Thoughts of a messed up Christian saved by God's grace

Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Getting" God's love

   If you have read my blog posts before, I have been pretty candid about struggling to believe God loves me.

   The reasons may be many, and there may be more than I have come up with:

1) Bullying and lack of bonding with, and acceptance from, my peers
2) Preachers who preached about a God of judgment instead of a God of love
3) A very low self esteem, which came in a large part from #1

   I grew up in church, and wanted to be a Christian, but never found it easy, and no wonder. I was trying to serve a God who I didn't believe loved me, or even liked me, and who I believed was just waiting for me to do something wrong so He could throw me out. Yet, I wanted to do right, and I wanted to go to Heaven, so I tried.

  I look at my past Christian experience, and find it sad and pathetic. I would live it cowering in fear from God, as a kid might cower from an abusive father. My life was a big check list:
1) Read my Bible, check
2) Prayed, check
3) Went to church Sunday morning,  check
4) Went to church Sunday evening, check
5) Went to church Wednesday night, check

  And on and on. My Christian life has basically been a bunch of do's and don'ts. I felt I had to read a certain amount of verses in the Bible to make God happy with me. My prayers had to be a certain length, and I had to say the right things.

  God was this angry deity up in Heaven who was impossible to please, but the other option was hell. So I would trudge on, stumble and fall, get back up eventually, trudge on........ I'd measure myself by others. They don't go to Wednesday night prayer meeting, but I do. They do that, but I never would.

  Its really hard to have a relationship with someone who you don't love - for how could I love a God who didn't love me - and doesn't love you.

  There's a singer I don't listen to much, that penned these words that describe most of my life:

The Motions by Matthew West

This might hurt, it's not safe
But I know that I've gotta make a change
I don't care if I break
At least I'll be feeling something

‘Cause just okay is not enough
Help me fight through the nothingness of life

I don't wanna go through the motions
I don't wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

I don't wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything
Instead of going through the motions?

No regrets, not this time
I'm gonna let my heart defeat my mind
Let Your love make me whole
I think I'm finally feeling something

‘Cause just okay is not enough
Help me fight through the nothingness of this life

‘Cause I don't wanna go through the motions
I don't wanna go one more day
Without your all consuming passion inside of me

I don't wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything
Instead of going through the motions?

   That, sadly describes my life. I'd pray and read my Bible for as long as I thought was the right length/time, go to all the services at church, pay my tithe, follow the rules of the church...... and wondered why it all seemed so empty, dry, and boring.

  Because it was missing one important thing: Love. God's love.

  I have been praying a lot about this issue, and have read some excellent books, quotes, and blogs that have been a tremendous help to me. I have a long way to go with truly "getting" God's love, but most of us will never entirely "get" it, but His love is so beyond what we humans are capable of feeling, that we can't entirely "get it".

  But yet, I am making strides and have come a long way. These things I know, and am still working on completely believing, but I am getting there:

1) God loves me. (Period)
2) There is nothing I can do to cause God to love me more, or less.
3) God loves me as much as any other person. He has no favorites, nor least favorites.
4) God's love does not hinge on how many church services I attend, how long I read my Bible, how long I pray, etc
5) God IS love, and He cannot NOT love, as love is His very nature.
6) There are still rules, but He is not a God of rules and judgment.
7) It doesn't matter how bad the sin, how evil the sinner, God's grace and love are more than enough
8) God wants me to make it to Heaven even more than I do
9) God is not looking for excuses to throw me out on my ear

   And there are more.

   It isn't all one-sided. Not only do I need to keep working on believing God loves me thoroughly and completely, I must learn to love Him.

  I am not of the belief that once you are saved, you can never do anything to miss Heaven, but know people who do, and I am not going to use my blog to put them down. I asked a friend of mine who believes that way the following question: "If you can never miss Heaven after you become a Christian, then why fight temptation? When things get rough, why not give in, if you will still go to Heaven." I loved his answer, and it was almost like a hit to the gut: "Because I love God, and don't wan to do anything to displease Him."

 Why have I tried to fight temptation, and struggled to stay on my feet spiritually when things are rough? Because I don't want God to wipe my name out of the Book of Life, and risk going to hell. Serving God has been not much more than a "get out of hell free card."

  The once-saved-always saved belief scares me, yet so does what I have believed. You cannot have a healthy relationship with anyone, even God, if you feel they are just waiting for you to do something wrong so they can disown you. What the happy medium is, I don't know, but I shall do my best to live as God wants me to, and if I do stumble, try to realize He is eager to forgive me. I don't have to say the right words, or beg Him.

  One of the books that has helped me the most, and affected me more than any other I have ever read, other than the Bible, is The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. In the book, Manning talks about the story of the Prodigal Son from the Bible, and had this to say:

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). I am moved that the [prodigal son's] father didn’t cross-examine the boy, bully him, lecture him on ingratitude, or insist on any high motivation. He was so overjoyed at the sight of his son that he ignored all the canons of prudence and parental discretion and simply welcomed him home. The father took him back just as he was . . . We don’t have to sift our hearts and analyze our intentions before returning home. Abba just wants us to show up . . . we don’t have to be perfect or even very good before God will accept us . . . Even if we come back because we couldn’t make it on our own, God will welcome us. He will seek no explanations about our sudden appearance. He is glad we are there . . . [He will say, like the prodigal's father,] “Hush, child. I don’t need to know where you’ve been or what you’ve been up to.”

   God loves us with a love that we can never fathom. Its beyond how a human can feel, and He wants to forgive us more than we want forgiveness. The ideas I was given through sermons and altar calls that we have to beg God to forgive us, that its a hard process - that's so wrong. God loves us and wants us. If we are sincere, it doesn't take a hour long prayer and examining our motives. He is waiting to meet us more than halfway.

  Maybe a good place to start believing more that God loves me, is to start liking myself, and believing that many of the people God has placed in my life like me. Oh, I am sure there are and will be people who won't like me, but not everyone likes God, and He is perfect.

 It may sound weird to put it this way, but its kind of like God and I have just started dating. I know He is interested in me, and I want to spend more time with Him and let Him know I am interested in Him. I don't know if I truly love Him yet, though I suspect He loves me, but I definitely like Him, and want this relationship to go places. And hopefully it does.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Praying for the president

  I have been against Barak Obama since he came on the scene and started running for president. I was one of the minority who actually paid attention to the things the conservative media found when they did what the liberal media would not do: vet him.

  I didn't - and don't oppose him for being a black man. I do believe voting for anyone based on their color is just as bad as voting against them because of their color - both is racist, and I am not racist. By the time election day came, I knew enough about this guy that seemingly appeared out of nowhere, to scare me out of my wits...... and not only did this county elect him, they did it again.

  I see a lot of people admonish that we need to pray for him..... and I find myself wondering what they mean. What are they praying in regards to this man who seems bent on destroying our religious and other freedoms? Success? I hope not. Blessing? I hope not.... I don't want him blessed or successful. His blessings and success mean the opposite for Americans, especially those who worship God. The true God, not Allah, who Obama seems to regard more highly than our God.

  There are bumper stickers and t-shirts like this one:
That verse says: Let his days be few,
And let another take his office.

  That's humorous, unless you like the guy. I do wish at least the second part of that would be true, but we seem to be stuck with him.

  So here is what I am thinking: If we don't want his socialist, anti-God, anti-freedom, anti-everything that is good, policies to work, we shouldn't pray for his success or that he be blessed....... and a true Christian shouldn't pray the above prayer, as much as I hate to say it, what SHOULD we pray for this guy who seems to want to be a dictator (he has gone around Congress several times, has said the Constitution gets in the way - those are the actions and words of a dictator).

  Here is the only thing I believe we should pray for Barak Obama: That he come to a true saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, so that it completely changes him.

  "But he is a Christian", you say. Hogwash.

