Pursued by Love

Pursued by Love (Sheep running)

by Erin Bird

Let’s continue with our series in Psalm 23. This week we are going to look at the first part of verse 6:

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,”

Chased by Nice Enemies?

Remember back in verse 5 that David was sitting at a table in the presence of his enemies? According to the NET Bible study note on verse 6, the word “follow” in Hebrew should actually be translated “pursue” or “chase,” and usually the word is used in Hebrew literature to reflect the actions of an enemy.

But it isn’t David’s evil table-mates that are chasing him, it is “goodness and mercy.” Interestingly, the word translated “mercy” can also be translated as “loyalty” or even “devotion.” In other words, David is saying that God loves him so much that God’s goodness and loyal-devoted love pursue him no matter what.

running sheepThis is good news! No matter what is happening around you (COVID-19, lost job, health crisis, etc.) or in you (anger, sadness, confusion, worry, etc.), God is right there pursuing you with His love. And we see that pursuit perfectly in Jesus.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

At Riverwood, we talk about being a “Jesus-follower.” But maybe to follow Jesus is to realize He is following you. What a comforting thought to think that no matter where we go and no matter what is happening to us, God’s goodness and loyal love shown through the gospel is pursuing us each and every day we experience.

May you rest today in the knowledge that God is with you, and His goodness and mercy are chasing you all the days of your life.

Do Unto Others What God Did For You

by Erin Bird

I’m pretty sure you have heard the Golden Rule: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” But if you think about it, that could be potentially selfish. “Hey, I’d really like someone to give me a present, so I’ll give some else a present so that they get the idea!”

In the Gospel Prayer found in J.D. Greear’s 2011 book Gospel, the sentiment isn’t “do unto others what you want them to do for you.” Rather it is “do unto others what God has done for you.” Here is how J.D. puts it (with slight “massaging” by me):

The Gospel Prayer

“Heavenly Father, in Christ, I know there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less. Help me realize Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy. Just as you have been to me, so I will be to others. And Heavenly Father, as I pray, help me measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”

We’ve already looked at the first two sentences in this short series on The Gospel Prayer (here is sentence #1 and here is sentence #2). So let’s take a few moments together to consider that third thought: “As you have been to me, so I will be to others.”

Gospel-Motivated Relationships

Because we are looking at the Gospel Prayer, we need to take a quick second to remind ourselves of what is the gospel. At Riverwood, our definition of the gospel is…

“The ongoing story of God redeeming broken and imperfect people and restoring them into the perfect and complete image of Jesus.”

The tools God uses to accomplish this spiritual redemption and restoration of people are the cross and empty tomb of Christ. As we look at the cross, we see God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, justice, kindness, and so much more. Yet as we look at the empty tomb, we see God’s power, presence, sovereignty, faithfulness, and more.

But here’s the kicker: These attributes of God seen through the Gospel aren’t to just stop at changing our lives. Over and over in the Scripture, God instructs us to take the attributes He has shown us through the cross and empty grave, and display them towards others, changing their lives in the process.

For instance,

  • just as God has given us forgiveness, we are to forgive others. (Ephesians 4:32)
  • just as God has shown us love, we are to love one another. (1 John 4:7-12)
  • just as God put your needs first, put the needs of others before your own. (Philippians 2:4-7)
  • just as God showed us great mercy, we need to be merciful toward others. (Luke 6:36)
  • just as God generously gave Jesus for us, we need to be generous toward others as well. (2 Corinthians 9:13-15)

But why pray this?

So it’s clear the Bible instructs us to do toward others what God has done toward us through Christ, but why do we need to pray it? Aren’t these just actions we need to do?

Just as you have been to me, so I will be to others

Perhaps you are holier than I am, but I am a selfish person. If left to my own ways, I will often try to carve time to give to myself. But the gospel does not teach that God changed me so I could be absorbed in “me” more. The gospel says God is transforming me to be more like Jesus.

