Thursday, January 26, 2012

Faithfulness and Mercies

God's faithfulness is not measured in one life, it is measured in His remembrance of His covenants. He is faithful, but I think many of His mercies and gifts are mislabeled and assigned as indicators of His faithfulness. Much of my mentality stems from bad habits and a twisted perspective of which I am still being delivered from. Grace is still a new concept for me, and I will probably be learning about it and consumed by curiosity with it for quite some time. But, because of the mentality I grew up with, I think it is necessary for me to distinguish between the two concepts of "faithfulness" and "mercy."

Mercy: compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within on'e power to punish or harm; an event to be grateful for, especially because its occurrence prevents something unpleasant or provides relief from suffering.

The small town I currently call my home depends largely on year-round tourism; the summers bring hikers and lakeside vacationers, the winters bring skiers and snowmobilers. Winters without snow mean decreased tourism and the whole town suffers to the extent that snow is brought up as a prayer request frequently during our church service. Is waking up to three inches of fresh powder a sign of God's faithfulness? As tempting as it is to immediately begin praising God for His faithfulness in bringing the much-needed snow, I think it's important to instead recognize an answer to prayer like this as a mercy.

Maybe I'm simply criticizing semantics, but I do think we run the risk of an entitled attitude if we think that God's faithfulness is revealed by whether or not He answers our personal prayer requests. God does care about the little 'non-essential' prayers of His people, but He is by no means bound to answer them according to our wishes in order to prove that He is faithful. When I thank God for His faithfulness in providing a community of Christ-centered people to live with, is my deeper attitude one of deserving the community? "God is doing a great job of staying on top of giving me the things I deserve. Thanks, God!" To be honest, I am sinful and prideful enough to believe that on some level I do deserve the day-to-day blessings of life, and that God is really just giving me the due rewards of living a 'Christian' life.

As I sit here writing, a friend came in and gave me a coffee he had bought for me while we are both on a work break. I hadn't asked for the coffee, but he wanted to bless me with a surprise. (I was blessed.) Is the coffee an indicator of his being a faithful friend? By no means! But say this friend and I had been working together for a few months, and say he took delight in surprising me with a cup of delicious coffee from the local coffee shop each day. I get used to the gift, and begin to expect it as a sort of unspoken agreement in our friendship. Is he an unfaithful friend if he on day decides not to get coffee? Am I justified in being put off because he didn't give me what I had come to expect? The coffee was a gift, and it is no less of a gift the hundredth time it is given than it is the first. All that changes is my perspective. Of course, this analogy will fall apart, but the scenario stops me short when I really ask myself if I would be as surprised an thankful for coffee in a few months as I am sipping it right now. I take far too much for granted. I am all too easily tempted into believing that we all deserve the sun each morning, and that God is just holding up His end of our 'unspoken agreement' in each sunrise or answered prayer.

I want to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness. I want to see each morning as a mercy, and not as something I somehow deserve. I'm still seeking understanding in recognizing God's faithfulness, and it will most likely pop up as another blog post in the future. Either that or Grace. I'm still pretty captivated by Grace.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On Grace

It has taken me 22 years of growing up in the Church to become a Christian. I spent most of my life growing up trying to earn my way into a position to receive Grace. I grasped the concept that I am a sinner in need of a Savior early on, but to me it translated into a sort of tally mark system: my sin was wiped away upon "asking Jesus into my heart," but all the sin after that was tallied against me. The saving power of Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to cover my sins, but that really only counted for unintentional sins. If I wanted forgiveness for the tally of sins I willfully committed I had to prove by good intentions and irreproachable behavior that I was not only sorry for my sins but striving the best I could to do better in the present and the future. If I could prove beyond reasonable doubt that I was trying to do better, I might just earn my way into a position to be forgiven. But I couldn't ever really know if I was doing enough to prove myself, not until the Day of Judgment. Assurance of Salvation? What's that?

I hope that this is as obviously wrong to you as it is to me now. But growing up it seemed to me to be the only way to reconcile the free Grace of God with His Righteousness. To me, I was showing proper reverence and fear for the Almighty Judge of the Universe. I wanted to love God, but I wanted to make sure that I was doing it right, not cheapening Grace, and properly understanding the faith I chose to follow. In so doing I undervalued Grace, had no concept of the core of what it means to be after God's own heart, and did everything wrong. Thank God that He didn't leave this sinner alone in a prison of my own misunderstanding.

There is no tally system. There is no 'enough.' There is no proving. Grace cannot be earned. The more I tried to earn it, the more I proved that I had no concept of it. There is no gift-exchange for Grace, for there is nothing that I can offer in return of equal or greater value. There is not even me, simple-minded, disobedient, self-righteous ragamuffin that I am, because everything I am and will ever be comes from God. There is Grace, and there is the God of the Universe reconciling us to Himself.

I was reading through old emails (that's a normal thing to do, right?) and came across something I sent to a friend over the summer. Upon reflection, I think this is the beginning of my waking up to Grace. It's akin to the hazy moments when you try to open your eyes in a dream and see the bedroom around you. You're not quite awake, but the reality around you begins to shape your dreams.

