The Gospel in a Nutshell

www.bible.com/1713/jhn.3.16.csb

Well, that what my Dad calls it anyway. I used to resist what my Dad taught about Scripture, figuring myself the one who went to Bible college and learned stuff. But as I’ve grown up a bit, I find that everyone possesses a bit of wisdom when it comes to Scripture. Everyone brings their own life experience to the Bible, and the Bible reflects that back to them, speaking to each in a way each understands. Two people can read the same verse and find different emphases that touch them in different ways. Both are equally valid, and when shared, can be helpful to both.

One thing that strikes me about this verse is the “only” in front of “son.” I have two sons. I would not want to give up either of them. I certainly wouldn’t want to give them up to save someone else. Being a father myself, I know something now I didn’t when I was young. Fathers love their sons in ways they cannot know before they become fathers. This son is a reflection of your being and personality. This new person sometimes reflects your best qualities, sometimes not. Sometimes he is wiser than you. This person has your face, and eventually, your voice. This person is a younger version of you, and you have hopes for him you didn’t know you had. You want him to succeed. You want him to pursue things you did not, to overcome regrets you had for yourself. It isn’t fair to lay such a burden on him, but we do it anyway, if only subconsciously.

So to have such a person before you, and then to send that person to go and die for others. Sorry, that’s more love than I have. To send your special, unique, only son to die for a host of recalcitrant children who don’t care? This is the kind of love God has for us. This is the gospel in a nutshell, condensed into one verse. And I am so grateful that Jesus chose to fulfill this task, or I would not know the Father who so loved. I would not have known that kind of love without Him. Thank You Lord Jesus for showing us that love.

As we prepare our hearts for the Easter season, remember the love that was spent for you. Remember the One who loves you. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Lord God, help me today remember Your sacrifice of love on my account. You loved me so much that you gave your unique, special, only Son to die for my sin on that cruel cross. You in your infinite knowledge, despite knowing every ounce of agony of your blessed Son, still thought it worth the price of seeing me and my brothers and sisters into the Kingdom. Despite this, we still falter. We still sin. We still forget. Lord help me remember. Thank You Lord Jesus for your love for the brethren, to be made like us, to suffer for us, to rise again to lead us in hope into Your Kingdom! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Good Shepherd

www.bible.com/1713/jhn.10.11.csb

Where there is a shepherd, there are probably sheep. Sheep as you might have guessed are animals. Strangely they are some of God’s creatures which seem to have been made specifically for man. As early as Genesis 4 Abel is pictured as being a tender of sheep, so this is something that men have been doing essentially since the beginning. As such, sheep have been used as illustration to great extent throughout history. Even people who have not grown up around sheep probably know what a sheep is. “Mary had a little lamb” is something we pick up from early childhood. Christianity has been no small help to this idea, since Jesus Himself is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” and we have been taught even as kids that “the Lord is my Shepherd.”

If Jesus is the good Shepherd, who or what does He shepherd? Is there some divine flock of sheep out there that Jesus keeps busy with? More than you know. Since Jesus is the Shepherd, there must be sheep. And we are it. If sheep have needed man from the beginning for their survival, then man has needed God and His Son Christ Jesus from the beginning too. Just as sheep cannot survive in the wild physical nature, so man will not survive the wild landscape of the spirit without Jesus. We need His leadership, direction and sometimes prompting to go where we need to go. The Bible does not err when Isaiah says that “we like sheep have gone astray.”

Lord Jesus, thank you for being my Shepherd. Thank you for leading me beside still waters and restoring my soul. I pray during this time that you would keep my heart in peace when there is turmoil and disruption around me. I need Your peace. I need Your absolute stability in my life, for it is the only thing that does not change from day to day. Thank you Jesus. Amen.

