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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Jesus Is (John 13-14, Colossians 1)

Sermon by: Kathy Larson - June 30, 2013

"Jesus Is"
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Text: John 13:36 - 14:7; Colossians 1:13-20

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
Artwork by: Charles Henderson
:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music, feat. Julia Van Patter, harp
"Blessed Assurance" (arr. Muirhead)
"It is Well with My Soul" (arr. Walters)
Prelude: Video* on John 14:6
Hymn: "I Am Thine, O Lord" (I AM THINE)
Hymn: "I Want to Be Where You Are" (Moen)
The Word in Music, feat. Women's Ensemble: "Christ, Be Near" (Duke)
Offering of Music, feat. Julia Van Patter, harp: "Etude No. 6" (Bac/Grandjany)
Hymn of Sending: "Where He Leads Me" (NORRIS)
Postlude: "If Thou But Trust in God to Guide Thee" (Craig Phillips)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Gratuitous Grace (Ephesians 2.1-10, Psalm 32)

Sermon by: Jeremiah Caughran - June 23, 2013

"Gratuitous Grace"
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Text: Ephesians 2:1-10; Psalm 32

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Artwork by: Elizabeth Austell
:: Some Music Used
Prelude: "Praise Him!" feat. Carios Salazar (Courtney)
Prelude: Video* on Ephesians 2:8-9
Hymn: "God of Grace and God of Glory" (CWM RHONDDA)
Hymn of Praise: "Jesus Paid It All" (JESUS PAID IT ALL)
Special Music: "Amazing Grace" feat. C. Salazar (Newton)

Offering Video: "Thankful" (Caedmon's Call)

Sending: "Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone" (Tomlin)
Postlude: "Toccata on 'Amazing Grace'" (Pardini)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

God's Love in Christ (Romans 5.1-11)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - June 16, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Prelude: Video* on Romans 5:1-11
Hymn: "Sing Praise to the Father" (TO GOD BE THE GLORY)
Song of Praise: "All I Have is Christ" (J. Kauflin)
The Word in Music: "O Calvary's Lamb" (arr. Fettke)

Offering of Music: jazz piano (Rick Bean)

Song of Sending: "Arise" (Twit)
Postlude: "In the Cross of Christ I Glory" (Cherwien)

For the sermon, scroll past the video...

"God's Love in Christ"
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Text: Romans 5:1-11

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Today at the end of the service we will commission our high school mission team. And early tomorrow morning they will leave for Jamaica for their work with Son Servants. I have been on a number of these trips myself, and would like to use some of the dynamics of going on one of them to help introduce our passage today. 

The youth pastor has to begin planning the mission trip far in advance – sometimes as early as October or November for a trip the following summer.  Reservations need to be made, destination chosen, and dates planned.  Then the word is spread.  We call parents and talk to kids; we mail out letters and flyers and start to “talk it up.”  But finally, every youth minister’s favorite moment comes – the final money is due.  We try every trick in the book to extend and give grace, but when it comes down to it, there is a final deadline, and you are either in or out, depending on whether you have been paid for or not.  In general, no one gets to go for free; each place must be paid for.

Well, eventually, the happy day comes.  You leave for the trip.  Even if you’ve never been, you’ve probably heard all the stories about how life-changing they are.  You don’t come back the same.  It’s nearly impossible to go and not be impacted in some way.  It’s that “mission trip experience” – which is to say, it’s a “God-experience.”  And it’s awesome.

But what does that $350 or $500 or $1000 purchase?  Do you actually buy the God-experience??  Not at all.  Your payment simply assures you of getting to go where the action is… where God is at work, where lives are being changed.  You are “introduced to the grace of God” in a campground or an infirmary or a children’s day care or a medical clinic.  In fact, it’s once you arrive that the real challenge begins.  There are early mornings, mandatory quiet times, strange but usually yummy food, menial labor, hard labor, serving and loving others, and challenging, stretching situations.  And somewhere in that week or ten days of all that stuff, each person chooses to shy away and shut down from it or embrace it as the means of God’s working in their lives.  For those who really experience God in that time, they reach a point of celebrating what they have endured.  You come away realizing that God has given you strength, and perseverance, and patience, and grace.  And it’s amazing!  You realize how much God loves you and you just want to shout with joy.

