Commend

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“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 KJV

It’s not often I prefer the King James Version for study, or launch from it in my blog posts. I love its poetic prose and rich imagery, but versions written in today’s vernacular make it much easier for us to grasp the concepts and intentions of the text, in my opinion. (No intent to launch a firestorm with that comment – I know there are passionate opinions on both sides of the KJV fence…so I’ll move on quickly).

Something in this verse jumped out at me recently, though, and the word that struck me is one that is only used in the KJV – “commend”. Most modern day translations render the verse “God demonstrates…” (NASB, NIV, NKJV) or “God shows…” (ESV) or “God proves…” (HCSB) “…His love for us.” These are all good words. But let me spend a few minutes on why I think “commend” is so much richer.

Dictionary.com defines “commend” as “to entrust; give in charge; deliver with confidence.”

God “delivered with confidence” His love to us. Not any confidence based on our ability to carry it out. But confidence because of who He is and because of His ability and determination to carry through (see Philippians 1:6).

How should that change my life? That God would ‘entrust’ His love to me? He didn’t give it to take it back. He didn’t give it to ‘see how this works out.’ He didn’t give it with reservation or hesitation. He entrusted it to me! He ‘gave it in charge’ to me! He ‘delivered it with confidence’! He gave it with the full intent of my possessing it for eternity!

What a terrific word! How rich that one word makes this promise. How could I ever take advantage of or dismiss such a commitment?

And what freedom! Knowing that God not only offers His love but commends it – this symbolizes a commitment that allows me to live in total freedom, knowing that He has full confidence in me and my ability to possess (and share) His love.

There is no obligation or striving, because it is based completely on Him and not on me in the slightest. His faithfulness and His promise and His work in the person of Jesus Christ make it so – not my ability to earn it or to maintain some level of worthiness.

So no matter what my weaknesses, what my failings, what level of ugliness I might see in myself – God commended His love to me with no take-backs or do-overs. He demonstrated it (to tie it all back to the word used in other translations) before I ever had a chance to prove my worth.

Because our worth is in who He has determined us to be.

Let that sink in.

Let it become part of how you see yourself.

Let it become who you are.

And live free!

Conditional

conditional

Yes, you read the title correctly.

Last time, I wrote about “unconditional” love and grace.

I want to look at the other side of the coin today, mainly to make clear what that article was not insinuating. It was *not* promoting universalism (the idea that no matter what, everyone is okay in the end). To move on with even a chance of leaving that impression would be a dire mistake.

God’s love is unconditional. At no point do I want to reverse or undermine that idea. It is a core truth, and our freedom depends on knowing and believing it.

Let me say it again. His love is unconditional!

But our relationship with Him is not.

Let me explain.

First, Jesus was very clear when He said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Entering into a relationship with God is certainly conditional … conditional on only one thing – the need to trust that Jesus Christ was God and He died for us. But conditional nonetheless.

Second, the quality of our relationship with Him is conditional.

Jesus: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21).

Paul: “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

So apparently, our actions and attitudes influence not only the existence, but also the closeness of our relationship.

We tend to want to sometimes paint with a broad brush.  Either (1) obedience is key, so everything is conditional – God absolutely won’t bless you unless you have everything in order, or (2) God’s love is completely unconditional, so everything is okay, and God will love and automatically rescue you in the end.

The truth is actually somewhere in the middle.

So…from the top, just to make sure we’ve got it:

Nothing is beyond the reach of God’s love and grace.  We can never mess up so bad that He won’t rescue us (unconditional).

But we have to ask for that rescue (conditional).

And the more we obey, the more precious is our relationship with Him (conditional).

I’m not saying God will bless or withhold blessings based on our actions. Sometimes it works that way, but not as a rule. We can point to lots of biblical examples where God blessed or didn’t bless based on people’s actions. But I can also point to plenty of examples where blessings fell on the dishonest (scheming Jacob, socially deviant Samson) and curses fell on the obedient (righteous Job, humble Ruth). Jesus Himself said that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45).

What I am saying is we will feel more connected to Him, recognize His activity around us, and hear His voice more clearly as we live the way He desires for us to live.

Allow me one more example: Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

A sheep that is standing at the other end of the field and refusing to pay attention doesn’t hear very well. The Shepherd is not deserting him. The Shepherd is not punishing him. But the quality of the relationship is definitely affected.

We have to get away from this image of God as some sadistic bully hovering over us waiting for an opportunity to punish us. We must also not allow ourselves to go to the other extreme of thinking of Him as some washed up pacifist who indiscriminately doles out passes to Heaven.

God is an uncompromisingly just Judge, who loves extravagantly.

He is a pure unconditionally loving Father, who does not abandon His perfect standards.

