Thursday, May 24, 2012

For Heaven's Sake

I grew up in church, and I guess it was in middle school that I came to the conclusion that there were three things you needed to do (or not do, rather) to be a good Christian: don’t drink, don’t swear, and don’t have sex before you are married.  I don’t know about you, but, at the time, it seemed like everyone else was doing these things and having way more fun than I was having then.

At some point, I realized that there were not 13 commandments, the last three being: “Thou shalt not…drink, swear, have sex”…so where did it even say in the Bible that we weren’t supposed to do these things.  I remember my mom sharing with me the passage at the beginning of Proverbs 31 that said it is not for kings to drink wine because they might get drunk and forget the law and rule poorly.  But I thought – I’m not a king…

Anyway, at some point, all these rules just started to eat at my insides.  Not just these three, but all the rules I felt that I had to live up to if I wanted to be a good person.  It was a weight I couldn’t bear.  At some point I started intentionally breaking different social rules, just to feel some freedom, then feeling extreme guilt and condemnation, then trying to stringently follow all rules, then feeling bound, repeat cycle. 

When God began drawing me back to Himself, He began showing me that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8), and really just telling me that He really was way more concerned that I follow Him with my heart than by following what I thought the rules were but secretly despising them.  And I began to walk in freedom.  But then I realized by breaking some of these so called “rules”, say swearing for example, I really didn’t like having a potty mouth all the time even though I felt like I had the freedom to do it – just like if I have the freedom to eat fast food every day, I feel sick later, and want to eat better to feel better.  But sometimes I couldn’t seem to stop.

So next He showed me that sin has no power over me anymore because I am in Christ (“It was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life – no longer at sins every beck and call” – Rom. 7 msg), and that if I asked Him to, He would help me to change my habits to healthier habits.  And I desired to obey some of the “rules”.  But I didn’t obey out of fear of condemnation, because I am already approved and loved and accepted, but rather out of love and trust that God’s word is good and following it will lead to greater happiness.

You know, a big one for many young people is premarital sex.  1 Corinthians says that physical intimacy of this sort is meant to be between a husband and a wife.  It seemed like no fun waiting, but now that I have been married for five years and have the opportunity to see other people’s lives play out and marriages play out, I see the wisdom in it – no other relationship can handle all that comes from that level of intimacy.  I didn’t know this, but Vicky Courtney talks about in some of her books that sex actually releases a hormone that gives women a sense of attachment and creates relational jealousy.  It’s a sense that this person belongs to you, and if anyone threatens that then there is a fiery jealousy.  That on top of the possibility of bearing children (we all know good women, amazingly strong women who are struggling single moms), STDs, etc…makes sexual intimacy something that while fun (God created it to be a good thing, it is fun) is not something to play around with – it is meant to be something to bond husband and wife but toxic outside of this relationship.

My aha moment!  God didn’t give us all these rules to make our life no fun!  He gave us the law to guide us into a life of joy and abundance and life and health!!!   

Let me share this passage from the Message translation of Romans 7:8-12:

“The law code started out as an excellent piece of work.  What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of ‘forbidden fruit’ out of it.  The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me…The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up…But the law code is good and common sense and each command sane and holy counsel.”

There it was, right in the Bible the whole time.  God loves us so much, and His instructions are meant to help us make good choices, choices that lead to us having a more prosperous life!  But, if we will be honest with Him, real with Him, and not pretending to be anything we are not – He will show us that we can trust Him and trust His Word and that He will help us. 

Religion can be bondage – that’s never what God intended.  He wants us to be part of the church – it is His bride, but not stringently following rules.  He designed us for intimate relationship with Him and freedom!

Monday, May 14, 2012

You Don't Know the Pain...

…the pain I have endured all these years, and I didn’t either…I didn’t realize the unnecessary burden that I carried day in and day out.  As I have committed to honesty, surrendered to Christ’s unearthing, cleansing and replanting, so many things have washed off my life – there were burdens I was carrying I never dreamed I’d have to live without…freedom, oh sweet freedom.

Today, our wonderful church, in honor of mother’s day, opened up a photo opportunity to take family photos and have them printed.  It was a one shot opportunity…something I used to dread.  In days and years past, a moment like this would have sent me fearful the bathroom for who knows how long trying to perfect myself for this picture.  As we were standing in line I would have been scrubbing my children’s faces and re-fixing their hair and feeling ashamed that I did not more carefully pick out our outfits or cut my husband’s hair or that I did not wash mine that morning.

Utter dread, panic, anxiety would have set it – it sounds crazy, I know, even as I write it I know it sounds nuts, but it was my life.  It was so real to me, and I thought that other people who did not do this did not care about their appearance or taking care of themselves at all.

And then, the worst moment of all – the moment the picture, the one shot opportunity, was printed.  I lifted up the picture, and….it looked like us.  Not the best family picture we’ve ever taken – Laurelei and Mason didn’t smile for us, but it was us.  And the sweetest most glorious moment – I looked at myself, not the best picture I’ve ever taken, I mean I didn’t wash my hair this morning and I still have some extra baby pounds that are showing on my face, but it was ok.

Somehow, today when I looked at that picture, I didn’t feel embarrassed.  I didn’t feel like this one still image captured the measure of my worth.  It was just one shot of my outward self – but my body is in motion and my worth is in the beauty that God has placed inside my heart.  I am His.  I am the bride of Christ.  The King is enthralled by my beauty (Psalm 45:11), and I am in love with my precious family.  It’s a pretty high expectation for a still photo to capture even the essence of that…something so rich and rare and precious.

You don’t know the pain that I endured for years…or maybe you do.  Maybe you are still enduring the pain.  Maybe it’s not pictures or appearances but wealth or degrees or anything other than the approval of God that you are settling for as the measure of your worth.  The good news – God is already in love with you – He already thinks you are amazing!  He sent His son to fill the gap so that we can have an intimate relationship – we don’t have to do anything but accept His Son, Jesus, and surrender to Him – it’s already been done for us.  Those things can never give you real worth, it’s only temporary, a one shot photo of a life in motion.