The Loving Care of God

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

This passage in Luke comes within an extended exhortation by Jesus about acknowledging Him in our lives and living fearlessly in the face of persecution. Yet right here, in the middle of that bracing word, is a profoundly comforting word about the way God relates to us. The way that God knows us, says Jesus, is with loving care and attention. Like a purchaser paying attention to a group of sparrows he buys or a person trying to count the number of hairs on their head, God’s loving care goes all the way down to the details of you and me. God knows us and God also cares for us. What a wonder!

In comparison to God’s ever-aware care for flighty sparrows and innumerable follicles of hair, as humans made in God’s image we are far more valuable and worthy of care. How valuable? As the gospel story continues, we begin to see just how valuable we are to God and just how far His care will go toward us. The Apostle John summarizes it in bold truth:

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

Today take time to remember the loving care of God. Whether on the mountain peaks of joy or the shadowed valleys of despair, know that God is tenderly present and lovingly caring for you, whether you see it or not.

What Love Is This?: a prayer reflection on Psalm 145

Gods-blessing

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made. (Psalm 145:8-9)

In the stillness, I come to a place of quiet before You, my God. May the wonders of Your presence meet me this morning, Lord. My eyes are on You.

Thank You that You are gracious, giving good gifts to the undeserving. I know that I come to You like a beggar to a king at all times, and I marvel at Your grace to me. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Who am I to receive such a gift? I am no one, other than one made in Your image and valuable to You.

Thank You that You are compassionate, showering love upon those who have not deserved it and forgiving those who have wronged You. Like a confused child, who selfishly lashes out in disobedience yet is disciplined and consoled by a good parent, so You have showered my life with Your compassion and correction. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Such mercy! Such compassion!

Thank You for being slow to anger and rich in love. This is such perfection of restraint and lavishing of full charity. As a holy God, there are certainly things that bring forth Your anger. I praise Your firmness in justice and righteousness that calls forth righteous anger in the face of wrong. But thank You as well for being slow to anger so that a transformative turn might occur in human hearts. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Thank You for Your patience with me, mixed with compassion and grace, which has brought me to an encounter with the richness of Your love. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Who am I to receive and experience such love? Who am I that I should experience Your patience—the slowness to anger—that leads to the fullness of love in Jesus Christ? All of this is grace from start to finish, transforming my days with the radiance of Your love and compassion.

Immeasurably More?: childlike faith in our great God

childlike faith

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20-21)

I often say, in reference to these verses from Ephesians 3, that I have an overactive imagination and, therefore, could imagine God’s ability to do quite a bit!

In some ways, Paul’s words here put us very much in mind of being children before our Father. With naive humility we approach the Father to ask big and bold things.

Of course, the Father may respond however He would like. He may astound us with His powerful answer. He may sift through our silly requests to do what is truly wise, right, and needful. He may gently or sternly respond to us so we learn how to ask for what He truly desires to give. Just because we imagine it does not mean it is the right or appropriate thing to ask for. However, God is always Father-like in His approach to us in prayer.

Overall, the aim of prayer here in Ephesians 3 is that believers become rooted in God’s love, know God’s love, and be filled with the fullness of God. It is out of this place that we boldly approach God as our good Father who always exceeds what we ask for.

What Does It Mean to Abide in Christ?: two essentials for bearing fruit

vine and branches

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener….Remain in me as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4)

The theme of this passage is God’s people bearing fruit as living “branches” within Jesus the “vine” as tended by the “gardener,” who is Father God.  At various places in the Hebrew Bible, Israel is referred to as a vine: a vine transplanted from Egypt (Psalm 80:8), God’s vineyard intended to develop a harvest of justice and righteousness (Isaiah 5:1-7), and a once living vine now shriveled in exile (Ezekiel 19:10-14). Here in John 15, amidst the upper room discourse, Jesus describes the new community formed around Him as branches sustained by a vine, which is still called to bear fruit.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing….This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8)

Again the theme returns: a calling upon God’s people to bear much fruit for the Father’s glory. The key to such fruit-bearing is remaining, or abiding, in the vine, who is Jesus. There can be no fruit-bearing apart from Jesus. To not remain in Him is equivalent to becoming lifeless, and this lifelessness leads to a fiery end. Remaining in Jesus is the key to fruit-bearing, as well as to having effective prayer-communication with God. The question, of course, is what does it mean to remain or abide or continue in Jesus? the first clue comes in verse 7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you.” To remain i Jesus is linked to His words remaining—or abiding or continuing—in us. There is a parallel here: remaining in Jesus means letting His words remain in us. Perhaps it is easier to understand this if we use the word “continue.” If we want to continue in Jesus, we will need for His words to continue in us; not just informationally but transformationally in our lives. This parallel between remaining in Jesus and His words remaining in us is followed by another parallel in the next verse: bearing much fruit is linked with showing ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command….This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:9-17)

In verse 9, the metaphor switches from gardening to relationships. Along with that the concept of “remaining” switches contexts from branches remaining in a vine to friends remaining in the love of the ultimate friend. Jesus is the ultimate friend because He loves to the ultimate extent: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:13). Jesus does this because He keeps the Father’s commands and remains in the Father’s love (15:10). The connection between remaining through keeping commands and remaining in love is tied so tightly that it is difficult to see how one could exist without the other. Like the individual strands of a braided rope, it is hard to know whether to call it “rope” if they are not all there braided together as one.

So, Jesus says, if we want to remain in Him and bear fruit to the Father’s glory, it will involve obedience to His commands/word while also abiding in His love. His command ultimately is “Love each other as I have loved you” (15:12, 17). While there is certainly a sort of experiential mysticism of remaining in Christ’s love here, it is vacuous of true remaining if it does not simultaneously translate into remaining in Jesus’ commands through practical obedience. Or, as the Apostle James wrote, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).

Teach me, Lord, to truly remain in You,
like a branch in the vine that bears fruit,
like a friend sustained in love to a Friend
through overflowing love.

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (April 22, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

 

In this video update I reference Lamentations 3. I am including a longer portion of the passage because I find these words so rich and powerful.

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

(Lamentations 3:19-26)