Christianity & Target

YouTube_ProfileImage_250x250As a Jesus follower, I have really been questioning my involvement in politics. I was once the super opinionated type that delighted in shoving a powerful political meme in the face of a liberal- in hopes they will see the error of their thinking.  And yeah, that never works.

Many of us Christians were once liberal rebels too, and I can almost bet that God didn’t get our attention with waving fingers and witty memes.  I can bet that he got us with love.

What am I trying to say?  I am trying to say that I have been a rebel. I have also been saved by a Holy God. After that I became somewhat judgmental, religious, and condemning. And finally, I was delivered of all that whitewashed sepulcher business.

For months now I have pondered how I should approach politics. The political world is super important and many would agree that it feels like we are losing our country.  After agonizing for a long time, I resorted to something that should’ve been my first defense, PRAYER!

After truly seeking what the Lord had to say everything became crystal clear to me.

The most important thing is protecting children and that’s what I brought before the Lord. I told him that evil men will take advantage of this law and hurt children in the bathroom. I reminded him of the slippery slope that this law would cause. I thought of little Sherrice Iverson who was unattended and murdered in a Nevada casino bathroom….

What became clear to me was this; Children will be harmed because they have neglectful parents whether a transgender person is in a bathroom with them or not. A Target boycott can certainly be done, but it will never change the hearts of an unbelieving world.

Do we love this world? Is the church just a fancy building with entertaining programs or do we love this world like Jesus did? Let’s get our minds off of bathrooms for a moment and remind ourselves of what Jesus said about orphans. James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

The American church has left the responsibility of the orphan to the government. Foster care is overflowing but we love to point the finger about gay marriage, gay wedding cakes, abortion, and Target bathrooms.

The American church as a wonderful opportunity in this hour. Can you imagine what a witness it would be if just one or two  families from every church in America opened their heart and home to an orphaned child? We wouldn’t just be the group that tries to “control woman’s bodies” and tell them not to have abortions, we would be the group that is selflessly taking our abused and innocent members of society into our homes because we love Jesus and want to do what he says! And what better way to change culture than to raise a generation of children in Christlikeness, that would otherwise be further victimized by living in multiple foster or group homes.

Let us wake up out of our adorable Hobby Lobby decorated homes and lives and really practice some undefiled religion! Let’s change our nation by action. It’s easier to point the finger than it is to clean the inside of the dish. But when we are willing to serve God and not our fears, we will certainly be blessed!

The Religion of Self-Sufficiency

When I look back on my fourteen years as a believer, I see some sins that differ from the ones I used to commit when I didn’t know Christ. I used to be immersed in sex, drugs, and fleshly pleasure that dug my pit so very deep.  I am forever thankful that God decided to make good on his promise to “Make all things new!”.

However, God never stops with the obvious “nuisance sins” as he draws us out of the world.  He is ready to shine a light on our inward parts, our attitudes, our thoughts… the meditations of our heart.  When God was dealing with my idols and discontent I took out devastating student loans because I hated my current job. I kissed an atheist during my time as a single mom and struck up a relationship with a Christian man I shouldn’t have because I was serving my idol to be married. I struggled with pride as a baby Christian and alienated certain people instead of drawing them to Christ. I now shake my head as I think about some of the fruit of my belief as God was “making all things new” in my earlier years.

I came across Psalm 69 one morning and couldn’t help being drawn to King David’s reflection on his own sins. Adultery, and you know, hiring a hit-man for his mistresses’ husband. Maybe when he wrote this Psalm he was reflecting on this disaster, or maybe he was thinking about his lack of discipline with his sons which caused much chaos.  Whichever sin David was referring to in verses  5-7, his repentant heart is clearly understood.  David is not justifying or blame shifting, he is owning his failure.

There is a type of Christianity out there that I believe we have a warning against in Psalm 69.  This type of religion is as old as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and the serpent in the garden. The danger of this religion is that those in it’s clutches many times do not know they are tangled up. Pride is this religion and its nothing new under the sun.

