Dear Fellowship Family,
I heard a story once about a guy who was wearing one of those big Panama straw hats. A stranger saw him and asked where he had gotten it, adding that he had always wanted a hat like that. The owner of the hat (let's call him Jim) promptly removed the hat saying, "Here, take it, it's yours." The stranger (let's call him Bob) went into the typical stammering and stuttering saying "Oh no! I didn't mean I wanted YOURS! I was just curious as to where you purchased it since I've always thought I would like one."
Jim was relentless in his generosity and after a few rounds of "Here, take it!," and "Oh no, I just couldn't," finally said, "Look, I'd love to give you this hat but the only way it can be yours is if you are willing to just take it." Finally Bob could no longer resist, but with his hand on the brim and his voice low said, "OK, but I'd really rather pay for it."
I know it's sort of goofy, but that story had a huge impact on me. It helped to expose the lie in my life that kept me believing that, eventually, I could do enough, work enough, behave enough to earn this gift of grace. That surely there must be a role for me to play in deserving my own redemption. And of course, the harder I tried, the more I labored, the more shame I felt that it was never enough. And sure enough, it never was, nor would it ever have been. As Frederick Buechner named it, God brought me to my own "magnificent defeat."
While reading the last few verses of 1st Thessalonians 5, the truth about this was brought home when Paul sort of settled the argument in verse 24 with the statement "Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass." Wow. Paul doesn't leave much room for us in there does he? It's Him. It's ALL Him. I'm SO grateful the verse doesn't read "... and you must bring it to pass," or your pastor must, or your spouse, or anybody else on earth. He started this good work, and He's absolutely committed to its completion (Phil. 1:6). Even for those of us who'd really rather pay for it.
So now we live between the beginnings and completions of our own faith stories. In process? Yep. Messy? Big time. Imperfect? You think?! But the Spirit is at work in us, bringing life to this truth, and the only reaction left to us is... response. With humility and gratitude, we respond in love, in service, in worship, in good works, in giving our lives away. Not because we'd really rather pay for it, but because He already did.