Three Reasons God Loves You

2889222240_29f8e6c12e_zMost Christians have a hard time believing that God loves them. I know I do.

Reasons for this are likely many, and they tend to change depending on our circumstances. Sometimes we struggle believing that God loves us because of bad teaching. Sometimes we can’t accept that God loves us because of a heart-wrenching accident that happened to us or someone we love. And sometimes our fleshly pride tells us that we are simply unlovable.

Whatever the reason, Scripture teaches us to know, believe, and feel that God loves us. Here are three reasons that you can use to fight when doubt assails you..

  1.  God Loves You Because He Created You

In the first pages of Scripture we learn that God is a creator God. He created the sun, the moon, the stars, the sea and everything in it, and the dry land and everything on it. But he only created men and women in his image (Genesis 1:27). Being created in God’s image means that men and women have the unique capacity and responsibility to represent, resemble, and reflect God in the world.

Everything God created on the first six days of creation he pronounced “good”; when God created man and woman, he was extra pleased with what he had done and said his work was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). God providentially cares for and loves all of his creation, but he has special regard for humankind.

  1. God Loves You Because He Redeemed You

Whenever you doubt whether or not God loves you call to mind Ephesians 5:25, which says: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. Call to mind the fact that Christ came to die on your behalf. He chose you. He gave himself up for you. He bore the punishment you deserved.

Paul similarly says in Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Besides affirming God’s love for us by pointing to the cross , Paul removes any reason for boasting. He didn’t love us and die for us because we were the best of the best. He chose us in spite of ourselves, when we were his enemies. In the shadow of the cross there is no room for boasting and no room for denying we are loved.

  1. God Loves You Because You Obey

Obedience is not just something tacked on to the Christian life, it is a part of what it means to follow Jesus (John 14:15). And based on our obedience we can either be in God’s love or, in some sense, outside of it. Jesus says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10)

D. A. Carson explains how this works for the Christian,

“God’s discipline of his children means that he may turn upon us with the divine equivalent of the ‘wrath’ of a parent on a wayward teenager” (The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, 24).

Jesus isn’t saying our disobedience means we are no longer Christians. No, our disobedience means that God will act towards us in a way that a parent might act toward a son or daughter who has broken a rule—he disciplines in order to bring us back into conformity to God’s will and into his love.

The world, the devil, and our sin all conspire against us to make us doubt the fact that God loves us. This unholy trinity wants us to feel worthless, unloved, and unwanted. But God has not left us in the dark about his love. We can know God loves us because he is our good creator; we can know he loves us because he is our savior; and we can know he loves us because we are his disciples who follow his commands.

Image: Broken Wing Productions

 

 

Faithful in Little, But How?

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Jesus says in Luke 16:10: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”

The core question when it comes to this verse is: “What does it mean to be faithful?”

Being faithful requires three elements :

  1. Knowledge of what is required.
  2. A belief that God has called you to do a certain task and it is for your good.
  3. Obedient actions that correspond with the knowledge and trust that God has given you.

(Prayer must cover each of these steps. We should pray that God would reveal to our minds what he requires to us. We should pray that God would awaken us the truth of his commands and the reality of the rewards that flow from obedience. And we should pray that his Spirit would empower us for obedience.)

Revelation 2:10 is a good example of all three elements being displayed. Jesus exhorts the church at Smyrna by saying,

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Being faithful in Revelation 2:10 requires the knowledge of (1) what it means to be faithful, (2) it means you have to trust that God is speaking through the letter and obedience is for your good, and (3) it requires actual obedience.

How this Works

Pursuing faithfulness takes intentional effort. It doesn’t come out of the blue one morning. If it is not pursued, it will not happen.

But how can we pursue being faithful? Here’s how I suggest going about being more faithful in reading Scripture.

  1. Knowledge: The road to faithfulness in reading Scripture begins with the knowledge—perhaps it is the knowledge that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17) and that we get no clearer picture of Christ than God’s revelation of him in the Scriptures. And our knowledge of how important faith is becomes clearer when we read in Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please him [God].” Faith is no secondary matter for the believer.
  2. Belief: It is one thing to understand that the Bible compels its readers to read the Scriptures regularly; it is another to believe it is indeed God giving the command and to know that it is for our good. This happens by meditating on God’s promises and by praying for God to open your eyes to believe his promises. Perhaps God would use this promise to stir your heart: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:106). After reading this verse you might pray: “God, help me believe this promise. Help me to believe that your word shows the way of life to me in a dark world.” And God meets you as you pray and you freshly see the importance of knowing and being shaped by God’s word.
  3. Obedience: The final step is moving from knowledge and believe to action. Perhaps it means setting your alarm 30 minutes earlier than you normally wake up, getting out of bed, and reading God’s word. As you shut off the alarm remember the promises that compelled you to set the alarm and let them fuel you to stay awake and study God’s word.

