“Can I take something?”

Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:23-26

I walked up to the bus stop, as I do most days, to pick up my two youngest children. I usually wait for five to ten minutes before seeing the elementary school bus pull up and drop off a bunch of kids. My middle son (9) and my daughter (6) got off the bus and ran over to me. I greeted them with a smile and a hug and asked them how their day was.

As they started to tell me all about their day I reminded them, as I usually do, that they can take off their masks. Usually, I ask them right away if I can help carry something in order to lighten their load. But this day I waited until there was an opening in the conversation.

Eventually, I turned to my six-year-old daughter. She had a mask in her left hand, her lunch in her right hand, a fleece on her back and a heavy backpack on her shoulders. I reached my left hand down and said, “Can I take something?”

Then my daughter did something that absolutely rocked my world for the rest of the walk home. She saw me reach my hand down. She put her lunch in her left hand with her mask, reached out with her right hand, and put her hand in mine.

I wasn’t ready for that.

When I reached down and asked if I could take something, I was thinking about her mask, or her lunch box, or her backpack. What I wasn’t ready for was her hand. Essentially, I asked, “Can I take something?” and she answered, without a word, “My hand.”

My little girl would rather walk home with her heavy backpack on her shoulders and her left hand stuffed with a mask and a lunch box if it meant she could hold my hand along the way.

A thousand thoughts ran through my mind. A hundred sermons were instantly written in my head. God spoke. This was a holy moment that had snuck up on me. My eyes started to well up with tears, and I had to fight them back just so she wouldn’t think something was wrong.

So profound.

So often I try to help people by lightening their load. But so often, what they really need is a hand to hold.

So often I ask God to help me by lightening my load. But so often, what He knows I really need is His hand to hold. By holding my hand God tells me, “I know you are strong enough to carry what you are carrying. I just want you to know that I am with you, I love you, and I’ll hold your hand through this.”

When God asks me, “Can I take something?” sometimes He’s asking if He can lighten my load. Sometimes He’s asking if I need to unload a heavy burden off of my back and give it to Him. But other times, He’s simply asking to take my hand. “Can I take something…your hand, perhaps? Your heart?

The Psalmist wrote, “you hold me by my right hand.” I think this is what he meant. God’s hand is what we need more than anything else, more than a lighter load, more than solutions to our problems. He is our portion. He is the strength of our heart forever.

Staying in God’s Love

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Jude 1:20-21

The Bible instructs us to keep ourselves in God’s love. I picture God’s love as a waterfall that continues to be poured out, and our job is to stay under it.

But how do we keep ourselves in God’s love?

I believe there are two parts to remaining in God’s love that are necessary. One without the other won’t work. Like an epoxy glue, both of these parts must mix together to establish an unbreakable bond.

First, we must know God’s love. This is about trusting that God is love. We must believe that God’s love for us is not based on our performance or our worthiness but based on His own character. God loves because He is love. His love for us cannot be ruined by our sinful actions. Our sin is not stronger than His grace.

But I am like an olive tree
    flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
    for ever and ever.

Psalm 52:6

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved…

C0lossians 3:12

Secondly, we must experience God’s love. It is not enough just to know that God loves us. We need to experience that love. Sometimes we can feel God’s love pouring out on us in private moments of prayer or in worship. Sometimes we experience it through His provision or His perfect timing. Other times we experience it through people who love us well. Experiencing God’s love can’t be a one time thing. It has to be a daily lifestyle of experiencing and receiving the love God has for us.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:5

If we know the love of God but don’t put ourselves in a place to experience His love, then our belief that we are loved will erode when the storms of life come. And if we only have experiences of the love of God without a foundational knowledge of His love rooted in His nature, then when the experiences stop the doubts will start.

Both knowledge and experience of God’s love are necessary to remain under that waterfall of His love that continually pours out. When we know we are loved by God and we experience His love for us, an unbreakable bond is established that can withstand whatever life throws at us.

Holy-Light-Love

In ministry I often stress to people God’s love for them. Many Christians may know about God’s love cognitively but have never experienced the tangible love of the Father pouring down on them. It’s life-changing! It is so easy to forget not only that God loves us but that “God is love“(1 John 4:8).

