Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Salvation, Faith and Hope

Written July 26, 1011

I really didn't want to go to bible study last night to talk about Salvation and Faith. I wanted to stay at home and wallow in my misery, and not to have to put on a happy face for a few hours and to nod my head and agree with things that the author of the book said we 'should' believe, when I didn't feel the least bit like they applied to me right now... but we went anyway, and it really was just what I needed to hear... especially the reminder that Salvation is a continual ongoing process, not a one-time flip of a light switch. We are working our way closer to God one babystep at a time for as long as we live. I always think that if things aren't perfect, I must have done something to screw it up. Maybe I've been so bad and horrible that God doesn't want anything to do with me any more, and that's why things aren't working out for me... Maybe I just plain don't DESERVE good things to happen. Of course, most of the time I know that that is not true... but it's really hard to remember when the rocks start piling up on my shoulders and the depression kicks in again.

The book we're studying (Know what you believe) has several pages about Salvation, but you can sum it up in three sentences:-

We have been saved by Jesus. He bought us body and soul when he sacrificed himself on the cross. (Justification)
We ARE being saved every day of our lives, as we grow in our faith and we work towards knowing and following God more closely. (Sanctification)
and when we die and go to heaven we SHALL be saved once and for all. (Glorification)

I get most of my meaning from music, and the classic song from Godspell leapt into my head. It's not just a song, it's a prayer, and one that is in my heart often...

Day by day
Day by day
Oh Dear Lord
Three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day

I also remembered the bible verse that I need to stick on the wall in front of my computer so I'll see it every day Romans 8:28. The words are different in different translations but the one I like the best is the good old King James. 'And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. '

It doesn't say that everything WILL be good. It doesn't say that life will be easy and God will make everything fall into your lap. It doesn't even say that bad things will never happen to you. Bad things happen to everyone, no matter how faithful a Christian you and how many hours a week you spend on your knees or how many times a week you go to church. Just ask our former church elder - he devoted years to the church, and his wife has breast cancer gradually spreading through her body... no matter how many times we prayed for a miracle cure, she didn't get one. The cancer grows, and the medicine fights it back again, but she's going to get to heaven a lot sooner than the rest of us... The miracle in her life is that she's been living with this for five years now and she's still with us. Every day that she gets to spend with her daughter is another miracle for them both.

So bad things can and WILL happen. I have the glorious fun  of living with anxiety and depression and knowing exactly how bad things could possibly get for me if the circumstances conspired against me. Believe me, it's not something to wish on your worst enemy. But even the horrible, bad, really hard to deal with, things have a purpose in your life. The griefs and woes of our life aren't a punishment... but we can learn from them. Having gone down to the very deepest depths of my spirit, I know what's down there... and I know that it doesn't last forever. Eventually that stage will pass and you can see the light again even though previously you couldn't even imagine that any kind of light still existed in the universe.  After the long stormy night comes the morning, and it seems so much brighter and clearer when the rain has washed away all the dirt and made the world fresh. No depression I've experienced has ever been so deep and dark as the first one, and it never will again if I can cling to the faith that God will look after me even when I don't care enough to look after myself, and trust the people that He sends my way to help me.

I did not have that faith at that time in my life. I had to learn that lesson the hard way... I had been a Christian for over a decade, but I couldn't bring myself to sit through a church service for a full three years because I felt like I did not deserve to be there in God's presence. How could He possibly love someone like me? I took the gift of life that He gave me and tried to throw it away. This is why I don't believe in near-death-experiences. If there was a time to have one, I would have expected to, but that 12 hours of my life is a total blank. All I got out of the experience was a load of guilt that took years to process. But when I look back now, from a distance of a decade, it's very plain. All I wanted was to go to God and be at peace and not to have to deal with the world of pain and hurt that was my life, but He said 'not yet'. Was that a miracle? Not a burning bush-type angels-and-trumpets-type one, but I was at home alone, and my family wasn't expected home for hours. My friends online (who didn't know any  more about me than my first name and the city I lived in) got ahold of somebody at my ISP and persuaded them that I needed help, and between them all they made sure that I woke up in the hospital instead of at Heaven's door. I'm not proud of it... but it can't be unhappened, and all denying it does it to deny anyone else the smidgen of encouragement and hope that I may have to offer them. I wanted to die. God didn't let me fall (and what's more, He made sure that somebody else was in the position to catch me!) And when I was ready to come back to Him, He was still there patiently waiting for me.

My greatest faith is this - if God can still love and care for someone like me, He is there for everyone. God loves us completely and totally. Human love is fallible. We screw up all the time. God's love is truly perfect. And in His perfection he has chosen to love us even though we don't deserve it. We can (and often do) choose to turn away from God and to reject His love... but there is absolutely nothing whatsoever we could do to destroy His love for us and to make Him reject us. God is always there - He HAS always been there, He IS always there, and he WILL always be there. No matter whether we can see and feel His love at this moment in time, or we are so far buried in our own miseries that it feels like He's on the moon, He is still watching and waiting, crying for our pain, and waiting and hoping for the day that we decide to turn back to Him again and to accept His love. When we rejoice, there is rejoicing in heaven. When we cry, he cries with us. What hurts us, hurts Him far more deeply. But because He is our perfect loving Father, he will never ever EVER stop loving us. And Faith is believing that He is there, no matter what... it's a life-raft in the midst of the stormiest seas, and a torch in the darkest night.

If you like Lord of the Rings, all of the companions were given special gifts by the Elves of Lothlorien, but Frodo's was the most special, to match the heavy burden he carried. A light is a small enough thing, but with it, his faithful companion Samwise saved his life.

"And you, Ring-bearer," she said, turning to Frodo. "I come to you last who are not last in my thoughts. For you I have prepared this." She held up a small crystal phial: it glittered as she moved it, and rays of white light sprang from her hand. "In this phial," she said, "is caught the light of Eärendil's star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out. '

To go back to the Bible, (the New Living Testament this time) The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. John 1:5 No matter where you are in life, cling onto faith and know this one true thing - God loves you. You right there reading this page. No matter what you've done or left undone, said or left unsaid. No matter whether you think you deserve it or not. You don't have to earn it. You don't have to buy it. You can't even give it away to someone else who you think deserves it more than you. We all deserve it equally, and there's more than enough to go around to the whole world. God loved you before you were born, he loves you right now, and He will continue to love you until the end of time.


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