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

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Love is an orientation

  My best friend had been on me a while back to read a certain book, so I bought a copy and added it to my "to be read" stack of books. I finally started reading it a couple of weeks ago and have been slowly making my way through it. It isn't that the book wasn't interesting, but I wasn't sure where the author was going and if I agreed with him. I wasn't sure if he was saying homosexuality is wrong, or if it is OK, yet the book is from a repeatable Christian publisher who would not publish a book that puts a stamp of approval on any sin, so I kept reading.

  When the author, Andrew Marin, was eighteen, he had three of his best friends, two female, and one male, come out to him as gay within just a period of three months. Up until that time, he had been in his own words, homophobic.

  Andrew went on to form the Marin Foundation, an organization that tries to make a bridge between the gay community and the church. He has done some things not many Christians would do. He and his wife moved to the gayest neighborhood of Chicago. He has gone to gay bars, gay churches, spoken at gay conventions, you name it. And he talks to gay people all over. He even has a Bible study for gay people to come to.

  I almost had to read between the lines in the book to find out where Andrew stands, but he does believe homosexuality is wrong - the act. That it is wrong for people of the same gender to have a sexual relationship.

 However, he doesn't go around telling people that, who is he is trying to minister to. He loves them, listens to them, tells them Jesus loves them, and is their friend. He runs shoulders with people who claim to be Christian and gay - as in living as a gay person - and never tells them they are wrong. He has had some of those same people come to the point that they realized they couldn't live as a Christian and a gay person and walk away from it and live for God.

 If you have a hard time with that, you aren't the only one. But he said something in the book that is true, quoting Billy Graham: “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and it’s my job to love.” 

 We have made homosexuality out to be the worst sin, or one of the worst. It comes in right above child molestation for a lot of Christians, and equal to, with too many. And it does have consequences that other sins don't. Consequences that chip away at our freedoms, that endanger our youth.

 But the church has lost sight of its mission. Not just in regards to gay people, but other sinners also. We are to love and show God's love. We can criticize Andrew Marin's methods, and I myself wonder what about the responsibility to let people know they will miss Heaven if they keep living the way they are, but I would wager he has won more gay people to Christ than most Christians. He has probably won more people to Christ, period, than a lot of us.

  We Christians are going to start facing more persecution and hate in the coming days. The more the gay agenda gets a foothold with gay marriage, anti-hate speech and hate crime laws, the more our rights will be trampled. Just yesterday, a Republican governor voted down a bill in Arizona that would protect Christians in cases of where they could be forced to photograph a gay wedding, print t-shirts for gay pride parades, etc. 

  I have friends who say we should do it. Andrew Marin would be in that group. I don't  know the answers. Would you want to photograph a wedding of two men or two women? Take pictures of them kissing, toasting, etc.? And they most likely are targeting Christian businesses to make an example of them..... so what are Christians to do? Gay marriage is a mockery of what God intended for marriage, but so is divorce and remarriage. As someone said, gay people are not going to destroy the sanctity of marriage. Divorce, shacking up, free sex, and abortion has already done that. We have no sanctity of marriage.

  I grew up hearing too much about a judgmental God. If there were sermons about God's love, they were few and far in between and I don't remember them. And for all too many altar calls, preachers tried to scare people to the altar. And we'd sing, or have sung to us, songs like "Just As I Am", "Pass Me Not", and other hymns that stir up fear and guilt, sometimes when you are right with God... for me, those songs are so associated with guilt and fear, and of altar calls, I feel like I need to go to the altar after just hearing them. I am not making that up. Why don't we ever use songs like "Amazing Grace", "How Marvelous", "Amazing Grace" - songs that talk about God's love and grace? No, we use songs that are geared to stir up fear and guilt in people, because they are more apt to be scared to the altar. And in the meantime, vulnerable people like me group up missing the message of God's love and grace.

 And the same applies to gay people. If all they hear from the church is how evil and sinful they are, what are the chances of them ever finding God? Of knowing He loves them. That His very nature can let Him do anything but love them.

 We seem to have this idea that we have to beat people over the head constantly with their sin and why it is wrong, but I don't find that Jesus did it. He visited and hung out with sinners. He did have the message of "go and sin no more", but often we see Him just visiting people, loving them, being their friend. His harsh words were reserved for the church leaders of the day. The ones who looked down on the sinners and thought they were pretty good.

  We don't love enough. If we are God's hands, feet, His message to the world, we, pardon the expression - suck at it. Oh, just as the preachers I heard growing up, we have the judgment and guilt thing down pat. How long could we be around someone we know is gay, and not preach at them. Tell them how much they need to change? Yet most of us don't do that with other sins. It is just the ones we find the worst and most detestable.