We can never allow one to cancel out the other. Both coexist, because Jesus reconciled them.

He came to open the door to that one condition that would make the unconditional accessible to all of us.

What Not to Wear

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“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:14)

Sort of an odd statement, isn’t it? “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Why didn’t Paul say “get in step with” or “devote yourself to” or “obey” the Lord Jesus Christ?

Paul used the imagery of ‘putting on’ something for a couple reasons.

What we wear covers and protects us.  It keeps undesired elements (wind, rain, paint spray, poison ivy, sand fleas – you name it) off our skin. Appropriate clothing means harmful or unwanted things cannot get to us.

What we wear also shows something of us to the world. Even those who give the least consideration to fashion have to admit that their wardrobe choices, intentionally or unintentionally, are made with purpose. It may be as simple as to draw attention (get noticed) or to avoid attention (fit in), but clothing selection has meaning.

So our spiritual attire is important. Proper dress matters in our most private moments because it protects us from harmful things. And it matters when we step out in public because it reflects our most basic choices.

Let’s thumb through our closets and see what should and shouldn’t be there.

Writing to a different church, Paul lists some things we should be wearing:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Makes sense, right?  Putting on Christ means being like Christ. So let’s don the things we see in His example.

On the other side, Paul and Peter both give some hints as to the sort of things we need to be rid of:

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

Some of these are blatant enough that they are no-brainers – everyone knows sorcery and orgies should be avoided.  Others are more subtle – like envy, jealousy, or dissensions. But blatant or subtle, choosing the wrong apparel can be limiting and enslaving.

So, can it be any clearer what needs to make up our wardrobe and what needs to go to the curb?

One final point, because I don’t want clothing selection to become the main point and result in a legalistic checklist exercise. Remember, we started with the idea of putting on Christ. Our freedom comes from abiding in Him and allowing Him to empower our choices.

We will slip up sometimes. But the question is: were you drawn into it because you had a weak moment or did you intentionally pull it off the hanger?

When Paul says “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” he is not saying that if you fall you are disqualified – just that the consistent rejection of proper attire and choice of ‘trashy’ clothes reflects a heart that isn’t focused on following Jesus.

If you are putting on Christ every day, He’ll help you put on the right things. And the rest of that stuff can be left for the moths to eat.

Top Cover

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Near the close of my last post, I said I was going to talk a little more about this idea that God has our back.

Or, in military parlance, He provides top cover (a term used for combat airplanes flying at high altitude to protect a military force from air attack).

When a military force knows they have top cover, they are free to focus on their objective without worrying about unexpected attacks from above.

By the same token, when we know God is providing top cover, we are free to focus on our goals and objectives without worrying about how unexpected zingers could leave us in a pile of rubble.

I first came across the following quote at a time in my life when I was under some heavy fire – the combination of some embarrassing truths and more-embarrassing rumors were posing a threat to me, my loved ones, and my ministry.

I don’t know why I chose to pick up Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline then. The book had been on my shelf for a long time, among the ranks of the I’ll-get-to-it-someday titles (on my bookshelf, there is never a shortage in the I’ll-get-to-it-someday ranks).

I say “I don’t know why” meaning I don’t know what thought processes prompted me. But I do know why I picked it up. There was something in that book that God wanted me to see, at that specific point in my journey.

Buried in that hardcover edition, midway through the chapter “The Discipline of Solitude”, about halfway down page 101, was this priceless gem:

“One of the fruits of silence is the freedom to let God be our justifier. We don’t need to straighten others out. There is a story of a medieval monk who was being unjustly accused of certain offenses. One day he looked out his window and saw a dog biting and tearing on a rug that had been hung out to dry. As he watched, the Lord spoke to him saying, ‘That is what is happening to your reputation. But if you will trust Me, I will care for you – reputation and all.’ Perhaps more than anything else, silence brings us to believe that God can care for us – ‘reputation and all’”

Read that again. Let it sink in a minute. It’s solid advice.

God doesn’t require us to defend ourselves. He only asks that we trust Him. Think about these examples from scripture:

When Moses was accused in so many words of being a cold-blooded killer who would murder indiscriminately, he didn’t rally supporters and build a case to defend his reputation. He fled to Midian where he spent 40 years in solitude while God looked after his reputation, and prepared Moses for the work He had lined up for him.

When David was jealously painted as a political insurgent, he didn’t form an ‘occupy’ protest and shout his innocence from the town square. He escaped the royal city to hide in caves, and waited on God…who preserved his reputation and put him on the throne in due time.

