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!


Yesterday my daughter, pregnant with twins, fainted in a Target (or nearly-fainted – if someone hadn’t caught her she would have hit the floor).

This was all we knew from the hurried call we received from her husband Joey. I expected to see ambulance lights when we arrived. Instead, we found her sitting with Joey and the littles, a little bit shaky but no worse for wear.

Flooded with relief. Thank you Lord.


The Lord is good. He is so good.

Think about it: we believe that Jesus came to earth to live a perfect life and die for our sins. This is, of course, true. But he did more than just die for our sins and forgive us and give us eternal life, all of which are, of course, both true and huge. But sometimes we forget that there’s more. We’re content with the idea of just barely being admitted into the Kingdom as anonymous citizens, to sleep on the streets of gold.

Listen, he did more.

He could have made us his servants. That sounds better – to serve him in the Kingdom and sleep in the servant’s quarters. Yes, much better.

No, there’s much, much more.

We’re not just servants. OK, perhaps we’re like foster children. Now we’re eating at the table.

Wait, there’s more.

We’re not foster children. We are fully adopted children of the King. This isn’t a temporary arrangement or a semi-commitment. The implications: we are heirs. Heirs of the Kingdom, princes and princesses, adopted with full rights of sonship and daughtership, brothers and sisters of our big Brother Jesus who went before us and gave his all for us.

Listen, he gave us all. Literally “more than we can ask or even think”.

From what country, from what universe does this love come from?

Thank you Lord Jesus!

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

– Galatians 4:4-7 ESV

Righteousness and rescue

The Bible
God’s word
The Word
The Word made flesh
The Man
The Word, the Man, enacting
In flesh, in bones
in veins, in muscles, in neurons
The righteousness, the rescue
Spoken of, performed
For centuries
Under the shadow of Rome
Spoken in a new tongue
Once unknown, in Greek, new languages, new customs
In lights fueled by unquenchable oil
By sad rivers in Babylon
Besieged, blinded, childless
In scenes of unspeakable horror
Yet with hope in the lament
Morning, new morning, in the night
Righteousness and rescue
Spoken of in the word
In a new temple
In a tent
Milk and honey
Across a river
Across the wilderness
One dark night in Egypt
Hope within lament
Lament and cacophony
A bush burns
Righteousness spoken
Wonders performed
Hungry bellies filled
Hope in famine
The Word
A family
A flood
A bloody stone
A tree
But not alone
Righteousness and rescue
Now in flesh appearing
Carrying in his body
The power, the surge
of righteousness and rescue
Now in the written word
Now in the living Word
Become flesh
At last

Street Theater

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” – Hosea 1:6-10

The “She” referenced at the top of this passage is Gomer, the “wife of whoredom” God commanded Hosea to marry.

There is a lot packed into these five verses. The names, for instance: “No Mercy” and “Not My People”. Implied in those names is some astounding obedience by Hosea – he actually had to name his kids these horrible names. See, some of the prophets got to just prophesy, but certain lucky ones were commanded to do some gut-wrenchingly difficult street theater for the people. Among this latter category are people like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea. Hosea’s obedience to the street-theater commands of the Lord involved marrying an unfaithful woman and naming his children horrific names of abandonment.

God enacts in this real life familial story what seems to me to be one of the major themes of the Old Testament: terrible judgement for unfaithfulness followed by amazing restoration by God’s grace. In a way, and I’m not trying to trivialize this, God’s dealings with Israel in the Old Testament are a form of street theater for us, and also for the host of principalities and powers watching in amazement. He repeats over and over in this long history of his people the story of sin leading to rejection and judgement leading to amazing, uncalled for, unexpected grace, restoration, and belonging.

It’s real, but it’s also a picture in many dimensions of what was coming, soon.

Enter the Word made flesh, living mercy, coming to his own people. You see, in Christ the sin is absorbed, the rejection he takes as his own, and the divine wrath falls on his shoulders, his head, his hands, his feet, his back, his side. The amazing, uncalled for, unexpected restoration and grace that flows from this is delivered to us, forever restored to the Father.

And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”

Amazing Grace!

Gospel culture

It’s entirely possible for your ministry to have a “Christian” or “evangelistic” culture, but not a gospel culture. The former say, “If you like or do the right things, then you belong here.” Giving the right appearance or sharing your faith become the standard for acceptance. A gospel culture says, “If you know that you’re not okay, then you belong here.” Authenticity becomes the standard for acceptance. In a gospel culture, your students know they don’t have to hide because they know Jesus came to save sinners. What is more, they begin to desire the right things and share Christ with others. When this is achieved, students can be reminded that their identity is in Christ, not in what happened over break.

From When Semester Breaks Attack over at

Having dealt with students in deep regret and turmoil over what happened when they drifted during a break,  I really appreciate these words. Gospel Culture,  challenging but worth it.

You didn’t join a club

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:5-11

Play the funeral dirge, and play it with gusto and joy, in cut time and in a major key.

“Why?” you ask.

Because you’re dead.

Your old self, that is. Feel free to give the eulogy, but don’t talk well of the not-dearly departed and please do wear a large smile. This is both good riddance and good news. It’s OK to shout. Throw some dirt on the grave. If you’re inclined, feel free to do some mudding in your ATV over the grave site tonight. Laugh long and hard while you’re at it. Then drive off and never look back. No need to refresh the flowers.

You are united with Christ. You didn’t join a club, and he’s not your CEO. Your body of sin went with him to the cross, and it died there. Your new self rose with him at his resurrection and now you’re free in him. And by “in him” I mean united closer than flesh and bone. And by “free” I mean freer than you’ve ever imagined, if you can only see it.

Free at last. No longer a slave to sin, but free to live to God, free to follow your Lord in love, forever free in Jesus. If you’re wearing shackles, you put them on yourself and the key is easily within reach, in your hip pocket.

Drop those blasted things and enjoy!

Vanity and sanctification

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 2:11

I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes lately, and pondering on vanity.

This can be a dangerous business. Through recent conversations with some friends who didn’t realize they were being used by God, but mostly through the long-running conversation that goes on inside me (you have one of those too, right?) I’m beginning to understand some uncomfortable truths about myself. God keeps reminding me. He sneaks into those conversations, often uninvited. He is a gentle teacher, but also very, very determined to get through.

To see myself as I truly am, with all the judgment I secretly heap upon others, with all the petty nonsense that takes so much of my mental energy, all the sloth that consumes me, all the vanity and thoughtlessness . . . this is hard. I don’t know if you’ve experienced that too. My spirit wants to do the right thing. My flesh is too lazy or disobedient to do it. “Redeem the time”. We live in evil days. And yet I expend energy on things that are truly vanity and chasing after the wind.

And I’m a slow learner. But I am thankful that I have a determined Savior, and that he is preparing for himself a people, of which I am a part, holy and blameless. Free.

That’s good news!

Beauty that I read today

Nastasya Filippovna turned with curiosity to Myshkin.

“Is that true?” she asked.

It’s true,” whispered Myshkin.

“Will you take me as I am, with nothing?”

“I will, Nastasya Filippovna.”

– Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot