Monday, August 22, 2011

Grace-filled Life

The last couple of weeks in church, we've been discussing grace, which is just awesome with me.  I love the topic of grace, and though we often pay lip-service to it, I feel like it's something Christians don't necessarily discuss in-depth a lot.  Which is a shame, because some of the New Testament writings on grace make for some of the most fascinating apologetics in the New Testament.  This really appeals to me because, while emotion is all fine and good, I really love me some logic in my religion.

Grace is one of my favorite topics to really study and get deep into because of my tortured history with its opposite, legalism.  The churches I grew up in were incredibly hypocritical and legalistic, teaching that the smallest infractions (i.e. "listening to secular music") could cause you to "backslide" and lose your salvation.  "Grace" was mentioned once or twice, but the emphasis was really on keeping your salvation through works and following an endless series of rules.  (Ironically, whenever the leaders were caught in really big sins, the blame was almost always placed on the Devil.)

When I left and rejected the teachings of the Pentecostal Holiness church, I found myself untethered, and drifting.  Because I had been under the weight of "the law" for so long, and all of the guilt and shame I had felt had come from outside influences, I had little in the way of a moral compass of my own.  This resulted in me making lots and lots of mistakes.  I finally realized that what I had been taught my whole life was bunk, but instead of keeping the good and throwing out the bad, I just tossed all of it.  I began sinning, kidding myself that, as long as I was the only person I was hurting through my actions, I was still being a "good" person.

Of course, when you self-destruct, it's never just you who you hurt.  You take out everyone who cares about you in a supernova of selfishness.

Fortunately, I got sick of living for myself pretty quickly.  I didn't want to be a screw-up.  I wanted to be a good person.  But I was still afraid of "organized religion", and all its (to me) inherent hypocrisies.

Getting back into the Bible has helped.  I always loved studying the Bible, even as a child, and re-reading it as an adult has helped me get closer to God.  Getting closer to God has helped me develop something I desperately needed:  a sense of conviction.  Not "guilt" from cultural and societal pressures, but an honest sense of what I feel God (through the Holy Spirit and the Bible) is telling me is right and wrong.

To give you an idea, here are some of the things about which I feel convicted, and some of the things I have never felt that God was condemning me for.

Things people told me were wrong but that I don't feel bad about:

My tattoos.  I have three.  I find them beautiful and spiritual, and though I make sure they're covered up on a job interview, I have never felt a moment's guilt about any of them.  I know Leviticus says not to make marks upon your body, but it also tells me to go sit in the wilderness by myself for a week when I'm on my period.

Working outside the home.  I'm not SAHM material.  I've been over this.  Me working works for my family.  I'm also not meek, quiet, or submissive.  I'm working on having a gentler spirit, but I'm still very much a feminist (a dirty word in the church I grew up in).  This doesn't mean I hate men or that I reject Biblical gender roles out of hand.  (Nor does it mean I want to be a man.)  It means I want to be treated as an equal with men.  A lot of people consider this a bad thing, that there is something unnatural about me.  (How many of you who grew up fundamentalist have heard the phrase, "Get your house in order,"?)  However, I have never felt God telling me to stay at home and cook and clean and have lots of babies.

Voting Democrat.  I do!  I'm not a straight-ticket voter by any means (in fact, I'm a registered Independent), but a good chunk of my political views are left-leaning.  Believe it or not, this is a fact that would have precluded me from any form of leadership in my childhood church.  If you did not vote straight-ticket Republican, you were an abortion-loving homosexual who hated America.  Around election season, it wasn't uncommon for the pastor to tell you from the pulpit who you should be voting for if you were a "real" Christian.  However, whether it lost me all my popularity points or not, I've always felt that it was my duty to vote for who I thought was best for the city/state/country/whatever.

Drinking alcohol.  I have a beer after work sometimes.  I have a mixed drink when I'm out sometimes.  I'm okay with this.  If I drink more than I should, however, I feel incredible guilt about it.  I believe that, at least for me, overindulging on alcohol is a sin, though drinking a little of it is not.

Listening to secular music.  You know there is some awesome secular music out there?  Seriously, turn on the radio.  Some of that stuff is great.  If I didn't listen to secular music, my husband and I couldn't have had our first dance to "Accidentally in Love" by Counting Crows.  (Also, I think dancing is okay.)  I could have never laughed my butt off at my toddler son trying to do the "shuffle" like they do in the "Party Rock Anthem" video.  I couldn't bond with my family over "Glee".  I love "Glee"!

But, before I come off like a total hedonist, let's switch it up.

Things that don't seem like a big deal but that I feel convicted about:

Keeping people distant.  I am not comfortable around people in general.  I'm shy and I can get awkward in social situations.  Instead of sucking it up and being friendly and hospitable, I tend to close myself off.  I especially notice myself doing this on Sunday mornings.  I don't say hi to many people.  I just kind of clump up with my family and then duck into service before anyone can talk to me.  This is probably why I've been going to the same church for a year yet still only talk to people in my Life Group (if that).

Short-changing the good kids.  This is something I inevitably feel bad about just about every time I have Children's Church or help with childcare for a church function.  I end up devoting all this energy to keeping the higher-maintenance (they're not "bad" kids) children entertained and behaving well, and the kids who are consistently good end up playing quietly by themselves.  There is one little girl in particular who I always feel is getting the short end of the stick.  She's perfectly-behaved 95% of the time, and I end up giving her less attention because I know I don't have to worry about what she's up to.  But she's also a new big sister, and I know she could use a little extra focus on just her.  Unfortunately, it's just easier to keep my attention on keeping the other kids in line, knowing I can rely on her to do what she's supposed to.  Which is an incredibly unfair way for me to treat a toddler.

Short-changing my husband.  My husband is awesome.  He is (at least) twice as domestic as me, and if I ever had to live without him, it would just be a race as to whether my house collapsed from neglect or I starved to death first.  (My son would be fine.  I know how to take care of him; taking care of myself is a different story.)  My husband can also fix anything, be it a motherboard, a garbage disposal, or a car.  He is the most hands-on Dad I know, as well.  He is seriously amazing.  However, he's so consistently awesome, that I forget to appreciate him sometimes.  I end up snapping at him about something minor, like forgetting to drop the mail off, but I've forgotten to thank him for cooking dinner and steamcleaning the whole house.

Worry.  My biggest struggle and my biggest sin.  I've done whole posts on worry.  It is easily one of the worst things I do, and I seem to do it multiple times a day.  People don't think worry is a big deal, but it is.  Worry is the ultimate arrogance; it is blasphemy.  It is a slap in God's face.  It's telling God, "I don't trust you to take care of me."  I struggle so much with worry, and I feel so much conviction over it.  Yet I've never had anyone say to me, "How can you call yourself a Christian with all the worrying you've done?"  Ask someone to list sins, and I don't "worrying" even shows up on their radar.  In fact, some people even view a lack of worry as sin.  Our culture has gotten so high on prosperity preaching, that listening to God and "going out on faith" might get you condemned if it means you might be risking something, like financial security.  But worry, especially over money, is what I feel the most strongly convicted about.  That's the sin I feel God laying on my heart, every single day.  I feel like every morning, God is saying to me, "I promised I will take care of you.  Please don't worry."  And it is a true sign of His grace that he forgives me every day when I fail at this.

So there you have it.  Grace vs. Legalism.  What has only the world condemned you for?  And what are the sins God has laid on your heart?  There's probably less overlap than you would think.

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