The Freedom of Forgiveness

And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Luke 17:4-5

“You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.” -Lewis Smedes

When Jesus abides underneath the wound in your heart, His love flows over that wound bringing healing and wholeness so that you can give that heart-healing forgiveness away to others. And when that happens you will the good of the wrongdoer.

It’s the Jesus way. When Jesus hung on the cross just before his death, do you remember what he said?

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

You’ll never be long-suffering until you see him going to the cross to suffer for you. You will never be able to forgive other people their little tiny debts toward you until you see him dying on the cross to pay your great debt. You’ll never stop being a judge, putting yourself in the judgment seat, till you see the real Judge of all the universe getting out of the judgment seat and coming down and going to court and being condemned and being tortured and killed for you.

Someone tells the story of Daniel. Daniel is big. He used to make his living by lifting weights and teaching others to do the same. A real-life “Incredible Hulk”.

Daniel worked in a weightlifting gym and dreamed of owning his own. The bank agreed to finance the purchase if he could find someone to cosign the note. His brother agreed.

They filled out all the paperwork and waited for approval. Everything went smoothly, and Daniel soon received a call from the bank telling him he could come and pick up the check. As soon as he got off work, he went to the bank.

When the loan officer saw Daniel, he looked surprised and asked Daniel why he had come.

“To pick up the check,” Daniel explained.

“That’s funny. Your brother was in here earlier. He picked up the money and used it to retire the mortgage on his house.”

Daniel was incensed. He never dreamed his own brother would trick him like that. He stormed over to his brother’s house and pounded on the door. The brother answered the door with his daughter in his arms. He knew Daniel wouldn’t hit him if he was holding a child.

He was right. Daniel didn’t hit him. But he promised his brother that if he ever saw him again, he would break his neck.

Daniel went home, his heart bruised and ravaged by the trickery of his own brother. He had no other choice but to go back to the gym and work to pay off the debt.

A few months later, Daniel met a young girl who led him to faith in Jesus Christ. Soon Daniel was involved in a local church and learning all he could about his Lord.

But though Daniel had been forgiven so much, he still found it impossible to forgive his brother. The wound was deep. He didn’t see his brother for 2 years. Daniel couldn’t bring himself to look into the face of the one who had betrayed him. And his brother liked his own face too much to let Daniel see it.

But an encounter was inevitable. Both knew they would eventually run into each other. And neither knew what would happen then.

The encounter occurred one day on a busy street. Listen to how Daniel tells it:

I saw him, but he didn’t see me. I felt my fists clench and my face get hot. My initial impulse was to grab him around the throat and choke the life out of him.

But as I looked into his face, my anger began to melt. As I saw him, I saw the image of my father. I saw my father’s eyes. I saw my father’s look. I saw my father’s expression. And as I saw my father in his face, my enemy once again became my brother.

Daniel walked toward him. The brother stopped, turned, and started to run, but he was too slow. Daniel reached out and grabbed his shoulder. The brother winced, expecting the worst. But rather than have his throat squeezed by Daniel’s hands, he found himself hugged by Daniel’s big arms. And the two brothers stood in the middle of the river of people and wept.

Daniel’s words are worth repeating: “As I saw my Father in his face, my enemy once again became my brother.”

Try that. The next time you see or think of the one who broke your heart, look twice. As you look at his face, look also for His face—the face of the One who forgave you. Look into the eyes of the King who wept when you pleaded for mercy. Look into the face of the Father who gave you grace when no one else gave you a chance. Find the face of God who forgives in the face of your enemy. And then, because God has forgiven you more than you’ll ever be called on to forgive in another, set your enemy—and yourself —free.

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Jesus Sees You

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” Luke 19:5

In this story, it says that Jesus is looking for Zacchaeus, and he notices him there, up in the tree. I don’t know about you, but I would never have noticed the guy up there in the tree. I’d have come into town looking for the mayor or someone important, “Who can I talk to that’s important?”

