Lessons From the Heathen

Have you ever heard the story of Jonah? Probably. Have you ever read the story of Jonah?

Look it up, it’s a pretty short book.

So there’s this guy named Jonah, God meets him and goes ‘I want you to go to Nineveh and give them my message.’

And Jonah runs the other way.

He goes to Joppa and gets on a boat bound for Tarshish. I don’t know if you know anything about middle-eastern geography (I wasn’t always too clear) but Tarshish was basically on the other side of Jonah’s known world from Nineveh, on the other end of the ocean. And bear in mind, this isn’t a Sunday-afternoon drive or a day-cruise or an airplane trip over the ocean, this is a walk–or a pony-ride–and a sailboat trip across the ocean in the opposite direction away from home. When was the last time you made a trip like that to avoid something God told you to do?

jonah_map

The post I borrowed this picture from is title ‘Jonah – The Reluctant Prophet’ But reluctant? I’m reluctant and I stay home. Jonah took a cruise to Tarshish. And why? 

 

We’ll get to that.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.  – Jonah 1:1-3

He fled to Tarshish, and it seems to me that he left home with the place in mind; this was a pre-meditated venture, not some whim that he decided on when he got to port and found the closest ship to him. He was thinking, ‘What’s the furthest place I can get from Nineveh?’

But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.

Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.[a] But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.

So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”

Boom, hurricane. Maybe thunder, lightning, mountainous waves, fury. I’m just guessing here, but a ship’s crew willing to go on a voyage this far, was probably well-seasoned. They were ready for the perils of a trip across the open ocean, and they were getting scared.

And these guys are heathens. They worship man-imagined gods, they all have their own set, and none of them are listening. And where’s Jonah? He’s sleeping in the hold. Sleeping. He’s running away from God’s command and he’s sleeping in the bottom of the boat in the middle of a hurricane. The captain goes down and wakes him up, probably angry and definitely scared because none of the other gods are answering, he demands that Jonah call on his god to try and save them.

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”

So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.

So they cast lots. They’re heathens, of course they do, right? Let me ask you something; are you superstitious? They believe in that stuff. But something that has really been catching my attention is God answers their heathenish culture. As with Abraham coming out of a culture where child sacrifice was normal, it wasn’t an unusual request for Abraham to hear from God, but it wasn’t just about God testing Abraham’s faith, it was about God meeting Abraham in his heathen culture and turning it inside out because here is a God who provides instead of demands.

God ticks Jonah’s lot. And those heathen sailors immediately demand to know what he did that they are now suffering a storm for. Who are you?

10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. 11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”—for the sea was growing more tempestuous.

12 And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”

They knew he was running from God, I can just hear their exasperated question, ‘WHY did you do that? Are you crazy? Don’t you know you can’t run away from a god?’ 

And Jonah… he’s just done. And he’s so dramatic; ‘It’s all my fault,’ he says, ‘Just throw me into the ocean.’ The sailors are a little more realistic, but it’s no avail.

 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they cried out to the Lord and said, “We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.

And you know something? I’m really amazed by these guys. Not like it’s really surprising but kind of just an ‘Oh yeah that really makes sense,’ kind of moment. Because these guys are heathens, they’ve each got their own set of gods that they probably carry in their pocket; god is not a foreign idea to them, so they have no problem praying to his God. But as soon as Jonah went overboard the storm stopped. Result. And their fear goes viral because here is a God more powerful and more real than any they’ve yet seen. And here’s the thing: Jonah wasn’t there to see this. The only way we know what happens is that as soon as the boat hit the Tarshish port these guys were talking to everyone in the local pub about what had happened to them out there. Or maybe they turned around an went back to Joppa and spread the story there, seeing as they had thrown much of their cargo overboard anyway. But they were changed, and even though they only saw Jonah’s God from their heathen culture, He suddenly became a reality to them, and I’ll bet you they wanted to find out all they could about this God who had spared them.

So Jonah goes into the water, and he sinks down into the depths. Maybe he’s almost out of breath when the fish comes, he’s probably starting to panic and think ‘Well maybe this wasn’t such a good idea…’ 

17 Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

[2] 1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly. And he said:

“I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction,
And He answered me.

“Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
And You heard my voice.
For You cast me into the deep,
Into the heart of the seas,
And the floods surrounded me;
All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight;
Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
The waters surrounded me, even to my soul;
The deep closed around me;
Weeds were wrapped around my head.
I went down to the moorings of the mountains;
The earth with its bars closed behind me forever;
Yet You have brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord, my God.

“When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the Lord;
And my prayer went up to You,
Into Your holy temple.

“Those who regard worthless idols
Forsake their own Mercy.
But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay what I have vowed.
Salvation is of the Lord.”

10 So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

He’s repentant–that is, he’s changed his mind. And why? Because he saw God’s mercy for him in the midst of his disobedience. He knew he was done for–but God saved him by a fish. And there’s something worth noting in the last few lines of his prayer. He says, ‘Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy. But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.” He saw first-hand the worthlessness of the heathen gods displayed before him, there wasn’t a one that could calm his God’s tempest. He’s gotten a fresh revelation of the raw awesome power and the Mercy of his God, and after three days in the belly of the fish he’s ready to do what God asked.

[3] 1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey[a] in extent. And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

Now, we’re going to get to this real quick but Jonah knows that the Ninevites are bad people; they have a reputation, and the fact that they aren’t Jews but they’re Assyrians (and Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, what’s more) is already a tick against them because hey, these are gentiles. So Jonah is probably coming into this city expectant. He’s probably heard stories from his childhood about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, considering how such stories had always been passed down through the generations. Maybe he was imagining the fire and brimstone already because hey, these guys are heathens and Jonah wants retribution because he’s a faithful Israelite.

So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,

Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

There’s a common theme you can begin to see in the story of Jonah; heathens believing God and repenting–changing their minds and their ways.

