Abraham Would Wear a Cross

nonexpert_dance_waltzScripture displays a dance between the pronounced attributes of God. At least, it appears as a dance to our small eyes, capable of beholding only one thing at a time.

Straining to Step

God’s character is a primary example: He is just as only a Being of burning holiness can be, yet He is kind as only a Being of furious love can exhibit.  Our reach and rhythm find the steps of this dance greatly stretching. How can He be both?

While all of us discover God in real-time, the fact was even more pronounced for Abraham. No Scriptures to study, no preaching to process, he was discovering the substance of Yahweh solely as Yahweh revealed Himself.

The Sodom Study

On the outskirts of Sodom, a city reputed for its wickedness, God revealed to Abraham a side different from the kindness and guidance that had thus far characterized God’s tone. God’s holy justice had determined that Sodom’s time had arrived. The Consuming Fire was about to swallow an entire city.

Abraham proceeded to open negotiations with the Almighty, by “drawing near” and querying, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen 18:23)

Torah-3C-AbrahamHe wanted to know how God ticked. Was His sense of justice so tightly wound that it would override what Abraham considered to be reasonable, percentage-based standards of grace?

“Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?”

And on the auction went, with Abraham bowing out of the bidding once Yahweh had agreed that He would spare the entire city if He found ten righteous people.

The Twist

Abraham was concerned that God’s holy justice burned so hot that an innocent few might suffer alongside the guilty masses.  But Yahweh flips it over and reveals that He is actually so gracious toward His faithful ones that He will allow rampant sin to go unpunished.

Said another way, Abraham feared that God was a sniper so eager to pull the trigger that innocent victims would be struck down. God displays a shocking willingness to let evil have its day in exchange for the safety of His people.

Abraham Would Wear a Cross

wooden-cross-weatheredIf Abraham were alive today, he would wear a cross around his neck. He would have to. What other ornament can even begin to capture this concept, this intimate interaction of perfect justice tempered by lavish love?

Jesus’ disciples approached from the opposite road to Abraham; they were eager to see fireworks. Let Rome burn!  Smite the Samaritans!  Humble Herod!  Bring the biggest cup you have, and pour down the judgment.

And God obliges.

In fact, He brings a larger vessel of venom than they could have imagined. His view encompasses the collective evil of humanity back to Eden. Horror movies and nightmares could not compete with the content of that cup.

And He unloaded His appropriated anger, dropping it like an atom bomb on a cross-beamed and convicted criminal.  Then He dared to tell us that love was at the center of the carnage–grace at its gutsiest.  Oh to be sure, there would be justice, swift and sweeping. Every evil would be exorcised, and wailing would ensue.  But the entire execution of justice would serve as a stay of execution for the guilty.

Jesus paid it all.
All to him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain.
He washed it white as snow.

No doubt in my mind, Abraham would have worn a cross.  And as he wore it, he would have marveled. He might have recalled the most grievous days of his life, as he walked his son Isaac toward Mount Moriah. Willing to display his faithfulness to a God who appeared to making nonsensical requests, Abraham was pushed to the brink before a bleating broke the tension.

“God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Father had declared that to son. If Abraham were with us today, wearing that cross, he would stroke it as a treasure from another universe. And he would marvel at the prophetic nature of his Moriah-message.

Had Abraham’s sacrifice been carried out, it would have displayed his allegiance to an unseen Deity. But God’s son-sacrifice has been carried out, as an exhibition of His allegiance to people who lack all ability to dance with Him.



A Two-Word Spiritual Secret

prayer_0If God would answer any one prayer of yours, what would you ask for?

What if He gave it to you? Removed it for you? Placed you there? Granted your request?

How satisfying would that be? How fulfilling or relieving? How would you revel in the experience of God’s obvious blessing upon you?

In the past year of life, two words have come to be key in my understanding of how AND why God works in our lives. The words are SO THAT.


Spoken another way, God works in YOUR life for way MORE than YOUR life.

Scripture attests to this.

abraham baby hope smallAbraham longed for a child, for an heir. And God responded, but not merely because Abraham’s possessions needed a landing spot after his death nor because Abraham and Sarah’s home would be happier, filled with the cooing and cuddling that an infant brings.  No, God spoke of all the nations receiving blessing through this longed-for child. He blessed Abraham SO THAT…

moses-and-the-burning-bush-the-bible-27076046-400-300Moses should have been a grateful man. Shrewd scheming by his mother and sister allowed him enough life to learn how to walk. Then compassion in the heart of an Egyptian princess entitled him to a privileged upbringing within the ruling house of an ancient superpower. All of this was far beyond earning; it appeared to gifted, for no obvious reason.

