How Can I Know That He Really Loves Me?

Look to the Cross

Gentle Reader,

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Lots of candy, glitter and general, commercialized cheesiness. That’s what I’m supposed to think about it, anyway. I’ve always liked the holiday. My parents used to leave my brother and I treats on the kitchen table, waiting for us to discover at breakfast, from the time we were little all the way through high school. As an adult, Chris and I have celebrated in a variety of ways, all of which usually end up with us at some thrift store or another, searching for buried treasures.

Tomorrow is also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Ash Wednesday is not specifically mentioned in the Bible; however, from Biblical times, sprinkling oneself with ashes has been a mark of sorrow for sin. Several times the Bible mentions people repenting in dust and ashes; for example: Mordecai (Esther 4:1), Job (Job 42:6), the inhabitants of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-6), and Daniel (Daniel 9:3-4). Repentance in dust and ashes often was accompanied with fasting during Bible times. …

Jesus is calling His followers to avoid making a show when fasting, but rather to help those in need. He is calling Christians to think externally in avenues of service, instead of only thinking internally toward themselves. The point of that matter is this: Jesus is interested in the condition of the heart and not merely external appearances or show. As you think about your life…where is your heart? Are you others-focused or self-focused? Do you desire to have true repentance and fasting as mentioned in Psalms 51 (especially verses 10-13, 17), or are your actions merely based on outward tradition?

What is Ash Wednesday? (emphasis mine)

I didn’t grow up observing Lent and the season isn’t heavily emphasized in my denomination, though sermons in the weeks leading up to Easter usually focus on reflection and repentance. In past years I have experimented with different forms of fasting; sometimes I’ve given up social media, other times I’ve abstained from food completely on Good Friday. There are not hard and fast rules regarding the season; I believe that fasting, whatever it looks like, is deeply personal and must be guided by the Holy Spirit. One thing I have learned, though: When I give something up in order to focus on God, I have to actually, you know, focus on God.

Basically, fill in the gap left by setting aside the smartphone with Scripture reading. Or prayer. Or silence. Or worship music. Anything that trains me to put my eyes on Him.

This year I am thinking about the point bolded in the quote above: Jesus is interested in the condition of the heart and not merely external appearances or show.

All the fasting, contemplation and ritual in the world mean nothing if not done with sincerity. If the focus is just on the thing, rather than the Lord, it’s a waste.

Lent is about love. The great love of God that necessitated Incarnation, suffering and the Cross. Whatever we do (or don’t do) in the coming weeks should be out of a desire to thank Him for that love. To see ourselves as the weak creatures we are, the people totally incapable of saving ourselves. To gaze up into the sky, knowing that the Throne is just beyond our sight. To bow in humility, accepting that we can never do anything to earn His favor. It simply is, the greatest of gifts.

Long have I struggled with the concept of God’s love. I can explain it. I can define the terms for you. I can talk about the differences between agape, philos and eros. Intellectually speaking, I “get” it.

Feeling that love, sensing it in my soul, is another story.

We cannot allow our emotions to rule our lives. We have to operate out of what we know to be true. I know this. I preach this. Feelings aren’t bad, though. They are God-given. Jesus cares about what’s going in our hearts. A relationship with Him is about more than mental assent.

Honestly, that freaks me out.

I don’t like vulnerability. This may come as a surprise to you, given the things that I share on this blog, but I hit “publish” on the intimate posts only because I know that there are others out there who battle the same things I do and I can’t be the Barnabas that I want to be if I’m not doing the thing along with everyone else. If I had it my way, if I operated entirely out of my natural inclinations, only the sarcastic, intense, intellectual side of my personality would bleed through onto the screen.

So for me to know that Jesus has the desire to get in there and sort out all the feels in my heart so I can really, freely live out the things I know to be true…yikes.

He’s God, though. You can only fight Him for so long.

This Lenten season, I invite you to ask God one scary question (I’m asking, too): How can I know that You really love me? Then sit back and read. Open your Bible and watch Him in the Garden, agonizing, terrified of the pain and separation to come. Sit in front of the Cross, taking in the full horror of the Savior’s naked body, drowning in blood. Stand next to the women who could not bear to leave Him behind. Weep with Peter. Bow your head in the silence of locked rooms, hope snuffed out like the last bit of candle. Allow the weight of mourning and disappointment to press upon your shoulders.

Contemplate the great sacrifice this Perfect Man, the only Perfect Man, made – because of you. Because of me. Because He doesn’t want to let us go.

