The Kingdom of God

Is the Kingdom of God here today or is it coming at the end of time?  The answer is “Yes”.  Both are true. The Kingdom of God will be fully realized at the end of time, but it is here today.  Too often we focus on the end and not on what God is doing today.  If we focus only on what Jesus has done for us, we then miss out on what the Holy Spirit is doing in us and through us.

In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) we learn to pray “Your kingdom come”.  The Kingdom of God is not just about being with Jesus someday with a new earth and heaven (Revelation 22:1-5), because God is reigning now (Psalm 93:1-2) though we may not always see it.  Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was here right now (Mark 1:15; Matthew 3:2).  The Kingdom of God is here today, because Jesus reigns in the hearts of all believers and through our witness the Kingdom of God is expanded. So when we pray “Your kingdom come”, we are asking that by his grace the Kingdom of God would be made known in our lives and the lives of others. God’s reign will be fully realized at the end of time.

The Kingdom of God comes to us when God saves us, forgives us, and calls us his own. But salvation is not just about forgiveness (Colossians 1:13-14).  Salvation is also about restoration and healing (Jeremiah 30:17; Isaiah 53:4-5) now.  Jesus paid the price for our sins (Romans 6:23; 1 Peter 1:18-19), but salvation is more than a legal transaction that brings us back to God. Salvation is also a way of life (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 2:24). Likewise, eternal life is not only something for us in the future (John 3:15-16), rather eternal life is something we have now (John 3:36).  Also we are not just saved from Hell (Matthew 25:46), but we are also saved to restoration, healing and wholeness (John 10:10; Colossians 2:9-10).

This restoration, healing, and wholeness allows us to become Kingdom Ambassadors for God (2 Corinthians 5:20), sharing the Good News of God’s love for us.  God has prepared good works for us to do (Ephesians 2:10)  so that people may glorify God the Father (Matthew 5:16).  Feeling overwhelmed!  No need to worry.  The Kingdom of God is all about Jesus and he with the Holy Spirit gives us the power to do those good deeds.  Jesus is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:1-11).  The juice that nourishes us flows from the vine to us, the branches, to produce good fruit.  We need to abide in him and let his grace transform our lives to produce good fruit that honors God.

Christianity is more than receiving  a “Get out of Hell Free Card” for the future. It really is all about restoring your relationship with God, and that is life changing right here and right now.

This post was inspired by a table in an article by Robin Dugall.

Advent: Jesus is Coming

Christmas Nativity

This is the season of the church year when we remember Jesus coming at Christmas; Jesus coming into our hearts; and Jesus coming at the end of time. The name of the season is called Advent, which means coming.  (For the secular world, December is the Christmas season with shopping and family gatherings.)  Advent is 4 Sundays long.  The traditional focus of the Sundays is on hope, peace, joy, and love (in that order for each Sunday).  

You can see progression in the Advent Wreath which has four candles surrounding the white Christmas candle in the center.  Three of the candles are purple and one, the Joy Candle is pink.  You light one more candle each week as one counts down the weeks to Christmas.  (The Joy Candle is week three.) There are also Advent Calendars where each day you open a door or flap for a message or a small gift as you count down the days until Christmas. (Advent Calendars have become popular in the secular world too with secular messages.)

The first Sunday is traditionally focused on hope.  We have a sure and certain hope found in Jesus. Out of love, 2000 years ago, Jesus came into this world to reconcile us with God (Romans 5:6-11). We are broken, because of our self-centered natures.  The world is broken, full of wrongs, because of us. Jesus paid the price for our freedom from sin, and began the process of righting the wrongs in this world.  Because of Jesus, we are made right before God and can be agents of change for the good of all.  And we look forward to when Jesus bodily returns. He will then set all things right.  That is the hope we have (1 Peter 1:3-5).

The second Sunday in Advent is on the theme of peace.  Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have peace with God (Romans 5:1).  We can live our lives confidently, knowing that we are his and he is working things out for our good.  I experience peace in the midst of many different circumstances of life because I know Jesus.  I cast my burdens on him, because I know he cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).  Because of him, I have peace with God and I can live in that peace.  When the problems and messiness of the world gets to us, we can rest in the fact that God has these situations in his control.  We are his and there is no need to worry.  We can have peace (Philippians 4:4-7).

