Cannot “Earn” God’s Love

The writer Helen Wodehouse said, “We think we must climb to a certain height of goodness before we can reach God. But He [God] does not say, ‘At the end of the way you may find me’; He says, ‘I am the Way; I am the road under your feet, the road that begins just as low down as you happen to be.’ If we are in a hole, the Way begins in the hole. The moment we set our face in the same direction as His, we are walking with God.”

Many of us wake up each morning feeling that God could never love us. People we trusted sometimes sexually abused us as children and then afterward angrily told us we were worthless. As adults, we often stayed in abusive relationships, hopelessly searching for love. We misguidedly thought that if we treated our abusers better, we could earn their love.

Many of us view a relationship with a loving God in the same twisted way. We mistakenly feel we must “be good” to earn His love. Nothing is further from the truth!

God does not care where we have been; He is concerned only about where we are going. He searches for us and meets us where we are. God comes alongside us at the most depressing moment of our lives and whispers that He loves us, forgives us, and believes in us (see John 3:16; Jeremiah 29:11). We can trust those words!

We can experience God’s redeeming love. We can cop to the sin in our lives and turn away (repent) from it (see 1 John 1:9). When we confess and change direction, we will be on the right road. His genuine, authentic love will flood our hearts as we walk in His direction.

 

Christmas is a happy time! Christmas is a time when trees are decorated with lights and ornaments, gifts are bought, put under the tree and families gather to celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world. The popular Christmas songs we play create a mood and atmosphere of playfulness and warm feelings. The popular song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Yet, while it may be true for us, for those souls in prison, it is the very opposite.

The Holidays, especially for women in prison are a period of aggravated loneliness and severe self-loathing. Self-loathing and self-hatred flourish during the holidays for the incarcerated because they cannot be with their families…and, they know the reasons why. They have been convicted of a crime where the penalty is separation from society. They understand that, but recognition of their mistakes does nothing to alleviate the pain of their not being able to hug their babies, or press their noses against their child’s neck and inhale the sweet smell of their young child’s skin. They understand their actions and mistakes have caused their pain, but that makes them feel even worse about themselves. Christmastime, rather than being a time of family celebration and warm feelings, becomes, for women in prison, similar to being on a merry-go-round that has stopped dead. Life is no longer moving and all they can do is wait, pray and cry themselves to sleep. It is a very rough, tough and relentlessly cruel period of time for those in prison.

As followers of Jesus, we are not told to open up the prison doors and let everyone out regardless of crime. We are not commanded to ignore personal consequences and individual accountability. To be sure, Jesus would not advocate for a quick fix.

Rather, Jesus calls us to visit those in prison (See Matthew 25). To clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. He instructs us to love and visit them, and in doing so, love and visit Him, by proxy.

How can we do that? Several ways:

  • Give a Gift: Prison Fellowship sponsors a program called Angel Tree. Angel Tree (pfm.org). PFM works with local churches and organizations to provides the names of the children of those incarcerated to people who are willing to buy a gift and have it delivered to the child in the parent’s name (google Angel Tree in your town).
  • Write a ChristmasCard: Every prison has a Chaplain that can receive Christmas cards, even written anonymously, and distributed to inmates who wish a card. Look up a prison nearest to you on the Internet for specific facility information.
  • Google “prison ministry (your city’s name): You will be astounded at how many small boutique prison ministries exist to help you connect with those hurting this Christmas Season.

All it takes is the willingness to help and the awareness that there are women and men who need to feel Jesus’ love through you and your efforts. Let them know, during this Christmas season, they are remembered! Do it today!

 

 

We all have a need to feel connected to another human being. Good marriages thrive on communication. Without daily sharing, one partner feels disconnected and alone. Suicides occur when people lose all loving contact with another human being. In our daily friendships, we require connection to each other. The people with whom we eat lunch or work out with, offer us a sense of community that’s vital to mental health and happiness.

