Saturday, August 15, 2015

I Find Love (When I Look at the Cross)

I know what "self-sacrificing" means in English; but to see it expressed in another language gave me a new and deeper perspective than I have ever had.

The Spanish word misericordia means "self-sacrificing." When I look at the word, I see three parts: one, the root ser which means being or existence; two, although I do not know this to be true in Spanish, mis- in English is usually a negative prefix (meaning whatever follows is not true); and three cordia, which reminds me of the Spanish word for heart, corazón. The rough interpretation that immediately entered my head was "a heart that is willing to give up its existence." For me, that was powerful.

The Bible expresses it this way:
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
(John 15:13)
Self-sacrificing love is a love that cares so much about you that I do not care about me anymore. It is a love that feels that your life, even without me in it, is more valuable than mine without you in it. The thought that God could not bear to be without me - to the point of being willing to not exist - is an overwhelming thought that will take eternity to fully absorb.

Have you ever wanted to be missed? Wanted to be needed? Wanted to be wanted? I have; and it is a miserable reality when you discover that the people you would like to care don't.

Years ago, I had an experience that completely turned my social standing upside down. Once the center of all church happenings, I was now an outcast. I can assure you that the worst part was not that it happened; no, it was the rude awakening I had after denying for so long that it happened. I tried for a while to pretend nothing had happened; that I was innocent; that there were still people who cared about me; that I was not actually alone. To realize publicly that those sentiments are completely wrong is quite the shock.

At that time, all "alone" with just my family for companions, I discovered that I had changed. I had allowed my personality to dissolve into that of my friends, to be diluted by there preferences, to be tainted by their negative traits. It was bad enough that my personality needed work in the first place; now it was in shambles. New friends wanted me to talk; but I was reserved, not wanting to scare them off with my "hogging the show" as my old friends had described it. New friends wanted me to play with them, try new things: but I did not want to show off, or conversely, uncover my ineptitude and be laughed at. Things that were not me became me, and I discovered that people who wanted to care could not because I could not let them.

Slowly, I understood that these were friends not profitable to my character growth. They were not necessarily bad people; but I had obviously not benefited from them as much as I had lost. With time, I came to the peace of knowing that while God did use them at an earlier point in my life, it was time to move on. This actually helped me stop trying to be someone I was not, because now there no one to impress.

In time I re-discovered God's love and mercy. But I found myself trying to change myself to be liked and accepted by God. It was hard for me to just let Him have me without fixing something first. And of course, fixing is a long and tedious process, especially when you are operating on negative strength. But this word misericordia brought me to a reality I am only now beginning to comprehend: God's love is so deep that He would stop existing to make me live. Through the cross, He basically says, I would miss you. Other people may never, but I would miss you tremendously. He would give up - and has given up - everything so that I can have a new heart, and new life, and a new Friend.

Notice something extraordinary about this idea of self-sacrificing love. Jesus says that we should love our enemies by praying for them, by not rendering evil for evil for railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing (Matthew 5:44, 1 Peter 3:9). But self-sacrificing love is only poured out on a friend: for there is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Yes, you are considered God's friend; and the moment you accept that reality, it is true in your life. Only after Lucifer openly rebelled was he called "the adversary." Only upon your rejection of God's mercy are you at enmity with God. Until you say "no," you are His friend.

What will you say to such great love?

Sunday, August 09, 2015

I Find Mercy (When I Look at the Cross)

But do I accept it?

I believe that one of the most difficult hurdles in the plan of salvation is in overcoming the belief that God is out to get me. Sure, we understand that in theory; it makes sense when we are in line with His will. But what about when I fall -   doesn't He have to punish me?

No, you say. That is what Jesus died for.

Fine. My penalty is paid. But what about blessings: surely, I am undeserving of those.


Hardened by Mercy

And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.
(Exodus 7:3)
Notice firstly that this is the Lord speaking. It did always puzzle me why God would harden Pharaoh's heart on purpose seeing that He really wanted Israel free. After all, it was just as much torture for them as it was for the king of Egypt.

But I have discovered an answer - one that hurts. It hurts because... I do that.

My family and I have been listening to a series of articles written in the 1890's by E.J. Waggoner. Published in the Present Truth periodical, the series shows that the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14:7 is the very same one that was preached to and accepted by Abraham of old. The Everlasting Covenant goes through the Hebrews' history to compare it to the new covenant that Christianity holds so dear and reveals that, in fact, they are one and the same; that God has never changed His plan or purpose, except as was necessary to weave around human doubts and failings.

In discussing Israel's deliverance from Egypt, this pioneer points out that Pharaoh's heart was hardened against God's mercy. Thus God hardened Pharaoh's heart, because it was His bestowal of mercy that resulted in the king's resistence.

Did you catch that?

God's mercy is what kept Pharaoh away. God's mercy is what caused Pharaoh to reject God.

It is obviously humanly possible; but how does that play out in our own lives? An example would best be shown from my own life.

Being Vulnerable

A personal struggle that I face when I fail God is that of returning to Him. (No, that is not extraordinary.) The reason starts out as, I am such a sinner, I am so vile, etc. But it swiftly moves to I don't understand why God would want to take me back. I know better. I know that no matter how far I have fallen, God is willing to accept me back into His fold. I know that He would run miles just to find me. I know that He loves me so abundantly that He would - excuse me, He did - die for me.

Yet the very thought of those absolute truths is what trips me up. Why do You love me, Lord? Why would You take back a sinner? Would You do it the next time?

God and I have a deal that I am not to ask those sort of questions. No more questioning His love, no more doubting His grace. At least not verbally - but it helps me make the first step in returning to Him.

The amazing thing that I see on the cross is not only the forgiving of sins and the re-acceptance of a sinner. I also see a loading with benefits. You see, the thing about justification is that is is immediate, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. It is a work of faith only; there is nothing that I can do to be justified. I can only look at the cross, accept its atonement, and believe in God's love. I have faith that He will be merciful to me, "for He is faithful that promised."
I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. Put Me in remembrance: let us plead together: declare thou, that thou mayest be justified.
(Isaiah 43:25-26)
All I have to do is ask - declare thou - and He will forgive for His sake, not for my merits.

Not by Works

Blessings are upon the head of the just: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked.
(Proverbs 10:6)
The second half of the struggle is am I deserving of blessings? The answer: absolutely not. But it was never about you.

The verse above says that the just will received blessings. But I am not just - nothing close to it. But remember how one is made just? For God's sake. "Put Me in remembrance: let us plead together: declare thou, that thou mayest be justified."

So now, God can put blessings upon your head, because in His sight, you are just. Isn't God wonderful?

Hard or Soft?

At some point, Pharaoh knew that he had sinned against God and he pleaded for God's mercy.
Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste; and he said, I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once, and intreat the LORD your God, that he may take away from me this death only.
(Exodus 10:16-17)
He put God in remembrance, he declared, and God justified him. The proof?
And he went out from Pharaoh, and intreated the LORD. And the LORD turned a mighty strong west wind, which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red sea; there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt.
(Exodus 10:18-19)
He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.
(Micah 7:19)
But, in the sight of God's great compassion, Pharaoh still hardened his heart. He could not seem to accept or reconcile the reality of God's mercy. He could not understand how one moment there can be plagues, and next moment, peace and calm. He rejected God's love because it was too wonderful for him.

What will you choose? Will you accept His mercy, or will you harden your heart against, believing the lies that He does not want to forgive or bless you?