If he were a Christian:
He would fight for the unborn, not do more to further the cause of abortion financially and politically

He would fight for Biblical marriage, not for gay marriage
He would acknowledge Jesus verbally
He would be Israel's friend, and fight for her, not side with her and our enemies
He would tell the truth, always, and not lie continually
He would be humble, not arrogant
He would be truly transparent, not one who does back room deals
He would live his Christian life 24/7, not pull God out as a means of pushing his own agenda

  Barak Obama is not a Christian. The Bible says we shall know people by their fruits, and he has really rotten fruit.

So.... pray for him, if you feel you should, but don't pray for him to be successful, for if he is, we will lose even more freedoms, abortion will flourish all the more. gay marriage will be the law of the land, and we will most likely be taken over by the people he defends most: Muslims....... so pray that he truly finds a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, can he become the man and president he should be.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Gospel of fear versus the Gospel of grace

I recently read and reviewed a book that has the possibility of being a life-changing book.... and it is fiction. My review of the book is on my other blog.
  Some years back, a man named Brennan Manning wrote a book titled The Ragamuffin Gospel, which I am currently reading. Manning died in April of this year, but before he died, he co-authored a fiction book based on the idea of The Ragamuffin Gospel. The fiction book is titled The Prodigal, a Ragamuffin Story. It is intended to be a modern version of The Prodigal Son story that is in the Bible.

  Have you ever read a book that you felt was written for you? That is the case with The Prodigal book. The other guy who is the other half of the writing duo for the book, Greg Garrett, wrote the foreword for the book. Its long, so I am not going to put it all here, just the part that really hit me. It describes my experience to a T, and is something I could have written:

"I was raised by loving parents in a legalistic and not particularly grace-blessed corner of the church. Although there were many good people, a lot of great music, and a ton of great food in our tradition, what I absorbed from worship more than anything else, was my own worthlessness. If God loved me - and the songs said he did - the preaching and teaching Sunday after Sunday didn't indicate that He did. In fact, if you paid attention to the preacher - and I did - God seemed to be angry with us, really angry, and nothing I did would ever measure up to his notice. As a sensitive and already guilty soul, I took on that worthlessness down to my very marrow. How could God - or anybody - love me, flawed and broken as I was?"

   I have mentioned it in blog posts before, but I don't remember many sermons on God's love when I was growing up. I did hear a lot about His judgment and about hell. I remember countless altar calls where the preacher tried to scare people into going into the altar, and/or sing enough verses of Just As I am until they got the number of people at the altar they felt was sufficient. It may sound jaded and cynical of me, but it seems like some preachers want a lot of people at the altar so they can put more notches in their belt. Yeah, that does sound jaded and very cynical.

  Many times I have stood in an alar call while the preacher had scary story time. Stories of people who were in an altar call just as we were. God called on them to go to the altar, they said no, and when they exited the church, were mown down by a bus and dropped straight into hell. Slight exaggeration...... usually it was a few weeks later they died in some tragic accident.

  Then there was my favorite: "God has revealed to me that there is someone in this congregation tonight who is getting their last opportunity to repent and come to God. If they don't come tonight, they will never get another chance. Now lets sing 50 verses of Just As I Am as we try to force them to the altar. Last sentence added by a very jaded me. The rest happened more times than I can remember.

  Now maybe God really did reveal it, or they had a feeling that there was someone there getting their last chance.... I hope so. For me, it just piled on to the "scare them to the altar" idea.

  I went to the altar a lot of times when I was younger because of scary stories the preacher told, emotional songs geared for getting people to go to the altar, long altar calls held out until the preacher felt he had enough people at the altar...... and it never lasted. I either didn't get anything because I wasn't sincere, but had been basically bullied into going, or I just prayed long enough to feel better. Maybe some people lasted who were scared to the altar, and good for them, but I doubt I am the only one who never lasted.

