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Power of Love

Last week, members of our Ignite Monmouth group hosted the first ever Ignite Week — five nights of strategic events targeted at building relationships with students who have never been to an Ignite gathering.

We had a massive dodgeball game in the athletic center, a night of soda pong and card games in the student center, the first Ignite gathering of the semester with free pizza, a video game night in the student center, and capped it all off with a free chili dinner and game night at the Ignite house.

It was a very fun, exciting, and tiring week. But it was a smashing success. Within a short time, we already have new people committed to coming to Ignite every week to learn more about and encounter God.

But here’s the catch — it was all relationship based.

At no time during Ignite week did we hand out gospel tracks. We didn’t stand in the center of campus and call students to repentance. We weren’t after conversions, decisions, or trying to boost the number of students who got saved.

We simply were out to get to know students, and show them that the Christians on campus, they actually care about and love people.

And we really do.

Students who were struggling to find a group of friends on campus found a place to belong.
Others who had drifted from God found a place to come back to Him again.
Some discovered that not all Christians are judgmental, boring people.
Others even said it was the first time they felt happy since being on campus.

There is power in truly loving others where they are and for who they are.

Comforting them in their pain.
Meeting them in their routine.
Rejoice with them in their blessings.
Crying with them in their hurts.

The simple act of interrupting your day and going out of your way to interact with someone else speaks volumes — and shows others that God really does care.

We saw it last week in our Ignite Week events — and because of our love, lives have been and will be forever changed.

How are you displaying Christ’s love to others?

Why Me?

Back in January, I was at a retreat for my Seminary education, and I was in the valley. I had realized that my relationship with God, despite being six years in the making, had become superficial and stale. I had gone through the motion of being a Christian, including prayer, preaching, and learning about God, all without building up my relationship with Him. I felt hopeless and lost. For years I had thought that I was growing towards God, and suddenly I realized that I had missed the point all along. I was at a rock-bottom place spiritually.

So I did the only thing that I could think of to do. I prayed to God. I asked Him to show me where I had gone wrong, where I needed to be, and how I could get there. I asked Him for a sign that He had not abandoned me in my superficial faith. And then I waited.

For two days I waited without a single notice from God. I was desperate, and was looking for any kind of indication that God was still hearing me. I knew that I was loved by God – the Bible had told me so, and I had read about it countless times, but that was not enough anymore. God HAD to love me – after all, He was God. But why me? Why had God decided that I personally was valuable enough to send His Son to die? What about me had attracted God to me before I was ever created?

I had to know, so I asked. I asked God to tell me why He had been drawn to me. I knew why I had been drawn to God – Revelation and fear of judgment had evolved, at one point, into a love for my Creator. But I did not know what made me special to God. So again I waited.

Finally, I received my answer. God told me why He loved ME. Thus began my slow climb back out of the valley.

Have you ever asked God why He loves you in particular? Do you know what it is about you that makes you so special to God that He was willing to send His son? There is something, and God wants to tell you what it is. He loves you dearly – enough to come and die for you. Because He loves you, He is not going to stay silent forever. Just ask.

“Why me?”

He is just waiting for you to ask.

God Cheated

God and Satan have been playing a game against each other for a very long time. The game has been close, and every time one has tried to get ahead, the other has managed to frustrate the plan. Suddenly, Satan thinks he finally has what it takes to win. The last pieces of his game plan fall into place, and God plays right into his hands.

Satan has won the game

But God does not concede defeat. Instead, He declares that, in fact, Satan has NOT won, because it’s GOD’S game. God insists that because it is His game, all will play by His rules.

He. Wins.

If something like this happened to one of us, we would instantly accuse the other person of cheating. We would feel lied to, manipulated, and cheated. An argument would most certainly erupt.

And yet this exact scenario played out millennia ago when God sent His Son for our sins. God had made numerous promises to the Israelites, and Satan had tried relentlessly to ruin each one.

Abraham would become a great nation – but the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt.
Saul would be a king for God – but jealousy turned him into a tyrant.
Israel would be God’s chosen nation – but Assyria, Babylon, and Rome conquered them.

Then Jesus came.

This was Satan’s golden opportunity. He knew the Scriptures – if He could cause Jesus to sin or snuff out His mission, God would fail. e would successfully have corrupted The Almighty. None of his past failures to ruin God would matter, because if he could conquer Jesus, He would conquer God.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Satan put so much effort into killing Jesus.

He turned the Romans against Him.
He turned the Jews against Him.
He even turned one of His closest friends against Him.

Jesus was tortured, and Jesus died. Hell rejoiced. Satan had conquered God.

Imagine Satan’s surprise when three days later Heaven was rejoicing. In the ultimate show of His power and majesty, God raised Christ from the dead for the salvation of all humanity. In this one act, God both showed His infinite love for us while also showing to Satan and the entire world that no matter what, the plans of God will always prevail.

