Dear Patients and Parents,
Do you ever wonder if God loves you? Or if he really cares about you? Or, is God even good? Our sinful human hearts are spring-loaded to ask these questions, and we do not naturally trust God. We often harbor suspicious thoughts about him.
Over the past 2 years, I have been through a profound spiritual crisis; I am now on the other side of it, and I am grateful for that. During that time, God taught me much, especially about himself. God taught me in a way much deeper than I have ever understood before that he is infinitely good, he is infallibly faithful, and he loves us with a love that is immeasurable. This booklet contains some of the lessons I have learned, and I share them with you because I hope they will help and encourage you. “Faith” and “Hoping in God” emerged from the deep suffering that I experienced, and it was helpful to me to put into writing what I was learning of the good and infinitely beautiful character of God.
I wrote “Love” years ago, and it has undergone numerous revisions. It begins with a true account of a man who demonstrated love to his family (who have graciously granted me permission to retell his story). His story has been a good springboard for me to think of the great love of God. This final version contains much of what God has taught me over the past two years about his love for me (and us) .
My primary purpose in the articles that follow is to help us all see the glory of God in a greater way than we have before, to better see the indescribable and incomprehensible greatness and goodness of God. It is impossible for even the best human communicator to really express the infinite and glorious beauty of God; I have done my best to show even a glimpse of his glory. It is also my desire to encourage many of you as you go through the inevitable times of difficulty and pain in your lives.
If you desire to know this great God in a deep personal way, the last section, “The Ultimate Solution”, will guide you through that process. If you do not know God through Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, I urge you to go to him now. God is full of mercy, and he never turns those away who seek him and go to him for deliverance.
I am deeply grateful for the high privilege you have given me: caring for you as your physician (or, in the case of parents, for your treasured children) these many years. I do not take this privilege lightly. Thank you.
Jerry Miller Jr.MD
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
(I Corinthians 13:13)
(This article was originally written to be handed out in my office in booklet form.)
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
A baby was born to a young couple. In many ways, he was like any other baby, and the parents like any other new parents. He had been eagerly anticipated, he was already well-loved, and he had a name. His parents were excited about the new addition to their family, and now that he was here, they could hardly contain their joy. They had plans and dreams for their son. However, he was born prematurely, and had serious congenital anomalies that were life-threatening. His parents loved their newborn son. He was very sick, but he was beautiful to his mother and father. He was beautiful to his doctors and nurses. His parents prayed for him, and they asked everyone they knew to pray for him. He died when he was almost 48 hours old. The parents were cruelly and incorrectly told that he had died because they did not have enough faith. They concluded from this twisted, perverse misinformation that it was their fault that their son was dead.
Fairy tales and popular stories teach us that if we believe something hard enough, it will come true. Really?
We hear often, in our postmodern culture, that he or she is a “person of faith.” What do we mean when we say that?
It used to be common in the 1960’s and 70’s for very cool and very hip baby boomers to say, “keep the faith!” What did they mean, and did it have anything to do with Biblical faith?
So, what is faith? Why is it important, or does it really matter? How much faith do we really need? Do we get all we want if we have enough faith? Does it matter if we have faith in anything or anyone in particular, or is the faith itself, however nebulous, enough? Do we control our destinies by having enough faith, and do we make God our personal servant, obligated to give us our desires, no matter what?
God is very clear in his Word, the Bible, about faith and why it is important.
In Matthew 14, Jesus feeds 5000 men (and additional wives and children) from five loaves of bread and two fish. This was a supernatural work of Jesus, the Son of God. There is no intellectually honest and satisfying explanation for this feat other than that it actually happened. . Matthew’s account is clear and measured; in fact, it is almost “ho-hum” in stating the facts as they occurred. It happened.
Next, Jesus sends his friends, the disciples, ahead of him while he prays. He meets them next in the middle of the sea, they in their boat, and he walking on water.
(Matthew 14:25) And in the fourth watch of the night He(Jesus) came to them, walking on the sea.
(26) And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were frightened, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.
(27) But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
(28) And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”
(29) And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
(30) But seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”
(31) And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
(32) And when they got into the boat, the wind stopped.
