Romans

Grace, Time, and the Trump Card

My last entry graciously played hostess to a collection of meandering thoughts on time, rivers, and oxbow lakes. You know I didn’t stop thinking the moment I published it, right? Of course not. Without further ado, a sort of part deux

Time is a slippery concept.

Like good water—time has no color, taste, or smell. It’s fluid: here and everywhere, close and too far away, unmanageable and contained in jar-sized portions called memories.

It is comprised of an insane number of microscopic pieces that make up a whole. Sometimes the bonds between events in time are as difficult to separate as the H2 and O.

Time is experienced inconsistently. If you’re not sure of that, measure 5 minutes at the grocery checkout or traffic light and an equal 5 on a critical deadline or roller coaster. Five minutes is never just 5 minutes.

That’s our experience of linear time. It’s common and basically how we live our lives, for the most part.

And now, for something completely different…

Infinity. What do we do with that word, that concept we can’t begin to absorb in our limited perspective? It’s not a foreign concept in Scripture with over 300 occurrences of forever alone. Think about it. Soak in it. We never quite grasp the elusive eternity. We construct an imperfect, elementary idea in our minds, and it feels long and inevitably boring.

Maybe infinity, eternity, and forever are impossible in our minds because we understand beginnings and endings so thoroughly. God created that for us. Brilliant! Always a beginning and, predictably, an ending. Sometimes I fancy that I know why, but I really don’t.

Genesis. Revelation.
Birth. Death.
Eden. Earth.
Everyday events.
Our whole lives…

Human life is as short-lived as grass. It blossoms like a flower in the field. Psalm 103:15 GW

A voice was saying, “Cry out!” Another said, “What should I cry out?” “All humanity is grass, and all its goodness is like the flower of the field. Isaiah 40:6 CSB

Like flowers? That lands with a soft thud in my heart. Short-lived. How many times have I been overcome by the magnificent beauty of a floral arrangement? Joy-filled days or a week. It fades to an all-too-quick end.

And this is how our world is hard-wired. For good reason!

The trump of the timeline…

God, in his infinite wisdom and power, lives both in and outside of our timeline. He is—

He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8

And he punctuated the timeline for us. Remember the beginning and the end, Eden and Earth, birth and death? God did something. He played a trump card.

Now it was nine in the morning when they crucified Him. Mark 15:25

Perfectly inserted onto our linear timeline from eternity is the death of the God-Man that didn’t have the expected end. Observers expected death. Death of relationships, plans, and dreams. Some thought it was the death of a “problem” in their synagogues. That event, Jesus on the cross, was anything but that! That moment he died meant life!

Infinite, fragrant grace…

No wrinkles. No “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.” 2  Here’s where it’s grace beyond measure. From that loving, power-infused moment in time, Jesus addressed all of time, all of the lives that had or would ever live inside it, and all of the sins that had or would ever be done. Steep in this for a minute. Eternal God sent his Son (the God-Man) for us (John 3:16-17).

Think about this:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  John 1:29

Which of us is not included in “the world” category?

So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone. Romans 5:18

Every one of us is, first, under “condemnation” and then has access to “life-giving justification.”

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:1

Which of your poor choices, mistakes, or offenses (sins) can eclipse “no condemnation” in Christ? True, this is for those who have found themselves guilty before a holy God and confessed that (Romans 10:9) to be “in Christ Jesus,” but this grace is unlimited and a bit of a complete time buster.

My past, present, and future met the powerful, grace-filled, sacrificial moment on a hill outside Jerusalem one afternoon 2,000 years ago. My Abba—intricately woven throughout my everyday existence and not limited by it—

Linear timeline trumped.

Yeah, I’m wrapping my mind around that today. And it’s beautiful and amazing and overwhelming and understood. Then it begins to slip out of my grasp into the totally incomprehensible.

Thank you, God, that you are not so small that I can understand….

More thoughts flowed here, there, and everywhere.  😉

~Jennifer

Questions to Think About:
Do you find yourself noodling these things, too? What happens when you remember nothing can eclipse “no condemnation” in Christ? What threatens your confidence in this truth? Take that to the Lord in prayer.

