This blog is where I can pour out my heart with my longing for God.

Posts tagged ‘forgiveness’

The Old Paths: Election Disillusionment

**This was originally published on Thursday, November 8, 2012, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

election_resultsThank goodness the elections are over. As much as I appreciate living in a country where I have at least a token say in government, I despise election season. I hate the mudslinging by candidates, I cannot stand my beautiful Stokes County landscape being littered with signs, and I am disheartened by the enmity I witness between people of different political parties.

It’s done now, and I hope we can get back to normal life—or as Doc Holliday said to Wyatt Earp in the movie Tombstone, “There is no normal life, Wyatt. There’s just LIFE.” Then let us get back to LIFE.

However, my kids will tell you that I don’t waste any experience. Thus, I have learned some key things in the past few months:

1. BOTH DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS STEREOTYPE EACH OTHER. Many Democrats picture Republicans as uptight, straight-laced, gun-toting, narrow-minded citizens who don’t care about the poor, the disenfranchised, the broken. Likewise, many Republicans have pigeonholed Democrats as bleeding-heart liberals with no morals, who care more about saving baby eagles than they do human babies and who cannot possibly be Christian.

Anything strike a chord with you? Did you Republicans say, “Absolutely right! Doggone liberal Democrats!”

And did you Democrats say, “But Republicans ARE everything you described, Leslie!”?

If so, then you are doing your fellow Americans a true disservice. As I’ve said before, I believe many Democrats are moderates who stand shoulder to shoulder with moderate Republicans—almost identical values and goals—just different parties for whatever reason.

A Democrat in Danbury labeled me a “compassionate Conservative,” and I liked that. Many Republicans (and Democrats) do care about the less fortunate, and many Democrats (and Republicans) are Christian. So I beg you to be careful with your stereotyping.

repubs vs demos.png

2. WE HAVE NO MERCY OR FORGIVENESS FOR POLITICAL FIGURES. We tend to write someone off forever if they do even one thing that we think is wrong. Now I agree that if someone clearly errs and won’t admit their wrong, they don’t need to be given a second chance to lead until they humble themselves and pledge to reform.

But what about a politician who blows it and has great humility in the situation? Do we say that this person, even though they may have the wisdom and capabilities to help turn this country around, is never again allowed to lead?

Who hasn’t blown it in some way? Are we putting our leaders on a pedestal and daring them to totter? They are not gods but merely men and women with fleshly tendencies just like us.

I read last week that many Christian leaders who commit secret sins keep those sins hidden all of their lives because they know that if they confess and repent publicly, they will be mercilessly attacked by other Christians and never given another chance to use the giftings and callings God gave them.

What a mess this creates. There are few Christian leaders who haven’t blown it in some way, sadly enough. But they are nervously keeping these skeletons in the closet because they know they can’t count on forgiveness, loving guidance and eventual restoration to leadership. Even though transparency is so important, no one feels comfortable being transparent; everyone clutches their dirty little secrets to themselves. Our harsh judgment has created a vicious cycle of denial.

I believe the same holds true for politicians. Which of them hasn’t compromised at least a little? But few are brave enough to admit it, fearing that they will lose the next election to some other politician who still claims false infallibility. We have created a culture where being fake makes us much more successful than being REAL.

mercy.jpg

3. PEOPLE STILL OVERWHELMINGLY VOTE ACCORDING TO RACE. I find this to be the most disturbing thing that stood out in the 2012 election. I guess as a person who considers herself color-blind, I keep hoping that people have mentally evolved enough to look beyond the color of a person’s skin.

Wrong.

I have white friends who would never have dared to vote for Obama, because he is a black man; their decision had nothing to do with values or goals—it was all about not having a black man in the White House. This in itself puzzles me, because his mother was white, which makes him as much white as black.

I also have black friends—staunch Christians who are anti-abortion, who don’t support a two-state solution for Israel and who have conservative personal values—who voted for Obama primarily because he is considered a black man. They were willing to look beyond values that are critical to Christianity so that a man of their own race could be elected.

I am troubled by both sides here, by any “race” (if there is such a thing) that sticks with their own no matter what. I guess we are still more bound by the confines of color than I want to admit.

vote-race

4. CHILDREN OFTEN ARE MUCH WISER THAN ADULTS. On Election Night, my son said he hated the fact that America has political parties. He passionately declared that we would be so much better off if we had no parties and every person simply ran based on his/her goals and values without anyone stuffing him/her into a party box.

Go ahead and try to argue with his logic and tell him how that’s not possible, how parties are needed. Meanwhile, I will pat him on the back and say, “I agree, son.”

