Gracious and Merciful

Psalm 145: 8

The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.

Now isn’t that what you want in a best friend? As I read this verse, I thought that is really what we all want in our closest friend and God can certainly be your best friend. Gracious means showing favor, kindness or courtesy; being merciful and compassionate especially to one’s inferiors. Mercy is refraining from harming or punishing offenders or persons in one’s power; kindness in excess of what may be expected or demanded by fairness; forbearance and compassion. An additional definition says that mercy is a disposition to forgive, pity, or be kind. That is all great! In addition God does not get angry easily or quickly. Plus he is loving and kind. I really don’t know what more I would ask of Him. He sounds perfect to me. And His love is perfect.

He is not mad at you. Isn’t that good news? He loves you and wants to show you mercy and compassion. He desires to shower grace on you. He just wants to love on you and set you on high places out of harm’s reach. Get in touch with your best friend today and just let him know that you are really glad He is the way that He is and that you want to be His best friend too.

Not Fair!

Matthew 20: 12

These who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day’s work and the scorching heat.

Do you remember this story, how the landowner bargained with workers at the beginning of the day to pay them a certain wage for a day’s work in his vineyard? Towards the end of the day he took on more workers. At day’s end, he paid all the workers the same wage, even those who came late in the day. The workers who worked all day were upset that the people who worked a half day, or less, received the same wage as they. I might be upset too.

This is a two-fold message I believe. First, it is an obvious salvation message. Those who come into the vineyard, or in this case the kingdom, are rewarded as generously as those who arrived early. Second, it is a message about God’s kindness and generosity. Why are we upset that he chooses to be generous to those who worked one hour?

I believe part of the answer is that we are still locked into an earning mentality. The workers thought they “earned” their wage by their full day’s labor. They thought they earned the reward through their labor. This passage reveals a God who doesn’t make us earn His benefits. He gives freely. If He chooses to bless people who don’t deserve it, we should be happy rather than angry or jealous because we see God’s love in action towards all people.

Then there are the rewards of salvation. Those of us who have worked in the vineyard for years ought to reap a bigger reward than those who show up at the last minute. Right? That is what our worldly self says to us. Moreover, we feel legitimate in that thought. The reality is, though, that God is giving gifts to all. Salvation is free. None of us deserved His grace when He extended it to us but with time, we have begun to feel that we have earned something. Some people live like the devil and then in the eleventh hour pray to Jesus for salvation while other people have served him all their lives. What is the equity between these two groups? The only equity in God is love. Love bestows great gifts without regard for earnings. That does not square with our brains, but we need to allow it to settle into our spirits. Those who come after us are just as worthy and unworthy as we. The only way we receive a wage or salvation is by the free grace of the Father’s kindness and generosity. We didn’t have to earn it and neither do those people who are making their way towards the kingdom.

I think this story rankles within us because it is so “unfair” in the way we were raised to think. However, when we look at this from God’s perspective it begins to help heal our hearts. We needn’t lament God’s kindness towards anyone for it is that very kindness that blesses us today.

The Test

Matthew 7: 16

You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they?

Jesus gave us the method by which we can know whom we can trust. We can know people by their fruit. We saw last week Paul’s elucidation of this principle. Colossians 3 shows the fruit of the chosen of God and also the habits and traits of those not reformed by Christ. Some of the traits Paul identified for Christians are: “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other,” (Colossians 3: 12 – 13). In this list he also included the pursuit of unity (See the Word of the Day for 11/13/20).

Jesus’ teachings give us the principles. Paul’s teachings explain Jesus’ principles. He expounded on them to give further understanding. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul further described what the life of a Christian looks like. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” (Galatians 5: 22 – 24).

When I was practicing law I came to despise when a client offered that they were Christian. Why? Ask many business owners and you will get the same response. It is code language for, “I’m not going to pay you.” It is as though they offered that bit of information in order to cover a defect in their character. As I said last week, pretend I am from the Show Me state. Let your actions identify you as a Christian. As my friend, Robin, said yesterday, “Actions speak louder than words.” Anyone can say, “I am a Christian.” It is an entirely different matter to walk it out. Most people who wish to deceive and take advantage of others will not identify their motives. Instead, they will use some covering ploy and claiming to be a Christian is one of the best. So, how are we to know who is the real deal?

