Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How Does God Really Feel About Us?

Yesterday I wrote on just how much God hates sin.  It is an abomination to God.  It is a filthy disgusting stench that we were covered in.  There is an important lesson, though, in how much God hates sin.  You see, knowing just how much God hates sin shows us just how much God loves us. 
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  Romans 5:8-10 NKJV
When you think about it, God should hate us. From our earliest moments where we can exert any kind of will, we are sinful.  Children are rarely born with a natural obedience to their parents.  They often try to get away with whatever they can.  This does not change as we grow up.  We relish in our sin.  We celebrate it in our lives, our entertainment, our money, and our relationships.  Sin has become integrated into society at every level and very few even care.  Even after we accept Jesus, we continue to sin.  We may sin less, but it it never completely goes away.  We rebel, reject, persecute, insult, blaspheme, and curse God at some point in our lives.  Some do so with great regularity.  We are just about an entire world in rebellion to God where the best of the best we can muster for those who care in the slightest is as filthy rags to a holy God.  Not only were we sinners when Christ died for us, we were proud sinners.  We were not only enemies of God when God reconciled Himself to us, we were in active rebellion against His authority.  In fact, our world is so depraved that God had to judge it once and will once again and that time for good.  From the standpoint of a holy and righteous God, we are a hateful bunch. 

It is in that context where this next passage makes no logical sense at all:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  John 3:16-17 NKJV
Despite all that we aren't.  Despite our rebellion. Despite our pride in the things that God hates.   God still loves us.  In fact, He loves us enough that He sent His one and only begotten Son.  He did not send His son to judge the world (though that is coming).  He did not send His son into the world to rule the world and whip us back into shape. He sent His son to preach the good news of eternal life and ultimately die and pay the penalty for our sins.  God sent His son to die so that we can have eternal life.  Jesus willingly went to the Cross to redeem His bride.  

I really do not think we can ever comprehend just how much God loves us.  We see already that while we were utter failures living in complete and open rebellion to God that God still loved us enough to send His son to pay the penalty for our sins. We have already seen that God has every reason to hate us and every right to judge us.  We have already seen that instead of just hitting the "reset" button on creation, God chose (out of an abundance of love) to send His Son to redeem us.  We have already seen more love expressed by God towards and ungrateful world that we can possible imagine, but there is more. 
Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ,  just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.  Ephesians 1:3-6 NKJV
Perhaps maybe you think that despite all of our failures, that God looked upon us in pity and decided to send His son.  Perhaps you think that we just went way off the rails and God did not want to see His creation blighted so in order to redeem what He spent time creating, He decided to send his Son.  Perhaps you think that we sort of grew on God after all this time and despite all of our faults, God sees us as charming enough to desire to redeem us to not cease from spending time with us.  The passage from Ephesians dispels all of those myths. The key phrase from the above passage is "before the foundation of the world."   In other words, before God said "Let there be light," God knew of all that was gong to come from His creation.  Jesus is not some contingency plan for a creation gone awry, but the original plan set in place before creation even began.  

This should literally amaze you.  Think about it.  If you were going to create your masterpiece and you had some ability to tell the future knowing that the beauty you were about to create was going to quickly become a monument to all that you hate and ultimately your own son would have to give his life to salvage anything from what you had made, would you still make it or would you go back to the drawing board?  I think that any sane person would go back to the drawing board.  God, on the other hand, saw His love for us despite what we would become.  God saw the fall of man and our sinful nature.  God saw that we would take the precious gift of free will and squander it on our desires.  God saw our rebellion.  God saw our rejection.  God saw His Son dying on the cross.  Despite all of that, God chose to create us.  God did not go back to the drawing board.  God did not tweak what He was going to make to try and make it work better.  God saw the love He would have for us and created us anyway.  Think about that for a minute.  God saw that His Son was going to have to die for your sins, yet He chose to create you despite all of that.  God created His own enemies and redeemed them with the blood of His own Son.  When the Bible tells us to love our enemies, this should give you some idea of just how deep that love should run.  God created, sent His son to die for, redeemed though that sacrifice, adopted as His children, and then granted eternal life for His enemies. 

In the end, I do not know why God loves us, but that is probably the point.  His love for us is not dependent upon us.  If it were, Jesus would never have been sent to redeem us.  It really is as simple that God loves us because God loves us.  There is nothing more we need to know.  His love is incomprehensible with our mortal minds and is immeasurable with our mortal hearts.  His love is greater than we can even imagine and more than we can ever love Him.  His love will never fail us.  His love will never end.  It is because of His love that He sent His Son to grant us eternal life and He created us knowing that would be the case.  It really is amazing when you think about it.  Remember this love when you deal with people in the church or in the world.  No matter how bad they may seem or what things they do that you might hate, God tells you to love them with the same love He has showed you.  Of course you can never measure up to perfect love, but anything less means you are not loving them enough.  The point I am trying to make is that it should never be about how much love should you show your friends or enemies, but how can you love them even more.  It is through that love, that a fallen world will see God in us.   
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.  1 John 4:6-12 NKJV

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How Does God Really Feel About Sin?

I hate the sin in my life.  I hate those times I seek out after my own flesh and forget about God.  I hate that it drives a wedge in my relationship with God until I turn myself back to Him.  I hate that Jesus had to suffer for my own failures.  I know my sins are covered under the blood of Jesus and I know that I can not sin so much that God will stop forgiving me.  I know I am saved by grace though faith and that the seal of that salvation is the Holy Spirit residing inside my own heart.  I think sometimes, though, we take for granted the blood of Jesus.  Some even stop caring about the sin in their lives knowing it is covered by Jesus.  Some even teach that kind of theology.  I think the problem is that we forget just how God feels about sin.  So today I want to answer that question.  So, just how does God feel about sin?  I think the first place to look is Jesus.
Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He [was] wounded for our transgressions, [He was] bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace [was] upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. Isaiah 53:4-7 NKJV
If you ever wanted to know how God felt about sin, the best place to look is at Jesus.  The utter brutality of His sacrifice illustrates just how much God hates sin.  Jesus bore the penalty for all of our sins. He was wounded for our transgressions.  He was bruised for our iniquities.  He was chastised for us to have peace.  His bore stripes to make us whole.  Those words really do not do justice to the brutality suffered for our sins.  He was more than wounded.  He had nails hammered into his hands and feet, his head was dripping in blood from the crown of thorns.  He spent his final hours scraping his shredded back against a piece of wood, hoisting his weight upon the nails in his hands and feet just to take each and every breath.  He did all of this naked and under the hot sun.  He was bruised, for sure, but he was also beaten.  Bashed in the face again and again while being mocked.  As for stripes, that is an understatement. Stripes are those thin red lines you get from a normal leather whip.  Jesus was scourged with strands of leather embedded with glass, rock, and anything else they could tie onto leather.  The effect of this sadistic device was to dig into the skin and rip it away from the body as it was pulled across.  His back was more than striped.  His back was shredded.  It probably looked more like hamburger than the back of a man.  There is no adequate way to describe the kind of pain and suffering that occurred during the punishment and death of Jesus.  What's more, Jesus deserved none of it.  Jesus was without sin.  God allowed His only begotten and perfect son to suffer a level of horror and pain we can not even fathom in our worst nightmares.  That is how God feels about sin. 

Eternal life is a free gift, but only free for us.  Jesus purchased that gift for us through His pain and death.  It is not that those sins we commit are not paid for, it is that they are placed on Jesus at the cross.  We must never think that our sin has no effect because they do.  Those sins nailed Jesus to a cross.  It is not that God does not punish our sins, it is only that He does not punish us.  Jesus bore that punishment for the sins we commit.  All sin must be punished and in Christ that punishment was borne by our Lord.  Without Christ, would bear that punishment eternally. 

When we receive a gift, we must consider what it cost the one who gave it to us.  Gifts are always free to the receiver, otherwise it would not be a gift.  Rarely is a gift free for the one who gives it.  This is one reason why it is pointless to give expensive gifts to small children.  Cost means nothing to them, only what it can do for their lives.  They could be just as happy with a cheap piece of junk from the dollar store than a top-of-the-line handcrafted toy.  In fact, many times they would be happier with the cheap toy.  Conversely, when a child wants something they never really consider what it costs.  They see something on television and all they know is that they want it.  The idea of how much it costs, whether or not it is right for them, or even if their parents can afford it are not even considered.  They do not even understand those things, they only understand want.  We do not have that defense,  though.  While we can not grasp the entirety of what Jesus went through, we can certainly know it was wretchedly horrible.  We have some understanding of what our gift of salvation cost.  We know the work and pain (emotional and physical) that went into making it available to us.  To choose to live in sin after receiving Jesus makes us act like ungrateful children.  Unfortunately, we are not children, so that really just makes us ungrateful. 

In the end, it is about gratitude.  Are we truly grateful for what Jesus did for us?  Do we really appreciate the cost of our sins to Jesus?  Do we really consider God sending His only begotten perfect Son and having to allow Him to bear the burden for all we do wrong?  The answer is in your actions.  Gratitude is not just about saying "thanks" but about being thankful.  Appreciation is more than just saying you appreciate something, but actually living as though you do.  The next time temptation is coming your way and you are considering sin, think on the fact that for whatever you are about to do, Jesus was scourged, beaten, humiliated, hung on a cross, and left to die to pay for it.  How you react shows just how truly thankful you are.  Living in sin while under grace shows no gratitude at all.  That is like someone else getting convicted for a crime you committed and responding by committing that same crime over and over again.  It is rather twisted logic to think that the sacrifice of Jesus was meant for you to live in sin and not care.  Live for the one who died so that you can live.  Salvation is a free gift, but God paid dearly to make that gift available.  Never take for granted the cost of your redemption. 
 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  Romans 6:1-4 NKJV

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Morning Separation Anxiety

I hate Mondays.  I do not hate them for the obvious reason, though.  Sure it is the first day of a work week and the freedom and late sleeping of the weekend is a memory, but I am also thankful to have a job.  This is especially true in these hard economic times.  The reason I hate them is that I just got to spend two complete days side-by-side with my wife and now we only get to spend our tired evenings together.  I love being with my wife and never want to become one of those couples who need a break from each other or think it is ok to regularly spend days and days apart.  I want to enjoy and cherish each day the Lord gives us together.  She is a gift and one I never want to tire of.  Our marriage is a gift and one that I never want to take for granted.  I do believe that this is the Biblical model for a marriage, and this is why. 
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. Ephesians 5:31 NKJV
The point that this makes is that your spouse is literally your other half.  I know we say that phrase as slang, but it is actually truth.  Your spouse is your other half.  The two of you are not one flesh and so being apart should be painful.  If you are just fine with being apart then you are not rightly recognizing your spouse as the other part of you.  God did not create marriage just for husband and wife to be apart from each other, but to bring two people and make them one flesh.  Would you be ok with giving up one arm, leg, eye, ear, and half your torso for days at a time on a regular basis? It would be rather uncomfortable and rather impossible to function at your best capacity.  The same should be said for marriage.  You should be at your best when you are with your spouse and there should be something missing or lacking when you are not.  Your spouse should never be an impediment to your life, but being without your spouse should be. 

Another point that this brings up is that your spouse should complete you.  Of course this is only true if you are a couple in Christ, but that is really who I am writing to.  God brought the two of you together and made you one flesh.  He would not have done so if He did not create the two of you to complete one another.  I know my wife and I share many complimentary traits, strengths, and weaknesses and when we are following after God those parts work together beautifully.  Your spouse should never be seen as someone who does not allow you to be who you are, but rather your spouse should be someone who completes who you are.  You should not always see your differences as things that need to be ironed out, but rather embraced in that you complement what each other is lacking.  There are some specific Biblical roles for each, such as the husband being the Spiritual leader of the home, but there are many other areas where each of you may be lacking where the other is strong.  The husband is for the wife what she can not be and the wife should be for the husband what he can not be. 

Of course saying that your wife completes you implies that being separated means that you are incomplete. Much like having part of your flesh missing as I discussed earlier, being apart means that part of what makes you who you are is also missing when you are apart.  There should be some sense of loss or incompleteness when you are apart.  When you are apart, you should not more free to be who you really are, but rather you should find it impossible.  You are who you are when you are complete and with your spouse, you can not be who you are when a part of you is missing.  Please do not ever think that being apart means you can misbehave as some are prone to do.  That should never come into the equation.  You are not single any more and that single person you once were is no more.  Being apart should never be a means to revert to who you once were, that will only work to strain your relationship when you are together.  You should feel incomplete.  You should feel as though something is missing because a part of your is missing. 

The reason why this message is so important goes well beyond a healthy Scriptural marriage.  It goes to the very heart of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Let's look at the next verse in Ephesians from what we covered earlier.
This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.  Ephesians 5:32 NKJV
The great mystery of how two become one flesh in marriage is a picture of the oneness between Christ and the church.  Just as the woman and man are parts of one another in marriage, so is the church and Christ parts of one another in our Heavenly marriage.  We are the body of Christ.  Christ is the head of the church.  We are in Christ as part of the church and the Holy Spirit lives in us.  Just as a husband and wife are incomplete when apart, so would we be incomplete without the Holy Spirit.  We lived our whole lives with an empty hole in our cold stone hearts until we met Jesus.  When we accepted Him into our lives as Lord and Savior, He made us a new heart and made it a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.  Just as it is unthinkable to think to live again without the Holy Spirit so should it be for us to live without our spouses.  Just as spouses miss a part of themselves when they are apart, so would we be missing a part of ourselves if we were not in Christ.  Specifically, we would be a headless body trying to find its way around.  Just as ridiculous as that image is, so should the spouse who thinks they would be just fine to not be with the other.  Coming to Christ makes you inseparable from Him and those times when we ignore or try to flee from His presence always leads to trouble. 

And so that desire of togetherness with our spouse is another aspect of marriage that is a parallel to our relationship with the Lord.  Just as with marriage, if you do not have to desire to be together with our Lord, then there is reflected a problem with that relationship.  Coming to Jesus means eternity in His presence.  It means eternal and constant fellowship with Him.  That is why that need to be together is so important in marriage.  Can you imagine spending days or weeks away from Jesus?  Can you imagine declaring that to be right in your life?  I could not imagine one day without my Lord!  As a parallel to our relationship with Jesus, what you say about marriage reflects how you feel about your relationship with the Lord.  They are inseparable as just as God brought you together with Jesus, God also brought you together with your spouse and declared the two to be parallels with one another.  Cherish the time with your spouse and never take for granted his or her presence in your life every day.  Cherish it only less than the time you spend with Jesus.  It is not natural to need time apart with the one whom God has made you one flesh with just as it is unnatural to need time apart from the Lord.  Jesus says that He is with us always, even to the end of the age, that needs to be a good thing. 
And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made [them] at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." Matthew 19:4-6 NKJV

