Psalm 103–So Great Is His Love

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The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Ps 103:8)

Of all of the great promises in Scripture, this stands out for those who only see God in terms of His wrath. For many within His people and many more who still stand apart, the image of the Holy Father is not one of love, but one of a God of vengeance, sweeping His eyes east and west watching for any infraction that might be an opportunity to visit retribution upon their heads.

While we are wrong to discount His anger at the ways in which we treat one another upon His creation, we also err when we see His holiness only in terms of righteous wrath. God is patient, demanding holiness, but teaching rather than terminating. When you live with the constant fear of failure and its outcome, the fruit of joy is never harvested in your life. Many Christians have followed this path, living their entire lives with a very narrow understanding of God’s character.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (vv 11-12)

This unmatched, vast and measureless forgiveness is one of the prime character traits of God. Far from the hair-trigger vengeful God of lore, He desires a loving relationship rooted in love much more. When we look to the cross, we don’t see charges waiting to held against us, we see a fresh start that is refreshed by our prayers of repentance and our journey toward greater and greater holiness.

Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, O my soul. (v22) 

Grace and peace to you.

image Ministerios Cash Luna

Psalm 99–Seven

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O Lord our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds. (Ps 99:8)

As the joy and awe of Easter remains fresh in our hearts, we do well to reflect on the reality of God’s demand for holiness. Psalm 99 is linked to 97 as an expression of the benefits of the Lord’s reign over His people. These benefits are not the product of a one-sided covenant however. As mercy is extended to us, we are commanded to pull our boots from the mire that has held us captive and ascend to higher ground. Our core calling is to make holiness the objective of our efforts.

The psalmist also expresses the parallel expressions of God’s reign, mercy and correction. Grace is not license, as some mistakenly interpret it. He corrects those he loves in order to reorient their path. To be abandoned to sin is to be without hope.

Grace and peace to you.

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God So Loved The World VI

Lent 2011

imageFor God so loved the world… John 3:16

so adv 1. In the way or manner indicated. 2. to the extent or degree indicated or suggested. 3. very or extremely. 4. very greatly. 5. most certainly…

You may come to this passage indirectly, perhaps as your first memory verse or your initial introduction to the great truth of the Bible. As you read and absorb it, you cannot help feel the Spirit move as you encounter this simple but profound reminder of the sacrificial love of God for you.

When you read God’s story from the beginning, on the other hand, and arrive at the fourth gospel and this verse, your eyes read the words in a much different light. Where it was just you and the secrets of your heart before, now you have the entirety of history casting its lengthy shadow over God’s love. The rise and fall and rise and fall tempo of man’s relationship with his creator causes you to wonder why He loves us, and marvels that He does.

Love us, that is. He most certainly does.

Grace and peace to you.

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God So Loved the World IV

Lent 2011

imageFor God so loved the world…  John 3:16

so adv 1. In the way or manner indicated. 2. to the extent or degree indicated or suggested. 3. very or extremely. 4. very greatly. 5. most certainly…

The small word so carries a lot of weight in this passage as it modifies the verb loved. In Greek as in English, the word has a wide range of usage. Reading this verse in a wide range of translations finds the interpreters seeing it differently as well.

Today, we read the word in its emphatic sense. God so loved the world … God loved the world so much that he sacrifices the most precious thing, his Son, Himself, a member of the Holy Trinity. His loves translates to loss on His part but gain for the world He loves.

Jesus’ words “Go and do likewise”, though they appear once, lie at the heart of His entire ministry. As God loves sacrificially, so we are called to love sacrificially. Our love is to spread outward without concern for its return. As God gave all, so we are to love likewise.

Grace and peace to you.

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God So Loved the World III

Lent 2011

imageFor God so loved the world… John 3:16

The first thing that catches your attention in the verse is the expression of God’s love for the world. We hear or read the word love and it passes over our personal filters for interpretation. Whatever definition for the word dominates our thinking, proper or improper, is applied to the words of the Lord.

Take a moment to let the word tumble over in your mind. What is love to you? Mere infatuation in its immature form? Is there a physical aspect to love? Does the word conjure up negative feelings, borne from bad experiences in the past? All of these impressions color the way in which the word is heard in our hearts and minds, and it becomes our interpretation of God’s love.

Focus on that word alone today. Say it aloud, not to anyone in particular, and let it hang in the air. As it reverberates, let your heart work on it. What does love mean to you? Are there negative connotations that you need to release? God will replace your notions with His own if you will simply expose them. Does your interpretation need maturing? He will show you a deeper love than you can possibly imagine when you are ready.

Grace and peace to you.

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God So Loved the World II

Lent 2011

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)

imageThough there is an almost universal familiarity with this verse amongst the Christian family, many forget the speaker and the context of His words. It becomes trite to many, an expression of immeasurable depth and meaning that is reduced to the shallows in which we wade.

Jesus refers to Himself in the verse, following his revelation in the preceding verses of the sacrifice yet to come. In verses 14 and 15, Jesus has informed Nicodemus that He is to be lifted up as the only source of eternal life.

Consider the first few words then, in this context. Rather than the common reflection on the word ‘so’ in its emphatic sense, we can read it directly translated from the Greek as ‘in this way’. Jesus informs Nicodemus, and centuries of readers to follow, that the sacrifice the father is making in seeing His Son lifted up is rooted in love for the fallen and corrupted world.

When we reflect on our personal sacrifice during this Lenten season, this idea informs it. Do we display our love for others in a sacrificial manner? Requited love is easy. Giving of self for the good of others when it is not recognized nor appreciated, not nearly so. Yet this is the disciple’s calling, to follow closely in the shadow of our Savior.

