The Unhuggables

As we all know the world is changing fast and it can feel like the very foundations of our lives are shaking. Things are shifting rapidly in our culture, churches, and even in some homes. So in this current chaotic state of being that we find ourselves, God has been speaking to me about His unchanging nature. Today I want to share with all of you what He has been showing me about Himself and who He is.  God is Love.

The apostle John had much to say about God’s love. He penned one of the most well known verses in the Bible. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Verse 17 goes on to say “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice is for the whole world. Later in his life, John returns to the theme of God’s love.

I John 4:7-21

     Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 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.

Every instance of love in this passage is the Greek word Agape, or one of its conjugations. Agape love is the love of choosing, not the love of feelings; that would be Phileo love. Strong’s Concordance has this to say about the difference between Agape and Phileo love, “Agape expresses a more reasoning attachment, of choice and selections, …Phileo, without being necessarily an unreasoning attachment, … is more instinctive, is more of the feelings or natural affections, implies more passion. In the NT agapao is purged of all coldness, and is deeper than phileo…phileo implies an instinctive, affectionate attachment; but agapao of a sentiment based on judgment and adulation, which selects its object for a reason.”

Agape love is the love of choosing one to love. It is clearly not “feeling in love with” or any of the other ways our culture uses the word love. Agape love by its very definition comes with a cost to the one who gives it. Since it is a love that chooses one over another there is a cost. To pour out His Agape love cost Jesus his life.

Verse 10 states that it is not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Propitiation (Greek Hilasmos) means “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath and turns it to favor.” I John 2:1-2 “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin But if anyone does sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

God chose to love us. He loves us so much that he sent His Son Jesus to bear the punishment we deserve in our place. Now let us stretch our understanding a little bit. Here in Chapter 2 vs 2 the Apostle is saying that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, but also for those of the whole world. II Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

God’s love is the same for all people. He is very clear about this all through the Scripture. It does not matter what state of wretchedness, desperation or depravity a person is currently in, God’s love for them is so great that He sent Jesus to die for that person. God’s love can never be earned; He clearly states that “He first loved us. I John 4:19” We can do nothing to cause God to love us more or less.

David the Shepard King wrote about the love of God in many beautiful Psalms, but I want to highlight a couple of verses from Psalm 103

Psalms 103:8-14, 17, 18
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

           

II Corinthians 5:17-21 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.[b] The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling[c] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

When Jesus went to the cross, He was doing much more than just paying the penalty for our sins. He was removing our sins, reconciling us to God and placing his own righteousness on us! So here is how amazing this really is. The forgiveness of our sins has already been paid for. We need to accept this forgiveness by repenting of our sins and declaring our need of Jesus thus coming into agreement with God. When we do this God removes our sins as far as the east is from the west, blotting them out of our record with the blood of Jesus, then He declares us to be partakers of the righteousness of Christ! This means that once you are a Christian, when God looks at you, he is seeing the very righteousness of Christ! This is Good News indeed!

The beginning of all of this is the Love of God, in that he chose us to show His love to. We are loveable simply because God chose to love us.

I want to pause for a moment now to share a story that speaks to the love of God in a most amazing way. Brennan Manning was a Franciscan priest, turned gutter alcoholic, turned evangelist. This is an excerpt from “The Furious Longing of God” by Brennan Manning.

Ironically it was April Fool’s Day, 1975, 6:30 A.M., and I woke up in a doorway on Commercial Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I was thick in an alcoholic fog, sniffing vomit all over my sweater, staring down at my bare feet. I didn’t know a wino would steel my shoes during the night to buy a bottle of Thunderbird, but one did. I had been out on the street for a year and a half, drunk every day, sleeping on the beach until the cops chased me away. You could find me in doorways or under the bridge, always clutching my precious bottle of Tequila. And it wasn’t just that this good Franciscan priest drank too much. I broke every one of the Ten Commandments six times Tuesday: adultery, countless acts of fornication, violence to support my addiction, character assassination to anybody who dared criticize me or remonstrate with me.

