This book is dedicated to my mom, Juanita Lee Henry. I honestly, truly could not ask for a better mother or a better friend. You are my defender, my encourager, and my greatest influence. Through you, I see the love of Jesus, first-hand. Just being near you makes me happy. I could write oceans of words and still never convey how remarkable, beautiful, fun, loyal, devoted, and loving you are. May the Godly influence that you lavished on me flow through these pages and wash the hearts of all who read them with God’s unfailing Love. You enrich my life and the life of all those who know you. Your loving choices will ring for all eternity in the halls of Heaven, as sweet smelling perfume poured upon the King.
I would like to thank my beautiful and loving wife, Rebecca Marie, who above all others has encouraged me to pursue the publication of Embers of a Burning Heart. She’s encouraged me without fail towards the fruition of this book. Without her influence this book may never have reached your hands. Thanks for being there honey, and holding me a lot lately. I would gladly sail into your arms and be lost there forever. Your smile captures my heart and your eyes take my breath away.
Thanks to you as well, dear reader, who have invested your time in an unknown author. Thanks for taking the time to hear what’s rattling around in my head and burning in my heart. I pray that the time spent within these pages will encourage your heart to believe in more than you ever expected, hoped or dreamed imaginable, and give you the courage to pursue Him until you find Him and continue to find Him all your days. May the Wildfire spread until the glory of the Lord covers the Earth and our God reigns.
Chapter 1: I Love Spaghetti!
Chapter 2: Incomplete Pictures
Chapter 3: Anywhere Else but God
Chapter 4: The Beckoning
Chapter 5: Eternal Isolation from all that is Good
Chapter 6: Pleasures Forevermore
Chapter 7: Knowing God
Chapter 8: The Art of Conversation
Chapter 9: Where is the Lord God of Elijah?!
Chapter 10: Feel God’s Pleasure
Chapter 11: Growing Down
Chapter 12: True Leadership
Chapter 13: One Thing
Chapter 14: Wrestling with God
Chapter 15: The Power of Choice and Influence
Chapter 16: God’s Romance
“Did not our heart burn within us…?” (Luke 24:32)
There are desires that burn with us. There are burning questions that need to be answered. The following chapters are designed to fuel your desires and address those burning questions. If we are not consumed by holy hunger then we are not truly living. We should be the burning bush, one that blazes with holy heat and Biblical light yet is not devoured, because our fuel is not of this world. Our lives should be a sign and wonder to those around us. This book will pour lighter fluid all over your heart…but it’s up to you to light the match!
I love spaghetti! I love my dog, Comet! I love science! I love daffodils! I love the Smokey Mountains in the fall! I love popcorn and a movie! I love parties! I love butterflies! I love books! I love fast cars! I love roller coasters! I love flannel pajamas! I love licorice! I love the color blue! I love the sound of rushing water! I love the smell of the coast! I love to walk barefoot! I love scary stories! I love Frank Sinatra! I love to fly! I love cola! I love to play football! I love my wife! I love my husband! I love my kids!
See any reason we might be confused on the whole subject of love?
Several years ago I discovered that the Greek language (the language the New Testament was written in) had several words for love. The language contained one for unconditional love, one for affection, one for friendship, and one for sexual and erotic love. In English we have one whole word for love and we use it for just about anything we feel good about. If you ask people what love is, most give some kind of vague definition. Some describe it as a feeling of care or concern for someone. Others describe it as heart pounding life changing experience. Some describe it as a fickle feeling that cannot be trusted. I believe all these things and more. I believe in our language we should have at least 4 words for love. Unconditional love, Affection, Romance, and Passion.
1 Corinthians 13 describes the first kind of love, unconditional love (or charity in the King James). “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV).
Unconditional love is the God-kind of love. He loves us unconditionally. There are no strings attached. We don’t have to earn it or acquire it. It just is. Remember a time when you were just putting on a tantrum or being selfish and someone still remained patient and kind to you. Have you ever been rude to someone and they were kind anyway? How about the times someone else has put you first and themselves second? They were showing you unconditional love, the kind of love that is necessary and vital to our hearts.
One of the most important aspects of this kind of love is that it is an action. The other kinds of love are feelings or emotions, but unconditional love is a choice. We choose to be patient, kind, glad of another’s good fortune, humble, polite, giving, slow tempered, and so on … Now the only person who demonstrates unconditional love all the time is Jesus. He is Love. He’s the only one, who without fail, shows us 1 Corinthians 13 love. He consistently and eternally chooses to love us. The rest of us should be growing in love. It should be our #1 goal in life. We should seek every opportunity to love. First, we should be demonstrating ever increasing unconditional love to Jesus. We as humans do get impatient and even unkind with God when He doesn’t do everything as we think that He should. We don’t bear all and believe all that He is (I Corinthians 13:7). Sometimes we act downright rude to Him. So we should be constantly seeking to unconditionally love God more and more. The good news is that even though we don’t always walk in unconditional love with God, He always chooses to unconditionally love us. He is always patient, kind, considerate, humble, generous, encouraging, slow tempered, remembering our acts of righteousness in Him, protecting, hopeful, trusting, persevering and confident in the good He is working in us.
I believe the more we see how much God loves us in these ways, then the more we will reciprocate. The Bible says that we love God because He first loved us (I John 4:10). I think we often see God as being so impatient with us. “You did that again!”, “Shouldn‘t you be doing more for me“, “Can’t you learn” “I died for you and this is the best you got” “Aghhhh!!!” NO. Even though God doesn’t in the least condone sin He is the father on the Hill waiting for us with joyful, vibrant expectation any time we come home to Him. While we are beating ourselves for our disobedience, He is rejoicing, singing and dancing, for our repentance.
Now before we get to unconditionally loving others, we should refresh our memory of the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave. “
“And Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all they strength, this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these. “(Mark 12:30, 31).