Lord God, You know how we struggle to feel loved. You know how easily we believe that You are just like we are, fickle and reckless in Your affection. You know how terrified we are that one day we will wake up and find that You don’t love us at all. Help us, Jesus, to come to the Cross in a fresh way this season. Help us to see with new eyes. Pierce our souls with the grace, the mercy, the true and lasting love that is ours by right of submission to You. Enable us to both feel and to know Your love that we may live confidently in this world, secure in the assurance that we are Yours. Thank you, dear Lord, for the Incarnation and the Cross. Thank You for the Resurrection. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Signature

Photo Credit: Diana Simumpande
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Five Minute Friday: Alive

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Kate asks us, on this Good Friday, to contemplate being: alive.

Go.

I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but confronting mortality changes a person.

Another round of blood tests in a couple of weeks. My hope and prayer is that the effort I’ve put into exercising and the changes I’ve made to my diet across the last two months has made a positive impact. Honestly? I’m not exactly holding my breath. I know that God can heal me through whatever means He chooses in this life. I’ve seen Him step in and do His thing. But just because He can doesn’t mean He always will. That’s part of the mystery. Part of the working out of His plan that we can’t understand this side of eternity.

It’s a strange place to be, this holding on to hope but knowing that the news may not be good.

If I’m going to go down, I’m sure as heck going to go down swinging. This stupid liver is not going to rob me of my joy or sense of identity and purpose. It’s just an organ. Just a ridiculously malfunctioning, swollen organ. Whatever.

And so I move toward the Lord, begging Him for the grace and strength for every step. I fail often. I indulge in crabbiness. I have to apologize. I have to repent. He is faithful. Every day, I see a little more clearly. I’m learning that phrases like “ain’t nobody got time for that” and “do it anyway” pack surprising punches of truth.

I don’t have time for drama. Have lost my patience for histrionics. My focus is drawn elsewhere.

I don’t want to exercise, because it hurts, but I do it anyway. Get out of bed, put on the tennis shoes, move the body.

Being alive means something different to me now. I long both for the problem to be solved in this moment and for that moment when the Lord shall return and I’ll have that new body with perfect organs and two functioning eyes. I want resolution in the temporary but my eyes look farther ahead, into eternity.

I might have five decades left on this earth. I might have five years. I don’t know. Nobody knows. I set my eyes upon Jesus, looking into His beautiful face. And I know that, whatever happens to my body, I will be truly alive with Him forever.

Stop.

We call this day Good Friday, and yet for it to be good we must confront the full horror of the Cross. Of the Man hanging there, pouring Himself out. Becoming the very essence of sin itself. Our sin.

There is no Easter without the Cross.

Sit in that darkness with the disciples for the next two days. Allow the Lord to search your heart and draw to the surface anything that’s holding you back from Him. Let yourself accept the fact that you aren’t perfect and can’t save yourself. You simply are a sinner. Admitting that fact brings such freedom! For this Jesus, this Christ, gave Himself for you. He saw you and did everything necessary to save you. He alone can fix the problem that has plagued mankind since the Garden.

True love died for you.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo credit: Jean Gerber

Five Minute Friday: Good

But He was wounded for our

Gentle Reader,

Stepping into the soberness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday with my beloved brothers and sisters of the Five Minute Friday crew. Gracious Kate provides the space. We contemplate: good.

Go.

By no means do I consider myself a poet of any real skill. Nevertheless, this week’s prompt called to mind the following words I wrote years ago:

The Death That Should Be”

The blows to

Strike me down

Knocked my Lord

Upon the crown

The insult designed

To hurt

Threw God upon

The dirt

The streets that

Ran red

Came from Him

Instead

The blackness,

A terror

Enveloped Him,

But no error

The death that

Should be – me

Rather experienced

By He

The pain, the loss,

The separation

All our inglorious

Damnation

Heaped upon

The One

Who created

Shining sun

Who calms the

Storm

Comforts

Forlorn

Struck fire on

Mt. Carmel

Every day –

A marvel

The Lord, the God,

The Master

Replacing me in

This disaster

Do I even

Really know?

What it would mean

To take such blow?

I think I have

No comprehension

Of this Heavenly

Condescension

How can it work

That I am free?

From the death

That should be me?

Stop.

Thank you, Jesus.

My journey to faith. (15)

31 Days with the Savior: Crucified

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Gentle Reader,

Then the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”

Then Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

He answered him and said, It is as you say.”

So Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no fault in this Man.”

But they were the more fierce, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place.”

When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean.  And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.  Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing.  And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him. Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate. That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.

Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, “You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him;[c] and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him. I will therefore chastise Him and release Him(for it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast).

And they all cried out at once, saying, “Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas”— who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder.

Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them. But they shouted, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

Then he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.”

But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified. And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed. So Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they requested. And he released to them[f] the one they requested, who for rebellion and murder had been thrown into prison; but he delivered Jesus to their will.

Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.

And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’ Then they will begin ‘to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”

There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And they divided His garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”

And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:

THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”

But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last.

So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!”

And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned. But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. – Luke 23:1-53 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)

For all entries in the Jesus: 31 Days with the Savior series, go here.