Friday, May 22, 2015

Bad Christian

I would like every individual who has ever had any kind of relationship -- married, dating, friendship, employer/ employee, neighbor, sibling, citizen, any -- in the room to stand up. IF you've never been angry with your relative, never looked at another man/woman in a way you would not want your spouse to detect, never revealed your friend's secret crush to your husband (who just happens to be "secret crush's" first cousin), never took the bigger piece of cake -- or the less burnt cookie, or the slice of bread without the mold -- for yourself and gave the other to your partner, never shoveled your snow, pushed your leaves or sprayed your grass clippings onto your neighbors side of the yard, never left your shopping cart in the parking space instead of returning it to the cart corral, never lied to your mother, never tossed your gum wrapper, or never secretly wanted to crush your boss under a dozen reams of copy paper, sit down. Is there anyone sitting? Yes? If you've ever told a lie, stand up.

Let's face it, we all have done things we shouldn't, made bad choices, erred despite good intentions -- dress it up how you like it, we've sinned. The issue is, there is this entire group of people who are "not supposed to sin." They are known as "The Christians." The Christians are not supposed to sin because they tell everyone else not to sin. The Christians are not supposed to sin because they tell everyone else to go to church, and to pray, and to worship God (whatever that means). The Christians are not supposed to sin because they are religious. The Christians are not supposed to sin because they are perfect. Is any of this sounding like pure horse manure to you yet? Yeah, me too.

I have been called a "bad Christian" more in the past three months than, I think, my whole life, and the truth is, I hope they're right. If I'm trying to be a Christian and failing miserably at it, that means I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. If I'm not pleasing people whose morals are skewed, who pass their judgment by the standards the world sets, who are trying to live by the status quo, I'm exactly who my King says I should be. If I do not strive to follow a list of "dos and don'ts," if I miss church now and again (and can't stand myself by the time service starts), if I cuss when you've really got me twisted, but above all else I seek to follow Jesus despite my failures, in my failures, because of my failures, then I am not simply a "bad Christian," but a terrible, ghastly, loathsome Christian. I am not "doing what I am supposed to do," but I am leaning on Jesus to make me all He desires I should be.

Here's what my accusers and others fail to realize, the foundation of being a Christian is not my actions, my words, my appearances. The foundation of being a Christian is what God, through His Son Jesus did for me and how I am challenged, led, or called to respond to that. If I believe in Jesus' death on the cross, but I respond with guilt and shame that drives me to depression or self-centeredness, or crushes me to the point in which I do not reach out to others but sit for hours saying penitent prayers or engaging in self-deprecating rituals, am I a good Christian? If I know God is real, I attend church every week, I never steal, and I always leave my neighbors plenty of room to get out of their driveway, but in my heart of hearts I just can't wait to get into my comfy clothes, I cheat on my taxes, and I hate my neighbors and their stupid dog, am I a good Christian? If I made my first communion and have been a member of Such-and-Such Community Church for thirty years, I keep my drinking to a minimum and only utter racist remarks to those who share my same views, am I a good Christian? If I allow people to take advantage of me, if I never have politically incorrect views, if I enable manipulators and drunks and users so I don't have to raise a fuss, am I a good Christian?

Whether it's legalism, piety, hypocrisy, co-dependence, pretension or sycophancy, that is not what I want as my response to the greatest possible sacrifice, the greatest possible act of love. And that's not what God wants either. Jesus' death is not some easy pass to forgiveness despite blatant sin. It's not a starting gun to the life of a law-abiding citizen. It is not a shock collar that registers each and everyone of my ungodly thoughts or deeds, and jolts me into obedience. Jesus' death is so much more. It is a gift. A means of a loving God restoring relationship with the people He loves, the world He created, the very people who screwed it up in the first place -- and I am one. It is a challenge to us all to know Him, to seek Him. A challenge that comes with the promise He will make us more like the selfless Deity that suffered our punishment, bled and died for us. A promise that we will, one day, rise from the grave as He did, and we will join Him in heaven.

So, do I sin? You betcha. Was my sin the cause of a broken relationship with a Holy God? Yep. But Jesus settled that score, and God is working in me. There are days when I fight Him on that; just like our earthly relationships, it wouldn't be a relationship if I wasn't given the freedom to choose. But I know He's stronger; I know He's faithful; I know my response to such a magnanimous gift is a desire above all else to see Him glorified. I know I'm not who I used to be, and by His grace, I won't be tomorrow the person I am today.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Not Gonna Let a Little Rain Get in the Way

It's a chilly, rainy, unseasonable day. Fine by me. I'm a bit of a foul weather fiend. Be it snow or hurricane, inclement weather was always a perfect excuse for me to call in sick at my teaching job. The drawback was, I homeschooled. Not only was it ridiculously easy for my employer to get a hold of me, but not going into work was detrimental to me -- the uneducated, indigent, and undeveloped youths being my own, and probably remaining in my basement for the remainder of their natural lives. These days, however, I'm as "sick" as I dare to be, and when the rain comes down, so does my stress level; when the snow falls, my spirit soars.

