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"No matter where I am, your teachings fill me with songs." - Psalm 119:54 (CEV)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Passion for Truth

This one's a bit sporadic.  Sorry!  I tend to think in a way that can be difficult to follow and had a hard time connecting all these ideas into one cohesive story.  Hopefully it makes some sense.


The call came on Thursday.

I was sitting with a friend,

Chatting about the rapid approach of fall semester,

How our summers had been going.

My pocket started ringing and buzzing.

I pulled out my phone,

Looked at the number.

I could tell it was from the area I live in,

But I didn't know whose number it was.

So I apologized to my friend,

And I answered.

It was my pastor.


Now, to be clear, by "my pastor", I mean the current pastor of the church I grew up in,

The church I go to with my family almost every Sunday of the year,

The church I've said this, this, and this about,

The church where I love the people, but don't care so much for the preaching -

Not necessarily because it's wrong

(Although some guest pastors certainly have been),

But because it lacks the depth I need,

The breadth that puts it all into perspective.

The Bibles in the pews might as well have holes in them for all we talk about things like God's Wrath and Justice.

And I still go there.

Virtually every Sunday.

Why?

Primarily because I don't know of another church nearby that would be any better,

But also because I don't want to tell my parents that I'm not going to church with the rest of the family on Sunday morning,

Especially when I could just go somewhere else on Sunday evening.

There are a lot of reasons, I suppose, but those are the main ones.

(Yeah, not very good ones.  I know.)

Anyway, back to the phone call.

I explained to him that, while it was fine for him to call me on my cell phone, I was with a friend and didn't really have time to talk.

He said he was just calling about Sunday school, and that he'd send me the information in an email instead.

We said good-bye,

And I went back to spending time with my friend.


When I got home, I opened my email.

Sure enough, there it was.

He was asking me to teach Sunday school,

Probably because I'd volunteered to do it for one Sunday over the summer.

("Hallowed be Thy Name" - excellent topic to teach about!)

Now the question was how to respond.

I'd been hoping to spend more time at school this year,

Go to church with my friends,

But this was an opportunity to show others what I've seen,

Show them who God is.

I thought for a moment that I should pray about it for a few days,

Then realized that the Bible says we're supposed to preach the Gospel,

(Which I, being shy and having very few non-Christian friends, don't do so well at)

And that this would be a great chance for me to speak the truth in love to a captive audience for as much as an hour a week,

And that it might be the only chance those children would ever have to hear what has turned my world upside-down.  (Technically, right-side up.)

I was pretty sure that weeks of praying about the decision wouldn't change those things one bit,

(After all, the Holy Spirit isn't going to contradict the will of God as clearly defined in the Scriptures)

So I prayed about it a little, then sat down to write my response.

I decided to tell him the truth.


I said that,

While I would be glad to teach Sunday school,

What I have come to believe isn't really what's talked about in this church,

That I can't teach anything other than what I believe to be true,

That all the reformed theology I've been learning from my friends,

The other churches I've been attending,

The sermons I listen to every day,

And my own personal study of God's Word

Is going to come through quite clearly,

Whether I'm talking about Noah's Ark or God's character.

I told him that I would understand completely if he didn't want me to teach Sunday school.

Then,

Before pressing "send",

I set out to find some good links for "reformed theology".


I thought back to when a friend first told me,

Nearly a year ago now,

That God did everything for His Glory.

I was shocked and upset.

I didn't think that could be true,

That God would be vain if it were.

That is, until he said that otherwise God would be an idolater.

The impossibility of the second option showed me that,

Unlikely as it seemed,

The first one must be true.

It was probably the most defining moment in my faith.

It changed everything I thought I knew about God,

Everything I believed about Him.

It started me on a journey that has taken me amazing places,

Taught me difficult things like proper doctrine and discernment,

Gave me an incredible passion for truth,

And brought me to a joy I had never before fathomed.

I have seen God,

And, once you see God,

You can't go back.

I didn't know this was considered reformed theology until a few months ago.

All I know is it's real,

It's Biblical,

And it's changed my life.

I wasn't sure if my pastor would understand that,

But I wanted to find links that would reflect that,

(Not the one link I found that listed the United Church of Christ as reformed.  Definitely not.  Reformed people take the Bible far more literally than that.)


The first one I picked was a blog I'd bookmarked ages ago,

(Forgotten I'd bookmarked, actually,)

That had video clips and other resources on it.

Great sermon clips by famous names,

Even some cartoons.

I used Google to find the second one,

And,

Surprisingly,

I wasn't disappointed.

