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 is Your Mental Image of God?

When you think about God, what do you see in your mind’s eye? How do you imagine God?

Maybe it’s Michelangelo’s image of God in his Sistine Chapel fresco The Creation of Adam. Perhaps it’s Raphael’s depiction of God in his famous painting Ezekiel’s Vision.

Jesus said that God is spirit, that is, He is not material (John 4:24). However, there are a number of times that the Bible records visual depictions of God (2 Chronicles 18:18, Isaiah 6:1, Ezekiel 1:26, 10:1, Daniel 7:13 and Revelation 4:2). They were given to us so that we could in some way understand who He is.

Unfortunately our view of God is sometimes limited by visual images and that’s as far as we get in our knowledge and understanding of God. That’s not just a limited view of God, it can lead to a false view.

There’s so much more to God that we can know from a visual image.

Another way that people imagine God is based on their life experiences. Often their view of God as Father is colored by their own experience with their earthly father. If their biological father was kind and loving, then they see God as a kind and loving Father. If their earthly father was judgmental and harsh, that’s how they think of God.

Both extremes are unfortunate. If your father was kind and good, God is a thousand times kinder and better. To equate Him with the kindness and love of your earthly father is to sell God short.

If your earthly father was a tyrant, well that’s not God at all.

We have to divorce our image of God from artistic depictions or even from our earthly experiences. God is far different from either. And when we limit our image of God, the God that we see in our minds, to images and experiences we miss the best of God.

Your mental image of God is important because how you think about God will determine how you respond to God, how you pray, how you trust. It will determine your entire relationship.

Our God is the most loving, the most gracious, the most merciful, the most caring, the most concerned of anyone you will ever encounter. He is the most of anything and everything that is good and right and righteous and just.

He loves you more than anyone will ever love you. He loves you more than you deserve to be loved. He loves you more than you will ever understand.

The same can be said for His grace to you, His mercy towards you, His care for you, and His concern for you.

It’s important to have a mental image of God that is reflective of who He is in all of His Goodness.

It will make all of the difference in your relationship. It will make all of the difference in how you respond.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Searching for Mercy

I think that’s a safe title. Strange but safe. Searching for Mercy.

You search for things that you’ve lost. If we’ve lost anything in our society it’s Mercy.

Justice – we have plenty of it. Generosity – we don’t do too badly. Compassion – there’s even some of that around. But Mercy. What’s happened to Mercy?

It’s safe to say that it’s been lost. Viewed as a sign of weakness. Not given to those we think don’t deserve it (get the irony here?).

It’s significant that the place God chose to dwell in Israel – in the Holy of Holies, on the Ark of the Covenant was called the Mercy Seat (Exodus 25). Not the Judgment Seat but the Mercy Seat.

God lives in a place of Mercy.

The Mercy Seat was the place where God would meet and speak to Moses (Exodus 25:22). Not the Judgment Seat but the Mercy Seat.

God communicates from a place of Mercy.

The Mercy Seat was the place where the High Priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement as payment for the sin of Israel (Leviticus 16). Not the Judgment Seat but the Mercy Seat.

God deals with us from a place of Mercy.

Throughout the Bible and especially in the Old Testament – the testament of judgment, of punishment (isn’t that what people say?), we’re reminded that God is a God of Mercy.

  • He’s abundant in Mercy (Numbers 14:18)
  • He shows Mercy to multitudes (Deuteronomy 5:10)
  • His Mercy can never be exhausted (2 Chronicles 7:3)
  • His judgment is tempered by His Mercy (Nehemiah 9:31)
  • His Mercy is great (Nehemiah 13:22)
  • You can Trust in His Mercy (Psalm 13:5)
  • You can Rejoice in His Mercy (Psalm 31:7)
  • His anger is tempered by His Mercy (Psalm 103:8)

It’s easy to forget just how important Mercy is, not just in our theology but in our everyday lives.

We need Mercy. Can you imagine your life without it? Without the Mercy that others have extended to you?

Wow! Where would I be today without the Mercy that so many people have granted me over the years of my life?! I hate to think of it.

Our Worship Teams are learning a new song that they will soon introduce to our church. It’s got a great focus on God’s Mercy.

Mercies Anew
Every morning that breaks There are mercies anew
Every breath that I take Is your faithfulness proved
And at the end of each day When my labors are through
I will sing of Your mercies anew

When I’ve fallen and strayed There were mercies anew
For you sought me in love And my heart you pursued
In the face of my sin Lord, You never withdrew
So I sing of Your mercies anew

Chorus
And Your mercies, they will never end
For ten thousand years they’ll remain
And when this world’s beauty has passed away
Your mercies will be unchanged

And when the storms swirl and rage
There are mercies anew
In affliction and pain
You will carry me through
And at the end of my days
When Your throne fills my view
I will sing of Your mercies anew
I will sing of Your mercies anew.

