Friday, February 28, 2014

How Legalism Makes You Fat

Legalism often goes something like this:

"If you want to be right with God, then read your Bible." So you read your Bible.

"If you are right with God, you will enjoy reading your Bible." But you don't always enjoy it.

Since you don't always enjoy it, you reason that you must not love God enough. So, what should you do in order to get right with God? You must read your Bible more. And then we start all over again.

Guilty if you do, guilty if you don't.

A friend of mine is struggling with her weight. She is one of the most God-loving people I know. She is passionate about her worship, her service, and her love for her fellow Christians. She is one of the least judgmental people I know, partly because she acknowledges that she can be judgmental. I love this woman. She has been a mentor, a friend, and someone I feel safe with.

Since I've known her, she has asked me several times to pray that she can overcome her addiction to food. She lists all the reasons why she needs to (they are good reasons), shames herself for how many times she's failed, reasserts the fact that gluttony is sin, and reasons that she must not love God enough.

Did you catch that? A woman who is passionate about her love for the Lord is telling herself that her weight is a clear indication that she doesn't love God enough.

So I called her on it. (Really, I was calling myself on it as I was processing this all in real time.)

"Is that true? Do you not love God?"

Silence. She knows without a shadow of a doubt that she loves God. "Well, I guess if I did I wouldn't keep overeating."

"So, the fact that you overeat means that you don't love God?"

She laughed at herself, thought about it, then started quoting scripture. I don't remember all the verses she so easily rattled off by memory, but they would have been verses like, "If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

What's interesting is that we'd been having a heartbreaking discussion on the damage of legalism right before this.

"So, when you see an alcoholic go back to drinking, do you think they do it because they don't love God enough?"

"No." Silence. "But…" More scripture.

"If you can give them grace, why can't you give it to yourself?"

More scripture.

So, if she loves God, she will not overeat. But she overeats, so she must not love God. In order to prove to herself that she really does loves God, she guilts herself into dieting. Guilt feels horrible and she overeats when she feels horrible. Her diet fails and she is back to guilting herself into dieting.

And then I had a thought:

What if our legalistic dieting is the root cause of our gluttony?

What if it's the guilt we bathe ourselves in that is making us go back for food?

What if it's not a lack of faith, but a lack of love that sets us up for failure every. single. time?

Maybe it's two weeks into our diet plan when we just can't eat one more salad and we blow our diet right there at the church potluck in front of everyone that Jesus kneels down and writes in the dirt, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone." Perhaps you were sure that when you looked up from your plate you'd see Jesus with a rock in His hand.

Just like Adam, we hide in shame and we just can't allow ourselves to drink from the Living Water because we think cheesecake disqualifies us.

Gluttony is wrong. You can't deny it and we all know it. In America, we throw it out there every time we have a discussion on not judging others. But how can we give ourselves grace and get over our legalistic diet plans? 

I don't have a list of ways that we can make that happen. That's like a dog going back to his own vomit.  (Proverbs 26:11) The only thing I have to offer that has been helpful to me is THIS GUY:

He seems to be able to live out that strange command where we're told to be perfect, all the while knowing we won't be perfect. (Matthew 5:48) Goal-setting books are emotionally harmful for me because I fail to live up to their standards. Fail, fail, fail. That's all I did. But somehow Jon Acuff got through to me and all the "right" things have just kind of come naturally. I think that's a result of learning grace, not following a goal-setting plan. Oh, and about 5 years.

Back to our original discussion, having an excess of fat on our bodies is not healthy, but it is not an indication of how much we love God. -20 pounds later, I think I'm finally getting it.

Legalism's purpose is to show us where we are wrong. (Galatians 3:24) Grace's purpose is to make it right. (Galatians 5:4-6)

Which path will you take to make it right?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Catching Fire: One Christian's Review

Before our family trip to see Catching Fire, I read some blogger reviews to see if it was something we would feel comfortable letting our kids see. From what I could gather, it was released in the UK a week ago. There was far more potentially objectionable material than what the blogs I read reported on, and so I want to add my voice to the crowd and give parents a little more information.

To get straight to the point, I won't say you shouldn't take your kids, but I can't say I recommend it, either.

Intensity: Very emotional. The book was emotional, but also cerebral. Seeing it on the screen made it more real and I lost the delicate balance that Suzanne Collins masterfully created in her book between "emotional" and "cerebral." To see the oppression unfold made me angry to the point that I literally clapped when the tributes joined hands at the end of the interview. Not necessarily a bad thing, but worth noting.

Violence: Tastefully done. There wasn't any violence added for the sake of adding violence. It was all important to the story line and necessary to make the point. Blood, yes. Gore, no. The message in the Hunger Games trilogy isn't preschool-level thinking and it wasn't dumbed down in the movie. If you have little ones, keep that in mind.

Language: I was disappointed in the amount of language. Sh** was heard early in the movie. There were a couple b****'s, a few d***'s, and the F-word was pronounced, "F-bleeeeeeeep." (They didn't bleep out the F-word; they bleeped 3 letters of it.) You could turn off the sound and still know what was said. You didn't have to be an experienced lip reader. There were also several OMG's, which is very offensive to me, however I don't remember any G-D's, which is far worse than the F-bomb, in my opinion.

