Blessed Are The Merciful

“A man does not get grace till he comes down to the ground, till he sees he needs grace. When a man stoops to the dust and acknowledges that he needs mercy, then it is that the Lord will give him grace.” –  Dwight L. Moody.

The mercy of God is one of the most precious gifts we will ever receive. It is a prominent theme throughout the Bible. If you want to know who God really is, if you want to peek into His heart, don’t dwell on His incalculable power or His wrath. Instead, look at His mercy. We are prone to see God’s mercy as peripheral or incidental to who He is. But if we let the Scriptures have their say, we will see that when God shows His mercy in ways we can only imagine.

There are wonderful examples of God’s mercy in the Bible. Today, we look at one.  This story showcases a God who does not remain “in the clouds,” but is active in the lives of His people.

It is the story of the widow found in 2 Kings 4:1-7. This passage tells us the story of the widow that lost her husband and was faced with debts she couldn’t pay, Debt collectors will take her sons and make them slaves to serve as payback for the money the late husband was owing them. She was depressed, devastated, and frustrated, but God had mercy on her and brought Elisha her way. Elisha asked her if she had anything in the house and she replied “Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil.” Elisha told her to borrow all the empty jars she can from friends and neighbors, then she should go inside the house shut the door behind her, and pour olive oil from the flask into the jars setting each one aside when it is filled. She did as she was instructed and soon every jar is full. Elisha told her to“sell the olive oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on what is left over.” This is a great example of mercy because she had no help, nobody was ready to help her condition nor help her pay her debts, but God looked on her with mercy.

The rest of the Bible takes up this same theme. God is not only merciful, he is “rich is mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). It is because of God’s mercy that we are saved. “he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:5)

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. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”  (Matthew 5.7). How are the merciful blessed? What does this look like? Have you experienced this? When? 
  2. How effective are you at being a conduit for passing on the mercy God has shown you to other people?  
  3. If you were to incorporate mercy into your own life, how would the next week be different?   

The Attributes Of God – God Never Changes

What are God’s attributes? Each Friday we will look at an attribute of God. This week, God never changes.  The Bible clearly tells us that God is unchanging. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)  Malachi 3:6 says, “I am the Lord, and I do not change…” While everything around us is changing, we can depend on God continually showing us His grace, love, and compassion. All our material possessions may blow away, but God is still there.

“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” –  Psalm 90:2

Just think about that for a moment. How many friends have you had and lost or become distant from over the years because you just “grew apart?” It’s because one of you changed. But God never changes. 

God is unchanging in His existence. There has never been a time when God was not. There will never be a time when He will cease to be. Psalm 102:27 says, “But you are always the same; you will live forever.” All that He is today, He has always been, and forever will be. He cannot improve for the better, because He is already perfect. His power can never diminish and His glory will never fade. His existence never changes.

His Mercy is unchanging. Psalm 100:5 says, “For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” The same is true with His sovereignty, holiness, power, faithfulness, goodness, patience, grace, and even His wrath. His attributes never change.

The God we serve is the same God today as He was the day He raised Jesus from the grave. He is the same God today as He was when He spoke the world into existence. He is the God who saves and He is the God in whom you can place your hope.  If God never changes, then that means His love is forever. His forgiveness is forever. His salvation is forever. His promises are forever. And His attributes are forever. 

 We should find extreme comfort in God’s unchanging nature. Every created thing in this life will let you down at some point in time. Whether it is circumstances, relationships, health, career, children, technology, etc. However unstable the circumstances around us are, God never changes. 

A.W. Tozer said, “God never changes moods or cools off in His affections or loses enthusiasm.  His attitude toward sin is now the same as it was when He drove out the sinful man from the garden, and His attitude toward the sinner the same as when He stretched forth His hand and cried, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’”  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does God’s unchangeableness have the power to change us?
  2. How would we live our lives differently if we truly believed all God’s promises will never change?

The Attributes Of God – The Goodness Of God

What are God’s attributes? Each Friday we will look at an attribute of God. This week, the goodness of God. The clear message of Scripture is that God is uniquely good and that He is the measure for everything we call good. Considered together with His wisdom and power, Christians can be assured that God not only desires to reveal His goodness but is able to accomplish His good plan in the best possible way.

