Guys, I have big news. It appears that the rumors are true.. The Bible Belt is a real thing.
Growing up in the Midwest, I had heard rumors of this aforementioned phenomenon… and hadn’t really paid much attention. It was almost mythical, as most things we don’t have first-hand experience or direct contact with can be.
I don’t know the full history of this culture, or the full implications, but I do see it. It’s on street corners laden with church buildings. It’s in conversations I have with.. well.. nearly everyone.
I will be the first to offer a disclaimer: different is not bad. I can see pros and cons, but it’s not necessarily a terrible thing. I’m not writing to denounce the culture by any means. In a very simple and lovely way, it gives me another armful of gladness for a God that surpasses cultures of all time eras and geographical locations. And I’m glad for the stark contrasts I find in all the various places I get to visit; they are terrific at reminding me about characteristics of my Jesus that I could easily gloss over or forget to praise in the sea of sameness and monotony. Maybe that’s another reason to do more traveling – God gets bigger and bigger with each place He meets me at and surprises me in.
So what about my Lord am I noticing, being in this place called “the South”?
In a region where people tend to place extra value on manners, strive for characters of graceful poise, and are really, really, really nice, a specific word comes to mind.
I don’t know what that word triggers for you, but for me, this brings to mind grand ballrooms and lavish parties – maybe some glamorous gowns and limbs draped with earth’s gems. It reminds me of the kind of homes and parties TV execs would jump at the chance to feature, or a bra I saw once from Victoria’s Secret that literally cost a million dollars.
And part of the definition for extravagant does indeed include what I sometimes tend to feel about those types of things: unnecessary.
ex·trav·a·gant – adjective \ik-ˈstra-vi-gənt\
: more than is usual, necessary, or proper, very fancy : very expensive and not necessary : exceeding the limits of reason or necessity : lacking in moderation, balance, and restraint : extremely or excessively elaborate, profuse, lavish : spending much more than necessary : extremely or unreasonably high in price
Extravagance is so very, very extra. It’s not needed for life, nor does it make logical sense most of the time.
But oh, I read that definition and I want to weep! For my Jesus is so very, very extravagant.
He loved me more than was usual, gave me more grace than was necessary.. and what could be proper about a holy, perfect God choosing a rebellious and wicked sinner as his own? The cost was infinitely expensive, and the payment exceeded what seemed reasonable, especially in light of what was being bought. Every time we expect His grace to have limits, to have conditions, and to show temperance, he reveals that the scales we use to measure balance are very, very inaccurate. His love, as we are urged by Paul to understand, is higher and wider and longer and deeper than any restraint we could imagine could contain it. It draws us into the most elaborate and beautiful of rescues, the most lavish of romances. He spent his very life on us, his enemies. For such a poor acquisition, the price was so very high.
To see a broken and fearful soul, already dead from sin, and decide it was worth dying for in order to offer it a second chance – it is buying back a captured, useless slave for a price higher than any marketplace has ever seen.
It is illogical, it is unreasonable… and it is utterly wonderful!
How glad I am, that He didn’t just pay my debt, he gave me a share in His very own infinite inheritance.
He didn’t just give me a place at the table – he ran towards me to bring me home.
I wasn’t just rescued from enemy to friend – I was made a family member, a daughter of the King.
My sins were not only atoned for, all the joy and security of knowing and walking with Him intimately, all the freedom of being released, all the righteousness of Christ Himself was laid on my shoulders.
He could have given me a simple, rough garment. Instead, he dresses me in a jeweled robe, more costly than any VS bra, for it cost him his very life.
He could have redeemed me and then stuck me in a corner somewhere. But he takes my hand and asks to walk this life with me. He gives us enough, and then extra.
My God is not wasteful, and he is not unwise in his decisions. But he is very, very extravagant in his love towards me.
And sometimes I wonder if the message “Jesus loves you” has lost the appropriate shock-and-awe factor when the idea becomes repetitive, readily accepted, and “Sunday-morning-nice”. Maybe, when church and God are overly normal, we tend to forget how utterly abnormal grace is. This is not just a southern issue, although being here makes me think about it more. And it isn’t just an American issue. It’s an issue of the human heart and the ease with which we forget what kind of love we are rescued with.
Do you believe it? That the Lord your God is with you (you were not purchased with his lifeblood and thereafter abandoned), that he is mighty to save (the blood that saved you once will save you still), the he takes great delight in you (he is not annoyed by your personality, your neediness, or the burdens you carry), that he will quiet your soul with his love (the need for striving has ceased, dear one, and the battle is already won), and that, as unexpected as it may be, he rejoices over you with singing?! (Zephaniah 3:17)
Think about that. The Mighty God, described in Isaiah 6 as high, lifted up, immense, powerful, one who inspires earth-shattering worship – singing over you, because he is so glad you are His.
It is undeserved, more than what seems reasonable.. it is extravagant.
I hope knowing how extravagantly you are loved moves you to extravagant worship, for it is what we were fashioned for from the very start. The more I understand the gap between what I deserved and what he decided to give, the more glorious the gospel becomes, and the more readily I abandon my attempts at surviving on my own.
I hope you join me in learning to accept the extravagance, learning to lay down the shields of pride and fear that keep us from His embrace! The only waste here is not on His end – the waste would be denying the precious gift, in rejecting Him in order to continue wallowing in chains only He can unbind.
It is for freedom He has set you free, and it is with overwhelming heaps of grace and goodness that he takes your hand! Onward, then, and let us see what such a God as ours has in store. It will not disappoint.