Category Archives: Passionate Love

Religion or Relationship?

Jesus came to make the heart of God visible, knowable, and experiential to all humanity. If you want to know what God thinks or how he feels, just explore Jesus. He is the heart of God turned inside-out.  Jesus explains or exegetes the Father according to John 1:18. Absent from the Gospel narratives, which clearly portray Jesus, is any attempt to start a new religion. That’s not why Jesus came. His was not a new spiritual movement, but rather a fleshed-out example of what genuine relationship with God looked like.

Religion has a way of sucking the life out of relationship. The Old Testament is rife with relationship gone bad resulting in religion. Relationship is the practical outworking of being connected to heart-to-heart with Jesus. Relationship requires a 100% buy in with spirit, soul, and body. It requires all. On the other hand, religion is a cheap imitation filled with rituals, rules, and rote behaviors. All it requires is going through the motions. It is a “form of godliness, but denies the power of God.”

Religion is relationship without any heart. It is a check-list of do’s and don’ts, a psuedo belief that a human being can somehow be good enough, gain enough merit, or somehow deserve God’s love. The very thing most people are trying to earn, God has freely given to us in Jesus Christ. The cost of religion never satisfies the hunger of the human heart. It promises what it cannot provide and promotes what it does not possess.

Relationship reveals God’s heart little-by-little, moment-by-moment. It is far more than a glorious destination; it is an eternal journey into the heart of God’s infinite love. We tend to fall into religion, almost by default, but relationship is a passionate pusuit that results from a continual choice.

Religion or relationship? It depends on what you really want.

Finding Intimacy with God

photoThe difference between finding intimacy with God and talking about intimacy with God is as different as day and night. Human beings are notorious for talking about things but never experiencing them. All of us were hard-wired by God to experience intimacy with him, but few people ever do. We talk, write, teach, and preach about our relationship with God, but without a genuine intimate experience the best we can hope for is a casual acquaintance. Intimacy is the game-changer. It’s what transforms an acquaintance into an authentic relationship.

Jesus didn’t die to restore a casual acquaintance; he died to restore authentic relationship with God. He hung on the cross and suffered unbearable pain so that we could have true intimacy—a heart-to-heart connection with God, one that could be experienced.

This intimacy I’m talking about is one you must find for yourself and on your own. It’s one you must pursue with the passion God implanted in your heart. Your hunger must drive you. My hunger and passion for God is not enough for you because when things get tough (and they will) you may discover you have little or no hunger or passion of your own and give up. I can paint some pictures, describe some experiences, and point out various pitfalls, but you can’t find intimacy with God based on my own personal encounters. Those you must pursue on you own.

All I can tell you with certainty is that if you pursue God with all your heart you will most certainly find him. That’s a promise straight out of Jeremiah 29:13 and God cannot lie. I can point, but the pathway you’re on and the speed at which you are traveling are likely not the same as mine. Besides that, I can only lead you to the places I’ve visited.

Pursuing intimacy is first a choice you must make and second, a step of faith you must take. Included in the backpack you will need for that journey is a copy of God’s Word that you can understand, a journal and pen for writing down what God shows you (as well as the pitfalls you encounter), a desperate desire to carry on a conversation with God (some call this prayer), an appointed time and location for meeting God, and likely some worship music of your particular persuasion. You may choose to pack more and that’s up to you. Take what you can carry comfortably.

A word of caution and encouragement—find a time and a place where you can quiet your self and not be interrupted. Intimacy is something you have with one person—not a crowd. Don’t become mechanical and check your religious list at the door. Be spontaneous (that may take a while), experiment (keep what works and discard what doesn’t), and be adventurous in your pursuit. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid—whatever happens in the secret place stays in the secret place. God certainly won’t tell and no one will know unless you do.

There are countless ways to find intimacy with God. You can do it quietly, with shouts of praise and proclamation, with hands uplifted or on your face in the floor. You can sit, kneel, stand, jump, spin, or dance. You can sing, shout, or run about. God won’t be offended by how you pursue him as long as you do it with all your heart in a genuine manner. Find out what works for you—but don’t be afraid to take a step past the artificially installed boundaries of your denomination or your teachers, preachers, and mentors. Push the boundaries—veryoften God eagerly awaits only a step passed where your comfort level ends and his grace begins.

So pick up your backpack and begin to pursue. If you pursue God’s presence with all your heart you will find him.

Now it’s your turn to share something from your journey for others who will follow?

1) What is an artificial boundary that your hunger for God has demolished?

2)What kind of location harbors your secret place? A closet—a porch—a quiet place in your yard—a walk in the woods?