After Saul of Tarsus was converted, he didn’t immediately go to Jerusalem to set every rumor aright and prove that Paul was a changed man, no longer the murderous Saul. He went into the wilderness of Arabia for three years and allowed God to be his justifier. And when he did go to Jerusalem, God had begun to prepare hearts to accept him for who he was.

So rest assured that God is perfectly capable and absolutely willing to provide top cover for His children.

We don’t have to defend ourselves.

And because of that, we have freedom to live courageously!

Hate Properly Placed

Signs 51That title caught your attention, didn’t it?

Yes, it’s what I meant to type.

It wasn’t auto-correct changing a misspelling to the wrong word…though I have certainly cursed the auto-correct feature many times for doing just that.

It isn’t some private rant mistakenly posted to my blog…I keep my private rants in pen-and-ink so that they’re easier to control (how’s that for transparency?).

And nobody hacked my website and posted it in an attempt to embarrass me…I am perfectly capable of embarrassing myself without any help.

No, the intended topic today really is Hate Properly Placed.

First, there are circumstances where hate is proper. But before running with that statement, let’s go a little deeper.

Humans – and particularly Christian humans – can be very adept at displaying hate, anger and other negative emotions. We justify it in various ways. We tag the word ‘righteous’ onto it as if that word will somehow make whatever we are thinking, saying or doing pure and holy. We enumerate why the target of our judgment deserves it and why everyone else should hate them as well. We defend our actions and reactions by claiming we are defending our loved ones, or innocents, or baby seals, or even God.

But here’s what I know: any time our hatred, anger or other negative emotion is aimed at a person, it is wrong.

It doesn’t matter how good the reason is.  It doesn’t matter how justified I feel. It doesn’t matter how many people agree with me or cheer for me or stand on their desks and recite Walt Whitman poetry (who can name that movie reference?).

It is never okay in God’s eyes to hate a human being. We can be upset, irate, or angry about what they are doing. We can hate the things they stand for or the activities they support. But when the hate is directed toward the person, it has crossed the line.

Many of us have heard the term “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” It’s become something of a cliché in the church, but it’s the best rule of thumb by which to check our emotions. It’s what God teaches us. It’s what Jesus modeled for us.

Think about it. When people see a need to justify their anger or hate, what is their go-to bible story? Jesus chasing out the money changers (Matt 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:14-16). “Even Jesus got angry,” they will say, as they flip pages to one of those passages in a huff.

But notice one thing about this story…Jesus does not get angry with the people, but with what they are doing! He overturns the furniture, He dumps their wares and upends their cash boxes, He even makes a whip and runs them out of the courtyard. But all the while His criticism is directed at what they are doing, not who they are.

Or look at all the places where He contends with the religious leaders (which incidentally are the only ones that He ever really gets harsh with – if Jesus were in some of our churches today, He wouldn’t get nearly as upset with the abortion doctors or the gay rights activists or the drug addicts as He would with the people so arrogantly condemning them).

Anyway, back to Jesus and the religious leaders: He calls them hypocrites, blind leaders of the blind, etc. But He always specifically tells them what the issue is…because His indignation is leveled against their actions and their attitudes, not their persons.

When we aim the hate at the person, we are shackling ourselves in chains that will hold us much tighter than they will ever hold the subject of our hatred. Because, in that case, what if that person changes? Answer: Our hate will remain – in fact, we’ll probably look for other reasons to hate them. Essentially, we develop the attitude portrayed in the sign pictured above – shoot the trespassers, and if they survive (i.e., try to make positive change), shoot them again!

Jesus could love and accept Pharisees like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and Saul of Tarsus because he didn’t hate them for being Pharisees, He hated the religiosity and the judgmental attitudes that Pharisaism represented.

Does that make sense?  I hope so.  Because I have one more thing to cover. I know I’m already running longer than normal, but bear with me as I work out this last very important piece.

Our hate should never be directed toward a person.

You are a person (profound, I know).

So guess what that means?

It means that no matter how ugly you think you are inside, no matter what mistakes you’ve made or how you’ve blown it, no matter who has broken your boundaries or how much you are convinced you are somehow responsible for them doing so, no matter what broken overgrown pothole-covered trail you have traveled to get where you stand today – you have no right to hate or be angry at you!

You can hate the bad things you have done (that’s part of repentance). You can be angry about the poor choices you’ve made (and honestly, you should). You can be upset about the fact you hurt people (again, as you should).

But never, never, never, ever turn that hatred and anger on yourself personally. It’s counter-productive, it’s self-defeating, and it’s a ploy of the Enemy to keep you in chains!

So the next time you feel that hate welling up inside of you, check it.  First, of course, make sure it’s proper. Then, make sure your sights are directed down-range at the offense, and not at the guy standing next to you on the firing line or at yourself.

