Believing The Love Of Jesus

by Eric S. Love
podcast available

For a few weeks I have been hearing about walking with an awareness of God’s presence, and how even the word “presence” conjures a sterile religious idea into our minds when we use it.

But I mean living in a constant state of awareness of God’s “there-ness” so that He isn’t a force on the outside who intervenes in our lives from time to time no more than someone we have chosen to spend the day with at the mall would intervene in our lives. They would actually determine what our day was like because they are the ones we’ve chosen to be with.

If we come to place where we realize we need direction, it is often too late. We need to be in relationship with the Father that is a few steps ahead of us having to ask for guidance. (Yes, I know: you don’t have because you don’t ask... ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and I’ll open the door...)

If we dropped sweet and sour chicken down our shirt in the food court while we were with a friend at the mall, they would tell us without us having to ask first. If we were stepping out in front of a car in the parking lot, they’d pull us back by the nape of the neck without us having to ask them to.

So it should be with God. He’s the one we are with so he doesn’t intervene as much as He “determines.” How many times have we opened our mouths to say one thing and found that we have spilled something ugly down the front of ourselves... or how often do we long headlong into a confrontation without the slightest suggestion beforehand that it was coming?

But if God is who we are with, He will deal with so much of those things without us even having to ask. The problem is we don’t see God like that and I believe one of the main reasons we don’t is because of how we believe God sees us... and that mislead train of thought is the direct result of us not having a real faith in God’s love.

“Dear John” or “John, Dear...”

I was talking with Teri the other day and she told me something she had been hearing: It seems that we go through our lives and our walk with the Lord expecting at any moment to receive a “Dear John” letter (which, for those like me who have no idea what that means exactly... it is a term that describes letters servicemen would receive from their sweethearts back home terminating their relationship) - with the constant dread that if we can’t hold all this stuff together, it is only a matter of time before God grows weary of us and calls the whole thing off.

In reality, God writes only “John Dear” letters to us - which are not letters about tractors, but are reminders of his undying love for us. We do not understand this kind of behavior, though because we still maintain the attitude of the prodigal and the other brother: that somehow it is up to us to get God to like us.

If that were the case, we’d all be lost.

The Prodigal... (Luke 15:11-32)

How easy it is to truly believe that God loves us? According to our Sunday school lessons and Christian bumper stickers, we are all fully aware of God’s love and believe in it whole-heartedly.

And yet, we tend to carry a belligerent kind of prodigal attitude, as though at any moment we may commit the one sin God will not abide and we will be cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Am I saying that is is not possible to so offend God? Not exactly. But what I am saying is that many of us tend to live as though in fear that we could do it at any moment. Or, if that is a little too intense, we live as though at any moment God may grow weary of our threadbare faith - the way we continue to fret and fuss over the same issues, the way we continue to dawdle in the same week areas of sin and fear, the way we can’t seem to commit enough time to prayer, the word, worship - and He will simply look away as though He can’t bear to look at us for one more second.

The truth is, our attitude toward God reflects that we believe we can cross a line and offend Him too greatly for Him to put up with us anymore. It is our own preoccupation with sin that keeps our eyes on ourselves more than on Him. If we looked at Him, we would know that He is looking at us - we are His preoccupation, not our sin.

God doesn’t want us to say no to sin just because it’s a rule He established to keep us from indulging in carnal pleasure any more than a parent would want their child to stay away from poison because they are afraid he might enjoy it.

Our preoccupation of sin leads to fear and arrogance. Our fear that we are never good enough and our arrogance to think we are better than others or have somehow earned God’s love by being good. (More on this later.)

If God is so easily offended by our short comings, then why did He arrange for the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus to set us free? And why would He Himself come down in the form of Jesus to walk and live among us? Wouldn’t it have become obvious somewhere around the time of Moses that humans are a hopeless cause?

Yet He persists. (And we would do well to seriously ask the question, “Why...”)

Will God grow tired of us? If He would, He would have done it by now. But to get a clear picture of God’s heart, spoken by the very mouth of Jesus, let’s look at the parable of the prodigal son.

This is a guy who took from his father everything that he had believed he was entitled to - his inheritance. He wasted every penny of it on wine and women (what the bible calls reckless and loose living) and had been degraded to eating slop with pigs. Having no where to go and nothing to show for himself, he decided to beg his father to let him return as a servant. At least then he would have a place to live and food to eat.

But he had underestimated his father’s love.

This prodigal was the worst kind of child you can imagine having, I suppose. He took and wasted with no gratitude. And when he returned, he returned because he had no other option and his heart toward his father was one of fear. Since it is hard for me to imagine a worse condition, let’s assume that we are all at least as good as this son (since it would be hard to be worse) and see what we can learn about God’s heart for us.