(33) And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”
The disciples are scared out of their minds as they see this “ghost” walking toward them in the middle of rough seas. Jesus tells them to have courage, and not to be afraid. Why? Because the real presence of Jesus should dispel any fear. Peter, as impetuous as we expect him to be, says that if this person is really Jesus, to command that he also walk on the water. Jesus invites him, no, commands him, and Peter obeys. He walks on the water toward Jesus, and does fine until he notices again how rough the seas and wind are. He stops looking to Jesus, takes his eyes off of him, and instead looks at the danger surrounding him. He realizes how precarious his situation is. He becomes afraid, and begins to sink, and with a last desperate cry says to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”
Does Peter’s fear cancel out his faith, making it impossible for Jesus to help him? He trusts in Jesus enough to get out of the boat and walk, however far, on the stormy sea. (Peter does better than I would have done in his water walk.) His words and action prove that he has faith in Jesus because he obeys him. But, he becomes fearful, and as he goes down, he cries out for help. He now has only a faint glimmer of faith; it is only enough to cry out to the only one who can help and save him.
Notice Jesus’ response. If he were like us, he might have said, “too bad, Peter. Your faith wasn’t strong enough. You didn’t trust me, you became afraid, you doubted, and you looked at your surroundings instead of keeping your eyes (and hope) on me. I’m going to have to let you drown. Sorry about that.” Or, Jesus could have said to Peter, “have a little more faith, and I’ll save you. I know you’re bobbing up and down, and taking in some water, but if you only believe a little more, I’ll save you.” Or, he could have berated, belittled and scolded Peter for blowing it with his lack of trust, letting him suffer a little more while he reprimanded him, and then continuing to do so after he saved him. Our tendency is to think very dark thoughts about God; we are naturally suspicious of him, and we think he is like us. He is not. He is infinitely good.
Notice Jesus’ response. He saves Peter by taking hold of him with his hand, “immediately”. He then gently asks him a redemptive question, “why did you doubt?” and makes an assessment, that Peter has “little faith”. Peter’s little faith did not keep Jesus from rescuing (saving) him. And, Peter’s little faith was in the right object: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So what emerges here is that God’s threshold for recognizing our faith is very low; a cry for help to him is counted as faith. Repeatedly in the Bible, God tells to call upon him, to call to him for help. He invites us to ask him for help. He recognizes as faith our merely asking him for help, mercy, rescue, salvation, or deliverance. “Jesus, have mercy on me!” represents faith. Your faith or my faith may register barely +1 on the Faith-o-meter, but it is enough for God to recognize it. What is important is not the amount, intensity, strength, or sincerity of our faith. What matters is the object of our faith, in what or in whom we trust. Faith in faith, or in some nebulous, amorphous force will not get us anywhere, except maybe to make us feel better psychologically ( in Peter’s case, nebulous faith would have taken him straight to the bottom of the lake, but he would have felt good about himself). The object of our faith must be Jesus. That is the key. We trust in Jesus Christ, his infinite goodness, his promises, and his ability and willingness to keep every one of his promises.
God, are you good, and do you care about me?
Little faith is not our goal, but it is better than no faith. God sees and recognizes our little faith, and he will rescue us, but little faith is damaging to us. Little faith robs us of peace, makes us anxious, and causes us to be timid cowards. Jesus says that little faith is evident when we are anxious instead of trusting God for all that we need (Matthew 6:25-30); we could have inner unworried peace and joy if we really trusted God to do as he says, and left our needs and problems with him. Instead of fear and cowardice, we could have courage in the midst of the storms of life. Jesus says his disciples are timid and of little faith when they fearfully come to him in the raging storm of Matthew 8:25-26 and ask him to save them. Jesus is relaxed and totally free of anxiety. He is so relaxed and unworried that he is sleeping! Jesus has complete trust and faith in God to protect him and his friends and must be awakened by his terrified disciples. In Mark’s account of the same scene (Mark 4:38), the disciples awaken Jesus with the words, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” It seems that the root of faithlessness is a distrust of God, really thinking deep down that he does not care about us or what is happening to us. We do not really believe he is good.
Jesus also tells us that our littleness of faith in him robs us of power that we could have. A mustard seed is very tiny, but Jesus tells us that if our faith were even as much as a mustard seed, which by comparison dwarfs little faith, nothing would be impossible for us. ( In Matthew 17, his disciples ask him why they were not successful in casting out a demon; his answer, in verse 20 is, “… Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you”). Now, Jesus is not recommending that we spend our time moving mountains around. His point is that with more than little faith, even a little more, we could do anything God asks us to, anything consistent with his will and character. Little faith saps us of spiritual strength.
Why is faith important?