The biggest question we face is directly linked to God, whether we believe it or not. No other question weighs more than “Where will I be one minute after I die?” What happens in your heart when you think about that question? (It’s a biggie.)

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1 L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. 1962.

2 Doctor Who: Blink (Episode 3, Season 10). 2007

Scripture references from http://www.biblestudytools.com.

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Pondering Grace: My Advocate

Some consider Paul’s epistle to the Romans to be a key, theology-teaching book in the New Testament. At this point in my study, I strongly agree. Quite a few verses at Fragrant Grace have been from Romans, and that seems to speak to the rich understanding of or the undeniable emphasis the author placed on grace. I love that—Paul gets it!

Romans 7 has always been affectionately known as the “Do-Do Chapter” to me. (Yes, there is more than one way to “hear” that when it’s said out loud, and at times I can be flexible in how I’m thinking about it.) If your Bible is like mine, you see large or bold print headings on the page. The one that grabs my attention in my NIV translation reads “Struggling With Sin.”

The beauty of this part of the chapter is Paul’s fairly clear (though maybe not concise) explanation of the major “players” in everyday life: God’s law, sin, the natural nature we all have, the internal battle that rages, and Jesus Christ. Starting at verse 7 through the end of the chapter is where I find myself reading and re-reading. I’m constantly reminded of the battle in my soul between knowing what is right and doing it.

Here’s the portion that stood out to me:

What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. 7-8 NIV

God’s law, with its own special glory, is holy and is designed to point toward holiness. It cannot make a person holy, even in near flawless obedience to it. We’ve discussed that before in other posts. But, we were given the law in order to know what sin is, just as Paul points to the example of coveting in verse 7. We wouldn’t know right from wrong clearly without the law.

It’s verse 8 that gets me, and maybe you can relate. When I know what’s right and wrong, it seems inevitable that I am seduced to the wrong somehow too often. The natural, sinful desire in me leans toward the very thing spelled out in the law as wrong. Why, oh why, does this have to be so? More and more this chapter awakens me to the battle within me and the “doo-doo” in the “Do-Do.” Know what I mean? (Is that a bit “too real” right there?)

I don’t want to continue in old, unhealthy, or flat-out wrong ways. I find myself and others around me hurt, and I’m more keenly aware of the emotional condition of the heart of God. There’s the hook on which change hangs right there! When I realize the wrong is more painful to me, others, and God than making the right choices, I’ll begin to change. Deciding what’s honestly painful is the trouble, I think. When it’s “not that painful” to continue in the patterns I’ve got in place, I’m reasonably comfortable. Probably too comfortable.

So, those patterns can be called sinful and wrong when held up to the perfection of God’s law. Eventually it becomes obvious that I’m doing things I don’t want to do and not doing what I want to do (Romans 7:15). The reality of the life we live is that we are going to continue to sin until the moment we step into eternity and everything changes. That’s one of the most difficult tensions we exist in here and now. (But, dear Lord, don’t let me continue in selfishness or obliviousness to my peril!)

What do we do with that? Look for the fragrant grace wafting before your Holy God on the throne.

My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous One. ~ 1 John 2:1 HCS

John’s epistle is dripping with truth and grace! Surely, we don’t want to sin, and as far as it depends on us, we should avoid it. Simply put, when you know what sin is, don’t sin. But—

But is one of those “hinge words” on which everything turns. I know John says “if” in the text; I’d be tempted to say “when” in my own words. If or when sin happens, there is an advocate. My favorite printed resource on the names of God offers the Hebrew translation for Advocate: Malakh Melitz (advocate, intercessor), though I had to do a little online legwork to share in this blog.*

The grace is in Jesus, the Messiah, our Advocate before the Holy God who cannot be in the presence of anything unholy. I need to sit with that because that is the point at which sin is separated from the law and dies (Romans 7:8b).

An innocent God-man nailed to a criminal’s cross at Golgotha—all for me—to become the one and only possible Advocate before Holy God. The One who defends me, argues on my behalf, presents me innocent by his own blood shed for me. When he died, everything changed!

I find myself ever thankful for grace, Jesus!

