. . . The Forth Aspect
THERE IS MORE TO LOVING GOD THAN MERE SERVICE!"
"Aren't you being somewhat blasphemous," Reginald said, removing his glasses to give them a quick wipe.
"Of course not! I've merely stated a fact. You, yourself, came into my home moments ago complaining that your Christian life is somewhat wanting."
"Wanting yes, but . . ."
"But, nothing!" Sir Charles continued, ignoring Reginald's defense. "Here, I shall prove it. Hand me my Bible!"
Reginald looked around the cluttered room, unable to focus on a Bible.
"Right there, man!" Sir Charles said, pointing an age spotted finger toward the desk. "You must learn to open your eyes."
Sir Charles began thumbing through the pages of his tattered Bible, a Bible in his possession since the time his hair was much darker. Reginald settled back in his chair, patiently waiting, examining Sir Charles' hard features, trying to deduce the retired minister's past. The rugged, yet dignified nose, the deep wrinkles around the eyes, the hair- drenched ears that, while unappealing to some, complimented the strong, wrinkled jaw. The face spoke of a man who had seen a lot, and had taught a lot.
Sir Charles found the verse. "Here! We find Jesus addressing the church of Ephesus. Open your eyes. Notice the dire implications of His rebuke: These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love (Rev. 2:1- 4)."
Reginald drew back, rubbing his chin between his forefinger and thumb. "They sound like an industrious lot."
"AHA!" Sir Charles said, pointing his finger upward. "And yet, our Lord was quick to add, Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee."
"Yes, quite unsettling--"
"More than unsettling; it stresses my point."
Reginald gave him a blank stare.
"Their servitude was not enough! In spite of their works, labor, and patience, Christ was still disappointed with their lack of love."
"But I thought their service was their love," Reginald replied.
"HA! My good man. Like many today, you suffer from spiritual Myopia."
"I don't under--"
"Of course you don't. That is why you are here. But fret not. For with God's Word in my hand and an open heart in your bosom, we will arrive at a clear understanding as to why you suffer from lackadaisical Christianity. Would you care for some tea?"
"Yes. I believe I would. Thank you."
The two men seated themselves in the dining room.
"NOW!" Sir Charles said, "let's begin with a verse that every Christian should use in the lost art of self-examination: This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. Mat. 15:8"
"Excuse me, Sir Charles, but isn't that verse referring to the unsaved? After all, the next verse says--"
"I am well aware of what the next verse says, thank you! . . . And yes, it can be said that the intent of Christ's rebuke is the religious person who unknowingly follows the rudimentary foolishness of mere men. But open your heart, look at the words, and consider their meaning as it applies to you!"
Reginald poured over the verse as he sipped his tea. He frowned as he read.
"Very well," Sir Charles said. "I shall lead you by the hand. How many times have you honored God with your lips in prayer, or even dared praise Him with your mouth while your heart has been somewhere else in the house?"
Reginald thought for a moment, then bowed his head slightly.
"As I suspected." Sir Charles slapped the table's edge in a dignified manner.
"You, sir, are the victim of what every Christian--myself included, of course- -has experienced at one time or another. You have a waning love for God, a sorrowful condition, considering our Lord said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment (Mat. 22:37-38)."
Reginald was now fully hanging his head against his chest.
"OH come now, man! Lest you wish to partake of a tall bridge, there is still hope!" Sir Charles held the Bible in the air.
"But . . . I'm afraid you have exposed my--"
"Exposed? You talk as if your ailment was previously unknown to mankind, originating exclusively within your proud, cold heart."
Reginald sat up straight, startled by the remark.
"Right . . ." Sir Charles quietly said, turning red. ". . . I meant no disrespect . . . would you care for more tea?"
Reginald stood up. "No thank you. I've heard enough for one wretched day.
"Come again . . ." Sir Charles said, his words bouncing off Reginald's back.
Moments later, from down the hall, Charles heard the front door open and close--Reginald had left the house.
Margaret stormed into the room. "HENRY! How shameful!"
"Maggie, if you insist on eaves dropping--"
"You were cruel; the boy came seeking help."
"A foolhardy lapse; back stabbed by my own tongue. Besides, he's not a boy--"
"Did you take your medicine?" Margaret said, feeling her husband's forehead.
Charles waved off her hand. "I'm feeling better, thank you. Now, will you please leave me alone? I have much thinking to do."
"He won't be back, nor can I blame him," she said, draping an afghan over him.
"IT'S MUCH TOO WARM!" he said. "And you don't know human nature as I do. While not by design, salt has found its way into a hidden wound. He'll need to dress it. He'll be back . . . Now, please allow me to prepare--and take this portable pharmacy with you!"
Margaret shook her head at his stubbornness, leaving him alone in the room.
Three days later . . .
The two men were together again, this time sitting on the terrace.
"I've come to apologize for leaving so abruptly last time--"
"Think nothing of it. It was me who insensitively made a remark that should never have escaped my normally restrained lips."
Reginald smiled, then slowly realized what Sir Charles was now implying--his smile began to fade.
"So," Sir Charles quickly added, desperately avoiding another insult, "would you care for something to eat?"
"No, thank you. But I do wish to continue our previous conversation. Perhaps there is something to be gleaned from it, after all."
"Very well, then," Sir Charles said, standing up to get his Bible. "Where did we leave off? Or perhaps it's best if we simply start anew."
"I have been thinking about my love for God--or, I now humbly admit, the lack thereof."
"Yes, yes, a subject every Christian should reflect upon. We live in a time when everyone desires revival, yet no one is willing to spend time with God."