  Maybe it hasn't affected everyone the same way as it did me. I was a kid with issues, who is now an adult with issues. I was getting bullied a lot at school, and by the time I hit my teens, my self esteem was in shreds. I didn't think anyone liked me, and I felt worthless. Then I would go to camp meetings and revival meetings where the preacher would preach in such a way that it reinforced the idea that God didn't like me either. He was mad at me, and no matter how hard I tried to serve Him, I was never going to measure up and I'd miss Heaven in the end no matter how hard I tried to please Him. That was the message I got. I got other wrong ideas, not all of them necessarily in words, but they were put in my head by the whole beat people over the head until they go to the altar ideology:

1) I have to beg God and convince Him to forgive me

2) He is just waiting for me to mess up so He can take His white-out and erase my name out of the Book of Life

3) The bar is set so high, I can never be a good enough Christian to make Him happy with me

4) I have to say all the right words, and pray the right amount of time for God to save me

5) Don't hang over the altar like a sack of feed and bury your head in your arms. Pray out loud for everyone to hear..... are you kidding me? I didn't want people to know what I'd done!

6) No matter how good of a Christian I am, God is going to find something in me to keep me out of Heaven in the end.

7) God only loves the right kind of people. I'm not the right kind of people

8) If I'm not where I need to be spiritually, God is going to punish me in various ways til I straighten up.

   I'm not making this stuff up. That is the kind of things I have to deal with. Is it any wonder I am in my forties and still struggling to believe God loves me?

  To be fair, not everything I listed above was said in actual words by anyone. #5 was, and after hearing that a couple of times, I quit going to the altar. If I felt like I needed to go when there was an altar call, I'd pray at home. And I did.

  But the way some of the preachers preached, some of the things that they did say, helped mold the wrong ideas that have had me messed up for far too long, and it was usually evangelists. Those preachers who travel around holding revival meetings and camp meetings, though some of my pastors could be that way too. I am glad to say my current pastor isn't the type to beat people over the head or try to scare people into going to the altar, but is a pastor who genuinely cares about his people.

  I have gotten to the point that I avoid camp meetings, and don't go to many revival services. There are a couple of reasons:

#1 I am weary of being guilted into doing some things. We are told if we really love God, we will be at every night of revival services...... really? Says who?

#2 I don't want to put myself under some preacher who is going to try to scare me into going to the altar. Do I need to be in church? Yes. Do I need to be in revival services? No. They can be beneficial, but they can also do harm if the preacher is one who is going to bully me to the altar. God doesn't need a traveling minister to speak to me.

   Jesus spent some time talking about hell, and we do need reminded of it occasionally, but not every altar call of camp meeting and revival.

  I don't remember altar calls with the preacher pleading for people to go to the altar and telling stories of how much God loves us..... maybe there were some and I only remember the scary story ones.

  Back to the book. The plot of the book, is the main character, Jack, is a popular preacher of a large church with a televised ministry. He falls morally and gets kicked out by his church and his wife. His father, who he has ignored for 10 years, rescues him and takes him back to his own home. He eventually comes face to face with something he has never truly known or experienced: God's love and grace.

  I could see myself in the book so much.... at one point, Jack has made a lot of progress with God and rebuilding his life when he gets really bad news. He ends up at a bar, drowning his sorrows, where he is found by Frank, his priest friend. The following conversation takes place:

"This isn't how to handle it, Jack, " Frank said. "People will always fail you. Your father has failed you. Your mother has failed you, and I will fail you, if I haven't already. Everyone at some time or other will be irrevocably human and they will hurt you. But God will never fail you."

  "He has failed me," Jack said. he leaned his head into his hand. "He's abandoned me. You said I was called to something. Something new. And this? This is my reward? Jail? My father dying? My family broken? God has failed me." He dropped his head heavily onto both hands, too angry to weep.

  "Has he?" Father Frank said. "Has he, boyo?"

"Say something wise," Jack snapped, turning to Frank. "Go ahead. Make it all better. Tell me how I should go on a journey of love and forgiveness or something." He dropped his head onto the bar with a painful clunk. "It's over."

"You're still thinking of him as the God of Justice," Frank said. "The judge who is handing out your punishment for what you did wrong."

"He is," Jack said. "I know he is. Or else maybe it isn't God. It's just random bad juju. And that's even worse."

 "Justice says, 'I don't owe you anything because you broke the terms of our contract', but where justice ends, love begins."

Jack groaned. "Here it comes."

