Unconditional Love, Conditional Relationship

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Gentle Reader,

I’ve been hearing a lot about love and acceptance lately, from conversations with friends to articles in magazines to snippets on the radio.

It’s got me thinking.

Does unconditional love equal unconditional acceptance? Can relationships be healthy if they do not have boundaries?

Let us consider the parent-child relationship. Healthy parents (healthy, not perfect) love their kids because the kids are theirs. The kids don’t have to do anything; this love is based on who they are. Sonship and daughtership are unique, strong bonds. These bonds move the parents to declare, “I love you because you are mine.” And yet healthy parents don’t let their kids do whatever they want. They don’t say, “Oh, sure. Go play in the street because that will make you happy.” Parents know more than kids. They have access to greater knowledge and a better understanding of life.

So, a healthy parent makes the rules and follows the breaking of them with consequences. That’s part of the process of raising children. And let’s be honest: We’ve all been in the grocery store with kids whose parents let them run wild. It’s irritating. We wonder what the parents are thinking.

Love with no boundaries doesn’t work. When parents do that, we see them as doormats, allowing pint-size tyrants to control the situation. There are even occasions when this kind of thing crosses over into outright neglect. In adult-to-adult relationships, whether romantic, platonic or collegial, boundaries, rules and consequences function to protect the participants from abuse. If I thought that unconditional love meant that I had to accept Chris beating me (he doesn’t! don’t call the cops!), you’d be right look at me like I was nuts. Or at least massively co-dependent.

Love is based on who someone is. Acceptance is based on what someone does. Looking back at the parenting example, as kids grow into adults and their relationship with their parents changes, the parent may very well have to say, “I love you, but I can’t be around you because of your choices.” I see this all the time at the shelter. Many of the ladies and children who live there do have some familial connection; someone loves them. They bring the residents clothes, food, money, presents. But there is a line. There is a point at which the family has had to say, “I love you, but we can’t have a deeper connection until you make better choices.”

If I was a betting woman, I’d wager that all of this sounds like common sense to you.

So, tell me why we don’t apply this line of thinking to how we relate to God?

Some stamp their feet and demand to be let into Heaven whether or not they’ve ever even thought of God. It’s only “fair.” Others live as they please but try to  hide under grace. Cheap grace, it’s called, when people want God but also want to do whatever they please. Pray a prayer and go on their merry way. Because God loves me unconditionally.

Yes.

But does He accept us unconditionally?

Anyone who truly wants to know God has to start by saying that God is greatest. God is over and above. There has to be an acknowledgment that God is the Ruler, and therefore He gets to define the terms of relationship. Without that premise, we try to pursue God on our own terms, and that’s not how this works. It’s just reality. Any god that we can have a relationship with in our way, on our own terms, is no god at all.

That kind of god? It’s called an idol. A god made in man’s image, if you will. And they all suck. They disappoint every single time because man disappoints every single time. We desperately need something, Someone, better than ourselves.

Starting with God as the In Charge One, we then seek to know what His terms are. Happily, He spells them out for us:

1. God does, indeed, love us unconditionally…

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” – John 3:16a

Since God is love (1 John 4:8) and He made everyone and everything (Genesis 1-3, Colossians 1:16 – and, no, we’re not talking about the mechanisms by which He made everyone and everything, so don’t even go there), He can’t not love people. It’s Who He is. Sure, there are places in Scripture that talk about God hating (Romans 9:13), but these places, in the original, talk about God loving someone less, not loathing them, as we understand the term “hate” to mean. (Unpacking this more is beyond the scope of this post, but please do some reading, starting with the above linked article). So it is quite correct to say that God loves each person unconditionally, because it is based on Who He is – and also on who we are, His creation.

2. …but He does not accept us unconditionally.

“…that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:17b

God’s love for humanity means that He knew our pathetic condition and sent us a Savior. He offers salvation to everyone. It’s a free gift that anyone can take at any time this side of Eternity. But not everyone takes it. So, though salvation is universally offered, salvation is not universal. Everyone doesn’t go to Heaven. Everyone is not right with God.

Those are the basic terms. The passage goes on:

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” – John 3:17-21

Jesus’ job during His time on earth wasn’t to condemn. His job was to live perfectly (or “fulfill the Law”) and offer Himself as the once-and-for-all, without blemish sacrifice. Yet make no mistake. Refusing to submit to the Lordship of Christ carries with it condemnation. It means choosing your own way over God’s way, which He will allow you to do, but that choice means you reject God. You thumb your nose at Him and tell Him that you want to live separately. He will allow that. What He will not allow is any attempt to force Him to do things our way. He won’t. He doesn’t have to.

We come to God by walking the road paved with His Son’s spilled blood.

