Hanging on every word…

When I (stupidly) mention to my dog, Bella, that we’re going for a ride, or use the word “go” or “going”, she hangs on every word I say thereafter. She looks expectantly, waiting on the next word I might say that she recognizes. She’s doing it right now, waiting for us to go.image

Our black lab, Sam, was a little different. He would perk up for things he heard that he recognized, but he lived to obey. Retrievers are wired that way. They love to obey their master, and they, too, hang on every word you say.

I wish I would live to obey my Master, Teacher, Father, and Friend! He is working everything out for my own good, whether it feels good or not. He can be trusted with every detail of my life. I just wish I could lie at His feet, hang on every Word, and look as expectantly to Jesus as Bella looks at me. She is obsessed.

I want to be obsessed with Jesus and following Him!

Drinking Deeply

As I’ve mentioned several times, our church is working it’s way through a series of books by James Bryan Smith. We just finished The Good and Beautiful Life, and we are moving on to the last in the series, entitled The Good and Beautiful Community. I heartily recommend each book. They are life-changing.

The first book in the series is called The Good and Beautiful God, and it is one that God has used most to turn my life around. The basis for the books is replacing the false narratives of the world with the words of truth that Jesus said and taught. In The Good and Beautiful Life, the author helps you replace the false narratives about God that you and I have imbedded deep within us with the words Jesus taught about His Father.

For instance, ever since we were children, we were taught that you get what you earn. If you work hard, you will be rewarded. This continues on throughout our young lives into adulthood as we are taught that working hard, and getting good grades, will earn us favor with our teachers, and later with colleges and universities. We are constantly graded and evaluated. In adulthood, we are given periodic performance evaluations at work. It goes on throughout our lives.

It is not hard to project this cyclical characteristic upon God. We do it without even thinking. There are countless pulpits which say, in essence, “God is good, you are bad, try harder” or “God is good. Why isn’t He good to you? You must not have enough faith. You must not be believing. There must be something that you’re doing that’s blocking God’s favor in your life.” As we hear those messages, we fall into the trap of trying to earn God’s favor. Is any of this ringing true with you?

The Good News is that our heavenly Father is a generous God who longs to show you His love and grace. He is not a respecter of persons. There is nothing you can do to earn His favor and love, or do to earn MORE of His love and favor. It is unmerited. It is underserved. But He longs to pour it out on us anyway.

In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 20), Jesus tells the story of a landowner who pays all the workers a day’s wage, no matter when they showed up for work. And the message that we hear is this: “No matter when you accept Jesus as your Savior, you get into heaven. Even death-bed confessions receive the same reward as the lifelong saint.”

But don’t miss these messages: First, our God is a generous God, and He longs to be generous. The wages paid had nothing to do with how long or hard the worker labored in the field. The wages paid were solely a reflection of the generosity and goodness of the employer.

The “wages” we receive from God, His blessings, His rewards, His favor, His healing, and even His power have nothing to do with us or anything we’ve done as Christ-followers. It has EVERYTHING to do with what’s already been done for us. Whatever we receive, it is a reflection of the Father’s generosity and goodness. It is all received by grace.

To some, this will rub the wrong way. They’ll say, there’s not enough talk about sin and its consequences. They’ll say that I need to mention Hell and punishment. There’s not enough talk about our part: prayer, fasting, serving, etc. Perhaps. But those that lean that way may be more apt to be rule-keepers and rule-makers, looking to measure and evaluate their own performance and the performance of those around them. This is the law. The law brings death, but the grace that gives freedom brings life.

I think what makes this book so attractive and so encouraging is that it has made the Gospel real to me again. The Gospel really is Good News! It is truth and life. Jesus said that I should come and drink. I have. It is so refreshing! I want others that are walking in a dry and dusty land to drink deeply, too.

As Jesus said, you will never thirst again!

I need to be reminded…

Maybe its just a trait of the generation that preceded mine, but I grew up in a fairly strict household. As I think about it, maybe it wasn’t strict. But I was constantly on the lookout for my dad’s temper. Don’t get me wrong: he instilled really good traits in me: I was raised to work hard, think about others, and work hard. Oh wait. I said that. But if I strayed off course, I’d have to answer for it. And that was scary because dad had a bad temper. That was something else he “instilled” in me.

So when I screw up nowadays – either by accident, or on purpose by rebelling – my “default” setting is to be on guard, looking out for God’s anger and temper. I feel like I have to look out for a “hammer” coming from the hand of my heavenly Father.

I can remember a time, when I lived in Roanoke, before I knew God, when I got caught out on the golf course during a lightning storm. Somehow, I knew instinctively that I wasn’t living a pleasing life. I was in a panic, thinking that God was going to punish me and was going to literally send a lightning bolt.

But as I think about that, I realize that is Old Testament thinking. That is what Job’s friends thought when Job was enduring the onslaught of tragedies that came his way. That was the kind of thinking his disciples wrongly had when they asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” (See John 9:2) Yes, God disciplines those he loves, but he does so as a father does a son he DELIGHTS in (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:7). He does it to shape us and mold us into the image of His Son.

I have to remind myself that he desires to be merciful (Hosea 6:6, Matt 9:13) to me and you. His “default” setting is love, grace and mercy. (James 2:13) A time is coming when He will judge, because He is a holy and just God. The tragic time is coming for that. But as we seek to walk in His ways, He isn’t looking for an opportunity to scold us and punish us when we mess up. He’s not looking to send a lightning bolt.

Lastly, He is not mad at you and me. We may screw up, but He knows how we were made. He delights that we are seeking to draw close to Him. He delights that we think about Him. He delights in the fact that we are trying to walk in His ways. He is not mad at us.

The Gospel is called the Good News. It is good news for everyone. It is good news for the wayward prodigal looking to come home. It is good news for the one (like me once) who is falling off his barstool. And it is STILL good news for you and me today.

He is not mad at you. He delights in you. That is Good News.