Posted in Christianity, Faith

Resolve to be . . . Industrious

Resolve to serve God this year

A powerful executive, in charge of billions in assets, notices a disturbing trend as he audits his managers’ recent business performances. He pauses over a particularly disturbing case that brings him pause. This manager, so full of promise when he began right out of college with his MBA and magma cum laude degree, has been spending more time using the corporate country club membership and expense account than in creating new business to help the corporation grow. Further inspection reveals that the manager is also guilty of not even following through on making sure his customers are up-to-date in the accounts receivable department. Books that should be well in the black are in the red.

Steeling himself for an unpleasant confrontation, the top executive calls his business manager into the office one Monday morning to ask him the tough questions. Because the business manager has obviously been sleeping on the job, the executive informs him that his days with the company are most definitely numbered. Desperate to save himself from a bleak employment outlook, the business manager does some fast thinking. If he can grease the right palms, make the right customers happy, just maybe he’ll find a new job even without a recommendation from his current employer. Calling in some of his most deeply-in-debt clients, the business manager cuts some strategic deals. He has his clients write checks for fractions of what they actually owe, forgiving the remainder of their debts on the spot.

By the end of the week, the executive chuckles over the report that lands on his desk. Seems his business manager has more savvy than he’d previously given the man credit for. Rather than firing the business manager, the executive calls him into the office and reminds him that ingenuity and a make-it-happen attitude lie at the heart of good business. The wayward business manager becomes the role model for industry.

What does such a story have to do with Christianity? Why would a parable about cheating your way out of a tight spot fall from the lips of a perfect, truth-telling Savior?

When I have read the parable of the dishonest steward in Luke 16, I have to admit to scratching my head. But as with many of Jesus’ lessons, things are not always as they appear on the surface. What Jesus is really saying when he tells the story of a fast-thinking steward who gets praised for doing what is essentially wrong has nothing to do with the treasures that concern the steward in the first place, those uncertain, earthly riches that none of us will take with us on our ultimate journey to heaven.

Instead, Jesus is wanting us to think, in part, about the effort, creativity and outside-the-box thinking people do who are primarily concerned with storing up treasures on this earth and to consider how much more we could do if we applied the same kind of effort to the gathering of treasure which really matters—the kind that gets stored up for us in heaven.

Imagine how much of a difference your experience of Christ and your ability to share His kingdom you would make if you put similar industry into building treasures in heaven as do those who, like the steward of the parable, strive to build up stores of human wealth. If we concentrate on earthly riches, Jesus tells us, we cannot serve Him. How often, however, do we fail to concentrate on the true goal of our journey toward heaven as we are trying to survive the day-to-day scrabble in this earthly existence?

This parable does not call for us to lie, cheat and steal. These are actions driven by a desire that is fueled by the evil things, by the desire for possessions that only mean something if your main goal in life is to be better than or rule over others. Being industrious for heavenly treasure requires an entirely different mindset. It means we work within the mores of the law of love. It means we choose right instead of wrong. But just because our industry requires us to stay inside the lines, it does not preclude applying our whole selves toward the success of our journey. We can think outside the box and still follow the commandments. We can sweat our way toward a positive outcome and still be in relationship with a loving God.

Some might rightfully argue that if we are not sweating in our efforts to forward the goals of heavenly treasure, then we are not in a relationship with Jesus in the first place. We either choose to serve God in this life or we choose to serve the man-made things that at times are no better than the idols of the Old Testament.  “You cannot serve God and mammon,” Jesus says in this parable.

As we define resolutions for a new year, let us do so with a kind of gusto as if our very livelihood depends upon the outcome, for the outcome of our souls certainly is tied to the choices we make in a world dominated by earthly things. What if we, like the dishonest steward, have been unfaithful with the spiritual treasures Jesus so freely gives to those who believe? How can we improve our pursuits of heavenly treasures in 2018? How can we gather souls for Christ to make up for the deficit of our previous apathy?

