Why Christians Need to Stop Silly Fights

“What are the benefits of public school,” a person asked on Twitter.

I answered, “You learn how to get along with people who are different from you.”

Instantly without any notice I was ambushed on Twitter by home schoolers who thought I said ‘home-schooling is Satanic.’ I said nothing about home-schooling. I answered a question about public school.

Unfortunately I innocently stepped into the middle of a conversation launched by a blogger pitching his pro-home school post. The Christian blogger had an agenda and he used me to launch his crusade against public school. I quickly bowed out of this accidental argument and called out the blogger’s agenda.

The home-school versus public school is one of those silly fights Christians tend to get into in the name of God. My friend Lee Grady posted an article about how Christians misuse the Bible. One way we pervert the Bible is when we attack each other with scriptures. We think we’re defending God’s honor and the truth when we’re justifying our position at our friend’s expense.

The home-school versus public school is one of the many silly wars we fight. I’ve seen these battles as well:

  • Moms with children who work outside of the home versus moms with children who stay at home
  • Purposefully single versus marrieds
  • Purposefully childless couples versus marrieds with children

And the list goes on and on. I was in a church where the pastor’s wife wanted to debate me about my decision to work outside of the home. My mom just died and I had a baby. I was not in the mood for an open debate about my decision to work.

I respectfully told the pastor’s wife that the decision to work was between me and God and my husband. We believed the job was a financial blessing and my children were being taken care of. “I think you’ve crossed some boundaries here,” I said.

A week later she called crying and repenting for her mistake. I was thankful she responded but my guard was up in that relationship. That was the beginning of the end for me for that church.

While I’m a firm believer in seeking wisdom and counsel from respected, trusted leaders, I believe these issues, among many, are between you and God:

  • Taking birth control
  • Have kids or not have kids
  • Get married or stay single
  • How you date
  • Where you live
  • What you do for a living
  • How you spend your money
  • How you decide to educate your child

Some people can’t afford to send their child to a private Christian school or lose income from a working adult. Instead of judging them for their decision to send their child to a public school, why not pay their way to a private Christian school? Paying for their tuition is a more constructive way of addressing your conviction about private Christian education instead of berating the parent for subjecting their child to the ‘liberal agenda.’

Christians who fight silly wars are at-risk for breaking this scriptural guideline for relationships:

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters.[a] If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.  God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12

Who are you to judge your neighbor because….

  • They send their child to a public school
  • They home-school
  • He/she doesn’t want to get married
  • He/she doesn’t want to have children
  • He/she wants to have a big family
  • She has children and doesn’t want to work
  • She has children and wants to work
  • He/she drives an expensive sports car or an older vehicle
  • He/she is a different race, gender or economic class

Who are you to judge?

Instead of judging, let’s love by praying and caring for one another. Let’s fight for another, stand with another and respect each other’s decision. Help an overwhelmed parent. Bring a meal. Take care of their kids. Celebrate life!

Tell me about a silly war you may have accidentally stepped into.

 

The Shocking Signs of Holiness

Does holiness mean being weird, super-spiritual and wearing funny clothes?

When I think of a holy man or woman, I envision a person living in a cave who doesn’t watch TV or movies or listen to secular music. The unspoken definition of holiness by American church culture is not cussing, not smoking, not drinking alcohol, not watching R rated movies or not listening to secular music while reading your Bible and praying regularly. The definition of holiness according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is “the quality or state of being holy” and the title of persons of high religious position.

Yet God’s definition of holiness in Leviticus 19 is shockingly different from the Merriam Webster dictionary. The instructions in Leviticus 19 were given to a tribal nation who were not filled with the Holy Spirit or had a Bible. The only sacred text they had were the verbal instructions given by Moses.

Holiness is defined in Leviticus 19 by how you treat people, how you treat God and how you worship. American church culture’s definition of holiness as adhering to a list of don’ts while performing religious duties are a far cry from God’s intention to portray a people separated to Himself while engaging the pagan culture.