The third Sunday is the Sunday of joy.  Joy is not happiness.  Happiness is connected to what is happening around us.  Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and is not influenced by circumstances.  Here is how Kay Warren defines joy:  “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.” This means we can rejoice even in our trials and sufferings (James 1:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It does not mean a happy face 24/7, but joy is the confidence that God is good and everything will work out. We look to Jesus for our joy. We have joy as we remember all God has done for us, that God is using these events for our good, and there is a full life today and a wonderful life that is waiting for us in heaven.

For the fourth Sunday the focus is on love.  It is because of God’s love for us that Jesus came, so that we might have life in him.  It is not because who we are and what we have done, rather it is totally about God’s love for us.  We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:7-19).  Jesus restored that relationship with God.  That is what Christmas is all about Jesus coming in love, so that we might be reconciled to God and have full and eternal life in him.

So as you celebrate Christmas, remember there is more to Christmas than just gifts, family, and food.  It is about God loving you so much that he came down and became a little baby so that he might restore this broken messed up world.  Jesus came for you so that you might have life in him (John 10:10-11).

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

Basic Discipleship

Bible with heart shadow

My church, Immanuel, recently went through the Red Letter Challenge (RLC).  The challenge is about basic discipleship.  So as Christians, saved by God, how do we live as followers of Jesus Christ?  What does it look like?  RLC gives us 5 Biblical principles for us to put into practice: Being, Forgiving, Serving, Giving, and Going.  These are based on the words of Jesus, the red letters of Jesus speaking as found in some Bibles.  Jesus at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) says doing his words is like building your house on a rock, and not doing them is like building your house on sand which means the house will collapse when the storms of life come (Matthew 7:24-27).  Doing his words gives your life a solid foundation. 

Being is a foundation principle. God wants you to be in a relationship with him.  How can we build that relationship?  God speaks to us through the words of Scripture (Psalm 119:105).  The words of Scripture were inspired by God and were written to God’s people then but for us today.  We respond in prayer with praise and thanksgiving (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), as well as sharing our concerns and requests (Philippians 4:4-7).  We worship together (Hebrews 10:23-25), remembering all God has done for us and supporting one another. Our doing flows out of who we are as people of God and who we become when we spend time with God.  God changes us.

Forgiving is needed in our broken world.  We are broken people who do wrong and hurt people.  We need God’s forgiveness (Romans 3:23). God has every right to punish us, but when we turn from the wrong we do, say, or even think, and turn to him, God forgives us (Acts 2:37-38). There is no sin too big for God to not forgive (1 Timothy 1:15-16). He empowers us to forgive others and bring reconciliation. Forgiveness is all about showing mercy and grace and realizing we are no better than those who offended or hurt us.  We forgive because God has forgiven us (Matthew 18:21-35).

Serving is a way we can share God’s love with those around us and point them to God (Matthew 5:16).  We do it because we love Jesus (John 14:15) and want to imitate him (Philippians 2:5-11; Ephesians 5:1-2).  As people of God, he has given us good deeds for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).  God loves everyone so the people we serve are people loved by God and are worthy of our love and service.  We put their needs ahead of our own.

Giving starts with us realizing all God has done for us (John 3:16). Everything we have really belongs to God (1 Chronicles 29:14). He has been very generous with us and for our benefit wants us to be generous to others (Acts 20:35).  Too often our possessions and money become idols (Matthew 6:24).  We put our security in them more than trusting God for his provision.  We should seek after the things of God and not worry about our needs but trust that God to provide (Matthew 6:32-33).

Going happens as we follow Jesus.  God chose us and saved us though we did not deserve it. He did it, because he loves us and wants us to be in a relationship with him.  He desires that for all people (1 Timothy 2:3-4), and he has given us the task of going forth to share the good news of God’s love and make disciples by teaching them all we know about God and the good he desires for us (Matthew 28:19-20). We can share the good news of how God loves us and has been good to us (Acts 1:8). We do not need to worry, God will give us the words (Matthew 10:19-20).

This post is inspired by the book, “Red Letter Challenge” by Zach Zehnder.

The Five Solas

The Five Solas or Solae of the Protestant Reformation summarize the Reformation beliefs that differed from the beliefs at that time.  Sola is Latin for alone. The five solas are “grace alone”, “faith alone”, “Scripture alone”, “Christ alone”, and “to the glory of God alone”. The funny thing is the Five Solas were not put together as a group until the 20th century. Some people only count three solas, but I find all five to be important core theological truths. These beliefs are central to my faith.

