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”

What is God’s Will ???

Have you ever wondered “What is God’s Will for MY life?”

That’s a tough question!  I’ve seen Pastors lead series of sermons on that topic.  I’ve even seen churches explore the “Spiritual Gifts” assessment to help people determine the best place for them to serve. Regardless of how it’s done, the question seems to elude some people.

When I was pondering that question years ago as an interim youth pastor at a former church, I pursued the answer for almost a year. I knew God was calling me to something, but I just couldn’t figure it out. It culminated on April 23, 2007.

In March of that year, just one month prior, we conducted a week long team building event with the youth in Tennessee. We had taken about 10 youth to the middle of “Podunk” nowhere, with limited phone reception and NO televisions. It was just us, nature, and God. It was a powerful time, and both Kimberly and I could feel the presence of God calling us to something bigger – but what was it?

The next 4 weeks was a long journey as I prayed feverishly for God’s Will.  What does He want?  I knew what I felt, but what was it that God wanted?  Finally, on April 23rd, it happened.  As I sat in my office at work that day, I finally opened my eyes and saw the vision of what God had planned.  It wasn’t much of a surprise, but God showed me in the ministry. No longer was it my idea, it was God’s. And when I accepted His calling, I could feel the stress in my life disappear.

The next 4 years were a whirlwind of events, with me starting Seminary, starting a family, and not stopping anything.  I was still working full-time; Youth Pastoring part-time. I became “Daddy,” and stayed loyal husband. But I didn’t do it alone!  It was a long trip down that road, but with Kimberly and God – it was possible, and very worthwhile.

Today, I sit in Greenville, in my office once again, wondering what is God’s Will for my life now?  I’ve been here now almost a year, pondering this question. Still seeking.  Still listening.

I believe the following song is suited for those of us that ask that question in our life.

Maybe you too have that same burning question in your life.  God, Please Help Me Find It!  <<<  CLick Here

 I don’t know where to go from here
It all used to seem so clear
I’m finding I can’t do this on my own

I don’t know where to go from here
As long as I know that You are near
I’m done fighting
I’m finally letting go

I will trust in You
You’ve never failed before
I will trust in You

If there’s a road I should walk
Help me find it
If I need to be still
Give me peace for the moment
Whatever Your will
Whatever Your will
Can you help me find it
Can you help me find it . . . *

* Lyrics from Sidewalk Prophets “Help Me Find It”

Prayer works; obedience helps!

57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. (Luke 1:57-58 NIV)

Why did they share her joy?  Remember that she was barren and could not have children, yet in their old age – the Lord granted Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s prayer for a baby.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. (Luke 1:59-66 NIV)

We don’t know how long Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a baby.  However, the Lord did answer their prayer. And it was with greatness! John the Baptist would foreshadow Jesus and bring many people to the Lord through his preaching.

Sometimes it is easy to think the Lord does not hear our prayers.  However, He does hear us. Sometimes the answer is “no,” sometimes it is “yes.” Even other times it is “not yet.” Whatever you ask for, don’t think the Lord does not hear you. The Bible reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5:7 (NIV) to “pray continuously.” Don’t give up! The Lord is listening!

Kimberly and I had longed for a baby for years, and after about 12 years, many prayers, many trials, hard decisions, and a final step of obedience on my part to enter the ministry, the Lord gave us a wonderful baby. With God nothing is impossible!

He never let’s go

Ever been down on your luck?

Well, let’s not say “luck,” but just down? Feeling low, empty…, almost like God is not there?

Each of us has our “ups” and “downs.” And, it seems so lonely sometimes, when we are in the valley and, experiencing what appears to be a new low to our life. How do we recover when we have these moments in our life?

For some, it just takes time. We sleep, we eat.  Activities fill our lives until somehow, we seem to appear OK again, and on the other side, almost like we didn’t do anything to change it.

Well, there’s definitely some truth to that. We didn’t do anything. I mean, it’s hard to change your attitude. Not impossible, but for many, it does seem impossible.

.   .   .

Everything just seems to be going against you. You can’t dig out, and feel like you’re falling deeper and deeper into the rut.  So, what should we do when this happens in our life?

