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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.

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.”

Hannah and Her Sisters was the name of a Woody Allen movie. Can’t remember much about the plot or anything else but the name. Movies…Hollywood…Stars…all are people you can soon forget. Having spent time on a movie set I know the stars are cared for and pampered. Each and every need is met. The bigger the star, the bigger the demands and the bigger the isolation from the “rubber meets the road” we all experience each day. Temporary pleasures immediately fulfilled that keep these people (and many others) from reaching for the eternal.

This week my friend Hannah lost her baby. It wasn’t a miscarriage of 8-10 weeks, but the death of a baby on his due date. Hannah’s sisters (+ Mom, Dad and brothers + Hannah and her husband) all kept faith that this baby would be resurrected. Simply put: one day this precious baby was moving and the next without a heart beat. I can’t imagine anything sadder for parents and family to experience.

I come not to dwell on this event, but what took place because of the event. A family stood on the Word of God and total trust in Him. They spoke the Word and lived on prayer for several days. I’m not sure what happened at the hospital, but I would imagine that they didn’t permit anything to invade their faith like double and triple checking hospital monitors. They threw all they had on God; they put their faith in the eternal.

Sadly for us who are earth-bound, this child is with Jesus. We know we will see him shortly. The empty place he left will last a lifetime, but we know that life is short. “Soon” (50-70 years) the real Hannah and her sisters will be holding this child and embracing the One who has taken care of him since he passed from this world to eternity.

This kind of faith is mocked. People think you’re crazy, but God is well-pleased. Their trust was totally cast on Him. Satan and his demons tremble at actions like these. And this kind of faith is more real than the computer you’re looking at right now. This computer will soon be biting the dust in a recycle bin…faith like this can change history. Because it didn’t change events this time doesn’t mean God didn’t get the glory. Think how this impacted the hospital staff for starts. Their short email updates impacted my faith level and pushed me to believe that God might surely resurrect this baby.

I don’t know what you’re going thru today. It might be just a day or you might be worried about bills, tornadoes, floods, job, stock market…just like the movie Hannah and Her Sisters…those things are a temporary moment in time with temporary benefits. Soon these will be long gone and replaced by something else. Consider what this family has done. They spoke into eternity and caused the demons to tremble.

Please take to heart these verses…Romans 8:35-39: 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Please ponder what this nameless family has done….trust Jesus with all you have that you’re willing to look silly to the world to trust Him.

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.

I am writing on behalf of my friend Karen. Karen and I’ve been close as sister-type-friends since 1977. She has done so much for me and mine. Karen is about to lose her house and all she has to show for decades of work in the public school system. Karen has done all she can to not fall behind, and she has maxed out four credit cards trying to save her home. Here is her history:

Her husband died of complications from Cystic Fibrosis 2004. At that time Karen was making around $80,000 with a 12-month school job; they also had his small disability check and worked a small part-time job as his health permitted. With that they were able to pay their bills and help families in need. If there was anyone who needed a hand, they were always generous in providing clothing, food and even toys to children. (He wasn’t supposed to live more than a few years after birth in the early 1950’s, but exercise from playing hockey and in later life a lung transplant kept him until he was in his 50’s.)

Following his death, Karen was very sick for several months, but thought it was a combination of exhaustion, mourning and an unknown virus that was killing people—after all she had spent six weeks at the hospital with him after working in a school all day. Over the years she has come to learn she has lupus plus other serious complications complication such as malignant hypertension. Her health forced her to retire, and she now struggles to work 20 extra days to supplement her teacher retirement of about $2500 (the supplement is around $800 a month).

Four years ago her house was appraised at $500,000+, but now it is on the market for $270,000 for a “quick sale”. Her payments are $2000 a month and the bank “can’t help her” reduce the payment. However, the house is listed to a new buyer with 4% interest and a payment of $800 a month! My question is WHY can the owner NOT get the same interest rate and payment? (This is a beautiful cabin-type house with five acres and three bedrooms PLUS a double garage and an apartment above the garage.)

Because of her husband’s health Karen was never able to have children. She’s 59-years-old, in poor health and is going to lose the fruit of her years of labor (and her old dog is now having serious health problems). 

Is there any help for her? She isn’t behind on her mortgage, but has put utilities and her other bills on her credit cards, she borrowed from her supplemental retirement account (and was unable to repay that amount and has been fined on the $40,000 she withdrew just to make ends meet). All politicians say they are for the under-dog. This is a hard-working educator who is now in need of all the help that can be given to her.  

That’s her story…put Karen on your prayer lists for her house and her health (and her dog, too)…thanks a bunch! God will open doors that need to be open!

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.