Five Minute Friday: Potential

Actual

Gentle Reader,

What a day this was.

Kate says: potential.

Go.

Oh, the just-so-whelming,
Maybe has an ending,
Potential love of God
How it leaves me alone
Fear to the bone
Trapped in works of mine…

Apologies to the actual lyrics of Reckless Love. (I’m not here to debate those. For the record, I do enjoy the song but think that “relentless” would have been a better word choice). As soon as I saw tonight’s prompt, these phrases immediately popped into my mind.

That’s how we often see the love of God.

As potential love. An affection, as according to the Mssrs. Merriam and Webster, that is “existing in possibility, capable of development into actuality.” It’s possible that He will really, truly love us if we get all of our proverbial ducks in a row; if we never mess up; if we never find ourselves in a position of actually needing His grace and forgiveness.

Strange, isn’t it? The entire Christian belief system centers around a God who is whole, complete, not lacking in any good attribute. When we come to the crisis point of crying out for salvation, a moment enabled by His active grace that has gone before and enlightens our dark hearts, we understand that we are staking everything on His mercy. A merciful God cannot be unloving.

Yet we so easily slip into believing that He is.

We develop the lists, the rules and the anxiety.

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that we are not to abuse God’s grace. We aren’t forgiven so that we can sin more (Romans 6:1-2). His commands are good and the longer we walk with Jesus, the more He works to help us understand that goodness. But it’s easy for us to miss or misinterpret. We see “command” and we immediately jump to “dead if I don’t obey.”

Because we see God’s love as existing in a state of potential.

And if His love is simply a potential, then His grace and mercy must have limits.

So better not mess up.

Don’t misunderstand me. I agree with Paul. We have no business engaging in presumptuous, willful sin just because we know He will forgive us. At the same time, paranoid living, wondering if He really does love us, fearing that there is a place too far, is a true misery.

His love is not a potential. It is an actual. It is realized, ongoing, unending, deep.

In that, we can rest.

Stop.

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Back to Basics

Back

Gentle Reader,

This morning, I wrote in my journal:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name

– Edward Mote

This, Father, is to what I humbly and quietly return.

The gales have been high and the seas stormy. I feel tender, like big, purpley-green bruises cover my body. Or perhaps my soul. The hand of God gently rests upon me, eliciting both a wince and a sigh. The pain may get worse before it gets better. Usually does. But if I pull away now, if I stubbornly refuse to allow His work of healing, I’ll only prolong the agony.

Satan is real and he delights in beating up the Children of God. I didn’t need to be convinced of that before this past summer, but any lingering, small, hidden doubts have been fully removed from my mind. I’ve seen his destructive work in the past, in the temptation to suicide (incidentally, it’s been seven years), but he’s not always that blatant. He’ll settle for killing our sense of calling, confidence and identity. He cannot take salvation away from anyone, but he will do (and does do) anything and everything to render us ineffective.

I’ve heard that before. What seems like a million times before. I bet you have, too. It’s as true today as it was the first time – because Satan isn’t original. His entire purpose is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Further, he knows his time is short (Revelation 12:12). Matthew Henry writes:

The devil, defeated in his designs upon the church, turns his rage against persons and places. Being faithful to God and Christ, in doctrine, worship, and practice, exposes to the rage of Satan; and will do so till the last enemy shall be destroyed.

Contextually, Satan has a short amount of time within the eschaton, the end of all things, a period that all Christians love to debate about. As with all prophecy, Revelation is a cake, with different layers of meaning and application; specific events will occur at a future time, but their types and shadows have come before. Thus it is not out of bounds to understand that Satan has been raging, is raging now and will rage as the clock winds down toward the return of Christ.

He has certainly been raging at me. I won’t repeat the ugliness. You know. You’ve had your own experiences.

So, what to do?

Back to basics.

Back to the Cross.

The author of Hebrews makes it clear that we need to grow (6:1). Our job, once we are justified by Christ, is to do the daily, momently work of submitting to His rule in our lives. This is different for each of us, for our particular sin-struggles are not all the same. And sometimes it’s not even about sin, but rather taking steps away from good things and moving toward the better things that He has designed for us. It’s a messy process. Thank the Lord that He is infinitely more patient that we are.

Growing in faith means developing a taste for the things of God – Scripture, prayer, fellowship with His people (full disclosure: than one is incredibly difficult at times). We learn to love Him better the more time we spend learning from and about the Word of God through the words of God as transmitted through the pens of people just as flawed as we are. When we pray, we discover how to pour out and process our frustrations, praises, longings, joys, sorrows and gratitude in healthy, non-destructive ways. Spending time with His people, with the church – there are days when that’s the last thing any of us wants to do, but the inescapable fact is that we’re family. And you don’t always get along great with family. Bouncing off of each other teaches us compassion, patience and definitely self-control. (Punching people in the face being frowned upon and all that).

In the midst of this growth, it is never wrong to meditate on the elementary teachings, for they are the things that led us to real life. What is true about God? What is true about me? What is true about salvation?

God is the King, and so He makes the rules.

I am the creature, not the Creator, and am unable to remedy my condition.

The only remedy for the condition – sin – is found in the King, the Creator, dying on the Cross. Not because He had to, but because of His great love.

