Friday, December 14, 2012

Plea From the Heart

Dear Friends

     I write this with an aching heart. For many weeks a message has weighed heavily on my heart: In view of God’s great love, grace and mercy lavished upon us, we are compelled both by His love, and by Scripture, to conduct ourselves in love toward one another. In recent weeks I have begun to hear this same message going out from several other pulpits and platforms. It has grown more and more pressing in me as we approach a day set aside for celebrating God’s most profound act of love towards a humanity that had thoroughly offended against His holiness – His gift of love given simply for the sake of reconciling us to Himself.

  • This week three people died in a mall shooting in Portland.
  • This week a friend’s sister was starting a normal day at work, and in an unexpected moment, flat-lined for nine minutes before emergency personnel were miraculously able to bring her back. She now lies in a critical care unit of a hospital, having come close to slipping into eternity.
  • Today, twenty young children and six adults have been killed in a school shooting in Connecticut.
  • This week dozens of people lost friends and loved ones - never to get to say goodbye one last time; never to get to take back lacerating words spoken in anger; never to get to speak words of appreciation and love one more time.
     This mortal life is but a brief flicker on the screen of all eternity. Eternity is but a breath, a step away. Just one moment, and we find ourselves standing before the eternal God who lavished His love on us when we did not deserve it. I imagine myself standing before Him, trying to explain why it was so necessary and important to disregard His injunction to love one another, and instead hold on to offenses, judgments, criticism and hostility towards others. There would be no words! If I cannot justify this before Him then, I can most certainly not justify it – to Him, myself or anyone else – now! How dare we fly in the face of His love and Word, and offend Him so!
     Of all the prayers that Jesus could have prayed for us, His followers, right before His death, He presented this request before the Father: “I pray… that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You… that they may be one as We are one… May they be brought to complete unity…”
     The Apostle John, “Apostle of Love”, picks up this theme in 1 John, and writes these words in a letter in which he repeatedly appeals to us as “beloved children”:

If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin… Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him… How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! … We should love one another... Anyone who does not love remains in death… Let us not love one another with words or tongue but with actions and in truth… This is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another… Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him… since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…

     Throughout Scripture we are urged over and over to show the same love, grace and mercy toward one another, that God has showered on us. To disregard these words, is to respond to God’s love and sacrifice with our contempt – and to remove ourselves out from under His blessing.
     In fact, John tells us in this same book that holding on to hate towards one another is the same as murder! When we hate others, we are no better than the mall and school shooters! 
     Among many other passages, consider the following:

Do away with… the pointing finger and malicious talk (Isaiah 58:9).

See to it… that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Hebrews 12:15).

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit… Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you… live a life of love, just as Christ loved us... (Ephesians 4:29 – 5:2).

Rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience... forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:8 – 14).

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).

How good and how pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity… for there the Lord commands His blessing (Ps. 133).

      Brothers and sisters in Christ; family of God; friends… I plead with you: We have only this one life through which to live out the love of Jesus. All too soon, it will be snatched away. Every word we speak to and about others; every action we take and decision we make, leaves a legacy in the lives of others – and a lasting deposit in eternity. Can we surrender our hearts and wills to the One who loves us perfectly and completely? Can we release His giving, forgiving love to spill from our lives into the lives of others? Can we commit ourselves to NOT leave a legacy of offense and bitterness in the world, but instead a legacy of love?
     This is the will of God and the prayer of Jesus concerning us!
“Precious Holy Spirit, help us to not grieve You with our attitudes, words and deeds! Transform our seared and calloused hearts into hearts tenderized by and filled with the love of Jesus. Give us generosity of spirit, and grace and mercy for people in our lives who are Your own treasured possession. Forgive us for desiring grace and mercy for ourselves, yet speaking and executing judgment on others. We surrender our wills, lay down our lives, and open our hearts to Your transformational power at work in and through us. Father, as we consider Your great gift of love to us in Jesus Christ this Christmas season, we ask that Your love will be birthed anew in our own lives, and released through us, into lives around us. For the sake and honor of Your all-surpassing Name, we submit ourselves to Your Word and Your Lordship.”


Friday, December 7, 2012

What A Gift!

     Love gives!
     For God so loved the world that He gave
     In his book “Love Does”, Bob Goff points out that love is not so much a feeling, as an energy that has to be discharged. God so loved you and I, in spite of our profound offense against His holiness,
     that He gave His one and only Son…
     The extravagant love energy of the Godhead was discharged in an unprecedented act of giving that transformed the course of all of human history, and will continue to ring throughout eternity for all eternity! God loves so deeply that He did not merely give humanity something out of heaven’s plentiful resources: He did not sprinkle a blessing or two, or dispatch an angel, or convey an encouraging message, or provide a quick answer to prayer.
     He gave Himself.
     Love is self-giving – the giving of self to another.
     The sacrifice of Jesus did not begin when He submitted Himself to the agony of the cross on our behalf. The sacrifice of Jesus began when He stepped down from heaven’s throne, shed His royal robes, set aside His kingly crown… And instead took on the form of a helpless baby, dependent on the very humanity He had Himself created!
     His sacrifice continued as He gave up the perfection of heaven to instead walk through all the mess of humanity - along with its wrongdoing and pain and treachery and fear and betrayal – and everything else that goes with a fallen world. Although it must have been a stench to His holiness, He walked right through the middle of it all, showing no distaste for the refuse He walked amongst, discharging His unflagging love energy through the giving of Himself tirelessly
          to those who were hurting
          to those in despair
          to those who were sin-sick
          to those trapped in bondage from which they could not free themselves
          to those who responded with disdain
          to those who rejected Him and the love He offered…
     He looked past all of this into the depth of the fractured human heart, and forgave…
     Love is not only giving… it is forgiving!
     As we celebrate the baby born as Emmanuel, “God with us”, we remember that through Him, God has made us the recipients of the gift of His lavish, undeserved, self-giving, forgiving, extravagant love, poured out into our impoverished hearts and lives.
     At this time of year, we may strain our brains and our bank accounts in an effort to come up with the “perfect gift” for others. Often we lose sight of the truth that we give these gifts in remembrance and celebration of the greatest gift ever given - by God Himself.
     But stay! Can we cease our frenetic activity for a moment, and consider the question: “what is that you have in your hand”? For as recipients of the overwhelming gift of God’s love deluging and delighting our lives, we have a gift of unprecedented value to give away: The same love, given to us by God, spilling from our lives…
          giving love
          self-giving love
          forgiving love 
… gifted into the lives of others who are
          in despair
          trapped in bondage from which they cannot free themselves…
and yes! Also the giving of self in love, into the lives of those who
          treat us with disdain
          reject and hurt us
          don't "deserve" it...
     Why? Because the cry of a Baby who humbled Himself for the sake of love, echoes in the cry of a Savior who sacrificed Himself and suffered for the sake of that same love. He it is who beckons you and I now, to follow by the way of His cross, allowing Love’s great cry of grace and mercy to echo through our lives.
     “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt.10:8).
     Now that’s a gift!
     Love gives.