Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Faith and Heaven

When an article comes out proclaiming processed meats as bad, I latch on right away. (And then I tell everybody.) This fits into my already-formed belief system, and every notion that I have about processed meat. (Hot dogs? Gross. As bad for you as cigarettes.) And if it conveniently fits an already-formed notion, people very rarely question it.

I am loyal to a fault when it comes to health and food, and get easily offended when people don't see things the same way I do. I won't go as far as to say it's the way I'm wired (totally the way I'm wired), but I don't balance things like this very well. On my beam, not very many things are balanced. They're either on or their off, and when it comes to health, all things unhealthy are off. This puts me in the sometimes "extreme" category, which surprised me when it was pointed out, but I guess it shouldn't. I am a rule-follower, I bend to authority, I don't like coloring outside the lines. Which is why I tried my whole entire life to keep the rules I'd been taught about God. Like live a good life, be a nice person, and you'll go to heaven. Except I'm not always nice. When you compare, my mean isn't as mean as someone else's mean, but haven't we all figured out by now that it's futile to compare, both bad and good? Especially since my barometer of what equals "good" and your barometer of "good" could be the exact same or totally different. So if living a good life means you go to heaven, who gets to decide the "good"?

I am supposing, of course, that most of us would like to go to heaven after we die. This would presuppose that people even believe in heaven in the first place. I do get confused by people who say they absolutely do not believe in heaven or God, but then ask me to pray for them or someone they know, if I'm the praying type, of course. Or tell me I'm in their "thoughts and prayers". What does that even mean? And I guess the opposite could be asked of me: what does it mean when I pray?

Christmas and Thanksgiving at my grandparents house are some of my most favorite memories. All of us sitting around the table, the children entirely unaware of the cancer spreading via anger, bitterness and resent through the smiling adults. And one of my most vivid memories is of my granddaddy sitting at the head of the table (always, it's about respect), sloooowly opening his bible, and reading passages from books I didn't want to hear about. Long passages. Words like thy and thine. (KJV all the way.) All I cared about was my grumbling tummy, not listening to a book that had nothing to do with me. Except I had been taught that YOU PRAY BEFORE A MEAL, you heathens. So we prayed. My granddaddy was an exceptionally long prayer, given to thanking the Lord for All The Things Ever, and sometimes I would get brave and peek at my sister or my cousin, and maybe even sneak a green bean at the risk of getting my hand slapped. So I, for a while, carried that tradition into my own Christmas and Thanksgiving. I mean, it fits, just like turkey at Thanksgiving and ham at Christmas.

Except what if I don't want turkey at Thanksgiving anymore? (Nitrates. Read about 'em. And don't even start on processing plants. Blech.) What if I don't want ham? (See above.) What if I want an entirely vegan meal this year, except for I think that tofu is generally over-processed, too, which leaves me eating homemade bread and vegetables.) Does that make me a bad non-traditionalist? Because turkey at Thanksgiving is simply tradition, just like praying over a meal is more obligation or tradition than it is actually giving thanks for the food in front of us. 

About a year ago, I did a bible study by Jennie Allen called chase, and my believe system was confronted with a beautiful reality: all my good life, I've lived thinking I was good enough for heaven because I went to church and sat in the same pew every Sunday and all I needed was trust in the One who made me. (SoBaps do not like to change pews, it's like death.) I had a checklist. I checked them off. Which in my mind equaled GOOD. Yay me!

And then I read that God expects faith, not what I defined as good, and I was dumbfounded and relieved all at the same time. I didn't really have this faith she was speaking of. But I was curious about it.

for it is by grace you have been saved, 
through faith--and this not from yourselves...
{ephesians 2:8}

But it was simplified for me, written in black and white. God wants trust. He wants faith. He is not as concerned that I am sitting in the pew on Sunday morning as He is about where my heart is, and if I am operating out of tradition or out of faith. Do I want to learn more about Him, increase my knowledge, gain understanding, or check my Sunday Morning Box?

five-card poker on Saturday night
church on Sunday mornin'
{little big town}

On most days what do you feel like God wants from you?

What do you think He actually wants from you?

I was stunned. They were two different answer entirely. All my whole life I had thought God had all these expectations of me, and here is was, simple and true.


Even when it doesn't make perfect sense.

love the lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your strength.
{deuteronomy 6:5}

I'm not going to always get it right. (Type A's do not believe this to possibly be true, but it is. I know. Me, too.) I will run when it gets tough and my loyalty is challenged. But that's where the beauty of grace comes in, because like the prodigal son, He will always take me back, no matter what. Always.

I see people every day striving so hard for something, just trying to check all the boxes so they can sleep at night. I do the same thing, trying to get it right so I can have peace. But just trying to get it right doesn't do much for true rest, and that's what God is trying to give. Rest. On every level. Maybe to you, rest means sitting on the couch, but to me, it means having a deep peace and joy that doesn't come from having my list done and checked. It comes from knowing that I can do it all or I can do nothing and if my heart is not in the right place, none of it matters. What I do stems from what I believe, and my beliefs are centered around my faith. And it is freedom.

Christians may come off as perfect people. Or at least like we are trying to be perfect people, but I promise you, there is no way to actually fulfill being perfect. I find this quality to be an incredibly annoying one, and it turns people off to think that the ultimate goal in life is to be perfect. What an fabulously arrogant, misleading concept. No wonder our younger generations want nothing to do with church or church people.

Let your church be without walls, coming from faith and love for Jesus and your neighbor, and see what happens. Everything else is just details.

God can handle our doubts. He is big enough. 
But we have got to quit pretending faith is easy. 
We fight for faith and ask God to give it...
And...God will move; 
He'll move toward me to hold, to love, to restore, to comfort, to be. 
And I would never want to miss that.
{jennie allen}

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