Why is it important for us to have faith in God? Or, why does the Bible tell us that without faith, it is impossible to please God? Let’s answer these questions with another question. What is the most important aspect of any healthy relationship, whether it be with a friend, a child, a spouse, or a parent? I think the most important thing in any interpersonal relationship is mutual trust. In my marriage, I trust my wife to be faithful, loyal, and good to me. I trust her to keep her promises to me. I trust her good intentions toward me. I trust her not to betray me. She trusts me in the same way. If we did not trust each other, we would have no marriage, or, at best, a severely dysfunctional and unsatisfying one.
We are in the ultimate relationship with God through Jesus. If we doubt him, if we can’t trust him or have faith in him, then we have a very damaged relationship. If we do not trust him, we are saying to God and to others that we really suspect his goodness, that we do not think well of his character, that we do not really think he is good, loving, kind, gracious, or trustworthy. Or, we are saying that God might be a nice God, but he really has no power to help us. This lack of trust itself damages our relationship with God, it dishonors him, and it cripples us. It also makes us miserable, for we could trust him, and have peace, freedom from worry, courage, and power to live.
Our faith in God, or lack of it, says loudly and clearly what we think of God, his character, and his power. It says whether we really think God is good.
What is faith?
What is faith in God? It is not some abstract concept which means whatever I want it to mean. It is believing God and his promises based on his character of goodness and love. It is trusting him, resting in him, wholly relying on him. Biblical faith means that we trust in nothing else and no one else to save us and deliver us in an ultimate sense. It is staking my very life and destiny on God; if God does not come through for me, then I am ruined. If he does not deliver me, save me, and rescue me, then I am lost forever in time and eternity, I am wasting my life and I am destroyed forever. If God does not help me, then I may as well blow my brains out, for there is no one and nothing else to help me.
The Greek word “pistis” is the word used for faith in the Bible. It means a full persuasion, conviction, and confidence (W.E. Vine, M.A., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 401). Faith in God means that we are fully persuaded and convinced at the deepest level that what he tells us in his Word about himself, about us, and about life is true; we have total confidence in him and an absolute conviction. This total trust in Jesus inevitably results in loving him, following him, and obeying him. It radically alters and reorients our lives according to God’s priorities. This confidence allows us to see what is real in life as opposed to what is not real; by that I mean that by trusting in God, we can see unseen realities, things which are much more real and solid than what we see with our physical eyes. Paul says in II Corinthians 5:7 that “we walk by faith, not by sight (appearances).” He says in II Corinthians 4:18 that
“we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal (time bound, temporary),but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Faith in God allows us to accept his version of life: what it means, what is true, what is real, what works, what will make us happy, what our final destiny is, what we should be doing with our lives and how to order them, and how to joyfully accept pain and suffering. Things often are not as they appear, and our perception of things often is at odds with what God tells us is true.
Job trusted in God, and he was able to say with full confidence and persuasion:
(Job 13:15a) “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”
(Job 23:8-10) “Behold, I go forward but He is not there, And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.
But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”
Having faith in a loving, caring, all-powerful and all-knowing sovereign God allows us to suffer with patience and joy, knowing that he is in full control, and realizing that now, and in the end, we are safe. With God, nothing can harm us, not in an ultimate sense. Our faith in God does not eliminate suffering and pain from our lives, but we do know that our good God is with us. We are free to ask God for miracles of deliverance, and, we are invited to do so. But, God makes the decision about deliverance for us, as to when, how, or if it is to come. And, God does not punish us by not delivering us as a way of saying that our prayers are of too little faith. We trust our good and all-powerful God to do what is best for us.
Faith must have an object. To say “I have faith that it will all work out” is meaningless; to be a person of faith means nothing unless we are told in whom the faith rests. “Keep the faith” many years ago was a way to convey, “keep rebelling against the establishment”, and later became a cool way to say good-bye; it meant nothing of consequence. Biblical faith must rest in God alone.
Our faith in Jesus is the way we access his grace and goodness. Ephesians 2:8,9 tells us: “ For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” Our salvation is all of God and his grace toward us. Faith is the instrument or means by which we take hold of this grace and salvation. As Dr. Francis Schaeffer used to say, faith is the lifting of empty hands to God in order to receive his gift or blessing. Our faith does not earn us salvation; it accesses it. Salvation is all of God, and even the faith that we have is a work of God in our hearts. Faith in God is itself a gift from God. We would never come to him at all if he did not move us to do so. So, we do not trust in our faith, but only in God and his Son, Jesus Christ.
