Sorry to be so long between posts! Busy busy busy
Now you know: coming to know Jesus as your intimate Friend, Brother, Savior, King — doesn’t get you a bunch of material blessings. I must also tell you: it doesn’t even fix all your problems. Here are a few of the horrifying things which happened to me during some of the most close and wonderful moments I was sharing with the Savior:
- Our beloved little terrier died, and my husband went on a week-long drinking binge, leaving me terrified that he was actually going to be one of those people who drinks himself to death. If you have not walked this path, let me assure you, it is dreadful!
- The economy tanked, so in addition to losing a quarter of the income from my job when my hours were cut, we lost a big chunk of income from my husband’s commission-based salary — with his two grown-up girls relying on us for college loans.
- My mum started showing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, got lost in the Arizona desert, had to move into an assisted living home and promptly set it on fire. Again, if you have not faced this disease attacking someone you love … I pray you never have to. If you are facing it now, my heart goes out to you.
- I developed a very painful (and humiliating) medical condition that required surgery, lengthy recovery, and yet persists to this day.
- A hurricane hit our house!
- My husband became fixated on my last boyfriend I had before him, and spent a solid six weeks drunk and terrorizing me regarding a night 20 years ago that I couldn’t even remember — before he went into rehab, came out and started drinking again.
- Our new beloved terrier got lost (and found, thank God!), suffered bladder stones and had to have surgery, and nearly died from liver failure after being poisoned by a sago palm in our yard.
No, I wasn’t delirious with joy over any one of these events, but here’s the thing … each one nudged me closer to Christ, which is to say, closer to love, closer to joy, closer to peace. Each one forced me to a better place in God!
My painful heartaches led me to a place where I am more filled with joy, vitality, hope and love than ever before. My problems were there for my promotion. What Joel said was true, and in a much bigger way than he could even have imagined. Trust me. I’m a loser. And I’m telling you this.
I can honestly say, despite the bullets above — or maybe because of them — these days with Jesus, these past eight years that I have been coming to know Him, have been the happiest and best of my life. I can see now that my problems and struggles are where Jesus does His best work, and I would not change things.
Happy moms with plenty of money and healthy children have their little piece of heaven in their home … but I have heaven all the time, always with me, in Jesus, who holds my life in His.
Most winners have neither the time not the impetus to pursue God in this way. But we lucky losers do! Our lives didn’t turn out like we wanted, so we have nothing better to do than wait in silence and darkness for Jesus to meet with us and heal us. And when He does … WE WIN! We come into the fullness of relationship with Him, we come to know the One who is everything and the only thing!
Now Jesus had healed my broken heart and fixed me up just fine. Or, rather, He healed my broken heart and is fixing me up just fine. It’s an ongoing thing. We still meet every day. And of course we walk together every moment of every day. And every now and then He does another little tweak inside me.
But this is all internal, right? It is healing happening inside me. What meeting with Jesus and receiving His love didn’t do was …
- Get me the baby I wanted.
- Get me a better job or the respect of my old job back.
- Make my husband want a baby with me or consider adoption.
- Make my husband desire me more sexually.
- Get me a car with a great stereo and a home by the sea.
So I am still the loser I was. Except everything is different! I am not a desperate loser who looks at the next 40 years with dread because there is no point to living! I am a happy loser with a song in my heart who shares every moment with the One who knows me fully, loves me completely, and every moment is transforming me into the image of Himself, or I would say, into the very substance of Himself, which is love. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! This is what you discover in God’s grace poured out on you.
God is Love. He loves YOU. He’s not mad at you! He’s not punishing you! He never dreams of punishing you. He was and is willing to give up everything just to be with you. Oh my goodness! If you really experience this, directly from Christ Himself, you cannot stay a sad and broken-hearted loser.
I know it sounds stupid. If what you want is a cool car, a great house, a good-looking mate … and what I offer you is the intimate knowledge of God’s love … well, you can’t eat it or show it off or sell it for something better. I mean, it’s nice, but what good is it, right?
That’s exactly why this is so difficult to explain to someone who is not experiencing it. It sounds like it’s all ethereal and spiritual and nothing you can touch and hold in the here and now. But it isn’t! This love, this experience of God’s love, it turns out, is more REAL, more SOLID, more ENDURING than any mere car, house, lover or bankbook. In fact, it freaking liberates you from longing for the car, the house, the lover, the bankbook. It sets you free to live like a king no matter what your circumstances. This is why the Apostle Paul could say that he knew how to live in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:12) … because when you are experiencing the intimate love of Christ, you have, already, everything you need.
