Archive for the Theological Category

Culture wars and agendas #NaBloPoMo

I was going to start this off by saying that I think fighting culture wars are a colossal waste for Christians. But I sat long enough to come up with some cultures that are worth the time and effort to fight again, such as racism, rape culture, patriarchy, fascism, and the like. You know, cultures whose primary aim is to control and harm others. I am wholeheartedly for fighting for justice for the oppressed and the marginalized. There’s a few commandments throughout the Bible to do just that.

So really, what I find the colossal waste is the agenda wars. These so-called “agendas” are touted all the time by the right. I’m using the right rather than the left because I was part of the right wing for so many years. I not only heard the rhetoric, I spoke it. I was all in with it, and looking back, it’s because I never really thought the ideas all the way through. After all, you don’t have to think it all the way through when you are in an echo chamber and your adversaries are largely abstract epithets.

I wish I could say that one day my eyes opened and I could see the propaganda for what it is, and it is propaganda, but it was a gradual awakening that took a few years. I also cannot take any credit for the change in thinking. Additionally, I still have a long way to go, because I go from 0 to 88 mph when I get outraged. Like Matt Walsh tweets popping up in my feed TWICE today. To be honest, I mostly agreed with one of them (which is rare!), but his smug tone eclipsed his moral stand.

Anyway, I was listening to a sermon the other day, and I could not finish because of the presentation. The use of a particular culture’s “agenda” killed the message, and not in a good way. Harping on a secular/any type of sexual/atheistic/liberal/conservative agenda in a way the presents it as a threat turns the members of the target group into an enemy, first by stoking fear, then by demonizing which dehumanizes an entire group. It caricaturizes people making them objects to be fought against rather than fought for. While this method of preaching gets a lot of amens, I’m sitting there wondering, where is Jesus in this? How would He have us engage these groups? How do these menacing portraits of others equip us to reach them with the Gospel, literally, the Good News of Jesus Christ? If we are presenting these people as abstract entities with agendas that threaten our comfortable way of life, how are we going to “Go, therefore, and teach all nations?”

Yes, we are to be counter-cultural, but we aren’t counter-cultural when we just want to preserve our way of life and/or we fear God’s wrath. That makes us just as worldly as the rest of the world. Instead, if we are going to truly follow Christ, if we are indeed his disciples, we will be counter-cultural because of our love and kindness to our fellow man – even those who hate us and want to kill us. Because we serve a risen King who has already won the battle. Satan isn’t just at work in the world, he is at work in the church as well. Jesus warned about tares among the wheat. He warned us about laying up treasure on earth rather than treasure in heaven. “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Religion and politics make strange bedfellows

FieryGrill-WM

When I was a high school senior, I was pretty involved in the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) club in my high school. I didn’t necessarily care anything about being a business leader (I wanted to be a pharmacist at the time), but I absolutely adored the FBLA sponsor, Mrs. Alveretta Lynch. One day I remember asking her, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” I have no idea why I was even going there, except that it was 1987, and I was going to be turning 18 soon. Her answer to me was not at all expected, and made a huge impact on me. She told me she was neither. “I vote for candidates, not political parties.” She went on to explain her decision-making process for choosing a candidate, and I took it all in because I not only loved her, but I respected her. I still do.

I’ve dabbled in politics over the years, though if anyone were to dig up my political posts from my original blog instance, it would seem more than dabbling. I was full on pundit, and staunchly conservative. When I turned 18, I went as soon as possible and registered to vote. I registered as a Democrat because the county I grew up in was majority Democrat to the point that if you weren’t a registered Democrat, you didn’t vote for local officials because only Democrats were running. Therefore, the local elections were decided in the primary. A couple of years before, I had worked on a campaign for an Independent candidate. After I was registered, there was a shortage of primary poll workers in our ward, and one of my friends recruited me to work along with her. 2 just-turned 18-year-olds working as poll workers for the Democratic primary. We still had paper ballots back then. That made for a LONG night of counting ballots. But I loved it. I was part of the process, and not only did I work the primary for the Democrats, but I ended up working for the county in the general election for 2 or 3 years. And while I was a registered Democrat, I voted nearly exclusively Republican. It was the 80s, and I loved me some Reagan. I also disliked me some Clinton.

While in the Air Force, whenever I came across a voting rep, I would get an absentee ballot. I still largely voted Republican, but the Republicans’ treatment of Bill Clinton over the Lewinsky affair (pun intended) felt so over the top. Yes, he was a dog and flat out lied about it, but prosecution over a blow job is overkill. I’m sure many of the Republicans pushing that were just as guilty of infidelity. (I’m looking at you, Newt Gingrich.) It was just enough taint on the “party of values,” that when I became an NC resident, I left my voter registration as “Undeclared.” I haven’t voted in most of the primaries, but the ones I have, I’ve picked the Democrat primary ballot. Mainly because I live in a largely Democratic county, and local candidates have a much greater impact on me personally than state or national. And I must say, the Democrats who have stopped by our house campaigning for local commissioners have been much more reasonable and pleasant than the one Republican who came across as angry and paranoid.