So I need to pray not to tell God something He doesn’t already know, but to invite God to remind me of what the Gospel leads me to do. Praying “Just as You have been to me, help me be to others,” invites God to continue to transform you into the likeness of His Son, to love like Jesus loved and live like Jesus lived.

So I invite you to join me in asking God to help us do unto others what He has done for us through Christ.

I Am Fully Loved

by Erin Bird

Before I flew to Kenya four weeks ago, I loaded a digital copy of the book Gospel by J.D. Greear via the Waverly library’s use of the Libby app. While I didn’t finish the book during my trip, I enjoyed the first half so much I ordered the book and picked up where I left off a couple weeks ago.

In the book, J.D. shares what he calls “The Gospel Prayer.”It’s a prayer he’s been praying for years that has helped him truly live a Jesus-centered life, and not simply fall into cultural Christianity with its works-based approach to righteousness.

His prayer (which I’ve gently massaged to make it flow a little more smoothly) goes like this:

“Heavenly Father, in Christ, I know there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less. Help me realize Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy. Just as you have been to me, so I will be to others. And Heavenly Father, as I pray, help me measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”

I want to take the next four weeks to work through the four primary parts of this prayer. So this week, let’s look at that first sentence: “I know there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.”

Fully Loved

If you are a parent, you possibly know first-hand the love many parents feel when they hold their newbornchild. This little one, who is only hours old in this cold world, has done absolutely nothing except breathe, cry, move, and fill their diaper, and yet you can’t help but feel like your heart is going to burst from love.

That’s how God feels for you, but a billion times more. He created You, which means His image is within you. (Genesis 1:26-27, Genesis 5:1-2, Isaiah 43:7, John 1:3-4) And through Jesus, He died for you for the remission of your sin (Romans 5:8, 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Peter 2:24). This means you are doubly His! He created you AND purchased you. That’s why J.D. says in his Gospel Prayer that God loves you SO much there is nothing you can do to make Him love you more or love you less.

I think we forget that God is not fickle like us. He is consistent. Yes, He can have anger over your sin. But even within His anger is a consistent fierce love for you. You are His masterpiece! So He does not love you based on what you do. Rather, He loves you based on what He did in creating you and what Christ has done through the cross.

Oftentimes, we make the mistake of thinking that we are “saved by grace,” but our spiritual growth comes through self-effort. We mistakenly think that in order for God to continue to love us (or love us more) we have to

  • read our Bible (and if you do it every day you get brownie points!),
  • pray certain prayers,
  • wear certain clothes,
  • eat (or not eat) certain foods,
  • or even engage in certain rituals.

While God wants you to grow spiritually through the Scripture and prayer and giving and even sacraments like communion and baptism, engaging in these activities doesn’t make Him love you more. You engage in these things BECAUSE He loves you fully.

Your Past Can’t Haunt You

If you live with guilt over past sin, you need to know that Jesus’ death on the cross is powerful enough to forgive ALL your sin. Just look at the men and women in the Scripture who experienced forgiveness after doing the unthinkable:

  • Peter denied the Son of God three times, yet became a key leader of the early church,
  • King David had a one-night stand with Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba), and then covered up the pregnancy by having Uriah killed in battle, yet God (through Jesus) still fulfilled His promise to put a king on David’s throne whose reign would never end,
  • the adulterous woman in John 8 (who deserved a punishment of death by stoning) was forgiven when Jesus said, “Go, and sin no more.”
  • and Paul approved of the execution of Jesus-followers and later called himself “the foremost sinner,” yet God used Him to help countless numbers of people become Jesus-followers and write much of the New Testament to guide countless Jesus-followers for generations to come.

I don’t know what sin you’ve committed, but I do know that if God can forgive these sinful men and women, He can forgive you.

Getting Away With Sin?

As you hear this, part of you might start thinking, “So if God loves me this much that He forgives all my sin, does this mean I can get away anything? Like, does it even matter?”

