Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How are you viewing salvation?

I had a compelling conversation with a close friend a couple years ago regarding faith and Christianity. She struggles with the concept of Christianity and is unsure what to make of it. She is an extremely loving and compassionate person. Tears welled in her eyes as she explained that she doesn't understand how a loving God can send anyone to Hell, and that this world is so elitist and unfair, she just doesn't see how it can still be like that in Heaven, where things are supposed to be perfect.

This is not an uncommon argument or question against Christianity. And honestly, it's not always easy to answer. I understand how she feels, and I understand why it can be more attractive and easier to write off the whole thing than confronting the fact that some of your most dear loved ones might be going to Hell.

But I think the larger problem here is that we're viewing salvation all wrong. With this view, it's almost as if we're assuming that everyone would be going to Heaven, except that God is pointing his all-powerful finger at certain people and saying, "Nope! Not that one." That is certainly not the picture of a loving God. And if that's the way you think salvation works, it's no wonder you struggle with accepting God for who He is.

I admit this is an overly simplistic analogy, but I like to think of it this way: God created man to be safely on a boat. God provided everything the man needed on the boat. God's only stipulation was you have to stay on the boat. But man (or in this case, man and woman), decided to jump out of the boat instead. God could have let them drown out there. After all, they brought that on themselves. But instead, he provides a lifeline...Jesus jumps off the boat and rescues us! But of course, we have a choice. We can choose to cling to Jesus to save us, or we can continue flapping and flailing in the water, determine to save ourselves. Of course, no one can ultimately survive that way. Now, we are all created and born into the water because of the choices of those who came before us. We are all subject to the harsh winds and waves, trying to consume us. But Jesus is still out there in the waters, offering himself up to save us. But still, we have to choose to accept his help and hold on tight. We have to let him lead us out of the water.

Many drowning victims will panic and push their rescuer under water trying to save themselves. That doesn't work. We can't push away Jesus when he reaches out to us. And we can't just ignore him and keeping swimming on our own. The only way to salvation is to trust him with our very lives.

Here is my point -- God is not pushing certain people out of the boat. In other words...he's not sending certain people to Hell! People are already in the water. God is offering a way to salvation, and people have to accept the rescuer's help.

So it's not really elitist and unfair. The only unfair part is that Jesus has to leave the boat when he did nothing to deserve that. But he did it for you. That is actually incredibly loving and accepting.

Maybe this analogy doesn't quite resonate with you. That's okay. But if, instead of just accepting cultural Christianity viewpoints, you think about what really happens in the Bible, you take time to really study and understand it, and you pray about it (even if you don't believe in prayer...what's the harm, then?), I think you'll come away with a different understanding and viewpoint.

Monday, August 17, 2015

An Awakening: AKA The time I went to church without makeup

I'm terrible at managing my time on Sunday mornings when Scott leaves early to play in the worship band and I'm left to get myself and Grayson ready on my own. Side note: single moms---you rock! But anyway, I basically lay around in bed, snuggling with Grayson until he convinces me to get up. Then I pour some coffee and put on a movie. Yes, a movie. I make some breakfast for me and Grayson and leisurely eat and watch the movie with him. Eventually I realize I have about 40 minutes before church starts and I rush to get Grayson ready and then get as much of myself ready as I can. Yesterday this meant throwing my wet hair into a pony tail and going to church with no makeup. Plus I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt because all Connect Group leaders had to wear their "I'm in the BEST Connect Group Ever" shirts. In other words, I looked like I was dressed for a lazy Saturday afternoon and not Sunday morning church!

As I sat in the church parking lot, already late, trying to decide if I should put on makeup or just go in, I had a realization. Church is not about putting on your fancy clothes and making an appearance. Church is not just a social gathering. Church is where fellow believers gather together to encounter Jesus. And Jesus doesn't care if I'm wearing makeup. He just cares that I show up and worship Him. And if I really can't go to church without makeup, I have a pretty big problem!

I felt weird walking into church like that. I felt a little naked and exposed. I wondered how many people thought I looked tired or sick because of the dark circles that camp out under my eyes. I felt an urge to apologize and explain away my appearance to everyone I saw. But I didn't.

It seems silly, but going to church without makeup tore down walls that I didn't know I had. I was suddenly more vulnerable, and, in turn, more humble before God. It was a funny feeling. Exposing the flaws on my face somehow made me more honest about the flaws of my heart. As I worshiped, I felt like God was taking my messy life and messy heart and wrapping it up with His Spirit and calling it beautiful.

Here's a confession -- lately I've been in a bit of a slump, and I've blamed my church for most of it. Never out loud, but in my head, I've pointed my fingers at the growing masses of people attending our church and called them a bunch of fakes. They don't seem excited during worship. They don't lift their hands or sing loudly or jump and dance. They don't clap or say "amen!" They have perfect clothes and makeup and hair, and I this really what it looks like when broken people come to worship Jesus?? And I fell into a funk. I stopped dancing or clapping or jumping. I would have dressed nicer and worn more makeup if I was better at time management! And I felt bitter toward those around me for not getting me amped up about Jesus.

But who's to say they weren't doing the same thing to me? What if the person next to me wasn't jumping because I wasn't jumping? And what if the people in the row in front of me didn't raise their hands because they worried I would think it was weird? And more importantly, since when is it the job of other Christians to get me excited enough to worship the living God?? Shouldn't the very nature of God and the Holy Spirit be enough to get me excited? To pull me out of a funk?

So, I have some options. I can be a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Or I could just leave and place the burden of the condition of my heart on another church.

As I stood there feeling slightly naked without any makeup, I realized I had less dignity to lose. And who cares what people think if they see me jumping and dancing and lifting my arms? So, I did it. As soon as I started, I could feel the Spirit filling up inside me. My heart raced, my body was buzzing, and I felt such inexplicable joy and gratitude! The whole church service was better than it had been in months. I wrote pages of notes. I walked away with the message resonating in my head, and I actually felt called to serve in different ways in the church.

Do I believe it just happened to be a better service than usual? No. I believe the real problem has not been in the church but has been in my own heart. Sure, I wish more people would worship the way that I like, but it's not their responsibility to make me feel comfortable. That's between me and God. And I just need to wash off my makeup and stand before God and not be afraid to be honest and real.

It may seem ridiculous that something as simple as not wearing makeup would make such a difference, but it really did! It put me in a position where I was better able to lay it all out there. Now, I'm not saying I'll never wear makeup or nice clothes to church again! But I hope I remember the importance of being vulnerable. God knows our hearts anyway, so why try to hide it?


Friday, August 14, 2015

Check your false security at the cross

 It's very easy to say my hope and security is in Jesus. I can say that all day long, especially on a really good day. And while it's 100% true that my hope and security is in Jesus, it's also true that I don't believe that. I want to. My head tells me to believe it. I tell myself that I believe it, and I believe myself when I say it. Confusing, yes? But deep down in my core, in my heart, I believe that my hope and security is found in a slew of other fleeting, meaningless things. My job, my bank account, my relationships, my body, my intelligence, my home. The list goes on and on. It makes sense. All of these things are nice and comforting, but they can dissolve in an instant. Then what?

Nothing terrible has happened to us lately. Even so, we've struggled with a sense of despair and anxiety over a number of factors. I had a health scare about a month ago. We thought I had a seizure. I went to the ER, was referred to a neurologist, and underwent 4 different (and expensive) tests. Thankfully, I was deemed healthy and the neurologist diagnosed the episode as something called vasovagal syncope. It's nothing serious. It's basically passing out. He believes my episode was brought on by dehydration (I also had a stomach bug).

While the clean bill of health is wonderful news, we found ourselves steeped in resentment, stress, and fear over the medical bills. I was literally angry that nothing was wrong because I did so many tests for no reason. I was angry that I wasn't seriously ill. That's how much I value money and put my security in my bank account.

Since weaning Grayson, I have gained 10 pounds and went down two whole cup sizes in my bra. This means my mid-section grew and my boobs shrank. What a lovely combination. As someone who struggled with weight for several years, I admit I was a little in love with my postpartum, nursing body. Breastfeeding burned calories and kept my boobs nice and full. Just being real here! Suddenly things have shifted a bit and I realized I'm often disgusted with my body. But the fact is, I'm still small! I went to pick up a t-shirt today for a campus event and the lady said, "Are you a small?" And you would not believe the confidence boost it gave me that she could tell I wore a small. Ridiculous. Why on earth should my self-worth be destroyed by 10 pounds and a smaller bra? Because I put my hope and security in my physical appearance.

Grayson's daycare has significantly increased the price of tuition. I cried when I learned how much it was going to cost us to continuing sending Grayson to school there. Not only that, but the amount we'll be spending when/if we have a second baby and they both go, is quite a lot! Once again I was hit with just how much I place security in money. And not only money, but in education. I couldn't fathom for one minute sending Grayson to another school. Nor could I fathom losing that much money in keeping him there. For several days I battled with my priorities. It wasn't until we readjusted our budget and figured out how we could make it work that I realized just how much I was placing my security in things other than God.

Thankfully, I have not lost anyone very close to me in a long time. I have a loving and devoted husband and an insanely smart, funny, and handsome (my totally unbiased opinion) little boy. I have both my parents, my in-laws, my siblings, and more friends than I've probably ever had in my life. It just so happens that tragedy has not hit too close to me yet. But it will happen. In the past year I have seen people mourn the loss of children, parents, and other loved ones. I've seen friends go through miscarriages or battle infertility. I've heard of children being born with severe impairments or being diagnosed with cancer. I have no way of knowing what the future will bring, but I know none of us will live forever and I know this world is a fallen place with fallen people. Evil isn't going away until Jesus comes back to banish it for good. And what will happen when something happens to someone I love? I can guarantee that I place security in the people in my life. Not only is that foolish because people are imperfect and can let you down, but people aren't forever. I'm not saying you shouldn't love others and develop strong relationships for fear of them ending. Certainly not! But let's check ourselves and be real. We make gods of other people; we put our hope in the relationships we have; we just might completely crumble if a piece of our puzzle is taken away.

Grief and mourning is natural, and Biblical. Of course you will be upset when there are losses in your life...even if it's the loss of a nice figure! But where is our ultimate security found? Can we recover? Can we still believe in the goodness of God, even without all the things that bring us comfort in this world? How does that feel and how does it look? What does it really mean to place your hope in Jesus?

For me it's a constant, daily dying to myself. It's being thankful for what I have, but acknowledging that the blessings are not the GOOD part. The blessings are just a little perk. We do not have rights to our blessings. For me it's thanking God for who He is, for his love and grace, for Jesus, and for his Holy Spirit living inside me. And quite honestly, for me it's coming face to face with a loss or an unfulfilled expectation, and admitting that I was placing too much security in that thing. And then subsequently turning to the cross for my forgiveness and yet another chance to get it right. It's lifting my hands in praise or hitting my knees in surrender to His calling. It's being moved in some way by His very presence and His promises--sometimes that looks like tears, singing, jumping/dancing, heart-racing adrenaline rush, or inexplicable peace.

How about you? Where is your false security? Join me in checking it at the foot of the cross.

Be blessed!
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