Archive for the ‘God’s love’ Tag

God’s Delight in Me [God’s Love Letter]   Leave a comment

Matt. 1:5 Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth.

Ruth was the original Cinderella.  From a pagan, destitute widow she became the affluent, honored bride of Boaz and the great-grandmother of King David.  Tales of rags to riches are told in a thousand tongues, and American versions come with a moral: work hard enough and every pauper can reach the palace.  Whether Carnegie or Rockefeller, Lincoln or Edison, our heroes rise from obscurity and poverty to wealth and fame by their own sweat.  But this is not Ruth’s story.  The central message of Ruth is redemption, deliverance purely by grace.

Ruth didn’t go looking for God in the promised land, but God went to Moab looking for Ruth.  When He showed up, she embraced Him and clung to Him through ten years of childlessness, the death of her husband, and the loss of her home, and in that destitution she followed Him back to Israel.  Her faith was truly remarkable, but it was faith, not self-reliance or reward.  Faith is simply throwing the doors open for God to come in and do His thing.  And the more of God we let in, the bigger the difference He makes, though major renovations are not easy or quick or painless (ask my wife about this!).

Boaz is the “kinsman-redeemer,” a wonderful foreshadowing of the coming Messiah who would rescue the poor and broken.  Boaz was rich, powerful, and widely respected, but like his coming King, he saw a penniless migrant as wholly worthy of his heart.  She was not a charity-case for whom he had pity, a bride who would always feel inadequate and undeserving of his love, abashed by his greatness, self-deprecating and daunted, always working feverishly to avoid his disappointment.  Rather Boaz considered himself blessed and delighted to have her.  What did she bring to the marriage?  Only herself… which was the one thing Boaz wanted.  She filled his heart.

From Ruth’s line would finally come the promised Messiah, stepping across an infinite gap of greatness to be with the ones He loves.  We are the center of His thoughts, the passion of His heart.  He valued us at the price of Himself, His own life.  The bond between the most loving husband and wife, of Boaz and Ruth, is a pale image of His embrace of us, drawing us into His heart until we are one.  It is not too much to say that He has tied His eternal happiness to us… we can break his heart and make his heart sing.  But whatever we do or do not do, His love for us never weakens or wavers because it is anchored in His very nature.  We bring nothing to this relationship but ourselves, and that is what delights Him and fills His heart.

 

 

 

 

Posted June 16, 2013 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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The Spiritual Discipline of Idleness   2 comments

This is the unpublished conclusion to my post “The Spiritual Exercise of Shirking Duty”

I think God is telling me, “You’re going to keep spinning your wheels until you let off the gas.  You’re here to learn the art of idling.”

Idleness as a spiritual goal?  That sounds very wrong-headed.  I spent most of my life trying to maximize every minute, sleeping as little as possible so as to make the biggest spiritual profit for God.  Every activity, even entertainment, was scored on how useful it was.  If I read books, it must be for my growth.  If I took a vacation, it was at a monastery.  Every meal with friends was to “sharpen iron with iron.”  Pleasures without eternal benefits were wasteful and wrong, and slowly every simple joy was twisted into a duty.  I was driven by the fear that God valued me for what I did for him, and it was never enough.

atelaphobia

My beliefs have changed, but the shadow remains over those natural delights that would ordinarily bring me pleasure.  When I try to simply enjoy reading, writing, music, hiking, gardening, wood-working, and the like, this imperious gravity pulls me to turn each one into something productive, cutting off its wings and tethering it with a burden of obligation.  Since last winter my only sure escape has been solitaire, not because it is especially fun, but because it is especially profitless, and so I can’t use it for brownie points with God.  While shuffling cards, I’m doing nothing good for the world; I’m just killing time.  And as I’ve learned to trust God’s grace there in the middle of that uselessness, I have discovered pure grace, not “grace” in exchange for my good efforts.

DUTY: LOOKS GOOD, BUT TIES ME IN KNOTS

How can I rebuild my life around the joy of being who God created me to be instead of the slave-driven motive of duty? As long as I keep believing that God loves me more when I do more for him, and less when I do less,  I can never find rest in his grace.  To truly discover the riches of God’s full acceptance apart from my profitability, I may need to become more useless still in order to set my faith free from its false grounding in my own goodness.  “The foolishness of God is wiser than men.”

GOING OUT ON A LIMB OF FAITH

GOING OUT ON A LIMB OF FAITH

Posted June 15, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Blessed Are the Cheerful   17 comments

sad womanMost churches are uncomfortable with the melancholy.  This has been a source of pain and confusion for Kimberly, and a spiritual stumbling block.  The church’s unmitigated focus on an optimistic perspective (which it confuses with faith) seems dishonest and feels oppressive to her.  This came up a few days ago and I responded, “It’s really only the churches in this country which are so upbeat.  The American culture has won the church over.  It is not as though Christians started reading their Bibles and said, “Oh, look at this!  We are all supposed to be positive thinkers with permanent smiles.”  If an American had written the Beatitudes, they would start out, “Blessed are the poor rich in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn are cheerful: for they shall be comforted need no comfort.”