And growing up in a performance-based church my temptation was always to say ‘Well, this is what God responded to, so this is what I have to do to get God to respond to me,’ but you have got to realize again that these people were heathen. If they believed in any god it was a radically different god than Jonah’s God, and even if they didn’t believe in any gods, the widely available examples were still radically different. So they responded in a way that was familiar to them culturally. 

And God responded. He didn’t respond because they fasted, sat in ashes and dressed up in old potato bags. He didn’t respond because they had the idea to make the animals fast with them. He responded because he was longing to respond to them already. He sent Jonah to point to their inherent evil problem not because he wanted to destroy them–they were already destroying themselves inevitably–but because he was longing to redeem their city and be their God and Father them.

And Jonah got mad. He gave God an ‘I told you so!’ speech, and we see the real motivation behind him fleeing:

[4] 1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”

And still as dramatic as ever; ‘it is better for me to die than to live!’ But it just blows me away the knowledge Jonah had of the immensity of God’s goodness! Jonah’s God was so good, and Jonah inversely was so intent on retribution on Nineveh…

But he knew that this message of wrath was going to transform into a message of mercy. He knew a slow-to-anger God wasn’t going to destroy a city which repented; he knew his God was abounding in loving kindness and he knew he was going to have to be that guy, that Israelite who screwed up his nation’s chance at getting their enemy’s capitol burned to a crisp with Sodom-and-Gomorrah-reminiscent retribution. And he was angry about it.

But God, in his infinite merciful loving kindness and endless patience… Oh I love that guy.

Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Does this make sense, Jonah? You know this is who I Am. So God creates another scenario:

So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. And the Lord God prepared a plant[a] and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah goes outside the city–because, you know. Maybe it’s fake. Maybe the repentance won’t last and God will destroy the whole place after all. He builds himself a shelter somewhere just far enough east to keep his toe-hair from being singed but still close enough to toast his gelatin-free marsh-mellows and he waits. And God sweetens the deal with a plant that grows up over his shelter and shades him from the growing sun.

But the next day God sent a worm, it kills the plant. To top it off, the wind starts to blow, and this isn’t a cool, playful breeze, this is a harsh–vehement even–east wind blowing across miles of desert heating up with the morning sun.

And I just want to say go home, Jonah. Just go home.

But he doesn’t, he gets angry again–again to the point of suicide. And he’s just burning up with rage.

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”

This is one of those stories where the moral is pretty clear, but it blows me away because we’ve all heard the story but have we ever really understood what it meant? I never did.

Here’s Jonah. First he’s running because he doesn’t want to go to Nineveh to begin with. And he has his repentant moment in the fish but he still came out hungry for retribution, and bitter because he knows he’s going to have to go deliver this message and God is probably going to have mercy on the people because Jonah’s got enough hostility and wrath behind the message to scare them all straight. And he’s right, God takes pity. Jonah’s still hopeful and he goes outside to wait and watch (because he doesn’t want to get caught up in the brimstone and maybe God’s holding back because he’s still in the city). But God has a plant up his sleeve and he actually gets Jonah deliberately angry to give Jonah His perspective on Nineveh:

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”

10 But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”

Jonah knew it wasn’t just to destroy that plant, there was nothing that plant had done to deserve being destroyed. But in His immense mercy and love and compassion God looked far beyond what was ‘just’ for the people of Nineveh – He knew they didn’t know any better; they didn’t even know their left hand from their right. A hundred and twenty thousand people, plus livestock.

…gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.

One who relents from doing harm.

And the result? An entire city turned to the mercy of the true God, and not only a city,  but the capitol of an entire nation. 120,000 people testifying in the heart of a heathen nation of the mercy of the God of Heaven? Culture-shaking. Gracious and merciful. Slow to anger. Abundant in lovingkindness. One who relents from doing harm.

An Unlawful God

Christianity is not about law.

This post is going to collate a few things that have been running through my head lately which culminated a while back for me over the course of Baxter Kruger’s book Jesus and The Undoing of Adam (which is a wordy-but-wonderful short book that sums up the gospel as believed by the early church, and following through with Saints in the Arms of a Happy God by Jeff Turner (a much longer but also very good book as far as I have read).

One of Kruger’s main focuses is, of course, that Christianity is not about legality – the plan of salvation was not a court room drama. And he speaks so brazenly about the fact that today’s Christianity has got God so wrong. 

(It’s a good book, you should check it out)

And it only continued to confirm what I’ve come to believe – that Father is not really all that interested in law and retribution, that the gospel message was not about Jesus taking our punishment primarily and sin didn’t put us out of legal standing with God that we had to be atoned for before God could have an interest in us again, but that the gospel message is about a God who met us where we were, made himself vulnerable to the weight of the wrath of our sin, buried it in the grave and took his life back up to lift us up with himself to Father’s right hand.

The heart of the Father has always been relationship. The primary goal of the Father has always been to adopt us in to the relationship He shares with Jesus and Holy Spirit, through what Jesus did at the cross. It was planned from the beginning, before the beginning, before Adam was even a twinkle in Father’s eye, Father said ‘Let’s make man…and let’s invite him into our relationship.’

And then Adam fell.

Which means sin was only ever a side-note on Father’s already-eternal plan to adopt us, and Jesus’ primary goal has always been to raise us up to the Father’s side with him. That happened when he himself ascended to Father’s right hand – and he rewrote Adam’s history to bring us back from our anguished separation and into the family. There was no holy standard standing in our way, no wrath or vengeance, no anger, no; Jesus didn’t come to set our legal record straight or change Father’s attitude about us, he came (indeed, Father himself came in Jesus) to change our situation as Adam’s sons so that we could be adopted–so that our hearts would once more cry out “Abba! Daddy!” And maybe you don’t think that’s such a big deal but you’re living post-cross post-Adamic nature and Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh which means your heart has already been turned toward Father; imagine having only total animosity in your heart and inherently believing you are an enemy of God and God is an enemy of you. It’s always been about restoring relationship by restoring the heart for Father we were created with–a heart which sees only the eternal proclamation, “It is Good!” over all creation. It is good, there is no evil but that which we created in our perceptions as soon as we ate the fruit that told us there was such a thing as ‘not good’.

