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

Everyone Needs to Calm Down (Especially Evangelical Christians)

I can’t remember a time when evangelical Christians were so uptight (many, not all) about the political landscape, unless it was back in the 60’s when they wanted to impeach Earl Warren (yes, I’m old enough to remember it – and they were uptight).

You would think that God had just stepped off of His throne and Hillary was taking over the universe. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God is still in control.

We like to say that He’s in control but the evangelical blogs, the Facebook posts, the Twitter feeds, the emails and the scare tactics seem to indicate otherwise.

The way that many evangelical are acting you would think that if Clinton wins this election, the world as we know it will come to an end. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t but I’m sure of this – God will still be in control on November 9th and every day after that.

I’m not making light of the importance of this election. It may well signal a sea-change in our nation. And, yes I believe evangelical Christians should exercise their freedom to vote for the candidate that they believe can best lead our nation.

But where’s our faith? Is it in the political process? Or in our ability to elect the “right” candidate? Or is it in God, who by the way is still in control.

The writer of Hebrews didn’t tell us to keep our eyes on the Republican Party; or on Donald Trump; or on passing the right laws or policies. He told us to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). There’s a reason for that. God is still in control.

Hey, we believe that God will bring about His will no matter who’s in the White House. We believe that He will bring about His will no matter who sits on the Supreme Court.

And isn’t that what we ultimately want – God’s will?

I’m not ignoring our responsibility to get involved in the political process. I’m just questioning the panic (even hysteria) that is the result of an unbalanced view of the sovereignty of God. When we say that God is in control we are confessing that He is sovereign over all things, including the election of our president.

So here’s my suggestion: Everyone just needs to calm down. Stop with the scare tactics. Stop telling people who God wants to be president. Stop pontificating on the end of civilization if your candidate isn’t elected.

Go ahead and try to persuade people to vote for your candidate; vote your conscience. But get a grip on reality! God is still in control.

That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:6).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Character Says it All

It has been interesting to follow the national debate regarding immigration. Prior to the recent events in Paris, France most of the debate centered on our southern border and illegal immigration from countries to our south. Now the debate has broadened to include refugees from various Middle Eastern countries. It has become another wedge issue dividing our country.

Not only has the issue of Middle Eastern immigrants divided our country, it is dividing the church. There are Christians on every side of this issue.

For Christians the looming question is not, How should I view this issue as an American?, but How should I view this issue as a follower of Christ?

If we are to follow in the footsteps of Abraham and the great pioneers of our faith, we will confess with them that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth; that we are seeking a homeland that is not of this world. That our desire is for something greater and better than even the greatest nation that has ever existed. Our desire is for something eternal (Hebrews 11:13f).

Yes, we are Americans and we are concerned about the problems that our country faces. But we are first of all Christians. And it is that reality that shapes our character as the church of Jesus Christ and determines the positions we take on the issues. Character says it all.

For the Christian, character leads us to ask questions like:

How can we use this opportunity to show the love of Christ?

What is our responsibility to the weak and helpless?

Is there ever a time when we sacrifice our security for the sake of the gospel?

Is the protection of our way of life our ultimate priority?

What does the Bible say about our treatment of aliens and refugees?

What is the Right (IE Godly) thing to do?

If we are Christ-centered in our world view and Bible-centered in our living these questions have to be answered out of a Christian perspective, not an American perspective. Our character must be shaped by the teaching of God’s Word, not by talk radio or political movements.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Christians Don’t Need Another Celebrity

For some reason Christians seem to need celebrities. When a Christian achieves celebrity status our chests swell with pride. One of us has made it! We finally have value. When someone with a connection to Hollywood or professional sports becomes a Christian the internet explodes with rejoicing. But it’s not exactly a Luke 15:10 rejoicing. It’s like we need someone with celebrity status to validate our existence. A celebrity Christian lets us hold our heads up high. We need our Tim Tebows.

None of this is new. When I was young and living on the West coast in the 60’s our Boys Brigade group traveled to Oakland to hear all star baseball player Felipe Alou give his testimony. We were awestruck. We weren’t just in the presence of a Christian – we were in the presence of a bon a fide star who believed like we believed. There was a lot of hero worshipping going on that night. We went away convinced that what we believed was real – it HAD to be, he believed it too.

