Retaining grace

I wore a retainer of one kind or another most of my childhood. One of the ones I wore was cemented to my teeth. Later I was placed with a removable retainer. ADHD kid that I was, I got in the habit of popping it in and out. That was fine and good for a while, but then came time for a more exciting feat. I started poking the tip of my tongue in and out of the narrow gap between the plastic and the wire as I popped the retainer in and out.

You can probably guess this didn’t end well. One day, whilst sticking my tongue in the gap, my tongue didn’t come out. Now this is not only upsetting, but pretty ridiculous and embarrassing, too. I either had to show my mom what I’d done—there was no denying how I got myself in this mess—or I would have to hide in my bedroom for the rest of my life.

I went to show my mom and tried to explain, which is no easy thing to do when a) there is no rational explanation and b) you have a retainer stuck on your tongue. I remember my mom’s immediate concern. She took me on her lap and began prying the retainer off my tongue. I started bawling because it hurt and I was scared. But at last she got it off and I was free.

She didn’t say much of anything to me about it, except for a quiet, “Don’t stick your tongue in your retainer anymore.”

Sometimes (okay, most of the time) we’re afraid to go to God when we mess up in a stupid way. Sometimes we’re afraid God will use our vulnerability to harass us even more than what we’re already feeling from the world and from ourselves. So many of us hide away from Him, retainer trapped on our tongue, not sure at all of what to do next.

One of my favorite verses is a prophesy from Hosea 3:5b (NIV) about God’s people who have rebelled: “They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.”

I was insecure to show my mom what I’d done, and I went to her as humble as could be. I totally needed her help and I totally had no excuse for myself. But instead of using the opportunity for a victory speech to smear more guilt on me, she simply pried the retainer off my tongue.

I kinda think about my retainer story when I read the verse above. God’s disobedient people will see that God is so good that they come back shaking like a cold, wet stray dog. And what does God do? Pick them up, wrap a warm blanket around them, and cuddle them.

There’s no need to fear coming back to God. Come trembling and find His awesome goodness.

On the Romance and the romance

0072009 was probably the second worst year of my life.

The first worst year was when I was 7.  I had felt as though there was nothing I could do to win God’s favor, and I would lay in bed in terror at night thinking about what could possibly please God.

Second to that was 2009.  My life fell apart in 2009.  Bad family news, terrifying panic attacks, a new problem sleeping due to anxiety, the meaninglessness of my life, and an acute awareness that I felt on the other side of a boundary line from God made this year worse for me even than the two years my father has ALS and we lost him.

For one thing, I had been on anti-depression medicine when my father had been ill and died, medicine that numbed me and basically made me feel like nothing in life mattered much at all.  I had for years found hope in Yankees baseball games, saving up for items for my Neopets, reality TV, the Twilight series, Lord of the Rings, Pokemon, whatever Mario game was coming out next, and so on.

But the year of 2009, all those things seemed to fade away.  Lose their flavor.  In a way I had never experienced before, they weren’t satisfying.  I’d always known they were never enough and I continually had to have more make-believe, more entertainment . . but I’d never before felt they didn’t satisfy.  I wasn’t on the strong anti-depressant I had been on, and my life looked more meaningless, wasteful, and unfixable than ever.

Bad family news hit only a few weeks after a personal blow that already had me reeling.  My alliance, Gus the white dog, was broken when Gus died suddenly in his sleep at 2-years-of-age.  Dogs had been a god for me for nearly all the years of my life.  I loved dogs more than I loved just about anything in the whole world, including, usually, people.  At that time, for a hermit-like girl filled with anxiety, I could hardly imagine what to do next.  I got a sunlamp that was supposed to help me feel less depressed, and when I woke up at 3 o’clock one morning sobbing for Gus, I sat in front of the light.  It helped a little, but it felt like everything else did that helped–just a trick to keep me from remembering how hopeless I really was.

Golfing

This photograph (summer of 2010) was taken about a year after I came to Christ. This was a fun picture to take because I knew my knight in shining armor might not come for me. I was, after all, far older than I’d ever imagined being without marriage (and without even a boyfriend). I was okay with it, because my Knight in Shining Armor had already come and saved me.

I believed God had taken Gus away from me because dogs had been gods to me.  Since childhood, dogs and video games had been my last stand in the world of sanity.  Earlier in 2009, I had stopped playing video games cold turkey (after several failed attempts) with the vague conviction that I had been wasting my time and probably not pleasing God.

I’d always thought I could function as long as I had a dog.  I’d always thought I could be a little bit happy as long as I had a dog.

Dogs and video games.  I had needed them so desperately for years and years.  Now I had neither.

The bright spot in my day was calling a friend on the way to work.  He was one of my last stops before insanity.  I knew he was praying for me and that he cared about the throttling waves of anxiety I was having.

A combustion of things began to happen in my life.  I could go through it all, but I’d really rather give you the simple tale: through a life of bondage to sin, I had sold myself to Satan’s auction, to be carted away by the highest bidder, and no puppy or Nintendo game could get me away from that.  There was a war for my soul, and every demon in Satan’s camp was bidding on me, but then God stepped up to bid.  He paid for me with the blood of His Son; He carried me off; and I fell in love.

To be truthful, I did not know at the time that this was what it was.  It was simply that for the first time in my life, I realized God loved me and I loved Him back.  It wasn’t until years later, when I fell in love with Ben (but I’m getting ahead of myself) that I realized, Oh!  That’s what happened to me with God!  I fell in love!

Teej Play

After a drama at church, 2011.

Sometimes very slowly, and sometimes very quickly, everything in my life was flipped upside-down.  Much of what I’d valued dimmed until it was mere garbage.  And much of what I’d scorned brightened until it was gems ablaze.

I walked out of make-believe–it still tries to grab me by the ankles and drag me back in now and again–and I gave up my obsession with dogs to sponsor children who live in high-poverty countries.  For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to feel loved by God.

The next few years were kindled with change.  Sometimes, I’d backtrack.  Sometimes, it’d seem like I’d hit a dead end and there was nowhere to go but backwards.  Sometimes, I fell in holes.  But GOD loved me and always found me, wherever I was, and always gave me hope He still loved me, even after all my sin.  He kept reminding me that the blood of His Son had bought me.  So I kept following.

“Unsociable me” joined a drama team at the church that became my church home.  I made close new friends for the first time in a long time.  We had Bible study on Wednesday nights before rehearsals, and I discovered that my friends had insights about God I didn’t, shared struggles I had, listened to my testimony and what God was drawing my attention to in Scripture, and prayed for me.

Sunday school became another place to make friends.  As I’d never been very good at making friends my age, I ended up joining a class of mostly 50+ believers.  Many of them immediately–instantaneously, even–adopted me as an honoree grandchild and I thrived in their love.

Me and Petting Zoo

Makin’ friends at the Creation Museum in Cincinnati Kentucky. My mom and I went up for an Apologetics Conference with Answers in Genesis, 2011.

Later, on the second round of an invite, I agreed to try a Bible study that met on Thursday nights.  It was for only single, young women and I found that scary.  I had a self-designated stigma from people my own age, especially women.

That was a spring session.  That summer, I was on my knees in my house praying for the Bible study that was supposed to take place at my house in about 5 minutes.  I’d invited, oh, probably 50+ friends, and didn’t have a clue who would really come or how many.  I had one friend show up.  We talked, prayed, and almost at the end of the time, a second friend showed up.  We ended up as a pod of 4 in God’s garden that summer, and it was one of the sweetest times of my life.

That was July, I believe, and about one year later, I let the four women coming to the study at my house know that we wouldn’t be meeting on the 23.  I was going on a very short mission trip to Guatemala.  I was scared to be off by myself with a group of people who might chew me up and spit me out.  I still had fears about sociality.  But I wanted to meet Helen, an 8-year-old girl I sponsor in Guatemala.  So, I decided to go, but not make friends with anybody on the trip unless, of course, they liked me.