David reflected on these people immersed in pride in this Psalm.  His heart is broken and he knows God himself is chastening him.  I am not sure if his persecutors were professing believers but we do know in the book of Job that Job’s so-called friends were.  Its so easy to look at the speck in our brothers eye while ignoring the plank in our own. Gossip, self-justification, and tarnishing another believer is so very easy, but God will not let us get away with it. We are all accountable for this sin.  We have to be desperately careful when dealing with the sin of others because we are not God.

How do we avoid this trap?

1. Don’t be the judge of others. Some Christians in your church have been delivered of some deep darkness and have behaviors that still offend, but God could be working deep within their hearts. They will be delivered in God’s timing, not ours! Pray for the specific issues, extend kindness, and be a Godly example. See if the Holy Spirit will use you to break a chain in their life with your words or actions because you truly love the person and have left the judgement up to God. It’s easy to be a judge if you haven’t been delivered of much before coming to Christ.  But we know that the righteousness of all people is a filthy rag compared to God, so we must not compare our lives to others. Mercy always triumphs over judgement.

2. Take our own mask off. Are you always counseling others whether formally or informally? Does everyone see you as a spiritual giant?  If you like that attention, stop it right away! There is only one on a pedestal to be worshiped and that is Christ the Lord! Taking off your mask does not mean to stop helping people, it just means to always check your motives for what you do. Why do you help others? Do you get identity in the adoration of people instead of identity in Christ? Do you keep your own sins in blind spots, refusing to see them or refusing to think they are as bad as another persons folly? The sin of the Pharisee wasn’t outward sexual lust or drunkenness, it was pride.  Pride thinks, “You poor thing, you would really benefit from my helping you.” Pride says, “I told you what you should do, and now that you chose not to- God is not pleased with you!”  Pride has a controlling agenda as it deals with people and is not the selfless love of God. Pride blinds us and makes us think our darkness is really light. Only God can deliver us when we are infected with pride.

3. Do all you can to identify more with the tax collector than the Pharisee in the Luke 18 parable.  Jesus starts the parable with telling the people it is for those who trust in their own righteousness and despise others. It takes activity on our part to not be a prideful Pharisee. When we see others who are in sin, who have wronged us, or those who we flat out don’t care for, we must consider them in the eyes of God.  There is a time and a place for church discipline but let it not be biased according to our pride, our agendas, and our insecurities.  

At the end of all things, I pray that we all are not immersed in this sin of thinking God is on our side and not with other people whom we may disagree with.  If we remain humble and bless friends and enemies as the Lord instructs, we will be pleasantly surprised as we leave the judgement, and vengeance up to the Lord.  He is the keeper of those powerful swords anyway.

Your Family’s Black Sheep

I wonder if every family has a black sheep.  Definitions can clarify things so I looked up Black Sheep in the Urban Dictionary and found, “term used to describe someone who feels left out in a family. Basically, the outcast of the family because they choose to do other things than live up to their parents’ standards.”  I think this is a start to defining what a black sheep is, but when you have one in your family, that definition doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the memories you carry inside of you.

Again, I wonder if every family has one. I look across the landscape of people I know and more families have one than not. My best friend has a heroin addicted brother, my other friend’s sister is an alcoholic/career exotic dancer, and I also know of a mom who struggles with her practicing homosexual teenager. The stories are numerous and the devastation rages on.

My black sheep is my older brother.  Ah, Jeremy. What can I say about him? Jeremy and I used to interact as children, and sometimes even laugh together.  He is five years my senior so we weren’t exactly toddler buddies.  I have some sparse good time memories of him but as far as I can remember he was always rebellious.  From shoving lit cigarettes in the mouth of my Cabbage Patch Dolls, to a drawer full of porn magazines, to spitting on the carpet when the parents weren’t home, my brother would many times be the one to expose me to evil.

