Today’s Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1
Some time ago I was flying on a 10 p.m. flight. Earlier that day I’d preached four messages. I was exhausted. I noticed the man sitting next to me was reading Heaven Is for Real.
This is good. He is a Christian, I thought. I can go to sleep because we are both going to heaven.
He saw my Bible, which I’d pulled out to read, and began talking to me—a lot. Come to find out, he was part of a cult. I prayed the strangest prayer that flight: “God, I am so tired. Please don’t use me. Find someone else. But I do ask that You don’t let this kid die and go to hell.” I felt terrible praying that way, but I simply didn’t have the energy to engage him in conversation.
As disappointing as I know I must have been to God, the amazing thing is that I was still secure in God’s love for me. His love did not decrease one ounce because of my poor tired attitude. He loved me exactly the same when I prayed that lame prayer as when I preached for Him.
One of the saddest things that happens in Christianity is that we overemphasize what we do for God rather than what God has done for us. I used to think God loved me only when I was doing good. But 1 Thessalonians reminds me of the truth.
Paul starts chapter 1 with a thunderbolt. In fact, I consider it the greatest truth I know, and it’s all in verse 4: “My dear friends, God loves you” (CEV). God loves you! Those words change everything and cost everything.
I came from a background in Christianity where the emphasis was on how much we love God and not on how much God loves us. In fact, I thought my actions determined how much God loves me.
But there is not one thing you and I can do to make God love us any more than He does right now. We believe this in theory but we don’t live this way. We think God loves us more when we are at our spiritual best. Here is good news: God loves us the same when we are at our worst on planes praying Don’t use me prayers.
William Coffin reminds us: “God’s love doesn’t seek value, it creates value. It is not because we have value that we are loved, but because we are loved that we have value.” Every religion in the world is based on what we do. The stars in those other religions is anyone who dies a martyr, carries a briefcase, rides a bike, or gives up years on the mission field. In Christianity, however, it’s all about what God has done.
One of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, said: “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” That’s the scandal and that’s the deal of the century. So if those words, God loves you, are difficult to accept, let me help you today.
There is no greater place to deal with doubts of God’s love than at the only place that settles the question—and that’s at the cross. In the man Jesus, the invisible God became visible and audible. God can’t not love us. The cross is the proof of His love—love that He demonstrated at Calvary. The well-known saying goes like this: I asked God how much He loves me, and He said this much. And He held His hands wide to his side and died for me.
When you look at the cross, you see what price you are worth to God. God loves you just as you are and not as you should be. He died for you at your worst. He did not wait for you to change in order to die for you. Isn’t it staggering to think you are worth the death of someone and most of all, God? That is what puts a large gulf between Christianity and other religions, such as Islam. Islam asks you to die for Allah, but Christianity has God dying for you.
Brennan Manning tells an amazing story in Souvenirs of Solitude:
More than a hundred years ago the atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche reproached a group of Christians: “Yuck, you make me sick!” When their spokesman asked why, he answered, “Because you Redeemed don’t look like you’re redeemed. You’re as fearful, guilt-ridden, anxious, confused, and adrift in an alien environment as I am. I’m allowed. I don’t believe. I have nothing to hope for. But you people claim you have a Savior. Why don’t you look like you are saved?”
In Matthew 22 Jesus described the kingdom of God as a wedding feast. Do you really trust that you are going to a wedding feast that has already begun? Do you really believe that God loves you unconditionally and as you are? Are you committed to the idea that the nature of the world is to be a celebration? If you are, then in the words of Father John Powell, S. J., “Please notify your face.”
You have something to be happy about: God loves you for who you are.
Christianity is not a moral code but a love affair.