He Knew

What a feast I find each time I read from the book of John!  Yet I find each verse so delicious I savor each bite, rather than rushing to the next.

For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.  John 6:64 NIV

Jesus knew from the beginning, yet chose to include the unbelieving betrayer anyway.  I would not be so generous if I began a ministry (or anything else) and was aware of a traitor among those claiming to be with me.  They would not be on my team or my mailing list!  On the other hand, Jesus, knowing even before choosing, allowed the unbelieving betrayer to be among His twelve closest disciples as part of the traveling team and His money keeper, for three and a half years!

At this I cry, “Tilt! Tilt!”  Proceeding further down the path this verse takes me, I find Jesus’ treatment of Judas Iscariot even more disturbing – filled with the same love, patience, compassion, and humility He showed the others.

“But Jesus,” I protest, “Knowing he wasn’t really with You, how could You refuse to let it color Your treatment of him? Instead, You poured Yourself out indiscriminately to each of them, withholding nothing!”

All at once, the truth of Jesus Christ washes away those righteously indignant thoughts. Love compelled Him forward, not judgment.  Christ offered His amazing love and life to Judas Iscariot then, as He offers it to each person now, regardless of possible rejection.  The response is individual, but the offer has been given to all equally, the price paid in full.  Love compelled Jesus then.  Love compels Christ now.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are! . . . 1 John 3:1 NIV

He knew then.  He knows now.  Still, Christ Jesus loves.

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The Party’s Over

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Dad had just thrown the biggest party the neighbors had seen. No expense had been spared in the days long celebration of his son’s return.

Yes, this party was for the prodigal son. You know, the wayward one who had chosen to live a wild life, squandering his still-living father’s money – his own inheritance – until he had no more to spend. He decided to return home to offer himself as a servant to his father to put good food into his starving belly. From what we’re told, we can’t be sure his thinking had changed about anything else. But none of that mattered to the father who ran to embrace him.

That’s one of the things that draws us repeatedly to this story. That father didn’t wait for evidence of repentance or a transformed life before welcoming him or throwing him a lavish party. He wanted everyone to celebrate with him because his son had returned. Period. As great as that is, I think there’s more to this story.

Think about it. The party ended at some point. What happened when it was over? The prodigal son didn’t become suddenly perfect, making only good decisions going forward. For that matter, his jealous brother, the obedient son who did as he was told with a bad attitude, was in the same imperfect category.

Consider this, though. Dad put no post-celebration stipulations on the son before throwing a gala in his honor. It wasn’t due to the son’s righteousness, either before demanding his inheritance or after his return. Nor was it because of the bitter son’s outward obedience. Their righteousness would never be more than filthy rags1! No, the party always and only flowed from the dad’s perfect love for his children, and his joy at having them together with him. His goodness and his righteousness, not theirs, covered them before the party and after it ended.

Fast forward to 2016. As sons and daughters, we try to be obedient, to make the right choices and have the right attitude – all to please our Daddy. But we fail repeatedly. Luke 15:10 says there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Sounds like a party to me – held each time one of us receives Christ Jesus into our hearts. That rejoicing isn’t because of our perfect character when we were born again, but because of Christ’s righteousness. He still rejoices over us2 today, no matter how many years have passed and no matter how many wayward actions we’ve taken.

Earning Daddy’s celebration now is as impossible as it was in the beginning – our good works still counting for nothing. It’s all and only about our Father, the One Who is in us, loving us, simply because we belong to Him. And it’s all about our Christ, Who made the way for us.

The party may be over, but the joy of celebrating our Daddy’s righteousness, love, and mercy in Christ continues for us through eternity!

1 Isaiah 64:6 NKJV But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;

2 Zephaniah 3:17 AMP The Lord your God is in the midst of you, a Mighty One, a Savior [Who saves]! He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest [in silent satisfaction] and in His love He will be silent and make no mention [of past sins, or even recall them]; He will exult over you with singing.

Lost and Found

This post would be it. The grand finale, that is, the third part of an online blogging assignment involving the lost and found theme. I knew it would, indeed, be grand the moment the following sentences lit the writer portion of my mind, giving foundation to the first and second installments.

Philippians 3:7-9a (Amp) But whatever former things I had that might have been gains to me, I have come to consider as [one combined] loss for Christ’s sake. Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One), and that I may [actually] be found and known as in Him . . .

Something happened between the first and third assignments to change this post’s thrust, though I didn’t recognize it at the time. What I had planned from the beginning had lost its luster, though I tried to continue unwavering. The truth it elucidated needed a different delivery vehicle. No grand finale, after all. The Lord wanted, instead, to use the pain of loss I desperately desired to avoid.

The first assignment challenged us to write about loss, instantly reminding me of the recent deaths of an elderly friend and my 14-year-old dog. Besides the lingering sadness and pain associated with those, I faced the imminent death of another elderly friend. Deciding I’d had enough of all this death and sadness, and having written about it once, I decided on a different object of loss. I’ll add my own twist, I thought, and use, “counting all as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ,” as the springboard.

Installments one and two were published, so I had begun jotting down notes in anticipation of the finale. The sense of victory I’d experienced at the beginning of the project was waning, though, not building. Glimmers of understanding touched my heart as I read of a family who left the comfort of England for Uganda to share Jesus’ life and love with those who had no hope – untold poverty found in the slums where sewage ran down every street and into the homes, rampant treatable illness untreated, leaving children and adults dying before their time. Yet this family and others with them continued to serve, continued to love, continued to share life in Christ Jesus.

despairWith every story, the struggle in my heart intensified, as I related it to my world. These elderly became friends because I deliver meals to their homes. A few minutes of weekly interaction led to blossoming friendships – ones that continued even when they moved into assisted living, no longer needing our meals. They shared their lives with me as I did with them, each of us gaining from the other.   One-by-one, they have left me behind, multiplying the pain in each loss.

