How has he loved us?

The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.

“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”

– Malachi 1:1-5 (ESV)

“How have you loved us?” The answer to this question is an interesting one. God doesn’t answer by listing all the ways he has loved his people. He doesn’t talk about preserving Jacob’s family in the famine, or making Israel into a nation in Egypt, or freeing them from slavery, or giving them a land, or freeing them from Babylon. Instead, he compares them to their brother Esau. “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.”

What is he saying here?

Here’s what he isn’t saying: he isn’t saying that Esau is somehow worse than Jacob. Edom is not worse than Israel. But upon Israel the favor and love of the Lord has rested. “How have you loved us?” His wrath has fallen upon those outside the covenant, those outside the family. The same wrath we all deserved has not fallen upon us. There’s a bright contrast. A love so bright everything else looks like hate.

As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”

“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.”

– Romans 9:25-29 ESV

This is amazing love. Questioning it, as the questioner in Malachi has done, and as we so often do, is just a symptom of our spiritual blindness.

How has he loved us? He has loved like one who has given his life to save the life of his enemy. He has loved us like one who rushes into a burning building to save those in danger from the fire, and lets the building fall on top of him. He loves us the way a King does who adopts a poor, unlovely child no one else wants and raises her with honor and love and the rights of full inheritance.

How he has loved us!

Fit

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead -Galatians 1:1 ESV

I rather like Paul’s defiant tone here. God calls. He equips. It doesn’t matter if you match the profile, it doesn’t matter if you “aren’t a good fit” according to the experts. If he’s called you to something, he will fit you for it, in spite of and regardless of what anyone else thinks.

The Bible is rife with misfits whom God called to do great, daring, amazing things and who then went on, in his power, to do them. He, who raised Jesus from the dead, chose a church-persecuting religious zealot who opposed Christ to become a world changing missionary for Christ. He can do whatever he wants through you.

Our God is completely wise, expertly accurate, and keenly discerning at all times. He does all things well and therefore he doesn’t choose the way we do**.

Thank God.

**executiveStyleHair

Should I smash my Jeremiah 29:11 Coffee Mug?

Heres some nice theological and exhortational analysis by Mike Leake: Should I smash my Jeremiah 29:11 Coffee Mug?

When I graduated high school I remember getting key chains, coffee mugs, and probably even socks with Jeremiah 29:11 stamped on there somewhere. It’s a verse which we love to grab ahold of whenever the future isn’t so clear. What a terrific promise:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV)

There is only one major problem with making this my life verse; namely, context. A good rule for faithful Bible study is to always make sure to place a text in its context. If you rip it out of its context you are not being faithful to God’s intention for that text. To accurately interpret what Jeremiah says our interpretation needs to make sense to the original audience.

In its context Jeremiah 29 is speaking to those who were carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon (see 29:4). That “you” in verse 11 is not to an individual it is to an entire nation. God is saying that though they will experience 70 years in exile (see 29:10) that he will eventually redeem the people of Israel. But some of those who heard Jeremiah 29:11 died in exile. This was a promise to a nation.

And so does this mean that I cannot apply it to my own life? Does Jeremiah 29:11 have no meaning to the 21st century believer? Do I smash my Jeremiah 29:11 coffee mug?

Not so fast.

Read the whole thing. I love the balance here.

 

The God who speaks – Genesis 1:27-30

My notes from The Gospel Project, session 1: The God who Speaks

Question: What might be some of the reasons people don’t want to believe that God has spoken?

There are many reasons. Some people are still blind and deaf to him. Others believe, but don’t want to obey.

We may often find ourselves in that second category. If everything you hear from God is something you’re comfortable with, you need to ask yourself if you’re really hearing from him.

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. – Genesis 1:27-30

The God who speaks gives us tasks

Notice the progression. God created, because he had authority to do so. Then God blessed, showing his mercy. Then he tasked his creatures with a mission.

Question: Why is it important to understand this progression?

