Sunday School: Vol. 4

Sunday, September 8, 2019 New York, NY, USA

As usual, I'm hesitating here between divulging all my angsty personal secrets and choosing radical honesty. I hope it's clear I'm not trying to be prescriptive or smug; I spent twenty-two years in a Christian household (doing vacation bible school, dinnertime devos, all that) and very little stuck with me until year twenty-three. If there's a lesson in that, it might be to trust in divine timing, or to be grateful that my parents believed free will was a prerequisite to real faith. But obsession with and devotion to self-improvement are on-brand for me, so I hope you understand my sudden enthusiasm for sharing Sunday School posts.

Everything that changes me fascinates me (boys, books, and now the Bible, I guess), so I'm not writing these to evangelize, only to testify: I wanted to grow, and this is how I am.

My challenge for the week was to devote 75-90 minutes daily to a sermon and reflection (my current proxy for attending an actual Sunday service). What I'm finding isn't exactly a deeper understanding of precise theology, but an irresistible invitation for radical love and inclusion. Searching for my own gospel grounds my faith beyond blind belief. This is probably the circumstantial Methodist in me, but I want to know Christ as praxis, not Christianity as an organized or institutional religion.

I'm sharing below key takeaways and suggestions for reflection from each sermon this week. If any part of this resonates with you (though I don't at all mind if it doesn't) I really do recommend taking time for reflection and a bit of writing to help clarify your thoughts. Beyond all the empirical evidence in favor of personal journaling, I've found this to be one of my most powerful techniques for processing and analyzing new information.

Final thoughts: Most of the people in my circle are those who've pursued self-improvement with the same relentlessness, vigor, obsessiveness. I don't care if they find it in a church, or in a fitness routine, or in their career (knowing them, likely a combination of these and more). What I do adore about them is their bias towards action, their existential fear of inertia, their sustained passion for a full, satisfying life. I don't know many who've elected to settle for what they'd been born with or given. The glow up is excruciating, I know, and extraordinary. I'm so proud of us.

M O N D A Y / 2  S E P T E M B E R
Key takeaways: 
  • How we love is learned, and how we learn is how we last
  • God's grace is greater than the weaknesses of all the people in our lives, no matter how much we love them (or don't); only He can redeem and relieve us from the damage of imperfect relationships
  • All the ways people fail us can serve to illuminate the ways He will not
My suggestions for reflection:
  • Given that we don't choose the circumstances we are born into, how can we think about our birthright (or perceived lack thereof) as an opportunity? 
  • What are the ways we become, or find in others, what we're missing? 
  • What are the generational curses that absolutely end with us? How will we protect our descendants? 

T U E S D A Y / 3  S E P T E M B E R
Key takeaways: 
  • Identification is the prerequisite to transformation
  • Without intervention, we inherit the bad habits, hobbies, and hatred of our ancestors; the sins of the father are the sins of the son - not because God holds generational grudges, but because we are products of our circumstances
  • What our parents and grandparents never reconciled within themselves affect how they raise us; this is often the root of the trauma we bring to other relationships
  • When we don't recognize and amend incorrect behavior, we normalize and preserve it. There is no running from something that has manifested within you
  • God wants more for you; He will provide all that you need but were not born with
My suggestions for reflection: 
  • How do challenging relationships with our family members teach us endurance? 
  • Are we obligated to love our relatives? What can this teach us about perfect and imperfect love? Does love require us to stay in unjust, cruel situations? (No, it doesn't! But how can we find the courage to leave?) 

W E D N E S D A Y / 4  S E P T E M B E R
Key takeaways:
  • Grace is the unmerited, undeserved, and unearned kindness and favor of God
  • You can only receive and experience what you believe exists; your perception of Grace informs all that you do (if you believe God to be a vindictive one, your actions reflect a fear of punishment. If you believe Him to be a loving one, your actions reflect an aspiration to emulate this)
  • You are delivered from your transgressions through faith, not through your own works or good deeds
My suggestions for reflection:
I personally feel like I went through a lot with this series, the most important being a sudden breakthrough on why I've harbored a lot of spiritual doubt. If the premise of God's grace is that it is necessarily undeserved and unmerited, that erodes at a lot of what we like about ourselves: being hard workers and high achievers, being self-made and self-led. As a lifelong gold sticker-chasing, independence-boasting Asian American practically marinated in meritocratic idealism, the idea of an unconditional, unearned gift seems incomprehensible.
The calling is this: not to have faith in the unseen, but to sustain faith in the undeserved. Can the foundation of unconditional, unmerited grace liberate us from tethering self-worth to productivity and output? Can we allow ourselves the possibility that we are worthy without our work? Is this, then, our imperative to view others with this same uncritical love? How do grace and free will interact?