Waiting And Watching

The most obvious and most astounding truth is thin parable to me is that the father never forgot his son, never gave up on him, never quit waiting. In fact, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved and he ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). It sounds as if his father was actually looking for him, as if he were waiting and watching.

That’s what we don’t get. God isn’t looking for a way out in His relationship with us... He is only looking for a way in deeper.

Once again: God isn’t looking for a way out in His relationship with us... He is only looking for a way in deeper.

He keeps coming and keeps coming. When He sees us coming from a long way off, He runs to meet us. When we run from Him, he chases us. No matter where we go or what we do, we cannot outrun God’s pursuit of us or out last His desire for us. It’s simply impossible.

Throughout the Old Testament, there are records of judgment which tends to convince people of God’s insatiable hunger for justice. The earth swallowing people. The sea swallowing people. Angels bringing plague and death. All sorts of judgement. But those things come and go. They come in waves - in moments when the people’s disobedience had become so heinous that there was no other choice. But all of it passes. Judgement never lasts, even in the Old Testament...

Even their captivity they had been warned would happen if their stupidity persisted - warned for hundreds of years in fact. Even it passed.

Yet the one constant throughout the whole of the Old Testament is God’s pursuit of Israel. He never stops. Never. We get so caught up on the judgement of sin that we miss the endurance of God’s mercy.

Did you hear that? We get so caught up on the judgement of sin that we miss the endurance of God’s mercy.

And what about Jesus? The sinner dying on the cross beside Him who receives grace at the last possible moment? Yep. Or the woman who stunk of her adultery and was going to be stoned: what did Jesus say? “Whoever is without sin cast the first stone.” Was He condoning sin in the woman’s life? Not at all. But He did point out that it exists in all of us - that’s what “he who is without sin cast the first stone” means. None of us are without sin. The point was He looked past her sin to give her the opportunity to accept His love. It was love that set her free to “go and sin no more.”

Think about it: Jesus said He didn’t come to save the righteous, but to save the lost. So it isn’t a disqualifier if we are sinners. And think of the parable of the lost sheep: He goes searching for the one who is lost - wether they are lost without ever having known Him or one of His own who seems to temporarily lost their way. He goes to get them.

This love of God’s is NOT an excuse for us to sin. No... but like the woman caught in her adultery, it is a REASON for us to believe in love and be truly set free by it. To be transformed by it.

We talk about God’s justice, but it is hardly just by our standards that we can be forever pardoned for our sin and inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. But we do.

The Other Brother

So how did the other brother respond when the father lavished all those incredible gifts on his lost son, put the family ring on his finger, killed the fatted calf and decided to throw a party instead of giving him the thorough tongue lashing that he had properly earned? Well naturally, he was justifiably outraged. Hadn’t he always done the right thing? Hadn’t he always stayed by his father’s side? Hadn’t he tended to the affairs of the family? He had never squandered anything in his life, but no fat calfs were ever slaughtered to benefit his party.

He was livid. In fact he wouldn’t even go in to the party, but sulked outside. He had never even been allowed to have his friends over for a party!

You know what? Believe it or not, he and his once lost brother share the exact same attitude. They both see the father the exact same way. This other brother’s attitude is the very same attitude that fears God will grow tired of us... It is the attitude that keeps us from being close to God because we are so focused on what’s wrong with us.

What do I mean? This other brother believed that because he had done everything right, he deserved more than the brother who had wasted it all. He believed that because he was more faithful, he should be esteemed more highly. That’s the way we think, only we don’t actually have the faith that we can pull it off - so the only thing we can assume is that we are not good enough and we don’t deserve our Father’s esteem.

See: Our preoccupation of sin leads to fear and arrogance. Our fear that we are never good enough and our arrogance to think we are better than others or have somehow earned God’s love by being good. It’s the same disease. The only difference is what side of it we happen to be standing on today.

And when this is our focus, we easily vacillate between the two extremes.

The truth is, both brothers missed the point. One was afraid of approaching because of failure and the other believed that having everything right gave him the right to more. Actually, they are the exact same attitude. What I deserve is based on what I do.

But it’s not.

Our Rightful Inheritance

Have you ever really thought about this guy’s inheritance? Was there a law binding his father to give it up? Not that we can see. In fact, he was the younger and so Jewish law would have given the whole of the inheritance to the elder son. Was he even old enough to claim it? We are not told his age, but we are given the impression that it was premature. In fact, he had to ask for his portion so clearly it was not the time for him to receive it.?
So what gave him the right to take it in the first place? Not what, but who: His father.

