Can My Life Undo God’s Love for Me?

It’s a strange question but not a strange experience. I remember my first episode of thinking that my life was separating me from the love of God. I was about 9 yrs old when I ate too many apples from a nearby apple tree where I grew up. Before long I had an upset stomach, not because I stole the apples (old man Chris Hughes loved to share his possessions with others), but because I ate too many apples. But that’s not what I first thought: I thought that God was upset with me and the proof was my upset stomach. I thought that something about my life was putting a barrier between me and God’s love for me.

Before I go any further let me be clear about a not so sweet truth: our sin has separated us from a loving God because he is also holy. God can no more tolerate sin than the devil can holiness. That said, and believed, as true children of God by faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, we can experience moments where we think that our lives can separate us from the love of God. I’ve wondered many times, reflecting upon my present sins and failures, that God’s love surely must be exhausted. Have you not done something so regrettable that you thought that God cannot love you – not after x?

I think this is why God led Paul to say,

“For I am sure that neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

I get the death thing – as a possible deal-breaker for God to not love me. As an experiential possibility, I can imagine upon my conscience death-bed, wondering in the back of my mind, “what if . . .?” But unlike our pending death, we don’t often think that our life can undo God’s love for us – until we are ashamed of ourselves. Now we’re tracking why Paul said this to assure our hearts. Shame in this present life paralyzes our hope in God’s promises. All the unbreakable truths of the golden chain of salvation seem to barely hang on when shame enters. (Romans 8:28-30)

What do you do when something shameful causes you to think that your life will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?
1. Don’t try to distract yourself by eating and watching tv. Confess that sin and God will cleanse you from a defiled conscience. No amount of entertainment or self-indulgent gluttony will do for you what God can. (okay – now you’re ashamed of eating the quart of ice-cream, sorry – but keep reading)
2. Stop looking at what causes shame and turn to the cross where all your shameful, regrettable sins have been obliterated. God has no future intention of humiliating you. (Romans 5:5)
3. Believe that the Spirit is interceding for you right now, with words that you could never utter before God. Not because you can’t speak, but because your groaning body is too weak to speak. (Romans 8:24-26)
4. Rehearse the truth that if God set his love upon you “while we were sinners” then now that the sin has taken place, his gracious love abounds further than your sin. (Romans 5:8, 20)
5. Remind yourself where the source of Christ-distracting accusation comes from: the devil (Romans 8:33). It’s the devil’s job to accuse the saints, pointing his crooked finger at us as if God is only capable of loving the perfect. But it must really annoy that wretched Liar to see God love us through the perfect work of his son. There is a difference between the Spirit’s conviction of my sin, and the Devil’s accusation of my sin: the Spirit makes it his goal to get my eyes back on Christ’s substitution for me on the cross. The Devil however, wants me to keep my eyes on my sin until I am drowning in my own helpless state and accusing God of injustice.
6. Turn away from self-atoning good works. When we sin, we often do something good, quickly. But this is often self-medicating the conscience and does not glorify God nor does it heal the heart in the long run. The best thing to do after sinning is to just sit there and be quiet before the Lord. Don’t do anything but, “upward I look and see him there, who made an end to all my sin.” Then, with a right motive, begin again to do good works because of God’s grace in your life and not because of your feeble attempt to balance the scales of right and wrong – Jesus already did that for you!
7. Finally, give thanks to your Father in heaven, for he knows your frame – he remembers that you are but dust – he knows how frail your life is (Psalm 103), and he knows what he got himself into when he set his love upon you. I assure you, because of the future glory of Christ, he has no regrets of adopting you! (Romans 8:15)

The Most Stolen Item in the World

I was sitting in my van outside of Sprout Home in Chicago while Cheryl was inside taking a class on making terrariums. A street-looking man came out and squeezed his way into the gated outdoor property of Sprout Home where they stored equipment – there was a small entrance unlocked. Stooping down, he picked up an 8ft step-ladder and wrestled his way back through the narrow opening, but as he turned to walk across the street with it – that just didn’t sit well with me. So I got out and said, “Where are you going with that ladder – put it back.” Of course I already sized him up – I felt quite sure that I could take him or out-run him, so I was safe. Anyway, he stopped, looking a little shocked, and said, “The man in the store said I could borrow it” – and then he bolted across the street and down an alley, into the dark, for it was night.

