Sinners in the hand of a loving God
Hillary called me a few weeks ago and asked me to talk on October 1st. She said she would be out of town. “Hillary, you know I don’t really like to speak publicly.” “Melanie, I know. Just see what the topic is and talk to Peter about it.” I drove home and looked up the title. Sinners in the hand of a loving God. My immediate thought was ‘oh no, this is my main spiritual struggle. I’m sure God wants me to say yes.’ Peter agreed. Like most husbands, Peter knows what I need to work on. Unlike most husbands he is a counselor, so he is almost always right. Let’s be honest, cute counselor husbands have their pros and cons. Peter and apparently Hillary get me in ways that I don’t get myself, so we are going to trust they are reflecting God to me and that I can in fact teach on the topic. If nothing else my sweet sisters, I get your struggle in this area. The goals for this lesson are 1. to understand that God’s wrath or anger is completely satisfied in Christ, 2. to believe that we are no longer under condemnation and judgement, and 3. to view the Christian life relationally and not legally.
In the first paragraph of our lesson it highlights the fact that the gospel often seems too good to be true. It goes on to say that a great struggle will be continuing to believe that we are God’s children and in a right relationship with him. I think for those outside of the faith that the fact that there is a God who created us, allowed us to sin and then sent His son to save us seems crazy. It seems so very hard to believe. But, we are there. We have already accepted this as a fact. We have staked our lives on it. Some of you may remember the time in your life where you made this about face in your thinking. Others of us, have grown up in the church eventually making this truth our own, but never really feeling the weight of the absurdity. We have known this truth since childhood. We did make that profession at some point in the past and that was the point of our justification, but we are still called to live by faith. We are still being sanctified. I want to suggest to you today that the fact that God delights in us even though we are sinful may be an even wilder thing to believe.
We looked at the story of the prodigal. We’ve all heard this story. We know that it is awesome that the Father runs to his son even though the son squandered everything he was given by his father. The follow-up to that is that the book asks would the father continue to respond in the same manner. I want to say “no”. He should set some boundaries. He shouldn’t just let the kid keep acting that way. But, the truth is that question is about me. It could say, does the father keep running to you, Melanie Maynor, every time you mess up?
We know the answer don’t we? The answer is YES! This is where the theology of our head and the theology of our heart have a conflict. The first time at conversion, we can believe it. The 4 million times after that are much harder to believe. The sense of guilt that we are functionally operating under has been paid for in Christ at the point of conversion. Ladies, this is a common struggle. God knew we would have it. Paul addresses it in Galatians 1:6-10. Listen to what he says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received , let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Who are we trying to please? We have agreed that we are servants of Christ. In my case, I am often trying to please man and even myself. I am trying to please the gospel of performance that I have created for myself. I create these goals that I believe would please other people or myself. And when I can’t meet these self imposed goals, I don’t believe that God is pleased with me.
What does that look like? This past April I went to Nashville with none other than my trusty co-leader Lisa Smout for the Nashville half-marathon. Here are some portions of a blog I wrote shortly after that experience. We had been training for this run for months. I went into the Nashville half marathon wanting to 1. finish 2. not walk and 3. do it in under 2 and a half hours. If you haven't run thirteen miles lately, I'll just tell you it isn't pocket change. It is HARD to run that far. It is even harder if running isn't exactly what God made you to do. Running isn't really what God made me to do and I often struggle to figure out what the heck He did make me to do. What am I good at? This is a constant battle in my head and my heart. It is very hard for me to see my gifts and to feel God's delight.
I really wanted to feel God's delight in me this past weekend. It is something I was praying for and that I've been talking to some of the key players in my life about lately. It is hard to know exactly what that will look like. On a side note, I've been listening to this artist called Andrew Peterson a lot lately. We all love his music. His lyrics seem to cut right to my heart. He wrote this song titled something like 'Windows to God'. He is basically pointing to those moments in life when for a brief moment you see God. He sites moments where you see Him in the way the sun hits the clouds or when someone says something to you that is very meaningful. Someone else could be standing right next to you and not see God, but because you are looking He is right there. I'm convinced that when you are looking to see God's face you see it. He is always there, but we are rarely looking.
So, Saturday I started the run looking to see Him and feel His delight. I was running through the streets of Nashville and enjoying the people and the beauty. I was running fast and I knew it. Disclaimer-fast for me is a 10 and a half minute mile. I'm a 5'2" mom with junk in my trunk. What did you expect my time to be? So, I am running and I am thinking. I'm doing it. I'm running. I feel good. I feel proud of myself. Feeling proud of myself in the moment is well very rare for me. About mile 8 things started to break down. Think intestinal tract. A pit stop later I was back on my way feeling refreshed like I've got this. At mile 11, I was starting to be very tired. Most people train to 11 miles assuming you can do 13 if you can do 11. I'll just tell you that 2 more miles after running 11 is HARD. So, I had to walk some. Goal number 2 thrown out. I didn't know what my time was, but I knew I was close to my goal. As I keep going, my mindset started to change. I was thinking...Melanie, finishing this thing is huge. Just keep going. Just finish. And just like that I was all happy with my 1 and only goal to finish. Finishing started to feel really hard. And I was praying that God would help me. I felt like I would surely die.