Did you catch it? Let’s read it one more time. “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. How about that time? I thought so. God told us to love ourselves. Maybe it seems redundant to say it all again but I think it will be helpful. God said to be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Be joyful of the place Yahweh has brought you. Be generous with yourself. Don’t be harsh or cruel to yourself. Give yourself some space. Don’t get so mad with yourself, When you make a mistake don’t start calling yourself names, that’s not patient and kind. Don’t sell yourself short, that’s not believing that we can do all things through Christ that strengthens us. Be full of hope of the wonderful works that God is doing in your life, in your heart. Don’t keep a record of all your wrongs. Seek God’s good in your life and not what you think is best for you. Don’t be rude to yourself. Protect yourself and allow God to protect you. Trust God’s heart for you. Be hopeful. Persevere. Don’t give up. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
I think it’s pretty clear that we should unconditionally love others. The Bible says “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35). He didn’t say that the world would recognize us by how we praise God in Church, or how well we can move people with our sermons, or even our denomination that we belong to. He said “Hey those guys who are just so full of love, those are mine.” So moving out in the confidence of the great infallible inerrant, everlasting, never ending, unconditional love that God has, had and will always have for us, and the love we possess for ourselves and the unique glorious person whom God created us to be (Psalm 139:14), let us demonstrate and grow in the unconditional love we show for others. Let us make the choice to be kind to those who are kind and unkind. Let us be patient, always remembering that God is always patient with us. Let us build others up, encourage, and help them see the unique person that God created for them to be. Let’s not brag and boast and draw attention to ourselves but to God and others. Let’s believe the best in others and look for the good. Let’s be glad of the blessings that God has given others and not become envious.
And let’s definitely drop the record of wrongs. Sometimes we have a list a mile long of the wrong we have received. Your husband asks, “Why don’t we have Jill and Rodney over tonight?” then you access your list of wrongs. Jill was rude that one time… and Rodney has been impatient with me when I had misplaced his video he loaned me. “No honey, I don’t think that would be a good idea. I checked my list of wrongs and they are on there” “How about Chris and Julie?” “Let me see” Julie called my sister Karen a cheat when we were in grade school and stole my first boyfriend in middle school. Chris…no, I think he’s not on my list. But still I’d be stuck with Julie all evening. “No, Julie’s on my list as well. Sorry, dear.”
My wife, Rebecca, and I, kept a physical lists of rights a few years ago. It was nothing fancy but each time we did something nice or considerate for the other, we would right it on the board, as a constant reminder of love given. It’s really a good idea for all our relationships. If someone acts inconsiderate it’s so easy to amplify the mistake till sometimes it’s all we can see. We need reminders of all the nice things that others have done. The Word says that love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, so would there be an implication that it does keep a record of rights? Plus, it just feels good to look over a list of all kinds of wonderful and loving actions that others have done to you.
As I mentioned earlier, the following loves we will discuss are feelings, not choices. Unconditional love is the only one that is entirely up to us. The others come as go as circumstances change and people’s choices change.
Another of the loves is affection. We can show affection for just about anything. As I joked at in the first paragraph, we love (have affection for) our dog, Comet. He loves to nuzzle me. He lies beside me when I’m sick. He even protects me if someone tries to harm me. I just love Comet. But just let Comet poop on our new carpet or chew up our best dress and the feelings run short. A perfect example of this is our cat Gizmo. My wife and I have had Gizmo since she was a kitten. She is a really pretty animal. She has long gray hair and cute little white feet. We even have developed an affectionate “pet” name for her, Gizzy. Lately, however she has got into the habit of peeing on any towel that we leave lying around. My affection runs empty quick when I go to dry off with a towel reeking of cat pee. As long as Gizmo makes us happy we affectionately love her, but when she doesn’t then she is just an irritating animal.
We love our car. It’s got the perfect coat of paint that just catches everyone’s attention. It can go from 0 to 60 in under 30 seconds. And the seats are so plush and cozy. But wait till that car starts to wear. Nothing works right anymore. It takes forever to start up. There go those feelings, out with the exhaust.
Affection is based on good things that someone or something brings to you. When people or objects make us happy then we are filled accordingly with affection. You could have affection for a caring Uncle who always takes you out every Friday just to hear about your week. Or you could love a pair of pants that just feels so good and maybe you scored your first big job while wearing them. You have affection for mementos and souvenirs that remind you of an enjoyable time or place. You can even have affection for someone who doesn’t have affection for you. Maybe that person is just pretty to look at or has a good sense of humor. There are a lot of movie stars and writers that I have affection for yet they don’t even know that I exist. I have affection for dead people. I am filled with good feelings for Martin Luther King Jr., My grandfather, King David, John the Beloved, and so on. Heck I even have affection for imaginary people. Haven’t you ever read a book or watched a movie and became sad when a character dies. Have you ever felt elated due to their heroism? Affection is a good and wonderful feeling. It should be enjoyed. It should even be pursued. Pursue the things that make you happy, as long as they are in God’s guidelines.
Then there is romance, the feeling of being in love. Just the thought of someone raises you to another realm. As the Owl said in “Bambi” ‘you’re twitterpated‘. You’re floating lighter than air. You feel like for the first time in your life you are so alive. All your thoughts eventually drift right back to her smile or his voice. Everyone has at some time felt the elation of romance. Even if you’re single, as you walk along a moonlit beach your heart wonders who God has waiting for you out there. You watch a movie and the man and woman finally realize that they’re in love and their lips are drawn to one another like magnets. Romance so pure and beautiful, so mesmerizing and alluring!