It all looked innocent because he just came out of the store. But as I watched him slip away, I knew he had snookered me and the store owner. He stole a ladder right in front of me. That’s when I rushed into the store and told “the man” and away we both went, down the alley, splitting up, looking around a couple blocks and met back where we started, lamenting that we did not catch the crook, and happy that we didn’t get ambushed trying to retrieve such a rare and valuable item!

Safe and Sound, warming up in the van I began to think about the subject of stealing, stealing something so brazenly, stealing – that means taking something that doesn’t belong to you – it means that if you take something that doesn’t belong to you, you are a thief. Wondering to myself a little more broadly, “I wonder how many ways a person can steal – I mean, how many types of thieft can you do: you can steal tangible things lake ladders and lawnmowers, you can steal someones idea, identity, and make a fortune. You can steal the hard work of another by going on-line and co-opting a paper for your teacher that you didn’t write – it’s called plagiarism, technically, but it’s called stealing if you get caught. You can steal someone’s copywrites by printing or downloading. You can steal in many, many ways. But nothing truly highlights the wretchedness of stealing the one thing in the world that is not only the most priceless thing but also the most stolen item – precisely because it really is the most valuable thing man appraises – he’ll do anything to get his hands on it – glory.

God said that he’ll not share his glory with man. That’s because it doesn’t belong to him. Stealing glory from God is easily done, in fact, we do it so often, we even think “the man” said we could. Here’s how:

Whenever you take credit for what God has done for you, you steal what belongs to him. And as Paul cleverly asks, “what is there that you have that you did not receive?” The apostle further argues, “then why do you boast as if you did not?” (1 Cor. 4:7). And there it is: we are glory-thieves, robbing and stealing our way through life, brazenly in front of God while he listens to us blather on and on about our accomplishments, our achievements, our witty and shrewd decisions – and never saying something like, “I thank the Lord for giving me the strength, the wisdom, the grace, the patience, the insight,” –  the whatever it is that you and I have successfully done in any way at all.

Unlike yours truly, God is not mocked. On judgment day he will give to every thief his just due – and every thief will have to agree because not even a thief serving 20 yrs for theft thinks it’s ok to steal his cigarettes. We are self-condemned. However, if you believe that Jesus Christ was your substitute as he hung beside a thief, taking upon himself your glory-stealing, and suffering what punishment belonged to you, and by faith repent of your stealing the most valuable item in the world – God’s Glory, then your sins are forgiven and you are set free – free to give God the glory for the rest of your life for all that he graciously does for you – “to him belong all the glory.”

On the Cross of Christ, God the Father retreived his stolen Glory – do you agree?

MLK’s Dream and the Nightmare of Black Genocide

I post this from David Mathis at Desiring God Ministries:

Black genocide.

That’s Clenard Childress’s term for abortion in America and its pervasive effects in the last generation, especially in the Black community. The statistics are outrageous. One in four African Americans conceived in the last forty years have been cut down by the “black genocide” of legal abortion.

A decade ago Childress founded a website by and for African Americans ( “to expose the disproportionate amount of Black babies destroyed by the abortion industry. For every two African American women that get pregnant, one will choose to abort.”

The site laments that “a Black baby is 5 times more likely to be killed in the womb than a White Baby.” Childress says, “The most dangerous place for an African American to be is in the womb of their African American mother.”

For Childress and a growing number, the point is clear: Abortion in America is a race issue.

King Today, Roe Tomorrow

It’s not unfitting to highlight such an atrocity on the day the United States remembers the man who gave his life for the African American right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thirty years ago, in 1983, president Ronald Reagan signed into law the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. on the third Monday of January. January 21 is the latest the day falls — as it does this year — which puts the day back to back with the January 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

King was assassinated in 1968. It was only five years later, in 1973 — forty years ago tomorrow — that the Roe case made abortion legal in the United States. And as Childress and others have sought to highlight, abortion has not been an equal opportunity killer in the last generation.

Again, roughly one in four African Americans, who otherwise might be alive today, have been consumed in the holocaust of legal abortion. Because of the disproportionate number of Blacks who have been aborted, it’s difficult not to make the connection between King’s dream and the nightmare of abortion, and ask, Have not the last 40 years of Roe significantly undermined the cause that King so tirelessly gave himself to until 1968?

