Reflections On God’s Love

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.” ( 1 John 3:1 NIV)

I had an interesting experience this week as I pondered the subject of this post. Since I began writing this blog in February, I have been accumulating ideas for future posts in a journal I keep for that specific purpose. Reviewing that journal Tuesday night and reaching no clear decision concerning this week’s topic, I prayed for divine guidance as I prepared for bed. Immediately upon waking Wednesday morning, I received my answer as I was overwhelmed with the thoughts of God’s love.

imageInterestingly, that was not one of the topics I had recorded in my journal. But I have found it always advisable that when God’s plans differ from my own, always yield to God’s plans. It is absolutely fitting to devote this 10th post to that subject, since the seeds of this blog were planted when my heart was flooded with an overpowering sense of God’s love one night last June while observing this beautiful sunset and reading John’s first epistle.

But just how does one adequately convey the reality of the depths of God’s love. That is a challenge for even the most skilled of writers, much less for one as inexperienced as myself. Words are simply inadequate. Like trying to describe heaven from the perspective of earthly experiences, I believe that no expression of flawed human love even comes close to matching the perfect love of our heavenly Father.

But thankfully, as the Holy Spirit reminded me Wednesday morning, I really don’t have to describe God’s love – He has already done so flawlessly in His Word. And there is little I can add to improve on that. Attempting to do so would only prove futile. And so, I will simply let the Lord speak for Himself and ask you to take the time to truly digest what God has to say about this most important topic. All the following verses are taken from the King James Version, because I believe no modern translation matches its eloquence on this topic.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) The cross is the ultimate expression of God’s love for us.

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11)

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he might exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” (1 Pet. 5:6-7)

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-7)

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)

How can I improve upon those clear expressions of God’s love? I could go on and on, because God’s Word is one long love letter to us, his children. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to locate those verses in your Bible and highlight them. When you come to them in the future, take time to pause and reflect on God’s love, its impact on your life, and its implications for your future.

In my post titled Glimpses Of Heaven, I spoke of my departed mother speaking to me in a dream one night, saying “Wait till you see Jesus! You won’t believe His eyes.” I’ve often wondered what it was about Jesus’ eyes that prompted that statement. The more that I have considered that question, the less I’m convinced that it had anything to do with His physical appearance and everything to do with the inexpressible love His eyes convey. I believe the greatest thrill of heaven will be when we gaze into the eyes of the One who loved us so much that He poured out His life that we might live eternally with Him.

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My prayer is that you may know and experience that love today and that it may overflow from within you and touch the lives of those around you.

“When our broken love is the only love we can have, we are easily thrown into despair. But when we can live our broken love as a partial reflection of God’s perfect, unconditional love, we can forgive one another our limitations and enjoy together the love we have to offer.”

Henri Nouwen, Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith

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It’s About Time

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Ps.90:12)

Recently I have been noticing a lot of attention being given to a concept called imagemindfulness. There was a segment on “60 Minutes” regarding this topic and a very interesting “Ted Talk” that I watched online. Without getting into too much detail about this latest cultural catchphrase, the gist of mindfulness seems to be rooted in the need to make the best use of one’s time by staying focused on the present and separating the truly important from the trivial.

Being mindful is about being intentional with our time, rather than allowing our time to be overwhelmed with trivia or other people’s priorities. In this day of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and so many other distractions, it‘s easy to fall into the trap of letting the unimportant and trivial dictate the use of our time rather than consciously managing it for our greater benefit. If we’re not careful, life will just happen to us until one day we’ll wonder where it went.

While the term mindfulness might seem to be a new concept, the truth is that God’s Word has much to say about it. The Scripture verse that heads this article, Psalm 90:12, was actually a prayer of Moses. Prov. 21:29 says, “an upright man gives thought to his ways.” Rom. 12:2 commands us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. 2 Cor. 10:5 urges us to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. Paul says in Eph. 5:15-16, “Be very careful then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

Sports psychologists make their living largely by teaching their clients to “stay in the present”, forgetting the bad plays, the bad shots, the unforced errors, and focus instead on the next shot or the next play. Many of us could benefit by applying that advice to our lives. One of the things I most appreciated about my parents’ generation, The Greatest Generation, is that while they were shaped by their past, and often scarred by their past, they didn’t live in their past. They lived in the present while planning and creating a future – not just for themselves, but for future generations as well.

Practically speaking, for a Christian, mindfulness begins with Bible study and prayer. If you’re not setting aside time for that each day, then you will find yourself constantly walking in step with the world’s priorities rather than God’s. Prov. 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”  Following this advice begins with prayer and Bible study.

J. Oswald Sanders, a noted Christian author, says “It is impossible for a believer, no matter what his experience, to keep right with God if he will not take the trouble to spend time with God. Spend plenty of time with him; let other things go, but don’t neglect Him.” In Col. 3:2, Paul commands us to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” In light of the resurrection that we celebrated last Sunday, we are called to live in awareness that our citizenship is in heaven. (Phil. 3:20) The Bible counsels us to be ALIVEAlways Living In View of Eternity!

But while God reminds us to live with eternity in view, he also reminds us to enjoy each present moment as well. The abundant life Jesus promises does not just lie beyond the grave – it is for here and now. Many people miss that underlying message in the Book of Ecclesiastes, written by a man who received great wisdom from God. While Solomon decried much of the meaninglessness of so much of the lures of this life, he encourages us to enjoy ourselves as well, finding satisfaction in good food and drink, in our work (Eccl.2:24), taking time to laugh (Eccl.10:19) and to cherish our families. (Eccl.9:9)

A few months ago, I watched a movie titled “About Time”. It was about a man who discovers the family secret that upon reaching adulthood, he would receive the ability to travel back to previous times in his life. He soon learned some of the drawbacks of trying to change some of his most painful and regretful experiences as he came to realize that many of those difficulties and disappointments led to some of his greatest blessings and treasures.

