To Love Like Jesus Does

Jesus was not delusional about human nature. He did not view people as “basically good” but made bad by society. The Scriptures tell us,

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. ~ John 2:24-25

Elsewhere, Jesus states plainly,

The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. ~ John 7:7

Nevertheless, Jesus has a profound love for people. Mind you, He does not love the sinfulness (the selfish, self-indulgent, God-defiant part of us). Yet, He loves and values the actual person of individuals. Consider just a few instances. 

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. ~ Matthew 9:36

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” ~ John 8:10-11

After a night of betrayal, abandonment, mockery, torture, scourging, and then after being nailed to a cross for several more hours of excruciating pain and asphyxiation, only to lift the following prayer for his tormentors:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” ~ Luke 23:34

Humanity, being created in the image of God, is not completely void of compassion, kindness, or sacrifice. While the news continually blasts us with humanity’s depravity, we still hear stories of its reflections of the image of whom it bears: a youth helping a senior up some stairs; citizens surrounding a police officer to protect him during a riot; or a person rushing into a burning building to rescue another.

The love with which Jesus loves, however, is of such an unattainable caliber that we are unable to possess and distribute it apart from abiding in the very Source of such love. In fact, many of those who profess to belong to God do not have such love for others. Mind you, I do not profess that I possess this love, so rich and pure. 

Our world will continue to sing and write about love, but will always fall short of genuine love’s grandeur. The highest and purest form of love (Gk. agape) is defined in the Bible:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The only way to genuinely display this selfless and sacrificial love is to be connected to the Source of this love (Christ) and continually being filled with His Holy Spirit.

Indeed, to err is human, and we know this all too well. But to love like Jesus does is truly a work of the Divine within. I admit, I am not there yet. Perhaps you are not either. May we draw close and abide in Christ because of our own obvious deficiencies, but our world is in serious need of the purest love that He provides.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ~ John 15:1-5

Wonderful Love

The wonderful love of Jesus is quite welcoming of misfits, ragamuffins, and scalawags. He is not indifferent to our pasts, failures, hurts, or shame. While He will not condone sin, He is not harsh with one’s shortcomings. His love is all inclusive. His mission? To seek and find those who are lost (see Luke 19:10).

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ~ Matthew 11:28-29

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. ~ John 6:37

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

While His love is transcending, it is not intrusive. Jesus welcomes any and all who will come to Him in genuine faith, but He will not force His love on those who do not want it. His love is able to cover the most vile and evil of sins, but He will not force a person to loosen their grip on their beloved sin in order to take His saving hand. His wonderful love grants each of us the choice to respond it or reject it.

Jesus is gentle with persons. For example: Peter (who had denied Him); the centurion who had sent one of his servants (a foreigner); the Samaritan woman (a multi-divorced “half-breed” who was an outcast even of her own people); Zacchaeus (a tax collector, considered a traitor to the Jewish people; and the woman found in the act of adultery. Each of these received warm and honest acceptance from Jesus.

Still, Jesus did not pander to people or cater to their expectations. He let persons reject Him and His love. For example: the Pharisees and Sadducees (the religious leaders of the day); the rich young ruler (who wanted salvation on his terms); Herod (a leader addicted to his own lusts and who wanted Jesus only for entertainment); and Judas (who, apparently, was disappointed with the kingdom Jesus had in mind).

Nevertheless, Jesus extends His love to each of us. The question is, is His love worth surrendering ourselves and our sins? For many, this is too much, too demanding. Still, others feign to receive His love while holding firmly to their sin. However, in doing so, they have not really received anything at all. It is a shame that sin is so deceptive in that it can bring pleasure, all the while leaving so much destruction in its wake. Sometimes we are unaware of the destruction that it brings to others later.

But then there are those who do recognize the hideousness of their sins. How on earth can God love them? Oh, but He does, my friend! There is not a sin God is unwilling to forgive, if we will but look to His Son Jesus Christ in genuine faith.

I hope that you have come to know this wonderful love of Jesus!

“I Did Not Make It—No, It Is Making Me”

One of my favorite musicians is the late Rich Mullins. In his song, “Creed,” based on what is commonly called the “Apostle’s Creed,” [1] Mullins writes,

“I believe what I believe,
It’s what makes me what I am.
I did not make it, no, it is making me; It is the very truth of God, not the invention of any man.” [2]

Christianity is not about people having it all together, for if that was the case, why would we need a Savior? No, Christianity is about the living God and Redeemer who puts people back together, who are ravaged by sin, through the death and resurrection of His dear Son.

As Romans 3 tells us, we have all, like sheep, gone astray. All of us have searched for other pastures, seeking to satisfy our longings with anything but God. We have all become corrupt, each of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have resisted God, succumbed to our desires, and defiantly sang to God, Frank Sinatra’s, “I did it my way!” As a result, our lives are broken, splintered, and ridden with emptiness and shame.

