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Summer's End [8-23-20]

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

This is the time of year when I sift through my stack of stuff that didn't make it into sermons. I try to be a careful editor. I discipline myself to keep sermons within 8-12 pages; 1500-2000 words. Being that I am usually over-prepared, that means leftovers. So here are some odds-and-ends that didn't make the final cut, not because they weren't worthy, but because of space constraints.

The question was raised during our work on Paul's letter to the Romans about God's unconditional love. Is God's love unconditional? We talk about God loving you for who you are and helping you become the person He created you to be. Is it true that God loves you unconditionally?

The easy answer is, it depends. If you're going by how our culture embraces unconditional love, then no, God does not love unconditionally. But if you want to consider unconditional love from a Biblical foundation, then God does love unconditionally. It's always a good thing to root what

we believe in God's Word, right?

Here are two major ways God loves us unconditionally.

First, God loves us with electing love unconditionally. Remember what Jesus said John 15…you did not choose me, but I chose you. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 1:4-6:

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Notice what neither passage claims. God does not choose us based on foreseeing our faith. Quite the opposite. Our faith is the result of being chosen and granted hearts and minds to believe. As Acts 13:48 says, "As many as were appointed to eternal life believed." Again, notice the order of thing. We were not appointed to eternal life because we believed. Belief is the result of being chosen.

Second, God loves us with transformational love before we meet any conditions. The new birth, or as Jesus put it, being born again, is not God's response to our meeting the condition of faith. The new birth enables us to believe. 1 John 5:1 says, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him." And then, John 1:13 says, "We were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

God's love is unconditional in the sense He chose us. We didn't choose to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That saving faith is a gift from God. But there is one condition to our salvation. That condition is what Jesus Christ did on the cross. Without the cross, we are not saved. That is the one condition upon which we are saved, a faith given to us through God's unconditional love. That is the solid rock upon which we stand.

Check this picture out. You need a few words to explain the picture. The man in the wheelchair is Daniel Black. He's been paralyzed since 2009 after a bicycle accident. He had raised £22,000 for a revolutionary operation that would have given him the chance to walk again.

Then Daniel read about six-year-old Brecon Vaughan. Brecon has cerebral palsy and needed an operation similar to the one Daniel wanted. Daniel Black donated every last £ so Brecon could walk on his own.

Now, I wish I could tell you that Daniel did this because he's a Christian, but the story didn't mention his religious leanings or affiliations. We always like hearing stories of selfless Christian virtue. But I can't fit a square peg into a round hole. Unless I have a big, heavy hammer.

Here's what I know. It has nothing to do with Daniel Black. This is God's sovereignty. You see, God works through whoever and whomever He chooses. God put it in the man's head and heart to do that wonderful thing for that little boy. It didn't matter whether Daniel Black was a believer or not. God is sovereign. And God did something wonderful in the lives of both people.

Years ago, at another church I served, someone said to me, after the worship service, "I hope we're not becoming one of those 'born again' churches." It's funny how John 3:3 elicits so many different responses. Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Some people hear that and think Bible-thumping fundamentalist. Others picture a Billy Graham crusade. Some imagine people who are politically conservative.

The man to whom it was spoken at first played dumb. He asked Jesus, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" You half expect Jesus to say, "Come on, Nicodemus." Jesus was so patient with him. Nicodemus was a smart man. He knew the sacred scripture inside and out. He was aware of body-related metaphors. Moses said Israel needed God to circumcise their hearts. Ezekiel promised that one day God would act like a surgeon, removing the dead heart of stone and implanting a heart that beats. Nicodemus knew those, so it shouldn't have been a problem for him to transition to the delivery room.

While Nicodemus appeared to be a wee bit obtuse on being born again, it's easy for us to understand. With a little work. All we have to do is make sure we don't think it backwards. The new birth isn't something we must do. It's not up to us. It's not a choice we make. Think about it. Birth is something that happens to us. It isn't something we accomplish. I remember once getting really mad at my parents. I complained, "I didn't ask to be born." Exactly. Any kid who's ever said that knows his or her biology. That's why Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born of the Spirit. Like the wind, the Spirit is sovereign, blowing wherever it wishes.

New birth isn't an offer we can choose to accept or reject. Jesus is in the habit of turning conventional wisdom on its head. That's exactly what he does with Nicodemus. Like babies in the womb, we can do nothing to bring about this new birth. It's not something we initiate. It is God's thing, and only God's thing.

Think about the imagery Jesus uses. Accepting Jesus doesn't trigger the new birth. It's not as if God sits around hoping and waiting for the next person somewhere who will believe so He can make that person alive. In reality, apart from rebirth, we will never believe. Sin is so thoroughly intrusive in our lives, only God can call us to Himself. In John 6:44, Jesus says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." And then in verse 65, "And he said, 'This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.'” Do you hear the beauty of God's sovereignty in His electing grace?

Look at it this way. Our new birth produces faith and repentance, rather than resulting from them. That truth is truly liberating. We don't drag or work or will people into faith. It's like Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones. They are dead until the words of life are spoken to them and they begin to rattle and shake. The wind blows where it will.

The point of Jesus telling Nicodemus he must be born again is to remember the true miracle worker. It is God, not us. We are called to tell others about the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, waiting and watching for the kingdom to fill up. It is the Spirit who creates new life in hearts of stone. While we cannot see the wind, we know its power in the lives of those who have been born again.

Last one, and then next week we'll move on to the holiness of God. I

discovered a whole file in my desk drawer on the holiness of God. That'll be next week. This last one will give you something to think about. I hope you will use it as you think through the current state of many churches in America.

As we saw a couple of weeks ago, the evangelical landscape is populated by pastors and preachers, teachers and leaders, who embrace, in some form or another, the prosperity gospel. Some are hardcore about prosperity and/or the name-it-and-claim-it crowd. Others dabble around the edges of the prosperity gospel, for a variety of reasons.

What I leave you with is an observation by the wife of a well-known prosperity preacher. It's from a worship service at their mega-church, with thousands in attendance while millions tuned in on various formats around the world. As her husband stood in the background, here's what she said:

"I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we're not doing it for God - I mean, that's one way to look at it - we're doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy…That's the thing that gives Him the greatest joy…"

"So, I want you to know this morning - Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy…When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God really. You're doing it for yourself, because that's what makes God happy. Amen?"

And how do you think the thousands of people in the worship auditorium responded? Right…with a loud "Amen."

The sheer superficiality of American consumer and cultural Christianity was on full display. It was more than cringe worthy. It left me with a sadly sickened feeling. As one man observed, "Mere happiness cannot bear the weight of the Gospel." {Albert Mohler} In other words, happiness is no substitute for joy. Happiness, as our culture and the prosperity gospel defines it, cannot satisfy and is rarely real.

Voddie Baucham summed up perfectly what worship is:

Our worship is not a response to how Jesus makes us feel. Our worship is a response to Jesus' worth regardless of how we feel.

So I leave you with John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

That is the gospel. That is all that matters. In life, there is pain and suffering and sacrifice and loss. As believers, we are not promised earthly gain or the gift of perfect health. But no matter what we experience or go through in life, there will always be joy. Why? Because of John 3:16. Let us think on these things.

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