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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I pledge allegiance to which flag?

  Years ago when people would go into battle, there would be someone carrying a flag. It was an important job, and if he went down, someone else would grab the flag and march on. It was a bad sign if the flag wasn't raised. It was basically a sign of hope that meant they were still in the battle and there was still a chance they could win.

  A couple of hundred years ago a battle raged at Fort McHenry. There was an American man trapped on a British ship listening to the sounds of the battle all night long as the British tried to overtake the American fort. The next morning as the sun rose, he looked toward the fort and saw that the American was still flying over the fort. The enemy had not won, and the Americans had stood strong and not given up, but had been victorious. That man was Francis Scott Key and that event led him to write the words to what is now our national anthem.

  There has been a lot of talk about flags lately. If one has social media, there is no end of flag talk.

  There is the Confederate flag, which because of one crazed young man, is now evil and everyone is trying to wipe it from the face of the earth, with more and more crazy ideas of what needs banned coming daily.

  And with the sad legalization of same-sex marriage, the rainbow flag is all over Facebook, the flag of gay people who live their lives in defiance of what God says about their sin.

The American flag has been prevalent with July 4th around the corner. Also a few crazy individuals are calling for the ban of it also. And there are people posting it just because other flags are being posted.

  And then there is the Christian flag. It isn't as well known, and is one you'll never see flying from the White House, Supreme Court, or any other government building.

  A flag is a symbol. The American flag stands for freedom and for all of the men and women who fought and died to make our country free, who risked their lives to stand up to a government that was getting too oppressive and taxing too much. I will gladly pledge my allegiance to it, but it may some day be banned, or come to stand for something I don't want to be a part of. Our country is becoming more and more hostile to Christians, and the legalization of gay marriage will make that worse. The day may come when I will not be able to pledge allegiance to the American flag. Our hope should not lie in it. Everything it stands for may some day not exist here, and may be used against us. There are already those who don't like our country who see it as a sign of oppression and hate.

  The Confederate flag was the flag of the South and to Southerners represent their heritage and history. Most don't see slavery or oppression when they look at it, and I believe they have a right to fly their flag. On the flip side are people offended by the flag - and not those who have suddenly become offended because the media and government told them it is offensive. To some, it is something they want no part of and stands for everything they consider bad and oppressive.

  It is sad that something God created as a promise has become the symbol of gay pride and is on their flag. To gay people, it means pride and the freedom to be what they feel they were born to be.... gay. But to others, it stands for a sin that God called an abomination. It stands for a loss of freedoms and being forced to do things against their beliefs.

  There are other flags. Communist flags, terrorist flags (both of which are still sold by Amazon who won't sell the Confederate flag), flags for sports teams, state flags, and flags for a ton of other organizations and beliefs.

  But only one flag stands for something that can never change, something that is not oppressive and will never let you down... or should I say SOMEONE.

The pledge to the Christian flag is "I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again, with life and liberty to all who believe."

  The Christian flag is nothing in and of itself. It is just a piece of white with a blue square and a red cross. Nothing very imaginative or extravagant. But it is what it stands for that is important: Jesus Christ, our Savior. All other flags symbolize something bad, or something that may let us down, or what they stand for may change....what the Christian flag stands for, Jesus, will never, ever change.

  I don't care about the Confederate flag. It holds no special meaning to me, nor does it offend me.  The Communist flag and flag of Hammas stand for things that I hate: death, oppression, torture, and terrorism. The rainbow flag stands for sin and the opposite of true freedom in Christ. It stands for a lifestyle that will take you away from Christ and cause heartbreak, is more risk for disease and early death... and ultimately cause people to miss Heaven.

Only one flag is worth our ultimate allegiance: The Christian flag. I believe any freedom-loving American should fly the American flag, and I also believe any freedom-loving Christian should fly the American flag. It symbolizes Jesus, wherein true freedom, contentment, and eternal life lie. Following Who it symbolizes will never lead us wrong, will never disappoint us, and will end with an eternity in Heaven.... something noting else symbolized by a flag can do.

  If I am going to pledge ultimate allegiance to a flag, I want it to be to the Christian flag. The flag itself is just a piece of cloth with a blue square and red cross.......but it stands for so much more than any other flag.

  And in these troublesome times in our country and across the world, one flag flies high above the rest.....the flag of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Ban the donkey, not a flag

***I will use the word "black" and "white" for people in this post. I mean no offense by it and a lot of black people are not offended by it, and it should be no more offensive than to call white people "white".

I have become amazed at the country's attempt to vilify the Confederate flag. Yes, it was the flag of  the South who fought for slavery, but to make such a big deal over it 200 + years later is crazy. Just because a crazed killer had one in his possession and had all kinds of neo-Nazi and anti-black ideas in his mind, does not suddenly make the flag worse than it was. He also had a Gold Gym's shirt on, and no one is calling for a ban of that......

  And the insanity just keeps getting worse. First, it started with wanting to take the Confederate flag down from the Capitol building. OK, dumb move, but not that extreme. Then it moved on to stores and online retailers pulling all Confederate flags and related items. Then Apple banned all Civil War games, the Duke's of Hazzzard iconic vehicle was pulled from sales and is going to be redone, calls for banning the movie Gone With the Wind abound, and the mayor of Memphis wants to dig up a Confederate general and his wife from a city park and relocate him......

