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Intimacy with Jesus requires “floortime” and facetime with the Lord. Renowned child psychologist and bestselling author Dr. Daniel Goleman encourages parents to spend “floortime” with their children. Goleman has a significant, simple way of inspiring parents to help their children develop emotional intelligence through play and quality time. Parents don’t have to plan anything or study anything; rather, they just have to play with their children and impart love and wisdom through their relationship of unconditional positive regard.

Floortime with God might be described as spontaneous times of devotional leisure in the presence of the Lord. Floortime with God could be anything that brings you joy in his presence—rest, reading, dancing, praising, teaching, art, etc. I think the way the character of Eric Liddell, the great early 20th century Scottish Olympian and missionary, explains running in the movie Chariots of Fire describes floortime with God. When pressed by his sister in the movie about the tension she perceives between pursuing his running versus full-time missionary work, Liddell quiets her anxieties with the following statement, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” This statement written by Colin Welland for the script to the movie affirms the early Church Father Irenaeus’ famous assertion, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

Floortime is true free time—not being on one’s own but with the One who is love and who protects from harm. Children’s psychologist Madeline Levine writes, “Over the last 20 years, kids have lost close to two hours of play every day, most of that unstructured play. And it is unstructured play that provides opportunities for kids to be curious, creative, spontaneous, and collaborative.” I believe the church in the West has lost a similar amount of time in unstructured communion with the Lord; therefore, it has lost similar spiritual, Christ-like attributes. Floortime with God represents the unstructured intimacy with God that inspires his children to act like their Father, as his Spirit inhabits them.

Like any good parent, God engages in facetime as well as floortime. I’m not talking about what we do with an iPhone. I’m referring to literally being face-to-face with another person.

For any person to be fully alive as a human, facetime with the Lord is required. God tells us, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5) Floortime consists in fun and feeling God’s pleasure. Facetime, on the other hand, may include discipline and feeling the force of God’s holiness and the fervency of his loving desire to conform us to Christ. All that God does flows from and includes the expression of his love. He may sometimes “get in our face” to get our attention. These times of confrontation or even rebuke are not signs of his anger or punishment but of his Fatherly love. God’s wrath is reserved for those at enmity with him and not his children in Christ.

God commands us to seek his face. The Psalmist writes, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.’” (Psalm 27:8) We are eager to enjoy the fun of floortime with the Lord; God is eager for us to seek the presence and favor of his face. The Lord graciously reveals his face to us and brings us into the light of his countenance.

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Jesus’ life demonstrated an intimate union with the Father in all he did and said. He explains to his disciples this intimacy with the Father when he says, “I and the Father are one.” (Jn 10:30) By the way, at hearing this statement, the religious rulers of Israel picked up stones to stone him. We don’t want to hear about intimacy with the Father; nothing requires more immediate and severe death to self than intimacy with the Holy Father.

Later Jesus’ disciple Philip asks him, “Show us the Father.” Jesus responds as follows,

“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” (John 14:9-11)

His union with the Father allows Jesus to assert this truth, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.” (John 5:19-20)

This doesn’t automatically happen for Jesus. His union with the Father flows from a disciplined prayer life that is his first priority. Jesus dismisses crowds and disciples in order to spend time with the Father. He arises early or stays up late to establish the intimate society of his Father. He shows the healthy discipline of a child of God turning aside from culture and community for a time to experience the one-on-one intimacy of God. This discipline is a mandatory habit for Christians who want intimacy with the Father. It requires a singular focus on the Lord, as he reveals himself by his word and his Spirit. Jesus develops the relationship in private and maintains the closeness in public.

During times of our intimacy with God, we can experience the love of the Father through Jesus Christ by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit draws the believer into the Father’s presence where Jesus lives at his right hand. From this position, we hear God speak words of life, truth, healing, encouragement and love to us. We hear the Father whisper our name. This is the posture in which we taste the hidden manna and drink in the water of life. It is from this posture of intimacy that we take hold of the Father’s hand and walk out into the crowd of the world assured of the Father’s love and grip. This grip of the Father’s hand inspires us not only to walk in joy but to walk in love for God and for others. During times of intimacy with the Father, we can sense the love of God being poured into our heart by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5.5)

Intimacy with the Father comes through Jesus and only through Jesus—the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14.6) In the gospels, we see accounts of intimacy between disciples and Jesus. These historical events serve as instructive illustrations for how we enter into intimacy with the triune God.

God does not just put up with people as if he must begrudgingly clean up his mess and fix his mistakes or merely make do with what he’s got. God the Father, acting as parent, actually wills to give new birth to humans from himself by his own heavenly womb through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Through the Holy Spirit’s conception of Jesus Christ in Mary and Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, we are able to be conceived and born again by God from above as his children and citizens of his kingdom.

Jesus tells us that we must be born again from God, “’Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” (John 3.3) How and where are we born again?

In the same conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus emphasizes that we are born again from the Holy Spirit. We must be born of the Spirit. Being born of the Spirit is being born in God’s kingdom having eternal life from Him, in Him and with Him forever.

God does not give birth to us reluctantly, and he does not give birth to spiritual children who will be neglected, abused or punished. God gave Jesus to sinners, because he wants them to be born again and have eternal life. John writes in the first chapter of his gospel, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

God wills for people to be born again through Jesus. God, the perfect and loving heavenly Father, decides, determines and works for people to be born again as his own. God really wants you to be his son or daughter. God not only gives birth to you, He will raise you and care for you now and eternally as a Father who is good beyond our imagination.

He even gives us his Holy Spirit to live in us and assure that we have been reconciled to him as a child with his or her Father. The Apostle Paul writes, “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:15-16)

The Holy Spirit works in the world to lead sinners to become born again, and when we are born again, he works to assure us that we are God’s children. We are adopted and beloved by the Father in Jesus Christ solely because of his grace and love. Once his, God also works to conform us to the image of Jesus.

If God has loved us so much to give new birth to us into eternal life, won’t he surely reveal himself to us as a loving Father during our lives? Jesus rebuked his disciples for preventing parents from bringing their little children to him to bless them. Mark writes, “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’” (Mark 10.14) If Jesus demonstrates his desire to bless children this way, will not God the Father strive to bless his own children born of his will even more earnestly?

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and gave him the message that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son, John (who became the Baptizer), the angel referenced the prophecy of Malachi to indicate the work of God that would occur through John. Gabriel said that John would be great before the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit, and he would go before the Messiah in power to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. (Luke 1:15-17) If the work of God through his prophets and Spirit is to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, how much more will his own heart be turned in Fatherhood to his own beloved children born of his will? He will pour out his heart and love to those who belong to him. He will be the perfect Father to us throughout our lives, as we mature from spiritual infants to adulthood.

The Roman Catholic priest Father Raniero Cantalamessa describes the joy of a child who lives assured of his father’s love. He writes, “If a child is certain that his father loves him, he will grow up sure of himself and able to face life. A child out walking holding his father’s hand or being swung around by his father with exclamations of joy or who talks to his father as man to man is the happiest and freest creature in the world.”

This image describes those people born again and living in the assurance of their heavenly father’s love and presence in their lives. This is the posture we will have towards life in the new earth and heavens. This is life of a child in the kingdom of heaven. This is the life God gives us in our relationship with Him—The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

God Loves the Worst

April 8, 2019

We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we are pretty good people, and of course God is going to love us. We may pretentiously think “God is love so that is what God does…he loves us. He sort of has to do that, right? How could he not love me? Especially when I’m not that bad.”

Right and wrong. God loves us, and he is love; however, God does not have to save us and reconcile us to himself. And, we are not just sort of sinful or bad; we are the worst! And we have no chance of making ourselves better or more lovable to God—not even a little bit.