But the greatest lesson he learned was by following the wise advice of his father, who advised him that when traveling back to previous moments in his life, to be careful not to change too much. He recommended that he live each day twice: the first time as we normally do, experiencing each day’s inherent unpredictability and stress, and the second time focusing on savoring the small joys and special moments that often occur without us realizing how special they are or how much we’ll miss them later.

When my brother was placed in home hospice care last September, this was how heimage lived out the last four months of his life, cherishing each moment he had left with his wife, daughter, and his two precious grandchildren. When I didn’t think he had any strength left to be able to climb up on his tractor, I was overjoyed one day to receive this photo of him with his grandson, Owen, taking him for one last ride with Pappaw!

Ronnie learned the secret voiced so well by that great philosopher Tim McGraw of living like he was dying. While he didn’t go sky diving or Rocky Mountain climbing, and he certainly didn’t go 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu, he did take the time to love deeper, speak sweeter, give forgiveness he’d been denying, to grow closer to his Lord, and to treat tomorrow as a gift. He discovered that there’s no present like the time!

Perhaps that’s the simple message of the concept of mindfulness – live like you were dying. After all, we all are, you know!

Speaking of time, I suppose I’ve taken enough of yours. So, until next time, may the grace, joy, and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. And may you number your days aright that you may gain a heart of wisdom.

“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” (Ps.39:4)

Note: All Scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV)

The Message Of Easter

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! (Luke 24:5-6)

These familiar words from Luke’s gospel articulate the central truth upon which our faith is based. As I said in my last post, the Easter story is so familiar that teachers and preachers often struggle to offer some fresh insight or present some deeper truths to consider. But in reality, Easter is truly a time to just reflect on the truths that we already know so well – the truths that are foremost on our mind when we think of that first Easter morning … the message of Easter.

As you reflect on the message of Easter, what one word would you use to complete this sentence? ..  The message of Easter is a message of _________.  As I reflected on that first Easter this week, I thought of numerous words that fill in that blank quite well.

A Message Of Love

Jesus’ death on the cross is the ultimate manifestation of God’s love for us. The first Bible verse you likely memorized is John 3:16. If you’re from my generation, you probably quote it as it is translated in the King James Version, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  This foundational verse is the message of Easter in a nutshell. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

A Message of Life

imagePerhaps the most basic and encouraging truth imbedded in the Easter message is that simple truth spoken to the women at the tomb – the truth with which Christians have greeted each other for centuries – the truth stated in three simple yet extraordinarily profound words, “He is Risen!”  The message of Easter is a message of life. We serve a living Savior through whom is available the gift of eternal life – a Savior who lives in us in the person of the Holy Spirit that we might experience the abundant life He promises in John 10:10.

A Message Of Power

1 Cor. 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Think of the awesome power that was demonstrated that first Easter morning. Paul says in Eph. 1:18-21, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart might be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”

That’s a profound statement Paul makes – that the same power by which the Father raised Jesus from the dead is available to us who believe. Let that sink in for a moment. Paul goes on to say in Eph.3:20, “Now to him who is able to do more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…”  I have often heard it said that we use less than 10% of our brain’s capacity. Imagine how much of God’s power we actually use compared to what is available to us.

A Message Of Hope

In recent years I have spoken at the funerals of several loved ones, including my mother, my sister, my brother, aunts and uncles, and a very dear friend. A number of people have commented that they did not understand how I was able to do that. And I must admit that initially I felt a little unsure myself. The grief that I experience at such times  is so overwhelming. But as I seek the Lord’s comfort in the pages of His Word and am reminded of His promises, I am always filled with hope – a hope that redirects my focus from my own personal sense of loss to my loved one’s present reality. Ultimately, the message of Easter is a message of hope.

While I always share my personal memories of the deceased, I am mindful that there is only one message which gives hope – the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Because the central message of the gospel is the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and the resulting hope of resurrection and eternal life for every believer. To comfort Martha upon the death of her brother, Jesus said. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25)

The only reason I am able to overcome my own grief and speak on such occasions is the assurance I have that death is not the end for those loved ones. That because of our shared faith, we will be together again someday with our Lord and Savior.

At my sister’s funeral, I discovered that one of her favorite songs was “In Christ Alone”, written in 2002 by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend – a song I mentioned in my last post. It has become one of my favorite songs, although I can hardly sing along with it now without choking up. As it was being sung that day, the lyrics ministered to me and reminded me of those tremendous truths – the truths that enable believers to grieve differently from those who have no hope. (1 Thess. 4:13) – the truths of Easter.

“There in the ground His body lay, Light of the world by darkness slain. Then bursting forth in glorious Day, Up from the grave He rose again. And as He stands in victory, Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me. For I am His and He is mine, Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death. This is the power of Christ in me. From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man, Could ever pluck me from His hand. Till He returns or calls me home, Here in the power of Christ I stand.”

Those verses so clearly and concisely articulate the message of Easter – the message of love, the message of life, the message of power, and the message of hope. But wait – there’s more!

A Message To Be Shared

Certainly, the message of Easter could never be adequately conveyed in just one word.image It is indeed the thread that runs throughout God’s Word. But let us never forget that the message of Easter is also good news. And what do we do with good news? … We share it. The message of Easter is not just for those of us who believe – it is a message we have been commissioned and empowered to share with the world – the living hope that is ours through the glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Pet. 1:3)

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV)