Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Great Madness

I was trying to create an account that would allow me to use the electronic health record I needed for school. The online form was asking me to input a middle initial. Anyone who knows me even just a little better than the guy who rings up my groceries at the store knows that I do not have a middle initial. My name is Nathan Costiuc - I don't need a middle name to separate me from all of the other zero Nathan Costiuc's on the planet. So I left that portion blank, just as I always do in these types of situations (although if I had a middle name, I'd want it to be something with a 'Q'. How cool would that be?)

I got stuck. There was some sort of problem with the account. I called the company up and asked them what the beef was. The gentleman on the phone told me that I had to put in a middle initial. I was clear with the fact that I had none. He insisted. I lied on the form. Are you happy, Mr. Customer Service?

Think with me here: this little box that was asking for my middle initial was probably doing so to authenticate my individuality. Its purpose was to make sure that it was legitimately me filling out this form. The irony of this situation is that, in being forced to fill it out so I could use the software, it made me falsify information and put down something that was not accurate to the reality of who I was. The form that was asking for the real me forced me to be a fake me.
"Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me." (Hosea 7)
Sometimes, irony oversteps its bounds and becomes something else. When the reality of the ridiculousness of a situation becomes overwhelming, irony leaps over itself and becomes madness. This is easily seen in a quote from Voltaire, who said, "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets." The reader who peruses this statement immediately becomes overwhelmed with frustration as he questions how such a thing could be true. Coupling the irony of this quote with the frustration over its truth, it gets pushed into the realm of madness.

In Hosea, God is addressing the people of Israel, who are repeatedly and consistently rejecting the covenant God made with them, choosing to worship gods made with their own hands instead of the Almighty Creator. This is where we find the quoted passage. This is where we find God saying, "You have used the very hands that I made and gave strength to build your idols."

Here we find The Great Madness: if God didn't give us the air we breathe and a mind to think, we wouldn't be able to sin against Him as we do. Rather, we use the life He keeps on giving us to show our ungratefulness for the life He keeps on giving us by sinning against Him. This is not only irony. This is Madness.

Brothers and sisters, this is God we're talking about. And we've sinned altogether too much against Him. I've sinned altogether too much against Him. We not only participate in this irony, but we rejoice to be a part of The Great Madness.

Brothers and sisters, this cannot be so.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Falling Asleep in Church and Other Sins

As a child, I was fairly fidgety. If I was sitting somewhere I was supposed to be quiet, it's as if my body would say, "Quiet, eh? Put the hyperactivity in overdrive, captain!" Needless to say, there were many moments of discipline that had to take place when I let that energy get out of control.

The odd thing about my tendency to be energetic is that I also fall asleep very easily. One might think that people like me have trouble falling asleep. Incorrect. (Where'd you get your degree? Psh...) I can fall asleep almost anywhere. This was also true as a child, and I would often fall asleep during sermons.

Even now, though I'm shaking my legs furiously as I type away, my eyelids want to shut down and take a nap.

For whatever reason, nowadays, I don't have too much trouble staying awake during sermons, unless I've gotten very little sleep over the weekend. If that's the case, I usually sit there trying to force my eyelids open by sheer mental willpower. How often does that work? No comment. After trying to keep my eyes open fails, I sometimes do this head-bob thing where I drop in and out of consciousness. Y'know, your head falls as you fall asleep and then the feeling of your head falling alerts your brain and, in the sad irony of it all, your mind doesn't wake you up enough to keep you awake, but only enough to lift your head back up. Only to let it fall again.

The whole process is quite shameful, to say the least. The preacher is pouring out his heart about a deep spiritual matter and there you are, head-banging to the beat of your cat-nap dreams. Then, the inevitable happens:

Your friend nudges you and wakes you up.

That's the most embarrassing moment of this whole escapade! Because if your friend has noticed that you were rocking away to your own hardcore concert right there in the pew, that means everyone else saw it too! So your cheeks turn red and you get flustered with your buddy for pointing out your pagan ways. Sometimes you try to play it off like you weren't sleeping, but just agreeing ecstatically with the pastor. But let's be honest, who are you fooling?
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6)
The Bible calls us to be accountable to one another. If someone calls us out on something, we shouldn't get upset with that person for pointing out what other people were already seeing. We should rejoice in the fact that we have someone to keep us to a high standard!

So if your buddy wakes you up during church, or calls you out on your pride, or shows you the ways in which you are not being gentle to others, don't shoot the messenger - He's literally doing what the Bible is telling him to by calling you out. Use the opportunity to get angry at your sin, and if you know you struggle with something, tell your Christian brother or sister what's going on before they have to approach you about it. In other words, hate your sin enough to seek accountability for it. So the next time you want to fall asleep in church, don't be upset when the guy you talked to about your tiredness before the service tries to pinch you.