If you aren’t convinced that being faithful in the little things is a big deal, then hear what Jesus promises for those who are not faithful: “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:11-12). These are sobering words. Being faithful in little is a weighty task for the Christian. Don’t overlook it.

Image: Adam Dimmick

The Weight of Anxiety: Cast it on Him

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I was talking to my brother recently, telling him about some difficulties and stresses in my life—nothing life-threateningly intense, but frustrations and hardships nonetheless. After asking some questions and reassuring me, he simply encouraged me to cast those specific cares upon Jesus. He said something like this: “Joe, remember that when you are feeling anxious or burdened, simply cast that upon Jesus. Simply pray, ‘Lord, you know that I’m feeling anxious about this situation. Thank you that you care about me and this situation, and I cast it upon you.’”

After I got off the phone I began to think more about the verses that my brother mentioned. Before I share my thoughts, let’s get the whole text in front of us.1 Peter 5:6–7 says,

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

What hit me was that Peter is saying that we are not supposed to bear the anxiety, whatever it is, that we carry. We are supposed to give it up to God. We don’t have the strength to bear the load that our anxiety causes so God says: “Cast it on me, I can bear it on your behalf.”

God doesn’t want us to go it alone. He wants us to rely on Him. God doesn’t want us to anxiously worry about our problems. He wants us to rely on him for all things, big or small.

Our natural tendency is to go it alone. To try harder. To dig in our heels, grit our teeth, and by golly get it done. This tendency is sinful because it presumes that we can work on our own strength. When we work on our own strength, we glorify ourselves, but when we work by the strength that God supplies, we get the help we need and He gets the glory. And this is the way that God has designed the world to run. God wants Christians to be happily reliant on Him so He can help and is thereby glorified in our lives.

So if you are anxious today, cast your burden on Jesus. He cares for you! He wants to bear this burden on your behalf. He will help you if you come to him in faith. We don’t know what that help will look like, but he will help us when morning dawns (Psalm 46:5).

Image: Cole Richards

Seven Promises for the Weak

14781315543_3f5983e591_oDo you feel weak today? Do you feel inadequate for the day’s task? Do you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities? Do you feel unable to face the suffering that is afflicting you?

We can feel weak for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we feel weak because of our finitude—we have real limits and life demands from us more than we can give— and sometimes we feel weak because of our fallenness—our sin causes us to damage ourselves and our relationships.

And to make matters worse, life’s pressures usually don’t just hit in one area. Often they come in waves. Our car breaks down after we find out we have a water leak in our home but right before we have an argument with a friend.

So if you feel weak today, take heart. God promises to help those who are in need and look to him. Here are seven precious promises to call to mind when you feel weak.

  1. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

We have the need, but Jesus has the riches of glory from which he promises to supply all that we need. Paul isn’t saying that God will provide everything we want or think we need; he is saying that he will supply everything that we need. God knows all of our needs and we can trust him to fulfill every one of them—large or small.

  1. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32

Paul’s logic goes like this: Because God has removed our greatest obstacle through his Son—our sin—then God will graciously give us all the things we need to make it safely home. Everything. So even when it feels like the world is crashing around you and life is out of control, we can look to the cross and have hope for the future. Look at what God has already done for you in Christ. He is not finished working in your life, and he will not stop bringing you good.

  1. As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! Psalm 40:11

There are two precious promises in this verse. First, God promises he will not restrain his mercy to us. Or put positively, God promises he will lavish his mercy on us. We can look to the future knowing that it is going to be a mercy-soaked future. Second, we can look to the future knowing that God is going to preserve us. This promise fits an essential need each one of us has because we would all perish if left to ourselves.

  1. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

There are a lot of superlatives in this verse. Paul says “all” or “every” four times in this short verse! If you don’t feel up to the task that God has called you to, meditate and pray on this verse. We are not able to do on our own strength any task that God calls us to, so he calls us to look to the one who has all sufficiency to help us in the time of need.

  1. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Do you really believe that God is working all things in your life for your good? This promise is unflinching in its scope. The only place where this promise is limited is when it says that it is only for those who are effectually called by God. This promise covers everything that happens to the Christian. And so for whatever suffering you are facing, it means that God will weave this dark thread in a beautiful tapestry so when you look back at your life you can whole heartedly give thanks to God for that dark season. For many this will likely only happen after we die, but many times God lets us get a glimpse of what he is doing in this life.