In 2018, no matter what your resolutions may be, consider the lessons from the dishonest steward. Your choices make clear whether you are standing on the side of the angels and eternal treasures or if you are clinging to the earthly things that ground you in the desires of a mankind that denies the deity of our powerful God. Resolve to make choices for God this year. Serve Him boldly, creatively, and courageously. We do not earn our salvation, but we most certainly prove to God the degree of our thankfulness depending upon the ways we pursue His vision for Christianity as it should be lived in a fallen world.

 

In Christ,
Ramona

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Posted in Christianity, Faith

Jesus IS LORD

Jesus IS LORD

What makes Christmas so special? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the presents and Santa Claus. It’s not even peace and good will.

Christmas is the celebration of a miraculous birth, not only because Mary, a virgin, gave birth to a baby, but also because that baby was God made man.

Except for Christians, most of the world sees Jesus as either a fable or a great, spiritual teacher, equal (or lesser) in rank to other great, spiritual teachers such as Mohammed, Buddha and Gandhi. But these viewpoints of Jesus could not be further from the truth, or any less detrimental.

God is perfect. From before time began, He was the same as He is today, the same He will be tomorrow and beyond.

Mankind, on the other hand, is a rotten mess of mistakes, bad deeds, and inconsistencies. Not one of us has ever lived without committing sin. Most of us don’t even make it through one day without doing something that is an offense to a perfect God.

At the time Jesus was born as a baby in a manger, the only way for those who had sinned to mend the broken relationship between themselves and their Holy God Creator was to offer the sacrifice of blood. Because that blood was a temporary remedy to an always problem, the sacrifices offered only restitution, not absolution.

When Jesus came to earth, He lived out His life without sin, a feat no human can accomplish. Because Jesus was God taking the form of man, He alone was able to live a blameless life. Christ’s blameless life, offered on the cross, served as the one sacrifice that could pay for all sins and offer to believers the assurance of not being condemned.

So, realizing that Jesus was at once man and God is vital to understanding His role on this earth. We don’t celebrate Christmas because we want an excuse to give and get presents wrapped with pretty bows. We celebrate Christmas because our God loved us enough to come to earth as the lowliest of beings, suffering through this life just as we must suffer, but living His life perfectly as we never can hope to live, and all in order to offer us the gift of salvation.

God’s grace, offered through our belief in Christ’s living, dying in sacrifice, and rising in redemption for all, is the greatest gift the world has ever known. No other spiritual teacher can match it. Period.

When you say Merry Christmas! this holiday season, know the real reason why we should all be merry and why Christ is in Christmas in the first place.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Gotta Serve Somebody

Gonna have to serve somebody

If there is one truth to which we should commit our whole selves, it is this: no matter how free we think we are, the very choices we make underscore our actual servitude, either to our Holy God or to the sinful nature that is the natural state of man, and woman, in a fallen world.

In his 1979 album, Slow Train Coming, Bob Dylan included a single that reflects on this truth, entitled, “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

Dylan writes,

You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance.
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage,
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage.
You may be a business man or some high-degree thief,
They may call you doctor or they may call you chief.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are,
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna serve somebody.

The apostle Paul acknowledges the truth of this concept in his letter to the Romans. After explaining about the burden a sinful life places on the individual, he exhorts the benefits of choosing instead to serve Christ.  “You have been set free from sin,” he writes, “and have become slaves to righteousness” (6:18). Before righteousness, the possibility of which came to us when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, we were slaves to evil, which only made us more and more wicked. When we embrace being a slave to righteousness by accepting Christ as our Savior, we are made more holy, which leads to eternal life instead of death/damnation.

“What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?” Paul questions, referring to the sinful lifestyle that marks any life that does not choose to walk with Christ. “Those things,” he tells us, “result in death!” (6:21) Paul continues,

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23)

When Jesus promises us that His yoke is light, He is in part pointing toward this difference between serving “the new way of the Spirit,” as Paul describes it, “and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:16). Allowing one’s self to be ruled by the Spirit is choosing to serve our Holy, Forgiving God. His are the mercies that endure forever. Actions based on faith in Him make us a slave who does not feel the burden of his/her servitude, but instead experiences the lightness of spirit that exudes love and helps one sleep peacefully at night.

