Forgiven Much

“‘love covers a multitude of sins.’ I love that, don’t you? —I can do that.”

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Anyone forgiven much? —Do you love much? That’s a little harder question isn’t it? We all know we are supposed to love, love the Lord our God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves. But where the rubber meets the road, it’s a lot harder to do then to say.

I don’t care what anyone says, we’re all pretty good at loving ourselves, even the woe is me, I’m a pitiful wretch I hate myself, person who claims they need to learn to love themselves is focused on what? Themselves. “Look at me, help me, love me.” We all want to be loved, if we didn’t love ourselves we wouldn’t care if anyone loved us.

Jesus didn’t make any disclaimers when he told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He didn’t say, “Unless of course you don’t love yourselves.” Selfishness is rooted deep in the human psyche. We might not always like ourselves, but fallen man always puts himself before anyone else and anything you put above all else is what you love the most.

Jesus is asking us to put others before ourselves, and especially to put God before ourselves. That’s true humility, not drawing attention to ourselves with our own woes but being willing to put ourselves out for others, to even humiliate ourselves. That’s what the woman we studied last week, the sinful woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears did, and why Jesus was so moved by her love that he declared her forgiven—she got it.go in peace

 

The last thing she needed to do, and would have wanted to do, was to come into a room full of people who loath her, downright despise her as wicked and dirty, and make a spectacle of herself for the sole purpose of thanking one man for showing her respect, for treating her like she mattered, who loved her for no other reason than that she came to him seeking something beyond herself—seeking redemption.

And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; Luke 7

She went away pure, and at peace, because Jesus declared her so—forgiven much.

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Preparing my sermon last week and spending much time thinking about the woman who was so overwhelmed by a feeling of love for Jesus that she ended up washing his feet with her tears, I knew I wanted to spend more time on those words that Jesus spoke to Simon the Pharisee and the rest of the room concerning the woman whom they could only see as sinful and shameful;  “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

I have pondered that verse many times over the years and am always astounded at how I have seen it proven true over and over and over again. It’s somewhat of a sad testament to the human condition that those who seem to have fallen so far, gotten so far away from a life that honors God and his ways, are the ones who, if and when they are willing to receive the healing touch from Jesus, are the ones who ultimately become the most passionate about their relationship with him.

You would think it’s the ones who never strayed that would be the most passionate in their love for Christ but I guess it makes sense that the one who has been the most hungry for the longest time is the one who is most grateful for the bread when they find it.

Perhaps it’s that “You never know what you had until you lose it” principle at play. Those who think they are just always in right standing with the Lord, who say in their hearts, “Well I’m certainly doing a lot better than those messed up people over there so I must be worthy.” are the ones who end up bitter and ungrateful because they always believe they are getting the short end of the stick.

“I deserve better than this! Why am I not getting a ring and a fatted calf?” —to use a prodigal son reference. While those who have failed miserably and know they will probably get nothing short of scorn and judgement, are so grateful when they receive loving graces from the Father that they can only rejoice, and they cannot wait to share with others who are still in the same miserable shoes that they were in.

Listen! I am standing at the door

I have often said of myself when people express thanks to me for teaching or preaching the gospel, “I’m just a beggar telling other beggars where I found bread.” It’s a line I stole from an old gospel song I heard years ago and it just sums it up for me. I’m no one special, just someone who was starving for truth and meaning and stumbled upon a treasure trove of both in Christ, in his word and by His Spirit.

I just had to be willing to receive it when it was offered. And there is plenty for everyone. Why so many prefer to go through life starving when they can have the bread of life is beyond me but I am determined that it won’t be for lack of me trying to point the way to the pantry.

Really, that’s what it comes down to, that has been the motivating factor in my walk with Christ ever since he rescued me from my own self-induced famine and filled me to the top with his love and forgiveness.

The night in 1985 that I fell to my knees a trembling convicted mess and arose a man overwhelmed, filled to overflowing with love and joy, is a night I will never forget.

After several years of running from the Lord and life, after years of doing what I knew I should not be doing but unwilling to let go of my own destiny and trust Jesus, only giving the Lord a little bit of my heart, only living by his word when it didn’t interfere with what my flesh wanted. I had finally had enough of the frustration and loneliness that comes from a life separated from God by willful disobedience and dove into God’s word searching for an answer— anything to help me overcome my addictions and anxieties and he infused his word with such a power that I was unable and unwilling to close my heart to its truth any longer.

I was unwilling and unable to close my heart off to his Holy Spirit’s offer of love, joy, peace and patience any longer and I simply said yes, ‘yes Lord. I trust you, yes Lord I am yours, Yes Lord I will follow you wherever you lead.’

I gave him my life and he gave me my life back. “Go in peace, your faith has saved you.”

