Monday, March 7, 2011

Justification, Sanctification, and Country Music

As I've noted perhaps in a few other posts lately (or perhaps it's something to which I've only alluded?), I've been listening to a wider variety of music recently than in years past.

For years, I listened to news and talk radio.  Sometimes conservative talk radio; sometimes public radio or other talk shows.  I've never had time to listen much.   Mostly when I'm driving.  But that is my listening time, and I always choose the station when I'm driving.

But I'm sick of politics.  Sick of current events.  Sick of news.  Burned out.  Not very responsible of me, maybe, but there it is.  What can I say?  When there is so little good news, it's hard to want to listen.

So now when I turn on the radio, I continually flip from station to station trying to find something of interest.  This morning I hit mostly country, with a little bit of hip-hop and a little bit of classical piano and orchestra thrown in for variety.

One country song in particular got my brain juices going.  Writing (and reading) this is probably going to be a lengthier process than the few moments it took for my brain to get through it, but that's the way brains are.  They leap to big realizations in a mere moment's time.

The song I heard was Awful Beautiful Life by Darryl Worley.  The song paints the picture of a regular guy, making regular mistakes and finding joy in regular things. 

Let me be more specific about what I mean by "regular."  The song starts out with the guy getting up Sunday morning with a hang-over headache.  His wife makes him get up for church, and he manages to stay awake through the service.  The family comes over later; they drink beers, grill steaks and watch a ball game.  The brother and brother's wife fight, and the mom sits in between them.  They talk about and pray for a cousin stationed in a war zone.

And the chorus, repeated a few times during the song,
I love this crazy, tragic,
Sometimes almost magic,
Awful, beautiful life.
My first thought while listening to the lyrics was, "How pathetic.  What a life!"

But the more I thought about it, I figured that the experiences described in this song are probably quite normal.  Whether a person has blue or white collared livelihood; whether he or she is rich or poor or in between;  whatever the demographic, many of us experience many of the same things. 

My husband is a pastor.  So a large part of my existence revolves around churchy stuff.   Many of my friends are pastor's wives.  Because of the various religious school opportunities I had, many of my closest friends are from homes that are more religious than average.  I was raised in a home with very high moral standards.  I try to give the same to my kids.

My family for many years has also been part of the homeschool community.  Many members of this community make specifically different cultural decisions for their families, in order to set a higher moral standard than the culture at large presents.  I have friends whose girls must wear skirts.  I have friends who are not allowed to drink alcohol.  I have friends who, in the name of religious piety, eat and drink only certain foods at certain times of year.

These experiences may lead me to sometimes hold an unrealistic expectation toward society at large.  Most of my closest contacts in recent years hold similarly high expectations for their kids' behavior.  The parents hold themselves to a high standard.  There may be variations on how that high standard is defined. 

But I also have many good friends whose life might be closer to that described in Darryl Worley's song.  And God uses these people to change lives.  He draws people to Himself through them.  He supports and enriches His kingdom through the variety within His Church.

And here's the clincher.  The BIG DEAL I realized.  I'm a moral elitist.  I must confess.  I might love people who choose to live differently than I.  I may really, really enjoy their company.  But at the same time, I want them to be more like me.  Because I'm better.

But you know what?  I'm not.

Maybe I don't go out Saturday nights and tip back a few too many.  Maybe I don't swear.  Maybe I don't habitually bicker with my spouse.  Maybe I even make specific decisions with regard to clothing or food or education that are based on my ideas of morality and piety.

But I dare not think of myself as better than others.  I dare not make into law, my personal choices regarding lifestyle choices.  I dare not add to God's Word.

And I dare not think myself righteous on account of my lifestyle choices.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Romans 3:23
No one is righteous, no, not one.  Romans 3:10
All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.  Isaiah 64:6
The carnal mind is enmity against God.  Romans 8:7
Maybe a I have an outwardly high moral character.  But the sins are still there.  That sinful nature still plagues me every day.

Maybe somebody else is from a tradition of a more basic literal ten commandment type morality.  This person holds to the most basic moral precepts, but his or her life is maybe a little bit wilder.  Maybe a little bit less rigid. Maybe commits a few more blatant sins.

Maybe someone is a mix of both.  Such a person may strive and fail and give up with outwardly high standards, only to strive and fail again. 

Or maybe another is like the thief on the cross who realized his guilt only at the end of life.

But if any of us trust in Jesus for salvation, in the righteousness won by Him, God looks at us differently.  He stops seeing our guilt. We are adopted sons and daughters of the Most High.  Our heavenly Father sees only the righteous life of Jesus which has been attributed to us.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.  Ephesians 4:4-7
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

St. Paul also warns us against intentional sin, as if that would allow God's grace to abound.  (Romans 6).  But he also reminds us that it is through our weaknesses that God's power is made perfect  (II Corinthians 12).

That's how God uses us.  Just as our own children are all different, with different gifts, talents, struggles, and challenges, yet we as parents encourage them to curb the negative and make faithful use of the positive within their personalities, so with us.  God uses us in a variety of ways depending upon our gifts and talents.  And even our weaknesses.  He touches hearts through a never ending variety of personalities and life styles.

We are each given the life we have.  God directs the ways of this earth and knows each of us.  He knows the family and lifestyle into which He has put us.  He knows our strengths and weaknesses.  He has plans for us.

But we are all siblings through our baptismal grace. And just as siblings need to be reminded to love one another better, so, sometimes do we spiritual brothers and sisters.

Today I have been reprimanded (by a country music song stream of consciousness) of my self righteous attitude.

God forgive this, and help me to love better.  Help me to appreciate the variety of servants You have chosen.  And remind me to rejoice in that variety through which You work Your will.  Amen.

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