My Declaration


There have been more than a few heated debates in the last week or two regarding some controversial issues in the Christian community. Instead of diving into the mess once again on this blog, I’d like to instead focus this Easter season on the redeeming power of the blood of Christ and how it lavishes grace upon grace to save us repeatedly as we fall time and time again in our walks with the Lord.  Maybe these people who have such strong opinions against one or two sins in particular have never struggled with anything. Maybe they just can’t admit it.  I know I’ve fallen from grace many times in many areas. My life has fallen very, very short of glorifying God at different low points. I’ve struggled sexually, I’ve struggled with my mouth, I’ve struggled with being merciful, I’ve struggled with depression, I’ve struggled with indulgences of various forms and the list could sadly go on and on.  My life has not always exemplified that of a Christian lifestyle.  I struggle, I repent, I fall again, I repent, the cycle takes a while to work its way through my life and my heart and as scripture declares, I “work out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling,” Philippians 2:12 and I do that, over and over again until I eventually gain victory through Christ’s blood in a specific area.

 In the spirit of our Risen Lord I’ve written out a few declarations that I seek to apply in how I relate to the world, my life, and my faith.  
1.     I  believe that all men and women fall short of the glory of God
2.     I believe that God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son.
3.     I believe that scripture is God inspired, God breathed, and very often misinterpreted or taken out of context by the years spanning its original text or our own human nature seeking to bend it to our religious ideas. 
4.     I believe that many people grow up with a certain set of beliefs that they hold steadfastly to but never actually research the origins or the premises for themselves.
5.     I  believe that we are born sinful
6.     I believe that God, not some evolutionary force, created this earth and everything that walks upon it, and I believe that when he was finished he looked upon ALL of his completed product and declared, “It is good.” 
7.     I believe that Jesus Christ came in the flesh to humanity.  I believe that he was born of a virgin, and I believed that he lived among us in all of our messiness.  I believe that he struggled with some of the same things we struggle with yet remained blameless and without sin.  I believe that he extended hope to the hopeless, beauty for ashes, joy for those who mourn, grace for all mankind, and redemption towards any and all that would call upon the name of the Lord to be saved.  I believe that he was crucified, dead, and buried, and I believe that immediately upon his last breath, he shot straight into the kingdom of hell, cornered the evil one, and with one swift move demolished him and took back life, liberty and freedom for all who would believe.    I believe that through his resurrection power, he not only released those who were held captive, but he gave them a new name and a new destiny  and he started a glorious march out of the pit of hell, toppling the evil one’s demonic forces with the blood of the redeemed dripping off of his hem.  I believe that Jesus Christ, King of the universe, arose on the third day with all of death, hell, and the grave bound up in his grip and I believe that through his victory over the grave, all mankind, young and old, rich or poor, all races, tribes and creeds have the same redemption power and victory available if they would just, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  I believe that he is coming back one day very soon and I believe that our time is shorter than we may choose to acknowledge.  I believe that it is my job and your job to meet people right in all the dirty, icky, murk of this life and show them through our lives and our actions the glory and redeeming power of someone just waiting to be their Lord and Savior.    I believe that it is through Christ’s sacrifice and only through his sacrifice that we have life and redemption and that we can be called sons and daughters of the most high God, and I believe that we will one day be seated in Heavenly places with him to rule and reign throughout all of eternity.  Until Christ returns or until I breathe my last, I believe that I will do by part to the best of my ability in showing the love that saved my soul from a lifetime of imprisonment, hell, and damnation, but in the meantime, I have a race to run and a life to live!  Glorious Redemption Day, hallelujah!! 
     
      JUST KEEP LIVIN!!!

Mr. Bell’s Playboy Mansion

I was out the other day and found myself in a conversation with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time.  He mentioned that he enjoyed catching up with my life through the blog, and I sheepishly remarked, “Well, you might not enjoy it so much after today.” He laughed and asked why to which I responded, “I’m writing about Rob Bell’s big statement.” I think he assumed that we would probably have a similar opinion on this controversial man having grown up in the same church, and he felt comfortable going there and digressing a bit on his personal thoughts surrounding this very popular pastor.  We did share the same opinion on many of the issues but there were a few choice words from the conversation that caused the wheels in my brain to start chugging out some thoughts –   

