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66 Love LettersA Conversation with God That Invites You into His Story
By LARRY CRABB
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2009 Larry Crabb
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLove Letter One: Genesis
I Have a Plan: You Are Invited to My Party
God, what are You saying to me in Your first love letter, Genesis?"
"What I'm saying and what I want you to hear is this:
You've made a mess, but I have a plan! "In Genesis, I begin telling the story of how everyone fails and I succeed. I want you to know how much of a mess you've made out of all the beauty I created. Nothing works as it should anymore. But I have a plan that your failures cannot destroy. There is a capacity for beauty in your soul that I will restore. That's a promise. I give you a glimpse into how I will carry out My plan in this first love letter."
"God, could You say a little more? How do You make that message clear in Genesis?"
"I don't want you to be afraid of failure, or you will live for success. And I don't want you to be afraid that things in your life will go wrong-they will-or that you will feel empty-you will. If you fear problems or emptiness, you will live for comfort and fulfillment. And that will just complicate the mess you've already made. "Did you ever stop to ask why I made everything; why My Spirit, My Son, and I created the stars, moon, planets; and why Wemade paradise on earth? The three of Us were making preparations to throw a party, to invite others to a dance, to the dance We've been enjoying since before time began. But there were no 'others' to invite. "So at a family council, We decided to create people, human beings just like you whom We could enjoy as they enjoyed Us and all the beauty We had made. That's why We created Adam and Eve with desires that only We could satisfy. Plans for the party were under way. "But the story got off track. We knew, of course, that it would. Adam and Eve foolishly decided they could be happier looking out for themselves than trusting Us. They did exactly what you would have done had you been there. They chose to throw their own party, without Us. That's as foolish as trying to breathe in a room without air or trying to sing when you have no vocal cords. It can't be done. There is no party without Us, only the prison of loneliness. "Adam and Eve made the same choice you've been making since you were a kid, to protect yourself from pain and to be in control of your own pleasure, to negotiate with Me to get what you want out of life. That decision messed up everything in Eden, just as it still is messing up your life. Adam and Eve felt insecure and began to fight. Their son Cain experienced jealousy-an emotion that earned Lucifer a place in hell-and killed Abel. "A few generations later, things got so bad, so out of sync with Our design, that I felt nothing but pain as I watched what was happening. So I drowned everyone, except Noah and his family. I wasn't about to let My plans for a party degenerate into a violent orgy that would only get worse, where people would use each other for their own pleasure and never love anyone. That would be hell. My plan was heaven. I spared those people from descending even deeper into hell on earth. "But I wasn't about to give up on My great plan. I knew that one day I would look down on a community of people that I would recreate and feel deep pleasure, and again be able to say, 'This is good. This is very good!' "Then Noah got drunk, his kids got in trouble, and their descendants-a capable bunch who developed civilization with the arts, industry, and agriculture-became proud. Drawing from the same energy with which Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they set about to build their lives into a satisfying, organized existence without Me in the center. "So they erected this silly tower to rally everyone together. Their goal was unity with each other without union with Me. They thought they could become friends with each other before first becoming friends with Me. It can't be done. To make the point, I ruined their plans by making them speak different languages; I interfered with a plan that would never work. "Once again, things were a mess. Everyone was living to succeed, to make their lives comfortable and fulfilling. No one was paying attention to My design for the truly good life. "But I had a plan. I always do. I chose Abraham, just one ordinary, God-dishonoring man, to begin a whole new civilization, a new kingdom, to become a new kind of person to form a new kind of community-a listening community made up of people who would know Me, people who would hear Me and relate to others in order to love, both to receive and to give. "Of course Abraham failed, like everyone, like you. That's why I told you not to fear failure. If you do, you'll live for a success you can never achieve. But I succeeded. I gave Abraham the kind of faith that you must want, that you need, to join My story. That's what I want you to hear as you read about My friend Abraham. "Isaac comes next. I saw to it that he be born to Abraham and Sarah when, according to natural law, they could not bear children. And I did that to make one point: no one joins My story in his or her own power. I want you to know that. "And then comes Jacob. He was a self-centered, manipulative, insecure mess from day one. Oh, he