That’s why I’m not Jesus. Jesus notices him. We all have a need to be noticed and to be valued.

A few years ago, after a guest pastor preached at our church in the Pacific Northwest many of us went down to tour his ministry field on Aurora Avenue in Shoreline, Washington. We saw where they gather for worship, then we crossed a covered footbridge to the other side of Aurora Ave to see their community garden. I was walking with the pastor chatting and as we descended the steps on the far side there was a woman sitting on the steps eating what looked like some fruit and some yogurt.

The pastor leaned towards me and said just take a left up the street and I will catch up in a minute. So, we all kept walking, but he turned and knelt beside this woman eating her lunch on the steps and began to talk to her. Down where she was…at her level—eye to eye.

We walked a little further up the street and all of us stopped and waited for the pastor. And waited. And waited. I chided someone standing near,” Doesn’t he know we are busy?” We waited some more.

In time he came walking up and took us to the community garden his church had created over the ground where a Meth house had stood. As he was describing how the garden came into being, Doris (the woman he had been talking to on the steps) came into the garden. He stopped talking to us and went over to talk to Doris. Then he asked if we had a plastic bag from our Subway sandwiches he could have, and he and Doris began to pick tomatoes for her.

He saw Doris.

Ever feel unnoticed, like Doris? Like no matter what you do no one’s paying attention?

I’m sure Zacchaeus felt that way. Every time he took his tax-collecting, price-gouging, money-grubbing, Roman-collaborating self down the street, people would just turn the other way. He was a non-person. But not to Jesus. In this story, Zacchaeus climbs a tree because he’s looking for Jesus, and what he finds is that all along Jesus has been looking for him. That changes him.

How did Jesus know his name?

Having been noticed he begins to notice others and to care about them. Jesus is always looking for us. That heals us of the wounds that have been inflicted by other people because having been noticed and cared for by Jesus we can notice and care for others. Jesus seeks us. And Jesus knows our name. There is something about understanding that Jesus sees and knows our name that changes us.

Jesus was saying, “You are why I have come to this town, Zacchaeus. I didn’t come for recreation. I didn’t come for entertainment. I didn’t come to further my career. I came here for you.”

To us, it looks like Zacchaeus might be an interruption to the busy ministry of the Son of God. But Jesus lived life by a different rhythm. People were never interruptions to him. I love what Henri Nouwen wrote in, Reaching Out,

While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, “You know…my whole life I had been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”

Zacchaeus was the work of Christ. And so are you.

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The Strange and the Stranger

Who do you need to make space for that is strange to you?

Who is your “hard to love” person? On every street and in every home lives someone who is hard to love. If you look down your street or across the dinner table and don’t see one, it might mean you are the “hard to love” person. Who in your world do you think is too far from God’s grace or secretly hope they are too far? Who is too dirty, rude, obnoxious or strange to sit at God’s table?

Let me suggest a few possibilities:

A gay person.
A greedy person
A man who has been convicted of domestic violence
A radical feminist
An Oakland Raider fan
A black person
A conservative
An undocumented immigrant
A white supremacist
A Muslim
A millennial who plays video games all day.

When we really absorb Jesus into our core, we all will be people who are marked by humility and hospitality. The challenge for you and me is to always be ready to offer hospitality to the strange and the strangers of this world.

Let me tell you a true story that happened to me a few years ago…

One of us said, “What is that moving this way?” Someone reached for their spyglasses and described what they saw. At thirteen thousand feet and walking towards us a half a mile away was a man with no backpack, rain gear, or anything you might normally consider important while climbing the alpine ridges of the Sangre De Cristo mountains. But there he came as quick as you please.

