By Dr. Bascom Ratliff
Pastor, Parker/Beagle/Fontana United Methodist Churches
Since writing about God’s “unconditional love” several weeks ago, I have had several intense discussions about the nature of God’s love and his expectations for us in loving and caring for others.
First, it’s important to note that the word unconditional love does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Second, God’s love for us is grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our relationship with Jesus gives us access and confidence in God’s unfailing love.
God expects, and commands us, to love him and to love others. If we reject God’s love and commandments, his unfailing love, whether unconditional or not, is of no use to us. Jesus says in Matthew 12:31-32, that anyone who willfully blasphemes, or speaks against the Holy Spirit, will not be forgiven. And, of course, without forgiveness through Jesus Christ, heavens doors are closed to us.
I believe that God requires us to accept Jesus Christ into our lives. I believe that God requires us to love him and others. I believe that God’s love is a gift. The requirement for us is to accept that gift and give our lives to Christ. Too often, we think that God’s love and grace are provided with minimal expectations of anything in return. Too many times we equate God’s love with the Hollywood notion of love.
We come to believe that with God’s love we get unlimited support, freedom from stress and conflict, and limited expectations to care, love, and serve others. And like the narrative of some Hollywood movies, when things do not go as planned in the relationship, we leave and start over.
My prior discussion about love has led me to believe that many of us have a distorted notion of God’s love and grace. We seem to think that our responsibilities to love God and others is somehow secondary to our responsibility to love and care for ourselves. This is simply wrong. We are urged to reflect God’s love in our actions. We are expected to share those numerous gifts of the Spirit that we have received from God.
We are expected to be patient, kind, gentle, and self-controlled. And we are expected to eliminate greed, anger, selfishness, and pride. I admit that sometimes these appear to be conditions. However, I choose to believe these attributes are simply the result of our having a loving relationship with a loving God and simply reflecting these attributes in our relationships with others.
I firmly believe in God’s unfailing and consistent love for each of us. I believe that he sent his son Jesus Christ to live and die for us. I believe that he has given us tremendous gifts and promises us a wonderful life with him and his church. I believe that we, as his holy church, are tasked with loving and caring for our neighbors. Through Jesus Christ, we are guaranteed access to our heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. God’s love is free and it carries unbelievable benefits.
If you want to hear more about God’s wonderful promise of unfailing love and the wonderful benefits of the Christian life, come visit us at the Fontana, Kansas United Methodist Church during August on Sundays at 10 a.m. Please mark your calendars. We will worship at the Parker UMC in September and the Beagle UMC in October. All services are at 10 a.m. We’ll be sure to give you a warm welcome, a hot cup of coffee, and the best seats in the house.