Friday, August 8, 2014

Faith - God's gift

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." - Eph. 2:8-9

I've been thinking a lot lately about how and why it is that we humans tend to think that having a relationship with God has anything to do with what we do

It doesn't, you know. 

But somehow we fall into that trap door that Cain fell into. You remember Cain. Abel's brother, Adam's boy. Yeah, him. He got the notion that being acceptable to God was the way to have a relationship with Him. He figured if he could prove he was worthy enough, he'd be a shoe-in. On the other hand, Abel his brother knew that there was nothing he could do to secure God's favour. And so he did what his mom and dad told him was the only way (how else would he have known if not for the story of God clothing them with animal skins?) ... he sacrificed the best and purest of his flock. 

But Cain didn't get it. He didn't - or better put, he wouldn't understand that it wasn't about impressing God. In his mind, it couldn't be about resting in the one provision God made! He had to DO something! And when God told him that it wasn't acceptable - instead of doing what was acceptable (he already knew; he just could not accept it!) - Cain got angry. VERY angry.

We know the rest of that story.

Down through history we've done it over and over: we (individually and collectively) have tried to twist God's arm into paying attention to us. 

It never ends well. 

The apostle Paul was very meticulous about the simplicity of the gospel (some would say that in trying to show how simple it was, he made it sound so complicated!) His main concern was to show people that all they needed to do was believe in the authority of Jesus, the authority that His death bought and paid for, as our only way to a relationship with God. That's it, that's all. 

God is the One who thought up the notion of salvation. He's the writer and the completer of our faith. He didn't do it as a "Plan B" when Adam sinned; no, Jesus was our sacrifice and we were chosen to be in Him from before the foundation of the world. 

As the beginning Bible text shows, even the faith that we place in Him doesn't come from us. It comes from Him!! He gives to every person, the Bible says, the measure of faith. The same measure. Whether that person is an atheist or a Buddhist or whatever other kind of ist, every person is given that gift. But that gift (faith) alone does not automatically result in salvation. Like a seed, it depends on where it is planted. 

The process of bringing someone to salvation is accomplished by God. Jesus said in John 6:44, "No man can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him."

Pictures sometimes help us grasp how this works. One picture is of a lifebuoy, a red and white ring thrown to people who are in distress in the water. They can choose to grab it. Or not. Of course that analogy breaks down when you think about those who are too weak to hold on!! 

Photo "Ring With Stone" courtesy of
Boykung at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Of all the examples I could pick perhaps it's best to think about the example of a proposal of marriage.

The suitor has been wooing the intended for a while. And then the question is popped.

There are only two answers. 

Yes. 
No.

Yes takes the faith that has already been given, the knowledge of who the Lover is, of His character, His love, and trusts that love, rests in it, accepts the offer freely made. It's as simple as that. No strings, no buts, no ands, and no ifs. 

No means that the offer is rejected. 

It doesn't have to be more complicated than that.

I really don't need to get into all the theology in that description of the marriage proposal. The gospel can be understood by very small children. I've seen that understanding take place and watched a child as young as three years old ask Jesus to be her "special Friend." Believe me when I say that this child's whole attitude changed in that moment, and God has had His hand on her life ever since. 

Adding to that simplicity takes away from the beauty of it. 

Barry MacGuire's old song, "Cosmic Cowboy" (1978) gives another example:

I met a cosmic cowboy ridin' A Starry range
He's a supernatural cowboy and he's dressed-up kinda' strange
And at first, I didn't see him  being out there on the run
Yeah, but that ol' hat that he's wearing is shining brighter than the sun
And, when my eyes adjusted to the flashing of his smile
Hey, I saw his invitation: Say, come-on Barry, we'll go riding for awhile...