  I'll let you in on a little secret. Whether you think so or not, you know someone gay. Most likely more than one. A friend, sibling, cousin, parent, spouse...... yeah - there are a lot of people who are attracted to others of the same sex who marry and struggle in silence.... so next time you speak disparagingly of gay people, mock them, act like one in jest..... you could be stabbing someone dear to you in the heart.

  And even if there isn't someone close to you who deals with this, does that make it anymore right or OK to act that way about someone? No. Jesus wouldn't.

  How are we to reach sinners if we mock them? If all we do is tell them how horrible they are and that they are going to hell? If we avoid sinners whose sin or lifestyle is something we find distasteful? Here is a little bit of information we overlook: Any sin is distasteful to God. He didn't come to save just some sinners, but all sinners. He doesn't love people who sin in one way more or less than people who sin in another.

 Gay people are not the only sinners Christians have dropped the ball on, but they seem to be the ones that are singled out to be fought the most. The ones whose sin is so bad that Christians almost see them as being beyond redemption. We feel we have a right to not love them, to not try to reach out to them. And that couldn't be further from the truth. If it is the worst sin, and it is not, not that God measures sins - we are sinners, or we are saved  - but if it is the worst sin, wouldn't the people engaging in it need God the most? Wouldn't they need the message that God loves them and wants to have a relationship with them the most?

  We need to stop playing church. We need to stop pulling our righteous robes around us, afraid we will defile ourselves if we get around certain kinds of people. We need to can the attitude that we are not like "them." If we have that kind of attitude, we may be worse than "them".

  These are tough times, and tough issues. I have a friend who says we need to quit worrying about our rights so much, and instead worry about loving people. Maybe he is right. Yet, if you know much about the gay agenda, it is scary, and we should not just step aside and let them accomplish all that they want to do. But what is the answer? Should we do things that cause us to participate in gay weddings, even indirectly? Should we print t-shirts or anything else advertising gay pride parades, or anything pro-gay?

  We cannot keep screaming judgement and hellfire at sinners. We will never win them that way. We will never convince them that God loves them and there is hope. We need to love more, and put actions into our words. Show people we love them and God loves them. Could it cause us some discomfort? Yes. Whoever said being a Christian was easy. But it is time we start doing what God does best: loving. Everyone.

Monday, February 24, 2014

It came to pass

Someone once said that some of the most encouraging words in the Bible are in the phrase "it came to pass." I did a search for the words in the King James Version of the Bible, and it showed 463 results. That is a lot of uses of the phrase, and that is a lot of things that came to pass. It is one of those things you don't really think about when you read it. I usually don't. But if you do think about it, it is encouraging.

  No matter what we are going through in this life, it will pass. It won't always be in our timing, in fact it may rarely be in our timing, but it will come to pass. Some things may last a lifetime, but even then, they will come to pass.

  I started my current job as a security officer in a hospital back in June. Since I started, I have been working 7am-3pm Friday-Monday. I wanted full time daylight, which I kept getting told would never happen. I had no seniority, and everyone wanted daylight.... if a daylight person were to quit, someone from another shift would want their place.

  I also wanted Sundays off. I hate working Sundays. I believe Sundays are for rest and church. Not for working. But as I learned,  sometimes you don't have a choice. I was also told to dream on about Sundays off.

  A few weeks ago, someone from daylight quit. And sure enough, someone from another shift wanted their position on daylight, so I had no choice.

 And then a new position opened up and was offered to a co-worker who works days and has Sundays and Mondays off. It looked like if she took it, I might finally have full time daylight....... but if she took it, another guard on daylight wanted her days off, so I would still work Sundays. However, if she turned down the new position, I could have it, and would have Sundays off.

  So I prayed about it, and asked some others to pray about it.... and I got the new position. Starting March 10, I will work Tuesday-Saturday, full time, and will have Sundays and Mondays off. I am a bit nervous about the new position, but also excited about an answer to prayer, and excited about being able to be in church again on Sunday mornings.

  I have been praying for quite some time about having Sundays off, and wondered if it would ever happen, but it is going to happen. It will come to pass.

  That may not seem like a big deal to some, and yes, there are people dealing with much worse things than working every Sunday. I do not mean to trivialize the problems others face, but it is a big deal to me, and yet God worked it out. In His time, not mine. Maybe He had lessons for me to learn. I don't know why it took so many months, but I am thankful He answered my prayer.

  There are other things in my life that I want to pass. And they will. We live in such a fast food type of world, that we almost expect God to work the same way. We zoom up to a speaker, yell our prayer into the speaker, pull up to the window and expect Him to have answered it.