Mmmm. The sweet fragrance of “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6)!

~Jennifer

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Resources:

THE NAME: HaShem: Daily Devotional Worship by Dr. Barri Cae Mallin
http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Names_of_G-d/Yeshua/yeshua.html

A Tree and Its Apple

The crisp, white ceiling and brown fan are wavy tonight. The first, hot, mascara-tinted tears blaze trails over my temples and into my ears. It’s that kind of emotional night. I’m just being honest and vulnerable. I hope that’s okay.

What’s it all about? A little background may help. It’s been the kind of week that holds reminders of past tears. Confusing neural super highways connect dots in surprising ways, and suddenly memories intrude on the present. The polysyllabic professional term is transference; I call it an ugly traffic jam. Enough of that. Suffice it to say, it’s been one of those weeks with troubling memories. Maybe you’ve got a few of those that pop up from time to time, seemingly out of nowhere.

I was thinking about my relationships to family members when I was young. The one that seems the most difficult is with my dad. I could go on and on about how our perceptions of God are formed early by the relationship with our earthly fathers, but that’s been written a hundred times, and it’s not really my thing to head down over-traveled roads here. I’ll share that’s been my experience and the cause of some dissonance in my understanding of God at times. I gather I’m not alone.

A story…

Once upon a time, a stout tree grew in a warm, sunny orchard. It was rather different, standing taller, broader, in stark contrast to the others. The fruit tree nearly intimidated the orchard by its sheer presence. It boasted huge clumps of the shiniest, greenest leaves and produced fruit that was particularly beautiful in the eyes of those who came to pick at the orchard. But most felt uncomfortable approaching that tree, fearful of marring the picture-perfect image by intruding on its lovely fruit.

An apple from that impressive tree hoped to be picked one day, but the dream didn’t materialize on time. So, the apple, feeling bold and a little desperate, determined to let go, fall to the ground, and hope for someone to choose to pick it up. Time went by, the apple went through unexpected changes and bruising….

An explanation…

By now you’re wondering where this is all going. This little story isn’t too far from my story in many ways. (Hang with me here!) 

My dad reminds me of the tree—strong, stout, a standout from the crowd, and very productive. He was a good provider for our family in many ways. Approachable may not be one of the first words that would come to mind when I’m looking for adjectives. He could be hard, strict, even intimidating.

The apple? Apples don’t fall far from—yeah, you know that one. I spent a good portion of my life looking for connection with others outside my family, and that strong desire ultimately led to some of the hardest times and the longest string of painful events. I was a bit bruised and changed by all of it.

And the point is…

Here’s where I go in my mind in a more “human” capacity. The apple is an apple because it’s the fruit of an apple tree. Earthly parents have so much impact on their children so very early in life, don’t they? There will always be strong connection, maybe even strong threads between them in appearance, behaviors and mannerisms, or preferences. Some of my tears tonight were shed for those connections that have been the most difficult to break (behaviors and preferences that don’t serve me well in life now). I’m an apple from an apple tree, and some of that tree is in me.

But, the sweet smell of grace…

Pardon me while I shift the metaphor slightly. We who follow Christ are branches. That metaphor is all over the Scriptures. I’m thankful for one specific thing—”a wild olive shoot” in Romans 11:17-18a:

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches.

There is a large portion of Romans 11 dedicated to the ingrafting. I am the ingrafting. Aren’t we all? And I am blown away by grace!

Li’l old me, a “wild shoot” (neither specially bred, hybridized, nor genetically modified) is picked up and grafted to the olive root, receiving all the benefits of the other branches seemingly more connected to that root. Truth is, grafting is an amazing process producing both strong and nearly seamless connection in time. It allows for all the same functions and fruiting “privileges” and abilities. The “nourishing sap” flows through all of the branches! It’s pretty cool, and it reminds me of the trees you can mail order that produce, like, five different kinds of fruit.

I imagine I’ve written better entries, but this one is precious to me because it reminds me of where I’ve been in my past…and what my present and future really holds. Ingrafting changes everything, does it not?

Thanks for dropping in. I’m off to sleep sweetly now, I hope.

~Jennifer