Sunday, September 5, 2010

Returning the Gesture

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8-9

I remember learning these verses long ago. I learned them in Awana, when I was a little girl. Yet it seems only lately that they have really come alive to me; God speaking to my heart; waking up my soul. I have always wondered about God, my existence, the creation around me, how we all came to be since I was very young. I remember going into my bathroom around 7 years old and asking Jesus to come into my heart. Not sure why I chose the bathroom; I guess with numerous brothers and sisters, it was the only place I could be alone. I knew Jesus was God, and I wanted to be with Him some day. I knew, even from a young age, the chasm that existed between GOD and me. This is not necessarily a bad thing. For, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". However, it seemed over the years, that I continued to carry a mentality of "hanging onto my salvation by a thread". I was always trying to prove to myself that I was saved. Always comparing myself to other believers around me. The "why" as to my mindset is not that important. What is important, is that God speaks truth into the hearts of those who seek Him.

When I was in my early 20s I went through some extreme anxiety for about 7 months. My parents had divorced, broken engagement with my "then fiance", and broken relationships with our family's home church. I knew I had been living for myself. I knew that I was completely controlled by my emotions. I felt unsure of my salvation, because everything around me that I had been "sure" about, crumbled to pieces. I wanted to be sure I was saved. I have heard that living in sin, makes you overly aware of its presence. I think it is then easy to focus more on NOT sinning than on God. I would read my Bible over and over again to prove to myself and God that I was serious. I wanted to turn my life around. But the anxiety continued. Until one night. I had a dream that I was questioning my salvation again. I decided to read my bible, the only thing I could think of to do to show that my faith was real. I was in my bedroom, and Jesus walked in and stood by the door. He spoke 3 times to me, "I love you". Each time I heard these words, the anxiety lessened and to the point that it left me. I awoke the next morning with a lightened heart. The anxiety was gone. It never returned. God was starting to show me something then that is making even more sense now.

The last few years, I have really been learning more and more about God's grace. Have you ever received a gift from someone out of the blue. At first, you might feel the effects of love brought on by that other person's thoughtfulness. But maybe, after a while, you might start to feel like you have to return the gesture. This could be good or bad. If, out of love for that person, you desire to do something for them, it is good. You do it purely to make them happy. "Pay it forward"! But, I think, more often than not, we return the gesture, because we feel like we have to. People have done this with me, and when I thanked them, I would hear something like,"Don't worry about it, I owe you." When we return the gesture this way, it is bad, because it is not motivated out of love but by pride. We, in a sense, are trying to pay for the gift given to us and make "us" happy or feel better. I think this happens SO much in Christianity. God gave us a gift, and we know it's an AMAZING, wonderful gift, that we can't possibly return. At first we are overwhelmed and desire to LOVE Him. As He sanctifies us, we see change in our lives. Another gift from Him. But over time, we might start to feel like we "owe Him". Especially so, if we aren't feeling as much love towards Him as we initially did making us feel pretty "crappy" about ourselves. I think this explains my struggles. I have tried to pay Him back. I have tried to examine every area of my life, and perfect myself and make myself acceptable to Him. Dress this way, speak that way, don't do this, don't watch that, eat this, don't eat that, associate with her, not him, go to this kind of church, or stay away from anyone who's convictions might be a little different from mine. "I'm trying to 'Please God here', so if you are in my way, I will get you out of it." Sounds crazy when I read this aloud. But it's true. I can understand a little how people have tried to "self mutilate" in order to "suffer" for Christ. Satan has a way of taking truth and distorting it. Loving God turns into a selfish, self produced way to get to Him, making it all about us and totally legalistic. Don't stray from the path, and don't let anyone around you do so either. No wonder Christians are having a hard time sharing God's "free" gift. Doesn't sound so free after all. It's sounds more like we have become solicitors for Christ instead of ambassadors. We give you this really great product, and just when it seems to good to be true, we ever so "gently" give the catch.

In spite of all of this, I believe that God is teaching me something more about Him. It's not about how much He desires Holiness (and He does), but, it's more about His love for me. Pastor James MacDonald said once in a sermon, that we begin to follow Christ out of fear. We begin to see who He is and who we are not. But by faith, we follow Him and taste to see that He is good! In the beginning of our relationship with Him, our "acts of righteousness" are motivated out of fear. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But we don't stay there! As we see that He is good, we fall in love with Him. He teaches us all about love by extending grace to us over and over again. Grace that covers even our misunderstandings of Him. And then, we begin to act rightly because we love and trust Him. This is relationship. Perhaps returning the gesture? But not for salvation. It is love for love and God teaches us this over and over again as we, by faith, walk with Him and taste to see that He is SO very good. This is what I am learning in my life right now. I have tasted, and He has been so faithful. Can you see now how Ephesians 2:8-9 have deeper meaning for me? I am saved and only because of Jesus. I am free to LIVE and love, and be myself. I don't have to mold myself into what I think is a cookie cutter christian. I can be me. In part I know this, because God blessed me with such a wonderful husband, who over these past 2 years of marriage has loved me just the way that I am. So, if God blessed me with Michael, wouldn't it make sense that His love is a million times greater? He is after all the creator of all things. And wouldn't He also love me as I am? I have never felt more freedom than this summer. Makes me want to share it with others! Makes me want to love God, my father, friend, and most of all, my Savior!