Thursday

Transactionalism. Not a Lovely Thing.


“Transactionalism” is the belief that if I do this thing, then God will do that thing. It says that if I do the right things, then God will do the thing I want him to do.

That’s how a lot of people understand religion, understand the nature of God. If I do this, then God does that.


And it’s why a lot of people are eager to be told what to do to get the favor that they want, that they need. That’s what they’re looking for from the Bible, from Christianity: they want to know the rules. What are the things that I need to do to get the reward I want?

That reward might be heaven after they die. Or it might be a peaceful life in the here and now. Or “enough” money (or “just a little more”). Or the perfect relationship.

If we do the right things, if we choose this and shun that, if we hold our mouth just right, God will give us that thing.

That’s remarkable fertilizer. That’s the generous product that comes from the south end of a north-bound steer.

Jesus was clear: we’re the treasure (the coin, the sheep, the son) that he’s come looking for, to draw to himself. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Before we did all the things.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are still consequences for our actions. Just not with God.

If I make stupid choices, then stupid consequences are mine. And sometimes other people make stupid choices that also affect  how my life goes. But in all that, God is still with me. And not because I did the things that satisfy his requirements.

Yeah, free will is real. I really do have the power to screw up my life. So do you. But we do not have the power to manipulate God to do what I want.

Odd thought just crossed my mind. Romans 5 is happening, or something like it.
 
We’re sure seeing a lot of the works of darkness revealed over the past several months: riots in the streets, bad people, bad plans and bad actions are caught. (Keep praying along that they’d be revealed, of course. And brought to justice.)
 
But then there’s Romans 5:
• Romans 5:10: For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
 
• Romans 5:15: But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
 
• Romans 5:17: For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
 
• Romans 5:20b: But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.
 
The principle that I think I might be hearing is this: if we’re seeing the works of dark spirits, how much more will the Holy Spirit be accessible to us in that time and place?
 

My suggestion: in this dark season, look for the light. Snuggle close to the Light, whatever that means for you. In more religious terms (there’s a place for them): press into the Holy Spirit, open yourself to him (transparency, or “seek him with all your heart”), and keep eyes and ears open for revelation.
 
I think we’ll find him willing to share his heart with us. And I’ll bet you a shiny new nickel that it’s kind of a whole lot more encouraging than the sewage the spirits of darkness are spreading around.
 
Note: I believe that the revelation will come in unfamiliar form, perhaps in hard-to-recognize form. It may be in unusual coincidences, or stray thoughts in your imagination, or casual conversation. I was overwhelmed by Holy Spirit speaking about our days in a Marvel movie the other night. Keep your eyes open.
 
Where sin abounds (and isn’t it abounding now?), Grace (God’s power, God’s direction) much more abounds. 

How The Walks In The Woods Actually Worked


It was an interesting several years for me. I had an hour every day to walk in the woods. I chose to spend the time sauntering, decompressing, and especially talking with God.

My habit – what seemed good to me – was to spend the first part of these prayer times in getting connected with the Guy I was talking to. So rather than start with the business of prayer (“I need this; Suzie needs that, please heal Johnnie…”), I began with attention to the relationship and to my sensitivity to the relationship.

Often enough, I’d begin with something like, “So what’s on your mind today, Father?” Unfortunately, these times with him were in the middle of a pretty intense day, and so my mind, my soul, was still kind of racing. That didn’t always connect so well, though I think he liked being asked.

I got into the habit of praying in tongues for a while. If you’ve been around the Internet from the early days, if you’ve ever had to deal with dial-up internet access, you remember the strange noises your modem made while it was hooking up to what passed for the internet in those days. I kind of figured these times praying in tongues were like those noises: getting my spirit connected with his Spirit so we would be able to actually communicate.

But I’d pray in tongues until I felt like we had connected. Sometimes I’d pray in tongues for just a few hundred yards of walking. Occasionally, I’d spend my whole hour in tongues, working to connect to his “mainframe.” Sometimes it took a lot longer to settle my soul down!

There were days when I felt the need to pray a particular Bible verse during our introduction time; I’d look it up (first in the pocket Bible I carried; later on my phone), and pray through it, and go back to praying in tongues until I’d connected my heart with his.

That sense was pretty subtle; I was just waiting for that feeling on my inside that said my attention wasn’t on my busy day, but was on him. It’s rather like that “done” sense that tells me that I’ve covered what I needed in prayer and it’s time to move on now.

So I’d pray in tongues until I sensed that we’d connected, and then I’d move on. Because of my good, evangelical upbringing that was so attentive to sin, I’d often spend some time asking him to search my heart for sin.

Again, this wasn’t perfunctory. I wanted to have all of my insides, all of my secrets open before him. If you’d asked me why I thought that was a good thing, I’m not sure I could have given you a reason, but I was convinced (and still am) that if I want God to be open with me, then I need to be as open as I am able to be with him.

Fairly often, as I was searching my heart, he’d bring my attention to some attitude or action that needed attention. I’d talk with him about it. I never heard him speaking words to me in these times, but often enough, I’d ask him questions about this thing in my heart, and then a new thought would drift into my heart: I always assumed that it was his reply and this assumption never once led me astray.

Pretty often, the root issue boiled down to me trusting me more than me trusting him in this area. For a while, my response (again, from my evangelical history) would be to feel bad and make promises (aka vows) to do better. I’d try to “fix” it. He never seemed impressed with this.

Over time, I came to the place where I’d stop trusting in myself to fix it, and I’d just agree with him about it. “Yeah, I agree: I’ve trusted me more than I’ve trusted you. And yeah, that’s not a very smart thing to do, is it? You know, you’ve actually been trustworthy in my life, haven’t you. I really can trust you, even with this, can’t I? Help me to stay in touch with that truth, please? You really are that good, aren’t you?” That brought far more change in my life.

All of that – and sometimes it was the whole walk and the next day, too, but mostly it was several minutes – all that was just the introduction. Computer networks call it the “error-checking” part of “negotiating the handshake.”

And then I’d bring up the issues on my heart. I had tried prayer lists, and there weren’t disastrous, but I discovered that there were advantages to praying about the issues on my heart instead of a list.