Or we don’t come at all.

3. We can’t “sprinkle a little Jesus” on our lives.

Here we move from the “before and during” stage of coming to Christ and into the “after.” Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Learning to obey God is a life-long process that we never do complete this side of Heaven, but it’s an insult to Holy God to ask Jesus to save you and then keep doing whatever you want to do. Just as God isn’t going to be acquiesce to our terms in coming to Him, neither is He going to say, “Oh, okay! You prayed and asked Me to save you, so you’re good! Do whatever you want!”

I’ve heard that called fire insurance.

Let me be blunt: If that’s what you think the Christian life amounts to, you are extremely immature. Get your sweet little behind settled on a comfy couch and read the Gospels. Take some time to actually dwell on what Jesus went through. If the intensity of His sacrifice doesn’t compel you to love Him and serve Him, then I think you have to question whether or not you truly believe.

Don’t be frightened by such considerations. Better to uncover a lie and replace it with truth than go on living with the lie.

4. God gives us a multitude of opportunities to submit to Him, but eventually those opportunities are going to stop coming.

I’m not talking about death here, though that certainly does mean the opportunities have ceased (Hebrews 9:27). What I refer to is the end of all things. Time is racing toward the Second Advent, the return of Christ. And when He does set foot on this sod once more:

“…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.” – 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-10

“God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,  and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11

Bow willingly now or bow unwillingly then. Either way, we’re all going to bow.

“…behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS.” – Revelation 19:11-16

I realize that this is all a bit fire-and-brimstoney, but I think we need that every once in awhile. We need to be shaken out of stupor. This is God we are talking about.

The thing about these four points? Not one of them is unfair. Stamp your feet and wave your fists if you like. Doesn’t change reality. God did absolutely everything to save us. He literally wrapped it up (John 19:40) and then put a bow on it three days later (Luke 24:1-12). All we have to do is repent, believe and obey, and God even goes so far as to give us the ability to do all three.

This is the God you want. This is the God who will meet all your needs and even grant you many of your wants. He loves you unconditionally but won’t accept you unconditionally – and you don’t want Him to. Any god who isn’t truly interested in your life, who is only there to serve you, who plays into your selfishness, jealousy, greed…that’s a worthless god. That’s a stupid god. That’s a god without any power.

Ultimately, that god looks an awful lot like the person you see in the mirror.

Grace and peace along the way.

The Detox Diaries

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(Trying to get cozy in bed while strapped to a heat-pad).

Gentle Reader,

I’ve just completed the second video session of Beth Moore’s new study, Children of the Day, on the books of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Without giving too much away because I think you should do this study yourself, the teaching in this session focused quite a lot on authenticity. Ultimately each person must make a decision about Christ for herself, but we believers are naive to think that we don’t have to live this thing out. That we don’t have to prove ourselves faithful (not perfect or rigid) in the eyes of the world.

There was a powerful word in this lesson for me, and it came when Moore quoted her pastor, son-in-law Curtis Jones:

Whatever you go through, leverage it for the Kingdom.

Use it. Let God use it. For Him. For you. For others.

And so we start on a new journey together.

It’s only the second day. 48 hours. And yet I feel the withdrawal symptoms setting in. The “brain zaps,” which feel like someone reaches in a smashes my brain against my skull. Exhaustion propelled me to bed early last night, but I what sleep I got was restless and filled with odd dreams. The dry heaves began this morning. I’m ever-so-slightly confused, like when you just know you’re forgetting something.

It’ll get worse before it gets better, this process of coming off Cymbalta and estrogen supplementation.

My motivation in sharing The Detox Diaries with you has nothing to do with garnering sympathy and everything to do with the knowledge that there is someone else out there struggling along with me, someone who may wonder if Christ is worth trusting through the pain. Or someone who doesn’t even have the hope of Christ to hold on to. That struggle may not involve medical issues. Maybe it’s finances. Broken relationships. Job loss. When I have been faced with such mountains in the past, I have usually given in to defeat before ever attempting the climb. Maybe you have, too.

Not this time.

You can trust Jesus. I can trust Jesus.

Join me.

Grace and peace along the way.

For all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.

P.S. – Let’s listen to music together! Check out my Spotify playlist: Joy.

Belly Aches and Blogging Conferences

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Gentle Reader,

A couple of months ago, I signed up for (in)courage’s In Real Life online conference – and then promptly forgot about it until a reminder email came through my inbox last Monday. Between the signing up and the reminder, I had committed to participating in our local Walk MS event, hosting a girl’s dessert night out and picked up an extra shift at the shelter. Darn, I thought. I guess I won’t be able to take part in the conference. Oh, well.

