One day many years ago my boys and I were lying on our backs in the yard watching the clouds drift by. “Dad,” one asked, “why do clouds float?” “Well, son,” I began, intending to give him the benefit of my vast knowledge, but then I lapsed into silence. “I don’t know,” I admitted, “but I’ll find out for you.”
The answer, I discovered, is that condensed moisture, descending by gravity, meets warmer temperatures rising from the land. That moisture then changes into vapor and ascends back into the air. That’s a natural explanation for the phenomenon.
But natural explanations are not final answers. Clouds float because God in His wisdom has ordered the natural laws in such a way that they reveal the “wonders of him who has perfect knowledge” (Job 37:16). Clouds then can be thought of as a symbol—an outward and visible sign of God’s goodness and grace in creation.
So someday when you’re taking some time to see what images you can imagine in the clouds, remember this: The One who made all things beautiful makes the clouds float through the air. He does so to call us to wonder and adoration. The heavens—even the cumulus, stratus, and cirrus clouds—declare the glory of God.
When I look at my hands, I am reminded that I lost my wedding and engagement rings. I was multitasking as I packed for a trip, and I still have no idea where they ended up.
I dreaded telling my husband about my careless mistake—worried how the news would affect him. But he responded with more compassion and care for me than concern over the rings. However, there are times when I still want to do something to earn his grace! He, on the contrary, doesn’t hold this episode against me.
So many times we remember our sins and feel we must do something to earn God’s forgiveness. But God has said it is by grace, not by works that we are saved (Eph. 2:8–9). Speaking of a new covenant, God promised Israel, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:34). We have a God who forgives and no longer calls to mind the wrongs we have done.
We may still feel sad about our past, but we need to trust His promise and believe His grace and forgiveness is real through faith in Jesus Christ. This news should lead us to thankfulness and the assurance faith brings. When God forgives, He forgets.
Caricature artists set up their easels in public places and draw pictures of people who are willing to pay a modest price for a humorous image of themselves. Their drawings amuse us because they exaggerate one or more of our physical features in a way that is recognizable but funny.
Caricatures of God, on the other hand, are not funny. Exaggerating one of His attributes presents a distorted view that people easily dismiss. Like a caricature, a distorted view of God is not taken seriously. Those who see God portrayed only as an angry and demanding judge are easily lured away by someone who emphasizes mercy. Those who see God as a kindhearted grandfather will reject that image when they need justice. Those who see God as an intellectual idea rather than a living, loving being eventually find other ideas more appealing. Those who see God as a best friend often leave Him behind when they find human friends who are more to their liking.
God declares Himself to be merciful and gracious, but also just in punishing the guilty (Ex. 34:6–7).
As we put our faith into action, we need to avoid portraying God as having only our favorite attributes. We must worship all of God, not just what we like.
Poet Samuel Foss wrote, “Let me live by the side of the road and be a friend to man” (“The House by the Side of the Road”). That’s what I want to be—a friend of people. I want to stand by the way, waiting for weary travelers. To look for those who have been battered and wronged by others, who carry the burden of a wounded and disillusioned heart. To nourish and refresh them with an encouraging word and send them on their way. I may not be able to “fix” them or their problems, but I can leave them with a blessing.
Melchizedek, both the king of Salem and a priest, blessed Abraham when he was returning weary from battle (Gen. 14). A “blessing” is more than a polite response to a sneeze. We bless others when we bring them to the One who is the source of blessing. Melchizedek blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth” (v. 19).
We can bless others by praying with them; we can take them with us to the throne of grace to find help in time of need. We may not be able change their circumstances, but we can show them God. That’s what a true friend does. David Roper
I arrived early at my church to help set up for an event. A woman stood crying at the opposite end of the sanctuary. She’d been cruel and gossiped about me in the past, so I quickly drowned out her sobs with a vacuum cleaner. Why should I care about someone who didn’t like me?
When the Holy Spirit reminded me how much God had forgiven me, I crossed the room. The woman shared that her baby had been in the hospital for months. We cried, embraced, and prayed for her daughter. After working through our differences, we’re now good friends.
In Matthew 18, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who decided to settle his accounts (v. 23). A servant who owed a staggering amount of money pleaded for mercy (vv. 24–26). Soon after the king canceled his debt, that servant tracked down and condemned a man who owed him far less than what he’d owed the king (vv. 28–30). When word got back to the king, the wicked servant was imprisoned because of his own unforgiving spirit (v. 34).
