The God Who Likes You

I was talking with a friend from church last night and we got to talking about the topic of “brokenness”.

This friend of mine referenced Psalm 51:17 “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” – and then he said a phrase which I found particularly interesting: “My God likes broken people.”

He wasn’t saying that God likes to break people – he was saying that, much rather than despising broken people, the God of the Bible actually likes them, in the sense of having affinity for them.

That reminded me of something: We as Christians tend to use the word “love” so much that it can lose it’s impact and weight; and even though “love” is supposed to be more than “like”, it would seem that because of our overuse, and perhaps mis-portrayal of the nature of “love”, “like” might actually have more significance to it.

Here’s what I mean: I have heard Christians say things to this effect: “I guess I have to love that person because I’m a Christian… but I sure don’t like them!”

I think that many times we even portray God’s love as a begrudging obligation which he has to do, but that doesn’t mean he has to “like” you!   For example:  “Well, I’m sure God loves that person (because He’s God and He doesn’t have a choice because He has to love everybody…)  but I’m sure that God LIKES me more than He likes that person…”

When we portray love as a dutiful thing which God and Christians are required to do, even if they don’t want to, “liking” people is what is left (at least in this perspective) to a person’s choice. It is in this sense that it actually means more to “like” someone than it does to “love” someone, because loving them is an obligation, but liking them is a choice.

I believe that God’s message to us would be: I don’t only love you, but I even like you!  I like the unique person I’ve made you to be!  I may not like your faults, but I came and died for those things, so that they could be put to death and the person I created you to be could be revealed to an ever-increasing degree. 

Furthermore, I believe that God would call us to not only “love” people out of obligation and duty, something you begrudgingly have to do, but I believe that God would call us to genuinely like people, choosing to have affinity for them and the unique people that God created them to be.

The other important area this gets into is the understanding that “Love”, as described in the Bible, is not primarily a feeling, but an action. To truly love someone is to will and to act for their good. Liking someone, on the other hand, is a feeling rather than an action.

Where our culture has gotten things mixed up is that we forget that love is primarily an action, not an emotion, and the result of this is that we end up contriving “loving” feelings for people for whom we feel no affinity. What is required of us is not the feeling of affinity, but the action of love. However, it is my experience that the feelings of affinity are one of the direct results of actions of love.

God showed his love for you in this: that while you were yet at enmity with him, he gave his son for you. Why? Because he wanted to save you and spend eternity with you. Why? Because he actually likes you.

 

Who is Barabbas?

Barabbas.

You might know the name.

The religious leaders of Jerusalem wanted to have Jesus killed for what they considered blasphemy: that he, a man, would say that he was God. The problem was, the Romans had taken away from them the right to execute capital punishment. Only the Roman authorities were allowed to carry out executions now.

So the religious leaders took Jesus to the occupying Roman authorities and they accused Jesus of being a usurper who had set himself up as King of the Jews – who intended to lead the people in a rebellion against Caesar.

Pontius Pilate knew that this was a ruse, but because he was afriad of the people rioting, which would be bad for him politically, he came up with a plan that he was sure would work: he chose the worst criminal he could find, and he reminded the people of the custom of that day, which was to pardon and release one prison of the people's choosing because of the feast of Passover.

The man Pilate chose was Barabbas – a rebel and a murderer.

Pilate was sure that the people would make the obvious choice, and release the innocent man – but he was wrong.

And as the people shouted “Crucify Him” about Jesus, Pilate washed his hands before the people, emphasizing that this was not what he wanted – and then…

the chains fell from Barabbas' arms and legs. And an innocent man was led to his death, and an unquestionably guilty man walked free.

Barabbas deserved to die. But he didn't. Jesus, the innocent one, died instead. And as a result, Barabbas was forgiven – the record of his wrongs was not held against him, nor would it ever be. Barabbas was given a clean slate.

Do you know who Barabbas is? Barabbas is YOU! Barabbas is ME!

You, me – we are the rebel – the one who deserved to die, but instead, the innocent one, Jesus died in our place, and as a result, we can walk free. The chains have fallen away. He died and now we live.

With Barabbas, what is striking is the injustice of the story – that a sinful man walked free, but a man who had done no wrong was executed. That is the very nature of grace – it isn't fair. It isn't fair that Jesus would suffer and be crushed for things he didn't do.

It's not fair, it's LOVE.

 

Acknowledging the Beauty of the Body

I don’t know how many times I have heard it or read it before. People referring to this phrase that Jesus said:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (‭John‬ ‭13‬:‭34-35‬ ESV)

But almost EVERY single time I heave heard or read someone refer to this statement, it is followed by commentary along these lines:

  • Jesus said people would know that we’re his disciples by our love for each other; and you’re not doing it well enough!
  • Jesus said people would know that we’re his disciples by our love for each other, not by our doctrinal purity!
  • Jesus said people would know that we’re his disciples by our love for each other, so do it better!

I spent this past weekend in Washington State and British Columbia. A dear friend of ours from our church in Hungary passed away, and his funeral was on Saturday in Langley, BC.

When I heard that this friend passed away, I called some friends in Everett, WA, where the husband is the pastor of Calvary Chapel Everett, to ask if they might be able to help me out if I were to try to attend the funeral. They quickly told me to go ahead and book the tickets and they would work out the rest: lodging, rides, etc. I also got in touch with people from my friend’s church in Langley to tell them I was trying to come, and they responded the exact same way.

