Expressing Love

It took eight years for me to hear her.  From the very first Valentine’s Day after we met, every year I would buy my wife a white teddy bear.  The final teddy bear I bought her was about 40 inches tall.  She was gracious and appreciated the thought and the attempt at being romantic.  But when she came home from work stressed out and tired of sitting behind a desk, the affection that meant the most to her was a back and foot massage.  It took me eight years to hear her saying to me, “I love you means rubbing my sore feet and aching back.”

We often think that our expressions of love to God are sufficient and satisfying to God. Now, it is true that God does consider the intent of the heart.  However, God also tells us clearly how we are to express our love to him.  The expression of love toward God can be summarized under three headings.  1)  If you love God, you will love His Word.  2) If you love God, you will love who God loves.  3) If you love God, you will obey God.

Loving God’s Word

Fundamental to loving God is loving how God has revealed Himself and His will.  Apart from God’s revelation of Himself, we cannot know God.  (See Romans chapter 1 for the reason.)  I can only imagine what it was like during WW2 for the soldiers as they were fighting and thinking about home.  How precious were the letters from home, especially the letters from their wives, fiancés and girlfriends!  Those letters were the connection between them until they could be in each other’s physical presence.  In the longest chapter in the Bible, David wrote about God’s Word.  Psalm 119:103, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!  Then in Psalm 139:17 David reflected upon God’s thoughts again.  “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”

Loving God’s People

If I were to ignore and disregard the things in my wife’s life that were important to her, what conclusion would she draw?  That I didn’t care about her!  But, precisely because I love her, I will treat with respect and reverence those things she holds to be important.  To an infinitely greater degree, this is true of God as well.  Ephesians 5:25 says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  If we don’t honor and respect and prayer for and love the gathered body of believers –whom Jesus died for! — how much do we really love Jesus?

Loving God’s Commands

Throughout scripture there is a theme that connects love and obedience.  Love for those in authority over you necessarily requires obedience, especially God (Deut 11:1, 13; Josh 22:5; Psa 119:47-48; John 14:15; 1John 5:2-3; 2John 1:6.) Jesus even directly stated in John 14:21, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.”  1 John 5:3 says “1Jn 5:3  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

As a dog lover, I was reminded of how a dog loves its master.  Even though it so desperately wants the biscuit sitting on his nose, because his master’s pleasure is more important than its own, it will wait until the master gives the command.

 

So here is how you can evaluate how much you love God.  1) How much do you love His word?  Do you read it daily, not out of mere obligation but out of a desire to be with God? 2) How much do you love what God loves?  Do you enjoy being in worship services, and fellowshipping with God’s people?  Is Sabbath keeping a high priority?  3) How much do you strive to please God in faith and obedience?  Is holiness on your radar?  Does sin against God sadden your soul?

O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; Psalm 63:1 KJV

 

When we study God’s Word it is often beneficial to compare different translations.  The differences will frequently indicate that there are some interpretive issues lying under the surface of the translation.  Psalm 63:1 reveals just such a difference.  In the KJV we read, “Early will I seek thee.”  but in the ESV we read, “earnestly I seek you.”  There is a substantial difference between seeking God early and seeking God earnestly.

Seeking God earnestly reflects upon our desire to pursue God with sincerity.  If we stop and examine our walk with Jesus, we might very well be convicted of our lack of sincerity.  But seeking God early changes the way we read this verse and how it applies to us.  The primitive Hebrew word means, “dawn, or to be up early at any task.”  Instead of sincerity being the issue, priority becomes the issue.

David is reflecting upon his priority to seek God.  Before anything else takes place, “early will I seek thee.”  Is this the way we approach God?  Just as finding water is the highest necessity for surviving in a dry and weary land, seeking God first, must be the highest priority in our spiritual well-being.

When our dog gets sick, do we seek God first or the vet?  When our boss tells us we’ve been let go, do we run to God first, or the employee agency?  When our child comes home from school with the proverbial note from the principle, do we run to God first or to the school office?

This is the shape that true devotion to God assumes.  The more devoted to God you are, the higher your priority to run to Him.  So how do we increase our devotion to God?  How do we learn to run to Him first?

Aside from regular corporate worship, the next greatest benefit in our devotion to God comes from our daily devotionals.  Daily time with Jesus Christ is a necessity for increasing the affections of our heart towards Him.  But, a warning needs to be made here.  It is possible to have daily quiet times (ritual times) without growing in your devotion.  However, it is not possible to grow in your devotion to Jesus without a daily devotional life.