was resourceful, clever, and full of ambition, the kind of man who would have made it big in your world. But those talents were not what it takes to make it big in My story. So I went to work on him. I revealed Myself seven times to Jacob, to let him know he needed Me if his life was to amount to anything. He's a good picture of how I change people, slowly, through problems in their lives and failures on their part and an infinite amount of patience and grace on My part. "Read the story of Jacob and take heart: I can transform anyone into the likeness of My Son. But the process is never easy or short. It took nearly 150 years filled with terrible family problems to change Jacob into Israel, into a man who learned to trust Me in the struggles of life. But I got the job done. I always do. "I close My first love letter talking about Joseph. As you read what happened in his life, I want you to hear that even people who serve Me well struggle greatly. But never without purpose though the specific purpose will often remain obscure until you're dancing with Me at the eternal party-and you really won't care then. Every moment of suffering you endure is part of the good story I am telling. I don't want you to be surprised when after years of following Me closely, you still run into trouble. "When you finish reading My first love letter to you, I want you to realize that I never underestimated how thoroughly you'd mess up your life or how painfully you would struggle and suffer, and I don't want you to underestimate your failures or struggles either. They're all part of the story I'm telling. "But neither have I underestimated My determination or ability to enter the mess you've made and the pain you feel and turn everything around. I can, and I will, make everything good again. Never, never underestimate Me. I have a plan, a very good one, and it will move ahead to completion. Guaranteed! Trust Me. Why? Because I love you even when you're messing up badly. I love you in the middle of your pain even though I don't relieve it as quickly as you wish. I am worthy of your trust, no matter what happens in your life. I have a good plan, and nothing will stop Me from carrying it to completion. You must live now in the tension between anguish and hope. "That's what I want you to hear when you read Genesis."
"God, may I tell You my honest reaction to Your first love letter?"
"Of course! I always want you to be honest with Me. I already know all that is happening inside you, but you will experience My love more deeply when you share your heart with Me."
"Okay, then, here goes! Genesis leaves me confused and frustrated. I really don't get why You killed everyone in the Flood. Did they all go to hell? And weren't the people after the Flood just as bad as those before?
"You tell me not to be afraid of failure or of pain and emptiness. Well, I am afraid, more afraid of my life going badly than of anything else. You tell me that You made me with desires only You can satisfy. Then why aren't You satisfying them?
"I don't think I'm wrong to want satisfaction. You put the craving in me. Are You telling me that my deepest longing is for You, and that I'm to wait until heaven for that desire to be fully satisfied? And in the meantime, I'm to obey and trust You? That's hard!
"I don't think I have the kind of faith Abraham had. I can't bear the thought of losing either of my sons, let alone plunging a knife into one of them because You told me to.
"I do believe I'm a child of promise, like Isaac. I know it's a miracle that I've been born again. But my identity is wrapped up in so many other things than my status as Your son.
"Jacob's life does give me hope. Maybe I will become the person I long to be, but why does it take so long? That frustrates me.
"And Joseph! So much trouble before blessing. Does it have to be like that? And I don't think You even guarantee the blessings I want, at least not in this life. Joseph made it to a throne in Egypt and became a hero to his restored family. I don't think You promised me anything similar.
"God, I don't want to underestimate either my sin and struggle or Your power and love. But I so naturally deny the evil in me and the pain I feel just to emotionally survive, and I have a really hard time seeing Your power and love when so many things go wrong.
"You told me to be honest. God, I'm not really all that warmed by Your first love letter though the promise of restored beauty does stir something deep. I think I need to read more. Thanks for listening."
"I always listen. And I'll never turn away from you. Yes, keep reading."
Chapter TwoLove Letter Two: Exodus
You Must Know Me to Trust Me
God, what do You want me to hear as I read Exodus?"
"Hear this above all:
I will do whatever it takes to carry out My plan!
"I didn't create you to be miserable or empty. My plan was, is, and always will be that you would share My joy. But you got yourself in such bad shape, so far away from Me, that you had no hope of real happiness. I couldn't bear to leave you in that condition. "So I revealed My power by setting you free, My holiness by letting you know how you must live to stay close to Me, and My passionate love by moving in with you. All of that is in Exodus."
"You've got to help me here, God. If that's what Exodus is all about, why didn't You just say that simply and clearly as You just did, rather than write such a long letter?"
