Grateful For God’s Mercy

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever: The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever: The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever….” – Psalm 136 (KJV). 

How good is your memory? It probably depends on your definition of “good memory.” Some people have photographic memories and can remember details from 10 years ago. Others may not remember any details from a week ago. Some people only remember the good in their lives while others tend to remember the bad. Memory is very important. It is what connects what has been to what is and gives us a perception of our world as it actually is today.

Psalm 106 talks about the importance of God’s memory and our memory. Psalm 106:1 (KJV) says, “Praise ye the LORD, O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” We are to remember and be grateful for the mercy God has shown us. We are to thank God for His mercy. Psalm 106 is the memory enhancer for Israel. There are two kinds of memory at play in Psalm 106: one is our lack of memory and the other is God’s never-ending memory. The psalm says in verse 7, “Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies.” So, Israel did not understand because they did not remember. They had not taken note of what God had done, so they worried about what would happen in the future. Verse 13 says, “They soon forgot his works; they waited not for his counsel.” Why did they not wait for God? Why were they impatient? They had forgotten that God had always taken care of them before. Verse 21 says, “They forgot God their saviour.”  Fortunately, God did not forget them.

We all deserve God’s wrath. Our actions should torment us, condemn us, shame us. But they don’t. They won’t. Jesus gives us what we do not deserve in this moment like He has done time and time again in the past and like He will again in the future. Instead of receiving what we deserve, He extends His nail-scarred hands and says, “Come to me.”

So, memory matters. When circumstances are tough, when things are not going the way you wanted them to go, remember the forgiveness of Jesus – paid for, complete, and available. And remember the times you experienced God’s undeserved mercy and grace.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Would you say you are grateful for God’s mercy on a regular basis?   
  2. What can you do this week to show more gratitude to God? 

Trust In Times Of Uncertainty

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,” – A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens.  

Maybe you’ve never read A Tale of Two Cities, but you are probably familiar with the popular idiom from the book: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of time.”  This is one way Dickens used to create a parallel between his readers and history.  This line has become so iconic because each generation thinks their struggles are uniquely difficult. 2020 is a perfect example. Many people feel as if we are living in unprecedented times. Yet the world has seen pandemics and hurricanes, and political upheaval before. It’s one thing to read about these events in history books, but when you’re living through them, they are overwhelming and can naturally lead to an erosion of trust in God.

It is much more difficult to trust God in confusing, uncertain times. However, it is even more important to trust Him in times like these. God is our anchor and firm foundation when the pandemics of life are raging all around us. He is trustworthy even if nothing or no one else is. But we have to be careful that our trust doesn’t come with conditions. Too often our version of trusting God comes with expectations. Scriptures tell us to trust God in every circumstance. But that is not so easy when the circumstances are negative. Without intending to, we tend to expect the good not the bad. Real trust is the belief that God has our deepest well-being in mind even when the news from the doctor is bad, or you didn’t get that job you so needed. If we truly trust God, then we will have the confidence that God does all things well, even if the worst we fear happens. 

There is a disconnect between what we want God to do and what we need Him to do. We can have the expectation that God should cooperate with the script we’ve written rather than live a trust-based relationship on His terms and His plan for our lives. The omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful) God who loves us as no one else can is the same loving God who so often frustrates our expectations. On His watch, we may not get the job we wanted, or get into the university of our choice, or the medical report we hoped for.  

Can we trust that God is telling a larger and bigger story that is wiser and better and longer-lasting than the smaller story we have in mind with our limited, time-bound perspective? Is it not possible that an infinitely wise, graciously loving, and supremely powerful God could somehow be working a greater good than we can imagine through all the disappointments and difficulties that come our way?  

If we’re to follow Jesus on the narrow road, we must discover a kind of trust that sustains us in our trials, frees us to love others when others fail us, and anchors us in seemingly irrational hope and inexplicable joy, even when it seems like the worst of times. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does your trust in God change in good and bad times? 
  2. What can we do this week to trust God no matter what is happening around us?  

Mercy Produces Happiness

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3-10.

What tips the scales from a situation being motivating and inspiring to being discouraging and deflating? In some ways, it comes down to your role: did you make it worse or did you serve as God’s agent of mercy? Making things worse makes things worse while showing mercy typically brings happiness. Being kind to other people actually blesses you and makes you happier in life. And mercy certainly produces greater joy in those to whom you’ve shown it. The Bible teaches over and over that the more merciful we are, the happier we’re going to be.“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” –Matthew 5:7

The problem with mercy is that the only time you need to give it is when someone has done some sort of wrong to you. And when that happens, retribution, not mercy comes to mind.  You think getting even and seeing justice served would make you happy. Jesus is saying it won’t make you happy. Hurting someone like you were hurt won’t make your hurt go away. It just makes us bitter. And a bitter, happy person is a contradiction in terms. 

