In Spite of You

 


Micah 6:8 has been looping in my head lately, to the point of tattoo obsession: “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV). This verse wouldn’t have come as a surprise to the Israelites. It was a reminder that all their focus on offering sacrifices was moot if they weren’t following God on a moment-by-moment basis. For us, it’s a lovely reminder that following Christ isn’t a weekly Sunday church thing or a daily morning Quiet Time thing, but rather an all-the-time, in-everything thing. Our select sacrifices of our time and money to God aren’t what he requires of us. He wants us to be just, and merciful, and humble.

This is about the same thing you’ve heard a million times before, right?

Here’s the problem with it: You’re not doing it. You’re not fighting for justice. You’re not showing mercy in love. And you’re not humbly walking out your faith. I’ve noticed it and everyone around you has noticed it. Those Facebook stories you post, those emails you forward, those tirades you go on, those snide comments you make under your breath, those offensive jokes you tell everyone in the room, those sneers on your face–they’re all character witnesses of hatred testifying against you as a follower of Christ.

But here’s what really sucks about all this: I do it too. Like almost all lessons God teaches me, when he opens my eyes to the faults of those around me, it’s usually to point out those same faults in myself.

God taught me all about showing grace, and I was getting pretty darn good at it. Until, that is, I ran into someone who refused to show grace to others. Not just one person–I know entire communities built on showing grace only to those people they believe deserve it. I hit a wall. I was filled with furious, semi-righteous anger. I wanted to shake them and lecture them about how grace, by definition, isn’t deserved, and that we, as believers, are commanded to show grace and what they’re doing isn’t showing grace but merely picking and choosing who to help based on who fits into their pretty little microcosm of the world. (Because I use run-ons when I angrily shake people and lecture them.)

And God said, as usual, “Well, then lecture yourself too.”

If grace is, by definition, not deserved, who could deserve grace less than people who refuse to show it?

If spite of–and perhaps because of–your refusal to show grace or mercy or love, I must show you grace and mercy and love all the more.

I’m being completely honest here when I say I am still trying to work through this and figure out how to do these things. Because it’s hard. But how can I expect something of you that I’m unwilling to do myself?

In spite of you, I must act justly–toward you.

In spite of you, I must love mercy–and show it to you.

In spite of you, I must walk humbly–before you.

This is not about me and my personal offense at the things you do. This isn’t actually about you, either.

Micah 6:8 is a reactive verse, but it’s not reactive from me to you: it’s reactive from me to God. I do not focus on acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly because you do or don’t deserve these things from me. I focus on these things because I love the Lord my God with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my strength, and this is how I live that out.

God, remind me that this isn’t about me or anyone else. Remind me that all of this is about you, and how worthy you are to receive our lives as daily sacrifices for you. Let your Holy Spirit fill me with mercy that it will overflow on those around me. Please be quick to stop me when I act out of selfishness, injustice, or hatred. Thank you for your infinite patience with us. 

What can we do to show grace to those who refuse to show it? How can we love mercy on a moment-by-moment basis?

The Semantics of Money

 

Tithing was a hard lesson to learn. But now at least 10% of everything we earn goes back to the church. We regularly support charities above and beyond that tithe. Yet for many years, in my mind all the money I earned was money I owned. That 10% or more was a generous helping for God–a tip, as if to say, “Great job on being God, keep up the good work.”

Maybe I was even a cheerful giver once or twice, but on a daily basis money issues clouded my head. Shamefully, I have often been obsessed with finances to the point of making myself physically ill with worry.

A couple months ago Ronnie and I made a prayerful commitment to actively become good stewards with our money. Within days our church announced an upcoming money class. I’ve heard countless sermons on money and even have a box full of Dave Ramsey goodies in my closet. But we’d asked God to guide us and he was clearly pointing this direction.

We went, and literally about three minutes into the talk, God pulled me aside in my mind and explained finances to me in a way that made sense. After all these years, I finally got it:

I am not an owner of money. I am a manager of money.

This isn’t merely semantics. The owner of a store and the manager of a store are often not the same person. The owner entrusts the manager to make wise decisions for the business. The manager has a lot of freedom in running the store, but also a lot of responsibility.

God reminded me about Stone, my twelve-year-old who chronically loses things, including expensive toys. He has a Nintendo DS that will disappear for months at a time. Or he’ll have the DS but lose the charger for three months so he can’t play it. And we lecture him about it, but it’s his. If he loses it and can’t play it, it’s his loss. Not ours.

There are three analogies with this idea:

1. He uses his money to buy a new toy. Something happens to it and he may be upset about it, but ultimately it was his, so he can do whatever he wants with it. In my experience, this is how most people view money. It’s ours to do as we wish.

2. He receives his new toy as a gift and subsequently loses it. He might (or perhaps should) feel guilty for the loss, but it was given to him. He owned it. So while his loss may disappoint the initial giver, it was ultimately his to handle as he wished so he’s only hurting himself. This is how many believers view their money in terms of keeping the 90%. God allows us to keep the 90%, again to do with it as we wish.

3. The toy belongs to someone else. Maybe it’s something special to me, from my childhood, and he comes and asks if he can play with it. I loan it to him and say, “This is mine, but I’m entrusting you with it for a time. Please take good care of it. It’s important to me.” Ideally he’ll take better care of it than he would something of his own. This is how God would view money, as something he’s entrusted us with but has been his all along.

