Years ago a computer virus known as “The Love Bug” traveled the globe by e-mail, infecting millions of computers in the span of less than 24 hours. Even those who were considered to be experts in the field of technology and trained in the art of identifying potentially suspect e-mails simply could not resist opening this message bearing the magnetic title, “I love you!”

We are all looking for love. We have been wired to look for love. The challenge for all of us is that we have a tendency to look for it in all the wrong places, as the old country song says. Created by God for God and made in the image of God, we are creatures who crave love. We have been created with a heart-shaped hole in our soul that can only be satisfied when it is filled with the love of our Creator. Nothing smaller than the love of God will do.

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Here Paul made it clear to the Christians at Ephesus—and to you and me today—that there is no love in the universe that will satisfy like the love of the Almighty. God’s love is fully and absolutely sufficient! The measures that Paul used in his prayer almost surely were intended to point us back to the image of the Temple, which Paul had just referenced in Ephesians 2:21.

  • Wide – the breadth of every one of our experiences in both life and death
  • Long – the length of our lives from our first breath of life throughout all of eternity
  • High – the height of our greatest joys
  • Deep – the depth of our greatest sorrows . . . and ultimately death itsel

God’s love, which is expressed to us in the Lord Jesus Christ, is as immeasurable as it is inexhaustible. And as often as we run away from God’s love, as we seek to find love in all the wrong places, God is always in hot pursuit of rebels on the run. God loves us so much that He will not let smaller loves satisfy us and meet us in our place of deepest need. God created us to find meaning, purpose, significance, and satisfaction in Him alone. When our identity is rooted in Him, His love is rescuing us from countless smaller loves that are trying to divide our affections.

When the Bible tells us that God’s love is a “jealous” love, we must not think of Shakespeare’s thoughts in Othello, that jealousy “is the green-eyed monster.” Our understanding of jealousy has dark overtones of the sinful self, rooted in greed. But when applied biblically to our God, we find a love that is zealous about protecting, caring for, and loving what is the object of His affection: His chosen children. And if you have trusted in Christ’s atoning death on your behalf, that includes you!

God will tolerate NO rival. He wants the absolute best for every one of His children, and He demonstrated this truth by sending His beloved Son to die for our sins. In doing so, God declared the one thing that we all desperately want and need to hear:

“Dear child, I LOVE YOU! Yours for eternity, God.”

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!    

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Why do you do what you do? Why do you pursue the things of God rather than chase after the things of this world? Your answer to that question will reveal both the motive and motivation behind all that you do.

Basically it comes down to one of two reasons: either we do what we do because of a heart that overflows with gratitude to God for what He has already given us . . . or because of what we are hoping and expecting to get.

Which is it for you? Does your heart beat for Jesus because of what He has already done for you and given to you? Or do you follow God in the hopes of what you will get? We either seek to serve God out of a desire to gain some kind of blessing or because we have already received it.

Christ’s love compels us. (1 Corinthians 5:14)

The word compel in this context does not mean what we might expect; when he hear the word “compel,” we might think the early Christians were “coerced” or “forced” to do what they did. Those words communicate the fear of consequences or a focus on some kind of reward. You could call that a “carrot-and-stick” approach to Christianity.

However, Paul’s use of compel in his letter to the Corinthians is as profound and powerful as it is positive. Paul was not motivated by fear of any consequence or focused on any kind of reward; rather, what he did he did as a result of what God in Christ had already done for him. The love of Christ was richly displayed in His atoning sacrifice, taking Paul’s sin and death and nailing it to the cross . . . this truth compelled Paul to respond to His Savior.

Christ’s love lifted Paul above the challenges of daily living. Paul kept the picture of a bleeding Savior hung on Paul’s cross before him—taking Paul’s nails, and wearing Paul’s crown of thorns—and this was the source of his strength in service to God. Paul was both compelled and impelled to live for the One who lived, died, and rose from the grave for him. He was overwhelmed by the love of Christ, a love that would go to such great lengths for the object of its affection.

