By Dr. Keith Wagner
Recently, I received a notification in the mail from a car dealership. It read, “A free gift is waiting for you at our dealership. All you have to do is stop by and pick it up. Just bring this coupon with you.” In this particular case you had your choice of a cruise, a giant screen television or $500 in cash. Of course you had to read the fine print. Your free gift had some strings attached. You had to make a down payment on a car.
Isn’t that the way it always is? Nothing in life is free. There is always a catch or there is always some red tape. While that is true in the secular world it is not true in the spiritual world. Paul told the early church that God’s gift of the spirit was free. He said, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
They didn’t have to earn it. There were no strings attached, nor, was there any fine print. God’s gift of the spirit was absolutely and unequivocally free. The gift of love that Paul described was “poured” into our hearts. It is like an endless stream. It is plentiful and life enhancing.
In Romans, the gift of God’s love follows the story of Abraham. Abraham was promised that he would be blessed, not because he followed the law, but because he was faithful. He believed God and trusted that God would follow through. And, God promised Abraham he would be “the father of many nations.” In the same way, Paul said, those who have faith in Christ will also be blessed, not as the father of many nations, but having “peace with God.”
I believe that to have peace with God means to be forgiven. Remember, this message is coming from Paul, former persecutor of believers. Paul fully understood the meaning of forgiveness. He was a powerful and evil man whose life completely changed. God intervened by humbling him on the road to Damascus. In the process he lost his sight but it was later restored and he “was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17)
Paul did nothing to deserve God’s gift of love. Perhaps that is why he became an apostle. He knew that to receive the Holy Spirit was only by the grace of God. Since Paul had experienced God’s gift of love freely he wants us to experience it in the same way. As I stated earlier, there is no catch, no fine print, nor are there any strings attached. God’s gift of love is totally free.
This is difficult for us to understand since we live in a society that is heavenly influenced by following rules. People believe that as long as they dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s they deserve to be treated fairly. Those who are “good” and obey all the rules should be blessed. But then that falls apart when a tragedy or crisis happens to “good” people. We wonder why. Many believe that God is punishing them for some rule they didn’t follow. As human beings we have the need to explain and rationalize when people are treated unfairly.
One time a school teacher was registering two new students who were sisters. She asked their ages and requested their birth dates. One of the sisters said, “We’re both seven. My birthday April 8th and my sister’s is April 20th.” The teacher replied, “That’s impossible.” “No, it’s true,” said the other sister. One of us is adapted.” “Oh,” the teacher said, “Which one?” The two sisters looked at each other and then the first one said, “We asked our parents that same question a long time ago. And they said, they loved us both equally and couldn’t remember which one of us was adopted.”
That is a wonderful example of how the grace of God works. God has no strings attached when it comes to loving us. God loves each of us the same.
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Paul was familiar with unfairness because he had treated believers unfairly, persecuting people because of their faith. He is therefore reminding the faithful that persecutions will happen. Being a believer will not cause you to receive any preferential treatment, at least in this life. What separates the believer from the non-believer is hope. The faithful know they have a future. Hope is what makes us live differently. Hope assures us the potential for god’s gift of love.
The Los Angeles Times reported this amazing story out of Baton Rouge:
“In the chaos that was Causeway Boulevard, this group of refugees stood out: a 6-year-old boy walking down the road, holding a 5-month-old, surrounded by five toddlers who followed him around as if he were their leader…They were holding hands. Three of the children were about 2 years old. A 3-year-old girl, who wore colorful barrettes on the ends of her braids, had her 14-month-old brother in tow. The 6-year-old spoke for all of them, and he told rescuers his name was Deamonte Love.”
The children, who were feared to have either lost their parents or been abandoned in the storm, have been reunited with their parents after days at a Baton Rouge shelter. It seems that with the water rising and no food left, Love’s parents had made the wrenching decision to put the children in a rescue helicopter whose pilot promised to return for them. It never came back. The 6-year-old took care of the others until they were found. Derrick Robertson, a Big Buddy mentor, said he doubted the children would be traumatized by the events. “I think what’s going to stick with them is that they survived Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “And that they were loved.”
We don’t know when God’s gift of love will come upon us. We only have the faith that it will. Although it can’t be earned it still requires patience. As Paul said, “suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope.”
We live in an impatient society. Everyone is in a hurry. No one wants to wait for anything. We hate standing in lines. We are conditioned by instant gratification. Patience, however is what it takes to be people of faith.
Twelve-year-old Michael sat on a beach and painstakingly put together a trotline, a maze of ropes to which several fish hooks can be attached. Meanwhile, his parents and two brothers were busy fishing. “You’re wasting your time,” they said. “Grab a pole and join in the fun.” Undaunted, Michael kept working at his tedious task, even though his family considered it of no value.
At dinnertime, when everyone else was ready to call it a day, Michael cast his trotline far into the water, anchoring it to stick he had plunged deep into the sand. During dinner, his family teased him about coming away from the day’s fishing empty-handed. But after dinner, when Michael reeled in his trotline, there were more fish on his line than all of his family had caught put together.
In high school, Michael proved his patient persistence again when he brought his first computer and took it apart to figure out how it worked. Seventeen years later, Michael’s patience had taken him from teen to tycoon. Michael Dell became the fourth-largest manufacturer of personal computers in America and the youngest man ever to head a Fortune 500 corporation.
When we are willing to “wait” as people of faith, extraordinary things can happen. God’s gift of love can come at any time. Remember, it is free, not something we have to earn. It may, however take time. Meanwhile, we live with hope. As Paul also said, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
Copyright 2007, Keith Wagner. Used by permission.