February 11, 2014

Coming to Terms with the Law

Today I sit before the Lord and I thank Him for the opportunity to rest in His presence. I have been stressed the past couple days, worrying about financial concerns, and feeling the bite of my upcoming research assignments (looming due dates). More so, I have felt the nagging sensation that I have failed in my duties as teacher, not performed as I expected that I should perform, and that somehow I have let my students down. All of this, the feelings, the sensations, have coalesced into an attitude that is predicated on fear and doubt and worry. The Lord calls to me, He reminds me that I am to rest, to trust Him, to let go of the striving, and to recognize His goodness in my life.

As I reflect on His goodness, I realize that I am experiencing the Glory of the Lord. The Glory of the Lord is manifested in who He is and in His attributes. He is good. His goodness is the expression of His Glory.

It has been nearly eight years since I entered into this relationship with the Lord. My life prior was one of works, of me working to prove myself worthy to bear His name. I failed, of course, I failed miserably. No one is worthy to wear His name. Yet, in my zealousness and religious study, I was constantly reminded of this charge:

"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Ephesians 4:1-3

I took this verse to be literal instructions that I, as a Christian, was to oversee my person in such a way that I walked worthy of the calling of Christ. I was to shun every evil thing, to only embrace that which was spiritual, and to live a pure life. I was to do this, on my own, through obedience to God's word. And while I believed that the Holy Spirit would guide me (convict me when I failed, encourage me to not fall), I didn't see any supernatural way to accomplish this charge. It was up to me to do it, and God's Holy Spirit would be my judge (did well, did not so well).

Then, I had an epiphany of sorts. I came to know the Lord Jesus Christ in a different way. I came to experience His goodness, and that goodness became such a part of my life. I saw all my effort, my struggle, my striving for what it was -- dead works (honorable dead works, mind you). I was trying to do something, living up to Christian perfection, and in doing so, was failing every single day.

In fact, I can recall the moment when I turned away from the Holy Spirit of God, and confessed to Him that I was not able to keep the law. It was in 1987, and I had just finished a portion of Kay Arthur's Precept study on "Romans." This study had been radical for me, it had changed my life, and I began to earnestly seek God, to know Him through His word. It was such a good thing. But I suffered great conviction, and I had evil thoughts and desires. I was being tempted, and I was giving into the temptations regularly. I was awash with guilt and shame, and I was convicted to the point of feeling that I was worthless, and that I was a hopeless case.

Now, I do not say that the Holy Spirit was convicting me of everything at this point -- no, certainly not. I believe that I was being tormented by Satan for the sins I was actively involved in. The Word was convicting me as well, showing me right from wrong, and I was caught in the crosshairs between doing what was good and doing what was not good.

Oh, the word! The Word of God is sweet, like honey (our pastor gave a great message on this topic on Sunday)! The Word was pulling me one way, and the devil was tempting me to go the other way. In the end, I succumbed. I didn't go to the devil so to speak, but I cried out loudly and proclaimed that it was too hard to be a Christian, it was too much work, and too difficult for me to do it. I gave up, I gave in, and I sunk into a years worth of depression over my failure to be perfect. I couldn't do it. I couldn't keep the perfect law.

I don't blame Kay Arthur. I don't blame the format of her study either. I blame the combination of influences that worked together during this time in my life. I was attending an ultra-conservative fundamentalist church. I was studying a line-by-line Bible study that focused solely upon the accuracy of Scripture, and the Holy Spirit for inspiration. I was a newly born again Christian, with little training in scripture, and the combination of instruction served to teach me that there was only one way to live your life, and that was through obedience to the Word of God. Every word was to be believed. Every word to be obeyed.

Don't get me wrong -- I believe in the authority and accuracy of scripture. I believe in the Word, and it is to be understood and obeyed. Just not by me, at least, not anymore. It is not I who believe and obey, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who believes and obeys through me. I cannot do it, but He can and does.

Back then I took the judgement of the Law upon me, and I walked away from God because I sensed that I was flawed, failed, and that there was no hope for me. No one came along side me back then to tell me about Grace. No one helped me understand that I didn't have to obey the written law, but that I could obey the Spirit of the Law. In doing so, had someone shown me the Spirit's way, then I would have learned that the Spirit of God would supernaturally empower me to walk in obedience to the law through my faith in Jesus Christ (the fulfillment of the law). Instead, I dropped out, and I sunk down lower and lower into the grim and filth of sinful desires and appetites. I turned my back on God, and for a long time, I lived with the guilt and shame of that decision.

I still attended church. I still went to Bible study, but I didn't care about these things. I was married, and I pretended to be a good Christian wife. I hated my life. I hated everything about my life. My marriage was crumbling due to sin (mine and my husband's) and the pressures endured through extenuating family was mounting. As I tried to hide my sin, my life spun more and more out of control. I was mentally unstable, at the brink of exhaustion, and I could see a nervous breakdown on the horizon. I was plagued by spiritual dreams, dark and difficult dreams, that shook me to my core. I was so sad every day, so very sad, and I felt lost and alone. I hated my life, and I wanted out of it, desperately, so completely, and so earnestly.

Then in 1992, something happened to me, something that changed my life, and brought me back around to the Lord Jesus Christ. I was getting ready to graduate from college, and I was making plans to attend graduate school. I found out I was pregnant, and while happy about it, I was saddened that my plans for graduate study would be put on hold. Later in 1993, when my son was born, I realized that God had intervened in my life, caused my womb to open up, and allowed one tiny seed to fertilize one egg, and grow this beautiful baby boy. There had been no babies before, and there would be no babies afterward -- for nearly 25 years there would be no pregnancies, no hopes of more children. No, there would be one child, just one child. This one child would be my world, and would be my focus, and would bring me back to God.

Yes, I knew that once this baby was born, I had a choice to make in how he would be raised. I made it my calling to teach him about God, to raise him in the fear and admonition of the Lord. He would be the one who I would instruct and teach about God. In doing so, I was taught by him. I learned about grace, and how to parent with grace. Though I didn't parent with grace initially. I parented with legalism since that was still the fundamentalist teachings I was surrounded by and encouraged to keep. Eventually, we moved to a new place, created a new life, and through the teachings at this new Church, I came to see grace in action, and I came to see how I needed to parent my child differently.

I have blogged about my son's special needs before but suffice it to say that I had to learn how to parent him because there was no manual for me to follow, no written down instructions, no path. I learned through gifted teachers and counselors, and eventually created my own way. In the end, my life was filled with purpose, and I began to see that God was calling me to live a certain way, to follow Him, and to return to Him.

It took time. It took a lot of time before I was able to get to that point. Thirteen years later I fell on my knees before the Lord and I confessed my sins to Him. I confessed my hard heart and my willful disobedience to Him, personally to Him, and then to His Holy Spirit, and to the Word of God. It was a cleansing brush, a deep washing that created within me a clean heart, and a renewed spirit (Ps. 51).

Yes, I was cleansed and renewed. I was made new that day.

Since that time, I have walked in this new way. Living, breathing, and experiencing every day as a new day to hope, to cherish, and to adore the Lord. He is my everything. Today, He is the One whom I adore. I love the Lord with my whole heart, and I seek His face diligently. He sustains me, He lifts me up, and He keeps me covered. He is so very good, so very good to me.

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