Our sinful nature, the body that is subject to death, is always ready to catch us in a moment of weakness, to be the sin living in us that causes us to stumble. Only as we repeatedly choose to be ruled by the Spirit of Truth in us do we join in Jesus’ triumph over death into a life spent with the easy yoke of a loving Lord.

Before Christ, all believers could expect was atonement for sin. They sacrificed on a regular basis to be washed clean of sin and even had ceremonies where they atoned for sins committed of which they were not even aware. At any given moment, even the most righteous of believers could be carrying around sins for which atonement had not yet been achieved.

When Christ died on the cross for the sins of all, the ultimate sacrifice, He achieved for us not only atonement but actual forgiveness for our sin. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Paul proclaims (Romans 8:1). We will be judged for our choices in this life, but those who have accepted Christ as Savior will never be condemned for those choices. 

It saddens me that Christians sometimes give the mistaken impression that we think the gift of Christ is exclusive to us, when what Christ offers is open to everyone who breathes. In the early days of the church, Peter tells his fellow Jews, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). Christ’s love extends to all comers, from the lowliest, most despised sinners to the most exalted people in the world. What He requires is a heart that loves Him in return, that understands the great benefit of choosing to serve the Lord and His righteousness instead of the evil one who plies his duplicitous trade in this fallen wasteland we call our mortal world.

You gotta serve somebody. Those serve best who choose, as Joshua of old, to serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15) The way of the Spirit is truly the lightened burden that casts off the crushing weight of a life bound by sin.

Each morning is a new day to choose to serve the Spirit. Will you join me in making a conscious choice each sunrise to serve a Christ Who loves you so much, He swallowed the wrath for your sin even though He had never sinned Himself? He is the only Master worth serving, the only One to whom service causes us to rise rather than stumble.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity, Love

Seek Right By Letting God Do The Heavy Lifting

1 John 4:16

In their song, “Sawmill Road,” Diamond Rio reminisces about the past, lamenting that innocence went out of style, and we just watched it go. 

Too often these days, I feel the truth of that statement. In an effort to be politically correct, we have forsaken not only morality but even decency in our misguided efforts to avoid giving offense or to simply appear “cool.”

Could our failures come from a lack of understanding of the true nature of love? Jesus tells us that the whole of the commandments can be summed up in two objectives: first, love God above all things, and second, love others as you yourself want to be loved.

Too many of us make the mistake of thinking love means putting no restraints on others, that if we really love someone, we will let them just be themselves. But the love God models for us just doesn’t work that way. The freedom God gives us in love is to choose to do right, to choose to stay in relationship with Him, where the only true peace on this earth can be found. That also means we have the choice to disobey God, to take ourselves out of relationship with Him because of our sin. That choice usually brings about very unpleasant consequences. God’s love means letting us experience those things, too.

Choices that go against what God clearly asks of us disrespect our Maker and put us out of close relationship with Him. We all make these mistakes at some point in life, which is why we all need grace to save us. But, when we continually make choices that show God we do not actually love Him or even want anything to do with Him, we have to be aware that eventually He may just give us what we ask for. Is it possible that hell is not so much fire and brimstone but a reality in which there is no God?

For God, love is not never having to say you’re sorry. His word repeatedly reminds us that a loving father disciplines his children, that God will humble a proud spirit, that He alone determines not only how the tides ebb and flow but also the rights and wrongs of a world He alone created.

We humans too often mistake freedom of choice for a license to be free. God has gifted us with the will to choose to serve Him. But that free will does not negate the straight and narrow path that God has defined as the true sign of walking by faith.  Our freedom to do whatever we feel like is really limited to the narrow choice between following God or refusing to accept Him as Master.

