Saturday, December 27, 2008

God In A Mess

I'm spending a few days with all of my family (and all of my brothers and all of their families) at my parent's home near Los Angeles. It's going to be more than a ton of fun, and there will be plenty of memories and feelings and longings to go along with it. We all grew up here and my parents lived in this home for 50 years. It's our way of honoring them and of bidding "farewell" to the community, a place we love and remember well.

And speaking of memories, do you remember the LifeNote, "God In A Mess"? It's #6 in our count down of the Top 10 LifeNotes of 2008. I wrote it at a time when I was far from my best, but during which God, who has no ups or downs, rescued me in one of the many wonderful ways He does.

I hope you enjoy it.


Yesterday was a pretty lousy day. It wasn’t because lousy things happened or because good things failed to come to pass. It was because I was fairly lousy in it. If I could have taken me out of it, everything would have been fine. No, that’s not actually in keeping with my theology, but it’s how I felt.

Grumpy. Sullen. Reclusive. A don’t bug me kind of day because I was already really bugged.

Now I know all about what I could have and should have done, like sow to the Spirit (and reap eternal life), take a walk (and get refreshed), call a friend (who could tell me the gospel and build me up), turn on some good music and pray. There are surely dozens and dozens of ways by which I could have altered me in my day, but I didn’t do any of them. My didn’t want to overwhelmed my ought to. Does that ever happen to you?

Fortunately for me, Jesus has not stopped being my Shepherd. He didn’t lead me out of bondage and sin and a faulty nature only to leave me alone in freedom, righteousness and holiness. “Sorry, Ralph. It’s all up to you now.” That’s not how He works. He’s made me His house, and I’m really glad He gets to moving the furniture around and banging the cabinets a bit in order to get my attention and do something for me.

Somewhere last night around, oh, 8:15, my thoughts locked-on to Romans 8:1-2—

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Okay, so those are two of the greatest verses in the Bible, along with 14,392 others. But what a couple of verses! Still, my thinking didn’t linger for long on the there is now no condemnation part of those verses. Instead, my thinker began to reflect on what Paul wrote before those two verses. If I had been writing the book of Romans, I like to think that I would have preceded Romans 8:1-2 with a brilliant and sequential treatise on Jesus’ substitutionary death, inclusive resurrection and stunning gift of righteousness. And then I’d deliver a new chapter beginning with that incredible word, “Therefore.”

But Paul doesn’t even come close to doing that. Romans 7 is mostly a load of lament about what a loser he is and how he is assured of failing in his own fleshly strength. The things he wanted to do because He believed God, he couldn’t. The things he didn’t want to do because He believed God, he did! And he concludes chapter seven and sets the table for “there is now no condemnation” by a faith-building summary, I’m a wretch and a slave. How does all that go together?!

If yesterday was any indicator, it’s brilliant. I didn’t do anything right! In fact I did everything wrong—I was living out the wretch and a slave thing. Yet the Spirit attracted my thoughts and set me free from an otherwise day of death. It’s who He is, it’s what He does, and I was delighted at how much better I felt. “I’m a lot like Paul,” I thought, “trying to make myself happen and work well apart from the Spirit.” I laughed, and the wretch and slave vanished. I didn’t like him anyway.

Although I’ve been made a son of God, having now His nature in me, I’ve still got a lot going on that’s not in line with that. Looking over the years of my life, I’m a mess of contradictions.

Thank God, He isn’t.


  1. Anonymous1:45 PM

    Thanks! I had one of those days yesterday…

  2. Anonymous1:46 PM

    Nice. Thanks for your
    candor in this week's lifenotes.

  3. Anonymous9:56 PM

    One of your best.

  4. And I appreciate your comments, everyone. Thanks for making them known!