I Don’t Owe God Anything

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You’re reading this, so the title must have grabbed your attention.  It wasn’t my idea– I was planning to write “Lessons from a Triathlon, Part 1”.  But I was in my kitchen doing kitchen stuff, singing along in my head to some song on Pandora, when it hit me: I don’t owe God anything.  Have you ever received just the perfect gift or act of kindness from someone, at just the right moment, so you wanted to laugh and cry at the same time? That’s how I felt when I realized this.

I was raised in a tradition of doing stuff (and not doing stuff) for God.  There were lots of rules and expectations, and I was actually taught that even though my sins could be forgiven if I did x, y, and z, every sin I committed would leave a residue on my soul that had to be burned off by suffering.  Other traditions don’t go so far as burning off the residue of sin, but a lot of them give you the impression that God is angry with you every time you sin and/or pleased with you when you do stuff like go to church, give to the poor, read the Bible, and pray.

Years ago I first heard that “it is by grace you are saved, and not by works.”  What is this grace?  One story I heard involves a person who is wronged by another and instead of punching the offender, goes out and buys him an ice cream cone. The point was, grace is something good God gives us with complete disregard to what we actually deserve from Him.  But why?

The piece of this that hit me that day in the kitchen was that grace is a gift.  If someone gives you a gift you can’t pay for it, or it isn’t really a gift.  You aren’t expected to get them a gift in return (in theory anyway.)  The nature of a gift is that the giver gives it freely, out of love for the recipient. 

Now we are getting somewhere: God gives grace out of His love for us. Though I had heard about it all my life, I never had the least understanding of God’s love until I had kids.  Think about it:  A baby girl is born.  She is incapable of anything but crying, eating, spitting up, filling her diaper, and (hopefully) sleeping.  What good is she to the parents?  Yet they will do everything in their power for that kid, out of love.  There is no chance that the baby is going to pay them back for their sacrifice any time soon, if ever.  But the parents still want to give her the best of everything.

That’s what God’s love is like, at least a little bit.  Compared to Him we are helpless and useless (not to mention horrible to each other,) and yet He gives us everything- not because He needs or expects us to do something for Him, but because He chooses to love us. We are His children because He wants it that way.  Not only does He not expect us to pay Him back, He says we can’t receive His love except as a gift.  We can’t buy salvation and we can’t earn it.  That ubiquitous verse you see everywhere, John 3:16, sums it up.  God so LOVED the world that He GAVE His Son, so that everyone who believes would have eternal life. 

Grace is a gift.  It’s free.  The verse says “Everyone who believes.”  Not “everyone who goes to church, gives to the poor, reads the Bible.”  Not “everyone who holds onto the correct doctrine.”  Not even “everyone who does more good things than bad things.”

It’s free.  He gave it.  I received it.  I don’t owe God anything, and that’s something to shout about!

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Why I Did A Triathlon

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Last fall, I decided to do a triathlon. I told a lot of people about it, and generally got one of two reactions. People either said “Way to go!” or they asked “Are you crazy?” Some people asked why, and I told them I had only one item on my bucket list, and it was to finish a triathlon before I was 50.
That was sort of true, but I made up the bucket list and put the triathlon on it because I was not ready to talk about the real reason. That story is more complicated and much more interesting than a bucket list item.
I had trouble with my joints from the time I was a kid, and it grew progressively worse as I aged. It was common for me to lie in bed at night and do a mental inventory of my body parts, trying to find something that didn’t hurt (the top of my head, the little finger on my left hand) and to focus on that one pain-free area so that I could fall asleep. Eventually I had one doctor diagnose me with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrom, and another tell me that I could delay the inevitable with braces and surgeries, but that I’d end up in a wheelchair by the time I was 60. I did wear braces for years, on my wrist and my legs, and had a couple of surgeries to alleviate the pain and other effects. I was about to schedule surgery to have my wrist fused. Then God spoke.
I was reading my Bible, something I’ve done pretty regularly for the past 15 years, and God spoke to me, saying, “It’s all true.” Now I thought I already believed that the Bible was true, but it turns out there were a whole lot of passages that I didn’t understand, by which I mean that I couldn’t reconcile what they said with what I saw around me. Instead of wrestling with those passages, I would skip over them until I came across something I did understand, and that I had no trouble believing.
God clearly meant for me to take Him at His word, and I began to read with a different approach. One of the things I read was that Jesus healed me- provided physical healing- when He was beaten and crucified. (1 Peter 2:24, Isaiah 53:5) I grew up believing that God could heal me if He wanted to, but I wasn’t healed so apparently He didn’t want to. That view of mine didn’t match what Scripture says though, so for the first time I really believed that God was right and I was wrong. Jesus also says, many times, “your faith has healed you.” I continued to study, and that built up my faith, and I was healed of the joint issues (among other things, but that’s another story.) Praise God! My braces are on a back shelf in the closet and I am in better health than I have ever been!
I’ve never been any sort of athlete, but I chose to do a triathlon to demonstrate part of what God has done for me. I had a great time at the triathlon yesterday, praising God and celebrating my new freedom. It was awesome!