If you love someone, you desire to spend time with them, and you make the most of your time with them.  If you love Christ, you will look forward to spending time with Him.  Young fathers can sometimes be an excellent illustration of this truth.  A father that is forced to work late and is unable to spend much time with his children, will have an increasing desire to be with them if he loves them – even to the point of taking vacation days.

When it comes to our time with Christ, does our desire for “Bible time” increase when we are providentially hindered?  Or are we just content to start up again later?  David’s soul thirsted for God.  His devotion to God was not merely formal or ritualistic, but it was intrinsic to his regenerated soul.  He couldn’t imagine not seeking God first or early in every situation.

Daily devotions aren’t just a good idea.  For the heart thirsty for God, they are the refreshing waters drawn from the fountain of life. If it is our regular choice to sleep in rather than wake 30 minutes earlier, which do we love more, our bed or our Beloved?

Quiet times water our souls in three ways:  1) They increase our love for Jesus.  2) They increase our knowledge and understanding of our Beloved, thus enabling us to love Him more.  3) They increase our rate of change (sanctification) in the affections of our heart.

There is no shortcut because the goal is Christ!  It really is this simple.  If my heart longs to be with Jesus, I will spend time in His word.

Everyone agrees that daily devotionals are a good thing.  Yet the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians almost never open their Bibles.  And then, when people do begin to have devotions, the pressures of the fast-paced life, the ugly desires of the sinful flesh, and the brokenness of a fallen world, all conspire to end those quiet times.

So how do we go about having our quiet times with Jesus in a way that will mitigate the forces working against us?  Here are 5 tips to encourage you.

1) Opening Prayer – “Lord, Let me see Jesus in your Word today.” If you love someone, you will have a desire to be with them.  Therefore, if we wish our quiet times to be enjoyable, we must focus on being with the Christ whom we love.

2) Don’t be legalistic –  False guilt can quench good intentions quickly.  If you miss a day, it is not the end of the world.  The key is to be graciously habitual.  Start again.  Persistence is a necessary thing.  Jesus rewards those who diligently seek him!

3) Pick good material – Good material is that which focuses on addressing God’s Word to the issues of your heart.  This means that Scripture is an absolute necessity.  If the Bible is not being planted in your heart, then you are actually being drawn away from Jesus, regardless of how much christianese is being used.  Is the character of God being displayed?  Is your sin being exposed?  Is Jesus being lifted up?  If the answer is not ‘yes’ to all three of these questions, you should probably find other material.

Here are three highly recommended resources for beginning your daily devotions:  Voices from the Past, Tabletalk Magazine, Morning and Evening by Spurgeon.

4) Talk about your quiet times – Find a partner to whom you can explain your delight in Jesus to.  Expressing your daily encounters with the Jesus of the Bible will encourage.  For this purpose, I have started a near-daily texting to the readers of Voices from the Past, where I make comments about the day’s reading and encourage others to respond to the reading themselves.

5) Keep a record – By keeping a daily record, you will be able to see your successes and failures.  You will be able to evaluate patterns to either build upon, or work against.  For instance, if Saturday is the one day of the week you sleep in and therefore you find yourself forgetting your devotions, make special plans to get up on Saturday to study.

This past sunday I concluded my sermon, “Faith and Peace” with the story of Bartholomew Millon.  He was burned at the stake as a straightened soul in a deformed in body.  And now he walks in the uprightness of Jesus Christ.

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Bartholomew Millon had once been the man’s man of Paris.  He was said to have been the most handsome man in all of Paris.  But it wasn’t just his dashing good looks for which other men followed him. He was strong.  He was a fighter.  He was the ringleader.  He was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Paris.  People followed him.  Anything he wanted he got.  He didn’t deny himself anything that his heart wanted.  Hollywood would have loved this man.

And on top of his brawn, he had a sharp mind.  One writer said he was ready at all times to deal a blow with his powerful arm, or let fly a sarcasm with his sharp tongue.  This man had it all.    But as I introduced him, he had once been the man’s man of Paris, but he was no longer.

We’re not sure how it happened, whether he was in a street fight, or whether in was in some sporting event, but Bartholomew fell and broke a couple of his ribs, and rather than getting medical attention, he decided to tough it out.  After all, he was the man!

