God’s family

Occasionally I’m reminded of the blessings of being a part of God’s family, even more than usual.

The Lord’s body has many good people in it, folks who really want to do right, to help, to serve.

Something happens—a tragedy occurs or a need arises—and Christians respond in droves. They put their lives on hold and ask what they can do, then they do it. Better yet, they figure out on their own what needs to happen, then they make it happen.

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me, because helping others is the essence of Christianity:

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. . . . And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:2, 9, 10).

And do you remember how Jesus answered the question about the “great commandment in the Law”? In addition to loving God, Jesus said to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). You can’t love God without loving God’s people.

Wherever there are burdens to be carried, good to be done, and neighbors to be loved, you’ll find Christians.

That’s what believers do. It’s in our spiritual DNA.

But sometimes when it manifests itself in especially clear ways, it makes me remember again what it means to be a Christian.

And it makes me thankful to be a part of God’s family.

Don’t you agree?

Jesus’ tears in Gethsemane

I doubt we understand how intense the Gethsemane experience was for Christ.

We know He became so emotional that His sweat turned to blood (or seemed to, Luke 22:44). This means that He may have experienced a very rare condition when human beings experience such stress that they sweat blood.

In Hebrews 5 we find another clue as to how much pressure Jesus felt in the Garden:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Hebrews 5:7-9).

Though the author doesn’t say specifically, he must’ve been referring to Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane. We know Jesus prayed passionately, and that He asked the Father to “remove this cup” from Him (Luke 22:42).

What we didn’t know from reading the gospels is that Jesus also cried loudly while He was praying.

Why was He so emotional?

I used to think it was because He dreaded the physical suffering of the scourge and the cross, but I doubt that’s what it was. This is the same Jesus who told us not to fear what people might do to us physically: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

More likely, Jesus’ dread of Golgotha centered around spiritual suffering, the fact that He would become a sin offering for us: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The only man who never sinned became, as it were, the worst sinner who ever lived. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who had enjoyed perfect unity throughout eternity, somehow, inexplicably, experienced some kind of disunity (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Jesus could handle the torture and pain, but is it possible that He didn’t know if He could make it through the brief severance of divine fellowship?

So as He steeled Himself in the Garden for the next day, His emotions overwhelmed Him.

Jesus wailed in Gethsemane on Thursday before He offered Himself at Calvary on Friday.

That should make us appreciate even more His incredible sacrifice.

When Jesus cried

Real men don’t cry, or so they say.

But Jesus was as much of a man (and more) who ever lived, and He cried. Three times, at least.

One of them was at the tomb of His good friend Lazarus.

But why? Why did Jesus cry when Lazarus died?

In a way it doesn’t make sense at all.

Here’s an excerpt:

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. . . . So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. . . .

Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. . . .

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11).

In a way things don’t really add up. If Jesus knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, why did He cry? It doesn’t make sense that He would grieve over His friend’s death if the friend was about to come to life again.

So why then did He cry?

I think it was because He saw the grief around Him, and He knew it wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Death wasn’t supposed to happen. He hadn’t created people to see them die, yet death was everywhere. People grieved and suffered and cried.

I think Jesus was overwhelmed as He thought about how sin had messed everything up so badly.

He cried, not as much out of love for Lazarus as it was love for everyone and anger at what had happened.

God hates death—why it’s here, what it does, what it represents.

The story has a happy ending, though, not just for Lazarus but for everyone who follows Christ.

For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 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 (1 Corinthians 15:52-57).

Jesus cried because He hated sin, and this same passion led Him to the cross, to the grave, and out of the tomb, so that one day He could dry every tear.

Have a great Thursday!

In Christ,

The kindness of God

What does it mean to be kind?

Perhaps the classic illustration is that of a gentle young man’s helping an older lady cross the street.

Or maybe we think of a sweet sister at church who always says nice things about people.

What do you think of when you think of God? Is He stern or gentle? Critical or forgiving? Angry or patient?

Is He mean-spirited or kind?

I think the best way to know is to look at Jesus, who showed God to us.

Meditate on these passages in your devotional time today:

“So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35).

“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

“. . . if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Peter 2:3, NASB).

Here are a few thoughts from the passages above:

  1. God’s kindness causes Him to reach out to the “ungrateful and the evil.” He’s not just kind to the people who love Him.
  2. We see His kindness most clearly in Jesus Christ, who treated people with compassion and gentleness. Remember the woman who had been caught in the act of adultery (John 8)? Jesus treated her like a human being, in contrast to the ones who brought her to Him who were using her to set a trap for the Lord.
  3. God’s kindness draws us to Him. If you tend to think more about God’s judgment than you do His mercy, focus especially today on His kind and gentle disposition. Think about Jesus’ touching the leper, holding the children, and extending compassion to the ones society had abandoned.
  4. Can you find someone to be kind to today? God will send you someone who needs a little kindness in his life, so treat him well. Bonus points if it’s someone who doesn’t really deserve it. (Do any of us?)
In Christ,

How do you describe love?

It’s hard to write about God’s love without using well-worn clichés. Besides, what can you do with a topic like that in 300 words?

Perhaps it shouldn’t frustrate us, though, because even the Bible writers seemed to struggle with it, and they had the Holy Spirit’s help.

Paul resorted to superlatives.

It’s an “everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

It’s a “great love” (Ephesians 2:4).

It’s a this much kind of love . . . “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). “Beloved, if God so loved us” (1 John 4:11).

But Bible writers recognize that adjectives can’t really describe it, so they talk more than anything about what itdoes, rather than what it is.