Sola Scriptura

“Scripture alone” says Scripture is the sole infallible source of authority for faith, doctrine, and practice.  It is the final authority from which other authorities derive their authority.  The 66 books of the Bible are God’s words (2 Peter 1:21), that tells us of God’s salvation for us (John 3:16) and how to live our lives to the glory of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Sola Gratia

“Grace alone” tells us by our own merit we can not save ourselves from the judgment and condemnation of God, because we are not righteous or good (Romans 3:10-12). But God, by his goodness and grace through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, restores us to a right relationship with him not because of anything we did but purely out of his mercy and grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is his gift to us (Romans 6:23).

Sola Fide

“Faith alone” reminds us that we are not saved by anything we do or by who we are, but it is through faith in God, who can justify us (Romans 4:4-5), that we are saved and are made righteous (Romans 5:8-9).

Solus Christus

“Christ alone” points us to Jesus as the only way (John 14:6) to be reconciled with God.  Salvation is found in no one else (Acts 4:23).  Jesus is at the center of the entire story of Scripture (Luke 24:27).

Soli Deo Gloria

“To the glory of God alone” because he is the one who has saved us (Titus 3:4-5).  Out of gratitude for his restoring us to himself and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we live our lives to his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

These five core beliefs help define my faith and the Christian faith of the Protestant Reformers, and yet many times we want to add or subtract from these core beliefs.  We want to put reason, culture, and/or tradition at the same level as Scripture so to water it down.  We want to make certain we have something to do for our salvation so we can feel good about ourselves, take credit, and/or feel better than those who do not have faith.  We want Christ to be not the all in all but rather to be only a piece of our lives.  We want him to be just a nice guy and not Lord and Savior.  We want to do our own thing and not to worry if the action glorifies God or not. In all these cases, we are taking the truth found in Scripture and changing it because we think we know better than what God’s Word says.  We do this because we are broken self-centered people.  So we need to take care and not let these five core beliefs be added to, subtracted from, or minimized. These five solas are essential to my faith.

God’s Holiness

Rays of light in a forest

When I think of God’s holiness, I think of his moral perfection (Matthew 5:48) and my sinful behavior (Romans 3:23), but there is more to God’s holiness than just his purity.  God’s goodness, his moral perfection, is definitely a big part of his holiness, but there is also his transcendence and his otherness that sets him apart and makes him holy.  He is the Creator of the Universe (Jeremiah 10:12).  He gives life (Acts 17:25).  He is totally unique (Jeremiah 10:6).  He is above and beyond all of us, above and beyond everything. He is incomparable (Psalm 89:6-8).  And God is changeless (Psalm 102:27). God is self-existent.  He has always existed (Genesis 21:33).  He is 100% independent.  He has no needs (Acts 17:25), so he is totally self-sufficient.  He is complete in himself.   He is without fault.  He is transcendent in all things. There is no one like him.  He is very different from us, and yet we are made in his image (Genesis 1:27). God is faithful, and there is no falsehood in him (Numbers 23:19).  We can trust his love and goodness (Psalm 145:8-9), and God is worthy of our worship and praise (Revelation 4:11).

This excellent Bible Project video on God’s holiness inspired me to write this post. (I would rather read, so I tend to avoid videos, but Bible Project videos are very well done.) Do watch the video! I am going to ruminate on what the video talked about.  The video starts out by comparing God’s holiness to the Sun as a metaphor. Our Sun is unique, the only star in our solar system.  It is powerful and its rays give life to us on Earth.  It is also dangerous.  If you get too close, you can burn up.  The same is true of God’s holiness.  God’s holiness can be dangerous too.  Because we are morally impure (i.e. sinners) we can not abide in the presence of God because he is so very good.  Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush illustrates this.  He was told to take off his sandals and not get too close (Exodus 3:1-6).  God’s holiness is intense. Moses never got to see God’s face.  He could only see God’s backside from a protected place (Exodus 33:18-23).  Another example is only once a year on the Day of Atonement could the High Priest enter the Holy of Holies, where God was in the Temple, and atone for the sins of the people by sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat..  Any other time was certain death (Leviticus 16:2). 