And you know, I grew up with a legal-based view of God. I always had some kind of idea that when the prodigal son spent his inheritance, that was it, there was nothing else for him–I mean, how could there be, really? Legally it would’ve been a mess, everything left should have gone to the older brother. (Maybe that’s part of why he was so ticked when little brother came home – you mean now I have to share what’s left with this boy?) And who really knows, I mean it was a hypothetical story, after all. But it wasn’t really about the physical inheritance, was it. It was about the inheritance of the Father’s love for his children. It was about his deepest desire being to have his boys with him, to give them everything he had. There simply wasn’t any place for a legal reconciliation when that boy appeared on the horizon because Father’s attitude toward his son had always been for him, and for relationship, and for his son’s homecoming. And so the son was reconciled to his father; he was welcomed with open arms back into his place within Father’s household.

And I know I said that story wasn’t about salvation–the more I mull it over in my mind the more I’m convinced of that because there was no re-adoption when the son came home, he was already a son – so maybe that isn’t as good an example. But what about the lost sheep, or the lost coin? They were never about anything remotely legal; the good shepherd didn’t bring his lawyer along looking for his lamb. He didn’t bring his little boy along to kick in his anger so he wouldn’t kill that lamb with his wrath. Was there a transformation required after Adam? Absolutely. But it wasn’t about a legal dispute, or Father dishing it out on the Son. I find the idea so twisted that a just God would kill his innocent son to satisfy his anger for us. “Why would a god do that?” Young Piscing Patel asks, “Why would he send his only son to atone for the sins of the whole world?” A just God would put us all on death row and start over, but Father is not only just but he is intimately in love with us–with you–the crown jewel of his affection, and justice is wrought differently out of love.

I mean…read 1 John. It’s all about love. Love. Love… God is love and we know we are his children if we love others because there is no love outside of Father. Do you love? Then you are a child of God, it’s that simple because He did it all so that now our nature is his nature. He is over all and in all and through all. [ephesians 4] Love. That’s why the good news is so good! 

And so Jesus (and Father in him) not only laid his own life down for us, he laid it down before us and let us dish out our wrath on him. Because remember, in our minds, we were enemies. He let us dish out all the animosity and wrath sin had nurtured in us to the point of his brutal death–and in the midst of it all, he forgives us.

If you read my last article, maybe you remember that God took pity on Nineveh, 120,000 people who he said didn’t know their right hand from their left. He opted not to destroy them. Jesus, before he died said ‘Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.’ The irony of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is that it left us even more clueless. But Father forgave, the last thing we expected.

And all those people, God didn’t throw down his stone tablets on their heads in divine wrath. It is so easy to ignore what Jonah knew all along–that Father is merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, eager to turn away from even a justified wrath, abounding in love for people. In fact, I never once heard that part of the story when I was growing up. No one ever talked about the motive behind God’s unwillingness to destroy Nineveh. And so I was left with a picture of a bi-polar God, angry and vengeful one moment, loving–or perhaps more accurately, tolerating–the next with little a care to the woes of man, merely bent on insuring that evildoers repent or die. But Jonah was sent on a mission of mercy, and he knew it.

And it’s re-emerging. Knowledge–revelation–of who Father truly is, what the gospel is really about, the true values at the heart of Christianity as it was at its birth. A generation is rising up that won’t be satisfied with the inconsistencies of Christian culture both new and old versus the truth. And I can only wait in expectant imagining how this revolution will change the world.

No Longer Prodigal

You know what just made me a little bit angry? It was this cute little picture on facebook with a big caption promising that blessings and breakthrough are coming if you can just hold out a little while longer. Don’t worry, your breakthrough is just around the next corner. Have you seen any of those? Maybe you’ve heard the Sunday-morning equivalent, preachers proclaiming tidings of revival soon to come if you can just hang on a little longer, pray just a little harder. There were at least a couple years during my childhood and into teen years that I got a good taste of that pre-revival culture, it seemed like that was all anybody wanted from God.

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Let me tell you something: you don’t need breakthrough, and you don’t need revival.

Everything is yours already.

You don’t have to wait for breakthrough, or blessings, or revival, or healing. Let me tell you something: there were two brothers. One took his inheritance and left home and squandered it away. The other stayed at home and worked. Now get this: both brothers squandered the wealth available to them, and both brothers were born with their wealth already secured. Younger brother takes his inheritance to the world to spend it how he will, older brother continues to serve his father bitterly on the farm.

The younger brother wakes up one day in a pig pen with nothing left, he’s thinking the pig food looks pretty great right about now. But he realizes that in his father’s house even the servants are taken care of. Even the servants. So he gets up and goes back to his father to ask for…a job. But of course you know this story; this dignified middle-eastern father runs full-tilt down the road and bear-hugs his son and brings him back into the house and back into his place as son. 

The older brother…is working in the fields. Hard at it. He comes back to the house–probably tired, probably dirty, probably with that accomplished feeling some people get from a hard day’s work when they believe hard work is the extent of their value–he finds out from one of the servants what all the commotion in the house is all about and he gets mad. He gets so angry he stays outside. Father comes out to him and he goes into an immediate tangent about ‘that son of yours’-this and ‘me and my friends’-that, like ‘Okay Dad if this is how you treat that little brat then you owe me big time…’

Father just looks at him and says ‘Son…you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.’

