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).

BookCoverPreview.do

            [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.

Advertisements

4 Reasons to Memorize Scripture…And How

pexels-photo

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

9 Bridge Builders for Your Marriage

Mature couple sleeping in bed together

If you want to bridge the differences in your marriage, you’ll need a few things to help you along the way.

1) Love and respect

Love and respect shouldn’t be handled like our typical exercise routine—only when we feel like it! It shouldn’t be meted out only when we believe it’s been earned. Love and respect are philosophical positions that we should hold, not because they always feel good or we always feel like doing them, but because, under God and His design, LOVE and RESPECT are RIGHT.

Here are some ideas for what love and respect might look like.

  • consideration
  • appreciation (“The things you see and experience over and over again tend to be the things that at some point you quit noticing.” Paul Tripp)
  • politeness
  • arguments that don’t devolve into name calling
  • the benefit of the doubt
  • positive (not negative) reinforcement

2) Put Jesus first

If you’re a Christian couple, then Jesus comes first—always and forever. If you want your relationship to be healthy and happy, then don’t put yourself first, don’t put the other first, put Jesus first. Any other priority leaks into idolatry.

If you feel like you should come first, you have an idolatry problem and the idol you’re worship is yourself. If you can’t imagine putting Jesus before your spouse or your fiancé or whoever, then you have an idol problem, too, and your idol is your lover.

Listen: no matter what, Jesus comes first! And I don’t mean that theoretically; I mean practically. We can’t put Jesus first in theory but not in practice.

3) Remember grace

As sinners in the hands of an just and holy God, we’re all in dire need of His mercy and grace. That’s Christianity. It isn’t about candles, stained windows, a certain dress code, or a particular denomination. Christianity is about sinners coming to God through faith in His Son and His Son’s work, because there we find mercy and grace where and when we need it. That’s mere Christianity—plain and simple. And therefore to treat people ungraciously is non-Christian. We should be dealing graciously with our spouses and loved ones, because we of all people have a keen awareness of the grace we require from God.

4) Grow and grow together

Paul once said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Listen, if you want to bridge differences, grow and grow together. To say it negatively, if you want to create differences, then grow and grow apart!

I have seen so many relationships begin happy and seemingly healthy but eventually fall apart for the simple reason that one of the two involved continued to grow while other stopped. So, grow…read the Scripture, watch good movies, listen to good podcasts, have deep, meaningful conversations. Physical growth doesn’t happens

5) Listen to understand

This is a principle from Steven Covey’s book The 7 Laws of Highly Effective People. (It’s definitely a book worth reading.) In it, he explains that most people listen so that they can respond to what’s being said, which means that they aren’t fully listening, that is, listening to understand.

Proverbs 18:13 agrees: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
So, many of the communication breakdowns that we experience in relationships can be attributed to nothing more than a failure to listen, and consequently a failure to understand and express compassion.

It’s a fact of nature…if you’re talking, you’re not listening. And if you’re not listening, then you’re not understanding.

6) Speak even if it’s uncomfortable

Recently, I was talking to someone who called me out on something. Let me tell you about being called out…it’s not fun. It means you’re hearing something about yourself, that you would never tell yourself, because it’s negative, it’s something you don’t want to hear, something that you don’t want to receive.

But when I was called out about his thing, it made perfect sense to me the second I was told. I sometimes avoid saying something that I should say, because I prefer to keep the status quo than deal with something that should be addressed. Don’t trust your own silence. Silence is often a disguise… If something should be said, whether or not it’s comfortable, then is should be said sooner than later. (How do you say it? Refer back to #1.)

7) Consider needs

Bridging differences means a willingness to do the work necessary to maintain the relationship once you’ve reached the other side! When you’re in a relationship with someone, God has designed relationship so that you don’t go into it for what you can get but rather for what you can give! Let me say that again: Christians have relationships for what they can give not what they can get.

Matthew 7:12 instructs us, saying, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

8) Determine success

If it’s soccer, it’s goals. If it’s football, it’s touchdowns. If it’s basketball, it’s points. If it’s baseball, it’s runs. That’s the name of the game–do what you must to get more than the other team. In sports, that’s success.

