What Does God Want from Us?

“Will you marry me?” The young man on his knee looked up into her beautiful eyes.

She beamed and squealed, “Yes!”

“Great! Now let’s get one thing straight. I will be a faithful husband to you and love you all year long, as long as I can go out on just one date a year with another woman. Will that be alright?”

How would you guess the young lady responds? Most young ladies I know would never agree to such an arrangement! The meaning and security of marriage is that we get that person all to ourselves! This is what we call the exclusivity of marriage. Everyone else is excluded from that special relationship.

The exclusivity of marriage helps us understand what God wants in our relationship with him. God has created us to love him. That is our purpose. Now let's ask the question, “How do we love God?” The first way I want to answer this question is to explain the scope of loving God. In other words, how much of me and my life does loving God include? We can return to Jesus’ words to discover the answer:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
And you shall love the Lord our God
with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Mark 12:30

What is the scope? How much of me and my life does loving God include?

All. “All” is repeated in this verse four times. He wants us all to himself! All leaves nothing out.

When people tried to follow Jesus while he was here on earth, he wanted to make sure they understood what he expected from them. Jesus shoots straight with us. He doesn’t lure us into a deal and then reveal later in the fine print what is really required of us.

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Luke 9:23

“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,
‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife
and children and brothers and sisters,
yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.
For which of you, desiring to build a tower,

does not first sit down and count the cost,
whether he has enough to complete it? . . .
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has
cannot be my disciple."

Luke 14:25-33

Pretty extreme, isn’t it? As soon as we consider following him, he tells us to count the cost. Again, the deal is total. Is that what you signed up for? Were you under a different impression of what it means to follow Jesus?

Instead of this passionate, radical, fulfilling life in relationship with God, many of us got a stingy, religious version of Christianity. No wonder the world rejects religion! Christianity is a religion, of course, according to the dictionary definition. But religion in its broadest and usually negative sense is hollow. Religion allows you to focus on institutions, doctrines, dues, human leaders, ritual, and self-righteousness. Many religious people think they can give a portion of their lives to God. Many use religion to serve themselves. They use religion to make themselves feel better, trying to ease their consciences. American Christianity is often presented as a self-service program in order to appeal to the people.

What is your understanding of what it means to be a Christian? Maybe it is time for a reassessment.

I Love My Wife . . . and Ice Cream!

What does it mean to love others? This is an important question because our culture and language use the word love with such varying and casual meanings. “I love ice cream!” “I love football!” “I love fishing.” “I love my wife!” In fact, just this week I told my wife that I loved her and she asked me, “What do you mean by that?” I’m pretty sure my wife wants me to love her in a different way than I love ice cream.

Our culture talks about being “in love.” When we say we are “in love,” we are talking about how we feel or how much we like someone or something. Unfortunately, this is exactly NOT what love is according to the Bible. Love is self-sacrifice for the good of another person.

“Greater love has no one than this,
that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
John 15:13

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Love has nothing to do with how we feel. In fact, love is what we do in spite of how we may feel. Love has nothing to do with what we get out of it. Real love is about giving, not getting. Jesus said,

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?
Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet only your brothers,
what more are you doing than others?
Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

Matthew 5:46-47

Once again, God calls us to deny ourselves and do things his way. This requires faith. The world and Satan have convinced us that if we get what we want, we will be happy. This is a lie. Selfishness actually does not lead us to fulfillment and happiness. When we deny ourselves and love God, we find that he is all we ever needed or wanted! In the same way, when we deny ourselves and love others, we find joy and satisfaction. Even unbelievers who live a life of service can tell you this!

Praying the Bible

The Bible has often been described as a letter from God to his people. One important difference between a letter and the Bible is that we usually write letters to people who are not with us. We figure that if we are with someone we don’t have to write, we can just say what we want to say. But when we read the Bible, we are reading what he has written to us and we are with him! The Bible is part of our conversation with God. As mentioned above, the Spirit of God is present, helping us understand and apply what the Bible teaches.

When we pray the Bible, we respond in prayer to what we are reading. We listen to what the Spirit is saying to us and how he leads us in prayer as we read Scripture. We are participating in a conversation with God.

Praying the Bible is an important concept to understand because we so easily make Bible reading an intellectual exercise. That is, we are only using our brains to figure out what the words are saying. Reading the Bible certainly includes using our brains, but it is much more. If we turn Bible reading into only an educational or intellectual exercise, instead of a personal conversation with God, then we have missed its fundamental purpose. This is what Jesus said to the religious Jews,

“You search the Scriptures
because you think that in them you have eternal life;
and it is they that bear witness about me,

yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
John 5:39-40

So, what does it mean to pray the Bible? Praying the Bible means immediately responding to the words and ideas in the Bible through prayer. Talk to God about what you are reading. Be sensitive to the ways that God is speaking to you through the Scripture and respond to what he is saying and bringing to your mind. What you read might even trigger a thought that does not seem to be directly related to the Scripture. You can pray about that too.
            You can learn more about this kind of conversation with God in the book Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney.

How Do You Define Prayer?

Many of us would describe prayer simply as talking to God. This is true, but it is much more. Any way that we relate to God is a part of prayer. Prayer includes worshiping God through music and singing, enjoying his love and presence in silence, and listening to him speak to you by his Spirit. Prayer is rejoicing, weeping, waiting, bowing before him, resting in him, and surrendering your heart to him. As we broaden our understanding of prayer, it is easier to understand how we can “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5: 17).

