Because He Loves …

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By Brian Waple

To be honest, I absolutely adore my granddaughter, Dylan. I have adored her from the day she was born, and always will. Even with all her awkwardness, there is something special about her that evokes strong feelings in me that are indescribable. Now I know that as she grows older, there will be times of testing. But my love for her will never change. No matter what she does or doesn’t do, I will always love her.

Isn’t it the same with God and us? God knows our past, present and future, and yet He still loves us. In fact, he is absolutely crazy in love with us. Did you know that the word “love” appears close to 550 times in the NIV translation? (By the way, the number of times the word “love” is used outnumbers the word “sin.”) What does that say about God? John 3:16 says, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (NLT). When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind … a second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Why so much emphasis on love? If we just obey as we’ve been commanded, isn’t that enough? If we attend the weekly worship service at church, join community groups, pray regularly, read our Bibles, lead Bible studies, help out at activities, disciple others … isn’t that enough? The people of Israel thought so. They thought that all God required were their sacrifices. In Micah 6, we read, “What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give him? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?” Micah goes on to say, “No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” It is a heart of love for God and others that enables us to do these things. Our obedience to God should come out of our love for God, not the other way around.

I guess my preoccupation with love comes out of a book I’m reading by Dr. David Benner called Surrender to Love. In discussing the story of the prodigal son, Benner writes, “Part of me — and I suspect part of all of us — wants to earn the Father’s love. In the story both sons fall into this trap, and both have to learn the same lesson. The Father’s love reflects the Father’s character, not the children’s behavior. My behavior — whether responsible or irresponsible — is beside the point. Responsible behavior does not increase the Father’s love, nor does irresponsible behavior decrease it” (p. 20).

I remember a conversation I had with my sister Whitney, who struggled with alcoholism. Looking back on her life, she asked, “How could God possibly love me after all things I’ve done and continue to do?” I told her about one of my favorite Christian authors, the late Brennan Manning, a former Catholic priest and chronic alcoholic. I told her about Manning’s belief that God continued to pursue him, even in the midst of his wretchedness, because of God’s love for him and the grace God extended toward him. I told her that God continues to pursue her, because He loves her and extends that same grace to her. She just needed to acknowledge her need for Him — that in spite of what we do and because He loves us, God never gives up on us.

We were made to be in relationship with others and we were made to love, because we were created in God’s image and that is God’s character. And here’s the really crazy thing: even the love I feel for Dylan, or Cindy, or other members of my family cannot come close to how much God loves me. Can we love as God loves? I don’t think we can in this life; but I believe there is a long-forgotten part of who we are that desires to love that way. And one day, I believe we will. God has pursued humanity from the beginning because He has loved us from the beginning. Although at times our actions and behaviors can grieve God, He continues to pursue us because of the immeasurable love He has for us.

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A Father’s Heart

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By Tom Chase

There have been many things this past year in life that have helped me get a better idea of God’s relationship to us as fallen beings. God reveals himself to us as a Father, all to give us a better idea of who He is. (I know that this metaphor gives many individuals problems due to failed relationship and connectedness with their own fathers.) Yet Scripture is clear about His “Fathership.” He loves us very much.

He loves me!

He loves you!

We take this by faith, but we also have His actions toward us as seen in history, as recorded in the Bible, and over time within our own lives.

I have seen the belligerent attitude that comes from children who are headstrong, defiant, unwilling to do what has been asked . . . oh, how it make a father’s heart sad. If the child wins in this, then the child loses. So discipline is needed, required, and necessary for a change in heart. I really don’t want to write about discipline today, but I am compelled. The Bible tells us,

“The Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes everyone he accepts as his child.” Hebrews 12:6b (CEV)

and

“For the Lord corrects those he loves,
    just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:12 (NLT)

Can you hear His heart for us in the following phrases?

