God’s Love – Part Six

As we look again at John 3:16 we see that the fifth element of God’s love is that it is exclusive.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

To review:

1> How John 3:16 came to be

2> That God’s love is extravagant

3> God’s love is extensive

4> God’s Love Is Expensive

5> God’s Love is Expansive

6> God’s love is Exclusive

We now come to what is really in a crucial way the key word in John 3:16. I don’t mean it’s the most holy word, which would be God, or the most affecting word, which would be His love, or the most astonishing words, which would be the gift of His Son.  But the word believes is crucial because it is the hinge upon which the door of heaven turns.

To show you just how important this word is, notice that in three consecutive verses (16-18), Jesus uses variations of believes four times. If you were to speak three sentences, and you included one verb four times, I would get the feeling you were stressing a highly critical point. And indeed He was.

John 3:16 begins with God and His love, and it ends in heaven — all stable and unchangeable elements. But the one variable in the equation is this word believes. Will we believe? You might say the verse is shaped like the letter Y. God is at the base, the foundation. His love and sacrifice gets us to the fork where the upper arms begin. At the tops of the two arms are “eternal life” and “perish.” At the fork in the Y is where we find the word believes. And that’s where you and I stand. Whether or not we believe will determine whether we choose to perish or accept the offer of eternal life. 

God’s love is infinitely deep, infinitely wide, and poured out for every single person who ever lived or ever will. And yet all of that is for naught if you or I choose not to believe in Christ. What a tragedy that God could love a person so deeply, only to have that love rejected!

Nicodemus thought God was in the business of condemning. But in the following two verses, Jesus told him that God doesn’t exclude people; they exclude themselves: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). There’s that word again — three times. John wants us to see the life-or-death urgency of our choice. 

In terms of how we relate to the love of God, there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who believe in Jesus Christ and those who do not. Those who believe will receive the salvation of God and all it brings. Those who don’t believe will miss out. As I have been stressing, God loves everyone, but in order to receive His love, we must believe.

God’s love gave us Christ, who died giving us our only access to heaven. Therefore, salvation is not in question. It is there for the taking. The only thing in question is our response. Will we believe? So, salvation does not turn on the point, ‘Did Christ die for me?’ But on the point, ‘do I believe on Christ.’

God has done everything possible to rescue us. If we refuse to jump into the net, it’s not because of anything He has failed to do; it’s because we didn’t offer the simple and natural response of the heart to the supreme act of love — we failed to believe. 

SOMETIMES I FEEL THAT I’M TOO OLD

Sometimes I Feel That I’m Too Old

 

Sometimes Series #6

A Christian hero – Dr. J. Vernon McGee – Pastor and Bible teacher – died in 1988 at the age of 84 …still preaching and teaching on a daily basis 

When Dr. J. Vernon McGee talked about the Bible, people listened. He was the most beloved Bible teacher of his generation.

In a sit-down conversation after he had preached what would be his last Sunday sermon he did not talk about the past

He did not mention the good old days and all that he had accomplished for the Kingdom – which was seriously substantial

The only subject that interested him was the future

He was fascinated by the technology of audio-tape and broadcasting

He was looking to the future and how to keep his ministry fruitful long after he was gone

He was correct about that Read more

God’s Love – Part Three

As we continue our look at John 3:16 and the love of God, we have seen:

1> How John 3:16 came to be

2> That God’s love is extravagant

Today, let’s look at the fact that God’s love is extensive. The verse we are looking at is John 3:16 which states: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

God’s love is extensive deals with the sixth word of John 3:16 where we discover the object of God’s love: the world. It is doubly amazing for a Jew to write such words. As I noted when speaking of Nicodemus, it was basic to Hebrew culture that a Jew loved fellow Jews, and others not so much or not at all. He looked down with proud distain on every Gentile, knowing that the Jews were God’s chosen people with whom He had a special relationship.

One writer comments: “The Jew was ready enough to think of God as loving Israel, but no passage appears to be cited in which any Jewish writer maintains that God loved the world. It is a distinctively Christian ideal that God’s love is wide enough to embrace all humankind. His love was not confined to any national group or any spiritual elite. It was a love which proceeds from the fact that He is love (1 John 4:8).

Jews like Nicodemus would be aghast: God loves – so loves – the world? Surely not! God so loves the Romans, with their cruel tyranny? God so loves the Assyrians and the Babylonians, who carried the Jews into bondage?

Absolutely. The world was put on notice that God loves the lovable (whoever they may be); He loves the unlovable; He loves Jews and the haters of Jews. He loves all people, and all fall under the love of Christ. No one is too evil or too far away for His love. 