  I am sure there is a handful of people truly offended by the Confederate flag, but most of what we are seeing is mob mentality. The media and liberals suddenly decided to push this idea that the flag is bad and a symbol of slavery, so everyone has jumped on the bandwagon without intelligent thought, and joined the call for the flag's removal and attempt to wipe it from history.

  In fact, if you are a white person, the chances that you found the flag offensive before you were told to find it offensive are as slim as the pope getting married tomorrow or a rabbi eating pork. You were most likely never offended by it until the mob mentality took over.

  What amazes me the most about it all, is how so many people - black and white - are holding a grudge against a flag, yet so quickly and easily forgive and forget the party of slavery....... and vote for them over and over again.

 Facts are tricky and inconvenient things some times, but here are some:

1) The Confederate flag did not fight for slavery, but the Democratic party did.

2) The Confederate flag did not form the KKK, but the Democrats did.

3) The Confederate flag did not make Jim Crow laws, but the Democrats did.

4) The Confederate flag did not fight against civil rights, but the Democrats did.

  Some more inconvenient truths:

1) Bill and Hillary Clinton had a ceremony honoring the Confederate flag when he was governor of Arkansas. 

2) Al Gore, former Democrat nominee for president, has a father who fought civil rights.

3) Robert Byrd was a Democratic Senator for 50 years formed a KKK chapter with 150 of his friends..... yet people voted him in over and over and he held the office of senator for 50 years. A flag didn't form that KKK chapter, but a Democrat did.

4) Martin Luther King, Jr was a Republican. You'll never hear a Democrat talk about THAT.

5) Abortion is one of the pet platforms of Democrats, and Planned Parenthood one of their greatest causes, yet the woman who founded PP wanted abortion legalized to thin down the black population - that is a fact.

6) Hillary Clinton, front runner for the Democrat nominee for president, called that same woman, Margaret Sanger, her hero and highly lauded her....... yet thousands of people will go out and vote for Hillary because "it will be so wonderful to have a woman president", and she has a "D" beside her name.

7) In my lifetime, there have been Democrats in office who voted against civil rights.

  The Democrats are the party of slavery and the party who fought against rights for black people as recently as the 60's...... but people want to ignore that and focus on a flag that did nothing to them from 200 + years. The flag is just a symbol of slavery and oppression to some - it didn't physically do anything to anyone.

  Now think about that intelligently for a moment: Does it make any sense even in an alternate reality, to have so much outrage about the flag of the South because they fought for slavery, yet not be bothered by the fact that the Democrats fought to keep slavery and fought civil rights?

  I am not so calloused to think that there are not black people who are truly offended by the flag without being told by our media and political leaders that they should find it offensive. They have that right, but the people who are suddenly offended because it is the thing to do and they have been told they should be offended..... I have no time or patience for them. Tomorrow it will be something else that they are jumping on the "this offends me" bandwagon. And there are a lot of things that offend me, but since I am a Christian the government and media doesn't care.

  I have my own ideas about the flag, but am not going into it. This post is not a defense of the flag, but an attempt to point out that people need to go after the true culprits - The Democratic party who spent so many years fighting against black people and did all they could to block any rights.

  It amazes me that Christians have so long voted Democrat. The Democrats of yesterday were so anti-black in their policies, The Democrats of today are pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, and so far from biblical principles...... and granted the Republicans aren't doing too great, but still hold closer to the important issues.

  But it amazes me even more that any person of color would vote Democrat. This is the party that did nothing but fight them for over 200 years,.... and they so easily forget and forgive that, and instead go after a flag. And worse.... they go after any person of color and treat them badly who dares vote for the party who freed their ancestors and fought for their rights for over 200 years........talk about a parallel universe.

  So go ahead and take down the Confederate flag..... but if you go out and vote for the party who tried to keep slavery legal and fought against civil rights, then you may as well surround your property with Confederate flags and sing Dixie all day long. It isn't the flag's fault. It is the fault of the party of slavery - the Democrats.

 And this is blunt.... but I am blunt: If you are in on the mob mentality to ban the Confederate flag and still vote for the party of slavery, you are not making any sense at all.

 I am sure if anyone reads this, they may point out that the Democrat party has changed. I don't think they have....... they have never been on the right side of anything...... but even if they have, why go after an inanimate object because it is a symbol of slavery when people overlook the whole Democratic party which consists of a lot of symbols of slavery even more than a flag.

 If you truly want to do something that matters in regards to history and slavery, then ban the donkey....the Democratic party. Banning a flag isn't going to do anything except make a few people feel better and destroy part of American history.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

What if everyone is right?

 Among the debate over gay marriage and homosexuality, there is a debate going on among Christians.

1) First, you have the Christians who want to ignore what the Bible says and just accept homosexuality and gay marriage

2) Then you have the Christians who don't agree with it and view homosexuality as a sin and even know gay marriage is going to be detrimental to our country, but don't want to post anything negative and some of them don't think anyone should post anything negative about it.

3) Next up is the Christians who do post hateful things and rant about Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.

