Story Time

Jude 20 – 21

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

May I tell you a story today? Recently I attended an event where I met another pastor. He and I began to discuss our ministries and to my surprise I characterized my ministry by saying, “I hang out in God’s love.” I told him that is the most important topic of my ministry. Let me tell you why that is funny.

When I was young, I thought the pastors who preached on love sounded like a bunch of milk toast sissies. I was young, tough and strong. I wanted to hear about a strong God. Then I ran into my pastor for my life, Pat Markley. No one would every call Pat a sissy. In fact, he was a former navy seal. It was no accident that our Father led me to Pat. I needed that image to help me understand that true love is tough and strong. So, though I have learned much since then, I still found myself surprised identifying myself and my ministry in such a manner.

The other pastor immediately began to speak of God’s wrath. Again, a bit funny in that I had just had a conversation with someone else about God’ compassion where I said, “How can anyone know the Father and believe Him to be angry?” We have made great sport about God striking us with lightening when we say something foolish, but I always thought people knew better. Well, this pastor believes it is his job to preach on God’s wrath. This same preacher (perhaps a better moniker than pastor) had just quoted John 3: 16 to me, “For God so loved . . ..” I mean, get a revelation, “God is love,” (1 John 4: 8).

I encourage you to read the book of Jude. It is quite short. Jude does spend 19 verses recounting the history of the wicked and from that this preacher got his message. However, it isn’t until verse 20 that Jude begins to address his audience and when he does direct his words directly to his audience, his message is love. He spends the first part of his book on the historical record, but his conclusion, his actual message comes after the conjunction “but” in the twentieth verse. That is the way arguments are constructed. The prelude is the background against which the message shall be forecast. His message, then, is “keep yourselves in the love of God.”

Our God is love; He is characterized by love. He did not send his beloved son to earth to die a horrible death just so He could pour out His wrath upon us! Come on! God isn’t sending people to hell. His whole thing is saving people from hell. Some people refuse to be saved, and that is their choice. With free will comes the choice to choose heaven or hell. Back in Deuteronomy God told us the choice between life and death was ours to make but His recommendation was that we choose life (Deuteronomy 30: 19).

After that evening and discussion regarding wrath versus love, I came home and read Jude multiple times. I read it and prayed until I was certain Father had ministered His wisdom to me regarding the book. I came away with the conviction that God is love. To know the Father is to know love. My mission is to bring people into the presence of God. In His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16: 11). How can His presence be full of joy if He is an angry, vengeful God? To know God is to know unsurpassed love. The more we get to know Him, the more we will see that He is love.

Therefore, my message is simply this, God loves you! He loves you far more than you can even imagine. He loves you more than you love your own children. He wants you saved and living eternally with Him in heaven. Be blessed in the truth.

The Love of Salvation

1 John 4: 8

God is love.

Let’s talk about salvation a little bit today. We have all kinds of thoughts and theories about salvation and from many different perspectives. I would like to focus on love today. Dare I? What’s love got to do with it? I think you already know the answer. Absolutely everything.

From where does salvation come? We know that salvation is the product of Jesus’ sacrifice. We also believe that we have a responsibility to share the good news of Jesus’ offering to others so that they may know that the price of salvation has been paid for them? So, here is the question, what happens if a person dies having never encountered a person who told them about the love of God?

John 3: 16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” Jesus went on in verse 17 to say that he did not come to the earth to judge and condemn, but rather to save. So, God, who is love, offered his own son as a sin sacrifice for us because that is what love does. Another way of thinking about Jesus’ sojourn on earth is that the entire trip here was so that people would be saved.  If God sent Jesus to earth to save us, doesn’t it stand to reason that He would provide assurity that we all get multiple chances at salvation.  Would God go to such extreme measures and then leave salvation to chance?  Love saves. Love does not condemn. Love doesn’t judge, banish or kill. Those are the things of the thief, not of the Father. God gave everything so that each person on earth might be saved. Let me say this again, “Love Saves!”