Faith, as portrayed in the Bible, must be in Jesus Christ. He can be trusted. He has made promises to us, he demonstrated his love for us and good intentions for us by giving his life for us, and he has the power to deliver because he is God’s Son who showed his power over death by rising from the dead. We do not trust in some abstract idea, and we do not have faith in our faith, but in Jesus alone. His life, love, promises, and deeds are enough to base our entire lives upon.
Your faith and my faith in Jesus
John tells us in John 7:37:
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.”
The meaning here is one of continual coming to Jesus, everyday and at all times. This verse really says, “if anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to me, and let him keep drinking.” Jesus invites us to come to him.
Jesus invites us again in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”
Jesus invites us to come to him, to trust him, to have faith in him. Our very coming to Jesus and asking for help, mercy, and rescue is evidence of faith, possibly only little faith. Yet, faith in Jesus is enough because he is far more than enough. Never look at how much, how strong, how intense your faith is; you will despair every time. Never look at your degree of sincerity in coming to him; we can always be more sincere. Never look at how sorry you are for your sins and failures; we can never be sorry enough. Never look at whether your coming to Jesus is done in exactly the right way; we can never come to him perfectly. Never look at the storms raging about you and threatening to drown and destroy you; we will sink every time. Never look to yourself to examine whether you have received the salvation of Jesus correctly; we would break his gift of salvation as we received it if any part of it depended upon us.
Our part is to keep coming to Jesus in faith, trusting him alone for everything in this life and into eternity. We can safely trust him, for he cares about us. He will receive and save those who come to him; he will give peace, strength, and power to those who walk with him through life; he will heal us and make us well. He will satisfy our thirst and our hunger for what is real: he will satisfy us with himself. He will give us peace and rest for our souls, and as he does so, he will treat us with love, gentleness, and humility. He does not despise, mock, berate, or belittle us for our weak faith; his threshold for recognizing faith is astonishingly low. He remembers that we are only dust, and has compassion on us.
We can rest in the sovereign goodness of God; he is good at all times, and his decisions for our lives are always right. Trusting in our good God is always rewarded with God himself.
Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2008. All rights reserved.
Hoping in God
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. Psalm 42:5
Hope. We need it to live. Hope gives us courage and purpose to go on. With hope, we look forward with anticipation to some future event, and we are motivated and encouraged to keep going. Think about how you feel when you have something good to look forward to. How do you feel just before Thanksgiving or Christmas? How did you feel before you got married? How about the coming birth of a baby, or an eagerly anticipated event in your life like a job promotion or graduation from school? All of these things give us hope because we expect something good in the future. And because of that expectation, we are motivated to go on to fully experience the good thing we hope for. Hope fills us with endurance, perseverance, courage, and strength to keep going.
Hopelessness, on the other hand, has just the opposite effects. It saps us of courage and motivation; without hope, there is no point in going on. Do you ever feel hopeless? Have you ever thought about what life would be like to have no hope? Hopelessness leads to discouragement, which can lead to depression, which can lead to despair; at this point, life does not seem worth living.
God knows how we work, and exactly what we need. He should: he made us and knows us intimately. God is gracious to us. He is much better than we think he is, he is much better to us than he needs to be, and he loves us far more than we can imagine. And, God knows that humans need hope to keep living. He makes great promises to us in the Bible, and he backs these promises up with his character. He is both able and willing to deliver on the promises, and he obligates himself to us, even though we deserve nothing good from God. Even better, he goes to great lengths to tell us about his promises and to convince us that he means everything he says. What greater encouragement could we humans have, than to know that the God who created all things is good, loves us, intends good for us, and makes great unbreakable promises to us? God’s promises to us give us a double benefit: they motivate us now as we look forward to their future fulfillment, and the fulfillment of the promises gives us joy once the promises become solid, present reality. God is good to us.
Now, God is not like you and me. If he were, he would not bother to save us from our sins and from judgment as he has done in Jesus Christ. If he were like us, he would not reveal his good intentions toward us by making us promises, and in fact would likely make it hard to know his intentions; if he were human, he might want to keep us guessing and off-balance so he could control or manipulate us. He would not keep his word, and would not really care to convince us of his goodness. But, God is not like us. He goes to great lengths to reveal himself to us, to reveal his plans to us, to reassure us of his good purposes for us, and to keep without fail every promise to us.