And I was also an angry and paranoid conservative.

Something happened when I started going to church again a few years ago. What happened when I started back to church was that I had a fresh encounter with God. I can state with certainty, and I think the scriptures back this up, that once you have had an encounter with the risen Jesus, you are never the same. I was devouring the Bible, religious non-fiction, religious blogs, and podcasts. I started praying real prayers instead of my previous prayer life of largely “foxhole prayers.” I threw myself into service at church. Meanwhile, my life was slowly falling apart. Work was awful. My marriage was deteriorating. I covered all my issues up by becoming a self-righteous Pharisee (and drinking a lot). Or maybe I always was a self-righteous Pharisee, and was just letting it out. Perhaps I still am to some degree.

At some point I became a single-issue voter. Because I am pro-life, I picked pro-life candidates, and that left me with just the Republican candidates. But this former Tea Party conservative finally started hearing the right wing and beginning to see so much nastiness towards others. I increasingly saw a major disconnect between my faith the politics of the right wing. I had seen how the left wing demonized and dehumanized the right, but suddenly I could see that the right was doing the exact same thing to the left. I started seeing people as people instead of nameless, faceless groups who were a threat to my freedom, and by freedom I really mean comfort. Eventually I realized that being pro-life is much more than being merely anti-abortion.

When I started reading the Bible (and I’ve read the entire Bible, cover to cover, more than once and more than one translation), I began to see things I had never seen, and certainly never heard in the conservative/fundamentalist/patriarchal/complementarian churches I grew up in and later attended. For instance, I have heard my entire life that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah over homosexuality. But in actually reading the account, that is not the issue particularly when the Bible elsewhere largely refers to their self-centeredness as the reason for their destruction.(1) Sodom and Gomorrah were full of rapists, and that is central to the reason for destruction.

I also started noticing that individual verses have a greater context, and that the books in the Bible weren’t written with chapters and verses, and defintely without subject headers added by publishers. “The Bible clearly says” rarely follows with a clear-cut black and white statement. I learned nuance, and that most circumstances are not clearly black and white. The Apostle Paul spoke about liberty as Christians, and I started to see what that really meant. Finally, decades after memorizing the verses as a child, I started to grasp “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 NASB. So when I finally came to the end of myself, I was able to wholeheartedly surrender EVERYTHING: possessions, job, status, marriage, children, Mom, extended family. Even my freedom and my very life. Because either Jesus is enough, or the foundation of my faith is built on sand.

With my newfound enlightenment (I say that tongue-in-cheek), I discovered that there is a huge lack of discernment among American Christians. We place our pastors and elders on pedestals where they don’t belong because we have somehow gotten the notion that they are more spiritual than us. I think we have also decided that they have special insight into politics, and so we make our political decisions based on our pastors’ and other religious leaders’ opinions. We say our hearty “A-MEN”s when they decry the world’s sin, and thereby feed our own self-righteousness by comparing ourselves to the world. Then we set about to fight culture wars wherein we demonize and dehumanize the sinners while thanking God we are not like them. (Luke 18:9-14) We fret and stew that if we do not win, God is going to smite us with his terrible wrath. So we have to work harder and harder to win control – to rule.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Romans 8:1 KJV

But, Jesus did not die so we could rule over others. Jesus set aside his divinity, and his ruling authority with it, to set us free from the bondage of self-serving. If we are to follow Christ – to walk in His ways – we should be laying aside our privilege and desire to control in order to server others as salt and light in a dark and broken world. Since the 4th Century, we have plenty of evidence to show that whenever Christendom is ruling, oppression and tyranny soon follow – from the ruling Christians. Jesus didn’t command us to rule, and he certainly didn’t tell us to seek out personal comfort and pleasure.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

Jesus did not die to set us free so we can live the American Dream. He died to set us free FROM the American Dream.

According to the American Dream, our individual success and happiness are dependent upon our individual effort. Hence our happiness is dependent upon our own hard work and opportunity. And when we don’t have the opportunity for our subjective happiness/prosperity, we run the risk at best for resenting whoever is blocking that. Therefore, without the perfect opportunity to match our hard work, we are going to be disappointed in other people/systems, then angry, then make them our enemy. We become self-absorbed and self-centered in our pursuit of happiness which we think we are going to find in something (or someone) external to us. That is what Jesus sets us free from by becoming the one who gives us our sense of worth and brings us into his family through His work alone.Then we are truly free to love and serve others – friends and enemies alike.