The boy’s inheritance belonged to his father. And his father chose to give it to him. And when he wasted it on a terrible, sinful life, his father gave him more.

Is that just? No. But after all, it was the father’s right to do what he wanted with his own wealth.

Now think of our inheritance. What right do we have to take it? The right our Father gives us. And after all, it is His and He can do with it what He wants. Who are we to tell Him that He is being careless with His wealth when He chooses to give it freely to us? It’s His to do with what He wants. And He wants to share everything He has with us... and even though He wants us to be good stewards, our capacity to invest wisely is not a prerequisite for us to walk in our inheritance.

Does that sound false? Then think of the parable of talents: the only one who lost his gift was the one who buried it out of fear. Every other man was rewarded - no matter how little he may have actually earned with it.

Many tend to think we are somehow unworthy of God’s gifts and assume that to blatantly try and develop them is arrogance, so we discreetly shy away from them, utilizing them sparsely, and think it humility. Actually, that’s burying it out of fear - and that’s the only way we know of for sure to lose something.

I once worked with a man who I had a disagreement on. I explained that I felt God had prompted me to say and do a series of things - and the fruit later on justified my believing this, but at the time it was an act of faith since no one could see fruit coming from it.

He said to me, “Sure God will prompt us to do or say things sometimes, but you know as well as I do that it doesn’t happen that often...”

I looked at him and said, “That’s so sad. You serve a God whom you actually believe chooses not to talk to you.” He gave a cynical laugh and asked if I actually believed God did talk to me. I responded, “Every single day.”

What is it that makes us feel so insignificant as to believe that God withholds Himself from us until we have somehow earned His attention or until we have passed into the ethereal reality of life after death? The same thing that makes us look down our noses at people we see not on their way to church on Sunday mornings or who leave a gas station with a brown paper sack wrapped around a bottle.

Why would God give Himself to us only in part? Would that validate the sacrifice of Jesus?

I say this a lot: Our humanity is neither a turn off to God nor a deterrent. He created our humanity. And I love Ezekiel 36:26 when He promises to remove our heart of stone and put in us a heart of flesh. He loves our humanity. He understands the price of sin on it, the effects of our fallen nature in a fallen world, and He reaches past it - the greatest demonstration of His love being that He saved us while we were yet sinners. God gives because He trusts us. His love is the greatest example of this.

Think of the Samaritan woman at the well... We know that Jesus showed her love. And she was amazed because He was a Jew and she was a Samaritan. Yet He loved her.

Do you know where this Jewish/Samaritan rift originated? With the atrocious sins of Ahab and Jezebel, when Samaria became the capital of Israel. The Samaritan people - the entire race - was the product of gross immoral acts, interbreeding, idolatry... sin so vulgar that it became the standard by which all future sin in the O.T. would be compared.

So this woman’s very existence was the result of an absolute defiance against God.  But no matter. Jesus saved her and her whole village.

What about Legion... you know, the man who was possessed by so many demons they couldn’t be counted... How horrible of a person must you be to become possessed by that many demons? What must you do to get that bad? Who knows?

We do know this: the legion of demons asked for Jesus to show them mercy instead of casting them into darkness - and the amazing thing is He does. Did you ever wonder why? I believe it was for the sake of the man they were inhabiting. I can’t be certain of this, but I would imagine they would have ripped him to pieces as they were cast out, but Jesus showed them mercy in order to save the man’s life. And his soul.

What’s the point? No sin is so ugly that Jesus will refuse to reach past it in order to touch our hearts. So surely He will forfeit His heart for us over the petty things we cannot seem to reconcile in ourselves.

The Hidden Treasure

Matthew 13:44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

Most of us know the meaning of this parable without even having to think about it. Apparently it was meant to be pretty obvious since it only takes one verse to give and has no verses explaining it.

However, a couple of years ago God showed me this parable in a very different light.

First, I want us to look at another verse: Luke 17:21. When asked how the Kingdom would come, Jesus answered, “... the Kingdom of God is within you.”

The Kingdom is something we should desire and pursue above all things. And we should understand that the Kingdom is not something we can get to, but something we make up - together. We are the Kingdom.

In light of this reality, the kingdom being like a treasure hidden in a field... someone found it and believed it to be worth more than anything else. So he sold everything he had in order to purchase that field for good.

Can’t you see it? That is exactly what God did for us. He purchased that field with the blood of Jesus. And we are the treasure that He wanted above all else. No matter where we go or what we do, we cannot outrun God’s pursuit of us or out last His desire for us. It’s simply impossible.

God’s desire for us is something He find irresistible.

Eric Love, 4/18/2010