Last summer I heard Chris Hodges, pastor of Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, AL, tell a great story about a girl he once met on a plane. Fresh from partying on Bourbon Street, she plunked herself down–along with her drink–right next to Chris, turned to him, and asked, “So, what do you do for a living?”
Her bourbon breath swirling in his nostrils, Pastor Chris contemplated lying to her for a fleeting second, then decided to tell her the truth. Her response? “Ohhh…well, I hate Christians.” His unexpected reply took her by surprise: “Yeah, I don’t like some of ’em, either. I know just the kind you’re talking about.”
This turned into a very interesting flight, as you can imagine. Pastor Chris patiently listened to her story, and responded to her with kindness, love and grace. The plane carried them higher into the clear blue sky, and as it did, her raised hackles lowered and smoothed out.
“It’s pretty hard to love God when you believe He has no reason to love you.”
The conversation took some unusual turns, and at one point, the girl shoved her drink into Pastor Chris’ face and shouted, “What does your God think about this?” He calmly replied, “I don’t think He’s thinking about that at all. I think He’s thinking about YOU and how much He loves you.” She said, “Really? No one’s ever said that to me before.” “Well, it’s in the Bible,” he told her, and she listened as he explained more about God’s love for her, the kind of love that looks past drunkenness and skepticism, enabling our heavenly Father to gaze with a full heart upon this daughter, whom He fully and completely adores.
This girl was convinced she was unlovable, unworthy of God’s love, and this created a chasm between herself and God–from her perspective, anyway. In 1 John 4:19, we read, “We love because he first loved us.” (ESV) It’s pretty hard to love God when you believe He has no reason to love you.
Brennan Manning, late author of Ragamuffin Gospel and many other fantastic books about God’s unconditional love, says we don’t understand God’s love because we “make God in our own image,” and our image of who God is gets grotesquely tainted due to many reasons: Bad theology, people who have misrepresented God to us, our own shame and guilt over things we think God doesn’t like about us, or [you fill in the blank].
What keeps you from thinking God really, truly, unconditionally loves you? Whatever it might be, remember that during this season we are celebrating His greatest gift to you: Jesus, who set aside His heavenly throne to live in a human body for 33 years, and who then went to the cross to die for you–because He loves YOU so much.
Happy December 2nd!
Pastor Chris Hodges, Church of the Highlands: https://www.churchofthehighlands.com/
Brennan Manning, Healing Our Image of God and Ourselves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N__3NYLygIY
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