Kissing Through the Veil
When Covid-19 hit the US, pastors all over the country were forced to decide whether to cease or place severe limitations on Sunday's public gathering. Once you boil it down, there were four main options. The first was to continue to meet and throw caution into the wind. But this begs the question, how does this really and truly love our neighbors. The second was to cancel all church activities and to try to disciple through other means: YouTube, Facebook live, podcasts, blogging, etc. Third would be to modify Sunday in varying degrees to encourage God's people while trying to avoid the category confusion of a live-stream service replacing the gathered worship service. Finally, the fourth option is to try to replicate everything we do on Sundays.
To be sure, pastoral wisdom must be exercised to dictate what is best for your people. Still, given the options, I am becoming increasingly convinced that live-streaming cannot replicate what we do in corporate worship. Hope Community Church, where I am the planting pastor, chose option three. We have many of the elements that we would typically have on Sunday. On Sundays, we sing, we pray, we confess, we hear God's Word, we are sent. But in all that we are doing, there is so much that is missing.
Why? Isn't God present? I believe He is, and I think he is using technological means to share the gospel, but I would also say that during extreme times we aren't expected to worship as usual. So we don't need to pretend that we are worshiping as God intended. In other words, whatever we try to do is like kissing your wife through a veil. It's close, but it's not the same. And that is okay!
What Is Different?
God's Word makes it clear that there is an expectation that we would gather together. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some." The expectation is that God's people would gather together. Some may argue that perhaps the assembly was merely functional, i.e., at that time, it was the most effective way to communicate. Now that we have Zoom, YouTube, Facebook Live, perhaps we no longer need to assemble. I am able to watch Ted Talks and Concerts online. Why not church?
GOD CALLS US TO ASSEMBLE AND DIALOGUE WITH HIM
The first critique would be that God calls us to assemble, and there is no indication that it is merely functional. We see that pattern in the Old Testament, such as Exodus 24 with God's people in the wilderness, or the rebuilding of Jerusalem in Ezra and Nehemiah, or in the New Testament such as Acts 2:42-47 reveal to us that there is an expectation that God's people would assemble. Edmund Clowney says, "To be the church is to worship God together."
What is going on when we do assemble for worship? I am afraid that much of what is classified as worship today in the American Evangelical Church is consumption. We consume the music as great musicians sing about God, and we absorb a sermon as a top-notch communicator tells us how to live better lives. Scripture paints a different picture of worship. In the Bible, worship is a dialogue between God and His people. As Mark Jones points out, it is "two-way traffic between God and his people." We see an example of this in Gen 8:15-16. There is a call by God to leave the ark, a call to trust God, and Noah responds with sacrifice. This small example demonstrates the two-way direction of worship.
We try to emulate this pattern in our service. This is why we have responsive readings in church! It is not because it is trendy or traditional. It is because we are called to participate in worship. So we seek to find ways in our liturgy to encourage participation. Not only through responsive readings, but through singing (yes, we encourage our people to sing), and through confessing our sin as well as our faith. It cannot be replicated online, even with excellent applications like Zoom. There is nothing like hearing the collective voices of God's people echo off of walls rather than muddled through your device's speakers.much of what is classified as worship today in the American Evangelical Church is consumption. We consume the music as great musicians sing about God, and we absorb a sermon as a top-notch communicator tells us how to live better lives. Scripture paints a different picture of worship. In the Bible, worship is a dialogue between God and His people. As Mark Jones points out, it is "two-way traffic between God and his people." We see an example of this in Gen 8:15-16. There is a call by God to leave the ark, a call to trust God, and Noah responds with sacrifice. This small example demonstrates the two-way direction of worship.
We try to emulate this pattern in our service. This is why we have responsive readings in church! It is not because it is trendy or traditional. It is because we are called to participate in worship. So we seek to find ways in our liturgy to encourage participation. Not only through responsive readings, but through singing (yes, we encourage our people to sing), and through confessing our sin as well as our faith. It cannot be replicated online, even with excellent applications like Zoom. There is nothing like hearing the collective voices of God's people echo off of walls rather than muddled through your device's speakers.
worship is COVENANTAL
We assemble and dialogue with God because worship is covenantal. Covenant is a massive theme in God's Word, but it can be boiled down to this simple phrase, "I will be your God, and you will be my people." What we are doing when we gather is covenantal. God is showing us that He is our God as he provides us with the means of grace (Word, sacrament, prayer), and we are acting as his people by receiving those means.