People vote along party lines so often without even considering the values of the person they are voting for. If we had no Democrat, Libertarian or Republican parties, then maybe we would more closely examine what the candidate actually stands for.

no-political-parties

So when all is said and done, you might say that I am rather disillusioned by what I learned during the 2012 election. But I will put back on my rose-colored glasses, retreat to my old paths and keep believing—despite the failings of humanity as a whole (including my own)—that things will get better, that this country will still move positively forward, and that hope springs eternal in the human breast.

hope

I NEVER SHALL FORGET WHAT HE’S DONE FOR ME! (Yom Kippur–Day of Atonement!)

We used to sing a song in the choir at my former church–“Jesus, I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me. Jesus, I’ll never forget how you set me free. Jesus, I’ll never forget how you brought me out, No, no, NO, NEVER!” That’s a song that comes back to me today on Yom Kippur–The Day of Atonement–the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

Was I born a Jew? No. But I was grafted into the family when Jesus died to redeem the entire world. Do I have to celebrate the 7 Biblically-commanded Feasts of the Lord? No. I have already celebrated the 4 spring feasts symbolically, and I will one day fully celebrate the 3 fall feasts symbolically.

But I believe that each year as the feasts roll around in their cyclical way on the Jewish calendar, it is important for me and mine to study them as they relate to our salvation. Jesus the Messiah is revealed in each one. In studying these holy days on God’s calendar, I learn about the past (how Jesus fulfilled them by His death, burial, resurrection, return as the Holy Spirit), the present (how to live holy per the traditions of the feasts) and the future (how He is coming back and what will follow).

Today is Yom (day) Kippur (covering). No longer do I need an earthly high priest to enter into the Holy of Holies once a year to apply the blood of goats and bulls to the mercy seat to cover my sins.

“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come,with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” Heb. 8:11-12

Yes, instead, Jesus became my High Priest once and for all. When He died on the cross, the veil into the Holy of Holies was rent in two. He had marched into the Holy of Holies, applied His own blood to the mercy seat for me and given free access to the most holy place to all who receive Him.

“For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens;who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” Heb. 7:26-27

He was without sin, yet He became sin for me. I cannot emphasize enough the term that is used several times in the Book of Hebrews–ONCE FOR ALL. Redemption for all who will receive it. And that redemption isn’t jerked away from us when we mess up. He knows our frame, that we are but dust. And because of that, He tells us that if we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

We in the church are so quick to condemn those who commit the “BIG” sins. (I know, because I have been on both sides–condemning those who commit the “biggies” and also committing “biggies.”) REALLY? I have seen church members who refuse to listen to a preacher who is divorced or who admits to backsliding into drug or alcohol abuse at some time in his/her Christian walk. REALLY? Who are you to judge another man’s servant?

What about the preachers who practice gluttony regularly with no recognition of that sin? What about those who are mean and hateful to their families behind closed doors while smiling graciously to their parishioners? You listen to them often enough.

What about those church members who crucify each other with their tongues? What about those respected church mothers who are quick to condemn you and murder you in their hearts for the least offense? They’re still teaching Sunday School and leading the choir, aren’t they?

Isn’t this hypocritical? Did He die for our sins (plural) before we get saved ONLY or also for those sins we might (will) commit after salvation? Why do we continue to look at Christians who sin (which is all of us–yes, you, too) and say, “That’s it. You blew it. You cannot minister/teach/preach/lead anything anymore.” REALLY? Show me where you find that in the Bible. Poor ole King David always gets mentioned in discourses on sin because of his murdering, adulterous, lying ways. (Yes, I said that about David).

But guess what? He repented and THEN (yes, after the horrible sins) was called “a man after God’s own heart.” He was still king of Israel and was still used of God.

On this Yom Kippur, I am alarmed that much of the Christian world is making the grace of God of non-effect. We judge which sins are forgivable. You think not? Then why do we say this sin (your gossip or your “white” lies which were probably not repented of) can be overlooked and you can teach Sunday School again? However, this other person who fornicated or got drunk or whatever but was truly repentant is barred from further service in the church. We might allow them to pass out tracts on the street, but no more service inside our “holy walls.”

I don’t mean to sound harsh, but perhaps it’s time we really took stock of what His atonement truly means. Redemption is serious business. Redemption is ongoing, continual. That blood is still flowing symbolically to cleanse us from day to day as we strive to live a holy life despite our flesh.