We need to be aware that the term “world” is used in two different ways. John says here that God loved “the world.” But in another place he says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). This seems contradictory; God loves the world, yet He tells us not to love the world if we want to be like God. How do we reconcile these two verses?

There is no contradiction. In 1 John the reference is to the world system that rejects God — the world Satan invaded at man’s fall and blighted with lust and pride and all other evils. Later John will say, “The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). The Greek word for “world,” kosmos, has different meanings in the Scriptures based on the context. In his Gospel, John is telling us that God loves all the people of the world, sinners though they are. In his Epistle, John is telling is that we must be careful not to fall in love with a wicked and godless world system, which would be a form of idolatry. His message is to love the world’s people but not its program. 

Just as the world carries shades of meaning, so does the word love. C.S. Lewis wrote of four different kinds of love: friendship, affection, erotic love, and sacrificial love. And it’s here that many people get confused. We know that God loves us, and we need to understand just what kind of love that is.

I happen to love the country where I live. I’m deeply thankful to have been born here and live here. And I love my country will all my heart.

But I also happen to love my grandchildren and great grandchild. And my love for them is not at all the same kind of love that I have for my nation. As much as I love my country, my love for my grandchildren is far deeper, far more emotional. I love them with all my heart — and then some. That may not make logical or mathematical sense, but I know what I feel and what I mean.

God loves every individual in this world with the same profound devotion with which I love my grandchildren. The whole truth is, God’s love is far deeper and more profound than even my love for my grandchildren simply because His love is perfect and infinite, as no human love is. No one loves you the way He does — not your spouse, not your mothers, nor your child. No on. 

God’s love is extensive!

God’s Love – Part Two

Let’s look at God’s Love Is Extravagant!

“For God so loved…”

It’s difficult for modern people to understand the cultural world before Christ. Even among the Jews in Nicodemus’s time, the idea that “God is love” was counterintuitive. If you had played word association with a citizen of that day, when you said “God,” the response would have been “fear.” Among the Jews, God was a strict observer of man’s follies and quick to disapprove and punish. Outside the Jewish community, God was considered an outright tyrant.

Even today, heathen religions are all about appeasing the wrath of a furious god. Medicine men and witch doctors cycle through desperate incantations, warding off death, disease, famine, and calamities inflicted by their gods. At the root of this fear is the fact that all people recognize in their hearts that they are unworthy sinners. Not knowing the good news of John 3:16, they are left to dodge the lightening from heaven, which they sense they have earned.

And then into that context Jesus drops these words: God so loves.

It turns religion topsy-turvy. It confounds Pharisees like Nicodemus. It forces a rewrite of one’s idea of the Creator. No longer could the ancients think God to be aloof, simmering angrily on His throne, leaving us to figure some way to forestall His wrath. They had to radically shift their concept of Him from fear to love. Many people today also need to make that shift in thinking – even some believers.

But if we think John 3:16 announced a change in God from wrathful to loving, we miss the point. William Barclay wrote: “Sometimes men present the Christian message in such a way that it sounds as if Jesus did something which changed the attitude of God towards people from condemnation to forgiveness. But this text tells us that it all started with God. It was God who sent His Son, and He sent Him because He loved people. At the back of everything is the love of God.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume 1, page 128). God was never the wrathful deity of the ancients; He loved us from the beginning.

John 3:16 opens with a bang, starting not only with God, but with God doing something — God loving. Excuse me — God so loving. The most intense word in this verse is the smallest. Bound up in those two letters, s – o, are all the agonies of the Cross; all the suffering of the Son as He walked among men; all the exertion of a God willing to leave Heaven and take on flesh, not because He simply loved, but because He so loved. Hands that hold us are loving. Nail-scarred hands that hold us are so loving. 

In the world famous St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, there is in the annex a huge statue of Jesus Christ, writhing in anguish on the cross. You can see the pain on His face, the blood-sweat of His body. Beneath to statue, a plaque read “This is how God loved the world.” He so loved the world.

So loved  is what we say when loves drives someone to action. It’s what we feel when we see the message of God’s devotion written in flowing red script with a pen dipped into His lifeblood — love at great cost, love clearly understood in every language.

This is extravagant love. God didn’t simple say, “I love you.” He said it in torn flesh, in agony, in bearing unearned, vicious punishment. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

SOMETIMES I FEEL INCREDIBLY LONELY

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-3smms-10254a6

 

When God created the world, He declared that everything was good (Genesis, Chapter 1)

The sun, the earth, the moon, and the stars — all good!

  • He was pleased 
    • Pleased with the animals
    • Pleased with the mountains
    • Pleased with the oceans
    • Pleased with the trees

Above all, God was most proud of His best work: Man (“very good”)

All was good — except one thing… Read more

Christianity Is Unique and Not a Religion

According to Wikipedia, there are an estimated 4,200 different religions and spiritual traditions in the world today. These religions each derive their own set of morality, ethics, and religious laws from their distinct beliefs about the cosmos and human nature. Each one claims to be a superior way of experiencing life, and most maintain that their specific set of values came from a supernatural being, force, or power. Even though, by definition, all these religions contradict one another to a greater or lesser extent, our man-centered culture insists they’re all valid and correct, pointing to the same God. “What is true for you isn’t necessarily true for me” is the slogan for our culture. We’re taught that an extreme tolerance of all these different viewpoints is our only option.

In a sense, tolerance has become the highest of all virtues in the world today. Now, a measure of tolerance is a good thing, in the sense that no one should be oppressed because of race, religion, or cultural differences, especially in daily interactions with people who profess beliefs different from one’s own. 

However, the unfortunate truth is that our culture has taken tolerance to a completely unhealthy place; we no longer must simply tolerate but are forced to accept everyone else’s belief systems, habits, and choices. We must affirm then as good, right, and just as acceptable as our own. In fact, our culture has become so tolerant that we’re completely intolerant of anyone who says that someone or some group is wrong. That’s what leads to ridiculous statements such as “We all worship the same God, just in different ways” or “All religions are the same; they’re all headed to the same destination, just taking different paths.”

However, deep down you know this doesn’t sound right. How can they all be true if they all contradict one another? If one is true, then the others have to be lies, and if they are lies, then they’re not helpful. They are not paths that lead to God but rather paths that lead to the ditches of self-righteousness and/or burnout.

This is where we, as disciples of Jesus, must step in with gentle boldness and faithfully proclaim that not all religions are equally valid or true and that Christianity is the complete opposite of all of them. Right down to its core. 

I am currently doing a small study on the major world religions — Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Confucianism, Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormonism. A summary of my studies and the beliefs of each will be posted in June of this year.

As is readily apparent, even by a quick read through of what each major religion believes, all these religions have plenty of differences in their teachings and in the views of their deity, or lack thereof. However, every religion basically espouses a very similar practice when it comes to the creatures trying to figure out how to please their deity (or deities). Each one boils down to the creatures trying to get their god or gods to like them. 

These religions are all about creation reaching up and trying to attain the state or quality of their ultimate beings and holding on for dear (eternal) life. Possibly, if you reach up high enough, your god will accept you. If your deity accepts and likes you, then surely he will do what you want him to, right? Everything will go your way. 

However, biblical Christianity teaches the exact opposite of all these other major religions. Ultimately, there is nothing we can do — nothing that makes us good enough or nice enough. There are not enough beads in the world to count. There is no amount of money that can purchase God’s favour. There are no chants or prayers loud enough. There is no enlightenment for us apart from Christ because we’re actually born spiritually dead, and no matter what we do or don’t do, this deity will not and cannot accept us in our fallen human nature. “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Ephesians 2:1-2). Dead people have no ability to get God to like them. 

Therefore, unlike all other religions, Christianity teaches that we don’t have to try to reach up to God. We don’t have to work really hard to get God to like us, because our great God already loves us. Instead of reaching up to Him, God Himself reached down to us. He took on the form and nature of His creation in the person of Jesus, without ceasing to be God, and then died a substitutionary, sacrificial death to atone for the sins of His own creation. 

After this sacrificial death, Jesus was raised to life in order to demonstrate that He was God and that His death was sufficient payment for the sin of mankind. 

Jesus doesn’t merely point us to the way of eternal life, but He Himself is the way to eternal life. Faith in Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for sin is the only requirement of Christianity. There is no level of spiritual enlightenment we must attain or number of good works we must perform in order to be accepted by God. He has already done everything necessary for us to be redeemed and offered salvation through faith in Jesus. In other words, mankind can be saved by good works … not just ours. Rather, it is the good work of Jesus on our behalf. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

The Father is very fond of us. That is the exact opposite of every other religion in the world! Besides Christianity, found in the New Testament, no other system of belief teaches how great the Father’s love is for us. It is beautiful. It is perfect. It is life changing. 

Christianity, therefore, is unique. And, it is not a religion, it is a relationship — a personal love relationship with the Living God. 

God’s Work, God’s Purpose, God’s Plan

God is at work in your life. More accurately, God is at work in you – inside your heart and soul. 

Philippians 2:12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

And the purpose of God’s work (His plan and His purpose) in you is for you to become more and more like Him. 

Many people ask: “If God is at work in me, then what in the world is He up to?” People are disillusioned because they are trying to measure God’s involvement in their lives by looking at the outside – at their circumstances. But that approach is a trap. The end result of God’s work is not measured by how smooth your life runs or how rich or how physically attractive you become. His goal is to re-create in you the character of Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul said it this way: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Romans 8:29a). That’s what God has been working to accomplish in you — to make you more like His Son. This doesn’t mean He wants you to start wearing a robe and sandals, grow a beard, and add a “verily, verily” to the beginning of every sentence. His goal isn’t to make you smarter and smarter, or to alter your personality. After all, He is a God of variety. He never made any two things alike.

It means that when you became a Christian, there was placed in you a brand-new potential for character. The life of Christ was planted in you. Your potential for good, for character, for change, went up about 1,000 percent. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be God. I know that comes as a shock. But it does mean that you have been given the life of Christ along with all its potential. And now that you have this potential in you, God wants to fan the flame so that as your character develops, you reflect Jesus’ character.

When you think about it, that verse from Paul is a real mind-blower. The God of this whole universe has determined your destiny. He has plans for you. He has a purpose and destiny for you. And it is not to be His doormat or part of the sole of His shoe. He plan is that you are to be conformed to His image!

For me, at times, that is hard to believe. I look at some of my attitudes and habits and say, “Not only do we have a long way to go, God, but we’re going to run out of time before you ever get me to that point.”

Maybe you heard about the fellow who said, “Everybody has been given a certain amount of things to do in this life. Right now I am so far behind, I’ll never die.” If God’s plan is to totally conform my character to that of Jesus Christ before I die, I may never die, either.

Maybe you find it hard to believe, too. You’re thinking, That sounds good, but you don’t know me …I’ve got this temper, and it’s out of control … Or You don’t know about this habit I’ve got … It practically runs my life. That may be true. But keep in mind, God did not move in simply to fine-tune your behaviour. He moved in to transform your character. 

Sometimes the hardest part of getting in on God’s plan is simply believing that it can happen. All of us have areas that we assume are always going to be a struggle. A lot of the time it’s easier to say, “Well, that part of me will never change. That’s just the way I am! My mother was this way. Her mother was this way. Her mother’s mother was this way. I imagine Eve was this way, too. There is no point in even trying to change.”

Think about that statement for a minute. Have you ever felt challenged about an area of your life and given that as your response? Many people do. But God doesn’t accept that. He doesn’t say, “That’s just the way you are, eh? Well, okay, we’ll just work around that.” No, God seeks a total overhaul. And the question is, Are you going to continue to work against Him by making excuses? Or are you going to say, “God, if You’re an inside guy, then I want to be an inside guy. I want to be a part of what You are doing in me”?

God has the power to change who you are on the inside. Eventually these changes make their way into your behaviour. I’m not talking about imitating Jesus or asking, “What would Jesus do?” No, I’m not talking about a “do” thing at all. I’m talking about a “be” thing. And inside you is the potential to be what and who God wants you to be. Only then will you be able to do what He wants you to do. And it happens only because God is in you working and working and working. 

You Shall Commit Adultery!

The Bible states “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). However, an amazing and true fact is the in the 1631 edition of the King James Version of the Bible, the word not was omitted from the seventh commandment. The omission made the commandment read, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” This edition became known as “the wicked Bible.” Let’s hear it for proofreaders!

Today an appalling number of people – including believers – behave as if this rendering were not a mistake. Dependable statistics on how many married people commit adultery are notoriously elusive, but most surveys show a rate of 30 to 60 percent. Adultery, as defined by the Old Testament, is consensual sexual intercourse between a married woman with a man who is not her husband or a married man with a woman who is not his wife. It is therefore a crime against marriage.

Jesus, however, makes a sobering extension to this commandment. In the New Testament he teaches that lust is adultery of the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). As with the preceding commandment about murder, where we can ‘murder’ someone in our heart, we are put on notice that the commandment is being redefined by the Lord and includes much more than the physical act. It’s more difficult to avoid guilt than we thought.

The Bible makes a point of distinguishing between sexual desire and lust. The first is no sin at all, but part of God’s plan for humanity; lust, on the other hand, is twisted and misplaced desire. It exists because of human depravity. The seventh commandment recognizes that lust and adultery destroy people, their relationship with one another, and their fellowship with God.