At that point I knew I was truly forgiven much and I loved much as a result. And I still try to do my best to do so, in his power, and he is always faithful. It doesn’t always make me popular, much of the church doesn’t understand how I can love some people, how I can accept some people, how I can keep an open heart and open arms.

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I am only doing what Jesus did for me and what I continue to see him doing. I am called to love all, both the unbeliever who doesn’t even know they are a sinner and the believer who is entangled in sin but is unwilling or unable to face the truth of how it’s hurting them, and breaking the Lord’s heart. I know, because I feel his heartbreak, that’s what is there when you get past the anger and offense, neither of which serve any good purpose, a love that is willing to bear pain is a love that is hard to hold.

But it is the kind of love we are given, and called to share.

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If we are doing our best to love much, we will not scorn others, nor will we be scorned, for love covers a multitude of sins. I love that, don’t you? —I can do that.

 

 

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The Dead Ahead II

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It is not your lot in life, nor the Father’s desire for you, to live in fear of harm.

As a man, a husband and a father I consider it my highest calling in life to provide for and to protect my family, to ensure that they are, and feel, secure. I know that not all of you can relate to a father who really cares about your well being—But you indeed have one. We see him personified in Jesus and can know him through his Holy Spirit. It is His desire that you, His child, should not live in fear. that you can rest easy knowing that things are being taken care of by someone who not only cares, but has the power to take care of things in a perfect way.

Get safe

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But—what if you have found yourself saddled with someone who does not care? If you have sailed off to safety with Jesus, away from the dead in your past in that proverbial boat we have been studying, and been met on the opposite shore by the dead and allowed yourself to be deceived by them into trusting them. Like I said last week—If you are not safe, you need to get safe, it is not the will nor the desire of the Lord for you to live in fear or pain, to tolerate or excuse, or to take the blame for someone else’s evil.

You do not deserve to live in pain, you do not deserve to live in fear and if you are now a follower of Jesus—you will recognize that evil just as surely as Jesus did when he confronted the legion of demons who had taken possession of that poor man on the far side of the lake; What is your name?” The demons could not lie to Jesus and had to admit that there were many of them“We are legion” please let us go live with the pigs! How pathetic is that?

“Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” Then He asked him, “What is your name?”

And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.

11 Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. 12 So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.”

Mark 5

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And that didn’t last long, Jesus arranged a little burial at sea.

Once we have buried the dead—silenced the voices, we must not allow the enemy to stand in our way or saddle us with new demons and hurts. Not only must the dead stay buried, we must avoid future ensnarement.

That demon possessed man had come out to meet them. According to Matthew’s telling of this same story, these demons had been harassing and preventing people from passing here for some time now, disrupting people’s plans. But the demons quickly recognized that they were the ones who were about to have their plans changed and their day ruined. When Jesus showed up and their host carried them right into His presence they knew they were in trouble and could only beg for a little reprieve from their ultimate end.

This man had attacked everyone else and beat them mercilessly but he runs to Jesus and worships him. The spark of life, the glimmer of hope still alive in his heart recognized that God had heard his anguished cries and somehow knew his redeemer had come—just for him.

Jesus, nor those who love him are not subject to the whims and wiles of the enemy. The disciples had left the dead to bury the dead and they were not going to get bogged down by the dead ahead.

No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. Mark 5

Free

No one was strong enough to subdue him, no one that is, except Jesus— with just a word. Everyone else was dealing with the man, binding him and avoiding the spirit, Jesus was dealing with the spirit and freeing the man.

Jesus Saw beyond the madness, the nakedness, filth and threats and saw a good heart waiting to be rescued, a heart that was so tormented and in such pain that he spent his nights crying out alone in the graveyards, who was in such anguish that he cut himself with sharp rocks and was so hopeless and forlorn that he only sought to hurt others while they only sought to bind him and keep him away from them.

No one loved him, no one cared a whit about himno one that is, except Jesus. Jesus left the 99 to rescue the one.

Jesus didn’t just protect the disciples from a demoniac, he delivered the demoniac—a man created in is image—he set him free and cured his heart. Because—Jesus is fiercely protective of his children; all his children.

35 Then they went out to see what had happened, and came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 They also who had seen it told them by what means he who had been demon-possessed was healed. Luke 8:35,36

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You are safe with Jesus, there is no need to fear the dead, nor the demons, that taunt from behind and will keep trying to cut you off in your journey with the Savior. Keep pushing forward, keep trusting, be as innocent as lambs and as wily as coyotes and as bold as lions as you traverse the many trails ahead. The road is wide that leads to destruction while the path that leads to salvation is narrow, but it is a path that is well lit and secured by Jesus, the one who will never leave you nor forsake you.

Find your freedom. Embrace the barbarian in you!

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Heart Storms (Bury the Dead II)

“We are afraid, not because we forget, but because we cannot forget– nightmare experiences where we had no control and felt vulnerable, verbal abuse, beatings, neglect, sexual abuse.”