Worship is embodied
Finally, worship is embodied. The songs we sing are with our voices, lungs, mouths, vocal cords. We use our bodies to sing. Our fellowship, too, is meant to be physical. While we refrain from greeting each other with holy kisses (culturally, that would be awkward), we do connect through other physical forms of touch, whether they be the newly minted elbow bumps or fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs. When we come to the baptismal font, water covers our head as a symbol of the blessings of the gospel. This is embodied. The same can be said of the Lord's Supper as we eat and drink physical bread and wine. But we do this as a body together with all baptized believers coming to the table. It is my conviction that this cannot be replicated apart from the gathered assembly.
To admit that our worship is not the same is a healthy response to our present crisis. I believe it demonstrates faith that God is at work even when we can't gather together. May our longing to gather again be a sign of our love for Christ and one another.
The Gospel and COVD-19
If you have been in a gospel-preaching church for any length of time, you may have run across the phrase, “How does that gospel apply?” to various situations that you may face in life. At the church I pastor, Hope Community Church, we have adopted gospel-driven living as one of our core values. What that means is that the gospel has implications that go beyond the forgiveness of sins, though it is not less. So what does it mean to be gospel-driven amid pandemic?
The first way to address this question is to look at our response to COVD-19. There are two ends of the spectrum. At one end are those crippled with fear. At the other end are the reckless like those that decided to spend Spring Break on a crowded beach. Many of us are probably somewhere in between these two extremes. There may be people who even oscillate between fear or over-confidence in an attempt to control.
So how do we apply the gospel to these responses, or perhaps you respond differently?
Let me give your 4 G’s to consider based on Tim Chester’s book “You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions.”
God is great - so we do not have to be in control.
God is glorious - so we do not have to fear others.
God is good - so we do not have to look elsewhere.
God is gracious - so we do not have to prove ourselves.
So how does the gospel apply to our current situation? If you are like me, you like to be in control. As of two weeks ago, I loved the predictability of our family routine. On Mondays, my wife Elizabeth would go to work, and I would be home with Ezra. Now everyone is home on Monday. Tuesday-Friday, our children would be at school, and I would work from home or out in our community. I loved the control and predictability of that schedule. That is just one small example of the control I thought I had. I am sure you have your own examples. However, God is teaching me, and I am assuming that I am not the only one, that I am not in control. He is the one in control. God is sovereign over my life, my family, our city, state, country, and world. He is sovereign over COVD-19. When I apply this gospel to my situation, I am reminded of this glorious truth; He is in control because he is great. The gospel calls me to believe He is great- to believe he is sovereign, and continue to trust in His faithfulness. I encourage you to find ways to apply the gospel to your response to our pandemic.
Baptism: A Sign and Seal
As we continue to look at baptism, we come to some language that refers to baptism being a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. This language may seem foreign to you but bear with me because once we understand what this means, I believe it will make baptism more meaningful.
The Sign of Baptism
What does it mean for baptism to be a sign? What does a sign do? A sign points to something other than the sign itself. For example, on our drives to California, our kids always ask if we are in California yet. I often ask them if they have yet seen the "Welcome To California" sign. That sign communicates that we are in a new location. The sign is not California, but it demonstrates that we are now in the Golden State. Likewise, baptism is a sign (Romans 4:11).
What is baptism a sign of? What does it signify?
Baptism points to the reality that we are united to Christ. Our union with Christ means that he dwells in us by his Spirit, and we are found in him.
It also communicates that God cleanses us from our sins. Finally, it demonstrates regeneration by the Spirit and resurrection. It is a visible picture of a spiritual reality, and it points us to God's work. In the same way that we don't baptize ourselves, we don't save ourselves. It is purely a work of God's amazing grace.
Seal of Baptism
What does it mean for baptism to be a seal?
Let me use an illustration form Tim Chester's book "Truth We Can Touch." He says, "Think of a contract. Think perhaps of an employment contract or...an IOU. What you hold in your hand is a sheet of paper with a series of commitments written on it...The sacraments are like the signature on the bottom of the contract. In the past, agreements weren't signed, they were sealed with wax impression. So the Reformers spoke of sacraments as seals." Baptism is God's guarantee that all the blessings found in the gospel are yours in Jesus Christ.
