God’s Love Is… Learning the Basics About God’s Love

In this longer-than-usual entry, I’m previewing a chapter from my book 12 Things Every Christian Should Know. For some of you, it may be educating. For others, it may be refreshing. In any case, I hope that it proves to be a blessing to your spiritual life with Christ. Blessings!


God’s love is active
Although this point may be assumed, it is certainly not to be overlooked. The word love is both a noun and a verb. It is something to be observed, admired, discussed, but it is also something to be done. The fact that God’s love is active and engaging instead of stagnant and distant is the point at which we begin, because, if it were not for His loving activity, no other blessing would be experienced. His love is active and seeks out sinners (Luke 19:10), pursues the unrepentant (Isaiah 54:6-7), and comforts the restless (Psalm 55:22)…. But what should we expect? God the Father “loves us because that is his nature.”[i]

 God’s love is sacrificial
The love that God actively pursues sinners with is a sacrificial love. It is a love that continuously offers, unselfishly gives, and richly blesses. God sacrificially gives all and asks for nothing in return—but worship and recognition. The Bible attests to this point. John’s Gospel says that God “gave his one and only Son” (3:16, italics added). Paul says that Jesus died on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Peter says that Jesus “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). The authors of the Bible are unanimous on this point: God’s love is sacrificial. Thus, God meets needs with His love, even when they are extremely costly (Romans 5:8-10).

God’s love is transformative
John pointedly says, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). Christians cannot split hairs on this issue. A new life leads to . . . well, a new life! There should be a post-conversion difference in people that is noticeable.[ii] If so-called Christians keep on sinning, the Bible says that there is a serious problem (1 John 3:4-10). Personally, I am afraid that we have become too tolerant, too comfortable with the sins that plague God’s people and God’s Church. This point must be emphasized. Scripture does not neglect the transforming nature of God’s love. If the Father of Jesus has redeemed you and me, adopted you and me into His family, then He will faithfully work the family resemblance into us (Romans 8:29; 2 Peter 1:3-4).

God’s love is experiential
Although there are groups that seem to err on this topic, sliding to one extreme or the other (either for a non-experiential position or a hyper-experiential position), this is an unavoidable aspect of God’s love—His love is experiential. Although there may be insufficient vocabulary to describe an awareness and possession of God’s love, it is certainly attested to in the Bible. For example, when the apostle Paul says, “To know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 4:19), he is essentially arguing that there is a point at which our souls know His love but our minds simply cannot articulate it. Like His peace, God’s love may be possessed without being completely explained, because it “passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). No, you cannot explicitly describe the incomparable sensation of knowing God’s love, but the “Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans. 8:17), and that undeniable experience is a precious awareness to which only the redeemed can attest.

God’s love is eternal
The word eternal is used to describe the life that God gives through Jesus approximately 17 times in John’s Gospel alone. Addressing the question, “What can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?” in the book of Romans, Paul confidently answers, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). God’s love is eternal, because, as God is eternal, so are His attributes and qualities. Thus, whether we are planting a church, going on our first mission trip, endeavoring to become better spouses, or simply trying to overcome a dogging sin with His strength, we can know for certain that God’s love is present with us through it all—because His love is eternal. The Psalmist says, “I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever” (52:8b).

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            [i] David Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters in The Bible Speaks Today Series (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 118.

            [ii] See C. S. Lewis’s article, “Nice People or New Men” in Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1980), 177-184.

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4 Reasons to Memorize Scripture…And How

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I was recently having a conversation with a man who told me (while pointing at his head), “My brain just doesn’t work like it used to.” He is probably right, but my issue was, before he said that, he had listed 100 sports statistics and 1,000 movie quotes. I guess what I’m trying to point out is this: we all memorize things, but are we using our minds to glorify God and grow in godliness? Sure, memorization is work; it requires discipline. But if our minds are already absorbing what we give our attention to, then maybe our issue isn’t our minds–maybe it’s our priorities?

So, I’d like to suggest 4 reasons to memorize Scripture.