"But what of all those faithful churches that do so much? All the ministries they--"
Sir Charles waved his hand in disgust. "That is precisely the problem."
"I don't understand."
"As don't most Christians in this day and age. We have become a generation of DO, DO, DO! Our pulpits resound with the battle cries of servitude. The saints are verbally compelled to read their Bibles, pray to God, practice holiness, tithe, serve, and witness to everyone they see." Sir Charles paused to catch his breath.
"DON'T LOOK AT ME AS IF I WERE A HERETIC!"
"But, Sir Charles, the Bible clearly teaches we must serve God."
"I am well aware of that. I was merely alluding to the lack of love for God we find among the laymen."
"But your point is ill taken. To serve God is to love Him. Jesus said: If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15). Elsewhere, John, the Apostle who I've heard, knew more about love than all the others combined, said, By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments (1 John 5:2-3)."
Sir Charles slowly shook his head. "My dear Reginald, I am in no wise disputing the clear teachings of God's word. However, like the do-minded Christians I referred to earlier, you are missing an obvious truth. Like many today, you are putting the cart before the horse only to wonder why the cart does not steer the way it should!"
"I believe I'll have that tea now," Reginald said, trying to make sense of it all.
"Very well," Sir Charles said, "let us look at one of the verses you so adamantly quoted: By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:2-3).
Now be so kind as to explain the cause and effect as you see it."
"Tell me the order of things. Which comes first, the love, or the keeping of the commandment? Which action causes which?"
"Well . . . I suppose we love God by keeping His commandments."
"Are you saying the obedience produces the love?" Sir Charles said.
Sir Charles sat back, elbows atop his armrest, tapping his fingertips together.
"I see it differently. I believe the verse teaches the opposite. I believe all such verses are teaching that we should keep God's commandments, because we love Him."
Reginald stared at the verse, trying to see it through Sir Charles' eyes.
After a few long seconds, Sir Charles said, "Fix your eyes on the last part of the verse: his commandments are not grievous. You see, when we are motivated to keep His commandments by our love for Him, keeping them is not grievous--they cease to be a burden. We don't have to strive, trying to motivate ourselves to do it. We don't need sermon after sermon, constraining us, horsewhipping us into servitude. Love God first and the servitude follows. Doing His will is the fruit of our love, Charity seeketh not her own (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
For the love of Christ constraineth us (2 Cor. 5:14)."
"Is that what you meant earlier?"
"Of course! We have become a generation of professional doers, with little or no emphasis on loving God. I'm not saying Christians shouldn't serve--that would be irresponsible, only to play into the devil's hand. However, to neglect devotional time loving God for the sake of doing is not what God desires either; it makes for a shallow Christian, indeed! Service to God is too often stressed, without first stressing the love for Him. The result is an obliged Christian; one who knows how to serve but not how to love the very One they serve. This is quite evident by your very presence here today."
Reginald sat back, blindly gazing into space.
"No need for embarrassment," Sir Charles said. "I, too, have been guilty of driving a maladjusted cart."
Sir Charles tugged the gold chain out of his pocket, and flipped open his watch. "OH, MY! I hate to abridge our conversation, but--"
"Quite all right." Reginald stood up. "In fact, I now understand why my Christian life lacks, in spite of my fervent tending to the King's business. You have been a tremendous blessing. Thank you, Sir."
Reginald made his way to the door, with Sir Charles closely behind.
"By the way," Reginald said, pausing just short of the door, "you said that you too have experienced this lack of fulfillment."
Sir Charles nodded, flashing a compassionate smile.
"How did you gain the victory?"
"Come back tomorrow, ready to learn. I shall tell you . . ."
Later that night, long after Reginald had left, Sir Charles sat alone in the living room. He occasionally browsed through the tattered journal resting on his lap.
Some of what Reginald was now going through had been recorded there--years earlier. Margaret quietly entered the room. Her hair was already prepped for a night's sleep.
"Henry? . . . Henry, dear, what's wrong?" Margaret, reached over the back of his chair, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Come to bed, it's late. Tomorrow you have to--"
"This generation," Charles mumbled. "So detached . . . it hasn't the foggiest--"
"Oh, stop that. Where is your faith? He's still on the throne, you know . . . Rest.
You'll feel better in the morning."
"Of course He's on the throne, but no one's requesting His audience."
Margaret frowned. "Henry, please! Don't start again. Stop tormenting yourself.
Put it behind you!"
"IT'S NOT THAT! . . . Why do you always assume it's--"
"Because you have a problem letting it go. IT'S OVER! Go on with your life!"
Sir Charles bolted out of his chair and into his study, locking the door behind him . . .
The next day . . .
Reginald stood, glancing at the many books in Sir Charles' library.
"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting," Sir Charles said, surprising Reginald from behind.
"It's quite all right. I've been admiring your collection. Have you read them all?"
"Not quite," Sir Charles said, clearing space on the large table centered within the room. "Frankly, most of them are quite boring, deprived of wisdom. I suppose if one has a dire need to know the nest building habits of a yellow-tailed something or other, they may come in handy. But come, sit here, today we begin to learn how to love God."
The two men sat opposite one another.
"I see you brought your own Bible," Sir Charles said. "Very well then, turn to the passage that best defines love."
Reginald opened his Bible to 1 Cor. 13.
Sir Charles smiled, opening his own Bible to a different verse.
"Is there something wrong, Sir?"
"Yes. That is not the definition I had in mind. There is nothing wrong with your selection, mind you. It adequately describes the manifold fruits of love. However, when Jesus said in John 15:12: This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you, He defined the very love He had in mind in the very next verse: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13)"
Reginald took a moment to soak in the verse. "Beyond being willing to die for one's fellow man what else can one learn from this verse?"
