Jesus Loves Me?

After spending several days stuck at home due to weather, I decided to venture out yesterday morning to work at Starbucks.  My goal was to finish editing a Bible curriculum I was contracted to write, so I found a spot in the coffee shop, spread out pages of lesson plans next to my open Bible, and got started.

At one point, a teenage boy walked up to my small table in the corner.  When I looked up, he was standing directly in front of me, noticeably nervous.

“This may seem weird, but I feel like I need to tell you something,” he stammered.  It took him a minute to find the words, but when he finally did, I was kind of surprised at their simplicity.

“Jesus loves you.”

I don’t know what I expected him to say, but that wasn’t it.  I made small talk with him for a minute, and he shared his anxiety about heading back to the Christian rehab facility he currently attends.  As God would have it, my Bible was open to Matthew 6, and I read him a few verses that warn us against worry since God sees us and cares for our needs (Matthew 6:25-34).

After the young man left, I tried to get back to work, but I was perplexed.  I wonder why he chose to tell me about Jesus’ love, I thought.  There are several people in Starbucks right now, and I’m the only one with a Bible on the table.  I applaud his courage, and I agree with his message, but maybe it was meant for someone else.

It turns out the message was meant for me after all.

Jesus loves me.  It’s a simple truth every kid in Sunday school knows.  But knowing words isn’t the same as believing a message.

I replayed the words in my mind, emphasizing them one at a time.  Jesus loves me.  Jesus loves me.  Jesus loves me.  The familiar words became fresh, and the simplicity of the phrase was overshadowed by its staggering reality.  I am fully known, totally accepted, and perfectly loved by Jesus Christ Himself.  The same Jesus who upholds the universe by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3).  The One who couldn’t be held by death (Acts 2:24).  The One at whose name every knee will eventually bow (Philippians 2:9-10).

Yesterday’s experience reminded me that there are some things we never outgrow.  The foundational truths of Scripture aren’t to be forgotten as we dive headfirst into what appear to be deeper theological waters.  Instead, we should rehearse the “basics” constantly, recognizing that the time-tested stability of our foundation is what gives shape and support to the rest of our beliefs.

“Jesus loves you” was a message I needed to hear, and I believe you do too.  Age, college degrees, or paid ministry positions don’t exempt us from needing the love that’s better than life itself (Psalm 63:3).  Likewise, mistakes, disappointments, or a long list of doubts can’t disqualify us from receiving the love that doesn’t let go.

Maybe we adults can learn a thing or two from the kids who sing the well-known tune with such enthusiasm and conviction.  “Jesus loves me!  This I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  As you read the words, maybe your mind is flooded with voices that tell you He can’t, doesn’t, or won’t love you.  Silence them by stating simply, “Yes, Jesus loves me.”  And since our hearts need constant reassurance, say it again, “Yes, Jesus loves me.”

As long as we live, we’ll never outgrow the need for reminders of the mind-blowing, game-changing, destiny-altering love of Jesus for His people.  One Day, though, the reminders will end, not because we’ve outgrown our need for His love, but because we’ll have been brought into the fullness of it forever.  Finally face to face, the Lover of our souls will confirm for all eternity the “yeses” we preached to ourselves in faith.

He loves us, and nothing and no one will stand in His way (Romans 8:38-39).

Proceed with Caution

My aunt and uncle recently had a cabin built on their property, and David and I had the chance to see it for the first time when we were in Ohio this past weekend.  Although the cabin isn’t far from the main house, getting to it proved to be an exceptional challenge in the bitter winter weather.  Snow covered the icy ground, and heavy wind threatened to knock us off our feet.  All four of us managed to keep our footing, but it required patience and attentiveness.  Between the ice, snow, and wind, the conditions were so bad that I honestly had to think about every single step I took.

Walking to and from the cabin on Saturday reminded me of Ephesians 5:15-16 which says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  In his letters, Paul regularly used the word “walk” to denote the patterns of behavior that make up a person’s way of life.  By using the imagery of walking, he indicated that an individual’s overall direction and ultimate destination are determined one step at a time. 

In Ephesians specifically, he admonished his readers to choose their steps with caution because of the condition of the world around them.  Providing helpful commentary on these verses, the ESV Study Bible says, “Wisdom is especially needed in an evil age where the pathway of holiness is not always immediately clear until one reflects upon God’s Word and discerns his holy will.”

As the commentary suggests, evil was not limited to the time of Paul’s writing to the church at Ephesus.  We, too, find ourselves living in a time period in which “the pathway of holiness” can be tricky to discern.  So how do we “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” given the condition of the world around us (Colossians 1:10)?  A few suggestions come to mind for the person who truly desires to find and follow “the pathway of holiness”.

Study your Bible.  It’s impossible to accurately evaluate our surroundings and order our steps if we are ignorant of God’s Word.  We can’t pattern our behavior after His will if we don’t have the slightest idea of what His will actually is.  That’s why, immediately following Ephesians 5:15-16, Paul included the exhortation to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17).  Knowing His Word is a prerequisite to obeying it.