I was guarded, but I found people no longer perceived me the way I’d felt they did when I was a teenager.  I felt really frightened the night before we flew out of Miami, and very anxious our first night in Guatemala. What I didn’t know was that one of the women from my Bible study back home–all sneaky-like–was praying for me to find my husband on the trip.

Helen & Teej

Meeting my sponsored child in Guatemala on a Compassion International trip.  Helen shares my birthday.

It all started with us piling toys up on a table.  Our first night on the trip, my roommate Sarah and some friend she had named Ben sat at the table with me.  Afterwards, we were supposed to pool any supplies we had to give the children.  I brought my suitcase of goodies from Oriental Trading Company, the $1 jewelry store, and toys I had on stock.  I was piling them on the table when Sarah’s friend Ben started helping me.  Somebody said to him something like, “Wow, that’s a lot!” And he immediately said something like, “This is all Teej’s stuff.”

I was really surprised he gave me credit, I guess because of the way that he gave me credit.  He was humble–like he really wanted me to be acknowledged–and I found that startling.  I didn’t say anything about it, though.

teej ben arbor funny

One of our first dates together. It is very likely we were disagreeing about something.  Look at my sweet conniving expression and his ‘nuh-uh’.

Throughout the few days we were there, Sarah kept inviting Ben to sit with us.  I didn’t know why she kept on doing that.  One time I avoided going back to our hotel room because I knew they were out on the porch.  But, they saw me, and invited me down.  Ben seemed especially eager about it, for some crazy reason or other.

The day before last on the trip, someone astonished me by unabashedly trying to set me up with Ben.  You might remember that I came from the world of make-believe, where I controlled everything.  In video games, there really aren’t any variables you don’t know about once you’ve played the game a few times.  You can always hit the restart button or go back to where you last saved and start over.  Getting into a real, unrepeatable, unknown relationship was too scary for me.  I wasn’t ready.

Well.  I thought I wasn’t ready.  God apparently thought otherwise, because Ben and I wound up sitting together the last evening of the trip.  I began, very slightly, to fall in love.

Ben Teej roses

I didn’t remember why I had this sneaky expression on my face, but Ben did.  He reminded me that I was blocking his face with the roses as somebody was trying to get a picture of us.  😉

The next few weeks after the trip were a whirlwind–and not of romance.  Ben and I were tripping all over ourselves and each other, praying to God for help, and trying to figure out if this was a relationship He wanted.

Ben wasn’t easy for me to cope with.  He wasn’t like a puppy that didn’t talk back and fit comfortably in my arms and whose day was made by the sounds of a squeaky toy squeaking.  Ben was a lot more trouble than that!  For one thing, he didn’t always agree with me!  For another, he wanted to protect and lead me, not me lead and protect him!  And even more shocking, it was a lot harder to know what to do with him without a squeaky toy for props!

I began to see that real romance with a man is dynamic, like the real romance of falling in love with God.  It isn’t something that you test out in a game and practice over and over until you get it right.  Sometimes I’d say the wrong thing, and disappointed myself, and sometimes I’d say the really wrong thing, and really disappoint myself.  Sometimes Ben didn’t do what I wanted.  (Horrifying!)  Nothing really went like how I’d daydreamed it would and lots of times there was a whole lot more confusion and growing and terror and just plain hardness than I’d counted on.

Early on, time and time again I kept wanting to quit.  But I never did.  I prayed to God, begged Him to help me, and practiced trusting Him.  And as I started really, really falling in love, I realized that this felt very familiar . . it felt very much like when I met my God.

Teej Ben 8

I call him my earthly Boaz.  🙂

Now, I miss Ben like crazy.  He lives over 17 hours away from me.  I can’t wait to see him again.  I want to spend every moment of the rest of my life with him . . and it reminds me of how I feel about Him.  In fact, Ben’s loyalty, devotion, care, tenderness, compassion, mercy, and humility remind me of the traits God showed me of His nature when I fell in love with Him.

I am still almost in disbelief when I realize that the Love of my Life, Jesus Christ, introduced me to another child in His care to be the love of my life.  When I look back on the patheticness of my life, I am even more amazed that He has loved me so.

God works in different ways with different people.  There are Christians a million zillion trillion times more worthy than me who go through their life single.  God doesn’t always work in the same way.  I don’t know why.  But I do know that He loves us, and that the greatest Romance of our lives is always available to us.  It’s Him.  Even if Ben were to drop me like yesterday’s news, the Romance of my life would still be here.

I am still shocked at times that he loves me.  And I will be shocked for eternity that He loves me.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8, NIV)

Published in: on April 6, 2013 at 4:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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Grace dance

Last July, God brought to me another medley in His dance.

In Guatemala, I met someone from Pennsylvania.

That might sound kinda weird and, if so, it’s a good precedent for the Socially Awkward Couple.  If you have ever been worried that you were too unlikable and awkward and strange for anyone to like, worry no more.  I am evidence that you are not.  🙂

Somewhere underneath a waterfall, in a galaxy far far away . .

Ben and I actually first met in the Miami airport.  We were not friends and I did not want to get to know him.  He was cross-stitching, and that seemed very strange to me, and he was wearing all black, and that seemed probably stranger.

The first couple days of the trip went by like this: Any time Ben would sit by me, I would not want him to, but I didn’t say anything, because I have been raised polite.  I didn’t talk to him much . . but there were a couple things that caught my attention about the quality of his character.  Nonetheless, there was no way, no how this was happening.

–But I was intrigued.  Every day, on my way to breakfast, I passed him at the waterfall.  He had a look on his face I couldn’t read, and impossibly gorgeous eyes.  I knew he listened to music on his iPod and scribbled notes by the waterfall.  I took him for the poetic type.  That was nice and all, but I went on and had my breakfast.

One day, I couldn’t get into the computer room at our hotel.  There were only a couple computers, and they were all taken.  Ben volunteered to let me use his computer to email my mom.  There was something just the slightest bit interesting about him.  But I didn’t talk much, and he sure didn’t talk much :), and that was that.

The next day, after a visit with children we sponsored through Compassion International, we had the rest of the day at the hotel to lounge.  Swimming was the big event, but I didn’t have my swim suit.  My roommate was journaling, and so I decided to go around the hotel and take pictures.  I invited Ben along.

It seemed that whatever major we talked about on that walk, we did not agree on but were in flat-out opposition.  I saw this as going nowhere.  End of story.

The next day, one of the older men in our group came to talk to me about Ben . . had I given Ben a look?  I went out of my way to tell everyone who was listening that we were definitely not going to be a couple.  I was not interested; I was not open; and can we not talk about something else?

The rest of that day, I thought a little about it.  It became a bit less wild an idea.  That night, the last night of our trip, at the dinner table, I had two choices.  I knew my two choices mattered.  I could choose to sit in between two of my girl friends on the trip, and leave no room for Ben, or I could sit with an empty seat, and anyone could fill it.

I decided to sit with an empty seat, beside one of my good friends, and see what happened.  It surely wasn’t very likely he would sit right there.

But he did exactly that.

I was a bit flattered, but not serious.  This seemed very unlikely.  From what I knew about him then, I felt that other than the life-changing commonality of our faith in Jesus Christ, we had nothing or nearly nothing in common.  I didn’t even know his testimony at that time, but I imagined he was probably a believer to be going on a mission trip (although of course, I knew I’d have to get to know his heart better as he’d have to get to know mine).

We talked that night, and I don’t know about what, other than that South American sodas use real sugar.  At first, I mostly talked to my girl friend on the right side of me.  But as the night slipped away, I talked to Ben, too.  It was very loud in the restaurant, and not the kind of place to get to know someone.