Jesus is saying people are going to hurt you intentionally and unintentionally and He asks you to choose mercy. He asks us to show them mercy even when they don’t deserve it. Jesus asks us to show mercy even when it is hard because that’s the pathway to happiness. The happiness you are looking for isn’t found on the other side of revenge. It’s found in being merciful. Too often our lack of mercy, lack of forgiveness is keeping us from happiness.

Jesus makes you a promise that if you will show mercy to others, mercy will be shown to you. And who amongst us does not need lots of mercy. And as C.S. Lewis said, “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.”

Make mercy your “default” position. Try to understand others first through the eyes of mercy. Instead of judging people for their faults and failings, recognize them as people in need of mercy. You will be the happier for it. 

Discussion questions:

  1. How can showing mercy to others bring happiness into your life?
  2. What can we do this week to be merciful to those around us? 

The Power Of Compassion

“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”” –  Mark 8:2-3 (ESV). 

This passage in Mark gives us some interesting points. First, notice that the crowds were so drawn to Jesus that they were willing to spend three days with Him, listening to Him and running out of food in the process  They chose Jesus and His teaching in this desolate place over food and the comfort of their own homes. They simply wanted to be with Jesus. Secondly, this passage reveals Jesus’ deep concern and compassion for people.  

The word “compassion” means to suffer with. It is to feel the suffering of others which moves you to help relieve the suffering. Compassion is the drive to relieve the hurts of others. 

Compassion is the very heart of God. God is compassionate because He is love. It is His character to love even if love is not returned to Him. He will give us good things because of His goodness. Jesus didn’t just feel compassion. Compassion moved him to action. He healed. He taught. He comforted. So should we.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 

How effective are we at showing compassion or mercy to others? If you are like most people you do a pretty good job displaying compassion with relatives and close friends. But what about people that you are not as close with? Spend time with families or single moms to better understand the struggles parents can face. Lead a Bible study of college students, sharing your wisdom, and hearing what it’s like to be a student today. Get involved and make friends with the elderly and the underserved. By getting involved in other’s lives, you’re being intentional like Jesus—not offering compassion from a distance, but moving into others’ lives, developing relationships, and serving them.

Having compassion for others is important. Compassion for others helps create an environment for God to develop a more tender heart in you. This week, think of circumstances that are just right for compassion to develop and to flourish.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does compassion mean to you?
  2. What role can compassion play in our daily walk with God?

God Is Rich In Mercy

“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 2:4-7.

This certainly is a time of uncertainty. The pandemic has created a cloud over most everything. So how do we better deal with uncertainty? As Christians, our relationship with others with God and with uncertain times is almost exclusively impacted by our knowledge of God. In other words, the more we understand and apply the God of Scriptures to our life, the more we are prepared to deal with negative times and circumstances in our lives.  

We start by knowing God. All of God’s attributes are incredible and glorious; His goodness, His compassion, His long-suffering and His love to name a few. But it is hard to overlook the trait and characteristic of God of mercy. In fact, it can’t be overstated.  

Mercy fuels compassion, providing promising glints of light in a darkened world. It’s kindness, forgiveness, and empathy. Mercy chooses not to be offended, and compassionately sees a hurting heart behind hurtful words. God’s mercy is reflected in the cross of Christ, a direct reflection of His love for us. “The wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy.” (James 3:17)

Mercy is a display of God’s abundant nature. Mercy triumphed over judgment when Christ died for sinners, to rescue us from the condemnation we surely deserved. That same mercy triumphs still as our Holy Father looks at us and sees the faultless and unblemished image of His perfect Son. It was and still is the most extraordinary display of mercy in history. We are sinful people and we absolutely do not deserve the goodness and love our Father shows us, but each and every time we stray He relentlessly calls us back to Him and shows us incomprehensible grace and mercy.  

Furthermore, God’s mercy for the believer isn’t just a single one-off act. Psalm 23 gives us the assurance that “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Whatever situation you’re in today, you can rest in God’s mercy.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How effective are you at being a conduit for passing on the mercy God has shown you to other people?  
  2. If you were to incorporate mercy into your own life, how would the next week be different?   

When Things Just Don’t Make Sense

Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Do not reject us forever. Why do you look the other way? Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression?…We no longer see your miraculous signs. All the prophets are gone, and no one can tell us when it will end. How long, O God, will you allow our enemies to insult you? Will you let them dishonor your name forever? Why do you hold back your strong right hand? Unleash your powerful fist and destroy them.– Psalm 44:23-24,

“Seriously, God?” I’m sure more than a few people stood watching their TV and wondered what is going on. Troubles seem to be all around us. We have a pandemic. And now we have a devastating hurricane in Louisiana and Texas. Every person who lives long enough will eventually encounter circumstances that are difficult to explain theologically. But sometimes things simply don’t make sense. It is at these times we need to look at God differently.  