  But God doesn't work that way. He doesn't have a drive through for faster service. It doesn't matter how fast we want an answer, or how desperate we are. He will answer in His time, not ours. If you're like me, you hope that verse about a day being as a thousand years doesn't hold true for prayers you pray. Tell God you need something tomorrow and His tomorrow is a thousand tomorrows away.....

 I doubt that holds true, but it is true that whatever we are going through is going to come to pass some day. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe a year or two from now. Maybe when we get to Heaven. Why He doesn't answer prayers faster, we may never know on this earth. But I do know one thing: He has a reason, and we have to trust Him. If we don't trust Him and give up, we will be worse off than if we hung in their and bore our burden or trial.

  No matter what we are going through, we have a hope that it will be over some day. If not on this earth, then in Heaven. And Heaven will be worth it all. And in Heaven, everything we have ever gone through on earth will pass, never to be experienced again.


Friday, February 21, 2014

The problem of guilt

Guilt can be a good thing. If we do something wrong and don't feel guilty, we should be worried. But it can also be a bad thing.

  I have always had major issues with guilt. Not the good kind, though it has plagued me when I was doing wrong, but I have also been plagued with the bad kind. The kind that I feel for sins that have been forgiven.

  Maybe it isn't that prevalent among other Christians. I am unique, I'll admit that, but there are most likely countless other people in the same boat. We sin, repent, God forgives us, and we still feel guilty. Why do we? If God has forgiven us, and remembers the sin against us no more, than why should we feel guilty?

 I never really thought much of my holding onto guilt until recent months. I am slowly coming to realize it isn't pleasing to God, and why would it be? I ran across this quote in a book I was reading by Brennan Manning that underscores that:
   “When we wallow in guilt, remorse, and shame over real or imagined sins of the past, we are disdaining God's gift of grace.” 

  That makes me cringe a bit, and mentally say "ouch!" I had never thought it out to that extent, but that is what we are doing to hold onto guilt.

 My struggle to believe God loves me is something I have often mentioned on my blog, and the guilt issue has played into that. I have fallen and strayed many times, and when I would repent, I always felt I had to beg God to forgive me and pray a long time. No matter how hard I prayed though, I always felt I needed to do something more to be totally forgiven. What that was, I never figured out, so I still felt guilty for my sins. Sins that God had forgiven.

 Just today, I did something I knew displeased God. It was dumb, and I am not going to say what it was, but I was driving when I did it. I immediately felt guilt, which was good, and told God I was sorry and asked Him to forgive me. End of story........ or so I wish.

  Here I am six hours later, still beating myself up over it, still feeling guilty. Should I? No. Absolutely not. Yet I do. Then I feel guilty for feeling guilty. No joke, I really do.

  I have so totally missed the whole meaning of God's grace for most of my life. I got the message that God forgives sin, yet I felt my sins were never totally forgiven. Like a stained white garment that emerges from the laundry, cleaner, but still somewhat dirty. It sounds ridiculous. After all, I went to a Christian school all my life, church, Sunday School, and even four years of Bible college..... How did  the meaning of God's grace escape me all that time?

 Guilt for forgiven sins and wrongs is an added burden that we don't need to carry. It can't possibly be from God, for He wants us to be free, so it has to be from the devil. God doesn't remind us of past sins and mistakes, so who else would, other than the devil? And for so long, I have stood there and let myself be a willing target for the weapon of guilt.

 I, and others, have made forgiveness harder than it is. If we sin, or do something that displeases God, all we need to do is ask forgiveness. We don't have to say the right words, or grovel. Yet I do grovel. I do try to say the right words and project the right amount of repentance into my prayer.

 Thank God that He is patient with me. There is a song that was popular in the 80's that went like this:
 He's still working on me
 To make me what I ought to be
 It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars
 The sun and the earth, and Jupiter and Mars
 How loving and patient He must be
 He's still working on me

   At times I look at the things I need to work on, the areas I need to improve upon, and sigh in discouragement. Guilt is on that list. And yes, it is displeasing to God when I hold onto guilt for something He has forgiven me for, yet He knows my heart, and is patient as He keeps working on me.

  My prayer lately has been that He keeps working on me, chipping off the rough edges - of which there are many, and just like the clay, keeps shaping and molding me, just like a piece of clay.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Discouraging honesty in the church

I was raised in a church that teaches two works of grace: 1) salvation, and 2) sanctification, when the Holy Spirit comes into the believer's life. No preacher ever said these words, but the idea I got growing up was if you got saved and got sanctified, everything was going to be a bed of roses.

