I’m Already Perfect

then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.”

I ran across something the other day that totally revitalized my confidence in the journey I’ve been on and an endeavor I’ve recently set out on. It was this little passage in the book of Hebrews:

12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

                                                                                                –Hebrews 10:12-14 [NKJV]

Why does that resound so deeply in me? Because it is the one thing that gives.

For several weeks now I’ve been writing a lot–albeit not anything for this blog. I’ve undertaken the task of doing some research into the early history of the Millerite movement and Adventist church pioneers, and putting together a fairly brief (10000-word-and-counting) paper on my findings, and let me tell you…it’s been tough slugging. Although I’ve wanted to undertake something like this for several years, going back to the dispute has raised such a flounder on my mind–not that I don’t still believe in my decisions, but that the things I’ve been researching are so fog-inducing. Indeed, it is probably the thing I’ve been most enthusiastic about working on over the last few weeks, but at the same time it is tiresome work because Father has been so misunderstood and misrepresented.

In particular, I’ve been studying a doctrine called Investigative Judgment which tends to take the focal point in the early history of the Adventist movement’s birth out of Millerism. (it’s alright if you don’t know what any of this actually is, by the way) To put it in brief, investigative judgment takes every assurance of salvation away from believers and replaces it with an assurance of judgment, the nature of which calls up every secret word, thought and deed you ever did–or will do–and measures your fitness for salvation based upon these deeds. It is a doctrine which would have Christ’s death on the cross powerless, instead pointing you toward a future atoning for sin only after you have been found deserving under the most detailed scrutiny of all your conscious and unconscious action and thought.

Rough, right?

But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

It’s not that I didn’t already know that–I’ve read this passage before, probably multiple times over. But the reality just crashed over me like a tsunami, totally obliterating the fog and the obstructions; I’m perfect. I was made completely perfect forever the moment Christ made that offering. How could that possibly be based on anything I could ever do? The thing about sanctification then, is that it does not bring us up to a future perfection; sanctification brings us up to experience the already-present-reality that we are perfect already. Forever.

“Well,” I’m sure you say, “Where does that leave me? I KNOW I’m not perfect; this just can’t be true.”

Ditto. Me too. But you are perfect. You are perfect. YOU! Perfect! That is the gospel! That is the good news! To the first believers the gospel was this: ‘Sin has so depraved you that you killed Jesus–the very messiah you’ve been looking for–but by his offering he made you perfect anyways, and now he reigns Eternal Risen King.’ (or something along that line – find it in the book of Acts) But now the gospel is ‘You are no longer born inherently evil in spite of the depravity sin once worked on the human race because Christ redeemed and perfected you!’ It is finished! There is no more to do! You are perfect! You are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus! The only thing left to do to experience this reality is to start believing the reality of Christ-in-you the hope of glory! The eternal mystery has been completed and revealed in the sacrifice of Jesus to make you perfect. Eternal not because we will never know what it is, but eternal because your perfection is for forever.

I don’t mind telling you, it is so refreshing to remember that. And to learn that. Because to be honest, I did learn something when I read those verses again. I’ve spent my life glossing over the reality of the gospel. I’ve spent my life believing in the ‘one day,’ a distant future hope in becoming complete and perfect in who I was made to be. Even as I’ve begun to understand grace and love, I know now I’ve never believed I could be already perfect. I always believed there was still some inherent evil lurking in the roots of me, some mystical flesh character that I must struggle and fight against to maintain and further my growing perfection. And sure, ‘the flesh’ whatever that actually is exactly, it’s a thing. Something in my physical body that urges me to do things that I know I–the true me–don’t really want to do.

But the reality is I’ve already been perfected. Forever. You’ve already been perfected forever. You can take that ‘flesh’ monster and you can make that an external thing to you because you are now perfect in Jesus; there is no sin problem between me and Father–between you and Father. Sanctification is just the journey we take to fully realize that reality in our bodies, to the ultimate sanctification of physically new bodies. Now that is good news. Are you ready to believe it with me?

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.

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?

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!

Surprised Sensitivity

I went to see a movie on Sunday night–The Magnificent Seven.

And I didn’t really think anything about it at first (I’ve been waiting a couple months to see this movie) but right from the opening scenes I could feel myself cringing. Because it was utterly brutal. And there’s a small possibility it could have had something to do with the young child to the right of me a row back gasping at the first acts of brutality, but I actually couldn’t believe myself; all I could think was, “This isn’t even that bad, what the heck’s going on?”

I think I might be re-sensitizing.

And actually, I enjoyed the movie. I did. It was a good story full of valor and bravery, relatable struggle, sacrifice, and a solid plot, and the actors played their parts (and no, kid, they weren’t acting it out with pellet guns). No, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but I would see it again (if only to be able to watch it without the constant talking, giggling and loud questions from both sides of the row behind me).