It’s extremely important to understand, because our natural inclination is to get it backwards. We believe that we work first, and then God blesses.

Think of the pattern in scripture. God first delivered the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and then after that he gave them the law on Mount Sinai. When Christ was on the cross, he shouted “It is finished”; the work of our salvation was done, and our forgiveness was accomplished, while we were still dead in our sins and enemies of God. When he saved us, he blessed us with power from on high in the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It was only then that he commissioned us (Matthew 28:19)

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

We invert the gospel. From the study notes: “When we begin with the task rather than the blessing, we cut ourselves off from the very power that is necessary to fulfill the tasks God has given us.”

We have to daily remind ourselves that God has done the work! Any good that we do must be in the power of the Holy Spirit and only in grateful response to what God has already done.

Questions:

Has God spoken to you through his word in the past few months? What scripture passages has God used to speak to you?

What blessings have you received from God in the past few months?

What tasks has God presented to you as a result of those blessings?

The God who speaks – Exodus 3:1-6

My notes from The Gospel Project, session 1: The God who Speaks

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. – Exodus 3:1-6

Deism teaches that God created the world but took a hands-off approach from that point on, not interfering in our world but just letting it run on its own. Some people have this belief, and even many Christians who don’t hold to Deism live as though they do. But the God revealed in scripture is not the deist’s God. He breaks into human history for our salvation. Exodus 3 records one of these breakthroughs.

The God who speaks is merciful to reveal himself to us

God created us to have fellowship with him, but not because he is needy and not because he was lonely. Within the Trinity God enjoys perfect love-relationships and has no need of us. But he did decide to create us, as an act of grace. As the study notes say, “He created us to fellowship with Him, to join in the love song the three Persons of the Trinity sing to one another.”

Question: If you were to hold a deist view of God’s revelation, how would that affect your life? How would it affect your view of the Bible?

But in contrast to the silence imagined by the deist, God has spoken, and he has reached down to us. This is the good news of the gospel. Like Helen Keller, we are naturally blind and deaf to him. We needed his touch. We needed him to be with us, to touch us, and to bring us light.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

God can break through into your life, how and when he wants to, and when he does he will bring a burning that does not char and consume, and light where there was no light, and will turn the mundane desert and dry bushes of your world into holy places. In Christ he can and will send you to take the message of freedom to those who are still in chains. He has a people that he has called to himself, and his mission, in which he condescends to involve us, is one of mercy, rescue and deliverance. “Let my people go!”

The God who speaks – Genesis 1:1-3

My notes from The Gospel Project, session 1: The God who Speaks

Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope joy, set it free! There were barriers still it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.

– Helen Keller, The Story of my Life

A light breaks through.

This moment was a turning point for young Helen Keller, only six at the time, and it released her from the dark silent world of wordless thought that she had lived in since she was 19 months old.

We were made to communicate. When we’re deprived of it, we suffer. Think about the movie Cast Away. Do you remember who became protagonist Chuck Nolan’s closest friend? A volleyball named Wilson. Chuck shared his life with that ball. He had to. Man was not meant to be alone.

The Lord created language and gave us the capacity for it. Have you ever noticed how powerful words are? And the more powerful or significant the speaker, the more powerful the words. For example:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. – Genesis 1:1-3

The God who speaks has authority

re’shiyth ‘elohiym bara’ ‘eth shamayim ‘eth ‘erets

These seven Hebrew words describe the initial creative activity of our Creator God. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. It should be noted that the word elohiym, which we translate as “God” is a plural noun, but the verb bara is singular, and describes creation out of nothing, the kind of creation only God can do.

A plural, singular God. Many scholars believe this is an early Jewish echo of the Trinity. A God who is self-existent in three separate Persons yet one Godhead, who had no need of anything and lives in a perpetual love relationship with the other members of the Trinity chose to bara, to create. And all he had to do was to speak to bring everything we know and all that we don’t know into being.