  Age, maturity, and life in general have shown me that isn't true. One or two trips to the altar doesn't make life perfect. Some of us have issues that take time and lots of prayer. Some of us have doubts and fears, some of us stumble and fall and repeat vicious cycles of addiction that are hard to quit. And we are surrounded by a church full of people who seemingly don't have any struggle or anything wrong in their lives.

  I am sure it isn't the intent of most churches, but we are almost encouraging people to be silent about their struggles, questions, doubts, and problems.

 In his book Not A Fan, author Kyle Idleman addressed this issue. When they have new people start to their church, they meet with them and have a sort of class to tell the people about the church and learn more about the new people. Idleman said a lot of these new people don't understand that you're supposed to put forth a good front and not talk about your struggles and failures. He said they have had guys admit to porn addictions, couples admit to marriage problems, etc. And of course he was being sarcastic about Christians supposed to be silent about things like that. But it may as well be written in the church bylaws, for so many churches give that idea.

 The church is sometimes compared to a hospital. And there are similarities, and as it has been said, the church is not to be a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. Can you imagine a hospital that encourages people to just be quiet about their illness or injury? Or a hospital that refuses to treat certain illnesses or injuries, or even certain people?
 Yet many churches are like that. We don't want people to admit they have a problem or struggle. There are certain sinners we wouldn't want in our church. There are certain sins and struggles our brothers and sisters are dealing with, and are afraid to admit to and ask for help.

 There is more than one reason. A few come to my mind:
1) They are afraid of being judged, criticized, even ostracized
2) They feel they are the only one in the church who is struggling
3) They are afraid of being gossiped about

  I am convinced our churches are full of people who wish they could come forward and admit they don't have it all together and say what they are dealing with. But many of them will struggle in silence, falling and stumbling, and many even giving up on God and the church.

 I read an excellent blog post yesterday titled "Being ‘Gay’ in Bible College: The Great Grace I Found in The Church". The whole blog post is worth reading, but the young man who wrote it made an interesting statement I want to use here: "When we cripple a person’s opportunity to be honest and open we destroy their chance to find identity in Christ. We encourage their identity as a homosexual by forcing them to retreat into a community that approves of their life and sins. And why would they leave if they can be honest about what they feel and believe?"

  He is referring specifically to the people in the church who are struggling with same-sex attraction, but it could apply to other struggles too. How many people have left the church and went into a life of sin because they felt they couldn't be open and honest about what they were dealing with in their own church?

  A few years ago, my Sunday School class had a lesson addressing the issue of homosexuality. There were a few people who made very disparaging remarks during the class. Things like "I'd never want my kids around one of those people". One man said he'd rather have a murderer around his kids than "one of those people." If we have that kind of attitude towards a sin or struggle, how likely are people who deal with that to admit it? How likely are people who deal with it to come to that church?

  I am happy to report that the issue of homosexuality came up again in Sunday School class this past year and it was much more positive. There were no hateful remarks, but the ones who had made the hateful remarks were not present.

 Our churches should be like a hospital. People who have a problem or struggle should feel free to admit it and not fear what kind of reaction they will get. They should expect - and receive - love, prayer, understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness if applicable. And any sinner should feel welcomed.

  We are to be like Jesus, and we are to BE Jesus to others. Imagine if Jesus was like us instead. What if we feared to admit some things to Him. What if certain sinners were not welcome to Him. It sounds ludicrous to imagine our Savior being like that, yet so many Christians and churches are.

  The church will never reach sinners if they exclude some sinners. And they will never grow if their members feel they have to be silent about what they are dealing with.

 My prayer is that God will use my struggles to help others some day, and that I will not be concerned with what man thinks of me, but what God thinks of me. And if His Word is right, He thinks I am pretty great. Worth dying for.

  I hope and pray I am not one of those Christians that people would fear how I would treat them if I found out the worst about them. For God knows the worst about me and loves and accepts me as His child. How can we do any less?

If We Are The Body by Casting Crowns

It's crowded in worship today
As she slips in trying to fade into the faces
The girl's teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know

But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way

A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances
Tells him that his chances are better out on the road

Jesus payed much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ

Jesus is the way

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The wrong yardstick

  I was praying the other night and prayed something I have been praying a lot lately. I was praying something along the lines that I know that I need to be a better Christian, and asked God to help me get to the place with Him that I should be. I immediately felt checked and felt God asked me by whose standard am I not measuring up to what He wants, and that I am where I need to be with Him right now.

 I am not one to go around hearing God's voice a lot, and am careful not to just assume it is God, but this was one of those moments that I knew it was God speaking to me. And it reinforced the belief that has been pressing on me lately that God is far more patient with me than I am with myself.

