Because God Loves Us – Part One

The Bible states: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins … We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:10, 19).

We didn’t love God, but He loved us. We didn’t deserve this gift of love. In fact, we proved by our actions to be God’s enemies. Every gift, every blessing He offered, we threw back in His face. He offered affection; we countered with rebellion. Yet He proved the greatness of His love by continuing to lavish it on us in spite of our rebellion, even sending His Son to take the punishment for our sins.

Just as the sun is our only source of daylight, God is our only course of love. Sun rays reflect from all objects they strike, permeating the air with light and making it possible for us to see. In a similar way, God’s love enters the world and reflects off our hearts, making it possible for us to love Him and others. We have no inborn, innate capacity, no self-originating store of love to give. We can give only what we receive from Him.

When we receive God’s love, it does not merely lie inert on our hearts as a warm, fuzzy feeling. That same Son who gave His life for us also shows us a new way to live. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, He lives within us and makes it possible for us to return love to Him as He originally created us to do. Because He first loved us, we are enabled and empowered to love Him in return. 

Taking this a little further this week we will see…

    • Because God loves us, we can love ourselves
    • Because God loves us, we can love one another
    • Because God loves us, we can  love our neighbour
    • Because God loves us, we can love our enemies

So simple but not easy. So basic and yet we often fail to adequately respond to His love. So foundational as we simply take the love we have encountered and experienced and love others. His love changes everything. And will change the world as we walk in His love and give it away. 

Church as Usual Is Coming to an End (Revelation-Driven Churches)

The Church as we Know it is Coming to an End

 

Church as Usual Is Coming to an End (and Revelation-Driven Churches Must Emerge to Fill the Void) 

Around the world the Church, as we know it, is in trouble

Most church leaders are unaware that they are in trouble or have chosen to simply ignore the issues that the Church is facing

In some places it is seriously dying – growing smaller every year 

20% decline a year due to deaths, moves, and people leaving

So to remain steady at the same number of people annually need to grow 20%

In some places there is decreasing ‘life’ and a focus on format and ritual, tradition and religion

2 Timothy 3:5 “… having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” Read more

A Side Order of Stupidity

I have been preaching the Gospel for almost 50 years and with every year that moves by (and they are going quicker these days), I am more and more convinced that too many of us, me included, fail to focus on the main meal and get sidetracked on a side order of stupidity. I believe the main course of the meal is the love of God and that I need to be focused on that instead of the many “side orders” that come along regularly and systematically like waves on the shore of the sea. 

I have seriously grown less interested in the side issues (orders), the niceties, and the doctrinal trivia. This world desperately needs for us to keep the main thing the main thing. So, I have determined that my central message must be God’s astonishing love. It is a message that is always new, never old, never dusty or musty.

In many ways I am inspired by John, the last living apostle or the original twelve. His great topic, needless to say, was love (see the daily blogs for the past ten days). He featured love in his Gospel, and love dominated his first epistle. They say that as he got older, he reached the point where he preached nothing else. Occasionally, some impatient member of the audience would interrupt him: “Brother John, you’ve already preached that one. Tell us something new!”

“Very well,” the beloved disciple would say with a smile. “A new commandment I give to you — that you love one another.”

John was not senile. He simply understood more deeply than the rest of us that there is one item of news that never stops being new; the life-changing love of God. 

God’s love should flow from us in practical and real ways. In every relationship we have — with God, self, friends, neighbours, and enemies — Christians have a foundational, non-negotiable responsibility spelled l-o-v-e. There is no person in the world — including God Himself — whom God does not expect us to love.

And that is why I can say that God’s love changes everything. Think of it: What is life except relationships? And what are relationships without love? If we lack the ability to love, we lack the ability to truly live. Or, at least, to live the “more abundant” life God wants us to enjoy (John 10:10b). 

So, let me note a few relational benefits of being loved by God:

1> Because God loves us, we can love Him

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins … We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:10, 19).

2> Because God loves us, we can love ourselves

“You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 19:19).

3> Because God loves us, we can love one another

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

4> Because God loves us, we can love our neighbour

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

5> Because God loves us, we can love our enemies

“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust … You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-45, 48).

So, let’s stop looking at all the somewhat stupid and pointless things that occupy our time and emotions and let’s go back to the main thing – that God loves us and then learn, as disciples of Jesus, to walk in love and give it away.

