It’s all about God, not about us

 

A big reason why we don’t follow Jesus, why we get stuck in beliefs without the real relationship with Christ, why we limit what the Gospel is telling us so it is palatable and pretty easy to follow, is this: we’re too focused on ourselves and not on God. We are pretty naturally self-involved no matter what we’re doing, but especially so when we approach God. We think God puts the emphasis on who we are and what we are bringing to the relationship and how we are lacking this quality or that or have done so much wrong that we can’t be right. The truth is that he is standing at the door watching for our return to his arms, eager to embrace us as we are, as soon as we turn back to him…Here’s where we mess up the story.

Here is God’s side of the story: If we look at the father in the Parable of the Prodigal or Lost Son,[1] we see someone with love in his heart, not one bit of chastisement, not one bit of punishment awaiting his son. He wants to celebrate, to enjoy, to savor his son’s return.

And here is our side of the story: It is when we look at the two sons that we see our dilemma. The son who has wasted all his inheritance comes crawling back, metaphorically at least, willing to be a slave or servant in his father’s house. He is expecting punishment, demotion of his status as a son. He comes to the place which is home to him, even if he no longer feels he belongs.

The “good” son has been with his father all along, obeying the rules, doing his share of the work, but never taking in one iota of his father’s love for him. He resents the celebration for his brother; he has never asked for anything like that for himself. He was slaving away for his father and feeling undeserving of his love. He was also throwing away his inheritance, because he thought his father would only give it to him as a reward for his good behavior. But he was blind to what was always there for him. He, like the letter-of-the-law people of his day, thought that obedience was all there was for him. He would not step into his father’s love which is the spirit of the law, because he could only imagine being good, not being loved.

Both sons, representing us human beings, missed the point of the Gospel, the “Good News” of Jesus. Both would withhold parts of themselves from God. Both saw the law as we humans always see it—either punishing us or patting us on the back for rigid adherence. We miss the major message of the Gospel: that no matter that we are human beings, no matter what we have done, no matter how “good” we have been, God is always inviting us to the table, to join in the feast, to celebrate the reunion of his people and God.

In the Old Testament the Hebrew word translated repent is sub. It means to return, to turn back, to turn to, to restore, to bring back, to be recovered or returned.[2] The Greek word for repent used in the New Testament is metanoeo which means to ”repent, to change any or all of the elements composing one’s life: attitudes, thoughts and behaviors concerning the demands of God for right living:- repent.”[3] In modern English repent carries an added burden of remorse, regret, contrition.[4] But there is none of that in the ancient languages of the Bible. Repent there only means to change, to see the error of our ways, to return. It is we that add the remorse which expects punishment, not joy, atonement, not forgiveness, lower status, not heirs to the kingdom.

And so, there we are before God always expecting punishment, abandonment or worse. We are projecting onto God what we got from our parents and teachers. Our expectations of God—which are not true of God—keep us in a limited relationship to him. We cannot expect joy. We cannot expect celebration. We cannot expect love. We have said and done too many awful things; there were shameful things done to us, and we are still unable to control ourselves to conform to God’s laws totally. Therefore, we expect to be condemned and punished.

These projections and expectations are what keep us from seeing who God is and what he wants from us. These are the ways humans think, but God does not see us the same way. He doesn’t act out of human parameters. Turn to him, just turn to him. Bring your whole self to him in love. KISS—“keep it simple, stupid” is what I want to say. We are the ones who complicate this relationship. We are the ones who see “fear of the Lord” in the Bible and don’t think awe. We are the ones who see repent and think “how awful I’ve been.” We are the ones who decide that Jesus is not talking about us when he says that God will meet all our needs,[5] he must mean someone else.

We are the ones who can’t accept God’s love for us just as we are. He, who knows everything, knows who we are and what we have done. He doesn’t care; his arms are waiting for each of us with open arms. He’ll take a felon in or a “good” person; the only requirement is to turn back to God.  So for us ordinary people, God is waiting for us to bring our all to him in love, to turn away from whatever doesn’t conform to his law, to admit our failings and to depend on him to transform them, to be with him no matter who we are. We are to know in every cell of our bodies, every thought of our minds, every beat of our hearts whose we are. And only God can accomplish that in us.

We Americans are such independent people that we think we have to first perfect ourselves before we can really approach God with our whole selves. We fall back on our own resources so naturally that we forget that we cannot change ourselves, that only God can transform us into who we were created to be, to fulfill his purpose for us. So let’s not stand outside God’s house until we are perfect. Just crash the gate, open the door, walk on in! After all, this is where you truly belong!

In our relationship to God, it’s not about us at all, what we’ve done or failed to do, or what was done to us. It’s about the kind of God God is, an exemplar of the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. The thing about God is this—he is always that way towards the human beings he created in his image and declared good. He is the Indwelling Spirit who is wanting to come forward within each of us and show us how to live, to love, to be with him. Right now he is the divine potential within us who just needs a proper invitation from us through our love for him and our obedience to him in order to be a real presence in our lives. Amen!

 

[1] Luke 15:11-32

[2] Edward W. Goodrick & John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance, 2nd Edition, Grand Rapids MI, 1999, p. 1497, Strong’s #8740

[3] Ibid, p. 1571, Strong’s #3566

[4] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/repent 2.25.16

[5] Matthew 6:25-34

 

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Questions to ponder over the week: What do I believe about God that keeps me from running into his arms? If I believe that God loves me(and everyone else), could I begin to love myself, warts and all? Will I take what is most unacceptable about me and lay it at his feet? What do I need to change to see God as he is and not as I project on him to be?

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Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who can accept God’s love for us, each and every one. May we feel that love in every cell of our body. May we express that love wherever we go, to whomever we meet.

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There’s one more video to come in the Exodus series which previews my book on the Exodus story. Here is the link: www.youtube.com/results?search_query=by+the+waters+with+pat+adams.

 

My book, “Thy Kingdom Come!”, is up on Amazon in both paperback and kindle versions.

 

This week I am asking a new question about your experiences of the Exodus story. Have you had  any experiences of union with God or of being in the kingdom of God or of crossing the River Jordan like the Israelites did. It could be a dream or a momentary experience or ??????? I’d love to read your experience. You may post them on my FB page at By the Waters or send them to my email, patsadams@gmail.com. Thank you so much, Pat

 

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