Sad-Girl-lYes, you can mourn in church… briefly, over something big, with repeated claims of  steadfast faith, but if you don’t feel better soon because of our sympathy, we take offense.  How quickly does God expect you to get over your grief?  The benefits from the beatitudes seem to be scheduled for the next life.  After all, when do the poor “inherit the earth” and the persecuted receive a great “reward in heaven”?  It appears the sorrowing find full and lasting consolation only at the resurrection.  Jesus does not see the melancholy as spiritually weak or faith-less, but as blessed.  Instead of a condition to avoid or get past, sadness is a door into spiritual blessing.  Perhaps instead of avoiding or trying to fix the mournful, we might learn something from them, something about what it means to love a broken world.

Posted May 2, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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A Thin Ribbon of Grace   6 comments

Delayed by confusion, Anne at last flung herself from her seat just as the ski lift lurched into its ascent.  The five foot drop stunned her, and so a kindly hand helped her into a small lodge to recover.  Unfortunately, the kerosene stove inside increased her nausea.  But as she lay there, a whiff of fresh, pine-scented air brushed her face.  It trickled in through the cracked windows just enough to keep her from smothering under the acrid fumes.  She called it “a thin ribbon of grace.”

Berly and I read this Lamott story weeks ago, but Sunday stumbled across her retelling it in a Youtube interview, and this time the phrase popped.  When I am lost and broken and sick to my soul, I want God to fling open the windows of grace, but what I get is barely enough to keep me coherent, like a drowning man who is chucked under his chin just enough to keep his nose above this moment’s wave and then dropped again… like a malnourished child fed a few crumbs above a starvation diet.  Survival grace.  For those of us wishing for life to end, this frayed ribbon of grace seems less like love and more like torture.  Why is God so tightfisted with His goodness as though He’s worried He’ll run short or we’ll fritter it away?  What present consolation can we suck from the ending “happily ever after” if life’s story is “miserable until death.”

But Anne’s phrase whispered across my thoughts, enticing.  Is it enough, this thin ribbon?  I want a bank full of grace to draw on for my needs, but I am only given enough for this moment… sometimes barely enough.  It’s true that I haven’t drowned yet, but every time the finger holding up my chin drops away, I’m sure the next wave will take me under.  After all, I’ve been left spluttering for air many times.  It’s a fact that I haven’t starved, but this is my last bowl of soup, and the cupboards are bare.  Living hand-to-mouth is so precarious, so uncertain, so constricting, whether the shortage is literally financial and physical or the deficit lies deeper still, a hole in the heart.

In the desert the Israelites were completely dependent on God, and in spite of dining on a daily miracle, hunger was always just one day off, for forty years running.  A thousand winters later, not much has changed for the children of God as they prove in their principal prayer: “give us this day our daily bread.”  What is this addiction God has for pocket change allowances?  Surely He doesn’t make us suffer needlessly.  If He is truly a loving God, he must think this arrangement is a real windfall for us.

But as Berly points out, many of God’s children are jobless and friendless, homeless and hungry; some die agonizing deaths.  We are not promised health or happiness or even sanity.  Exactly what does it mean to claim that His grace is sufficient if it is not even sufficient to keep us breathing?  From somewhere the thought drifted into my mind–His grace is sufficient for our hearts, the one thing that matters above all to us.  In spite of life’s miserable suffering, we cannot deny that our hearts have not only survived, but grown.  We are blossoming into the ones God created us to be.  We have faced into our fears and discovered new strength, challenged shame and found love.  We opened our hearts, and truth came in with insight, wisdom, and freedom.

But we are still tormented by depression.  Something seems very wrong with our chosen path when we end up here.  If we follow God as best we know how, should we not find peace, joy, rest, and fulfillment?  Isn’t that what grace looks like?  We want a life plan that works, that makes us feel good, accomplished, confident, whole, and if that’s the goal, our plan is clearly broken.  But we tried other popular strategies, and they gutted our souls.  Perhaps we’ve been measuring grace by the wrong scale.  If our personal growth is the better gauge, then God has been truly lavish towards us, and if it comes to us through pain, we will welcome it gratefully.  He sends a thin ribbon of consolation to keep our hearts from breaking, but his grace is not limited to this meager thread.  His grace towards us has proven to be a river, not a ribbon, even if we cannot feel it or understand it.