And then he says this: ‘it’s right that we should be celebrating; my son was dead, and is alive again – he was lost but now he’s found.’ This doesn’t have anything to do with labor efforts or work-induced loyalty, son, this isn’t about what he or you deserves, it isn’t about whether I’m partial or not, it’s about what you both have already had all along and who you both are to me.

I know, I’m paraphrasing. So sue me–or go read it again for yourself in Luke 15.

But something I’ve never thought about before came to me tonight as I’ve been thinking about this story. This can’t be a typical salvation story. I know what you’re thinking: ‘But context! Jesus just finished telling two parables about repentant sinners! How is this not a salvation story?’

First of all, the only ‘salvation story’ I know is where Jesus died on the cross in our place. And listen, I know this is a great parable for salvation–except that salvation isn’t about us, it’s about Jesus. The very word ‘salvationin the original Hebrew of the Bible is interchangeable with Jesus’ name, Yeshua–it’s the same root, and some Jewish scholars believe it should be used in proper noun form every time so that we know, this is a person we’re really talking about here – this is Jesus. And second, if it were really about salvation the younger son could never have made it home on his own, because salvation is about Jesus finding us. Salvation is about Jesus finding that runaway lamb, and that lost coin. But this story is about the son remembering his Father’s favor and hoping that he could be counted worthy to be a servant. It isn’t about the journey back, it’s about the reception. But I digress: I don’t want to make a mountain out of that mole hill just yet.

What I do want to make clear is this: they were both sons. They were in the house, they both already had an inheritance. They both had benefits from their father, they were both in his favor. And they were born that way. If there were a point for a salvation-analogy it might’ve come years before in a generous display of adoption on the father’s part. But they are both already there. And what does that mean? It means both brothers were just as close to their breakthroughs, their blessings and their revivals in the beginning of the story, as they were at the end. It means the only breakthrough you need happens when you realize it’s already yours, because everything Father has is yours, and you’re always with him. You were born in his house.

Here’s what’s changed about my perspective: I’ve come to realize that when Jesus says it’s finished, then it’s finished. For almost 2000 years people have been born outside of sin–albeit, into a sin-marred world–because Jesus took care of sin on the cross; sin is no longer God’s issue which means everyone is free, everyone is accepted, and everyone is justified of sin against God. The kingdom has changed hands and you were not born into Adam’s bloodline but Christ is your brother and God is your father. You’re in the house.

Or maybe you’re the prodigal. Maybe you took your rightful inheritance and you squandered it with the world. Maybe you didn’t know just what it was worth, maybe you didn’t understand what it meant. But there is still a place back home for you.

Or maybe you’re the older brother, back home laboring in the fields hoping Father will notice you and give you some favor, but there is still a place in Father’s house for you, and you’ll miss the inheritance you were born with if you live your life believing your value is based on how hard you work rather than who you were born to. 

Do you want a breakthrough? Read Romans. Read Galatians. Read Ephesians. Read Hebrews. Get a handle on what Jesus did once for all time on the cross. Because listen; God is not limited by your faithfulness. He is not limited by whether you decide to be in sin, or not. Whether you decide or not, sin is dealt with.

I heard a story last night about a lady paying it forward to a rich-looking woman behind her in the drive-thru – it turned out the woman was bankrupt and completely out of hope but that one coffee turned everything on its head for her as a sign from God. Someone asked the question, what if that lady hadn’t listened to that voice in her head telling her to pay it forward in spite of the appearances of the woman in the convertible behind her?

And that used to be a gripping question for me – what if? What if I don’t listen to Holy Spirit’s voice? What if I miss it?

But my immediate thought was, God is not limited by my faithfulness. God is not dependent on my faithfulness. If that lady hadn’t paid it forward, I absolutely believe beyond any shadow of a doubt that Father would have given that woman hope some other way, because he’s Father. Of course he’s going to do everything he can for his children. He was probably dropping hints all around that woman so that whatever direction she looked she’d see at least one. And when it comes down to it anyway, the Rock is always present at Rock Bottom

But it’s our opportunity, not his. It’s our opportunity whether we let him use us or not, not his, because he’s going to accomplish his plans either way, but more importantly he’s already accomplished his big plan for us and we are back. That’s why salvation isn’t his opportunity anymore, it’s ours, because he already took his opportunity on the cross, now it’s your turn, to hear that good news, believe it, and let it change your mind because it really is good enough. Boom.

And that opportunity is instantaneous. You want breakthrough? Take it. You want revival? You are revival. You were born revival. You are alive! The life you now live you live by the Spirit of God, and there’s no jury on that because it is finished. 

And I’m not going to paint it pretty, because life isn’t easy, it’s a series of growth-enabling challenges and yes, we do live in a sin-marred world with sin-scarred bodies. But you don’t need breakthrough on your challenges, you need to grow through your challenges–or not, that’s up to you. But your challenges are too important to use to discredit the value and inheritance you already have in Father’s house.

So bottom line? Stop waiting for what you’ve been hoping for and try this thought on for size: Father has already given it to you – you just have to know it’s really yours. All the breakthrough you’ll ever need happened at the cross and Jesus cried out with his dying breath, ‘It is finished.‘ You can’t get any more complete than that. So come on into the house, join the party, because it’s all for you, too.

The Gospel and the Myth of Repentance

You have to come at the gospel from the truth, ‘There is nothing I can do.’

Yes, you were a sinner, you were drowned in sin. But nearly 2000 years ago God was born in human flesh. I know, it’s a long long time and maybe you wonder how two millennia ago there could have been anything relevant to you. But there was this. Jesus grew up. He lived as a man under sin. And then he died bearing all sin in his body. He took the whole sin problem on his shoulders and it crushed him–but it was finished.

And there’s nothing you can do. Want to rid yourself of sin against Father? Too bad: Jesus already rid the whole world of sin. You can’t get any more sinless. Want to make yourself acceptable before God? Too bad: Jesus already made you acceptable when he died and rose again from the grave three days later, representing you. That means that when he died it was just as if you died. When Father raised him to life, Father raised you to life. You are justified, as in ‘just-as-ifIed never sinned, because sin is no longer an issue.

