Ram in the Thickets

What we love the most, we hate most to lose. This is universal I am sure. Not up for debate or personal preference. It is just plain true.

I have found in my faith journey that God has sometimes called me to let go of someone I love or something I love. This has run the gamut. Letting go of people in my family in a seasonal and/or figurative sense. Letting go of a semi-lucrative career in education in order to work in educational ministry. Letting go of achievement and possible accolades in order to serve others. Letting go of a reputation in some cases. Letting go of comfort in order to do some uncomfortable, but right things. Letting go of my right to be right. Letting go of my need to be noticed. Letting go of foods and beverages that don’t do me any favors. Hands down, it is hardest to let go of people, especially family. Not ready to blog about that yet…

Genesis 22:1-2 says, “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love — Isaac- and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.’ ” Abraham may have asked questions, but it is not recorded. In scripture, Abraham simply obeyed. I can only imagine that his relationship with God had grown to the point where he didn’t question…

When God tests our faith, He brings us to a crossroads that absolutely contradicts our normal instincts. The story of Abraham and Isaac defies human reasoning and makes us wonder if God is good. We find in this story redemption, a timely ram in the thickets, and a foreshadowing of Jesus Who would come and be the slain Lamb Who takes away the sins of the world, Who would die in our place, conquer death and bring about our salvation. We see a merciful and compassionate God Who authenticates faith.

Genesis 22:9-14 says, “…He (Abraham) bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.’ Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’ “

I enjoy quilting and just recently started a Jesse Tree quilt. It consists of blocks that tell the story of the Bible in pictures. The block posted above symbolizes the ram in the thickets. Coincidentally or not, the construction of this quilt block occurred about the same time we were studying Genesis 22 in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). I do love it when God brings several things together like this to make His point in my life…

Anything that hijacks my heart and replaces God as the chief object of my affections needs to be sacrificed. I sincerely don’t want my faith to be weakened by idols, especially people or their expectations of me. If God is not number one, I remain confident that He loves me enough to free me from clinging to the things that I love, especially when I love them more than Him. He provided the ultimate ram in the thickets – Jesus Christ. I won’t soon forget that. Although it has taken me nearly a lifetime of tests of faith – some failed, some passed – I question what hijacks my heart right now, and then I must bind it and let it go.

Piano Whispers

Much like faith, great gifts need to be passed on and passed down. Hebrews 11:1,6,20-21 says, “Now faith is the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see… And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him… By faith Isaac blessed (his sons) Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” Faith was passed on and passed down as the gift of God…

It all started with a six-foot (actually 6′ 1”) baby grand piano that my husband gave to me for our 3rd wedding anniversary. Purchased at an affordable price at a local auction, my husband was only bidding against the auctioneer. So, it became ours. Amazing still after 40 years of marriage! A rosewood cabinet with three intricately carved cabriole legs. An instrument manufactured in 1893, restored in 1907.

The next challenge was to get this great gift not only to our house, but inside our house! A couple guys near the auction site were willing to make some quick cash to help with the moving detail. I will omit many excruciating details, but eventually this beautiful piano made it into our first house of ownership. Great gifts involve sacrifice and cost, of course.

Next, my husband embarked upon refinishing the piano. Again a challenging and tiresome process, but successful. And then I embarked upon teaching piano lessons in my home, even in the midst of having a second baby. A move to another town and a 3rd baby apparently did not dampen my interest in teaching piano lessons. A neighbor teenager provided some babysitting assistance to make this possible. The gift of music continued on.

Since we contracted to build our 2nd house, we added support to the living room floor expressly to undergird the grand piano (pictured in this post). As the years rolled by, we transferred the piano to another room for a few years, setting the wood floor planks on edge. Then we decided to try to sell the piano or donate it. There was a local church that was excited about the possible donation, but just in the realm of God’s perfect timing, my oldest daughter decided to have it. Because of the piano’s size, it now takes up considerable space in her house. But, my granddaughters encouraged the transfer, so it’s now in a 3rd house and it is being enjoyed.

