Are we sure we understand the concept of "big things for Christ"?Read More
Once upon a time, I found Jesus. More accurately, He found me. After spending a really long time not knowing how much I need Him, I finally saw myself for who I was, and I called out to Him in response to His call to me. That was almost seven years ago. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew that I didn't love, not truly. I knew that in order to love, I needed to accept His. I needed to really believe He loved me. So I did. My whole paradigm changed that day.
That doesn't mean anything else changed. I was already on a trajectory away from Him. I was on a road I didn't belong on. As an excellent Wavorly song says, "Turning around was never so hard til I found us far apart." At that point, I was really far away, heading further, and had no idea which way to turn. Imagine yourself lost on a dark night with a broken light and a broken compass, and nothing but two ears and a voice guiding you home. Even better: imagine yourself in the Millennium Falcon, crashing toward Starkiller Base, unable to pull up, not knowing the defector storm trooper was a janitor and new nothing about blowing the place up.
I had no idea what was in store. I really didn't. I knew things would be difficult, but I had no clue of the depth of it. I don't remember being as bombarded with temptations and heartaches as when I started following Christ. Yet I don't know that I've seen more personal growth happen in me than when I started following Christ.
I'm not going to blather on about all the things that happened between 2009 and 2013. If you've read my blog before, you know. If you want to know, read it.
In one respect, I'm glad for how far I've come, but it hasn't been without cost. That cost has been my ability to care.
I don't care.
Those are three words no one wants to hear. "I don't care" is giving up. On what? Anything.
Have you been told that before? It hurts, doesn't it? Knowing that you're not seen, not heard, invisible, inconsequential.
I hate that about me, which is great because that means all hope is not lost. But right now, that's a problem. The whole reason I decided to follow Jesus was so I could love, not so I could withhold love in apathy.
I'm not sure entirely how I figured it out, but I suddenly noticed lately how much of what has been happening in my life indicates that I don't really care.
The stagnancy of my romantic relationships?
Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.
My lack of reading scriptures or praying in a meaningful way?
Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.
My isolation from people I claim to care for?
Because I didn't care about anything but my own problems.
My inability to focus long enough to do successful studio takes?
Because I didn't care about them as much as I care about the things distracting me.
My inability to loosen up?
Because I don't care enough about living healthily enough to stop obsessing over the things I want.
Because I don't care about much else than what I want.
Why I don't try hard enough to change any of this?
Because I don't care to keep failing or hurting, which is, by default, keeping anything good from coming of anything I'm going through.
I don't want to run away from my issues, but I also don't want to run into a worse place. Another song, by Linkin Park this time, says, "Sometimes I think of letting go and never looking back, and never moving forward so there'd never be a past."
Relatable? Too much.
Good way to live? Not ever.
The irony of the whole thing is that we tend to stop caring because of the weight that caring becomes. But to stop caring means your heart has to stop working, and if your heart stops working, you really can't go anywhere. You collapse. You stay where you are. You die.
When you stop caring, you are dead. And it definitely feels the part. At least pain lets you know you're alive, even though it means you're fighting to stay that way. When joy happens, you know you're alive and free.
That's what I think is so powerful about the "joy of salvation" that people talk about. Not only are you alive, not only are you free, but you are now set on a path of becoming more like Christ until His coming, when everything corruptible in us will be replaced with something incorruptible, and we enter eternal life and eternal freedom, where all darkness ends and the light only grows, extending into every corner of creation. It's unstoppable. It's unstoppable good, unstoppable beauty, unstoppable life.
That's something that's actually worth caring about. When we lose sight of that, it's not hard to stop caring about things, especially the more we know about evil and hurt.
I guess that's what I've been missing. With something lasting to care about, whatever else is valuable to us, whatever else brings joy, although temporary, finally gains its true meaning. We finally have a reason to care about it.
A reason to care about him.
About anyone, anything.
But without context to something eternal, how can anything temporary have meaning?
