Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pictures!

We got to have Danny, Rebecca, Joshua and Andrew here for the whole day! Rebecca and I did a little Stein Mart shopping while the boys took naps. But most of the day, we just played!

Joshua


Andrew


Playing drums with Pappy John


The "fanio" (piano)


Checking out the fish!


The Change & Blind Lead the Blind (lyrics)

This first song has always been one of my favorite Steven Curtis Chapman songs. I love his lyrics. This is what the Christian life should be about...a life that's showing we're undergoing the change.

THE CHANGE (Steven Curtis Chapman)

Well I got myself a T-shirt that says what I believe
I got letters on my bracelet to serve as my ID
I got the necklace and the key chain
And almost everything a good Christian needs, yeah
I got the little Bible magnets on my refrigerator door
And a welcome mat to bless you before you walk across my floor
I got a Jesus bumper sticker
And the outline of a fish stuck on my car
And even though this stuff's all well and good, yeah
I cannot help but ask myself--

What about the change
What about the difference
What about the grace
What about forgiveness
What about a life that's showing
I'm undergoing the change, yeah
I'm undergoing the change

Well I've got this way of thinking that comes so naturally
Where I believe the whole world is revolving around me
And I got this way of living that I have to die to every single day
'Cause if God's Spirit lives inside of me, yeah
I'm gonna live life differently

I'm gonna have the change
I'm gonna have the difference
I'm gonna have the grace
I'm gonna have forgiveness
I'm gonna live a life that's showing
I'm undergoing the change

This second song is one I just found. I don't think I have ever heard it. But the lyrics spoke to my heart this morning and I am adding them to this post. THE message is the cross. If our faith is centered on anything else, if we are focused on something else, particularly ourselves, we are in bondage.

BLIND LEAD THE BLIND (Steven Curtis Chapman)

There's a teacher in a school room
Somewhere on the edge of town
Telling innocent little children what we used to be
They look and listen without a question
They see the pictures passed around
Making facts out of a theory and they all believe
As the lost lead the way
Another heart is led astray

CHORUS
These are the days when the blind lead the blind
And there's one narrow way out of here
So pray that the light of the world will keep your eyes clear
'Cause it's a dangerous place here where the blind lead the blind

There's a preacher in a nice church
Anchored in the heart of town
People flock to hear his eloquent delivery
He talks of Jesus how he can please us
But the cross cannot be found
Makin' theory out of facts until they're all deceived
And the lost lead the way
And more hearts are led astray

CHORUS

This is a dangerous time
And the truth is hard to find
So let His word light your way
And guard every step you take

Friday, March 28, 2008

Discernment and Division

I'm tired this morning from a lack of sleep. I laid awake for hours last night, thinking about an email I received from someone who does not understand why I write about my spiritual past on my blog as I do. This person considers my writing to be a public assassination of my former church. They do not see it as "Christian" behavior. They view it as tearing down others. I don't simply reject those criticisms. I laid awake for hours, taking them to heart, examining my heart.

I responded before I went to bed and then wrote a little bit more around 4:00 AM because so many thoughts were swirling around in my head. I am going to keep the details of the email and the identity of the person confidential because this person said they were writing to me as a friend and as someone who loves me. I have no desire to question the sincerity of those statements. I hope this person will not feel violated by my writing vaguely about this because it is very heavy on my mind this morning. I am not indifferent to the pain of others; I never have been.

For five years, I have questioned myself; my heart and my motives. I've prayed many prayers asking God to show me if I'm wrong to share these things. It has been said that those of us who have left should have gone away quietly. I am willing to look at myself honestly and face the truth about myself. Am I bitter? Am I out to hurt people? No, I don't think so. I can't see that in my heart if it's there. But I know God sees things in my heart that I can't. And I will continue to ask Him to reveal my heart to me more fully.

If you are reading this and you are someone I have hurt, please forgive me. I don't want to hurt you. I share my testimony and my journey on my blog. I write to process things I have struggled with and sometimes continue to struggle with. I have friends who share some of these struggles who have told me my blog has been a help to them spiritually. I'm not writing from a desire to destroy people. I'm writing about my search for more truth and the things God is showing me. I'm often writing in the hope of provoking deeper thought on certain subjects such as spiritual deception. My past is often the best illustration I can draw from. This is the life I have lived.

I was reading this morning a little bit from a new book I just got, "The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment." And I read the following:

"...discernment is a skill that does not tend to make us popular, for, as we will soon see, it requires us to make clear and unwavering distinctions between what is good and what is evil. The words of Jesus in Matthew 10:34-37 warn about the consequences of those who follow him:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

With discernment comes division. A person who seeks to be discerning must be willing to suffer the effects of this division. It will divide not only believer from unbeliever, but it may even divide a discerning believer from one who is undiscerning..."

I have offended some in private conversations about the gospel of personal fulfillment. I am sure I have been offensive to certain other friends of mine when I have raised questions about praying to Mary. I was offensive to a friend (of another faith) when I tried to tell her that Jesus was her Savior as well as mine. I hate being an offense. But can the offense be the barometer for right and wrong? Clearly it cannot because Jesus offends and the cross offends.

This is a subject that causes me a lot of inner conflict. I know I am an offense to some and, to others, I guess I am just impossible to understand. I will pray about this and ask God to more completely deliver me from needing to reflect on my past. Perhaps I can express my thoughts without specifically referring to details. It's hard to blot out 43 of your 48 years. There have been many times I have wished it could be done with just one simple prayer. Nobody wishes I could be completely free from the past more than me. I truly am sorry if I have hurt you. That is never my objective. I am just a very straightforward communicator. Please forgive me.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Could there be any sweeter comment?

This is actually kind of funny. But coming from a husband (especially being said to ME)...well...I just don't know if there could be any sweeter words than the ones my husband said to me this morning:

"But who could get mad at YOU?"

ROFL!!! Plenty of people have gotten mad at ME! ROFL!!! And with cause.

I love you guys and have appreciated all the comments on my blog and in emails. I am feeling so blessed. And now I am off to see my grandbabies!!!! Yea!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Our part in the Savior's Death

I admire my son's ability to say what's on his heart in less than a thousand words. I don't have that gift. I always use too many words. A friend of mine told me last night that she reads Danny's blog (abundantredemption.blogspot.com) more than she reads mine. I could take a wild guess as to at least one of the reasons why. ; )

In the book, "Living the Cross Centered Life," there is a quote from John Stott that says: "We may try to wash our hands of responsibility like Pilate, but our attempt will be futile, as futile as his. For there is blood on our hands."

Mahaney asks the reader whom they most identify with in the scene of Jesus' crucifixion. And then he explains where in the picture he sees himself; in the angry mob, "screaming, 'Crucify Him!'"

He goes on to say:

That's who we should all identify with. Because apart from God's grace, this is where we would all be standing, and we're only flattering ourselves to think otherwise. Unless you see yourself standing there with the shrieking crowd, full of hostility and hatred for the holy and innocent Lamb of God, you don't really understand the nature and depth of your sin or the necessity of the cross.

Later in the chapter, Mahaney brings us from our sin back to grace with these words:

But convincing you of sin is not my ultimate purpose here; rather, I want to convince you of grace. For when you're deeply aware of your sin, and of what an affront it is to God's holiness, and of how impossible it is for Him to respond to this sin with anything other than furious wrath -- you can only be overwhelmed with how amazing grace is.

Only those who are truly aware of their sin can truly cherish grace.


This morning, I find myself wanting to write from my heart. My heart is heavy. Many people close to me are hurting. I hurt for them. I can fix nothing. For the majority of my life, I have felt compelled to try to fix everything or be actively engaged in trying to fix things. For once in my life, I don't feel compelled to do anything but wait on God and pray that He will teach us what He wants us to learn. One of the most effective ways we learn and grow is through suffering. We want to resist it and avoid it. But it's necessary and it's for our good. It's exciting to me to know that the pain will be productive and I will not regret it. And in the end, there will always be grace.

I was sharing with my small group last night that I do not regret any of the pain in my past and I would not change a day of it even if I could. Some of the most valuable life lessons I have learned have been a direct result of the things I have suffered. Evidently, God saw the most effective ways to teach me certain lessons and He utilized them for my good. I'm thankful He loves me that much. And the joy of my present is sweeter, so much sweeter, because I have lived in those difficult places, often feeling they would never end. But they did. And while I waited for each storm to pass, there was mercy and grace.

As time goes on, I am learning more and more how crucial it is for us to look at our own hearts and see the log in our own eyes rather than expose the faults of others. I do not believe that God is ever punishing us. But I do believe that He humbles us. And while that is never an easy process, I want to submit to it willingly. I will never increase in humility if I resist the difficult process of being humbled. Sometimes we feel humiliated by a misrepresentation of the truth. But Jesus did not correct every untruth that was spoken about Him. And He is my example. I want to resist my impulse to explain and defend myself every time I feel misjudged or misunderstood. To my amazement, I am seeing how God is gradually delivering me from the desire to do that. If you know me at all, you know that's a miracle. I have spent my whole life trying to explain my heart to anyone who would listen because I have pretty much always felt misunderstood by the closest people to me. I cared far too much what other people thought of me. You cannot deliver yourself from this.

I'm so thankful for the growth God has been bringing to my life. Specifically, I notice that I keep hearing the message of the gospel being inaudibly spoken to me in response to difficulties and stress. My old internal tapes are still there. But the gospel drowns them out. Not long ago I would feel crushed by events out of my control or things said about me that were not true. But something exciting is happening inside. It is the transformation of the Holy Spirit. I can trust God and rest, knowing He has a purpose in everything. It will all be okay. I don't have to try to fix anything because He is in control.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

I know my Redeemer lives!

It has been so amazing to me over the last couple of years to learn about the substitutionary atonement of Christ. I know that to some of you who do not share my spiritual history, this seems so odd. But I was not taught that Jesus was my substitute. I was taught that my eternal destiny was not determined by faith alone in what Jesus did for me on the cross. I was taught that his death on the cross was to give us the Holy Spirit and a chance to go on to perfection. I was taught that what made Jesus different from us was that He had the Holy Spirit from birth and we don't. But once we received Spirit Baptism (with the evidence of other tongues), we now had the same power within us and that power would enable us to be perfect (in this life) just as He was. Not only was it possible, both the experience and perfection were requirements for eternal life.

I wrote a whole paragraph about specific things I was taught in my last post, but I decided to take it out. (So if you read it while it was there and then wondered what happened to it, that is the explanation.) I am concerned that, for my friends who do not share my past history, it may sometimes become laborious to read those things. And I try not to get carried away in the details. But this morning, I have to share the contrast between my past and present because it is Easter weekend and I am filled with gratitude for the righteousness that has been imputed to me through Christ! Easter also brings back a specific memory. I think about it every year.

This post will probably become long. There is much I want to share this morning. So feel free to skip it if you are pressed for time.

Most of my life, I didn't know what Jesus really did for me. What I knew was a skewed gospel. It was another gospel. It wasn't the true gospel. And I am so thankful that God has been so merciful to me to allow me to know that my standing with Him is not based on any worthiness found in me. I am covered by the blood of His Son. And I no longer have to fear that I cannot measure up and be accepted by Him. I am His child through adoption, not through achievement. Praise God, from Whom ALL blessings flow!

At Easter time, I always remember Easter of 2004. I wanted to take my new husband to my old church on Easter Sunday. I didn't really want to go to church there. I just wanted him to meet my old friends and them to meet him. I knew that was the only way I could accomplish this. (John refers to that day as "John on parade day." And it's true. I feel so honored to be married to him and I am always thrilled to introduce him as my husband.)

I remember how strange the Easter message was to me that day, after only being gone for about a year. The pastor spoke on the Holy Spirit and he went overboard (in my opinion) in emphasizing that prior to baptism in the Spirit (with the evidence of speaking in other tongues), your soul is DEAD to God. And he repeatedly used the word dead.

Remember that I was taught the new birth was the experience of speaking in other tongues and not coming to faith in Christ alone. Therefore, no one was born again at conversion or through saving faith, but only through this experience. And only at the time of this experience (which could be witnessed and verified by others), was your soul made alive to God. The message was not foreign to me. I had heard it all my life. But this time it stood out to me because I had spent a year away from that environment, and in that year I had been exposed to the truth of God's Word. I had learned the truth of salvation. I sometimes wonder about when I truly became a believer, because even though I always considered myself a Christian, I found true salvation only after I left there. But I try not to make judgments about the salvation of anyone else. Only God can know an individual's heart and what they truly believe. And those whom God has chosen, even if they are presently in deception, as I was, He will save.

To me, the message that day was one of death and not redemptive life. The pastor was declaring, without coming out and clearly saying it, that if you had not spoken in tongues, your soul remained DEAD to God even if you were a believer. I realized what a strange Easter message it was and how wrong he was. My Christian husband was appalled by the message and made one request. I'll never forget, as we were leaving the parking lot, him saying to me, "I did this for you once, but please don't ever ask me to come back here for a church service again." And I promised I wouldn't. There were other things said in the service that threw up red flags for him, too. For instance, there was a prayer request from a man on the platform for a little girl -- that her mother would not be awarded custody of her, because it would take her out of a "body" church. And my husband immediately recognized the belief that it was more critical for this little girl to be in one of their churches than to be with her mother.

It's hard for me not to get caught up in the details. This is my testimony of deliverance. But I guess if you weren't interested, you wouldn't be reading my blog. So I will continue. : )

The same year I knew I was supposed to leave that church, I began listening to Tim Keller sermons. No matter what part of the Bible he is teaching on, he always demonstrates how every single story in the Bible is about Christ and pointing us to Him. The whole Bible is HIS story, from beginning to end. And I began to learn about salvation and see the scriptural evidence contradicting what I had been taught. There are far too many examples for me to include in this one post. But one that greatly helped to illuminate the gospel to me was the story of David and Goliath. Keller clearly showed how that story pointed to Christ as Savior. He explained how the message of the story was not that we all needed to be the hero of the story or like David. No, we are the cowards in the story who need a hero, a Savior. The deal David made was that the reward coming to him for defeating Goliath would be imputed to those he fought to deliver. My former leadership made the most important point of the story the five-fold ministry (the five smooth stones). Not that it was ever said, "This is the most important thing to get out of the story," but that was what was emphasized in the story over and over again.

I see now how over-emphasized the role of the ministry was in salvation there. I was taught that I would not have eternal life unless I had reached perfection when I died, but I would receive a resurrection and an opportunity to finish overcoming at that time. This did not give me any real hope or comfort because I never understood why I would be able to do then what I couldn't do now. But I do remember it being said (from the pulpit) that the difference would be that there would be a perfected ministry and church in operation at that time and that would enable a greater number to reach perfection. I remember the question being discussed, whether or not the saints COULD reach perfection without being "under" a perfected ministry. And looking back from this perspective, I now see how the leadership was making the ministry more essential than the work of Christ on the cross by their teaching. But I never saw it while I was there. Ironically, these are the observations (more or less) that I deleted from yesterday's post. But I will leave them this time. I didn't plan to come back to this when I started. So maybe I'm supposed to write about this. My hope and prayer is that even one person reading my blog might question what they are believing and find the truth.

I was reading some Charles Spurgeon quotes this morning from "The Power of Christ's Second Coming." I was reading from Chapter Four, "I know that my redeemer liveth." They are the words of Job before Christ ever appeared in the earth. Spurgeon goes on to explain something I previously learned from listening to Tim Keller. This is what I most wanted to share when I began writing this post. But in order for you to comprehend my overwhelming joy at understanding this, you have to first understand what I once believed. For you, deliverance may have been from a life in the world. But my deliverance was from false religion.
_______________
Spurgeon writes:

The word Redeemer is in the original goel -- meaning kinsman. The duty of the kinsman, or goel, was very specific. Suppose an Israelite had alienated his estate, as in the case of Naomi and Ruth, and it had passed away through poverty. It was then the goel's business, the redemer's business, to pay the price as the next of kin and to buy back the heritage. Boaz stood in that relation to Ruth...Remember, too, that it was always considered to be the duty of the goel not merely to redeem by price but, where that failed, to redeem by power. Hence, when Lot was carried away captive by the four kings, Abraham summoned his own hired servants and the servants of all his friends and went out against the kings of the East and brought back Lot and the captives of Sodom (Gen. 14). Now, our Lord Jesus Christ, who once has played the Kinsman's part by paying the price for us, lives, and He will redeem us by power. O Death, you tremble at His name! You know the might of our Kinsman! Against His arm you cannot stand! You did once meet Him foot to foot in stern battle, and O Death, you did indeed tread upon His heel. He voluntarily submitted to this, or else, O Death, you had no power against Him. But He slew you, Death, He slew you!

...Passing on in our text to notice the next word, it seems that Job found consolation not only in the fact that he had a Goel, a Redeemer, but also in the fact that this Redeemer lives. Job does not say, "I know that my Goel shall live," but he says, "He lives," having a clear view of the self-existence of the Lord Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.

...Still the root of Job's comfort seems to lie in that little word my. "I know that my Redeemer liveth." ...So, what is a kinsman if he is not a kinsman to me? A redeemer who does not redeem me, an avenger who will never stand up for my blood, of what avail were such? But Job's faith was strong and firm in the conviction that the Redeemer was his. Can you say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth?"

...Surely if Job, in those dark misty ages when there was only the morning star and not the sun, when they saw but little, when life and immortality had not been brought to light -- if Job before the coming and advent of Christ still could say, "I know," you and I should not speak less positively...

...oh, to go down into the river of death knowing that all is well, confident that as a guilty, weak, and helpless creature I have fallen into the arms of Jesus, and believing that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him.
_______________

I have goose bumps all over right now as a result of reading and typing these words. The gospel has been made alive to me. I have had to reject so many beliefs that were cultivated in me from birth. And I will not tell you that it was an easy process. I think it's obvious from my writing that it was not. I have lived in condemnation. I have lived in fear and anxiety. I have lived in self-doubt. But my Redeemer lives! My Kinsman, my Goel, He has purchased me with His blood. He did not purchase me with His precious blood to ever lose me to my own inadequacies. My sin and inadequacy was the reason His blood had to be shed. He did for me what I could never do for myself. Death passed over the Children of Israel because the blood was over their door. Yes, there are a lot of other details in the story. They obeyed all of God's instructions. But the death angel passed over them because their door posts were covered by the blood of the lamb.

It is only the blood of the Lamb that saves us. The white robes of the overcomers are white because they are washed in the blood of the Lamb.

Hebrews 7:27
Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.

Hebrews 9:12
He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.

Hebrews 9:24-26
24 For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Cross Centered Life

This is Good Friday. When I wake up in the morning, I often don't immediately remember what day it is. So I was not thinking about it being Good Friday when I pulled my laptop onto my lap to check my email this morning. But I did wake up thinking about the conversation Todd and I had (about the cross) in the comments section of my last post.

I have read several things in the last few days that I want to share on my blog. So I went into the other room to pick up a specific book and saw another book, "The Cross Centered Life" by C. J. Mahaney, near it. (I highly recommend this book.) I shy away from claiming that God spoke something to me, but I did feel impressed with the words "write more about the cross." It felt like it came out of nowhere. And then I immediately remembered that this is Easter weekend and today is Good Friday. Of course I should write about the cross.

The following quotes are taken from "The Cross Centered Life."
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Each of our lives is centered on something. What's at the center of yours?

Think about it for a moment. What's really the main thing in your life? Only one thing can truly be first in priority; so what's at the top of your list, second to none?

Or let me put it this way: What are you most passionate about? What do you love to talk about? What do you think about most when your mind is free?

Or try this: What is it that defines you? Is it your career? A relationship? Maybe it's your family, or your ministry. It could be some cause or movement, or some political affiliation. Or perhaps your main thing is a hobby or a talent you have, or even your house and possessions.

It could be one of any number of good things -- but when it comes to centering our life, what really qualifies as the one thing God says should be the most important?

THE ONLY ESSENTIAL

Here's how Paul answers that question for us: "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you...For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins."

This, Paul says, is the main thing. Nothing else -- not even things that are biblical and honorable -- are of equal or greater importance than this: God sent His Son to the cross to bear His wrath for sinners like you and me.

If there's anything in life we should be passionate about, it's the gospel. And I don't mean passionate only about sharing it with others; I mean passionate in thinking about the gospel, reflecting upon it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way we look at the world and all of life.

"The gospel," writes Jerry Bridges, "is not only the most important message in all of history; it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living in it." Neither you nor I want to be numbered among the believers who live out that tragedy.

That's why our attention must continually be drawn back to what John Stott calls "that great and most glorious of all subjects -- the cross of Christ." In the Scriptures we discover a profound urgency for focusing all we are and everything we do around the gospel of the cross.

OUR CONSTANT DANGER

A concern expressed by D. A. Carson...is well justified: "I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry."

Every day we all face the temptation to move away from the gospel, to let it drop from our hands and hearts. Three main tendencies in particular tend to draw us away:

1) Subjectivism, which means basing our view of God on our changing feelings and emotions.

2) Legalism, which means basing our relationship with God on our own performance.

3) Condemnation, which means being more focused on our sin than on God's grace.

...Let me urge you to do whatever it takes to make the gospel your passion. Ask God to change your heart so you can personally affirm for your own life the words of Galatians 6:14 -- "Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

WE NEVER MOVE ON

But maybe this thought is nagging you: If we as Christians have already come to believe in the gospel -- if we've already received the gift of salvation He purchased for us with His precious blood -- why focus any longer on the cross? Isn't it time to give our full attention to more "mature" matters of living out our faith?

Nope.

Read slowly and listen carefully to one of my favorite quotations: "We never move on from the cross, only into a more profound understanding of the cross." The cross and its meaning aren't something we ever master.

...Too many of us have fumbled the most important truth of the Bible, and therefore we've suffered the consequences.

But it's not too late to change. It's not too late to restate and reestablish the obvious truth as the most important truth in your life -- and to be caught up as never before in wonder over the love and grace of God.
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The subjects I most remember endless teaching on were my perfection, the importance of the ministry, the types and shadows of the tarbernacle and the book of Revelation, which was the center of the gospel taught to me as I grew up, not the cross. I once believed the "deep truths" of the Bible were found in these teachings. But I now see that the love men tried to instill in me for "special knowledge" was actually idolatry, as described above by D. A. Carson. The periphery was displacing the center. And many consequences have followed that error.

We are to lift high the cross of Christ and only the cross of Christ. Our salvation and the power to overcome are found only in the blood of Jesus shed FOR US. No glory goes to us. Our righteousness is HIS righteousness. There is no other righteousness that will ever satisfy the holiness of God. I have shared the following scriptures and comments before on my blog.

"...the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18

I remember when my pastor linked the above scripture with 2 Timothy 3:1-4.

1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

He read these verses from 2 Timothy and then reminded us that the Bible tells us the power of God is the message of the cross. Where THE message is not the cross, there is only a form of godliness.

Again I turn to quotations from "The Cross Centered Life."
____________________

Imagine yourself at Timothy's side as he receives a letter from the apostle Paul -- the letter that will be Paul's last...

With Paul's life drawing to a close, what special insight has God given him to pass on? Timothy's heart pounds as the truth hits him with piercing clarity: There's no new secret revealed here, no previously hidden knowledge, but simply a stirring affirmation of the one truth Paul has lived for daily these past three decades, and soon will die for. It's the same truth for which Timothy, too, must spend himself: the gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New Book

I am beginning a new book with my small group. It's a book that was recommended by a friend. It's called "Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible: Flawed women loved by a flawless God." The other night I read the introduction and the first chapter about Sarah.

In the introduction, the author is confessing about what a controlling mother she can be at times. She did not sugar-coat her behavior, but told a painful story about how she had inflicted pain on her son. The conflict was over his college choice (which was not her choice FOR him.) Her words really stood out to me in light of recent discussions on forgiveness and the wounds we carry. The pain she inflicted on her son seems so, so minor in comparison to the deep wounds of childhood some very close to me carry. And yet, this mother shows such humility. She makes no excuses for her unkindness or the pain she caused her son. She does not feel entitled to his forgiveness. On the contrary, she tells us she does not deserve a son who forgives so generously. I want this humility in my life.

"What kind of Christian mother manipulates her child, belittles her husband, and throws temper tantrums at the dinner table?

This kind, I'm afraid.

As the apostle Paul said, 'I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.' Amen, brother, and don't I know it.

When I finally calmed down, asked everyone's forgiveness -- individually and collectively...peace was restored in the Higgs household.

But I don't fool myself. Damage was done, and wounds were inflicted, requiring time to repair and heal.

Even two years later, when I sent these pages to my sophomore son for him to critique, he e-mailed me and admitted, 'This brought tears to my eyes, Mother. I'm sorry I disappointed you so much.'

Groan.

I wrote back at once. 'The problem was all mine, sweet boy. You are exactly where God wanted you to be, which is wonderful...'

That's the problem with sin: its influence lingers. My ten-minute tirade still has the power to hurt my precious son, years after the fact. No matter what I say or do now, he will remember what I said and did then. God forgives our sins completely, yet the consequences remain. Spoken words can never be unspoken. Even so, my son closed his comments with, 'Please don't beat yourself up, Mom. You don't deserve it.'

What I truly don't deserve is a son who extends forgiveness so generously.

...From the first page of his Word to the last, God reveals our badness and his goodness. Our neediness and his provision. Our brokenness and his healing touch. That's the beauty of the Bible: 'It shows us life and people as they really are, not as we wish them to be.' It shows us the truth about God and about ourselves. I, for one, am grateful to learn our biblical ancestors were flawed. Knowing God loved this imperfect patriarchal family, we can be sure there's hope for us all."

If you know of someone who has been much more deeply wounded than the son in this story, please remember the words of this author.

"God forgives our sins completely, yet the consequences remain. Spoken words can never be unspoken."

"That's the problem with sin: its influence lingers."

Monday, March 17, 2008

More C.S. Lewis Quotes

"Christianity thinks of human individuals not as mere members of a group or items in a list, but as organs in a body -- different from one another and each contributing what no other could. When you find yourself wanting to turn your children, your pupils, or even your neighbors, into people exactly like yourself, remember that God probably never meant them to be that. You and they are different organs, intended to do different things. On the other hand, when you are tempted not to bother about someone else's troubles because they are 'no business of yours,' remember that though he is different from you he is part of the same organism as you. If you forget that he belongs to the same organism as yourself you will become an Individualist. If you forget that he is a different organ from you, if you want to suppress differences and make people all alike, you will become a Totalitarian. But a Christian must not be either a Totalitarian or an Individualist.

I feel a strong desire to tell you -- and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me -- which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs -- pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them."

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"When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light. Apparently the rats of resentment and vindictiveness are always there in the cellar of my soul. Now that cellar is out of reach of my conscious will. I can to some extent control my acts: I have no direct control over my temperament. And if (as I said before) what we are matters even more than what we do -- if, indeed, what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are -- then it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about. And this applies to my good actions too. How many of them were done for the right motive? How many for fear of public opinion, or a desire to show off? How many from a sort of obstinacy or sense of superiority which, in different circumstances, might equally have led to some very bad act? But I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives."

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"Christ says 'Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked -- the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.'

Both harder and easier than what we are all trying to do. You have noticed, I expect, that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Chritian way as very hard, sometimes as very easy. He says, 'Take up your Cross' -- in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute he says, 'My yoke is easy and my burden light.' He means both. And one can just see why both are true."

"The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self -- all your wishes and precautions -- to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call 'ourselves,' to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be 'good.' We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way -- centered on money or pleasure or ambition -- and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be plouged up and re-sown."

"It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad."

Palm Sunday Worship

Our church hosts an enormous, community-wide Easter celebration at MTSU every year. And over a thousand of us in the church work during that Easter service to make it possible. (John and I do Children's Ministry with four and five year olds.)

We normally have an Easter service for the workers on the Saturday night of Easter weekend. But we completely filled Murphy Center last Easter Sunday. I think Murphy Center holds approximately 12,000 people and our congregation has grown to between five and six thousand. So this year we are having two community Easter services. One Saturday night and one Sunday morning. Some of the volunteers will be working both services. So we had a special, Palm Sunday worship service last night for all the volunteers. It was amazing. I told John that I wish I could worship with that group of 1,000 people EVERY weekend! I always feel God and the Holy Spirit in our services. But there was something very special about last night.

I have to be honest. I have at times had mixed feelings about our MTSU Easter tradition. The community celebration is a production in some ways and I prefer less of a production personally. Part of that preference has to do with how I grew up and was taught to think of anything that was too "prepared" or "polished" as worldly (sinful). That conditioning still affects me at times. But because I work in the church office on a weekly basis, I also know the less visible, behind the scenes preparation of the staff, including everyone going to MTSU and praying over every nook and cranny, for every individual that God will bring on Easter -- that they will find and know Jesus and live transformed lives of following Him.

There will be many in attendance next weekend who are not saved. Easter may be the only day in the whole year when some people even think about going to church. Yeah, they may come to our Easter service to hear good music. But they will also hear the gospel. And a seed may be planted that will be watered in the days and weeks to follow. Last night I really felt a part of something bigger than ourselves; a collective desire to share Jesus with as many people as we can reach in our little community. And the group of worshippers last night are all willing to work in order to see this accomplished.

From time to time, our pastor says, "The dirty little secret about ministry is that, a lot of times, it feels like work." We turn locker rooms into nurseries. We leave MTSU cleaner than it is at any other time of the year. We move our entire campus over, from cribs to sound equipment, to MTSU and back. That takes a lot of work and a lot of workers. Allen always emphasizes that the ministry of Easter is much more about our individual efforts to minister than it will ever be about his sermon.

I told John as we were leaving that, even though I at times have my little "issues" about certain things (which he totally attributes to the odd spiritual environment I grew up in), I love our church and I know God placed me there. One of the signs (to me) that our growth is God's doing is that we are not growing more shallow in our faith as we get larger. And it's not becoming all about us. It's all about sharing what we have and finding ways to help others know Jesus -- even if it involves a lot of hard work. I felt that desire coming from so many hearts in worship last night.

I looked over at Dr. Jackson and Miss Betty last night and wondered what it must feel like for them to see what God has done with this congregation that started out as 25 people in a home Bible study-fellowship 27 or 28 years ago. Allen (their son) loves to tell the story about how embarrassed he was when they told him they were going to name the little church of thirty people "World Outreach Church." But they had big faith in God and they did not limit Him. God has blessed their efforts and I'm thankful this church was here for me when I needed a safe place to land.

I could never feel comfortable in a church where the true gospel was not preached. I don't want to hear humanistic sermons meant to make me feel good about myself. I want to be challenged to live a life of obedience, which is the evidence of my faith. I'm thankful to be a part of a church that is experiencing such growth, both numerically and spiritually. But I'm most thankful that the numeric growth is not the result of a watered down gospel.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Empathy, Justice, Truth, Character

I am feeling the pain of others this morning as a result of reading some recent blog entries. You won't necessarily understand everything I'm thinking or feeling without all of the background information. But I hope it will relate to your own life and experiences in some way.

Many of us know, at least to some degree, the pain of rejection. Hopefully, fewer of us know the pain of parental rejection and indifference. This is a wound I have experienced in my life and I can tell you that it is one of the most emotionally crippling wounds one can try to recover from. My dad and I have a good relationship today, but we haven't always. My wounds have healed and I am not holding onto any past hurts. But I remember the tears and the anguish resulting from his indifference toward me and his emotional rejection of me during turbulent times in our relationship. Those experiences will always be with me and they have helped to shape me into the person I am today. My fears of rejection, of being disposable, of being unlovable -- as well as my coping mechanisms -- have been formed in me through my life's experiences. (And, obviously, all my wounds did not come from my dad.)

A person who has not experienced the rejection of a parent cannot relate to my wounds. My brothers have the same dad, but they have not had the same relationship with our dad that I have had. For whatever reason, I have been (in the past) more easily discarded and I always felt that I had less value as a person because of my distinct personality traits. How unlovable do you think a person feels when they believe that they are not loved by their own parent: a person who should by nature, instinctively love them, even at their worst? I can tell you that this feels horrible. And it makes you feel like something is very wrong with you. I have felt, at times in my life, that God gave me this defective personality that not even a parent could really love or approve of. For many years of my life, I carried the weight of believing I was not the daughter that either of my parents would have picked out. And all of us have an inborn need for our parents' love, acceptance and approval. We can convince ourselves we don't, but we do and we always will -- no matter how old we get or what kind of people our parents are. It hurts even more when you have siblings who have the love you long for and who cannot understand the pain you feel -- or when they don't stand up for you because they are protecting their relationship with the same person who makes you feel so unlovable.

I do not share this to in any way reflect poorly on my dad. I love my dad very much. And I'm certain that I contributed in my own ways to the difficulties in our adult relationship. My point is that even though all feelings of anger and resentment have been put away years ago and forgiveness is not even an issue, all I have to do is think about certain situations, words and actions, and I remember the hurting like it happened last night. Even as I write this, certain experiences flood my mind and my heart feels that ache and painfully remembers because it has not been wiped out of my memory bank. As a human being, I do not possess the ability to erase my memories. And yet that is not a bad thing because the memory of my own pain enables me to feel empathy for others who experience this same pain of rejection.

It's difficult to feel genuine empathy for pain you know nothing of. It's possible to feel compassion, but empathy is more about the ability to relate to someone else and to feel what they are feeling. Getting outside ourselves and trying to imagine another person's pain first requires a desire to do so. If all that matters to me is how someone else's pain makes my life more difficult, I am not a person of empathy OR compassion.

Some people are, for whatever reason, severely lacking in their ability to feel empathy for others. People who don't feel empathy are usually very narcissistic. Everything that happens is primarily about them and how it affects them. They have a difficult time getting outside themselves enough to feel the pain of someone else. The desire to do so is often completely absent.

Where there is an absence of empathy, there is usually little conviction for justice. Where justice doesn't matter, the truth becomes something moldable and is often lost in translation. Conversely, where truth is an abstract, justice has little relevance.

I have witnessed people, whom I once had a tremendous amount of confidence in, blatantly attempt to rewrite history and distort truth for their own agendas. My sister-in-law was once told by a pastor, "You can believe whatever you want to believe."

No. Truth matters, justice matters, integrity matters to God. And these should matter to us as well. The past is not just something to "get over." The past is something we learn from. And we should examine our motives for yelling (or typing) words like "get over it" and "move on" to others who are in pain. Yes, we all need to forgive. But forgiveness is something to be demanded of ourselves, not others.

When we are demanding that someone else "get over it" for our benefit, so that our lives can be more comfortable, so that we don't have to look at the truth, that is self-serving and void of compassion. It's just wrong, pure and simple. And we need to ask the question, do we demand the same thing from ourselves that we are demanding of others? If we are nursing ANY wrong done to US at the same time as we are feeling frustrated at others for "hanging onto" their pain, we are hypocrites. This is especially true when the "others" are victims of extreme abuse, not just an unkind word or action.

Being built into a church instead of being built into Christ is a dangerous thing. It will cause you to give the glory for everything good in your life to your church instead of to God without even recognizing what you are doing. It will make you fiercely loyal to a group of people, but not necessarily to God.

"There are lots of nice things you can do with sand: but do not try building a house on it."
C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Faith and Hope - C. S. Lewis

"No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of the wind by trying to talk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later...We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means -- the only complete realist. Very well, then. The main thing we learn from a serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues is that we fail. If there was any idea that God had set us a sort of exam and that we might get good marks by deserving them, that has to be wiped out. If there was any idea of a sort of bargain -- any idea that we could perform our side of the contract and thus put God in our debt so that it was up to Him, in mere justice, to perform His side -- that has to be wiped out."

"God has been waiting for the moment at which you discover that there is no question of earning a pass mark in this exam or putting Him in your debt."

"Then comes another discovery. Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to its father and saying, 'Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.' Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child's present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction. When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins. The man is awake now..."

"...the difficulty is to reach the point of recognizing that all we have done and can do is nothing. What we should have liked would be for God to count our good points and ignore our bad ones. Again, in a sense, you may say that no temptation is ever overcome until we stop trying to overcome it -- throw up the sponge. But then you could not 'stop trying' in the right way and for the right reason until you had tried your very hardest. And, in yet another sense, handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you."

"...Christianity seems at the first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes..."

"Aim at heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither."

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Blessings

As I mentioned in my last post, I kept my youngest grandson, Andrew, overnight Friday and all day yesterday. He is such a sweetie-pie. Whenever I have one of those boys, the rest of the world stops and every minute is all about them. They are my little buddies and two of my biggest blessings in life. I love being their grandma. Here are a couple of cute pictures I took of Andrew yesterday.



I thought I had better add that I did not feed Andrew all those peas in the picture. I was letting him play and practice feeding himself. For every one that got into his mouth, two went on the floor or in his bib.

We delivered Andrew to his mommy and daddy last night at Dee Dee's 60th birthday party. Some of the new pictures on my blog were taken at the party. It was so great seeing everyone.

I am so thankful for the people God has placed in my life. I love my husband, my kids and my friends so, so much. And I feel so loved by all of them. I feel more loved and valued than I have ever felt at any other time in my life. I left the party last night in a warm glow of gratitude for the life God has given me. I often reflect on where my life was ten years ago and where I am today. And I am awed by God's mercy and faithfulness.

I have reached a place in my life where I know who my true friends are. I have true friends who have come into my life just in the last five years. And I have true friends who go back to my childhood. I have friends whose journeys have been very different from mine and friends who share the common thread of a unique history. I have friends who have only known me as Shari Howerton. And I have friends whom I've been close to through almost every chapter of my life. Each friend enhances my life in a special way. And I would have to say that even the friends who are no longer present in this season of my life are extremely important to me and will always be irreplaceable as individuals. I'm thankful they were once a part of my life.

We may not enjoy a lifetime connection to every friend, but each friendship (even those that come to an end) God gives us along the way adds something valuable to our journey. And there is always the hope that a once lost friendship may someday be renewed. We serve a God of redemption and restoration. I am living proof of that.

In my mind, the closest thing to heaven that God allows us to experience on earth is our connectedness with others. Our marriages were intended by God to be an earthly representation of the relationship between Jesus and the Church. How we love and treat each other should reflect our love for God. And I believe that relationships with others will be as much a part of heaven as they are a part of life on earth, only better.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Charity - C. S. Lewis

I'm waiting for my little Andrew to wake up. I can't believe he's still sleeping. I expect to hear him any minute. Joshua never slept this well in the pack 'n play. We kept Joshua overnight at a much younger age, but this was the first time Andrew spent the night with us away from his mommy and daddy!

Lewis addresses the three Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity in his book, Mere Christianity. And I thought I would share a few of the quotes on Charity while I have a free moment.

Part of charity is forgiveness, and he covered that in its own chapter. We have come to think of charity as giving to the less fortunate. But in the Christian sense, it means much more; it is loving others as we love ourselves.

"But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people."

"I pointed out in the chapter on Forgiveness that our love for ourselves does not mean that we like ourselves. It means that we wish our own good. In the same way, Christian Love (or charity) for our neighbours is quite a different thing from liking or affection."

Lewis' main theme in this chapter is that we should not waste time trying to conjure up a feeling toward someone. It matters not whether we feel the love. We just need to behave as though we do love them. And the same is true with our love for God. It is not a feeling God is looking for in us, but our response of obedience to Him. We love Him when we obey His commandments.

"Nobody can always have devout feelings; and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, 'Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God.' He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not."

Friday, March 7, 2008

Born of God

Who is born of God?

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

What is the victory that has overcome the world? OUR FAITH.
Who overcomes the world? Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God and everyone born of God overcomes the world.

How are we born of God?

John 1 tells us it is not of blood or being born into it, or of flesh or will of man through our own decision or some method of man.

John 1:13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The gift of eternal life through Christ alone

I am trying to post a link to a diagram Todd shared with me and I'm obviously not doing it right. If you want to see it, go to Mike Ratliff's blog by copying and pasting the following URL:
http://mikeratliff.wordpress.com/2008/03/05/death-and-the-afterlife/

I have shared before that one of my greatest struggles has been to believe I would ever go to heaven. I have that struggle because I was told all my life that nobody went to heaven when they died unless they were perfect. In my former church, the only way we could put someone in heaven at their funeral was if we declared them an overcomer (perfected), having overcome all sin just as Jesus had (before their death).

According to this teaching, your soul only moved out of your body alive if you had reached that sinless status. In years past, there was even discussion about how long you had to have remained in that sinless status to be considered perfect. One theory (that I think has now been rejected) was that you had to be perfect for three and a half years because of the three and a half years of Jesus' public ministry.

Otherwise, if you were not perfect, you would sleep (be dead) for a thousand years and come up in the resurrection. But you wouldn't come up in a glorified body. We were taught that you would resurrect in the same condition you died in. So if you died in a bad attitude, or having turned away from God, you would resurrect in the same condition. But you weren't lost if you had ever had "an experience" with God and believed in him. You would have this "full chance" (a full chance, some would way, not a second chance) that you perhaps did not have in this life. I always wondered why, if I couldn't "make it" in this life, anyone (including God) would think I could "make it" to perfection in a subsequent life. Some would call this a version of reincarnation. I never thought of it that way. It was all I knew.

I was told it was a special truth and a privilege to know these things. This also made provision for all the other Christians who would die in faith, not knowing about the requirement of perfection. God would not hold them accountable for what they didn't know. Not everyone would have the opportunity to come into contact with the true body of Christ and hear the truth from the five-fold ministry. (Great emphasis was given to the ministry and the role they played in salvation and restoration of the church.) So there obviously had to be some way to explain where these went, I guess.

I left there very confused about my own eternity. I remember asking so many times, "But what if they're right?" And I'll never forget my Christian counselor asking me in response to that question, "So, if you stay there, you don't believe you can ever be perfect and you certainly have no hope and no joy because of that. You don't feel like you're growing spiritually and you don't see how you ever can in that environment, unless you comply with all the man-made, outward standards in order to fully participate without disapproval. But at least you will have a resurrection when you die. Is that correct?" I replied, "Yes, that's correct." Then he said, "Okay, so let's say hypothetically they ARE right in what they've told you -- you will still have a resurrection because you're trying to serve God to the best of your ability. But away from that church, you have found freedom in Christ, forgiveness, love, joy, hope, peace and spiritual growth. So your life is better in the here and now, and your outcome is the same." To which I replied, "Yeah, I guess so." And he said, "Well, I see that as a win/win for you. What have you lost and what have you gained?"

He made me laugh because, believing what I had believed, he could bring it to that and the absurd would make sense. I have come a long way in my faith from that conversation. I now see the holes in that teaching from a scriptural standpoint. But, back then, I didn't. So, for anyone who struggles as I have, I wanted to share the above diagram and these scriptures:

Hbr 9:24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a {mere} copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this {comes} judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without {reference to} sin, to those who eagerly await Him.

Col 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Pride - The Great Sin (C.S. Lewis)

These are quotes from Mere Christianity:

"Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good -- above all, that we are better than someone else -- I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether."

"It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very center of our religious life."

"...many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity -- that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride -- just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense."

"Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call 'humble' nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all."

"If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed."

Mere Christianity - Forgiveness

I'm almost finished with this book now and I am getting much more out of it the further I go. I have read past the chapter on forgiveness (because I couldn't put it down last night). And there's a lot I want to share from several chapters I've read. But my posts tend to be long anyway, so I will share one subject at a time, beginning with Lewis' thoughts on Christian forgiveness.

We've all heard that saying, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." But that has always sounded a bit of an over-simplification to me. I don't know. I just haven't always liked or understood it. It makes me uncomfortable. Maybe it's because I so dislike the word hate; especially connected in any way to another person. But I really liked the way Lewis explained what this statement should actually mean to us as Christians.

He begins by explaining what it means to love your neighbor as yourself:

...'love your neighbor' does not mean 'feel fond of him' or 'find him attractive.' I ought to have seen that before, because, of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life -- namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.


To me, this would mean that we should not look down on another person, consider ourselves morally superior to another person, think or speak about them with disdain or contempt, and never stop feeling compassion for them in their weaknesses. But it does not mean we won't ever be angry about wrong actions.

...we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves -- to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. This is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.

Monday, March 3, 2008

One more quote...

I'm trying to finish this book because I will be starting a new book with my small group this week. This book, Mere Christianity, reads kind of like a manual or a textbook. It's not for everyone. I have wanted to read it for a long time because it is quoted in other books and is written by an author whose other works I have enjoyed. I don't know if I'm a little strange, but I just wanted to have read this book. I love to read and learn. And by reading this, I think I have learned a bit more about C. S. Lewis, which was also one of the reasons I wanted to read it. I realize not everyone reads a book for these reasons. And I'm not sharing in detail on this one because I have not been inspired to write a lot as a result of reading it. But there are some really good quotes worth sharing. And this is one I read this evening:

...the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less.

I wouldn't have chosen those exact words (better and worse), but I agree with the point he is making. It reminded me of the diagram Danny has drawn for most of us at one time or another of the cross getting bigger as we get smaller, or the cross getting small as we get bigger.

Mere Christianity - Virtues

I'm into the third section of this book now, which is entitled "Christian Behavior." Lewis begins by speaking about morality, what it's thought to be by some and what it truly is. And where I am reading right now, Lewis is discussing the four Cardinal Virtues which are accepted by most people and the three Theological Virtues which are usually embraced by Christians. As I said before, the radio talks that became this book took place in the forties. So some of the words are not used in exactly the same way today as they were then. Lewis explained that cardinal was just another word meaning pivotal.

The four Cardinal Virtues are Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude. His comments about temperance were the ones I wanted to share. I am not sharing this because I'm trying to make a case for drinking. I am sharing it because of the point he makes at the end, which I am in complete agreement with. I don't feel it is even necessary for me to add my comments to his, except to say that many Christians are guilty of the attitude Lewis describes as that of "a certain type of bad man." I don't want to be one of those, although I have been in the past.

Rather than paraphrase, I think I will just quote Lewis. Everything in italics is a direct quote from the book "Mere Christianity."

Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened 'Temperance,' it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons -- marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

One great piece of mischief has been done by the modern restriction of the word Temperance to the question of drink. It helps people to forget that you can be just as intemperate about lots of other things. A man who makes his golf or his motor-bicycle the centre of his life, or a woman who devotes all her thoughts to clothes or bridge or her dog, is being just as 'intemperate' as someone who gets drunk every evening. Of course, it does not show on the outside so easily: bridge-mania or golf-mania do not make you fall down in the middle of the road. But God is not deceived by externals.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mere Christianity

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says the following about authority:

"Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority...The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority -- because scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life."

Mere Christianity is a compilation of on-air radio talks that were given in the forties and first published as three separate parts. Lewis was formerly an atheist and he was making the case for Christ in his day through these talks. He said the above in response to those who rejected the authority of scripture. I have no problem accepting the authority of scripture in my life. But as I read this, it also brought back memories of misplaced authority.

While I was studying U.S. History at Vol State, I began to see how many things I had believed in my life that were simply a blind acceptance of someone else's ideology. In other words, I believed amazingly uninformed statements because I believed in the person saying them and therefore made him an authority worthy of my trust. I never bothered to investigate these ideologies or beliefs. If this man represented history or a historical figure in a certain way, I accepted it on his authority. I did the same with his interpretation of scripture. I ultimately had to face the reality that he was not an authority I should have trusted on either. Not only did he misrepresent history and historical figures with certain statements, he misrepresented the Gospel. Where scripture and God's promises seemed to contradict him, I believed him. And I yielded many aspects of my life to the traditions of men because the answer to anything debatable in scripture was, "Obey them that have the rule over you." I was taught that I could not go wrong by following this man because if I did what he said, God would not hold me responsible. My obedience to this man, in other words, would be counted by God as obedience to HIM. Scary stuff. But I once believed these things. It is not true that God will not hold me accountable for obedience or allegiance to a man. There are many scriptures that completely contradict this.

I marvel, in hindsight, at the things I once blindly accepted. While I could not fathom a group of people making the writings of a man like Joseph Smith an equal authority to the Bible, I was doing the same thing with a man named William Sowders. I was taught to believe his personal revelations based on a personal experience he had where God told him audibly, "I want you to preach MY gospel." Based on the telling of that story, I (as have many others) gave that man authority in my life equal to the scriptures themselves. That is exactly why Mormons believe what Joseph Smith wrote -- because he claimed divine revelation. How was I any different? I accepted the notion that God had withdrawn the truth from his followers for decades and decades, waiting for this man to come on the scene and preach the truth.

When my pastor's wife would declare that her husband was one of the only ones who had "stuck to the original," she was referring to the special revelations of Sowders. She claimed openly that God was going to use her husband to restore the body of Christ in the last days. Some will argue that those statements never came directly from him. But he was there when she said it and I don't remember him ever correcting her. He himself told the story about James Sowders declaring him a Moses when he was born. So, he was called a Moses. He was called a Zerubabbel. He was called an apostle in our day. And I believed these things. Some still do. This man is no longer living. But there was a time when we did not believe he would "go off the scene" before Jesus' return because he was too instrumental in God restoring the body. We wrongly elevated this man to a status God had not given him. It was done in all sincerity, but all of those things have been proven untrue.

In all those years, I never investigated what other Christians believed. I just accepted that I had been born into the truth. Much later in my life, I discovered how many things I had believed that were identical to the teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses, whom I viewed as a religious cult. And I'm not talking about minor points, but the major doctrines of both. I never knew these similarities until after I left. They were shocking to me. They were also eye-opening.

For those of you reading who did not grow up the way I did, these are some of the reasons why deception is an emotionally charged subject for me. I know the downfall of giving spiritual authority to the wrong people. That's why I try to look at the real message put forth by an author and whether or not it is the true gospel message or "another gospel," as we are warned of accepting by scripture. I want only the truth.

I am a very trusting person and I do not naturally question or scrutinize beneath the surface of things. I am not, by nature, a person of discernment. I take people at face value and am often surprised by an agenda I would never have recognized had it not slapped me in the face. I don't want to be deceived spiritually again. And I don't want to see others taken in and deceived and harmed as I have been. It's not my job to save them, of course. But it is our duty to proclaim the gospel to the world -- the world that we come into contact with on a daily basis.

I don't want to be the authority in anyone's life. I just want you to recognize who you are giving authority to in your life. For all of us, it needs to be the authority of God's Word and not the personal revelations of men or authors. There are "Christians" these days who are trying to reinvent Christianity because they feel let down by their past "Christian" experiences. This is often referred to as the Emergent Movement. I have had to work at reading a book with the thought in mind, "How does this line up with scripture?" It doesn't come naturally to me and I will be the first to admit that I need more of the Word of God to be written on my heart.

We also go wrong when we listen to the culture around us. Our culture tells us that physical beauty, youth, money, self-fulfillment, tolerance and personal happiness are all ultimate things. We are being lied to every day and some of it is penetrating our minds and influencing our priorities and choices. Myself included! I constantly have to remind myself to reject the world's values and embrace only what God values.

I loved this quote from Mere Christianity:

"...the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or -- if they think there is not -- at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it."

When Jesus returns, it is not going to be another manger scene of quiet humility. He will return in power and glory. It will be "so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time of choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not."

I grew up believing myself to be a Christian, yet I viewed Christ's return with fear and dread. Even though I sang songs about it, I did not truly long for it. I did not even look forward to it. It represented to me my end because I would not be perfect and I would not go with him when he came. Had I truly been "in Christ" instead of being "in church" I would have longed for his coming the way I have begun to in recent years.

I say that I have only begun to long for his coming because I recognize that I am in a process of growing into that longing more and more every day. But the first step in that process was rejecting my old beliefs about salvation and embracing the promises of God. These promises are given directly to you and me, not through men such as priests or "the ministry" I was taught to put between God and myself. If you are still there and take exception to that statement, remember how we were instructed -- before the move to TN -- not to pray for God to show us what to do, but for God to show our minister (who would tell us) because that was God's order. This is strikingly similar to what is taught in Roman Catholicism about the role of priests.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A letter to my friends

I am not uncomfortable with any discussion of differing opinions. However, I am very uncomfortable with the discomfort of others. I have a personality quirk that causes me to feel that I am responsible for making everyone around me feel comfortable at all times. I have brought this quirk even to my blog. As with many of my personality traits, there is a paradox here. (Good word, Dee Dee! I'm borrowing from your comment because it was so thought-provoking.)

I will not hesitate to introduce thoughts that are sure to fuel controversy. I love discussion and deep thinking about truth. I don't shy away from saying out loud what others may only be thinking. But then, when someone makes me aware that I have made them feel uncomfortable, I go into that other, fragile side of me, which says, "Oh no, what have I done? Someone objects to the thoughts I am expressing. I must be wrong." That's on a good day. On a bad day, I will follow up with the additional inner tape recording that tells me I am really a terrible person who has a knack for being abrasive, offensive and upsetting people.

Another paradox about me is that I so want to be loved, accepted and approved of by others. But I will not compromise my sincerity/integrity to have your love. If I have to be false in any way to have your love, your acceptance or your approval, I will forfeit all of those (and even the relationship if it comes to that) rather than be consciously insincere. There is nothing I value more in a friend than someone being real with me. I have a very hard time with pretense or facades of any kind. (Is it any wonder I had such an inner struggle in my earlier environment?)

Knowing those two things about me will help you understand the contrast in my behavior (if you care to). I am motivated to challenge others to look at things on a deeper level, perhaps in a way they have never considered. This is something that just naturally creates discomfort. And yet I cringe, from head to toe, at having caused your discomfort. It's not always an easy way to exist. I often feel strongly about the topic, but emotionally fragile in the midst of the confrontation.

You might not guess this about me, but I hate conflict. I will avoid it when I can. But I had to learn how much I avoided confrontation in the past because of the fear of suffering consequences from others. I had to consciously work at overcoming this because that motive is rooted in self-protection, which is not loving others as I am commanded in scripture. At this point, I'm not afraid of conflict and I won't run from it when a higher priority comes into play. But I still don't enjoy it.

John calls me his little affirmation seeker, which is an accurate description. He has many names for me, by the way. He also calls me his little crusader. And sometimes he calls me Miss Hardness of Head. But I am never hurt or offended by my descriptive nicknames because they are always said with such affection and often amusement. When there is no fear of rejection, I find that I can handle the truth about myself! That is why it's so crucial that we recognize how secure we are in God's love and that, because we are covered by the blood of Jesus and have faith in Him, God will not reject us for our failures. Because once we know how deeply we are loved and that we will not be rejected, we can handle knowing the truth about ourselves! And we can handle others knowing the truth about us.

When we believe we will be saved based on any merit of our own, we do not have the assurance of His love and of our salvation when we fail. And we ALL fail every single day, whether we know this to be true or not. Sin is pervasive even into our unknown motives (unknown to us). If you think you go a day without sin, you just don't understand your sinfulness. There is no one who goes a whole day without a selfish thought.

I'm at my happiest when I am being approved of or affirmed by loving words of appreciation. If you pat my head, I'll go get your paper and your slippers like a good little puppy every time. I love to be loved. But having said that, I want to say something more important. Please don't ever stop confronting me or challenging me! Much more than I want your pats on the head, I want to know you and to know your heart. I want to know how I impact you with my words and actions. I want to know how you see me. I already know how I see myself. I have to rely on God to reveal to me how He sees me. I have to want to be shown the truth about myself. I will never see myself honestly without the desire to do so. And I will never see myself through your eyes without your help and your willingness to upset me. So even if I have a little melt down, love me enough to be real with me and to tell me the truth. Please ALWAYS tell me the truth. Even if you know it will hurt me. I want to grow into more truth -- about God, about you and about myself -- more than I want to be affirmed and patted on the head.

There is nothing in life I want more than to grow in God and in His truth. As my friends, I am counting on you to help me with that. Your role is not to simply make me feel comfortable or good about myself. Nor is that my primary role in your life. (Even if it happens to be the role I most enjoy.)

I have to add this one other thing, which is actually what I was going to blog about before I headed down this other road. In my email this morning was an Amazon recommendation for two books. The first was "A New Earth" by Tolle. And right under it was "The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment" by Tim Challies. Coincidence? I don't believe in coincidence.