The truth is, my entertainment choices have changed a lot over the last year because the options have changed quite a bit, and that’s had its affect. And it began with a personal choice of course–I think I surprised a few people (myself not the least) with my decision not to see Deadpool  (And ironically I’d been looking forward to that one, too, and it was reportedly chalk-full of ‘my kind of humor’). But mostly, I think Holy Spirit–I know Holy Spirit–has had his hands all over this, all over me, tugging at my response to things, taking full advantage of every allowance I can give him. I feel more deeply than I did about the same things a year ago, and that excites me. It excites me to see changes taken place in the very gut of me albeit ever so slowly, and it gives me hope that other areas of concern will not be able to remain untouched as I learn to surrender and open and invite Holy Spirit life into everything I am.

 

Secure in Love

Not long back I read a lovely article about grace from a fellow writer. But as I was scrolling down to leave my response I couldn’t help noticing a comment from another reader.With all the respect due (and I’m sure they believed they were doling out nothing but perfect wisdom) but it was full of warning as I understood it, for being too free. Now truthfully, it was a mild comment and I might have been able to agree with it, but it reminded me too much of the spirit I’ve seen all too often in the church against the liberating grace of Jesus.

I’ll pre-warn you; this is a little bit of a rant.

You’ve probably heard it, too – comments such as, ‘Oh you’d better be careful, make sure you’re still in the will of the Lord, you don’t want to go from one ditch to the other–greasy grace will let you slide right into hell,’ and the sentiment that it is the church’s job to frighten people into right living–because frankly, they can’t fathom any other way to do it than fear and the fiery brimstone of excommunication.

Let me put it another way; the church has been hell-bent on trying to make herself perfect and holy and righteous like it’s the highest calling, and people who embrace grace get the scourging sooner because we’ve stopped trying to be perfect, and it doesn’t compat with the system.

But the thing you have to understand, Church, is it’s all about the love of Christ. It’s all about the love of Father and pursuing him. Here’s how the surety of righteousness and perfection works: we fall in love with Jesus (because he first loves us with an everlasting all-consuming love) and we declare him Lord of our lives (because who wouldn’t let the King of Love be Lord when they realize it’s themselves he loves?) And he begins to transform our lives. The church is there to encourage and build up (and she needs to realize that not everything she says encourages or builds up) but the job of making us clean and pure and a beautiful bride belongs to God. His spirit comes to live in our hearts and from that point on, he holds sway. No, we’re not perfect, but it’s not our job to become perfect anymore.

It’s all based on relationship, you see. I fell in love with Jesus, now his desires become my desires, his perfection my perfection, because I love him and of course I want to live right–my whole body and being was created to do so, and I love him.

‘But how do you expect to stay disciplined? How are you going to stay out of the ditches if your fellow church members don’t tell you where they are?’

The fear-mongering in the church makes me mad–it makes me angry. And truly–Jesus didn’t dig ditches along the straight-and-narrow; the church did that herself. Why are you so afraid of freedom, Church? Stop burdening the children with fear; fear is worship to demons. A love relationship with Jesus leaves room for mistakes, but not fear–perfect love casts out fear. So if you aren’t here to encourage, please;

Butt out. The only counselor I need is named Wonderful.

The state of it is simply this: a relationship with God–with love–means safety; it means freedom to learn, grow and be transformed glorious by Holy Spirit (take it from one who has a growing relationship with him). So the question is, do you trust his love to guide you? Do you trust Holy Spirit’s holiness to transform you? Do you believe Holy Spirit’s holiness is transforming–and if so, why would you even consider yourself great enough to affect His transformation by accident? There is grace; His love and His heart is safe.

To Die Is Gain

“I used to be afraid to die…” I began.

I went on to explain how the truth and faithfulness of Jesus had won out in my story over fear and death and fear of death. The truth is, I really did used to be afraid to die.

And I’d heard that line Paul wrote to the Church in Philippi over and over but the reality is you just don’t know you don’t know till you know; unless you know Jesus personally, you can’t understand the strength and courage and peace behind the words of someone who knows Jesus personally–it’s just words.

19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For[c] I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.

 – Philippians 1:19-24

But for me, to live, Christ! To die, gain!

Why is living Christ? Because I live by Christ’s life. Why is death gain? Because death is the end of this sin-riddled flesh, but only the very beginning of Christ’s life. Why does that mean anything? Because I want to know Christ!

It’s something I’ve been thinking quite a bit about lately–particularly after a friend recently announced the death of his grandmother–and death doesn’t scare me anymore (if anything scares me it’s decay; growing old and turning to mush). I don’t fear anymore either, the possibility that I could die and end up in hell for some unrepentant thing, or for exploring too far–grace and truth gave me a new security in my life now hidden in Christ; love.