This instrument has many more stories to tell in our family tree. What a great blessing to know that my oldest granddaughter is now continuing piano lessons and playing the keyboard as part of her church worship team. Just when you think an era is possibly over, a grandchild gives you hope that the heritage of music may continue. My mother was a fine arts major and church musician; I was a school chorus and church accompanist; my children followed and took piano lessons that branched into other kinds of instruments (voice included); and two of my granddaughters have proficiency in guitar, violin, and/or piano. The passing on and down has continued…

How like faith this piano was in the passing on and passing down. The interest in it ebbed and flowed over the years. The value of it was sometimes ignored. It sat idle for some years and seasons. But, the story of the piano has reminded me that it was an invaluable gift, never to be taken lightly. Like John 4:10 says, “Jesus answered her (the woman at the well), ‘If you knew the gift of God and Who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.’ “

Sometimes we didn’t know the greatness of the piano gift. But, having been lately reminded, I encourage us all to have eyes to see the gifts in our lives. And, not to ignore the greatest gift of all – faith in Jesus Christ.

Second Chances

Christmas is the celebration of the Gift of abundant and eternal life through Christ Jesus and the escape of believers from God’s righteous judgment. In the most amazing manner, the baby Jesus entered the world so that redemption would be offered and that we would enjoy many second chances in our lifetimes to believe the Christmas miracle – to believe in the Son of God, our Redeemer.

But, we are very good at ignoring second chances. We let ourselves forget the true Christmas story. We endure so many narratives these days that we often drown in an ocean of falsehoods. It is difficult to swim against the powerful tide of our irreverent culture. If I’ve learned anything from God’s enduring Word, it is that there is still unlimited mercy offered by God. He is faithful to give us so many opportunities to turn away from darkness and believe in Him. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we must block out the noise of the godless and give ear to God’s truth this Christmas and always.

The secondary tidal wave that pulls down on Truth-believers is a kind of minimalism – the temptation to simply succumb to the crushing wall of culture that rebels against the Holy God of the universe, even while still believing in Him. It is the temptation to have minimal or no redemptive influence in the world. Genesis 18 and 19 records the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. If you know the story, then you might identify with Lot. (Please don’t bristle at such a parallel). There is truly “a lot of Lot” in all of us.

In the surrounding Genesis story, God gives multiple opportunities for Lot’s community to repent before the pronouncement of final judgment. The same is true today. The true Christmas narrative is surely a story of second chances. We stand at the same crossroads, belief or unbelief, redeeming influence or wasted legacy. Lot is a sad example of a believer characterized by the “everlasting reality of a wasted life.” Minimal influence. So distracted by the world, so distracted by the culture, so absorbed by the eternally insignificant that Lot exercised no redeeming influence among his family or friends.

Although God preserved Lot (sigh of relief), Christmas reminds me that my days as a believer can either be fruitful or unimaginably fruitless. I am reminded that my expression of love for God involves the valuable act of obedience. The valuable act of being prepared for eternity with Him. The valuable act of being a recipient of His preparation of me for glory. I should not waste another second on earth by not studying and not taking to heart His Word, or not taking on His attitude toward others, or not taking on His heart to spread His gospel, or not taking on His heart to save.

Christmas is the story of our Redeemer. As I ponder the second chance I’ve been given today, I pray that Jesus Christ removes the legacy of Lot from my life so that I really can be a believer who exercises a redeeming influence around me. I pray that I don’t get comfortable with marginal belief and no interest in heart transformation. I pray that I don’t let culture win and thereby become a reflection of culture – self-centered, rude, all about comfort, all about self-preservation, all about recognition, all about hating and judging…

Christmas is a heart check. It is a call to make use of another second chance to move away from minimalism in faith and toward joining God in His redemptive work.

Titus 2:11-14 says, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.”

Sign Posts

Christmas is our great sign post that God Himself took upon Himself a great personal cost by placing the consequences of sin on His Son Who was purposefully sent into our world to provide redemption to us through His death and resurrection. The price got paid. What an amazing gift! We were given a second chance at true life. Not just physical life, but more importantly eternal life. What a great cause for celebration!

True life! True life is found in Jesus Christ and the truth that comes from the Word of God. Yet, since Adam and Eve, we have struggled with the Word of God. We simply do not like limits. We don’t like boundaries, even if they are meant to protect us. We are more comfortable with the denial of truth and the priority of personal independence. Genesis 3:2-3 says, “The woman [Eve] said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ” And then, we know what happened… Sign post ignored.