So, now let me ask the question again. What happens to a person who leaves this earth having never made a confession for Christ? The answer is, Love saves. God is not dependent on me to have preached this glorious gospel in order for Him to save someone. God did not leave salvation to people. He and Jesus provided it. If you think about it, you realize it is very arrogant of us to think that we are the source of salvation. We tend to think that a person’s salvation is decided here on this earth and because some person preached him the gospel. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for everyone of us telling the good news of our salvation. I just don’t think God has left this important matter to such tenuous circumstances.

I believe in love. I believe in a Father who gave His son specifically to save us. It stands to reason, then, that He has plenty of methods in place to assure that people get the chance to meet Jesus. Who says that has to happen on this earth? Does God not have the means to control the stars and planets? Can He not meet a person in the Spirit or in ascension? Who knows, but we know that God is big. He is not limited to this earth or our corporeal ideas.

I am not saying I believe in limbo, because I know that my salvation is not the product of my right or wrong behaviors. It is because of Jesus and him only. I know my Father well enough to know that if He gave His son to die a cruel death for humanity, He isn’t going to sit on His thumbs and let us go to hell. I am convinced He has His ways to preach the gospel to people after they leave the earth. And why not? Why do we think the whole universe is tied up in our miniscule realm of experience? God is big, the universe is big, and He has ways.

Do you have a loved one who passed away without a public expression of faith? Do not worry. Jesus didn’t die on a cross just to let them pass to eternal torment without introducing himself personally. And when someone meets Jesus face to face, they will make a proper decision for him. Everyone who meets Jesus wants to be with him.

Love saves. It sent Jesus to the cross for salvation. Will Yahweh Father not do everything He can to make sure we all get to enjoy that salvation with Him? What does Love have to do with salvation? Everything, absolutely everything.

Grace & Judgment

John 3: 17

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.

Many of us know John 3: 16, but Jesus went further with his declaration of purpose. This idea goes along with the pronouncement that grace and truth are realized in Jesus. Judgment is an anchor around our necks, one which Jesus is here to free us of. Being judged is no fun but being the one with a judgmental spirit is just painful.

Grace means you are free to move from laws to principles. You are free to accept people  even when someone sets a foot awry. The law is very strict and it is judgmental. Law tends to be black and white. It is not gracious and kind. It takes people to add that gentility and forgiveness. Forgiveness and grace flow from the Father. Acceptance and understanding are beyond law concepts. That is not to say that we should pay no heed to the laws of the land or God’s laws. It is to say that grace is the ability to see beyond the law to the greater principle of serving one another in love. Grace does not mean lawlessness. It represents a higher degree of behavioral deportment. The law did not require Jesus to heal anyone. In fact, the law forbade him healing on the Sabbath. Grace, truth, mercy and the love of God required Jesus to show compassion.

Judgement was, and is, easy. The Pharisees did not need to lift a finger to condemn the sick or criticize Jesus.  The law required nothing of them.  Strict adherence to the letter of law would have left the sick in pain and torment.  It also condemned Jesus. The Pharisees were so stuck in their judgments that they could neither receive nor administer grace. Law and judgment are evil twins. If we, as a body of believers, lean towards law, then we will also find ourselves quick to judge. When we, on the other hand, are full of the grace of the Lord, we find it easier to minister forgiveness and understanding.

Tomorrow – part 3 of Moses’ Law and Jesus’ grace.

The Next Words

John 3:17

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

I have been riding my bike quite a bit this summer and one interesting observation of note is the number and variety of places I have seen quoted John 3: 16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” You will not be surprised that I have seen it on more than one church sign but would you believe I have ridden by private residences with this verse posted in their yard or at their mailbox. It is encouraging that people are devoted to Jesus’ words and sacrifice on behalf of the world. I would hazard a guess that John 3: 16 is the most widely known verse in the Bible. What I find interesting, though, is that so few people have any idea what Jesus said in the very next verse, practically in the same breath. It seems to me, that verse 17 is at least as important as verse 16. Verse 17 tells us that God sent the Son into the world for salvation. He came to save the world. It goes further by relieving our anxiety about judgment in that Jesus explicitly says that God did not send him to earth to judge the world. Whew! Salvation without judgment. Does the Good News get any better than that?