4) And then there are those Christians who do post negative posts condemning the actions of the court and lamenting the effect it will have on our country and freedoms. I fall into that category, and though I have been really down and worried, I try not to be hateful in what I post, though anything negative is seen by hateful by many people in the first two groups and by gay people themselves.

  There is also a lot of debate about whether Christians should bake cakes for gay weddings, photograph gay weddings, etc. I fall into the category that they shouldn't have to do so. I also feel the next battle will be in the church, and wonder how many of these same people will feel ministers should just cave and marry gay people so as to not offend them. And there are Christians who feel we should just do things for gay weddings if we have a business.

  Other people would likely categorize the people above differently and may even come up with more than four or less than four, but that is how I categorize it.

  Homosexuality is like any other sin and it is unlike any other sin. There is no other sin that is being forced on us as like it. There is no other sin that they try to shut down everyone who dares disagree and call it a sin. Even abortion isn't treated the same way. If you're pro-life, you get a lot of push-back, but nothing compared to what you get if you call homosexuality a sin and disagree with gay marriage.

  Many Christians still view it as a worse sin than other sins and react terrible and hatefully towards gay people. Sadly, there are still too many churches where people are afraid to come forward and get help with their same sex attractions struggle. And sadly too many churches are going to the other extreme and tossing out what the Bible says and helping gay people believe a lie that will most likely help send them to an eternity in hell, if they don't repent and change their ways.

  I am Arminian in theology, which means I do not believe that once you become a Christian, you're going to Heaven no matter what. I believe you can walk away from God and cease to be a Christian, and that if you live a life of sin, whether it be as a person having sex with the same gender, or a heterosexual having sex outside of marriage... or any other habitual sin, I cannot believe you can saunter into Heaven after living a life of sin while claiming to serve God. And I believe there will be Christians who will have to answer to God for helping people believe a lie that they can be a Christian and be married to the same sex and have sexual relations with the same sex.

  I could be wrong, but it seems some Calvinists are softer on people living a life of sin after they become a Christian, for to them, the person's eternity is secure and they will still go to Heaven even if they don't leave the gay lifestyle, or other sinful lifestyle. The Arminian, however, believes that person will miss Heaven unless they repent and stop their sin.

  There is a fine line to walk with any sin, and since homosexuality is treated differently by pretty much everyone, there is a finer line to walk with it. You can be too in your face and hateful and make gay people hate the church more - although some of them will hate the church as long as the church says they are sinning - and you can be too passive and quiet about it and give the impression or actually verbalize that they are OK the way they are and don't have to change to be a Christian and make it to Heaven.

  And those who don't believe that we should ever post anything negative about gay marriage and homosexuality preach at, or at least admonish, those who do that they need to show love. And those who post negative things often look at those who don't and think they are being too passive about it and need to speak up more about it.

  But what if both sides are right?

  If you know your Bible well at all, you should know there is a wide variety of people God used. There were meek and quiet prophets who were very unoffensive in their approach. And there were bold and outspoken ones who called people out for their sin, who marched into the presence of kings and queens and called down God's condemnation. There were prophets who ran from kings and queens because of what they said. John the Baptist was beheaded because he called out a ruler... wonder how some of the prophets would handle Obama? I could see Elisha or Elijah marching into the White House or Supreme court and calling them out for their actions.

  Jeremiah was the weeping prophet. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, yet called out sin, especially among the religious leaders of the day. Jesus threw over the changing tables in the temple and drove people out with a whip.

  Yet so many have this idea that we should just be meek and mild and never call out our leaders, never call out sin, but just love, love, love.

  Maybe, just maybe, there is a place for passive people who are extra careful to never say anything negative, and a place for those who do. Both groups have a danger of being too extreme. The one group can be so passive that they condone sin, or give the appearance that they condone sin. The other side can be too bold and outspoken and run the risk of appearing hateful or being hateful.

  And both groups run the risk of criticizing the others instead of just loving them and being tolerant of differing viewpoints and how those viewpoints are expressed.

  There will be people in hell because Christians were too hateful and not loving enough. There will also be people in hell because people were too tolerant and loving and let them believe they were OK in their sin. There has to be a balance, and just maybe.......just maybe, both camps of thought are right, those who are extra careful to not say anything negative about the Supreme Court decision and things relating to gay marriage and homosexuality, and those who do speak up but try not to go too far with what they say.

  We need weeping prophets who may not say much about a court decision like yesterday's, but we also need watchmen on the wall who will decry it and warn of the consequences. We need Jeremiahs who will lament over the sins of our country and leaders, and we also need Elijahs and John the Baptists who will call out our leaders and country for our sins and call for repentance.

  We are not all alike. God doesn't call us to be alike. We are called to love, to preach the Gospel, and be true to the souls of sinners. We can't all be weeping prophets, nor can we all be bold watchmen on the wall. We need balance, and yes gay people need love, but they also need the truth. And there is a faction of the gay community that will not rest until Christians are silenced and forced to capitulate completely to them.

  Even we Christians tend to have this idea that everyone must be like us. They should only post things on Facebook that we agree with, and if they don't... we un-friend or un-follow them. We expect other Christians to react and respond just the way we do...... but that isn't Christianity. That is cloning and being robots. We are all different, even Christians, and are not going to be just like each other....... thank God.

