Step 10- Day 31

Romans 10:11-12, CEB

11 The scripture says, All who have faith in him won’t be put to shame. 12 There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, who gives richly to all who call on him.

I find it comforting to know that God sees us all the same.  He doesn’t see us in terms of race (in the passage) or in terms of gender or even in terms of our morality (as we see in other passages).  After all, those first two things are completely out of our control.  In a sense, God creates our race and our gender, so it would be odd if He showed favorites based on such things wouldn’t it?  But even beyond this, we see in Matthew 5 that God lets the sun shine on the evil and the good alike, as I mentioned in my message a few weeks back.  God loves all, and is willing to give richly to “all who call on Him”.  We don’t need to fret about whether or not we’re worthy, or whether we’ve achieved enough, or accomplished enough.  On the flip side of the coin, we don’t need to worry about whether or not we’ve done too much “evil” to deserve God’s gifts.  God’s giving is not about whether or not we deserve it, it’s about the fact that God simply loves and gives because that is His character.

But can we receive?

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Step 10- Day 30

Deuteronomy 10:12-13

12 Now in light of all that, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you? Only this: to revere the Lord your God by walking in all his ways, by loving him, by serving the Lord your God with all your heart and being, 13 and by keeping the Lord’s commandments and his regulations that I’m commanding you right now. It’s for your own good!

There’s a whole bunch of commandments in the Old Testament and we don’t really pay attention to many of them today (there’s good reasons for that, it’s not just arbitrary), and there’s also the occasional summary statement.  Sometimes I find these helpful, because every day one of the things I wrestle with is, “how am I supposed to be living?”  In a broad sense I have some idea of what that looks like.  I have some general sense of morality.  But it’s hard to break that down to the day-to-day decisions, the things that aren’t clear cut, the grey areas.  And don’t be deceived, there are many, many grey areas in life.  In struggling with these things, I find words like this helpful.  I am to walk in God’s ways, love Him, and serve Him with my everything (then Moses gives some commands that show the people roughly what that looks like).

Then again, these things aren’t exactly clear cut.  It takes some work to figure out what it means to walk in God’s ways, let alone figure out how to actually do that.  And what does it actually mean to love God?  I have some ideas about how I might go about answering these things but I don’t think there are any answers that will end the struggle to figure out exactly how to live in light of our knowledge and love for God.  This is an ongoing thing for me.  I hope it gets easier, but even if it doesn’t, I’m going to continue to do my best to walk in His ways, even as imperfectly as I might do that.

Step 10- Day 29

Isaiah 40:18-25, CEB

18 So to whom will you equate God;

    to what likeness will you compare him?

19 An idol? A craftsman pours it,

    a metalworker covers it with gold,

    and fashions silver chains.

20 The one who sets up an image chooses wood that won’t rot

    and then seeks a skilled artisan

    to set up an idol that won’t move.

21 Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?

    Wasn’t it announced to you from the beginning?

    Haven’t you understood since the earth was founded?

22 God inhabits the earth’s horizon—

    its inhabitants are like locusts—

    stretches out the skies like a curtain

    and spreads it out like a tent for dwelling.

23     God makes dignitaries useless

    and the earth’s judges into nothing.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,

    scarcely is their shoot rooted in the earth

    when God breathes on them, and they dry up;

    the windstorm carries them off like straw.

25 So to whom will you compare me,

    and who is my equal? says the holy one.

Sometimes I just like to remember how large and powerful and transcendent God is.  Well, that’s not exactly right.  It’s not about me “liking” to remember that, it’s more about the fact that I think it’s important to remember because I easily forget.  It’s easy to just get caught up in day-to-day activities, going through the motions, and never really even pause to think about God or what He’s up to in the world.   But then again, when I do pause to think about these things, sometimes I find it hard to come to any particular conclusions.

I suppose it doesn’t always matter that we know exactly what God is up to, although I find it particularly frustrating that I can’t sort it out.  In these moments where I’m particularly frustrated I usually think an equally frustrating thought, “Well.  I guess I just have to accept what I don’t know.”  But then again, things don’t have to be so hopeless.  Even when we struggle to sort out the particulars, Isaiah 40 teaches us something more important.  It teaches that wherever God is, whatever He’s up to, He’s larger, more expansive, more powerful than anything else.  And because of this, He’s never out of control.

Step 10- Day 28

Galatians 1:21-24, CEB

21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22 but I wasn’t known personally by the Christian churches in Judea. 23 They only heard a report about me: “The man who used to harass us now preaches the faith that he once tried to destroy.” 24 So they were glorifying God because of me.

Paul had a past.  He ended up writing a solid chunk of the New Testament, which is pretty good.  Before he did that, he persecuted Christians and tried to prevent this group of Christ-followers from turning into a movement.  Many think Paul was a murderer but there’s not actually any evidence of this, he persecuted, and there’s a violent element to that, but we don’t know that Paul himself killed anyone.  Be that as it may, many Christians were killed as part of the general persecution that took place at that point in time and, to some extent, Paul participated in that violence by association.