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Like the disciples who feared for their lives even as they were in the boat with Jesus– as Christians, we often forget who we are with. If we have given our hearts to Jesus, we are safe in the arms of the Savior, indwelt by his very Spirit of power and perfect peace. That is the key to overcoming all our fears and failures, to quieting all the voices of the past and the fears of the future— to remember who we are with.

But, like the disciples sitting literally in the very same boat with Jesus, we forget. We let our past become our biggest enemy, our greatest hindrance to following and moving forward into the perfect plan he has for us, into the perfect healing he has for us. We need to stop looking back, to let the past be the past while at the same time using it for his glory, to strengthen us and even give us a testimony of how we overcame in Christ—“You go and proclaim the Kingdom”—Tell the story, be a voice of hope. ‘Do you know what God has done for me, I was lost and now I’m found, I was blind but now I see!”

‘I was a victim but now I’m a victor. I have followed Jesus and he took me away from abuse, from addictions, from perverts and manipulators, from the sick and demented, from the liars and the hurtful—he has delivered me from evil, I have escaped the dead—and you can too.” —That’s our testimony!

That creaky old boat sailing off into the setting sun to a shore you cannot see is the safest place you have ever been and it is all you need—as long as Jesus is in it. There may be storms but you will reach the other shore and what a story you will have to tell— you may even walk on water.

Don’t let the things of yesterday overshadow the faith you need to survive today. Don’t be like those who saw Jesus do miracle after miracle only to wind  up scared half to death hours later in a storm. Peter saw Jesus heal his own mother in law with a touch, and that same evening loses all hope. Yeah, that storm was bad and very real, but there reactions were really cause by unseen storms, the storms within, that was their real issue, and the one Jesus was concerned with.

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Heart storms

Heart storms, any little thing that goes wrong, any big thing, and suddenly there is a storm released in our hearts. “Lord, don’t you care that I am perishing?!” That’s why we are afraid, we are afraid because we are looking back beyond the deliverance we received, the love and assurances we received just moments ago quickly fade into the darkness of a past that continually boils on the horizon like a summer storm building a perfect thunderhead that looks like it could devastate us. We are afraid, not because we forget, but because we cannot forget.

We need to let go, get free of the past and stop fearing the storms that the world keeps throwing at us. We need to stop looking at the storms and start looking at the one in the boat with us,I am His and He is mine and nothing can change that.’ He is the resurrection and the life and He cannot be destroyed— hence neither can I. If He can calm the storm driven waves He can certainly calm my storm driven heartif I’ll let Him.

Those inner storms are the voices of the dead. The dead keep coming back to taunt us. Things that we thought we buried, things we heard as a child that caused us to wonder about our worth, we buried. We buried them next to other graves that hold memories of nightmare experiences where we had no control and felt vulnerable, verbal abuse, beatings, neglect, sexual abuse. . . .

We finally move past those things and get away from the perpetrators— out of the grave yard—but then we run into more people whom we think love us but end up speaking words of death to us, and our hearts flash back to thoughts of past—lies we thought we left buried.

And we start to wonder—’Were they not lies? Am I really worthless, sinful, stupid, unlovable, worthy of no one better, of nothing better?’

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‘No! I can’t go there again!’ —and we run back into the graveyard frantically digging  a grave for the new lies while the old ones keep resurfacing like the swimming pool scene in Spielberg’s movie Poltergeist where coffins and corpses are popping up from the mud like gophers at Chucky Cheese. Words from a boss, a spouse, a co-worker, a parent’s love and approval we still seek, a manipulative and abusive ex–we keep digging, frantically trying to bury them, but all we seem to be doing is digging our own graves.

The voices of the dead start to feed off one another and we are overwhelmed. ‘I can’t do this, I can’t handle all this, the bills, the kids, the jobs, messed up relationships—maybe I deserve this, maybe I am not worthy just like they said’ —in the midst of it all those voices of the past, the nightmares we tried to forget and the wounds we thought were healed, the things we can’t share with others because they are so shameful— the all come crashing from the sky like waves on a boat and we find ourselves in the perfect heart storm and we cry out: “Lord, help me, don’t you care that I am perishing?

39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Mark 4

There are no storms in your life or in your heart that Jesus cannot get you through and even still—there are no voices his voice cannot still. You will not drown, you will not perish, you are worthy of love and deliverance—his love, his healing love.

You will not perish—That’s a lie. Jesus didn’t call you, reveal himself to you—bring you here to hear this message—just to watch you drown.

And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, 17 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

“He Himself took our infirmities
And bore our sicknesses.” Mark 4

Jesus carried your wounds, took them and destroyed them on the cross.

Stop listening to the lies and start listening to Jesus. You heart is in the safest place it could ever possibly be, in the hands of Jesus. Trust him when he beckons —come follow me, as he says to your heart— peace be still.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, keep moving forward. Live in the today he has given you and in the hope of an even better tomorrow. Bury the dead, write them a farewell note of forgiveness and throw it in the hole as you turn away and to Jesus, the one who has the words of life.

