Friday, March 7, 2014

Coal or Diamond - Part 15

image used under Creative Commons license, photo by Atranias, on Pixabay
I'm amazed that this series has run as long as it has. At the same time, I'm not. Some details have been eliminated to avoid making wrong lifestyle choices appear glamorous, when they shouldn't seem like there's a reason one might want to try them.  And the focus needs to be on God, not on me, despite the somewhat autobiographical nature of this series.  And it seems that, each time we start writing the latest post, there are life and doctrinal gems that just need to be shared.  Today is no different, as we look at an application of the key verses from our last two posts.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (KJV)  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Jeremiah 29:11-14 (KJV)  For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.  Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.  And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.  And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.

Last time, we spoke about how salvation brought our hearts and minds in line with God's thoughts. That includes thinking of ourselves with peace and love toward ourselves.  God thinks that way about us before we accept the gift of salvation.  We need to, as well, so that our thinking doesn't prevent us from accepting that gift.  Fortunately, God's grace allows us to do that, if only for moments at a time.  And God's love and grace are unlimited.  Peter expresses it in one very important way:

Acts 10:34-35 (KJV)  Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

Note that we're not talking about an unrestrained "get out of jail free card".  This isn't the game of Monopoly.  We have to do our part to develop the relationship.  We can't just say some magical words and, poof, a relationship with God appears out of a puff of smoke.  God wants our hearts, not just our presence.

When we think with God, that removes our captivity to our own concepts and has us thinking of ourselves as God does.  We may start our Christianity with some form of disliking ourselves and feeling a need for self punishment.  However, that should change to real spiritual thinking that realizes that there are consequences for our wrong thoughts and actions.  And we should come to a point of accepting that there's a difference between eternal punishment and temporal chastisement. Example. If a rowdy young believer gets into a brawl and repents, they can repent and be immediately forgiven.  But eternal forgiveness doesn't necessarily eliminate a period in jail for public brawling, if they're caught.  

What does change is our own attitude toward our behavior.  While accepting the possible temporal consequences of our actions and thinking, our mind doesn't immediately race to self punishment. Instead, it should aim at constructive thinking that calculates how to improve in the future.  Our goal needs to be becoming more pleasing to God.

When I was avoiding God, alcohol had a lot to do with my wrong thinking.  Fortunately, there were periods when my drinking slowed to "normal".  After having drunk my way out of broadcasting and several very good electronics industry jobs, I hit one of those periods of clarity.  I recognized, to a degree that would make me act upon it, that there was something distinctly wrong with my life. Discussing it with a friend, he suggested that the problem was my lack of a real relationship with God.  That thought stuck with me.  And, since we were both Catholic, he suggested I go on a weekend with a group called Cursillo.

Since most of you probably have never heard of Cursillo, I'll explain.  First, Cursillo (pronounced coor-see-yo) is a Spanish word meaning little course.  The weekends are intended to be an intense, retreat like, short course in Catholicism and Christianity.  The movement started in Spain in 1949. The priests noticed that, while the churches were fairly full, most parishioners were women.  Cursillo was started to get Spanish men more involved.  When it expanded beyond Spain, both men and women could go on Cursillo weekends (each on one intended for the same gender).  But a woman couldn't go on a women's weekend unless there's a spouse, male family member, or male friend going on a male weekend, first.  And people who go on the weekend are sponsored (recommended) by someone who's already done it.

I was specially blessed for mine.  A number of the team for the January weekend I attended were born again Catholics.  So, there was more emphasis on the Bible and a real relationship with God. Cursillo uses a Spanish term "de colores", literally "of colors", referring to the multitude of colors of God's love.  The team thought for awhile that I might be a "hard case" who never transitioned to uniting with God.  But there were some more personal things, like how I related to God, that I was very good at hiding, at that point.  In reality, somewhere between late Saturday night and when I was awake Sunday morning, I stopped teetering on the brink and fully connected with God.  

The conference room was on the second floor of the old house where the weekend was held and we had an ice storm during the night.  So, after having made my decision for God, I walked into the conference room and looked out the windows at the upper part of a tree that was coated in ice like thousands of prisms radiating a multitude of colors.  De colores.  You could take that as coincidence, but I still think of it as God's way of telling me, "You're home where you belong, Bill.".  Perhaps that was subjective on my part, but I do believe in miracles.  And I believe the timing on that wasn’t just happenstance.

And, perhaps, that’s the transition moment that best fits our series title.  I went from spiritual coal-like darkness to becoming a prism like a diamond, radiating God’s light.  Much like the light reflecting off the lake in the picture at the top of this post.  I believe that I had really accepted a relationship with God when I was being taught as a child by that nun I’ve mentioned.  My veering off into a life of error and sin wasn’t from not having a relationship.  It was from a lack of real discipleship.  That left me with little conscious connection with God for many years.

I still had a pretty good idea of right and wrong.  So, when I mention a lack of discipleship, that's not excusing my choices and behavior.  I was (and am still) responsible for my own decisions.  But 20/20 hindsight has shown me that I don't ever want to evangelize someone without there being some way they can then be discipled.  Discipleship is a very important form of protection for the new believer.  I'm not saying that I need that assurance in order to evangelize.  But I will make sure I or someone else follows up.  The local Cursillo group and some of the team did that for me.  Even though I've since moved out of the area where that happened, there were spiritual relationships that cemented us in each other's prayer lives.  Part of being a Christian.

So, have our decisions been what they should be, both before and after gaining that relationship with God?  Could we have made better choices?  That's not to condemn us.  Remember Romans 8:1 (KJV), "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.".  But what will we do, now, to be better?

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