Isn't it weird how certain things come to mind when we are telling a story to somebody?
You might not have thought about an experience for years then all of the sudden it comes to mind because it has some faint connection in our brain to whatever we are talking about.
This occurred to me today as I was getting to know a new friend over some coffee. He had wanted to find out more about who I was and the experiences that shaped me. As usual, I rambled, but in my shattered glass thought process a memory came to mind, that had a profoundly negative effect on my life.
I hadn't talked about it in years.
Not because it was extreme, but because it seemed pretty mundane from the outside.
It has to do with the power of words and how they can affect the lives of others.
His formula not only failed me but hindered me...
In Donald Miller's book, Searching For God Knows What he talks about his own journey of realizing God and Jesus's gospel wasn't about steps or formulas he writes,
"I began to wonder if becoming a Christian did not work more like falling in love than agreeing with a list of true principles. I had met a lot of people who agreed with all those true principles, and they were jerks, and a lot of other people believed in those principles, but who also claimed to love Jesus, who were not jerks. It seems like something else has to take place in the heart of someone else to become a believer, for somebody to understand the gospel of Jesus. It began to seem like more than just a cerebral exercise. What if the gospel of Jesus was an invitation to know God?"
Unfortunately, this wasn't the lesson I was taught this fateful Sunday.
No, my youth group this Sunday had invited a guest speaker and he decided to bring a message out of James.
I truly believe in his heart, like most people, his intentions with this message were good. I think his point was to challenge the youth to pursue good works and faith. Sadly, it quickly turned into his own idea of what salvation looks like and his personal formula for telling if you are really saved.
He said, "If you are a truly a believer then you will always be getting closer to God and your good works will prove it. It will look like a good stock portfolio, even though it might have dips it is always moving upwards."
He proceeded to take few scriptures out of context to support his thesis and my heart sank.
I remember knowing in my heart what he was saying wasn't true, but the damage was done. He was a really smart bible college graduate, and seemed to know the scriptures far better than myself, so who was I to say he was wrong. This simple lie sent me on a downward spiral for years, because my life wasn't a good stock portfolio, it was a mess.
There were two flaws in his argument that I wish I would have known back then and saved myself all the heartache this one message caused me.
1) Believers are people, not portfolios.
People are complex by nature. In a way, it is one of the things that makes us so special. It is why we have art, science, and even theology. Each one of us has different passions and gifts. Each one of us loves differently. Every friendship we have is different because there is alway a different person involved.
For his lesson to be true would require everyone to all have basically the same relationship with God. Yet the only thing I find in the Bible is that God had relationships with His people that were as unique and different as the people involved.
Furthermore, God is infinitely complex by His own nature and speaks to our lack of ability to ever comprehend him fully this side of heaven (See 1 Cor 13:12).
Even with complexity aside, we still have to answer the question, how does someone measure their relationship with God? Do we assign point values to good deeds and negative values to sins? Is there a spectrum of worth for good deeds? If I feed the poor do I earn 10 steps towards God and if I gossip I move 5 steps away?
So if both parties involved are too complex to be measured by a chart and we have no way to assign a value to our good and bad behaviors, what do we do?
Going back to the quote from Donald Miller what if it is more like falling in love? What loving Father disowns their rebellious teenager? At any point in their rebellion do they become less their parent's child? Which brings me to my next point.
2) The Gospel ceases to be good news when we cease to need a savior.
Under his progressive upward theory, there is no room for grace.
Well maybe at the beginning, but you better get it together after that.
What a small god he must have believed in.
What a fearful way to live thinking if your valley ever gets too low on that chart, you will find yourself beyond the grace of God.
That is the problem with sin management we are horrible at it. We needed a savior. We need a savior. We will always need a savior.
If this isn't true, the death of Christ was completely in vain and we find ourselves still under the law.
But God understands the rot of our flesh and the terminal condition of sin. He knew that if any part of salvation was left up to us we were doomed. That is why he sacrificed His Son.
Over and over again he promises to never let us go.
John 10:28b-30 "No one will snatch them out of My hand. 29My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”
Romans 8:37-39 "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, Or nor heavenly rulers neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Philippians 1:6 "I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
Where does this leave us then? How do we deal with God who seems to be bigger than charts and portfolios?
Simple, spend time with Him.
As you do a strange paradox occurs, you become more and more aware of how deep your sin goes, but you also find the cross means so much more. You do fall in love with Him. You stop pursuing good behavior and you start pursuing Him. You find out His commitment to you knows no bounds (see Hosea). You find an infinitely good Father who seeks the lost sheep and coin. The Father who jumps up while you were still a long way off runs with all of His might (which is infinite also) to snatch you up into His arms and never let you go again. Then He throws you a party beyond your wildest imagination.
Jesus died to reunite a family, not portfolios. Remeber, no matter high your mountain or how low and dark the valley, the maker of both has chosen you and says, "Fall into Me I will carry you through. I am your Redeemer. I am your shield. I am your counselor. I am your everything. Now rest child, your Abba (Daddy) is here and I am faithful even when you are faithless."