Why We Can’t Seem to Forgive

Viewing Time: 26 minutes (approx.)

Why do we have so much trouble forgiving? We either don’t want to forgive or, wanting to, we find ourselves incapable of it. It probably not that we aren’t trying hard enough, but that we aren’t in a place in our lives where forgiveness is possible. This message is the first of two intended to help us forgive.

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The Cross: Biblical Theology Class #17

A Biblically Wide-Angled View of the Cross of Jesus
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God Loves You Just the Way You Are

Reading Time: 4 minutes (approximate)

“God loves you just the way you are.” I have frequently heard that said and have said it myself. The Scriptures support such a view: Jesus declared that God loves “the righteous and the unrighteous.” St. Paul wrote that God demonstrated his love for sinners, and reconciled humans to him while they were acting as his enemies.

St. John goes one step further. Instead of conditioning God’s love on the worthiness of its objects, he locates God’s love in his own unchanging nature. “God,” he writes succinctly, “is love.”

Another common Christian cliché is this: “God will never love you any more than he does right now.” This, it seems to me, is also true. If God’s love is not conditioned on the worthiness of its object, then neither is it conditioned on that object’s unworthiness. Hence, the correlate to this claim is also true: “God will never love you less than he does right now.”

These claims regarding God’s love have their place. If God’s love were conditioned on our good behavior, there would be times when it would not be extended to us, for we are not always well behaved. If it were contingent upon our character, the situation would be worse, for our character is flawed. We can only be secure if love depends on God rather than on us.

While these avowals of God’s love are true, they are also incomplete and potentially misleading. For while God loves us unconditionally, our conscious reception of that love and the personal and spiritual growth that results from it, is conditional. It is true that God will never love me more than he does right now, but my experience of that love will be relatively richer or poorer depending on what I do.

I have an infant grandchild who lives in another part of the country. I could not love her more, even if she lived next door. I would willingly lay down my own life for hers. But that grandchild has not experienced my love as fully as she would if she lived next door. It is not that my love is lessened by the distance between us, but her experience of my love is.

The same sun that is reflected in the drop of dew that lies on the flower’s delicate petal is mirrored on the surface of the vast sea, but the beauty and grandeur of that reflection differs in each. Likewise, the universal love of God comes to everyone, good and bad, but not everyone experiences it as richly as everyone else.

What bearing does this have on the statement, “God will never love you any more than he does right now”? Just this: we can think that because God will never love us more (or less) than he does currently, it doesn’t really matter what we do. If we act unjustly or unlovingly, if we are self-centered, malicious, greedy, and exploitative—so what? God will not love us any less!

Of course, what we do or fail to do makes a difference, and it is foolishness to think it does not. If I build a roof over my garden, the sun will not shine less often, nor the clouds bring less rain; but the growth of my garden will certainly be less. It is true that my bad behavior cannot stop God from loving me, but it can stunt the personal development his love brings.

In Jesus’s remarkable “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” a father’s love for his son remains constant even after the son turns away from him. The father’s love is as rich as ever, yet the son withers as a person. He loses all certainty of his father’s love.

Yet, the father’s love remains undiminished and welcoming. This, Jesus wants us to know, is what God’s love is like. We can run from it; we can reject it; we can stop believing in it; but God will just keep on loving us. And, when we come back, he will welcome us with open arms and a glad heart.

But how will we know that if we don’t come back?

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The Baptism of the Spirit (Wide Angle)

Reading time: Approximately two minutes.

There are some things in Acts 2, regarding the coming of the Spirit, which we would do well to note. The first is the meaning of the word baptism as it is applied to what happened at Pentecost. The word is used six times with explicit reference to the activity of the Holy Spirit. Five of these uses refer to the Day of Pentecost. And the sixth use is explanatory: Paul tells the Corinthians that all believers are baptized by the Spirit into Christ’s body.21

Why is that important? It is important because in none of the six texts that speak about the baptism of the Spirit (or any other text) ever instructs people to get baptized in or by the Spirit. This baptism is not something we are told to seek nor is the terminology used here ever repeated of any other group of people. This is God’s work by which the Body of Christ was birthed and by which it grows as believers are joined to it.

But baptism in the Spirit is not the only thing that happened at Pentecost. We also see individuals “filled” with the Spirit. And that is something that does reoccur. We see people filled and refilled with the Spirit, and we are told to be filled with the Spirit.

