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Tim Challies

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love

August 02, 2011

The first chapter of Ruth sets the stage for a dramatic reversal. It’s the opening of a story and it immediately draws us into the despair of Naomi. At the end of the book’s opening chapter we are left with a very honest but not-so-pretty portrayal of her. She is a woman who has fallen on hard times—her husband has died and her sons have died, leaving her without any grandchildren, without any future.

Through all of the devastation she has become convinced that the Lord is out to get her. She believes—rightly of course—that God is in control, that God is sovereign, but she no longer believes that God is good. She looks at all that has happened to her and she decides that God is opposed to her; he must be. God is strong, but God is not loving. What other explanation could there be? How could a loving God allow all of this to happen to me?

Is there a darker place to be? Could you love or trust a God who is sovereign, who is all-powerful in this world, but who is not good? What kind of a God would that be? Who could worship such a God, a God who controls all things but who is evil or ambivalent, who just doesn’t care? That would be a mean and savage God, the kind of God we would all want to flee from. 

No wonder, then, that Naomi is in despair. No wonder that she is so low. To believe that God is all-powerful, to believe that he demands our allegiance, but that he is opposed to us—that is terrifying. No one can trust a God like that. No one can truly love a God like that. Naomi has created a false image of God. Instead of allowing God to speak into her circumstances, she has interpreted God through those circumstances. When her life was good, God was good; now that her life has gone bad, she believes that God is bad.

September 18, 2010

As you know, I have been reading a lot of R.C. Sproul’s books lately, as part of a project I am working on. A few days ago I went through an older title, The Character of God. There I found these words, speaking of the depth of God’s love and the fact that it is a giving love.

When the Bible speaks of God’s love it invariably reaches the subject of God’s sacrifical kindness. The love of God is the love of a God who gives. The most famous verse in the Bible underscores this fact: “God so loved the world that He gave” (Jn 3:16). This giving of His only begotten Son on our behalf is the dearest expression of the love of God we can find.

The Apostle John wrote, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him” (1 Jn 4:9). Here John spoke of “manifesting” something. To manifest something is to make it plain, to show it clearly. God doesn’t merely talk about being loving; He puts His love to the test by showing it in a way that is undeniable. He shows His love by giving.

What God gives and to whom He gives it further manifests His love. God is a gift-giving God, but His supreme love is showing by His supreme gift—His only begotten Son. Elsewhere Scripture says that there is no greater love than a love that willingly lays down its life for a friend. To sacrifice your life for your friends is the “greatest” display of love we can show. Or is it? Jesus took it one step further by giving His life for His enemies.

Although Jesus did lay down His life for His friends. He died for them while they were still sinners in the midst of deserting and denying Him. This act of self-sacrifice was not done alone. Jesus acted in concert with His Father. In fact, it was His Father’s idea. The Father conceived the cup, filled the cup, and gave the cup to the Son to drink. The Son shuddered before the cup and sought to have it removed. The father said no, He would not compromise. The Son then willingly took the cup and drank it to its bitter dregs. Together they made the gift of Jesus’ precious life.

John understood the order, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10). The essence of the gospel is found in the words, “While we were yet sinners,” The love of God reaches out to us while we are alienated from Him. We have no love for Him, and our hearts are stony and cold. We love ourselves and our things. There is no affection in our hearts for God.

The supreme irony is that although God is altogether lovely, as fallen creatures we do not love Him. He is worthy and deserves our love. We owe Him our love, yet we do not love Him. On the other side, we are altogether unlovely by His standards. There is nothing in us to commend us to God, and He certainly does not owe us His love. But the staggering fact remains, He loves us. He loves us to the extent that He gave His only begotten Son for us.

December 13, 2009

You know that every now and again I like to post a prayer here. Sometimes it is a prayer from long ago, sometimes it is a prayer that is much more recent. This week I was looking at pastor Scotty Smith’s blog and came across a great prayer—one I could fully identify with and one I so badly needed to pray, too. Smith based it on this passage: “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:16-19).

Here is his prayer:

*****

Dear Lord Jesus, I’m very much convicted by and drawn to Mary’s response, early in her journey of nursing you and knowing you—the very God who created all things, sustains all things and makes all things new. She “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

“Hurrying off” like a shepherd to tell others about you has always been easier for me than sitting still… and letting you tell me about yourself.

It’s always been easier for me to talk than to listen, to stay busy than to relax, to be “productive” than to be meditative… I confess this as sin, Lord Jesus. This isn’t okay. It can be explained, but not justified. For knowing about you is not the same thing as knowing you. An informed mind is not the same thing as an enflamed heart.

