When Scriptures Offend

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Facebook lately about Christians and drinking.  What I’m going to say may offend you.  Fair warning.

The position I see most states that Christians simply shouldn’t drink.  It’s a bad witness for those who do drink who don’t know the Lord.  It’s a bad influence on children.  It’s simply bad, bad, bad.

I disagree.

Jesus performed his very first miracle at a wedding.  He turned water into wine.  And it wasn’t just “two-buck Chuck”, either.  It was the good stuff; they even said so.

When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” – John 2:9

Why in the world would he do that if he didn’t want people drinking?  The guests and wedding party drank to toast the new couple and celebrate their union.  If the fermented fruit of the vine caused terrible things, why did He make more?  Shouldn’t He have said, “Ah, just drink water.  It’s better for you anyway.  You’ll stay hydrated!”  But he didn’t.  He helped make the wedding better with the wine.

The mention of wine permeates scripture.  Yes, Proverbs holds several warnings for drinking too much.  But the majority of wine references turn up favorable.

Then Isaac said, “Now, my son, bring me the wild game. Let me eat it, and then I will give you my blessing.” So Jacob took the food to his father, and Isaac ate it. He also drank the wine that Jacob served him. – Genesis 27:25

Jacob set up a stone pillar to mark the place where God had spoken to him. Then he poured wine over it as an offering to God and anointed the pillar with olive oil. – Genesis 35:13-15

Abigail wasted no time. She quickly gathered 200 loaves of bread, two wineskins full of wine, five sheep that had been slaughtered, nearly a bushel of roasted grain, 100 clusters of raisins, and 200 fig cakes. She packed them on donkeys. – I Samuel 25:17-19

“The time will come,” says the Lord, “when the grain and grapes will grow faster than they can be harvested. Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel will drip with sweet wine!” – Amos 9:13

In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” – I Corinthians 11:25

Don’t drink only water. You ought to drink a little wine for the sake of your stomach because you are sick so often. – I Timothy 5:23

We spend so much time looking at this particular speck of drinking and no time talking about the things Jesus really hates – gluttony, lying, envy.  America has some of the fattest people on the planet.  The church must hold the record in obesity percentages.  Yet we never speak of it.  We ask Jesus to “melt the fat off”, to “cast our excess weight far from us, Hallelujah!” We have no intention of taking responsibility for how much goes into our mouths.  Another church potluck!  We’re having fellowship around a meal.  It’s great!  Jesus did it.  One caveat remains.  However…It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. Romans 14:21.  This scripture is in the context of making fellow *believers* stumble, not those who don’t share your faith.

Eating together is Biblical.  Jesus and his disciples did it on numerous occasions.  However, it wasn’t a time to gorge themselves.  It became a time to grow closer, a time of trust and rest.  “Well…(patting stomach dreamily)…I’ve eaten my weight.  Time to get horizontal!  See ya, Peter.  Gonna catch 40 winks.”  No.

It all comes back to the heart.  Why are we drinking?  Why are we eating?  Our hearts tell on us in ways our tongues never will.  Our bodies testify to our stewardship.  I don’t condone alcoholism or regular drunkenness.  Get help if you need it.  But please, remember that your sin of lust, couched as gluttony, displeases Jesus just as much.  Food sustains the body.  It’s not a panacea.  Wine and alcoholic beverages can be used in moderation but not to drown sorrows or escape reality.

I totally understand folks who want to leave the issue of alcoholic beverages alone.  It’s certainly not an issue to keep anyone out of heaven.  But I encourage you to look into this for yourself.  If you’re a believer interested in maturing, ask the Lord about it.  Search the scriptures.  You need to learn to walk in the Spirit and hear the leading of God for yourself.

Hold Back the Wind

I’ve been considering being a Christian artist for awhile now.  We, as charismatic, Bible-believing, full Gospel types don’t allow much leeway.  You either sing about Jesus or you don’t.  You laud the sacrifice of Jesus or you sing “Baby, Baby” like Amy Grant.  At least, that’s what I absorbed.

This post is me repenting of the error of my ways.

A friend of mine posted an interview with Switchfoot on Facebook.  You can read it here.

I must admit I read it with two minds.  I remember when Amy Grant came out with her “Lead Me On” album. I loved the songs, but had to get rid of it.  It didn’t jive with what I considered to be “Christian” music.  The songs were about life, and her memories.  A young mother struggling in her marriage.  About seeking God in a deeper way, but not naming Him.  No mention of Jesus, or His blood.

I remember railing against my roommate for her unswerving loyalty to Ms. Grant.  I said Amy sold out.  She was crossing over to the secular market, where the money was.  Using the pretext of “reaching the unsaved”, she made a contract with the devil to acquire more mammon.