Romance too is a wonderful feeling. It is a love that a man and woman can share between each other. It is exclusive. I find it to be a love that is best when it is equally shared. If you romantically love someone who doesn’t romantically love you or even not at the same depth, then your love will naturally adjust (unless you’re just obsessed, and that isn’t a love at all, that’s selfishness). Unlike affection, it’s a love that must be shared. I’ve had affection for people who didn’t even like me, but I liked qualities about them. Romantic love cannot survive without that love being returned. You must know that you produce similar feelings in the one you romantically love. You must know that you make their heart swoon. You must know that you tantalize their senses and dance in their thoughts.
Then there is passion, which is really closely related to romance. You can have emotional passion for someone you love. You can be passionate about being with them. You can be passionate about thinking about them. You can be passionate about protecting them. If someone hurt my wife, mother, or father, I would be passionate about defending them. You possess some passionate love for all those you deeply care about. Most passionate love flows to your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend. There is sexual love between a man and wife. Making love is passionate. If not, then something is out of synch. You are so passionate for their body that you feel you would passionately love somehow to consume it and to be one being. When you give yourself to this kind of love, you are consumed by passion for your spouse. Everything about this kind of love is electric. One gaze sets your senses on fire. One touch melts your whole world. You ride the wave of passion, and you crash on the shores of ecstasy.
The three feelings of love can be compared somewhat to sunlight. Affection is more like the warmth of the sun. You bask in its comforting rays. Your heart is nourished by the warmth of love. Romance is similar to the light of the sun. When someone romances you, all their brilliance shines forth. All their goodness, beauty and strength radiate and stand out. Passion is like the energy from the sun. It’s electrifying! Every part of you tingles from this love. You are driven and invigorated
Feelings are wonderful! The loves that are feelings are created by God and they are part of our being made in his image! God experiences these same feelings. Let’s look at our image of God in all the 4 loves.
“The Lord has appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee.” (Jeremiah 31:3) (Unconditional Love)
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) (Unconditional Love)
“Then Jesus beholding him loved him…” (Mark10:21a) (Affection)
“And lo a voice from heaven, saying This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) (Affection)
“For the Father loveth the Son…” (John 5:20) (Affection)
“Behold thou art fair my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast dove’s eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.” (Song of Solomon 4:1) (Romance).
“You are beautiful, my darling, as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem, majestic as troops with banners. Turn your eyes from me; they overwhelm me.” (Song of Solomon 6:4, 5) (Romance)
“Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God. Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah (My delight is in her), and thy land Beulah (Married): for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. For as young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee. (Isaiah 62:3-5)” (Affection, Romance, and Passion)
“The Lord your God is in the midst of you, a Mighty One, a Savior [Who saves]! He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest [in silent satisfaction] and in His love He will be silent and make no mention [of past sins, or even recall them]; He will exult over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17 Amplified) (Unconditional, Affection, Passion)
“And He said to them, I have earnestly and intensely desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; (Luke 22:15 Amplified)” (Passion)
“And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. (Luke 19:45-46) (Passion)
“How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince’s daughter! Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of a craftsman’s hands. Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine. Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies. Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim. Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking towards Damascus. Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel. Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses. How beautiful you are and how pleasing, O love, with your delights! Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like the clusters of fruit. I said “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.” May your breasts be like clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine. (Song of Solomon 7:1-9 NIV) (Passion)
Have you ever heard of someone declaring, “I just don’t love you anymore”? These people connect all love with feelings. If someone does something to stop the good feelings from coming to them, then they determine that they must not love the other person anymore. Feelings are not meant to be the basis on which we judge life. Even when we don’t have passionate, romantic or even affectionate feelings for someone we still must always love them unconditionally. All relationships are to be built on unconditional love. The feeling kinds of love come and go, but it’s the choices we make that determine the outcome of our marriage and relationships. I’ve found out in my marriage even when the feeling go, if we continue to “walk” in unconditional love for each other, the feelings come back. But even if the feelings don’t come back I am to love my wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, and she likewise. As Jesus said about loving those who love you, what reward is there? Even the heathen do the same (Matthew 5:26). Life is built on unconditionally loving, even if the other is not walking in unconditional love towards you. Unconditional love is the stuff that trust is built on. Great trust is embedded in your heart as you see someone else laying down their life for you and even other’s.
Oh! To be like Jesus. Romans 5:8 says, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We didn’t, indeed couldn’t, love him back, until His grace and mercy changed our hearts of stone. Until we saw His love for us we could not love Him in return. Yet He has loved us anyway. He will love us always. He loves all, even those who will never choose to love Him. His love is the strongest thing in existence. His love will never be tattered or torn. His love is strong and vibrant. His love is rich and luxuriant. It never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:8) His love never weakens or lessens. Its purity is never tainted. It’s immeasurable. It’s flawless. Nothing is more perfect or brilliant. No form of darkness withstands its reach. No perversion can daunt it. No human can reach its farthest limit, for there is none. It is greater than the universe itself. It is massive and beyond the deepest most detailed description. His love is never exhausted or empty. It is not drained in the least or strained of its vitality. Pride bows its knees…no, falls lifeless before it. There is no obstacle that can hinder it. There is no lasting domain that does not owe its total allegiance to His love. His Love conquers all. He conquers all, for He is Love (1 John 4:8) and He is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24) that devours every hindrance to Himself. His love is fiery and unpredictably good.
“Let us make man in our image” Genesis 1:26
We are created in the image of God, physically, spiritually, and even our souls (emotions, mind, and will). In God’s perfect plan, we were meant to be like God, but different, just as a photograph and the actual thing differ. Yes, a photo of the Smokey Mountains is beautiful, but to be there is breathtaking! So we are. We were meant to convey Him on many fields, but ultimately make the onlooker want the real thing. “Wow, you are beautiful and so strong, I just got to see Him.”