  Much has been said about comparing ourselves with other Christians and thinking we are pretty good compared to others. I have been guilty of that at times in my life, but the flip side is usually more my problem in recent years. I look at other Christians and feel they are so much better a Christian than I am, and wonder if I'll ever be where they are spiritually.

   Why do we measure ourselves so much by other Christians? Maybe it is just human nature, but if it is wrong to compare and think we are better than other Christians, then it is wrong to compare and think we are not as good as other Christians. We are to aim to be like Jesus, not like any human, no matter how great of a Christian they seem to be. We can never measure up to what Jesus is, but it should be our continual goal to be as much like Him as possible. And I am finding out that He isn't expecting that to happen as fast as I have been. If we need to move faster, He will let us know, but His timing even with our growth, is not always our timing.

  I was reading a book the other day and the author made this statement: "No one is a better Christian than anyone else. You are either a Christian, or you're not." That went against everything I have ever believed, but it does go along with what I have been feeling lately. Yes, there is such a thing as maturity in Christians, but what would we say makes a Christian a better Christian, than another? One prays more? Goes to church more? Those are outward things, and if we go by those, we are saying we can work our way into Heaven. So I have to agree with the author. There is no such thing as one person being a better Christian than another. God isn't going to let some people into Heaven before others because they were better Christians, Your sins are either under the blood, or they aren't.

  This kind of thinking that one can be a better Christian may be what led to wrong thinking on my part. I am sure I never heard any preacher say it in so many words, but somewhere along the line, I got the idea that you had to be a Christian for a certain length of time, that you had to achieve a specific amount of righteousness - or be a good enough Christian - for God to answer your prayers. That is completely false, and is something I am still fighting to eradicate from my life. There have been times in my life that I was hesitant to pray for something because I felt I wasn't a good enough Christian, that I had messed up too much in the past to be eligible for answered prayer.

 It doesn't matter where we are on our Christian walk, whether we are just beginning, or we are close the end, it doesn't matter to God. We are His children and have just as much right to ask Him for something in prayer as any other Christian.

  Yes, there is such a thing as disobedience and sin being in the way of God answering prayer, but if we are living in obedience and have confessed all sin, the one day Christian, if he has faith, has as much reason to believe God will hear and answer his prayer as the Christian who has served God for 50 years.

  It must grieve our Savior when we start comparing ourselves to each other and judge how good of a Christian we are by where other Christians are with Jesus. He should be the one who decides what kind of Christian we are. And I am not sure He even considers things like that. We do. It is very likely all He considers is if we are being obedient, and if every sin is confessed and under the blood. We are either His child, or we are not.

   There are people we admire and have a lot of confidence in, and we may find ourselves wishing we were as good of a Christian as they are. I have done so, but they are human, and not who we should be trying to live like. Admire and have confidence, but we should put our total confidence in Jesus and strive to be as much like Him as we can, with His help.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Trusting as a child

   I have a hard time trusting God. It is too easy to worry about things, internalize my fears and insecurities instead of just giving them to God. Part of it may be because I am leaning on my own strength too much. I wonder how I will ever do that, or if I can ever manage to conquer that mountain.

  I am only starting to realize how little I am truly depending on God, and still trying to figure things out on my own. Impatience probably plays into it a lot also. I don't like to wait for things. I'll admit it, and it seems like I have been waiting for some things for way too long, yet how much of that time was I really giving it to God and depending on Him to work it out?

  There are two different devotionals I read each day. One has shorter devotionals that I read in the morning, as I am more rushed then. It is Reflections For Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning, and has some great nuggets of truth. The one for today was titled "No Place for Pretense" and talked about children not having to struggle to get into a good position to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

 The devotional has been sticking in my head all day, and led me to thinking about kids and trust. It is no wonder Jesus said we must be like children to enter the Kingdom of God. Kids don't worry about their parents providing for them, they don't doubt their parents love - at least not young children. They live day to day never worrying about their parents letting them go. They trust their parents unwaveringly. I don't trust God like that. I worry. Then worry more. I wonder if my failures will cancel out His helping me, then I end up in a performance based religion where I try to do things to earn His favor and love.....but the truth of the matter is we can never lose it. The quote below is one I am doing my best to take to heart:

  God proved His love by sending His only Son to die for us. If He is willing to do that, how can I not trust Him? There's a song that says this:

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don't understand
When don't see His plan
When you can't trace His hand
Trust His Heart

  Good advice, and a great reminder. God IS too good to be unkind, and He knows everything. Even my tomorrows. So why is it hard to trust Him? Why is it so hard to be like a kid and not worry?

