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It’s Saturday. I got served an eviction notice. You see it appears that God didn’t come through. I’ll get a check in 13 days, but that check is spent finishing up something extremely important for my daughter. More important than a place to live, you ask? Yes.

You see she’s had a tough road. Some things happened because she made some bad decisions; however the decisions were made in light of a series of circumstances that crept into her life like a snake into a campsite. We all have those things happen.

Things happened to my money. In the course of two weeks, my only two cars were totaled–I wasn’t involved in either. Just a circumstance. My summer money was spent, and I borrowed a great sum and ended up repaying like I owed the mob. I began the next school year without signing up for 12-month pay, because I had a series of financial issues hitting. The next school year seemed to have one thing after another. One of the wrecks proved to be more expensive than just a totaled car. And here we are on this fine July day.

Here is the upside…last night my 20-year-old and I started a game. We pretended to be in a witness relocation program and had to leave. Actually it is about 1/3 correct…you see her former boyfriend who went to jail for abusing her knows where we live and we need to relocate. He has proven to be a constant thorn who appears like ants at a picnic. God said that He will handle him, and that is a future story.

Want to hear a God-thing…Three weeks ago, as I texted my mother when I’d write the word Blood (i.e. the Blood of Jesus), the name of my mom’s best friend would pop up instead. I called said friend’s daughter, and the day after my mom called the friend (she had changed phone numbers, and these gals are getting close to being centenarians), the friend’s daughter died. After that, my mom was texting me and the word “relocate” kept coming up instead of a word. Again…God uses everything. My daughter and I share a car, and we need two cars. We will be moving soon (and I have about 1/3 of the energy that a person my age normally has). but God is still on the throne.

I’ve found a new place in my relationship with Jesus…a place that is deeper than I’ve ever been in my 50+ years of being a Christian. And I’ve made changes: I’m on the 12-month plan now. And I’ve learned to pinch a penny beyond pinching. I’ve seen my daughter evolve in the last seven years from a very suicidal, hurt, angry girl into a defined woman with a plan. She also can stand up to all her non-Christian friends with a faith for Jesus.

I read many books since the first of the year. All of Robert Henderson’s books about the Courts of Heaven. My financial situation might be in a holding pattern, but my younger daughter is free! Seven years of severe depression, using things to cope, and being abused by anyone who wanted to violate a kind soul. This summer the veil has been lifted and eyes of her understanding have been open. This is worth more than a billion dollars. The books by Praying Medic have opened a new door to seeing in the Spirit that I’ve never been part of before, and from that my mom has picked up the pace and is in a spiritual place she hasn’t been in years. My older daughter has the most wonderful brood of chicks, and she has a wonderful career that allows her to help mothers. So life is good. AND if God can change the world in a day with these, then He will make a way in this financial desert I’m walking now….

One more thing. Jesus is the only thing that matters. He is all and in all. And we must walk each day listening and acting on his behalf. We must do things to encourage people. We must be His voice no matter where we are headed…even when we are headed to the end of a dream, or when the bank account is dry.

A month ago my youngest got a citation and I went to court with her. The officer had written the citation in error and the reason for the traffic stop (running a stop sign) never was ticketed. There were no fines, fees or anything. However, as I waited in the court room I sat next to a young man and the Lord had a word for him. This young man looked like he was heading down a dark path. The Lord had me to ask if he had a praying grandmother. When the young man laughed and said yes, I said: The Lord would have you know that you need to listen to, and do what she has said.

Maybe we went to court just to deliver that message to a young man who’ll be dead in the streets if his life doesn’t change. God operates in ALL things. I honestly wish I had about $10,000 right now…but at the end of this day I know God is orchestrating everything for my good.

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.

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?

When faith seems to fail…when God says “no”…in people’s minds it seems to fall back on someone who either is in sin or didn’t have enough faith. Why do we do this? If we tell our child “no” do we do it because they didn’t love us enough? Hopefully not. We generally say no because we know down the road that no is better… “No, don’t go play down by the pond” … “No, don’t go to the ATM in the bad part of town at 2 A.M.” … “No, don’t lick your hands after you pull ticks off the dog.”

When you’re praying for something, God will answer: yes, no, and most times “wait.” Waiting builds stuff God can use in us. Back in 1977 I felt like I was Queen of Faith. I was praying for people and I saw healings…then my dad (who was sick) required many surgeries. Several were amputations, and he had 3 attempts to get to good flesh. I cried and beat the soil and couldn’t understand how God would answer the prayers I had prayed for non-Christians and then not answer mine.

After a time of silence the Lord told me that there were witnesses watching how I handled it. It is one thing to win the Million Dollar Pot and another to weather the financial storm. People around you watch and listen. If you praise on Sunday…what do you do on Monday when you’re fired?

