So, I’m getting ready—still—to go over to Iraq. Any time now… :)
I want to explain what God is doing in my life. Cause it is incredible and awesome. You see, I’ve been out of the loop concerning my relationship with God for quite some time now. Granted, I had my moments—and they usually included getting hurt really badly by people I care deeply about—but they weren’t permanent changes, just moments of being in touch with God.
So God wasn’t really getting what he wanted out of me: a relationship. I was the friend who came by to cry on His mighty shoulder, taking comfort in His presence, and when He had picked me up, I merrily treated Him like crap and went off on my way. (I didn’t realize all of this until very recently. I had been that “lifesaving flotation device” before for other people, but never thought that what others did to me, I was doing to God.) Sure, I called him my Father; called him my Savior—but my actions didn’t line up with what I professed. Like a husband who beats his wife and then tells her he loves her, there was a disconnect between what I said and what I did; between who I claimed to be and who I really was. (I’ve recently begun to understand the vital nature of belief+action, and how the two relate. More on that later.)
I think, being a Puritanical, honor-bound male, I tended towards legalism. I know I tended towards legalism- I think that was the reason. I have always valued honesty, loyalty, keeping your word, working hard, treating others fairly, all of that. And all of those are good and decent things. But if you pay attention, you will notice all of those things have something in common.
Do you see it? Look a little closer, and think.
All those positive traits I listed are either 1) actions, or 2) dependent on action. (They also are displayed by action, but so is everything else. As I will explain in a later post, humans are physical creatures. Therefore, they manifest everything physically. To the degree that something isn’t displayed in action, it isn’t believed. Oops, I’m digressing…) So of course, if my morals emphasize action, I would find myself slowly drifting towards legalism.
I once explained to a friend (speaking of another friend who disparaged Mosaic Law) that sometimes I liked the Law, because it was a last ditch safety net. Even though my entire body and fallen nature screamed to do something, I held back *because I knew it was wrong*. Spoken Like a true Pharisee, eh? The Law can point toward righteousness, but it cannot lead there. It took me falling to my lowest depths before I realized how ethereal that safety net was.
I started reading God’s Word, and praying a little bit. And then I read a really cool book. It’s called “So You don’t Want to go to Church Anymore.” And yeah, it was fiction, but there was still a bit of truth in there. What really struck me about the book was how the authors, through the protagonist’s conversations with a guy named John, emphasized- over and over- God’s love and the relationship He sought with every single one of us. About halfway through I put the book down and picked up my Bible. I went to the Gospels, and I reread John. And the love of this amazing man, Jesus, who was also God, seemed to leak through every single syllable. I lost count of how many times John mentioned love*, or used the “L-word”. (Hehe.) Only a God of love would heal the lame and give sight to the blind. Only a God who sought every single one of us like a husband seeks his bride would talk with a Samaritan polyamorist, or tell the adulterous woman “I don’t condemn you. Go, and don’t sin again.” Only a God who loves us enough to get His hands dirty would willingly walk to the Cross. Of the Crucifixion, John says “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love.”
As I read all this, I finally understood with my heart that my sins were forgiven. I had the knowledge, but one can know something and never act on it. I had always carried around in my mind a personal scorecard- good deeds vs. bad deeds- and I would unconsciously grade myself every day. Looking back, how could I not be silently miserable? Even the times when it seemed I pulled ahead, that was only a brief respite before my legalistic heart was pulled back into sin. When you compete against your own ideal- or God’s, for that matter- you can’t win.
What came after that realization was a hunger. A hunger to know this God that had forgiven me, who wanted to be my best friend. My little flame of faith picked up strength and began roaring, growing into an actual fire. I started praying and reading my Bible- things I had done before, things that on the outside looked the same as it always had- but with a difference. You see, my heart had shifted. I was doing the same actions, but with new motivations.
And it’s awesome. I prayed to God that He would keep revealing Himself to me, and that I wanted to chase Him with everything I had. Also, I began to understand (slowly) that If I pursued Him with all of my heart, everything else would begin to fall into place. I loved others, but instead of trying to love them under my own power, as I had been doing for so long with mixed results, I began letting Christ love them through me.
So I’m forgiven. And so are you. And Christ earned forgiveness for us because God wanted to know you and I intimately. If you honestly pursue Him- if you wrap yourself in His love- you will find yourself becoming a better person. Not through action, though your actions will change to show others the love you feel. But a better person than you could ever become on your own. And you might discover, like I did, that the person you are becoming is the person you wanted to be all along, but you didn’t know it.
(* Wouldn't that be cool? To go through the original Greek and count how many times the word "love" appeared in John? I certainly think so.)
"God doesn't ask us to sacrifice our dreams in the coventional sense. He doesn't throw them away. He gives them back to us, redeemed."