I was an idiot.  I apologize to my friend.  She knows who she is!

Amy Grant, the darling of contemporary Christian music, had moved on.  I remember branding her a traitor.  Forgive me, Amy!  I had no right to judge you.  Maybe you found the sacred pond too small to swim in anymore.  I mean, life is so much bigger than our conversion experience, right?  The real struggle begins when you start to live your life with Christ in you.  You stand up, and fall down.  You might lie.  You might stumble and fall down and hurt yourself.  Guaranteed – you will struggle.  You probably will hurt others, too.  What then?  I’m not downgrading songs about the love of Jesus, serving God with our whole hearts and the cleansing of the blood.  Not at all.  They are important, too.

But shouldn’t Christian artists be afforded the same freedom of  regular artists?  Is it fear that keeps Switchfoot, Thousand Foot Krutch, Skillet and so many others from using Jesus in every other line?  Are they trying to be more popular with the mainstream?  Or are they simply following their vision, a vision God gave them in the first place?

I think for too long us Christians have relied on a subset of music – which, frankly, is mostly deplorable artistically – as a safe place to run to so we don’t have to filter for ourselves.  If we’re all floating in the pond with Michael W. Smith, we don’t have to wonder if he’ll be true to what we believe.  We know that’s his wheelhouse.  Yet in doing this, we effectively disengage our critical thinking.  We don’t put our amazing powers of discernment and insight to good use.  We let others do it for us.  Our desire to be “in the world, but not of the world” , to remain holy, sometimes causes a bizarre duality.

Dangerous, that.

I grew up on Petra, Rez Band and Second Chapter of Acts. In fact, Petra was the first concert I ever attended.  I love those groups.  They bring back great memories.  I even like Carman.  I have a pretty eclectic background in contemporary Christian music.  I enjoy many genres.  When groups started to blur the lines – U2 and others – it caused a rift in the body of Christ.  Oh sure, we let folks like Carman be creative with his “Witch’s Invitation” storytelling.  Certain folks got to push the limits.  Just as certainly, not very many.

Can we allow artists to express what the Lord put within them?  Will we rise up and take our place as mature believers and let people be who God made them to be and stop shoving them back into the oh-so-holy box? Will we allow our creative heroes to be the eyes, ears, feet or elbow they were meant to be?   We need to be lifting Jesus up on our own, not relying on others to do it for us. Our output as Christians should come from who we are.  *We* are Christians; our work simply flows from there.

That’s What It’s All About

Ted

So, I’ve been getting the feeling it’s never been about sugar, or fat, or salt.  Giving those things up can be helpful.  My waistline thanked me for eating less sugar.

But God didn’t care.I know!  Here I am, willing to lay down the beautiful, tantalizing sugar.  It sparkles so beautifully in the bowl!  Makes everything taste just a bit better.

But God didn’t care.

He has always wanted my heart.  Sugar, like other good things, can get in the way.  If I spend more time lusting after the chocolate than desiring to spend time with Jesus and hear his voice, guess what?  I have a new idol.  What is an idol anyway?

An idol, according to the Free Online Dictionary is “an image used as an object of worship; a false god”, or, my personal favorite “one that is adored, often blindly or excessively.”  Yes.  That’s it, in a peanut M&M shell.

I’m willing to extend this a bit further.  The idols offer good things, at first.  They make us feel good.  Running does it for me.  Chocolate numbs the pain.  Coffee can improve my mood. Coffee + chocolate…well, need I say more?

Let me make this clear:  None of these things are bad in and of themselves.  It’s what we do with them that counts.  Like people who say money is the root of all evil, when money is only a tool.  Money can’t be inherently bad or good.  It simply is.  What we use it for matters.  When we choose it above people or conscience and everything else, it becomes elevated to a place of reverence in our lives.  For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. – 1 Timothy 6:10

When I turn *to* any one of these things – money, chocolate, running – instead of God first, it becomes an idol to me.  In that moment, I am worshiping a different god.  I am committing idolatry.  Money, chocolate and running exist in this world.  They can each be enjoyed, savored even, but they can’t take God’s place in our lives.  Ever.  They will forever play second fiddle to the love of God burning in our hearts.  Take it from someone who has made running and working out, fitness and weight loss very significant idols in her past.

As the rays of the sun fade away, I am reminded anew of how I need to be vigilant with guarding my heart and letting Jesus be first.

