Whited Sepulchres

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, you appear to be righteous on the outside, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

Christians bemoan the state of the world– moral decline, and the spiral into lawlessness, the spiritual thirst that the church does nothing to help quench. The impotence of the church is a direct result of the culture of materialism and pride, of moral relativism rooted in the desire to be culturally relevant, and avoid persecution, of complacent Christians who don’t hold themselves and their leaders accountable to the Biblical standard. The reason that this happens is because the average churchgoer has no real grasp of the Word themselves, but in their apathy, rely on a “spiritual leader” who may or may not even be saved themselves.

The widespread corruption of TV preachers and their organizations is an unfortunate fact which draws derision from the world, and disgust from those with a truly regenerated heart, but what is rarely addressed is church leadership and “ministries” full of organized crime rings, drugs, pornography, pedophilia, immorality, and a complete lack of financial integrity. Church is a business–“rock stars” leading worship, pastors and evangelists who are CEOs–not pastors or evangelists, and a consumer culture that wants youth group parties every Sunday, and social events for business networking. Eventually, everything unravels, but the church as a whole holds no one accountable, as they don’t want to be accountable for their own iniquities. Sadly, many “faith-based” businesses rob employees and customers, produce faulty products and services, and are a terrible witness for the Gospel they claim to proclaim.

The apostle Peter spoke of these people, “Now there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies that even deny the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow in their depravity, and because of them the way of the truth will be defamed. In their greed, these false teachers will exploit you with tales they have concocted. The longstanding verdict against them remains in force, and their destruction does not sleep.…These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.” (2 Peter 2:1-3, 7-18.)

It is not a sin to hold church and ministry leadership, or faith-based business owners, accountable to Biblical standards–there is a difference between legalistic judgement, and Biblical accountability. It isn’t wrong for true men and women of God to draw a living from work in the ministry–but what is their fruit? Is the church in perpetual financial strain while ten “pastors” are living high? Is the church, ministry, or faith-based business in disarray, and dependent upon marginally legal and ethical practices for survival? These things are not of God, and God will not excuse the leaders or those who willingly support their practices.

“What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase? By no means! How can we who died to sin live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2)

“But you are doing wrong and you are cheating even your brothers.
Or do you not know that evil men do not inherit The Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; no fornicators, neither worshipers of idols, neither adulterers, neither sexual molesters, neither males lying down with males, neither frauds, nor thieves, neither drunkards, nor the insolent, neither extortioners; these do not inherit The Kingdom of God.” ( 1 Corinthians 6:8-10)

I say none of this as a Christian-basher. I am a Christian. I grew up a pastor’s daughter, and I have spent the past five years of my journey working in churches, “Christian” non-profits, and “faith-based” businesses. I have seen the breadth and depth of corruption, the destruction that it wreaks on complacent and undiscerning souls, how it undermines the ministry of those who are truly called, and how it gives a measure of validity to secular criticism of Christianity.  Failure to confront and call out evil is, at a minimum, passive participation.

“Have nothing to do with the useless works that darkness produces. Instead, expose them for what they are”. (Ephesians 5:11)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Never Say Never

The Journey:

This warning was passed down to me at an early age–never say never, because you will end up doing or being what you say you will never do. I certainly have found this to be true in my life. I don’t know whether it is because God has a sense of humor, or if our “never” situations are sent to teach us something (I think it is both). At any rate, for the past year, I have found myself in the middle of my “never” situation. Anyone who knows me well knows that I previously was not a “kid person.” I was a career woman, and I literally told people that my idea of hell would be to work in a daycare. Since May of this year, I have had two jobs at my church: Childcare Director, and teacher in the 4-5K class on Sunday mornings. I find this very amusing, when I consider the woman I was even a couple of years ago.

