A Soul Only a Father Could Love

Perhaps it is a cultural value, this need we have to impress others. It starts at home, the desire to make our parents proud, as if we have to prove our worthiness to justify their admittance of us into their family. We may have siblings, and we fight to prove we’re cool enough and fun enough to join in playtime games.

We learn to make friends by showing off our skills, or toys, or unique personality traits, and we never really grow out of it. We enter school, and we’re tested and graded on our intellect and learning abilities to determine if we’re worth graduating and sending out into “the real world.”

We start dating, and we struggle between the balance of “be yourself” and “be someone worthy of his love,” believing the two could perhaps be the same if we’re seen in the right light. We get jobs, and we work hard to prove ourselves worthy of the tasks entrusted to us, worthy of raises and promotions and hard-earned retirement parties.

At some point our lives end, and–I haven’t experienced this first-person–I imagine we leave this earth wanting to know we’ve made a difference in someone’s life, that our time on earth wasn’t wasted, that our life’s work was worth the time we were given to live it. We hope and pray we’re found worthy enough to advance into an afterlife of bright lights and joy and comfort.

And all along, we spend our whole lives overcompensating for the one truth we’re not willing to admit–we’re not worthy. We’ve never been worthy.

We are ugly, sinful people. If you cracked each of us open, you’d find layers of disgusting filth and grime in our souls. You’d find lying souls and cheating souls and adulterous, murdering, idolizing, thieving souls. You’d find souls who shamelessly covet and crave the most dangerous and harmful elements of this world. You’d find souls only a Father could love.

We do not deserve blessings and peace and admiration for our accomplishments. We don’t deserve to be included in a family or circle of friends. We simply are not worthy to take accolades from anyone, because anything useful or worthwhile we have to offer is a gift from God to bless others and be used for his glory, neither of which we care much about when we’re focused on using them for our own glory and for others to bless us.

But–

There is hope. When God looks at me, he doesn’t see me for the lying idolator I am. He sees Jesus. He sees me as worthy of an eternal relationship with him, not because of any inherent worth, but because of Jesus’ worth. Because when I said, “Okay, God, I believe you. You are the only God, and you saved me through your son’s sacrifice,” I took on the righteousness of Jesus. At that moment, the dirty, old soul inside me was changed into a clean, new soul reflecting the love of Christ. The habits of the dirty, old soul remain, and will continue to linger until my dying breath on earth, but the soul is all-new.

And now we return the favor. We extend to others the same courtesy God extended to us when we were at our very ugliest. We love others, we show grace to others, we make amends for others. Not because others are worthy of our love, but because we aren’t worthy of God’s love. We love others as an offering back to God, an appreciation of his grace.

It is only when we surrender our need to be found inherently worthy that we can “lead a life worthy of [our] calling, for [we] have been called by God” (Ephesians 4:1). And this call, of course, is to love.

What are some areas in which you constantly struggle to be found worthy? 

In Spite of You

 


Micah 6:8 has been looping in my head lately, to the point of tattoo obsession: “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV). This verse wouldn’t have come as a surprise to the Israelites. It was a reminder that all their focus on offering sacrifices was moot if they weren’t following God on a moment-by-moment basis. For us, it’s a lovely reminder that following Christ isn’t a weekly Sunday church thing or a daily morning Quiet Time thing, but rather an all-the-time, in-everything thing. Our select sacrifices of our time and money to God aren’t what he requires of us. He wants us to be just, and merciful, and humble.

This is about the same thing you’ve heard a million times before, right?

Here’s the problem with it: You’re not doing it. You’re not fighting for justice. You’re not showing mercy in love. And you’re not humbly walking out your faith. I’ve noticed it and everyone around you has noticed it. Those Facebook stories you post, those emails you forward, those tirades you go on, those snide comments you make under your breath, those offensive jokes you tell everyone in the room, those sneers on your face–they’re all character witnesses of hatred testifying against you as a follower of Christ.

But here’s what really sucks about all this: I do it too. Like almost all lessons God teaches me, when he opens my eyes to the faults of those around me, it’s usually to point out those same faults in myself.

