“So we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us…”
1 John 4.16a
What is the difference between knowing and believing?
I know that today is Thursday. I know that the month of April is almost over. I know that I’m sitting at my desk as I write this on my Mac (which I know is the superior computer).
Ok, so maybe that last one gets at the difference between knowing and believing. I believe that Apple creates a superior product. Just like I believe that my meeting this afternoon is going to go well and I believe that certain teams will win certain games.
There is a difference between knowing and believing.
How does that difference give shape to what John says about God’s love?
I know that God loves me. I know that His love is unconditional. I know that I can’t measure it. I know that I can’t alter it. I know that I can’t escape it. I know that He loves me regardless of what I do, that He loves me no matter how far I run, that He loves me no matter where I try to hide.
I know that God loves me.
But I also believe it.
I believe that I’m delightful to God even when I don’t feel like I’m all that pleasant. I believe that I’m valuable to God even when my performance doesn’t seem worth very much. I believe that God loves me even when I find myself unloveable.
There’s a difference between knowing something and believing it.
I heard a pastor say one time that “the distance between heaven and hell is about 18 inches – the gap between your head and your heart.” I think that God’s love spans that 18 inches. What I know in my head, I believe in my heart. The love of God is neither intellectual nor emotional, it’s all encompassing.
What does it look like to know and believe the love God has for us?
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5 (NIV)
This is another beautiful picture that David paints in Psalm 23. The Lord is a host who prepares a bountiful table for us to sit and eat from. The part that is striking about his bountiful table is that it is prepared and laid out in the presence of my enemies. The enemies are not taken away, but God’s faithfulness to us remains in spite of them.
I wonder what parts of David’s life he is reflecting on when he writes this line. Is he remembering how Saul pursued him and kept trying to kill him? I think of 1 Samuel 24 & 26 when David has the opportunity to kill Saul – twice! – and yet David trusts that the Lord is in charge and he does not take Saul’s life into his own hands. David demonstrates great peace and calm in these circumstances – as if he is seated at the table of God’s provision while he faces Saul. And God always proves himself faithful.
Today our enemies are not likely to be someone seeking to take our physical life. Our enemy is more subtle and will come in the form of Satan’s lies and confusion about our identity in Christ, rejection from those who are antagonistic toward Jesus followers, despair over our suffering, and our tendency to love other things above Jesus. These enemies may always be a part of this life on earth, but our Lord has invited us to dwell with him at his table in the presence of these. His table is Jesus’ body and blood given for us to conquer our enemy. At this table we find internal rest that gives us peace as we face the enemy, and we find his Word that gives us nourishment and strength to stand strong.
Will you join him at the table today?
“but test everything; hold fast to what is good.”
1 Thessalonians 5:21
Like it or not, I am a huge baseball fan. I grew up playing catch with just about anything I could get my hands on. A recent baseball story caught my attention. During spring training, a veteran baseball player decided to forego a $13 million contract, retire, and walk away from the game. Apparently it was over a conviction to have his son with him daily during spring training; a conviction that his organization did not share with him. Many have questioned the absurdity of giving up so much money for a principle that he could have easily worked around, but his beliefs ran deep.
I can appreciate heartfelt convictions, a “rule of life” by which one must live if you will. Most of us have convictions that we use to guide us in daily decision making. A good friend of mine has an “Others may, but I may not” document that guides him toward integritous living. He uses it as a litmus test. As a church body we want to be known as a “fearless church of Christ followers . . .” And yet, all around us is a culture that wants us to be a “compromising church of spiritual people.”
Integrity and living a life of conviction certainly is important, but who we live it for makes all the difference. I ran across this quote from Tolstoy this week, “Cleave to the teachings of Christ completely, and let go of other teachings, just as a sailor reads his compass, though other signs around him might contradict it.” The Word of God is our litmus test, our compass, to live rightly as Christ-followers.
The weight of compromise is ominous and we can be one decision away from a cavernous compromise. Regardless of your situation, let the following scriptures encourage and guide you to hold fast today:
Dueteronomy 10:20: You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.
Hebrews 4:14: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
Proverbs 4:4: He taught me and said to me, ‘let you heart hold fast my words, keep my commandments, and live.’
Hosea 12:6: So you by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.
Milk at Night
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 NLT
I have a confession. I’m selfish. I could go on and on rationalizing all the reasons why. I could tell you it’s because I grew up for most of my life as an only child, or that I was the only grandchild, or that for the most part I got to do whatever I wanted.
