What is love?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. – 1 John 3:16

If you asked ten different people what love is you may very well receive ten different answers. Ask a three-year-old and his answer may be a simple “mom.” Ask a psychologist and you may have to settle in for a long and complicated response. The answer given by a fifteen-year-old girl will likely be very different than the one given by a sixty-year-old man who has been married to the same woman for 42 years.

Even though these answers may all be different, they likely all revolve around the same thing–emotion. Describing what love is usually involves describing how a person makes them feel or the committed feelings they have about a certain person.

God doesn’t talk about emotion when he describes love in his Word. He talks about action. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”

Love is defined by the greatest act of self-sacrifice ever made. God’s own Son gave up his life for you. He didn’t do it because of the way you made him feel. He did it because he knew it was the only way for you to live with him forever. He shed his blood not because he saw some great potential within you. He shed his blood because the sin within you needed to be washed away.

Jesus Christ laid down his life for you because his desire to save you eternally was far greater than any desire to preserve his own life. That selfless, self-sacrificing action is the very definition of love.

Now that you know what love is, go and love others.

Why does bad stuff happen?

Have you ever:

  • Been gossiped about…
  • Been injured in a freak accident…
  • Been dumped in a relationship…
  • Contracted a disease…
  • Lost a loved one…
  • Lost a job…
  • Just “lost it”…

If so, what is the common denominator in all these situations? Isn’t it that they hurt? When bad stuff happens, it hurts, and because we don’t like to hurt we ask why bad stuff happens.

The answer, in a single word, is “sin.” You won’t read that word on the op-ed page of your favorite newspaper or on a CNN newscast. Scientists won’t use that word. Philosophers won’t use that word. Politicians won’t use that word. But God does!

In the book of Romans we read, “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). God is willing to identify the source of suffering and pain. It is sin. That’s why bad things happen.

But just knowing why is not real helpful. What we really want to know is what we are to do about the bad stuff that happens.

In that regard CNN, the scientists, the philosophers, and politicians will have something to say. They will offer a theory, a medicine, or a philosophy by which to live. Those answers to life’s problems, however, only create another problem. What do we do when the solution doesn’t work?

That’s when it is wise to turn again to God. He has something to say about bad stuff. He is willing and able to do more than identify the source, he has provided the solution. God has a plan for health and healing. God deals with sin–the source of hurt and pain–by removing it.

Romans 5:20-21: “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If scientists could wipe out diseases, they would…
If politicians could end war, they would…
If philosophers could create bliss, they would…

But they can’t, so they don’t, and we keep asking why bad stuff happens.

If God could wipe out sin, he would…

And he has. Where sin increased, his grace–the love he has for undeserving sinners–increased all the more. That grace came to all in the perfect life of Jesus, in the sacrificial death of Jesus, and in the resurrection to life of Jesus. Jesus brings us God’s grace, and with grace come spiritual peace and health and joy that last forever. That’s God’s good answer to all the bad stuff.

 

Hallelujah

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. – Psalm 118:1

Maybe you’ve heard these words spoken at the end of a dinner prayer. Maybe you’ve heard one of your “church” friends say them, and thought: “Good?!? Enduring love?!? Oh really! Show me.”

Oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico like water over Niagara Falls. Anarchists revolted at a meeting of the world’s leaders and set police cruisers on fire. “God is good? He has enduring love? Show me.”

Children are born with birth defects. Convenience store clerks are shot. The economy is uncertain. Unemployment threatens the stability of millions of families. People still die. I am lonely. “God is good? He has enduring love? Show me.”

Has anyone, or anything, ever let you down? Plenty of times. Has your love ever gone unreturned? You’ve stopped counting. Many times you’ve probably wondered where to turn; you’ve asked, “Who can I trust?”

This psalm calls out to you, to me. It’s an “Hallelujah” psalm, meaning “Praise the LORD!” Long ago, God’s people sang the words of this psalm toward the end of their Passover meal. That special occasion was a time for the people to remember how God rescued their nation from slavery in Egypt; it was a picture of God’s rescue of all people from their slavery to sin. The Passover meal was a way that God showed each generation how much he truly loved them.

Would disaster continue to interrupt their lives? Would prosperity be withheld? Would earthly death continue to pick away at their loved ones? Yes, yes, and yes. Yet the people sang out praise and thanks to their merciful God for deliverance from all these trials of life. . . and more: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4,5).

Give thanks to our Savior God for his mercy and deliverance from death through Jesus. Jesus shows us that God is good. Jesus proves that his love for us endures forever.

Why do bad things happen?

In this world, why do bad things happen at all? One would have to agree that bad things do happen to all people. War, poverty, disease, sickness, accidents, pain, sorrow, death occur everyday to people around the globe. The rich, the poor, the intellectual, the illiterate, the strong, the weak, the old, the young can all be stricken and afflicted by that which we might define as bad.

This is not how God envisioned the world he created. When he was done creating the world, God looked over his creation and we read his evaluation in Genesis 1, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” What happened to this world that was very good? The answer again is found in the Bible, just a few short pages away from Genesis chapter 1. Adam and Eve, the first humans created by God, listened to the temptation of the devil, chose to go against God’s command and so sinned. Sin entered this perfect world. The effect of this sin was felt not only by Adam and Eve, but by all of creation. God told Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.”