Besides us being morally impure, the Old Testament law designated several things that could make you ritually impure, things like menstruation, childbirth, nocturnal emissions, touching a corpse, certain types of skin diseases, and eating ritually unclean food. There was a lot that could make you ritually impure.  A ritually impure person was unable to worship in the Temple and had to be isolated (Numbers 5:1-4). Touching an unclean person or thing could make you ritually impure. There were a variety of ways to become ritually clean, varying from washing (Numbers 19:11-12) to sacrifice (Leviticus 15:25-30).  Leprosy is the skin disease I am most aware of in the Bible and it has a pretty serious procedure for one to be proclaimed clean (Leviticus 13).  These ritually impure things point out how God’s holiness is something to be taken seriously and that sin has corrupted us and broke the world. Our impurity (sin) must also be taken seriously.

When Isaiah had a vision of being in the presence of God, he cried out that he was done for, because of  his uncleanliness (Isaiah 6:5) , but he had his lips touched by a burning coal from the altar and he was cleansed of his sin (Isaiah 6:6-7).  God’s holiness went out with forgiveness and made him clean.  That was his commissioning as God’s prophet. Similarly, Ezekiel has this vision of water flowing from the Temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12).  It creates a river and brings life to the land with fish and fruit trees and more.  Here again we see God’s holiness going forth and restoring the brokenness of the world.

This all comes together with Jesus.  He was and is morally perfect,  the human embodiment of God’s holiness (John 6:68-69), because he is God.  Jesus went around and instead of becoming impure when touching a leper (Matthew 8:1-4) or a dead person (Matthew 9:23-26) or being touched by a woman with chronic bleeding (Matthew 9:20-22), he remained pure and instead brought healing and restoration to those in need.  The holiness flowed out from him to heal and restore.

By the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are God’s Temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and we have “rivers of living water” flowing from us (John 7:37-38).  We have the ability to heal and restore. That is our calling. We can be a part of the Lord’s business of reconciling the world to himself.  One day at the end of time, we will be totally free from sin, pure, and fully restored. Ezekiel’s vision of the River of God will then be fully realized (Revelation 22:1-2).

Let us praise God now for he is a mighty and holy God!

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100)

Do Justice

What does justice or injustice look like?  How do we live life so that we “do justice”  (Micah 6:8)?  I see Genesis 1:27 as being a foundation verse from which justice should flow.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  (Genesis 1:27)

We all have been created in the image of God, and that means everyone deserves dignity and respect.  There needs to be equal treatment for all. Whether you are rich or poor, the Lord is the Maker of them all (Proverbs 22:2).  Justice is for all.  This means there is no place for bias, partiality, or bribery (Deuteronomy 16:19).  The same laws apply to all, whether immigrant or native (Leviticus 24:22).  People, regardless of race, class, gender, ability, and behavior, must be treated equally with fairness and respect.  Justice means there is equal treatment for all.

Justice also is about being generous.  The Bible is very clear that private property exists.  We own, create, and produce stuff that is ours.  It is clear that we should not steal (Exodus 20:15), and that includes kidnapping, stealing of a person (Exodus 21:16).  And yet at the same time God reminds us that reality is that we really own nothing. We are only stewards of what God has given us. He is the real owner (Deuteronomy 10:14). Even our abilities are a gift from him (Deuteronomy 8:17-18a).  In Israelite society, the farmer was required to leave some of the crop for the poor to be able to glean (Leviticus 19:9-10). This allowed those lacking to be able to eat.  Also debts were forgiven every seven years (Deuteronomy 15:1-2), so that no one would be in a situation they could not recover from.  The principles derived from these passages lead not to strict socialism, and they are also not laissez-faire capitalism.  Either extreme is not Biblical. God calls us to be generous with what he has given us.

Doing justice, also means being an advocate for those without power. The wealthy have the power and money to take care of themselves.  The poor, the needy, the destitute, and the oppressed need us to advocate for them and defend their rights (Proverbs 31:8-9). They too were created in the image of God and need to be given dignity and respect. Back in Zechariah’s day, God said:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”  (Zechariah 7:9-10)

Who are the oppressed today?   How can we stand up for them and defend their rights?