It started when my church published a call for help in the children’s ministry in a weekly newsletter in  2013; they needed a female to volunteer with the third grade girls one Sunday. As I read the blurb, I had this vague uneasy feeling that I was supposed to respond. Mind you, the last time I had ever even done a babysitting stint was when I was 14, and only because my mother made me do it. With some trepidation, I volunteered for one Sunday. When I arrived, I discovered that I had the group by myself, and I had never taught children before. It actually went very well, and I discovered that not only did the kids like me–I actually enjoyed it. A few months later, the call came for a seven week commitment to working with 3-5 year olds. Again, I had that feeling–but I “negotiated” with God that if the plea was in the next week’s newsletter, then I would volunteer. Of course, it was, and as soon as I saw it, I responded that I would sign up. I had never dealt with little kids at all, and I couldn’t believe that I had agreed for seven weeks. At the end of the semester, I signed up for the next semester, and then the teacher in the room recommended that I be hired to alternate Sundays with her, teaching the whole group. She said I had a way of managing the kids, and that I would be a good fit. I also got hired to run the childcare program for church events other than Sunday mornings. I ended up leaving another job a couple of months ago, (for many reasons), but in large part because it conflicted with my church jobs.

In a million years, I would never have imagined such a thing. I am doing the thing I said I could/would never do. I would never have known that I could do it, if I hadn’t been willing to obey the prompting in my spirit. I would not be doing it as my “career” at present, if somebody else hadn’t said I had a gifting for it. I know that this experience serves many purposes, not only to pour into the next generation, but also to prepare me for the family I will have someday. I have been told by the Lord that I will marry a man who already has children.This is also funny to me, because previously kids were a “deal breaker” when considering relationship potential. If I had not stepped up to become involved in children’s ministry, I would not be prepared for my future. When I left my career in the defense sector, I did so because I wanted to help people. Every Sunday when I teach, and there are 40 or more kids kneeling down to pray their own prayers aloud during our prayer time, I know that what I am doing means something–and that the results are real and eternal. I have been with this group of children for a year now–and I think that I have grown as much as they have during our time together.

The Lesson:

1. Always obey, even if it is something that you think that you are ill-equipped to do, or you just don’t feel like doing it.

2. God places people in our lives to draw out gifts that we didn’t know were within us. Be thankful for those who believe that you can do something you didn’t know you could do–this is a blessing for you.

3. God uses every experience to refine you, or to grow you. The future that is prepared for you requires more than where you have been, and what feels comfortable to you now. Embrace every experience as “professional or personal development.”

4. Never say never!

You mean my manna is here? In the wilderness?

Those familiar with Jewish history and the Old Testament know the Exodus account of the Israelites’ sojourn in the Sinai Peninsula after their escape from Egypt and deliverance from Pharaoh.  They were in-between the place of their bondage and their Promised Land.  The wilderness in which they were dwelling was scarce in water, and they could not plant crops for food. They were literally completely dependent on God for every provision. In merciful response to their complaints, God sent them quail in the evening and manna in the morning (Exodus 16).  However, they were still unsatisfied, and their constant complaining, doubt, and other sin resulted in them having to remain in the wilderness much longer than necessary. They also experienced difficulties that they likely would not have had if they had not been continually grumbling.

I am currently less than pleased with where I am at in this season of my life, and growing impatient at delayed attainment of the things which have been promised to me by the Lord. I know that my current situation is not my destination, but I can’t seem to get to where I want to be soon enough. Instead of just resting and trusting, I have found lately that I spend most of my energy trying to escape my wilderness, yet all my efforts have been for naught.  Recently, I have been given provision from a source that I’m not really thrilled about. While the increase brought relief on one level, I felt like it was a sign that I was trapped here, where I don’t want to be. It’s not that I’m ungrateful, I am—I just really want to get on with my life in the Promised Land. The problem is, that like the Israelites,  we want our manna and quail in the Promised Land, along with the fruitful fields and vineyards.  We want it all now, not understanding with our limited vision, that there are people, provisions, and circumstances that we don’t know about, which have to be in place in order for the promise to be “ready” for us to walk in. We do not determine the timeline for this: we are completely dependent on God for everything. We grumble about what we have, because it’s not quite what we want. We are unemployed, then when we finally do get a job, we don’t really like it. We need housing, and we take what is provided, but we don’t like that, either. Somehow, it is all not quite good enough, and we are in a hurry to get to the next stage.