First, I don’t see prayer as a business transaction (though that model is not without some benefit); instead, I approach prayer as a relationship. That works better for me. Shopping lists have there place. My relationship with my Dad is not one of them.

Second, it seemed to me that God was far more interested in what was on my heart than in the items that needed checking off on the list.

And really, the issues on my heart were very often things that I’d put on that list anyway. But I’d bring it as a thing that I cared about, not as a duty. That was important to me. That made a difference to me in these times.

I prayed about my marriage, my family, my relationships, my missionary friends, concerns local and global. Hmm. That doesn’t sound right. Let me say it this way: the more I related with Father, the more I found myself caring about the issues that he cared about, and the more often I’d bring those issues back to him and we’d discuss them.

Again, I’d talk (always out loud: frankly, it kept my mind from wandering), and I’d interpret the stray thoughts that crossed my mind in those times as his side of the conversation, and it always seemed right. (Luke 11:13: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” I could trust him that these responses were from the Holy Spirit.)

Occasionally, the thoughts would be specific, often including new information that I hadn’t known before (and that proved to be true “back in the real world”). That wasn’t the big deal. The big deal was that I was hanging out with my Father.

I grew to really love these conversations. Rarely, we’d actually converse, where we’d both use words, me out loud, him in my mind.

One time I’d been praying energetically about something that bothered me. No, actually I’d been whining. He seemed to wait until I paused to take a breath, and he interrupted me. “Are you done yet?” I literally stopped in the middle of the trail and laughed. He went on to teach me about one of Jesus’s parables. I tried not to whine too much after that day. Besides, it was a good lesson!

There was a while (more than a year) that he required me to pray 1Corinthians 14:1: “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” That went on so long that it got tiring. “Teach me love, and I’m asking for spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. OK, can we go on now?” In those days, I’m not sure I believed in prophecy in any practical sense, but I prayed it anyway. He seemed to think that was enough.

After a year of that daily prayer, a prophet called me out in a meeting. “God says you’ve been asking him for prophetic gifts….” And he went on to talk about that. Yeah, I felt set up, but in a really good way, a cared-for way.

These days, I no longer have that hour in the woods every day, but I try to maintain the same “conversing with God” throughout the day. Frankly, talking with God on a peaceful, wooded trail is easier than staying actually connected throughout the day.

I’m still working out the details of this season, so I can’t talk about it much. The past season is in clearer focus. I thought I’d share it in case it might be helpful to some folks who are interested in having that kind of season with God. It’s probably worth asking him about.


Friday

Do Not Think That I Came to Destroy the Law or the Prophets

I’ve run into several people recently who quote Matthew 5:17, and use that to say that the OT Law is still valid. 

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” [MT 5:17]
 
They’re saying “Fulfilled means it’s still valid. You’re still obligated.”
 
Others say, “No, Fulfilled means it’s done, it’s concluded. It did its job, and now it’s over.”
 
So I thought, Let’s see how that word is used in other places in the Bible. That should give us an idea of what it means here.
 
So here’s a list. This is just part of the New Testament list, but the Old Testament use of the word is similar. (See the links to the full list in the footnotes)
 
Suggestion: For each verse, ask: “Does ‘fulfilled’ mean ‘It’s still in power; you’re still obligated’? or does ‘fulfilled’ mean ‘It’s done, concluded, and here’s the result’?”
 
Mat 2:15
where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
 
Mat 2:17
Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
 
Mat 2:23
and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
 
Mat 13:14
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
 
Mat 13:35
So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
 
Mat 26:54
But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
 
Mat 26:56
But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
 
Mat 27:9
Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel,
 
Mar 13:4
“Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
 
Mar 14:49
Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”
 
Luk 1:1
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,
 
Luk 1:38
“I am the Lord's servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
 
Luk 4:21
He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
 
Luk 18:31
Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.
 
Luk 21:24
They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
 
Luk 22:37
It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
 
Luk 24:44
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
 
Jhn 17:12
While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
 
Jhn 18:9
This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
 
Jhn 19:24
“Let's not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let's decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did.
 
Jhn 19:28
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
 
Jhn 19:36
These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”
 
Act 1:16
and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.
 
Act 3:18
But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.
 
Act 13:27
The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.
 
Act 13:33
he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “ ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.'
 
Act 23:1
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”
 
--
Which is it?
 
Still in power; still obligated?
 
or
 
It’s done, concluded, finished?
 
-----
So here’s a list.
This is just part of the New Testament list (whole NT list: http://bit.ly/1MbLMaf),
but the Old Testament use of the word (whole OT list: http://bit.ly/1MbLMqF) is similar.
 

Thursday

#Unfiltered


“Unfiltered” is sort of a thing right now.

Folks talk on Instagram or Facebook about posts and pictures that are #Unfiltered:  they’re real, authentic, not faked, not Photoshopped, not particularly posed. “This is real,” they insist.

I believe that this is something God is doing. God is bringing this value for the authentic to the front of our attention.  God likes authentic. He likes real.

That’s one of the things I like about him. He doesn’t filter stuff. He’s authentic. He’s real.

He’s got this book (I guess they call it a Bible) that’s all about his relationship with the human race, and so it includes lots of humans in it: lots of people and their stories.

And he doesn’t filter it even a little bit. Completely unfiltered.


The people in his book, he calls some of them friends: some of them are real screw-ups. Hmm. Actually, most of them are. In fact, nearly all of them. If you were omnipotent and writing a book about your peeps, you’d think you’d show the shiny side, the good-looking side. Make them look good.

He does that a little, but that’s the smaller bit. The bigger bit is how badly his favorite people fark everything up. Or nearly everything. And he still hangs out with them.

One of his favorites started out really poor, but with a whole lot of God’s help, made it to the big time. And what does he do? He seduces the wife of one of his best friends (and daughter of another good friend). He gets her pregnant while hubby’s off fighting his imperialistic war. And then he murders her husband so he can have her all to himself. Alongside several dozen other wives and mistresses.

And God calls this son-of-a-birch-tree one of his favorites. What?

Another guy lies about his 60-year-old wife (“Nah, she’s my sister!” Essentially saying, “You can sleep with her if you promise not to kill me.”) And while they’re trying to figure out how to seduce her, he trades in on his status and ends up one of the richest dudes in the area. They have to ask him to leave so he doesn’t destroy their national economy.