At work last Thursday, I pushed a very heavy cart full of books away from my work station and into what you might call a “staging zone” until my coworker could get to it and do his part. I push heavy carts all the time. I lift heavy boxes and tubs all the time. Heavy moving and lifting is part of the requirements to work for my library. So I didn’t think anything about it.

Until I bent over about an hour later.

Something definitely didn’t feel right. Belly buttons aren’t supposed to hurt.

One heat-pad and restless night later, I was at the doctor with a workman’s compensation claim. The pain just kept getting worse. At least, that’s what I thought. I’d been walking through a park full of puppies and daisies until the doctor did his exam. Someone, please explain to me how you’re supposed to stay relaxed when the doctor is basically trying to feel your spine by way of your stomach?

I’d tell you what I thought, but it’s not printable.

Chris told me I turned beet red.

No Walk MS. No girl’s night. No shifts at the shelter. The couch, some anti-inflammatories and the heat-pad. All weekend.

I was so bummed.

Chris went to bed early on Friday (like, 7:45 – no joke) and took the dogs with him. Some nurses, right? I flipped on my computer to check email and saw the conference reminder. Well, I guess I can tune in now. Nothing else to do.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. My initial interest had been piqued by reading the list of speakers; some of the ladies featured author blogs that I follow regularly. Other than that, I didn’t have a clue as to what In Real Life was about. Shows you how much attention I gave to the whole thing.

As I began watching the first keynote address, I was drawn in, albeit reluctantly. The theme of the conference was community, and how we need each other. Specifically, how we need each other’s stories. (This is the blogging world, after all). I don’t like thinking about community. I don’t like thinking about friendship. In my experience, it’s incredibly messy and sometimes painful. Messes aren’t my jam and I don’t like pain, either.

But I stuck it out. These gals were funny. They were raw.

And they were encouraging. They kept talking about how important it was to stick it out through the mess – and sometimes that mess isn’t created by anyone else. Despite my discomfort, I agreed. It is important to push beyond, even if it takes awhile. Getting stuck isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. Or healthy.

Still, this emphasis on friendship, on community? Not my cup of tea.

I watched all of the videos I could on Friday before going to sleep. Or, trying to go to sleep. I lay on the couch for a couple of hours, twisting this way and that, searching for a position that eased the pain in my belly. One of my dogs, Benny, was with me and got super-irritated every time I moved. I couldn’t see him in the dark, but I know that he gave me dirty looks. We finally both gave up and went to bed. (Which irritated my husband. He tried to roll over me).

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You know those times when God’s plan is so clear that you’d have to be an idiot to miss it? I don’t believe that He struck me with an injury to get me to tune in to In Real Life, but I definitely believe that He tucked the reminder email safely away. I clean out my inbox every day. EVERY DAY. And yet, there it was.

Sometimes the Lord gives us a Heavenly smack across the forehead, and that’s what Saturday was all about.

Crystal Stine.

Oh, my. Crystal Stine.

I’ve never met this woman, but it’s like she read my journal. Hers was the first story of the second keynote address. She talked about being significantly burned and scarred by friendship, and how that caused her to shy away from really diving into community, the community that God wants us all to be part of. As soon as her talk was over, I paused the video, backed it up and watched again.

The circumstances were different, but the outcome was the same.

And then another gal, whose name I unfortunately can’t remember, talked about being hurt by the church.

And Mary Carver talked about how she had to go to counseling.

I saw pieces of my own story in theirs. And that got me to thinking. First, God prodded that sore space in my heart, that space where I’m in a constant dance with friendship. The pushing in, the longing to be close, and the pulling away before anything bad can happen. There are layers as-yet-untouched, despite my progress. I have been willing to go so far, but not beyond that. But He also showed me that some frustration and weariness on my part is valid; it’s difficult to get close to people when you’re not always able to be there. And sometimes people don’t know what to do or say so they pull away. Illness sucks.

That fit nicely with my next pondering. Over and over, the speakers said, “We need your story.” I can’t always participate in all the things I want to participate in. I can’t always be part of whatever is happening. But I’ve got this blog. I’ve got email. I’ve got stamps and cards. There are ways that I can develop friendships, ways that might be outside the norm, but ways nonetheless. I can share my own journey. I can encourage others.

I’m never going to “fit in” with the “typical” woman of my peer group. I’m almost 30, have no children, hate to cook and can’t craft to save my life. (That, of course, is a very broad generalization). I live with ME and some mood disorders. I really like my job. I’m just different. But as one of the speakers said, and I paraphrase, “Even if all we have in common is Jesus, that’s enough.”

She’s right. We don’t always see that. In fact, I’d venture to say that we almost never see that. It’s time we did. It’s time I did.

Grace and peace along the way.