Tag Archives: love

Gift or Loan? Repost from Oct. 2006

I wrote this back in October of 2006.  I think it bears repeating. 

On Sunday, I heard a pastor say that because Christ has died for us and saved us from Hell, we owe Him a huge debt and all He asks or requires of us now is that we live holy lives. I don’t know that he intended to, but he strongly implied that we have to live holy lives to sort of repay that debt to Christ.

I became physically uncomfortable listening to that. That didn’t sound right to me. Now that I’ve thought about it more, I still disagree — probably even more strongly.

The huge debt we owed God was because of our sin. God is holy and our sin separated us from Him. The Bible says the wages of that sin, the debt for that sin, is death. Complete separation from God. Christ died. He paid the wages of sin for us. Now we don’t have to be separated from God. That was our debt to God, and it has been paid already. We just have to authorize that payment, in a sense — declare that we were sinners and deserved to be separated from God, deserved to die, and accept that the debt has been paid on our behalf by Jesus.

Now that my debt has been paid, what do I owe God? Nothing. Quite simply — nothing. If I say that I owe Him something now, then I am saying that Christ’s payment wasn’t enough.

Do I really think I should spend the rest of my life trying to pay Jesus back? As if His payment for my sins was a loan.

No. No. No. The GIFT of God is eternal life! It’s a gift, and I cannot pay Him back for it. Nor does He expect me to. That’s Grace.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be living holy lives and all that, but I’m saying that we shouldn’t see that as our obligation to Jesus in order to pay Him back for saving us. And I do think a lot of us live our lives that way. We try to exercise self-discipline and make ourselves live righteous lives because we’re saved now and this is what God expects of us and because we owe it to Him.

I’ve been thinking for a while now that this isn’t how it works. Are we really capable of making ourselves be good and holy? Well, I don’t know about you, but I sure can’t. I’ve tried. Every time, I mess up. Some days I barely make it past breakfast. And those are my good days!

Chapter 7 in _Blue Like Jazz_ is called “Grace.” I was reading it over my cup of coffee this morning, and Donald Miller put a lot of my thoughts into words. He writes about how difficult, even foreign, it is for us to wrap our minds around the concept that we cannot pay God back. That we truly are charity cases. That we are not above receiving charity from God. It’s humbling. Our attempts to pay God back for saving us are really evidence of our PRIDE.

Donald Miller writes about how frustrating this whole approach to Christianity can be. We think we have to pay God back for saving us by living holy lives. But we can’t. We mess up. Then we feel horrible. We feel like God’s going to stop loving us because we can’t live up to our end of the bargain. Donald Miller calls it “something like torture.” And I think he’s right.

Finally, he writes that our “role in the relationship with God [is] to humbly receive God’s unconditional love.” Tha’ts it! Just receive God’s love. Donald Miller goes on to explain exactly what God has been teaching me in the past year or two. When we receive God’s love, we will love Him back.

Miller writes, “[I]f I cannot accept God’s love, I cannot love Him in return, and I cannot obey Him. Self-discipline will never make us feel righteous or clean; accepting God’s love will. The ability to accept God’s unconditional grace and ferocious love is all the fuel we need to obey Him in return. . . . In exchange for our humility and willingness to accept the charity of God, we are given a kingdom. And a beggar’s kingdom is better than a proud man’s delusion.”

I like that. Can you imagine what a revival there would be in the Church if every believer would simply stop and receive God’s unconditional, passionate love? If we basked in that love? If we truly received this love that is unlike any love we’ve ever known? We would be transformed! And it would be so much better than what most of us are doing now — trying to make ourselves act the way we think good Christians ought to act, trying to pay God back for all He’s done for us.

Now, imagine God — all He wants is for us to receive His love. All He wants is for us to be still and let Him love on us. Instead, we’re racing around trying to be good, trying to please God with our self-discipline and our good choices. I imagine Him, the lover of my soul, shaking His head in sadness and pleading with me to just sit still and be with Him and let Him love me, knowing that if I receive His love, I will begin to truly love Him back, and then His goodness will rub off on me — sort of the same way couples who have been married for years start to look like each other. I think He wants me to stop treating Him like a loan officer or a strict master and start treating Him like the Ultimate Husband.

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Invisible and Expendable

Do you ever feel invisible?  Unnoticed?  Camouflaged maybe?

I have worn articles of clothing five times and then somebody in my home finally asked, “Is that a new sweater?”  I’ve colored my hair and nobody noticed for days, until a friend at Bible Study exclaimed, “You colored your hair!  It’s a great color for you!”   I have never cared for ketchup or mustard; I’m not a condiment girl.  Still, after nearly sixteen years of marriage, my husband regularly offers to get me ketchup when we’re having hot dogs or eating in a fast food restaurant.

Oh, there are plenty of times my husband or children tell me I look nice and notice what I’m wearing or that I’ve painted my nails.  Just this morning, my four-year-old son looked at me after I’d finally showered and fixed my hair and put on real clothes (not sweats) and said, “You are good-looking, Momma!”  (He’s my favorite today.)  But there are days when I feel invisible or barely noticed.