It’s like loaning someone our cell phone to make a quick call. Or a friend feeding our pets while we’re out of town. We entrust people with things and expect they’d care for it better than their own.

And wasn’t this our initial task as humans? To care for the world God had entrusted to us? Now our world is defined almost exclusively by money, and we’d do good to manage it wisely, knowing it’s not ours in the first place.

I’ve felt a heavy weight lift since realizing I only have to manage the store that God already owns. I still try to take over and start running the place from time to time, but God is quick to remind who is the owner and who is merely the manager.

How do you view your role as a money manager?

about church normality & the calm knowing

Last week I sat down to write a certain blog but God had other plans and sent me careening wildly off topic and onto something more along the lines of “Rebecca finally confronts her inferiority issues.” Judging by the responses I got via Facebook, messages, texts, and iChats, it was something a lot of people probably needed to hear. Turns out maybe God knew what he was doing. Again.

My initial point at the start of writing last week was, even though over the years I’ve tried training myself to be a hardened person who never cries and blah, blah, blah, here’s the truth: I’m a really, really emotional person. I’m pretty sensitive. Scratch that–I’m really sensitive.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that as I’ve grown, I’ve matured. Maturity has brought wisdom and insight into others’ behavior that might have previously affected me emotionally. So if, for example, someone were to make a comment that ten years ago would result in my hiding in my bedroom in tears, now I have the insight to realize why the person said what he said, where he was coming from, what his intentions were, etc. (The downside is when I figure out the person’s intentions were as vicious as first thought, I tend to react with rage, but God and I are still working through that one.) I would also like to mention I firmly believe watching a ridiculous amount of cop shows over the years has made me incredibly wise at understanding and predicting human behavior. The Internet once told me I was smart enough to be a detective, so, well, I’ll let you weigh the facts and decide.

But I digress. I do that sometimes.

I’ve written before about emotional response to the moving of the Spirit. Sometimes I feel like my faith is emotionally driven and sometimes it’s not. When it’s emotional, it’s great, it’s powerful: prayer stirs something inside of me; every fast worship song makes me jump for joy; every slow worship song moves me to tears; and every conviction of sin is so overwhelming, I fall to my knees and cry out for forgiveness. It feels real. And it is real, and it’s Scriptural, and it’s completely normal.

Where I am right now, it’s pretty much the complete opposite of that.

For the past month or so (after I finally got over the hump of ugliness, so to speak), everything has evoked the same reaction: a calm knowing. On my knees to a slow worship song I’ve sung a million times–with tears–before, I calmly speak praises out loud. Pushes by the Spirit to do one thing or another come out as calm, second nature actions. I see God work through me and I love it, but I don’t outwardly react. Conviction of sin is just a knowing nod, an agreement with God, recognition and repentance. And all of that is just as real and Scriptural. I think most people don’t see it that way, though. Here’s what I mean:

Over the years I’ve either attended or been a regular pew-warmer at churches of easily ten different denominations. I’ve worn the big, floral print dresses to one church and the shorts and flip-flops to the other. I’ve used a hymnal where the numbers of the hymn are on a board at the front of the church and I’ve stood in a crowd and read lyrics off the screen of an overhead projector. And here’s my point, if I have one–they’re complete opposites. Churches usually fall into one main category or another–we’ll call them “traditional” or “contemporary,” but I think the greatest difference is whether they encourage the congregation to respond in some overly-emotional way or with a complete lack of emotion. It’s either the churches that say, “You HAVE to speak in tongues or you’re not born again” or the churches that expect you to simply follow their every command in a robotic, mindless, “trusting” way. Worth noting? Neither of those are Scriptural.

The issue, then, is learning how to define church and religion and, most of all, Christianity. Take a look around you. I bet you’ll start to notice that society’s definition of Christianity is not exactly the same as Scripture’s definition. The worst part about it is the “Christians” who are content to go to church on Sunday and play into that definition, never stopping to question whether or not it’s correctly defined. So then we’re back to the basics–what is Christianity? Many of you already know this by now: it’s a relationship, just like every other relationship you have, only better.

I am completely, 100%, head over heels in love with my husband. Sometimes when he comes home I jump up, run to meet him, and hug him as tightly as I can without hurting him (because I am very strong). Other times when he comes home, I may wait for him to come in the room, hug and kiss him, ask him how his day was and offer to make him lunch. I don’t love him any less one of those days and any more the other.

Sometimes when I offend someone, it’s so awful and I weep and humble myself and beg for forgiveness. Sometimes the offense may be just as bad (or worse in my eyes), and yet I can apologize calmly, albeit sincerely, and admit my wrongs. (Although not without a large amount of anxiety.)

Is that bad? Is that any less sincere?

Because I’ve been “trained” over the years to accept a certain definition of what church is and religion is and a Christian is, sometimes it takes a little self-inspection and getting-used-to. It’s a temptation to think God is distant when I’m calm because I don’t feel him. I have to stop in my quiet time and think, “Okay, I haven’t had a purely emotional reaction in a while. But I know I’ve heard from God clearly, and maybe even louder in these past few weeks than the past year combined.” It takes self-evaluation to figure out where my heart is with God, and that’s a good thing. And regardless of how I feel, I keep seeking him. I keep listening to him and developing our relationship. I keep obeying him (or not, but that’s another conversation for another time).

Um.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got today.