What Is the Meaning of Psalm 119?

What is the meaning of Psalm 119?

If you peruse the first page of Google results, then you will come to the common understanding that Psalm 119 is about God’s word. For most modern day Christians, if the psalm is about God’s word, then that means Psalm 119 is ultimately about the Bible. Therefore, you often find statements like the following to explain the meaning of Psalm 119.

  1. The Bible, the word of God, is all sufficient.
  2. The truth of the Bible, God’s word, is reliable.
  3. God’s character is reflected through the Bible, his word.
  4. The Bible, God’s word, is authoritative.

Matthew Henry, who’s Bible commentary is exhaustive and found everywhere, said, “The general scope and design of this psalm is to magnify the Divine law and make it honourable.” For most modern day Christians, Divine law comes from the Old Testament, specifically the ten commandments. The law is often equated with Torah. We commonly think of Torah as law, but it is better thought of as the teaching of parents to their children.

In almost every verse of Psalm 119, there is a synonym for Torah. Roughly, there are ten different terms referring to Torah or the word of God throughout the psalm – law, way, testimonies, commandments, precepts, word, judgments, righteousness, statutes, and truth/faithfulness. Depending on your translation, you will also see the word ordinances.

According to Matthew Henry, Psalm 119 is an extended prayer or meditation that declares 1) Torah is to be held up as a source of blessing and right conduct and 2) the writer is dedicating himself to Torah. Today, this gets translated to the idea that the Old Testament, God’s law, more specifically the ten commandments, is a source of blessing and right conduct and we should dedicate ourselves to keeping the law, the ten commandments, and everything God said in the Old Testament.

But, as I read through Psalm 119 the other day, the Spirit showed me another way to read and understand the psalm. To read the psalm as the Spirit revealed to me requires two key points of understanding.

First, the Bible is not God’s word. Rather, Jesus is God’s word. My previous post, Do You Believe the Bible is God’s Word?, details my thinking on this. So, I will not rehash it here. Therefore, whenever we read “word” in Psalm 119 we should not think about the Old Testament or the Bible. Instead, we should think Jesus.

Second, 1 John 4.8 and both say, “God is love.” Note that nowhere in scripture does it say “God is law.”

Further, Matthew 22.35-40 says, “And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'” Luke 10.25-28 records virtually the same exact exchange.

What is Jesus saying?

All of the law, the ten commandments, the Old Testament, and the Torah can be summed up in just one word – love! Love for God and love for neighbor are the only two commandments that Jesus ever gave. Amazingly, Jesus gave us two commandments and neither of them are from the ten commandments that Moses gave. (So instead of Christians posting the ten commandments in courthouses, schoolrooms and elsewhere, shouldn’t Christians simply post Jesus’ two commandments to love God and love neighbor as yourself?) Therefore, whenever we read one of those ten synonyms mentioned above in Psalm 119 for God’s word, law, or Torah, our minds should immediately turn to love.

Further, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The way of Jesus, the way of God, is love. You can see how I understand the way is love in my post Creation: A Witness to Jesus. So, whenever see the word way in Psalm 119, our minds should turn to love.

The idea that love is the way tells us something about the false way and mentioned several times in Psalm 119 and the wicked and insolent who take it. 1 John 4.18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Love casts out fear. When our way is motivated by love, fear cannot be a possible motivation for us. But, when we are not perfected by love, we are moving in the false way. Then, our actions are motivated by the false way of fear. Ultimately, it is fear that prevents us from loving God, ourselves, and our neighbor. Therefore, when we read “the false way” in Psalm 119 we can substitute fear.

As the Spirit showed me where to substitute Jesus, love, and fear into Psalm 119, I was overwhelmed with the length, height, breadth, and depth of God’s love. Below is the entirety of Psalm 119 as the Spirit revealed it to me. Read it and see how overwhelming and all-encompassing God’s love is.

Psalm 119

Blessed are those who love is blameless, who walk in the love of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his love, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do not fear, but walk in his love! You have commanded your love to be kept diligently. Oh that my love may be steadfast in your keeping your love! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all of your love. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous love. I will keep your love; do not utterly forsake me!

How can a young man keep his love pure? By guarding it according to your love. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your love! I have stored Jesus Christ in my heart, that I might not fear you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your love! With my lips I declare all the love of your mouth. In the love of your love I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your love and fix my eyes on your love. I will delight in your love; I will not forget Jesus Christ.

Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your love. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your love. I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your love from me! My soul is consumed with longing for your love at all times. You rebuke the fearful ones, who wander from your love. Take away from me fear, for I have kept your love. Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your love. Your love is my delight; love is my counselor.

My soul clings to fear; give me life according to Jesus Christ! When I told of my fear, you answered me; teach me your love! Make me understand the love of your love, and I will meditate on your wondrous love. My soul melts away for fear; strengthen me according to Jesus Christ! Put fear far from me and graciously teach me your love! I have chosen the way of love; I set your love before me. I cling to your love, O Lord; let me not be put to fear! I will run in the love of your love when you enlarge my heart!

Teach me, O Lord, the love of your love; and I will keep love to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your love and observe love with my whole heart. Lead me in the love of your love, for I delight in love. Incline my heart to your love, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your love. Confirm to your servant life, that you may be held in awe. Turn away the fear that I dread, for your love is good. Behold, I long for your love; in your love give me life!

Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your life; then I shall have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in Jesus Christ. And take not Jesus Christ utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your love. I will keep your love continually, forever and ever, and I shall love in a wide place, for I have sought your love. I will also speak of your love before kings and shall not be put to fear, for I find my delight in your love, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your love, which I love, and I will meditate on your love.

Remember Jesus Christ to your servant, in whom you have made me hope. He is my comfort in my fear, that your life gives me life. The fearful utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your love. When I think of your love from of old, I take comfort, O Lord. How fear seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your love. Your love has been my song in the house of my sojourning. I remember your name in the night, O Lord, and keep your love. This blessing has fallen to me, that I kept your love.

The Lord is my portion, I promise to keep your love. I entreat your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your life. When I think on my fears, I turn my feet to your love; I hasten and do not delay to keep your love. Though the cords of the fearful ensnare me, I do not forget your love. At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous love. I am a companion of all who are in awe of you, of those who keep your love. The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your love.