Let me ask you this question: Do you have a definition for success for your family? If I were to ask you, “What’s a win for you and your family?” how would you answer? If I were to ask you, “What puts points on the board for you and your family?” how would you answer? Knowing these answer helps you achieve success, so that you’re not just “getting through the day” but actually achieving goals for the home team!

9) Major on the majors

Finally, major on the majors. In his excellent book What Did You Expect? Paul Tripp writes, “You cannot live with another person and make every difference equally important and equally an issue between you. Some differences are not important at all” (223, italics added).

Let’s face it, how many issues do you and I argue about simply for the sake of pride or oneupmanship? If we major on the majors, we will take ourselves out of the equation and focus on the more important ones (e.g., #2).

Finally, God doesn’t want our lives to reflect a hilarious tragedy, like the media likes to pour downward to the culture. It’s one thing to laugh at the characters portrayed on the tv. It’s another thing to live like them. God wants us to take this gift of life, invest in it, grow it, nurture it, so that in time, when we find someone to love, we actually have something to offer them—because we can’t be something for someone until we are somebody ourselves. Relationships require that we bridge differences and remain committed. These 9 points should help us along the way!

Blessings,

Joe

A Thought on Proximity

IMG_1803

Proximity–We should all dwell in proximity to what—or who—we believe will keep us the most safe, healthy, and happy. For example, children dwell in PROXIMITY to their parents. Spouses (should) create an environment in which they feel safe to dwell in PROXIMITY to each other.

In like fashion, Christians should dwell in PROXIMITY to the Father—in prayer, in meditation and thought, in the Word, and in fellowship with others who are dwelling in PROXIMITY to Him, too. “Stay close” isn’t only a word our parents used to say when we were children playing in the park. “Stay close” is also a Word from our Heavenly Father while we’re living in the world!

Why is this important? Practically speaking, it’s important because dwelling in PROXIMITY to the Father brings us close to His holiness, His wisdom, His forgiveness, His love and daily grace. We can’t dwell close to God and simultaneously continue to harbor those things that God has redeemed us from. The closer we are to God, the further we are from our past!

Yet, how many people do we know, people who claim to know and love God, dwelling in proximity to jealousy instead of Jesus, greed instead of God, unforgiveness instead of the Father, laziness instead of the Lord? We have too many soldiers in the Kingdom who are living like distracted civilians.

We should all dwell in PROXIMITY to what—or who—we believe will keep us the most safe, healthy, and happy. What are you in proximity to today?

Blessings,

Joe

4 Things I’ve Learned About Forgiveness

lightstock_365881_download_medium_user_247011

Recently, I’ve been working on a project that’s required me to look into forgiveness, not only as a topic, theoretical and aloof, but also as an action, practical and personal. As you might suspect, it hasn’t been a simple task. As I’ve reflected on it, and considered what the Bible teaches (both in theory and in practice), I thought I’d jot a few things down, in the hopes that it’ll help you along your way, too.

Forgiveness is almost unbelievable

When I consider forgiveness, something so tantamount to Christianity, I honestly find it unbelievable. Every world religion has some form of forgiveness, but the weight of perspectives leans on merit. In other words, world religions are founded on a person’s ability to earn for themselves the very thing that Christianity admits no person could ever earn–namely, God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. That’s why the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf is so potent: because He didn’t need to do it for Himself, but voluntarily did it for us, so that we might enjoy a relationship with the Father as He does. In other words, the forgiveness that we could never earn for all of our moral failings is freely available to us in Christ. That, my friends, is almost unbelievable. As the apostle John so famously wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Forgiveness is harder than I thought

I’m sure that when the apostle Peter asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” he thought he was presenting a really sound theological question. As Jesus answered, however, forgiveness isn’t quantifiable. It can’t be measured or gauged, like mileage on the heart and soul.  In other words, you are either forgiving or you aren’t. This makes the issue of forgiveness harder than I thought. When a person has been forgiven, the Bible teaches them to, in turn, be forgiving (e.g., here and here). This is harder than I thought. It’s hard, because 1) we like to hoard the feeling that we’re right, and 2) we like to remind people they’ve been wrong. Forgiveness is, at least in part, a release of these 2 things.