And is it not a terrible irony and tragedy that in the very pinnacle of realizing King’s dream — Obama being the first Black president — we have an administration actively perpetuating the industry that has claimed the lives of one in four African Americans since King? As one Black man says in the 3801 Lancaster documentary, “Everything that was ever gained during the Civil Rights Movement is worth nothing to a dead Black child,” and as one Black woman proclaims, “Make no mistake, abortion is a civil rights issue.”

Linking Lynching and Abortion

In January of 2007, John Piper sought to make the point in a sermon. Here’s Piper’s full disclosure from the beginning of that message, entitled “When Is Abortion Racism?”:

Let me tell you one of my main aims in this message: In the name of Jesus Christ and rooted in the gospel of his death and resurrection for sinners (including abortionists and pastors), my aim is to stigmatize abortion by associating it with racism. I would like you to link abortion and race the same way you link lynching and race. . . .

Racism might — and often did — result in the killing of innocent humans; in our history, it often did. But abortion always results in the killing of innocent humans. Between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 Black people were lynched in America. Today more Black babies are killed by white abortionists every three days than all who were lynched in those years.

King’s Dream to End Abortion

But it’s not just Childress and Piper making the connection between King’s dream and the nightmare of abortion. King’s own niece, Dr. Alveda C. King, has captured the irony — and tragedy — as articulately as anyone. She loves the dream her uncle had, and has her own as well.

We have been fueled by the fire of “women’s rights,” so long that we have become deaf to the outcry of the real victims whose rights are being trampled upon, the babies and the mothers. . . .

What about the rights of each baby who is artificially breached before coming to term in his or her mother’s womb, only to have her skull punctured, and feel, yes agonizingly “feel” the life run out of her before she takes her first breath of freedom. What about the rights of these women who have been called to pioneer the new frontiers of the new millennium only to have their lives snuffed out before the calendar even turns?

Oh, God, what would Martin Luther King, Jr., who dreamed of having his children judged by the content of their characters do if he’d lived to see the contents of thousands of children’s skulls emptied into the bottomless caverns of the abortionists pits?

It is time for America, perhaps the most blessed nation on earth to lead the world in repentance, and in restoration of life! . . . Abortion is at the forefront of our destruction.

How Can the Dream Survive?

King continues,

[Martin Luther] King [Jr.] once said, “The Negro cannot win as long as he is willing to sacrifice the lives of his children for comfort and safety.” How can the “Dream” survive if we murder the children? Every aborted baby is like a slave in the womb of his or her mother. . . . If the Dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is to live, our babies must live. Our mothers must choose life. If we refuse to answer the cry of mercy from the unborn, and ignore the suffering of the mothers, then we are signing our own death warrants.

I too, like Martin Luther King, Jr., have a dream. I have a dream that the men and women, the boys and girls of America will come to our senses, and humble ourselves before God Almighty and pray for mercy, and receive His healing grace. I pray that this is the day, the hour of our deliverance. May God have mercy on us all.

A Prayer for Life Among the Minorities

Piper closes his sermon with this final plea, and then (in italics below) this final prayer. Please join with us in this prayer today and tomorrow as King’s day and the 40th anniversary of Roe happen back to back.

Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in America. They were founded by Margaret Sanger whose “Negro Project” in the 1930s was designed to reduce the births of black children . . . . Today 78% of Planned Parenthood clinics are in minority communities. . . . Every day 1,300 black babies are killed in America. Seven hundred Hispanic babies die every day from abortion.

Call this what you will — when the slaughter has an ethnic face and the percentages are double that of the white community and the killers are almost all white, something is going on here that ought to make the lovers of racial equality and racial harmony wake up. . . .

O that the murderous effect of abortion in the Black and Latino communities, destroying tens of thousands at the hands of white abortionists, would explode with the same reprehensible reputation as lynching. May the Lord raise up from the African-American churches and the Hispanic-American churches a passion to seize the moral high ground against the slaughter of the little ones. Such leadership would sweep the field, and the white pro-choice establishment would fall before it. May it happen in the name of Christ and for his glory and for the good of all people until the Lord of glory comes. Amen.

Dear Church: Celebrate the Gospel or Die

It’s not only what you believe that is important, but how you believe it. Do you believe that pizza is a food for human consumption? Good. But how you eat it and talk about it will tell me so much more, and in fact, will invite me to join you or not.