But time wore on, and he wore out.  Those broken ribs never healed right, and he suffered all sorts of complications as his body withered away.  Finally he found himself sitting day after day in his shoemaker’s shop.  His stately form was now bent, his legs were paralyzed, and bitterness oozed from his crooked grin.

Everyone who entered his shop heard his wicked tongue lashing out at the protestants who thought to foolishly reform the church.  Then one day a Lutheran happened to be walking by the shop, when Millon began one of his expletive laden rants.  The man stopped to see who it was that was spewing such filth.  And then he saw the cripple and had compassion on him.

He went up to Millon and said to him, “Poor man, don’t you see that God has bent your body in this way in order to straighten out your soul?”  the Lutheran then gave him the New Testament to read.  For the next several days, Millon devoured this beautiful and majestic book.  And he discovered in the Word that not only was his soul was even more deformed than his body, but there was also a most powerful Physician that could heal even his soul.

The wretchedness of sin that perverted his crippled form was removed from him and in its place a joy and a peace welled up within him.  The wolf had become a lamb.  People began to come to his shop, not for shoes to comfort their feet, but for songs of praise to comfort their hearts.  Children who were once kept at a distance from him by their parents, were now brought to him to learn of the grace of God.

Then on November 10th of 1534, an officer of the king entered into his house because he was one of the heretics of the protestant church.  And the king’s officer in arresting Bartholomew Millon, a cripple, wholly helpless in body, said to him “Come, get up.”

To which Millon replied, “Alas! sir, it must be a greater master than you to raise me up.” The sergeants carried him out, but so full of peace and holy courage was Bartholomew, that his companions in prison grew firm through his exhortations.  Words of peace and kindness were the only things to come from his lips that day.  Formerly, when lifted by his friends, he felt pain in every limb, but the Lord in great mercy took that sensitiveness away, so that in prison he used to say, “the roughest handling seemed tender.”  He was burned at the stake as a straightened soul in a deformed in body.  And now he walks in the uprightness of Jesus Christ.

Millon apparently became the first martyr in the Year of the Placards, the event that sought to purge Protestantism from France.

I have wondered when I should post my eulogy for my dad.  My dad died on March 1, 2015.  We held a memorial service for him at his home church in Texas a few days later.   In my dad, I saw several things that I wished every church member would emulate.  So, I wanted to highlight those things in my eulogy.

Now, a couple of months since then, I have wondered when would be an appropriate time to share my thoughts with those who didn’t know my dad or were not at his memorial service.  In light of several discussions I have had recently and the sermon I will be preaching on Sunday (Matthew 22:34-46), now seems like a good time.  At the end of this post I am going to follow it up with a couple of applications.

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My dad loved talking about theology.  He was an intellectual, there is no doubting that. (He had a Ph.D in Chemical Engineering and was recognized and ranked as 2nd in the world in his particular field.)  But that’s not why theology was such an interest to Him.  Theology, simply put, means the study of God.

That’s why my Dad loved theology; the God he loved, the Savior He cherished, theology is the term rightly given to describe knowing God.  And not just knowing God in an intellectual way, but knowing God within a covenant relationship.

My Dad and I had some long talks about things like unconditional election and particular atonement.  We even talked about reprobation, the doctrine that explains how God passes by some people with His saving grace (See Romans 9:20-23).  As you can imagine these were hard doctrines, yet, in all our talks there was behind, and underneath it all, a delight in Jesus Christ.  That’s where his study of theology took Him.

Psa 119:18  Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.

This is what God did for dad.  God enabled him to see the wonders of mercy and grace out of the Law/Word.

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  But, we live in a culture now that echoes Pilate’s Words of 2000 years ago, “What is truth?”  We hear people say, “What’s right for you isn’t right for me.”  That’s a denial of absolute truth. Even our school system and especially common core is teaching that there is no absolute truth.  Of course this is nothing new.

Solomon said 3000 years ago “There is nothing new under the sun.”  And, the denial of truth was one of the many things that Jesus had to deal with.  That’s why Jesus instructed his disciples in John 8:32, “”If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Many times we only hear the phrase, “The truth will set you free.”  But the truth Jesus was referring to was not mere fact.  It wasn’t points of information.  It was the absolute truth of God’s word.  Jesus said, “If you abide in My Word.”  That was the condition in order to know truth, and in order to be set free.  “If you abide in My Word.”

So this was why my Dad loved theology.  It was the study of God’s Word, so that my Dad would be free from the power and corruption of sin and so that He could KNOW and LOVE God.