It seems clear that one of the reasons we do not know verse 17 is because it is not taught to us or drilled into us the way verse 16 has been. Truly, there does not seem to be as much teaching, especially good teaching, on judgment. Recently I dialogued with someone about sin. What caused it to be enlightening is that, for many people, though they are happy to hear that Jesus isn’t judging them, they shy away from verse 17 because it might force them to drop their negative judgments of others. If we don’t preach verse 17 then we are free to go on judging others. Afterall, it is their sin which is compromising the world, not mine.

This is dangerous theology at best; an all out denial of the Gospel of Christ at the worst. I do not deny that living a judgment free life is extraordinarily hard. That is why we need a daily walk with Jesus. Only by his wisdom and strength can we learn to let go of the painful reality of a critical spirit. We suffer greatly if we fail to let go of judgment and criticism. Jesus died for the people we like to denigrate. I can’t think that makes him feel very good or very proud of us. I write this today in the hopes that we will begin to think about John 3: 17 with some of the same fervor that we have given verse 16 and in meditating on it, that we might become a gentler, more compassionate body of believers.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Matthew 5: 44 – 45            NET

But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

You’ve heard that you are to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you and that is a good focus of this passage, but I particularly like verse 45 for two reasons. First, it tells us the reason for the mandate to pray and love, which is that we might be like our Father. Secondly, it teaches us the difference between love and judgment, loudly revealing our Father as one who loves.

After we get saved and Jesus begins to clean us up, it is easy for us to want to separate ourselves from the unrighteousness people and actions we see in the world. Unfortunately, we begin to judge those people and we separate the world in to we and they. This, our Father does not do. He loves the whole world, so much, in fact, that he gave His only begotten son so that NONE should perish (John 3: 16). Speaking of John 3: 16, do you know what the very next verse says? “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” By the way, those were words spoken by Jesus. God sacrificed His only son so that through his sacrifice, the world might be saved, not condemned.

God sent His blessing into this world and it will work for whomever will work according to the way Yahweh engineered it. Sometimes, the unsaved are better believers than we are and thus, succeed to a greater extent than we. This ought not be, but it is. We are too busy fussing at each other and judging other Christians and the unsaved that we fill our churches, and our own souls with doubt and unbelief.

God put spiritual and physical laws into the earth. Gravity is a great example of one of these laws. Gravity works the same on the wicked as on the righteous, doesn’t it? God sends His rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. He is constantly pouring out His best to anyone who will accept Him. He has also created laws which exist in the spirit realm. They too work for whoever applies them. He told us that whatever we believe, we can have (Mark 11: 23 – 24). He has told us to use our words to create our dreams and even that the power of life is in our tongues (Proverb 18: 21). Yet I find we are still running around spewing all kinds of garbage and unbelief from our mouths. Meanwhile, others are using God’s success system to great effect and they never give Him the credit. We are too worried about criticizing anyone who succeeds and making sure our pastors never have too nice a car to ever live in God’s overflow. We are afraid of being criticized ourselves. That is one of the reasons why so many Christians are so carnal. They look at the church and don’t want any part of it. They want Christ but they find the lifestyle of the heathen more attractive and they find more love outside the church than in it.

I don’t like it and I bet you don’t either. We’ve got to begin to take this gospel seriously. We need to buckle down and become students of the Word and believers. Then we need to do what the Word tells us. We need to commune with God and listen to His voice. We need to let the Holy Spirit guide us without getting all weird about it. Just quiet yourself down and listen to him.