  So the next time you think someone is taking the wrong approach on an issue, whether it be gay marriage or what flavor of pop tart is the best, give them some slack. Remember they are not your clone and have different ideas and different ways of responding than you......... and that doesn't necessarily make them wrong, or you.

 And we are all to be like Jesus in all we do, but even He both wept and called people vipers, and used a whip to get His point across. So don't fall into the idea that being like Jesus is being like you. It may not be for someone else.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

We are all Bruce Jenner and Rachel Dolezal

One would have to blind and living in a cave to not be familiar with the Bruce Jenner story. The famous Olympian champion who graced the Wheaties box when I was a kid, now wants to be a woman. Unfortunately, the media - conservative and liberal alike - have helped make this misguided man a media sensation.

 And then more recently is the story of Rachel Dolezal. Her story may not be as well known, since she is more of a disgrace than a hero in the eyes of the media. This white young woman has been passing herself off as a black woman for the last several years and was even the president of her local NAACP chapter, which is an organization of black people.

  For some reasons most of us cannot understand or relate to, Bruce Jennings wanted more than anything to be a woman. And that is nothing against women. Rachel Dolezal wanted to be a black person for reasons we cannot comprehend, and that is nothing against black people.

  We marvel and scoff at the idea of people wanting to be a different gender or race, but are we that different from Bruce or Rachel. (I refuse to call him a her or Caitlin - one cannot truly change gender)

  Many of us spend our lives wanting to be something else, be someone else. We want to be rich, famous, blond, brunette, and the list goes on. We are never happy with who we are and what we are.

  Today, a well-built man walked into the ER, and I was impressed. This guy was a hunk and obviously took care of himself. I immediately found myself comparing myself to him and thinking thoughts I battle around nice-looking guys. He told me what he was there for, then said it may be connected to his MS. Yeah, MS. This nice-looking and well-built guy standing by my desk didn't have everything going for him after all. He suffers from the debilitating disease multiple sclerosis. That puts a whole new spin on my wanting to be like him or be him.

  I have a friend who is an amazing man of God. I love his heart and when I am around him, which is on rare occasions we are at the same conference, I find myself wishing I was more like him...... yet I know his story. I know what he has gone through to become the man of faith that he is, and you know what? I wouldn't want to go through the things he has gone through that have shaped him into the man he is today.

  It is so easy to criticize Bruce and Rachel for wanting to be what  they are not. I and so many others spend our days wishing we were something else, wishing we were something else, wishing we were like someone else......... and never being thankful for what we have, and what we are like. Could I stand some improvements? You bet. But I tend to look at myself and see all of my bad points. I see everything about me I don't like, and overlook the good points and talents I do have.

 I am not saying we should never seem to improve our lot in life or improve ourselves, but it should be done by seeking God's will, and He will never be OK with us trying to change our gender or race. Bruce, Rachel, nor us will ever be happy being anything but what God wants us to be. And the only person we should wish and seek to be like, is Jesus.

  There is one thing God is more than OK with us changing. We are born in sin. We are children of the devil, but we can all come to the cross and repent and become children of the King of Kings. Why would we want to be anything but that? Trying to change race or gender, changing hair color, body styles,  or financial status, or anything else that is temporal.... those things cannot and will not ever make us happy. There is no use wishing for them. True happiness and satisfaction can only be found in not a sex change surgery, but a heart surgery by God Himself.

  Life is so short. It is way too short to spend our days wishing we are what we are not. The only solution for our dissatisfaction is to surrender our lives, our will, our dreams, and our wishes to Jesus, to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him.

Monday, June 15, 2015


 A while back a former co-worker and I were marveling at how a smoker can go up to complete stranger who smokes and bum a cigarette off of him....and they never say no. They give a cigarette to a complete stranger who is essentially begging. And smokers congregate to smoke together whether they know each other or not. My co-worker said it is like they have this brotherhood thing going on.

  Get a few hunters or fishermen together, and they will talk about hunting and fishing for hours. Get some bikers together and they will talk about their bikes and go riding with people they barely know.

These people, and others, get together and talk about what they have in common: hunting, fishing, cancer sticks, fishing, sports.......and the list goes on. A fellow Steelers fan will see someone wearing a Steeler's item of clothing and strike up a conversation about football. (Shouldn't sports teams pay people for advertising, instead of people buying the clothing??) A guy wearing ugly plaid shorts will see another guy wearing ugly plaid shorts and start talking golf.  Whatever the interest, people get together and talk about it. They don't sit and discuss and argue what they differ on, but on what they agree on and have in common.

  And then there is the Christian. In the days of the early church, the Christians had all things in common. There were no denominations, church splits or splinters. There was just the church, believers, Christians serving God and proclaiming the Gospel. If you read Paul's epistles, everything wasn't perfect and not everyone got along, but it still sounds like that was rare. I don't know my church history well enough to say what happened and when, but I would guess that people stopped focusing on what they had in common, and started focusing on what they disagreed on. Denominations formed where those who agreed with each other but not with others could go and worship together.....until they found something to disagree on, and another church or denomination was formed. And 2000 years later, we have more denominations than anyone can keep track of. Churches have split and splintered to form new churches and denominations over everything from the color of carpet to the style of music used for worship, and way more things than I could guess at to list. Unlike many other groups of people, such as sports fans or hunters, we continue to focus on what we disagree and differ on and are not united at all as a church.

