Tag: grace

The Value in Godly Love

The Value in Godly Love

Tears flowed as she told me of horrid details of a tainted childhood. Struggling to articulate an ugly truth about her own father, the facts awkwardly came forth. As a friend, I sat and listened to her tragic story as she tried to come to terms with the bond of trust broken at an early age. Now grown, it appeared she was just then able to face a truth that had been long suppressed.


A decade would pass before the subject came up again. This time however, she reminisced about her father in a favorable way, and went on about what a perfect dad he was for her. She even said she was blessed to have a father such as him. Confused, I asked her about the things she had told me all those years ago, if she remembered the abuse and the pain? “This is positive thinking” she explained. “You must think about the good only, and block out the bad.” There was something deeper going on however; she was trying to find a way to love and accept her father without having to look at the dark side of what he had done.

I eventually realized she had adopted a new philosophy about what it means to love someone; “turn a blind eye to the ugly side of someone’s character, whitewash them, and only see the good.” This perspective launched an interesting conversation about love, and the way it functions, especially human love. It also raised questions about the way God loves.

We both acknowledged that humanly it’s impossible to take in all of a person’s characteristics, including their flaws, and then love them completely. We simply don’t have the capacity, we’re not equipped to see the whole person, let alone love and accept that person in all their complexity. Her way of dealing with this reality was to deny some of the unattractive and questionable aspects of her father, and cling to the few good memories she had. And who could blame her, any kind of abuse can put children into an emotional and psychological tail-spin that can last a lifetime.

As we pondered the insufficiency of human love however, we also explored how differently God’s love functions. First of all, he is not only capable of taking in the whole person; all our beauty, complexity and flaw, he really wants to. There is simply nothing that he doesn’t see in us that is not plain, clear and fully understood, and yet he still desires fellowship with us. God is not repelled by our flaws. One can’t help but wonder; how does he still love us and want a connection with all the junk that’s inside all of us?

Some try to answer this by saying; “When God looks at you, all he sees is a white, clean and pure vessel, and no sins or blemishes whatsoever. And that is how he is able to accept you and not condemn you.” Don’t be mislead by this theological gobbledygook.

There is something unsettling about that point of view. If you say you care for someone, but all their weaknesses, bad sides and sins are hidden, what good is that love? Would a love like that have any depth or meaning? Any real value?

Therefore, the value in God’s love is not found in its deniability of our flaws and sins, but in the full awareness of them. This may be best described in a wonderful irony I’ve experienced in Jesus; I have never been more aware of my own flaws and weaknesses, but also of God’s full acceptance and love. It’s a humbling place to be in, but a beautiful one. It’s allowed me to focus less on what I’m not, and more on who God is, a God of love. No truth has reached deeper into the depth of my own heart than this one.

It’s easy to think that God’s agenda is to clean us up as soon as possible, make all things right and to correct every flaw, every weakness. “And if he doesn’t”, we might reason, “God must be disappointed in us.” That’s not the way God works however. I’ve come to see a different agenda from God; He wants us to learn to know, believe in and completely trust in his love for us, even in our remarkably flawed state. In fact, that’s where love shines the brightest, where it means the most. He wants us to know why grace is so valuable; because it springs from God’s remarkably stubborn love for us.

Yes, God wants to rid us all of sin and flaw eventually, but if he cleans us up too quickly and corrects every flaw before we fully know and trust his love for us, we may never fully know that God’s love is the whole point. Not mere correction.

What’s even better news however is that we can learn to love the way God loves, and this is where life really gets good, and where our freedom is best found.

A Godly love allows us to accept people in their flaws and sins, but without condoning any sin or inappropriate behavior. Humanly, this feels contradictory. Theologically, it feels uncouth. But with God’s spirit, this is authentic love. As God’s love flows from us, it sets us free from having to negotiate whether someone is worthy or not of our love, a struggle that only imprisons us. Besides, nothing points the way to right behavior better than love and acceptance.

Humanly, we’ll never achieve this kind of love, only the spirit of God in us can rightfully accomplish this.  And the more we know this grace filled love from our Creator, the more we’re able to take that kind of love to others. Some say forgiveness is hard, but when we’re filled with God’s love for others, it easy. Forgiveness in fact flows from a loving heart like water from a faucet.

After our conversation, the woman who struggled to remember her father both in truth and favorably, was off on a new journey of learning to love her father with a new kind of love; a grace filled love. She eventually discovered the joy of seeing her father in the true light of who he was, but in the new light of God’s love. She was now free to accept her father without having to condone his misguided behavior, or to cast him in some unrealistic light. Best of all she was now putting her trust in God’s love, a love we’re all in need of, one we all secretly want more than anything in the world.