3) How has time in God’s presence changed the ways in which you worship?

Sacrifice, Suffering and Something Worth Living For

Jesus’s sacrifice insures our salvation. That sacrifice started in the Garden of Gethsemane and ended on the cross. It culminated in the Resurrection where God validated and accepted the sacrificial payment by raising Jesus from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit on that first Easter morning.

The sacrificial experience of Jesus was comprehensive as it touched him physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We are very aware of the physical aspects regarding the scourging and the crucifixion. He was physically beaten beyond recognition—“marred” is the word Scripture uses. He was abused so that we might be redeemed from our sins, healed of our diseases, and delivered from our torment. That physical suffering began in the garden and ended as he gave up his spirit and died.

In my last blog I detailed the mental suffering Jesus endured. The stress and pressure was so great that his sweat was mixed with blood. The capillaries in the sweat glands of his forehead burst. The awfulness of the cup he would drink was mentally overwhelming.

But sometimes we forget his emotional suffering. Rejection, abandonment and betrayal are three of the deepest—most damaging wounds that can be inflicted on the human heart and soul. These triple torments cut far deeper and bruise even the human spirit. One of his intimate friends—one of the twelve, Judas, sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. Then he betrayed him with a kiss—the symbol of love and relationship.

As Jesus was arrested and seized, the other eleven disciples fled and abandoned Him. Their past bravado did not match their present need to survive. Most ran away and hid—fearing their own impending death. A couple—Peter and John followed at a distance, hiding in the shadows and hoping they would not be recognized.

Later, the crowd that had hailed Jesus as king on Palm Sunday shouted for his crucifixion on Friday. Christ was rejected by religious leaders and the common people, and his own disciples abandoned him in the moment of his greatest vulnerability. Jesus suffered alone—there was no one who made the journey with him through this hellish experience.

Jesus also suffered spiritually. Many have attempted to describe this, but how can a finite one describe what is infinite in its scope? We can’t really grasp his spiritual suffering because we can’t pull back the veil much less understand how the Holy One could become our sin. The Bible is very clear—Jesus not only suffered for our sin, he became our sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.

During this mysterious span of time, the earth became dark and the Son of God experienced what being forsaken by the Father is all about. I can’t explain this because I can’t even grasp it. I can’t conceive it in my mind. But, Jesus experienced hell so that we would not have to. He experienced being cut off from the presence of God and that spiritual suffering was beyond our capacity to understand. Each time I read the words of Jesus, just prior to his death, in Mark 15:34—“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani? (which translated means “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?)—my soul cringes. It clutches something deep inside my spirit and forces me to contemplate the depth of how much the Son of God loved me and his willingness to endure this depth of spiritual suffering so I might experience that love. I can’t grasp its full meaning but I hunger for that kind of love.

Jesus suffered so that we might be spared an eternity of suffering. He died so that we might live. Therefore we should live in a state of constant celebration. We should stand up for our faith. We should be tenacious if we really believe what we say we believe. Jesus was willing to die for his beliefs! Are you willing to live for yours?

The Parable of Redemption’s Price

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The light was blinding as the captives were led shackled with leg and wrist irons out from the dim, gloomy cells and into the street. Freedom and redemption were the last things on their minds. Naked, dirty, and beaten, the herd of broken humanity—prisoners of war—was pushed and prodded along the narrow streets by an unrelenting squad of soldiers to the center of town and into the market where the great auction would take place.

Cursing crowds of faceless torturers greeted the prisoners at every turn. The leg irons made walking almost impossible and so they trudged slowly through the abuse hurled at them by the cruel mob. Bloodied from the constant barrage of fists that greeted them each time they raised their heads, the prisoners finally arrived at the raised area in the center of the market. A huge crowd, with vengeance on its mind, cheered as the pitiful group of captives made its way slowly up the ramp onto the black block. This was the slave block from which each one would be sold as a slave to the highest bidder.

Men, women, boys, and girls, once proud and free, faced their tormenters defeated, broken, and without hope. Some wept silently, while others simply looked out at the merciless crowd with hollow, lifeless stares. Here on the slave stage the reality of despair became their hope for the future in the great drama they seemed destined to play out.

The dealer, a large dark individual with a loud blasphemous voice, began to call out the bid prices, and the sale began with a vengeance. Bidding was fast and furious. Strength and beauty, once considered valuable assets, made little difference to the buyers. Families were divided. Mothers silently died on the inside as their children were sold to monsters. Husbands wretched in agony as they watched their precious wives purchased by perverts. There in the market, life without hope became death without end, as each of the prisoners was auctioned to the highest bidder.

