Saturday, October 27, 2012

Standing Under Grace

Bonoeffer, in his work "The Cost of Discipleship" said that "the source of the disciple's life lies exclusively in his fellowship with Jesus Christ. He possesses his righteousness only within that association, never outside it. That is why his righteousness can never become an objective criterion to be applied at will. He is a disciple not because he possesses such a new standard, but only because of Jesus Christ, the Mediator and very Son of God." (183)

So here is the truth: standing under grace, I am a sinner that has been forgiven only through the grace of the One who died on the cross to make me worthy to stand before him clean.

And if this is true, if I am only forgiven through the One who forgives, not through my own "righteousness" or "good deeds," then I have no place to judge anyone else. The only worth I have is as a beloved child of God. And that is what we all are - even the non-Christians, the atheists, the ones who cast God aside - we have all been paid for by Christ - the difference is that I have chosen to follow Christ's lead and am trying to make myself one with Him. Others are not. They do not recognize the immense love that God's provided for them, the free love, the love that springs joy overflowing in my heart.

So then, how do we approach the sinner? What is the church's role in seeing someone commit sin?

"In the love of Christ, we know all about every conceivable sin and guilt; for we know how Jesus suffered, and how all men have been forgiven at the foot of the cross. Christian love sees the fellow-man under the cross and therefore sees with clarity. If when we judged others, our real motive was to destroy evil, we should look for evil where it is certain to be found, and that is in our own hearts. But if we are on the look-out for evil in others, our real motive is obviously to justify ourselves, for we are seeking to escape punishment for our own sins by passing judgment on others, and are assuming by implication that the Word of God applied to ourselves in one way, and to others in another" (185).

For we should be ever aware that Christ is the ruler of our hearts. We should be ever aware that we never once deserved heaven. We never once deserved love. We never once deserved forgiveness. We never once deserved Christ. We are standing here because of grace. So how can we then, approach a sinner, and judge them for the very sins that we ourselves are guilty of? For our very worth, our very righteousness comes only through Christ! It is only through Him - so approach the sinner knowing that he is the same as you - under the grace of Christ, and then open his eyes to the love and grace that's open to him too. For we are one in the same sinner. And we are all beloved by God - some have yet to recognize that yet, and that is just sad. It's not something to be angry about. Your self-righteousness is the greatest sin of all - the idea that you are God.

"There is only one judgment, one law, and one grace. Henceforth, the disciple will look upon other men as forgiven sinners who owe their lives to the love of God."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The silent demons that take us all

Two summers ago, I plopped onto a plane and went to Uganda. The pre-story to that is quite detailed, so I'll spare you the lengthy story. Feel free to ask me about it another time - or look back at my Uganda blog.

While I was there, I went to a church, where people ran out screaming from the congregation in a wild panic. There were woman collapsing in the aisles, having seizures. There was one woman who ran terrified down an aisle that was crowded with people, tripping and hurting herself along the way.

I was - to say the least - a bit confused. So I asked about it. And my friend told me they were possessed by demons. That the pastor would perform those little rituals to take the demons out, and they'd be completely normal again. And I asked if this happened very often, and my friend said, "Why yes! All the time!"

(I should note here that I don't think one person's "yes" means that all churches are like this. I'm quite sure that there are many Ugandan churches that are not. Yet for the sake of making this point, I will continue the argument below.)

So I went back home and started doing more research on Uganda. About the spiritual realm of the people, about how they consult spirits in performing community rituals, in how they believe in the "cen" or evil spirits that haunt a place of murder or killing. There is a very spiritual realm in Uganda. One that faces them outright all the time. Religion and government are infused, religion and country divisions are infused, community religious traditions are infused with social cohesion - not all of this Uganda's religion, but that of missionaries - and so there is a very present and real spiritual realm to life for most of the population.

And so, coming back to Canada, I wondered why we never see these outbursts here in churches. Why there aren't any crazy sudden seizures or visible demon-possession?

And I wondered if maybe, the most vicious kind of demon-possession of all is the one that is silent. The one that doesn't take us into fits, but rather, spirals us down and down, very slowly and surely, in until we're stuck in patterns of sin. These demons are more pervasive and crooked than those that cry out, because the ones that cry out can be cast away in the name of Jesus. Ours just sit there and fester, growing  their beloved infection each and every day. They are the hidden demons that we continue to deny out of shame.

They are the greed we harbour, they are the search for pleasure in relationships, in success, in food, in sex, in those things that distract us from our very core identity as children of God, as the disciples of Christ, as the beloved spouse of God. They are silent and swift, and we choose to ignore them, because to recognize them means that we need to let them go. We would have to cast them away from us, to exorcise them out of ourselves, and put Jesus first there instead. Which would mean giving everything up. It would mean basing our identity on a man who died, hanging on a cross, beaten and bruised by the very ones that he gave up all for, that he loved with everything he had. And this is our calling - to die to everything we have, to give it all up for His glory, and to follow Him to the cross.

So we must exorcise out our demons. First greed, then hatred, then the idols of relationships, of success, of food, of sex, of violence, of anything at all that "possesses" us. We must recognize that our demons may not be screaming, they may not throw us on the floor in seizures, but they are real and deadly. And they are holding us back from going out on a limb to be all that we can be.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Living for something

Sometimes, as I stand and wait for the bus, profound things pass through my mind. I ponder them for a moment, and then they fly away.