  1. Memorizing Scripture Educates — It educates us about God’s will, the Gospel, and theology. It educates us about doctrine, church life, and humanity. It educated us about marriage, conflict, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Memorizing Scripture educates our minds.
  2. Memorizing Scripture Equips — On any given day, Christians can face a myriad of situations, all of which are addressed by Scripture. So, memorizing Scripture equips us to hands them in a fashion that would please God. How many of us would have done something differently, had the Word of God been fresh in our minds? Paul beautifully wrote, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
  3. Memorizing Scripture Eradicates — “I have stored up your word in my heart,” Psalm 119:11 says, “that I might not sin against you.” It’s impossible for sin to exist where Scripture thrives. Of course, it can happen where Scripture isn’t taken seriously, where sin is cherished, where a view of God’s Word is “lighter” than any sin that’s being enjoyed. But when Scripture is treated as what it is–God’s Word–sin is eradicated because the Word transforms us, leads us in the light of God’s truth, convicts us toward righteousness, and sin simply cannot compete with that (Psalms 86:11; 119:101; 2 John 4).
  4. Memorizing Scripture Energizes — Perseverance is something that each and every Christian needs; our faith demands that we persevere until the end (Matthew 24:42). There will be low times. There will be tough days. But we are called to persevere and continue in the face or sin, persecution, and difficulty (Hebrews 12 is a great chapter on perseverance).

So, these are 4 simple reasons to memorize God’s Word. But how?


Don’t sabotage your effort to become more familiar with God’s Word by adopting unreasonable or impossible goals.


If you want to memorize Scripture successfully, then you have to set yourself up for success. Below are a couple of suggestions to aid memorization.

  • Choose wisely — don’t memorize a verse that isn’t relevant for you…choose something that applies to you personally (like Ephesians 4:26 if you need to work on anger) or something you want to learn about (like Romans 3:24 for justification by grace in Christ).
  • Journal — write the verse, how it applies to you, what it means…engage your faculties.
  • Use 3×5 cards — writing the verse on the front and the address on the back give you something that you can tape to your mirror or carry in your pocket throughout the day.
  • Recite the verse/passage aloud — reading something aloud engages more sense, and increases the probability and the speed of memorization.

You don’t have to adopt all of these suggestions. One may be enough for you. Whatever you do, do it–and keep it small and simple. Don’t sabotage your effort to become more familiar with God’s Word by adopting unreasonable or impossible goals. As you improve, then you can challenge your mind to memorize more!

Blessings,

Joe

What’s Happening to the Youth in America?

What’s happening to the youth in this country? All around us, in nearly every direction we look–family life, school life, community life–we’re seeing a deterioration of youthful innocence that is being replaced by violent tendencies that are not only uncommon among most adults but are betraying the system that purports to have our youths’ best interests at heart. In other words, the very systems that our state expects our full trust and support for are failing us before our eyes. And the proof is in the media.

For example, CNN.com recently reported, “Alex Hribal, now 20, was 16 when he stabbed 20 students and 1 security guard in the hallway early on the morning of April 9, 2014.” This wasn’t a gun-related incident, so the media can’t cue the talking points for their typical agenda on gun control. (Full disclosure: I’m not necessarily for adding more “controls” to a system that isn’t maintaining the ones it already has, but that’s another blog.) At 16, Hribal acted with pure, unfiltered rage. When a youth can wield a knife with so much anger and force that he can stab 20 students to death (a number typically expected from shootings) and 1 guard (would he have stopped this horror if he had been trained and armed?), there is something fueling his psyche in an evil and dangerous way.

Recently in South Florida, a group of approximately 4 girls, who had already been reported for bullying by their eventual victim, poured milk over a Freshman’s head while she sat at lunch, seemingly minding her own business, and then be pulled off her bench and held down while others pounded on her head with clenched fists. Apparently, the “see something, say something” motif isn’t working. This was blatantly demonstrated to us recently in Broward County with shooter Nikolas Cruz, as The Washington Post reports that the system was aware of Cruz’s behavioral problem as early as Middle School (even forbidding him from carrying a book bag) and that, according to The Guardian, the FBI, after being warned of his violent threats online, failed to complete their due diligence.