In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath,
in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.(Hebrews 6:17-20)
God does not want us to miss his promises to us. God accommodates himself to us and our needs; he adapts himself to us. His goal is to convince us of his love for us and to give us certainty about him. He goes to a lot of trouble to make it clear that his intentions toward us are only good and loving, and he gives us his promises in such a way that they must be fulfilled. God cannot lie; he is Ultimate Truth, and he is truthful. Yet, he not only promises us things, but goes on to back these promises up with an oath. He voluntarily doubly obligates himself to us so that we might have strong encouragement as we cling to the hope he gives us. We are pictured in these verses as being desperate, as we flee to Jesus Christ alone as our only hope. This hope anchors our souls to heaven, as if we had a tether attached to our hearts on one end, with the other end attached to God himself.
There are two important questions to be asked. First, is God able to deliver on his promises? This is likely the easiest question to answer. If there is a God, and I am certain that there is, he is by definition infinite and eternal. The God of the Bible is the only God, and he is able to do whatever he pleases now and into eternity. He is unlimited in power, wisdom, and knowledge. Nothing and nobody can keep him from accomplishing his purposes; neither all the powers of hell, nor the strength of evil people, nor our own personal weakness and sin can possibly pose a barrier to God’s ability to carry out his promises and purposes. Nothing can thwart God.
The second question is just as important: can God be trusted? This is really a question of what we think God is like. What is his character? What is God, really, at the core of his being? What is his essence? The following exchange in Exodus between Moses and God is enlightening.
(Exodus 33:18-23 ) Then Moses said, “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. “Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD.
( 34:6,7) Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
Moses asks to see God’s glory. We might expect for God to then reveal himself in infinite, unapproachable light and holiness. Or, we might expect God to show himself as all-powerful, doing something like exploding a nearby mountain or immediately causing a tornado. Or, we might expect God to demonstrate to Moses how he created the universe and sustains it moment by moment. But, we are surprised at God’s answer. God says, “I will show you my goodness” (33:18). God equates his glory with his goodness. God’s glory, God’s essence, God’s core personality, is his infinite goodness.* More than any of his other attributes, God wants us to understand that he is good. He shows Moses his glorious goodness in chapter 34 where he proclaims his goodness in more expansive terms: he is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and truth. God’s glory is his goodness. We can trust God’s character because he is infinitely and eternally good.
Psalm 103:8-14 expands on this theme of God’s goodness.
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us; Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.
God is full of compassion, lovingkindness and grace; he is slow to anger; he forgives and removes our sins. He understands us in all of our weakness, just as we understand and have compassion on our own children. God is thoughtful and faithful. He is understanding. Our natural inclination is to misunderstand God, to think he is like us, and to distrust him. But, God is not like us, and we can trust him. He is not petty, not touchy, and not easily provoked. He is not harsh and he is not impossible to please. He is not irritable and he is not unapproachable. He is infinitely good. We can trust God’s character, for he is good.
God’s goodness is not some abstract concept. He demonstrated his goodness to us by sending Jesus to be our Savior. And, Jesus provides all that we need for salvation from sin, from ourselves, and from hell.
(Romans 5:8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 8:32) He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
Jesus is God’s Son, and he is God’s concrete demonstration of his goodness towards us. How can we doubt God’s love, goodness, and character? If God promises something, he is able to fulfill the promise, and he will fulfill the promise.
We should read the Bible through the “lens of promise”.** God has made us a multitude of promises in His Word, the Bible, and gives them to us through Jesus Our Lord. They are given to us, and God will deliver on them. They are for our encouragement and strengthening. They will help us press on. They give us hope. And God has gone out of his way to make them, to assure us of their certain fulfillment, and to make us aware of them. His promises are on almost every page of the Bible. All we need to do is read them, and thank God for them, believing they are for us through Jesus.
Here are a few verses that describe God’s promises to us, or are actual promises God makes to us.
(2 Corinthians 1:18-20) But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no.
For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us– by me and Silvanus and Timothy– was not yes and no, but is yes in Him.
For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.
(2 Peter 1:2-4) Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;
seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
(Hebrews 13:5,6 ) Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,”
so that we confidently say, “THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT SHALL MAN DO TO ME?”
(Deuteronomy 31:6,8) “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”
“And the LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear, or be dismayed.”
(Psalm 50:15) And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.”
(Psalm 55:22) Cast your burden upon the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
(Psalm 91:15,16) “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honor him.
With a long life I will satisfy him, And let him behold My salvation.”
(Isaiah 40:28-31) Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait (hope) for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.
(Isaiah 43:1-5) But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.
“For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place.
“Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.
“Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, And gather you from the west.
(Isaiah 48:17) Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go.
