Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Love God, Love Others

One of the primary commands in the Bible is to love God with everything we are.

How do you love a person you can't see or touch? (I have a hard enough time loving people that I can see!)

Well, if we really grasp how much God has done for us through Jesus, we will return that love. Our joy and appreciation will start flowing back out toward God. But, since he isn't here in physical form to hug or thank personally, how do we go about it?

There are lots of ways to express love directly to God. We can pray, expressing our gratitude to him in words and the emotions that go with those words. We can meditate on his word (which means reading it first, of course) and letting the majesty of his ways and his thoughts boggle our minds yet one more time. We can give offerings proportionate to the financial blessings he has given us.

It says in Hebrews 6:10 "God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them." IOW, that when we love his children, we're really loving him. Why is that true?

Here's a human example: Joanne and I have some dear friends who have small children. When we give gifts to the two munchkins, we're really loving Charles and Susi too -- and they know it. (You can also see Matthew 25:40, for another thought on this principle.)

Wherever you are today, there will most likely be other people somewhere around you. Those are the people God has put into your path to love in his name. By loving them, you're loving him. By loving them, you're thanking him for loving you.

Suggestion: ask God how you can love him today by loving each of the people you meet. What do you think will happen?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Yes and No

"Well, Pastor Mark, I like this grace stuff you're describing. I know I can't do life perfectly, so I'm glad that God accepts me because of Jesus. But doesn't God want me to do good things now? Isn't he pleased when I do right things, and displeased when I mess up? Surely he still has standards and expectations for me!"

Well, yes, yes, yes and yes. And a resounding NO to some unspoken questions.

Allow me to explain -- it'll only take a few paragraphs, so please, keep reading.

God has saved us through Jesus. That was his plan before he made the earth (Eph. 1:4-7). We are adopted by God and called righteous because of Jesus's righteousness, not our own (Romans 5:19 & 8:4, etc) and saved because of turning to God in faith, not by learning to be better people on our own (Romans 3:20, Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, etc).
We are called simultaneously dead and alive: "For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives." (Romans 6:11, New Living Translation)

What's the new life to look like? It's being led by the Holy Spirit, whom the Father sent in the name of Jesus to teach us (John 14:26), in a way that represents Jesus in this world: "A new commandment I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." That was a self-sacrificing love, an attitude of total humility and service (Philippians 2); not a self-seeking lifestyle.

The Holy Spirit leads us according to the will of God, not by the old textbook of the law (Gal. 5:18) and the fruit he produces in us is straight from the heart of God: love, joy, peacefulness, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (as overall attitudes; with many different ways of working those out in life).

It's not a legal contract, but a relationship of love -- a little like being married. I learned to love Joanne, and because of learning to love her, I wanted to start doing things to serve and give to her. Nobody (except God) gave me a list of things to do, but I began to learn what she liked and didn't like, and learned to do good things for her out of love. (And if I start thinking of them as a duty, not a joy, I realize my love is lacking and I have to go back to God and ask for more love!)

When we see what God has done for us through Jesus, and accept his generous love, we start wanting to give that love back to him. And that love, created in us by the Holy Spirit (again, not by our own effort) leads us into those godly thoughts and attitudes. Not out of the old way of the law, but the new way of the Spirit! (Romans 7:6). Not out of duty -- God doesn't want our dutifulness, but our joy!

Do I want to please God? Absolutely, just like I want to please my wife (only a lot more so). Does he care what I do now? Absolutely! That's why he sends the Holy Spirit, to teach me how to love others the way he would do if he were here. But that's a discussion for another day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Living with Grace

"You mean I have to just live with this?"
(usually said in an unbelieving tone of voice, after being told you've contracted something contagious, or some other unpleasant idea has come home to roost)

But what about if it's living with grace? What if your life is suddenly defined by a generous forgiveness and favor, not by a performance standard, or perfectionistic behavior, or finding ways to feel superior (or inferior) to others?

I'm so accustomed to measuring my own performance, hourly and daily, and falling short of the ideal. You know what's even worse? When I judge others by the same strict standard -- a standard not even God has on me anymore.

Ephesians 1:4-7 says this (in God's Word version) "Before the creation of the world, he chose us through Christ to be holy and perfect in his presence. Because of his love he had already decided to adopt us through Jesus Christ. He freely chose to do this, so that the kindness he had given us in his dear Son would be praised and given glory. Through the blood of his Son we are set free from our sins. God forgives our failures because of his overflowing kindness."

Past tense. It's done. I'm already a part of the kingdom of the Son, through His perfection (not mine) because God loves me!

That takes some getting accustomed to. I have to keep remembering that God loves me, not because of what a great guy I am (yeah, right) but because he, before he even designed and created the cosmos, decided he would.

It's also been said this way: I can't do anything to make him love me more. I can't do anything to make him love me less.

Wow. I guess I can learn to live with that!

"But Mark, don't you want to do good things to please God?" Absolutely! (tune in next time, folks!)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


This morning, I woke up to a fresh coat of snow. Outside, it covers up the dormant grass, hides the bare patches on the lawn, and even covers up the doggie doo-doo that somebody's pooch left yesterday. Fresh snow, to me, is one of the most glorious sights on the planet, because it looks like God's mercy and grace.

Snow is a picture of God's mercy, which hides our imperfections, weaknesses and outright stubbornness and rebellion against God. When God our Father looks at us, he doesn't see our sins anymore, just like I don't see the doggie pile under that snow. He sees the perfection of his only Son instead: "Yes, Adam's one sin brought condemnation upon everyone, but Christ's one act of righteousness makes all people right in God's sight and gives them life." (Romans 5:18, New Living Translation)

The snow analogy is imperfect, because in Arvada the snow will melt and all the stuff underneath will become visible again. But once you're covered by Christ's righteousness, all your 'stuff' is gone and only his righteousness remains. That's the 'mercy' part -- total forgiveness of all sin.

The 'grace' part is that it's given to us in spite of everything we've done; we sure don't deserve it, and there's nothing we could possibly do to earn it, not even with good intentions, careful obedience and zeal. It's a gift, pure and simple.


Yes, really. The gift is already prepared for you. You enter into that reality by simply beginning to believe it and saying "yes, and thank you!" to God. That's it.

That's it?

Yep. Are you ready to leave your past behind and walk into that new, fresh snow?