And there is nothing you can do; almost 2000 years ago while he was dying on the cross Jesus suddenly knew that what he had come to accomplish had been accomplished, and he yelled out with a dying breath, ‘It is finished!’

Religion, and corporate church, think they have monopoly on finishing; they will teach you to repent your sins and beg for God’s forgiveness, and then tell you that you must work hard to be good enough to earn Father’s favor. Or they might say to show yourself worthy or deserving. But there is nothing you can do.

And while we’re on the subject of repentance

Repentance isn’t a Greek word, which means you won’t find it in the original language of the New Testament-side of the Bible, and you certainly won’t find it in the Old Testament-side. It’s a Latin word, which means somewhere down the line someone took a Greek word and a Hebrew word and a Latin word and decided that they all matched. But do you want to know what the words meant?

נָחַם (Strong’s H5162, pronounced na-cham): properly, to sigh, i.e. breathe strongly; by implication, to be sorry, i.e. (in a favorable sense) to pity, console or (reflexively) rue; or (unfavorably) to avenge (oneself):—comfort (self), ease (one’s self), repent(-er,-ing, self)

נָחַם is translated more often as ‘comforted’ in the Old Testament, than as ‘repented’, but actually as a primitive root it simply describes that emotive exhale that always says more than any words. Look it up on Blue Letter Bible.

μετανοέω (Strong’s G3340, pronounced me-tä-no-e’-ō): to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider (morally, feel compunction):—repent.

And here’s a fun fact: when the Septuagint (the early Greek Bible) was translated from Hebrew, μετανοέω was used several times to translate נָחַם, but in the King James Bible μετανοέω is translated repent every time.

So what’s the problem with that? I wasn’t going to get into the etymology of the word but pictures tell more than I can say.

Repent and penance come from the same Latin root; in fact the only real difference between them is that repentance jumped into Old French before it became an –ance word. If you line up these etymologies, penance and repentance are actually the same word. And that shouldn’t surprise you if you look at how English has preserved their similarities. And here’s another interesting fact: the word penitentiary–as in, a prison–comes from that same Latin root paenitere.

So what’s the problem? Penance is not a Biblical concept. Here’s a Google definition:

  1. 1.

    voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong.

     “he had done public penance for those hasty words”

    2.

     a Christian sacrament in which a member of the Church confesses sins to a priest and is given absolution.

Voluntary selfpunishment, confessing sins to a priest for absolution? Are you getting this? There’s nothing you can do! There’s nothing a priest can do for you. You can’t beat yourself up enough for God. Did you know that repentance could be a form of self-harm? I didn’t–until now. Does that sound Biblical? Does that sound like Father? Many people think so.

People deep in religion will tell you there’s no way you could actually know or prove this, or maybe that you have to have a seminary degree to really understand. Do you want to know how long it took me to put together this little word study? About 20 minutes. On my 4-inch cell phone screen. And it’s true whether you have a seminary degree or not. But it is people such as these who have twisted and modified entire translations to seize religious control and promote their man-made pseudo-covenant.

So what is real…repentance? I don’t even want to use that word anymore because it carries so much religious manipulation with it for me now. To distinguish, you have to keep in mind that sin is already dealt with – there is no sin issue between you and God anymore; the only thing he keeps tract of is Jesus crying out, ‘It is finished!’ and either Jesus took care of all your sins past present and future irregardless of repentance, or he didn’t really take care of any until you repent (and repent regularly)–as many of the religious teach. But we know that the religious concepts of repentance and penance are not actually in the Bible, so that simply can’t be true.

Here’s a picture: Jesus dies and Father raises him from the dead three days later. Jesus stays with his disciples for 40 days letting his living presence seep into them. Then he ascends into the sky–he’s just carried away–after telling them to wait in Jerusalem. They wait in Jerusalem, ten days later the Holy Spirit falls on them on Pentecost, Peter preaches to the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover who are all astir because all these simple Galileans are praising God and all the people understand in their own native languages. Peter proclaims the death, resurrection and Lordship of Jesus Christ through King David’s prophecy and the people respond:

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”  – Acts 2:37-39

Cut to the heart. Pricked deep. The Greek word for this is only used once in the Bible and it has a very literal physical and metaphorical definition which is reflected very well by the phrase ‘cut to the heart‘. This is a Holy-Spirit-level event that would definitely cause you to experience נָחַם–nacham–and make you want to μετανοέω–metänoe’ō.

And did you catch what Peter says about the promise of the outpouring of Holy Spirit? It is for everyone who is called by God. And guess what: it was Holy Spirit that brought those people to that heart-in-throat, mind-changing moment. Holy Spirit called them, and they responded.

There is nothing you can do–except, respond. Let your heart be pricked and your mind be changed by the good news: the Jesus who your sin crushed is alive and he is King!

Better Is Possible

There’s a phrase I learned several years back in a seminar which (the seminar, that is) really stretched my boundaries (for a few weeks, anyway) and had quite a strong impact on my life. It made me stop and reevaluate my, well…values.

The phrase was, “If better is possible, is good good enough?”

Think about that for a minute.

From a Christian standpoint I immediately think about the son who ended up prodigal in a pigpen after squandering his inheritance. After becoming hungry enough to eat the slop given to the pigs this guy had an epiphany: “Hey, even being a servant in my father’s house is better than this…”

But the honest truth is, I can’t identify with that young man. I didn’t have a miraculous and life-changing turn-around testimony like I envied other Christians for. I didn’t get and squander what I believed was my rightful inheritance. The truth is, I identify with his older brother.

