Grace and Mercy

It amazes me how a God that knows everything I do, can still find a way to love me.

God knows our good and bad (and for me, I’m sure there is much more bad than good). And through it all, He still shows His love for me.

Years ago, I heard a Sunday School lesson on God’s Grace and Mercy and the difference between them.  I had never really studied this before, and it intrigued me. The explanation was rather simple:

  • Grace is getting what you don’t deserve (forgiveness, Salvation, Eternal Life, . . .)
  • Mercy is not getting what you do deserve (punishment, eternal death, . . .)

These simple ways to think about God’s grace and mercy really has an impact on how I think about God.

And His grace and mercy are not something that we should take for granted.  God paid with the price of His Son’s life in order to show His great love for us.

Matt Redman’s recent song “Your Grace Finds Me” <click HERE> is a great song of praise, and prayer, to give back to God:

. . .
It’s there on the mountain top
There in the everyday and the mundane
There in the sorrow and the dancing
Your great grace
Oh such grace

From the creation to the cross
There from the cross into eternity
Your grace finds me, yes your grace finds me

It’s there on a wedding day
There in the weeping by the graveside
There in the very breath we breathe
Your great grace

The same for the rich and poor
The same for the saint and for the sinner
Enough for this whole wide world
Your great grace
Oh such grace
. . .
So I’m breathing in Your grace
And breathing out Your praise
I’m breathing in Your grace*

* Lyrics from Matt Redman’s “Your Grace Finds Me”

Keep on Pushing Back the Dark!

It’s a dark and dreary world. At least, that’s what some people want you to think.  In fact, there is a lot of darkness (sin) out there. But there is also a lot of joy.

In my job, I travel quite a bit. This week I’ve had the (not so) pleasure of being in Canada with sub-freezing weather for 90% of the week. After I fly into Halifax, I still drive about 1.5 hours to my destination. Many long roads with a beautiful landscape surrounded by plush water inlets, and this time of the year – snow.

While traveling anywhere in my job, I listen to my favorite songs via the radio. Yesterday, however, I found only 1 radio station out of about 10 that was Christian based. During my commute, they were broadcasting a sermon about God as the “Creator.” The majesty of the countryside was magnified as I pondered the greatness of God, the Creator of all.

Unfortunately, as my travel progressed, I lost the radio signal and was unable to find another station to listen to.  Previous ventures into this landscape have blessed me with a car outfitted with Sirius XM Radio and Channel 63 “The Message.” But sadly, I was not so lucky on this trip. Therefore, I continued to seek out a station worthy of my time.

Finally, this morning it happened during breakfast, when I overheard the background music in the restaurant playing K-love and Casting Crown’s “Who Am I”, Mercy Me’s “Shake”, and finally Josh Wilson’s “Pushing Back the Dark.”

Now all of a sudden, my week has brightened, and I look forward to the remaining part of my travel.

I don’t know about you, but if I don’t start my day with some worship and praise time with God, I feel empty and missing a part of my life.

If you have never listened to Christian radio, I encourage you to begin. I can only give recommendations to the following locales:

  • Birmingham/Tuscaloosa, Alabama – 93.7 FM “WDJC”
  • Atlanta, GA – 104.7 FM “The Fish”
  • Greenville, SC – 89.3 FM “His Radio”
  • Charlotte, NC – 96.5 FM  “His Radio”

It’s my way of “Pushing Back the Dark” – <Click HERE to listen>

Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:3-6 ESV)

TGIF

TGIF – Thank God It’s Friday! That’s a common phrase heard at businesses all over the US, and probably even abroad. We get so beat down at work each day that by Friday, we are really thankful that the weekend is upon us.

Is this how God intended life? I would suggest the answer is NO.  In Genesis, Adam is given the host of the ground and all the animals for food and life.

But, by chapter 3, we discover that man has already fallen into the temptation of sin, and now God must punish man for his sinful nature.  In Genesis 3:17-19, we find that the ground is now cursed “because of [sin]….  It will produce thorns and thistles for [us]….  By the sweat of [our] brow….”

So, what should we do now?  I think the answer can be found in Psalms.  Throughout this book, we find David and others pleading to the Lord for answers.  And what I find is that throughout the book, we also find unending praises to the Lord.  

We shouldn’t let “the world” get to us.  When we are down on life, we need to remember that God loves us and He created us for a purpose.  We have a decision to make: will we let the world (and our bosses or jobs) get to us? Or will we praise the Lord for what He has done, what He IS doing, and what He has promised for our future?