So how does injustice happen? It can happen in two ways, directly and indirectly.  If I am robbed, injustice to me has directly happened.  And there can be socially institutionalized ways of life that promote sin, and/or favor the rich and powerful allowing the poor and the disadvantaged to suffer injustice. We may not directly be involved in those sins, and yet we may be complicit and responsible as a society. God can hold and has held families, groups, and nations corporately responsible for sins that others committed in the past.   The consequences of those sins can linger for generations.  There is a corporate responsibility for injustice that lingers.  Daniel repented for the sins of his ancestors (Daniel 9:3-19) even though it is likely that he was not directly guilty of those sins.  In Amos, God pronounces judgment for the past sins of the surrounding nations (Amos 1), as well as the sins of Judah and Israel (Amos 2).  Those nations bore the responsibility and all in those nations suffered the consequences. What are those national sins today? What consequences of past national sins still linger today?  What past and present national sins do we need to repent of?  How do we do justice and work to make things right?  In America, racism is still affecting Americans of all colors. It is one old national sin that continues to produce consequences that still needs to be dealt with.

So we need to treat all people equally because we all are made in the image of God.  This can be done by being generous to those in need.  That includes standing up for the powerless and oppressed, and helping them get by in today’s society.  And it also means taking responsibility for past national sins and working to make things right. Let us do justice.

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.  (Deuteronomy 10:17-20)

This was inspired by a section in Timothy Keller’s book, “Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter”.  Timothy Keller also has a book on how God’s grace empowers us to be gracious, generous, and just.  It is called “Generous Justice” and is also an excellent and inspiring book.

Praise God for Jesus’ Resurrection!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3)

All Christians, praise God for his great mercy!  Though we were dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:1-3), he has made us alive in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-7).  We have been born again (John 3:3-8).  We are  a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).  We have a living hope, a great expectation (Romans 15:13),  because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:1-10).

All this is already ours today.  We have been born again.  We are a new creation.  God has made us alive.  Because of his resurrection, through baptism, we can walk in the newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).  If we have been raised with Christ, we can set our mind on things above (Colossians 3:1-4) and not on earthly things (Colossians 3:5-8).  It is by God’s grace we have been saved (Ephesians 2:8-9) to be his workmanship so we can do good (Ephesians 2:10).  Because of Jesus, the Kingdom of God is here now (Luke 17:20-21 and Matthew 12:28), and we are empowered to serve in the Kingdom of God as ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).

And yet at the same time the Kingdom of God is not fully realized.  Because of Jesus’ resurrection we have this living hope, this great expectation, of a certain future.  Jesus in rising from the dead was the firstfruit of those who died in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:20) and he is the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18).  His resurrection makes our rising from the dead a certainty.  We can live life knowing that an inheritance in heaven (1 Peter 1:4-5) that waits for us.  It will be a wonderful life with a full enjoyment of God’s gifts and a fully restored relationship with God (Revelation 7:9-17).  We will be free from sin and its brokenness (1 John 3:1-3), able to live life to its fullness as it was originally meant to be.

But today we are in an “already but not yet” state. Today we live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:1-7 and Hebrews 11:1).  We are already a new creation and yet we sin and keep on doing what is wrong (Romans 7:18-19). We are already living an eternal life (John 3:16) but death still exists (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). So we wait for Jesus’ second coming when all God’s promises will be fully realized and everything will be made right. Today we live knowing that Jesus is our resurrection and life (John 11:25-26).  It is all about Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:56-58)

PS This post was inspired in part by Timothy Keller’s book, “Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter”.

PPS Check out this Bible Project video on Jesus’ resurrection as recorded by Luke.

Are You Okay?

I remember the phrase “I’m okay, you’re okay”.  It was a popular phrase in the 1970’s and 80’s.  It originates with a 1967 self-help book.  The phrase took on a life of its own, and has been used to promote self-esteem, especially in children.  I think the phrase is still in use today to promote self-esteem, but for many people, in practice, I think it has become “I’m okay but you are not okay”.  People today seem to feel that they are pretty good and have it together most of the time, but those they disagree with are not okay.  Those disagreeable people have been misled and/or have serious issues.  They must not be okay. I think that is a common way of thinking today.

People today look around and blame today’s problems and the problems we experience on cultural influences and other people with serious problems.  These are problem people, who we believe by our own definition, do not want to do things the way we want them done. Today’s “enlightened” people believe it is wrong thinking and wrong societal ideas that are creating the problems, which can be found in societal structures of domination and oppression (Critical Theory).  It can not be our fault because we are okay, relatively good, so we look outside ourselves to locate the problems.  Even though there are cultural influences and other people creating problems, the real core problem is inside each and every one of us.

Here is the reality.  Each and every one of us is not okay. We all have our problems.  We all are broken. Some people want us to embrace our brokenness and say that is just who we are.  I do not think it is a good idea to deny or embrace self destructive behavior.  I believe our brokenness is self destructive and it is also not good for others.  The fact is I am not okay.  I am not good or good enough.  I have my problems.  I have my issues. My brokenness is not healthy for me and for others.  And since it is true of everyone, that is why the world is as messed up as it is.