Know your surroundings.  Having taken the time to study Scripture, we can then assess what we see in light of what God says.  What does our culture value, and how does it compare with the value system of the kingdom of heaven?  What does our culture permit that God’s Word forbids?  What does our culture ignore that God’s Word commands?  These questions are just the beginning, but answering them requires that we know God’s Word and open our eyes to our world.

Adjust your pace.  Different conditions require different levels of attentiveness, as my experience on Saturday suggests.  While the pace at which I walked on Saturday was wise, it would have been ridiculous – perhaps even foolish – in different circumstances.  For example, imagine shuffling along slowly, eyes fixed on the ground, on a sunny spring day.  There’s no need for that!  Conversely, it would have been extremely unwise to attempt to jog through the snow to reach the cabin.  When we know God’s Word and are aware of our surroundings, we are equipped by His Spirit to walk accordingly.  Sometimes the path is clear, and we can move ahead steadily; at other times each step requires a little more intentionality.  Following God isn’t easy, and we’re all bound to stumble.  When we do, God’s grace is just as sufficient for us then as it is on the days we seem to be walking with ease.

As God’s followers, we’re called to walk by the Spirit, to walk in love, to walk in wisdom, to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, and to walk in Christ (Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 5:2,15; Colossians 1:10, 2:6).  As we follow Him one step at a time, we do so with great confidence, believing His guarantee that we’ll never walk alone (Deuteronomy 31:6; Isaiah 43:2).

When God Seems Uninvolved

The book of Habakkuk provides an inside look at the author’s struggles with God.  Contrary to the typical format of prophetic literature, Habakkuk approached God on behalf of the people instead of speaking to the people on behalf of God.  In his raw, vulnerable prayers, Habakkuk expressed frustration with God’s alleged inactivity.

Twice in the opening chapter, Habakkuk accused God of idleness, the second accusation following God’s explicit assurance of activity.  Because Habakkuk preferred – even expected – God to work differently, the prophet pointed his finger at the Almighty and essentially said, “I don’t think You’re doing anything about my circumstances, but since You say You’re at work, maybe You should try doing a better job.”

Habakkuk’s situation wasn’t entirely unique.  How many times throughout Scripture was God seemingly uninvolved or inactive?

Think of Noah, tasked with building an ark for an impending flood many, many years before the event actually occurred.  But God was doing something. 

Think of Joseph, thrown in a pit, sold into slavery, attacked for his integrity, and imprisoned wrongly.  But God was doing something.

Think of the Israelites, delivered from captivity in Egypt only to spend the next four decades wandering through a wilderness.  But God was doing something.

Think of Job, who lost his livelihood and all of his children in a single day, only for his health to decline dramatically soon thereafter.  But God was doing something. 

Think of Daniel, a faithful servant of God who earned good standing with the most prominent men of his lifetime, later the victim of a cruel plot and thrown into a den of hungry lions.  But God was doing something.

Think of Jesus, betrayed by one of His closest companions, condemned to death without a proper trial, beaten brutally and nailed to a cross, suffered the torment of God’s wrath, and eventually died and was buried in a guarded tomb.  But God was doing something.

God doesn’t waste our circumstances, no matter how useless they feel at the time.  In what may appear to be the least likely of places, God is at work for His ultimate glory and our eternal good. 

Are the odds stacked against you?  Does it feel like everyone has turned on you?  Does your current season of life feel directionless?  Has your world come crashing down?  God is doing something.

Noah’s story included rescue.  Joseph’s story included vindication.  The Israelites’ story included provision.  Job’s story included restoration.  Daniel’s story included deliverance.  And Jesus’ story included – best of all – resurrection.

I’m not sure what your life entails right now, but I know for sure God is doing something, whether or not you can identify it.  As evidenced in the lives of those who have gone before you, God will have the last word in your story.  He hasn’t lost control.  He hasn’t stopped noticing.  He hasn’t stopped caring.  And He certainly hasn’t stopped working.

When life isn’t going your way, when you’re struggling with sin, when relationships are strained, when finances are tight, God is at work, but He doesn’t allow us to see the finished product of His activity in this lifetime.  In fact, He doesn’t even promise to reverse our circumstances on earth, although sometimes He might.  The assurance we have from His Word is of a coming Day when we’ll see with tear-free eyes the fulfillment of His promise to work all things together for good (Romans 8:28).  Because that Day is coming, we can trust He’s doing something today.

God Can’t?

14411149789_d84591d415_nContemplating the powerful ability of God is a comforting practice in the life of the Christian.  It’s hard to comprehend, let alone articulate, the mind-blowing peace of God which guards us as we redirect our attention from our circumstances to the One who is sovereign over them (Philippians 4:6-7).

Pause for a moment and consider what our God is able to do.

He redeems and restores.  He forgives and cleanses.  He heals and revives.  He protects and provides.  He sees and cares.

