Sunday, June 1, 2014

12. Holiness and Love

(This is a series that was adapted from my life-story, Child of Mine, which is at  On this blog, it starts at the bottom of the June posts with “Like a Child.”)

            As I reflect on this whole journey that I’ve been on and the many different things that God has used to break me, I think that I can boil the “lessons-from-the-furnace” down into two main truths - two main, overarching truths that ultimately humbled me and moved me from a self-sufficient, adult step-child to a child that learned how to rest in her Father’s embrace.  Without these, I never would have really known Him as the good, loving Father that He is.  And although I’ve already explored these in other posts, let me sum up the two, very crucial truths:
            1.  We need a proper understanding of His holiness, His glory.
            2.  We need a proper understanding of His love.       
            For years, I had faced life with a cocky presumptuousness.  I was self-made, prideful, and independent.  I lived as though I was really in control of my life and God was just my co-captain.  He was just along for the ride, there when I needed Him.  But for the most part, I could do it myself and I was doing a good job.  I wanted Him; I just didn’t really need Him. 
            And so learning to be a humbled child was not an easy, natural thing.  It went against every self-protective, self-reliant fiber of my being.  And while being adult-like was important in many ways, it made me proud in my relationship with the Lord.  It kept me from acknowledging my ultimate dependence on Him, and from letting Him have complete Lordship over my life.  And since I stood on my own two feet and tried to do life in my own power and wisdom, I was unconsciously glorifying myself.  And missing out on a proper, secure relationship with Him.    
            This was the self-sufficient, it’s-all-about-me, I-can-do-it-and-I’m doing-a-good-job part of my personality.  And this is the part that needed to be humbled by, broken by, God’s holiness and glory.  I was too big in my own eyes and God was too small.  I needed to be brought down to the level that God sees me, and I needed to see Him for the huge, glorious, perfectly holy God that He is. 
              Compared to His greatness, I am a tiny ant.  I am not in control of my life like I like to think I am.  I am not all-knowing and all-powerful.  I am not self-sufficient.  I am a tiny, little ant that gets freaked out if my ant farm shakes a little too much.  And I really did want a big, strong Father to take care of me.  I was helpless without Him.  And I needed Him desperately!  Daily! 
            And so to break me of my self-sufficiency - my need to be on the throne over my life - God had to remove everything I ever relied on, outside of Him.  He had to strip me of every sense of control I had.  I had to get to the point where I realized that I couldn’t do it all on my own, that I couldn’t even stand on my own anymore.  And that hurt.  It really hurt. 
            My view of myself had to be shattered, shrunk, and broken before I could see His holiness and glory, before I could experience Him for the magnificent, capable, loving God that He is.  And all these trials were necessary to do that.  They threw me off of the throne and I landed at His feet.  Well, in His arms, really. 
            In order to know God as He really is (and not just knowing Him out of our misconceptions), we have to learn who He is through His Word.  The boring Old Testament and all.  This is why I say that reading the Bible is so necessary.  If we are not seeing Him for who He really is - who He says He is in His Word - we are viewing Him from our own ideas.  And they are usually way off-base because of our broken pasts and broken hearts. 
            When I used to read the Old Testament, I only noticed His wrath and the punishments.  And all I could think was How unfair!  How harsh!  How could He do that?  And I could think that way only because I didn’t really see Him as He is.  I was looking at Him through my fears, and so I only noticed the part of Him that I was afraid of: His justness and His wrath. 
            But when I dug deeply into the Word during my time in the furnace and I began to really find Him in the pages, I began to see how His holiness related to His justness, and His justness related to His love.  Because He is so holy and great and pure, He can be just and wrathful about our disobedience, our pride, and when we sit on His throne.  But even this is because He loves us and wants the best for us, which He knows is a deep, humbled relationship with Him.  His holiness and love go together.         
            Here was a God whose voice could shake the mountains and terrify the people.  And in His wrath, He could wipe out thousands of them.  And yet, He loved them so much that when He cared for them, He cared for them completely and abundantly.  When He brought the plagues, He shielded His people.  When He led them through the Sea, He led them all to safety.  When He provided, He did so in amazing ways: manna, water from a rock, clothes that didn’t wear out, fighting the wars for and with them.  Even when He was angry, He was righteously angry.  And having now seen a bit His holiness and glory, I began to realize that His punishments were right and good!  (And even then, in His love, He would give chance after chance before He disciplined.)  He is a holy, good God. 
            As I began to see Him for who He is, I began to see myself for who I really was.  I wasn’t strong and capable and pleasing.  I didn’t deserve preferential treatment.  I couldn’t manipulate God and make Him do the things that I wanted Him to do.  I couldn’t judge Him for His actions in my life.  Who was I that I could dictate to God what should be?  Who was I that I felt that I could earn my way with Him?  I wasn’t “doing it all right.”  I was forgetful like the Israelites.  I grumbled and complained and doubted and shrunk God. 
            What happens when we come face to face with the kind of God that He really is, when we get a real glimpse of His glory, of His holiness and majesty?  A real glimpse of ourselves?  Here are a few examples:
            Leviticus 9:23-24:  “Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting.  When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people.  Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar.  And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.”
            1 Kings 19: 12-13:  “After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face . . .”
            Isaiah 6:5:  “‘Woe is me!’ I cried.  ‘I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’”
            Ezekiel 1:28:  “. . . This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.  When I saw it, I fell facedown, . . .”
            Revelation 1:17:   “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. . . .”
            If we haven’t been brought to our knees or our faces before God - if we haven’t become keenly, distressingly aware of our sinful natures - then we haven’t been humbled by God’s glory.  As I saw more and more of just how magnificent He is, I became so, so tiny in comparison.  I was trembling at the foot of the mountain with the Israelites as they experienced the immensity, the power, and the mystery of God. 