None of us wants to be a part of this mealy mouth Christianity. None of us wants to see the unsaved surpassing God’s people using God’s own system. We are supposed to succeed and then give God the glory. And, we’ve got to stop judging one another and “those other guys.” Jesus said he didn’t come to judge the world so what makes us think we should. God sends the rain on both our crops, so He isn’t judging. He isn’t withholding His blessing. Our judgments are killing us while those we criticize are experiencing faith healing, financial prosperity and loving relationships. It is time we got over ourselves and seriously begin imitating our Father and learning His ways. Love is our mandate. Turn in your judge’s robe for a coat of compassion. Let love and acceptance color the way you think of all people, yes ALL, even those unsaved because God has not separated us into we and them. He is sending His truth to everyone who will listen. He is sending the nourishing rain to whomever will receive. Be blessed in the name and power of Jesus and live this gospel to the full. Receive God’s blessing and share that blessing with others. Let it overflow onto others, the good and the bad.

Salvation Cometh

Psalm 34: 22

None of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.

Psalm 34 is one of the truly great psalms of David and in running a search, I find I have written on it several times, especially verse 10. I have never, however, written on verse 22 before. As I read Psalm 34, I found so many great messages and fabulous verses but what of this lonely verse here at the end of this great psalm? Does it have anything to say to you today? Here is what I heard as I read.

Our God is all about rescue and salvation. You have only to read the rest of the psalm to realize that. We talk a lot about John 3: 16 but I don’t think we understand it. I don’t think it has ever penetrated the fibrous matter of our hearts to lodge itself in the tender nucleus where love resides. God so loves every single person on this planet that He allowed His son, His dear and precious child, to be mutilated, beaten and ultimately killed so that not one of us should perish. He sacrificed His beautiful, perfect child so that all the wretched people of this planet could escape that which was due each of us, eternal torment in hell. This is no small thing. It is a lynchpin of Christianity. Ultimately, though, the act of giving the sacrificial, unblemished lamb is not the most important aspect of Christianity. It is merely an obvious outcome when we finally come to understand 1 John 4: 8, “God is love.” You see, when you understand 1 John 4: 8 then John 3: 16 becomes a necessary consequence of who God is. It had to be this way. It’s not a decision. Because God is love, He really had very little choice. He is compelled to rescue those whom He loves. All that is required is that we call upon Him. He cannot, and will not, violate free will. He gave away the power of choice but when you realize that He is moved by compassion you further understand that everything He does is driven by love and love requires Him to rescue you, even from yourself.

This verse from today’s psalm or 1 John 4: 8 is the ultimate salvation scripture. To my way of thinking it is better than John 3: 16. It is because God is love that He sent His beloved. It is God’s driving passion that everyone should enter heaven and live out eternity with Him. He has plans upon plans for getting people into eternal blessing. Jeremiah 29: 11 tells us that God has good plans for us, plans for our well-being, not our destruction, plans for a future and for hope. He has a plan in place to save us from calamity. That is our Father.

People have a very skewed sense of salvation and condemnation. What’s worse, the church even, or especially, has confused Him as the God of condemnation, the God of damnation. That couldn’t be anymore wrong. How hard is it to understand that He is love? When He poured Himself out into the earth, love entered in and love acts a certain way. It saves and nurtures. It is neither vindictive nor critical. God knew what He was getting when He chose us. He isn’t crazy or stupid. He has always had a plan for our ultimate happiness.

So, if you are worried about someone who died without you knowing whether they made a declaration for Christ or not, worry no longer. God has plans to get us into heaven. I am not saying there aren’t wicked people who will choose hell rather than redemption. Unfortunately, there will be some who burn but when doubting those Thomas’ and miscreants see Jesus face to face, they will fall in love with him just like you did. What happened to Thomas once he saw Jesus? He believed, didn’t he? So, fear not. Trust love to find a way. Trust love to rescue us out of the most dire circumstance, even our own doubt and unbelief. Trust God who is your true parent, the lover of your soul.

No More Pain

Psalm 30: 1, 5               God’s Word

Verses 7 – 8, 10 – 11    Passion Translation

I will honor you highly, O Lord, because you have pulled me out of the pit. Weeping may last for the night, but there is a song of joy in the morning. I was panic-stricken and became depressed. Still I cried out to you, Lord God. I shouted out for mercy. So hear me now, Lord; show me your famous mercy. O God, be my Savior and rescue me! Then he broke through and transformed all my wailing into a whirling dance of ecstatic praise! He has torn the veil and lifted from me the sad heaviness of mourning. He wrapped me in the glory garments of gladness.