  I was just at a conference that had a lot of men and women dealing with the same struggles and issues I deal with. As far as I know, everyone there were Christians...and acted like it. There was a bond and brotherhood/sisterhood that you don't see in the average church. I sat and ate with guys I had just met and could be real with them as we talked about what was common. There was encouragement, hugs, pats on the back.... and no arguing. There were Catholics, charismatics, Baptists, Methodists, non-denominationals, and more all under one roof, all in one dining room, and we got along and helped to pray and lift each other up. There was no condemnation or arguing. When I left, I got hugs from guys I had just met. 

  And we talked about things that matter. No shallow stuff of "how are you", "I'm fine. How about those Seahawks?" kind of stuff.

  Sadly, this is not the norm. Imagine if Christians across the country would band together and focus on what we have in common: Jesus. Jesus actually prayed that we would all be one, but we have failed miserably at that (John 17:21). We want to hang out with people who believe just like us, who go to the same church and like the same color of carpet in the church that we like. To get together with Christians who don't act like us, don't worship like us, don't look like us, is a foreign idea to us. It seems we are almost worshiping our doctrines and beliefs more than God.

  And if our denomination or doctrinal beliefs are more important to us than our faith in Jesus Christ, then we are worshiping those over Jesus.

  I have a Facebook friend who has a completely different theology than I do. And he isn't the only one of my friends who has these beliefs, but he is the only one to constantly be bragging about it. He will post Bible verses and put "This is why I am glad I am..... (insert denomination)". He recently put a link to a story about a man who had molested a young kid, and put "This is why I am glad I am.....".... it sounds like he is more proud to be the denomination and theology... and he isn't alone. There will be no denominations in Heaven. God didn't come up with something that divides, separates and focuses on our differences instead of what we have in common.

  Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote a song several years ago titled The Family of God. The first verse goes:
"You will notice we say brother and sister 'round here
It's because we're a family and folks are so dear
When one has a heartache, we all share a tear
And rejoice in each victory in this family so dear."

  That doesn't sound much like the church in general today. We are too busy disagreeing with people to share their victories and heartaches. We are too involved in our own little clique of people who believe like us to care about those outside of our clique. Christians are daily dying at the hands of Muslims. Young children of Christians are being taken from  them and trained to be terrorists and others are used for sexual purposes, and we sit in our padded pews and fret about the preacher going too long or getting our usual seat in church. We watch the clock so we can chat with the usual people we chat with before heading home to have our Sunday meal.

I long for what I experienced back on June 3-7. Real conversation, people sharing their stories and struggles, honesty, transparency, and that feeling of belonging. Many of these men and women have "friended" me on Facebook, and I can keep in contact with them, but that isn't the same as sitting at a table with others on the same journey, of the same mind.... and not feeling left out, not fearing what they will think of you for struggling or dealing with THAT.

  I could be wrong - I am fairly often, and I am sure some people think I am wrong more often than not.... but to me it seems churches in general - mine and yours - are so far from what God intended for the church to be. Church should be more than meeting once or twice a week, singing a few songs, putting money in the offering, listening to a sermon, talking to the same handful of people you always talk to, then going home.

 I long for more. I long for what I just experienced to be the norm, not something I experience on rare occasions. I wish for people to see I am not the shallow, joking guy that most people most likely see when they look at me, but am real, with real issues that are tough, but that I have a belief that God loves me and will help me. I long to sit with people and not wear my mask. I long for church to be more than something I just go and sit in and take in for a few hours a week. I long for it to be more like a family, then pews full of almost strangers with a handful of people who really know me.

  I want worship to be as real as what I saw at the conference. There were people worshiping God in ways I have never seen - flags and even a sword - and thought it seemed bizarre to me, they were doing more than I did. I long to be open and free in my worship, instead of fearing what people will think of me.

 I long for my church, its people, and me to be real.... to be one, to be family, not just almost strangers that pass each other in the church foyer like ships passing in the night.

 And I am not exempt from fault. For too many years, I have worn a mask. I have been afraid to reach out to people for fear they would reject me and not like the "real" me. I have been afraid to be real, been too insecure to build relationships. I have let treatment of bullies in my past cause me to exercise too much caution in letting people in. I have found it easier to joke and be shallow, then to talk about the the things that matter. I have focused on the things that won't last instead of the things that will. I have filled a pew and not really been involved in my church and its people.

  What is the answer? I am only one person, and can't change a whole church, not to speak of a whole church world. I can pray and ask God to change me even in these areas. I can reach out, brave rejection instead of being so focused on self preservation.

  I can be real, more loving, more like Jesus. It is a start.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Back to the real world

  I spent last Wednesday evening through Sunday morning at a conference at a Christian conference center. I went there discouraged and feeling empty. Being there 4 nights and 3 full days was like Heaven on earth, and I don't say that lightly. The conference center is a huge Christian-owned and run place in the mountains of North Carolina. Just being there in the quiet with other Christians is a great experience in itself. To hear no cursing, see no bad attitudes..... one almost feels like they are on holy ground.

