Pages

Friday, November 30, 2012

What's the point of treasures in heaven?

In heaven, isn't everything awesome anyway? Why do we need "treasures"?

Jesus talks about the "treasures in heaven", and some other things, in Matthew 6:19-24. Go read it, and here is what I have to say:

I am the queen of photoshop. Image sources here and here.

What are treasures in heaven?

Well, what does Jesus say about them? He says unlike "treasures on earth", which can be destroyed by moths/rust/thieves, treasures in heaven are guaranteed safe. He doesn't say anything else to help us figure out what a "treasure in heaven" is.

There are 2 possibilities here. Either the "treasures in heaven" are things you get in heaven, after you die, or they're things you get on earth, in this life. (Because the "kingdom of heaven" exists on earth too.) I assume they are obtained by doing good things and being obedient to God.

If it's in heaven, well, why do we need that? I imagine this to play out like so: You die and go to heaven, and then God says "Remember when you helped old ladies cross the street? Well here is an extra reward." But I don't understand. You're already in heaven- which I was always (implicitly?) taught was perfect and you get whatever you want. What good is an "extra reward" at that point?

It's like when you're ordering pizza and the waitress asks "do you want extra cheese?" and you say "does it need it?" If she says yes, it means the pizza's not very good by itself. If she says no, then you're not going to spend the money on the extra cheese. (A clever waitress would answer "it depends what you like.") So, treasures in heaven: Does it need it?

Heaven is like a pizza. Image source.

Or maybe my understanding of heaven is totally wrong. You know, I should really put some work into researching what the bible says about heaven.

The other possibility is that "treasures in heaven" are actually good things that happen to you while on earth. Because in general, good things happen to good people. If you're a nice person, other people will be nice to you too. In general.

Totally true in general. But Jesus says to store treasures in heaven because of the certainty- they cannot be ruined or stolen like regular stuff. So which is more certain: good things will happen to you if you're a good person, or the money you stored under your mattress is safe? Neither is guaranteed. And it really seems to me that Jesus is emphasizing the importance of treasures in heaven precisely because they are guaranteed. So I'm not sure what it would mean if "treasures in heaven" are rewards we receive on earth.

BUT maybe I'm taking it too literally (story of my life), and Jesus is just saying that we should value what's really important in life- and it's not stuff, it's things that will last. Friendship, love, family, devotion to God. Because "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I've heard it said that the way you spend your time and money reveals a lot about what's important to you.

So ask yourself, if somebody was looking at the ways you spend time/money/etc, what would they conclude about your priorities?

"The eye is the lamp of the body."

The first time I read "if your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light" I was sort of baffled and thought it would only make sense if the inside of your body is hollow and full of mirrors.

Okay, but now I understand it as Jesus talking about the influences we have in our lives. Good influences are healthy for you. Bad influences are not. So in my case, I've realized lately that I need to pray more. Because it's totally a good influence on my life. I used to pray a lot more than I do now, and back then it felt like God was so close and important and it was easier to trust him and not worry about stuff. As for an example of a "bad influence"- I have spent time in sections of the internet full of complaining and negativity, which is NOT good for me- it just makes me angry for no real reason. So, gotta avoid that.

There are good things and bad things to watch/read/listen to. Things that will build you up, and things that are just stupid. "Garbage in, garbage out." And just like you can determine a person's priorities by evaluating the ways they spend money/time/etc, you can guess at a person's attitude/character based on the things they put in their mind.

"No one can serve two masters."

This (along with hundreds of other bible verses) is my favorite bible verse. "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." And you can really fill in the blank with anything: "You cannot serve both God and ____."

So to summarize Jesus' message in this passage: Give some thought to how you use your resources- time, money, etc- and the stimuli you put in your mind, because it gives an indication about what you treasure, whether you have a healthy outlook on things, and who you serve.

Interestingly enough, Jesus doesn't give any specific commands here. Because it's going to look different for everyone, and once you start making rules about "it's wrong to spend more time on homework than you spend praying" then you've completely missed the point.

Any external measures are meaningless in themselves- they only matter to the extent that they reveal something about one's attitude and character. And yes, they DO reveal it, as Jesus says here. But not in a one-size-fits-all way.

-------------------

This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Pray with me (Matthew 6:9-13)

Next post:  Things we learn from birds (Matthew 6:25-34)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Love and Sin and Questions

This thought-provoking post, Westboro Baptist teaches that Jesus failed, has me asking all sorts of questions. Go read it.

The writer of the post, Fred Clark, points out the similarities between Westboro Baptist Church (the ones who are always yelling "God hates fags") and mainstream evangelical Christianity. Both stress "the idea that people are sinners, and that therefore the most loving thing we can do for them is to tell them the truth about their being sinners." Clark discusses what love is, as presented in the bible, and concludes that Westboro Baptist's obsession with sin means they don't believe in Jesus' power over it.

My questions:

First, let's talk about the difference between Westboro Baptist Church and evangelical Christianity.

Because there's a huge difference. And nobody likes to be compared to Westboro Baptist. Seriously.

I believe the biggest difference is how they view God's love. Westboro Baptist teaches that "God hates fags", but evangelical Christianity teaches "hate the sin, love the sinner" and is generally horrified at the idea that people are wandering around shouting "God hates you". No, God loves people- and Jesus was all about that. But we still need to warn them about their sin.

(BUT I have a lot of concerns about how this message of love is being communicated. I have no doubt that the evangelical Christians I know really do love others... but the church needs to do more to fight the anti-gay stereotype. And I no longer believe in "hate the sin and love the sinner.")

So, what's up with this idea that "the most loving thing you can do is tell people about their sin"? Is that valid?

The way I always understood it, people need to repent from their sin and follow Jesus, and Christians should do what they can to help people get to this point.

And if you go yell at people that God hates them, that's not helpful at all. If you confront people about their sin, well, maybe it's true that they are sinners, but that's still not helpful. If you're talking about an abstract idea of sin, and how "everyone is a sinner" that's fine, but to point to a specific, very personal thing in someone's life and say "This is a sin!" ... well... put some serious thought into whether or not that's a good idea.

Most of all, you have to be a friend and treat people with love. And hopefully you'll never even have to confront them about supposed "sin" in their personal lives- if it really is harmful, then God can tell them himself.

I also believe in being humble and knowing that I don't have all the answers. It's not my place to tell someone "that's a sin!" if I don't understand the situation. I'm certain that doing good and helping people is a good thing. Calling someone out on their sin... well, what if I'm wrong?