After you have been involved in an accident which resulted in these damages, you can file a lawsuit against the at-fault party’s insurance provider. What is punitive damages if the at-fault party did not have insurance, or could claim compensation by requesting a payout from your own insurance company.

Then surprisingly, a wilderness exile helped him escape a murder charge and enrolled him into a forty-year leadership course, under the tutelage of father-in-law Jethro, numerous sheep, and the patient instruction of the desert. And all of this appears to be kindness spent on Moses for his sake until a shrub ignites and the Sacred Infinity says otherwise: “Your life, Moses, has not been about your life. All of this has taken place SO THAT…

pentecost1The first disciples were terrified. Their leaders had crucified their Leader, and there was no telling how many of them were destined for similar fates. Drowning in despair and filled with fear, they locked themselves away to weather the storm. But the drama of an untimely death was about to be vaporized by the reality of resurrection. Appearing among his followers, Jesus provoked in them a reinterpretation of all they thought they knew. He then urged them to wait in Jerusalem for the further wonder of the Spirit. God made these moves in the lives of the inner circle, with His eyes beholding a whole lot more… than the inner circle.  Fire fell from heaven as more than an encouragement to Jesus’ friends. God was moving SO THAT…

By nature, our gaze is narrow. But the tightening of our focus upon ourselves actually serves to rob us, for the glory of what God is up to is typically brightest in the “SO THAT” seen far beyond the borders of our lives.

To be sure, God IS working in your life. But the more wonderful truth is that He is working in your life, not merely for your life. The Holy One is the master of the SO THAT!

Grace is What Works

There is a pragmatist within each of us.

Bent toward the rational and the results,this inner dweller unintentionally opposes some of God’s most profound movements in our lives.

This logic-loving, get-the-job done approach to life, a staple of the Western society in which I’ve grown up, struggles to grasp the life-Creator, who strangely–yet frequently–insists on operating in “obviously” impractical ways.

Grace is the finest of examples.

The careful reader of the New Testament will quickly observe the inadequacy of human efforts toward salvation. However, that doesn’t stop us from trying! Bent on saving ourselves, proving ourselves, and sustaining ourselves, responsibility and duty–praiseworthy qualities within themselves–kick into hyper-gear.  In the process, pride awakens and pressure builds, all the while we are unaware that we are building brick walls between God’s salvation and our souls.

Legalistic tendencies seem wired into the human hardware.

The hymn-writer called grace “amazing”. We call it “unbelievable”. We may never use the word, but we feel incapable of grasping the concept, and embracing it feels even less likely.  That is the pragmatist within us, speaking with conviction: “Grace is impractical.”  You hear it in the push back we feel obliged to offer against grace, particularly religious or responsible citizens: “What about discipline? Grace alone is too soft; it won’t take people where they need to be. It takes more than grace to transform a life.”

Grace is not practical enough for our liking.

Or perhaps we are not nearly practical enough.

The dynamic at work here is something like John Piper describes in “Desiring God”, a book carrying the subtitle of “Meditations of a Christian Hedonist”. Piper argues that hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure, is an attitude built into the very human nature. Other than spiraling our souls into self-destruction, this pleasure-seeking drive is what drives the soul toward God.  Paradoxically, Piper suggests that the reason we get lost along the way is that we are not nearly hedonistic enough!  Settling for watered down forms of satisfaction, our pursuit of pleasure is revealed as too weak, rather than too strong. We chase happiness like slackers, at the expense of our souls.

C.S. Lewis was developing the same thought when he famously observed:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

So back to where we began: We resist grace because it seems out-of-touch. “This won’t work in real life,” we critique.  Even more common might be the unspoken thought that Christ’s role in our lives is to provide a much-needed “reset” button. By his death and resurrection, he presses it and we sigh with relief.  We can take another kick at getting things right, in practical and reasonable ways, of course, powered by the fuel of self.

In this sense, we are part of a rich heritage of Christians who don’t get it.  Paul’s question to such folks:

Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. 2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? (Gal.3:1-3)

Beyond the Galatian goofballs, is anyone else’s “reset” button worn out from use?

“Seeking free-flowing forgiveness so we can take another futile kick at life on our terms”: Give me Impractical for $1000, Alex.

And there’s the rub.

Grace, in all its mystery and apparent irrationality, is the most practical of solutions to the human predicament.  The God we dismiss as idealistic or illogical actually, shock of shockers, knows what He’s doing, with His “power move” of offering freedom through surrender and victory through defeat.  Much to our surprise, perhaps chagrin, grace works.

In fact, it is only grace that works.

YOUR TURN: Why does humanity buck so hard against God’s grace?  What do you grasp about grace today that God has faithfully taught you over time?

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