And then I saw Him. I was dragging myself along feeling like I might throw up or faint. Surely my face said, "I am dying. HELP ME!" And I saw this cheerleader and she looked right into my eyes and said, "You are so close. You can do it! Keep going!" I think she was Jesus or an angel. She spoke directly to me and said just what I needed to hear. Was she really those things? Probably not, but God loves to tell us what we need to hear and sometimes He uses unlikely people to point us to Himself. I walked and finished in 2 hours and 31 minutes, but you know what. I finished. I finished! And I did so much more than I thought I could do. God is in the business of delighting in us and He delighted in me running 13.1 miles real slow and I felt really proud of myself and I felt His delight. That is so rare for me. I'd do it again tomorrow for that.
The blog entry ended there, but what happened next really blew my mind. So, I had set these goals out long before my husband agreed to watch the kids for three days and to spend the money for me to go to Nashville. Not to mention, all the time I had spent running in the months before. Peter knew my goals and he had agreed with them. In the time it took me to find Lisa (who by the way was WAY faster) and get to the car, I was already trying to reframe my “failure” for Peter. What I didn’t know is that he was tracking me on the computer and knew all of my stats before I even did. So, I get to the car and turn on my phone to call him. I was greeted with five messages from Peter. “OH MY GOSH MEL, You did it! You are awesome! I’m so proud of you!” I want to suggest to you that my husband was a lot like our heavenly father. Peter knows me well and he knows I didn’t accomplish my goals but still delighted in me. He was virtually running to me with arms wide open because he loves me and he is proud of me no matter my performance.
God wants our focus to be on Him and not ourselves. He sent His son to pay for our guilt. The experience of God’s wrath drives us to the cross and to the point of our salvation. It is then paid, but that feeling of guilt still haunts us making it hard to believe God’s delight. And this leads into the next point of the lesson. We are so stuck on our sinfulness and not really believing that it has been paid for so we totally miss God’s delight in us. I think until recently I had always thought that when Christ died for my sin that it covered mine and that God sees Christ and not me. It would be like Christ standing in front of me and God only seeing Christ. I think it may be a little more like Christ standing in front of my heart and God seeing Christ’s heart and still seeing me. Seeing me as different and distinct from Molly or Beth or Lisa. The scriptures tell us that He has given us all spiritual gifts and that we are all gifted in different ways. In Zephaniah 3:17 it says this, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” He has saved us! His son has paid for our sins once and for all. We don’t need to keep on feeling as if we are not saved and as if we need to earn it. Christ has earned it for us. We need to function as loved daughters of the king pleasing Him. We need to repent and remind ourselves that we are His and go about the work that He has created for each of us distinctly to do pleasing him.
This whole delight bit is the real kicker for me. I don’t really believe that God made me distinctly and that He delights in me. This is again where the theology of our heads and hearts often do not match. If we were discussing this I would agree, but I do not live out of this reality. In this my round three of Gospel Transformation I will tell you how I am starting to deal with this. I don’t live in a constant state of feeling God’s delight, but I have moments of it. Look for the moments so that you can remember them when your heart gets in the way of your head. The blog about the Nashville half was in many ways a journal entry to myself to help me remember feeling God’s delight for the moment and for the day. I often feel delight for my children or see other’s delight in them and I am able to translate it to my life.
And excellent example of this would be my 3K conference for my son Grayson. If you have not been to a parent/teacher conference, I’ll clue you in that is a weird experience. On the one hand you know your kid well and know his struggles. You know that they will surely be discussed. On the other hand, you know your kid is amazing in many very specific ways and you are hoping the teacher is clued in to those, too. Grayson goes to Central and had Janet Heinemann for 3K. Janet is a beautiful example of someone who loves children well. I went into the conference all nervous and sweaty pitted. I sat down and she said, “Let me tell you what I see about Grayson.” Deep breath! Here is what she said, “Grayson is really good at the playground. He excels at recess! He is amazing on the fire pole. He does the fire pole in a way that I have never seen. I love watching him!” Janet gets Grayson. To understand Grayson is to know that he awesome on the playground. God made Grayson really good on the playground and He delights in Grayson doing the fire pole in the way that he does. I suspect that being good physically will be a way that God has equipped Grayson for his kingdom purposes. And Janet like God told me some areas where Grayson struggled, but I was able to hear them because I knew her delight in him. God gets you and He gets me. He knows what we are each good at. He loves to watch us function in our gifts. In His grace, He gives us moments of respite from ourselves where we feel His full on delight in us. Look for those moments sisters. They may feel brief, but they are there. Write them down or tell them to others so you can remember them and look back on them when it is hard to believe that your Heavenly Father delights in you. I go back and read my own blog more than I care to mention because I can see God’s hand and remember His delight.
We are going to sin much in this life and even in this very day, but if our salvation is true then His delight in us is equally true. I love this musician Andrew Peterson. His lyrics really cut to my heart and a lot of the time music speaks to me when other things don’t. If I were to play my running mix to you, it would give you a great picture of the trouble of my mind and heart. It is a mix of full on bootie music and full on gospel. It is a metaphor for my life. When I remember the truth of the gospel, I run fast and enjoy the moment with some fun music. Then I get all in my head and don’t believe the gospel is true so I need to hear the gospel music again and then again I have a moment of resting in God’s delight.
I’m going to play this by Andrew Peterson, “A Fool With a Fancy Guitar” because I think he illustrates my points beautifully. SONG
The only thing I want you to remember is this... Like Andrew Peterson says “ If it is true that you gathered my sin in your hand and you cast it as far as the east is from the west. If it’s true that you put on the flesh of a man And you walked in my shoes through the shadow of death. If it’s true that you dwell in the halls of my heart,” Then it is true that you are a priest and a princess In the Kingdom of God. If our salvation is true then so is His delight in us.