Today’s passage makes the claim that this experience and process is not the unique experience of youth group mission trips, spiritual retreats, or some other “special event.”  Rather, what the youth experience, what I’ve experienced, what some of you may have experienced is the pattern for life and peace with God. 

Let’s look at the passage from Romans…

Introduced with Peace

The passage we are looking at today really starts with the last verse of Romans 4.  There, the Apostle Paul is finishing one idea and makes the statement that Jesus was delivered over (to death) because of our transgressions and was raised (to life) for our justification.  It is because of Christ’s death and resurrection, mentioned there, that Paul goes on to begin our passage with these words:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (v. 1)
That’s our core idea for today… because of what Jesus Christ has done, we have peace with God.  There are a number of ways to understand what sin is and what it means for human life in relationship to God and each other, but one of the biblical and compelling ways of describing sin and its consequences is that we are at war with God.  Though God created us in His image, to be pure and holy, the first sin was an act of disobedience and rebellion that we repeat again and again.  Our situation is far more dire than to say only that “things aren’t right with God” – indeed, we are God’s enemies because of the selfishness, disobedience and rebellion that we seem to be born with.  What we desperately need, then, is peace – peace with God, who is our Father and our Creator.

That need for peace becomes eternally urgent and significant when we realize that in the Bible (and in this passage) God talks about a final reckoning and accounting where His justice will be fully implemented. 

This thing that Jesus Christ has accomplished does not only result in our having peace with God.  There is more!  There are three immediate conclusions that Paul makes:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (vv. 1-2)
Did you hear all three?  We have peace with God; we have obtained an introduction into God’s grace; and we exult (celebrate) in hope of God’s glory.  It’s that phrase about an “introduction into God’s grace” that made me think of the mission trips.  Certainly, the Bible proclaims that if we have trusted in Jesus Christ, then we are saved.  We get to go to Heaven! 

But, secondly, God has also given us a lifetime in which to be shaped and molded into the likeness of Christ.  Joy and peace in this life are no more assured by our salvation than an amazing mission trip experience is assured by getting the money in on time to the youth director.

It is true that we cannot grow in faith and into the likeness of Christ without salvation and the initial faith that results in Jesus’ death and resurrection being applied to our lives.  That is the grand “payment” by which our justification is accomplished.  That is what grants us peace or rightness with God.  All that is necessary is to confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is who he said he is and did what he said he would do.  And God’s promise is that you will be saved.

If you have trusted in Christ, you are saved!  And you are on the journey to be with God.  As Paul writes, you have now been “introduced” by faith into the grace in which we stand.  You have begun the journey of understanding what kind of God would send His Son to die for you… what kind of God would forgive the worst you have and open His arms like a loving Father calling a beloved child to His embrace… what kind of God would not only rescue you, but call you forth to live and bless others.  That’s the journey… it’s the mission trip of a lifetime and it is what God has set before each of us who trust Him.

Thirdly, there is that hope of God’s glory.  That’s what we long for… finally being with God and hearing him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  Our hope is that we will one day stand before God, perfectly healed and whole, without sorrow or suffering, with joy in the knowledge that God has named us as His own and called us home.

Our hope is that which scripture promises: that He who began a good work in us in our salvation will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus… that is, the day of God’s justice and judgment.

