“God Loves You As You Are, Not As You Should Be” – Brennan Manning

 

 

God is Like That

“God is Like That,” was written by Ladd Dunfield and has been taken from his blog, “The Beggar Danced,” with his permission:

 

When I lived in Fredericton I liked to run.  My problem was I thought I could run faster and further than I actually could. Ruth constantly reminded me that I was going to hurt myself because I wasn’t in good enough physical shape to run the distances I attempted.  Being a typical husband I agreed with her wisdom in the house, but once out the door I forgot everything she said.  Then one day while running a long way from home my knee let go.  There I stood on the side of the road with a knee that didn’t work and agonizing pain shooting through my knee.  Having no cell phone I limped to a near by house and called home.  As I hobbled along the road I longed for Ruth to arrive and give me a ride, but I dreaded the “I told you so” that was so well deserved.  She never said a word about my unbelievable arrogance in thinking I could run such distances, instead showered me with concern as she drove me to the hospital.  She gave compassion when I deserved a lecture.

 

God is like that.  He gives us direction and advice then we totally ignore it and go our own way never giving Him a second thought.  Next thing we know we run into trouble and we’re stranded.  So this is it. This is when God climbs all over us and gives us an ear full. He’s so angry at our foolishness that He doesn’t even listen to our pleadings for help.  Maybe that’s what we deserve but that’s not what we get.  Instead of a tirade we receive compassion.  During the Babylonian captivity Jerusalem and the Temple lay in ruins. Daniel in fervent prayer asks God to return His people to Jerusalem and allow them to restore the alter.  Notice how Daniel frames the request. “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” Daniel 9:18b What comfort and assurance are in those words. God brings compassion and hope into our lives, not because we deserve it, but because of His love and mercy.  Paul tells us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But Paul doesn’t leave us there; he completes his thought in the next verse,” and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:24 Paul tells us that we all have sinned but God doesn’t condemn us for those sins.  He redeems us through the sacrifice of Christ.

 

Think about this for a moment.  Jesus is hanging on the cross and the representatives of humanity hang on either side in the form of two thieves.  One mocks Jesus and throws away his opportunity for mercy and salvation. “But the other criminal rebuked him, ‘don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same punishment justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:40, 41 Jesus didn’t leave this poor man wondering and hoping that maybe he will be remembered.  Instead Jesus, while hanging on the cross, gives assurance, hope and mercy to the man. Jesus answers, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43 The thief realized Jesus could save him so he called out in his pain and desperation and Jesus answered.

 

We can’t stray so far from God that He doesn’t seek us out. Paul quoting Isaiah writes, “I was found by those who did not seek me, I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” Romans 10:20 The thief may have thought the cross would surely separate him from God, but Jesus found him there, forgave him and invited him into the kingdom of God. “Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow.” Isaiah 1:18 There is no “I told you so”, just compassion and mercy. Jesus leaves no one limping along the road.

A Word from C.S. Lewis

“If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.”

Taken from “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis

 

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created’ [Revelation 4:11]. We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled, by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities—no more than the beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua should be content with her rags and dirt, or a dog, once having learned to love man, could wish that man were such as to tolerate in his house the snapping, verminous, polluting creature of the wild pack. What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.”

Taken from “The Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis

Life is a Faith Journey – part 3, What do You Believe?

No event in this life has quite the same impact as coming face to face with a life-threatening experience.  This is especially true of any threat to your own life or the life of a very close loved one or partner.  Every plan you might have made, every dream you may have shared, everything you might have thought your life is about, is suddenly and abruptly shaken-up and then paused.  Everything – you whole life – suddenly comes up for serious re-evaluation and review.

 

Often such events happen when you are totally unprepared – you get hit squarely between the eyes by the stark reality of chilling news born in the present moment.  It may be that your journey together is nearly over – time to wrap things up.  Everything that was so unavoidably important (just yesterday) is suddenly very easy to set aside or even discard altogether.  Grasping at straws, trying desperately to find another reality are all strategies used to try to avoid the cruel reality in which we find ourselves.  The clock becomes relentless as it ticks off all remaining time.

 

Such a reality became unavoidably personal when on January 5, 2012 my wife of nearly forty years lost a brief – and definitely unplanned for – battle with cancer.  What began as a couple of teenagers taking a truckload of dreams, hopes and beliefs on a trip together, down a long and winding road, was to end.  During that journey much changed as we grew into adults and then went on into middle age.  Along the way, a number of dreams, goals and plans were realized while others were modified or simply abandoned in favour of new ideas.  In many ways we were investing in a future that was not to be – though we didn’t realize it at the time.

