Scoff if you will, but I have fallen in love with The Message version of the Bible. I admit freely that I arrived a little late to this scene, though I have certainly laughed at jokes made about this culturally "relevant" version of the Bible. But I have finally investigated for myself, and I testify that it powerfully illuminates the Word of God in a way I had not experienced before. (Mind you, I keep the NIV close by as I read so I can remember what my more familiar version says.) During my time with God this morning, I read the Sermon on the Mount (which I'm currently attempting to memorize- eesh!) for the first time in The Message. And it was so clear, I felt like it just added more meat to my original understanding of Jesus' message. I thought this would be a good section of Scripture to experience in this other version, because it's long been described as one of the most important moments of Jesus' ministry. After all, he basically sat the people down and said, "Here's what the law is really for. It's not just this set of rules, but it's about bringing to fruition the kingdom of God, living abundant life, knowing the unending love of God." I love that! It's not about asking "How far can I go before I've sinned?" but instead, "How holy can I be? How can I truly become who God intends me to be?" Powerful.
Of course, it meant that way before The Message existed, but it cast a fresh light on that fact as I read it this morning. I have had a revelation in the last 6 months; my understanding of who I am and who God is got very warped somehow in the past couple of years. As a result, I have had to accept that I must rediscover God's love (if I ever grasped it to begin with) and His Grace- sufficient for me? Yes. So I began a journey. No, that's not quite accurate. I did nothing of the sort; it was God who beckoned me and I blindly, miraculously followed Him down a road, much like Gandalf gave Bilbo a nudge out of the door on his first great adventure. I love that about God! He delights in me, and even uses things I delight in- silly things- to draw me close to Him.
As I read, here's what I heard: you're blessed. "You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You're blessed when you're content with just who you are- no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.... You're blessed when you get your inside world- your mind and heart- put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.... You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom. Not only that- count yourselves blessed every time People put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens- give a cheer, even!- for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble." That's Matthew 5, the first chunk to be specific. ;)
Is there anything boring or "religious" about that? No! Jesus speaks and the words pierce your soul. And yet, it's simultaneously as though the words wrap you up in love, in real love. That's the most striking part of this moment for me; it's what inspired me to write anything here today. God, the unconfinable, confining Himself to flesh, stepping into the realm of broken, dysfunctional, self-serving, untrusting humanity speaking in the most accessible words that cut through the fog of this world with piercing clarity. How can we not be filled with joy? How can we not hunger for more? All you other Christ-followers out there, are you with me? The Word of God really is piercing as a double-edged sword. If we aren't filling up with His Word, His Love, His Truth, then something else is filling us. Or leaving us empty.
We behave like orphans, wandering through wilderness after wilderness, lashing out and hiding away, going nowhere, but longing for home. Home. "Let me tell you why you are here," Jesus says in verse 13. We all perk up- could it be true? There is a reason? Remember your thirst, orphans. Become children of God again. For we have received a "spirit of sonship" so we are adopted, shedding the skin of betrayal and distrust. Father gives us new robes, wraps us in His love. "You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?" Jesus says. I am honored. I want people to taste the God-flavors of this world because of the work of His love in my life. Basking in this foretaste of glory, of seeing Love face to face (1 Corinthians 13) is where I am this morning.
Something flickers in the back of my mind- what about God's almighty power, His sovereign rule? We can't forget to think of that. Yes we receive boundless grace, but we also submit to His boundless power. (It's kind of a fear thing. But a good fear I guess.) A voice says, "These warm fuzzies are great and all, but you should remember you are basically a worm and should humble yourself before the Awesome God." Yes, this is true. But I think I need to learn this love-lesson before I move on to that aspect of God, because recently I've been using my faulty human lens to understand how small I am before God, and I've been listening to the wrong voice in this matter. So that's another part of my heart the God is working on, but for now, I believe He's thrilled that I am running into His arms of love.
Think of it this way. Parents treat their infants and toddlers very differently than they treat their junior highers. I feel like I'm a toddler again, so God is making me laugh with simple things and comforting me in His arms first, and then I can grow into a healthy understanding of His Power and Might. Because He is both! Loving Friend, Magnificent King, Adoring Father, Almighty God. And His ways are not mine.
So I choose to dwell in this shelter of His wings today, counting myself blessed. I hope you will too.