And how can we “exult” or celebrate in the hope that God not only saves us, but continues to work on us, shaping us and molding us towards the perfection of Christ’s image??  Where does that hope come from?  Paul goes on to explain…

Living Joyfully with Hope

Paul writes that we exult or celebrate in hope because God can even use the tribulations (hardships) of this life to carry on this molding process.  Out of the worst things that we face, God brings about hope.  Listen again to the process as Paul describes it:

We even exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance, and knowing that perseverance brings about proven character; and knowing that proven character brings about hope; and knowing that hope does not disappoint. (vv. 3-5a)
What a difficult and unlikely process, that our sorrows and hardships might end up in a hope that does not disappoint!  Again, it reminds me of those mission trips.  What a very difficult and unlikely process that asking teenagers to eat simple food, abandon iPods, television and video games, clean toilets and do manual labor, and spend hours of the day in disciplined quiet time and worship would result in a passionate joy and hope in Christ.  And yet, God works in the most amazing places and ways.

Paul explains why, even if he doesn’t explain the mechanics of it:

[It’s] because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (v. 5)
Our salvation has been purchased and paid for by Jesus Christ, by his death and resurrection.  Through Christ we have been introduced to God’s grace, which describes the amazing process of fitting and preparing us for life forever with God.  And it’s the life forever with God that is our hope.  And God has not left us alone to find our way to Him; out of His great love, He has poured His Holy Spirit into our lives and hearts as our Guide, our Motivator, our Encourager, and our Companion.

A Bit of Spiritual Logic

Is it hard to believe that God would do so much for you?  Paul suggests that it is… and frankly, it is that hard-to-believe love of God that makes His grace amazing.  Paul gives us an analogy of sorts: you might give up your life for a good man, right?  Or perhaps we might say we would for a child or a good friend.  But we’d never give our lives for a scoundrel.  Yet that is exactly what God did:

While we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. (v. 6)
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (v. 8)
In that unthinkable situation, God was demonstrating His love toward us.

But that is not Paul’s point… if you are a Christian you’ve already absorbed that truth to some degree.  You realize you were helpless and a sinner, and have trusted in the One who died for you.

Paul’s point follows… if you can understand God loving you that much, then by extension you might be able to get this next point:

Much more then… we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Christ. (v. 9)
Paul’s idea in this passage is not just about the point of salvation; it’s about the journey that we are on.  His point here is that if God loved you enough to save you, then He loves you enough to get you through the journey!!
For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (v. 10)
We often talk about this around Easter.  The crucifixion and death of Jesus answered the deadly sentence pronounced on us for our sin, disobedience, and rebellion.  But it is the resurrection of Easter that assures us of God’s ongoing interest and compassion in “raising us up” to new life in Christ.  Salvation is not only saving us, but also raising us for life and bringing us home!  We are saved from death, for life, and into hope!

This passage in Romans moves from “peace” in verse 1 to “reconciliation” at the end.  That’s what peace with someone moves on to.  Peace includes forgiveness, restoration, healing, and reconciliation.  The relationship moves onward and upward.  And God’s promised Holy Spirit equips us to face all that life throws at us and still come up breathing and hoping for God’s embrace.

The Journey We Are On

After pointing out that God will hardly save us to abandon us, but rather saves us to heal us, grow us, bless us, and lead us (that’s the reconciliation!), Paul concludes this passage with these words:

Not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (v. 11)
This passage challenges us much like I might challenge a group of teenagers (or adults) about to embark on a mission trip.

Realize what we have!  We have peace with God because we have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation.  We who once were enemies to God have been declared friends.  You have been introduced to the amazing and enormous grace of God, who loves you more than you can imagine.

Realize what we look forward to!  We look forward to life with God forever – an eternal time of joyful worship and fellowship with our Creator and Father.  There will be no more tears, no more sorrow, no more suffering.  We will be completely and perfectly who and what God made us to be.

Realize the journey that we are on between peace and hope.  Our lives will resemble a mission trip in many ways… we will face work, disappointment, sickness, sorrow, stress, weariness, opportunities for worship, service, and success.  Through all of it, God has poured His Spirit into us that we might develop the perseverance of faith, the character of Christ, and the hope of eternity. Be thankful for the peace you have; live with dependence on God’s Spirit and the courage found in God’s Word and promises; and cling to hope!  Amen.

