Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Can a Sinner Be Effective in Prayer? PART II

I found a new blog, Wisdom of the Wounded. It's a great site by Karen Mulder about caring for the those in need. While she gives practical advice on how to relate to those who are sick or hurting she also talks about the power of prayer.

 I think I was too hasty in writing my last post “Can a Sinner be Effective in Prayer?” I sometimes forget that we are all sinners, so naturally we can all be effective in prayer. Each of us comes from a place of sin and the magnitude of those sins does not affect our ability to ask God for help. Important to remember, as well, is the fact that we are an integral part in answering our own prayers. When we ask God for help with someone else, He tends to guide us to be His earthly hand.

After talking with God about someone in need, how often do we realize that we have a role in His plan? Perhaps we’ve prayed diligently for this person but have not reached out to them. As Mulder says, “Pick up that 200 pound phone and call!” God breaks down the barriers that have stopped us from connecting. Those fears about what to say and what to do diminish and suddenly we can act. God performs His miracles but he also makes us effective vessels to do His work. Just being there for a hurting friend (or stranger) is God at work, answering our prayer.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Can a Sinner Be Effective in Prayer?

I just got word that a friend’s cousin had a stroke. She is healthy. Thirty-nine. The mother of three. She had a hysterectomy a couple years back and they say it was the hormone therapy that triggered it. I pray for her. But do my prayers count? I pray daily, with empty promises as I've admitted in my recent posts. When I couple prayers for others with those, do they mean anything?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Slip and Slide

I’m sure you could come up with some mathematical formula about the relationship between skipping church and the incidents of slipping into sin. I’ve been bad. Let’s get that out on the table right away.

My last post was nearly four years ago, Father forgive me. Since then I’ve slept around, drank, and dabbled with drugs. I don’t understand it really, knowing that there is no longer this void I need to fill. What has remained constant through my debauchery is my sense of peace. The depression I used to feel prior to my white funeral remains MIA and no matter how confused or lonely I get I still have a relationship with God where all it takes is an honest prayer and a request for help to bring me back up to a level of comfort.

So what gives? I’ve tracked this back to my absence in His house. I’m sure it all started with the usual, life-got-in-the-way thing that started the slips in church attendance. The occasional missed Sunday turned into months away and sin began to slink back into my life. I started making excuses for my behavior and convinced myself that actually attending church didn’t change my relationship with God, and it didn’t in the bigger sense, but it most definitely let the devil start pulling me away.

Like Screwtape and Wormwood (The Screwtape Letters), the demons quickly set to work on my soul. Loneliness and the need for physical closeness was their way in, setting off a domino effect of ever deepening sins. Seeing quite well what was happening I found myself crying mid-coitus on more than one occasion from a mixture of utter aloneness and plain old guilt. Longing for a deeper connection, no matter who I was with, made me turn to drinking again to dull the feelings and mask the real cause. The culmination came when my then partner commented on my bible verses pinned above my desk as we were deep in one of our sinful acts. “I’m a born again Christian, but I’m not very good at it,” was all I could manage to say. Then I simply suggested we leave that room.

 I’m tired of praying for forgiveness every night for the exact same behavior then doing nothing about it. One of my favorite quotes is “It is a desperately dangerous thing to allow the spiritual vision to go ahead of physical obedience.” And I am the prime example of why.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I’ll Take This Religion – Do You Gift Wrap?

I came across a question a woman posted on a forum for moms the other day. She wrote “I'm in BIG trouble. Thanksgiving is over, and Christmas and Hanukkah are just weeks away. I'm freaking because I haven't picked my daughter's religion.” I’m not kidding. I had to read it twice, not believing that she would actually treat religion as if it was some quick purchase she had to pick up at Target. I scrolled down to read the responses fully expecting the first to be something to the effect of “Are you serious?” To my surprise not one of the twenty odd responses indicated the least bit of shock over her question.

Everyone was quite (helpful?), often suggesting she give Unitarian Universalism a whirl. UU, for those who may not know, is a cult that picks and chooses elements from world religions. UU follows a doctrine of relativism, or the idea that everyone can have their own personal truth, which as I mentioned in another of my postings is a total contradiction. Truth must be consistently true or else it isn’t truth.

Other advice included just not bringing religion into it at all, and I actually partly agree. Here's why. First, Christ was not born at Christmas. It is estimated that his birth was sometime in the spring. St. Nicholas, while obviously Christian, was famous for secretly giving gifts to the poor and while that was a very nice thing to do, and he should no doubt be honored for his generosity, the association with Christmas really has nothing to do with him. Lastly, Christmas trees have pagan roots, no pun intended. Christmas is a cultural holiday and I’m totally fine with that. It’s fun to decorate the tree and listen to Christmas carols, but I spend no more time with Jesus on Christmas than I do on any other day of the year. He should always be glorified.