“those He loves”

“in whom He delights”

“accepts as His child”

As I sat with my back to a little one in time out who was raging belligerently, full of anger and defiance, a few thoughts came to me. We had been here before; the little one knows how to resolve this, knows what the right response is, but, at this moment, just does not want to do it. I am present but cannot give validation to the misbehavior and heart attitude. So I sit and ignore and wait and long for repentance. At the end of this prolonged time, there is an attitude change. The sound of the cries change. The anger is gone. What this dad has been waiting for has happened: there is a change in heart. Through a small, crying voice, I hear, “Daddy?” “Yes little one,” is my reply. An explanation of why we ended up here occurs, the call to do what is right remains, and the joy of this dad is realized in a full embrace, hugs, and restoration. *Sigh* 🙂 I think, oh, I wish we wouldn’t have to go through the discipline thing in the first place.

It was in the middle of the raging defiance and prolonged waiting when I began thinking about God and us!

When we are raging or frustrated with all that is going on, and we wonder where God is, He is there and He is present! While not all hardship is discipline from the Lord, if you’re feeling alone, this could simply be a chance to check your heart. He may be waiting patiently for us to respond with a small cry, “Daddy, help?”

But if we confess our sins to him,
he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” I John 1:9 (NLT)

We confess. He forgives . . . *sigh* 🙂 Wow!

God disciplines us, just like our earthly fathers are supposed to. Even though I am fallen and I don’t always get this fathering thing right, I think a dim reflection of God’s heart for us can be seen in this. He does love us. He wants what is best for us.

My prayer for me and you as we begin this new year is that we might find our hearts changed and be found in the embrace of the Father who loves us!

Let’s walk together with Him!

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What’s Your Exploitation Quotient?

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By Larry Short

In recent days I’ve felt particularly vulnerable to the possibility of exploitation. This wasn’t something I considered when I got laid off in early August from my 22-year job with World Vision. But being jobless, and the prospect of approaching a time (in the near future) when our income may be considerably smaller than it is today, leaves one with certain feelings of vulnerability.

And the thing that has been a shock to me, which I didn’t expect at all, is all the people and organizations “out there” who seek to exploit that vulnerability for their own ends.

My first real taste of this came about two months ago. I was looking for a new job, hard and fast, and, using a legitimate employment site, I was contacted by a company in San Francisco that was supposedly looking for a social media director. The job seemed a good fit. After an hour-long interview (which I felt went well), the hiring manager offered me a job. The bad news is, it turned out to be a total scam. The good news is, I got suspicious before I actually lost anything. (Read more about this story on my blog.)

I reported the scam to the FBI, but never even got a call back. Someone told me these type of scams were so common they don’t even, apparently, get investigated.

This was just the first of many attempts to exploit my current vulnerability. I receive multiple emails daily from insurance companies, employment sites, and others offering me work-at-home “jobs” that are too good to be true. I now realize the vast majority of these are attempts to exploit people who are in a vulnerable position because they have been laid off.

I’ve had lots of time to think about why this happens. People seek to exploit us daily. Sometimes it’s obvious; other times it’s very subtle. Sometimes strangers are the culprits; other times it’s people we know, trust, and love.

Yes, it’s true — we often seek to exploit each other. Even in the Church, sometimes I think we fall victim to this. It might come in the form of trying to “guilt” someone into serving or fulfilling a particular ministry need. Or perhaps it might come in the form of pressuring someone to give to a specific financial need, for reasons other than their best interest.

Or sometimes we might attend worship services or other church events, or participate in small groups or ministries for what WE will get out of it, how it will benefit us, rather than engaging from the core motivation that others might be blessed by our presence, service, and participation.

Upon reflection, I also realize that, inter-personally, we often seek to exploit the people we love, even perhaps without really thinking about it. We might manipulate a spouse or a child or a parent or a friend into doing something we want them to do for us, that isn’t necessarily in their best interest. But because WE want it, we attempt to manipulate the relationship, sometimes without even thinking about it, to exploit their vulnerability in order to make what WE want happen. Or we might treat them in such a way as to make them feel “smaller,” so that we can magnify ourselves by comparison and “feel better about our self.”

In 2 Peter 2:3, the Apostle had strong words for those who would exploit others:

And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

You’ve heard the saying: “Don’t use people and love stuff — love people and use stuff!” One of the remarkable things about Jesus’ life is that there was no trace of exploitation in it. While others frequently sought to use Him for their own personal ends, His every thought, word, and deed was for the ultimate good of the people whom He loved and was sent to serve. 1 John 4:10 says:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

This verse acknowledges the stark reality that we are lousy at loving. And God is very, very good at it! So much so, that it is said of Him, “God is love.” (Sadly, I am not aware that anyone has ever said, “Larry is love!”)

