Undeserved Privilege

“White Privilege”. There, I said it. It’s been burning in my mind for several days now, after a friend posted a meme that stressed the words, “We whites”. I responded in an un-Christian manner, because that phrase really got to me. Let me tell you why (but first, let me sincerely apologize for my manners. You know who you are.)

Using the pronoun “we” in conjunction with anything is to include yourself and myself. In the case of a negative thing, this amounts to accepting (or even claiming) responsibility. In the case of today’s socio-economic situation, this is most definitely undeserved guilt. To give a sense of why, I quote from a movie:

“None of us took this city from Muslims. No Muslim of the great army now coming against us was born when this city was lost. We fight over an offence we did not give, against those who were not alive to be offended.”
Balian of Ibelin, Kingdom of Heaven

The only one capable of taking on undeserved guilt was Jesus Christ. It was The Undeserved Privilege of all time, and He did it willingly. I will not boast that I am able to do so great a thing. In short, you and I are not responsible for the way the world is, and I take offense at any words to that effect.

The only undeserved privilege I have ever had is to be chosen by God, The Creator, to receive His gifts of faith and a changed heart. Faith is what made everything in my life different. It makes everything in my life worthwhile – no matter my circumstances. Frankly, it bothers me when I’m accused of being given something others do not have the equal opportunity to experience, or that I am somehow to blame – guilty only by association – for their lack. Is this a Christian view? Yes! To be Christian is to have an individual relationship with God; to realize a personal need for salvation, and then to serve others who are in need, so that others may hear and see this Good News through my words and actions. Meanwhile, I hold quite enough guilt for the evil I have actually done. I struggle to grow beyond it.

1 Peter 1:14 ERV
In the past you did not have the understanding you have now. So you did the evil things you wanted to do. But now you are Children of God, so you should can obey Him and not live the way you did before.

How aptly this verse describes me! Falling for my selfish desires, I did do harm – but to myself and to those closest to me, not to any I have never met. This is my guilt. By my own hand I descended into a perversion of life, and that is where God found me and from where He saved me. And He continues to strengthen me, one day at a time.

1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

God wants all people to be saved – not from having challenges here on earth but from falling to them, from failing to get up again. There is no doubt that life will have struggles, but it is fact that God yearns for us to turn to Him for help to rise above. He stands beside everyone of us, ready, willing, and able to lavishly give faith, encouragement, strength, and hope to lift us to our feet, whatever our situation.

John 16:33 NIV
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

I see this faith in people from all walks of life and all geographies and all economic and health conditions. This confirms to me that God is working to make salvation available to anyone. To everyone. The only lack one needs to realize is the lack of God in one’s life. And with God present (and with His presents), believers are equipped to work for what is truly worthy and important, giving and sharing from whatever their bounty is.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Without God, I self-destructed. With Him, I live. I accept what is, and, knowing my starting line, I am guided forward. I take my place as a member of the Body of Christ, with my own situation, talents, and purpose – to voluntarily share, Christlike, sacrificing only what I have been given in abundance. This is my privilege.

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The Serenity To Accept… The Bad AND The Good

My plate is unique. God has prepared my life to be like none other. And it’s been a great big bowl of both the tasty and the nasty. But often times, I really can’t tell which is which. That is, I honestly don’t know which bites I like, and which I don’t.

These past two years, it’s been my health that’s “suffered”. I put that in quotes because I don’t feel it personally. It’s almost as if I am telling you about what happened to someone else. Because throughout it all, I’ve never felt in danger. Instead, I have been “made ready” for whatever God has planned next. Life or death. Productivity or rest. Reclaiming joy even out of pain. I believe He has fully granted me The Serenity To Accept.

Do you know The Serenity Prayer?

God
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference

Living one day at a time
Enjoying one moment at a time
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it
Trusting that You will make all things right
If I surrender to Your will
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with You forever in the next
Amen
(Reinhold Neibur)

One thing I can say is that I have lived out and from this prayer these past few years.

Kidney failure, and ongoing sessions of dialysis, 4-hours at a time, 3 days a week.
Open-heart surgery, a full month of hospitalization and a year at home during recovery.
Three bouts of diverticulitis, followed by an abscess and surgery to remove a section of my colon.
And, most recently, hospital admittance for unexplained intestinal bleeding.
These are the realities, the facts, of being me.

I’ve had a lot to accept, but God has used these events to develop in me patience and peacefulness. You see, all these “bad” things have had their benefits – the biggest of which is the time I now have to write this blog and Share God’s Story in my life. Despite all, I am more than reasonably happy. In fact, I’ve rarely been happier. (My happiest moments are from my immediate family, also given from God.)

This is the way God works. His way, not mine. He brings us to where we want but not by the road we planned for ourselves. Oh, believe me – I tried going my way, for many, many years. I sought to please myself, only and all ways. That path of insanity led me straight into His arms, eight years ago, when I tired of trying, unable to quench the thirst to fill my empty self, realizing at last that lust can cruelly never be sated. I sought my end. Only then was I ready for His purpose. And He taught me first about recovering from my bad choices and habits.

