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

Advertisements

It’s Not About What You Want, It’s About What (God Knows) You Need

Life is not easy. We go through a thousand trials and wonder when we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think of people that God has placed in my sphere of ministry and the pain that they are going through – serious health issues, financial problems, loss of a loved one, family issues etc. etc. You probably have people in your circle facing the same things. You might be.

If that is your story – you’re not alone. How many times did the writers of the Psalms cry out, Hear me when I call, O God (Ps 4:1); God, deliver me! (Ps 70:1); God, don’t be far from me! (Ps 71:12). We can all identify with those sentiments. We’ve been there. And when we’re in that situation and we’ve cried out to God but nothing has changed – we wonder why God doesn’t help us. Is he ignoring us? Doesn’t He care?

Several years ago my daughter, a young mother, shared some of the Biblical truths that she had been learning from the Word of God.

I want to share some of it with you. She’s right on target.

If you are going through hard times, I hope this ministers to you in an encouraging, healing way.

“After church last night, I was up thinking. We’ve been studying the prophets, many of whom were quite dramatic. Several, maybe more than I realize, came to a point in life where they begged God to let them die rather than face their circumstances, and the pastor was talking about how God met their needs by not giving them what they were asking for. It’s something I’ve heard before…God gives us exactly what we need. Sometimes, it seems like a trite statement and not very encouraging. Especially when what I am so convinced I need isn’t happening, and I think if God is so loving why isn’t He moving, doing, fixing, revealing Himself? Last night, I realized that statement – God gives us exactly what we need – isn’t such a small thing to say. As a parent, I am often begged, pleaded with, cried out to, asked by my kids for something that they are CONVINCED they NEED. And I know that they don’t need it, and in fact, it is not in their best interests to give it to them. Yet, I’m tired out – tired of saying No one more time, tired of the tears when they don’t get what they think they need, tired of being the unpopular mom, so I give in. I just want to see them smile, squeal with joy, hug me…even when I know that is short lived. I end up giving them what is not best for them. I imagine God in the same situation with me, yet He continues to say No to me and bears my tears, complaints, even anger and doubt because He knows that what I am asking Him for (even though I believe it to be the best thing) is not the best thing, is not what is needed.”

There’s a song by Laura Story (you can listen to it here). Part of it says:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

I want to encourage you to take another look at your trials. To submit your trials to a loving God. To look at your trials differently. He’s working in your life. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what you need. And He knows what you need.

What if the trials in this life really ARE His mercies in disguise? What would you miss if you chose to avoid them?

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

The Grace Factor

Sometimes we have those favorite passages from the Bible that we like to quote. We often do it for encouragement or to explain something we don’t understand. One passage that people use like this is from the book of Isaiah: For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Our normal thought process runs something like this: we can’t explain what God is doing in our lives so our fallback position is that God’s mind just works differently than our minds, so God must have some purpose or reason for – not answering my prayer; for allowing me to suffer; for not blessing me etc.

While all of that may be true on some level, the passage in Isaiah has a very specific context and that context is all about God’s grace.

The two verses just before this set the context. Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7).

It is in the context of God’s mercy and forgiveness that we learn that God’s mind works differently than our minds. God is willing to forgive the wicked who seek Him, call on Him and forsake their sin.

What God knows is that we struggle in this area. When someone has hurt us, wounded us, sinned against us, we struggle to forgiven them even if they seek our forgiveness. We just want to get even. To let them feel our hurt. They deserve at least a little pain. But not so with God. Whenever someone who has hurt the holiness of God by their sin comes seeking Him, He’s there. When they call, He’s listening. When they repent, He’s willing to forgive.

Why? Because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. His ways and thoughts are higher, much higher than ours.

There are two things that we can take away from this passage. One, and this is the primary teaching of the passage, is that God’s grace is not something that He jealously guards but something that He willingly and enthusiastically gives away to those who need it. That’s how His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.

