How much does God love us, really?

We have all heard it:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)

Yesterday during our sermon on witnessing and loving the lost, it occurred to me just how much God loves us. While we all know that God does in fact love us, I don’t think I ever realized just how much.

Sure, I understand that He created us, (in His image, no less), and that He wants us to be His children. I even get that He sent His son to die for us – a love that seems unsurpassable.

But what really hit me yesterday occurred during Pastor Carter’s message. He was referring to the lost people of this world and how they are living lives that can be filled with sin, generally because they don’t know how bad it really is.

That’s when it hit me. God knows! God knows how sinful the lost are. He knows how sinful I was, how sinful I am, and how sinful I will still be. He knows I am going to fail him, yet He still loves me.

His love is truly unconditional; similar to the love a father has for a son (which I know, because I love my son more than anyone does – except God, of course). Still, God loves us more!

Despite what we have done, are doing, or will do, God loves us and has provided a way for every one of us to have eternal life.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NIV)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2 NIV)

Love is

Love – a word we overuse.

I know what you’re thinking – overuse?

That’s right! But you may say, there is not enough love in this world!?! And you are CORRECT!   …wait…what?

My loving Mother-in-law says I’m a “literal” thinker – so let’s analyze this….

  1. We overuse the word love – check!
  2. We don’t have enough love – check!

Therefore, we are only using the word “love” too much, and not “loving” enough.

For example, how many of us say that we “love” pizza (or any other food, electronic, service, etc….).

That is not love – it is merely something we “enjoy.”

The Bible says that

  • God is love
  • Love is patient
  • We should love one another
  • …. and on and on!

These are all true.

I’m sure we have all heard sermons on love: loving God, loving one another, agape love, and on. So what is different about this?

Today I came across this pic, which reminded me of childhood love. Not the puppy love that an older child has for another girl or boy, but the kind of unconditional love that a child has for God and for each other as human beings.

Young children don’t have prejudices like we do. And most children can become instant friends, with mere nothing in common but a desire to have fun around each other. They don’t hold back their love.

Childhood hearts are so innocent that they can freely express their love without fear of any response. As we prepare for the weekend (which I know we are all anticipating), let’s remember that when it comes to God, He wants us to freely love Him. Don’t fear what others will say, do, or how they will react.

God loved us so much that He gave us His Son. Jesus loved us enough to give Himself, 100% for you and me.

Let’s not just say we love Him, but actually love God freely, without holding back.

As black as snow…

snowdirtycar2

This week I had the pleasure of walking down memory lane. I was cold, covered in snow and freezing rain, and miserable. Well, not entirely. But I did have the opportunity to remember what it is like to be in a northern climate during the winter.

The pic on the left above* is what we southerners think about when we think snow – a beautiful white covered path with trees bearing the weight of a thick white plush snow blanket.

The reality is more like the pic on the right above. After hours of snow plowing and days of traffic, the streets are covered in a thick mushy blanket of yuck, and the once beautiful snow banks of white are now grey, brown, and black – not quite a picturesque scene, is it?

Of course, this made me think. Hmmm…. is there a correlation here?

Isaiah 1:18b (ESV) says:

. . . though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

I think that when we come to know Christ, this is how we feel when we realize that He has purified us (the pic on the left). We feel covered by Jesus, our sins washed away, our bodies made righteous because of what Jesus did for us on the cross.

However, as we go through life in our world, we get caught up in the traffic of daily life. Our formerly cleansed bodies become tarnished and covered in grey, brown, and black soot from the world. Our paths become muddied and mushy due to the constant pulling and pushing of the darkness that consumes our lives.

How do we keep our life as white as snow? I think it really is as simple as those “church” answers:

  • Read your Bible
  • Pray
  • Spend time with God

This week has reminded me that what God makes is good (He made this beautiful white snow – and us ), but then when it gets into our hands, we fail to treat it properly.

* SOURCE: pic modified from http://kazakhnomad.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/marshmellow-world-in-almaty.jpg

What would [you] do?

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2 NIV)

I don’t know about you, but I think if most people heard this message, they would first think, “No way!”

I mean, come on, you want me to go to a city that is full of sin and corruption and preach them out of it? Really?  Come on, I can’t do that!

I wonder if that is what Jonah thought….?

Anyway, I think we all know the story that follows:

  • Jonah ran away instead
  • The ship he was on encountered a storm
  • The crew cast lots which fell on Jonah
  • Jonah admitted his failure and accepted punishment
  • He was thrown overboard
  • A huge fish swallowed him.

