Why Should I Love God When He Calls Me a Sinner?

MEME - Luke 19 v 10 - Photo by Dee Reeves Bright

(Suggested Reading: Luke 19:1-10)

Seeped in sin. Sometimes oblivious. Sometimes . . . okay, most of the time, completely and intentionally rebellious.

I believed God existed, but I’d never had a personal encounter with the Person−God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit−the loving and faithful One, the mighty and merciful One, the one and only True Triune God.

I’d grown up confused by wrong-thinking that led to seeing God as a punisher, a cruel judge who delighted in pouring His wrath on people. I couldn’t imagine turning to God just to be judged, condemned, and shamed into changing my life.

How could I love God if He called me a . . . sinner?

I perched in that tree of confusion, looking at Jesus from a safe distance, never daring to get close and personal, until He whispered my name and invited me to spend time getting to know Him.

The more I study the Bible, the more I know about God’s story, the more I submit to God’s Holy Spirit, the more I spend time loving Jesus and being loved by Jesus, the more I discover the extent of God’s incredible love for me.

I enjoyed sharing a part of my journey through blog series: “Meeting Jesus Face-to-Face in the Gospel of John.”

Contrary to my past belief, Jesus didn’t expect me to come to Him cleaned up and sin-free. He accepted me, drew me closer to His heart, and wrapped me in compassion and mercy, while I was still chained by my brokenness, my fears, and my sins.

Overwhelmed by Jesus’s love for me, I fell in love with Him.

He didn’t shame my sins away or make me feel like a total loser, like I’d expected.

Jesus showered me with grace, drew me so close I could hear His heart beating, and loved me.

He loved me and held on with gentleness and compassion, until I had the strength to lean toward Him.

Eventually, I wanted nothing more than to love Him, to please Him, to praise Him, to live for Him because of His love for me.

The more I lived for Him, the more I understood Jesus’s declaration that loving Him leads to obeying Him (John 14:15-27).

Sobbing on a cold cement floor of my garage on December 14, 2001, I had my Zacchaeus Moment. But it’s during my ongoing face-to-face encounters with Jesus that He helps me love Him more, receive His love more, and turn toward Him and away from my sins more and more each day.

What’s a Zacchaeus Moment?

Scripture says Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus when He entered Jericho (Luke 19:1-4).

Short in stature, the chief tax collector scrambled up that tree because the crowd kept him from seeing the Lord (vv. 3-4). His status, his money, his heritage couldn’t spare him from the badge of condemnation his community placed on his chest (v. 7).

Jesus could have passed the tree without glancing at Zacchaeus. The Lord could have rebuked him in front of the entire community, listing his sins, shaming, condemning, and demanding him to change.

Instead, Jesus called Zacchaeus by name and let the whole world know He wanted to spend time with the man He knew was a sinner (v. 5).

With a sense of urgency, his tone dripping with joy, gratitude, and even surprise, Zacchaeus “welcomed” Jesus into his home “gladly” (v. 6).

When his neighbors reminded him how unworthy he was (v. 7), Zacchaeus didn’t wait for the Lord to rebuke them. He repented and offered restitution before Jesus even said a word (v. 8).

And when the Lord called him a son of Abraham (v. 9), how did Zacchaeus feel? How could he hold back the emotion after being acknowledged as a rightful member of God’s family, because of who he belonged to, because of who loved him, not what he did or didn’t do?

Jesus made it clear that Zacchaeus belonged for one reason: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (v. 10), to save those lost in their sins . . . all of us.

Why should I love God when He calls me a sinner?

Because I am a sinner.

I am compared to God, who is holy, not anyone else.

I am a sinner in desperate need of rescuing, a sinner saved by God’s grace.

Being a good person will never save me, because I can never be good enough. Only Jesus is perfect, only Jesus is good enough, only Jesus can save.

And that’s why He came, why He died on the cross, why He rose, and why He whispers our names until we turn to Him and receive all that wondrous life-transforming love He offers us.

I lived the life of Zacchaeus, fending for myself, not caring who I hurt as long as I benefited, as long as I avoided pain.

But Jesus . . . oh, but Jesus . . . Jesus called me by name.

Jesus invited me to spend time with Him. He helped me accept His love and gently cracked my armor until I gladly welcomed Him into my home, my heart, my life.

Like Zacchaeus, I’ve had to repent and even offer restitution. But I’ve learned to enjoy the freedom of complete surrender to and total dependence on Christ, and shared a part of my story in “Accepting My Wings of Freedom.”

But, the Lord helps me remember what He revealed and affirmed during my Zacchaeus moment:

The Father sent His Son to save all sinners, which means all people. When we choose to receive Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, He blesses us with His Holy Spirit who dwells in all Christ followers.

He invites us to commune with Him through prayer and the study of His Word. He helps us to know Him and know His Word, the more we spend time with Him.

He helps us receive the fullness of His grace, as He empowers us to repent and turn away from our sins so we can live for Christ and share His life-transforming love with others . . . because we are all lost without Him.