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Clarity in Colorado

Clarity in Colorado

There’s a ski hill in between Snowmass Colorado and Aspen, it’s called Buttermilk. I once ascended it’s slopes to the highest possible point, and there I felt as if I were on top of the world. From its rising elevations, proud-standing trees, pure snow and pristine views, I looked across the Colorado landscape and caught a glimpse of countless other mountain peaks. As I gazed across what must have been fifty miles of snow-capped mountains, I was filled with the fresh air of absolute clarity like I rarely experience. All my senses agreed that the place I was standing was a good place to stay for a while, even though it was about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Maybe the cold air, diminished oxygen and partially frozen extremities colluded together to shut down the brain and leave room only for emotion, for pondering, from which  I couldn’t stop staring across the Rocky Mountains and marveling at God’s stunning Creation.

That was twenty years ago. I’ve since found a point of clarity in another setting, in the setting of God’s love. Having searched the pages of the Bible for decades in search of answers, maybe loop-holes and yielding myself to thousands of sermon’s, I’ve come to marvel mostly at God’s love. The older I get, the more painfully aware I am of my own flaws, my propensity toward evil. And yet the more aware I become of God’s devoted love for me and for his children, the more it appears a great paradox. The more un-lovable I feel, the more his love comes into clear view. I’ve been a student of Christianity for a longtime, I know some things, or do I?

To know and receive God’s love is the most comforting thing I’ve ever encountered, even beyond human love. That said, the opportunity then to turn and give that love to others is even more fulfilling, or at least as much. Whether it’s more or less, the feeling of having completed the circle of loves movements around us is remarkable beyond words. I can do some impressive, important and even honorable things in this life, but they all stumble into obscurity compared to loving those around me, taking what God has given me and simply passing it on somehow, however ill-equipped I am. I think Leo Tolstoy, the Russian writer and author of War and Peace, had it right when he said;” Everything that I know…I know only because I love.”

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Will Judas Iscariot be Forgiven?

Will Judas Iscariot be Forgiven?

This question has come up many times over the three decades I’ve been involved in Christianity, and the answers aren’t easy. Some say that the grace of God will cover Judas’ actions because Jesus died for all sins. Others argue that because he helped bring about the death and resurrection of Christ, a role someone had to play, that he should be forgiven. But to get to the bottom of this mystery, we have to ask a different question; Did Judas Iscariot commit the unpardonable sin?

Jesus points out that there is a sin which will not be forgiven;

“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Mathew 12:31-32 NKJV

I cannot judge whether Judas committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But if Jesus’ words about Judas are any indication of his destiny, it’s not encouraging;

“The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” Mathew 26:24 NKJV

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That doesn’t sound to me like grace will be coming his way. But I hope I’m wrong. “But what if God changes his mind and gives him a break anyway?” I can hear some asking. But to answer this question, we have to understand something about the God of the Bible. While he is filled with love, grace and generosity; God will not be made a liar. In no way will his very own Word contradict him.

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” Galatians 6:7 NKJV

So if Judas did, and that’s a big “if”, commit the unpardonable sin, I don’t believe God will compromise his very own spoken Word.

Some say that Judas expressed regret by returning the 30 pieces of silver and hanging himself. Problem here is that the Word speaks of two different types of regret or sorrow;

“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10 NKJV

Does this prove Judas knew what he was doing to the point that he committed the unpardonable sin? No! I’m just letting the Bible speak for itself. Which usually keeps me out of trouble.

My hope is that Judas is not guilty of the unpardonable sin, as I’m sure it’s yours. But all of this talk about forgiveness reminds me of something amazing about our God; the latitude of grace to which he extends. He’s willing to forgive just about everything man can throw at him except the unspeakable sin of blasphemy, of which I suppose most of us aren’t even capable.

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A No-Limits Love

A No-Limits Love

In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey explains that his goal was not to merely to explain or dissect the meaning of grace, but to convey it. In regards to God’s love for us, I believe the story below accomplishes the same goal.

The story comes from Jim Cymbala, Pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. In his book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Cymbala tells the story of someone many might find tough to Love.