The same goes with what we do on Sunday morning. Our worship together must not only confess the gospel but also delight in it, making it the central feast that is enjoyed. And this must take place every Sunday, this tasting and seeing that the Lord is good whether the he gives or takes away.

The reason why churches die spiritually is not because they deny the gospel, but because they celebrate something other than the gospel. And over time, the gospel is lost while the church hums along with its ever-expanding programs that are disconnected from the gospel, and its religious dutiful performance that does not really delight in knowing Christ and what he did for us on the cross. Sunday morning worship is to be a time and a place where we celebrate primarily what God has done for us in Christ, not what we did for him during the week. If you are reading this, you have read the word “gospel” several times. Do you know what the gospel is? Are you sure? If your answer goes something like this, then you did well:

1 Corinthians 15:1-5a

“Now I would remind you, brothers,of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared . . .”

This is our weekly celebration in the church. If it is not, we will celebrate something else because it is impossible to not exalt something. We were made to rejoice and put something worthy at the center of our emotions. No matter the subject of human existence – government, money, marriage and parenting, supporting missions, our jobs, our health, our burdens – if we do not see how these and all things have to do with what Christ has done for us in his death, burial, and resurrection, it will not be long for spiritual atrophy to settle in on our church. And about a decade or so later, we’ll be watching a whole generation of our kids either chuck the whole christian-thing out of their lives, or worse, live a moralistic external life of pharisee-ism that rivals those that opposed Jesus.

The reason why I say the later would be worse is two-fold: First, it would be better that the doors of the church would just close and the building sold to house sponges than for it to remain open and continue to poison another generation with a false gospel. Second, “it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for” a church who kept the light of the gospel so near them while denying its power – of the cross of Christ.

It’s not an easy thing to believe the gospel with the kind of passion that keeps it at the center of church life – we so easily leave the God we love. But there is no other place to go than to Christ, even when our emotions are but a trickle. But we will go and drink and eat none-the-less for we know in whom we have believed and have become persuaded that he is able to keep our hearts satisfied in him until the final day of celebration is lived – then we’ll really rejoice in Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior.

I close with a quote from Don Carson on this subject, who couldn’t write something bad even if he tried:

“I have been teaching more decades now than I can count and if I have learned anything from all of this teaching, it’s this: my students . . . learn what I’m excited about. So within the church of the living God, we must become excited about the gospel. That’s how we pass on our heritage. If, instead, the gospel increasingly becomes for us that which we assume, then we will, of course, assent to the correct creedal statement. But, at this point, the gospel is not what really captures us. Rather, it is a particular form of worship or a particular style of counseling, or a particular view on culture, or a particular technique in preaching, or—fill in the blank. Then, ultimately, our students make that their center and the generation after us loses the gospel. As soon as you get to the place where the gospel is that which is nearly assumed, you are only a generation and a half from death.”

A Couple Hours Alone With Grandpa


A few things that I think I heard Joseph saying:

“Grandpa, are you sure this is where it goes?”

“I had a bad feeling about you babysitting me!”

“It doesn’t come out on top Grandpa – and I’m not talking about my hair”

“Where’s my mommy when I need her?”

And one more:


“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Husbands: A Tip that Could Save Your Marriage

Another great short read by Erik Raymond for us husbands. May the Lord bless us with his grace to do this. Enjoy!

With a title like this there is little room for dilly-dallying along the way to the answer. So without much introduction, here is the tip that could save your marriage: Get a part-time job.

There. That’s it. Husbands, if you want to save or strengthen your marriage, get a part-time job.

I should say right off the bat that I am not talking about a literal job that will pull you away from the home for more hours. Instead I’m arguing for the husband to approach his time at home with his family with the same thoughtful intentionality and engagement that he would if he were to go to work.

Far too many marriages are suffering because the husband comes home mentally, physically and emotionally zapped from his work day. He has done well as the provider for the home and now he is going to come home and collapse into a lazy-boy (aptly named) or in front of a computer or some other process of decompression and relaxation from a tough day at work. This type of thing may be ok occasionally but if practiced regularly it will lead to major problems.