The flaw in the pursuit of the American Dream is in it’s individualism. “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The pursuit of happiness by humans, by our very nature, becomes a self-centered pursuit. We end up with a class/culture conflict because those with less opportunity want more, while those with more don’t want to give up anything (and often want more). This brings us to an “us vs them” mentality by both sides wherein each has to resort to dehumanizing the other side in order to maintain the resentments/fear against the other. Our politicians then play on that resentment and fear, and we all dig in deeper in our trenches because we are laying up our treasure here on earth. Our materialistic pursuits never ever satisfy us and always become divisive. That’s what Jesus sets us free from. Endless pursuit of temporary treasure. He alone can satisfy our pursuit of happiness because he did all the work, and we who believe in Him reap the reward of true worth and contentment independent of our national heritage.

You cannot simultaneously say “America First” while saying that this country needs Jesus. The message of Jesus is always others first. This is why we are in danger when we follow the Franklin Grahams, Wayne Grudems, James Dobsons, Jerry Falwells (Sr & Jr), and Pat Robertsons. They have been deceived by their fear and the human desire for power that we all possess. This is the only reason I can see that at least 3 of them have endorsed a candidate for President of the United States that has such appallingly bad character as to make the Clintons look like saints in comparison. This is the only explanation for why so many Christians would resort to spiritual abuse to try to guilt other Christians into voting for Donald Trump.

Jesus already won, and he didn’t do it with swords or guns or ballots. He did it on the cross. When we believe this, we will be able to vote for character rather than charisma, and we can vote with a clear conscious for a candidate with little to no chance of winning because we will not fear whomever is elected, yet will not vote for someone with terrible character. And we can stand up to the bullies who peddle fear to coerce us into voting the way they want, and tell them that our vote is not being wasted when we vote our conscious with complete liberty. Just like Mrs. Lynch taught me to vote for candidates, not parties.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Mark 8:36 KJV

(1) “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. Samaria did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they, and have made your sisters seem righteous by all these things you have done.” Ezekiel 16:49-51 NIV. Only Jude 7 refers to the sexual immorality. All other references beyond the account of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction are either references to the destruction, or comparison to how much worse the people of Israel became.

No magic formulas

When I have a problem, I want a simple, clear-cut solution. I want it fixed, and I want a simple plan to do so. I also want immediate results, but that’s another matter.

Being the self-sufficient perfectionist I am, I am all about some self-help. Ah, yes, give me a blog post with 3-10 steps on how to fix what’s wrong. Give me a book that explains the real reason that whatever it is is broken, along with the steps I need to take to fix them. Oh, it’s a Christian blog or book? Score! It’s gonna do the trick!

That is, as long as I believe that God moves according to the works I do or behaviors I do not do. Which is to say, I have to do certain things and avoid other things in order to earn God’s favor.

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What I found from the vast majority of the Christian “self-help” books is that they are largely written as prescriptive when they are actually experiential. They also tend to be upper-middle class, suburbanites who have “traditional households” where the husband works as the breadwinner, and the wife is a stay-at-home mom. Sure, the wife might write and speak at conferences, but the entire family dynamic is still “traditional.” (And I’m not saying nor wish to imply that there is anything wrong with the “traditional” family model.)

I fully believed that if I did the things in those books, that things would get better. Our marriage would be better. Our finances would be better. Our kids would be model students. Yet, the harder I worked, the worse things got. “I’m doing all the right things! Why isn’t this working?!”

The number one reason following the directions/suggestions in those books and blogs doesn’t work is this:

All that crap falls apart when active alcoholism, drug addiction, and/or abuse are involved.

And that’s when you are left with “you reap what you sow.”

You made the choice to take that first drink.

You made the choice to marry an alcoholic/addict.

“Submit to your husband and pray for him.”

Guess what? That doesn’t necessarily work. Especially if you both came from dysfunctional families and neither of you have dealt with those issues. Though you absolutely should be praying for him, and he for you.

I want to make perfectly clear that I am not saying the typical Christian self-help book is not useful or helpful. Like any other type of non-fiction, some are great, some are fluff, and some just stink to high heaven. Often even the fluff has really good nuggets.

What I am saying is that there is no quick-fix, easy step-by-step method – Christian or otherwise – that is a magic formula for fixing a marriage or getting out of debt or beating an addiction. There is no “Do this and everything is going to turn out great just the way you want it” system that can guarantee you are going to get what you want (or more honestly, what you think you want).

A marriage doesn’t get fixed by one spouse doing all of (or even most of) the work.

You don’t get out of debt by subscribing to a get-rich-quick scheme, and this includes the “magic tithe.” (Malachi 3:10)

Repercussions from abuse do not go away by submitting to the abuse nor by forgiving (voluntarily and certainly not coercively) the abuser.