Back to the question: What good is this intimate experience of the love of Christ if it doesn’t get you what you want? Here’s the thing: it does get you what you want. Because the more you experience Him, the more you realize, Jesus is what you want. He becomes your passion. And He is willing to give Himself abundantly to you. You don’t get all the cool stuff you want right now— you get something so much better, it’s not hardly even possible to explain the distance between them.
C S Lewis said it this way, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Far too easily pleased! Yes! If you would choose a cool car, a hot spouse and a great house over infinite joy, then you really are a loser. Just kidding. But I don’t want you to think that apprehending the joy of intimate relationship with Jesus is necessarily going to get you a lot of material blessings. It will get you something so much better and beyond material blessings, your whole perspective will be transformed, and your life will feel like it’s beginning again.
Still with me? I trust if you went and got Waking the Dead that you are reading it and following the program. I did, and I want to tell you, it propelled me to a crazy place of joy, joy. Joy, joy! Now: it doesn’t have to be that book; I think God used that book for me because He knew I would relate to all the epic sci-fi/fantasy stuff, and I did. Maybe He will even use this book to speak to you because you relate to all the LOSER stuff in me! Wouldn’t that be great? I doubt it though, because I’m such a loser, who would listen to me? Wait! That is the point of this book!
“God expects more failure from me than I expect from myself,” Brennan Manning used to say. And he should know! He was an alcoholic, even after he got “saved,” and continued to binge even as he was ministering to multitudes through his speaking and writing. The world would have called him a worthless drunk! But his books have brought hope to so many people! (Including me.) Just so you’re with me: I’m a big old loser like Brennan Manning and you, so you can trust me.
And yet here is what I found when I went chasing after Jesus demanding His healing touch: He healed my broken heart and life. Not instantly, and certainly not “painlessly.” But … he surrounded me with such love, even the “painful” parts of His healing touch were good. (Like, I don’t know, I remember being in hospital once with a really painful gnawing in my stomach, and after all the tests and things, someone finally gave me painkillers. The nurse told me I would actually feel the painkiller working up from the IV in my arm to my shoulder and down my throat to the pain — and it was true, it made me cough when it worked its way to the back of my throat! — and then, it hit the pain, and the pain stopped! That moment of pain stopped was so good, it overwhelmed the experience of the pain itself. Weird, right? But I still remember that moment of pain stopped as one of the best moments in life.)
This is sort of how Jesus helped me approach painful stuff in my past and live through it, because when we did, then the pain stopped.
Now all this interaction with Jesus which I am describing to you here, it happened over many days and weeks, and months, moments at a time, as I reached out and invited Him to meet with me and heal me. And it was all spiritual. Or, you might say, all in my head, in my mind. In a way I would relive the pivotal events in my life that had sent me down a destructive path, only I did so with Jesus there beside me, showing me what should have happened, how things could have been. And somehow, this allowed the events themselves to remain in my memory, but leeched of all the pain and bitterness. Much of the horror of them washed away … somehow being anchored in Jesus, who is all for me, helped me accept the past, embrace the lessons of it, and move on.
I know. It sounds crazy. Or like therapy. Is that how therapy works?
Well, what if your therapist was Jesus, and He could totally hone in on the key events that shaped your whole loser life, and make it all better? That’s what He did!
Because He loves me.
And He loves you, too!
If you’re a grubbing, selfish loser like me (and I am not saying you are), about now, you’re thinking: if this gift of grace is free, how worthwhile can it be? After all, you get what you pay for!
Thankfully grace reverses that whole scenario, and we losers get stuff wildly unaffordable to us! We get what we can’t and never will be able to pay for. We get the best, the most wonderful, the beyond-imagining … well, let me not get ahead of myself. Yes, the gift of grace is free, and yet, it is invaluable. Trust me on this. It’s even better than what Joel Osteen promises you!
When Joel tells you to stay in faith through your problem because God is going to use it for your promotion, for instance, we think what he is saying seems true to him because he hasn’t suffered as we have suffered. But now, I want to tell you some good news, and some bad news.