Our group had a testimony time, and I got up and shared a little about myself and my experience with my child I’d gotten to visit.  I sat back down.  I could see from Ben’s suddenly alert posture, and his bulging eyes, that he was going to get up and say something too.  And I figured he was doing it pretty much in the same way a peacock flares its tail feathers for the peahen to see.

Sure enough, he did get up and share–even though from what little I knew about him, I knew he was going against his disposition to do such a thing.  I was impressed.  Later, during a ridiculous maraca dance, he got up after my Sandra Boynton ballerina dance and did his own dance–it reminded me of headbanging from the early 90’s.  I was even more impressed.

On the bus on the way back, we sat together.  We talked.  I started thinking maybe we did have a little in common.  He prayed for my motion sickness on the bus–not something just anybody would do.  And the thing was, he prayed quietly, and I wouldn’t have known what he was doing, but when he didn’t talk to me for a moment, I realized this was it.  He was amused and compassionate when a piece of debris hit the bus windshield and I screamed (and woke all the nappers on the bus up)–I have an embarrassing startle response.  I don’t even remember when, but sometime that night, he gave me his jacket.

I realized I had his jacket on when I went back to my hotel room.  I thought about returning it to him, but I still wasn’t sure.  Could this really be happening?  I decided to keep the jacket until morning.

In the morning, Ben was extremely tired after several nights of little to no sleep.  We had to wake up at 4:00 I think or 4:30 to make it to the plane on time.  He sat across from me in the lobby.  I gave him the snacks out of the provided packed lunch box that I didn’t want.  That was me starting to flirt.

I also tried to get him to buy me a hummingbird key chain at the airport, because I didn’t have the cash to buy it, but he didn’t pick up on the cues.  On the plane, we had separate seats.  I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  He was so tired I couldn’t pick up on any interest at all.

We stayed together through the passport line back to the U.S.  We ended up being the last two through the line, and everybody had left except two of the mission trip leaders.  We found out we were on separate airlines for our trips home, and I figured if we didn’t eat lunch together, we weren’t meant to be together.

We didn’t eat lunch together, but I didn’t feel the closure I’d hoped.

Over the next couple days, we texted a bit.  I called once.  Ben didn’t talk much on the phone.  I doubted he was very interested in me, or that we had enough in common to even remotely make this work.  But I still didn’t totally outrule it.

Was he serious?  Was I wasting my time?  I decided to give it to Ben straight and find out.  I texted him a clear message asking him his intentions.  He replied that he would pray, and it didn’t sound promising at all.  I don’t know why prayer didn’t sound promising, but I guess it seemed more like a phrase I’ll pray about it than a really I’ll pray about it.

After a night teaching a VBS-like program at my church, I found myself fairly upset.  I turned on the radio and listened to Addison Road Won’t Let Go on my way home.

That even when my heart breaks, everything’s shaken, I’m left alone in the rain, You won’t, You won’t, You won’t let me go!

–Addison Road, Won’t Let Go

I smiled and realized that whether Ben liked me or dumped me, God has never let me go and His love is totally sufficient for me, even if no boy on the planet ever winks an eye my way.

The next day I wasn’t so great, though.  I am a very fragile human being like any other, prone to relapse and self-pity, and I stayed in my pajamas and pouted.  I didn’t know why I felt so depressed, but I did.  It was as if I’d really wanted Ben to date me, when I hadn’t felt that way at all.  I didn’t get what was going on.  We had so little in common, anyway.

And yet when he texted me and asked if he could call, I felt myself slump into grief.  I almost knew he was going to say it wouldn’t work.  I didn’t want to hear his voice reject me.  I didn’t know why it mattered so much to me, but I just didn’t want to hear it.  I told him to just text me, that I didn’t feel up to talking and hearing bad news.

Through a tangle of texts, I started realizing he was not going to tell me he was ready to dump me.  He called me up and read to me a proposal to pursue me.  He had really prayed about it, and he had decided to go forward.

Well, I got up, traded my pajamas for real clothes even though it was already evening, and listened to Me Without You by Tobymac.  No, not me without Ben, but me without God.  

“I’d be packin’ my bags when I need to stay . . I’d be chasin’ every breeze that blows my way . . I’d be buildin’ my kingdom just to watch it fade away . . it’s true! . . that’s me without You.” 

–Tobymac, Me Without You

God really has changed my life from one of madly stuffing suitcases full of nothingness and running away from everything good, only to follow after every breeze of desire, stone by stone constructing a castle out of make-believe that couldn’t even stay upright in my own head.

Within a few days, I felt a need to start fasting and praying about Ben and I.  I wanted to seek God’s will in this.  What did He really want for us?  I fasted evenings–I didn’t know if Ben would join me, but when I told him I was going to, he did.

What I came away with was an overwhelming desire to pray for Ben’s life within God’s Kingdom and on God’s quests.  Whether or not Ben pursued me, whether or not we became a couple, the biggest blessing I could pray for his life was to experience God in a day-by-day, moment-by-moment way.  I got down on my knees and prayed for God’s Spirit to be poured out on Ben.  And I had a confidence that God would answer.

But I was sure surprised when He really did.

Whether or not Ben should continue to pursue me, whether we should be together or apart, whether I should ever hold him in my arms or not . . none of this is one bit as important as the gift of what God is doing in Ben’s life.  In all of my life, I have never seen such a miracle from God, except in how He has changed my own life.

As it turns out, God has gifted Ben and me with the dance of grace.

And we might even dance it together.

Our favorite “together song” is Lord of the Dance.  Ben is a Medieval knight born in the 20th century.  He introduced me to the song–he had it in his random list of songs in his car–and I loved it from the first time I heard it. 

“I am the Lord of the Dance,” said He.  “And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance with Me.”

–Sydney Carter, Lord of the Dance

God really is the Lord of the Dance.  He leads me in the dance of grace.  And He has maybe even given me a partner for the dance.  I feel unworthy to accept the invitation out on the floor.  And yet I find His grace so irresistible, His song so sweet, that I can scarcely help but to leap from the sidelines and join in.

Shout praises to the Lord!
    Praise God in his temple.
    Praise him in heaven,
    his mighty fortress.
 Praise our God!
    His deeds are wonderful,
    too marvelous to describe.

 Praise God with trumpets
    and all kinds of harps.
 Praise him with tambourines
    and dancing,
    with stringed instruments
    and woodwinds.
 Praise God with cymbals,
    with clashing cymbals.
 Let every living creature
praise the Lord.
    Shout praises to the Lord!

(Psalm 150, CEV)

My friend Clay and what he teaches us about God

It’s difficult enough to have a teenager in your home, much less a new teenager in your home.

But let’s suppose that you have decide to adopt a 15-year-old teenage boy.  We’ll call him Clay.  You’ve never met him but tomorrow you are going to bring him in your home with the full and unconditional intent to adopt him if he is willing to be your son.

You’ve been informed by Social Services that Clay has been bounced from house to house all his life and hates all authority except that of his biological father, who just got out of prison and wants Clay back.  Clay’s coming to you not from a foster home but from the juvenile ward, because no foster family has been willing to take him for over a year.  And for good reason.

He was originally removed from his home for abuse and neglect.  Since then, he’s built a reputation for malicious behavior towards peers and foster parents alike.  He distrusts everyone and has a track record of running away.  He’s been in juvenile detention and psych wards several times for outbursts of violence, refusal to follow authority, and destruction of property.  He’s killed pets and even had episodes of injuring other children in the homes he was in.

(Having a hard time imagining you would seek to adopt this child?)

