THE SAME POWER THAT BROUGHT JESUS BACK FROM THE DEAD
CAN EMPOWER US TO LOVE
WHEN LOVE IS LACKING.
THE GOSPEL HAS POWER FROM GOD.
Last week I was with my daughter Sally and her two daughters. Sadie, the two-and-a-half year old, has had intense feelings of sibling rivalry toward her new little sister, Claire. She kept asking her parents to take Claire back after she was born. If Claire gets into Sadie’s toys, Sadie gets very angry. When I was there, Sadie had to be disciplined for hitting Claire. I sat in the dining room praying while Sally was in the living room with Sadie, talking to her afterwards. Sadie was weeping and telling Sally she was sorry.
Sally said, “Honey — you can’t help yourself. You feel angry with Claire. The only way that you will stop hitting her is if Jesus changes your heart and gives you love for her. I know — because I always have to ask Jesus to change my heart when I feel angry. Ask Him to help you.”
- Suddenly Sadie lifted her arms toward heaven and cried out:
- Jesus, help me!
My heart melted at her poignant plea. I thought, That’s exactly what I need to do all day long. The gospel shows me how bad I am, because He was crucified for me, yet it also shows me how loved I am, for He was willing to die for me. He is just waiting for me to cry out to Him for help, and I need to keep my eyes on Him all day long.
I wish I had better understood the power of the gospel in parenting when I was a young mother. (I love seeing young mothers here avail themselves of its power. Just last week Angela gave a testimony of how her daughter was becoming a “moralist” and she had to talk to her about her heart. Rebecca is diligently praying for the gospel to permeate her sons’ hearts. Cyndi is continually repenting in front of her children. Elizabeth has had so many gospel-centered discussions with her young daughter. And more!) I realize so many of the things I did as a young mom restrained their outward behavior, but didn’t touch their hearts. I had sticker charts everywhere — they got stickers for being nice and for obeying — and so many stickers led to prizes! I think there is a place for rewarding good behavior, but we must always keep their hearts in mind. How are hearts changed?
Only by God. It is a miracle. You may actually do very well as a parent, and a heart may remain hard. Judas had the best teacher, but his heart remained hard. But, what God does call us to do is to walk in humility before our children, so they see us continually repenting. We must also PRAY and lift up Jesus in all of His splendor. Beware of training your child to be a “good Christian.” The last thing we want to do is be or to raise up “older brothers,” self-righteous moralists, who behave outwardly but who don’t really love God or anyone. Instead, keep lifting up Jesus — there are so many stories and ways you can help your children behold Him. (I plan to do a post after Easter sometime just about gospel-centered parenting.) But for now, I want to concentrate on our hearts.
For here we are two weeks from Easter. We are on this journey toward the cross, this journey to replace our idols with “a new affection,” with the love of God in our hearts. Every single one of us has failed, and every single one of us needs to cry out:
Help me, Jesus!
There is power here. As I traveled back to Kansas City I prayed for Sadie, knowing she is too young to fully understand the gospel, yet the seeds are there. And God can work in mysterious ways. I thought about how when Sally was eleven, we had adopted her sister Annie — a five-year-old orphan from Korea. Sally’s sibling rivalry was so intense it astonished me for I had been so overjoyed God had given Sally to us and we had adored her all of her eleven years. Probably too much! I thought, Doesn’t Sally know how loved she is? But then, helpless, we watched Sally slide into a severe depression: losing joy, losing sleep, losing weight. My husband was wise enough to recognize a clinical depression and we got her medical help — but still, that couldn’t touch her heart. Her anger was real. The Christian child psychiatrist tried to reason with her. He said: “Don’t you think your new little sister needs your parents’ love?”
Sally said, “WELL, SHE’S CERTAINLY GETTING IT!”
I did everything wrong. I was angry at Sally for being angry at Annie! I needed gospel powered grace just as much as she did. One night the girls were rough-housing and I heard Annie cry out in pain. I came running in, my anger bubbling up, and said to Sally, “What did you do now?”
Sally said, “Not only have I been rudely displaced, but now I am being unjustly accused.” (She has always been our “Anne of Green Gables.”)
It was my husband who was full of grace. He sat by Sally’s bed by the hour stroking her hair, praying for her. He listened to her –she told him she felt big, ugly, and had a mouth full of braces. Steve, full of the love of Christ, held her, loved her, wept over her, was Jesus to her.
In Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp says the main problem for children is their heart idols. Heart idols lie to us and hurt us. Sally felt like she had lost our love, and that was a lie. My anger didn’t help. But even our reassurances didn’t seem to be breaking the chains of those idols. We could restrain her outward behavior, we could get her medicine that would help her clinical depression, we could reassure her — but we needed the POWER of God to break those idols and change her heart.