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 2:6-7.

God’s goodness simply can’t be fully grasped.  How can any human being ever get their head around the awesome goodness of God? It transcends our understanding, yet we know its truth through scripture. God’s love and goodness are universal. It encompasses all people. Psalm 145:8-10 says, “The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation. All of your works will thank you, Lord, and your faithful followers will praise you.“  

When we are saved and we love and serve God we experience the boundless riches of God’s grace and goodness toward us. We experience what David says in Psalm 23:6, “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” Think about that for a second: the goodness of Good follows us. 

The question is how is God’s goodness showing up in our daily lives? There is any number of ways, When we leave our lives in the hands of our good God, we will see the good things God has for us. We see the goodness of God in how He sustains us each day. He is faithful to meet our physical needs and loves us through the people He’s placed around us. Even when life is hard, we can trust God to sustain us. We can trust God’s providence even if His provision doesn’t align with our desires.

Forgiveness reveals God’s goodness, daily. Daily, we come to God for forgiveness, because we all fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) In His goodness and through the sacrifice of His Son, we are able to embrace the gift of forgiveness He has given to us, and thus forgive others as He has done for us. In the greatest act of love, God sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, to earth. Fully God and fully man, Jesus came to earth to die a sacrificial death on the cross by crucifixion. He was innocent, yet died a criminal’s death, intentionally for us. The cross is a daily reminder of the goodness of God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If circumstances in your life cause you to doubt God’s goodness, where in Scripture can you turn for reassurance and confidence? 
  2. Which of God’s other attributes can assure you that God is able to exercise His goodness? Can you think of more than one? 
  3. If somebody asked you about the goodness of God, what would you say? 

God Will Finish What You Started

“At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” – Luke 2:25-26. 

In each of our lives, God has begun a work. A good work. And the work involves more than we know. We see our unfinished projects, goals, and assignments. But the underlying work also includes our transformation, our love for others, and our love for God. Even when we don’t see progress, God is busy behind the scenes. He not only has the will to make it happen, but He also has the power to do it. 

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been or how impossible it looks. Your mind may tell you it’s too late. You missed too many opportunities. It’s never going to happen. Don’t discount the process just because you can’t yet see the results. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. God will bring His plan to pass.

In Luke 2 we read about a man named Simeon. In Verse 26, the Holy Spirit revealed to him that “…he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.“ That probably seemed far-fetched, but you could imagine Simeon believing that God would fulfill His promise. You can imagine him waking every day believing and expecting God to keep His promise. 

Simeon didn’t see any sign of the Messiah for years. You have to wonder if Simeon became concerned that he had heard God wrong.  But many years later, he saw Christ born. The promise came to fulfillment.   

What God starts, He will finish. People can’t stop it. Circumstances can’t stop it. Medical problems can’t stop it. God is going to complete your incompletions. 

Remember you will always be a work in progress. Day by day God is committed to working in your life to make you more and more like Jesus. Lean into Him on the hard and good days. Read your Bible daily and pray. We can all cling to the truth found in Philippians 1:6. Here the Apostle Paul reminds us to confidently hold onto the promise that God will not only continue but finish the transformational work He has begun in us. Even though this may not be a present reality, we can trust in God who keeps His promises.  

God will finish what he started in your life.

Discussion Questions

  1. Does the fact that God will complete what He started encourage you?
  2. How will this knowledge help you to make changes in your life that you realize should be made?

God is With You…Every Step Along The Way

“ For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” – Zephaniah 3:17

A. W. Tozer once said that ”Always, everywhere God is present, and always He seeks to discover Himself to each one.” God is always there. Psalm 139:7-8 says, “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.”