He was wearing a floppy straw hat with a red bandanna wrapped around the sweatband with some sort of cordage to tie it under his chin. He wore a plain white fruit-of-the-loom undershirt and sky-blue, unhemmed polyester dress slacks that had been cut off mid-thigh. The stray strands blew like spider webs in the breeze. On his feet were a pair of low-grade suede hiking shoes and white cotton athletic socks. Dangling from his leather belt was an almost empty half-gallon milk jug.

As this was described to us our mood moved from disbelief to confusion to incredulity. We had seventy-pound packs, three-hundred-dollar backpacking boots, not a stitch of cotton on our bodies. We were prepared for hypothermia. We had rain gear, rope, food for six days, water purification tablets, sleeping bags, emergency gear, and first aid kit. We were totally prepared for these rugged mountains.

Not this guy.

When he approached our group he smiled and said, “Howdy!” His glasses were thick, and they fogged up as he looked at us. He was barely breathing hard at altitude. He scratched at his right forearm, then his neck and then at his thigh. Someone asked where he was camped and he shrugged and tossed his head to his left and down the line of ridges indicating south and said, “Back thataway.”

“Where you headed?” we asked next. With the same vagueness, he jutted out his chin northward and said, “Thataway.”

We sat on a 13,200-foot pass where there was no trail and no shelter in any direction. Where had this guy come from and where was he going?

He untwisted the lid to the milk jug and took a swallow of the little water that was left in the jug, wiped his mouth and grinned. We were dumbstruck. He was dressed more like a beach bum from the south Texas gulf coast than a man walking alpine ridges in Colorado.

An awkward silence hung between us.

Finally, someone asked him if he needed anything.

“I’m alright,” he said. “Bugs are really bad, aren’t they? I could use some insect repellent if you could spare any” he said. He was covered with pink bumps, some scabbed over, and some looked infected. Smallpox or a hornet’s nest was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw him standing there scratching.

My friend Jim jumped up and said, “I have a second bottle of ‘Jungle Juice’ I’ll give you.”

“No. Just squirt me a little in this sandwich bag.” He reached in his pocket pulled out a crumpled-up baggie, turned it inside out dumping some crumbs and held it open for Jim. About six or seven good squirts was enough he said. He twisted a knot in the top of it and put it into his pocket, rubbed the spillage on his arms, legs, neck, and face.

“Don’t get any of that juice on your glasses, it’ll dissolve your lenses,” someone offered. Nervous laughter rippled around our group.

“Well,” he said. “I better get going. Thanks for the bug juice.” He grinned, looked northward and off he went. We watched him drop down over the edge of the ridge; never to be seen again.

We sat there, slack-jawed.

Someone quoted:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:3

Wait, one more thing…

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Matthew 25:34-36

I am not certain that an angel will show up when we show the kindness of God, but I do know that the King of Kings always shows up where we accept the strange and the stranger.

The King, I tell you. The King.

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My Pastor Friend

Me, Dave, and Mt. Princeton

This past week I was privileged to spend a week hosting one of my writing and pastoring heros. David Hansen is now retired, but he has led a very wonderful life as a pastor and writer. The thing that struck me as we spent time together was how surprised he was at the impact that he has had on pastors all over the nation through his writings.

His book The Art of Pastoring is still in print and I give it away to pastors all the time.

I asked him permission to share this with you. Here is Dave’s tribute to one of his mentors:

The Eugene Peterson I knew for over thirty years was a sanctified genius who gave what he had to the work of the Kingdom of God including whatever it meant to be a fully Christian man to anyone he happened to be with. The fact is that Eugene was a better man in his personal relationships than he was in his very best writings, sermons and lectures. The result of this is that we can all aspire to be as good as Eugene was when he was at his very best.

I met Eugene and his amazing wife Jan in the late 1980s. I was pastoring two little churches in the Bitterroot Valley, South of Missoula, Montana. One day I received a phone call from my brother-in-law, Bruce Becker, who at the time was pastoring a Presbyterian church in northwest Ohio. He told me he had attended a one-day seminar led by a Presbyterian pastor named Eugene Peterson and he said, “You and he read a lot of the same stuff, he likes Karl Barth.”