Forgiveness is costly

There are some things that simply cost you…I don’t mean your finances or your time…I mean YOU, as a person, as a soul. Forgiveness is one of those things. It’s costs your soul. It costs your soul, because it’s personal, intimate, and, whether we like it or not, includes our emotions, our pride, and how we feel about something or someone. Forgiveness leaves you, well–to look at Jesus on the cross–wounded. When I think of Jesus on the cross, I understand the costliness of forgiveness. It’s a painful, gut-wrenching, self-swallowing, ego-denying process that should hurt, because in forgiveness we choose to accept God’s grace for a situation rather than the universe’s insistence on a downward spiral (Col. 3:13). And every time we choose God’s way while here, we feel the tension behind, “Thy Kingdom come… They will be done.”

Forgiveness opens possibilities again

In the end, regardless of whether or not forgiveness is believable, harder than we think, or even costly, the truth is, without forgiveness the future is closed to us. Forgiveness opens possibilities. Forgiveness builds bridges. Forgiveness paves routes that otherwise would remain grown over by the weeds of resentment, bitterness, and insincerity. If you want a future, if you want to live a life of joy and peace in Christ, regardless of the outcome here on earth, then you have to forgive. Forgiveness is God’s door to a future of possibilities–with Him, with ourselves, and with others.

Forgiveness is simple to study. It’s difficult to practice. But in view of God’s mercy (Romans 12:1-2), we have been called and commanded to exercise the very graces that have been bestowed upon us, one of which is forgiveness.

Blessings,

Joe

Balance vs Seasons

pexels-photo-170750

Today, William Vanderbloemen, writing for Forbes.com, put out an article titled “There is No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance.” I felt vindicated. I felt satisfied. This is something that I’ve been proposing for a long, long time. In fact, I share the thought fairly regularly at New City Church, where I pastor. Whereas balance is based on an Eastern mysticism type of thinking, seasons, on the other hand, are biblical and an experiential reality. (Just read Ecclesiastes 3:1). There will inevitably be times in our lives when we’re working more (or less), when we’re playing more (or less), when we’re saving more (or less), when we’re spending more (or less), but these facts don’t necessarily mean we’re individuals who are out of balance. We are, in truth, just experiencing different seasons in our lives. There are a number of things that can lead to changes in season: marriage, parenthood, a career change, an injury or illness, even spiritual growth! The important this is this: in each and every season, God has a purpose for us…and it is for His glory and our ultimate good.

Anyway, I wanted to share the above article with you. I hope you find it interesting and helpful.

PS–Care to share what season you’re in???

Blessings,
Joe

Making Room for the Word

lightstock_112731_medium_user_247011

Acts 19 details Paul’s experience in the ancient city of Ephesus, the city after which the epistle is named. The Apostle Paul met a number of challenges while he was there, but he also witnessed God’s gracious work, in both miracles (Acts 19:11) and redemption (Acts 19:17). However, I want to focus on the conclusion of a specific event: the episode in which the redeemed Ephesians burned their books containing magic formulae and incantations, the sum of which, Luke records, amounted to 50,000 pieces of silver.

Following that event, something remarkable is stated. Luke writes, “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”

It isn’t accidental or without purpose that verse 20 (“So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily”) occurs immediately after the converted Ephesians burned their books. The consecutive nature of this text teaches us that, practically speaking, the Word of God flourishes and grows where room is made for it. With this in mind, let me as a few questions:

How much time do you spend watching television? Or Netflix? 

How much time do you spend messaging?

How much time do you spend having unnecessary conversations on the phone? 

How much time do you spend on apps (you can verify this by checking the battery usage under Settings)?

Where can you make cuts? Spend more time on Bible apps, like this one. Download a devotion, like this one for men or this one for women. It may cost you to make room for God’s Word in your life (it certainly cost the Ephesians!). But when we make room for God’s Word, the fruit and goodness that the Word brings always follow. My contention is that the Word of God will not grow in our lives, and the fruit of it will not appear, until we make room for it.

Blessings,

Joe