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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Inexplicable Love of God

  It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deut 7:7-8)

We live in a merit-based society.  Our kids are graded for their schoolwork and they are rewarded for achievement in various extra-curricular activities.  Likewise, adults are reviewed at work and receive promotions and raises based upon their performance.  If we are rewarded at work, we want to know why - “what am I doing right?”  If we are demoted, we want to know why - “what am I doing wrong?”  Even in relationships, whether consciously or unconsciously, verbally or non-verbally, we are constantly seeking, receiving, and giving feedback regarding our mutual satisfaction.  We want to know how we are doing.

But there is one relationship that is completely devoid of any merit, one relationship that is truly unconditional.  Clearly, that relationship is our union with the Lord.  Many people, when confronted with the doctrine of election, want to know why God chooses those He chooses.  Why does God set His love on certain people?  We want to know what it is in us that causes Him to either choose us or to allow us to go our own way.

Deuteronomy 7:7-8 records God’s explanation of why He set His love on Israel to the exclusion of all other people on the earth.  It was not that there was anything inherently desirable about Israel.  On the contrary, it is noted that Israel was the fewest of any nation on the earth.  For that reason, it could be said that God’s love for Israel was not a because-of love, but an in-spite-of love.  The text indicates that God set His love on Israel…because He set His love on Israel.  In other words, it is not something in Israel that caused God to choose him but rather something in God. 

God’s electing love for Israel is a model for understanding His electing love for the church.  Like  Israel, there was nothing inherently desirable in any of us that moved God to choose to redeem us through Christ.  Rather, there were countless reasons to let us - rebel sinners, every one - be damned for all eternity.  In spite of us, not because of us, God set His electing love on us and sent His Son to bring us to Him and to bestow upon us all the blessings in the heavenly places.

The greatest blessing in existence - adoption into the family of God with all the blessings that that entails - is bestowed purely based upon the gracious, loving choice of God.  It is unmerited by us.  We didn’t earn it and never could. 

Consider the relief that this in-spite-of love should mean to us.  There is nothing that we can do to make God love us more.  There is nothing that we can do to make God love us less.  His love for us is founded in His own being.  This enables us to love and serve Him freely without any fear that we will be accepted or rejected based upon our performance.

This knowledge also eliminates pride.  We are no more deserving of God’s love than any other rebel sinners.  Our salvation is all of grace.  The gospel of God’s electing love should drive us away from self-esteem and toward Christ-esteem.

Questions for reflection:
1. Are you seeking to earn God’s love?  How and in what area of life?
2. If you have children, is your love for them a good analogy for God’s love for His children?  Why or why not?
3. How does the knowledge of God’s unconditional love help you to recover from a recent fall into sin?
4. What greater demonstration of love is there than that One would give His Son to save those who hate Him?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Psalm 119:64

The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statutes! (Psa 119:64)

The vastness of the earth makes this statement astounding. It is hard for the average person to comprehend the size of the earth. It’s hard to even comprehend the size of one of the earth’s oceans. The Atlantic Ocean has a volume of 80 million cubic miles. If you could build an enormous box one mile high, by one mile wide, by one mile long, you would need 80 million of these boxes to have enough space to pour out the Atlantic Ocean. And the Atlantic is not even the largest ocean in the world - it makes up only 20% of the world’s surface!

It isn’t much easier to comprehend the size of the earth’s landmasses. We could say that relative to the entire human population, the earth is oversized. Did you know that if every person on the planet moved to Texas, there would be enough room for everyone to have 1,000 square feet of space to themselves? The earth is so large that all humanity could live in one U.S. state, leaving the rest of the planet completely uninhabited.

All of this is to say that to fill the earth with anything would be a gargantuan task. Yet, the psalmist testifies that God does this with His love. How unimaginably vast is the love of God!

