Grace and Mercy

Without God’s Grace and Mercy, we would be lost.

~ Lisa Blair


Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve. It is the act of endowing unmerited favor. In God’s Grace, He gives us the gift we do deserve – heaven. If we are the light, then we must follow Christ and extend grace to those we feel don’t deserve it. That’s right, we should stop judging, that is not our job. None of us are deserving of grace because we are all sinners. Christ was crucified to save us. Given our model, we too must extend our love for others in much the same way. This is not to say we should allow others to walk all over us, definitely not, but we should be more forgiving. We should see through the eyes of God’s mercy. We should treat others as we would like and expect to be treated, see the Fruit of the Spirit For a list of Christ’s virtues (previous posts or go directly to Galatians 5:22-25. Before delving into mercy, let’s further look at the definitions of grace and mercy. In the Greek, grace is defined as charis, favor. The Greek word used for mercy is eleos which means pity, compassion. In short, we seek God’s favor and compassion.

Mercy is when God doesn’t give us what we do deserve. He has compassion for us. God gives us mercy, which means He withholds the punishment we deserve. The punishment we sinner’s deserve is hell, which He holds back. But note, holding back does not negate disciplining us, which like parenting is an expression of love. God disciplines us to produce holiness which is kind and gracious regardless of how painful it may be in the moment. Luke 6:36 reads, “be merciful, just as our Father is merciful (to us).

We, like David call and cry out for God’s mercy often. How do we cry out? We demand that He answer us, praying He will respond in the way we cried out. Think about this, we live in the now, we do not know the future that God provided before we were born, we do not know the plans He has for us, we do not know the whole story, but yet and still, being human, we want what we want, and when we forge ahead without consulting God, it tends to backfire, takes us down an unforeseen path, often harms others, and can lead to less than desirable outcomes. At this point we cry out for God’s redemptive love. At it’s core, mercy is God’s forgiveness of our sins. Mercy is God’s steadfast loyalty. We should ask God for guidance and direction out of the goodness of His love.

Fortunately, God takes us to the path for forgiveness. David is the perfect example of God’s mercy. He lusted, killed, and fornicated. Abraham feared and lied. Sara was impatient and Jacob was a cheater and trickster. Rehab was a prostitute, and the Israelites rebelled against God, yet God forgave them, had compassion and used them to accomplish His purposes. Further, God converted Saul to become Paul, the author of much of the Bible, and Paul became the apostle of Christ. The Bible is filled with stories of God repeatedly forgiving sinful humans. He works in and through us for our own good and ultimately His glory. God’s unmerited mercy is new every morning, we are not consumed by our sin because His compassion never fails (Lamentations 3:22-23 NKJV). Without His compassion, we are doomed to live in our sin and perish.

Matthew Schmalz, Associate Prof. Of Religion, College of the Holy Cross, wrote, “WHAT I learned is that mercy begins by opening oneself to those with whom one might strongly disagree,Mercy doesn’t end there, of course, but it begins with such small acts of understanding, which can lead to life-changing experiences of love.”

Mercy

Hebrews 4:16; Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV; Psalms 51:1-2; Matthew 6:14; Psalms 40:11; 1Peter 1:3; James 2:13 ESV; Titus 3:5 ESV; Psalm 23:6 ESV; psalm 103:8 ESV

Grace

2 Timothy 1:9; 2 Corinthians 8:7; Ephesians 4:7; John 1:14; Hebrews 4:16; James 4:6; Isaiah 41:4 GNT

**Ways to Respond to God’s Grace and Mercy. Go to Christianity.com

Resources: Book – Strength For Today. What We Don’t Deserve, Aug. 3. Brenda Walsh; Christianity.com, What is the Difference Between Grace and Mercy? Philip Wijaya; The conversation.com, What is the True Meaning of Mercy? Matthew Schmalz; pure life ministries,org, A Biblical Definition of Mercy.

Images: LAB PHOTOS; Google images; Mercy Bible Verses; theconversation.com

Do You Light the Way?

When you enter a room, are you the light Christ expects others to see?

~ Lisa Blair

Posted on  by Lisa Blair

When you enter a room, are you the light Christ expects others to see?

LAB PHOTOS

We are summoned to be the Lord’s ambassadors, to share the Word, educate non-believers, and love everyone as Christ loves us. This is not an easy task if you fall subject to gossip, anger, spite, and jealousy. 