One night our family went to a Christian concert. At the end, the worship leader said, “If you have a yuck in your heart that you can’t get rid of, Jesus can help you. Come forward and ask Him”
Sally practically ran up. Her testimony is that God came in His mighty power and took the hate in her heart and replaced it with His love. The gospel has power. He puts this love in our hearts.
As I was writing this blog, this song by Keith Green, “You Put This Love in My Heart,” kept coming to me — so I place it here, realizing it is music that may not be your style. But Keith Green stood out because of his gospel-transformed heart. He died young along with some of his children. The book about him by his widow, Melody Green, is one I’d recommend for teenagers — maybe tucking into an Easter basket. It impacted my sons.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Keith Green sang, “You put this love in my heart.” If possible, share a way the gospel has melted you and is changing you — can you see a change in how you are loving others?
The closer we get to the cross, the more we behold Christ, the more power you will sense.
Monday-Wednesday: IF YOU ARE NOT CHANGING, YOU MAY NOT KNOW HIM AT ALL
I want to prepare you for Keller’s message, for it is powerful, convicting, and life-changing. He looks at John 13, the last supper, but as Keller is so gifted at doing, he sees the forest, whereas so often we miss it for the trees.
When time is running out, and we know it is running out, we say and do the most important things. I know this was true for Steve and me, for Steve and our children. Keller says it was true for Jesus. These men have been with him for three years — they have a lot of knowledge — but has it gone to their heart — are they changed? Or are they like older brothers — like Judas — seeming to love Him, but in it for themselves?
We are mistaken if our confidence is in our Bible knowledge, or even in how many people have been impacted by our lives. We are mistaken if our confidence has been in being in a wonderful small group with a great leader. Judas had all these things. Keller makes the piercing point: “If you don’t have all of the fruit of the spirit — you don’t have any of them.” What does this mean? The fruit of the Spirit is a singular noun, and this fruit is organic, springing from the love of Christ in your heart. If you seem self-controlled, but are not kind, you may simply be unwilling for anyone to see you lose control. If you seem gentle, but are not joyful, you may simply be fearful and give the appearance of gentleness.
Does this mean that if the fruit is not in full bloom you are not saved? No. We are in process. But you should see at least the buds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The shameful things you have hidden should be fading. People should be noticing that you are becoming gentler, kinder, more other-centered. Otherwise — His love may not be in your heart at all. You may be doing the things you do — going to church, doing good deeds — not out of love, but to feed your idols. One of our bloggers (I wish I could remember who!) talked about “fruit-stapling.” We don’t want to staple fruit on — we want it to spring from the love God put in our heart. If it is stapled, you are simply a moralist — an older brother — but you do not know or love God at all.
Jesus is going to show them what the fruit of the spirit looks like. This is both a literal and a symbolic act. Jesus literally humbled himself and loved these men — but He was also showing His whole intent for their lives was to cleanse them and to turn them into servants who carry out His love to others. When we minister to those who are not lovely, are unafraid of the unlovely and dirty parts of them, when our motive is to bless them with the love of Christ, when we forget about ourselves because we are full of His love, we are evidencing a changed heart.
Read John 13:1-21
The Passover is approaching. Jesus knew. In fact, He would be on the cross (9 to 3) exactly during the hours the Passover lambs were being sacrificed. Time is running out, so He is going to say and do the most important thing.
3. What did Jesus know, according to verse 1, and what thoughts therefore were on His mind?
In Jesus high priestly prayer in John 17:20, just before the cross, He reveals He is not only thinking of his disciples, but also for “those who will believe because of them. He was looking down through time. He had you and me in mind as well. Saturate yourself in this love.
4. Keller says this passage is bracketed by verses 2 and 21. This helps us see “the forest.” What common thread do you see?
5. Many would have thought Judas was a true disciple. As Keller says, “you can jury-rig your behavior without a heart transformation.” When you look at how you behave in secret, at changes in your life, do you see evidence of heart transformation?
6. The key to “self-forgetfulness” is knowing how loved we are by God. “Beholding,” John Piper says, “is becoming.”
A. Behold and share what you see of God’s love for you in John 13:1
B. Behold God’s love for you in the portrait of the father of the prodigal sons.
C. Behold God’s love for you in the portrait of the “greater” Job.
7. Keller will quote Psalm 40:6. What does it say?
At first this passage seems confusing, because God did require burnt offerings and sin offerings. That is what the Passover Lambs were all about. Matt Chandler illuminated this for me in his book, Explicit Gospel. He likened it to an abusive husband bringing flowers to his wife after beating her. What she wants, instead, is a changed life.
And that is the point of the whole passage, of the foot-washing, of the things Jesus said when time is running out.
Are we changed?
9. Another mystery that this same gospel writer expounds in his letters is that as we love as Christ loved, His love grows in our hearts. How could you be “washing feet?”
Listen to The Love of Jesus and share your notes here.
(It looks like you will have to pay, but the MP-3 is free): Link
9. What is your take-a-way and why?