This whole past weekend was spent with people from these two churches in Everett and Langley. A couple from the church in Everett picked me up at the airport and drove me to Everett, where a car and a place to stay the night were prepared for me. Of course, this was all done by people I had never met before

On Friday I drove up to British Columbia, and that night went to stay with a family from Christ Covenant Church. As soon as I arrived they welcomed me, and then I went with them to their church community group, where we ate, studied the Bible and sang and prayed together. Again, I had never met these people before, but they treated me like a long lost family member. There was something we had in common, a bond which was stronger than race, citizenship or accent (it was surprising how strong that Canadian accent can be!).

We went home and I ended up staying up until 2 AM conversing with the couple about so many things regarding our shared faith.The next day was the funeral, which consisted of 3 parts at 3 locations over the course of the whole day. During this time I got to see how well our friend’s wife was being cared for and loved by her church community there in Langley. And I felt loved and cared for by that community as well

I returned to Everett, where I preached at Calvary Chapel yesterday morning, and was once again loved and welcomed like a long-unseen family member.

This weekend left me considering those words of Jesus, and the commentary which is almost always attached to them – and it made me think: that’s what Jesus was talking about!

And to all those people bemoaning the perceived lack of love amongst Christians: I disagree with you. In my experience, the church has been the most beautiful, wonderful, true community. It’s something I want to be a part of. It’s something I believe in. Yes, it has its spots and wrinkles and blemishes, because it is made up of flawed people, but it is wonderful – and I come away from this weekend and the love that I experienced in amongst those Christians with the feeling of: THAT is what Jesus was talking about when he said that we will be known as His disciples by the love that we have for one another.

It doesn’t take a genius to identify weaknesses or problems or find fault; the basest among us is capable of that. To put it frankly: any moron can do that! But it takes nobility to identify beauty and light and goodness.

I talked to someone a while back, who, upon hearing that I was a pastor, immediately assumed that I would agree with her, that church is just the worst! She said that in her opinion, “Church is a necessary evil.” I told her that I couldn’t possibly disagree more! I love the Church! I believe in the Church! It is the most wonderful, most beautiful thing in the World! It is the Body of Christ, in the world, living out his mission and being his hands and feet.

How do you think this woman’s children are going to view the church as they grow up if she continues in this kind of attitude? Most likely, they will think of the Church as a “necessary evil” too. They might choose to attend when they are adults, but they will have been trained to look at it with a critical, cynical eye. I do not want that for my children! I want my children to grow up LOVING the church and seeing the beauty in it, and knowing it as the most wonderful, most loving community in the world – and one that they want to be a part of, not because they have to, but because it is so wonderful. And they should believe in it – because Jesus ordained it for OUR good, and for the good of the whole world!

And for this reason, my wife and I have determined never to speak badly of someone from church or discuss tension or bad things that people from the church have done in front of our kids, because we want them to love the Body of Christ rather than grow up cynical about it, considering it a “necessary evil”. (And may I say: far be it from any of us to use the word “evil” in reference to something ordained by our Lord! How can we call bad what the Lord called good for us and for the world?)

So, love the church! And keep on loving each other. And don’t always talk about how it’s lacking; recognize and acknowledge and rejoice in the beauty of this loving community, which is the Body of Christ, where Jesus’ disciples do indeed show love one for another, in a way that is a testimony to the world.

Give…expecting nothing in return

One of the sayings of Jesus that I find most inspiring and challenging is in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 6, where Jesus says:

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

(Luke 6:32-35 ESV)

Most of us do things for others with at least some expectation that we will receive something in return. If we are nice to others, we expect that they will be nice to us in return. If they are not, we tend to get upset about it.

Many of us give with the expectation, that at least the recipient will be appreciative of our generosity.

Many of us love, with the expectation that our love will be reciprocated – and if it is not, then we tend to “clam up”, because to love is to make oneself vulnerable, and unreciprocated love leaves us more vulnerable than reciprocated love.

But here is Jesus challenging us toward something that does not come naturally: to GIVE, expecting nothing in return.

Nothing.

Why? Because that is how God loves.  And if you do that, then you will understand the heart of the Father in a profound way, and you will be like Him. Because He gives to the ungrateful and the evil – He blesses people who don’t deserve it and don’t even appreciate it.  

If He gets nothing out of it, then why does He do it?   Because that is what divine love does: it gives, not as a means of coercion, but simply gives out of pure love.

I want to be that kind of person, to my wife, to my kids, to those around me – even to my “enemies”. This is the vision; only by the grace of God can I carry it out.

David and Jonathan: Man Love

Tomorrow at White Fields I will be teaching 1 Samuel 18 – which begins with David and Jonathan’s friendship. The text says that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul (18:1).

This epic friendship between Jonathan and David includes Jonathan giving up his right to the throne in order to allow David to take the place given to him by God. Later on Jonathan helps protect David from Jonathan’s father, King Saul, who is determined to kill David.

After Jonathan’s death at the end of 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel begins with David’s mourning over the loss of his friend, which includes this statement: “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.” (2 Samuel 1:26).

This statement of David’s has led some to believe that David and Jonathan were more than just friends, that they were actually lovers.

The word “love” in the Greek Septuagint is the word “agape” – as opposed to “eros” (erotic, sensual love) – so it is quite clear that David is not talking about “making love” with Jonathan, but about a deep bond between these two men which was deeper, richer and more profound than any romantic relationship.

And therein is an important point that is being made in the text here: that the deepest bonds between people are not based on physical intimacy, but on sharing the same heart and desires and by being in the trenches together through hard times and good – such an important principle to keep in mind in regard to marriage as well. Marriage can’t only be built on a physical romantic relationship – it has to be built on a spiritual bond and a friendship as well. This is part of the reason why the Bible tells Christians not to be unequally yoked: because the spiritual bond, the same heart for God is an important building block for a solid marriage relationship.