One of the two churches I was pastoring was half Presbyterian and half American Baptist, (the latter being my denomination) so I looked around in the office and sure enough I found a booklet listing Presbyterian churches and pastors in the U.S. I looked up Eugene and mailed him a letter to his church in Bel Air, Maryland. About a month later I received a letter from him from an address on Flathead Lake! (It’s about two hours north of where we were living at the time.) He invited me up to spend the night with him and Jan. So I drove my powder blue ’65 Volkswagen Bug to their place on the lake. I arrived at about 10:30 in the morning. Following a warm welcome from both, Jan went to the kitchen to prepare lunch while Eugene and I talked books.

We enjoyed a delicious conversation about authors common to both of us, including Karl Barth, P.T. Forsyth, and Baron von Hugel. At one point I mentioned that I was discouraged in my pastoral counseling, (I was pretending to be a psychologist). He asked me if I had ever heard of something called “Spiritual Direction”. “No” I responded. He said he had tried the “be a psychologist” route himself and had failed miserably but there was another way. He talked about pastoral care which was a “listening for God’s work” in the life of the parishioner which included cross experiences as well as resurrection. It sounded wonderful. This non-method valued the life of the Cross and Resurrection in the person’s life. Jan called for lunch, and as I rose from my seat Eugene said emphatically, “read St. John of the Cross”.

Lunch with Jan and Eugene was delicious food and fellowship. At one point, Jan asked me “Which one of Eugene’s books do you like the best? I said, “I’ve never read anything by him.” She looked stumped, he laughed out loud. Thus, began a thirty-something year journey with two very dear people.

When Eugene wrote his autobiography, he entitled it simply, “The Pastor” a peculiar title considering all the things he’d done in his life. He appreciated his years lecturing and mentoring students at Regent College, but he never lost track of what he was first and foremost vocationally – a pastor. He communicated to me several times over his years at Regent that on a level basic to what God had made him to be, he felt out of place at Regent College.

One day, fairly early in his Regent years, I called him and asked him in a smart-alecky kind of way, what it was like “being a professor”. “It’s terrible”, he said “I don’t know who I am here. I’m a pastor, not a professor. I’m a preacher, not a lecturer.” So I asked him, “What’s the difference between being a professor and being a pastor.”

He answered immediately (he obviously had thought about it). “Professors are the “CPA’s (certified public accountants) of the Kingdom. They work to purify, categorize and store the truth. We pastors use the truth like a football. We run with it try to score with it, we get tackled sometimes and kick it through the goalposts.” I thought: that is exactly what I do and what I love doing. That’s not to say that he did not enjoy his time at Regent. Of course, he did – but he never felt like he made the transition from being a pastor to a “professor”.

One time in the early 1990’s he mailed me some translations he’d made of some Psalms. In his letter, he intimated that the voice he was using in these translations were something he might publish someday. The first translation was Psalm 1. The last clause of Psalm 1:1, the old translations say something like “…nor sit in the seat of mockers.” He had translated that clause, “…or go to smart-ass college.” I suggested to him that he might not get that line published!

Eugene, a man from his beloved home state of Montana, knew just how someone might say it there. In fact, there are a number of “Montanaisms” in The Message. I can hear a Montana accent in it frequently. It definitely doesn’t make it less valuable than translations by New Testament and Old Testament scholars where you can hear the “accent” of the professional academy.

One time, Eugene got really mad at me and I deserved it. Here’s how it went. I had been blessed in that in our frequent dialogs by phone and letter, Eugene thought enough of my thoughts about pastoral ministry that he suggested I should try out writing for publication. He gave me a double blessing in that he gave my name to InterVarsity Press and Leadership Journal as someone who might be able to publish with them.