Jeremy seemed to give up in the earlier stages of his life by running to vices such as drinking alcohol and smoking meth.  He is now a man in his early forties and it is by God’s divine intervention he is alive today. Jeremy has been living on the streets of Las Vegas Nevada and in and out of homelessness for the better part of twenty years. But I don’t care. I love him and have chosen to forgive the things he has done to me.

unnamed (1)I snapped this picture of Jeremy and I last Christmas because I never know when he will walk into eternity. He has already overdosed, been stabbed in the lung, involved in many fights, and God only knows what else. Through these twenty years I haven’t ignored my brother. My family would sometimes visit him in the tunnel he frequented to bring him food, contacts, and just the assurance that he is still loved despite his behavior.

This has been going on for so long with my black sheep that this lifestyle has become his normal. But sometimes, I do cry out to God. I ask him to spare Jeremy’s life a little longer. I plead with the Holy Spirit to change him and crown him with salvation and righteousness.  I have to admit it can feel so hopeless. But in a series of two dreams the Lord made me aware that he was hearing my prayers! In the first dream I was facing my brother and holding his two hands.  I was trying to look in his eyes and I was telling him it was time to come out of this lifestyle and that God loved him.  At first my brother would not look in my eyes and I literally felt Satan’s presence overtaking his body and mind.  Then all of a sudden my brother Jeremy looked me directly in the eye and he was full of shame and despair. He spoke and said, “I have lived my life like this for too long now. I can’t come out of it, God can’t do anything with me.”  When I woke it was clear that Satan had him bound up in condemnation, telling him that God could not do anything with him anymore. It was too late.

In the second dream my brother was back in high school. The dream took me through all the rejection he experienced from his peers and others in his life.  I woke up in tears and realized that not only had he believed he was condemned, he also believed his human existence has always been entirely rejected.

Condemnation and rejection are faulty beliefs in peoples lives that will keep them on a path of destruction.  But what is the solution? What do we do with the black sheep in our families? Discernment, prayer, and trust.

Discernment – Discernment is our interactions with our black sheep being led by the Holy Spirit and not us. It can only be obtained by time in our prayer closets with the Word of God open before us.  Discernment will let us know when our efforts to help in the life of our black sheep is crossing over into enabling behavior on our part.  Discernment will show us healthy boundaries when the destructive behavior comes our way.  It will teach us how to truly love our black sheep with gentle words and acts of tender mercies.  When our interactions with them become spirit-led we can be confident that we are doing all we can for their good.

Prayer- Prayer is where we connect with our source of all that is. How do we expect to have any peace in our lives as a loved one is walking toward death and destruction? We shouldn’t expect any peace unless we can take our pain and requests to the very throne room of the one who created our black sheep. While we pour out our requests it is imperative that we leave our worries and worst case scenarios in our prayer closets. Prayer is our outlet where we can take our anger, fears, and multitude of tears.  If we take these emotions outside of prayer we allow these damaging things to spill out onto our relationships with others.  This will allow the behavior of our black sheep to infect more lives than it needs to. Let God carry the emotional load.  He is big enough.

Trust- Trusting God allows God to truly be God and places us in a place of humility as created beings.  Releasing our black sheep to God in certain situations could be misinterpreted by some, or even ourselves as indifference because we aren’t always doing something. But it’s really submission to what is more powerful than us.  If we do not trust God we could ignore the Holy Spirit discernment that we obtain in our prayer closets. We could control, we could enable, but worst of all we could believe that we know better than God.

I do not know the final outcome in the life of my brother. Outcomes are not up to me.  I do not know what Jeremy’s purpose on this earth is.  His purpose is not to be controlled by me.  But I do know God is purposeful in all he does. God can be trusted regardless of the outcome.  I do not have the vantage point of past, present, and future like the creator does in the lives of others. But I do believe I now have a grasp on my responsibilities and my boundaries in the life of my beloved black sheep.

Glory to God alone.

Parenting & Porn

My son is fourteen and like it or not I have found that several of his friends have free access to or regularly watch pornography.  This is not the circle of friends I had hoped for my son but if we look close enough the statistics of professing Christians who look at and/or are addicted to porn are staggering.

Porn has become the elephant in the room for our generation.  Its an elephant that is not looked directly in the eye because, well, its shameful.  I always have an embarrassed feeling come over me when I need to address it with my son.

