The Merciful & Gracious God

by Erin Bird

Years ago, I read Praise Habit, a devotional book by David Crowder, the Christian music artist. If you aren’t familiar with Crowder, he is a bit quirky. You can see it in his appearance (his beard is epic!). You can hear it on many of his albums. But you especially see his quirkiness in his writing.

While David’s “quirkiness” created memorable devotionals from the Psalms, the place I most vividly recall his quirkiness in the book was the “author’s bio” at the end. (Unfortunately, I lent the book to someone and don’t recall who I gave it to, so I can’t go grab it off my shelf and type the bio accurately.) But what I recall is that just before the back cover was a photo of Mr. Crowder peering out a window. Under the photo, it said something like this…

“David Crowder is the pastor of music and arts at University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, where he lives with his beautiful wife, Toni. He is also the lead singer and frontman for the band that bears his name. This is his first book. David is peering into the distance because the photographer told him to. Perhaps it makes him look smarter. Also, he is writing this in third person.”

If you were to write an “author’s bio” for yourself, you might not write it quite as humorously,(maybe you would) but I do suspect you’d do at least one thing similar. You’d write briefly.

Notice, Crowder didn’t write three chapters about himself. He wrote a brief paragraph. His bio is merely a snapshot of who he was when he wrote the book. And to keep his bio brief, he had to get right to the point.

Grace from the Get-Go

In Exodus 34:6-7, where God shares His “bio” with Moses, He doesn’t go on and on and on. He keeps it somewhat brief. This means God gets right to the point. However, He doesn’t start with His power, or His uniqueness, or even some deep theological concept. After stating His name, God starts His bio at the get-go with the words “merciful and gracious.”

Many people have the notion that the “God of the Old Testament” is a cranky old man who tells puny little humans to get off his lawn by killing them or demanding the impossible. But that is not the heart of God! He is full of mercy and grace. Not demanding, but patient. He is Loving. He is Present. He is all-knowing. He is… merciful and gracious.

While we can see and sense God’s mercy and graciousness in the air we breathe, or the people He’s brought into our lives, or even in the fact that we are given a new day every day, we see this characteristic most vividly through the cross of Christ. Jesus, God the Son, willingly went through the hell of crucifixion to give us the heaven of forgiveness. All of us were born in sin. Yet while our sin separates us from God, our sin does not repel Him. Rather He runs to us, taking on human flesh. Why? Because He is merciful and gracious. And out of His mercy & grace, He went to the cross to pay the penalty we couldn’t pay to give us the freedom we don’t deserve.

So if you’ve been writing God’s bio in your head as “can’t love someone like me,” or “doesn’t seem to care,” or even “full of hate,” please know that God DOES love you, for He is full of mercy and grace. After all, it’s the first thing He put in His brief bio. And I hope this truth redefines your bio.

How to Respond to Tragedy like a Jesus-follower

From Erin Bird

This past Sunday, June 12, I helped set-up for our Worship Gathering, sang alongside many of you, taught from Matthew 6, and then tore everything back down, completely oblivious to what was happening in Orlando, FL.

By now, you have probably heard that nearly 50 people lost their lives, and another 50+ were injured in a mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub. And as you are also probably aware, the entire situation is rife with political tension: a gay club, a Muslim shooter, ISIS connections, recently purchased guns, and more.

But with so many people responding with a wide variety of reactions, how should someone who claims to follow Jesus respond?

On Monday, I received an email from Scott Ridout, president of Converge Worldwide (Riverwood is a part of Converge). Converge has headquarters in Orlando, so this event hit Scott and the national office a bit closer than other shootings. And I found Scott’s email to all of Converge incredibly helpful.

So rather than write my own response to the tragedy that happened in Orlando and post it on the blog, I thought I would share Scott’s letter. May it help you and encourage you to respond to tragedy in light of the gospel of Jesus.

Sunday morning, the people of Orlando woke up to the disturbing news that our community was the victim of “the worst mass shooting in U.S. history,” which, at the point of this writing, left 50 dead and 53 wounded at a local night club. This senseless act of violence by one person has left many friends and families mourning, a city reeling and a country outraged.