Fresh confidence pulses through my veins as I type the words.  Imagine how the trajectories of our lives might change if those truths worked their way down into the deepest places of our hearts.

And yet, for all the value there is in rehearsing what God can do, I’ve found similar comfort in reminding myself of what He can’t do.  If reading that sentence made you uncomfortable, you’re in good company.  Although it feels strange to use “God” and “impossible” in the same sentence – other than to affirm the impossibility of something being impossible for Him – the Bible states explicitly that there are a few things God just can’t do.

For example, Timothy says, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).  Hebrews tells us that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18).  Both authors emphasize the trustworthy character of God that cannot, will not, be compromised.  James contributes to the topic when he states, “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).  These three examples, like the rest of the Bible, teach us to conclude that God always acts consistently with His character.

Luke points out a divine impossibility of a different flavor when he writes, “God raised [Jesus] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24).  Little did the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers know, their attempt to do away with Jesus would prove unsuccessful.  Jesus died, but three days later He rose from the dead.  Why?  To prove the efficacy of His sacrifice on the cross (1 Corinthians 15:17).  To attack and ultimately defeat death by rising from the dead, a guarantee of the future resurrection of all who belong to Him (1 Corinthians 15:20-26).  And also, most simply, Jesus rose from the dead because it was impossible for Him to stay dead.  The resurrection was the necessary counterpart of the crucifixion.

It’s difficult to overstate the sanity-securing assurance that comes on the heels of remembering and trusting all God can do.  As crazy as it may sound, that same level of assurance is ours when the consistency of His character convinces us of what He can’t do.

In this case, improper grammar conveys the point powerfully.  God can’t not be faithful.  God can’t not be trustworthy.  God can’t not be true to His character.  God can’t not be true to His Word.  And God can’t not be victorious, even over the most foreboding of enemies.

Armed with God’s Word to instruct us and His Spirit inside us, we meet the circumstances of today with confident relief due to His eternally reliable nature.  Today, He will be true to His character and faithful to His promises.  It’s not possible for Him to do otherwise.

Image Rights: kendoman26 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA.

Step by Step

AA026695Although I consider myself fairly young, I’m not necessarily in touch with the latest technology.  I’ve heard the iPhone has a great calendar, but I still prefer to have one hanging on the wall that can be cross-referenced with my pocket-size planner.  And as helpful as turn-by-turn navigation systems can be, I still print out a copy of directions whenever I’m traveling an unfamiliar route.

The reason for this is simple – I like seeing the whole journey, not just the next step.  I’m comfortable with printed directions because I can prepare for more than just the next turn.  I can be ready for the turn after the turn.  While these details are accessible on a GPS, the appeal of current navigation systems is the availability of dictated instructions as you go.  “In 500 feet, turn left.”  “Your destination is on the right.”

In life, though, it’s not always possible to see the whole journey.  More often than not, God leads us one step at a time.  Take Abram (later called Abraham) for example.  Genesis 12 opens with God’s command of Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).  The following verses provide no more details for Abram’s journey.  What will he do without knowing all the specifics?  Verse 4 says, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.”

Commenting on this display of trust, the writer of Hebrews says, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).  I could have a panic attack just thinking about it.  Where am I supposed to go?  How long will this take?  What should I bring with me?  How will I know I’ve arrived?  What if I get lost?  Are we stopping for food?  You get the idea.

I’ve already mentioned what Abram didn’t have – he didn’t have all the details.  But it’s important to note what he did have – he had a call, and he had the promises of God.  God’s will for Abram was unmistakably clear: Go to the land I will show you.  Nestled in Genesis 12 between the moment of God’s call and the first step Abram took in obedience is a series of promises.  God said repeatedly, “I will…I will…I will…I will…”  In other words, Abram was to respond in obedience to God’s call by following Him step-by-step, trusting that He would be faithful to His promises.

How could Abram follow God without knowing where he was being led?  Simple.  Because he trusted the character and the Word of the One leading him. 

As God works in our lives, we don’t often see more than one piece of the puzzle at a time.  We know He’s doing something grand, but we see only a small glimpse of it.  We think we’d prefer to see the step-by-step instructions in advance, but the reality is we could never get our minds around the magnitude of God’s plans, and it would rob us of the opportunity to watch our Guide prove His faithfulness (Isaiah 55:8-9).  We may not always know where God is leading us, but can be confident that He is leading us.

You and I don’t usually have the option of affirming our trust in God and then receiving the world’s most thorough travel itinerary.  Instead, we are called to display our trust in His character and Word each leg of the journey.  When He calls us to turn down a windy, unfamiliar path, we turn, confident that He’s a reliable Guide.  When He calls us to stay on a road longer than we anticipated, we stay, convinced that He directs us in perfect timing.  When He calls us to take the scenic route, we take it, thankful that He provides beauty along the way.

If, like Abram, we respond in faith-fueled obedience to the call of God, we too will find that our Guide never leads us wrong.  In the words of Oswald Chambers, “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.”

Image Rights: Britannica.