Grace!

A month ago, I met with my pastor and he invited me to come alongside him for some deeper discipleship–he said that he felt God was calling him up to a new level, and he invited me along with some of my friends and brothers in the faith along. We are going to be challenged and we are going to grow and learn a lot, so it’s more than “what are you struggling with this week?” and “what’s been going on?” Although those are a small part of it, I think. What the two of us are starting on is how to study the Word. He has introduced me to some new resources and techniques and attitudes towards studying the Word of God.

To begin, we are going through Romans 6, 7, and 8. That was a month ago. Through that month, every time I have gotten in the Word (which honestly isn’t much, not what it probably “should be,”) I either am studying Romans 6 or somehow end up connected to Romans 6, and it is beginning to blow me away. Let me tell you why.

I began my study of this chapter by just reading the chapter, not yet taking notes. I read it probably a couple of times to familiarize myself with the passage. Then I started writing questions per instruction of my pastor. Here are a few of them:

“What is the “then” in response to?”

“Why not continue in sin that grace may abound?”

Then just notes, basically reiterating what the passage said. More questions:

“What does it mean to be in the ‘likeness’ of Jesus’ death and resurrection?”

Etc, etc. This has been my study process. And it has taken me about a month of studying on the schedule on which I study to get to….verse 14. There’s so much stuff that I find myself having to ask a lot of questions and try to connect things and such that it has taken me this long to get halfway through the chapter. But, alas, during my study session today it has finally begun to click, and I have learned a few things about grace.

Grace is something to be used and looked at wisely.

Let me explain myself here. I am really bad at wording things, so those are probably the wrong words to describe what I really mean. What I mean is what Paul says in verse 1: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” A question which he answers in verse 2: “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” I think that Paul’s answer deals as much with the grace side of the equation as it does the sin side. Let’s understand something here: grace is not something God is in short supply of. He has more grace than mankind has sin. But Paul is saying, “Grace is not there just so we can sin all of the time.” Which leads me to believe that grace is something to be honored and ‘used’ wisely. The example of this that comes to mind is grace in, let’s say, the workplace. Now, grace is defined as the empowering presence of God to…for lack of a better term, live for Him. I’ll use myself as an example. God gives me grace every day for work. Whether I know it or not, He is preparing me and giving me the ability to do my job well, to love my co-workers and customers, and to do my job to the best of my ability. Now, I can choose to trash that grace if I want. I can goof off if I want. I can diss my co-workers (whether jokingly or not.) I can be short with customers. OR, I can work hard, treat my co-workers with respect, and treat my customers with kindness and respect. I think that’s more what grace is about than the former, don’t you?

Grace is a promise and a condition of being.

Verse 14 finally stuck out to me. It speaks a truth to us about us, not asking anything from us or telling us that we have to do anything to attain this state. It says:

“For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

A simple verse, but it struck me that it has no fine print, no prerequisites. It’s God’s end of the deal. It’s as if, in my mind anyway, at that moment, Paul stops speaking and God Himself takes over, saying, “hey. You’re My son, sin does not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace.”

And those few words are full of so much truth:

-We are no longer subject to the authority of sin.

-We are no longer defined by sin or our past mistakes, but by grace, our new state of being.

There’s more that I’m sure the Lord will show me, but until then, I intend to chew on this (and I encourage you to, as well!) and see how it changes me.

Year in Review.

Well, it’s not QUITE the end of the year yet, but man have there been some serious developments this year! There’s been so much happen that I have no doubt that I will forget something and have a very sporatic mind as I write this.

At the beginning of 2010, I was in my second semester of college, and still working at McDonalds (I wince and shudder as I write this.) I still remember that semester quite well. I was taking a depressing three night classes (I ended up dropping one, but still, class every Tuesday and Thursday got depressing) and classes ran from 8 AM until 9PM on Tuesday and Thursday. I would work on Monday, Friday and Saturday, (I would “do homework” on Wednesday, uh-huh, yeah, sure.) Wednesday I had life group and all in all, my Tuesday-Thursday was pretty busy. School was very bland that semester, although I was getting into all kinds of media thanks to my COM 200 class, I was constantly buying books and movies and newspapers, even though I never really read them. I spent a LOT of money that semester, more than I even earned. I would get tiny $67 paychecks every week, and realize that I had spent more than that the week before. I was an awful money manager.