Choosing to forgive doesn’t condone sin, excuse the wrongs done to us, or minimize our hurts. Offering forgiveness simply frees us to enjoy God’s undeserved gift of mercy, as we invite Him to accomplish beautiful works of peace-restoring grace in our lives and our relationships.
Seven of us were attending a musical production at a crowded amusement park. Wanting to sit together, we tried to squeeze into one row. But as we did, a woman rushed between us. My wife mentioned to her that we wanted to stay together, but the woman quickly said, “Too bad,” as she and her two companions pushed on into the row.
As three of us sat one row behind the other four, my wife, Sue, noticed that the woman had an adult with her who appeared to have special needs. She had been trying to keep her little group together so she could take care of her friend. Suddenly, our ill feelings faded. Sue said, “Imagine how tough things are for her in a crowded place like this.” Yes, perhaps the woman did respond rudely. But we could respond with compassion rather than anger.
Wherever we go, we will encounter people who need compassion. Perhaps these words from the apostle Paul can help us view everyone around us in a different light—as people who need the gentle touch of grace. “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12). He also suggests that we “bear with each other and forgive one another” (v. 13).
As we show compassion, we will be pointing others to the One who poured out His heart of grace and compassion on us.
My four-year-old son is full of questions, and chatters constantly. I love talking with him, but he’s developed an unfortunate habit of talking to me even when his back is turned. I often find myself saying, “I can’t hear you—please look at me when you’re talking.”
Sometimes I think God wants to say the same thing to us—not because He can’t hear us, but because we can tend to talk to Him without really “looking” at Him. We pray, but we remain caught up in our own questions and focused on ourselves, forgetting the character of the One we’re praying to. Like my son, we ask questions without paying attention to the person we’re talking to.
Many of our concerns are best addressed by reminding ourselves of who God is and what He has done. By simply refocusing, we find comfort in what we know of His character: that He is loving, forgiving, sovereign, graceful.
The psalmist believed we ought to seek God’s face continually (Ps. 105:4). When David appointed leaders for worship and prayer, he encouraged the people to praise God’s character and tell stories of His past faithfulness (1 Chron. 16:8–27).
When we turn our eyes toward the beautiful face of God, we can find strength and comfort that sustain us even in the midst of unanswered questions.
Jesus’s teaching about absolute ideals and absolute grace seem contradictory.
Jesus never lowered God’s perfect ideal. In His response to the rich young ruler, He said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). He told an expert in the law who inquired as to the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (22:37). No one has completely fulfilled those commands.
Yet the same Jesus tenderly offered absolute grace. He forgave an adulteress, a thief on the cross, a disciple who had denied ever knowing Him, and a man named Saul, who had made his mark persecuting Christians. Grace is absolute and all-encompassing, extending even to those who nailed Jesus to the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” were among the last words He spoke on earth (Luke 23:34).
For years I felt so unworthy when considering Jesus’s absolute ideals that I missed any notion of His grace. Once I understood this dual message, however, I went back and found that the message of grace gusts through Jesus’s life and teachings.
Grace is for the desperate, the needy, the broken, those who cannot make it on their own. Grace is for all of us.
There cannot be a Mexican party without a piñata—a carton or clay container filled with candies and treats. Children strike it with a stick and try to break it in order to enjoy its contents.
Monks used the piñatas in the 16th century to teach lessons to the indigenous people of Mexico. Piñatas were stars with seven points that represented the seven deadly sins. Beating the piñata showed the struggle against evil, and once the treats inside fell to the ground, people could take them home in remembrance of the rewards of keeping the faith.
But we cannot fight evil on our own. God is not waiting for our efforts so that He will show His mercy. Ephesians teaches that “by grace you have been saved through faith, . . . it is the gift of God” (2:8). We don’t beat sin; Christ has done that.
Children fight for the candies from the piñata, but God’s gifts come to all of us once we believe in Jesus. God “has blessed us . . . with every spiritual blessing” (1:3). We have forgiveness of sins, redemption, adoption, new life, joy, love, and much more. We don’t get these spiritual blessings because we have kept the faith and are strong; we get them because we believe in Jesus. Spiritual blessings come only through grace—undeserved grace!