Final Slide for Sermon on Romans 5:1-11

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Rest is Just Details (Proverbs 3.5-8)

Sermon by: Kathy Larson - June 9, 2013
:: Some Music Used
Prelude: Video* on Proverbs 3:5-6
Hymn: "Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus" (TRUST IN JESUS)
Song of Praise: "Draw Me Nearer" (arr. Diane Sheets) 
The Word in Music: "Trust in the Lord" (Sandstrom-Shroyer)

Offering of Music: "Bow the Knee" (Machen and Harland)

Song of Sending: "In the Secret" (Andy Park)
Postlude: "Festive Scherzo" (Archer)

For the sermon, scroll past the video...

"The Rest is Just Details"
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Text: Proverbs 3:5-8; Matthew 6:25-33; Philippians 3:7-8

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Love of God (Deuteronomy 7.6-13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - June 2, 2013
:: Some Music Used
Prelude: Video* on Deuteronomy 7:9
Hymn of Praise: "Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past" (ST. ANNE)
The Word in Music: "God's Not Dead" (video*)
(Newsboys; acap arr. Youngblood)

Offering of Music: "Lamb of God" (Paris/arr. Lloyd Larson)

Song of Preparation: "Break Thou the Bread/Come Feast"
(arr. Younblood)

Song of Sending: "One Pure and Holy Passion" (Altrogge)
Postlude: "Postlude on 'St. Anne'" (Westendorf)

For the sermon, scroll past the videos 

We sang this in morning worship and then in the afternoon at the men's shelter (Rebound) in Charlotte!

"The Love of God"
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Text: Deuteronomy 7:6-13

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we are beginning a summer series called “Soak in the Word.” Each week we will be focusing on a “verse every Christian should know” in hope that by the end of the summer you will have a core set of 15 scripture verses held deeply and dearly within. We want to do more than just preach on these, though; we want to help you learn them and take them to heart. One such way is to memorize them, so we’ll be working on that together, from reciting the verse together as the Call to Worship to learning scripture songs to bulletin covers and more. We’ll have take-home cards available each week with the verse of the week printed on it so you can put these on your bathroom mirror, car dash, wallet, purse, or wherever you might see it frequently. We’d encourage you to say the verse frequently, pray through the verse, incorporating the key words and themes into your prayers of adoration and praying for others. In short, this summer we hope to join together as a church family and “soak” in God’s Word, which is so vital to a living, growing, healthy faith.

This series was also born out of one other reality, that often we hear and learn some of these key verses and do so out of the context in which they were written. So, we learn that “I know the plans I have for you, to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11) and we think that means God will make us rich or successful, missing the very important context about God’s people fearing God’s judgment in Exile and not seeing how and why God is using them there to fulfill the covenant promises to Abraham. We’ll get to that one later this summer! The point is that scripture always needs to be read and studied (and memorized!) in context, so we want to focus on these verses each week in context so that we don’t take the wrong idea away and lock THAT into our hearts.

Today our key verse is Deuteronomy 7:9. We’ve already worked together on learning it in the Call to Worship, but I invite you to say it again with me now:

Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.

Conditional Love?

This verse is so important because it describes who God is and what He has done.

God is GOD, first and foremost. This is in contrast to the many so-called ‘gods’ of the surrounding cultures in ancient times. After naming Yahweh-God as THE one and only true God, this verse goes on to describe God as FAITHFUL. We might ask, “Faithful in what way and to whom?” God is faithful to His covenant and faithful in showing lovingkindness to the generations of His people. Said another way, God is faithful because He is loyal and loving toward His people. All this is framed by the first word, KNOW. This is what God’s people should know. This is what God’s people need to know. This is more than just knowing a fact, but a foundational, core, mind-heart-soul knowledge of what is and what will be, because it is about God, the eternal one. Know this, people of God: God is God, faithfully loyal and loving to you!

This is a key verse to learn, to be sure. But how could it go wrong? What’s to misunderstand in that? I think the main place where this verse can be misunderstood is around the nature of God’s love. Do we have to do something to earn it? Is it conditional?