If you pull back the curtain and look deep inside you, you will find that you are a self centered selfish person whose ego is focused on yourself.  Whether you are feeling good about yourself or despairing, the focus is on you.  Even when you try to be generous and giving, that self centeredness is still there. That self centeredness corrupts everything.  That is the core problem with you and the world. Christians have a name for that condition and for all the wrong doing and wrong thinking.  It is called sin.  We are left in a pretty hopeless situation.

But there is hope.  Though we can not solve the problem, God, the Creator of the universe and of us, can.  Because he loves each and every one of us, he has sent Jesus to us as the solution.  Jesus came to Earth and was born.  He grew up and lived a perfect life.  He died on a cross as a payment for our sin, and then he rose again so that we may have a full life in him.  That full life in Jesus empowers Christians, those who have received Jesus as Lord and Savior, to work for a better life for all, and one day we, Christians, will live eternally with him in a world without sin.  Today it is clear that we are not okay, but God still fully and completely loves each and every one of us, so it is okay.

That is what the Bible says. Below is from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans.

  1. Everyone is a sinner and needs God’s salvation. “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God(Romans 3:23)
  2. The consequence of sin is death, but God offers salvation for free. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
  3. In love, Jesus Christ took our place and died for our sins.  He paid the price for us. “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
  4. It is through faith that we receive salvation and eternal life. “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)
  5. Because of Jesus Christ, our relationship with God has been restored.  We are no longer condemned by our sin. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) and “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

Father God,  Thank you for saving me because of all that Jesus has done.  I am yours.  Forgive me, cleanse me, and restore me for I am broken, a sinner in need of your forgiveness.  Thank you for that forgiveness and for your love, mercy, and grace.  Let your Holy Spirit enable me to live a full life dedicated to you.  I ask this because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He is Lord and Savior!  Amen! 

Is Love Love?

love you

How would you define the word love?  English has a very broad definition of love. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I am going to focus on the interpersonal love found in marriage between a husband and wife.  The ancient Greeks had many words for love.  Wikipedia puts the count at 6 different words, but I have seen lists vary between 3 and 8 different words. I will look at what I consider to be the 3 main Greek words for love and how they relate in marriage.

Today’s romantic love focus seems to be on the passion for one another with an emphasis on the sexual attraction and action.  That sort of love is the Greek word eros, from which we get the term erotic.  I believe eros love includes passion, affection, and delight in one another, which does not have to be sexual in nature.  Eros love produces strong feelings that are powerful.  However, those feelings will wax and wane over time.  The media emphasizes eros love because it is flashy and easy to express.  Some people will equate eros love with lust.  They say it is all about our own sexual desires and the fulfillment of those desires.  I believe that eros love is more than the lust of sexual attraction.  Eros love creates an unstable foundation for marriage, especially if it is focused only on sexual attraction.

Philia is the Greek love word that denotes friendship.  It is a love word where you enjoy one’s company, talking with each other, and doing stuff together. It is the love of friends.  Many times it is described as “brotherly love”. Friendship in marriage is important.  You want to know your spouse and share life together with them.  Philia love is all about sharing life together.

Agape love is the main love that you find in the Bible.  It is an unconditional love that embodies self-sacrifice and commitment.  It is a love that causes you to act in your spouse’s best interest and not your own.  Agape love first looks to others and not to yourself. It is the main love God has for us.  Agape love allows for true intimacy to occur.  The commitment to each other allows for one to be vulnerable to each other.  That is what intimacy is all about.  Because of that intimacy, agape love strengthens the friendship of philia love and increases the passion of eros love. It makes marriage a safe place to express oneself, to share concerns, and to work through issues.  It is a love that binds us together. Agape love is the stable foundation from which the other loves should flow from.  Agape love is described well in this Bible passage.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

How does your love fit this description?  My love does not always fit well to the description, but it is something I desire to do better at and in doing so it will strengthen my marriage. Agape love makes for a stable foundation for one’s marriage.  God’s agape love does fit this description.  Replace the word ‘love’ (and ‘it’) with God or Jesus and see how God loves you.