Children raised in a dysfunctional home are not necessarily going to be model students no matter how intelligent they are.

Life is hard and takes a lot of work. Don’t let anyone sell you an easy path to happiness. There isn’t one, and this is particularly true for followers of Jesus. Odd are, when things get particularly rough, you will find yourself screaming at God, “I did all the right things! Why am I the one being punished?!?!” And you know what? He won’t strike you down. But in that moment, you will be left with a choice.

“Do I really believe?”

My answer to that question became the guide to how I look at my circumstances. Because ultimately that determines whether I will be grateful for what I have, or bitter at what I don’t have.

It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than resentful over what is withheld–one attitude or the other becomes a way of life. – Elisabeth Elliot

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV

The Conservative Christian’s Prosperity Gospel

As Christians who believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God, why then, as many times as God tells his people, “Fear not,” do we spend so much time worrying and hand-wringing over things we cannot control?

I often think that the calls by some pastors for a national repentance and revival are borne out of fear of losing American entitlement more than concern for the individuals in our nation. I am not saying they don’t care about people, but that they care more for our prosperous way of life. They fear suffering as much as their congregations do, and rather than repeating God’s word to “Fear not,” they stoke fear.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross for the United States of America.

There is a reason that the United States is not mentioned in the Bible.

We ain’t all that.

We have been undeservedly blessed with prosperity. Undeserved because we were not founded on Judeo-Christian values as touted by 20th century revisionists. We are no more sinful as a nation now than we were when our country was founded.

We were founded on the principle that only white men of European ancestry had value. Women had no vote. Male African slaves were worth 3/5 that of a white man. The indigenous people living in North America had no value, and were systematically rounded up, forced to relocate, and often slaughtered so that there is now just a small remnant of a few tribes left.

And we have the gall to think we are entitled to our way of life.

We have spent our prosperity on our own comfort, and above all we do not want to be uncomfortable. Discomfort is too much like suffering, and lord knows we do not deserve to suffer. We are to be healthy and blessed. It’s the sinners who are to suffer: the addicts, the alcoholics, the fornicators, the homosexuals, the abortionists, the feminists, the atheists, and certainly without doubt the Muslims. Not us. We made a decision to follow Christ and now God owes us health, wealth, prosperity, and security because we are not like those people.

We have followed a false American god for too long. We as Christians need to repent every bit as much as sinners. But not for our prosperity. No. So that we can once again be salt and light in the world and do good to others. Feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and take care of widows and orphans. We are saints because Jesus declared us to be saints. Not because we were or are good enough to be a saint. We did not and do not deserve the grace we have been given. And rather than worrying and stewing about ISIS and Democrats/Republicans, we should give to others out of the abundance we have been given.

Because that is what the Savior we call Lord told us to do.

Without fear.

Without worry.

Without judgement.

With love.

Because He first loved us.

If what you are preaching and proclaiming sounds is indistinguishable from the messages proclaimed in a political debate or rally, you are not being salt and light in the world. Our hope does not rest in a political solution. Our hope is in Jesus Christ and Him alone. Not in “old fashioned,” “traditional,” or “conservative” Christianity. Not in “progressive” or “modern” Christianity. Not in the President of the United States, the Republican party, the Democrat Party, Congress, or the Supreme court. Not in laws or guns or gun control or a Confederate battle flag.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:18-21 ESV)

“and he will rule over you”

I loved the TV show Maude when I was a kid. I remember my mom telling me she could not stand Maude. I either didn’t ask her why or didn’t listen to the answer. I can watch Maude now and I understand why Mom didn’t like Maude. Since I was way too young to understand any of what was happening on the show at the time, clearly I just liked Bea Arthur. Still, Mom worked really hard to keep me from becoming a “feminist.”

I remember once in my late teens being at church (I’m pretty sure it was a business meeting) when there was a discussion about a stove. While I don’t remember the details, I do remember that it was a men’s committee that decided on the stove to purchase and then it was brought before the church for vote. It irked me that the men made the decision on a stove despite the fact it was the women who would be cooking on it. (Irony isn’t always lost on me.) I bitched to Mom (and yes, it was bitching) who gently declared that the men are to make the decisions for the church. Or something to that effect. Which, really, why even bring anything up for a vote in front of the entire congregation if only the men get a say?

Clearly I’m still a bit perturbed about that.

I had a chat with a coworker where she stated that the major religions treat women poorly, to include Christianity. That is absolutely what you are going to get in Christianity when the men pick out the verses about women submitting and being quiet and ignore the ones where husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it. The women must obey, but the men don’t have to practice sacrificial love. As I was making my coffee (before I got into any more discussions of any kind), it occurred to me why this might be such an issue.

