The Highs & The Lows

As I am still working my way through Francis Chan’s Forgotten God, I am seeing so much of my past mirrored in what he writes. This quote really stood out to me, and helped me to figure out something that has been bothering me for about 10 years now.

It used to be that if I had a great worship experience, I asked God to duplicate it the next time I came to worship. Like the kid impressed by  a silly magic trick, I would pray, “Do it again!” One thing I’ve learned  about God over the years, however, is that He rarely “does it again.” He’s the Creator, which mean that He is (among other things) creative. If we expect God to perform certain miracles, or to give us a particular experience, it will be tempting to manipulate or even fake experiences of the supernatural. (p. 89)

Growing up in a charismatic church, this was what I saw lived out. Experiences were what showed that you were a true Christian. It was a well-taught doctrine in that church that if you had had some sort of experience, such a speaking in tongues or prophesying, that you had reached some higher level of Christianity. You were part of the elite. You were accepted as a mature Christian and now everything you did had some value, because you were one of the more “experienced” Christians.

To a 15yo girl who wanted to be accepted, this was a poison. And that holds true for anyone who needs to feel accepted for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. I love them with all my heart. But when I was 15 and 16yo, I was starting to want people to see me as me, not just part of that big family with all the kids who homeschools. And when your social circle is limited to church, well, that really limits your options of how you are going to shape yourself.

So, I became that kid that Chan talks about. I became the kid so wrapped up in experiences and the highs that I failed to see the harm it was doing to me. I wanted to do great things for God. I wanted to see Him work in my life and work through me. Which are all good things. But I started to feed off of the high. I wanted more experiences. I thought that the more experiences I had, the closer to God I was becoming. I would stand in awe of people who had spoken in tongues, or who had prophesied. And as this went on, I began to struggle with a lot of stuff.

The first struggle, which I didn’t realize until years later, after leaving that church, was pride. I thought I was so much better then the other teens in my church because I was seeking things they were not. I thought, surely my desires to draw closer to God has scored me some points with Him, and He looks at me as a more worthy servant then these other teens who just sit here. I thought that because I had the approval of man (the leaders in my church), I had God’s approval and was somehow better then others in my age group. I know that I offended many of those people and today, I am truly sorry for that.
The second struggle was my salvation. I was saved when I was 7yo. I know that without a doubt now. I understood what it meant to be saved and what I need to do. I trusted Christ then and I see were He has lead me and guided me for the past 20 years.
But during that time as I sought those high, mountain top experiences, I really begin to doubt if I was really saved or not. Because such an emphasis was placed on experiences, I thought, well, if I am not experiencing anything, I must not be saved. This lead to many sleepless nights as I wondered, God, am I really saved? I began to doubt the work that God had done in my life. I began to see my doubt as an attack from Satan and started to feel sorry for myself. But ironically, I see now where this lead to more pride, because I would think that if Satan was after me to make me doubt my salvation, then I must be really special.

This whole doctrine of experiencing the supernatural had lead to nothing but building a spirit of pride in my heart.

After we left that church and moved across the state, I felt lost. The church we started attending was much more low-key then the one we had just left. I no longer had that encouragement to seek the experiences. And that was when I really knew what it was like to be in the lows. I was no longer experiencing the highs and I felt far from God.

This took years for me to get out of. Every once in a while, I would get the highs back and I would want to hold on to it. I did the outward things that I thought would help. Even my choice of where I went to college was partly based on trying to find something that would give me back that feeling of being special and having people look at me and think, wow, what a great Christian she is. (And for those who know where I went to college, while it seems like a complete 180 turn, it was just looking for that feeling again. I thought maybe I would find it in a different environment.) That pride is a hard beast to kill.

Lately God has shown me that it wasn’t in the low times that I was far from Him. It was in the highs. Because that was all I was grasping for. The high. I wasn’t truly seeking God, I was seeking the experience. The lows were when I was really closer to Him, because it was in those lows that my spirit and pride were slowly and painfully being broken. It has only been in the past year or so that I can finally say I understand my standing before God. I am His child, but I am no better then anyone else. I am a servant whose duty it is to hear her Master’s voice and obey. I do not draw up the terms and conditions of my relationship with God. He does. He has different purposes and plans for everyone, but that doesn’t make one Christian better than any other.

But more then that, God is showing me that my identity is in Him. His grace is what make me worth anything. I am nothing without Him and all of man’s approval or all the supernatural experience in the world cannot fill the void that only God can fill.