As it turned out, the break he gave me worked out. I began writing for Leadership, and in 1994, my first book, The Art of Pastoring, Ministry Without all the Answers came out with Inter-Varsity Press. In less than a decade, I had four books out, scads of articles, and speaking gigs galore. Then the writing stopped. My publishers were still enthusiastic about my work and prodded me, but I had nothing more to write about. I tried again and again but I was done. I was frustrated. One day, my frustration poured out on him. I called him (he was at Regent College by that time) and told him my tale of woe, ending with – “I guess from now on I’ll just be a pastor.” (I am really embarrassed to admit that I said that but I really did say it.)

SILENCE over the phone. I knew I was in for it. “ONLY a PASTOR” he exclaimed stridently.

“That’s the highest calling there is…you can’t go any higher than that!” “You’re right,” I admitted…sheepishly and ashamedly.

I bring this shame-faced story up because it gives us an important insight into how he saw himself. When he titled his autobiography The Pastor he gave himself the highest title and the highest honor he could think of. Not “The Professor” not, “The Writer” not, “The Bible Translator”, but “The Pastor”, that’s where his heart always was.

Eugene Peterson was a pastor and that’s really how he thought about himself. It’s a truth he never abandoned about himself, when he was at Regent, and when he was translating The Message and after that and into retirement and as he and his amazing wife Jan kept pastoring people through hosting people at their place at Regent and their home on Flathead Lake in Montana.

If you need more evidence that Eugene thought of himself first and foremost as a pastor, it is reported by his son Eric, a Presbyterian minister in Spokane, Washington, that one of Eugene’s last verbalizations came when he said, out of a stupor, out of the blue, “It seems so sacred that they trusted me so much.”

This line means so much to me personally, right now, because this past January 2018, I retired after forty years in the ministry. I reflect back that people trusted me during some of the toughest times in their lives – what an honor! Yes, there were a few hair-brained schemes I came up with over the years where, thank goodness, they didn’t trust me; but the overall impression is one of being trusted and being welcome in people’s lives and what an awesome privilege that was.

You can have that too. You don’t have to be a Eugene Peterson author-writer-“professor” to live the kind of life he led. The best of Eugene was how sanctified he was in person for pastoral ministry when he was a pastor in Bel Air or meeting with fellow pilgrims at their place in Montana or at Regent College.

You can do what Eugene Peterson did when he was at his very best and who’s to say you can’t do it just as well or better than he did. Being a pastor and a pastoral person was what he treasured most about himself. And may God bless you with the same impression about your life now over many years.

I did the writing, speaking, teaching gig. It was okay. But looking back I wouldn’t trade having been a pastor for forty years for any of that other stuff. I’m no genius, and I’m not all that sanctified, but if I could take something of Eugene’s and have it for my own, it would be to be like him as a pastor and as a human being. In my opinion, he was better at being a human than he was at anything else he did.

You can tell I admire Eugene to the skies, but I still haven’t read all his books, and I don’t use The Message as my Bible, (my Bible-savvy wife does) but may God bless us all with the same aspiration and the same success as Eugene “The Human Being”. That’s what I want to emulate. That’s what I remember, that’s who I want to be like. Not the author, not the professor, not even the pastor, rather, to emulate the Man.

David Hansen did just that. He is at his heart a pastor. And I am proud to call him my friend.

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29 Dead in 24 Hours

O Lord embed your beauty and goodness deep in our hearts and hear our lament.
We cry out because people are being murdered in our land faster than our eyes can brim with tears.
And honestly Lord, we sometimes feel as if you are far too passive in the presence of this evil.
We want you to protect us from this hatred, Lord

We cry out because people are being murdered in our land faster than our eyes can brim with tears.
We fear our hearts will grow numb to this common occurrence of gun violence.
We want you to protect us from this hatred, Lord
Don’t let our tears dry up and our prayers lose their pain.