The mark of holiness begins with how you treat people.

“Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:3)

How you treat your parents and observe the Sabbath are priorities for holy living. Our culture is extremely casual about disrespect of parents yet this is the first sign of holy living. Respecting mom and dad equals observing the Sabbath in the eyes of God.

Leviticus 19:9-18 further defines holiness as to how you treat your neighbor, the foreigner, orphan, and disabled.

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:9-10

We are to show compassion for the poor and the foreigner. And we are not to curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind. We’re to treat foreigners as if they were natives and respect the elderly. Holiness is treating people with the fear of God.

Sexual relationships are also an extension of holy living. Leviticus 20:11-20 defines forbidden sexual relationships in graphic detail. God defines who you can sleep with and who you can’t have sex with.

This makes me wonder if we religiously read our Bibles, memorize scripture, pray and attend church yet mistreat people, does God call that holiness? Some of the meanest people that I’ve met are Christians. If you’re mean, condescending, prideful and arrogant with people are you really a Christian according to this passage in the Bible?

Another sign of holiness is how you treat God and worship.

‘Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves. I am the Lord your God.’ Leviticus 19:4

Leviticus 19 also defines how to deal with spiritists, mediums and those who practice divination or seek omens. God is separating His people from the practices of the nations around them that defile themselves with their pagan spiritual practices and perverted sexual acts. Leviticus 20 outlines the severe consequences of violating God’s decrees regarding holiness. The reward for living holy in our relationships with God and people is an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Leviticus 20:24)

While reading your Bible, praying and attending church regularly are valuable spiritual disciplines, let’s remember how important relationships are to God. The Bible is an account of His relationship with a family and clues as to what’s important to God. Obviously how we treat one another and treat Him are the bedrocks of our faith.

What crazy ideas do you have about being holy?

How I Found Freedom in Prison

In November 2001, I received a verdict that felt like a prison sentence. I discovered that the baby I was carrying had a disability. The geneticist that gave me the diagnosis recommended that I terminate the pregnancy.

I didn’t want to have an abortion yet I was overwhelmed by the fear of the unknown that grew inside of me. The decision to give birth to a child with a disability thrust me into messy, chaotic moments of uncertainty that chained me to an unfolding diagnosis that I had no control over. The commitment to be a mom to this child set prison walls for my life. In my head, I knew this was the right thing to do but in my heart I was convinced that I had no idea what I was doing. I mentally checked into a prison.

A prison is place where no one wants to go. A prisoner has no control over their life. Every minute they are told what to do, what to wear and where to go. A prisoner is a warden of the state who no longer belongs to themselves. They belong to someone else.

I stepped into a life that I didn’t want that made me go places I didn’t want to go and meet people I never wanted to meet.

One woman who learned of my predicament said if she could pick a child with a disability to take care of, she would pick the disability that marked my daughter. Taking care of children with disabilities was her job; not a 24 hours, 7-days a week responsibility that consumes you. While she encouraged me for a moment, her words faded in the years of constant change. I belonged to the demands of a daughter with special needs that meant lots of meetings with doctors, specialists, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, therapists and counselors.

My husband, Jerome and I are members of a church that encouraged us as much as they knew how to. When she was a baby up to 3-years-old, she was in the Infant Toddler Ministry and blended in with the rest of the children. At 4-years-old, she was in the service until after worship. The decibel level of the worship band was painfully loud for D’Andra. That period of worship, which is what I loved the most about this church, was spent walking her back and forth in the foyer until she went into the children’s ministry.

D’Andra’s first Easter service with her big brothers, Alex (left) and Chris (right).

When a child is six-years-old, they are in the whole service. D’Andra’s aversion to the decibel level that caused her to cover her hears and cry didn’t end. I spent the next 3 years in the foyer with her. I wondered if I should even go to church since I spent most the time during the service in the foyer.

