Because God Loves Us – Part Four

Clearly Peter and John, as we saw yesterday, came away from that evening meal with Jesus with the impression that love was their lifelong assignment. They were to reach the nations with the message, and love would be the wind that carried it from God to an inattentive world. If we love, it will get people’s attention. If we don’t they  will never listen.

According to John, there is no alternative to love. It is no less than a litmus test for our faith. He who does not love his brother is simply “not of God” (1 John 3:10). Even more clearly, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:8). Twelve verses later, unloving believers are called “liars.” Such people are walking “in darkness” (2:11) and abiding “in death” (1 John 3:14).

Loving one another, in other words, is not a discipline reserved for advanced Christian or a gift belonging to naturally tolerant people. It’s not an option or an extra or a frilly wrapping to make religion more attractive. Love is the heartbeat of our faith; and if we detect no pulse, there is no faith.

In his book, The Mark of a Christian, the late Francis Schaeffer pointed out that Jesus gives the world the right to judge believers by their love for one another:

“Jesus says, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.” In the midst of the world, in the midst of our present dying culture, Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon His authority He gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born-again Christians on the basis of our observable love towards all Christians.

That’s pretty frightening. Jesus turns to the world and says, “I have something to say to you. On the basis of my authority, I give you a right: you may judge whether or not an individual is a Christian on the basis of the love he shows to all Christians.”

In other words, if people come up to us and cast in our teeth the judgment that we are not Christians because  we have not shown love towards other Christians, we must understand that they are only exercising a prerogative which Jesus gave them.

And we must not get angry. If people say, “You don’t love other Christians,” we must go home, get down on our knees, and ask God whether or not they are right. And if they are, then they have a right to have said what they said.

This means our number one priority in fulfilling our commission to bring the world to Christ is to love one another.

This can turn out to be a pretty tough task. We can heartily agree with one Christian writer who describes how nothing in the world is more important or more difficult than truly loving other people:

That odorous person with the nasty cough who sat next too you on the plane, shoving his newspaper into your face; those crude louts in the neighbourhood with the barking dog; that smooth liar who took you in so completely last week — by what magic are you supposed to feel towards these people anything but revulsion, distrust and resentment, and justified desire to have nothing to do with them?

Of course it’s possible to put up with people. We can manage to keep our mouths shut, perhaps, when certain folks annoy us. But Christ did not command us to “put up with one another.” He specifies love, and love is not passive or restrained. It’s a powerful, aggressive, positive force that serves, affirms, cares, persists, and gives of itself. We all agree that we should love. But given the presence of all these unlovable people who surround us, how exactly do we get there?

The answer is found in the series of blogs just before this series where we discovered that the Bible tells us:

    • We love one another by encouraging one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
    • We love one another by edifying (building up) one another (Ephesians 4:29)
    • We love one another by entertaining one another – being hospitable (1 Peter 4:9)

Take a few minutes and read through them if you have not already done so. 

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. 

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 Eight

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

7> God’s love is Exceptional

Today: God’s love is Eternal.

There is a gravestone for Les Moore in Tombstone, Arizona (an appropriate place to have an epitaph, I would think). Apparently his departure was not overly mourned, for his epitaph reads:

Here Lies Les Moore

No Les, No More

The humour rings true, but the theology falls flat. Somewhere, more or less, Les Moore abides. If Les found the love of God in the gift of Jesus Christ, then Les is more. In God’s eternity He is more alive, more himself, more abounding in every good blessing, and more fully in loving fellowship with his Lord. 

If Les Moore is experiencing the ecstasy of eternity, you can be sure that it began to happen before he was laid in the ground under that tombstone. Eternity is more than a someday promise to be fulfilled on the other side of a funeral. Eternal life is our present position. Eternal life is now. If this seems confusing, think of it this way: When we accept Christ and begin living in His love, heaven’s door opens to us, letting a pure light into our lives that we never had before. We receive the life of God’s Spirit and experience the joy of fellowship with Him (see John 17:3). In a real sense, we begin to live in heaven before we actually get there. This foretaste of heaven sweetens our lives now; and with life in heaven already in our grasp, “now” is suddenly a very good place to be. As Paul put it, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Either way, we win.

Someone told me about a little girl who misquoted John 3:16 as “whoever believes on Him should not perish but have internal life.” This time the theology is as sound as the humour. Indeed, we have new life internally even before we arrive in heaven because of what Christ has done for us. Jesus offers us more than a life insurance policy, more than a stamped ticket to heaven. He came that we might have life, and then we might have it more abundantly (John 10:10). That’s how much God loves you. 

John 3:16 tells an amazing love story, doesn’t it? It begins with God who has no beginning, and concludes with life that has no ending. That’s life with no limits, and it can begin now. Think of it, no limits to joy, no limits to kingdom service, and no limits to how much we will come to resemble His Son as we grow more like Him every day. 

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. 