“ I shall never forget Easter Sunday 1992—the day that Roberta Langella gave her dramatic testimony, as I recounted in Chapter 3. A homeless man was standing in the back of the church listening intently.
At the end of the evening meeting, I sat down on the platform, exhausted, as others began to pray with those who had responded to Christ. The organist was playing quietly. I wanted to relax. I was just starting to unwind when I looked up to see this man, with shabby clothing and matted hair, standing in the center aisle about four rows back and waiting for permission to approach me.
I nodded and gave him a weak little wave of the hand. ‘Look how this Easter Sunday is going to end,’ I thought to myself. He’s going to hit me up for money. ‘That happens often in this church. I’m so tired ….’
When he came close, I saw that his two front teeth were missing. But more striking was his odor.—-the mixture of alcohol, sweat, urine and garbage took my breath away. I have been around many street people, but this was the strongest stench I have ever encountered. I instinctively had to turn my head sideways to inhale, then look back in his direction while breathing out.
I asked his name.
“David” he said softly.
“How long have you been homeless, David?”
“Six years.”
“Where did you sleep last night”?
“In an abandoned truck.”
I had heard enough and wanted to get this over quickly.
I reached for the money clip in my pocket.
At that moment David put his finger in front of my face and said “No, you don’t understand—I don’t want your money. I’m going to die out there. I want the Jesus that red-haired girl talked about.”
I hesitated, then closed my eyes. I felt soiled and cheap. Me, a minister of the gospel…I had wanted simply to get rid of him, when he was crying out for the help of Christ I had just preached about. I swallowed hard as God’s love flooded my soul.
David sensed the change in me. He moved toward me and fell on my chest, burying his grimy head against my white shirt and tie. Holding him close, I talked to him about Jesus’ love. These weren’t just words; I felt them. I felt love for this pitiful young man. And that smell…I don’t know how to explain it. It had almost made me sick, but now it became the most beautiful fragrance to me. I reveled in what had been repulsive a moment ago.
The Lord seem to say to me in that instant, Jim, if you and your wife have any value to me, if you have any purpose in my work—it has to do with this odor. This is the smell of the world I died for.”

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www.tillhecomes.org

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When Forgiveness Comes

When Forgiveness Comes

Jennifer’s story was one of family abuse. As a little girl, she watched her father beat her mother until bruises appeared on her face. She remembers walking on the sidewalk that led to their church entrance as her mom wore sunglasses to hide the bruises. She refused to remove them as they entered the sanctuary. Jennifer was hurt beyond words to see her mother treated this way, but she knew as a child of God, she was expected to forgive him.

But most people find forgiveness hard, if not impossible. Especially for someone entrusted to our care, such as a parent or family member. Neglect alone can be enough to harbor resentment and bitterness. If you’ve had someone in your life who is tough to forgive, you know it takes everything to be civil and polite, let alone forgiving.

But as believers, God makes no exceptions. He calls us to forgive everyone, even our enemies. No matter what they’ve done. So why does God expect us to do something that seems impossible? Even unjust? Something our hearts just can’t endure? Doesn’t God understand what this person did to us and how we feel? In reality he does. And God empowers us to forgive by way of another command; to love one another.

God says to us “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” To “fulfill the law” means to meet all the demands of the spirit of the law, which we do only when we love. And this ability to love comes only from God and is a part of the grace he has extended to us.

Love is the pinnacle of the Christian faith. And as the Holy spirit matures us to the highest place in the Christian walk, we love as God loves. And a natural part of loving others is forgiveness. The spirit of love is so powerful that it overlooks the flaws and sins of others. It’s not naive to the sins of others, it just chooses to focus on the redeemable value in someone. This is the way God looks at you and me through the eyes of grace. In short, we are able to forgive only because we love, thus fulfilling this command from God.

Surprisingly, Jennifer wasn’t angry at her father. She longed for her dad to be healed of whatever ailed him. Not too long after the abuse, her dad left them and was not to be seen for many years. But one day, after Jennifer was grown and had a family of her own, her dad wanted to talk. He appeared at a family function and wanted to come clean. He approached his daughter and apologized for what he had done. As Jennifer recited the story through broken speech and tears, she told us of her response; “oh dad, what is there to forgive?” as she embraced him and welcomed him home.

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I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard her say those words; “what is there to forgive?”. It was apparent that Jennifer’s love for her Dad was much stronger than any other emotion she might had felt for him. Her unwavering love for her father overshadowed even the crimes he committed against his own family.

None of us would have the power to forgive, or do anything of the Christian call if we don’t abide in the love and strength of God. If we try to do anything apart from God, even something as noble as forgiving someone, we’ll fail. We must ask God for the ability to love, and forgiveness will follow.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”
Luke 6:27 NIV

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