Clay comes to your home and you welcome him with open arms.  You show him to his new room.  You’ve filled his closet with clothes.  You let him discover the stereo, guitar and sports stuff you bought him.  You give him a cell phone so he can call you whenever he wants.

You bring him to the kitchen and show him a pantry and fridge stocked with snacks, and let him know you will make him breakfast, lunch, and dinner and he will sit as one of the family at the table.

That night at dinner, you tell him about the vacation the family’s been planning for several years that you’re finally taking next week, and how of course he is going with you.

The next day, you sit him down and tell him about the ground rules for your house.  You make your expectations clear to him.  He openly sneers at you.  You tell him how serious you are about these rules, but he responds by shrugging his shoulders and looking away.

The next day, you bring him to the private high school you enrolled him in with a new backpack, folders, mechanical pencils, and notebooks.  You introduce him to his teachers and he’s sardonic and rude.  You take a tour of the school and offer to take him to band or football practice or any other extracurricular activity available at the school.  He asks confrontationally if you’ll take him to a casino.

You leave him at school with the lunch you packed and go to work.  1 hour and 10 minutes later, you get a call from the vice-principal.  Clay has been suspended for throwing a book across the room and hitting a classmate in the head.

This is the beginning of a long, long year.

When you take him on your family vacation, he tries his best to make it miserable for everyone.  He constantly complains, won’t listen to any directions, and you have to physically keep your hand on his arm to keep him from walking away from you at the theme park.

He constantly gets in trouble at school, and you often have to leave work to bring him over with you.  You have to sit him beside you at the desk at your office, do your work, and watch him like a hawk to get him to complete any schoolwork whatsoever.

Four times he’s run away from your house trying to go back to his father, brought back each time by a police officer who recommends you send him to either a psych or a juvenile ward.

You have to keep your wallet in your dresser at night or he steals money out of it.  You have to check his pockets, backpack, and room all the time for things like knives, cigarettes, condoms, and drugs.  Four times he’s spent a few days in juvenile detention.  If you hadn’t made right on all the damages he’s caused, he’d be spending the rest of his “under age” years in detention.

He’s spit in your face, killed a neighborhood cat, kicked in cabinets, broken his stereo and guitar, busted the window out of his bedroom more times than you can count, and one day you came home to find he’d left school without permission to deface your house.

If this is not bad enough, you find out that a girl from his school who is pregnant is claiming the child belongs to him.  When you confront him he says he doesn’t know if the child’s his or not.  He says he is absolutely not going to take a DNA test and, regardless of how you explain that he may not legally have a choice, he says he’ll never be a part of the child’s life or pay child support.

To add insult to injury, Clay uses the cell phone you got him to text his friends he had before he came to your house, saying stuff about how much you hate him and how you’re always making the stupidest rules for his life, trying to mess with him, and choking his freedom.  He rants about how you force him to do schoolwork, never let him out of your sight, search his backpack and room, won’t give him any money, and won’t even teach him how to drive.  He even lies about you and says that you lock him in the closet and go days without letting him have food.

Even worse, he found his biological father’s phone number and calls him nearly every night.  If you prevent him from calling, he hates you.  And if you leave him to call, his father builds an even deeper hate for you than he already had.  If you keep him in your sight, he hates you, and if you let him out of your sight, he runs away and inevitably winds up back in juvenile hall.  All the time, his father stirs him up against you, rendezvousing to give him money, drugs, and alcohol.  His father slanders your name every chance he gets and provokes his son to break away from you the moment he turns 18.

You know from reading his foster care records that his biological father was the one who beat him and locked him in a closet–but the charges never stuck.  He has a reputation as a drug dealer and even had murder charges against him that were dropped on lack of evidence.  Every so often, he calls to taunt you that you will never change his child and he brags that Clay will come running back to him as soon as he turns 18.  He even shares with you the plans he has to destroy his son’s life.

When Clay’s court date came up for your pending adoption of him, he told the judge he would rather die than be adopted by you.  He asked to return to go back to his father’s custody, but the judge denied it.  Though Clay still lives in your house, it looks as if he won’t for long.  He has an app on his phone that counts down the days until he can legally leave your house–for good.

Every day, you sit Clay down and explain to him that, once he turns 18, you will no longer be able to protect him from the consequences of his actions.  You warn him about his father.  He accuses you of hating him and retorts that when he turns 18 you’ll never see his face again.

.                .                .                .                .

So what happens to Clay?

That’s hard to say.

Clay, of course, is you and I.  He is in conflict between two worlds: the world of his biological father and the world of the father or mother who wants to adopt him.  We are in conflict between two worlds, too: the world of the father of the fallen world, Satan, and the world of the Father who created us and seeks to adopt us back, God.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. (James 4:4, NLT)

Have you ever heard anyone throw the excuse out there that the reason they don’t follow God is because they don’t like His rules?

But Clay isn’t rebellious against his adoptive parent only because of new rules or expectations.  He’s rebellious because he doesn’t love the new parent.  He loves the old parent.

The heart of our rebellion against God isn’t because we don’t like His rules.  It’s because we don’t loveHim.  We have been raised in a world of sin, and we are comfortable with the father of this world, Satan.  We want to do what he says and we want to live with him.  Our hearts long to do his will and seek his approval.

The Bible is not speaking in platitudes when God says through Jeremiah,

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

But God’s truth and holiness is bigger than our deceit and wickedness:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV)

We see the compassion and faithfulness of His love most of all in that He sent His true Son to die for the false sons of Satan.  This is something so outrageously loving I couldn’t even write a parallel for it in the story about Clay.

No one, no one here on earth would take their dearly-loved, obedient, faithful child and send that child to die in the place of a wicked-hearted, mocking, sin-spitting foster child’s sin.

We must look to the Heaven to find the only One who would be willing to bear this unimaginable sacrifice, and that is God Himself.  Only God would do this.

But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Romans 5:8, HCSB)

The truth is, I couldn’t describe Clay horrible enough to really get at what our sin looks like in the eyes of God.  God sees us in light of eternity, not in light of only the present moment.  He sees the everlasting ramifications of our sins.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:13-15, NASB)

Our sins cannot be paid for by money, community service, or even prison sentences.  Our sins are not even paid for by eternity in Hell.  We can’t pay for our sins because we can’t remove them from the sequence of time.  All sin has the power to snowball on forever and ever, creating more and more havoc as it goes.  I need look only at what Adam’s sin caused to see this devastating reality.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12, HCSB)

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey–whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16, NIV)

Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:32, NIV)

Jesus tells us that if we are responsible for our own sin, the payment is everlasting, and He warned about what would happen:

“These people will go away into eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46a, GW)

Even though God is willing to adopt us because of His great love, and able to adopt us because He has paid for every drop of our deceit and desperate wickedness, we still resist Him because we are deceived.  Like Clay, who believes his father really loves him or at least has something to offer him, we are deceived by Satan.  God’s Word gives clear vision to the true nature of Satan.

Be clear-minded and alert. Your opponent, the devil, is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, ISV)

We have natures that oppose God, and submitting to Him would be eternally breaking alliance with our father, Satan, and renouncing his hold over our life.  We think we enjoy the “freedom” Satan’s way “gives” of doing whatever we would like.  We are like the people in the time of the Judges, when they were described in this way.

Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 17:6b, ESV)

Clay will one day turn 18 and at that point, he will either have already agreed to be adopted into the permanent household of the parent who loves him, or he will no longer be able to belong to that parent.  He will go back to his old father.

In a way, this is like what happens when we die.  At that point, we will have either already have been adopted into God’s house, or we will be forever with the father we have chosen and we will face the consequences of that alignment.

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:9, ESV)

Jesus warns that those who align themselves with Satan will go where he goes.

Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
(from Matthew 25:41b, NIV)

Like Clay, though, the ending of our story is still unknown.  Clay is not yet 18; you and I are not yet dead.  Clay can blindly live his time up to his birthday as he has always lived, or he can at last see with open eyes the once-in-a-lifetime chance he has been given.

The details of what Clay has done is really irrelevant to the choice at hand.  The story would be the same whether he visited juvenile detention only once or a thousand times, whether he ran away only once or a thousand times.  The plot of the story is not carried by what he has done, but by what his adoptive parent is offering. Therefore, whatever he has done to prove he does not belong to the adoptive parent, it can all be undone by the single act of adoption.

The act of adoption is not in Clay’s power to give.  He can’t adopt himself, of course, and he can’t force anyone to adopt him.  The glory is that Clay does not have to worry about whether or not he will be adopted.  The offer was freely and unconditionally given and stands until he turns 18.  In the same way, you and I can choose to accept God’s paid-in-full rescue of us from our sin and be His children forever.

Romans 8:1-16 shares what this adoption looks like:

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. (Romans 8:1-16, NLT)

This adoption is not one of artificiality.  It is a real adoption.  Just as Clay will begin to follow his adopting parent’s rules and become a part of the household as he is genuinely adopted, we will begin to follow Christ and become a part of His household as we are.

The word “suffering” is not appealing.  Adoption into God’s household is not equal to an easy life.  We are expected to obey Him, conform to Him, and allow Him to mold us into the people He wants us to be.  We are to stand up for Him, endure any attacks we might receive because we belong to Him, and follow Him as our final authority, just as a genuinely adopted child should in his new household.

Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6, NIV)

We are to follow Jesus with all our hearts, but this does not mean God will not give us grace when we fail.  John writes about this hope in one of his letters.

My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. (1 John 2:1, NLT)

If Clay suddenly realized the love that was offered him, and if he turned and ran into the arms of his new parent, sobbing and begging forgiveness, do you think he would never again fail?

I think we know teenagers better than that.

Adoption is not contingent on works.  God does not accept us because of things we will do for Him once we are saved.  If that were the case, why would He offer us to become His children while we are still unworthy?  And if we could become worthy, why would He have sent Christ to pay our debt in full?

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.(Colossians 2:8-15, NLT)

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by graces through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10, HCSB)

The relationship between a parent and a child is a working relationship.  The parent gives the child wisdom, direction, and remedial help.  The child soaks in the wisdom, follows the direction, and learns from mistakes through the remedial help.  This is the working relationship between a parent and a child.

You struggle against sin, but your struggles haven’t killed you.

You have forgotten the encouraging words that God speaks to you as his children: “My child, pay attention when the Lord disciplines you. Don’t give up when he corrects you.

The Lord disciplines everyone he loves. He severely disciplines everyone he accepts as his child.” (Hebrews 12:4-6, GW)

Clay won’t be “done” with the problems in his life if he allows the adoptive parent to adopt him.  If he begins to listen to the parent, he has to face the problems he neglected to face.  The issues of drug addiction, vandalism, and child support could be ongoing.  Clay will belong to his adoptive parent, and this is when the real work of his life will begin, not end!  This isn’t because he is “paying” for what he has done, but because he will be for the first time developing the character befitting a child of the adopting parent.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. (Romans 5:1-6, HCSB)

In a little bit of the same way as Clay would to his adopting parent, when we come to God to become His child, we yield to His will, knowing that He will develop within us the character befitting of a child of God.  Now, we cannot reach this without grace and forgiveness, and we will never “arrive” at this character in this life.  But He will keep bringing us closer to the character He wants us to become, so that we may enter Heaven without shame or fear or uncertainty.

And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame. (1 John 2:28, NLT)

And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. (1 John 4:13-19, NIV)

When we become a child of God, the real work of our life begins!

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. (1 Corinthians 9:24-26, ESV)

Clay’s adoptive parent doesn’t force Clay’s adoption, and God doesn’t force you to be adopted by Him.  Though we have no ability to deserve the gift given, we do have the choice to receive it or reject it.  The choice is really the difference between eternal life and eternal death.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36, NIV)

Moses testified to God’s people when he’d led them to the edge of the Promise Land,

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.” (Deuteronomy 30:19a, NASB)

As Moses testified in the Old Testament, so Jesus testifies in the New Testament, to each of us.  Every one of us could be His child, if we would go before the Judge and accept, in sight of the world, our adoption into the family of God, made possible through the blood of Jesus Christ.

When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father! ” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7, HCSB)

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2, NIV)

The story of grace

I failed . . and you loved me again.

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.

The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23, NASB)

Published in: on February 5, 2013 at 8:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The water buffalo flips

I love acrobatics, but . . well . . I am as acrobatic as a water buffalo.

The water buffalo has an excuse not to be acrobatic.  I don’t know what my excuse is.  As a kid, I was as stringy as a piece of stretched-out gum.  So you would think I’d have more talent than a water buffalo.  Maybe it was for that reason my mom signed me up for a gymnastics class when I was about seven.

Can a water buffalo flip?
You betcha.
[Photograph by Haphazard Traveler]

One day, the coaches told us that we would do a running flip without hands.  We would run across a puffy mat and do a total air flip.  I was so young that I don’t remember if we had a ramp or bouncy pad to help us get momentum.  But I do remember the flip.  How I remember the flip!

I have about about as much athleticism as a brontosaurus, agility as a rhinoceros, and as much ability to flip my body as an ostrich.  What were the changes of me succeeding in a running flip?  All right, probably 0.  What were the changes of me landing on my nose?  Much higher.

The idea of running and flipping is scary when you’ve never done it and you’re as acrobatic as a fence post.  But the thrill of thinking I could actually do a running flip (in my delusional, 7-year-old head) drove me on.

I remember the other little girls running across the mat, flipping like popcorn in the microwave.  I think one girl had a problem, because she was too scared or didn’t want to follow the directions.  Everybody else made the flip.  As we stood in the line and watched the other girls flip, I had fear.  Not the fear that I would be too scared–I jumped off swings and ran up slides as a kid–but that I wouldn’t make it.  It would be embarrassing to find out that you couldn’t flip in the middle of a flip. It would be embarrassing to fall like a tangled slinky in front of gold-medal flippers and my coaches.

I ran down those mats like it was an airplane runway.  I threw my fears back, and I ran in front of them.  I remember one thing in very particular, one thing that has stuck with me for 20-some years now–one thing I haven’t told you yet.

I remember the coach crouched down by the end of the runway mat.

I remember him for two reasons:

  • He was the kindest coach I have ever been coached by.  He had a smile on his face so at ease, so loving, and so reassuring that it was almost easy to do the flip.
  • If I simply committed myself to the flip, he had committed himself to taking care of the rest.

All I had to do was commit myself to the flip.  I didn’t have to be able to flip.  I could be a giraffe going down that runway, with as much hope of a successful flip.  But I couldn’t be a mannequin.  I couldn’t passively run and expect to be flipped.  The coach would not force us to flip or try to flip us when we weren’t committed.  We could fall and hurt ourselves if we were unready to flip or undecided or unwilling.  Landing on your head is no fun thing.  The coach had our best interest in mind; he wasn’t going to make us flip to our harm.

I had a lot of trust in him as I ran down that runway.  In fact, I had almost total trust–but not totally total.  Would he really be able to flip me?  Would I be able to commit to the flip?  Would he let me fall in front of my classmates?  I wouldn’t know until I tried.

Running hard, I committed myself to the flip.  Committing yourself to the flip means you must drop your head down.  This is counter to anything your body would like you to do.  I had fallen head-first on the bar of a shopping cart about a year before, and, let me tell you, falling head down is no delight.  Against my self-protecting instinct, I dropped my head and, at this point, if there was no intervention, bad things really were going to happen.