God is a holy Creator, and we are sinful created things. God says, “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.” (Psalm 50:21) And this, “I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst.” (Hosea 11:9) And the prophet said this, “God is not man, that he should lie.” (Numbers 23:19) Over and over, God tells his people, “I the LORD your God am holy.”

And we are unholy, ungodly. But God loves us in the midst of our sinful wretchedness. That is what is amazing about God’s love; not only is his love unconditional, it is unconditionally poured out toward absolutely miserable wretched sinners who keep on sinning and destroying themselves.

The “good news of great joy” for humans is that God “justifies the ungodly.” (Luke 2.10; Romans 4.5) That is, the Lord loves sinful people so much that he declares them good, holy, innocent and righteous through the blood of Christ. How does that happen and why? It happens because God loves people. It happens through the sacrifice of Jesus who demonstrated the greatest love by giving his life for us objects of God’s wrath. Salvation and forgiveness do not happen apart from God’s loving sacrifice in Jesus Christ crucified. Through Christ, we can dwell eternally in God’s love.

The apostle Paul, who is another person who knew God better than most people in history, writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) By the blood of Jesus, we who are ungodly sinners are justified and made as perfect as Jesus in God’s eyes. And we have not done a single thing to earn it in any way whatsoever. This love is generously and indiscriminately poured out for all people who have ever lived or will ever be conceived.

John records Jesus declaring, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) For love of people, God the Father sent God the Son into the world to die and rise again by the power of God the Holy Spirit.

God’s story in the Bible begins with God creating the universe and all that is in it including humans made in his image. The story shows how God desires for people to live eternally in a garden of paradise enjoying all his creation and having fellowship with him. He delighted to create people and called his human creation “very good.”

After humans sinned and spiraled downward into rebellion and severe perversion, God did not wipe them all out. The story of the Bible leads to God’s rescue mission in sending his Son to save humans from bondage to sin, Satan and death. Take hold of the Son, Jesus Christ, to enter his goodness and grace for now and eternity.

To listen to a sermon about the state of people and the overwhelming love of God, listen here.

 

A child’s self-worth thrives from receiving parental unconditional love and grace that says, “You are valuable to me because you exist, and I love you because you are you.” Such love molds their self-image and informs their knowledge of their Creator.
None of us gives or receives perfect love to or from anyone in this world. We are broken and sinful. Some of us have been blessed to have loving, healthy and nurturing parents; while, some people have suffered from a failure to receive healthy expressions of love at all from their parents or family.

I think no matter who we are or what sort of situation in which we grew up, we come to associate receiving love with having to earn or deserve it some way. Because we are no longer little children, we think we must perform for our love, change in order to get it, pay for it in some way or go without real love.

Unconditional love is hard to give; it is also hard to receive. This fact is just an indicator of how broken we are as humans. Due to our sinfulness and woundedness, we have a difficult time expressing and receiving love. The Harvard University researcher George Valliant conducted one of the longest running studies on happiness and well-being. During the 75 year study he followed several hundred men. The study proved the ultimate value of loving, warm relationships in contributing to happiness, but Valliant also concluded that “It’s very hard for most of us to tolerate being loved.” That’s shocking to read.

We have been hurt; we are hurt; therefore, we hurt others. In order to love God and love others and to receive love, we need rescue and healing. Our distorted attitudes and expressions of love negatively influence our relationship to God.

How would you answer these questions, “Why does God love you?” Or “How can you get God to love you?” or “What does it take for God to like you?” Or “What would cause God to stop loving you?”

Often we answer these sorts of questions by saying something like, “Well, you know, you have to…” or “Well, if you ….” Or “Well, I don’t know…you should probably…”

We find ourselves trying to earn God’s love, make God love us, wish God showed his love to us somehow, prove ourselves to God, change ourselves for God, get God’s attention or do something else for God’s love. We may sometimes think that God doesn’t really love me…How could he?