Dr. Frizzell, author of How to Develop a Powerful Prayer Life, describes prayer this way, “From God’s perspective, prayer is the expression of that which He desires most—your personal relationship of love, surrender and trust. Prayer must be viewed as your commitment to spend meaningful time in personal relationship with God.”

The Most Important Thing You'll Ever Know or Believe

“Give Grandma a hug!” The toddler refuses, hiding behind mom’s legs. Now what?! Mom is embarrassed of her child’s behavior and feels bad for Grandma. Even worse, the little one has disobeyed her Mom. Some parents proceed to give awkward public lectures or vain threats and bribes. Others swoop their kids off to another room for discipline. The tear streaked grandchild returns to give a reluctant hug.

How does Grandma feel about all this? “Leave her alone,” she says, “It is alright. She’ll give me a hug when she’s ready.” Does Grandma want a forced hug? Of course not. Grandma wants love, not just a hug. True love is freely given; you cannot force someone to love.  

Since God created us to love him, he also created us with freedom of choice. We can choose to love and relate to God, or we can choose not to. When God created the first two humans, Adam and Eve, he gave them a choice. Since God wanted a love relationship with them, he gave them the choice to trust and obey him, or to do things their own way. Adam and Eve made the wrong choice. The Bible calls this failure to love and obey God sin. Sin has been a part of human life ever since.

Sin is the rejection of God and all that is good and right. God loves us and what he tells us to do, or not to do, is good for us. God is beauty and goodness and love. When he tells us to trust and love him only, he is doing what is best for us. He is giving us himself. And what God tells us to do, or not to do, is not only good for us, it is right. He tells us to love others, which means that we do not lie to, steal from, or harm them. Everyone knows this is right behavior.

All of us have failed to love God and obey him. All of us have failed to love others as God has said. All of us have sinned.

“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way”

Isaiah 53:6

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Romans 3:23

What do we do with people who steal from or harm others? Even people who don’t believe in God believe in justice. This is why we have justice systems that punish people who commit crimes. Because of this, it is not difficult for us to understand God’s standard that those who disobey his law must be punished. Much more than human laws, God’s laws are good and right. And so we may expect consequences and punishment for our sin. The Bible teaches that punishment for sin is eternal separation from God in hell.

Now, let’s see where we stand. God created us to love him. He gave us a choice to love and obey him so that we might enjoy his life and goodness. However, all of us have chosen to disobey instead of love God. We are therefore guilty of sin and deserve to be punished.

This is where the good news (the Gospel) comes in! God loved us so much that over 2000 years ago he became a man, Jesus Christ, and died on a Roman cross to take the punishment for our sin. Then he came back to life and went back to heaven.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;  
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;    
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.  

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” 

Isaiah 53:4-6

We were hopelessly separated from God and heading for eternal punishment. But God wouldn’t have it. God is able to fulfill his purposes. He is able to fulfill both love and justice. There is now a way to know and love God again. We must confess and repent of our sin, believe that Jesus Christ took the punishment for our sin, and receive by faith his forgiveness. Our choice remains. We turn back to God and receive Christ’s payment for our sin or we must pay for our own sin in hell, separated from God forever.

“But [God] is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish,
but that all should reach repentance.”

2 Peter 3:9

            Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation? Have you restored your relationship with God through Christ and determined to love him? If you have not, do it now. Talk to God and confess your sin to him. Express your faith that Christ paid for your sins on the cross. Express your desire to love and obey him with the rest of your life! Receive his forgiveness and rejoice in his love!

Discussing Great Books with Your Children

My daughter and I have both recently read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. This work definitely qualifies as a "great book." It includes a street-level look at the French Revolution, is written from a sound worldview, and presents a wonderful story of self-sacrifice. Here is a taste of the literary genius and insightful reflection offered by Dickens. This passage also emphasizes the importance of learning from history.

Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrils carry the day’s wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realisation, Guillotine. And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.
— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Raising Lifelong Learners

This is my first born’s senior year of High School. My wife and I are asking ourselves what areas of knowledge and skill we want to make sure we cover this year. So, it is time to make good on my promise: “No one graduates High School from our home unless you have worked through this book with Dad: How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren.”

Why is this book so important? Because one of the most critical skills I can impart to my children is the ability to learn. I don’t want to complete our home education only feeding my children fish. I want to teach them to fish. A person who has the skill of learning has the ability to find the information they need, to decide which books to read, to comprehend what is in those books, to critically evaluate their arguments, and to compare and synthesize this information with other sources. How to Read a Book teaches all of these skills! To learn more about why this book is important and what it teaches, you can listen to the workshop I gave at the Thrive! The NCHE Homeschool Conference, Raising Lifelong Learners.

I have developed a syllabus for my daughter and I to work through this year. I am sharing this syllabus with you so you might be encouraged to use this book as well. Ideally, the parent or teacher overseeing this class will read the book with the student. A sharp High School student could possibly work through it himself. I have designed this to be a portion of Bethany’s English credit for this year, taking about 22 weeks. If it were taken seriously, it could be completed as a semester elective for a half credit.

One more question: if you would be interested in having your student participate in an online course working through this syllabus with us, contact me at matthew@truthtofreedom.org.