            And I learned that I needed a God like this in my life.  One who was so much bigger than me and who was strong enough to handle what I couldn’t.  One who, although I tried, could not be figured out like a formula or forced into something.  I don’t want a God that I can shrink, a God that could be figured out or manipulated by me.  He is much bigger and more mysterious and holy than that.  And that’s good with me!  I was humbled by - broken by - His holiness!  His glory!
            But there was another part of me - a deeper, more elusive part - that needed to be broken in a completely different way.  This isn’t the part of me that was too big in my own eyes; it was the part of me that I believed was too small in God’s eyes.  Hidden deep down behind my fortified walls was an insignificant, lonely girl who felt too low, too unworthy to ever really be loved by Him.
            This is the part that didn’t need to see how small I was in comparison to God’s glory and holiness; it’s the part that needed to accept how much God loves me, despite who I am.  The part that needed to be brought up off the worm-infested ground to the level that God sees me.  I am a completely-loved child.  Not some step-child who should be standing on the outside, looking in.  This is the part of me that needed to be broken by His unconditional love. 
            I’ve known about His unconditional love in my head all my life, because the Bible tells me so.  But my heart was too wounded to live in that love.  As a step-child, I was concerned with earning favor.  As a student, I had to earn good grades.  In high school, I had to earn a spot on the cheerleading team.  I had to earn my way into college and grad school.  I had to earn my job and earn my money. 
            I think for most of us, life feels like one long line of earning our way and proving our worth.  Some people get exhausted at that thought and give up.  They stop caring about being “good enough.”  They stop striving because they don’t really think His love is attainable, or worth the effort.  They get comfortable parked on the side of the road.  And they aimlessly, effortlessly, wander through this boring, old life, doing just enough to get by.  Just whittling away their lifeless days with no sense of joy or purpose or wholeness.  In their minds, no matter what they do, they could never do enough to earn His love, His generosity, or the abundant life that is available through Him.  Or they just don’t think it’s worth it.  They think, So, why bother?   
            And some people try so hard to do everything expected of them, being self-sufficient and striving for the next accomplishment or possession to prove how valuable they are.  They want so bad to be complete and to experience abundant life and security and joy and love.  But they can’t ever rest and just enjoy those things or an authentic relationship with God or others, because their days are spent doing “more” and being “better,” earning their way.  They have no idea how to accept His love as a gift, so they never really experience it.  In their minds, no matter what they do, they can never do enough to earn it.  So they think, Try harder!               
            I had to learn through pain (ironically) that God loves me just because I am His.  It’s not about me, or about earning it or not earning it.  In fact, I will always sin!  I will always let Him down!  I need to just be up front with that and get it out of the way.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that I should become comfortable with sinning because I can’t ever not be a sinner.  This life should always be one of striving for holiness and righteousness, even though we know that we’ll never fully achieve it this side of eternity. 
            But it also doesn’t mean that I should let it keep me from believing Him when He says He loves me and forgives me.  I shouldn’t let it stop me from delighting in Him and being delightful to Him, from enjoying His goodness and the security and joy of resting in His arms.  I shouldn’t let it render me useless behind my walls.     
            I had children knowing that they would not be perfect, that they would let me down and that there would be times that they grieved me.  But I still want a deep relationship with them.  I want them to enjoy my presence and the things that I do for them and with them.  I want them to trust me and have faith in me.  And this shouldn’t be hard for them, because I have shown them how much I love them and that this love doesn’t hinge on how pleasing they are to me.  I might be disappointed in them at times.  I have to discipline at times.  But even then, it’s because I love them.
            And God made us knowing that we wouldn’t be capable of perfection, that we would sin and grieve Him.  (I used to think, Way to go, Adam and Eve, for disobeying and bringing this all on mankind.  And then, one day, I realized that any one of us, given enough time in the Garden of Eden, would have done the same thing.  I mean, I can’t even make it through one day without violating one of God’s principles.  So in all honesty, I’d have done the same thing as them.  So I guess I can only be thankful that God didn’t make me as the first woman.) 
            He made us knowing that we would sin, and He loved us enough to find a way to remove our sins from His sight.  Out of enormous love for us (in spite of our sins and because of them), Jesus came here to take the punishment for us so that we would not be eternally separated from our Heavenly Father.  God loved us so much that He made a way for us to have a genuine relationship with Him. 
            And this is the theme of the whole Bible.  This is the heart of the matter!  God’s love made a way!  God loves us, not based on what we deserve, but because of who He is.  He is love.  And His love is a gift.  An unearnable gift, available to all of us.  He loves us just because we are His.  Unconditionally!  And, I don’t know, but I wonder if the greatest act of humility is this: believing and accepting that Someone loves us! 
            [For many hurting people out there, it is a very hard thing to accept that He loves you just because you are His.  Tell Him this.  Tell Him your honest feelings and ask Him to help you see His love.  He wants to answer that kind of prayer.  He’s always trying to show you how much He loves you anyway.  But you won’t be able to see unless you want to.  So ask Him to help you see how much He loves you.  And then watch!  Wait and watch!  Ever notice how many plant and tree leaves are heart shaped?  I have to wonder!]
            As long as I kept trying to earn something that was already mine, I was not free to experience it.  I had to learn to accept His love for what it was - unconditional!  I didn’t have to be worthy of it, I just had to accept it.  In fact, I could never be worthy of His love.  And so I had to humbly accept it as unconditional or else I would never experience it. 

                        1 John 4:15-18:  “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”