What does God-love do with sinners? One of the best examples comes from Jesus’ experience with the adulteress in John 8. The spiritual leaders in the town want to stone the woman who has been caught in adultery. They are within their rights according to Mosaic law, but they want to catch Jesus in a trap. So, they ask Him what they should do. He replies, let the person who is guiltless himself throw the first stone. Since no one is without sin, the crowd disperses without lifting so much as a pebble. Jesus tells the woman He will not condemn her for her one sin, but He tells her to go forth and sin no more.

There are several love lessons in this interlude.  The first is that God alone has the right to condemn. This does not mean that God alone has the ability to recognize sin. Not only did the spiritual leaders know the sin committed by the adulteress. They also knew the sins they themselves were guilty of, the sins that kept them from picking up the first stone. The responsibility for not sinning falls on the shoulders of the individual. Jesus tells the woman, “Go, and sin no more.” Having been forgiven this sin, the woman is now tasked with refusing to fall into the trap of that sin ever again.

God loves the sinner but hates the sin, a balancing act we humans find hard to accommodate at times. We don’t quite know how to speak out against sins like adultery without giving offense to the adulterer. Sometimes, we take the risk and wind up making enemies because our listener hears only condemnation and not love.  Other times, we remain silent and leave the impression that actions that actually go against God are somehow OK.

When I live my life right, I am so busy keeping my thoughts on God and the ways that He wants me to make a mark on this world through helping others, that I am too caught up in living Christ to find time for judging other people. When I do these things correctly, I am also reflecting the kind of peace and “togetherness” that draws other people. They want to know what it is about me that makes me who I am. I become a living example for them of the importance of Christ in one’s life. When they decide to accept Christ, He does the work in them that will keep them from sin, just like He works on me every day of my life.

Trusting God to do the heavy lifting in this life is one of the hardest things for me to do, and yet when I succeed in embracing this philosophy, my life is always at its best. I pray to remember this lesson the next time I am confronted by those who want me to accept choices that go against God’s definition of right.

Posted in Christianity, Love

More than a Fish Story: An Old Testament Lesson in Grace

not just another fish story

On Memorial Day, we remember with a measure of sadness and a whole lot of pride those brave men and women who have given their very greatest gift for the sake of defending our freedom and way of life.

It seems like an appropriate time to remember the person who paved the way for such magnificent sacrifice, our Lord Jesus, who, having lived a human life and managed what none of us will ever do, that is to be without sin, sacrificed Himself so that we might have eternal life through His grace.

Most people want to place grace solidly in the New Testament. Some like to see God as a sort of split personality—the wrathful, war-like Judge of the Old Testament versus the loving, saving Lamb of the New. But God is the same yesterday, today and forever, so it isn’t really any surprise to find examples of His grace throughout the story of our relationship with the Eternal.

Take the narrative of the reluctant prophet Jonah. If you haven’t read his story since you were a child and more prone to concentrate on the concept of a man inside a fish, take a bit of time today with me to look at this Biblical episode, which is so about grace.

As I read Jonah’s story during my Bible study this week, I was impressed anew by its parallels to some of the events in Jesus’ life, and I was struck by its overpowering message of God’s grace. In fact, I found that some of Jonah’s goofiest reactions to God’s calling for him only go to underscore the truth of God’s mercy.

Jonah arrives on the Biblical scene at a time when the Jews could be doing better. They are a divided kingdom, running through a succession of kings who take turns being for God, ambivalent, or outright disobedient. Sometimes they worship as they ought. Other times, they cling to pagan idols.

But Jonah isn’t sent to prophesy to the Jews! Instead, God wants Jonah to warn the Assyrians in the metropolitan city of Nineveh to repent before He executes a mighty punishment on them. There may be more immediate reasons that God places Jonah on this path, but there is also an inkling here of God’s future message of grace. He wants all to be saved: Jews, God-fearers, Gentiles, even enemies of His chosen people like the Assyrians. And, as we shall see, this story also shows how often the Gentiles turn more quickly to God’s message of grace than His chosen people.

