God’s Love Never Fails

Like many families, my family has had it’s disagreements over the years as we’ve all gotten older, gotten married and started our families. Some disagreements have been minor, but some have been major.   And neither side is really actively pursuing a reconciliation.

We as human beings often find ourselves content with our separation from loved ones, because it is easier than opening old wounds that have despite the time, not yet healed completely.  Despite our deep love for one another, we are content in the status quo.

God is not content

It’s a good thing God is not like that! God loves us unconditionally and even when we continually reject his overtures of love towards us, he continues to let us know “I’ll be here when you are  ready” and in fact He consistently reminds us “Hey, I’m here and I still love you.”

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever — Psalm 23:6

I’ve not seen my sister for almost a year now and some of my family has not seen her for many years. And neither side has taken active steps to reach out to the other for reconciliation. But look at what the psalmist says. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me…” It follows me all the days of my life, I don’t have to seek it, I don’t have to go looking for it… I just need to turn around and there it will be. God will pursue us.

And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again — Philippians 1:6

God has a plan for our lives and He will go to great lengths to complete the work He has begun. He’s not so willing to give up on us.

Now don’t get me wrong, our pursuit of God is important, but that is in response to Him first loving us.

We love because he first loved us. — 1 John 4:19

God’s love does not depend on our performance. Over and over again, God has said to us humans, “I love you”, we say “Not now, I’m not ready yet.” But God is relentless in his pursuit of us. He never quits;

O God, God of Israel, there is no God like you in the skies above or on the earth below who unswervingly keeps covenant with his servants and relentlessly loves them as they sincerely live in obedience to your way. – 1 Kings 8:23

Someday, I hope my family can become one loving family again. God wants the same. We are his creations, his children and he wants nothing more than for us to come back into a relationship with him. We keep denying him, but he never gives up and He keeps pursuing us.

Do Everything in Love

Last year our church had a sermon series entitled Last Man Standing that was one of my favorites of the year and really impacted my life in 2016. My favorite in the series is the one entitled Men or Boys . I had written a post Act Like Men about this back then that is worth the few minutes to read and will give plenty of context into this post.

One of the verses I highlighted in that post was 1 Corinthians 16:13-14;

Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be men of courage, be strong. Do everything in love.

The final part of that, “Do everything in love,” provides context for all that we are implored with doing in the first part of the verse. You could change the wording slightly and this verse becomes;

Be on your guard, in love.
Stand firm in the faith, in love.
Be men of courage, in love.
Be strong, in love.

A sidebar on word etymology.
I love learning more about the origins of the words we use as they are often far different from how we use them today. And when ancient texts, like the Bible are translated into our modern language often words are used that have the proper meaning, but our modern interpretation of those words could be different. So I enjoy looking at where the words come from and even learning the Greek or Hebrew that the Bible was originally written in so as to better understand the original meaning.

God’s Word doesn’t change and is true to what God is wanting us to hear, however our imperfect language that we use today can sometimes lead to misunderstandings or misinterpretations if you are not careful. While God will let His truth come through regardless of what language you read His Word in, it does help to understand what the writers were originally trying to convey.

The sentences sound a bit strange in our modern vernacular, but when you look at the original language the word for love used in the 14th verse is, agape. Of all the different words for love used throughout the Bible, agape is used to indicate the highest form of love. Often used to indicate the love God has for us or we have for God. It is a universal, unconditional love that is there regardless of circumstances.

In the King James version, this is translated as ‘charity’ which while we use that word typically as “benevolence for the poor”, it’s older usages from which it originated was defined more like “Christian love of one’s fellows.”

So what is being said here in this verse? What Paul was trying to tell his readers, is everything should be done in love to God. By doing these in love, we should be like Christ. Being like Christ should be the foundation for every decision we make and every action we take.

Be on Guard

As Christians we have a powerful enemy. One that tempts and attacks continuously, trying to thwart our work for God. So in that we should;

Watch against Evil: We need to watch for the evil in this world, but do so in the context of love. When we have the love of God in us and that love comes out from us, evil becomes easier to spot. With that context, we can judge our actions and the actions of others in that light. Does that activity we are about to take glorify God and show the love of Christ to those that might witness our actions? If not, be on guard. Do the words we speak to our spouse share the same love that God shares to us? If not, be on guard against those words.

