Pastor Joshua West
Worship Pastor, Shiloh Community Church
There I was. Sitting directly across from my bright-eyed, nine month old baby boy, who was eagerly awaiting his next spoonful of sweet potato I held in my hand. I had barely arrived home from work, when I walked in the door and saw my wife feeding our son dinner. Since I always look forward to seeing my little guy after a day at work, and this was the perfect opportunity to be involved in his tiny life, I enthusiastically offered to take over for my wife and finish feeding him. After all, I love watching his face scrunch and wrinkle in the funniest ways as he explores new food and learns what this whole eating thing is all about.
So yes, there I was. Sitting directly across from my son, with a loaded sweet potato spoon in hand. As he watched the spoon drawing near, his chubby feet started kicking in excitement and his mouth opened wide, preparing to eat this yummy new food. As the moment was progressing, things were going well. Quickly and skillfully, with the very best Dad intentions in mind, I slid that giant sweet potato filled spoon into his open mouth. Sitting directly across from my boy, we were face to face. I was engaged. He was focused. Then, the unforeseeable happened.
No sooner had his baby lips closed over the spoon than he let out the absolute most explosive SNEEZE a baby could possibly muster up. I tell you, I could almost see the chunks of sweet potato flying back in my face in slow motion. Sweet potato was everywhere! Needless to say, I ended up wearing the bite that he was supposed to swallow. As I looked down at my orange-splattered shirt and back up at my little baby, I couldn’t help but laugh at the grin spread across his face. Well, at least one of us was delighted by the situation.
As my wife and I were laughing about this whole sweet potato ordeal later, I began thinking… really, these moments are what being a Dad is about. When I signed up for Fatherhood, I didn’t just commit to love and accept my child in the moments when he eats nicely, sleeps peacefully, laughs sweetly and calls me “Dada.” I also committed to loving him through sweet potato explosions, poopy diaper blow-outs, sleepless nights while he is teething, and even tiny temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way (yes, they are already starting!) I am committed to loving him in the messy moments and the sweet moments alike. I know there will be many times in the future, as he grows and reaches different phases in his life, when my patience will run low and the child will drive me completely bonkers. Yet, he will always be my son and my love for him will always remain.
Thinking of my earthly love for my child, I can only imagine the far greater, unconditional love our Heavenly Father has towards us. Sometimes, this love is hard to comprehend. Romans 5:8 tells us that God loved us while we were still sinners. As Jesus was hanging on the cross, our mess was already fully exposed to Him. He already knew the ways we would break His heart someday. He already knew the sinful choices we would make and the ways we would reject Him and hurt Him. He already knew that we would never be able to do anything to repay His love. Still, through Jesus’ death, God promised us an unconditional love that cannot be severed by anything in all creation (Romans 8:38-39).
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5
Maybe this idea of the Father’s love seems basic. I mean, after all, we have learned from the beginning that “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”, right? However, we cannot give out a love that we don’t believe we have received ourselves.
“We love because He first loved us.” -1 John 4:19
At the end of the day, when your head hits the pillow at night, do you truly believe that you are loved as you are- fully, relentlessly, unconditionally? When you look in the mirror, do you believe the person you see is entirely accepted-ugly messes and all? Or have you drifted into believing that God will love you more if … if you lost the extra pounds, if you went to church more, if you read your Bible more, if you were a better wife/husband, if you finally quit that bad habit or addiction, if you were more successful, if you were a “better person”, etc.?
This is an easy place to find ourselves, believing that we somehow must earn God’s love the way we are expected to earn human love. However, this is simply not true. God’s unconditional love doesn’t only apply when we “behave”, but it also applies the same when we make a giant sweet potato mess of our lives. We learn from Scripture, the Father’s love and acceptance towards us is not determined by our actions or performance.
“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” -1 John 4:9-10
Now, please understand I’m not saying sinful behaviors are okay to continue or we shouldn’t want to grow in our walk with the Lord because “God will just love us regardless”. We should not continue in our sin and take advantage of God’s grace (Romans 6:1-2). He is still holy and desires us to strive after holiness (1 Peter 1:16.) In our sin, God’s love is, in fact, the very thing that should lead us to true repentance and change (Hebrews 12:6).
However, that being said, I want to leave you with a question to ask yourself: Have you been believing/do you believe your humanness determines the Father’s ability to love? In other words, do you believe that even on your worst, ugliest, most sinful days, God’s love and grace is given to you in the exact same measure it would be given on your best, “most righteous” day? Or do you believe that God will give or withhold love from you based on what you do/do not do (“God will love me if…”)? Why or why not?
I encourage you to take some time to ponder these questions, prayerfully searching your heart. Does your view of the Father’s love and acceptance towards you line up with what Scripture tells you? If not, at what point in your life did you stop believing God’s love was greater than your mistakes? If you continue to have a difficult time sorting through this topic, I encourage you to talk with someone, a Pastor or an older person in the Lord, who can help you walk through your hesitations or questions. This is important because we cannot begin to show the type of unconditional love to others if we do not understand and accept the perfect love of our Heavenly Father towards us.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor thing present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39