You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to Jesus Christ. Teach me love and knowledge, for I believe in your love. Before I was afflicted I feared, but now I keep your love. You are good and do good; teach me your love. The fearful smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your love; their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your love. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your love. The love of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your love. Those who are in awe of you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in Jesus Christ. I know, O Lord, that your love is righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your life to your servant. Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your love is my delight. Let the fearful be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on your love. Let those who are in awe of you turn to me, that they may know your love. May my heart be blameless in your love, that I may not be put to fear!

My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in Jesus Christ. My eyes long for your life; I ask, “When will you comfort me?” For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your love. How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me? The fearful have dug pitfalls for me; they do not live according to your love. All your love is sure; the fearful persecute me with falsehood; help me! The fearful have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your love. In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the love of your mouth.

Forever, O Lord, Jesus Christ is firmly fixed in the heavens. Your love endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast. By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. If your love had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your love, for by your love you have given me life. I am yours; save me, for I have sought your love. The fearful lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your love. I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your love is exceedingly broad.

Oh how I love your love! It is my meditation all the day. Your love makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your love is my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your love. I hold back my feet from every fearful way, in order to keep Jesus Christ. I do not turn aside from your love, for you have taught me. How sweet is Jesus Christ to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your love I get understanding; therefore I hate every fearful way.

Jesus Christ is a lamp to my feet and a light to my love. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous love. I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to Jesus Christ! Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your love. I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your love. The fearful have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your love. Your love is my heritage forever, for your love is the joy of my heart. I incline my heart to perform your love forever, to the end.

I hate fearfulness, but I love your love. You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Jesus Christ. Depart from me, you fearful, that I may keep the love of my God. Uphold me according to your life, that I may live, and let me not be put to fear in Jesus Christ! Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for your love continually! You spurn all who are fearful from your love, for their cunning is in vain. All the fearful of the earth you discard like dross, therefore I love your love. My flesh trembles for awe of you, and I am in awe of your love.

I have done what is just and right; do not leave me to my oppressors. Give your servant a pledge of good; let not the fearful oppress me. My eyes long for salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous life. Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your love. I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your love! It is time for the Lord to act, for your love has been broken. Therefore I love your love above gold, above fine gold. Therefore I consider all your love to be right; I hate every fearful way.

Your love is wonderful; therefore my soul keeps your love. The unfolding of Jesus Christ gives light; he imparts understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your love. Turn to me and be gracious me, as is your love with those who love your name. Keep steady my steps according to your life, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. Redeem me from man’s oppression, that I may keep your love. Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your love. My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your love.

Righteous are you, O Lord, and right is your love. You have appointed your love in righteousness and in faithfulness. My zeal consumers me, because my foes forget Jesus Christ. Your life is well tried, and your servant loves it. I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your love. Your love is righteous forever, and your love is true. Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your love is my delight. Your love is righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.

With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord! I will keep your love. I call to you; save me, that I may observe your love. I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in Jesus Christ. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your life. Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O Lord, according to your love give me life. The fearful draw near who persecute me with evil purpose; the fearful are far from your love. But you are near, O Lord, and all your love is true. Long have I known from your love that you have founded love forever.

Look on my affliction and deliver me, for I do not forget your love. Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your life! Salvation is far from the fearful, for the fearful do not seek your love. Great is your mercy, O Lord; give me life according to your love. Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, but I do not swerve from your love. I look at the fearful with disgust, because they do not keep your love. The sum of Jesus Christ is truth, and every bit of your love ensures forever.

Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of Jesus Christ. I rejoice at Jesus Christ like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor fear, but I love your love. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous love. Great peace have those who love your love; nothing can make them fear. I hope for your salvation, O Lord, and I do your love. My soul keeps your love; I love it exceedingly. I keep your love, for all my fears are before you.

Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to Jesus Christ! Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to Jesus Christ. My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your love. My tongue will sing of Jesus Christ, for all your love is right. Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your love. I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your love is my delight. Let my soul live and praise you, and let your love help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your love.

Empire Takes Your Breath Away

In my previous post, What Is God’s Breath?, I wrote of the three times God clearly breathes into something in scripture. When God breathes into something he breathes in light, love, and life.

While we read of God breathing into things, we read something very interesting about the queen of Sheba in 1 Kings 10. “And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her.” (1 Kings 10,4-5)

“There was no more breath in her.” The queen of Sheba lost her breath.

What does it mean that the queen of Sheba lost her breath?

Previously, I simply thought it meant that she was really, really impressed with Solomon. But, this time as I read the passage with the understanding that God breathes in light, love, and life, I thought that perhaps the opposite happened to the queen of Sheba in this passage. Perhaps when she had no more breath in her she lost the light, love, and life that she had. Perhaps the queen of Sheba died. Not physically, but spiritually.

What took the queen of Sheba’s breath away?

Solomon’s kingdom.

Or, we could more generally say empire.

Empire took away the queen of Sheba’s breath. Empire stole the light, love, and life that the queen of Sheba had.

We typically think of how great and awesome Solomon’s kingdom was. Gold was so prevalent that everything Solomon drank from was made of it. Silver, arguably the second most precious metal to man, was counted as nothing. We think of Solomon’s kingdom as the height of Israel.

But, scripture tells us that Solomon enslaved thousands of people to build his empire. Scripture also tells us that Solomon traded in Egyptian horses and chariots despite Moses’ laws that the kings of Israel should not do that. In other words, Solomon traded in, and got rich from, the trading of the instruments of war, even though Solomon had a kingdom that was at peace. There was no need for Solomon to get rich from being an arms dealer. This is beginning to sound like any other empire we would know.

There is also something else very interesting about Solomon’s kingdom. “Now the weight of gold that came so Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold.” (1 Kings 10.14)

In my 20 plus years of being a Christian, I have never heard anyone mention the fact that Solomon received 666 talents of gold in one year. I find this very odd given the fixation on the number 666 in Revelation. Especially since most everyone knows that the book of Revelation draws on imagery from  and connections to the Old Testament repeatedly.

Revelation 13.18 says, “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of man, and his number is 666.”

Shouldn’t we at least pause to think how this might connect with Solomon and his empire?