Last year I ran into a terrible personal situation. I said “Well, God, if _____ happens I will dance before you and praise you nonetheless.” And suddenly I realized I didn’t need to wait until _____ happened because I could start dancing. I danced all day long, and in front of my daughter’s friends (for the moment they may have thought I was nuts, but I told them I was dancing before the Lord). Know what? The situation changed.

A bad situation isn’t anyone’s fault. Here is why (and that’s all I’ll say): John 9:1-4…

1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.

2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”

I just finished the article by Albert Mohler…and here’s the link:  http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-church-and-the-clobber-scriptures-the-bible-on-homosexuality-50792/

Before you read the Mohler article, I’d like to express my thought after I finished reading: Where do we get the term “cheap grace”? It’s used all the time by my conservative brothers and sisters. It seems if we love without expectation then we become guilty of making Jesus’ sacrifice cheap. On one hand we say/tell potential converts there’s nothing we can do to earn grace, so what makes it cheap? What must you do to give/get a “perfect grace”?

A certain SBC church I attended actively preached against the gay community (the focus of Mohler’s article). From the early 1980’s the pastor of this church preached that AIDS was a plague sent by God. The Rev. Dr. Pastor damned the homosexual community in his sermons. Yet this church had no time for my landlord.

Mr. Landlord was also an active church, and he was dying of AIDS. He did all the church asked: joined an ex-gay group, left all his old friends, joined Sunday school, etc. Long before this death the church fellows weren’t there to pick up the loneliness pieces (after all the church sternly suggestion to be free he must give up his friends “from that life”). When he was in the hospital (after I called and explained the situation to the pastor pool) the duly appointed pastor came to visit ONE TIME. That’s pretty cheap, don’t you think? Could cheap grace be something we give because we don’t want to sacrifice to give the good stuff? Maybe we call true grace the cheap stuff so no one will notice how cheap we are on the unconditional love.

What do you think Jesus wanted His church to do for Mr. Landlord? See Matthew 25 beginning at verse 31. The pastor is to be the chief of servants. He is to be on the frontlines (in terms of fighting the battle) and not at the back of the line giving orders (and in the case of this church, a pastor with body guards and a $1M budget for security).

I left that experience of my landlord’s death wondering what’s wrong with us conservatives that we can’t see the person for their issues? If we don’t see the person, then they won’t see the true Jesus. We give “ye ole sinner” a bunch of rules, and then expect them to fall in love with Jesus. They can’t see him because we’re so cheap on the giving of grace. Grace must be experienced. The term “clobber” might be from WWII, but when someone speaks of clobber scriptures, please listen. They are telling you they feel they’ve been hit over the head by the Bible. Did Jesus ever clobber anyone other than the religious leaders? No. Is addressing any sin wrong? No, but before we pick the splinter we need to remove the log.

Grace is what Jesus was all about, and it’s difficult. I’ve found that grace comes in the heat of battle, not locked up in an ivory tower. Most pastors today are in an ivory tower and don’t know what it means to be on the frontlines of battle—visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, giving to the poor, visiting the prison. All of these tasks are assigned to an underling.

You men of the pulpit surround yourselves by “yes men” while trying  to get a sermon to meet the people’s needs…a people you haven’t truly connected with in decades. Having a huge salary and body guards at all times means nothing is risked…the old adage is: nothing risked—nothing gained. Oh, Rev. Dr. Pastor at the huge SBC church has had his share of trials; but what if you took away the ivory tower, and then put him to work for an unjust boss, with a second job at Mapco just to put food on the table. Add in three kids with homework after the jobs plus housework. What if the weekly check didn’t cover all the expenses, and there wasn’t extra money to fix the car to get to work? Once you’re there Rev. Dr. Pastor, then you’d be a man who walked in the shoes of his congregation. Maybe in these tough times your budget is running thin. But cutting a program pales in comparison to the mother who doesn’t have enough money to get to the doctor when their child is sick.

Somehow as conservatives we think we have to do it all for God or the person won’t be properly Christianized. If God can change a heart, then he can finish the work without our help. Yes, he does need our help: to be Jesus in shoe leather and be the bearer of a love so extraordinary that it can’t be explained by everyday terms.   

Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy, and the focus of the article) has knowledge of what it means to live on the “other side”. He knows about being an outcast. Hear his heart. Hear the hearts of those we’ve cast out of the church or from our friendship or no longer support because “they fell”.

Is preaching that homosexuality is a sin Biblical? If you say “yes”, then do you give equal time to preaching about the sins of liars—gossips—gluttons? Those three would hit every prayer group and church social. Have you told the gossips and liars they aren’t welcome, or must attend a group to change, or they’re going to hell? And if you’re covering hot sin topics of the church, what a series of sermons on coveting—it would hit us all, I think.

For too long and in the name of Jesus we’ve overlooked the painful issues because we don’t want to go outside our Christian boundaries. We’re like the pastor in the office who doesn’t want to be outside because he’d be on the frontline and hit with the enemy fire (sometimes the enemy is a dear Christian brother). Jesus was all about being outside the box. He was outside the box with unconditional love, and the religious leaders were there to tell him why he was wrong.  