Posted May 1, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Big Shots and Bums [God’s love letter]   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:5: Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth

beggarApril 17 is the feast day of Benedict Joseph Labre who was called  “a patron saint for failures.”  He was rejected as unsuitable by all the monastic orders to which he applied, several of them suspecting him of mental illness.  He became a mendicant holy man, sleeping in corners of abandoned buildings, dressed in rags, covered in lice, living on alms, and eventually dying of malnutrition.  It took another century for him to be sainted.  This is somebody I can relate to… except for the sainthood, although considering his credentials, maybe I’d have a shot at that too!  Many more of God’s followers look like bums than Hollywood stars.  After all, it is the bitter life of the marginalized that drives them to grace.  But there are exceptions like Boaz.

Boaz was rich and powerful, with lots of land and plenty of servants.  He was also godly, generous, and humble.   He had it all.  The patron saint of bankers and CEOs, perhaps, except that he lived for the benefit of others.  On top of all that, he had royalty in his veins as great-grandfather to King David and through him the King of Kings.  It’s unusual for someone with such heavy credentials to welcome grace, for someone who has it all to realize they have nothing with which to recommend them to God.  The more you have, the more you have to lose when you’re stripped down to nothing but your bare soul.  Boaz had to admit he was no better than the likes of a dirty, tattered B. J. Labre.

low-rung-on-the-corporate-ladderUnlike caste in India or aristocracy in Europe, egalitarianism is the American way, but we have our own homegrown pecking order, and we know our place.  We defer to those with more money, status, education, looks or what have you, and on the other side we expect to be treated better than “a common bum.”  When people are smelly, unkempt, crude, or slow they get treated differently… I’m ashamed to say that I too react as though they are less deserving.  Tragically, human hierarchy destroys grace, no matter where you rank yourself.   Wonderfully, the gospel knocks off all the rungs of our social ladder.  We are all penniless.  We come to God with empty pockets.

At first glance, it seems sad that we are all bankrupt, until we realize that an empty account is the one prerequisite to receiving grace.  When we come to the end of ourselves–our efforts, our pedigrees, our abilities–the gospel finally makes sense.  If we are full of ourselves, we cannot be full of God.  For those of us who feel we are near the bottom rung, there is no sweeter sound than the tintinnabulation of grace.  I am on equal footing with Boaz, Bono, and Billy Graham.  The canonized saints have nothing on me when it comes to the love of God.  I am just as much His favorite.  The more screwed up I am, the more He loves me.  That’s amazing enough to make a pig sing the Hallelujah chorus!

Posted April 10, 2013 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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Grace Described   Leave a comment

“Grace… [is] the force that infuses our lives and keeps letting us off the hook.  It is unearned love—the love that goes before, that greets us on the way.  It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you.  Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.

“It is amazing.  I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”  –Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies

Posted February 18, 2013 by janathangrace in Reading

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Walking Blind   8 comments

partsI have been soul-sick for several months now.  But today I feel okay.  Both the pain and the relief are inexplicable.  I accept mystery… as long as it stays theoretical.  But I find practical mysteries at best annoying: where are my glasses, which street do I take, why is the car making that noise?  When not knowing is costing me money or making me late or (more profoundly) hurting my relationships or my heart, I become agitated.  For me, ignorance is not bliss, it is often agony.  My method for coping with a scary, unpredictable world is to figure it out, experiment till I get it working, find new configurations for the parts lying on the floor.  As long as I have untried options, I can keep hope alive.

TRY THIS IN THE DARK

TRY THIS IN THE DARK

But I seem to have run out of options.  I don’t know why I am depressed and I can do nothing to change it.  It is a mystery of the worst kind.  Mystery is just a highfalutin word for confusion, and being lost and blind does not make me happy, especially when I bash my shins every other step.  Kimberly is struggling in the same way, and it has driven us to our new year’s resolution or annual theme of life: be okay with not being okay.  It is our stumbling way of embracing faith.  It doesn’t light our path or clear away the rubble, but it is our way of handing back the situation to God: “We’ve tried everything, and it doesn’t work, so we’ll try to adjust ourselves to whatever might come.”

I commented to Kimberly in our prayer time two nights ago that I’m stuck with God.  If I thought I could find more peace with the devil, I’d look up his address, but I know leaving God would make me even more miserable.  I can make no sense of what God does, but I trust who He is, and for now that has to be enough.

Posted January 24, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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From Garbage to Glory [God’s Love Letter]   8 comments

                           

Matthew 1:5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab.