T H U R S D A Y /  5  S E P T E M B E R
Transformation Church: All Strings Attached (Part 3) - Too Many Friends
Key takeaways: 
  • Friendships are our chosen attachments in life, and we inevitably become the average of our circles
  • To be clear, everyone needs friends around them. It is not good to be alone all the time
  • Everyone around you is not your friends; we habitually invite people into our lives (due to proximity, circumstances, etc.) and allow them to influence us without really knowing who they are or what they stand for
  • The people you might loosely call "friends" might actually fall into three categories: fans, followers, and (real) friends
  • Your real friends know your heart and will hold your integrity accountable; they will fight with you, for you, and against you when necessary 
  • Conversely, we are fans, followers, and friends to the people in our lives, too. Knowing where we stand helps us add value to those relationships
  • Don't ever let somebody who doesn't know you try to inform or influence your identity
My suggestions for reflection: 
To be real, I almost skipped this sermon because literally nobody in this entire world would accuse me of having too many friends. I'm anti-social to the point of concern, and am known to be the absolutely least needy of low maintenance friends. But I guess there was something to unpack in how small I keep my circle, because this ended up being an important lesson, too. Even in my little pool (and your probably bigger one) - are there relationships we need to reassess and redefine? What does loyalty look like if we prioritize each other's integrity and growth over lifelong ties?

F R I D A Y  /  6  S E P T E M B E R
Transformation Church: Grace Like A Flood (Part 2) - I Am Right With God
Key takeaways: 
  • God's grace is undeserved; there is nothing we can do to earn it, and nothing we can do to lose it
  • Perception is the ultimate reality, even if it is not the ultimate truth; your reality dictates your actions
  • Grace is never about our works or our service. God cannot love us any more than He already does; we should act in His example because He loves us, not so that He will
Suggestions for reflection:
  • Are we righteous because we do the right things, or do we do the right things because we are made in righteousness? 
  • What are we trying to measure up to? 
  • Why can't righteous people ever lose God's favor? If unconditional grace is real, what is the incentive for goodness? 

S A T U R D A Y  /  7  S E P T E M B E R
Transformation Church: Grace Like A Flood (Part 3) - I Found My Anchor
Key takeaways: 
  • God is immutable - unchanging in the midst of everything that does change; He is the anchor, greater than the ship and the tides that pull it
  • Grace can only be received; because it is unchanging, it will never lessen or be taken away
  • If we feel secure in this relationship, we feel encouraged to bring our sins to Him so that he might help us fix what went wrong; until we understand this, we will judge ourselves and others for our inevitable failures
  • Jesus is the high priest forever, allowing us direct access to God forever; this is the new covenant God made with us
Suggestions for reflection: 
  • What are the implications of a God willing to create a new, third covenant in order to meet us at the level of our sins? 
  • What things and people do we ask to be our anchors instead of God? 

S U N D A Y  /  8  S E P T E M B E R
Transformation Church: Grace Like A Flood (Part 4) - I am Sav(ed)
Key takeaways: 
  • Salvation is eternal and applies to our past, present, and future; it is not a temporary gift for a temporary state of being
  • The ultimate atonement saved us from the penalty of our past sins, the power of our current sins, and the presence of sin in Heaven
  • If we believe that we have been redeemed, our tests become opportunities for testimony
  • Grace applies to all who believe, regardless of their works or merit
Suggestions for reflection: 
  • How does the concept of unconditional grace challenge our perceptions of goodness? 
  • Why do we want others to measure up in the ways we expect of ourselves? Why does it trouble us that God sees us equal to those who seem to have achieved less? 
  • What does the dissolution of a meritocracy mean to you? 

I am not a worthier Christian today than I was yesterday, or even last year. That's not what unconditional grace requires of us. But I am absolutely a better person. That's what atonement allows in us.

Fiat lux,

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