God says, “Yeah, that guy is my example. I’m going to call him ‘the father of faith.’” As if it never happened!

Another guy refuses (three times!) to even acknowledge that he knows the guy when God puts on skin and comes to town. The religious freaks were setting up to murder him, and he totally ghosts the son of God. “Nope. Don’t even know the guy. Could you pass me a sandwich?”

And God makes him head of the church. Are you kidding me?

Yeah. It’s outrageous. It’s a complete travesty of justice.

And it’s one of the things I like best about this God.

It’s not that he doesn’t care if we muff it up. It’s just that muffing up doesn’t piss him off. He knows that’s how this species – built from dirt in the first place, anyway – is predisposed. And he doesn’t shun, ghost us, or get embarrassed when we come around.

In fact, he has spent literally all of recorded history pursuing us, coming to find us, getting on his knees to clean off our mess, to pull our foot from the trap, even ransom us from both sin AND death.

And if that wasn’t enough, he is so stoked to be close to us that he’ll happily live inside of us. That was his idea: not a hair’s breadth of distance between his almightiness and our dorky foolishness. Or rampant suckiness. Or unmitigated evilness. He’s not impressed. “Yeah, come here, you! Let me clean you up! Now isn’t this better, here with me?”

But wait! There’s more! He’s not done yet!

“So how’d you like to sit up here on this throne with me? Look, you can see the whole Kingdom from up here! So as long as you’re here on this throne, what kind of things would you like to do with this Kingdom? Cuz I’m going to share it, all of it, with you! We’re gonna do this together!”

Yeah, that’s the God we get to be with. #Unfiltered. Authentic. Real. Embarrassingly so.

And he invites us into all of this, to do all of life, with him.

If we’re willing.

Watch and Pray


“Watch out!” “Keeping watch” “Watchman”

The idea is consistent: pay attention; notice what’s going on. See what there is to see; hear what there is to hear.

The dictionary talks about “observing attentively,” and “following closely, maintaining an interest in,” and even “being careful.”

Pay attention. Notice.

Now here’s an interesting thing: Four times, Jesus tells us that watching and praying go together.*

It was a long time before I learned how those worked together. When I was growing up, “praying” was about “Say these words; that’s prayer.”

Later, prayer was about a shopping list, and praying was a lot like writing to Santa. “I want this; please do that, and bless everybody in the whole world.”

As I got more religious, my vocabulary became more about “Bringing needs before the throne,” but it was still functionally a Santa letter, a shopping list. At least I was adding other people’s needs to the list. “Watching” was seeing what was needed. “Praying” was bringing those needs to God’s attention.

Now I’m not saying this is bad. Some of those prayers got answered, including some whose answers would qualify as miracles. And I (mostly) don’t regret the time spent bringing real issues to God’s attention (though I really do not love prayer meetings that are more about whining and complaining about what’s wrong, than about God).

“Watch and pray.” Pay attention; notice.

I’m growing more and more committed to the idea that prayer is more than me reciting my wish list, more than me bringing issues to God’s attention. Prayer is relational, and it’s conversation. It’s dialogue.

And that, I think, is what the “watch and pray” thing is about. And it happens in relationship, in close relationship, in intimate relationship.

It’s about God and me talking. Maybe we use words, maybe we don’t, but it’s about us talking.

I’ve observed that sometimes when God talks, he uses words, sometimes he uses pictures or visions, sometimes he uses emotions or thoughts. He’s very versatile. (It wouldn’t surprise me if he gave us all these senses so we’d have more ways to engage with him.)

I’m coming to the conclusion that “watch and pray” is about us hearing what he’s saying (whether words or pictures or whatever) and talking to him about it.

That’s why words of knowledge are so often associated with people actually getting healed. God shows us what to pray for, and we pray for the thing God’s saying to pray for, and what do you know? He answers those sorts of prayers pretty often.

That’s the basic design of “watch and pray.” Pay attention to what’s on God’s heart. Talk with him about that thing until you know how to pray for it. Then pray for that thing that’s on God’s heart, in the way that God is showing you how to pray for it. Rinse and repeat. Spend time in that conversation, conversing about things that are on his heart. (You’ll be surprised how many of the things that are on your heart are on his heart, too.)

That will result in more answered prayers, of course. But it will also result in me knowing God’s heart better. It will result in me becoming more like him, knowing him more. And that is the very essence of the prayer he taught us to pray so long ago: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Watch and pray.

Pay attention. Notice. Talk about that. Pray that. Discuss that.

It’s all about relationship.

----
* Matthew 26:41, Mark 13:33 & 14:38, and Luke 21:36



Be Holy. Be Healed.


The first words spoken in the Scriptures sound like a command to our Western way of hearing (1). We translate those two words (אוֹר הָיָה) as “Let there be light,” but  translating it “Light, be!” is perhaps more literal, though it feels odd to command light.

And that’s largely because it isn’t really a command in the “obey this rule” sense. Light didn’t even exist and it couldn’t obey a rule, not until God called it into existence. When God said, “Light, be!” he was releasing his power to create light, causing “reality” to conform to his will. It would be silly to expect the light to hear this as an agenda item, and to work hard (can you imagine light sweating, feeling guilty for failing?) to conform to the directive?

His words caused the thing he said to become reality. It was not reality until he said it. He did the same thing a few more times, and then he took a day off to reflect on his “very good” creation (2).

In the beginning God established the pattern: he commands a thing to “be” and suddenly, by the release of his power, it is. And it is good. This is the way God began this whole creation; this is the pattern he uses.

Years later, he speaks to a family he’s trying to adopt as his own (and just like in our day, there were lots of complications). He makes a similar statement to that family, releasing his power in them to accomplish what he was describing, but this time, they were terrified, and out of their fear, they interpreted his release of power as a directive (3), as a rule for them to obey.

“Be holy,” he said (4). And they tried. They sweat and made laws and practices (5) and did everything they knew to do. And they failed miserably. They failed because they tried to do in their human obedience what was released as a disbursal of heaven’s power. They did not receive the power, therefore they were not able to actually “be holy.”

A few millennia later, he did it again, this time while he was walking on the planet: he spoke several times in the same ways, releasing the same creative power.