Sir Charles smiled, and made a loud noise on the table with the palm of his hand. Reginald jumped slightly. "Open your eyes as we assimilate the various truths wrapped within those poignant words. You should be able to find three!"
"YES! Three truths, about the greatest love--God's love."
"Only three?" Reginald said, looking back at the verse.
"Young man, I suppose one could find a hundred if they apply their Spirit-led mind to it. But for our purposes, three is enough. Do you have pencil and paper?"
"Yes, I brought--"
"Very well! Write them down: NUMBER ONE! . . . Oh, by the way, we shall refer to these three as the threefold aspects of God's love. You're not writing anything."
"NUMBER ONE: God's love is self-sacrificing. Surely, you can see that within the verse."
"Yes, Sir, 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.
"Correct. The greatest love makes the greatest sacrifice. No doubt our Lord was alluding to the very death He experienced on the cross for wretched sinners such as you and I. You do agree with that, don't you?"
"Yes, Sir. I can clearly see the self-sacrifice exemplified within this--"
"NO, NO, I meant the fact that you're a wretched sinner!"
"Oh, yes, of course!"
"As you should. The Bible says that, God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). You will never fully appreciate the love of God unless you fully realize the priceless sacrifice God made to save you: Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:16). Do you have any questions pertaining to number one?"
"Good. NUMBER TWO: God's love is faithful."
Reginald hesitated, not as quick to absorb the second point.
"I take it you don't see it."
"Well, Sir Charles, you must admit--"
"I will do nothing of the sort. Number two is as clear to me as number one was to you! The Bible says that Christ, Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became OBEDIENT UNTO DEATH, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:8). His love toward us had faithfulness ingrained within it.
Remember the night before His death, when our Lord was praying in the garden of Gethsemane?"
"As well you should. The Bible says that night His soul was, Exceeding sorrowful, even unto death (Matt. 26:38). The prospect of dying weighed heavily on Christ that night; He understood full well the sacrifice He was about to make. The following day Christ would be nailed to a cross. Roman crucifixion is nauseously deemed the most horrible method of execution ever conspired by man's wicked heart! But even worse than what any mere man could physically do to Him, was the thought of being spiritually separated from His Father. This had never happened before in eternity past. Jesus knew He was sacrificing the sweet fellowship He had always embraced with His Father. Yet, in spite of all that, Jesus' love was faithful, obedient to the end. He told His Heavenly Father: O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt (Mat. 26:39). Any questions?"
"You hesitated. You're not fully convinced."
"I didn't say that--"
"Very well, the Bible says: Charity [love] never faileth (1 Cor. 13:8). For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,--"
"Sir, I'm convinced--"
"...nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth,--"
"Sir Charles, please!--"
"...nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39). Any questions? Good!
NUMBER THREE: God's love meets our needs!"
"Our needs?" Reginald said, making note of the final point.
"That is correct. Do you see that in the verse? Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life FOR HIS FRIENDS. Christ laid down His life for someone other than Himself; He was not meeting His own need, but the need of another. During His earthly ministry, Jesus said, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:17). Of course, There is none righteous, no, not one (Rom. 3:10), For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). We are all sinners in need of salvation; arguably the greatest need of every man, woman and child. The greatest love, therefore, meets the greatest need. Furthermore, after salvation, God continues to meet our needs.
For the Bible says, But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19) . . . Is there something wrong?"
Reginald sat there, eyes detached from the conversation, his thoughts no longer in the same room.
"Reginald, if you are not going to--"
"I'm sorry, Sir," Reginald jerked out of his trance-like state. "That last point . . . It has a profundity I've never quite--" Reginald paused into silence again.
"Right," Sir Charles said, looking at the clock on the wall. "There are many ramifications to number three . . . Perhaps we best stop here; give you an opportunity to assimilate what you have learned so far. I won't be able to meet tomorrow. Is the following day all right with you? . . . Reginald?"
"I'm sorry, I must have lapsed again."
"I understand. I shall see you the day after next . . . Goodbye now. . ."
Two days later . . .
"This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you (John 15:12)." Sir Charles looked up from the page. "Christ, no less than God Himself in the flesh, instructs us to love one another in the same manner He loves us. Now, we've already seen the threefold aspects of God's love toward us as defined in--"
"Sir Charles, do you mind if I ask a personal question?"
"Of course I do. I'm in the middle of a sentence."
"How long did it take you to surmise what you have been teaching me?"
"I don't know if surmise is the correct term. Besides, I fail to see how this has any bearing--"
"Do you ever doubt your salvation?"
Sir Charles drew back as if dodging a punch. "Now young man, if you had wanted to play twenty questions, we would have--"
"Could you please answer? Yes or no?"
"And what would such a simplistic answer prove? People in deep sin have been known to doubt whether they are saved--"
"Have you ever been in deep sin?"
Sir Charles made a cynical frown. "You now have sixteen questions left, which I refuse to answer until you tell me what thoughts have taken your mind hostage."
"As is the other 99.99% of the human race; it comes with a sin nature--no extra charge."
"No, I mean, I'm really selfish. There is no love of God in me."
"And when, may I ask, were you granted this revelation?"
"Last time we met . . . Point number three; my minor lapse . . . I have no inclinations toward meeting anyone else's needs but those of my own."
"This lack of love concerns you, then?" Sir Charles said.
"WHY?" snapped Sir Charles, startling the young man.
"That should be obvious!" Reginald drew in his eyebrows.