That love is the thing that Satan wants us to forget. Without that love, we look to other, fickle sources for calling, confidence and identity. Inevitably, those other sources fail, leaving us wrecked, even if we seem quite “put together.” Because everyone has to be with themselves in the dark of the night, when nobody else is watching. Everyone knows the truth about themselves.

Back to the Cross. Again and again, back to the Cross.

That’s where I am. I sit at the base, rough-hewn wood just within reach. The ground is stained red, a blotch that the passage of time will never truly remove. He is not there anymore, for He is alive. In fact, He sits beside me, His arm around my shoulders. I look at the Cross and I wonder again at this meeting of righteousness and peace. The big words, the theological terms, are far too small, to pitiful an offering of thanksgiving. Instead, I lean upon His chest, as the Beloved Disciple did so long ago.

This is the basics. And the mysteries. The simple. And the profound.

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Photo Credit: Grant Whitty
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Five Minute Friday: Ocean

Ocean

Gentle Reader.

Lightning flashed, thunder rolled, the rain poured down. Electricity flickered on and off. The dogs barked, then snuggled close. Not a big fan of storms, I was in no mood to open my computer and try to string words together, like popcorn on a Christmas garland. I listened to all the sounds and ran my hands through soft fur, assuring the animals that they would be all right. Assuring myself.

Kate says: ocean.

Go.

The husband and I spent four days on the Oregon coast last week, celebrating twelve years of marriage. I’m not sure where the time went. Hours that drag when you’re a child suddenly speed up and the calendar turns with unstoppable ferocity. Then, we were babies, both just 21. Now, we ease into our mid-thirties, buffeted and scarred by the tempests of life but still together. Still holding on. Still choosing love, even in the middle of fights.

Because we do fight. Oh, not shouting matches. No name-calling. No throwing things. We both have strong personalities, expressed in different ways, and the sense of absolute rightness that tends to arise among firstborn children. More often than not, we’re good at the give and take. Some things I just don’t care about. Other things he has no opinion on. But when we clash, we clash. It’s on like Donkey Kong. (Man, did I just date myself there).

We sat and watched the waves together, breathing in the salty air. Beneath the surface the currents roiled, revealing themselves in white caps and sea spray. The scent of burning, wet wood stung my nostrils as Chris built a bonfire on the beach. My soul seemed to spread out, enjoying a space and relaxation that everyday life doesn’t afford. It was the peace of the coast, but it was not silent. Never that. Water, wind, wordless.

I have not been married long enough to give anyone advice. I think you have to hit the 20-year mark for that. One thing I do know, though, is that marriage is like the ocean: Rarely calm, always surprising. Two people bounce off of each other like sand dollars washed to shore. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it seems as if the storm will never end. Then, like a blazing sunset on the watery horizon, something reminds you why you chose this person – a hand squeeze, an old joke, communication with a glance.

And you know.

Stop.

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Five Minute Friday: Turn

Us

Gentle Reader,

What is that? That glowing, bright thing in the sky?

The seasons don’t change so much as dramatically appear one day. Of course, tomorrow I could wake up to six inches of snow. North Idaho is certainly a “Well, do you feel lucky?” kind of place when it comes to selecting outfits during springtime. Sweaters in the morning, t-shirts in the afternoon, flannel pajamas at night.

Went for a walk with a friend this afternoon. Her almost 8-week old baby is not quite sure how to be a human being yet and definitely didn’t know what to make of the glowing sky-ball. Squinty side-eye in the extreme, yet covering her face resulted in squawks of protest. I think it must be difficult to be a baby and have all these new experiences and stimuli flung at you all the time.

Kate says: turn.

Go.

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

– Matthew 9:35-38 (NKJV)

Weary. Skýllō. “To skin, flay; to rend, mangle; to vex, trouble, annoy; to give one’s self trouble, trouble one’s self” (Thayer’s). The people were raw, like the juicy skin that’s exposed upon popping a blister. They were annoyed and troubled. Some had brought the pain upon themselves.

And Jesus had compassion on them.

Makes you think, doesn’t it? Compassion for someone with cancer, sure. For someone who lost a job, yes. Compassion for the drug addict? The chronically late? The one who is simply different?

Jesus is no doormat, nor does He enable anyone to continue on in bad habits (sometimes sin, sometimes just stupidity). He doesn’t ask anyone to ignore anything. What He does ask of us is far more difficult than our natural desire to distance ourselves from the smelly, the foul-mouthed, the troubled. He asks us to do as He does. And what does He do?

He gets up close. Personal. He never compromises truth but it never flows from His lips in tones of spite or pride. He heals. He listens. He loves.

Not just the people who love Him back.

Even Judas, the one who betrayed Him.

Really, they all betrayed Him.

Make you think, doesn’t it? A whole world of people outside our doors, aching for love and truth, even if they won’t admit it. People God is drawing to Himself.

People just like you and me.

Because our sins might be prettier, easier to hide, or socially acceptable – but they still required His blood.

How can we not have compassion on them, who are us?

So turn, we must, from building walls and toward them from whom, in our pride and fear, we would escape. We are the Jesus-people, the ones who claim to know something. The knowing is not enough. The knowing must move to the doing, to the embracing, to the preaching. We are the sheep who know the Shepherd. We must tell the weary, scattered ones – even the ones who have troubled themselves – where the safe pastures are. This is our duty.

No, it is our delight.

Stop.

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