Times haven’t changed. We still get giddy whenever a celebrity announces that they have accepted Christ. One of the recent stories circulating the Christian realm is that action hero, Sylvester Stallone became a Christian several years ago. An article has popped up twice in the past week on my Facebook page (this is not a criticism of those dear friends – good people all – who posted it). The title was, Sylvester Stallone: I Have Surrendered My Life to Jesus Christ, and the article linked to a video produced in 2006 by Pat Robertson on The 700 Club. Robertson could hardly contain his enthusiasm that another poor soul had been rescued from the evil clutches of Hollywood.

The only trouble is that nowhere in the video did Stallone make that confession. He talked about God and how his life in Hollywood had gotten out of control but he never confessed Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. To his discredit Robertson never pressed him on the issue. The entire interview was more about publicity for the latest Rocky movie than it was a testimony for Jesus Christ.

Since that interview Stallone has said things that are cause for serious skepticism. For example in a 2010 interview with GQ magazine he was asked about eternity. Here’s the exchange:

Q: Do you ever have any concerns about your own mortality?

A: I don’t believe that we go anyplace. You make your heaven and hell right
here, and you are what you leave behind. But don’t think that you’re going to change anything; you’re not.

Not exactly what you would expect to hear from someone who had surrendered his life to Jesus.

When Stallone’s publicity rep was asked in 2013 to verify that Stallone had given his life to Jesus Christ his reply was one word – “wrong”. After first jumping on the Stallone bandwagon, the Conservative Tribune, to their credit, corrected their original report and asked their readers to pray for Stallone’s conversion.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy when anyone – famous or not, comes to Christ. What perplexes me is why we get more excited about the thought that perhaps Sylvester Stallone became a Christian than we do about John Doe who lives down the street making a genuine profession of faith. Why does Pat Robertson give a seriously questionable interview to someone who talks all about God but can’t say Jesus is my Lord and Savior? I suspect for Robertson televisions ratings have something to do with it. That’s beyond sad.

Here’s the bottom line: Christians don’t need another celebrity to validate their faith – we already have One and He’s all that we need (Colossians 2:10).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Don’t Expect God to Make Everything Right

Linda Randall popularized the song God on the Mountain. If you’ve never heard her beautiful voice you can listen to her sing it here. I’ve mentioned this song in some of my previous posts – it’s got a great message of encouragement.

My wife was part of a duet that sang it at our church this past Sunday. The chorus of the song says:

For the God on the mountain, is the God in the valley.
When things go wrong, He’ll make them right.
And the God of the good times
is still God in the bad times.
The God of the day is still God in the night.

There’s always been one phrase of the song that bothered both me and my wife. It’s the phrase when things go wrong, He’ll make them right. I know that ultimately God will make everything right. But I don’t think when most people hear the song they’re thinking long-range. They want God to make it right and to do it now. And if that is how people understand this song aren’t we offering them a false message and a false hope?

The reality is that God doesn’t always make things right in the short-term. In fact He may not make them right in our lifetime. He didn’t make everything right for the unnamed heroes in Hebrews chapter 11. He didn’t make everything right for countless missionaries through the centuries who have been martyred for their faith. When we expect God to make everything in life right we’re missing the point of our faith

So with apologies to the author (Tracy Dartt) and to Linda Randall who made it so popular, our duet made a slight change in the wording of the song. Instead of singing when things go wrong, He’ll make them right, they sang when things go wrong live by faith not by sight.

After all that is the defining mark of a Christian – living by faith. Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17). And he says explicitly in 2 Corinthians for we walk (live) by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). That’s who Christians are; it’s what they do.

The Christian life is not waiting for God to make right the wrongs of our lives. It’s not even wanting God to do make them right. That’s living by sight; by what we can see. We’re to live by faith; by what we can’t see but know to be true. So when life goes wrong we show our faith, not by asking God to make everything right but by trusting God even when we can’t see and we don’t understand. That’s faith (Hebrews 12:1).