Cowboy of the night, Shooting rainbows through the night

We rode along together For more 'n half-a-day
Riding through the changing weather   Sky was all turned gray
Chilly winds were blowin'   Oh, the cold was cuttin' deep
Yeah, then it started snowin'  Trail was getting' steep
I was just about to turn-around  Head back the way we came
Somehow, without a sound   I heard him ... call my name

Cowboy of the Light   Shooting rainbows through the night

And looking up, I saw that we was high upon this ridge
And he took me by my arm  and led me right over to the edge
Hey, I was so scared I couldn't find a single word to say
You know, there's  ten-thousand feet of empty air
And it's just about an inch away!

But - a, billion miles was out beyond the waving of his hand
I was looking through his eyes right into another land

Cowboy of the Light shooting rainbows through the night

He said, this is my Father's ranch as far as you can see
He made it out of nothin' every branch and every tree
The stars, all the mountains, rivers and streams
The oceans, the fountains, and, the valley of your dreams
I know that place you're lookin' for
That place you long to be
Truth is, I'm the only door
You're going to have to pass ... through me

Cowboy of the Light shooting rainbows through the night

Bending back, I tipped my hat to look him in the eye
But he just smiled, and gave me confidence
And said, "Go-ahead and try!"
It was now-or-never and I, I knew I had to start
So, I took that step, and  I went fallin'
Straight in through his heart!

The first thing that I noticed coming out the other side
Hey, all my fears had vanished ...
He taught me ... how to fly!

Cowboy of the Light shooting rainbows through the night

Ahhh yeah, there's a cosmic cowboy and, he rides a starry range
He's a supernatural cowboy, He is dressed-up kind'a strange

And to think I, I nearly missed him being out there on the run
But, that old hat that he's wearing, it's shining brighter than the sun
Yeah, and when my eyes adjusted to the flashing of his smile
I saw his invitation, He said, come-on Barry
We'll go riding for awhile!
 

Cowboy of the Light, Whooo! Shooting rainbows through the night

Ha-ha-ha-ha, Ahhh!

Cowboy of the Light shooting rainbows through the night...
 


It's God's idea, God's initiative, God's calling, God's wooing, God's invitation. Once we say yes, it's God's Spirit in us, God's power in and through us, God's faithfulness in spite of us, and .... 

One more thing.  He always finishes what He starts. 
Always.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Lover of my soul

I had the all-too-rare opportunity to drive my vehicle this morning. Usually my husband drives it, but this week I'm on vacation and so, when we stopped in town and he went to work, I slipped behind the wheel and started back toward home. 

Photo "Couple At Sunset" courtesy
of piyaphantawong at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Since I was alone, I decided to have some music; there had been a CD in the stereo and I wondered if it was still there. It was! The first song I heard was one I remembered as having slightly re-written. The words are really, "Jesus, lover of my soul; Jesus, I won't ever let You go... " and so forth. I'd changed the focus of these lyrics - for me - because there is no way I can promise not to let go of Him. I don't ever want to let go of Him - of course - but if my connection to Him depends on my own efforts, I'd have been sunk long ago. Oh, it's easy to say that I won't let Him go - especially when I am on top of the world, feeling wonderful, and things are going the way I want them to go.

But oftentimes I am not, and things are not so rosy. My feelings change with the circumstances. They change with what others tell me, how others treat me, with what I tell myself and how I treat myself. 

I don't want to make a promise to Him that I have no guarantee of being able to keep. I'm just not that strong. I'm not that sure of myself. However, I am sure of Him. His love, His grace, His perseverance. I know that He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it (Phil 1:6). I depend on that. Every. Day.

So, to fit with my experience and with the doctrine (no, that's not a dirty word) of the Good News (that is, all of Jesus and none of me), I had changed the lyrics slightly: 

Jesus, Lover of my soul -
Jesus, You won't ever let me go!
You've taken me from the miry clay,
You set my feet upon the Rock 
And now I know

I love You, I need You -
Though my world may fall
You'll never let me go - 
My Saviour, my closest Friend
I will worship You until the very end.

