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Passion

A Relationship of Passion

No one likes being ignored.  Personally, as I’m sure many of you have also experienced, I have been lied to, stolen from, cursed, demeaned, cheated, and even physically harassed – but I would willingly go through any of those abuses over being ignored or treated with deliberate indifference.  When someone ignores you with an intent to wound, that is the ultimate offense (at least receiving some kind of abuse means being confronted by your abuser).

In the long history of God’s relationship with humankind we are most guilty of the sin of indifference toward God.  He so loves us and is so eager to draw us into His eternal presence that He calls we who are His people, His church, His bride and He loves us as a perfect husband.  In Ephesians 5:25, one of the Bible’s most misused and abused passages, Paul describes the love of God through Jesus in just such terms:

“For husbands, this means love your wives just as Christ loved the church.  He gave us His life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.” (NLT)

That is the depth of God’s love for us, but we have not reciprocated that love.  Rather, we have looked the love of God in the face and turned away indifferently, ignoring the most magnificent potential relationship in the cosmos.

God calls out this indifference directly in Ezekiel 16:30-32,

“What a sick heart you have, says the Sovereign Lord, to do such things as these, acting like a shameless prostitute.  You build your pagan shrines on every street corner and your alters to idols in every square.  In fact, you have been worse than a prostitute, so eager for sin that you have not even demanded payment.  Yes, you are an adulterous wife who takes in strangers instead of her own husband.”

These are the harsh words of God who is the scorned lover of all of humanity, ultimately and shamelessly ignored by creatures on whom He has poured his lavish and unashamed love.

And yet, God’s perfect love remains constant in the face of our indifference – God is always faithful where we are faithless.  Romans 8 tells us nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, so what ought to be our response to this love?  Contrary to first consideration, the opposite of indifference or to ignoring a pursuer, is not mere acknowledgement but passion.  Jesus calls us not merely to believe in Him, but to follow Him wherever He goes (Matthew 9:9).  A relationship with God through Jesus is not one of simple intellectual acknowledgement, but is intended to be one of infinite passion – to love the Lord Your God with all of your heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Anything less than our all, Jesus tells us is not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37).

So if you find yourself constantly playing the prostitute with God, looking to other things for love while completely ignoring His, the only solution is a complete turning to God and running after Him with ultimate passion.  As James 4:8 reminds us, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

Blessed are the Meek

Blessed are the Meek

Have you ever given deep though to what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 5:5,

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”

You see, being meek is simply not valued in the 21st century. It is not a character trait that parents try to instill in their children. Yet, Jesus holds up meekness as a character trait that is to be valued and one that God rewards. A large part of the reason for this negative reaction to meekness has to be rooted in a false understanding of what meekness really means. Meekness has the dubious distinction of sounding far too much like weakness. What we need to understand from the start is that meekness has nothing at all to do with weakness. Meekness is much more about humbly knowing your place as you stand before God. I love this quote from Matthew Henry,

“The meek are those who quietly submit themselves before God, to His Word, to His rod, who follow His directions and comply with His designs, and are gentle toward men”

If you can stand before God knowing that you are a sinner who has nothing in yourself to commend you to God, yet also knowing that you are deeply loved by God and made in His image, then you can stand humbly with dignity.

So much of the violence and strife between people rests in the desire for respect. How often have you heard of violence being justified because someone felt “disrespected”? When people are shamed, ridiculed, put down or otherwise written off, there is a natural reaction to fight. People who do not fight back, or assert their rights, are viewed as weak. Yet look at Jesus and look at his journey to the cross. He did not fight back even though He had ten thousand angels waiting for him to simply say the word. He did not assert His rights even though the trial he endured was as unjust and illegal as they come. He did not cry out in protest even though His very words carried the power to bring the entire charade to a crashing halt. In spite of His refusal to respond, Jesus was anything but weak. He was meek in the best sense of the word, but He was also in that moment the strongest person on the planet. He had the strength to give His life for the very people who were shouting insults and pounding the nails. That kind of strength and courage only comes to those who have a humility that places the needs of others above their own.

How did Jesus do that? He understood who He was and what His relationship was to the Father. He was confident in His position before God. He was not boastful about it. In fact, He humbly set aside all notion of leveraging that relationship for His own benefit. But because of His love for the Father, and for people, Jesus meekly went to the cross.

But did he inherit the earth? Oh that and much more. In Paul’s Letter to the Philippians we are told that He has received a name above all names and that at the name of Jesus every knee will bend and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Jesus has received the place of honor on the throne of the universe and all will worship Him and give glory to the Father forever.

If you recognize that you are poor in spirit (what I call being spiritually bankrupt) and that recognition leads you to mourn your sin, then you will be humbled as you stand before God. You will know that you have nothing to bring and must fully rely on the grace of God. That meekness will also give you the strength to put others before yourself. The reward of such meekness is that the world, and all that is in it, really is yours. It is your inheritance for eternity. Jesus said that no matter what we have given up to follow Him we will have fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers and homes and blessings beyond measure.