Frank smiled and went on after a sip of his ginger ale. "God is not some customs officer rifling through our moral suitcases to sort out our deeds. He sees through the smoke screen, through the deeds good and bad, to our deepest selves."

"But I deserve this," Jack said. It sounded familiar. "That is my deepest self. I brought shame on my family. I hurt my wife, my church. Myself. I deserve----"

"Thank God that God doesn't deal with us as we deserve," Frank said. "On the final day, when Jesus calls me by my name----'Come, Francis, blessed of my Father'-----it will not be because the Father is just, but because God is merciful."

  That's me. I somehow got the idea that anything bad that happened to me was punishment for things I had done, whether I was serving God or not. I have trouble getting a job, it is because I'm not being a good enough Christian. My car drains my savings account, God is mad at me and punishing me...... that's not a good way to live and believe.

  I missed the message that God is a God of love, of mercy, of grace. That we don't get what we deserve, and that's what grace is all about. That the reason to go to the altar and repent isn't to get a "get out of hell free card", but so we can have a relationship with this God who loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die on a cross...

  It has only been recently that I have begun to "get it." It may take months or years to undo the idea of this Gospel of fear that has been ingrained in me. I'm done with it, and the God of Justice. I want to serve the God of love who wants me to make it to Heaven even more than I want to make it there.

  And again, some of what I retained from my youth was most likely because of my own poor self esteem and insecurities, but I still stand by my statements that I got too much of the Gospel of fear, and not enough of the Gospel of Grace.

30 things I am thankful for

A lot of people have been posting something they are thankful for every day on Facebook. I haven't been, but decided to do one for each day on here:

1) God
2) My family
3) Second chances
4) A roof over my head
5) Friends
6) My best friend, Steven Matlock
7) A car
8) My cell phone
9) Summer
10) Spring
11) Sunshine
12) Christmas, and all that it is about
13) Music, and especially Southern Gospel
14) Books, especially the Bible and Christian fiction
15) My computer
16) Sleep
17) A job
18) Gold Peak Iced Tea
19) Gifts
20) Clothing
21) Chicken
22) Fun
23) Shopping
24) Bourbon Chicken
25) Days off
26) Vacations
27) Sunshine
28) Humor
29) True conservative politicians
30) Grace

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

She gave me pop, I gave him coffee

   The year was either 1990 or 1991. I was home for the summer from Bible college, and working for PENNDOT, Pennsylvania's road department. They had a summer work program for college students, and I worked two summers for them, mostly holding a stop sign.

   This one day was a hot day, one of those really hot July days, and it was even hotter standing out by the road with a stop sign. As I turned my sign to "SLOW", a car stopped beside me and a woman leaned across the seat and handed me a cold can of pop. I thanked her, and she took off, never to be seen by me again. That has been over twenty years ago, and I still remember it.

  I was out shopping today, and stopped at the mall to get one of my favorite things: Bourbon Chicken from Asian Chao. There was a man probably in his 50's standing in between the two sections of doors, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army. We each said "hi" and I went into the food court and ordered my food. While I was eating, I could see him walking around in that cold section between the inner and outer doors, occasionally looking through the glass into the food court. The thought hit me, "You should get him something." Uh, but what. My eyes fell on the Dairy Queen. Definitely not... he already looked cold. I kept eating, still feeling like I should get him something. I finished, and headed to the bathroom. While in there, it hit me: coffee. Well, no coffee hit me, but the idea. I decided if there was a place in the food court that had coffee, I'd buy him a cup.... and there was. I ordered a small one for $1.99, dug a bill out of my wallet, and walked out the first set of doors. I put the bill in the pot, and asked him if he drank coffee. He said he did, and I handed the coffee to him and said if he wanted cream and sugar, he could get it inside. He thanked me and said that was a nice thing to do, and I went my way.

   It wasn't much, especially in the grand scheme of things, whatever the grand scheme of things is, but the thought hit me as I got into my car, "Why don't we do things like this more often?" I don't do it often enough. I do the occasional good deed, but I don't normally blog about it or even tell anyone, which is the way it should be. The people who do something for others without expecting something in return is rare......and no, I'm not polishing my halo as I speak. Outside of my family, I don't do it nearly enough. I admit it.