Grace and peace to you.

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Psalm 89–Love and Faithfulness Go Before You

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O Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David? (Ps 89:50)

Like so many of psalms we have read before this entry, we could easily substitute our own name in place of the king’s. When we enter a season of spiritual winter, or even encounter travail in the otherwise sunny seasons, our tendency is look upward and outward rather than inward, in order to comprehend the perceived lack of love from the Father. Cries of “why are You doing this to me?” fill our prayers and thoughts. We labor to align the ‘promises’ of our faith with dark chasms that we suddenly have to cross. We Christians are prone to disillusionment in far greater percentage than the unbelieving souls around us. 

Perhaps, this is because we have not developed a mature understanding of the promises of God.

Psalm 89 turns on verse 38. After rehearsing the greatness of God and reciting the promises of the covenant made with David, the psalmist points a finger at the sky and speaks aloud his accusations.

But you have reject, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your anointed one.

You have renounced the covenant with your servant and have defiled his crown in the dust. (vv 38-39)

The temerity of the final accusation is fascinating and telling. The crown that God has ‘defiled’ was formed, shaped, adorned, fitted and assigned by Him! It is His crown, only temporarily assigned to a mortal creature and conditionally, at that. The poet fails to include the countless failures and apostasies that God has endured within the kingdom he promised his love to. His expectation is wholly out of line with the covenant agreement and yet, he does not hesitate to ponder out loud why God has ‘failed’ to uphold his end of the bargain.

We will rarely know what greater good our seasons of struggle are intended to for. Our first thoughts should turn inward toward our own sin and breaches of love with God. Is this a time of discipline that is meant for correction? Be a good student and allow the Tutor to reform your heart. If the spirit does not bring sin to mind, search the Scriptures and find all those who struggled through similar circumstances. Their roles, however minor, in the greater span of the Kingdom give us hope that our pain is not wasted. God does and will turn all things for good. Count on that before raising your next accusation to the sky.

 

Grace and peace to you.

image Krystn Palmer

Psalm 85 – Will You Be Angry with Us Forever?

imageLove and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.

The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.

Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. (Psalm 85:10-13)

To speak of the Lord’s blessings in this language can only come from a heart that has know their absence. To live in the bliss of constant blessings is to come to see this as the normal state of things, the way it should be. Our corrupted souls begin to take it for granted and even begin to look for greater expressions of the love; ‘Manna again?!’

Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us.

Will you be angry with us forever?

Will you prolong your anger through all generations? (vv 4-5)

At the other end of belief is to see God as perpetually angry and unwilling to forgive our iniquities. Many among us believe that God remains angry at them for something that they’ve done, said, thought, etc. and that their sin is so far beyond the pale that there is no forgiveness. We must find a way to convey the message of love and faithfulness expressed in the sacrifice of our precious Lord and Savior. God is anything but angry, His love is an invitation back into His arms. It is to know what a life of blessing looks and feels like.

Grace and peace to you.

 

image by perfesser

Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola

imageSweet and Viola say this somewhere near the midpoint of their new book, Jesus Manifesto: “Get a fresh glimpse of your incomparable Lord, and you will be emboldened to stop spending your life on yourself. Connect with Him who is life, and you will be empowered to deny yourself, live beyond yourself, and live outside yourself.” Herein is the key idea behind the author’s call; the Church and her members have abandoned their life in Christ in favor of creeds, theological constructs, and self-help. Rather than sermons, service, and self rooted in ‘having my best life now’ or ‘the me I want to be’, Manifesto insists on every page that we return to a Christianity rooted in Christ, from Alpha to Omega.

The call for Christians to return to our first love is all encompassing as befits the all-in-all that Sweet and Viola remind us that Christ inhabits. It is this need to remind us of our first love that drives the book. The authors reach far and wide to examine the myriad ways in which Christians have substituted self-esteem, moral improvement, theology, social justice and a whole host of other things for Christ. Jesus has been reduced to the titular center of the church. Our movement away from Him in an imagined exchange between Jesus and Peter. Does Christ ask Peter, upon his restoration, to build a leadership program, improve the self-esteem of His followers, or help them to try harder to be Christ-like? No. Jesus asks His friend Peter, “Do you love me?”

Along the entire span of Alpha to Omega there is but one question to answer about Jesus, “Do you love me?”

 

Thomas Nelson graciously provided this book for review.

Psalm 75 – It is God Who Judges

image Close your eyes and think of the hymns and choruses you sang at church last week. We love the Lord, We trust the Lord, We worship the Lord..I would dare say that few, if any, reflected the sinfulness of humankind or echoed the realities of Hell throughout the sanctuary.

But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.

In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices;

he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs. (Ps 75:7-8)

Has the worship leader ever invited you to sings these words toward the altar, to raise this tune to God in worship? Unlikely. To modern ears this sounds hateful and judgmental and these are two adjectives that have become hidden in the Church. The reality of God’s final judgment and the separation of the sheep and goats has become unspeakable in our meetings but we must ask, do we have the luxury of softening God in this fashion?

We do no one any favors when we talk of a Jesus who will love despite our many faults yet will not judge. We lie if we do so. This psalm may appear to revel in the coming destruction of the wicked but it is in truth, a praise song. It is a song of trust, not an imprecatory hymn. Israel trusted beyond their present, visual circumstances that Yahweh would have the upper hand. We must express this same trust in the Lord and, in doing so, express to those who risk destruction that there is another way. We praise Him for His love and His loving justice.

Grace and peace to you..

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