Please, please, please embrace grace, and get lost in it! Forget cheap grace. If it is truly grace then it is painful—grace is undeserved favor, and it isn’t cheap. Grace is what separates us from the rest of religion…let’s practice it.

Yesterday, I read an article about Anne Rice. It said she’s leaving Christianity. Actually I don’t read her books and her position on anything doesn’t matter, but this caught my attention. I figured she was more of a gal who considered herself a Christian because she was born to parents who were not a part of another religion. What surprised me was her statement: 

“My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me,” Rice wrote. “But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been or might become.”

Rice isn’t the only one who stated this. I’ve read that Ghandi was seeking Jesus, and actually loved Jesus, but when he went to a church he was turned away.

Wow…what a testimony to a picture of ourselves as conservative Christians. As a group we can look in the mirror and ugly stares back. Christ is difficult to emulate: He lent a hand and support to a woman caught in adultery; he told a story of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, and in each of these stories the theme was going against cultural and traditional religious rules to give of ourselves–just as he had practiced before them with the adulterous woman.

Few Christians show this side–most days I don’t, I’m sure. Our churches try to demonstrate Christ through the rules, and if you break one of those rules (written or assumed) then you’re considered to be “out of fellowship”. Where I live those rules mean to be Republican, don’t drink, cuss or smoke, and so-on. Some denominations say no instrumental music, others say no hair cutting, then others suggest you have no faith if you get sick, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. These rules actually drive people away from Jesus, because they make ‘him’ look like a  man with a check list waiting to condemn people to hell.

I read that Sandra Bullock didn’t want to play a Christian lady in The Blind Side, and said no three times. In the end she was totally pulled to Leigh Anne Tuohy because Leigh Anne gave sacrifically. She was born in a home of privilege that practiced segregation. For Leigh Anne and Sean to embrace the plight of Michael Oher was sacrificial on all levels. Now we have a beautiful success story, but I’m sure seven years ago the road was very difficult.

Beginning today make the word “Christian” mean more than a fried chicken eating, self-righteous pew warmer. Rules and finger-pointing is much easier than show grace and self-sacrifice. Jesus said if he was lifted up then he would draw all men to him. Instead of picketing Planned Parenthood, bring the workers some coffee then ask the next person coming for an abortion if they want to live with you for the next few months as you will take care of all their needs. Instead of trying to find the President’s birth certificate, spend that hour praying for him. Find a single parent or widow and help them around the house.  Be willing to have your motives questioned by your fellow church members–be willing to be kicked out of your comfortable church because you spoke up or acted like Jesus. The road isn’t always easy being a Christ follower, but the rewards will be eternal.

I recently heard a minister say that America isn’t a Christian nation anymore. We conservatives like the idea of a Christian nation—I know I do. I’m thankful that I don’t live in 1940’s USSR or 1970’s China, but as it applies to eternity location doesn’t matter. Because our citizenship is in heaven, Paul said for us to be content whatever our situation might be: whether we’re in America on a Sunday morning or in the salt mines of Russia.

This minister—Scott Lively—has stated that Uganda is a Christian nation because they are taking a stand against homosexuality. Apparently this must be Mr. Lively’s litmus test for what constitutes a Christian nation. In watching the documentary Missionaries of Hate, I heard a Ugandan pastor preach about gay sex practices—extreme information that would be similar to a minister preaching that all heterosexual couples use whips and chains—yep, that extreme. However, sex details of any kind are inappropriate to be included in a sermon. As he spoke the congregation was ‘in a lather’ against the gay community. A message of this kind only sows seeds of hate and fear.

What would Jesus do—in Uganda, for instance? The only lifestyle Jesus challenged was those people who believed that they were holier than others. Jesus looked at all men and women as being precious to God, and wanted us to give unconditional love to our neighbors. Read Matthew 22:36-39: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Right now in Uganda there’s a critical piece of legislation that we conservatives need to say a hearty “no” to its passage. This bill seeks to imprison or execute homosexuals; it’s morally wrong and totally un-Jesus. As Christians we need to actively oppose this legislation. Why? Let me offer a few reasons…

  • First, it’s wrong to target the gay and lesbian community—or any community. An example we can surely remember is how several school shooters targeted the football players. In the end only God knows what’s in a man’s heart, and our command is to love.
  • Secondly, this legislation is fertile ground for a ‘witch hunt’ if someone wanted to get even with another person; or if someone assumed the ‘guilt’ of another simply because of that person’s manner of speech, dress or associations.
  • Finally, if it starts in Uganda, where will it end and what other groups will be targeted as part of ‘cleansing’ the nation? Germany is a good example of this type of cleansing.

I think Martin Luther King stated it quite well in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: …I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Please speak out for those who need your voice. Consider the words of Martin Niemoller:

“THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
THEN THEY CAME for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.”