Dear Children

Letters From A Father's Heart

Archive for the month “August, 2015”

God Is Love, And Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

Dear children

You, being human beings, have a propensity to see what you want to see, and to not see what you don’t want to see.  We all have this fault to one degree or another.  I know I do.  The singer Paul Simon wrote a popular song many years ago with the lyrics: “All lies and jests, Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.”  I think Paul got this one right.  But also, like most of our faults, we can more easily see this in others than in ourselves.  But see it in ourselves we must, by looking beyond our assumptions to find truth; which is easier said than done.  In fact, much more than that, we must ask God, indeed earnestly beseech Him, to show us truth.

So why do I say such things?  We, being human, also have a propensity to see God the way we want to see Him, and to disregard those things about Him that we don’t want to see.  We in fact must resist turning the God of the scriptures into a god of our own making.  We’d sure rather have a god that we don’t need to fear more so than one that strikes fear in us.  But our desires don’t dictate reality.  If the Bible says over and over again that we ought to fear God, ignoring all those verses by misinterpreting one verse that would, on the surface, seem to suggest that we need not fear God, would not be wise; as in, “The-fear-of- the-Lord-is-the-beginning-of-wisdom” not wise.  (Prov 9:10)

To help us ignore most of what the Bible tells us about fearing God, there is a go-to verse that we often hear quoted.  “Perfect love casts out fear”.  Here is the passage from which it is taken in its entirety:

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1st John 4)

This raises a couple of questions.  First, are we suppose to fear God or not?  Second, why do we need to fear a loving God?

The answer is yes, we are supposed to fear God.  And second, yes, we need to fear Him because He is Loving.  We fear Him, not because of His love, but because of our lack of it, as this passage beautifully points out.  So let us look more closely.

As it turns out, the Bible has a lot to say about love and fear.  The word Love is mentioned often in the Bible, and more often than not–actually most often–it refers to us loving God, and us loving our fellow man.  Read the passage above and you’ll see a microcosm of how the word “love” is used throughout the entire Bible.  Out of all the times it’s used, only one is a proclamation of God’s love for those who are His.( verse 10)

Also, in a passage like this with such a rich emphasis on love, it would behoove us to understand what is meant by that word.  That, in itself, will be a life long project for you.  Grasping the love of God is no small feat.  But this passage gives us a good hint, as is similar to most others that proclaim God’s love.  Right next to the proclamation of God’s love for us is an allusion to the cross.  (…and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.)  It is a rare thing actually to see God’s love proclaimed in the New Testament without an allusion to the cross nearby.

So, if we can look past our biases and assumptions we can see that this passage is about two things: 1)our love for God, 2) and mainly, our love for our fellow man.  But key to understanding the point I’m trying to make using this passage is the word “perfect”, for that word has caused many a soul to set this verse against what the entire rest of the Bible teaches.  In verse 12 we see the first use of the word “perfect, which has to do with our love for others brought about by His love abiding in us.  The second use (perfected) is in verse 17, and again it refers to our love, not Gods.  And in the next verse we see it (perfected) for the third time.  “Perfect love casts out fear“.  After the semicolon the same point is restated, “…whoever fears has not been perfected in love”.  The “whoever”, by the way, is not referring to God, but us.  So this ought to raise a question.  Do you love God perfectly?  Are you perfected in love?  If you can answer yes, then you need not fear God, and the entire rest of the Bible can be ignored by you because you have already been perfected.  I, on the other hand, still fear God, and until I am removed from this sinful body, and stand before the judgement seat of Christ clothed in His righteousness, I don’t see that changing.

In the end, pulling a Bible verse from the context of the rest of the Bible, and then using it for the purpose of–in the words of Paul Simon–disregarding the rest,  is unwise.  If you study this passage you will see that it is in complete agreement with the rest of scripture’s command to fear God, so we should, therefore, fear God.  We ought not, by the command of scripture, create a god in our minds that need not be feared.

I pray for you my dear children, that you would understand who God is, and that you would love and fear him, for that is right.  I pray that you would worship Him in spirit and truth, the true Him, and not a made-up version of Him that you find more appealing.  May our Father in heaven bring this about in your minds and hearts as you grow in revelation and love for your Father and Savior.

Your father

 

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Believers believe And Skeptics Are Skeptical. That’s What They Do.

Dear children,

I must tell you that many times in my Christian walk my faith has been shaken.  And, I’ve learned a few things in the process that I’d like to pass along.

First, remember that your faith is faith.  We do not have faith in what we can see but what we can’t see.  If we could see God in the same sense that we can see the sun, we wouldn’t need faith, we’d just look up and there He would be.  But while we must have faith that God exists, it isn’t a blind faith, or a faith that we have in spite of evidence to the contrary.  No, there are millions of reasons to have faith in God based on lots of evidence and sound arguments.  But, as the scriptures point out, all the reasons in the world are not enough if God does not grant us the gift of faith.  As His enemies, man will look for any reason to reject Him, reasonable or not.

I make this point so that you will do everything in your power to keep your faith.  There will be times when it will be weak, or even seemingly non-existent.  It is then that you need to contend for it.  You must fight.

It’s much easier to be a sceptic and simply look for a way to pick everyone else’s world apart while at the same time having faith that there is no truth in your own world.  The sceptic doesn’t have to bother with making his beliefs consistent.  He can attack Christians for believing that there is absolute truth on one day, then accuse them of lying on another day.  He can talk about how important it is that all be well educated in one breath and then in another insist that life is ultimately meaningless.  He can decry that children are unhealthy while doing everything in his power to make sure their slaughter is legal.  He is a sceptic.  His basis is not have to have a worldview or belief.  His basis is that there is no basis, and on that basis he seeks simply to question and destroy the basis of other’s.

You will know this person when you meet him.  He has questions, but he doesn’t want answers.  His questions are not based in a search for answers, indeed he doesn’t even believe there are any.  Rather his questions are nothing more than darts aimed at your faith.  He doesn’t offer anything in replacement of your faith, he simply doesn’t want you to have faith, and for good reason.

The Bible says that you–if you are in Christ–are the light of the world and that light exposes evil deeds.  All humans know deep down that there is a God, and they know that they are sinners.  So they spend their lives suppressing that truth in order to anesthetize themselves against their ultimate destiny.  If they can snuff out your light, it will sooth their inner souls concerning that eternal destinies.  They will be tireless in their efforts to reinforce the lies that they have bought into in order to serve their sinful flesh and its desires.

But peace with God is worth more than any temporary and shallow experience that your flesh promises to offer.  It is not temporary.  It cannot be stolen.  It’s not based on your own abilities to earn it.  It’s not based on your beauty, intellect or riches, all of which are fleeting.  It will be with you in good times and bad and to the end of your days.  It will allow you to look back at your life and say, it is well.

Dear children, I so desire that you will find the pearl of great price; the joy found in peace with God.  To be cynical, angry and bitter, and at war with God is the easy road.  Just follow your heart.  It’s downhill all the way.  But to follow God will bring you Joy and peace, which I pray that you will wear like a garment throughout your lives.

Your father

God’s Love Is Not Like Man’s Love

Dear children,

I confess my shortcomings.  I have the common deficiency of man in that I am not qualified to discuss God’s love, for who can know it?  It would be a worthy life’s goal in fact for you to actually search out the depth of His love in hope that you might understand a sliver of it.  If you do that much, you will have exceeded your father.  Still, there are a few things concerning God’s love that I do feel qualified to address which mainly concern what God’s love is not.

We humans think we understand a few things about love.  But what we understand more than anything is our love of self.  For example, consider Elvis Presley’s hit song, “Love Me Tender”.

Love me tender,
love me sweet,
never let me go.
You have made my life complete,
and I love you so.

It’s a pretty little song; moving in fact.  And we can understand that there is an affection and attraction that occurs between a man and a woman, and that these attractions hold a special place in our hearts.  But even in this kind of love, when our emotions and chemistry threaten to whisk us away, much of what we experience is the love of self.

We can kind of gather this from the writer’s lyrics.  We can pick up on his obvious fixation on himself by asking a few questions like, What if she didn’t return his love with sweet and tender love?  What if she actually couldn’t complete his life?  What if she wasn’t pleasing to his eyes?  In fact, what if she did everything she could to resist his love and demonstrate to him every chance she got that she hated him?  Would he still love her? Probably not, because any man would love himself too much to put up with a response like that.  There’s no return in it.  Men and women are more in the habit of abandoning the one whom they once “loved” than they are in loving the unlovable.  But people don’t abandon those they love as much as they abandon the people who can no longer please the one person they love more than anything else in the world, themselves.

It’s probably as difficult for us to grasp who we are in Christ as it is to grasp who we are without Him.  We look at ourselves and cannot see the abhorrence of our sin, and our filthiness before a holy and righteous God.  In fact, in our sinful condition, we reject the very notion that we are abhorrent.  But in doing so we miss the love of God.  It is not fascinating for, say Ken, to pursue the beautiful Barbie and the paradise that would seem to come with conquering her.  That is the natural and normal way.  But what if Ken didn’t pursue Barbie, but instead pursued the dirtiest and ugliest woman he could find, one who not only hated him, but cheated on him every chance she got?  What would be “beautiful” about that love?  The answer, much! even if man doesn’t have the eyes to see it.

Now consider if Ken was a rich king, and he transforms this wretched woman into a radiant bride at the cost of his very own life?  By seeing it this way a different beauty begins to emerge.  It’s not like the handsome prince who pursues and eventually wins the beautiful bride.  He pursues and wins the worst among us, and then redeems them.  It is at that point also that we can begin to see that the more wretched the woman, the more beautiful His ultimate love turns out to be.  So in the future, when you read, “while we were yet sinners”, keep this in mind.  It is, to your father, five of the most beautiful and loving words in the entire Bible.

A formidable barrier to grasping God’s love is our love for our self which makes us see ourselves more highly than we ought to.  We see ourselves as deserving the love of God.  But we do not.  So I say this in the most loving way I know how,  God does not love you because you are special, or because you deserve it.  There simply isn’t anything in scripture that would suggest that he does.  If you were special enough to deserve God’s love, then you would have every reason to boast.  But the scriptures are clear, no man has a reason to boast.

So why does God love any of us?  I have no idea.  All I know is that I was a picture of the wretched woman who hated and despised Him, and He loved me.  We can also ask, why did God love Jacob and hate Esau?  But it would be a futile question.  Pray that God would show you His love.  Once you understand it you will begin to see, I think, that God’s love is not quite so cheap as to be earnable by any man.

This brings us to another point that’s difficult to talk about in this day.  God does not love everyone unconditionally.  You will hear this said a lot, but it is not true.  It is true that there is no condition by which we can earn His love.  And we might can say that God loves everyone in some sense.  He sends rain on the righteous and the wicked alike for example.  But to say that God loves everyone unconditionally cannot be found in scripture.  The real question that you need to settle is this one, does God love you?  And the only way you can answer yes is if you are in Christ, and Christ is in you.  Because God loves His Son.

So it is through the Cross that God loves us and this is blatant throughout scripture.  So I have an assignment for you.  When you read of God’s love in the New Testament, I want you to look for the cross nearby.  We can see it, for example, in John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world...”, OK there’s God’s love, and next comes the cross, “…that he gave His only Son…”  You will find that there are very few exceptions in the New Testament in which God’s love for man is pronounced without the cross being right there.  So to understand God’s love, we must ourselves not stray from the cross.

My dear children, to broach the subject of God’s love is a difficult thing to attempt while keeping this letter within the confines I have set for myself.  There is no end to such a discussion, indeed through the ages it has been a paramount topic.  Jonathan Edwards is attributed to be God’s spark that kindled a great awakening a couple of hundred of years ago.  The sermon he preached was entitled, “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God”.  That is a foreign concept today, but not to God.  It is in such a sermon, and its elements, that someone discovers the extent of the true love of God.

So, dear children, if you ever doubt that God loves you, pray.  Pray that He would love you.  Ask Him to show you His love.  Ask Him to manifest his love in you by transforming you into the likeness of His Son, and the radiant bride of His Son.  Ask him that His love would kindle a love within your own soul for your Savior and others.  I and your mother will be praying for you both also.

Your father

A Familiar Story Of Apostatizing Youth

Dear children,

As you might imagine I am keenly interested in any advice that would help me to help you develop a stronger faith.  So when I see an article entitled 3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church, it gets my attention.  It is but one of many appropriate articles that express concern at the number of today’s youth who are abandoning their Christian faith when they leave home.  But what caught my attention, and what I would like to discuss in this letter, was a comment left by a young woman, fresh from her parent’s home herself, who explained why she abandoned her “faith”.  The first half:

These articles keep popping up all over the place in my feed and I find it so interesting. You see I am one of those kids. I am one that was raised in a very Christian home and now am definitely not a believer. I was very involved in my church. I sang up front many many sundays. I helped out in the nursery. My entire social life was wrapped around the church. That was all I knew. I loved God. I read the Bible cover to cover many many times. I prayed fervently on the constant. I witnessed to those around me. I published a Christian girl’s online magazine/newsletter. I served at the nursing home about once a month. I went to Africa with the Jesus Film. I was the definition of “youth that don’t leave the church.” You say it’s not a formula and yet you basically endorse it as if it is. 