Now what I do take issue with is her flippant approach to all this. My suggestion to her would be to educate herself so she can guide her daughter in the search for truth. If, as she stated in her post, she is an atheist I would hope she has all the facts that she claims support her beliefs. And she better be darn sure she can refute any argument for opposing views. I think children are owed the truth. And they should know that they can rely on their parents to provide them with it.

Devil Records, Inc.

Why does “bad” music have to sound so good? Since I became a Christian I always feel a little uncomfortable when I hear certain lyrics of my favorite songs. It puts quite a damper on singing along when I find myself belting out profanities and blatant sexual references. I tried to switch my repertoire, exploring contemporary Christian genres but, no matter what I tried – rap, rock or praise – it just didn’t take. In fact, I had a visceral reaction to it, but not in the way I should. In one particular worship service I nearly mutilated the program brochure I was holding, pained by the seemingly endless songs being performed. I know a lot of people like it and that’s great. I feel guilty that I don’t and even guiltier because what I do like is the bitter opposite of Christian music. Do I have to stop listening to mainstream music? Is it sinful to support it or worse yet, to enjoy it? Is popular music the devil’s domain?

Update: Well I did a little research to answer my own question and (unfortunately?) the Bible is pretty clear on this topic. Peter 2:18 says "For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error." (NIV) Not only does this imply that we as Christians should stay away from those who talk boastfully and glorify sinful nature but it appears that this message is targeted towards new Christians who are most susceptible to falling back into a worldly lifestyle.

I did, however, find another passage that says something that surprised me. 1 Corinthians 9:21 says "To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law." While I certainly don't think this means I should become a die-hard fan of T.I. and his songs about dropping obscene amounts of money and explicit sexual lyrics, it does sort of imply that I should be aware of him (and others like him) as a way to understand where he's coming from. Sort of like knowing what we Christians are up against. The fact that listening to these songs does make me uncomfortable and has increased my awareness of the lifestyle that many non-Christians aspire to, might actually be of some benefit. God laid it upon my heart a few months ago to find ways to help at-risk, inner-city teens get on the right path, and that was a direct influence of hearing the lyrics of mainstream rap songs. God does work in amazing ways, doesn't he?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Love Thy Neighbor - My Literal Challenge

A few months after I became a Christian, God started testing me on this. Apparently He wanted to ensure that there was no way I’d miss it because he put it right in my front yard.

I live in a quiet, single-family neighborhood of mostly historic cottages. It’s the kind of place where all the neighbors are friends and take care of each other’s houses when they’re out of town. A couple years ago a developer decided that what our block needed was a 6,000 square foot, Italian renaissance McMansion. Not surprisingly it sat vacant for years until last winter when an extremist religious sect from Canada rented it out. Now the actual religion doesn’t matter but God decided to be ironic and our new neighbors began running a Hasidic synagogue out of the house. Almost overnight the streets were swarming with Jews (again, I’m only mentioning this because of the irony).

Approximately 30 people live in the house and at least another 50 rent nearby homes. The Grand Rebbe lives in the behemoth on my street so that’s where most all of the activity takes place. Apparently he’s world-famous and people from all around make pilgrimages to the house to be blessed by him (I think the going rate is $3,000 per blessing but I won’t even touch that aspect). Aside from the daily influx of people (and cars) from all over, the synagogue hosts huge parties with hundreds of guests about 3 times a week. The street becomes impassable to cars and our lawns and sprinkler systems were quickly torn up from the guests parking on our properties. 18-wheelers are not uncommon sights as they bring deliveries of beds, chairs, food and anything else necessary to accommodate the daily requirements of a such a facility (it stopped being a home a long time ago).

The worst part though, is that the neighborhood has become a campus. There are far too many people around for them to conduct business in the house and at all times of the day and night men are milling around, forever attached to their cell phones, in the middle of the street and on our properties. It seems our homes are a mere extension of their territory and they have no qualms about making use of them. On one occasion I found a woman plopped down on my front porch. I asked her what she was doing and she said she was waiting to see the Rebbe. She never offered an apology for using my porch as a waiting room. Another time a woman drove her car straight over the sidewalk and fully onto my front yard parking about 1 foot off my porch. She calmly got out of the car and walked over to the see the Rebbe as if she had done nothing wrong. Apparently I am here at her disposal. Cigarette butts litter the streets and the constant cell phone conversations make quiet evenings relaxing on our patios impossible. Spot lights on the house (kept on all night), headlights from cars (left on to provide more light for them), slamming car doors and hours of chanting (outside) keep us up through the night. This is the norm now.

Now you ask, how can this be legal? Well, thanks to a federal statute called RLUIPA, that I know far more about than I ever wanted to, groups are allowed to hold religious services at any home, in any zoning district that they want. Not to mention the fact that any other time this has happened (yes they’ve done this to many neighborhoods before) if residents put up a fuss, the group sued the city for millions – and won. Hence, our city doesn’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. So we’re stuck with it.

