When my dad and his 11 siblings were growing up, they had very specific seating assignments around their big table. Grandpa had custom-built a bench on one side of the table, so long it took up almost the entire wall. The three little girls were grouped together with the more responsible older siblings seated strategically around them, and one particularly energetic brother was Grandma’s “special project.” But the dreaded spot was always the Red Danger Zone—the seats that fell in arm’s length of Grandpa. Because rest assured, if you were misbehaving during dinner, you did not want to be within swatting distance.
Earlier this month we celebrated Grandpa and Grandma’s 90th birthday party. It would have been a noteworthy celebration under any circumstances, marking almost a century of life and love for two people adored by so many. But we had even more reason to celebrate since Grandpa had just gotten out of the hospital. He proudly walked into the room next to Grandma aided only by his walker (under no circumstances would he allow himself to be seen in a wheelchair, since those are for “old people”). I’m pretty sure the grin remained on his face until long after he fell asleep that night.
Grandma and Grandpa’s friends streamed into the big party room at their assisted-living facility for three hours…some 200 friends and neighbors, not counting all of us kids and grandkids. I didn’t need convincing about what wonderful people Grandma and Grandpa are, but it warmed me to my toes to have scores of gray-haired ladies and a handful of older gentlemen tell me how much they loved playing bridge and going to book group with Grandma and Grandpa, how they have seen God’s love shining through Grandma and Grandpa’s lives.
And as I watched each friend, each son and daughter, each grandchild flock to Grandpa and Grandma’s table to receive hugs and smiles, not to mention lipsticky kisses from Grandma, a thought washed over me: now everyone wants to be in the Red Danger Zone.
In my Bible reading, I just arrived at Paul’s letter to the Galatians. As I read, I’m struck by the thread of freedom that weaves through the book. Paul takes issue with the religious contingent that has been sucked in by legalism and is looking to rule-following for salvation. He paints an alternate vision for them—an analogy of a loving father with his children. We are no longer slaves, Paul contends, but children. We don’t have to live in fear, obsessed with the letter of the law; instead, we can live in relationship with God, our Father.
We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. But when the right time came, God sent his Son…so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.
Under grace, we no longer have to fear the Red Danger Zone of God’s wrath. Instead, we can call him our Abba, our Daddy. And he invites us to come close, ready to offer us his love and his warm embrace. After all, we are his children.
I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.