Under what circumstances should you call someone out on their "sin"? I think if you can see harmful effects, and you're close enough to them that they'll probably listen to you, then you should bring it up. Readers, what do you think?

Also, there are several different definitions of "love" floating around here...

Westboro Baptist Church claims that they are loving people by yelling at them about their sin.

Some Christians are suspicious about "love" which is warm and fuzzy and doesn't really mean anything. As if love is the opposite of truth.

But Jesus showed love by sacrificing himself. That wasn't easy, it wasn't "warm and fuzzy" and it wasn't about being offensive and accusing people of sin.

And that's how Christians should love people. The way that Jesus did. By sacrificing, by giving and caring, even when it's hard and people don't "deserve" it.

And I really don't think that means being "easy on sin". Instead, it means focusing on different sins. Instead of being so concerned over who's having sex with whom, we should fight against systems which oppress the poor. Etc.

If people need to be warned about their sin, does that mean Jesus failed to conquer it?

Clark claims that the logical conclusion of this line of thinking- that in order to be loving, we need to confront people about sin- is that Jesus' death did not defeat sin. Jesus failed.

I definitely can't agree with this. Yes, Jesus has power over sin and death (can I get an amen?). But sin is still active in the world, and it affects people's lives. We can't just pretend it doesn't matter.

Because of Jesus, my sin does not have the power to control me. Jesus gives freedom. So Christians don't have to be afraid of sin. BUT we still have to be aware that it exists and that sometimes we ARE controlled by our sin, and we need Jesus to save us. I mean, don't be paranoid about it, but don't be naive.

Discussion questions:

What is the connection between loving people and warning people about sin? Under what circumstances should I confront someone about (what I perceive to be) their sin? Does it depend on what sin/ who they are/ etc? What is the purpose of "warning" someone about their sin anyway- to save them from hell, or to stop them from doing something that harms themselves/others?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Blogaround

1. Dogs teaching chemistry This is the most adorable thing I have ever seen. You NEED to watch this video.

2. Electronic tracking: new constraint for Saudi women (posted November 22)

3. How Privilege Sees Thanksgiving (posted November 23) "There was no point in getting up and saying, 'Isn't it awesome how every single person in our entire country celebrates this holiday in exactly the same way and eats delicious food and feel loved and grateful and spends a perfectly loving and civil time with their family?'"

4. Cancer Survivor or Victim of Overdiagnosis? (posted November 21) "In short, tell everyone they have cancer, and survival will skyrocket."

5. 'Gangnam Style' YouTube Views: Psy's Viral Hit Beats Bieber To Become Most-Viewed YouTube Video Ever (posted November 24)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fair Trade Shouldn't Be Adorable

Several years ago, I wandered around a fair trade shop and had a good time looking at everything. All kinds of decorations, carvings made in Africa, jewelery, wooden figures, all very beautiful and from all over the world.

Image source.

But I concluded it wasn't for me. I didn't really want to buy pretty little trinkets. I was a college student, living in an 8 ft x 10 ft dorm room. The absolute LAST thing I needed was some decorative wooden animal, no matter how cute and well-made it was.

Is this what fair trade is about? Buying silly things I would never in a million years spend money on? Where the only selling point is "this is fair trade, made by women in Uganda"?

So I should buy these items not because I actually want them, but because I pity the people who made them?

That's not right.

I guess some people are looking for decorations for their coffee table, and they really like the style of some African carvings, and that's great. They can buy the fair trade wooden giraffe and feel great about it. But I am not those people.

And for me to buy something I don't want or need, just because I like the idea of fair trade- that's condescending. That's saying, "awww poor women in Africa made this? That's ADORABLE!" Like they're a little kid with an overpriced lemonade stand and terrible business model, and you buy it just to make the kid feel good.

If my obligation to buy little knickknacks I don't want is supplying someone the income to provide for their BASIC NEEDS, something is wrong. We are not equals.

Ideally, the things we buy fair trade should be things we were going to buy anyway. Or things we genuinely like. I was very happy to see From Two To One's recent blog post, A Year of Buying Nothing New: What About Black Friday?, where she profiles several companies with ethical business practices. Most of the ones in that particular post are clothing companies with quality, fashionable clothing that, you know, you might actually want to buy.

This is great and I hope that's the future of fair trade- where it can compete with the "regular" products in terms of quality, price, and availability. Where it's just a normal part of everyday life, instead of something extra you do because you're trying to be a good person. But what about when it isn't?

Is it wrong that "fair trade" is a factor which influences me to buy something? No, that's not wrong- but it shouldn't be the ONLY reason.

And what if the world is an imperfect system, and those of us with extra money SHOULD buy those silly things we don't need, in order to help others? Even though it blatantly shows that we're not equals, and I just buy your products out of pity... what if that's better than not doing anything at all? Yes, something IS wrong, but I'm making the best of it, under the circumstances.

There's so much I don't know about the world and the economy, and I'd like to learn and I'd like to take action and fight injustice, even though no solution is perfect. Even though I have unanswered questions about fair trade, I think it's a good thing. But it's not the magic solution that's going to save the world.

And above all, I hope it's about dignity, not pity.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Top 6 Nerds of the Bible

I learned in Sunday School that Jesus picked average guys to be disciples. You didn't have to be smart. It made me wonder if there's no place for nerds (like me) in God's kingdom.

But no! I present to you, the top 6 nerds of the bible:

6. Joseph 

As a slave in Potiphar's house, he was so hard-working and trustworthy that Potiphar put him in charge of everything (Genesis 39). Then he got put in prison, but was apparently really good and got put in charge of the other prisoners. Finally, the king of Egypt heard about Joseph's ability to interpret dreams, and put him in charge of the whole country, because hey, we need someone to prepare us for the famine predicted by that dream (Genesis 41).

Maybe not "nerdy", but definitely organized and honest, with a good work ethic.

5. Solomon

When God offers to give him anything, Solomon chooses "wisdom" (1 Kings 3). They don't get much more nerdy than that. He wrote a ton of proverbs, to teach people wisdom (which is more about making good decisions than being knowledgeable- he's still a nerd though) and then he had a huge existential crisis, wondering what the point of life was. I mean, you just do stuff, and then you die.

"'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.'" (Ecclesiastes 1:2) This is what happens when you think too much, kids.

4. Author of Psalm 119

"I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word. Psalm 119:16" Image source.

"God, your law is like, SO AWESOME! I just want to read it ALL THE TIME!" This guy is freaking obsessed. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the bible (176 verses), and he just goes on and on about it. Here are some highlights; check out the nerdiness:

Ps 119:20 "My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times."