Years ago after starting a new job I came home mentally and emotionally drained several days in a row. Laying on the floor “resting” became my default posture. One day my wife walked over and said, “Hey, we don’t want your left-overs. Don’t give everyone else your best only to serve us left-overs.”

This hit me like a ton of bricks. My wife and family were grateful that I was providing, but they were not content with a mere provider. They wanted a dad and a husband. In other words, there is more to the job of being a husband than just making money. He needs to be thoughtfully, intentionally, and continually engaged in the home.

This is why the illustration of having a second job in the evenings works so well. As husbands we must come home with at least, if not more engagement than we would have at work. Husbands come home to lovingly lead their families. They need to be serving their wives by listening, learning, nourishing, and shepherding them. We can’t do that when we are “recovering” from work or checking out for some much needed “me” time. The job description for a husband entails thoughtful intentionality. We have got to be in the game and doing our job.

It would not be a stretch to say that over 90% of the marital counseling I have done as a pastor involves the husband sleeping at his post in one way or another. He hangs his hat on being the provider while neglecting his role as shepherd-leader of the home. Fixing this will not solve everything but it will drastically improve a lot of things.

So husbands, let me challenge you to come home from work like you are going to work at a job you love in a place you love. Come alongside your wife to talk, listen, and learn her. Play with the kids. Do some chores. Make some jokes. Read the Bible. Pray together. Play a game. Make some dessert. Fix something that broke. Flirt with your wife. Sit and talk. Whatever you do, do it heartily and intentionally like a guy who is there, engaged with his family not escaping from his family.

When Your Heart is Married to Shame

When our hearts are married to our shame, we wed ourselves to the most unloving and claustrophobic spouse – “me”:

I take thee Shame as my wedded refuge.

When I sin and fail, I promise to hide myself behind good works and pretense. When I do sin, I promise to never repent or say, ‘I’m sorry.’

When I feel contaminated by my own sin or sins committed against me, or with sins by association with family and friends, I will hide myself in thee.

When the feelings of worthlessness come, I promise to either go shopping or hurt myself; whichever is appropriate for the moment: self-gratulation or self-mutilation.

When I am rejected by someone important to me, when I feel inferior, I promise to use the tools of manipulation, guilt, revenge, and silence to win their approval of me; I might even take them shopping and buy their affection with a toy or I might hurt them.

When I have failed, I promise to poison my heart with self-loathing curses. When I feel like trash I will receive nothing good from no one.

I Promise to trust in no one, especially in God.

I Do Promise to trust in Masking Tape: all the unsightly and un-presentable parts of my falleness will never see the light of day and never know the freedom of forgiveness.

I Promise to wallow in shame and self-pity, ever crawling about in the dirt of my wretchedness.

I Vow to never come clean with my sin – it’s too humiliating – appearance is everything, as you have taught me so well.

I  Vow this day to identify myself with the rejection, neglect, and worthlessness of what others have done to me and what I have done to myself.

I Vow to Need man’s approval and never permit anyone to correct me – I’m so much in love with you, Shame, that it terrifies me to think that people will see the real me – the one who struggles with sin and imperfection.

I Vow to never let anyone know that I need them.

I Vow to feel that all my worth comes from my performance.

Shame, I do now commit myself to the misery of never being honest with myself, with others, or with you know Who, Him who would love me and forgive me no matter what I’ve done, no matter what has been done to me, no matter whose icky associations have come near me.

In my worthless name, I say, “I Do.”

When God Shut the Mouth of a Poisonous Snake

It’s good to rehearse true stories that remind us of God’s care. Here’s one that I jotted down several summers ago. Enjoy!

Cheryl and I were swimming behind my parent’s home in Summersville Lake. It’s a 22,000 acre shoreline lake with a dam that creates depths of 300 ft. The lake is about a mile behind the house through the woods with 15 to 100 foot cliffs since this is a man-made lake that dams up Gauley River. The section that we swim in can only be reached by either cliff-diving or letting yourself down by rope that is tied to trees at the top.  We let ourselves down by rope so that I could jump off the smaller cliffs, 18 – 27 feet high. I don’t have the courage to jump higher – I probably would if someone dared me though.  Anyway, after some great swimming in a Hawaii-like lagoon with massive rocks and a 50 ft. waterfall, it is time to leave.