The first thing, obviously, is PRAY. There is power in prayer. Matthew 21:22 “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (ASV)

I heard of a small tribe in Africa one time that when they had a sickness, the first thing they did was pray. Now, that doesn’t seem strange, does it?  . . . until we honestly think about what the first thing that we do when we are sick.  If it’s only a minor sickness, we go to the medicine cabinet and try to find something appropriate to deal with our symptoms. If it’s serious, we go to a Medical center for treatment. And then…., and only then, do we sometimes stop to pray about it.

Matt Redman sings the song “He Never Let’s Go” that contains the following lyrics:

Even though I walk, through the valley, of the shadow of death
Your perfect love is casting out fear
And even when I’m caught, in the middle, of the storms of this life
I won’t turn back
I know you are near

And I will fear no evil
For my God is with me
And if my God is with me
Whom then shall I fear?
Whom then shall I fear?

Oh no, You never let go
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh no, You never let go
In every high and every low
Oh no, You never let go
Lord, You never let go of me

The song continues to sing the praise the Lord for His everlasting presence and love. So just remember the next time that you are having a down day, He hasn’t let go. The Lord is right there beside you, “in every high and every low.”

Jesus told us, as recorded in the last verse of Matthew, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”(ASV)

 

are you LISTENING?

Yesterday, I mentioned the song: “The Only Name”

I’ll be the first to admit that I am the type of person that listens first to the music of a song, and then, only secondary to the words. But as I really listened, the singers really spoke to me as I paid attention to the words of the song:

Yours will be the only Name that matters to me
The only One Whose favor I seek
The only Name that matters to me…

Here they are, the words to a song that I’ve sung in my head probably a hundred times, but I never really paid attention. How many times do we hear things, without listening?

• We sit in church, sometimes purely passing time, wondering where to take our family to lunch.
• We hear our spouse speaking to us, but have a hundred other “to do” items on our mind.
• Or maybe, you’ve sat down for quiet time, reading your Bible as we all know we should, and we get distracted by what we have to do when we get to work, when the kids wake up, etc.

No doubt, our lives are extremely busy. We have soccer games, music lessons, grocery shopping, house cleaning, you name it…. We all try to fit 28 hours into a 24 hour day.

Yet, at the end of time, none of it matters:

• “And the world is passing away along with its desires…” – 1 John 2:17
• “Heaven and earth will pass away…” – Matthew 24:35
• “And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ ” – Rev 21:5

God has declared that all things will be made new!

Am I saying that we should ignore our current life? NO, I’m simply saying that we need to take time for our Creator. “In the beginning, GOD created….” (Genesis 1:1). He took time out of His schedule to create the world we live in. He fashioned each one of us before we were born “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” – Jeremiah 1:5

God sent His Son to die for us. (Romans 5:8, John 3:16) Then, upon Jesus’ ascension to Heaven, God sent the Holy Spirit to be with us. (John 14:16-26, Acts 1 & 2:1-33)

I’m merely asking each of us, myself included, to take time, and LISTEN to the Holy Spirit. I believe that each of us takes time to pray daily, even if it is just to ask blessings upon our food before we eat it. The challenge I have for each of us however is – do we listen when we pray? Do we listen to what God is saying to us: whatever time it is, wherever we are, and whatever we are doing?

Remember, listening is an INTENTIONAL act; it involves actively trying to hear.

(And as a note, you don’t have to be praying to listen – God is probably already talking to you now, just take a moment and listen to Him).

Believe!

A little girl had been shopping with her Mom in WalMart. She must have been 6 years old, this beautiful red haired, freckle faced image of innocence.
It was pouring outside. The kind of rain that gushes over the top of rain gutters, so much in a hurry to hit the earth it has no time to flow down the spout.. We all stood there, under the awning, just inside the door of the WalMart.

We waited, some patiently, others irritated because nature messed up their hurried day.

Her little voice was so sweet as it broke the hypnotic trance we were all caught in, ‘Mom let’s run through the rain,’ She said.

‘What?’ Mom asked.

‘Let’s run through the rain!’ She repeated.

‘No, honey. We’ll wait until it slows down a bit,’ Mom replied.

This young child waited a minute and repeated: ‘Mom, let’s run through the rain..’

‘We’ll get soaked if we do,’ Mom said.

‘No, we won’t, Mom. That’s not what you said this morning,’ the young girl said as she tugged at her Mom’s arm.

‘This morning? When did I say we could run through the rain and not get wet?’