I remember the coaches’ hands on my back and stomach, so expertly that as he intervened in what would have been a fall, I knew I would make the flip.  He flipped me in a full somersault, mid-air.

What did I feel?  What did I feel?

I felt like an acrobat.

I was an acrobat.

The water buffalo . . FLIPPED.

It was one of the most triumphant moments of my childhood.  I could have danced around the room–but then I would have given away that I really do have the coordination of a water buffalo.

I glowed.  I have held onto that moment for all these years, all the more because I was so pitiful in sports.  It is one thing to do a flip if you are an Olympian.  It is another thing to do a flip if you only watch the Olympics on television.  I was beside myself with joy.

. . . This is such a good picture of salvation to me.  I know it’s not a perfect picture, but I believe God gave me this moment just for such an illustration.

God could have made salvation totally Him.  In fact, it would seem to make sense to do so!  God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving one.  We are, well, we are a mess!

The ability to offer salvation comes only from God.  As I couldn’t have taken the place of that gymnastic coach and flipped myself . . or flipped the other girls (without catastrophe), we can’t be the one who offers salvation to ourselves, or anyone else.

Only God has the ability to offer.  That comes totally from His gift on the cross.  When Jesus died for our sins, He was the only one who could pay for our sins.  He was the only one talented enough.  Jesus lived a perfect life, and He is the only one who has ever done so.

So when I say that God could have made salvation totally Him, I don’t mean that we are talented enough to earn salvation for ourselves, or that we play any part in earning salvation.  We don’t.

But we also aren’t mannequins in the salvation.  We cannot be saved only because God offers salvation.  The gymnastics coach offered to teach us how to flip, but that did not mean all of us girls would flip.  We had to trust his offer.

In a little of the same way, we have to trust God’s offer to save us. God offering salvation doesn’t save us. Christ holds His payment for our sins in His hands, ready to give this precious gift to anyone who will open their hands to receive.  But that does not mean everyone receives forgiveness for their sins.

The gymnastics coach could have forced us to flip.  But girls would have gotten hurt and there would have been no trust or victory.

Could God “force” us to be saved?  Maybe, but what kind of salvation would that be?  The beauty of Jesus’ spilled blood is that it is a free gift of love.  The Bible makes it plain: we have to receive His gift through faith.  Faith is not about earning the gift, it is about receiving the gift.  I couldn’t drop my head without faith that my coach would make the flip possible.  In a little of the same way, we can’t be saved without faith that Jesus will save us.  It is our faith that God uses to reveal the masterpiece of His work on the cross through our lives.

Just as the flip was only, extremely only possible because the coach did all the work, so our salvation is only, extremely only possible because Jesus did all the work for us on the cross.  Dropping my head was not part of the flip.  I can drop my head right now and I won’t do a mid-air somersault, I can guarantee you that!  Dropping my head was simply trusting that the coach would do the actual work of the flip.  In the same way, praying for salvation is simply trusting that Jesus will do the actual work of salvation.

. . . If you are ready to trust Him, why not pray right now for Him to do His work of salvation in your life?  The prayer itself won’t save you, but the trust you have–if you really have trust in Him–will get you ready for His work of salvation.  (By the way, how much trust in Jesus do you need?  Run to Him with what you have.)

Dear Jesus,

I want You to save me.  It’s scary, because I sometimes want to try to save myself, but I believe that You, and You alone, can do the work of saving me. I know You are able to save me from even my worst sins because You paid for them on the cross. I trust You to save me.

In Your Name, Amen.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 6:2, ESV)

Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

(Revelation 22:17b, NIV)

“If you had known God’s free gift,” replied Jesus, “and who it is that said to you, ‘Give me some water,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

(John 4:10, Jesus talking to the woman at the well, Weymouth NT)

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

(Romans 3:22, NLT)

________________________________________________________________

Photograph by Haphazard Traveler, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/davidambrocik/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Unexpected

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

(1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, NLT)

It will be one of the two most unexpected moments in history.

The moment has been on my heart lately, and I have been burdened with its heaviness.  I’ve been waking up at night thinking not about its galaxy-crumbling effects, but its effect on me.

Am I ready for Christ to come?

I remember as a child hearing this question.  I thought of it as a ploy or a threat to try to push people into salvation.  The question itself can certainly be misused, but I see now it has nothing to do with trickery or force.  It is a question of the gravest concern.

Am I ready for Christ to come?

Gravity does not hold this world together, nor molecules; it is the Son of God.  Kingdoms will crumble at His Word.  Nations rise and fall on His time.  No one rises in power who does not rely on the breath of God that filled Adam’s lungs thousands of years ago, the breath of Life.

How am I using that breath of Life?  I will answer for it.

Am I ready for Christ to come?

I don’t want to be caught dabbling in sin when the King of kings returns.  What do I want to have done on my last day on earth?  I want to have served Jesus with everything I have.  No second wasted, no ill thought, no moment of inaction, no whiff of sin.  That’s what I want my last day on earth to look like, not because God needs my service but because I love Him so!

I was the dirty, naked, wounded, bankrupt beggar who Christ washed, clothed and healed.  He has taught me to cup my hands and filled them with His treasures.  He has lavished His jewels upon me like an honored daughter.  Around my neck I wear the pendant of His love.  He decorates my head with a band of grace.  He fills my arms with bracelets of His value for me.  He wraps my ankles in His kindness.  He places in my ears rings of devotion.  He slides the ring of purpose on my finger.

Am I ready for Christ to come?

I do not want to be found wandering the streets, or in worthless gossip, or wasting my time buying cheap jewelry when there is no room for them among the jewels God has placed upon me.  I do not want to be found halfheartedly telling a few people I meet of the kindness of God.  I do not want to be found harboring Satan’s bitterness among God’s treasures.  I do not want to be caught in anything but wholehearted devotion to Him.

Am I ready for Christ to come?

Every moment could be my last.  If Christ does not return in my lifetime, I will most certainly die.  I will see His face one day.  I will see the head that was once crowned with the thorns of my heart.  I will look upon the face that was struck for my sin.  I will see the hands that hung for my shame, the feet that tore for my sake.

I want Him to see a servant who did not forget the Gift.

Am I ready for Christ to come?

I know my Savior, and I ache to be holy for Him.  I long to sin no more.  One day, I will be made new, and I will look as someone who belongs in the clothes and jewels He has bestowed upon me.  This is grace beyond the realm of grace ever known among mortals or angels.  Everlasting grace, perfect grace, holy grace.

But what about until then?  Do I sit like a spoiled, thankless child and wait for Him to give me more gifts?  Oh, by God’s grace, I pray never again.

Am I ready for Christ to come?

Christ’s return will be unexpected.  It will be one of the two most unexpected event in the history of the earth: the Resurrection and the Return.  The Resurrection has happened.  The Return is held back only by the patience of God, that you and I might be ready.

Are you ready for Christ to come?

Do you know Him?  If not, you will face Him as a criminal faces a King.  There will be one trial, and no second chances.  The sentence will be permanent.  Everlasting.

God is waiting, waiting for us.  But He won’t wait forever.  One day, the door will be locked.  Whether that is through His return or your death, one day the door will be locked.  There will be no way in.

The Way is open now.  Receive Him before it is too late.  Bow before the Maker of the world, the Maker of you, the Maker of salvation, the Maker of redemption.  Is He the Maker of your salvation, your redemption?  Only you and God know the answer to that.

Salvation is not only a prayer.  It is a belief.  It is a bowing down before the one and only God and reaching for His mercy scepter.  He has only one mercy scepter, and it is held in the hand of Christ Jesus.  Would you not receive His mercy?  Would you not hold out your heart, to be pardoned by the mercy of His death on the cross?  Would you deny yourself His everlasting love?

