It may sound absurd but I feel I have encountered God’s relentless, pursuing grace this year. It is as if God has affirmed and confirmed the past 12 years of searching, questioning and seeking. We’re attending a new church. It isn’t radical by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a small Pentecostal church in the medium sized town of Bandon, West Cork. But God met us there. I know it.

I am touched by this God who doesn’t give up on wretches like me. Many would have and did. And I know I have given up on others. Praise God for His grace. I feel I have done full circle.

I am exactly where I started 12 years ago. Only now the words of my first pastor have been fulfilled: “Dave, you’re the kind of person that when you know something you really know it.” And that “knowing” is that I know very little. I have embraced the mystery once again. the mystery I fell into when I was a lonely confused 19 year old looking for something I didn’t know what.

I have a feeling that was the easy part. Now the part of really entering into this “existential” or “absurd” relationship with the God who saved me begins, or attempts to begin. What does 2014 hold? Much I hope.

I realize it was sin, or my own sense of guilt caused by my sin that kept me from God. A growing sense that I had somehow over stepped the mark, and I had no way of knowing when and if I could ever come in from the dog house, or whether I was out for good. I distinctly remember one day in the summer of 2008 as I was changing my baby’s nappy (diaper), that no matter what I did I was doomed to end up in hell because of my failure to overcome the sinful nature. It was this feeling that led me into stricter and stricter forms of Christianity. Into more and more radical ways of living the New Testament. Into more and more literal interpretations of the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles.

But I found it never ended. There was always something more strict, more radical, more literal more “pure” than what I was currently doing. I found myself in a couple of tight spots that I couldn’t get out of, and it was the weight of that along with the ever increasing realization that I did not have the ability, mental, physical and spiritual, to carry out this ultra-strict form of Christianity I had devised for myself. I can’t get into all that now or this post will turn into a book very quickly.

God loves each one of us just the way we are. And like a loving Father gently guides us into right behaviour. Not because He is a stern judge, but because He loves us deeply and passionately. He never give up, never grows tired. Even when we turn away or get lost He comes looking for us and embraces us once again.

Now that I listen to all my old worship and CCM CD’s (and loads of 2nd hand 1 penny CD’s we’ve been buying on Amazon) I see so many Christian artists that understand this concept of “Relentless Grace”. Looking back over my journal of 2002 to about 2005 or so, I see I also understood but lost the sense of God’s “Unstoppable Love”. After 7-9 years in the wilderness at the very end of myself, ready to give up my faith I turned to God in desperation with nothing in my hands. Nothing. No clean living, no apologetics, no philosophies, no good works, no theology. And there I saw my Father waiting… “Are you ready to come home son?” Suddenly the universe and my very existence, which earlier had seemed to become absurd, meaningless, was infused with meaning and purpose once again.

I feel He has been chasing me all this time. Never giving up. Inexhaustible Mercy. Full of long-suffering and ready to forgive. Last year was a very strange year, but one I now see as a culmination of all my past experiences. I felt very strongly at the end of December that 2014 was to be the year of seeking the Lord. I wanted to dedicate it to Him. I still feel that way, and I can see God moving in so many ways. God’s grace, His unlimited “Pursuing Grace” has helped restore my marriage to unknown levels of joy and intimacy. My relationship with God is now one based upon love and acceptance (as it had been when I had first gotten “saved”) rather than fear and punishment. I don’t necessarily deny those aspects, but I cannot and could not live my faith out like that any longer. I turned to God and said I give up, and I felt God speak to my heart “So you finally get it?” I did not encounter the anger of God, but His love. And I only fell more in love with Him, and I wanted to shower this kind of relentless, powerful love on my children and on my wife. And my wife is experiencing it! I need to write an update on just that aspect of things. My wife is such a wonderful woman. A picture of God’s grace in my life. But I’ll leave that for another post.