Friday, November 25, 2011

Everyday Thanksgiving

Yesterday was Thanksgiving.  It is a day that we are supposed to set aside as a solemn day of thanksgiving for all that God has done for us.  Of course, like all holidays, the world has greatly influenced the day to where the real and original meaning have been lost in football games, drinking, and family.  Don't get me wrong I did watch football yesterday and I enjoyed time with my wife's family.  None of those things are wrong, but they should not overshadow the greater meaning of the day.  It was a day of thanks and probably my favorite part of the day was when we all took turns saying what we were thankful for.  The worst part of the day was during the Cowboys Dolphins game where there was a halftime concert on behalf of the Salvation Army.  The Salvation Army is not only a Christian organization, but it is also a church.  It is actually a denomination.  Supporting a Christian organization is a good thing, doing so with music that glorifies and celebrates fornication and other sin is not.  Shame on the church (if they had a part in allowing it), shame on the NFL, and shame on the television network.  That said, and being that today is Friday, I just wanted to a short post on thanksgiving.  What is it we should be thankful for?  The answer is everything.
In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV
That just about sums it all up, but I want to share one other verse to put in context what I mean. 
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into [this] world, [and it is] certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  1 Timothy 6:6-8 NKJV
We live in a time where prayer has become for many a list of requests.  We want more stuff or better circumstances and we pray to God for those things day in and day out.  There is nothing wrong with laying out our concerns and request before God.  God has even told us to cast all of our cares upon Him because He cares for us.  What I am saying though (and this is as much for me as anyone else), is that we should be spending more time thanking God for what we do have.  God knows all of the needs you will ever need and we need to trust that God is going to meet them.  What we can't trust is that God is going to meet them in the way that we desire them.  That is a good thing.  We certainly have ideas of how we think that our needs can be met, but God has His own ideas and His ideas are so much better than what we can come up with.  What I am saying is that instead of constantly asking God for things, we should be thanking Him for those things we do have.  Even if you think its not the best or even if you think that it is not adequate, thank Him anyway.  I say that because we need to trust that no matter how we perceive things to be, that God knows infinitely better.  We may not know how something will work out, but we need to trust God that it will.  Who knows, maybe if you take a moment to stop asking for more, God will begin to reveal to you the gift of what you have now. 

Yesterday when it was my time to give thanks I fumbled through some words but tried to make the point that I was thankful that God knows better and does not always gives us what we ask for when we ask for it.  Many of you know the Garth Brooks song "Unanswered Prayer" about being thankful for those times when God gives a different answer than what we thought we wanted.  I was thinking yesterday about the other relationships I was in before I met my wife that I prayed would all work out.  I remember the job choices I once had or the decision to move away to Tennessee and all the other things in my life that I hoped and prayed would work out, but just did not.  At the time, I was disappointed.  More than that, there were times I was downright depressed.  I questioned God as to why this did not work out or as to why things just kept the same.  I asked God why everything was such a failure.  Boy was I ignorant.  The answer to the question as to why God does not always give us those things we think we desire is because we do not even know all the options.  I mean, if any of those other relationships had worked out then I would have missed out on the best one of all, that being my wife.  What we always need to keep in mind is that, first of all, God will give us the desires of our redeemed heart and, secondly, that God not only knows what we thing we desire now but that which we will desire even more in the future.  I was blind to it, but through all those years God was giving me the desire of my heart, which was to put me in the right place and circumstances to meet the one I would desire the most.  I just did not know it!

The moral of that illustration (and thank God for even reminding me of it in my own life) is that we have to put our faith in God that even when our prayers are not answered the way we think we want, it is only because God is working something better out.  We must put our faith that while we think we know what we want or need now, only God knows if there is a better option we do not even know about in the future.  We must rest in the faith that whatever our circumstances in life are, they are the circumstances that God has for us and that no matter how things may seem now, they are only the means to a better future.  Thank God for what you have and appreciate all that He has bestowed upon you.  Think of what you do not have only leads to misery, but appreciating the wonderful gifts God has filled your life with leads to joy.  Most of all, thank God for sending Jesus whose sacrifice made the way for all this to be possible. 
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things [are] noble, whatever things [are] just, whatever things [are] pure, whatever things [are] lovely, whatever things [are] of good report, if [there is] any virtue and if [there is] anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things.  Philippians 4:6-8 NKJV