We fear our hearts will grow numb to this common occurrence of gun violence.
And honestly Lord, we sometimes feel as if you are far too passive in the presence of this evil.
Don’t let our tears dry up and our prayers lose their pain.
So, Lord, embed your beauty and goodness deep in our hearts and hear our lament.

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Ellsworth’s Wine

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3

The witness from the ancient book that we love is that one fine day we who have a covenant relationship with Jesus will be transformed to look exactly like him. That change begins in this life as we live, under his influence and infilling, one moment after another. It happens incrementally, but it happens to the faithful follower of Jesus.

Listen to a description of two men. Both are men that I know, but I have hidden their identity…

The first man, I’ll call Cary, has Hollywood good looks—athletic and charismatic. Men want to be him, and women want to be with him. Wherever he goes to speak and give his Christian testimony, people stand to their feet and cheer. He wears the latest fashion—tattoos, skinny jeans, and short-sleeved Tee shirts with rolled-up sleeves to show off his muscular arms. He has written several best-selling books. He is on everyone’s watch list as an up and coming preacher.

But long ago his love for applause has replaced his love for the Savior he so eloquently talks about to an adoring crowd. The subterranean pressure of performance is getting to him and he drinks a glass of wine every night just to be able to sleep. People don’t know it, but that glass of wine is turning into a problem and he sneaks a glass during the day to just calm his nerves. No one is the wiser.

He doesn’t remember when it happened, but now his faith is something he does to be noticed. And people still flock to see and hear him and get his autograph. Cary is headed for a crash somewhere in his life. Intuitively, he knows this, but it doesn’t stop him from filling his schedule with more adrenalin hits for his darker self. His focus on the externals has won him a following but bankrupted his soul.

Cary doesn’t like the life he is living, but he is so far down the road it feels like he’s gone too far to go back.

And then there is a man I’ll call Ellsworth who lives by himself in the mountains of Colorado. He is stooped in the shoulders and unsteady on his feet. He can’t hear very well and uses a cane as he walks from his old truck into the church house Sunday after Sunday. He carries a 4-inch thick King James Bible that has been marked up so much that it is hard to see where the personal notes and the typed words start and end. The bible is worn and tattered and the edges are stained brown from the oil, dirt, and continued years of immersing himself in the yellowed old love letter.

He rarely speaks in Church, save when he is asked to pray.

“Dear Lord Jesus, kind, loving, heavenly Father,” he begins each prayer. And everyone leans in the direction of his soft voice that sounds like he is talking to an old friend. At some point during his prayer, his voice might break into a spurt of a laugh—“Hah!”—and then lilt down into a gentle sob.

His pastor leans on him for encouragement and often asks him to pray for the specific needs of those in the congregation. No one in the congregation knows that he has prayed for each of them by name and that of their children.

Ellsworth can’t “do” much anymore, but then again he quit trying to “do” for the Lord long ago. Now he just spends his days loving everyone who comes across his path and prays and prays and prays.

Leaving church recently he was heard humming to himself the tune Nearer My God To Thee. One of the verses in that hymn reads as follows:

There in my Father’s home, safe and at rest,
There is my Savior’s love, perfectly blest,
Age after age, nearer my God to Thee.

Then he climbed into his old truck and drove away—alone; dust trailing after him down the dirt drive at his Church.

Brennan Manning tells a story about a priest from Detroit named Edward Farrell who went on his two-week summer vacation to Ireland. His one living uncle was about to celebrate his eightieth birthday. On the great day, the priest and his uncle got up before dawn and dressed in silence. They took a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney and stopped to watch the sunrise. Standing side by side not a word exchanged and staring straight at the rising sun. Suddenly the uncle turned and went skipping down the road. He was radiant, beaming, smiling from ear to ear.

His nephew said, “Uncle Seamus, you really look happy.”

“I am, lad.”

“Want to tell me why?”

His eighty-year-old uncle replied, “Yes, you see, my Abba is very fond of me.”