Garbage CollectorIn America, our job defines us.  It is the first, most important identifier when we’re introduced, “Good to meet you.  So what do you do?”  Sometimes it’s even tacked on like a surname: Joe the Plumber or Bob the Accountant.  With one word we label, categorize, and define someone from the moment we meet them.  Just imagine if your meaning as a person was distilled into the name Karen the Harlot.  You are suddenly no longer a person, but a commodity, and the worst sort of commodity, associated with all that is unclean, cheap, and dark.  When someone hears “prostitute,” they do not think of giggling children, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and butterfly kisses.  Rahab was part of a cursed race of uncircumcised philistines and she was known as Rahab the Harlot.  Then God came.

In the gospels, Jesus was a trash-magnet.  The discards of society were drawn to him like the starving to a feast of love.  They found in him the acceptance and respect and embrace they never knew.  Like father, like son they say, and the God of Israel was the Father of all widows and orphans, the poor and lost.  He saw in Rahab what no one else saw, and said of her “I want her in the royal line as mother to my Son.”  The beauty in all of us  originates always with God, and it is our faith, not our goodness, that opens the door to his glory.  Those least able to “make a name for themselves” are the ones most welcoming of grace.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom heaven.”

RECYCLED RAGS

RECYCLED RAGS

2,000 years after her first appearance,  we find Rahab again.  Her past has not been air-brushed away–she is still “Rahab the Harlot”–because grace does not re-write our past; it transforms that twisted frame into an instrument of glory.  She is now immortalized in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith as a model for us all to follow.  God embraces a pagan prostitute simply because she opened her arms to him by faith.  God does not ask us to patch together the shredded pieces that make up our lives, but asks us to trust him with those tattered remnants.  He makes all things beautiful, all things placed in his hands.

This 3 minute video is a remarkable parable of grace

Posted December 10, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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Spiritual Overdrafts   2 comments

fireworksI am an artist and poet at heart.  I’m not referring to my abilities, but to my perspective and energy.  I have powerful visceral responses to all things creative, whether by God or fellow humans, and my mind bursts into a flurry of thought shooting out in all directions like a fireworks display.  Within minutes, each separate thought has branches and sub-branches like a cauliflower head bursting into bloom in my mind.  It is exciting, invigorating,  delicious.

dusty roadBut when my spirit is tamped down by depression, I stumble along with just enough energy to lift one foot at a time between long halts to rest.  Everything around me is dusted with dullness like the shoulders of a dirt road.  I can see and appreciate beauty, but it does not sink into my heart to awaken life.  As a young man I was so full of energy and purpose and hope, but I spent it all on “virtuous” sacrifices that broke down my spirit rather than building it up.  I did not live out of the spontaneous delight of who I was but out of the driven obligation of who I should be.  I did not live from the joy of God’s love, but from the fear of his frown.  I lived out of the law and not out of the gospel.

Emotional energy is much like a sponge–once dried out, it loses its powers of absorption.  Without some emotional reserve to start, I cannot soak up the encouragements around me.  I see them, but cannot feel them at any deep level.  They do not renew me.  Because it takes time for the good to soften my soul, I need an oasis in which to rest, an environment rich with living waters, but in my experience those spots are rare and brief, and so the desert winds parch away the rain that falls.  I catch and hoard my little cupful, but it does not last long.  Had I lived from the start out of my true self and in the riches of God’s grace, the energy I used for good would have been a renewable resource.  But I feel as though my forest is chopped down, and I must start over, scratching out life from the dust.  I see hopeful saplings of emotional growth, but the full rewards seem still a long way off.

saplings

Posted December 7, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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Look Who’s Talking Now   2 comments

listening“Is it God’s voice I hear in my heart or my own voice mimicking God?  How can I tell the difference?” I asked Kimberly tonight as we stared at the candle flames.  It was more a doubt than a question.  “Even if it IS God talking to me, I may hear it all wrong, just like I do with you,” I continued.  God’s voice may be in my head, but it is hardly the only voice there.  In fact, as a boy I assumed dad was God’s mouthpiece. I still have trouble telling apart their voices inside me, not because they sound so much alike, but because the mix-up was so long standing.  Over the years I have internalized more inflections–preachers, authors, teachers, Christians.  So who’s talking now?  I am learning to distrust those messages that do not harmonize with grace.  God’s heart-songs are always the cadence of love–even if it is a hard scrabble love.

spring-waterWhen I have  a friend with me, it colors all that I do, how I do it, and how I feel about it.  If he is critical by nature, I will be cautious and inhibited, tense and doubtful.  If my daily companion is God, what kind of God is he?  If my hours are spent with a God who is focused on fixing my flaws, I will live out of fear and shame.  I will be worse off for all my spiritual intent.  It is crucial for me that the God I chat with over the dishes and in my car is the God of all grace.  It is not only his presence I need, but his compassionate presence.  I have enough harsh voices in my brain without adding Sinai to the cacophony.  “Perfect love casts out fear.”  May we all drink from that stream of redemption.

Posted December 1, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

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