That is the purpose of this series of devotionals which began last week. I know who you are and how you strive to live in the light of Christ. I also know that you are the most vulnerable because you are attracted to people who self-identify as Christian. Now, you don’t have to take their word for it. Look at their lives. Are they givers? If no, then you needn’t ask any more questions. They are done because Yahweh and Jesus are mega-givers. You can’t be in them and be stingy. Beyond that run the test of Galatians 5 and Colossians 3. Here it is synthesized for you.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, a heart of compassion, humility, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other.

You might want to cut and paste this bit into your own document or print it. We are not asking people to be perfect, but we are looking for a pattern of behavior. I hope you identify with people who are patient and kind, gentle of speech and generous. We can encourage and expect these traits of people. We should, in fact, expect these kinds of behaviors. More than ever, we need to be considerate. We need to concern ourselves with the best interests of all people. We need to think of others instead of ourselves. That is the Christian mandate. It’s the Word. Let the Word prevail over the lives of us all.

Missouri

Colossians 3: 12 – 14

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so must you do also. In addition to all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

We can keep this simple today. Earlier in the week we saw what Paul said we should not do as children of the King. We are being called to put off the old dead self and to take up the garment of a new life in Christ Jesus. That new life, well, it looks like this. We are going to loop back around to this idea next week, but I think it is obvious. Don’t tell me you are a Christian. Just pretend I am from Missouri, the “Show me” state. Show me.

These are the characteristics or behavior traits of a child of God. Do we show and act out of a heart of compassion? Are we kind? Where is humility in our words and actions? Am I gentle? Patient? Can I show tolerance to another and forgive anyone? It all boils down to love. If we are not those who act in accordance with and motivated by love, then we ought not be so bold in declaring ourselves Christians because this is how Christians behave. Unity isn’t just a cool idea. It is a mandate. We do not have a choice. But then, unity is simply a byproduct of love. If love is our motivator, then all of the traits in today’s verses are ours and increasing.

Require this of others. Require it of the church! Without love, we are not the beautiful church. Without laying down the old man and picking up the new life in Christ, we cannot follow in Christ’s footsteps. It is time we looked to ourselves and strengthened ourselves as a body in Christ. This is the path that Paul laid out for us. This is the way.

Motto

Colossians 3: 12 – 14

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

As you may have noticed, I am reading Colossians, the third chapter, and if you look at the digital Bible I am reading from, you will see that almost every verse is highlighted and the only reason it isn’t all highlighted is because I restrained myself. This chapter is a primer for the what the Christian life is to be. Today’s passage really spoke to me and I want to suggest that it is the seminal passage for this time in our history. However, we are so far from this paradigm right now, that I hesitate to speak what alit on my heart as I read it. Then again, many writers of truth have been shouted down throughout history and berated for speaking the truth. Just look at Paul, John and Peter for starters.

In trying times, and these certainly are, the kindness of God and His love are needed above all things. The language of love is what will resonate and it will resound above all else. Love is a hard thing, though, because it does not, under any circumstances, lie. Sometimes the truth is the hardest thing you will ever have to tell someone.

In trying to navigate the stress and to come to grips with a changing world, this advice from Paul resonates loudly. We must approach the changing dynamics from God’s perspective of compassion and love. Life is a challenged right now, I know, and that is why I want to offer this passage. I know some people feel trapped by the rhetoric. The political left has its message but on a different subject we are assailed by the right. Most people in the country can identify with some “ism”. Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, and every other identifiable race, excluding whites, has felt the sting of racism. Women have been abused, neglected, marginalized and discriminated against the world over. Even white males get old and are no longer viewed as valuable. It seems most are either the wrong race, gender or age. Then there is the gay and transgendered community. Many people would not think twice about making derogatory comments about this group. Not long ago people were saying that God created AIDS to eliminate them. Wow!

The only real answer for any of this is the love and compassion of God. If we don’t take our stressors to God in prayer and wield the love and patience of God, I fear we will never make any meaningful change. God changes hearts. I want to bring this discussion to a broad market. In response to the corona virus challenge, we all need to apply the love, patience, compassion and gentleness of God. I am not advocating passivity or a lack in your conviction. In fact, I advocate just the opposite. I want people of passion. I just wonder if we are taking our troubles to the Lord or just ranting on Facebook. We are the answer to the problem. If the Christians will adopt today’s passage and marry it with a strong dose, and a continuing practice of prayer, we can effect real change. God can soften hearts and change the course of human history. Whether right or left, the answer is the same – God! Faith only works by love which is why today’s passage is so important.

Paul had to deal with a changing environment too. He lived in very tumultuous times. For goodness sake, the Messiah had just been crucified. Followers of Jesus were facing the same fate. Those are dire circumstances. Yet, he understood that the real power in the community was love, compassion and prayer. Love moves mountains.

