It’s February! That space on the calendar when hearts and candy and flowers and chubby little cherubs shooting arrows takes center stage because it’s all about love. I’m not much into the marketing hoopla that goes with Valentine’s Day but I certainly understand its appeal and our universal longing for it.
Love can move people to do extraordinary things and go to unimaginable lengths to communicate love to someone whom they care about deeply. I enjoy the opportunity to love people daily in small, practical ways. Allowing them to enter or exit an elevator first. Holding the door. Picking up something they dropped. Offering comfort or counsel to someone in need. But there are only a handful of people I would willingly lay down my life to protect; my wife and my children.
But that’s exactly what God the Father did for every man, woman and child from every nation, city and tribe on the face of the earth! He sent His only Son Jesus to suffer and die on a cross to satisfy the debt we all owe but could never pay. But His love is often misunderstood.
Some think God loves only them or their group because they hold to a certain set of beliefs or follow a particular list of “do’s” and “don’ts”. But Jesus loved everyone when He walked this earth and was even criticized for hanging out with the sinners and riffraff of society.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that God loves everyone everywhere regardless of what they believe or do. Yet this same Jesus who expressed love for everyone also told people to stop sinning and do life in a manner that pleases God.
God does love everyone but that doesn’t mean He accepts everyone into His kingdom for all eternity. God’s love for everyone means that His grace is available to everyone. But only those who admit their need for His grace are welcomed into His family.
“When you know how much God is in love with you then you can only live your life radiating that love. I always say that love starts at home: family first, and then your own town or city. It is easy to love people who are far away but it is not always so easy to love those who live with us or right next to us. I do not agree with the big way of doing things—love needs to start with an individual. To get to love a person, you must contact that person, become close. Everyone needs love. All must know that they’re wanted and that they are important to God.” ~ Mother Teresa, A Simple Path
As early as the first century, the Church set aside every Friday as a special day of prayer and fasting. It was not until the fourth century, however, that the Church began observing the Friday before Easter as the day associated with the crucifixion of Christ.
First called Holy or Great Friday by the Greek Church, the name “Good Friday” was adopted by the Roman Church around the sixth or seventh century. Among the possible origins for the term “Good Friday” there are two that are most plausible.
The first may have come from the Gallican Church in Gaul (modern-day France and Germany). The name “Gute Freitag” is Germanic in origin and literally means “good” or “holy” Friday. The second possibility is a variation on the name “God’s Friday,” where the word “good” was used to replace the word “God,” which was often viewed as too holy to be spoken aloud.
It was no coincidence that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey (Psalm Sunday) on the very day that Jewish families were to choose a lamb to sacrifice. And Jesus’ death occurs at 3:00 p.m. on Friday which was the very hour that the sacrificial lambs were slain in the temple. John the Baptist said it best when he declared:
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” ~ John 1:29
This song by Ray Boltz is one of my favorites for depicting both the brutality of Jesus’ death and the beauty of God’s love on display some 2000 years ago on what we refer to as Good Friday.
For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. ~ Romans 7:19-20
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. ~ John 3:16-17
I’ve been asked a certain question countless times over the course of my ministry. Sometimes it has been asked with genuine sincerity; other times it was a loaded pharisaical grenade: “Brennan, how could you relapse into alcoholism after your Abba encounters?” Here is the response I gave in The Ragamuffin Gospel in 1990: It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure; because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus. Because the Christ-encounter did not transfigure me into an angel. Because justification by grace through faith means I have been set in a right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table.
Twenty-one years later I stand by what I wrote; those words are as true for me now as they were then and on the day of my mother’s funeral. That paragraph from Ragamuffin Gospel spoke to many people; they’ve told me so time after time. I must admit though that from where I sit today the paragraph is a bit much, a little wordy. I believe I can now whittle the lines down to a three word response that incorporates all the truth of a verbose 1990 ragamuffin into a 2011 ragamuffin’s preference for brevity. Question: “Brennan, how could you relapse into alcoholism after your Abba encounters?” Answer: “These things happen.”
~ From All Is Grace by Brennan Manning
Dear Abba, These things happen. They really do. And while I grieve them and You know I do, I also know deep within that these things are some of the very things that have brought me to my prodigal senses and sent me running back to You, back to my Father, back home. So I don’t thank You for these things but I do thank You for this grace that is greater than the sum of my sins; this mercy that knows my good-for-nothing name and still believes in me; and this tenderness that I’ve done nothing to deserve but loves me anyway. ~ From Dear Abba: Morning and EveningPrayer by Brennan Manning
Thank you Brennan for being so real. Thank you Abba for mercy and grace.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. ~ Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV)
Pain, inconvenience, sin—these are the problems of being, the alarming, embarrassing, even tragic things that God is apparently willing to put up with in order to have beings at all. But whatever the problems are, they are not the root of being. That root is joy and now. It is important to recapture the element of delight in creation. Imagine the ecstasy, the veritable orgy of joy, wonder, and delight when God makes a person in His own image—when God made you. The Father gave you as a gift to Himself. You are a response to the vast delight of God. Out of an infinite number of possibilities, God invested you with existence. Regardless of the mess you may have made out of the original clay, wouldn’t you agree with Aquinas that “it is better to be than not to be?”