When called, like so many of us, Jonah doesn’t want to go. So, forgetting that God is everywhere, Jonah hops a ship and tries the impossible feat of outrunning Him. Jonah doesn’t get far. A storm begins to rage on the open waters. The sailors of the vessel, terrified, are surprised to find Jonah fast asleep as the storm rages.

Even though Jesus was not running from God, you might recall He, too, was found fast asleep during a stormy voyage on the open water. When His disciples wake Him, He calmly abates the storm. Jonah’s path to bringing about calm waters is clumsy by comparison.

The sailors cast lots to figure out who is responsible and then start questioning Jonah. He admits it is his fault that the storm has come and offers to sacrifice himself for their safety by being thrown overboard into the sea. (Jonah doesn’t know that God will save him, so he really is offering to die to save the men in the boat.) The sailors, reluctant to kill a man, even though he has brought this calamity on them in the first place, attempt to ride out the storm. Eventually, even they have to admit defeat and throw Jonah overboard.

Jonah stays inside the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights (another parallel to Christ, who was three days and three nights in the tomb before rising again). While sitting in the gooey, smelly darkness, Jonah prays, and what he prays about is grace and the salvation that comes because of it:

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.

God uses the vine to teach Jonah grace

If Jonah’s story isn’t already weird enough, it takes another strange twist once he has successfully fulfilled his mission. For, having prophesied doom so that the Assyrians actually repent of their evil ways, Jonah gets angry that God chooses to show compassion instead of reigning destruction on the great city:

That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish, Jonah complains. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

Showing how challenging the concept of grace can be for humans to grasp, Jonah accepts God’s compassion on an intellectual level but is so irritated that his prophesying was unnecessary since God did not condemn Nineveh that Jonah proclaims he is angry enough to die.

Jonah finds a place east of the city (won’t Christ come from the east upon His return?) and plops down to do just that. But, God isn’t finished teaching him lessons, or us, just yet. God makes a vine grow over Jonah that protects him from the elements. The next day, God allows the vine to be gnawed away by a worm, exposing Jonah to a scorching wind and blazing sun.

Now Jonah is really angry, but God gives Jonah a more merciful perspective to consider, one that takes into account the true meaning of the vine that Jesus later proclaims:

But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

Our God loves us. Even when we are most despicable, He longs for us to turn towards Him. He forgives yesterday, today and forever. He saves yesterday, today and forever.

During this Memorial Day holiday, as we pay honor to those who have given their lives in fighting for our country, we should begin by honoring the One whose sacrifice gave tangible proof of God’s saving grace. Because of Jesus, we creations of the mighty God know every moment of every day through all circumstances that God’s grace never fails.

Only God could tell us so much from the story of a reluctant prophet in the belly of a whale.

Posted in Christianity, Faith

This Easter, Learn the Difference When You Live What You Believe

He is risen indeed

One of the discount department stores is running an ad about their sales for the weekend, emphasizing great prices on dresses and dress clothes for the annual Easter Sunday church visit.

I wonder about those of us who only see the inside of church on these special occasions. We put on the cloak of Christianity like a garment we can choose to wear or discard as the feelings move us. We call out to God in times of distress as if He should overlook all the times He hasn’t heard from us, not even a simple thank you for our daily kindnesses and blessings.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the greatest gift God ever gave us—the potential to return to a healed relationship with Him through the salvation provided by Christ’s sacrifice for us when He died on the cross despite being blameless so that our many sins will not condemn us. But, we can’t maintain a healthy relationship that allows us to grasp the full potential of God’s blessings if we only work on that relationship every once-in-a-while.

Sometimes, I wonder if people who condemn those of us who believe in our mighty God really understand what it is they are rejecting. What seems like a fairy tale of a by-gone age to them is to me the spiritual and logical conclusion of a series of events that go back to the beginning of time.

