Andyouinvitedmein’s Weblog

I finished reading Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined and felt that I had been conversing with him. Each chapter is an experience from Merritt and(or) his friends. Each chapter gives you a time to touch the hem of His garment. It takes situations that could have happened to any of us, and allows us an opportunity to see Jesus in the middle. He’s the bridge over troubled waters. We say it, but less frequently do we allow ourselves to “go there.” In our fast-paced, McDonalds culture we want it all now.

Merritt marches to the beat of a different drummer….thank God! He’s faced his worst fears and now is an open book in his walk with Jesus. This might appear to be a bunch of Christianese on toast, but get yourself a cup of coffee and start on the first page. You won’t be disappointed.

I got saved/born again/embraced Christ when I was eight years old. Back in those days it was just about getting saved then being in the church. Nothing was extreme, except a few confessions here and there during a revival, and everything was a well-oiled 1960’s Christian machine. But the 60’s gave way to the 70’s, and life became different. We went from Mayberry to three tragic assassinations to Watergate to “what the hell happened?” And the white picket fence of our early years gave way to addictions, divorce, sickness, rebellion, and a strange wind of prosperity teaching in the church.

When your child leaves your home never to return…when your husband doesn’t love you anymore…when your mother doesn’t know you anymore…when your position at work is cut…where is Jesus? If you sit under the prosperity message, and all good things equals true faith then you’re dead. Or maybe you’re just believing the Christian version of Andrew Carnegie’s Social Darwinism. What happens when we find that we aren’t the fittest according to this message, then can we belong to Him when our walls are crumbling around us? Have we not had enough faith?

My walls began crumbling about four years ago. A very serious situation that trumped all the other situations drove into my house and planned to take up residency. Now it’s gone, but sometimes after a fire everything smells like smoke…and I’m still getting that smell out of my house. But, for me the good news was that I grabbed hold of Jesus and would not let go, and my life has changed for the better. I’ve changed…yes!…but you can’t help but change once you walk through the fire. And I think that is what I got from Merritt’s book.

Merritt’s book is a simple truth for anyone, but more specifically anyone who has felt that Jesus is distant. Give yourself a great Easter gift! Buy Jesus Is More Than You Imagined.

Follow Jonathan Merritt on Twitter @jonathanmerritt and look for the hashtag #jesusisbetter.

I don’t know Randall Arthur in the flesh, but I believe I know his heart inside and out because of his books, especially the newest called Forgotten Road. I want to introduce you to a man who has the heart of God in his pen.

We all have our approach to the gospel. I’m from a Charismatic background, but I applaud my Church of Christ and Catholic relatives and their faith. When it comes down to our connection to God it’s the work of the Cross. It’s all about grace. Grace separates us from all other religions. We are forgiven because we trusted Jesus and believed He is the only son of God who died for our sins.

It wasn’t Jesus who started all the rules: long hair, short hair, no makeup, freedom to wear makeup, no dancing, no movies, G-movies only, etc. I can speak with authority on this because at one time I was a rigid conservative.

Enter Jason Faircloth.

I came across the book Wisdom Hunter in the early 1990’s. I was already writing my book, and felt a kindred writing spirit (which Mr. Arthur knows nothing about). God was already pressing upon me the importance of grace. I heard that Mr. Arthur also lost his job as a missionary when he wrote the book because the story hit a little too close to that denomination.

Jason Faircloth is one of those mega-church preachers who had long been able to move people in a legalistic fashion according to what he thought God wanted. And, it is assumed by one of Faircloth’s prayers, that he lets God know when it is time to do things. However, God doesn’t move when his daughter runs away and marries. On her way to the hospital to have her baby, the unthinkable happens and she dies. Soon after his wife dies and he spends years looking for his granddaughter. During this time Jason comes to know what grace is all about. The story is a simple parable that should have a place on your bookshelf.

Faircloth is in several other novels, including the newest one called Forgotten Road. Many times a week I think of the ending when the main character is willing to exchange a death sentence with someone who has done evil toward him; are we able to do the same? I’m not giving away the story, but this is grace: when we give all we have to someone who doesn’t deserve it.

Grace is a difficult road. Capturing a true picture of grace is something Randall Arthur does well. When you finish one of his books, you feel refreshed and filled with the true power that comes with being a follower of Jesus.

I know what happened to John Paulk in terms of logistics, because we are Facebook friends. I know he’s gone from a nerdy looking man to Chef Cuteness in the last 13 years. I know I’d like to cook like him. I know he’s a dedicated father and has gone through deep pain with recent changes in his life. But I’m here to talk about what happened to him…

You see I’m an unofficial expert in the way things look. I can see print and know if it’s off by a fraction of a millimeter. I’ve been given a good eye for balance and what looks right: too many words in a sentence, the balance of flowers in a centerpiece, too much fabric in a dress, and too little grace in our churches.