Advertisements

The Hot Button

Yes, this is the Hot Button of the times. But the more I think about it and praying for God’s understanding, I am beginning to see that this is one of the many lessons He is teaching me as He leads me into a better understanding of and living in His grace.

Homosexuality.

There. I said it. I am going to tell you what I think about it.

Now, let me start by saying that I believe the Bible 100%. And the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. ~1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

[U]nderstanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. ~ 1 Timothy 1:9-11

I believe what those verses say. It is wrong and it is a sin against God. I also do not believe that you can be a true Christian and be in a homosexual relationship. If you are willingly living in sin, you cannot be a child of God. And I am not talking about struggling and falling into a sin. I mean living a lifestyle that is clearly against God’s word, and still believe that you are in fellowship with Him. There is a difference.

But here is what I am learning. Some people like to treat homosexuality like it is in it’s own special category, right next to the unforgivable sin. But in these verses, I see it grouped in with many other sins. And many of those sins are ones that Christians today don’t even bat an eye at.

Now, I know what some people are going to say. “What about this verse?” And the one they will reference is Leviticus 18:22.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Another one is Leviticus 20:13

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

I think the word that people get stuck on is “abomination”. There are only a few other times in the Law that this word is used. But what is the definition of abomination.

According to Wikipedia, an abomination:

may signify that which is forbidden or unclean according to the religion (especially sheqets). Linguistically in this case, it may be closer in meaning to the Polynesian term taboo or tapu, signifying that which is forbidden, and should not be eaten, and or not touched, and which sometimes was a capital crime. The word most often translated “abomination” to denote grave moral offenses is Tōʻēḇā. ~http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abomination_(Bible)

Homosexuality is an abomination because it takes God’s design for sex between a husband and wife and His design of the human body and perverts it into something He never designed for it to be. Men are not sexually compatible with other men. Women are not sexually compatible with other women. They may be able to get sexual pleasure from a member of the same sex, but physically, they are not designed to be sexually compatible. In God’s eyes, and by the very definition of sin, this is a perversion of what God made good and therefore the perversion is detestable, or an abomination, in His eyes.

(Now, concerning if a homosexual couple really love each other, that is not for anyone to say. I don’t feel like it is within my right to look at a person in a homosexual relationship and try to tell them they don’t love each other. That is between them and God.)

Here is what I am getting at. Many Christians want to always quote the OT verses about homosexuality to prove that it is somehow a worse sin than any other. But if you look at the context of the OT verses, you see that homosexuality is included in a list of sins that are detestable to God. Things like fornication and adultery. Many times you don’t see the same outcry against these sins as you do against homosexuality. But, if I am reading the Bible correctly, all these sins had the same consequence. Death.
But then again, the punishment for all sin is death. For. All. Sin.

One of the greatest examples of Christ living out grace that I see in the Gospel is when the woman was brought to him who had been caught in the very act of adultery. By OT Law, she should have been stoned right then, as well as the man with whom she had committed adultery. But what did Jesus do?
Here is what John records in his gospel. (A pretty reliable source, since he was probably right there. 😛 )

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said,“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” ~John 8:3-11

Here was a women who had been caught in a sin for which she should have been stoned. Living in Israel, I am sure she knew this. But Jesus, the Son of God, God Himself, the Word and the Giver of the Law, not only spared her, but forgave her. Remember, this is God Himself who has just overstepped His own Law and spared a women from a punishment she did indeed deserve. This is the same God who let a prostitute wash His feet. Another woman, caught in a sin worthy of stoning, and the Savior forgives her.

I cannot help but see this as an example of how we are supposed to treat people. If God can forgive adultery and fornication, how can He not forgive homosexuality? The Greeks, who He sent Paul too, were a culture where homosexuality was rampant. Homosexuality between males was accepted by the Greeks as a normal, healthy relationship. I won’t go into it here, but there are sites that explain that part of Greek culture without getting too graphic.
If God holds homosexuality in it’s own special category of almost-unforgivable sin, why did He send missionaries to Greece? Why did He not just wipe them out like He did Sodom & Gomorrah?

The only way I can answer that question is one word. Grace. Just as God extends grace to all sinners, He extends it to people caught in homosexuality. When Jesus gave these commands:

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” ~Matthew 22:35-41

And:

 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. ~Mark 16:15

I don’t see an exception. No footnote saying “Unless they are gay.” Pretty sure He says all.