In fact,

It blew me away.


It was an article in Christianity Today - from 2006.

Last two words in the first sentence:  John Piper.

I figured that was a good sign.

I skimmed the first two pages,

Looked at the doctrine part more closely:

"Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints".

In my head I was going,

"Yes.  Yes.  I don't even know what that is.  (I have only been learning about this stuff for a year, you know.)  Probably, if that means what I think it does. Yes.

Okay, this is looking good."

Then I went to the next page,

Skimmed some more.

One sentence caught my eye:
 "Once you're exposed to [doctrine]," he said, "you see the richness in it for your own soul, and you're ruined for anything else."
That,

That

Is my experience.

I decided in that moment that it was a good link,

And,

Seeing as it was getting very late,

Decided to copy the link for my own perusing later

And send the email.

Then I went to take a shower, 

Joy in my heart,

(Which, as anyone who has been reading my blog for awhile will know, is a pretty big deal in this season of my life,)

Bouncing up and down, (no, not an expression)

Grinning wildly, (still not an expression)

Thinking,

"Yes,

Yes,

Ruined for all else!

Absolutely ruined!"


I read the article in its entirety the next day,

(And discovered, thanks to a handy link within the article that I'd missed before, what "limited atonement" is - I'd been wondering about that . . . good to know other, smarter people have the same line of reasoning I do,

And, yes, "irresistible grace" did mean what I thought.  I learned the basics of reformed doctrine without even knowing it.  It just blows me away how much deeper and more sure my beliefs have become in the past year.)

And found another bit I liked so much I copied it into a computer sticky note

For later conversion into a printable for my wall:
 "If you really understand Reformed theology, we should all just sit around shaking our heads going, 'It's unbelievable.  Why would God choose any of us?'  You are so amazed by grace, you're not picking a fight with anyone, you're just crying tears of amazement that should lead to a heart for lost people, that God does indeed save, when He doesn't have to save anybody." - Joshua Harris
There were some real tears as I was blown away (again) by the incredible depth of God's mercy,

And as I praised Him for these tiny bits of feeling in the middle of the desert,

Prayed desperately for more.


It's been a week since I sent that email.

I haven't received a reply.

I'm not worried about it.

It's in God's hands.

If He wants me teaching Sunday school this year, He'll make it happen.

I would love that.

I think it would be incredible to teach children the truth I've become so passionate about,

Though I'm sure I'd make a lot of mistakes.

If He doesn't, I'll be able to spend more time growing in my own faith,

Maybe try out the church an amazing friend found for me,

Definitely spend more time with my friends at school,

Growing in faith together.

For me, it's a win-win situation,

And,

Even if it didn't seem that way,

God always works things out for the best.

He'll get me where He wants me,

Even if I'm kicking and screaming the whole way.


A couple last thought:

The title of that article?

"Young, Restless, Reformed"

I love that title.

It describes me and the group of friends I've become a part of so accurately.

Someone told us something we weren't sure if we could believe,

So we cracked open our Bibles and sought the truth ourselves,

Eventually finding that His Word says some pretty amazing things,

Things no one had ever told us were in there,

Things I'd never even noticed when I read through it for the first time.

It blew us away,

Gave us a passion for truth,

For good, sound doctrine,

Because these things help us to see God,

And, once you see God,

You can't go back.

You're too in love with Him to settle for anything less than what you have.

Instead, you want more.


The article said it well:
[T]he young Calvinists value theological systems far less than God and his Word.
Yes, that's it.

That's it exactly.

The key to it all is seeing God.

This is how I'd illustrate it:

The Word is like a little window,

Giving us a glimpse at the beautiful landscape of God.

The whole landscape is God,

Stretching far beyond what we can see.

The window of the Word is the only way we can see the landscape,

The only light in a dark room.

The theological system tells you what outside the window to look at.

Some say, "Look at that mountaintop, but don't look at the valley.

It's too dark and scary.

God isn't like that."

Others say, "Look down there in the valley, but don't look at the mountaintop.

It's too bright and beautiful.

God isn't like that."

Systems like this say they want you to see all of God,

But in practice, they make sure you only see bits and pieces.

To me,

(And I'm still learning, so I'm not saying everyone thinks this way)

Reformed theology says right out: "Take in everything you can see."

You follow a system like that,

You'll have your nose to the glass,

Mouth hanging open in awe,

As you try to glimpse every angle you possibly can.

That's not because of the theological system,

(For there are some windows you could look out of,

Take everything in,

And not really care.

The view from those windows is ordinary.

Those windows obviously do not show us God.)