There are lots of stressors in our lives right now. Some of you are on furlough and worried about feeding your families. The number of cases of Covid 19 is still rising in some areas. The economy is fragile. People want the economy open; others see that as a risk. We have racial tension, police brutality and in some cases, lawlessness. It is a fine balancing act at this time. And in the wings is a Presidential election with all the turmoil that interjects. We need help.

Please hear me clearly, I am not criticizing anyone’s reactions to the situations or stress in their lives. I am recognizing that people are under enormous stress. The purpose of this writing is to suggest that God is the way and that we need Him like never before. Regardless of our beliefs, there is one constant and one ultimate truth: our God. This, then, is an appeal to adopt this language from Paul as our refrain and further, to passionately and resolutely take our problems to God. As we meditate upon these ideals, what will God speak to our hearts?

There is no one on the planet who has not been affected by the circumstances of 2020. God cares what is going on in your heart. He cares about your pains and worries. He cares that you feel stressed to the point of breaking or that you have been isolated from friends and family for months. He knows of your anxiety and is compassionate. He wants to aid you.

Let’s just look at this one more time – “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Though I have not written, specifically, on them, let us not overlook the words kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and unity.

No matter where we stand politically or on any given issue, we are all those “who have been chosen of God.” We are the people God has in the earth. We have an awesome ability to take everything to Him in compassioned prayer. Let us not miss our calling oh chosen ones of God. Let us recommit ourselves to prayer and remember, that person across the aisle may not think like you, but they are, none the less, a child of God and valued in His sight.

Father

John 16: 25, 27

But (I) will tell you plainly of the Father . . . for the Father Himself loves you.

Have you ever wondered why God, chooses to be called “Father?” I mean, He is Lord High King, God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. Why does He call Himself Father to a bunch of rag a muffin humans? He could choose any title or name imaginable yet He chose to be a Father. Why does He ask us to love Him rather than just to serve Him?

That is an amazing question, isn’t it and an interesting perspective. I think it highlights that, above all else, God is love. He wanted a family to spend His love on. Love requires someone to share it with. Love demands acts of kindness and goodness. Wouldn’t those be a bit lost on servants? No matter how good God treated a servant, they could never rise above that station. They could never receive His intimacy. A servant doesn’t crawl up in the Father’s lap and take a nap. God wanted children He could dote on and spoil. He chose to have kids instead of slaves.

I think this question tells us more about God than many of the questions we might ask. It explains why He does many of the things He does and even how He feels. Ultimately, His desire is that all people join His family and let Him save and bless them. He is a good God and above all else He loves us. That is truly amazing and wonderful. Fill yourself with that good news today.

Do you have a need we can help with today? Write us at IveyMinistries.org.

Whose Friend are You?

Proverb 18: 24

But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

One of the things this viral attack on our world, cultures and lifestyles has done is to bring people together. Though we are separated by space and don’t get to see one another, you sure do appreciate your friends and find tenderness towards people in general. Maybe you have some friendships that have been forged during this time or strengthened. You find out who provokes tenderness in your heart and whose heart is pining for you. Perhaps you have been surprised by someone who reached out to you or someone you found yourself concerned about.

Since we will be separated a bit longer, you might also ask yourself who you might like to reach out to. There has never been a time in our history where human kindness was more in need. I find we are very independent and have a hard time receiving the kindness of others even if we need it. We feel like we are imposing even to accept what was offered. None the less, it is meaningful and a little kindness goes a long way.

Right now, some people are faring quite well while others are starting to suffer from the confinement. This would be a great time to actually pick up the phone and call someone. Human contact is valuable in this time of isolation. You could even write an old fashion letter. Face time someone you think might be feeling isolated. These are good ways to exercise your Christianity and our faith is something which ought to have outward expression. Do you agree?

Be kind to one another. Make it a point to isolate physically, but reach out to others any way you can. People need people, now more than ever. Take care of yourself but take care of others too. Thomas Paine wrote, “THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” These are definitely the times which try men’s souls, but now we are being asked not only to stand by our country but by one another and those who exercise human compassion will deserve the love of man and woman for this is a crisis of the heart as well as of the body. This is your opportunity to be a hero, to fight for your fellow human beings by extending yourself. These are the days when heroes are made. Though we may not be as those brave, commendable medical providers, we can do our part by cheering someone who is going a little stir crazy in their home.  Be a hero today from the comfort of your home.

Forward this Word of the Day to a friend to let them know we all care.