Self-preservation said I should distance myself emotionally from those who remain, to avoid further pain. It went on to suggest getting involved with children’s groups on some level (totally out of my calling,) because they won’t likely die before me. That way, I could greatly reduce additional pain, I deduced. Those were Kay’s thoughts, not Daddy’s. When I read the challenging words of Nicola Neal, the clarity of His heartbeat took my breath away:

What would you be prepared to give for love’s sake? . . . Would you love knowing that pain will inevitably come? Will you love even when it hurts? 1

Shaken to my core, my mind erupted in a certain, “Yes!” as more rhetorical questions arose.

“Would you rather not have known these precious women, these sisters in Christ, to avoid the pain of losing them?”

“Would you prefer to miss the personal enrichment gained from those you may not have begun to serve, again as self-effort to avoid future pain?”

“Is it possible you are the vessel through whom I share parts of Myself and My love in the latter days of their lives? That you could be helping prepare them for the day when they see Me face-to-face?”

I am undone. The loss remains, but I have ceased the fight against the pain. It is a reality of this life, no less so when living in Christ. My greater loss – temporarily – has been focus on Jesus Christ, the only One Who comforts, encourages, and is my Hope. What I’ve needed all along has been in those quoted words, but I was too focused on my hurt to see. The pain of loss I have felt is as nothing compared to the priceless privilege and supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. In Christ is the strength and joy of continuing to love even when it hurts.

spring hope

1 Nicola Neal, Journey Into Love: The Unfailing Power that Restores Lives (Shippensburg, PA Destiny Image Publishers, 2014), Ch. 18, location 2304 (e-book)

I Still Need Jesus

NYC 2014 088Teetering on the edge of falling full-force into the pit of condemnation, I poured my heart’s contents onto the pages of my journal that morning. I had failed . . . again. I thought I learned the lesson last time, expecting myself to handle things differently going forward. But it was the same as before. I was the same as before.

I had made natural adjustments since the last time, ones that should have made the difference. But they didn’t go to the heart of the matter. My bad attitude was still there. Realizing I had focused on the natural to be the difference maker only pushed me farther into the darkness enveloping me.

In the middle of the next guilt-ridden sentence, Holy Spirit broke in. It was like a gentle, but forceful, shaking – one meant to return my attention fully to Him. Without speaking the words, or anything that could be so construed by many, He conveyed His unconditional love for me.

That’s what I sensed so overwhelmingly as I was given a glimpse of the situation as He saw it. I still need Jesus! Hallelujah! I still need Jesus! I haven’t graduated beyond Him. Even though I acted in my own strength . . . again . . . He still wants to remind me of His grace and mercy for me.

Only Jesus Christ can make the permanent and necessary changes in me – ever. Somehow, I subconsciously thought I had learned from my past mistakes and could take it from here. I failed. Again. Miserably. Always will on my own. Only in Christ is any good found in me. How freeing!

What absolutely unconditional love enveloped me again where the darkness had pressed only moments before! Indeed, I still need Jesus – every moment and every day!

Merry Christmas to all who, like me, still need Jesus!

Overwhelmed

I’ve listened to this song by BJ Putnam many times, but today I actually heard the words.  All I can say is “Wow!”  Even though the lyrics are included on the video, I wanted to put them here for you to see before, during, and after listening.  May you see more of Jesus, my friends.

Beautiful Love

My past was silenced at Your command
When my broken heart was healed in the palm of Your hand.
You swallowed death, overwhelmed me with life
You made Your blood and my pain collide
 
Beautiful love, You are my King
You are the One, my everything
Now I run to You ‘cause You are all I need
Beautiful love
 
You stretched out Your arms and You broke my fall
On that day when Your love took my place on the cross
And You swallowed death, overwhelmed me with life
Jesus, You made Your blood and my pain collide
 
Beautiful love, You are my King
You are the One, my everything
Now I run to You ‘cause You are all I need
 
You’re everything.  You’re all I need.
The One Who carried the cross carries me.
You’re everything.  You’re all I need.
The One Who carried the cross carries me.
 
Beautiful love, You are my King
Now I run to You, ‘cause You are all I need
Beautiful love.
 

He Can’t Help It!

When I re-read this journal entry from more than twenty years ago, it encouraged me anew.  And words with that much staying power must be shared with other believers!

I recorded the following thoughts after realizing I was less than thankful for my family and my non-Christian upbringing.  Perhaps you can relate in some way, as well.

. . . There was a subconscious thought that I would have been so much better off if I had been raised in a Christian home.  Today, God made it clear that He wouldn’t have loved me any more this day even if I had been a Christian and truly seeking Him all my life.  He loves me, and there are no degrees of His love.  He does love me.  Had I been a Christian with a Christian upbringing, really desiring that walk with and growing in Him from the beginning, He would still have loved me exactly the same today.  On top of that, life wouldn’t be easier.  I’d just be going through different experiences in which to trust Him.

father daughterReading this all these years later only brings it home so much more vividly.  God can’t help it.  He loves me.  It’s not based on how many years I’ve known Him, or how I was raised.  And His love for me doesn’t grow.  His love for me is.  Period.  It’s the same for you.  May this truth become even more real for you each coming day.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  1 John 4:16  NIV

The gospel is not a solicitation to impress God with your love.  The gospel is the passionate declaration of your Father’s undying love for you.”

The Gospel in Ten Words, by Paul Ellis, Kindle edition, location 845