So this past weekend, we had another spiritual retreat!
And I did one of the sections again, but this time my partner Ester was in Lima, so I did it by myself except for a testimony from Cusco 40/40 Emily (You can read her blog at www.rattleinperu.blogspot.com).
The "Tema" I gave was about sexuality (for women, because we separate the men and women just for this section). I know, oh the irony of me talking in Peru about sexuality. Don't worry, I laughed too the first time they asked me for the last retreat. Seriously, what do I have to say to Peruvian women, both married and single, about sex? I've never even had a boyfriend. It's one thing to cross a language barrier and a cultural barrier, but also a "lifestyle barrier?"
Needless to say, I was a tad bit nervous.
But here is the message I wanted to get across:
We talk about a lot of rules when we talk about God. And a lot of times, we think God is a God of rules, and he is against anything enjoyable or fun.
But that is not who God is.
In his presence is the fullness of joy and in his hands are eternal PLEASURES (Psalm 16:11).
So actually, God is not some Cosmic Fun-Sucker. He wants us to have a more rich and abundant life. He wants to give us the BEST life.
That is why there are "rules" to how we should live. They exist to protect us. To keep us happy, healthy, and whole.
And really, they are a lot more flexible than we would like to believe.
Because living by the rules, also known as legalism, is easy.
Living by GRACE is HARD.
I lived according to the rules for a long time. I had all the answers, never rebelled, did all the right things. There is a song by Tenth Avenue North that reminds me of this time in my life that says:
Well she tries to believe it, that she's been given new life.
But she can't shake the feeling that it's not true tonight.
Well she knows all the answers and she's rehearsed all the lines.
She says she'll try to do better, but then she's too weak to try.
I was that girl. I had been a Christian for forever, but I never understood grace.
I had every answer, and the seemingly perfect Christian life. But I thought that I had to fix myself, do my devotions perfectly, and clean up BEFORE coming to God. And over and over, I wanted to do better for God, but was left to weak to ever clean up my act.
I didn't understand that God wants it to be the other way around. I didn't understand that grace says God wants me exactly as I am. I didn't understand that grace says I am loved more than I could ever ask for or imagine, and because of that love, my life changes...as a RESPONSE.
And that changes everything.
Because suddenly, his commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:2), because I am following them out of love. And suddenly, sin is not so black and white.
This is why I say it is easier to live in legalism; because legalism says that sin is black and white. Grace says that it can be somewhat gray, because Jesus teaches us that it is the state of the heart that counts to him.
He says you can sin in your heart if you even look at someone lustfully or feel hatred toward someone, and that is the same thing.
Here in Peru, there is a lot that seems black and white. Here, for most people in the church, dancing=sin=black. It is a foreign concept that I can do the Dancing With the Stars workout DVD, dance the cha cha cha, and not sin if my heart is right with God.
Here for many people, drinking alcohol=sin=black. It doesn't make sense that someone could have a glass of wine at dinner, not get drunk, and not sin.
But our God looks at the heart. And he shows grace. So no matter where I've been, I can come back to him exactly as I am. And I am free to stop working for what I have already received.
I can believe that I am loved.
There is a pastor who says, "Show me a church that believes that they are loved, and I will show you a church God is using." So if I really believe that I am loved, God can use me to show his love to others, because my motivation is no longer to earn his love, and I don't need to prove my love for him.
What a beautiful thing.
And THAT is the gospel.
That is why we follow some "rules," not because we have to, but because God loves us SO much that he wants the best for us, and we are so distracted by his love, we live lives that are pleasing to him in response.