but thanks to my analytical, over-critical mind, and thanks also to a high-quality theological education at VUSC, and thanks lastly to my fallen anti-Christlike nature, i am now capable of looking at my faith from the outside.
this post's term to decode is spoken a little differently by each person, in each situation, but the core of it could be expressed like this: "rely on God's strength, not your own."
to this admonition the young, naive, devout Christian will probably respond, "ahh yes... what profound spiritual wisdom. i will do my best. Father, please help me to do this." but a more skeptical, questioning, annoying Christian will respond, "what the heck is that supposed to mean?" and if there is some combination of devout and critical, the response will probly be something like "teach me how, and i will."
fortunately (for all types of Christians), this phrase has biblical roots. i'll let you find them yourself, since you need to be studying anyway. try Proverbs, to start. anyway, its lofty origin makes it a trustworthy statement, as long as we decode it in some useful, practical way. here's how i did it:
i am in a constant war against myself. sometimes i win, sometimes i lose. recently i've been losing some critical battles, and it came to the point where my country was about to be completely overrun by barbarian hordes. first i tried just letting them loot, hoping they would leave. they didn't. then i tried fighting for the cause of freedom (for my country's inhabitants). that didn't work either. i tried giving my allegiance to a greater nation, one that could bolster my own forces. failed again. i even tried building huge walls... that one was probably the funniest attempt, since i ended up building gates in them. without locks.
a few days ago i thought to myself, "there has to be some solution. i can't keep living like this, letting the barbarians ravage my land, as well as the land of my neighboring countries. i need to protect myself and my loved ones. but i feel i've tried everything!"
the solution turned out to be a pretty simple one. i thought back to the first time i ever knowingly, willingly gave my allegiance to anyone/anything else. i was a freshman in highhomeschool, sitting alone one night, when i suddenly realized, "i can't do this alone. i need God." that's the first time i prayed to Him and actually knew Who i was addressing. and i said to Him, "i need You, and i will always need You, and right now, i promise to seek and serve You."
my oldest contract, and my strongest. it strengthened and weakened, back and forth over the years... but over time, as i grew more knowledgeable and more independent, i came to rely completely on myself. the old allegiance was completely forgotten, still binding, but out of sight and out of mind.
back to the present: i pulled it out the other day, and read the last line of the contract. it says, "Jesus Christ is LORD."
the oldest confession of the Christian church, spoken at a time when Caesar was considered Lord. and not just king, or ruler, but God Himself. when i think of the title "Lord," i think of the one who owns it all. i think of the one who always gets his way. i think of someone who is to be obeyed unquestioningly.
the first time i related to God, the first way in which i related to God, is wrapped up in that confession. Jesus Christ is LORD. He owns me. even if i completely reject Him, or forget Him, or ignore Him... in the end, He still owns me. in the end, i still bow.
that night as a 9th grader, i knew for certain that i needed to give Him my total allegiance. i knew i would lead a worthless, useless, pointless, foolish life, unless i became subservient to Him. i had never been more sure of anything in my entire life. i look back on it now and see that i was convicted of the truth; i didn't just realize it. it was branded on me, at the core of my being.
over the years i forgot. kind of like Israel. i'm... i don't have a strong enough word. i would tear my clothes and put ashes on my head if that were my culture. i'm distraught, or horrified, or dejected, or ashamed, or intensely sorry... all those things. i feel so bad that it took this much ruin for me to finally choose redemption, to finally return to that initial promise i made, but i'm glad that it happened, and so far i've found that it's the only claim on me that beats everything else. it's the trump card; it's my M.O. i've tried everything else, and failed every time. Jesus' LORDship is the only allegiance i care about, enough to continually deny myself.
so every time the barbarians attack, i say, out loud: "Jesus Christ is LORD."
sometimes the barbarians retreat, and i feel a sense of peace. sometimes i feel nothing. sometimes they continue beating at the walls. sometimes they scream obscenities and hurl corpses over the walls, reminding me of all their victories, blaming me for the deaths of my subjects and my friends. sometimes, instead of fighting, they send forth their diplomats and public speakers to make persuasive arguments; they tell me they've already won, or that they have a right to enter my domain, or that the simple act of acknowledging their presence has already compromised my kingdom's safety. sometimes they tell me that if i just send all my kingdom's treasures out through the gate, they'll depart quietly and never tell anyone of my defeat.
regardless of whatever else happens... every time so far, my spoken allegiance to the only rightful ruler has kept me from failing. please understand this: my love for Valerie has proven insufficient. my stubborn strong will (no one is more stubborn than me) has proven insufficient. my fear of consequences has proven insufficient. my desire for a virtuous character; my friends' support and encouragement; my parents' constant prayers for me; my lofty goals in life... all insufficient.
~ ~ ~
for me, right now, to rely on God's strength is to know without a doubt that He is LORD over me. i have to add those last two words to the ancient Christian confession because if He is simply LORD, then i can still defy/disobey Him and not care. for some reason, that initial promise i made has survived brutal raids and countless defeats. i am His, and no one else's... not even my own. He tells me what to do. if there is anyone to give allegiance to, it's God: the One Who will never force you to give it, the One Who deserves it most, the only One Who can be trusted with it.
again, but put differently: to rely on God's strength is to be obedient to Him, regardless of your feelings, thoughts, situations, or any other convictions or loyalties. when i say it out loud, i realize (even or especially when i don't want to realize!) that no matter who i think i am, or what i think i can do or get away with, He is simply, unquestionably, eternally, independently, uncompromisingly LORD.
hear me clearly: as a Christian, you cannot give your allegiance to your family. you can serve them, but serve Christ first, and then your family. neither can you serve yourself, unless you are foolish enough to think yourself an autokrator. you cannot be His subject on some days, but not others; obviously you can disobey Him, but if you're a Christian, you disobey Him as His subject. there's no trial period, no 2-year-plan option, no free night minutes. if you give yourself to Him, you are His. period. no qualifications, no provisos, no fine print.
how did this become a sermon? crap...
well. just pretend i'm preaching it to myself. because really, that's exactly what i'm doing.