But then comes God’s grace and truth. Understand, the two must be together. Too many people profess grace while their behaviors are left unchanged. On the other hand, you have those declaring truth, but their lives do not display the love and compassion of the God they claim to profess. The grace and truth of God, together, builds and repairs our lives.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ~ John 1:14

But think about Mullins’ words. “I believe what I believe, it’s what makes me what I am.” He is not simply talking about a creed, but the very Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is this which is remaking and remodeling him, not man’s philosophies, pop psychology, or religions.

“I did not make it, no, it is making me.” This comes from something outside and other than him. He did not “pull himself up by the bootstraps,” nor did he apply mind over matter or positive thinking.

“It is the very truth of God, not the invention of any man.” What is making him, rebuilding him, and restoring him is the very truth of God and His Gospel. God, alone, gets the glory.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. ~ Romans 1:16

Is the Gospel making you? God extends His glorious Gospel to you, my friend, no matter what you have done. No, you nor I can make it, but it is what makes us.”

[1] I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,  the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

[2] Rich Mullins, “Creed,” from the album, A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band, Reunion Records, 1993.

The Present—His Presence

We are living in uncertain times. What is going on in government? What is going to happen to the economy? What is going to happen in our lifetime, and what is the world going to be like for our children and grandchildren? One commodity that seems to be dwindling for many is hope.

One of the gems within the Christmas/Gospel message is God’s presence among people. It is important to understand Jesus’ highest position. We are told He is the Alpha and the Omega (First and the Last), and Lord of lords and King of kings (see Rev. 1:8; 17:14). In John’s Gospel we are told Jesus is the Word, who was with God and is God, who took on flesh and “dwelt among us” (see John 1:1-5, 14). Furthermore, Paul tells us that in doing so, Jesus “emptied himself” (see Phil. 2:7).

In Matthew’s Gospel we are told one of the names of Jesus is Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (see Matt. 1:23). He did not come to dwell among the elite or to live in the lap of luxury. He was born in poverty, grew among the average Joe, and associated with the hurting and outcast.

Although Jesus has ascended, He promises His continual presence through His Holy Spirit (see John 14:15-17). Note, the passage says that He will abide with us forever.

Perhaps you are facing some challenging circumstances (e.g., loneliness, illness, financial issues, marital problems, etc.), and God feels a million miles away. Maybe you are thinking He has abandoned you. My prayer for you this Christmas season is that you will remember the Word (Jesus) “dwelt among us” and continues to dwell within His people. 

There are some who feel they are “too far gone,” but Jesus, His grace, and His presence are given as gifts to all who are willing to receive them by faith. If you have not already, may you receive these gifts this Christmas season.

The Greatest Gift of All

This has been a different sort of Christmas season, as my wife and I have recently made a 1400 mile move. For the past few months we were downsizing, going through things to sell, donate, or throw away. It is astonishing how much stuff is accumulated over the years, much of which is not needed, and some not even wanted. My wife and I repeatedly told each other we have too much stuff.

We live in a society that constantly tells us more is better, and having this and that will make us happy. For us, we realized having so much stuff actually added to our stress. Not only by going through it all, but also just looking at it all the time. Even with the house straightened up, there was still clutter.

I have not been in the Christmas spirit at all this year. Granted, I have been preoccupied with the move, but it has become so overly commercialized. It has felt strange going to the store for groceries or cleaning supplies and seeing people do their Christmas shopping. In a matter of a year or two many of the gifts will be trashed, sold, or left to collect dust. So much stuff not needed.

Nevertheless, buried beneath the commercialization, festivities, and wrapping paper there remains for each of us the greatest gift of all, which is the real reason for the season. What makes this gift unique  is it is a provision for what we truly need: redemption, love, joy, peace, and meaning. Yet, this gift is left unopened and unwanted by so many. Still, this wonderful gift is offered to any and all who are willing to receive it. And what is this gift?

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6

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

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. ~ Romans 5:15-17

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 6:23

Have you received this gift from God? If not, why do you continue to reject it when it is freely given?

Sacrifices of Praise

A sacrifice comes with a cost. It is to surrender something we desire for something better, and the cost can be undesirable as the heart breaks. 

Typically, “praise” is associated with joy, gladness, and an eager willingness. Honestly, often it is. However, have you ever been in a church service with a broken heart and fractured soul? You still loved God, although you might not have “felt” like it, because your heart ached and your mind was being bombarded with an onslaught of questions. Perhaps only you and God knew what was tormenting your heart, mind, and soul: loneliness, guilt/shame, loss/grief, anxieties, betrayal, etc. And while those around you sang with enthusiasm, it was an extraordinary accomplishment that you got out of bed and made it to church.

What does all this have to do with sacrifices of praise? During these times praise is a sacrifice, feeling heavy as lead as our feeble voice struggles beneath the strain. Chances are, for many, during these times you do not want to offer such a sacrifice. Believe me, I have been there (and still am, at times). Such an offering is not without pain, but it is a sacrifice for something better (albeit, not immediately). While seemingly small sacrifices, God accepts the sacrifices of tear-sprinkled praise arising from broken hearts: “You are faithful, God!” “I love You, Jesus!” “I trust You, Lord.”