That meaning of being on guard has us looking for negatives. But we should also be looking for the positives, for example, we should be on guard looking for opportunities to do good. James 2:14-26 tells us that faith without action is dead;

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. -James 2:17

We should be on guard to see those opportunities that God puts in front of us every day to do good. It could be something big and in the open like being on mission over seas. It could be as small as a smile to a stranger. In fact, I believe those little things can have a big impact for God’s kingdom and they are simple easy things to do. But we need to be on guard to seize the opportunities we are given.

Stand Firm in the Faith

We need to stand firm in the faith that was given to us by the Word of God.

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

We need to persevere in the faith, for if we don’t than this is an evidence that we never had the saving faith in the first place. Judas Iscariot, for example, eventually showed that he was not a true believer.

We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. -Hebrews 3:14

A hallmark of a Christian saving faith, is continuing till the end. Many will hate Christians, they will criticize you, they will mock you, they may even try to harm or kill you…but the perseverance in persecution will be a sure sign of salvation.

Remembering the promises of God’s love will help us keep on. God’s love will never fail us and when we remember that, keeping our faith becomes so much easier. And when we stand firm in faith, showing the love of God to others, even those that oppose us, becomes natural.

Be men of courage

Men our judged by many things these days. Physical strength, money and possessions, their successes and status. But John MacArthur says it well in his sermon, How to Be a Man of Courage;

There is a trait that I think distinguishes a man most distinctively, the solitary foundation of manhood. And I want to sum it up in one word, it’s the word fortitude….Now I know that’s not an often used word today and that’s why I picked it. It’s not one that has a lot of baggage. It’s one that may come to you sort of from out of left field and you’re wondering what it means. Let me tell you what it means. Webster’s dictionary says, “Fortitude is that strength or firmness of mind, courage of soul which enables a person to encounter danger with coolness, to bear pain or adversity without murmuring, depression or despondency.” And then we could sum that up by saying, “Fortitude is courage built on strength of soul.” Fortitude is a good word because it combines courage with strength but it also has a third component and that is conviction. Fortitude is the combination of those three things: conviction, courage and strength.

We are to have courage in our faith, we are to be strong in our faith and we are to be sure of our faith. But remember this is all to be done in love. The love is a critical part. There are many strong and courageous people that believe strongly in something, but without the love, they can just become tyrants. We as Christan’s are called to have fortitude, but to be loving as well.

John again sums this is up very well;

They know that they must have the truth, they must have unwavering conviction about the truth, they must have the courage to stand for those convictions and the strength to withstand the assault. That’s what defines a man. A man is known by his character, by his fortitude.

 

Be Strong

With all these others, we are to be strong. We should put all our energy which God has provided in maintaining the truth. When we exercise this faith, we become spiritually stronger. When I physically exercise, I become physically stronger. It is no different when exercise our faith. When we do so, our faith become stronger and we are able to resist the enemy even more effectively.

The word used for be strong here krataióō is which is translated to be strengthened in a passive voice. The other actions talks about previously in the verse are things we need to do, things we can take action on. This call to be strong is a willingness to all God to strengthen us. Something God does to us and for us, not something we can do for ourselves. The thing we must do is submit ourselves to Him so He can make us strong in the faith. The more we submit, the stronger God can make us. When we become strong in the faith, we are able to do the others much more effectively.

In Love

So all these things Paul is admonishing us to do and we do them in love like Christ loved, they will draw us closer to Christ giving us the strength and courage to endure to the end and resist the enemy and allows us to be strong in the faith so that others can see the love of Christ in us.

The love is the key part to all of these. Christ loved us even though we are sinners and gave us a pathway to God that we could never follow on our own. Through Christ we can be made strong and fearless. Through Christ we can be sure we can persevere until the end. Though Christ we can be on guard against the enemy and be watchful of those opportunities that God gives us to serve. And through Christ we can share the love that he has shared with us.

Love Riot

The Newsboys has always been a favorite of mine in the Christian music scene. Not only do I enjoy their music, I have always gotten the sense that while they are very successful in the Christian music scene, they don’t let that keep them from doing the work of God. They have always seemed very humble and caring not only of their fans, but of the “least of these” around the world.  These four men appear to be doing the work of God that He has laid out for them.