Yet, God is not just love. Progressive Christians often stress “God is love” in a way that defines love as “permissiveness,” especially when it comes to sexual sin. For some reason, the progressive wing of the Church wants to hold a hard line on sin when it comes to economics and social justice yet advocates a kind of free-for-all when it comes to human sexuality. I heard one progressive writer say it like this, that when it comes to the LGBTQ issues, they are going to err on the side of love because God is love. Bu what is he really saying? He’s saying, when it comes to LGBTQ issues, he wants to err on the side of permissiveness because that is how he defines love. And God is love. This kind of thinking has led to all kinds of deception.

God is love, but He’s not “permissive” love (if we can even call that love), and He’s not only love. Before we read the phrase “God is love” in 1 John 4:8, we read “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all” in 1 John 1:5. And before we even get to 1 John 1, we read in 1 Peter 1:15-16 that God is holy. Not only is God holy but, because of His holiness, we are called to holiness. Here’s what it says, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

God’s love is never in conflict with God’s light and holiness, just as the Father is never in conflict with the Son and the Spirit. We worship a trinitarian God. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We understand that when people start to stress that God is Father but not Son or Spirit, they wander into heresy. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. The Holy Spirit is God the Spirit. While it is a mystery as to how they are “three-in-one,” the tension of this truth must be held. This same thing is true for God being Love, Light, and Holy.

While the Father, Son, and Spirit each express all three of these realities (love, light, holiness), it does seem like each person of the Godhead has adopted one as their specialty. The Father is all about love. 1 John 3:1 says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  

Jesus, the Son, is all about Light. The Gospel of John speaks of Jesus as Light a few different times. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it“(John 1:4-5). “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world“(John 1:9).

The Holy Spirit, God the Spirit, is our source of holiness. His name even starts with “holy.” The apostle Paul clearly contrasts the difference between living by the flesh and living by the Spirit. The Spirit is the One that fosters in us a holy life as we keep in step with the Spirit.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

Galatians 5:16-19, 22-23

God’s love is never divorced from His light and holiness. The most loving thing God can do is to invite us out of the darkness and into His Light. The most loving thing God can do is call us to be like Him, be holy as He is holy. God is Love, yes. And, God is Light. And God is Holy. All three of these must be held together or our understanding of God (and love) gets warped.

Extravagant Love

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 

Matthew 26:6-10

Jesus regularly talked about using money wisely and certainly seemed to shun extravagance. So when this woman wasted this valuable resource, the disciples gave this woman a dose of righteous indignation. Like the many social justice warriors that would come 2000 years later, they thought they were doing the right thing.

But Jesus rejects their form of righteous indignation. When it comes to love and grace, Jesus is extravagant. For Jesus, this was a beautiful act of extravagant love. It was preparing Him for burial and for His own extravagant act of love.

We can get embarrassed by acts that seem wasteful or over-the-top. Extravagant displays of love for God can make the rest of us uncomfortable. We can tend to defend our lack of extravagant love with reasonable arguments about propriety, order and decency.

Yet, this woman was not so prideful that she let propriety, order or her own sense of decency get in the way of her extravagant display of love for Jesus. And we learn that, far from Jesus rejecting her, Jesus is very comfortable with extravagance when it comes to love.

There are times in worship services when people pour their heart out to God extravagantly. It causes a little bit of a scene. It makes people uncomfortable. What about propriety and order? What about decency? Jesus isn’t as concerned about those things as He is about our heart. And if our heart is in the right place while we pour out extravagant love, Jesus is not embarrassed. We shouldn’t be either.

There are other times in worship services when God pours out His Presence on His people in a way that is extravagant. There are times when His Presence comes so powerfully upon people that it causes them to weep, shake, fall down, or cry out. This extravagant love of God pours into the body and soul of a person and can cause some extreme reactions. Propriety and decency go out the window.

God is not unwilling to show His children physical affection. And when the Holy Spirit begins to show up physically in someone’s body or emotions, God is not embarrassed by the result. We shouldn’t be either.

Jesus dying on the cross, paying for our sin, is the ultimate act of extravagant love. When it comes to love, God is very comfortable with extravagance.

Have you been holding back on extravagant acts of love to God? Are propriety, order, and decency being leveraged by your pride as excuses to avoid extravagant love?