School and work together became very stressful (mostly because I was lazy about school) and I decided to initially take some time off and ultimately quit my job to focus on my education at Eastern Kentucky University. Part of the reason I quit, however, was because of some major tension between me and my co-workers. I can’t really remember what it was about, but I remember hating every single day I came into work and leaving very very unhappy and my relationships were stressed at work. I’m very grateful that I was able to leave and survive somehow.

At the end of the semester, I had 4 B’s and one C, bringing my cumulative GPA to a whopping 2.7, from a guy who had never gotten below a C in any other class in his entire academic career, and now I was averaging one. So added to my jobless plate was the fact that I had to get my GPA up to a 3.0 in order to retain one of my scholarships worth $1,000/semester. I was pretty chill about all of it and kept doing my thing, spending my days at home chilling out and spending money. That was literally the content of my day–I would wake up, make coffee, and play Modern Warfare 2 or Halo, or NCAA Football, or MLB 2k9. Occasionally I would clean the kitchen or watch TV instead, and then at night I would go to my friends house to watch Chuck. Lather, rinse, repeat. That was my summer for a while, but then my dad talked to me very seriously about getting a job and my finances. My money source was basically my bank account and occasionally mowing or doing random work for other people, but I was slowly working towards the negative.

One day in June, I got an e-mail saying that the bookstore on campus was doing open interviews. I went up and filled out an application and did the interview. I got the job and started on July 12. The job was a lot of fun, but the hours were crappy and I was very poorly trained. So as much as I enjoyed it, it stressed me out a lot because I wore a nametag that said “Yes, I can help you!” when I really couldn’t (and I try my best to…try my best at work.) I didn’t make a lot of money, I think my last paycheck (over two weeks) was worth 137.00, the amount of my loan payment. I worked through the first little bit of the semester, but that was about it. I was taking 16 hours (that’s 6 classes, one of them half-semester) and my dad fronted me the money for the semester, which was about $925. But without a job, costs kept piling up. I had to get gas somehow. Insurance was coming up. Every month on the 15th I owed the bank $137 for my loan payment on my car.

I was applying to several places, even places I didn’t want to work. One of those places was Starbucks. I guess I never noticed how great the service was, but it was the last place I wanted to work. I remember my friend Kyla texting me (she’s a huge Starbucks fan) encouraging me to apply there. You can see where this is going–I applied and eventually called. I went up for an interview (I think it was September 18th…if my memory serves me correctly) and hoped to make a good impression. One day I was at the youth service at my church, and right before it was time to play on the worship team, I got a call. It was Susan, the store manager, offering me a job. I took it. I needed it.

I had NO idea how great this job would be, but there hasn’t been a day that I haven’t loved. When Susan told me that it would be hard because we were going through the holiday season and asked me to be patient with them, I said, “I’ll be patient with you if you’re patient with me!” And sure enough, they have all been so good about sticking with me and my fellow trainee Shadia and I think I speak for the both of us when I say that we feel not like rookies or noobies, but like part of the team and really, part of a family. I get a pound coffee every week, I get drinks all through my shift and I get to take one home with me, and I get to deal with people, which really, Starbucks has the best customers in the world. So I am slowly earning money and repaying my dad, and he’s been very patient with me about it. Dad, I doubt you’re reading this, but I am very grateful. Oh, and this semester, I got 4 A’s, one B, and a satisfactory in my half-semester class. My GPA was raised to a 3.09 and I retained my scholarship.

I realize that this has become a blog about my work and my school, which was a big part of this year for me. But I think it’s reflective of what has ultimately happened–fairly rapid maturation which I thank God for.