Now on that day in the Garden, you know the day, we all remember the day. Adam and Eve sinned. The horrific day our once celestial lives took the turn away from our Beloved, our Creator. It was as if our image, or our photograph if you will, fell from the lofty mantle of reality and crashed on the cold hard floor of distortion. It wasn’t the fruit, but the lie, that corrupted our race. It was the lie that there is anything desirable outside of Yahweh. It’s the lie that has corrupted our worldview ever since. Like a poison that snakes its way through our once eternal veins, bringing death, the lethal venom distorted our grasp of reality until we think evil to be good and good to be evil. We were placed in a dark wood with only a faint memory of what once was. The memory haunts us.
But we were not abandoned. Nay, the One in whose image we were and are created sought us diligently. He sought relentlessly. He found us. We did not find Him as some may think, but He found us. He redeemed, purchased or bought us. He paid the price that none could pay except He. He ransomed us. Just when we thought the darkness had won, just when the collector came to repossess, just when the last man standing began to fall, He rescued us. He saved us because He delighted in us (Psalm 18:19). He bought us back because He was crazy about us. We don’t understand why the handsome dashing prince purchased a beat up, scarred, shamed hag to be His wife, but He did. He picked the one that everyone else shunned with putrid revulsion. He picked the one that even the dogs wouldn’t lick. And He transformed us into a gloriously beautiful wife! “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17).”
Now that He saved us, the image of God that we carry has been restored…partially. When we were still in our sins there was no spiritual image of our Designer. Our spirits were completely different than His. Now, the image has been restored but it’s still marred. There are still traces of greed, unbelief, prejudice, lust, bitterness, pride and so on. So till Kingdom come the image is continually being restored. That is, if we allow Him to. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1Corinthians 13:12 NIV)
I said all that to say, that even at our best we are still only an image. Just as a picture may be comforting when you’re away from the one you love, it still isn’t the real thing. To top it off, our pictures we have (ourselves and those around us) are marred.
We were made for God. There is no way around it. All the need of our hearts can only truly be met in Him. The picture He sent us is so great! Our wife or husband resembles our creator in so many ways. They capture our attention, but still all their best qualities are only road signs to Jesus.
Often, however, we try so hard to make them fit, and be what they were only meant to resemble. We even try to change them. It will never work because even if we were unmarred pictures and perfectly complete we would be only pictures. Not to in the least degrade the glory of the pictures. God is beautiful, strong, faithful, wild, good, exuberant, and all truly good things and His pictures have those qualities as well, only on a lesser scale. Like I said earlier a picture of the Smokey Mountains (or wherever) is beautiful but to be there is breathtaking.
We can’t look at our spouses and expect them to fill our every heart’s desire, because that’s not what they are made for. It’s as if we are looking at a photo of our wife while we are away on a business trip and asking, “Why don’t we talk anymore?” or “Why don’t you encourage me?”. There are things in our spouses we would all like more. We would like them to be more generous, more thoughtful, a better listener, more romantic, more sexual, more spontaneous, more exciting, and so on. It’s not that these things are bad and it’s not even that these aren’t things that God would like our husband or wife to become. Remember though, we are all marred and in the process of becoming more like Jesus. So when you see the parts of the picture that are marred, give your spouse grace because none of us have it all together. We are all marred.
Enjoy and relish the parts of the picture that are clear. Don’t expect the picture to be perfect. Know that whatever the picture, Jesus is what all our hearts truly long for. So let your spouse off the hook. They were not intended to meet all your needs. Jesus is! “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being. (Acts 17:28a) ”
I love romantic movies! I’m a sucker for those “chick flicks”. I love it when the couple finally realizes that they are in love. I love the scenes when they are slowly drawn together until at last their lips meet. My heart leaps and melts at the same time. Some of my favorites are “While You Were Sleeping” , “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”,” Two Weeks Notice”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The City of Angels”, “The Sound of Music”, and I could go on. Now I know you’re thinking, “The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast?” I know, I know those are just cartoons, but I love the stories and characters. I love the whole scene in “’the Little Mermaid” when Ariel and Eric are out on the boat together in the lagoon type setting. All the animals were trying to get them to kiss. My heart swells as they get closer and closer and closer and then…those doggone eels turn the boat over. I mean goodness grief they almost had it. And I love in “Beauty and the Beast” when she descends the staircase in her beautiful yellow gown while he is taken aback. I love the song and the whole ballroom dance scene. “Tale as old as time, Song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the Beast.” I love, of course, when she finally kisses him at the end and his lifeless form is magically transformed back to the very much alive handsome prince. I love the magic. I love it! Or in “While You Were Sleeping” as Lucy and Jack slowly fall in love. I love how she even falls in love with the family. She finally finds the place where she is accepted and belongs. I love the movie “City of Angels” as he gives up his angelic life for the woman he loves. I love the longings that permeate the entire movie. In “What a Girl Wants” I love the kissing scene in the boat, where it seems that all that exists is the two lovers.