To know you IS eternal life, and I DO want to know you, Lord Jesus, so much better than I already do. Lead me in the way of treasuring you in my heart and pondering who you are… and pondering everything you’ve already accomplished through your life, death and resurrection… and everything you’re presently doing as the King of kings and Lord of lords… and everything you’ll be about forever in the new heaven and new earth, as the Bridegroom of your beloved Bride. There’s so much to treasure and so much to ponder…

It’s not as though I’m a stranger to treasuring and pondering, for I treasure and ponder a whole lot of things, Lord Jesus—things, however, that lead to a bankrupt spirit and an impoverished heart.

May the gospel slow me, settle me and center me that I might be able to say with the Psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And being with you, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Ps 73:25-26).” So very Amen, I pray, in Jesus’ name.

December 12, 2009

One of the things I enjoy about blogging is that a blog is, in a sense, a living media. It is a reflection of my life, of what I am thinking of at a certain time or in a certain place. Occasionally I go back and read something I wrote years ago and post it again, offering new reflections on it or even just leaving it as-is. Such is the case today as I began thinking about an amazing (and seasonal) word. This one was first posted about 18 months ago.

*****

For the past few weeks I’ve been transfixed by a word. That may sound a little bit strange but it is exactly what’s happened. It keeps coming to mind and I keep pondering it, trying to gain a sense of its meaning. Though the word appears just three times in Scripture, twice in Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of Christ and once in Matthew in the fulfillment of that prophecy, it’s a word we have all used and a word whose meaning most of us know. Our children read about it every Christmas and our pastors mention it in their Christmas sermons. That word is Immanuel. God with us. God is with us.

I sense there is a lot to this word and to the truth behind it that I’ve never thought about before and I know that there must be great application to my own life. I hope to spend more time studying it and discerning how God wants me to live based on the awesome fact that “God is with us.” But even now as I’ve meditated upon this word I’ve been profoundly moved. How can we ever exhaust the wonder of God, the One who created the heavens and the earth, taking on human flesh? And even then, how can we but marvel that He did not come in the form of a great and mighty warrior, but in the form of a tiny, helpless baby. God in flesh; God in human flesh. Like every baby before and since He entered this world through pain and agony, sweat and blood. Though He was the power that had created the world, He depended upon His mother’s breast for physical sustenance. Though He upheld the creation by the Word of His power, He needed His parents to protect and nurture Him as a helpless infant.

What mind could conceive of a God who would walk this world and be so misunderstood? Why would God come to earth only to have almost everyone He encountered ignore His divinity? How could people see God and not understand?

Yesterday my pastor preached on John 8, one of two chapters dealing with Jesus’ time at the Feast of Booths. Here, as in so many passages of the gospels, we see people trying to figure out who this person is. They accuse Him of being a Samaritan and of being possessed by Satan: “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” They wonder how He could claim to know Abraham: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” They ask if He is going to commit suicide: “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” They are utterly bewildered, blinded by their own ignorance and their own hatred of all that is good and true. Before them stood “God is with us” and all they saw was a wicked and perverse man who blasphemed their faith.

As Jesus’ ministry continued, people continued to seek but not find His identity. Even as He stood trial the questions continued. “Are you the King of the Jews?” asked Pilate, and then “So you are a king?” Pilate was incredulous, unable to understand who this man was. Even His beloved disciples wondered and wavered.

As I sat in church yesterday and pondered the mystery of so many who were unable to see that God was with them, standing before them, I was struck by the fact that this will not always be so. Jesus came to earth incognito, announced only to a group of shepherds as they tended their flocks in the night. Suddenly the dark night was disturbed and God’s glory shone all around. An angel announced the birth of Jesus and immediately a host of angels poured forth their praise at the wonder of it all. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” To so many others, though, Jesus appeared just as a man, walking the dusty roads of Israel. No angels foretold His coming; no trumpets blew as He approached. Even today, Jesus is present with us through the Word of God. He is quietly but powerfully present there, though just as when most people looked at Jesus and saw only man and not God, today most people look at the Bible and see words but not Word.

But this will not always be. God gives us today, He gives us now, to understand who Jesus is and to humble ourselves before Him. He tells us that today is the day we need to put our faith in this God who came as man. When Jesus returns to earth, He will not come incognito. He will come with all of the power and the glory and the honor that are rightly His. When He returns to earth, there will be no mistaking who He is. When He comes again, every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. And God will be glorified in every one of us. There will be no mistaking who He is.

February 23, 2009

I’ve been to my share of conferences in the past few years and quite a few of these have been geared toward pastors. There’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed at the beginning of these events. In many cases these conferences are an opportunity for old friends to reconnect. Many times pastors have been attending the same conference year after year and have met new friends there or have reconnected with old friends from their college or seminary days. This is a once-per-year opportunity to spend a little bit of time together and to play catch-up.