The brother. The brother stays home, he keeps working away on the farm. And one day that selfish, unworthy little brother of his comes home and Father throws a party. The older brother is angry because he doesn’t understand that both he and his brother always had their father’s favor, irregardless, and all this time he had not really known who his father was and what his relationship to Father meant. As someone once pointed out, he could’ve had more than just a goat if he’d only asked.

So what does this have to do with good and better, anyway?

I started there but I didn’t end there. I’ve dared to believe that my inheritance is more than I knew. I slowly left a bitter good for a gracious better. And I got the goat, too. Good just wasn’t good enough when I dared to think better was possible. And my forever-faithful Father didn’t let me down on his word.

But there are other brothers.

There are people out there who I know heard the same challenge for better. And they aren’t even interested in seeing what it’s all about.

I’ll be Frank for a minute (because what I’m going to say I may need an alternate identity to live down), I’ve heard what I believe described as, loosely put, doctrine of hell. By people who I have a very hard time believing know really what I believe because they’ve never talked to me. Maybe they’ve read some of my article titles and/or excerpts on facebook, but I can’t begin to guess where they have gotten their information if what they have taken away is that I am teaching a satanic, ungodly doctrine. Is there room for mistakes? Sure. I make mistakes, everybody does. But all that’s beside the point. The point is, better is possible, but so many older brothers out there are sulking outside the house because they’ve believed an exclusive doctrine all their lives that told them, ‘You don’t deserve that goat, you go back out and slave some more in the fields and then, maybe you’ll be on Dad’s good side. Or maybe if you believe hard enough, or faith strong enough.

Better is possible. Better is real. It isn’t something that will send you to hell if you believe it; it isn’t something that will get God mad at you. It’s grace, and love, and peace, and there’s always more. So do you want to hear about it?

Jesus Loves You

That’s the end.

And just the beginning.

There’s only one thing I want you to read in my blogs; Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you. You. Reading this right now. He loves you. Do you know how many people spend their lives searching desperately for a love like his? But few find it, and fewer keep it, because religion has adulterated it. Religion has put Jesus out on a street corner under the guise that if you just do good enough, perform well enough, measure up, and transform into a lifeless Bible-thumping zombie, then Jesus will accept you, never mind love you.

That’s not to say religion has any power over Jesus – he baffled the religious leaders of his own day at every encounter and the moment they thought they’d finally won was the moment his plan was put into full affect, resurrection life was given to man but even more than that the gulf separating us from Father was slammed shut, the inner veil torn top to bottom and Father grabbed on to you never to let go.

Religion doesn’t want you to know about that, or what it means for you–but I digress; this post is not about religion.

It’s about Father. Father loves you. Father loves you. Are you starting to understand? Have you ever felt loved by someone? Anyone? Can you recall, or feel right now, what love feels like? Father is love. Love’s source is Father. Father loves you and he’s never going to stop; it is a non-negotiable.

And as every aspect of the dark side of the Force emmanates from hate, so every good and perfect gift is sourced from love–His love. Did you see the sunrise this morning? His love. Have you felt a playful breeze on your face? His love. Have you known the deep intimate knowing of a best friend, or a lover? His love.

And it is immutable. He’s never going to change his mind about you, no matter what you do or how far you go or how much you may hate him, he loves you. When Jude wrote to the young church he said even Michael the archangel, disputing with the devil himself over Moses’ body, didn’t dare bring even one accusation against Satan but said, ‘The LORD rebuke you’ … could it be he didn’t dare because he knew Father loved even Lucifer yet in his irreversible state of rebellion against that very love? Father loved Lucifer, you can be certain of that.

Jesus loves you. Father loves you. For Father to stop loving you it would mean he would have to rebel against himself; God can’t do that. And so immutably [unchangeably] you have been drawn into the family of Father, Son, Spirit–Brother, Sister. Father loves you.

But of course you want to know why bad things still happen to good people. The worst thing happened to the very Son of God when he was brutally beaten, literally ripped to shreds and tacked up to slowly suffocate on a wooden cross–but actually it was the best thing that has happened in the history of the world and perhaps the eternal history of the Godhead family because it meant that you were brought home forever. 

Religion has no answer for that question. It first asks you if you have accepted Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Saviour, and then it asks if you have repented, without understanding what repentance really means. It may tell you that you just need to perform better or believe harder or devote yourself fully, because religion always leaves man’s effort at 99.9%–‘there must be something you haven’t done hard enough, well enough or often enough’–but the Gospel–the good news–declares man’s efforts are 0% or worse with no exceptions but that Jesus stepped in before the problem was even the problem and he declared to Father, ‘I have come to do your will … so that man can rest his efforts in my 100%’.

Father loves you. If bad things still happen it is because this world is a broken place and the sons of Adam have ceased to display the glory of God to nature and the earth groans exceeding to see the glory of Creator Father in his sons. But there’s one more thing to say; bad things could be the best things to happen to you because when you come to the end of yourself and you hit rock bottom that’s when you will see the full glory and strength and grace of the Rock who keeps you from drowning and lifts you up on wings like eagles–enter Jesus’ 100% when your weakness declares His strength.

And Father loves you. That is what is important because the more you experience his love for you the more you will see and interpret your life hidden within his love for you, the more you will experience this life of Father’s love and the less you will experience the life of this old body in a broken world–or the more the world will respond to the glory of the Father emanating out of you

Father loves you.

Majesty in the Garbage Dump

 

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Most Sundays you can find me supervising the local landfill. I say supervising which is technically true but really I’m more like the assistant-fill-in-supervisor that ends up doing the majority of the days allotted to the Sunday supervisor anyway, because technically speaking, I’m not fully trained for the position. But all that aside.

Yesterday while fulfilling my weekly sojourn to the land of the stinky I caught this gorgeous bird perched up by the dumping area, and she (for the sake of requiring a gendered pronoun – sorry Mr/Miss Eagle) let me approach quite close to take a few pictures (just a shame I didn’t have a better camera on me).