And that’s the thing: if you’ve chosen to follow Jesus and you’ve been baptised, symbolizing your acceptance to share in his death and new life, then where, oh Death, is your sting? Where, Hell, is your victory? My hope is hidden in the Lord, the King of Glory, the King above all kings, who was and is and is to come! And it goes right back along with the deep question, “Do you really trust God?” Is your hope in him? And could it be that the hymn spoke of a true hope?

We have this hope that burns within our hearts / Hope in the coming of the Lord / We have this faith that Christ alone imparts / Faith in the promise of His word

– We Have This Hope [Wayne Hooper]

But it’s even better than the words Adventists still sing–better than maybe Mr. Hooper ever knew; because Jesus is alive in me and in every Christian who has shared in His death and resurrection and proclaims Him Lord. I understand now why Paul was able to make such a bold statement about his uncertain future, because I now know the One who he was talking about.

Be a Lover

Something recently triggered a shift in the way I view God; I’ve always known the common imagery–“Father”, “Bridegroom”, “Comforter”, et cetera–titles that put God on an intimate level in all his persons, but it was all head-knowledge. But I read something in an article from Steve McVey and I can’t remember the exact wording but it was to this affect: the Bible isn’t a guidebook; it is a deeply intimate love letter–to me (and you).

I grew up under that notion–that the Bible was an instruction manual for getting through life. The problem with that view is that it just isn’t a very good instruction manual for my life (e.g.: ‘Judas hung himself’–‘go and do likewise’ is a common ‘Bible joke’). And when you begin to view God as a Lover to the core, the Bible looks less and less like a study guide, and more and more like a lovestory.

And I think, Church, that this is where you go off, because you’re having an identity crisis because you don’t understand God’s identity as a lover. Love–not rule and correction–ought to be your first response. And don’t give me that old excuse that discipline is love; it may be true, but you don’t know how to discipline. When I feel the most filled with the love of Jesus all I want to do is go out and spread that experience, not tell people how wrong they are. Truth can condemn, or Truth can set captives free.

And I think, Church, that this is why you leave, because you’re having an identity crisis with your split-personality-church-bodies that can’t catch your visions because they don’t have your fresh perspective (and may think your fresh perspective is sin); it’s frustrating I know, but you were called to follow Christ, not Christians. You can’t disown being the Church – it’s still who you are.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I’ve come to the question: who is God if not an intimate lover? If that isn’t your view of him, what is there left for him to be that remotely meets your intimate needs (let alone the rest of the broken world)? I never realized how bleak my world was (even with ‘God’) without a Lover King, till now.

And there’s another thing, you know; I never connected Father, Spirit and Jesus like this before. I’ve always in my mind put a chasm between them to say ‘Well this is Father’s characteristic,’ or ‘This is Jesus’ characteristic,’ or ‘This is what the Spirit does,’ but to realize that each of them have their intimate titles–Abba, Daddy; Bridegroom, Lover; Comforter, Inhabitor–God in all through all a lover, a Father, a Bridegroom, a Comforter–a hugger, a carresser. When you hear, “This is my son (or daughter) with whom I am well pleased,” the Father loves you. When you hear “Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away with me,” the Bridegroom, Jesus, the Romancer loves you. When you hear, “Peace, be still,” and feel the warmth of his heart, Holy Spirit loves you.

So, how do you experience God? There is no wrong answer to that, because your experience is still real whether it is a completely acurate experience or not. So, how do you experience him? Who is he to you? Does the God that you see meet the needs that you have according to his glorious riches? Is his character true across all his persons? Does he love you with an everlasting love? Read the Song of Solomon and tell me God doesn’t have an intimate sense of love and romance. Because I’ll tell you something (and this is another gem Leif Hetland teaches about), there has been a reformation to bring the loveletter back to the people; there has been a reformation to bring Holy Spirit experience back to the people, and those were good reformations. But there is another reformation coming–I believe it is already here–to bring the Father’s heart back to the children, and Grace and Truth back to the bride.

Jesus, I long to know true love, deeper than the love found on earth. Take me into the King’s chamber; cause my love to mature.

Let me know the kisses of your mouth; let me feel your warm embrace. Let me smell the fragrance of your touch; let me see your lovely face. Take me away with you – even so Lord come. I love you Lord; I love you more than life.

My heart, my flesh yearn for You, Lord; to love You is all I can do. You have become my sole passion; cause my love to be true

True Love, David Ruis

What would it look like to experience Jesus’ love–the love of God–so radically? What does it look like? Can you imagine? Or does it seem too sacrilegious or irreverent to you? Even I feel a little out on the deep end–but O how deep the Father’s love for us, that we would be called Sons.

So here’s my challenge: view God as a lover, Father son and Spirit. View the Bible as a love letter to you. Find out what that love letter has to say to you. (How would that change your perspective on things?) And then? Love like no other, because there is no other love like Father’s in you.