Everything is absurd without Christ. Philosophy will leave you empty, theology will leave you dry, good works will leave you proud and haughty, and “good living” will leave you hard-hearted and Pharisaical without the abiding presence and ongoing reality of Christ in your life.

To love God passionately, to be in love with my Saviour, to move beyond mere knowledge; even the knowledge of His relentless grace. To experience Him, seek Him and remain aware of His passionate pursuit after me. To keep my heart in a place that is soft and sensitive to His gentle voice and touch. This is my desire. I may or may not achieve it, but I must try. And no guilt if I do not attain to all God has for me.

There is a depth in each of us that only God can reach. God calls, reaches out and touches each of us in the midst of our chaos. And in that place of realness He leads us, if we will be humble and sensitive to His presence. There we must remain.

The philosophy of Jesus is love. The theology of Jesus is love. The morality of Jesus is love.

Most people want a faith of stark blacks and whites. But the life of faith is one of various shades of grey. It is the person of Christ and His presence and leading in our lives that adds the rich colour we so desperately desire that adds meaning to life.

I spent years believing, based on the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel that when Jesus said “if you love me, obey my commandments”, that this is what that perfect love was. And yes, I can still see it is a very strong argument. Jesus said if you agape Me, obey Me. John says perfect love (which I took as perfect obedience. See the connection?) drives out fear (phobos). But in my reaching for perfection, I was hounded constantly by fear (phobos). Of never being able to match God’s perfect standard. Of being so painfully aware of my own sins. I could not and cannot live like that. So my focus is on the love part now. If you LOVE me, obey my commands. Not if you love me, OBEY my commands. Love is not a synonym for obedience, obedience is a fruit of love. A fragrant offering to the Lover of my soul. A very subtle difference I guess, and one I find not one Christian was ever able to point out.

I spent years believing, based on the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel that when Jesus said “if you love me, obey my commandments”, that this is what that perfect love was. And yes, I can still see it is a very strong argument. Jesus said if you agape Me, obey Me. John says perfect love (which I took as perfect obedience. See the connection?) drives out fear (phobos). But in my reaching for perfection, I was hounded constantly by fear (phobos). Of never being able to match God’s perfect standard. Of being so painfully aware of my own sins. I could not and cannot live like that. So my focus is on the love part now. If you LOVE me, obey my commands. Not if you love me, OBEY my commands. Love is not a synonym for obedience, obedience is a fruit of love. A fragrant offering to the Lover of my soul. A very subtle difference I guess, and one I find not one Christian was ever able to point out.

John Glass, General Superintendent of Elim International, came to our little fellowship one morning and spoke directly to my heart. Only to find he spoke to everyone’s heart. It was a prophetic message to be sure. 5 people desired to give their lives to Jesus and a further five desired emotional healing. 10 people out of a congregation of not more than 50. That’s very good.

He described everything that God has been doing in my heart since December when I first sat in the back of West Cork Community Church and God met me again. It was like someone had told him the entire story, and he was repeating it back to me.

I’ve heard it said before, but it really hit home when he mentioned man as a tri-part being. Body, soul and spirit. It tied in with the book I’ve just started reading “Healing for Damaged Emotions”. The author speaks of how salvation revives our dead spirits, but does not automatically heal our toxic/damaged emotions. When John mentioned that the soul is the seat of the emotions, it clicked. It made sense that when I was born again I did not receive healing for all my hang-ups, fears, low self-esteem, paranoia, cynicism, self-destructive habits etc. etc. Just like we do not always receive immediate physical healing at salvation.

I was brought to a place of humble brokenness late last year, ready to give my faith up. I saw Christianity as a heavy burden on my back and God as a hard task-master. But my own sense of unworthiness, and associated spiritual perfectionism (trying to please the One I thought did not/could not like me very much) caused this anxiety and despair. Then when all seemed lost God met me in the place of brokenness. The only place, I see now, He meets anyone. Even on the mountain tops we must approach and remain in God’s presence with a deep sense of our utter dependency on Him, and with absolute faith in His undying faithfulness toward us, and a continual realization that we did nothing to get there. And not that He simply loves us, but that He likes us and wants to be with us.