You see, Paul knew what he was and what he was deserving of, which was nothing short of hell and eternal separation from the love and mercy of God. But instead of getting what he deserved, Paul received the unmerited, undeserved love of his Lord.

When you and I have been seized by that truth, we can begin to plumb the depths of what it means to live a life that is compelled by the love of Christ. Only when we are fully convinced that we don’t deserve anything less than the full weight of God’s wrath and judgment will the love of Christ begin to transform our lives. As the “chief sinner,” Paul knew he deserved the worst possible punishment, but instead he had received God’s grace and mercy. This Gospel truth renewed his mind, reoriented his heart, and redirected his will. Only Christ’s love can do that!

So . . . what is the “Why” of your witness? If it is anything smaller than Christ’s love, you will always be left wanting.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN! 

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sound of music

Older readers—and, I hope, some younger ones as well—will smile in their hearts when they hear the first lovely strains of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1965 classic, The Sound of Music:

“The hills are alive with the sound of music . . .”

I don’t know if the two composers intended to or not, but they beautifully captured the truth of Scripture in that lyric. In the beginning, the supernatural sound of our Master’s music permeated every aspect of His creation. Everything created was created as a hymn to His glory, including our first two parents in the Garden. There was a holy harmony—both vertically, between man and God, and horizontally, between man and creation, and not one note was out of tune . . . until Adam and Eve decided to sing a different song from the one God had written. Our first parents created the sound of madness rather than music.

Adam and Eve decided to sing their own song, one which began with a sour, ugly refrain: “Did God really say . . . ?” and every note that followed struck the wrong cord. God’s holy harmony was replaced by man’s unholy disharmony, which leads to division, disease, and despair.

But God, in His infinite mercy and grace, did not leave us in our discordant mess. He promised to send a Savior to reconnect us with the supernatural sound of His music. To be sure, there is a rhythm to our redemption, one that reconnects us to our Redeemer God and each other because of the new song God puts in our heart.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3)

You see, our new song sings the praises of our God once again. We are reconnected to our Creator Composer as our hearts begin to beat for nothing smaller than our Savior. God lifts us out of the slimy pit and places us in His song-filled palace. He removes us from the mud and mire and recalibrates our hearts to reconnect with the Master’s music. We go from the beat of the temporal to the beauty of the eternal. We begin making music that has meaning and singing supernatural songs that connect us to eternal significance.

The complex beauty of this supernatural sound of music lies in the fact that it is different for all of us. We are not all reading from the same “sheet music,” but rather God has provided us with both the space and structure to connect our song with His song. God is calling us out of our self-absorbed, self-centered existence and into a sphere of song that beats eternal.

Remember, there is no firm footing when we are playing our own music apart from our Cosmic Composer. It is only when we have aligned our song with His song, through the rhythm of our redemption, that we will rise above the ashes of defeat and the waves of challenge, singing again the supernatural sounds of our Master’s music.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!    

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Cosmic Comfort

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, I’m sure you’ve recognized that my overall goal for Grace for the Race is that the articles which appear every week will offer you encouragement and provide comfort. From time to time I have been told that I have succeeded in that goal.

And yet there is another written source that is guaranteed to bring us all encouragement and comfort . . . and so much more!

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

No hit and miss here. EVERYTHING that was written in God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word is there to teach, encourage, and give us enduring hope. Of course, when the apostle Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans, he was pointing back to the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament, because that is all his readers had at that time. You and I have the entire Bible, which has been given to us to meet us in our deepest place of need.

There is a “cosmic comfort” that is found only in the Bible. The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), and breathes comfort into our lives that will only be found on the other side of reading, marinating, and meditating on it.

So . . . how much time do you spend in God’s Word each day?

We simply cannot receive the comfort the Scriptures are designed to provide unless we read what was written. As I often say, the book you don’t read won’t help! And there is no book that has ever been written that provides more help and hope than God’s Holy Word. One of the things I have learned from watching others closely is that the more they have worn out their Bible, the less they have worn out their lives. Those who are living in and living out the Scriptures have a freshness and a resilience that you just don’t see in other people.