But sometimes spouses or friends abuse that connection by using us for their own selfish, personal advantage. Some of us have been ripped off by a “friend” who stole from us to feed her habit. Perhaps we’ve done it to someone else. Any betrayal damages trust, but it also makes it less likely that we’ll offer that gift of connection again. Think about how we treat God and the connection He offers us through the intimacy of prayer. Don’t we often bring our own selfish wish list to our prayers? Don’t we often consider God a sort of Santa Claus and try to make deals with Him? And then we wonder why our prayers never seem to get an answer! Consider what James said about that, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:3 Prayer is not a way to get our wish list completed. Jesus is not our gofer who is just about giving us what we want!

Rather, and more important, prayer is a direct link to the Creator of the universe. He has a plan for our lives, but like most plans, He needs to share them with us. Without our willingness to put aside our selfish concerns and really be quiet and listen to God speaking to us, we’ll never learn what He wants to say to us.

When we pray, let’s connect to God by using our ears first and our mouths second. Let’s keep our motives pure and ask God for the things we need so that we can serve Him.

 

We have been looking at 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s famous chapter on Love and what author Henry Drummond had to say about it in his essay, The Greatest Thing in the World. We have studied one virtue per month that when taken together form Love, i.e., The Greatest Thing in the World.

But as we read about these virtues, we admire them and would welcome them into our lives on a daily basis, but we also wonder how we do that? How can we get patience, kindness, generosity and humility, to name just a few, into our everyday persona? How do we learn to Love? The answer is the same answer to the question asked of a taxi driver in New York City. When a tourist asked, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” the driver sarcastically replied, “Practice, practice, practice.””

Drummond speaks to that taxi driver’s snarky (but accurate) response when he says:

The world is not a playground; it is a school-room. Life is not a holiday; but and education. And one eternal lesson for us all is how better can we love. What makes a man a good (musician, sculptor, artist or athlete)…practice. Love is not a thing of enthusiastic emotion. It is a rich, strong, manly, vigorous expression of the whole round Christian character.”

Christian character is crafted out of ever-changing circumstances. Sometimes the times are wonderful and happy; other times it is a trial and temptation. We should give thanks to God for both occasions. The good times are a classroom to practice humility. When we are flush with money, generosity should flourish in our hearts. But it is the tough times and painful experiences that mold our characters the most. Someone once said, “Pain is the Mother of Compassion.” That person was insightful.

We cannot isolate ourselves when times are good nor shrink away and curse our God when times are tough. When times are calm, we have the luxury of focusing on what pleases us. But it is the storms of life that build character. The German poet Goethe said as much when he wrote: “Talent develops itself in solitude; character in the stream of life.”

Do you want to be patient, kind, humble and generous? Then make a point to practice these virtues everyday, in some situation, for someone. You will be surprised as how fast these virtues take root in your souls.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with Thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

Thanksgiving Day is a time set aside for us to acknowledge our gratitude and thanks to God and those around us for the bounty and blessings we have received. If over the last year our bosses gave us a bonus, we give thanks. If our children or spouses have been healthy and successful, we give thanks. Thanksgiving Day is almost 100% about expressing heartfelt gratitude for things we have received.

And, this is exactly the right thing to do. However, the Apostle Paul offers a new perspective on giving thanks that leads to banishment of fear and anxiety. In addition, the fear and anxiety is replaced with a peace that defies understanding…and the key to it is…giving thanks!

When we read the above listed passage from Philippians, we notice that we are instructed to not be anxious about anything…that would include, but not be limited to…our finances, our health, our jobs, our marriages or relationships…or absence of the same. It means giving up our fears about our children, grandchildren, and sons in prison or the drugs that assault our schools every day.

Paul teaches us to do three things: pray…petition (request, implore, plead) and give THANKS! Now, we certainly GET the first two…but most of us feel Paul has got the third thing wrong. How can we give thanks for something we have yet to receive? Are we supposed to thank God for an outcome that we are not sure is correct? Paul must have this one out of place…surely we should wait until we know what God’s answer is BEFORE we offer up Thanksgiving to God for His answer?