Ps 119:46-47 "I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, for I delight in your commands because I love them."

Ps 119:62 "At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws."

Ps 119:93 "I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life."

Ps 119:97 "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long."

Ps 119:99-100 "I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts."

Ps 119:136 "Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed."

"How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. Psalm 119:103" Image source.
Seriously. And I thought I was a bible nerd.

3. Daniel

Daniel (plus Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego- they are TOTALLY nerds too!) were chosen to serve the king of Babylon (well, they were kind of forced into it, but that's another story). Daniel 1:4 says the king sent someone to find "young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians." Yes, foreign language study. Among other things.

And God made Daniel and those other 3 guys THE BEST at this. Yep. God made them supernerds! 10 times smarter than everyone else, according to Daniel 1:20.

Later (in Daniel 6) Daniel got an excellent government job and was so awesome at it that his coworkers got jealous and had him thrown in the lions' den.

Lions. Because Daniel is good at everything. Image source.
Yep, that whole incident with the lions was because Daniel was SO FREAKING SMART AND GOOD AT HIS JOB.

2. Paul

Hard to compete with Paul's nerdiness and enthusiasm. He started out killing Christians, then saw the light (literally) and reversed everything he was doing. Instead of putting all his energy into thwarting the church, he put it all into spreading the gospel. And he had an excellent mind, and put it all to work hashing out the doctrine for the new church.

In Acts 9:22, he's "proving that Jesus is the Christ." In Acts 17, he's starting up debates and discussions everywhere, especially in Athens, which is where they all used to hang out and discuss philosophy.

Like this. Image source.
And if you've read any of Paul's letters in the New Testament... You do NOT use 30 commas and semicolons in one sentence and then claim you're not a nerd.

1. Jesus

Oh dude. Jesus is the biggest nerd ever and I wanna be like him! In Luke 12:46-47, he's 12 years old, "sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers." Many years later, in John 7:15, people are asking, "How did this man get such learning without having studied?"

Oh also, you know, since he's God, he created the universe. What a freaking nerd! Everyone thought Newton was a nerd for thinking through gravity and physics and coming up with laws of motion- well Jesus was WAY ahead of him.

"Just wait til they find out the mass actually bends the fabric of space!" Image source.

Someone who's ridiculously fascinated with quantum physics is a nerd, right?

Someone who knows offhand all the different species of insects in Brazil is a nerd, right?

Someone who can build a functioning brain out of, say, nothing, is a nerd, right?

"You know what else would be really useful/hilarious? Reflexes." Image source.

Yep that's my God. The Lord of Nerdiness.

And there's absolutely no way I could pledge my loyalty to a non-nerdy god.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pray with me

"This, then, is how you should pray:
'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'"
Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV 1984)

Instead of "babbling on", Jesus gives us a simple example of how to pray. It covers all the bases- praising God, God's will, our needs, forgiveness, temptation. (A footnote adds the phrase "for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.")

And instead of "babbling on" and writing a line-by-line analysis of this, I will simply invite you to pray the Lord's Prayer every day for a week. I'll be praying too.

Image source.
Let's pray the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

-------------------

This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous Post: Jesus' Guide to Getting Rewards for Your Good Deeds (Matthew 6:1-18)

Next post: What's the point of treasures in heaven? (Matthew 6:19-24)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Blogaround

Image source.


1. Grow Jesus in your bathtub... (posted November 9) What.

2. "'I’ve heard that you’re bisexual. Is that true?' ... I remembered a time the previous fall, before I’d accepted my sexuality, when I’d confessed during a small group meeting that I was struggling with having feelings for other women. Perhaps someone from the group had told my prospective roommate about what I’d said." (posted November 13)

3. Pray About It (posted November 13) "I spent a lot of time this fall sitting in chairs, staring out the window, believing somewhere deep inside that if I stayed still long enough, God would speak the answer."

4. My One and Only Post on the Recent Hoopla Regarding #BiblicalWomanhood (posted November 3) Rachel Held Evans has been criticized for attacking a "straw woman". The writer of this post says that while complementarian pastors may not be explicitly teaching some completely wrong, sexist version of "biblical womanhood", those ideas are being perpetuated by the lay members of the church and need to be challenged.

5. Sisters, Speak (posted November 14) "Speak with the voice of the Hebrew midwives, who defied Pharaoh to save the helpless."

6. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but is that a direct quote of the Bible verse?"  I lolled.

7. Modesty and Alcoholism (posted November 14) The writer of this post challenges the commonly-used analogy which says women need to dress modestly because you wouldn't take an alcoholic to a bar.

8. It's Now or Never: Love Your Enemies (posted June 2011) "Today is the day God has appointed to love our enemies. Either we will do it in this life, or we will never do it."

9. Richard Mourdock and Biblical Values- He's Right (posted October 24) (trigger warning: rape) "If you read Judges from start to finish, the mistreatment of women, the devaluation of women, the break down in society (tribal kinship, etc...) grows until murder, kidnapping, and rape are deemed more justifiable than breaking an oath."

10. How to Read the Bible (posted November 16) "Is it basically about me or basically about Jesus?"

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Jesus' Guide to Getting Rewards for Your Good Deeds

In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus explains how to give, pray, and fast in a way that gets you the best reward.

He does what now?

Image source.
I'm serious. In each of the 3 sections of this passage, Jesus first says how NOT to do your good deeds: Don't do it to show off to everyone, because then that's the only reward you'll get. Instead, do it so only God can see, and God will reward you. He quite explicitly says this in verse 1.

His emphasis on the "reward" was very surprising to me. We'll talk about that in a minute, but first let's go through this passage one step at a time:

Giving

Don't announce it with trumpets. Umm, was this actually a thing? Given all the other hyperbole we've seen in the sermon on the mount, I'm going to assume people weren't literally blowing trumpets and proclaiming "HEY LOOK EVERYBODY, I'm giving money to this pathetic homeless person! I'm awesome!"

Jesus says instead, "do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." Great, this is definitely not to be taken literally, so now we have to figure out what it means...

He's setting up a contrast between "hypocrites" who are just giving away money because they want attention, and people who give quietly. I would say the main difference is motive. More on that later.

Prayer

Similarly, Jesus tells us not to be like "hypocrites" who pray in public just to show off how holy they are. Instead, "go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen."

Does this mean that we should never pray in public, never pray with other people, never let people know that we're praying? Dude, Jesus prays in public sometimes. He's definitely not saying "don't ever let anyone hear you pray." Instead, he's saying that prayer must be more about you and God than about enhancing your reputation.