My heart soars and breathes deeply as I watch those kinds of movies. They just capture me. They fill my heart with longing and desires, hopes, even joyful expectation. Not to in the least diminish the feelings that are aroused in my heart as I watch those movies, but to increase them by pointing them in the right direction. If you watch those movies and expect to have all that they awaken in your heart then you will be disappointed if not just downright heartbroken. Because the fullness to what these movies and all such stories allude to is not of this earth. They are pictures as well. They are pictures of a beautiful romance that began in Yahweh’s heart before the foundation of our world was laid. There is a romance that even the most heartfelt moment in movies can only allude to. We have to direct our hope of this heart pounding, enthralling, cloud 9, earth moving romance to the one that is developing between us and our Redeemer, Jesus. He is the One and only One that can fill the all the wildest, most beautiful, most breathtaking, most consuming desires that we have. C.S. Lewis said in the Weight of Glory, “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things — the beauty, the memory of our own past –are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”(1)
The Bible calls us the Bride of Christ (Revelation 21:9) Have you ever read the song of Solomon? Many believe it to be some real romance between a man and woman, and it very well could be. But either way I believe it to be from the Lover of our souls to his Beloved, us. Would we actually believe that the grandest things that our heart can desire to be filled by another mortal? It’s like people that watch “Matthew”, the visual Bible series, and have a hard time believing that Jesus could be a happy and playful person. Hello? He’s the one that created us. Laughter is part of His image. So are all these desires that we see as parts of our “humanity”, they are all part of our being His image bearers. Even our sexual side I believe that whatever kind of relationship we have with Jesus in the end will consume us infinity more than our wildest most passionate lovemaking. If we can look back on it I believe we would see ourselves as infants who were enthralled by a hearty game of pick-a-boo., when we get the real thing with Jesus. So all the romance, desire, intimacy and just hearty fun and adventure that we so desperately long for are and will only be met in Christ.
You may say, “I’ve been a Christian 10 years and I’ve never experienced something with God like you’re talking about”. Well I’ve been a Christian about 16 years and I’m still waiting, but I know it’s out there. I know that there is so much more to my romance with God than I’ve experience or even yet dreamed off. I know that there are such hungry desires in my heart and I know that He is the only one who can fill me. He is my bread, my sustenance. “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst (John 8:35)” As I consume who He is, He goes through my whole being. I tell you that I’m hungry. I am so thirsty for Him. I don’t want another good church service. I don’t want a better Bible study book. I don’t want more money or a better home. I don’t want to preach better or communicate better. I don’t want a better job. I don’t want more influence. I don’t want more stuff. I want Him!!! I want God! Everything else is nothing compared to Him. I want the One that awakens my heart. I want the One who loves me with no boundaries. I want the God who redeemed me. I want the One who laid aside His divinity so he could walk amongst the sinners who He loved. I want the One who looked beyond my faults and saw my needs. I want the One who changed me from a wicked wretch into a Beautiful Bride. I want the One who wants me. I long for the One who longs for me. I love the One who has always loved me. I have no idea how to find him but I’m not giving up. I will seek until I find. I will knock until the door flies wide open and there is my Beloved waiting for me. I will ask until my Answer comes.
I love all the pictures He has given me. I love my wife. She’s beautiful and charming. She’s talented. She’s kind. She’s a great cook (not that that is “a woman’s place”, but she likes to do it and is extremely good at it). She’s forgiving. She forgave me what some would consider an irreconcilable mistake. I called our wedding off on the day of the wedding. We had planned and prepared for almost a year. Then on the day of the wedding, someone called whom I have respected my whole life. She calls me up crying the day of my wedding. She tells me of how her children’s marriages haven’t worked out well and to make sure I don’t have any doubts and anyway I called me wife up and ruined our beautiful wedding. My wife and I took a month away from one another and I knew I didn’t want anyone else and we got married about 2 months later. But our wedding wasn’t anything like the one we had prepared. It still cuts my heart every time I think about it. Like your virginity the wedding is a one time thing. I can’t really make it up to her. I can never give her the perfect wedding like we had planned. Every girl would love to have her dream wedding and I ruined it for her…but she forgave me and now we have a happy marriage. (If only we could do things over, again) But back to the point, you can see how she is a beautiful picture of God’s forgiveness. She has taken care of me while I’ve been sick and nursed me while I was recovering from a surgery. She’s a beautiful picture.
I love my mother. She has been my encouragement and support all my life. She’s is the best example of unconditional love that I know. She has always tried to make me feel good about myself. She always makes sure to tell me how special I am to her. She loves spending time with me. When my brother and I were children, and school started she was always sad to see her children go. She wasn’t anxious to get rid of us. She’s not impatient with me and doesn’t cut me down. She always seeks to build me up. She listens when I talk. She doesn’t just be quiet and wait for her chance to speak. When I mess up she’s not there asking how could I do such a thing or telling me that I should know better. She’s extremely thoughtful. Once as a child at a church Christmas gift exchange, a boy who drew my name didn’t come to church that often. My mom bought me a gift and put it under the church tree without my knowing so that I wouldn’t be there without a gift while everyone else had one. I still have that gift, a remote controlled car. By the way the kid never showed up at the Christmas party. She’s done stuff like that my whole life. She is the most generous person I know. I’ve watched her give and give. It’s not like my parents have a bunch of money, but she’s always making sure people are taken care of. My wife and I still struggle financially, but my mom always makes sure we have plenty of groceries. She has been faithful to God, her husband and kids, and her parents. She taught me about Jesus. She never pushed Jesus on me, but He is her life source. All my life she has been totally committed to Him. You meet some folk that are dedicated Christians but they don’t have that extra step of being in love with Him. When Jesus comes they are going with Him, but they aren’t consumed by passion for Him. Then you meet others who are totally enamored with Him. That’s my mom. Her whole life is Jesus and pleasing Him. She’s a beautiful picture.
I have been surrounded by great and good pictures of Christ, besides the beauty of a sunrise, or skyscrapers outlined against a night sky, the call of a whippoorwill, the smell of dianthus, the tickly feeling when you smell Coke fizz (I just love that). There are so many songs that arouse my heart and touch my soul. Stories lift me out of my dilemmas for a while and call to me to another place. Pictures of Christ are everywhere. I do so love the pictures. I thank God so much for them, but now I just want to see the real thing. It doesn’t diminish the pictures but only make them more real. Don’t let cynicism steal your joy enjoy the pictures for what they are worth. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Love, and truly appreciate, the pictures. But place your deepest and truest desires on the real thing, Jesus.
1. C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1949), p.30-31.
What is sin? Sin is everywhere where God’s presence is not. This chapter is my theory on what happens when we sin or even backslide.
