The Tough Love of God

God’s love is tough. It endures. It does not give up, and it knows not defeat. Some people even think His love is irresistible. That means there’s nothing a human can do to escape from eventually returning love back to God. I don’t know about that, but I do know His love is from everlasting to everlasting. The Psalmist says, “God’s goodness and mercy will surely follow me all the days of my life.” His love will follow me; it will search me out. God’s love is in hot pursuit of humankind, like a bloodhound sniffing out an escaped fugitive.

That is kind of what we mean when we say, “God is love.” or when we say, “Jesus loves you!”. But, what do we mean when we say “I love God”? I’m really asking. What goes on in the mind and heart of the individual who proclaims, “I love God!”? I have no idea. I know it must sound a little arrogant, to the uninitiated. Because, who in their right mind expects God to care what humans think, anyways? I don’t know what others may mean when they say “I love God”. I can only try to express what I have meant when I say it.

Sometimes I mean, “Lord, I am really pleased with you right now. Life is going good, and all my problems seem small and manageable. I really like my life today. You rock!” Sometimes I mean, “Lord, I am really experiencing you in a more tangible and immanent way. You seem closer than other times, and I enjoy the nearness of you. It is exciting having you so near, because I feel like everything is a miracle. God, you are so good!” Other times I mean, “Lord, I am on an emotional high. My attitude is great. I’m on top of the world. It feels great, and I attribute all of this to you!” Still, other times I mean, “Lord you have done so much for me. I am awed by your mercies, which are renewed day by day. I don’t deserve you or your blessings, but you have over looked my unworthiness and given me good things anyway. I don’t get it, but I know I need it. I am so thankful.” On my bad days I mean, “Lord, my emotions are not here. I don’t have any exuberant feelings toward you, but I know I am supposed to love you. I am spiritually impoverished, and it feels like I have nothing to give. It is hard to remember you, and I would probably rather just be distracted from pain, but I know I am supposed to pray even harder in these times. Please renew a right spirit in me, and remind me why I chose to follow Jesus.”

I’m just being honest. But the Bible says we are to love God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Pretty much everything that is involved with being a person, is supposed to be involved with loving God. If it is a part of us, we had better learn to use it to love God. In every decision making process, we must take into account the love of God. Loving God should prevent us from sinning. It should motivate us to do good to our neighbors. It is designed to flow into us and through us into the lives of our fellow Christians. Ultimately though, the love of God is God’s gift to us, which he expects to be given back to Him. God loves us first, then we are spiritually empowered to love Him back. We cannot love God, except for He has first loved us.

We love God, because He relates to us as Father. Earthly fathers were tasked by God to protect us, the children, and provide for us. Guess what our Heavenly Father does? You got it! He protects and provides. Some religions cannot see God as Father, but this is one of the fundamental ways He relates to his creation. In fact, the fathership of God is part of His intrinsic Triune nature. According to scripture, He was God the Father, having begotten the Son, before He even created anything at all.

We love God, because He has made us in His image. Part of the life of God is to live in perfect love and agreement with God’s triune self. So, it makes sense then, that as a creature made in God’s image I am designed to live in perfect love with God. He has made us in His image, and He has placed in us an innate desire to delight ourselves in Him. Fallen, broken humanity, has exchanged love for God with fear of Him. The proverbs teach that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. It may be the beginning, but God certainly expects us to move through the fear and into the love. That’s why the new testament teaches that “perfect love casts out fear.” Being in right relationship with the Father means we have learned to properly fear Him, and the fear produced wisdom in us, which, when followed to its completion, will become love.

There is also a type of love which is expressed through obedience. Jesus taught his disciples that if we love Him, we must obey His commands. Jesus came to make disciples, not converts. Disciples obey their master. They follow in His footsteps. Jesus has modeled an ideal life. He paved the Way to show humans a new, spiritual lifestyle, which places God first and treats others better than ourselves. Who can say, “I love Jesus”, without following His way of life, obeying His commands, and emulating His attitudes? That would be like saying “I am an Elvis impersonator, but I don’t try to look like him, or talk like him, and I don’t know any of his songs…” We would look at a person like that and think, “Either this guy has no idea what an Elvis impersonator is, or he’s a liar.”

Another way to show love for God is to love other Christians. In 1 John the Disciple who Jesus loved teaches us that Christians are born of God. But any one who hates his brothers is a liar, and the love of God is not in him. How can a Christian love God and hate other Christians? If you love God, then you will love what is born of God; i.e other Christians! If I am made in the image of God, then I should love His image. All humans are made in His image, so I must love them. They are walking talking reminders of who God is!

How do Christians show love for each other?
a. Worship together
b. Pray for each other
c. Bear one another’s burdens
d. Sacrifice for each other
e. Remain in unity among ourselves (News flash, this includes when we disagree about doctrine)
f. We are Imago Dei, so how can we say we love God if we hate our brothers?

