…in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:16-17)
True love doesn’t start with us—it starts with God. God doesn’t love us because we’re loveable, or deserving, or especially worthwhile. He loves us because he is love. He loves us despite who we are and what we’re like. He loves us at great personal cost. God’s love is passionate—it shows itself in the passion of the Christ, on Good Friday, with Jesus taking the punishment of death in my place.
We won’t always feel loved by God. Sometimes our circumstances will cause us to doubt or question the love of God.
- It’s hard to believe that God loves us when we are experiencing pain and loss.
- We are tempted to believe that if God really loved us then things would always go well for us.
- It’s impossible to feel the touch of God’s love when he seems so far away and disinterested.
- It feels silly to speak of God being loving when there is so much tragedy and suffering in the world.
- Saying ‘God loves me’ sounds so empty and powerless.
- Who am I to say whether God loves me or not?
It’s all too easy to judge God based on our experiences. And it’s all too dangerous! God doesn’t have to meet my expectations, as though I know more about love than him. I have no right to stipulate the criteria for assessing whether or not God is loving.
External circumstances can always be understood from different perspectives. If it rains heavily then one person will thank God for saving his crops, while another blames God for ruining her holiday. Does this mean that God is loving to one and not to the other?
Don’t be tossed around by your heart, or your head, or the things that happen around you. There is clear, objective, defining, unchanging, historical, and eternal evidence for the love of God.
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Know that evidence and keep returning to it. Rely on God’s own word of truth when it comes to assessing his love. Remember…
This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
(1 John 4:9-10)
Do you know what it is to be loved by God? Have you experienced the love of God? I’m not asking whether you’ve had goosebumps or a mystical encounter. I’m asking have you put your trust in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, for the forgiveness of your sin against God? Have you received a divine pardon? Then you know what love is!
If you’d like to know more about the love of God, then please ask me, and I will be only too happy to share what I know.
This morning I had an echocardiogram. Don’t know what that is? Neither did I until this morning. It’s basically an ultrasound of the heart. This is one of a number of health checks I’ve had in recent months. Since it’s six years since I was diagnosed with cancer, and two years since I’ve had chemo, and since we’re planning on moving cities, we thought it wise to book in for a major service or two. So far, I’ve had the cameras in both ends and seen some of the damage chemo has left behind. I’ve managed to take on another ‘C’ disease—well developed coeliac. So we’ve had a pantry purge and I’ve started to become one of those difficult people who is always asking what’s in the food I’ve been given. I’ve had lung function tests and discovered that despite the beating my lungs have taken I’m sitting on the low end of average for a bloke my age. My bone density has been checked and I’m osteopaenic. Don’t know that word either? Well, it’s much better than osteoporosis and osteopathetic. I’ve even spoken to my first specialist, a lung physician, who was willing to explore another ‘C’ word—cure. I liked the sound of that one, but we can’t ever know for sure.
Back to the echocardiogram. They were checking the health of my heart. Occasional atrial fibrillation or arrhythmia. I’ve had it a few times over the years and I’ve usually been able to explain it away. But then the heart is one organ to take seriously. It was behaving itself today, but there was something a little remarkable. The echo showed that my heart has become somewhat hardened. The muscle has thickened. Probable causes are high blood pressure and insufficient exercise. Yes, I know what to do. More exercise, get the heart working a bit more. And slow down, relax, rest, recreate, de-stress. In other words, I mustn’t harden my heart any more than it is.
As I walked away from the cardiologist this morning, I remembered having heard something like this before:
12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said:
‘Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion.’
Hebrews 3:12-15 NIV
I need to pay attention to my heart. This muscle is indispensable to my continued welfare and existence. I can’t do without it.
But, more importantly, I must also pay attention to my spiritual ‘heart’—the centre of my being, my values, my conscience, my choices, my priorities. God is calling me to listen to his voice. Not some mystical connection found in solitary introspection, but his message of good news focusing on Jesus. The good news is that Jesus is the only one to live for, the one who deserves everything, including my complete allegiance. He has given his life for me, to rescue me from the futility and judgment that comes from living for myself.