In closing, we can picture baptism through the lens of words of affection and physical affection. It is one thing to tell someone you love them, but physical affection adds weight to those words. I encourage you to see your baptism as God's way of showing you that he loves you!
Baptism Series - Introduction
For the next several weeks, we will be looking at the topic of baptism. At the outset, I want to make clear that this is not a topic that we would ever want to divide over. To be sure, there are gospel issues, and there comes a time when the gospel is at stake, but baptism should not arise to the level. Over the next few weeks, we will look at the purpose of baptism, its meaning, and who should be baptized.
Let me lay my cards on the table at the outset, I am an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, which means I baptize babies. If you have a newborn around, I may have to pour water on their head ;-). The beauty of our denomination is that you do not have to agree with infant baptism to be a member of our church.
My hope is that over the course of the next few weeks, I will sharpen my own understanding of baptism as well as whoever may read this blog. Below is what the Westminster Larger Catechism says about baptism, and as we continue, I will seek to flesh out what it means.
165. What is baptism?
A. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.
Q. 166. Unto whom is baptism to be administered?
A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descended from parents, either both or but one of them professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are, in that respect, within the covenant, and to be baptized.
Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the hard-heartedest (Yes...I made that word up) of all.
We have been studying the book of Jonah at our church for the past several weeks. Jonah can be a difficult book to interpret. I remember first learning about Jonah in Sunday School. Our teacher used flannel graphs (for those of you who don’t know what they are go here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flannelgraph) to show us that a large fish, maybe a whale, consumed Jonah. While the book of Jonah indeed contains that incident, the primary purpose of Jonahis not about the fish, or Jonah being in the belly of the fish for three days. The point of this blog post is not to debate the validity of this incident. After studying Jonah for more than a month, I have found that Jonah is really about a hard-hearted prophet and a gracious and merciful God. A God who has compassion. A God who sees the significance of his creation and the consequence of sin.
It has been easy for me to read the book of Jonah, with a negative bent toward prodigal prophet, Jonah. I have been critical of his actions, his words or lack of words, and his overall disposition. God told him to do something, and he goes the other way. Yet, I have been struck this week about how much I am like Jonah. How often have I been silent in the midst of turmoil? When do I run from what God has called me to do? Who are the people that I believe are too wicked, immoral, or sacrilegious to call out to God for salvation. I am just like Jonah. More so than I would ever want to admit. So like the sailors in Jonah 1, Jonah in chapter 2 and the Ninevites in Jonah 3, I am utterly dependent on the saving grace and mercy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Hope of Heavenly-Mindedness
I just finished a book that, though it was a challenging read, had some excellent insights on hope. Michael Allen’s book Grounded in Heaven: Recentering Christian Hope and Life on God retrieves from our Christian heritage the idea of the beatific vision and heavenly-mindedness. I don’t know about you, but I do not spend a lot of time contemplating heaven. Maybe it is because of the tyranny of the urgent. Or perhaps the church has overcorrected from early platonic influences. I have found through the study of this book the value in contemplating heaven. This does not mean that we are sitting on clouds while playing harps. Heaven is about God’s unique presence in His creation. So when we think of heaven, we can contemplate being in God’s presence.
The Importance of Heavenly-Mindedness
Now, why is that important? Many of us in the church have heard the phrase being so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. But this is not what it means to be heavenly minded. Instead, when we are heavenly minded, we are no earthly good. When we think of heaven, we are contemplating the risen Lord. The Lord who we are united to, the one who blesses us with every with spiritual blessings in the heavenly places.
The Call to Heavenly-Mindedness
Furthermore, Scripture calls us to set our minds on things above (Col 3:1). When we focus on the heavenly, it gives us a clear heading. It enables us to forsake and forgo desires that do not glorify God. How? They become less fulfilling than God himself. Another area of life where this would help is through suffering. When we have our mindset on Christ in glory, our hope is directed away from ourselves to the Lord. This may sound like escapism. But it is not. It is reminding us of the final goal of our humanity. To be in God’s presence. Orienting our minds and hearts heavenward allows us to be more fully present in the here and now. This occurs when our trust is removed from ourselves and placed in Christ.
The Blessing of Heavenly-Mindedness
When we trust in our provisions given to us in Christ, it frees us from undue worry and anxiety. It allows us to enjoy God’s good gifts in the present while anticipating better gifts in the future. It frees us to love people fully while not needing anything in return. It enables us to sacrifice joyfully. We can do this because our hope is not in this world, but in the one to come where we can be in God’s glorious presence with His people.