"Our light affliction, which only lasts for a moment, is working toward an eternal glory that far outweighs anything else. That's why we look not on the things that can be seen, but the things that cannot be seen. Why? Because the things we can see are temporary, but the things we cannot see are eternal." --Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 paraphrase mine)
A mirror is a place we use to examine ourselves to see if we're prepared to go out, to see whether or not we look decent, be sure the hair is laying right or that you don't still have tomato sauce on your face from that delectable lasagna. It's also a place where we a lot of things wrong with us, question ourselves, and often times can be a source of negative self image (or pride on the flip side, if we're unwilling to see the important flaws).
I've never really been 100% confident in the way I look. I'm always asking for advice on different clothing, different hair. It may be that way because I used to be ridiculed for my face, for my slender figure (which isn't typically a man's desire, but hey, that's the way I'm built naturally). It doesn't help that I'm susceptible to the occasional anxiety attack. I don't know whether they are a result of the ridicule or if the ridicule I used to face simply exacerbated the anxiety that may have surfaced eventually.
About a week ago, I suffered one of these attacks. This one was triggered by my tendency to base my feelings about my relationship with God on my ability to make good choices and also to abstain from sins that are particularly tempting to me. When I have an anxiety attack, the worst symptom I experience is the racing thoughts. They just don't stop. They are many. They are negative. They are violent. The are self-deprecating. They are scary. They are also false. Even if there is something wrong with you, they are false and scary because they destroy.
... But why? Why do these thoughts happen? If God is good, why do I have the spirit of fear? Either one of two things must be true: either God is not good, or someone else gave me the spirit of fear. So I remembered something that I should not have let become trapped in a dark, unregulated corner of my mind: the enemy comes to destroy. Jesus comes to give life! So I prayed, "Lord, protect me from demons, protect me from the enemy."
The racing thoughts dissipated immediately.
I'm nothing special, but sometimes, the enemy tries to put us in a place where we think we're worthless because we're sinners. Jesus begs to differ. He died and lives for us. He knows what we need when we need it, so when we as His adopted and highly dysfunctional kids are scared and need Him, He will step in and say, "Child, I love you, and I will keep you safe from the enemy." I needed to remember that. I needed to be reminded that the One who's in me is greater than the one that is in the world. At that moment, I needed a miracle, and I wanted Him, my heavenly Father, back.
So since then, I've had this thing where I write on mirrors with dry erase marker. I write my sins, insecurities, and my remedy. There's something powerful about that to me. Maybe the words over my reflection help me to see myself in the context of Christ's love and truth. By doing what He did a week ago, He gave me a reason to give back into His Spirit and fight the spirit of fear in Jesus' name, because even though I'd never lost the reasons or lost my faith, I lost my fight and gained some doubts and baggage. But praise God that He is greater than any anxiety and greater than anything I see in the mirror.
We say that nobody is perfect, and that applies to us, right? Okay. Good. What about others? Do they have to be perfect, unlike us? Are they held to a higher standard by the Lord than we are, are we better than they, or is our perception of equality severely skewed?
I'm by no means saying that we shouldn't fight sin in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that we should try to encourage others to do the same, and be there with them when their sin doesn't cause us to sin ourselves. That would be a lie, and one of the worst. I'm saying that we ought to closely watch our reactions to others who are in sin confessing theirs to us in confidence, and let that be a check against our own.
You have to be sincere about what your truth is before you can sincerely change your own to the one that is truly... well, you get the point.
The movement of the Holy Spirit is a funny thing. He's not just our heart rate during worship, nor is He just the force behind an armada of supernatural events, nor is He simply your conscience when your own sense of reasoning fails, nor is He just the lifeline that God throws to us when we're drowning in the world's system. He is all of these things and more. What I'm about to explain is what happens when we don't latch onto Him when He moves.
Like anyone, whether it's in my own mind, radiating through my fingertips, or lashing out through my tongue, I have, and, as certainly as the night will come, will deal with sin. Will every thought be corrupt? No. Will every thought be pure? No. Thankfully, I have a Heavenly Father who trains me daily in the way I should go despite me, and who reprimands me clearly yet lovingly when I need it.
I've said so before, but I'll say it again: I micromanage myself sometimes, especially with spirituality and sin. I'm hypersensitive and hypercritical of what I do and how I feel and what I think and believe, often times to my detriment. That having been said, it's easy to justify the sin, the distance, the lack of direction, the lack of passion -- really, without wanting to admit it, the lack of Him, in an attempt to quell hypersensitivity with insensitivity.
