Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day - The High Bar

I’ve never had a crush. This is an admission that I’ve made to many people over the years, and which has generated a single question in response – “Why not?”

It’s certainly not a sign of my lack of interest in things like love and marriage - I'd love to get married someday - and while I do tend to be easily flustered, I don’t think it’s due to that either. My response to this question, when I feel comfortable enough to share it, is simply: I’m spoiled.

Now don’t take me wrong. I don’t think this is a bad kind of spoiled to be. What I mean by that is, from an early age, I knew what a godly man looked like. My family is full of them, showing me a clear picture of what it is to be a good man.

Anyone who knows my father can tell you that he’s special. He has an easy way of speaking to anyone he meets – he’s kind, and funny, and humble. He offers to help anywhere he can, within the church and out. He provides for his family endlessly. He helps the neighbors, is the type of person that’s the stable glue that holds people together. He’s honest, and he’s gentle, and he’s always made me feel safe and loved and happy.

My best childhood memories center around my dad when he was home – playing with him on the living room floor, him spinning us around in circles as we squealed in delight, curling up in his lap in the evenings while movies played on the TV. From as early as I can remember, my father has been the kind of light that only shines from those who love Christ deeply. And now that I’m older, I know how lucky I am to have a dad like him. Not many have been “spoiled” by having such a wonderful man as their father the way I was. I’ve been lucky to have grown up knowing what a good, godly man looks like, from living a wonderful life shadowed by my father’s protection and love.

I was also spoiled by knowing other men in my family. I was privileged in being close to my cousin Andrew growing up, and as we’ve gotten bigger, I’ve seen him change from a geeky, fun, fantastic playmate into a hard-working, caring, godly young man. He’s kind, and sweet, and even though I’m probably a bit biased as his twin-cousin – lol – I’m incredibly proud of the way he’s grown into one of the best young men I know. He has always taken the time at family events to seek me out, ask about my life, and tell me about his in return – to ask my advice, or offer it to me when I’ve needed it. He’s respectful, and thoughtful of others, and though he’s currently far from home, doing wonderful work, and I miss him terribly, I couldn’t be prouder of who he’s becoming.

My Grandpa Jones, too, has spoiled me by showing me such a godly example of what a man should be. From the time I was small, I can remember noticing how much love he showed my grandmother, and wanted that for my future, as well. His slightly-hidden mischievous side and sense of humor, his kindness and warmth, all have shown me, and continue to show me, what it is to love as Christ loves.

And those are only to name a few. I’ve always been surrounded by men who have set the bar high. I know none of them are perfect, and it’s not even that I’ve ever expected them to be. It’s simply that they’ve loved Christ, endeavored to please Him, and have held themselves accountable to the Word of God. They’ve been kind to others, incredibly fun to be around, have always been willing to help me, or laugh with me, or just be a part of my life.

There aren’t many men like them. They’re special and rare. And I think that finding someone like that is well worth the wait.

So no. I’ve never had a crush. I’m still waiting on someone special, and rare, and good the way that the other men in my family have always been. Someone who will love my dad for his humor, who I can be proud to introduce to my grandpa, and who will have long chats with my cousin when he’s home for family gatherings.

So this one is to all the men in my life – to those who are fantastic dads this Father’s Day, and those who I know will make utterly fantastic dads when it’s their turn. You’ve set the bar high, and I’m glad you have. Thank you for “spoiling” me.

I love you all.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Grace - Limitless (Security) or Limited (Uncertainty)

Why are we, as the church, afraid to teach the deep principals of grace and forgiveness to our youth?

I’m not talking about the vague “we’re all sinners and need grace and the forgiveness of Christ” lessons that are everywhere. I’m not talking about the thirty minute sermons on the fallen state of mankind and how much we need grace. What I am talking about is the real thing in action – the act of grace and what it means for us as Christians, how it works and what it does in us when we accept it. The deep, soul-level change that occurs the second someone accepts the healing power of God. The fundamental, spiritual revival that takes a dead, disgusting, broken heart and changes it, breathes life into it, and makes it into something new, and then what that means for us as born again believers.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “But we do talk about that!” and we do, to an extent. But when it comes down to it, there seems to be some sort of disconnect between that powerful work and the changes it wrought in us, and the knowledge of it, of which the young Christians and the youth in our churches are unaware. Allow me to explain.

If you were to ask any Christian teenager what they are, in a biblical perspective, what would the majority of their answers be? “A sinner saved by grace”, generally. And while, on the surface, that’s a good answer, once you dig deeper, it becomes a little disconcerting. For example, most of them are more focused on the sinner part than the grace part. Ask a Christian youth if they’re holy and pure, and their answer will be, “No. I’m disgusting and sinful and stained. I’m a sinner.” They’ll use words like “flawed" and “dirty” and “broken”. (Words I have personally heard dozens and dozens of saved, born again Christian youth use to describe themselves.)

While all those words were once true of us all, they do not use these words in a past sense. There is no was or used to be in their sentences. And though we all still possess a sin nature, the disconcerting thing to me is that these saved, born again children of God still view themselves the same way we view those who have never been saved or known the presence of God in their lives. In fact, they seem unaware of the change having the Holy Ghost inside of them has made in them. In their minds, they’re still just sinners. They look at themselves as broken, lost, disgusting humans who have received the gift of Grace, yet are unaware of what that grace has done for them.

