|Book: Becoming a Secure Christian|
Part 1 : Setting the Scene
Part 2 : A Biblical Security
Part 3 : Personal Security
(Practice and Theory)
Chapter 10: Utterly Loved
Let's carry on thinking about our own personal security. In this chapter I would like to continue sharing something of my own personal pilgrimage which will now involve some of the truths from Scripture.
10.1 A Commitment Course Failure
Introduced to 'Commitment'
A number of years ago we found ourselves being befriended by a larger, well known church that was making waves in terms of growth and discipleship. At the heart of their activity was a “commitment course” which taught basics of what they believed and required of all those who met with them. It seemed a good approach to give the people of God purpose and direction. My wife and I went through their commitment course and we learned the ropes.
Now I never just take on board other people's materials as they stand; I prefer to reflect on it and see if there is yet anything better. This course seemed rather heavy and long so I researched and found other places where they had similar courses. I took what seemed best from these and we produced our own and we took our own people through it. It was a significant time for us because we were just branching out as an independent church, free from denominational ties, so we asked the people to actually sign a form at the end of the Course that said they were with us!
An Unreal Situation
It was at this point that God ambushed me! It happened in the form of one of our ladies who approached me in private and said, “I really would like to sign but I don't feel I'm committed enough.” As I spoke with her I found myself thinking, “This is crazy. Of the rest of the people who have signed up, I'm certain a number of them have done it just because we've asked them, not because they feel deeply committed to us. And here is this lady who is one of the most committed ladies we've got, and she feels she can't sign. Something is wrong here!”
As we grew we ran that course again but I still felt uneasy about what we were doing. The theory was right, Jesus did call disciples to follow him in total abandonment, yet somehow the practice was missing something.
A New Approach
For six months I asked the Lord about this and out of that time came a much more simplified Course called “Receiving your Inheritance” which we've run ever since, for new people joining the church. This course is simple, very simple, and it majors on some of the very basics of being a Christian. Over the years we've had a number of people coming to us, some times new Christians, sometimes Christians from elsewhere. For one period in our history we found ourselves receiving people from damaged church-split situations, a number of whom had been leaders.
One couple came to us with their family in the most devastated condition I've ever seen. They had led a church where a spirit of bitterness and dissension had crept in, resulting eventually in this couple having to completely shut down the church. When they came to us they were so hurt and damaged they were actually on the verge of giving up their faith. Initially it was only their children that kept them with us, but the Lord was on their case.
A strange thing started happening; virtually every week someone would have a prophetic word for the wife. Often it would come from an outside guest speaker. Whenever it came to a time of ministry it was as if the man of God would focus on her and say, “I've got a word for you”. It eventually became a laughing matter, and gradually the love of God melted, soothed and healed up two broken hearts. They came on the Inheritance Course and heard the good news. There was another way.
Another couple, again ex-leaders of another church where it had gone wrong, came on the Course and at the end of it the wife confided in me, “Well when we came here we heard you were very strong on teaching and we've done this sort of thing before and so we expected pages and pages of notes, but all you've done is given us a few verses each evening, and it's so wonderful. Isn't God good!”
Another couple came and at the end of the Course said, “Is that it? Is that all we have to go through? Do we have to sign anything? Surely there must be more than this?” My reply was this: “No, this is it. You now KNOW God loves you and you know our heart towards you. If this hasn't touched you we aren't the church for you. No, you don't have to sign anything to prove you're with us because, if you're left feeling that this is the best thing since sliced bread then it's a case of we won't be able to keep you away from us. That's what this church is all about.”
Now I don't want you to have the impression that as a result of this we've never had problems, never got it wrong, and everyone is totally happy all of the time. It will never be like that! We're human beings with a church of human beings, but we are working on it! So, let's look at some very simple verses from this Course I've referred to and see if they will bless you.
10.2 An Unconditional Love
God loved the world so much....
Let's start with the most quoted ‘good-news' verse of the New Testament, John 3:16, which you may know off by heart. It tells us that God loved the world so much that He sent His Son Jesus to us so that whoever believed in Jesus wouldn't die but would have eternal life instead. Now our problem is that we've heard that verse so often we now take it for granted. For many of us it's lost its impact.
What most of us do with this verse is focus on the back half of it which speaks of our response to the good news and what happens to us when we do believe. Instead I want you to note the first half of the verse: “God loved the world so much”. In other words, God loved the world BEFORE He did anything. Jesus coming was the expression of God's love. God not only thinks, feels and talks about love, He does something about it, He can't stop Himself.
