My mornings begin similarly each day. Make coffee and oatmeal. Walk my dog Bella. Read.

I don’t read much. I might read a little Scripture. I might read a few paragraphs from a book I’m working through. I don’t read novels. I read in the morning to set my thoughts and heart on God.

This morning, I read like I always do. I love James Bryan Smith. After reading his trilogy of sorts: The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community, I was hungry for more.

I found Embracing the Love of God, which, like his previous books, are about replacing the narratives we naturally repeat to ourselves with God’s narratives. As Joyce Meyer would say, we have a lot of “stinkin’ thinkin'” going on, and we need to reverse that trend by renewing our minds with God’s Word, His truth, and His promises.

To be frank, I didn’t get very far in my reading. After skimming a couple of pages, I read the header: “The Secret of a Blessed Life.” 99 out of 100 people will read on to find out this “secret”, and being in that group, I read on. I didn’t have to read very far.

“God with us. This is the secret of the blessed life.”

I stopped there. Wow. Simplicity has its beauty… and so does truth.

Smith goes onto to say that this is what David the psalmist meant in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

In other words, I have God with me and I don’t need anything else. He provides. He protects. He is wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, and He is right here with me. Better yet, He is inside me! As I get out of the way and yield to Him, He makes Himself more and more known, evident, and eventually, obvious in my life… both to me and to those around me. He makes Jesus known through me. He is all I need.

Blessings come in many forms, but the essence (and source) of blessing is God Himself. Immanuel. God with us.

Blessed indeed.

I am WITH YOU and will watch over you wherever you go (Genesis 28:15a)

And surely I am WITH YOU always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20b)

All that really matters…

“What really matters is what God says about us. What would it matter if a thousand people bowed before us and praised our name if God condemned us? What would it matter if ten thousand people reviled and cursed us if God accepted us and loved us? We have already been accepted by the one whose acceptance is all that really matters.”
— James Bryan Smith, Embracing the Love of God

I find myself dependent on the approval and acceptance of others, from my friends and co-workers to my wonderful wife, Sharon. I may say outwardly that I don’t care what others think, but my thoughts and actions say otherwise. Approval addiction is what some would call it. I’m not sure where this comes from… early childhood probably.

But what James Bryan Smith is getting at in this passage and in this book is that knowing — really knowing — that God loves you and me and accepts you and me, JUST AS WE ARE (before we shape up, improve, get our act together, kick our bad habits, or clean up)… this love and acceptance can (and should) profoundly transform us. When it really gets deep down inside us that you and I are truly God’s “beloved” as His Word says over and over, we are changed. This is all that matters.

We then can accept ourselves as we are. We no longer are perfectionists, aggravated and disturbed by our weaknesses and flaws, our shortcomings and warts, and our repeated failures. We are loved and accepted. That’s all that really matters. We all want to be loved and accepted by others, but we are no longer ruled by it. Whatever we lack from others, God gladly, freely, and overwhelmingly makes up for. His love is all that really matters.

Knowing that God loves and accepts us, as we are right now, allows us to love and accept others, with all their flaws and failures. We don’t have to accept their behavior, but God’s love for us allows us to accept and love others as they are right now. We are able to give grace to others because we have received it so abundantly.

Lastly, God’s nearly unbelievable acceptance produces in me and in you an unexplainable desire for holiness. It is not a matter of being more pious, but a desire for more of God. The former leads to self-righteousness; the latter to His righteousness. This wonderful love, acceptance, and grace does not lead to loose living as a license to sin, but it is a springboard to the life of love and freedom that God desires for each one of us.

It is abundant life. It is eternal living.

His love and acceptance… all that really matters.

“While we were…”

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

I am constantly amazed at that verse. “While I was a sinner…” And I think back to my days B.C…. before Christ. I think of all the things I did in living to please myself. I was so selfish. I was despicable. I hurt many people in many ways. I did terrible things.

And yet Christ died for me… while I was a sinner. Yes, I know it was thousands of years before I was born, but since time is eternal to God and He can see the eternal past and the eternal future, he could see me getting drunk, forgetting where I parked my car, passing out with my clothes on, and yet He died for me! Amazing!

And because of time-eternal, He can see me now, still a sinner (although now not a slave to sin) desperate for His grace to even take another step. He sees me struggling and failing, time after time, in word, in thought, or in deed. “While I was a sinner…”, God demonstrated his love, Scripture says. He loved me first. And He still loves me first.

James Bryan Smith says in his book, Embracing the Love of God:

“God does not love. God IS love. (1 John 4:16) I am capable of loving but I am also capable of not loving. That cannot be said about God. God cannot stop loving, because love is God’s nature.”

If I blow it again… if I fail for the 23rd time (or the 93rd time) at the same thing… God does not stop loving me. In fact, God loved me first and continues to love me first (1 John 4:19). He loves me. He accepts me. He smiles when he looks at me (Numbers 6:26) and thinks about me. I am the apple of his eye. (Psalm 17:8) And as I’ve said so many times before, he takes great delight in me and even sings over me (Zephaniah 3:17).

But (obviously) it’s not just me. “While WE were still sinners…” the verse says, “God demonstrated his own love for us.”

It’s a promise for all of us.