My observation is that so many people are focused on so many of the wrong things. Opinions are a dime a dozen on social media – LGBT, ISIS, gun control and political posturing appear to be the frontrunners in the latest conversations. There is no question that some are using this tragedy for selfish gain and promotion of their personal agendas, while others are looking for someone or something to blame, with the goal of fueling anger and potentially, revenge. Still others are paralyzed in fear that what happened in Orlando might one day happen in their community.

In the midst of all the posturing, anger and fear, I want to take this moment to remind us that God has called us to live differently than the rest of the world:

God is bigger than any circumstances we could possibly face in this life, so live courageously. The world is not as it should be. This incident is another proof of that. Sin is rampant. Evil is real. Yet God is sovereign. Jesus told us that we would have trouble in this world but we should not become a people of fear. “Take courage,” he said, “for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Knowing God’s power and wisdom are in play, we must choose not to be a people of fear, but a people of faith. 

Every person is valuable to God and therefore should be valuable to us, so live compassionately. Paul tells us in Romans 12 to “Weep with those who weep.” In 1 Tim. 2 he tells us to “pray for those in authority.” Rather than joining the barrage of conversation on social media, I ask that you take an hour and pray for all involved–weep over the loss of life, grieve with those who lost loves ones, mourn over the sinfulness of our world and pray for wisdom for our leaders.  

What the world needs more than anything in this moment is not more politics, posturing or pledges. What the world needs is more Jesus.

God designed the church to shine in crisis, so live intentionally.
In Matthew 5, Jesus describes the church as a “city on a hill” and tells us “let your light shine in such a way that people see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.” Don’t give in to cynicism or fear, do something. Pray. Give blood. Speak words of comfort. Reach across the divide of sexual orientation and religion with the grace and mercy of Christ. Become a part of the solution. Be the church.  

Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, so live hopefully. What the world needs more than anything in this moment is not more politics, posturing or pledges. What the world needs is more Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John.14:6). Remind yourself and others of his love, power, comfort, strength, wisdom, mercy and peace, and let other see these qualities of Christ in you. In doing so, your witness will be the remedy this world needs. Together, God will help us leverage this tragic moment to advance his purposes and greatness in this world.

I ask you to pray with me for the comfort of those who lost loved ones, the healing of the wounded, the wisdom of the authorities to uncover the facts and the discernment of local leadership to lead well. Pray God will provide peace and unity and many would come to him. Most of all, pray the church displays unity, compassion and the hope of God to all the people of the Orlando community, throughout our country and around the world.

Better Together,


How to Receive Mercy

We are continuing in our walk through the Beatitudes here on the blog. This week we come to verse 7, which reads:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Matthew 5:7

When the Merciful Don’t Receive Mercy

As we are seeing in our #Unexpected series on Sunday mornings, many of the things Jesus says in His Sermon on the Mount are a bit unexpected. But to me, verse 7 isn’t all that strange. It seems logical that if you give mercy, you’ll receive mercy.

This past Monday night, I had the chance to hear a pastor from Minnesota share about what he has learned in his 30 years of pastoral ministry. He had some encouraging stories, but he also had some sad stories. Such as the guy who recently ripped him to shreds in a letter for using a different Bible translation than the one this guy preferred. The pastor shared how he has given nothing but mercy and kindness to this guy, and yet he gets told that he has failed as a pastor and should be removed from the pastorate for not using the “correct” translation.

Maybe you’ve experienced something like that. You showed extreme kindness to someone only to have them treat you like trash. You showed mercy – but you didn’t get mercy in return.

So was Jesus wrong?

Mercy for the Long Term

Paul says in Galatians 6:7 that you will reap what you sow. Just as a farmer who sows corn will reap corn, a person who sows discord will reap discord, or a person who sows mercy will receive mercy.

But just as a farmer has to wait for his corn seed to beget corn, sometimes we have to wait to receive mercy. Sometimes, we will sow mercy, bestowing it on others, and we may not see an immediate return. The other person might take advantage of our mercy or just not appreciate our kindness.

