Redeeming Love

Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” John 13:7 ESV

I need to be honest with you. The last few weeks have been hard. People I love are hurting. Amid the usual struggles of life’s joys and hardships, loss and heartache have descended in a torrent.

A friend and sister servant in ministry at my church received a call recently that shattered her world. Her beautiful 23-year-old daughter had gone to sleep the night before like she did every other night. Only this time, she never woke up—at least not here. She closed her eyes to the blackness of this earth and opened them to the splendor of heaven and the beautiful face of Jesus.

Unimaginably wonderful for her. Devastatingly sorrowful for those left to grieve her.

Two other families close to me have lost loved ones to the ravages of cancer. And I recently received word that the disease has come calling on one of my dear family members for a second time.

Our human nature begs the answer to a desperate question: Why? Why must the body of Christ endure such pain? How do we reconcile God’s love with so much suffering?

I don’t have an answer, dear one, at least not one that will satisfy. If I did not know my God so well, I might be tempted to question Him myself.

But I do know Him well. I know the tenderness of His love. I know His comfort in my own brokenness. I know He is faithful, and I know His Word remains true.

I also know He wastes nothing and intends to bring a good work from every pain.

I recently read this quote from Christian philosopher Dallas Willard:

“Winter comes, but nothing irredeemable can happen to you. Nothing beyond the redemption of God can happen to you.”

Do you believe in the power of a God who redeems?

Beloved, God didn’t choose for this world to become ravaged by the evils of sin. Man chose it. Adam, chasing after a desire whispered into his heart by the deceiver, chose to disobey God and step out from under the safe covering of His protection. And now this world still reaps the consequence of that choice.

You see, that’s the nature of sin, dear one. It grows. It becomes stronger. Eventually it ends in death.

…desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:15

And now in this world so decayed and corrupted by sin, pain abounds. It leaves its mark on both guilty and innocent. But God never intended this pain for us; Satan did. Why? Because Satan hates what God loves, and God loves people.

Maybe we should take a moment to ponder the enormity of 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.”

Love led God to give His Son so you and I could live. Really live. Sin and death were never His choice for us. He created us in life and chose to offer it again, poured out on a cross in love to redeem man’s mistake. Jesus suffered death Himself so He could rescue us from it. Unbelievable.

We have trouble grasping love that gives like that. We can’t wrap our mind around such utter selflessness. So we hesitate to trust it.

But you can trust it, dear one. God loves perfectly—even when we can’t see or understand what He’s doing at the time. And He will never allow a heartache that He can’t redeem and bring something beautiful from. Never.

My heart remains full of hope because I know that God isn’t working evil in this world. He’s redeeming it. We’re still dealing with the consequences of our choice, but He remains faithful.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Jesus has overcome what we cannot. Beloved, as long as we live on this corrupted earth, we will experience suffering. But in Christ we have glorious hope! Whether we experience His healing touch here or when we see Him face to face, we win. Hope abounds. Love overcomes. Life triumphs.

And for those of us left suffering in this broken world, Jesus offers the means to overcome. When we run to Him in our pain instead of from Him, He redeems it. He exchanges our ashes for beauty, our mourning for gladness, our despair for praise (Isaiah 61:3).

What the enemy intends for evil, God desires to rescue and redeem. Will you let Him, dear one?

Encountering Jesus

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3

On Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection. A throng of people filled our sanctuary, many dressed in pristine Easter finery. Ushers scurried to find seats, busily lining folding chairs along the walls and aisles to accommodate the overflow. It was no ordinary Sunday.

How it must have delighted God’s heart to see the crowds uniting in praise of His Son. Voices rose together in worship, a beautiful melody lifting before the throne of the King. I felt my heart swell with love and gratitude in response to what my Savior chose to suffer for me. My hands rose heavenward involuntarily.

It was a good day.

Today, sadness pricks at the edges of my heart.

You see, I wonder how many of the faithful Easter attendees flooding our churches really know the Savior they came to worship. How many went out of duty for a distant God they hoped to appease by their annual presence on resurrection day? How many others rifle into church each week from that same sense of duty, with no thought of encountering the Living God?

Please hear my heart, dear one. I don’t say this in judgment. I say it because for 26 years I was one of them. I say it because I know the emptiness of being a church attendee who had no fellowship with Jesus. I say it because I want desperately for everyone to experience the transforming power of His unfailing love.

Beloved, do you know Him?

I remember the day I finally met Him.

I wasn’t looking for it when it happened. I was simply trying to finish my homework and get my blanks filled in before our home group met the next time for Bible study.

But my relentless, loving God had plans for this lost and wandering sheep. Four words stared back at me from the page in my workbook, seeking my response: Do you love Jesus?

The question was an easy one, and I lifted my hand to answer “yes” without even thinking. I knew the right answer.

But my hand began to tremble as a fresh revelation dawned. Conviction fell over me as the Spirit of Truth invaded my thoughts and allowed me to see what He saw.

