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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Amen!

One of my family’s favorite movies to watch together is “Lilies of the Field,” starring Sidney Poitier.  Poitier’s character, Homer Smith, befriends several nuns who want to build a chapel.  Homer and the nuns disagree on a lot of things, one of them being the pronunciation of the word “amen.”

“A-men!” Homer says after the chapel is finally done.

“Ah-men,” all the nuns say, correcting him.

This, of course, leads into a classic song titled…. Amen.

“Amen, amen, amen, amen, amen,

Sing it over!

Amen, amen, amen, amen, amen!”

That song will probably be stuck in my head all day (look it up on YouTube!), but that’s certainly not the only place we hear amen.  We say it after prayers, and in some churches, people say it as a way of acknowledging and agreeing with something a pastor has said.  Some people just say it in almost the same way they might say “phew!”

According to PreceptAustin, a database I often reference when I come across a verse or chapter in the Bible that I’d like to learn more about, says that “amen” means “so be it.”

I’m not sure where I first picked that up, but at some point, someone told me that it meant “let it be so,” which is basically the same as “so be it,” and so that’s what I’ve meant when I said “amen.”

I realize that I may have just made prayer significantly more difficult for you.

God probably doesn’t think you’re just kidding when you pray something and skip the amen, but for me at least, saying “amen” really hands the matter over to Him and encourages me to let go.

“Your will be done, Lord.  Let it be so.”  I think that’s one of the hardest prayers to pray.  “Your will be done” sounds so ambiguous, and I think that when we say “Your will,” we have a pretty good idea of what we think that should be.  But when I add this confident “let it be so,” things change.

Hold on just a second.  So, God just heard me complaining about this and that.  And He has a pretty good idea of what I want because I’ve been fairly vocal about it.  Then, I handed the entire matter over to Him and said that I want His will to “be so.”

I’m not God.  So when I say something as epic-sounding as “let it be so,” I’m not breathing the earth into existence and controlling what’s happening next.  In fact, I’ve just acknowledged that I have absolutely no control over this will of His that I’ve just willed to “be so”!

This is a bit frightening, especially since, as I’ve discussed on this blog before, God’s plan for my future isn’t always quite in line with mine.  It in fact has a history of going in precisely the opposite direction.

For me, the word “amen” is about agreement when I’m speaking with others, but it’s also about trust when I’m speaking to God.

It’s a final reminder at the end of my prayer that God is in control, and His will is perfect and good.  It also leads me to take my prayers more seriously, and to actually mean what I say instead of being tempted to half-heartedly confess or ask for something.

This may all seem a little heavy, but I don’t think that “amen” is meant to be the stamp of doom on the end of a prayer.  It’s rooted in trust, but it resonates with hope.

One of my favorite Biblical prayers ending with “amen” is actually here on my blog in part in the “About” section.  It’s the prayer for the Ephesians and comes from Ephesians 3.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”  So be it!!

I trust You, Lord, and I’m excited to give praise to You and to see what You’re going to do next!

Something exciting and hopeful is always a good note to end something on, and that’s actually how the Bible ends.

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon,” the end of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, says.  “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.  Amen.

The greatest hope that we have loves us and is coming for us.

So this ends my little series on “those words Christians say.”  If you have any questions about any other words or phrases, don’t hesitate to email me at sumparakaleo@gmail.com.  I’m no Greek or Hebrew scholar, but I can tell you what I know or what I’ve researched.

This also ends my second-to-last post for a few months.  For the months of June, July and August, I’ll be taking a break from weekly postings.  I’ll still be dropping by and looking at comments and things, and occasionally posting songs or links that I’ve found encouraging, and I’ll be back to weekly blogging the first week in September.  There will be more on this, along with a post, next week!

Child of Mercy and Grace

One of my favorite songs is Legacy, by Nichole Nordeman.  I’ve likely quoted it here before.  Today I’m looking at the chorus:

“I want to leave a legacy.

How will they remember me?

Did I choose to love?

Did I point to You enough

to make a mark on things?

I want to leave an offering.

Child of mercy and grace

who blessed Your name unapologetically-

to leave that kind of legacy.”

Including the words “mercy” and/or “grace” in a Christian song isn’t an incredibly uncommon practice.  Sometimes they even seem interchangeable, though such is not the case.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of mercy and grace is “thank you.”  It’s automatic- mercy and grace are very clearly, in my mind, gifts, so I’m instantly thankful for them even if I get them mixed up.  And while both are definitely gifts, they are significant in different ways.

As one friend explained it, mercy is when you don’t get a punishment or consequence that you were supposed to get and grace is when you do get something pleasant that you really don’t deserve.

It’s merciful of some of my professors to drop a few of my lowest grades.  Journalism professors especially can be pretty harsh with that red pen, and when they’re done, I may deserve the very poor grades that they’ve given me.  But instead of letting me suffer, they forgive the rough day that I had, or a lesson that went completely over my head, and disregard those few lowest grades.

