While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am we’ll pleased. Listen to him!” Matthew 16:5
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:22-24
I am not a very good receiver. You can test me on this, or help me practice. Call me up and offer to bring me food and I will try to receive it well. The truth is that I would rather be the giver, but I’m learning. Last year a friend pointed out that I quickly dismiss compliments. In my mind, I thought it was a sign of humility. After discussing it, I realize it is a refusal to receive. And I need to improve that. I get this trait “honestly.” I used to observe my father receive a nice new shirt at Christmas and, not really knowing what to say, offered, “What do I need this for? I already have shirts.” He did not say that to be mean; he just did not know how to receive. He, like my mother, came from parents who lived through The Depression. Families that survived by using and re-using every bit of every thing. So a new gift, in a sense, was excessive. It was unnecessary because they had been forced to be content, and any extra was better served in a rainy day fund. Receiving well is not a strong trait in my family.
Earlier this year I had the privilege of hearing a wonderful speaker at a retreat, and she hit on this very topic. She, too, used to dismiss compliments. Then she learned how to receive them. She receives them as if someone is giving her a flower. So she looks the giver in the eyes, and says to them, “Thank you very much.” At the end of the day she takes all of her “flowers” and sets them at the feet of Jesus – where they belong. I like that.
Twice in the last week I have seen very clear evidence of the truth found in Proverbs 18:16, A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great. On Sunday I tossed a bag of candy to a young man at church. He received them. I have known this young man for no less than five years. And, about two minutes after he received the candy, he came over to me and we had the longest conversation that we have ever had. Today, at our extended family’s Christmas party, events proceeded as normal. Three hours in, the meal, games, and gifts were complete. I made a statement to my cousin, who received his gift from me. It was our first exchange of the day. We then proceeded to have a lengthy conversation and he invited me to participate in something with him and his friends. A gift opens the way – IF it is received.
I have been reflecting on this quite a bit. I will soon be a recipient of a better-running car. The car will be more than what I could afford at this time. The car is paid for. It is a gift from my father. You see, although my father may not have always received very well (he’s getting better – we’re wearing him down), he is a great giver. He sees a need; he meets it. And I have not always received this well. In our society that is so saturated with do-it-yourself messages, I have fallen prey to the belief that I was “less than” if I could not provide something on my own. I was supposed to get good grades to get into college (to get into debt) to get a good job and to get nice things. Right? So in my fledgling adult years, I denied my father his due honor. I did not acknowledge the giver. I did not receive.
Now maybe you do this better than I do. Maybe you don’t have to fight the urge to “earn” what you have. But I would guess it’s a struggle for you also. And I guess that because in order to receive a gift well, you have to truly acknowledge your helplessness. And every day there is a gift extended to you that you would like to believe you can earn. Grace. Unconditional love. Righteousness. I’ll save you the trouble – you cannot earn it, but you can receive it. When I have failed to acknowledge my father as the giver of a car, I have completely diminished his sacrifice. His gift. His love. And that is the same operation at work in your heart when you puff yourself up as if you have earned righteousness.
God was doing more than attempting to do more than terrify Peter, James, and John when He spoke to them from heaven. He was pointing out His gift. His love, wrapped in flesh, delivered to Earth to be received. It was not that God wanted us to simply mimic Jesus. God gave him up – to us – because we need him. We fall desperately short. All the time. It’s not that we have fallen short; we are falling short. Every day. Sometimes we like to tell ourselves that we are ex-sinners. Retired. If no one else has told you, let me be the first to say you should retire again. Yes, sanctification is at work in our lives. Yes, we strive to improve in our walk. But we will never get there!
Even as I wrestle with receiving the gift of a car, I fight the urge to believe that I somehow deserve it. I was and am a “good kid.” Now it’s your turn to tell me – ha. Of course I remember the good parts. But I remember many things that I did wrong in the presence of my father. In defiance of my father. In secret from my father. I have been prone to share here, but I assure you – I am not ready for a tell-all story. I’m not even ready for a tell-some. And I think I deserve a gift from my father? Ha. Or from my Father? Infinity ha.
We will live differently when we start fighting the lie of self-achievement, and when we stop looking at the distorted mirror of self-image. We are in absolutely no position to earn God’s grace. If you don’t believe me, think of the things you have done, knowing you were in the presence of God. Or knowing you were defying God. Or thinking you were hidden from God. You, nor I, deserve this grace, this unconditional love, this righteousness extended toward us.
So here is what can happen when we fully receive a gift. When we stop walking around with a fake receipt like we paid for it. A way is made for the giver, and we can respond in love. Because I’m not pretending that I paid for the car, I can give honor to my father. I can give testimony to his love for me. And someone can see a glimmer of what our Heavenly Father does for us. The name on the title is mine. The pain in the pocketbook is my father’s. The name in the Book of Life is yours. But the price of righteousness – of an innocent life given over – has Jesus written all over it. I don’t think you want to approach the proverbial pearly gates claiming you paid your own way. I think they will ask for the receipt.
If you, like me, are struggling to receive, take a moment and reflect on what has been given to you. Free yourself from the self-imposed pressure to perform. Be a mess, and you will be blessed. God told us all what Jesus was saying: God is well pleased with His son. Jesus is loved. And he is a gift. Acknowledge the giver. Restore His honor. And give testimony to the life and love given for you.