We need hope to live, not just hope in relatively trivial events that we look forward to somewhere out in the future, or some general hope that tells us to stay positive and to keep hoping (in what?), but hope in God himself and the real and solid things that God has promised to us through Jesus. Hoping in God is not wishful thinking, it is not mere positive thinking, and it is not hoping in hope. It is confidently expecting God to be with us and to act on our behalf because, through Jesus, he has promised us these things. God gives us his promises, he binds himself by an oath to fulfill them, he makes certain that we are aware of the promises, and he undergirds it all with his character which is, in its very essence, good. God’s glory is his goodness. Hoping in a good and loving God is the only cure for despair, and the only thing that can give our lives meaning and joy. Hoping in God enables us to press on until we arrive safely in heaven.
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. Psalm 42:5
* I had never seen this concept from this passage until I heard our pastor, Dr. George W. Robertson, refer to it in a sermon.
** Dr. Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr.
To discover the only way to experience the hope discussed in this article, please see “The Ultimate Solution.”
Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2008. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this article as long as the wording is unchanged and there is no charge for the distribution.
“Greater love has no man than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
Sonny didn’t look much like a hero. He looked pretty much like a typical, middle-aged guy who had a great smile. But, we all know what a real hero is supposed to look like: just turn on your TV or go to a movie and you’ll have no doubt what a real hero is.
Sonny loved his wife and children. He worked hard for them to provide for them. He nurtured them and protected them. He was in love with them.
And, after I talked on the phone with his widow, I could not speak.
Sonny had been at home when the gunman came in. The gunman brandished his sawed-off shotgun and threatened to kill Sonny’s family, but Sonny wouldn’t allow it. He put himself between his family and the man with the gun. He stalled for time, and finally said, “if you’re going to kill someone, go ahead and kill me.” His family had time to escape out of the back of the house as the killer raised his gun to Sonny’s chest and squeezed the trigger. Sonny crumpled in a pool of blood. He was dead.
Sonny loved his wife and children.
What is love? We have a lot of misconceived, distorted, and perverted notions of love. Most of them are way off target. Our culture tells us that real love occurs in bed, and that it is all about sex. (Sex in marriage is a beautiful thing; human sexuality is a good gift from God, but it is not the essence of love.) We think that if we love someone, that person will love us. We use the word “love” often without meaning and without action. We use “love” as a weapon to inflict pain or exercise control; it is conditional. Love, we think, is something someone else does for us. Love becomes a selfish thing: it is all about me.
True love has its roots in the heart of God. If you want to know what love is and what it does, look at God and his display of love in the Bible. God is love, he is the source of love and he is the ultimate example of love After Jesus came, the idea of love was changed forever, and the ancient world had to coin a new term for this unimaginable love, the word “agape”. Agape love is used throughout the New Testament for the love of God and the love of his followers. The Bible demonstrates well the qualities of God’s love, which is true love, the measure of all love.
1. True love gives, and gives sacrificially. God’s love for us cost him the life of his Son, Jesus Christ, and for Jesus to show his love to us, he willingly gave his life for us.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 )
2. True love demonstrates itself. It acts and doesn’t just talk. It is observable, obvious, and measurable. We see real love in action, and we know when we have seen it.
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”
“For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone
would dare even to die.”
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
3. True love uses words as well. God tells us that he loves us. He speaks kindly and gently to us. He wants to be absolutely sure we don’t have any doubt about his love. He wants us to be certain that he loves us, so he acts and he speaks clearly to us in his Word, the Bible, to explain his actions.
“The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness (steadfast love).” (Jeremiah 31:3).
4. True love is not conditional. God loved us while we were sinners, enemies, and rebels; he loved us when we were helpless, needy, unlovable, and ugly. Real love doesn’t love because the one loved deserves it, has merited it, or is either lovely or lovable. We cannot make God love us more, and he will never love us less. The love of God is not used as a weapon of control, manipulation, or pain. God loves us without conditions. There is nothing in us to attract or require God’s love; in fact, the wonder of God’s love is that he loves us even though we, in our sins, are absolutely repulsive. We never merit his love, nor does he love us for the potential we think we have (see Romans 5:6-8 above.).