Satan probably walked away that day thinking one thing:
God cheated.

The world around us might seem like it is against us. We can’t seem to save money. Our relationships fall apart. Life just gets in the way. Yet God has a plan for each of us, and He wants nothing more than to fulfill that plan for us. He is strong enough to do it, and He is more than willing to do it. He broke the rules of a cosmic game for us once. He’s not going to let you fall apart.

Heavens and Depths

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”
Psalm 139:7-8

David had a deep understanding about what it meant to be loved by God.

Here was a man who accomplished great things for God. He stood up to and defeated the Philistine champion. He honored Saul even though he was trying to kill David. He killed tens of thousands of the enemies of God. He established the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. He drew up plans for the temple of God. He was even called a man after God’s heart.

David had a dark side as well. He committed adultery with the wife of one of his trusted generals. He tried to cover up his sin, devised a plan, and ordered Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed. He lied to the prophet of God, tried to vindicate himself before God, and allowed pride to control his heart.

David had his ups and downs.
His times of passionately pursuing God, and times where he deliberately disobeyed.

And yet, he knew he was loved.

Before David accomplished anything, before he performed great exploits, before he sinned and fell and had to face the consequences of his choices, he had a revelation about God’s love.

No matter where he went, no matter what he did, God was still there.

Whether David found himself in the heavens, pursuing God with all he had, obeying His commands, growing his relationship, and doing everything a good God-follower is meant to do, or whether he turned his back, made his bed in the depths of sin, despair, and darkness, God was there.

God wasn’t going to leave David.
He wasn’t going to abandon him.
He wouldn’t love David any more or any less based on what he did.

And it changed David’s life.

God’s love transcends our actions.
Goes beyond our choices.
And pursues us whether we pursue Him or not.

We are loved and we are accepted by the God of the universe.
Whether we go up to the heavens, or make our bed in the depths.

He will pursue us, He will find us, and He will love and accept us no matter what we’ve done.

So, my brothers and sisters, as you journey towards the cross this Lenten season, may you find the overwhelming love of God pursuing you. May you realize you are loved and accepted no matter what you have done. And may you, as you embrace that love, find the strength to cast off every sin and passionately pursue Him in return.

Where in your life do you need to be reminded that you are loved and accepted?

Advent Deeper: Love from the Manger

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
John 3:16-17

Love. It’s woven throughout the Christmas story.

We see it in Mary’s choice to trust God and carry his Messiah in spite of the accusations and betrayals.
We see it in Joseph’s choice to stay with Mary, even if he had every right to divorce her.
We see it in Zechariah’s joy at having a son.
We see it in Elizabeth’s exclamation that Mary is blessed, the distance the shepherds and Magi traveled to see this God-child, and the trust both Mary and Joseph placed in God to be the earthly parents of the Messiah.
We even see it in the love we experience from others during this season.

But at the very center of the Christmas story, we see it in the love God has for his people.

The God of all creation, this God who holds the universe in the palm of His hand, the God who parted the Red Sea, held the sun in its place for a full day, and made a 90 year old barren woman pregnant, the God who gave a donkey a voice, the God who defeated armies, named the stars and knows the number of hair strands on each of our heads, did something no one was expecting.

He stepped down from His place in heaven.
Disrobed himself of his power and glory.
Took the form of man.

And dwelt among us.

The Israelites weren’t expecting Him to come as a humble king. They weren’t looking for a man of lowly birth. They didn’t want a man of peace who challenged their traditions, pointed out their errors and showed them a new way of living. They wanted a conqueror. A warrior. A Messiah who would come with a legion of warriors and destroy their Roman oppressors.

Instead, they were given God’s Son.

Born of an unwed, teenage mother.
Born into low-class society.
Born on the floor of a barn, in a town that had no room for him, surrounded by animal crap.

He lived as we live. He felt abandonment and rejection. He endured hurts and pains. His family questioned his potential. His friends abandoned him. He never found a woman to marry. He was childless, sometimes friendless and knew what it meant for no one to understand him. He was scorned, mocked and ridiculed. He was labeled a heretic and blasphemer and sinner. He died too young, didn’t get to realize his own dreams, and lived a life many around him would have considered ordinary.

He experienced the worst the world had to offer.

Lived a life of rejection and pain.

Faced every temptation we have or will ever face.

And he did it for us.

God loves us. He loves us in spite of our flaws and failures and mistakes. He loves us in spite of the rejections we face. He loves us no matter what we’ve done or what we will ever do. He loves us for who we are and who we are becoming.

And He proved that love by shedding His glory, stepping out of heaven and being born in a manger.

And so, my brothers and sisters, as we journey towards the manger this year, may you be reminded of the love God has for you. May you see the Christmas story written personally for you. And may you, as you focus on Him more and more this season, find that love begin to transform the way you see yourself.

How has God personally shown His love for you?