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Heb. 4:14-16

And as we rejoice in the fact that we may approach His throne boldly to receive mercy, let us remember that Yom Kippur also represents an event yet to come–Judgment Day. After Rosh HaShanah (Feast of Trumpets–held 10 days ago) which represents His return, there will be the Day of Judgment (Yom Kippur prophetically) followed shortly afterward by the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). (This starts in 5 days on the Jewish calendar–can’t wait! It represents how we dwell with Him eternally. Stay tuned!)

Until then, here is a Scripture that is great to keep in mind as we await His return:

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God,let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Heb. 10:19-25

Click on the video below to see the teaching I did on Yom Kippur a couple of weeks ago at our church, Times of Refreshing. Please forgive me for not pronouncing everything correctly! Beneath the video is the handout we used in our teaching. It will help you follow along. Enjoy!

YOM KIPPUR (DAY OF ATONEMENT)
What is Yom Kippur?
“Yom” = “day” and “Kippur” = “covering, ransom, redeeming”
Sixth Scripturally-commanded holy day on Jewish calendar
–Held on 10th day of 7th month Tishri for 1 day
Second event in the fall High Holy Days and Days of Awe
–The only mandated holy day that is not a feast
–The only day all of Israel fasted (called “the fast” Acts 27:9)
No mention of it taking place until 444 B.C.
What does Yom Kippur consist of?
Four main components
–Holy convocation (undivided attention to God and gathering on a sabbath)
–Humbling of souls (affliction by fasting and repentance)
–Offerings (Lev. 16, Num. 29:7-11)–including regular sabbath offerings if on a sabbath
–Complete rest (or death as punishment)
Fourfold purpose
–To show the necessity of blood and God’s hatred of sin (Rom. 6:23, Heb. 9:22)
–To show contagious nature of sin–even holy Priest had to be cleansed! (Lev. 16:6)
–To point forward to the death of the Lamb of God
–To be repeated annually to show the way into the presence of God (Heb. 10:3)
What is the order of events on Yom Kippur?
1. High priest bathed his entire body, not just hands and feet as normally
–Washed his flesh in water in the Holy Place
–Had already washed once before entering Holy Place
2. He dressed in white linen with no ornaments
–Holy linen coat, breeches, girdle, fine mitre (headpiece)
–Also wore bells on skirt with rope attached
–Bells: to alert those outside if he was impure and died
–Rope: to drag him out
3. He sacrificed young bull for himself and his house
4. He selected 2 goats
–Goats selected by lot–1 for God, 1 for Azazel (name for Satan?)
–First goat sacrificed for people’s sins
–This blood placed on 2nd goat’s head (scapegoat)
5. Before offering this blood, priest filled censer with live coals from altar and put incense on them
–Cloud of incense covered mercy seat to keep him from seeing God
6. Once in Holy of Holies, blood was sprinkled upon and before mercy seat
–Bull for priesthood’s atonement; 1st goat for people’s atonement
–2 separate trips into Holy of Holies
7. Priest laid hands on head of scapegoat and confessed sins of the people
8. Scapegoat, bearing sins of the people, released into wilderness by trustworthy man
9. Remains of sacrificed bull and male goat taken outside city and burned
What are the Jewish traditions on Yom Kippur?
Main purpose is “teshuvah”–turning FROM sin and TO God
–Process began in 6th month Elul, sped up through Rosh HaShanah and the ensuing 10 days of repentance, reached end on Yom Kippur
Five services held (1 more than usual for festivals); most highly attended all year
–Before leaving for services, blessings pronounced upon children
–Very complicated services
–Proclamations made to nullify any vows/promises unfulfilled in coming year
–Jews still see spoken word as binding: “Words are important. . .The world itself     was created by God through the power of the Word.” (A rabbi)
–Jews believe you can’t be forgiven if you have unfulfilled vows (Matt. 5:24)
–Torah reading describes service in the Temple
–Emphasis also on Isaiah 57:14-58:16
–Book of Jonah read aloud (repentance important)
–They ask God to inscribe them in the Book of Life
Jews seek “kapparah”–cleaning of the slate/new chance at life