To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.” – Genesis 3:16, NIV

Could it be that the male dominance packaged as “Biblical headship” is really just part of the curse? Because that’s what Genesis 3:16 seems to say pretty plainly. “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Note that it does not say “Your desire will be to rule over your husband,” or “Your desire will be for your husband’s role.” No, it says “Your desire will be for your husband.” The same desire that wants Cain in Chapter 4. I think that desire is the one where we want our husband to be completely and utterly devoted to us above all else. To be our god.

“and he will rule over you.” Guess what. He will be a god. Just not a good one. Because there is a side-effect to being taught that the man the head over his household without being taught what that really entails. He will anoint himself supreme ruler. He will start (or just continue) to believe that it’s his way or the highway. He will not take any direction because he is the man and he is in charge and therefore he knows what’s best. Without good counsel teaching him how to lead through service, he will become effectually a slave master who believes his wife exists to serve him.

I believe that is why abuse perpetuates and thrives in the more fundamentalist circles.

Paul speaks of marriage metaphorically as symbolizing the relationship between Jesus and the Church. Hence wives submit to their husbands as the Church to Jesus, and husbands love their wives even as Christ loves the Church and gave himself up for it. But I think we are missing a piece when we just leave it at that.

if we endure,
we will also reign with him. – 2 Timothy 2:12a

If we believe that Jesus is coming back for his bride, the Church, as he says, and that we will reign with him, then why wouldn’t husbands and wives not jointly rule their household? After all, in marriage, two become one, not two become master and servant. And Jesus doesn’t force his rule over his bride.

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It works if you work it

I always thought I knew what faith was even though I couldn’t explain it. Oh, I could quote scripture about it, but I just thought I understood it. That being said, I still don’t completely understand it, and can no more explain it other than by telling you what it isn’t.

I played with the worship team at church a few weeks ago, and our only rehearsal as a group was Sunday morning before the first service. They were all easy songs to play, and I had played all but one before, so I felt fairly confident that I could play without any major screwups. That confidence did not keep me from losing my place in Cornerstone in every single service. Even though I did just fine in rehearsal. However, a couple weeks prior we had done a song called Relentless, and in one of the last choruses, there are 2 separate parts being sung. The first time we did it 2 weeks prior, I was one of the 2 vocalists to be singing the second part. We hadn’t had a rehearsal before that Sunday either, and since I hadn’t practiced it, I missed the cue every.single.time. This time I had it. One of the ladies pointed out during rehearsal that she could hear me and I had it down. I said, “I practiced that so hard last week!” And I did. I put more practice time into nailing the vocals on that one chorus than guitar and vocals combined on the other songs. This led to a discussion about faith, and how faith isn’t faith until it’s put in action. You have to work it.

And that’s when I said, “It works if you work it.”

I first heard that phrase in Al-Anon in reference to the Al-Anon program. Which is nearly identical to the AA program from which it was derived. It was about a year and a half ago that I stepped into Al-Anon, and I can say with absolute certainty, I didn’t work the Al-Anon program. I went to meetings. I read the literature. I didn’t call anyone even though I had 2 phone lists. I was my own sponsor. So I stayed perpetually on the 1st step – “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” I knew my life was unmanageable. There was no doubt about that. Powerless, though, I was not. Or so I thought.

I remember right before I started going to Al-Anon, I went to an open AA meeting with my husband. After the meeting he asked me what I thought and I said, “That is what church should be like. That is living out James 5:16.”

James 5:16 English Standard Version (ESV)
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

I am convinced that is the only way we can bear one another’s burdens.

Galatians 6:2 English Standard Version (ESV)
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

This is the essence of love. And it was love that got and kept me sober. A group of drunks who loved me until I could love myself. Strangers who walked with me one day at a time encouraging me to keep coming back. The woman I picked out to be my sponsor that I didn’t have the nerve to actually ask – who reached out to me and helped me pluck up the courage I had sat on for 2 weeks. God doing for me what I could not do for myself. But I still had to work at it.

I had to go to meetings. I had to read my literature. I had to call my sponsor – especially when I didn’t want to. I had to listen to her tell me what I didn’t want to hear and do what she suggested whether I wanted to or not. Sometimes she pissed me off. But I followed her. I followed her because she had already been down this road and knew the way. I followed her because God told me he had been sending people to help me when I cried out to him asking why he hadn’t helped me, and therefore I chose to trust that he put her in my life. I work the program, and it works even though I don’t work it perfectly.

Ephesians 2:8-10 English Standard Version (ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Faith isn’t something we manufacture ourselves. It’s not a bargaining means to get God to grant our wishes. It is given to us to do what God would have us do whether his will is for us to act or be still. He gives us faith for His purpose and His glory. That is why it works if you work it. Because it’s not about you.