When you get that right, you’ll realize you’re in a much better position to experience – and show – the love of God.

Unashamed!

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“For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”   – Hebrews 2:11

I don’t know about anyone else, but this is a precious promise to me.

The perfect God of the universe, in the form of Jesus Christ, came to earth and died a brutal death so that I could be made holy (sanctified) in God’s sight.

And now, seated in Heaven, He is not only willing to extend grace and forgiveness to me, not only willing to declare “holy” one that is furthest from holiness. But on top of all of that, He is completely unashamed to call me His brother!

This is especially precious to someone like me, whose mistakes have brought shame and brokenness into some of his relationships – one who has experienced both blood relatives and spiritual brothers and sisters turning away in shame.

Those who have been there know all too well the pain of carrying the guilt of bad choices, the agony of realizing there’s nothing we can do to undo them, and the torment of knowing that loved ones are literally (and rightfully) ashamed of him.

There’s a song called ‘Your Beloved’ by Brent Helming, the chorus of which says:

‘Cause I’m Your beloved,
Your creation,
And You love me as I am.
You’ve called me, chosen
For Your kingdom.
Unashamed to call me Your own-
I’m Your beloved.

Unashamed to call me your own!

As I let those lyrics sink in recently, that one phrase hit me like a freight train. Then, just days ago, I came across Hebrews 2:11, and I was knocked to the ground again by the very same train!

That the God of the universe would be unashamed to be associated with me is astonishing.

You see, here’s what really makes this amazing: Jesus doesn’t love me because He has to. He doesn’t love me because He feels obligated to stand by a promise or commitment (actually, His commitment was made because He loved me, not the other way around). He doesn’t love me because someone might think differently of Him if He didn’t. And He certainly doesn’t love me because I deserve it.

He loves me because He loves – it’s what He is, and what He does (1 John 4:8, John 15:9).

And out of that love, because I have entered into a relationship with Him, He is unashamed to call me His brother!

If you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I urge you to make that move right now. He loves you, just as you are. No matter how ugly, or how undeserving, or how ‘far gone’ you think you are…He loves you and wants a relationship with you. And He will be unashamed to call you His brother or sister.

If you do have a relationship, take a moment today and bask in the knowledge that He is unashamed to call you part of His family. It’s definitely a truth worth meditating on!

One. More. Step.

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“But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13-14

Many of us have been there. That place where we don’t think we can take another step, what feels like the very literal end of our rope.

Maybe you’re there today.

Maybe your own bad decisions have caught up with you. Maybe you’ve finally realized that that habit or addiction has control of you instead of the other way around like you always claimed. Maybe your latest burst of anger has resulted in serious injury to someone. Or maybe your secret sin has been exposed, or that past which you hoped above all hope you could carry to your grave.

Perhaps someone else’s decisions have caught up with you. Maybe a loved one’s secret sin or hidden past or covert addiction has surfaced and tore your world apart. Or a friend’s rush to judgment or outright betrayal has completely knocked the emotional wind out of you. Or possibly you feel as though you’re being crushed under the weight of the rumor mill, unsure if your reputation will ever recover from the roaring and fast-moving wildfires started by a loose tongue.

In writing to the church at Philippi, Paul made it clear that he was always reaching to obtain greater fullness in his relationship with Christ. And in so doing, both the achievements and mistakes of the past were of no use to him.

“Forgetting those things which are behind…”

That meant every bit of knowledge he’d acquired to make himself acceptable to God, every good deed he’d done to achieve a godly appearance, every shred of righteousness that he’d accumulated.

That also meant every bit of misapplied knowledge that made him unacceptable to God, every bad deed he had done that gave him an ungodly image, and every shred of unrighteousness or fake piety he had donned in his striving after self-made righteousness.

Our past deeds, and others’ past deeds, are just that – past. They have no bearing on our forward walk with Christ. They won’t get us any closer to Him, nor keep us any further from Him. Those things form the definition of self that relies on lies and labels and false identity.

“…I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God.”

Pressing toward the goal involves looking forward, defining ourselves by God’s call and who He says we are. It means constantly, moment by moment, putting all those things which want to define us behind, and stepping forward with the knowledge of what truly defines us.

Particularly if you’re in the midst of the storm, this can be a step-to-step exercise. Possibly all you can do right now is pick up your foot and take one more step. That’s okay. Paul didn’t say that forgetting those things that are behind is an easy endeavor. It takes work, practice, resolve. But that one more step will get you that much further along in your journey.

So wherever you are this moment: take heart, know that God is there, remember what defines you (it’s what’s ahead, not what’s behind), and step out.

The walk will get easier. Your strength will build. The resistance will fade. And one day you’ll look around to find God did bring you through it after all.