I suppose there must have been a time when people carried printed photos in their wallets. Today, though, people carry photos on their cell phones or on their iPods. So often, when these men meet after the passing of yet another year, I see them embracing and then immediately digging out their phones or their iPods to show off the pictures of their children or grandchildren. And it is interesting to hear them talk; to hear them share proudly about the children they’ve already begun to miss even after only one day apart. As you listen to these pastors tell about their children, you notice that they dwell on the things that make them proud. “Brian’s nine. He loves basketball and leads his team in scoring. He’s getting so tall! His head comes up to my chest now and he eats like there’s no tomorrow. And here’s Rebecca. She’s fourteen. You can see she looks just like her mom. She loves cameras and says she wants to be a photographer…” Of course you know as you hear this that the last year has not been free of conflict. You know that mom and dad are probably working hard to maintain boundaries around Rebecca who is already acting out as a rebellious teen and that they are working hard to make Brian respect authority. It may well be that the night before he left, dad had to invoke some discipline and left the house only after making Rebecca promise that she would obey her mother. But when dad gets together with his friends, these things are not at the front of his mind. He loves his children, he is proud of his children, and he wants to tell others about them.

I thought about this a short time ago when I was considering how God feels about us, how he feels about me, how he feels about all of his children. I guess I often go through life thinking that God is generally displeased with me. I see my sin, I see my failings, I see my heart. At the same time I see from Scripture God’s majesty, his holiness, his perfection. And when I put these together I suppose that God must be looking at me with at least some level of disgust. He must regard me as I regard myself so much of the time; as a person who may try to do what’s right, but as a person who is just an abject failure when it comes to holiness. At the end of the day, I do love him, but I also love sin. At the end of it all, I pledge allegiance to him, but prove allegiance to myself seemingly just as often. So what could there be for him to love here?

But I’m starting to think that I’ve had this all wrong. I don’t know that there is a single Bible passage I would point to. But more and more, as I study God’s Word and as I learn about who he is, I see that he is a loving Father who is lavish with his love. Maybe it was my recent studies in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Maybe it was my reading through the prophets, seeing how God hates sin but loves his people. Maybe it was just talking to my mother who came to this realization, I think, long before I did. But somehow I am starting to see that God hates my sin but that he loves me. God despises the evil that lurks within me, but is extravagant in his grace. He actually, really loves me.

And maybe in that way God isn’t so different from the pastors I see at conferences. He loves us. He loves me. And more than that, he’s proud of me. He isn’t petty, filling his mind with all those things I’ve done wrong, but rather he is gracious, seeing all those evidences of his grace in my life. And, you know, I think this is one of the reasons that The Shack has done so well and has sold so many copies. It presents a God who not only loves people, but who also likes them and who is proud of them. Maybe we can be so careful in (rightly) understanding God’s hatred for sin and his desire for holiness that we forget about his great love for us despite the sin that still pollutes us. Maybe we forget that God truly does regard as children—children he not only loves but children he also genuinely likes. And there’s a difference between the two, isn’t there?

February 01, 2009

This morning I stumbled across the first few pages of Alexander Strauch’s Leading with Love. He begins this book by telling a story from the life of Dwight L. Moody. He tells of a time that the evangelist Henry Moorhouse was asked to preach at Moody’s church every night for a week. To everyone’s surprise, Moorhouse preached seven consecutive sermons on John 3:16, preaching on God’s love from Genesis to Revelation. Moody’s son recorded the impact of this preaching in the life of his father:

September 19, 2008

There is a profound truth that every Christian must face: the Bible is an inexhaustible treasure. Talk to a pastor who has spent a lifetime reading, studying and explaining the Bible and he will tell you, I’m sure, that the more he comes to understand, the more he realizes he does not understand. I have heard John Piper compare this to climbing a mountain. As he scales a sheer cliff and comes to the top of a great mountain, he looks to the distance and sees that beyond it lie more mountains still. And so he begins to scale the next mountain and sees beyond that more, bigger, taller, grander mountains. And so it will continue into eternity as we gaze towards the eternal, infinite God.

A week ago I posted a review of Alexander Strauch’s Love or Die (click here to read it) and in that review said “I can think of few books I’ve read recently that have had so immediate an impact on me and have given me so much to think about. I trust, that with God’s help, the implications of this book will be with me always.” In the back of the book Strauch provides a list of “50 Key Texts on Love.” In my devotions I have been going through those texts a few at a time, seeking to understand the contexts in which they were given, to understand what God means by them, and to understand how I can apply them to my life.