Even before the World began
In fact the Bible tells us that He planned it all even before He made the world (see Jn 17:24 , Eph 1:4, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1;2, 1 Pet 1:20 , Rev 13:18 , Rev 17:8). The apostle John drops a bombshell when he says quite simply, “God IS love” (1 Jn 4:8,16).
Now, when we want to understand love, we tend to look at human beings, but that gives us such a limited and variable picture. When we look at modern human life we may be excused for thinking that love is something that comes and goes according to the circumstances, or according to how we feel.
God is LOVE
But actually God's love is nothing like that. In His being, God is completely unchanging and when the Bible says “God is love” it means He is always love, He never varies and therefore His love is never conditional, it CANNOT be conditional because it is an essential part of His very being. Without it He would cease to be God.
So why do we have to say all this? Well, what I've observed over the years is that if you speak to any group of good Christian people and ask them, “Does God love you?” they will all, almost without exception, answer, “Yes, of course”. However, watch a crisis arrive and watch their reactions, watch the way they act in the crisis. So often it actually says “God has abandoned me, He's not here for me.”
What we have is a problem of how God shows His love. When the crisis arrives, we expect God to move in one way and when He doesn't we say, “Oh well, He can't love me!” Because in our limited viewpoint we can't see what God is doing, we assume He is doing nothing, or what He is doing is the wrong thing because it doesn't seem to be helping me at this moment.
Giving His Son?
Look, rather than go into great detail at this moment about how God may be moving in your circumstances, can we just think about what follows in the verse we are considering. The outworking or expression of God's love for us was that “He gave His one and only Son”. Think on that a bit further.
Before coming to earth the Son lived with the Father in heaven (see Jn 6:33 ,41,51,62) in total harmony. To send His Son to earth the Father knew that Jesus would have to take on limited human form, limited in being a baby, limited in spending years growing up, limited in physical strength, limited in space. That was much to ask this all-glorious being who shared heaven with Him.
The Father also knew, because they had discussed it before actually making the world, that the Son would be misunderstood, be rejected, be violently opposed, be taken and abused, be taken and crucified by the very human beings They had brought into being. The Father knew that for a moment the Sin of the world that would be put on the Son on the Cross would separate the awareness of each other in the two of them, so that the Son would cry out in his distress, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In a sense the father had to completely let go the Son, that is why John said, “he gave …”
All of that the Father knew, and yet was willing to go through that self-imposed anguish of separation. Why? Because He is love, because He knew that by giving mankind free will, He was giving us the possibility (which we would take) of turning away from Him, that we would become enslaved by that self-centred, godless tendency called Sin, that we would become guilty, that we would deserve punishment, that we would need a Saviour who would step into our shoes and take our punishment.
Love makes choices and God chose this path so that you could live and not die, so that your time of existence need not be just the years on earth, very limited years. The love of God is there for every human being without exception. It is constantly reaching out, it is unchanging, unconditional, yearning to see men, women and children turn and receive it.
The Prodigal's Father
The only thing that is conditional in the equation is whether we receive that love.
When Jesus told the parable of 'the Prodigal Son' (Luke 15:11 -), he portrayed a son who abused his father, wished him dead, took his property, and left him. Such is a picture of the human race that, in Sin, wishes that God was dead, takes the world for its own use and turns its back on God. Although that may be a picture of the human race, the response of the son has to then become the response of each individual.
Individually we must come to the realisation of our state, repent and seek God the Father. While away from the father, the son could not enjoy the fruits of sonship, could not enjoy the father's love. For yes, Jesus shows us in the story something of the father's love in its various forms. First he is willing to let the son go away, knowing what will probably befall him, and there is an aspect of love called ‘respect' that allows people to be the sovereign individual that they are, even with their folly!
Then we see the father watching out for the son, seeing him even when he's still a long way off. We see his heart reach out to his returning son. It's not full of blame but of compassion. He knows the son is stupid, he knows what he's been through, he knows he must have run out of resources, he knows all these things, and his heart is filled with compassion. If you've forgotten what ‘compassion' means, it means “pity aroused by the distress of others, with the desire to help them”, it is a response of love. The love of this father had never diminished, even when the son was away.
Finally the love of this father was expressed in very practical ways. He knew that the son was racked with guilt, covered in shame and much aware of his failure, but does he refer to all that? No! Instead he redresses him in clothes fit for his son, and sets up a banquet to celebrate the son's arrival. He is not concerned to blame the son, not concerned to correct his thinking, not concerned to make sure he won't do it again, he's just concerned to bless him! He is more concerned to reinstate the son than he is to condemn him for his past folly.