“It’s like Rob Bell’s church is full of all the people who went to the bar the night before and showed up for church in the morning – like they can just play church on Sunday and they don’t have to be Christians the rest of the week.”  
First, those with that opinion I would ask, have you been to Rob Bell’s church? And second, why is this a problem?  I ask this sincerely.  Because I am ALL for love the sinner hate the sin but where is the line?  I went to this church for about 4 years and his goal, the church’s goal, was to attract those people who would have never set foot in a church before.  They were not after the perfect church crowd; those with the pretty dresses and slicked back hair, who knew all the proper Christian catch phrases and could sing along with the popular Christian songs of the day.  They were not after the “I’M BLESSED” crowd; they were after the “I am at a point in my life where if someone doesn’t throw me a legitimate lifeline, I’m going to hang myself with the nearest rope I can find” and it often showed.  Walking into those church doors you saw piercings, you saw green mohawks, you saw Caucasians and African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, you saw girls with skirts that came way above the knee and boys with their pants hanging low, and you saw, what one would assume to be, homosexual couples.  You saw people who you would not normally see in a church and for some reason they felt comfortable about trying out this church; here they felt like they would not be judged for not looking very traditionally churchy.   

Generally the people who attended Mars Hill embraced this philosophy of welcoming one and all, and we recognized that if we were going to be a part of this church we needed to be not only okay with running into people who were very different from ourselves but we also needed to accept our responsibility to be Jesus to these people, wherever they were in life, just as Jesus would have done.  
In contrast, if a homosexual couple showed up in the majority of churches around America, searching for answers, searching for meaning in life, searching for a Savior, I would dare say most congregations would probably not act very favorably towards them.   But…. if Mrs. Smith shows up every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night catechism with an overflowing bag full of gossipy goodies to share with the whole congregation, how does the church family treat her?  Mrs. Smith who would consider herself a lifelong Christian – the homosexual man who is searching – I’m not sure where exactly the line is.  I struggle lately with this.  When are we condoning the sin?  What if the homosexual accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior and then continues in his lifestyle?  What if his reasoning is, “Well, Mrs. Smith is a Christian and she gossips and slanders more than anyone I’ve ever met and no one has kicked her out of the church.” And for an interesting comparison, God speaks about the tongue in the Bible 129 times – mostly in reference to taming it.  Mentions of homosexuality are an iffy 12.  Iffy because it is often unclear as to whether or not the verse is in reference to all sexual immorality or to catamites (young boys used for sexual relations with a man) or a male prostitute in general.  And it becomes especially iffy as we enter the New Testament, but I won’t go into all of that right now.  If anyone is interested in digging deeper into this topic this is a good link to check out. http://www.christianbiblereference.org/faq_homosexuality.htm

I think most can agree that churches are for the lost and hurting but as the church we so often adopt this, “It’s not fair” sort of attitude towards those who still struggle with activities that we deem as sinful.  We judge harshly those who show up in our churches not quite as perfect as we’d like them to be, and we are hard on those who haven’t quite gotten there yet in terms of holiness. WE gave up all of the fun stuff to be a Christian and we view our reward for giving up the “fun stuff”, drinking, smoking, dancing, green hair, longer hems, etc – we gave it all up for the respectful Christian life and the eternal reward of a mansion in Heaven, right?  A mansion without any green haired, homosexual prostitutes living next door to us.  This life isn’t supposed to be fun; this life is supposed to be spent in serving, doing good, putting on our happy faces and pretending like everything is always absolutely blessed and right side up, right?  Is that how Jesus portrayed his earthly ministry?  Was everything always so neat, and tidy, and perfect?  I don’t think so.  Just glancing at the lineage of Christ seen in Matthew 1:5-6 we see that his ancestors portrayed people that might be found in Rob Bell’s church more so than most of the other churches around our sleepy, little American towns.  

Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

Rahab was a prostitute, Ruth was a desperate Moabite widow who, in my opinion, turned on the charm in a wheat field to attract a new man, (been there, done that) and King David, although a man after God’s own heart, had a bit of a Tiger Woods complex when it came to lusting after beautiful women, not to mention a little bit of a malicious streak that would come out as he conquered nation upon nation. 

Historically the church has gotten extremely hung up on particular sins, homosexuality specifically, while often ignoring those sins that its own people tend to struggle in. I was one of these people.  I was ultra conservative until a few years ago.  I truly knew that I had it all figured out, speak it and believe it, knew all the verses on obeying and receiving the blessings, 

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lordyour God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God,”

The prayer of Jabez, “Oh Lord, enlarge my territory and bless me!” and then something happened.  My speak it and believe it and my declarations of “bless me oh Lord” didn’t pan out the way that I thought God had promised it would in his word.  My son was born severally handicapped and my late husband died, and I had four kids to raise by myself.   That’s not the way I had interpreted what the Word said about those who had faith.  I believed that, “Whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him” Mark 11:23.   I was forced to reexamine some things, I had a few questions, and I wasn’t letting God off the hook until I had some answers. I started to look inwardly at the box that I, and my upbringing, had created around the God of the Universe.  I still have many questions and I have few answers, but I am looking into it for myself and not necessarily just taking everything at face value that I’ve ever been taught by religion or the church.  Historically the church has been mistaken a time or two; they at one point could be found defending slavery and using the Bible as its biggest defense weapon – food for thought.

Right now as a family we are learning about fruit and how to be more fruitful towards one another.  The most fruitful family member at the end of the month gets a goody bag full of prizes.  These verses seem especially applicable in light of the controversy surrounding Rob Bell. 

“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?”  Matthew 7:16

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

May we all bear as much fruit as we possibly can wherever we are in life.  
Just keep livin!!

Rob Bell, You Stinker….

 

These past few days aren’t exactly putting my former pastor Rob Bell in the running for any popularity contests amongst most evangelical Christian circles.  In fact, while meandering around the Facebook scene or any worldwide internet search for that matter, it almost appears as if he’s been thrown a cross to carry, headed up the hill of Golgotha, and the righteous leaders of the day are looking on in stoic determination and smug pleasure.   Granted, he has taken a rather liberal/light footed stance on the issue of gay marriage while also saying that our traditional Christian beliefs are often archaic in nature and not always relevant or applicable in light of the 21st century.  

 
He said, and I quote, “I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs — I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.” 
 
I personally don’t take this statement as a glaring declaration of his absolute belief that homosexuals should marry; in fact, I don’t really think this statement is ultimately about that at all, and he’s chuckling as people become so wrapped up in the idea that he is for gay marriage.   I think, as it is with most statements attached to Rob Bell, there is an element of suspense and layers to unfold as he dances around what the issue really is. He is for marriage.  He is for fidelity, He is for Love, (Everything God is and encompasses is Love, so that works for most of us, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” John 3:16 ). He’s for love between men and woman and then comes these words, 
 
A woman and a woman, a man and a man.
 
Oh my – this is where the evangelical church is about to stone Rob Bell, these 9 little words, “a woman and a woman, a man and a man.” Is Rob Bell saying that women can love each other and men can love each other?  Because that is Biblical in a love sense at least.  I have many women whom I love and many men have deep, loving relationships with other men, or is he actually saying here that a woman and a woman and a man and a man can have an intimate loving relationship that may lead to marriage?   Again, I think the statement is hidden in layers, not saying specifically what Rob Bell believes because I don’t think that is the intended underlying message of his words in the first place. As we read further into this we get to the last sentence in which he says,
 
 I think this is the world we are living in”
 
Yes, I would agree, there is no denying that this is our reality in the 21stcentury. We have women in intimate marital relationships with other women, and we have men in intimate marital relationships with other men – that is the reality of our life whether we want to hide under a nice, cozy, evangelical rock and pretend like it doesn’t exist or we want to own up to the fact that this is happening here in our culture, just like abortions are happening, child slavery is happening, and people are dying all over this continent because of starvation; it’s all happening, period.  
 
“We need to affirm people wherever they are.” 
 
This is the key, the true guts of what he is saying; the heart of his message – in my opinion.  This was the heart of Christ’s entire earthly ministry.  He did not go about advocating specific lifestyles; working mothers versus stay at home mothers, blue collar workers versus white collar workers, those who drink alcohol, those who don’t, smokers versus quitters, those who are unequally yoked together with unbelievers and those who aren’t, those husband and wives who don’t fulfill their sexual duties to their spouses (ouch….) “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband” I Cor 7:3, versus those who have a rockin sex life in their marriages and those who love the same gender and those who love opposite genders. Christ, God of the Universe, did have an opinion on this stuff but these sins, these lifestyles choices, were not the focus of his ministry; nor should they be the focus of our ministry as evangelical Christians reaching out to a lost and hurting world.  
 
Christ did not focus on STUFF.  Christ focused his ministry on meeting people precisely where they were in whatever situation or emotional state they were in, and he loved them.  He met the Samaritan woman at the well, he met the blind man at the pool of Siloam, and he met the disabled man at the pool in Jerusalem.  His first recorded miracle at the wedding of Cana shows him meeting the people right in the middle of their need, and if we’re honest, it’s not only kind of a silly need but it’s also kind of a sinful need to most church theologies.  In other words, the party goers needed someone to make an alcohol run.  These people were having a party; a big, ol, inebriated, days and nights of drunken bliss and hangovers sort of shin dig and they ran out of wine and Christ met them in the middle of that need. He cared so much about their need that he didn’t make some cheap, $10 box of Franzia wine to meet the need, instead he made the equivalent of an  Italian vintage wine causing the master of the banquet to proclaim to the Bridegroom, “You have saved the best till now!” John 2:10. Huh……???
 
 I wonder if the same crucifiers of Rob Bell would have been able to handle a party like this?  Or would it have made them so uncomfortable with the obvious sinful nature of it all with the wine and the dancing and the celebrating that they would have balked on out of there rolling their eyes in religious disgust and dismay at such outlandish behavior.  
 
Would you have been able to hang with Jesus and the bros?  Or would the discomfort have been too much for your religious piety?   Would you have been the one handing out tracts to the party goers as they left outlining the steps towards accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? Would you have handed Jesus Christ a tract?   Would you have been too uncomfortable to be where Jesus was?  John Eldredge, author of Beautiful Outlaw says, “If you can’t take your church culture and language and drop it in the middle of a bar or a bus and have it make winsome sense to the people there, then it’s not from Jesus. Because that is exactly what he would do.  That’s what made him the real deal.” 
Rob Bell often reminds me of someone else I know, someone who instead of answering the accusations of the religious leaders of his days could be found drawing in the sand with a quiet proclamation of, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone” John 8:7.  Rob Bell may have impure motives.  Rob Bell may be following exactly what his Lord asked of him and that is to meet everyone right where they are.  To meet the lesbian in her lesbian marriage, the wrung out coke addict on the street corner shaking and cold as he comes down from a high, the drunkard, smack dab in the middle of a bar in all his desperately drunk and needy state, the beautiful homecoming queen at the mall as she’s picking out a dress for her painfully thin, anorexic body that never looks good enough in her eyes, or the Bible thumping evangelical in his Perry Ellis suit and tie, perfectly pressed and put together in his heterosexual marriage and two kids, yet yearning for something resembling a relationship with the God he rants and raves about.    Why can’t we all be where Jesus is, right in the middle of the action, right in the middle of the desperation, right in the middle of the gay community, right in the middle of the wedding at Cana?   
 
Who will reach people with hate?  Jesus met the centurion on the road, he met Peter in the middle of lake, and he met the disciples on the beach after his resurrection.  Jesus drops his divinity and his Lordship right in the middle of our needs – always. Wouldn’t it make sense then if we are becoming more and more like him to do as he does and meet people right in the middle of where they are?
Jesus came to abolish the law, not to create law upon law upon law that no one can possibly live up under.  If we are going after gay marriage than we, as believers, need to attack so many other things with just as much vigor.  Slander, gossip, strife, those who are unequally yoked together in marriage, our teens involved in sex outside of marriage (yes, even the actions that aren’t penetrating in nature; although I know the “good” kids slide on that one quite often) wives who withhold sexual affection from their husbands, husbands who treat their wives like slaves, those who wear earrings and display tattoos (the Old Testament is allowed, correct?) My point is, the endless list of can’s and can nots will not end.  We are saved by the unmerited, undeserved, and unwarranted grace of Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. 
 
That, 
 
to me,
 
 is Rob Bell’s point.  
 
Meet people exactly where they are, don’t point fingers unless you want someone pointing fingers at your life, and remember, that it is through Christ’s blood and blood alone that we ALL have access to the Heavenly Father.
 
Just keep livin!!
 

Graffiti in Rome, Paris, and Barcelona


I’ve been to Rome.  It’s a beautiful city full of culture, history, and graffiti.  I suppose that’s what you get with an older city; the beauty, the history, and the marks of many lives well lived with feast and famine, death and life, sorrow and joy all within its boundaries.  On the other hand, I’ve always wanted to go to Paris.  My husband has been there and has promised that we will go to Paris together someday.  He assures me that we will love it because of the history, the romance, and of course, the fantastic wine and pastries they are known to produce. I’ve envisioned our vacation; a castle stay overlooking a beautiful vineyard, midnight strolls down cobblestone roads, chocolate pastries in the morning, champagne in the evenings, ahhhh Paris, the city of love.   He also tells me that although Paris is beautiful and full of culture and history, it too has an ugly side produced from centuries of lives well lived within its walls, death and life, feast and famine, sorrow and joys; just like Rome.  

I recently submitted a first draft copy of a manuscript I’ve been working on for over eight years to a few friends for some honest feedback.  The story begins with my pregnancy with Luke and it has evolved into a story of healings.  A healing for Luke, a healing for my late husband, and a healing for myself – none obviously holding with the traditional limited view of healing that our frail human minds often think of.  At the end of the story I give my perspective on what it’s like being a mother of a special needs child.  
                It’s like saving your whole life for a dream trip to Paris.  You’re so excited, you buy the ticket, you plan all of your activities and excursions, you map out the best hotels and places to eat and finally the day arrives.  You check in, board the plane, sit on the plane for hours on end and then the plane finally lands but there’s been a huge mistake!  Instead of landing in Paris, you land in Rome! What do you do?  You planned for Paris, Paris is your dream, Paris is where you had your heart set on going.  You don’t know anything about Rome or what to do in Rome or where to stay or eat in Rome but you decide to, in spite of your disappointment, make the best of a bad situation and begin your vacation in Rome.  After a few days you realize that Rome is not Paris but Rome has a beauty all of its own. Sights, sounds and traditions that make it lovely and magical and it’s a spectacular vacation in its own right.  It’s the same with the special children that God gives us here on earth.  At first the news brings devastation because it’s not Paris, it’s not the “normal” healthy child that everyone wants and what it seems like everyone else is blessed with, it’s different than what we plan for in our lives, but in the end we realize that Rome and these kids can be just as beautiful and fulfilling as Paris or a normal child.  It’s all on the same continent; just in different cities.  
I’ve been thinking about this analogy lately and how it can apply to so many situations in life.  As a little girl I dreamed of the perfect nuclear family.   I would meet prince charming and marry him and we would live in our dream house with the white picket fence and raise chickens and lots of babies.  I was completely and totally on track with that plan until 2004 with the news that I was carrying a very special baby, Luke, and then again in 2007 when my late husband was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and passed away three years later. I planned for Rome because Rome seemed to be so perfect and beautiful and so full of promise.  I planned and planned and planned and God sent me straight on a plane for Barcelona.  I am now in a blended family with 7 children of which none is a mixture of mine and my husband’s gene pool. I sold my dream house with the picket fence and never looked back. I’ve found, in the process, that although I planned my whole life for Rome, the perfect family, the perfect house, the perfect job, and the perfect picket fence, that Rome was just not meant to be my forever.  It was a short term vacation, filled with feasting and famine, death and life, sorrow and joy. Rome had loads of beauty but it had its fair share of graffiti as well.   Now I’m in an unknown city, the city of Barcelona, and as I walk through it my heart is enraptured by the beauty and the newness that I see and as I get past the cleaned up tourist areas I’m surprised to discover that Barcelona has some graffiti as well. It is also a life of stretching; pain and growth, sorrow and joy.  Barcelona just has graffiti in a different language, a blended family language, a new marriage language, a grief language; but the graffiti is there nonetheless for the growth, stretching, and joy of becoming more and more Christ like.  I think we all find ourselves yearning for our Romes, our childhood fantasies, the days before divorce or death or suffering and when our immaturities ruled our hearts and minds.  But we don’t grow in immaturity, we don’t become more and more like Him in our immaturity, we need to get down in the graffiti of it all and trust that He will send us to whichever city he sees fit for our lives in whatever particular situation we are in. 
“This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” Ephesians 4:13
Someday, hopefully soon, I’ll get to truly experience Paris, Rome, or Barcelona but in the meantime I’ll enjoy my own little life of romance, love, and graffiti right here in my own backyard.   
Just keep livin!!