We head back up the cliff pulling ourselves up the rope, putting our feet in the footholds that have been hewn out by rock climbers. But there is a man at the top holding a can of beer in one hand and two fishing poles in the other. He has tied his massive cooler to the end of the rope and now the cooler is dangling at the bottom while he is stupefied as to how in the world is he going to get down – but we want to go up.

He realizes that and apologizes for blocking the path. He asks me if I can help him.  I climb partly up the cliff and take his poles and then I lower them down to Cheryl.  And then with my left arm I lift up his 35 lb cooler to get the weight off the rope and untie it with my right hand. This is such an awkward position – I almost lost my balance. I untied it and jumped down with the cooler in my right hand, swinging it out and away from me and dropped it on the ground on its bottom with a thud. As soon as I did, the man at the top said, “Did you see that?”  I said, “What?”  He said, “I think I saw a snake move as soon as you set the cooler down.” I replied, “You’re just kidding, aren’t you?” “No, really, I think I saw one,” the man safely at the top said. I peeked over the cooler and there was a male Copperhead coiled ready to strike. He was coiled and hissing, tongue moving in and out trying to smell us. I had set the cooler of beer on his tail!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (see, God does use beer to accomplish his good purposes:) The snake was pinned down and couldn’t move! Mind you, that we have moved back and forth, especially Cheryl with the fishing poles.

Just then, his younger friend came up who had already climbed down earlier (but wasn’t around to help his friend down). He beat the snake a little, moved the cooler off, penned the snake to the ground with the stick, picked it up by the neck and blew into its face. The snake opened wide ready to bite and just then the young boy broke its neck with his hand. Now that’s a hillbilly!!!

We all commented that we all could have been bitten. The man at the top, now at the bottom, said, “That’s the second lucky thing that’s happened to me today – I think I’ll play the lottery!” I said, “I thank the Lord that he didn’t allow that snake to bite us.”  Later, Cheryl and I praised God with serious reflection on his protection. A Copperhead won’t kill you (unless you have other health issues) but it will make you wish you were dead with unbearable burning sensations, vomiting,  nausea, swelling, and cramps.

Job 38-40 speaks of God’s control over the animal kingdom. God could have used this as a thorn, a bite in our flesh but he did not and we thank him for sparing us.  Taking the long view, one day our God will deal the final blow to Satan – that vile serpent who accuses the saints! His head was crushed at the Cross of Christ and one day he will feel the burning sensations of Lion’s wrath with no mitigation – ever. Praise God for He rules over Satan, and in the words of Martin Luther, his doom is sure – and your eternal Joy is sure!

Jesus is Better than Godiva Chocolate

Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Heaven, A World of Love” – a sermon on how satisfying heaven will be for us because nothing will ever hinder us again from enjoying Jesus Christ. Here is a sweet morsel from that sermon: 

“In heaven there shall be no remaining enmity, or distaste, or coldness, or deadness of heart towards God and Christ. Not the least remainder of any principle of envy shall exist to be exercised toward angels or other beings who are superior in glory; nor shall there be aught like contempt or slighting of those who are inferiors . . .The saints shall know that God loves them, and they shall never doubt the greatness of his love, and they shall have no doubt of the love of all their fellow inhabitants in heaven. And they shall not be jealous of the constancy of each other’s love. They shall have no suspicion that the love which others have felt toward them is abated, or in any degree withdrawn from themselves for the sake of some rival, or by reason of anything in themselves which they suspect is disagreeable to others, or through any inconstancy in their own hearts or the hearts of others. Nor will they be in the least afraid that the love of any will ever be abated toward them. There shall be no such thing as inconstancy and unfaithfulness in heaven, to molest and disturb the friendship of that blessed society. The saints shall have no fear that the love of God will ever abate towards them, or that Christ will not continue always to love them with unabated tenderness and affection. And they shall have no jealousy one of another, but shall know that by divine grace the mutual love that exists between them shall never decay nor change.”

Given the fact that Satan was evicted from heaven (Isa. 14:12-15), is a first-class liar (John 8:44), and blasphemes his former residence where he mounted a revolt (Rev. 13:6), it should come as no surprise to lovers of Jesus Christ that this world will suckle on all kinds of wrong things about heaven: how to get there, the nature of the place, and what it is for –  if it exists at all. Satan hates heaven (because it is where God dwells in absolute holiness and grace), and he is envious of heaven at the same time (because that is the place where he wanted to reign as supreme).