As a Christian, it’s a daily struggle to love thy neighbor while they show such disrespect. My first method of dealing with it was to try to make friends. Despite the fact that they had never even returned my “hellos,” I agreed to help them on the Sabbath when they asked me to push two strollers up the street to another rental home. I figured this might be a good way to get to know them. It was quite a surprise when, during the walk, the men walked about 15 ahead of me and the women about 15 feet behind. Ignoring my attempts at conversation, I was astonished to be treated like hired help.

Now I try to look at it from a forgiveness perspective. Clearly their lack of respect is a violation of the command to love they neighbor since love and respect go hand in hand so I try to remember how much of a sinner I was (and still am) and how God has shown such grace in forgiving me. This one is easier though when you are dealing with people who have little understanding of, or feel a need to obey, God’s commands. What makes this situation different is that the very problem stems from their running an organization that's centered on the very concepts of following God’s commands. After all the Old Testament is what they’re all about. It’s hard not to see them as hypocrites especially with their apparent lack of repentance for their obvious violation of God’s command. They’ve made the comment that Gentiles are on the same order as dogs, thus warranting zero respect for us. It’s just so hard to forgive. How does God do it!?!?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More Born-Again Stereotypes – Bores and Nut Jobs

As a follow-up to I’m a Born-Again Christian – It’s Not What You Think, I wanted to address the other stereotypes of Christians in general. As I mentioned before, I was guilty of having big-time prejudices and assumptions about Christians before I became one. So now that I’m on the other side, I wanted to take a look at these former thoughts and see if I fit the bill.

Stereotype #1: Born-again Christians are religious nut cases. The “Jesus-freaks,” the “Bible-thumpers,” the “Bible-bashers,” whatever you want to call them, these are the people warranting a big eye-roll and a shake of the head. From the flashy televangelists to the skater dude with a WWJD? shirt and a tattoo that says “Jesus Rocks!,” you want to steer clear of them. There’s usually a 5 minute window between starting a conversation with one of them to the time they bring up “The Man.” And another 5 minutes before they set out on their plan for saving your soul. They attribute everything from a good night’s sleep to getting a prime parking spot to Jesus.

Stereotype #2: Born-again Christians are lame. To quote that 80’s crooner Adam Ant, “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?” These are the types of people who rave about their wild Friday nights playing Boggle with church friends. They dig coffee shops over happy hours and generally stay away from what us “normal” people consider fun. If their goal is to convert others, their lifestyle isn’t exactly making people rush to sign-up.

Unlike my total objection to born-agains being weak/gullible/stupid that I addressed in my former post, I have to admit that there might be some truth to the two stereotypes I listed in the above paragraphs. Bear with me now. I wouldn’t go so far as to label us Christians as lame nut-jobs but the perception that we are rather zealous in our expression of faith and we do appreciate a different sort of fun is not entirely untrue.

When I had my White Funeral, everything changed (except my taste in music, unfortunately – see Devil Records, Inc.). It didn’t happen all at once, after all the reason a White Funeral is in fact a funeral of sorts is because there is a sort of mourning for your old life. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to do…for fun I mean. My social life had centered around parties and long nights flirting with boys at bars. Would I have to trade all that in for Saturday nights at home reading the Bible? What I didn’t realize right away was that my personality had changed. I had this new emotion – joy - and I discovered that all those nights spent in the bar scene had actually been a search for that joy. If I got a little drunk, I had fun. The closest thing to joy I knew. And if I attracted the attention of guys, I felt fulfilled and wanted, or so I thought. At last that search was over. Spending time with God fulfilled me.

That’s not to say I never go out anymore. I do enjoy a nice little happy hour (without drinking) but quite honestly I prefer a quiet dinner with one or two good friends or even a game night with my church friends. I laugh. I appreciate being around people who like me because of me and who don’t want something from me. So, is that lame? If you think so, I just wish you could experience the kind of joy that that brings me. Which leads me to my next point…are Christians nut-jobs because we’re enthusiastic about our faith and want to share it?

Because I understand that many people think like I did before I became a Christian, I try hard not to push my faith on others. I know that coming on strong (or sometimes at all) will only make them run. It’s a touchy subject if someone is not “there” yet. No one could have sold me on Christianity. God had to put it in my heart to seek him. However it’s hard to stifle the bliss of being a Christian. We can’t help but want to share it. I see my former self in many people –brimming with underlying rage, confusion, chaos, desperation, searching. And I want so badly to make all that end for them. I want them to have peace like I have now. I know it’s not my place to fix it but I want them to know it’s possible. There is another way. So if we appear a little over-zealous, that’s why.

“Lord, I pray that You put the desire to seek You in the hearts of all those who need the peace that comes with Your gift of salvation. Please Lord, make them see that there is another way to live and help them realize that giving their lives to You does not mean limitations but freedom from all the hurt in this life.”