God doesn’t “grade on a curve”…

Reunion 3

Grade school and high school buddies, decades later, still friends ! And yes,Thea, I’m glad ,too, the school photo is blurry!Thanks, “Mo,” for sharing it.

I still shudder when I remember the day in seventh grade when our teacher handed back math test papers, handing the papers for all the row to the first person in the row. As the boy in front of me handed the stack back, my paper now on top, he loudly proclaimed, “Ooooh, Rose got an 85!” The whole class echoed his “Ooooooh!” as though I’d done something dreadful, an unimaginable, unspeakable horror. Never mind that he didn’t announce HIS grade to the class, nor did any of my classmates; all that mattered was that I didn’t have a perfect score.

I cringed, sighed, and knew one “B” wasn’t going to impact my semester grade that much. For those of you who laugh at the nerdy characters on the television sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” let me shed some light for you. Gifted students deal with other people’s expectations of their perfection, or near-perfection, ALL the time, and often base their sense of self-worth, validation and value on meeting the expectations of others. Does that sound like a weight you’d like to live under?

Flash forward to Calculus 102 in college and the soul-shaking day I got back another test paper, this time with a horrifying 69% on the top. My psyche rapidly started crumbling, until the professor put the grading scale on the board, and I realized I’d made an A. I breathed sigh of relief, though I still didn’t feel good that I hadn’t mastered 31% of the material. If the bulk of the class scored a failing percentage, evidently neither the textbook nor our professor had adequately explained the material. That was one day I was VERY grateful for the concept of grading on a curve, determining letter grades based on the highest achieved class score.

I suspect we’d all like to think God Almighty “grades on a curve” when it comes to standing before His judgment throne, and we’d like to think we’re good enough, love-able enough, to earn God’s love and grace on our own merit. That just tells me how insecure in ourselves and in trusting God’s lavish love for us – not based on our performance, but on how HE sees us and who HE says we are TO HIM in Christ!

After all, God does say in Hebrews 9:27  “It is appointed for men once to die, and after this the judgment.” Notice in this sentence the facts that 1) everyone dies – that’s truth; 2) we only get one “shot” at life, “ONCE to die”; 3) death is not the ultimate end, “and after this…” ; and 4) we all will face God’s judgment.

Here’s the other sobering fact: God doesn’t “grade on a curve.” God is Holy as well as loving, and we can’t ignore or deny God’s holiness.

“I am the LORD, your Holy One, The Creator of Israel, your King.” Isaiah 43: 15

Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? Exodus 15: 11

Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? Psalm 77: 13

For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. Luke 1:49

Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor. Habakkuk 1: 13a

“You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be sanctified among the sons of Israel; I am the LORD who sanctifies you,…” Leviticus 22: 32

But the LORD of hosts will be exalted in judgment, and the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness. Isaiah 5:16

But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” 1 Peter 1: 15-16

Uh, you ask, isn’t God expecting too much from human beings in asking us to be holy? And what IS the standard for holiness, anyway? I certainly don’t do the evil things some people do. As a friend said to me one day regarding an issue in his life, “If that’s the worst of my sins, it’s not so bad.” In other words, isn’t it good that I’m better than a mass-murderer? Won’t God cut us some slack like my Calculus professor and grade on a curve?.

Jesus raised the grading scale on what God considers right living: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. Matthew 5: 26-29 NIV

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” James 23: 10

The eternal grading scale is actually pass-fail, but it takes 100% to pass

“From the holiness in God’s character we can understand His righteousness and justice. The man who does evil sets his will against God’s will and against the principle upon which He conducts the universe. Such a man has placed himself where he must either turn back and forsake his sin or take the inevitable consequences of resisting the purpose which God is fulfilling.” Henry T. Sell

Jesus said: For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.  And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. John 5: 21-29 NIV

“NOT FAIR!” we shout. Hey, I’ve blown it just like you have, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….” (Romans 3:23) sin meaning to “miss the mark,” and “all” means me, too, so I’m NOT here judging and condemning you. I AM here to share some incredible truth with you: you aren’t made right with God because of anything you do, and no way you blow it can ever end God’s deep love for you.

It wouldn’t be fair, UNLESS God Himself made a way for us to pass, to in effect score 100%. God did exactly that in sending Jesus to draw us to God’s love and grace, to die on the Cross and rise again to eternal life, not for wrongs HE had done but for every wrong you and I have done and ever will do. He gave us, you, me  the grade Jesus earned! You aren’t made right with God because of anything you do, except for one thing – receive his free gift of salvation and righteousness through confessing your inability to be perfectly righteous and receiving God’s gift of Jesus’ 100% ability!

God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us (a complete offering to atone for sin), so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

“… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[a] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Romans 3: 23-26 NIV

In offering himself in Jesus as the One complete 100% payment for sin who could make you perfectly 100% right with himself, the holy God completely satisfied both his holy righteousness and his relentless love for mankind! God values you SO much, sees so much beauty and worth in you that HE HIMSELF made a way for you to be completely righteous. The world had never before or ever since seen such incredibly powerful, passionate, relentless love!