Jonah is a prime example of someone who didn’t believe what God was asking him to do made sense. God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh.  Known for its eagerness to expand its boundaries and to cruelly subjugate conquered citizens, Assyria (Nineveh was the capital) loomed as a constant threat to Israel’s continued good fortune. One could assume that Israel’s God, who loved His people and was all-powerful, would take whatever steps were necessary to keep Israel secure. One step was obvious: destroy Nineveh. That made sense. But God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. 

God told Jonah to go to Nineveh; give them a chance to repent. God did not want to destroy them. Jonah viewed them as an enemy so it didn’t make any sense so he went in the opposite direction. We all know the story. Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish and went to Nineveh anyway. The story of Jonah reminds us that everything God does or doesn’t do is an expression of His unfailing love. His love makes Him willing to do whatever is necessary to restore people into a relationship with Him. 

It is the same today during pandemics and hurricanes. Until we see Jesus face-to-face, we will never fully see God as He truly is.  When we see God as He is, we will no longer resist His ways when they make no sense. We will no longer run away from Him into a “better” life than God provides. We may tremble, but we will trust. His thoughts and His ways will then be a source of never-ending delight.

Resisting and running will remain a temptation, a “reasonable” option when God’s ways make no sense. But we can trust in His love, grace. mercy and faithfulness: “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you do when life just doesn’t seem to make sense?   
  2. What can you do this week to trust God when things don’t make sense? 

We’ll Get Through This…Won’t We?

“It matters little what I think about the coronavirus—or about anything else, for that matter. But it matters forever what God thinks. He is not silent about what he thinks. Scarcely a page in the Bible is irrelevant for this crisis. My voice is grass. God’s voice is granite.” – John Piper.  

Bob is naturally optimistic. People in his small group all say that he has a sunny take on nearly everything. His enthusiasm for life is contagious. But in this strange, uncertain season we are experiencing as the coronavirus continues to afflict countries around the world, Bob has found himself in the grips of real fear.  

One night, in particular, Bob was watching some experts lay out the worst-case scenario projection right before he went to bed and found he couldn’t sleep. Bob tossed and turned, got up read his Bible and prayed, but could not escape the anxiety and worry for the future caused by COVID-19.  In times like these Christians all over embrace the assurances God has given us. We read the psalms and other passages that speak of the goodness of God, His sovereignty, His power over creation. Still, COVID-19 continues to be a very real threat. But rather than dwell on the threat of COVID-19 maybe we should look beyond the inconveniences, challenges, and frustrations for opportunities.   

During the pandemic, we should be asking ourselves, “How is God calling me to serve?” We may be isolated in our homes, but we don’t have to be isolated from our communities. Technological mediums will never replace what we get from face-to-face, embodied fellowship, and we should never consider separation from friends and our local body of believers as the norm. There are many tangible needs in our communities. As Christians, we need to reach out in tangible ways to let our neighbors know that they are not alone. As you are able, consider how God might be calling you to listen to others or speak a comforting word, to help provide food or necessities to those who are lacking, or to share other blessings with those who are struggling. 

A phone call can be very encouraging to those who are isolated. Encourage people to reach out if they need anything; dropping off extra supplies to an elderly person who was not able to prepare can be done safely. Even in times of masks and social distancing, we can safely reach out in mercy and love. God is calling His people to be a blessing and, most importantly, to provide hope to those who are fearful.

Times of trial, uncertainty, and fear are not the moments to lean away from God, but the moments to lean toward Him—in every way we can. We might also use this time to connect with our immediate family. Being locked together in isolation can present its challenges, but it’s an opportunity to work on our most important relationships with greater intention and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are your biggest challenges during the pandemic? 
  2. What can we do this week to connect with the community around us? 

Learn To See People As God Sees Them

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12.

When we become of a follower of Jesus Christ we tend to see things differently. We begin to see ourselves with a little more clarity.  We see our problems, our past, present, and future. We look at other people differently as well. Basically everything gets a little clearer the closer we get to God and the more we see from God’s point of view. In Matthew 6:22 the (Message) Bible says this “Your eyes are windows into your body.  If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light.”

 God is not talking about physical eyes and physical light.  He’s talking about spiritual insight.  He’s talking about seeing in a new way spiritually. The Apostle Paul calls it seeing with the “eyes of your heart.” (Ephesians 1:18 NIV) The remainder of the verse says “in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.”  Seeing through God’s eyes means seeing through impartial eyes. 