We know that in Revelation John is contrasting the kingdom of God to the Roman empire, the greatest empire of man that the world has ever known. To live in that empire was to live outside the gates of God’s kingdom where there was only light. There was no night, no darkness. Therefore, to live in empire was to live in darkness. As you read through Revelation, you also get the feeling that to live in the Roman empire, or an empire of man, is to also live in fear and death, which are of course are the opposites of love and life.

So, when we really think about, Solomon’s kingdom while grand and impressive, was really just another empire like any of man’s empires. And, while the queen of Sheba may have been impressed by it, perhaps because she wished she had an empire just like it, ultimately the desire for that empire took her breath away. Solomon’s empire took away her light, love, and life. It spiritually killed her.

Empire does the same to us. It does not matter if it is the Spanish, the Dutch, the English, or the American empire. Beholding any empire of man will take your breath away. It will spiritually kill you. To worship empire will cause you to lose your light, love, and life. God is trying to breathe light, love, and life into you, but empire will take it away. This is a tale told all the way through scripture.

Sadly, American Christians have succumbed to the worship of the American empire to a significant degree. They have lost their breath.

What Is God’s Breath?

There are three times in scripture when we are told that God breathed.

  1. “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” – Genesis 2.7
  2. And when he [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” – John 20.22
  3. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” – 2 Timothy 3.16

The Bible declares that God breathes. But, we know that God doesn’t literally breathe like we do just like God doesn’t literally have hands or a back as scripture says.

If God doesn’t literally breathe, then what is God’s breath?

In Genesis 2.7, the Hebrew word for breath is neshamah. Strong’s defines this word as a puff, i.e. wind, vital breath, divine inspiration. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew defines neshamah as breath, essential to life and a causative agent for an activity of God.

“A causative agent for an activity of God” is a interesting part of the definition of neshamah as this is exactly the role the Spirit plays in God’s creation of the universe in Genesis 1. “In the beginning, God created…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” In a sense, the Spirit was ready to give birth to the universe. The word for Spirit in Genesis 1.2 is ruah, which has a range of meanings including spirit, breath, or wind.

So, metaphorically we can understand God’s breath as his Spirit. This is why when Jesus breathed on his disciples he told them to receive the Holy Spirit.

God’s Spirit is his essence, his divine nature. So, God’s Spirit is made up of God’s attributes, which Paul says are invisible and known since the foundation of the world in Romans 1.

What are the invisible attributes of God, his Spirit, and therefore his breath?

  1. Life – “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life.” – 1 John 5.11-12
  2. Love – “God is love.” – 1 John 4.8 and 16.
  3. Light – “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1.5

Go back to the scriptures that started this post. Three times we are told that God breathed in scripture. And, each one reveals a different invisible attribute of God. Each one reveals a particular aspect of God’s breath, his Spirit, his essence.

Genesis 2.7 says that God breathed his breath into the man’s nostrils and the man became a living being.

God’s breath is life.

In John 20.19-23, Jesus breathed on the disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. But, notice what Jesus says immediately before he breathed on them. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20.21)

How did the Father send Jesus?

John 3.17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God sent Jesus to save the world, the whole world, the entire universe and everything in it.

How would Jesus save the world?

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4.9-10

Love was made manifest among us when God sent Jesus into the world. And, God sent Jesus into the world that we live through him. And, the love of God was most fully displayed by Jesus on the cross when he died for us.

So, when Jesus told the disciples that he is sending them as the Father sent him, he told them that he was sending in love. Further, he was sending them in love so that they would forgive. Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20.22-23) To forgive the sins of another is to give life to them.

God’s breath is love.

There is much debate about just how to translate 2 Timothy 3.16 and what Paul meant by the word theopneustos, or God-breathed. Whether all scripture is God-breathed or when scripture is God-breathed, the key point at the moment is the result of the breath of God on scripture. If scripture is God-breathed, then it is useful or profitable for certain things – teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Note that teaching, reproof, correction, and training are not life itself. Nor are they love. However, each of them, in their own way, are methods to bring someone who is off course, someone who has erred, back onto the correct path. The correct path, or way, that we are to be on is love. When we deviate from that path, God-breathed scripture is there to put us back on the way of love.

God-breathed scripture illuminates the path or way for us. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Isaiah 51.4 says, “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.”

Jesus said the entire law could be summed up in two commandments – love God and love your neighbor. Love is the law went out from God, or was sent into the world as John says. And, this law, this love, Jesus, was “the light of men” and “the true light, which gives light to everyone.”

Taking all of this together, we could say that God-breathed scripture is light.

God’s breath is light.

God’s breath is his Spirit, his essence, his nature. God’s essence or nature is revealed by his invisible attributes – life, love, light. An inspired reading of scripture reveals exactly this to us in the three passages that God breathes.

God’s breath if life. – Genesis 2.7

God’s breath is love. – John 20.22

God’s breath is light. – 2 Timothy 3.16

Did God Really Say…?

Many Christians read the Bible literally. Therefore, whenever it says “God said…”, these Christians take what follows as the literal words out of God’s mouth. As I blogged through the Bible looking for Jesus last year, I found that even Christians who are moving away from reading the Bible literally still have a hard time understanding passages that say “God said…”

Most Christians struggle with questioning what God supposedly said in the Bible. However, we should ask the question “Did God really say…?” when we realize that men (and perhaps women), just like you and me, wrote the Bible. I think all of us today could find many instances in our lives when we thought we heard God but in retrospect it was our own self that we heard. Therefore, the men (and perhaps women) that wrote the Bible often heard there own their own voices when they thought they heard God.

Asking the question “Did God really say?” is hard for so many people because of their conception of God. He’s all powerful and all knowing. Therefore, if this perfect book says this is what the all powerful and all knowing God said, then that is what he said. The problem is the term God is too nebulous. It is not concrete enough for us.

So, what is a possible solution to make God more concrete so that we can better discern if what God supposedly said in the Bible is something that he would really say?

