Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Religion vs. the gospel

So, no, I'm not going to do a huge treatise on this topic! It's just that I've been reading this amazing book called The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. I highly recommend it, whether you're a believer or a skeptic or something in-between.

Anyway, my pastor (who is having my guys read this book for their Monday night "theological session" they have with him) recommended I read the chapter titled "Religion and the Gospel" first. He said, "This chapter is you and me." He knows me very well, since I've had a few very long talks with him before when my brain was having spiritual issues ;-). And he was right! I read it this morning while I was at the doctor's office "waiting out" my allergy shots (I have to sit there and wait for 30 minutes after I get them so they can make sure I'm not gonna have a bad reaction and cark it in that time -- of course, I could still have a bad reaction HOURS later and potentially cark it, but, understandably, they don't really want me to live at their office!)

The chapter was amazing. I mean, so blatantly obvious to people who "get" grace. But to those of us who struggle with it, it was just ... amazing. To start with he describes the difference in "religion," which is working to please God, to rack up points or whatever, to earn our way into heaven. And grace is what Jesus did for us. He called that the "gospel" in order to differentiate. Okay, yeah, I know all that stuff. "For by grace are ye saved, through faith; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9 (I did that from memory -- I mean, you grow up in an evangelical church, you can rattle that one off at the drop of a hat.) I totally believe it ... for salvation. But what about for my daily life? And here I'm mixing book and Stacy for a sec ...

I have a very hard time accepting that I don't have to WORK to please God, i.e. to garner favor with Him, approval, acceptance on a sort-of "sub-salvation" level. Okay, yeah, I'm accepted for salvation because of His grace. But then after that, don't I have to prove to Him what a sincere, serious Christian I am? Don't I have to have all the little checkboxes checked off on the "good Christian list" in order for Him to truly approve of me, to really love me the way He loves, say, Billy Graham? And then don't I have to really show the world what a good Christian I am (presumably so they can admire my Christlikeness and want to become a Christian themselves)? Don't I need to "come apart and be separate" by having my pro-life bumpersticker, by verbally disdaining all things that are opposed to my viewpoints and way of life, by shunning the "other" (as the book puts it)? "Oh, God, thank you that I am not like those stinkin' pro-choice jerks ..."

Hold it. That sounds kinda familiar. Like ... hmmm ... oh, yeah, I know. Like the Pharisees. The ones who thought they had to have all the checkboxes checked, and knew it was impossible, so they vaunted themselves up above everyone else in order to feel good about their religion. (And I used that word "religion" intentionally.)

Oh, boy. Hittin' a little close to home, here. This is my hugest struggle with my faith. The difference between legalism and grace, between "pleasing God" so He'll like me ("tui moment" as they say in New Zealand, translated as -- Yeah Right), and obeying because I love my Father and enjoy doing things that please Him.

I am accepted already! There was a line from the book that I'll see if I can remember: Something like, "I'm so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, but He loves and treasures me so much, He was glad to do it." Whoa. Seriously? I mean, yes, my spirit believes that with everything I have. But my head cannot get itself even remotely around that. I'm accepted just ... just because of God's love for me? It doesn't have anything to do with the fact that I go to the "right" church, that I sing on the Praise Team, that I'm pro-life and anti-gay, that I hold myself "above" the culture, that I disdain atheists and liberals, that I'm a good Republican (albeit pretty middle-of-the-road), that I don't drink and I don't swear, and I don't even like most of what's on TV these days? I don't get POINTS for any of that? Jesus loves me regardless of my score?

I know that doesn't mean that being pro-life is Pharisaical, or that keeping myself as unsullied by the culture as possible is a bad thing. But the thing is, I find myself counting on those things to get me God-points, in addition to the very real convictions that lie behind my stance on them. And it makes me very judgmental (see previous post). And angry at the world in general. Which is stressful and not good for my health. Because, you see, there's no way in hell (gasp! I used a bad word!) that I can possibly get all the checkboxes marked off! I'm human! God knows I can't do that! That's why He sent Jesus in the first place -- the whole checkbox system wasn't working, the Old Covenant was impossible for us to achieve, all it could really do was point out to us how desperately we need God for our salvation.

So, anyway, I have faced this concept before and marveled at it and held it to my heart for awhile and then let the "checkbox mentality" of legalism creep its way back into my head and heart. But I'm miserable when I do that! I beat myself up, I judge others, I just don't live the life God intended in any form or fashion. So I'm praying that God will help me to GRASP this grace thing once and for all! To understand that HE LOVES ME, period. There's a Newsboys song that has a line in it that says, "He doesn't love us 'cause of who we are; He only loves us 'cause of Who He is." He chose to love me before the beginning of the world, and (here comes a cliche, but a really cool one) there's nothing I can do to make Him love me more, and there's nothing I can do to make Him love me less.

I really need to keep that at the forefront of my brain! (And tattoo it on my hands or somewhere I'll see it alot!)

Well, my brain runneth over, but I have to go pick Aidan up from drama rehearsal in a few minutes, so I'll just leave it at this for now. Christianity -- the GOSPEL, not the religion -- is absolutely the most beautiful, amazing deal ever. And I am so thankful that God blessed me with faithful parents, teachers, pastors, friends so that I am still here, following Christ, sticking it out, enduring. I mean, because, really ... what better deal is there?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Moral Imperative, or plain ol' Judgmentalism?

So, I was going to write about something else today, but then I read an article on the Christianity Today website called "The Good Friday Life," and this became more important today.

Here's the quote I want to go off of:
For the Christian, moral discourse begins by focusing not on the sins of the other but on one's own failures. "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner." It is the publican's humble prayer that is accepted by God, and it is the Pharisee—who is confident of his morality and the other's immorality—who is condemned. Moral discourse begins, as Jesus said, by taking the log out of our own eye.

At the moment I am falling on my face before God and asking forgiveness for being such a HUGE Pharisee in my life! In the name of "Moral Imperative" I am so judgmental! I sit on my throne of judgment day after day calling down fire on this politician's head, or that entertainer's, ridiculing this popular concept or that, criticizing even those I love who don't see the world the same way I do. Oh, God, why do You even put up with me?

I have such a huge plank in my own eye I think I need about four people to help me carry it around! I mean, yes, I know that there are things we must judge, and there are actions we need to speak out about. That's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about being Holier Than Thou about so many things and thinking I am somehow above it all because I am ... I don't know ... somehow "better"? Do I think that I am better than Madonna (who I rank one of the most immoral people around) because I don't sin in the same ways she does? My sin is no less horrid in God's eyes than hers. The only difference is that mine has been covered by the blood of Christ because I was blessed enough to have parents who took me to church as a child, and because I listened to the Holy Spirit's promptings when I was seven years old and accepted Christ as my Savior. I could just as easily have rejected those promptings. I mean, it's a classic case of "there but for the grace of God ..." It's God's grace, not my so-called holiness, that covers my sins and has set me free from the law of sin and death. Anyway, you get the point on that.

I actually wrote a comment on a local newspaper article today sort of "lovingly" slamming the writer who had written how we Christians should NOT celebrate "Easter" because of the connection to a pagan holiday and how we were invoking the names of pagan goddesses when we even said the name. Gasp! She WRONGED me, because she was being so legalistic! So when I read an article, also on ChristianityToday.com, concerning this very question (of whether Easter actually had come from a pagan holiday), and it said that this was a misconception, I couldn't wait to put in a comment that put her "lovingly" in her place! (I promise you, it wasn't as snarky as I'm making it sound, but, still ...) Why did I do it? I'd say about 10% so the atheists who LOVE to circle like sharks any religion article in our newspaper would have to eat many of their own words, but also simply to put her in her place because I don't think like her, because I thought she was being legalistic and "leading others astray"! I was TRIUMPHANT when I sent that comment post! HA! I thought. Shows you!

Oh, Kyrie eleison! Christe eleison!!

This is what nailed Jesus to the cross. My hateful little vindictive judgments. My Holier-than-thou moments. My "Oh, God, thank You that I am not like so-and-so ..." thoughts. And I know I'm not the only one. The "Good Friday Life" article is talking about this mostly in reference to our political activism, and we as Christian Americans are RIFE with Moral Imperatives. But it doesn't matter what anyone else does. What matters is what I do.

Dear God, this is not how I want to be! This is not WHO I want to be! Please have Your Holy Spirit so fill me with Jesus that He pushes ME out and makes me like Him!

Sounds easy, right? A "magic" little prayer and everything is all better? Ah, but God and I both know this is not even remotely that easy. It's certainly not impossible, since "With God all things are possible." But my SELF will continue to want to rear its ugly little head over and over and over again. The dying to self thing ... yeah, that's probably the hardest thing we Christians have to do. I LIKE "self". "Self" wants to be really comfortable and keep on living a cushy life here in my spirit and soul. But Jesus said I have to deny my SELF, take up my cross and follow Him. "It is no longer I who lives, but Christ within me ..." I have the feeling it's going to take me a loooooonnnnggg time to get to that point. But, Jesus, please don't give up on me, okay? It's the desire of my heart, my spirit, my soul to be there. Thank You that You know the REAL me, deep inside, and that even when all the other bits of me seem to drown it out, You still hear, You still know who I really am in You.

You're my only hope!