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But pastor, you don’t know what I’ve experienced. Perhaps not, but Jesus does and he is not shocked nor overwhelmed by it. He was betrayed by those he loved also.

Those are the worst—betrayals by people you love, people who were supposed to protect you or at least love and cherish you—and if there is a sexual component, it becomes more heinous because then the whole being is affected, body, mind and soul.

The sexual betrayals outstrip them all but they can be overcome as well by the same principle of letting the dead bury the dead and recognizing that you are in a safe place with Jesus.

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Find your true freedom in Jesus

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Shunned -(The Wall part 2)

12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near, reconciled through the cross and bringing peace. Ephesians 2

Separated

It stinks to be excluded, to not be able to join in the reindeer games. Today, we call it being excommunicated, shunned, or our new favorite; tough love.Those who experience it just call it being judged and scorned.

In this scripture Paul is urging the gentile believers in Ephesus to remember how they once felt when they were not a part of the family of God, separated by different belief systems, different cultures and traditions—different gods entirely. The Ephesians had been living without hope as their gods promised nothing but demanded everything, leaving them without hope. They were looked down upon by the Hebrews, those who worshipped a God who offered the hope of eternity and blessings in this life and the next but shunned all who did not adhere to their laws or even belong to their race.

They were unclean, and as far as,any of the Israelites of Paul’s day were concerned they could just stay that way, but more importantly, just stay away!—Open hostility. The Israelites had always been called to be a light to the world but they didn’t always do a very good job of it.

Remember Jonah? He decided he would rather die in a storm at sea then go preach God’s message to the dirty Assyrians. “Just throw me overboard and the storm will cease…” But God wouldn’t let him off that easy He sent a great fish to swallow Jonah before he drowned and to spit him out on the shore so he could fulfill his mission of giving the Ninevites a chance to repent and be redeemed from judgement.

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He did, they did, and Jonah was furious. “These people deserve nothing but judgement, they deserve punishment” “Seriously God, where’s the justice?”

Mercy

That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry? Jonah 3

‘Really Jonah? You’re going to be angry because I am merciful and give second chances? You just need to get over your bad self.’

We don’t know if Jonah ever did (get over his bad self) his story ends with God rebuking him for being angry at God for his mercy toward sinners—the religious rebuked and the sinners restored. An unexpected twist and a theme that would be repeated over and over again throughout scripture.

Even Jesus said, “I did not come for the healthy, for the healthy do not need a physician.”

Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 12 But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ Mat 9:11—13

“Go and learn what this means.” That is a challenge from Jesus to those who deem themselves righteous.

We serve a God of mercy, a God so merciful that when he saw no other way to overlook the sins of humanity, who constantly rebelled and forsook his ways, He became one of them and bore the penalty of that sin in his own body, purchasing our mercy with his own blood.

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…thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2

Has God put to death your hostility? Or has it only shifted focus or even intensified? That’s a hard question we all need to be asking ourselves.

Restoration

The specific and unique mission the Lord gave me for my church is that we would be a place of healing, restoration and hope for the church, for God’s people, for his children. For the wounded and weary soldiers of the Lord’s army who have fallen for whatever reason, and have been kicked aside by the church. What about the unsaved? Without a healthy church there will be no saved, which is largely where we are today I’m afraid.

Back in 2011 I told our young church; “I think the biggest hindrance to people coming to the Lord through the church is the church.  People look in at us working ourselves to death, shooting our wounded, snubbing the world and say, ’I’ll just stay out here and take my chances, thank you very much.’”

I strive to lead a church where there are no walls of hostility, where all are welcome, all the time. The only people I have ever had even a hint of a harsh word for here are those who come in looking down their noses at me or at any of you. The religious and judgmental do not normally last long here and in fact the only spirits I have ever personally had to cast out of here have been religious spirits. Yes I mean spirits, not people. People are just pawns used by the spiritual forces of darkness, and self-righteous indignant people are  his favorite weapon for destroying churches.

A few weeks ago, I was beating myself up for not being able to prevent people from making bad choices and feeling the condemnation of those who think me too easy on the fallen and hurting—In my lowest point of discouragement The Holy Spirit told me in no uncertain terms, “All I ever asked you to do is love people.” Those words set my heart free.

It just dawned on me this last week that that is exactly how my mission to restore the wounded of Christ’s army is lived out, just loving people for Jesus, letting God be the judge.

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. Gal 6:1—3

Love gently restores. Only love can gently restore the wounded and weary, and the broken and fallen.

Fallen soldiers are not to be used by the ‘more spiritual’ for sword practice as they test how sharp their blades are by hurling God’s word at them like bayonets on the end of a Japanese rifle during the Baton death march where weary American POW’s were stuck mercilessly like living pin cushions.