"Listen carefully: until you hear My message wrapped up in the stories of real people, you won't trust that My power could enter your story. And until you imagine what it was like to begin life in the desert by hearing Me lay down laws nobody could keep, you won't feel the crushing weight of My holiness. But you must feel that weight to understand all that's involved in letting unholy people get close to Me. And what's involved is pictured carefully and powerfully in the tabernacle. "The drama of the first eighteen chapters of My second love letter shows the lengths I must go in order to free weak and helpless people from bondage to an evil power greater than themselves. Ask any sex addict what I'm talking about. Or consider it this way: I can and I will detach you from everything that numbs your sacred hunger for Me and makes you feel hungrier for something other than Me. "But you will never on this earth depend fully enough on My power to live exactly as I want you to live. That's why I had Moses write out the Ten Commandments and all those other rules, not to beat you down into self-hatred over never getting it right, but rather to lift you up into the liberating experience of looking bad in the presence of love. When you read Exodus 19-24 and see how particular I am about all the rules you should obey but never do, let the weight of My holiness draw you into the delights of My love. I still want to be with you. "Don't ever forget: I do have a plan, a plan to make you deliriously happy in the circle of My love. As you read Exodus 25-40 where I record all those architectural details about the tabernacle, realize the lengths I'm willing to go to be with you. Imagine Me, the God of the universe, clothed in splendor and arrayed in glory, living in, by My standards, a simple tent set up in a barren wilderness. Sure, it was fancy, but compare it to what you imagine heaven to be. But that's where I lived, just to be near people like you. "As you read about the Exodus from Egypt that I made happen, as you consider all the laws I gave that you've never kept, and as you see My willingness to go camping to be with My people, know this: I will do whatever it takes to fully restore My family and to be with them forever."
"God, as You tell me all this, here's what I'm thinking.
"First, I can't get my mind off problems in my life that You aren't doing anything about. And You won't promise to deal with them to make my life better. I think I understand that the Exodus from Egypt is a picture of my being rescued from the kingdom of darkness, but I'm more interested in being rescued from my pain and problems. Maybe that's why I'm not really all that impressed by how You're using Your power.
"Second, I think I've lowered Your standards so I can reach them. Reading all those laws You gave through Moses helps me see how holy and strict You are, but it arouses in me a feeling that I don't like, the feeling that I might as well do what I want since I can't do what I should. I teach about brokenness a lot, but I must not experience it much because I still think I'm entitled to things going well for me or, at least, better than they are.
"And third, I'm having trouble connecting what You're saying in the tabernacle to the pressures and problems I face every day. You tell me that You're with me, but if You know what I'm going through, then why don't You help more? I think I need to keep reading. Right now, I wish the plan You're committed to carrying out were a little different. What am I missing?"
"A great deal. Be patient with how little you know and how slowly you learn. I am. I've written sixty-six love letters. You've read only two. The third reveals what's most wrong with you that blocks your joy. You have more to read, much more to learn."
Chapter ThreeLove Letter Three: Leviticus
Holiness Comes Before Happiness: Holiness Is Happiness
God, Your first two love letters were at least interesting. You're going to need to really help me with this third one. Why on earth did You write Leviticus when You could have written something more useful, more practical-like how I can get closer to my wife or how I can build up my self-esteem so I don't wrestle with as much insecurity and fear?"
"You must not try to fit Me into your plans. Your plans are too small. You must fit yourself into Mine. Remember, I do have a plan. And it's a good one! I've written Leviticus to tell you one thing: The toughest part of My plan, the part that's costliest to Me, is to make you holy. "You want Me to solve your problems, but you don't know what your worst problem is, the one responsible for all the others. You don't yet realize that distance from Me is the most lethal problem you have. "You assume we're doing just fine together while you run off trying to make life work for you. And you expect Me to cooperate. When you read Leviticus, notice that I never solve anyone's secondary problems. In all those verses about skin infection, for example, I never prescribed ointment or simply cured the disease, which I easily could have done. I simply told people they couldn't enter My Presence with an oozing sore. The issue was worship and intimacy with Me, not health, wealth, or personal comfort. "All twenty-seven chapters of Leviticus are written to let you know that relationship with Me is always the issue that trumps every other concern, and that relating to Me will always, always, be on My terms. So many people miss that-they identify their needs, then view Me as a God who wants them satisfied and happy before I deal with their unholiness. "But because I love them-and you-I've made a way for you to revolve your life around Me as your first thing. Everything else-your marriage, your checkbook, your self-esteem, your cancer-is a second thing. When the first thing (namely, Me) is in first place in your life, every second thing will be yours to enjoy. And that will be when you're home, not until.
Excerpted from 66 Love Letters by LARRY CRABB Copyright © 2009 by Larry Crabb. Excerpted by permission.
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