My school is really into giving out free t-shirts.  I got one just yesterday, actually.  Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time to get one.  I didn’t really do anything to get some of those shirts.  I was just standing around, maybe even having a bad attitude about my classes or school, and then I received a free shirt from them- that’s an example of grace.

But “grace” and “mercy” and just fun vocabulary words that you can use to describe your overwhelming academic life- they play a large role in the grand scheme of things.

As I mentioned last week, we are a sinful people and deserve punishment from a just God.  But He is loving while still being just, and is willing to show us mercy- to spare us from the entirety of His wrath by giving it to Jesus instead.  What makes it even better is that He doesn’t take a grudging attitude towards it- once we’re His, we’re His for keeps.

Instead of saying, “Well, fine.  I won’t send all my wrath on you- you won’t go to hell.  Well, enjoy a crummy life!” God is full of grace.  Not only does He show us mercy, but He also blesses us abundantly and gives us the gift of eternal life.

A lot of people see Christians as judgmental, and our God as angry and punishing.  One “Christian” character on a popular comedy cheered, “My angry God is punishing them… it’s a Christmas miracle!” in a line that represented his “revived” faith, which I believe he had lost after a wrongdoing went unpunished.

But mercy and grace remind us that God is just, but He is filled with a very great love for us.

Romans 5:15-17 and 20-21 says, “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ

“The law was added so that the trespass might increase.  But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Being a “child of mercy and grace” truly is a blessing and the greatest gift that I believe we can receive.

I have sinned. Sinned!

The wages of sin is death.

People usually agree that “bad people” should be punished.  And that especially bad people should be condemned to hell.  But most of us, according to the general idea, are pretty good people.  We make some mistakes- we mess up.  But we’ve never killed anyone or anything.

Unfortunately for that mentality, we’re not the ones calling the shots.  God is.  And He said that the wages of sin is death.

This death-inducing thing called “sin” is anything that goes against God’s will.  So yes, things like killing and stealing are sinful.  But so are seemingly more innocent things, like lusting, telling white lies, or acting as if God doesn’t exist (which I actually believe is the worst of them all- see Mark 3:29).

As I wrote last week, Jesus [saved] us from sin.  But it’s still something that surrounds us, that fills our minds, and that we commit on a daily basis.

For the Christian, this creates a great deal of conflict.  We want to follow Christ, but we’re sinful beings, so we have to depend on God’s mercy and grace.

For the nonChristian, it means that everything you do is sin.  If you’re not acknowledging that He exists, you can’t possibly be doing anything for Him or in the line of His will.

These words are hard to write.  Sin is one of those words that gets tossed around both inside and outside of the church, and is typically used to mean “something bad.”

I remember that a friend from high school said that he fell asleep while watching “Across the Universe,” to which another friend responded, “I’m pretty sure that’s a sin.”  The latter friend likely wasn’t serious, but this is the way the word “sin” is used.

So when I say that we’re constantly sinning and that nonChristians do nothing but sin, it sounds pretty offensive.  But when you think about it, we’re not the ones being offended here.

In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund messes up.  He betrays his family and all of Narnia.  In the movie, the White Witch dramatically marches into Aslan’s camp, looking icily at Edmund and saying, “You have a traitor in your midst, Aslan.”

“His offense was not against you,” Aslan (the Narnian equivalent of Jesus) firmly responds.  Our offense is against Jesus.

“One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to.  I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins,” C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity.  “Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic.  We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself.  You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you.  But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money

“Yet this is what Jesus did.  He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people who their sins had undoubtedly injured.  He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences.

That’s one of my favorite quotes- it’s an incredible reminder.  When we “sin,” we’re going against God in His perfection and glory.  It’s not a small thing, so it’s not a small punishment.

But it all comes back around to an equally important truth.  “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.”

God knows we sin.  But when we are willing to work to give up that sin and turn away from it and towards Him, He is willing to forgive.  And He doesn’t just forgive us- He blesses us, and does immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine.

Saved!

“Is this seat saved?”

“No.  But I hope you are!”

When I told one of my best friends, a Christian, this joke, she and I busted out laughing.  Another close friend, a non-Christian, was within earshot and either wasn’t paying attention or just didn’t find it amusing at all.  After talking to another friend, I realized that this was because “saved” is one of those words that we so often throw around and think everyone understands.

“Christians are always telling me that I need to be saved,” the latter friend said.

I don’t think that’s a good word to use, I told him, unless you know what you’re being saved from.  He agreed-what’s the point of being saved from nothing?

Well, in order to be “saved” from anything at all, you need two things: 1.) something that you have to be saved from, usually something dangerous or upsetting, and 2.) a savior- someone to do the saving.

