Monday, January 17, 2011

Sea Change

A lot of people have a hard time believing me when I tell them that I was really not that great of a person back in high school and before. I mean, if they are measuring me against someone like Lindsay Lohan or the cast of Jersey Shore for crazy unruliness, or a serial killer for my moral compass, then perhaps, relatively speaking, this would be accurate. I didn't really get into very much trouble and made good grades, so it's not like I wasn't good in a very standout way.

But they never knew my heart! I held onto offenses committed against me forever, even though I might have said all was forgiven. I used my words to cut people to pieces, oftentimes directly to their face but mostly behind their back. To me, slander was a form of (very poor) comedy or my crooked sense of justice, not cruelty in the most basic sense. I judged people, snubbed people, mocked people, and also relied far too greatly on people. I clung to their impressions of me if they mattered to me in the slightest, often not because I thought they were right or that they knew me well, but because I wanted to be what they wanted me to be. I signed a contract with the world that I would serve its purposes in how I conducted myself in both thought and deed, and even if this wasn't the most flagrant evil in the world, it was evil enough to contribute to the huge problem in America that no one can ignore.

From birth, I would have told you I was a Christian if you asked. I believed in the person of Jesus according to what the bible said, in regard to his sonship to God and coming to earth to save us. I went to church and youth group functions out of my own motivation; no one even made me go. In the eyes of most people, this constitutes what Christians are and what they do: they identify themselves as such and go to church to fulfill their duties.

There was a crucial component missing in my life until I was eighteen, though. I did not have any intention of changing from my own selfish ways. While I avoided the most "major" of sins (which, for whatever reason, tend to be murder, smoking, and drinking according to Christians) throughout teenagerhood, I never devoted thought to how damaging gossip, judgment, bitterness, and other issues were. I was a hypocrite! People outside the church all over this country complain most that Christians are fake, saying one thing and doing another, that that was most certainly me! I had no desire to stand apart from what most people do, probably because I was thirsty for most people's approval. I probably would have agreed I needed divine forgiveness but probably would not have thought of more than a tiny fraction of the reasons why I needed it.

But if there is one thing in this world that does what it says, the words of scripture acted as a sword to pierce my soul and expose it for what it was. I am reminded of a verse that so many people take misguided comfort in when it has the potential to be dangerous:

"[...] The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7

If anyone is at all discontent with the length of his nose or the shape of his body, then he might read this and be joyful that if all else fails, God sees through such a terrible imperfection to see his heart. Yet I am convinced that even if one were a Quasimodo in appearance, the heart within would be infinitely more dark, twisted, self-centered, and wrong than even the outer self. I find it far scarier that the Lord, in his omniscience, sees every horrible thing buried inside of me. It'd be far easier to please him if all he cared about was that I put on a dab of makeup instead.

I never dared to consider my wickedness until I was an adult, when his word revealed to me the depth of this wrong. But, despite the immense brokenness that ensued, there came a great hope, the very fundamental truth of the gospel itself!

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:26

Is this why hundreds of people pack into a building singing praise to someone unseen every Sunday all around the world? Yes!

And can I affirm that this is true in my own life? Beyond a shadow of a doubt, by the grace of God, yes.

I am not the same person. I am far from perfect in what I think and do today, but I assure you that I have seen and experienced this change in ways that I couldn't have made myself do. It's very hard to force yourself to want to stop being so unkind, thoughtless, and selfish. If I could name specific things, I'd take a while to come to the end of the list of ways my heart is changed, and would probably come off as pretty self-righteous.

But I will say this: I literally cringed at the thought of going abroad to be a "missionary" before I really encountered Christ. Telling other people about him seemed really stupid, and just did not fit into my idea of something I would find important or enjoyable. And here I stand today, having done such a thing for half my summer in 2010, and hoping to return one day. There are passions stirred within me that were dormant and dead before.

Countless books on the existence of God and the truth of Christ exist, and none can scientifically or philosophically conclude anything. But if any proof really exist in the world, I'm willing to share the testimony of who I am today. I am no longer the same.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Your Wonderful Works

This'll probably be pretty short, I just got excited about what I just read and wanted to tell the world what a theologian I am.

Hah, just kidding. I mean, about the theologian part. I will not be speaking at Passion 2012. However, I just have to tell you that there is something very right about reading the bible for yourself. It is the only complete written authority on itself. Everyone else is a commentator. There are very, very good commentators that God has gifted to teach others through the way they understand and communicate the ideas of scripture to others. These good commentators don't have to be other authors; both Tim Keller and some homeless guy are great commentators on the word of God. They do it through writing, words, actions, reactions, everything communicable to others. But there are also some really bad commentators, ones who claim to understand the truth when they really distort it, by taking it out of context, twisting it, or plainly misinterpreting the original Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek. They could write books about how doing enough good things will get you money (yes, Joel O'Steen, I'm looking at you) or they could hold mean signs at your school or at someone's funeral. All I'm saying is the only reliable way to know the bible is to read the bible itself. That way, you can balance out the commentary and discern how much of it you should trust and absorb, and how much you should not.

Sidetracked: party of one!

Anyways, I was reading Psalm 106 this fine evening, just because it was what I flipped open to at random. (This is a really fun way to find stuff, in my opinion. Most of the time that's what I tend to do. Ezekiel 27 was a trip, haha.) This is a really great, long psalm about God's faithfulness to his not-so-faithful people. The verses that stuck out to me from the very beginning were these:

"Yet he saved them for his name's sake, to make his mighty power known. He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert." Psalm 106:8-9

This idea is kind of cool if you go backwards through these two verses. God dried up the Red Sea so his people could walk through it as if it were a plain sandy desert. He basically trumped the natural order of things that he himself set in place to do it. I mean, God created the laws of physics that say that seas don't just evaporate at random, and determined that that sea would go right there. He instated logical natural order where actions have reactions and that sequences of things would be as they are to us. Therefore, God basically said, "I am going to defy my own created laws of the way things will be in order to save my people."

And why did he do it? The verse before says it: for his name's sake, to make his mighty power known. He made his power known by saying that his people matter and that he loves them. His goodness, faithfulness, love, and propensity to rescue his beloved people though they do mighty stupid things are what he wants to make known about himself.

"I hear your cries of distress, and I'm here to save you from your hunger and thirst. I know there's a huge sea before you that seems to block your freedom, but I will make it dry, just for you. Why? Because I love you, and when others see what I've done for you, they will know that I am good and that I am mighty to save."

At least, that's how I think this passage plays out. (I might be one of those bad commentators, haha.) No, it's not an excerpt from The Message. But I think the bible strongly supports this very small but very, very, very powerful idea: God is good, and he wants everyone to know he's good. Don't we do the same when we think we've done something good? The thing is that he is the best, and is infinitely and unstoppably good, and knows there is nothing better, so he'd be lying not to say that, and he loves us enough to want to share with us the best thing that exists.

He turns seas into deserts, and deserts into seas, according to his love. (Yeah, 107:35 is like opposites! The Israelites and people in general are so wishy-washy.) Instead of ignoring us or throwing us scraps when we are in despair, he can pull miracles, they just don't always happen as we might imagine them.

I hope you place your hope in a God who isn't bound by the laws he made because he's so crazy loving.