In college we watched this French movie called The Return of Martin Guerre, which was based on a true story.  In it, Martin Guerre went off to war, leaving his wife and child.  After several years, a man showed up in the village claiming to be Martin Guerre and slid right into Martin’s life.  The wife accepted this impostor as her husband, but soon villagers began questioning the true identity of this man claiming to be Martin Guerre.  I remember discussing with my classmates whether the wife was truly tricked or whether she just wanted a husband so badly, it didn’t matter whether this man was really her husband or someone pretending.  Perhaps she just wanted a man, any man, to fill that role, and the specifics of his identity didn’t matter all that much.

Do you ever feel like that?  As if it doesn’t matter who you really are, that the people around you would be satisfied with any warm body doing the things you do?  That the people around you don’t ever really look at you or listen to you or pay attention to you anyway?  I think we each feel that way from time to time.

One of my favorite novels is Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years.  In it, Delia Grinstead feels expendable.  So during a summer vacation, she wanders off down the beach, eventually hitchhiking a ride to a small town where she lives in a boarding house and takes a job as a secretary, trying on a new identity of sorts.

After several days, Delia’s family finally posts an announcement in the newspaper that she is missing.  Delia had been scouring the paper for days looking for such an announcement.  Each day, she had been both relieved and disappointed to find no notice of her disappearance.  “Did no one realize she was gone?” she wondered.  Finally, when the announcement does appear, Delia is terribly hurt by her family’s description of her.  This passage of the book has always struck a chord with me.  I think it resonates with that bit in each of us that longs to be noticed, seen, heard, known.

It hurt to read her physical description:  fair or light brown hair . . . eyes are blue or gray or perhaps green . . . For heaven’s sake, hadn’t anyone in her family ever looked at her?  And how could Sam have made her clothing sound so silly?  King of baby-doll, indeed!  . . .

The next day, she read the newspaper.

Today there was no further mention of her disappearance.  She wondered if the authorities had forgotten her that quickly.

Her family couldn’t even find a recent picture of her to print in the newspaper.  They used one from years earlier when she’d been a bridesmaid in her sister’s wedding, a photo in which she was -of course- wearing a horribly unflattering dress.

As I’ve been pondering identity lately, I’ve thought about how important being known is.  I think that is one of the most basic needs we all have — to be really known and really loved, to be wanted by someone who really knows all about us.

Anne Tyler’s Delia Grinstead did not feel known; she felt overlooked, unappreciated, expendable.  So she walked away from her life to start over with nothing, with nobody to not notice her.

Like Delia, Martin Guerre was expendable.  Any man similar-looking enough could walk into his life and take his place.  If his wife could accept another man in his place, did she ever really know Martin Guerre?

Do the people in my life really know me?  Or do they know snippets of me?  Could anybody write an accurate description of me if I came up missing?  Of course, my family could describe what I look like.  I’m pretty sure they all know my hair color and eye color, but what about beyond the physical description?  Does anybody know all of me?  Am I known?  Are you?

And if we’re not, is it because we only show parts of ourselves to people?  The safe parts.  The parts we think people will like.  Maybe parts of us are invisible because we hide those parts.  Maybe we’re camouflaged because we camouflage ourselves.

And do we know the people in our lives?  Do I work to really know my children, my husband?  to meet their need of being wholly known and wholly loved?

Do I foster relationships so my own need to be wholly known and wholly loved is met?

What about you?  Do you ever feel like Delia Grinstead?  Do you relate to Martin Guerre?  Do you ever feel invisible or expendable?

** By the way, the Sunday School response is that we have a Heavenly Father who knows us, completely knows us, and wholly loves us as we are.  He knew us as enemies and loved us in spite of that.  He died so that He could spend all of eternity in relationship with us.  Of course, I know this.  I know that I am wholly known and wholly loved by the only One who really matters.  I know this, and I do find great comfort in this.  And I think this is our greatest spiritual need, intertwined with salvation — to be wholly known and wholly loved or perhaps to understand and believe in faith that we are wholly known and wholly loved.

But I also think we have a need to be known and loved and accepted by other people, or at the very least, by another person.  I think this is one of our greatest emotional needs.  It’s ironic that one of our most significant needs is to be wholly known and wholly loved, yet we spend so much time putting our best foot forward, revealing only the aspects of ourselves we believe are most attractive and acceptable.

What do you think?  It’s your turn.

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Clean Blood, Clean Water

Where have I been?  Why did I not know about this ministry?  

Oh yeah.  I’ve been having babies and out-of-the-loop with Christian music.  Maybe you’ve been out-of-the-loop too, so let me tell you.  

Back in 2002, the lead singer of Jars of Clay, Dan Haseltine, visited Africa.  That experience changed his life, and he began a mission to provide clean blood and clean water for Africa.  Blood without HIV and water without parasites and disease. Continue reading

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