"Not to an unsaved man," Sir Charles added.
"Then . . . you feel I'm saved, after all?"
"That, my friend, is between you and God. I, a mere sinner like yourself, cannot look inside your heart. Nor would I be as presumptuous as to say yea or nay to your spiritual condition."
"What do you suggest?"
"Don't deviate from what we have been doing. God's Word is, quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12). Keep studying the very subject we've been dealing with. God will show you where you stand . . . be it one way or the other."
Sir Charles looked at his pocket watch. "Very well then, having caught and slain that rabbit, let us resume. I take it you have at least deduced how the threefold aspects of God's love are to be bestowed upon others?"
"In theory, I suppose."
"Yes, I realize that to many it often begins with a theory. But fortunately, we are not rocket scientists, blindly groping in darkness, hoping to stub our toe on the truth. We have God's Word which says, But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (1 John 3:17)."
Reginald shook his head. "I can't see myself doing--"
"Perhaps the following verse will help. Turn to Eph. 5:28. Read it out-loud."
"It says, So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself..." Reginald looked up at Sir Charles. "I'm not even married!"
"Forget the missing half for the moment. Concentrate on the last two words: loveth himself. You have been sitting here bemoaning your incompetence to love.
Yet, there is not a person alive incapable of loving themselves. Consider our threefold definition: we are to love by faithfully sacrificing to meet a need, and I submit that you are fully able and well versed at faithfully sacrificing to meet your own needs; read the next verse!"
Reginald focused again on the page. "...For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church" (Eph. 5:29).
"There you have it," Charles said. "Do you nourisheth and cherisheth your own flesh, or do you let it starve? Do you clean it? Or allow the hungry maggots to feast upon it?"
"Quite an unsettling thought, Sir."
"Sorry . . . But as you cherish it, do you make whatever sacrifices you need to make? You do work for a living, do you not?"
"Are you faithful to yourself? Or do you care for your flesh solely when in the right mood?"
"All right, I see your point."
"You, my fine man, have no rival when it comes to faithfully sacrificing to meet your own needs. God simply instructs you to love your wife with the same self-preserving zeal you routinely enact upon yourself. There is nothing new to learn; merely redirect those selfish energies."
Reginald leaned forward and smiled. "There is only one problem, Sir. I'm not married," he said, trying to be funny.
Sir Charles smiled back. "No need to feel disavowed, my good man. The Bible also says, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Mat. 19:19). I'm quite sure you can muster up a neighbor or two. Look at the time. We'll meet again tomorrow . . ."
That night, Sir Charles and his wife sat in front of the fireplace. Margaret, tightly snuggled under her afghan, eagerly added more entries to her scrapbook.
Sir Charles, four feet away in his favorite chair, was trying to make out a verse from a large concordance.
"One would think," Charles muttered, straining at the page, "that such a large volume would allow them the luxury of a bigger font."
Margaret didn't hear a word, surgically removing a column from its surrounding ad with the worst scissors in the house.
"Maggie?" Charles peeked beyond the book. "Did you hear me. . . What are you doing, now?"
"I've found an article about our old church building. They're tearing it down."
Margaret stayed focused on the article, gingerly directing the scissor's path.
"In the local paper?"
"No, dear . . . Heidi Meyers sent me a copy. She still lives in town, you know.
OH MY! Look what you made me do!"
"Because, you're talking to me while I'm trying to cut--"
"No! Why do you insist on keeping a scrapbook. It's over, put it behind you."
Margaret shot both hands to her lap. "WHY, OF ALL THE NERVE!"
Sir Charles ducked his head behind the book. "Never mind," he said, kicking himself. "I'm sorry. Go on cutting. Cut all you want--"
"You torment yourself for years, and yet, I'm the one who can't let go?"
"Maggie, please . . . this is not very Christ like."
"And not forgiving yourself is?"
"Don't bring that up; I'd rather not talk about--"
"You never do, Henry! For years I've been begging you to. . . Where are you going?"
Sir Charles was halfway to the door.
"You were Young. IT WASN'T YOUR FAULT!" Margaret said.
He stopped and turned to face his wife. "If not mine, then whom?" He reached for his Bible with a trembling hand. Margaret immediately knew what he was going to show her.
"Please, stop hounding yourself with that verse." Margaret cried, her words ignored, as Charles found the verse and read it out-loud: "And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered" (Ezek. 34:5).
Charles closed the Bible, then quietly left the room.
Margaret burst into tears . . .
The Next day . . .
"Today we finally direct our attention toward loving God," Sir Charles said, scrutinizing Reginald with a serious gaze. "But first . . . tell me . . . based on what you have learned, how does God love us?"
"He faithfully sacrificed to meet our needs."
"Excellent! And how are we, in turn, supposed to love others?"
"By faithfully sacrificing to meet their needs."
"Perfect! We'll make a scholar out of you yet. Finally, how should one love God?"
"Well, Sir, Jesus said, He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me (John 14:21)."
"I see. . . And that's it? Nothing more?"
"Why, yes! . . . Of course, one can always be more faithful--"
"Understood!" Sir Charles stood up, disappointed, extending his hand. "I've enjoyed our time together. You have been a terrible student--"
"Wait, Sir! Is this it? Are there no more lessons?"
"No need to continue wasting precious time. Apparently, you've known all along how to love God. Simply put into practice what you've just told me--"
"But I have been!" Reginald said, jumping up out of his chair. "I've been trying to!"
"Then why come here? Why all these visits?" Sir Charles said.