I so needed to sing that to Him this morning. I needed to remember that no matter what happens, Jesus is the One who loves me, all of me, all that I am or ever become, and that He is faithful. He will never. never. NEVER let me go. 

When I am weak.
When I am sad.
When I am weary.
When I am frustrated.
When I am sick.
When I am discouraged.
When I am grieving.
When I am busy.
When I am angry.
When I am hurt.
And more.

He holds me. He loves me. He takes care of me. He listens to me. 

He has already forgiven me, made me clean, declared me without blame. (Ephesians 1) Unconditionally!! All of this just to spend time with me, know me, and help me to know Him in greater and greater intimacy. Jesus, Lover of my soul ... Jesus, You won't ever let me go.

Such great, great Love!!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wanting from within

Aesop wrote a fable about a man walking down the road with a cloak on, over his clothes. Meanwhile, the sun and the wind were arguing about which was more powerful (well, mostly the wind. Which is a whole other post!)

So the sun suggested a contest. "Whichever of us can get the man to remove his cloak is the most powerful." The wind agreed. "You go first," the sun said.

So the wind blew and blew. The man pulled his cloak around him tighter. Not wanting to appear to have lost, the wind blew harder. The man braced himself against the force of the wind, and held even more tightly to his cloak. 

Then it was the sun's turn as the wind gave up. The sun remained where he was, and shone brilliantly, heating the air - and the man - with his rays. Soon the man began to mop his forehead. He loosened his cloak and finally stopped and removed it, draping it over his arm before continuing on - with a smile. 

Photo "Silhouette Of People On Hill" courtesy of
moggara12 at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
The moral of the story was that one can accomplish more with kindness than with force. I'd go a step further and apply this fable to the modern church. And by modern I mean anything after 900 AD.

The wind in this fable is the tendency to judge, to make someone conform to a strict moral code and then punish that person when he or she doesn't toe the line. This is most often attempted by the manipulative act known as shaming. (Yeah, you've had it happen to you. And like me, you've probably done it to others too, and felt completely justified in doing so ...) The problem with shaming is that it NEVER works. Instead, it causes the person to withdraw or move away, to try to appease and become a chameleon (not being real is never a good idea), or to confront or take out their anger and hurt on that person or group. I could do a whole post on this too. But not today. :)

The sun, by contrast, is the love and grace of God, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and the compassion of Jesus. This is an internal motivator. 

God doesn't shame us. He accepts us. He has made us "accepted in the Beloved." (Ephesians 1:6). He loves us ... and this great love (that is the cause of Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf) makes it possible for Him to call us His children! (1 John 3:1)

In fact, His grace goes so very deep that Paul, after exploring how deep it is in Romans 5:8-11, addresses in Romans 6:1 the one fear I have heard so often expressed by "people of the wind" - how it's possible (and they can't accept this possibility in their works-based theology) to abuse God's grace by continuing in sin!! But Paul has just finished chapter 5 by implying that such a presumptuous lifestyle would be possible, given the depths of God's grace: "...where sin abounded, grace did much more abound..." (5:20)! His response to that hypothetical question is immediate. In chapter 6:2 (in that confusing Pauline language because well, he's Paul and he used to be a Pharisee, what can I say!!) he responds, "Of course not!! Why would you want to?" (Judy's paraphrase there...)

And that is just the point. Why would you WANT to?  Wanting to is the whole point, the whole reason why God made a way in Jesus to escape the consequences of our own inability to rescue ourselves. He wanted us to want Him. Not because He was holding our feet to the fire - that would be such bondage!! Grace - because God is the most - had to be the most anyone could imagine and then way beyond! This is the whole idea behind the scripture, "...the love of Christ constrains us." (2 Cor 5:14) That word "constrains" means "motivates from within" or "strains from inside or alongside." And that isn't something we drum up, working ourselves into a frenzied lather like the prophets of Baal did on Mount Carmel, trying to impress God with how holy we are. "In this is Love. Not that we love Him, but that HE LOVED US and sent His Son to be the propitiation [the wrath-taker] for our sins." (1 John 4:10). 