During these events, I wonder what was going through Jonah’s mind….

Well, we know that eventually he came to terms with God:

  • He prayed to the Lord – promising obedience
  • God answered
  • The fish expelled Jonah onto dry land

The message of the Lord came to Jonah again “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you” (Jonah 3:1 NIV).

Jonah’s obedience the second time led to a change in the people’s lives in Nineveh. God no longer brought destruction on them as He had planned.

I wonder what would change in our world if we were more obedient?

Jonah became angry with God, but the Lord used him for a wonderful miracle in the life of Nineveh’s people.

  • Will you accept God’s mission for you, or will you run away?
  • Will you be angry if God uses you, or will you be encouraged by His choices?

Keep on Pushing Back the Dark!

It’s a dark and dreary world. At least, that’s what some people want you to think.  In fact, there is a lot of darkness (sin) out there. But there is also a lot of joy.

In my job, I travel quite a bit. This week I’ve had the (not so) pleasure of being in Canada with sub-freezing weather for 90% of the week. After I fly into Halifax, I still drive about 1.5 hours to my destination. Many long roads with a beautiful landscape surrounded by plush water inlets, and this time of the year – snow.

While traveling anywhere in my job, I listen to my favorite songs via the radio. Yesterday, however, I found only 1 radio station out of about 10 that was Christian based. During my commute, they were broadcasting a sermon about God as the “Creator.” The majesty of the countryside was magnified as I pondered the greatness of God, the Creator of all.

Unfortunately, as my travel progressed, I lost the radio signal and was unable to find another station to listen to.  Previous ventures into this landscape have blessed me with a car outfitted with Sirius XM Radio and Channel 63 “The Message.” But sadly, I was not so lucky on this trip. Therefore, I continued to seek out a station worthy of my time.

Finally, this morning it happened during breakfast, when I overheard the background music in the restaurant playing K-love and Casting Crown’s “Who Am I”, Mercy Me’s “Shake”, and finally Josh Wilson’s “Pushing Back the Dark.”

Now all of a sudden, my week has brightened, and I look forward to the remaining part of my travel.

I don’t know about you, but if I don’t start my day with some worship and praise time with God, I feel empty and missing a part of my life.

If you have never listened to Christian radio, I encourage you to begin. I can only give recommendations to the following locales:

  • Birmingham/Tuscaloosa, Alabama – 93.7 FM “WDJC”
  • Atlanta, GA – 104.7 FM “The Fish”
  • Greenville, SC – 89.3 FM “His Radio”
  • Charlotte, NC – 96.5 FM  “His Radio”

It’s my way of “Pushing Back the Dark” – <Click HERE to listen>

Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:3-6 ESV)

Something different!

As a Youth Pastor, I regularly said that we would do “something different,” which seemed necessary to get the attention of teenagers. Today is “something different” day – a look into the book of Revelation.

Sure, yesterday I gave you a simple verse from Revelation 3:20; but today, let’s look deeper into the book. I’ve discovered that many Pastors avoid preaching from the book due to its extreme amount of imagery and debate surrounding what is literal and what is symbolic (just look at chapter 6 concerning the Four Horsemen for example).

Nevertheless, I’ve found that people WANT to know what is going to happen at the “end of time (on earth).” Sure, we say that we want to know how to live life now, but how many of us strictly follow every command given in the Bible? – and I’m not just talking about the 10 Commandments.

Sometimes I think we go to church because it’s what is expected. Some people go for the great praise and worship time. Some go for the preaching. But how many would go to church, and even be more obedient to Christ’s teaching if they truly understood the end of times and how that what we do now affects our lifetime tomorrow?

The Bible says in Revelation 20 that there will be a millennium (1,000 years) following which Satan will be released and “deceive the nations.” Immediately thereafter, John describes seeing the great white throne, and the “dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Rev 20:12 NIV).  John continues his vision saying “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15 NIV).

Throughout Revelation we can read about advice that Jesus gave to the Seven churches, the 21 Judgments (Tribulation Period), Christ’s return, the war between the beast and Jesus, and the creation of a new earth. Despite what critics and experts say about how to interpret the book, the book is filled with a wealth of information. And interestingly, it focuses on one major concept: God is Sovereign!

Furthermore, the book opens and closes with a reminder:

Behold, [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. (Rev 1:7 ESV)

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Rev 22:12-13 ESV)

And as most newscasters say prior to their broadcast “you’ll want to hear this story;” John merely states:

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Rev 1:3 ESV)

Read it today, and do not worry about whether you understand it completely, God will help you understand what you need to know.