And this prepared me to weather the trauma that I didn’t choose.

Come near to God, and He will come near to you.
You are sinners, so clean sin out of your lives.
You are trying to follow God and the world at the same time.
Make your thinking pure.
James 4:8 ERV

This is one of the most important verses in my recent life. Four simple statements. Basic instructions to follow to be changed, to be healed. Sentences that imply deceptively hard problems with one amazing and easy solution: Almighty God.

Farness from God – I’ve learned to spend significant time getting close to my Creator, the one who is all that is unseen.
Sin – I’ve learned to see not just what is unhealthy for me, but why it is irrefutably so. And I’ve received unseen help in removing it from my living.
Choosing God or the world – there is no other choice, and there can be only one (despite the other) or the (ultimately empty and meaningless) other.
It starts with my thoughts – What I think leads to what I feel, and whether I am then able to do anything at all.

:2 … You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God.
:3 Or, when you ask, you don’t receive anything, because the reason you ask is wrong.
You only want to use it for your own pleasure.

At the heart of life is acceptance of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for me, acknowledging my guilt but moving beyond it. Taking that clean slate, that thousandth second chance, and grabbing that helping hand to get back to my feet, and keep going forward.

Life is not for my own pleasure. Joy is best when it is shared. This is the meaning behind giving of oneself. I have been blessed with a great bounty – not of the usual worldly resources, but of time and experiences. And I have been given the opportunity to share these joyful, hope-filled moments with you. May God use them to encourage you.

Yes, my life is unique. And so is yours.

Spartan? Try Roman!

My wife, God bless every bit of her, has always been a fitness nut. She’s always felt driven to it. Before we were married, she worked aboard tanker ships, and would tell me about her off-hours on-board exercising. (There was not much else to do when embarked for months at a time.)

Mid-life has been no different. Several years ago, prompted by the sudden, shocking passing of a co-worker who had gone out for a jog, a group from her company started working out together. They set and accomplished goals, at first running 5Ks and 10Ks, and then getting into Spartan racing. This is a race on a course filled with obstacles of every kind: walls to climb over, barbed wire to crawl under, tires to pull, weights to carry, etc.

It was a time of great camaraderie, as family and friends got involved. Our son joined. Even I, just months after open-heart surgery, took up walking the 5Ks (and still do). Spartan races are held in specific locations, and sometimes there are multiple levels and lengths. Finishers are awarded medals. A series of three is a trifecta. There’s a shadow box here at the house, proudly displaying all of my wife’s hard-earned memories. Seasons have come and gone, and the group’s makeup has changed as members move away and change jobs, but a group it remains.

This morning I awoke wondering what (or who) inspires a Spartan. I immediately noticed that there are parallels with followers of Christ, because Jesus, our founder, ran a race very similar to the excruciating challenge of Spartan. Let’s call it “Roman”.

We have all these great people around us as examples. Their lives tell us what faith means. So we, too, should run the race that is before us and never quit. We should remove from our lives anything that would slow us down and the sin that so often makes us fail.
We must never stop looking to Jesus. He is the leader of our faith, and he is the one who makes our faith complete. He suffered death on a cross. But he accepted the shame of the cross as if it were nothing because of the joy that he could see waiting for him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne.
Think about Jesus. He patiently endured the angry insults that sinful people were shouting at him. Think about him so that you won’t get discouraged and stop trying.
Hebrews 12:1-3 ERV

What Spartan racing is to full, comprehensive physical training, the Roman cross has to be to full, comprehensive spiritual training. And the biggest difference between the two is that the cross, for Jesus, was run to the death.

You are struggling against sin, but you have not had to give up your life for the cause.
:4

We Christians are called to die “in effect”.  To die to ourselves, to die to our own selfishness and goals, and instead to live in and for Christ, for God’s purpose for us. And in service to others. This is the biggest similarity between Spartan and Roman. Sure, there are elite Spartan competitors, but, by far, the “common” racers are not concerned with their own times; they’re only concern is surviving the race to the finish. And they willingly aid those running alongside them. Throughout a Spartan course, you will see nothing but one racer helping and encouraging another.

A Book of Cliche’s?

There are, of course, many cliche’s I’ve heard from my Spartan. Motivational sayings are printed out and tacked up on the fridge. You can google on Spartan race quotes and quips, and fill a book with such sayings.

Likewise, we have a book of Christian motivation, The Bible. But “cliche” doesn’t do either of these collections justice. “Cliche” has a negative slant. It’s definition is “a saying that is overused to the point of meaninglessness”. So I looked up some synonyms: platitude, banality, maxim, axiom, truism. I think I found the right word in “dictum”, which has two definitions. One, is like those other words: “a short statement that expresses a general truth or principle”; but the other is very definitive: “A formal pronouncement from an authoritative source”.

The Bible is our guide. It is full of advice and recommendations on life’s best practices. Can it function the same way for a Spartan racer? I think so, but I now know that in it, I have found another way to connect with my beautiful, hard-charging bride.