Somewhere I heard the phrase, “If you complain, you remain.” Whenever I find myself unhappy with the fact that for now my provision is in the wilderness, I repeat this to myself as a reminder of  the consequences of grumbling. I often find myself needing to  repent for my complaining, and my desire to hurry God along in giving me what I am waiting for. I know that there is likely work to be done in me before I’m ready to walk into my Promised Land.  I also have to take into account that I don’t know everything, all I see is what I believe are constricting circumstances. The wilderness was a place of testing for the Israelites: to teach them obedience, gratitude, and having faith. They couldn’t seem to get it together, so the older generation wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14). The Sinai was just part of the landscape on their journey, a place they had to go through to get to where they were going. The journey always includes a wilderness area, “a whole lot of nothing” until you get to the next city on your route.

Do you find that you are unsatisfied on some level with what God has provided for you, and that you just want to get to the good stuff? Do you feel stuck in a wilderness, and if so, how do you keep the right attitude? If you have come through a wilderness, what was your experience, and what did you learn from it? Please share your story!

The Cave

The Journey

The Cave was a basement apartment with practically no natural light and an excruciatingly uncomfortable bed.  The seven months that I spent there were some of the most miserable, frightening, and humbling days of my life. There was almost no employment to be had in the area, and my student housing stipend covered only my rent. I was hungry, and happy for the ramen noodles and crackers from the nearby dollar store. If it had not been for the kindness of some friends from out-of-state, I literally would have starved, and ended up living in my car. I spent every minute that I wasn’t writing papers for school applying for jobs, but my “impressive” resume did nothing for me in the limited job market. I was completely isolated, because I usually did not have enough gas to go anywhere, and no money to spend if I did go somewhere. I had never dreamed that I could be living at rock-bottom–that was for other people, the losers, not me. A good friend of mine uses the phrase “humble on down,” and that was what the cave-dwelling period was for me.

I spent many long hours face down on the gritty tile floor (the place was not sealed very well) repenting for my pride, and praying for deliverance and revelation. When I wasn’t reading for school, I was devouring my Bible. It was during that time that the Lord gave me songs to write. Often I would be sitting outside braving the mosquitoes, and He would tell me to go inside, write certain lyrics, and the melodies to accompany them.  As fall and winter came, and I had to wear my coat even when sleeping because there was no heat, He led me to study His Word more, and to start preparing for the things He told me were planned for my future.  He used the ugliness of my situation to create beauty, and to bring out things in me that had been dormant when I was busy being “successful” in previous years. He used my lack to break my pride and self-reliance, and allowed my fears to become reality to show me that I can go through anything with Him.  There was a strong evil presence in my  basement “suite,” and I learned first hand about the reality of spiritual warfare, and that our enemy does indeed want to destroy both our bodies and our souls.  I also experienced tangibly, for the first time in my life, the actual presence and  touch of a loving creator, Father, God. The Cave was for me the pit and the prison that helped to refine me so that I will be ready for what comes next.  As I write this a year later, I am actually writing from another basement apartment that I don’t plan to inhabit for very long, although it is much better than the first. I have a part-time job with a Christian organization, and I continue to work on His music during my free time.  As I wait impatiently for the next step, I know that this time, my stay in this place has a specific purpose.

The Lesson

I cannot do anything without Him–He is the one who sustains my life. Any provision, success, talent, and favor that I have is only because He grants it to me to be used for His purpose.

Pride and fear are the two greatest tools that the enemy uses to destroy lives and derail destinies. Both have to be confronted and purged if we are to become what He created us to be. The refining fire is actually a gift from a loving Father:

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as sons […] Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful, nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” Hebrews 12:5-7, 11.

