The Opposite is often not that Different

So much of our world is made up of opposites. For dark there is light. For evil there is good. For sadness there is happiness. For male there is female. For red there is blue. For one end of the spectrum there is always another end of the spectrum. Grace and Mercy are very much opposite ends of the same spectrum. They are two extremes yet we often get them confused because they are more alike than different.

When we think about the character of God grace and mercy are two of his characteristics that many name. Similarly when you look at Jesus’s life on earth he displayed grace and mercy abundantly. But what do these words really mean? Just like defining love in a practical sense is sometimes hard, defining grace and mercy is also sometimes hard. For grace and mercy are both actions. God’s action toward humanity displayed for all to see his grace and mercy. As Christians we to through the power of the Holy Spirit should be displaying grace and mercy to others. So what is it?

The standard definition of mercy is the withholding of punishment that is deserved. For instance if a child hits his younger sibling and the parent says you deserve a spanking as punishment but in my mercy I am going to withhold the spanking, the parent is showing mercy for their child. All humanity has sinned against God thus all humanity deserves punishment. God withholding that punishment from us his children is the ultimate display of mercy. Why does God give us mercy? It is not because we deserve mercy. No we very much deserve punishment but God in his love for all humanity wishes to spare us the punishment we deserve.

Mercy is kind of like saying to a murder who deserves life in prison as punishment that you are letting them walk free because of your love for them. This is essentially what God does for all humanity. He made this possible by Jesus taking the punishment upon himself at the cross.

So if mercy is the withholding of punishment, what is grace? Grace is the act of giving a gift that is undeserved. For instance, let’s say a child hates their parents, they speak negatively about their parents, they want nothing to do with their parents. Sounds like many kids out there right. But the parent gives the child an amazing gift even though they have said all these horrible things about them. The parent in the grace gives the child a gift that they have not earned. They choose to bless the child even though they have not earned the blessing. This is grace.

God giving us the opportunity to have a reconciled relationship and eventually meet him in heaven through Jesus’s sacrifice is the ultimate display of grace. All humanity has rebelled against God. Yet God in his love wants his children to be blessed regardless so he gave humanity an opportunity of having a restored relationship with him.

God is perfect grace and perfect mercy. As a response to receiving his grace and mercy we should be bestowing grace and mercy on others. If you do not know how to show others grace and mercy think about how God has first bestowed it on you. Ask God in prayer to give you a heart of grace and mercy. Amen.

The Church and the Shame Beast

I would like to think of the shame beast as a messenger from Satan because well it might actually be. The shame beast is definitely not working on God’s side that’s for sure. That must mean the church should be fighting it. So I would like to ponder how the church can fight the shame beast?

Well of course there is prayer but I mean to ponder the question more deeply by asking how can a Christian community rally around someone to help fight the shame beast rather that being the source of shaming someone. For instance, let say some brave soul is at a bible study and they feel convicted by the fact that they are struggling with sexual temptation. So as a brave warrior they tell the group I am struggling with lust.

Now a couple of things could happen. Everyone could turn around to stare at the individual, turn there noses to the air and say how dare you, you horrible sinner. They give this sinner a slap on the hand. Stop doing that bad bad bad lust of yours. Let’s just say this community introduced the shame beast and tried to marry the two individuals. This is not ok at ALL!

On the other hand, let’s say the person shares there struggle with lust and someone says. You know what I am struggling also. I am actually working with a pastor right now. Would you like me to introduce you? Similarly the group could give positive reinforcement to the individual by saying thank you for sharing and reinforcing that it was brave for them to share their struggle. Now this community just kicked the shame beast to the curb.

Shame does not teach people how to turn from sin. It only keeps them more entrenched in chains. Similarly talking about the things that are shaming you in a safe community is what starts the process of breaking the chains. The church should be an expert on kicking the shame beast out the door. I would say it is one of the most essential roles of Christian community. Let’s all learn to do a better job of fighting this ugly beast. Amen.

What’s Up #33?

As of 2 days ago I am 33 years old and let’s just say I still am not like Jesus. I still do not love others like I should. I still think things I should not think. I am still selfish. I still lack faith. I am far from being like Jesus and am very much a human girl. Guess I am still in need some good old grace just like the rest of humanity. I may not be like Jesus but Jesus is in fact my savior. I may not be acceptable to everyone but I am absolutely acceptable to Jesus. That is all that truly matters. So Amen to Jesus and hello #33.

No No Shame, Yes Yes Freedom

If it was possible for shame to have shape, form and color it would be a horrendous ugly, smelly, dark, fungating mass of darkness. Unfortunately the Christian Faith and church has historically used shame and fear to “motivate” people into behaving. This is how we got books like “The Scarlet Letter,” that display acts of shaming those deemed as sinners. In the USA we still shame people but it less a problem than 200 years ago. But the even bigger problem is the shame we place on ourselves. Many of us walk around as self shamers.

It has brought forth the question in me how do I know the difference between conviction from the Holy Spirit and shame? I do not want to be infested with shame but I also believe that conviction by the Holy Spirit is a real thing and a healthy part of Christian growth. So what is the difference?