So my question and my conviction is, “How can we get better at loving others?”

I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Christ urged His disciples: “… love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Not a word about exploiting one another in any of that, is there?

So, I guess I will leave you (and me) with this challenge: What’s your exploitation quotient? Are you (perhaps unintentionally) acting in such a way that exploits those around you, even those you love, rather than loving them unconditionally and seeking to build them up?

If you need help loving others the way Jesus loves us, you’re not alone. I think it’s a challenge that confronts all of us. Let’s seek to prayerfully and honestly “stir up one another to love and good works,” as Scripture commands.

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Anger

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By Larry Short

JonahWe’re living in a day and age where an outflowing of national anger and disillusionment with broken government promises, increasing bureaucracy, and taxation are having a significant impact upon presidential politics. Whether that impact will be negative or positive for our country is hotly debated and beyond the scope of this Last Word.

What I am concerned about here is the impact that anger has on us personally. And I speak from that of which I know. I was raised by Christian parents, but the general mood in our household was often very angry. My parents fought a lot. Usually they were angry with each other, for a variety of reasons; and sometimes they were angry with us kids. I remember once my mom was very angry with my brother and me about something (I don’t remember what; I’m sure we deserved her wrath). She went for the belt to administer a whipping, which she rarely did. As the oldest, I was, unfortunately, first in line. She was so angry she didn’t realize she was holding the wrong end of the belt when she hit my backside with it. The first (and, as it turned out, only) blow landed with the metal buckle coming in contact with the target.

My mother was instantly horrified when she realized what she had done in anger; she burst into tears and ran off sobbing. It was the last time she ever took a belt to any of us five kids, as far as I know.

The fortunate part of the story for me is that my mom wasn’t very strong, and even in her anger the metal belt buckle, while it stung a bit, didn’t do much damage!

Some of this anger transferred to me. As a young father, I had a hard time not getting angry at my kids, particularly my son, who was very good at goading me. By the time he was 17, he knew exactly what buttons to push to get me pretty much out of control. Once he sent me into a blind rage, and I was so angry I grabbed a telephone (the cordless kind) and launched it at him with all my might. Fortunately, he had good reflexes and ducked the missile, which punched a hole right through the drywall of our staircase.

He grabbed some things out of his room and left the house, announcing that he was going to report me to Child Protective Services. I probably deserved that. I was appalled and dismayed and spent three days just pleading with the Lord to help me get my anger under control. At the end of that time, realizing that through the Lord’s empowerment I indeed did have control, if I only had the discipline to exercise it, I vowed I would never be goaded into that kind of anger again. And I have kept that vow to this day, some 15 years later. As a result, my relationship with my son has vastly improved. (Not that he hasn’t occasionally tested the limits!)

I realize now (and I probably realized then, to some extent, at least) that my anger was holding me back from becoming the kind of father, and the kind of disciple, God wanted me to become. I am so grateful to be able to look back and see how God has helped me get some victory over this particular broken and sinful aspect of my life. I am hoping that it has made me not only a better dad, but also a better husband, employee, brother in Christ, and citizen. (Now, on to the next big project!)

A Prophet with a Problem

At worship on Sunday, I mentioned what I am learning from the book of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet who had a problem with anger. And the Ninevites deserved his anger! They were among the most brutal people ever to inhabit the planet. The records of their horrific brutality, if you read about them in the history books, make you feel ill even now, thousands of years later. I won’t go there; I’ll just assure you that whatever your imagination can conjure up, what they did to their enemies was worse.

And they didn’t like the Hebrews. And the Hebrews didn’t like them. Which is why many people think Jonah ran in the opposite direction when God told him to go and deliver His message to Nineveh. Wa-a-a-ay in the opposite direction!

But the real reason Jonah ran is revealed in Jonah 4:1–4.

But it [God’s mercy on the Ninevites after they repented] displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

The answer to the Lord’s question was, of course, “No.” But instead of answering, Jonah just sulked. He went and staked out a position on the hillside overlooking the huge city of Nineveh, hoping against hope to see God rain down fire and brimstone on it while he ate popcorn.