Remember who ended up winning that war, the scorned and shamed Americans.

The point is, we are to be merciful and offer the hand of restoration letting God be the judge while offering to help bear the burdens of those we think least deserve it.

Save the bayonet practice for the real enemy, the one who is trying to destroy all of us, the fallen and the strong.

We do not kick our brothers and sisters when they are down, we do not shoot our wounded. We gently restore them because without mercy we are nothing. If we are not bearing one another’s burdens, we are deceiving ourselves if we think we are any better than anyone else—if we think we are anyone’s judge.

The one thing I have heard over and over again through the years from people who have stumbled and even fallen in the eyes of the church is this: “Where is the church when I need them? When I needed the church the most was when they shunned me.”

Up go the walls of hostility.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.” There are hurting people who need mercy, who need healing, who need restoration, who need love. We do not know the whole story, their story. I don’t care how discerning or informed you think you might be, there is always a much bigger story, causes, curses and pitfalls of hearts and minds damaged and bruised by the flaming arrows of the evil one in days gone by. Arrows that can smolder for years.

All we see are the sudden bursts of the flames that we are convinced must have been started by the wounded playing with and delighting in fire.

There are a lot of hurting people out there who need a church family and who need us to be there. Where are we? Are we the guards ready to shoot those who dare approach the walls?—“Release the hounds!” Or are we those who see motion on the other side of the walls and rush towards them, overwhelming those walls and the guards until the walls come down and we become one again.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. Eph 2

Jesus set aside the rules and just loved people into wholeness, gently restoring them. As he said to the woman caught in adultery; “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

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Jesus came not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.

Jesus loved people into the Kingdom. Can we do the same?

 

Love Complicates Everything

Why is love so hard?

Conscience

11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:11

It’s easy to get lost in the theology of all this as Hebrews really does get into the ways and means of God’s redemptive work on our behalf as he strives to bring us back to the garden, so to speak, to a place where we can once again be in fellowship with him.

Love Rules

But let’s remember why he does all this, why he didn’t just give up on us, brush us off the face of his earth and just start over with some more grateful and obedient beings. Why? Because he loves us and love complicates everything.

Love that matters, love that makes a difference, has to be forged and proven in the fires of adversity. It has to be chosen willingly and clung to against all that can oppose it and all that would tell you it’s not worth it. Love that stands despite all that would destroy it, love that is chosen even in the last hour after everything else is tried first, love that says I will do whatever it takes because I now see that it is worth fighting for, that is the love God wants because it is who He is. God is love and that unstoppable love is the kind of love he has for us.

That kind of love in return can only be generated in a heart that is free to chose against it, that kind of love can only come from a heart that can fail, and has failed so it knows the difference and now clings to it with all that it has. That kind of love can only come from a heart that knows what it’s like to be loveless, to be scorned, to know the guilt of a conscience that is screaming at it that it has failed to the point of no return—only to look up and see the eyes of the one who cares.

The one who would say to the woman who wept at his feet while the others mocked her—’they who are forgiven much, love much.’

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You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Luke 7

God did not want brainless spineless wimps who love him because they don’t know how not to, because they don’t know there is a choice let alone make it, He wanted children created in his image, with all the nuanced complexity of thought, the passions of emotions that can make or break, the intellect to even question God himself as we decide we might even be smarter then He. No, God wanted real people with hearts that felt what He felt even if it would at times lead us astray as we outsmarted ourselves—so that we could love like he does.

And he proved it all to us by becoming us and walking in our shoes to show us the way he intended for us to live—totally in love with him and with our fellow man. That leaves no room for selfishness, rebellion, hatred or pride and thus by default eliminates sin.

Still Selfish

But we are not like that are we? Despite the example of Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God, we still do things out of selfishness, pride, hatred and rebellion—’you can’t tell me what to do, I need this for me, I know what is right and you had better not get in my way as I pursue my passion for what is right—you stupid liberal, or, you bigoted denier . . . I mean, have you heard about Jesus—he loves you?’

Epic fail. We are far from perfect, we do not deserve the love as we blunder through life walking the line between light and dark wondering why it always seems the dark has the loudest voice so often in our heads.

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But remember, it’s not what we do that makes us perfect, it’s what Jesus did. ‘with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.’

This is what I want you to see, this is all God really wants you to see, it is all he has ever wanted you to see—He loves you so much that he shed is own blood for you, gave his life, emptied himself of all pride, all power, all glory and became the worst of all we are, “He who knew no sin became sin that we might live.” While Jesus hung on that cross He took on himself all of the things that destroyed our relationship with God, all the things that our conscience loved to beat us up for and all the things the enemy delights in reminding us of, even though he may be the one that threw them in out paths to stumble on in the first place.