   Jesus said in Mark 9:41 "For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward." (NKJV)...... so it must be a big deal to Him. The verse seems to imply people will be blessed by Him if they give even a cup of cold water to those who belong to Him...... a cup of coffee would probably apply too...... so does that mean we just do good to those who we know are serving God? I doubt it. I think God would be pleased when we do good to anyone, especially someone who isn't likely to give us anything back.

  The truth is, too many of us are selfish. Oh, we'd like to think we aren't. We give gifts at Christmas to those who give us, we invite people over for a meal who have us to their house..... but how Christ-like is it to just give to those who give to us?

  When my sisters and I were kids, there were a few years that my family bought gifts for people who we knew were having it rough. One year, the brother of a good friend was overseas in the military, and his wife was having a rough time of it. We didn't know her, but bought gifts for her and her small children. That's been too many years ago for me to remember if she knew where they came from or not, but it felt good.

  We want our toys, our comfortable lives, and are willing to help those in our own family, and maybe at church if we are feeling particularly charitable, but nothing more.

  Sometimes I wonder what God really thinks of us. Christians should be the most loving, happy, charitable, giving, friendly people there are, but too many of us are unfriendly grumps who want to hold onto everything we have tightly........ oh, not everyone is like that, but I fear there are too many who are.

  If we know of someone who is having it rough financially, it would be a good thing to help out in some way. If someone we know is discouraged, find something to do for them. Take them out to eat, give them a small gift and/or card to let them know you care.

  This journey through life, headed hopefully for Heaven, is not all about us. We need to be reaching out, loving, giving. Sometimes even a smile will help, or a coffee or pop. We may never know the difference it could make.

  I heard a true story a few years ago that is sad: I can't remember what the young man was going through, or if it even said, but a young man was having a bad time of it, and felt no one cared. As a last resort, he walked into a Christian bookstore, hoping someone would reach out to him, but alas, no one even spoke to him or acknowledged him. He went home, left a note, and took his own life.

 I'm not saying the employees there were responsible for his death, but I am saying we never know what people are going through who we meet, sometimes we don't even know what people are going through that sit in the church pew across the aisle. We need to do more, love more, reach out more..... we could give someone a push towards God they need, and who knows, we could even save a life.

  This story was shared on Facebook this week. I assume it is true, but I was so impressed that I didn't check its authenticity, but shared it there, and am sharing it here:

One day, when I was a freshman in high school,
I saw a kid from my class was walking home from school.
His name was Kyle.
It looked like he was carrying all of his books.
I thought to myself, 'Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday?
He must really be a nerd.'
 I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friends tomorrow afternoon), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on.

 As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him.
They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt.
His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him...
He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes.
My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him as he crawled around looking for his glasses, and I saw a tear in his eye.
As I handed him his glasses, I said, 'Those guys are jerks.'
They really should get lives.
' He looked at me and said, 'Hey thanks!'
There was a big smile on his face.
It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude.
I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived.
As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before.
He said he had gone to private school before now.
I would have never hung out with a private school kid before.
We talked all the way home, and I carried some of his books.
He turned out to be a pretty cool kid.
I asked him if he wanted to play a little football
With my friends.
He said yes.
We hung out all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him, and my friends thought the same of him.
Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again.
I stopped him and said, 'Boy, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday!
' He just laughed and handed me half the books.
Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends.
When we were seniors we began to think about college.
Kyle decided on Georgetown and I was going to Duke.
I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never
Be a problem.
He was going to be a doctor and I was going for business on a football scholarship.
Kyle was valedictorian of our class.
I teased him all the time about being a nerd.
He had to prepare a speech for graduation.
I was so glad it wasn't me having to get up there and speak.
Graduation day, I saw Kyle.
He looked great.
He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school..
He filled out and actually looked good in glasses.
He had more dates than I had and all the girls loved him.
Boy, sometimes I was jealous!
Today was one of those days.
I could see that he was nervous about his speech.
So, I smacked him on the back and said, 'Hey, big guy, you'll be great!'
He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled....
' Thanks,' he said.
As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began...
'Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years.
Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach...but mostly your friends....
I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them.
I am going to tell you a story.'
I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the first day we met.
He had planned to kill himself over the weekend.
He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn't have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home.
He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile.
'Thankfully, I was saved.
My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable.'
I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment.
I saw his Mom and Dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile.
Not until that moment did I realize it's depth.
Never underestimate the power of your actions.
With one small gesture you can change a person's life.
For better or for worse.
God puts us all in each others lives to impact one another in some way.
Look for God in others.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Loving thy gay, Muslim, Obama-loving, baby-murdering neighbor