Anybody can hit rock bottom–it’s not just for “losers.” Never assume that someone is a “loser,” “lazy,” or “ignorant” because they have material lack, it is only the mercy of God that any of us have provision, and you do not know the whole story. None of us have any excuse for pride.

Over the River and Through the Woods

I didn’t realize it has been almost a year since I posted anything. The past year has been one of the most difficult journeys, and one of the most instructive years of my life. I hope never to repeat it, but in retrospect, I see all that has been accomplished in me because of it.

THE JOURNEY

In fall of 2011, I was called to leave Colorado, and move to Atlanta after the semester was over, because pieces of the plan were waiting for me there.  Other than the fact that I knew I was supposed to, I saw no practical reason to leave Colorado. It wasn’t that I wanted to disobey, I just didn’t see a way to make it all happen, and it all seemed like a wild goose chase to me. By early 2012, the signs of my impending relocation were evident, and I braced myself for the inevitable. God always finds a way to bring his plans for us to pass, and in my case, he “assisted” me with obeying by allowing me to lose the things that were most important in my world. I lost everything financially, my beloved dog Penny died unexpectedly, and I had to leave Colorado in March of 2012 with only what would fit in my Honda Civic. I would probably never have left if I had any other option, so this drastic turn of events was necessary to propel me forward. Having literally no place to go, in a huge leap of faith, I headed to Atlanta to (I thought) work with some ministries doing outreach to immigrants–I was going to be a missionary. As I crossed the Mississippi and drove through the woods of the deep South, I formulated how I would begin to reconstruct my life in Atlanta. I had no job to go to, only a little money from selling my new furniture, and I didn’t know a single soul. I had a place to stay with a missionary couple I had never met, and that was only for three weeks. I had no idea that absolutely nothing would be like what I thought. I knew I was being stripped of self so that I would be better equipped for the life that God had planned for me, but I didn’t realize how many layers of self had to go, nor what that process would look like. I didn’t realize how my material possessions, my love for Colorado, and my  perceived “control” over my own life were in fact idols that had to be brought down. This all became abundantly apparent when my initial plans didn’t pan out when I arrived in Atlanta. Since I had to find a place to live, I ended up in “The Cave,” and the refining process began in earnest……

The Lesson:

Christians tend to almost romanticize the concept of “a leap of faith” as a fairy-tale process where the landing is cushy, and everything turns out alright immediately. The leap of faith in reality often means an initial landing on jagged boulders. The faith part comes in when you believe that no matter how deep the cuts are now, our Father and Healer will bind up our wounds, and the end will be better than the beginning.

We really can lose the possessions we worked hard for, our plans can fall through, and we will survive. The things that are taken away from us are gone so that something better can come along–we just have to realize that the replacement process is a process. We cannot accept the words of despair that the enemy will inevitably whisper to us. To do so only serves to derail our journey.

Now, where was I?

Time to get back on the road again. I left off where I had decided to step out in faith, seeking security in God, and not the world. I originally went back to school anticipating that I would complete a doctoral program, and teach at a university. About three weeks into the first semester of my second undergraduate degree, I realized that my worldview was so diametrically opposed to the one frequently espoused by secular academia, that I could not possibly spend any substantial portion of my life in that environment.  I learned a lot about the world outside of the microcosm I had lived in during my previous career. The academic part of the experience was not difficult, but dealing with the atheistic, anti-Israel, anti-American, socialist culture was frustrating and depressing, since it when against the grain of everything I stood for.

