agape

Receipts

Galatians 4:4-5

But when the time was right, God sent his Son, born of a woman,
subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law,
so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”

Do you save receipts? I do, although not as religiously as I was raised to. But at some point, don’t we all purge those old receipts. Some we may keep longer than others, but none will last forever. Maybe some we’ll toss out once they’re past the store’s return policy date. Or maybe, if you have a warranty on something, you would save the receipt until the warranty runs out. Or, at the very least, when you do a deep cleaning of your house and you come across receipts that are so old there is literally no ink left on them. If that’s you, come on, it’s time to let go.

Do you know how long God keeps receipts? Try not at all. When God bought us, redeemed us, adopted us, that was it. No return policy, no 100% satisfaction guarantee, no extended warranty. He just paid for us outright, through Jesus’ blood on the cross. He ransomed us from the power of sin, death, hell, and the law, and purchased our freedom. And adopted us as his very own children.

Imagine the most expensive, the most costly, thing you’ve ever purchased. Maybe it was an entertainment system, or a car, or a house. Now imagine shredding the receipt on the spot. I think most of us would be mortified at the thought—at least I know I would. But essentially, that’s exactly what God did for you and for me. His sacrifice, his purchase, his redemption is OURS to accept, to trust, to rest in, to be transformed by, to be grateful for, and to share with others. We don’t have to deserve it or earn it, indeed we never could. But if we do accept this gift, we belong to God, and he stamps us: “ALL SALES FINAL.”
 

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Dust

Psalm 103:13-14

“As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.”

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Well, I finally got tattoo #8 yesterday. I’d been thinking about it for some time, but the logistics only just fell into place. Whenever people see a tattoo in another language, the first thing they ask is what it means. Well, in this case, the Korean symbol on the back of my ankle means “dust.” It isn’t the only symbol for dust in the Korean language, but this one means, “soil, earth, clay, dust, ground, terra.” And that seems pretty close to the meaning of dust in the Bible verse above. WE. ARE. DUST.

I think we forget that sometimes. We think we are greater than we are, more invincible, more in control of our own destiny. Or maybe we are constantly beating ourselves up because we aren’t as great as we think we should be; we aren’t as kind, honest, or righteous as we are called to be. We fail. We fall. We disappoint ourselves, and those around us, and presumably God. But the verse above suggests that our God is a God of compassion, understanding, and unconditional love.

We also need to remember that, just as we are formed from dust, so are the people around us. They will fail. They will fall—and the higher the pedestal you’ve put them on, the greater the fall will be. They will disappoint. They will betray. And God remembers that they, too, are but dust.

Now, does this mean we should throw in the towel and dispense with all the good we know we should do? Does it mean we should do away with our efforts to promote justice and righteousness? And does it mean we should try to avoid the consequences of our actions, or protect others from suffering the consequences of theirs? No, no, and no. Paul makes that abundantly clear in Romans 6:1-2: “What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase? By no means! How can we who died to sin live in it any longer?”

We should do what we know to be right and good. As Micah 6:8 commands, we must seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. And as Jesus stated (Luke 10:27), we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Still, as hard as we try to obey God’s instructions, we will fail at least some of the time. And no matter how hard our fellow believers try to keep those commands, they will fail. And no matter how much trust and loyalty we place in our leaders, they too will fail. And maybe, just maybe, if the God of the universe—holy, righteous, and just—can show compassion toward such dusty creatures as you and me, then perhaps we could too.

Peter

Garner State Park 12

John 21:15-17

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” 

John 21 tells the story of the miraculous catch of fish. Let me set the scene. Jesus has died and been resurrected. He has appeared to Mary Magdalene, the disciples, and Thomas. Then Peter and the others decide to do a little night fishing, at which time they catch nothing. In the morning, they see a stranger on the shore who instructs them to cast their nets out one more time. They do as they’re told and come up with a net full. At this point, they realize that this stranger is the Lord. Peter immediately jumps into the water and swims the 100 yards to Jesus. The others follow in the boat and the friends enjoy a nice breakfast together.

After breakfast, Jesus takes Peter aside and asks him three times to reaffirm his love. When many read this passage, they presume that Jesus is making Peter profess his love three times to make amends for the three times he had earlier denied him. But what many don’t realize is that, in this passage, Peter is not answering in the affirmative. Not really. You see, Jesus uses the word agape throughout the exchange. But in each of Peter’s replies, he uses the word phileo. Both mean love, but they are not synonymous. The latter describes a brotherly love shared among friends, whereas the former refers to an unconditional, sacrificial kind of love. So, in essence, Peter’s response to Jesus is more like a, “No. I really want to love you like that, but I don’t. I can’t.”

Jesus goes on to tell Peter that he will in fact be crucified for his faith. I used to think that Peter’s love for the Lord must have grown during the ensuing years, and that he was somehow transformed into one with a sacrificial love for his Savior. And maybe that is the case—it does happen. But I’ve recently become convinced that Peter already had an agape kind of love for Jesus. After all, when he recognized Jesus on the beach, he couldn’t even wait another minute or two to see Him face to face. He threw off all dignity and hurled himself headlong into the sea and toward his Lord. I think he loved Jesus with every fiber of his being.

He was just scared to say it out loud. He had espoused this love before when he had pledged his loyalty to Jesus just prior to His crucifixion. And when he failed, he became riddled with self-doubt. For many people, to hear straight from Jesus that their destiny was to be martyred for their faith would be the most frightening revelation imaginable. But I believe that, for Peter, this prophecy brought an uncanny sense of comfort and relief. Jesus restored Peter’s confidence by basically saying, “Peter, I know that you’re doubting yourself, and the conviction of your faith. But trust me. As surely as I foretold that you would thrice deny me, I am telling you now that your love and commitment to me are true. You can boldly proclaim your love for me—as agape—because you WILL remain faithful. You have my word.”

Oh the weight that must have been lifted off of his shoulders in that moment—freed from the burden of his past and commissioned for his future service. What a sweet, sweet time that must have been for him. And may you and I also embrace that same forgiveness, allowing God to use us in His service, confident that He has made and is still making us new in Christ Jesus.