I just can’t get past it…

There is something in Christianity I can’t get past. It’s something I’ve discovered fairly recently and I just can’t stop thinking about it; I just can’t get past it. I’m sure my wife is tired of me talking about it, because it dominates my thoughts. Even my friends have noticed my obsession with it. Maybe you have, too.

It’s the love of God.

“Oh, brother,” you think, “Here we go again. I know about the love of God already. After all, John 3:16 says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son..’. I know that. That’s Christianity 101.”

Yes, that’s probably the most famous and well-known verse in the Bible. Yes, you probably know that verse by heart. But do you really know the depths of God’s love? Do you really understand what it means for you everyday? Do you know why the Gospel is really Good News?

I think not. Well, at least some of you reading don’t. Because if you REALLY understood the love of God, it would be a game-changer for you. (And I see a lot of sour-faced, defeated people out there who claim to know Jesus and the love of God.)

First, the love of God is not the kind of love you and I are used to. It’s not based on our performance, our attitudes, our actions or behaviors. God loves us the same today as He did yesterday… and the day before… and the day before that. He knows all about the bitterness you still hold on to. He knows all about the lies you told last week. He knows all about your pitiful prayer life and the fact that you don’t read your Bible as you should. And He still loves you with a dance-on-the-rooftops, swing-on-the-chandelier-kind-of-love! He sings over you, Scripture says. Despite all your daily screw-ups, failures, blunders and mistakes, He loves you the same as the day you were born. Unbelievably, He loves you and I the same as He loves super-saints like Billy Graham or Mother Teresa.

In turn, this means that He won’t love you more if you become a super-saint yourself. He doesn’t love you more for reading your Bible two hours every day and spending two hours in your prayer closet each day, although you may get to know Him better. It’s startling to think about, but even though you may do that, He doesn’t love you more than He does any terrorist or pedophile or murderer.

For me, this kind of love ends all my “checklist religion”. It is (or should be) the end of performance-based living, which dominates our world, and dominates how we give and receive love. We love those who love us in return. We love those who do nice things for us. But God, while He wasn’t even on our minds at all… while we were living our own selfish lives… while we even cursed His Name… loved us and died for us. In doing so, He wiped the slate clean… and He continues to wipe the slate clean – with the blood of Jesus – every day. Since my life is “hidden” with His, my soul is secure. I don’t have to strive and strive and strive to earn God’s love, His favor, His gifts, or His blessing. I have Him. And He is all I need.

Lastly, this is amazing, Good News! If you were to ask someone what the Gospel is all about, they might reply that Jesus died for our sins and now we have eternal life. Yes, but that’s only scratching the surface. Eternal life is not just life after death.

It’s eternal living, too. The love of God doesn’t end with sending His Son to the Cross. While it’s true, that is where the amazing grace of God is discovered, His love endures through all generations. He loves you as much right now as He did when Jesus went to the Cross. What this means is that He is with you right now! He knows what you’re going through right now. And He is working things out for your good right now, even though you may not think so. Even if you are suffering right now, He promises to be with you through it all and turn it into something that makes you more like Christ, giving Him resounding glory.

Not only that, but in the end, you, I, and Christ WIN. Evil will be defeated. There will be no more pain or sorrow, and God Himself will wipe away our tears. This is where Christian hope comes from. It’s not a pie-in-the-sky, wishful-thinking kind of hope. It’s a sure thing, a certainty, and Rock-solid. It’s the hope of a better tomorrow, no matter what today looks like. We are living in the unshakeable Kingdom of God!

All because of the love of God. Good News indeed!

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Grace Anew?

I love to read. I generally read Christian non-fiction focused on spiritual growth. There are some very popular books out there on the subject and many of the more recent books focus on discipleship and its cost.

The authors eloquently write about self-denial and carrying your Cross as the pathway of discipleship. The assert that we need to crucify self daily. They state that the way of true discipleship is radical, crazy, sold-out devotion to Jesus.

Make no mistake, I agree. Wholeheartedly. Death of self is the way to true, abundant life.

I facilitated a men’s group which studied a couple of these books. They both had DVD curricula and were well-done. The books were very inspirational and motivational. They spurred us all to more. They encouraged us to examine our relatively plush lives and get our priorities straight. We wanted more Jesus. We wanted lives like we had heard about. But after roughly 16 weeks of striving after a higher calling, we were tired and discouraged. The bar had been set so high that it was unattainable. Was this kind of sold-out devotion really possible? We had tried. We had surrendered. Now we weren’t so sure. Looking back, I may have a hint as to the reason why.

The material focused on death of self. We were concentrating of self-denial, carrying our cross, self-discipline, and counting the cost of discipleship (and the cost of non-discipleship). What these books did… what this material did… was put the focus on self. It was designed to do the opposite, but in actuality, put all the impetus on each of us.

What I have experienced recently is a new revelation of God’s love and His grace. I have a new, fresh encounter with the Cross and all that was accomplished there. I am 55 years old and have been a Christian for nearly 20 years. But I am astounded by what I have found. I am amazed by this discovery. I am totally and completely overwhelmed by it. By focusing on Jesus and His finished work on the Cross, I have found that I am completely surrendered… completely devoted… radically sold-out in a crazy way.

Death of self has taken place, but not through any curriculum or book, not through studying more or praying more or fasting (although those are all good things), and not through trying to deny myself. IT JUST HAPPENED! It was a natural byproduct of this discovery of the supernatural, finished work of Jesus. It is an automatic response to His amazing love for me (and you). I didn’t have to try to surrender. There was no striving. I am just completely, totally in love with Jesus. He’s the first person I think of when I awaken. He consumes my thought during the day. He’s who I think of as I go to bed.

The apostle Paul says:

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. (Galatians 2:20-21)

I’m not sure Christians treat the grace of God as meaningless as Paul says in verse 21. We certainly sing about it enough and talk about it enough. We read about it and we know we are saved by it. But how is it that it can become fresh and new again to me? How is it that I can be totally changed by it all over again… and seemingly more deeply and profoundly!?! Could it be that each of us need to encounter grace all over again? Could it be that we need to see afresh all that was done on the Cross and experience His grace and love anew?