Jerome was insistent that I go even though he knew that D’Andra wanted me to be in the foyer with her. At that time, I also had to step out of being a ‘prayer warrior’ and other volunteer activities to take care of her. I struggled with feelings of being worthless, useless, forgotten and overlooked. I was so busy taking care of D’Andra that I couldn’t live up to other people’s expectations. My pool of friends shrank and I felt isolated and alone in a fight that I didn’t want to be in. I knew I had no control so I leaned into the isolation and loneliness and quit running from it or resenting being in that cave. Leaning into the isolation and loneliness while praying and depending on Him alone set me free from the drive to be recognized or approved by people.

I found freedom from the need for attention when I had to leave church early many times to care for D’Andra. I found freedom from the facade of ‘having everything together’ when my struggle with her was apparent to everyone. One time she slipped away and the ushers put the church on lock down during the service. A massive manhunt for this little girl who wouldn’t stay in one place took place while my friends sang songs to God inside the church.

An usher found her hiding behind a glass pulpit in the Media Room. She giggled when she was found. I wanted to scream but her laughs and hug around my neck melted me. I found freedom to be vulnerable, to scream, to be outraged, to cry and to break walls down when I either wanted to kill myself or flee. I found freedom to reach out for help from trusted friends.

D’Andra did not like sitting still for very long when we were in church.

I found freedom to fail with endless mornings where she refused to get on the bus. There were morning meltdowns as she screamed at me. I lived in this war zone for years until she turned 13. Today, she gets on the bus without any problems. But there were many mornings of scrambling to get her into the car to drive her to school. Promising her a donut on the way so I could get her in the car for school. Yes, I failed as mom because I had to use sugary high calorie donuts to bribe her to go to school. I learned to find peace in God when failure screamed at me.

A donut would get D’Andra in the car so I could drive her to school.

While I struggled with my prison cell of circumstances, I was encouraged by the Bible stories of these prisoners, Joseph and Paul. My prison is a far cry from the prisons that Joseph or Paul were in the Bible. They were both unjustly accused and yet God brought freedom to their prison. Joseph went from the prison to the palace. Paul had an angelic visitation that set him free to convert his captor. Freedom was inside of them because no Pharoah, no emperor or religious leader can take what only belongs to you and God – your spirit and soul.

While you’re in prison, you can let your spirit live freely with love, joy, care and peace. Paul was shackled in a hole when he sang a song of deliverance. With shackles and chains and the stench of human waste, Paul found a song in his soul to the One who was unshackled, unchained and unstained by the stench of the world.

Paul and Joseph had a choice to be bitter, resentful or hateful towards their captors. Or they could look to the One who can never be imprisoned or chained. You can blame God for your prison or depend on Him to live in it. God’s own son was unjustly imprisoned, tortured and horrifically executed by his own choice, for a crime he didn’t commit.

God understands the unjust shackles of a fallen world. His own son was born under the threat of genocide and grew up in world with military occupation from a foreign ruler. Children are born into a world that can either imprison them in circumstances beyond their control such as poverty or slavery. Our circumstances become our prison cell where we can choose slavery to our captors or freedom in captivity.

What I thought of as my prison is where I found liberty. Liberty to love, to care and to lay my life down for someone who will never be able to pay me back. I’m not a hero and I still struggle with the demands. Just this week, I had 2 appointments related to D’Andra’s care and she was sick. Being at the appointments and taking care of a sick girl took hours away from my job. I had no choice but to take care of her.

I found freedom as I submitted to God’s will in the moments that I wanted to jump in the car and runaway. I chose not to run when I felt like I couldn’t be a mom to a child with a disability. I chose to call a friend when I wanted to end my life or seek out professional help.

I chose Him in each moment and I still choose Him. I choose Him in the loneliness and isolation. I choose Him in the failure. I don’t runaway from loneliness, isolation and failure. I lean into the discomfort with Him. I lean into the loneliness, isolation and failure by leaning on a community of faith.

