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Archive for January, 2010

Luke 15:11-24 And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living… And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 

I’ve heard the story of the prodigal preached about the prodigal and the elder brother… but some things stood out to me this morning in a different way.

The prodigal wasn’t afraid to go to his dad and ask for his living. He didn’t seem to struggle with leaving home. Not once does Jesus mention him being rebuked or berated for either action. On the contrary, it appears that his dad did what he asked without comment. Further, no one was angry that when he returned he was accepted, just that he got a party and the older brother didn’t.

The prodigal wasn’t put on probation. No one said, “well, let him come on up to the house and we’ll see.” No, his dad ran to him, and received him even with the stench of hogs and travel dust on his clothes. Then, as the prodigal began to rehearse his speech, his dad stopped him! He didn’t let him wallow in repentance; it was obvious that he was repentant. His dad forgave him before he could finish and stopped him before he could ask to be as a hired servant. No, he was immediately his son again.

The servants didn’t say anything. They did as the Father bid. And there is no mention of them murmuring or revolting. Just the older brother’s jealousy.

How many people would be in church if people considered God’s response to the prodigal… and remembered that they are not God, but only His servants?

I’ve heard righteous zeal and holy anger of God’s servants praised in churches. Godly sorrow might be a better response to many supposed failures though. It is far past time to stop proclaiming prodigal everyone who leaves a building and Christian everyone on the pews, and start loving others. After all, God did.

Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
Proverbs 10:12 Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins. 
1 Peter 4:8 And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.

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1 Thessalonians 5:18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you…
For a long time, I resented this verse. It seemed good, until I went through something. Then it kind of stuck on my tongue… one of those things. Kind of like a big spoonful of peanut butter without anything to drink and no jelly. Good, but sticky enough to choke you if you got too much at once. In everything?When I lost something special? When I was betrayed or hurt or lonely? When someone died? Everything?Sick! Crazy, ludicrous, impossible! But then…

It took awhile, but I started looking at the verse differently than what it was generally quoted at me as meaning. God doesn’t expect us to be thankful for the bad things that happen to us, but rather hopes we can be thankful in spite of them-that we can look past the hurts and the confusion and fear, to a God that is bigger than all of those things.

God doesn’t plan for all the bad things that happen in the world. He gave us free will when He put the tree in the garden, and from the time Adam bit its fruit, He has allowed people to decide some things and act on those decisions. Those decisions and their consequences are man’s, not God’s. He didn’t plan for Able to be killed, or Lot to pitch toward Sodom. He didn’t plan for Babel to be built, Eli’s sons to be corrupt, or Jezebel to murder His prophets. He may have known that they would do those things or could do those things, but He didn’t choose for some people to do bad things to others. Sure, He hardened Pharoah’s heart-but only to build the Israelites’ trust in Him after a long captivity. There were times that He intervened. But not for ultimate harm. Always for good.

And so I’ve come to view that verse differently. God doesn’t expect me to be thankful for bad things that happen, but to be thankful that He’s with me through the bad times. It’s not a matter of false cheeriness, hiding sorrow behind a smile. It isn’t about denying negative feelings or pretending everything is OK when it isn’t. It’s a matter of trusting Him, of finding in Him some goodness, knowing that when bad things happen, it isn’t because He doesn’t love me or planned for the bad things. He gave us a choice, and someone made the wrong one. I don’t have to be thankful for that; many times that would mean I had to rejoice in someone’s sin. What I do need to at least attempt to do is look past the problems to the One who can solve them, and know He’ll bring me through.

There is only one plan I know God has had since the beginning of time. That plan wasn’t for any of the bad things that have happened in the thousands of years since… no, it was for the best thing that happened in all time. A plan that involved a lamb… and a cross.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you

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Where I’m from, we weren’t allowed to ask questions about certain things. We were expected to ask the pastor who we should marry or at least if we could marry this person or that one. But we couldn’t ask basic questions about things that happened at church. So I’ve decided to list a few here. I reverence God and the things of God. These are a few questions I’ve had through the years. No offense meant to anyone… Just a few rather unorthodox thoughts.

If praise and worship are action verbs, why do we so often pray and say, “Jesus, I praise you. Oh, God, I worship you.” Why not just do it?
Why do we call dancing and leaping “shouting”? A shout requires a vocal response, preferrably intelligible…
What is the screaming and squealing for in church? I scream when I’m afraid, not when I’m happy.
Does the quality of the sound system and the decibels it is cranked to really have anything to do with God’s anointing?
Why do we work so hard to “create an atmosphere where people can get the Holy Ghost” if God loves us and the Holy Ghost is His free gift?
Why, after working so hard to “create an atmosphere”, do all the kids at camp seem to pray through when we blow the circuits and the lights go out?
Why are we told to seek the free gift of the Holy Ghost? Most gifts I’ve ever been given were placed in front of me or into my hands by the giver. Rarely have I had to go hunt one down!
Why do camps and conferences seem so much more electrified and charged than weekly services in our home churches? God is the same everywhere, after all.
Why do some people think it is wrong to drink or smoke because we shouldn’t destroy the temple of the Holy Ghost, yet claim that God tells them to do things in worship that could damage the church property or could cause an accident that could hurt other people or themselves?