1.) You may have noticed that this world is a bit ridiculous.  There are corrupt governments, ruined friendships, broken homes, and millions upon millions of hurting people.  This all happens because of sin, which is the downfall of all of us.  Because God is entirely perfect and holy, He has to punish sin.  It would go against His nature and His promises for Him to let these things slide.  And, unfortunately for us sinners, the punishment for sin is death.  Everlasting death, and separation from God, otherwise known as hell.

You might not know what’s coming after this life.  Death might sound peaceful, even.  But separation from God for all eternity will not be pleasant, to say the least.  “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age,” Jesus explained. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

2.) Things might seem pretty grim and hopeless at this point, since we all do evil.  And basically, the only was to escape the punishment that Jesus spoke of is to not be evil.  To be righteous.  To be perfect, in fact.  Since we’ve already messed that up, we need God Himself to intervene and take this death for us.

And believe it or not, Jesus did.  While we were running around doing what we wanted, sometimes in direct opposition to what He wanted, and saying that He doesn’t exist and trying to run our own lives, He took on every single bad thing you have ever done and ever will do and died a really, really terrible death.  “The wrath of God was satisfied, for every sin on Him was laid.  Here in the death of Christ, I live,” one song says.  When we believe that Jesus is God and that He died in our place so that we are not only saved from a dark fate, but also introduced and welcomed into a glorious eternity with the Lord God, we are saved.

Some have compared it to a situation where you’re drowning, and Jesus tosses you a floatation device.  But others pointed something else out: you’re already dead– you already drowned with the weight of your sin.  We’re “dead in our transgressions,” the Bible says.  What Jesus does is actually resuscitate us.

He brings us from death into a life so much better that we can’t even fathom it.

Then, the dwelling of God will be with men, “and He will live with them.  They will be his people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Being “saved” isn’t just a religious catchphrase.  It’s actually the difference between life or death, and between eternity with God or without Him.

What are they saying?!

Sometimes I just get really, really tired of people misunderstanding.

Three of my greatest passions and interests are God, journalism, and psychology.  If I didn’t want to be made fun of or stereotyped, these were the wrong fields to wind up in.

People make fun of Christians and often generalize horror stories of so-called “Christians” to the entire body of Christ, sometimes complete ignoring those who are diligently pressing on to become more like Christ.  I’ve addressed some of the ways that Christians are viewed that they shouldn’t be, and I’ll likely address more in the future, so I won’t write about that right now.

A lot of people don’t understand what journalism is really about, either.  Many people think that journalists have an agenda that they deliberately try to push their bias into and present to viewers, or that being a journalist doesn’t really take much work.  Some people don’t know what it is journalists do, or that reporting is a skill that one has to acquire.  I’ve always felt a deep sense of responsibility in being a journalist.  Before I send an article to an editor, I always reread the piece several times, checking for errors, because I understand the amount of influence that a publication can have.

As for psychology, therapy has been reduced to “how does that make you feel?” and research, such as working in a lab, is very frequently misunderstood as involving inhumane or abnormal experiments that leave participants scarred and crying.

I’ve been in a number of psychology research labs, and they’re very relaxed, professional places that adhere to strict rules from an Institutional Review Board that requires them to be ethically and professionally sound.  Lab staff undergo hours of ethics training and are constantly figuring out new ways to make the study process simpler for participants.  The information that they gather is actually valuable and contributes to our understanding on a variety of topics, from “how much do babies actually know?” to “what’s the best way to get my child to behave in a more appropriate manner?” to “how do we choose our friends?”  (The last question may sound simple, but studies show that it can involve a little more than just similarity.)

So what’s the problem here?  Why are there so many frustrating incorrect judgments?

It really comes down to people not knowing.  And since you wouldn’t expect someone who’s never written for a newspaper before to win a Pulitzer without learning anything about reporting, you really can’t expect non-Christians to interact with the church and know what we’re talking about.

If you walk into a psychology lab, you’ll hear words like “hab,” “stim,” “priming,” and maybe a few creative study names.  I can explain to you that “hab” is short for “habituation,” but that probably won’t help you understand exactly what the researchers are talking about.

So what do non-Christians hear?

I’m guessing they talk to Christians, overhear a televangelist, or go to a church and hear words like “amen,” “be saved,” and “justification” and wonder, “What is going on?!”

So to help alleviate some of the confusion, I’ll spend a few weeks going over a few words at a time and just explaining what they are and why we Christians use them- how they’re applicable to the Christian life.

Let me know if there’s any puzzling phrases that you’d like to know more about!  I’m likely going to have to do some research to find out more about some of these phrases, but I’m excited to take a look at some of these phrases that we so often take for granted.  It’s always good to reevaluate things that seem to be becoming “too familiar.”  We can always learn something new from them.

If there are any words or phrases that you hear from Christians a lot that you’d like to know more about, let me know!  You can comment below or email me at sumparakaleo@gmail.com.  Have a great week!