One of the Core Values of Hope Community Church is Gospel-Driven Living. That Core Value may sound nice, but what does it mean and what does it look like?
What is the Gospel?
When we think about the gospel, it begins and ends with Jesus Christ. “Jesus is Lord” is the confession of the gospel! He has come and obeyed the law on our behalf (Phil 2:8). He also stood in our place to endure God’s righteous judgment for our sin (2 Cor 5:21). This is the good news of the gospel; we are now reconciled to God. This is an act of God’s grace. There is nothing innate in us that earns God’s favor, love, or mercy. It is because God loves His people.Imagine with me for a moment that you took (stole) a pencil from your workplace. That seems like a harmless offense. Is your company really going to miss one pencil? But what if the laws in your country dictated that you would be sentenced to death for …PENCIL THEFT. When we think of this example, it seems silly. Yet in the eyes of God, one offense removes us from His presence because he is holy. The penalty for any sin, no matter how small, is death. This is what makes the gospel so amazing. There is much more that could be said about what the gospel is, but we will address it in an upcoming blog post.
The Impact of the Gospel
The good news of the gospel has far-reaching effects. In fact, it extends to all of life. Every area of our life needs to be placed under the lens of God’s grace and Lordship. Now knowing that we are a child of God, that we have been accepted by Him, means that we now need to not only acknowledge Him as our Lord but live under His Lordship. We, therefore, need to take a personal inventory and see what thoughts, desires, and actions we commit that are contrary to His Lordship. At first glance, you may think, I don’t have anything contrary. WRONG! We all do. The problem is that we are just like an automobile, we have blind spots. Let me enter my confessional booth and tell you one of mine.
When I was in Seminary (a school that trains ministry leaders), we were given the assignment to confess a sin that we struggle with regularly. It is embarrassing to admit that I had an arduous time coming up with anything. That may sound pious, but it is not. The reason why I had such a troublesome time coming up with a particular sin is that I was/am spiritually blind to them. After some time in prayer and discussion with my wife, Elizabeth, I discerned that I was struggling with the sin of covetousness. I wish I could tell you that I no longer struggle with it, but that would be another sin because I would be lying. Just yesterday, I had to repent for coveting. The gospel has revealed to me that I am ungrateful for the way God has made me and the life he has given me. I have made other people’s situations and their successes my idols. An essential aspect of Gospel-Driven Living is removing idols (anything that takes priority over God) from your lives.
What are some of the idols your struggle with? Ashley Hales, in her excellent book “Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much,” identifies four idols that many suburbanites struggle with. The first is consumerism. We look to buy stuff or services to fill a void we have experienced. The second is individualism, where we pursue self-promotion and self-interest. The third is busyness. If we are not busy, we feel like we have no value. Finally, we esteem safety. We arm ourselves with security systems and guns to protect our family and our values. Maybe some or all of these resonate with you on some level. Over the next few weeks, we will dive deeper into each of these idols and flesh out helpful ways in which we can apply the gospel to them. In the meantime, let me encourage you to go to the Lord ask him to show you where you have come up short. Maybe you covet, or perhaps you are dishonest, or you struggle with sexual sin. None of those are beyond God’s grace. Ask the Lord to forgive you, and he will 1 John 1:9. Then walk by faith in the power of the Spirit.
Faith found in Prayer
A few days ago, I ran across a compelling story that was a great encouragement to me. The story is about a Scottish Presbyterian Minister who was doing some teaching in California. He was on the beach when we saw an older gentleman who seemed to be emotionally distressed. As they began to converse, the older gentlemen found out the man he was talking to was a minister. He began to share with him that his wife for 45 years was dying of cancer. This man was meandering the streets of California because he was unsure of what lies ahead. He then began to confess that though he was raised in a Christian family, he had drifted away from the church. He was walking up and down the streets trying to pray but felt like he was unable to. He was having a crisis of faith. At this point, the minister was faced with a few different options. He could reprimand the guy and tell him he needs to get back into the church. He could say, I'll be praying for you. Though he could have said those things, he didn't. What he told the man demonstrates the beauty found only in the gospel. Here is what he says:
In Jesus Christ we have someone who knows all about this. He has been through it all-through suffering and death and separation-and he will carry you both through it unto resurrection life. He has heard your cry for faith and is answering…You have been walking up and down this beach wanting to pray, trying to pray, but not knowing how to pray. In Jesus Christ we have someone who is praying for you. He has heard your grown and is interceding for you and with you and in you.
