Monday, June 25, 2012

The Divine Romance

All my life, I've been fascinated by love.  I suppose it stems from the fact my parents got a divorce when I was twelve years old.  I'd never witnessed true love myself.  I'd always wondered about this "mystical" phenomena.  I gravitated toward stories that spoke of triumphing over "evil" through the power of love.

Even as a young child, I was drawn toward romance novels.  I never knew a man and woman could love each other so deeply.  Of course, they were only fictional stories, but that didn't stop me for wishing for the same in my life.  Writing about true love was what I wanted to do with my life.  Ever since I knew I was good at writing, I began writing about love.  I wrote poems, short stories, and novellas.  Until one day, I wrote a full-length novel.

I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.  Stories flowed out of me.  The more I wrote, the more plots I had.  I wrote more novels.  More stories.  More, more, more about the power of love.  It never ceased to fascinate me, no matter how many years had passed.  I'd sigh, swoon, and smile in satisfaction when another happy ending was written.  Another victory for love.

But soon, my stories became less about love and more about getting famous.  They became less about victory and more about how to shock and titillate.  They became less about my childhood dreams and more about making a buck.  That's when God showed me my own stories were an idol before Him.

He told me to lay them down.  After months of soul-searching, praying, and the enemy trying to convince me otherwise, I obeyed.  And I've never looked back.  But I had no idea God had a bigger plan in all of this.  None of my fascination about true love would go to waste.  He was about to teach me about the Ultimate Love Story.

The Divine Romance.

I've been a Christian since I was 13 years old.  God Himself found me, I didn't find Him.  Now, I'm 37.  I've been following Jesus for almost 25 years.  I always knew what He did for me.  I think any Christian worth their salt does.

But what I didn't know was that all these years, God had been grooming me, not only to make a small impact on the world with my testimony for Him, but to teach me about HIM.  About HIS Love.  About HIS eternal devotion to us.  To ME.  Perhaps I wouldn't have understood His love story if I hadn't been an author of love stories myself.  Perhaps I wouldn't have recognized the Hero who sacrificed Himself for the one He loves, Who gave Himself so totally and completely to save her, so that she wouldn't have to feel a drop of pain, sorrow, anguish, and torment herself.

Now I say "she", because the Church is known as the Bride of Christ.  In this romance analogy, the Bride of Christ works.  We are His beloved.  We are His prize, His treasure.

Those romance novels that we all sigh over, the ones we remember the most, are the ones where the hero makes a sacrifice, humbles himself, and does everything in his power to protect and defend the woman he loves.

It is no different with what God did for us.  True Love on display for the whole world to see, high upon the cross of Calvary.

There is no romance novel hero that could ever compare to my Yeshua.  There is no mere man who could demonstrate his devotion in such a brutal and spectacular way.  Not only did Yeshua die to pay, in full, my debt to God, but He imparted to me His perfect life as well.  There is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Not only did God display His Love for me on the cross, but He gave me HIS OWN righteousness so that I could one day stand before Him, holy and blameless.  So that one day, I could be where He is.  So that one day...I would never, EVER leave Him.

For God so loved the world....that He couldn't stand the thought of His children forever separated from Him.  He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.  He humbled Himself, and God Almighty came into this a helpless infant.  He grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.  He taught us how to live and how to love.  He broke the "rules" of religion, and showed us He wanted a love relationship.  He wanted to lavish us with His everlasting love.  But He had to die before He could.

Our sin is such a deep, ugly stain, that we cannot wash it out of ourselves.  But by HIS blood, we are washed as white as snow.

Because of His act of love, He has bestowed upon me eternal life.  He has given me His righteousness.  He has given me His perfect life as MY OWN record.  He now accepts me into His family.  And He wishes, with all of His heart, to become MY Beloved, as I am His.

God has written for us the most amazing romance ever told.  The Divine Romance.  He is our Hero.  He is our Beloved.  He is the one who loves us more than any other.  He is the One from whom all blessings flow.

I believe with all my heart God allowed me to become a romance author for a season to better and fully understand His Love toward us.  It is more than a Father/child.  It is more than King/servant.  It is more than Teacher/student.  He wants to be our All-in-all.  This is what the First Great Commandment is all about -- Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

We love God because He first loved us.  (1 John 4:19)

For me, romance novels no longer satisfy.  How could they?  My Hero is the King of the Universe, Who stepped off His throne, entered this world, bled, and died to save my soul.  My Beloved is the One who loved me so utterly and completely that He swooped into my life and scooped me into His arms.  The very One who whispers, "I will not leave you, nor forsake you."

