Given For The Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 4/1/07
"To us, the greatest demonstration of God's love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him" (I John 4:9, Phillips).
Of all the basics we've covered, "God is Love," is perhaps the most foundational. The Law and the Prophets rest on that love, which Christ came in the flesh to manifest in ways that we cannot deny. Though we have never seen Him nor touched Him, we have beheld His glory by the power of the Holy Spirit. The springboard for this writing came from a man we've not heard from before, whom I'll call Sam (not his real name). He is not on my e-mail announcement list, but someone must have forwarded last week's writing, "Where is Hell" (See Link at End) to him. Here's what he said under the subject line, "hell":
"WILL you please explain to me why he made vessels of honor and dishonor and vessels of destruction, and shows no mercy on me no matter what I do! I am sure you people were founded before creation but all I know is everyday is pure HELL! I am 64 years old and I know Father hates me or I would not be in this hell everyday...I did not ask to be born, nor did I ask to be like this...maybe He will remember me in His kingdom, as my life here is wasted.. Thank you for your time, Sam."
It's OK to whine. In a book I wrote in 1997, called "Faxes From The Fiery Furnace" (See Link at End). I did quite a bit of moaning about our situation as we were "losing our shirt" in California, part of God's plan to move us to Missouri. This man's e-mail certainly was written from his own personal fiery furnace, which seems at the time, an antechamber to hell. With this amount of angst and anger, he clearly is enduring something terrible, something for which he can't find justification. He doesn't say that he hates God, but concludes instead that God hates him. Either way, he feels separated from his Father in Heaven.
We have a dear friend who told us once that he didn't love God. Perhaps he thought he would shock us with this startling confession, but I immediately thought two things: 1) He is an honest man. Most Christians would never dare admit they don't love God, and they certainly wouldn't say they hate Him either. As an aside, don't you find it amusing that people may be very angry at God, but are reluctant to admit it? Like He doesn't know! 2) Psychologically, our friend doesn't love God because he has never felt God's love. "We love, because he first loved us," the Apostle John said, and it's certainly true.
Usually, in our relationships with other people, we love them because we feel love coming from them. It is often difficult, at least for me, to love someone unconditionally who disapproves of me, judges me, and offers me only conditional acceptance. Occasionally, we enjoy the privilege of giving unconditional love, usually to our children or our pets, and we often feel that kind of love from them as well. The world is in the shape it's in today, I think, because our supply of love is about "a quart low." We need to have our love receptors filled to overflowing.
What keeps this from happening, we wonder? The only place to get oil for our lamps and love for our hearts is from the giver of all good and perfect gifts, our Heavenly Father. Some don't ask because they don't feel worthy, perhaps waiting until they can get righteous enough to approach Him, something that human self effort can never achieve. The Law (the epitome of conditional love), is always there to condemn us if we don't know that Christ died to give us His very life, and to set us free from endless works that never bring us to perfection. Even when we know this intellectually, sometimes it's an uphill pull to get to the top of the mountain of self loathing and poor self esteem, brought about by our having been loved imperfectly by other human beings, usually our parents, who themselves were never loved perfectly, nor were their parents, and so on back to Adam and Eve. Conditional love (I'll love you IF.....) begets conditional love, which is why unconditional love is in such short supply on planet Earth.
I think God planned it that way, because only He loves perfectly and unconditionally. He didn't intend for us to get all our love needs met from other humans. How do I know that? Meditate on Paul's statement in Romans 5:7-8: "In human experience it is a rare thing for one man to give his life for another, even if the latter be a good man, though there have been a few who have had the courage to do it. Yet the proof of God's amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us." Think of it. He died for us when we didn't even know Him and many today still don't know Him. They also don't know they needed someone to die for them, but because of His sacrifice that doesn't matter. When He turns on the lights and removes the scales from our eyes, we see and feel and taste that the Lord is good and that HE LOVES US!
Lip service is one thing, but real love is quite another. When Peter made his great declaration of love for Jesus, found in John 14:37, he offered to make the greatest sacrifice: "Lord I will lay down my life for you." He had the right idea, but Jesus knew how weak the flesh is. "Then Jesus answered, "Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times" (Vs. 38). Perhaps one of the reasons that martyrs impress us so much is that they really have given the ultimate sacrifice for their faith, and yet no one could endure such extreme persecution without crumbling under the pressure, UNLESS the Holy Spirit's strength and the faith of Christ sustained him or her. The courage to endure torture and death for Christ comes not from the strength of one's "free will," or the decision one made for Christ, but from God's love flowing out while pain and pressure are pressing in. Where sin overflows, grace floods in. Where hate explodes, love overcomes, as happened on Golgotha so long ago.
In one of his poignant teachings just prior to the crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). I suspect that many do not love God because of terrible teaching which has caused them to fear Him. When you excessively fear someone, you cannot have loving feelings for that person. Remember how Saddam Hussein was greeted by those under his reign of terror? Often, they kissed him on each cheek, and bowed before him, but if you looked closely, you could see the fear on their faces, fear of what would happen if they didn't submit themselves to him. Sadly, some feel the same way about God.
The manifestation of God's love came in my own life when He baptized me in the Holy Spirit, so that I knew at a cellular level that Christ died on that cross for Jan. Until that tremendously important moment in my life, the salvation gained for me on the cross was only head knowledge. I can't remember when I didn't know the fact that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, but it didn't actually mean much to me until I encountered Him personally by the power of the Spirit. After that, my relationship to Him was never the same, never cut and dried, because I FELT His love.
