Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Written July 3rd...

...after church. It took me this long to find the guts to actually post the thing.

I made a mistake during the church service this week. It was kind of funny, when I think about it, though at the time I wanted the ground to swallow me up whole.

The pastor said, "Raise your hand if you're a perfect person." Only, I thought he said, "imperfect," so I half raised my hand.

I kid you not, I'm still cringing when I think of that mistake. He kept looking directly at me after that point, whenever talking about how we can't be perfect. Like, he somehow thought that I might seriously think myself perfect and serenely raise my hand during church service to publicly claim it for myself. Oh my goodness. Seriously?

On the other hand, it sort of does point out something interesting. I do consider myself to be perfect through Christ and my own imperfections and sins to be His business, since I cannot take care of them on my own. In that light, you might say that I do enjoy an unearthly and peaceful perfection which was bought for me through Christ.

The thing is, if I attempted to describe this to the pastor, I think that we would experience what would be called an impasse. From his sermons, I see that he believes our sin is our business; we must be in the business of personally stamping it out, with Christ acting as coach and cheerleader. You know, sort of on the sidelines, giving us instructions on how to be better and cheering us on when we make a right move.

He went so far as to say that our prayers are effective not because we are sinless, but because we sin less, a statement that puzzles me to no end. If it's the prayers of a righteous man that are answered, does one assume that his righteousness is tarnished only by a certain amount of sin? How much sin? Which sins?

And don't we wear Christ's righteousness? Is it possible to take that off, once we've put it on? Does Christ snatch His righteous robe back when we sin? But that doesn't make sense to me because don't we need it because of our sin in the first place? I don't know. But it just doesn't make sense to me.

That statement the pastor made about prayer is similar to something one of the guest pastors said concerning the Holy Spirit. The guest pastor said, "I want to have less sin in my life so that I can have more of the Holy Spirit."

It seems weird to me to think like that, to be perfectly honest. It's as though the pastor is saying that his soul is like a scale, and his sin is on one side, and the Holy Spirit is on the other, and he's constantly wrestling with his own sinful nature so that the scales tip, as much as possible, toward the Holy Spirit.

How can a person be partially worthy of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Isn't that kind of like saying you're half saved?

Can it be that it actually works that way? It's as though God were a car, a car that runs on our perfection. The more sin we stamp out, the holier the gasoline and the holier the gasoline, the further we can drive Him and the more we can get out of Him.

Whereas I tend to believe this:

"The plaintive, self-centred, morbid kind of prayer, a dead-set that I want to be right, is never found in the New Testament. The fact that I am trying to be right with God is a sign that I am rebelling against the Atonement. "Lord, I will purify my heart if You will answer my prayer; I will walk rightly if You will help me."

I cannot make myself right with God, I cannot make my life perfect; I can only be right with God if I accept the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ as an absolute gift. Am I humble enough to accept it?

I have to resign every kind of claim and cease from every effort, and leave myself entirely alone in His hands, and then begin to pour out in the priestly work of intercession. There is much prayer that arises from real disbelief in the Atonement.

Jesus is not beginning to save us, He has saved us, the thing is done, and it is an insult to ask Him to do it." Oswald Chambers.

Whatever is in that church doesn't like my serenity in Christ. It is not acceptable to cease all effort, and to simply and humbly live in Christ, just exactly as one is, in that moment, and the next moment and the next.

It doesn't bother me that the pastor believes something different from me. I don't for one moment believe that I have the whole truth. I'm just walking beside Christ, learning the things He teaches me through my own life. So is the pastor. I respect the lessons he has learned and the things that are important to him.

But I'm beginning to get the feeling that the pastor is unable to extend to me the same grace that I extend to him. I think this is because the pastor's beliefs teach him that he must correct what he sees wrong in my beliefs. I think he believes that he must exhort me, like the assistant coach to the Jesus Coach, in perfecting my game plays.

It is actually disingenuous of me to allow him to continue thinking that I'm in agreement, when I am not. Maybe this is what I am feeling. I don't know. But I don't think that we'll be going back to that church.

This increases my anxiety level. I spent hours and hours that Sunday, talking to Christ. This is not praying, mind you, because I wasn't following the four "P"s of prayer, which are persistent, passionate, prevailing and precise, as the pastor taught, as opposed to the vague prayer of "God's will be done" and "help me, oh God," both being phrases that are not included in the preferred prayer formula.

So I asked Him; is that how You want me to pray? Is what we are doing now not prayer? Does it not count? Because, if so, I will. At least, I will try. Not that I don't pray like that sometimes; sometimes I do.

He reminded me how He taught the disciples to pray, a rote prayer that includes the very phrase "God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven." He reminded me that He deeply loves my childlike nature.

During the worship service that Sunday, I literally pushed Him away and shut the door on Him. I sang and kept Him at arm's length. I needed Him too much and I was afraid He would let me down, so I pushed Him away first.

I live in terror of what Christians sometimes refer to as "a desert time." It means a time when God doesn't feel present to them. There are theories about this: that it happens because of sin or because God wants to strengthen our Christian walk, by which they mean faith in God.

That makes sense, but I have no idea, myself, because I've felt the close and loving presence of God even while I was sinning, (which I was always told was impossible) so I don't know how to ensure that it stays. I can't say to Christ, see, I am ready and worthy of Your immediate presence; touch my heart.

I feel like if I decide to stop attending the church and at the same time cease to feel Christ so close to me, it will surely mean that I'm a very bad person indeed, a horrible backslider. (Though this doesn't make any sense, since I felt that closeness long before I started attending.) If Christ withdrew, a part of me feels that it must mean that everything the pastor has said is true, and that I should go up to the stairs and sob out my repentance upon the carpet, instead of in Christ's arms, where I normally go. This is an absurd fear, but there it is. I fear it.

I'm telling you what, I just think that it would break His heart if I did that. I think He deeply loves the way in which I give myself utterly over to Him. Lately He just keeps pulling my mind toward the torn veil, the veil that tore the moment He died. Why, when He eliminated the need for the priest to enter the Holy of Holies, would we then go ahead and set up our own system in its place?

If I don't understand a verse, (that happens a lot, by the way) I hand it over to Him to sort through. He handles all that kind of business; He's very good at it.

I keep thinking, all this grace is just mother's milk and at some point I need to be weaned from it and grow up into the real meat of righteousness, like structured prayer, Bible reading time, dressing modestly, and all those other standards of behavior. So I looked up that verse.

"By now you should be teachers. Instead, you still need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food. All those who live on milk lack the experience to talk about what is right. They are still babies. However, solid food is for mature people, whose minds are trained by practice to know the difference between good and evil." Hebrews 5:12-14

And then I felt horrible. "To whom much is given, much will be required," chimed in my head. All of which caused me to throw myself before Christ in absolute desperation, while at the same time holding Him at arms length, because I didn't want to know what He had to say. So then I waited.

Then I wondered, what are the elementary truths? So I asked Him. He said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ All of Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:37-40

I was so excited when I heard Him say this. Like, oh my goodness, I do love Him with all my heart and soul and mind. I have got that first part down! The second part I'm growing in. My neighbor is also my husband, my family, and everyone that He has placed in my life. Loving them is a learning process that lasts one's whole life long. Then He reminded me that when I blog about Him, I might be showing someone else something He wants them to know.

And then, just like that, all my self condemnation was gone; I felt His delight in my freedom from that condemnation. He's leading me right along. He has His own way with me, He is the author and finisher of my faith. (He reminded me of this lately because recently I've been realizing how little faith I have. When He reminded me of this, I felt astounded. So the next time I felt horrible because of how limited my faith was, I remembered and then I said, "This is all Your fault!" which was just a little joke; it's a good thing He gets my sense of humor.)

Over and over again He shows me that He loves me not because of what I do but because of who I am to Him; His own, His creation, His redeemed. He loves me because of His nature, not mine. I am close to Him not because of how I live my life, but because of how He died and now lives His.

Thank God He is not on the sidelines, shouting out to me the ways I need to perfect my plays so that I can somehow beat my way over to Him.