"Why is this happening to me?...

(2/1/2014) …"What did I do to deserve this?" We all say things like this – sometimes we are joking, sometimes we are completely serious… even angry at the cosmic forces that seem to stand against us.

The other day I was speaking with a friend whose husband recently died. She was going through the litany of all the things that were going wrong in her life – the vacuum was broken, the shovel cracked during a snow storm, etc. "Sometimes I say ‘God, can you slow this down a little and send me one curveball at a time!"

And, of course, we both knew that the problem was not the vacuum or the shovel – the overarching issue was surviving day by day after the horrific, unexpected loss of her husband. It is easier to focus on these small curveballs than to look up at God and as ask "Why? What did I do to deserve this?"

It is easy to have a vision of God sitting far away, up in heaven, tallying accounts obsessively to make sure that every petty offense is bought and paid for, and when the bill is due, God the Heavenly Bean-Counter will collect all that is owed. Take it to the extreme and the bill is paid even if he has to take it from his own son, and even if doing that will cost his son's life in the worst of ways to lose it. The important thing -- the only thing, really -- in Heavenly Bean-Counter theology is that those books kept with perfect meticulousness balance in the end… that we get what we deserve.

This is a vision of God that is based on fear and I believe that it leads us in the wrong direction.

Jesus proclaims a different kind of relationship with God, when he says: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love (John 15:9)." Jesus' relationship with God was not one that included score-keeping. There is no deal-making, no bean counting. Jesus defines his relationship with God in one beautiful word - LOVE.

When Jesus says "I have loved you; abide in my love," he invites us to share that sacred relationship with him. And, then Jesus calls us to go out and share that same sacred relationship with others. Go out, he tells us and "love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12)." It’s really pretty amazing - we are empowered to share with one another the very kind of love that encompasses God.

And what kind of love is that? God's love is free, full, powerful, and gentle.

Jesus invites us to experience this same love through him. And, once we experience this sacred love, we are invited to see all of our relationships transformed into the image of this all encompasses, life-generating love. In God’s love, no one is anonymous – God has our names written on God’s heart. In God’s love, no one is dispensable – God welcomes everyone into the fold. In God’s love, no one is cast aside as irredeemable – God offers forgiveness and mercy in abundance. In God’s love, nobody is keeping score… we are simply set free to go out and live our lives in love

And how do we know that love? It is shown in caring for one another. Jesus tells us to abide in love. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus tells us that our love for one another as a test for whether we really know God.

And when we abide in love, it bears fruit in amazing ways. A few years ago, the book The Shack was very popular. The book is about a man’s spiritual journey after the brutal murder of his young daughter. Paul Young wrote it as a testament of his faith and had no intention of publishing it. He gave it as a Christmas gift to his wife and 6 children, who shared it with friends. Eventually it was published and became a bestseller.

According to the August 2008 issue of Guideposts, a local newspaper reporter came to Young’s house to do an interview during the height of the book’s popularity. A photographer accompanied the reporter to Young’s house. As he approached, he thought he recognized the house. A few years earlier, when his free-lance photography finally took off, he and his wife realized that for the first time they had more than enough money. For Christmas, they decided to give an anonymous gift to someone who really needed it. A friend told him of an unemployed father with several children and he decided to help them. One cold December day, he placed a $100 bill in an envelope and put it in their mailbox. He realized that Paul Young’s house was the house he had gone to.

At first he didn’t say anything… after all, the whole point of the gift that it was given in love with no possibility of recognition or thanks. But, finally, he couldn’t stand not knowing and he asked Paul Young if he had ever received the gift. Young’s eyes got big, "yes," he said, "I received it when I was down to my last dollars. I wanted to do something special for my family, so I used that $100 to pay for the printing of my book"… those first 7 copies that were given to his family. A small gift given to demonstrate Christian love used to tell of God’s love to millions.

God’s love changed Jesus' followers forever, and it's a love that changes us day by day. And it's a love that could change the world, making real the prophets’ vision of peace and plenty. That's Jesus' gift -- and like all true gifts, it's given freely.

Thanks be to God!