So here is what I believe. Homosexuality is a sin. But God extends grace to all sinners. He can, and will save anyone.

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. ~Acts 20:21

I don’t see an “Unless they are gay” clause attached to that verse either. Just as I can be saved from my sins, I believe a gay person can be saved from homosexuality. And because grace has been extended to me, I must extend grace to all. How can I be a witness to the grace and saving power of God if I keep those who need it at arm’s length because “their sin is worse”? Will they see the goodness of God then, or just see a judgmental deity who is out to ruin their life? I am inclined to think the latter.

Everyone is my neighbor, including those in homosexuality. If I am a true follower of Christ, then I extend grace and love to them just like anyone else.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. ~1 Timothy 1:15

Reminders

Today I was reading something that brought back so many memories for me. And not really good ones. I have started to think about this more as July gets closer and I am thinking about how me and my husband are going to raise our baby.

In my first post, I mentioned a struggle that I have dealt with throughout my adult life and how God is using it to help me understand His grace and how to extend grace to others. But the truth is, this struggle did not suddenly pop up one day when I was a teenager and I have been struggling how to deal with it since then. The truth is, this is a struggle that I have had since I was a child.

It would take too long to go into it all, so please just believe me when I say that even as a child, I knew that what I allowed myself to hear and think about was wrong. And for most of my childhood, I believed myself to be a dirty, sinful human who God would never use. I believed that I had to earn His favor, or He would never even look my way.

Looking back, I can see where, even then, God was teaching me about His grace. And sometimes, I believed it. But there is one thing that sticks out to me, even to this day, that put a halt to that belief and served only to plunge me into further self-loathing, anger, and hopelessness. I was in my Wednesday night class. I think I was about 14 or 15. I feel like, at that point, I had been growing as a Christian. I had been becoming more involved at church, and doing what I believed I needed to in order to serve God. And what I felt like was helping was I felt like I could look up to my teachers in Sunday School and my Wednesday night group. I believed that they were truly helping me and guiding me.
But on this particular night, we were talking about grace and I made the comment that I was thankful that God loved me and was working in me, despite all the wrong in my life. And here is where it all shattered. My teacher, a women who I trusted and looked up too, looked at me and said, “You can’t have done anything that bad.”  Now, I am not sure how she meant that, but here is what it said to a 14yo girl, trying to deal with something she had struggled with since childhood. “You can’t truly be thankful for God’s grace because you haven’t done anything that bad.”

Ok, in comparison, no, what I was struggling with wasn’t “that bad”. But from what I knew from reading the Bible, ALL sin grieved and offended God, whether it be big or little.

That comment, no matter how it was meant, made me feel  horrible. And I believed it. I believed that I was too small, too young, for God to bother with. I wasn’t mature enough to understand.

I also got angry at this teacher. How could she say something like that? She had no idea what I was dealing with or how I felt about it.

 

That may not seem like a big thing, but my point is this. All people need God’s grace. There is no point in our lives where we don’t need it. Also, there is no point in our Christian lives that we are incapable of coming to an awareness of the grace of God and being truly thankful for it.

Please, please, please never treat a child or a teenager like they cannot be thankful for God’s grace or that they are too young to come to an awareness of it. The things they are struggling with may be small in comparison to what you are struggling with or what they will encounter as adults. But at that point in their life, that may be the biggest thing they have struggled with so far. Just because it is small to you, doesn’t mean it is small to them. They may be feeling like I did. Small, dirty, and worthless. Thinking that God could not possible take time out of His busy, adult-centered schedule to worry about them, a small, lowly child. Why not take that time to help them understand God’s grace, rather then treating them like they are too little to really know what they are talking about. No one will ever fully understand God’s grace. It is unfathomable and completely overwhelming. Why not guide them in learning more about God and showing grace to others, instead of treating them like they don’t know what they are talking about. Children and teens need guidance, not a pat on the head and “oh you are so cute.” God doesn’t treat us like that. Why should we treat the children He has entrusted to us that way? Children are going to learn on their own that life is hard and the struggles only going to get worse. Instead of treating them like they don’t know what they are talking about, take the time to guide them through the little struggles, so they can be better equipped to meet the big struggles.

Anyway, that is my rambling post for now.