God has many times in the Bible expressed his love for us in terms of marriage.  We, the people of God, are the bride and God is the bridegroom or husband.  God passionately pursues us (eros).  He seeks to restore that personal friendship that was lost in Eden (philia).  And he loved us so much that he died for us, so that we can be united to him (agape). (Note, only the Greek love words philia and agape appear in the Bible.)

A closing thought:

 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12; agape love)

P.S. This post was inspired by a session from the Marriage in Christ Seminar.

The Trinity (Part 2)

Trinity Shield from

In the last post, it was pointed out that the Bible teaches there is only one God, and yet there are three persons in that one God.  This post will look at each person of the Trinity, and will take a look at some alternative views and provide some scripture against those views.

God the Father

Jesus referred to the God of the Old Testament as his Father.  He had a good reason since he was the Son of God.  He also encourages us to call him Father too. (There are also passages in the Old Testament, where God is referred to as Father.)  God the Father is considered to be the Creator of the world, but the Son and Holy Spirit also have roles in the creation of the world.   It is the Father that sent Jesus to be born as a human.  And from the Father (and the Son) proceeds the Holy Spirit.  If the word ‘God’ is mentioned, my first assumption is to assume that the passage is referring to God the Father (e.g. 2 Corinthians 13:14).  I believe that most of the time that assumption is correct.

Jesus Not Created

Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and yet the Bible makes it clear that he existed from eternity.  Some claim that Jesus was God’s first creation.  They use Colossians 1:15b, “the firstborn of all creation”, as proof of God’s first created being.  The word firstborn does not have to refer to being born first.  The firstborn son had special privileges and so the word firstborn can also refer to one with the special privileges of a firstborn son without being firstborn.  Moses was told to tell Pharaoh that “Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22b).  That verse as well as the Colossians verse the word ‘firstborn’ can not be taken literally especially if you take the phrase in context.  Here is the Colossians passage in context with the paragraph:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)

In context you can see that the paragraph is about the preeminence of Jesus Christ.  In verses 15a and 19b, imply that Jesus is God, not a creature.  In verse 18 firstborn is used again in “firstborn from the dead”.  I see the word  firstborn in this case as Jesus being the source and leader to those who will rise from the dead, and I see it as the same for “firstborn of all creation”.  He is the head of all creation.  And in verse 16 it says that “by him all things were created”.  If he had a hand in creating “all things” then he could not be created.

Jesus Equal to the Father

Is Jesus equal to the Father?  Jesus said “ the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).  He said that because during his time here on earth Jesus “for a little while was made lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:9).  Jesus is equal to the Father.  He put aside that equality to become human so that he could save us on the cross (Philippians 2:6-8).

Holy Spirit is a Person

The Holy Spirit is the least known of the three persons of the Trinity.  Many people consider the Spirit to be a force and not a person. I think they say that because the Holy Spirit empowers us.  Jesus clearly refers to the Holy Spirit as a person in John 14-16. Here is a sample

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26)

The Holy Spirit is not a force.  He is a person.  He gives witness to Jesus in the above passage. He teaches (John 14:26) and speaks (Acts 8:29).  He also can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30), lied to (Acts 5:3-4) and become outraged (Hebrews 10:29).  That sounds like a person, not a force.

Roles in the Trinity

There also tends to be some confusion over what the roles of each person of the Trinity. We want to assign specific roles, like the Father is the Creator, the Son is the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier.  Doing so is not wrong, but these roles are not exclusive either.  We find out that the Father created the world through the Son, and the Spirit had a role too.  And it is the same with the Son and the Spirit.  The Bible points out that all persons of the Trinity are at work in all external actions that affect us.  Note this does not make the three persons of the Trinity uniform.  Each person of the Trinity has his own personality, so the actions of each person might not be the same. Norman Geisler describes the “roles” of each person of the Trinity this way:

In brief, the Father is the Planner, the Son is the Accomplisher, and the Holy Spirit is the Applier of salvation to believers. The Father is the Source, the Son is the Means, and the Holy Spirit is the Effector of salvation—it is He who convicts, convinces, and converts.

Again I do not want to make the “roles” exclusive. The Trinity is a mystery that we can not fully comprehend.   Let us look at a couple cases.

Though some people have differing views on the Trinity, this doctrine of the Trinity is of critical importance.  There is a reason that this doctrine has been central to church teaching for over 1500 years.  It is important to know who God is.  There is only one God and yet there are three persons to that one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  On that belief the Christian faith stands.

[T]he God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him (Ephesians 1:17)