When you find yourself in need, where do you go for help? When you come to the Scriptures, you can be sure you will leave them better than when you came. Endurance is promised to those who are running on empty. Encouragement is promised to those who are buried under the waves of challenge. Hope is promised to those who are in circumstances that seem, on the surface, as utterly hopeless. Only the Word of God can do that for you, and it will do it over and over again. No doubt you’ve been reading the Scriptures when a verse or passage that you’d read dozens of times suddenly provided you with a nugget of wisdom that you’d never seen there before. The more you read the Bible, the more it reads you!

It is one thing to receive a word of comfort from a family member or a friend. God uses those words to bless us in supernatural ways. But as important as those words from others are to us, it is another thing altogether to receive the Word of the Living God, the Word that knows us better then we can know ourselves. You and I read God’s Word, and we are convinced it was written just for us! Why? Because God’s infinite wisdom meets each one of us in our particular place of personal need with just the kind of cosmic comfort that we so desperately need.

So read the Word of God for comfort; read it for endurance; read it for hope. But most importantly, read it because God gave it to you to read with a promise to give you everything you need . . . in both life and death. You have His Word on it!!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “You were born an original . . . don’t die a copy!” Today I want to encourage you with the biblical truth that you were born a copy, and the ultimate goal for our lives is to die looking as much like the original as possible.

God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

Each man, woman and child is unique, born as “originals” compared to every other person ever born. At the same time, however, we all are created in the image of God. We are “copies” of our Creator, and our deep desire should be to live in such a way as to reflect this truth for all the world to see.

Basically, the purpose of an “image” is to image! We are made in the image of God, so we are to image (that is, reflect the likeness of) the One who made us, so that the world will be filled with pictures pointing to the Lord who created us.

Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. (Isaiah 43:6-7)

In all of the created order, only man is made in the image of God. A tree is a tree; a turtle is a turtle; a mountain is a mountain. But humans are image-bearers of the Creator; as such, we are to live lives that glorify God.

Adam and Eve did this perfectly in the Garden of Eden. They walked and talked with God in the cool of the day and cared for that which had been placed under their care. They reflected their Creator perfectly . . . until they decided that they wanted to be gods. We see immediately after the fall just how distorted that image became. Adam and Eve were suddenly filled with terror and they fled and tried to hide from God.

That’s the bad news. The image of God inside every person has been marred. We have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Romans 1:23). The good news is that though image has been disfigured, it has not been destroyed. We are still image-bearers of God, and the way we choose to live our lives will either bring glory to our Creator . . . or not. Every day those of us who have placed our trust in Jesus Christ have a choice: will we live for our Creator or for created things?

So . . . knowing that you have been born a copy of your Creator, will you die as one? Life is brief. We are all dying at the rate of 60 minutes an hour. With the little bit of time we have left on this earth, what better way could we live than to live for the glory of the One who created us?

We are all living for some glory. Some seek the glory of acclaim, others accomplishment, while still others seek the glory of the applause of man. However, as image-bearers of the Most High God, we are to seek the glory of our Creator, refusing to live for anything smaller than Jesus.

Christian, the God of the universe predestined you to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Romans 8:28). That is the call that has been placed on our lives. So then, let us strive to live in such a way that we die as copies of Christ!

I’d like to close with a quote from an old friend of Cross Community Church, “the prince of preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon:

Never belie thy profession. Be thou ever one of those whose manners are Christian, whose speech is like the Nazarene, whose conduct and conversation are so redolent of heaven, that all who see you may know that you are the Savior’s, recognizing in you His features of love and His countenance of holiness. “I am a Roman!” was of old a reason for integrity; far more, then, let it be your argument for holiness, “I am Christ’s!”

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN! 

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Today’s word of encouragement comes from the inspired pen of the apostle Paul, who sent the young disciple Timothy on a mission of mercy into the lives of the Christians in Thessalonica.

