God Loves Me, Despite My Terrible Incompleteness

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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.

God Doesn’t Love You Because You’re Lovable

“We must remind ourselves that God loves us, not because we are lovable, but because we are in Christ, and the love which the Father has for him flows over to us because we are in him.” ? Jerry Bridges, Who am I?

God doesn’t love us because we are lovable.

In fact, in and of ourselves we are very much unlovable. ?But Mark, you ask, aren’t I good enough, smart enough and doggone it don’t people like me? Yes people may like you. ?Yes, you may be smart enough. ?But you’re not loveable enough to merit God’s blazing holy love that burns up all impurities in its presence.

The Bible gives us pretty rough assessment of our “lovableness”.

…as it is written:
?None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.?
?Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.?
?The venom of asps is under their lips.?
?Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.?
?Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.?
?There is no fear of God before their eyes.?
(Romans 3:10-18)

Observe how lovable we are: we’re unrighteous, have no interest in or understanding of God. ?We’re worthless. Our throats are open graves ? what a lovely stench! And the the venom of asps under our lips makes us doubly attractive to God, as well as our mouths full of curses and bitterness.

Can you imagine a husband saying to his wife, “I love you honey. ?Your mouth reminds me of an open grave. And your lips ?are like the venom dripping from a Gaboon Viper.” ?Somehow I don’t think that wife would feel particularly lovable.

Though our sin renders us repellent to God, when he saves us he not only washes our sins away, but he plunges us into Christ. We become so organically and intimately one with Christ that when God looks on Jesus he sees us, and when he looks on us he sees Jesus. When God loves Jesus, he loves us in him and when God loves us he loves his Son in us.

The Father doesn’t love believers because we are lovable, but because Jesus is infinitely lovable and God has made us one with Jesus. And because we are one with him, when the Father pours out his love on ?his Son, that love washes over us as well.

Let this truth fill you with joy today. ?No matter what kinds of trials you’re facing, remember the Father loves you with the love he has for his own Son. ?And nothing can separate you from that love. ?Ever.

A Powerful Taste Of The Presence Of God

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! (Psalm 34:8)

Every Sunday our worship team gathers early to rehearse for that morning?s time of singing together. At 8:30 we take 10 to 15 minutes to pray.? We ask God’s Spirit to help and anoint us. ?We ask Jesus to bring the unsaved and give them new life. We ask him to grace and help our Childen?s Ministry teachers and move mightily on the children.

This past Sunday someone prayed that we would taste and see that the Lord is good ? that we’d experience the Spirit and God?s love powerfully. We often pray similarly but this past Sunday God chose to answer in an unusual way.

First, I found myself overwhelmed by emotion during every song, which isn?t my norm.

Then I felt a strong impression from the Lord to share with his people something like this:

“My precious children, I am so pleased by your worship. Your praises honor and glorify me.? And those of you who are worshiping in the midst of suffering – oh, how this glorifies me.? That even in your pain you still declare I?m good and faithful and loving.? There is a day coming when you will praise me face-to-face, and I will wipe away every tear from your eyes. ?Then your suffering will be over and you will praise me for ever and know nothing but joy for all eternity.?

As I shared, I was moved to tears for those in our church who are suffering. ?I could feel only a grain of God’s intense love for them, but it was powerful.

Am I going soft in my old age? ?No ? I honestly believe that the Spirit manifested his presence in such a way that we could sense it more than usual. A number of people told me they felt Jesus? nearness in remarkable ways.

We walk by faith and won?t always have intense experiences of God’s presence. ?That won’t mean he’s not with us. ?He?s promised to be there whenever two or more gather his name. ?But I?ll continue to pray that we will have more and more foretastes of heaven.

photo Copyright 1998-2003 by Gordon Richardson gordonr@iafrica.com

God Takes Pleasure In You

For the LORD takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.
(Psalm 149:4)

Do you believe God takes pleasure in you?

If God has saved you, he doesn?t merely tolerate you; he delights in you.