The fact about me -- really all of us -- is that I desperately, utterly need Him, but I don't always run to Him. I tend to make excuses, to justify what I sometimes do so that I won't feel as guilty, but the cover up that we impose upon ourselves is worse than whatever sins and insecurities we hide. We only start to make excuses when we run out of reasons, to rationalize when we've done the irrational, to justify that which is unjust, to fabricate false answers for the ones we refuse to humble ourselves to seek out... and after all of those simulations of salvation fall to pieces, we are left to either accept the truth or scream in its face.
When you get past the reasons, the justifications, the excuses, and finally dismantle a sin, and you can finally see it for what it is, something will happen. You'll ask yourself, "Why do I do these things?" to which you will quickly reply, "I don't really know." But since when was the purpose of sin to be understood? Sin exists for one reason: to kill you secretively. When all of the other "reasons" we ascribe to it fall away, it's okay to say, "I don't know," because that's the moment you realize you've fallen and need help to rise to your feet again.
Don't panic. You can rise to your feet again. To do that, we must latch on to God's hand. Sin's purpose may be to kill you, but your purpose is to kill sin, and the victory is already won. We often define our chances in life as the sum of our sins and insecurities, but these things are small, and they collapse eventually -- the Lord doesn't. Don't tell God how big your chances are; tell your chances how big your God is.
"For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." -- Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:9-10 NIV)
This past Sunday, I attended Lifehouse Church. A verse came up that goes something like this -- it's Romans 13:10, by the way: "Love does no harm to its neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law." Pretty straightforward, right? I've heard this verse before. I love it, but this time, I read it differently. It says so much, but there are at least two ways in which it can be read. In the past, I've always read it as a definition of how to love -- do this, do that, blah, blah, blah, and you will have hard evidence of love inside you coming out -- and it is perfectly okay for it to be read like that. It has every implication of that... but this is not the only way it can be read.
In the context of Romans 12-15, a much greater force is at work, which can be seen as a huge contrast with the vibe one gets from the beginning of the letter. At first, Paul the apostle begins to speak to the Romans about the judgment they passed on fellow believers who were giving in to sin. Then he talked to them about how the concept of grace and forgiveness works, along with the concept of God's greater plan, for about 11 chapters in all.
By this time, he gotten to something that he always gets to: love. The kicker is, however, is that, unlike the beginning of the chapter, instead of addressing the letter of the law first, which is what the Romans were really pushing, he addresses the law by its relationship to love. Think about those words again: "... whoever loves others has fulfilled the law." (Don't mistuderstand me: doing things in the name of love does not necessarily make those things love.) In other words, he is saying that when you begin to love, you will begin to fulfill the law.
I think that's one of the things that is power behind Christ's forgiveness of the adulteress who was sentenced to death by stoning. He loved her, and even though He did not approve her of her adultery, He did not condemn her, but stood to defend her person, delievered a call-out to the blood-thirsty public, and simply told her to stop doing the things she was doing that caused her to come into condemnation, to stop condemning herself as we all do when we sin, when we reject His love. Never once did He say we couldn't come to Him. Never once did He say we were not loved. Never once did He condemn us. He simply said, "Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me." He really empowered us by telling us to "go and sin no more" because we do all have a choice to love or not to love.
The issue with the adulteress's accusers was that they believed in the law, but they lived without love, and that is what separated them from Christ, in addition to the fact that He was the only one there without sin, who was the only one capable of caasting a stone yet chose against it because it is in His blood to love... and that is the other context in which you can read Romans 13:10 -- not only do you prove your love through fulfilling the law, but the more you learn that you are loved, the more you learn to love, and the more you begin to live out that love and therefore fulfill the law. (It's actually kind of interesting, if you think about it, that Christ is God (John 1), that He came "not to destroy... but to fulfill" the law (Matthew 5), that God is identified by the apostle John as love Himself (1 John), and that "love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10), so by extension, Jesus not only fulfilled the law through His death and resurrection, but continues to fulfill it through us when we love.)