Hmmm. More than a decade ago, probably two decades ago, I got two speeding tickets in the span of one month. The month was April. Both were local traffic zones that had recently reduced their posted speed limits from 45 mph to 35 mph. I was stuck in a 45 mph habit and was on autopilot both times. Guilty, I simply paid off the first ticket, and then I went to traffic court for the second ticket, hoping for some mercy. What a hassle! But what a lesson about the consequences of ignoring sign posts!

Since that time, I am much more aware of speed limits and have realized there is no need to rush anywhere, especially at such a cost. It is more than that actually. Freedom to operate a car and travel at will comes with responsibility. I have always loved to drive, especially because of the freedom to just “go.” My car is my freedom. My freedom to go places. My place to be alone. My way to escape. My insurance policy against isolation. The car has always been my ticket out. It’s like sitting in the back row of a meeting room – easy to slip out.

Nothing has highlighted the value of personal freedom more than the 2020 pandemic. Yes, I can go places and still drive anywhere I want, but I have to be so mindful of protective limits – where I can go, how long I can stay, what time I go, what safety protocols must be prepared for, what are the risks, and will I be mindful of others in the process? There are plenty of sign posts. Risks are now more apparent than ever as are the elements of freedom that I have generally taken for granted.

In the Garden, Adam and Eve defied the limits that God gave them and tumbled mankind into a world of sin sickness. The first man and woman exercised their God-given freedom, while not taking responsibility for observing God’s loving limits. Life is so like this, isn’t it? We enjoy that same God-given freedom, but drift easily into the 45-55-65-75-85 mph avoidance of limitations, at terrible costs. We hurt ourselves and others constantly by refusing to regard sign posts placed there for our safety, especially our eternal safety.

Just as speed limit signs were posted for all to see, God has given us His Word for all to see. But, do we embrace God’s truth and honor His loving limits? I guess you first need to be convinced that His limits are loving… A story for another day, another blogpost.

Don’t get stuck in a habit of disregarding God’s truth. God’s loving limits. God’s fence of protection around those who have faith in Him. Remember the reason for the celebration of Christmas – the birth of God’s Son and subsequent provision of salvation for those who do not drift into deception on the autopilot of sin. Real wisdom is possessing faith in God and His promises – the culmination of which greatest promise was the baby in the manger who went on to the Cross on our eternal behalf. Therein lies true freedom.

2 Timothy 1:10 says, “But it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Christmas is the great Sign Post we must not take for granted! The great freedom that salvation gives us – freedom from sin, freedom from death, freedom to exalt our Righteous Savior – leads us to the responsibility to treasure Christ by following Him faithfully.

Fatherhood

A familiar and beloved hymn in my life has been BE THOU MY VISION. It plays in my head and in my heart often. The second verse goes like this –

Be Thou my Wisdom and Thou my true Word

I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;

Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;

Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

“Father” is one of the great attributes of God. As the Creator, our Eternal Father is the sustainer and provider of all that He has made. However, He is only Father to believers in His Son Jesus Christ, whereby they become His legitimate children. Fatherhood implies a loving and close relationship with children, which is not often the case with earthly fathers flawed by sin (to various degrees of intensity). Still, despite the far-reaching consequences of sin, God remains a good, wise, righteous and loving Father.

One of my favorite fathers is pictured in this blogpost (one of my sons-in-law). The picture reminds me of the joy that a new father experiences when holding his child close to his heart. When hope has been fulfilled. When the future is in front. When the good imprint of the father is on the child. When a godly father begins to lay down truth about God so that his child can come to know and love their Father God and experience the reality of “Be Thou My Vision.”

Psalm 78:4,6-8 says, “We will not hide them [God’s Word] from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done…So the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands. They would not be like their ancestors– a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to Him.” He is a Perfect Father for His imperfect children – those who trust in Him. Passing on the heritage of faith is the most important thing an earthly father can do.

If you’ve ever been in counseling, you have heard the phrase “family of origin.” Family-of-origin issues plague families just as they did in Adam’s family, in Noah’s family, and Abraham’s family. Generational sin is passed down in a cycle that cannot be broken apart from God’s grace. God, through the redemptive work of His Son Jesus Christ, is the only One who can break the cycle of legacy sin. Despite the consequences of sin, God remains a good, wise, and loving Father. He is a Perfect Father, patient and compassionate, loving and trustworthy.

