January 20 2014

I’ve mention in the past that I like words… well sometimes. In particular I am fascinated with their origins. For example my son Ben used the word “Resolution” in church this past Sunday in regard to the New Year. I wrote down “Re-solution” on a piece of scrap paper and gave it to Ellen. It never really occurred to me that the thing some folks do for New Years is literally: to make commitments to “re-solve” some aspects of their lives…. Thus “re-solution.” See, words are fun. (Sounds like my first grade teacher!)

Well how about another word? What about the word “deserve?” I have used the following example numerous times so it may sound familiar to some of you. When I served on the School Board a few years ago there would be occasions when parents or teachers would come before the Board and make an argument for a program that they thought was important (many times they were). Often they would say something like, “Our children ‘deserve’ the best.” We have all heard that and maybe even some of us have used that phrase. I beg to differ. Read on…

The word “deserve” comes from a combination of the Latin prefix “de” (which has a variety of uses) and the word “serve.” In the word “de-serve” “de” is used essentially as a preposition meaning “from”. That doesn’t really help much does it? Well, when you attach it to the word “serve” it means “what do you get ‘from’ serving.” Or “what do you get ‘from’ being a servant?” Or “what do you get ‘from’ doing something?” Get it? The word “Deserve” then is attached to the phrase “to doing something.” So when I say kids don’t “deserve the very best”… well what have they done? For the most part (not entirely)… NOTHING! Now I’m not really that cold or detached. I think what we really mean is “we love our kids so much that we want to give them the very best.” That makes more sense.

When Jesus says:

Matthew 18:3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

I don’t think Jesus is saying here that we need to be innocent and loving like little children (although that’s not a bad idea either.) I think he is talking about our “unworthyness” or “undeservedness.” i.e., like little children we have done nothing to “deserve” God’s love, His grace, his mercy.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying we can’t do “good” things. We in fact are called to be “good” and to do “good” things.

Titus 3: 1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.  

14 Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.

I am responding to those who hold the belief that because we are “good” we will be “saved.” Or to those who would hold the belief that because God is “good” He MUST save all people – that we “deserve” salvation. The sad, tragic truth is this… not one of us “deserves” to be saved. It is only through Gods grace and mercy that any are rescued. I know the next question: “If God can save some, why doesn’t He save everyone?” Honestly… I don’t know. And even a conversation around that subject takes a certain amount of maturity in the faith that few of us have achieved. (Not tooting my own horn… I have a LONG way to go!)

Occasionally I’ll get a call, or have a conversation with someone who doesn’t really claim Christian faith nor have they darkened the door of a house of worship in decades. A crisis will have occurred in their lives and they take that occasion to shoot a prayer up to God with seemingly little effect. Then they want to fuss at me about why God didn’t answer their prayer. There is a theological term for this: DUH!! The notion that God MUST be attentive to us no matter what…. Or that God must hear our prayers and answer them no matter what our spiritual condition is… well… I think those thoughts are at best naïve. God does not HAVE to do anything. Not do you or I “deserve” His consideration.

Be thankful that God is in fact merciful, loving and gracious. But also realize that God is in control, not you or me. He does what He pleases and it has little to do with what we think we deserve.


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