What might be even worse is when we get to a point in life and we think something like, “Ahhh….Now God will love me” or “Well, I did that, so now God will hear me” or “I think I’m almost someone God will really love.” Or “I am living right, so of course God loves me.”

This last phrase might be indicative of the narcissism of some in our culture who have an idea akin to “I am special; of course, God loves me…How could he not?” This requires a healthy dose of self-examination in light of God’s word and holiness.

It is Lent right now as I write this. Many of us fast in some way during Lent. Two erroneous outcomes can sometimes occur during or after a fast rather than the positive outcomes we and God intend. If we complete a fast, we may think something like, “Yes! I did it. Now God will do something cool for me.” In truth, a fast accomplishes turning our attention to God rather than earning something from him. Sometimes we fail to meet our goal…anyone else besides me? I stayed in the kitchen too long, and I lost it and ate a bunch of stuff. I have to admit I had a thought like “Oh no, God is going to be mad. Shoot. I wonder if he noticed.” Yeah, he noticed and probably laughed… “O foolish ones, and how slow of heart to believe that I love you.”

What is the truth about God’s love?

We have to remember that by God’s grace and through faith we are saved and in Christ. God demonstrated and asserted his love once and for all by giving his one and only son Jesus to die for us (Romans 5:8). That is not based on our flimsy wills and whimsy self-control. God’s love is based on his being. He is love, and we are blessed to be the objects of his love.

The apostle John is probably one of the persons in history who knew God as well as anyone on earth. He writes in his letter, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4.8) Among other attributes like holy, merciful and just, love describes the essence of God. Love flows and emanates from God. All creation exists in God’s love. To exist is to be in God’s love. To be human, is to be a recipient of God’s love—regardless of who you are or what you have done. God’s love pours out toward you. God’s love is amazingly unfailing.

When you receive Jesus as your Lord and ask him into your heart and life, you receive the Holy Spirit who pours God’s love into your heart (Romans 5:5). The same love that the Father has for the Son dwells in those who have received Jesus into their life (John 17:26 ) Believe it or not, this is the prayer of Jesus for us. You can experience it by receiving Jesus and the Father’s love into your life and heart right now.

If you would like to listen to a sermon on the Father’s love for you, listen here.

The following prayer follows this sermon on Deliverance that I preached on 1-28-18 based on the text of Mark 1:21-28.

Lord, almighty, merciful and omnipotent God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, drive out from me all influence of evil spirits.  Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, I ask you to break any chain that the devil has on me.  Pour upon me the most precious blood of your Son.  May his immaculate and redeeming blood break all bonds of the enemy from my spirit, body, emotions, will and mind.  Holy God banish from me all the forces of evil, so that I can be healthy and free to do good deeds for the glory of the name of Jesus.

I ask you for the intercession and help of your mighty angels on my behalf.  Please send and empower them to minister to me and drive from me all that is not of you.  Father, I ask you to send your angels to minister to my family and to cleanse my home of anything evil.  Give your angels power and victory over their enemies that harass me and my family.

(say aloud) In the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of his cross, resurrection and ascension, I command all demons that could have any influence over me to leave me forever.  By Jesus’ scourging, his crown of thorns, his cross, by his blood and resurrection, I command all evil spirits to leave me.  By the true God, by the Holy God, by God who can do all, in the name of Jesus, my Savior and Lord, leave me now and go quietly from here.

In the name of Jesus Christ, I command all evil spirits to leave my family and my home right now and go quietly to where Jesus commands you.  I break all curses against me and my family by the blood and name of Jesus.  Amen.

 

KY deer

During my D. Min. residency in 2016, I went hiking one evening on the Kentucky River Palisades Trail.    I saw only two other hikers during the time I was on the trail, and by the latter half of it I was the only one in the woods.  Near the trail in the middle of the woods, I sat on a large flat stone and spent time reflecting on the discussions we had in our class relating to Henri Nouwen’s life and the love of God.  I was led to consider God’s love for me in particularly and reflected and prayed on the stone for about 30 minutes enjoying the company of the Lord.  God’s seemed to truly manifest his presence there with me in the cathedral of the trees.