Genesis 12:1-2 says, “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” God was faithful to His covenant even when Abraham messed up. Yet, even in disobedience, Abraham never lost his God-vision.

Abraham has been called the “father of many nations.” But first, he was a legitimate child of Father God. God was Abraham’s Vision. The vision came in “the midst of common toil” when Abram received God’s call when he lived in Ur with his father Terah who served other gods and worshipped the sun and moon. Ur was a wealthy port city characterized by power and idolatry, not a great environment in which to grow up. Yet, even when Abraham strayed, he never lost his God-vision.

By God’s grace, I have an amazing 89-year-old father, so it’s never been hard for me to draw parallels between him and my Heavenly Father. But, I realize it is difficult for children who have had overbearing demanding, unloving, or abusive fathers to then trust in our Heavenly Father. “Chip off the old block” may be a cliche, but earthly fathers powerfully imprint their nature and nurture on their children. It may be uncanny, but it’s true. The cycle continues without God’s cycle-breaking intervention.

God called Abram out of his family background stigma, and He still does that today. The 2nd verse of “Be Thou My Vision” indicates a close family relationship that can be described by the word “oneness” – between believing child and Heavenly Father. As God speaks to us personally in His Word and we speak to Him in prayer, we become a close knit family – Father and child, the way it is meant to be. Spiritual oneness can be experienced through the sin-cycle-breaking power of God’s Holy Spirit.

John 5:19-21 says, “Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.”

Father God, be Thou our vision always.

Famine of Truth

Photo Credit – Kim Clayton Lance

John 4:10 says, “Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and Who it is that asks you for a drink you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.’ ” John 7:38 says, “Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

Famines test our ability to trust God. Among other biblical examples, Abram and Sarai went to Egypt to evade a famine, but found that following natural plans apart from God’s plans ended in disaster (Genesis 12). A scarcity of knowing what God says leaves us vulnerable and depleted of truth. What “scripture has said” is dangerous to be forgotten. While physical hunger or thirst pains can make us desperate, spiritual hunger and thirst pose a bigger threat to our eternal survival.

Following a 2020 spring season of fear and isolation in the discovery mode of the Covid pandemic, a new and more regular way of doing things emerged. In the earliest days, negotiating toilet paper shortages, grocery deliveries, mask wearing, and a general sense of high caution without much knowledge was the new normal. Slow down from busyness was both a gift and a curse. It depended on how that time got spent…

Life felt a little prison-like. Lack of human contact has taken a heavy toll on families, friends, and church communities. As months have rolled by, we found new routes for getting things done – Amazon orders, senior hours at stores, Zoom meetings, outdoor activities, church online, etc. We’ve navigated different tolerance levels for pandemic protocols, CDC guidelines, and government rhetoric. We have gone to lengths to get our families together, trying to satisfy our sensibilities of what is safe.

But, what happened to our hearts and heads? Another new normal was the default of filling more time and space with whatever did not satisfy or quench. Absorbing America in an election year (2020), in the Post Christian/ Post Truth era, revealed a devastating moral bankruptcy. How did this occur? “We The People” have been simply starving to death. We are dangerously prone to total biblical illiteracy, rejection of the authority of God’s Word, rejection of God.

We are indeed desperate and may not even detect how our truth famine is slowly killing us. Deep down, our heads and hearts crave a feast of God’s Truth. What is it that really keeps us safe? Morally and spiritually? Pay attention to the warnings…

2 Timothy 4:3-5 says, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardships, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Regain your sensibilities and keep your head by feeding on God’s Word. Don’t be easily deceived, easily lie-buying. Easily not searching out matters. Easily letting media rule the day. Easily censoring right things in exchange for wrong things. And easily letting errors and falsehoods creep into every thought of the human heart. Easily forgetting history. Forgetting God’s story, God’s Word.

A famine of truth is best satisfied with a feast of God’s Truth… Jeremiah 2:13 says, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” God’s Word is the only thing that holds spiritual food and water for us and keeps us from dying of spiritual hunger and thirst. If we neglect it, we will be digging a cistern full of cracks. We will be increasingly desperate, embracing every form of deception.