Nearly a dozen times (6), he declared to various people, “Be healed!” He’s not telling people to live up to a standard of healed-ness, he’s not giving them a rule to obey. He’s releasing power. We get it, because we understand that we don’t generally have the power to “be healed” on our own, apart from the power of God.

Only twice (one woman literally caught in sin, one man with a history of brokenness and disappointment) (7), he released the power of God to remove the bondage of sin: “Sin no more,” he said. We make the silly mistake here of thinking that we can do this apart from God’s power (we cannot) (8), and therefore, we think this is a rule to follow (it is not), and we teach others, “You must be holy! God commands it!”

All of these statements were declared by the same person of the Godhead (“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (9) ) and they followed the same pattern: it sounded like a command, but functionally, this is about the Creator God releasing his power to create the thing he speaks about, causing “reality” to conform to his will.

When the Godhead declares for something to “be” (whether it’s “be healed” or “be holy”) it’s not a commandment, not a rule. It’s a disbursement of his power, a declaration of our destiny. Our response is not to grunt and sweat and fail and then condemn ourselves for failing to do the impossible. That’s foolish. We cannot do what it takes the power of God to do (10). If I may say so, it is the Christians who think they can accomplish in their will what God has offered his power to  create, whose “gospel” is the least hopeful and the most ridden with condemnation: their “good news” has the least “good” in it.

When the Scriptures say, “Live this way,” it is a release of the power of God. Our job is not to make that word come about. Our job is to set our sights on that target and it is God’s job to pull the trigger, to release the power to accomplish that word. And that will only come about as he and I are one, are in actual unity.

And when a prophetic word declares, “This is your destiny,” it is a release of the power of God. Our job is not to make that word come about. Our job is to set our sights on that target and it is God’s job to pull the trigger, to release the power to accomplish that word. And that will only come about as he and I are one, are in actual unity.

When God speaks, it releases God’s power to accomplish what he’s saying. If he thinks I need his power to accomplish that task, then it is extreme arrogance to attempt it in my own will; the only greater arrogance is teaching others that they should live as I live.

----
Footnotes:
1 Genesis 1:3
2 Genesis 1
3 Exodus 20:19
5 see Exodus through Deuteronomy
7 John 5:14 & 8:11
8 Romans 3:23 & 5:12
9 John 1:3
10 Mark 14:38, Romans 8:5-13, 1Corinthians 15:50, Galatians 2:20, 3:3, 5:16, etc.

If God is Love, Then....


Here’s an interesting exercise.

Scripture is clear: God is love (cf 1John 48&16). Not just friendship love, not just sexual love, but pure selfless love. The word used is “agape” with is describe as absolute, selfless love. God is absolute, selfless love.

So then, anywhere that the Bible discusses agape love, we can insert God there: because God IS love (not just “is loving”), then a definition of love must ipso facto be a definition of God.

Take the “Love Chapter” for example, 1 Corinthians 13.

The passage includes this definition:
“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

And so we can describe God this way:

“4 God is patient, God is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. 5 He does not dishonor others, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. 6 God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

I rather like that way of thinking. God is love. This is what love is like. Therefore this is what my God is like.

Then I expanded my thinking.

We’ve been discussing hell in conversations on my wall. So I look at what this says about God, and I ask how that speaks to my understanding of hell.

This one caught me in particular: “He keeps no record of wrongs.”

He’d pulled that card on me some years back, as I was meditating on Revelation 20 (specifically v12). This passage is often called “The Great White Throne Judgment.”

I hate that term, not because it’s wrong, but because it carries so much baggage. We declare this is “The Great White Throne Judgment,”  and we think we understand that. So we stop asking questions, we stop learning.

Nevertheless, the verse in question says, “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”

It doesn’t say what that judgment is, but this judgment is not about hell or a lake of fire, for v15 says, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” That’s a different judgment, apparently at a different time, and certainly judgment according to a different standard.

So as I was reflecting on what it meant to be “judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books,” Father spoke up. “Those books are not a complete record.”

Wait, what? Hmm. Well, the text certainly never says that the record is complete, only that there is a record.

He took me to 1 Corinthians 13:5, which says, “[Love] keeps no record of wrongs,” and patiently explained. “I keep no record of wrongs.” He went on. “This judgment is about rewards.” And he took me to 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. “Judgment is about rewards more than about punishment.” OK. I can see that.

But what about Revelation 20:15, those whose name is not in the Book of Life? This brought an interesting response. “Why are you so sure you know what the Book of Life really is. I’ve never defined it.”

Hmm. That’s true. [see https://nwp.link/BookOfLife]. OK. I’ll take that on out of the “Things I know” category and put it into the “Things I have some thoughts about” category.

By the way, a friend described that “lake of fire” judgment in a way that made sense to me: Matthew 25:41 is clear that this eternal fire is “prepared for the devil and his angels.” It was never prepared for humans.

And we assume (Scripture doesn’t say, as far as I can tell) that no demon, no angel of hell has its name in the Book of Life. That being the case, their destiny is that lake of fire. But that’s not our focus.

There are humans who have not yet let go of the demons that have haunted them, controlled them, who still cling to them. If they are unwilling to let go of their addiction to that demon that is thrown into the lake of fire, then those people will still be attached to the demon as it lands in the lake of fire. This is the result of a free will wielded unwisely.

And then my friend and I discuss whether God still loves these poor, bound, suffering people whose deception put them into a lake of fire? And we asked whether God would abandon them there, or whether his love would move him to keep wooing them in that hellacious place.

And we thought some more. What is God really like?

A Very Messy Narrow Way


I’ve been reflecting on something interesting recently.

I have some children, and now they have children. And of course, once upon a time, I was a young child myself.

All of these children have the experience of birth in common. A few children take the short cut: someone opens things up and brings them from a world of comfortable, constricted darkness into bright lights and loud noises and then spanks them on the butt. Terribly confusing.

But all the rest take the longer route: their world of comfortable, constricted darkness gets more and more crowded. Then the real pressure comes, and their world gets terribly tight, insane amounts of pressure.

And then suddenly all the pressure is gone, and we’re in this wide open space. This guy smacks us and somebody else scrubs us up, and then there’s all that cuddling.

But it’s never that tight, never that constricted, never that narrow a place ever again. We can do anything, we can go anywhere, though it might be a while before we master the right skills.