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:2)

A simple mission—“sent to strengthen”—yet perhaps the most important mission you or I can engage in, and one that everyone in the body of Christ is able to do. There are no special gifts required to strengthen others. We don’t need years of higher education to prepare us to bring a blessing of strength to our family of faith; all we need is to know that this blessing is needed and we must have the willingness to go and offer it.

So . . . when was the last time you went on a mission of mercy to bring strength into the lives of others?

In this one verse of Scripture, Paul painted a profound picture of the call God has placed on the lives of everyone He has saved by grace through faith. You and I are called to strengthen and encourage each other (see, for example, 1 Thessalonians 5:11) and there are countless ways to do just that. There are people in your life right now who need you to strengthen and encourage them through the words you say and the deeds you do. Perhaps there is someone you need to call and reconnect with. Maybe there is someone you should make time to go visit. Every person in your life has been placed there by God for the specific purpose of providing both strength and encouragement, even on those occasions when you would rather not!

One of the best ways to understand the importance of what Paul did in sending Timothy on a mission of mercy is to recall a time when God sent a “Timothy” to you. A week does not go by at The Cross that someone does not come up to me after one of our services to give me a “holy hug” from God and offer a word of encouragement. And I can promise you that there is no one who needs it more or appreciates it more than me, and I never forget to tell them that.

I am often reminded of these words.

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24)

Jesus was the perfect model of providing strength and encouragement that is sweet to the soul and healing to the bones; as His disciples, our lives are to look like His life. From the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 to Peter on the beach in John 21, our Master’s mission of mercy always met people in their place of deepest need and left them strengthened and encouraged.

Can the same be said about us? May God make it so!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!    

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When Adam and Eve sinned and turned away from God, they died spiritually. This truth is rooted in God’s covenant promise to them:

The Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

The biblical account records that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . . but they were still walking around. (Actually, they were running around, looking for a place to hide from God!) Clearly they did not physically die.

Did God make an idle threat? No, that is something that the Sovereign Lord of the universe never does. He assures us, “What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do” (Isaiah 46:11). So how did God make good on His promise? The answer is that Adam and Eve died spiritually the instant they sinned against God; physical death would come later.

What we learn from Genesis is that our first parents did not need God to rehabilitate them; they needed God to rescue them. They were dead, and no amount of rehabilitation would ever do them any good.

You see, God’s saving grace does not make up for our deficiencies, as if we simply lacked a little goodness here and a little holiness there. We are dead, flatlined spiritually and in desperate need of rescue . . . not rehabilitation. We need rescue because we are guilty and filthy and separated from our God. Apart from Jesus Christ, we are enemies of God (Colossians 1:21).

Make no mistake, God’s grace does not make up for the “good” we lack. If it did, we would only be in need of a bit of rehabilitation. Rather, God’s grace rescues us from both sin and death, cancelling the debt we owe to God and can never pay.

We see this in Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, which is presented in Luke 18:9-14. Both men went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee was utterly confident in his own goodness. He thought that, at best, God owed him the blessing of eternal life and blessings in everyday life; at worst, God could perhaps supplement his goodness with a little rehabilitation in any areas where he might be lacking. The tax collector, on the other hand, knew he was beyond the reach of rehabilitation. He would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but bowed his head before the Lord and cried out for rescue: “God be merciful to me, the sinner!” The tax collector declared his utter spiritual bankruptcy and acknowledged his need of a Redeemer God who would rescue him from all unrighteousness.

Far from having a merit mentality and looking to God to supplement his shortcomings, this tax collector looked only to the mercy of God. And what was the result of looking for rescue rather than rehabilitation? Jesus said, that the tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home justified—that is, righteous in the sight of God.

Only when we see ourselves like this tax collector saw himself—as doomed sinners in need of God’s rescue—will we truly begin to appreciate what Jesus has done for us and allow this truth to transform our lives.

If all we needed was a bit of rehabilitation, there would have been no need for Jesus to go to the cross. He would have continued to disciple us, rather than die for us. But as 2 Corinthians 5:21 testifies, Jesus, who knew no sin—who needed no rescue or rehabilitation—became sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might rescued and clothed in the righteousness of God.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!    

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