The other night, my wife and I took our 15 year old son to see them in concert. What a great show they put on. Of course they played all our favorite hits, full of energy and it was very entertaining as any concert should be. But it was also one of the most moving nights of worship I’ve ever experienced. I truly felt the presence of God among us that night and I fully expect that God did some wondrous things that night in many people.

Michael Tait, lead singer, gave a 10 minute talk as the rest of the band rested partway into the show on the importance of faith in God and trusting Him in the world we live in today. This is something so many on both sides of the political spectrum have forgotten. Something that people on both sides of the racial divide seem to failed to remember. We are all children of God.

At this point, they broke into playing We Believe…which for me was the turning point in the show where I really felt God moving in the building. Many that had been sitting during the first half of the show, jumped to their feet and were truly praising God, including me and my family. At this point it became not just a concert of a good band, but a moment to spend with God in worship!

Of course they went on to play many more of their hits and ended their main set with the drum spinning Jesus Freak.

Coming back out for their encore which finished with one of my favorite songs of theirs, not only musically but because of the message, God’s Not Dead.

The name of their tour and latest album is “Love Riot”. The name says it all really, what if we started a riot, not because of race or political affiliation, but because of love for one another as Jesus loves us all. What if we put as much energy into love as we put into the hatred for one another? How could we change the world?

If only we as believers could come together and pray for our leaders (whether we voted for them or not), if we could pray for our enemies and friends, if we could love one another regardless of color. If we could all remember who we belong to, who has saved us…imagine what we could do as one.

When God’s Voice is Clear

I’ve been stressed over work and a few personal things lately. It’s just been a stressful and busy couple months and likely to be more to come. When I stress over something, I tend to obsess on it. It becomes my sole thoughts 24/7. It’s the first thing I’m thinking about in the morning, the last thing I think about at night and my dreams tend to surround it in some way during the night.

Last night was no different. I woke up this morning, in that slight fog that I tend to arise in, when my thoughts are not usually coherent yet my mind tends to race, and my first thought was to put Jesus first in all things. Not to leave him out of the stressful situation, but to humble myself before him and let Him take charge.

When I finally got up and got around to looking at my phone, I see the notification from YouVersion verse of the day.

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. -Psalm 25:15

God was really trying to tell me something here. I was filling my thoughts and actions with my own problems, so much so that there was no room for Christ. But if I fill myself with Christ first, then there is no room for my own problems and he will take care of them, I will have effectively laid my problems at the foot of the cross.

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall. – Psalm 55:22

I love when God speaks clearly, this is not the case always, but as I’ve learned to listen, enhanced my prayer life, study more of God’s word, and humble myself before Him, His voice becomes easier to recognize.

Sharpening the Ax

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

This quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Whether he actually said this or not is immaterial, the concept is sound. If you are given a task, using the best tools you can to do the job helps you to perform the task more efficiently and effectively. A dull ax will take longer and require more strength.

Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed. — Ecclesiastes 10:10

Over the years, I’ve often questioned what my true mission is. I’ve received revelation from God over that time, yet I still question and wonder if I’m following the right path. Is my ax sharp enough to do the task that God has put before me?

Before heading out on mission from God, sharpen your own ax by getting yourself straight with God, praying and reading the Bible.

I find that often I’m looking for how to best serve God and I realize that I don’t take time to read the Bible. I find that I struggle to start the day with prayer and I’m too tired at night to end the day with prayer. Throughout the day, I’m way too busy with too many things on my mind, that taking the time for even a short prayer in the midst of my busy day is beyond my thoughts.

Martin Luther is rumored to have once commented, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend the three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.

Are we so busy that we can’t take the time to pray? How much time do we spend on needless things? Could we cut out an hour of television? God wants us to enjoy life,

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. -James 5:16

How can we be the most effective tool for God, if we don’t allow Him to sharpen us? God sharpens us through the reading of his word. We find out his mission for us through reading and prayer. God has given us the tools to do the job he set out for us wherever we are, whether on the mission field or at work.

God has given all of us the tools, but so many of us (myself included) don’t bother to pick the best tool for the job. We choose a dull ax to chop down the tree. We strain ourselves to do the job God has put before us. We work so hard at His mission for us, that we fail to sharpen our tools.

Prayer and reading of His word will sharpen us. If we spend the time sharpening our tools, we will be able to do His work so much more efficiently and effectively.