And I love the part about "do not keep on babbling." How many times have you listened to someone pray and it just feels like they're "babbling"? And how many times have you tried to come up with something fancy to say, when praying in front of other people? Totally not necessary. Just tell God what's up. And don't worry about censoring yourself either- whatever you wanna say, God can take it. The psalmists didn't censor themselves. If they felt like God had abandoned them, they straight-up asked him why.

Don't censor yourself. Don't worry about saying the right thing, or making a long fancy prayer. God knows how you feel and God knows what you need, so just be honest- with him and with yourself.

(I'm not going to analyze the Lord's Prayer right now because I like it and I want to dedicate a whole post to it next week. ^_^ )

Fasting

Same thing here. Jesus says don't be like the "hypocrites" who "disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting." That kind of makes me laugh.

Pictured: Disfiguring one's face to show off fasting. Image source.
Instead, he says this: "But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen."

Not obvious to people, but obvious to God. Obvious to God. This verse means a lot to me because of the many times I've made the right choice, done the right thing, but no one seemed to notice, and I wonder if it even mattered- did God even notice?

"... so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father..." It's not just that God has access to the information about you fasting, if he chooses to pay attention. No, it's OBVIOUS to him. There is no possible way for him to miss it.

When you dedicate yourself to God, when you try your best to obey him, but it doesn't seem like anything is happening or anyone noticed, don't be discouraged. God noticed. In fact, it's OBVIOUS to him.

So what is up with the "reward"?

For each of these topics- giving, praying, fasting- Jesus sets up a contrast between people who do their good deeds in front of other people, and those who do it secretly so only God sees. He says the first group receives their reward in the form of admiration from others, and the second group gets a reward from God (which we can assume is BETTER than just getting attention from people).

What's the reward? Is it something we get in heaven, or right away, or over the long-term...? Is it something cheesy like "the satisfaction of knowing you did the right thing"?

So let's speculate. Maybe the "reward" is tangible good things that will happen to you- God will help you get a job, help you not get sick, etc. Maybe the "reward" is that other people will treat you well because they see you're an honest person who really wants to do good and help people, and isn't a jerk about it. Maybe the "reward" is that it builds character. Maybe the "reward" is something you don't get until you die and go to heaven.

Anyone else have ideas? Jesus doesn't tell us what the reward is, so I'm wildly speculating. Join me.

Image source.

But how can we be motivated by a reward? Isn't that selfish?

Not necessarily. Every single thing you do, you do because at some level you want to do it and think it will have a beneficial outcome. Suppose you donate money anonymously. You do it because you want to be a generous person, and you want to help the person on the receiving end. Suppose you procrastinate and waste time on Facebook when you should be doing homework. You do it because in the short term, that's far more fun and interesting than actually doing work.

I'm highly skeptical of any philosophy that says we should do good just because we should do good, and tries to deny any personal benefits- or says that it's somehow evil/deceptive/dishonest to acknowledge that doing the right thing can come with rewards. If you tell me "you shouldn't do it because you want a reward, you should do it just because it's the right thing", I will ask you how you define "the right thing"- and your definition is probably going to hinge on some beneficial outcome. How is that not a reward? I do something because it will have good effects in the world, and I LIKE IT when there are good effects in the world. Technically even that is a "reward."

But at the same time, isn't it a little weird how Jesus mentions the "reward" over and over in this passage, as if that's the ONLY motivator for doing good deeds?

I've also recently heard the idea that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees and their emphasis on laws and external behaviors. Perhaps he's mocking how they seem to be doing everything for a reward, and telling how to get a real reward.

So, can we or can we not let other people see us doing good?

Yes, totally, you can. Jesus is not giving us restrictive new rules; he is addressing the motives behind our actions. Be the kind of person who is motivated by what God thinks of you. Be the kind of person who doesn't complain when no one seems to notice your efforts towards doing good.

If you take this to the extreme and go to great lengths to NEVER let anyone see know that you are praying, giving, or fasting, then you're controlled by other people's opinions just as much as if you were doing it to show off.

And yes, Jesus prayed in public, but I bet he spent far more time praying alone.

Also, maybe I'm crazy, but I think there's something kind of special about doing good deeds in secret, so no one will ever know about it except God. On some level, I think there's some appeal to keeping good secrets like that.

So when you give, be confident that God sees it. When you pray, be confident that God hears and knows what you need. When you fast, be confident that it's obvious to God. And that's far more valuable than any compliments or admiration you'll get from people.

-------------------------

This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Okay, "turn the other cheek" makes no sense (Matthew 5:31-48)

Next post: Pray with me (Matthew 6:9-13)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Are we allowed to question abstinence?

I always knew I wasn't supposed to have sex if I'm not married. But what if that's actually not true?

I'm a girl who's been a Christian my entire life, and I've never had a purity ring. How is this possible? Image source.

Well, that's frickin' terrifying. Because if we don't have a rigid, black-and-white rule about it, then that means we have to decide on a case-by-case basis, applying principles like love, honesty, loyalty, etc, and trying to determine how they play out in each individual situation.

And if I get it wrong, then I'm ruining my life. Or so I've been told.

This question is discussed in a recent blog post, "Progressive" Christianity and Premarital Sex. The writer, Sarah Moon, grew up in "Christian purity culture" and learned a lot of BAD reasons to not have sex- it will ruin your life forever! boys will have no reason to respect you! the most valuable gift you can give your husband is your virginity!- bad reasons based in fear and shame. She left that way of thinking behind and found other arguments in support of abstinence- the importance of building friendship in a dating relationship, choosing self-control over lust, having physical boundaries to show that you value your body.

But ultimately, she says those reasons did not satisfy her either. She concludes that abstinence is a "good choice" but "not necessarily THE good choice." She says you can't make some kind of universal rule for all Christians, because this is a complex personal choice.

And my first thought, before I can even begin to consider the merits of her way of thinking, is "Are we even ALLOWED to ask these questions?"

Because so many times I've been warned about how much it would ruin my life to have sex. Surely it's dangerous to even THINK that it might be okay. We mustn't let our guard down for even a MINUTE, because temptation is so powerful and the consequences are so disastrous.

Umm.

I don't buy that.

Readers of this blog should know that I believe QUESTIONING EVERYTHING is very important. If something is TRUE, then it can stand up to any questions you throw at it. I've questioned whether God is sexist, why the plagues of Egypt were so horrible, whether the idea of "modesty" makes any sense at all, etc etc, and that's what I'll continue to do. Because I am a Christian and I believe the bible, and I'm very confident in that.