Believe it or not, the first time I needed to talk with him about it was when he was a fourth grader! Yep, my friends fifth grade son was shown smartphone porn by another child on the bus. Her son was visibly upset when he told his mom which is understandable. Watching two (or more) people act out perversion must have been shocking to a young boy being raised with God’s definition of what sex actually is. I wanted to then be sure my son was not surprised if this cancer was flashed in his face by another child.  My age-appropriate conversation went something like this, “You know how some people have phones that show pictures and videos? Well there are some bad pictures being sent on phones that have naked people touching each other.  God tells us that we should not be looking at those kind things.Please come to me if someone is trying to show you that sort of thing”  I received a verbal “ok I will” from my son.  Fourth grade, nuff’ said.

We proceeded to have conversations about the issue and with each age-appropriate situation came a little more depth. Good thing, because one particular day it came in handy. Well, more then handy, our prior convos could have been what kept him from running full steam ahead into an internet flesh party…

My son was playing video games when one of his new friends put pornographic images on a nearby computer.  The invite was given, my mommy nightmare came true.

My son had a strong foundation as to what porn actually is so while he did see the first image when he turned around, he told his friend he did not want to look at it. Amongst teens, I know that the simple act of my son refusing it was a witness this other young man will remember.  For those parents out there that have teens who do not refuse and partake, remember to stay confident in the Lord.  We are all sinful and broken in some area.  Pray unceasingly for your children who may be dabbling and/or addicted to pornography.

As my husband and I gear our son to be a man of integrity that will honor one woman in marriage, I have listed some strategies we have employed in order to give ideas to any parent who may care to employ them.

1. Be honest about sin. This is the most important piece in a Christian home.  Foster an atmosphere of honesty where the goal is to live in the light. Whatever sin is revealed, no matter how grievous, a parents love should not be withdrawn from their teen.  A teen needs to know from their earliest years that their mom and dad’s emotions will remain confident in the Lord no matter what is brought into the light.  This key element in our home has allowed our son to confess sexual matters, questions, and struggles.

2. Forgiveness must be taught, given, and practiced within a family.  Jesus was very clear about this concept and even tied it to our own salvation!  Sin however, does bring consequences and if someone breaks the law the courts will need to handle the judgement.  Forgiveness does not always delete consequences it just allows people to heal from offenses.  I never want to shame my son and not forgive him if something confessed misses the mark anymore then I want to be shamed when I confess my sins to another person.  My message to my son would be similar to Jesus catching the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more” and to go further, Jesus also told another person he healed, “beware, lest a worse thing come upon you.” Sin is serious but forgiveness is in place so we do not condemn others.  Satan is the master of condemnation because it will cause people to stop trying.

3.  Live and teach the word of God. Moses instructed the Israelites to teach their children about God’s ways when they woke up, when they went to bed, when they traveled, and any other opportune time. In the realm of sexual purity, since I raised my son partly in Las Vegas, I used those sexy billboards as a discussion opportunity. I used the things of the world to teach my son the appropriate way to view and treat women.  Even though women are alluring and tempting we discussed what type of women would be a loyal wife to him.  We discussed their clothing and if the skin they reveal says anything about what is going on in their hearts.  Its all a teaching moment.

and finally….

4. Live counter to the culture.  I will never forget my son asking if he could have a girlfriend when he had just entered 8th grade.  My goodness, he wasn’t even out of puberty yet! We had a lengthy discussion and I asked him to invite her to youth group.  I told him to observe girls for the next few years. I told him he needs to understand them before he would be ready to be attached.  What does it really mean to be someone’s boyfriend anyway? Was this just a passing relationship or was he considering honoring her in marriage?  What does God desire according to his word?  You bet your sweet patoot I said all that to my 13 year old! He decided to obey my leadership in his life even though he didn’t particularly want to. I told him if he honored his father’s and mother’s wishes, that God promised to bless him.  Delayed gratification, a must for all of us! Through 8th grade my son was able to see all the 8th grade relationships start and come to a painful end.  He was able to witness the lack of loyalty and commitment immaturity without being involved in it himself.  We as parents must operate in grace but never be afraid to parent in a culture that degrades the rights of parents.