To this point I’ve looked at key texts in the Old Testament and in the gospels. I haven’t encountered any texts that are new to me; I have read them all before and have memorized or studied many in the past. But I continue to learn from the Bible’s inexhaustible store of treasure. Just this morning I came to Matthew 22:34-40.

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

This is one of those foundational texts and one I have undoubtedly read or heard hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Jesus quoted two Old Testament passages, both of which would have been familiar to his hearers and to Matthew’s readers. One of them was recited by pious Jews twice daily and was written on their doorposts and phylacteries. He chose these two out of the 600+ laws the Pharisees had deduced from the Scriptures. Love God first and best and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the heart of the Christian faith.

This morning I began to think about that phrase, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and wondered, “why love?” Why is it that the greatest commandment is not to obey or fear or follow? Why are we commanded to love? And here I had to pause and ask myself whether I love God first or whether my love is secondary to obedience or submission or to something else. I wonder if that command, in the Challies Standard Bible, reads, “You shall obey the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Is love as central to my faith as it ought to be?

I suppose it is possible that I am drawing something of a false distinction here. We do not need to go too much further in the Bible to find that love and obedience are inextricably connected. John 14:15 says clearly, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” But I do not take this to say that love and obedience are one and the same. Rather, I take it to mean that obedience is proof of love. Obedience proves love to God but is not the sum of love to God. Do I love God? I can look to the Scripture to see if I am obeying him. If I obey God, I can take it as proof of my love. But isn’t my day-by-day love to be composed of more than obedience? Isn’t “how do I know I love God?” different from “how do I love God?”

I began to think of how Jesus loved his Father and came up with at least a few ways (and I’m sure this is but a drop in the proverbial bucket). I wanted to see how people may have answered this question: “How did Jesus love his Father?” And here is what I thought of: He loved his Father by defending him. When the Pharisees showed their appalling ignorance of the character of God, Jesus would step in to defend God. He loved his Father by communing with him. Jesus constantly escaped from the crowds so he could spend time alone with God. He communed with him in prayer and undoubtedly in meditating upon the Scriptures. He loved his Father by loving his Father’s people (see, for example, John 17:12). He loved his Father by obeying him. He loved his Father by doing his Father’s will. He loved his Father by making his Father’s glory his first priority and by making much of him. And I’m sure this list could continue.

And I got little further. I began to look to my own life to see if I am primarily obedient to God or if I primarily love God. I can’t help but feel that, if I am motivated primarily by obedience, then I am missing out on something important. Does this mean that I read the Bible every morning just to obey God? Or do I read the Bible in order to spend time with God and enjoy some moments of communion with him? Do I love his people because I want to ensure I am following his edicts, or do I love his people because he loves his people and I want to be like him? Is there a purity in love that is missing from obedience?

I’m going to turn to you for your thoughts and see if you can bring some clarity here (though by this time I may have so muddied the water that you are completely and utterly confused). Am I making a false distinction, or is there really a difference between “how do I know I love God?” and “how do I love God?” And if so, answer what should be a simple question: how is the Christian to love God?

June 07, 2004

I sometimes wonder how many people really “get it.” How many people who profess Christ really, truly understand what the Christian life is all about. We love to use little catch-phrases like “I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” but what does that really mean to us? How many people had personal relationships with Jesus while He walked this earth, yet never came to believe in Him? Perhaps that choice of words detracts from the real thing.

I am generally unimpressed when I hear people say they have a relationship with Jesus. What really does impress me is when people exhibit faith and repentance in their lives.

And so I ask, how many people who claim to be Christians really exhibit the qualities of a Christian in their lives? Do we see them repenting of their past behaviour and growing in grace? Do we see them seeking to learn more about their Saviour and striving to be more like Him?

I think we set our standards low. We have learned to expect so little of ourselves and so little of others and have taken Christ’s words that we are not to judge others to allow us to display such ignorance. We have allowed a mere profession to determine in our minds who is a believer and who isn’t, despite mountains of evidence that might contradict this profession. I think of Alice Cooper - a man who professes Christ, yet continues in the behaviour that earned him such notoriety in decades past. Sure he seems like a nice guy, but so much of his behaviour is not just unscriptural but anti-scriptural! Does his life show evidence of Christ? I saw an interview with him a few days ago where he mentioned that he became a Christian over 20 years ago. That means for the past twenty years he has been deliberately acting like an unbeliever while professing Christ. What gives?

Ultimately salvation is between an individual and God. We can never be absolutely certain about another person’s eternal destiny. Yet I believe we are free to assume based on the evidence we see. Where the evidence continually contradicts the profession, why should I force myself to believe that the person is a believer?