- First, the good news: the Gospel is the Gospel, and it is true for winners and losers alike! So when Joel says to stay in faith because God is going to use that problem to promote you, he is exactly right! Yay.
- The bad news: the “promotion” part doesn’t literally mean you are going to get a job promotion. Nor does it mean you are going to experience a financial breakthrough, a divine healing, a miraculous restoration of a relationship, a fulfilling marriage, healthy family or any other material “blessing” you can imagine.
These things are great. God is able to give them to you, and I hope He does. But in comparison with the “promotion” you’re entitled to because of your position as God’s beloved child, these things are small potatoes. Yes! The gift of grace, though free to us, is worth far, far more than any of that little list of rewards that we hanker for.
I know this, because I’ve received it, and I’m a loser, same as you!
When you step into your identity as God’s beloved, you step into your identity as God’s beloved. Nothing can be better than that! I don’t even know how to tell you how amazing it is. And I know that you won’t even understand what I am saying about it until it actually begins happening to you, but let me try. It will take a return to my stupid story. Next time.
If you’re a loser who was raised in the evangelical church, particularly in a fundamentalist culture, but really any standard Baptist/Assembly of God/Holiness/etc. denomination (and there are a lot of us!), maybe you are wondering:
“Don’t I have to do something to get this grace? Don’t I have to accept it? And then, don’t I have to start living right to keep it?”
I am happy to tell you: no and no. The grace is there, for you, for me, for everyone, whether we accept it or not. If you don’t accept it, you will be missing out on … everything worthwhile in this world! But it’s a done deal. Christ’s death on the cross was the sacrament of His saving grace over you, whether you want it or not. He said, “I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). All peoples — that includes you, like it or not. So grace is there, it is happening, and you’d be crazy not to accept it.
But then you had another question. “Don’t I have to start living right to keep it?” No, and for the same reasons: the grace of God is a fact that we can’t negate, no matter what we do. In fact, a lot of the parables Jesus told seem to indicate that the only people who might, in fact, miss out on a joyful eternity with Him are the ones who insist that they can get there on their own good works without His freely given grace. So this would be the people who do start living right in order to “keep” His gift of grace!
And who are the people who might do that?
Not us losers! We know we are screw-ups! We know we can’t behave our way onto God’s good side. We know if we’re going to get there at all it’s going to be because of His total unmerited favor.
BUT the people who are used to winning — used to getting the prize they deserve because of their own hard work and native strength and goodness — they’re the ones who might be tempted to put their faith in their own ability to live right rather than in God’s grace!
Once again: we losers are out ahead of the game in this arena. It seems the most fatal thing you can do, once you have received God’s grace, is to assume that you have a part in keeping this grace working for you, and that your part is based on your good actions. You don’t, and it’s not.
The Apostle Paul makes that clear in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” It’s a gift, and a gift means: no strings attached. God’s love for you is unconditional, and His grace for you springs from that love.
Still and all, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone who had received God’s grace started behaving right? Well, yes, of course, it would be great. It would be great if everyone — period — started behaving right. It would be lovely. We should all behave just the best that we can. But what we don’t want to do is start telling ourselves (or anyone else) that our behavior is what makes us God’s beloved. Or worse, that our behavior can place us outside of God’s love. That is a very vicious thing to tell someone!
My poor old grand-dad was told by his Pentecostal Holiness church back in the day that smoking cigarettes was a sin, and sinners didn’t go to heaven, so despite his loving Jesus (and Jesus’ loving him!) he was going to hell unless he quit, which he couldn’t. My grandpa thought, to his dying day, that he was going to hell because he smoked. This is the pernicious end of the idea that our good behavior makes us more acceptable to God — or that our bad behavior makes us unacceptable to Him.
So don’t believe, and don’t tell other people, that behavior has the power to get God’s grace or lose it. God’s grace is a free gift to you, no matter what you do or don’t do before you receive it or in response to it. God just loves you, no matter what.
Interlude … what kind of loser are you?
Are you the kind of loser who would be a winner if it weren’t for the crappy circumstances that dog you? Maybe everything always goes wrong for you.
Jesus said, “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). No matter how badly things have gone wrong for you, no matter how you ended up at the end of the line, in His eyes, you are #1, His beloved child! And His accounting of you is the only one that matters.