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.

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Photo Credit: Diana Simumpande
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Unlcean

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Gentle Reader,

For 12 years she had suffered from continual bleeding. She spent all she had on doctors, but got no relief.

She was unclean.

Luke 8:42b-48 records the story of this woman who was healed, through her faith, by touching the edge of His cloak. I have always loved this story. The woman’s gumption is admirable and Jesus’ healing of anyone is a cause for joy. Until today, however, I did not consider how her uncleanness affected Him:

This woman’s sickness was reckoned as if she had a menstrual period all month long; it made her ceremonially unclean under the Law (Lev. 15:19-33) – a social problem on top of the physical one. . .If she touched anyone or anyone’s clothes, she rendered that person ceremonially unclean for the rest of the day. She therefore should not have even been in that heavy crowd. Many teachers avoided touching women altogether, lest they become accidentally contaminated. Thus this woman could not touch or be touched, was probably now divorced or had never married and was marginal to the rest of Jewish society. – Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. 211-212.

When Jesus calls this woman forward, then, He is publicly identifying Himself with her uncleanness. Instead of rebuking her, He commends her for her faith. As she has fallen at His feet, He may well have helped her to stand, though this is not mentioned. He tells her to go in peace.

This brings to life a whole new dimension of grace. When I sin, which is frequently, or fail to speak the truth when I should, my Savior willingly takes that uncleanness on to Himself when I reach out for healing.

The world says, “She is ___________.”

God says, “She is MINE.”

My journey to faith. (15)

 This post also appeared on the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog on March 20, 2014.

Remember

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Gentle Reader,

I finished reading the book of Leviticus today.

Believe it or not, Leviticus does not merit rank on my list of Frustrating Things to Read. (Anything by Charles Dickens and our local newspaper make up most of that list). Rather, I come away impressed. What seems, on the surface, to be a long list of impossibly detailed rules and regulations is truly a call to remember. The Lord reveals His desire to live in good, close relationship to His people by requiring them to remember their sins, to remember how He set them free from slavery and to remember how He provides for them.

This desire is best summed up in 17:7 –

They shall no more offer their sacrifices to demons, after whom they have played the harlot. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations. (NKJV)

There was a before, when the people didn’t know the Lord or how He wanted them to live. There was an after, when their sacrifices, prayers and rituals reminded them of the pain of the past, the working of freedom in the present and the hope of the future. There were consequences for forgetting (clearly marked out in Ch. 26, all of which was carried out during the Exile written about in Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai and several Psalms).

The Sabbath, a day of complete rest. The celebration of Passover and the days of unleavened bread. The Feast of Firstfruits, Harvest, Trumpets and Tabernacles. The Day of Atonement. The Sabbath of the Seventh Year. The Year of Jubliee. All of these celebrations served as reminders that the people of Israel were set apart. They had been chosen by God and were to rely fully upon Him. They were to remember and celebrate His goodness and provision.

The calendar was focused on the holy.

Lent begins this week, on Ash Wednesday. Scripture does not mandate the observance of this season, with its customary personal sacrifices and fasting, but I see no harm in a time marked for the purpose of holy remembrance. Let us not rush into Holy Week next month with our nerves frayed by cares and our eyes focused on the clock. Let us make a conscious choice to set our minds on things above (Col. 3:2). Whatever you choose to give up during these next weeks, I encourage you to set aside specific time each day to examine the sate of your life before and after Christ. Remember where you where, thank Him for where you are and look forward to His glorious coming.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord!
Call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples!
Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;
Talk of all His wondrous works!
Glory in His holy name;
Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord!
Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His face evermore!
Remember His marvelous works which He has done,
His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.- 1 Chronicles 16:8-12 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)

When You Feel Abandoned

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (4)

Gentle Reader,

Things like natural disasters and unexplained illnesses often cause us to question God’s goodness. Surely He, if He loved us, would not allow us to deal with such difficult and heart-wrenching things? I myself have asked this question from time to time, though I have never come up with a satisfactory answer. The truth is, nobody has, whatever their philosophical outlook or religious belief. There are always “whys” that remain.

My personal opinion is that many of the things we suffer through are the natural consequences of living in a world that doesn’t work properly. Sin effects everything. Paul writes of the world around us:

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:19-22 (NKJV)

Praise be to God, for His eternal plan involves the redemption and restoration of the whole of creation. There is not one blade of grass, one flower, one mountain, one stream, one deer, one fish, one dog, one anything that will not be healed under His hand. Those of us who live under the Lordship of Christ will get to live in the “ideal world” that is always talked about. We will get to be whole and healthy, entirely at peace, our lives devoted to the worship and service of the King.

What do we do until then?

Jesus said:

“In this world you will have trouble. . .I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” – John 16:33, 14:16 (NKJV)

In our humanness, we’d rather escape trouble. We feel terribly alone and afraid when tornadoes rip through our homes or we are diagnosed with a disease that the doctors just can’t fix. We don’t understand. We’re angry. Hurt.

In those moments, there is amazing hope. Jesus guaranteed that we would go through hard times, for He does not snatch us immediately out of this life when we come to faith in Him. We have to exist in the same sin-sick world as everyone else does. But He is with us. Did you catch that? God is with us.

There is not a tear you cry, not a hurt you feel, not a question you ask but God does not see, hear and respond. He does not always work in the ways we would like Him to, or even in ways that we can understand, but He never leaves. Never.

The question is true: “When you feel far from God, who moved?”

Jesus went on to say:

 “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 (NKJV)

He is bigger, stronger and mightier than the fiercest of storms. It is beyond me as to why He allows them to come, but I stand in the truth that He guides us through them all, His arms wrapped protectively around us. Whatever is allowed has first passed through Him, and is meant for our good.

That is a hard truth to swallow. It takes a lot of faith and teeth-gritting guts to hold on. It takes effort, determination and a conscious decision to accept that some things are beyond us. To believe that God is other than we are and cannot be controlled. To know that we are fiercely loved, despite outside evidence to the contrary.

I do look forward to the day when I can see God face-to-face and ask Him why my husband had to battle depression daily and why I had to live with a mysterious illness. Why I was born partially blind. Was it an integral part of the plan? Was it something that He allowed as part of living in a fallen world? I would like to know, though I suspect it has something to do with the lessons He has to teach to His children over and over again; lessons about humility and dependence. Until that day, however, I am content to live in this broken body, secure in the knowledge that the Lord is with me, and this is not all there is.

What do you do when you suffer?

You cry. You get angry. You ask questions.

God hears. He sees. He loves. He guides.

What do you do when you see someone else suffering?

You don’t mouth platitudes. You accept that person for who they are and where they are. You pitch in where you can. You hug them and listen.

God hears. He sees. He loves. He guides.

We are never alone.

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