Nor is it ultimately because of the Word,

(Though such an endeavor would be quite impossible without it.)

What it is about is what's beyond the window -

God.

Once you see the tiny scrap of His Infinity that the Word offers you,

See it in its entirety, with a depth and breadth so much greater than those bits and pieces some people look at,

You love Him so much that you want the whole thing,

And it changes everything.


Reasons 2077-2161 today,

Once again seeking to see Him

And be blown away:
  1. He is forgiving (Nehemiah 9:17)
  2. He is a forgiving God (Nehemiah 9:17)
  3. He is gracious and compassionate (Nehemiah 9:17)
  4. He is slow to anger and abounding in love (Nehemiah 9:17)
  5. He does not desert His people (Nehemiah 9:17)
  6. He does not desert His people, even when they are arrogant (Nehemiah 9:16-17)
  7. He does not desert His people, even when they are stiff-necked (Nehemiah 9:16-17)
  8. He does not desert His people, even when they do not obey His commands (Nehemiah 9:16-17)
  9. He does not desert His people, even when they refuse to listen (Nehemiah 9:16-17)
  10. He does not desert His people, even when they fail to remember the miracles He performed among them (Nehemiah 9:16-17)
  11. He does not desert His people, even when they rebel (Nehemiah 9:16-17)
  12. He does not desert His people, even when they appoint a leader in order to return to their slavery (Nehemiah 9:16-17)
  13. He does not desert His people, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf (Nehemiah 9:17-18)
  14. He does not desert His people, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and say, “This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Nehemiah 9:17-18)
  15. He does not desert His people, even when they commit awful blasphemies (Nehemiah 9:17-18)
  16. He has great compassion (Nehemiah 9:19)
  17. Because of His great compassion, He does not abandon His people (Nehemiah 9:19)
  18. Because of His great compassion, He does not abandon His people in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:19)
  19. His pillar of cloud never failed to guide His people on their path (Nehemiah 9:19)
  20. His pillar of fire never failed to shine on the way His people were to take (Nehemiah 9:19)
  21. His Spirit is Good (Nehemiah 9:20)
  22. He gives His Good Spirit to instruct His people (Nehemiah 9:20)
  23. He instructs His people (Nehemiah 9:20)
  24. He does not withhold His manna from the mouths of His people (Nehemiah 9:20)
  25. He gives His people water for their thirst (Nehemiah 9:20)
  26. He sustains His people (Nehemiah 9:21)
  27. He sustains His people for forty years in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:21)
  28. Those whom He sustains lack nothing (Nehemiah 9:21)
  29. The clothes of those whom He sustains do not wear out (Nehemiah 9:21)
  30. The feet of those whom He sustains do not become swollen (Nehemiah 9:21)
  31. He gives kingdoms to His people (Nehemiah 9:22)
  32. He gives nations to His people (Nehemiah 9:22)
  33. He allots to His people even the remotest frontiers (Nehemiah 9:22)
  34. He gives His people the countries of kings (Nehemiah 9:22)
  35. He makes the children of His people as numerous as the stars in the sky (Nehemiah 9:23)
  36. He brings His people into the land He told their parents to enter and possess (Nehemiah 9:23)
  37. The children of His people take possession of the land He promised them (Nehemiah 9:24)
  38. He subdues the enemies of His people before His people (Nehemiah 9:24)
  39. He gives the enemies of His people into the hands of His people (Nehemiah 9:24)
  40. He gives the kings of the enemies of His people into the hands of His people (Nehemiah 9:24)
  41. Those whom He gives into the hands of His people and does not give specific instructions about, he gives for His people to deal with as they please (Nehemiah 9:24)
  42. He allows His people to capture fortified cities (Nehemiah 9:25)
  43. He allows His people to capture fertile land (Nehemiah 9:25)
  44. He allows His people to take possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things in abundance (Nehemiah 9:25)
  45. He allows His people to take possession of wells already dug in abundance (Nehemiah 9:25)
  46. He allows His people to take possession of vineyards in abundance (Nehemiah 9:25)
  47. He allows His people to take possession of olive groves in abundance (Nehemiah 9:25)
  48. He allows His people to take possession of fruit trees in abundance (Nehemiah 9:25)
  49. He delivers those who are disobedient into the hands of their enemies (Nehemiah 9:26-27)
  50. He delivers those who rebel against Him into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them (Nehemiah 9:26-27)
  51. He delivers those who turn their backs on His law the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them (Nehemiah 9:26-27)
  52. He delivers those who kill His prophets into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them (Nehemiah 9:26-27)
  53. He delivers those who kill His prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them (Nehemiah 9:26-27)
  54. He delivers those who commit awful blasphemies into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them (Nehemiah 9:26-27)
  55. He hears the cry of the oppressed (Nehemiah 9:27)
  56. From heaven He hears the cry of the oppressed (Nehemiah 9:27)
  57. His compassion is great (Nehemiah 9:27)
  58. In His great compassion, He gives deliverers (Nehemiah 9:27)
  59. In His great compassion, He gives deliverers to the oppressed (Nehemiah 9:27)
  60. In His great compassion, He gives deliverers who rescue the oppressed from the hand of their enemies (Nehemiah 9:27)
  61. He abandons those who do evil in His sight to the hand of their enemies so that their enemies rule over them (Nehemiah 9:28)
  62. He hears those who cry out to Him again (Nehemiah 9:28)
  63. From heaven He hears those who cry out to Him again (Nehemiah 9:28)
  64. In His compassion, He delivers those who cry out to Him time after time (Nehemiah 9:28)
  65. He warns His people to turn back to His law (Nehemiah 9:29)
  66. He is patient for many years with those who become arrogant (Nehemiah 9:29-30)
  67. He is patient for many years with those who disobey His commands (Nehemiah 9:29-30)
  68. He is patient for many years with those who sin against His ordinances (Nehemiah 9:29-30)
  69. He is patient for many years with those who sin against His ordinances, of which He said, “The person who obeys them will live by them” (Nehemiah 9:29-30)
  70. He is patient for many years with those who stubbornly turn their backs on Him (Nehemiah 9:29-30)
  71. He is patient for many years with those who become stiff-necked (Nehemiah 9:29-30)
  72. He is patient for many years with those who refuse to listen (Nehemiah 9:29-30)
  73. He warns His people by His Spirit through His prophets (Nehemiah 9:30)
  74. He gives those who pay no attention to His warnings into the hands of the neighboring peoples (Nehemiah 9:30)
  75. In His great Mercy He does not put an end to His people (Nehemiah 9:31)
  76. In His great Mercy He does not abandon His people (Nehemiah 9:31)
  77. He is a gracious and merciful God (Nehemiah 9:31)
  78. He is Mighty (Nehemiah 9:32)
  79. He is Mighty and Awesome (Nehemiah 9:32)
  80. He keeps His covenant of love (Nehemiah 9:32)
  81. He has remained Righteous (Nehemiah 9:33)
  82. In all that has happened to His people, He has remained Righteous (Nehemiah 9:33)
  83. He has acted faithfully (Nehemiah 9:33)
  84. In all that has happened to His people, He has acted faithfully (Nehemiah 9:33)
  85. In all that has happened to His people, He has acted faithfully, while His people have acted wickedly (Nehemiah 9:33)