About 4000 years after Creation, the Bible gives us an evaluation of the status of the world with these words: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” All of creation is tainted by evil. The ultimate evil that sin brought into the world is death, which awaits all living things on earth.

What good is there in this world that is so steeped in evil? On this side of eternity, the bad things keep happening. Evil will continue to happen until the end of time. God has not left us without hope. God in his love sent his one and only son, Jesus, into this world to live as our brother and to suffer the sorrows of this life, including a horrible death in our place. In exchange he guarantees us a place where we might enjoy goodness and mercy forever. There will be no more sorrow, or crying or pain. As believers in Jesus, the bad things of this life will pass away and we will be able to experience paradise in heaven.

Why am I here?

You’ve seen the sign maybe at a freeway off ramp, or maybe on some street corner. It is usually held by an unshowered man in untidy clothes. It says, “Need food. Will work.”

Now imagine the opposite. A sharply dressed gentleman next to a shiny limousine is holding a sign that reads, “Looking for someone to help. Will provide whatever you need.”

Can you guess which of them is God, and which is you?

God has an abundance of love, forgiveness, and peace and he delights in sharing it with those in need.

A long time ago God created people as his companions in a perfect world, but sin spoiled that relationship. Now people, by nature, are afraid of God, confused about God, and no longer as interested in God as he is in them.

God does not want to have a broken relationship with you. God delights in restoring peace and harmony between him and you. He uses your lifetime to accomplish this restoration.

God also gives you the privilege of doing things for him. You can be his hands, assisting the needy. You can be his voice, encouraging a friend. You are never too young or too old to be helpful.

God shares his forgiving love with you, and he looks for you to respond to it. You are here to receive the gift of God’s love and to share it.

There is a poster that says it this way:

  • Yesterday is history.
  • Tomorrow is a mystery.
  • Today is a gift.
  • That’s why they call it the present.

The Bible says it this way, “Always give yourselves fully to the word of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Who is God?

Among the Chinese there are some interesting man-made deities called “kitchen gods.” They are just paper images placed on a kitchen shelf. The kitchen, it is believed, is the best place to observe life. At certain times the Chinese family must burn its paper god so he can go back to heaven and report on the sins of that household. To insure a favorable report, the family will smear a little honey on the mouth of the paper image before it is burned. This, they believe, will sweeten the report.

We may look on such a practice in disbelief, but understand that most people believe that a supreme being rules all, and that people are accountable to him. Those who deny the existence of God are usually giving in to a bad conscience. It is no surprise that Psalm 14:1 insists that only a fool would say: “There is no God.”

Look out your window and see that God exists! The Bible says in Hebrews 3:4: “For every house is built by someone, but God is the Builder of everything.” Nature does reveal God’s power, wisdom, and goodness, but it does not reveal the identity of the true God. God’s power is seen in his creation of mankind, the animals, plant life, the solar system, the balance in nature, and so on. God’s wisdom is apparent as we study the body structure of man and animals, the power of a seed to germinate, reason in mankind and instinct in animals. Witness God’s goodness as he created things for people’s enjoyment: flavorful food, fragrant flowers, the song of birds, and brilliant sunsets. While nature shows us many things about God, it is still incomplete information.

God gives us a clearer description of himself in the Bible. While nature and the voice of conscience tell us there is a God, the Bible tells us who God is. The Scriptures reveal and elaborate on God’s qualities. More than that, they show God’s love in Christ, his desire to save mankind from sin.

As we study the Bible, we see that God has revealed himself as three Persons in one God (Trinity). In his love for all people, the Father sent his Son into our world. Christ lived, died, and rose from the dead to pay for all people’s sins. After Jesus returned to heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit came to turn people’s hearts to trust in Jesus alone as the Savior.

This is what the Triune God has done for you! Open your Bible and read the wonderful message!

What Is the Trinity?

“Trinity” means “three-in-one.”  It’s true, the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible.  But the concept is.

The true religion has always stated that there is only one Divine Essence who is called “God.”  From the beginning of time God has revealed himself as the LORD God (Genesis 2:4) and there is no other but him (Isaiah 44:6).  Monotheism set the Hebrews apart from other nations (Deuteronomy 6:4), and Christianity follows the same truth.

God the Father is God.  Jesus spoke of him as “the only true God” (John 17:1,3).  The apostle Paul spoke of God the Father as the creator God and the source of life (1 Corinthians 8:6).

God the Son is God.  Hebrews chapter one emphasizes that fact, explicitly saying “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (1:3).  We believe as the Bible teaches that “in Christ all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).  And we believe that “he is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).  Besides, the Bible attributes to Jesus all the characteristics of God (Matthew 28:18).  Jesus is also to be worshiped as true God (Matthew 28:17; Hebrews 1:6).  The New Testament shows that Jesus is the redeemer of the world from sin and the power of Satan.