It was God’s word that created light. The Hebrew literally says “Light be!”, followed by the single word, recognizing the newly sprung, brilliant and glorious creation: “Light!”

Question: In what ways does the impact of a word of encouragement or criticism change depending upon the source?

Compare the impact of these words: “I now pronounce you husband and wife” to “Do you want fries with that?” One is life-changing. The other results in a salty snack.



Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created.
– Psalm 148:3-5

We have a God who speaks with supreme authority. This separates him from all the idols of this world.

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk;

and they do not make a sound in their throat.

Those who make them become like them;

so do all who trust in them.
– Psalm 115:2-8

What are the implications of this?

Our God speaks, and he speaks with ultimate authority. He speaks through both general revelation (Psalm 19) and special revelation (his word, the Bible).

We should listen.

How does the belief that God speaks affect our day to day lives? I think there are many good answers to this question, but I’m reminded of the moment light and speech broke through for Helen Keller.

w-a-t-e-r

Our God who speaks and who loves us brings things out of nothingness, brings light to dark places, brings wisdom and direction and guidance. But most of all, he brings touch and closeness, relationship. The creator of the universe condescends to speak to such as we are.

Amazing.

The victory shout of Resurrection Day

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 15:54-57

And don’t forget verse 58! Because you have the victory:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

One additional purpose for Luke and Acts

I read a very interesting theory about the books of Luke and Acts in Guzik’s commentary today.

By his title (most excellent), we gather that Theophilus was probably a Roman government official. It is entirely likely that the books of Luke and Acts make up Paul’s defense brief for his trial before Caesar, since Acts leaves Paul waiting for that trial.

Not sure if I buy that, but I think, if true, that’s very cool.

The Plan

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 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 5:17-21

The verses following the declaration of new creation in 2 Corinthians 5:17 are full of the word “reconciliation”: us being reconciled to God and being given the ministry of reconciliation, God reconciling the world to himself and entrusting us with the message of reconciliation. Then comes this breathtaking sentence;

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

And, as you’re reading it, you’ve barely digested that before you see this:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

It’s good to revisit God’s plan now and then. At first blush, it sounds a bit crazy. He desires to reconcile the world to himself, and to do that, he plans on using ambassadors to deliver his message of reconciliation. Based on the counsel of his own wisdom, with the goal of furthering his own glory, he decides to choose the most incompetent souls he can find to become his ambassadors, and, to make it even more astounding, he selects these souls from among his bitter enemies.

At the risk of sounding irreverent, this quote from Garth Algar comes to mind:

“First I’ll access the secret military spy satelite that is in geosynchronous orbit over the midwest. Then I’ll ID the limo by the vanity plate ‘MR. BIGGG’ and get his approximate position. Then I’ll reposition the transmission dish on the remote truck to 17.32 degrees east, hit WESTAR 4 over the Atlantic, bounce the signal back into the aerosphere up to COMSAT 6, beam it back to SATCOM 2 transmitter number 137 and down on the dish on the back of Mr. Big’s limo… It’s almost too easy.”

But he’s the Lord, and his ways are so much higher above my ways. His plan is working, and it is increasing his glory, and he has taken from among his enemies incompetent, misfit souls and has turned us into ambassadors. And, of course, it wasn’t easy. It took the blood of God’s beloved Son. But God believed it to be worth it!

The Plan. It’s not always pretty, but the end result will be beautiful.

As a corollary to all this, many of us need correction in our thinking. We think salvation is all about us. It’s not. Salvation is all about him reconciling, not just us, but the world to himself. Whether we like it or not – and hopefully we can see what a great honor this is! – we are ambassadors.

It is unfair for us to expect those who are not in Christ to live as if they were a new creation. However, it is not unfair to expect a changed life from people who say they are Christians! “I know no language, I believe there is none, that can express a greater or more thorough and more radical renewal, than that which is expressed in the term, ‘a new creature.’” (Spurgeon)

David Guzik, commenting on 2 Corinthians 5:17