As a father I can say that I would be encouraged by these things; encouraged yes, but not persuaded.  Your mother and I do the best we can to examine your hearts.  We don’t just assume that your conformity to the surroundings that we’ve immersed you in is evidence of a regenerated heart.  For all we know, a different environment will bring about a different conformity. We can see that this has been the case with this poor soul.

When she continues with her comment she transitions from herself as the topic to accusations against the Church.  She explains why not any of the external evidences that she manifested earlier mattered in the end:

I’ll just say in my case, I am a naturally very curious person. And I had questions about Christianity that apparently are not really encouraged to be asked. I found a huge gap between Christianity and authenticity. I left because it wasn’t real to me anymore. I left because I saw how it’s all a show and fear tactics. I left because I had discovered what real love looked like. I left because I honestly can’t believe in a God that created us so he could enjoy us and yet send most of his creation to Hell for eternity. I left because I FINALLY found peace….Instead of writing articles on why the youth are or aren’t leaving the church, why not just ask us? You may be really surprised at our answers. 🙂  

I’d like to respond to this part of her comment for your sake.  So let’s look at each statement individually.  She starts:

I’ll just say in my case, I am a naturally very curious person. 

Curiosity is a human trait. No one need deny it in order to be a Christian, nor does having more of it keep anyone from being a Christianity.  But we do begin to pick up on a veiled arrogance as we read this sentence in the context of the rest of the comment.  It is but an arrogant assumption that curiosity and Christianity are not compatible, which is an unsubstantiated assumption.  That arrogance will become more blatant as we continue with her comment.

 And I had questions about Christianity that apparently are not really encouraged to be asked.

You will hear this accusation often, but is it true?  Does “Christianity” really discourage the asking of questions?  While I can’t speak to her personal experience, I can speak to Christianity in general.  But before I do, I’d like to speak to her–unwitting I’m sure–sleight of hand in this statement.  She makes a general indictment against a very large, old and encompassing thing, Christianity.  And she bases it on a narrow and limited thing, her experience.  Where was her curiosity?  If she felt discouraged from asking questions in her limited experience, why didn’t she go elsewhere for answers?   She is, after all, living in the age of the internet, with lots of answers at her fingertips available to anyone with just a little bit of curiosity.  But man is a blame shifter by nature, and he is quick to shift blame from self to others, and I think that’s what’s happening here.  I’ve never been discouraged from asking questions.  That’s been my experience.  And I certainly haven’t discouraged you from asking them.  But even if I had been discouraged I would not have been thwarted, I have more curiosity than that.

But there is another side to this equation.  Some of the answers will necessarily be, “I don’t know.”, which is the truth.  And that is the rub for many I think.  There is so much that we don’t know.  But remember that this will be true regardless of whether you are an atheist, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever.  It is not as if this poor soul has moved into a system of thought that has all the answers.  We can know she hasn’t.  But as far as Christianity is concerned, God promises to save us from our sins.  He doesn’t promise to make us all knowing.

I found a huge gap between Christianity and authenticity.

Here I’m sure she has a point.  She herself was obviously not authentic.  But even had she been authentic, she would have still been surrounded by inauthenticity within the Church.  Jesus tells us that weeds are planted among the wheat.  So it should not have surprised her.  But even if she were surrounded by “wheat” only, she would have still been surrounded by inauthenticity.  This raises a serious question that demands an answer.  If others had looked at her life alone, and judged Christianity on it alone, would they have seen a “huge gap between Christianity and authenticity”?  I know the answer because I know humans.  The answer is yes, they would have seen a gap.  So have grace my dear children on your brothers and sisters in the Lord.  They are running a race and fighting the fight just as are you.  True authenticity is the admission to each other that we are not authentic.  The believer understands this.  The unbeliever can’t.

But I will chalk this up to her youth, which is naturally idealistic.  She will in time discover that no matter what she pursues, the lack of authenticity will be a part of it.  Even if she pursues lawlessness, she will still be inauthentic, because she will be offended when others steal from her, harm her, lie to her and so on.  Should she become an environmentalist, a secular humanist, an activist, it won’t matter.  She will still be in the midst of inauthenticity, and I can say this with the utmost confidence.  Why?  Because man is fallen.  He can’t be authentic in anything. There was only one authentic person to ever live, and she has rejected Him.  She will eventually have to either accept this fact, or shut down her curiosity altogether.  She will have to lie to herself, which might finally, after all, allow her to exist in an authentic, if unreal, world.  Man is most authentic when he is deceiving himself.

I left because it wasn’t real to me anymore.  I left because I saw how it’s all a show and fear tactics.