This is where these curious thoughts have been taking me:

My life in Christ is sort of like that. Somebody who knows what he’s talking about said, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life.”

For some reason, this reminds me of the birth process. Narrow is that gate, and difficult is that way which leads to life. And messy. It’s really messy.

But after the mess of birth, oooooh how much freedom. My world is never again that tight, never that constricted, never that narrow a place ever again. We can do anything, we can go anywhere, though it might be a while before we master the right skills to get around and to be less messy.

Yes, the gate into the Kingdom is narrow. And let’s be honest: it can be pretty messy, too. But once I’ve passed the gate, things in our life in the Kingdom are a whole lot less about “Thou Shalt Not,” than it is about “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

A lot of us have grown up with parents and preachers and other folks who have regularly slapped our hand and said, “Don’t touch!” or warned us not to try this thing or believe that thing. And there are some things that we should maybe not touch yet. Apparently I tried to drive my dad’s car when I was two, and had just crawled out of making mud pies. For some reason, that didn’t go over so well.

Yes, there are some things that we’re not ready for (don’t try to drive when you’re two). Yes, there are some things that would distract us from what’s best (don’t stuff yourself full of cookies just before dinner).

But all in all, there’s WAY more “yes and amen” than “do not touch” in the Kingdom of God.

Go forth. Explore. Discover your freedom.


Walking in The Woods: The Meaning of Life


One day I was walking in the woods, talking with God. Well, it was mostly me talking, but we were together, and it was a good day.

I started talking about some of the big questions. Why are we here? What is really the meaning of life? That kind of stuff. I was talking my way through some of these, and I’m afraid I was feeling a little like Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

“So what is the real purpose of my life? There are lots of things I can do with my life but in terms of eternity, not so much. In terms of eternity, there are only a couple of things that I can really accomplish.

“In terms of eternity, I can know God. I can introduce others to know God. And I can raise my children to know God. And that’s about it. Nothing ever really changes.

“Then it starts all over again. They can know God, and they can introduce others to know God, and they can raise their children to know God. And that’s all. It never changes.”

And the earth shifted.

I felt a veil removed from my eyes, and suddenly, I saw Father in his secret place, it was like I was seeing him in his bedroom, in his intimate place, half dressed. I was almost embarrassed by the intimacy.

And with tears in his eyes, he looked at me, and said, “Yes. That's it. That’s exactly it.”

And I realized that this was exactly the way he wanted it to be.



Tambourines & Trumpets in Public Worship Meetings


This has been burning in me for a couple of weeks. I guess I’d better get it out. I’ll be as gentle as I can.

I get it that some folks like to worship physically. I get it that some folks believe that making a lot of noise makes their worship more meaningful or more powerful. And I truly understand wanting to get more deeply involved in worship.

Here’s the place I’m coming to: If you’re part of a group of people worshiping, then it’s not appropriate for your worship to be overwhelming the worship of the people around you.

And to that end tambourines and trumpets do not belong in a public worship gathering. The principle applies to things that we do in worship that over-ride or hinder the worship of others around us, but let’s use these as our focus.


Here’s the exception: If you’re part of the worship team, in unity with them, AND you’re really skilled, then there might be a place for those instruments.

But if you are regularly blaaaating your ram’s-horn when you feel the spirit move, then you are a disruption to unity, not a contributor.

And if you’re constantly banging your tambourine, regardless of whether you think you’re keeping the beat or not, you are a disruption to the unity of the group, not contributing to it.

There’s a bigger problem with tambourines, and I apologize, but I’m going to get a bit nerdly here.

Unless you are physically located on the stage with the band, your instrument is not physically ABLE to keep the beat that the band is keeping, and you will be (not “may” be) making their job substantially more difficult.

This is physics, folks: sound is slow. It takes time to travel from the stage to you. So when “the beat” leaves the stage, it takes time to travel to your location, dawdling along at a measly 343 meters per second: the farther you are from the stage, the more time it takes for the beat to reach you. The sound is delayed when it reaches you.

Let’s imagine that your tambourine playing is exactly perfect, and they strike their tambourine at the instant they hear the beat. They are still not striking their tambourine at the same time that the band is. They’re striking the beat after the sound has taken its time to reach them. That’s not the same time. They’re delayed in striking the tambourine, because of the delay that their beat took to reach you.

Then, of course, the sound from your tambourine – which is already the loudest thing in the audience – takes its sweet time moseying throughout the room. So that sister over there hears the beat from the band and then hears the beat from the tambourine at completely different times. Now she’s thrown off. This happens to pretty much everybody in the room that’s not standing right next to the rogue percussionist on the tambourine.

The worst part is by the time the band themselves hear the noise from your tambourine (and because it’s so loud, and its sound is so sharp and cutting, they will hear it), it is so far off the beat by the time that the sound reaches the stage – again because of physics – that now the delayed tambourine beat is competing with their beat. They cannot play their best with two out-of-sync percussionists fighting to lead.

If the drummer and the tambourine player are separated by more than 15’, the difference in the beat is noticeable and is distracting. That’s not opinion, that’s science. And if the distance is greater than that, it can be very difficult or impossible to lead worship in that space.

The saddest part of this is that the person playing the tambourine literally cannot recognize the havoc that they’re wreaking on the worship in that setting, because they are perhaps the only person in the room who cannot hear it. If you tell them that their playing is hindering the musicians or other worshippers, they’ll often not believe you and take great offense.

The net result of these instruments playing in a worship gathering is 1Corinthians 14:17: “You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.” In many cases, you are giving thanks well enough, but everyone else is prevented from worshiping at all.

Does that mean I cannot worship with my trumpet or my tambourine? Not at all. But it might mean that you shouldn’t worship with them in public. Use them all you like in your secret place. But please do not bring them into the public gathering, unless you’re very, very skilled with it, and you are a member of the band, responding to the direction of the worship leader.

I have also been part of percussion events, where the goal of the whole thing is for everybody to be gathered around together banging away together. Some of those have been heavenly!

But in a community worship gathering, no, not so much.

Opinions About Pornography


OK. Let’s go step onto the scary trail. Let’s talk about pornography, and about porn addictions.

I’m going to speak about things that I have no training in. I have opinions, based on experience. I’ve not put this into words for a long time, so this may get overly-detailed (that’s how my process works).