I realize this is not a fun-loving post. But hey – I hit Christianity, coffee and chocolate all in one post!  And please know I am telling myself this at the same time. I know some of you may disagree with me and buck at my strong conviction. Where is God’s grace? you may ask.  This may prove controversial to some.  All I ask is that you consider what I’m saying.  His grace remains, as does his His love.  But He is a jealous God.  He wants all of us.

Victoria Jackson in Action

I usually wake up with songs in my head.  Sometimes I remember dreams and I mull them over. Usually, if I do have songs in my head, they’re 80s tunes.  I’ve had “Break My Stride” in my head more times than I care to count.  But today is a doozy.  Not one, but two songs, folks!

and Victoria Jackson belting out “I Am Not a Bimbo”.  Yeah.  Couldn’t find any clips of it, unfortunately. I did discover when I went to look for one that she’s a staunch member of the Tea Party now.  Seems a bit odd.  Here’s a link to what she’s up to now.

I’m getting on my soapbox now, or my “editorial page”, if you prefer.  Christians are not morons, despite just about every news clip you view.  Disagreeing with a lifestyle choice is not hatred.  However, if you have a little girl voice and start quoting the Bible at Howard Stern, you *will* seem idiotic.  Departing (almost) entirely from her goofy, airhead roots as a ukelele strumming nymph on Saturday Night LIve, Victoria has alienated many of her fans.

I would say I am one of them.  Or was.

I listened to some of the hour-long Howard Stern interview.  He was truly curious about her, but I couldn’t get past her bizarre responses.  She tried to recapture some of her old sense of humor but it fell flat.  She was all too serious, a sort of belligerent quality in her answers.  I guess I didn’t want serious.  I’m sure her book, which she was promoting, is fascinating.  Yet…I felt a little duped  Here is someone who made her living as an actress/singer/entertainer and now she wants to be a serious Tea Partier?  It seems like she survived a serious head injury more than a spiritual awakening.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe in awakenings and changes of heart.  She said she was a Christian during her stint on SNL.  Okay.  She just didn’t have any political beliefs.  What?!  I found that hard to believe, despite her assertion that they only talked about hte Bible and gymnastics – her dad was her coach – at the family dinner table.  Well, if she didn’t think for herself then, she sure is now.

If you’ve read this blog, you know I’m a Christian.  I make no apologies for that.  I am not a Republican, Tea Party devotee or Democrat. I do not belong to the libertarians or the Green Party.  Nor am I a socialist.   I find myself disturbed by the political machinery for the most part.  It seems filled with hatred and outright manipulation.  “If you’re for Jesus, you’re for Glenn Beck!” Almost as bad as those idiotic chain emails with a built-in “blessing.”  And that prince from Nigeria with 10,000 euros for you if you help him?  Step away from the computer!

I try to pray and vote my conscience and leave the rest to God.  As a Jesus freak, I try not to beat people about the head and shoulders with “thou shall nots”.  People do that enough for themselves and don’t  need my assistance.  I may not agree with your choices, but me yelling and/or insulting you will not be helpful.  I find myself returning over and over again to the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”  Matthew 7:12.  At the end of the day, maybe it is all about “What Would Jesus Do?”

 

Choosing

The beginning of a new life

Words cannot express how happy I am that 2011 is over.  I am ready for a bright, shiny new year like nobody’s business.  Bring on the hope and dreams, please! 

I made a couple of New Year’s resolutions.  Some are pretty basic, like reading the Bible through in a year.  Zac and I did a devotional-type plan last year, and I liked 2 of every 3 days’ worth of reading.  Some of it seemed…unscriptural and a bit far-fetched.  But it gave us food to talk about what the Bible said other places to contradict this one person’s interpretation. 

Some other resolutions include fitness-related issues.  I’m going to find my happy weight this year.  I doubt it’s as low as I’ve striven for in past years.  I think I have a good neighborhood I can maintain and still fit in most of my clothes.  In 2011, I worked out 277 times.  I want to shoot for 300+ this next year.  It averages out to 5-6 days a week.  I feel better when I get a good sweat on.  I’m a nicer person to be around.  My family appreciates it.

The other items are a bit more…intangible.  I think I need to be more available, something God started cluing me in on last year.  I need to be ready to help at Ruby’s school.  I want to open our home more, which means I need to keep it cleaner (eek!) so people can drop by.  Which they’re starting to do.  I need to keep myself filled up with the Spirit so I can pray and give counsel when needed, and encourage those the Lord sends in my path. 

And I hate to write this one.  I need to be less selfish.  I spend a lot of time thinking about me, me, me and what I want.  I need to transformed to be others-focused.  What do others need from me?  How can I serve?  Can I meet them where they are instead of making them come up to my standards or expectations?  The world doesn’t need any more smug Christians.  We need to be the “little Christs” we were called to be, dying to self and giving the best of ourselves in His strength in service to those around us. I am more than a little apprehensive about this. I expect it to be painful but worth it.