"I don't know! . . . I've served faithfully ever since salvation, involved in every ministry imaginable and always volunteering in church when an extra hand was needed. I've followed God's commandments, as faithfully as I can! . . . and yet . . . something's missing . . . Please . . . Don't stop now; I need your help!"
Sir Charles lowered himself back in the chair. "Sit down, then. Answer the last question again . . . only this time-- THINK--apply the threefold aspects of love, just as you did in your first two answers."
Reginald stared at the table for a moment. "But . . . but it wouldn't make sense."
"Why? Why would it not make sense?" Sir Charles said. "Are you prejudice toward God? Why change the rules of love when applying them to Him? Why love God any less than you would love any other person? If the greatest love has three aspects, then by all means, use all three when loving God!"
"But applying the third aspect to God doesn't make sense!"
"Say it anyway! I want to hear it! . . . I want you to hear it!"
"Very well," Reginald said, with an awkward look on his face. "We must faithfully sacrifice to meet . . . to meet God's need? See? It doesn't make sense!"
"No, my friend," Sir Charles said. "It does make sense, all the sense in the world. And we have finally placed a discerning finger on your problem . . . But first, I have an assignment for you . . ."
The two men were becoming close friends. Sir Charles, having had only daughters, welcomed Reginald like a son. Reginald, in turn, felt childlike admiration; impressed by his mentor's ability to apply God's Word. And although Reginald still occasionally doubted his salvation, meditating on the lessons was providing great insight about himself. For him, things were falling nicely into place, with Sir Charles no less a God-send. There were, however, several recurring questions looming within Reginald's mind: Why did Sir Charles retire from the pastorate? Why wasn't he an evangelist providing insight to a greater number of people? Why was he and his wife living in this town, stagnate, unproductive, and miles from where his calling began? Something wasn't right.
Two days had now passed, and although Reginald looked forward to learning something new, he had not done very well on his assignment.
"Reginald, I trust you were faithful in doing your assignment," Sir Charles said.
Reginald opened a small notebook. "I'm afraid I could only find one reason."
"Just one?" Sir Charles noticed several lines of notes.
"Yes. All my reasons can be surmised into one--God has no needs because He's God. He owns, therefore has, everything He wants. Plain and simple."
"Not quite plain and erroneously not simple. Nevertheless your answer reveals why you have such a difficult time loving God. You have a gross misconception about Him."
"I don't agree!" Reginald closed his notebook.
"Ah, yes. Denial! One always has to stop when the root denies the shovel."
"I'm saved! How can I have a misconception about my Saviour?"
"I'm sure you have no problem conceiving a Saviour. However, He is also your Lord, your heavenly Father, your Creator, and from His own words, a friend."
"But nothing! Listen to a man not wearing your blinders. Prior to salvation, you were religious, were you not?"
"Very well, then. You are a victim of something more horrid than the worst atheist could ever imagine. For while atheism tries to wean the man off his Creator, religion feeds the man a generic brand."
"I don't quite follow you--"
"Have you ever heard of a Demanding Deity?" Sir Charles asked.
"No. Nor do I see your point."
"The point is, my impatient friend, religion taught you a God that expects nothing more than impersonal servitude. In your misguided mind, the goal was, and like a bad habit still is, to keep the Demanding Deity appeased by fulfilling His every whim; not for His own sake, mind you, nor because it delights Him. He is, rather, like the employer worthy of humoring merely because His signature embraces the check. You never regard His feelings. Pray tell your Demanding Deity has none! He is as shallow as the bottom of my cup; simply demanding that you do what He demands you to do, and expecting no more. I agree. It's impossible to love such a God!"
Reginald frowned as he settled back in his chair. After a few moments he slowly shook his head.
"I won't take no for an answer," Sir Charles said. "I've seen it too many times."
"I wasn't totally disagreeing, Sir--"
"Perhaps. But you are not fully convinced, either. Very well, turn to Rev. 4:11.
Read the verse, once you have found it!"
Reginald, a doubting frown still on his face, quickly found and read the verse. "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created" (Rev. 4:11).
"Now, young man, why were you and I created?"
"To bring God pleasure."
"And how do we, mere distant relatives of the dust bunny, bring our immense Creator pleasure?"
Reginald paused, his face turning slightly red. "I've never thought about it . . .
I suppose by being obedient."
"Yes, that definitely is part of it. I won't deny that. But do you suppose there is more to it?"
"I can't imagine--"
"Of course not," Sir Charles said. "Not as long as that Demanding Deity is distorting your mind's eye." Sir Charles opened his Bible to the book of Genesis.
"Consider with me the following verse, So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Gen. 1:27). Why do you suppose we were created in God's image?"
"How did we get from God's pleasure to God's image?" Reginald said.
"They are related, trust me. Now, answer the question."
"Very well, I shall answer my own question! We are made in His image, in order to facilitate fellowship with Him?"
"Yes, I realize this may be a foreign concept. Your Demanding Deity couldn't even fellowship with a desperate used car salesman--"
Reginald was getting embarrassed. "You can stop referring to--"
"--But the fact that we share the same range of emotions with our Creator makes it feasible to fellowship with Him. Agreed?"
"Well, I suppose that's true," Reginald said.
"DON'T SUPPOSE! Take it as fact! It is your capacity to fellowship with God on a personal basis, that enables you to provide Him the pleasure He so desires."
Reginald hesitated once more.
"Must I take you by the hand again?" Sir Charles said.
"I'm sorry, Sir, but--"
"Very well, perhaps this is best explained through a series of questions. Do you agree, so far, that God derives pleasure from fellowshipping with you?"
"Yes, of course."