Needs and Riches

www.bible.com/1713/php.4.19.csb

Have you learned about hardship yet? One unintended consequence of this COVID ordeal is the economic consequences we experienced with job losses, businesses closing, and people having to stay home because there is really nothing to do. These events take their toll. And now many people don’t have a job at this time to get up for in the morning. And while it started as an inconvenience, as time wears on, it is becoming more of a challenge. I am certain that many of my readers live with a small margin. You might have a few dollars stored in savings for emergencies, but that’s about it. And how here in the states, we’re coming up on two weeks quarantine. That’s two weeks without work and if you have not already filed for unemployment, its two weeks without pay. That can and will put a lot of people into a crunch. There are many utilities and landlords who are foregoing payments at this time, but the real test is going to be April first, when rent comes due, house payments come due, and our ability to pay will be put to the test. Many people are not going to be able to cover it.

With financial hardship comes need. It is in the midst of need that we find out who we are.

I’ve been watching through an old TV series while on this journey through quarantine called Jericho. It aired on CBS in the 2000s. It depicts the life and events of a small rural town in Kansas called Jericho. Instead of suffering from the effects of disease, it is enduring the aftermath of a nuclear attack. Within the few episodes, a few weeks pass. They lose their power quickly and food becomes a scarce resource. As the citizens travel outside of town, they find that barbarism is the rule, with people being shot for their resources. What surprised me was how quickly people in the show became evil. While the people in the town remain somewhat “normal”, helping out their neighbors and working together, people outside the town become feral. It seemed the show was trying to tell us something about the nature of need and the human soul. When people’s needs aren’t being met, they lose their humanity. That is a disturbing thought.

As we continue through this quarantine, will we be like the people of Jericho, or the people outside its borders? Will we work together to meet needs, or will we hurt one another to get the resources we desire? I don’t think we are there yet, but we are closer now in this “unprecedented” time than we have ever been. Even snowstorms and hurricanes haven’t done this, not in the extent to which they affect the whole country. There have always been people who can come in to help. But in this, everyone’s town is affected.

As Christians, we have a chance here to show the quality of Christ. What does it mean to be a Christian in the midst of an extended quarantine like this? What does being a Christian mean to his neighbors? How can a Christian witness positively to the values Christ preaches and to the gospel?

I think first and foremost is that the Christian is hopeful. Despite our need, we know that God’s riches will far surpass anything we could want or ask for. We have hope. And hope is something we can share in abundance because it is our God who supplies. We have hope that He will supply our needs in this world, and because we have this hope, we ought to be willing to share this hope with others. It may be picking up groceries for your elderly neighbor. It may be just checking in on them. It may be praying with them (over the phone). But we can offer hope through the gospel of Jesus. Jesus is the only hope for this world. That has not changed.

Lord, help me be hopeful. Help me be mindful of the needs of others around me. As we continue through this unusual time, may You remind us that Your power and sovereignty has not changed. You have and have always had the power to heal, strengthen, and supply needs beyond our ability or capacity. May you continue to watch over my brothers and sisters right now, especially those affected by this virus, and continue to supply their needs from Your abundance. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

Sons of God

www.bible.com/1713/mat.5.9.csb

Curious thing here if you notice. In the translation used for the illustration, the phrase “children of God” is preferred over the literal Greek, “sons of God.” I find that curious.

Of course in general usage, sons and children could be interchangable. However, Jesus uses the specific word used for “sons” in this passage, not the word general word for children. I think Jesus is actually making a point here.

“Sons of God” was a specific title used in the Old Testament to refer to the angels. Jesus doesn’t say that peacemakers will become sons of God, but that they will be called sons of God. Major difference, because their activity in bringing God’s peace into the world will make them recognized as being like the “Sons of God”, like angels from God. And what greater peace is there we can share than the gospel of Jesus Christ? And who better messengers for this gospel than God’s elect, the saved of God by grace through faith.

I say all of that to say this: Don’t be too quick to make a text conform to your need to be inclusive. You might miss something important.