Saying Yahweh-God was the only God was neither obvious nor unimportant to say in the ancient times. Most cultures and peoples had many gods for many things (crops, fertility, weather, etc…) and much of life was taken up with trying to please the many gods to enjoy blessing rather than cursing. If there was a drought, the god of rain must be angry, so one needed to sacrifice and worship and try to please that god to receive the needed rain. If one was infertile, the fertility goddess must be angry, so one needed to please her and seek her blessing. Love is probably not the right word to describe either the god-to-human relationship or the human-to-god relationship of those times, but the favor of those gods was all-important and very conditional.

This verse might sound like it is saying something similar, that God’s activity, faithfulness, and lovingkindness is bound up with human love and obedience, reserved for and conditional upon “those who love Him and keep His commandments.” Particularly notice the end of the full passage we read today: “…because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, …the Lord your God will… love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you.” (vv. 12-13) Isn’t this just the same as the gods of the day? Isn’t this just about acting in such a way that God will reward us and we will prosper? In order to receive God’s loyalty and love and blessing, must we first love Him and keep His commandments? Have you seen how many commandments there are? Doesn’t the Bible say that keeping all of the commandments perfectly is impossible?

Unconditional Love?

Well breathe deeply, God’s love is NOT conditional upon our love and obedience. Good thing, right? As we’ve already seen, Yahweh-God, the only God, is being distinguished from the so-called ‘gods’ of the day. His faithfulness, loyalty, and love are different and not dispensed whimsically or in response to human worship or behavior. And God’s love is not conditional upon human greatness. See there in verse 7? “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.” Rather keep reading, God “set His love on you… because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers…” (v. 8). That’s the covenant, the one God made with Abraham.

In addition to being distinguished from so-called fertility and weather gods, Yahweh-God’s relationship to His people is defined through a COVENANT. So that phrase, “who keeps His covenant” is critical in understanding the nature of God’s faithfulness, loyalty, and love. That’s what is in view when the scripture describes God “keeping His oath.” (v. 8) God keeps the covenant and His people are to “listen to His judgments” and “keep His commandments.” We’ll need to understand the nature and relationship of covenants, judgments, and commandments, to understand what this verse means.

Before I get to covenant, judgments, and commandments, let me raise this question: If God’s love is not conditional, does it mean that God’s faithfulness, loyalty, and love are “unconditional?” Overall, that probably would be better than thinking God’s love is conditional on us, but it’s still not quite right. The New Testament warns against an understanding of God’s love and grace that leads us into free-for-all sin. Paul exclaims several times, “May it never be!” If, by “unconditional,” you think that our love and obedience toward God is of no importance, then you are in a very dangerous place. God does indeed love you anyway, but you risk self-destruction in not listening to and KNOWING who God is and what God has done. And that’s the point of this memory verse! It is that we would hear and KNOW who God is and what He has done. That does not lead to free-for-all disregard of God, but a deep and profound gratitude toward God.  So let’s look at God’s love not as “conditional love” or “unconditional love” but as “covenantal love.”

Covenantal Love

A covenant is almost completely alien to us. The ancient near-eastern covenant was a thing of life and death, a relationship pledged – vowed – between two people, with failure to uphold the oath penalized by death. One’s god was invoked as a witness.

There are two remaining examples of that kind of covenant that I can think of in modern times. One seems light and whimsical; the other one of our most meaningful practices. The first is that playground oath, “Cross my heart and hope to die.” Though the setting is often the playground or the tree house and the participants are kids, it is among the most serious vows one can make, usually used either to say, “I’m telling you the truth” or “I promise to do something.” Do you hear the covenant language in there? With a witness and a physical gesture, one makes an oath with the direst of consequences if it’s broken.