Jesus, love incarnate, who never failed in doing all that He did and saying all that he said because of his love for his Father’s lost lambs, became the perfect lamb that would be slain by hateful, angry, mocking and jeering crowds—why? Why would he do such a thing? Because he loves us and love overcomes all things—true love overcomes all things and God’s love is the truest thing in all of existence.

God grieves for us in our sins and engenders an incredible passion to do whatever is necessary to restore us and restore order to his creation, his order being love. And the final piece that would bring our peace was the sacrifice of his only Son.

22 And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. Heb 9:22

Cleansed

Under the old Covenant everything that was to be set aside as Holy; things and people set aside exclusively for use in the Temple had to be purified with blood. Blood is life, and life is the cost of sin. Life lost for love rejected. But on the contrary, and now under the new Covenant, Life gained for love accepted.

But what’s the difference, why can we now gain life and perfection? The difference is we have now been cleansed by blood that was perfect, blood that contained the life that is eternal, unblemished and indestructible.

The blood we have been sealed with by our acceptance of it’s sacrifice was offered willingly, unlike the sheep, goats and cattle that were offered as foreshadows of better things to come. Jesus gave freely of his life, experienced death so that we would not have to fear it as the end—because it was not the end of him. Death could not hold him because he shed the blood of the very author of life itself. The creator became the created to be destroyed by the created—but that was impossible.

But it didn’t matter because it satisfied the just requirement of the law nonetheless. Jesus was given the death sentence, by man and by God, and he died so the judgement was fulfilled, the sentence carried out. The fact that Jesus didn’t stay dead doesn’t reinstate the punishment, not for Jesus and not for us as Jesus died in our place.

God can now exonerate us of all charges and he hears no more accusations from the prosecution. The lawgiver handed down the sentence, the wages of sin is death, and he became a proxy for the accused and condemned to be executed and even die. But love overcomes all things—even death. And that love overcomes our death as well.

Love bears all

No hiding

So I may at times fail miserably, or at least feel like I have. I may want to hide away from God, ashamed and fearful because I know he knows how I really think, feel and act sometimes, but I don’t —I don’t get to fool God for another week. I can’t and I won’t try because I have a God who has proven to me over and over again that he loves me. He loves me more than I love my own kids, more than I love my grandkids, more that I love my wife—and I love all of those people with a love than can never ever die or be taken away.

In spite of my failures I cannot let anything or anyone stand between me and my Father. I love him with a love that overcomes all things as well, because he first loved me. And that is why I keep trying, day after day, I keep doing my best to live a life pleasing to my Father—not because I have to, but because I want to.

I am not perfect, not in my eyes, not in your eyes, I cannot be, but I never have to fear the rejection of my Father. Because in his eyes, the eyes of love, I am perfect. He sees the person I want to be, the person he is leading me to be, the person I am becoming by the power of his grace. Jesus has torn down the veil to the Holy of Holies and is showing me the way in. He has gone before me and made the sacrifice that purifies me so that I can receive the grace, love and strength I need to make it through even the valley of the shadow of death unscathed and still clean before him.

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Check out my latest book  Barbarians in the Kingdom

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Just who is this Jesus? (Crazy Love)

Jesus God Meme

“. . .because we have been to hell and back together. . . and because we have always had one another’s backs . . . we (my wife and I) do not have to fear that we will one day wake up to discover that we are no longer in love and tear each other apart.”

Today begins a journey through the New Testament book of Hebrews. I hope you’ll join me my friends.

Hebrews

The first chapter of Hebrews lays out succinctly and plainly just who Jesus is. This is of utmost importance as this is what makes a Christian a Christian; knowing, believing and accepting who Jesus, not just was, but is. So the writer, gets that point across right out of the chute. And like that 8 second ride that saying brings to mind, you have to pay attention to every twist and turn, buck and snort, because it will be over before you know it and if you weren’t paying attention you’ll wonder what the big deal is and walk away thinking it was all about the clowns.

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. Hebrews 1:1—4

All of that in the opening sentence of this amazing book.

The Only Way

Jesus is salvation, not a component of salvation. Jesus is the way, not one of the ways. He is the creator, not created like an angel. He is exalted because he was exalted. He is a Son of God yet he is God. All that gives his death on the cross it’s power. Without that basis, without knowing and believing who Jesus is, the cross is emptied of power and we are indeed left to earn our salvation by adhering to the Law; by being good enough to get into heaven.

The Jesus described here in Hebrews in great theological clarity is put forth as many things as Jesus’ true being is many faceted. But all this is somewhat cerebral. It’s one thing to know who Jesus is, it’s another to know him. One without the other can be a ‘lose lose’ for both you and Jesus. If you have a head knowledge of who Jesus is but do not know him, you are lost because, as John also said in his gospel, we have to believe and receive.