Given the rest of her comment this makes sense.  But it raises yet more questions.  What is real?  If she was so convinced all her life that Christianity was the real thing, and then it suddenly becomes unreal, what then?  How can she ever trust herself in judging “realness” again?  She will necessarily discover, with even a tiny bit of curiosity, that this lack of realness will follow her wherever she goes, unless, again, she deceives herself.  Christianity confronts the lack of realness head on.  It provides answers concerning our purpose, evil, pain and suffering.  That is real.  She won’t find these answers elsewhere.  At best she will only be able to expend herself attempting the impossible task of rebuilding Eden.  And she will fail like the millions who have attempted it before her.

I left because I honestly can’t believe in a God that created us so he could enjoy us and yet send most of his creation to Hell for eternity. I left because I FINALLY found peace.

The vail has been removed now and she is revealing her true reason for leaving, which is that she hates God.  She hates Him because He is Sovereign, and she is at war with Him, hence no peace.  But most of all she hates Him because he is Just.  She, like all people, has broken God’s law.  She, like you and I, have lied, and stolen, and have hated–which Jesus equates to murder.  We are all guilty, and there is a just reward for us all in our guilt.  But God, in his love, sent his Son to die on the cross.  He has reconciled us to Him through His Son.  He has made peace with us.  Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.”  Sure, there is a measure of peace that can be found in living in self-deception.  Whistling in the dark can gain a measure of peace I suppose.  But it doesn’t change the reality that not only will she sin against those around her, those around her will sin against her.  And while her sin might not seem all that bad to her, we can know that the sin of others, who do not buy into her way of thinking, will steal back what peace she might muster, and then some.

I left because I had discovered what real love looked like.

This is arrogance completely unveiled.  Can she really believe that she, a young person in the 21st century, has figured something out that 2000 years of scholars, martyrs and devouts missed?  Evidently so, and there is the arrogance.  Those lovers of God would be in tears to “learn” that the whole thing has been nothing but a hoax, perpetrated on hundreds of millions of people over thousands of years.  But not her.  Oh no.  She’s smarter than all that, and in her thinking herself smarter, she exudes pride.  She knows what real love is, and all those who have gone before were fooled, lacking perhaps the curiosity to not be fooled.  They had no idea what real love was.

Her curiosity ought to have led her to the realization of her ignorance.  Real love was Jesus dying on the cross for those who hated God, and then reconciling them to Himself while they were in the very act of warring against Him.  That’s real love.  Real love has nothing to do with feelings.  It has nothing to do with what’s in it for me… like achieving a few temporary and fleeting warm and fuzzies.  Dear children, please understand, you do not want her “real love”.  The love of self, and how others, or things, make the “self” feel is often mistaken for love.  But in reality it is only self-centeredness.

 

So what do I, your father, think about this?  I think that she is the victim of her times.  You will notice that she rejected a religion, and not the Gospel.  It is a religion that preaches grace without justice.  And, “God loves you unconditionally”  is a religious message devoid of the Gospel, and devoid of a need for the Gospel.  But you will hear it preached time and again.  And it will be preached to unsaved people who are already convinced that God loves them.  And some of them, with a little more curiosity, will know that the threat of eternal Hell fires make the message of unconditional love seem ever so slightly… inauthentic. In fact it is this very thing that she is pointing to in her statement: “I left because I honestly can’t believe in a God that created us so he could enjoy us and yet send most of his creation to Hell for eternity.” 

You will live in a time that has confused social service and unreal love with the Gospel, which removes the power from Christianity and relegates it to just another religion.  The Gospel is key, but the Gospel is not about how great you are in God’s eyes, but rather about what a sorry state you are in, in God’s eyes.  That is an extremely unpopular message in this day.  But once you understand it, the Gospel, and grace, are beautiful; much too beautiful to trade in for a worldly counterfeit.

I came out of the world that this poor girl has fallen in love with.  I know what lies ahead for her and can only hope she will be “very curious” after all.  But for me, I will never forget the words of Peter in John 6.  Jesus had just preached what seemed to those present to be a bizarre message, that one must drink His blood, and eat His flesh to have eternal life.  Most abandoned Him on hearing this, but not His disciples.  After all were gone, Jesus looked at them and asked, “Are you going to leave Me too?”  Peter responded, “To whom shall we go?”   If this girl had received the Gospel, if she had understood justice, and then mercy, she would have asked the same question.  “To whom shall I go?”  She would have known that that question is the question of the ages.

I pray that God would arrest you.  That you would understand justice too, and then mercy.  I pray that you would understand, in the great scheme of things that extend outward, far beyond your being, what a great salvation the salvation offered us through the cross is.

Your father

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