  1. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Psalm 46:1-3

Where do you go when trouble comes? Food? TV? Alcohol? There are a lot of places we run to when we are in trouble, but there is only one place to go where we don’t need to fear no matter the trouble. God promises to help. God promises to be our refuge in times of trouble. Only when he is our refuge do we not need to fear.

  1. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:29

Remember, Christian, what God is doing through your suffering. When you are weak it is easy to be tempted to despair and lose perspective on life. Remember that God is using the pain and suffering that you are experiencing to shape your thoughts, emotions, and actions to become more and more like Jesus Christ. This is a project that cannot fail.

Image: Andreas Krappweis

The Origins of Neo-Evangelicalism

OckengaHarold Oceknga is a name that is all but forgotten—both in the world at large and in modern Evangelicalism. There is some reason his memory has passed from our collective memory because he was born in 1905 and passed away in 1985. In order to understand modern Evangelicalism—both its more conservative and liberal wing—it is necessary to know how we got here, and Harold Ockenga’s role in our history.

Ockenga helped found organizations such as Fuller Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and the National Association of Evangelicals. Through these efforts, and others, Ockenga became a part of a group of leaders who began a movement known as “Neo-Evangelicalism.”

Fundamentalism and Neo-Evangelicalism

Neo-evangelicalism came out of a movement known as fundamentalism in the 1940s. Before then those who found themselves in either the fundamentalist or evangelical camp were both fundamentalists. These were people who reacted against the 20th century modernist movement that denied the supernatural elements of Christianity.

What separated neo-evangelicalism from fundamentalism was, at least at first, not doctrinal disputes. They were united in the fundamentals of the faith: the virgin birth, the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus, and the inerrancy of Scripture. Ockenga, in the 1947 convocation address at Fuller Seminary, attacked the doctrine of separatism (the tendency of fundamentalists to separate fellowship with corrupt denominations) when he said,  “Now there are those who exist in the world simply it seems to attack others, and to derogate others, and to drag them down, and to besmirch them. Our men [the men of Fuller Seminary and likely the neo-evangelicals broadly] will have no time for that kind of negativism” (Reforming Fundamentalism, 65).

Elsewhere in the convocation Ockenga further separates neo-evangelicalism from fundamentalism: “we do not believe and we repudiate the ‘come-out-ism’ movement” (Reforming Fundamentalism, 64). George Marsden comments on this repudiation: “Here was a direct attack on the McIntire camp in its insistence that separatism was basic to fundamentalism” (Reforming Fundamentalism, 64).

The Background for the Divide

But why did Ockenga choose to separate from fundamentalism? Besides truly thinking fundamentalists separated too quickly from those they disagreed with, Ockenga was also feeling pressure from the liberal-leaning PCUSA. Ockenga was a member of the Presbytery of Pittsburgh at the time, and the Presbytery of Los Angeles was threatening his membership because he did not have permission to minister in the bounds of the Presbytery of Los Angeles. This threatened Ockenga’s Presbyterian ordination. And this same situation was also happening at the same time for several of Fuller’s other faculty members.

Perhaps the biggest trouble that Ockenga faced was that the Presbytery of Los Angeles had voted not to allow its members to attend Fuller Seminary because of the hostilities that had arisen between themselves and Fuller. This means, as Marsden puts it, “that Presbyterian students from southern California who attended Fuller would pay the price of losing their presbytery’s support as well as closing out future local prospects” (Reforming Fundamentalism, 64).

With conflict brewing on his left, Ockenga sought to lessen the heat by causing another conflict on his right—with fundamentalism. Hence, according to Marsden, Ockenga’s attack on and separation from fundamentalism in the 1947 convocation address.

A Light on a Hill

Commenting on these events at Fuller Seminary, Marsden sees a pattern that continued at least through Fuller’s early decades, and, very likely, is still happening in evangelicalism today:

A pattern was now set that would continue through Fuller Seminary’s first several decades. The school would aspire to be a force for renewal and broadening of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. The seminary was, in a sense, like the original American Puritan experiment, meant to be a light on a hill (this time in the new world of California), a beacon signaling a new stage in world civilization. Yet the ideological hill on which the seminary was situated had long, steep slopes and deep valleys on the other side. One of the valleys was inhabited by strict fundamentalists, the other by Protestant liberals. The seminary faced in two directions at once, but to residents of either valley it appeared somewhat alien (Reforming Fundamentalism, 67).

Evangelicalism Today

Evangelicalism today is made up of a broad coalition of denominations, ministries, and influential leaders. To change Marsden’s light on a hill analogy, the liberal denominations are on the far theological left while fundamentalism still occupies the conservative right, and evangelicals still occupy the middle space in between these poles. Along this spectrum some liberal-leaning evangelicals are closer to the liberal denominations while others are closer to the fundamentalists. Modern flash points are homosexual “marriage,” the inerrancy of Scripture, and the role women in ministry.