‘Don’t you remember? When you were talking to Daddy about his cancer, you said, ‘ If God can get us through this, He can get us through anything! ‘

The entire crowd stopped dead silent. I swear you couldn’t hear anything but the rain.. We all stood silently. No one left. Mom paused and thought for a moment about what she would say.

Now some would laugh it off and scold her for being silly. Some might even ignore what was said. But this was a moment of affirmation in a young child’s life. A time when innocent trust can be nurtured so that it will bloom into faith.

‘Honey, you are absolutely right. Let’s run through the rain. If GOD let’s us get wet, well maybe we just need washing,’ Mom said.

Then off they ran. We all stood watching, smiling and laughing as they darted past the cars and yes, through the puddles. They got soaked.

They were followed by a few who screamed and laughed like children all the way to their cars. And yes, I did. I ran.  I got wet.  I needed washing.

Circumstances or people can take away your material possessions, they can take away your money, and they can take away your health. But no one can ever take away your precious memories…So, don’t forget to make time and take the opportunities to make memories everyday.

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.  Pray like you mean it, and live like you believe it.

I HOPE YOU STILL TAKE THE TIME TO RUN THROUGH THE RAIN.

The Rabbi and the Pope

The Chief Rabbi and the Pope are in a meeting in Rome. The Rabbi notices a fancy shmancy phone on a side table in the Pope’s private chambers. “What’s that phone for?” he asks. “It’s my direct line to the Lord!” the Pope replies.

The Rabbi is doubtful, but the Pope insists that he tries it out and, indeed, he is connected to the Lord and chats away with Him for a while.

After he hangs up the Rabbi says. “Thank you very much. This is
great! But listen, I want to pay for the charges I have used up.” The Pope doesn’t want to take the money, but finally gives in, checks the counter and says: Allright! The charge was 50,000 Lira,” which the Rabbi gladly pays.

A couple of weeks later, the Pope is in Jerusalem on an official visit. In the Rabbi’s chambers he sees the identical phone he has with a direct line to the Lord. The Pope asks if he could use it, because there were some urgent matters he needed to consult with Him.

The Rabbi gladly hands him the phone and the Pope chats away. After he hangs up, he says: “Now I also want to pay for my charges on your phone.” The Rabbi looks on the counter and says: “1 Shekel 50!” The Pope looks surprised: “Why so cheap?” The Rabbi smiles: “Local call.”

Prayer works! It doesn’t matter where you live:

 But certainly God has heard me; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. – Psalm 66:19

What does matter is that you pray. If you don’t pray, don’t expect results! But if you do pray, expect results!

Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you will receive them, and you will have them. – Mark 11:24

Mary Had a Little Lamb (the modern version)

Mary had a little lamb,
His fleece was white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went,
The Lamb was sure to go.

He followed her to school each day,
T’wasn’t even in the rule.
He made the children laugh and play.
To have a Lamb at school.

And then the rules all changed one day,
Illegal it became;
To bring the Lamb of God to school,
Or even speak His Name.

Every day got worse and worse,
And days turned into years.
Instead of hearing children laugh,
We heard gun shots and tears.

What must we do to stop the crime,
That’s in our schools today?
Let’s let the Lamb come back to school,
And teach our kids to pray!

                                       – Author Unknown

The Christmas story – Part Six

The Lord answers a prayer from Zechariah and Elizabeth.

 23 When [Zechariah’s] time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

I think it’s great that we have another story of prayer answered in this passage. God hears us when we cry out to Him.

Many people have “unanswered” prayers…at least they think they do. Remember that although the answer to a prayer may be “yes,” that other prayers will be answered “no” – especially if they are not within God’s laws and desires. Yet, still other prayers will be answered “not yet.” Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for children for a long time as evidenced by this entire passage (vs 7-25). Yet, God didn’t forget their prayer.

Interestingly, the answer had previously been “not yet.” But now, during Zechariah’s temple service in obedience to God, and even more so – during prayer and service to God for THE NATION – NOT for his personal needs – God answered his personal prayer.

Wow!  God answered during a time when Zechariah was putting the needs of others above his own needs. He was being obedient to God in obeying His commands, and placing others before him. Then, and only then after years of praying for a child, Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayer was answered.

Makes me stop and think. What have I asked for that God is waiting on me to pray the “right” prayer before He answers it…. What about you?  Is there something you have been repeatedly praying for, but need to stop and pray for what God wants first?