We shouldn’t be looking for mercy from others, we should be looking to the mercy that God offers through the cross.

That is why we shouldn’t be looking for mercy from others. Rather, we should be looking to the mercy that God offers through the cross. The fact that Jesus-followers get heaven despite their sin is evidence of God’s lavish mercy. The fact that Jesus’s followers receive the Holy Spirit despite their rebellious hearts is evidence of God’s extravagant mercy. The fact that we receive such love from God despite the fact that we can’t earn God’s love is evidence of God’s amazing mercy.

So if you want to receive mercy, give mercy. But realize, that you may not receive mercy from those upon whom you bestow mercy. Rather, you have already received mercy from God. And THAT’S why we can give mercy to others.

(By the way, the pastor who shared about getting ripped to shreds in that letter about Bible translations went on to share how the guy who wrote the letter had a tragic event happen two days after he sent the letter to the pastor. And who was the first person he called? You got it: The pastor.)

So who do you need to give mercy to today?

Grace Dispensers

A couple years ago, I heard about a cop who pulled over a young man for having an expired license plate. The young man simply didn’t have the money to pay for the renewal. I found it sad that his financial situation made it difficult for him to make ends meet. But the fact of the matter was, he had broken the law and deserved to get a ticket.

Now, if I had been the cop, I would have been tempted to give the guy mercy. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. This guy deserved a ticket, but I might have not given it to him because of his financial situation.

But the cop in the story didn’t show mercy. He didn’t let the young man off with a warning. Instead, he handed him a ticket. But wrapped up inside the ticket was a $100 bill to pay the fine.

That’s grace.

You see, while mercy is not getting what you DO deserve, grace is getting what you DO NOT deserve. This cop upheld the law, but at the same time, gave the young man the means to not only pay the fine, but also renew his wife’s registration as well.

I love that story. It completely fits with our three values at Riverwood: grace, truth, and trust. Last week, we looked at Riverwood as a Jesus-centered community of Trust. So this week, I want to look at our value of Grace.

The Power of Grace

In the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John), we read about Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus. Jesus had been arrested in the middle of the night and dragged off for a “trial.” Peter followed a safe distance behind so he could figure out what was going to happen to Jesus. But a couple of people recognized Peter and asked him, “Aren’t you one of His disciples?” Afraid he too would be arrested and possibly killed for his association with Jesus, Peter emphatically said no. He denied being a Jesus-follower.

So when Jesus is resurrected from the dead, you can understand why Peter would go back to fishing. He had failed as a disciple. He had told Jesus he wouldn’t deny being a Jesus-follower, and yet he did. So he went back to the one thing he was good at.

But Jesus wasn’t done with Peter.

In John 21, we see Jesus confront Peter. Peter deserved at least a lecture for his denial, maybe even more. Yet Jesus didn’t give him any of that. He forgave him! He showed Peter mercy.

But Jesus didn’t stop there. He then gave Peter responsibility to move Jesus’ mission forward. Jesus gave him something he didn’t deserve. He gave him responsibility and leadership. He gave him grace.

And we see Peter respond to this grace when he preaches in Acts 2. A throng of people listen to Peter tell about Jesus, and 3000 people made a decision to follow Jesus.

You see, Peter didn’t take the grace that Jesus gave him and take advantage of it. The grace of Jesus launched Peter into something beautiful. Peter didn’t leave the conversation in John 21 thinking he had just gotten away with something. He was humbled by the grace Jesus gave him, and Peter allowed that grace to launch him into something powerful.

That’s why at Riverwood we talk about “leading with grace.” We want to give to people the same kind of grace that Jesus has given us. We believe that when someone truly experiences grace, it will launch them into something beautiful, and rather than just be takers and consumers in life, they too will become grace-dispensers.

And so, if you have seen the depravity of your own sin and realized that God has not only shown you mercy by forgiving you of your sins, but also gives you grace by inviting you to follow Him, then give others grace, trusting that God can use that grace to launch them into something beautiful.

Let’s lead with grace. Let’s be grace-dispensers!

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