My lifelong goal is to become an expert at loving others. Romans 12:9 is my life verse which says, “Don’t pretend to love others, really love them.” I don’t expect to ever become an expert but I do expect to intentionally grow in my acts of love. Billy Graham’s late wife, Ruth Graham, asked for these words to be inscribed on her tomb, “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”
Very few of us will ever have the opportunity to literally lay our life on the line for someone. So how does this sacrificial love really play out? How do we grow in practicing love and laying down our life? The other night we were out of milk. It was 10:00 p.m. and my pajamas had been on for hours at that point. One of our kids asked if I would go to the store and buy milk so they could have breakfast the next morning. Did I want to go to the grocery store at 10:00 p.m.? (I never want to go to the grocery store). Going to the grocery store when I didn’t want to was laying down my life for my family. I would not have always done that.
What can you do today to show the sacrificial love that Jesus willingly gives to us?
It’s not too Late
“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Joel 2:12-13 ESV
Throughout time and throughout the Bible God is consistently outlining to his people that it’s never too late to come back to our Creator. As long as we have breathe in us and Christ hasn’t returned we can return to following our Creator. No matter what’s going on right now or what has happened in our past we can still return to the one that loves us like no one else can.
Joel 2:12-13 is just that. It’s God’s reminder that we can return to following him but it will cost our past. We can’t return to following God and not give something up. As Joel 2 says we must return with all our hearts, we must render our hearts and not our garments. We must fast, weep and mourn.
What God is outlining for us here is that if we are to follow God, truly follow God, we must render our entire heart to God and only God and that the lives we live must visually display a life with God. Not just look the part but fulling from the inside out be a part of God.
If you are reading this then it’s not too late to render your entire heart to God. Oh, how might an entire heart rendering redirect your heart’s future? It’s not too late.
Key Chain Verses
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV
I tugged and pulled my desk drawer but something was stuck and the drawer wouldn’t budge. Nothing I did seemed to move the object. I gave the drawer one last jerk and out popped the culprit. It was a key ring with plastic tags attached that I had collected during the “Key Chain Verses” sermon series. During this series we were encouraged to memorize the Scriptures printed on the tags. I decided to see if I could recall each Scripture but, sadly, I didn’t do so well. I hadn’t continued the practice of memorization so it didn’t take long for me to forget what I had memorized.
God uses Scripture to teach and train us. He speaks to us through the Bible, His Word. If we want to grow stronger in our walk with Him, we’d be wise to spend time studying and memorizing Scripture. By knowing His Word, we are equipped for whatever happens in life. In In Matthew 4, Satan tried to get Jesus to sin, but Jesus responds with Scripture. When Satan quotes Scripture, Jesus responds with another quote from Scripture. In each temptation, Jesus responds with God’s Word. Jesus shows us how we also should respond to temptations.
If it was important for Jesus to know the Scriptures, it must be very important for us, too. It’s our “owner’s manual” that will show us how to live this life in a way that honors and pleases God.
Why not start by reviewing or memorizing the key chain verses?
2 Timothy 3:16
1 Timothy 4:12
“Servant to Salvation”
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them…I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (9.19; 22-23).
I like to be liked. People-pleasing satisfies the craving for community and yet becomes burdensome when the expectations exceed capacities. Paul writes about finding freedom from all people while still having the desire to serve all people. Too often I use gospel service as a cover for unhealthy relational practices. I’ve heard other Christ-followers do it as well…
“Oh, I’m just becoming all things to all people…”
Translated, “I can’t bear another relationship/program/activity in my life but I feel obligated because I’m a Christian.”
Or, “I’m just trying to win more people for Jesus…”
Translated, “If I don’t get someone in the baptistery soon I’m afraid I’ll lose my credibility, status, and maybe even my salvation.”
I know that these are extreme translations and probably aren’t things that you feel. But, if we aren’t careful, we turn our propensities for people pleasing and performance into unhealthy practices — we “befriend” someone with a hidden conversion agenda; or maybe we say “yes” to something because it’s “Spiritual” rather than saying “no” because we are “Spirit-led.”
I want the freedom from people that Paul describes so that I have the heart orientation for people that Paul demonstrates. Only when we are free from our need to please everyone can we become a servant to anyone. Only when our heart’s desire is to “share with them in blessings” are we truly working “for the sake of the gospel.”
I’m doing a relational inventory this week to discern my heart motives behind my relationships. Is it people pleasing and performance that drives me, or an earnest desire to serve people based on the richness of shared gospel blessings?
My prayer for us is the latter.