The God who said, ?It is good,? after each day of creation doesn?t need us to bring him pleasure. ?He could make another universe for his enjoyment if he wanted to. ?But he takes pleasure in us who are his children more than a thousand universes. ?Why? ?Because he has adorned us with salvation. ?He has recreated us in the likeness of his Son. ?He?s clothed us with the righteousness of Christ, who is more beautiful than an infinite number of universes.

God doesn?t merely put up with you; he positively rejoices over you, delights in you, takes pleasure in you. ?Yes, you – you bring pleasure to God. ?So be humble. ?Thank him for adorning you with salvation. ?Take pleasure in him today.

Photo Copyright PaulKK

Pray That You Will Be Crushed…By Love

photo by Zitona

My method of studying in college was what you might call “brute force learning”. When I didn’t understand a subject I would beat it into my brain. I would study my notes and the text book until my brain finally tapped out and grasped the subject. I would force my brain to get it. I would put my brain into a submission hold. And that method worked pretty well for me. I made it through college with good grades, without?embarrassing my mom, and without having a nervous breakdown.

Unfortunately, the brute force learning method does not work when it comes to Christ. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was that they:

…may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…

Paul understood that the love of Christ is so vast, so massive, so heavy, so crushingly glorious, that it could not be comprehended with the natural mind. The love of Christ is so expansive that it cannot be grasped, so glorious that it cannot be comprehended. All the synapses and neural pathways that line our brains are not sufficient to understand how much Christ really loves us. If you try to put the love of Christ in a box of natural knowledge it will blow all the doors out.

Charles Spurgeon says:

If there is one subject more than another upon which I wish ever to speak, it is the love of Christ. But if there is one which quite baffles me and makes me go back from this platform utterly ashamed of my poor feeble words, it is this subject. This love of Christ is the most amazing thing under heaven, if not in heaven itself.

Paul prayed that God would give the Ephesians a supernatural knowledge of the love of Christ. A knowledge that was more than head knowledge. He wanted them to know that Christ loved them, not just in a head knowledge, “can you pass the test?”, kind of way, but in a breath taking, heart igniting sort of way.

That’s what I want. I want to comprehend the astonishing, wonderful love of Christ. I want to know the love that surpasses knowledge. I want that knowledge to transform the way that I raise my children and love my wife and lead my church and hang out with my friends. Isn’t that what you want?

Today, pray that God would give you the strength to comprehend the incomprehensible love of Christ. As you wash dishes pray for comprehension. As you walk to class pray for knowledge. As you bang out yet another spreadsheet pray that your brain would be detonated by the love of Christ.

Because when we get it, everything changes.

Does God Delight in You?

Does God delight in you, and if he does, how would he show it?

Maybe he would show his delight in us by giving us good gifts ? health or marriage or children or a dream job or a perfect vacation. But then we all know Christians who have had some or all of those things taken away. Did they lose God?s favor and God?s delight?

Maybe God shows his delight in us not by giving us gifts, but by making us fruitful. God delights in you so your children always obey, your care group always grows, your neighbors always accept your invitations to church, and the guy on the airplane seat next to you accepts Christ before the plane even reaches the runway. But if fruitfulness is how you know God delights in you, what does that mean when all your fruit starts withering on the vine? Have you lost God?s favor and God?s delight?

Maybe God shows his delight not by gifts or by fruitfulness, but by giving us experiences of his love and favor. God delights in you, so you are moved to tears as you think about his love during worship, or you spend your whole devotional time lost in praise. But what about the times when worship seems rote and you fall asleep during your devotions? Has God moved on and found another favorite to delight in?

Psalm 149:4 tells us how we can know God delights in us, and the reason is far deeper and more enduring than gifts or fruitfulness or experience. We know God delights in us because he saved us.

?For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.? (Psalm 149:4)

God delights and takes pleasure in his people, and yes part of that means he does give us good gifts and fruitfulness and experiences. But in the course of a faithfully lived Christian life those things, by God?s wise design, will ebb and flow ? but our salvation does not. How do we know God delights in us? Ultimately by this: he has crowned our lives with the greatest and most beautiful adornment imaginable, the gospel of his Son, who laid down his life in our place.