This father, who Jesus obviously means us to understand is his Father in heaven, is a man of love. His love doesn't come and go, it is there the whole time. Yes, it is expressed in different ways (allowing the son to go, waiting for the son to work through his folly, watching for his return, encouraging his return, celebrating his return and reassuring him on his return), but it is still the same unchanging love.
And yes, there are many who will never return, many who will die refusing the Father's love, but it doesn't stop Him loving them. Yet the expression of His love will be to respect the stupid decision they have made to stay away and pass on to Hades, but He won't be happy about it. If Jesus loved and wept over Jerusalem, how much more must the Father love and weep over the world.
You can love and hate at the same time
Yes, the Father is angry about Sin and hates the expressions of it (e.g. Deut 12:31 , 16:22, Prov 6:16 -19) but He is still love. Imagine you have a young son (perhaps this is the case). He is a wonderful young son, and he grows up to be the apple of your eye. He is intelligent and good to have around. Your heart is strong for him. Then supposing he falls into bad company, supposing he starts taking drugs and becomes addicted (and if you say this could never be, you have an unreal security - speak to the many good Christian parents for whom something similar has happened!).
What will you feel? There may be some of us who are more concerned about what others think and we might be thinking, “What ought I to be feeling, what would the Christian community think about this?” and if we belong to a legalistic hard hearted community we'll know who they will blame.
But on the other hand we may not be self-centred and we may be able to be honest with ourselves. I suspect we would avidly HATE what he's doing, HATE the lifestyle he's living, and everything about it would be an anathema to us. Yet underlying that there would be a deep anguish within for him, for we love him, he's MY son, my flesh. I've got years of history with him, I remember the childhood years with such joy that it hurts now in the face of what is happening at the moment. I had such hopes for him for I saw the potential that is there. Indeed now if there was anything I could do to get him out of this slavery I would do it, for my heart is a heart of love for him, my heart is full of anguish and compassion for him.
Do you see it? Hate and love can exist side by side. The Father's heart is a heart of love for you, whatever you've done, however you've failed. What have we been saying throughout this chapter? Even though you may not understand the circumstances, even though you may not understand why God doesn't seem to be turning up with the things you think you need, He still loves you, He's still all out for you.
10.3 God is for us?
Let's consider another verse we've probably taken for granted. In Romans 8:31 Paul says, “If God is for us who can be against us?” Now that is a rhetorical question because in Paul's argument he's actually saying, “Because God is for us there's no one else who can be against us” (no one that is who can justifiably stop us getting God's blessing!).
Now take that phrase there in Scripture: “God is for us”. Now personalise it: “God is for me.” He's not against you, He's for you. Again in verse 32 Paul goes on and says what we read from John - if God gave Jesus to save us, won't He go the whole way and give us all the other good things He wants to give His children? In other words, because God the Father went and gave the one who was closest to Him, the one who was most precious to Him, and that all to save you from Sin and from death and from Hades, surely He's not going to hold back now? No, He's for you!
Parents 'for' the child
Let's take some simple examples. Have you ever had a small child play a part in a school concert or play? If you want THE most nerve racking experience, go along to a concert where young children are playing. We're not talking about child prodigies here, we're talking about a concert with average children performing. If you have a child playing the piano say, when it's their turn to play their piece, you are sitting on the edge of your chair rooting for them. You remember the hours of practice at home, the tears and the anguish and now you are with them, note by note, as they make their way, somewhat self-consciously, somewhat hesitantly, through the piece. When the music draws to a close and the applause dies down, you are left sitting there like a limp rag. You were for them, you were willing them to succeed. That was my girl or that was my boy out there, weren't they good! And then you sit back and glance around as the next child takes the stand, and you watch and see if you can spot their parent, sitting there with eyes fixed, knuckles white, exuding tension. Oh yes, you know what it means to “be for” your child.
One of our sons is a high jumper and has jumped some big competitions. I've learned a lot about high jump. It's long and drawn out! Sometimes it takes them well over an hour to finish the competition. You suddenly start taking note of the weather. You weigh up the competition, you look at your son (or maybe for you it's your daughter) and you gauge how they seem to be. You watch them pace up and down, doing some stretches. You see the enforced camaraderie as they chat to one another. Then it starts. In the first few jumps the beginners get weeded out. Then it's ‘the big boys' and the tension mounts. Some of them have professional coaches watching the background; this is serious stuff! They're down to the last two. You've stopped shouting now, for it seems like it may be a distraction. They both make their first jump and both knock the bar down.
