Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Spiritual Tats

Several of my friends have had in-depth discussions with me about this Law versus Grace thing and know my heart-attitude on the subject. Some of them think I'm on the right track ("spiritual growth"), some of them think I'm heading backwards ("Pharisaical legalism"), and some of them just think I'm weird and they're waiting to see what crazy thing I'll do next ("Dee's gone off the deep end again").

It usually comes up when I get invited to dinner.  "Want to join us at Sonny's this Saturday? They're having a special on baby backs!"

"Sorry, sounds like fun, but I don't eat pork anymore."  Or shrimp.  Or catfish.  And I don't go to restaurants on Saturday.  I used to say, "Sorry, I can't," but that isn't strictly true.  I can, but
I don't.  Why not?  To steal a line from the Apostle Paul, "Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial" (1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:23).  I'm not talking about my physical health here, but my spiritual health.  If you showed me a scientific study proving that pork will increase my life expectancy by ten years, I'd still have to pass on the ribs.

Ordinarily, I don't go into a lengthy explanation of my beliefs.  If people want to assume that I have a food sensitivity, fine by me.  But neither am I fond of tap dancing around the bush, and when pressured to modify or justify my position, I try to be honest.  "It's a God-thing.  He said those things aren't food, so I don't eat them (Leviticus 11:7-9).  And He said we shouldn't work on the sabbath or make other people work for us on the sabbath (Exodus 20:10) or buy and sell things on the sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-18), so I don't eat in restaurants on Saturday."

That's usually when I get the funny looks.  Sometimes I even get treated to Urban Legends about the Christian who started keeping Jewish law and ended up becoming a Jew and rejecting Christ.  (Oooh, cue scary music and dim the lights!)  As if eating a ham sandwich is going to keep me tight with God.

I was laughing about this around Easter time this year, when I was observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread and foregoing anything containing leaven.  "If I told people I'd given up chocolate for Lent," I said to one friend, "no one would hassle me about it.  But because I've given up yeast for a week in obedience to one of God's commands (Exodus 34:18), I am a 'legalist.' Go figure."

Although this is really just a personal matter between me and God, I am in a leadership position and do a lot of teaching - some by example - so I feel I should explain myself further by sharing a little bit of the spiritual journey that got me to this place.  Hence, this blog.

The Nazirite vow I took in 2008 (see Numbers 6:1-12 for the specifics) was a humbling experience, and I am constantly learning new things about the many ways in which I failed to keep that vow. I am thankful that God is merciful and that He looks at our hearts, and that's all I have to say about that.

Release from the vow last year spawned a flood of Facebook Notes as I learned to appreciate the freedom I have in Christ. (You can read the notes I posted in February 2010 and March 2010 if you're curious.) But then, seemingly out of the blue, I (apparently) rejected that freedom and put myself back under a set of laws that many (most?) Christians believe to be obsolete, unnecessary, and possibly even harmful to my spiritual growth. WHY?

Let me start by saying, LOUDLY and CLEARLY, that I am NOT preaching this course of action for anyone other than myself. As I said, the matter is personal between me and God and not something that I am pushing others to do. As I look back over the twenty-one years of our relationship, I see where I was, where I am now, and where I believe He is leading me. One thing stands out: God is leading me one step at a time; He is not going to "beam me up, Scotty" and instantly zap me to the place He has prepared for me. For me to drag anyone along on this road is not only wrong, it is pointless. You simply CANNOT grasp certain spiritual principles until God wants you to. You can taste them, and maybe even choke them down, but you can't digest them or receive nourishment from them.

Paul talks about spiritual baby food and spiritual meat, and sometimes that can become a pride issue for believers ("Oh, you're still eating baby food, are you? I'm eating meat!") so I hate to use those terms. If you stop to think about it, though, you realize that the most mature people can't chew the meat any more because they've lost most of their teeth. The POINT is, that you have to eat the type of food that is appropriate for your level of maturity - this is true both physically and spiritually. So I'm not even going to try to label my current diet - pablum, sirloin, bran muffin, or oatmeal - it makes no difference. All I know is, it is the right diet for me at the moment, but that doesn't mean it's the right diet for you. If God hasn't put it on your plate, DO NOT try to steal a forkful of it off mine. There's no plate-sharing at God's table.

So what is on Dee's plate? Here's the Reader's Digest condensed version. (As some of you know, I can talk about this for hours and still barely scratch the surface. There are a LOT of Bible verses underlying my decision and I won't try to go into them all here. You're welcome.)

I have come to see that, while my salvation comes through faith in Christ's atoning work on the cross (translation: the fact that Yeshua took the fall for my crimes), the Law that no longer has the power to condemn me is still in effect in my life - it hasn't suddenly gone "poof!" (See Matthew 5:17-20) HOWEVER, God doesn't want me to follow it out of a sense of obligation ("Because I said so, that's why!"). Instead, He is writing it on my heart, bit by bit. And each bit brings with it a change. Some changes are big, some are small, but all are part of God's design.

Let me use an analogy most of my LifePointe and NVC friends will love. Tattoos.

I don't have one. Yet. But I know a lot of people who do, so I'll take a stab at this. Most people get one tattoo at a time. They don't go into a tattoo parlor and say, "Cover every inch of my skin, and do it now." For one thing, the pain would be incredible. For another, they haven't fully committed yet. They might not be brave (or foolish) enough to make such a radical change in appearance until they have had a chance to see how their friends, relatives, and employers will react to the idea. They might be toying with the idea of 100% ink, but not be sure yet what design they want that ink to take. They may want the ink to record significant moments in their lives, some of which haven't happened yet. Etc. Etc. Etc. You get the idea.

The first tattoo is the biggest leap. It's usually small and inconspicuous. For many people, one is enough. (For some people, one is more than enough, and they regret the decision later and may even go so far as to have the tattoo removed.) Some people get that first tattoo out of rebellion, some out of a desire to belong, some because they think it will improve their looks, some because they had too much to drink... Whatever the motivation, that first tattoo is lifechanging, like losing one's virginity. Even if the experience can be hidden, it cannot be undone. [Think of the decision to trust Christ as the spiritual equivalent of that first tattoo.]

Many people don't stop there, though. They have another design they want to add, and they've decided that the experience of the first one wasn't so bad after all. So they go out and get another tattoo. It's probably going to be bolder than the first one - maybe bigger, maybe more risque, maybe in a more daring location. That second tattoo is more likely to reflect the deeper desires in a person's heart, the parts of their personality they've been keeping hidden. Or perhaps the second design is chosen with someone else's tastes in mind ("Come on, honey, get it for me...") but even that decision shows how much the other person is valued. [The spiritual equivalent here would be a new believer's first attempts to grow closer to God, perhaps through church attendance or Bible study or giving up an addiction.]

Once hooked, some people can't get enough. I know a few of these people. For them, the tattoos have become part of their identity. No one is forcing them to do this - they do it because they WANT to. They are willing to endure the pain, the expense, the health risks, and the social repercussions. [These are the true "disciples" - people willing to work and, if necessary, suffer for their faith.]

Just as a tattoo changes the outward appearance of a person, God's inscription of His Law onto our hearts changes our inward appearance. Just as the type and number of tattoos vary from person to person, God's transformation process is uniquely tailored to each individual believer. Just as the "disciple" of tats is marked over a course of time, the disciple of Christ is changed gradually. And just as the tattooee is a willing and eager participant in the process, so is the Christ-follower.

I've gotten quite a few spiritual tattoos on my heart during the past 21 years, but there is room for lots more. What can I say? I'm hooked. I can't get enough.  Legalism? or Love?  I think I'll let God be the judge of that.

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