God loves us so much that He gave his only Son (John 3:16), which, Paul echoes, was a demonstration of his love (Romans 5:8).

The apostle John puts it like this: “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” (1 John 4:10).

God’s love is the kind of love that removes would-be obstacles:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-32, 35, 37-39).

Deep down we know that words can’t really describe or show love anyway.

I can say I love my wife and not really love her.

A parent who says he loves his kids but abuses them doesn’t really love them.

Love does something. It looks out for the best interest of its object. The one who loves is willing to sacrifice herself for the one she loves.

So I suppose that’s why the best description of God’s love isn’t found in the right combination of words, however eloquent and descriptive they might be.

The best way to understand it—as well as we finite beings can—is to grasp what it did, what He sacrificed, for us.

Looking at the cross is really the only way to understand it at all.

But I deserve it.

deserve to be treated with respect.

deserve a raise.

deserve for my spouse to_____.

Why? Well, because I’m a person of dignity, or I’m worth a lot to this company, or, well, just because I do.

We talk a lot about what we think we deserve, and we get angry or hurt when we don’t get it.

But it’s a good thing we don’t get what we deserve, at least as far as our relationship to God is concerned.

We deserve death, Paul writes in Romans 6:23 (“For the wages of sin is death . . .”).

We deserve to be separated from God throughout eternity.

But God is rich in mercy, and so He doesn’t give us what we deserve.

Today, reflect on Paul’s beautiful statement about God in Ephesians 2:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:4-10).

“But God . . .”

Perhaps those are the two prettiest words in all the Bible.

You and I deserve death, but God gives us life.

We deserve hell, but God promises us heaven.

We’ve earned punishment, but God rewards us instead.

Aren’t you thankful we serve a “But God” kind of Father?

Worship God with joy!

I hope you’re looking forward to worship today.

We anticipate many things: seeing family after a long absence, the birth of a child or grandchild, recreational events, a vacation, returning home after a long business trip . . .

It’s possible—because Sunday comes about so frequently—that worship can become just something we do, a place we go, a ritual we observe.

As you read the psalm below, let the Lord remind you of the joyful nature of worship. When you arrive at the church building today, open your heart to the joy of the Lord and worship Him with a smile on your face.

Oh come, let us sing to the God; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the God is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the God, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand (Psalm 95:1-7).

Obey God blindly?

We often emphasize—rightly—that God blessed Abraham in spite of the fact that he often sinned.

But we shouldn’t overlook another of his important characteristics.

Read this New Testament description of him:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. . . . By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back (Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19).

Abraham obeyed. He didn’t just believe in God’s existence, and his faith wasn’t merely trust.

He did what God told him to do.

Sure, he sometimes doubted, sometimes sinned, but his life pattern was one of obedience.

And by the end he had learned to do whatever God asked without questioning.

Do you ever struggle with that?

Most of us do.

Obeying God is hard, especially when we don’t understand exactly what He’s doing or why. But that’s what we learn from Abraham: By faith . . . obey.

Wherever God leads you, whatever He sends you, no matter how difficult, keeping your eyes focused on the “city that has foundations.”

Obey God, like Abraham.

The Lord will provide

I can’t imagine Abraham’s relief when he heard the angel call out his name.

He held the knife in his hand and was reaching out to slaughter his son when he heard, “Abraham, Abraham. . . . Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God” (Genesis 22:11-12).

He saw a ram caught in a thicket by his horns and offered it as a sacrifice instead.

Because God had provided a sacrifice in Isaac’s place, Abraham named that area “The Lord will provide” (v. 14).

That actually has more significance than you might have noticed.

Notice carefully these passages:

  • [God] said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2).
  • Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite (2 Chronicles 3:1).
The New Testament tells us that Jesus was crucified just outside Jerusalem, which means that He died on one of the hills of Moriah. So He offered Himself on the cross in the same area that Abraham almost killed Isaac, where God provided the ram as the substitute sacrifice.

The Lord will provide.

Sometimes we get caught up in our individual stories—all the drama, all the busyness, all the noise—but it should help us to remember that the real story has always been about God as The Lord Who Provides.

After the sin of Adam and Eve, God pointed toward Calvary.

When God provided the ram for Abraham, He was thinking about the cross.

In all of the animal sacrifices and ceremonies and laws, God looked toward Golgotha.

The Lord will provide a sacrifice, a substitute for us. That’s what it’s always been about.

We deserved to be on the cross. Our sins deserved the punishment of death.

But God provided Jesus on one of the hills of Moriah to die in our place.

It’s wonderful to be a Christian.

Just keep on trusting

Isn’t it great that God is patient with us?

Abraham was the “father of the faithful,” but think of all the mistakes he made along the way.

He lied about his wife to protect himself (twice). He questioned God. He tried to circumvent God’s plan, or at least “help” God.

Yet through it all God kept reassuring him.

Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great. . . . And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:1, 5).

Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. . . . I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you (Genesis 17:4, 6-7).

And in the end God called him the “father of us all” (Romans 4:16).

In our own faith journeys, sometimes we’re more like Abraham than we’d like to admit.

We question God. We deceive. We do it our way when God’s way takes too long, or seems too difficult.

But hopefully we’ll be like Abraham in the most significant way.

Even though he often fell short, he kept trusting God: “he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

That’s where we follow Abraham. We sin, but we should never fail to trust that God will do what He has said He will do.

I think part of the reason God chose Abraham—and for that matter David, Peter, Paul, and myriad others—is to show us that our righteousness rests on God’s goodness, not our own.

God is sovereign and is working out His will in our lives.

We’ll fall short, but God won’t.

He just wants us to continue trusting Him.

In Christ,