One thing is certain: The system isn’t the solution.

Obviously, words and warnings are no longer reliable deterrents of youth violence and degeneracy. But what can help? I have 3 suggestions.

Teach Youth to Respect the Image of God
Although youth violence is an age-old sin and problem (Genesis 4:1-16), it seems to be more prevalent today. In my opinion, the educational and cultural structure that we’re relying on to inform our youth on what is relevant, important, and precious is failing us. But how can we expect for such a message to pierce the minds of an already skeptical youth when abortion, for example, is ending lives by numerical leaps and bounds? Regardless of what they’re taught, youth today lack any respect for human beings made in God’s image. We need to teach them, from an early age, that we all–regardless of color or creed–are made in God’s image.

Teach Youth the “fear of God”
Paul said that sinners universally don’t have any “fear of God before their eyes”; that is, they don’t care to respect God, His laws and commands, His principles (see also Proverbs 1:7).  I wonder how many of the incidences that have happened would’ve happened had there been a healthy “fear of God” taught at some point. I wonder what would be done if justice, fairness, and righteousness were tenets that were impressed on our youth, since the God of the Bible is a God who demands and expects justice, fairness, and righteousness from His creation (Proverbs 21:3).

Teach Youth to Beware of the “I” and “Me” Complex
With the physical aspects of life so overly emphasized, with popularity being such a barometer of success, an inferiority complex is plaguing many youths in our culture. They simply can’t meet the unrealistic expectations that are being thrown on them. To correct this tendency, there’s an overemphasis on individuality, a teaching that says, “Different is always the way,” an emphasis that has robbed the community of its own importance, relevance, and contribution in regards to individuality. In other words, youths are being led to believe that they can become whoever they want without the contribution of the community, but nothing can be further from the truth. We’ve seen how dangerous isolation can be for a young mind. Unfortunately, the youth today seem to be secluded more than usual, rejected more than usual, even ostracized more than usual, if they don’t fit a certain social norm. This has resulted in an “I” and “Me” complex that is nearly impossible to tear down, as they endeavor to protect themselves from the unrealistic expectations that are burdening them.

Whatever route is taken, one this is clear: our youth need us to invest in them. These are 3 simple ways in which we can help them today: teach them the image of God; teach them the fear of God; and teach them to beware of the “I” and “Me” complex.

I sincerely believe that God wants us to help the youth in this country, however and whenever we can.

Blessings,

Joe

“Evangelicals” in a Political World: Should We Employ a New Word?

pexels-photo-129112The title Evangelical has taken on a nuanced meaning today. In my opinion, this is largely the result of two different but closely linked things. First, it’s the result of the media’s use, or misuse, of the word Evangelical, as they’ve lumped non-Christians and Christians together simply because they have correlating political views on some issues. In other words, today, if you’re not a Jew or a Muslim, if you’re not a “liberal,” if you’re not a minority, then you’re a “(White) Evangelical.”

The second reason the title Evangelical has a nuanced meaning today is due to people who think they’re Evangelical, in the traditional sense of the word, but actually aren’t. The problem is that these so-called Evangelicals wouldn’t satisfy the Bible’s definition of what it means to be a Christian. But in the United States, you can conveniently hold a variety of positions without ever having your position or well-being threatened. We can partly thank post-modern philosophy for that. Of course, no one aims at being persecuted for their beliefs, but in other parts of the world, and certainly throughout history, to align yourself with Christ comes with an almost certain threat of persecution. It costs you to be a Christian. In the US, however, aligning with Christ, for some, is more of a political association than it is a spiritual one…and it never really gets put to the test outside of political debates.

For these reasons, I’d like to suggest that the word Evangelical has lost its usefulness.

