Work It Out!
The Grace Letter
1998: Christmas Remembered
1999: What's In A Date?
2000: Peace On Earth
2001: Dark Days
2002: The Little Things
2003: Shop Till You Drop
2005: What Are You Waiting For?
2006: Peace In Our Heart
2007: The Greatest Of These
Continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Philippians 2: 12-13
One of my favorite fables is the story of the father and son who were traveling with their donkey. On the way they met several fellow travelers.
"How foolish," the first traveler laughed. "Such a strong beast, and you are exhausting yourselves by walking beside him instead of letting him carry you."
The father thought about that and found it reasonable, so he placed his son atop the donkey as they continued.
The next person they met reproached the youth. "How can you ride while your aged father must walk?"
"He is right, Father," said the boy. "Change places with me. I'll walk."
Again they encountered a traveler ready to give advice. "You could make much better time if you both rode the beast."
The donkey was not fond of this suggestion, but kept on walking until they met a man who said, "How cruel you are to the poor creature! It's you who should be carrying him instead."
When they reached their destination, they found their hosts doubled over with laughter at the sight of the man and boy, struggling under the load on their shoulders: a thoroughly confused donkey.
There seems to be no shortage of persons who would tell us everything we are doing wrong in our lives. Some of the most self-assured are those who claim to know the will of God for other persons.
These are actual excerpts from letters to me from persons who have been my friends in past years:
You are being deceived and are in need of healing. I will not be a part of your deception.
You cannot deny that your actions are contrary to centuries of church tradition. (Note: This makes me wonder about the medieval Church's position on transsexuals.)
This seems so contrary to the will of God.
Readers of my Grace and Lace columns over the years will recognize my personal struggle with these issues. These concerns took years for me to confront, understand, and accept; but others have based their opinion of me on superficial contemplation and an automatic acceptance of a status-quo based on law, not on love.
I don't know, dear friend, what God wants you to do with your life. I have my hands full understanding what God wants me to do with my life.
This much I do know: My God is a God of love. That love was manifested perfectly in Jesus Christ, and I can find direction for my life by allowing God to transform me into a person who manifests Christ's love.
I cannot be free to love others if I am living a life of untruth and personal deception. For years I tried to do just this, ignoring the pain and despair.
If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: If you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth - only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.
C. S. Lewis
The search for truth is an end unto itself, not a means to comfort. I regard it as a lifelong quest. By choosing for my Master and my exemplary goal Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, I am setting the direction of my life in favor of love, not the harsh, inflexible rule of law.
Victor Hugo's masterpiece, Les Miserables, illustrates so well the difference between love and legalism. Inspector Javert had devoted his career to the pursuit and punishment of lawbreakers, with no regard for an individual's circumstances. He cared nothing for the souls and feelings of those he persecuted, in his zeal to follow the letter of the law.
Javert's lifelong nemesis, Jean Valjean, served nineteen years in a terrible prison for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. Hardened by years of prison, the newly paroled Valjean committed a theft from a compassionate, loving man of God. The bishop not only forgave Valjean for the theft, but gave him more of his valuable possessions. "I have redeemed you from sin and darkness," he told Valjean. "Now you belong to God."
The experience of unconditional love transformed the tough criminal into a loving, giving man whose life forever after was lived to pass on God's love to others. Even when he had the opportunity to destroy his nemesis Javert, he refused to harm the inspector. Finally, at the end of his life, Javert recognized the moral bankruptcy of his rigid legalism, and understood that Valjean had found the truth.
God's love transforms you and me also. We see the effects of this transformation in our lives as we love one another as Christ loved us.
As I am free to love you in God's name, I can allow you the freedom to work out your own relationship with God. My duty is simply to follow God's will as exemplified in Christ, as Simon Peter learned:
When Peter saw [the disciple whom Jesus loved], he asked, "Lord, what about him?"
Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."
John 21: 21-22
As you communicate with God through prayer and the Word, may you find the path He chooses for you - a path perhaps different from mine or anyone else's in its specifics, but sharing the common bond of God's love.