First, let’s look at what happens when we become Christians?
II Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
Ezekiel 36:26 says, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.”
According to these verses we are completely changed. We were one creature and now we have become a new and different creation altogether. He didn’t say we were modified or molded differently. We are totally different beings. Stone and Flesh are altogether different; one hard and unbending, the other soft and pliable, most importantly, one is lifeless and the other is full of life. As a Christian we are imbued with the very life of God. His presence is our habitation. Everywhere God is there is life and everywhere He is not there is death. When God withdraws His presence from anything it withers and dies (Jesus and the fig tree).
The Bible says in Isaiah 59:2, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” For many years I had a picture of Yahweh being utterly sick of me when I sinned. I thought that He shunned me like a snotty rag. I don’t believe this at all anymore. God loves us unconditionally. He is bananas about us. Do you realize all human history is about His pursuit of our hearts? He didn’t create this world for any other reason except He desperately wanted to be with us. I believe that Song of Solomon is one of God’s favorite books. Why? Because it’s His love letter to us and how he longs for us to respond to Him. Have you read Psalm 139? “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake I am still with thee” Zechariah 2:8 “…for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye.” Psalm 16:3 NASB “ As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight” Revelation 4:11 “and for thy pleasure they are and were created” Being a Christian I’m sure you’ve heard, or even said the phrase “I’m so unworthy” which means “I’m not worth it”. How many times in scripture has Jesus ever said that? …0. That is a phrase from satan’s mouth to us. God paid the price for our redemption. Would you consider the Most Holy to be unwise? Would He pay for something that was not worth it? Is God foolish? He paid His very life for us. By doing so He said that we are worth it. Why would we agree with the enemy? Why would we say what God, the wisest being in the universe, has never said? Or would we think the very life of God to not be worth much? That is what we are actually saying when we say “I’m so unworthy”. Enough, God deems us worthy. Nothing else matters.
I don’t care if anyone else in this whole world finds me attractive except my wife. Why would anyone else matter (now as a sub note here, If you have a spouse that doesn‘t find you attractive in some physical way, their vision is tainted by lies of Satan. So don‘t you dare feel bad about yourself. You are a creation of Yahweh. Anyone who sees a creation of Him as unattractive has their vision distorted from the truth) So it is with God. Ultimately it only matters what He sees in us in every aspect of our lives. It only matters that the lover of our souls finds us irresistible. Even what we see through our own eyes should not matter because His vision is perfect. Ours is severely tainted. Ours was tainted the first time Adam believed what Satan said over what God had said. “For we walk by faith, not by sight: (II Corinthians 5:7)” We walk in Jesus’ words and not by anything else. To us there should be nothing else. Everything is as He says it is. It cannot be any other way. Nothing is different from what God says it is. God loves us. God finds us irresistible. “You have stolen my heart my sister my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. (Song of Songs 4:9 NIV) “
Hello?! We must be pretty doggone special to make the Son of God want to give His life for us. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, that would have been the place for Jesus to say that we were not worth it. He didn’t. He could’ve called legions of angels to whisk Him back to Heaven, but He didn’t. My point in all this is to make sure you know that God does not finds us in the least repugnant, even when we sin. So what does happen when we sin?
Let’s look at our best example, the prodigal son. He left home to find life elsewhere. That is what we do when we sin. We believe a lie…the lie. It’s the same lie that Satan told Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It’s the lie that there is life outside of God, that He‘s somehow holding out on us. John Eldridge said in the Sacred Romance, “Satan gets us to side with him by sowing the seed of doubt in our first parents’ minds: ‘God’s heart really isn’t good. He’s holding out on you. You’ve got to take things into your own hands.’” (1)It’s in no way, shape, or form true. That is the lie of sin. I don’t see any other lie of sin. Every sin ever committed is based on life outside of Him. We are tempted to look elsewhere, because we don’t like what God told us to do. It doesn’t matter to us at the moment, that God always has our best at heart. We think that we know best. We believe that somewhere there is life outside of Him. He’s just not letting us in on the secret. He’d rather have us miserable.
So the prodigal leaves home. He looks off over the horizon just anticipating the great life he will find. A smile creases his foolish face. His father hugs him one last time. Finally, the son worms out of his father’s warm embrace. The father looks at him with love, tears streams from his eyes. The son turns to go away. The father stands there, hoping at any moment the son might turn back. The son walks on. The father doesn’t stop his son, because the father knows that that would not be love. If you love someone then you have to let them go. If they stay or if they return after they leave then they love in return. The father’s heart breaks as his son passes out of sight. The father calls “You’ll always be welcome home my son!”
I believe God and sin are different locations, if you will. Anywhere outside of God is sin. Sin is everywhere that God is not. Just like the prodigal son left home to become the prodigal son. It’s not God that kicks us from His sweet presence. It’s we who choose to leave. We choose to travel somewhere outside of Him. We say “God you’re really great and all, but I think I saw something out there that will make me happier.” The Bible says that, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:17)” ‘Every’ is pretty definite. It doesn’t say most, or a good many. It says every. So if every good and perfect gift comes from God, then what other good and perfect gifts are out there?…None! Not a one! There is nothing good or perfect outside of God. So don’t believe the lie. Save yourself lots of trouble. Don’t go to see for yourself, just believe. Just believe that what God says is true and infallible. Be a child in the ways of God; just believe everything that He says. Because “For I know the plans I have for you declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV). “
You may be tempted to look for life outside of your marriage. Don’t! Be a man or a woman of God and look for life in the only place it is found, in Jesus. The husband or wife that you are with is not the one who is supposed to give you the life that you are looking for. John 14:6 says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus said He is ‘the’ life, not ‘a’ life. “A” would mean one of many; “The” means the only one. If you eat a pizza from the freezer then there could be more up there. If you eat the pizza from the freezer then it was the only one.
