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I’ve read several reviews about Left Behind and they have been negative with cheap shots tossed at the quality, story line and disaster elements. Ironically several of these came from traditional Christian news outlets like Christianity Today. Last night I took my daughter and her boyfriend, whom we are trying to win to the Lord. Here is my question: what movie did the CT reviewer see?

First, I have to say that my husband is a stylist for television and movies. In our 30 years together I’ve learned to look for bad hair, continuity issues and, simply said, anything that I might find to critique, I would. Left Behind had very little to criticize.

The story was actually better told than the original book. It held to the basics, but has more impact. While the end landing was a bit over the edge, it was no different than any super hit like 21 Jump Street when the two heroes magically escape a shoot out. In reality they would be dead, and in reality the plane landing would have been different. In reality any part of any Hangover movie is just absurd, but entertaining in a perverted way.

The movie did not look low budget or any such nonsense. It was of good quality. Who complains about the grain of the film when we watch old Chaplin movies? And the group from Albany, Georgia who do the fantastic films like Courageous…who needs film quality when the message is quality. Just sayin’, dude reviewer, get a life.

Character development was good. The continuity of the script and editing are better than some big budget films. I was an extra in Steve Martin’s A Simple Twist of Fate where the editing crew must have had too Slurpees before they started. In Left Behind there were some issues such as the sunlight in NYC went on a little too long and it should have gotten dark quicker. These are minor.

The movie isn’t a Bible beater, but a subtle message of “you better get right with God.” The puzzle pieces of The Rapture came together in logical fashion just as they might in real life. Nothing too fantastic or magical.

Speaking of real life. On September 23 my youngest daughter had a very bad wreck. The day before her boyfriend was saying he didn’t believe in God. The morning of the wreck I texted both of them a message: you don’t know the day or the hour… . In the wreck my daughter suffered temporary, short term memory loss and a bad eye injury. Her boyfriend had a tiny cut, and he was on the side of the car where the most damage occurred. The car stopped a foot short of a log that would have impaled the car and killed them. And still he questions God.

The verse at the end of the movie was that we do not know the day nor the hour. And we don’t. There might not be a rapture, but certainly there might be an attack from an enemy outside the US. There’s Ebola. There’s unrest in the US. This is the season of tornadoes and hurricanes. And there are those car wrecks that can happen anytime, and without warning.

I took away from this movie the message that we can give excuses all day long, but at the end of the day we need “to recognize,” as my students used to say. We need to recognize that Jesus is Lord and one day we will have to give an accounting. We can pull every “but if God is so good” card and still we must give an accounting at the end of our journey. And what will you say? One of my favorite explanations is found in the old Carman video that can be found in YouTube. Check out Witches Invitation. And on that day you can either call on all your excuses or simply say: I’m saved by the Blood of Jesus and my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

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 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.

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?

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.

The title is a bit odd, but they all go together. I’ve begun reading the Left Behind series again and suddenly they are different books. Fifteen years makes a HUGE difference. We’re much closer to accepting a leader who can bring ‘lasting peace’ to the world. On the other hand government cares less and less about people. They are there for whatever they are there for, and probably personal gain. The little guy and gal are forgotten.

Thus we come to Karen. If you remember, Karen’s house payment was excessive, and what she owed was much more than the house was now worth. It was gone from $500,000+ in value back in 2005-2006 to now being worth less than $270,000. If she was a new buyer of the house her payment would have been several hundred less than a grand, but instead her house payment was $2000. It was fine when her husband was alive, but now due to her own illnesses she had to take early retirement and with his loss of income…well she couldn’t afford to live in the house.

I wrote all the major politicians in her state plus the President. The Congressman and one Senator didn’t respond. Another Senator wrote a curt note that said he couldn’t help (BUT couldn’t he help AIG and GM and others?). The President sent a nice letter. It was the Governor who forwarded the letter to an office in the government and the head of that office had lost a child to Cystic Fibrosis (what Karen’s husband died of) and the woman took great steps to help her.

When Nashville flooded last year we didn’t look to anyone to make a difference. We took our boot straps and pulled up. The citizens of Nashville served hot dogs and donated clothes and we took care of our own. That’s where we are today: taking care of our own and independent of government because they are up there like a chicken with its head cut off. They just pass grand bills, pat each other on the back and go home. I wonder if they take something to sleep at night because of their guilt or they are so far removed from know right from wrong that they don’t get those feelings anymore.