"Did God also give you free will to choose whether or not to fellowship?"
"Yes . . . yes, He did."
"Therefore, can God force you to fellowship with Him?" Sir Charles asked.
"I suppose free-will wouldn't mean much if He forced us."
"Therefore," Sir Charles added, "can God force you to provide Him with the pleasure that comes from that fellowship? Yes or no?"
"Therefore, since God cannot force you, He cannot provide Himself with the pleasure of fellowshipping with you. Agreed?"
"Would you then also agree that since He can't provide that pleasure for Himself, it, in essence, becomes a need to Him?"
Reginald's eyes lit up. "Yes . . . yes, I'm beginning to see--"
A smile formed on Sir Charles' face. "Good! . . . Now, lastly, since God can't provide that fellowship for Himself, and is, therefore, dependent on you wanting to fellowship with Him, are you not then in a position to meet that need that God has? Is it not your duty to meet His desire to fellowship as an act of love toward Him? And isn't the greatest expression of love you can bestow upon God that of recognizing His need for fellowship, and faithfully sacrificing whatever you have to in order to meet that need?" Sir Charles was out of breath.
Reginald stared blindly in front of him, slowly shaking his head up and down.
Sir Charles could see realization growing all over the young man's face. The old mind set was breaking down. The Demanding Deity was taking on a more personal form. It was rapidly becoming easier for Reginald to conceive the idea of faithfully sacrificing to meet God's need. For the first time in his Christian walk, he could sense a fuller Christianity, a Christianity not limited to the one dimensional, realm of mere duty. Christianity was now becoming the definition so often used to distinguish it from all other religions. To Reginald, Christianity now meant a personal relationship with God in every true sense of the word.
Sir Charles extended his hand. "Congratulations. If I'm not mistaken, the Demanding Deity is finally dead . . . and not a moment too soon!"
Reginald was beaming like a wealthy child on Christmas morning.
"Now, Reginald, listen carefully. This is important. As in any relationship, communication is vital; it is what keeps both sides of a relationship in the relationship."
Reginald, still beaming, simply nodded, paying close attention.
"Having said that," Sir Charles continued, "you must stay in constant communication with your heavenly Father; as the communication goes, so does the fellowship. I suspect, up til now, you haven't been having devotions on a regular basis."
Reginald's cheerfulness faded slightly.
"You, no doubt, have been getting along with God in a working relationship and not a personal one. I know what it's like, believe me. We often think we can get by serving in a million ministries without needing one lick of devotion. But the truth is, we can never develop a profound, personal relationship with God unless you spend time with Him in daily devotions. Am I making sense?"
"Yes, Sir, very much so. But how do I . . . I mean--"
"Read your Bible each day. Meditate on what you read! That's how He talks to you. And of course, any communication worth its breath goes both ways. So, you must pray to God in return! Talk to Him as He talks to you. When you pray, talk to Him as you would any sensitive, feeling, emotional being. Don't lose your reverential fear, mind you, but treat Him like He's real, because that's what He is-- real. You talk to Him like He's real, and His Word will become even more real than you previously thought it was. This is why you were created. Do you think you can do that?"
"Three days ago, perhaps not," Reginald said. "But now . . . I can almost see the sadness God must have felt during all the time I've been depriving Him of my fellowship . . . Is it wrong to view God like that, Sir? He is God, you know."
Sir Charles shook his head. "No, son . . . not at all. Whenever you feel the Demanding Deity rear His ugly head, think of the way it grieved God at His heart to flood the whole world. Think of the way He wept when He saw the multitude without a Shepherd--" Sir Charles' lower lip quivered on the word Shepherd. "--Think of Calvary. After all . . . He's God, you know . . ."
Six months later. . .
. . . since that last meeting between Sir Charles and the young man. During that time, Reginald zealously nurtured his relationship with His God. And while the relationship itself was a tremendous blessing, there was an unexpected blessing; the occasional doubts surrounding his salvation had disappeared. Sir Charles had been right about personal sin being a source of doubt. And Reginald was now convinced he had been living in sin by not reaching out to his God in sweet fellowship.
As Reginald grew closer to God, his discernment became more acute. So much so, that one day he felt the Lord wanted him to visit his old friend and mentor.
Something wasn't right; something had gone terribly wrong . . .
. . . As Reginald knocked on Sir Charles' door, he examined the front yard; it looked neglected; unmowed, weeds were beginning to grow within some of the flowerbeds. He knocked harder the second time.
"HE JUST STEPPED OUT!" A heavy set woman in her fifties, called out from the house next door. She stood on her porch, wearing a tiny apron, holding a broom in one hand, and waving the other. "YOU JUST MISSED HIM BY THREE MINUTES OR SO."
"OH, I SEE. THANK YOU!"
The woman shook her head, cutting across her front yard toward him. She was obviously bored. "He hasn't been the same since she left."
Reginald walked up to meet her. "Do you mean his wife?"
"The poor woman couldn't take it any more," she said, still hauling the broom in her hand. "Took off to her sister's, a week ago. Serves him right, the old geezer; the way he's been treating her the past few weeks."
"Which direction did he go?" Reginald said.
"Toward the old bridge. Saw him there yesterday as my husband and I drove by.
Just stood there staring down into the water. You a relative or something?"
"No . . . I mean, sort of . . . Thank you." Reginald took off running. Several thoughts rehearsed through his mind, as minutes later, he approached the south entrance to the bridge. He stopped, striving to catch his breath, and noticed a lone figure standing halfway across the bridge. Reginald wondered if perhaps the encounter would be too embarrassing for his dear old friend. Making his way to an oak tree by the side of the road, he quietly watched, half hidden behind its trunk.
