Friday, 20 January 2017

The good, the bad and the saved

Heat. An unusual phenomena in our mountains - but it happens. On Monday we made a crackling fire and a hearty stew. On Wednesday we dipped our heads under cool water and sipped copious amounts of chilled lemon water in shady places where the breezes blow. Today we are enveloped in a misty moist embrace and the house is filled with the smell of wild mushrooms roasting in the oven.

I realise that these opening lines may sometimes be a bit misleading. We do not live a fairy tale. Within the sad limitations of words, I attempt to open a small peephole into our daily lives in the mountains. To set the scene so as to speak. And perhaps to share a fragment of the quality of life which we enjoy here. With this, I do not mean to imply that what we have here is better or superior to anywhere else. Or that we have become better people because we live where the air is rare and the horizon wide. This life fits us beautifully, because it is where God wants us to be. It comes with countless blessings, as well as manifold challenges.

There is one "thing" which has been brought (painfully) close, since we have come to call this place our home. The crucial aspect of our salvation.

1. the act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, loss, destruction, etc.
2. the state of being saved or protected from harm, risk, etc.
3. a source, cause, or means of being saved or protected from harm, risk, etc.
4. Theology: deliverance from the power and penalty of sin; redemption.

I thought to first look at what salvation is not... At what our minds know at some removed level, but what the rest of us have difficulty catching up, or keeping up with.

A few weeks ago we entered a new year. 2017. Inevitably, people look at a new year as an opportunity to "do better", change lifestyles, begin "good" habits, lay down "bad" habits. Which is positive, not? So it may seem. But if we take an honest glimpse backward at how many of these previous "resolutions" have lasted, got stuck - it is not a very encouraging picture for the future of the current ones... (Ironically the root of resolution is resolute - which means firm, steadfast, set in purpose). So why do we then get so easily "unstuck"? Why does it seem to be so difficult to be "good". To be worthy of being saved.

Before the new year arrived with a crack and a bang, there was Christmas. Lying awake in the city on new year's eve, listening to the cacophony of parties, fire crackers and cars racing and hooting along the freeway, I suddenly heard the desperate longing in it all. The longing for something seemingly elusive.

First there is the lead up to Christmas, end-year parties, bonuses, shopping and more shopping etc. Then there is the actual event. And food. And drink - probably a bit too much of both. Then there is the recovery time. Just enough to provide impetus for the next pinnacle on new year's eve. More recovery time. But at the sober dawn of the actual year ahead, responsibilities, commitments, pressure etc. - G U I L T steps up and takes centre stage. Along with it's crippling friend - GOOD INTENTIONS. The need to earn back that which had been flung to the wind during the festive season.

I'm not sure how profound these insights were, but the long and short of it is, that intended goals set as a result of guilt, and/or for personal gain, or the need to get "back on track" with God, are all centred in delusion.

As is categorising people as "good" or "bad" based merely on their behaviour. "How else then?", you would ask. One truly cannot judge a book by it's cover. The consistency of our story from beginning to end is what counts. But these are all what the clever people would refer to as "hypothesis" - more than a wild guess, but less than a well-established theory... Opinions over what is "good" and what is "bad" vary, for there is no absolute by which we can test our theories and conclusions.

What a relief it is to be able to step away from all the philosophising and theorising, which can be confusing at the best of times.

Truth which is absolute and trustworthy and which is the same yesterday, today and will remain so always, is this:

I am acceptable to God, not because of my good behaviour, but because of the flawlessness of  Him who died on the cross in my stead. ~ In him (Jesus) we have redemption, through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. (Eph. 1:7)

Jesus died on the cross, not to help me live a better life, but to reconcile me with my heavenly Father. So that I may receive a life of intimacy with Him. ~ For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. ~ (Rom 5:10)

A "good life" and "good works" are the outflow (fruits) of a "pursuit" of Christ and His kingdom. We do not earn or receive rewards - we are showered with grace. ~ But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)

From within myself, no good can come. Every truly "good" act performed or thought conceived, comes from God, for he alone is GOOD. In Him alone can I have pride. ~ But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:30)

The closer I move to Jesus, the less lucrative, cool, or tempting "bad behaviour" will seem. "Not sinning" will become less of a daily battle, a hard discipline. Living right and well in the eyes of God and according to His Word, becomes an offering of love and trust. I don't leave sin - it leaves me.

The giant was slain by faith and trust, not by skill or bravery. If Goliath came down with a shudder and a shake, as a result of personal guts and expertise, David would have been no more than a foolishly brave little guy, who got lucky and became the hero of the day. A boy who knew sheep and spent his day practising with his slingshot.

But David was indeed "a man after God's heart". Which would be surprising and contradictory if we only considered his track record of "good behaviour".

What endeared Him to God? He was:

Humble – Lowborn men are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie; if weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath. ~ Psalm 62:9

Reverent – I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies. ~ Psalm 18:3

Respectful – Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. ~ Psalm 31:9

Trusting – The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? ~ Psalm 27:1

Loving – I love you, O Lord, my strength.~ Psalm 18:1

Devoted – You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. ~ Psalm 4:7

A joyful witness  – I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders.~ Psalm 9:1

Faithful – Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. ~ Psalm 23:6

Obedient – Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. ~ Psalm 119:34

Repentant – For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great. ~ Psalm 25:11

Amazing, unfathomable, immeasurable grace. It is upside down, inside out, downright illogical and unsolvable. But yet - there it is. As vastly generous as it always has been - available to the murderer next to Jesus on the cross. Available to whoever feels as if the year has just started and they have already "failed". It cannot be earned. Jesus saves. This is true. But not from ourselves and our failings or bad habits, but from a "wrong attitude" towards God. As a result and deep need for, and recognition of Jesus as our Saviour.

God looks down on His own and sees a perfect reflection of His perfect Son.
It simply cannot be improved upon.

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