Tag Archives: bible

Fun with Salvation.

Day…11?…without Cheyenne. She’s not at a sleepover. She’s not at a band function and I’m not going to pick her up in a couple hours. She’s actually gone. And I miss her. I miss having my buddy. I miss our jokes. Not everyone gets my jokes–especially not Caleb or the under-9 crowd that lives in my house. Things are weird around here. July 27th is an unfathomably long way off.

On a happy note, Mia got saved. My Catholic peeps might boo-hiss at that word, but all it means is that what Jesus did for us finally sunk in; she’s at an age where it’s all starting to make sense, and for the first time, it hit her right smack in the guts. She wants to give her heart to God. I have no doubt that He speaks to people of all ages, and it’s a wonderful thing being able to slow down long enough to listen–and grasp what’s being heard–at 8 years old.

(*Please know that in the following paragraphs, I am mainly addressing the concept of salvation alone–I know there’s a difference between becoming  a Christian and being a Christian, but I feel the need to write mostly about this particular part for right now.*)

When I was 14 I met some friends that asked me if I was saved. I had no freaking clue what “saved” meant, so they explained:

Them: “Do you believe that everyone is a sinner including you?”

Me: “Uh, yeah.”

Them: “Do you believe that Jesus is the son of God and that He died for your sins?”

Me: “Duh.”

Them: “Will you pray a prayer with me right now and ask Jesus to come into your heart and change your life (right before we go smoke pot behind the gym)?”

Me: “I find that highly unneccessary. I’ve only been praying to Jesus and thanking him for all kinds of crap, for 14 years–that’s like, my whole life.”

Them: “Then have you followed the Lord in Believer’s baptism?”

Me: “WTF does that even mean? I’ve been baptized–twice. I know you think I’m a clueless Catholic, but I think I got this, thankyouverymuch.”

It almost seemed to me that everyone who claimed to be Christians were some of the meanest, snidest, greediest, sinningest people I’d ever met.

inigo montoya inigomontoya

We’re sinners and Jesus died for us because God loves us. Isn’t that what we’re all taught in church before we’re old enough to walk? Wasn’t that the general message of any church? I knew the facts; I read them in the bible, I heard them in Sunday school, and I could tell strangers if they asked me. I had it all down pat on an intellectual level. I’d get sentimental about Jesus on the occasional Sunday during mass, and once for several months after a church retreat to Assissi, Italy, where I became fascinated with the life and times of St. Francis.

I thought about the concept of salvation more and more as the years went on. I tried to listen harder during mass to see if I was missing anything. I participated in the Sacrament of Confirmation–which is basically the Catholic Church equivalent of saying “Alright you’ve been learning this stuff for years–are you in or out?” Of course I was in. I didn’t want to be out. My parents would kill me.

I continued to pray. I had conversations with all kinds of people. It seemed like my head just stayed filled with thoughts of Jesus and sin and forgiveness and love.

And then one night, it all went from my head to my heart. I was overcome with guilt and sorrow over my sins. And I wanted more than anything to truly belong to the kingdom of God, and to make Jesus the single more important thing in my life–or as Mia puts it, “the boss of my life”.

If you’re interested in the cut-and-dry Protestant version of salvation according to the Holy Bible, here it is:

  1. Every human is a sinner. Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and are not good enough to share God’s divine greatness.”
  2. God’s penalty for sin is death. Romans 6:23: “When people sin, they earn what sin pays—death. But God gives his people a free gift—eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  3. In His great love, God has made provision for the salvation of sinners. Romans 5:8: “But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us.”
  4. Each person must put his trust in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9-13 says “If you openly say, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from death, you will be saved. Yes, we believe in Jesus deep in our hearts, and so we are made right with God. And we openly say that we believe in him, and so we are saved. Yes, the Scriptures say, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disappointed.” It says this because there is no difference between those who are Jews and those who are not. The same Lord is the Lord of all people. And he richly blesses everyone who looks to him for help. Yes, “everyone who trusts in the Lord will be saved.”

It’s more complicated than that, but it isn’t. We’re all guilty. We all sin. No one is exempt from this. Our sin demands payment–we deserve death. I got stuck on this the most: “Eternity in hell? Surely I’m not that bad, am I?” Truth is that yes I am. There’s good in everyone, yes. But there’s also bad: we are greedy, quick-tempered, spiteful, judgemental. The list goes on. I fight these things on a daily basis and I always will because I’m human and I’m just not holy by nature.

That badness in our hearts separates us from God. But God, being our loving creator and father, gives us an undeserved gift: He sent His perfect son Jesus, who never sinned, to pay for our sins–He lay down his life willingly–to die in our place on the cross. We cannot earn this gift and we can never repay it. No catch–this salvation is free stuff.