It’s amazing, when you think about it, that the reason for Jonah’s anger was the kindness, grace, and mercy of our steadfastly loving God! In his anger against the Ninevites, Jonah wanted vengeance. He was only all too happy to preach God’s simple message: “Forty days, and Nineveh will be destroyed!” No love lost there, as far as he was concerned.

So Jonah set himself up on the hill, and verse 6 says “the Lord God appointed a plant” that provided shade over Jonah and gave him relief from the heat. And Jonah was glad for the plant. (He’d apparently had enough of discomfort after spending three days and nights in the gastrointestinal tract of a large fish!)

But then our merciful, gracious, and loving God did something very interesting. Verse 7 says that at dawn of the next day, God “appointed a worm” that attacked the plant so that it withered, and Jonah lost his comfy shade. (For the fascinating biblical story behind the worm, check out this blog post.) After the sun rose, “God appointed a scorching east wind” to make Jonah really uncomfortable. And, once again, Jonah was angry and “asked that he might die.” (You can almost hear him thinking, “I’ll show God! We’ll see how he feels after His prophet has died of heat stroke.”)

The discomfort was, of course, intended by God as an object lesson for Jonah. “Do you do well to be angry about the plant?” God asked him in verse 8. And Jonah replied, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

I hope Jonah saw the divine humor in this. God was under no illusions that the Ninevites were model citizens. His view of them was that they did “not know their right hand from their left.” Not very flattering, eh? And to drive his point home, God adds, “And also much cattle.” Come on, Jonah, at least feel for the cows!

(Something about this reminds me of that strangely hilarious scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou?: “Oh, George! Not the livestock!”)

I continue to be blown away by a recognition that I probably share with Jonah that God is so good at love, and I am so bad at it. He is indeed “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Thank God He often (probably more often than we know) “relents from disaster,” even though we certainly deserve it!

What do you do if you struggle with anger?

Do you struggle with anger? Be honest. I don’t think I’m alone in this one. We know there is a “righteous anger,” an anger at sin and its effects on innocent people, and injustice, and man’s inhumanity to man, and so much else that has resulted from the Fall. But how often can our anger truly be counted in this category? Or how often is our anger instead a result of the fact that we haven’t gotten what we want or think we are owed? Our anger blinds us. We think we are concerned about a mote in someone else’s eye, when our anger has blinded us to the log in our own.

And our anger separates us from the blessings God wants to bestow on us, and through us, to others. My advice is: Deal with it! Lay it before the cross. Recognize how the blood of Christ absorbed the righteous anger of God, anger at the sin we so willingly partake in. If you need help, get it. Ask brothers and sisters around you to pray for you and hold you accountable. Get professional help if you need it. Please don’t wait for God to give you a loving sunburn to drive His point home, as He did with Jonah!

Larry welcomes your comments and questions, either here or on his personal blog.

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What if Jesus Really Meant This?

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By Nate Champneys

IMG_5735As someone who has lived in the Northwest my whole life, I have grown very accustomed to the sight of Mt. Rainier. Don’t get me wrong, some days when “the mountain is out,” I am overwhelmed by the majestic sight of the mountain as the sun rises, but I have to admit that there are some days when I see it and take it for granted. It becomes ordinary. When my wife’s family come into town, who were all born and raised in the Midwest, it’s fun to watch them as they are blown away by the mountain any time it’s in view, because they’re not used to it.

I have been spending a lot of time in the Gospel of John lately. If I had to put a theme on the whole book of John, it would be this: JESUS IS AMAZING! From start to finish, John paints this beautiful picture of the glory of Jesus. But as I have continued to read it, I’ve been struck by some of the things that Jesus says. They are things I have heard my whole life, things I’ve gotten so used to hearing that I don’t think about. They have become ordinary. But I’ve been asking the question, “What if Jesus really meant what He said … literally?