Rediscovering His Grace

I started reading quite a few books this morning. Well, rather I read parts of different ones. I’ll share what I found here. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because I have been struggling with this topic for years and I am not sure how to go about rediscovering it. Maybe you can help me. Maybe I can help you. I don’t know.

This topic is God’s grace.

The Bible is full of examples of God’s grace, from the promise of  the Messiah in Genesis 3:15, to the final rescue of God’s people in Revelation. So why is this such a hard concept to grasp?

Because of one little idea that we are taught from childhood.
Nothing in life is free.

You want nice things? Work for them. You want privileges? You work for them. You have to earn what you want. And this spills over into our relationship with God.

In his book “Transforming Grace”, Dr. Jerry Bridges tackles this very issue. In the first chapter, he draws some very good parallels between what happens when a person declares financial bankruptcy and what happens when a person is saved. After describing the differences and levels of Chapter 11 (temporary) bankruptcy and Chapter 7 (permanent) bankruptcy, he compares it to our faith in this way:

So what kind of bankruptcy did we declare? To use the business analogy, did we file under chapter 7 or chapter 11? Was it permanent or temporary? I suspect most of us would say we declared permanent bankruptcy. Having trust Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, we realized we could not add any measure of good works to what He has already done. We believe He completely paid our debt of sin and secured for us the gift of eternal life.There is nothing more we can do to earn our salvation, so using the business analogy, we would say filed permanent bankruptcy. (p.15)

This is what we should have done. This how God offers grace and salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

However, this is not what we, I, seem to hold too. As I come to grips with this concept of grace, I found that Bridges very accurately describes what I have done instead.

However, I think most of us have actually declared temporary bankruptcy. Having trusted in Christ alone for our salvation, we have subtly and unconsciously reverted to a works relationship with God in our Christian lives. We recognize that even our best efforts cannot get us to heaven, but we do think they earn God’s blessings in our daily lives.
After we become Christians we begin to put away our more obvious sins, We also start attending church, put money in the offering plate, and maybe join a small group Bible study. We see some positive change in our lifestyle, and we begin to feel pretty good about ourselves. We are now ready to emerge from bankruptcy and pay our own way in the Christian life.
Then the day comes when we fall on our face spiritually. We lapse back into an old sin, or we fail to do what we should have done. Because we think we are now on our own, paying our own way, we assume we have forfeited all blessings from God for some undetermined period of time. Our expectation of God’s blessing depends on how well we feel we are living the Christian life. We declared temporary bankruptcy to get into His kingdom, so now we think we can and must pay our own way with God. We are saved by grace, but we are living by performance. (p.15-16)

This is something I have struggled with all of my Christian life. I was raised in charismatic churches and went to a fundamental baptist university. But I saw and experienced the same disturbing thing in all places. The idea that God cannot use you unless you have reached a certain state of perfection.
As a child, I took this very seriously. I remember for a short time, whenever I met someone new, one of the first things I asked them was were they a Christian. I seemed to have this idea that if a person was not a Christian, I could not be friends with them.

But at no other point in my life was this teaching of a performance-based salvation and earning grace more damaging then when I was in college at a fundamental baptist school. I was struggling with a particular sin that had a firm grip on me. I wanted to get free, but it seemed like I couldn’t. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, because I was afraid I would get kicked out of school. I thought that God could never use me because I was too dirty. I thought that because of my falling into this sin over and over again, God would never let me get married and have a family, because I did not deserve it.
I spent 6 years dealing with feelings of worthlessness. It is debilitating.

But when I graduated, and got away from the culture that bases salvation on performance, I began to see why I had not been able to shake that sin and why I was left with a feeling of worthlessness. I was trying to do it myself. I was trying to earn God’s grace and favor. I had forgotten this verse in Ephesians.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

I had forgotten that it is only God first showing me grace and favor that I have any worth and value at all. I had forgotten that He is the one who called me and pursued me, offering me this free gift, with no strings attached. I had forgotten this truth as well:

And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:6

God did not offer me salvation and then leave me to stumble along as best I could, figuring out on my own what He demands of me in order for me to work out my own salvation. I am a work in progress. In this life, I will struggle. I will fall to sin. I can’t even say that will “try my hardest” not to sin. It is impossible for me to not sin. But when I do sin, the right thing for me to do is to truly humble myself, realize fully what a great gift grace is, and to seek the Father’s forgiveness.

So, I have started to rediscover His grace. I hope you will too.