This psalm is full of praise, but it also reveals the intense mourning and emotional torment that David endured. One side of the coin may be praise but often the other side is tumultuous challenge and seemingly insurmountable problems. Reading it immediately made me think of all the hurting people in the world, people who are depressed and even suicidal and my heart, like yours, grieves for these people. I want to say, “Fear not, joy comes in the morning.” The NASB version of verse 5 says that a shout of joy comes in the morning. That’s big. Though the night may be spent in tears, there is hope, there is salvation and the situation will improve.

We sometimes limit Jesus’ scope of salvation to deliverance from sin and hell. Salvation means so much more to Jesus than simply eternal life with him. He is our savior in every single situation in this life. When you comprehend the richness of salvation and eternal life you understand that you are living your eternal life now. It isn’t that we will die and be reborn to eternal life. You are there now, we all are. So, this salvation of which David writes is the deliverance from grief, the release from mourning. It is the hope of a new day, a day which is full of promise and even resurrection. Each day is so new that it truly is a beginning and one thing we know about life, things constantly change. Life is not static. Therefore, though there are huge problems now, ultimately things will alter. For every problem, there is a solution. For every grief there is joy. That seems impossible when one is overwhelmed by grief, but it really is true. David could tell you it’s true and many other people as well.

Why did Jesus tell us to go and share the good news of the gospel? I believe the core of that answer is so that he could save people from the hopelessness of their present situations. We know that God gave his only son so that none should perish but rather that all should pertain to eternal life in paradise with Him (John 3: 16). God took care of eternal life. He has already done what needed doing in order to save us all from eternal damnation. God did that. It was His job. Now, we have a job to do. Jesus told us to go into all the world and share the good news of the gospel. To me that means sharing a lot more than one verse. Sure, tell all people about John 3: 16 and how the Father sacrificed His son and sent him to hell so that we would be spared. Just don’t stop there. Jesus said of himself that he came into the earth to give us life and that more abundantly (John 10: 10). He came to give us a full life, to save us from the train wreck that many of us have made of our lives here on earth. What I am trying to get you to see is that salvation and the good news of the gospel is so much bigger than a singular event, extraordinary though it is.

Jesus wants to save us in our frustrations, from our anger, he wants to heal the emotional scars we carry around, save us from our deepest depression and restore us to joy. Jesus is the joy of the earth. You cannot be in him and with him and depressed. He is glory itself. He is the lifter of our heads. That is good news. He is the lover of our souls. He lifts us even when it feels like the sun won’t rise in the morning. There is no problem which he cannot overcome.

I think our job is to go out and tell people the good news about God and Jesus and how much they love us so that they will not face hopelessness and so they will know they are never alone. Everyone needs to be loved by a love that is so sublime that it is breath to our lungs and health to all our bodies. Jesus is life, there is no life without him (John 14: 6). He has given a piece of himself to every human being so that they might have love, life, and hope. If we will go into the world and simply tell them the good news about a benevolent being who loves them and is powerful enough to save them from whatever torment they encounter, then I pray and believe there will be no suicide in the earth. We have the antidote for depression. God loves us, each and every one. He gave His only son as a sacrificial lamb. That has to stand for something. He didn’t do that because He is ambivalent towards us. Furthermore, He did that for a people who did not know Him, who did not love Him.

Please, send this to anyone you know who needs to hear the good news about being devoutly loved. Share the love and joy of the Holy One, not just so you can get them into heaven, but so they can have some relief right here and right now. There is no reason people have to suffer. Jesus is their saving grace for today, for tonight, for the dark times and the dark places. He is the light, the light of hope. And, say a prayer for everyone who is hurting. Ask the Lord of grace to shine his light more brightly through each one of us so that all, and I do mean all, may know there is a God and that He loves them immensely.