  Then add the conference. God was in every service. I didn't get into the worship times a lot.... I am not used to standing for so long, to have loud music that I don't know..... but you could still tell God was there. People may worship in different ways than I do, and with different music than I do, but God still comes...... and He stayed.

  I got so much during the conference. Speakers in the general sessions, testimonies, workshops, chatting with others during meals and in between the workshops and services...... being able to be me. I am not knocking my church, as most churches are the same, but I feel I received more help and encouragement in 3 1/2 days there than I get in a year in church. And a lot of it had to do with being around men and women not afraid to be real. A lot of it was because I was around others with the same struggles and issues I have. There was no fear of condemnation, no fear of people finding out your secret, for we were all there for the same reason..... and I believe when we are honest and open and don't have to put masks on and pretend, God comes and moves. I left the conference a different man than when I went. I left feeling closer to God, feeling loved and accepted by Christian brothers and sisters and by God. And I left what felt like a big slice of Heaven and came back to the real world.

  I had yesterday off and took tomorrow off to have a longer vacation, but tomorrow I really go back to the real world: work, getting up too early, impatient patients at the hospital, hearing cursing and people taking God's name in vain..... and more. I already am wishing I was back at Ridgecrest and back with the friends I have made in that wonderful Heaven-like atmosphere. But I have to go out and make money. I have to go back to the real world. But I don't have to go back to being discouraged and empty. I can go back with this new-found hope and encouragement.

  It would be great if we could live in environments like I just left, but we can't...... not while we are here on earth, We have to be salt and light. We have to live among those who have no interest in this God we serve. We can't just live with those of like-minded faith in a Christian atmosphere.

  So tomorrow I will get up early, eat breakfast, get ready for work, and drive 32 miles to work for 8 hours in the "real" world. But this Jesus who lives in my heart will be with me and help me to face whatever the day and the devil throws my way. I don't belong in that world, but until I leave it one way or another, I must live here from day to day, and especially enjoy the blessings such as I experienced this past week-end.

  God isn't just God at a Christian conference or even at church. He doesn't just speak to us and draw close on those occasions, though those are times when it does seem He draws especially close.... He can speak to us in our every day grind at work, and everywhere. We can draw close to Him anywhere. Maybe it is a good thing we have to deal with the real world. If every day was like this past week-end, I wouldn't want to leave this world. Heaven wouldn't look that much more good, and I'd be happy and content here. But every day isn't like that, and Heaven looks so much far beyond what we have here that I don't want to stay here. I want to go home, for I don't belong here. But no matter where I go, I can take God with me.......... and that is even better than being at a Christian conference.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Hi. I'm Mark, the pen thief

 I am a thief. I admit it. I was just at a conference in the mountains of North Carolina, and one theme throughout the conference has been transparency. Not hiding your sin and/or struggle, but being open about it so it loses its hold on you. So I am opening wide the closet and exposing my crime and sin: Armed robbery. But I am in good company. Jesus told one thief that he would be with Him in paradise.

  Not many people know about this time in my life, and it is one I have been ashamed of. The scary thing is, it was so easy and natural.... it is scary that it was so easy. It was just lying there..... a pen, almost begging for a new home.

  It isn't easy carrying a secret such as being guilty of armed robbery. My church, and too many churches give this idea that Christians should have it all together. We should have lily white pasts, and a trip to the altar immediately wipes away all desire for our sin, and we are only tempted to do the "nice sins".

    I want to tell people, but how does one do that? What if people shun me when they find out about it? If I told people at church, would they shun me? Would they lock up all of their pens in fear that I would take their pens? Would they do a pen inventory after I was out of their presence? Would they sit near me in church, or would I have to sit in the corner of shame, all by myself and away from those who had never stolen a pen in their lives?

  I just returned from a conference that was awesome. Everyone there either deals with the same issue I deal with, is married to someone who deals with it, or is a friend to or related in some way to someone who deals with it. The theme of the conference was Masterpiece In Process, but there was also an underlying theme and message of the need to be transparent. And there is the need to if one is to make progress, and if one is to truly be a masterpiece in process.

  Not everything in our lives that we have done needs to be shared, but if we have a major struggle or issue in our lives, such as armed robbery and the continuing temptation to do it again, are we doing ourselves any favor by keeping that secret? It isn't fun living in fear of people finding out/ Wondering if people would still be my friends if they knew of my penchant for armed robbery of pens.  Feeling superficial because I have to pretend, to cover up the fact that I am not one of the "perfect" people of the church, but am one who is broken and more in need of God's help than Sister Perfect Petunia who sits in the amen corner and is so perfect the pastor feels like a heathen next to her.

 Something else about keeping my armed robbery past and temptations secret..... it is harder to resist when no one else knows. Sin loves the dark, and when we keep things quiet, when we feel we can tell no one about THAT, then the devil has a field day....... but when sins and struggles are brought to the light, they lose their powerful hold. Oh, the temptation and struggle is still there and may never go completely away, but it isn't as difficult as when you sit in the church pew struggling in silence, afraid to tell anyone, hiding your pain behind a fake smile and "I'm fines".