  We trust people, things, yet often it is hard to trust the God who made it all.

  There are days I look at what I need to change and almost despair, yet God is more patient than we can imagine, even in this area. So I will continue to ask for His help in trusting Him. And in the meantime, I will try to be more like a kid in my relationship with Him.

 I believe help thou my unbelief
 I'd take the finite risk of trusting like a child
 I believe help thou my unbelief 
I walk into the unknown trusting all the while

 I long so much to feel the warmth that others seem to know but should I never feel a thing I claim him even so I believe help thou my unbelief I walk into the unknown trusting all the while

Monday, February 10, 2014

Missing out on the music

  I don't know what gives us tastes for different genre's of music and music artists, and distaste for others. What we are raised around may play into it, but not necessarily. I developed a love for Southern Gospel in my teens. Up to that point, what my parents listened to was very tame. Music with drums just wasn't played. I remember my parents not liking my Southern Gospel music and making comments about it being too wild..... that eventually changed, but I obviously didn't get my love for Southern Gospel from my parents.

  I kept that love for the Southern Gospel genre' of music, and for years, rarely listened to anything else. I remain convinced that some of the most encouraging songs that have been written, and are still being written, are Southern Gospel.

  However, in the last couple of years, I have tried to expand my musical tastes to include Christian Contemporary and Praise & Worship. For a couple of reasons: I feel I need more variety in my life, and I believe listening to just one genre' can limit me and cause me to miss out on some good songs.

  People can have wrong ideas about music. When a lot of people think of Southern Gospel, they think of hick, backwoods people. There are that type of singer under the wide spectrum of Southern Gospel music, but there are many who aren't, and some who lean towards a more contemporary style.

  CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) is the same way. You have Steve Green on one side of the spectrum, who just about bores me with most of his music, and P.O.D. on the other, who is so far out I would ground my kids for listening to them, if I had kids. Even Praise and Worship music has its extremes of artists and styles I don't want to hear.

 The problem is critics of any style of music focus on the one extreme and ignore some other music in that genre' they may actually enjoy and get some encouragement and help from.

  Here are the lyrics to one of my favorite songs by my favorite group, the Southern Gospel Booth Brothers. By the way, 2 of my friends who don't like Southern Gospel went to a concert of theirs with myself and some others and enjoyed it immensely:

When He Saved Me:

I don’t believe He’s sitting up in Heaven
Evaluating sinners by their scars
But I see Him excited to forgive us
And it’s not at all in spite of who we are

When He saved me He knew
What I had done, what I would do
He looked beyond the worst in me
And saw not what I was, He saw what I could be

He looked at all the broken scattered pieces
And made a brand new vessel of my life
Every day possibility increases
‘Cause he placed me in a dream that never dies

And though I was a sinner, the Savior heard my cry
His mercy came and rescued me, He did not pass me by 

 Then there is the very encouraging CCM song that was popular this past year by a group with the dubious name of Big Daddy Weave:


Seems like all I could see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last
Then You look at this prisoner and say to me "son
Stop fighting a fight it's already been won"

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I'll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, now I'm not who I used to be
I am redeemed, I'm redeemed

All my life I have been called unworthy
Named by the voice of my shame and regret
But when I hear You whisper, "Child lift up your head"
I remember, oh God, You're not done with me yet

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I'll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, now I'm not who I used to be

Because I don't have to be the old man inside of me
'Cause his day is long dead and gone
Because I've got a new name, a new life, I'm not the same
And a hope that will carry me home

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I'll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, 'cause I'm not who I used to be

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I'll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, yeah, I'm not who I used to be
Oh, God, I'm not who I used to be
Jesus, I'm not who I used to be
'Cause I am redeemed
Thank God, redeemed 

  And the Praise and Worship song "Blessings" by Laura Story


We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It's not our home

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise 
  Musical tastes are going to affect the styles of music we listen to, and some just grate on us, but it would do us all good to broaden our listening a little. We might find an artist, or at least some songs, in a genre' we don't normally listen to that could encourage us and help us through a tough time. Such as the Southern Gospel song below:

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Gentle Shepherd

  I love song lyrics, which is one reason I believe the kind of music you listen to matters. Secular songs can never do what Christian songs can do.

  One problem that I have, and I doubt I am alone in, is singing or listening to a song that is so familiar, I don't really think about the words, Sometimes I do. On my way to work this morning, the CD I was listening to had a very familiar song on it, and for some reason, I really thought about the words. The song was the Gaither song,  "Gentle Shepherd":

Gentle Shepherd come and lead us
for we need you to help us find our way
Gentle Shepherd come and feed us
for we need your strength from day to day

There's no other we can turn to
who can help us face another day

Gentle Shepherd come and lead us
for we need to you to help us find our way

  Those are nice words, and coupled with the music, it makes a nice song. But what does it mean to me?

