How the Grinch…….Found Christmas

I love the Christmas Story, the one told in the Bible, not the movie. But I’ve always loved How the Grinch Stole Christmas, too. I know, it’s silly, and “Grinchy” and I can’t imagine the Christmas season without it.

Have you ever really thought about the story within the story, though? If we look at the story from a spiritual standpoint the Grinch is representative of everyone who knows about God, but doesn’t really know Him, hasn’t truly experienced God. The Whoville-ites are like those who have experienced God.

Knowing about something, and experiencing something are very different. I can know everything there is to know about having a baby, and I may have even delivered a baby, but if I haven’t actually had a baby I haven’t experienced it. I have been blessed to experience childbirth twice and have 3 beautiful, creative, intelligent and talented children as a result! I wouldn’t have missed a minute of that experience for the world! Believe me, I KNOW what childbirth is all about!

The same is true of God; we can know about Him from having gone to Sunday School, attended a church every Sunday for years, studied the scriptures, praised and worshipped, and been ever ready to “witness” to anyone who happens to cross our path. None of that is the same as experiencing Him. When we experience anything first hand we have a knowledge that transcends accumulated knowledge from an outside source. We have the “ah ha” moment, the light bulb turns on, and the experience gives us a whole new perspective.

I’m not talking about “getting saved”. For many that is merely repeating a prayer without really internalizing or understanding anything beyond the words that were spoken and living within “ritualistic legalism”; following a bunch of rules, most man-made and misconstrued, with no concept of the furious love of God. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the “salvation” experience. There was a time many years ago when I said the words and then tried to sort thru all the rules and regulations that the “Church” dumped on me 10 minutes after I got “saved”. I heard what the preacher said, that I was now free from sin, etc, but mostly what I understood was that I now had an obligation to do my best to prove to God that He hadn’t made a mistake by accepting me into His Kingdom. Well, I tried, and let me tell you I failed miserably at that! I became the Grinch sitting up on his Grinch mountain wondering what everyone down in Whoville knew that I didn’t.

The Grinch worked diligently to stop Christmas from coming, went the extra mile, and stole everything “Christmas” from the people in Whoville. None of his efforts stopped Christmas from coming, however. The Whoville-ites were downright joyous on Christmas morning, singing and making merry with their family and friends. The Grinch sat atop Grinch mountain scratching his pointy green head contemplating the events following his ploy to “steal” Christmas, and came up with the only plausible explanation; Christmas wasn’t about the tinsel and lights, the brightly wrapped packages, or the perfectly cooked ham. Christmas, it seemed, was about something deeper, more meaningful than the superficial tinsel and trinkets, and in that moment of pure revelation the Grinch’s heart grew 2 sizes that day! The ah-ha light bulb moment!

What was the difference between the Whoville-ites and the Grinch? How could they celebrate Christmas without all the bells and whistles? The Whoville-ites experienced Christmas; they didn’t just know about it. Christmas for Whoville was celebrated regardless of the tinsel, the lights, the presents, or the food because Christmas was something they knew and were confident was theirs to fully embrace. The Grinch couldn’t stay away; he had to join the festive merriment. Oh, joy beyond comprehension was his at last!

What the Grinch experienced is what it is like to truly experience God; to embrace His all encompassing, unconditional, furious love! If you haven’t experienced that you don’t know God; you only know about Him. Knowing God, having experienced His love, is not synonymous with salvation. We can say the prayer and follow the rules and “do” all the things that the church has decided are “Christ-like” and still not have had the experience of God Himself.

God isn’t so much interested in legalistic obedience; that was the relationship God had with His own prior to Yeshua. If the plan was not to move into deeper relationship with God there would have been no point to Yeshua’s life and sacrifice. The sacrifice of the cross opened the door to a love relationship with God unlike any that had existed before. That is the “Good News” we hear so much about.

God knows I am a messed up, screwed up, discombobulated disaster and He still wants to know me, wants to love me and wants me to know that I am adored by Him, loved beyond measure, in spite of my messiness. God knows I am going to screw up more than I even think I will screw up; I will disappoint Him, fall, fail, and foible my way thru life worse than I had imagined, and yet He still loves me the way that I am. That is a furious love. That is how He wants each of us to know Him.

Many in the “church” reject this message because it’s too simple, and not immersed in “works”, or proving that we are worthy of God’s love. The truth is that none of us is worthy of a Holy God’s love except thru the Gateway that He provided; Yeshua (Jesus). Not one of us can do enough works to make us acceptable, no not one.

If you’re wearing yourself out trying to prove yourself worthy to God, stop! If you’re certain that He has already rejected you because you cannot do anything “right” stop beating yourself up! God loves you just the way you are, today, this moment. Stop doing and start being; join the Whoville-ites and experience God’s unfathomable, furious love…..