But Paul has not got it wrong. To receive the blessings of peace and rest, we need to trust God and do all three things. This means that we give THANKS to God for His answer to our prayers BEFORE we know the answer! This faith and trust in His provision signals to God that we are willing to acknowledge that His answers to prayer are better than our expectations…that HE WILL GET IT RIGHT! Faith that delivers freedom from anxiety and fear begins with the faith and trust that prays this prayer: “God hear the prayer that I would have prayed, if I had all your information.”

Let this Thanksgiving Day be one where we offer up praise and thanks for answers yet unknown…and live with adequacy knowing God has our back!

 

Many church choirs are very good. They’re easy on the ears because there is a unified blending between the higher and lower voices. The choir members have common goal, mixing their voices together to create harmony. Sports teams that win championships aren’t always the ones with the most talented athletes. More often, they are the teams that have few superstars but really are united as a team.

Ever wonder why that is so? When people have common goals, like great harmony or winning a championship, they put aside their own agendas and work for that goal. However, if individual egos emerge, disunity destroys the harmony. This is why so many great teams fall apart after big wins. Too many egos want credit and demand bigger contracts. Without unity, the common goal is unreachable.

It is very much the same with the church. The most effective church is one that has the unified purpose of spreading the love of God. The goal is to preach the Good News and nurture those who hear and accept the Word. When new believers accept Christ, they may think that that is enough. But seasoned Christians know that the devil is prowling around, waiting to cause believers to stumble. It is absolutely necessary for new Christians to have a safe and harmonious refuge where they can be nurtured and taught. Then they can grow in Christ. We must commit ourselves to harmony in our churches so that each believer can be an effective servant of Christ.

Ever feel like God isn’t talking to you? Ever wonder why? To really understand something takes work. If we want to speak another language, we take language lessons and study it. We discipline ourselves to put in the hours to learn. Some of us are great piano players, but did we wake up one day and play jazz piano? Not likely. It took years of practice to achieve excellence. So why don’t we apply this same dedication and discipline to our relationship with God? God called Samuel three times. Samuel was just a boy, but he knew something was up. Samuel heard God’s voice because his ears were trained and open.

Why don’t we hear the Lord’s call on our lives? Is it because we take God for granted? Do we expect too much from God, thinking that He will get through to us somehow? Or, are we lazy, letting our ears fill up with the static of the world? To take our relationship with God as seriously as our relationship with our golf buddies or the ladies we catch a drink with, we must get the world’s wax out of our ears. Then when God calls us, we will hear Him.

What are some of the world’s wax that need to be cleaned out of our ears by Christ centered Q-tips? If we are involved in obvious sin, that is, sin directly prohibited by the Bible, we must repent and stop. We all know in our hearts what those sins are, too! Don’t deny or fool yourself. When our ears are clogged up with the wax of spite, hate, discord, envy, greed, lust and sleeping around…we will NOT hear God’s voice. We must use the ear wash of personal devotions every day…for centering in our lives and to help keep those sins we all know about, at bay! And, we must faithfully attend the church services. We may not always get something out of them, but we will never get anything if we don’t attend. Besides our presence in the church may feed someone else. Plus, get into a small group in your church. Only through community and friends will you be able to see yourself clearly.

Start with this treatment of Q-tips and see if your hearing doesn’t improve…it will! With our ears cleaned out, we will hear God’s voice.

24 May / 2017

Joy

Back in February, there was a really moving story on TV about a young girl in Chicago who was killed by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting. Her organs were donated to six different persons. Each person came together with the mother of the slain girl to celebrate their happiness and joy because recipients had been given new life because of the death of this young person. There were hugs of gratitude and tears of delight as the recipients celebrated and at the same time, cried for the loss that made it possible.

As tragic and wonderful as this story is, it makes us wonder why don’t we celebrate and feel the gratitude and joy that these donor recipient’s felt when we consider the death of Jesus and the new eternal life that comes to us as a result. If we stop long enough to contemplate that the Son of God was killed so that we all could get a new heart transplant, then the joy we might feel might be contagious.