Above all I am not desiring for my son to just be a good boy.  Although it would be easy for me if he was just good… I want to be sure his goodness comes from Christ’s leadership in his life.  The parenting process is painful sometimes but we must engage in it every step of the way.  I remind my young one that when he blows out those 18 candles on his cake his decisions are all his…. but I have four more years with him until that point!

 

 

 

 

 

All My Divorces

Divorce has always been my unwanted companion even before I experienced one for myself.  My mom and dad divorced when I was four and all my grandparents were divorced from one another too.  My mom went on to have two more divorces after my dad, before I even hit my thirties.

I was pretty much puttering in line with this pattern before Jesus interrupted.

God reached down and saved me when I was twenty-two years old, or maybe that’s when I answered his call.  Regardless, by that time, I was five months pregnant and married to a physically abusive man who desired to be the neighborhood drug dealer.  Suffice it to say I was divorced before our only son became a toddler.

So there I was, a freshly divorced baby Christian.  The “divorce” label in a church community definitely felt bad enough, but I also had a beast named CONDEMNATION following me wherever I went.  I didn’t really need the the judgement of people because I was my most severe judge already.

The Holy Spirit and other believers placed in my life interrupted my tormented mind and helped me to cripple this condemnation beast.  It would literally take four more blogs to explain how this beast was crippled in my life, and one day I hope to write an entire book dedicated to the subject, but for now I will share just one incident.

I decided to go up to the mountain to pray.  Just me, my bible, and a pen to hopefully rid myself of this beast for good.  When I got to my spot I stayed in the car because it was freezing.  I sensed God’s incredible power as the wind whipped.  The mountains were so big, and I was so small. It was then that I heard that still small voice as clear as day, “Mark 3”.  I know the word pretty well but I was not sure what was in Mark 3 exactly.  I read it diligently. I admit I questioned if I heard The Lord correctly since what I was reading wasn’t making sense for my immediate need.  But than verse 28 and 29 hit me upside the head. God spoke powerfully to me that day.

28 “Assuredly, I say to you, ALL sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”— 

That verse did for me what all the scriptures on divorce couldn’t.  That one verse put divorce in its place. Divorce was sin. And divorce was not even the unforgivable sin!  There are many sins in this life we can involve ourselves in but according to Mark 3:28 they ALL CAN be forgiven.  I know I did not blaspheme the Holy Spirit because I still desire God. I desire to walk with him and obey him.  I desire to love him.

I would love to say condemnation went out of my life for good at this point but that would be a lie. Satan was still telling me that I was a second rate Christian, that God tolerates me, that my second marriage was illegitimate. I still struggled with these thoughts mentally for a few years until the Lord delivered me of it for good in a prayer meeting.

I was not present at the cross to see Jesus crucified.  I believe this by faith. I did not see Noah’s ark or the world wide flood. I just have faith that it was.  I have faith that at the moment of my death I will be carried to heaven and not deposited into hell because I believe in what Christ did for me on the cross. So I must have faith that Jesus covers me like a clean white robe of righteousness. I must believe that Satan desires to keep me depressed and ineffective so I cannot tell others about the freedom in Christ… that in Jesus Christ, condemnation is a lie!

Words from a bestie: “You can’t understand why Christ has forgiven you because you don’t deserve it. But no one deserves it.  That’s why GRACE angers so many religious and pride-filled people. They can’t earn it.”

Have you struggled with this condemnation and/or divorce beast? What has helped you? Do share.

 

 

 

 

 

Ahh, the Teen Years

I was ‘single-mom status’ for almost a decade of my sons life.  For the most part I navigated the infant, baby, toddler, and child stages rather well even though my son was certainly no saint.  I definitely had more than a parents fair share of red lights, extra teacher conferences, and his strong will that questioned everything.

But, we made it out of the kid stage.  And I would like to say I am proud of who my son was.  He had compassion for others, a keen sense of what was good and what was evil, and a lot of biblical knowledge. Go me!

But goodness gracious I never gave much thought to the “teen years” until they were slapping me upside the head.  My young man just turned 14 and I must start with saying I still am proud of who he is.  He still has compassion, he still understands biblical matters in more than a surface way, and he still knows the difference between right and wrong even though his frontal lobe is still under construction.

When people warned me about teen-dom I brushed it off to be quite honest.  Me and my little guy were two peas in a pod and I daydreamed that my son would be the culture changer for Christ within his sphere of influence.  Defying all the odds…son of a single mother makes it to his wedding day, pure and un-defiled.

Oh my gosh, I actually thought this. Not that I think it still can’t happen, but now I am reevaluating my goals and motives in parenting.  I am seeing that this is a human heart I am dealing with and not some poster for good behavior I am painting to hang on the walls of the Godly mom museum.

I’ve had to stop caring about what others think of my family and only concern myself with what God is doing in our lives.

I’ve had to let go of the fear that my son may entertain, or gasp… live in some kind of repugnant sin for a season because I need to trust the Holy Spirits dealings with him.

I’ve had to allow him to make some simple decisions for himself now even though they are not my decisions because in four short years the law allows him to make all of his own decisions.

I’ve had to let go of the adult life I envision for my son because I need to leave room for God to change those plans. (I will still use prayer as my secret weapon!)

As I raise my teenager with prayer, confidence, and the wisdom of the word, God is using this privilege as another means to show me that he is sovereign and I must look to him to help guide all the precious matters in my life.

I am not sure how my son’s life will turn out.  Tomorrow is not even promised to any one of us! I will however, love him each day he is under my guidance, teach him the truth, and let God be God in his life.  God is big enough for the task.

 

The Cruelty of Death

I believe it was the book of Ecclesiastes that really sums up human life in a very impersonal but truthful way.  Basically, the human condition is rather dismal; we are like fish caught in a cruel net.

Do you see My step-dad Michael? He is in that brown clay pot on that unnamed (2)table with the white cloth on it.  He is no longer the man who married my mom when I was four years old, no longer the one who would make funny monkey faces at me and no longer is the man who built me a clubhouse from scratch.  His physical life has now been stuffed into that clay pot.

unnamed (3)                                                     He was such a handsome young man.  He was adopted and did not know his birth parents.  His life was scarred with manic depression, prescription meds, back pain, and emotional outbursts.  But that was not all he was.  Michael was my step dad.  He was the first one to tell me about Jesus, and I listened, even though I struggled because of his imperfections.  He was kind-hearted and had a joyful innocence when the mental illness was at bay.  He was excited to give and excited to make you feel loved.  I have cried many tears for Michael and look forward to our reunion in heaven; mostly to tell him how much I love him and how sorry I am for not making more time for him in the few years before he died. I have a beautiful ring he had made for me in 2010 when I graduated college.  After he died, that ring became the most important thing I own.

Ecclesiastes also reminds us to feel the sun upon our faces and enjoy it.  To work with our hands for however long or short God has allowed us to live.  Other parts of the Bible remind us to study what love truly is (1st Corinthians Chapter 13) and to live it.  We also must forgive.

So as this human condition is wasting away quickly, we are called to embrace each day in gratitude.  Today my back pain rages, but I can still taste my morning cup of coffee, I can still feel the sun on my face, and I can tell my child that I love him.

My humanity is fading.  My human experience will one day soon be a memory to those I leave behind, but my spirit will experience new life and the Bible says it will receive a new glorified body that is eternal. No more back pain. No more emotional scars because of divorce and no more foul and wicked reports on the nightly news.

The most important lesson I take from all of this is L-O-V-E.  I want love to always come out of my mouth. I want to saturate evil with love, offense with forgiveness.  I want my hands and feet to be quick to rush into love. I want to look deep within myself and let go…. let go of any selfish ambition and insecure motives left within me.

unnamed (4)

That will put the meaning in my otherwise meaningless days. Love will allow my works on earth to echo into eternity.