The baptism of the Spirit brings us into Christ and unites us to his body, but the filling of the Spirit brings Christ into us. Warren Wiersbe put it this way: “The baptism of the Spirit means I belong to His body; the fullness of the Spirit means that my body belongs to him.”22 Hence Paul urges us, “Be filled with the Spirit.”23

There is something else here that we must understand. The baptism of the Spirit not only unites us to Christ, it unites us to each other. Following Christ is not a sonata written for a solo instrument, but a symphony. We live this life together. That fact is patently clear in the early chapters of Acts. The church met together, joined together, were together, ate together and prayed together. They met daily, took care of the needy daily, and studied Scripture daily. Christ was living through them in daily life, and they were living that life together.

May it be so with us.

               21 1 Corinthians 12:13

               22 Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books

               23 Ephesians 5:17

               21 1 Corinthians 12:13

               22 Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books

               23 Ephesians 5:17

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How to Honor Your Parents

Viewing time: 24 minutes (approx.)

How do we honor our parents? Can we honor parents who are, or were, dishonorable? Why should we honor them? This message is for people who have (or had) honorable parents and for those who have (or had) dishonorable ones, for people to love to speak well of their parents and people who would rather forget them. It addresses three questions that arise from Ephesians 6:1-2: What does honoring parents entail? Why should we honor our parents? How can we honor them?

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The Kingdom of God: Biblical Theology Class 16

Shayne and Kevin Looper discuss Matthew 4:17

Everyone who read the Bible looks at it through some interpretive lens. The lens of kingdom – provided by the Scriptures themselves – allows us to look at the Scriptures and see truths we might otherwise miss.

The kingdom of God was Jesus’s favorite topic. St. Paul, nearing the close of his life and being held in Roman custody, is proclaiming – what else? – the kingdom of God. It is vitally important that we understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

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A Mother’s Worthy Life

My mother was born 95 years ago this month. She died twenty years ago. In this season of honoring mothers, I wish to honor her.

We didn’t have the kind of relationship that inspires men to tattoo, “Mother” on their upper arm. It’s not that our relationship was bad. It’s more like it was tertiary. My relationships with my authoritarian dad and my brother – who was my teacher, protector, and friend – took priority.

My mother was born two-and-a-half years before the Great Depression began. Though I am sure her family had to deal with its privations, they were probably better off than many of their peers. They had a farm in the hills of southern Kentucky, a rich vein of coal on their property, and acres of woods in which to hunt wild game.

My mother was a twin. She and her brother were the last of ten children. Her father died when she was nineteen. When, at the end of the war, her brothers and sisters moved north to find work, she went with them.

My mother waitressed in various restaurants in the Cleveland area, then moved to Florida for a time and waitressed there. In Florida, she did not receive a salary, just tips. I remember hearing that she had to pay the restaurant owner for the privilege of working. That didn’t last long and back to Ohio she moved.

She and an older brother opened a diner-type restaurant two doors down from my dad’s barber shop, and it wasn’t long before he invited her out. He took her to a nearby beach, which was a hangout for all the young people, and preceded to get soused. He disappeared and she didn’t see him again that evening. She had to get a ride home with someone else.

He later apologized and asked for the chance to make it up to her. They went out on a second date, and then a third. He eventually asked her to marry him, and she said yes.

I only learned about how he proposed after he died. According to my mother, he said: “If you’ll marry me, I’ll change.” When she told me this, I blurted out, “And you said yes? What were you thinking?”

Her life with my dad was undoubtedly trying. He did stop drinking, but things did not improve as quickly as we might have hoped. In fact, they got worse. Doctors diagnosed my brother with a terminal illness.

There followed a year-and-a-half of hospitalizations, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, fears, hopes, and more fears. And then my brother died. My family had no medical insurance at the time – my dad had impetuously quit the union weeks before the diagnosis – so my mother went to work in a local factory to help pay bills. I don’t remember ever hearing her complain.

My mother went through seventeen major surgeries, including an arterial transplant, cardiac bypass surgery, and a radical mastectomy. And then my dad, who had become a kinder, gentler man – indeed, an indispensable one – was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died, and she grieved.

Six years, one heart attack, and several surgeries later, my mother died. Her life never had been easy. Sometimes it was painfully difficult. As I think of her now, I think of a woman who resigned herself to life’s difficulties without complaining and without losing her determination to do right by others.

