Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Comb

My husband, Ryan, and I have really been developing spiritually in the last few years. One of the things in life that seems to go directly against that growth is television. But, I suppose if we keep it in perspective, stand firm on the things we believe then we’ll be alright. I don’t think God wants us to live in a Christ shaped bubble, blocking out the relevance (or irrelevance) of the world. In fact, as one of God’s “fishers of men” I think it is important to know what’s happening in today’s world. I’ve learned in time that nearly anything can be related to the walk of Jesus. With that in mind, we sat down Monday night to watch some television and see what the new fall season had to offer.

One of our favorite shows had two completely separate story lines going. The first one we thought was extremely witty, entertaining and true. It was about how we as people should be confident enough with who we are that we don’t need to change what we say and do just to make others happy. I whole heartedly agree with this… but I wish it were as easy as it sounds. In my old, drunken life I truly had no idea who I was. I changed my personality completely based on who I was around and what situation was before me. I was a personality chameleon… and I told a lot of big lies. It was hard to keep up with, but it was worth it in my warped little mind because I thought that was why people liked me. As it turns out, I don’t think too many people actually did like me, because… I didn’t stand for anything, no one could figure me out and, oh yeah… I was a liar. I am still a died-in-the-wool people pleaser, and even though I’m sober I struggle with this every day. I don’t ever want to feel like anyone is mad at me. Sometimes my fear of disappointing others causes me to be dishonest about simple things. Think about it, if someone asked Jesus to go to a two hour network marketing presentation He had no interest in, I don’t imagine He’d be so insecure that He would need to come up with 3 or 4 excuses just to feel okay about saying no. I can hear it… “Well, my donkey is lame so I don’t have a ride. And one of the straps on my sandal broke so I really should get that fixed before I walk too far or I might get a blister. Plus Martha is making me a big dinner...” nope… I don’t think so. I imagine His answer would be, “No thank you.” Why is that so hard for me???? The word “No,” then a period. I’m working on that.

The second story line was totally disturbing to me. The one funny part was that a few years ago, I wouldn’t have found it disturbing at all. I would have actually found it comforting… everyone else is doing it… so it’s okay. The premise was that when you are in the committed relationship of marriage that it is totally okay to fantasize about other people. I was very pleased to see my husband shaking his head in total disagreement with this… in fact he said “Thou Shall Not Covet!” as he watched it. We both chuckled! My laugh and gladness at his statement had nothing to do with jealousy and everything to do with God’s wish for our lives. I adamantly believe my spouse is a true gift from God. I am supposed to cherish him and honor him. I am supposed to be committed and stand by him no matter what. My entire relationship with my husband is an act of worship to God… and if I let another man enter that worship space in any way, I am totally disrespecting the gift. I am essentially spitting on the gift! Now, I’m not gonna lie and say I don’t ever see men who intrigue me or catch my eye. I’m not even gonna lie and say I understood this whole concept the first 5 years of my marriage… because I didn’t!!!! I spit on my gift many times before I began to understand. And to this day, I still have eyes to see, ears to hear and interests that are occasionally sparked by others… but it’s what I do with those sights, sounds and interests that matter. I can choose to comb over them slowly in my head (combing leads to teasing and everyone know that too much teasing leads to a big, knotted mess. Even the best brush can’t get those tangles out without a lot of pain and hair-loss)… or I can choose to reject them and refocus on the awesome gift God has given me. If I have a hard time rejecting them, I pray hard, I go to the Word and pick a verse to help me. I repeat it over and over and sometimes I even ask my trusted prayer partners to pray for me to be released from temptation. God is faithful and if I look to Him to help me reject sin, He most certainly will.

Another thing about God is that He has extremely high standards. So high that if I allow another man to enter my thoughts in a lustful manner, I may as well just go ahead and go all the way with him physically. Now, I’m not saying if I’ve thought about it and it’s like doing it, I may as well just go ahead and do it. What I’m saying is… it is of upmost importance to not allow myself to go there at all, even in my mind.

In closing, I’d like to say that thankfully, God allows U-turns…. Phew! I recently joked with some friends that some days I feel like I’m just walking in circles, taking one U-turn after another. I LOVE that Ryan and I have grown to the point spiritually that we are not as confused by what we see on television. I’ll tell you this though, I do plan on keeping my eyes open. I’m sure there are plenty of things I don’t know to watch out for yet and the devil (along with society) would like nothing better than for me to be unaware of their impact. Today I’m so glad I was able to take that misleading story line that Satan was trying to use to desensitize society into not following God’s heart and turn it around in this writing and tell all of you who read this (all two of you) to stand firm on your commitment and don’t let anyone invade your worship space… it’s for you, your spouse and God…. period.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Only an Idiot

One of my spiritual mentors once told me that when I open the Bible to read God’s word, it is like allowing God to breathe new life into me. Me, a prisoner of sin who isn’t in-and-of-herself worthy to stand face to face with God. Yet, all I have to do to know I am close to Him, to feel His breath, is open His word.

Imagine this for a moment, I am in real prison… on death row. The fact of my innocence or guilt is moot. The only thing that really matters is that tomorrow I have a date with the gas chamber. There is one man who can change my fate… the president. All I need to do is get to him and ask him to save me, right? No problem. Oh wait, I’m in prison. The bars, the guards, the really tall wall with barbed wire and sharpshooters kinda-sorta stand in my way… hmmm.

Imagine for a moment, the prison warden has decided to let me have a two hour pass of freedom as long as I promise to return in exactly two hours (it could happen, right?). I take the bus downtown (my prison is conveniently located right outside of DC), and head over to the White House. I walk right up to the front door and knock on it. Mrs. Obama opens the door… oh wait. Even a free person can’t walk right up to the White House and knock on the door. There are guards and a large fence and many guns between me and the president. Not one person on this two hour journey would tell me that I am worthy to have the conversation I need to have with Mr. Barack Obama. Innocent or guilty, my fate is sealed. I resign myself to death and go back to the prison (or maybe secretly try to catch the redeye to Tahiti).

Well, before Jesus died on the cross for us, our relationship with God wasn’t much different than the scenario above I just asked you to imagine. DISCLAIMER: Let me state this clearly: I AM IN NO WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM SAYING OUR PRESIDIENT IS A GOD OR ANYTHING LIKE GOD. HE IS NOT! I am merely trying to illustrate a point. Before Jesus came to the world and took on the role of the living, breathing Word of God… all we had was a “deal” with God. The deal was this, He would set us free if we promised to be perfect by abiding by the 10 commandments. I’m not sure if you realize this, but we aren’t very good at being perfect so with that deal in place, we were simply not worthy to have a direct relationship with God. We were trapped in a prison, behind bars with armed guards all around and only our guilt to keep us company. The one and only being that could release us from our certain death was behind a curtain we could only dream of looking at. There were prophets sent by God and priests to be the go-between and help us attain forgiveness and understand the way. Abraham, David, Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist are just a few. Because of God’s love for us, and His desire to be connected to us He changed the deal… He sent His only son to show us the way. He sent His only son to take our sin on as His own. He sent His only son to die in the gas chamber so we wouldn’t have to. He sent His only son to die for all the things we’ve done and even the things we haven’t yet thought to do. Hebrews 10: 19-23 tells us that Jesus’ death opened the curtain between us and God. Matthew 27:51 tells us that at the very moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain in the temple was torn in half from top to bottom. It is only by the sacrifice of Jesus that we are invited into a personal, loving, one-on-one relationship with our heavenly Father.

Go back now to my original request for your imagination. I am sitting in my prison cell knowing that the end is near. I am most certainly guilty of the offense I am sentenced to die for and I know I totally deserve what is coming. A guard comes to me and says, “You have a visitor.” But I’m not expecting anyone… my friends have abandoned me and my family is ashamed… who could it be?

To my grand surprise, the president appears right outside my cell. I am shocked because he has sought me out completely on his own. I feel strange to be in his presence, after all he is the president and he is the only one who can save my physical life. He looks directly in my eyes and says, “I know you’re guilty but I found someone who will gladly take the fall for you so if you want, I can set you free right now. What do you say, do you want to live in freedom or would you rather die? ”

Put yourself in those shoes for just moment… what would your answer be? Only an idiot would choose death over freedom… right?

I am in those shoes every single day. I am guilty, every day. I am innately unworthy of redemption and sentenced to death… but…God has sought me out completely on his own. God removed my unworthiness with His grace and His Gift. The life He offers is so much more than any president could ever offer. The life God offers is eternal and filled with blessings I can’t even fathom. And Jesus willingly did the hard part for me… all I have to do is say “Yes, I want to live. I believe. Lord, breathe your life into me!”

Yes, the breath of God is right there as I open the Bible. And God breathed life into his Word when He sent Jesus. It is amazing!!!! With all this on my mind these past few weeks, I found the following text from worship this Sunday quite fitting…

“Without your Word, we were lost and condemned. Without your Word, we were forever separated from you. Without your Word our sin made us unclean and unfit for your holy presence. Now we claim the forgiveness that is ours in Jesus Christ. We praise you for the salvation we have received freely by your grace! We sing of your greatness and power, for you have removed our transgressions!”

Open your Bible and let Him breathe on you… only an idiot would choose death over freedom.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Ah-Choo

Years ago, before I got sober, I used to think I was a pretty darn good Christian. I was nice to people, I had never done anything horrible, and I wasn’t walking around badmouthing God. I felt pretty good about myself and my standing with the Big Guy. It wasn’t until I started to actually try to understand what Christianity really was that I realized perhaps the perception I had of myself, was a little off. Sobriety led me to a real relationship with God. I remember as if it were yesterday, the day we went over the Ten Commandments in the Exploring the Bible class I took. Specifically, I remember thinking “Oh crap” with each commandment I read… and my “Oh crap” got louder and longer as I went from one to ten. That was when I realized… I wasn’t a darn good Christian at all. In fact, I had been a pretty crappy Christian most my life. My heart began pounding in my chest and my palms got sweaty… I was scared… and I think I actually said “I’m screwed!” out loud. The fear that was sparked in me actually proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had a lot to learn about our loving God and this Christianity stuff.

I could get into all the inner workings of my last statement, but that would be a very long article for me to write and for you to read, so I’m just going to focus on one of the commandments right now…

Exodus 20:7 (NIV) reads like this: "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” The most common way I have heard it is, "Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain."

For years I had no idea what this meant and I was embarrassed to admit to anyone that I didn’t understand. I thought it was just something everyone understood and I was stupid for not getting it. Finally, I asked my husband to spell it out for me and he was able to get me to actually understand. Here is how he explained it to me. He asked me how I would feel if everyone started to say “Oh Wendy” every time they stubbed their toe or had something bad happen to them. I thought about it for awhile and the light bulb came on… that would suck to have my name associated with bad stuff. I would really dislike that and I’m not even someone who has done something incredible, like create the world and everything in it. It was then that I began to make a conscious effort to stop using God’s name without purpose, good or bad. The way I look at it now is, if I am not actually talking to God, praising Him and having a direct purpose in the use of His name… I am using it in vain. But it’s more complicated than that… society has created some tricks to try and get around it… “Oh my gosh” “Gosh darnit” and such… and in my opinion, purposely mispronouncing it is not a loophole. There are people who argue for and against this… but I’m just saying, for me… I feel like the original intent behind the habit (and I believe whole heartedly it is just a bad habit) is violating the commandment. Trust me, I’m guilty!!!! Now days when I stub my toe really hard on something the word, “God” just flies out of my mouth without thought… then I will intentionally follow it up with “bless America” then say a quick prayer for America to try and put myself on the up and up with God. Usually though, I quickly apologize to God for the infraction. I don’t beat myself up for it, but I have gotten a lot better about it in the past years. I am proud to say that it actually shocks me in public or in movies when I hear the Lord’s name used in vain, especially “GD”. I am glad I am not numb to that anymore. I am glad to be more sensitive and aware in that way. Speaking of awareness, I realized there was one place in my life I was not applying my new rules… the world of text speak. Since this realization, “OMG” has been permanently deleted from my internet shorthand. (BTW, does NE1 know what OMIK means??? JK WCA)

Lately my little brain prompted me to wonder, is saying “God Bless you” to a sneezer if you really don’t mean it a way of using the Lord’s name in vain???? I mean, if it’s just a gut reaction rather than a truly felt and meant response, is it just as bad as saying “”GD”? Some of you probably think I’m kidding, that my question is a joke but it’s not. I felt kind of silly wondering about it, but I finally asked a pastor friend of mine what he thought. While perhaps it was a silly thing to seriously ponder, I am so glad God set the question in my heart because what resulted from my question was a completely new understanding of what the Second Commandment is referring to.

Joe (my pastor friend), referred me to this article: http://www.achievebalance.com/spirit/cnc/third.htm You may not have time or want to read it so I’ll just give you my perception of what it says. Basically, we make a conscious decision to take on the Lord’s name as our family name when we make the decision to be a Christian (much like a wife decides to take the name of her husband upon marriage). When we take on His name as ours, we have a responsibility to make appropriate changes to our lives… to try our best to live like a follower of Christ (much like the change in life that occurs in marriage… no more dating, no more living alone – you are joined as one and you make decisions together). If we take on the family name of God but we do not make the appropriate changes that decision dictates, then we are essentially… taking His name in vain... taking on His name in vain.

So, taking the Lord’s name in vain can be as elementary as a slip of the tongue AND as serious as an inconsistent lifestyle. Wow… this really spoke to me. At the end of the article, the writer reminded me that we are all sinners and it is impossible to live a life that never takes the Lord’s name in vain so… just like with all the other commandments… it’s important for me to remember God’s grace and love is the only way I can ever deserve to carry His name. I must continue to consciously search for Him. I must attempt to live in intentional discipleship and do my best as a woman who has taken on the family name of God. This Commandment is a lot bigger than controlling the words that flow from my mouth.