So the next time you find yourself in condemnation, the next time you find yourself messing up but not meaning to, just remember this if you remember nothing: Jesus loves you. He isn't condemning you, so why should you? He never said we could ever do what He did, live a perfect life, or anything like that, but He did say that we can live a better life if we follow Him. We can't save ourselves. It doesn't ride on our shoulders. Saving us was His cross. Our cross is faith. Faith will teach us to love, and love fulfills the law. :)
The nitty-gritty of Romans truly starts in Chapter 6, where Paul poses a few very interesting questions:
- "[If more grace comes to those who have been in more sin,] shall we continue sinning so that grace may increase?"
- "Shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace?"
- "[If the law makes us aware of sin to the extent that we give into sin,] is the law sinful?"
- "[If that giving into sin bring us death when the law was meant for life,] did that which is good, then, become death to [him]?"
Now, I'm neither a theologian nor a Bible scholar by any stretch of the imagination. I'm just some guy reading this and seeing certain things pop out at me. I don't know much about the structure of the Roman church, or anything about where it went from there. I do, however, know that Paul seems to be throwing out a ton of questions to them, which leads me to ask, "Why? Were these questions relevant to them in some way?"
These questions seem to have a sort of progression, a sequence of figuring out how this "grace" thing actually works. Humor me for just a moment. If you were figuring out that there was a way to escape the threat of death, would you take it? I mean, it's really a rhetorical question, if you think about it. Of course you would. The whole premise of sin is that it brings destruction wherever it goes. The victims hurt, and eventually, that hurt ripples back to the criminal, even if it takes a long time. In answering that first question of whether we should continue sinning to bring about more grace, he answered, and I paraphrase this, basically, "Heck to the no," explaining to his audience that when they were baptized, it was a way of showing that they had died to sin. How does someone who is dead continue living in the body he was in? Is it even possible? He explains that we are not under the law, but under grace, which is when he asks his second question (see list), and swiftly says, "No way!" yet again! He comes back to drive the that, not only are dead to sin, but that sin itself is a murderer, and ends up killing us anyway, so why should we be a slave to it? We are now free to live, unafraid of what sin once did to us because it no longer had a hold on us, but we have a hold on it through Jesus!
Then, it gets even weirder. So the law was made to show us what is good, right? But in doing so, the law also shows us what is wrong, everything we should do... and that's when we start to question it. Our failure to believe in our own inevitable demise gives us the wiggle room to chase things we shouldn't. We don't like to believe in limitations. We like to think that we can handle anything and everything life throws at us, and that was true before the fall because we had it made. We weren't alone, separated from each other and God. Everything was unified, unbroken, complete. God rested from His work because it was done. He didn't need to do anything else in the slightest. It was over. Then, when we were told to avert death by not eating the "forbidden fruit," that was when sin crept in through Satan in the serpent -- wow, that's some alliteration for ya. In the same way, temptations creep into our thoughts daily. We imagine passing boundaries that aren't ours to cross. So it isn't really the law itself that is evil, but it is our own nature of pushing the envelope that brings us to places of hurt and loss.
That is the whole purpose of death to sin. If we choose to die to it, we then cannot die from it. It's not like we have no choice. That was the whole purpose of Jesus' death and resurrection, and also what makes the aforementioned imagery of baptism (buried with Christ, raised to new life) so vivid. Because of that, we now have a choice. We are no longer slaves! We have been liberated! The door is open wide to run through, but He's not going to drag us through it. Light always shines from a distance. It has to radiate in order to get to where it's going. Light can lead, but it is not in it's nature to forcefully pull things to itself (which is why this isn't a perfect analogy, because God DOES pull us to Him, but not in a forced way).
So the point of forgiveness (grace) isn't really to ignore the past or that the nature of sin itself is to tear things apart or to place blame on the law, which is what I inferred from how Paul spoke to the Romans. The point is not to ignore it, but to kill it when we die to ourselves and are resurrected by the power of Jesus' resurrection -- it's a chance to leave the past behind and start fresh, and that chance is always there for all of us.
The parasite we call sin can only feed on the living flesh, but the resurrection we receive here on earth, unlike the one to come, is one in the Spirit. That's where the war begins. I'll talk about in PART 3.
In the mean time, watch this video by Meredith Andrews!