  Jesus called Himself by many names, and one of those was shepherd. In John 10, He said that He is the Good Shepherd. I don't think it is a stretch to say a good shepherd would be gentle, hence the song.

  The more I realize how messed up my thinking has been, the more I am convinced that preachers should be more careful how they preach, and what they say. Too many preachers I heard growing up didn't talk about a Gentle Shepherd. The image they gave me was more of a cow herder complete with whip and lasso. Nothing gentle about that.

  When a sheep is heading in the wrong direction, the Good Shepherd may stick His staff in the way to discourage the sheep. If the sheep keeps going, He will let it go, but He will go after it, even if it means leaving the rest of the sheep that are safe in the fold.

 I always loved that picture of the Shepherd rescuing the sheep that had strayed and fallen over a cliff. That image of the Shepherd reaching down to rescue the sheep is so much more what God does, not at all what too many preachers have, and still preach. That God is a bully who is mad that we strayed and has to be begged to take us back. Who is waiting with a whip in hand to punish us for straying.

  God is not out to drive people to Him, whether they have strayed or never served Him at all. He isn't out to punish people, but to love us. To draw us to Him, not threaten or guilt us into a relationship with Him.

 The Gentle Shepherd lovingly watches over us and though He is grieved when we stray, the same Shepherd who would die for His sheep...... and DID die for His sheep, still loves us that much, He is my Shepherd, not a bully with a whip who will punish me for straying, No, He goes after us and welcomes us back. For He is the Gentle Shepherd, not a rough cow herder.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Christian wimps

  I fear if people in the Bible were like we modern day Christians, we wouldn't have some of the great Bible stories that we have.

  There are people who claim there is no persecution of Christians here in the USA. It is true we have no persecution on the level of many Christians in other nations, but it is creeping in. All you have to do is pay attention to news stories. People losing their jobs because they dared stand for their beliefs, people being sued because they dared stand for what Biblical values.

  There are countless stories of the atheists suing and winning in all kinds of cases from murals being covered up in schools, posters being taken down, crosses removed, city emblems being covered because they had a cross on them. And we step aside and let it happen.

  Sometimes it seems inevitable. They seem to have better lawyers, more money, but still...... are we wimping out too easily?

  I hear the excuses. We shouldn't offend people. It isn't really important. And other things we say.

  When the proclamation was made that no one could pray to anyone but the king, what did Daniel do? He did as he always did. He opened his windows and prayed in the open. Do you know what we would have done? Left the windows closed and prayed where no one could see. He could have. Really, why do it the way he did and make trouble?

  And when Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego were among the people ordered to bow to the idol, would it really have hurt to bow? They wouldn't have had to verbally disavow God. How many of us would have bowed? It wasn't that big of a deal, and it would have saved trouble. Plus, I am sure the king was offended, and we should never offend people.........

  There are other examples in the Bible. People told they couldn't do something for God, and they did it anyway. Why don't we? Peter, Paul, Stephen,  and others were ordered not to preach..... they could have done it inside where no one would have known, but they kept doing it in public.

  There seems to be this idea that Christians should never offend, but we should just love, love, love. Don't say anything is a sin, don't do anything to stick out. That if we are told not to put up a poster, pray somewhere, preach somewhere..... we should obey and do as we are told.

 What if we were more like Cameron Franks? He is a senior from a school in Texas. A teacher had a Christian poster up and was ordered to take it down by the anti-Christian crowd. He did so, but Cameron decided not to take that sitting down, that it was time the Christians were heard from. He created and started selling t-shirts for Christians to wear at school. What a courageous young man. (story here)

   And here is what I think is so awesome: the anti-God people got what they wanted. They got one poster taken down, but those posters were replaced by several t-shirts with a Christian message being worn by several kids. Imagine if that always happened. If the atheists got the nativity scene taken down from a public building, and several more would pop up at surrounding buildings. If they got one cross taken down, and Christians all around the location would put crosses up. I think after a while, they would quit fighting so hard if their attempts that eradicating Christian symbols resulted in more coming up.

  But we wimp out.

  The way our nation is headed with godless politicians and judges running it, the day will come when we are persecuted here in America. It isn't if, but when. It is starting in small ways, but it will worsen as time goes by and we keep putting evil men in power. If we can't stand up to what we are facing now, how on earth will we stand when it means our life or our children's lives if we are ordered to deny Christ? Now it is posters in school, crosses on public land, but the day will come when it will cost us to even be a Christian. Will we stand, or will we wimp out?