And just behind her near the edge of the hill was another adult, which spooked and took off a lot more quickly.

Eagles aren’t unusual at the landfill, but this is the first I’ve seen so close, and yesterday there seemed to be a particularly larger number of them hanging around – maybe they’re settling down for the winter. Everywhere you look there are eagles. And there are also crows and ravens.

But it got me thinking about something. How often have you heard the eagle used for analogies and symbols? How many people have you heard talk about how eagles get up high in the sky and just rest soaring on the updrafts? How many people have suggested to you that life should be lived like an eagle?

But how many of you feel like this young eagle stuck in the trash–maybe your whole family hangs out here–and you haven’t realized your identity or your potential as an eagle because all the other birds on your block are crows? I asked a friend once something along the lines of, What if I don’t want to be an eagle? What if I’m not cut out for soaring from the heights? Maybe your circumstances are bad, maybe you’ve struggled through everything life had to offer you. But right now you are majesty in the garbage dump.

I want to tell you there’s more, young eagle. There’s more than garbage and cawing and seeing the world from the ground, because whether you know it or not you are an eagle, and eagles were made to soar. You’ll see a lot more from up above, all you have to do is let your wings take you there.

And so I did.

And I’m learning that bad things happening to good people can be the best things to happen to good people because when you are given more than you can handle you have the opportunity to see the end of yourself and know the need for Father. But He didn’t create you for the garbage dump, and if you allow the bad things to be the gateway to the revelation of the fullness of His glory instead of blaming him for letting them happen to you, you’ll find your identity in Father–‘Christ in me, the hope of glory’  [Colossians 1:27] and He will take you to the heights He created you for.

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31

But My Flesh Still Lives [When You Know Your Heart is New]

I’ve been having a difficult time with this one. Because it means admitting something that I’ve been fairly transparent about in the past, and honestly it’s a little difficult to talk about it still being a “thing” – it’s not easy, it feels like I’ll put my reputation and my responsibilities on the line to say, I’m much, much less than the porcelain facade of perfection. Or maybe I’m being over dramatic and presumptuous about how people already see me – maybe I’m just sounding more like a broken record than a broken human.

But I’m talking today, of course, about pornography.

See, I read an article the other day about Selena Gomez’ speech at the AMA’s and one of the author’s conclusions was,

“Gomez has been open about her Christian faith and desire to follow Christ. She regularly attends branches of Hillsong Church and she recently wrote and performed a worship song titled “Nobody” at one of her concerts in the spring. That doesn’t mean she’s a role model or a perfect example, but it does mean she’s in the same spot as all of us–broken and in need of a Savior.”

And no offense to FaithIt, but first of all there is no perfect example this side of Jesus Christ, and second of all if Selena Gomez is the same as all of us and still can’t be a role model, who the hell can? Where are these superstar Christians that you’re looking up to and expecting to provide a perfect role model example?

But it’s this stigma that says ‘imperfect people can’t be role models’, etc., and the knowledge that this is such a ubiquitous sentiment in Christianity today–‘ I’m sorry, you aren’t perfect enough for us today, come back when God changes you ‘

So with enough beating around the bush to get all three birds… I’m not completely free yet. There are still fingers of this 10+ year inner conflict hanging on to me… I’m still an addict.

I guess part of this comes from a video I watched recently from a Youtuber by the name of Katie Gregoire titled “5 Steps to ACTUALLY Battle Pornography” in which Katie gives some pretty good advice about practically going ‘cold turkey’. And part of me goes “Yeah, good advice!” and another part of me goes, “But that doesn’t nearly cut it,” because you can cut off a habit but you can’t cut off a desire until something more powerful than yourself changes your mind–or maybe that’s just my experience.

But there’s been a question in the back of my mind for a long time and that is, ‘If I have a new heart, when do I start to actually see a difference?‘ and ‘Why do I keep doing things I don’t want to do?’

I’ve come to this point in my life where I know my heart is changed–I know my heart is changed–and it’s tired of doing what it hates to do, but there is still a ‘law at work’ in my body, a law of rebellion and addiction and filth, it’s just as automatic as it has always been. But my heart is changed and my mind is renewed in Father’s love and every part of me longs for Father–

–But my body is still addicted.

And this is when things become clearer to me about living a new-covenant life; greater is He that is in me than [me] that is in the world (1 John 4) O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? —Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7) and so I have a new heart; I know that now more than ever because my heart isn’t in the game and even my body doesn’t respond the same way to pornography; it’s going through the motions because that’s how it gets something–something, but what? Almost nothing anymore. The high is never like the first high – it gets lower and lower. But my heart is fixating more and more on the Most High and when that happens, all the other highs start to lose their flavor. And it happened in a very sudden and sinking moment when I realized, My body isn’t even engaging in this anymore,’ and ‘What am I doing?’

I didn’t really know what Paul meant when he said, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” or “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?(emphasis mine)

So no, FaithIt, I’m no roll model.

But I’ll try and be a little more direct about what I’m trying to get across here. My desires have changed, even more fully to be Holy Spirit’s desires–my body is just a little slow to follow, and I can feel the drag on it.

And that brings me to another full stop because I realized something: Father will change me in his own time, not mine. But he is faithful, and disbelieving that he will finish the work he started in me, is doubt in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Am I still a proponent of trying to quit? Sure. There are strategies and tactics and it’s fair to say everyone should do what they can – the Bible says flee from sexual immorality. But there’s something that has to happen in this body before the process is fully complete and it’s not going to happen until Father says ‘Okay, let’s take care of that thorn in your flesh.’ Are you striving? Stop. Paul strove, he begged God (2 Corinthians 12) and God told him ‘No.’ And there’s only one reason that makes any sense to me why God would turn Paul down about his struggle: because God knows how much bigger He is than post-cross problems, and He’s not finished with me yet – I’d be content at that to wait even until eternity begins.