Simply substitute the word “love” for “God.” We can do this because love is not simply an action that God takes or an emotion that God feels. God is love. Love is God’s very essence, his very being.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was manifest among us, and that God sent his only Son into the world, so that he might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abide in God, and God abides in him.” – 1 John 4.7-16

God is love. This was revealed to us in Jesus Christ when he died for our sins on the cross. This supreme example of God as love is much easier to get one’s mind around than the amorphous, nebulous term God.

So, let’s look at a few examples from the Bible where we replace “God” with “love” and see if we think it is still something that God really said.

“And Love said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” – Genesis 6.13

Does destroying all flesh on the earth sound like the love that Christ displayed on the cross?

“So Moses said, ‘Thus says Love: “About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on the throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle.”‘” – Exodus 11.4-5

Does killing all the firstborn in a land sound like the love Christ displayed on the cross?

“But Love said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book?'” – Exodus 32.33

Does blotting out sinners, in effect annihilating them from existence, sound like the love that Christ displayed on the cross and in his life?

“And Love said to Moses, ‘The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.'” – Numbers 15.35

Does stoning someone to death sound like the love Christ displayed on the cross?

“And Love said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” – Joshua 11.6

Does killing all the people in a city or land, which is an act of genocide, sound like the love Christ displayed on the cross?

“Moreover, is it without Love that I have come up against this land to destroy it? Love said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.” – Isaiah 36.10

Does destroying an entire land really sound like the love Christ displayed on the cross?

In addition to what God supposedly said, we replace “love” for “God” in passages that claim God did or will do certain acts to see if those reported acts are really something God would do.

“Love will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. Love will make the pestilence stick t you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Love will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish. And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron. Love will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed.” – Deuteronomy 28.20-24

Keep reading all of the curses God will supposedly bring on you for disobeying you and ask if yourself if that sounds like the love Christ displayed on the cross.

We could go on and on with verse after verse of things that are attributed to God that make no sense when we think of them coming from love. If you still think love could do these things, then I have to question your understanding of love and your understanding of God, perhaps even your sanity. Frankly, if you love does these things, then it is quite likely you have been brainwashed, which simply means to make someone adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible pressure or a bring controlled by a method of systematic indoctrination. By the way, when being brainwashed, the one thing that system of indoctrination strictly forbids is asking questions such as “Did God really say…?”

To be clear…

God is love.

Love does not kill anyone.

Love does not stone someone to death.

Love does not commit genocide.

Love does not heap curse upon curse upon curse on someone.

God, or Love, does not do many of things mankind claims he does.

What Is the Key to Understanding the Bible Correctly?

My wife and I drove to Chicago the other day. We had an interesting conversation about Christianity, the Bible, and faith during the drive. This conversation started with my wife saying she was over the Bible. Even though she had read it since she was a teenager, she was done with it. She was tired of how people were reading it and the meanings the were drawing from it. I completely understood what she was saying because I have even felt that way somewhat recently.

What did she mean?

Basically, people use the Bible to support what they already believe.

The Bible has been used to support capitalism and socialism.

The Bible has been used to support slavery and freedom.

The Bible has been used to support monogamy and bigamy.

The Bible has been used to support complementarianism and egalitarianism.

The Bible has been used to support war and non-violence.

The Bible has been used to support heterosexuality and homosexuality.

The Bible has been used to support Jews and Israel and to hate Jews and Israel.

The Bible has been used to support white supremacy and black liberation.

Pretty much whatever idea or ideology people have had they have found a way for the Bible to support.

What is going on here?

How are people able to do this?

They read the Bible literally.

They read a verse, a passage, or even just part of a verse and claim that these words literally support what they already believe no matter what the context of the verse says. And, even if the context does support their idea or ideology, they only take the text at literal, face value.

This is a significant problem.

I cannot stress how big of a problem this is.

So, what is the key to reading the Bible correctly?

Jesus gave us two commandments that perfectly sum up how we should read the Bible.

Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22.37-39)

In order to understand the Bible correctly, your reading of it must be grounded and rooted in love. If love is not the very foundation of every single thought you have regarding the Bible, then you are going to take away the wrong ideas from it. If a thought, idea, ideology, or viewpoint that you come up with from reading the Bible does not look, feel, and sound like love to every single person, then that thought, idea, ideology, or viewpoint is wrong.

The temptation for everyone who reads the Bible is to use love for the foundation of their reading but only for the people who look or think like them.

It’s not a coincidence that Jesus addressed this to.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5.43-45)

If your understanding of the Bible, if your reading of any part of the Bible, does not result in love for those who you deem your enemies, then you are reading the Bible incorrectly. Your enemies are anyone you marginalize or ostracize. Your enemies are all the people that you think are going to hell. Your enemies are anyone that you treat as less than you.

Paul picked up on this very idea of Jesus. In Romans 12, Paul summarized the love for enemies and Jesus’ sermon on the mount in his own words. Paul also told us that we are all one. There is no Jew or Greek, rich or poor, male or female in Christ.

In other words, love brings everyone together, particularly those that are deemed to be antagonistic or opposite to each other.

So, if your reading of the Bible cannot and does not result in love bringing everyone together in Christ, then you haven’t yet discovered the key to reading the Bible correctly.

Is God’s Love Balanced by His Justice?

Deuteronomy 16.19, 20 says, “You shall not pervert justice…Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

As I read this verse the other day, I thought it was a very accurate description of how many Christians today view God. For these Christians, the thinking seems to be that God is just. Therefore, justice is going to be served by God, whether in this life or in the next. Justice is someone being punished, getting what they deserved, for their sins. In other words, justice sounds like, “Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

I see two reasons many western Christians think this way about justice. The first is our legal system. The system is designed to exact some sort of punishment, not restitution and reconciliation, for crimes committed. We fail to recognize how much this influences our thinking about God and Jesus and how they act in the world. Second, much of western Christianity is dominated by the thinking of John Calvin. Calvin was a lawyer. Not coincidentally, whether Calvin himself intended it or not, we have made Calvin out to make a big deal about justice.

As a result, many Christians set God’s justice on an equal footing with God’s love. For these Christians, when someone says that God is love, a typical retort is to say that God is just too.

But, is that true?

Are we to know God as love and as justice?

Is God’s justice like our justice?

Or, is God’s justice moderated by his love because God’s love supersedes any justice he brings about?

My answers would be no, no, no, and yes.

