A Spark

A little while ago, I did a series called “Words to Know,” where I talked about some words that Christians are constantly dropping and people aren’t really understanding, like “amen,” “sin,” and being “saved.”  Today’s post might be thought of as a continuation of sorts.  Today, I’m thinking about conviction.

According to the Merriam-Webster Free Dictionary (as provided by Google, which apparently gives you the definition of some words right when you search for them), “convicting” is the present participle of the verb “convict,” which means to “declare (someone) to be guilty of a criminal offense by the verdict of a jury or the decision of a judge in a court of law.”

I think that typically when Christians are “convicted,” they realize that they were in the wrong.  I was convicted of letting fear rule my life, for instance, for about a year.  I realized that this was something that was wrong in the eyes of the Judge who had made me to live trusting in Him rather than letting anxiety and unreasonable doubts take control.

Thankfully, because of Christ, I really feel that conviction for Christians is a good thing.  Christ took care of the part where we’re sent to the equivalent of jail, so we don’t have to face that.  Jail here on earth is terrifying to me, and even for the most confident person, God’s “jail,” if you will, is especially terrifying when considering the the judge here is a perfectly righteous and just God.

Since we can put our faith in Christ and His forgiveness of our sins, being convicted of something just tells us what we’re doing wrong.  It doesn’t mean that it’s okay that we did it in the first place, but it does mean that we’re able to correct it.

As Paul writes to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 (emphasis added), “ Yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern,what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

I love that list of things that the godly sorrow produced in the Corinthian church.  They were convicted, yes, but it set them off to do good through God’s will with such passion!

Because grad school is making me a huge nerd, I’ll give an example using SAS syntax.  SAS is a program that allows you to run different statistics, and get all kinds of graphs, charts, and data.  The way that I am currently learning to use it is through syntax.  Instead of clicking a few buttons to get, you enter a bunch of nonsense-seeming terms and punctuation to get what you want.  For instance, in order to export data from SAS to Excel, you might enter:

proc export

data=libname.dataname

dbms=xlsx

outfile=”C:\folder\filename.xlsx”

replace;

run;

I’m using this example because it took me a good half an hour to figure out how to do it and I don’t want to have to do that again.  So here it is handily on my blog!

Now, if I were to instead enter

proc export

data=libname.dataname

dbms=xlsx

outflle=”C:\folder\filename.xlsx”

replace;

run;

The whole thing would be entirely rejected.  It’s imperfect.  It might look exactly the same to you and be regarded as just fine, but the judge (in this case, SAS), sees an error, because there is one.  Is it forgivable when I change the first “l” in “outfile” to an “i”?  Sure!  And half an hour after I started trying, I’ve got one beautiful Excel sheet full of data.  But if SAS hadn’t yelled at me in all kinds of colors first and refused to give me the product I was looking for, I wouldn’t have been convicted- I wouldn’t have realized that something was wrong and looked to fix it.

This whole thing arose because I was very convicted by a passage from a book by one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis.  It comes from his book “The Weight of Glory,” and reads as follows:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.  It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with on another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.  There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit- immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

You might have to read it a few times.  I did.  It really puts things in perspective.  It’s convicting, if you will; it reminded me of how much more seriously I need to take my relationships and this teeny bit of time that I have on this earth in general.  Thank You, Lord, for conviction, and may we not only hear it, but respond.

p.s. Don’t forget to check out the comments section- it’s that little dot with a number in it at the top of the post (or you can click on the word “comments” in this sentence.  Fellow blogger and sister in Christ Sydney made an excellent point about other definitions of conviction!

Lessons from Raisins

Fun fact: I eat a lot of raisins.

I grew up having them all the time, and distinctly remember their location in the pantry, but somehow fell out of the practice in recent years.  After being reminded of their health benefits, I decided to pick a box up at the store.  This turned into a box and six mini boxes.  And then two boxes.  And suddenly there are raisins everywhere.

It seems then, that I should be fairly familiar with the appearance of the boxes that I always have on hand.  And yet, I was caught quite off guard when I saw a little sentence on the inner flap of the box telling me to reply when opportunity emails.  What?!  I turned to look at the my recently-disposed boxes (this is less gross than it otherwise would have been because the primary contents of this particular receptacle were just other empty raisins boxes) and found that all of them had little messages.  Apparently, for instance, “kindness is like a boomerang” because “when you give it, you get it back.”  This might not always be true, but it’s a good thought.

In any case, I wondered to what else I had been oblivious.  So while I’m not becoming a conspiracy theorist, I’m trying to be more aware.  And of what should I be more aware than God’s communication to me?  I think that He often waits patiently for us to see things that He has made clear but we don’t see because of our blindness.  And for me, one of the most common messages of that circumstance may simply be, “I am here. And I am what I am.

One of my favorite Jars of Clay songs, “Unforgetful You,” describes this well.  “You never minded giving us the stars, and then showing us how blind and unaware of You we are.  You painted me a picture, and You showed me how to see, but I just won’t behold it unless it pertains to me.”  But thankfully, God is persistent.  He pursues us and He keeps reaching out to us and teaching us.  Perhaps the first step of this is realizing and accepting that there is so much that I don’t know, and likely quite a bit that I’m trying to ignore.

I have mentioned in previous posts how I think it’s extraordinarily important to continue reading the Bible over and over again, because you so often find new things in the same passages.  This happened pretty recently for me with a passage from Hebrews 13:

“Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is – pleased.”

-Hebrews 13:13-16

First of all, I absolutely love the statement that “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”  AMEN!  I’m also amazed by the contrasts here.  The passage talks about being outside of the camp and bearing disgrace, and then turns around and tells us to continually praise God, which is likely not the immediate reaction that most of us would choose.  To do that, then is either indicative of being outside of the camp with Jesus being a good thing, or us needing to be in denial.

I don’t believe it’s the latter, since we’re constantly told to pursue truth and if you read about Paul’s adventures, you’ll find that He doesn’t pretend that they weren’t rough.  You don’t get the idea that he got his thrills from poisonous snake bites and imprisonment, but rather that he accepted those things and let God use them through him. Along the same lines, the passage describes doing good and sharing with others as sacrifices.  It’s laid out right in front of our faces that this relationship with God is one where we need to be constantly giving of ourselves, and constantly thankful for it.

Did I get all of this the last time I read Hebrews 13?  Not that I can recall!  Are there more things that I probably don’t recognize even now?  It’s likely! (And therein lies one of the many benefits of studying the Bible with other people and their different perspectives!)

It’s such a blessing that we can continue to grow in our faith.  I’m praying that God will continue to show us how “blind and unaware of Him we are” and change us through our growing sight.

Is This Not What You Were Expecting?

In case one had been unable to deduce from the decreased frequency of posts (every other week rather than weekly), the frazzled manner of a number of previous posts, and the tardiness of today’s post, life is busy.  In a trait that doesn’t help things, I’m someone who wants to absorb as much as possible.  This is a girl who was planning on majoring in one thing in undergrad and tacked on an additional major because she thought the subject of the latter was absolutely fascinating.  (Spoiler: The second major took over and she’s quite in love with it.)

In any case, yesterday was an example of things going a little overboard.  I left my house at 8:30 a.m. and didn’t come home until almost 11 p.m.  I had lunch, but “dinner” was provided by the vending machine (I consoled myself, somewhat, with the notice that the small package was made of “all natural” ingredients) and I went home quite tired with a pretty bad headache.  I wouldn’t be surprised if third and fourth-year students are chuckling at me and thinking, “Oh, poor baby,” but it was rough for me and I collapsed into bed at 12:15 p.m. as if it were 4 in the morning.

The following morning, with a much clearer and less painful head, I started thinking this whole thing through.  As a grad student, it is expected that I will either not eat or not eat well, not sleep or not sleep well, stress out a lot, constantly ponder my purpose in life and whether I’m wasting time, and be extraordinarily nerdy.  With the exception of maybe a couple of those, I’m not sure that that is what should define or is meant to define being a student.  With how much my body enjoys contracting painful things from dirt and other random places, I really ought to do my best to keep it in good shape.  Perhaps I need to rearrange my schedule so I’m not really frequently doing all of the hardest things on one day, when that is possible.  Maybe I need to map out all of the sandwich shops on my typical routes and know where I can stop for a healthy dinner on the go.  But I almost certainly ought to evaluate what should make up my graduate experience at the core and not so much just what is expected.

Now, at some times these things will overlap, and that’s fine, as long as what’s expected is also what should.  I’m definitely not going to say that doing research or homework doesn’t belong on the should list just because I don’t want it to (that said, I’m really fascinated by the research I’m involved in and, not going to lie, was excitedly flipping through my Assessment textbook.  But this will apply for the times when classes are really hard and frustrating, or statistics are being really difficult).

And of course, the whole thing relates back to my faith.  Is what is culturally expected of me as a Christian what I should be doing as a Christian?  According to a survey of 16- to 29-year-olds in David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ book “UnChristian,” here are some of the words that the aforementioned age group thought described Christianity well: “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” “out of touch with reality,” “insensitive to others,” and “not accepting of other faiths.”  As a core tenet of Christianity is that God is the only God and Christ the only way to salvation, “not accepting of other faiths,” while it sounds harsh, is understandable.  Judgmental, however, goes quite against core tenets of Christianity.  On the other end of the spectrum, according to some TV shows, “Christian” just means that I pray sometimes when the going gets rough, maybe go to church sometimes, and mostly just do what everybody else is doing.

So sadly, if I were to look to society, or even to certain other “Christians,” as to what might be expected of me, I might be way off target.  If my true goal as a Christian is to grow to be more like Christ, to know Him more, and to radiate His love to the world, it would make sense that His word is a pretty good place to find my “should.”  But that’s something that I need to constantly work on.

No one is walking around shoving the Graduate Student Manual in my face, or probably the employee manual or student code of conduct or whatever other guideline may apply for you.  I am, however, surrounded by other students who are staring at a computer screen in the lab at all hours of the night, skipping dinner, and cursing at their non-significant results (It’s not all bad.  We also study together, support one another, and plan adventures!).  So while we’re blessed with a conscience that can help out in those moments, we’ve sometimes got to seek these guiding things out.  So I turn to the living and active word of God.

As Paul tells Timothy, “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconiumand Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of Godmay be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

– 2 Timothy 3:10-17

Following the guidebook isn’t all candy and apple slices (after yesterday my body is really hungry for something healthy).  Paul says flat out that we’ll be persecuted, things will go “from bad to worse,” and it’ll just be a rough situation.  But he also tells us to remember and do what is true and what is right, and that good will result.  So I’ll go ahead and study for some terrifying oral exams, write an overwhelming(ly awesome) dissertation, and survive statistics, and hopefully they’ll hand over a doctoral degree in five years.  I will also seek to live more like my Savior, to love all of those around me, and uphold the health of my “temple” throughout all of the above, and hopefully, God will work good through me in more ways than I could have imagined.  It’s looking like I’ve got some work to do.