God the Holy Spirit is God.  “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).  He is distinguished from the Father and Son when Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, the Spirit of truth, to be with you forever” (John 14:16-17).  The Holy Spirit is more than an impersonal power of God.  He grieves (Ephesians 4:30), and is the person of the Trinity who works faith in our hearts.  Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3).  Some people “speak against the Holy Spirit” to their damnation (Matthew 12:32).

There are many places in Scripture that mention all three Persons of the Triune God (Matthew 4:16-17).  God has always presented himself in plural terms (Genesis 1:26).

There are three Persons, each one the complete God, and yet there is no more than one single God.  “We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God” (from the Athanasian Creed of the Christian church).

The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. And they are one God.

How Does God Deal with Our Sin?

Psalm 103:12
As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

“How far can you throw it?” That question when asked in the neighborhood, results in several kids lining up and taking turns to see who can throw the baseball the farthest. It’s friendly competition, but even as the contestants get older, the baseball never makes it more than a few backyards away.

Our sins never seem all that far away either. We try to forget them by thinking about something else. We try to rationalize our sins and make excuses for them. We try to pass the blame to others. We try to pretend that they never happened. But try as we might, we just can’t seem to throw them too far away from us. They weigh on our conscience. They float around in our mind and keep us up at night. We are often reminded of our sins by the hurt feelings and comments of others. Sin never seems too far away.

That’s where Jesus came in. He didn’t just pick up our sins and throw them a few backyards away. He has removed them “as far as the east is from the west.” Who can measure the distance from east to west? You can travel thousands of miles in either direction and still have just as far to go. God’s forgiveness for you in Jesus is immeasurable. His supply of forgiveness will never run out. When God removes your sin, he removes it completely. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus your sins are gone for good. They are not coming back. And trusting in Jesus as your Savior, you have an eternity in heaven to look forward to.

“How far can you throw them?” When it comes to sin, the answer is “not very far.” Our human ways of dealing with sin will always ensure that they keep coming back. Instead, lay your sins on Jesus and let him throw them away “as far as the east is from the west.” You are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus, they are nowhere to be found.

Can God take my guilt away?

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

“I wish I could take it all away,” Mom whispered to her suffering five-year-old son. He had the flu for a couple of days now, and Mom’s heart was broken. As he lay in his bed suffering from the chills and a fever, there wasn’t much Mom could do except give him some children’s flu medicine and just be there for him. Mom felt helpless and wished she could take it all away from him. She even wished she could have the flu instead of her son.

When children are sick, the love of Mom and Dad really starts to shine through. In a heartbeat, parents go to extra lengths to make sure their kids are feeling as comfortable as possible. If you’re a parent, you’ve been there. You make sure their pillow is extra fluffy. You bring their favorite juice box. You provide their favorite movie to watch. And any time you hear them call, you quickly respond with, “What can I do for you?” The love of Mom and Dad goes so far that if they could take the sickness away, even become sick instead of their child, they would. But they can’t, and it hurts.

Has there ever been a time when you wished you could take it all away? Not just a sickness of a child, but something you did that you really regret? Maybe it was something you did to end a close relationship with a friend. Maybe you said something to a family member that you wish you could take back. Maybe it was something that only you know about, but it haunts you each day.

It’s at moments like those that God’s love really starts to shine through. He knows your sin, your guilt, your regrets. But he doesn’t just wish he could take them away. He did take them away. He forgave them all! He took your sin and guilt away when he put them on his only Son. He loves you so much that he had his only Son, Jesus, die for your sin so that you wouldn’t have to. God forgave your guilt and now considers you right with him because of what Jesus did for you.

Wish your guilt and regrets could be taken away? They were. In their place he gives you forgiveness and eternal life. Now that’s a love that shines through!

How can I be sure God loves me?

The sun is shining. The sky is blue. The lake reflects the sky. The trees are deep, living green. You and your family are healthy and happy. Work has been going great. You feel like a million bucks.

Wouldn’t you agree that God loves you?

Yes, today perhaps.

But clouds may cover the sun tomorrow. The lake can look rough and angry. The leaves will fall. The world can look bleak. Today’s good health turns into tomorrow’s sickness, accident, or death. Things may go sour at work. A family’s fragile happiness can turn to dust. Horrible things like earthquakes and terrorist attacks happen in God’s beautiful world. Then you ask, “Does God still love me? How can I besure?”

You can’t be sure by looking around in the world. In fact, there’s another complication. We all have the voice called conscience inside us. Conscience tells me that I should do right. It also tells me that sometimes I do wrong. I don’t deserve God’s love. In fact, I deserve to be punished. I can’t be sure that God loves me by looking inside myself.

No, the only way to be sure that God loves you is if he tells you so himself.

He did tell you. He sent his Son Jesus with a message for the world. No one has ever seen God, but God the heavenly Father’s Son came to earth to tell us about him. Jesus tells us that God loves the world—all people. He loves us in spite of all the wrong we do. Jesus showed us God’s love not just with words but in action. He gave his life for us.

So how can I know that God loves me? Not by my experiences in the world. Not by looking inside myself. Only God’s messenger, his own Son Jesus, can tell me for sure. The message Jesus brought is written in the Bible. The Bible brings us Jesus. Jesus says God loves us—always. His word can make us sure of that.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).