God made a perfect world. He populated it with flora and fauna. He even made man in His own image to enjoy the fruits of His labor. Man, setting the example of a pattern of behavior that dominates to this day , didn’t waste much time ruining the gift of the paradise God created for them. Walking with God without shame, conversing with Him as if He were the kind neighbor from down the street and not the Creator of all things, just wasn’t enough for Adam and Eve. They wanted to know what God knows. They grasped the knowledge of good and evil as if the human heart, though made in the image of God, could yet somehow be god-like.

But, humans who know evil and good will inevitably sink to the level of evil because the human heart is not to be trusted. It cannot know evil without falling victim to the weakness of giving in to that evil. And when we commit sin, we cannot go forward in a relationship with the God-head as if nothing bad has happened. So, God gave man instructions on the kinds of sacrifices He required to bring a person back into relationship with Him whenever a person stumbles.

Why most sacrifices require the shedding of blood can be a hard concept to grasp if you have grown up in a world where you get trophies just for participating, where everybody is a winner. But, for me at least, the idea that I only truly understand the depth of my sin if I see the extent of the sacrifice to make me right again with God seems to be perfectly logical. I can’t trust my heart to tell me when I am in the wrong. My heart is quick to make excuses for me and an expert at giving me the benefit of the doubt. But the blood on the altar of an animal that had nothing to do with my sin is a definite wake up call for my need to straighten up my act. Having in me the genetic memory of first man’s close contact with our sovereign God, I long to return to that place of perfect peace where we walk in the garden, and I am not afraid.

No troubled hearts for those who believe

Do you like the humanist stand on morality better than the strict guidelines that unconditional love requires? I wonder why. If God does not exist, as the humanists proclaim, then what is the point of these randomly sequenced molecules that are the only explanation left in a world where no master Creator spoke the world into being? The closest thing I can find to one is Darwin’s idea of the survival of the fittest. And if that is our point, to be the strongest, the one to survive so that our genes continue to thrive, then what happens to kindness or thoughtfulness or love? We humans have proven how quickly and deeply we can fall into the depths of darkness.  We torture and maim, watch as children starve,  enslave each other. Auschwitz. Hiroshima. The human heart never leans toward the light, not when it does not acknowledge a God exists who has the power and desire to fill that heart with love and light.

When Christ sacrificed Himself, spilled His own blood because of my sin—He had no sin of His own—He tore the curtain that separated the unholy from the Holiest once and for all. When I believe Christ died for me, when I bow my head and acknowledge my own sinfulness, my wicked heart, and say, You are my savior, I invite the light and love of God into my heart. I allow Him to transform the heart from that which is only able to look out for number one to a loving light that knows the power of Christ’s gift of grace and can’t help but find ways to share the good news about that love with others.

In this world God created, those who survive best are often the weakest, the most humble. Survival is defined by staying in close relationship with God, in taking steps to love other people like we want to be loved. We walk in the perfect garden and are not afraid.

I like a world that is more concerned about what I am becoming for the next life than concentrating on making the most of this world because it is the only one we’ve got. When you celebrate Easter this Sunday, do it in full knowledge of the enormity of the gift Christ gave when He put your salvation before His survival.  You are no longer condemned, but bathed in the Spirit of Truth that will compel you to live according to what pleases God instead of trying to please other people or yourself.

I am so thankful God tore away the barrier that separated His holiness from my humanness. When I call, He hears me. When I make choices based on His teachings, I know peace.

And isn’t that what I am really seeking when I put on that new Spring dress Easter Sunday, my curls pulled back with a bright bow, and step into the sanctuary where the voices of those who believe swell in the still air like even the angels are singing?

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity, Faith, Love

The Greatest Love Story Almost Never Told

love-story

In a burial scene during the latest X-Men movies, one of the characters picks up the cross at the head of a newly dug grave and turns it before placing the two sticks back into the ground so that an X now stands at the head of the grave.

It’s supposed to be a simple statement about the person buried in the ground,  but I couldn’t help myself from seeing something deeper behind the symbolic gesture. It seemed to me that by taking down the cross in this way, the movie had literally “X-ed” out God.