But what till then? Only this: ‘My grace is sufficient for you; My power is made perfect in weakness.’

Grace Changes Everything

I’ve been thinking about changing the blog name.

I’ve been thinking about this because I want to convey something I learned some time ago – that grace isn’t really what sources the Father’s heart; love is. It’s not really all about grace, but grace comes out of His love.

But the other day I was thinking about it again and I concluded this: my documented journey is about grace. Yes, it’s about Father’s love for me, but it’s about grace and the confidence that grace gives me to learn, grow and explore without perpetual fear of damnation or of getting too far into one ditch or the other; there is no ditch on the straight-and-narrow, only the loving nudge of a Shepherd’s staff.

So I won’t be shocking my small crowd of followers by changing the blog. But all this got me thinking about what this blog has been about, where it began and where it’s gone since.

I began way back in the fall of 2013 after a couple months of increased hunger; I wanted nothing but scripture – I woke up craving it. I studied covenants and found my faith in a whole new light. And then I began to write about it. At the beginning I just spewed scripture and the glory of Jesus, I couldn’t help writing back what I was learning and re-imagining. And it’s been a long journey since then and since then my direction here hasn’t been quite so clear, particularly in recent months.

In July this summer I began delving into a study I’ve been wanting to get into for some time, that being the minutes of the 1919 Adventist Bible Conference, where foundations were set for the future of the denomination after the death of Ellen White. I’ve been wanting to share about my study through that deplorably massive document but I don’t particularly feel like this blog is particularly the place for that – I’ve been tossing around the idea of starting up a separate blog for that one, but I kind of actually have to finish the document. Frankly, it’s a big endeavor that I’m only a fraction of the way into and it would absolutely be enough for a separate project entirely.

But I’ve taken a step back lately and I’ve been spending some time checking out and getting to know one or two other authors that I really just click with – you know, when you go ‘yes and amen’ at ‘Hi it’s me again’. And it reminds me about what I started looking for earlier this year: Church community–not just the cliche ‘church/christian culture’ (which is fine if that’s your thing–I guess) but real Ephesians 4 stuff, people coming together under one love, one hope, one salvation and one Lord to grow into who He made each individual to be in His Bride. I’ve met some dear friends who remind me of that vision. And that’s not only what I hope to find, but what I hope to bring out and nurture here on this blog, around my friends and family and the people I meet every day. Living Church.

So I know, 500-some odd words later this post doesn’t have much direction – I’m just kind of bouncing thoughts and ideas around my brain because I haven’t had anyone to sit down and bounce thoughts and ideas around with for a long time, so take it with a grain of salt, or sugar, or whatever your grain is!

Nothing Can Separate

You know that verse from Romans that goes, ‘Neither death nor life nor angels or principalities–‘ yeah you know the one:

38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:38-39

Here’s the thing: I used to believe there was one thing that could separate me from the love of God – me. When asked the question, “So what can separate us from the love of God,” I answered “Me.” every time.

And I grew up believing I could absolutely do something to separate myself from the love of God. Like let’s see–the “unforgivable” sin? (And what is that, anyway?) How about free will – if I just decide that I’m going to go sit in a corner and stare at the wall of unloveliness that should do it. But I believed that I was much closer to the outside of God’s love than any of those things already because of course. I’m a dirty filthy sinner and it’s only because I went and begged and pleaded at the foot of the cross where I promised on my life I could cut the burden off my own back and change.

So how about this. Maybe you’ve also heard the verse that says He [Father] sends rain on the unjust and the just. Loving on purpose whether you like it or not.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor[g] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,[h] 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren[i] only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors[j] do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

– Matthew 5:43-48

Did you catch that? God doesn’t even hate his enemies. Perfect love. So what makes you think you can do anything to keep him from loving you? It’s harder than you think. It’s harder than I ever thought.

There really isn’t anything that can separate me from God’s love. There’s nothing you can do to stop Father from loving you. You can’t shade the world from the sun and the rain, you can’t stop flowers from growing or trees from bending in the unseen wind. You can’t stop the rocks from shouting about Father’s love for you. And you can’t change that he gave one son to death, Himself, so that his love could go the rest of the distance and create a way back home. There’s nothing you can do to lose God’s love for you.

But what about that unforgivable sin, anyways?

Right along with my belief in my ability to separate myself from the love of Father I grew up hearing about this thing called the unforgivable sin. To this day I’m not even entirely sure that term is even Biblical.

Actually, I had no idea what this unforgivable sin could possibly be. I mean, if God is so forgiving and gracious and kind and loving–if God is who He says He is–how is it possible there could even be an unforgivable sin? But it must be true because there are so many people teaching about it even if they are using words and language they themselves might not even understand.

It is true, but it’s not what you think.

28 “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” 30 because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

– Mark 3:28-30

You can find the same story recorded in Matthew 12 and Luke 12 – I chose Mark’s record because it includes an explanatory note; the Pharisees had said earlier that he was acting in the power of Satan–they spoke against the Holy Spirit. And by Jesus’ allusion, they weren’t forgiven it.

But why? You can probably guess. The Holy Spirit is the seal of the new covenant which means one thing: no Holy Spirit = no new covenant. Holy Spirit also produces Jesus’ life in us; no Holy Spirit = no genuine change. Speaking against the Holy Spirit means speaking against the very power that makes forgiveness possible–not to mention the myriads of other benefits included in the new covenant (righteousness and eternal life come to mind).

But I’m willing to bet it took a very difficult, conscious and intentional choice or set of choices before those religious leaders crossed the line.

So what does all this mean? It means I’m free. It means I don’t have to worry about an angry, upset Father too disgusted with me to turn his face back on me till I repent – it means I don’t have to have faith to be loved because I already am. It means no one is too far gone to be beyond hope. It means love wins.