An observation of our world would bring you to the conclusion that people of all cultures and ages believe in a heaven, how to get there and the nature of the place. For many Islamic extremists, the means to getting to heaven is good works which can include the elimination of non-Muslims, and the nature of heaven is one-night stands forever!

But the rest of the world is not isolated from Satan’s schemes; his lies come in thousands of shades. Notice our own culture and you will have to agree that people believe that you can get to heaven by being moderately good, and the nature of heaven is a place where you get everything that you didn’t down here, and all the things that you did – just more of it. I think that you would also agree that the longing for heaven, or a heaven of some sort where there is unending pleasure is God’s doing – he is the one who “put eternity in our hearts” (Ecc. 3:11). Man’s groping for eternity is a signpost upon our humanity that we were made for something more than this. Which raises this question:

Why do people want to go to a heaven? Not the real one, but a heaven made in their image? Because, 1) man was made to long for more (that’s a good reason); 2) man wants to live forever with man at the center (that’s a bad reason). Because man is blinded by his own sin and Satan is perpetually lying to him about heaven, man will seek to get to heaven by his own means, and will make a heaven in his own image.

But Heaven is all about God and His Son Jesus Christ – A Father who gives a bride to his Son to enjoy each other’s presence for ever and ever, with not a single ho-hum day (Ephesians 1 & 2:7).

Read this advertisement from Godiva Chocolates and then ask yourself: Does this language of heaven promote the real and true heaven or does it reflect our culture that trivializes heaven?

                                     NOW EVERYONE CAN GET HEAVEN  

Perhaps you’ve sinned once or twice. But when you indulge in the luscious richness of our delectable milk chocolate truffles, you too will experience your own little moment in heaven.

What did this delectable advertisement teach us? That sin is not a hindrance for heaven, that we rarely if ever sin, that everyone can have heaven now by indulging in whatever will bring you temporary pleasure, and that heaven is a place of your making. I would be nit-picking and making a mountain out of a mole hill if this was not the general consensus of our culture. But I assure you – it is! The Gloria Jeans Coffee Shoppe in Westfield Mall has a sign posted: “If there’s no coffee in heaven, then I’m not going.”

For the sake of our eternal souls, let us stir our affections up for heaven and feast on as much of it as we can now by asking God to bring his hallowed name and his kingdom to earth. Yes, I’ve tasted Godiva Chocolates and Jesus Christ –  there’s no comparison! If chocolate is in heaven that will be good. But if Jesus is not – then I don’t want to go.

For Wounded Hearts – part 4

My aim for writing on this subject has been to magnify the healing processes of the Lord for the wounded heart whose tormentor will not confess his sin. In this fourth part I want to cover the passages of Scripture that I believe have to do with the desire for forgiveness. But let me first say that I make a distinction between actually forgiving someone and desiring their forgiveness, therefore, I believe that we are to desire forgiveness for the unrepentant without forgiving them of their sin. This is a distinction that Scripture seems to support. In other words, there is a difference in saying, “I forgive You”, and “I desire that you receive forgiveness from the Lord.”  When an abuser is unrepentant we are to desire, pray, and long for his heart to be healed by the forgiveness that only the Lord can provide. This is part of the healing process for the wounded heart. After giving God the place of vengeance, freeing the heart up to do good to the enemy, one is also ready to desire forgiveness, or as some put it, have “a spirit of forgiveness” toward your enemy.

Let’s bring Stephen, Paul, and Jesus to bear witness that we are to desire and express from the heart that our unrepentant abuser be forgiven.

Luke records for us in Acts 7 the incident where Stephen became the first martyr for the New Testament church. After preaching one of the best sermons recorded in Scripture, verse 57 says, “Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him.  And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.  And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep [that is, he died in the Lord].”

This is a stunning testimony of compassion for one’s enemies. One can hardly imagine the kind of heart it must take to desire the very best for a group of people who have done their very worst to you. Is this not love?