But the psalmist’s statement is not merely a description of the awesome size of God’s love, but also of its power. We make a mistake if we consider the love of God to be a passive substance like water or space. The love of God is not just a thing that exists or takes up space. The love of God acts and accomplishes. It is God’s love that preserves us (Psa 40:11). It is God’s love that feeds all His creation (Psa 136:25). Every act of providence and sustenance is fueled by His love (Psa 136). The whole earth bears the fingerprint of God’s providential care.

The knowledge that the earth is filled with the love of God - what does it compel you to do? It compelled the psalmist to know God more. And where can He be known more fully than in the Scriptures? As vast as is the earth’s testimony to the love and character of God, it pails in comparison to the fullness of the testimony of the Word. Thus, the psalmist prays, teach me your statutes!

It is the law of God specifically that calls to the psalmist. We might find this difficult to understand. How could the “do’s and don’ts” of Scripture testify of God’s love? Well, the law reveals the holy character of God. It also reveals the pain and difficulty that this loving God would spare us. The law warns us of that which would harm us.

Most importantly, the law exposes our need for a Savior. None of us are capable of keeping the law perfectly and we have all violated it innumerable times. We need someone to fulfill the law for us and to save us from the penalty of breaking it. Remember that Paul refers to the law as a “tutor to lead us to Christ” (Gal 3:24).

May reflection on the vastness of God’s love call us to seek to know Him more deeply by learning His holy law.

Questions for reflection:
1) How is God’s love revealed in the creation around you?
2) If His love fills the earth, where can you go to hide from it?
3) What can separate us from the love of Christ? (Rom 8:38-39)
4) The knowledge that the earth is filled with God’s love - what does it compel you to do?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Killing Sin Habits

Most believers struggling with habitual sin can affirm that there is a regular pattern or cycle to their behavior. You are tempted to sin and you struggle against the temptation for a short while, but eventually you begin to rationalize giving in. Once you have surrendered to the temptation and the sin is committed, you experience a brief moment of pleasure or relief, but it is shortly followed by sorrow & shame. Eventually you confess your sin to God and pray fervently for His help to overcome it…but it is not long before you find yourself back in the place of temptation and the cycle starts all over again.  You pray, read the Bible, and memorize Scripture, but lasting change never comes.
It’s common to wonder at some point, “why can’t I overcome this? Why isn’t anything working?”  Some of us eventually just give up and stop trying.
If you are struggling with a particular sin habit, there is a great book out there that you might find very helpful.  Killing Sin Habits: Conquering Sin with Radical Faith by Stuart & Zondra Scott is a great resource for applying biblical principles to the fight against sin.
The book is founded on a strong, biblical understanding of how the repeating pattern of sin works and what is usually missing in our attempts to combat it. Most believers simply do not know how to employ God’s resources to kill sin and grow in righteousness. This book explains it. It has to be one of the clearest and easiest to use books on sanctification that I have ever read.  
There are three things that I like the most about this book. First, it is well balanced. That is, it strikes a great balance between the respective roles of God and man in sanctification. It is neither “let go and let God” nor “buck up and do this thing!” 
Second, it is practical. I have always found it frustrating to be told to “walk in the Spirit” without being told how! This book will not leave you with vague spiritual imperatives, but will describe exactly what to do in combating your sin.
Third, it is versatile. The book is not written to address any one sin or category of sins. Whether you are struggling with sexual temptation, gluttony, gossip, bitterness, anxiety, or impatience, the principles taught here can be easily applied.
The truths taught in this book have made the difference in the lives of real people.  The authors share in the preface:
“The majority of what you are about to read has been used in intense counseling situations. Writing this book has brought to mind several special individuals who were once enslaved to serious life-dominating sins. Now they walk in freedom, enjoying restored or new relationships and glorifying God with their lives. It has been a great blessing to have a front row seat in witnessing the sufficiency of God and His truths transform these dear people.”
Killing Sin Habits presents truths that are indispensable in the pursuit of holiness. Of all the things on which we could spend our time and resources, there could be nothing more beneficial than investigating these truths and applying them to our lives. I highly recommend this book.