But, should I really give in to the righteous outrage this degradation of my God stirred in my chest? If I look really hard at the way we Christians try, and mostly fail, to reflect why Christ’s message is good news, how can I really blame the secular world for its obsession in breaking down the things they perceive that I stand for?

I recently listened to one of N.T. Wright’s speeches at a Pepperdine Bible Lecture series. In it, he claimed that the story the world at large has learned from us when it comes to Christ is one in which God’s hatred of us led to the need for the sacrifice of His Son to save mankind instead of the truth of the absolute love story the gospel really is.

For God so loved the world. Growing up listening to too many sermons where I was reminded, like Jonathon Edwards’ congregation of the 18th century, that I might be likened to a spider dangling above the open flame of God’s wrath, I easily supplanted His overwhelming love in my fear of His inevitable judgment.

In a world where you are reminded of your failings, the love you feel from God too easily becomes understood as conditional. You have to earn His love for you, just as you earn the respect of your peers. Considering how often we stumble, I can only imagine how much He rightfully hates me. Looking at life through these conditional lenses, I can’t help but hate myself.

It’s easy enough to fall into this trap of doing to earn God’s love and salvation. We live in a world where we delineate winners and losers. We judge others according to their accomplishments. We study a Bible in which we struggle to match the Old Testament God of Wrath with the New Testament God on a Cross.

We Christians are not immune from failing to fully accept that our belief alone in Christ and His teaching is what saves us, even though nothing else we do adds anything to our actual salvation. Too often, we make these unconscious checklists of the things we should be doing to ensure what is already ours through faith, things like never missing church on Sunday or never passing a person wanting a handout without giving him something. These to-do lists are commendable goals for a grateful heart that wants to live for God, but making them a requirement for salvation proves we have fallen victim to rendering conditional a relationship that is actually unlimited.

If Christians are unclear on the absolutely unconditional love of God for humanity, how much more so will those who do not believe fall victim to our seemingly confused theology? We make it so much easier for a secular world to X out the one good thing it has going for it because the light we shine is shrouded in this confusion over the height and depth and breadth of God’s love.

The good news is that the story of Christ is not a story of sinners in the hands of an angry God, but a true love story, the truest love story, about a God who made us in love, in His own image, and has never stopped loving us unconditionally, even when we turn our backs on Him.

If you need examples of man’s inability to break the bonds of God’s love for us, the Bible is replete with them. How many times did the Jews turn from the ways of a God Who only wanted them to love Him first and foremost? And, every time, He waited patiently for the stiff necks to turn in true worship to Him once more.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is another example of God’s capacity to feel love, only love, even when we deserve His disgust.  When the prodigal wastes his inheritance, returning to his home only after he has led the most ignoble of lifestyles, the father doesn’t tell him that he got exactly what he deserved. The father greets him in love, with mighty hugs, tears of joy, and a grand feast. When one lost lamb returns to the herd, the Shepherd who loves beyond human understanding rejoices.

Perhaps the most powerful example of the love story that is Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation is the assurance that we who believe are no longer condemned. There is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Paul assures us in his letter to the Romans (8:1), one of the New Testament’s most powerful treatises on the gift of Grace.

We’re human. We’re still going to stumble and fall. But, no matter how hard we hit the pavement, God refuses to condemn a saved soul. That doesn’t mean He won’t want better from us next time. It doesn’t mean we should go through life without thinking about our actions or trying to be a better person. It just means we can free ourselves from the burden of judgment that has been lifted. The yoke of our Mighty God is truly light. It is a yoke held up by the truest love there is.

You want to argue politics or stand on your moral high ground about hot-topic issues? Maybe there is a time and place for all of those things. But today, in this divided country we live in, I think it is much more important to make the Christian job description conducive to spreading the love story of our Awesome God.

If you want to change the world, start by making sure the world knows just how much God loves it. He put a piece of Himself on that rough wood and gave up all the power of the universe so that His children, which includes all of us, could be in relationship with Him again in a heavenly home where love conquers all.

That’s a love story of the ages, for the ages. And it always has a happily ever after.

In Christ,
Ramona