My Twitter account has been blowing up with all kinds of religiously negative words about John. Everyone has their input, so I’ll tell you what happened to John Paulk: In 2000 he walked into a drag bar, if my memory serves me right. It was in DuPont Circle in DC, I know for sure. He was there for about 45 minutes before he was recognized by someone who told the press. Because of John’s position with Exodus it was a big deal. After that a series of official statements were made by the board of Exodus International—a board from a ministry based on high Christian standards.

This isn’t about Exodus, because I’m very impressed with the willingness of Alan Chambers to listen and embrace the hurt. No, this post is about the board that was overseeing the program in 2000 and what happened to John Paulk…

For a moment I will digress. We conservatives love to point fingers. We say our problems would be solved if only we had an Evangelical President, hadn’t let gay people marry, hadn’t legalized pot, and on it goes. Ironically our fingers never point to ourselves. There’s nothing ever said about getting before the Lord with sack cloth and ashes, and repenting for our sins. The top of our sins should include not being Jesus to others.

Where would John Paulk be today if one of the male humans on that board had been a man and washed John’s feet? What if they hadn’t sent him off into the vast wilderness called “excuses”. I have no idea what happened outside of all their weekly missives of “what really happened that day on DuPont Circle”, but soon John disappeared from our lives. These men went right on with their lives believing they had been the voice of God in the matter. Instead they abandoned him in his hour of greatest need. How could they sever ties as casually as one would unfriend someone on Facebook? But Jesus tells us a story like this in Luke 10. The priest and the Levite have nothing to do with the man wounded on the road, but the Samaritan comes along and helps.

Just recently John Paulk issued a statement about that time and the years since. His words were raw. As I read, I could feel the beat of his heart. Suddenly a new decade of gossips rise up to try to take John down: their words are condemning; their fingers are pointing. Some are close relations and some are self-proclaimed experts, but none are seeing through the telescope of grace. They offer no edification. I suggest they don’t know grace. The grace we saw when the Amish embraced the family of the shooter. The grace we love to see when the Bishop gives Jean Valjean the candlesticks.

What happened to John Paulk happens to countless others in our churches. They probably aren’t associated with Exodus, but they have hurts and stumble, and then we continue to pour salt into their wounds. We must remember that there’s only ONE difference in our faith and countless other religions: Jesus took our sins in an act of grace. We are told to walk in His Steps. Consider the verse below. Consider what would say if it means grace and grace only…

Matthew 28:18-20…Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Did you go or did you boycott? Someone brought me a biscuit, but I didn’t go myself. I wasn’t boycotting either. Twenty years ago I boycotted K-Mart, and didn’t think much about it. Today I’m looking at the hard cold facts.

My facts probably differ from yours. I’m a conservative Christian and I love my friends in the gay community. They have loved and supported me in more ways than I can list. I love my conservative brothers and sisters. Without the conservative Gospel I would never have known Jesus like I know Him!

Therein lies the issue. Is this boycott from Jesus or is this a politically motivated boycott (girlcott, chickencott or whatever)? What would Jesus do? He’d probably go to Chick-Fil-A and buy enough for all his gay friends and eat dinner at their home. He’d love beyond reason…grace…and…

And where does the boycott work in bringing people to Him? Loving when it’s difficult is called grace. When we become Christians we give up our old man, and are supposed to be Him where we go.

So when the flying chicken biscuit wrappers fly to the ground what will be left to dwell on? A huge business day and someone shouting from their side of the fence saying “we won this one.”

Is that Jesus?

Several days ago I took a minute away from a maximum-crazy day at work, and decided to check the local news. I saw a picture of a woman who looked like a good acquaintance from church…a bigger than life personality who entered our lives a year ago. This woman and her husband had been charged with a bigger than life crime and the trial began the day I was perusing the news. As details have rolled across my computer screen this week I’ve wanted to vomit. I’ve never had a reaction quite like this; however, I’ve never been around people who are regular John & Jane Q. Christians who’ve done something so terrible.

Before Tuesday I’d use expressions like exuberant, hard working and radiating with genuine concern for people to describe them. Watching them on the news I can only say: fragile. In hearing details of the crime my adjectives would be ghastly, inhuman and want to ask: “what the hell were you thinking—why didn’t you get help?”

Now this could be a situation where the media has worked overtime on hype. Or it could be a situation where it is a series of unfortunate circumstances that implicates the wrong people. However, it appears to be a situation where people are just plain guilty. From what I’ve read the defense lawyers haven’t arrived in the courtroom yet. Their only defense has been improper Mirandizing and the blame game. There isn’t a one-armed man in the wings on this one—I really wish there was.

Yet, the minute I read the first story, I immediately knew what God wanted me to do, and it was simply: give grace. Right now I’m sort of at Grace 101 with this. I love them, but my mind can’t wrap itself around the events for which they are charged. That makes grace all that more difficult…that is what makes it grace.

I’ve also learned something from this. When we’re in a place and see someone who’s bruised…ask about it. Don’t keep notes and hope one day to tell someone. Keep asking about the bruises and don’t stop. But don’t just ask about bruises: offer your help. Bruises on children or adults. Ask about it again and spend time to help relieve pressure. Help prevent another tragedy. Back in 1987 I had decided to report my neighbor for verbal abuse against her young children. I could hear her through our paper-thin walls. God whispered to me: help her.