All at once, the crowd parted as a solitary figure walked to the front of the auction and stood before the slave dealer. An uneasy silence fell over the venomous crowd. The great prince offered to purchase the whole lot for a single price. With glee beyond belief, the dealer pondered what price the prince would be willing to offer for such a pitiful mass of humanity as this. Prostitutes, thieves, blasphemers, liars, drunkards, and adulterers made up this lot on the block and their value was minimal, the dealer thought, but the prince was, after all, rich beyond belief. And so with an insatiable, heinous greed in his heart, the dealer named his price.

Silence fell across the crowd. Without a word, the great prince stepped up on the block, took off his regal robes, and gently touched each prisoner with his healing hands of liberation. The chains began to fall away and the prisoners began to leap off the slave block. Families were reunited, and hope began to bloom as the little group made its way out of the dark city and up toward the great mountain, which lay to the east.

Along the road, the tiny troop heard a great hellish shout of joy go up from the city. One of the newly freed prisoners stopped timidly and looked back. The awful sight he witnessed would forever change him. As he stared, he beheld a solitary figure naked, beaten, bruised, and bloodied, hanging the air, with his arms stretched out and feet pressed together, pierced with jagged pieces of iron, as the merchants of death and the grave bid for his body.

I am the one who looked back and I tell you the truth of what I saw that day. Suspended between heaven and earth, planted above the slave block was the price of my redemption…the Great Prince Himself.

He gave His life to redeem us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us His very own people, totally committed to what is right.” Titus 2:14

God is Passionate About You

Passion is the driving force in humanity’s pursuit of satisfaction, whether it is in a relationship, a vocation, or an activity. Passion is the fire that causes one’s love to flourish, or one’s anger to seethe, or one’s willingness to sacrifice even their life for a cause. Without passion, love wilts, anger ceases, and sacrifice becomes routine. Passion is the sole ingredient that can ignite the smoldering embers of the life’s fire and cause it to blaze with renewed intensity. The object of one’s passion determines the intensity of the desire.

The object of God’s passion is you. Don’t be startled or embarrassed; the Father loves you with an intense passionate love. His is desire for you and He is a jealous God (“You shall not make for yourself and idol, any likeness of what is in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…” Deut. 5:8-9a). You are His bride and the intensity of His passionate love is white-hot.

Perhaps you’ve never considered passion and God together at the same time. Perhaps for you passion is desire out of control and thus evil. The passion of love out of control becomes lust, but the passion of love under control brings life. And life can never be all that God intended unless God is the priority of your passion.

Perhaps you are not totally your Beloved’s. Perhaps the object of your desire is not God. God designed your heart to burn with love for Him in the same way His heart burns with an intense love for you. But often we contaminate the fire of our hearts with polluted fuel like position, power, or prestige. Anything that excites you more than God is contaminated fuel. Oh, a heart fueled by pollution can burn with a passion, but when the fuel is gone the flickering flames slowly recede and leave only the empty smelly shell of unrequited love. Unrequited love is frustrated love. Frustrated love results when the object of one’s love does not respond in like manner.

Thus, the ultimate difference between the Bridegroom, the Lover of our soul, and everyone and everything else is that God’s love never frustrates, instead it always stimulates. God’s love is not the result of a reaction or a response; instead it is the unconditional choice of a heart that truly desires you without regard to who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done. The passionate love of the Father depends on Him not you. And He has chosen you as the object of His love and He will not be frustrated in His desire for you.

When passions of like manner collide, tremendous explosions always take place. When the pure fuel of God’s love is injected into your heart, it will beat with the song your spirit was created to sing. But an intimate God will never force His love. You must invite His presence and His love to burn away the contamination of the world. It is in that moment that you will know His passion for you.

Understand this: He will not share you with another. The choice is yours, His passion or your perversion. Are you frustrated in your walk, in your relationships, with your prayers? Have you settled for less than the best? If so, open the door to the Bridegroom and allow Him to passionately love you and then respond to Him with the passion He calls forth from within your spirit. You will be satisfied and complete in His love and in His love alone.

Am I a Christian Zombie????

Am I a Christian zombie? Now that’s an interesting question you might be thinking. Freeze the first picture that went through your mind. Everyone knows what a zombie is. In our culture they have become folk heroes, video game celebrities, and movie icons. It might even be chic, bad, hot, rad, or cool (depending on the generational language you speak) to be a zombie.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page let’s get a working definition for a zombie. It’s a dead body that appears alive. I could give a more graphic description of one but this will suffice. We use the term “zombie” as a slang term to denote someone who is just one click on the life meter above a corpse. All of us have had days when we’ve wandered around in a funk or fog wondering what the heck am I doing? I’m breathing air, occupying space, but getting nothing done. You know what I mean—it’s a dead man (or woman—zombies are no respecter of persons) walking.

