You Are So Much More!

Hello, my friends, and dear brothers and sisters in Christ! I hope this finds you well!

The world will always seek for ways to label us and to create a sense of insecurity within (advertising thrives on this). Our worth, or so we are told, is dependent on our looks, what we possess, who we know, and our level of influence.

How many girls and women are depressed because they do not see a “cover girl” in the mirror? How many guys are ashamed because they are not a tough UFC fighter or powerful leader? How many people, both young and old, sell their souls to have the “right” shoes, clothing, etc. to fit in with the crowds? Yet, all of this empty and fading, just an evaporating mist!

If you read the book of Ecclesiastes, the writer describes all of this as vanity, worthless, fleeting, and empty. The apostle John writes,

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. ~ 1 John 2:15-17

My friend, if you are a child of God, then you are not what the world labels you. You are not a geek, loser, skank, or some other derogatory term. You are not just a waitress, clerk, janitor, restaurant manager, etc. You and I might not be  “cool cats” according to the world. So what? The world is not who defines us or gives us our identity. 

Paul writes honestly,

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. ~ 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Yet, check out what John says of those who are born again of God’s Spirit:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. ~ 1 John 3:1

As if this isn’t astonishing enough, the apostle Peter tells us,

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. ~ 1 Peter 2:4-5 

Then,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~ 1 Peter 2:9

Brothers and sisters, the world does not define us, God does! May your spirit embrace His definition and identity He has given you! 

Jesus was not killed by the authority of men, but He yielded His life willingly to pay the debt of our sins. Likewise, Jesus is not driven out of the schools and public places by the sheer authority of men. He merely permits it. Just as surely He arose from the dead, He is also going to return. The real question is this: Will you know Him as your Savior and King or will you know Him as your Judge? He paid for our sins once, but He will not pay a second time. 

I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. ~ John 17:18

If you are saved, it is entirely of grace. Regardless how we might like to compare ourselves to other schmucks, we are merely redeemed schmucks. Each of us were once dead in sin, followers of Satan, and children of wrath. This is why grace is so amazing.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. ~ Ephesians 2:1-2

Many of us are essentially nobodies, sometimes feeling as though we are drifting through life merely existing. We know the sting of rejection, loneliness, failure, and the like. We are either too this or too that, we are told. Yet we are called, chosen, and cherished by the One whose thoughts of us truly matters. We might, indeed, be nobodies. Yet we are significant somebodies to Him who redeemed us.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. ~ 1 Corinthians 1:26

There are many who are burdened by shame and who dare not approach God, lest they be turned away. Friend, no matter your guilt, shame, or deeds, Jesus warmly invites all to come to Him for forgiveness, cleansing, and new life.  Do not let your fear of rejection keep you from Him. His love for you is genuine.

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

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?