Meekness is not weakness, it is a humble strength that comes from a knowledge of our sin and at the same time our acceptance by God our Father.

Hunger and Thirst

Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst

What do you long for, yearn for, lay awake at night dreaming about? What do you hunger for? Much of what we yearn and hunger for never becomes reality. When I was a kid I desperately wanted to go to the moon. I could have told you everything about the space program, including every man who walked on the moon and each Command Module Pilot who circled the moon while two of his buddies played Rat Patrol in the Lunar Rover. I had a hunger to go to the moon. Sadly the program was killed long before I ever had a chance to go. Today I am pretty certain that NASA won’t be starting up a shuttle service to Tranquility Base anytime soon, so that hunger will likely never be satisfied.

Jesus says that there is a hunger that can be satisfied, but it is not something that most people really care much about. In Matthew 5:6 he said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” At first blush it doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as a chance to hit golf balls on the moon. But the more I think about having a hunger for righteousness, the more appetizing it sounds. Think about it for a moment. What would be different in the world if life was characterized by righteousness? What if people actually did the right thing, treated each other with dignity, watched out for the hurting and weak, and generally loved God and their neighbor above all else? How different might things be if political leaders actually cared about doing the right thing more than getting elected again and again. For that matter, how different would it be if the voters hungered more for leaders who did the right thing than for those who seem to promise the most perks for us? How different would it be if people so longed for righteousness that we would no longer put up with a world in which children starve to death while others grow fat? How different would it be if we thirsted like a dying man in the desert for a world in which women need never fear being raped?  How different would it be if we yearned for a world in which the color of ones skin was seen as a beautiful example of God’s love of variety instead of a reason to exclude, reject or attack?

Jesus hungers for such a world. It is a world in which human beings fulfill the requirements of our relationship with God and with one another. We are to hunger and thirst for “right relationships” that are characterized by loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength – loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. We must never be satisfied with anything less.

But in order to be truly satisfied we must long for a righteousness that is worthy of heaven. For it is only there that we will ultimately experience a relationship with God and one another as it was intended. We must hunger for that heavenly righteousness as a starving man hungers for a crust of bread.

That kind of hunger will lead inevitably to the foot of the cross. At the cross I am reminded again and again that I have no righteousness in myself. I can do nothing to satisfy my need for righteousness. I am spiritually bankrupt. Jesus made that clear in the first Beatitude, blessed are the poor in spirit. But it is also at that cross that I receive my one true hope. I find that Jesus has gone to that cross on my behalf so that I may indeed be in a right relationship with the Father. And that is at the heart of righteousness. It is being made right with God, being in a right relationship with him because my sin has been forgiven. Jesus promises that if I hunger for that kind of righteousness that I will be filled.

As much as I may look at the world and the appalling lack of righteousness in it, I have to look deep into my own heart first. It is there that I must hunger for righteousness before anywhere else. It is in my own heart and my own relationship with God that I must thirst for right things. It is in my heart of hearts that I must yearn for a love for those around me that knows no bounds.

It is a humbling thing to admit that in our hearts we are just not right with God and others as we need to be. But it is also a very freeing thing. It frees me to become the person I know Jesus wants me to be and to look with expectation and hope to the day when all my hunger and thirst will be satisfied.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

I have long wondered why ‘blessed are the pure in heart’ is my least favorite of the Beatitudes. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it has a lot to do with the fact that this is the one that I a clearly do not exemplify in my own life. The simple truth is, the more I look into my heart of hearts, the further from God I realize that I am. I keep getting reminded of the somewhat creepy sounding statement from the old radio show, The Shadow: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” You see, the issue is, the more I get to know Jesus the more I see the evil that lurks in my heart. Not only does the Shadow know, but I know and there is no psychological trick of denial that is strong enough, or effective enough, to cover over that fact and hide that truth.

The closer I get to Jesus the more I realize I am a despicable, sinful, self-centered, egotistical, covetous person. At this point you are all supposed to say, “oh no Dan, you’re wonderful, awesome, and godly, don’t be so hard on yourself, we love you”. Thanks. I appreciate the gesture, but that is exactly how our world tries to deal with the sinfulness of our hearts and it just doesn’t cut it. Denying that one has cancer will not get rid of the cancer. A correct diagnosis and surgery can. Denying the sin in my heart will not make my heart pure anymore than painting over the X-ray of the tumor will make it go away.

Now here is the huge irony in all of this. It rests in the statement “the closer I get to Jesus the more I realize how sinful I am”.  As the sin in our life gets dealt with and we grow to be more like Jesus, our heart is getting more pure. As a result we see who God is with greater clarity than ever. BUT, we also see the sin that remains with that same clarity. I may have been able to effectively deal with a mouth that swore like a drunken trucker before I came to Jesus. But as I get closer to Him I realize that sins of the heart, like envy or jealousy, are harder to deal with. And, as long as I don’t do something too overt to let that sin out, nobody else knows about. I look good on the outside, but the inside is not what it should be.

So what’s the answer? I found it in a 4th century book by St. Augustine titled, “Confessions”. In it I saw a man who learned to be honest about the sin in His heart. He exposed it to the light of truth. And just like a vampire from a Hollywood science fiction movie, it looses all power and crumbles to dust when exposed to the light. Sadly, Christians have learned to paint over and hide their heartfelt sins. We have learned not to expose them and make them known because we so quickly get rejected by other Christians who are threatened by the possibility of having to expose their own sin.

Jesus has a very different approach. It is called confession, repentance, and forgiveness. He deals with our sin and urges us to move on and get even closer to Him. But I want to warn you, when you do that you will find out even more of the things that lurk in your heart. A further part of the irony here is that the closer you get to God, the more you realize that you are farther from Him than you thought. As you see the glory and holiness of God more clearly, because your heartfelt sins are being dealt with, the more you see that you are not nearly as close to Him as you hoped. You are more sinful than you knew, and he is more holy than you ever imagined. But there is hope. Jesus makes a promise in this verse that if you continue to pursue a pure heart and are honest with Him about your sin, the day will come when you will stand before Him, face to face. You will be welcomed into His eternal kingdom. As Paul says, “now we see as if dimly in a mirror, but then we will see face to face.”

Betrayal

Betrayal

If you have ever been the victim of a deep betrayal, you can understand and describe the pain with vivid imagery. I believe that these same gut wrenching human emotion pierced Jesus’ heart when one of His very own betrayed Him. You see, Judas,  for a lowly amount of coins, betrayed the forever King. It makes no sense, yet we are all at some point in our lives betrayers. We all make decisions that sacrifice the ultimate worth of Christ’s love for cheap pleasures.

I can think back to moments when metaphorical coins seemed a desirable trade for choosing my fleshly desires over my spiritual ones. In simple terms,  I was choosing sin over Jesus,  I was Judas in those betraying moments. Has this ever described you? It’s perhaps not the most pleasant thought to dig deep into, but can you name your offenses? Can you list your sins? For some, it might be easier than others and I want you to know that when Jesus becomes your Lord and Savior, there is no more condemnation – Jesus removes your sins as far as the east is from the west. Yet, the point in which I am trying to highlight is that without recognizing and repenting of our betrayals, we can never truly see the fulfillment that comes when grace is presented. There is a Scripture in 2 Timothy 11- 13 that hit me pretty hard when I read it and I would like to share it with you,

Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we disown Him, He will also disown us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot disown himself.

Did you notice how the beginning lines all have the opposite outcomes? Dying means life, suffering means ruling and, later on in the verse, faithlessness is remarkably met with faithfulness. Jesus was always using radical ideas to describe His Kingdom. In fact, The Beatitudes are a great example of this as well. Yet, will He call us His if we do not call Him ours? The answer is no. We cannot expect to live a life of betrayal towards God (even if we speak Him with our lips, but not without our entire being), and claim to be His. God’s sovereign name does not allow this injustice. We may pretend by doing all the things that look ‘right’ on the surface and still, Jesus can respond by saying, “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23)

Thus, repentance and a true relationship with Him is necessary. Betrayal is simply not an option when it comes to belonging. We must recognize that this makes God a good God, unchanging and unwavering in all of His ways. Yet, there is good news for us who are weak…this does not mean we are perfect. In fact, we can screw up! We can lack faith and fall short (like Paul so often spoke about in the New Testament) and God is still faithful. Why? He cannot show betrayal to those who are marked His. Jesus’ costly bloodshed will not allow God to turn us away when we are sealed by His precious covering that occurred on the cross. He cannot deny Himself. We can be Peter, at times, sinking in an ocean deep even though we can hear God saying “come” and He will never disown us for we are His. He will keep reaching His hand towards us. However what we cannot survive is to live as Judas. We cannot kiss Him, yet deny Him. We must make sure that we are pursuing His will (and not our own) or we are living in a way that breaks His heart.

I hope that as you are dying to your flesh daily, remembering that in the end you are truly gaining. I hope that you also remember that when you endure, you will someday reign. And, when you fall short, I hope that you never forget that He is still faithful. So, I’ll end by proposing the same thought I began with slightly modified: have you ever been the cause of a deep betrayal? Was this offense towards the One who wants to call you His and capture you heart forever? I believe that these gut wrenching and human emotions of betrayal pierce Jesus’ heart when one of His decides to choose to betray.

Good Friday

Good Friday: How Love Wins

To any of you who have not purchased what is in my opinion one of the greatest Christian albums of all time, buy yourself this precious gift. The CD is called “Music Inspired By The Story” and it features some of the top Christian artists singing songs from many different Bible characters perspectives. The way in which Nicole Nordman, the lyricist, and Bernie Herms, the composer, express humanity and God’s love in this musical composition is nothing short of an inspired masterpiece. Yes, I am this passionate about it and the dozens of people I have convinced to purchase this album have agreed with me! If you own this CD, you know I am right and please leave a comment as to which is your favorite song (mine changes constantly).

As I shift gears, I personally have been inspired by one of the songs on the CD called “This is How Love Wins.” The words leave me in tears every time. As we approach Good Friday, I’d like to reflect on Jesus’ death through the eyes of a very unlikely man. You see, the word “Cavalry” makes me emotional. For those of you who read these articles each day, you can refer to my “Love at First Sight” article to further understand my connection to, and passion for, the streets I walked in Jerusalem that led to a deeper understanding of God’s great love and the personal song it inspired called, “He Gave Calvary.” This passion is understandable because this is where Jesus began the journey to win us back. We were nothing more than common criminals, thieves, who had robbed God of so much love and repaid Him with constant disobedience.

We were just like Joe. Who is Joe, you are probably wondering? I am glad you asked! Joe was a kid who was always getting into trouble and from a young age had a bit of a mean streak. He tried hard to please his parents while in elementary school, but after his many attempts to win their love had failed, Joe decided he would capture other people’s attention by being the neighborhood troublemaker. Joe was a small kid who always boasted scuffed up knees and smelt of rotten eggs. By middle school, Joe embraced his evil by causing other people pain in any way he possibly could. He would throw rocks and break windows, bully other children, and disrespect adults. Needless to say, school was mostly spent in detention and the principal’s waiting room. It wasn’t long before Joe’s family split and his now single-mother had to take another job to pay the bills. This resulted in Joe living out his nights home alone. Joe knew he was abandoned, unloved, and a mistake. In fact, deep down he wished he could change who he was, but he had established his identity as a hoodlum and he was committed to be something, even if that something was a no-good teenage boy. As Joe grew up, fathers kept their daughters far from Joe and Joe became increasingly lonely. Joe had no friends, no one who loved him, and he had no education or promise of a future. After dropping out of school his sophomore year, his time was spent drinking, smoking and trying to experience new ‘highs.’ By the time he was nineteen, he was out of juvie and back in jail a year later for car theft. There seemed no hope for Joe. Many years later, Joe found himself on death row for murdering four girls who were all teenagers. No one would be sad to see Joe pay for his sins and no one would ever love Joe. Yet, this is not what happened in Joe’s story next.

Here are some of the words to the song “This is How Love Wins,” will you pretend with me for a moment that this was Joe’s voice singing these words?

My life began like any other man held beneath a mother’s loving gaze
Somewhere between now and then I lost the man I could have been
Took everything that wasn’t mine to take but love believes that it is not too late
Only one of us deserves this cross, a suffering that should belong to me
Deep within this man I hang beside is the place where shame and grace collide
And it’s beautiful agony that He believes it’s not too late for me

This is how love wins, every single time
Climbing high upon a tree where someone else should die
This is how love heals, the deepest part of you
Letting Himself bleed into the middle of your wounds
This is what love says, standing at the door
You don’t have to be who you’ve been before
Silenced by His voice, death can’t speak again
This is how love wins

We now see that Joe, this fictional, no-good character, did one remarkable life changing thing – he allowed God’s love in. He surrendered to Jesus and called Him Savior – repenting of all his sins. Joe’s story could have been similar to the nameless thief on the cross who accepted Christ just moments from his last breath and who is now in Heaven with our Lord. Joe could be countless little boys who are growing up right now, unloved, unwanted and yet, they also still have one final hope: redemption through Jesus. Even if you see yourself as a pretty good person, there is probably a part of Joe that is a part of you. We are all sinful, lost, hopeless, people without one truth: Good Friday. Good Friday and Jesus’ decision to embrace Calvary that allowed all the average and horrific Joes, who could never be good enough in their own right, to become royal children of a King. This is how love wins, every single time.

If you need to be freed from guilt and sin, Good Friday makes this possible. It’s a beautiful gift and one where love wins. The following is a Scripture that allows you to change your story. If you are a Joe, the good, bad, or ugly version, I challenge you to allow love in,

“That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”  (Romans 10:9-10)

If this was your fist time truly believing these words, please send us an e-mail so that we can begin to help you on this amazing journey. If you are a believer already, please don’t forget to intentionally seek after other ‘Joes.’ You have truth that they need and Good Friday is a perfect time to start allowing love to win.