God is literally everywhere. He fills all space and time. He is with you every step of every day. Wherever we are, whatever our situation, God is there. When we’re in the hospital or at home, He is there. When the sun is shining or when it’s raining, God is there. God never changes. Jesus is with you—today, yesterday, and forever. No matter what you’re facing. No matter the sorrow past or present, He is here, grieving with us, celebrating with us, growing and filling us with His Spirit, and helping us take steps forward with hope. He never takes his eyes off of us. He never leaves us alone. He never forsakes us. Matthew 28:20 says, “…and be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

It is a mistake to think God is there for the really big things. He is there in all things. Maybe He spoke to the human resources manager who hired you. Maybe He caused you to pause at an intersection and miss an accident. Maybe He helped you with that calculus problem. Maybe He put you in the right small group that helped you grow. Maybe He was in that glorious rainbow glowing through the dark clouds after a storm.

Whatever you need. Whatever you face. Whatever is on your mind. God is there. You can’t get in a bind that God can not get you out of. You can’t get into a mess that God can not deliver you from. God is always there, despite how we see our situations, despite how we react to our shortcomings, and despite how we feel about our struggles. He’s going to help you. He’s going to strengthen you. He’s going to encourage you.

There is no checklist of solitude or calm required for God’s presence to attend to your weary soul. He is here, now. He is with you always. You are not alone, and you never will be. In your innermost being, He is there. He always has been and always will be with you every step along the way.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How does it feel to know that no matter how you may be feeling, God is with you and completely understands how you feel?
  2.  Since His word is a constant reminder that He is with us through everything, how has it been going for you with spending time in His Word? What changes might you need to make?

A Little Encouragement Goes A Long Way

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

Have you ever had someone tell you something and it changed your whole day? Or maybe, someone told you something that changed the course of your life. Perhaps, it was just some encouraging words on a hard day or maybe someone shared their story or life experience. Words can be powerful tools to change our outlook on life for both better and worse.

The New Testament reveals that encouragement was a regular part of the early church’s life together, One example is Acts 16:40: “When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town.”

The gift of encouragement is important in our lives. We can come alongside others and be there for one another. We can listen, comfort, console, and affirm. It’s a way of living out the command to extend grace and love to one another.

If you took a few minutes to think about it, each one of us could come up with any number of people who have encouraged us. Like the friend who made you laugh when you thought you may never laugh again. Or the aunt who listened to you while others just talked. Or the small group member who prayed with and for you when you were having doubts. Then ask yourself: “When was the last time I encouraged someone?” It’s not difficult, and the people you encourage are so blessed by it.

Ask God to give you a heart that loves others and the creativity to know how to show it. Ask God for the opportunities and desire to build others up. Ask God to be more like Barnabas. Barnabas was nicknamed the “son of encouragement” by the early church.”For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus.” (Acts 4:36). It is a fitting name, as we see him actively encouraging a young follower of Christ, a young church, and a young failure. His encouragement gives us an example to follow in encouraging one another in our own relationships.

Make encouragement a daily discipline. For some of us, encouragement comes naturally, for others, not so much. Find the time daily to send someone an encouraging note, email, text, or phone call. It just may be the encouragement they need. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever felt prompted to encourage someone? How did it turn out?  
  2. How is encouraging someone one of the most spiritual things you can do? Who do you want to encourage? How could you spiritually encourage them?

Happy Endings

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,” – Psalm 107:2.

A good movie is able to grab and keep your attention from the first second until the very end. The same is true of a good story.  We watch movies like Saving Mr. Banks to their conclusion because the plot looks interesting to us. It may have mystery. It may have intrigue. We may see a little or even a lot of ourselves in the characters. We don’t quit mid-story on an author or producer, we stick it out and see how it will end. In fact, we seem to gravitate toward impossible situations because we love great endings, and the more the odds are insurmountable, the better the ending.  We want to see what unfolds. So we give the movie producer or author a chance to finish the story.

There are many examples of movies that captivate us: Rocky and It’s a Wonderful Life to name a few.  We would miss so much if we did not let the story completely unfold.  But we don’t seem to do the same thing with God. We often run out of patience before God – the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) –  finishes our story.

Our lives are a story that God is writing.  And if we are honest, we would have to admit that we often quit mid-story. Why? Because we don’t like how He’s writing it. We want a happy, carefree story that is a romantic comedy or a funny sitcom that is not complicated and has little or no conflict. But God is writing a blockbuster, an epic that has twists and turns that will inspire future generations. We love epic endings, we just don’t want to be part of the hard parts leading to the ending.  But if we don’t let God finish our story, we will miss the good work He is doing in us. 