The morning I woke up in the alcoholic boozy fog, I looked down the street to see a woman coming toward me, maybe twenty-five years old, blonde, and attractive. She had her son in hand, maybe four years old. The boy broke loose from his mother’s grip, ran to the doorway, and stared down at me. His mother rushed in behind him, tucked her hand over his eyes, and said, “Don’t look at that filth. That’s nothing but pure filth.” Then I felt her shoe. She broke two of my ribs with that kick.

That filth was Brennan Manning, thirty-two years ago. And the God I’ve come to know by sheer grace, the Jesus I met in the grounds of my own self, has furiously loved me regardless of my state – grace or disgrace. And Why? For His love is never, never, never based on our performance, never conditioned by our moods – of elation or depression. The furious love of God knows no shadow of alteration or change. It is reliable. And always tender.

This story really hit me, because if you change a couple of the details, I have lived that morning. For me it was lying on the floor of my bathroom, in the horrific late stages of alcoholism, vomiting blood, and alternating between fearing that I would die, and welcoming the idea. I didn’t see any way out. I had known God; but only a very damaged image of Him. I chose to tell Him no and proceed my own way for a few long years, that culminated on that floor. Finally in that place of desperation, I cried out to God “If you still have any interest or concern in me, You have got to do something, because I am done for!” God answered in a most profound way. He sent a Christian man who had been down the same path to help. Then, God re-introduced me to the loving Jesus I am talking about.

In Psalms 139:16 David writes, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” God clearly knows our whole life story, so from eternity past he looked at your life, saw every sin you ever have committed and ever will commit, and He declared, “I love you! In fact I would rather die than be separated from you for all of eternity future. You are my precious child and I want to you to be reconciled to My love. I am going to send my only son, Jesus, to bear my wrath that must be satisfied. He is going to bear this wrath for your sin which is keeping you separated from me, and then I am going to place His righteousness on you. Then you can fully experience my love for you because I will pour out my love for Jesus onto you through His sacrifice.”

Now, you might be wondering where the title “The Unhuggables” fits into this topic of God’s love. When I was a child I was given a book titled The Unhuggables. This book was just a bunch of fun facts and stories about various creatures that we would call Unhuggable. Such as skunks, spiders, snakes, all of the creatures that we know intellectually have a purpose because God created them, but we feel that their purpose would be better served not sharing real estate with us. I realized as I was digging into what God was speaking to me about His love that I had a mental book of “The Unhuggables” only that one had people in it. I John 4:8 says anyone that does not love, does not know God because God is love. It hit me hard that when I looked at someone and declared in my mind “That person is Unhuggable”, I was speaking directly against what God declared over that person and the whole rest of the world.

God sent Jesus because of His great love for the world, John 3:16. The person that I looked at and declared unhuggable, Jesus also looked at, and declared He loves them. Then He took the next blow of the harsh whip, ripping his flesh off for that person. The blow after that was for me – not loving this person. Jesus went to the cross for both of us because He loves the whole world.

God was not done challenging my perception here however. In the quiet of a morning alone with God, talking to Him about these things, He spoke to me and asked me to look at the cover of my mental book of the Unhuggables to see whose picture was there. It was mine. How many of us are living lives that intellectually acknowledge that God loves us, then continue to beat on ourselves for past sins. We live in a place of guilt and fear of judgment, afraid to step out into new things because we might fail and disappoint God.

I believe that our perception of God shapes how we live. If we see God as a tyrant, an angry judge who is eager to dole out condemnation, we will shape our lives accordingly. We will be judgmental of others and try to live our lives as a code of do’s and don’ts in an attempt to avoid punishment by an angry God. This is not God the Father that Jesus died to reconcile us to. I John 4:18 “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.” Jesus died to set us free from the law of sin and death. If we see God the Father as Abba (term jewish children would have used for “Daddy”, we will experience the transformation that Paul was speaking of in II Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Romans 8:15 “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Remember God’s Agape love for us is His choice. Here is another example of the Apostle Paul speaking of God’s Agape love.

