About a year ago today, I had an experience in Taiwan that impacted me profoundly. Since I've been reflecting a lot on my missionary service with my SMART project, I figured I'd share a piece of that here:
"A very financially struggling member insisted on buying dinner for us.
It was so simple. A single spicy McChicken from McD's and some juice. But it meant the world to me. It was all she could afford, and like the widow and her two mites, it was all she had. We tried to politely say no (because we knew about her situation) but she insisted, and said she would always be good to the missionaries.
We said a prayer over the food and I was struck powerfully by the spirit.
What have I ever done, in my whole life, to merit the kindness and selflessness of a total stranger? What have I done to deserve such sacrifice? I couldn't keep the tears in. This member sacrificed what little she had out of pure love for God and gratitude towards the missionaries. I now better understand Christ's sacrifice for us, and his complete unselfish willingness to give it all away for the people he loved."
One of my favorite lessons in this class this semester was when Brother Griffin asked us all to look up "earn" in the topical guide. Then "deserve." I flipped through my scriptures at light-speed like an idiot only to discover... obviously, there's no entry for either of those words. Why would there be? Then I turned to "merit."
2 Nephi 31:19 "And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save."
Rely wholly upon His merits. We are 100% leaning on him. It is perhaps the greatest injustice of all that there is nothing you or I can ever do to repay Christ for what he did. In our modern, balance-obsessed society, people get shaky if they aren't immediately Venmoed back the $2 they spent for you at In-N-Out. It feels weird just accepting such a large gift without any expectation of repayment, but not only is it impossible to repay Christ, he doesn't even expect it.
All he asks is that we keep His commandments, and treat others with love.
The more I read the post-gospels part of the New Testament, the more I become aware of the dangers of proof-texting. In Romans alone, there are singular verses highlighting faith, works, and grace. Without looking at the whole picture, it would be impossible to figure out what the Bible is actually trying to teach. Bible bashing is so useless and counterproductive. It looks at such a narrow view of the beautiful doctrines contained in the New Testament.
Realizing this has inspired me to be more active in how I study the scriptures and contextualize the verses. It's even caused me to revisit some of my favorite scriptures (specifically John 16:33) looking at the full context of the story instead of just a "soundbite."
Secret time. For most of my life, I've kind of skimmed over any part of the New Testament between John and Revelations (shhhhhh). Those chapters all seemed really obfuscated, unclearly written, and largely irrelevant to the message of the New Testament as a whole.
Oh how wrong I was!
All of the letters and epistles deal with the struggles the early Christians faced setting up a church, confusing culture and tradition with doctrine, accepting outsiders, missionary work, and seeking revelation to grow the young church. Sound familiar?
The second half of the NT is about our church today. Reading it through that lens has given me so much sympathy for the early church and for the struggles in our church today. Most importantly, though, the focus of those chapters doesn't shift away from Christ.
8 And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
Praising God, not Peter! I'm excited to be able to continue studying these chapters for the rest of the semester, and applying this new outlook as I continue as a lifelong learner.