 

OK, so now you gain some real insight into phrases we’ve all heard (perhaps even repeated) and what is actually being soulfully stated … “till death,” or “as long as you both shall live” or “the rest of my life.”  Intellectually we all know these things but usually we are able to avoid or ignore them so they don’t interfere too much in our daily life and all its important minutia.  Perhaps we wisely make plans for 5, 10 or even 40 years down the road…and maybe we even (superstitiously?) throw in the phrase, “god willing.”  Ultimately, at some level, we know the clock eventually has to run out.

 

Once you are forced to give up the belief that “there is still plenty of time for ______,” it becomes hard to ignore the need and opportunity to take a look at just what it is that you believe.  For the record, I am a Christian and contained within that statement are a large number of values and beliefs as they relate to God and my relationship with Him.  Despite my history (raised in a Christian household) I would say that I’ve not always been a Christian and my life journey has taken some pretty crazy twists and turns.  If I could have asked for “do-overs,” there would have been plenty of times I might have done so. 

 

If you believe in God or if you don’t, it is not within my ability to convince you otherwise – I would simply ask that you honestly examine your path, even as you follow it.  Know this…the present moment is all too brief and it is important to consider what lies ahead of you. 

 

I think it’s unavoidable; your faith determines your future.  At some point we all ponder the path we are on and just where we are headed.  Aside from the harsh and unavoidable reality checks, many events in our everyday lives also constantly challenge us to examine what we believe.  Is there a purpose to this very brief period of time we’ve all been granted or is it simply a short period of awareness nestled between two indefinite periods of oblivion?  Is how you spend your time here important?  What do you believe?

Life is a Faith Journey – part 2

What drives us forward in our day to day lives?  What forces serve to motivate and fuel our desires and passions?  And what factors serve to demotivate and inhibit – possibly even stopping us cold in our tracks?  Not long ago I was thinking how both faith and fear play critical roles in the choices we make and the actions we take.  The Bible contains many examples of both…as well as the roles they played in the lives of those individuals.  Among the stories that comes to mind is the story of Peter – and the time he walked on water (this story is recorded in Matthew 14 beginning at verse 22).

 

Jesus and his disciples had just ministered to a crowd of over 5000 people.  The disciples had just witnessed the miracle of Him taking a single lunch (consisting of five small loaves of bread and two fish); multiplying that one lunch so as to feed the whole crowd, and having twelve baskets of food left over.  Right after this meal, as Jesus prepared to dismiss the crowd, he told the disciples to get in the boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  Though it’s not expressly stated as such, I imagine the disciples expected to meet up with Him later…presumably on the other side.  Certainly, they were not expecting to see him as soon as they did.

 

Later, in the night, and while the boat was some distance from land, it was being buffeted and pushed about by both the waves and the wind.  The disciples, it would seem, had their hands full managing the boat and dealing with the conditions.  Suddenly, in the midst of their efforts to control the boat and make it to shore, they see a figure walking toward them on the water and they were terrified as they thought it was a ghost.  Though they did not recognize him, the figure coming toward them was Jesus.  In order to allay their fears, Jesus calls out to them, identifies himself and tells them they have nothing to fear. 

 

Matthew 14:28-32 records the rest of the story thusly (quoting from the Voice):

Jesus: 27 Be still. It is I. You have nothing to fear.

Peter: 28 Lord, if it is really You, then command me to meet You on the water.

Jesus: 29 Indeed, come.

Peter stepped out of the boat onto the water and began walking toward Jesus. 30 But when he remembered how strong the wind was, his courage caught in his throat and he began to sink.

Peter: Master, save me!

31 Immediately Jesus reached for Peter and caught him.

Jesus: O you of little faith. Why did you doubt and dance back and forth between following Me and heeding fear?

32 Then Jesus and Peter climbed in the boat together, and the wind became still.” 

The story concludes with the disciples worshipping Him and acknowledging that Jesus truly is the Son of God.

 

As I read and think about this account, I’m left pondering several questions which I believe are worthy of consideration:

1. Looking at it from their point of view, I can see why the disciples might not have expected Jesus when He appeared on the water…and therefore not recognized Him.  It was unlikely they had been told to head over to the other side of the sea – and on the way, meet-up somewhere in the middle.  Elsewhere in the Bible there are references to the fact that Jesus can and will come when we are not expecting Him.  “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Matthew 24:44.  Might this have application in my own life – particularly in the midst of difficult and trying times?

2. Despite the reassurance Jesus offered, Peter challenged Him to, “command me to meet You on the water.“  When told to “come” Peter stepped out of the boat.  At that moment he must have had sufficient conviction to overcome any fear and step out in faith.  What reassurances or convictions are needed for me to take that first step – especially if I think it’s the right thing to do?

