God Loves Me, Despite My Terrible Incompleteness

shack_Fotor

I recently read the following quote, which caught me like a sucker punch:

Wow. I needed that. Correction: I need that every day, again and again.

I’m constantly aware that I’m not the person I should be. I should pray more. Some people are prayer warriors. Not me. My prayer life is sporadic and spastic. Some days I’m kicking butt and taking names, praying with a fervency that surely makes the heavens tremble. Other days, I’m so tired all I can come up with is, “Lord, I really need help today.”

There is massive gap between the dad I want to be and the dad I am. I fight and struggle and strive to faithfully teach my kids the Bible. I fight against the impatience that constantly courses through me. But I’m aware of about a hundred ways I could be a better, more loving, more godly dad.

And don’t even get me started on evangelism. If a pastor preaches a message on the need to grow in evangelism, I’m down front, asking for prayer before the sermon even ends. I colossally suck at evangelism.

The gap between who I am and who I should be is large. Gaping. Unmissable. Unmistakable.

I tend to think that if I improve in certain areas, God will love me more. If I improve by 10% in the dad category, God will love me 10% more. If I can bump up my evangelism quota by 3%, God will bump up his love for me by 3%. More work on my part will result in more love on God’s part…or something like that.

Of course, this line of thinking then raises the following question: when will I ever be the person I should be?

When will I ever be the husband I should be? When will I ever sufficiently read God’s word and pray? When will I ever be the evangelist I’m supposed to be?

The answer is: never. Well, technically that’s not true. I will be the person I should be when Jesus returns and fully sanctifies me. When that happens, there will be no gap between the person I am and the person I should be.

But while I yet live, I will always be caught in the gap. Always falling short. Always failing. Striving yet stumbling. Fighting yet falling.

And yet, God loves me as I am, not as I should be. God’s love for me isn’t at 50%. It won’t slowly increase as I become more like the person I should be. Right now, God’s love for me is at 100%. The full, massive, delightful weight of God’s love rests upon me, and it’s not going anywhere.

I cannot make God love me any more. Let me beat that into my head again: I cannot make God love me anymore.

And so I will continue to run hard after Christ. I will continue to fight against my sin. But when Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, I will point to Jesus and say, “He is my righteousness! I’m not the person I should be, but Jesus was the person I should be!”

The Cost Of Love

One day in the spring of 2001, Ken Waters awakened in his own bed for the first time in 19 years. Nineteen years ago Ken Waters was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in a Massachusetts courtroom of first-degree murder. Devastated, his sister, Bette Anne Waters, was convinced of her brother’s innocence and refused to accept the outcome of the trial. A single mother of three, Bette went to law school for the express purpose of overturning her brother’s conviction.

After studying recent convictions overturned by DNA evidence, Bette scoured the courthouse to see if any DNA evidence was available from her brother’s trial. She knew it was a longshot because most DNA evidence is destroyed after 10 years.  Her heart was pounding as she awaited the response from the courthouse clerk. Within minutes she was informed that the DNA evidence was still intact.

There was only one more question. Would the DNA evidence exonerate her brother? The testing that followed clearly showed this was not Ken Waters’ DNA. Waters was a free man.

It was an emotional scene as Ken’s mother and sister, Bette Anne, wept and embraced him. Though costly, Bette’s devotion help free her brother. It was worth every bit of sacrifice. – David Slagle, Lawrenceville Georgia; source: “The Today Show” (3/15/01)

What sacrifice! What commitment, what effort to free her brother and bring him home. Law school and the expense of law school, all the classes and years of studying, bar exams. Then scouring the courthouse to see if any DNA evidence was still available. The trial, waiting, the expense. All to bring her brother home.

This is nothing compared to the cost to God and Jesus Christ to bring us home:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit… 1 Peter 3:18

What a cost God paid to bring us home. He gave up his one and only Son. He watched him live 33 years and be subject to Satan’s fiercest onslaughts of temptation. He watched Roman soldiers scourged Jesus, spit on him and pounded a gruesome crown of twisted thorns onto his head. He watched his Son stumble beneath the weight of the cross as he dragged it through the streets of Jerusalem. He watched the Roman soldiers stretch out Jesus’ hands and drive spikes through them. He watched his beloved Son hang on the cross for six hours and as he heaped his wrath upon him to pay for our sins. He listened as Jesus cried out in thirst and anguish of soul.