Scripture and Prayer
You may be thinking, how is that possible? Did Jesus ever do that? We see an example of doing just that in his earthly ministry. In Luke 22:31 Jesus says, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."  Jesus prayed that Peter's faith would not ultimately fail. Peter did falter when Jesus was arrested by denying him three times. Jesus restored Peter. The prayers of Jesus protected Peter's faith. The apostle Paul also talked about the Holy Spirit interceding for us. The Spirit prays for us! Isn't that incredible to think about? Romans 8:26 says this about the Spirit praying, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." The Holy Spirit, who knows you better than you know yourself, knows exactly what you need to be praying for, and he does so on your behalf.
Finding Encouragement in the Son and Spirit
James Torrance explains this concept well in his compelling book Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, "He (referring to the Holy Spirit) knows all about you and is interpreting your desires and groans and your longing to know how to pray. He is interceding for you and leading you to the Father." Isn't that encouraging in your faith? You can pray and have confidence in your prayers because the Son and the Spirit are interceding for you. For those of you who struggle with prayer, know that you have the Son who has suffered in every way you have, yet without sin praying on your behalf. Not only that, but you have the Spirit praying for you as well. May you grow in confidence that your prayers are heard (even when you feel like no one is listening. We do not have to fear that our prayers won't be heard because we did not use a magic formula. Jesus ensures that the Father hears our prayers. He takes our prayers and sanctifies them and brings them to our Father in heaven. Thanks be to God for this amazing gift we have in Christ.
Hope in the Future, Fuel for the present!
Over the past two months, I have been able to minister to those who were grieving because they lost a loved one. When we face death, we are faced with the nagging question, “what happens when you die.” When you think of heaven, what comes to mind? Clouds, harps, wings, halos, etc. To be sure these are common depictions of heaven. Yet I believe the Scriptures give us a better picture of heaven. As we think about developing faith, depending on hope, and deepening love, allow me some time to focus on depending on hope. How does the hope of heaven help us today? How do we find encouragement in what lies ahead?
What Hope Does Everlasting Life Hold for Us?
One resource that has helpful answers to this question is the New City Catechism Q&A #52. You can find that resource here http://newcitycatechism.com. For those who may be unfamiliar with catechisms, a catechism is typically arranged in a question and answer format to teach the essentials of the Christian faith. They are a useful tool to learn more about the Christian faith.
The New City Catechism Questions 52 states:
What hope does everlasting life hold for us?
It reminds us that this present fallen world is not all there is; soon we will live with and enjoy God forever in the new city, in the new heaven and the new earth, where we will be fully and forever freed from all sin and will inhabit renewed, resurrection bodies in a renewed, restored creation.
Finding Encouragement in Everlasting Life.
Our family read the question and answer the other day, and the hope found in everlasting life really began to take root in my own heart. Here are a few points of encouragement.
The promise of living with and enjoying God is an excellent source of hope. For many reasons, but let me provide one. Scripture tells us that we will be doing precisely what we were created to do. Our goal in life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. When we inherit our eternal reward, we will be fully able to enjoy God. That is a significant source of hope.
Another aspect of hope that we can depend on is that we will be fully and forever freed from all sin. Can you mind even fathom that? Mine certainly cannot. However, we are promised in Scripture that we will no longer have any desire to sin in thought, word, or deed (Rev 21:4). Next time you sin, which will happen, by the way, repent of that sin and hold on to the hope that there will be a day when you will no longer sin or be tempted to sin.
So far we have covered some pretty amazing promises, but there are more two more to look forward to, renewal and restoration. We will inhabit imperishable bodies. We will no longer be ill, injured, or any other ailment associated with the fall. No more pain, no more death. We will have bodies that are resurrected in the same way Jesus now is at the right hand of God the Father in his resurrected body. Similarly, the creation will be restored from the effects of the fall. It will be a perfect place for God to dwell with His people as we inhabit the new heavens and the new earth and fulfill our calling to be his image bearers.
This is a message of great hope. I desire that you find the gospel and the promises found in the gospel to be an encouragement to you. May you see that there is a great inheritance awaiting those who trust in Jesus Christ.