If you feel like you’ve lived in prison – a marriage that you don’t want to be, raising kids that aren’t your children, or working in a job that you hate but you have to because you need to feed your family – God knows your struggle. He can set you free inside so no prison, no person or situation can chain your spirit. Tap into His freedom that He offers you now. That’s the only freedom that I know.

Why We Need to Talk about Race

Minneapolis rally to support the people of Baltimore

My friend, Dr. Ellis Ingram, is a retired African American physician who had an encounter at a Missouri store with racial undertones. His wife, Pam, was also followed at another store because she is African American. They both lead a ministry to children and teenagers in the public housing projects called “Granny’s House.” They had a conversation at their church about race with the pastor facilitating, Phil Schaefer of Christian Fellowship in Columbia, MO.

This is a 44 minute listen but it is well worth the time. I think the pastor did a good job facilitating this sensitive conversation in a predominantly white affluent congregation.

Click here for the conversation. Post your comments below.

When God Turns Against You

flickr-worship-revianjsharpA river turns to blood. Croaking, hopping frogs inundate a city. Clouds of gnats darken the streets. The blood-soaked river, heaps of frogs and cloud of gnats as told in Exodus 7-8, were a demonstration of Egypts’ gods turning on them.

The Egyptians worshiped Hapi, the river god for the water it brought to their empire, Heget the frog god, a symbol of life and fertility and Get, the god of the earth. While God was setting His people free from slavery, He was making a show of how the gods of the world can turn on you. This epic battle centered on worship.

Moses declared to Pharoah to let God’s people go so they could go and worship. Pharoah’s heart is hardened and a fight begins with the God of the Hebrews setting the gods of Egypt against them. What the Egyptians worshiped would destroy them.

We don’t think much about worship when we go through our day. But worship was so important to God that He started a war to set His people free. He didn’t set His people free so they could relax and enjoy life although that’s a benefit. He set them free to worship Him and Him alone.

What you worship determines whether you will live or die. Even if you don’t believe in God, worshiping yourself will cost you. How do you know what you worship? What do you think about? What do you look forward to? What makes your heart beat?

You can worship money, your car, nice home, fancy job or even your family without realizing it. Or worship a church, a doctrine, a ministry, a title or position can be the heart of your worship.

I was on staff with a church and when I left that position, God convicted me of worshiping that place of prominence. I wanted to leave the church because I felt lost and like God and people had forgotten me. When I prayed about this, God asked me, “Are you at the church to sit on the front row or because I called you?” I replied, “I’m there because You called me.” He answered, “I haven’t changed my mind. I’ve called you to that church. And I’ve called you to worship me alone.”

I realized that ministry had become an idol. God doesn’t want any other god to get the attention and worship that belongs to Him alone. In fact, this is the first commandment:

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Those idols can turn on you without the hand of God in your life. When you pursue God, He brings what you need to live.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33 NLT)

To get everything you need, you must seek the kingdom of God above all else and live righteously. What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God above else? That’s a future post.

In the meantime, may the Lord show you and me what we’re really worshiping.

“For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

Worship Him alone.

When Life is Over

God called Abram at 75-years-old. What if He called you later in life? (Photo Credit: Mario Mancuso/Flickr)

God called Abram at 75-years-old. What if He called you later in life? (Photo Credit: Mario Mancuso/Flickr)

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers”. (Genesis 17:1-2)

Can you imagine God calling you at 99-years-old? Our culture has sentenced 99-year-old people to either a hospital or a nursing home. Age was not a limiting factor to God.

Abram was actually called by God at 75-years-old.

“So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.” (Genesis 12:4)

I posted a blog yesterday about how God was moving mightily among teenagers and young adults in our nation. He is also calling the older generation – the Abrams who have raised their families or built successful careers – to lead. You may be ready to retire or fantasizing about sitting in a lawn chair with the waves lapping against you on the beach.

Or you’ve poured your life out to your family and think it’s time for you to rest. You’re calling or ministry may just be getting started. Your age doesn’t disqualify you from being called by God. He is calling you now. Will you answer?