  I am thankful for those who lead transparent lives. If no one ever talked about being delivered from their careers of armed robbery, never told how they deal with the struggles and temptation when around pens, I wouldn't feel the hope that I do. I would still think I was alone, the only person in the church who had committed armed robbery... the only person in the church who had ever stolen a pen. But I am not. Our churches are full of imperfect people, full of people with struggles greater than the temptation to gossip or Facebook during the pastor's sermon. Our churches have people struggling with not-so-nice sins like porn, lust, homosexuality, adultery, pen stealing......but too many churches discourage transparency, discourage being totally honest and open..... and then wonder why our churches are shallow, why revival never truly comes.

  There was a time set aside every day at the conference called "breakouts". They had different places for people to gather and had a few special interest groups. Men who were interested gathered on the porch outside the building where the sessions were held and sat in the chairs and benches (pictured above, picture taken by Jason Wright). Guys would sit in those chairs and benches and share. We'd share what we learned that day and how it affected us, we'd talk about where we were at in our struggle, ask for prayer.....whatever we felt we wanted to talk about. There were tears, cheers, hugs, pats on the back, and total transparency like you'd see nowhere else..... and I felt a tremendous sense of God's presence, His help, and growth. Oh, if our churches could be like that. But we are afraid of people judging us, talking about us, running from us, locking up their pens when we are around. And no, not every setting or every person is appropriate to share some things, but the one place we should be able to come and say "This is me. I am Mark. I struggle with the temptation to steal pens and have done it in the past"...... most of us can't do that in church. I could do it in at a Christian conference center with men who have the same battle as me. I didn't know many of them, and knew a handful from last year and from Facebook....... yet it was so easy to share, to be transparent, And yet, when I sit in a church I have attended since 1993, with people I know well...... I can't do that. And it is nothing against my church. That is sadly the norm for most churches.

  *** Now before anyone turns me in for pen stealing, I stole one pen in my life. I was 8 years old, and I reached out my arm - the armed part of the "robbery"  - and took it, I had to make it right a few years later, as it bothered me so much, and have never seriously been tempted to steal anything since...especially a pen, so your pens are very safe with me.

  But am I safe with my Christian brothers and sisters? Can I share my real struggle - and it is so far beyond the temptation to steal a pen - can I share it and receive love, not fear? An embrace, not someone running for the exit?

  We can't cling to a sin or struggle and make it our identity, Our identity is in Christ, and as God's children.... but if we have to hide what we deal with, and fear other Christian's reactions if they found out....something is wrong. I believe transparency is necessary for healing, for true freedom, and is necessary to be an overcomer.

 I am thankful for those who I can be transparent with, but imagine if we could do that with all of our Christian brothers and sisters, instead of a trusted few. If we could all stop pretending and be open and honest not with just God, but with our church...... I saw God move last week when people could be open and honest...... our churches could see that if we'd do the same thing. May God help us all to not just be more transparent, but to be the Christian that people can be transparent with, and have no fear of rejection or gossip.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Who our heroes are

   My Facebook feed has been full all day with articles and posts about Bruce Jenner. There are 3 categories: Praises for him, contempt for him, and posts telling us how evil we are if we feel contempt.

   This is not a post to condemn him, though what he did is wrong, and I feel it is sad, not praiseworthy that anyone would decide to go against God's design. And it bothers me that a man could do such a thing.

  But what bothers me more is the praise he is receiving. The president of our country called him courageous. He is being hailed as hero by many, and is to receive an award for courage. It is sad that our society would celebrate such a thing and call it courage or heroic. And somewhat laughable. How heroic or courageous is it to something that so many support and are celebrating?

  Have we come to a place in America that our heroes are celebrities who come out as gay, lesbian, or transgender? Are we really attributing heroism to people for committing immoral acts, and going against what God has made?

  This may sound weird, but I like superhero movies. Batman, Superman, the Green Lantern, etc. Men and women who have super abilities and use them to rescue people and fight evil and evil people. They are not real, and I don't sit around thinking about them all of the time, but I think they are cool. Most of us love a story of good versus evil when good wins.

  But anymore, it is evil going against good and the evil actions are celebrated and cheered as they fight good, the Church, and God Himself.

  Some look at sports figures and celebrities as heroes. Men and women who get paid sinful amounts of money to play a sport or pretend to be someone else......nah, nothing heroic here. Move along.

  Hebrews 11 has a list of people we refer to as heroes of the faith. Moses, Abraham, Stephen, Paul, and many more. Our modern day heroes of sports figures, celebrities, and alternative lifestyles aren't even in the same universe as these heroes God has put high honor on.

  Heroes are not people who forge ahead in sinful practices, or play and pretend for a living. Heroes are people who truly make a difference for good, who sacrifice, and don't seek to be called a hero.

  So who do I think are heroes? Well, this is my opinion, and it is MY blog, so I shall list some:

1) Our military. We exist as a country and enjoy the freedoms we have because of men in uniform who have selflessly put on the uniform, left comfort and family behind, and have gone off to protect our country and fight in wars, willing to give their very lives if it came to that. That is a hero, not Tom Brady or Mark Walhburg.

2) Missionaries. For centuries, men and women have obeyed the call of God and gone to far lands to take the Gospel to those who have never heard. They have left family behind, some such as Jim Elliot paid with their lives to take Jesus to souls in darkness. Heroic? You bet.

