Thursday, March 22, 2012

Accusations

So, this amazing Psalm popped into my head this morning. And it was totally from God. I am really thankful for all those years of verses being drilled into me, because they come back often, and it's usually exactly at the time I need to be reminded of that verse. And, I might add, we didn't have Awana where I lived growing up....so I memorized these verses with no promise of candy, stickers, patches, or whatever kinds of prizes await Awana club members! haha. Although, most of these verses were memorized for school, so I didn't really have a choice. It was either memorize the verses or get a bad grade. And I was really afraid of bad grades. So on second thought, I guess I did get a reward for my efforts! haha
 But I'm digressing. The point is that God is using these verses buried in my brain to work on my heart. This is what I awoke to this morning, going through my head. Really it was just the first couple of verses, but I liked the whole Psalm so much that I ended up reflecting on the whole thing:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
(Psalm 46 ESV)

Let me just tell you, there are so many awesome things about this Psalm! But a couple stand out to me. I don't think this will be a long rant like I usually write, but you never know, so please bear with me! :o)
 The first thing I realize is that we have literally nothing to be afraid of. God is the one who we turn to in trouble, and He is the one that created the earth, the mountains, the seas...basically everything we see as great, powerful, and majestic. All those things are no match for His greatness. This gives me comfort, because no matter what happens, I truly have nothing to fear because my trust is in God.
 Then I love the verse about the nations raging. We look around us and see lots of unrest between nations, and within countries as well. And what it all come down to is a hunger for power and greatness. Of course, all this strife and unrest causes people to have fear. But this is a fear of man, not of God! This is what Jesus said about fearing man:
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

(Luke 12:4-7 ESV)

  And then, Psalm 46 goes on to say, "He utters His voice, and the earth melts." Think about that for just a moment, it's totally mind blowing! All He has to do is speak, and this huge planet and everything in it would melt. And we fear what humans can do to us? Um, that is totally backwards! And yet, I fear man just about every day of my life. It's so easy to fall into this trap, because we are bombarded daily with tons of reasons to be afraid of man. But even though man can do some awful things, he can never have the kind of power that God does. So why do we wrap ourselves up in anxiety about people? Why do I worry so much about what people think of me, or what they say about me, or what they try to do to me? Why in the world does it even matter?
 One of the biggest things I worry about with people is them falsely accusing me. I hate it so much...it feels so unfair, cruel, and spiteful when people purposely try to make me into something I'm not, especially if they accuse me and then spread that around to others without ever confirming any of their ideas about me. This has happened to me several times in the last few years (that I'm aware of, and there are probably more times that I'm not aware of!) I let myself get wrapped up in anxiety about this, to the point where I've been afraid to trust and open up to anyone. It's a really bad place to be. I'm not there right now, thankfully, but I've been there many times and it really just stinks. I have let those accusations sink in to the point where I start to believe them myself, and then I heap guilt on myself for things that aren't even my fault. Then, when I'm feeling especially depressed, I start blaming all of those people for making me feel like this, and before I know it, I'm turning legitimate hurt into sin by harboring anger and resentment towards these people. And it makes me want to gather all of the people I can who will take my side and stand up for me, because it makes me feel better about myself to have them fighting in my corner.
 But while I was reading this passage this morning, it dawned on me that there is only ONE person who has the right to accuse me. And that is God! It might sound weird to think of Him as my accuser, but He is the only one who has the right because He is the only perfect, completely righteous judge. So he absolutely has the right to call me what I am, a sinner. He knows my heart and can see every single evil thought and attitude I have. Yep, He definitely has the right to point that finger of blame right into my face, and I'd completely deserve it. But the great thing is that I also have Jesus, the only perfect man who ever lived (who is also completely God) who took that accusation and paid the price for it on the cross! He is the perfect advocate, in fact the only one I really need. I don't need people on my side, just like I don't need to be afraid of people who aren't. God is the only judge whose opinion matters, and Jesus is the only advocate who I need on my side. It's all really that simple. Psalm 46 goes on to say, "Be still and know that I am God." And that sounds almost too simple sometimes, but really, if I truly let that sink in, then who cares what people say about me? Let them think what they want, let them say what they want, and let them spread it to the world! The only thing that would destroy me is if I was rejected by God. And that is never going to happen. So I can rejoice, when men bring their worst. Because God is still God, and while He is my judge, He has also extended His grace and mercy to me through His Son. So there's no blame or guilt on me. People are always going to misinterpret things, or just plain make things up about us. Sometimes it will even come from other Christians, or at least those who claim to be. But so what? We have the Creator of the universe-- the one who can make the earth melt just by talking--on our side.
 So, if you feel like accusing me of something in the future, or if you have in the past....let me just tell you this. Yep, you got me. I'm a sinner. I mess up. And get this.....sometimes I don't even realize it!  But, before you "crucify" me, just remember someone already hung on a cross in my place. And it's the same guy who hung on a cross for you. We all deserve the same blame and accusation, but praise Jesus, we don't have to face that condemnation because God looks at what Jesus did and declares us righteous. That's what I'm going to focus on the next time someone starts trying to point out my faults and criticize me for them. And when someone just completely makes something up and it's completely false, with no one taking my side, it won't matter. Because the entire world could turn their backs on me tomorrow, and it still wouldn't even make a dent in the magnitude of His love for me. :o)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I was a Pharisee.

When you read this passage, notice the pompous, full of himself, arrogant, prideful (hmm, can I think of any more adjectives?) Pharisee. And instead of the word "Pharisee", insert "Melyssa".
[The Pharisee and the Tax Collector]
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

(Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

Don't tell me I'm being too hard on myself, trust me, I'm not! I was that judgmental, and that full of myself, for most of my life up until about 4 years ago. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First I should just say how this all came up. Derrick and I were reading this passage the other night and I was talking about how I remember in Sunday School as a little girl, seeing pictures of this story. And the Pharisee is standing there looking up towards heaven with his arms out, appearing all high and mighty and "holier than thou". And the tax collector is sitting there, looking like a pathetic, pitiful excuse for a human being. And Derrick remembered seeing the same kinds of pictures as a little kid, too, but he had a different perspective. It never says that the Pharisee is appearing like he is better off than anyone else, it just said he was praying it. Which  most likely means it was all going on inside his head, not something that would really show on the outside. This really struck a chord with me, because I can't even tell you how many times in my life I have thought I was better than other people. I believed I was a sinner, but kind of like a top tier sinner. I wasn't THAT bad. I only did a few wrong things, like disobey my parents from time to time, or get grumpy and bossy towards my little sister. But I didn't do all of the things that seemed AWFUL to me, so I figured I was actually a pretty "good" sinner. Obviously there is no such thing, but I really believe that my religious upbringing taught me that though we are all sinners, we can strive to be better and therefore less unholy. Never once did I learn that it's the Holy Spirit working through us to become more like Christ, or that apart from Him, I am truly and absolutely the most horrible, wretched, sinner that there could possibly be. So, I always had this feeling about myself and others until really embarrassingly not that long ago. And to be honest, it is hard not to fall back into that way of thinking sometimes! It's so easy to say, "How could they treat me like that, I would never do that to them!" Without even thinking, I labeled myself to be a good person, deserving of the best treatment at all times. Umm, excuse me Miss Melyssa High and Mighty! Don't you remember that guy the Bible is about? Jesus? Oh yeah...umm, don't you think HE deserved the best treatment possible since He was like, well, GOD? And yet, even He says he came to be a servant. He gave his entire life, to the point of sacrificing Himself by dying the most atrocious death possible at the time. And I have the audacity to say that I deserve better than a little criticism, gossip, or hurtful words directed my way from time to time? Yeah, I'd better think again. I deserve all of that, and SOOOO much worse. I deserve eternal suffering in hell. I don't let myself stop think about that often enough. The worst possible punishment that could ever exist is being condemned to hell for eternity. Apart from God, apart from all goodness, apart from any comfort. Forever. And I am inherently evil and deserve that, just as we all do. God's amazing grace and mercy has rescued me from hell, and my punishment was taken on the shoulders of Jesus. But, it doesn't change what I deserve. I'll spend eternity praising God for saving me from what would have been a completely just punishment.
 I think that's why I have a hard time understanding when Christians don't really want to make their lives 100% about Jesus. I've been there....I used to say some people took it too "seriously". How is that possible, though? If we truly realize who we are apart from Him, and what we really deserve, how can we really not want to focus every fiber of our beings on serving and worshiping Him? The Bible says that many people think they are followers of Christ, but when it comes to the end, Jesus will tell them, basically, "Sorry, you didn't really get it. We don't have a relationship and never did." Ouch. I think for quite a while I may have been one of those people. I sort of got it, and I wanted to get it, but I just felt like I was missing out, because I saw people truly worshiping God, and most of the time I still felt like I was going through the motions. And the things in my life that changed that aren't important. It's the fact that somewhere along the way, it all changed for me. Now, I AM the tax collector. I AM the prodigal son who has returned home. And I AM fully deserving of eternal punishment in hell for who I am as a human being, which is a wretched and completely lost sinner. Jesus has changed all that. Not some "sinner's prayer", not reading the Bible every day, not going to church, not volunteering or giving things away or being involved in a church. What changed that is the point in my life where God showed me, "Melyssa, you are a mess. But Jesus' death is enough for me to excuse your crimes. You're free." How can I be anything but grateful? And truly grateful. I'm not talking about a thank you note, "Dear Jesus, thanks for dying for me, I really appreciate it! Your death on the cross was a really thoughtful gift, and I'll be sure to put it to good use. Oh, and the Resurrection was pretty great, too. Thanks again! ~Melyssa". (I should also mention that I think Thank You notes are kind of a silly expectation people have, but that's another blog for another day.)
 This is absolutely ridiculous. And yet how many people who call themselves Christians (including myself for a long time) live their lives like this Thank You note! Take a few minutes, thank Him once in a while, then go about your way. Put the gift on the shelf and let it collect dust, and maybe use it once in a while if you think of it. No, no, no! This is not a life of following Jesus! If that is what you're doing, friend, I plead with you to challenge your own thinking...because you may be missing out on what it really means to be a Christian! And my heart for you all is that you would truly know the saving power of the gospel!! When Jesus said we would be known by our fruit, He wasn't kidding. There should be some serious FRUIT coming out of our lives! And I'm telling you right now, I've produced some pretty shabby, dried up, rotten, worthless fruit (if you can even call it that), for most of my life, because I wasn't truly serving God with my WHOLE entire life! This is what Romans 12 talks about when it says to be a LIVING sacrifice. Are we giving our all, every day, or are we just showing up at church, or a Bible study here or there, acting like a good Christian, and then going home back to our stuff, our TVs, our hobbies, and forgetting what life is truly about? Are we looking to save money to make ourselves more comfortable, or so we can help others? Are we spending our time on projects for our own enjoyment, or are we treating others as more important than ourselves?
 I hope and pray that whoever reads this will know that I'm not saying this in a condescending way, but out of love and concern. I only feel that I can speak to you all like this because this has been my life, and I am finally realizing the truth. If I'm pointing any fingers, it's at myself. Please, use me as an example of what not to do! Please, judge me for how I was, and use that to look at your own life and question yourself! Like I said in the beginning, I wasn't hard enough on myself. And I'm not beating myself up now, either. But I am repenting (which means doing a complete 180) and turning towards a life lived for Christ. I find myself seeking Him more, trusting Him more, and having an awareness for other's needs that I never had before. This is not me, it's the Holy Spirit in me, guiding my steps. I am still selfish, and He has to constantly work that out of my life, because it's pretty ingrained in this foolish brain I have. But I know that if I keep desiring Him with my whole heart, He will change me, and use me the way He chooses. I am SO excited about that! Whatever He wants, I can and will do, because I finally see that life is ALL about Him, and never about me. I don't need to take things personally, or get offended, because it doesn't matter how I get treated. I don't need to be afraid to share my faith, because this is truth, and I want people to know it. I don't have to debate or convince people that Jesus really existed, or that the Bible is really from God, because it's only the Holy Spirit who can awaken a soul. My job is just to share my life, and do it boldly. And I intend to do more of that, as my courage grows. :o)
 OK, I think I'm done here. This is just such a burning passion on my heart, I can't help but go on and on! But I will stop. I'm not sure who all reads this, but if you are reading it as a believer, please, I implore you to search your own heart. Are you laying down your life as a living sacrifice? Or are you living your life like a thank you note? And are you judging people? If so, I suggest leaving those people alone, and taking a look at yourself, like the tax collector did. What you find may not be pretty, but in the midst of that is Jesus, and He has already dealt with the problem. He is perfect solution, the only solution, and the only reason for life.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Conviction about truth. And the truth about conviction.

I came to a realization today. One that has been sort of creeping up on me over the past few weeks and months. I'm not direct enough about my faith. And it's time for that to change.
I've had a few conversations with people lately about how important it is to be up front about things. Not just to people who don't believe the Bible, but to other Christians as well. I haven't been good at sharing the truth with just about anyone. And it's time to change that.
It may have started when I was in college. Derrick and I were talking today about how the church I grew up in decided they were going to stop having a youth group for the teens, because it was a program, and programs are bad (which actually is true, or at least, they don't do much good). So they had this meeting to tell the teens about it and let them ask questions. It was right after I graduated from highschool, and my sister was still in the group, so since I happened to be home that weekend, I went to the meeting.  Basically the pastor said it should be up to the families to teach the teens, and create fun things for them to do, and it shouldn't be run by the church. Which was all well and good, except that would mean the teens would have nothing, because there were only one or two parents who were willing to make this happen. And I made sure I pointed it out at that meeting. I was very clear and direct, and spoke out for what I believed.
 Derrick's response to my story was, "Well, what happened?"
"With the youth group?" I asked him.
"No, what happened? Why don't you speak up any more about things?"
Hmm. Good question.
I guess it's because during the course of that year, I became more and more outspoken, and not in a good way. I started using it as an excuse to blast people, or take my frustrations out on them. It made people angry and made me feel awful. So at some point, I just stopped telling people what I think. I think it was around the time I went to LBC. It was a chance to start over, and I had already gotten myself in lots of hot water with people during my first two years of college because I was too harsh with my words at times. But you know how it's so easy to go from one extreme to the other? Well, that's exactly what I did. I went from too much honesty to too much silence. I bottled things up, and in a way, I still do. I became really good at telling people what they want to hear, or at least, giving them a response that was sort of true, but only the non-offensive stuff. I have done this a lot with unbelievers. And I wonder, how much do I care about them? How loving am I, if I only tell them a half-truth about God? It may keep them from getting mad at me, but in the end doesn't teach them a thing about who He is, and what He has done for us, and their need for a Savior. All I did was serve myself by staying on their good side.
 But it's not just unbelievers. I've done this with Christians, too. And that's just as bad. I'd rather have them be happy with me and think I'm a nice, accepting person than tell them like it is. I hate having people dislike me, and I hate conflict. So it's really hard for me to proclaim the truth. But I'm finally realizing how wrong that is. And not just because I'm shirking my responsibilities, but because I'm not showing love to them! Instead, I'm protecting myself. And that's just plain selfishness.
 It's taken me a long time to be able to be open since I moved here. And it's not just because I wasn't accepted by everyone. It's because I hadn't been living my life totally for Christ before I came here. I was living for myself, and it wasn't really something I was ready to let go of. But God is changing my heart, and teaching me that He wants me to take the next step. I need to grow. I climbed to the top of a really big hill, leaning on Jesus with every step. Now I'm there, and He's saying, "OK, let's tackle the next one now."
 So I need to step up my game. I need to live more boldly for Christ. This means holding other believers accountable when I see them clearly going against God's Word. It means proclaiming the truth of the gospel to everyone I know, and not shying away from discussions that could lead to some conflict. I guess it means I'm trying to find the balance between the way I used to be, which was to be controlled by emotion and come across as judgmental and hypocritical, and the way I am right now, which is to avoid anything that might cause tension or disagreement, making me passive and selfish. I want the middle ground, which is to speak boldly and assertively, but with love and grace. The Bible says, 
"Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."
(Colossians 4:6 ESV)
This is exactly what I want. I want to obey God and speak up for what is right. But I also want to be loving, kind, and compassionate, just like Jesus was. He never hesitated to point out sin, but He treated people with true compassion. It was the perfect balance. I will never achieve perfection, but I can strive to follow Jesus' example. I am so thankful that as a believer in Christ, I have the Holy Spirit, who is God, working in and through me to make me more like Himself! What an amazing, and real blessing that we get to experience! It's God's strength and power that gets me through these struggles, and helps me to grow in my relationship with Him and others. :o)
Oh, and one more thing. The natural progression of this openness is that it should also cause me to not be so easily offended myself, and be able to accept Biblical constructive criticism. As long as it's from Christ, and not just someone's opinion, I should be able to take it in and learn from it. This goes both ways! :o)