God wants to heal our emotions, or as I saw it today, our damaged souls. Many are emotionally damaged and actually need healing in this area. They believe they are no good. They have no self-worth, and believe God does not desire great things for them, nor that He is madly in love with them. He is, and wants us to know it.

How many of us have experienced the manifest presence of God’s love this year. It’s just that I have experienced it these past few months, and it has put into perspective (for me), the various theological and historical wranglings I was involved in. All still very interesting, but it was causing me distress, and anxiety at times, especially when I got into heated arguments with people or my current theological/historical position was badly shaken by stronger arguments/evidence than I was currently standing on.

Christianity is primarily relational. God with us. Not History with us. Not Theology with us. Not even Bible with us. I’m not having a go, or caricaturing anyone. I’m just commenting on my own pilgrimage to this point. A pilgrimage many have shared with me. I got so caught up in theology, mostly through my own lack of confidence in God’s love for me as my Father and my consequential spiritual perfectionism trying to please Him and secure my position as His son. Much anxiety was created trying to make sure I was right before God. That I had all the right boxes ticked. God does not require very many boxes ticked (if any at all). Only humility and total dependence on Him through Jesus (OK so that’s two boxes!). This position brings spiritual life into the spirit of the believer. And there is emotional healing in understanding God’s love not only for sinners out there, but for struggling and damaged saints within the Church too. We can never outstrip God’s patience.

More of you oh God. More of you in my life. Fill me with your Holy Spirit. Burn away the dross. Give me a heart that loves this sick world. A heart that loves my own wife and children! I desire the gifts of your Spirit Lord. To walk a path of miracles, signs and wonders. And not be fearful that I may go awry or may be misunderstood or ridiculed. Give me faith oh God.

Quarreling and contention steals my peace. Why does it matter if I am right or wrong? Somehow I feel I am instructing people, and they are instructing me. I am correcting their errors, and they are correcting mine. All in the heat of battle and all so that we come to a better understanding of the issues raised. It is perhaps an unusual way of learning. One that most do not subscribe too. And perhaps that is where the confusion comes in.

I learned the hard way not to take offense at people who were rude to me online. I developed a thick skin in that regard. And perhaps I learned to be rude back as a matter of course. Something not to be taken personally. And in all of that I suppose I expected that people would learn that rule too. The problem may be that we are all playing by different rules.

(Sorry this will only make sense to people who have known me on facebook from before 2014 since I have given up most of the intense online debating, and deleted most of the people from my friend list whom I debated! And hopefully from today I’ll have given it all up!!!)

There was a time I felt it was vitally important for me to debate people on issues I felt were connected with my salvation. I felt that if I was wrong about the nature of salvation or the nature and whereabouts of the Church and how to get in, then I will probably end up in hell. This fear dissolved in December when God broke through. But old habits die hard…

How much of my online activity is dictated by my own pride? A lot perhaps. Even if it isn’t, do I think people need my instruction? Do I need the constant irritations and vexing of spirit that comes along with contending with people over issues that are less than eternal in value? And even if they are of eternal import, do I need to contend with them verbally or over the internet? Or will the light of a life of loving servant-hood lived in the Spirit say more than words ever could?

What about healing emotions? I am convinced God did a miracle for me last December. I found it very hard to love my wife. I was tied up in performance based Christianity, though I was saved. Then at the end of myself, ready to give everything up but still desperate for God to break through. he did! He bathed me in His unconditional love and I knew He loved me. I was so overwhelmed with this feeling for weeks on end, that I could not help but loving my wife. With the same love I was receiving from God. While that euphoria has gone, the love (and desire and attraction) I feel in my heart for my wife is still there. I feel sure this is how Christ feels for His bride the Church. Blemished and all, He is madly in love with His bride.

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