Minutes went by.
Sir Charles stood, often motionless, his head extended over the railing facing the water twenty or so feet below. A car drove by making a hollow sound as it crossed the bridge. Sir Charles waved at the driver, then looked from side to side as if checking for any other cars. Once the lone car was well out of sight, he placed his right foot on the railing's lower crossbar--
"WAIT! DON'T JUMP!" Reginald took off from behind the tree, running in Sir Charles' direction. Sir Charles, recognizing his panic-stricken friend, frantically looked around, trying to find the person trying to commit suicide.
"DON'T JUMP!" Reginald caught up to Sir Charles, totally out of breath.
"REGINALD? Who on earth are you yelling at?"
"You!--" Reginald gasped between breaths "--It's not worth it."
"And why, pray tell, would I want to get a perfectly good pair of shoes wet?"
Sir Charles glanced down at his feet.
"I thought . . . you were going to jump . . . to kill yourself!"
"I fail to see why I would do something so unscriptural."
By now Reginald felt like he was dying himself--of embarrassment.
"I'm sorry . . . I suppose like a fool, I overreacted."
"Apology accepted. Now tell me something I don't already know."
The two men briefly stared at each other, the pain in Sir Charles' face, so evident, drove Reginald's gaze downward. "I just came by to say, Hello. I'll be on my way now--"
"How much do you know?" Sir Charles kept his eyes fixed on Reginald.
Reginald looked up again. His breathing intensified. "Really. It's none of my business. I must go--"
"No, stay. I believe one more lesson is in order . . . Lest your suspicion of hypocrisy corrupts everything you've learned."
"Sir Charles, the thought never crossed my mind--"
"My wife has left me . . . temporarily mind you, but nevertheless gone. I suppose you somehow knew that already."
Reginald shrugged, staring back at the ground.
"Oh, come now!" Sir Charles flashed a sober smile. "Surely your flesh can lie better than that."
"She'll come back, Sir. I know she will."
"I have no doubt; she is a fine, godly woman, though she's impetuous at times . . . This time, however, I can't say I really blame her." Sir Charles glanced down to kick aside a small stone with his left toe. He mumbled: "Woe to the Shepherds"
"Excuse me, Sir?"
"The Shepherds of Israel . . . Come, let us sit on that bench over there."
The two friends tried finding comfort on the hard, lathed wood of the park bench. Sir Charles casually picked at the green paint flaking off. He peeled a paint chip loose and held it up. "Everything falls apart if not maintained. Remember that."
"That includes churches," Sir Charles continued. "A local church body, if not fed properly, will disharmonize, become schism-ridden, and perhaps even fall apart into a disassociation of scattered sheep."
Reginald frowned, on the verge of asking a question--
"You're probably wondering what it all has to do with Maggie. Very well. I used to pastor a church. Not here in this city. I won't mention where for now. It was our mission field, nevertheless, the one God had entrusted us with. We were to be its lighthouse, its bastian of hope in this sin-ridden, hell-bound world. I don't have to emphasize what a responsibility that was."
Reginald slowly nodded in agreement.
"We did as much as the Spirit would allow; tracts, visitations, billboards--" Sir Charles paused to gaze upward with a sad smile. "--even a radio station." He looked at Reginald, giving him a proud swat on the knee. "Quite a sacrifice to put together a radio station, don't you think? My, entrusted, congregation did whatever they had to; they knew the night was fast approaching when men could no longer work. They were faithful servants."
Sir Charles paused. He wasn't smiling anymore. "But that's all they strived to be, I sadly confess . . . they . . . we were not very close to God as a church."
"But didn't you teach them what you taught me?"
"No . . . To my shame, I didn't know any better at the time. Oh, I'd lie awake at night, sometimes, with a nagging stir in my Spirit; the Lord was trying to tell me something, but--" He looked at Reginald and shrugged. "I was a fool . . . I didn't realize it in time."
"In time? What happened to your church?"
Sir Charles hesitated. His face tightened with the moistening of his eyes.
"Persecution! . . . We had stepped on too many toes. The city collectively petitioned against us."
"But the Lord promises to uphold those who--"
"Those who love Him." Sir Charles blurted out. "Few of us loved Him the way we were commanded to. Most of our members were strictly duty bound; some were even hirelings in sheep's clothing. The love of Christ did not fully constrain them. Their own sense of accomplishment was their sole motivation. They weren't serving because they loved God. They served for personal fulfillment. They were doing it all in their own power, and not God's."
"Were they not all saved?"
Sir Charles shrugged, causing the one tear to roll down his cheek faster. "I suppose many were not -- another oversight on my part. As you can well imagine, when the persecution fires intensified, they had no fortitude, no resolve.
They easily backed down and ceased from their labors. Ministries went by the wayside. The handful who truly did love God--no thanks to my incompetence--were not enough to sustain the expense of all our endeavors."
"What did you do?" Reginald shifted his weight to the edge of the bench.
"The only thing I could have done! I got on my face before God. I pleaded and begged Him to turn it around, to show me what He required on my part. . . After days of fasting, He began to show me some of those things I've been teaching you.
He revealed my lack of emphasis on devotion and the nurturing of a personal relationship with God . . . I had failed miserably as a pastor; I had spent all my energies teaching my people how to debate God's Word but never how to relate to its Author." Sir Charles began to tremble, bracing his forehead to steady himself.
"Sir, are you okay?"
"Please," Sir Charles said, "help me get home. I'm not feeling quite well at the moment."