   The commandment Jesus gave to love thy neighbor as thyself never really worked for me. I've never been a big fan of me. If I had to list something I liked about myself, I'd have a hard time coming up with something real. I like my taste in music, but that is not really me. Its something I like. If I were my neighbor, would I have a hard time or an easy time loving me?

   After Jesus was asked "who is my neighbor?" by a religious leader, He replied by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. As anyone who knows their Bible very well knows, the Samaritans and Jews hated each other. They were the original Hatfields and McCoys. There was a lot of bad blood between them. So here you have a Samaritan helping a Jew. Unheard of. I think Jesus intentionally used two people who normally would have nothing to do with each other to get his point home, and to give everyone to ever live the message that we should love everyone. Even those we have reason to not love.

   Muslims scare me. I really mean that. I know not all Muslims are terrorists, but I do believe all Muslims hate non-Muslims, especially Jews and Americans, and even though all of them may not actively seek our destruction, they do want us "heretics" to die. I also firmly believe that they are slowly trying to take over our country, and that Barak Obama is either a Muslim, or is very pro-Muslim is all he does and believes......

   That said, I'd have a really hard time having a Muslim as a neighbor. And yes, I get it that Jesus means more than just the people living in our neighborhood, but I'm going with that right now. I'd be worried they were working on a bomb in their basement. I'd be afraid if I looked at the wife, the husband would murder me in my sleep....... yet that doesn't give me or anyone who serves God an excuse not to love them, reach out to them, be neighborly.

  And there are others. I'd have a hard time living next to a animal rights activist, an abortionist, someone who voted for Obama. (I mean that..... he is no good and is destroying this country, and I'd ticked off at people who got us into this boat!) But does that mean I can shun them, not love them? Absolutely not.

  I was reading a book today that I got to review. It is the second book in The Windy City Neighbors Series by Dave and Neta Jackson. Each book is going to center on a different neighbor in this certain neighborhood. This book centered on a Christian black couple who has custody of the man's thirteen year old grandson, and are dealing with the man's son who just got out of jail. They have just moved into the neighborhood and the wife decides to bake a bunch of cinnamon rolls and take to all of their neighbors and introduce themselves. They get all kinds of reactions. Some welcoming, some not so, some who seem to resent them moving into the older lady's house who had been foreclosed on.

  Then they get to the house two houses north of them. A little boy of about ten answers the door, then calls for his dad. A man comes to the door and they introduce themselves. He says to wait a minute til he gets his husband. Yes, his husband. This gay couple welcomes them to the neighborhood and apologizes for not doing so sooner. The book doesn't do much with the gay couple, other than the point being made that not many people are nice and welcoming to them, and the Christian couple struggling a bit over it. There is a message though in the book that this gay couple deserves to be loved just as much as everyone else in the neighborhood.

  At the end of the book, the Christian couple has asked the elderly lady who had been foreclosed on in the house they now own, to move into the basement apartment. They set up luminaries to light the sidewalk, and ask all of their neighbors, even the gay couple, to help welcome her back.

  I shudder to think how a lot of Christians would treat gay neighbors. Even how some people in my church would treat them. I heard some comments a few years ago when we discussed homosexuality in Sunday School class....... and I pity the gay person who runs across some of the people who were sitting in that class...... but I am confident there are others in my church and other churches that would love them.