Sometimes I Don’t Walk By Faith

Sometimes I Dont Walk By Faith

 

In this series of teachings I have targeted a number of every day issues – spiritual and life issues – that we, as believers and disciples of Jesus, tend to encounter on a regular basis

Sometimes I Doubt God – Bout With Doubt

Sometimes I Worry – But What If…

Sometimes I Get Angry – Rage Rash

Sometimes I Feel Incredibly Lonely – Seclusion Conclusions

Today: Sometimes I Don’t Walk By Faith – “No More Beyond”

Subtitle: “Don’t Settle In Spain”

I don’t believe that disciples of Jesus – those of us who follow Jesus today – were ever suppose to end up as couch potatoes

Sitting in one spot can feel so comfortable – physically, emotionally, mentally, and relationally

Just coasting in life and accepting things as they are is simply not the call upon the believers today or any day

The early believers we read about in the New Testament did not just sit and accept what was because it was Read more

God’s Love – Part Ten

As we draw our study of John 3:16 to a close … a true story:

In 1912 the Titanic, the largest, most luxurious, and most advanced ship of its time, sank on its maiden voyage, taking the lives of 1,514 passengers. Though the disaster occurred over one hundred year ago, several movies, documentaries, and books have kept the horror of that night alive in our minds. We’ve all heard of passengers such as “the unsinkable” Molly Brown and the entrepreneur John Jacob Astor IV. But one of the most astonishing stories from the Titanic has received little press.

It’s the story of Pastor John Harper, a widower who was travelling with his six-year-old daughter at the invitation of the great Moody Church in Chicago. Not only was he to preach there, he intend to accept the church’s offer to become their next pastor. His hopes were high, and it seemed he had a brilliant future ahead. 

After the ship hit the iceberg and it became apparent that it would sink, Harper got his daughter safely aboard a lifeboat. It’s likely he could have joined her, being her only parent, but he chose to stay aboard the sinking ship because he knew that with this disaster, God had given him an urgent message.

Harper immediately began to go from one person to another, telling them about Christ’s love and urging them to accept Him. He shouted for Christians to let the unsaved fill the lifeboats so that would live to come to belief. When one angry man rejected the message, Harper removed his own life vest and gave it to him, saying, “You need this more than I do.”

Harper was still actively pressing his urgent evangelism when the ship tipped upward, wretched in half, and slipped beneath the frigid North Sea. Even then Harper did not stop. Seeing the many passengers struggling in the water with little chance of rescue, he swam to as many as he could, urging them to accept Christ’s loving offer until hypothermia finally overcame him.

Four years later, at a Titanic survivors meeting in Ontario, one survivor told the story of his own encounter with John Harper. He was clinging to a piece of flotsam when Harper swam to him and urged him to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The man rejected the offer and Harper swam away. But soon Harper came around again, and this time, knowing death to be only minutes away, the man gave his life to Christ. Moments afterwards, he watched the near-freezing waters finally take Harper’s life just as a returning lifeboat approached to rescue him. At the conclusion of his story, he said simply, “I am the last convert of John Harper.”

The titanic left England with three classes of passengers aboard. But when accounting for their fate, the White Star Line set up a board listing two classes: KNOWN TO BE SAVED and KNOWN TO BE LOST. These categories provided a fitting analogy for what John Harper already knew. There are only two classes of people in this world: those who have chosen to accept Christ and will spend eternity with God in heaven, and those who have not chosen Him and will not.

Which class are you in?

God’s Love – Part Nine

The great playwright Arthur Miller was married to Marilyn Monroe during the 1950’s. In his autobiography, he describes the misery of watching the troubled actress descent into the lowest regions of depression and despair. It seemed there was no way he or anyone else could make her happy. He knew that her very life was on the line — that this could go only so far before she succumbed to her various demons — loneliness, paranoia, addiction to barbiturates.

One evening there was yet another visit from the doctor, who talked Marilyn into taking a sedative that put her to sleep. Miller was pensive as he stood and watched his wife. “I found myself straining to imagine miracles,” he writes. “What if she were to wake and I were able to say, ‘God love you, darling,’ and she were able to believe it! How I wished I still had my religion and she hers.”

What if indeed. If only he had believed — that crucial word in John 3:16. If only he had owned the joy of knowing Christ. If only he had been capable of sharing that joy with his suffering wife, a soul God loved and longed to heal.

John 3:16 could have been their answer. It’s the answer to every human need, to every prayer. In fact, it is even the answer to Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3, where he implores the Father to grant believers the ability to “comprehend … what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge” (Ephesians 3:18-19)). 

It’s an elegant prayer, and Jesus offers the elegant answer in John 3:16, where we see:

    • The width of God’s love: “God so loved the whole world.” His arms are stretched wide to include everyone.
    • The length of God’s love: “He gave His only Son.” That is the length to which God went to save us.
    • The depth of God’s love: “That whoever believes in Him.” God reaches down to the very depths of mankind.
    • The height of God’s love: “Should not perish but have everlasting life.” We will live in heaven with Him forever.

God’s love is enormous in every dimension. The one thing it is not is coercive. We are left with the free option of how to respond. He loves you as intensely as it’s possible to be loved yet never in a way that undermines your freedom to choose. Forced love is not authentic love. It is a gift that accepts the possibility of rejection.

God offers you everything He has to offer. He gives you the perfection and purity of His Son to die for you as atonement, to speak for you at the judgment, to live for you in the present, and to love you for all eternity. I cannot imagine any sane, informed human being turning down such a gift. 