I had to write papers about topics I strongly disagreed with.  I listened constantly to things that appalled me, which were taught in the lectures as fact.  There was a lot of hate, and a lot of occult activity. There just seemed to be such a heavy, dark spirit in the air. I  saw so much happening with the younger students that made my heart hurt for them, because there were so many confused and hurt souls in that place.  I watched in anger as one young Muslim girl, probably only about 20, with a new baby, was pushed and yelled at by her husband in front of his friends because her hijab had come loose in one place, and her mouth had been exposed. The other men stood around and laughed at her while he pushed her. This happened right in front of the student union building in broad daylight.  Another female refugee from Egypt told me how she was being threatened by other Muslim immigrants in the low-income housing where she lived because she was dating a Jewish man. She did not really practice any religion, but said she had to wear the hijab, because her father had been Muslim, and her neighbors told her they would be watching her. She had  lost her parents, had no family in the U.S., and no protection. She told me often that she was afraid of her neighbors, but she had nowhere to go. Seeing all this, and more,  I knew that one day, I would work to provide safe havens for Muslim women fleeing domestic violence, here in the U.S. and abroad. I intend to do this.

I discovered a lot of things during this time. I had always liked meeting people from other cultures, and I missed working with foreign languages. I missed being involved with music.  I also began spending a lot of time in Bible study and prayer. I started it as a counter-measure to the oppressive spirit of the university, but it changed my heart, and the direction of my life.  I got a “burden” to help people in a significant way, which was not my previous focus. I always tried to be nice, but it wasn’t something I wanted to dedicate my life to. I had always been about my career, and attaining a measure of financial security. Even though I loved singing, I never thought it practical to try to do that as part of my life’s work, and especially not as a Christian artist,  but suddenly I was consumed with the desire to sing for God. That is all I want to do. I began looking for a way to make it all happen.

 

The Lesson: If you delight yourself in the Lord (study His Word, sincerely dedicate your life and your talents to Him) He will give you the desires of your heart–He will put the desires in you that He wants for you to have to accomplish the purpose that He has for your life, and you will really desire them. Also, there are so many layers to our inner man. We are capable of doing, seeing, and feeling so much more than we believe that we can. Our Father can take a heart of stone, and make it a heart of flesh. I know, because He did that for me.

Rest Stop

I am only at the beginning of my story. There is a lot more between what I’ve posted so far, and where I actually presently am in this tale. I’m trying to play catch up right now, and it will all make more sense when I finally bring us to the current period. Thanks for your patience. Please feel free to share some of your own story with me.

She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain

I arrived in my land of promise on October 9, 2009, two days before my 35th birthday. It was as beautiful and wonderful as I had dreamed it would be. For the entire two and a half years that I was blessed to be there, there was never a day that went by that I didn’t thank God with all my heart for bringing me there. Even in the cold and deep snow of the winter, I would stand outside in the middle of night with my dog (who loved to go outside in the middle of the night), and I would marvel at how clear the air, how gorgeous the mountains, and how bright, huge, and close the moon and stars were at that altitude. I never wanted to be anywhere else ever again.

The one problem that man has had with paradise on earth since the beginning is that there always seems to be a serpent slithering around waiting to mess everything up. In my case, it was the new position I took in order to move out there. It was torturous, and I was so miserable going into work, that I literally dreaded every second of the day (when I was at work) and the night (because night was the time before I had to go back to work). For those who have seen the movie Office Space, my thoughts were exactly like the line where the main character tells the therapist that every day at work is worse than the day before. Something had to give, but I couldn’t leave that job–I was making too much money, and I couldn’t risk being poor like I was as a child. I was finally able to buy beautiful, new, matching furniture, I finally didn’t have to worry about money. I was trapped by my own self-reliance.

In the middle of my work woes, I began to want to return to school for a graduate degree. I had earned GI Bill benefits from my time in the Air Force, and I thought there was no reason I should allow that to go to waste. The problem was that I didn’t know how I would survive financially if I quit my job. My internal conflict and misery grew to the point where I didn’t even want to get out of bed, literally. I was in the place I most wanted to be, and my life was awful. If it hadn’t been for my dog, I probably would have found some way not to continue on. That sounds terribly pathetic, but that is where I was. The only thing that kept me going through the interminable days at work was music. I had developed a love of Norwegian Hardanger fiddle music while I was on the East Coast, and I listened to it during my two-hour commute to/from work, and all day at the office.