By the grace of God, my dad was able to quote Jesus in John 17:17, “Your Word is Truth.”  That’s what he stood on.

The truth that my Dad clung to was this, “There is salvation in no one else.”   I know that such a position is not only unpopular today, but it can also be offensive.

But, there is no other name under heaven by which sinful man can be saved from the wrath of God.  That was my dad’s faith.

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So as I have reflected on this eulogy, there are several points of application I wish to make.

  1. One of the key tests to see if you are doing theology right is your study’s destination. Does your study of the Bible, including and especially the hard passages, does it lead you to delight yourself in the Lord?  Psalm 27:4 “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”

One key place to test yourself is the Song of Solomon.  The SoS is one of the greatest places to find your heart wooed to Christ.  However, that assumes that you are reading the book looking for Jesus.  (Unfortunately most modern scholars and commentaries only/primarily see in the SoS a handbook on marriage.)

  1. Having theological knowledge doesn’t make a person a mature Christian. To be sure, theological knowledge is an absolute necessity for Christian growth. You will only be as mature spiritually as you are mature theologically.  However, having such knowledge is only the beginning.  Theological knowledge must teach us to love Christ.  And, the more we love Christ, the more we hate our sin.  How much we hate our sin is revealed in how often we repent of our sin.  Theological knowledge is again required to affect a deep and maturing repentance.
  1. The way to know Christ and to love Him is through thinking scripturally. Most Christians believe they think biblically. I would beg to differ because their minds are not “stayed upon Jehovah.”  Isaiah 26:3, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”  How often in the day do your thoughts run to a specific Scripture verse?  The mature Christian constantly has scripture in his mind because he can’t do otherwise.  He is memorizing, not simply a verse, but a passage of scripture and that passage of scripture is being applied to the circumstances of life, whether they are big events or small.

I was pondering our barbershop conversations on the way home from getting our hair cut, and I asked my son a question, “What’s the purpose and meaning of life?” After dancing around with some simple Sunday-school answers, he finally arrived at man’s chief end. [Westminster Shorter Catechism Question #1 – What is man’s chief end? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.]

My follow-up question was, “What does it mean to enjoy God?”

He allowed himself to become absorbed in his Nintendo 3DS and didn’t answer. So I pressed him a little bit. “To enjoy God means to delight in Him, just like you are doing with your 3DS. You are delighting in the challenge of the game. You are delighting in the adventures of Mario. The 3D graphics are stimulating. It is the same with God.”

“We are to delight in God by delighting in His graphics.” Consider all of the wonders of creation. For example, this morning the annual migration of robins stopped in our neighborhood. In years past we have had hundreds of robins on our street. This morning we had about 15 by our mailbox. How amazing that God designed these birds with instincts to migrate just ahead of warm fronts that cause earthworms to leave their burrows or drown in the rains to come.

“We are to delight in God by delighting in His adventures.” God’s providence accounts for all things that come to pass. In fact, the very definition of providence, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, is God’s most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all his creatures and all their actions. So when we consider the course of our lives, we should be amazed at how God has laid out the course of history, even to the smallest detail, for His people’s good. (See Romans 8:29)

“We are to delight in God by delighting in even the challenges of this life.” Just as God has ordained whatsoever comes to pass, He has also ordained that his people would undergo trials of various kinds. And the reason God puts his people through challenges is to strengthen faith (James 1:3) and to purify our hearts (Malachi 3:3).

James 1:2-3: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Malachi 3:3: He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.

What divine adventures, challenges, and graphics are coming your way? These are some of the means by which God enables us to enjoy Him.

Awe, Not Ecstasy

(This is a portion of my sermon introduction from Sunday, April 6.)

April 15, 2014

 

For the last month or so, whenever I have scanned through the headlines, a particular group of people have been catching my attention, skydivers.

It started when I noticed a story about a sixteen year old.  Her dad bought this “experience” for her birthday.  This was her first jump.  She jumped out of the plane moments after her dad did.  But, her shoot didn’t open.  Thirty-five hundred feet later she crashed into the ground and lived.  The doctors are expecting her to make a full recovery.

But just a few days ago, a woman with over 1500 jumps under her belt, died when her parachute didn’t open.  In the aftermath, another woman, who jumped with her said, “Yeah, it’s sad, but it also happens … It just happens.”