If God extravagantly poured out His Presence upon you right in the middle of a worship service, would you be willing to receive it?

Serving from sonship

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

Sonship with the Father will always lead to serving others. But serving others does not always lead to sonship with the Father.

Jesus was teaching His disciples about greatness in the Kingdom of God. If we want to be great, we must go low. If we want to be top dog, we must be the last one in line. Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve. If we, as His disciples, are to imitate His life with our own, we too must make it our lifestyle to serve others (and not to expect to be served).

Yet, our servanthood has to come out of an identity of sonship. On the one hand, if we try to elevate ourselves and don’t serve others, we become the younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Yet, if we serve out of obligation–thinking that if we perform all of our duties then God will owe us good things–then we become the older son.

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.

Luke 15:28-31

When we serve, we must do so from an intimacy with God the Father. We must serve from an overflow of the love God has for us and the love we have for Him. Everything we do to serve others must be “rooted and established in love” (Ephesians 3:17) and not out of obligation. True servanthood comes from sonship.

When all we have is obligation and duty, we are operating out of a performance mentality of the older brother. We are not acting as a son but a slave. We are hoping to win points with God by doing good things for Him. We ended up serving others for Him and not with Him. Eventually we’ll wonder, “What’s in it for me” just as the older son did. We’ll forget that, as a son or daughter of God the Father, everything He has is ours.

Many Christians in the Church who are always serving look like the model Christians (because they follow all the rules), yet they have hearts that are far from the Father. We have churches full of older sons, thinking that God owes us something for our good behavior and good works. Yet, intimacy with the Father–the overflow of the love of God in their lives–is gone. They are demanding, harsh, competitive, impatient, angry, and condemning behind closed doors all while looking like they have it all together. Their love tank is on empty.

God is calling us to be servants, but not out of obligation and duty. God is calling us to serve out of the overflow of our love and intimacy with Him. He’s calling us to be sons and daughter first, and then servants second. This is who Jesus is. This is who we are called to be as His disciples.

Are you serving others? Where does your service come from in your own heart? Is it duty? Is it obligation? Or is it love?

The Heart of Jesus

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Matthew 14:13-14

This gives us great insight into the heart of Jesus.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he tried to get alone. What happened? John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin and the greatest of Old Testament prophets, was beheaded by Herod the tetrarch. And it wasn’t even a noble death.

John called Herod out for marrying his brother’s wife and got thrown into prison. Then Herod made a drunken oath to give his step-daughter half of his kingdom. At the prompting of her bitter mother, she asks for John’s head on a platter. It was an unceremonious and brutal death.

John the Baptist was a friend and a herald of Jesus. He was a fellow prophet calling people to repentance and declaring the Kingdom of God. Jesus knew all too well that if they were willing to so flippantly kill John, He would be next.

So Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to grieve. He was grieving the loss of a friend and fellow companion in ministry. He was grieving the death of the greatest of Old Testament prophets (Matthew 11:11). He was grieving the death of a family member. And He was grieving His own future, knowing it will look similar to John’s.

The crowds didn’t seem to honor Jesus’s need to be alone and process John’s death. As soon as Jesus came ashore He saw that the crowds followed Him around the Sea of Galilee on foot. They were all clamoring to have their needs met, not once thinking about what Jesus needed in that moment. The crowds weren’t there to comfort Jesus. They were there to be ministered to by Jesus.

What would your response be in this moment if you were Jesus?

It’s in this moment that we see the heart of Jesus, the heart of our Heavenly Father. When Jesus saw the large crowd, scripture says “he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Jesus was still loving other people even as He grieved.

If we’re not careful, grief can pull us into a selfish spiral of self-pity. While grieving is healthy and necessary, there can be a great temptation in grief to become self-absorbed. But not for Jesus. He still was compassionate. He still chose to heal all who needed healing.

This is the Jesus we serve and love. This is the Jesus to whom we surrender all. Jesus wants to spend time with us. He wants to be near to us. He has limitless compassion for us and what we’re experiencing. He’s the perfect representation of God the Father’s heart toward us.

God is not put out by you. You don’t exhaust Him. He’s not irritated with you. You don’t bother Him. He loves you. And nothing you do will ever change that.