I have been drawn to the words of Jesus during and just after the Last Supper. This is the last time that Jesus is with His disciples before going to the cross. It stands to reason that these chapters warrant careful attention as His parting words. If you read chapters 13 through 15, you’ll notice something. Over and over He says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” He also says, “Those who do not love me, will not keep my commandments.” That seems pretty simple. If you really love Jesus, you do what He says. Period. So just what are Jesus’ commandments? Well, He says clearly to the disciples what His commandment is. In John 13:34 He says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” In 15:12-13 he says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And finally, in verse 17, again He says, “This is my command: Love each other.”

Are you seeing what I am seeing? Jesus says we should love people the same way He loved us. How did He love us? He literally laid down His life for us. What if Jesus meant what He said? What if He is actually calling His Church to REALLY love the way He loved? We tend to want to reduce love to a feeling. We tend to want to only love when it makes us feel good and is convenient for us. What would the world look like if we as the Bride of Christ actually took Christ at His word and laid down our lives for each other? Imagine what would happen if the Church stepped up and took in the orphans of the world. Imagine what would happen if we began to help others in need, not just when it was convenient for us. Imagine what would happen if the people of God gave of their time and money, not just when it was comfortable and easy?

What does it look like to really love like Jesus? This is His commandment to us: “Love one another the way I love you. Give yourself up the way I gave Myself up for you.” Are these just nice words that sound good to read but don’t really mean anything, or are we missing something huge?

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)

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Moses Anyone?

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By Jeff Foerster

Have you ever pretended to be Moses when you were younger? Standing there before the water (gutter stream), arms held high with a staff (tree branch) in hand, holding back raging waters while a multitude of Israelites (ants) crossed through the sea. Maybe you became David facing a giant with a sling and a few smooth stones, or Esther, about to risk your life before the king.

Maybe this wasn’t you as a child, but have you as an adult imagined yourself in the role of a famous biblical character and wondered if you would have made the same choices? What might it have been to experience those “mountain-top” periods of victory or encounter with the power of God?

So, I find myself considering Moses. What was it like to see that bush aflame and then to hear the voice of the living God? What awe was inspired when standing before Pharaoh, lord over the ancient world, and proclaiming judgment upon him, watching God display power through plagues? And what of the adrenaline-junkie experience of walking between walls of water?!

That’s not my life. Mine is much more ordinary, filled with routine and repetition. Over a period of time, one week looks like the next with little to mark its passing save for a seasonal change in weather or holiday celebration. I can begin to wonder what God has for me and if my “adventure” will be coming soon. In this mode I long to have my days filled with experiences rivaling those named in Scripture. Where is my adventure? How can I achieve greatness in life? How can I actualize the skills God has given me, doing something no one else can do? All of this is a longing for significance. And all of this is focused on me.

There was but one Moses. What of the Israelite slaves? 400 years of dust, and mud, and searing sun, and burning muscles, throbbing veins, generational hopelessness and death. Hundreds … thousands … likely millions of Israelites lived and died with not even mention of their name handed down to us. They made bricks, they served their masters, they had children, and they were no more. There was no glory for them, no tales of bravery to be recounted.

The story of centuries of Israelites under Egyptian slavery seems a waste. It’s a depressing thought to consider each individual life, born in slavery and dying under the same. Some were likely gifted as artists, others craftsmen. Some skilled as leaders and statesmen. None of these talents could be fully actualized, having been crushed under the weight of slavery. Whatever dreams might have been, would not see the light of day.

As the story of my life unfolds I can make the mistake of evaluating it by varying measures of success – financial, career, or otherwise. If I choose this path I make one primary and critical error – focusing on myself. It’s easy to take this focus; even our American culture celebrates the importance of the individual.

The narrative of this life, rightly understood, is much larger than the one, starring myself, I often have running through my head. This story is much greater, for it belongs to God. He will accomplish His purposes. I may play a role, but the plot does not pivot because of me. God decides what prominence my character takes; He decides that with infinite wisdom. My mission, should I decide to accept it, is to yield in faithful obedience to the commands of God. He does not hide these, but openly proclaims them in His Scriptures. Though, even these good things can be diversion if I think that through obedience I gain His acceptance and love.

The sun neither rises nor falls because of me. I do not change the seasons, nor do the rains heed my presence. But I do know and rest in this: whatever my lot in life, whatever my accomplishments, whatever my experiences, whatever my trials, God has placed me securely into His family. My significance is born of no other substance than this relationship with Him.

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