When God reminds me of this fact, I mustn’t harden my heart against him. When my will aches for independence, when I simply want to do my own thing, when I’m tempted to despair, when I’m feeling that God is remote or irrelevant, then I mustn’t harden my heart. When the world around me is shouting that there is no God, and when consumerism keeps luring me to live myself, then I must listen to the true word of God. The voice that reminds me that my heart will never be satisfied until it finds its rest in God.
And I urge you too to listen to God. Take a look at your spiritual echocardiogram, get your spiritual heart checked, while you still can. Good heart health is smart and spiritual heart health matters even more.
I miss Chappo! Yesterday I saw someone reading one of his books and I felt a pang of grief. He was so good to talk with, to chat to about real stuff. He’d always keep pointing me to Jesus. He loved Jesus and wanted nothing more than for others to love him too. Chappo might not be here—that’s because he is now with the risen Jesus—but I still have his books. My favourite is A Fresh Start. It’s clear, fun, engaging, serious, Biblical, and helpful, all rolled into one. It’s a great explanation of what a Christian is and how you can become one.
It got me thinking that we could do with some more books like A Fresh Start. It’s a while since I’ve read a simple and engaging book that explains the significance of Jesus and calls people to respond.
Last night, Good Friday, I sat down with my Kindle and thumbed through the books that I’d bought cheaply, but hadn’t got around to reading. Colin S. Smith’s book, Heaven, how I got here caught my eye. I decided to take a look, hoping it wasn’t another of those ‘heaven tourism’ books. My Kindle told me that it would take about an hour to complete. Just what I needed before I went to bed.
Heaven, how I got here tells the story of the thief on the cross from the thief’s perspective. Of course, we only have a brief glimpse of this man in the Scriptures and only a few of his words are recorded, so there is much that has to be ‘imagined’ in this account. However, I would describe Smith’s narrative as a ‘Biblically informed imagination’. The author draws all his important insights from the Scriptures themselves. Profoundly important theological insights are ascribed to the dying thief as he reflects on the significance of the innocent Jesus, dying at his side.
Why has he be condemned if he is innocent? How can God allow him to hang on the cross if he is the promised Christ? Smith highlights one reality that I’d only ever glossed over—that Jesus died before this man. He watched as Jesus died. He had time (albeit agonisingly brief) to reflect on what Jesus had said and done. The thief heard the taunts and attacks thrown at Jesus. He saw close up the injustice and horror. He witnessed the devastating words of Jesus, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” and his final cry “It is finished.” He experienced the total darkness in the middle of the day, the shudder of the earthquake, and the acclamation of the centurion, “Surely this man was the son of God.”
This book is tonic to those for whom the cross has become mundane. It brings us in, close and personal. We can almost hear and touch and see and smell the events as they unfold. But the real strength of this book lies not in reminding us of the horrors of crucifixion. It lies in the awesome significance of what Jesus achieved, not only for the thief, but for you and for me. Heaven, how I got here is good news to all who think they have no hope of forgiveness and a challenge to any who think that it’s what they do that will get them there.
From time to time I get asked why Christians believe that the man of history, Jesus Christ, is believed to be divine. It’s one thing to believe that he is special and that he’s left his mark on history, but it’s another thing altogether to believe that Jesus is God. Sometimes people support there critiques by claiming that Jesus never said he was God, or that the Bible doesn’t actually describe Jesus as God. While it is true that you won’t a quotation of Jesus saying “I am God” in the Bible, this is not to say that Jesus and the Bible writers deny this. In fact, there is significant evidence to support the claim that Jesus is divine.