Knock, Knock, it ain’t no joke!

I’ve always loved “knock knock” jokes.

Here’s one that’s not funny, but real to life:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me. (Revelation 3:20 ESV)

I challenge you today to take the opportunity and tell somebody about that door!

 

Years ago when we had the opportunity to renovate a youth room, Kimberly painted that Scripture on the door. I think it’s a good reminder that all we have to do is open up to Him. What a joy it is to have Him so close by!

In the news….

It disturbs me to hear about family issues. This week in the news I found the story of Rachel Canning, 18, who ran away from home after “not wanting to obey her parents.” Before leaving, she had been grounded from the car and other privileges for not obeying house rules.  When she left, her parents stopped paying for her living expenses, including tuition for private high school.

Now, she has decided to sue her parents for the tuition, weekly child support, and her college fund which Rachel’s parents have redirected. While Rachel claims she was in an abusive household, local authorities have investigated and found these assertions unfounded after interviewing her parents and sisters who still live in the household.

The first court hearing resulted in the judge dismissing the initial claims asking the parents to pay for immediate tuition costs. Another hearing is scheduled next month to determine the validity of other claims in Rachel’s lawsuit.

What has happened in our society to allow such cases to reach our judicial system?

I don’t know the spiritual maturity of the Canning family, but it seems to me that a Christian family could never get to such a point in their lifetime. Sure, we all have differences and don’t see eye to eye on every decision, but what causes a family to battle within themselves to the point of public humiliation and defamation of character? While the parents have continued to claim that Rachel can return home at any time, she refuses.

The Bible clearly teaches us in numerous passages that a child is commanded to honor their father and mother.

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4 ESV)

praying_handsAs a parent, I can understand the pain felt when a child refuses to obey.

I feel we should all take time today to pray for children everywhere: praying first that they will seek God, and secondly have an open heart to listen to their parents. At the same time, we need to pray for a turn-around for parents who are lost and for those who abuse their children.

Hope in Front of Me

Many of us go through everyday life with disappointing news. It seems like we just can’t get ahead. A recent Facebook post I saw said something like “Being a Christian doesn’t mean you won’t get knocked down, it just means you won’t stay down.” This is a good paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 4:9 which states:

We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. (2 Cor 4:9 NLT)

Today, as I was driving to work, I heard the song “There is Hope in Front of Me”  I didn’t know much of the background to this song, but the announcer briefly gave some history of the singer.  Danny Gokey was a contestant on the 8th season of American Idol. His wife had encouraged him to audition, and soon it became both of their dreams for him to become a superstar. Just four weeks before his audition, his wife underwent routine surgery (her third for a congenital heart disease), but unfortunately due to complications did not survive.

He went on to audition, and became a finalist.  Now, just 4 years later, after continued pursuit of his dream, he has succeeded as a prominent Country singer, but with strong ties to his church and a great new song “There is Hope in Front of Me.”

Despite how bad your circumstances may seem, God is watching over you. In spite of not seeing hope, we can all have hope.

Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” (Romans 4:18 NLT)

 

Belief in miracles

Some people have had the opportunity to see a miracle first hand in their life. Others have merely heard about them and don’t really know how far to believe them.
For me, it’s pretty simple to believe in them.  I’ve seen a few first hand in my life:

1) I was saved from drowning by an angel when I was 18

2) God gave us Wesley after the doctor’s had given up on our “family.”

3) The feeding of “5,000” at Big Sandy Baptist Church when little pasta fed the whole church during a spaghetti youth dinner.

This past week, the nation heard the story of 78 year old Walter Williams come to life, after being pronounced dead hours earlier. With no pulse, he was declared officially dead by the coroner on-site at his home Wednesday evening. Hours later, the funeral home found him kicking to get out of the body bag he was placed in. Now, “Snowball” Williams, so nicknamed after being born in a snowstorm years ago, is stable in the local hospital, and family is celebrating what the coroner now calls a miracle.

Some might say this is proof that the saying “you don’t have a snowball’s chance in …” doesn’t hold water.

Snowball beat all odds when it comes to defying death. But rest assured, we all have the opportunity to beat death. After Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we now have the opportunity for eternal life.

We may not be resurrected here on earth, but I’m fine with that. I would rather be resurrected in Heaven where I will be in the presence of the Lord Almighty.

20 . . . our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21 NIV)