In the late 1800s the Lands sailed away from Prussia and landed on the Texas coast. In fairly short course they wound their way up into the Texas Hill Country pretty close to Junction and settled the Land Ranch (full of prickly pear, mesquite and deer)…the place where my dad would be born and where us Austin Lands (me, my brother, mom and dad) would perpetually visit to enjoy the glory of the Texas rolling hills. What and incredible blessing to have had that growing up. Well over 1000 acres for a kid to roam, swim, hunt and grow up.
Next to the old ranch house was an enormous garden and grove of peach trees, producing enough food to last the whole year, if you know how to keep the food from spoiling. That’s where Granny (my dad’s mom) was a superhero. Summers were filled with picking the fruit and veggies. When early winter came around we’d drive up to the ranch to hang out with Granny and Grandpa, try to bag a whitetail deer that would become our dinner for the next few months, and feast on all the glorious food that Granny would magically bring out of the kitchen (using a fair amount of lard in the process). No matter the time of year she could go to the pantry and pull out all sorts of beautiful summertime goodies: pickled watermelon rinds (sweet, with cloves), tomatoes, sweet jams, homemade sauerkraut, etc etc. My goodness. One of my favorites was the peach preserves. It was like opening a mason jar filled with summer.
There is something almost miraculous about preserving things. A little boiling, a pinch of this and scoop of that…then seal it in a mason jar and it’s good for a long long time.
This concept of being “preserved” is one of the hardest for Jesus-followers to grab hold of. Somehow we can, by the power of the Spirit, believe and base our eternity on the fact that we are sinners in need of mercy, and we’ve been given the gift of salvation that Jesus bought for us on the cross. But then things don’t simultaneously turn to butterflies and rainbows. We still struggle with outrageous selfishness and we live in a world that is still horrifyingly broken. These things combined makes us wonder if God’s love is really working, really intact. Have I “gone too far” and fallen from grace? Has God “gone too far” and let the world spin out of control. Sometimes it simply doesn’t LOOK or FEEL like God loves me or the rest of the world.
It’s into these blinding times that Paul puts a glorious exclamation point on Romans 8. The first 8 chapters of Romans is a beautiful, artistic and methodical revealing of The Gospel: our vast rebellion which has created an insurmountable cost; Jesus fully paying that insurmountable cost on the cross and gifting us not only the forgiveness of sins but also the full record of Christ, the indwelling of the Spirit and the ability to call God our Abba Father. And when all of this seems far too good to be true, Paul caps the whole Gospel off with these promises:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We all suffer from a spiritual Separation Anxiety, and have a gnawing feeling that we are or will be abandoned by our Father. We were created to have intimacy with God, but we detached from him when we listened to the devil’s lies that we’d be better off without Him. But the Lord decided that the story wasn’t over. He chased us down in the desert and brought us home. It wasn’t our goodness or faithfulness that brought us into God’s family, but HIS goodness and HIS faithfulness. And now Paul assures us that, for all who are wrapped up into his paternal arms, it is fully up to HIS strength and love to keep us home, not ours. Paul is so emphatic that he lists every conceivable excuse we might have in Romans 8…and says that “nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Older theologians labelled this “Perseverance of the Saints.” I agree with them, but I prefer to call it “Preservation of the Saints” because it puts the verb in God’s power, not ours. He has made us His Bride (Revelation 21) and made vows to us that are literally impossible for him to break. Even when we break the marriage vows we’ve made to him, he is faithful to the wedding vows He’s made to us. We are safe. Secure. Loved. Home.
And these promises propel us to be “more than conquerors” in the world as God empowers and sends us to the ends of the earth in his name to share his love.
But I constantly forget.
I need to marinate in the security of God’s love for me. In an effort to help with that I’ve been sitting on these passages (and there are so many more). I pray that they can bring a calming, secure, hope-filled and empowering peace to you as well.
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guaranteed of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”