Consider, for example, these radicals (I’m choosing my words carefully here!) who celebrated their Second Amendment right by having a service to bless their AR-15s. I have a problem with this on many levels. But when it comes to the political sphere, I have a problem with it because most media outlets would group me with these–what’s the word I used?–“radicals.” Their behavior isn’t only unChristian, as it’s inconsiderate of hundreds of people who are mourning losses that resulted from a gunman wielding an AR-15 in a recent high school shooting that left over 20 students killed or injured, it’s just plain foolish! I’d even place having a service in order to bless an inanimate object under the Old Testament jurisdiction of idol worship!

Can you see where I’m coming from?

Forget, for a moment, what constitutes an “Evangelical” today, and let’s address some Christian principles. As Christians, we believe in God’s saving grace, His everlasting faithfulness, and His unrelenting love. So, when we’re commanded to pray–commanded to pray for leaders of all persuasions, ethnicities, and political philosophies–this means that no one should have to earn our prayers.  We’re to pray for everyone, even the shooter who we wholeheartedly hope receives serious consequences for his sin.  What’s more, as Christians, we should speak out for justice, racial harmony, and unborn life. The Church is made up of Christians who vote differently for different reasons, Christians who have had different experiences (both good and bad). But that is all the more reason to prioritize the virtues taught in the Scriptures. This isn’t Evangelical, conservative, or liberal: it’s Christian.

Many so-called Evangelicals, however, aren’t only doing a disservice to the genuine Christian lifestyle, they are also making the beauty of Christianity’s otherworldliness unattractive to watchers who might otherwise consider the faith. The more Christianity looks like the world, the more unattractive it becomes by measure.

No political topic or social agenda should ever be used to dislocate the Church from its eternal purpose: to make Christ known to the world!

This is precisely what Scripture teaches; namely, that regardless of where we live, or who the head of government is, or what policies we agree or disagree with, we live for Christ’s Kingdom and fame.

Philippians 2:15 says that Christians should “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

Eugene Peterson’s translation of 1 Peter 2:9-12 is also enlightening here. It says,

9-10 But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

11-12 Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.

Should we employ a new word to replace Evangelical? That’s not an easy question to answer. One thing is certain. In some cases, we should beware of fitting into the Evangelical framework today. In other cases, in my opinion, we should proudly land squarely in the middle. Whatever disservice the word Evangelical may be bringing the Christian cause today, as Christ-followers we have an obligation to rise above the criticism, above the political platforming, and above the one-size-fits-all view of Christianity. Regardless of what our political preferences or alignments may be, our priority as Christians is clear–it’s Christ first.

Blessings,

Joe

Advice for Church Planters

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Recently, a potential church planter contacted me via email. He asked for advice and suggestions that he might find useful. Although this is only part of my answer (because much of what he asked was specific), I thought it may help someone else.

Thanks for reaching out, and I hope that you’re successful with your church planting adventure.Not knowing you personally or professionally, I’ll give you a bit of advice that I think applies to all of us.

Be humble. Willing to learn. Be courageous. Lead with determination, but gently and without apology. Anticipate mistakes and missteps. Apologize quickly. Make disciples. Make disciples. Make disciples. I don’t know what your budget is, if you’ve had a core team assigned to you, or if you have to build from scratch, but in any case, a church exists for one purpose—to make disciples (Christ-worshipping, God-fearing, love-sharing disciples). So whether you’re “successful” in the eyes of the church world or not, there’s only one way you’re successful in God’s eyes—i.e., by being faithful to His Son’s mandate. Don’t forsake the basics of the faith.

Read the Gospels. Read Acts.

If you feel compelled to read Malphurs, Payne, Driscoll, Timmis, then do so, but read widely so that your view isn’t tilted. Then, go back and read the Gospels and Acts again.

Pray. Pray for your holiness and health. Pray for your wife. Pray for your children. Pray for your church—the lost in and around your fellowship. Also, pray for your coworkers in the Lord…and their families. The importance of unity cannot be overestimated. 