3. It seems Peter took several steps successfully and then, “he remembered how strong the wind was, his courage caught in his throat and he began to sink.”  Apparently he allowed fear back into his mind and his faith vanished.  After rescuing him, Jesus asked him, “Why did you doubt and dance back and forth between following Me and heeding fear?”  As I move forward in my endeavour, are there times when I allow fear to sabotage and undermine my faith?  Has it perhaps sunk me or necessitated a rescue?

 

Despite how it might appear, everyone goes through difficult and tough times at various points in their life.  Sometimes difficult choices and decisions are the order of the day.  Perhaps you, like me, might want to consider some of these thoughts and questions in considering your own life journey.

Life is a Faith Journey – part 1

Faith and fear – both states of mind can be seen at work in a variety of contexts and therefore can have several different meanings.  It could be said that both exist on the same coin – but often on opposite sides.  Throughout our life’s journey and as we look to the future – hoping for some idea of what lies ahead – both faith and fear have played significant and unavoidable roles.

 

When most people hear the term “faith,” the first thought that likely crosses their mind is that it is a reference to something of a religious nature.  This view is quite narrow however, and it needs to be broadened in order to include the reality of our everyday life.  You see – the fact is, throughout much of our lives, we humans live by faith.

 

Faith can (and does) have different meanings to different people under different circumstances. Included within those meanings are concepts such as “trust” and believing something; most importantly, that belief involves the future in some manner.  As we live our lives we depend upon our knowledge, experiences and that which we believe to be true in order to plan for and build toward the future we expect/hope to see.  I would submit that many steps, throughout this whole process, contain seeds of faith.

 

What we refer to as “the present” is really only a very thin knife-edge dividing the past from the future.  It might even be thought of as that point on the time line which separates fact from faith (that which has occurred from that which we believe/hope is to come).  The present is the only point on our time-line at which one can live and on which one can act – the past remains unchangeable and the future is that in which we invest all our plans, hopes and dreams etc.  Without faith, there can really be no looking forward, no hope and no real planning for a future – in fact there can be no belief in a future.

 

Faith is therefore a call to action (because it holds our hope and belief for the future).  Whatever we believe we require in order to achieve our hopes, goals and dreams, we recognize there are steps (actions) that must be taken to get there.  Each step (starting now) and each subsequent step we take will be taken in a subsequent – but present moment.  We must also recognize that unless we act and take those steps our hopes are and will remain nothing but unfulfilled wishes.  Truly it can be said that, without taking appropriate action, faith is dead.

 

In upcoming posts and musings, it is my hope to look more at faith – as well as a variety of associated topics – to explore how these concepts play out in our everyday lives.  In so doing, we will perhaps encounter some of the associated concerns and problems folks might have with these topics.

In Spite of Myself

In Spite of Myself,” was written by Ladd Dunfield and has been taken from his blog, “The Beggar Danced,” with his permission:

 

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want,” are the opening words of the 23rd Psalm and some of the most reassuring in the entire Bible. It’s good for us to meditate on this verse because so many people have a view of God that is so different than how these few lines of Scripture explain Him. So many of us were brought up believing God is distant from our lives. We think of God as sitting on a cloud somewhere  with nothing to do but find fault with us. He’s pictured as fierce, stern, and unforgiving, demanding perfection. This is not the God of the Bible. David in other Psalms reveals God as King, Deliverer, Shield and as a solid Rock, but these descriptions only point to the love God has for us. He is our King and our Deliverer. He is our Shield against onslaughts and He is ever steady in His love and protection for us. But, when David says, ‘the Lord is my shepherd,’ he is introducing us to the personal love of God.

 

The Lord (Yahweh) may be the covenant God of Israel but he is also “my shepherd,” that protects and keeps us safe. The Lord, as a good shepherd knows everything about his sheep;  knows everything about us. He knows our past failings and sins yet he loves us in spite of ourselves. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father waited every day for the boy to come to his senses and return home. Then, one day the father sees his son in the distance. He knows his son’s walk and shape. He has never forgotten a single thing about that boy because he cares for him with the deepest love. He runs towards him with arms open wide throwing himself into his son’s arms, hugging him never wanting to let him go. When the boy tries to tell his father how sorry  he is, the father, filled with joy doesn’t hear him. The father calls for a party. He has the best robe, a signet ring and sandals brought for his son because the boy is restored to the family. The father celebrates for the son who was lost has come home. God, like the prodigals father, doesn’t question us or point out our mistakes.  Instead, He takes us in His arms and holds us for all He’s worth.

 

God is the Good Shepherd that searches for the one lost sheep. The Good Shepherd never gives up or is indifferent about the search because He loves that sheep and wants it safely back home. God, who comes running to us with open arms, can always be counted on. God is not in Heaven writing down your sins to beat you up. Instead He is running towards you with open arms yelling, “I love you, I love you.”

