Saturday, August 14, 2010

Working our way (Or alternatively titled "The post in which I use the word nay")

I belong to a gym that's part of a local church. I don't know if you would classify this church as a "mega-church," but it's pretty darn big (well...big enough to have a gym on their grounds). It's a really great environment in which to work out. The people there are friendly, the equipment does what it's supposed to do, the classes are fun and tough (oh Zumba, how I miss you!), the locker rooms are generally clean (except when they're not...), the price is not too high, and it's not noisy and packed like many gyms around here seem to be.

But those things are not what I like best about it. My favorite part of exercising at this particular gym is the colored 8 1/2" by 11" pieces of paper that are scattered throughout the workout areas, the halls, and the locker rooms. These pieces of paper (well, the ones to which I'm referring) are not random bits of information. Nay. They all say the same thing, and they are changed every week or so. Each one of them quotes the same verse or verses of scripture for that time period, and then the verse is changed. For me, this is a wonderful addition to my workout. I get to take care of the body I've been given while feeding my soul with the promises of God's Word. Having the same verse scattered throughout the building for days in a row is an excellent way of helping those of us who have poor memory skills really look at the words and allow God to write them on our hearts.

Each time, something in the verses the staff members choose captures my attention. More often than not, they apply to something that's going on in my life right at that moment in time.

This week's verse caught me off guard. I've read the book of Romans several times, and for some reason those words never fully grabbed me like they did yesterday. I ran (not literally...I don't even do that at the gym!) right home and found it in the NIV since that's the version they took it from. There it was: Romans 6:6-7 staring back at me. The words were simple: no $5 words that had to be looked up (or found at, no concepts too deep to comprehend, no references to past Biblical characters that had to be researched in previous books of the Bible or ancient texts (or Googled......). And although the message was clear and direct, I still had to read over it several times. I had to pull it apart, think it aloud, really delve into its meaning. Finally, I decided I needed more context. More meat. More info. So I read on.

"For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." Romans 6:6-11 (NIV)

So, I admit. I was still a teensy bit befuddled. The concept in general is easy enough to understand even if you only know a small amount of theology. But...I still wanted more. I wanted to claim it as my own. So I read the one in The Message.

"Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin's every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ's sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That's what Jesus did." Romans 6:6-11 (The Message)

That's what Jesus did. He died:
(on a cross,
pierced by nails,
brutally beaten,
mocked and scorned
by those who didn't understand)

--sacrificially gave His life for our sin.

Our lies. Our justifications. Our addictions. Our hard hearts.

Because, you see, there had to be a payment. We, on our own, could never-ever work our way into heaven.

Imagine, if you will, a particularly dirty and disgustingly-stained towel sitting in a pile on the floor. Now, what if someone took this filthy towel and simply moved it to a different spot in the house (say the kitchen table). Would the towel now be clean because it was shifted to a new position? Just like something spoiled or unclean can't be made pure just by changing locations, we--because of our wicked, immoral, corrupt natures--could NEVER enter heaven, or be made clean, simply by trying hard enough..."working" our way there. The simple truth is that where God is, sin cannot be.
Sin spoils us.
Makes us unclean.
That's not a pretty picture, and many people turn away from that depiction. I mean, really, who wants to dwell on the thought of their own depravity? Our sin-nature is an ugly thing that we like to push away.

The great news is, though, that by trusting Christ, accepting His sacrifice as the amazing gift that it is, we are forgiven, made clean, and made holy; no longer do we have to be "slaves to sin." That old self is cast off because it was nailed to the cross with Jesus. We get to let it die and start to live life anew in the knowledge that sin has no hold on us anymore. We are free to live lives that are full of the grace of God.

We get to live lives full of integrity and honesty.
We get to let Christ be our sole justification.
We get to throw off addictions that haunt us.
We get to choose kindness in the face of incredible cruelty.

We get to draw breath daily knowing that the Holy Spirit gives us the means to be more like Christ if only we would ask. So, dear ones, let's petition for love. Let's appeal for joy. And request peace, patience, and kindness. Goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness. And make a plea for self-control.

Let's ask.
Let's live.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

...the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

It has been, what seems, a very long time since I last posted. These last four weeks have been filled to the brim. In one month's time, I got engaged, journeyed to Michigan (and Chicago while there), spent time at my parents' house on the way home, experienced a wonderful weekend in Galveston with my fellowship group, and made my way over to a little town near Livingston for a staff retreat this past weekend. This month has been filled with adventure, relaxation, sun, playtime, education, books, and a little tutoring on the side. Even if I had been full of wonderful thoughts and ideas about what to write on here, I wouldn't have had time to sit down at the computer and compile them all. I just glanced at the calendar, and I have 3 weeks before we begin inservice at school and 4 weeks until I get to meet the kiddos who will be in my class this year. The summer has passed swiftly by, but I'm not complaining. I feel truly blessed and grateful to be working at a school that allows us a full three months off in the summer. A full three months to regroup, recoup, and refill.

Lately, the fiance and I have been talking. Really conversing. As in still chatting at 2:30 in the morning. And what, you may be asking, is it that we are deeply discussing into the dark, wee hours of the morning? Communication. Or...the lack there-of.

Don't get me wrong. We communicate. And I think for the most part, we do a good job of expressing ourselves and our needs/wants. But, and this is difficult for me to confess, I hold back. Out of my deep need to please people, to not upset them, to not hurt them, to not anger them, I hold back. And it seems that I have pulled that trait into our relationship. Sometimes, I'm not even aware that I'm doing it. He often has to drag things out of me once they've all piled up into this tower of angst/sadness/disappointment/fill-in-the-blank-emotion that's so overbearing in my mind that I'm at a loss as to how exactly I'm suppose to put into words what I'm feeling.

It's frustrating and ugly. It's not telling the full truth. And one night recently, he said it's basically a lack of trust. not trusting him. Of me not trusting him enough to be completely honest with what's on my mind. Of course I argued that it was not! I got high and mighty and proclaimed "Good grief...of course I trust you!" and got rather...well...huffy. Not my finest hour. *Ahem*

I did, however, listen as he explained. I heard him. I really did. And it resonated. It's still resonating, which is why I'm writing about it here. Sometimes I think that writing about thoughts and ideas concretes them in my heart and head.

By not telling him what I'm thinking and feeling without editing or holding back, I'm essentially saying that I don't trust him enough to take whatever I say and still love me regardless. My lack of full disclosure is telling him that I don't trust his response, whether it be verbal (what if he says something unkind, something that can't be taken back?) or mental (what if he thinks thoughts that will only fester and grow uglier?) or physical (what if he walks away or turns his back on us...on me?). I haven't given him enough credit. In those conversations where I haven't expressed everything, I've stolen those chances for him to prove me wrong. And those doubts? Not from God. Not from my Father who tells me that worrying won't add a single hour to my life. Those doubts are from the one who fights to steal my joy, steal my strength, steal my trust in Him who saves and in Him who will never forsake me.

God's word says that "speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." So, I promise that I will speak the truth in love to whomever I'm sharing my innermost thoughts with, and I will trust. Trust God to lead us through challenges. Trust the other person to respond likewise in love.

I think that as I continue studying more about God, by gaining more knowledge of Him who is so powerful, so awesome, so amazing (have you ever noticed that those adjectives are so over-used and can't truly, fully express the awe we should feel in knowing the God of the universe?), I will grow in wisdom and understanding. Those will lead me closer to Him, closer to Jesus (the Way, the Truth, and the Life), closer to the Author and Perfecter of my faith.

I'm so thrilled to be on this journey. And I'm even more excited to be able to share it with a man who desires to travel this road with me, to know and love our Lord more fully, and to communicate with more honesty, truth, and trust as our relationship grows stronger in Christ.

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ..." Ephesians 1:7-9