Faith:Where does it Come From?
Whether you have children or not, you may have heard when they reach a certain age, they are very curious and begin to ask a lot of questions. Mommy “why is the sky blue?” Daddy, “how do cars work?” Mommy, daddy, “where do babies come from?” Oh man! Did our sweet innocent (they are not so innocent by the way) little child really ask us this question. Then your mind starts racing with. How much should we tell them? How will we communicate this to them? What did all those books we were supposed to read together recommend? Much like a child asking a question like “where do babies come from,” many of us out of curiosity have asked the question “where does faith come from?” In other words, who or what is the source of our faith? This is an important question because it has significant implications. For the sake of clarity, when I say our source of faith, I’m not referring to the authors of Scripture or the history of the church. What I mean is, how does an individual begin to trust in Jesus.
Holding the Balance
Mark Jones in his book “Faith.Hope.Love.” makes an astute observation regarding faith. He says, “God grants faith as a gift, yet he does not believe for us.” In other words, although faith is a gift, it really is genuinely our faith. We possess it. For example, if I were to send you free tickets to a baseball game, they would genuinely be yours, but you didn’t earn them. They were a gift. So the ultimate source of our faith is from God and is a free gift. However, it is our faith that we must exercise. This distinction helps maintain God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
God's Gracious Gift
Another important aspect of the source of faith is that it protects us from receiving any credit for possessing faith. We are not declared righteous because of our faith. Faith is a necessary condition for our sins to be forgiven, but it is not a meritorious condition. Let me clarify by taking up the baseball ticket illustration once again. The baseball tickets are necessary for you to enter the stadium, a necessary condition. Yet the ticket was a gift. You didn’t merit it; I gave it to you. In the same way, we can say that we genuinely possess faith, but we did not earn it. We were so good that God was cajoled or compelled to bless us with the gift of faith. NO! God out of his love and good pleasure gave us the gift of faith. Look at how Ephesians 2:8-10 talks about faith, “8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Faith is a tremendous gift given to us from a benevolent Father, the source of every good and perfect gift.
Knowing that God has given His people the tremendous gift of faith, should drive us to humility and praise. We need to be meek because the Lord has given us a gift that we do not deserve. We should be the humblest people on the planet; we have nothing to boast about except Jesus Christ. We also need to be continually praising God for blessing us with faith. May we have a greater understanding of our faith and may it drive us to worship the Lord humbly.
 Jones, Mark. Faith. Hope. Love. (p. 31). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 2:8–10.
What is Love?
How is Love Portrayed?
When we hear the term love, what comes to mind? Does it mean you really like something? I love football or I love to shop. Does it have romantic or sexual connotations? I love you! Or perhaps it has a feeling of affection attached to it. I love my child(ren). You may resonate with one of the above definitions or maybe even all three.
Love in the Bible
The Bible has a lot to say about love and we will explore various ways in which Christians are called to love in the coming months. 1 Corinthians 13 as well as many other passages give us an understanding of Christian love. While we have been talking about our Christian virtues faith, hope, and love, love is the chief Christian virtue. We see that in 1 Corinthians 13:13, the greatest of these is love. It is love that drives our worship. We love, because he first loved us. God is the object of our love and devotion and we express our love toward him in our worship of him. Even when we love our neighbor, we are doing so because we love God. In other words, we love the God who commanded us to love our neighbors and we are showing our love for God by loving our neighbor. Our love for our neighbor should never precede or be greater than our love for God.
Ways we are called to love
So what does it look like to love God? Mark Jones in his excellent book “Faith.Hope.Love.:The Christ-Centered Way to Grow in Grace” identifies three aspects of our love for God.
1. The love of Union: We desire God’s presence through our mystical union with Christ. This love works two ways. God desires to be present with us and he made that possible through Jesus Christ. Now his Spirit dwells in us. So not only is God present with us, but we too desire God’s presence. This is a gift of God’s grace.
2. The love of satisfaction: We desire to know who God is and God desires to make himself known. God revealed himself to us in his Jesus Christ and he has made himself known through both his creation and His Word.
3. The love of goodwill: We commit ourselves to obeying God and honoring him with our lives and of course God shows us goodwill toward his people through his steadfast love and extravagant grace.