God help us today to walk Your walk, and speak Your peace through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us not shy away from this duty, even if it must be from six feet away. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

I Need Joy

www.bible.com/1713/psa.94.19.csb

Its not that its a bad day today. In fact, its been a pretty good day. I was able to go to work today. I cam home. Did not run into anyone with the virus, as far as I know. I was able to talk to people today, and I hoped that listening to their troubles gave then some relief. But coming home is staying in and not going anywhere. This weekend was planned tkt be my daughter’s eighth grade trip to DC. Next week was going to belt wife and I’s 25th wedding anniversary trip, but now we need to cancer that too. She doesn’t want to be away from home so far with all the stuff happening. I don’t blame her.

It seems everyday we wake up to new rules. Everyday new businesses are being told to close for fear of drawing crowds, all except the stores that draw the largest crowds, like grocery stores. Nevermind logic. Each day we are given new insights into how thus virus works, how deadly it is, and what I need to do to stop it. I feel more informed about this one subject than anything else I’ve ever seen in the news.

But on top of all this, churches are voluntarily closed. One place that people can go when times are tough is the church. But now you have to have Internet or a phone to get that kind of ministry. I know it’s not permanent, but its one thing that will help all of us get through the next few weeks. I need the church. I need the social gathering. If where two or three or gathered, Christ is there, there is a sense I feel kind of cut off.

I’m sure I’m not the first to sense it. And maybe I just need to get over it for the duration of this crisis. Others have been cut off from church. I am not the first. Others have survived. I will too. But I am down and need joy. And I know my Lord can bring me joy.

Heavenly Father, this is not a good time. In fact, this is a difficult time. I feel Your church has been slighted. And I am angry. But I know these happen or not at Your word. If we need some time away from pretty buildings and slide presentations, loud music and smoke machines to help us hear your voice again, help me hear it. Help me hear that voice that calls to me day and night, so that I might enter the joy of the Lord. In Your Son’s holy Name, Amen.

God Loves

www.bible.com/1713/2co.9.7.csb

We love because God first loved us. I just wanted to take a second look today at this passage, which is often employed as justification for giving money to the church, and in context, that’s what it is talking about. But I want to you take a little deeper look at it. It takes this single issue, giving your goods and monies to the church, and makes a statement about human free will and what God thinks about it.

God designed us with free will. That is, God engineered our being by installing with us the ability to reason out and make our own decisions. In God’s kingdom, in which this command is intended to be fulfilled, He expects each person to give, not out of compulsion, or reluctantly. Did you see that? He does not want us to give against our own free will. He does not want us to fulfill this command to give without our own will and purpose to do so. God wants us to give willingly. He wants us to give because we think it is a good idea. In this, God loves a cheerful giver.

God expects you to exercise your own free will. It is His desire to see your will become more like His own as He works to help you grow and mature. But He wants you to do so because you want to, not because you feel like you have to.

I’ve always been interested in robots and automata. I just think they are fascinating. And so, with the technology becoming what it is, there is an area of robotics that involves the simulacra of women. There is this whole sub-genre of robotics that involves building robots that satisfy human sexual desires, or do they? In a real human relationship, there is necessarily a give and take. In a robot-human relationship, there is only take. Between married couples, they find joy in one another. Why? Because through the process of maturity and growth, they have learned one another’s needs and desires, and they seek to mutually satisfy each other. It is not done out of compulsion, or reluctantly, but freely given, for the joy of seeing his or her spouse receive joy.

Not so with robotic companions, who neither experience joy, nor truly learn what their human counterpart really wants, because they can’t possibly understand the human being. I fear that many people will get sucked into this rabbit hole of self-satisfaction only to find themselves staring into emptiness. The robot cannot love you back. It has no free will, and can only give because it is commanded to give. It might be fun for a while, but like all sin, the pain of its consequences far outweighs the pleasure of the moment.