  The gay issue is a tough one. There are gay people, the ones I call militant gays, who don't want tolerated, they want accepted. They want it taught in schools that gay is OK, they want kids taught that they should experiment sexually with the same gender. I fear if they keep getting their agenda furthered, the day will come when it will be illegal to say it is wrong. The day could come when our pastors are forced to marry a same-sex couple or face fines and jail. That is why I am against Christians being forced to photograph gay weddings, bake cakes for gay weddings, etc.... for if we continue to cave, we will lose our freedoms to the gay agenda.

  Yet, we have made some sins, including that one, so bad that we are tossing out the sinner with the sin. The same Bible that says homosexuality is a sin, also says sex between an unmarried woman and man is a sin, yet no one has a problem loving those sinners.

  I don't know if Jesus would bake a cake for a gay wedding. He says homosexuality is a sin, so there is no way He would even recognize a marriage between two people of the same gender.

  I think a balance needs to be found. There is such a push on to reason around what the Bible says about everything. There isn't much left in the Bible that some church or Christian hasn't reasoned around. Murder? Yep - that's what abortion is, yet tons of people who call themselves Christians support it and vote for candidates who further its cause. The same with homosexuality. There is such a push on for the church to say its ok. Its not. It is a sin, and people are doing gay people no favor by helping to damn their souls by patting them on the back and telling them the Bible doesn't really mean its a sin........ but that doesn't mean we can shun them and kick them out of the church either.

  I think most Christians would be shocked at how many people in their own churches and families are struggling with same-sex attractions, but are scared to death to seek help. Their own families might shun them and kick them out.

  I'm reminded of a heartbreaking story Christian singer Kirk Talley told on his first recording, a live CD, made after it came out that he was gay. There was a young man who attended a fairly large church where he played a guitar on the worship team. He was struggling with same-sex attractions, and went to his pastor about it. His pastor seemed understanding and I think said he'd pray for him. The next service came. While the young man was on the platform with the worship team, the pastor told of his coming to him about his same-sex attractions - in front of the whole church - then turned to the young man and said something along this line:  "Get out of my church and don't come back. We don't want your kind here"

  Can you imagine? Any person reading that story that has an ounce of compassion should be feeling a sense of outrage, and pitying that poor guy, but yet aren't many Christians doing that from the pew? We may not order someone out of the church, or carry a "God hates fags" sign, but we are so hateful toward gay people and any other sin that we consider "bad", that we are driving the very people from the church who needs the church the most. We pull our righteous robes around us and thank God we never did THOSE sins.

  If Jesus was walking the earth today, He wouldn't be telling gay people they are OK that way, but He'd be hanging out with them, having them over for a meal, loving them. I was recently reading a blog post by a guy who I agree with sometimes, and sometimes not so much. He addressed this very issue and said we have made the gay debate us against them. Its like we have set gay people aside as a whole separate sinful group of people who needs to be dealt with differently and treated differently, but that's not the case. They are what we all have been at one point: sinners. Yes, we need to fight the gay agenda, or our Kindergartners will be taught all about gay sex from a positive viewpoint..... but we still have to love people, no matter what their sin is, no matter how much we hate what they do and stand for.

  Its not easy to love everyone. But God is love, and we are to be like Him, so we are to love. And we can't pick and choose who we love, unfortunately. We have to love everyone: the gay guy, the Muslim, the planned parenthood worker, the Obama voter, Obama........ OK, I need a lot of help with that one.

  How many people are we going to help send to hell because we shunned them for their lifestyle or something else we didn't like about them? Yes, God can send someone else to reach them, and He may, but if we turn someone off to Christianity and Jesus because we had to hate the Muslim or gay man, how can we stand at the judgment knowing that?

  I may never have a gay or Muslim neighbor. I do have a Democrat neighbor, though this past election she got her eyes opened and didn't vote for Obama, but what if I did have gay neighbors, Muslim neighbors, animal rights activists who had a fit when I grilled meat?

 I am including myself in this, but I fear the church and the Christians in the church, are sadly lacking in love for the sinner today. We don't want certain kinds of people in our church, though we may not order them out from the platform, we wouldn't make them feel welcome in the church or neighborhood.

  Just how much like Jesus are we?