She became a woman of faith, trusting God despite her hardships. She never stopped loving my dad or me, though we both gave her reasons to do so. As she aged, her faith grew stronger. I have two of the Bibles she used, and her marginal notes reveal an intellect alive to God and to spiritual realities.

My wife and I were fortunate to be with her for the last week or two of her life. She kept her sense of humor. She remained thoughtful of others. She did not rage against the dying of the light, as she had not raged against the hardships of her life. She died with a peaceful mind, and with confidence in a better future.

She was and is worthy of honor, I am grateful to call her my mother.

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The Holy Spirit and the Church (Wide Angle)

(Reading time: 3-4 minutes)

The life-giving Spirit has come upon the people of Christ, and on the Day of Pentecost, Peter claimed that this blessing was not just for the original disciples, not only for his hearers that day, but (verse 39) “for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” For the first time in history, we have a varied group of people, people of different heritages and races and ethnic backgrounds, united by one life, one Spirit. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, baptizing people into Christ, created something new in the world: the Body of Christ, the Church.

Wherever you find the people of Christ – in Coldwater, Michigan or Selma, Alabama, or in Darjeeling State, India, or Canton Province, China; whether they be yellow, black or white, speak English, German, Urdu, Wolof, Russian or Spanish – you find people who share the same Spirit. They are Christ’s body – his eyes and hands and feet – in the world, united by his Spirit and sharing his life. This is God’s wide-angle plan. They are the one new man. Christ is their head, and the Spirit is their life—their soul.

This one new man is becoming “mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). This new cosmic, glorious person is growing up into Christ, the head of the body, even as we speak. This is God’s salvation at work, the undoing of the curse and the hope of mankind.  

At Pentecost the Spirit brought to life a new creation which we call the Body of Christ or the Church. Pentecost is the birthday of the church! In the Church the life of Christ is now expressed not just through individual Christians, but through the corporate body of Christ. Salvation is not a purely personal issue. The Catholic Church has created a great deal of controversy, but is surely right, when it says, “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus – “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” That is because no one outside the church is inside Christ. If you have Christ, you are in the church! Eternal life is the church’s life!

What I’ve just written needs clarification. Being inside a church building on Sunday morning is not being in the church. Being on a membership roll is not being in the church. Taking part in rituals, attending worship, or sitting on a board is not being in the church. You can do all these things and still be extra ecclesiam – outside the church. The Spirit alone can place you in the true church. When you believe in Jesus who died and rose again, the Holy Spirit extends Jesus’ eternal kind of life to you. You are united spiritually to the body of Christ. (And when I say spiritually, do not do what many people do and mentally substitute the word “metaphorically.” This is as real and concrete as any physical act – delivering the mail or serving a meal – but it is spiritual, not physical.)

If this is true, then it is silly – and dangerous – for people who have trusted Jesus to stay away from the local church. They may have their reasons. They may have been neglected, hurt, passed over, or misunderstood. These are real reasons – but if it keeps them out of the church, they are reasoning their life away. You and I, if we have believed on Jesus, are not whole if we are detached from the church. Of course, the local church is not perfect. You and I – I alone, for that matter – are enough to guarantee that! But when a person is separated from the church, he is spiritually dislocated. His ability to serve Christ is compromised. He or she is like an injured shoulder or a broken finger. In such a state people need care and rehabilitation. But neglecting the problem until the pain subsides is not the answer.

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Family – Blessing or Curse

Viewing time: Approx. 27 minutes

(Excerpt) And this is a message for all us children whose parents did it wrong—and whose didn’t? I realize that, in some cases, parents did it horribly wrong. The parents who were given you to protect you, have harmed some of you terribly. It may be that you need to go to them and tell them how they’ve hurt you. It may be that you need to stay away from them and receive God’s grace to love them from a distance. It may be that the distance is so great that you cannot go to them. (They may have already died.) However that may be, go to them or not, you need to go to God. While every other father fails, he does not. He will be with you to love you, help you, heal you, and change you. You need God.

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Biblical Theology Class #15: The Kingdom Is Near

In this class, we explore what Jesus meant when he said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The Bible cannot be understood apart from “kingdom.” It is the lens through which so many other things come clear.

Enjoy this class. Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.

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