Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Where's the Love?

I am always mildly intrigued when I hear people boasting about how much they love Jesus. Some people go on and on about how much they love Him.

Why am I so intrigued? Two reasons: 1) You can search the whole Bible and you will not find one person who says that he or she loved Jesus, God the Father, or the Holy Spirit. In fact, the only place in scripture that I can see where someone says they loved God, it is viewed negatively. John writes in 1 John 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”

“Ah, but what about Peter?” you say. “He told Jesus that he loved him three times!” Well, that is actually the second reason why I am intrigued by people’s boasting of their love for Christ. Upon closer examination, we discover that Peter—boastful, proud, self-confident Peter—could not even say that he loved Jesus. If one studies the Greek of John 21, one would notice there is an interesting interplay that goes on between Peter and Jesus.

After Jesus meets the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, He pursues Peter and asks him the same question two times. He says, “Peter, do you love Me with agape love?” And both times, Peter answers Him, “Yes, Lord, I have affection for You.” Peter does not say that He loves Jesus with agape love. He cannot answer the Lord on His terms. The word that John utilizes for Peter’s answer is philos—a brotherly type affection. Peter knows He has let Jesus down. He knows that when the “chips were on the table” and Jesus needed him most he was not able to keep his promises. So all he can muster up is telling the Lord that he has a strong affection for Him.

Finally, Jesus meets him where he is and says, “All right, Peter. Do you even have affection for Me?” And Peter timidly answers “Yes” again.

What’s the deal with all this? Are we not supposed to say that we love God with agape love? I think the biblical characters and authors were able to come to grips with their own hearts. They realized that claiming to love God was a huge proclamation. And they took note of Peter’s actions and realized that it is better—and safer—to “boast” about God’s love for us rather than vice versa. Our love is far too often a fleeting moment, affected by what kind of hair day we’re having. God’s love for us never changes.

So why not approach God with humility and appreciation for His agape love and rest in that assurance? After all, whether or not we love God will be reflected far more in what we do than what we say. That’s what John was getting at in his first epistle, anyway.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Everlasting Commitment

Are you struggling with a bad habit or addiction? Is there something in your life that you keep tripping over? Or perhaps you are just a little discouraged that your “relationship” with God is not flourishing at this moment.

One of the most beautiful truths in the Bible is the fact that God has made an everlasting covenant with us. The dictionary defines a covenant as “an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified.” We often view the word “covenant” as meaning “contract.” Thus, in our minds, God and we have a contract. God will do His part if we do our part.

But that is not what the Bible teaches about the “everlasting covenant.” The term “everlasting covenant” reveals as much because in the relationship between us and God, only He is “everlasting” and eternal. Thus, this everlasting covenant that He made with us existed long before we ever existed or we could sign the contract. So it must be a one-sided affair.

In essence, this “everlasting covenant” is an “everlasting commitment” that God has made towards us. He takes the responsibility for our wellbeing, for our success.

Ezekiel 36:26, 27, though it doesn’t use the term “everlasting covenant,” says as much. The Lord is speaking here and notice what His part of the “contract” is and what our part of the “contract” is: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you: I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (emphasis added).

Over and over again in this passage, God says, “I, I, I, I.” He is the one who performs the actions and we are merely the recipient of those actions. He invites us to merely receive the work He wants to do in our lives. Thus, He takes the responsibility for us quitting smoking. He takes it upon Himself to give us the victory over our anger or loneliness or lust.

Today, you and I can simply “choose” to allow Christ to do that which He wants to do in and through our lives.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Savior of the World

So how many people did Christ “save” when He died on Calvary? The answer, if you think about it, is a “no-brainer.” It’s one that I recently discovered. It was kind of like an “aha” moment. The simple fact that you and I were ever born testifies to the reality that Christ saved the whole world on the cross.

The Bible is pretty clear: the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). All of us should be dead. We have all sinned, and thus we should all be dead, suffering the consequences of sin.

But the Gospel tells us that as soon as there was sin there was a Savior. Jesus, as we recently discovered, is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). So His death for the entire world saved everyone from reaping the payment for sin. No one, not even the devil, has yet to receive the wages of sin. Only Christ, Himself, has.

This is why David can wonderfully proclaim that God “has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). It’s also why Paul can declare that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). This is why Ellen White can say:

To the death of Christ we owe even this earthly life. The bread we eat is the purchase of His broken body. The water we drink is bought by His spilled blood. Never one, saint or sinner, eats his daily food, but he is nourished by the body and the blood of Christ. The cross of Calvary is stamped on every loaf. It is reflected in every water spring (The Desire of Ages, p. 660).

You see, Christ’s death has reached everyone—no matter if people recognize that or not. We have all been given life. We have all been spared the penalty of sin. And so if anyone ever asks you if you are saved, and how you know that you are saved, you can respond, “I’m alive, aren’t I?”

