[Hi all… This weekend I am stuck inside with a bout of food poisoning (ugh) – so pulling one out of the archives that I never posted.]
When we first started visiting the church we went to in Illinois, our pastor would ask a question: What if the gospel was meant to be more like the sunrise than a religion?
I have to admit, I didn’t get it at first. It sounded beautiful, but you see, I am not the poetic type, so analogies often get lost on me. I am sure he explained it at some point, but I just always assumed he meant what if the gospel, the good news Jesus came to bring was meant to be beautiful and not one that laid a burden on our backs? After all, Jesus is the one that said “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
I’m not really sure how or when the gospel that started out so beautiful became a burden to me. Somehow over the years, my need for perfection, my fear of failure, and my incessant need to keep people happy, combined with teachings on leading holy lives and letting God reveal everything in you that wasn’t good led me down a road that made what was once a beautiful path into feeling like I was always missing the mark. I would read verses in the Psalms that talked about pure hands and pure hearts, and verses in Philippians about thinking only of good things, and all I remember feeling was that I would never measure up. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.”, Jesus said (Matt 5:48). I felt like I was failing miserably.
Slowly and subtly, the message I began to hear (not that this was always what was taught, but we hear things and take them in based on our own experiences and understandings, keep in mind) was that yes Jesus died for my sin. I was “saved” and my eternity secure, but no matter what I did – how much I served, loved, gave – I would never measure up to what He asked of us here. Rather than the bible being words of life, they became words of condemnation for me. Every time I read them, I would hear criticism of my own life and how I never measured up. I would find things I had never thought about and prayed God would help me try harder to remember that new truth I had to watch out for. Underlying guilt consumed me, guilt that I would never be good enough for what God had done, never be a good enough example, a bright enough star to “shine in this dark universe” and reflect what I was supposed to, showing people God was real.
What boggles my mind as I look back on who I was then is that it never occurred to me that underneath it all, a subtle shift began to occur. The sense that I could never meet God’s holy standard covered my life. I loved God with all my heart, and yet I lived with this deep sense that I could never, ever, ever do all that he asked of us to be his example on this earth.
I remember the first time I really heard about grace. Not that it hadn’t been talked about before – but the first time I got it. We lived in Ohio and were attending a huge Vineyard church known as the Dayton Vineyard at the time. The pastor that was preaching that morning was talking about God’s grace and how full and how covering it was over our lives. He put it this way (and I’m not sure of his exact words, but this is how I heard it): “Imagine if God had this huge paint roller, and he dipped it in a big 20 gallon bucket of paint, and then just slathered you with it. Thats how much God’s grace covers our lives.”
I cannot tell you what that started in me. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I still have a picture of a paint roller in my journal, next to those two words.
I remember driving home that day from church in silence. I couldn’t explain how I was feeling. I remember standing there, hands on my kitchen counter getting ready to make lunch and realizing it was the FIRST time I had ever walked away from church without feeling guilty.
It blew my mind. You would think I had never heard of grace before. Little did I know that would only be the first of many steps towards finding freedom in who I really was in Christ. And this – this is what I love most about our God. You see, without warning, without my asking for it, my Jesus had come searching for this lost little sheep of his, to pick the burrs out of my coat, give me fresh water to drink, and to teach me for the first time what he really thought of me.
It was life-giving. I was finally able to believe in the deep love the Father had for me, and it began to shape me in a way I never expected. Gone was the fear, gone was the shame, all replaced with this glorious knowledge that I was loved. Finally I began to believe what Jesus said, that when I remained in Him, and he in me, that together we could do great things.
Whether you call it deconstruction, or a crisis of faith, or even just a season in your walk, letting the Lord shake off ways of thinking that push you away from the life He offers is critical. After all, that IS part of the transformation of our lives, our faith, isn’t it?
Now, I get the sunrise analogy. Waking up early in the midwest, watching the fluorescent pink and mango brilliance of the sun start small and spread across the whole breadth of the park near my house and the fields nearby, I get it. The goodness and love and grace of our God often starts small. But when it breaks into our lives – whether through tragedy, kindness, curiosity, or sundry other ways – it is meant to grow, to spread out and melt out over the entire expanse of our lives…. until all of it is swallowed up by His radiance.
My friends, wherever you are on your walk with the Lord, my prayer is that you, too, would know this grace, this love and light that longs to pour out over your life like the glory of a morning sunrise!
Grace, such a beautiful thing! Loving the unlovable, making perfect the blemished, healing the broken.