As we spread the joy to others, we will witness to them that our faith is not a bunch of “Thou shalt not’s” Rather, our contagious, joyful faith will infect and draw people to Jesus. Joyful people are kind people. Kind people are the most convincing evidence of God’s love.

It all starts with gratitude for the undeserved gift of a transplanted heart (grace). When we recognize the new life that new heart offers us, really recognize the enormity of the gift… Joy is the emotion… kindness is the gift to others… and to Jesus.

Ever consider the real reasons why we obey traffic laws, don’t we cheat on our income taxes, and do not even consider stealing shoes, perfume or other items when we go into a store? We all like to think of ourselves as upstanding, moral human beings. Our answer is most likely, “Because it is the right thing to do!”

But if we are honest with ourselves, a very big reason we obey the police, don’t steal, tell the truth on our taxes and are faithful to our spouses is FEAR. It is the fear of landing in jail… fear of going to prison for tax evasion and fear of divorce… or worse… if we got catch cheating.

So, ask yourself, why do we obey God’s laws? Why are we moral and regular church attenders? Could it be the same reason that we avoid the issues listed above… FEAR? Are we afraid that if we sleep around, do drugs or do not give enough to the church, God will notice and punish us? Are we frightened that if we do not memorize enough Scripture and volunteer the perfect number of hours, somehow we just might not be “good enough” to be accepted into heaven when it is our time to die? Is it a spirit of fear that is our incentive to live good lives?

The Bible speaks about how perfect love drives out fear. (See I John 4:18 and Romans 8:15). It expresses how the Holy Spirit writes the law of God on our hearts and does not make us slaves to fear or bondage. What does that mean for us?

It means that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us that the perfect love of God was coupled with His wisdom and expressed to us with Jesus death and resurrection.

It means that the Holy Spirit will change our incentives and motivations from fear to joyful gratitude.

The Holy Spirit points us towards recognition of the fact that in Jesus we have the perfect example of God’s love. When we recognize and receive this perfect gift our responses change. The fears of losing out, fears of not being good enough, fears of punishment are banished. As God’s heirs, we rest in the kind, loving arms of a God who valued us so much He sent His only Son to rescue us.

Live without fear!

Easter has passed. The celebrations have ended, but what are the lessons of Easter and the Cross for us going forward? What does the Cross tell us about ourselves and about God?

If we broke the law but received a summons in the mail from the NYPD, we might not consider our crime is not all that serious. If we found out that the NYPD had put out an APD (All Points Bulletin) on us, we would immediately know it is more serious. If the NYPD linked up with the FBI and a SWAT teams in helicopters, there would be no doubt that we that we were in serious trouble.

When we take stock of our lives we usually think, “We’re OK…not the best, but better than most.” We really feel that our sin is not that big of a deal. We sometimes wonder why God makes such a fuss over it. We sometimes think, God, just send us the speeding ticket and we will pay the fine…

So seriously consider this: What then does it say about our self-centered, human natures, our personal lives and behavior on Earth that it took the Son of God hanging on the Cross to make us right with God? Much more than being in trouble with the police force that requires a SWAT Team, we are out of sync with Almighty God. We are out of harmony with Him. What it tells us in BOLD TYPE is that we are more corrupted, messed up, sinful, than we ever dared imagine…and it took the Son of God’s death to fix it!

But wait! The news gets better…

Because, in God’s wisdom, He sent Jesus to pay the ransom for our debt (sin) it also shouts at us that we are more precious, more valued and more loved than we ever dared hope.

Here, in this passion play is the essence of the Gospel. We did not and cannot earn salvation. There are no tricks, good works or donations that we can offer to secure a righteous standing before God. Only our humble, surrendered hearts accepting this free gift allows us to stand before Him, justified.

Justified before God means two things: 1) because of the blood of Christ, we are declared “Not Guilty” but 2) we are declared “righteous.” This means we are perfect in front of God. We are a sweet aroma in God’s nostrils.

Women and men of God, let these facts about the meaning of the Cross wash over you. And after you realize the gift that is offered, accept it with humility and offer your lives in gratitude in serving Him.


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Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
    Hebrews 13:3

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
     1 John 3:18

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