For starters, 1 John 4.8 and 16 both say, “God is love.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say God is just. God’s very nature, his very being, is love. But, we must know that God’s very nature, his very being, is not just – at least in the sense that almost all of us think of justice.

God’s actions flow out of love not out of justice.

Consider the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.1-11. Yes, this woman was being treated unfairly by the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus pointed out that they were sinners just like the woman was. But, have you stopped to consider that there was an unmentioned wife in the story? Was it just that the woman (and the man by the way) caught in adultery got away unscathed, unpunished? Should not there been some sort of justice for the wife who was cheated on?

Or, consider the parable of the workers in Matthew 20.1-16. The workers started at different times during the time, but they all got the same pay. Some of these workers clearly did not think this was just. But, it did reveal God’s love.

We can see that love supersedes justice in other ways too.

Jesus’ two great commandments that the all the law hangs on are about love, not justice.

God so loved, not wanted justice for, the world that he sent Jesus.

Jesus said he gave us a new commandment to love one another as he loved us. That’s how we are to love one another, not do justice.

God showed his love, not justice, for us in that while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love, not justice.

Love, not justice, is the fulfilling of the law.

Love, not justice, is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not arrogant, is not rude, does not insist on its way, is not irritable, is not resentful, does not rejoice at wrongdoing, rejoices at the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never ends.

We are to pursue love, not justice.

We are controlled by the love, not justice, of Christ.

The only thing that counts is faith working through love, not justice.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Justice is not mentioned.

God is rich in mercy because of the great love, not justice, with which he loved us.

We are to be rooted and grounded in love, not justice.

We are to know the love, not justice, of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

We are to walk in love, not justice.

Yet, there are Christians that would say I have been brainwashed by love. They would argue that God’s love is balanced by his justice.

However, God, Jesus, the scriptures, are all about love, not justice. The scale is decisively tipped in favor of love. Everyone of the love, not justice statements above is straight from scripture. And, there are a whole lot more to go with them.

Love will bring about reconciliation, not punishment. Reconciliation is God’s justice.

 

We will never be able to lay down our own lives and pick up our own cross if we continue to insist that justice is on equal footing with love.

What Is Required for Love?

In the Old Testament, the view was that God loved his people, Israel, and would cut off his enemies.

Psalm 59.10 says, “My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.”

Psalm 143.12 says, “And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.”

But, Jesus changes all of this. Instead of wishing for our enemies to be cut off or destroyed, Jesus says we are to love them.

Matthew 5.43-44 says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Luke 6.27-28 says, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Jesus was the image of God, the exact representation of God’s character. Jesus loved his enemies throughout his life, showing us that God loves his enemies as well.

So, we must ask ourselves what is required to love our enemies?

Identification.

I just finished watching a documentary. Paraphrasing, there was a line that said, “You cannot truly love something if you do not completely identify with it.”

To love we have to identify with the thing to be loved. So, to love our enemies we must identify with our enemies. The Bible shows that Jesus did exactly that.

God never considered us his enemies. But, according to the NIV, Colossians 1.21 says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Even though we considered ourselves enemies to God, he wanted to show his love for us.

How did God show love to those who thought they were God’s enemies?

God identified with them.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” – John 1.14

“By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” – Romans 8.3

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” – Galatians 4.4

“Being born in the likeness of men.” – Philippians 2.7

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.” – Hebrews 2.14

God was able to most fully and completely reveal his love to us when he became one of us. He experienced everything we experience. God was able to fully and completely show his love for us when he completely identified with us.

Therefore, in order to love those who are perceived to be our enemies but really aren’t, we must identify with them just as Jesus identified with us. Paul understood that identification was required to share the love of the gospel.

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to wind Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I share with them in its blessings.”

To identify with someone, we must understand their desires and wants. We must understand their motivations. We must understand their challenges, problems, and struggles.

This is hard thing to do with someone who is perceived to be your enemy. Instead, of identifying with our enemies, we typically magnify our differences. Just look at propaganda for war around the world. Every physical difference of the enemy is magnified. The enemy is different, not like us, and therefore worthy to be cut off or destroyed.

But, Jesus calls us to do the opposite. We must minimize our differences to love our enemies. As Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ.” (Galatians 3.28) It’s not that these distinctions no longer actually exist, but we minimize them in our minds so that we can identify with the other.

So, to love our enemies as Jesus commanded, let us focus on the one thing that is required – identification. As we identify with our enemies, love will naturally begin to flow.

Does God Hate You?

If I had to guess, then I would guess that a lot of people in the world believe God hates them.

Strangely, I feel more confident in saying that a significant number of Christians believe that God hates them. They hear it preached regularly. You sinned. God hates sin. So, God hates you. But, in order to spare you from his hatred, God put your sin on Jesus. Instead of hating you, God transferred his hate to Jesus. Instead of killing you, God killed Jesus. Therefore, Jesus died the death that you deserved when you were hated by God.

God must have really hated you if he killed his own perfect, sinless son instead of you.

I could, and others have, come up many verses from the Old Testament that allude to the fact that God has a lot of hate.

Deuteronomy 1.27 says, “And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.”

Deuteronomy 9.28 says, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.”

Psalm 11.5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”

But, this morning I read Proverbs 10.12. It says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” As I thought about this verse, I saw it as a picture of those who hated Jesus and crucified him and a picture of God, who was in Jesus on the cross, who loved us so much he covered all our offenses.

We are the ones that are filled with hate, not God. Our hatred stirs up, arouses, and awakens strife, controversy, contention. The ultimate end of this hatred is murder. The ultimate murder was our crucifixion of Jesus. This was the fulfillment of all hatred.

God does not hate. It only seems that way because we project our hate onto God.

Instead of hating, God loves. In fact, God is love. God’s love covered our hate that was fully revealed in the crucifixion of Jesus. Our hatred not only led to strife but offenses. The Hebrew word for offenses could also be translated, and perhaps better so, rebellion. God’s love covered every bit of our rebellion against him. Indeed, we were all at one time enemies in our minds against God. Note that God never saw as us his enemies, as people to be hated.

When we read the New Testament, it is hard to find anything that even alludes to God hating. Although, Jesus repeatedly says that he is hated by the world and that world will kill him because it hated him.