(Take the challenge with us!  Please?  Sylvia's taking a hiatus, and I'd love some company.  You won't regret it!)

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Counting in community:




 

2 comments:

CynthiaJSwenson said...

I am pretty amazed after reading here today Mary! I am tempted to idolize you because you are so wise & young & faithfilled & I grew up Catholic! LOL But seriously I know it's God's Spirit & the Word in you that make you so amazing because He is amazing! My favorite radio station selects different reformed theology pastors & I love listening to them! I could write a book but since this is a comment I will close with love & prayers, in Jesus, Cynthia

Mary said...

Oh, thank you, Cynthia! I was worried I'd upset some people. I know I don't usually talk about my theological leanings so completely and directly, nor do I plan to on a regular basis, but it's always behind my words and it had a lot to do with what I wanted to write about, so I thought I'd just say it.

No, I'm definitely not the one to be idolized. It really is all Him. Seriously, it amazes me the way He's worked out just everything to get me to where I am today, and how much He's taught me and grown me in the past year. He really is amazing! (I have a lot of friends who are around my age, totally in love with and constantly pursuing God, have great theology, and grew up Catholic. I would also say that some Catholics do have a decent understanding of theology and a deep love for God. And a lot of people who grew up in non-Catholic churches don't even believe in God. Denomination doesn't really matter, the age at which you started to really understand who God is doesn't really matter - it's all part of His plan, and He knows what He's doing. The important thing is that He's done a work in your life and you're following Him now.)

I think I'd like your favorite radio station. It would be nice to listen to that in the car instead of "You think to yourself 'I'm a good person.'" - awesome-sounding song, horrible theology.

I would love to read your "book"! Don't suppose you'd blog about this?

Thank you so much for your words and encouragement, friend! It means so much to me!

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