You can listen to it here.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Keeping Perspective

It’s important to keep life in perspective. In fact, perspective is everything.

This week my Facebook page is filled with the colors of the French flag as people identify with the French people in their hour of suffering. Blue, white, and red are evident in abundance. And that’s as it should be.

However we cannot allow the evil that resulted in such tragedy to dominate our hearts and minds. It’s too easy to throw up our hands in despair or – on the other side, to let anger and even hatred fill our hearts. It’s a matter of perspective.

What should our perspective be in the face of such evil and suffering? Here are a few things that should dominate our thinking.

>We have a God of grace and mercy

Our focus is not to be on evil but on good, and as Jesus reminded us only God is good (Matthew 19:17). That means that He is to be our focus. He is to be the One who dominates our hearts and minds. In a time of suffering, confusion and turmoil we are to see His Grace and His Mercy. He is the One who puts it all into perspective.

>Light dispels darkness

It’s a universal truth. Light will always dispel the darkness. Darkness cannot overcome light – light always overcomes darkness. That’s true in the physical realm and it’s even truer in the spiritual. Whenever a great tragedy happens it seems like we are being engulfed by the darkness. But as long as we carry the light (Matthew 5:14-16) there is hope for those in darkness. Light puts the darkness into perspective.

>Love conquers hate

Someone posted on Facebook this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. As counterintuitive as it seems we are called to love the hater who took so many innocent lives because only love can drive out hatred. We’re not only commanded to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39) we’re commanded to love those who bomb us and take the lives of our sons and daughters (Matthew 5:43-48). As hard as that is – it’s how Jesus loved us (Romans 5:8). Love puts hatred into perspective.

>Jesus is the answer

It’s tempting to think that bombs and killing are the answer. But they’re not. Humanity has been bombing evil (often a matter of perspective) since anyone can remember. And it’s still here. It just changes form – and names. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the evil or concede defeat. I’m just saying that force is not the ultimate answer to evil. It will always come back. The ultimate answer is Jesus Christ and that’s where Christians need to focus their time, energy, and resources. Jesus puts the entire world into perspective.

Empathize with the French people. Pray for them. Show your support for them. Mourn those who were lost. But keep it all in perspective.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Difficult Work of God

Have you ever wondered about God? We all have at some time. Why does God act the way He does? Why doesn’t God act the way we think He should? To our minds, God is difficult to figure out. I’ve often wondered why God has been so tough on Israel. Sure Israel wandered away from God; broke His law; worshiped pagan idols; and generally lived more like the pagans of the world than as God fearers. But think about what the Jewish people have gone through over the past several thousand years of world history as a result of God’s judgment: the Assyrian captivity (northern kingdom), the Babylonian captivity (southern kingdom), 400 years of silence from God before the birth of Christ, the Roman occupation and ultimate destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., world-wide dispersion since the first century, the holocaust, pogroms, attempted annihilations, hatred, multiple wars intended to destroy the Jewish nation, and constant terrorism. Talk about shock and awe! Hasn’t God overdone it just a little bit?

Then I read this passage in the book of Isaiah: For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer (Isaiah 54:7-8).

Wow! God said that His judgment of Israel is just for a mere moment and His wrath was little – but in comparison His mercy to Israel is going to be great and everlasting!

There is no comparison between His judgment (which has a Divine purpose) and His mercy. That’s why the prophet Jeremiah could state unequivocally in the middle of the book of Lamentations, This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:21-23). Even when we cannot understand God we can hold onto the truth that His mercy is far greater than His anger; that His kindness will far outweigh His judgment.

When you don’t understand why God does what He does, remember that His mercy is great and His kindness is everlasting. And that He is working in the events of your life for His glory and for your good. Trust Him and let Him build you into the image of Christ, even through His difficult work.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

When God Isn’t There

I recognize that this title states an impossibility – there’s never a time when God isn’t there. He’s always there whether or not we sense His presence. But there are times in life when it seems like God isn’t there. Times when we struggle with a God who is silent. What do we do then? I think there is a clue in Psalm 13. If you haven’t read it in a while, stop now and read it before you read the rest of this blog. It’s short.

Psalm 13 is a lament written by David. And he doesn’t mince any words getting to the core issue: How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever (Vs 1)?