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. ~ Hebrews 13:14-15 (ESV)

Remembering His Cross in Our Pain

Pain is a part of living in a sinful, fallen world, and no one is completely immune. No doubt, some people suffer more than others, but some forms of pain are nearly universal. Who has not felt the wounds of rejection, betrayal, loneliness, and heartache? At some point, anyone who loves will experience the emotional pain of grief. Or who has not felt the pangs of anxiety and fear?

During times of pain it can appear as though our mind and feelings conspire against us, to leave is for dead in despair, but first torturing is with doubts about God’s love, care, and empathy.

I wrote the following song sometime during a severe bout with depression. I have written about this previously, but I felt as though I was in a dark, inescapable pit. I felt like a failure in every sense of the word, and God seemed light years away from me. However, God—in the person of Jesus—experienced much of the pain we feel and questions we ask, while He was rejected, tortured, then killed. 

He Is Still Worthy of Praise

Even when storms rob us of sunshine, And our laughter turns to cries; Even when our nights are the darkest, And there are no stars in our skies…

Bridge:
We look to Christ,
The Holy One who cares;
In brokenness,
We worship Him through tears…

Chorus 1:
(For) He is still worthy of praise;
He is still worthy of honor;
He is still worthy of worship;
He is still worthy of all!

(Repeat)

Even when our minds are afflicted, And questions scream with rage;
And our hearts are so deeply wounded, Feeling forsaken in some cage…

Bridge:
We look to Christ,
And bend our knees in dust.
In spite of pain,
We sing to Him with trust…

(Chorus 1)

Through loneliness and friendlessness, Through deep darkness and through sickness;
Through failure and tears, through raging fears;
Through broken dreams, and angry screams …

Through temptations, and frustrations; Through broken-hearts, and worlds torn apart;
Through death of loved ones, when grief overcomes –
Through all the loss, we remember His Cross!

Even when we face disappointments, When dreams are smashed on rocks, And we watch them sink under waters, As our hearts are crushed on the docks.

Bridge:
We bow our souls,
And cannot even speak.
We want to run,
We want to die,
Yet to our God we cry … and we seek …

(Chorus 1)

Chorus 2:

God You are worthy of praise;
You are still worthy of honor;
You are still worthy of worship;
Jesus, You’re worthy of all!
You are still worthy of praise;
You are still worthy of honor;
You are still worthy of worship;
Jesus, You’re worthy of all!
… Through all the loss, we remember Your Cross …  [1]

Jesus, You’re worthy of praise.

(Words and music by G.P)

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~ Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

__________

[1] Geno Pyse, To Worship Is to Obey: Songs of Worship & Devotion (Rochester: GP&P, 2020), 27-29.

Love of Dogs and Lessons from the Spirit

Those who know me know that I love dogs. I have a Peanuts t-shirt with Charlie Brown and Snoopy. The caption reads: “Life is better with a dog.” I have a couple of shirts my wife had made for me that read, “I just want to pet all the dogs.” And our son’s girlfriend had gotten me a hoodie that reads, “Easily distracted by dogs.” Each of these are true of me. I am the person who, if there is a dog in a room filled with people, wants to make a bee line to the doggy.

I shared with my small group leader recently that people think I am joking when I say that I tend to love dogs more than I do people, but I really do. To me, dogs are one of the most noble creatures God has made. Yes, they have some peculiar qualities; however, I know of no other creature that displays such profound and unconditional love, loyalty, and acceptance. People, on the other hand, can be so ugly and mean-spirited. I am perplexed by cities with ordinances which prohibit pit bulls, because each of the pitties I have ever met are sweet little “cuddle bugs”. I have not been bitten by one. However, I have been “bitten” by people many times—even from some whom I had ministered to and thought to be friends.

During a recent small group gathering, the leader had mentioned that God calls followers of Christ to love with agape love; that is, a love that is unconditional and is genuinely benevolent toward others—regardless how we are treated. He reminded us what the Scriptures say:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1 (ESV)

I later told him that it was as if God was saying to me, “Child, it brings joy to Me that you love dogs so much. So do I, because I created them. I am glad they are a blessing to you and that you have no desire to mistreat them. However, they do not bear My imprint. People are the creatures who bear My image. It is people who are redeemable, it is people for whom I died .” People—the only creation fashioned in God’s likeness and the only creation for whom He died. People are redeemable.

Will we see our beloved pets in heaven? I do not know. I sure hope so. What I do know is the Bible says people will be in only one of two places: heaven or hell, and the former is only by people placing their hope and trust in Jesus Christ because of His redemptive work on the cross. The rest will enter the misery and torment of the latter. Nevertheless, God pleads with humanity.

As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil w in ays, for why will you die…? ~ Ezekiel 33:11 

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:8-9

Do you realize just how much you are loved by your Creator?