Not earned #NaBloPoMo

I do a lot of reading. I was thinking about how many books I have read this year, and then I checked my Goodreads account, and maybe not so much. I’ve started a lot of books in the last 5 years, mostly non-fiction. Many of those didn’t get finished because I would just lose interest. I decided a couple weeks or so ago that I would not start another book until I finished the last book of R.A. Salvatore’s Hunter’s Blades Trilogy. Seriously, I’ve been reading The Two Swords for like 3 years. It’s time to finish. So I did finish it. And it didn’t wrap everything up so I now have to find the next book(s) in the series. Ugh! Or I could just tell myself that I killed King Obould Many Arrows in Neverwinter Nights and call that closure. ;)

The nonfiction I’ve read has been mostly Christian living books and most of those I have come to view as how-to books though that is probably not the intent of the authors. So many of them left me feeling even more that I don’t measure up. Less worthy and more unlovable. Totally inadequate. I had fallen again into thinking that I had to do a bunch of right things to be worthy of God’s love. The false gospel of salvation by works.

It is kind of ironic that while I grew up in church that I really started to learn about who God really is through recovery from alcoholism. In church I learned how to feel perpetual guilt and shame. I learned through addiction that I could numb and ignore my feelings. I made alcohol my higher power. In recovery I am learning that God really is the Higher Power I really need.

I have heard several well meaning Christians over the years say something to the effect of “Just believe in Jesus and your life will be great.” That’s just a subtle form of prosperity gospel which is not the Gospel. I can also tell you that there is a world of difference between being freed FROM sin and being freed OF sin. Salvation does not free you of sin. You are still going to sin. You won’t be perfect no matter how well-dressed and well-spoken you are when you go to church. And if you have a potty mouth, you’re going to say “shit” at church no matter if you’re 18 or 41. Or that might just be me. ;-) The point is, keeping up an outward appearance of holiness is such a deadly façade. It is completely deadly to nonbelievers who consider us hypocrites. Which, by the way, we are because we don’t live up to our own standards if we are truly and completely honest.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

You can’t hear if you’re not listening

There is a story behind that picture. I was scheduled to play at church this past Sunday, and there were several emails throughout the week regarding the song lineup. The first had to do with one particular song (video below) that only really had 3 instrumental parts: drums, bass, and keyboard. Bradford said that I would be playing keyboard. I laughed at that part of the email. He added not to worry that the keyboards would be tracked, and I just had to look like I was playing. Which made me laugh more because if I could fake playing a trumpet in college, I could definitely fake play keyboards. After listening to the song I thought that if I still had a keyboard and the time to practice (and the sheet music), I could have played it for real. But people thought I was really playing. Those who mentioned to me how cool it was that I play keyboards too got to hear the truth that I was keysyncing (like lipsyncing). And that was the only song I didn’t screw up. :cheesy: And I was glad to do it because otherwise I would have only been doing vocals, and I couldn’t do the clapping right. Plus clapping hurts my hands. Regardless, it gave me something to do with my hands.

Before rehearsal last Thursday as Bradford led us in a devotional, he summed up Pastor’s Nate’s sermon from the previous Sunday (which I missed).

Just because God is silent does not mean He isn’t active.

My experience has been that whenever I am going through a hard trial or a period of depression, God is not only silent, but He seems absent. I feel like I am completely alone and overwhelmed. Once it passes, I can then see that God was there the whole time working while I was wallowing in fear and/or self-pity. I’m starting to see, or hear, that He isn’t always silent in the pit.

I usually have ministry hangover the day after I play at church. Yesterday was no exception, and life compounded it. I felt it when I (finally) got out of bed, and I started praying while I showered. My shower is my “prayer closet” because generally speaking, I can be alone without interruption. This is also why I named my shower “the confessional.” So I was praying and as it progressed, I began praying about my self-will. I don’t remember what I asked, but I remember hearing the answer. I have already been set free.

Jesus is stronger than my self-will.

I have a hard time remembering that. Partially because of self-will. Partially because of bad theology. But hearing it helped. I immediately felt peace. And then life reared its head again, and the peace was gone. But over and over and over all day, I went back to my prayer time and reminded myself of what God spoke to me, and it got me through.

Pastor Benji said something during his sermon Sunday morning that really made an impression on me.

If I didn’t already know what the Bible has to say about my self-will, I don’t think I would have heard God’s voice as I did.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26 ESV)

But additionally, I don’t think I would have heard it if I hadn’t been willing to hear something that might not be what I want to hear. Nor do I think I would have heard it if I wasn’t willing to give up my self-will. And I wouldn’t be willing to give up my self-will if living according to my will worked.