Do you know what the actual meaning of hate is?

Hate is an intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.

So hate comes from fear, anger, or a sense of injury.

That sounds like our thoughts, feelings, and emotions toward God and others. We fear God. We are angry at God. We feel injured by God because we don’t have everything we want. So, we hate God.

The Bible never says that God is hate. But, it does say that God is love. God can only do what he is. You know…that whole I Am that I Am thing. The Bible goes on to say that there is no fear in love. And, if there is no fear, then there can be no hate in love either. Instead of fear being in love, perfect love casts out fear. For me, that is very much like love covering all of our rebellion.

I also see Jesus in Proverbs 10.12.

Love covers all offenses. The Hebrew word for covers is also used for putting on a veil or other articles of clothing. Love is put on atop, over, or above (there’s actually an untranslated Hebrew word that means something like that) all our offenses. Love is put on atop or above our hatred, covering it up.

Colossians 3.8-14 says, “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Here we have the taking off the garment of hatred – anger, wrath, malice – and the putting on of the garment of love. In this way, there are no more groups that hate another – Jew and Gentile, barbarian and Scythian, slave and free. Instead, Christ is all and in all. Hatred is replace with love because God, and Christ, is love.

We are to forgive each other as the Lord has forgiven us.

When did Jesus, and God, do this?

On the cross.

When our hatred was fully stirred up to the ultimate strife – murder.

When love covered all of our rebellion.

And, because God has always been as he was on the cross, he never hated you.

Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible: Part 4 – Seeing Jesus

(This post is Part 4 of the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Introduction,  Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy Spirit, Part 2 – The Word of the Lord AppearedPart 3 – A Low Whisper, and Part 5 – Knowing His Resurrection.)

We come to the Bible with presuppositions about God. Typically, as we study the Bible, those presuppositions about God – no matter if they are right or wrong – are confirmed. However, when we truly experience the life of Jesus Christ, our presuppositions about God are challenged, overturned, changed. Then, when we go the Bible, we see this new perspective of God confirmed.

In Part 1, I shared how Dawn, my first wife, miraculously came into my life. I challenged God to prove his existence by causing me to meet my wife for my birthday. He answered the challenge. I experienced the life of Jesus for the first time and the Bible was, quite literally, opened to me.

Today, I am going to share how Dawn departed from my life in an even more miraculous fashion. The days leading up to her death were filled with many miracles (at least I consider the events as such). I experienced the life of Jesus like never before. And, from that moment on, I have seen Jesus in the Bible in ways that I would not have fathomed prior to this experience.

Dawn died March 17, 2012.

For six years she had battled cancer. She was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2006.

During her battle, Dawn had a double mastectomy and brain surgery to remove a golf ball sized brain tumor. By the way, she was out of bed less than 24 hours after the brain surgery, and we went home straight from the ICU less than 36 hours after the brain surgery. The nurses said they had never seen anything like it. If Dawn was anything, she was tough and able to endure suffering.

Dawn had years of weekly chemotherapy treatments. It became a part of our life so much that I would lose track of her appointments. One weekend, we took our son to the local bike trail to ride. We rode about 10 miles. At one point I asked Dawn why her and Trey were lagging behind. She reminded me that she had chemotherapy the day before.

Dawn also had lots of radiation. The first round was on her lung for the quarter-sized spot of cancer that never seemed to get any smaller. The second round was on her brain after the tumor was removed. Cancer patients will often joke about “chemo brain” – how chemotherapy causes you to forget things. Imagine what happens after years of chemotherapy and radiation on your brain. Dawn was a very intelligent woman, but despite what the chemotherapy and radiation did to her mind, she never stopped smiling. She never stopped thanking and praising God.

In January 2012, I noticed that Dawn was leaning to the left a lot. It reminded me of the first time she had a brain tumor because she lost the peripheral vision in her left eye. As a result, she would push the food off the left side of her plate without even knowing it. I asked Dawn if she should get a brain scan. But, she was pretty adamant that she didn’t need one.

It didn’t take me long to realize why Dawn didn’t want a brain scan. She knew she had another brain tumor. And, she knew that there wasn’t really anything the doctors could do. Dawn knew her time was drawing to a close. I knew it too.

Eventually, Dawn’s symptoms got to the point where she had to go to the doctor. They did a brain scan, and, as we expected, she had a brain tumor. The radiologist said he would not recommend radiation. Because it would be the second time Dawn had radiation on her brain, the radiologist said her quality of life would drop significantly if she had brain radiation again. It might even result in her living in a vegetative state. But, the radiologist said he would do the radiation if we demanded he do it.

Just a short while later, we met with Dawn’s oncologist. We knew what the conversation was going to be. The doctor said that it was perhaps time to stop all treatments. Prior to the meeting, Dawn and I had already decided this was the route to go.

That meeting with the oncologist was just nine days before Dawn died. On the way home from the meeting, I knew I would have to tell Trey, our son, that night what was happening. The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was telling my 11-year-old son that his mom was going to die.

What do you say?

I sat Trey down on his bed. I told him what was happening. I could hardly get the words out. I cried a lot. Trey told me he had learned a scripture at school that week that he thought was appropriate. He quoted to me 2 Peter 3.9, which says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

It may not seem like much, but for me that was a miracle. My son was consoling me, reminding me that God fulfills his promises.

Six days before Dawn died we went to church together for the last time. Dawn’s sister, Lisa, and her family came up from Nashville to Cincinnati to go with us. And, so did a few of Dawn’s best friends of more than 25 years. None of them came because we knew Dawn was going to die in the next week. In fact, they had planned on coming weeks, if not months, prior.

Dawn, her sister Lisa, and two friends from church (Alisa and her daughter DeLisa) sang my favorite song that Sunday – Thank You by Walter Hawkins. Thankfully, John, the associate pastor of the church, managed to capture the moment on his cell phone. Click here to see the video. 

Dawn is the one seated on the stool. She is smiling throughout the video , but she smiled like that all the time. And, I mean all the time. And, to think she could smile and praise God like that after six years of suffering and just six days before she died.

The lyrics of the song were very appropriate.