Witnessing: telling others about Jesus.
Testifying: telling others what Jesus has done for you.
Door-knocking: knocking on door after door and giving people an invitation to church.
Then why do we say we are going “witnessing” when we are just handing people that open their doors a card?

Why does it take ten minutes to take prayer requests, and only a minute to pray for them all?
How many people who say they’ll be praying for a situation only mention it to God in passing once?

If we really have faith, should we pray for something for days or weeks, or should we just pray once and trust God for the answer? Why, when I have a need, is the first more comforting than the second? Do I think God will forget they prayed, or do I just enjoy the fact that people are thinking of me?

If God is our friend and Father, why do we talk to him so differently than we would a… well… friend or father?
If someone regularly came to me and said they could talk to me for the next 30 minutes, and then watched the clock the entire time… if they talked for the whole 30 minutes but never really said anything, if they yelled at me and made strange faces… I’d begin to think they were pretty rude fairly quickly.

What is wrong with doubt? John the Baptist doubted as he sat in prison. Peter doubted when he stepped out of the boat. Thomas doubted that Jesus had risen. What is wrong with admitting our doubts?

And last but not least, why are these questions unaskable? What is so intimidating about them? The fact that there are questions, or the answers to them?

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For years I’ve wondered how to know the will of God. We were told to seek God’s will, to pray and fast and study the Word, and hope we got it right. So “the Will” always seemed just out of reach.

Today I ran into a different version of the will of God, and liked it a lot. I stopped in to see a minister friend (nonpentecostal) today. He knows some of my situation and asked how I was doing. We chatted for awhile. Then he asked, “So how do you feel about things now?” I asked what he meant and he said about leaving church. My answer? Happy. His response surprised me but it sure made sense. He said that was good, because if we are happy with a decision even after it is acted on, that generally means it was the right decision to have made.

Peace. Happiness. Joy. Some of the most elusive feelings in all of humanity, and yet in doing something totally “wrong” (leaving my church), I’ve felt them all. Not for leaving, no. I loved being in a Pentecostal church, and miss it. I don’t miss being Pentecostal, because I can be Pentecostal whether fellowshipping with a particular body or not, and I don’t miss my church, with its myriad problems, because it wasn’t really mine. No-I miss the ideal of church that was preached and portrayed as possible over the years.

So did I do the right thing in leaving? I wake up in the morning looking forward to the day. I enjoy going to church and am curious what the preacher will have to say. I’m coming to a place where I want to pray and read the Bible again, after several years of feeling prayer and Bible reading were only tasks to complete-and often troubling ones, at that. Now maybe those times can become a personal commitment and special interaction with my Father. They can mean what they should again. Did I do the right thing? I smile more, laugh often, feel more rested and relaxed, and enjoy life more fully. I notice people more readily, and find them smiling back at me. I haven’t denied my faith, but rather sense that it is deepening.

Yes, I did the right thing.

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Sometimes I feel like dancing…

I don’t know what to write. There is so much going through my mind, and sometimes there aren’t words for what we experience. That’s where I am right now. Sometime, probably soon, several pages will all appear at once on my blog, but for now, I’m just happy and enjoying that happiness.

Several months before I left church, the pastor preached and said that people appear happier for awhile after they leave church, because they have made a decision one way or the other after riding the fence for so long. After being out awhile, I have to say that is probably wrong, at least in some cases. I’m not happy to have left-I still believe much the same things and dress much the same way, and I miss my friends. I haven’t figured out yet how to make connections outside of church, and so I’m lonely sometimes too.

But I’m also just… joyful. I am finally getting the rest that I need, when I need it. Enjoying the peacefulness and quiet of my home. Cleaning house, since that was always the first thing to fall by the wayside when I was overwhelmed. Organizing. And feeling good about myself for doing these things and for not always worrying about what anyone will say or think or do. Just being myself. Its been a nice change.

Do I enjoy being able to do whatever I want? Of course. But what have I done? I ate soup with a man, in broad daylight, without a chaperone. I’ve watched three and a half movies (plus two and a half before I left). YouTube sometimes, a little face powder for a while, trimmed my hair twice just a tiny bit. And missed church. What have I found? Its fun to meet new people or to share a meal with someone without a chaperone. Movies are generally pretty boring, even if they were once favorites. I could care less about makeup, and like my hair as it is, but don’t think trimming it was a sin. I really enjoy the hymns and quiet worship of many denominal churches, their sermons about God’s love and mercy and grace, and their teachings about how to love each other… and haven’t yet found one that seems to be a good fit for me. But that’s OK.

And in all these things and others, I’ve discovered that it’s OK to relax. God loves us. He isn’t waiting to whack us if we are a little “off”. He won’t strike us the minute we stumble, but like any good parent will gently catch us, set us upright and encourage us to keep walking. It’s nice to be imperfect. And it’s a joy to realize perfection isn’t required. God loves us just the way we are.

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For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

I am the only one who can separate me from God. No one else can. Nothing else can. Death will only bring me closer to Him. Life will only teach me to be more like Him. The devil can’t keep me from God-the devil is only a fallen angel. No one has enough power or authority to keep me from God. Not anyone in government. Not anyone in leadership or business. If my parents try to stop me, they cannot. No spouse, no child can keep God from loving me. No pastor, no saint. No one can keep me and God apart. If I am on the mountain, He’s still above me. If I sink to the depths He’s been there before me, and He’s there with me, too. He will be with us always, even to the end of the world. He will never leave us nor forsake us. Others fail; God doesn’t. Troubles come; God will see us through. Jesus is the friend that sticketh closer than a brother. He sits by our bedside when we’re sick. He reaches out a healing hand when we’re wounded. He speaks and calms the storms in our lives.

Jesus loves you. he loves me. If you think God’s punishing you, remember that He loves you. Trust Him. If you’re facing a difficult situation, look up for your redemption draweth nigh. It isn’t that Jesus has turned His back on you. Next time you think He has, take a good hard look at that back. See those scars? Jesus’ back isn’t the back of a judge, but a Savior.

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“When you go through a trial, if you don’t pass, you’re bound to repeat it til you get it right.”
What is the indication that someone has “passed” a trial? Does a righteous God make people repeatedly go through something, and without indicating what they have done wrong, force them to repeat the trial because they somehow unwittingly failed? What is a mark of failure or success, from a pentecostal perspective? Is it staying in church? Keeping a right attitude? Keeping a smile on your face in public even when you are dying inside? Forgiving and loving the people who hurt you?

When I was in school, we were given quizzes through a week or month. The quizzes and later our tests were scored, corrected, and returned to us. If we students reviewed our corrected quizzes, we saw the errors we had made and would learn from them. Many times, when I saw the correct answer to a question I had missed, that fact or answer would be etched in my memory. I would never make the same mistake again.

If the tests had not been scored, reviewed, or corrected, but only returned with “Pass” or “Fail” written at the top, we would not have known what we did wrong. We would not have been able to improve. We would have become frustrated by this method of grading. Any teacher who had graded this way would have been considered a very poor teacher and would probably been released from their position.

How then, in a walk with God, can people be repeatedly told they must have “failed” some test without being told what they did wrong or how to improve? What kind of teacher is God if he simply says, “You failed. Try again,” without showing us how to do better when we ask? That doesn’t make sense.

Someone might say, “all the answers are right there in the Bible-you’re just missing it.” Am I? God hasn’t opened his word and my understanding after years of the same problem?
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? (Luke 11:10-13)

God isn’t playing games with us. He doesn’t leave us to fail repeatedly without giving us the answers as to how to succeed with Him when we ask.

As a child, when I would bring some supposed wrong to my mom, I’d often here: “There are always two sides to a story,” “it takes two to tango,” or “and what did you do to her?” Mom loved me, but she raised me to understand that most things were not totally one person’s fault or another’s. If I were bullied at school, for example, she comforted me, but she also questioned where I was and why and offered solutions to avoid similar situations in the future. If I ignored her advice and walked back into the same situation again, I was at fault-not because the bully was right, but because I had not taken steps to prevent their wrong behavior toward me.

I have put that training to use in this situation. I am not totally at fault, as some in church would like to think. Nor am I not responsible at all for what happened, because I walked into the same problem more than once. That was not an issue of passing or failing a trial, that was an issue of trying too hard to make something work that just, well… didn’t. It is not my fault that I was falsely accused. It is not that God is putting me through some horrible trial repeatedly. But I allowed a wrong situation and wrong behaviors to continue, trying to be more forgiving, trying to forget their wrongful accusations and cutting words, attempting to be more submissive and obedient, trying to show that I don’t have a chip on my shoulder or that I’m not intrinsically a more wicked person than anyone else or that there isn’t anything “wrong” with me.

When the pastor would tell me that my situation was abnormal, that there was something wrong with me, that I was unforgiving or bitter or unsubmissive, I would go out of my way to attempt to be more normal, right, forgiving, or submissive, thinking he would eventually see that I wasn’t the terrible person that he apparently thought I was. He would shun me, and I would press for attention, craving the love I saw him show to others. He would be angry at me, and I would think it was my fault. I had failed again. He told me I was depressed and negative and so he didn’t want to spend time with me or have others around me. So I would try to act happy and positive, and he would tell me that I didn’t take his rebuke seriously! I finally realized there was nothing I could do to change what he thought of me. There was no way that I could “succeed” in that man’s church, not because I was not a successful person, but because I was expected to fail. It took a very long time for me to understand what had happened, and really I’m still sifting through it all.

I am not to blame. It is not my fault, and I will not continue to go through the same trial repeatedly because I somehow unwittingly fail every time. How did I come to this? Because now, people say that I failed because I quit church. Yet I never quit before. So if quitting church is the mark of failure, I have passed with flying colors many times, yet was still repeating the same “trial”! I won’t fail this test again. This time I will succeed. I will walk away from the bully and will not put myself within the bully’s reach again. And in doing that, I will succeed.

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