The overarching theme for this year came out of watching “Monsters Vs. Aliens” with the family and my in-laws.  We’ve watched it at least a half-dozen times and I’ve always liked it.  Not just because the main character and I share the same name. This time, it hit me in a new way.  Sometimes, truth is revealed through other mediums – movies, books, etc.  Since that’s the way God talked to me during most of 2010 and 2011, I heard it.  Susan, the main character, desperately wants her “normal” life back so she can marry Derek, her fiance, settle down and live happily ever after.  But when she gets hit by an alien mass, she becomes enormous, 50 feet tall and super strong. It hijacks her wedding and she ends up imprisoned in a secret area reserved for monsters.  The monsters get called on, as a group, to fight an alien robot – a very large one.  Susan discovers she is amazingly strong – and intelligent.  She defeats the robot, singlehandedly.

Fast forward, and she confronts Derek.  He dumps her, citing her “enormous shadow” he doesn’t want to be in.  Granted, he’s a selfish tard, but he has a point.  How would they have a life together?  Fast forward some more, and the quantonium (don’t look for it on the periodic table) that made her big gets extracted from her body by Galaxar, the squid-like villain who tried to kill her in the first place to get it back.  He diverts it all to bridge of his ship, in a glass ball high over their heads. 

As she tries to defeat Galaxar and save her friends from the imminent destruction of Galaxar’s ship, he taunts her. 

“You should have defeated me when you had the strength, Su-san!”, he mocks.

She looks up, sees the quantonium-filled ball, and makes a choice.  She takes her gun, aims it at the ball, and stands under it.

“The name”, she intones, “is Ginormica”, calling herself by the name the goverment gave her.  She shoots the gun and the ball falls on her.  She instantly regains her strength and size.  She wins.

She gave up the choice to ever be “normal” again.  She gave up her regular possibilities for something beyond her own understanding. She decided that her destiny lay in the extraordinary life her monster self gave her.  Being “monstrous” gave her enormous possibilities. No one else could do that.  No one else would be able to save the world from giant Escargantuan.  She had a purpose and great adventures ahead. 

So the question becomes:  Will you accept your unique gifts as a blessing instead of fighting them?  Will you embrace them, going for God’s best this year, no matter what others may say or do?  You will need to give up your plans and expectations and what others might have in store for you. It can be a little scary.  But there are things only you can do, things only I can do.  Will you choose them?

Halloween

Halloween is a touchy subject.

When I was a kid, it was all about dressing up and getting free candy.  I loved thinking about what I would be.  We were not allowed to be anything gruesome, and I’ve carried on that tradition. It was great fun to come up with a costume and go twenty blocks in our NE Portland neighborhood with our bags or pillowcases, sometimes getting lost along the way. Portland was, and is, a great place for trick-or-treating.

This year, Zac knew what he wanted to be way back in August:  Jengo Fett.  Not sure I spelled it right, but I believe he was Bobo Fett’s father from the Star Wars chronicles.  Ruby – well, first it was a monster.  Then a bear cub.  Next a purple cat and then the final iteration, princess.  Hey, we had all the stuff for it.  I’m not the cool “sewing mom”.  I cut holes in things and then try to fix them.  That’s my particular mojo.

We met up with the Farmers, our neighbors, and trick-or-treated with them and their 2 youngest kids, a princess and Superman.  The silver horned moon blazed brightly in the sky and big clouds floated around dreamily.  It was a good time of hanging out with friends and celebrating the kids’ creativity. When anything remotely scary came up, we talked through it and got past it.

But for a lot of years I avoided Halloween.  I know many Christians who think of Halloween as a devil’s day.  And I understand that.  I remember hearing while at Bethany that sometimes the Satanists would come down out of the Santa Cruz mountains looking for human and animal sacrifices.  I mean, Anton LeVey lived there, didn’t he? He who said: “Truth” never set anyone free.  It is only *doubt* which will bring mental emancipation.” I attended prayer services on Halloween night, praying for the safety of anyone who might possibly become a sacrifice to the devil’s whim.

I find it’s not so black and white, however, as I age. I have found doubt to be a prison of its own.