God taught me all about showing grace, and I was getting pretty darn good at it. Until, that is, I ran into someone who refused to show grace to others. Not just one person–I know entire communities built on showing grace only to those people they believe deserve it. I hit a wall. I was filled with furious, semi-righteous anger. I wanted to shake them and lecture them about how grace, by definition, isn’t deserved, and that we, as believers, are commanded to show grace and what they’re doing isn’t showing grace but merely picking and choosing who to help based on who fits into their pretty little microcosm of the world. (Because I use run-ons when I angrily shake people and lecture them.)

And God said, as usual, “Well, then lecture yourself too.”

If grace is, by definition, not deserved, who could deserve grace less than people who refuse to show it?

If spite of–and perhaps because of–your refusal to show grace or mercy or love, I must show you grace and mercy and love all the more.

I’m being completely honest here when I say I am still trying to work through this and figure out how to do these things. Because it’s hard. But how can I expect something of you that I’m unwilling to do myself?

In spite of you, I must act justly–toward you.

In spite of you, I must love mercy–and show it to you.

In spite of you, I must walk humbly–before you.

This is not about me and my personal offense at the things you do. This isn’t actually about you, either.

Micah 6:8 is a reactive verse, but it’s not reactive from me to you: it’s reactive from me to God. I do not focus on acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly because you do or don’t deserve these things from me. I focus on these things because I love the Lord my God with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my strength, and this is how I live that out.

God, remind me that this isn’t about me or anyone else. Remind me that all of this is about you, and how worthy you are to receive our lives as daily sacrifices for you. Let your Holy Spirit fill me with mercy that it will overflow on those around me. Please be quick to stop me when I act out of selfishness, injustice, or hatred. Thank you for your infinite patience with us. 

What can we do to show grace to those who refuse to show it? How can we love mercy on a moment-by-moment basis?

Why I Choose to Gossip

 

Spoiler alert to the title of this post: The reason I gossip is pride. Pride and a paralyzing need for affirmation. It’s easy to see, hard to admit, and impossible to correct with the grace of God. And even with God’s prodding and poking and threshing and teaching, I give in to the allure of pride-induced gossip over and over again.

You probably know the feeling. You’re in the middle of a conversation and suddenly a person’s name is mentioned. Maybe you brought it up, maybe someone else did. But it’s like the gunshot at the beginning of a sprint because you’ve got dirt on this person. This person did something horrendous to you. Even though everyone with whom you’ve ever had a conversation in the last three years knows what this person did to you, it’s worth mentioning again. Because you’re the good guy here. And people are sympathetic when they know what you’ve been through. They admire your perseverance and forgiveness.

It sounds a lot like this:

“Oh, that doesn’t surprise me after the way he treated me. Did I tell you about that? About how one time…” 

Maybe the person didn’t do anything directly to you, but his actions have been just appalling lately. And by “appalling” I mean “juicy.”

“Oh, you mean Name? Yeah, he totally cheats on his wife. He drinks a lot too.” And then the feigned pity over the loved ones who are presumably ignorant of Name’s dealings. “I feel so sorry for her. After all she does for him, to have him running around on her like that? She deserves better.”

And maybe she does deserve better, but in that moment the amount you actually give a damn about her is 5%. The other 95% is the implication you would never cheat on your spouse and you don’t drink anymore and your husband should be happy to have a wonderful, faithful, perfect spouse like you. It would save everyone a lot of time if you’d just say, “Look how bad that person is! Look how great I am!”

Then there’s the person you really love, bless his heart, but he’s just not living up to your standards. Which is good, because it gives you something to talk about.

“So, have you talked to Name lately? You know what he’s doing nowadays? I mean, I love him, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that he’s going down the wrong path. We really need to focus on praying for God to reveal himself to Name, because he isn’t listening to anyone else.”

That’s a classic Church Person trick, turning gossip into a prayer request.

But the really crafty and creative and audacious can pull off the “pretend I’m the one that needs prayer when we all know it’s the other guy” conversation (which, by the way, is my typical go-to).

“I need you to pray for me, because I’m really struggling with Name. He did this one thing yesterday and then again today, and I can’t seem to deal with that anger. I’m really praying about whether or not to say something to him. I know lost people will act lost, but it’s so hard to show grace to him, you know? I just need prayer.”

It sounds funny, right? But it’s not. And every time I enter into one of these conversations wanting people to affirm that I’m right and justified and entitled and oh, so mistreated, or that I’m admirable and respectful and dog-gone-it, just a nice girl, I end up feeling affirmed by people but not so affirmed by God.

Every time I go searching for something to scratch my itch for pride, I end up feeling ashamed instead.