And the idea that sex/dating is the one area where everything is so powerful and dangerous that we mustn't let anyone attempt to make their own decisions... I don't buy that.

For what it's worth, I don't agree with Sarah's conclusion. I think the bible's commands against "sexual immorality" include premarital sex- Sarah actually brings this up, and asks for an explicit definition of "sexual immorality", which no one is able to provide. This is TOTALLY the right question to ask, and I don't have a real answer- I just believe that because it seems to be how those commands are typically understood.

Also, I don't agree that it's solely a personal choice. My body does not belong to me; it belongs to God. (This is not a very feminist idea.) So these decisions CANNOT be based solely on what I determine is best for my situation- I also need to consider what God would and would not allow me to do with my body.

All of these ideas are definitely worth exploring more. The reason I explain my own point of view is not to say "Sarah is wrong and needs to stop saying that stuff". No. I would totally love to have more discussion about this, rather than being afraid of hard questions, or afraid I'm ruining my life if I misunderstand.

God gives us freedom. He doesn't want us to live in fear. So let's follow God and ask those questions.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I didn't forget the happy ending

Last week I posted the story of how Jesus changed my life, and followed it up with 5 things my testimony does not mean. But here's one more thing I realized: Right now, 4 and a half years after all of that heartbreak and committing my life to God and being willing to follow God's plan, even if it meant I'd be single forever... right now I have a boyfriend. And I didn't mention that at the end of my story.

Why? It never even occurred to me to mention that. It's so totally not relevant.

What is my testimony? Is it "I thought being single meant my life was hopeless and meaningless, but I gave everything to God and he completely changed me- now I know that God is all I need, no matter what" or is it "and then JUST A FEW YEARS LATER I met this super-awesome guy and now we're dating and it's awesome!!!!"?

Is Jesus my savior, or is my boyfriend my savior?

When I said I trust God and I commit my life to God, no matter what, I meant that. God owes me nothing, except to be my Lord and to be with me all the time, like he promised. If I never get married, then God is still my God, and I will still celebrate when he changed my life.

If you think "oh, eventually perfectnumber found a great guy, so it's a happy ending" then you're dead wrong. That's insulting to me, that's insulting to my testimony, and that's insulting to my God.

JESUS saved me. JESUS changed my life. JESUS is all I need. End of story. And THAT is a happy ending.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How "hate the sin and love the sinner" led me to quit "hating the sin and loving the sinner"

Or, my journey from anti-gay-rights to pro-gay-rights, which happened because I actually believed that line about "Christians really do love gay people."

(I apologize in advance for the offensiveness of some of the blatantly ignorant statements contained in this post.)

Image source.

It started long ago, when I heard about this new threat to marriage and families. A minority of vocal activists were promoting "gay pride" and other obviously evil things.

Now we obviously know that God made marriage for a man and a woman. So "sexual orientation" isn't even a real thing. Actually, it turns out a lot of gay people were abused as kids (citation needed). In other words, aha, I've solved the puzzle! Abuse is what causes gayness, and therefore I don't have to actually care about gay rights.

And, as I was told, the whole "gay pride" movement was actually about destroying our society by redefining marriage and families- oh, and restricting Christians' religious freedom. Don't be fooled into having compassion for these people- it's all a clever trick.

Also, why do we keep being labeled as "homophobic" or "hating" gay people? (Oh actually we need to call them "homosexuals" because "gay" is a euphemism that makes it sound less evil. Nope, can't figure out why we're being accused of hate here...) No, Christians LOVE gay people- love them enough to tell them the truth that what they're doing is WRONG.

Yeah, we gotta be like Jesus. Hate the sin and love the sinner. He hung out with prostitutes and everyone else that was judged by society. He would totally hang out with gay people if he was around now. 

So yeah, that's what conservative Christianity has to say about that. And that's what I believed because, how was I supposed to know? I hadn't actually met any gay people or heard their stories.

Though I must say, I never understood the "God hates fags" stuff (nobody does, right? Everyone agrees that Westboro Baptist is totally wrong in every possible way, yes?) and the questions about whether gay people go to hell... dude, aren't we ALL going to hell, if not for the absurd mercy of God? I don't see how sexual orientation has any bearing on that.

But then things started to change.

I heard someone say "'hate the sin and love the sinner' doesn't work." I started to become more and more bothered by the stereotype that Christians hate gay people. What can I do to fight that? Because, you know, we LOVE gay people. We're just trying to restrict their rights because it's for their own good. How can I help them see that we love them?

I went to Urbana, a Christian missions conference, and attended a few talks about this very topic. I heard Christopher Yuan tell his story, about how he used to live a life that was all about promiscuous gay sex, but God saved him from it, and he's now celibate. I heard Andrew Marin talk about building friendships with the LGBT community, and I read his book, Love Is an Orientation.

For the first time EVER, I considered the question "Gay people are gay- now what do you want them to do?" rather than just dismissing it all as something BAD. Gay people are gay. It doesn't matter the reasons why- so, they're gay, that's the way it is, it's not something that's going to change- now what?

What does God want them to do? For the first time in my life, I realized that no, the goal isn't for God to "fix" them by making them straight. I know all about the temptations that come with being straight... I know all about lust, about valuing a relationship more than I value my God, about desiring power over boys. Are we seriously going to celebrate when someone lusts after and objectifies members of the "correct" gender? Really? No, what God wants for ALL people- regardless of sexual orientation- is that they follow him.

But the difference is straight people can date and get married, and gay people just have to NEVER EVER act on their attraction.

And I was still very bothered about this stereotype that says Christians hate gay people. I wanted to combat it by reaching out and making friends with gay people, maybe attending some LGBT-related events to show support- but like, not TOO much support- wouldn't want anyone to get the idea that I actually SUPPORT that LIFESTYLE.

And things continued to change. Motivated by a desire to listen and love people- you know, like Jesus said- I searched out blogs on the internet written by gay people. Hearing their actual stories made me realize how wrong I had been about a lot of things, how I had been just relying on stereotypes and assumptions.

I remember one time I shared a link on Facebook, about how parents can be supportive of their kid who comes out to them. Someone asked me why I posted that on Facebook- what if it made people think I was gay? I said if I'm going to be misunderstood, I'd rather have Christians think I'm gay than gay people think that I hate them because I'm a Christian.

Some Christians say "yes, we accept gay people, but not that behavior and that lifestyle." Forget the "behavior" and the "lifestyle". As far as I can tell, gay people want to know if you accept them for who they are. You don't need to give your opinion on some stereotyped "lifestyle" of promiscuity- what they really want to know is "Can I be honest with you, or do I have to hide part of who I am?"

