Thursday, September 23, 2010

God's Love: Part VI, "Our Response"

(Alright guys, spare me this feminine version of "our response" for the feminine hearts of our dear ladies reading. :) For a masculine version, visit The Point, and/or read Wild At Heart by John Eldredge. This does not mean you have to stop reading! You are welcome to delve into the feminine heart; it's not as scary as you have been made to believe! You might be surprised at what you find, and discover you DO have what it takes to "go there.") 

Ah, the proposal. There’s hardly a little girl, teen, or young woman who hasn’t dreamed of some knight and shining armor that will one day come for her rescue, and ask for her hand in marriage. We’ve witnessed it countless times in movies, on television, and in real life. The courageous, often young man (but not always!), postures himself to honor the love of his life, and to ask, “Will you marry me?” He hopes, along with the hushed crowd holding its breath, all anxiously awaiting the response!

So God, with all His strength and honor, who has poured out everything for love, has come as our Great Rescue, and has promised us the “happily ever after…” So He and all of heaven await our response.

Sadly and painfully, not everyone will live the “happily ever after.” Know this, my friends: it is NOT because God doesn’t want some of us to be there. He gave His all to rescue us from the Kingdom of Darkness. He does not want to lose us!

Funny thing is, somewhere along the way, we’re not so sure we want to be rescued. We become so attached to our pain and our own adapted way of survival that we wear them like badges. Proud of how they’ve shaped us. That’s just the way I am! (I’ve said that one in my past.)

We’ve also become encapsulated by our “smaller stories,” no longer believing there is a larger story. Or even if we do believe, we choose to settle for the smaller one, I’m fine with this one, thank you. It’s like those old favorite t-shirts full of holes that you just can’t bring yourself to throw away, even though they are rags.

I must admit to you, I was a bit squeamish to write about the other possible ending to our story. The reason? Not because I’m afraid to speak the truth, but because far too many have abused the concept of hell, wielding it like a sword of condemnation to force people into submission to God. It never works. And fear is not God’s motivator (2 Timothy 1:7). But that does not take away the fact that hell still exists.

It is vital that we first understand hell was NOT created for people, and certainly not the option God wants for us! Jesus makes it clear, Himself, in Matthew 25:41 that hell is prepared for the devil and his angels.

So who is God’s Kingdom created for? Consider this story Jesus told.

“God's kingdom” he said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn't come! He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’ They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop.” (Matthew 22:2-5, The Message)

The Kingdom of God is reserved for His most intimate allies, true followers, the friends of God.

Our problem is we often forget that it was us who betrayed God. Remember Part III of this series? (read it if you haven’t or if you’ve forgotten) We chose to listen to Satan’s lies and mistrust God’s heart toward us. We disobeyed His one and only command, and in doing so, set in motion a life of breaking His commands. (John Eldredge, Epic)

"Our culture has done us no greater injustice than training us to avoid taking responsibility for our own issues. In trying to relieve us of the whole concept of personal sin, our culture’s reordered values have cheated us of the right to repentance and sublime restoration. They have hijacked our healing. A clear heart and a clean path are still only one sincere confession away." (Beth Moore, So Long, Insecurity)

We must remember, God has given us a heart with the capacity to love…and the ability to choose. Free will. Love is only true when it is chosen, as we also learned in Part III of this series. (and please know, to ignore God is to choose)

God stands before us, offering us life or death, pleading that we choose life!!

“This day...I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life...” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

For those who do choose the life He offers, our ending is the consummation of all things hoped for, longed for, and promised by Love, Himself. (see Part V, Love’s Promise) The Lover of our Soul is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

This fairytale is a true story. Our Knight in Shining Armor has come. He alone can save us in every way a person longs to be saved. And He awaits our response… Mine is a resounding “Yes! I choose You!” What is yours?

Friday, September 17, 2010

God's Love: Part V, "Love's Promise"