The Ice Storm

“He gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold?” (Psalm 147:16-17)

In nature we are constantly being reminded of the awesome power of God. Even the small, seemingly harmless crystal of frost is subject to His divine will. At God’s command, the countless billions of frozen particles combine to form an icy world in which we are often brought face to face with our powerlessness. We scurry to shield ourselves from nature’s blast for “…who can stand before his cold?”

Interestingly, the psalmist calls it God’s cold (“his cold”). While humans endeavor to determine the source of things, ultimately they must acknowledge that nature’s elements are at the disposal only of the One by whose Word they exist. In His time and for His reasons, God sends the snow, the frost, and the ice. When their effects are felt, we must bear them patiently acknowledging the sovereignty of God with thankful hearts for His provision and the many blessings by which we are sustained.

Then, again in God’s time, “He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow” (v. 18).

In the same way, as the wind of the Holy Spirit blows upon our icy hearts, the end of our trial is as sure as summer. To God be the glory!

Hope from Love

By now, there’s much evidence of Christmas around us.  Colourful lights and decorations have found their way in and around our homes and  we’ve been bombarded by the “you’d-better-get-shopping” message.  There’s a “hum” in the air and it’s gaining strength, like the sound of an orchestra warming up before a concert.  Each year many of us say we’re not going to get swept up by the busyness and all the holiday hype but, somewhere along the line, we find ourselves doing, visiting, eating, buying and giving more than we had planned.

Perhaps this is because Christmas really does bring out the child in us.  Let me explain…  It’s been said that children are naturally hopeful and expectant.  Hope is a source of strength that keeps us looking, waiting and “hanging in” even when things don’t look so good.  Children who know they are loved have a knack for hoping, despite repeated warnings, that their naughtiness will be overlooked on Christmas morning.  Hope springs from love.  So when we say, “Christmas brings out the child in us,” I believe we’re actually referring to the power it has to produce hope in us.  Knowing we’re deeply love by God throws the door of hope wide open because we know that with God, the impossible becomes, well… not just possible, but expected!  Christmas, after all, was God’s ultimate expression of love for us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”  (John 3:16).  

Further, for those who have experienced the power of God’s love, the hope of Christmas is not empty or just some kind of religious hype; it is not contrived, manufactured or conditioned in us by radio jingles, store flyers or TV commercials.  It’s the real deal . . . and even if our celebration of Christmas falls short of what is pictured in the movies, we are not shaken, we are not downcast because the eyes of our heart are not on the flashy, temporal things of this world, but on the One whose gift of love has secured for us an eternal blessing “reserved in heaven for [us]”   (1 Peter 1:4).

“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly”  (Romans 5:5-6).

This Christmas, you and I can inspire hope in others by going out of our way to sincerely and sacrificially show them they are loved by God.  Where there is love, hope and childlike faith will follow!

Not just a few…

Sometimes we feel like life is ganging up on us. There are times when it seems like nothing is going my way; nothing seems to be working out “as it should.” And it’s easy to get discouraged when we start to do the math: “things should work out at least 50% of the time…shouldn’t they?” It’s in moments like this that, if we don’t take our cares to God, we run the risk of falling into a trap of self-pity and despair. It’s here that people can begin to believe lies like: “I don’t count,” or “I’m not valued” and “I should just face the facts and embrace the lousy hand fate has dealt me.”

God’s word to you is, “You do matter! Heaven’s eyes are on you, rooting for you, cheering for you!” God wants you to understand that your potential to succeed is not ultimately rooted in your strengths and abilities but in your willingness to move over and let God do what you can’t do. In Luke 18:27, Jesus said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” When you open your heart to this truth, you will begin to realize that once you step into the realm of impossibility, anything goes! you’re limited here only by your faith.

In 2 Kings chapter 4, we read of an encounter that took place between the prophet Elisha and a widowed mother of two. For reasons unexplained, her husband left her with some serious debt and, thinking about what she stood to lose made her a nervous wreck. If there were phones back then, her creditors would have been calling every day, reminding her just how bleak her situation was. But in preparing her for the blessing she was about to receive, Elisha told her to, “Go around and ask all [her] neighbors for empty jars. Don’t just ask for a few” (2 Kings 4:3). The faith lesson here is: “the size of your blessing will be limited by the number of jars you collect.” Of course, the number of “jars” we collect is determined by our faith!

Prayer: Dear God, thank You for loving me enough to provide for my salvation and for a future of great promise. Teach me to walk by faith and not by sight and to truly know that with you all things are possible. Amen.