Image source.

Yeah, so now I think gay marriage should totally be legal, and let's also fight against the other injustices that gay people face. And I've found that there are strong arguments which say that the bible actually supports gay marriage- I honestly don't know if that's right or not, so I will err on the side of being too permissive, and let gay Christians sort it out with God.

I still have a long way to go. Yes, my views have totally changed, but it's because of what I've read online. I should really be talking to gay people in real life about this stuff- you know, my real friends, not internet people. And I'm trying to do that- for the past few months I've been going to meetings of the LGBT student group at my university, and I'm really happy about that.

And I still have some questions I need to face. Yes, I accept gay people, but wouldn't it be BETTER if they were straight? Am I treating this like a problem that I wish would go away? Or is this the reality of how God created them, and should be celebrated and valued? And if it's normal to be gay, then I should support the inclusion of more gay characters on tv, right? And what does this mean for what we teach kids- should we talk about crushes and fairy tales in a way that assumes the kids are all straight, or should we teach that both gay and straight (and anything in between) are normal?

I don't know the answers. I'm still learning.

But this is what we need, on all sides of this issue: A willingness to listen, to tell our stories, to admit we were wrong. I had (and still have) a lot of incorrect assumptions about gay people, and there are also a lot of incorrect assumptions about Christians surrounding this issue. (It's just NOT TRUE that opposing the legalization of gay marriage means you hate gay people, okay? I understand that it's harmful and I understand why it comes across as hate, but I used to believe the same thing, and hate was not my motivation.)

Don't judge. That goes for people on all sides of this.

---------------------
This post is part of Gays and Christians: A Synchroblog for Sanity, hosted by Justin Lee. Let's have some saner conversations about this.

Blogaround


1. Sufferin' Until Suffrage Did you know women used to be not allowed to vote? Wow, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

2. What Single People Wish Married People Knew (posted December 2011) Wow, amen to this entire thing. "In the very thick book of popular theology that is not actually in the Bible, a book I like to call 'First Assumptions', we have this formula: 'Not letting go = being single. Letting go = being married.'" Yes, I have heard this SO MANY TIMES- just be content and pretend you don't want a husband- it's a clever trick to get God to give you a husband.

3. Heartbeat: My Involuntary Miscarriage and 'Voluntary Abortion' in Ohio (posted November 1) It's stories like this that make me think the government should not be the one to restrict abortion- bureaucracy dominates health and common sense.

4. Is God's Nature "Father" and not "Mother"? (posted October 27) "To find it insulting to God, or blasphemous, to think of God as having a mother's nature as well as a father's, smells of misogyny. Why should the Motherhood of God be blasphemous, unless there is something unholy about motherhood/womanhood?"

5. When you say to me pro-life (posted November 5) Beautiful and moving. About what "pro-life" SHOULD mean, as it applies to all parts of one's life, and the way one treats all people.

6. “Biblical Womanhood” and the illusion of clarity: a response to Kathy Keller (posted November 7) "It will not do to tell a woman that she is forbidden from preaching the gospel from a pulpit, and when she asks why, to simply tell her it's because of 'biblical womanhood.'" In this post, Rachel Held Evans responds to her critics and argues there is no straightforward, blindingly obvious way to interpret the bible.

7. Sign language that African Americans use is different from that of whites (posted September 2012)

8. Goodbye, Christian America; Hello, True Christianity (posted November 6) "There was a time when Pastor Curry might have worried about things like posting the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, but today he's too busy changing the city of Tacoma and world." Amen to this whole article.

9. Why Boys Shouldn't Play Football with Girls (posted November 9) I was completely shocked that this kind of sexism exists and calls itself "Christian." Men are supposed to protect women by not allowing them to use their abilities and do what makes them happy? GTFO.

10. Emotional Purity: When You Use Up All Your Love (posted August 2012) "I would be terrified to get too close to my boyfriend because, again, until we either got married or broke up, I would have no way to know if I was sinning by letting him into my heart or not." This post challenges the idea of "emotional purity" and the risk of "giving away part of your heart" (which I totally used to believe) and takes it to its very screwed-up logical conclusions.

What's going on on your blog this week? :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Okay, "turn the other cheek" makes no sense

He's my God, but he says some pretty weird things sometimes. Today we'll see what Jesus has to say about divorce, oaths, defending oneself, and loving one's enemies. Read it here: Matthew 5:31-48.

Divorce

I'm kind of totally unqualified to write about divorce, so I will refer you to this blog post which is the best thing I've ever read about a biblical outlook on divorce.

And in this passage, Jesus says that divorce is only allowed in the case of "marital unfaithfulness". There are probably other legitimate reasons for divorce (like abuse) but Jesus' point is that it HAS TO BE really serious.

But I don't get this bit about "whoever marries the divorced woman commits adultery". Because God thinks she's still married to her ex-husband? God has to wake up to reality.

Seriously though, what's with that?

Oaths

Jesus overturns the command about keeping one's oaths by saying "do not swear at all." In other words, you should be a trustworthy person all the time- it shouldn't be necessary to make some huge special oaths to show people you REALLY MEAN IT.

Image source.
He says "do not swear at all" but let's take that as a hyperbole. Sometimes for legal reasons there are oaths/contracts/whatever. That's fine.

"And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black." Wow that's interesting, why did he say white and black instead of all the other hair colors? Oh, maybe because THE MAJORITY OF THE WORLD has black hair. Jesus isn't talking to a bunch of white Americans.

"An eye for an eye"

Okay this is the part where Jesus gets some really bizarre ideas. "Do not resist an evil person." He tells us that we're NOT supposed to think in terms of "an eye for an eye" but instead let people take advantage of us. He gives three examples: "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles."

(The "one mile"/"two miles" thing is apparently referring to how a Roman soldier could legally force a Jew to carry his soldier's pack for one mile.)

In other words, if someone hurts you, don't defend yourself. Instead, allow them to hurt you a second time.

OKAY, THAT MAKES NO SENSE. Are we all in agreement that this makes no sense? Just LET PEOPLE take advantage of you?

Some possible answers to this nonsense:

1. Jesus did that.

Ah, yes, we can point to Jesus' death and how he let it happen, he let them insult him, beat him up, crucify him. He didn't defend himself. Indeed. But that was just one time. (Okay, it was the most important event in the history of the world, but bear with me here.)