Lord, thank You for loving us and wanting us to know You intimately. Thank You for reminding us that when we surrender our lives to You, we are sinners no longer enslaved by our sin because we are saved by Your grace and renewed by Your eternal and unconditional love. Please help us love You, live for You, and share You, every chance we get. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Dee Reeves Bright.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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The Perfect Planner

MEME - Isaiah 25 v 1 - Photo by Dee Reeves Bright

(SUGGESTED READING – Isaiah 25)

All-knowing and all-loving Father, thank You for assuring us that You are and always will be the one and only Perfect Planner.

No matter what changes we might face in life, we can be certain that every detail has been sifted through Your loving grace and purposed for Your glory.

You’ve placed flagstones before us, paving the way through every victory and every trial, so that we can be equipped for the plans You’ve designated for us.

Exalted One, adoring and faithful, Almighty God, thank You for demonstrating Your sovereign goodness through Your wonderful works (Isaiah 25:1).

You deserve our honor and reverence, Protector, Provider, and Lover of the needy (vv. 3-6).

You’ve made us victorious in light of Your love, defeating death, destroying despair and disgrace (vv. 7-8).

Though there are times when sorrow will overcome us, You gently wipe away our tears, compassionate and good Shepherd.

We need You.

We can trust You, because You loved us so much that You saved us (v. 9).

Even when we didn’t know we were lost, when we didn’t know we were hopeless, when we didn’t know what we were missing, You loved us and remained steadfast.

Thank You, Lord, for never giving up on us, even when we rejected You, doubted You, and fought You tooth and nail.

Please break down the walls of our pride, so we can discover the freedom of total surrender, the beautiful joy and peace found in placing You before our wants and above ourselves.

As we seek to know You more, please secure our faith in Your faithfulness.

You are our God!

No matter how hard the road is, no matter how high the mountains seem, or how wide the rough-terrain of the valleys, we can trust You’ve planned and purposed every twist and turn to make us more like You.

Oh, why do we doubt You, loving Savior?

Forgive us for our unbelief, as You help us walk with fierce faith.

We praise You, the one and only Perfect Planner, who was and is and always will be the same yesterday and today and forever−Christ, our Lord.

In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Dee Reeves Bright.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Why Should I Love God When Life Doesn’t Go According to My Plan?

MEME - Genesis 45 v 8(Suggested Reading: Genesis 37, 39-45)

I’ve amassed plenty of bumps and bruises as I sloshed through swamps of discouragement, regained my footing after whiplashing U-Turns, and navigated unplanned treks over rocky roads in the wilderness.

I’ve been side-lined, for what felt like forever, while learning to trust God to pick apart my well-thought-out plans and execute His perfect will, despite my complaints.

After overcompensating to nurse my original injury in 1992, I’d caused the extensive damage that led to my first surgery in 2012. I haven’t always enjoyed my current wild ride of faith toward healing or adjusted gracefully to life dealing with chronic pain.

And this definitely isn’t the first time in my life God used a delay or redirection to reveal my not-so-godly attitudes, mold my character to reflect more of His, and deepen the roots of my faith so I could blossom wherever He planted . . . or replanted me.

Change and seasons of suffering lead to love-drenched opportunities to demonstrate our trust in the Lord with our actions and attitudes, not just our words.

Shifts in our relationships, job status, living arrangements, or our physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual health can trigger a gamut of emotions, but present us with only two options: Trust God, or don’t trust God.

Of course we’ll need to accept the ongoing process of working through our ever-changing feelings, which are valid and expected. We may even need to embrace a few melt-down-moments when God’s grace is all we can depend on. But the two choices remain the same.

When we don’t trust the Lord, we’ll battle discontent, compare ourselves to others, and hoard resources and opportunities for fear of going without or having someone else receive what we think we deserve.

Fragile-Faith forces us to rely on people more than God.

It’s tempting to surround ourselves with those who don’t expect much from us, who never challenge us to grow, or who accept our neediness because they need to feel needed.

It’s easier to place our hope in man, which causes us to fall prey to insecurities, indecisiveness, and even demanding our way, often passive aggressively.

We may not like to admit it, but most of us have been there. I know I have.

But, when we choose to trust God, and ask for His help, we’ll be able to loosen the grip on our plans and encounter contentment while submitting to His purpose.

Living the abundant life Christ requires Spirit-empowered suppleness and selflessness, which goes against the grain of our sin nature.

But when we prioritize God’s purpose in our lives, the desires of our hearts transform from self-serving to selfless service.

We’ll be better prepared to embrace all the Lord has planned because our arms won’t be loaded with things He’s asked us to release.

Living in the freedom of surrender to God doesn’t lead to a pain-free journey. I’ve learned that the hard way.

Yet, bending to God’s will guarantees a peace-filled present that abounds with the fruit of the Spirit.

One of the most beautiful pictures of a surrendered life trusting God is found in Genesis.

In his immaturity, seventeen year old Joseph confidently received God’s plan for his life. Unfortunately, he made himself the star of the show and caused division in his family relationships (Genesis 37:1-11).

He suffered the consequences as sin clawed its way into the hearts of his brothers, divided the family tent with a blanket of deception, and caused his father immense grief (Genesis 37:12-36).