It's as if they see grace as a gift they can hold in their hands, or wear as a badge, but that hasn't actually changed them out of a sinner into something else. And likewise, because they are unaware of the soul-level change the gift of Christ has begun in them, they're left uncertain of their salvation and their own security in it.

How? For starters, this limited view of grace and its effects on them as a person undermines the very foundation of their view of forgiveness. Since they view grace as only a vague covering that “conceals” the dirty sinner underneath, instead of a soul-changing action, they do not view past sins or current mistakes as gone. Instead, they continue to believe themselves tainted by them, like a pile of sins that continues to grow at their feet and scars marked in their skin. They're ashamed and dirty feeling, long after salvation is theirs, to a point where they feel the need to seek salvation over and over, like it's a temporary shower to wash off their guilt until the next mistake.

Moreover, the times the change caused by salvation is spoken of to youth, it's phrased as much to inspire more doubt. “You should be changed by your salvation,” is a phrase I have heard dozens of times at Bible camps, youth gatherings, and Sunday school teachings. The subtle - or rather, not so subtle - use of “should” is a weapon easily creating doubt in the minds of Christian youth, as it raises questions such as: “Have I changed enough? Am I different enough? Have I become good enough, or am I still unsaved and destined for hellfire??”

Instead of the change being something God works in us over time and through His Spirit, it's made out to be a measuring stick that determines whether or not we’ve done something enough to feel secure in our salvation. “If you're saved, you won't lie.” “If you're saved, you won't be disrespectful.” “If you're really saved, you would be helpful without complaining, always be kind to others, etc. etc.” And since we can never do enough - or not do enough - for any such reassurance, it plants seeds of doubt and insecurity. The change brought to our lives by salvation is suddenly no longer a reassurance, but a fifty foot high measuring stick which no one can hope to reach.

So what is the right way to view these things? And what is the cause of all this confusion around the subject of grace and forgiveness and the resulting effect/change it has on those who receive it?

The foundation of it all is salvation, grace, and forgiveness, and what all that really means for those who have accepted Christ into their lives. It's not a limited covering concealing the filth underneath. Those who are given it aren't simply covered over with a new coat of paint so they “look” presentable. This viewpoint of limited grace is not only biblically inaccurate, it is impossible. If Christ’s blood could only buy us all a “fresh coat of paint” variety of grace - a thin shield for our underlying sins - then it wouldn't have been enough to save any of us. We cannot walk into God’s holy, righteous presence simply sporting a new paint job. To enter into the presence of God, we must be completely, entirely blameless - washed clean to the very core, with every ounce of filth and dirt cast aside so far that it no longer is even in existence. If this soul-deep cleansing, mind-changing, sin-erasing change did not occur in us - if, in short, the titles of “dirty”, “broken”, “disgusting”, “sinner”, etc., weren't fully eradicated from our very souls and beings - then we would still be damned (in the most biblical form of the word). Nothing short of complete and total change in title, soul, body, and mind would be enough to allow us the communion with God that comes instantly upon our salvation, in the form of the Holy Spirit who then lives inside us.

I think, then, that the next confusion - which helps result in the confusion of what Grace really is, the two playing off of each other - is in how we can be fully blameless and cleansed while still possessing a sin nature. This becomes a confusion because we, as the human race, are very linear. We view our salvation as an act in our past, wherein we gave past sins to God. But that is not how salvation works - when we are saved, we are not only washed clean of every past act, but also every single future sin, as well. In that moment of accepting salvation, God forgives every single discretion we have done and will do for the entirety of our lives - the very first and the very last and every last one in-between. They're already eradicated before we ever even commit them, because time has no effect on the status of our rebirth, salvation, and cleanliness. It's all erased at once, so no matter what mistakes we then commit in the future, it has no effect on our standing with Christ, because those things have already been forgiven.

Grace is not subject to time and it is not limited. Future acts are not capable of destroying that work in us, thus we are forever sealed and secure in His bride. There is nothing we can do to change that, nothing we can do to lose it. Once saved, we are no longer sinners, but Children of God, part of His Bride, justified, purified, and holy in His sight. To continue to call ourselves sinners, filthy, gross, and stained is an insult to the complete and final work of salvation done in us. God revoked those titles and labels as soon as we accepted the gift of salvation, threw them to the ends of the Earth, and made them no more in His sight. Jesus's words of “It is finished” did not mean “until the next time you sin”. And His holy sacrifice wasn't just “enough to cover our sins”, but enough to wash them away entirely. Once saved, we forever hold the titles His sacrifice bought for us, and none others.

Yet… These truths are often taught with stipulations and warnings tacked on the end, as if this truth is subject to “if”s and “as long as”s. Rarely do you hear a sermon preaching the utterly freeing knowledge that we are bought, cleansed, and redeemed, the end. That this salvation is one that can never be lost or tainted. That the new life Grace has given us and the change salvation wrought in us is complete and final, free and clear, no matter the mistakes we are bound to make. That we are, forever, holy in His sight, rather than lost sinners, soiled by our sins.

Why? Why is this incredible and freeing knowledge of the depth of grace and forgiveness so often suppressed and limited by stipulations and warnings and cautions, to the point that it loses its potency and ability to reassure? Why is grace and forgiveness turned into something so limited in the viewpoints of the Christian youth, so that doubt and confusion run rampant?

I’ve viewed these things in more Christians than not. It's unusual when I talk to young Christians that I find them confident in their faith and what it has done for them. It's even more rare that when asked about their state as a human, they don't answer with the same words we use for those without the presence of God in their lives. And, as mentioned in my previous post, even rarer still for these kids to understand what grace, forgiveness, and righteousness even means in relation to themselves and be able to let go of their guilt and pain.

So why is this the case?

I think it is best summed up by the words I have heard often from older Christians: “People use unlimited grace as an excuse to do whatever they please and keep sinning.”

While this is true, it's an invalid reason to limit our youths’ view of grace. And before anyone gets angry about that and spews all the statistics of how many “Christian” people are living in sin and flaunting that as their reason it's “okay”, allow me to explain why it's invalid.

The reason is simple: If they're blatantly living in sin, ungrieved by their actions and unrepentant for their lifestyle, then they aren't Christians. They aren't being swayed by the Holy Ghost, they aren't feeling the sting of a conscience made new and sharpened by God, so they aren't saved. Regardless of their claims and despite their “reasoning”, they have no fruit of faith, so they aren't Children of God. It's that simple.

So if that is the case, if these people aren't part of the bride of Christ, but imposters blatantly living a sin-filled life without a thought of remorse, then the argument is invalid. Why are we teaching our youth in a way based on what unsaved sinners are doing and how they're living? Why are we watering down the reality of Christ’s forgiveness and grace and our own redemption based on the actions of the unsaved? Why are we letting those without God in their lives scare us into threatening, cautioning, scolding, and seeding doubt in the minds of our saved youth and young Christians??

Since when do we allow the sins of the unsaved to mar the teachings of the Word of God to our own, simply because those sinners are masquerading as some of us? Why are we listening to and changing our manners of teaching based on the actions of wolves in sheep's clothing?

“But our kids might decide it's okay to go do whatever they want if they’re taught grace is limitless and complete. They’ll use it as an excuse to get away with things.” Even though this line of thought isn't usually spoken aloud - though I have heard it talked about - it screams between the lines every time a lesson on grace is finished with a warning of, “But this doesn't mean you can act just any way you want. Salvation should change you and you should be living a righteous life, where you don't *adds large list of do-nots* and do *adds even long list of do-s*, and you should be on fire for God more than *long list of things they think youth are attached to more than God*, and if you don't feel that passion for Him, you should examine your heart and make sure you're really living for Him and are really saved.”

The number of times I heard this end to an otherwise fabulous message on grace is astounding. And every single time as a young person, it destroyed all power that message on grace had over me. I went from thinking, “Wow. God is so incredible and forgiving, the power of his grace is indescribable… I can't believe I’m really, fully, completely cleansed,” to doubting my own salvation, seeking for signs of being “good” enough in myself, wondering if I was “really living for him” and “really had signs of faith” or if I was still just “going through the motions”. I could never find that elusive passion for Christ the youth ministers raved about. I could think of so many things I had done wrong, name a dozen things in their list I should have done and hadn't, and all reassurance evaporated as soon as it came.

Because they said grace was free, but then added stipulations.

Because they promised His love was unconditional, and then added a hundred conditions.

Because they told us it was all Him, all His love, free and as simple as accepting, and then complicated it by telling us all the ways we needed to see change in ourselves to know we were saved, including an illusive passion that my troubled, confused teenage heart couldn't understand, since I had no idea what real love even was.

And so, limitless grace became limited. Free forgiveness became complicated and pricy. Unconditional love became conditioned. God-wrought change became my responsibility. Security and confidence in salvation and my relationship with God became doubt and confusion. My status as saved vs. unsaved became questionable and unsure and seemingly up to me.

The words of their sermons on grace and forgiveness warred with their terms and conditions.

All because those older than I were afraid that teaching the concept of unlimited, timeless, final grace might give me an opportunity to use that as an excuse to sin.

As always, I was one of the lucky ones. I’d come home from confusing sermons and have my parents’ guidance, love, and unwavering, unconditional grace at every turn to reassure and remind me. My sisters and I would talk about how grace really is and I would find my reassurance once again. For me, the fear and doubt was outweighed by my family's actions and example.

Most kids don't have that type of support and love to fall back on. So most of these kids continue to live in fear and doubt and insecurity, viewing themselves still as lost sinners with a thin covering of grace and constantly reevaluating themselves for some kind of reassurance that they're really saved - or else getting resaved dozens of times because of unquenchable doubts.

So what is this mysterious change that let's us - and others - know that we are members of the Bride of Christ and saved eternally? And how does it differ from the cautionary teachings mentioned before?

It's not being perfect. It's not doing all the right things and avoiding all the bad with a perfect record. It's not some mysterious, crazy thing that suddenly, miraculously clears us of all our faults and flaws. Someone with a temper isn't going to get saved and suddenly find themselves the most placid person alive. Someone who struggles with lying isn't going to suddenly never lie again.

The change is simply this: That quiet place in your chest that aches when you mess up. The part of your mind that knows you’ve done wrong and hates that you have. The moment after sinning when your lips whisper, “I’m sorry, Father,” with heaviness. The change is wanting to do better. The change is being saddened by your sin and wanting to overcome those faults. The change is trying, simply because you want to please Him, not because you think it's a way to earn that forgiveness. It's not complicated. It's not a list of a million things. It's not a do or do-not list. It's not a mysterious passion that no one can actually define. It's that part of you that comes alive and sees sin as wrong and God as good and wishes to please Him, even when you make mistakes and mess up.

Chances are, if you're worried about if you're doing good enough/if you’re pleasing Him/if you're really saved, you’re already forgiven, already made new by grace. And if you are drowning in guilt, broken by the knowledge of your sin, desperate for His forgiveness, then you already have it.

Those who have not been changed by the call of the Holy Ghost and do not have Him in their lives do not have knowledge of Him nor want to please Him. They do not regret things He has said are wrong nor wish to be better and do better in the future because the Bible says those things are sinful. If sins you’ve committed are bothering you and you have already asked Him into your life, then know this - His grace is sufficient, His love is unconditional, your sins of past, present, and future are forgotten, and your name is no longer Sinner. It is enough to rest in His arms. It is enough to know He has done it all. Nothing you do, nothing you will ever do, will take this assurance from you, no matter what people say.

Rejoice, your sins are forgiven, until the end of time.

Rejoice, Christ has done it all.

Rejoice, your shame is gone.

Rejoice, all your old titles are tossed away, as far as the East is from the West. You are no longer called sinner. You are no longer called filthy. You are no longer called disgusting. You are no longer called broken. And if anyone else continues to call you these things or to rub your past sins in your face, then remind them what Grace really is, not it's limited counterfeit version, but it's limitless, true version that has revoked every former title and erased every sin and flaw in you, to the end of time.

And for those of us in positions to guide those younger than us - whether in years or faith - let's stop limiting grace. Let's stop putting conditions on unconditional love because we’re afraid of those who use it as an excuse and that those younger than us will do the same. Those under Christ’s grace and forgiveness and the guidance of the Holy Ghost won’t be led astray by those thoughts, grounded by His presence in their lives - a presence that cannot be undone by mankind. So let's stop trying to control young Christians by warnings and threats and glossing over the true reaches of grace because we're afraid of what they might do with the knowledge. Fear and threats have never saved a soul - God’s work in their lives has. We cannot somehow undermine that work by teaching grace the way it is, with truth and power. And the outcome of their salvation is in God’s hands, where it should be, not in ours, by some sneaky method of teaching that, in the end, only confuses those who are already saved.

I'm not saying we stop teaching right and wrong, simply that we stop doing it in a way that creates doubt and uncertainty, as stipulations and conditions.

Let's go back to teaching grace as the magnificent, timeless, endless, limitless thing it is. Let's go back to giving our youth reasons to rejoice in God’s love, rather than forcing them to live in fear, insecurity, and doubt. Let's go back to shouting praises of God’s salvation and greatness, directing our youth’s eyes to the wonder and awe of who He is and what He has done for us, rather than pointing their gazes at themselves and their faults and mistakes, and “do and don't” lists they can never keep.

Let's stop controlling them with fear of failure and mistakes, and start teaching them respect, love, and awe for the God who saved them and made them whole.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Guilt - An Invisible Epidemic In Christian Youth

Guilt is a tricky thing, and one that is often unspoken of or dealt with. From as early as I can remember being aware of such things, I’ve seen it all around me, particularly in the teenagers of the Church. In fact, I’ve had so many friends, friends of friends, and acquaintances that have struggled with the crushing confines of guilt that I would dare to call it an epidemic. Out of all the young people I have ever known that are Christians (the majority of them born and raised in the church), either personally or through other family members, friends and acquaintances, I can name 2-3 young people laboring under the burden of guilt for every 1 I can name that feels confident and reassured by their relationship with God.

I am not speaking about being-guilty (a topic that is discussed often). I’m talking about Christian kids who are so crushed beneath the knowledge of their past sins and current sinful nature that they're utterly, devastatingly, miserably lost. 2 out of those 3 (in the 3-to-1 ratio before-mentioned) often suffers from crushing self-hate or self-loathing. They're so horrified by the knowledge of their sinful nature that they're incapable of seeing past it, to the point where they believe it sinful to think anything at all good about themselves (even to the point of thinking it wrong to feel secured in their relationship with God).

I can't tell you how many nights I have spent sitting up with dozens of anguished Christian teenagers as they're crushed beneath sins from years past - or actions so small and insignificant that it's unimaginable that it's causing them such agony. Some of the most incredible Christian kids that I have been acquainted with, who show more passion for Christ than most adults I’ve known, are the ones who are most guilt-wracked and uncertain of their salvation or its effects on them as a person.

These aren't the cries of the unsaved begging redemption. These are good kids, raised in Christian homes and churches, who I can see the work of the Holy Ghost in, yet are trapped in a state of anguish day after day. I can name at least 50 kids (or more) that I have known personally who struggle with these things, stuck in the guilt of some small indiscretion that should have been forgotten ages ago. Sometimes I’ve sat up with them and gone over the same sin from years past again and again and again, for years on end, because they’re incapable of letting it go and beginning a forward journey away from it. They’re incapable of accepting forgiveness for these actions as absolute and final, no matter how many times they’re told that the action is forgiven.

So where is this guilt coming from? Why are Christian teenagers seemingly plagued with a destructive perfectionist streak that they know they can't ever achieve? And why is it that older Christians seem oblivious to the epidemic and struggle of these Christian youth which I have seen more often than I’ve ever met Christian teens confident in their redemption? These are kids with a passion for Christ that leaves them crying at 2:00 a.m. because they want so bad to please Him, yet feel helpless to ever achieve it, and thus are thrown into a pit of despair. And I don’t use these words lightly - I say despair with every connotation and resulting mental anguish. These kids aren’t panged with the occasional spike of conscience - they’re consumed with a sense of guilt and disgust towards themselves that they’re incapable of casting it aside.

Why? Because they’ve grown up in churches and Christian households that demand perfection and promote guilt; while, at the same time, continuously feeding their saved and redeemed youth the idea that they are still sinners, forever tarnished. Again and again, I have witnessed the ideal seeded and watered and grown in these young Christians that the grace given to them is little more than a garment that loosely covers their sins, as if their sins have just be swept under a carpet, but they're still filthy sinners underneath. They’re never taught to shed their sins or let them go, because those in charge of their training seem terrified that if they aren't guilt-tripped into behaving, they’ll run rampant. In fact, on more occasions than I can count, I have told these kids it is okay to give those sins to God and release them, and their response has been something to the effect of: “But what if I stop feeling guilty and walking on eggshells and that makes me sin more?” They’ve been told for so long that guilt is the only way to salvation/to keeping their hands from sinful acts that they use it as a safety blanket that they don't know how to survive a Christian life without. “As long as I feel guilty, I won't do anything bad. As long as I am extra careful and hate myself for every sin/punish myself for it/beat myself with every mistake, then I’ll behave like I am supposed to.”

It's an extremely destructive mindset. These kids are so busy hating themselves and feeling guilty over every supposed misstep (some of which are so mundane and tiny that it's painful to witness) that they have no strength or will left to even pursue God. In fact, they've spent so long holding sin at bay with guilt that they are incapable of stopping it any other way, and have no idea how else to go about it. Instead of loving God and pursuing Him and striving to be clean out of a love and respect for Him, they do it out of fear and guilt and horror.

These are often the kids that are praised in churches as being “so well behaved” and “such good examples”, yet often they’re slowly crumbling inside with the fear of making even a single misstep and disappointing those around them/getting in trouble/messing up. And then when they're at home, they are yelled at/torn down/scolded for every tiny mistake, backing up their belief that they're horrible, awful sinners that have to spend the rest of their lives living in guilt and walking on eggshells to have any hope of being even close to the perfect people their parents, the church, and even friends and acquaintances expect of them.

These kids have never been taught that once saved, they're transformed from a sinner into a Child of God. The concept is explained on the surface, but most of the time, they have absolutely no idea how that works/what that means for them. They’ve been taught the surface notions for as long as they can remember, but without the meat, without the strength of the deeper facts of what that means for them and how it changes them, they're left clueless and baffled.

“How can I not be ashamed if I am a sinner?”

“How can I be loveable if I’m disgusting?”

“How can I be okay with not feeling dirty if I make mistakes every day?”

“I know God saved me, but I’m still so dirty.”

They’ve been given the knowledge that they have a sin nature and then left without the weapons to know how to face it. The scriptures that would help them cope and overcome the faults in their characters and mistakes they make are skimmed over or untaught altogether. And then they're told, over and over, the list of things they have to do and not do - a list they’re incapable of always keeping - and how horrible each and every one of those sins are, and how disappointed/angry/sad everyone will be if they fail. Guilt inducing sermons are preached on every topic from lust to lying to right/wrong behavior towards others to all the good virtues they need to have, and then are told to repent. Yet they're never taught how to repent and, after they do, how to let go of those sins and move forward in their lives, rather than living with the guilt of it for the rest of time. They're told over and over how we all deserve death and how stained we all are and how every misstep, every mistake, every sin makes them worthy of Hellfire. And without the tools to know God’s love and not just his condemnation, and how to release the guilt and horror after repentance, and how to move forward and overcome that sin without using guilt as their tool, they’re helpless in the face of it.

Even as a young teenager attending Bible camps and church functions, I found myself thinking in every “repent and leave your sin behind” sermon, “How? How? Tell me how. Tell me what to do.” But aside from a vague “Pray and ask forgiveness”, there were never any such answers. And I never knew when I had “prayed enough”, been “repenting” (aka living in guilt) for long enough.

It was like I was trying to offer guilt as my payment for sin. Like if I did something bad, I needed to cry enough over it, feel bad enough for it, hate myself long enough for it to be repaid. “Repent”, they said, like that was the answer. Like it was the thing I needed to do to make it right. I was thirsting for answers on what to do after I sinned and “how to make it right”, and their answer was “be sorry and repent”. So I tried to pay my way with apologies and guilt, to somehow prove I was sorry enough for it to be forgiven. Even though I knew that salvation was something given, that forgiveness was something bestrowed by God, I felt like I had to beg for it. Like it was something I earned by being sorry and feeling bad enough. Like God only would give that forgiveness once I had cried for enough time.

And because of that, despite already being saved, I felt uneasy all the time. Worried and afraid all the time. Dirty and ashamed a lot, for several years, because I never knew if I had felt bad enough, if I had repented right, if I had really made things right with God.

It's a destructive way to think, even though, on the surface, there's nothing really unbiblical about it. The sermons weren't necessarily biblically wrong, the concepts weren't untrue; it's just that I wasn't given the tools to know how to handle/apply the knowledge to my own life. I didn't know how, as a saved individual, as a Child of God, I was different than a sinner. I didn't know that, as a redeemed person, my mistakes no longer defined me. I didn't know that repenting only took a single word, a single cry to God in my heart, and that was enough. And I definitely didn't know that there was a way to strive to be godly that didn't include wrapping a noose of guilt around my neck to hold me in check.

Luckily for me, I had a great church who nurtured and loved me even when I messed up. I had patient, wonderful parents who helped me understand better and who didn't condemn me/yell at me/rub my mistakes in my face. They taught me true forgiveness through their actions - the kind that is loving and gentle and calm in face of my biggest mess-ups. The kind that didn't tell me over and over that this sin branded me; that instead, as a Child of God, saved and redeemed fully and completely, it was already wiped off the moment I accepted Jesus’ gift years ago, even though I hadn't yet committed the sin. The kind of forgiveness that included them patiently forgiving me and hugging me when I probably deserved to be punished instead. The kind that said “you’re forgiven” the instant I whispered “sorry”. The kind that, even if there were still consequences for the sin, those consequences were handed out lovingly/gently/graciously instead of with fury and anger and words that ground the sin into my mind as an unforgivable act that I would have to “work” to erase.

My parents never tried to use guilt to get me to not sin. They didn't try to make me so afraid of the consequences that I would be too afraid to mess up. It wasn't fear they taught me as the weapon against sin, or guilt as the reins I held to keep my life on a straight road. And I am lucky. So lucky, because they taught me respect instead of fear. They taught me love instead of guilt. They taught me not as a condemned sinner, but rather as a Child of God, and they taught me with gentle firmness and calmness, treating me as a saved and redeemed person, a loved and cherished child, not as a disgusting sinner. Instead of screams of displeasure and disappointment, I received gentle guidance when my feet began to stray. My rebukes were loving, even when firm, and something I did was never kept hanging between us for hours or days or months or years, but resolved, corrected, and forgiven right away. I was taught forgiveness wasn't something I needed to beg for, but something freely given the moment I saw my error.

I was, but most of these kids were not. They have no example of free grace and forgiveness, no reason to believe themselves loveable or cherishable, when they're condemned, railed at, and criticized endlessly for every fault and mistake. And these encounters are rarely (if ever) resolved or forgiven by their parents but rather swept under the rug and left in an endless pile of things for their children to hate themselves over or be guilty about, with no way of gaining closure or forgiveness.

Are their parents wrong to be upset over their sin? No. Sin is wrong and needs corrected. But without the reassurance and example of a parent's forgiveness and grace, and without resolution often times, it's too often that these incidents cascade from a normal childhood/teenage mistake into something severely scarring and damaging for kids who really are trying their best to please and live correctly.

And since their parents are, biblically, not incorrect in being displeased (though I would argue incorrect in their execution/method of the correction), these kids are often helpless in the face of it. The Bible backs up their parents’ stance on their behavior/action/etc. being wrong, so without any resolution, they simply take the anger and, since they see it as deserved, turn it into another instance of their inadequacy and another reason to become lost in guilt and grief.

I’ve had people ask me on this topic before, “Well why don't these kids just go seek out their parents and resolve it?” But the sad truth is, rarely when these kids try does it end well. Either it ends in another lecture/they get yelled at again by their parents because they're too angry or disappointed to sort it out rationally, or they're met with a reluctant brush-off that doesn't clear the air at all.

So the problem lies in that the parents are, technically, biblically correct. They’ve got the Bible behind them saying this behavior is wrong and the Bible telling them they need to correct and punish the actions. It's their God-given duty to raise up their kids to know right from wrong and act accordingly.

But I think in their haste to fulfill that duty, they forget that God had every right to leave us to eternal damnation in Hell, as well. That it was His right to punish us and rain fire upon us and raged at us at every sin. That we deserved all that comes as a result from sin… and yet, He forgave us. He steers us gently to the right path. He teaches us with love and saved us with Grace and redeemed us despite what we deserved. He’s patient with us. He’s forgiving with us. He’s full of mercy and bestows it on us with love.

And it makes me are kids expected to understand that when they're never shown? How are they ever meant to walk in forgiveness and grace when they have no idea what that walk looks like in practice? If parents don't bestow that same grace, forgiveness and gentle correction and guidance on their children without condemning them, then how are those kids supposed to understand what those terms even mean?

If their Christian parents don't ever erase those sins from hanging between them, how can they understood that God does?

If Christian parents are more concerned about guilt-tripping and fear-enforcing their kids into correct behavior than teaching them what grace is, then how can they ever feel the freedom and cleansing of Christ?

If their parents only ever view and treat them as disappointing, disgusting sinners, condemning them for every mistake, then how are they supposed to ever understand what it means to be a Child of God and how that makes them different from the unsaved?

If Christian parents expect to be begged for forgiveness, to only grant it reluctantly after their child has cried and wept and pleaded, if even then… then how can their kids understand that God’s grace is free, that it's all about Him and His sacrifice, and not some guilt-and-tear-offering by us that buys it?

Because these kids can be told it, and taught it, and hear it a thousand times, but if they have never felt it from the Christians around them, but only ever felt the harsh weight of perfectionistic expectations and condemnation, how are they supposed to understand it?

They’ll continue to see themselves as some pesky sinful annoyance God reluctantly agreed to save because He is kind, and not as a Child of God, whom He loves and cherishes and wanted for His own. Not as precious or called or wanted, but rather as “tolerated”.

I’m not saying parents should stop punishing sin or treat it all like it's nothing. I’m not saying you take away the gravity or the consequences of those actions. But maybe if parents corrected, guided and taught their children the right path to take like my parents did, rather than railing at them and branding them with the event for ages to come until they “earn” forgiveness, I wouldn't spend so many days replying to anguished, hopeless, terrified, lost Christian teenagers who have no idea what to do or where to turn, and who are drowning in their own guilt. I wouldn’t helplessly try to explain the concept of free, all-encompassing grace to dozens of teenagers who don’t understand it, only to have their parents or pastors or counselors erase anything I might have gotten across to them with a single fury-coated, anger-driven lecture that drives home their guilt all over again.

Was the Bible written to beat our kids over the heads with relentlessly? Was it created to be a sword that cuts away their confidence in their salvation and standing with God?

I’ve had more teenagers contact me begging for advice on how to please their parents, Christian acquaintances and friends than I know how to count. I’ve spent more nights awake until 2:00 a.m. with a young person as they beg for advice on what to do to be better so people will stop being angry with them. I’ve listened to countless cries of hopelessness and anguish from people who are already saved but have no idea how to shed the guilt of their life before - and the mistakes they make after - their salvation. “I’m so dirty and I don’t know what to do” is as common in my emails as “hello”. I’m in a unique position with these young people to hear the cries of their hearts, as I’m old enough for them to turn to me for help, but young enough that they’re comfortable reaching out to me. But it’s not enough for me to try to explain the concepts of grace, unconditional love and forgiveness when the things I tell them are constantly combated by the people in authority in their lives.

So I write this to ask us all to rethink how we treat those younger than us - whether younger in their faith or younger in years - and if how we are treating them reflects how God would treat them. Are you witnessing to them with your actions? Are you showing them grace, love and forgiveness in action? Are you a good example of godly love and forgiveness?

Ephesians 4:32 - And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.

Matthew 6:14-15 - For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Luke 6:37 - Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:

Colossians 3:13 - Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also [do] ye.

As parents, do you apply how Christ tells us to behave towards one another to your children? Do you as pastors, and counselors, and people in the church? And if, like in Matthew 6:14-15, God were to forgive you based on how often/the manner in which you forgive those under your care, whether your children or young people in your church, how would that look? Are you kind to your children? Are you forgiving to your children? Are you tenderhearted towards them? Do you treat them as Children of your Heavenly Father, as precious and loved in His sight?

If you are a parent, God has given you a ministry to your children, to raise them to be His. Are you being good examples of grace, forgiveness, and love, as well as correction? The most you will ever teach your children are the things you never tell them, but rather show them through your own actions and day to day lives. Are you a good godly example? Or are you quick to dish out fury and condemnation for their actions, rather than guidance and gentle correction and forgiveness? Are you teaching them guilt and fear to guide them, or respect and love to keep their steps sure on their spiritual journey?

I would urge the church to examine its behavior in these regards. The minds and hearts of those in our care - the young Christians among us - are precious, but often lost and confused.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

"The Marriage Proposal" - A Flash Fiction

So I wrote a flash fiction today. If you don't know what flash fiction is, it's basically where you're given a prompt (either in word form or a picture you go off of) and told to write a super short story based on it (usually between 100 to 1,000 words). It's an exercise to condense emotions/writing style/etc. into topics that you don't usually write about. Basically, they're to help writers get better at writing, widen their horizons, challenge them, push them out of their comfort zone, etc.

Anyway, today's prompt was "Write Someone's Answer To A Marriage Proposal". Since I don't usually do a lot of romantic writing, it definitely was something outside my usual comfort zone. So I figured I'd share the result with all of you. LOL. I'd love to hear your thoughts. (Pardon any oddity. I'm not a romantic writer and I've never done anything like this before. ;) Haha!)

The Marriage Proposal, by Miranda Marie (A Flash Fiction):

Tell me that you’ll never leave me.
Not that we’ll still be together when we’re old – because that sounds too romantic, and romantic intentions are not enough. No, tell me instead that you will remain when we’re middle aged, and I’m overweight and your eyes are tired from long days at a job you hate, and our house is messy when you come home. When life is so mundane, so boring, that you almost can’t stand it. When the passion is gone and we’ve not yet reached a point where it is romantic or simpler to remain together because of old age. Tell me you’ll stay with me when all we do is bicker over which TV show to watch in the evening, and then go to bed earlier than you wanted and later than I cared for, and lay there beside me, feeling tired of this boring life that once was all you dreamed about.

Tell me that you’ll stay when this love is no longer an adventure, no longer a thrill, no longer a passion that burns within you. Tell me you’ll stay when talking feels more like a chore than an enjoyment, and on the nights where you’d rather stay out until I’m already asleep instead of spending it with me. Tell me you’ll come home anyway, tell me you’ll put bickering out of your mind and try to do what I want, so that I remember what it’s like to give instead of take. Say you’ll make the first step that will remind me I need to take steps too, so that the next night, I’ll do what you want and not argue, and maybe fall into that routine instead.

Promise you’ll stay through the boring, mundane, sad times that aren’t even all that bad – the times where it feels more exciting to leave instead – and then promise me that once we’ve gone through those periods like every couple does, that we’ll start trying harder. Tell me that you’ll lay awake one night and realize we can’t go on like this, and instead of leaving to start over with someone else, or by yourself, that you’ll resolve to start over with me. That we’ll work to find that passion again, when it seems it’s gone out, and learn to fall in love all over again, with each other, and not someone else.

Don’t tell me you’re marrying me because you can’t live without me – because someday, that feeling of needing me desperately will fade away into ashes.

Don’t tell me you’re marrying me because of passion, because passion fades and withers like roses.

Don’t tell me you’re marrying me because I’m everything to you, because someday when we’re middle aged and boring, I might end up being just another person in a life that maybe bores you. Just another puzzle piece in a life you’re no longer that excited about.

Don’t tell me you’re marrying me because I’m your better half, because I’m not perfect, and you’ll see every one of those flaws, and come to realize I’m not better than you at all. That really, I’m just as messed up and crazy and weird and annoying as you think you are, and I don’t want you to leave when you realize that’s the truth.

Don’t ask me to marry you because what we have is special, because everyone says that, and it’s never true. Feelings aren’t special. Passion isn’t special. Being everything to someone isn’t special.

Tell me you’re marrying me because you love me. No, not the kind of love everyone thinks of when the words is said – the kind that burns as passion, the kind that romanticizes everything, the kind that makes everything about life seem bright and wonderful and happy. That kind of love fades. It withers and dies, or comes and goes like waves against the shore.

But tell me you’re marrying me, that you’ll stay true forever and always, because of duty and honor. Tell me that you’ll stay with me always because once you take those vows, you’ll never go back on your word. Tell me that you’re serious about what we are building – serious enough to swear before God that you’ll always be mine, even when we’re boring and mundane and just another couple like every other couple out there. Tell me that you’ll stay true to your word, even when you don’t want to – tell me that the man who is marrying me is honorable and true, virtuous and noble. Tell me that you’ll take this commitment before God seriously, that it means more to you than a simple profession of passion.

Tell me that you’re never going to leave me, that you’ll never abandon me. Tell me that no matter the struggles, we’ll work through them, pass them by together, no matter how difficult. Tell me that I’m safe with you. Tell me that I’m secure with you. Tell me that you’ll build me a future where I never have to doubt that you’ll come home to me. Tell me that I’m yours, and you are mine, no matter what. Tell me this is the kind of love you have for me, that this is not just a profession of passion, but a promise of a future, a secure future that is ours, entirely ours, until death do us part.

And then prove it to me. Prove it to me every day, no matter the circumstances, no matter what we face. Give me your word, and then prove to me that your word is good.

Because this is what I want to build my future on.

This promise.

This security.

Because that… that is love. Not passion. Not feelings. Not emotions, as fleeting as flowers in spring: pretty but unsustainable.

Love is a promise.

It’s an oath, a covenant.

A future.

And if promising that doesn’t frighten you, doesn’t terrify you down to your very core, then think on it harder. Because this is not some small, easily-promised feat. This is not something that should be given without a heavy weight on your heart and your mind, that doesn’t frighten you in the middle of the night. It should be a resolve, a determination, a choice that you have made and are willing to go to the ends of the earth to keep. Don’t take this lightly. Don’t pretend it is small and easy. Think on it long, and hard, and be certain it is what you want – that you want me, that you want our future, that you want the weight of all the days to come.

There is no going back. You will be mine and I will be yours forever, and that is no small thing.

So promise me you have thought on it – really, really thought on it – and it is not a flight of fancy or a rush of passion pushing this from your lips.

Tell me you mean it.