–Seen as a “brush with death” (wearing white kittel–burial shroud–and abstaining from life-giving food and water)
Jews observe 5 restrictions (afflictions): “shabbat shabbaton”–sabbath of complete rest
–No eating or drinking (fast day from sundown to sundown, no cooking allowed)
–Children and the sick are exempt
–Fast may be broken immediately after final service
–No bathing (stricter than regular sabbath)
–No anointing of body with oil
–No leather shoes (too comfortable)
–No sexual relations
Day before is a preparation day but also a sabbath
–Based on Lev. 23:32 which calls 9th day of Tishri a sabbath
–Great sabbath meal eaten before sundown!
–Some take mikveh (ritual bath) to purify themselves symbolically
Outdated traditions include twirling rooster or hen around hen while saying prayer for the animal to be killed in one’s stead
–Priests considered this too akin to white magic
–Now some Jews instead wrap money in handkerchief and follow same ritual
–Long ago, some Jews even flogged each other 39 times
–Some Jews still go outside to bless the moon at the end of the day (as at new moon)
Charity containers place in synagogues (typical on holy days)
Candles lit for deceased relatives
Women often wear white; mean wear kittels
Jews believe that the original purpose of this day was to cleanse the Temple of any
pollution that might have infiltrated the priestly system: “Too much pollution will render
   the sanctuary defiled and push the divine presence away.” (A rabbi)
–Since the Temple is no more, they now focus on cleaning up their individual lives,
including reconciliation with others
Shofar is blown to end the holy day–shows successful passage from sin to repentance
Some Jews go home and begin building sukkah
–Ties in Yom Kippur to Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) 5 days later
How does Yom Kippur parallel our salvation?
National cleansing of Israel since the Church will be  raptured out at Feast of Trumpets?
–Zech. 3:9: “. . .And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.”
–Verse 10 refers to the millenium
Jesus, our High Priest: applied blood to mercy seat once and for all! (Heb. 5:1-10,
9:24-10:14)
–We all have access into the Holy of Holies now (Heb. 4:14-16)
Priest washing twice on each trip in: our progression in Christ
–First washing is salvation–a “must” to enter the “sanctuary” (safe place)
–To go into Holy of Holies (His manifest presence), must be saturated in the Word
White garment: us being freed from sin
–No longer can wear the “garments” worn on the outside; must “put on” righteousness
Incense often represents prayer (Psalm 141:2: “Let my prayer be. . .as incense”)
–Prayer brings us into Holy of Holies
Priest sacrificed 1st bull for his household: purity in priesthood (We are all priests now)
Jesus represented by both goats
–Like 1st goat, He was killed and mutilated for our sins
–Like 2nd goat, He took our sins upon His own head (Heb. 13:11-12)
Hebrew word for “atonement” means “covering”
–Same word as “pitch,” the substance Noah applied to the ark walls
–Came between Noah and judgment (the waters)–like Jesus’ blood and us!
Prophetic for us: final Judgment Day–Book of Life opened
–Jews either repented and were forgiven or died in sin
Day the shofar is blown for Year of Jubilee
–Lev. 25:9: “Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land.”
–Our freedom from debt!
Rabbinical scholars say that at the time of the atonement, a crimson sash was attached to the door of the Temple and another on the horn of the scapegoat
–They knew when the goat was dead in the wilderness because the sash would turn white to signify the forgiveness of sins was complete
–Is. 1:18: “. . .though thy sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”
–Jewish literature says 40 years before the destruction of the last Temple in 70 A.D., the sash stopped turning white (No more need for the blood of animals to atone for sin!)
From the Talmud: “Forty years before the destruction of the Temple (ie. 30 C.E.) the lot did not come up in the right hand, nor did the crimson stripe become white, nor did the westernmost light burn; and the doors of the heikhal (the Holy Place of the Temple) opened of their own accord, until Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakkai rebuked them.”

Your springtime is coming

Sometimes in the midst of summer’s heat, there comes a day like today–a day that seems to be set out of time. The humidity is suddenly incredibly low. Skies are the vivid blue of early autumn rather than the diluted blue of midsummer. The air is fanned by a gentle breeze that remains cool throughout this rare day when late June temperatures have plummeted from the mid-90s to the upper 70s.

When I awakened this morning and saw the type of day I had been given, I felt a special essence surrounding it. I was mentally transported to late September when summer’s heat gives way to pleasing temperatures. My 14-year-old daughter Abigail must’ve felt the same thing. She kept repeating, “It feels like fall!”

Even now at 8:08 p.m., I sit on the deck and marvel at the stellar beauty of the day. Little birds peck in my flowerbeds near me and chirp merrily. The begonia given to me by my precious Aunt Audrey last fall delights my eyes with its pinkish-red blooms. I think of how I wondered if it would live until spring when she placed it in my care last October.

But somehow–despite my tendency to let summer’s leftover hanging baskets die inside throughout the winter–this lovely begonia survived. And now it blossoms luxuriously, lending beauty to my summer days on the deck.

You know what? I feel like that begonia now. And I feel in my Spirit that many of you readers do, too.

You’ve been through troubles and trials in your life and you’ve wondered if you would make it through the long winter that seemed to linger. Sometimes the days felt mighty cold, and you would’ve given anything for a little warmth. You woke up many mornings to a gray sky of life and prayed the sun would somehow break through your circumstances. Maybe you are still there.

Well, guess what? Our God will never fail us or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5). Hang on a little longer; your springtime will come. God is intrinsically a God of redemption, renewal, revival, regeneration, restoration, refreshing. He wants to renew YOU, restore YOU, regenerate YOU, refresh YOU, revive YOU, redeem YOU.

Just like the begonia that struggled to make it inside a house when it longed for the outdoors, that often suffered from lack of water due to the dry winter air inside, that needed more sunlight than it could get through my bedroom window–you, too, will once again feel the refreshing spring air, soak in the spring rains, flourish in the light of the abundant sun.

Maybe you have already come through that dark winter and are currently being refreshed by your springtime season. Then reach out to help and encourage others who still linger in winter’s chill. That’s why I’m writing this to you.

Do I have trials and tribulations? Sure do. Are things perfect in my situation? Of course not–this world is not Utopia. Do I worry sometimes and feel gray? Yep.

But despite these things, I feel like the begonia. Today, I have been so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the gratitude I feel toward God that I had no way to express it. I have a peace I have never had before, a love for people that oozes out of me until I don’t know what to do sometimes, a confidence in the favor of God in my life that I never knew until I came out of that dark winter of 2007-10 (yep, that long).

If you haven’t gotten there yet, HOLD ON! Our God is indeed faithful and true. His plans for you are of peace and for you to have a good end. Praise Him even when the results seems to be negative. Contact me and I’ll praise Him with you and encourage you.

Some of you don’t feel that you deserve to be happy. Admit it; you don’t. You feel that you have failed God so much in the past that you don’t merit the good things He wants to bless you with.

Hate to tell you this, but guess what? You DON’T deserve the blessings. Neither do I. But our God delights to bless His children. Quit thinking you’re not worthy; that can chain up your blessings. Sure, we’re unworthy in ourselves, but the blood of Jesus has made us worthy.

So, yes, because of Christ’s sacrifice, you do deserve the happiness He desires to pour upon you. You got divorced, you say? You spent some years seeking fulfillment through alcohol or drugs? So you tell me you had sex before marriage or maybe even with someone else while you were married? You hurt somebody really badly in the past? You gossiped relentlessly about a brother or sister in Christ? You had a bad attitude a lot of the time while your children were little?

Okay, join the ex-sinners’ club; come have a seat on the front row with me and most everyone else in the world. We’ve all been there, done something similar to that in some degree.

Did you repent? Are you not committing that act(s) today? Are you working diligently, with God’s help, on your attitude? Are you trusting God to fully deliver you from any addiction that lingers?

Then move on and enjoy the life you’ve been given by God. What’s done is done, and you can’t go back and undo it. And if you feel that because of the mess you made, you really shouldn’t be happy now, then think again.

Our redeeming God doesn’t want you in sackcloth and ashes for the rest of your life. He doesn’t expect you to figuratively wear widow’s weeds forever because of your dark past.

But a word of warning from one who knows: SOME PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY SELF-RIGHTEOUS CHRISTIANS OR THE ONES YOU HURT BY YOUR PAST BEHAVIOR, DO NOT WANT TO SEE YOU HAPPY AND THRIVING. Shocker, huh?

There will be those–yes, Christians primarily–who think you smile too much “after what you did and how you behaved back then!” They want to see you pay the price, be miserable, hurt on and on. I was told by a friend of mine once that a woman I knew from church years ago gets so angry when she sees me in public and I am so full of joy; she thinks I should remain in sorrow for some of my actions of the past.

That is not God’s way. If only she knew how many nights I cried myself to sleep, how many days I wondered if the sun would ever shine again, how many times even now that I hurt with longing to be with my kids when they go to their dad’s house periodically, she might be satisfied with the degree of my pain.

I even overheard a “Christian” the other day on a cell phone, talking to someone who has obviously been done wrong by somebody else. That “counselor” was telling the person not to worry–that the bad person would “get theirs.” Even if they seem to be prospering right now, the “Christian” said, never fear–they’ll get what’s coming to them. The tone was very vindictive.

Yes, unless we repent, we will reap what we sow. But should we as Christians be so vengeful as to wish somebody would “get theirs”? I think not. But this Christian obviously wants someone to pay a heavy price.