— From Souvenirs of Solitude by Brennan Manning
Dear Abba, Sometimes I get so entangled in the problems of being that I forget the root, and I miss the forests and the trees, not to mention myself. Wipe the sleep from my eyes this morning, Lord, and help me wake up to the truth that I am a response to Your vast delight. Thank You for making me me. Thank You for making me in Your image. Restore to me the joy of my existence.
~ From Dear Abba: Morning and Evening Prayers by Brennan Manning with John Blasé
I am awestruck at Manning’s statement that “The Father gave you as a gift to Himself.” May we come to embrace this truth at the core of our being so that we might learn to live out of it!
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” —Matthew 6:1-2
Jesus says in effect: Like a little child, consider yourself to be of little account. Blessed are you if you love to be unknown and regarded as nothing: all things being equal, to prefer contempt to honor, to prefer ridicule to praise, to prefer humiliation to glory. To practice poverty of spirit calls us not to take offense or be supersensitive to criticism. The majority of hurts in our lives, the endless massaging of the latest bruise to our wounded ego, feelings of anger, grudges, resentment, and bitterness come from our refusal to embrace our abject poverty, from our obsession with our rights, from our need for esteem in the eyes of others. If I follow the counsel of Jesus and take the last place, I won’t be shocked when others put me there, too. (Excerpt from Lion & Lamb by Brennan Manning)
You know me all too well. I seek out honor and praise and glory on a daily basis like a bloodhound. I find it and I’m satisfied, but only for a day or two as someone or something comes along and ruins it. Then I’m off again, sniffing out something to prove to everyone just how spectacular I am. But I was not created to be a bloodhound, led by his nose. No, You created me as Your child, to be led by Your hand, the hand of a loving Father Who will provide all my needs if I will just trust You. And Lord, that’s where it gets hard.
~ From Dear Abba: Morning and Evening Prayer by Brennan Manning with John Blase
When I read this devotional yesterday morning Brennan’s words cut to the core of my being. Especially his statement about how our “resentment and bitterness come from our refusal to embrace our abject poverty …our need for esteem in the eyes of others.”So much of what we do or buy seems driven by our desire for significance.
It immediately made sense and then I proceeded to wrestle with it all day long.
Its one thing to consider yourself of no account; but quite another to have people and circumstances confirm it.
Could I trust God to be enough?
Would I surrender to His agenda?
Could I be content simply being a child of the King?
Yesterday I held the hand of our Father and found His love to be enough. Will I trust Him again with this new day?
While justification borrows the language of the courtroom to help us understand God’s work of salvation, adoption uses the language of family to help us see that behind all of God’s saving work is a deeply relational and personal motive of love. God tells us that when we trust in Jesus, God adopts us as his sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:5). More than anything else this should convince us of God’s love. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). Justification gives us a new legal status. Adoption gives us a new family and a new father. This is another expression of our union with Christ.
Because Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, as we trust in him, we receive his status as a child of God. John 1:12 says that to all who receive Jesus, to all who believe in his name, “he gave the right to become children of God.” In Christ, we are not forgiven servants. We are given all the rights and privileges of natural-born children. We are adopted and welcomed into the warmth of relationship with God as our loving Father. Romans 8:15–16 describes the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of adoption” who enables us to cry to God as our Abba—an intimate Hebrew term akin to dad. It combines intimacy and respect. The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit “that we are children of God.”
When Jesus walked this earth, he worked to get the focus off “good” people doing what appeared to be “good things” and to get their focus back on God. Many people in first-century Israel were pointing to the rules; Jesus pointed to a God who wanted a relationship with his people. Religious professionals focused on the law; Jesus focused on the Lawgiver who knew our hearts and offered us grace in the midst of our failures.
A healthy, growing faith is always focused on the person of God himself, not on cheap substitutes. A healthy faith begins and ends in God, not in rules or regulations or sheer, raw duty. Jesus, not religion, is at the core of a robust Christian faith.
Today Jesus offers you and me the same opportunity he gave to those people in the early church. Oh, we can still perform and conform out of obligation. We can still try to feel good by all the “good deeds” we chalk up.
Or we can love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. We can experience his love and come to know him intimately. We can stop hiding behind our facades of religious order and meet him right where we are. We can focus on him and find sanity, rest, and peace when all hell seems to be breaking out around us.
I urge you to experience for yourself his love and acceptance. Grow closer to him and choose him because you truly love him. Make him—not your “good deeds” nor anyone or anything else—the focus of your life.
I promise…you will never regret it.
~ Excerpted from More Jesus, Less Religion by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton
What will be the focus of our life in this new week?