And here’s the actual dirt: There’s nothing textbook about salvation.

“Getting saved” is not so much an ultimate moment in time that caps off a several-year period of learning. “Getting saved” is hopefully not the greatest spiritual experience you will ever have. “Getting saved” is only the beginning of a looonnnng, and probably bumpy, journey–with God as your guide.

Being “saved” is personal. Being “saved” doesn’t make you better than everybody. It doesn’t make you perfect and it doesn’t automatically make you even “good”. But following Jesus Christ, and knowing that your soul belongs to God forever, should fill you with a peace and a love that just cannot be known outside of Him.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. We don’t stop at salvation. We can begin to develop a deep relationship with God which involves so much more than reading a couple key verses out of Romans. This relationship is knowledge. It’s a feeling. It’s action. It’s unconditional love. It’s time spent. It’s physical and mental energy. It’s our purpose and our focus.

We live in human bodies that get tired and cranky and hungry and scared; we live on earth, a place that is often times hard and mean and unfair. The road is rough. There’s so much work to do and we can’t just sit at home and fluff our pillows and send our kids to college so that they, too, can afford to sit at home and fluff their pillows.

Our paths are all unique, and we can’t compare ourselves to others–but what we can compare ourselves to is the person God wants us to be, and God? Is unconcerned with wealth and success and wordly wisdom. Christians are called not only to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; we are called to be lights in this dark, broken world–to be the hands and feet of Jesus, who was loving, and compassionate, and giving, and merciful; who came to serve and not to be served.

My hope for my children, and my friends, and my whole family, (and for anyone reading this!) is for each person to come to know and love Jesus; to reconcile themselves with God and to make Him the center of their lives; and to reach their full potential as one of His children. Mia’s simple prayer last night was one of the sweetest things I’ll ever hear. That prayer was the start of something crazy awesome and I just know she will do amazing things for God.

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Being Not Afraid

I was 15 when I had Cheyenne. Mind blowing, is it not? Because two years before that, I had just stopped playing with Barbie dolls. (Whatever, ok? It wasn’t so much the dolls as it was building houses for them out of tall picture books and arranging their furniture just so.)

At that age, my narrow mind could not comprehend the possibility of a future that didn’t involve crazy amounts of shame and suffering. I didn’t need anyone to make me feel bad about my situation; I branded myself with a big fat scarlet letter.

Being well on the other side of what I thought was the end of my life, it would be so neat to have the opportunity to reassure my teenage self that life would eventually turn out okay. Not picture-perfect all the time, but okay–good, even. I would say things like:

  • This baby that you’re having? She’s going to be smarter than the smartest person you’ve ever met in your whole life. Freaking valedictorian material. And you’ll burst into tears at the thought of sending her off to college. And she’ll be witty and hilarious and beautiful and you will love her to death even when she’s bucking the rules with all she’s got. She will be your absolute heart.
  • Also: you’ll have some more kids. This is an insane thought what with your current lack of patience and common sense but bear with me: A little girl with giant chocolate-chip eyes, and freckles sprinkled across her nose. Super-athletic with your strong legs. Little softball player, this one. And sweet and sensitive and gentle; ridiculously kind and caring. She loves some stupid British boy-band and she wants a guinea pig with every ounce of her being, but you won’t let her have one. She’s doing extra chores to prove she’s responsible enough.
  • But you’re not budging.
  • Remember that.
  • A little boy who looks just. like. you. and who loves to be outside, riding bikes and hiking and playing ball and mowing the lawn and getting into the mud and finding bugs and frogs. He lives to make you laugh and he’s mischievous and playful. His blue eyes stare right into your very soul. He’s so loveable you could just die.
  • Your husband is top-notch. Best there ever was. When you meet him–and you haven’t yet–you need not look any further. But you’ll know that immediately, and you won’t.
  • You live in Oklahoma of all places, and the decision to move there was voluntary. Contrary to what you think now, it’s not some barren, desolate, tornado-ridden wasteland…although sometimes your yard does look like a cross between Afghanistan and the surface of the moon. You have not seen one twister. You’re even thinking about raising chickens.
  • You have friends there that would cut off their arms for you if you needed one.
  • Go ahead and forget that dream of being some sort of underwater geologist. Face it: the only reason you really want to do that is so you can drive a bubble car around the ocean. Instead, you should paint more. Like, a lot more. Because you love it and you’ve got good ideas.
  • Be nice to your parents and your sisters. They’re going to help you in more ways then you’ll be able to count, and they’ll love you, as they do now, more than you’ll ever know.
  • This is not the only hard thing you’ll ever go through. In fact, in comparison to the rest of your life, this whole time will seem like cake-walk. But I guarantee you’ll get through it. It’s alright to scream and cry. I suggest prayer–and lots of it.
  • It’ll be okay.
  • Really.
  • Promise.

Now. If only I had 50-year-old Toni to pay me a reassuring visit, I’d be all set.

Today before Sunday school, we teachers talked about this morning’s lesson: Those gosh-darn walls of Jericho. What even is that all about? There’s this city, surrounded by strong brick walls, and God’s people are supposed to take it. God gives them these crazy directions like “walk once around the city every day for 6 days. And then on the 7th day, walk around the city 7 times. And then blow your trumpets and make a junkton of noise. It’ll be so great; I promise.”

I’ve always looked at this story as cute; a fun lesson to teach, perfect for 2 and 3 year-olds: they can build block towers and knock them down like miniature bosses. They can for darn sure make a lot of noise. Not a whole lot of takeaway on my end, unless you maybe count a growing desire to take trumpet lessons as a takeaway.

Our children’s ministry leader said that maybe the Israelites must have been all: “This is some bull. Why are we doing this? It’s the sixth day already and still–nothing. Pointless. My feet hurt. The city is ginormous. Walking is getting us nowhere. God, give us something here. This is hard and ridiculous.”

The funny thing is that my class takes this story to heart. They find no flaws in God’s directions. I have a feeling these kids would put me and the Israelites to shame: “God says seven times? Well then, by cracky, we march 7 times!” No questions asked.

I am of course going to relate this story now to just listening to God through life’s struggles. I find myself asking “What’s the point, God?” so many times, especially over the last few weeks. It may be a while before I see reasons or results, but the best plan is always trusting in God’s plan.

Oh man, that I would have these kind of guts. Everything in me wants to take all matters into my own hands. That something can only be okay after I understand it fully. God is a light in a long dark tunnel, but it’s still a long dark tunnel. And it’s not so easy to have the courage and obedience of Joshua. And some days I’m lacking in the endurance department, and I’m tired of walking. And I want an explanation, or a time frame…or both.

And I have to pray that God gives me the heart of a child so that I can have  unwavering faith and total dependence on Him that I need to get through some of the hard parts–so that when they’re over, God can receive the credit He deserves. There is so much I cannot do by myself.

What I can do is believe what God promises. And God promises that even though there’s no future me to visit present-day me, things will be okay.

isaiah


Have You Asked Jesus To Wreck Your Life?

Friends, correct me if I’m wrong: when Jesus has really, truly come into your life, is it not like someone is stabbing you repeatedly in the heart? Like there’s a giant sharp knife caught right in your chest? And you can’t pull it out, and occasionally the knife twists deeper–sometimes a little, sometimes a lot?

Some things just aren’t funny anymore. Some people just aren’t as cool as you once thought they were. Some foods don’t taste quite as good. Some songs don’t speak to you like they used to.

Sad things are sadder and you’re a lot more sensitive than you used to be.

Taking it further, you don’t have to have that expensive pair of shoes. You don’t need to see that movie on opening night. You don’t care what kind of car you drive, so long as it gets you from place to place in a reasonably reliable way.

It doesn’t matter to you when your highlights are more than 3 months old. Wal-Mart make-up is a-okay. You clean up for church but you still feel slightly grubby (in your last-season-everythings) compared to everyone else, and it doesn’t bother you as much as it once did. You’re just glad to be forgiven and free, and you love being with your new family in Christ.

But it gets worse.

Your eyes start opening up. For me, it was like God was having to pry them open a little at a time, because I was so afraid of what I might see. And then when your eyes do open up, you throw your hands over them because you are scared to death of change–or worse, a call to action.

For a while, you pretend that just about everything Jesus says in the Bible only applies to other people–nuns or missionaries or college students with dreadlocks. That your calling is to live a Godly life (see also: less cussing) right inside your cozy bubble with a select group of friends and family members.

You read the Bible and almost nothing in your world sits right anymore. Not the amount of money you spend on food, clothing, and entertainment. Not the amount of time you spend at the ballpark, or jacking around on websites like Pinterest and Polyvore. So-called “normal, everyday stuff” (see also: typical day-to-day life in the U.S.A.) seems like a waste of time.

A giant, soul-sucking, waste of time.

And then someone tells you that those new shoes? Worth more than a year’s worth of schooling for a half-dozen girls in Uganda. The impact an education would have on the lives of these sweet children who God loves? Would last a helluva lot longer than the crappy new shoes.

And you will never buy shoes again.

Well, not any pair that costs more than $10.

(I will not even discuss the guilt-fest that my long-time dream of granite counter-tops has induced.)

You read the Bible and you get a cold feeling in your guts because “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” according to Mark 10:25, and? Newsflash: we are so rich, it’s ridiculous.

The world will tell you to chill out. The world will tell you that you’re more than good enough already, and that you’re taking this faith thing too far, and that you’ve been riding the Jesus train a little too long. The world might even get pissed when you don’t agree–and this world includes Christians and non-Christians alike.

You read the Bible and everything convicts you. Occasional emotional outbursts and temper-tantrums, overly self-indulgent shopping trips, big fat meals every night, little white lies everyday–all things that your mom or your best friends would excuse, all the things that society encourages–become to you what they really are in God’s eyes: sin. Sin, sin, sin.

Then God tells you to deal with this sin. He tells you to own up to it, ask forgiveness, and repent of it–which means you have to stop it, which means you have to stop other things that lead to it. Some of it is easy. And some of it is really difficult and you are forced to stop being proud and self-reliant. And you beg tearfully for God’s help.

Some days your heart is absolutely soaring on a Jesus high. And on those same days, you will have an anxiety attack from hell and you’ll want a drink so bad, and you can remember the smell, and the taste, and the feel of beer in your mouth. You will long for the buzz and the numbness it brings. You’ll cry because you know it is no good for you or for the people around you; and you’ll actually be so bold as to be mad at God for showing you the light.

Sometimes you will consumed with a sense of urgency, all kinds of on fire to tell your old friends or family about Jesus and how He works in your life these days. And when you do actually have time to talk with them, you chicken out and say a cussword or two just so they won’t think you’re one of those Crazy Christians.

Sometimes you will be overwhelmed with the desire to help the poor. And later on that afternoon, you will physically recoil at the sight of a homeless man on the street. You’ll purposefully retreat to your area of serenity, be it your room, or your house, neighborhood, or in my case–your entire town. But you’ll know it’s wrong, and that there’s still work to be done and there’s still people left to love.

And you will once again ask God for forgiveness, and direction, and courage.

And He actually gives it to you.

Along with patience. And hope. And joy. And love. More than you could dream of containing all at once in your own little human body.

And people who used to make you angry? They don’t make you so angry anymore.

And people who you used to avoid? You seek them out–and you find them.

And people who you never thought would want to talk about God with you? They bring up the Bible on their own.

And a wiser, older man calls you one day out of the blue to tell you a story that brings tears to your eyes and renews your hope and purpose.

And you attend a conference or you hear a radio sermon that tells you you’re not alone in your thinking.

Happy things are happier. Forgiveness is greater and love is deeper. Little blessing are huge deals. Everything has meaning and everyone has purpose. Life isn’t as terrible as you thought it was, and dying isn’t a scary thought anymore. The shedding of this earthly body, with all its shortcomings and mistakes; the leaving behind of this world, with all its pain and drama and uncertainty; and the being united with our loving Father in Heaven–that is how you view death now, and that is why it is exciting.

But during our time here, however long or short it may be, we are called to love God’s people; and since He created you and me and all the bazillion members of Earth’s population and He knows each hair on each person’s little head, I can only assume we are not to hold back with anyone. We’re not necessarily meant to be well-liked and popular in this world. We might not be meant to be comfortable and safe here. We’re definitely not meant to stay here at all.

I am so, so, glad–that no matter what happens to me here–Jesus has overcome this world. In this place I will struggle and my heart will break, and I will get so many things wrong. Oh, but because of Easter…the cross, the resurrection…we will see Him again.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33


Good-bye, Comfort Zone!

“It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name–modern slavery.”

–Barack Obama

People. I went to this thing last weekend–a conference/workshop, this… thing, if you will, about human trafficking. About oppression and injustice. About the poor. It was called Marked.

And I’m not sure how to act anymore.

The information I learned at Marked has been ricocheting around in my brain since Sunday afternoon:

  • 100,000 people are enslaved in the United States right now.
  • 17,500 new victims are trafficked into the United States every year – at minimum.
  • The United States is the 3rd largest nation where trafficked girls are brought into.
  • Every 8 seconds someone is sold into slavery.
  • Every 30 seconds, it’s a child.
  • The average cost of a slave today is $90.
  • It just so happens that Oklahoma City is big fat sex slavery central, being at the crossroads of giant interstates like I-35 and I-40 and all.

It’s just nucking futs–and these are just some basic boring statistics that I can handle thinking about right now since I can’t stomach the really hardcore facts about human trafficking, particularly prostitution.

I’ve got so many ideas and I can’t stop thinking about the poor children, the poor women; the lost souls, the hurting, the enslaved, the tortured, the unloved, and the forgotten. My heart more than hurts. It’s about to explode.

How could things like this be happening in this world, much less in my state…or 15 minutes down the road? How Could This Be Happening?

What kind of men pay for sex with women who are held against their will and drugged out of their minds? What kind of men pick up street walkers and take them to a back alley and beat the crap out of them? What kind of men look to innocent children to fulfill their perverted sexual desires? What kind of men prey upon young girls, emotionally manipulating them; isolating them from their families, and finally, tricking them or forcing them into a life of prostitution and violence?

Men like this really exist? Really? I am screaming that. I want to punch them in their nasty faces.

I know zero men like this. My dad is the kindest person on the face of this planet. My dad has such a happy voice and a willing heart and he was so protective and supportive of me and my sisters growing up. My husband is the same; when he talks to our daughters, every word out of his mouth is uplifting and spoken with love. He’d die a thousand deaths before he’d let any one of his children get hurt in those ways. We expect so much of our kids and for our kids. We know that they are beautiful, and loved, and that God has a special purpose in mind for each one of them.

And it carries over to all the children we know; those we teach at Sunday school, or coach in T-ball, softball, soccer…friends of our kids, kids of our friends. They are all precious in God’s sight, and in ours.

How could anyone hurt a child?

It’s hard for my thoughts to settle on anything except this: Human trafficking–let me not even go into how people in third world countries would kill for some clean drinking water while I sit here, complaining in my head because this computer chair has no seat cushion and I’m not allowed to bring apple juice into my husband’s office.

It would be easy to become discouraged and disgusted with myself. It would be easy to just stop thinking about the whole thing, for lack of knowledge of what to do, where to go, or how to help. But I have a feeling this is one of those times where God is saying “Jump.”

And thanks to the Marked OKC event, I’m not completely without direction. A group called No Boundaries International is heading up a ministry right in Oklahoma City–loving and helping girls trapped in prostitution, and the kids who live in the thick of it. I spoke to a lady Sunday about donating small toiletry items/artwork/art lessons/anything–and she was extremely receptive, so I hope to be in contact with them soon. Quick ideas that involve minimal participation on their part (since they’re busy actually ministering to hurting people and whatnot) include:

  • fundraising in the form of private painting parties, or maybe even one big blow-out painting party, where I walk people through a painting and the profit could go directly to Project Hope.
  • with their permission, auctioning off children’s art work at our 2nd Children’s Gallery Night.
  • donating a part of my Dustbowl Art Market sales (assuming I am accepted this year) to this charity.
  • donating an actual painting.
  • selling a specific painting.

And the list goes on. I’ve got a headache what with all the brain-storming but if anyone has more ideas I’d love to hear them. And I’m ending with a verse from the bible that gives me chills, because surely God is pressing me to action by burdening my heart like this.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

–James 2:14-19


If I Had No Loot

The early nineties were good to me. I was a super-spoiled tweenie-bopper livin’ it up in Naples, Italy. Observe this fly girl:

Word to your mother.

I chose to go with the side-braid because pimpin’ don’t take the 7th grade off. I look back on my junior high years with a certain amount of fondness. My life was so awesome. My parents were married and they bought me Birkenstock sandals, that I did wear with white socks. I had a walkman with which I played my bountiful collection of cassette tapes. My dad coached my softball team. My friends actually remained my friends despite the heinous clothes I consistently chose to wear on picture day. And surprisingly, no one ever picked on me.

Actually, that’s very surprising.

But life wouldn’t always be sunshine, happiness, and red cotton sailor shirts. I made a couple of poor choices in high school. By the time I was 19, I was unhappily married, with a 4-year-old little girl, living in a fire-ant-infested trailer in backwoods southern Georgia, selling my own plasma to help pay the bills.

Wow. That sounds pretty bad when I write it all down that way.

I didn’t want help. I didn’t want Mom and Dad to rescue me; I didn’t want to spend hours at Children and Family services waiting for WIC checks that I was ashamed to use in public. I didn’t want to admit that I had no clue how to have a successful marriage, or how to be the perfect parent. I was scared to sign up for college classes since high school with a kid had turned out to be not so awesome. I was scared to drive my car 3 miles down the highway for fear it would break down (this was before cell phones were common, people.)

I had a slight pride issue. I was clueless and naïve when it came to a lot of things. I was scared of failure and I was scared of life in general. I felt hopeless and depressed, and trapped. I do not get the warm fuzzies when I think back on those years. But who hasn’t been there before, or at least somewhere similar?

It’s funny how fast a person can go from being on top of the world to living in a van down by the river. Just one decision; just one day, one moment. Just one unfortunate happening and BAM! World rocked. My life has been full of ups and downs–I’m cautiously assuming it’s not even halfway done.

Though I’m grateful for those experiences, I’m even more grateful that they’re over. It’s hard not to completely block out those days. Sometimes I want to pretend certain things never happened, and that I am the person I am now sheerly by my own will power and stick-to-it-tiveness. But I know it’s not true.

I watch the news and I hear about the election. I see people evacuating from Hurricane Isaac. I see people not evacuating from Hurricane Isaac. I see long, ranting fowarded e-mails about the government, healthcare, and the poor. And something inside of me just doesn’t feel right when I read status updates from my very own friends and family members that say exactly these things: “WHY THE HELL SHOULD MY HARD-EARNED MONEY GO TO PAY FOR BROKE LAZY ASS PEOPLE ON WELFARE TO HAVE MORE BABIES THAN THEY KNOW HOW TO COUNT?!!!” or “HERE WE GO AGAIN, NATIONAL GUARD RESCUING PEOPLE FROM FLOODING. SERIOULSY JUST LEAVE THEM, IT’S CALLED CLEANING OUT THE GENE POOL!”

I wonder sometimes if we even hear ourselves.

A small part of me gets it slightly. But a bigger part of me knows that “my” “hard-earned money” is not, in fact, mine. I–by no means–“earned” anything that I have—and any thought to the contrary is just arrogance on my part. God gives us the ability to work. He gives us the muscles to move and the brain to learn. He gives us the patience and the tolerance to put up with jerks. He gives others the patience and tolerance to put up with us. God alone decides when to bless us and what to bless us with. We don’t swing our legs out of bed in the morning and walk unless He wills it. We don’t take another breath unless God says “Yeah, go ahead and live a couple more minutes.”

My money. My me-time. My health and well being. I do love me. But it’s not by my plan that I was born in the United States and raised by loving parents who showered me with privileges most kids in most countries can’t even imagine. It’s not by my doing that I have anything that I have. It’s not my fault I was never exposed to situations or put in positions that would lead to my buying a gun and slingin’ dope on the mean streets of Scranton.

You want to know what I think is a worse crime than an uneducated single mother accepting food stamps to feed her family of 5? It’s us darn college-graduate white women who have never known legitimate hardship, going into ridiculous debt because we just have to have granite countertops, swagger wagons, fresh mani-pedis and Coach purses. In the words of Tony! Toni! Tone’!, “if the shoe fits”….I want you to take it off and take it off now. It is a bad shoe.

What happens when we’ve over-extended ourselves financially and shit hits the fan in a massive way? Layoffs, health problems, etc. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to move on fairly quickly; in less than a year, our “crisis” will look like a little speed bump in our road to what we think is success.

But what about those families who are literally struggling in every sense of the word? A hurricane, an unplanned pregnancy, a car accident—these things could have a massive impact on the decisions they are forced to make and could alter the course of their lives entirely.

All my stuff? I should not be so proud. I have a duty as a follower of Jesus Christ to love and serve and care for and give to the poor and needy. In fact, it should be a great desire and pleasure to do so. Cue the bible:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ –Matthew 25: 34-40

Who are “the least of these”? They are people who are easy to love, and they’re also the people society loves to hate. They’re people we might sympathize with or care deeply about, but they could be people we avoid at all costs. Those people who didn’t evacuate: maybe they were scared to leave the only home they’ve ever known. Maybe health issues prevented them from traveling. Maybe their car wouldn’t make it 3 miles down the street without breaking down. (Been there.) Maybe they can’t hold down a job because they have serious battles with drug addiction, depression, bipolar disorder. (And also there.) They’ve got worries and responsibilities that we couldn’t dream up on our worst days, and vice-versa: they wouldn’t know sunshine, happiness and gum if it jumped up and bit them in the face.

And guess what? This college-educated white girl is not above any of it. How dare I pass judgment? How dare I so boldly declare what I will or will not do with “my” hard-earned money? How dare I not have compassion; how can I not help?

The problems in our country do not stem from one president, or from one political or religious group in particular. The problems in our country stem directly from our age-old mindset of pursuing personal happiness at any cost. Be what you want, do what you want. You’re never wrong and no one should ever tell you otherwise. Live the American Dream! Buy all the things. You should have them! You’re entitled!

We are some greedy mo-mo fo-fo’s.

I am Public Enemy Number 1: just a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle, that’s me. A sheep trying to separate herself from goats. There’s so much work to do. God demands it. And sure, there are those who do take advantage of the system, or of our kindness should we choose to offer it. But Jesus had an answer for that too:

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” –Matthew 13:24-30

The weeds? Not really my problem. If I put my focus on pulling them up, I risk uprooting and ruining precious wheat. The harvesters will do their job at harvest time. My part is to stick to the task at hand—planting seeds and tending to God’s work.

I haven’t rocked a side-braid since that fateful day in 7th grade (though 20 years later that hairstyle did catch fire like a freaking mockingjay!). My braces are off. I’m grown up, with 3 uber-beautiful children and a gorgeous husband who works what little ass he has off to support our family. I’ve been so many places and met so many people and seen so many things but I’m still pretty sheltered. I’ve got friends and enough possessions to choke a moose. (Is that a real saying or did my grandma just make that up?) I’m healthy and willing and able—but as far as loving and serving and not judging, I still have a long, long way to go. I look to God’s word for answers and guidance and inspiration—but just when I think I’m making progress, this passage always puts me in my place:

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. –Matthew 19:21-22

 

And don’t even get me started on the Beatitudes.

I’m pretty good at being proud and cocky. I think we all are, at times. My hope is that I can look past my own needs and desires to do what needs to be done. I want to love and serve Jesus by loving and serving the least. I want to do the hard work of planting and caring for God’s people. I want my abilities and possessions to advance the Kingdom of God—not to support my own agenda of living the American dream for the very short time I am allowed on this earth. I cannot be the only one: if this is truly the focus of every American that claims to love Jesus, just imagine what our world would be like.

Now that would be something to be proud of.


scary talk

Suppose I had 200 friends on facebook. For the sake of easy math, let’s just say 150 of those friends claim to be Christians. For the sake of easier math, let’s round out that 100 of those friends post anything remotely Jesus-ish on a regular basis. Would you assume that my newsfeed would be lit up with shiny happy faces proclaiming good news about Christ’s love? Forgiveness? Grace? Mercy? Hope? Kindness? Charity?

Not so much. I get to read on and on about how we, as Christians, should be hating homosexuals, Jews, Planned Parenthood, terrorists, homosexual terrorists, homosexual Jews, homosexual Jewish terrorists who support planned Parenthood, and of course, Obama.

And also communist China and Harry Potter.

3 facebook words: Hide all activity.

Let me tell you–there’s a bible verse in every single one of these posts to “rationalize” specific hatred. Does anyone else ever picture Jesus up in Heaven, slamming his forehead against the wall? Are we just not getting it? Because surely all this hating is not what we were supposed to be focused on. Is it? I highly doubt it.

Would it be unreasonable to think that for every 100 Christians there should be at least 100 poor, homeless people sleeping in a warm spot with a full belly? Or orphans being financially supported, or people being visited in jail? Or nursing homes? Why are there lonely rich people still drowing themselves in a bottle of wine every night? Why aren’t we as Christians hating on things like poverty and oppression and injustice instead of focusing our attention on things that should be left up to God to handle? 1. I am in no position to judge anyone. 2. If Obama is actually the anti-Christ, Christians should be getting totally excited, since our time here on Earth is coming to a fast end. Sweet! Right? Right?

I am no expert, but I think God wants us to be so much more than finger-pointing, whistle-blowing intolerant hatemongers. It hurts my heart to see some of my dearest friends posting things that seem so out of line with what our Jesus would be saying if he were on facebook or twitter. The church as a whole would be so much more effective if we were moved to actions filled with genuine love, even for our enemy. People would believe us when we say we follow Jesus Christ, and they’d stick around to find out more.

Just saying.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9

Jesus replied, ” ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. James 1: 19-22

For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. James 2:10

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12

God is constantly convicting me when it comes to the stunning lack of love and forgiveness in my own life. I don’t think Jesus commanded all that so we would have a nice sentiment to meditate on during Sunday morning service. He wasn’t all “Love your neighbor as yourself–SIKE!”jk

This is probably enough for one day. After reading that much verse, I feel like I just got punched in the mouf.


Crazy-Christian Ramble

It’s a cloudy autumn day, and we here at the house of Toni feel that it’s important to spoil the hell out of sick children. And that is why, when you walk up to our front door, you’ll hear the sound of gunfire and the cackling of a certain 3-year-old boy–a 3 year-old boy who’s been bent on going to the Dollar Store each. and every. day. since Caleb took him there one afternoon in a fit of fatherly love and pity.

“Yes, Merrick. I’ll take you to the Dollar Store and we’ll pick out a toy. A car. A motorcycle. Whatever you want.” And so now Merrick is obsessed with going “shopping with Dad.” This past week he’s had his heart set on some “soldier toy”. I had no idea what in the world he was talking about, so I did what any caring mother would do: I ignored him and told him he had tons of toys to play with and there was no way I was taking him to any Dollar Store and dropping money on fall-apart junk toys for no reason. But Caleb, being a sucker for kids with fevers, took Merrick on yet another man-outing and came back with said “soldier toy”: a gun set. Yay.

And so for the past couple days, Merrick has been bustin’ a cap in Noah’s head every 2 seconds, and the poor dog is about to lose his mind. I can see his face twitch and his body shrink everytime he gets shot. It’s like I can hear his thoughts: “Oh my God oh my God oh my God.” His life flashes before his eyes. But since Noah has wronged me one too many times, I will let the torture continue…for a little bit longer.

And this is now completely off the subject–or maybe, it’s right on the subject and all the other stuff was off–whatever. Who cares? Not me. But as I was trying to read my Bible today, in my early-morning stupor, I stumbled upon this passage:

2 Corinthians, chapter 2, verses 14-16: (14) But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ, and spreads through us in every place the scent of knowing Him. (15) For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. (16) To some we are a scent of death leading to death, but to others, a scent of life leading to life. And who is competent for this?

And, ok, I’m no theologian and I’m not even a deep thinker, but I let these words sink in. If I read that right, people who follow Jesus Christ are supposed to smell like Him. If I get past the hilarity of just that thought alone, I’ll realize that we’re supposed to ooze Jesus wherever we go–just spread Him all around. And God sees it from up there where He’s at. When we’re acting and thinking with the attitude of Christ, God’s happy because we’re doing exactly what we need to be doing. Here’s the 2nd part though: people on earth sense it, too, and they’ll take it one of two ways: as a scent of death leading to death, or as a scent of life leading to life. Seems pretty cut and dry, right? Some people will not take what we believe as good or even as acceptable. They’ll feel convicted, and threatened, and ultimately repelled. It’s just going to happen. But this passage ends on a good note: “…but to others, a scent of life leading to life.” God will use us to reach some people. That’s happy stuff right there. The situation isn’t hopeless, because there are those who will hear the message and be receptive to it.

I’ve been hearing/seeing/reading a lot lately about loving others and helping others and not judging others and reaching out to others–reaching out with the “good news of Salvation through Jesus Christ.” Even as I write it, it sounds hokey and crazy-Christian. The whole thing is still weird to me–I don’t know if it’s my Catholic upbringing or just my upbringing in general–but I wasn’t raised to talk about my spiritual well-being to anyone and everyone. And I certainly wasn’t taught to ask other people about theirs–because it was special and private. And it still is.

Evangelism plays an important part in the church I’ve been going to for the past 2 years, and I can’t say that I’m totally comfortable with it–not because I feel that it’s in anyway wrong, but probably more so because I’m scared of offending someone and getting yelled at by the someone I offended. “Do you know where you’re going when you die? Heaven? Is that right? Well, here are some reason why I think your assumptions are totally off-base. Mind if I change your name to ‘Satan-spawn’?” Perhaps that’s not the best way to approach the conversation.

Anyway, here’s the deal: it’s in the Bible that Jesus wanted folks to tell everyone about Him. When so-and-so hands you a pamphlet or leads your innocent chit-chat in a spiritually-intense direction, I hope they’re doing it out of obedience to God, and out of love for you. We are all pretty much morally-depraved sinning fools–but we don’t have to be stuck in that vicious cycle, and we don’t have to strive to be perfect in order to make up for it. Jesus did the work and He paid the price–and that’s what “the good news” is really all about. I might still have trouble verbalizing it, but I can darn sure write about it.

The entire Bible is full of direction and encouragement straight from God; I tend to think maybe He had a reason for putting certain things in there. But you can follow each and every rule down to the tiniest detail and still not be doing God any favors. Without faith, without that heart-felt belief, without that relationship, without that genuine love for God and without the sense that we desperately need His mercy and salvation–what are we doing? Why are we even trying? We’ll live “good” lives, but without God, it’s all for nothing. Without God, we came from pondscum and turned into monkeys, and the whole world exists for no reason whatsoever and if that’s the case than I can be a murderous whore-monger without consequense because I answer to no one but my damn self.

That’s crazy talk. Of course there’s a God, and He loves us. And since He created the entire universe, that makes us humans ridiculously measly in comparison. Our “good works” could be considered laughable in the grand scheme of things. God offers salvation through his son Jesus Christ–even though we are so unworthy.

Tying back into 2 Corinthians, people will hear that message and either reject it or embrace it. My job as a Christian is to not go into hysterics when someone disagrees with all or even part of it. I would love for God to use me to reach people. Maybe God will use me to start the fire, another person to fan the fire, and yet another person to further feed the fire. I will not take it as a personal insult when I get no response. Jesus does the saving, not me. I am so thankful that God is loving and caring and forgiving and Holy. He knows who is ready for what–He has plans that are far beyond our comprehension.

And because I could go on and on, and because I’m not exactly sure how to wrap this up, I’ll end with thanking God for taking the burden of sin away. I am so thankful for a God that is powerful and amazing enough to create the world, and everything in it–yet He knows lowly little me, personally, and he knows everything about me, and He pursues me, and that He still loves me despite everything I’ve done or thought in my life. What kind of crazy mess is that?

It’s an awesome crazy mess. Thank you, God.


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