 

Grace: More Than A Dinner Blessing

I have screwed up in life; felt like a failure and certain I had made such a mess of things that not even God could love me any longer. I have been on the verge of cashing it all in, so to speak. I have beaten myself with the gavel of guilt so viciously over disasters in my life that I believed were solely due to my bad decisions I was sure any thoughts of forgiveness were no longer a possibility. Sometimes I heaped a dose of perceived “sin” onto my shoulders just for good measure; things I believed about myself that I was certain others believed as well. Things like being the bad omen in everyone’s life, that the world would be better off without me, that I was a mistake.

Ever felt that way, thought that about yourself? The truth is that many of us have at different times in our lives. If we could see people as they see themselves we would see bloodied, bruised, bedraggled, shells of humanity moving through life putting one pain-laden foot in front of the other, hoping beyond hope, the proverbial lightning bolt would fall from the sky and pierce their hearts to end the suffering. Our focus turns inward, depression overtakes, hatred of self sets in, self-talk drips with criticism and we fall into the vortex of blame and condemnation; we withdraw from life.

Sadly, we have gotten it all wrong! Our “sin”, the unforgivable screw up is not what we have done; rather it is our refusal to accept the grace and forgiveness that God freely and willingly offers, though will not cram down our throats. Free will and all – it’s ours to take, the control is within our power. Continuing to wallow in guilt, refusing the offer of grace is a slap in the face to Almighty God, and in one fell swoop negates the work of the cross. You may have heard it this way; the unforgivable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy simply put is insulting the Holy Spirit. Is it not an insult to reject a gift freely and willingly offered? A gift that has already been bought and paid for?

Christians are familiar with the concept of grace, but many prefer wearing the clothes of guilt over grace.  Pew-sitting Christians refuse to step into grace believing it far more pious and righteous than living within the light of grace. People not as familiar with God may not truly understand the miracle of grace, and yet it is still available to whomever is willing to embrace His gift of grace.

Grace allows us to move beyond who we are at this moment with the heart-accepted knowledge that we are loved exactly as we are, not as we should be. We don’t need to be perfect or pious, we can come with dirty mouths, and lives, and thoughts, at the beginning of our journey, in the middle or even at journey’s end, and sit in the lap of a God who loves us, truly loves and accepts us.

Feeling guilty isn’t wrong. Acknowledging that we have screwed up, sinned, hurt others, made a mess of things, is necessary to accepting forgiveness and the offer of grace; that’s healthy guilt. Yes, we will feel remorse, and we should, but once we have acknowledged our transgressions, we are free to move beyond “what I have done” to what God can do. If we can make amends, all the better. Sometimes we can’t, but we can still move forward. Then comes the big step; forgiving self. Empowered with God’s forgiveness, I can forgive myself, fortified with God’s acceptance of me and my imperfections, the messiness of “me”, I can accept myself; the result is freedom from the prison of our self-created hell.  

That is the miracle of grace; that while still immersed in my imperfections, the wrongs of my life, I am loved and accepted by God. No longer need I berate, burden, and bloody myself because I am not everything I want to be, because I screwed up, made a mess of things and relationships, took wrong turns in life.

Simple? Yup. Too good to be true? Nope. There are no magic words, no incantation; sincerity of heart is the only road that will get us from guilt to grace. The work is ours to do. The work of God was already done on the cross. The journey will be difficult, I cannot lie. Refocusing from berating self to realizing what God has offered is hard work. Some of us have spent years, if not a lifetime, wallowing in guilt, self-hatred and condemnation. Reaching out to God is the first step, acceptance of grace the next, and every step thereafter is reminding ourselves that we are loved and accepted exactly as we are at this moment.

The result? We stand a little taller, smile a little more, we are kinder to ourselves, begin to see ourselves through the eyes of God. In turn we are kinder to others, become more tolerant, our focus turns outward so that we can encourage others, love others as we have been loved.

Is it time for you to pull yourself out of the muck and mire of guilt, condemnation and hatred of self? Grace is being offered. Are you willing to accept His offer…..

Contradiction? I Beg to Differ…..

Have you ever noticed that the Bible is full of contradictions? One disciple’s recounting of Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) life on the earth is different than another’s. Paul and Peter were at odds with one another at times, James, Yeshua’s brother, was at odds with both Peter and Paul during much of his ministry, and John, the disciple who was considered Yeshua’s closest friend and confidante had yet another view of Yeshua’s life and message. Why is that?

The scriptures as we know them were transcribed and interpreted by men. Contradictions abound because men interpreted Yeshua’s message and ministry from their perspective back in the day, and we still do.