Comment: I’ll be speaking as a guy (I generally do, but this time it may make a difference).

Another Comment: I’m not going to talk about how icky porn is. You already know that.

Warning: This isn't complete. Not sure it's actually possible to be complete on this topic. This is more of an outline, notes, rough thoughts.

Personal opinion: neither accountability nor inner healing will solve porn addictions. They may address some symptoms, but not solve the problem.

Personal opinion: solving symptoms is never a substitute for solving the core issue. If one symptom is solved, but the core issue is not, then the core issue will build pressure, and pop out in another place, or (more likely?) blow the scab off the same symptom.

Personal observation: when “church folk” respond to any addiction, their response is generally in the realm of “self control.” This does help a small number of people. 

Personal opinion: a porn addiction is not primarily about sex or about discipline. These are merely symptoms.

Personal opinion: the core issue is identity, specifically intimacy in relationship. Intimacy, in this context, is NOT a euphemism for sex: it’s about being known and accepted fully, and about knowing and accepting fully. And the first place for this intimacy is with God:

Personal opinion: if a man does not have an intimate relationship with God, if a man does not have confidence that he is fully known and fully accepted by God, then he will try to meet that very legitimate need by illegitimate means. Pornography is one of those illegitimate means.

Personal opinion: that business of being known fully and being accepted fully by one’s wife (or wife-to-be) is supplemental and very helpful, but does not replace the need for this relationship with God. Neither does sex replace real relationship with God. [That’s covered in the DUH-101 course.]

Personal opinion: This inherently creates a problem: the only solution is to know and receive the actions/choices of someone else. Fundamentally, no man can solve this problem on their own, by their own strength. There’s room for a sermon there, but this is not the time for that sermon.

Personal Opinion: the only thing that a man can do to facilitate others’ meeting of these needs is to initiate that sort of relationship. With God, that’s only about making one’s self as open as possible before God, and that is a scary process. With a bride that’s a terrifying thing, because it’s the same kind of vulnerability, but vulnerability before a fallible human being who has her own needs. Scary. But that’s all he can do to help her offer that to him: offer it to her, both for her well-being, and by way of being an example.

Personal opinion: the only things I’ve ever seen work appear to be two sides of the same coin: It can be described as “Develop this kind of relationship with God” or it can be described as “Know – really know, not just study – who you are in Christ,” but these are (IMHO) really the same thing.

Personal opinion: there is a bit of good news in an addiction to pornography: you were made for intimate relationship with God, and this addiction demonstrates that you have a real hunger, and a real readiness for that intimacy. You’re ready to develop a close relationship with your Maker. And God is ready to develop that close relationship with you.

I say again: a porn addiction is rock-solid proof that you are now ready and able to have the kind of intimate relationship with God that you’ve always wanted.

Is it scary? Hell yes!

Are we guaranteed a life of ease and no problems? You’re kidding, right?

But is it possible? abso-freakin-lutely.

And yeah, it really is the better deal! Oh my goodness, yes!

Glad I’m Not Domesticated


I gradually drifted toward wakefulness the other morning. I rubbed my eyes, and looked at the clock, and rubbed them again. This was later than I expected.

I stumbled out the bedroom door, and the cat was standing next to her food dish, yowling for my attention. The food bowl was empty, and she is used to being fed earlier than this, thank you very much.


Later, she stood at the back door, watching the birds on the patio, and yowled again. I’d like to go out now, and chase some birds, please. She gave up after I’d ignored her for a while, and wandered down the hall toward her potty box.

A thought crossed my mind. “Aren’t you glad you’re not domesticated.” My mind went through some quick acrobatics in response: Me? Domesticated? Hah!

And then, wait. There was a season when I couldn’t feed myself. I had to “hold on!” until Sunday, when the pastor would spoon-feed me the same basic, elementary doctrines that I’d been spoon fed last year.

There was a season when I needed someone else to let me go outside once in a while. Unless I had assurances from senior Christians, I couldn’t trust that it was OK to go to things outside the church organization and church programs.

And there was a season when I needed someone else to change my potty box, or maybe change my diapers, because – even as an adult Christian – I couldn’t deal with my sins and failures myself. I always needed someone to point out to me, “Hey, that’s really not right,” or I always needed to have people pray for me to get me past some stumbling point. (Don’t go too far: prayer for one another is wonderful. But to always need others to pray for you to get past any trial is not a sign of health or maturity!)

So I stood there, watching my cat saunter down the hall towards the potty box that I’d cleaned out for her, I realized, not all that long ago, that was me. I had actually spent a good portion of my life domesticated, needing others to take care of every little thing for my life, as a human, as a man, and as a Christian.

Suddenly humbled, I nodded my head gratefully. “Yes, Sir. Yes, I am very grateful I’m not domesticated. Or at least not as domesticated as I used to be.”


The Church of the Septic Tank

I had a strange dream the other night. It was about septic tanks. Yeah. Poop tanks. Ewww. 

The dream began with a toilet. The toilet served a comfortable facility where a bunch of Americans gather together in God’s glory. But even American gloryhounds need to poop once in a while.

Then the dream shifted to the septic tank below that toilet. That was interesting.

The tank was full; needed emptying. We considered several alternatives:

• Dig a hole somewhere for putting the poop. We rejected that messy idea.
• Put in a second tank next to the main tank, and link the two. That’s not a solution.
• Pump out the tank. And that’s what we did.

After the tank was pumped, I was invited to hold a picnic in the empty tank. Say what?

Ewwww. That was still dark, still completely stinky! And besides, somebody’s hindquarters were above, beginning to re-fill the tank. Those places where the crap has been stored are not places to relax and spend our free time. No! That’s still stinky!

This afternoon, I realized that this is a metaphor, a lesson.

There are some places that are getting tons of crap removed from them. That’s absolutely happening in the church. There’s been a lot of crap in a number of places, and currently, a lot of that is being removed. It’s not done yet, but it’s getting there.

But when the crap is removed, those places that held the crap will still not be good places for a picnic, still not a good place to relax and enjoy yourself.

In the news far more than the revolution going on in the church is the uncovering of so much crap in the political world that it’s scary. A friend of mine says it's like a Russian novel full of twists and turns. But there’s a lot of the crap that’s getting sucked out of the system.