Tragedies are common place
All kinds of diseases, people are slipping away
Economies down, people can’t get enough pay
But as for me, all I can say is
Thank you Lord for all You’ve done for me, yeah

Folks without homes, living out in the streets
And the drug habits some say, they just can’t beat
Muggers and robbers, no place seems to be safe
But You’ll be my protection every step of the way
And I want to say
Thank you Lord for all You’ve done for me, yeah

It could have been me (thank you)
Outdoors (thank you)
No food (thank you)
No clothes (thank you)
Or left alone (thank you)
Without a friend (thank you)
Or just another number (thank you)
With a tragic end (thank you)
But you didn’t see fit to let none of these things be (thank you)
‘Cause everyday

In addition to battling cancer, Dawn grew up in the projects and on welfare. She had experienced or seen everything in the lyrics of this song.

At the end of the video, Dawn says thank you to the church for everything they had done for our family. It was like she was saying goodbye to everyone. It is so surreal for me to watch it.

For me, it was a miracle to spend that last Sunday together at church in that way with Dawn.

Four days before Dawn died, she was in bed taking a nap. I went to check on her, and it was obvious something was wrong. She was talking incoherently. She was asking me to put her in the middle of the bed even though she already was. Dawn was asking me to put her left arm next to her even though it already was.

Because I couldn’t calm Dawn down, I called 911. They said there really wasn’t anything they could do, but they could come and take her to the hospital. Even though Dawn told me she didn’t want to go to the hospital anymore (we had just spent 12 of the last 30 days in the hospital), I felt like I had no other choice.

So, the ambulance came to take Dawn to the hospital. Dale, the pastor of our church, met me in the emergency room. As soon as he saw Dawn, he asked me to step outside the room to talk with him for a minute. Dale told me that he had seen this many times before – Dawn was transitioning out of this life. He told me that there was no way to know how long it would be, but I needed to prepare myself that this was it. Also, Dale told me that Dawn was a godly woman and because of that I was going to see things other people don’t get to see. Boy, was he right.

We went back in the room. A little bit later, John, the associate pastor, met us in the room. As we stood there talking, Dawn started smiling like never before. She always had a big smile, but this was different. It looked like the corners of her mouth were back to her ears, almost like someone had put hooks in the corners of her mouth to pull them back. And, Dawn’s eyes were wide open. Her face was radiant.

With that smile and eyes wide open, Dawn turned to the three of us and said, “I see heaven. I see God. And, he is right here with me.”

Dale, John, and I just looked at each other. Another miracle.

The hospital couldn’t really do anything for Dawn, so they sent us home the next day. I had called Dawn’s family and friends and told them to come back up to Cincinnati because this was it.

That night, three days before Dawn died, Shaterial, Dawn’s best friend, said she would stay up that night with Dawn to watch her since I had been up all night the night before at the hospital.

When I came down the next morning, Shaterial said I wouldn’t believe what happened last night. She told me that Dawn saw and talked with her mom, who had died three years prior. Shaterial said that Dawn asked her who all the people were in the room. But, only Shaterial and Dawn were up in the middle of the night. Shaterial told Dawn that there was no one else in room, but Dawn insisted there was.

You might say that Dawn was hallucinating, but Shaterial and I were convinced that Dawn saw her mom and that angels were in the room with them. Shaterial told me what a blessing it was for her to experience that with Dawn. Another miracle.

The next night, two days before Dawn died, I stayed up all night with her. When we came home from the hospital, we had a hospital bed put in the study off the living room. Dawn was sleeping there while I laid on the couch to keep an eye on her.

It was late at night when I noticed Dawn put her leg out of the bed. I went and put her leg back in the bed. This happened several times until I realized Dawn needed to use the bathroom. So, I helped her out of the bed. The bathroom was only about 15 feet away. But, halfway there Dawn said she was too tired to go any further. We were right next to the couch I was sleeping on, and she asked if she could just lay down there.

With Dawn on the couch where I was sleeping, I just knelt on the floor next to her. I held Dawn’s hand and silently prayed for her. Dawn fell back asleep. Then, out of nowhere, Dawn asked me a question.

“Do you want to see Jesus with me?”

Without missing a beat, I said yes.

And, for what seemed like 30 minutes or so, I saw Jesus.

Now, I did not see his physical form, the shape of a man. But, I saw his presence. There was this glow in the room right next to Dawn. There was no doubt that Jesus was in the room with us.

I saw Jesus.

Dawn did everything for Trey as a mother. And, I traveled a lot. I had been dealing with lots of fear about being a single parent. I had no idea how I could do that.

And, then Jesus spoke to me.

The first thing Jesus said was, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4.18) Instantly, all my fear of being a single parent was gone. I never thought about the difficulties of being a single parent again.

Then, Jesus told me about how he “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3.20) He said that I think about that scripture in earthly, physical terms.

I could imagine Dawn being perfectly, physically healed. What’s more than that?

I could imagine being the richest person in the world. What’s more than that?

All of us can imagine quite a few grandiose things. What’s more than all the things we can imagine?

But, Jesus told me that scripture isn’t about any earthly or material thing. He said the one thing that I could not imagine more of was his love. No matter how great and how awesome I imagined his love to be, Jesus’ love for me would always be far more, exceedingly, abundantly more than all I could ever ask or think.

Finally, Jesus told me that I had been praying for a miracle in Dawn’s healing. But, Jesus said the real miracle I was, or should be, praying for was his love. His love was what mattered more than anything else. Another miracle.

“Do you want to see Jesus with me?” were the last words Dawn ever spoke to me. But, they weren’t the last words she ever spoke. She saved those for our son, Trey. One day before she died, Trey came to give his mom a kiss good night. Dawn hadn’t spoke in almost 24 hours. But, after Trey kissed her good night, she said “I love you” to her son. Those were the last words Dawn ever spoke.  Another miracle.

Trey was an excellent piano player. Dawn believed he had talent and really pushed him. He played in a piano competition the morning of the day his mom died. That evening my dad gathered everyone, all of Dawn’s family and friends, around the piano to hear Trey play. He played a piece from the competition and a song he was learning for the mission trip we would go on in about a month.

The piano was in the room next to Dawn. Dale and I were in the room with Dawn, listening to Trey play. Just a few minutes after Trey finished playing those two songs, Dawn died. The last thing Dawn ever heard was her son playing the piano. Another miracle.