  The following song is an awesome song, but it makes me sad. The writer and singer, Ray Boltz, secretly struggled with same-sex attractions for much of his life. He reached a point that he decided since God didn't take them away, God was OK with it. He left his wife and with her blessing (weird), dove into living the gay lifestyle. How sad. The thought has come to my mind that if he denied Christ for his sexual desires, how on earth could he have stood up to the persecution his song talks about. That should be a warning to all of us.

Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb

Words and music by Ray Boltz

I pledge allegiance to the Lamb
With all my strength
With all I am
I will seek to honor His commands
I pledge allegiance to the Lamb

I have heard how Christians long ago
Were brought before a tyrants throne
They were told that he
Would spare their lives
If they would renounce
The name of Christ
But one by one they chose to die
The Son of God, they would not deny
Like a great angelic choir sings
I can almost hear their voices ring


Now the years have come
And the years have gone
And the cause of Jesus still goes on
Now our time has come
To count the cost
To reject this world
To embrace the Cross

And one by one let us live our lives
For the One who died to give us life
Till the trumpet sounds on the final day
Let us proudly stand and boldly say

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Why I don't read Sunday School papers

All of the churches I have attended in my life have handed out what we call Sunday School papers. They are weekly paper with stories and such in them. They have different ones for different age groups, including adults.  I used to read them every week, then I started slacking off on reading them until I just quit totally, and stopped taking them. I ended up throwing them away when I got home anyway.

  Our head usher at church stands near the door on Sunday nights and hands out bulletins and Sunday School papers to people who were not in the morning service. He spotted me as soon as I hung my coat up this evening and honed in on me like Michelle Obama honing in on something deep fried. He handed me a bulletin first, then tried to hand me our monthly church paper, which I had already looked at, then he tried to hand me a Sunday School paper. He didn't want to take "no" for an answer, and asked me why I didn't want one. When people ask me questions, I tend to answer them, and my answer seemed to offend him.

  My reply: "well, the stories are all pretty much the same, and everything always works out for everyone, and life isn't like that, even for Christians"
  Him, sounding rather offended: "Well maybe you should write some yourself then."
  Me: "Maybe I should. I could do just as well."

   I love Christian fiction. I read it to be entertained, and I like happy endings. As I tell my best friend when he points out life isn't like that, "If I want real life, I'll read a biography. I want happy endings. That's why it is called fiction." And might I add, I have received more help and encouragement from Christian fiction than Sunday School papers. Although fictional, some of the stories deal with issues that help me. But it is still fiction.

  That said, I don't want fiction in my Sunday school papers. In real life, you don't always keep your job after refusing to work Sundays. Sometimes you can't even get a job unless you do. In real life, not even Christian marriages are all roses and candlelight dinners. In real life, your neighbors may still hate your guts.

  There is the occasional true story about missionaries or real people that isn't all sunshine and rainbows, but from reading Sunday School papers for so many years, I feel they present an unrealistic picture of what being a Christian is like.

  God doesn't always answer our prayers. Oh, I have heard the old "sometimes He says yes, sometimes He says no, sometimes He says wait." Well, sometimes He seems completely silent, and you have to keep serving and trusting Him anyway.

  Sometimes life doesn't go at all like we want or plan, no matter how good of a Christian we are. Ask Joni Eareckson Tada, who has been paralyzed from the neck down since 1978. Ask Nick Vujicic, who was born with no arms or legs, yet reaches more people for Christ than anyone in my circle of friends. The Sunday School papers would have them healed and whole.

  I have been working every Sunday morning since June. I hate missing every Sunday morning, especially Sunday School. If I were in those papers, I would miraculously get out of working Sundays..... but that isn't happening. I am praying, and am at the point I am praying for God to help me find a job elsewhere that I don't have to work many, or no Sundays. Will it happen? If it is God's will. But this is real life, not the Sunday School papers.

  Life is messy, even the Christian life. I am afraid too often we give the idea that it is going to be like the Sunday School papers, and we try to live like that. We are afraid to speak up and admit we are struggling, that we have doubts and fears, that even though we are serving God, life feels like it is falling apart. We are afraid if we let people know that everything isn't perfect in our life, people will view us differently. And maybe they will, but who cares?

 God does not guarantee us happiness or success. Following Him may mean inconveniences in our lives, possibly persecution. Everything isn't going to go right for us. But we have to trust Him anyway. Serve Him in spite of it, and trust that if He doesn't remove the problem, that He will take is through it. That, is the real Christian life.