The good works that we do in spirit and truth are not our own good works, for of ourselves we can do nothing that is worthy of God’s praise. The good work that we do is the new-life of Christ within us, that is working through us. It is the new, born-again life of Christ that we received when we were born from above, that carries out any good works that we do, so that others may see our good works and glorify our Father Who is in heaven.” 
(Let your light shine. Matt 5:16 @ daily verse.knowing-Jesus.com)

Good works are the attributes we display moment-by-moment, day-by-day. They are the essence of who we are in Christ. These traits harken back to the Fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:22-25‬ ‭NLT

Do you reflect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control throughout the day with everyone you come into contact with? Do you segregate who you will apply the Fruit with? For example, do you apply the Fruit with only family and friends, do you extend it to co-workers and others? Do you exclude people walking past you on the street, or people who are different than you culturally, racially or ethnically? Is it okay to display the traits to some and stereotypical hatred to the poor, beggars, nonbelievers, the elderly?

When Christ was nailed to the Cross, He took on our sin nature. Our passions and desires were nailed and crucified with Him. As Christians, we are now living by, for, and of the Spirit who dwells in us. Logically speaking, we should follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

I ask you, “does your light show through you, or are you veiled/cloaked/bound in your sinful nature”?

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.”
‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Are you willing to live the sort of life that will deny you the Kingdom of God? This brings me back to yesterday’s post, The Lost Year. The world is changing and God is calling us to step out of our comfort zone, analyze who we are, and identify our sins towards others that allow us to set others apart as less equal, less desirable, and less worthy? Do you judge who is worthy to be counted as a brother or sister? Does your sin nature govern your life?

These questions are food for thought. I believe we all struggle to overcome our sin nature. It is the constant battleground we live on until Christ returns. Are you willing to deny your sin nature and be the light, or when Christ does return will He plainly say, 

“I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers!” Matthew 7:23, NIV

If you plan to become a prayer warrior or want to strengthen how you pray, following is a prayer I am attaching from Prayers That Avail Much, by Germaine Copeland to assist you in establishing prayer time. They just published the 40th Anniversary Copy. This and He Whispers My Name by Cherie Hill are great books to add to your Christian Book library.

One Suggestion – do not allow this opportunity to slip away. God knew we would enter this time, and I am certain His hope is that you will take advantage of it and spend more time with Him strengthening your relationship with Him. Only God knows our beginning and ending and everything in between. Jeremiah 33:3 NLT declares, ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do no know about things to come.

Sources: daily verse.knowing-Jesus.com; biblegateway.com; Prayers That Avail Much. Germaine Copeland; He Whispers My Name. Trusting God’s Love. Cherie Hill.

Images: LAB PHOTOS

The Lost Year

We may consider 2020 a lost year, but our Lord considers it a time of growth and reclamation. We don’t seek discomfort, pain, or loss, but when it arrives it becomes a learning moment in time.

~ Lisa Blair

Posted on  by Lisa Blair


While skimming through the news the other day, a thought became perfectly clear. God is reversing life as we know it. He is placing first things first. The conglomerates are losing power as the pandemic continues to cleanse life as we know it by fire. There are no stones that will be left unturned. Life as we knew it are gone. 

This is a lost year, and quite often transitions occur in the darkest of moments. Yes, we are losing and lost, personal freedoms, family, homes, jobs, in short, our normal way of life. Nations were insular and citizens and economies differed. Then the pandemic hit everyone and everything in the world. We have become victims of the same sweeping pandemic. We have all been placed in the same or similar circumstances, life is foreign to all people. We are in the midst of a global tectonic shift, physically, economically, and most importantly, spiritually, it is uneasy terrain to navigate, but life goes on.

God, where is this leading?

In the year of lost time, that is – time requiring the least out of us physically and mentally, where should we invest our time? Do we dwell on the problems, or spend time strengthening our relationship with the Lord, and investigating who we really are in Christ? Was our past life (life before COVID) devoid of Christ? Did we spend time with Him or give lip service? Did we share our Christian story with others or keep it the best kept secret? Have we shared Christ with our children and other family members? Did we delve into the Bible and study the Word?

Trisha Bernal wrote, “I have not chosen this path, but for some reason God allowed us to be here.” The point is, we are here. Why, only God knows, but what do with this time? Do we see it through spiritual eyes as a gift, a time for growth, or do we see it through the eyes of disaster? There are stories in the Bible where life changed forever. People were Led or fled from their homes, their farms, the cattle and sheep ranches. They were separated from family and friends; they lost loved ones; and didn’t know where to sleep or acquire food. They were broke and devastated. Many of us find ourselves in the same or similar circumstances brought on COVID19.

