See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
1 John 3:1
This week I was given some specific spiritual homework, assigned to me by a trusted mentor and friend. The task was to read specific scriptures (Gen. 1:26-28, Psalm 139:13-14, John 15:9-17, and Romans 8:28-39) and then to answer two questions:
- What do you believe about God’s creation and love?
- What do you believe is true about you?
Sounds easy enough, right? I thought so. But as I sat down to write a response, I noticed an immediate snag in my spirit. Allow me to explain.
Genesis 1 says that human beings were created in the image of God. I understand this to be an incredibly generous act, as it is wholly at God’s initiative. God does not necessarily ‘need’ us around—we are not a boost to God’s ego, and neither do we generate any particular merit on our own. Therefore, I understand creation to be one of the most revealing signs of God love, for I cannot fathom how or why we got here apart from the awesome prospect of a gracious relationship with the One who made us out of sheer delight.
As Daniel Migliore helped me to understand years ago, to say that we are created in God’s image is to believe that we are free to love and address God just as God is free to love and address us. The very idea that the God of all creation would grant us that kind of intimate access from the start still astounds me.
The Psalmist suggests that you and I were knit together with great care and attention to detail. Wonderfully and fearfully so! Or, as your southern grandmother might have said, “God didn’t make no junk.” Having made us so purposefully, Jesus the Son goes on to say that the very love through which we were made is the same love that carries and directs us as we ‘abide’ in relationship with Him. This make Jesus our adoptive Brother. “You did not choose me” he says, “but I chose you.” Wow! What an amazing grace. Then, in Paul’s magnificent declaration, the apostle affirms that there is nothing that can separate us from this love, no matter what kind of ungrateful, unruly children we may turn out to be.
So yes, my response to that first question is not hard to come by (a plain reading of the scriptures will get you there). God is love. But the second question—the matter of God’s love for us—that is where my hesitancy kicks in.
Sure, I can conjure up an adequate response from the Good Book, so long as I get to keep my personal distance. Do I believe all that gracious and generous gifting from God really applies to me? Hmmm… What about you? Stop reading and ask yourself in this very moment: how convinced am I that I am loved by God? Just as I am, without one plea? Yeah, but what about…?
Be it the voice of shame, the weariness of our own public circumstance, or a depressing season that just feels stuck in the muck of isolation, we all have some experience of the disconnect between our faith and our experience. Add to that the lies that we tell ourselves—some that tear us down unnecessarily and others that tend to overinflate—and we have quite a recipe for dysfunction.
My hope is that we will bring the baggage of these various distortions with us into worship and into the fellowship of the Church. No, really! Imperfect as we may be in our life together, the rhythm of praise, prayer, repentance and forgiveness has a way of setting us straight. Our attention to what the Creator God has to say about us (which is always better news than the version we have fabricated for ourselves) has a way of healing the divide between our believing and our actual sense of belonging.
How wide is that gap for you today? Can you find a bridge? Do you need a guide?
When I was a high school student I was blessed with numerous guides who helped me figure out who I was in God’s sight. Years later, I confess that I still need people who care enough to reflect God’s love for me. Life in this world provides us with plenty of opportunities to identify our shortcomings and yet does not offer us a viable solution to the problem of sin. So what now? Where do we turn? Despite the success of their book sales, I still contend that self-help is no help at all.
As a bold alternative, Jesus comes and speaks to us not with a cheap pep talk or easy advice, but in the form of command. Love one another as I have loved you. This directive includes both responsibility and reception. It is a call to action, yes, but also to acceptance. Did you catch that second part? As I have loved you!
Friends, I will acknowledge that I often find it easier to share this news with you than it is for me to hear and accept this Truth for myself. My theological beliefs about God and have not always been applied to my own internal dialogue. Psychologically, I am prone to believe things about me that Jesus would never say and that God would likely disagree with (and does!). And I am fairly certain that I’m not the only one.
As a brand new Christian teenager, I can remember my pastor telling me that most people miss the joy of heaven by 18 inches. As he later explained to me, “that is the approximate distance from your head to your heart.” Now, 30 years later, I still stumble from time to time over what once seemed like such a short distance to cover…just a simple step or two. That journey still continues for me. I can see now that I will not get there without you.
How thankful I am for Christian friends, for the mission and life of Fairhope United Methodist Church, for our companionship in Christ, and for “the joy we share as we tarry there…”
Grace to You,