Romans 8:31-39 (NIV) 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The question that you must answer for yourself is, “Do you believe that God loves you?” Not in an intellectual way, but do you believe that in a deep personal way that God loves you? Not mankind in general, not a pastor, or a speaker, or the person sitting next to you, but that God loves you. I believe that as Brennan Manning goes on to say in The Furious Longing of God that “God loves you just as you are, and not as you should be. For you will never be as you should be.” This is not to say that you should stay as you are instead of moving to how you should be, but it speaks great volumes to motive. If we believe that God truly loves us as we are, then any progress made towards conforming to the image of His Son is done out of our love for Him. If we do not believe that God loves us just as we are, then our path to become more like Jesus is no longer a transformation into a new creation, it is rather an attempt at works. If I just stop drinking then maybe God will love me, if I could just stop looking at porn, or if I could just stop gossiping, or if I did more for the poor then maybe – just maybe God will love me. There is nothing that we can do to cause God to love us any more or any less.

God loves us so much that he put things in place to give us security in Him, all we have to do is believe Him. First, He provided the forgiveness; we just need to receive it. Forgiveness; then repentance. I know that sounds radical, crazy even, but it is Biblical. He loved us first, sent His Son that we may believe and be reconciled. By arranging it this way, His forgiveness prior to repentance, it removes any question over if we repented correctly. That question would take us right back into works. He says if we believe in Jesus and call on His name, He is faithful and just. But the finished work of the cross has already paid for it all! So we never need sit in our corner shaking and wondering, “Did I pray the sinner’s prayer right?” or “What if I am not called as one of the elect?”- or any one of the questions the enemy throws at us to cause us to doubt God. Instead we can say, “I want to be more like Jesus because He loves me. I want to do what I see Him doing just as He did what He saw the Father do.”

You may have heard sin described this way, “Well, when you sin it causes God to frown, and when you repent it makes God smile.” This is simply not true. In this view of God, He would be reactionary and changing. Your actions would be making God change, but the Bible says God is Unchanging and Unchangeable. Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever. The Love of God never changes and is described as the light of the world. When we sin, we are choosing to step out of the light and into the darkness. The light has not changed; we have changed our relationship to the light. When we repent we step out of the darkness and back into the light. The light still has not changed. We are our own obstacle to the love of God and His forgiveness by where we choose to walk. Even then, when we are getting in our way, God’s love and forgiveness remains the same.

When we can come to truly believe that God loves us, that our journey to be transformed to be more like Jesus is a journey of love for the Father and from the Father, only then will we begin to taste the fullness of the Good News of the Gospel. The Good News that Jesus will turn our heart of stone to a heart of flesh. That He will give us His eyes to see the world, His words to speak. He will do these things because He loves us, and He loves all of the people that we interact with just the same as He loves us. The Good News is being reconciled into this love affair with God!

Before we can move out in any new direction in our lives, we have to know the basics. The basic thing here is that we first need to know and truly believe that God loves us before we can proclaim the Good News to others. Jesus did not suffer and bleed and die on the cross to be our fire insurance. He came for so much more than that. If we treat salvation as simply a way out of Hell, or a way to avoid being punished for our sins; we are living a mere shadow of the life He intended for us. He came with a ministry of reconciliation and transformation. He is transforming us into people that fully experience the Love of God in every aspect of our lives; and then through His transforming power, become ministers of this transformation to others. If we live fully secure in the knowledge that God loves us, nobody will ever have to ask if we are Christian, it will be written on our faces and displayed through our lives.

There is a story that the apostle John recorded in his Gospel, about another one of the apostles. This story used to cause me guilt about my own times of unbelief. It is the story of Thomas.