Love Found in the Gospel
The one beautiful feature about love is that God has loved us first (1 John 4:19). It was because of his love that Jesus came into the world to obey the Father in our place, to pay the penalty for our sins, and to defeat death on our behalf. Our Lord is now seated on the throne and is continuing to love his people even when we fall short. May you walk in the confidence of God’s special love for those who trust in him. May you love the Lord in union, satisfaction, and goodwill.
Hope: Wishful Thinking? Or something Greater?
How many of you think of hope in this way?
I hope my son or daughter get into a good school. I hope I get a good job. I hope my team wins the championship. I hope to have excellent health. I hope I don’t get in trouble. I hope to go on a nice vacation. I hope my politician wins the election. Often when we use the word hope, it means wishful thinking.
I have noticed that I use hope quite a bit as of late as it relates to Church planting. I hope we reach our fundraising goal by May 31. I hope we get enough people on our launch team. I hope we can launch in the winter of 2020. Oh man! Am I placing this church plant endeavor on wishful thinking? Is your hope set on mere longing? Or is there more substance to it?
False Sources of Hope
The question we need to consider is, what is the source of hope? Or more specifically what is the source of your hope? Is your hope just wishful thinking? Perhaps you don't place it wishful thinking, but you try to wrap your hope in a false view of God by viewing God in your image. You see a God who is not holy, a God who does not punish sin. A God who merely wants people to be happy good little boys and girls. Of course, God is loving; God is merciful (1 John 4:8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love). What many forget is that God’s love includes his hatred toward sin. God in his love promises to deal with sin thoroughly. Others defeat their hope in having their theology in order. Sure, they can dot their theological i’s and cross their orthodox t’s, but that is as deep as it goes. Their hope has to be in something greater than “justification by faith alone.” When our hope is based on a false view of God or having our theological boxes checked, it leaves us without a strong anchor.
I believe God wants more for his people. He wants our hope to be based on more than wishful thinking, more than a false view of God, more than right thinking. In other words, what is Christian hope? It is something that looks to Christ and him alone. The Bible refers to God as “God of hope” and his Spirit would help us abound in hope (Romans 15:13). Our hope is more than wishful thinking, more than a false view of God. Our hope is found in a God who was prepared to take on human flesh. One who was willing to leave the glories of heaven and condescend to make himself known to us. One who endured suffering and ridicule at the hands of the people he created. One who obeyed the Father perfectly. One who paid the ultimate price for our sins. One who defeated death through his resurrection. This person, Jesus Christ, promises to be with us in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. So our hope is in something more secure than anything we can concoct. It is in a real person who came into our history and promises to remake us and renew is in his image. It is in one who is faithful to his promises. So our hope is secure, not because it is based on us, but because it rests on one who is unshakable. May you be encouraged and may your hope be found in Christ through faith.
Indiana Jones stands at the edge of a chasm with no apparent way to cross. However, with his eyes closed, he places his foot forward, uncertain of what will happen next. To his amazement, his foot lands on a pathway that was not previously seen. This is often our experience when we act in faith.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have faith in something. For some, it is faith in humanity. We put our trust in politics, education, technological innovation, etc. for the betterment of society. Yet these institutions and ideas for advancement often fail us. We hear about the corrupt politician with their broken promises. Our education system comes up with new curriculum, yet it seems that we continue to fail to educate our young people. Technology promises progress but fails to deliver, and worse, the costs are often more than the benefits.
Where do you place your trust?
I am continually asking myself this tough question. Why is it difficult? I know the right answer. Right? It’s difficult because I know what the answer should be. I should be putting my trust, I should be placing my faith in Jesus. But I, like many others, am guilty of the sin of unbelief. Just as Adam and Eve were tempted to doubt God’s words, I am tempted to doubt God’s promises in his word. I put my faith in others, in myself, in systems, and institution.
Where to Go?
Maybe you, like me, struggle with faith. The other day I read a passage written by pastor in Vancouver, Mark Jones. He says, “The faith that God requires sorts everything out. Our problems, fears, sins, and anxieties are solved by faith. This explains why God is so concerned about whether we have faith. Faith is a powerful little thing (Matt. 17: 20). As weak as it can be, this gift from God conquers all because of the Conqueror to which it unites us (Matt. 14: 31).” Though it is a sin not to believe, Jesus is the solution for this sin. Jesus died for our disobedience of unbelief. Jesus dies for my sin of putting my trust in anything other than Him. Since Jesus did this, we can go to him. We can repent of our unbelief and know that he is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.