We’ve explored a lot these past few weeks together. I imagine your heart has taken a bit of a roller coaster ride of sorts like mine. Hope has risen with the beauty and plan of God’s love. Grown dim with the understanding of our story’s villain and the price of our disobedience. Then taken the courageous climb once again as we explored God’s plan of rescue. While this hope has alleviated some of our pain, we are still keenly aware that we suffer the consequences of a world gone mad.
It has hit home for me this past week. My household has been affected harshly by the recession. This weekend my eleven year old blacked out for the sixth time, and now we’re scheduled to see a neurologist for further testing. My own health has been under attack the past few years.
I know too many who are staring death in the face; and those who are just rising from the ashes it leaves in the lives of those left behind. Others are struggling to recover their reputation from slander and rumor. I could go on and on, as I think of the many different troubles being faced by the people I know.
In the depths of our hearts, a voice cries out, “This is not the way it was meant to be! Is there any end to our suffering?! Please tell me there’s relief somewhere!” When we allow such longings to surface, the question of how our story ends begs to be answered.
For those with no hope, the enemy whispers, “You suffer and suffer, then…nothing. That’s it. Your life is over.” But for most of us whose faith is in Jesus, Satan has stolen the breath-taking wonder and promise of eternity. I know I heard it growing up in the church countless times, “We will sing with the choir in the heavens forever and ever.”
That’s the ending? You mean, after all the glory we were created with, all the beauty of Eden, and all the wild adventure of God, our end prize is to sing forever? Don’t get me wrong, I love singing! I have been a part of a children’s choir, youth choir, adult choir, a ladies quartet, and a praise band. Yet, singing forever is not what is written on my heart about eternity!
Surely God has written a far greater ending to our story than we could ever tell! In Isaiah 65:17, He is foretelling the end, “Behold, I will create a new heavens and a new earth.”
“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)
It’s the final scenes of The Lion King. Corrupt living under the guise of their evil leader has almost destroyed the kingdom of the lions. A few faithful followers of the truth remember what their land and life used to be, and they long for its return. When the one true king returns to reclaim the land, a terrible battle ensues between him and the evil one.
The crowd is filled with both gasps and jeers as the two thrash about. Finally, the evil one is destroyed. Yet, all is burned in a terrible fire. Then, the rains come. Oh, how the brittle and dry ground receive its cool refreshing life! And we see it before our very eyes, creation made new, regained. Everything comes to life again, and it is more glorious than before!
We get Paradise back. The kingdom restored! Every miracle Jesus performed points to our restoration. He touches the blind, and they can see; all the vibrant colors, and their children’s faces! He makes the lame to walk again, and they leap with joy and run about! The deaf hear. The sick are made well. And the dead—arise and return to their families. He takes what is broken in humanity, and restores it. (John Eldredge, Epic)
Jesus was killed, and buried as any other man, His body laid in a tomb. Yet He, Himself, conquered death, and is simply the first of many to come.
“The fact is that Christ has been raised from the dead. He has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)
“…I am going to prepare a place for you. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:2-3)
Jesus promises to come back for us! To restore us as He is restored, along with all creation. And we’ll get to share the kingdom together, with Him! “All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.” (Romans 8:21)
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4)
No more tears of pain and sorrow. Death’s sting will be forever destroyed. Sin will be erased. We will see each other as we were meant to be, in all our glory. Fellowship with God will be unbroken, and all our questions will be answered. Story after story will be told.
Jesus tells us that we will inherit the kingdom prepared for us. We will reign with Him forever, and will rule as He does. “The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead.” (Romans 8:19-20 The Message)
If we will not silence the longings striving to speak to us in our pain, we will hear Love’s promise. It is the final and complete fulfillment of our redemption. It is the greatest love story ever told, and the greatest yet to come.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

God's Love: Part IV, "Love's Response"

In last week’s blog, we found that Love has suffered a great blow. Not just any blow, but the deepest kind--rejection. The kind that severs. In our efforts to rewrite our story, to give ourselves a better part, we have rejected God. Most of our world is the result of the human heart gone bad. The Evil One tempted us to believe that true life is found elsewhere, and we took the bait.

But I’m not all that bad. I haven’t done some of the evil things that exist on this earth, you might say. Well, neither have I, but I have done my share of evil. I have not always loved God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, either. Or my neighbor as myself. John Eldredge says it this way, “We all fail on the most essential virtue of all, the virtue of Eden: We fail when it comes to loving.”

And God is the wounded Lover.

The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Genesis 6:5-6)

Do you see that? Love has cost Him dearly. If you are reading this, if you are breathing, I am certain you have experienced the pain of rejection. I don’t know about you, but my knee-jerk response when I’ve been rejected is to give it back! Like a wounded animal that attacks anyone who comes near it in its misery.

Not our God. Scripture has it that, “The whole world is under the control of the Evil One.” (1 John 5:19) Instead of abandoning us in our misery, He is going to fight for what is rightfully His! He began His pursuit in the Garden of Eden when He went looking for Adam and Eve, who were hiding in the bushes after they had sinned. Rescue is His plan.

His long sustained pursuit of mankind is recorded through many stories of the Bible. The most dramatic of the Old Testament is the Exodus, where God works to set His people free from the Egyptian slave-drivers. Four hundred years the Israelites were captive to a despairing life. Relentlessly, God encroaches upon Pharoah to let them go; when he refuses, the miraculous happens. Trapped between the Red Sea and the armies of Egypt racing down toward them in chariots, God parts the waters. The Israelites go through on dry land, while the entire Egyptian army is drowned behind them.

But our hearts are always going astray. (Hebrews 3:10) It seems it is hard to keep us! Time and time again God rescues us, and we turn to other lovers, lured away by our enemy and mistrust once again. We keep grasping for the smaller pleasures in life that eventually leave us empty and cost us dearly, when the Living Water we long for that will never run out is FREE!