Within the church there should be no looking down on people who are different, or who make different choices than us. There should be no “us vs. them” mindset – it’s all of us together, united by the blood of Christ. And even outside the church, it still isn’t “us vs. them.”  We should strive to find common ground where we can.  Though we may be different in lots of ways, we are all sinners.  Apart from the grace of Christ we are no different than anyone else. And so we can strive to love sacrificially, to be compassionate, and sympathetic toward those who need Christ just as much as we need Him. Impartiality promotes unity even amidst differences. 

In humility, we should remember that there wasn’t anything in you or me that made God choose us. There was no special characteristic, no excellent skill or talent, no innate goodness in you or in me that granted us a place in His kingdom. It’s all about Him, His beauty, His perfect character in us that makes us worthy.

Jesus’ whole life was a declaration of His impartiality. He served and healed so many people with diseases.  He healed lepers, lepers who were societal outcasts. He washed the feet of His disciples, even the disciple who would betray Him. He ate and drank with sinners and tax collectors, as well as the religious elite. And, He was crucified, dying a criminal’s death – and not on behalf of people who were spiritually rich. Not on behalf of the innocent, because no such people existed. He died for those who were absolutely destitute. Those who were spiritually dead.

Our God is an impartial God. If He wasn’t, we would have no hope. But He is. And because He is, we have the greatest hope in all the world. Our goal is to see people the same way He does. 

Discussion questions:

  1. How good are you at seeing people the way God sees them?
  2. What can we do this week to better see people as God sees them?

Are We Better Than Others?

“have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” – James 2:4 (ESV) 

There have always been people who think they are better than everyone else. Some feel they are better than everyone else because they have a lot of money. Others because they have power. There are those who feel superior because they belong to a certain social class, religious group or racial group. Still others feel a sense of moral superiority.  It reminds one of the “Pharisee who stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector.” (Matthew 18:11)

What does God think about people who have an air of superiority over others? The Bible says not very much. For example, Proverbs 16:18 warns us,  “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” James talks about this very issue in chapter 2 of his letter. James deals with the Christian’s attitude towards others especially to people from different strata of society. He teaches us the wrongs of being partial towards people based on their appearance, gender, ability, possession, and even position. We were all created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 says, “ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  

It is easy to have preconceived perceptions between the wealthy and the poor. It is easy to think the wealthy are more spiritual than the poor ones. Since they are blessed with possessions, they think that might be the indication that God is blessing them above and beyond the poor. But Proverbs 22:2 says; “The rich and poor have this in common: The Lord made them both.” This clearly shows that no matter what your social status is, what God cares about is who you are in Christ Jesus.

In Romans 2: 6-11 (ESV), Paul says, “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; … For God shows no partiality.” God will judge the people not by their appearance or their circumstances or their cultural or religious advantages. God is impartial. He is not a  “respecter of persons.” He sees through them and goes to the heart of the matter and is not partial to appearance and circumstance. Nobody breaks the rules and gets away with it, no matter how powerful or clever or wealthy or networked. All are judged by the same measure.

Christians need to acknowledge and accept the fact that people come from different backgrounds and cultures, but all are precious to God. We should love everyone regardless of their race, religion, wealth, status etc. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways do you see yourself being partial? 
  2. What can we do this week to be less impartial?   

Being Impartial

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” – James 2:1-4 (ESV)

You’d think that the church would be a place where class falls away and we are all equal as children at the feet of Jesus. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so in the New Testament days and it isn’t always so in our own era. In James 2:1-4 we see the difference shown in the Church between the rich and the poor; Christians demonstrating their perception between the wealthy and the poor, thinking wealthy are more spiritual than the poor. Coming to that conclusion is easy: rich people have possessions so God is listening to their prayers and blessing them more than others.

The Sadducees and Pharisees demonstrated this dynamic because they thought that as men of God they were more spiritual than others. But Solomon, one of the wisest and richest men in history cleared this all up in Proverbs 22:2: “The rich and poor have this in common: The Lord made them both.” This clearly shows that no matter what your social status is, what God cares about is who you are in Christ Jesus.

The bottom line is that all Christians are equal in the sight of God, no matter your status, culture or background, 1 John 3:1 says; “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.” Since we are all children of God we should remind ourselves now and again that the mercy that has been shown to us by Jesus Christ should be extended to others. If we would constantly remind ourselves of the “grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:2), we would be less prejudiced and not be quick to pass judgment on others.

in Romans 2: 6-11 Paul says, “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;… For God shows no partiality.”

“For God shows no partiality.” There is a universal respect that God shows all His children. After all, “he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45). This is something fundamental about God. He is not moved by irrelevant external appearances. He sees through them and goes to the heart of the matter and is not partial to appearance and circumstance. And since God is impartial we should be impartial as well. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does God being impartial mean to you?
  2. What does God being impartial mean in our daily walk with Him?