He did it. HE did it!! 

This full and free grace frees us. Completely! It buys us back (at SUCH great cost!!) from the slave-trader and makes us completely right with God, no holds barred, and declares that we are no longer slaves. Why would we want to go back to that kind of life, trying to keep with our own efforts what we could never have paid for in the first place? 

Wouldn't it be so much better to let the Sun shine in?

Monday, July 28, 2014

In Heavenly Places

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." - Eph. 2: 4 - 9 (NASB)

I remember reading Mark Twain's book The Prince and the Pauper (1881) when I was a young teen. It made such an impression on me, especially one of the secondary plots of the story.

For those that don't know the story, young king Edward VI (Henry VIII's son) is one of the main characters in this book (the prince) and a boy born in squalor, spending his life stealing money and food for his alcoholic father and dodging his blows when he didn't bring in enough, is the other (the pauper). Prince Edward sees this young boy (Tom) outside his gate and takes him in, cleans him up and realizes that this child is his double! They trade places "temporarily" - the prince to see what adventure lies outside the gate and the pauper to see what comforts lie within. 

While outside the gate, Edward takes a man into his confidence, Miles Hendon, a man who starts out believing the boy has gone crazy, but who humours his delusions that he is the heir to the throne, to the point of becoming like a manservant to him. He protects the boy from the pauper's father and from the elements of the society which surely would have killed the naive prince. Edward rewards him by granting Miles' request, a privilege Edward did not allow him previously, the right to "sit in his majesty's presence." 

Henry VIII dies and plans are made to place Tom (the pauper) on the throne.

Edward (with Miles' help) manages to return to the palace, interrupt the coronation, prove his identity and assume the throne, naming Tom a ward of the palace. Miles, having been detained by the palace guard, is unaware that Edward has returned to his rightful place. Miles manages to evade the palace guards and attend the last part of the coronation. He fights his way through the crowd and sees the new king in his splendor. He recognizes the boy he had come to know. 

In desperation, he does the only thing he can think to do. He rushes up to the foot of the throne, and sits cross-legged on the floor in full view of the new king and all who are present. There is an audible gasp from the crowd. The guards move in to drag him away, but Edward stops them and says that this man has been granted the right to sit in his presence and has often protected him. 

That scene in the throne room - for me - was the highlight of the story. 

Photo "Father and Daughter"
by photostock at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
To have the right to sit in the presence of the King is a privilege that God has granted to us because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, because of His great love for us (Ephesians 1). Not only does He allow us to sit in His presence, but He brings us to sit with Him in His throne, free of condemnation, safe from all who would seek to destroy us. 

His grace toward us is so complete and so permanent that He states that He HAS saved us. It's already been done! Ages ago!! We are NOW sitting in His throne with Him; this is not some pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye promise. Eternal life, the new creation, the reborn existence, begins at the moment we accept all that He has done as enough for us; nothing more can be added to it. Nothing.

We are fully accepted. Fully. 

Being in His throne with Him doesn't give us the right to judge another; that is God's prerogative and not ours. Not even Jesus has that right (John 12: 47 - 49). 

The more we realize how completely accepted by the Father we are, accepted in such a deep way, being loved that much with absolutely no condemnation, the more we comprehend the key to living the life of faith, that abundant life that Jesus promised in John 10:10 and which many of us have given up hoping is possible. A lot of very good things can come in and take the place of what is most important. Those good things can themselves become a form of slavery and detract from the good news of the Way Jesus died to provide.

That Way doesn't come by turning over a new leaf; it comes by Grace.
It doesn't come by behavior modification; it comes by Grace. 
It doesn't come by moral codes and church constitutions; it comes by Grace.
It doesn't happen through being busy in the Lord's work; it comes by Grace. 
It doesn't come by Jericho marches; it comes by Grace.
It doesn't even come by Bible-reading or prayer; it comes by Grace. 