This is a time to look at the stories in the Bible, learn how people persevered despite the gravest of circumstances. Did they fall into depression, many did. Did they see the way to milk and honey, no. Did their faith strengthen and ground them, perhaps, at some point most were affected as we are today. Did we choose this path, no. Most of us went to bed one night and awoke in a different, frightening world. A world with an invisible, deadly enemy. The world all but stopped upon its arrival.

The reality is that the world is not and can not go back to the ‘old’ normal. It is forever gone. Lingering in thoughts of yesterday only weakens our prospects for today and tomorrow. An important scripture to post around the house is, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34 NKJV

Holding on to our faith despite what we see with our human eyes is the pivotal change that will impact our future. We can waste this (valuable) time and spend time worrying, or we can trust that God will do what is best for us and praise Him in this time of waiting. Brenda Walsh wrote, “Living in limbo is stressful if you’re not walking with Jesus. Sometimes God allows us to have cloudy vision, where we can’t see where our next step is, in order to bring us to a place where we are totally leaning on Him.”

It is during these times that we must persevere in patience through faith. We have been called to a time such as this. I know we are tempted to grow weary, angry, and desperate. When we reach the point of total loss, cry out to God and tell Him You don’t know which way to turn, and the Lord will respond, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give your rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NIV) our Lord will never leave us or forsake us, “the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it (the land) from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” (Deuteronomy 11:12 AMP)

Once we reach this place in our walk, we will have tried all the things we know to do to salvage what has been lost, to no, or little avail. We will fall to our knees and surrender to our Lord wholeheartedly. We will become dependent upon Him and He will respond in love, He will restore what we lost, perhaps in a different form and prepare us to walk in His brave new world.

We are told to pray and not be a coward, faint, lose heart, or give up. We must run the race that God has marked out for us. In prayer He will guide us, direct our path, meet our needs, love us and comfort us.

So, back to what do you plan to do during this lost year? It is a year where introspection will not get placed on hold, nor will it get side-streamed. Whether you are sheltered-in-place by yourself, with your spouse or significant other, a pet, or children. God has given you the gift of time. He carved it out of the disaster the pandemic has caused. We can either give up and give in as the evil one strategically manipulated to separate us from everything we have acquired, or we can stand strong in our faith, establish or re-establish our relationship in the one and only God who lived on this earth, took our sin an our burdens, was beat on the Cross, loves us and has countless times before, made a way out of no way, leading us to still waters, and green pastures.

Closing thought – Brenda Walsh wrote, following God’s will usually leads us out of our comfort zone—which teaches us to be totally dependent on Him. Despite how we arrived where we are, we are definitely out of our comfort zone. We may consider 2020 a lost year, but our Lord considers it a time of growth and reclamation. During this time of sequestered life, don’t sit and fret, spend time with the Lord and grow your faith. He will walk all who follow Him into the new tomorrow.

Resources – Trisha Bernal, FaceBook. Miracles for Malachi; Germaine Copeland, Prayers that Avail Much; Brenda Walsh, Strength for Today.

Scriptures – biblegateway.com

Images – Google Images; LAB Photos

The Lowly Will Rise

God’s plan materializes in the form of critical tipping points throughout history.

~ Lisa Blair


PERSPECTIVE
Isn’t it amazing? The lowly are and have been powerful all along. God gave power to the weak. The deception was and is the wealthy are all-powerful. The pandemic has and is empowering those who truly run the economy (the weak=essential workers), who was deceived by Satan.

They have the power to demand and receive higher wages, good health care, revitalized neighborhoods, and excellent schools. The pandemic was and is being used to establish a new national order. The voiceless have voices and are calling for justice. The only thing that hasn’t happened yet is a nationwide strike that has the potential to cripple society until these things are met. The rich are rich because the workers (the essential class) work. If the workers stop working, if demands are not met, the Nation crumbles. The 21st century will see the lowly lifted up. I am not advocating an uprising, but it is evident, things are changing, and justice for all will prevail.

”He has brought rulers from their thrones. But he has lifted up people who are not considered important.” Luke 1:52 NIRV

Our Democracy will evolve into a form of government that responds to the needs of the ‘less important’, as well as those deemed important. Balance brings justice. God is lifting up those who are not considered important.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” John 1:5 NIV

Freed to Love (Post, Desiring God)

One of the most jarring sentences in the Bible goes like this: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). It jars us because Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13); and he taught that one of the ways to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us and bless those who persecute us is to give freely of our possessions (Luke 6:27–30). But here Paul says you can give everything away and even lay down your life and yet not be acting in love. You can make the final sacrifice and be lost for ever.