Our relationship with God is similar. Though we are not gods, we are made in His image, and I believe it to be in this particular way, the only way that matters, in that we are independent beings. We have free will. And in this, God would rather have us freely choose to love Him and give to Him, than like mindless robots, we give because we are ordered to. God would rather win us over than order us into submission.

God loves you. He wants to be with you at all times. But He wants you to choose Him. He has expressed His love for us in ways that far surpass flowers and candy. He sent us His own Son, Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:8 But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), Ro 5:8.

Do you love Him back?

Lord today my heart is darkened with sin. I struggle even to remember who I am today, that I am a child of God. Because You have called me, the One who has given so much for me, who has provided ample evidence of Your love for me, I love you. I cannot help it. Remind today of that love, of the height, width, breadth and depth of that love. Remind me that nothing in this world will ever prevent it. Remind me I pray that my choice is sure, that my Rock stands. That in all I need and want, You are at the center of my being. Remind of Your love again today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Pipe Dream

www.bible.com/1713/mat.5.8.csb

As I just related to my group, Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it? The truth is that our heart is the most impure of all things in our flesh and the most corrupted? Does this mean we all need cardiac care? Consider that the heart in the Biblical world was the realm of thoughts and feelings. We might call it the mind, or even the subconscious. The memory and workings of this body are held in the brain, but the heart, or the soul if you will, is where we live. It is the totality of us. This is the heart that drives us or pulls us down. This is the heart where we lives and feel and be. So, as we might expect, it is the one place where we need saving. Only God can know the heart. We lie, often to ourselves, about who we are or are trying to be. We often don’t know who we are. Sometimes we see and remember things that are long buried, so painful that we don’t bring them to mind, but they remain there, are part of us, provoking us to actions we don’t understand. Some say deep level psychological regressive therapy is the answer. They are on the right track, but we simply don’t know enough about the inner workings of our own being.

If you are a computer person, like myself, you know how to turn on the computer, type a few things, make it do the stuff you want. But if it breaks, I’m kind out of luck. Now I know enough about turning it off and turning it back on, but I need my computer to be reliable. I just don’t know enough about it to be able to fix. Likewise, I think we all have a pretty good handle on how to run ourselves. We know what turns us on and what turns us off. We know what we like and what we don’t. But honestly, when things don’t work right, we don’t know enough about ourselves to fix the problem, or we won’t admit that we have a problem.

When you get to a problem you can’t fix, you call the manufacturer or tech support. When you have a problem in your soul, you call God. We call this prayer. We have also been supplied with a technical manual, called the Bible. While you may not understand the whole thing (who can?), you will be able to understand enough to get you moving again. For only God knows the heart. Only God can change the heart. He knows what’s going on under the hood and knows what screw to tighten to get the whole thing working again. You just have to be willing to let Him work on it. That means taking yourself to the repair shop, submitting your soul for inspection and scrutiny, and admitting to the mistakes that made the soul go wrong in the first place. This is called confession. Repentance is both feeling sorry for what you’ve done but also a strong compulsion to resist doing those things again that broke you.

And yes there are sometimes things in our soul that are there through no fault of our own. Things have been done to us, and they too have broken us. We submit these things to the repair shop as well, because God knows what’s wrong and can fix it, but we have to be willing to submit these things as well to Him. We cannot hold on to pain as if we had some right to it, some right to be angry at someone for what they did. We really don’t need that pain and resentment, because that causes corrosion and corruption. It makes us do bad things for “good” reasons.

As you can see, purity of the heart isn’t overnight. In fact, it takes some time, but there is profound blessing for those who find it. Such purity can only be found in proximity to the Lord above. Only in close fellowship with Jesus can we see such purity. My prayer for you today is that you can find it.

Blessed Lord, take my hand and my heart today. Help me find some purity. Lord I need that purity in my heart. Let it be Your throne room, a place of honor in my breast, where You may live and lead me through all the storms of life. Help me grow Lord into someone worthy of bearing Your Name. In Jesus’ name, Amen.