The cart - as usual - is before the horse in the minds of many believers. Focusing on what our lives "should" look like, we try to produce those results without resting in the Grace of God. 

It's a recipe for bondage and burnout. Plus, it's (in effect) saying to God that Jesus' sacrifice wasn't enough. 

Let that sink in for a minute.

I'm not saying that we live in lawlessness and anarchy. Far from it! However, if we get it into our heads that keeping ourselves in the love of God means keeping the commandments, we've missed out on what Jesus died to give us freely.

So I close with a couple of verses from Galatians. And I pray that you and I will take it to heart - every day - with the highest Way (the Way of Grace) in mind.

"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold, I Paul say to you that if you receive circumcision [substitute here: "if you follow the rules and regulations"] Christ will be of no benefit to you..." - Galatians 5: 1, 2

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Umbilical

Lately I've been discussing the benefits of training for dogs. We've explored how new service dogs are trained from the time they are puppies - 8 or 9 weeks old - to look after people who need help. 

One of the most common ways to train a puppy to walk on a loose leash and let the owner take the lead (i.e., not make the owner feel like the dog is pulling his or her arm out of its socket - I've been there!) is a technique known as "Umbilical." Basically put, it means that the owner attaches the dog to himself or herself and never goes anywhere in the daily routine without the dog attached. The owner doesn't get out of the dog's way; the dog learns to pay attention to the owner, learns to anticipate, learns to depend, and yes, even to dote on the owner because the owner is the dog's source of all things: food, outings, entertainment, companionship, and more. Indoors, outdoors, it doesn't matter. The point of the exercise is to build relationship, to strengthen attachment, and to give the dog the idea that dog and human are inseparable.

Inextricably linked. 

Photo "Red Grapes On The Vine" courtesy
of Stoonn at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
This is the lesson Jesus talked about in John 15. 

"I am the Vine; you are the branches. 
Apart from Me you can do nothing." (vs 7). 

It's not about the leash; it's not about where the vine stops and the branch begins. It's about relationship. 

Complete and utter connectedness. No "trying" to be connected, oh no. No straining or grunting or groaning to "grow" the relationship from our end. 

We aren't the source. We. Just. Aren't. He is the source, and He just flows into us ... whether we are aware of it or not. Whether we can feel His life in us ... or not. It's all His work. We're just along for the ride. 

That's not to say that the life we lead in the Way is not difficult; it is. But it needn't be difficult in the way it often is. A lot of times we get discouraged because we can't keep all the rules and we waste a lot of energy trying to meet expectations - others', or our own. And we tell ourselves that these are God's expectations. But the Word tells us clearly that we are "justified freely" (Romans 3:24) and that we are the righteousness of God in Him. 

No, the work isn't to obey the rules. The work, dear brothers and sisters, is to enter into rest. It is to cease from our own works. It is to realize how great, how deep, how wide and how high His love is for us. It is difficult for our flesh to stay in that place of total openness, where we realize that there is nothing we can do to make Him love us more. He just loves us. Period.

That is the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Relationship. Passionate, intimate, He-loved-me-first, He-loved-me-most, no-holds-barred, laid it all out on His cross LOVE.

Pure. simple. Transformational. 

How can I NOT desire - with all that is in me - to be around Him every moment of every day? 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

All that has taken my heart

"Lord, I will bow to You - to no other god
         but You alone...
 Lord, I will worship You, nothing hands have made,
         but You alone.
     I will lay down my idols, thrones I have made,
     All that has taken my heart, oh..
 Lord, I will bow to you, to no other god
     ... but You alone.

     I will lay down my idols, thrones I have made,
     All that has taken my heart, oh..
 Lord, I will bow to you, to no other god
     ... but You alone."     - - Bob Fitts

Yes. Yes there are Christian idols. There are things that take our hearts without us even being aware of them. 