Here is the simple truth repeated. John 4:10 says, “Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and Who it is that asks you for a drink you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.’ ” John 7:38 says, “Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” Amen.

Moon Beam Wonder

Psalm 19:1 says, ” The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”

On Friday, October 2nd, 2020, the eastern night sky held in tandem three visual treats for me and my husband: a day late Harvest Moon, the red planet Mars, and the Northup Grumman’s Antares rocket launched from Wallops Island. We live in a heavily wooded area yet miraculously saw all three sights at the same time from our front yard – an unusually tiny viewshed. Serendipity!

My husband possesses a passionate sense of wonder, especially about heavenly bodies. My excitement for such sights pales by comparison. I guess I let the cares of the world rob my sense of wonder way too often. But, what a shame! When I saw these three wonders on that night, I couldn’t help but think about the beauty and spectacle of what I was able to see that night with the naked eye!

Such occasions always move my focus to Creator God and the wonder of His Creation. I recount that the same things that rob us of our sense of wonder when we look at God’s Creation are the same things that rob us when we consider the grace of God in Jesus Christ. We forget the beauty, the spectacle, the amazement of so great a salvation. So great a grace and mercy!

I pray that this “sky high” event reminds me to consider an even greater passion. Mark 9:15 says, “As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet Him.” To consider the splendor of God’s Creation, and to want to know my Abba Father better. To consider the way God cares for His Creation, and to want to appreciate it more. To consider the provision God made for my eternal life, and to seek Jesus Christ with all of my heart.

Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” That orange moon! That red planet! That rocket launch! The wonder of it all. May we never forget the One Who Created it all and saw that “it was good!”

Clearing the Air

Mark 4:37-41 says, “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’ “

Several days ago, it was a temperate, low-humidity September day, I wondered why I didn’t need my sunglasses. Because the sun was definitely shining… (a puzzle). I later learned that the wildfire smoke from California had drifted eastward so much so that it smudged up the skies, reduced the brilliance of the sun, and added unusual coloration to our sunsets.

John Bacon, in a USA Today article, has recently reported that the West Coast fires have burned an area larger than the state of Connecticut. Sobering. Hard to imagine! But, this puts things into perspective.

Add this: drifting California smoke was high enough not to bother East Coast asthma-sufferers, but low enough to produce a cloudlike cover, subduing normal sunshine. Covid has been like those wildfires. A challenge the size of Connecticut! A subduer of normal sunshine! A squall that won’t die down. We mask-wearers long for breaths of clean, unobstructed air. Will it all clear someday?

On this same beautiful September day (2020), I sat around a table on a colonial town street, having a brown bag dinner with a group of lady friends. It was inspiring to see each other without the use of Zoom. In our new-normalizing, we enjoyed reflecting on the silver linings of Covid (yes there are some). I’d describe these silver linings as opportunities to do things differently. Outdoor dining has turned out to be a real treat. Using our patios and screen porches more at home is another. Not so much gas guzzling these days. Not many road trips. More walks and bike rides. Attention to things long forgotten due to busyness. Appreciating things previously taken for granted.

There is One true silver lining – the One who causes the wind and waves to obey Him. We need to clear the air…We need to remind ourselves of this timeless truth:

Matthew 6:26-30 says, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you — you of little faith?”

Take off the masks on your heart and mind. Breath in the clean air of God’s Truth. Nothing happens apart from His control. The winds obey Him. Nothing is suffered that He doesn’t sift. The waves obey Him. His plans and purposes cannot be thwarted. Have faith. Clear the air. See the silver linings.

Contraconditional

What kind of love is this? Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NKJV)

For a long time I have equated unconditional love with “agape” love, the Greco-Christian term meaning “the highest form of love, charity.” But, that God might care about me too much to love me just unconditionally is a new thought. I recently discovered in the writings of Dr. David Powlison a more complete concept – “contraconditional” love, closer to “high” agape.

Whereas unconditional love sends a message of detachment with no direct personal involvement, contraconditional love is a love that personally suffered for me, that went to the Cross for me, that conquered the jaws of sin and death for me. It rises much higher. Whereas unconditional love is said to be tolerant and accepting no matter what, contraconditional love is merciful and won’t ignore the cries of my heart for much more than toleration and acceptance.