I didn’t love Him.

I had thought I did. I’m sure I’d said it a hundred times in my twenty-six years. After all, I’d grown up in church. And I wasn’t just an Easter worshiper; I worshiped every week. I could quote Scripture and tell you all about Jesus’ life.

But knowing stuff about Jesus isn’t the same as knowing Him.

And that day, the Spirit lifted the veil so I could see the truth about myself. I realized I had been a pretender, living a lie. I couldn’t love Jesus because I didn’t even know Him. But I realized something else that day that was even more important: I wanted to. And so, undone by the Holy Spirit in my living room, I confessed my sin, exited the kingdom of darkness, and gave my life to Jesus.

I have never been the same.

Have you had your encounter with Jesus, dear one? Does your Christianity bear the marks of religious chains, or a transforming work of grace?

If you’re not certain, ask the Lord of Glory to reveal Himself to you. He will never withhold Himself from a seeking heart. In fact, He’s the One stirring you to seek Him. And when you do, He promises,

“I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity.” Jeremiah 29:14

He will lift the veil for you to see, piercing darkness with glory and disclosing your truth. And then, you have a choice to make. Will you step into the light and head toward Jesus? Or do you prefer the comfortable familiarity of the darkness?

Choose life, beloved. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and you will never see heaven without Him (John 14:6). To spend eternity with Him there, you must know and trust Him here.

He beckons you to life with the same invitation He gave the Twelve, “Follow Me.”

Will you follow?

 “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3

Tuning to the Voice of Truth

“Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” Isaiah 55:3

Self-doubt and insecurity have plagued me for as long as I can remember. From the time I was a small child vying for attention within the bounds of my own family, I would hear in my head the whisper that I was not good enough. It was not a message that came from the lips of those surrounding me; it came from within.

Frequent feelings of rejection delivered an internal message that I was not valued, and I began to withdraw. I pasted a smile on my face to give the appearance that I was fine, but I kept my distance from people, building a protective wall around my heart. Very few were invited beyond its boundaries.

I can still remember the logic driving my thoughts, “If you just keep to yourself, they won’t hurt you. Don’t do anything that invites criticism, and you’ll be fine.” Makes sense, right? The only problem was, the action meant to protect me brought about the very criticism I sought to avoid! Quietly keeping to myself earned me the label of a self-absorbed snob. The very thing my inner logic said would help me only made matters worse.

We all have an inner voice. It’s the one that convinces us to take action, the one we trust to guide our steps and pulls us like a magnet into each bad choice. Unfortunately, that inner voice we loyally follow consistently leads us down the wrong path.

You know the voice. It’s the one that says. . .

  • “What harm could it do to look this once?” . . .But then you can’t stop looking.
  • “You don’t need anybody. You’re better off alone.” . . . But your loneliness consumes you and breeds hate.
  • “She doesn’t deserve forgiveness. You shouldn’t let this go.” . . .But the bitterness eats away at you and empties you of joy.
  • “If you do this, he will love you and never leave.” . . . But then he does.

Dear one, we have spent our lives listening to the wrong voice. Proverbs 14:12 teaches, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” This Scripture is so important to us that God chose to repeat it again in Proverbs 16:25. The way that we have known, the path that seems right to us, leads to our destruction.

Do you know why? Jeremiah 17:9 reveals an important Truth. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”

Your heart deceives you. The mantra, “Just follow your heart,” held out to you by this world’s prince is designed to lead you down a path to pain. The reason, friend, is that your heart isn’t free. Sin holds it captive, chained by a bond of slavery to the Deceiver. The inner voice that you hear compelling you to repeatedly make those choices you regret is his.

What’s worse is your heart can’t free itself from the deception; it’s “beyond cure.” We are born into sin (Romans 5:12), and once sin has taken root in our hearts, it rules and reigns, erasing our right to choose. “As it is, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me” (Romans 7:17). On our own, we don’t have the power to exit the path of destruction. Praise God, there is One who sets captives free!

Jesus’ death on the cross tore through the veil of sin, removing both its power, and its consequence. We no longer have to remain enslaved to our sin-ravaged nature and succumb to its deceit. Jesus has returned our right to choose!

Unlike your captor, Jesus will not force Himself on you. You are free to continue on your way, living the life you know and trusting yourself to set your own path. Just know that choice will lead to pain and regret, and will bind you to the enemy for all eternity.

Or, you can receive the gift of salvation held out to you through the cross by choosing to follow a new Master, Jesus Christ. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6.

Jesus is the Way to your redemption. He is the Truth that frees you from sin’s deception. He is Life itself, offering both abundance on this earth and eternal life in heaven. He desires to pour His grace into your life. He simply asks you to believe.

Dear one, reject the rule of sin in your life and come to the cross to receive His forgiveness. You no longer need to follow the self-destructive path of your deceitful heart. You can follow the voice of Jesus.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28