Christ is coming back.  It will be unexpected.  It will be the worst moment in history for those who serve a different king.  It will be more frightening for them than I can put in words.  God’s heart longs that no one should experience this everlasting terror.  But He will not hold back His Kingdom forever.  Justice must come.  And justice must rule.

It will be one of the two best moments in history for those who know Him as their God.  I am sure there will be unspeakable fright in seeing the Heavens torn open and the Son of God descending.  And I am sure there will be an unimaginable terror as they see, once and for all, how unworthy we all really are of His love.

But there will be utter adoration and incredulous joy when Jesus calls those people His children.  It goes back to the other best moment in the history of those who know Him as their God.  The moment in which Christ rose up from the grave as the undefeated King of all, holding the keys of death and Hell in His nail-scarred hand.

This same God who rips open the skies and shakes the foundations of the earth with His trumpet call, this same God who casts into Hell sinners who have refused His payment for their debt, is the very same God who opened His hands for nails to be driven in, who knelt chained before the flogger’s whip, who offered His face to be spit upon for the payment of our debt.

This is the God we will all face, whether by death or His return, and we must all ask ourselves,

Am I ready to stand in His judgment hall?  Am I ready to look upon His face?

If Jesus is not your King, and your heart is longing to be right with God’s Son, cry out to Him.  He is waiting to hold His mercy scepter out to you.  He came to earth for the purpose of saving you, to the glory of God, because God glories in sinners running to Him.  What does this say about God?  By His very nature He is so kind, so merciful, that He glories in sinners running to Him.

Here is a prayer if you want Him to be your King right now.  Remember the prayer must be from a heart of belief, not recitation.

Jesus,

I want You to be my King.  I’m scared because I don’t want to stand before You with my sin.  I need Your mercy.  Please pour Your sacrifice over me.  I want Your death to count for me.  I want You to raise me up in Your resurrection.  Help me to be Your servant.  Teach me through Your Word, the Bible, and let me be like a little child listening with an open heart to the most beloved Teacher.  Bring me to meet Your servants and find friendship with them.  Bring me to wise servants who can mentor me and a trusted servant who can pastor me.  Show me what You want from Your new servant.

In the Name of my King, Jesus,

Amen.

If Jesus is already your King, would you take up this commitment with me?

King Jesus,

Forgive me for so many times living like a lazy servant or acting like a servant who serves another king.  I can’t live this way.  My heart’s desire is to be faithful to You.  I want to stand before You and kneel at Your throne knowing I have served my King, not that I have squandered my precious hours in Your fields.  Jesus, I can’t even be a servant without Your grace.  Teach me how to be a good and faithful servant.  Give me the courage and love to serve You to my utmost.

In Your Name, by Your Gift,

Amen.

But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus; the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. (Acts 20:24)

On Jaws and Failure

Great white shark

I never watched Jaws.  I don’t want to watch Jaws.  But I did see the beginning clip of the movie on TV several years back.  I’m not sure that I remember it all that correctly.  But here’s how I remember it.

An attractive girl is swimming in the waters.  She comes up for air, and there are underwater shots to let us know something terrible is going to happen.  We can see her legs kicking under the surface.  The depth looks like a black-blue bottomless pit.

We see her from above the water again, and suddenly she takes in a sharp breath.  A look of terror is on her face.  The ocean has betrayed her.  At the same instant, she goes down in the water, just a little, and we know something has tugged on her, because you can’t go down in the water feet first without momentum.

And then, before she has time to plan any strategy or even face that she is in her last moment, she plunges down.  We never see her again.

–Have you ever felt like you were down for your last plunge, caught off guard, struck helpless by surprise, not sure if there is any hope of getting back up again–or maybe sure there isn’t any?

I don’t know anyone who would seriously place odds that they could outlive a hungry shark in a tank.  No one in their right mind would volunteer to be thrown into the waters with such a shark, to see who would win out.  There’s no comparison between a 10-ton shark and a something-pound human.  There is no competition between a shark’s teeth and a human’s fists.

I would think the most terrifying moment would be going under.  There is no way anyone by human strength could fight back to the surface when a shark is pulling its prey down to the depths.

Maybe, though, the most terrifying moment is actually the last breath.

There have been a lot of people throughout history who have been lured into the ocean by temptation and dragged down to their last breath by their sin.  Judas is the most memorable example.  He called the shark upon himself, as we all do when we sin, and then found himself hopelessly sucked under by its power.  Seeing no way up, he committed suicide.

I think most people who commit suicide simply see the power of sin more clearly than we.  Would to God that we saw the seriousness of sin as they do, and would to God that they saw the grace of God as revealed in His Word.  For centuries, people who commit suicide have been harshly judged.  The great tragedy is that many who commit suicide are a great deal wiser than those of us who keep our lives until natural death ever will be on this earth, because those who are ready to commit suicide have seen the reality and ramifications of sin as we do not.  What we would call mental illness I see often as the crystal-clear clarity some have of the depths to which the shark can pull them.

Thousands throughout history have taken their last breath in this struggle, whether through suicide or illness or accident or murder.  Sometime or other, they gave up getting out of the sin that locked its jaws on their soul.  It is just more powerfully revealed in those who commit suicide, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there for all of us.  We are all startled by the power of sin, and we will all be dragged under for the last time by something beyond our ability to fight if we do not find salvation.  Powerless, hopeless, astonished, and terrified, we will die just as so many before us have died.

–David didn’t seem any different.  Once a man after God’s own heart, he had become a man after the heart of another’s wife.  Probably Satan had imagined if only he could seduce David into this kind of sin, he would be able to pull him under for the last time.

This wasn’t just the wife of any man.  This was the wife of a man with great integrity, very little means (at least compared to David, see Nathan’s analogy in 2 Samuel 12:1-14), and loyal to David to the nth degree.

Just to get David to sin in such a way would be the death sink.  Satan probably had hopes that the nation of Israel would not recover from their leader’s great sin, and God’s beloved people who be scattered, falling into the crevices and pits of sin everywhere that Satan had dug them.  That was something like the plan, I think.

But an opportunity came up that delighted Satan even more.  A chance to cinch the bite of sin on David’s life.  If the shark had been 10 tons before, Satan found a 100 ton shark of sin to sic on David.  How was this?  Satan discovered (or it may have been preplanned) that David had gone so far down the road, gotten so lost, and was so completely out of his relationship with God that he could actually be seduced to murder the man whose wife he had stolen.

Death, from this world’s perspective, is ultimate, permanent, and closes any opportunity to make restitution.  Whereas David could have made great apology to this man, fallen on his knees before him, and hoped to make some kind of life of forgiveness between the two of them . . all chance of that was gone as the curtain between the body and the soul was torn apart.  There was no going back.

And then came the conviction.

What a painful thing is conviction, especially over the worst of the sins we commit!  Easier a dagger to the heart.

Satan enjoys conviction, I think, to a point.  But he recognizes it can always lead to repentance, so it is extremely dangerous.  Satan wouldn’t-and couldn’t–bring conviction upon us, because he’s not righteous and it takes righteousness to do so.  But he can still enjoy the misery of a person who has fallen under the conviction of God.  I use “fallen under” because it really is a falling under.  Conviction is something like God lifting His hand in permission for the shark of our sin to drag us down, down, down, down, down.  It is Jonah in the monstrous, stink-smelling belly of the fish.  It is Judas throwing down the pittance of money that bought the crucifixion of Jesus.  It is David hearing from Nathan,

“You are that man!”

(2 Samuel 12:7b, NLT)

David’s journal (the Psalms he wrote) become outpours of deep, almost hopeless, sinking.  He was in bad shape, and he knew it.  There was no earthly way up.  He might as well have committed suicide as try to make things right.  Everything in his life was falling apart; it was as if the columns of his kingdom were falling down around him. How could he ask for mercy?  This was before the time of Christ.  There was no provision in the law for forgiveness of cold-blooded murder.  There was no sacrifice, no sacrifice, no matter how great, that David could offer before the Lord to be made right with Him once more.