Yeshua chose very different and interesting people as disciples, whether they knew Yeshua personally, or later caught the fire of His message. Peter, the disciple who always seemed to be zigging when he should have been zagging, the disciple who rushed in where angels feared to tread, was a fisherman, a common man, often brash, and rough around the edges. Peter was called to spread Yeshua’s message to the Jew and Gentile alike, however he believed there was a distinction between the Jew and Gentile in God’s eyes. He also believed “works” – the things we do to prove our faith and conversion –  were a necessary part of salvation. Peter screwed up pretty often and maybe he thought he could “undo” some of the times he screwed up by “works”. 

James was Yeshua’s half brother and grew up with Yeshua in a Jewish family and community. It wasn’t until after the resurrection that James believed his half brother to actually “be” the Messiah. Imagine being one of Yeshua’s half siblings; I bet it was more than just a little difficult to believe that your brother was the promised “Messiah”! James believed Yeshua’s message was intended only for the Jew and stressed “works” as the evidence of faith, the importance of living a disciplined life and following the law. In some ways I see James’s dogmatic belief that Yeshua’s message was only meant for the Jew, and the proof of discipleship reflected in the need for rigid discipline, alive and well in many churches today. Substitute “saved” for “Jew” and the result is the doctrine of many.

Paul was a Pharisee, educated, refined, and caught the fire, so to speak, after Yeshua’s life on earth ended. Prior to his conversion he spent a fair amount of time criticizing the new “Christians” to the point that he believed in the death sentence for the heresy of claiming Yeshua the Messiah.  Paul’s  ministry was primarily to the Gentile, and his message was a message of love and acceptance by God, trust with little emphasis on “works” and he believed there to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile in the eyes of God. Paul had persecuted God’s people for belief in His Son, God Incarnate. How do you atone for that with works? You can’t, and so I believe Paul’s ministry was borne of his forgiveness and acceptance by God in spite of his former behavior. 

Today, as then, there are Peter’s, Paul’s, and James’s preaching and teaching their interpretation of the scriptures. How God has revealed Himself to us colors and forms our interpretation of who He is. Each of those He calls have a different ministry; to bring God to others, and very often it is in the way He manifested Himself to them and within the confines of their unique personalities and bents. In this way God reaches ALL people.

Is one interpretation more “right” than another? I don’t think so. We interpret life through the lens of our own beliefs, values, and experiences. Some people are more comfortable within the confines of dogma and rigid doctrine, others are comfortable outside the box. Neither is right or wrong, good or bad, fact or fiction. God meets us where we are and walks our journey with us, revealing Himself to us as He sees fit; sometimes within the confines of our comfort zone, sometimes not so much.

We are not required to be perfect, acceptable, clean, sinless – pick an adjective – in order to have a relationship, or ministry for that matter, with God. Let that digest for just a moment. Maybe you have never heard that before, never had someone say it is ok to be who you are with God and not be afraid of being rejected. There is a place for you in His Kingdom, and the truth is that we all are called to bring God to others.

Yeshua hung with the ones who knew full well perfection was nowhere to be seen on the horizon. He was criticized loudly and often for His choice of friends and disciples. If we believe Yeshua was God clothed in human flesh, God incarnate, how do we reconcile perfection preferring the drunkard, the prostitute, the tax collector, the fisherman, the lowest of the low to spend His time with? Wouldn’t it make more sense to spend His time with the leaders of the Synagogue? They were the keepers of the law, after all, the ones who spent their days in prayer, those in charge of pointing out the glaring imperfection of the masses; perfection should sup with humanity’s offering of perfection. Alas, He did not, so much so that Yeshua spoke openly, loudly, and often about His disdain for the seemingly “perfect”.

Contradictions in scripture? Yeshua was the biggest contradiction to ever grace the face of the earth! Perfection choosing to spend His limited days on earth with any and all who knew full well they were unacceptable to the world. Why? Because they knew He accepted them, as they were, bedraggled, bruised by life, bloodied by circumstance, broken seemingly beyond repair, and anything but perfect. And, in turn for being accepted they went forth to bring God to others as He had been revealed to each of them through Yeshua. Peter, James, Paul, Mary of Magdala, you, me, the list goes on.

That kind of acceptance is powerful and transforms lives. We don’t need a laundry list of our flaws, faults, and foibles. We don’t need reminders that we screw up daily, have taken wrong turns, made bad decisions. We need Perfection’s stamp of approval, not of our behavior, rather we need to know that we are accepted and loved in spite of our behavior. The truth is we have it, we’ve always had it, now it’s time to embrace His acceptance and bring God to others in the very way He revealed Himself to us……