Divine functions performed by Jesus
In relation to the universe
- Creator (John 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2)
- Sustainer (1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:3)
- Author of life (John 1:4; Acts 3:15)
- Ruler (Matt 28:18; Rom 14:9; Rev 1:5)
In relation to human beings
- Healing the sick (Mark 1:32-34; Acts 3:6; 10:38)
- Teaching authoritatively (Mark 1:21-22; 13:31)
- Forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Col 3:13)
- Granting salvation (Acts 4:12; Rom 10:12-14)
- Dispensing the Spirit (Matt 3:11; Acts 2:17, 33)
- Raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:21; 6:40)
- Exercising judgment (Matt 25:31-46; John 5:19-29; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor 4:4-5)
Divine status claimed by or accorded to Jesus
In relation to his Father
- Having divine attributes (John 1:4; 10:30; 21:17; Eph 4:10; Col 1:19; 2:9)
- Eternally existent (John 1:1; 8:58; 12:41; 17:5; 1 Cor 10:4; Phil 2:6; Heb 11:26; 13:8; Jude 5)
- Equal in dignity (Matt 28:19; John 5:23; 2 Cor 13:14; Rev 22:13; cf. 21:6)
- Perfect revealer (John 1:9, 14; 6:32; 14:6; Rev 3:7, 14)
- Joint possessor of the kingdom (Eph 5:5; Rev 11:15), churches (Rom 16:16), Spirit (Rom 8:9; Phil 1:19), temple (Rev 21:22) divine name (Matt 28:19; cf. Rev 14:1), and throne (Rev 22:1, 3)
In relation to human beings
- Recipient of praise (Matt 21:15-16; Eph 5:19; 1 Tim. 1:12; Rev 5:8-14)
- Recipient of prayer (Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 9:10-17, 21; 22:16, 19; 1 Cor 1:2; 16:22; 2 Cor 12:8)
- Object of saving faith (John 14:1; Acts 10:43; 16:31; Rom 10:8-13)
- Object of worship (Matt 14:33; 28:9, 17; John 5:23; 20:28; Phil 2:10-11; Heb 1:6; Rev 5:8-12)
- Joint source of blessing (1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; 1 Thess 3:11; 2 Thes 2:16)
- Object of doxologies (2 Tim 4:18; 2 Pet 3:18; Rev 1:5-6; 5:13)
Old Testament passages referring to Yahweh applied to Jesus
- Character of Yahweh (Exod 3:14 and Isa 43:11 alluded to in John 8:58; Ps 102:27-28 quoted in Heb 1:11-12; Isa 44:6 alluded to in Rev 1:17)
- Holiness of Yahweh (Isa 8:12-13 [cf. 29:23] quoted in 1 Pet 3:14-15)
- Descriptions of Yahweh (Ezek 43:2 and Dan 10:5-6 alluded to in Rev 1:13-16)
- Worship of Yahweh (Isa 45:23 alluded to in Phil 2:10-11; Deut 32:43 and Ps 97:7 quoted in Heb 1:6)
- Work of Yahweh in creation (Ps 102:25 quoted in Heb 1:10)
- Salvation of Yahweh (Joel 2:32 quoted in Rom 10:13; cf. Acts 2:21; Isa 40:3 quoted in Matt 3:3)
- Trustworthiness of Yahweh (Isa 28:16 quoted in Rom 9:33; 10:11; 1 Pet 2:6)
- Judgment of Yahweh (Isa 6:10 alluded to in John 12:41; Isa 8:14 quoted in Rom 9:33 and I Pet 2:8)
- Triumph of Yahweh (Ps 68:18 quoted in Eph 4:8)
Divine titles claimed by or applied to Jesus
- Son of Man (Matt 16:28; 24:30; Mark 8:38; 14:62-64; Acts 7:56)
- Son of God (Matt 11:27; Mark 15:39; John 1:18; Rom 1:4; Gal 4:4; Heb 1:2)
- Messiah (Matt 16:16; Mark 14:61; John 20:31)
- Lord (Mark 12:35-37; John 20:28; Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 8:5-6; 12:3; 16:22; Phil 2:11; 1 Pet 2:3; 3:15)
- Alpha and Omega (Rev 22:13; cf. 1:8; 21:6, of the Lord God)
- God (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom 9:5; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:8; 2 Pet 1:1)
We’re not all natural readers, but my experience is that reading brings great reward. I struggle to read the great novels or works of fiction. But I’m a fan of sports biographies, and works on leadership, people, organisations, and new ways of thinking and doing. But hands down the most instructive, life-changing, and liberating book I’ve ever read—and continue to read is the Bible.
