Never forget

Romans 8:31-39

I hope I never forget her face.

A woman came to me with a piercing question. “Why is God doing this to me?” She had prayed for forgiveness. Her life that day was different than it had been before because she decided God deserved a better life from her.

And yet, cancer.

Of course, the question is not new. Why do bad things happen to good people? Or, in light of a good and gracious God, why do evil and suffering seem to prevail?

I’m leery of anyone who is overconfident in their responses to such questions. I have a response I’ve mulled over time and time again. At this point, I’m only somewhat comfortable with it. And that’s only because I know Christian history has struggled with it more than me.

With as much as I’m not sure about, I take great comfort in one thing. Nothing “in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). That was the distress that filled my office that one day. A cruel diagnosis must’ve meant God had abandoned her. Unfortunately, her religious upbringing led her to that conclusion.

I hoped to offer another viewpoint she could learn to affirm.

Romans 8 also speaks of Christians being victorious. I’ve seen that taken in directions the apostle Paul did not intend. The Christian heart is victorious because Christ has given us life through his Spirit (Romans 8:11). With such a victory, we can dispel the fear of condemnation. We can say with confidence our cancer is not God’s judgement. Our struggles may sometimes be the outcome of our choices. They may also just be a part of being alive. But they do not sway God’s love for us.

What I don’t know or understand about theodicy or evil, I leave to God. What I do know or understand I leave to God as well. I hope I never forget that woman’s face as she feared what would be the worst of all. It reminds me how much we need to know and be reminded of God’s love for us. And I trust I’ll never forget the promise I offered to her that nothing could ever make her worse fear possible.

Stay blessed…john

This scares me

Hosea 8

Hosea 8 makes me think of Matthew 7.

The prophet Hosea has lodged complaints against the people of God. They have turned away from God’s covenant. Through their political dealings and idol worship, they have shown their trust is not in the Lord.

Chances are, though, if we had a chance to ask them, they might tell us otherwise.

“Of course we love Adonai!” they would say. Maybe they’d invite us to attend their next religious gathering. That’s where they would offer all the best sacrifices. I’ve often imagined what ancient gatherings were like. I see crowds of people shouting and singing songs. People respond to the ceremonial aspects of their worship with anthems of praise. Most of us would not feel comfortable in such a setting–at least calling it worship. But it would be the people’s proof of their spiritual devotion.

Well, like we teach our children, actions speak louder than words.

Who the people are and what they do outside of their worship of God is what the Lord hears most. Hosea has already spoken for God saying, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6). So, while they may profess a belief in God, what God truly desires is strange to them (Hosea 8:12).

Compare what God tells them to what Jesus says in Matthew 7. “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ (Matthew 7:22). The Lord’s plain response is, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). Of course, that’s not a random quote. It comes as a part of the Lord’s lessons on the fruit we bear in our lives.

Now, for too long, preachers and other Christians used fear as a holy tactic. Some still do. Scaring people to faith isn’t a holy thing to do. But that verse always slows me down!

How do I know if I’m not giving lip service to God? How can I be sure I’m not fooling myself? As God’s people today, How can we be sure?

Stay blessed…john

Who loves Judas?

Matthew 5:43-48


There’s a quote making the Internet rounds lately. It says, “Christianity is not loving Jesus. It’s loving Judas.”

We know, of course, it’s both.

That you won’t love Judas if you don’t love Jesus. Judas is the betrayer. We see him as the ultimate example of treachery and sin. We need divine inspiration to pull off showing love to such a scoundrel. The message is, though, you aren’t loving Jesus if you aren’t loving Judas. Scripture calls us liars if we say we love God but hate our brother (1 John 4:20).

Whoa!

So, let’s reflect on that by asking, Who is the Judas in your story? Who are the people you see as betrayers of God? Sometimes they are people close to you. I can’t tell you how many passive-aggressive comments I’ve heard in church meetings! Some are those who have wronged you. Still, others are people you’ll never even meet.

Jesus didn’t use that quote we’ve seen online. But I imagine he’d like it. He did say similar things. Who else tells us to love our enemies? Notice, too, he didn’t say be nice to them or even do loving things for them with a haughty attitude. No, love them.

Who has the holy audacity to suggest we pray for those who make our lives difficult? The One who lived his life that way! Jesus knew how easy it is for us to only love those who love us. It’s so easy even those wretched people you know do it. It’s almost natural to despise Judas. Would you sit next to him on Sunday morning?

And speaking of when we gather to worship, it’s almost as if Jesus is challenging us directly. “And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others (Matthew 5:47)?

Receiving the good news of Jesus is salvation. God has redeemed you. But that isn’t merely heaven’s pass. Part of our salvation is being freed from the cycles of animosity and hatred. They lead to death, after all. You are free to love God fully. And you know you are by how you love Judas.

Stay blessed…john