When faced with the temptation that comes with power, Joseph could have forced his way. Instead, he chose to trust God with loving obedience and acknowledged his sin as a direct attack on the Lord (Genesis 39:1-9).

With injustice, damaged relationships, bad breaks, and suffering trailing behind him, Joseph’s actions and attitudes reflected the Lord as the One who reigned in his life (Genesis 39:10-44:33).

As he revealed his identity to his brothers, Joseph acknowledged God’s fingerprints on every detail of his life. He rejoiced in how the Lord’s purposes prevailed for the good of all God’s people, no matter how much suffering he endured personally (Genesis 45:1-8).

God’s path for Joseph may not have been easy, but the Lord blessed him in ways he could have never dreamed possible.

His legacy of faith encourages us to welcome change and longsuffering, appreciating the shifting sands that God uses to strengthen our faith-muscles.

Though pain, suffering, grief, disappointment, discouragement, and discontent are not fun, each can become a solid stitch in the fabric of our faith that proves God’s enduring faithfulness.

Why should we love God when we’re affected by changes beyond our control, when doing the right thing leads to pain or suffering, and when life just doesn’t go as we plan?

Because every detail of God’s plan is rooted in and supported by His unconditional love.

With vision that surpasses time, the Good Shepherd provides lifelong care for His beloved sheep.

The Lord works in and through the lives of all who love Him, because His world revolves around Him . . . not us.

When we love God wholeheartedly, we’ll want nothing more than to please Him above ourselves, to see His plans prevail . . . even at the cost of our plans.

Lord, thank You for helping us remember life is so much more rewarding when we remain supple and surrendered to Your will. Please help us love and serve You and others, instead of demanding our wants served to us on a golden platter. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Loving God with All We’ve Got!

MEME - Deuteronomy 6 v 5 - Photo by Myriam Acfalle

(SUGGESTED READING – Deuteronomy 6:1-25)

Lord, You are good. You are loving. You are kind. You are Almighty King, Good Shepherd, and Wise Counselor.

Thanks for Your commands, the wonderful boundaries of love You’ve established to protect us and guide us straight toward the center of Your will (vv. 1-3).

You are One, the One True God−Father, Son, and Holy Spirit−blessed Trinity (v. 4).

Please help us praise You and serve You with a heart-deep-love that chooses You first and places You above everything and everyone else.

Help us worship You with a soul-deep-love that reaches beyond the things of this world.

As we walk by faith, please help us remember You are the unchanging One who has ordained our every step, every breath, every moment of this wonderful life You’ve entrusted to us.

Please help us live in obedience to Your Holy Word by the power and strength of Your Holy Spirit.

Give us opportunities to share Your truth and love wherever You place us.

Empower us to stand firm on the faithfulness of who You are, who You were, who You always have been, and who You always will be  (v. 5-12).

You are the only True God, the only One who can satisfy us, the only One who can know us completely, the only One who can enable us to love You by living for You (v. 13-25).

Help us live in the power and freedom and hope of remembering who You are, what You’ve done, and what You’ve promised.

Your eternally-ordained passionate love for us ignites our love for You, Lord Almighty.

We love You with all we’ve got.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Myriam Acfalle.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Love’s Greatest Gift (A Prayer)

MEME - John 3 v 16 - Alan's Cross Photo - Crosswinds Church - Feb 2017(SUGGESTED READING – John 3:1-21)

Father God, there are no words grand enough to capture the depth of our gratitude for who You are and all You’ve done . . . all You’ve done for the sake of Your love for all the people You’ve created in Your image.

Sometimes it’s easy to minimize, or just not think about, the magnitude of what You did when You chose to put on flesh and dwell among us.

Thank You, Father, for sending Jesus−fully God and fully Man, born as a babe, grown to manhood, and now reigning as the Risen King and the only High Priest who understands everything we could possibly experience in our human frailty.

Thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit, He who dwells in us when we repent, surrender our lives and accepting Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior.

Too often, we ignore the Holy Spirit when He nudges us toward Your Word.

We shy from reflecting on the immensity of Your suffering from the moment Your beautiful holy feet touched this dusty earth You created . . . to the moment You ascended back to Your rightful Heavenly throne.

You willingly took our place on the cross, paying the cost for our sins of yesterday, today, and even tomorrow.

Your love endured the punishment meant for us−sinners in need of saving−as You loved even those who beat You, mocked You, spit on You, and hated You.

Forgive us for the moments we whisk past the Good News as if it’s old news, Lord.

You, Heavenly Father, gave Your only Son−Love’s greatest gift−so that those who believe in Him will have eternal life.

Please don’t let us ever forget that eternal life begins now, with the privilege of knowing You personally, interacting with You intimately, and living for You abundantly.

Please create new hearts in us, hearts that love the Light, that love Your Truth, that live to love others like You love . . . because You first loved us.

We are Your beloved ones, Lord.

Do what You will, Father, and help us trust Your enduring love . . . yesterday, today, and forever.

In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Photo taken by and used with permission from my amazing husband, Dr. W. A. Dixon, Sr.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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