Apparently it takes less time to read than Game of Thrones and not all that much more than Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. And while these are great stories, the Bible is so much more. If you’ve never really dipped into the Bible, can I recommend you give it a shot. Grab a modern translation—replace the old King James with a New International Version or the Holman Christian Standard Bible—and give it a read. Maybe start in the second part, the New Testament, and discover the extraordinary account of Jesus. It’s a book of life and hope and, contrary to popular opinion, extraordinary relevance and applicability to life now.
If you’d like to read the Bible with someone else, this can make it easier and more fun. Let me know and I will see if I can arrange a reading buddy or even a reading group.
For those of you who have read the Bible—’have’ being the operative word—and want to dip into it again, here are a few suggested approaches to get you restarted.
- Read the whole Bible through in one year. A good option is to get a Bible reading plan and follow it. Such plans are available on line or on smart phone Bible apps.
- Listen to the Bible on your mp3 player as you travel to and from work, go on holidays, or exercise.
- Use some Bible study guide, such as those produced by Matthias Media, which help you through an entire book of the Bible. These provide some commentary and ask questions to assist your understanding and application of the passage.
- Get into a routine Monday to Friday that fits with work and other regularities. Don’t worry if the weekend doesn’t fit the routine – do something different on weekends.
- If you know another language then, after you have looked at the passage in English, read through it again in the other language. This with help you give more attention to the meaning.
- Read with a friend and discuss what you have learned. Or both of you read on your own and then make contact to discuss it together.
- Read the Bible out loud to yourself.
- Use Search the Scriptures – a three year Bible reading program. You can take this at whatever pace you desire. Maximum benefit is gained if you take the time to write your answers to the questions.
- Follow Don Carson’s For the Love of God to read the Bible over one to four years. Excellent commentary by Carson. Available free on the Gospel Coalition website.
- Keep a journal of what you have learned and intend to apply from your reading.
- Prepare for sermons and Bible studies by reading over the passages beforehand.
- Read a passage with a view to giving a very brief talk which explains it, illustrates it and applies it. Then you can talk to me about finding an opportunity to give it!
- Try the S.O.A.P. approach. Read or write out the passage of Scripture. Note your observations and questions of the text. Decide how you are going to apply what you’ve learned. Pray that God will give you understanding and enable you to put it into practice.
- ‘Manuscript Discovery’ is a term given to the study of the text of the Bible without chapters, verses, paragraphs or headings included. This means you have to do more work, with the result that you learn more. You can do this yourself simply by printing out the text of the Bible from Bible Gateway and removing all added numbers and headings.
- Commit verses to memory.
- Type out the entire Bible.
- Come up with your own ideas… share them with others
The first was a man I met through having cancer myself. We were both diagnosed with lung cancer in our forties. We were both concerned for our wives and children. And we both trusted in Jesus for a hope beyond the grave.
My friend’s funeral was a testimony to his faith in God and his hope in resurrection. While the funeral was distinctively Christian, I got the impression that many present did not share my friend’s convictions. I didn’t really know anyone there, having only briefly met his wife on one occasion, but my heart longed for people to know the truth that gave my friend hope that death was not the victor.
Yesterday I attended a family funeral. Fiona’s uncle had passed away after cancer had overrun his body. He left behind a loving wife and daughter, adoring grandchildren, extended family, and many friends. It was a privilege to share in his farewell. Fiona and I came away wishing that we had known him more closely. We heard tributes to a devoted husband and grandfather, a wonderful educator, a hard working farmer, a wise confidant, and much more. We were reminded that he placed his trust in Jesus until his final breaths and that he was confident of being united Jesus in the life ahead.
Ecclesiastes tells us that…
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart. (7:2)
This is so true. Funerals focus us deeply on what matters really matter. Both these funerals were times of grieving and tears, but they were not without hope—real hope. They were coloured by the confidence that all is not lost, cancer has not won, death is not the end, and there is an awesome future for all who hope in Christ.
I came away from both funerals wanting everyone to take personally the news that each man went to their death with a strong hope beyond cure. This is far more than wishful thinking, more than a positive outlook to lift everyone’s spirits—it’s a confident hope based on the resurrection of Jesus.