For 20 years, Walt Disney tried unsuccessfully to persuade Mrs. Travers to let him make a movie. But Mrs. Travers was adamant, refusing even to call him “Walt.” Walt Disney tells Mrs. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks that “George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”  

We may be living the story that we didn’t want. We may have wanted a completely different story, where everything’s finally right, God is blessing us, relationships are thriving, business is booming, and the future is bright. We don’t want a story where cancer suddenly appears, the stock market crashes, your job is downsized, you just got a call from the IRS, and your teenage girls are mixing with the wrong crowd. And when that is the part of the story we are living today, we ask God why. And we think God is behind it all—permitting it, if not actually ordering it. We feel betrayed.

This is where faith and trust enter the story.  How much do you trust His authorship?  His love?  His goodness?  Do you give up on the story He is writing?  Or do you keep reading, curious to see how “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 KJV) Are we willing to wait patiently on the Lord to see how the story ends?

 I never really thought that putting down the pencil and letting God write my story would be so hard, yet so beautiful at the very same time. Putting my pencil, my story, my future in His hands, trusting only He can write the best selling story of my life is not easy. It’s never a best seller without pain, but the beautiful part is a best seller usually has a very happy ending.

Discussion Question:

  1. Are you happy with your story so far? How is the speedometer in your life? What would you change?
  2. Would you honestly say God is in charge of your life? What area is the hardest to give over control?
  3. Can you trust God with the rest of the story?

Home Run Life Tip: Don’t Get Picked Off First Base

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8

Most pitchers have a pick off move. Some are great at it. It can be a very effective tool. The throw to first base is a key to keeping the opposing team’s running game under control by keeping runners uncomfortable when they are on base. One of the best pitcher pick off moves belonged to Terry Mulholland, who picked off 15 runners with the Phillies in 1992. During the season he allowed just two steals in seven attempts. Mulholland never had more than seven pick-offs after that, mostly because runners just stood on first base; they were simply not willing to take the risk of being picked off.

Getting to first base is important in living a Home Run Life. Staying on first base in preparation for going to second base is also important. The devil wants to make sure you don’t enjoy a Home Run Life so he wants to ensure you don’t make it to first base, let alone around all the bases. But if you do make it to first base, he wants nothing more than to make sure you don’t stay there. This is nothing new. This is what he does and this is what he has been doing. In his mind, the end justifies the means, so he plays by no rules but his own. Hypocrisy, wrong motives, financial problems, criticism, discouragement, and conflicts are all fair game because anything goes. Our adversary will stop at nothing to undermine our character and destroy our hopes, happiness and our need for God.

The devil would like nothing more than to pick you off first base and harm and diminish your relationship and connection with God. He wants to make sure you do not get comfortable at first base. The devil has a variety of pick off moves, but two quickly come to mind.

First there is temptation. Satan wants us to have an unhealthy lofty view of self, and an unhealthy false view of God. Satan wants us to see ourselves as superior, and that we can do whatever we want to do. “We’ve earned it. We deserve it. There is no harm to it.” He wants us to rationalize sin, and to lessen the affects of sin upon our lives. He shows the bait, but hides the hook; gives us a gold cup, but hides the poison.  Satan wants us to view God as an all merciful, loving, gracious, hipster God, a “cool buddy” who wants to do life with us and doesn’t mind letting us do our thing once in awhile.

Second, there is the grim reality. Satan wants us to see ourselves as without hope, without a future, no forgiveness, no restoration, full of guilt, and to walk around in a funk feeling sorry for ourselves. He wants us to focus more on our sin, than on the Savior. Satan wants us to see God as distant. He wants us to think that God does not love us, nor will He forgive us. He is too righteous a God to bless us or give us a future, with all of the mistakes we have accomplished in the past.

In temptation, Satan tries to hide God’s holiness. In the grim reality, Satan tries to hide God’s love. In either scenario, if the devil is successful, we won’t have a proper view of who God is, and who we are.