What a cost Jesus paid! Taking on human nature, suffering hunger and thirst, enduring the mocking and hatred of his creatures. Abandoned by his friends and brutalized by Roman soldiers and  forsaken by his Father.

Ken Waters’ sister did all she did because she was convinced she was innocent. God did all he did for us knowing the depth of our filth and guilt.

Surely Ken Waters would never doubt his sisters love for him. How could he after all she had gone through to free him?  How can we doubt our Father’s love for us when we consider all he went through to purchase our forgiveness? What he gave up – the most precious thing in the universe – Jesus. Infinitely more precious than the whole universe, and heaven itself. And how can we doubt when we look at what Jesus did in love for us – all he gave up, all he endured.  All because he loved us.  Let us never doubt God’s love for us.  He demonstrated that love while we were still sinners.  Helpless, hopeless sinners, who hated him.

O Lord God, we are eternally grateful for your love that came to seek and save the lost.

The Lord’s Crazy, Counter-Intuitive, Upside Down, Against-All-My-Feelings-And-Emotions Command

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  Luke 6:35-36

Has someone hurt you, taken advantage of you, ripped you off or insulted you?

You could take revenge.  You could treat them as they treated you. You could hurt them back. You could take something of theirs. You could insult them back or badmouth them to others.

But if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you don’t have these options. Jesus says, “I’m going to tell you something completely counter-intuitive. Something absolutely crazy. Something that will go against your feelings and emotions. And something that you can’t possibly do in your own strength. Yet when you do it it will demonstrate that you are a son or daughter of mine.”

What is this crazy counter-intuitive command?

Love your enemies. Do good to those who abuse you.  If they insulted you yesterday, but this morning come asking for a loan, give it to them. Everything in you will want to say, “Are you crazy? Did you forget what you said to me yesterday? Have you forgotten what you did? And now you want to borrow some money from me? You must be stupider than you look!”

But that’s not what you must do. You must say, “Sure. I’ll lend you as much as I’m able. Hope this helps.  Anything else I can do for you?”

Not only must you do good to your enemy, but you must not expect he will repay you – “expecting nothing in return.” There’s something inside us that thinks if I do good to someone, then he’ll be grateful and do good back to me. (Believe me, I’ve thought this). But it doesn’t usually work that way. Often they’ll take the good you do them for granted and won’t even thank you for it.

So we should expect nothing in return from our enemies when we do good to them. No thanks, no gratitude, no appreciation, no love in return.  We shouldn’t expect them to pay back what we loan them. What we should expect is that they’ll be ungrateful and unappreciative.  If they happen to be grateful, that will be a bonus.

Yet we can expect something in return – from the Lord.

He will reward us. He can change their hearts if he wants to and many times he will. But we must not expect anything in return from those we do good to.  God is the one who rewards us.

When we do good to those who abuse us, we prove we are sons and daughters of the Most High who is kind to the ungrateful and evil.  Every day he showers multitudes with incredible blessings and doesn’t get one word of thanks in return. Yet he keeps pouring out his blessings and kindness.

Oh how we need the power the Holy Spirit to love our enemies. But remember, Jesus never commands us to do anything he won’t give us the power to do if we ask him.

Why Do We Sing About Wrath?

Sometimes I think if a stranger came into our church he might wonder why in the world are we singing songs about a Roman instrument of death, spikes, whips, and a crown made out of a thorn bush.  Why are we singing about some poor guy hanging alone in darkness, bleeding, and thirsting while crowds mock him and spit on him?

And it might really seem strange that so many of our songs mention wrath.  This stranger might wonder if we’re fixated on death.  He might say, “I thought I would come here and sing about God’s love.”  We do.  We definitely do.  But God’s love for us involves….wrath.  We can’t sing songs about God’s love without mentioning his wrath, and a cross, and a bloody sacrifice.