Finally to Israel. I don’t hate the Palestinians, but I love Israel and the Jewish people. The spoils of war are the spoils of war. Texas didn’t give land back to Mexico and we certainly kept land we took from the native Americans. If we read accounts of those wars in the ’60s we know that it was Divine Intervention. And I would not mess with Divine Intervention. I’m glad to see that polls show that most Americans disagree with the President on this matter. Israel is the apple of God’s eye.

This matter is lining up with the End Times. All these matters…government not caring about its citizens, Israel being left alone to fight a war that they will win again big armies (see Ezekial 38). It’s in the Book. Are you ready for what’s next Biblically? Remember this world isn’t about us, but about God and His plans.

I’ve rambled and ranted more than usual. I say thanks to the lady in that department who took time to care. I’m about 99.99999…% positive that today is NOT the Rapture, but one day we will see Jesus and get ready for it!

I read this title last week, and thought about writing about my death. Let me say I like being alive and don’t expect to die soon. Time goes so fast. It seems like a couple of springs ago I was at the Spring Fling at Florence State University (now University of North Alabama) and getting ready for college graduation. I felt like I had the world by the tail. Thirty-seven years later I’m about to become a grandmother, and the world wasn’t always as benevolent as I wanted.

In the same amount of time since that spring in 1974, I’ll probably be dead or close enough that people worry about that elderly lady. Then one glorious day I’ll shed this old earthly body and be present with the Lord. Maybe I’ll awaken one morning and know that this is the day that I die; or it might come as a complete surprise. Nonetheless, I hope death comes during sleep. I prefer not to die in a fire or by drowning. I don’t like the cold, being buried alive or gutted like a fish like William Wallace in Braveheart. But what ever the Lord has prepared for me the end will come at a time that was assigned.

When I see His face, I don’t expect the Lord to ask me if I wore long hair or patent leather shoes. He won’t be interested in my Cadillac or lack of Cadillac. I believe God will be more concerned about what I did with my time, talent, and if I was able to love unconditionally. He might even measure all my thoughts and actions by The Golden Rule—what he called the greatest commandment. However, if today was my last day then I’d like these to be my parting thoughts:

  • Life is short, therefore handle with care. We think it is very, very long when we’re waiting for our 18th birthday. We can’t wait for our graduation, marriage and children. Then at some point time starts spinning out of control. Today you’re in the car with your two-year-old and tomorrow she’s graduating from high school. Your youngest child isn’t a baby forever and soon you’re alone and can do all those things you thought you’d never do again like sleep late on a Saturday morning.
  • Don’t spend time cursing the thermostat or the guy who pulls out in front of you. Spend more time praising God for all the blessings He’s given you.
  • Spend more time on the eternal and less time on the temporal.
  • Most of us believe we are a brilliant combination of Stephen Hawking and Pa Cartwright, but we’re more like Jethro Bodine and Clark Griswold. If we were perfect we’d have no need for Jesus to be our strength. We’re the best when we’ve given up and turned it over to Him…that is especially true when our kids are around 13. Worry less about what they’re doing to embarrass you, and love them more—unconditional love goes a LONG way.
  • Laugh at least once a day. Laugh most about yourself—don’t take yourself so seriously.
  • Remember kids are people too with ideas, feelings and dreams. Before you react remember how much God tolerates from you.
  • Remember your teenage years and all the crazy stuff you did and you turned out okay. Cut the kids some slack…instead of grounding a kid maybe a treat from McDonalds and tell them all the good things about them.
  • If you don’t have children, then find someone else’s to ‘adopt’. Parents never enough time or money, so having a favorite aunt or uncle can be rewarding for all involved. We’ve loved having Auntie Karen for our kids.
  • Speaking of family…are you close to them? Recently in the South we experienced a day of tornados that totally changed the geographical landscape, but also neighborhoods and families. What if today is the day that your family changes forever? Are there people with whom you need to make amends? Are there people with whom you need to reconcile? What’s God speaking to your heart…just your heart and not what the nosey neighbor or Sally Churchgoer wants to recommend?

One day in the next fifty decades my earthly shell will be laid to rest. It will be a day of rejoicing because I’ll finally be Home. The Bible says: to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord…and it can’t get much better than that.

Are you ready to write about your death and what lies beyond? If you don’t have that assurance, then seek Jesus today.