In general, Jesus DIDN'T let people walk all over him. He had some strong and controversial opinions, and he wasn't afraid to say so. He called the Pharisees out for being hypocrites, many times. When they tried to ask him trick questions and make him look bad, he didn't fall for it. When they accused him of hanging out with "sinners", he had a few things to say about that.

Even in his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, he was really the one in control. It was all part of the plan. Jesus did NOT let people push him around. He knew what his mission was, and he did it.

So when Jesus submitted to unjust treatment, it was because it served a purpose. In the case of other leaders who advocated civil disobedience instead of violence, like Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi, it also served a purpose. They let people mistreat them in order to prove a point, in order to send a message. It was part of a strategy to advance justice.

2. Jesus is only talking about revenge here, not justice.

Perhaps he's saying it's not worth it to get into little fights all the time. It's not worth it to try and get revenge on someone. That just escalates the situation.

Don't take revenge into your own hands. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't do ANYTHING to address the problem. Talk to the authorities, go through the proper channels, whatever.

So if someone is mistreating you, you don't have to fight back every time. On a small scale. But that doesn't mean we mustn't fight against oppressive systems and widespread injustice. That doesn't mean we should never confront an evil person and get them put in jail.

But here's the thing...

Yes, that all makes sense, about a difference between revenge and justice, about fighting back against every little offense vs working to change an unjust system. That's great. But then I read the passage again and that's not what Jesus says. He doesn't say anything at all about "a difference between revenge and justice." He just talks about submitting and letting people walk all over you.

So I don't know what to do with this passage. When I extract some of the ideas, I can come to conclusions that sound good and profound, but that's not what Jesus said.

When you read this, it sounds shocking and radical, and I think it's meant to sound that way. But then if you question and rationalize and come to a point where it kind of makes sense- "oh, he's ACTUALLY saying ..."- then it sounds reasonable and not shocking. If he actually meant the reasonable thing, why did he say this totally ridiculous thing?

Basically, if I come up with an answer and say "oh, that makes sense" then I must have missed the point of the passage. To be honest, the only thing I can think of to make sense of this is to obey it and see what happens.

So... I guess I'll... do that, then.

Moving along:

Love your enemies

Jesus tells us to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." He gives 2 reasons for this: First of all, God does it. God gives everyone sun and rain, regardless of whether they're good people. Second, if you only love those who love you, well, any loser can do that. That's easy. You gotta go above and beyond, and love your enemies.

This is definitely hard- wishing for good things for those who mistreat you. Forgiving them, instead of raging about it in your head. It's hard, but at least I understand it and agree with it, unlike that "turn the other cheek" stuff.

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

This whole passage (as well as last week's) has been about Jesus' very high standards. This last line basically sums it up- Be perfect, like God.

It's an impossible standard, no question. This is what we should aim for, but obviously we're not perfect, so thank God for his mercy. A lot of people read this and feel guilty about not being perfect- I don't think Jesus just wants to make us feel terrible, I think he is showing that nobody can truly follow the law (and the meaning behind the law), so we need God's mercy.

Summary/ take-home message:

Jesus and his high standards. He says that divorce is a lot more serious than most people think, taking oaths shouldn't be a thing because you should just ALWAYS be trustworthy, and then this bizarre advice about turning the other cheek and loving your enemies. 

The reason for this high standard is revealed at the end: We are following God's example. 

-------------------------

This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: In which Jesus tells you to cut off your hand (Matthew 5:21-30)

Next post: Jesus' Guide to Getting Rewards for Your Good Deeds  (Matthew 6:1-18)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.
 

Friday, November 9, 2012

5 things my testimony does NOT mean

In my previous post, I told the story of how God rescued me. I would now like to present 5 wrong interpretations of my story.

1. It does NOT mean that dating is bad.

I believed this one for a while- that dating was born from an addiction, a desperate emotional need to attach your life to someone who would surely be harmful to you (because, like I said, I believed all guys were horrible and untrustworthy and they only want sex- but dear goodness, they're so irresistably cute).

I remember feeling incredibly concerned for my friends who were dating- they were in such danger! Dating means that sometime within the next few months, your life will burn to the ground. Because I couldn't imagine that breaking up could mean anything other than what it had meant for me... hopelessness, my life is ruined, how can I live without him... Dude, it required a MIRACLE FROM GOD to help me get over it.

Yeah... dating is not like that for other people. People can totally have healthy relationships. Overall, dating is a good thing.

2. It does NOT mean that people need to have their heart torn out in order to find God.

I dedicated my life to God as a last resort. And I've heard other stories of people who found God when they hit rock bottom. So, I used to think that what my non-Christian friends needed was a bunch of terrible things to happen to them- then they'd find Jesus and they'd be much better off.

But of course, some red flags popped up- I want my friends to be horribly unhappy and heartbroken?

First of all, that's terrible, for me to wish that on people. Second, people come to God in other ways besides the exact way I came to God. So instead of wishing/praying for bad things to happen so my friends realize they need God, I pray that they'll be happy and successful, and also realize they need God.

3. It does NOT mean that if someone wasn't rescued in a week like I was, they're not praying hard enough.

The entire point of my story is God's mercy- something I don't deserve. If I said "just do this, pray this, and God has to rescue you", then I'm trying to control God, trying to cause a specific output. That doesn't really fit with the idea of mercy.

Following God doesn't mean he magically gets you out of all bad situations (though he TOTALLY DID in this case).

4. It does NOT mean you have to believe me. 

I could say "Look! This is undeniable evidence that God exists!" but I know that everyone has very complex reasons for believing what they believe, and they're not going to completely change their beliefs just because of one story.

Actually, there was a period of time when I didn't even believe it. The strongest doubts I've ever had concerning God's existence occurred a month after he rescued me (and I hope to blog about that sometime- it's a good story). In the end, God helped me overcome my doubts- and maybe the reason he rescued me in such a sudden, dramatic way was he knew that would be the evidence I needed to finally stop doubting.

Yes, my story is completely true. God rescued me. God broke me out of a cycle of being boy-crazy and hopeless, and I couldn't save myself. That's just the freakin' truth. But I have to admit I understand if you don't believe me.

5. It does NOT mean that's all God does.

Yes, God turned my entire life around in 1 week, but that was just the beginning. During the months and years since then, he has done so much more- helping me deal with temptation, doubt, anger, jealousy, fear, racism, selfishness... inspiring me to go to China, which resulted in me deciding that I absolutely need to learn Chinese...

So much has happened since God rescued me. In fact, the amount that God has changed my life in the past four and a half years is greater than the amount that he changed my life in that one week. No question.