It’s very easy to go through the motions in our relationship with God. If we are honest, all of us have done this at one time or another. You may have been weary and exhausted, or caught in sin, or hurt by someone you trusted, and then, all of a sudden, you wake up two weeks later and find yourself mindlessly coasting—you spiritual gear knocked into neutral. That’s what I mean by a Christian zombie—going through motions but making absolutely no difference in anyone’s life including yours.

I’m not talking about being a Pharisee—a hypocrite. They belong to another class of zombies for which I do not have the time, energy, desire, or word space to describe. I am talking to regular people who love Jesus, follow Jesus, but without knowing it, are aimlessly wandering around in right field in the high grass near the bleachers desperately trying to find Jesus.

Right now might be a good time to test yourself and see where you register on the zombie meter. Today is a good day for a self-evaluation—a good time to check your spiritual oil.

  1. Am I existing but not living abundantly? In other words, am I just here getting by. Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came that we might have life, and might have it abundantly. That means a life of superabundance, excessively good, over and above and life over the top. Am I living an abundant life?
  2. Am I modeling a powerless life?  Is it a life marked by religious piety—a mindless list of do’s and don’ts. A life externally shaped to look one way, but on the inside a life totally empty—a Hollywood movie set façade of powerless power. Do I hold a form of godliness, yet I have denied its power (2 Timothy 3:5a)? Am I living a powerful life?
  3. Does my daily walk require faith? Am I walking naturally or supernaturally? If the Holy Spirit decided to step out could I survive without Him? Perhaps I am walking without him—walking without any faith whatsoever? A faithless walk is a natural walk and does not require God to get by. Am I living a faith-filled life?
  4. Does my outward reputation match my inward devotion? Is there any passion or do I have it all—job, family, the right church, membership in the right organizations…? Do I look good on the outside but feel dead on the inside? Am I living a passionate life?

To sum it all up in one simple question: If Jesus had preached the gospel I’m living right now, would they have crucified him?

Through the Eyes of a Child

Yesterday I dropped some Operation Christmas Child boxes off at Ms. Jo’s Little School Kindergarten in Gardendale. This group of preschoolers chose to make the Shoe Box Ministry a part of their Christmas giving project. I had planned to knock on the door and hand the boxes off, but Ms. Jo invited me in to meet the kids—a sort of show and tell of what her pastor does.

The boys and girls were quiet, respectful, and listened intently to what I had to say. As I finished speaking, one little boy raised his hand and asked, “What’s wrong with your arm?” I was dumbstruck not understanding what he meant. It seemed he had noticed very astutely that I had a small band aid on my left arm and was concerned about the injury it covered. photo

I replied, “Oh, it’s just a boo-boo,” hoping that would be enough of an explanation, but that was not.

“What happened?” he asked.

Now I had to think because I had forgotten all about the band aid and why I even had it on. Here I was standing in front of ten kids with silver-dollar sized eyes staring at me with concern, who had forgotten about the pastor and his job and were now transfixed on a tiny flesh-colored band aid on my forearm—alarmed at the present state of my health and welfare.

“Oh, I scratched it on a bush,” I replied.

“How?” was the next response from this anxious classroom of kids.

Ms. Jo stepped in and the conversation moved from band aids to tee-shirts, and I said my goodbyes and slipped out. But the Holy Spirit would not let the band aid question go.

Those little children were far more concerned about my tiny wound than impressed with who I was. They listened quietly to what I had to say, but looked far more intently at who I really was. To them, I was simply another person, perhaps a bit larger, but still a fellow human being. And to makes matters more interesting—the band aid signified that I was injured or hurting. It was a fluorescent, flashing billboard-sized clue to a little boy checking the real me out.

When did we stop looking—really looking—at those around us? When did we stop seeing the pain, the hurt or the wounds of those fellow pilgrims we share this planet with.

I know when it happened! It happened when we stopped looking at others through the wonder, through the innocence, or through the genuine concern of a child’s eyes. Compassion became suspicion. Concern became fear. And we stopped looking because we were afraid we might truly see the pain and thus become responsible for bringing health and healing to those who are hurting. If one can see the pain of another, turn their head and go about their life without any concern—that person is in reality no longer alive.

Unless we—that’s you and me—become like children again we will never see the pain of those around us, much less the kingdom of God. By the way, I didn’t make that one up—Jesus did!