Of course, sadly, most people, in the end, will choose to pay for sin themselves instead of appreciating the gift that Christ has given them. They will choose death instead of life. And Christ will be heart-broken because there is no reason why anyone should have to do that. He died for all and set all on the right path to salvation because of Calvary.

And this reality ought to send us crashing to our knees every morning, thanking the Lord that we have been saved and given life.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Holy, Holier Still

Today, just a thought from The Ministry of Healing. I hope you’re blessed by it.

We need constantly a fresh revelation of Christ, a daily experience that harmonizes with His teachings. High and holy attainments are within our reach. Continual progress in knowledge and virtue is God’s purpose for us. His law is the echo of His own voice, giving to all the invitation, “Come up higher. Be holy, holier still.” Every day we may advance in perfection of Christian character.
Those who are engaged in service for the Master need an experience much higher, deeper, broader, than many have yet thought of having. Many who are already members of God’s great family know little of what it means to behold His glory and to be changed from glory to glory. . . .
Ever before Him, Christ saw the result of His mission. His earthly life, so full of toil and self-sacrifice, was cheered by the thought that He would not have all this travail for nought. By giving His life for the life of men, He would restore in humanity the image of God. He would lift us up from the dust, reshape the character after the pattern of His own character, and make it beautiful with His own glory (The Ministry of Healing, pp. 503, 504).

Friday, October 23, 2009

"He will rejoice over you . . . "

I’m sure most parents can identify with this, but one of Camille and my favorite things to do is to simply watch Camden as he sleeps in his crib at night. Last night we enjoyed that for a minute or two before we went to bed. We just stood next to his crib, looking down at his tiny, motionless body—oblivious to any worries, anxieties, or cares of the world. Such innocence!

One of the other things that warms my heart, for some reason, is when we are driving in the car late at night and he is fast asleep in his car seat. Last Sunday evening, we drove back from Maine fairly late and the weather was less than ideal—to say the least. There was rain mixed with a little sleet crashing down upon our windshield, but as I steered the car in the direction of home, Camden was in his car seat, fast asleep. He had nothing to fear. Whether he realized it or not, it seemed as though he simply trusted his father to bring him safely to his destination.

All this reminds me of a wonderful passage in Zephaniah. “In that day,” Zephaniah writes, “it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak. The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save: He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

I can just picture God right now: much like Camille and I standing over Camden at night, rejoicing over him, so God does the same with us. Every night. He quiets us with His love. He rejoices over us with singing. And, of course, He saves. He steers the “salvation car” in the right direction and gets us safely to our destination.

Such an image is what you’d call “priceless.” And it softens my heart to the wonderful overtures of my Savior.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Beginning of the Universe

There is an interesting phrase that pops up 10 times in the New Testament that is very insightful. It is the phrase “foundation of the world.” Breaking it down, the word for foundation essentially means “the beginning” or the starting point, and the word for world is the Greek word kosmos. In many senses this word has a broader meaning than simply “world.” It reaches beyond that to include the whole universe and all that exists. So this phrase is literally talking about the very beginning of all that exists (outside of God, of course, who has always existed).

In particular, whenever this phrase is used in the New Testament, there is always one of two words that precede it. Those words are “from/since” or “before.” Thus, either something has been happening “from/since” the foundation of the universe, or something happened “before” the foundation of the universe.

There are two verses, in particular, that draw this contrast which are very intriguing to me. The first one is found in Ephesians 1:4, where Paul informs us that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the kosmos.” This idea, in and of itself, is quite remarkable. Before anything else existed in the universe—before time existed, angels existed, planets existed—God had us in mind and He chose us to be His children. In fact, Paul goes on to say in the next verse that He predestined us to be “adopted” into His family.

To allow our minds to dwell upon this concept alone is quite overwhelming. Why would there be any room to doubt God’s love and mercy for us if, even before time and space existed, God chose us and made a decision that we would be in His family? All anxiety, fear, or discontentment would subside if we allowed Christ to impress upon our minds this reality.

Of course, the anxiety creeps up when we begin to realize our sinfulness and the fact that, from the very beginning, this human race has tried to “divorce” itself from God. After all, Adam and Eve messed up and we continue to do so on a daily basis. So even if God did make a decision to choose us before the universe existed, we have forfeited that. Or so we get fooled into thinking.

But that’s where our other text comes into play. It is in Revelation 13:8 that we are told that Jesus is the “Lamb [who was] slain from the foundation of the kosmos.” In other words, as soon as sin entered the universe—as soon as creatures rebelled—at that very instant Christ died in our place. He took upon Himself the penalty that we deserved. He took on the wages of sin.

And thus, there is no reason why anyone should not enjoy the full benefits of God choosing him or her before the foundation of the universe. Since day one, Christ has been the sacrifice for all of us.

