Black, White, and Unconditional Gray

We find security in absolutes.  We are prone to form cliques.  We want to find our niche.  We sit in the same place nearly every Sunday in church. ;)  There are “love languages” and “personality types” and signs of the zodiac and “seasons.”  We like to put things in nice, safe, neat cubby holes.  But there are many things in life that refuse to conform to these immovable partitions.  That is where faith very often comes in.

We know certain things about the attributes of God.  We know He is holy.  He is just.  He is love. He is immutable (unchanging).  But then there is His mercy.  At any given moment, God’s mercy can bridge the gap between penalty and charity.  This does not negate His immutability.  Rather, it decidedly, divinely places the jewel of grace prominently on display.  God’s unconditional love makes it possible to span the distance, because there is a wideness in His mercy:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than in heaven;
there is no place where earth’s failings
have such kind judgment given.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we should take him at his word;
and our life would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.~Frederick William Faber, 1862

I think sometimes those in Christian leadership are somehow afraid to dwell upon this.  Sort of in the same way that many in fundamental circles shy away from preaching “too much” on the person of the Holy Spirit.  Oh dear.  They fear that their congregants might take it too far.  Too far?  “As far as the east is from the west” is the predetermined distance between our sin and the righteous judgment of God.  How do we dare think we have the right to pull the horizons together with our bare hands, when His nail-pierced ones have by choice pushed them apart?

Unregenerate people (and believers too) are starving to hear this.  We’ve had decades now of judgment and conformity, believing that keeping a whip and chair close at hand will grant us the acceptance for which we ache.  We have focused on dressing right, talking right, carrying the right Bible.  Were not the Pharisees reprimanded for such an emphasis?  We have been taught that approval of men is important, being encouraged to evaluate in light of the question,”What will they think?”  We allow that fear or guilt to motivate us.  I confidently suggest that God never intended it.

We have been given a free will by the Creator Himself…and so, our choice for obedience is an offering every time.  He delights in these decisions.  With every one, we say, “I choose You instead of myself.”  What a treasure. Lovely.

Friends, we are already “accepted in the beloved,” and you had no hand in it.  Jesus Christ gave Himself for us, “while we were yet sinners.”  Our acceptance is already secured.  It is a free gift.  It is to be personally received.  You can’t pay for it now, or ever.  It is not earned at its inception, or somehow maintained by our works.  As James said, faith is proven (indicated) by our works. Our works are evidence, outgrowth of a changing, loving, grateful heart.

We need to let the Spirit do His work.  Preach grace and allow it to renovate hearts.  See, there are white keys on the piano.  There are also black keys.  They make the most beautiful sounds when they are played together. God does that.  We need to learn how.

“Mercy and truth are met together ; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”~Psalm 85:10

Yours, Mine, Ours

In my Monday Bible study, we were looking at Romans 12.  The study is actually in Ephesians, but we are determining to focus upon and grasp this idea of biblical unity (which is much, much more than just “getting along”).

We enthusiastically embrace unity with the Savior:

Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know;
Gracious Spirit from above, Thou hast taught me it is so!
O this full and perfect peace! O this transport all divine!
In a love which cannot cease, I am His, and He is mine.
In a love which cannot cease, I am His, and He is mine.

~George Robinson, 1876

Click here for the rest of the lyrics.

We need to go further, though.  Here is what we read, that really opened my eyes:

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” ~Romans 12:3-5

In another version, verse 5 is stated, “so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

I couldn’t get away from this.  During the study a week ago, I felt compelled to go around the table, make eye contact with each lady, and say, “I am yours.”  Then, in the same manner, I went back around and said, “You are mine.”  So simple, but so compelling.

If we would get this idea, that we are to strive for unity like this, it would transform every church, every family, every marriage, where Christ is present.

I’m doing my best to renew my mind, as the context says:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” vv 1,2

It is Vain to Serve God.

“Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts?” (Malachi 3:13-14 ESV)

Be honest.  In your heart of hearts, in the weakness of faithlessness, have you ever uttered something to this effect?

  • “It’s just not worth it.”
  • “What have I gotten out of this?”
  • “This is too hard.”
  • “I keep sacrificing, and for what?  This??”

We all have seasons like this, because we are made of dust.  The blessing is that He remembers this.  He knows what was used to craft us.  He knows the frailty that consumes us.

Let’s turn the tables.  What motivated the Savior to sacrifice Himself for us?  It was love.  Love, and the joy that was set before Him (that we would all one day be reunited and be one together with Him–John 17).  He could very easily have said any one of those things I listed above.  We fail.  We fall.  We faint.  But it is love that was the impetus that drove Him to the cross.  It is love that must spur us on as well.  If it is payback, reward, ease…then we will shrink in disappointment, because this world is tainted with the sin of the fall, and we are corrupted along with it.  This life is a series of imperfections.

Cultivate your love for Him, if you sense your spirit sagging, your resolve flagging.  Love can motivate the human heart to otherwise unattainable heights.  Read the word.  Speak with Him.  Get to a quiet place so you can hear His replies.  Remind yourself of His greatness, His goodness, His pity, mercy, and grace.

He remembers.  We need to as well.

My Gloom…His Hand

Alack, thou knowest not

How little worthy of any love thou art!

Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee

Save Me, save only Me?

All which I took from thee I did but take,

Not for thy harms.

But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.

All which thy child’s mistake

Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home;

Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”

Halts by me that footfall;

Is my gloom, after all,

Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?

“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,

I am He Whom thou seekest!

Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”

Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

Reflection

I am grateful for the word of God, which serves as a mirror to my soul.  The scripture says,

23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” ~James 1:23-35

See, I often don’t like what I see.  It is not a matter of forgetting.  It is a matter of shame, and sometimes denial.  But I have found encouragement lately.

As I stand before that mirror, my Savior stands beside me.  I lift my eyes to the reflection of myself.

As I give my image a sideways glance, I whisper to Him, “That’s….me.”  I know He sees beyond my outward appearance.  My gaze falls in shame to the floor.

Then, He moves close, and puts His left arm around my shoulder.

“You have taken me as your Savior.  Diane, you are mine.”  With His nail-pierced right hand, He lifts my chin.  I look into the glass again.

He then points His finger to His own reflection beside mine and says with warmth, “From Heaven, you look like this.”

“…THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS…Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. …Christ in you, the hope of glory…” ~Jeremiah 23:6; 1 John 4:10; Colossians 1:27