"I am just now learning to live in freedom toward who I am. I am full of inconsistencies and skewed perspectives and weird quirks that embarrass me and fears that drive me and baggage that weighs me down. But I want to love God. I am not overwhelmed by my humanness because I believe that God is bigger than my humanness, and big enough in fact to not only tolerate my humanness but USE my messy quirky fearful angsty cussing humanness. God doesn't call us into an awareness of Himself to love Him so that He can tolerate us in our messiness for the rest of our earthly lives, waiting it out for us to die so He can rescue our spirits up to eternal delight. He calls us into an awareness of Himself because He loves us. As we are, He loves us. He doesn't love us for who we will eventually be, He loves us for who we are. Now. Before. Always."

There is no tally system. Grace is not an 'elementary doctrine' of Christianity, it is what all other theology, orthodoxy, orthopraxy, doctrine, and dogma points to and centers on. The Gospel is not something that we as Christians ever grow out of, it is something we continually grow toward. We fool ourselves if we think that our theological studies can ever bring us to a greater revelation than Grace.

Hallelujah, my salvation is not conditional on my worthiness. Hallelujah, my salvation is not the sum total of God's plan for me. Hallelujah, His Grace is enough.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Oh, dear...

Dear Blog.

I'm sorry. Truly, I am.

I could tell you that April was too busy, too full, too tender, too much to blog. All of those would be true, but none of them would explain the fact that I didn't keep my promise to blog twice a month. I neglected you, and I'm sorry. Furthermore, I'm sorry that I'm going to be neglecting you these next few months as I go out into the wide European world of adventure.

Poor Blog, sitting in hyperspace all by yourself with no one to type over-analyzed and over-thought thoughts in your text box.

Who am I kidding...a Blog isn't a sentient being. The heck with this apology.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Meditations on Caving In

I got a Facebook account.

I am reminded of what a colossal waste of time the internet can be.

I am humbled by the realization of my narcissistic tendencies.

I am amazed at the strange culture I have re-entered.

I am afraid of breaking the social norms of Facebook.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sunshine on my Shoulders, John Denver

If I had a day that I could give you
I'd give to you a day just like today
If I had a song that I could sing for you
I'd sing a song to make you feel this way

If I had a tale that I could tell you
I'd tell a tale sure to make you smile
If I had a wish that I could wish for you
I'd make a wish for sunshine all the while

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high
Sunshine almost all the time makes me high

Monday, February 28, 2011

Why, Yes. Yes, I am Procrastinating.

This morning as I was walking to meet up with a friend for breakfast, I experienced a small miracle. A neighbor of mine pulled up in her car and offered me a ride to class. I briefly weighed the possibility that this woman was going to kidnap me, but dismissed it with the assurance that I could probably outrun her if I needed to. I climbed into the car and was surprised at how easy it was to engage in small talk with this woman I had never met. We talked about the street we lived on, and the house I was living in (her best friend had lived there for several years some time ago and had absolutely loved it). We talked about my landlord and how lucky I was to have such a caring and understanding landlord. The only “awkward silence” moment came as we were pulling up to campus and sort of figuring out where she would drop me off. We said our goodbyes, and she pulled away as I walked up toward the dining commons. (I didn’t really find it necessary to correct her in her assumption that I was on my way to class. I was on my way to class. Eventually.)

This was a miracle for me in a few ways. One, it reassured me that there are some kind people out there who genuinely do just want to help you along as you try to get to wherever it is you’re going. She had no obligation to me, but she still offered a ride to me (and didn’t kidnap me). It also assured me that I can function as an adult in the adult world of social interactions. I’m not as painfully awkward as I think I am, and I am fully capable of engaging in 5 minutes of small talk with a perfect stranger. So there. I also was reminded of how to accept and benefit from random acts of kindness. So often I try to be the one who is in control and who is responsible for taking care of others, and it was refreshing to be reminded that it’s okay to receive blessings. Sure, I could have walked the whole way to breakfast by myself, and it probably would have given me a lot of time for reflection on my mental and emotional state of being. But allowing myself to be carried part of the way (metaphorically and physically) was refreshing and a humbling reminder that I am not called to do this alone.

I’m probably mapping way too much of my life onto a brief encounter with a stranger. Oh well. At it’s bare minimum, I was offered a ride to class by a lady who lives on my street. That’s pretty sweet.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Life Application of Armando

I had a realization a few weeks ago, but I'm not entirely sure if it's a sound conclusion. So I decided to blog about it, figuring that two Philosophy majors, a Children's Ministry major, and an English Composition major should be able to [lovingly] tell me whether or not I'm logically irrational, theologically heretical, or grammatically incapable.

Armando Diaz. An improvisational long form in which monologues followed by scenic exploration of the world described in the monologues. The main question that is asked in an Armando is "if that is true in this world, what else follows?" or something to that end.

The realization that I came to is that this is the question that is asked to critically analyze arguments. There is an analysis of a claim that is made, and then the logical effects of the argument are followed back. When a claim is made (philosophically or theologically) it is not immediately accepted as truth, but it is compared back with things that are held to be true to assess whether or not it holds true. In reasoning, it is better to be able to defend your argument or assumptions across a wide range or situations ('what else follows?') rather than having one specific example.

I don't know, maybe none of this makes sense, but I found it an interesting intersection of improv and academia. Plus, it makes me feel cool to have a real-life application for the world of critical thinking.