So we need not fear. Not only did Christ choose us before this universe existed, but when we tried (and continue to try) to divorce ourselves from Him, He took our place and bore the penalty that we deserved. And He invites us to respond to that wonderful reality today.

Did You Know?

Today is October 22, 2009. This date has special significance for millions of Christians around the world. One hundred and sixty-five years ago, to the very day, thousands upon thousands of Christians gathered together in fields, on rooftops, on hillsides, eagerly awaiting Christ’s return. Most of those were in this part of the country—New England and New York.

Of course, Christ did not come and October 23 (not October 22) became known as the “Great Disappointment.” And it was out of that “Great Disappointment” that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was borne. Since then, 165 years later, we still eagerly await the return of Christ. We have come to realize that there is no way to know the day or the hour of Christ’s return, but we still do recognize it as being “soon.”

And the question is: are we still eager about His return? More significantly, do we realize that God is eager to return? Do we understand that, in all likelihood, every subsequent October 23 has been a “Great Disappointment” to God as He realizes that His people have allowed another year to go by without enjoying full “at-one-ment” with Him?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Putting on Our Nikes

(Note: I have started writing a short daily devotional thought for my churches that I send out via e-mail. It includes announcements that are relevant to my churches. But this is the devotional thought portion of the e-mail. It is my intention to post the thought to this blog on a regular basis - thus killing two birds with one stone!)

Have you put on your Nikes today? Or maybe you’re a Reebok person.

The truth is, the shoe company Nike has loose ties with the Bible. Named for the Greek goddess for victory, this same Greek word pops up in the New Testament a handful of times. The noun literally means “victory,” while the verbal form of it (nikao) means “to conquer,” or “to overcome.” And this is what God’s people are described as doing. They “overcome” and “conquer” and gain the “victory.”

And how is this achieved? There are only three verses in the New Testament that talk about God’s people achieving victory, and the insight into how that is accomplished is intriguing. Is it through our concerted effort? Is it through reading our Bibles more? Spending 15 more minutes in prayer a day? A little faith and works combined? Notice what the biblical witness says:

  • “For whatever is born of God overcomes [nikao] the world; and this is the victory [nike] that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).
  • “Who is the one who overcomes [nikao] the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5).
  • “And they overcame [nikao] him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11).

So based on these three verses, the Bible sets forth four ways in which we can overcome: 1) By being born of God (i.e., being converted) 2) Faith 3) The blood of the Lamb 4) The word of our testimony. All four of these could be unpacked a lot more, but that will have to wait for another day.

But the point is, if we want victory—over doubt, discouragement, fear, anxiety, loneliness, guilt, temptation, sin, bad habits—we can look to the cross and, by faith in the blood that Christ shed there, conquer and overcome. The one common theme among these four verses is the word “faith.” Conquering and victory comes by faith.

I was delighted to come across this quote from Ellen White this morning as I was in my personal devotions—looking at a different theme. It goes along beautifully with this subject as well:

It is God's pleasure and will that the blessings bestowed on man shall be given in perfect completeness. He has made provision that every difficulty may be overcome, every want supplied through the Holy Spirit. Thus He designs that man shall perfect a Christian character. God would have us contemplate His love, His promises, given so freely to those who have no merit in themselves. He would have us depend fully, gratefully, rejoicingly, in the righteousness provided for us in Christ. To all who come to God in His appointed way, He freely listens (7BC, 932—emphasis added).

So why not put on your Nikes this morning? Why not claim the victory today that is already yours in Christ?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Love of the Father

One of my former seminary professors started a chapel talk by saying, “No one has ever doubted the love of Jesus.” The statement certainly caught me off guard and sent my mind racing as I thought of the numerous people I had encountered who were challenged by God’s unconditional love. “But,” she clarified, “the love of the Father is a whole other matter.”

She is right, of course. Many—if not all—of us view Jesus as a warm, cuddly, lovable Guy. He is the One who loves us so much that He died for us. But His Father? That’s the One who obliterated whole nations in the Old Testament; He’s the One who required the death of His own Son just so He could be appeased and we could be on good terms with Him. Or so go the theories.

But the funny thing is, Jesus has a different take on things. And through the pen of John, we are mercifully clued in to this reality. In John 16, Jesus gives His grandest exposition on the Holy Spirit. But then He shifts gears to talk about prayer, saying that we can pray directly to the Father ourselves. And why is this? “For the Father Himself loves you,” (John 16:27) He declares.

And such a thought was revolutionary. It was unheard of. The Father—the One who holds the universe together—loves us personally. Rather than being an exacting taskmaster, all of our Father’s actions are motivated by His love and affection for us. We need not fear Him. We need not worry that He accepts and forgives us. He didn’t need to be convinced to love us through His Son’s death. He “Himself loves” us.