Let’s be honest, that’s pretty bad.  And yet he overcame it.  He didn’t let his past dictate his future and though he continued to have his struggles, we have some idea from his writing that he continued to develop and grow in his faith and character.  He was transformed.  I believe that is something that most of us are hoping, perhaps waiting for.  In Paul’s case, his transformation took place rather quickly.  Most of us don’t have that experience, and that is okay.  The disciples themselves did not convert quickly, as we see in the Gospel of Mark.  For those of us that haven’t transformed over night, perhaps step 10 becomes even more important to continue to work on over time.  Our pasts are behind us, but they still bear on our present.  We continue to struggle and fight and hope to move past our pasts.  Because of this, I would encourage you to always let step 10 linger in the back of your mind.  I don’t think we ever really “move past” this step.  Part of our transformation is the willingness to continue to evaluate the ways in which we haven’t been fully transformed.

I think it’s okay to be a work in progress.  I think it’s even more okay to constantly work at being a work in progress.

Step 10- Day 27

Lamentations 3:19-24, CEB

19 The memory of my suffering and homelessness is bitterness and poison.

20 I can’t help but remember and am depressed.

21 I call all this to mind—therefore, I will wait.

22 Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through!

23 They are renewed every morning. Great is your faithfulness.

24 I think: The Lord is my portion! Therefore, I’ll wait for him.

By the time we get to step 10, if we’re not careful, we might be starting to feel like we’ve accomplished something or, at the very least, that we’re very close to accomplishing something.  That’s a difficult balance- because working through the steps is a lengthy and arduous process that demands some affirmation, but, at the same time, we run the risk of losing what we’ve gained when we start to feel that we have arrived.  We might get sloppy, lose our focus, and slip back into old habits.  “Slipping” might not be the end of the world, but it does impede our growth.

Our memories can help us here.  While our memories are imperfect, they are still powerful instruments capable of helping us experience our pasts: the places we’ve been, the people we’ve hurt, the things we’ve done, or the things we’ve failed to do.  Sure, that may sound depressing, but “remembering where we came from” is an important piece of the puzzle for us moving forward.  If we remember the thing that God has brought us out of, then perhaps we can recognize the land into which He has delivered us.

After all, His love and compassion are renewed every morning.

Step 10- Day 26

Psalm 32:1-2

The one whose wrongdoing is forgiven,

    whose sin is covered over, is truly happy!

2 The one the Lord doesn’t consider guilty—

    in whose spirit there is no dishonesty—

    that one is truly happy!

The ongoing personal inventory, step 10, is kind of unique.  It’s not as specific as the others.  It doesn’t tell us who to admit our wrongdoing to.  It doesn’t define promptly.  It doesn’t tell us how often to do this.  In the other steps, we’re dealing with the past, with a finite number of wrongs (even if we can’t remember them all).  I think that in its ambiguity, step 10 is pushing us towards an ongoing attempt to be aware of ourselves.  We are learning how our actions impact others.  In some ways, that’s a huge theme of the 12 steps.  Many of us grow up spending so much time thinking about ourselves and so little time considering how our choices impact other people.  The 12 steps push us beyond that kind of thinking and force us to take others into account in how we think and live.

If we can somehow harness the 12 steps’ attempts to get us to think larger, I wonder if we would be well on our way to looking like the person described in Psalm 32.  If we were able to thoughtfully interact with others and the world and possess the vulnerability to acknowledge when we’ve fallen short of being a “decent human being”, then I wonder if this would contribute to forming the kind of person “…in whose spirit there is no dishonesty…”  I don’t really know.  But I wonder.

Step 10- Day 25

2 Corinthians 12:7-10, CEB

7 I was given a thorn in my body because of the outstanding revelations I’ve received so that I wouldn’t be conceited. It’s a messenger from Satan sent to torment me so that I wouldn’t be conceited.  8 I pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me alone. 9 He said to me, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. 10 Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.

Everybody has certain “sin patterns”.  We have our little things that trip us up more than others.  Something that is a temptation for me might not be for someone else, but we all have our sort of “go-to things”.  I have a difficult time thinking about practicing step 10 in light of those things.  If I’m going to have an ongoing inventory, do I have to take the same mistakes to God over and over again?  Do I have to continually confess that same sin pattern?  If I have to repent and confess for the same thing over and over am I actually repenting sincerely?  How do I overcome that?  People always talk about this passage here as if Paul is referring to a sin pattern he has, I’m not convinced that is the case, but regardless I think we each have these things.  I don’t know what to do about that.  It seems like eventually I’ve brought something to God so many times that it’s not worth mentioning anymore.  I’m too ashamed to keep bringing it before Him, or frankly I’m just tired of it and assume He feels the same.  Cognitively, I want to say that it’s important to continue to repent even in that scenario, but it’s a difficult thing to actually do.  An ongoing personal inventory can certainly become frustratingly repetitive when it comes to our more private or internal types of sin patterns.  Surely it’s an important thing to do and work on, but it’s not something I fully understand or practice well.