 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, John 1:12

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But you can also know Jesus, invite him into your heart and be cleansed of your sins, without really knowing on what your faith is based. If you don’t have the word to back up your faith you can potentially be talked out of it, and perhaps end up lost to Jesus.

Crazy Love

I was thinking about a young woman in our church family the other day, how she just seems to get more and more excited and plugged into Jesus as time goes by, and the thought hit me, “Man, that girl is just crazy in love with Jesus!” And I thought, “You know, that’s really what it takes to get us through this life.” We can know all the scriptures, even grow up in church, look and act like good little Christian boys and girls and never really have a deep down love and appreciation for Jesus, and the enemy can come along and steal our joy, our passion—our lives in him.

It’s like my wife Donna and I. We have been married for nearly thirty one years. We have been through some really hard times, we have not always seen eye to eye and we have tested and stretched one another, but we are crazy in love with one another. We started out our marriage in love, and we have always been in love. There were times when we might not have felt it so much or maybe wondered about the whole thing; but we were, and always have been, committed to our marriage.

And today as we look around near and far and see marriages fall apart, people living selfishly or refusing to do things God’s way and then struggling to understand why they are not happy and blessed we find ourselves looking at one another more and more and saying ‘thank you Jesus for us.’

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Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

I know that we are in a relationship that will endure. I can know that because we know one another, better than we ever have, better than anyone else in the world, because we have been to hell and back together.  And, because we have always had one another’s backs and afford one another complete and total trust and honesty, we do not have to fear that we will one day wake up to discover that we are no longer in love—and tear each other apart.

I can say that because we have a crazy love for one another that is based on and modeled after a crazy love for Jesus who promises he will never leave us nor forsake us, and we made that promise to, and before him, to each other. And we are blessed. You know what that blessing is? Love, love is the blessing, love that cannot die, that cannot be taken away, that is ours to keep and live and breathe and sleep in, for as long as we chose to do so because it is a love that comes from Jesus, a love that is Jesus.

Above all else, Jesus is love. This chapter 1 from Hebrews goes to great lengths to explain to us from several different angles and scriptural proofs that Jesus is God, and what is God? God is love.

So if you are going to know Jesus, if you are going to be in Christ, live in Christ, build a life, build a marriage, build a family, on the rock, on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Son of Man, ‘who was and is and is to come’, you are going to have a love that cannot be destroyed and that ‘overcomes all things’. And if that is all I have, if that is the sum total of my life when I breath my last—I had love. And because I had love, I had everything. I am in love, I am in Christ—and because I recognize and embrace that, I am and will die a blessed, happy and content man.

Everything else the Lord entrusts me with is just icing on the cake. Everything the world and the enemy throws at me is just a nuisance and a temporary heartache. I know who my Jesus is, I know my Jesus and he knows me.

If you fall madly in love with Jesus, you are in Jesus because Jesus is love. Thus you now know who Jesus is.

Just crazy

That head and heart understanding of who Jesus is has carried me through and beyond challenge after challenge, trial after trial, grief after grief, temptation after temptation, failure after failure—for 34 years now. 34 years this last week in fact. I know I would be a mess otherwise.

I have a mind that is always rebelling against my heart and a flesh that is constantly fighting with my spirit. And I know if I were not crazy in love with the real Jesus, the Jesus who is Lord, Lord of my life, I would just be crazy.

Instead of crazy in love, I would just be crazy and I would have to turn to something else, things that would ensnare me, and I would probably be someone I didn’t like very much. But because I have a God who believes in me, who loves me and always sees the best in me and encourages it, I can love myself. And because of that and my love for him, I desire to be the best that I can be and I have a reason bigger then myself to do so.

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Photo by Murilo Folgosi on Pexels.com

That carries over into my marriage also, because I love, and am loved, by a Lord who upholds all things by the word of his power:

“and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”  Heb 1

Because of that I can love others sacrificially and unconditionally as well, just as I am loved.

And just as the trials and challenges that Donna and I have faced together have served to make our love and respect for one another only grow stronger over time, so the many trials and tribulations that I have faced, and face, only serve to make my love for Jesus stronger and my relationship with him ever more precious and appreciated.

You can take away all that I have, but you can never take away my love and knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord and King—my God.

But to the Son He says:

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. Heb 1

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What’s Important?

Christmas can be a huge bundle of dysfunction and mind games —refuse to play.

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We all know, at least I hope you do, that Christmas isn’t about gifts, it’s not lights and trees, though those things certainly add to the magic that brings a sense of delight to our hearts and reminds us that we are to live in joy because our King has come. Christmas isn’t about programs and parties, though those can be good excuses to get together with friends and family—which to me is what it’s all about—making it a priority to be with those we care about.

I love Christmas because it cause us to do just that; to take a look around us and say ‘Hey, I want to be with you as we celebrate this season of remembering the event that changed the world. I want to forget that we were having issues a bit ago, that we are too busy for one another otherwise.