Reginald helped his dear old mentor back to the house where the two made their way into his study. Sir Charles collapsed in his recliner. He seemed more emotionally ill than physically. "You can go now," he said.
"No. If you don't mind, Sir, I'd rather stay a while longer."
"As you wish." Sir Charles leaned back and closed his eyes. He continued his lament, not really directing his words toward Reginald. "Maggie grew tired of my unwillingness to forgive myself. It raked upon her, unceasingly . . . And to make matters worse, I never wanted to talk about it." Sir Charles opened his eyes to briefly look at Reginald. "Women always want to talk about it. Why is that?"
Reginald shrugged, finding it awkward to smile.
"Oh, yes, you have no wife." Sir Charles closed his eyes again.
"Sir. . . . I had come to tell you: you've been a tremendous blessing to me--"
Sir Charles waved him off. "I've blessed no one."
"No, really, Sir . . . In the last six months, I've gotten closer to God than ever before. And I plan on getting closer . . . And it's thanks to you, and the truths you've shown me from God's Word."
"I did nothing--"
"I realize the Lord did it all . . . But, He did it through you. You allowed yourself to be used of Him. You've helped one soul do what God desires the most--to have fellowship."
"Please . . . You don't need to--"
"Sir, but I must! The Lord wanted me to tell you that you've helped me view Him as personable, as a God reaching out to His creation, a loving God who loves in a perfect way, and deserves no less a love from us in return. Thanks to you, I not only view God as my Saviour, Lord, and Father, but as a friend that sticketh closer than a brother!"
Sir Charles kept his eyes closed and didn't respond. He was spiraling deeper into self-pity.
"There's something else the Lord has shown me--"
"Please, young man, perhaps it's finally time for you to go."
"--He's shown me a fourth aspect."
Sir Charles opened his eyes and frowned.
"That's right, Sir, a fourth aspect as vital to you now, as the first three were to me!" Reginald shot out of his chair to find a Bible.
"That won't be necessary--" Sir Charles fought to get up from the recliner.
"Oh, but it is, Sir!" Reginald intensified his search. "The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced it will help you."
"Please, go on home! . . . Leave me alone now . . . Don't force me to notify the authorities."
"AH, here it is!" Reginald opened the Bible to John 15:13 and read: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. "Do you see the fourth aspect?"
Sir Charles, stood up, waving him off again. "No. Nor do I wish to see it at the moment."
"SIR. OPEN YOUR EYES!"
Sir Charles, startled, fell back into his recliner.
"I'm sorry, Sir. I didn't mean to show disrespect . . . but will you please hear me out?"
Sir Charles' thin gray hair was ruffled by the fall. He ran his fingers through it to pat it back down. "Very well, young man . . . but make it quick."
"John 15:13 shows God loved us by faithfully sacrificing to meet our needs," Reginald began. "But name the one need we find in that same verse."
Sir Charles hesitated, then shook his head. "I'm afraid I'd have to think about it.
Come back next month . . . maybe I'll have an answer for you--"
"FORGIVENESS!" Reginald blurted out. "That's the fourth aspect: God's love is forgiving. The fact that Christ was even willing to faithfully sacrifice to meet the need of sinners shows love's forgiving nature! And He commands us to love thy neighbor as thyself. That means loving others by forgiving them, as you would forgive yourself . . . Please Sir, what's past is past. You must forgive yourself . . .
Love demands it."
Sir Charles fought within. The old pastor clinched his fists in both anger and pain. "IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE! You can't begin to understand! You never pastored. You don't know the intense responsibility placed on a pastor's shoulders.
You can't just say, 'Better luck next time' and forget the whole awful experience.
Lives were ruined. God's time and money were wasted. I was a tare; in the end, no better than a hireling. You can't simply forgive something like that; there has to be some accountability; Conditions that must be met first--"
"Yes Sir, you are correct. And as far as I know, a repentant attitude is the only condition God requires . . . So, what are you waiting for?"
From the mouth of a spiritual babe, God's call to repentance rang loud, quaking the walls of Sir Charles' heart. He screamed, shaking both fists like a small bawling child. "OH LORD, FORGIVE ME! I'VE ACTED LIKE A FOOL!" Each tear that he shed was a brick cast down from the long standing wall of self-condemnation, the wall that had kept him trapped within, and His God standing without. God's love grew overwhelmingly real; as God reached in and hugged him tightly, never to let go. For while a threefold cord was not quickly broken, a fourth strand made it impossible to break. To Sir Charles, the fourth aspect of God's love would forever be the most powerful; for it suddenly gave life to the other three, taking God's love from his head all the way to his heart.
Reginald stood and watched, quietly praying to God. After several minutes, the wall was finally destroyed; the crying had stopped. What took Sir Charles years to build, God tore down in an instant.
Sir Charles looked up at Reginald and gave him a fierce hug, soaking him with tears. "Thank you, young man. Thank you! . . . You have no idea . . . I must call Maggie and tell her I've been made free."
Reginald looked at Sir Charles, noticing something different about his mentor's smile. It was now complete. Funny, how a person doesn't notice what's missing until it returns.
"She'll be delighted to finally hear from you," Reginald said, a little choked himself. . . "and so will the Lord."
. . . They say you can't teach yourself anything; objectivity being the key to
exposing our blind spots. However, sometimes, a mirror will do; someone
who can take your own teachings and reflect them back to you. Such
mirrors are rare and hard to come by; unless, of course, it's a gift, bought
and delivered to your own home, courtesy of the God who's dying to
have a relationship . . .
[Christian Helps Ministry (USA)] [Christian Home Bible Course]