I have been reading through the book of Matthew in “The Message”. Matthew has always been a compelling book for me, but I must confess that Jesus’ teachings and parables are frequently disturbing to me. In chapter 19 verse 25 the disciples ask a question that frequently reverberates in my mind, “Then who has any chance at all?” The question was in response to what Jesus had just said to them, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.”
I, like the rich young man in Jesus’ teaching, find it impossible to qualify for God’s kingdom. I can’t keep the entire list. I fall short every day. What can be done?
Jesus’ answer to the disciples question shocked me from my self-imposed state of worry. He replied, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.” As I thought through this passage, I realized that Jesus, ever aware of the sacrifice he was about to make, was drawing us to himself. His teachings and parables all point to our need for him, our need for a savior. His teachings aren’t meant to condemn us, but to show us that though we can’t do it on our own he is there for us.
Last week I wrote about restraint. Continuing to contemplate this topic I have found an interesting connection. Restraint is a companion to love. If I love my neighbor as myself it stands to reason that I will restrain myself and defer to my neighbor’s wants and needs. If I do not love then why restrain myself. I will simply pursue whatever I want without regard for others. Therefore love provides a motivation for restraint.
When love motivates us to restrain ourselves we find those virtues rising up in us like the ones Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7,
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love produces restraint. In love I restrain myself and become a better person, more God like. I feel better about myself when I am patient and kind. I feel bad when I trample over others because I’m in a hurry. The people I push past and disregard don’t feel very well either. Wouldn’t it be great if I restrained myself because I love others as myself? Help me Lord!
God loves us. He restrains himself from judging us because he loves us. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago God loves us all (see Another Perspective). Every human is God’s creation and he desires the best for us. The all-powerful God of the universe restrains himself because he loves.
Jesus could have called down a legion of angels to protect him from the humiliation, the brutal beating, and the horrible death of the cross? He restrained himself because he loves us. He carried through the Father’s plan for our salvation because he loves.
It is a tendency among us humans to want to throw off restraint.From the very beginning, when we had only one restraint, don’t eat from this tree, we have chosen to see restraint as a hindrance to our freedom. The story in Genesis chapter 3 shows us clearly the fault of throwing off restraint.We gained freedom but suffered the consequences.
Restraints do hinder our freedom, but they are often good for us.When driving down the freeway, we are restrained by the speed limit. Speed limits are for our safety.They are good restraints. When the patrolling officer gives us a ticket, we suffer the consequences of ignoring restraint.
When I was a vice principal in charge of discipline, I used to say to offending students, “You can choose to exercise self-control, or I will apply external control.Self-control is much easier for you and for me.”We are either restrained by internal restraint or external restraint.Self-applied restraint, self-control, is always the better choice, and in the case of receiving a speeding ticket much less expensive.
The only way we self-centered humans can manage in society is with laws and rules that restrain us.As Americans, we have a great deal of freedom.We should be thankful for our freedom and respect the laws and rules that keep us in line.I find this difficult don’t you?I always want more freedom.This gets me in trouble.There are always consequences when I step beyond the rules.
Isn’t it incredible that Jesus paid the price for my renegade behavior?He took the consequences for me.What amazing love and compassion he has shown me.I should be constantly humbled with gratitude.Yet I still want to throw off restraints.
My wife and I recently went to see the movie “The Shack”. One of the stirring elements of The Shack is that it gives us insight into how God views his world. Like many we had read through the book twice and were apprehensive about what the movie might do with William P. Young’s beloved novel. The movie was a refreshing delight. Directed by Stuart Hazeldine with the screenplay written by John Fusco, the movie omitted very little of the original story. We both felt that the movie shared the full impact of the book’s message.
Important topics that The Shack explores are why suffering and evil happen in God’s world, and the roll repentance and forgiveness play in dealing with them. The familiar question, why does God allow such atrocities, can be answered as we delve into what Young was tells us. God allows this because he loves us, all. There will be a final judgement, but God is patient giving everyone the chance to repent.
From the scriptures the Apostle Peter shares in 2 Peter 3:8-9 an acumen that correlates with this insight:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
God’s perspective is always guided by love, his love for all mankind. He is love!
As Easter Week approaches, see the movie, kneel at the cross, and take some time to bask in his love. Writing this has stirred me to remember how deeply God loves us, how he is no stranger to suffering himself, and how much he has given for our redemption.
The idea of winners and losers comes about because we humans operate in pride and self-preservation.Pride and self-preservation put us at odds with each other.Whether it’s a friendly game or an all-out war, we oppose our fellows.The end result is a selection of winners and losers.There is only one force that moves us beyond the pride and self-preservation mode. That force produces all winners.
Now ask yourself, what would motivate me to lay down my pride and self-preservation?What would get me to the place where I didn’t care about what I had to do or about what others thought?What would cause me to give my life away?Wouldn’t you agree that the answer is love?I would throw myself in front of a bus to save my wife, or my children, or my grandchildren.I believe I would even do the same for my students.Why, because I love them.
Guess where we find the greatest demonstration of giving up your pride and laying down your life for others. Yes, Jesus on the cross is the answer. When the one through whom all things were created humbled himself and gave up his life, everybody became winners.Everyone is offered eternal life.He saved us all because he loves us.
The challenge of the cross is before us.Will we surrender our pride and lay down our lives for others?Will we choose to love?Will we help others to know the good news that they are winners?
The other evening I was driving home from work feeling tired but happy. The next thing you know, I began thinking about a past sin – one that brings me deep regret. My good mood was being dashed. Suddenly, I remembered that this sin has been forgiven and forgotten by God. It is in the past, and I’ve surrendered it at the foot of the cross. I have been set free by the blood of Jesus. Dwelling on past iniquities produces nothing good.
Others might want to condemn me for past sins, but God doesn’t. He forgave me. I am reminded of what King David said in Psalm 51:4 “Against you, you only, have I sinned…” Ultimately, though my sins have injured others, my sins are against my Father who is ruler of heaven and earth. With love, he overcame the sentence of death that I earned by sinning. He gave his one and only Son to pay for my sins. This has been done. Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
So why am I still haunted by sins that God has forgiven? I seem to hold on to my guilt. Perhaps my self-depended nature won’t let me forgive myself. Maybe those sins that I think I’ve surrender at the foot of the cross weren’t really surrendered. A touch of eternal reality might be needed here. Psalm 103:11-12 reminds, For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Since God has forgiven and forgotten my sins, and he has set me free from the law of sin and death, the appropriate response would be to discontinue wallowing in them. What good is freedom if I keep returning to the bondage from which I’ve been freed?
Love is the greatest force in the universe. The Bible tells us that God, the creator, is love (1 John 4:16). The world and all that is in it was created in love. It was love demonstrated by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross that brought us salvation. The redemption of mankind was accomplished by His great act of love. In love then there is sacrifice. As Jesus exhibited, love requires the laying down of personal wants and desires for others, or maybe just redirecting our personal wants and desires to others. Jesus told us in Matthew 22:37-39, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
We obviously have the right to use love, and we are commanded to use it. First we are to love our God, and second to love our neighbor. Our neighbor being anyone we encounter.
We have access to the greatest power in the universe! How amazing is that? Why aren’t we using this great power? Oh, it requires sacrificing our own wants and desires. Bingo! The whole world could be changed by this great force that we have access to, but it requires sacrifice.
Taking a broader look, I find that there is little use of this greatest force in our world. I’m not seeing a wide use of love. Knowing that God is love, we can say there’s a lot of ungodliness being exhibited. For those who like to blame this on God, perhaps a look in the mirror might clear their perspective. I’m looking in the mirror, and I find much room for improvement.