My mouth, big as it may be, is not the issue. My heart is the issue. “For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit or condemn you” (Matthew 12:34-37).

What I say will either acquit or condemn me. That doesn’t mean I won’t get into heaven if my gossip meter is higher than my praise meter, but it does mean gossip reveals what’s truly in my heart. I can vow not to choose gossip, but as long as I care more about myself and my image than God and his image, I’ll choose gossip, time and time again.

I do not know how to end this post, mainly because gossip is still a constant struggle for me. I do know that my heart has to change before my mouth can change. I do know that God has convicted me of this specific sin in my life and only he can make it right.

God, I know I need a heart adjustment. When I’m tempted to gossip, please pull my eyes to you. Remind me that I’m a sinner, no better than those I choose to gossip about. Remind me that my worth is solely in you, not in others’ opinions of me.

How has God convicted you of gossip and pride in your lives lately?

about fanaticism & grace

Let’s talk about Jehu.

Here’s the backstory:

King Ahab of Israel was not a very nice guy. You know how sometimes in our day we use the word “Jezebel” as an insult against a woman? It’s probably worse than you think. Jezebel was terrible, and she was Ahab’s wife. I get the feeling that if Eve and Jezebel had switched places, Jezebel would have eaten half the damn tree and then made apple pie, applesauce, and apple juice for Adam (or whatever fruit it was). She didn’t just sin. She reveled in offending God.

Ahab went right along with it. He and his family worshipped other gods and led the country in worshipping other gods. As you might imagine, God wasn’t a real big fan of that.

So when Ahab died one of his sons became king. But God had other plans. He led a prophet to anoint this guy, Jehu, as king. (Actually the prophet was told to anoint Jehu and then run for his life. These were intense times.)

Jehu is told how he’s going to destroy what remains of the family of Ahab to cleanse the nation. So Jehu does. He killed everyone. In one dramatic scene, he takes the heads of Ahab’s seventy sons, piles them at the city gate, and leaves them there overnight. Seventy human heads piled high overnight. That’s hardcore.

Jehu kills all of Ahab’s relatives, all of his important officials, his personal friends, and his priests.

Then he destroys all the Baal worshippers who had been previously led by Ahab. He calls all the Baal worshippers from around the nation, tricks them into entering the temple of Baal, traps them in the temple, and then slaughters all of them. And then, to add insult to injury, he turns the remains of the temple into a public toilet.

There’s a lot of ways we could look at this story and surely a lot of controversy you could pull from it. But after all of this hardcore action-movie drama, there was one verse that really jumped out at me this morning, “But Jehu did not obey the Law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit” (2 Kings 10:31).

Oh, heavens. This guy was so fanatically, extremely obedient to God that he purged the entire nation of any remnant of either Ahab or the Baal worship he caused. And yet there was something, some sin, in his heart that he would not release.

And surely if you know me, you know by now why this one facet of the story jumped out at me: because it’s also my story. And probably yours, if you’re a believer.

I am a complete fanatic about some aspects of my faith. Early on in my walk with God I was heavily convicted of dishonesty with legal matters. Piracy of software, movies, or music, for example. Speeding in my car. Littering. Little things that we don’t normally think of as sins, those are the things God drilled me about. Because we’re instructed to obey our country’s laws and by disobeying them, I was disobeying God. I was spitting in the face of the authority under which God had placed me.

Now my husband has called me “the most law-abiding citizen” he knows. I detest dishonesty. I will go out of my way, out of my comfort zone, and to great lengths to follow the laws as I know them.

But, like Jehu, I haven’t obeyed the Law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all my heart. I have refused to turn from sins like bitterness, jealousy, and pride. It’s as if I keep hoping God will focus more on how great I am at watching my speed in my car and overlook that gaping hole in my heart caused by my pride.

Luckily there’s the Gospel, and grace. Luckily this God I worship hasn’t given up on me. Luckily he continues to refine me in these areas of sin. But lest I ever get too big for my britches and start thinking I’m the holiest person because of my fanaticism in some areas, God is quick to remind me that I’m holy not because any of my actions in any areas but rather because of his grace and his grace alone.

So now I can repent of these sins, return my focus to God and my trust that he will continue refining me, and praise him for his grace.

How about you? What are your areas of fanaticism? What are the areas of sin in your heart you somewhat conveniently overlook?