5. God’s love forgives us for Jesus’ sake.
For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13,14)
Because Jesus died for our sins and took them and their punishment upon himself, God forgives us for our offenses against him. Our offenses are real, and much worse than we imagine; they are sins of actively transgressing God’s law, and sins of passively just simply not doing what we should have. They are external and internal sins. And, the worst of it is that we have offended God in a personal way and rejected his love. We have damaged our relationship with God beyond anything we can do to repair it.. But, God, for Jesus’ sake, forgives us and tells us so. He no longer holds these sins against us and, in Christ, we are free of our guilt and our guilty feelings . But, he goes far beyond that and makes us his children. Knowing that the God of the universe holds nothing against us is of infinite value. If God can forgive us, how can we withhold forgiveness from others who have offended or wounded us?
And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)
6. True love initiates and pursues the loved one. God does not wait for us to come up with a plan of self-salvation, or for us to be worthy of his love, or for us to get our acts together; he does not even wait for us to love him. We cannot save ourselves, we will never be worthy of his love, we are unable to reform ourselves, and we will not love God until he first loves us. He pursues us and moves toward us because he knows that we will never move toward him otherwise. And, all we can do is to receive his love as a free gift, which means believing God and his promises made to us. Jesus died to give us the free gift of salvation.
“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
“We love, because he first loved us.” (I John 4:19)
7. True love is life-giving, not life-killing, smothering, stifling, or enslaving. God’s love gives us life, freedom, and joy that we can never experience otherwise. It opens life up for us. His love for us is never constricting.
“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” (1 John 4:9)
Jesus, said, “… I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
8. True love is committed. God has committed himself to us, and has promised to never desert us, forsake us, or abandon us, no matter what. We can be secure in his love. He has already committed the life of his only Son, Jesus for our good and salvation. He will never back out on us.
“… for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU, “ (Hebrews 13:5)
9. God’s love is immeasurable and far beyond abundant. The best human mind cannot fully comprehend it, and no one can really express its vastness. He freely and liberally lavishes upon us his love, mercy, grace, and goodness.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus,
in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)
God is infinitely rich in every way, and he delights in giving these riches to his children. He gives us what we need to live here on earth, for he knows that we are human and he knows what we need to live physically. But, much more than that, he showers us with the riches of his love, mercy, grace, goodness, and kindness. He delights in giving himself to us in a deep Father-child relationship.
10. God’s love is eternal. God is eternal, and love will always be wherever God is. “Heaven is a world of love,” said Jonathan Edwards. And, nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35,36,39)
Have you ever been loved by any human the way God loves you? Even the best human relationships reveal only a faint glimmer of the way God has loved you. It is hard for many to believe that there is, anywhere in the universe, a love like the love of God. Too many have been abused by those who supposedly love them, or have been abandoned and deserted by fathers, mothers, or spouses. Too many have been manipulated by those who say they love, when all they want is self-gratification or control. Too many have been choked emotionally by those who “love” them. Too many have been loved only under certain conditions, which, if unmet, have resulted in withdrawal of “love.” And, far too many have experienced the kind of love that talks well, but does not result in actions that prove real love. Finally, some have been loved, but have never had anyone tell them that they are loved. Humans have grossly perverted our “love” for each other. What passes for love is a sad statement about our condition, and the fact that we often accept it shows how desperate we are for real love.
Yet, God’s love is more than a theory, an ideal to strive for, or a model. His love is real, factual, and demonstrated. We can experience the love of God through knowing Jesus Christ.
“…the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5)
The Holy Spirit of Christ tells us that the promises of God in the Bible are true and that the love of God for us is certain. We experience his love as he pours it out into our very innermost beings. We know God loves us, and we can’t miss it.
As we experience his love through the Holy Spirit, the love of God changes us. As we are filled with his love, we find we love others in ways we never thought possible. We take on the family traits of God, the family likeness, and we find we love from our hearts. We love both God and other humans, and our love looks to an increasing degree like the love of God described above. The quality of our love changes not by self-effort or self-discipline, but because the love of God has been poured out (or shed abroad) in our hearts, not in a miserly or stingy fashion, but with great liberality and generosity. Once we experience this love, we cannot stay the same. Secure in the love of God, we want to share it, and don’t fear the rejection of others or the sacrifice it may cost us. Our lives gradually take on the qualities of love befitting one loved by God.
So, when we are told to love one another (John 13:34), to lay down our lives as a demonstration of love (John 15:13), and to show others that we belong to Jesus by our love (John 13:35), we are not instructed to work ourselves into a state of love. When Paul tells husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), this does not occur as a result of grim duty or self-improvement. Love becomes a part of who we are as people who have been flooded with the love of God. And, it is a love that has the loved one’s best interests at heart. It is a love that sacrifices, that initiates, that gives, that is freeing, that is unconditional, and that pursues. It is a love that is committed for the long haul, and a love that forgives.