God’s Love – Part Five

We are looking at 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.” And., we have examined some of the meaning behind these famous words. So far we have seen:

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

Let’s continue today …

5> God’s Love is Expansive

We see this in the words “…that whoever…”

Richard Baxter once wrote that he was glad that God put the word whoever in John 3;16. He would rather have that word in the verse than his own name. “I thank God,” he said, “for the word ‘whosoever.’ If God had said the there was mercy for Richard Baxter, I am so vile a sinner that I would have thought he meant some other Richard Baxter; but when he says ‘whosever’ I know that it includes me, the worst of all Richard Baxters.”

Whoever is what we call a “big tent.” It can hold everyone who wants to find shelter beneath it. It’s a wonderful., loving, inclusive word that reaches out to invite all hearers. Leave your résumé at home; your qualifications don’t matter. If you live and breathe, if you are born into this human race, here’s a place for you.

Mr. Klein, it is said, was a miserable old man. He had lived every which way but good, fought every battle but the good fight, and he knew it. He wasn’t worthy of anyone’s friendship, so he reached out to no one. He didn’t go to church, because the back pew was too far forward for someone like him. He wasn’t proud of his sin, and he was painfully aware of it. 

And then one Sunday evening, he walked by the church. He heard the people singing and rejoicing, and he felt that old familiar pang of loneliness. For just a moment, he paused in his steps and listened. He had heard the melody before, and now he listened to the words of the hymn:

Saved by grace alone

This is all my plea,

Jesus died for Old Man Klein,

And Jesus died for me.

He was astonished! Jesus died for Old Man Klein? How could there be a hymn that identified him specifically? And why would these people be singing it? He couldn’t resist slipping into the church building and sliding secretly onto that back pew. He had a lump in his throat, knowing for the first time that the Gospel was for him. Then he picked up a hymnal and found that what he had really heard was “Jesus died for all mankind.”

Or was it?

It didn’t matter: Old Man Klein knew what his heart had heard, and after all, “all mankind” had to include him.

I try to help people understand that word whoever, one of the most breathtaking, outrageous words in all of Scripture — a word with implications that make the devil tremble. I want people to see that this word allows each person to plug his or her own name into the verse.

For God so loved Ralph Howe…

For God so loved John Jones…

For God so loved Mary Johnson…

…that if Ralph Howe believes in Him…

…that if John Jones believes in Him…

…that if Mary Johnson believes in Him…

Now would be a good time to put your own name in this verse. Go ahead — give it a try. Personalize John 3:16, write it down, speak it aloud, let it soak into you’re mind, and see how your day goes. I challenge you. 

God’s Love – Part Four

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

3> God’s love is extensive

4> God’s Love Is Expensive

John 3:16 goes on to say that God the Father “gave His only begotten Son…” Only begotten means “unique” — one and only.

James Boice explains what Jesus’ uniqueness means to us: “Jesus is the unique Son of God; there is no one like Him, no one who is His equal. Therefore, because Jesus Christ is the very image of God, and because there is no one like Him, when God gave Jesus, He gave the best gift in the universe.”

Dr. Boice’s observation is another demonstration of the value God places on us. He gave the most valuable and cherished gift in His possession. He sent His one and only Son into the world to show how much we mean to him. He did this because it was the only way to rid us of our fatal addiction to sin so that He could have us with Him through all eternity. 

The apostles John and Paul both attest that the preciousness of God’s gift demonstrates the extreme depth of His love for us: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

There is an old film (sorry, can’t find it or I would post it) which tells the story of a farmer and his ten-year old son who were deeply devoted to each other. The two of them worked side by side on the farm, laughed and played, and spent almost all their time together.

The father also had the responsibility of switching the train that passed nearby. Each day he walked to the tracks and pulled the switch that redirected the approaching locomotive to another track.

One evening with their farm chores complete, the father and son were fishing in a stream that ran through the farm. When the father heard the distant whistle of the train, he left his son to take care of the track switch. As he walked toward the track, he did not realize that his son had decided to join him. The boy had taken a shortcut through the woods and was now walking along the tracks to meet his father.

The train approached the switching junction moving at a high speed, trusting the farmer to switch it to the track that ran straight ahead. Suddenly the farmer saw his son on that track in a place here he could not possibly get off in time. The father’s first impulse was to leave the train on its present track. But that track curved away, and the train was moving too fast to negotiate the turn. The father knew that if he switched the train, his boy would die. If he didn’t, the train would derail, and many people would die.

In that moment, the father experienced the most terrible agony imaginable. He had to weigh the life of his son against a trainload of passengers he didn’t even know. As you watch sitting on the edge of your seat the film lingers on the father’s hand as it gripped the switch. What would he do?

The question is not answered. The film concludes right there. But the message was clear: You and I were on that train, and God the Father was at the switch. We know the decision He made. He did not spare His only Son, but freely gave Him up that we all might be saved.

God also gave the best He had in another sense. As John tells us, Jesus is with God, He is God, and He is God’s Son (John 1:1-3). Though a son, He is coeternal with the Father. Exactly how all those statements can be true must remain a mystery this side of eternity. But here’s what we can know: Jesus Christ is the very image of God, but that does not mean He is a creature made in the image of God as man is. He is God incarnate. Though a man, He is the eternal God Himself. 

Consequently, when God gave Jesus, He gave Himself. He gave His own life — the most expensive gift in this vast universe.

With Paul, we must stand and shout, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

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!