About two weeks ago, I watched a video on YouTube of a man jumping off of the Freedom Tower in New York City.  After about ten seconds he pulled his parachute and landed safely in the middle of the street.

Even though the deaths per jump ratio is incredibly low, I was still curious about the motivation.  One man summarized most of the comments that I found.  He said, “For me, it’s an incredible buzz as I step off the platform; it’s very cleansing; it’s very exciting; and it’s highly addictive.”

Despite the rush, he says it’s an overall calming experience.

“I never think about emails I should write home, and people I haven’t called, and tasks around the house I haven’t done,” he said. “It gives you a moment of absolute clarity where you’re just admiring the view and concentrating on the next six seconds.”

I wonder how many churches in America have this same type of attitude as they plan their worship services.  Of course, instead of trying to produce “clarity” for six seconds, the aim is probably sixty minutes.

I wonder how many people go to church on Sunday mornings looking for “clarity?”

When you come to corporate worship, what are you looking for?

Excitement?  or Amazement?  Ecstasy or Awe?

I suppose at this point I should stop and walk you through your own expectations for church.  But I am going to leave you to do that at lunch time, as you prepare for evening worship!

What I want you to recognize is that it makes a difference.  What you look for in a worship service will determine where and whom you will worship. 

If you are looking for excitement in a worship service, if you are looking for a service that will get you up and will make you have a good time and will cause you to leave that place with good feelings, then the god you are going to worship is the god that is all about pleasing you!

But, if you are looking to enter into the worship of the God who created the world out of nothing, and, if you are looking to enter into the worship of a God who demands and deserves worship because He is holy, just, perfect, and lovely, in such a service, your response will not be excitement, but awe.

In such a service you will become reminded of or become aware of the greatness of your sin and rebellion, but you will also become aware of or be reminded of the greatness of the grace and mercy found in the blood of Christ.  And you will be filled with awe that such a mighty God would offer Himself as the Substitute under His judgment so that you can rightly and boldly enter into His presence to worship Him.

Now where do we learn of this great work of God?  Where do we learn of the King of the Universe that offers himself on the altar in order to purchase a people for himself?  There is but one place.  The Word of God.

In March of 2007 Christianity Today an article was written by an anonymous professor called, “My Conversation with God.”  The writer had always heard about other people “hearing God speak,” only this time it supposedly happened to Him.  Of course, I don’t buy it, but as I was reading comments about it, I came across this one.

The comment reads, “I really believe that the Lord is going to be moving in new and unique ways among all Christians, particularly among leaders and Pastors. Watch for healing and spiritual gifts to informally break out in churches and places where they have never been recognized before. This is like a small first wave. Look for more to come later.”

Do you know what this comment is about?  Bring on the excitement!  Bring on the hoopla!  They claim God still speaks today apart from the Word, so go practice Yoga, or contemplative prayer, or any number of other eastern mystical practices, and your faith will become exciting.  Add a lightshow, put on some sort of a rock-concert every Sunday, and get people in a frenzy over God, and Christianity will take back the culture.

But, let me tell you, the pursuit of the exciting is the world’s way of doing business.  And when the world has its way, the ordinary ways of God get pushed down and trampled on by society.

But, these two parables and the fulfilled prophecy in our text today (Matthew 13:31-35) reveal to us that the kingdom of heaven does not grow by the world’s means.  The kingdom of heaven does not grow by the pursuit of excitement, but it grows as the ordinary means of grace are made use of by God’s people.

As God’s people are filled with awe at the revelation of the Living Word –Jesus Christ- in the Written Word- the Bible- that’s when the kingdom of heaven expands and grows.

I had a brief conversation with a friend this week, and I was describing to him the difference between Awe and Ecstasy.  I was describing to him how awe bubbles up within us as we consider what someone else has done or is doing.   Ecstasy erupts in us when something amazingly good happen to us.

So he said something like, “It’s kind of like the difference between standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon and riding a zip line down to the bottom.”  What a great picture.

Awe tends to be an attitude of amazement focused on someone or something besides ourselves.  Whereas, ecstasy tends to be an emotion of excitement focused on ourselves.

So, in our text today [Matthew 13:31-35], what we have are 3 things that are designed to stir up awe within us over the kingdom of heaven, and specifically the King of heaven, instead of creating excitement and ecstasy over “what is going on in my life.”

Awe, not ecstasy is the product of revealed truth.  Are you in awe because of what God has revealed of Himself?

Hebrews 12:28, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”