When I arose to continue the hike, I looked behind me and saw the deer pictured above.  It stood about 15-20 yards from me watching me seeming unafraid but quite curious.  My immediate response was to thank God for blessing me with this surprise.  It was an amazing experience as the deer came several yards closer and then walked in a wider circle around me to the other side of the trail where it continued to watch me.  The encounter with the Lord and the deer was a highlight for me and not one I would soon forget.

When I arrived back at Asbury for the beginning of my second D. Min. residency, I was eager to return to this trail and keen to see more deer or perhaps the same deer.  I also hoped to have a similar time of communion with the Lord.  I visited the trail the first weekend.  I took the same route through the trees and rocks descending to the KY river and then back up the hill.  This time, however, it rained throughout the hike, and poured down on the latter half of the hike.  I had a rain jacket, but it was not the most pleasant of situations, even though, once again it was only me in the vast woods.  I saw a couple young deer run off away from me during the hike.  By then, I had picked up my step to make it back to the car.

With my head down, striding toward the end of the trail, I caught a glimpse of a small mound of rocks about five feet to the right of the trail.  It struck me as strange because it was in the middle of open dirt / mud without rocks or trees.  I wondered to myself why anyone would make a mound of rocks there.  When I considered the wider expanse of the area, it dawned on me that this was the spot I sat and prayed during my previous hike.  I saw the rock I sat on further off the trail and then looked and noticed the tree where the deer stood the year before.

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There are certainly other explanations for a mound of rocks in the woods, but I thought of the Ebenezer symbol from Scripture and wondered “could this be from the Lord for me to see?”  In the story of Israel, the prophet Samuel prayed for Israel’s victory against the Philistines and the Lord answered his prayer.  Following the battle in which the Lord fought for Israel, Samuel set up a monument:

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12

The term Ebenezer means “stone of help.”  In the case of Israel, it served to remind them how the Lord helped them overcome their enemies in his mercy and grace despite their own unworthiness.  When I saw the stone and thought of the Ebenezer stone, I also remembered the twelve stones that were brought up by the twelve tribes of Israel from the Jordan River when they crossed following Joshua into the Promised Land.  After they crossed over Joshua had them piled into a memorial:

“The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” Joshua 4:19-24

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The stones in Scripture represent the mighty help of the Lord to his people.  I don’t know how these stones in the woods came to be right at the spot of the trail where I went off and experienced a mystical time with the Lord who blessed me with the interaction with the curious deer.  But what came to my mind was that the Lord caused them to be there and for me to see them and stop to remember how the Lord revealed himself to me and blessed me through his mercy and grace.

For me, it was the Lord who set these stones there as a remembrance not only for me but for himself.  The Lord revealed to me that our times of communion together are his delight and joy as well as mine.  The Lord looks forward to the times we spend together in tune with one another. He remembers with fondness the experiences he has with us when we give him our full attention and love him with our whole heart, soul and strength — whether they are times of intimacy in solitude or times of sacrificial service to others.  God sets his own remembrance to remind him and us that communion is the true source of satisfaction and fulfillment.

It is baffling to imagine God being like a child who says to his mom or dad, “Remember that time when we…”  However, to see the Lord’s longing for communion with people, we only have to read and reflect on the prayer of Jesus to his Father.  He are the closing verses:

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.  I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:22-26

The prayer reveals Jesus’ longing for his followers to be one with him and the Father and the Holy Spirit.  To be one with the Lord is to be filled with the love that the Father has for his beloved Son.  The pile of rocks in the woods reminded me of God’s delight in me and love for me.  It revealed to me that God delights in his love for me and my reciprocation of love to him, and he remembers our time of communion.  What a grace to serve a loving God who speaks to his children and shows himself to them. (John 14:21)

By the way, in the pile of stones beside the trail, there were eleven stones.  I added a small one on the top to make it twelve.

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