Last night it finally happened. I walked around to the west side of my back yard, through the garden gate and there hanging from one of the vines was a beautiful site to behold: a small, red, grape tomato. The first one of the season. Up until this point I’ve mostly just had a vision for what could be, but last night the vision turned ripe with reality. I love having a garden!

Last night after I picked that tomato, I pulled a few onions from the ground, looked at the beans that will be ready for a first harvest this weekend, and noticed I have several cucumbers that have begun to grow and a few squash that are forming on the ends of their vine. Sure, there are still some weeds that pop through the soil that need pulling, and I still have to inspect plants for harmful little pests, but that’s ok because I’ve begun to see the fruits of my labor. The small reward of “fruit” is a unique inspiration.

I know it’s been a while – ok, a really long time since I’ve posted. You ever just not feel like writing? It’s not that there’s been nothing to write about; I just haven’t felt like writing. I’ve been doing more reading and thinking than writing. When I went to bed last night I reflected on the development of my back-yard garden and I realized I’ve been doing some internal gardening.

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about grace. For most of my life I’ve had a real passive understanding of grace. By passive I mean that I felt like grace was something I received from God and not something I actively dispensed to others. God’s been gently showing me otherwise. Grace is far from passive. I’m not sure what this grace garden will look like, and I’m not sure when it will blossom. At this point there’s still a lot of weeding and cultivating to do. So I’ll have to keep you posted. In the meantime, I’m going to be eating a lot of tomatoes.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about God’s love and grace which has stirred a lot of thought. In fact, some of the beliefs I’ve held throughout most of my life have changed rather dramatically. I’ve written in the past about our tendency to define God by our own personality or understanding of certain things. Similarly, we tend to impose our own sense of justice onto God and then expect God to dispense the same type of justice to people as we do. When someone wrongs us our first response is usually to get even, or to somehow make them pay for their wrong. Try suggesting otherwise and you’ll be called weak or cowardly. Try turning the other cheek and you’ll likely be accused of being non-confrontational, which for some reason has become an undesirable characteristic.

Why are so many of us more comfortable with a God who is quick to judge than with a God who is long-suffering? Why are we more comfortable with a God who uses a measuring stick, expecting our actions to fit a strict code of conduct, than with a God who loves us and gently leads us in spite of our actions? Why do so many Christians prefer a harsh God than a God of grace and mercy?

At the same time I would ask why so many Christians are in favor of the death penalty, or afraid of people whose views are different from theirs or perhaps are gay or lesbian? Why do we seem to be more comfortable with a harsh response than with one that is loving?

I can accept people who find it hard to extend their love and grace beyond the bounds of a small box, because we’re all just human and have our limitations. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to accept them putting God in a box that is defined by their own human limitations. The somehow expect God to act as if He were human. He is God, and God is love! 

As I’ve shared my thinking with people they frequently comment about how weak that makes God look (again, putting God into a human context) and how they believe God is a God of wrath and justice, and they keep going from there. So, here’s my question: Which is the more powerful God, the one who conforms to human standards, lashing out at His creation whenever they screw up? Or is the more powerful God the one who allows love to surface above all, even when He’s angry and disappointed in His creation?

Not long ago I was raised the question, Is God’s love for us separate from His forgiveness? The simple answer for me is the two are distinct yet you can’t have one without the other. When I was much younger I read a book entitled, Your God Is Too Small. The basic premise of this book is our tendency to frame our understanding of God in totally human terms, because that’s all we know. To a point that’s good but it becomes a problem when our human terms are no longer broad enough to handle God. We can’t fathom the depth of His love because in human terms we run out of understanding before we get to the limits of His love. 

When I was young I was taught that Christ died for my sins and that I was to receive God’s forgiveness, live a Christlike life and then spend eternity in heaven when I died. However, if I chose to turn away from God then I was no longer accepting His forgiveness and would spend eternity in hell. I know some of you reading this are not understanding the problem right now. Here’s my basic problem with this: I believe it goes against God’s character of love and it diminishes the power of the cross of Christ.

I was recently having a conversation with someone and as I shared this with her she said, “so what you’re saying is that there’s no punishment for your sin.” To which I responded, “there has been punishment, and that punishment was received once and for all by Christ on the cross.” Admittedly this line of thinking goes against our human sense of fairness and justice. However, for me to consider the possibility of diminishing the power of the cross and Christ’s forgiveness by saying I can undo His forgiveness seems like the most arrogant position I could possibly take. In addition, it puts us in a position of jumping through hoops to earn love and forgiveness. Even reducing this to human terms it’s hard to imagine a loving father doing something like that to His children.

So, where does this leave us? It leaves us forgiven. It leaves us at a point of not having to do anything to earn God’s love or forgiveness. It leaves us in a state of freedom. It leaves us as the recipients of God’s unmerited favor. It leaves us with a God much larger than our own own human understanding can even begin to fathom. Now what?

I am by nature a pretty positive guy. I can’t help it, I just look on the bright side of life. There are other people whose natural tendency is to see things from more of a bleak perspective. Then there are those who just seem to be pissed off: they’re angry people. Many of those pissed off people have blogs and the thing they love to write about is how much the church has disappointed them, hurt them, or otherwise stifled them as they’ve gone through life. 

To get the full picture you need to understand that at the same time these pissed off at the church people are unleashing their wrath on the church, they also write about a God of love, forgiveness, grace, peace and how much they love this God. Interesting disconnect. I realize that most of the time the church they’re writing about is not so much the people of God but the organization. So, can we truly love God without being Christ-like, and can we truly be Christ-like and be so pissed off at the church? 

Here’s a great question (at least I think it’s great). How can the church — the people of God who are supposed to be a reflection of God — look so unlike God? Interesting disconnect. Several years ago a dear fried of mine introduced me to the concept of extending grace to others. I’m sure I’d heard this my entire life but for some reason it never connected until I approached 40. Up until that time I guess I thought that extending grace wasn’t my job but Christ’s. He kept talking about extending the grace of Christ to others through our actions, words, responses, etc. 

What if all of these pissed off people would extend some grace bak to this organization they’re angry with. They seem to understand the concept of grace and embrace the grace that Christ has extended to them, so why not let that grace come full circle? Why allow the disconnect to continue?

There may be more to come on this subject. What are your thoughts?