But when the crap is removed, those places that held the crap will still not be good places for a picnic, still not a good place to relax and enjoy yourself.

OK, what does that mean in practical terms?

Not a flying clue. I have no pretty little bow to wrap on this yet. But I have some candidates for how we can respond.

• We can ignore the cleaning out of the septic tanks and go on about our lives. I think this would be a poor choice.

• We can scrub the septic tanks out with prayer. This is likely to be uncomfortable, but then the prayer to get them emptied has been uncomfortable, too. We’re used to that.

• We can move the poop-hole so the best view in the house isn’t somebody’s bare butt unleashing another load of diarrhea on us. That will likely also involve some awkward and embarrassing prayer.

• I don’t know what this means, but it strikes me that we might need to upgrade our gathering place from a septic tank, where the crap is collected and hidden out of view. Maybe it’s time to put in a sewer system, where the crap still happens (because, be honest: that has to happen!!), but it’s taken away and made into something useful. What an interesting idea. I wonder what it means.

• We can choose a different place for a picnic. I know we’ve been invited to center our lives on the septic tank for a while. But we don’t need to accept every invitation we’ve been given.

I’ll bet you two rolls of Charmin that we won’t find the answers in this context. But if you felt like taking these to prayer, if you considered sharing some of this (even if you don’t share the source) with your prayer group, I’ll bet we’d see some good things happen.

My children were born for such a time as this.

I’ve been reflecting on some of what Scripture says about the nature of believers’ words in difficult times. Well, our words should be this way in all times, really, but I’ve been thinking about them in difficult times.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” [2Corinthians 1:3,4]

“But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” [1Corinthians 14:3]

This phrase has been ringing through my spirit the last couple of weeks, as hysteria about the Covid virus “pandemic” has been spreading through the news, through our civilization:

“My children were born for such a time as this.”

We’ve been comforted by our Heavenly Father, who happens to be the King of the Universe. We’ve had so much comfort heaped upon us that we have enough to comfort every person around us.

More than that, we have His own words in our heart and in our mouth, carrying his comfort, carrying his creative power as we speak them into the tumult and cacophony of this world.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” [2 Timothy 1:7]

It’s harder to speak with people when we’re all quarantined in our homes. It takes more intentional effort to check on the folks around us, to speak peace into their world. It’s worth the effort.

Speak the power of love. Speak the power of sound thinking. It’s a beautiful way to derail the spirit of fear that’s trying desperately to run rampant.

You were born for such a time as this.


How Does God Feel About The Cross?


I was driving home from work the other day, and I found myself thinking about the Cross again. I’ve studied that center-point event of human history for half a century, and I’m constantly aware that there’s more to understand about it. 

I was reflecting what a bloody, violent, dark day that was: the creator of the planet was gasping, bleeding, nailed to this hunk of wood stuck in the ground. Evil men were sighing in relief. Disciples were shaking their heads in confusion. Demon hoards were cackling with delight.

I paused to ask Father how he felt about that dark day. After all these years, he still surprises me.

He reminded me of a day in my own life. 

I was standing next to my friend who was my pastor. My brother was standing next to me, and he and I were both wearing tuxedos. There were some other men and women with us, standing in front of a large crowd of people; music was playing somewhere. There were flowers, I think, and maybe some candles.

I saw none of that. There was a woman down at the other end of that  aisle. She was dressed in white and it seemed that all the light in the room came from her radiant smile. And she was looking at me. At me! She began walking quietly, confidently down that aisle. Toward me. I could barely breathe.

I had been looking forward to this day for years. I didn’t know a whole about my life and what I would do with it, but I knew, I knew I must share my life with her, we must do this together. She was my dream come true. 

And here she was. She was going to, willingly, without any coercion, join her life with mine. This woman, she loves me! Me!

And now it was happening. It was actually happening! My whole life was just now beginning, this day! She walked toward me, through that crowd that neither of us saw. She stepped forward and stood next to me and looked into my eyes. I was undone. My eyes were wet and my knees were weak.

And Father whispered hoarsely, 

“That. 

That’s how I felt that day.”



Responding to the Covid Virus

I’ve been watching the foolishness and the panic in the news, in the streets, in the grocery stores. Sure, I’ve been embarrassed (haven’t we all?). Yeah, it’s a serious virus, but I still marvel at the degree at which a society crumbles in the face of a disease.

But something else is rising up, too, and this is fascinating.

I’ve been working to keep my perspective, to guard my soul. Here are some things I’m meditating on:

• The promises of God are still “Yes!” and “Amen!” [2Corinthians 1:20]  God is not caught off-guard by this stupid disease. Nor by the irresponsible media whipping the people to a frenzy of fear. God has not been side-tracked.

• God will not let me be tempted (to fear, to foreboding, to panic, to hate) beyond my ability to resist that fear. And he’s a perfect judge of [my] character. Circumstances may feel overwhelming, but my Father who loves me promises me that they are not. He will provide a way of escape [1Corinthians 10:13].

• My Father is both amazingly capable, and passionately in love with me. And he’s good. Really good. I can trust my life to him, even in the midst of fear and panic [ibid, Mark 10:18, 2Corinthians 9:8]. I’m safe entrusting myself to his care [Isaiah 49:16, Psalm 121:4, Luke 12:32].

I observe that the daily routine of billions of people is disrupted. Yeah, for a small fraction of the population, it’s disrupted by a trip to the hospital. But for most of the rest of the people, it’s disruption by a government decision.

When daily routine is disrupted, all kinds of interesting things become possible. Sometimes people begin to think. Certainly, people are more open to new ideas, new beliefs, new practices. That’s really quite exciting.

And I have this growing sense that God is on the prowl, working in the background, behind the scenes, in significant ways. I find that I want to believe that his actions will break out into the public, and maybe they will. But if I’m honest, when he does that, human beings quickly administrate and publicize every little thing he does. I’m not convinced he is thrilled with that response.

The truth is that I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m OK with that because I trust my Father to keep me in his hands (which is not the same as keeping me from anything bad happening).

But in the midst of all of this three-ring circus, I can’t shake the feeling, the growing excitement, that God is up to something good.