One morning the unthinkable happened–I left my CDs at home. I was forced to turn on the radio, and it happened to be tuned to a Christian station. Now, I never listened to Christian music, I didn’t like the sound of most of it–with one exception. The DJ announced that there was a new song coming up from the only Christian band I ever liked, and I stayed tuned for it. When it came on, I was completely blown away–it was like this person had seen my situation and decided to write a song about it. God used that song to reach me in the deepest parts of my soul. That got me started listening to other Christian music, and after a couple of months, I started really listening to what the Spirit told me I was supposed to do–I quit my awful job to go back to school. That decision has changed my life in ways I could have never imagined. 

The lesson: Sometimes we have to become very uncomfortable and disillusioned with the lives we create for ourselves in our own power before God can direct us toward the road He wants us on. Since He created each of us, He knows how to reach us. Still, we have to take time to listen to His Spirit, to be open to change, to surrender our fears, to abandon old mindsets and familiarity. 

Prelude to a Journey

We all start somewhere, right? I started out as the eldest of two, a preacher’s daughter, in a very emotionally and financially unstable home in south Texas. The main thing I took away from my childhood and adolescence is the determination that I would NEVER EVER live my adult life the way I spent my childhood, and I succeeded for the most part. I also took away a lot of wrong ideas about God, with the result that I have spent the last 18 years trying to do everything on my own. My journey has been a discovery of the limits of myself, and the limitless power and love of God.

I worked very hard to put myself through college, an enlistment in the Air Force, and launching a rewarding and lucrative career. Through all of this, I also drifted further from God, because I couldn’t trust Him to provide for me. I did a lot of wrong things, I had the wrong focus, but He never let me wander too far. He answered my calls for help when situations were beyond my ability to control. He gave me favor and opportunities I would not have had otherwise. He also put in me the seed of a desire to serve Him, although it was not something I considered consciously. He orchestrated everything for His purpose, and after all these years I am just beginning to have an inkling of what it is all about. 

After a few years of an exhausting work schedule in a high-stress environment, in a location that I hated, with people who were hateful and angry, I had an overwhelming urge to escape. I had a burning desire to live near mountains, and a vacation to Colorado only fanned the flames. I started jumping through every hoop I could to try to secure a position in the Denver area. Moving to Colorado was the only thing I cared about. I was starting to come out of my backsliding phase, and I felt that where I was was spiritually detrimental; my spirit was suffocating. When we delight ourselves in our Father, He does give us the desires He wants us to have for His purpose, and He works to bring about the fulfillment of those desires (Psalm 37:4). After a lot of unnecessary, self-inflicted stress, it was with great joy and relief that one day I loaded up the car with my clothes and my beloved dog, Penny, and drove away toward the mountains. Seeing the place I hated retreating in the rear-view mirror was a great victory for me. I was finally on my way to the place that had captured my heart! 

The lesson: Sometimes we have to go down a long road to get to the place where we are able to receive the lessons we need to learn to get to where we are supposed to be. Once you give your life to Him, even if you stray, He is still there waiting for you to return, and working all things together for your good (Romans 8:28). God is always God. God is always good, He is always in control, His promises are true, even if we don’t understand or believe them. 

Hello world!

I decided to launch this blog because I have started on an unexpected journey in which I have encountered open roads, dead ends, twists and turns, scenic overlooks, and the occasional burned bridge. I love reading others’ blogs and discovering the similarities and differences in the spiritual journeys we are all on. Every season has a reason, and I do this not only to help myself see where I have been and where I am going, but also to possibly help someone else along the way. I am not sure how this will evolve.  I will just start writing, and see where it takes me. I hope some of you will join me, and share your own journey. The first substantive post will be “Prelude to a Journey”, which I will get out AFTER I take care of some other required writing I need to do. Catch you later!