Now that I have been awakened to the God of Love, now that I truly understand the depth of the Love that pulled me out of my own destruction, there is no other love story I can sigh over, no other book I can swoon at, and no other ending I can smile to - over THIS Love Story.  The Story of stories.

Why do I obsess over Yeshua?  Why am I such a "Jesus Freak"?  Because I am absolutely, 100%, head-over-heels in LOVE with my God.  There is nothing I love more in this life, and nothing I want more in this life than Him and Him alone.  I do not love Him with an eros love, but with an all-consuming agape love that will one day be fully realized in Heaven.

It goes without saying -- I cannot WAIT for That Glorious Day.


Monday, June 18, 2012

"What Has God Ever Done For Me?"

"What has God ever done for me?"

Have you ever heard this?  Have you ever said it?  This frustrated rhetorical question comes from a deep-seated pain in someone's heart.  They've suffered loss, strife, sickness, poverty, crime.  God is somewhere out there, untouchable, unreachable, and seemingly, uncaring.

Some folks hit the hard times and turn away from God, proving themselves to be "fair-weather Christians"; believers who only walk the walk when the walk is sunny with a chance of rainbows and butterflies.

Why does God allow us to suffer?  It's a hard question.  On the one hand, we can blame it on this fallen world and on sin and free will.  Was it God that made the young kid rob the convenient store and shoot the owner?  Or was that kid being really, really stupid?  And yet, when we attend the store owner's funeral and see his daughter crying for her loss, we get indignant.  Where was God when it all went down?

So whose fault was it; God's, or the stupid kid?

We know God can intervene.  Why didn't He save the shop owner's life?  The easiest answer is that it was that man's time to die.  I am of the opinion that no one dies "early".  We all die exactly on time.  Another answer could be that God has a plan from the man's death.  Perhaps if he didn't die, his daughter wouldn't go on to start a foundation to help inner-city kids so they WON'T be stupid and kill convenient store owners.  And maybe the kids she could have helped would have gone on to kill other people in other random crimes if her father had lived.

But aside from the ripple effect, suffering serves another purpose.  Our sin nature is one of pride and self-righteousness.  If given free reign, we become arrogant jerks who thinks the world owes us.  If we live a comfortable, wealthy life, with nothing bad happening to us and people bending over backwards for us, we gain a sense of entitlement.  It can happen to the best of us.  We've all judged others at one point or another, thinking we're better than them, or man, did that lady bathe in her perfume today?  Perhaps we've crossed the street, avoiding the homeless guy with the sign begging for money.  Or maybe we turn our noses up at the obnoxious teens yelling at each other across the clothing store.  Where are their mothers?  Don't they have any common courtesy? 

If we don't catch ourselves, our pride can become an ugly monster.  When the hard times come, we realize we cannot get through them alone.  We need help.  We have to swallow our pride and ask for that help.  Suffering keeps us humble.

We may not understand, and we definitely don't have to like it, but suffering also tests our faith.  Do we have what it takes as Christians to continue to walk with God through the valley of the shadow of death?  Do we have the courage to say, "I don't know what you're doing, Lord, but You've got me in Your hands."  When God tests our faith, it's not for His benefit, but for our own.  He shows us what we're made of, and reveals to our own hearts how far we're willing to go for Him.  He exposes our love for Him and tries it in the furnace, which only serves to make our love all the more steadfast.  God never promised to keep us out of trials, and in fact, promised them to us as children of God. 

But ultimately, God uses the trials of life to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ.  Christ said in Matthew 11:29 that He is "gentle and humble at heart".  Hard times chip away at our self-righteous pride and shows us how to love the world like Jesus.  If you're feet are already dirty, you're more likely not to care when someone else's feet are dirty.  And you're likely to love them all the more because of it!  When you're not filled with pride, you love.  When you're not filled with self-righteousness, you think of others before yourself.

What has God ever done for you?  He's kept you humble.  He's revealed that your love for Him is genuine.  He's conforming you into the image of His Son. 

And He sent that Son into the world to live among us for 33 years before sending Him to die on a cross for your sins naked and alone.  He rescued you from Hell and gave you eternal life.  If that was all He did for you and me, it would be enough.  If He didn't use the evil circumstances of our lives and use them for the good, it would be enough.  If all God ever did was sacrifice His Son for us so that we would never taste the wrath of God, that we would never feel one burning tongue of flame in the fires of Hell, IT WOULD BE ENOUGH.

What has God ever done for you?

He died in your place so that you could LIVE.  If you believe that's enough, you can face any hardship this world will throw at you and grow in grace and truth.


