God Is Kind

bleeding-woman-healed
Paolo Veronese (Caliari), Christ and the Woman with the Issue of Blood, 1565-70 AD

The freedom God gives us to receive Him in our lives raises another classic problem, the apparent conflict between God’s sovereignty and human freedom. This problem of freedom has confounded theologians and skeptics alike throughout human history. However, the problem ultimately stems from flawed human logic and ignorance of God’s Word.

The problem of freedom asks the question, doesn’t God’s sovereignty violate human choice? In a word, no. One of the great wonders of our is how He sovereignly carries out His plan of salvation for the whole world and still allows us to choose our reject His presence in our lives. And yet, the Bible is clear that God does allow us that freedom.

Concerning human will, the Bible is clear that every person is a slave to sin. Spiritually, everyone serves someone. On the surface, we have five options: God, Satan, another person, a world system, or self. But behind the scenes, there are really only two options: God or not-God. And everything not of God is sin. Further, our natural condition is to serve our own selfish interests. As Romans 3:10-12 explains,

There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.

The inherent selfishness of humanity is easily observed in babies. Babies cry to have their needs met—eating, changing, sleeping, and so forth—without regard for the needs of interests of their parents or caretakers. Of course, as infants, this is entirely acceptable. But as babies grow into toddlers, walking and talking, do they naturally begin sharing their toys and obeying their parents? Of course not! These things have to be taught. Humans are naturally selfish, imposing our will on others in pursuit of our own self interests. Kindness and selfless generosity go against human nature.

But if we sin because God made us this way, doesn’t that mean it’s His fault, not ours? Of course not! God made us with the inherent need for His presence so that we would seek Him. But, as previously noted, Adam and Eve, representing all humanity, chose to rebel against God and pursue a life apart from Him. But make note, their rebellion wasn’t an isolated incident. History has shown time and time again that, instead of seeking God, we deny our need for Him. As Romans 1:20-21 explains,

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

But God does not give up on us. He never stops inviting us to be reconciled with Him by believing in Jesus. As Jesus explains in John 6:44,

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.

This verse says that everyone who comes to Jesus comes because God draws them.[1] How? As Jesus explains later to the disciples, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. As John 16:8-11 says,

When He [the Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

The Holy Spirit convicts the world of fallen humanity about sin. This conviction illuminates our hearts to our sinful condition and our need for a savior. This is the kindness of God drawing us to Himself, leading us to repentance. As Romans 2:4 says,

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? (NLT)

As the Holy Spirit illuminates our hearts, God empowers us to freely choose to believe in, or reject, Jesus Christ. And it is when we choose to believe in Jesus that we become children of God (John 1:12), who frees us from the power of sin (John 8:34-36) and gives us new life in His Son (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).


[1] Some Christians misinterpret John 6:44, teaching that God only invites some people to believe in Jesus and receive salvation. But that’s reading a meaning into the verse that it doesn’t say. John 6:44 doesn’t say that everyone whom the Father draws will come to Jesus. The verse only says that that everyone who comes to Jesus is first drawn by the Father.

God Is Giving

Byzantine School, Sermon on the Mount (mosaic), c. 6th century AD

The second phase in John 3:16 says, that He gave His only begotten Son. The first three words, that He gave, highlight another dimension of God’s love—He gives gifts to those He loves.

When my daughter was a young child one of her favorite days was birthdays. On her own birthday she was overjoyed at the prospect of receiving gifts. For her, it didn’t really matter what kind of gift, she was thrilled to receive everything from toys and clothes to special family activities and visits from her grandparents. When it was someone else’s birthday, she was just as excited to make or pick out a present and give it to them.

For many of us, there is something special about giving and receiving gifts, an associated closeness of relationship that warms our hearts regardless of the gift given or received. But as we get older, we tend to take gifts for granted, coming to view them as something earned for good behavior or deserved as a byproduct of a shared relationship. But this misunderstands what a gift really is.

One dictionary defines a gift as follows:

A thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.[1]

First, note that a gift is given willingly by the giver. A gift is not given begrudgingly or under compulsion, as if it were something owed to the receiver. Then it would not be a gift given, but rather, a payment tendered by the giver.

Second, a gift does not require payment from the recipient. A gift does not come with expectation of return or place obligation upon the recipient. Then it would not be a gift given, but a service or product purchased by the recipient.

Third, the qualities of the gift may vary, but they do not impact its status as a gift. A gift may be useful or frivolous, serious or humorous, expensive or thrifty, ornate or plain; the characteristics of the gift don’t really matter. If the gift is given freely, without compulsion or obligation from the giver of toward the recipient, it is still a gift.

Some pets are known to be enthusiastic gift givers. I remember a story a friend told me about the gifts her cat would leave her. From hairballs on her pillows to rodent carcasses on her front stoop, these gifts certainly aren’t the kind she liked to receive. But the way she explained how her cat sat there, waiting for her approval, nonetheless warmed my heart. Her cat was saying, “I love you” in a language both the cat and the owner understood.