I am not an expert but this is how I distinguish between the two. When I experience conviction from the Holy Spirit I normally feel a sense of urgency to deal with the sin. I admit to God the sin and ask for his forgiveness. I ask for his help to walk away from the sin. If it is a repetitive sin I am having difficulty not repeating then I turn to a trusted friend, pastor or counselor to help with overcoming temptations. These people can also help with accountability. In this place of repentance and turning from the sin there is hope, freedom and happiness. All positive emotions. All good things that lead to moving forward in life.

Now shame typically leads to inability to admit or talk about the issue because of the guilt/shame. Instead of leading to freedom and Hope, the shame leads to worsening of your image of self, inability to move forward in life and overall dark emotions. People have various ways of dealing with shame which are all typically unhealthy. Shame is the opposite of conviction by the Holy Spirit. Shame never leads to freedom.

Shame is an ugly beast that is often hard to conquer. Professional counseling is often needed. If you struggle with shame, seek help. God does not desire anyone to walk around carrying the shame beast. It’s a weight no one is meant to carry. Amen.

Being In Touch

I ended the last post with the statement that we should be both sensitive to our own bodies and sensitive to the Holy Spirit. When I was younger and a highly competitive gymnast I often would ignore my body. Thus I would continue to practice on injuries that lead to more severe injury. Was this glorifying to God? No, not at all. I learned how to NOT listen to my body and just plow through whatever in order to accomplish the task. I do not think this wise and it caused me to develop many bad habits. Now as an adult I am having to retrain myself to listen to my own body. To understand when to push and when to rest. For God does not like seeing me injured ALL the time.

God wants us to take care of the physical body and our spiritual self. For the Bible refers to our human bodies as the temple that houses the Holy Spirit. So let’s think of our physical body like a house and the Holy Spirit as the spiritual body occupying that house.

If the spiritual body does not listen to the physical body. If they do not communicate. If they are not linked. If they do not co-exist then the physical house will not communicate with its occupant. It will not have anyone to take care of it. It will get dirty. It will get holes in the walls. The plumbing system might get backed up and stopped up. Then it ends up smelling bad. The physical body has to communicate with the spiritual body in order for it to be taken care, maintained and cleaned. For just like the Holy Spirit needs a physical house to exist in this world, the physical body needs to be indwelled with the Holy Spirit to be a born again and alive in Christ.

Using yoga, mindfulness and stress reduction techniques derived from Eastern religions are one way (not the only way) in maintaining the physical body so that it can better house the Holy Spirit. These techniques are good at training you to be more aware of your physical body and how it relates to this world. On the other hand, being sensitive to the Holy Spirit is essential for being more aware of God and how you relate to God’s kingdom. Seems like it is important to be aware of both. I think God wants us to be aware of both. For he gave us a physical body.

Being a Christian means that you have been born of water and spirit. We have a physical body that houses our soul and the Holy Spirit. Let’s learn to be in touch with both our physical and spiritual sides so that we are able to fulfill the purposes God has for us while on this earth. For us to walk by the spirit it is good to have a body that is in good enough physical condition to do the walking.

Is it ok for a Christian to use eastern practices?

Our western culture is more aware of eastern thinking and philosophy than ever before. I myself have done some research looking at stress reduction, mindfulness and mind-body connections that all have there origin in eastern medicine/philosophy. There is lots of research supporting these Eastern ideas and I myself have benefited from training my mind to be more mindful and to do a better job of listening to my body. But it has also brought questions like is Jesus ok with me practicing these “other” things that have an origin in non-Christian religions? If I am listening to my own body does this mean I am not listening to the Holy Spirit? Is it ok for me to do yoga?

I do not believe I have all the answers to these questions but I do feel like God has given me an answer that I am at peace with. For me learning how to be more mindful, doing yoga as a form of relaxation, exercise and stretching and learning to listen to my body have been as effective or more effective than many of the medication I have tried in order to get to a place I can even function in this world. My goal for “practicing” these things is so that I can be healthier and more able to love God, love other people and serve. I actually ask Jesus to be a part of me listening to my body. I ask Jesus to teach me to be mindful. So I would say I use a “Christian” form of mindfulness medicine that have some origins in eastern religions.

Is this wrong? I do not believe so because it is facilitating growth in my relationship with God. Similarly many of the older catholic religious disciplines teach many of the same principles but use different terms. The eastern things I am practicing are not that foreign to Christianity. They are only foreign to our current modern Christianity that has lost many spiritual disciplines.

Will me practicing yoga, learning mindfulness and listening to my body save me? No my salvation is through Christ alone. But it will help me be healthier and more able to function in this world. Your reason for doing what your doing is what’s most important. If you think yoga is your means of reaching enlightenment so that you can live forever then yeah I have a problem with that thinking.

This brings forth the next question of if you are listening to your own body how are you listening to the Holy Spirit? I will save this topic for another day but I believe we should be doing both.

A Doctor Cannot Save You

I was watching a tv show that is about Doctors and they made the comment about doctors saving lives. I chuckled and smiled, yeah right….. I myself am a doctor so I feel very confident in say this as absolute truth, no doctor can save your life. Doctors can prolong your life. Sometimes they can improve your quality of life. But doctors save no one. Everyone dies eventually. Even that doctor you are hoping will save you. Jesus is the only one that can save your life.

It is only through Jesus you have the promise of a new life and body that lasts for eternity. Plus Jesus is a really cool guy to get to know. I tend to get bored easily but Jesus never bores me. He is an endless supply of new things.