God is love. He is the definition of love, and he continues to show us what real love is in each generation. Our perverted, distorted, selfish, whittled-down versions of love are nothing like the love of God. Jesus came to give us love, life, and joy. Because of him, we can offer real love to others…… even if it means taking a bullet for them.
If you desire to know the love of God and to be transformed by it, please see “The Ultimate Solution.”
Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2008. All rights reserved.
The Ultimate Solution
… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…(Romans 3:23)
… the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
We have a problem. The Bible tells us that we have all sinned, and no one meets God’s standard of perfection. We have offended God and wronged him by violating his standard. God is holy and righteous. He cannot tolerate sin. You and I, because we have sinned, even if only once (and who has sinned only once?) cannot be good enough to see God and have a relationship with him; every human is a sinner. The guilt we all live with is not just some psychological feeling which we should attempt to rationalize away; we feel guilty because we are guilty of offending the God who created us. Each of us falls short of his mark, glory, and standard. And because of our failure to live perfectly, our just reward is eternal death. We cannot earn our way to heaven.
Imagine trying to jump the Grand Canyon; here, being close would not count, and failing to clear the chasm by one foot would leave us just as dead as if we failed by 100 feet. Because you and I are not perfect, which is God’s standard, we deserve death and separation from God forever.
But, God loves sinners. He offers sinners like you and me the opportunity to know him, love him and live each day with him now in a close relationship with him; he offers the opportunity to live with him forever in heaven eventually. He sent his only Son, Jesus, to open the way for us.
Jesus came to earth as God and man simultaneously. He was perfect. He never sinned, but he died on the cross to rescue sinners. His death on the cross had a purpose: to save people from their sins. His death was no unfortunate accident; he died by intention. Jesus took our sins upon himself on the cross and in exchange offers us his righteousness. Jesus took our place at the cross and offers us eternal life. Jesus took our “wages” (death) and, instead, gave us his “free gift” (eternal life).
Jesus is the only way to God. You and I will never know God or eternal life without Jesus. We will never be good enough. We cannot be moral or sincere enough. We will never even be religious enough. We will never pay our own way into God’s favor or presence by doing enough good deeds.
God does not ignore sin. You and I have a choice: either accept the wages each of us deserves for our sin, or accept the gift Jesus offers us. His shed blood on the cross pays the price for your sin and mine, and cancels it. His blood cleanses us from sin.
Notice that God offers eternal life through Jesus as a gift. How do we receive a gift? We reach out our hands and accept it. We receive the gift of eternal life from God by raising the “empty hands of faith” (Francis Schaeffer) and accepting it. This is known as faith, or believing in Jesus. God has promised us eternal life in Jesus; we believe him and ask for the free gift, trusting him to give it to us. He does.
“What must I do to be saved?” “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved…”(Acts 16:30,31). This belief is based on facts and history, but is more than mere knowledge of facts about Jesus. It is an entrusting of yourself to him to save you. You stop trusting yourself and stop thinking you can be good enough to earn heaven. We must stop trusting in our good deeds, our morals, our religious duties, no matter how well carried out. We can add nothing to what Jesus has already done for us. You and I, individually, must trust in Jesus alone to save us, to forgive our sins, and open the way to God.
Here’s how to receive this salvation:
1. Come to God in prayer and admit to him that you have sinned against him; tell him you are sorry.
2. Repent of your sins. Repentance is turning away from your sins. Turn your back on them and walk away from them. God will enable you to do this.
3. Ask God to forgive your sins because of Jesus, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead for you. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Believe in Jesus, what he did, and what he said. Trust in his promise to save you and his power to save you. Trust him alone; you and I can add nothing to the transaction. Ask him to give you freedom from the enslaving power of sin in your life.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
4. Ask Jesus to come into your life as your Savior and Lord. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)
God promises eternal life to those who come to him through Jesus. Realize that Jesus did not come to simply save you from hell. He came to rule in your life now as King. He loves you too much to leave you as you are; he will save and rescue you from your sins, your guilt, and yourself. He came to give you real life now, and a relationship with God himself now.
Realize also that God will not fail you or lie to you. If you ask Jesus into your life in this way, he will come in and live there by his Holy Spirit.
If you have just received his gift, please let me know. There is nothing greater in the world than knowing God personally through Jesus. You will have fullness of life and joy; you will have life with God forever. And with God, life keeps getting better.
Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2005. All rights reserved.