As always, God has a plan. Refusing to leave us in Satan’s grip or bound to our sinful state forever, He redeems the heart He gave us. “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” (Jeremiah 24:7)

Remember the price for our mistrust and disobedience is death, as God warned us in the Garden of Eden. Sentenced to both a physical and spiritual death—separated from God and life forever—there is only one way out. Ransom.

In the midst of our rejection, God does the unthinkable. He will have to die to rescue His Beloved. He sends His Son, Jesus. Leaving His glory behind and His place at His Father’s side, He comes under the cover of night. He comes to win us over. To win us back to Himself. To win you.

Jesus tells a story to help us understand His coming. “If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one?” (Matthew 18:12) God sets His eye on you. On me. He willingly chooses to go to the cross, and die a most cruel death. He endures the rejection of His Father in our place, so we don’t have to. (Mark 15:34)

In the face of betrayal and rejection, God made a way to save us. Not to be “good people,” or “good church-goers.” But to be His intimate allies, His lovers, friends of the deepest kind. This one, ultimate act of love proves for all time that God’s heart toward us is good. We need not wonder anymore.

(my own comment is below, click "comments" to view)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

God's Love: Part III, "What Happened?"

It has been refreshing to soak in the absolute wonder of our God as the Creator and all that He created for us—out of love. It has been like cool water to a dry and weary land. To imagine everything coming to life on the very day it was first born. To allow my mind’s eye to take it all in; to allow my heart to take it in. It has somehow caused my heart to expand, and joy to return where it was once lost.

True love does that. Like a lover, who longs to give the very best to his beloved. Only the best will do. God rolls up His sleeves, gathers every fiber of creativity within Him, and pours it all out for us to enjoy. This extravagant display of love and the glory of God bestowed on mankind is the Paradise we all long for. It awakens us to realize the glory we were first given, as we were made to be just like Him.

And then, somehow, this awakening leaves us wincing. A sobering reality sets in that we are no longer in Paradise. “What happened?”

Before we can answer that question, we must understand something first. Adam and Eve (the first man and woman) enjoyed perfect, unhindered, unstained, and unmarred fellowship with God Himself. They existed in perfect union with Him. And they (as we) were also given the freedom to choose.

The only authentic, true love is love that is chosen. We cannot force someone to love us, and neither can someone force us to love them. Who wants that anyway? You know this to be true. We want someone to choose to love us, and we long to choose for ourselves.

God did not make us mere puppets on a string for Him to manipulate for His own selfish pleasure. He gave us a heart like His with the capacity to love and to be loved. He is a gentleman, and does not force Himself or His will upon us. He simply lavishes us with His love, and waits to be loved back. John Eldredge calls it, “the dignity of freedom, to choose for or against Him.”

Amidst all the love and fellowship, God gave Adam and Eve the pleasure of tending and caring for the Garden of Eden. Its pleasing sight yielded all kinds of fruit, good for eating, and the Lord said they could have their fill. But He needed them to trust Him on this one thing: “You see that tree over there? That is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Do not eat the fruit of that tree, or you will surely die.” He needed them to trust that He had a good reason for this, that He had their best interest at heart.

This is where it all changes…

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:1-6)

Evil was hiding out in that garden, waiting for its chance to pounce. Every story has a villain, including ours. Originally, Lucifer had been the mightiest and most glorious of all the angels, but pride caused him to rebel against his Creator. He waged war in heaven, and was cast down. God expelled him from the heavens, but he was not destroyed. (Ezekiel 28:12-17)

Revenge became his next ploy. He would outwit God’s creation. “God’s holding out on you. You gotta take matters into your own hands. You will not die! He knows if you eat this fruit you will be just like Him.” Hello! We were already made in the image of God, to be just like Him.

That is precisely what our enemy hates. The Evil One hates God, therefore he hates us because we bear His image. If he cannot destroy God, then he will seek to destroy us. Hit Him where it hurts. Create enough doubt in the heart of every man and woman in order to destroy any semblance of trust in God. Then we might reject Him.

Adam and Eve had it all—the Paradise we can only dream of—the perfect world in perfect love. They had never experienced pain or grief or sin. Yet, they were so easily deceived to mistrust the heart of God. That one act of disobedience, that one momentary lapse of reason where the goodness of God’s heart was doubted, gave a plethora of opportunities for our enemy to continue his plight.

If they were deceived, how much more easily are we deceived? For we have experienced all the pain and grief of life. We now know death, violence, abuse, war, lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, and every evil thing. No wonder we have such a hard time trusting God! It all makes sense now! This love story is not nearly as safe as we've been made to believe.

And if we were created in love, by love, and for love…then surely, surely, Love will make a way.