In a similar way, God gives all of us many gifts every day. Thankfully, God’s gifts tend to be much more useful and lasting, even if they often come instructions and some assembly required.

God is very generous toward us. When life is going good, we tend to take for granted ask the convenient niceties in our lives. But all these things are gifts from God. James 1:17 stresses this important truth:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

Everything in our lives is a gift from God. Everything in life—career, car, clothing, family, food, income, leisure, shelter, technology–everything ultimately comes from God. A lot of us like to think we work hard, earn our due, and whatever we get we’ve earned. Others tend to think so highly of themselves that their mere presence is a gift to everyone else and everyone else owes them for the opportunity to dwell in their glorious presence. But both extremes fall short of the truth.

Jesus explains the humbling truth about how God designed us to live in John 15:5, which says,

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

God made us to live in relationship with Him. He knows we need basic necessities like clothing, for and shelter. He even promises to provide these for us. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:31-33,

“Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Notice, the greatest gift is not material. The greatest gift is the abiding presence of God in our lives. God freely and joyfully offers all of Himself all the time to whoever will come to Him.

But that’s the caveat. God will not force Himself on us. His presence in our lives is a gift freely given and freely received. This means He permits us the freedom to receive, or reject, His abiding presence in our lives.


[1] Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, eds., Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), s.v. “Gift.” Logos Bible Software.

God Is Love

prodigal-son-flinck
Govert Flinck, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1640-1642

The first phase of John 3:16 ends with the words, so loved the world. When we turn our attention toward God, He helps us look beyond ourselves and start looking at the world through His eyes of love.

Throughout history, love has been idealized as one of the greatest virtues of humanity. The power of love to stir the hearts of humankind to action has been witnessed time and time again, from the bystander who exhibits superhuman strength to lift a car off a fallen victim, to the unity of those willing to stand against the unjust exploitation and murder of other human beings. Truly, love is one of the greatest motivators and unifiers known to the world.

According to John 3:16, God’s love is what moved Him to send Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. However, there is a lot about the idea of love that the world gets wrong. Some of the confusion about love comes from the way we use the word for a wide range of situations. For example, a person who is very passionate about Italian cuisine might say, “I love lasagna.” This is kind of love is very different from that of a mother who pulls her baby close and whispers, “I love you.” Then there is the love between husband and wife, which differs greatly from the love between other relatives or friends. This one English word can have many different meanings depending on the context. But these kinds of love all have in common that they are all human in origin and reciprocal to varying degrees.

In contrast, though God’s love can certainly be felt, it is not conditional on human emotion or experience. It is based solely on the lover—God Himself. Thankfully, God has explained His love toward us with various examples and explanations throughout the Bible.

The first time the Bible mentions God’s love is Deuteronomy 4:37, which says,

And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power.

This verse introduces us to at least five particular dimensions of God’s love.

First, God’s love is intentional. God loves us on purpose, no by accident. Notice how God, speaking to Israel, chose them based on His love for their forefathers. God’s choosing traces back to Genesis 17:6-8, where God makes an everlasting covenant with Abraham:

I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

Here, we see how God intentionally made a covenant with Abraham that included a promise toward Abraham’s descendants, who weren’t even born yet. This shows how God’s love is not accidental, but intentional.

Second, God’s love is unconditional. God loves regardless of whether we love Him back. In Genesis 17:6-8, when God made the covenant with Abraham, that covenant very one-sided. Notice how God promised to do all the work. In fact, God had only one requirement for Abraham, as God explains later, in Genesis 17:10-12:

This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.

The mark of circumcision was the only requirement God placed on Abraham’s descendants. And this requirement was not a payment or recurring activity, but rather, a physical mark in the flesh—a sign reminding Israel about God’s covenant with their forefather Abraham and how He chose Israel collectively to be His chosen nation long before any of the Israelites were able to reciprocate God’s love by choosing to love God back.

Third, God’s love is active. God’s love isn’t mere lip-service; God always follows His words with actions.  As we read in Deuteronomy 4:37, God showed His love for Israel by bringing them out of Egypt. Israel’s slavery in Egypt and deliverance by way of the Red Sea is detailed in Exodus 1-14. Those chapters tell how God heard Israel’s prayers, brought the judgment of the 10 plagues on Egypt, and parted the Red Sea so Israel could escape the Egyptian army by crossing into the wilderness. These miracles show God’s unwavering devotion to take action on behalf of everyone He loves.

Fourth, God’s love is present. According to Deuteronomy 4:37, God did not bring Israel out of Egypt only to abandon them in the wilderness; rather, God delivered Israel with His presence. God desires a deeply personal relationship with all of us. This is true going back to Adam and Eve in the garden. Immediately after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, Genesis 3:8-9 says,

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

The Bible doesn’t say for sure whether God walking in the garden was Him taking a physical form or if it’s a word picture about God’s presence with Adam Eve. However, it’s quite clear that God regularly spent time with Adam and Eve and that they enjoyed a very close relationship with God. Sadly, the closeness of that relationship was lost for all of us when Adam and Eve rebelled by sinning against God. Now, sin is a wall between us and God that we can’t tear down ourselves. Thankfully, God is greater than sin and He took action so we could receive His presence again in our lives.