I doubt if I will address this issue again, but if you should be reminded of this blog, and then pray for my friends. Pray for a big Jesus to wash away big tears and big regrets and open big doors.

In thinking about the Penn State mess I wondered if I would have enough courage to buck the system and be a whistle blower. Would you? It takes courage to swim against the established tide. JoePa was a force who didn’t want trouble, and to come against him didn’t happen. And because of that no one was a voice for those boys. As hindsight we can look back and say “oh yes”, but really??? Would you lose your job for someone?

Would you dare lose your standing in the community to stand up for someone…would you be like Jesus and love even though you might be called a sinner and be ridiculed? I think doing that would be radical for Jesus.

That’s grace and that’s hard.

Like it or not we’ve become a Heidi-&-Spencer society in church. We like things clean, neat and perfect…and we don’t want a mess. It doesn’t matter what kind of mess: hot, cold or lukewarm, the church in America wants to look good. Let me explain my point:

I have a friend who is gay. He has tried all the groups, prayers, deliverance, dating girls, and has been celibate for well over a decade. He has shared this with a pastor…a pastor in a church with You Are Loved! on the church marquee. The pastor questions my friend’s Christian walk..apparently you’re loved unconditionally if you aren’t messy. Otherwise, as in the case of my friend, you’re pointed to a group that will santize you–oops, a group that will “show you a better way” to live for the Lord.

This isn’t an isolated situation. When my friend leaves the church, he isn’t running from God…he’s running from people who continually tell him he’s too messy to be truly be love by Jesus. Jesus never said that…the Heidi-&-Spencer church did. Jesus washes feet. Jesus sups with sinners. Jesus ate with tax collectors. Jesus loves Heidi and Spencer, He just doesn’t want his body to be the Temple of Heidi-&-Spencer.

Messy? Not an outwardly perfect Christian. You know that person who isn’t messy: one who has all their bills paid, is a perfect size with less than 20% body fat, good tan, no sickness, great house and family, and they always have a seat next to the pastor. They’re the only ones that the pastor will look at in the eye–otherwise, he’s scanning the crowd for Heidi-&-Spencer. Everyone loves perfect.

I have no idea who made those rules for our church in America, but most people in church know not to challenge them. These church folk realize the phrase “we love you no matter what” is generally a lie. We’re only allowed one no matter what visit to church, then you’d better change into Heidi-&-Spencer or the die is cast against you.

Same goes for teens. A girl goes to the youth group. A victim of many things…a predator, deep hurt from people she loved, being betrayed, having to deal with medical issues decades before most people think about such things…then in the picture perfect youth group she’s an outcast. Now those words aren’t spoken, they are there. People pick on her for things others are doing. There are new groups within the group for people who are “serious about the Lord”…and she’s never asked. No one talks to her and no one wants to hang out. The group wants to look pretty and cool.

And the older ladies–they love their luncheons. Years ago their prayer group slowly gave way to other things. When the leader died they chose someone safe, and not the person who got under their skin…a person who spoke the truth. Truth burned their ears and rubbed their hearts the wrong way. It didn’t tickle.

Slowly the isolation drives a man from a potentially wonderful church. He will be judged for not attending church and people will gossip. They will claim it is because the sin of homosexuality is deceiving him. The girl in the youth group doesn’t want to return. She loves the Lord, but she doesn’t feel the love of those who represent Him in His Church. She knows no one will call her, because they prefer to forget the year she was with them…she challenged their belief system about picture-perfect Christianity. The elderly gals just want to slide on into eternity without conflict (think about Corrie ten Boom’s father who died in a concentration camp for hiding Jews in his home…that was messy and he didn’t meet eternity on clean sheets surrounded by his loved ones).

Does Heidi-&-Spencer make us feel good because then we believe we’re perfect? Why can’t we love messy? You know messy can be irritating and harsh. Messy can challenge our belief system, and we want to quickly nail together a little building and push our messy into it. In hiding messy, we overlook the real sin. And what would that be, Cheryl? you say to me.

That would be the lack of grace, for one. That would be ignoring the girl who tells her youth pastor there is excessive gossip in the youth group, and his response is “I’ve preached on gossip, there is none in our group.” Spiritual pride, maybe? Has someone who is messy exposed our soft belly? If she was a real Christian she would be_____. That blank would be judgment. Judging her keeps us from looking at the hidden sins of our heart.

My friends here all love the Lord and realize they are messy. They want to be heard and have friends and be treated with dignity. That means no group referral and no isolation We are all like them, but we hide behind the things we make pretty and flawless. The American church only likes Heidi-&-Spencer. Heidi got extensive plastic surgery because she didn’t like how she looked. She wanted to cover the flaws. We want to get rid of messy in our church.

However, Jesus is with the messy. Where do you stand?

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