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,

Blessings,

Joe

10 Things to Start this New Year

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  1. Journal. Writing is a discipline that I have always encouraged, because it helps to clear the mind and gives journalers focus. Don’t be legalistic. Write thoughts, prayers, lists of daily goals…whatever. There are no hard-and-fast rules for journaling. Use your own style and preference. You’ll enjoy the benefits.
  2. Start a reading regimen. Reading has become more and more unpopular, as Netflix, YouTube, and other streaming services seemingly have taken the place of slow, deliberate thought. People used to read and discuss things. Now, they watch them in condensed documentaries and TED Talks. Granted, they definitely serve their purpose. But reading is a discipline that helps us grow in our thinking, maturity, and empathy. If you’re not a reader, start small (maybe with an interest or a hobby)…but start!
  3. Exercise daily. Taking care of your body isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. Adding exercise to your day will not only help your body, it’ll also help your mind and soul. It’s a fact. If you seldom or never exercise, this year, add a brisk 20-30 minute walk to your day. You’ll note the difference in how you feel in just a week or two.
  4. Make daily prayer a priority. Prayer is far too important to be neglected. Make it a priority in your day-to-day routine. You won’t regret the time spent in meditation and conversation with God. Prayer helps us keep Him as a priority (Matthew 6:9-10), it helps us chase off anxiety (Philippians 4:4-6), and it helps us experience godly joy (John 16:24). Like all things on the Christian walk, prayer is for God’s glory and our good, but it must be done to be enjoyed.
  5. Spend and save money wisely. Proverbs 22:7 teaches us that the borrower is a slave to the lender. Whether cash spent, credit used, or items borrowed: what belongs to us is the debt we accumulate. God wants us to be free, not only spiritually but also financially (see Matthew 6:24). So, use a strict budget this year. Keep track of what’s coming in and going out. By doing this, you’ll not only be taking charge of your financial life, you’ll also be freeing up your ability to love on those in need (see Ephesians 5:28).
  6. Share the Gospel. I know that for many Christians, this is a daunting task, but I believe that it’s viewed that way because many programs have made evangelism rigid and unnatural. Let me put it this way: share your relationship and discipleship with Jesus with others. It should be natural, easy, conversational. If it’s not, then it’s probably time to check your relationship with Jesus and discipleship!
  7. Invite family/friends to worship. This is what I call the “come and see” side of evangelism. Not all of us have been gifted to be evangelists, Paul said, but we’re all called to do it. One way to do it is by inviting people to worship, which tends to be neglected after we’ve invited everyone we THINK will come to worship. Let God handle the outcomes. Invite people to worship this year. Your invitation may lead to conversions!
  8. Face a wound (but include the Lord!). Psalm 147:3 says that God binds up wounds. He cares for us. The healing that He performs is done so that we can live healthy lives, happy lives, strong lives. You may need help to face a wound that you’ve been neglecting to address, but get the help and face it. Without facing our wounds, we can’t move past them.
  9. Forgive someone or reconcile a broken relationship. This is obviously tied to number 8. Many wounds are due to a broken relationship (and relationships break for many reasons!). Forgiveness and/or reconciliation are the roads God has provided for us to healing.
  10. Read the New Testament through twice. At 260 chapters, the New Testament doesn’t even require 1 chapter a day to be read through once in a year. Read a few chapters a day, and you’ve easily read the entire New Testament through twice in a year. This kind of reading comes with an incredible blessing.

Whatever you do this year, I pray that it’ll be productive, helpful, and bring you closer to the Lord.

Blessings,

Joe

The Reformation’s 500th Anniversary

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Today marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On this day, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses on the door of the Church in Wittenberg, in an effort to help the Roman Catholic church “reform” its dangerous path deeper into tradition and further from Scripture and the doctrines taught in it. As you might now, Protestantism eventually grew from this Reformation.

Out of respect for this world-changing act, here is a paragraph from Luther’s famous commentary on the book of Romans. Here is Martin Luther on faith.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it 1000 times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures; and this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace; and thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light fires. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God to work faith in you; else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think of do. (Commentary on Romans, xvii)