The agony of this pours through the journal he left for us.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. (Psalm 32:3, ESV)

Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;

my health is broken because of my sins.

My guilt overwhelms me—

it is a burden too heavy to bear.

My wounds fester and stink

because of my foolish sins.

I am bent over and racked with pain.

All day long I walk around filled with grief.

A raging fever burns within me,

and my health is broken.

I am exhausted and completely crushed.

My groans come from an anguished heart. (Psalm 38:3-8, NLT)

All day long my enemies taunt me;

those who rail against me use my name as a curse.

For I eat ashes as my food

and mingle my drink with tears

because of your great wrath,

for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.

My days are like the evening shadow;

I wither away like grass. (Psalm 102:8-11, NIV)

This is heavy duty anguish.  David is ruined.  Satan might as well be clapping his hands in glee.  The fight is over; sin has won.  David has nothing within himself he can do to make up for the sin.  He can’t work hard enough, pay back enough, do enough good to outweigh the bad.  He is ruined; he is ruined.  It is over.

“for God all things are possible.” (Jesus, quoted in Matthew 19:26c ISV)

David opens up his diary for the world in Psalm 32.

Happy is the person
whose sins are forgiven,
whose wrongs are pardoned.
Happy is the person
whom the Lord does not consider guilty
and in whom there is nothing false.

When I kept things to myself,
I felt weak deep inside me.
I moaned all day long.
Day and night you punished me.
My strength was gone as in the summer heat.
Selah

Then I confessed my sins to you
and didn’t hide my guilt.
I said, “I will confess my sins to the Lord,”
and you forgave my guilt.
Selah

For this reason, all who obey you
should pray to you while they still can.
When troubles rise like a flood,
they will not reach them.
You are my hiding place.
You protect me from my troubles
and fill me with songs of salvation.
Selah

The Lord says, “I will make you wise and show you where to go.
I will guide you and watch over you.
So don’t be like a horse or donkey,
that doesn’t understand.
They must be led with bits and reins,
or they will not come near you.”

Wicked people have many troubles,
but the Lord’s love surrounds those who trust him.
Good people, rejoice and be happy in the Lord.
Sing all you whose hearts are right.

David, king of a nation, opened his diary for all to see the working of God.  Imagine a king or prime minister or president today publishing a book called something like, My Utter, Abysmal, Awful Failure: And the God Who Saved Me.  But that is something like what David did in writing Psalm 32 [1].

He was so confident in the love of God that he allowed his people to see his deep sink into sin.  He ends with

Sing all you whose hearts are right.

David’s heart was right.  In an instant, the shark keeled over and died, harpooned by a mysterious figure of the future.  This mysterious figure was working long before He was born into a stable in an overflowing city during an inconvenient government census.  But just like then, He chooses to work in the most real of circumstances.

He chose to be born not in a king’s palace during a time of glorious prosperity and peace, but instead in a lowly stable during a time of political unrest, corruption, and crucifixion.  And Jesus, the mysterious figure in David’s life, chooses to work even with David’s awful life.  I mean, let’s be honest–who would want to trade places with David right before the point God intervenes? Jaws wasn’t in the mind of Steven Spielberg yet, but David’s sin was an ever-present shark thirsting for his blood and pulling him further and further down, away from God’s Presence.

I imagine here a picture [2].  I see Jesus as the ultimate scuba diver, swimming to a depth no one else would dare go.  The pressure of the water is more than anyone else could bear, yet Jesus swims deeper, deeper, deeper.  Harpoon in hand, He swims right up to the shark, and the battle that ensues is nothing short of epic.  Tremendous.  Teeth cracking, flesh mangling.  Jesus, who would become so wounded by the effect of our sin that He was said to not even be recognizable as a human (see Isaiah 52:14).  And the shark, pierced to the heart and dethroned as the king of the deep.

Jesus comes in our darkest moments–yes, Jesus comes in our darkest moments and harpoons our greatest evil!  There is never, ever justification for you or me, whoever you are, whoever I am, to think all is lost and there is no reason to go on.  There is never, ever a reason for you or me to surrender to the shark.  The shark is ever-present, yes, but so–yes, so!–is Jesus.

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1b, NASB)

Is there any help?  You betcha there is!  The only reason anyone dies in the depths is because their last breath was taken in despair or delusion, rather than to cry out for the Son of God.

–God will not save you if you don’t want to be saved.  It is your shark; you have to want to get rid of it.

–God will not save me if I don’t want to be saved. It is my shark; I have to want to get rid of it.

–And I do!  I DO!!!!!!!!  Like David and every other person ever gripped in the locked jaws of sin, I cry out to God to save me.  And He does. He DOES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The ending to that scene in Jaws. . changes.

The girl still gives a gasp, still feels the initial jerk, still plunges under the surface of the water with no hope for return.

The silence tells the story of no hope.  It is such a long silence there is no reason to think it won’t be eternal.  The surface of the water gives no rustle of life.

It is so dark, so still.

And then, just as we are sure we have seen the end, something happens which utterly changes the whole scene.  As though thrown up from the depths–and as a matter of fact, this is just exactly what happened–the girl emerges, gasping for air.  Black water from the depths of the ocean runs down her hair and face as her mouth opens wide to breathe the sunlit air.  She blinks as her lungs expand once more; she can’t believe what she’s seeing.  The sun shines down on her pale face, and color, real, living color, begins to flush her cheeks.  Her eyes are wide, but in wonder, not fear, and then, true to horror movie form, the shark breaks the surface of the waters.

In all its horror, it thunders upon the surface of the water, a fearful wave created from the blow of its body.  Its full length is finally seen, its full weight, the magnitude of its presence, the hideous length of its countless teeth.

The shark is right by the girl, as close as it can be without touching her, and there is no doubt she will be ripped back down to the depth in greater fury then before.

But then, the viewer realizes something.

The girl is not screaming.

And the shark is not on its back, but on its belly.  Its jaws are on full display, but they are not biting.  Its eyes are wide open, but they are not set on her.  There is no dorsal fin to see.

The shark is dead as a doornail.

In regust–but not in fear–the girls begins to swim away from the ugly, floating corpse.  The implanted harpoon gleams in the sunlight.  She wipes her face of all the water of the deep, takes another big breath, and begins to swim for shore.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, you God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of your righteousness. (Psalm 51:14, AKJV)

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

(Lyrics from 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord), by Matt Redman)

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! (Psalm 146:1, ESV)

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[1] The collection of psalms are not placed in chronological order in the book of Psalms.  We might wonder at this, but, first of all, it’s very likely that the original hearer’s knew the events that occurred before psalms.  Certain psalms are marked with what events preceded them.  Hymn books are not sorted in chronological order, either, or some poetry compilations, and no one asks why this is.  Psalms, as poetry, lend themselves to a focus on themes other than chronology.

[2] The scuba diver analogy comes by God’s grace through C.S. Lewis’ diver analogy in Miracles.

I thank John Eldridge’s Epic for ideas in this blog.

Hook

I want to hang the rest of my life on the hook of Your grace.

There is no comparison between [God’s] gift and [Adam’s] failure. If humanity died as the result of one person’s failure, it is certainly true that God’s kindness and the gift given through the kindness of one person, Jesus Christ, have been showered on humanity. (Romans 5:15, GW)

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Photograph by SalvageBeast, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/63706317@N03/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Published in: on April 11, 2012 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Leveler

God’s grace is the ultimate leveler.

“The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” (John 8:7, The Message Paraphrase)

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV)

Published in: on February 24, 2012 at 10:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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