The last week of Dawn’s life was filled with so many experiences with the life of Jesus, so many things that I can’t explain, so many things that Jesus seemingly orchestrated so that I would know his love for me. And, at the center of them all was seeing Jesus.

How did this experience with the life of Jesus open the Bible for me?

What presuppositions had I been bringing to the Bible that were changed by this experience?

Prior to this experience I believed God to be 100 percent completely sovereign over everything that happened. I read the events ascribed to God in the Old Testament and took what the Bible said at face value. God must have done all those horrible and wicked things. So, I believed that God would allow sickness, even cancer, despite the damage it did to our family and the difficulties my son would face because of his mom’s untimely death.

Basically, my view of God was undifferentiated. God might do good some times, but he allowed evil at other times. God might love some times, but he hated with a vengeance at other times. God might give life to some, but he would bring death to others.

This was how everyone around me read the Bible. And, I went right along with it. I didn’t know any other way.

Until I saw Jesus.

Until Jesus spoke to me about his love. Nothing else.

This experience with Jesus more than anything else has changed the way I read the Bible.

I had been in the presence of Jesus’ exceedingly abundant love.

There is no way that love would give someone cancer.

There is no way that love would take a mom from her son.

There is no way that love would leave a man a widower before he was 40.

Sure those things happened, but God was not the cause of them.

As I continued to read the Bible, read theology books, and listen to sermons, everything began to shift in my mind. Everything was now being filtered through the lens of Jesus and his love. Now, everything I read and heard was filtered through the following statements.

  • God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
  • God is love and in him there is no fear at all.
  • God is life and in him there is no death at all.

Further, I began to realize that I needed to focus not on what God can do but on what God will do.

I want God to do all sorts of things for me. And, he can do them. The possibilities of what God can do for me are limitless. But, when I focus on what God can do, then I lose sight of God and being transformed and conformed to his image. I found that focusing on what God can do and, consequently, what he has not done for me would make me bitter and angry. For example, why did God heal someone else and not my wife?

Instead, I just needed to focus on what God will do. In other words, I need only focus on who God is in my life – light, love, and life. Jesus said it as he is the way and the truth and the life. He also said it as he is the resurrection and the life.

Seeing Jesus has completely transformed the way I read the Bible.

Jesus Proclaimed God Is Light, Love, and Life

TODAY’S READING: 1 JOHN

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1.1-3)

John is writing this letter to testify and to proclaim the eternal life. Eternal as in of God. The life of God.

John says that the eternal life was with God and made manifest to him and the other disciples. They heard and saw him. They looked at and touched him.

The one they saw and heard John calls the word of life. The logos of life. This is none other than the word, the logos, of God.

The word of life is the word of God.

John is clearly speaking of Jesus.

The word of life is Jesus.

The word of God is Jesus.

After this introduction to his letter, John goes on to testify and to proclaim three things of Jesus. In order (and that is important), John testifies and proclaims light, love, and life.

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1.5)

God is light.

There is no darkness at all in God.

Therefore, if there is no darkness in God, then he cannot create darkness. Darkness is not of or from God.

Jesus proclaimed this revelation of God. Therefore, he contradicts Isaiah 45.7, which says, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

Isaiah had a partial and obscured view of God. He saw through a veil. Therefore, he said God both formed light and created darkness.

Jesus alone has seen God. Jesus gives the clear view of God. Jesus gives the perfect revelation of God.

God is light. And, there is no darkness at all in him.

John then ties light with truth.

“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1.6-10)

Light is truth.

Darkness is lies and deception.

“God is not man, that he should lie.” (Numbers 23.19)

“There was no deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53.9)

“I am…the truth.” (John 14.6)

John says that God is light was declared from the beginning.

“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” (1 John 2.7-8)

We may not understand it as a commandment, but indeed from the beginning the darkness was passing away and the true light was shining.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1.3-4)

God is light.

God is truth.

It was so from the beginning.

But, darkness, lies, and deception are of the devil.

“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He…does not stand in the truth, because there is not truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8.44)

Having testified and proclaimed God is light, then John speaks of love.

“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3.4)

Sin is lawlessness. Lawlessness is simply being without law.

Jesus summed up the law as love for God and love for your neighbor.

To be without law is to be without love for God and without love for your neighbor.

This is sin – not loving God and not loving your neighbor.

“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps in sinning has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3.5-6)

Jesus came to take away every word and deed that is not rooted and grounded in love. He never sinned, which means never said or did anything that was not from love.

“He committed no sin.” (1 Peter 2.22)

“He committed no lawlessness.” (Isaiah 53.9, Lexham English Septuagint)

“Although he had done no violence.” (Isaiah 53.9)

Jesus committed no sin, no lawlessness, no violence.

“Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (1 John 3.8)

“You are of your father the devil, and our will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning.” (John 8.44)

“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” (1 John 3.11)

Did we hear this message from the beginning, in the creation?

“And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And God mad the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.” (Genesis 1.6-7)

The separation of waters is a picture of baptism.

Baptism is a picture of dying. More than dying, baptism is a picture of choosing to lay down your life.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3.16)

The separation of waters on day of creation is a picture of love – Jesus laying his life down for us.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4.7-10)

“God is love.”

“I am the way.” (John 14.6)

Having testified and proclaimed God is light and God is love, John speaks of life.

“If we receive the testimony of mean, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5.9-11)

John does not explicitly say it hear, but this testimony of God has been heard from the beginning too.

“And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so.” (Genesis 1.9)

The land coming out of the waters is a picture of life rising out of death – resurrection. It was from this risen land that all life flowed in the rest of the creation story.

God is life.

“I am…the life.” (John 14.6)

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands.” (1 John 1.1)

“From the beginning.”

Jesus.

He declared:

  • God is light and there is no darkness at all in him
  • God is love and there is no sin, lawlessness (without love), and violence (killing) at all in him
  • God is life and there is no death in him

Therefore, Jesus declared “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14.6)

He said, “I am love, light, and life.”

The first three days of creation.

When the light of God shines on the love of God you have the life of God.

This is you becoming a new creation in Christ.