I urge you to say yes to that gift. Open the door to Jesus, and you let in a life of eternal joy now, with eventual delights that the mind cannot presently conceive. Say yes, and you will let in a new kind of life today — one that sets you on the one truly great adventure this earth has to offer.

Nicodemus, the man who first heard this verse, said yes. Not that night, but as John tells us later, he was one of two men who prepared Jesus for His burial and laid Him in His tomb (John 19:38-42). And according to early Christian tradition, Nicodemus was martyred as a Christian in the first century. 

Obviously, saying yes to God’s invitation does not mean that trouble will cease — not yet — but the presence of your Saviour will bear you up until you leave all trouble behind forever. You will let in the Holy Spirit, a loving teacher, guide, and companion. You will let in restored relationships with friends and family. You will let in peace, security, and contentment. 

Why not open that door if you have not already done so?

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

It Is a Matter of the “Want To!”

If we fail to find all that we want of Christ, it is not because He is unavailable. It has been said that most of the things we really want, we get; that the true prayers of the innermost heart are always answered, but the key is to aware what your innermost heart is really saying. If you want to be married, there are ways. If you want to get into university, there are ways. If you want to make a million dollars, it’s not as impossible as you think. It’s all in the want to. There are incredibly gifted athletes who fail and untalented ones who make it to the highest level.

But God is attainable to every single member of the human race. Again, it’s a matter of the want to.

Consider Paul, who had three visions of Christ in his lifetime. In 2 Corinthians 12 he described how he was caught up into the third heaven and saw things that were beyond human vocabulary. Paul had a remarkable physical life and a remarkable spiritual life. How touching it is that in his final years, when he knew the end was coming, he wrote that he had only one desire, which he hadn’t yet fulfilled. 

Philippians 3:1-14 “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Here was a man exalted by the early church, obviously admired by all his correspondents. And he was telling them that he had one goal and he hadn’t reached it. The older he got, the closer he got, and the more he wanted to lay hold of that for which he’s been laid hold of.

I long to be that kind of man when I stand on the outskirts of this short life. I long to be uncomfortable, not settled into an easy-chair faith in an easy-chair church, surrounded by people who reassure me that we’ve reached the bonus round of the kingdom of God, so we can just put up our feet and watch the world go by. No, I choose to be like Paul and lived thirsty — straining to take hold of the prize, knowing I’ll never quite get my fingertips on it in this life. The straining hurts, but it’s a good kind of hurt – a blessed kind of hurt.

The question is, Do you want to be comfortable or Christlike, relaxed or renewed?

If you want to be Christlike, ask yourself whether you are satisfied. The Puritans used to say, “He has the most need of righteousness who least wants it.” They were right about that. Are you smug, self-satisfied, and feeling pretty food about where you are spiritually? If that’s your feeling, then you aren’t hungry.

Do you have an appetite for the Word of God? Jeremiah the prophet said, “Thy words were found, and I ate them” (Jeremiah 15:16). The Word is our food, and a living, invigorated spirit hungers for more and more food. Sherwood Elliot Wirt, former editor of “Decision” magazine, explained:

“The problem with this whole hunger issue with Christians is that often we think spiritual hunger works the same way physical hunger works. When you are physically hungry, the longer you go without eating, the hungrier you get. When you finally do eat, fill yourself up, the hunger is satisfied. In the spiritual realm, it’s exactly the opposite of that. In the spiritual realm, the longer you go without eating, the more your appetite wanes. If you don’t eat, you can go for long periods of time and you aren’t even hungry.”

It works in reverse too. Physically, the more you eat, the more you’re full; eating satisfies your hunger. But spiritually, the more you’re filled with the Word, the more you want; spiritually appetite only intensifies. No one truly experiences God and says, “That’ll do me for a couple of weeks.” The more you have of Him, the more you want of Him.

Sometimes, of course, we hit the depths. It takes passion to restore passion, and our needle is on empty. We pick up the Bible. And it’s as dry as dust. The sermons don’t come to life. Prayer life is nonexistent. We feel like we have “lost God“ It is in these times that we should use the strategy I call “force-feeding” based on the principle that it’s better to act your way into feeling than to try feeling your way into acting. 

So, sit down, open your Bible. Read. If drowsiness beckons, read aloud. Stay the course. Sooner or later — this comes with my guarantee — God is going to show up again, I assure you, you’ll know when it happens. It will be like rain after a long drought, feasting after days of starvation. It will feel as if the door has opened to your heart, and springtime sunshine is flooding in.

The next day, you’ll show up for Bible reading ten minutes early, and you’ll go overtime. And as passion for God steals back into your life, an amazing thing will happen. All the passions of your heart will begin to fall into place, to seek their proper levels. You’ll realize that it was more than spiritual dryness that was besetting your soul. When you lose Him, you lose everything., And it is only then He is once again rediscovered that you realize the proper place of every other passion and concern. 

I hope you never lost God. But if you do, remember that He doesn’t withhold His blessing from those of us who wander along the road — as long as we are pointed towards heaven, passionately seeking, hungry, thirsty, and wide open for all that He wants for us to become and to do.