I used to love hearing people say, “Great worship today.” Not so much anymore. Although I understand their intent and they believe God was present among us, I also know what they’re really talking about is the music. Somehow it’s become less acceptable to “compliment” musicianship, and more acceptable to only categorize it as being worship. It’s as if we’ve somehow decided music is now the only acceptable form of worship, and in many churches I’ve attended that’s reflected in the attitudes of the worshippers.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe music is an incredible form of expressing our emotion and thought and as such should be a powerful part of our corporate experience. But if music is the only form our expression takes then our worship is lopsided and incomplete. Be assured, God will always accept our offering of love when we come to Him with clean hands and a pure heart, but there are so many more ways of expression than music.

I love my wife Jacque more today than I ever dreamed possible back in 1977 when I first said, “I love you.” That being true, I try to find new ways of expressing my love so it’s an accurate reflection of the depth and richness of my emotion. If I only said those three words over and over again, at some point they’d become commonplace and lose their appeal and impact. Out of love it’s up to me to keep my expression fresh and appealing.

In recent years I’ve learned to express my love for Jacque in ways that are meaningful to her. Before then I guess my expressions of love were based more on my preferences than hers. I don’t think this was a conscious thing on my part but more an indication of the maturity level of my love. As my love for her has grown and matured so has the variety and depth of my expression. In that process I’ve grown to understand that if my love is pure then my expression needs to be focused on her preferences more than my own, otherwise it’s about me. While she never tires of hearing the three words I would daresay they’ve become far more meaningful as I’ve expressed them more on “her terms” than mine.

So, how does God want us to express our love to Him? In as many ways as our God-given creativity will allow. It’s for sure we’re not limited to music, and definitely not one style or sound of music. The options are myriad and God stands ready to receive whatever we offer Him. So when you say, “Great worship today,” what do you mean?

Not long ago I was raised the question, Is God’s love for us separate from His forgiveness? The simple answer for me is the two are distinct yet you can’t have one without the other. When I was much younger I read a book entitled, Your God Is Too Small. The basic premise of this book is our tendency to frame our understanding of God in totally human terms, because that’s all we know. To a point that’s good but it becomes a problem when our human terms are no longer broad enough to handle God. We can’t fathom the depth of His love because in human terms we run out of understanding before we get to the limits of His love. 

When I was young I was taught that Christ died for my sins and that I was to receive God’s forgiveness, live a Christlike life and then spend eternity in heaven when I died. However, if I chose to turn away from God then I was no longer accepting His forgiveness and would spend eternity in hell. I know some of you reading this are not understanding the problem right now. Here’s my basic problem with this: I believe it goes against God’s character of love and it diminishes the power of the cross of Christ.

I was recently having a conversation with someone and as I shared this with her she said, “so what you’re saying is that there’s no punishment for your sin.” To which I responded, “there has been punishment, and that punishment was received once and for all by Christ on the cross.” Admittedly this line of thinking goes against our human sense of fairness and justice. However, for me to consider the possibility of diminishing the power of the cross and Christ’s forgiveness by saying I can undo His forgiveness seems like the most arrogant position I could possibly take. In addition, it puts us in a position of jumping through hoops to earn love and forgiveness. Even reducing this to human terms it’s hard to imagine a loving father doing something like that to His children.

So, where does this leave us? It leaves us forgiven. It leaves us at a point of not having to do anything to earn God’s love or forgiveness. It leaves us in a state of freedom. It leaves us as the recipients of God’s unmerited favor. It leaves us with a God much larger than our own own human understanding can even begin to fathom. Now what?

It was a little more than 15 years ago but I still remember it very clearly. I had a rather long commute to work those days, mostly freeway driving so I had plenty of time for processing thought. As I exited one freeway and merged onto another my thoughts led me to a fresh understanding of God’s love. I’m not sure why it had taken me so many years to come to this conclusion but I finally realized that God’s love was independent of my actions. It was a freeing day for me to know there was nothing I could do to make God love me any more than He already did, and nothing I could do to make Him love me any less.

It sounds simple enough on the surface, but in so many ways that fresh understanding set me free of some excess baggage, and opened the door to a new level in understanding the depth of God’s love. That was probably the beginning of what I’m now referring to as, Hoopless Christianity. I think it also contributed to many of the questions I’ve been exploring in more recent years: the largest of which has to do with God’s love and forgiveness.

The basic question is this: Is God’s love for us separate from His forgiveness? Can those two things be distinct? Can they be independent of each other or are they inextricably connected? That’s the heart of my most recent thinking. I feel like I’ve only begun this exploration but Id like to spend some time writing about this in the coming days and weeks. So, give me your thoughts so I can combine those with some of my own streams of conscious thinking. Are God’s love and forgiveness separate expressions?

A parting thought: As I’ve been exploring this general question I’ve had a growing sense of gratitude for God’s love and forgiveness. It’s a daily realization that I’ve been given a gift that is greater than I can imagine, and I’ve done nothing to deserve it. Let me hear from you!

My older brother and I have been having an ongoing discussion in recent months about hell. The discussion centers on whether a loving God would actually send someone to hell. My brother maintains that God would not do that. It’s not like my brother is some kind of God-hating liberal with no understanding of Christianity. He is a somewhat conservative, Republican, Evangelical pastor who has come to this conclusion over several years. 

I don’t spend a lot of time on You Tube but occasionally I run across something that is just too “good” to ignore. I’m quite sure that some will be offended by watching this, and that’s ok. There’s some real truth to what is being said. Some of it has to do with hell, and some of it just has to do with the mixed messages we as Christians send to those around us when we say things like, Jesus Loves You!

My general feeling is that we’ve made Christianity much more confusing than God ever intended (we’ve done the same thing to church). We’ve somehow separated God’s love from His forgiveness, I’ll write more about that soon. For now, take a look at the video and let me know what you think. Hell, Yes? or No?