The Private Use of Miracles


It’s right there in Mark Chapter 8, but I’ve never heard anybody teach about it. Here’s the relevant part of the text:

Related image13 [Jesus] left [the crowd], got back into the boat, and crossed to the other side.
14 Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Watch out!” He cautioned them. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.”
16 So they began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread.
17 Aware of their conversation, Jesus asked them, “Why are you debating about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Do you have such hard hearts? 18 ‘Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?’ And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you collect?”
“Twelve,” they answered.
20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you collect?”
“Seven,” they said.
21 Then He asked them, “Do you still not understand?”

-----------------

I get it that the warning (v15) about the influence of the Pharisees (religious spirit) and Herod (political spirit) preaches really well. That’s cool.

And I get the encouragement (v18) that there are three ways of building faith from miracles (seeing, hearing, remembering). That preaches nicely, and I’ve benefited from that lesson.

But in the midst of all this, Jesus is chiding the disciples for their concern about provision (food: bread). The clear implication of the conversation is that Jesus is completely comfortable with using the same miracle that he used twice before for thousands, but using it this time to provide for himself and his 12 disciples. He doesn’t actually come out and say it, but it’s pretty clear nonetheless.

This challenges a belief that I didn’t recognize I had, and it makes me uncomfortable. I find that I’ve believed that miracles are for evangelism, or for public ministry, that somehow using them to cover for my mistake of poor planning was disrespecting the miracle.

But Jesus rather blows up that false belief. (And if that weren’t enough, he does it again in Matthew 17:27, where he sends Pete to get their tax money from a fish’s mouth! And he walked on water just to meet up with his boys who had left earlier.)

As I reflect on my crumbling misbelief, I realize that it includes the assumption that God loves “them” (whoever “them” is) more than he loves me, that he is pleased to provide for hungry masses, but for some reason, I don’t qualify for that sort of miracle.

I call that out as a lie. That’s not true. God loves me. Period. And since he’s an infinite God, with infinite omnipotence and stuff, therefore his love for me is infinite: it is not possible for anyone ever to be loved more than he loves me. Not crowds of sinners, not the 12 disciples, not that missionary in Africa who gets to raise the dead so often. Not even you. He loves me fully, completely, infinitely.

It’s OK. He loves you that much, that way, too.

And apparently, he’s OK with relying on miracles for everyday life, for lunch, for taxes, for meeting friends. Wow.  


Done


I found myself writing this down the other day. I wanted to share it, in case it encourages someone:

The Bible does not teach that Christ died “so that we can be saved.” He did not open the possibility for me to do enough good works or do the right deeds so that I can work my way in to heaven.

Rather, he took all the sin and all the judgment that was due to you and to me, past, present & future, and rather than buying the possibility of salvation, what he bought was salvation itself (the Bible calls it a “sure salvation”) that he provided for us. He declared, “It is FINISHED.” As in “There’s no more to do.” Done. Finis.

We (you and I, and everybody else) have the invitation, since God honors the free will he invested in us, to receive that free gift of salvation, or to reject it. It’s only a choice, and the choice is exercised by faith: by believing God’s offer. (Ephesians says that even the faith is a gift from God, not from my own works, specifically so that nobody can boast about it.)

So do you live now, today, in complete freedom from sin? From guilt? From shame? It’s God’s intent that you do. He bought that complete freedom for you!

Think of it this way: God has written me a check, in the amount of “complete forgiveness” (it’s WAY more than that, but we’ll go a step at a time), and he signed it. All I need to do is countersign the back (how? I believe him, I change my thinking) and deposit the check in my bank account.

The Bible is very specific that my works are not only USELESS for the purpose of acquiring salvation – of acquiring ANYthing from God, actually – in fact they actually get in the way, because if I rely on my works, then I do not and cannot rely on His works. It is His works, His finished works, are what accomplishes salvation and healing and grace and power and a clean conscience, and, and, and!

But let’s go back to that check for a moment: that’s not just for my debt to sin, that’s the full resources of Heaven payable to me, a son of the King of heaven, the heir (says Hebrews) of the riches of heaven: by depositing that check, I’m suddenly much wealthier than Steve Bezos, Warren Buffet, and Carlos Slim combined.

And of course, as that sinks in, I’m likely to live a different kind of life than I used to. As I understand my limitless wealth, as I understand how loved and accepted I am, I’m likely to change, to become generous, both in my resources, and in my care and affection. In other words, my actions, my “works” will reflect who I am.

THIS is the place for “good works.”

If I love on people in order to earn something from God, then I have rejected God’s free gift to me: I’ve essentially spat in his face and said, “I’ll do this on my own, thank you very much!” And of course, doing things on my own is not really in the same league as what He can do.

But when I am full of his love, fully accepted by my omnipotent Daddy, then I become generous and loving and giving like He is. Curiously, this often looks the same as the “good works” that I might consider by way of rejecting His gift; but the difference in my heart, in my motive, makes all the difference in the world (literally!).

It’s one thing to give someone gifts in an attempt to force them to love us and accept us. It’s quite another to bring the same gifts because we love them, and because we’re confident in their love for us. We call the first one a “stalker” and we call the police and we get a restraining order; the second is joyfully and gratefully received, and the already-strong relationship is further strengthened.

This is such a big deal that the apostle Paul wrote (Galatians 1): if anybody tries to teach you that you need to do ANYthing in order to be forgiven, to be loved, to become an heir in God’s family (which he describes as “pervert[ing] the gospel of Christ.”), then he says, “Let them be accursed!” If that weren’t enough, he takes it a step further: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”

“Accursed” is a pretty strong word.

Some time ago, I was meditating on Hebrews 4:16 (“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”) and talking with God about it, when Holy Spirit interrupted me. I could hear the tears in his voice, as he said, “You know, the priesthood wasn’t my idea in the first place.” And he explained Exodus 20:19 to me while he wept. (See http://bit.ly/TheOTHERbenefit)

This is the kind of relationship with God that it’s possible to have. This is God’s idea of what relationship between God and man is supposed to be like. This isn’t what I was taught in Sunday School, this is what I’ve learned from God and his word.

It may not be what you grew up with either. But if you’re up for this kind of a personal, face-to-face relationship with God, you might want to tell him so. ;) I’m very sure you’ll start a beautiful adventure together!