A large part of the difficulty in many of these debates is that evangelicalism, unlike Catholicism, does not have an authority structure. Therefore, as Marsden points out, popular opinion rules (Reforming Fundamentalism, 291).

If you want to hear smarter folks than me opine on this subject, check out this podcast over at Mere Orthodoxy.

Mysterious (Covenantal) Math

6838497891_8030888a12_zIs sanctification fundamentally a work of God or something man does? Or is it a combination?

Scholars often go to Philippians 2:12–13 in order to answer this question. Paul writes,

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Richard Gaffin keys in on the phrase, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. He argues:

Here is what may be fairly called a synergy, but it is not that of a divine-human partnership, in the sense of a cooperative enterprise with each side making its own contribution. It is not a 50/50 undertaking (nor even 99.44 percent God and 0.56 percent ourselves). Involved here is, as it could be put,  the ‘mysterious math’ of God’s covenant, of the relationship, restored in Christ, between the Creator and his image-bearing creature, whereby 100% + 100% = 100%. Sanctification is 100 percent the work of God and, just for that reason, it is to engage 100 percent of the activity of the believer (By Faith, Not By Sight, 83).

Before you brush Gaffin off as nonsensical, remember: this is not the only place where 100% + 100% = 100%. This is true in marriage when two people become one flesh. Similarly, Christ is one person but has two natures, and light is both a wave and a photon. So Gaffin’s “mysterious math” has close parallels in other covenantal contexts.

Gaffin explains the logic of Philippians 2:12–13.

Here the imperative, sweeping in its scope, comes first: you, the church, are to continue working out your salvation with fear and trembling, fully devoted and engaged. Then, equally sweeping, the indicative follows: God is at work in you, both to will and to work what pleases him” (By Faith, Not By Sight, 83).

The indicative provides the basis for the imperative. God’s work is what enables our work. The order of who is working cannot be reversed. Both are essential, but God’s work enables us to work.

And what an encouraging thought that is!

God hasn’t left us alone and merely commanded us to work out our salvation. He doesn’t say, “Just do it.” He doesn’t say, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” He doesn’t say, “Work out your salvation because you contain in yourself all that you already need to do it.”

No. God knows that if left to ourselves, we would fail miserably.

That is why this “mysterious math” is so precious. He is working in you if you are in Christ. And his working in us is effective. It is what fuels our fight for joy. It is what our putting to death the deeds of the body. And his working is going to be effective in bringing us safely home.

Image: Samantha Stock

When Evil Dug its Own Grave

When you’re in the middle of intense suffering, it’s easy to lose your bearings.

Questions arise reflexively: Is God really in control? How can a good God allow so much pain? Is God good?

The pain that we feel can make it hard to even think straight. We need anchors that keep us tethered to the truth so we do not drift when we encounter suffering.

God Controls All Things, Including Evil

When you are experiencing pain, one might be tempted to let God off the hook by saying he is not in control. The problem is that God doesn’t need or want to be let off that hook. Scripture is clear regarding God’s sovereignty over all things:

Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9–10)

And Scripture is clear about God’s sovereignty over evil. “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6). And Isaiah 45:7 says, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

The Christian faith is not a dualistic yin and yang in which God and Satan are fighting it out evenly matched, uncertain who will win. No, Satan is a creature. He does not have power in and of himself, and he and all his works exist under God’s power and purposes. Even though evil may seem random in its irrationality, and feel like it might be out of God’s control, God does not let us take him “off the hook” over who is ultimately in control. God’s sovereignty extends over all things, including evil.

God’s sovereignty over evil does not destroy our moral responsibility for the evil we commit. We are responsible for our actions, and God is sovereign over them. The analogy of God as an author is helpful in explaining how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility relate, as Joe Rigney summarizes, “God is an Author. The World is his story. We are his characters” (“Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil”).

God Is Good in All He Does

So if God is sovereign over evil, does this mean that he is not good? This is a pressing question given the fact that immense human suffering is happening around the world. As we all know, this is not a hypothetical question for most of us, but intensely personal.

Scripture clearly says that God is perfect in all he does: “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). And Jesus says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Scripture affirms God’s goodness in the midst of a broken world. At the same time, it doesn’t turn a blind eye to the evilness of evil. It also affirms God’s sovereignty over all things, including evil and God’s goodness in all that he does.

Our Supreme Champion

It’s no wonder that many argue that the problem of evil is a mystery. And rightly so. There is much we do not and cannot know. Paul writes, “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!” (Romans 11:33).

Yet evil does not have the final word. In fact, God has made evil dig its own grave. Henri Blocher explains,

Read the rest here.