For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57: 15

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. “By His stripes you are healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1: 5-9 NIV

God doesn’t grade on a curve; thankfully God grades on Christ’s Cross! And you get an A!

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: Holy God, I know and confess that I’m a sinner, yes, a sinner, and I’ve blown it, missed your true standards, in many ways large and small, BUT what they were doesn’t matter to you. What matters to you is what I choose to do with your gift of perfect forgiveness, grace and unmerited love to me through Jesus, so I say _________________________________________________________________! And now I want to live out of that gift, live the good, upright, wise and loving choices you enable me to do through your Holy Spirit living inside of me, So Righteous Father God, I ask you to help me daily __________________________ and, as I need to, daily confess my sins and come back to knowing I’m completely forgiven when I do. In Jesus’ name, thank you! Holy Spirit, help me to listen __________________________________________

 

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Motown Jesus

everlasting love_t_nv_2In 1967 Robert Knight recorded a song written by Mac Gayden, lyrics by Buzz Cason. For those not born in the United States within the 1940’s through 1960’s, Detroit, Michigan was noted for two products: automobiles and music, gaining it the label of “Motor City” and the rock and blues music that came from Detroit “Motown.” I’ve loved their song ever since I first heard it. Teenage girls could weep thinking of finding a love like this song proclaimed. Then some of us discovered that the Prince  Charming who found us was really just another wounded human being searching for, but unable to give, the same thing we were searching for and longing to be part of, the song’s name: Everlasting Love.

Buzz Cayson said he was inspired by the words of Jeremiah 31: 3-4: The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness…Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.

Aha! i always thought I heard God speaking in that song! Something in it called to me when I was just 17 and lodged deeply in my heart. I knew Jesus because I grew up in a church-going, God-loving family, but my knowledge became full-blown love in our tiny church on February 20, 1972 when I “heard” Jesus say to me,”You know I died for the world … but do you know I died for YOU?”

Wow! Chosen! Beloved! I was going to need that deepest love inside me to carry me through the shattering of my world decades later. Rock solid, Jesus’ love for me, passionate and burning, tender and embracing. Why do we demand from each other the unconditional love that only our Father Creator God can give us through himself made flesh and blood in Jesus? “Hearts go stray, leaving hurt when they go …” Our hearts get wounded, we close them up to keep from bleeding, or to keep the world from seeing our bleeding and the depth of our need. Being “needy” isn’t cool, but in reality, we all are.  Wounded animals do the same thing: conceal their pain and vulnerability so predators won’t single them out for a meal.  I suspect we humans do the same thing.

“Nobody is going to ever talk like THAT to me again!”

“I won’t let anyone treat me like THAt again!”

“No, I’m fine, really, I”m just picking myself up and moving on ….” bleeding all the way. We close off our hearts from the ones who have hurt us, but brick by brick, does that wall keep out the very love we need, and does it keep out the love Jesus may send through others?

If it’s true “you can’t heal what you don’t reveal”, it may also be very true that you can’t heal what you don’t let yourself feel, or more accurately, how can Jesus heal what we aren’t willing to feel? Feeling hurts, we feel because we care, and the ones we care about the most are the ones whose wounds hurt us most deeply. The truth hidden there is that we/I/YOU  hurt  because we/I/YOU DO have a heart capable of knowing and wanting love, empathy, a consciousness of and conscience toward others’ feelings, and we expect others to be wired as we are. Sadly, tragically, not every person is, BUT amazingly, incredibly, JESUS IS!

Whatever else happens to us in this life amid the wounded, predator and prey and innocent bystanders minding their own business and trying to live uprightly, we do well to remember we “wrestle not against flesh and blood.”

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:12-13

Paul goes on to describe the helmet of faith, breastplate of salvation, belt of truth, shoes of the readiness to preach the gospel, and the sword of God’s Word. That  brings me back full circle to Isaiah 31:3 and the promise god can’t possible break, that he lives us/me/YOU with an everlasting love and draws us to himself with kindness. Can I dare, can you dare, to open up your heart and feel that you’re part of everlasting love? Can we wear that love like chain mail to protect our hearts without walling them off from the lives around us who can, at best, love us despite our, and through their, limitations?

I know this: I can only approach feeling and living out unconditional love for others when I let Jesus into my heart to heal the wounds in me and then to love others through me, even while I’m healing. The Motown song implies we can find this love in other people, but it’s truly only God’s love for us through Jesus’ love that is, and enables, everlasting love.

Unlike the lyrics, Jesus never will leave us:

For He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! Assuredly not!]  Hebrews 13:5 Amplified  (from Deuteronomy 31:6)

Jesus promised to embrace everyone who comes to him with everlasting love: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. John 6:37-39 NIV

Had Motown been around in those days, Jesus might have sung it, rather than say it. Can you hear his call to you in this song? More importantly, can you hear the voice of “Motown” Jesus calling to you in his song for you today? Listen to it online, and as you listen, underline the words that God’s Spirit speaks to you, about you, in the song.

