orphans.

i remember his voice well – he’s got a thick, eastern kentucky accent, but not the type you see with the rednecks on tv. more syrupy and sweet, full of comfort. the type of voice where you just want him to talk all day because it makes complicated things seem simple and simple things seem profound. he said things like “you don’t know what you don’t know,” and it absolutely blows your mind every single time. he’s my spiritual father’s spiritual father, so i guess that makes him my spiritual grandfather – he was the first i heard talk about the church as a family. he talked about God as a Father and he talked about us as kids. he talked about the spirit of sonship and the orphan spirit and how the two weren’t compatible.

 

[i forgot about the word “orphan” for a while – at least as it relates to christianity.]

 

he talked about how, when the gospel takes root in our hearts and we really understand the lengths that Jesus went to to rescue us and how much the Father sacrificed to bring us in, it essentially renders us incapable to continue in what he called “orphan” thinking.

orphan thinking essentially refers to thinking about ourselves in ways that exude insecurity and unsureness – in the context of Christianity, it basically means, “you don’t know that God loves you.” for instance – orphans wonder if they’d be welcomed in a church, because they may have done something that bad that week and fear the presence of God, the way an orphan may have a hard time receiving love because they’ve never been able to please anyone enough to call them “son.”

or, maybe they have a hard time seeing God as a provider the same way that an orphan may have a hard time trusting a guardian to be a steady provider for them.

to be clear, this line of thinking is not saying that people who are actual orphans or have been actual orphans are bad at Christianity – it’s saying that spiritually, we have this tendency to behave towards God the way that earthly orphans tend to behave towards guardians or parents. it’s saying that we have a hard time receiving love – even if we had great earthly parents.

i think that’s just because we’re not used to an idea of love that God employs. we’re not used to the idea that we can or could show up to church hung over or strung out and God would just be happy we were there. we’re gluttons for spiritual punishment, aren’t we? it’s hard for us to grasp that we are harder on ourselves than God is on us. it’s hard for us to say, in the wake of our mistakes, “yes, there’s grace, but…”

 

what if there’s just grace, and that’s it? What if there’s no “but” after the word grace? fun fact – the word “grace” seems to come after the word “but” in the bible. in Genesis, when we read about how God is going to cleanse the world by sending a flood, it says ,”but Noah found grace in the sight of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:8) the law came through moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17,) God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6.)

seriously. do a biblegateway search. it’s always “but grace.”

that’s the thing about God – grace is always greater than what came before. the gift is greater than the curse. the joy always surpasses the suffering.

 

anyway, all this came back in John 14:18, when Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” the context is that Jesus is leaving – He’s going back to heaven and He won’t be with His disciples in body, but He will in spirit. this is the toughest part of the Christian life in my experience – grasping and living by the idea that Jesus is present, that He never left and He’s never leaving. i’ve written about this idea before, and sometimes i get it. but a lot of times i don’t. a lot of times i don’t let the presence of Jesus be the salve for a long work day or for an ill-advised argument, because i’m so sure (even after 10 years of being a Christian) that He’s just gonna let me have it – how wrong i am, how i shouldn’t complain, how i shouldn’t get involved in business that isn’t mine. and if He did say those things to me, He’d probably be right. but He doesn’t.

i’ve noticed that those voices aren’t loving like Jesus’ voice is. Jesus exudes love – even when He’s being harsh. and to be honest, i don’t know what to do when i’ve screwed up and i know better – because it’s so like us to think we should be condemned and condemnatory towards ourselves, but that’s not what Jesus is like.

it’s orphan thinking to assume that we’ll get berated for the things we’ve done.

sons know that they can come to the Father with their mistakes, knowing they won’t be chewed out even for the things they knew better about. sons know that as they go in the world, the Father is with them, living in them, working out His nature in them.

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