I'm not talking about cars, or sports, or TV, or (fill in the blank that we turn to when we feel empty or bored). I'm talking about right inside the church.

When I first heard Bob Fitts sing the song I've quoted above, I was struck by how humble the man was. How he longed to worship God and God alone. Then I got to meet him and work with him briefly. His attitude in person was full of grace and gratitude. There was no hint of self-serving or arrogance in him. 

I fear that in some areas in church life, we've succumbed to an "American Idol" mentality. We follow superstars, or styles of worship (Hillsong vs Thousand Foot Krutch for example). We hear a worship band and reduce their ministry - which they give to Jesus - down to something that must be applauded, or tell them, "Good job!" (Job?? Really??) We rob them of their heavenly reward by lavishing earthly reward on them. 

Photo "Center Of Church" courtesy of Keerati at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
And that's not all. Idolatry is not just worshipping other gods. Idolatry is also worshipping a version of God that isn't really what He's about. Just like the children of Israel did once - it cost them three thousand lives that day. 

Let me explain. In Egypt, every altar or shrine erected to whatever god was being worshipped at the time had an altar base - a pedestal, if you will - which was made in the shape of Hathor, the goddess of the earth. She was represented by a cow. 

When Moses went up the mountain to get the law from God, the people got restless. "We can't just stand here," they thought. "We have to DO something!" They originally wanted to worship the God that brought them out of Egypt. They pressured Aaron into allowing it. They donated some of the gold they had plundered from the Egyptians and they made an altar base. Naturally it was in the shape of a bovine - a small cow - a calf. 

But it was JUST THE BASE. There was NOTHING ON TOP of the calf. (The Egyptians never did this. All their altars had something on top.) God's people intended to worship the "unseen God" which - they reasoned - was above the altar. But their worship and celebration soon focused on the human-made base upon which they had thought the presence of God would hover. They followed the practices they'd seen growing up (traditions of men). And they moved from a desire to worship God, to saying "THESE are the godS that brought us out of Egypt." 

Can you see the path of degradation into idolatry? 

This is what happens when people think that they can 'add' something to what has already been done for them. The people felt they had to add something of their own, something tangible, to this worship-fest. Just like the church today stumbles over the simplicity of the Good News and feels she has to add to it: the wood, hay and stubble of rules, regulations and ritual (1 Cor. 3: 11-13). 

Idolatry. It's spiritual adultery. 

Rules and regulations and rituals feel good. They make us feel comfortable, safe, like we are doing something for ourselves, securing our place, pleasing God. They take our heart, they steal it away from a life in which He is the centre because of His goodness, mercy and grace. Bit by little bit the focus becomes the altar (what we do or don't do for Him, our own human effort) and not Him. We get into the mindset that in order to please Him we have to appease Him, that is, to keep Him from getting mad at us by doing stuff He likes.

But don't we see? God is already pleased with us. Because of what Jesus did for us, we are already pure, clean, washed, made whole. We are the righteousness of God in Jesus, because He was made to be sin. For us. (2 Cor 5:21) Once for all time, He settled the sin question: past, present, and future. "He,  having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God ... for by one offering He has perfected for all time those that are being made holy." (Heb 10: 12, 14.)

There is nothing we could do to add to that. It's already perfect. The forgiveness is complete, unconditional, absolute. "He is able to save them to the uttermost those who come to God by Him, seeing that He ever lives to make intercession for them." (Heb 7:25). "These things I have written to you that you might know that you have [present tense] eternal life, and that you may believe on the name [or in the authority] of the Son of God." (1 John 5:13).

This is basic stuff; this is the scandalousness - the lavish nature - of God's Grace. But it goes against our human nature. Like the people of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai, we feel that we can't "just stand there" in the freedom with which Christ has made us free. We have to "do something" ... and in this lies the most dangerous fear-based lifestyle possible - thinking that we have to keep by our own efforts that which God has already freely given. 

