Andyouinvitedmein’s Weblog

Archive for the ‘unconditional love’ Category

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.

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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?

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’ve been reading some books lately that are along the same subject: what does the world think of us? Us being conservative Christians…or simply Christians. In my humble opinion I think many Christians take liberty in the verse that says “the world will hate you because it hated me first” (loosely translated from John 15:18). Being a jerk doesn’t qualify for ‘being hated’ in the manner Jesus was talking about.

The first person I think of regarding a misuse of this verse is Fred Phelps. He isn’t liked because exhibits no Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23). But where are we creating a problem that interferes with people coming to Jesus?

One area I believe is when we mix politics and Jesus. Jesus was about sacrifice and grace (unconditional love) that draws people. Now let me just jump right in and be more specific with a current event…when we’re out in force saying rude and unkind things about our President, then non-Christian say “oh yes, they’re political, therefore Christians are…” So when violent calls are made to political foes, people see Christianity as being a violent political religion. Jesus tells us to be content no matter what the circumstances. Therefore when I can’t get into a doctor for six months–I will have to rely on Him to help me through. Total trust in Jesus, now isn’t that a novel concept? I wish it was 1960 again but it isn’t and I know that Jesus will keep me even in the darkest hour of need.

Try reading Lord, Save Us From Your Followers! by Dan Merchant (or just get the video!) or unChristian by David Kinnaman (this is back by research done by the Barna group, a recognized church research organization.

For the last ten years I’ve been trying to see things from a different perspective than Southern United States, conservative Christian doctrine. I started by reading the Bible for myself and not through the eyes of “pick and choose” and “this is what my seminary taught”. Then I got very basic when I started seeing real life situations bleeding before my very eyes. Case 1: Pillar of the church family in Big Southern Town, USA where the family helped to start the church, Dad was head of the ruling board of that body. Mom was director of the children’s ministry. Only son came out as gay and the church “didn’t need them anymore.” Case 2: Wife is abused, but church members secretly gossip about what she did to ‘make him do it’ and will there be a divorce. Case 3: Gay father wants custody of teenage son. Mom and stepdad are abusing him. I was helping the father, and when I asked for prayer, a church friend said “well, I don’t think that is a good idea.” The boy was being routinely beaten and more. The judge in the case refused to listen to the boy or the father because the father was gay. The judge got his position because of family values and being a Christian. However, his honest desire to serve families was marred by idiotic teaching that a gay father cannot love his son and protect him as much as a heterosexual parent.

Not that all issues are gay-straight, but gay is the issue of the last two or three decades that divides the church. Before that it was Women’s Rights and before that it was the race issue…were we going to let “colored people” go to church with us? Ugh!!!! I moved to Alabama in 1964 and I can tell you it wasn’t pretty. We lived in a place that was ruled by the KKK. Sunday morning pew warmers (I will not call them Christ Followers even though they identified themselves as Christian) who had hate in their hearts for African Americans.

Therefore, use this Holy Week of the Christian faith to look at your life and how others see it. Choose to change to a course of being a Christ Follower…Red Letter Christian (i.e. do what Jesus said in the red letters) and forget all the other. Be His example!

 

Our daughter got married this month. What a wonderful time we had with family and friends. How richly we were blessed. The ceremony was beautiful and the reception was festive…thanks to our many friends who helped put it together. People came from all over the US to help us celebrate this occasion. It was also a time when we missed the ones that could not be there.

The next two months are the seasonal celebrations when family are the core of the celebration. Remember to forget the things that keep you a part, and remember the things that make you connect. Enjoy the time. Time goes so fast. It seems it was yesterday that Liz was born, or we were headed to morning in daycare, or she was getting ready for her freshman year of high school. Don’t take moments for granted.

Have a safe holiday season.

I think one of the bigger issues this week has been the bill having to do with punishment for people who commit hate crimes. I’ve gotten a couple of pieces of advice from both sides of the debate. I would like to weigh-in a bit on this for my more conservative pals.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while you know that when I was ten we moved from the “north” (Kentucky) to an area just south of Tuscaloosa, AL. I had lived my first years where the integration of schools was simply merging a school rather than a political drama. The drama began (after we moved) in 1964 when my fifth grade teacher asked me about going to school with black student…she actually used the n-word. She asked about “them” smelling and biting. I learned that “them” were hated by the locals. As well the locals believed that “them” could be treated in a sub-human way. Members of my father’s church bragged about the terrible deeds they did to “them”. Members of our church harassed my father for refusing to join their local whites-only club called the KKK.

So here we are 45 years later. I’m finding there is a new “them” out there. I’m a school counselor and one of “my” children told me it was okay to hit, stab or kill a person because they were gay. Certainly a nine-year-old doesn’t just go to bed at night and dream this up without a bit of help from a significant adult in their lives promoting this belief.

I’m not much for making comments on hot political issues, but let me throw this one out for you (my conservative pals) to chew on….

Almost eleven years ago we had the opportunity to speak out for someone who had been injured by a crime borne of hate. Matthew Sheppard was brutally killed and I don’t remember one significant conservative pastor opening their mouth to say “this is wrong!” Instead we were silent…I was silent. Maybe we just wanted to be “us” and if we spoke out against what happened someone might think we were “them.” No clue.

Instead, in our silence there was one “Christian” voice–an evil man who said he represented “us” because in his demonstrations of hate he held signs that stated he was a Christian, and was speaking for God. Because we chose to remain silent, he became the face of fundamentalism and in many peoples’ eyes they think he is one of us…

This bill was written to protect people from him. So when we worry about what the hate crimes bill will do to “us”–we need to first think about what happens when our acts of grace remain hidden. Next, take we need to take our “grace” temperature. Are we servants who live like Jesus or do we have a political agenda to protect our rights? Grace isn’t a warm fuzzy…it is dying to self so others can see Jesus at work.

I’ve heard rumor will this take away the rights of pastors/Christians who want to point a finger at sin. The answer I have: a person giving grace won’t lose their rights. When we live like Jesus our “rights” aren’t so important. We will take a bullet for them because we refuse to let “them” be harmed. Jesus did it for us…