Learning empathy

Last week was kind of a rough week. By rough I mean busy. And as an aside, if you ever get desperate for entertainment, go spend a day in traffic court. Oh, my word. The only thing I will relay though, is James’ case is now over. The court was merciful with the DWI to the extent the judge could be, and for the next year, I am the only licensed driver in my household. What does that have to do with anything? More than one would think. The kids were bombarding me Sunday with their needs (aka wants), and I finally had to say, “Look. I know I am currently the only responsible person in our household. I can’t do everything for everybody. I can only do so much.” Given the awkward silence, I think maybe they got it, and they quit making demands. Well, until we got to Walmart anyway. ;)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, ESV)

I was profoundly moved last year when I attended an AA meeting. It more exemplified James 5:16 than I’ve ever seen in church. That was the final push I needed to finally start attending Al-Anon. It’s in Al-Anon where I see 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 in action. Not that I haven’t or don’t see it in church. I’ve just been more able to see it in targeted manner in Al-Anon. Because in many ways that’s what we do because while our individual circumstances are different, we can all understand what each other are going through. Those who have been in the program for a long time are a huge help to us newbies just by understanding and listening.

Over the post few years, I have slowly started first facing and then working through my childhood issues which are “Daddy issues.” I didn’t really realize to what extent I had been affected and why until I read Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp. I was able to identify the root of a lot of my issues and some of the root causes. And it is still on-going as I try to come to terms with them while also working through the issues of being married to an alcoholic and drug addict.

My life has been hard from an emotional standpoint, and it could have been so much worse. I have bounced back and forth between avoidance, suppression, and acting out. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression for almost as long as I can remember. Sometimes all seems right in the world, and I feel great. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed that I want to run away and hide. Sometimes the pain and the darkness are so oppressive that I can barely function. Often there is nothing going on around me to match how I am feeling. This makes me wonder how much of my emotional turmoil is just delayed response.

I have done my share of questioning with why me. Why did that happen to me? Why do these things keep happening? But sometimes, I can look at myself and wonder why did God choose to redeem me. I know the choices I have made that I can’t blame on abuse. I know the things I’ve done that I can’t even attribute to peer pressure. I’ve been both the victim and the bully. God knows those things too. Jesus died because of those things. Yet He called me and redeemed me. And so I have a completely different view of the suffering I have and do endure that I did not bring on myself, as well as what I did. I can empathize.

I think empathy makes it much easier to show compassion. Therefore, I am able to see the crap I have had to deal with that I didn’t cause, while it sucked big time, has a greater purpose. And the crap I’ve had to deal with that was self-inflicted can also have a purpose for good.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17, ESV)

And in all of the mess and pain and chaos, I can be thankful because it has forced me to rely on God instead of trying to push through on my own strength. One of the sayings in Al-Anon is “Let go and let God.” This is what I am learning much more slowly than I would like. But even in my deepest despair, I still can have hope. Not “I hope things get better,” because that is a really a wish. I have hope knowing that there will be a day when God Himself will wipe the tears from my eyes. And with the empathy and compassion I am being taught through my pain, I can pass this hope on to others.

Does anyone know what Christmas is all about?

I didn’t quote Charlie Brown exactly. But it’s close enough. This post will also be a little all over the place. Possibly.

I got a case of the ass last night. Ok, it’s not really exclusive to last night as I usually have a case of the ass over something, but a lot of the time I can keep it in check so that once I calm down I realize it really isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Last night I didn’t keep my tongue in check, or rather I let my fingers fly since I was commenting on a comment on a blog post I’ve been following. I thought I had been mercifully spared from my rash verbal vomit since my comment didn’t show up. I had already commented without using my DragonLady pseudonym, but comment #2 was with “DragonLady” making me think the comment went into the spam hole where it should have stayed. :sigh: But it didn’t, and so if you care, here is the article: It’s Not Us Against Them

I have tried to stay out of the Duck Dynasty drama just like I stayed out of the Chick-Fil-A one. For the same reason, and because it all boils down to a bunch of posturing by both supporters and opposers of Dan Cathy and now Phil Robertson. So I will go ahead and lay my cards out on the table. I don’t eat at Chick-Fil-A because of being gluten free and all I ever ate there was the breaded, deep-fried chicken on a bun that I can’t eat any more. I could also mention that their “chicken” is likely of the same low quality as McDonald’s. Oh, wait. I just did. I also have never watched Duck Dynasty nor do I plan to. Generally speaking, I don’t watch TV period, but especially not “reality” TV. Which, by the way, is not real. I will occasionally watch Ice Road Truckers and the similar one with the truckers on the “most dangerous roads” whatever that show is. But I only watch those if my husband has them on and I have nothing better to do. I will also go ahead and state that yes, I believe homosexual activity (same-sex sex) is a sin, just as fornication, adultery, bestiality, and pornography are. Sexual sin is sexual sin before God who gave humans the good gift of sex to be used within the context of marriage between one man and one woman for life as he created it to be. Full disclosure, I am a former fornicator who for many years before and after marriage was addicted to various forms of pornography for the sole purpose of self-gratification. The self-gratification amounted to adultery of the heart. So I am no stranger to the bondage or consequences (which were thankfully pretty light) of sexual sin, and absolutely will not act towards others with judgement and/or condemnation who have or are committing sexual sin because I understand the desire. I have never had to deal with same sex attraction, nor with any sexual attraction to any animal. I do, however, have many gay friends, and several gay family members. I also have had at least one family member who was guilty of bestiality. Therefore, I can’t sit back in my self-righteous ivory tower looking down on homosexuals as an abstract group. They are real people with real struggles who need a real Savior just like I do for the same reason, and not because of the specific way they sin, but because we all sin. This is what I was trying to explain to Chad the other night. The end of the discussion came when he asked if you could “pray away the gay.” I told him if it were just that simple then his dad and I could just pray away the alcoholism and drug addiction.