So that is what I will lay down. I will lay down the idols of all my own efforts, all my own devices, all my arm-twisting where I try to behave myself so God will answer my prayers, and all my insistence on complicating His free gift, sullying it with my own kindling (wood, hay, and stubble). I will focus instead on His perfect sacrifice for me, and live in gratitude and worship to Him who gave all He had, all He was, for me, and who lives forevermore.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Between His Shoulders

I've been following a new blogger lately. She's been writing about something that to a lot of believers would be a 'ho-hum' topic: Grace. 

When I read what she writes, though, my heart stirs within me because she doesn't just talk about Grace as some theological construct but as a moment-by-moment, vibrant experience that has transformed her life even in the most mundane of experiences. She writes from personal, transformational experience and it's very, VERY hard to argue with that.

Not that I'd want to.

I've written many times about the gullible Galatians who thought they could add to what Jesus had done for them by keeping the law, following the rules, compiling a list of dos and don'ts. And I've said many times that this is the fallacy into which the modern church has fallen. Some have called this the Jezebel spirit - the spirit of religion. It is a very narrow view of a very wide, vast God.

My friend understands that, and for many years she lived in that religious experience. But she also understands and has experienced the truth: that the Christian life is just Jesus. That's it. There's nothing more complicated about it than that. Because of what Jesus did, we are forgiven: past, present, and future. No amount of straining or trying harder will make Him love us more or make us love Him more. It's just Him. Just His Grace. 

Many people I hang around with are actually frightened by that kind of talk. They think that saying that we don't have to DO anything once we are born again is equivalent to a license to sin (you know, "I can do anything I want because God will forgive me so I think I'll just go hog-wild.") I understand that the idea of that kind of Grace wouldn't make sense to someone who still believes more in the depravity of human nature than in God's unconditional love, who is thinking in human terms because human love is so often dependent on what the other person does or doesn't do. But God is bigger than that. His love isn't like our love. His love is limitless, lavish, and totally scandalous in its intensity.

Something my new friend said on her blog recently (in fact, her blog was how we met) struck me and vibrated something inside of me that was just waiting, longing for someone else to "get" this: "I have yet to see a heart that is gripped by God's unbelievable grace that wants to go out and sin. Just doesn't happen like that. No way. No how. In fact, I would have to argue that the opposite occurs!" (Read her whole post here.) 

Photo "Portrait Of A Baby Sheep In The Farm" courtesy of
ponsulak at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
 All afternoon, I've been reminded of an expression I read in the Old Testament somewhere and I knew I had to go look it up. It was a blessing that Moses pronounced on the tribe of Benjamin (which means 'Son of my right hand').  I found it in Deuteronomy 33:12 - "May the beloved of the Lord dwell in security by Him, who shields him all the day, and he dwells between His shoulders."

The picture of God's beloved one dwelling between God's shoulders has stayed with me for a long time ... for the place between His shoulders is His heart. The place of resting close to (or in) His heart takes me to Isaiah 40:11(b) - "In His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom..." 

Jesus often used the metaphor of sheep to refer to His followers and He used the contrast between sheep and goats to talk about believers and unbelievers. Though related, sheep and goats are completely different species [and even if a sheep acts like a goat, it's still a sheep. (Just saying.)] Sheep respond to being led... or carried. Goats must be DRIVEN, forced to go where the goat-herd wants them to go. 

Once, we were spiritual goats. We needed to be externally motivated (i.e., given a good swift smack) to behave ourselves. Then we heard the Good News. The Shepherd had given His life for His sheep and offered to make us into new creations. Yes... sheep. A total species change. Only He had the power to do it, and once done, it was done for good. To the uttermost! There was nothing we could do to earn it; He did it all. And there is nothing we can do to keep it. He does the keeping. We have no strength? No problem. He picks us up and carries us between His shoulders, in His heart.

Because He loves us.
So.
Much.