For David it seemed like God wasn’t there or at least that God had forgotten him. Just in case God didn’t get the idea David followed that question up with another: How long will You hide Your face from me (Vs 1)? In that culture when the king hid his face it meant that he withheld his blessing. David was feeling left out by a God who seemed to be absent from the details of his life.

The result of God’s disappearing act (at least that was how David saw it) was that David had a sense of being on his own in life without anyone, especially God, to help him. Ever been there? Ever felt as if God had gone AWOL and you were on your own? That’s where David was. In fact he was so alone that he thought that this might literally be the end (Vs 3).

So what’s the answer? When you feel like God isn’t there for you and you’re on your own – what do you do?

David doesn’t end the Psalm without giving us three simple things that every Christian needs to do when it seems that God isn’t there.

1. Keep Trusting in His Goodness

But I have trusted in Your mercy (Vs 5).

Even though he was going through a spiritual desert, David determined that the one thing that was always true was God’s goodness and he could trust in that.

Trusting in God’s goodness is saying, God I’m going to choose to believe that You are good to me even when I don’t see any evidence of Your goodness. It’s putting Truth before feelings. It’s putting what you know is right before what you feel is wrong.

2. Keep Rejoicing in His Salvation

My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation (Vs 5).

Rejoicing is difficult when you think God is ignoring you. But that’s what David resolved to do.

Rejoicing in His salvation is saying God I’m going to rejoice in what I know is true because if you can save me, you can take care of me. Do you really think that we have a God who has gone to such great lengths to save us only to turn His back on us?

And even if He isn’t doing anything that we can identify right now, isn’t the fact that He saved you enough evidence of His presence?

3. Keep Remembering His Blessings

I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me (Vs 6).

Remembering has great value. It encourages. It gives hope. It stirs our emotions. It reminds us that God IS there and that He CAN help us.

Remembering His blessings is saying God I know that if you blessed me in the past you can and will bless me in the future.

It’s affirming that God is interested in your life and that without Him life would a lot worse than we think it is.

Trusting in God’s goodness, rejoicing in His salvation and remembering His blessings are all acts of Faith. It takes faith to trust God when you can’t sense His presence. It takes faith to rejoice in the fact that God saved you when He doesn’t seem to be around. It takes faith to remember His blessings when it doesn’t seem like He’s blessing you now.

So the next time you think that God isn’t there, follow David’s lead.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Importance of Symbols

I don’t know when people figured out that symbols were useful, but I suspect it was early on. Some of the earliest written forms were pictorial in nature. Before alphabets were designed people drew symbols. Fast forward several thousand years and Madison Avenue figured out that they could describe a company or product in a hundred words or they could simply show you a picture. So along came the Golden Arches, the Swoosh and the Apple.

The importance of symbols has been reignited in our collect conscience by the recent tragedy in South Carolina and the ensuing debate over one of the most notorious symbols in American history, the Confederate flag. To the proponents of the flag it is a symbol of their proud history and freedom from federal domination. To others it is a symbol of slavery, racism, and hatred.

What is sometimes forgotten in the heat of debate is that symbols are more than pictures – they are powerful images that invoke thoughts and actions in us. By design they are made to produce a response.

The other thing that is sometimes overlooked is that the same symbol can mean different things to different people – people see them in different ways. The Golden Arches can symbolize either cheap, tasty food or obesity; the Swoosh either great shoes or run-away capitalism; the Apple either advanced technology or time-wasting machines. It all depends on how you look at things.

Christianity has used symbols with varying success since the first century. Some groups have used them more extensively and effectively than others. The Eastern Orthodox Church has used symbols in their religious ceremonies for centuries and still does today. Other groups use few symbols.

Without question the greatest Christian symbol is the cross. And it, like most symbols, is viewed differently by different people. To the Romans the cross represented an instrument of death. To the Jews it was a symbol of shame. To the Greeks it was a symbol of foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). But to the Christian the cross has always been a symbol of the most powerful love ever expressed to man. It is central to our theology and our lives. Without the cross there is no forgiveness, no hope and no future. This one symbol represents everything about our faith.

And in a manner of speaking it represents everything about God. Thousands of books have been written attempting to explain God to us but we still see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). We’re still left with unanswered questions. But there is a way to know God (I’m not neglecting the Bible here). Without being too simplistic, if you want to understand God just look at the symbol – it will tell you what you need to know.

It is the Cross that teaches us about God’s love, His wisdom, His forgiveness, His nature, His eternal plan, His sacrifice, His kingdom, His mercy, His compassion, His justice, His grace, His humility and so much more.

And it is the Cross that calls people to a response of faith.

God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve