Thursday, January 31, 2008

Happy 30th Birthday, Danny!



Thirty years ago about this time, I was saying, "I can't do this!" But I did, of course. I gave birth to a beautiful little baby boy; 8 lbs. 14 1/2 oz. and 21 inches long at 9:13 a.m., in Upland, CA. He had black hair and dark skin. And his head was shaped a bit like a mailbox. But, amazingly, it did become round.

The picture above is Danny at 3 months of age. By 6 months, he had lost all of his dark hair and he was blonde (almost white) with a fair complexion. But he never lost his blue eyes.

It's amazing that 30 years have passed since his birth. I remember my own 30th birthday and how old I thought I was. Now I have a 30 year old SON and I think I feel younger, in many ways, than I did then!

I was thinking back over many of the events of my life yesterday as I drove home from visiting my kids and grandkids. I may never know God's exact purposes in a lot of things that happened in my life, but I feel very certain about one thing. Danny was meant to be. And I have always loved being his mom. I wouldn't trade anything for having Danny in my life. He has always been a joy -- never caused me a day of sorrow. He has been an inspiration to me in so many ways.

I am so thankful to have such a close relationship with my adult son. He is truly one of my best friends. I've told numerous people that when I hear other moms express sadness that their little boys have to grow up, wishing they could keep them little, I say, "Not me. As much as I enjoyed Danny while he was little, I have only enjoyed being his mom more and more and more as he's grown into a man."

Every stage of Danny's life has brought greater joy to me than the one before. And I was the happiest mom in the whole world the day Danny married Rebecca. I was going through some stressful things personally at that time. But I remember feeling that nothing could rob me of the happiness of that special day. I will always remember it as one of the happiest days of my life. I had always looked forward to having a daughter-in-law. And Danny picked the most perfect young woman; not only for himself, but for his mom, too!

Through Danny, I have a daughter-in-law whom I consider as much my daughter as Danny is my son. And through the two of them, I have two sweet little blue-eyed grandsons. I am so blessed.

I well remember the agony of the labor pains I was experiencing 30 years ago at this moment. It made quite an impression on me. It was the worst physical pain I have ever experienced to this day. But that is truly UNremarkable, as all moms suffer to some degree while bringing a child into this world. The remarkable part of the story is that my baby boy has never caused me another ounce of pain from that day to this, his 30th birthday. And that IS truly remarkable!

Happy Birthday, Danny! Thanks for 30 wonderful years of being your mom! Thanks for making me proud! And thanks for giving me (with Rebecca's help) the joy and wonder of being Grandma Shari to Joshua and Andrew.

I'll see you tonight at the concert and I'll be bringing you chocolate chip cookies to share with your "school friends." Just like when you were the kid and not the teacher. : )

I love you!

Mom

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Silent Reflux

For months now I have had an annoying sensation in my throat, which I attributed to sinus drainage. I had laryngitis the week of Thanksgiving and that evolved into a cold or bronchitis. It took forever to stop coughing, even after I was no longer sick. And even after the cough went away, I have been left with this feeling of not being able to clear my throat. I do not have heartburn or any digestive symptoms. But it does sometimes seem like eating makes it worse.

I am so tired of making that throat clearing noise and constantly trying to swallow a lump in my throat that I did something very uncharacteristic yesterday. I went to the doctor.

I volunteer at my church office every Monday. I drive right past our doctor's office when I leave. He's a good friend and I knew if he was in, he would take a look at me even without an appt. So I decided to stop and see him. It occurred to me that I might be misdiagnosing myself and something could be wrong that I know nothing about.

I described my symptoms and he said, "I think I know exactly what is wrong with you." He then gave me some information about something called LPR (Laryngopharyngeal Reflux), also referred to as Silent Reflux. Fifty percent of patients with this problem do not have any heartburn or indigestion -- just throat irritation and the constant urge to clear the throat.

He gave me Nexium and some guidelines for changing my diet. Why does everything have to include a change in diet??? I looked at the suggestions and asked, "Is there any chance the pill will just take care of it and I won't have to make these changes?" LOL.

Here are the guidelines: A low-fat diet. Limit intake of red meat. Avoid fried foods. Avoid cheese. Limit intake of butter. Avoid chocolate. Avoid eggs. Avoid caffeine (especially in coffee and tea), soda pop, and mints. Avoid alcoholic beverages, especially in the evening. And do not eat within three hours of bedtime.

Except for eggs, caffeine and an occasional glass of wine, I already try to follow those guidelines. I don't consume a lot of any of those things. But at least once a week, usually Saturday nights, I have anything I want and we tend to eat kind of late (after 7:00) on a regular basis because we work out first, then eat dinner. But other than on the weekends, I don't eat a heavy meal.

I do have a cup or two of coffee every morning. My doctor suggested that after the first cup, I switch to decaf. So I brewed my coffee "half caf" this morning.

My throat irritation bothers me during the day. It hasn't interfered with my sleep. So I'm hoping it's a mild, though chronic, condition and will respond quickly to the Nexium.

Just in case this ever happens to YOU, I thought the information might be useful.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Prayer: "Lifting Up of the Mind to God"

I finished the last two chapters this morning and this post will cover them together. Chapter 21 is "Prayer and Others." Chapter 22 is "Prayer and God."

Sunday mornings are a relaxing time at the Howerton home. Our church is constantly growing and, in order to have space for everyone to worship on the weekends, we have two Saturday night services in addition to Sunday morning's two services. Our pastor preaches five times (including the Sunday evening service) every weekend. And since there is an influx of new people at the beginning of each year, many of us who have been around a while have willingly switched to Saturday nights to make more room for the new believers who will come on Sunday mornings. John and I have been going to church on Saturday nights for a long time now and it's not a sacrifice. We love going on Saturday night.

We try to sleep in on Sunday mornings (which is usually no later than 7:00 because we're getting older). John is normally in the kitchen first and makes a pot of coffee. He then goes upstairs and plays guitar for a while, while I often read a book and sometimes write on my blog. His passion is music. Mine is reading and writing. Although I was blessed with musical ability, it has just never captured me or been my passion the way learning and writing has. John has music flowing through his veins. I can tell he doesn't really "get" my need to write any more than I can fully "get" his need to play guitar. But God created us both and also created us differently.

One of the things I have learned in recent years is how God can be at the center of everything we do -- or not. We tend to compartmentalize our lives and think of spiritual things as one compartment, separate from our other activities and responsibilities. But everything we do can be for the glory of God, if that is our motivation. And Yancey discusses this in the last chapter of his book.

I used a quote from Chapter 22 as the heading for this post because it really struck me. Yancey writes, "I am learning the difference between saying prayers, which is an activity, and praying, which is a soul attitude, a 'lifting up of the mind to God.' Praying in that sense can transform every task, from shoveling snow to defragmenting a computer's hard disk."

I am always putting myself on a guilt trip because of my tendency to view prayer as performance instead of relationship and by constantly evaluating the amount of time I devote to the activity of saying prayers. However, in reading this chapter, I started to think about all the time throughout the day that I am lifting up my mind to God. And it occurred to me that if I did not compartmentalize prayer the way I do, I would realize that I actually spend much more time focused on God and listening for His voice than I think "counts" as praying. That is one pit fall of performing for God as opposed to being engaged in an intimate, personal relationship with Him. Our performance, no matter how good, will always fall short of the mark. And if we ever think our performance is satisfactory, we are deceived by our own self-righteousness. But only when we incorporate every aspect of our lives into our relationship with God, are we living the way God intended.

In praying for others, Yancey discusses how prayer helps us to see others as God sees them. He poses questions about intercession; praying for loved ones and praying for enemies. He told a story about praying with co-workers at Campus Life magazine:

"We convened at 7:00 a.m., an hour before work began, and the gathering was strictly voluntary. Over time, though, the handful of us who met learned each other's secrets. We got to know each other's stories, including the colorful family members and the private pains and struggles. Then, after praying about each of the specifics of those lives, we would join together in the combined task of putting out a magazine.

You treat a typist differently during the day, I found, after listening to her describe her self-image problems -- 'Will I always be just a secretary?' -- and praying with her that morning. You are less likely to judge a computer programmer for his irritating mistake when you hear how deeply that mistake affected him. In short, you begin to see fellow workers not as cogs in a machine but as human beings graced and loved by God. That hour in the morning brought us together in a new kind of order, not one based on ranking and salary, but as men and women with hopes and longings, fears and struggles, dreams and devastations. It brought us together in the orbit of God's searing love."

I loved that story. I guess it touched me most because I have always been a person who has wanted to truly understand others and to be understood. I have always wanted to see beyond a person's exterior and into their heart, what influences their behavior. I have always believed that if I knew all of the contributing factors to the way someone behaved (especially if their behavior annoyed me), I would be less irritated by them and have a more genuine compassion for them. The real virtue, of course, is to have compassion without having to have those questions answered. But attempting to understand the hearts, wounds and vulnerabilities of others will help us to cultivate a more instantaneous response of compassion rather than criticism. We cannot love God without loving others.

Returning to the last chapter, "Prayer and God," Yancey makes some statements that have a great deal of meaning for me as a direct result of the things I have suffered.

"By bringing us into the presence of God, and giving us a glimpse of the view from above, prayer radically changes how we experience life. Faith during affliction matters more than healing from affliction. Submitting to God's will is preferable to a rescue from crucifixion. Humility counts more than deliverance from a thorn in the flesh...where one loves God with the entire soul, doubts and struggles do not disappear, but their effect on us diminishes...My questions about prayer recede in urgency as I learn to trust the ultimate goodness of God, who can transmute whatever happens into a 'good gift.'"

Yancey tells his readers about a German preacher, Helmut Thielicke, "who lived a life that might rival Job's." In the midst of Hitler's tyranny, humiliating interrogations by the SS and the threat of imprisonment, he stood in a pulpit each week "and tried to bring a message of hope to a demoralized congregation," whose former sanctuary had been bombed to rubble. Yancey explains how Thielicke's "heart nearly broke when he came across his famished children licking the pictures of food in recipe books."

Thielicke declared to his congregation, "The one fixed pole in all the bewildering confusion is the faithfulness and dependability of God." He assured them that all through history "and the disorder of personal lives there runs the constant thread of God's purpose." The following statements from this preacher are shared with us by Yancey:

One day, perhaps, when we look back from God's throne on the last day we shall say with amazement and surprise, "If I had ever dreamed when I stood at the graves of my loved ones and everything seemed to be ended; if I had ever dreamed when I saw the specter of atomic war creeping upon us; if I had ever dreamed when I faced the meaningless fate of an endless imprisonment or a malignant disease; if I had ever dreamed that God was only carrying out his design and plan through all these woes, that in the midst of my cares and troubles and despair his harvest was ripening, and that everything was pressing on toward his last kingly day -- if I had known this I would have been more calm and confident; yes, then I would have been more cheerful and far more tranquil and composed."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Chapter 20 - Prayer and Me

Early in this chapter, I drew a mental parallel between the thought Yancey was attempting to convey and a children's book I read to Joshua. The children's book is about little monkeys who go shopping with their mama.

Yancey is writing about "tuning in" to God and he gives examples of all the things we let fill up all the spaces in our days. He writes, "I enter a motel room and switch on the television. I have CNN going when I eat lunch and the radio playing when I drive the car. I'm always reading a newspaper, magazine, computer manual, Internet blog, something. I fill up spaces."

He goes on to discuss ears that do not hear. "Any parent knows about ears that hear not. 'But I didn't hear you,' a child protests, after clear instructions not to wander beyond the driveway. A revealing comparison, it occurs to me, for we often fail to 'hear' God's clear commands."

It was the wandering comment that reminded me of the book about little monkeys not listening to their mama. In this story, the mama says over and over to her little monkeys, "Stay right here and don't go wandering off." She says it over and over. But the little monkeys never listen. And over and over throughout the story, she is looking for her lost little monkeys because they have wandered off.

It occurred to me that I am so like the monkeys in the children's story. Not only do I let mindless things fill up the spaces of my life and fail to listen, I am also prone to wander off -- even if only in my thoughts.

Yancey discusses the proven therapeutic benefits of prayer in this chapter, but points out that "Any therapeutic value to Christian prayer comes as an outgrowth, not a goal. As Jesus promised, the fruit will grow if we remain attached to the vine. Our job is to remain attached, to 'abide.'"

Yancey also touches on fear, anxiety, impatience and trying to stop time in this chapter. But on this particular night, I feel most like the little monkey who is easily distracted. I am so thankful that God never stops pursuing me and drawing me to Him.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Reading to Joshua


What a fun night we have had. Grandma Shari got to bring Joshua home with her to spend the night tonight. We ate cheese toast and pears for dinner while watching American Idol auditions. Joshua was cracking up at all the crazy people who didn't know they couldn't sing. After his dinner was gone, Joshua got some jelly beans from Poppy John. We counted to eleven (many times) for Poppy John. We played with the Thomas Puzzle for a while, then went upstairs to read before bed time. We read four books. And then I sang Jingle Bells to him. It's our little routine whenever I put him down for the night or a nap. He laughs now every time we get to the "laughing all the way" part. He is so cute. Before we went upstairs, I had asked him if he wanted to sleep in his socks so his toes would stay warm and he said no. But after I finished singing, he asked me to go downstairs and get his socks. After several love you's, night-nights, waves and blown kisses, Grandma Shari left Joshua to fall asleep -- promising to watch Mickey Mouse Club in the morning.

We saw The Bucket List Sunday afternoon (great movie, by the way) and I couldn't help thinking on the way home that my bucket list is already a done deal. I love being a grandma to my two adorable little grandsons. I love being Danny's mom and Rebecca's mother-in-law. And I love being Poppy John's wife. Life for me has never been sweeter.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Chapter 19 - What To Pray For

I loved this chapter. I remember it being one of my favorite chapters the first time I read it. At that time, I was thinking a lot about how God wanted me to pray about a couple of situations. I didn't read the book because I expected Philip Yancey to give me all the answers to my questions. I guess one of the reasons I enjoyed the book so much was the way every chapter reassured me that I am just one of millions who struggle with the same questions and obstacles in prayer.

Growing up believing that God expected me to become perfect (and taking that quite seriously) caused me to fear getting any closer to Him because then He would expect even more of me and I already felt like a failure. So I didn't really pray much at all, other than in desperate moments. I remember at times thinking that it could be dangerous to get any closer to God or to have Him view me as becoming stronger because then I would only disappoint him more than I already did. So I wanted Him to think of me as weak and just have pity on me. This makes me chuckle now, as I realize that on my best day, my weakness is so very obvious to God. I no longer fear getting too close to Him. My whole outlook has been transformed by the gospel.

In this chapter, Yancey writes about gratitude. Gratitude is one of my favorite subjects. I try to live there, no matter what circumstances I find myself in. At this moment in my journey, gratitude comes easy. But that has not always been the case. I have so many times had to remind myself that my worst day would be many people's best day. No matter what I have been facing at any given time, it paled in comparison to what many people face every day of their lives. Whenever I've been tempted to feel sorry for myself, I think about how blessed I am and all I have to be thankful for. And I pray that God will remind me to, in all things, give thanks.

I remember one night back in 2002, when I was living with my dad and going through a very painful divorce. I had moved out of a beautiful home and squeezed into a tiny little bedroom I could barely walk around in. My life seemed like such a failure. All I had ever really wanted was a happy marriage and family. For so many years, I just wouldn't give up. I was not looking for a way out. I was always looking for a way to make it a success and believing God would answer those prayers. And yet, here I was, 43 years old, burying that hope and living with my dad so I could finish school.

I felt so pathetic. I didn't envision a bright future for myself. Quite the opposite. I remember walking the Lipscomb campus with so much anxiety that I was literally on the brink of tears the whole day long, every single day. And between classes, I would ask God how this could be happening to me when I had tried so hard and would have been so happy with nothing more than a peaceful coexistence. (I could never have imagined, at that point, the dramatic transformation God was about to bring to my life in every way!)

One night I was lying in bed feeling sorry for myself and I realized I was focusing on all the wrong things. I started to think about how blessed I was that I had a father to turn to (instead of how pitiful I was to be living with my dad at 43). I had a warm bed to sleep in and no bills to worry about. I started to think about how many women in my position would give anything to be able to attend a private Christian University full time on a scholarship. I started to think about how many people loved me and would always be there for me; that I would never be alone. I thought about younger women in my circumstances who were working multiple jobs to take care their young children and just keep food on the table -- with no help or support. These women would give anything for a dad who would take them in rent-free. Suddenly, I started to feel so thankful for my tiny little room and my warm, soft bed that I could not feel sorry for myself at all. I went to sleep thanking God that night for His goodness to me in my time of loss and uncertainty.

What brought all of that to my mind was reading what Yancey wrote about two friends of his and their different responses to their life's circumstances. I was going to quote his story, but I wound up telling part of my own. (I never know where my posts will take me.) Reliving the above paragraphs have me sitting here with tears running down my cheeks. I remember so well the fear and anxiety of those days. But the tears are not about that. My tears are tears of gratitude for God's amazing mercy and deliverance in my life. Yes, he took me through suffering and loss, fear and anxiety. But He taught me that He always has a purpose and that if I will just trust Him, He is always working all things for my good.

In Yancey's words about his two friends: "On consecutive nights, I saw a stark difference in two approaches to life. One resents loss and wants more. One celebrates life as a gift, something to remember with gratitude. I ask God for that spirit regardless of my circumstances."

Me too, Philip.

He goes on to discuss faith and grace in this chapter (among other things). I can never comment on every subheading because my posts would go on and on more than they already do!

Yancey writes about praying for grace when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances. He wrote these words, which I will conclude this post with: "One man daily grows embittered by his paralysis; another prays for the grace to cope. One abused child harbors hatred and resentment; another rejoices that 'I am alive!' One estranged family lets the walls remain in place; another begins the laborious task of dismantling them. Prayer for grace offers the chance for a deep healing, or at least a way to cope with what cannot be fixed."

I say this over and over, but I am so thankful for God's grace and mercy. One of my constant prayers is that God will always enable me to face every future challenge, loss, sorrow and disappointment trusting in His grace to sustain me and with a very real awareness that He will use it for my good. Whatever circumstances I may find myself in, God has a purpose for. I no longer believe that the events of my life are random. He has taught me how to overcome my fears through trusting Him. I don't mean that I will never experience fear or anxiety again. I know I will. But by looking back on the way He has so lovingly redeemed my past and given me a future, I am constantly reminded that I can trust Him. Whatever the future holds for me, I know God is in control and will walk beside me. And one day I know I will see Him and thank Him face to face. Where I once feared Christ's return, I am beginning to long for it because I am finally believing He will take me with Him when He comes!

And I must add -- that is another answered prayer because I have prayed that I would be able to long for and anticipate His return rather than fear it!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Finding Out It's Not About Me!

I didn't have time to elaborate on the link I shared yesterday. But I got up thinking about it this morning and knowing what I wanted to write about today. Of course, it will come as no surprise that this subject brings up memories of what I was once taught about salvation.

I remember this argument in regard to the teaching that our moral perfection was required in order to qualify for the "gift" of eternal life:

"If we're right -- that we have to reach perfection to go to heaven -- then you (who do not believe this) are in trouble (because you're not even trying).

If you're right, that we don't have to be perfect because we're saved by grace, then we're still okay because we have just set the bar higher than we needed to."

That argument actually made sense to me at one time; but only because I didn't understand the gospel and the response of a true believer.

First, if I am believing in salvation through a righteousness that I can achieve (with His help) and thereby please God, I am not setting the bar higher than those who believe we have Christ's righteousness through faith in Him. I am setting it lower. Much lower. As Dr. Hamblin explained, those who thought they could keep the law were interpreting it superficially (as did the rich young ruler).

Secondly, if I believe that I make my own contribution to my salvation, then I am rejecting the Cross of Christ, denying its sufficiency and contradicting Jesus' words: "It is finished." If we make it about us instead of about Him, if we try to enter through any other gate but through Jesus' shed blood for us on the cross, we are a thief and a robber. No one will enter heaven except by bowing their knee at the foot of the cross and recognizing our salvation was and is entirely dependent upon Christ's sacrifice.

We are RANSOMED. We are PURCHASED. We are ADOPTED. Jesus did not make the ultimate sacrifice so we could have A CHANCE. He said that those which the Father had given Him were His. Finally, Praise God, I know that I am His because I was bought with a price and not because I can measure up and deserve it.

I am not His because I will ever be worthy, adequate, sufficient, or perfect. I am HIS because He has chosen me and adopted me and, through the gift of faith, I believe He is the Son of God and, as my Savior, He died for my sins. Those who do not believe this is the only means of salvation are not "one up" on the rest of Christianity by setting a higher bar. It is so the opposite. If I still bought into that logic, I would have no burden to proclaim the truth to those who were "over-reaching."

27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.” (John 10:27 - 30)
Look at the parable of the prodigal. The elder brother did not love the father. He wanted the benefits, the stuff, the reward. It was entirely about himself and not at all about his love of the father. The son we think of as the bad son was the one who saw himself and his condition. He repented. He felt unworthy of the father's love and mercy. The elder "good" brother resented the undeserved mercy that was shown to the younger and felt entitled to everything the father had through his performance as a son. He refused to even participate in the celebration of his brother's homecoming. He did not share in the feast by his own choosing! How can any of us miss that message? Well, I did. I missed it my whole life -- until my eyes were opened -- while being taught I was a leg up for having "the truth" about salvation.

Now, does that mean that I don't believe it matters how I live because I no longer think God expects me to achieve perfection? As emphatically as I can possibly say this, the answer is NO, NO, NO. That is a lie. The opposite is true. It has never mattered more to me how I live my life. But I am no longer trying to do right so I can go to heaven (like the elder brother). My motivation is only love and gratitude for my undeserved, unmerited adoption into the family of God. I deserved death, not God's blessings.

My righteousness is as a filthy rag. My best, not my worst day. God's holiness is far, far, far above any righteousness we can ever produce in this flesh. To believe otherwise elevates man and diminishes God and His holiness.

Obedience is the evidence of faith, not the means by which we are saved. We obey God because we love Him -- not to get His stuff (heaven). If we belong to Jesus, our lives will bear fruit; just as an apple tree naturally produces apples.

The Passover is a picture of Jesus. And what did the Israelites do to be saved from the death curse? They covered their door post with the blood of the lamb.

In Revelation, it says that the robes of the overcomers are white. Why are they white? Go and look. They are white because they are washed in the blood of the lamb.

I could go on and on. Every time I read my Bible now, God shows me His promises. I can't help but want to share what He has given me.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Are you saved?

This is a blog I read from time to time. I read this tonight and it is so good, I just had to post a link. I am so thankful that I now understand Christianity and what it truly means to be saved.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Click here: mutations of mortality: Are you saved?

"Once you have been saved you can never be a happy sinner again."

Which theologian are you?

Click on the link for the quiz.
http://quizfarm.com/test.php?q_id=7092N

My results:

Which theologian are you?
You scored as a Martin Luther
The daddy of the Reformation. You are opposed to any Catholic ideas of works-salvation and see the scriptures as being primarily authoritative.
Martin Luther 100%
Anselm 100%
Karl Barth 87%
John Calvin 80%
Friedrich Schleiermacher 67%
Jonathan Edwards 53%
Augustine 33%
J├╝rgen Moltmann 33%
Paul Tillich 33%
Charles Finney 20%

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chapter 18 - Prayer and Physical Healing

Several people close to me have received a diagnosis in the past year; a diagnosis for which there is no cure. My mom received a "no cure diagnosis" over twenty years ago. And I have become somewhat familiar with this kind of news through the years, although it is always a shock to the system initially.

When I first read Yancey's book on prayer it was because I was trying to pray for someone and found myself struggling, wondering what was the right prayer. At times, it was hard to pray. Other times, I prayed in anguish and in sobs of desperation. The book was recommended to me and I devoured it. I have not read it the second time with the same intensity because those emotions have settled down.

I'm sure I will again pray desperate prayers in the future. But for now I have put myself and my loved ones back in the hands of God (where we belong) and I am simply trusting Him for all of our futures; knowing that the number of our years here on earth are not the ultimate priority for God (and really should not be for us, either). I am comforted by the scripture I quoted in my previous post, that God ordains the number of our days before we are even here. Whatever God ordains for me, He will provide the grace for me to accept and even embrace. I pray that I will always look for what He is trying to teach me about Him and about trusting Him in every area of uncertainty that presents itself in my life, rather than to always look for an escape. However, I know that as fallen human beings, our first impulse is to ask for the escape. And God knows this about us, too.

I would not describe myself as a prayer warrior. My most frequent and natural prayer is one of thanking God for His undeserved mercy and His faithfulness to me. I am so unworthy. I can't even figure out why He loves me, let alone why He would bless my life. When I wake up at night, I thank God for being so good to me. But, for some reason, I have always struggled with the petition part of prayer. I always wonder how I am supposed to pray and what kind of prayer pleases God. Am I to ask for miracles just because I believe God is able to grant them? Does He want me simply to pray for His will? I don't feel deserving of or entitled to a miracle. So many others have suffered so much more in their lives than I ever have, why would I even ask God to spare me or someone important in my life? These are my particular struggles.

I am not a why me person. I am a why not me person. The hardest thing for me to understand is not why God would let me suffer, it is why He would bless me. I can always look around and see so many more deserving people than myself. So I feel like I shouldn't ask for more than He's already done for me. But the Bible instructs us to ask. I usually wind up praying for His will AND for His mercy. I think I'm more comfortable with this request because it goes without saying that mercy is something undeserved.

I know that some Christians wonder if they are being punished if they get sick or if someone close to them dies, or even when something bad happens. I haven't ever viewed suffering of any kind as punishment. I have always viewed sickness and death as a part of life on earth. Life is a terminal condition. But until we experience a diagnosis, we don't feel that threatened by our mortality. We live as though life will go on forever, even though we intellectually understand that it won't. A long life is an illusion because none of us has the promise of tomorrow. Every day could be OUR last. But we have the promise of something better when this life is over because Jesus came.

On the subject of punishment, it was pointed out to me once that although there are consequences in life, God is never punishing us for our sin if we believe in His Son. He would not be a just God if He did because He has already punished His Son for our sin. Jesus took our death sentence upon Himself. God would not have punished His Son in our place if he were then going to punish us anyway. He is a God of justice and mercy. And that would make His sacrifice null and void. I had never thought about it quite this way. So when you have thoughts of God punishing you, remind yourself what you are accusing Him of by doing this.

Yancey says in this chapter, "Jesus never promised to erase all poverty, all suffering, all human need. Rather, he announced a kingdom that values the needy above the beautiful and powerful and self-sufficient. In my own experience, those who most readily recognize their dependence on God are the ones who have no other choice: the disabled, the suffering, and those who care for them."

It's so true. When do we feel the most dependent on God? When we can't solve our own problems. We are always dependent on God. We are dependent upon God for our next breath. Diagnosis or no diagnosis. But He is the God of all comfort. He does not promise that we will not suffer in this life. He promises His grace and His comfort. He cares. He knows. He has compassion on us. He will never leave us.

Jesus suffered; therefore, He knows what we are going through down here. Only through our suffering can we truly know what anyone else is going through and how to help and comfort them. What always brings me comfort in my suffering is the awareness that through it God is equipping me to help others who will one day find themselves experiencing something similar. I will have added credibility because I have shared in that pain.

Yancey ends the chapter by quoting the words of Paul, telling us that God "comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A day with friends...


video

We normally get together for a Christmas Party every year. But this year December got away from us. So we had a New Year Party (at my house) instead today. We ate tacos and just hung out -- for the better part of the day. It was so good to see everyone. And we just couldn't resist making a little video message for you, Rachel and Lynda.

There is something special about spending time with friends who understand where you've been, where you are and where you're going in your journey. The group of us who got together today share a unique history. We don't see each other as often as we'd like, but we make a point of staying in touch.

Several in this video received a life-altering emotional and physical blow this week. So today was not only a day of reconnecting and enjoying each other, it was a much needed day of distraction and encouragement. I couldn't help but think about how thankful I am that I have faced enough hard places in my life to have words of comfort for people I love at such an emotional time.

Tonight, at church, our pastor talked about being good soil. He talked about God giving us a new name. And he asked us to think about the name we give ourselves every day in our thoughts. I thought about my life; where I've been and where I am. And the only name I could think of for myself was Thankful. I have lots of other names for myself. But Thankful trumps them all.

Our pastor printed, in our outline, the very scripture I quoted to one of my friends today. I believe and embrace this scripture with all my heart. It brings me comfort in my discouragement (with myself) as well as hope and encouragement for all the uncertainty that tomorrow may bring. It is Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV):

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. [14] I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. [15] My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, [16] your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (My emphasis.)

I know that I am on the path God has ordained for me. My life is enriched by those friends whom God has provided to sustain me. And if God bothers to know the number of hairs on my head -- as insignificant as that is -- He certainly cares about all the details of my life. I take great comfort in knowing that the events of my life are not random, including the number of my days. Uncertainty is not easy for any of us. But if we can ever learn to truly and fully trust Him, which is the number one goal of my life these days, we will feel no uncertainty. There is complete certainty and security in the hands of God.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Truth, Love & Friendship

I have been thinking about what exactly my obligation is to someone I consider my friend. I thought about how my interpretation of that began to change dramatically eight or nine years ago and I would like to share a little bit about that on my blog because I think it relates to the recent discussion.

Over a period of about four years, I received the insight/guidance of a Christian counselor. He never at any time tried to influence me in my life's decisions. He certainly never advised me to go, or not to go, to any particular church. He did sometimes validate conclusions and decisions I came to on my own. But the process was not about his leading me anywhere. He simply helped me to have greater insight into what actually motivated a lot of my behavior and choices, and whether or not my responses to others were based in love (for them and for God) or whether they were more about protecting myself from people's responses TO ME (i.e., consequences).

Obviously, self protection is not a fruit of the spirit. It is a part of our sinful nature. But we can fool ourselves many times into viewing selfish actions as noble or altruistic; i.e., doing the right thing. I did that quite a lot and didn't even know it.

One of the most challenging things for me about counseling was recognizing my role in a lot of my circumstances and facing the underlying, real motive in many of my responses to the people closest to me. I remember my counselor asking me questions about an interaction, my response, and then the ultimate question, "And who is that about?" A lot of times the answer was, "Me?" I got confused a lot. Sometimes I would think I was making it about me and I wasn't. Other times I believed I was doing something completely selfLESS only to have to confront the unpleasant reality that it was entirely selfISH. Many times it just came down to this: my need, above all else, to be loved, understood and approved of. Self, self, self. And certainly what is focused on self can never be about God or His glory.

In attempting to change my self-protecting ways of interacting with people, I knew I would have to put certain relationships at risk; not because I wanted to, but because any change might be unacceptable. And I was not willing to stay the same. When the goal becomes telling the truth, because that is actually the loving thing to do, it can rock the boat way too much. But my counselor helped me to understand how I was not loving someone by withholding the truth; especially when it was necessary to their spiritual growth or it involved an injustice that Jesus would confront if here.

Sometimes challenging someone you love is the only loving choice. To be silent is often either apathetic or self-serving. I wanted to be neither. I really wanted to change my motives, even at great personal cost. I didn't want to stay the way I was, once I saw that change was needed. In actuality, I couldn't remain the same once I had seen my toxic heart. And I have come to value, more and more, the people in my life who will speak the truth to me -- even if it initially hurts me.

I genuinely want to do what God expects me to do, whether it is pleasing to other people or not. I am not claiming I always succeed in that area of my life. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, I have seen a gradual trend of change in the right direction. Although I still want people's love, acceptance and understanding, it's not the ultimate goal for me now and it's not the overwhelming need it once was.

A part of me changed inside simply by learning that any time my actions are rooted in the concern for how someone will respond to me, my motive is self-protection. Any time I choose dishonesty (or silence when a stand is called for) over upsetting someone and losing their affection, I am loving myself and not my friend (or brother or sister in the Lord). And God help me never to choose protecting someone's image (especially my own) over protecting an innocent soul from potential harm.

In my case, a lot of my actions/reactions were (and still are) rooted in the fear of rejection and being disposable. I've experienced a lot of rejection (withdrawal of affection might be a better description) throughout my life because my opinions were unwanted and my feelings did not matter to significant people in my life. I also grew up in a spiritual environment where the most highly valued behavior was outright compliance and loyalty. There were perks and rewards for abiding by every rule and not challenging the status quo. And there were consequences for noncompliance (even if it was just a very disapproving look up and down for wearing pants or earrings). My point is that you knew when you were bucking the system and that it was not appreciated. Many times I heard that by cutting my hair or wearing too much make up, I was diminishing the credibility of my pastor with the other ministers and other such comments meant to motivate (or manipulate) me to fall in line -- for all the wrong reasons. As much as I longed for the approval of others, there has always been something in me that refused to resort to obtaining it through insincerity.

I say all of that primarily to show how, I believe (even in small things), we can actually be encouraged to do things for all the wrong reasons even by spiritual leaders. Our spiritual leaders also have a fallen nature and are not immune to wrong motives. Once your eyes are open to this, you are never the same. In every decision now, where I believe there is a right response and a wrong one, I ask myself what is weighing heaviest in my decision. Am I making the selfless choice or the selfish choice? Is my motive to love someone else or to love myself? More specifically, I ask myself: If I feel reluctant to take a stand or speak the truth, is it because that choice will make my life easier or help me to avoid criticism/disapproval/rejection? And am I placing a higher value on my comfort and my unaffected life than the welfare (spiritual, physical or emotional) of someone else? If the answer is "it will protect me," that is a confirmation of my intitial conviction to stand up and bodly speak the truth in love, regardless of whether or not it makes my life harder.

That is not to say that I won't make mistakes and still choose the wrong responses as I grow in wisdom. Many times I gave the wrong answer to the question of who something was about because I got confused in the learning process. But I can live with knowing I have made a mistake while trying to have the right motive better than I can live with tolerating and excusing my wrong/selfish motives. It seems to me that Jesus emphasized the importance of the motives of our hearts more than our perfect performances. In fact, a pleasing performance can often cover up a lot of secret sin and a very wicked heart. God will not be fooled, but a lot of people will be.

Sometimes I have to ask God to reveal more of my heart to me because I can't see what's there through my own lens. In His mercy, I know He has answered this prayer only a little at a time. I'm quite sure that if He answered it with large doses of the selfishness HE sees in me, it would completely overwhelm me.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Blogging

When I began writing on this blog, I invited only a few friends and family to read -- if they had any interest. I didn't presume that anyone would be interested in reading my blog. I occasionally sent someone a link so they could see pictures or watch a video clip of the kids. (I've removed the extensive photo gallery so that pictures of my grandsons and other family members do not frame the posts. But I will still include occasional pictures within a post.)

My initial reason for this blog was to post chapter by chapter discussion of books I was reading; primarily for my small women's group. But I got emails from several readers, not in my group, who shared with me that my blog was a spiritual encouragement to them and they checked it for posts daily. I enjoy writing and putting my thoughts to paper (or in this case, to screen). So I was encouraged to continue. (It takes very little encouragement, because I enjoy it so much.) I would guesstimate that I had no more than a dozen regular readers. But I wasn't writing for the masses (nor am I now for that matter). I was writing for a small audience and for myself. I found that I got more out of my reading when I wrote about it.

At one point, someone asked me to post updates on my dieting progress (which began in October). So I wrote some posts about that. And sometimes I use the blog simply to express my thankfulness for God, His blessings and for the people in my life that mean so much to me.

I am, by nature, a born communicator. I remember taking personality and strengths tests while in college a few years ago. I consistently measured high in communicating, relating to others and empathy. I am also a very outgoing, extroverted and open (to a fault) person. I don't like facades. And I don't do well at protecting myself emotionally. I won't have to know you long to tell you the worst thing about me or the worst mistake I have ever made. You won't have to hear it from someone else.

I am just a person who is flat out vulnerable and, at 48, (finally) quite comfortable with that part of myself. Every once in a while, I wish I could be a little better at guarding myself in certain situations. But that just isn't who I am. So if you want to take a shot at me, I will probably hand you the ammunition. I may cry when you hurt me (I WILL cry -- I am also a crier). But I'll come out of it not regretting my vulnerability. Because it takes vulnerability to love. And I choose love over protecting myself.

It's kind of a strange feeling now to have been made aware that there are people reading this blog who may not particularly love me or have positive feelings toward me. I'm not sure exactly what their goal is in reading. Maybe it's just to stay informed of what I'm sharing or simply out of curiosity. And that's fine. I have read people's blogs or message boards out of curiosity many times. And I am the one who made the choice to leave my blog open to anyone. I could have made it private, only allowing people I give permission to read. But that's not my style. And besides, if you are reading this, that means you are not indifferent toward me (yet). And that gives me hope.

You see, those of you who may be reading this whose friendship or respect I have possibly lost, I still have a very deep love and affection for you. I still consider you my friends, even if you don't consider me yours. I always will. And you will never be "out of sight, out of mind" because of our differences. I have accepted the losses that accompany the stand I've taken, but I will always feel the loss. Deep down in my heart, you are a part of me and who I am. You always will be. That can never change.

If you have an interest in reading, for any reason, you are welcome here. And I want to emphasize again, you are welcome to respond. I will not censor anyone's comments unless they are, obviously, profane or hostile in a scary way, etc. Feel free to say anything to me that you wish to say, whether anonymously or openly.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Chapter 17 - Unanswered Prayer: Living with the mystery

In this chapter, Yancey explores the sweeping promises of Jesus concerning prayer and the mystery of why some prayers receive answers and some, seemingly, do not. "As C. S. Lewis acknowledged, the real problem lies not in the fact of refusal but in the Bible's lavish promises. In a nutshell, the main difficulty with unanswered prayers is that Jesus seemed to promise there need not be any."

He poses the question, "Could it be that Jesus gave the Twelve, handpicked to carry on the work after his death, certain rights and privileges in prayer that would not be normative for every follower?" Although the Gospel writers don't say that directly, "they do specify in each case that Jesus was speaking to his intimate disciples, not a large crowd." He also suggests another explanation that perhaps "The assurance of answered prayers, still sweeping in scope, comes with conditions. Am I abiding in Christ? Am I making requests according to his will? Am I obeying his commands?" I agree with Yancey on this statement: "The more we know of God, the more we know God's will, the more likely our prayers will align with that will."

He addresses the importance of waiting and gives examples from the Bible of the many prayers that were answered after long periods of waiting. Sometimes the person whose prayer was answered did not live to see the answer. The passage came to my mind just before I read it in the book that a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day with the Lord. I have been convinced for a long time that God's slowness in responding to many situations is an act of mercy. He is patient and often does not respond in our time frame, but God is faithful. (A random thought to a long standing question of mine I will throw in here. I wonder if that is the explanation to Jesus telling the thief on the cross that "today" he would be with him in paradise -- since Jesus was not going to be in paradise within the next 24 hour period of time. But if a thousand years is as a day to the Lord, Jesus obviously did not have our human time limitation in mind.)

Yancey tells of Christian friends in China and Japan, experiencing persecution of the church such as no American has yet to experience (that I know of). And he quotes a Chinese Christian as instructing others, "Don't pray for me to get out of prison, please pray for courage and strength so that I can witness boldly in the prison and not lose faith." I feel shamed by reading that, as I so often have a boldness that stands up for a moment and then wants to retreat into a corner when I experience a far lesser opposition than witnessing boldly in prison.

Yancey touched on something that was mentioned in a previous comment when he expressed the belief that "In all my prayers, whether I get the answers I want or not, I can count on this one fact: God can make use of whatever happens. Nothing is irredeemable." I love that about God. I know that so often I blunder in my attempt to do the right things. My motives can never be 100% pure. There is always sin and selfish motives intermingled with anything I desire to do from a pure heart. But God can still use us in our inadequacy. He can redeem every situation, every conversation, every blunder. And He will. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. We just have to acknowledge our condition and run to Him for His forgiveness, His mercy and His redemption.

Yancey quotes a British author, John Baillie, as praying this prayer: "Teach me, O God, so to use all the circumstances of my life today that they may bring forth in me the fruits of holiness rather than the fruits of sin," and goes on to list these specific requests as a part of that prayer...

Let me use disappointment as material for patience.
Let me use success as material for thankfulness.
Let me use trouble as material for perseverance.
Let me use danger as material for courage.
Let me use reproach as material for long suffering.
Let me use praise as material for humility.
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance.
Let me use pain as material for endurance.
We are selfish by nature and we tend to pray "for successes, happy outcomes, and relief from difficulties." Help me, Lord, to pray unselfish prayers that are in line with your will and your purposes in the earth. I know that one of the ways God answers prayer is through human agents. "God has chosen to express love and grace in the world through those of us who embody Christ," Yancey reminds his readers. The Apostle Paul carried such a burden for the Jewish people, his people, to embrace the Messiah that he had encountered on the road to Damascus and he prayed to that end daily. Yet in "city after city, his fellow Jews rejected him and he turned to the Gentiles." Yancey points out that Paul's response to that disappointment was not to simply make the request and "resign himself to God's decision." No. "Paul the human agent put feet to his prayer, making a habit of going first to the synagogue when he entered a new town, often at great personal cost as his visits led to riots." Paul persevered. We must never grow weary in well doing or in waiting for God's help. The Jews' rejection of Jesus led to his acceptance by the Gentiles. God has a plan and we will not always understand the plan. "In the end," Yancey concludes, "unanswered prayer brings me face-to-face with the mystery that silenced Paul: the profound difference between my perspective and God's."
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the Lord.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Comments

I find myself wide awake at 4:00 AM. I never used to be awake in the middle of the night. They tell me it's one of those middle-age things. But more and more frequently, I find myself waking up and knowing I will be awake for a while. So here I sit with my laptop, while half-watching headline news.

There are two comments under my previous post. You will need to read them to understand what I'm responding to. I was not aware that anyone with any animosity toward me was reading my blog, although I certainly knew it was possible. Actually, I think the comment was specifically intended for Danny. But it could apply to me as well.

I want to make it clear that I welcome anyone's comments here. And anyone is certainly welcome to read. I tried to read the comment with an open heart. I well remember how I used to feel. Therefore, it is not hard at all for me to understand how certain people feel toward me or why. But the more I contemplate the specific comment that was left by anonymous, the more ironic it becomes to me.

Anonymous, I am writing specifically to you if you are reading this. The irony of your comment is that what you describe IS the way I grew up -- believing that we had the truth everyone else lacked, that we were "the garner" for everyone who would ultimately "come out of her" and be saved. We wrote and sang songs about this. It was taught that there was little value in crusades like Billy Graham's because after new converts repented and asked Christ to come into their hearts, they were told to go back to their local churches (where they would not receive the truth and would be led to believe false doctrine about salvation). Where once there was more emphasis given to our right doctrine and being in the right church than to repentance and finding Christ, it amazes me to hear some of the same people now trying to downplay or even deny that emphasis. But to embrace these beliefs and then view someone else as having a messianic complex because of their conviction to share the gospel is amazing to me.

One cannot get any more "messianic" than to fear for people's souls if they do not follow a man to Tennessee or to say that the lights were going out on the state of California because we were leaving. Maybe some people just forget about such statements. I have not and I cannot.

My intent is not to harm anyone. This is a personal blog where I share my own personal testimony and what God is doing in my life. If I have personally done something to you that I need to ask forgiveness for, please communicate that to me. But I don't think I owe anyone an apology for sharing my own background and beliefs on my own personal blog. Nobody is forcing you to read it.

When I believed that I had the truth and was in the true church, nobody I went to church with considered that to be arrogant. When we called everyone outside of "the body" Babylon, I guess that was not arrogant. I remember many testimonies about how special WE were and the comparisons to other poor Christians out there "who think they have a relationship with God." (That is a direct quote from the pulpit that I will never forget.) However, when one leaves and openly confronts those teachings, we become arrogant persons with a messianic complex because we believe we have found the true gospel and want to proclaim it.

I do not mean to sound sarcastic. In all sincerity, I find that to be one of the biggest and most confusing ironies of all. And I welcome more dialogue from you or anyone else reading who objects to what I have shared.

***I am obviously making an assumption that the anonymous comment came from someone I know who was offended by this blog. Although, there is no way for me to know that. In the light of day, I'm wondering if I should have even responded to the comment. And I have even considered deleting the last couple of posts. My intent is not to inflame people.***

Friday, January 4, 2008

My Disclaimer at the top...

Underneath the title of my blog is the explanation of the title, where I mention that I tend to think out loud. For those of you reading my blog, please know that I am simply posting my thoughts here. My thoughts seem to include quite a bit of reflection on my past. My past continues to have an impact on me as I try to grow in God. It seems that nearly everything I read or experience connects to a past experience or past events in some way. I am forever contemplating the difference between what I once believed and what I now believe about God -- and why. One thing I am more convinced of than ever is how important truth is and that the true gospel be preached.

I am posting to a small group of friends who know bits and pieces of my personal testimony. Sometimes I wonder if, while reading my posts, any of you may wonder why I still need to revisit these past events. I can't completely answer that question, even for myself. And I realize that not everyone can or will understand my need to talk about these things. But this is my spiritual journey. And my blog is a discussion of that ongoing journey.

No matter how long I live as a Christian, I know that at the end of my life, I will still be learning. And I believe part of that process will be reflecting on the past and what I have learned from it.

False Beliefs

I hope I can bring my thoughts together. They are many and they are all over the place.

Let me start by giving a brief explanation of my background. I was raised in a church that taught that Jesus was not God and was not eternal with the Father. He was the first creation of God. He never shared equality with God, nor does he now. I remember that when we sang the song, "There's just something about that name," we changed the words in one place where it described Jesus as "Almighty God is he!" to "The mighty God is he!" I know Jesus is called the mighty God in scripture. But he also referred to himself as "Before Abraham was, I am" while here on earth. That is pretty hard to get around, now that I see it.

In John's Gospel, Jesus is described as The Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. On this scripture alone, I don't know how anyone can believe there was ever a time when Jesus did not exist. If God is eternal, His Word has to be eternal. His Word was not a creation. If God exists, His Word exists. But I never thought about the subject this deeply while I remained there. I was convinced I already had the truth and any study I did was to back up what I was taught -- definitely not to consider what the whole of Christianity believed about God. I have since discovered scriptures I never contemplated prior to leaving.

I was also taught that the purpose of Christ's death on the cross was to give me an initial salvation experience (forgiveness of "past sins") and an opportunity to be saved (or to "make it" to heaven). Making it depended on me. To obtain eternal life, I would have to live the same sinless life that Jesus lived. His life on earth was to be the example and the evidence that it could be done. If he could do it, so could I. And it was a requirement of God that I overcome all sin in my life and be in this perfected status, Jesus' moral equal, in other words, in this lifetime, to receive eternal life. If I died not reaching perfection in this life, I would resurrect at the end of the thousand year reign of Christ and have another opportunity to complete this process. (Only those who reached perfection in this life would make up the bride of Christ.) If one did not reach perfection after the resurrection, they would ultimately die again; this time for good. I was taught that nobody went to a literal hell because hell was not literal (just the grave or separation from God). Also, Satan was not a literal being. He was our carnal mind, which was our actual adversary. So, anyone who did not "make it" spent eternity in the grave.

When it comes to the belief that we could resurrect, still fail to reach perfection and ultimately die a second time, I never even considered that the Bible says every man is destined to die once and then face judgment. That scripture was not quoted to me. I don't know how anyone could read that verse and believe what we were taught.

I was taught that we had "the truth" that the rest of Christianity did not have. But before the Lord's return, God would give power to his true church and there would be a great harvest of people coming out of the false churches and into the one true body (which is who we believed and claimed, amongst ourselves, to be). It was not permitted for us to date and marry outside of our group. In order for us to have the blessing of the pastor, someone had to come into our group and share our "vision" of the truth before a marriage could be viewed as right in the eyes of God. There were also other requirements that I won't elaborate on in this post.

When I left this group, I was not convinced that their doctrines were false. I was confused about that. But I was beginning to seriously question many things I had been taught. (I left for many reasons that I won't attempt to explain in this post.) I experienced a lot of anxiety about whether or not God would be displeased with me for leaving the true church simultaneously with many evidences that I was being "led out." I believe this was because a lot of fear had been put into me concerning the seriousness of leaving this group. I remember many sermons about anyone who would leave "the body" to join themselves to "the harlot daughters." And all of my life, the harlot daughters were "Babylon" or "the religious world," aka, all of Christianity outside "the body." When you are taught that from a small child, as I was, it produces fear. But this was a fear I did not recognize or confront until I physically left and the anxiety manifested itself emotionally.

As a result of the inner conflict I felt for several years, I began to post some of my experiences on a website for people who had left this group. I hurt a lot of lifelong friends by doing this. They felt that I had betrayed them. Even though I never said anything that wasn't true. And I did not embellish the facts. I have many times looked back at that period of time and wondered why I felt compelled to do that. I still wonder if it was wrong. At that point, I think it was more therapeutic for me as an individual than anything else. I was working through a lot of memories and a lot of fears. I often regretted alienating people I loved and grew up with and wished I could just "walk away," as they wished I could, in silence and without causing them any embarrassment. I didn't really understand why I could not do this. Eventually, I decided that nothing good was coming from my participation in that forum and I ceased from writing about my experiences for quite a while.

Then something happened that stirred me to post on another website. I became aware that Neal Morse was about to release a new CD and the topic was the false church and the true church. Or, at least, that was my understanding of what the new CD (Sola Scriptura) was. I had frequently read the spiritual discussion message board on his website because Neal had come into my former church a few years before I left. I knew him and loved him personally. I believed him to be very sincere. But when I began reading about the message of his new album, I was concerned that he was taking the false teachings of this church global and that many new Christians would be influenced by these doctrines because they were fans of and adored Neal Morse as an artist. I recognized that he might have a special influence in many lives. Therefore, I felt compelled to post a few things the church taught/teaches that were not being openly shared at that point on the website. I did not want to harm Neal personally. I had mixed feelings about posting. But I felt a deep conviction that the truth was more important than anything else. And I posted what I was taught while in the same church -- as a heads up to readers. I did it anonymously, but when asked if I was the one who wrote it, I quickly owned my words. It did not remain on the website long. It was immediately deleted so that as few people as possible would have the chance to read it. But I have always been convinced that the people God wanted to see it, saw it. I gave Neal my word that I would never post on his site again. And I have not broken that promise, nor will I. Although, I do occasionally still read some of the discussions.

I did nothing but openly reveal the teachings of the church I grew up in. I did not slander anyone. I had no personal malice toward Neal. I still have a copy of what I posted and it wasn't personal or attacking in any way. It was simply an explanation of what I had personally been taught in the same church. But it was received as a personal attack and I am still viewed by some as an enemy, or as someone who left angry and looks for opportunities to air my grievances. When my post disappeared, the board was informed that the poster was a disgruntled, ex-member of the church and was personally attacking Neal on his own website. That was not true. I explained my reasons in detail privately, to Neal and his wife, but that wrong description of me was never corrected openly. I accepted that. But God eventually showed me one of the purposes He had in my post and what He accomplished through it. And that was enough for me. Of all the things I have ever shared openly, I know I did the right thing in posting those beliefs. And I've accepted the consequences.

There's a reason all of this is on my mind this morning. A friend sent me a link to an article about a book that also represents a false Christian message and a false Jesus. When I read this, I could not help but think about the seriousness of what I was taught all my life and how it shaped my relationship, or lack of relationship, with God. And I remembered a "Daily Thought" I received a while back and kept because it made such an impression on me. I will share it at the end of this post.

If you would like to read the article my friend sent me, here is the link: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/thcourse.html

Yesterday I was listening to a Tim Keller sermon about Abraham praying for the city of Sodom. He emphasized Abraham's concern for the city and mentioned that it was the city he prayed for and never specifically for his nephew, Lot, to be spared. He talked about the exchange between Abraham and God. At the same time as Abraham feared God would be upset with him for pushing him with yet another request, because he knew God loved him, he had the courage to have a real relationship, one where God could challenge him even as he challenged God.

Keller talked about how so many of us in this culture make God into a warm, fuzzy concoction of what feels good to us, or what we feel comfortable with, and not a God who can challenge us or have authority over us. He made a statement about how it is no wonder that we hear things like "The God I serve would not..." or "My God wouldn't..." and then the sentence is finished with something the speaker would not do or say or embrace. This kind of God cannot challenge us and has no authority over us. And the reason is, we've made him into ourselves and not The Almighty God of the Bible. Of course there may be a warm, fuzzy feeling when one prays to him, even though so many do not consider themselves "religious" and do not feel the need to attend church or read the Bible. And the reason for the warm, fuzzy feeling is that we are, in essence, praying to ourselves if we are not praying to, and submitting to the authority of, the God of the Bible.

I know that I embraced a God that was not the God of the Bible at one time in my life. And I did not know who Jesus truly was for most of my life. I am so thankful God has revealed Himself to me and shown me all the scriptures that plainly tell me who Jesus is. I have repented for and renounced my former beliefs. But until I did that, I could not embrace the promise of eternal life. I remember sharing with my pastor how I could not truly believe I would go to heaven or see God because of what I had been taught. I believed what men told me about God and salvation more than I believed God's promises to me, plainly given in scripture. I allowed men to twist these scriptures into "It doesn't mean exactly what it says." And my pastor helped me to recognize that and repent for it.

This has become quite a long post, but I want to share the John Stott "Daily Thought" I mentioned earlier. I know that I was impressed to save it because of the link my friend sent me today and the way God used it to show me the monumental significance in denying who Christ truly is.

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The Fundamental Test

The fundamental doctrinal test of the professing Christian concerns his view of the person of Jesus. If he is a Unitarian, or a member of a sect denying the deity of Jesus, he is not a Christian. Many strange cults which have a popular appeal today can be easily judged and quickly repudiated by this test. The extreme seriousness of the lie is that a second denial is implicit in the first: he *denies the Father and the Son* (1 Jn. 2:23).--From "The Letters of John" (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: rev. edn. Leicester: IVP, 1988), p. 116.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

We celebrated New Year's Eve at Chris and Cheryl's. It has become a tradition we look forward to every year. Cheryl and I make a couple of beef tenderloins, along with many scrumptious side dishes and desserts. (This year we had, along with the tenderloin, Alaskan Prawns sauteed in garlic, olive oil and butter, oven roasted potatoes, asparagus with Hollandaise, sauteed mushrooms, Caesar Salad, sour cream coffee cake, homemade apple crumb pie and a decadent chocolate cake with chocolate icing from Sam's Club.) We eat, stay up till midnight together and watch the ball drop in Times Square. Then we spend the night and hang out for a while on New Year's Day before heading home in the afternoon.

We have been planning to go to a resort in the Bahamas for six days to celebrate our anniversary (Jan. 4) this week. But we both started to have mixed feelings about going and we had bought travel insurance. So we decided to postpone the trip for a while. The up side to our change in plans was that I could eat whatever I wanted without even thinking about wearing a bathing suit any time soon.

I have done major damage yesterday and today. I got through Christmas and all the way to New Year's Eve only two pounds above my lowest weight since I started eating differently (and 7 1/2 pounds less than what I was three months ago). But I'm not sure I will have the courage to face the scale in the morning. Although I did work out yesterday morning and again when we got home this afternoon, I also had a craving for tacos and guacamole, which I decided I needed to get out of my system before getting back on the wagon tomorrow. Three tacos, beans, chips and guacamole and some chocolate cake later, I am miserable. But the splurge was worth it and tomorrow I will get back on track.

While at Chris and Cheryl's, we got to see my dad, Justin, Angelia and little Alexander. Alexander is so adorable. I can't resist sharing a couple of pictures. I wish I had taken a few more. Here is Alexander with my nieces, Karlie and Lexi...This is my dad, me and John...

I can't believe it's 2008. This past year has flown by. Those of you who are reading: thank you for being my friends. After I wrote my Christmas Day post about being thankful, I thought about the one glaring omission -- how thankful I am for my many wonderful, lasting friendships! In addition to those life long friends I cherish and share a long history with, God has blessed me with so many new friends in the last five years. It's hard to imagine my life had I never met and married John. Not only did God bless me with an amazing husband four years ago, many treasured friendships have come to my life as a result of marrying him, moving to Murfreesboro and attending World Outreach Church. Sometimes, when I am with these friends who have become so dear and so close to me, I find myself thinking about how hard it is to imagine my life without them. You know who you are! Thank you for your love!

Those of you who have been my friends from way back, I think you know very well how precious you are to me and how much I cherish the bond that has continued despite some of the major changes in our lives and paths these last few years. We share a history and an understanding of each other's journey that can never be duplicated or replaced! Thank you for your friendship, love, understanding and empathy along the way!