Don’t expect God to make everything right. If He does it’s called grace and you can be thankful. But if He doesn’t we still need to live by faith.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

One Title – Two Messages

Occasionally someone in our church will recommend a song for us to sing – something they heard at another church or on the radio. We welcome suggestions at our church and look into requests to see if the song has potential for us to use in our worship.

This past Sunday one of our worship team members suggested a song called Bow the Knee. When I began to search for the song on the internet I quickly discovered that there are two songs by this name (sometimes you’ll find four or more songs with the same name!). The song that had been suggested is this one – and it’s a good song. You can actually watch the writer of the song (Ron Hamilton) sing it here. Its message is along the lines of recognizing who God is and bowing before Him. Similar to the Apostle Paul’s statement (Philippians 2:9-11):

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The other song by the same title has a different message. Written by Chris Machen and Mike Harland it takes the idea of bowing before God in the direction of accepting the work that God is doing in our lives, even when we don’t understand it.

There are moments on our journey following the Lord
Where God illumines ev’ry step we take.

There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us,
As we try to understand each move He makes.

When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him.

Bow the knee;
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.

Bow the knee;
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.

And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

There are days when clouds surround us, and the rain begins to fall,
The cold and lonely winds won’t cease to blow.

And there seems to be no reason for the suffering we feel;
We are tempted to believe God does not know.

When the storms arise, don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight.

Bow the knee;
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.

Bow the knee;
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.

And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

You can listen to this version here.

Two songs. Both songs with a good biblical message. Both true.

As Christ followers we need to recognize who God is. He IS King of all the ages and He alone deserves our worship.

It is also true that this God who is high and lifted up is one that we can trust on our journey through life even when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan. The writer reminds us of a truth that we need to hang onto; don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight – see 2 Corinthians 5:7.

Wherever you are today – rejoicing in the goodness and greatness of God or struggling to understand the heart of the Father – stop long enough on your spiritual journey to bow your knee.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What Does Trusting God Look Like?

Each year at our church we choose a theme – something about the Christian life that we want to emphasize throughout the year. Our theme for this year is Everything by Faith. It comes from the Apostle Paul’s statement, the life which I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). Paul considered his life to be dead and the life of Christ to be alive in him so that everything he did in this life he did by and through faith. Faith was the ruling factor in his life. The Apostle’s life was all about trusting God in every circumstance, in every decision, in every moment.

As Christians we are to live, like the Apostle Paul, every moment of every day by faith. That means trusting God in everything. It won’t be easy – in fact it will be difficult. Your flesh doesn’t want to live by faith; the world will tempt you not to live by faith; Satan will oppose you if you try to live by faith. But living by faith is the goal of our lives on this earth.

But what does trusting God in everything look like on a practical level? It’s one thing to say that you trust God, it’s another thing to know what trust actually looks like. Let me give you some snapshots of trust that I’ve recently shared with our church family plus a few additional ones.

Trusting God is to believe, embrace and act on the truth that . . .

You are important to Him even when it seems like He’s forgotten you (John 3:16, Matthew 10:39-41)

He knows and will always do what is best for your life (Philippians 1:6)

He knows what is going on in your life and is involved in ways that you cannot see (Romans 8:28, Philippians 2:13)

He is leading your life to make you into someone He wants you to be (Romans 8:29)

His desire for your life is better than anything you could come up with (that’s just common sense)

His work in your life is rooted in His extreme love for you (Romans 5:8)

He can turn the bad of your life into something good (Genesis 50:20)

Your life is not spinning out of control because He is in control (Isaiah 14:24)

If you follow Him it’s the right thing to do even when it means that things don’t always go smoothly for you (1 Peter 1:3-9)

If you choose to follow Him and live life His way it will all work out in the end (1 Peter 1:6-7,9)

He can and will help you in ways that are best for you (Hebrews 2:18, 4:16)

What looks like a failure in life to you He can turn into something that looks like a success to Him (remember Peter? John 21:15-17)

When you can’t explain what God is doing in your life you accept it knowing that there will be a day when it will all make sense (1 Corinthians 13:12)

You will be more like Jesus when He’s done with you than you were when He started (Romans 8:29)

Remember that the Christian life is not about what we can see, but Who we trust. Our motto is and must be we walk by faith [always trusting] not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve