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!

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I’m Not As Awesome As I Think I Am

A year or so ago, I spent a lot of time talking with a friend who was struggling a lot with a number of negative emotions and conflicts.  He would become frustrated when I’d give advice sometimes, saying, “Well, that’s easy for you to say, because you’re perfect.”  Despite much urging, he was not to be convinced otherwise.  And if I’m totally honest with myself, I often don’t view myself as all that bad.  I hold doors for people, avoid conflict (Is this a good or bad thing?  To be determined.), and give lots of hugs.  If we’re getting into the stereotypical “good Christian things,” I go to church, read my Bible, and pray.  And I have a very verbal conscience that keeps me out of a deal of trouble.  But I maintain, and I’m often reminded, that I’m far from perfect.

I’ve rolled my eyes behind someone’s back before.  I’ve disrespected my parents.  I’ve put myself before others.  I’ve preferred one acquaintance over another for extraordinarily shallow reasons that I’m hurt by when they’re used against me.

Now for those of you who are making a face and sarcastically suggesting that the police be called to detain this girl who is rolling her eyes behind someone’s back, let me point this out.

The “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, starts out like this: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I posses to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

It’s comforting to read this, do a quick survey of my life and pick up the highlights of missions trips, service to camp, hugging a crying friend, etc. etc.  This is not so much true when looking at these other moments.  When I’m yelling at my sister over something ridiculous, and I showing love to her?  When I’m going against God’s will by treating people preferentially, am I showing love to them?  In either case, am I showing love to God or giving Him glory?

Being a psychology student, you sometimes have the opportunity to hear someone’s backstory.  You learn why they’re cocky, pushy, annoying, or whatever else bothered you.  Often, it’s really sad- either because of something that happened to them or because your eyes are opened to the fact that you completely disregarded something that God said, and you were wrong.  I thought it was okay to give this person a bit of a cold shoulder- maybe all of this “loving your neighbor” stuff was off, because this guy’s a jerk.  And then you find out that he is the way he is because people were first mean to him.  And that you soiled your opportunity to start that cycle over, but with love.

I need to constantly be reminded to leave my premonitions and pride behind- to “consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him,” as one of my most favorite passages in the Bible, Philippians 3, says.

I’m not nearly as awesome as I think I am.  But thankfully, I’m able to ask for forgiveness and tap into the source of true, unwavering love that gives me that second chance.  Hopefully as I grow more like my Savior, this love will become more of an instinct than the rubbish that tries to crowd it out.  I’ve rounded this blog out with Philippians 3 a number of times, but as always, it fits so well.  “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  Amen!

Lessons from Doors

I was walking back to lab with my hands full and was pleased to find as I walked up to the set of doors before the stairwell that the door was propped open a very little bit- by what, I didn’t see- just enough for me to comfortably get my fingers in to pull it open.  That door is the most difficult to open on the way back to lab with your hands full because it has a low handle that you have to pull down to open and not just pull out, so that was a nice surprise.

“Thanks, God,” I prayed, saying it as I would to anyone who had held the door open.   Then some snarky part of me added, “Couldn’t have opened it all the way?”

This was immediately followed by an apology for my selfishness and attitude.  He didn’t have to  have the door open at all.  Just then, I rounded the bend to go down the last set of steps, from which point I could see the door to leave the stairwell.  This door is almost always closed, and was the last one that I would probably need to go through before getting to lab.  But instead of being closed, as it had been when I’d left, it was propped wide open.

I love little instances like this where God reminds me of the basic truths of the gospel: Through my sin, I’m completely opposed to everything He is in His perfection, but He loves me anyway, and through faith and life in Him, He redirects me towards a path that leads not towards the death and general nastiness that my sin brings, but rather towards life, and love, and forgiveness for everything from lying or anger to snapping in a way that I shouldn’t at peers, much less the Lord of the universe.

It drew me to 1 Timothy 1, where Paul mentions Jesus’ “immense patience.”  I had found this passage because I remembered Paul referring to himself as the “chief of sinners,” in this translation as “the worst of sinners,” but I suppose I never caught on to the context: “that in me… Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life.”

Here’s more of the passage:

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me trustworthy, appointing me to His service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.  Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

– 1 Timothy 1:12-17

God really does shine through us at our weakest points, perhaps not only when we’re just feeling weak, but when we’re actually demonstrating our weakness through our sin.  I’m thankful that He can do this, and that He does. =)

An Offer

“Wanna cut?”

It’s a strange request out of context, but my friend was handing me a roll of VHS tape that we needed to destroy and a pair of scissors.  Either way, it got me thinking about offers.

“Want to come and listen to music in Gary’s room?”

“Tea party at Carrie’s at 9?”

“Want to go see a movie?”
“Want to dance?”

The answer to the last is almost always an, “UM, YES!”  Similarly, the answers to the other questions would be positive ones supposing I had time and energy.  But sometimes you get negative offers.

“Want to watch a scary movie?” Absolutely not.

“Want to go to a Halloween party?” No.

(Maybe next year around this time I’ll write about why I dislike Halloween so much.  But enough mention of it now- basically the answer to scary things is “NO.”)

Anyway, after I realized how weird some of the offers that I’ve gotten have sounded, I thought about the most important offer I’ve received.  The offer of a scholarship and admissions to the school I’m currently attending was pretty life-changing.  I think it’s safe to say that the experience that I’ve gotten at a large research university is different from the one I would have had at a small, rural, Christian school.  If nothing else, the people that I met would be different, and my friends have played such a huge role in my life.  But that’s not it.  Nor was it the offer of the role of Grace in my middle school play, or of a position at an exciting journalism internship, or of a research assistantship in the lab where I’m doing my thesis.

Do I want eternal life and forgiveness of my sins?

Do I want to stop living for myself and start living for God?

Will I pick up my cross and follow Him?

They’re weird offers- ones that are so easily overlooked in the blur of our day-to-day lives.  In our blindness, the appeal isn’t always clear.  The first question reminds me of a passage in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity: “Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned; the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.”

What exactly do I need to be forgiven for? we might think.  Well, I know that I’ve messed up.  I know that I contribute to the brokenness of the world, because I’m broken.  So, yes, I want to be forgiven.  I do want perfect, eternal life.  I do want to spend the time that I have here on earth for good, and therefore, for God.

It’s a life-changing offer.  And because it’s an offer that I’ve accepted, its effect on my daily life should be just as evident, if not more so, than the effect of the smaller things- of my agreeing to listen to “In Love with the ‘80s,” a song by what became my favorite band; of going to college; of going to my best friend’s house for that first playdate more than a decade ago.

I pray that the evidence of my response is unmistakably clear, and that its light grows brighter as  I learn more.  And despite the trials that come my way, I’m so grateful and joyful that I had the opportunity to say, “Yes.”

While We Were Still Sinners

One of my sigh-and-drift-off-into-dreamland songs is “Keep Breathing” by Ingrid Michaelson.

I want to change the world, instead I sleep.

I want to believe in more than you and me.

That would be me without Christ.  I long to fix things.  I long to make things better.  But I feel so incredibly powerless on my own (which is quite accurate).  I can help you put a Band-aid on your cut, but I can’t healthily stop all of your pain.  Supposing I somehow eliminated your pain sensors, another problem arises in that you wouldn’t know when to do things like take your burning hand out of the fire.  I can’t fix it.

But I know Someone who can, and on Sunday, we celebrate the way He rose from, and conquered, death so that my sin could be erased and I could find hope.

I’m sorry that today’s post is so short, but sometimes you just have to get back to the basics and into God’s word. =)  The passage below is Romans chapter 5, verses 1-2 and 6-11.  Don’t skim over it just because you think you’ve heard it all before.  Ask God to open your eyes and your heart- you can’t preach the gospel to yourself too many times.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, wehave peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

…You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

And to sum it all up, in two of my most favorite verses, Acts 13:38-39:

“Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law.”

Happy Easter!

Coloring Books

My first (and only) piano recital was a nerve-wracking affair.  I had been taking piano lessons for a while when my teacher told me that the recital was coming up.  I was to pick two songs and perform them in front of a small audience largely consisting, I’m assuming, of people who were really only there to hear their child perform.

I picked out “The Piano Playin’ Chocolate Eater’s Blues” (It was a jazzy tune from my piano book about a piano player who ate too much chocolate and had sticky fingers when they tried to play the piano, something that I could potentially identify with.  Don’t make fun!) and “Pachelbel’s Canon in C.”  I also picked out a nice outfit.

I fidgeted and tried not to hyperventilate until it was finally my turn to approach the stage, which I did with some level of dread.  I remember setting my music up on the stand and thinking to myself, “Why did I pick these songs?!  ‘Chocolate Eater’s Blues’ has some really random note combinations and the canon I know mostly from memory.  So if I get lost, that’s the end!”  Also not helping was the fact that Pachelbel’s Canon played an important role in my parents’ wedding, so they were rather familiar with how the number was supposed to sound.

There is a point to this little tale.  Do you know why I got so nervous about playing this one time and not every time I played it at home?  It wasn’t because of the audience- I typically get really nervous before performances in front of audiences and then am completely fine once I step on the stage.  I think the reason I was so worked up was because I only had one shot.

I really don’t like having only one chance to do something.  One chance to play those songs up on the gorgeous piano on the stage, one chance to make a first impression, to do the right thing in a certain situation…

Unfortunately for my dislikes and I, life is one of those one-shot type of things.  And I’m messing it up dreadfully.

I can’t redo the few months after Prince Caspian came out and be less annoying.  I can’t go back and do better in friendships that I’m sad to have lost.  I can’t be cooler or dress better in high school.

But somehow, this isn’t about regrets and fear of messing things up.

Here’s one way of thinking about it: Life is like a coloring book.

I know, I know.  Just stay with me.  It won’t turn into me singing songs from preschool shows- hopefully.

When you’re little, you really can’t color nicely.  You scribble, actually.  Your color scheme makes no sense.  But when you brought that mess home to your parents, they probably didn’t tell you it was disgusting, and that you failed, and that they were throwing it out.  I did a very poor coloring job on a Christmas ornament sometime in preschool, and though my mother usually refuses to let me put it on the tree (it’s rather large), we still have it.  And I’m pretty sure my dad calls me a “little cutie” every time I take it out of the ornament box.

Would I make the same ornament today?  No.  If you look at the coloring that I did this summer (coloring is very therapeutic, but in this case I was actually doing it because I was working at a kids’ camp), you’ll notice some big differences.  The colors are actually inside the lines.  In fact, I probably traced the outline of the figure and then colored it in with precise diagonal strokes.  I added other colors to create texture.

Now let’s suppose I put all of those coloring pages into one book.  It’s just one coloring book.  Some of it is a mess.  There are times when, even though I’d grown, I was coloring out of the lines again.  A few times when I crumpled the page and messed it up altogether.

We get just one life. Some of it is a mess.  There are many times when, even though I was more mature in my faith, I was sinning again.  A few times when I completely messed up and doubted God altogether.

But when He looks at my life, He sees Jesus in His perfection.  And even when He sees that I’m coloring outside the lines, He’s calling me back.  He’s forgiving me and rejoicing when I grow closer to Him.  I haven’t obtained all this.  I haven’t already been made perfect, but I’m pressing on. (See Philippians 3.)  It’s okay that I only get one chance, because every step of it will be used for God’s glory, which is the whole point of my life in the first place.  And it’s not the end of the world if I mess it up now and then.  Through Christ, we have forgiveness and hope.

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… Be very careful, then, how you live- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil,” says Ephesians 5.

It’s my prayer that God will guide us to truly make the most of each opportunity and to imitate and radiate His love.  And thank you, Lord, for Your love and second chances!!

p.s.  I was going to try not to do yet another p.s. with a song, but this is a good one! =)

Writing this post reminded me of  a scene from “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie,” which is actually in its entirety on YouTube!  Here’s the link.  The part I’m referencing starts at 46:40, ends around the commercial break, and kind of goes perfectly with this post.