Psalm 144:1-2 “Praise be to the LORD my Rock…. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.”

Psalm 145:1-2 “I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.”

Psalm 146:1-2 “Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.”

Do you have to do that today?

Each of us have busy lives; I get it. With a recent move in my past, I can attest to busyness. I have so much to do, and only 24 hours in a day.  Thankfully, NOT everything has to be done today (although it sure would be nice to get it all done and relax tomorrow).

Because we have limited time on our hands, we must establish priorities.  Unfortunately, I am one that even if I establish a list of priorities, I still seem to miss the boat, and get distracted by other things that need done.  This happens whether I am at work, or at home.

So, what is the best way to focus on our priorities? Well, a lot of experts will tell you to start by making a list of everything to be done. Then, focus on the important, not necessarily urgent items. What’s the difference? A good example of an important task is feeding your family or paying your bills. An urgent task on the other hand is answering a ringing phone (wait, does it really need answered right now? – most times the answer is “no”). Focus on the important things first! [Of course, some will say you don’t know if the phone call was important unless you answer it; this is correct, but how many times are phone call topics urgent? Not very often.]

I’d like you to read the story below and see what you think about the importance and urgency of the tasks the shepherds had to do:

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. [note: important and urgent task]

9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” [note: urgent task]

16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. [note: important task]

18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. [note: important task] (Luke 2:8-20 ASV)

Do you agree with my assessment: important vs urgent?

Did you find that the shepherds left their important task [tending sheep] to answer the call of the angels [urgent task]? Was it important for the shepherds to visit the Babe in the manger?

. . .

Further point to ponder, prior to today’s reading had you ever noted what the shepherds did in verse 17? They told others about Jesus’ birth [was this an urgent or important task], and then in verse 20, they returned to glorify and praise God [important task].

Is it urgent or important that we tell others about Christ?

It’s the HOLYdays . . . visit your family!

At this time of the year is when most people make time to visit those family members that we haven’t seen in a while. We make long trips, flying across the states, or driving hours for a a few days to visit with loved ones. It’s great to have the conveniences of today to travel so easily and quickly.

About 2000 years ago, Mary journeyed to see Elizabeth. A simple 90 mile, less than 2 hour trek in our day. However, this trip from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea could easily have taken 3 or more days, even in a hurry.

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

If Mary hadn’t believed yet (which I believe she did based on her obedience), she had to have been reassured by Elizabeth’s greeting!

This is the first inclination we receive that Mary not only believed, but now also praised God for His actions:

46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary rejoiced that she would become the mother of our Savior and Lord!

What’s even better is that she remembered God’s promises: God has promised to be merciful to us, and has provided a way of ETERNAL Salvation to those who believe. I’m glad that even though I don’t remember all of my promises, that my Lord remembers His! Praise His Holy Name!

And Happy HOLYdays to anyone “politically correct” out there!

ThanksGIVING or ThanksPUSHING?

Picture1I believe that all of us enjoy Thanksgiving. We take a break, normally with family, and sit and really do give thanks to God for everything that we have: our health, our family, our friends, our house, our “stuff,” ….

Unfortunately, with the upcoming Christmas rush, and ESPECIALLY Black Friday, we seem to forget all of that.  We RUSH to the mall, pushing past the slow people, trampling others, in order to save a buck. How is it that we go from thankFUL to thankLESS and disrespect fellow man?

I know it would have been more appropriate to post this yesterday prior to Black Friday starting at 6PM on Thursday, but this is more evidence that the world is winning over Christianity.  It’s now more acceptable to get STUFF than spend time with family and the important things in life (Hey, I’m guilty too, so I’m not condemning anybody – I went out at 8 PM last night).

But let’s all try to remember today, that just yesterday we were THANKING God, because He IS GREAT and should be thanked for all things.

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,

giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17 NASB)

[Source of photo: cannot be attributed to actual source but found on Google.com]

A Psalm of Thanks

As the Thanksgiving Season ends and Christmas begins, I wanted to share a Psalm of Thanksgiving:

Psalm 136

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods.
His faithful love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords.
His faithful love endures forever.

4 Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles.
His faithful love endures forever.
5 Give thanks to him who made the heavens so skillfully.
His faithful love endures forever.
6 Give thanks to him who placed the earth among the waters.
His faithful love endures forever.
7 Give thanks to him who made the heavenly lights—
His faithful love endures forever.
8 the sun to rule the day,
His faithful love endures forever.
9 and the moon and stars to rule the night.
His faithful love endures forever.