What does it mean to ask the Lord to not charge an enemy with their sin? Stephens’ unrepentant tormentors hear a prayer offered up to God, desiring that He would not treat them according to their sin. Stephen is a man full of the Holy Spirit and the Word.  In order to have a heart like this one must be very alert to his own forgiveness of sin in which he stands. Stephen knows that his own heart has been circumcised of his sin and that the Son of Man is his advocate (vss. 51-56). Stephen does not say, “Lord, I do not charge their sin against them” – which would be real and actual forgiveness; rather, he prays that the Lord will not charge them with their sin. They are not forgiven of their sin which is why Stephen prays for their release from the penalty of their sin. This is a prayer that God would forgive them.  We ought to pray that God would forgive those who hurt us. This is not the same as saying, “I forgive You.” What are we actually praying for then, when we ask God to not charge our abuser with his sin? Are we asking God to just forgive them while they are yet stiff-necked and stubborn in their hearts? Are we asking God to forgive them of their sin even though they do not want forgiveness? Of course not. When we ask the Lord to not charge our enemy with his sin, we are asking God to grant repentance so that they might be forgiven (2 Timothy 2:25). God does not forgive sins – for nothing! He forgives sins for repentance to Him and faith in Jesus Christ (Luke 3:3, 5:32, 24:7; Acts 5:31, 20:21). If God does not charge a sinners’ account with his sin it is not because God excused or exempted the sinner, as if he was secretly “let off the hook” for his transgression while his heart is still justifying his sin. But rather, God does not charge a sinner with His sin when the sinner repents. Therefore, we are asking God to so work in our enemies’ heart that he sees his need of forgiveness and calls out to the Lord to have mercy on his soul.

The Apostle Paul prays this way for his fellow workers who forsook him when he needed them most (2 Timothy 4:16). Paul was giving a defense for the gospel in a Roman court of law but this was too much heat for some of Paul’s friends – so they ran. Demas wanted nothing to do with standing for Christ in the public arena with Paul (vs. 9). He loved the safety and temporal comforts of the world and abandoned Paul. Clearly this was sin on Demas’ part and the others as well who left Paul. Yet Paul prays, “May it not be charged against them.” This is not a statement that the Lord has forgiven or that Paul has forgiven them; it is a prayer asking the Lord to forgive. The prayer for forgiveness implies that they are not forgiven! Since God never forgives apart from repentance, Paul is asking the Lord to “grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26), we are asking God to rescue their heart from Satan’s grip of defiance toward God.

Our last person to bear witness that “to forgive” and “desiring forgiveness” are distinct Christian virtues is Jesus Christ.  Probably more people have referred to Jesus’ saying on the cross than any other statement in Scripture to support the position that as believers we must forgive the unrepentant trespasser because that is what Jesus did. But as we will see, Jesus did not forgive those who crucified Him.  Luke records in his gospel account, “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do’” (Luke 23:34). First, notice that Jesus did not say, “Your sins are forgiven.” If that is what Jesus wanted I see no reason why Jesus could not have forgiven them since He can forgive men’s sins (Luke 7:48). But unlike the woman in Luke 7 with less-than-admirable character, whom Jesus did say, “Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus asks His Father to forgive them – while Jesus does not!  Why didn’t Jesus pronounce forgiveness for His tormentors like He did for the woman kissing His feet? It is because the woman “loved much” (7:47) while His torturers loved to torment. Jesus can’t forgive those who crucified Him because they do not love Jesus with repentance and brokenness of sin like the woman did. Jesus is truly a God-centered man on the cross setting the example for Stephen, Paul, and us to beseech our Heavenly Father’s work of grace in the sinner’s heart, bringing about repentance that leads to forgiveness.

Did Jesus’ Father answer the prayer? Oh Yes! The Centurion is forgiven because he sees that Jesus was a righteous man (Luke 23:47), and later, as Luke records, Peter said to the very ones that Jesus prayed for, “. . . you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death. . . Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:23, 37-38). Jesus prayed from the cross that His Father would forgive his assailants and God the Father answered His Son’s prayer by effectively cutting their hearts that leads to repentance which leads to forgiveness of sins.

When a child of God has been sinned against, and her transgressor will not repent, she is not to forgive but to give God the place of vengeance. Now she is to pursue her enemy with loving good works all the while asking God to forgive him by working in his heart in such a way that he will turn to God in repentance and receive forgiveness of sins. She is free to trust God either to avenge in His time and in His way, or to grant repentance which leads to forgiveness. And if her abuser repents, she is to forgive him just as her Father in heaven forgave her when she repented.

I’ll make one more final post on this subject next week.

Grace and Peace