Instead of turning anywhere else to scrape and try to find life, turn to Jesus. Anything else is a fruitless search, an investment doomed to fail. Michael Yaconelli says, “Sin is more than turning our backs on God, it is turning our backs on life! Immorality is much more than adultery and dishonesty; it is living drab colorless, dreary, stale, unimaginative lives.”(2) Why is any sin committed? It’s people desperately looking for life. Why did the child molester become the hideous creature that it is? Why does the prostitute or rapist become who they are? Why do people murder and steal? Because they are looking under every rock and in every garbage can to find life, when Jesus is standing right there with arms wide open. We can try and search our hardest. We can look in every religion. We can look in every person. But the only place to find all that we are searching for is in El-Shaddai, The All-Sufficient One. There is no hope, no joy, no peace, and no love outside of Him. All good and perfect things descend from the Father. So let’s stop wasting our time! Let’s just stop and look to Jesus!
Back to the prodigal son. So he spends all his money. He wastes all that he had. He diligently searched for that promise of life outside the Father. He ended up in a pig pen. I’m no farmer, but I have been close enough to a pig pen to know that they are putrid. The Bible says that he was so hungry he would have eaten the pig’s food. Have you ever been near slop before? It’s generally the refuse of the farm. It’s not a pretty sight or smell. He had sunk pretty low. That’s exactly where sin is. Low and filthy. Places you never thought that you would go, you went. Things you never thought that you would do, you did. You end up in the sewage. You end up covered in filth. Feces all over you. Pretty nasty, huh?
I love the next line in the text though, “He came to his senses”. Anytime we choose to sin, we are just bonkers. What kind of life is sin? We create an ugly past. We live in a lifeless present. We have no hope for a future. It just doesn’t make any sense. The Bible does mention the pleasures of sin. It says that they are only for a short time. While we are searching so hard in sin, we don’t notice. If you are having an affair you may not notice at first. You are so busy with the short thrill. You don’t see. If we steal, we are so caught up in the rush that we don’t pay attention. When all is settled down, or when our house has fallen down around our ears, then it hits home. We are empty. We are just a husk.
I like to garden. I love plants and working in the soil. It’s what I do for a living. I went to school for it. Right now, it’s September and it’s time to plant various bulbs. Matter of fact, I just got some in the mail today. They are ornamental onions, Star of Persia. Anyway, I got six in, but one looked a little funny. At first glance they all looked the same, but one just stood out. It was rotten. The husk or skin looked okay but there was some dark spots in places. Inside it is all rank. Have you ever smelled rotten bulbs before? Not very appealing. If you find them in the ground they are usually stinky and filled with rotten muck. Insects just crawling around. That’s the life of sin. All may seem okay on the outside, but it’s the inside that matters.
So the prodigal son realized what a fool he’d been. He finally came to his senses. His father’s servants had food enough to spare and he was envying pigs. It finally hit home that there was no life outside of his Father. Just because he didn’t want to do everything his Father’s way, he looked elsewhere. Even though he truly had the perfect father, he thought that surely He was holding out on him. His Father always knew and did what was best for him, even if he didn’t understand. He mistrusted his Father’s heart. Look where it had gotten him. When he was at home, he always had food in abundance; steak cooked just right, and fresh vegetables whenever he wanted. Oh he remembered the feasts. He remembered the joy and celebrations of his Father’s dances that He would throw. He remembered the mirth in his Father’s home, in his Father’s smile.
A voice from somewhere whispered. He recognized that voice. It had been speaking to him for some while now. “You left it all. You gave it all up. You took, very ungratefully I might add, your share of your Father’s inheritance. He’s glad you’re gone. What a son you turned out to be. “It was the same voice that pointed at the shadows in the horizon as he stood on his Father’s property. “Your Father’s not letting you in on all the glories that are out there. Did you see that?! That looked interesting? What do you mean you didn’t see anything? Are you stupid as well as ugly? Oh… I thought you’d seen it. Your Father want you boys all to himself, he doesn’t care if you are happy or not. Imagine the wonders that are over that horizon. Yes of course the horizon is off your Father’s properties. But, if He truly cared for you then he would give you all you wanted and not just what He sees fit you should have. “You believed that voice long ago, and look where it had gotten you. It continued, “Sure you’re in a pig sty now, but it’s not my fault. You should have made better friends and not just those fair weather ones. You should have made more friends like me. Now if you keep trying you’ll see the glories that we’ve talked about. You’ll never see them at your Father’s. Besides, I bet that He dreads looking at the horizon every day. He’s dreads the thought of you ever coming back. He’d much rather invest in someone like your brother. Now let’s think up some more ideas of getting you out of this mess. “
But finally the prodigal remembers his Father’s heart. Finally he concludes that his Father has always been the most generous, compassionate one he’s ever known. “Maybe He would at least make me a servant, so I’ll be fed properly. I’ll work hard. I’ll repay Him. I’ll be the best servant ever.” He took his bucket of hog scraps and threw them at the voice. “If I were you I’d…bluh…yuck…gurgle” “That’s what I thought “ said the enlightened son. He marched his way back towards his Fathers, pig slime and all.
