Because We Forget

Dear Friends:

On his one visit to the U.S. in 1962, the great 20th Century theologian Karl Barth, was asked to summarize the essence of his voluminous writings. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” the grand old man answered in thickly-accented English to a hushed university lecture hall. It is an answer worth knowing in the deepest places of our soul.

This was the annual “Week of Spiritual Renewal” at the Loma Linda University Medical Center where I serve as general counsel.

I sat down at the keyboard on Friday morning and led a group of busy employees,managers and officers who were taking a 20 minute break for praise and worship. “These are the songs that I sit down and play at home in the dark of night” I told them.

We sang great old hymns and choruses of the faith. Toward the end, I stopped and said, “We’re singing this next song because we forget–you forget and I forget–and we need to remember this. It is the reason why we serve here.” We started to sing:

Jesus loves me! This I know,
for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me still today,
Walking with me on my way,
Wanting as a friend to give
Light and love to all who live.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

(Lyrics by Anna B. Warner and William B. Bradbury, 1862)

I could hear them pour out their joy and delight at this most profound of remembered truths.

I am asked occasionally about the difference between a “song service” and “praise and worship.” Participants in a song service stand on the shore of the river of grace and sing about God. Participants in praise and worship enter the very flow of the river and in the words of my favorite hymn, “Blessed Assurance,” are “filled with His goodness [and our] lost in His love.”

The difference is an attitude of the heart, The worshiper stops thinking about the performance of voice and pitch, notes and chords, instrumentation and the approval of others. The worshiper simply focuses his or her whole being on their Maker, Redeemer, and Friend. In Spiritual terms, this is a contrast between studying biology and living. It touches on the meaning for our very existence. “The reason I live is to worship You” is a line from one of my favorite worship songs.

We were created by a loving God for loving communion with our Creator and his children. When we forget this reason for our existence, we live badly. The most basic definition of sin is to live without remembrance of God as our Source of Life and our Supply for living our lives in the chosen, holy intimacy of love specifically intended for you and for me by out Creator before the foundation of the world was even laid (Eph. 1:3-4). We sin, when we do not believe that God in Jesus Christ has done all things necessary for our salvation and therefore strike out on our own (John 16:9).

The Apostle Paul wrote that the results of our own losing efforts of the flesh, no matter how strenuous, will result in “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions,divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19). These are the activities of men and women who have given up on the possibility of a God who cares for them and instead go for what they can get here and now even if it means (as it will) taking it away from someone else.

There is a tendency in reading Paul’s words to not get past the sexual issues, and to piously say, “Well he isn’t talking about me.” Are they any of us who can say that we haven’t succumbed to idolizing someone or something that isn’t God? How about enmity toward someone else? Contributing to strife? Jealousy? Becoming enraged? Rivalries and dissension? Envy?  All of these reflect faithless and desperate measures taken to substitute for a lack of love.

We feel that lack keenly. An anthropologist was engaged in study of the Native American cultures of the Southwest. He asked a Hopi elder why so many of the Hopi songs were about rain.

The elder said, “We are a desert people. We need water to grow our food and live. So we sing songs about rain. We sing about what we need and don’t have.” The he asked the anthropologist, “Is that why so many of your people’s songs are about love?”

Paul described what it means to live that is surrendered and secure in the love of Christ and is faithfully lived in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the lusts of the flesh . . .The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). “Against such things there is no law,” Paul said, meaning that this these blessings of mind, heart and service are the result of a life surrendered to God’s desires.

Paul ends this particular passage with a call to true worship. “If we live by the Spirit, let us walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:25-26). It is a matter of focus. Where are we taking our lead? If we say in prayer, “Lord, I am watching and waiting for you. Take control of everything that I do and say this day as I go about the business that you have given me to do,” go out  in his peace and don’t do anything that we know, on the basis of God’s Word and our conscience, that we shouldn’t do, then we are walking in the Spirit.

If we go through the day constantly comparing ourselves, favorably or unfavorably, to others, pushing and pulling at our relationships, inwardly seething with envy and resentment, or wondering, “What’s in this for me?” then we are living on our own power and not in the grace that God supplies.

Is it possible to really live this way? I can say, “Yes,” to that, but only as I don’t take my eyes off of the hope and possibility of God working in every situation which is what the Bible means when it says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess.4:5:17).

Behind my desk, I have a slim volume called, The Businessman’s Topical Bible (Tulsa, OK: Honor Books). It was given to me many years ago by a healthcare executive named Frank Dupper. It organizes texts of Bible Scriptures regarding topics like, “Your relationship with God,” Your Attitude,” “Your Work,” “Your Daily Schedule,” “Your Family,” “Your Finances,” “Your Personal Life,” with many helpful sub-groupings. Many, many times I reach up and pull that volume off the shelf for guidance on how to deal with issues and people and always it leads me to a better way.

If I go on my impulse and desire for having my way and vindication, I inevitably blow it and have to make the painful turn of repentance. I blow it a lot, incidentally, but I have learned come back to God again and again on the assurance of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

He, who told us to forgive seventy times seven (Matt. 18:21) carries an eraser, not a calculator (Ps. 103:12; Isa.1:18; 1 Cor. 13:4). “Love covers all offenses,” wrote Solomon (Prov. 10:12). “Love keeps no record of wrongs,” wrote Paul who persecuted Christ-followers for a living before he succumbed to love (1 Cor. 13:4). “Love covers a multitude of sins” wrote the Apostle Peter who had plenty of opportunities in his bullheadedness to put the proposition to the test (1 Pet. 4:8).

Legalists never trust the possibility of a life transformed by love, but I can tell you as “a recovering Pharisee”, that if you have to come back to the One you love more than once and tell them, “I have betrayed you,” and received the release and relief of, “I forgive you,” you tend to stop doing what you are doing in the power of love.

Just as comparison is the enemy of grace, distrust is the enemy of love. I have learned slowly that forgiveness is an invitation to the side of my holy and faithful God and not a license to go where I want to go and do what I want to do. Trust becomes engrained with repeated forgiveness and the healing of alienating selfishness and shame.

We were made with eternity in our heart as a homing signal to return home to live with the One who loves us best and most and won’t stop loving us. “He remembered us when we were in trouble. His love continues forever” (Ps. 136:23, NCV). “Thus says the Lord: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness . . .I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you'” (Jer. 31:2-3).

“Those who love me,” said Jesus, will be loved by my Father and I will love them and reveal myself to them” (John 14:21, NRSV). It doesn’t get better than this. So, on a Friday morning, in the bustle and bureaucracy of an academic medical center, I sit down and sing “Jesus loves me this I know” with some of the busiest people there. When the last chord faded, I prayed, “Our loving and gracious heavenly Father, who sent Jesus for us, move the truth of your love from our heads into our hearts and out into our service, because it is your love, expressed to us in Jesus, that makes everything else possible for us. Amen.”

For those of you reading this who weren’t there, I suggest you take some time and sing the song yourself even if it is only in your heart. You may have forgotten and it is good — oh so very, very good — to remember that, “Yes, Jesus loves me!”

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,

Kent

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