The common contemporary view of this is that we are estranged from God, but He is not estranged from us. The enmity is all one sided. The picture we get is that God goes on loving us with an unconditional love while we remain hateful toward Him. The cross belies this picture. Yes, the cross occurred because God loves us. His love stands behind His plan of salvation. However, Christ was not sacrificed on the cross to placate us or to serve as a propitiation to us. His sacrifice was not designed to satisfy our unjust enmity toward God but to satisfy God’s just wrath toward us. The Father was the object of the Son’s act of propitiation. The effect of the cross was to remove the divine estrangement from us, not our estrangement from Him. If we deny God’s estrangement from us, the cross is reduced to a pathetic and anemic moral influence with no substitutionary satisfaction of God. — RC Sproul

God’s wrath makes his love that much more amazing and sweet.

If there were no wrath, if God somehow just loved us and didn’t deal with our sins – if he somehow just put up with them – “Oh boys will be boys.  You just have to love them anyway” – we wouldn’t appreciate his love and mercy.  Most likely we wouldn’t love him, but go on loving our sins.  But God’s wrath that once hung over our heads like a very real sword, waiting to overwhelm us with unspeakable and unending horror and unimaginable, infinite agony is gone!  Gone forever!  And where did it go?  It fell on the one human being who didn’t deserve any wrath.  It fell on the innocent, spotless Lamb.  It fell on Jesus.  

And why?  Because of God’s love for us. Because of God’s tender mercy and compassion.  Oh yes, we will sing of wrath. Wrath well deserved.  Wrath stored up from day one.  Heaps and mounds and oceans of wrath barrelling down on us like a juggernaut, then suddenly diverted.  Suddenly turned aside.  And heaped on Jesus.  Jesus, like some kind of heavenly lightning rod, absorbing billions of volts of retribution that was due us.  Jesus, on the cross, going to hell.

Yes we will sing about wrath.  And meditate on it.  And marvel at what we deserved but didn’t receive.  We will celebrate and sing our strange songs about wounds and blood and darkness of soul and a cry of abandonment.  Because God’s wrath makes his love for us so much sweeter.

O Father, thank you for your deep, deep love.  Jesus thank you for the height, width, breadth and depth of your love.  Thank you Father for sparing us the terrifying wrath we so well deserved and pouring it out on your Son.  Jesus, thank you for taking our place on the cross and drinking this unimaginable cup to the dregs for us.  Holy Spirit, thank you for showing us the wrath of God and the love of God.

I Know God Loves Me, But Does He Like Me?

Last week, when I wrote that God doesn’t love us because we are lovable,

a couple readers responded that they know God loves them, but aren’t sure he likes them. I can relate – I used to feel  that God more or less put up with me because he had obligated himself by saving me.

Here’s part of how one reader, Billie, replied:

If you [have children], do you delight in your children? Do you love their little quirks and personality traits? I am, and I do. I know God is a much better parent that I can ever dream to be…would he delight in us (his adopted children) any less than we delight in our own? Or would he simply tolerate us for Christ’s sake? Zephaniah 3:17 says:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Does that sound like it gives him pleasure to have you as one of His children? I think it does. =)

Excellent Billie!  God loves all people – He so loved the world he sent his one and only Son – but he has a special love for his blood-bought children.  He rejoices over us with gladness. He exults over us with loud singing. Nowhere does it say he rejoices or exults over the wicked with singing even though he loves them.

God rejoices over me with gladness – wow, that’s hard to fathom. God exults over me with loud singing – what does that sound like?

I can see smiling angels turning their heads saying there he goes again with the singing!

In Philippians 1:8 Paul says, “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”  Jesus had given Paul HIS affection for the saints.  Affection for someone means you like them, take pleasure in them. You don’t simply tolerate them in an alright-I-love-you-because-I-have-to way.

Here’s another passage that shows how God feels about his people:

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God…you shall be called My Delight Is in Her…for the LORD delights in you…as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. Isaiah 62:3-5

God delights in his redeemed people as a glittering crown, a royal diadem. He rejoices over us as a bridegroom over his bride. Hardly sounds like he’s just putting up with us.  God’s people are his “treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6), “the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10).

Paul prayed that the Ephesians would “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” This is not mere head knowledge but a deep experience of Christ’s love.

If you’re a believer, Jesus loves you, has affection for you, delights in you, rejoices over you, and exults over you with loud singing. Yes, he likes you! Meditate on these things and ask him to make them real to you.