The Father looked out over the horizon. Everyone had been telling Him how silly He was, thinking that His son would come home. Yet He scanned every day. He never gave up hope. Finally one day He saw something. It sure looked like a person. He scrunched His eyes. It was His boy, his heart. The Father’s heart exploded. He shouted, “He’s come home. He’s come home. Slaughter the fattest cow. Call all our friends. Hurry, decorations, music, dancing.” And with that He ran. He didn’t leisurely stroll. He didn’t saunter. He definitely didn’t turn and go the other way. He ran for all His might. Right as the moment of embrace drew near His son stopped, dropped and kneeled. “Forgive me Father, I have sinned against you and am not worthy to have the noble title of ‘Your Son’, but please have mercy and make me a servant. I’ll work hard and make you …” But before He could finished, He was totally engulfed in His Father’s warm embrace. Strong arms wrapped around his tired soul, pig slime and all. “I am already proud of you my son. I love you. I have waited for you every day since you left. I was not going to force my will on you, but my will has always been to have you with me. You bring joy to my heart!” “How could you possibly be proud of me Father? How could you still love me?” “Nothing could ever diminish, taint or tarnish my love for you my son. I’m so proud of you, because you came home. “
A major tool of Satan’s is shame. It is not of God. God didn’t invent it and He definitely doesn’t use it. Have you ever read in the Bible where God says “Shame on you”? Shame is what Satan uses to make us run from God. If you feel ashamed of something, you hide. God never wants you to hide. He always wants you to run to Him, because His arms are always wide open. When I read the God Chasers by Tommy Tenney, It definitely changed my life. I don’t say that with exaggeration either. One of the remarks in there basically said, What would have happened if Adam and Eve ran to God when they had sinned instead of away from God?” What would have happened if they would not have hid in shame? When we hide from God we are hiding from the only source of life. Logically, why would we ever do that? It’s often the same way when you disappoint someone you love. You feel ashamed and want to hide from them. You might not call them as much or you might not spend time with them. Why? Because shame hides you. In earthly relationships there are all sorts of variables. Maybe the person you disappointed makes you feel ashamed. Maybe they don’t want anything else to do with you. Maybe they totally forgive you and wish you’d come back to them. With God though, He’s always wants you near Him.
Remember, God and Sin are separate places. If you run to God it means that you repent of your sin and you run into His embrace. You decide to obey Him no matter what. Repenting doesn’t mean putting yourself through the cycles of guilt and shame; it just means that you acknowledge that you have sinned. You left God and you realize that it was wrong. You leave sin and come back to Him. If you are in sin you can’t be in God and if you are in God then you can’t be in sin. They are totally different places. You can’t be in both at the same time. I’d like to talk about that concept in just a minute.
So remember if you feel ashamed it’s not God making you feel that way. It is Satan trying to convince you to stay away from God. Shame is an awful lie and always is. Remember how the Father acted towards the prodigal son. Always remember that when you repent. Don’t see God the Father with a disapproving look on His face waiting to cover you with shame. That’s not biblical, that’ demonic. See Him as the Word says in this story. See Him running to embrace you. See His smile and intense pleasure at your homecoming. Feel as He throws His own robe over you. He clothes you with His righteousness (II Corinthians 5:21, Revelation 19:8) You are seen righteous as He is righteous. Feel as He puts the ring of Sonship back on your finger. Hear the music and enjoy the dancing as the Father’s celebration begins. Remember the story of the sheep that went astray (Luke 15:4-7)? He rejoices over you. That is the truth. God’s Word is always true. Choose to not believe anything else except what God says. Everything else is just a lie. Haven’t we believed them long enough? So cut a rug and let the Father enjoy having you home. Stop hiding. Stop running. Unless you’re hiding in Him or running to Him. He’s so delighted and exuberant to have you home. Words don’t describe His joy. His son that was lost has come home. Let’s all remember that there is nothing good outside of God and let’s stay home with the Father.
Now there is somewhat of a disagreement about eternal security and I’d like to address that. Some believe that if you are a child of God and you start living in sin or backsliding that you are still going to heaven if you died or the rapture happened. I don’t believe that. The reason why is from this story. I believe that God and sin are different places, as I’ve talked about. Say that the prodigal died while he was away from home. He’s in a separate place from God. He died apart from his Father. He’s forever separated from Him. Or let’s say the rapture happens while we’ve been backsliding. Say that there is a certain day when the Father and His entire household move to a much better place. Sort of like the elves at the end of Lord of the Rings. The son takes that chance when he’s out in sin. He knows that one day the Father and all His children will move to this better place. When the Father leaves and the son is still a prodigal he’s forever lost. The Father is not coming back, He can’t He’s on an altogether different playing field now. He desperately wishes that the son would have come home, but he didn’t. That is one of the features of the free will that God has given us. We choose our fate. We can’t always choose our circumstances but we choose our actions and what we believe and adhere to. Let’s just make sure that our actions and beliefs line up with the Word.
Now I don’t believe that when someone backslides that they are not a child of God anymore. You are a child of God forever. Even if you burn in Hell (Eternal Separation from God). Son and Daughters can rebel against their Father. The Bible says that He who is not for us is against us (Matthew 12:30). If we, as children of the most high God, side with satan, then we will share his punishment. We are creatures of free will. God never forces us to love Him. But if we obey Him we love Him in return (John 14:21).
II Corinthians says that we are new creations. Ezekiel says we are given a heart of flesh. That is why a backslider is so extremely miserable. When they had a heart of stone they weren’t happy but they didn’t know the good they were missing out on either. When a vile creature does vile things it’s miserable as it’s always been but it has never known the joys of the being God’s son/daughter. When a heart of flesh starts subjecting itself to sin then it feels all the pain it causes itself and others. It poisons itself. Each pump of their heart spreads more venom of sin though the new creation of God. This new creation that knew the joy of the Father has turned away from the only source of life. The Bible says that the life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11) And Jesus said He is the life (John 14:6) So if we replace our blood, our life source, with something that causes death, we become very miserable and eventually die apart from the life of Yahweh.
So sinners come to Jesus and backslidden children of God come home to Him. Let God’s children be not deceived. All life and every good and perfect gift is from our Father and can be found nowhere else.
1. Brent Curtis and John Eldridge, The Sacred Romance (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), p.78.
2. Michael Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998) p. 25.