I think that - perhaps - in my dazed morning state, I find these passing thoughts more profound than  they actually are. If I'm honest with myself.

Anyways, today I had one of these dazed morning states. I heard on the radio that a 27-year-old girl had died about 15 minutes from my house, that she attended the same university as me.

And I started to think about life, and living, and wondering why it is that we all go about living with the intention of tomorrow. We all have our goals, our dreams, our plans to get right with so and so, or to lose weight, to get rich and famous, to do something good at the most convenient time.

But we are never guaranteed tomorrow. Just right now, this moment.

One of the greatest truths of life is that when we die, we take nothing with us. We will not take our money, we will not take our homes, our cars, our perfect little lives. But we will leave behind a legacy - whether it be a short or a long one - in our friends, in our family, in the people we spoke to, the people we danced with, the people we smiled with, the people we helped in the midst of their distress. We also leave the people we hurt, the people we scorned, the people that we did not place on equal grounds with us. We can't simply live. We need to live for something. To live every moment with purpose and with intention and with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness that we will someday need in return too. Possibly soon.

There's precious little time in life. We need to remember this, and value the people, things, and work around us accordingly. Because in the end, there's only a very few things that matter, and I think it's almost only at this last second that we finally realize what they were, and wish we'd put the value where it was due.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Art of Helping Another

The other night, I was walking along the street to a nearby wine store with a friend and noticed a man sitting on the sidewalk, asking for money. We were on our way to a friend's house, and they were waiting for us, but as I past him again, I noticed a stream of blood running down his leg, staining his shoes and the sidewalk.

No one had stopped to help him. No one had done anything about it at all. As I was with a friend, I asked if we could stop and find a place to pick up some things for him. So I went to a convenience store, found some paper towels, a large water bottle to clean the wound and stop the bleeding, and got some polysporin. I went back across the street and gave it to him, and he told me that he was calling the Salvation Army for a pick up. I left him at that point and went to my friend's house.

You know, I am angry with myself for that. I am angry that I did not take the time to stop, ask his name, and make sure he got a ride to the Salvation Army, as I should have. I didn't even stay to see if he was okay to clean his wounds. Yes, my friend wanted us to get back to my other friend's place, who was expecting us, but I could have stayed and waited with him. I could have. But I didn't. Partially because I was afraid. Partially because I knew my friend would be waiting for me and getting worried about what was happening - although I easily could have called. And partially because I simply knew that if I took the time to help him, that I would likely not be spending any time with my friends that evening. And this last reason is - to my own shame - probably the biggest factor.

And I know, in my heart of hearts, that Jesus would have spent his time with that man. He would have left his friend's house and company and sat on that sidewalk with him, even in the incoherent state of mind that man was in. So I have to question myself. To admit my own mistakes. To say that despite my best intentions, I don't even know if he used those things I bought for him. I don't know if he's okay. If his wound is infected, or if he got to the Salvation Army. And here I am, thinking about him right now. 

I think it's a sad sight when our society gets to the point that a man who is bleeding and hurt, without money on the street, remains ignored. No one did anything. And my very minute gesture was rather pathetic. I recognized his hurt, but I still left him to figure out the details.

We are all broken people in a world desperate for God's grace. May we bear the burdens and pain of others, to the detriment of our own convenience, to bring some light to a dark place. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rags to Riches

It's easier to experience culture shock than most people realize. I certainly have gone through a bit of culture shock just coming from one Southern Ontario city to another.

I worked at an inner-city church all summer, working with youth, adults, and young children. Some came to a food, clothing, and breakfast program, others I met at a soccer camp, others I met through working with the nearby school, breakfast program, after-school program, and day camp that was running through the summer. There would be kids who would come in with no food in their bellies, there would be kids who would say things that no child should know how to say, and they would do things that I can only assume they learned from someone else. And I loved those children. My heart burst for them. They taught me how to find joy in such little things, they taught me how important it is to discipline a child with love, how much a child needs to, loves to, desires to be told that they have a purpose in this life and that they are so precious and valuable, for no other reason than that they are who they are.

And now I'm studying for my Masters. I've come across people who angrily said that Tim Horton's should know better than to not serve creamy soup as a vegetarian option. I came across people who complained that there are too many leather, comfy swivel chairs in a room - that is rather spacious anyways. This isn't to say that I don't do the same thing too - I've complained in my own time about stupid little things that I shouldn't complain about. That I don't deserve to complain about.

But here's the thing: when you have everything in the world, then you complain about every little thing when it's not there. We think we are somehow "entitled" to things. And it's disgusting. It's plain disgusting. All I can do is laugh at how very ignorant we are to the pain, suffering, and struggles of the people living all around us.

The only thing that "entitles" me to anything at all is the fact that I have money in my bank account, I have a nice diploma on my wall, and I have a family that raised me in a beautiful neighbourhood in the suburbs and afforded me all the necessities and non-necessities I could ask for. Others are not so fortunate to have all of that. They will live their lives without even being able to afford Tim Horton's or a Master's program. They will struggle to feed themselves day-to-day, they will struggle to clothe themselves. And they will - if you meet them - rarely complain. They know that it's wrong, they know that they need what they need, but there's a matter-of-factness to it.

I am disgusting for believing that anything I have is anything but a privilege. I only hope that I can use it to serve others, to serve the people that God loves in the same unfathomable way He's loved me. Help me Lord to do so.