Fifth, God’s love manifests in power. We mentioned the many miracles God used to rescue Israel from bondage in Egypt. The abiding presence of God in our lives shows up in power to flee temptation, walk in victory over sin, and share the love of Christ in a world that couldn’t care less what God wants. As 2 Timothy 1:7 says,

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

When we believe in Jesus Christ, God performs surgery on our hearts, spiritually transplanting His Spirit as a kind of spiritual pacemaker alongside our own. The Holy Spirit comes alongside our hearts, monitoring our intentions, detecting spiritual anomalies, and sending spiritual pulses to convict and challenge us so we can change and become more like Jesus. Why? So that we can live fearlessly as witnesses of the love of Christ and not fall prey to the empty philosophies of the world.

These five dimensions of God’s love: intentional, unconditional, active, present, and powerful, are not exhaustive, but they begin to help us understand God’s great love for us. A love so great it moved the Father to do whatever was necessary to reconcile us to Himself.

 

I Am Yours (Gracie’s Song)

An original song based on Ephesians 1:3-6.
In loving memory of Graciana Jane Northup, December 6th, 2019.

I Am Yours (Gracie’s Song)
Words and music by Tim Northup

Before You made the worlds
You called me by Your name
That I might live for You
Holy without blame
You chose me as Your own
According to Your love
To the praise and glory
Of Your beloved Son

I am Yours, I’m Yours
I am Yours, I’m Yours

Before You set the stars
In the evening sky
You knew every thought
That passes through my mind
Every joy and pain
That ever fills my heart
Sovereign over all
You keep me by Your love

I am Yours, I’m Yours
I am Yours, I’m Yours

When I feel alone
Drifting in the wind
The storm surrounding me
Darkness pressing in
You never let me go
Your Spirit drawing near
Comforting my heart
Wiping every tear

I am Yours, I’m Yours
I am Yours, I’m Yours

When the pain is too much to bear
This heartache beyond compare
All hope lost in the despair
You are near, You are near
You are here, You are here

I am Yours, I’m Yours
I am Yours, I’m Yours
I am Yours

When You Have Returned to Me

peters-denial

And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:31-34, NKJV)

Jesus and the disciples were in the upper room celebrating the Passover. The conversation among the disciples turned to a lively dispute about who among them was the greatest of Jesus’ disciples. Amusingly, this was not the first time they argued about this topic. They argued about the same thing shortly after returning from their preaching  and miracle ministry to Israel (see Luke 9, esp. 1-11, 46-50). We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, comparing our works to others’ is a common way to measure success in the eyes of the world. However, God measures success much differently. God isn’t interested in how we “measure up” to others—He’s interested in the condition of our hearts, whether we’re willing to humbly yield to the loving others and serving Him (see Luke 9, esp. 23-26, 46-50).

Regardless, during the Passover dispute, Jesus interrupts and tells Peter, “I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” The implications are clear. Peter will fail the Lord in word and works. And when Peter protests, Jesus very specifically tells Peter when and how He will fail—by denying Christ three times that very night, before the morning rooster finishes crowing. Interestingly, even with such a specific word of prophecy, Peter lives out his failure exactly as Christ prophesied.

But Peter’s failure isn’t the only prophecy Jesus spoke. Notice, Jesus also said, “and when you have returned to Me.” Here we are reminded that Jesus, knowing our thoughts even before we think them, loves us unconditionally. And this great love impels Christ to keep us as members of His flock, in spite of all our failures and weaknesses. He loves us so much that He even invests Himself personally in prayer for us.

Thus, Luke 22:31-34 exemplifies that wonderfully comforting passage in Romans 8:35-39:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So, when you find yourself failing the Lord over and over again, take heart. Jesus already knows every mistake you’ll ever make, yet He loves you still. And no matter how many times you sin—no matter how far you wander or how hard you try to mess things up—when you truly belong to His flock, having received His grace by believing in Him, then, He will always hold you tight, never let you go, and invite you with open arms to return once more to Him.

Love Has Come

An original Christmas worship song based on John 1:1-18.

 

Love Has Come
Words and music by Tim Northup

Lying in a manger the Promised Child was born
His parents stared in wonder could this be the Lord?
Surrounded by the shepherds, come to testify
As heaven’s host was praising him
Glory to God on high

Love has come, love has come
The Son of God is born to save the world
Love has come, love has come
Heaven’s Light has come to dwell with us
Heaven’s Light has come to dwell in us

Forsaking every privilege, He laid aside his crown
Born to dwell among us, coming to His own
Despised and rejected the Son of Man was scorned
But faithful unto death He brought
Salvation to the world

Love has come, love has come
The Son of God is born to save the world
Love has come, love has come
Heaven’s Light has come to dwell with us
Heaven’s Light has come to dwell in us

Love has come, love has come
The Son of God is born to save the world
Love has come, love has come
Heaven’s Light has come to dwell with us
Heaven’s Light has come to dwell in us