“Daddy! If we be good* will you bring us something home?” These were the words shouted at me across the lawn as I was getting ready to head off for work. Of course, being the gracious father that I am, I responded, “No way!” Don’t get me wrong. I love giving my boys treats and surprises, but to give them something for being good, for something that is expected of them…well that’s just not good parenting. Uh oh. I am in trouble now.
We often refer to God as our heavenly father. And rightfully so as that is part revelation of the Triune God. This imagery often even helps us in understanding a bit of who God is (this is not always the case for those who have never had a positive experience with an earthly father). And so it kind of led me to thinking about understanding God and our moral behavior here on earth. I think a lot of times that our earthly checklist of right and wrong becomes a ledger that we believe will eventually be fulfilled in heaven. But is it really a scorecard? Does God really want to reward us for being good…doing what is expected?
Kids have a fun way of seeing life. Essentially I think they see it as getting stuff. I get good stuff if I am good and bad stuff if I am bad. Come to think of it, I am not sure that we really grow out of this. Heaven and salvation become the good things we get when we are good and hell and damnation become the bad things if we are bad. But is that really why Jesus came? In John 10:9-10 we find these words, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Life in full…life to the fullest (I like the old school translation here)? If Jesus comes to give us life to the fullest doesn’t that imply a “now” kind of thing?
I look at it like this way. I love to do nice things for my wife. Not because she will in turn do nice things back, but because I love her (love being defined as a daily choice to put the other ahead of the “me”). If God is love and he has come to give us life to the fullest then wouldn’t that be the way we receive that life to the fullest. In other words, it is time to throw out the ledger sheet; for God, for others and even for ourselves. Being good becomes an outflow of the grace shown us. Not because of what we will receive, but because of who God is…love. May you learn to love today out of response and not out of expectation!
* There is still some grammatical education to be achieved.
In the opening line of David Crowder’s “A Collision” album we hear the line, “Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.” I usually always thought this was simply about the passage from life to death and the anxiety that it holds, but I think there might be a little more substance to this simple line. So often in the Christian evangelical tradition we have been promised that arriving in heaven is as easy as saying a magical one line statement, but does this really sync up with what Jesus has called us to in order to enter into His Kingdom?
Luke 9:23-24 reads this way, “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” I know for many of those who claim to be Christian it was as simple as a statement of belief and then nothing else changed…but I got my ticket stamped for heaven. The problem lies in what we mean when we say we believe in something. I believe in the Tennessee Volunteers football team, but I change the channel when they start losing. But to say that one believes in and follows Christ has to require a little something more than withering devotion. The phrase that he uses is that they must take up their cross daily and last time I checked, taking up your cross usually results in death. So let’s play out a little logic here. If we believe we are saved for heaven by following Christ then we not only are going to eventually kick the bucket with our mortal bodies, but we have to die daily as well.
The problem is nobody likes to die…either way. Death contains uncertainty. Yeah there is faith and all that in the hereafter, but what about the now. You mean I have to give up my life, my plans, my dreams daily in order to encounter who knows what for the sake of Christ. Um, yeah. We are called to lose our life everyday and some day that could even result in losing your life (wouldn’t that be something). I remember once reading something by Bob Benson (and unfortunately I am not going to be able to properly cite this) about our passing remarks to loved ones. So often we say “take care” and leave it at that. But he challenged us to say “take risks” instead. After all, if we are calling people to die that is a pretty reckless invitation. But maybe that is what it takes to get to heaven. Maybe that is what it takes to bring heaven to earth.
I wish it were as easy as saying a simple line and then getting your ticket stamped. Maybe Grace is that scandalous. But I also know that Grace is not cheap. So may we become reckless in our abandonment of self and place ourselves in the great risk of following Christ daily. After all, “Everybody wants to go to heaven”, they just need some crazy guides to help them get there.
Even as I am trying to write this I have little hands pulling at the laptop and trying to hit the keys. My little cruising princess just loves to try and get involved in whatever her daddy is doing. She wants to “help”. and it doesn’t seem to change with age. Although I don’t often need much help in creating garden hose puddles the size of Huron in my back yard or picking all of the neighbors flowers (these were well intentioned). But I find that help comes in all shapes and varieties and in all seasons. Take for example the overwhelming generosity poured out on my family and I during some difficult times lately. Whether it was meals prepared, children watched or even help picking up the yard, we appreciated the help in this season. But this is really what it is all about isn’t it.
I always marvel about how weak we as humans are. I heard it put crudely the other day that we as humans enter the world wearing diapers and exit it the same way.* Really we are one of the weaker species on this planet. Most animals, at least mammals, if left alone a few months after birth would be able to survive. However humans…we require a bit more attention, help if you will. I am pretty sure even my four-year-old wouldn’t make it for too long without someone guarding over him and helping him. But I think that is also one of the amazing things about God’s COQNQTQ~ (Ainsley’s typing) design in creating us. We need each other. In fact, our salvation is often found in serving each other. Hebrews 6:9-11 puts it this way; “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.”
Our salvation is often fully displayed and realized in service to others. So we serve, we help, we live communally as God intended. We cannot make it on our own…In fact Ringo wasn’t too far off, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” So thank you to all who have helped me get by as of recently. And I am sure I will have time to serve you in another season. For we hold each other up in things that have to do with salvation. And we all need a little help sometimes.
* I actually had to pause while typing this to change a diaper.