It’s a combination of things, I think–the vision my pastor had for our church this year was that we would learn what it means to be a family and what it means to see God as Father. I think being on the ride has changed me in a lot of ways. It has been this year that I’ve sensed the importance of connection with the people of God. That people help us to see ourselves in a different light. Something about being around people gives us something to…dare I say..compare ourselves to. People are examples. People have giftings that we don’t and see things in ways we don’t, and overall, people keep us from living inside our own heads and running too far with our own ideas (which Lord knows I’ve needed.)

 

It’s been a great year, and 2011 is going to be even better. As an old friend, Ray Guidice, always says, “The best is STILL yet to come.”

Joy.

So, I was cut to the core by what my pastor preached about this morning. (isn’t everybody who blogs on a Sunday?) Let me start by telling you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a 24 year old gal and a 19 year old guy. They hardly knew each other, but one time they were both invited to a friend’s house to watch Chuck. The Chuck parties continued for several months, not limited to Chuck however, but also fun movies like High School Musical, Camp Rock, Sherlock Holmes, etc. were watched by the trio. However, the movies are not the point. These two eventually exchanged numbers and texted each other all day every day, about random things from coffee (or the dislike of it) to work to sports and everything in between. Now, the guy really liked this girl. He felt like they got along well, and though it was hard for him to make it known to her, he really wanted more than a friendship. He at least wanted a chance. They continued to hang out, making bets over church softball games, and even going to GattiTown with her parents and neice and nephew. It was a grand ole time. But one day the communication stopped. He would send her a quote from How I Met Your Mother to no avail and no response. After several weeks of this, he finally asked what was up. In his non-face-to-face method, he asked, “I miss hanging out with you. Why don’t we anymore?” She went on to explain that she felt like there was an unsaid pressure for more than a friendship and that she didn’t want that so she just stopped communicating. The guy was hurt, but he tried to be understanding. Hurt not so much in the sense of betrayal, but in a sense of wishing he had been more forward and said so before communication got skewed and confusing. He blamed himself. Anyway, they agreed to be friends and he continued to try to talk to her, still sometimes to no avail. Shortly after that, he found out that she was going to be seeing someone. He tried to be okay with that, but he wasn’t. He wished he had a shot. Soon enough he found out who this someone is because they had posted a mushy, disgusting, romantic Bruno Mars song on her Facebook page. He wanted to kill that guy. Seriously.

 

Okay, so as you can imagine, that story isn’t unfamiliar to me, because it happened to me. And the latest development happened today, this morning, before I even came to the church for worship practice. It made me really mad. Like, I wanted to just punch stuff. Some part of me still felt like I was the one who should be able to post Bruno Mars songs on her Facebook page. I was (and frankly, still kind of am) jealous.

Anyway, about an hour and a half after I write that, I am more or less numb to it, because I realize that I don’t need her in order to be happy, to have joy. It’s funny to me the things that tell us they’ll bring us joy. That nice new phone. That iPad. That nice new shirt. That new computer. That car. That bluray player. All the things that make life awesome. They all disguise themselves as needs. A girlfriend. A boyfriend. A husband or a wife.

The point made by my pastor was that Mary, who had done nothing to deserve the title of “blessed and highly favored” was called “blessed and highly favored” by the angel who brought her the news of her carrying Jesus. And she received the news with JOY, despite what she still had to do. She still had to talk to Joseph and somehow convince him that even though she was pregnant, she hadn’t known a man. She would have to live with the stigma and public perception of having a child out of wedlock. She would have to deal with the fact that people would see Jesus as an illegitimate child and, excuse my modern bad word, a bastard.

Paul, when he was in jail, in constant risk of being taken out and put to death, reminded the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always.

Basically, my pastor expounded that circumstances are going to happen. Bad things are going to happen. Our bills are not always going to come at the same time as our paycheck. The car is going to break down. People are going to get sick. But our joy is not circumstantial. We have joy because God treats us as sons and daughters, which means that He is not going to give up on us or leave us when the going gets rough. He’s there, He loves us, He affirms us, and He has a plan even when things aren’t looking up. THAT’S the source of our joy.