If I spent the rest of my life bemoaning the less-than-satisfying way my life turned out and/or the sins I committed, then I would be of no use whatsoever to the Kingdom of God. He has set me free from my past, given me a present that is so full of joy and peace I want to explode, and promised me a glorious future with Him.

I know I’m talking to somebody who is nodding their head right now, saying, “YEAH! I know exactly what she means!” Get back up, shake yourself, commit your future to God and move on. Quit living in the realm of shame, you redeemed person you! Get your smile back. Laugh a little.

About two to three years ago, I realized that I was laughing again. I had not been aware of the fact that I had spent the last few years before that not laughing much at all. And it hit me that my laugh was now totally different. It was louder, full of bubbling joy, frequent. I honestly think I laugh more than anyone I know. I would even startle myself when I would burst into laughter at commissioners’ meetings while covering them for the newspaper when Stanley Smith would say something funny.

And I knew then that God had restored my joy–nay, even doubled it from before those dark winter years. Like the begonia on my deck, I am flourishing, and God’s favor follows me. Life won’t be perfect from here on out in this fallen world, but I have the assurance that my GOD will work ALL things (even bad ones) together for my good (Romans 8:28).

He’ll do the same for you. Hold on to God’s promises–YOUR SPRINGTIME IS COMING!

Embarrassing Christianity

I remember when the word “gay” meant “happy.” (Yes, I’m that old.) But my kids will never be able to use that word in its original definition, because “gay” has come to mean something totally different in our society.

I’m beginning to think that the same thing is happening to the word “Christian.” Merriam-Webster says it means “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

I guess the key word there is “professes.” I can “profess” to be fluent in six million forms of communication, but that doesn’t make it true (or make me C-3P0, for you “Star Wars” geeks).

You can wear the title of “Christian,” but that doesn’t make you one. There are days I am loath to identify with American Christianity in its current state.

“Why?” you may ask. Because Christians are living more and more like the world? Because Christians are becoming more and more liberal?

Nope. Because the Christians who usually steal the limelight are often arrogant, self-righteous, holier-than-thou and condescending to anyone who doesn’t agree with every single tenet of their beliefs.

I have seen it like never before in the hubbub that surrounds the marriage amendment that is up for a vote on the North Carolina Primary ballot on May 8. This proposed amendment to the NC Constitution reads as follows:

SECTION 1.  Article 14 of the North Carolina Constitution is amended by adding the following new section:

Sec. 6.  Marriage.

Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.  This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

The lines have been drawn, and there is ugliness on both sides. I have seen staunch Christians blacklist those who are against the amendment. I’ve seen committed Christians be too intimidated to admit that they might have reservations about the amendment based on their beliefs that there could be a broader than expected legal interpretation of it which could have implications that reach farther than just a man/woman marriage. I’ve seen ugly comments that border on hatred of anyone who would oppose this amendment.

Call me clueless, but I just don’t get it.

As for the proposed amendment, I don’t understand the pros and cons of it enough to argue either side. I know firm Christians who believe the amendment is the will of God, and I know firm Christians who believe that it is not. (Please realize that not supporting the amendment in its present form doesn’t mean that someone supports homosexual marriage.)

To you liberals: don’t be hating on me, but I personally believe that marriage is a man/woman thing, according to God’s original plan for creation in the Garden of Eden and subsequent scriptures. To you conservatives: HOWEVER, I am not fully persuaded on how I will vote on this amendment. AGAIN, don’t suppose that because someone might be undecided or they have chosen to vote “No” that they are proponents of something other than marriage between one man and one woman. (Then again, they might be, although I personally am not.)

But the marriage amendment is not even the real issue here for me. For all of the people who are arguing that if we don’t affirm the man/woman marriage idea by passing amendments such as this one in NC, the door will be open for all kinds of evil to enter our country and that our nation will go down the tubes, let me say this clearly:

I believe that if you stand on your soapbox with arrogance, condescension, mean-spiritedness and anger against your opponents, it is YOUR behavior that opens the door for evil that could ultimately flush America down the toilet.

“For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” James 3:16

Why? Because no one expects someone they consider to be a “sinner” to act right. But EVERYONE expects a “Christian” to act right.

Yet we have it backwards. We’d rather “be right” than “be righteous.” I have a Facebook friend who commented tonight: “I must remind myself daily it is more important for me to act righteous than to make sure others know I am right. Humility is a cloak we all should learn to wear.”

It is more important to be loving to those who oppose us than to argue our rightness with them. Does loving them mean we are weak? That we have caved in to the opposing viewpoint? That we have compromised?

God forbid. Why on earth do we equate “love” with “compromise” or “agreement”? We have made love a weak, pansy-pie emotion when it is the strongest force on earth. Yes, the strongest. It was LOVE that made Jesus Christ shed His all-powerful blood on Calvary. It was LOVE that God breathed into Adam–He breathed into Adam to give him life–His breath is His Spirit–and if God is Spirit and if God is Love, then even His Spirit consists of LOVE.

If I hug a known liar, the Christian world looks at that as if I am embracing lying. If I treat a drug addict kindly, then I must be accepting of his/her lifestyle. Right? WRONG.

Stop making love and compassion for a sinner equal to agreement and compromise with sin. These things are not synonymous.

And by the way, I smile at you and treat you kindly, yet you have your own imperfections and sins. The majority of you would probably embrace me and love me, but I sure have my own set of faults and sins. Because we treat each other with kindness and love does not mean we are saying, “Hey, it’s okay. Go ahead and continue in your impatience, arrogance, gluttony, lack of self-control, hatefulness and general sin.”

NO. We are saying that we love each other DESPITE our imperfections and that we pray that we ALL overcome sin in this world by the power of Jesus Christ.

You want to win the sinner? Well, you sure won’t do it with your arrogance “because YOU have never done what they do.” Or your holier-than-thou snubs of these people “because YOU would never fall the way they did.”

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Galatians 6:1

I noticed the word “meekness” there. And the idea that you and I, too, could be tempted.

But Jesus wasn’t always meek, you say. He got angry in the Temple and overturned tables. He called people “whited sepulchers” and “generation of vipers” and “hypocrites.”

Yep, He sure did. But the people He was coming against were the religious snobs of that day. Those ugly labels were pinned on the Pharisees and Saducees–the religious right of Jesus’ time.

I am conservative. I lean toward the right. But do not identify me with those who parade the title of “Christian” complete with arrogance and condescension.

Jesus wasn’t condescending, yet He didn’t condone sin either. “Go and sin no more,” He said. But He handled each of these sinner situations with love. Find me one instance where He was brutal to a sinner. If He had been disrespectful or snobby, the tax collectors and drunkards wouldn’t have wanted Him to break bread with them.

Again, don’t confuse Jesus’ love with tolerance. He did not tolerate sin, but He loved the sinners and treated them with compassion.

And sinners were drawn to Him because of that. And consequently, lives were changed for the better.

It is the same today. Manifesting the love of Christ through the Holy Spirit–even to those with whom we don’t agree or to those who vote opposite of us on the NC Marriage Amendment–is what will change this world, draw the sinner to repentance and help you and me stop sinning, too.

I have determined to love the people on both sides of this debate. And to my many friends who have a strong belief one way or another on this issue yet have managed to demonstrate integrity and kindness in the midst of your strong convictions, thank you. I am so blessed to call you friends. I feel privileged to be identified with you as Christ-followers.

Christ-follower. I like that. Perhaps until the term “Christian” loses its negative implications brought on by the ugliness of some of its more outspoken professors, I would rather be called a disciple of Christ or a Christ-follower or even a Jesus freak–as long as I am more closely identified with Him than with religious spirits.

Let’s stand strong for the right, but let’s be righteous while we do it.

Remembering Whitney

Whitney Houston

I am always sad to hear about a death, especially what seems to be an untimely one. The death of Princess Diana kept me riveted to the TV for days, as did the sudden passing of Dale Earnhardt. It seems like yesterday that I was priming tobacco for my neighbor when my buddy Jack walked up to the barn to say, “Did you hear that the king is dead?” I sat up late that night, listening to “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and sniffling over Elvis Presley’s death.

But I don’t know that any of them affected me the way Whitney Houston’s death has. Maybe it’s because she and I were about the same age. Perhaps it’s because when I was just entering young womanhood, she was also finding her way as a young woman–singing about the things we young women dreamed of–“Saving All My Love For You,” “All the Man I Need,” “The Greatest Love of All.”

And as she aged so gracefully in appearance, Whitney also got even better vocally–for a time. And still she sang songs that seemed to come from MY heart–“I Will Always Love You,” for one.

That same heart of mine ached when I began to hear rumors of her substance abuse problems. I grieved to see her extraordinary physical beauty begin to deteriorate–not because of the normal aging process but because of the effects of the drugs and alcohol. For some time, she was a bag of bones, and her face–though still lovely–grew haggard.

Whitney's changing appearance

I always pull for the underdog, and so I was heartened to see Whitney seem to make a turnaround. She “fleshened up,” as Grandma would’ve described it. Her face took on a shade of its former glow. She went on a world tour again. She was preparing to film another movie.

Then one quiet evening at home, the shocking news that she was dead at 48 stunned me. I haunted YouTube for a while, listening to old Whitney tunes, finding new ones I had not heard. I watched old interviews with her.

I am grieved over any type of waste, but especially the waste of a promising life. Yes, I know she did more in 48 years than most of us would do in 90, but there was so much left in her. I had to battle some ugly thoughts toward her ex-husband Bobby Brown; she had seemed so pure and naive before hooking up with him. (Yes, I realize Whitney had free will and made her own choices to enter the dark and sinister world of drug use, but temptation often comes through appealing people.) I prayed not to hold any hard feelings toward Bobby and don’t.

But what fascinated me (and haunted me) most about Whitney’s life were her early years in the black Baptist and Pentecostal churches. (I say “black Baptist” to differentiate from “white Baptist” because the two church styles are very different.) I wondered if she later missed being such an integral part of these powerful churches. I know that she still sang some gospel songs, especially when she made the movie “The Preacher’s Wife.” But recording some gospel songs to random mass choir backup is quite different from actually being a vital part of a personal church music program.

I watched an interview that Whitney did with Diane Sawyer in 2002. The poignancy of it was heart-wrenching. Diane asked her what her perfect life would be in 10 years. Whitney detailed her dreams of being retired in 2012, watching her daughter grow into a productive woman of God, living a good life, having grandchildren.

She could not have known way back then that that would be the very year of her death.

Diane Sawyer’s interview with Whitney (2nd video clip–wait for it)

Diane asked her which of the drugs was her biggest demon. Whitney looked at her contemplatively and replied with raw candor, “That would be me.” She clarified that the drugs weren’t the demons–that SHE was her own demon in this situation since she made the choices. Diane persisted in this line of questioning, wanting to know specifically what people who wanted to help be the barrier between Whitney and drugs could pray for. Diane probably thought that Whitney would name a particular drug or other temptation.

Whitney looked at Diane as though they were on two different planets. With great passion, she declared that she didn’t want people to pray about the drugs. Instead she wanted them to pray for her soul, that she would be able to be stronger and make good decisions.

At the end of the interview segment that I watched, Whitney’s fervor increased as she pointed to the sky and avowed that no matter what anyone said or believed, she knew that she was a child of God and that He loved her. Then she quoted the words of the old song, “Jesus loves me; this I know.” And she smiled sweetly and trustingly.

And when that same Whitney–10 years older and more worn, her once exquisite voice hoarse and ragged–sang the last song of her career onstage at a pre-Grammy party the night before her death, it was “Jesus Loves Me.”

Less than 24 hours later, she was dead.

I’ve already heard the debate: Did she go to Heaven or not? My daughter Meghann’s response to that was, “I am not God, and therefore, I do not dare presume to judge.” What a wise girl God has blessed me with!

If your doctrine tells you that we can lose our salvation based on our works and that we’d better not die while swerving off the narrow road or we’re sho nuff out of luck (and grace), then you may think there’s no way she made it to the pearly gates. If you ascribe to the “once saved, always saved” doctrine which believes that we are truly sealed to the day of redemption and that it is not of works that we are saved lest any man should boast, then you assume she made it on home.

I don’t have a soapbox in this debate. I trust in my all-wise and all-knowing God to make the right decision, and I wouldn’t DARE speak a word against the dead in this case. We don’t know what her last thoughts were. Even if she was in a state of intoxication, who knows that she wasn’t crying out to God to forgive her, to deliver her, to help her? I wasn’t in the hotel room. I don’t know.

Young Whitney, the choir girl

I only know that I am still haunted by the old video of the pencil-thin little girl with cropped hair–looking somewhat like a young boy–singing in the choir at her New Jersey church. I ache at the memory of the exquisitely lovely 38-year-old woman whose eyes lit up with excitement as she told Diane Sawyer how the “Holy Ghost fire,” as she called it, would be on the people’s faces when she would sing in church and that’s when she knew that God had truly given her an infectious gift.

And I will remember her best perhaps as she sang a song called “I Love the Lord”–her beautiful voice ringing out to tell the world that “He heard my cry, and pitied every groan. Long as I live, while troubles rise, I’ll hasten to. . .His throne.”

THAT’S the God I blog about. THAT’S the God I long for. THAT’S the God I serve. The God who hears our heart’s cry and pities every groan. I believe that’s exactly how He felt about Whitney.

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