A Biblical Critique on All Our Activism 

This means that right wing and left wing Christian political activity must be exposed to a radical biblical critique. On the right we are summoned to work for the rights of unborn humans, a strong defense, nuclear superiority, prayer in public schools, the support of Israel, family values, balanced budgets, etc. On the left we are summoned to work for a more just distribution of the world’s goods, nuclear disarmament, the end of interventionist politics in El Salvador and Nicaragua, ERA, programs to combat poverty and unemployment, etc. The Christian right and the Christian left are summoning us to action—and rightly so! If there is one thing Jesus cannot be accused of, it is indifference to the needs of people.

But there is a radical biblical critique which Christians on the right and Christians on the left must never forget: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Or to put it very bluntly: you can go to hell fighting for poverty programs and you can go to hell fighting for a prayer amendment, because love can never be defined simply as mere deeds; it always involves the condition of the heart of the doer. If we want to bring the message of the Bible to bear on the problems of the world around us, we need to realize that the Bible is much more radical than the agenda of either the right or the left. It says to both, “Though you give your body to be burned in the service of your agenda and have not love, you gain nothing.” Love can never be equated with anyone’s agenda because no agenda is love unless it comes from a certain kind of heart. We might be impressed with a person who gives a million dollars to build a hospital in Bangladesh, but God looks on the heart and queries the hidden motives of the soul. Christianity is not primarily an agenda for political activity; it is primarily a power that radically changes the human heart.

The Command to Love and the Nature of Faith 

Last week we saw in Galatians 5:6 that the heart which is acceptable to God is not one which depends on its works—whether right wing circumcision or left wing uncircumcision—but rather one which trusts so fully in God’s grace that the result is a life of love. Love is an essential part of the process of salvation. It is not optional whether you love one another. No one can say, “I am saved by faith regardless of whether I love people or not.” For the only faith which saves is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). Saving faith always gives rise to love and love gives evidence of genuine faith.

Today’s text picks up the theme of love from 5:6 and presses it home with a command in verse 13: “Through love be servants of one another.” Someone may ask, “Why should Paul command us to love if love is an inevitable result of faith (5:6), indeed, a fruit of God’s Spirit (5:22)?” The answer is that even though God is sovereign over his people and it is his Spirit that produces the fruit of love, nevertheless, God’s means of doing his work includes human exhortation. There is no contradiction between saying God brings about love in our hearts and saying that one of the ways he does it is to remind us of love’s importance with commands. But the fact that Paul has waited five chapters before he commands us to do anything, but trust God, warns us not to take this command as a “work of law” to be performed in our own strength to win God’s favor. Paul’s attack on works of the law has not been an attack on commands but on the teaching that we should try to fulfill commands in our own strength to earn God’s blessing. Commands are good and should be seen as a summons to have the obedience which faith produces. The command to love in Galatians 5:13 is a command to have the kind of free and confident heart that by its very nature has to love.

And I have found in my own experience that the Holy Spirit uses scriptural commands and especially the theological arguments for those commands to change my heart. And that is my aim as we look at 5:13–15. I pray that God will apply his Word to your mind and heart in such a way that love comes much more naturally and freely than it has before.

The logic of Galatians 5:13–15 is simple. First, Paul restates the foundation of the Christian life: “You were called to freedom, brethren.” Then, based on that divine call, he gives a twofold command. Negatively: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” Positively: “Through love be servants of one another.” Then to support this twofold command he gives a positive and a negative incentive to love. Positively: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And negatively: “If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” The main point of the text is, “through love be servants of one another.” If you do this, you fulfill the whole law; if you don’t, you destroy yourselves.

Loving Service and True Freedom 

Let’s focus first on the positive command in verse 13: “Through love be servants of one another.” Listen to what happens when you put this command together with the first part of the verse: “You were called to freedom . . . Through love serve one another.” You were called to freedom from servitude; now in love submit to servitude! Here’s the question we should ask: Why is love which serves the needs of others the only way Christian freedom can express itself? Why are the call to freedom and the call to love synonymous? When Paul says, “Don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,” he means that if you try, you lose your freedom. As verse 1 says, you “submit again to a yoke of slavery.” The works of the flesh and the fruit of love are not two different optional ways to live in freedom. When you live according to the flesh, you are in slavery. But when you serve each other in love, you are in freedom. Why?

Because love is motivated by the joy of sharing our fullness, but the works of the flesh are motivated by the desire to fill our emptiness. The meaning of “flesh” in the book of Galatians is not the physical part of man, but man’s ego which feels a deep emptiness and uses the means within its own power to fill that emptiness. If it is religious, it may use law; if it is irreligious, it may use booze. But one thing is sure: the flesh is not free. It is enslaved to one futile desire after another in its effort to fill an emptiness which only Christ can fill. So when Paul says in verse 13, “Don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,” he means, don’t surrender the freedom that you have in the all-satisfying Christ to return to the unsatisfying desires for mere physical pleasures or self-exaltation.