The tension mounts. The other young man jumps. He knocks the bar down. I quietly rejoice. What am I doing! My son goes to make his run up. I am praying! What is going on here, it's not that important! He knocks the bar down. They both have one more jump. The first lad touches the bar, it quivers but stays there. He's over! Oh no, the tension is now doubly bad. I am signing to my son, “Focus you mind, you can do it!” I am one with him. I can feel what he's feeling. This has got to be it. He runs, he jumps, my heart stops, and he's over!!!! They're both still in and we've got to go through all that yet again as the bar is raised once more. If we are for our children like that, how much more must our heavenly Father be for us!
We are 'Precious' to God
Just one more verse before the end of the chapter, Acts 20:28. This is Paul speaking to the Ephesian elders and he refers to the “church of God which he bought with his own blood.” What does God feel about his church? Perhaps a number of things, but one thing in particular.
Think about this. Consider this scenario. Suppose you're a woman (OK, I know 50% of you are!), a married woman. You've been trying for a child for ten years, and eventually you conceive. The pregnancy doesn't go smoothly and in the latter three months you're in and out of hospital four times. There is a complication and the child nearly dies at birth. It's a girl - and you've longed for a girl all those years! Three months into her life there are worrying signs that something is wrong. The doctors say she needs heart surgery. It is life and death. For hours you wait outside the operating theatre. Eventually she is brought out. The surgeon comes to see you. He looks tired. “She will be all right”, is all he says, and she is. Tell me, how would you feel about this little girl of yours as she grows up? I think you'd feel she was very precious to you.
In the early part of the 21st century, with the making of the film, "The Lord of the Rings", the phrase, "My Precious" has taken on a new meaning. There the master-ring became the focus of the creature, Gollum, who referred to it as "My Precious". For him there was an unnatural consuming desire for the ring, and in that sense the word has been debased.
Let's have another situation. You are middle aged. You have a lovely family, a good job and a very happy and comfortable life. Suddenly your life is challenged. You have cancer. There is an operation which is touch and go. Eventually there is chemotherapy. Eighteen months later the doctor says, “Well the best we can say is that there is no sign of it. You are in remission. It may never return, but on the other hand it might.” How do you think you're feeling about you life now? Somehow it has taken on a new value, somehow it seems very precious to you. Sunsets have become important, the sound of laughter very meaningful. Your perspective has changed.
So why do we think that God might feel differently about us? It cost Him the separation from His own wonderful Son to ensure your release. From before time began He saw the future, saw what would happen to you, saw that you would be infected with Sin from before birth, saw you would be in opposition to Him, and yet saw that for the price of His Son, Jesus, He could buy you back from the jaws of Hades. As He described Joshua the high priest (Zech 3:2), are you not a brand snatched from the fire? But you're more than a stick, you are an adopted son. How much more precious must you be to God? Really, let that sentence sink in, see the wonder of it!
10.4 And So?
In this chapter we've simply been meditating on a few wonderful verses from Scripture, verses we've possibly taken for granted, or even perhaps never seriously considered before. So, in our closing questions can we add some simple prayer responses to our answers:
(Jn 3:16) Have you realised that God's love is unwavering for you because He is unchanging?
Why not pause before you go on and thank Him for the wonder and reality of that love and ask His forgiveness that you've ever doubted it.
(Rom 8:31) Have you realised that God is totally for you as His child?
These truths deserve response. Ask forgiveness if you've never seen them or taken them for granted. Thank Him for the truth of each one of these things. Personalise them and declare them out loud, e.g. “God, my Father, is watching over me! Yes!!!”
(Acts 20:28) Have you realised that you are precious to God?
Thank Him for each of these truths. Personalise them and declare them out loud.
Do you realise that all of this is true - God loving you like this - NOT because of anything you've done to earn it, but simply because He's done it?
Over the years as we've run the ‘Inheritance Course', we've had two people who fled, who said, “This can't be, this is too good”. If you're suffering such a reaction or you're thinking, “What is all the fuss about?” please, go back to the beginning of the chapter and read it again - slowly. Perhaps you been told so many times in so many different ways that you're no good, that you're struggling with the truths here.
Maybe you're going to have to pray, “Lord, please open my eyes that I may see the truth of your word.” Please don't pass on until something of the wonder of these simple and basic truths have started to grip your heart. When these truths grab you it will be the start of the great transformation. Perhaps that happened long ago, but if you're struggling with it, please, please look again, read again, pray again. Ask Him to open the eyes of your heart.