The second takeaway is that this is exactly how we are to live. We are to be grace-givers on a magnitude that we have never before imagined. Grace is not something you keep, it is something you dispense, something you give away freely and without reservation. Unless you give it, grace is not grace. It only becomes grace through the unselfish act of giving. God is not only showing us the magnitude of His grace in this passage – He is challenging us to live the life of grace.

The apostle John touched on this same issue when he wrote: And of His fullness we have all received, and grace piled on top of grace (my translation of John 1:16). Since we have received grace in a magnitude that we cannot begin to understand, we need to give grace in a magnitude that others do not expect. That’s the Grace Factor.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Rethinking the Immigration Debate

Few issues have fueled the fires of debate in our society like illegal immigration. This one issue alone has set friend against friend; conservative against liberal; federal government against state governments; race against race – and unfortunately Christian against Christian.

Each side in this debate has their arguments but as Christ-followers our views need to be more informed by the teachings of scripture than the rhetoric of a political party. Yes, Romans 13 bears on the issue, but it is not the only Biblical teaching that does. For the Christian, this goes much deeper than simply keeping the law or respecting civil authority.

Among other things, our response needs to be informed by:

1. Grace. By definition grace is giving and receiving what is undeserved. Do illegal immigrants deserve to enjoy the freedoms and blessings of our country? Not according to some but that’s exactly where grace comes in. Wherever you are on this issue, you need to make sure that grace is part of your answer. God dealt with us on a far more serious issue than immigration (sin) on the basis of grace (Ephesians 2:8), He continues to relate to us by grace (2 Corinthians 12:9) and He expects us to show grace to others (Colossians 4:6). How can we who have been recipients of grace not in turn show grace?

2. Mercy. Like grace, mercy needs to be part of our answer to this difficult issue. In scripture mercy or compassion is normally associated with the weakest and most vulnerable in society, IE the neediest. The vast majority of immigrants certainly fit into this category. Even if you are a proponent (and I suspect that most readers of my blog are) of the rule of law, even this must be tempered by mercy. King David wrote in Psalm 25:7 do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; according to your mercy remember me. Isn’t that how we want God to deal with us? None of us would ask God to deal with us based only on His justice (rule of law). If He did we would be lost. We want God to deal with us on the basis of His mercy and that’s how we need to deal with other people – even illegal immigrants.

3. Love. The greatest commandment according to Christ is to love God and love our neighbor (Luke 10:27). The parable of the Good Samaritan was told to explain who our neighbor is. In short your neighbor is the person that God puts in your path who has the deepest need – whether they are in our country legally or illegally. Our response is to meet their need in love.

4. The Gospel. As strange as it sounds this too needs to be included in our answer. Even illegal immigrants are people who need to hear the gospel. We have a great opportunity to share Christ with people who have come to our country, regardless of their legal status. We can literally go . . . and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) without ever leaving our country. Too many Christians are too focused on getting rid of the illegals when our first focus should be on sharing Christ with them.

5. Our Speech. Too often Christians use the same harsh rhetoric as everyone else when discussing this issue. We talk about those people as if they were less than human. We decry the fact that they are using our health care and welfare resources (does mercy matter here?). We can’t even say the word immigrant without a harsh tone creeping into our voice. We forget that when we speak the truth (and we need to on this and all other issues) we need to speak it in love (Ephesians 4:15). Love for God, love for others, even love for illegals.

6. People. I recognize that one of the foundations of our society is the rule of law. We are, at least by definition, a country of laws. Even our leaders are subject to the law. That’s why so many people want to come here, even if they have to come illegally, because this is a land of opportunity and safety. And we are a land of opportunity and safety because we have laws. But laws can never be more important than people. Christ died for people not for laws. And somehow as we debate this issue in our country we need to remember that we are dealing with people who carry in themselves the image of God. People who were created by God. People who are loved by God.

The immigration debate needs to be moved out of the emotional realm and, for the Christian, into the Biblical/theological realm. It’s time that we stopped listening to the political pundits and starting listening to God. When you do you may be amazed at how it will inform your thinking.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve