and you give them one of those be warmed and be filled brother, only today we say God bless you! But we really don’t do anything to help them.

Or how about the phrase, Just trust God, which gets us off the hook like we don’t need to do anything else because God will take care of it and we don’t help them carry their burden (check out Galatians 6:2).

The Apostle Paul reminds us let your speech always be with grace (Colossians 4:6). Words of grace are words that are authentic. They are words that help and heal and strengthen the one to whom they are spoken. They are words of genuine comfort and blessing to the hearer. They aren’t words spoken one way but with a hidden meaning. They are true, straightforward and clear.

Hey, it’s OK to say Bless your heart, or I’ll pray for you, or God bless you, or Just trust God, as long as you mean what you say and in saying it impart grace to the hearer.

So I want to say to you, Bless your heart! – and I say it with all sincerity. I want God to bless you in great and wonderful ways. I want God to bless you like you’ve never known blessing before. I want God to literally overwhelm you with His blessing. So again let me say, Bless your heart!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Resisting Compassion Fatigue

In my last post I wrote about Compassion Fatigue – the emotional weariness that we feel from overexposure to the plight of the poor and needy. In America we are exposed to so many appeals – many, if not all of them, legitimate needs – that we become insensitive to the suffering of people around the world. We become indifferent, even calloused from seeing too many starving, malnourished babies, too many victims of disasters, too many people picking through the garbage dumps of the world to find something to eat. With remote in hand it’s too easy to change the channel so we’re not confronted by another emotional appeal. It’s easier to watch a commercial about the newest BMW than to confront the poverty of a starving child in Uganda.

But as Christians we’ve been given a responsibility, a mandate to care for the poor and needy. The Apostle James makes our responsibility clear:

My friends, what good is it to say you have faith, when you don’t do anything to show that you really do have faith? Can that kind of faith save you? If you know someone who doesn’t have any clothes or food, you shouldn’t just say, “I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat.” What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help? Faith that doesn’t lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead! (James 2:14-17)

As Christians we don’t have the option of ignoring the plight of the poor. Our faith demands action. But we’re still human and that means that we can still suffer from overexposure to suffering; we are still prone to Compassion Fatigue.

So what do you do when Compassion Fatigue sets in? Here are some simple steps:

First confess it for what it is – sin (1 John 1:9). Any time we fail to live in agreement with the Word of God (see James 2 above) it is sin.

Second agree with God that everything we have has come from His good hand and in reality still belongs to Him (Psalm 24:1, James 1:17) – this removes the barrier of ownership which often leads to selfishness.

Third ask God to give you a heart that reflects His heart (Deuteronomy 10:18, 15:11, 82:3-4, Proverbs 14:31, Luke 6:36, Acts 20:35 – for those who protest the use of OT passages that related specifically to Israel I would simply point out that the heart of God has not changed).

Fourth, realize that God has not asked you to solve every problem in the world. You can’t feed all of the hungry or cloth all of the naked or provide for all of the needy. So, stop feeling guilty – unless of course you are not feeding any of the hungry or clothing any of the naked or providing for any of the needy.

Fifth, rejoice that God has given you an opportunity to minister His love, in His name, by His grace.

Don’t allow Compassion Fatigue to rob you of the joy of giving (1 Corinthians 9:7).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve