Sunday, March 14, 2010

Of Salvation

So, I briefly talked about this story the other day with a friend, and thought it might just be good to throw it up on here. Whatcha gonna do, right?

I guess I won’t quite start off at the beginning – but I’ll get there just as quickly as I can. Many of the powerful testimonies you’ll here involve drugs, sex, (maybe) rock ‘n’ roll, and this miraculous, love-crazed savior (which indeed he is) that dragged up the poor, overwhelmed sinner from his pit. Mine’s a bit like that – but God didn’t save me from drugs – he saved me from pride. He didn’t save me from sex either – just ignorance. He certainly didn’t save me from rock ‘n’ roll – but he saved me from the only individual who can tell me a perfect lie that I’ll always believe – myself. No fireworks, just the great heart of an unrelenting God that would never give up on me.

Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

I was born a child of privilege. I’ve come to accept that to be a simple, over-riding truth of my life. Not that my parents were wealthy – far from it, my needs were met and we never went hungry, but we didn’t do too much more than make ends meet either. No, when I say privilege – I mean that I had every opportunity to succeed, and very few chances to fail. My father was an elder in the church, my mother sang in the choir. Dad is one of my best friends – always has been, always will be – and I can honestly say the wisest man I know – no hyperbole, no exaggeration, and many would agree with me. Mom is an artist, a marathoner, disciplined, musical, and carried a 4.0 all the way through college – she stayed at home through my whole school career. Dad instilled in me a love of true beauty and a search for truth, mom a drive and confidence that few other people could bestow upon another. Are they perfect? Not quite – but they are far more a blessing than any person deserves or would ever think to ask for. With very few exceptions, anything good or strong in my character came directly from them, anything dark or weak – that lies solely on my shoulders, promise. So, if they were that active and involved, I’m automatically a Christian, right? Not so fast – the answer is absolutely not. I remember my childhood – praying over and over that God would save me - most nights, in fact, as my dad prayed with me. He just let it go on and on, until one day, I stopped – I was finally confident that I’d prayed it enough and I was good to go. As time went on – I lived well. I usually did the right thing, despite a penchant and talent for lying; I was the good, quiet kid who knew all the answers. I was a leader in the youth group – even in junior high – I’d been instrumental in a few other kids’ belief in Christ. Sunday school teachers were glad to have me, church leaders enjoyed visiting with me, I was “one of the most steadfast young me to grow up in the church.” And once I was old enough to feel encumbered by “the rules,” and recognize it… I was miserable.

Romans 6:23 – The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

I went to a tiny Christian school right up until high school. Now, depending on your background, that could lead you to believe I’m talking about a high-powered, money wielding private school. I’m not. Practically volunteer teachers, borrowed text books, a church that put us up in an old, rickety house they had on their land, and never more than 50 kids, and only about 6 in any given class. Regardless, one more situation where I was surrounded by good people who genuinely cared for me (seems to be a recurring theme). At the end of my seventh grade year, the school didn’t have enough staff to add on any eighth graders – our public junior high didn’t have many marks in its favor – and mom decided to home-school me… that poor, poor woman. Little did she know that in this home-school year, everything that I had been up to this point would come crashing down – beautiful how life works like that, isn’t it? I didn’t know it at the time, but I was miserable, depressed, sick of living by rules and regulations that meant not a thing to me. I cried most days, slammed an algebra or Spanish book into a wall some others. Convinced myself that my mother hated me – that she didn’t want me to have friends, didn’t want to let me grow up, who knows what else. But a year of this was not what anybody wanted, that much I know for sure. As time progressed, my depression deepened – everything bothered me, and perhaps more importantly – everything bothered me more than it should. Suicide was at least a weekly thought, I’ve always been a little dark, so at first it was something that had some pleasure to it – just an emotional release. But it grew. Looking back, I clearly remember a day when everything had gone badly and I wanted no part of it. I convinced myself that Mom hated me and would be happy, that Dad would be sad for a bit, but I was just another mouth to feed in the end – he’d be better off, and my little brother would never remember me except through the cold looks in my parents eyes when the crossed a particular patch of our concrete drive way below the apex of our roof line. Death was all I wanted, all I deserved.

Romans 5:8 – God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

I bent my knees, just slightly, standing on the edge – snot dripping down my face, tears falling to the concrete – just a regular day, right? Mom walked out the door, and saw me on the roof, crying. She let me know she loved me, and told me lunch was inside whenever I was ready. I cried a bit more, climbed down and went on in – I’m not sure that she knew my intention, but she was there for a reason. School went on – I was a little less of a roller coaster, but the world isn’t that much better when it’s all dull, grey, and lifeless – so I can hardly say I’d improved. Even then though, looking back, God was beginning to call to me. I started writing songs then – which has continued until this day, in fact. I started recognizing the beauty in people, in things – which was a step up from where I’d been. I was looking forward to a retreat our youth group was going on that was coming up in April – in retrospect, I was looking forward to it with very good reason.

Romans 10:13 - Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Falls Creek – the name of the retreat – perhaps you’ve been there, who knows. My best friend’s father was speaking that year, he has a tendency to recycle sermons – I’d heard and could quote about half of the ones he was giving us at the retreat. “Sermon 4 with a twist into 7 there at the end” was the running joke for me. Yet, he is a very gifted speaker, and a very deep and intellectual Christian – despite my misgivings about his “green sermons.” Regardless, as he spoke, he eventually said something that rang true with me, something I had been patiently waiting for since that first time I’d been convinced I’d prayed enough to become a Christian. Something I’d been striving towards and fighting for without ever knowing it. In his big, excited, yelling pastoral voice, he pronounced that “Guys, if you’re a Christian, and you’re not living right, you’re going to be miserable” – it was sermon 6, not one of his overly evangelical ones, a little more geared towards discipleship. But suddenly, I realized the reality of my predicament – I was living by the rules. I should be at least somewhat happy. I was miserable. The truth finally came out – I wasn’t a Christian, it was the only solution that made sense. I was bound, gagged, and beaten by my own false belief in my Christianity. “The rules” weren’t rules at all – not to constrict as I had known them at least. The rules were freedom – they gave me the ability to do what was right, the ability to connect to my creator, the ability to finally become who I’d thought I was and been meant to be all along. My soul cried out for this, and despite all the lies I’d accepted, the truths I’d denied – the moment had come: I was called. Wanted. Loved.

Romans 10:9,10 - If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

That night, my world changed. All the things I’d used to fill the blackness inside were rendered completely and utterly irrelevant and insignificant. Grades, friends, girls, athleticism, rugged good looks – all useless and stripped bare for what they were – a poor substitute for what really mattered. Those things bring happiness – sure, but they don’t bring joy. They don’t bring the unerring knowledge that whatever happens, an infinite being cares for you. God took me in his hands that day and revolutionized me. My good days – he makes great. My mediocre days – he gives direction. My bad days – he gives purpose. One man died that all might live, and I have found my life, my true life, in him – and it is only the beginning of the story.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Of Freedom and Weakness

I'll never forget the moment that I realized that my life was in my hands, and that such an arrangement was a bad thing. I don't think this realization was my doing. I don't think I fully comprehend everything that goes into it. I just know that I am naturally pre-disposed to deciding what's mine, taking it, and messing it all up. There were all these things to do. There were all these places to be. There were all these people to know. And I was going to do, be, and know as I saw fit. I'd just finished my Masters. I was moving on and moving up. I had all these challenges to meet, and I was going to meet them.

I was going to leverage my strengths. I was going to minimize my weaknesses. I was going to put myself out there. I was going to succeed wildly at everything I'd ever dreamed. Or was I? When I look at those dreams... career, relationships, money, satisfaction, prestige, respect... they are all so little. But they were what I was good at. They were what God made me to do... weren't they? The world was mine and I was free.

But really, I wasn't. I was free like an animal in a zoo. Wandering around the artificial environment created for me. Eating the morsels fed to me by people who also once had bigger dreams. Nice to look at from outside, but just as caged as ever. Just as unfulfilled as ever. Just as short of what I was created to be as ever. I had built myself a set of goals to accomplish, and bound myself to accomplishing them. I'd let my pride hijack reality. I'd built a cage around myself, all the while thinking I was building a home. I'd tied who I was to all these things, and through that, they became bondage. They separated me from Christ. I let my pride bind my identity to them. I became what I did, and when what I did lacked, I became "what I could do if I could just catch a break." No longer was I the person who would do what was necessary. Who could take my greatest strengths and match them with others' greatest needs. All I could see was the path I'd laid out before myself. The path to 'strength.' The path to 'success.'

Every maneuver I made that I thought expressed my freedom, my ability, was just one more bar in my self-imposed cage. And the further I got from breaking that cage open, the more I resented it and fell back on myself.

When all my strength was exhausted, I found something. The truth was that all my strength was nothing. That everything I took into my hands I broke. The truth was that I had captured myself. That I had told myself what was success and what wasn't. That I would never meet the standards I'd made, and that if I were pursuing them, I'd never find the standards I truly wanted. I acknowledged that I was weak, finally, in a state that would have been unrecognizable to the heavy majority of people who know me. And when I did, the world shifted. Weakness was freedom. Not strength. Accepting who I was and who I served was freedom. Not forging my own path through the world. Accepting that my best efforts at feeble success were what was holding me back from true peace... that was freedom. When I realize that I was made as I am, strengths, weaknesses, blemishes, impurities and all to serve a purpose, and that purpose was beyond anything I'd ever imagined, no matter where it took me... that was freedom. Knowing that I wasn't responsible for making the path, just following it... that was freedom.

In all this, am I free yet? No, not completely, not even close. But I know that in Christ is freedom. I know that truth sets free. I know that if nothing I do ever mimics worldly success again, that if I lose every shred of dignity before man, but through it all I'm dancing to my Creator's music... I know that I've finally uncovered who I was meant to be. I know that I am free.