So works of the flesh are motivated by a desire to fill our emptiness. But love is very different—it is motivated by the joy of sharing out fullness. “Love does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5). When we love, we are not enslaved to use things or people to fill our emptiness. Love is the overflow of our fullness. Therefore, love is the only behavior that we can do in freedom. When God frees us from guilt and fear and greed and fills us with his all-satisfying presence, the only motive left is the joy of sharing our fullness. When God fills the emptiness of our heart with forgiveness and help and guidance and hope, he frees us from the bondage to accumulate things and manipulate people. People who devote large hunks of their life to surrounding themselves with the comforts of this world testify that God has not filled the void of their heart to overflowing. When God is our portion and we are truly free, then we will serve one another through love. Freedom flows forth in love just as surely as a bubbling spring flows forth in a mountain stream. But the flesh is like a vacuum cleaner: it sucks and sucks and just the moment it starts to feel full, somebody throws the bag in the garbage. The book of Galatians is written to show us how to become a mountain spring that serves the valley with the water of love.

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself 

There is no more fulfilling way to live than to draw daily on God’s all-satisfying grace and let it flow through us to meet the needs of others. Verses 14 and 15 give us a positive and a negative incentive to live like this. First, verse 14: Live like this, “for the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” In spite of all the negative things that Paul has said about “works of the law,” it is not a matter of indifference whether Christians fulfill the law in their behavior. The good news is that love, which is an overflow of God’s grace, is what fulfills the law. All God was after in the law was people who are so satisfied by his grace that their lives are a spill-spout of love.

There is a lot of confusion today about the self-love referred to in this verse: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The most common error is to assume that this is a command to love yourself and that self-love means self-esteem. Both of these assumptions are wrong. Paul and Moses (Leviticus 19:18) and Jesus (Luke 10:27assume that all people love themselves; they don’t command it: “You shall love your neighbor as you (already) love yourself.” And the self-love they assume is not self-esteem but self-interest: all people want to be happy, even if they often don’t know what will really make them happy. We can know this is how Paul understands this verse because of how he applies it in Ephesians 5:2829. “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church.” In other words, self-love means the strong interest you have in your own health and safety and happiness.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is not a command to love yourself. It is a command to take your natural, already existing love of self and make it the measuring rod of your love for others. There is not a harder command in the Bible than this one. It means: Want to feed the hungry as much as you want to feed yourself when you get hungry. It means: Want to find your neighbor a job as much as you are glad you have a job. Want to help your fellow student get A’s as much as you want to get A’s. Want to help the person stalled on the freeway as much as you are glad you are not stalled on the freeway. Want to give the poor softball player a chance to play as much as you want to play the whole game. Want to share Christ with your neighbor as much as you are glad you know Christ yourself. 

Use all the creativity and energy and perseverance to do good things for others that you use in doing good things for yourself. Care about what happens to others as much as you care about what happens to yourself. Can you imagine what the church would be like if we were all like that: looking at the person to the right and to the left and feeling the same longing for their happiness that we feel for our own. Not only would the law be fulfilled, this place would be iridescent with joy, and the glory of God would be unmistakably present in our midst. And people would be converted! Let’s be like that in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Tragic Alternative to Love 

For if we don’t, verse 15 gives the tragic alternative: “If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” A church of people who do not serve each other in love will destroy itself. God has been good to Bethlehem to pour out a spirit of love upon this people for 112 years. And my prayer is that we abound more and more in love for one another and for all men (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

And remember, we can only love if we are free. That is, love is motivated by the joy of sharing our fullness, not by the desire to fill our emptiness. Is it a coincidence that verse 15 describes what wild animals do when they are starving, not when they are filled (empty instead of content)? “If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” When you are not filled with God, it is sweet to eat your enemy.

But, brothers and sisters, God has called us to the freedom of fullness which overflows in love, not to the slavery of emptiness which bites and devours and is never satisfied. In Jesus Christ, God offers us forgiveness, daily help and guidance, and hope for the greatest future imaginable. And it is all free, purchased by the death of Jesus, received by faith alone. The secret of love is freedom, and the secret of freedom is utter confidence in the love of God.

Which gives us the clue (returning to our starting point) why a person can give away all his goods and deliver his body to be burned and yet not have love. Such a person may not be acting in freedom. He may not be motivated by the joy of sharing a God-given fullness, but only by a deep longing to fill his emptiness. In that case, he is not acting in love and God is not honored as the all-satisfying source of fulfillment.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.