Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Defining Characteristic Of Christianity.

I don't know if someone out there has a list of reasons why to like Christianity, but I'll say this next reason lands at #12. Why #12? I wore it in little league. Now you know.

Reason #12 why I like Christianity came to me while I read Isaiah 46:3-4. It says, "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save."

Think about the above passage as if God said this about you:

"Listen (your name), I came up with the idea of you before you were born. I will take care of you from conception to death. Never at any point in your life will I not help you and carry you."

God might not use a double negative like that, but whatever. Aesop said God helps those who help themselves. God here simply says he helps you in everything throughout your entire life.

Over the last few years, I've written plenty of posts taking shots at my Baptist upbringing. But strict, behavior-focused, follow-the-rules-for-holiness lifestyles exist outside of Baptist churches. Maybe the Assemblies Of God church I attended in middle school had more fun singing and dancing during meetings, but they still didn't want me to go to the movies.

Most, if not every, world religion tells people to do and say certain things to achieve holiness. In Isaiah 46:1-2, God points out how the idols of the surrounding culture place burdens on people and offer no help or freedom. Then God says, "I'm not like that. I want to take those burdens from you. I want to carry you through the hard days you encounter. I want to do the work of your salvation."

Reason #12? I like Christianity because God doesn't expect me to live a perfect life. He wants me to pursue Him and allow Him to do the rest.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Praising God When I Don't Feel Like It

Please read the sentence after this next one. During my freshman year of college, I had to take a course called "Ordinary Citizens In Nazi Germany" as a part of my orientation. The class discussed how an educated society could agree to support a man like Hitler and what we should learn from it today. 

The class wholly bummed me out. Like, we had a solid week of critiquing propaganda films followed by a week of holocaust footage. During a Michigan winter? You try to stay cheerful. 

Before each class, I began to listen to The Promise Ring's "Why Did We Ever Meet?" By "listen", I mean "dance around the room and sing at top volume". In my mind, I was defying the winter, the horrible class videos, and my crusty professor's emotionless, mustachioed commentary. 

And for the mile-long walk from my dorm to the humanities building, my plan worked. I chose to sing something uplifting despite how I actually felt, and it made me feel better. 

I didn't come up with this idea. In Psalm 42, the writer says, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God." Doesn't that make you stop for a minute? In this worship song, the writer reassures himself he will praise God again in the middle of the song! 

A friend once told me he didn't sing during times of worship because he seldom felt honest singing along. "If I don't feel like praising God, then why would I sing 'I will praise you'?" At the time, I couldn't argue with him. But now I see the flaw in his thinking. I mean, thirteen years later, but still, I see it now. 

The Psalmist sang praise and worship to God even when he acknowledged his real feelings. I sang and danced because I wanted my feelings to change. 

But more than this, it's a question of who or what we think deserves our worship. If you were to choose  to honor how you felt over honoring God, then aren't you worshiping your feelings? Haven't you made your emotions your god? 

Have you ever felt like you didn't want to worship God? What did you do?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Letting Transformation Happen - Or, how I learned to look at Romans 12:2 in a new way

As a person who sometimes writes words, I try to pay attention to grammar. I mean, sometimes I try to pay attention to grammar. Other times, I toss formality to the side and say to heck with it.

Thanks to great English teachers, though, I gained a keen awareness of overusing passive tense. See how I tried to avoid the landmine there? "I am keenly aware" to "I gained a keen awareness", aaaand sidestep...

But sometimes we need to use passive tense. Sometimes it's the best way to say what needs to be said. Like the two passives in that last sentence. And now two sentence fragments which would probably have passives. Did anyone else start counting? Okay, I'll stop doing that now.

As I prepared my discussion notes for a youth group meeting, I learned how Paul intentionally worded Romans 12:2. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

In Enjoying God's Grace, Terry Virgo highlights the phrase "be transformed" and says this comes through God's work in us. At various stages of my life, I've taken this verse to mean I had to try very hard to renew my mind by changing my behavior. Without exception, this led to disappointment. My behavior couldn't bring me salvation, so how could I expect it to sanctify me as well?

I had one of the youths read Proverbs 23:6-7 and we talked about how our thoughts reflect what's in our heart. And if I've learned anything about grace, I've learned I need to let God change my heart.

So how do we let God transform our hearts and our minds? One youth said we have to have a humble and responsive attitude to whatever God might put on our hearts. In other words, don't resist the changes He wants to do in you.

Anyone else out there try really hard to change themselves? Have you ever experienced God changing your heart and mind outside of your own effort?