 

The Holy Spirit Knows the Way – Romans 8:26

holy-spiritIn the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. -Romans 8:26

God was telling me today to look at this verse. Last night I was just flipping through my social media and came across an old article that someone had linked to that gave a list of 10 things about prayer. I can’t remember anything about the list other than, number 7 was this verse from Romans 8. For some reason, it struck me as something I needed to stop and listen to.

I’ve wanted this year to be come my year of prayer. A year I learn more about it and become more diligent in it. One of my main prayers over the last few years has really been to see clearly what God’s will is for my life. What is his plan? I’m eager to find out and get moving. If you’ve been reading my blog for a couple years, you can see a large portion of my posts are seeking the answer to that prayer.

This morning, as is normal, I open my favorite Bible app on my phone and see the verse of the day…yes you’ve guessed it, Romans 8:26 is staring me right back in the face. To me that is about as clear of an indicator of God telling me something that I’ve ever received. But what is God trying to tell me with that verse. Well that required me to do a little study and further reading this morning.

Let’s look at the next verse;

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. -Romans 8:27

The Spirit knows what God’s will is for us. The Spirit knows where we are going. Even though we may be unsure of where we are going or what God’s will is for us, the Spirit is not. The Spirit will intercede on our behalf to ensure that we reach our destination. We can be assured of God’s protective guidance in spite of being unaware of where we are going or how we are getting there.

And that all leads to verse 28;

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

God is working for our good my friends. He has called us to his purpose, he has a plan for us…and it is good!

So I feel God threw this verse at me to let me know that I can stop focusing so much on the destination, God already knows where that is and the Spirit will ensure that I arrive. But along the way God has tasks for me, people to interact with, to tell the truth to, to pray for. Those opportunities laid before me each and every day, those things that cross my path are where my focus needs to be. The destination is important and I shouldn’t forget it, but the Spirit has got that covered.

We’ve been liberated from sin and death through Jesus, so we can take comfort in knowing the that Spirit will guide us, without fail, to the promised land that God has given to us. Just like the Israel of old, who were led by the pillar of cloud and fire through the wilderness, we too are being led by the Spirit into the promised land. We often don’t know how we are getting there or which direction to go tomorrow, but we don’t need to worry about that.

My prayer today is one of thanks. I’m thankful that God gave me the eyes to see this verse that he so clearly wanted to give to me today. It has truly opened up my eyes on my prayer life and given me a whole new freedom as I traverse through life. Thank you God for making this verse come alive in me today!

Because He Truly Cares – 1 Peter 5:7

As often happens while sitting in church a scripture is given or something is said that may only be tangentially related to the sermon topic itself but it triggers in me that I realize that it is not only the meaning that God wanted me to get from the service, but it also triggers as a seed for blog post. This post is one such post. Warning, this may be a bit of a dry post as I’m going to be looking at word origins and such, so be aware if that holds no interest to you.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. -1 Peter 5:7

This is how it reads in the NIV translation. The translation given at church was from the NLT and reads;

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

What struck me was the use of the word cares in two different contexts, one as a noun and one as a verb. Granted the pastor did go into a similar explanation of what I’m about to talk about and the entire sermon leads up to this verse, I’ll post a link to the sermon once the church puts one up.

Anyway, when I want to look at the meaning of words and how and why they were translated into English as they are, I like to look back at the original text in the original languages.

So the first instance of cares, is the word ‘merimnan’ which we also see translated into anxiety (which is a more descriptive translation to us modern English speakers) is described as meaning:

A part, separated from the whole, worry, anxiety. Dividing and fracturing a person’s being into parts.

So literally he is talking about those things that we stress over that divides our attention and distracts us. When we become Christians, we want to focus on the works of God, what He is doing in the world around us and how we can be a part of that. This worry and anxiety, literally takes our focus off of that and puts it back onto us and our situation.

The second instance of the cares, the verb is the word ‘melei’ which is described as:

To be of interest to, to take care, to be concerned about. To take interest in.

This tells us that God truly takes an interest in us. He cares about us and our situation, whether it’s a financial issue, a health issue, a relationship issue or a spiritual issue. God is truly interested in the details of our lives.

The takeaway from all this, is that God truly cares about our lives, but as long as we are distracted by our worries and anxieties, we can not see how much he cares and we struggle to give our full attention to Him and his works. I take this verse as a clear instruction to us. Cast our worries and anxieties on him, and God who truly cares for us and loves us will use us in mighty ways.