“God, because I am in Jesus, I know there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.”

Yes, it matters! Sin is a HUGE deal! The penalty of sin is death. That’s why Jesus died on the cross for your sin to be forgiven. If He hadn’t died in your place, you would be liable to pay the penalty.

But when you truly realize the sacrifice Jesus made for you, you don’t want to sin! To gladly keep sinning after knowing Jesus paid the ultimate price is like receiving a gift then smashing it to bits, while asking for another present. When you truly appreciate the gift, you treasure it.

Therefore, God’s extravagant love isn’t a license to go and do whatever you want. Rather, His love is an invitationto live FOR Him and WITH Him.

And that’s how the first part of J.D.’s Gospel Prayer can help you. When you regularly pray, “Heavenly Father, because I am in Christ, I know there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less,” you can rest in this truth, motivated to live for God not to earn His love, but because of His love.

Loving Jesus (More than the Benefits)

by Erin Bird

This week on the blog, I want to take you to the story found in Mark 1:21-28. (We will be studying the book of Mark in 2020 at Riverwood, so consider this a sneak peak.) If you would, please take a moment to read those 8 verses. (Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

(No, really, go read it. It will take you like 37 seconds. If you are too lazy to open your Bible, just click this link. Even if you can recite this passage word-for-word from memory, go read it again.)

Ok, thanks for taking a moment to do that. Now that you know the gist of the story, let me ask you a question:

Why does Jesus tell the demon to be silent?

I mean, think about it. Jesus is teaching a gathered crowd of Jews on the Sabbath at the synagogue in Capernum, explaining the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) like they’ve never heard anyone else teach it. All of a sudden some guy possessed with a demon yells out, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!

And Jesus tells the demon to basically shut up, and kicks it out of the guy.

Why? I mean, the demon was telling the truth (which is amazing since Satan is known as the Father of Lies). Everyone else at that moment was in awe of His teaching, so they would have been very open to the idea that Jesus was the Messiah. What a prime opportunity to invite everyone to begin to follow Him. This moment could have kicked off Jesus’ ministry in a big way!

So why silence the demon from exposing the truth?

Genuine Love & Devotion

Back in the 1980s, there was a popular Eddie Murphy film called Coming to America. In the movie, Murphy plays a pampered African prince who comes to the States in search of a wife. But he knows that if women find out he is a prince, they’ll “love” him because of his status and wealth. So he sheds his title for a time so he can find an intelligent woman who will truly love him for him.

I think this is a part of what Jesus is doing when he exorcises the demon out of the man. He didn’t want the people to follow Him just because they’re wowed by His teaching. He didn’t want them to follow Him simply because He could perform miracles. He didn’t want them to follow Him because He could feed them. In other words, He didn’t want them to believe in Him because of the benefits. He wanted them to want Him!

You and I really aren’t that different than the Jews that were gathered that Sabbath day in the synagogue in Capernum. We, too, might be wowed by something about Jesus, but if we are honest with ourselves, we follow Him for what we get (or could potentially get) from Him. For instance, many of us, when faced with a difficult circumstance, will pray for money, or a job, or a spouse, or healing, and when we get it, we’ll praise God. But what we really wanted was the money, the job, the spouse, or the health. We didn’t really want Him.

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

But as I said in my sermon two weeks ago, we should not simply chase the answer to our prayers, we should chase the One who can answer our prayers. That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

So let me ask you, do you want Jesus? Or just the benefits of following Jesus? Are your prayers all about what you are hoping to get from Him? Or are your prayers filled with adoration for Him?

Yes, Jesus can heal you. Yes, He can make you employed. Yes, He can repair your marriage. Yes, He can do all these things. But what you truly need isn’t the job or the spouse or the newer car. What you need before everything else is Jesus.

So let us together treasure Jesus, the One who gave us everything when He gave His life on a cross for the forgiveness and remission of our sins.

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