Recreational, impulsive sex is considered the norm in our troubled culture. Defending the seventh commandment against the modern world singles one out as a pious puritan stuck in a lost century. However, when we strip sexuality of the restraints God gave it, we create chaos that tears at the very fabric of society. And we place an obstacle that blocks the fellowship God wants to have with us.

God gives us this commandment from love. He is saying, “My child, sexuality is My gift to you. I want you to know that when it’s rightly used, it can bring you joy and intimacy with the spouse I gave you, and it can create a legacy of children to replenish the earth.

“But when it’s wrongly used, it can create absolute havoc. It will destroy you from the inside out, and it will injure people who love you. I love your children, and I don’t want them to suffer because you marriage has failed. I don’t want you to spend the balance of your life in deep regret over the damage and heartbreak that was your return for the impulse of a moment.

“I love you, and I know what will make you happy. Sexual ‘liberation’ is really one more brand of enslavement. It advertises thrills and delivers grief. A long and faithful marriage to your spouse will bring you peace and delight that are beyond price — and you and I will be drawn closer.”

SOMETIMES I DOUBT GOD   [The Bout With Doubt]

https://rhm.podbean.com/e/sometimesi-doubt-god/

 

In the midst of daily life there are many opportunities to doubt God

      • When a baby dies we wonder “So, where is God when we need Him?”
      • With a world-wide epidemic taking thousands of lives a day we wonder. “Is God real?” And “If He is, is He good?” And, “If He is real and good – where is He?”
      • If God is all-powerful, then why doesn’t He just stop all the bad things going on in the world right now?

Read more

Keeping the Sabbath?

In the midst of ten life rules – we call them the Ten Commandments – we read about “keeping the sabbath.” Let’s read it…

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Many have made this commandment into a legalistic nightmare. When I was growing up in a traditional, non-born again, church family we had separate rules for Sunday. Special clothes we wore to church. Special and fancy lunch in the dining room (only time we ate there), and no friends over to play and definitely no cards. 

A bit legalistic? Perhaps, but you should have known the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They actually crunched the numbers on legalism, and came up with 1,521 things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath Day. That sounds like the title of a book no one would want to read.

Among the 1,521: no rescuing of drowning people; no wearing of false teeth (reinserting them, should they slip, would be work); no looking in the mirror (plucking a white hair, also work). If your friend grew ill, you could do certain things to forestall the illness, but actually trying to cure him — too much like work. At the beginning of a famous revolt, many Jews stood and let themselves be killed rather than risking work by defending themselves (1 Maccabees 2:29-38).

Men made a bureaucratic nightmare out of Sabbath-keeping, but it wasn’t what God wanted. This commandment shows a deep affection for us. The word sabbath means “rest.” God knows we grow weary in the cycle of work, so He established a day for us to regularly disengage from toil and refresh ourselves. God cares about both our labour and our leisure.

The Sabbath was also to be a day to turn from the material to the spiritual, to connect in a deeper way with God. Before Christ, people worked toward the Sabbath, resting on the last day of the week (Saturday). Since the Resurrection, we work from the Sabbath (Sunday), living in the power of the risen Christ. 

The early Christians began to worship on the first day of the week because that was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead (Mark 16:9). By the time we get to Act 20:7, we see the disciples coming together on “the first day of the week” to pray, break bread, and listen to the teaching of the Word of God. By the beginning of the second century, Christians universally understood that the Lord’s Day was to be on Sunday, the day after the Jewish Sabbath. And in AD 321, the Roman emperor Constantine, by royal edict, proclaimed Sunday a special day of worship throughout the entire Roman world. It is remarkable to realize that every Sunday from the day of Christ’s resurrection until today, somewhere in the world the church of Jesus Christ has come together to worship.

When I was growing up, Sunday was a special day. And, back then, even those who chose not to attend church still reserved a certain respect for Sunday and how the day should be treated.

We need to accept the wonderful gift of God’s day. We can do this by recognizing its special purpose: to honour Him by resting and reflecting on His goodness. As we do that, we’ll want to find ways to return the gift to Him with gratitude — through ministry, through worship, and through avoiding anything that makes Sunday just another day.

The two command here are to remember it and to keep it holy.

The story goes that when Africa was first being explored, native guides were taking their visitors through the region. After six days of pushing through the jungle, the natives refused to walk. They explained, “We need a day to let our souls catch up with our bodies.”

God has given you a gift to get your soul back in alignment. Will you accept it?