Feral Orphans

Our daughter Emily rescued a wild (I mean that in every way) cat named Rafreaka that defines “Feral”, as her clipped ear reveals (a sign that a homeless cat has been neutered and returned to the wild). Even though she’s pampered and well-fed for the past several years , she can’t seem to get the Feral out of her system. She will stand by the closet door where we keep her food yelling at us to give her more, even if we just fed her. She’s stuck in the Feral System.

Think for a moment what it would mean to be truly Feral. You would have to fend for yourself just to survive one more day. Every desire or need would be totally up to you, and you would be in life and death competition with everybody else around you for the scarce life-saving resources. This would cause perpetual fear and probably drive you to do things you never thought you’d do just to get by. And this would be so deeply ingrained in you that, if you were ever adopted into a home, your heart would certainly keep going back to being afraid and scrounging for the scraps you need.

You and I are just like Rafreaka. In Christ we have been fully and beautifully adopted into the Great Heavenly Family and our Heavenly Father has, by giving us his own Son, proven that he will perfectly and generously provide for exactly what we need, when we need it. Yet I stand by the door yelling at Him for more, more, more. The issue isn’t our demanding behavior, it’s our meager and wavering belief that we are actually in God’s family, under the outrageously loving protection and provision of our Father. Into this weakness Paul gives us outrageous hope:

Romans 8:15
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Despite what it feels like; despite the ingrained feral heart that I can’t shake, the truth is that I am loved beyond belief and have been given a Royal Inheritance that isn’t only the life to come, but the flood of love and blessings in the here and now, including the very presence of the Holy Spirit that has been given as a deposit guaranteeing the Hope that is to come.

Last week I mentioned the nearly-impossible-to-grasp truth that every shred of our sins have been perfectly paid for on the Cross…but that forgiveness is actually only HALF of the story. Leaving us sinless still leaves us short, because we need to be righteous, which we can’t remotely achieve on our own. And so the second half of the Gospel meets us in our Christ-Given sinlessness and envelopes us with Christ’s Robe of Righteousness.

Isaiah 61:10
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

The Righteous Beloved Son of God met me when I was a Feral Orphan, and traded places with me. He took on my orphanhood when he was forsaken on the cross, and imputed me with his status as Beloved Son. And what’s more, when Jesus rose from the grave, he brought me along with him so that not even death can impact my status, my righteousness, my New Family.

So run to your Abba, Father, your Heavenly Dad. He’s calling you to come to him with your loves, fears, failures and plans, and trust in his power and love. You are not alone and no longer Feral. You don’t have to fend for yourself at the expense of your heart and everybody else around you. You have been adopted into God’s family and will never be abandoned.

Absolute Absolution

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1 is the most significant verse in my life. It encapsulates the beauty, power, significant, practicality and freedom of the Gospel in my real everyday life.

Walk with me for a minute through our proverbial “permanent record.” You know, that thing teachers threaten kids with: “If you don’t tell Johnny you are sorry, this is going on your permanent record.”

Elaine Benes from Seinfeld encountered this. Some doctor at some point wrote down that she was a “difficult patient.” Years later, as she was trying to get medical help for a rash, the doctor looked down at her chart and treated her curtly with no compassion or help, because she was known to be “difficult”. The rest of the episode follows her trying to get seen by doctors as she trying to steal and/or erase her Permanent Record (obviously to no avail, even with Kramer’s help).

This premise is just a silly thing of sitcoms, right? Or, what if our failings and flailings really are etched into a permanent recorded? Be brave enough for a second to ponder the record of your life. Those offensive words of gossip, lying, slander and criticism; how we’ve belittled, demeaned and even dehumanized others; how I fudged some numbers, took credit for somebody else’s work and arrogantly patted myself on the back.

Even though these things are sufficient to warrant a guilty verdict, what about my internal life, my hidden thoughts and motives? How, in my insecurity, I see myself as better than others because I haven’t done that and have done this. How I am greedy, dismissive and (as Jesus talks about in Matthew 5) committed murder in my heart. What if my actual motives (of which I’m not even aware) were published?

But hold on a second. Our permanent record doesn’t just contain our “sins of commission” (the things I’ve done and thought that elevate myself over God and/or others). What about the “sins of omission”? Those things I haven’t done that God has commanded me TO do? Generosity, words of encouragement, evangelism, sacrificial service, prayer…you know, loving God and loving others with my heart, mind soul and strength (Mark 12:30).

Oh man. This makes me writhe with Paul in Romans 7:24

Romans 7: 24
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

But before I turn into a slug covered in salt,
I am transported along with Paul to the next verse!!!

Romans 7:25
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

And now we more fully appreciate and glory in the very next verse – Romans 8:1

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The more we can be honest with the extent of our treason, the more we can be gloriously overwhelmed with the gift Jesus acquired for us on the cross. That infinitely long “Permanent Record” has been permanently paid by Jesus. If I believe that I have about 5 pounds of sin, I only need a 5 pound Jesus. But the older I get the weightier I realize my sins are (they aren’t heavier, I just realize them more)…and the weightier I see Jesus and his sacrifice. I had no idea he paid THAT much! I had no idea he is THAT amazing!

If Romans 8:1 is true (and it totally is) the more I am drawn into love and worship. There are times I am oppressed by the extent of my debt, and then am reminded by my community and the Holy Spirit that every shred of non-love, every loose word and self-centered deed, every arrogant thought, has been perfectly paid and covered by Jesus. God has enacted absolute justice for me on Christ, leaving me utterly washed clean. Take a second to see this in the life of Delmar from Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

The glory of this verse, the insurmountable beauty of absolute absolution, brings life-changing hope and peace. But it’s actually only half of the story. It leaves us sinless, but God actually requires more than that…he requires righteousness, which he also has procured for us in Jesus…but more on that next week.

If you don’t want to wait for next week, then go read Philippians 3:1-11, especially 3:9…”and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”