All that said, this isn’t a post about homosexuality. Nor is it a post where I pledge my support for Mr. Cathy and Mr. Robinson. There is much more at stake in the Kingdom of God than the American right to free speech. I will give my opinion that the reason American Christians are so fired up about losing their voice and influence in the American/Western culture has less to do with standing firm for Christ and much more to do with fear of having to actually suffer for Christ. You know, the way Jesus promised us as Christians that we would suffer with Him if we really follow Him. Because our feel-good materialistic American culture that is the product of 20th century consumerism wants the good life now, and doesn’t really want to give up anything in order to have everything in Christ. We want to have our cake and eat it too.

I think it is all about comfort, and oh, how well do I know the futility of searching for comfort. Comfort is an idol for me almost as high up as my idol of pride. I’ve sought it in books, TV, food, tobacco, drugs, alcohol, sex, church, family, my parents (Mom specifically), friendships, my husband, my kids, running, biking, gaming, pets, blogs, social media. The list goes on and on and on. But none of those things or the myriad of other things bring lasting comfort. Lasting comfort is only found in Jesus. Now that is real easy for me to say, but way hard for me to believe. I know all the trite phrases. I know all the cliches. The Landmark Missionary Baptist deacon’s daughter Reagan conservative has had all the head knowledge for as long as I can remember. It all seems to fall apart when the trials hit because I have trust issues because I have Daddy issues. So knowing and believing were not one and the same for me. Out of sync, if you will. There were a few times over the past year where I spent time in prayer confessing and repenting for not trusting the only One who can be trusted. Why didn’t I trust? Because all of my little gods have always ultimately disappointed me by not becoming the lasting peace and comfort I crave.

Pastor Nate preached about comfort in the light of the Christmas narrative. In the midst of the sermon when he went from Matthew 1 to 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 and explained how Jesus is our comfort because he has already experienced the suffering we do. He and He alone really does know how we feel. Ridicule, betrayal, rejection, death of loved ones, loneliness. But he never really was alone. Not even on the cross. And a light bulb came on for me.

For he has not despised or abhorred

the affliction of the afflicted,

and he has not hidden his face from him,

but has heard, when he cried to him. (Psalm 22:24, ESV)

Sunday night, before I could forget, I wrote down some notes on what I managed to piece together (so far) about how Jesus is my comforter.

When Jesus was on the cross quoting Psalm 22, he hadn’t been forsaken by God the Father. The Father was still there, it just didn’t feel like it. Just like when we are so overcome in our trials and cannot feel God’s presence and wonder if he really is there. But He was there for Jesus and he is there for us because of Jesus. And Jesus really does know how we feel.

There was a brief moment of peace, and the comfort remains. My life circumstances are still as they were, there are still issues unresolved, but I can rest knowing and believing they will one day be resolved, and the broken will be fixed. Even me. Unearned favor. Amazing grace.

So what is Christmas all about? Christmas was the beginning of the end. Immanuel, God with us, the Creator came and lived among the created as one of us. Fully human and fully divine. Laying aside the riches and the power and the glory and honor that He rightfully owns and deserves to become the spotless sacrificial lamb of atonement. Born into poverty in a stable. His family having to flee to Egypt to protect him from being murdered by Herod as Herod slaughtered an untold number of innocent boys aged 2 and younger to protect his throne. Ultimately willingly submitting to a sham trial and torturous beating before a horrendous death by crucifixion under Roman authority to appease the religious Jews. Rising to life on the 3rd day showing that His sacrifice for our sins was accepted by the Father so that we who believe in Jesus by faith are granted grace and reconciled to God the Father though Jesus.

It’s not about our American rights or Western culture. It’s not about sex or chicken or reality TV. It’s not about whether people say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” It’s not about our temporal comfort. It’s about a Savior come to redeem unworthy and rebellious children.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17, ESV)