. . .

23 He remembered us in our weakness.
His faithful love endures forever.
24 He saved us from our enemies.
His faithful love endures forever.
25 He gives food to every living thing.
His faithful love endures forever.
26 Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His faithful love endures forever.

on healing…

Well, yesterday was a healing day for me. It was the first day I’ve missed church for a sickness in years. What happened…

Saturday night, after a great afternoon at the river with the youth (BTW – thanks to ALL the adults who contributed to our party), I returned home and quickly became ill and developed a fever that put me in bed for about 14 hours. I was freezing cold and sweating at the same time. Kimberly took care of me while I stayed exhausted and cold/hot. The neat thing, however, is that God does heal us. While I had to remain home from church so that I wouldn’t infect anyone else, God used that day to help provide me with much needed rest for my body, mind, and spirit.

Today I feel much better. Although I’m still not 100%, I’m ready to get moving again.

The Bible tells us that even 2000 years ago people had diseases and sicknesses. Back then they didn’t have a quarter of probably 1/10th of the medicines we have today. However, they DID have JESUS!

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. – Matthew 4:23

We may think in this modern world that the medicines are what is making us better. Sure they do help, but just think for a second: Where did the medicine come from? Who invented it? How did it come to be?

God will meet all your needs. – Philippians 4:19

It is God who provides for our needs, and supplies HIS grace and mercy upon us, every day of our life. Thanks be to God who brings us through in our times of weakness and dismay.

The Christmas Story – Part Thirteen

“Merry Mas!”

I saw that quote on a sign last week. It also stated the truth: “It’s not the same without Christ!” Christmas is about the birth of Christ and what His life on earth was for us.

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. – Luke 2:1-7

Sometimes, however, we get wrapped up in the details of Jesus’ birth, and forget about Jesus Himself and what He represents:

Luke 2 continues:

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 14Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

The Shepherds came to know Jesus, THE SAVIOR born into our world, and then the Bible clearly tells us that they returned to their flock, glorified and praised God! That’s what we need to remember today, on Christmas day. Glorify and Praise God for the perfect gift – a Savior – Jesus Christ.

Thank God I’m alive!

Yesterday, during a long 6.5 hour drive (which normally takes 5-5.5 hours), I realized once again the importance of life. During my drive, I saw probably 5 bad accidents being cleaned up.  You may have heard about or seen the show “I shouldn’t be alive.” Well, during my drive yesterday, I was almost in a horrible traffic accident.

I was on the middle lane of the interstate, north of Atlanta Georgia, travelling about 70 mph when “all traffic” in front of me came to an abrupt stop. Well, all traffic except the car about 50 yards in front of me. A young man named Shawn* was driving that car and took his eyes off the road for a split second. When he saw that all traffic stopped, he slammed his brakes on and jerked his wheel hard to the right.

Shawn’s car immediately turned right; then while he quickly turned back left, he began losing control. His car quickly spun out of control and crossed from the right lane all the way across traffic to the left shoulder and hit the guard rail. It then spun around, facing backwards and continued another 25 yards until it came to a rest against the guardrail again.

I quickly found myself pulling over to check on him. Although he as badly shaking up, he DID have a seatbelt on. And even more important, GOD had His hand on Shawn and the remaining parts of traffic. Thankfully, NO ONE was injured during the accident. God had protected me and everyone else during what could have been a really traumatic ending.

I spoke with the young man after I pulled over. Shawn was about 21, on his way to work at Captain D’s. A nurse also pulled over to assist, but left after finding us ok.

Shawn’s first thought was to check on everybody involved. I told him that no one else was injured and that God had delivered him safely to the side of the road without anybody else being in the accident.

We then prayed about how God had delivered all of us during what could have turned out to be a deadly accident. At 70 mph, I saw first hand how quickly a car can lose control and spin out wildly on the road. Thankfully, his car didn’t flip at all, and was only damaged slightly where it hit the guardrail.

We prayed for some time, longer than I normally pray – for God truly had his hand on both of us. I was in a company-owned vehicle, but God protected me and allowed me the sense to stay calm and talk with Shawn after the accident. I never thought to ask his last name and now regret that I can’t follow up with him. However, I did find out that Shawn is a believer and meant to go to church yesterday at North Metro Baptist. Instead, he chose to go to work. (*name changed to protect identity).

Today, I am reminded from the experience that we need to pray and seek direction for everything we do in life.

  15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:15-20