Live at rest in the Father’s love and you will find a joy from Him that might put a skip in your walk, no matter how faltering your step.

And please pray for Cary.

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Fearless Love

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:17

Fear will keep you from love and love will keep you from fear. It is possible to get conformity of behavior based on fear—at least for a period of time. Every dog owner knows this. Every parent of young children knows this. Law enforcement officers know this, to a degree. But fear is not the primary way God wants to relate to his children.

Sometimes it’s funny what fear makes a full-grown man do.

A few years ago, I had spent an afternoon shopping for my grandson’s birthday gifts which lay in the back of my Jeep. My mind was on auto drive thinking about different people in my church as I was singing loud to a Bruce Hornsby song on the radio.

Then I heard a distant siren from somewhere behind me and a muted Public Address voice with all the authority that comes with someone who carries a badge and a gun, “Halt! Where do you think you are going?”

I looked into all of my mirrors, straining to get a glimpse of the flashing red and blue lights of the police officer that was yelling at me. I looked and he was not ahead of me, not behind me, not beside me yet the siren was still there and the voice from One Adam Twelve was still hollering at me.

I was getting more and more afraid, so I began to pull over and wondered what I might have done to irritate the officer so much that he has to yell at me over the PA system and turn his siren on but without flashing emergency lights.

Did I run a red light? Was I speeding? Did I change lanes inappropriately? Did he think I fit the description of a mass murderer or terrorist? Maybe he thought I was an Oakland Raider fan. What could I have possibly done to incur such wrath when the only thing I had been doing for the last hour was to purchase—not contraband— but toys for my grandson?

That badge and gun have gone to this guy’s head, I said to myself. Then the siren went off again and the voice on the PA system from somewhere behind me says, “To infinity and beyond!”

The tumblers in my brain all began to click in recognition. Buzz Lightyear had fallen over in the backseat and activated his button and he had been cycling through all of his lines from the movie Toy Story.

I remember saying, “That is funny right there, Joe. You crossed two lanes of traffic and were about to put your hands on the hood of your Jeep and get spread-eagle for a—toy.” What motivated me to change that many lanes of traffic? Fear.

Relating to God based primarily on fear is not the way God desires for us to function.

There is an obscure British film from the nineties called Cold Comfort Farm. One of the characters, played by Ian McLellan (Gandalf), is a preacher for a strange sect called “The Church of the Quivering Brethren.” And they’re so called because when the Word is preached to them, their only response is to quiver. There’s a scene in the church and the sermon is all about hell. There’s no gospel to it – just about how badly people will be burned in hell. And they just sit there and quiver.

At one point the preacher shouts out how if you burn your hand in the kitchen what do you do? You put butter on it to soothe the pain, he says. Well, there ain’t no butter in Hell! And they herk and jerk and quiver.

The old Apostle John reminds us, So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

Some of you are quivering in your souls and you don’t need to.

He goes on to say, We love because he first loved us.

But what if I am not loved back? Jesus might have wondered that very thing. But do you remember what His Father said to him at his baptism? The Heavenly Father said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased.”

Jesus needed to hear those words and He needed to remember them over the next three and a half years of ups, downs, outs, attacks, misunderstandings and all the subversive things done to discredit His ministry.

You are the son of the devil, they would say.
No, I’m the beloved of God, He would remember.
You are a drunkard and a sinner, they would say.
No, I’m the beloved of God, He would remember.
You are a bastard child, they would say.
No, I am the beloved of God, He would remember.
You are a lawbreaker, they would say.
No, I am the beloved of God, He would remember.
Get down off the cross, if you are the Son of God, they would scream.
No, I am the beloved of God, He would remember.

And because of that voice of affirmation, Jesus was not afraid of people. And so, He was able to love them.

The same Spirit that descended upon Jesus at His baptism now resides inside of you—that means you have nothing to fear. You can love the unlovable—just like He did when He loved you.

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