Monday, June 4, 2012

We May Never Understand Just How Deeply God Loves

I am an odd person.  No one knows how often I think on God in a single day.  My thoughts constantly swirl around Him.  When I'm online, I search for videos about Him.  When I'm in the mood to read, I find books about Him.  When I do my chores, I sing songs about Him.  If I find a moment of peace, I'm praying to Him.  When I go to sleep at night, I hope I dream of Him.  He is my Magnificent Obsession.

No one I know "gets it."  Maybe the folks I go to church with do.  But there's nothing I think on more, nothing I'd rather learn, do, sing, dream of, praise, or glorify.  God is my All in all.  And it has always been this way for me.  My entire Christian life, I have always been the odd man out.  I've always been the strongest Christian I know.  Perhaps that's due to the fact that I never had true church structure in my life, therefore, I was never surrounded by strong Christians.  I cannot judge anyone else's walk with God, but it seems there is only a handful of people I know (if that) I can really dig deep into conversation about the meatier stuff of the Almighty.

For some, they aren't interested.  For others, they don't feel they know enough to converse about it.  Still others might feel uncomfortable or would rather talk about something else.

But for me, my entire world revolves around my Creator.  He is the hub around which my life revolves.  A lot of people know I'm really into God.  But not a lot of people know just how much.  But despite it all, despite my longing for Christ and my devotion to Him, my love for God is nothing more than a breath on the wind compared to HIS love for me.  For you.  For the world.

Everyday I marvel at the depths of His love.  I am in awe at the height of it.  The cross is a reminder of that love, of how far the Holy One of Israel was willing to go to purchase my soul from Hell.  We all weep at movies like "Passion of the Christ", of what our Lord had to endure.  We wipe tears and feel the sting of His death as if one of our own family members had died.

But what we too often forget, or perhaps don't even know, is that the cross itself was not God's wrath upon Christ's shoulders.  The cross was God's plan for Christ's sacrifice, but it was a means to an end.  In order for atonement for sin to be made, a pure sacrifice had to die, and that could have been accomplished a hundred different ways.  The cross of Christ was the plan of God, but it was not the wrath of God. 

Throughout the centuries since Christ, there have been many martyrs who have sung hymns on their way to die.  Were they afraid?  Probably.  But how can we say a mere human believer can go joyfully to their death when our own Redeemer, God Himself, sweat blood before His death in the Garden of Gethsemane?

No, it was not the cross He was in agony over.

Christ knew He would have to endure the Father's wrath upon that cross.  We might never know exactly what He had to go through.  We don't know what it's like to have the burning weight of wrath upon our shoulders.  We don't know what it's like to be completely forsaken by the Father when He turned His face away from Yeshua.

In those moments, those glimpses of what Christ endured SPIRITUALLY on that cross, I see the everlasting heart God has for His children.  We are the "Body of Christ" and the collective "Church", and yet, when God calls us to salvation in Him, it is one by one.  Salvation is very personal.  And while God so loved the world, He loved YOU specifically to hang there on a wooden beam, slowly suffocating, in agony from a cat-o-nine-tails that shredded His back and nails that ripped through His feet and hands.

And if that wasn't enough, God poured out His wrath and anger for our sins upon His only Son, and Christ drank that cup to the very last drop.  There is none left for you and me.

Christ had to die and blood had to be shed for our sins to be forgiven.  But the price Yeshua paid for our salvation goes far beyond the cross itself.  He hung there, slowly dying, while simultaneously suffering a literal Hell -- absolute separation from the glory He had as God Almighty.

God humbled Himself, came into this world as a perfect man, lived a sinless life, and chose to die a gruesome death while taking His Own wrath upon His Own shoulders, completing a work we had no hope of ever accomplishing for ourselves.

He endured Hell on the cross to rescue us from Hell eternally.

The God of Glory came down so that we might go up.

There is absolutely NOTHING in this world that can compare to this kind of love.  And there is nothing that can separate us from Him.  Christ loves us because He chooses to love us.  He died because He chose to.  He WANTS us with Him in Heaven.  For no other reason than because it's His will.

When I think about what God did for me and the enormity of all it cost Him, how can I NOT want to learn of Him all the day long?  Or sing to Him...loudly?  Or pray continually?  Or constantly think upon and ponder the One Who set my soul free?

Nothing, absolutely NOTHING is more important than this.

Yes, I'm an odd person for thinking the way I do.  But if God loves me so much that He did all of this... FOR ME...  then He deserves my praise every second of every hour of every single day I draw breath.

And that's what I intend to do, for however many days I have left.