Jesus’ teaching makes it clear that the greatest love is demonstrated by the greatest sacrifices. We lay down our lives for the One we love. We must also lay down our lives for one another. Toward God it is surrender of our will, toward men it is treating them the way we would treat Jesus. It doesn’t matter who they are, if you treat them like you would treat Jesus you cannot go wrong. Jesus is so serious about humans loving each other, He even tells His disciples to love their enemies, praying for those who scornfully mistreat you and slander you. That’s what I call tough love!

Open letter to young people

Dear Young Person,

I want to share with you 3 ideas that will make your life easier. This is going to be very practical information. These 3 things might seem superficial, trite and even old fashioned; and that’s probably what I would have said when I was 14. But, if you follow them, you will avoid a lot of misery. It may look like following these 3 ideas will cost you a lot of fun, maybe even some friends, but that is only an optical illusion (a trick your eyes help to play on your mind). I tell you these 3 things, not to deprive you of friendship and fun, but so you can have the happiest, best life possible.

1. Listen to your dad. He is not an idiot. He is not a moldy old has been who doesn’t understand the “real world”. He is not a fun sucker, nor is he someone who wants you to have a boring, drab, unexciting, unfulfilling adolescence. He simply has experience; he has been where you are now. He has been through all the things you are going through. And, he has come out the other end, maybe with some bumps, bruises, regrets and setbacks. If you will listen to him, you won’t have to suffer the same humiliations and failures he did. His mistakes and his hindsight can be a guide to you. Think of him as a safari guide, or Himalayan Sherpa, sent to lead you along a treacherous and dangerous path. He knows what to watch out for. He knows what to avoid. He knows you, and he can be a compass for you, when things seem murky and unknowable.

Ask your dad for help, as often as possible. He loves you.

2. Your peers are dangerous. I’m sorry, Young Person, but you are in the Lion’s Den. Welcome to high school. I’m sure you have friends, a social circle, and potential romantic interests, who may not fully line up with your values. That’s fine. That’s the real world. But, how do you maintain your values, while accepting and befriending those who don’t? This can be a real dilemma. Almost certainly you will compromise what’s right for the sake of “not making waves” or being tolerant. I accept that you will eventually do this, are doing it, and have probably done it many times before. When I said your “peers are dangerous”, this is what I mean: As a young person, it often seems like , the worst thing that can happen to you is to be “uncool”. I know, because I felt the same way. I would do almost whatever it took to look cool, impress girls, and be friends with the in crowd. The pressure is immense. Being cool or popular or accepted shapes almost every decision you will make. It affects who you talk to and how you talk to them. It probably even affects what brand name and type of clothes you like. It affects your interests; these are the things you pour your life into. You will pour your life into being cool. That’s why your peers are dangerous, because you have given them authority to determine your value. Only Jesus should have that authority. Only He can wield that authority with perfect wisdom and absolute benevolence. Reject being cool, it’s an illusion anyway. Instead, make Jesus your object of primary importance.

I want to challenge you to go outside of your comfort zone to create at least 2 best friends, who desperately love Jesus. It is the only way forward.

3. The choices you make now are critical. I hate to be the harbinger of dark tidings, but you have come upon the most critical years of your life. Doing well academically, physically, and intellectually now, will set you up for your entire life. Imagine a snowball rolling downhill. As it picks up more snow, and more speed, it becomes more dangerous and more difficult to turn. This is where you are now. You have grown up enough to take responsibility for certain things, like school, hygiene, social circles, maybe even a job. The direction you point your life, your “snowball”, will determine much of your future. I have known kids who were slackers in high school, maybe they even took drugs, turn out OK. But, they had to double the hard work as an adult, just to catch up with the kids who put in the effort while still young. So, take pride in your school work. It isn’t something to be looked at as teacher imposed slavery. It is to be looked at as opportunity to grow, a chance to shine above your peers, and a way to give God glory by pouring your excellence into it. When you practice for your sport, try not to look at warms ups, calisthenics, or drills, as boring stuff to get through so you can get to the games. Look at them as the necessary preparations for battle. Every drill, every lap, every pushup needs to be full bore, hardcore, %100 steam, because, submitting to discipline makes you a master. Your coaches will notice. Employers will notice. Your peers will notice. Guess who else sees it when you put %100 into even the little things. That’s right, God takes notice, too. Everything you want to be the best at requires discipline. Discipline is hard work. The lazy seldom amount to anything admirable.

The most disciplined becomes the most excellent. So, start getting real serious about your life. Play time is over. You aren’t just a kid anymore.

The bible says that in Christ, you are more than a conqueror. The world is yours to conquer for Christ. Take it. Blessings in the Lord, and may He always make His face to shine upon you.

-Pastor DV