Christmas reminds us to take a look at what and who is important to us, causes us to stop and think, to reflect and ponder; ‘Do I want to go to such and such house, if so and so is there? Do I want to spend my time working instead of taking my kids to get trees? Do I want to spend this holiday alone, or drinking with my good time friends while my family wonders where I am?’

‘Do I want to spend it reflecting on lost ones from the past and refuse to find any joy today? Do I want to refuse to invite certain persons to my home because I don’t agree with choices they are making? Do I want to blow off certain of those who really ache to be included?’

Dysfunction Junction

Christmas can be a huge bundle of dysfunction, a one way ticket from Dysfunction Junction to Bitterville. Dysfunction Junction is the place we stand as we decide which track to take, the one that makes us feel vindicated but hurts others, or the one where we just do what is required of us by a loving God without getting caught up in the mind games of others.

I for one refuse to play those games. Not just at Christmas but anytime of the year. As I stated in my book, Hope For Families, it only takes one dysfunctional family member, someone who refuses to act in the role they have been given in the family, or refuses to interact with love and respect with the other members of the family, to create a dysfunctional family.

It only takes one, unless the others refuse to play along. Allowing a dysfunctional person to affect how you interact with others in the family, to go along with their anger, their boycotts, compensations, excuses, whatever, only makes you codependent and stressed.

I played too many of those games for too many years and I just don’t anymore. All are welcome in my church, in my home, in my heart, at any time you want or need to be there. And if someone else has an issue with the company I keep then that is their issue—not mine. I am not going to lose a minute of sleep over it.

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And I am in good company, Jesus loved people into wholeness, he never shunned anyone or cared about the feelings of those who thought he should— “Lord, this woman was caught in adultery, she ought to be stoned. This man is a tax collector and a sinner, we can’t eat at his house. Why are you talking to a Samaritan woman, she’s nobody. This man is a Roman Centurion, are you sure you want to heal his daughter?”

“Get these children out of here, the Lord is busy. Tell these people be quiet, it’s unbecoming to be making this ruckus in the temple courts. Lord, by now there is a smell, are you sure you want to go in there? If you knew what kind of woman this is, you would not let her touch you!”

11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Mat 9:11—12

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I could go on but you get the point. All these people telling Jesus the kind of people he should avoid, how he should relate to others. But Jesus didn’t play their games. Jesus loved the people who were hardest to love, and he loved them completely—and you know what? Every one of them became witnesses to who he was, while the perfect and righteous fretted about appearances sake and what was fair or not fair. Jesus ruined their mind games by blowing their minds, he could do this because he knew their minds and he didn’t waste a minute trying to appease those who had no desire to look past their own upturned noses.

Choose wisely

So, Christmas causes us to look at these things in our lives and decide what’s important. We have to choose wisely because we can only travel so many trails before this holiday, before this life, is over.

So how do we know what’s important, on what do we base those decisions, who to interact with and how. What path do we set our feet on and what direction do we set our faces? As believers we should be wanting to make those choices in a way that pleases the Lord and preferably is even guided by him.

So we seek his favor, we try to be worthy, to do the right things, to say the right things, to play by the rules and at least look good. “Lord I want to be blessed, I want to please you, to serve you—How do I do that?”

It a matter of remembering that it’s not about us, it’s about how we treat others—that’s what’s important to the Lord and that is what should be important to us. And that’s not just a New Testament Jesus thing, God has been telling us that from the beginning.

God asked Israel though the last Old Testament prophet Micah;

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
Ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:7—8

What God wants from us, what he deems important for our lives?—is not what our hands are doing but more where our hearts are. That we behave justly, love mercy and walk humbly; three attributes that can affect how we live our lives in virtually every circumstance. Attributes that affect how we treat others, to do justly simply means to act impartially, honorably and to deal fairly with everyone. Mercy is kindness and forgiveness, and to walk humbly is to be lacking  in selfish pride.

If our priorities are colored by those three things we might have a very different set of priorities from most people around us—and that’s okay, because the world for the most part is anything but fair, merciful or humble.

Life is short, pick a trail and stick to it until you get where you are going. But choose wisely because, like I said, there is only time for so many and make sure others are blessed in the process.

How do we do that?

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Choose love. We all have many choices to make every day, big decisions and little decisions, this trail, that trail, no trail. Who wants to go with me, who will I allow to go with me?

I have come to a place in my life and in my walk with the Lord that I realize that I am not smart enough, discerning enough or strong enough to judge others as to their worthiness to garner my love or acceptance.

I have discovered that life is a lot less stressful if I don’t have to hold the doors shut to certain people, to deny them grace, mercy or justice. Only the Holy Spirit can and should convict others of sin, I have too many logs in my own eye to do so.

So when I have to decide how to respond to those whom the Lord puts in my path, My heart chooses love. And that’s what pleases the Lord.

Barbarians in the Kingdom

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