And then there is marriage. It is intended to be a covenant, “Till death do us part.” It involves witnesses, physical actions and signs (giving of rings), calling upon God as witness, and the most serious of vows: “In sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse… until death do us part.” It is a helpful analogy to understanding God’s covenant in some ways, and particularly one which I will highlight. It is not helpful because we have in many instances, exchanged marriage covenant language for marriage contract language. Sometimes, through prenuptial agreement, contractual terms are established even prior to marriage. More often, we revert to contractual – or conditional – behavior in our relationships: “I will love you if…”; “I will love her when…” Marriage is not my focus today, but the limitations on understanding covenantal marriage will also limit our easy understanding of God’s covenantal love for us.

But, however imperfectly we live it out, I think most people still are drawn to those marriage vows. We are stirred by the beauty of them. And that’s what God’s covenantal love is like. By way of reminder, when God cut the covenant with Abraham, it was not an “even” (bi-lateral) covenant. In that way it was different from marriage. It was unilateral… God chose Abraham and pledged Himself in love and loyalty. And God called on His own name (since God was the only God) as witness, pledging His own life should He abandon His vows. One of the most moving things to realize is that in order to keep that covenant with such an unfaithful partner as humanity, God indeed did give His own life, with Himself as witness in Jesus’ death on the cross!  But, that is also not our main focus this morning.

Our main focus is the love of God, best described as “covenantal love.” The love God has pledged, by way of life-and-death oath, is “in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse.” And because God is God, not even death will separate us from that love. “What can separate us?” asks Paul in Romans 8:35. Nothing will.

Whither Obedience?

God pledges to remain faithful, whether His people are faithful or not.  To be sure, there are consequences if His children are disobedient. That is part of a covenant and it’s part of any healthy relationship. In biblical covenant language, those are called blessings and curses.  But God will not abandon His Word and promise; God will prove faithful to this promise.

So, in simple terms, God keeps the covenant and we keep the commandments. Commandments are simply the ways in which the covenant is honored. In the marriage analogy, where two people have made a covenant; they are both expected to keep the “commandments” with each other, from the mundane of speaking with kindness to the profound break of infidelity. In themselves, keeping or breaking the commandments cannot break the covenant. It is stronger than that. But when two human beings are involved, the ways in which we honor or dishonor our covenant can profoundly affect the quality of our life together. So that is the role of commandment-keeping, to result in a better quality of covenant life. That’s what scripture means by “blessing.” It is the fruit of honoring God’s covenantal love; not a reward, but a fruit. God’s commandments are for our prospering, not a carrot on a stick with the stick ready for punishment otherwise.

Can we test God’s patience? Yes, to be sure. But where another human being would break and long give up on us, God will not. If you don’t believe that, read the Old Testament. God’s enduring faithfulness is well-documented… as is the self-inflicted misery of those who dishonor that amazing covenantal love.

If you are following the scripture closely, you will also notice the part in v. 10 about “those who hate [God].” That also needs to be understood in context and we are about “contexted out” for our time today. In short, it is describing the pagan peoples in the Promised Land who worship those fertility, weather, and other gods. That idolatry is understood as complete rejection of Yahweh-God and excludes those people from the covenant. Having said that and even with the promised and realized defeat of those peoples, God does make provision for those non-Israelites who do recognize God’s hand and trust Him, like Rahab and her household in Jericho. She actually becomes part of the line of Jesus Christ! And for those WITHIN the covenant, even hate of God is not enough to break God’s covenantal love, though it certainly wreaks havoc in the lives of those who are so intent to turn from it (think of the prodigal son!).

All this is to say two things. The first is the point of our summer series, that many times reading just one verse of scripture can be misleading. Always try to understand the fuller context and you will be left with a memorable verse solidly anchored in biblical truth.

Secondly, today we learned a verse about the love of God. It is not conditional upon us, nor really unconditional as unrelated to us; but God’s love is covenantal – faithful, loyal, and true, able to endure generations and continue to call people toward God’s mercy and grace. Our obedience is related to that covenantal love, not a condition of it but a fruit of blessing to those who honor the covenant.

God loves you! How might you honor that love in your own life today and tomorrow? Amen.