I believe in a God who's with me all the time, not just in those huge important milestones of my life.

Image source.

In summary, I know this is true because it happened to me. I know God rescued me. But I can't generalize that to everyone- I can't say dating always works out the way it did for me. I can't say God's mercy always works the exact way it did for me. Of course it won't work the way I predict it- he's God, not a while loop. He does his own thing.

But I can conclude that God is alive and active in the world, and his power is very real and available, and he hears prayers and rescues people. Beyond that, I can't predict any specifics. But I trust him.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

That Time Jesus Rescued Me

I felt like my heart was gone.

I believed- deeply believed- that life was hopeless, and all I can do is try not to think too hard about it, try to distract myself with other things, because if I face reality, I have no logical argument against crying all the time.

This was 4 and a half years ago, right after the guy I was dating broke up with me. And I had been obsessed with boys and dating for so long, I didn't know how to exist without longing for it, hurting from it, crying over it.

The obsession started 2 years before that. There was a different guy I liked, and the feelings were unlike anything I'd felt before. (Every teenager thinks their love is so pure and unique...) So I decided to chase it with everything that I had. It made me happy to think about this guy- so I thought about him all the time. I wanted him to be in every part of my life. I wished I could spend all my time with him.

It was desire and obsession, and I called it "love". That's ridiculous- love is about putting someone else above yourself. But I didn't care what he wanted- I just wanted him to be with me.

He was definitely the most important thing in my life. Weird, because we were never actually dating. But I learned from movies that being in love is so pure and special and infinitely valuable- surely it could not be stopped by some small issue such as him having no idea I liked him.

But time went on, and it became harder and harder for me to avoid facing the truth. My mind was divided, hiding from itself- one part of me knew that me and this boy would never be together, and one part of me would be destroyed if she ever found that out.

Since this part of the story is sad, have a picture of a cute bunny. Image source.

And finally, it all broke. Suddenly everything was sad. He had been all I ever thought about- now every thought reminded me that my heart was broken.

I didn't understand. I became so angry. Surely this happened because guys are all heartless. Guys just want sex- they can't feel love and be enslaved by it, like I was. (And all the fear-based Christian teaching on "purity" was the only filter I had with which to understand this at the time...)

But somehow, God was there, and I cried out to him as I tried to make sense of things. I just wanted to not think anymore. Reading the bible was the only thing that helped me.

I felt trapped. I clearly could not let this ever happen again- clearly I could never like another guy. But I was overflowing with emotions and obsession. I could either shut it all up, hold it in, and go crazy, or express my feelings toward some terrible untrustworthy guy (because of course all guys are) and be happy for a little bit, until he abandoned me and the hopelessness would start all over.

So I started dating another guy. Because I was going to explode if I didn't. I dated him because I desperately needed him- and that's no way to treat someone. I was in no position to actually care about him. I didn't want him to be happy- I wanted him to be WITH ME.

And he broke up with me, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post. And I was hopeless. Because I NEEDED a perfect husband in order to be happy, but all guys are horrible and untrustworthy, and everyone warned me that there is no "perfect marriage". So I can never be happy.

And I really believed that.

I asked God how much longer I'd have to endure being single (and hopeless, obviously) before I could FINALLY get married and my life would start. How long would I be able to hold out- I needed a guy SO MUCH. Maybe 2 years? HOW LONG, GOD?

In the weeks following the break-up, sometimes I felt okay. People told me God had a plan for my life, and sometimes I thought it was true. But sometimes I wondered, what if God's plan is something stupid? In the bible, I NEVER found a guarantee that God would give me a husband. What if God didn't understand what I wanted and needed? What if God forgot about me? How could I trust him?

And then, a month after the break-up, I decided to give my life to God. To trust him, because logically, if he loves me and he's all-powerful, he can run my life way better than I can. I decided that if he wanted me to be single forever, then logically that must be the best possible plan, because he's God. So I decided no matter what the cost, I would give my life to God.

Just heal me. I don't care anymore. Just fix my heart, I don't care about the cost.

I did it as a last resort. I reasoned that there was no way God could screw up my life any worse than it already was.

What happened next? The writer of Psalm 18 says it way better than I could:
"The earth trembled and quaked,
    and the foundations of the mountains shook;
    they trembled because he was angry.
Smoke rose from his nostrils;
    consuming fire came from his mouth,
    burning coals blazed out of it.
He mounted the cherubim and flew;
    he soared on the wings of the wind.
He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him-
    the dark rain clouds of the sky.
Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
    with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
The Lord thundered from heaven;
    the voice of the Most High resounded.
He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies,
    great bolts of lightning and routed them.
The valleys of the sea were exposed
    and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, O Lord,
    at the blast of breath from your nostrils.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me."

I suddenly realized how all this time, I had loved boys more than I had loved God. I had chased boys more than I chased God. The first of the 10 commandments says "You shall have no gods before me" and Jesus said the greatest commandment is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind."

And I was a Christian- I should have known all of that! But here I was, with all my obsessions and selfishness, breaking the commandments that are right at the top of the list.

I had never realized what sin was before this.

And I had never realized what mercy was before this. All this time, I had been so screwed up- using my boyfriend, even asking God to help me chase boys... but when I couldn't stop crying and I needed God's help, he was there. He helped me. And all that time, he had kept me safe. That's mercy.

And somehow, it changed my life.

It's hard to describe. I say I "realized" that God is all I need and that God is good to me... but it was a change that ran far far deeper than the intellectual level. A change that only God Almighty himself could bring about. It wasn't like I changed my mind about something- no, it was a change that went to the very core of who I was.

Before, I believed- truly believed- that without a guy in my life, everything was terrible and hopeless.

But after God changed my life, now I believe- truly believe- that God is all I need.

This all happened within a week after I prayed that God would fix my life, no matter the cost. Yes, I definitely believe Jesus rescued me, and we could call it a miracle if I wasn't so picky about the definition of "miracle". He broke me out of that cycle of hopelessness. He saved me when I couldn't save myself.

And all my problems were still there- seeing a kiss in a movie still screamed to my heart that my life was hopeless- but now I KNEW what the truth was: That God is all I need, and I will always have him, and he will always love me, and whatever feelings I get from watching a movie are just silly things that come and go and affect me emotionally- they're not the TRUTH.

Jesus rescued me. Seriously. He completely changed my life during that one week, four and half years ago, and he's been completely changing my life slowly ever since then.

---------------------

Update: I've written 2 follow-up posts:
5 things my testimony does not mean
I didn't forget the happy ending 

AddThis

ShareThis