Hearts go astray, leaving hurt when they go.
I went away just when you needed me so.
Filled with regret I come back beggin’ you,
Forgive, forget. Where’s the love we once knew?
Open up your eyes, then you’ll realize here I stand
With my everlasting love.
Need you by my side, girl you’ll be my bride.
You’ll never be denied everlasting love.
From the very start, open up your heart,
Be a lasting part of everlasting love.

Your love will last forever.
Your love will last forever.

Where life’s river flows, no one really knows
’til someone’s there to show the way to lasting love.
Like the sun that shines, endlessly it shine,
You always will be mine. It’s eternal love.
When other loves are gone, ours will still be strong,
We have our very own everlasting love.

Your love will last forever.
Your love will last forever.
You give me, you give me, you give me everlasting love

A “…BUT…” to pray: Jesus, I’m going to be very honest. I need your healing touch and everlasting love. It’s true that I’ve ___________________________________________, and it’s true that _______________________________________ said _________________________________________________ to me. It’s true that ____________________ did _______________________________________________ to me, and if I’m really honest, it’s true that I said ________________________________________________ and I did _________________________________________________________ and I wish I hadn’t. I could easily wall of my heart, BUT Father God, you love me with an everlasting love. You said it, you promise it, you mean it, so I will let you come into my heart and _______________________________________________________________________________. Help my unbelief, and help me to feel your everlasting love. Can I dance with you to this song today, and when I do, please help me feel you with me. Amen!

Grace – Freedom FOR Responsibility

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If we’re honest, probably most of us long for the job, or the time, or the money to allow us to be free FROM responsibility. That’s part of the appeal of retirement and financial independence: no accountability to anyone but ourselves, for nothing but pleasurable purposes. Fun! Me time! Freedom!

How long, I wonder, would that lifestyle provide meaning and satisfactions to us? If today I could go anywhere I wanted, do anything I wanted to do, eat whatever I wanted, buy whatever I wanted, would I feel validated as a person? Isn’t that what that kind of “freedom” means when we examine our motives in wanting it?

If what I truly long for is validation, a sense that my life matters and has meaning … then I look to the Cross of Jesus, the sacrifice that set us free from the law, keeping an interminable set of rules, constantly failing in some point and feeling the sting of knowing we didn’t “measure up.” Performance: we look for it in cars, from each other on the job, and sadly from each other in relationship. “I will love you IF you …. WHEN you…BECAUSE you ….”

Grace turns that kind of thinking radically on its head, where it belongs, swept away from our lives, thoughts, actions, and relationships because of the immeasurable grace God gives us daily in the death of His son Jesus on the cross in our places.

“What do you mean, God, I can’t do anything to EARN your grace? What do you mean that I can’t possibly measure up? That means I have to ADMIT that I can’t measure up, and that makes me invalidated, worthless … doesn’t it?”

NO, it means exactly the opposite; each of us has immeasurable value to God, just because he WANT us in relationship with Him. How in the universe can that be? Because He is love, period.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[a] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3: 21-24 NIV

For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2: 19-20 NIV

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,  because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2: 12-13 NIV

Responding to that merciful love means I want to show it, return some measure of my limited love to that limitless love. I WANT to give! Love is the illogic that stands logic on its ugly head and liberates everyone who embraces it to FREELY give, to take on responsibility with a joyful, willing heart.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Matthew 10: 8 NIV

My neighbor was living on rice and beans, and I had the ability to buy a package of chicken at 50% off the usual price. Was I legally responsible for my neighbor? No, but out of love, could I say she was loved in a tangible way? Yes, freely.

 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3: 16-18 NIV

At a fund-raising yard sale at my church, a woman admired a red two-piece suit I had for sale. She couldn’t afford the yard sale price. Did I OWE it to her to give it to her? NO, but did God’s GRACE, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, give me freedom to give away something I could give to bless the heart of someone else? Yes, and to joyfully put the $5.00 in the mission fund myself! Wow, she was going to feel beautiful in that suit!

I hurt someone’s feelings. But God, they hurt me, too. If I apologize – no, if I say the dreaded three words “I was WRONG” – won’t that diminish my value? Won’t that make ME wrong, mean I failed and I lose my worth? NO – grace gives me the freedom to admit I was wrong, knowing the person I hurt is immeasurably valued by God AND so am I! He wants right relationships for our mutual good.

Freedom to BE responsible, freedom FOR responsibility toward God and toward others.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. Romans 8: 1-5 NIV

 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. Romans 6: 11-22 NIV

Purify my heart, my longings, my desires, Jesus! Set me free from selfishness and self-absorption to live freely and give freely. As the song says, I am free to love, I am free to dance, I am free to live for YOU, I am free!

A “…BUT…” to move: Oh, God, your mercy for me, your unmerited favor you lavished on me through the gift of your Son Jesus given freely for me to bring me into family relationship with you as your child and friend gives me the heart to be glad to return Your love in serving. I admit I’ve lived for myself and my own pleasures in ________________________________ and frankly, that never gave me the value and worth that living freely IN your love to GIVE your love GIVES to me. I want real freedom! Show me who needs your love today as I ________________________ and give me the courage of love to _________________________________. In the name of the awesome lover of my soul, Jesus, AMEN!