He tries to pick us off first base using people or without people. He will try to pick us off first base using depression, success, or failure. He is constantly at work, bent on our destruction. In the end, he knows he can’t win. He is playing a wicked game of spiritual chess. He knows he’s doomed, but he’ll get your last man if he can. He knows Christ has already won, but he won’t give up without an ugly, unfair, and continuing fight.

What do we learn from this about Satan? He is the adversary. He is the opponent. And he wants to throw everybody off their game that are followers of Christ. The key is to understand that he will try to to keep us from each base in the Home Run Life and to rest on the power and promises of God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does Satan use believers to oppose God’s work? If so, how?
  2. What ways do you think Satan would attack you on first base? Why?
  3. Are you tempted to question God’s plan and design for your life? Is character the easiest area for Satan to attack?
  4. How can you personally use your times of temptation and failure to your own ultimate spiritual advantage?
  5. Pray and ask God for help in dealing with Satan.

Hold Your Tongue

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” – Psalms 19:14

I feel this devotional may create some unease or even some apprehension. Even so, I think it is important we don’t use being a Christian or Christianity as justification for harmful, or as I described them in Sunday’s message, life taking words. Let me explain. History is replete with examples of people who caused great harm through their words under the guise of religion.

David Koresh was the American leader of the Branch Davidians religious sect, believing himself to be its final prophet. Revelations of wrongdoing provoked the historic 1993 raid on the center by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The subsequent siege by the FBI ended with the burning of the center, where Koresh and 75 others were found dead after the fire.

Now I grant you that this is an extreme group and what they do under the guise of following God is an extreme example. We don’t have to go to that extreme to be judgmental and even harmful in what we say as Christians. But each of us as followers of Jesus have to be careful that we do not harm others with our words because we are Christians.

Let’s face it, there are times we open our mouths and wish we hadn’t.  Often we are trying to stay morally anchored but can’t resist the urge to get on our soapbox. Or the countless other incidents when Christians open their mouths because we believe we may be right, although we are not always right, doesn’t mean it needs to be said or we are the right person to make a moral judgment call.

You are talking to a friend before church and you point out that somebody you both know is too liberal for your taste. The person who they are speaking about may never hear what is said, or it may get back to them at some point. Either way, the tongue in this case is not being used as God intends it to be used.  There are many other examples of things Christians say in homes, coffee shops and outdoor settings across the country and world. After all we are Christians and we are here to help. And we are armed with the gospel and biblical truth. That does not mean we don’t need to have a firewall on our tongue to stop us from using words that create death in others.

Scripture is pretty straightforward on this subject. Ephesians 4:29-31 speaks to this: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up.”

I know how easy it is to let loose with a crushing verbal blow.  I know just what words and phrases can cut to the quick; if most of us are honest, we probably use them with alarming regularity. But now I am trying to start small and using my words for the positive, not the negative. My witty yet biting banter, or gossip, or harsh words did nothing for God or the Gospel when I was hurting people rather than helping them to find healing in Christ Jesus. I cannot, for the life of me, understand what makes us say some of the hurtful things we say.  We are not called by the living God to be hurtful, but to reflect his grace and love.

One more thing to think about. It seems to be all the more prevalent now that we do not need a face-to-face with the person to say harmful things or to get on our soapbox. Now we can write them online, post them to our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and stream them on comments sections as if they are not directed at another person, and therefore, not really hurtful.  Well, they are. Not only are they directly painful, but they are painful to read even when they are not directed at us.

It is quite a challenge to tame the tongue as James 3 indicates. Yet, as Christians, we need to watch what we say so Jesus will be glorified through our lives. Matthew 15: 10-11 says, “Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Discussion Questions: 
1. Imagine if we could erase the reputation of Christian soapboxes and become known for our love and co-work with Christ’s redemption in His world. How can our words help that happen?
2. How different would your life be if you clothed yourself in love rather than in anger or being holier than thou?
3. Set aside some prayerful moments to ask the Lord to search your heart, and help you in the areas of the tongue.
4. Read Romans 12: 17-18. How does this apply to the words we speak?