Halloween is a high holiday for Satanists.  I did a little research on them, since I have no Satanists in my personal acquaintance.  They don’t worship Satan per se (according to them), but they worship pleasure, indulgence.  They do what they want, when they want.  They cast spells, but there are limits to what they can do.  As I read this and listened to it, I thought, Really?  Limits?  That sucks. This is from the followers of Anton LeVey. And worshiping pleasure and yourself, which is what that amounts to – putting yourself before anyone else – sounds just like what Lucifer did to get kicked out of heaven in the first place: he wanted all God’s worship from the angels for himself.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that in a roundabout way, the Satanists *are* modeling Satan at least, even if they don’t worship him in a traditional sense.

Halloween does have dark roots.  You can read about it here.  The whole concept of purgatory, of the spirit world being closer to the earth at the end of summer is kind of fascinating.  But most of our holidays have pagan roots.  Christmas (here) is no exception.  So many people celebrate Christmas with just a vague “good will toward men” sort of attitude.  No baby Jesus required, a sort of moratorium on grousing, at least on December 25.  I’ve even known families who celebrate no holidays, Christmas included, because of these very fallen roots. Isn’t it just possible that Jesus is incredibly turned off by the gross materialism Christmas in our culture has come to symbolize? I find that every holiday is birthed out of man’s need for something more, to reach beyond this world.  What we fail to realize as Christians is that God is bigger than all these traditions of masking, fertility and harvest. We need to know there is something beyond ourselves and this world.

Maybe it’s time to take the holidays back.  I am not going to stop celebrating holidays because of where they came from.  I am going to take the best of them and be joyful.  Jesus, though perhaps not born on December 25, gets to keep that day because I as a Christian, need that.  It’s a commemoration.  I will use Halloween not to worship Satan but to get out and see my neighbors, maybe foster a sense of community.  When else is their door open to give you anything, let alone candy?!

Word

I didn’t start reading the Bible until I was 11 or 12.  That’s when I got my first one, when I got saved.  My dad gave me a children’s Bible, a mammoth, illustrated book with forbidding pictures of Old Testament stories like Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Isaac, knife poised midair over his trembling son,  and a few New Testament ones I didn’t understand, like the day of Pentecost.  People sorta looked ghostly in that story, with weird white glowing blobs above their heads. These stories piqued my interest in what, to me, despite my years in Episcopal church and Sunday school, was an unknown God.

My first real Bible was black leather with my name engraved on the front:  Susan E. Cheston.  The edges of the pages were lined with gold and a gift from my father.  The wafery, skin-like paper, so thin so that you could actually carry such a weighty book around and not get a hernia, intrigued me. It smelled important.  It was NIV, which was a popular translation in the 80s.  I’ve since heard it referred to as “the truck driver’s Bible.” At that time, I did not know there were dozens of other translations available.

My dad’s new church referred to the Bible.  We were expected to bring them to church, to read along with the pastor. I used my Bible.  I read it, underlined and highlighted verses, tried to memorize them.  With my deeply ingrained respect for books, it was – and is – very difficult for me to write in books. Besides, with my handwriting, notes can become unintelligible pretty quickly.  I learned some scripture songs and was taught to value its inerrancy. I did what I was told.

I used that Bible even in bible college.  I knew by then there were many other translations, but the one favored by the denomination I landed in, the Assemblies of God, favored the King James Version or KJV.  It is filled with -ths and old timely language, but sometimes beautiful descriptions.  I grew to love it and even learned some passages out of it in that version.

Through it all, the constant was the Bible.  The inerrant, perfect Word of God.  The plumb line for our lives, the last word on everything.  To make decisions, you read the Bible, pray and seek God.  But whatever you hear from God is trumped by what the Bible says.  End of discussion.

What I’m trying to say, and not very well, is that I’ve never felt the Bible was mine.  I don’t mean like I didn’t own a few, cause I did.  I mean like my interaction with the Lord and His written word was my experience.  Not to be unkind, but there was a lot of “this is how you do it” and “you should think this way”.  I find myself at a weird juncture.  I am a grown woman with kids of my own and I want them to have a real, organic experience with God.  Yes, I want them to read the Bible with me.  We do.  Yes, they need to believe in Jesus and the Bible as the last word.  But I need to make a little room for them to come to God on their own.  They need to see the need for Him.  I can point it out and live by example.  We can go to church as a family and serve in the community.  But they have to make that decision. They have to want God and trade their way for His way.

And I think in order for this to happen, I need some more of my own real, honest times with God.  I am stepping back and shedding any religious trappings I may have picked up along the way.  I want to come to Him like a child, open and trusting.  I want to read and fellowship with Jesus. I need to forgive those who have used the Bible against me like a weapon or tool to manipulate me. That was not Jesus. People teach as best they can and didn’t mean any harm. If I have done that to others, I need to ask their forgiveness.  The Bible is a two-edged sword, and two edges can sometimes mean it cuts others and it cuts me.