It is a pinch of love.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A New Grading Scale

I was homeschooled for most of my life, (People tell me that explains a lot, but I'm not sure why. Huh.) but I did have a brief stint as your run-of-the-mill, uniformed, mayonnaise-skinned private-school student from kindergarten to second grade. Yes, I came complete with a mushroom-headed bowl-haircut, a gap in my two front teeth, and khaki shorts. And I probably don't even need to mention the fact that my lunchbox always dominated the other kids' - that should be obvious.

During some of those formative years, I was evaluated according to a grading scale that was different from that of the "big kids." Instead of receiving an A, B, C, D, or F, I received some sort of grade that revolved around the word "satisfactory." Either my work was "unsatisfactory," "needs improvement," "satisfactory," "good," or "excellent." Something like that.

Now, according to this scale, one is obligated to recognize that "satisfactory" is pretty much a C. Sure, it technically meets the requirements of the assignment or test, but getting this grade doesn't fill you with the joy that an "excellent" would. This is because the standard for "satisfactory" was set pretty low.

If I were to tell you that God's love was just satisfactory, you would not rejoice.
Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. (Hosea 2)
If you haven't read Hosea, it is essentially God using an adulteress as a metaphor for the nation of Israel's unfaithfulness to Him. Hosea's wife, Gomer, whored herself away to the pleasures and enticements of other men. So, in order to display God's faithfulness, He tells Hosea to go and pay to get Gomer back.

Gomer's central problem was her idea that Hosea's love wasn't good enough - it may have been "satisfactory," but in no way did she see it as "excellent" as the pleasures she chased. In the same way, Israel saw God's love as only meeting the requirements but not as fulfillment for the soul.

And so do we.

But today, I make an effort to challenge the grading scale. I say that "satisfactory" and "excellent" are one and the same when it comes to the concept of our need and God's love. If the requirement for our hearts to be at rest is a never-ending, all-fulfilling, perfectly-complete kind of love, then anything that could satisfy those requirements would be automatically considered as "excellent." In this way, the "satisfactory" becomes the "excellent," over and above the devastating emptiness of the pleasures that this world offer.

This is why the people of Israel come back, as shown in Hosea 2. They are tired of the brokenness and deceit of worldly pleasure and come back "to His goodness in the latter days."

Dear child, will God's love be satisfactory for you today, or will you chase the abyss?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I Like the Way You Pray

"I like the way you pray."

I was at a Bible study and I had just prayed (for food or in our small groups or something of that nature). That was when my buddy said that to me.

"I like the way you pray."

The main question that arises out of that kind of statement is, "How does a man pray well?" To be clear, I'm not really sure. I don't really know that there's a scoring system for that kind of thing. But I do have ideas as to some things you can recognize that will shape the way you approach prayer. By no means is this all-inclusive, but it might give you a fresh perspective on talking to God.

You're talking to God.
Think about that for a second. It is one thing to realize that God is as mind-blowingly awesome as He is as the Creator and Orchestrator of everything you can experience. This, in and of itself, is enough reason to bow down and approach Him with worship-minded prayer. It is another thing entirely to recognize the fact that we are sinners who fall completely short of God's standard of perfection - a status that ensures that we are hell-bound. This added realization makes prayer not just a humbling experience, but unequivocally audacious and improper! It's as if a convicted murderer were to eat dinner at the judge's house: totally unacceptable.

Observe what's been done for you.
The last point might not have made you feel any better about prayer, but that's because it has to be reconciled with the fact that Jesus died on the cross so that you could draw near. Because the blood of Jesus Christ covers His followers, they can now "with confidence draw near to the throne of grace." (Hebrews 4) Unbelievable. Not only do we get to draw near without getting killed, we get to do it with confidence.

See the implications.
Not only have you been made right with God, but you have been adopted as His son or daughter (Ephesians 1). Children get to ask things of their parents that no one else gets to ask them, like asking for a glass of water in the middle of the night, or asking to be given a piggy-back ride. The point? Kids aren't scared to talk to their parents. No, it is the most comfortable thing in the world for them. I believe that spirit should apply to us as we pray - not to be driven by formalities, but to pray as a son to His Dad.

I'm still not sure exactly what my buddy meant when he said he liked the way I pray, but I have a feeling that it had something to do with skipping the fancy, King-James speak and talking to God in recognition of what I was doing: approaching the God of all that exists as a sinful, but sanctified son.