Before I met Christ, I had read and heard ABOUT Him, though I didn't always understand what I was reading or hearing. After meeting Him personally, the scriptures ABOUT Him came to life for me. Here is Christ's glorious resume: "Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God. He was born before creation began, for it was through him that everything was made, whether heavenly or earthly, seen or unseen. Through him, and for him, also, were created power and dominion, ownership and authority. In fact, all things were created through, and for, him. He is both the first principle and the upholding principle of the whole scheme of creation. And now he is the head of the Body which is the Church. He is the Beginning, the first to be born from the dead, which gives him preeminence over all things. It was in him that the full nature of God chose to live, and through him God planned to reconcile to his own person everything on earth and everything in Heaven, making peace by virtue of Christ's death on the cross" (Col. 1:15-20, Phil). This is a beautiful summary of many of the basics we've covered: the absolute sovereignty of God, His power and authority and dominion over all He created, and His perfect plan to reconcile to Himself, everything on earth and in Heaven, making peace by the cross.
We recently watched a film called "Agent of Grace," about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who was hanged by the Nazis for resistance to Hitler's murderous agenda. Shortly before his execution, he said that after the war, Christians would speak a new language, one which was relevant to the rest of the world, a language that would be powerful, and often shocking, because it would say to the world that God has declared peace with men. That flooded me with light as I realized that he was prophesying that the message of God's reconciliation of all would be broadcast to the whole world. And that time is here!
Reconciliation is a message needed in this hour, because without doubt, one of the factors that causes people to fear God, and fail to feel His love, is the fear of hell. I submit that when you think that any infraction of God's Law will send you to hell, you cannot possibly believe He truly loves you. You know very well that you would give more grace to your own children than that. You may say He loves you and you love Him because you are afraid not to, but you cannot really feel it. Love means abandoning ourselves to another, in perfect trust, in safety, and in knowing that our love is reciprocated. The world has a twisted idea of love, it seems to me, no doubt a result of sappy songs and sappier movies. The view of God we get from the Old Testament has been somewhat harmful to our consideration of Him as a loving Father. The Jews did not know Him as Father. To them, He was Yahweh, the law giver; He was El Shaddai, the many breasted One, but He was NOT Abba (Daddy), until Jesus came to manifest that aspect of Him. This is equally true today. The Law can never bring us through to love. Only grace can do that, which He freely gives us in Christ.
The Jews viewed Abraham as their father, rather than God. A friend mentioned John the Baptist's scathing remark about their parentage: "Don't suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We are Abraham's children', for I tell you that God could produce children of Abraham out of these stones!" (Matt. 3:9, Phil). He pointed out that the Jews thought they were special in the same way that Christians often think they are righteous because they keep the commandments (or at least the easy ones). Lip service and keeping up appearances do not cut it today any more than they did in Jesus' day: "Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you utter frauds! For you pay your tithe on mint and dill and cumin, and neglect the things which carry far more weight in the Law: justice, mercy and good faith. These are the things you should have observed, without neglecting the others" (Matt. 23:23).
We can neither love God, nor know for sure He loves us based on law, anymore than the Jews could. We cannot force ourselves to love Him or anyone, for that matter. How I wish I had some compelling, comforting words for the man who wrote us today, to convince him that God loves him and wants only the best for him. So long as he continues to use his own life as a yardstick, his conclusion won't change, and yet, if God's love isn't manifested in his life in a manner meaningful to him, it doesn't matter what anyone says. Scripture and my life's experiences confirm that God is worthy of trust, because in the end, He always does the right thing for us, and He is the one best qualified to defend His own reputation. I pray for Sam and all the rest of us that we be ushered deeper and fuller into the richness and beauty of God's unconditional love.
When we've been kept in the charnel house of self-effort, trying in vain to be righteous, the overwhelming darkness blinds us, but when God opens the door letting the "sonlight" stream in, we see the wide, beautiful world outside the little cell where we've been living. I'm looking now at the field below the 5th wheel where we live. Recent storms and warm weather have produced a luxurious carpet of emerald green. The trees are beginning to bud out as Spring makes her presence felt. The green grass softens the landscape littered with broken tree branches, the only evidence left of a cold winter, ice storms, and power outages, which left us with no water and no heat. It's good to remember what we've endured, as it reminds us of God's grace which carried us through the bad times, and surely encourages us to praise God for where He has brought us now.
"Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise Him all creatures here below; praise Him above ye heavenly hosts; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen." (The Doxology).
Father, open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our hearts to feel the great love You have for us all. Replace our fear, guilt, shame, and unworthiness with the brightness of Your glory. Bring us through the dark night of Calvary, out of the tomb of dead works and self effort, into resurrection life, Your life. Fill us afresh with the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead, that we may see You as You are, for then, we shall be like You. In Christ and with joy, we ask it. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Faxes From The Fiery Furnace
Back to Basics: The Sovereignty of God
Back to Basics, II: Sovereignty and Reconciliation
Back to Basics, III: A Practicum on Sovereignty
Back to Basics, IV: Out of the Box
Back to Basics, V: The Codependency Factor
Back to Basics, VI: The Tomb Is Still Empty
Back to Basics, VII: Where Is Hell?
Back to Basics, IX: By Man Came Also
Back to Basics, X: Victory Over Death
Back to Basics, XI: Provision
The Glory Road
We're always happy to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 03/28/07
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,