3) Preachers. Again, men, and sometimes women, who have felt the call of God to preach and/or pastor. They often are not close to family, and have to depend on a congregation for their financial support. They put up with a lot, and are often unappreciated and too easily criticized by the very ones they are trying to minister to, yet they make a difference in many lives and have helped to bring countless souls to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. In the light of eternity, our shallow heroes won't be able to stand next to what they accomplished for the Kingdom of Heaven.

4) Parents. Not all parents are good and do right, but the world is full of those who do. Those who work, cook, clean house, and do all they can to support a family and love them.

5) Ex-gays. Some don't like the term, but it isn't easy to find a term for them. This is a group of men and women ignored by the media and liberal politicians, scorned by openly gay people, and often overlooked and feared by the church. They are those who are attracted to the same sex, know it is wrong, and want to live a life pleasing to God. So they forsake their attractions and desires and live what is an often difficult and lonely life, their eyes on Jesus and their desire to please Him stronger than any sexual desire ever known to man. Heroes indeed.

6) Foster and adoptive parents. I can't imagine raising someone else's kids, knowing any time they could be taken away and given back to their real parents. Some are in it for the money, but many have pure motives and help make a difference in hurting kid's lives.

Adoptive parents..... I can understand that more, but it is still amazing for a couple to take a child not their own, and make him or her their own.....forever. I find these people and foster parents heroic.

7) Firemen, policemen, paramedics, doctors, nurses......They work long hours and are not always appreciated enough for protecting us, for helping to save our lives, and more. Again, many are in it for the money, but those fields are full of heroes.

8) Persecuted Christians. Down through the ages, men and women of faith have faced lions, tyrants, torture, imprisonment, and death..... and refused to turn their backs on Jesus. Today, there are multitudes of Christians facing persecution and death, a lot of them by Muslims, but also by other anti-God governments and people. They refuse to bow to another and face loss of family, home, and life... and they still serve God. Our "heroes" have no right to even be in their presence.

9) Christians. Some may disagree with me on this, but I believe anyone who truly denies himself or herself, takes up a cross, and faithfully serves Jesus, is a hero. It isn't easy, and it often involves swimming upstream, climbing mountains, facing temptations and struggles that would never be dealt with if they were not living for God.

But they march on. They comprise all parts of the earth, all kinds of occupations. Some day all who serve Jesus faithfully will enter into Heaven and receive a hero's reward, a reward far beyond any hero or so-called hero here has ever or can ever receive here on earth.

  I am sure more could be added to the list, but these are people who deserve the term "hero". Not those who try to change their gender, not those who come out as gay, not those who can hit the most runs, get the most music awards, or the most Oscars. These all will fade away, but what is done for God and for good will last.

 I believe who are heroes are says a lot about us. A man trying to become a woman is the trendy hero of the hour, and that is sad. Bruce Jenner needs compassion and Jesus, not praise and awards. And we need to look to true heroes and honor them, not those making a mockery of what God has made and ordained.

  As I typed this blog post, two songs came to my mind. Two songs with the title of "Heroes". One by Southern Gospel/Bluegrass group The Issacs, and the other by Country singer Paul Overstreet. I can't decide which one to post with the lyrics and YouTube video, so I am posting both:

Heroes, by the Issacs

Momma comes his hair 
And daddy helps him brush his teeth
Day after day for thirty years the same routine
The special needs he lives with
Makes life seem so unfair
But he thanks God everyday
'Cause he knows mom and dad are there.

And he's a hero and she's a hero 
It doesn't matter that nobody knows their names
They keep on givin' 
To make life worth a livin'
Might go unnoticed
But they're heroes just the same.

They tried for many years
To have a baby of their own
But God knew a little girl
That didn't have a home
Someone else's burden was their blessing in disguise
Now she's got a mom and daddy there to hold her when she cries.


Every single parent
Who must carry twice the load
And those who sacrifice 
To raise a child that's not their own
They dedicate their time to make a difference
In someone else's life
And in my eyes.

he's a hero and she's a hero 
It doesn't matter that nobody knows their names
They keep on givin' 
To make life worth a livin'
Might go unnoticed
But they're heroes just the same

Heroes by Paul Overstreet:

He drives into the city
And works extra hard all day
He finishes up early
So he can get away.

'Cause there's a blue-eyed kid on second base
Wants Dad to watch him play
And Daddy knows he's waiting
So he hurries on his way.

'Cause you know heroes come in every shape and size
Making special sacrifices for others in her lives
No one gives them medals, the world don't know their names
But in someone's eyes, they're heroes just the same.

She rocks her crying baby
In the hours before dawn
She whispers words of hope to help her
Husband to hold on.

She takes time for the children
Making sure they know she cares
She's more then just a Momma
She's the answer to their prayers.

'Cause you know heroes come in every shape and size
Making special sacrifices for others in her lives
No one gives them medals, the world don't know their names
But in someone's eyes, they're heroes just the same.

No, I don't pretend to know you
But I bet it's save to say
There's someone out there somewhere looking
Up to you today.

And they see everything you do
Except for you mistakes
You may not think you measure up
But you got all it takes.

No one gives them medals
The world don't know their names
But in someone's eyes
They're heroes just the same.

Yea, in someone's eyes
They're heroes just the same
Talking 'bout heroes
Special kind of heroes
No ordinary heroes...