John 20:24-29 24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I used to read this story and feel guilt because I identified with Thomas. Let’s look for a minute at the situation Thomas was in. He had spent over 3 years of his life devoted to a prophet he believed to be the Messiah. He mistakenly believed, as did the rest of the apostles, that this Messiah was here for earthly deliverance for Israel. Instead, he watched the Messiah be taken prisoner, and then the Messiah was executed as a common criminal. Now the body was missing, and first the women from the garden and now the other apostles were saying he was risen from the dead. I wonder if Thomas felt like his world had been shaken so much that he would not be fooled again, that he would need something concrete before he would trust again. The other disciples had all refused to believe as well. Mark 16:9-13 records the disciples refusing to believe Mary Magdalene or the two on the road to Emmaus. Luke 24:36 records the disciples talking about these things, when Jesus appeared and spoke to their doubts.

Unlike the others, Thomas was honest enough to voice his doubts. I am sure you have all heard the reference to the cross and the question asked, “What more could He have done to show that He loved you?” Look at what Jesus did for Thomas, he heard and knew Thomas’ doubts and loved him enough to meet him where he was. Jesus did not condemn Thomas for his doubt. Instead he held out his nail scarred hands and said, “Here, put your finger in my hand and your hand in my side. See how much I love you Thomas.” Just imagine the tender look of love in Jesus’ eyes as he said this. It is no wonder that Thomas cried out “My Lord and My God!”.

I sometimes wonder if Thomas would have had this intimate interaction with the Lord if he was not honest to say where he was at. God cannot minister to us until we are honest enough to admit that we need it. He does not force Himself on us he created us with free will. We can choose Him or not, but His heart cries out for us to choose him, in whatever broken state we are in.

Again, this begs the question, “Do you believe that God loves you, just as you are and not as you should be?” The answer to this question strikes to the heart of our Christian experience.

I would like to ask everyone to take a couple of minutes to work through the following in your mind’s eye. Now picture if you will, Jesus, our risen Lord walking into the room wherever you are, making eye contact with you, and then walking straight to your seat and stopping in front of you. What would you feel like? Would you feel like when you got called to the principal’s office only worse because the principal came and found you? Would you want to leap to your feet and throw your arms around Jesus, while weeping for joy? Picture, if you will, that as Jesus stops in front of you, he begins to speak. What words do you hear from the Savior? Are they harsh and condemning, “Well look at you sitting here like you have it all together, but I know what you did yesterday and what you were thinking this morning, and boy have you got it coming!” Or do you hear something more along the lines of “My precious child, I am so glad you are here with me this morning. Come and rest with me.”  Now look if you will down at Jesus hands. What do you see? Do you see hands coiling a whip waiting to drive you out as if you were a money changer in the temple? Do you see hands and arms folded across His chest in an indifferent stare? Or do you see nail-scarred hands spread wide to embrace you? Now finally, look directly into the eyes of Jesus. Do you see harsh, angry eyes, or maybe bored or distracted eyes? Or do you see eyes full of compassion and love, maybe with a tear in the corner because he knows your pain?

My friends, I want you to know that in a simple exercise such as this, if you see the angry or indifferent Jesus, the Jesus out to get you – you are not seeing the Jesus of the Bible. Isaiah 42:3 “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” Ask God to heal your image of Him. Allow the loving arms of the Savior to embrace you right where you are.

If you have never met this Jesus, the Jesus who loves you so much He chose to die so that you could be reconciled to God, I would urge you to not allow any more time to pass before turning to Him. All you have to do is confess that you are a sinner, that you can never meet God’s standard, and are hopeless if left on your own. Then call on Jesus and believe in His name, and that He took your punishment to reconcile you to God the Father. You can call out to Jesus right where you are, He is waiting with open arms.

Maybe you are already a Christian but your experience with God does not match up to what I have been talking about. If it does not, then know that it is not too late. God can and will heal your image of Him – through the loving work of Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you who God is. That is a prayer that will always be answered. The love of God I described is real, and the Father’s cry is for you to believe it and to let Him start transforming everything about your life.

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