What is it about climate that can change our moods, our plans, our lives so? There's seasonal affective disorder and bipolar disorder. Some researchers even link the season in which you were born to personality development and the likelihood of experiencing depression. If that's the case, my personality would blow their research right out of the water: born in Autumn but nauseatingly optimistic (optimism is supposed to be a "Summers Only" phenomenon); thunderstorms and snow make me giddy with the anticipation of getting soaked to the bone, or shoveling feet of snow while ice forms in my hair and on my lashes (mildly psychotic, I would guess).

The Bible also talks about a link between mankind and nature:
"And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'” ~ Genesis 1:28
"The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it." ~ Genesis 2:15
"That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens."All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy." ~ Romans 8:18-25 (MSG)
The link is stewardship and a common hope. We are to have dominion over the created world, not to be dominated or controlled by it. When dreary days rob us of our joy we have to seek the Creator, our Light and Joy. When natural disasters inflict their worst upon us, we have a Comforter who knows our grief and longs to see us celebrate once again. As stewards who failed our earth miserably by opening the door to death and decay (spiritual and physical), we continue to fail creation: oil spills, litter, exploitation of resources where alternatives are available, neglect and animal abuse, overindulgence. Nevertheless, nature awaits the release and restoration that will come when Jesus returns. As believers, we too should be yearning for that deliverance, and working with the rest of creation to declare the glory of the God we worship!
"“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."     ~ Isaiah 55:12

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Life Made Easier Through Prayer

We've all had those weeks where everything seems to converge on us at once. Whether its crises, expenses, scheduling conflicts -- we just can't catch our breath. This has been such a week for us. But it is Sunday, and I'm here to tell you that by the grace of God we have been brought through it.

A couple of weeks ago, one of our children began discussing with us her plans for the rest of her life -- at least, the immediate "rest of her life." This was going to require some big changes, some confrontations, probably some unhappy folks, and lots of prayer. We supported her as much as we could without trying to influence her decision. Well, this week the time came for confrontation #1. As we checked and double checked, trying to make certain she was as ready for this as we were (and double checked that we were as ready for this as we needed to be), we were immersed in prayer. We prayed for circumstances, direction, timing, and wisdom. We prayed for all the parties involved. We prayed for peace. We prayed for God's will above all else.

I had a pretty important engagement myself. A final appointment with one of the doctors who has been treating me over the past year. I was certain he was going to release me. I was certain of the healing God has been working in me over these past few months. But getting that confirmation, having him say those words: "I won't need to see you anymore." That was a rush! Is there something wrong with needing a man to tell me what God has already done? I think that's best left to another post. In short, though, God has made us sensual humans; we see, smell, hear, touch and taste. God uses those senses to convey His goodness. That day, He used the sound of a doctor's voice to tell me He had worked all things to His glory and my good -- something for which many people had been praying.

I also had a meeting with an agency regarding my mother's care. Since I have managed to anger some folks along this short highway of my existence, someone sought to use my position as my mother's primary caregiver as a way of seeking retaliation. I think most people would look at the situation and see it for what it is; I also think most people would hear "government agency" and know what could very well happen. Don't get me wrong, I tend to scoff at conspiracy theories, but I'm no fool either; I can do the math and know what government agencies tend to gain by controlling the lion's share of the little guy's property, life, finances, consumption, etc. (Rant over.) Needless to say, I wasn't taking anything for granted. I prayed. I prayed for wisdom, for the right words, for a compassionate case worker, for the retaliation to cease, for the poor person who did this, for my mother's future, and for anything else I was missing or of which I was unaware. And, above all, I prayed for God's glorification.

God is a Father who desires our heart, and there is no better, more honest way to give it to Him than in the quiet and seclusion of prayer. A soul laid bare before Him, bursting with praise or crying out in loss is what He requires. Some question the concept of praying for your enemies, or even question my faithfulness regarding it. Honestly, it's not always easy, and it's not always my first reaction, but the more time I spend in the presence of God, the more my heart becomes like His. It has become easier to understand those who don't know Him, and pray for them, even when they seek to do me harm. It has become easier to understand the brokenness of life and health in this world, and pray for God's goodness to be made evident in me. It has become easier to rest in the assurance that even when I or others stray outside of the will of God, even when things don't seem to be going the way that seems best to me, God will be glorified, and I can either be a part of that or be removed from it. It has become easier to trust in what God can and will do.

I know well the power of prayer. I stand by it. 100%. In all of these situations, God's goodness was hugely evident. And although not all of our horses have hit the finish line, our needs this week were met. There is still work to be done. There are still many prayers to be said. But right now, there is praise to be given!