God’s love is far more than a vehicle for “feeling good about myself” or being unchallenged in any way by manipulations, demands or judgments that are characteristic of conditional love. The contraconditional love of God goes way beyond taking me just as I am, and moves to making me new.

Turns out, there IS a condition – the condition of dependence upon what Jesus alone accomplished by God’s initiative, and not on what the recipients of God’s great love accomplished for themselves. The loving-kindness of God is the gift of unearned grace that is offered through the work of Jesus coming into the world to save sinners. This love is not a blanket approval of sinners like me. Instead, it is a passionate act of sacrificial love offered freely to those who would receive the gift in faith.

In educational circles, we often hear much about the needs of learners to possess self-esteem and unconditional positive regard. But, God’s contraconditional love won’t leave you alone with that flat, lifeless idea – being simply affirmed or indulged. God is very patient. His love seeks to change you, renew you, restore you, rebuild you. He seeks to lead you to repentance. God’s heart’s desire is to reconcile you to Himself through a Savior. God intends the end result to be transforming you into the image of Jesus so that you can share that same contraconditional love of God with others.

Acts 20:32 says, “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (NJKV)

What kind of love is contraconditional? John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

I don’t want acceptance. I want an inheritance.

Be Affected

Photo credit: The New York Public Digital Collection (EM2578), Jonathan Edwards engraving, 18th century.

Here’s something to think about. It might seem odd, but truly outstanding coming from Jonathan Edwards:

“I am bold in saying this, but I believe that no one is ever changed, either by doctrine, by hearing the word, or by the preaching and teaching of another, unless the affections are moved by these things. No one ever seeks salvation, no one ever cries for wisdom, no one ever wrestles with God, no one ever kneels in prayer or flees from sin, with a heart that remains unaffected. In a word, there is never any great achievement by the things of religion without a heart deeply affected by those things. The reason is this: they are not affected with what they hear. There are many who hear about the power, the holiness, and the wisdom of God; about Christ and the great things that He has done for them and His gracious invitation to them; and yet they remain exactly as they are in life and in practice.”

This Jonathan Edwards quote I heard from Matt Chandler (Lead Pastor/The Village Church/Texas) after a frustrating morning of trying to live stream my own church’s service. YouTube kicked me off at 5 minutes and 31 seconds. The audio cut off early into the sermon. I tried to access the live stream on my phone rather than my laptop… Needless to say, I was ready to call it quits until I heard this quote and its related sermon.

Chandler’s sermon was a call to “know (in your gut) what you know (in your head).” Why is this so difficult for Westerners? One reason is because we think knowing more will automatically change our lives. But, this is not so. Ephesians 3:17-19 is part of a prayer of Paul for believers. It goes like this (NKJV): “(I Paul, pray) that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

One of my favorite pastors, Dick Woodward (who is now with the Lord), said that the best book of the Bible to memorize is Ephesians. This is probably because he knew that Ephesians draws attention to spiritual resources that are available to us, that sometimes get overlooked and under-experienced. The things we need to know (in our gut) after we know them (in our head). The things that make us wrestle with and cry out to God. The things that disrupt our hearts away from clinging to unchanged life and practice.

We need to be affected by not just the Truth, but a genuine relationship with the Person of the Truth – Jesus Christ. It is the only way we change. We sail in wooden ships, but Jesus still walks on the water and stills the storms. We need to experience this. Sometimes great opportunity for heart change lies within the context of great struggles. Like a pandemic. Like social turbulence. Like an election year. Like personal safety being in shorter and shorter supply. What better time to experience the width, the length, the depth, and the height of Christ’s love which passes knowledge?

Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Only then will I experience 2 Corinthians 3:2-3: “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”

Being affected will happen when I will truly “know what I know.” From head level to heart level. I will be affected when I experience the Truth I have heard and read. I will be affected when the divine ink on my heart writes a genuine knowing. Being affected by the love of Christ which passes knowledge makes me seek God diligently, cry out louder in prayer, flee from sin, and allow the Holy Spirit to crush my heart of stone so it becomes flesh.

Be bold. Don’t let your heart be unaffected.