Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Silence and Fasting

In this lent season, I've been making sure I stay in tune with the Spirit and seek more of God and less of me.  That's what fasting has been showing me lately. If I want to successfully make it out of theses 40 days I have to think beyond myself and my desires.  Seeking community and reconciliation in the Church as a whole.  Not with just my Church but the body of Christ as a Whole.

This is harder said than done.  This seemingly minuet task takes a lot of pride out of me and humbles me greatly.  And I basically have to keep my mouth shut which is apparently REALLY hard for me to do.  And I'm just now discovering that I have a blazon tongue?  Why is it sooo hard for me to hold my tongue?

So often we take for granted that the power of Life and Death are in our tongue.  Think about that for a moment.  If I speak to anyone with my tongue I have the opportunity right there to decide if I want to speak Life into them or Death.  And as a Christian, I represent so much more when I speak to someone.  I represent not only myself as a believer but the Church as a whole.  That's A LOT of responsibility on these loose lips and not all the time do I have the full church in mind when I speak.

Well most of the time I have MY intentions in the forefront whether I'm aware of it or not.  And my favorite part about speaking with MY intentions is I LOVE to dress it up and call it NOT my intentions and God's intention.  And this hits hard for me.  I think of the passages in the bible about the tongue and now thanks to that Holy Spirit that unquenchingly shines lights in my dark areas writes me so eloquently into these passages:

But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. James 3.8

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. Proverbs 21:23

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Eph. 4:29

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. James 1:26

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19

Yikes, that's some serious words to swallow and it is VERY easy to write myself out of these verses and insert others but I'm not benefiting anyone or anything if I don't look at myself.  We HAVE to learn to bridle our tongues.  I HAVE to learn to bridle my own tongue.  Meditate on those verses for a little while.  Let them into your heart and speak to you.  They are not easy but they are life giving.

How? Because they level us all and help us ALL realize we fall short.  So many times we speak these humble thoughts but fail to believe them in our hearts.  I looked up the definition of corrupt because I wanted to be certain that I wasn't saying corrupt things because sometimes we can speak underhanded things and be blind to our lies we tell ourselves that we are doing good. 

Corruption means:guilty of dishonest practices, as bribery; lacking integrity; crooked:
a corrupt judge.
debased in character; depraved; perverted;wicked; evil:
a corrupt society.
made inferior by errors or alterations, as a text.
infected; tainted.
decayed; putrid.

I hate to break it to you but we're all corrupt judges. Yep. Because we're still sinners in need of God's Grace in our own lives, having to renew it everyday. Leaning into God's Grace we learn to have patience with others like God has had patience with us. We're hurtled into this crazy life and handed a script and told to read those lines until we meet Jesus and he tells us to go counter to that script. No wonder we fight it so much to push our will on God and others. Only OUR will will keep us far far away from God because he's already setting out to do what he intends to do. Which is reconciling the world to His goodness.

Now we can get on that train because that train is leaving the station with or without us or we could wait around keep looking for Jesus in all the places WE think he's going to come. Which most of the time we think he's going to be glorified in our religious settings. Reminds me of King Samuel and how he wanted to build God a big Temple with gold and all this fancy stuff. God was pleased with him but it wasn't for all the fancy stuff it was because their hearts earnestly sought after Him. He tells them he will stay with them if they humble themselves and Obviously God isn't concerned with the "dressing up" as he is with the heart or else he would've had Jesus born into a more wealthy family and more spectacular throne.

Only he was born in a manger and his throne on Earth was the cross. He WAS counter script to everything we think he was and STILL IS, even to us believers sometimes because we still struggle with the ways of the world. They keep telling you to take matters into your own hands and not trust God but God is asking us to just do our 2 little commands about loving God and people and he'll do the rest. Gulp, are you sure Lord? You sure you don't need my guidance in this situation? Looks pretty satirical here but we know we just have a hard time trusting Him so much. He only wants to use us through love. And being used of Love is seeking Justice and Mercy for those around us. That's when we are most like Christ. Not when we're opening our mouths but shutting them and being his hands and feet. I think Francis of Assisi sums it up in one sentence: "Preach the gospel at all times

and when necessary use words."

So when your fasting for Lent this year, remember your brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.  Remember the unity among your fastings and the places the Lord wants to take you as a whole.  We can only see those places when we lean less on ourselves and more on Him to meet our needs.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My Conversion, Growing Up Pentecostal & Embracing Those Things that Make Me a Misfit.

Hands clutched, griping the pew in front of me.  My lips are parched, I need something to drink.  It's sweaty in my shirt and I've been at church for hours and it's almost midnight.  I'm 14 and I've just come back from Winterfest youth group trip in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Like, literally just got back that evening and of course in all our youth group's new found zeal for the Lord from the weekend of church services set in a big coliseum, we had to go tell our home church what had happened to us.

And something did happen to me. That little hard-hearted, resistant newly teen girl had softened her heart that weekend and did something that would change her for the rest of her life.  She asked Jesus into her heart and different from all the other times she had already asked Him, this time it felt different.  She believed it, so much so that she felt the moving in her heart to forgive her absent father.  And also the heartthrob crush beside her who loved Jesus too, sure helped move her along in her Faith.   (Yes, I'm talking about Randall.)

But anyways this story takes place at my little home town church in Lincolnton.  I grew up Pentecostal and as soon as I could leave for college, I left that description of my life behind.  I was tired of being a misfit.  People just don't know how to take you when you say you grew up pentecostal.  "Oh, you play with snakes?"  "Did you have to have long hair, no make-up, and wear long skirts?" "Ya'll go to that crazy church where they run the aisles?" "Oh you grew up at one of those tongue speaking churches?"  (well, they might have got the last two right.)

Now headed into my 30's, you get to a place in your life where you just embrace your background and heritage and say "Yep that was me."  And had it not been for Jonathan Martin at Renovatus with his openminded forgiving stance on every human being and on being raised in the Church of God, I might have never been able to embrace it again.  I've even embraced being a misfit again.  It just feels right like it's a tattoo I've always had but just now getting comfortable enough to show every now and then.  And yet here I am about to disclose one of the most secret but most influential moments in church that had ever happened to me and it happened that cold night in March after that youth group trip…

After our Winterfest trips, we youth still high on the Spirit and the atmosphere of worshipping for a weekend straight with thousands of other pentecostal youth groups, so you know it was a crazy adrenaline filled spiritual weekend.  We wanted Jesus. I'm not sure we knew what Jesus entailed back then besides an idea of pleasing Him by giving up things we found appealing i.e. cussing, secular music, piercings and  always came back all fired up  and ready to save the world.  In our traditions we have to get up and say what God did for us and give our testimonies when we returned to church that night.  For someone as introverted and insecure as an unsure young girl this part was always terrifying to me.  One at a time, we go up there and are handed a mike and tell something that we learned from God that weekend.  What happened next that night, was so paralyzing I can't even remember if I even gave a testimony that evening.

A young guy in his twenties came down, maybe he was moved by our "preachings"?  I'm not really sure, all I know is from what I saw and he came down to the altar that night and something took over him.  I didn't notice, until there were lots of men praying for him and then they had to hold him down as he spat words that weren't from his voice and facial expressions that weren't normal for humans to make.  Foam coming from his mouth.  I swear there were 10 men holding him down and they were struggling…

You could say what you want about this experience in my life maybe even have a psychological profile  picked out about what happened to this man and why he was doing what he was doing. But until you've experienced something like this, you can't know or feel what your spirit tells you, it is.  And that night, on all accounts a terrifying scene, that little 14 year old girl was not afraid.  And maybe that was just as much a miracle in itself. Not one ounce of fear in her.  And I'm not a brave person, actually I am very scared of vomiting and rollar coasters and after that night, demons.  I had nightmares about the dark side after that night.  To me, all the other times of talking about Jesus and God and Satan and Demons sounded plausible but that night it seemed it scarily close and it changed me forever.

I consider that weekend, the weekend I got saved.  And maybe I was saved before that, for many times I had said the sinner's prayer but after that night.  I believed it. Definitely believed it.  I couldn't deny the realization of that night.  My friends in my youth group, we're all still friends and we all still remember that night.  We don't talk about it much, though.  Sometimes we wonder if were crazy for witnessing that.  The next day at school, I told people, I've always been an open book lol.  They looked at me like I was insane.  People who never really talked to me came up to me and asked about what happened.  And somehow the misfitness always deepens when I'm just speaking truth to people.  They do and they don't want to hear it but I told them anyways.  And, obviously, I'll still tell people to this day.  Most of the time they will cut me short or say it didn't really happen.  But I'm kinda glad it did happen and to this day I'm still learning things about that night.

Like lately, after having a discussion with my former youth pastor that was my youth pastor back then.  We were talking about Spiritual Authority and calling out sin in love and it got me thinking.  When can I feel worthy to do that, I just don't sometimes.  And I started thinking about my daughter and how I mentioned that I definitely have Spiritual Authority over her to tell her what's right and wrong.  How do I have that confidence?

And it took me back to that night.  That night were we sat for hours and we prayed, rebuked, prayed, spat bible verses at those things in that guy and it just didn't work.  They wouldn't leave him.  We didn't have the power to do it.  But someone did that night, it was his mother.  She went to pray and lay hands on him and they left him, quickly within minutes.  He was made whole.  It got me thinking.  Can Love as powerful as a mother's love be the key to Spiritual Authority?

Now that I'm a mother, I've experienced that Love that just aches my bones when I think of my daughter.  The kind of Love that I would easily die for to protect her.  Could I manifest that love onto other people?  It comes naturally for her, but let's be honest, it doesn't come naturally for others.  Sure I say I love people, but a lot of times, I'd rather put my head in the sand when it comes to other's sufferings and keep living my Me centered rat raced, making money to survive way of life.

I think this Love is not found in us like that for others.  You could say you have that love for everyone all day but the only key center point to witnessing a life where someone does that is Jesus.  I think that's why Jesus just won't go away.  Two thousand years later, were still trying to make sense of what he did and what he was trying to tell us.  We still have a hard time believing it, or believing that we could do the same.  Could we tap into a love for our enemies, people we are indifferent too, and love them like our children?

I think we could.  I think it's crucial if Christianity wants to survive. They are not going to take us serious, the pointing out of other's sin and not backing it up with the kind of love that we would be willing to die for people.  Serving them before we serve ourselves.  That's the key component to taking up your cross daily.  It's humbling ourselves and seeking God for what he wants us to do for others.  It's seeking the beauty of God and finding him in the lowliest of us sinners.  Coming to the table with them and just loving them where they are.  Like they are our children and it's our job and joy to serve them.  I think that's the key to slaying the Enemy and being a Spiritual Warrior. Less of us and more of Him.

Facing ourselves and realizing "saved" or not, we become a part of the problem more so than the solution.  We could point out other's problems/sins all day, and the rest of the world loves to partake in that just as much.  But were called to be more than that.  We're called to be Lights, to be known by our Love by our Fruits.  That what Jesus said, will make us different from the world.

I am not perfected in this yet.  But I will always make sure that Love is at the center of my life, my ideologies and theology.  I have to remind myself everyday of this.  If it's not, if it's more about what I oppose than what I love, I should probably go back and recalculate because I'm sure I've missed a big calculation and put myself in the equation somewhere.  Let's pick back up our Spiritual Authority by loving others unconditionally!!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Love Wins Even in the Face of the Beast. (Confessions of a recovering Cynic)

"…and this is the evil world you will have to raise your daughter in."  I just heard this yesterday as it was followed by a story about how terrible this world has come to. My heart sank, I hate being reminded about this but I retorted quickly: "I'm not believing that for her, or for me." I've believed this "truth" at one time too.  I've said this statement, myself. At one point I thought also this world was spiraling into a dark abyss and there was no hope for our future as our sins take up residents right along side our offspring…..

I disagree now.  Although this false doctrine is sold to us everywhere we go: TV, radio, churches, well-meaning relatives and friends, we have to believe different, we have to hope for different. And we have to fight this false truth with love, or  the results of this evil could take residence in our hearts and we will suffer the same sickness from it. The sickness of being cynical.

I know there IS evil out there, there's no denying that.  But does it have to make us so cynical? Doesn't being cynical mean we've kind of given up hope?  We don't believe there could be better.  I do, because I know love does.  Love always believes, and love always trust.  It believes all things and it hopes all things.  I believe theres more good than evil.  Though the evil looks sometimes like a scary looking beast lurking at us from every corner, we are more powerful if we have love.

And guess what, I'll let you in on a little secret of what happens at the end: Love Wins.  Yep, the little itty bitty lamb slain and drenched in it's own blood will always defeat the big bad beast.  Why?  Because Love in it's purest form is the sacrificial lamb.  And the lamb shows us the way.  The way of Love.  We must always follow the way of the Lamb.  This IS the way of suffering.  But the good thing about this way, it is the way to Hope.

When I think of this love I think of the depiction in Revelations. Written by John the Revelator and is a symbolic depiction of the Roman empire in a beastly way.  It is not that hard of a book to understand.  We just happen to be 2000 years removed and speak a different language and culture, so it seems hard. Studying Historical context shows us it's NOT a book about doom and gloom destruction of the world but a book of Hope.  What?!? lol, I'm still researching this but Apocalypse doesn't mean "The End", it means "The Unveiling." The unveiling of God's Goodness.  The big bad beast coming up out of the water is Empire.  Man governing over man.  Man killing man.  Man doing things, his own way instead of God's. Guess what defeats the way of man? And it's even a satirical depiction in Revelations of the way the beast is destroyed in that it is by a little sweet lamb.  They point and say "Look behold a Lion" but when you look they only see a little tiny lamb laying down, blood soaked with it's own blood.  A poor little pitiful thing...

You wanna know something else that's cool, the number 666, you don't have to be afraid of that number, lol.  It's the number of man (man was made on the 6th day) it's the number of Beast.  You know having the mark of the beast means? Being reduced to a number in the machine (empire), looking at men as numbers instead of human beings. Dehumanizing man into something to benefit the Empire's needs. Man, man, man in place of where God, God, God needs to be.  Think about it, where do we place man's ideas before God's, before Jesus' ideas.  Jesus' ideas are and will always will be radical to our ideas.  For they are God's ideas and God's ideas are waaayy above our ideas.  We can't even picture a world not ran by man's agenda, it's so engrained in us to think of God as just something to pull along side with us while we execute God's plan in "saving" the world.  When in fact God tells us through Jesus, just to love God and Love man.  Be a sweet lil pitiful lamb in a world of big bad wolves!

Why do we have to love God first?  Because we can't find it in our hearts to love people like Christ does.  It's too radical and it's putting us last and putting God's agenda first.  This agenda can be pretty scary because it goes against what we want to do.  We want to be right, we want to govern over others, we want people to serve our God.  We need to do things our way to execute this plan…no, no, no, and no. This is the way it's been done and this is the wide gate of destruction not the narrow path of peace.

Now we can believe in this way, which is God's way, or we can do it man's way, which we've been doing for a long time and it's been nothing but an endless cycle of hurt, pain, death, and violence….But there is hope from this, we have to believe in better for our children.  We have to put us to the side and work on loving them wholeheartedly.

I preach this all the time but I'll say it again.  Know the fruits of the spirit because THAT will show you if someone is driven by the Holy Spirit instead of self-driven.  Where the Spirit reigns in the life of a believer, you will see these fruits manifested and Jesus said you will know someone by their fruits.  If they preach: Love, Joy, Peace, Forbearance (long-suffering) kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  And these fruits will manifest in every aspect of their life not just the heart. These fruits are not earned in ourself because these come only with the Holy Spirit. They are the result of submitting to Christ completely and daily.  And if someone is driven by pride, anger, lust, division, accusation, they are not of the spirit.  These are not my ideas, but Jesus's and they are usually a hard pill to swallow for all of us because they remind us of the struggle we fight daily in falling short of the Glory of God.

FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.  These are the three important components to living in Christ's Kingdom.  Faith in trusting in God's plan wholeheartedly beyond our wants and desires and even our need to survive. Believing God to meet our needs.  Hope in believing better when everyone and everything says we shouldn't and even other believers.  And Love.  Love because in the end, the Light will always drive out the darkness in every aspect.  In our hearts and in our world.  Jesus didn't just come so you could ask forgiveness from your sins without killing an animal, he came to save us from our sins.  Save us from our ways of the old world kingdom and into His world Kingdom.  Open yourself up to Love and let it reign in every aspect of your life.  You'll be surprised at the power of the Love of a lil sacrificial lamb….

(Again wish I could take credit for reading and studying the bible on my own but it comes by way of great teachers and theologians helping me.  Brian Zahnd, Jonathan Stone, Walter Bruggeman, NT Wright, Eugene Petterson and lots of other greats have such an influence in my life.)