Sexual Content: Let's just get to it. Joanna strips naked. As much as I hoped that this scene wouldn't make the cut, I knew it was coming. They showed far more skin than I'm comfortable with; however, it was true to the book in that it wasn't a steamy moment. It's shocking, just as Joanna was in the book, but not steamy. Peeta was obviously taken off guard. He wasn't drooling, but the fact that a woman just stripped naked in front of him wasn't lost on him, either. Haymitch was surprised, but the only thing that takes Haymitch off guard is a cold glass of water to the face. He takes a few quick glances and smiles, then thanks her as she is leaving the elevator. Katniss' face was HILARIOUS! Well played, Jennifer Lawrence, well played!

There was kissing, but not nearly as passionately as Suzanne Collins described it. We read the books together as a family and I cut out a bit of Collins' description of Katniss and Peeta's kiss on the beach. In the movie, the kiss was tasteful. (Ha! No pun intended!)

Bottom line: I think PG-13 is an appropriate rating. (This is coming from someone who thinks that many PG-13's should have an R rating.) There are some fabulous things to talk about, but I would recommend that parents see the movie first before deciding whether to take anyone 12 & under if the above things concern you. You know your kids best. If I had to do it again, I'd probably still take my kids (ages 10, 12, & 13), but I have to admit that I am torn between wishing my (highly sheltered) younger ones hadn't seen it just yet and smiling at the lively conversation we've been having. I'm also struggling with the foul language and supporting a movie that threw in the F-word just to push the limits. That bothers me.

If there was only one recommendation I could give, I would say definitely talk about it as a family. Engage your children's minds. That's the whole point of reading the books and seeing the movie. Catching Fire is just violence if you don't make an application and give your kids tools to think critically.

In the interest of disclosure, that's the opinion of a parent who shelters her children and whose PG-13 library consists of Pirates of the CaribbeanLord of the RingsChronicles of Narnia , and CourageousFireproof will be making an entrance next year.

Personal Thoughts: Before reading the books, I was strongly and decidedly anti-Hunger Games. My husband and I previewed the first movie before taking our kids and we walked out shaking our heads at how parents could let their kids watch it. At the insistence of many fans and an English teacher, we read the books. Since then, there have been many conversations in our home about how we see metaphorical hunger games playing out in real life. All three of my kids have made some very insightful comments and my 13-year old is in the process of re-reading the trilogy with the sole purpose of figuring out exactly what Suzanne Collins' opinion is of our state of the union. She is developing her critical and abstract thinking skills at an advanced rate and with more gusto than she ever has with school work. Now that we understand the story, the movie takes on a different form. It has a point. It's not just entertainment anymore.

By reading the books and seeing the movies, we have challenged and strengthened core family values as a family, we have had lively and relevant conversations as a family, and we have had our minds blown as a family. I cannot fully express the richness that the Hunger Games trilogy has to offer to families who are willing to stop, think, and a family. Conversation is essential, in my opinion.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Unstoppable Movie

Every once in awhile I'm the coolest mom on the planet. Some examples: the 4 times we've had ice cream for dinner, the time I bought way too much candy for church camp, and the time I stayed up long past midnight with my kids and one of their friends to make a spoof of How Animals Eat Their Food.  Another example may or may not have involved toilet paper.

And tonight I let my kids see a movie that started at 8pm on a school night. (blows on fist, wipes it on shoulder)

O.K., O.K. It was a Christian documentary and that hardly qualifies as the "coolest" parent on the planet, but I didn't see any other kids in the theatre, so there! I think I should get at least a half a point for that one. 

Here's the trailer:

Kirk Cameron throws out a pretty hefty question out on the scale and he promises to balance it.

"Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?"

To answer the question, Cameron promises to prove to us that " is stronger than death, good is stronger than evil and faith is stronger than doubt." 

I'm not so sure that answers the question.

We've been asking ourselves, each other, and our God that for a long time. I wonder if Eve cried out to God asking the same question as she held her dead son, Abel, in her arms and watched as his murderer, her other son, left home for good. (Although, she may have had a better idea than we do today.)

One thing about my generation is that we were trained to question everything. Well, everything Christian, anyway. God, the Bible, Jesus...we got the distinct notion that it should all be distrusted. One of the biggest faith-crushing questions presented to us was, "If there really is a God, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people?" It stirs up a host of sentiments, it sparks a lot of debate, and it silences many of us who choose to be honest with ourselves and realize we do not have an answer to satisfy the nonbeliever, much less ourselves.  

I wanted a definitive answer tonight. I was skeptical, but I wondered if perhaps Cameron had found a way to explain it like I had never heard before. But to be honest, I wasn't all that disappointed that he didn't answer that question for me.

I think at the end of the day, we have to hash that out between ourselves and God. It sounds so basic and so patronizing, but when you finally get dirty and try to answer that question, that's what it boils down to. If you want to know who He is, it's best to start a conversation with Him. I remember praying several years ago, God, if You are real and if You really do care about my life in an intimate way, I need you to show me. I'm not seeing it. I'm going to believe one more time. I'm going to go ahead and pray to You, even if I'm praying to my own imagination, in hopes that You will answer that question for me.

He did.

It's up to us to wrestle with God, to slam our fists on the table and scream, "Why God?!?" It's up to us to choose whether to continue asking why in the world God, if He exists, doesn't just stop the injustices of the world... or you just have to give up. 

You should know, however, that giving up still doesn't answer the question.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Praying for the Hairdresser's Cat

A pastor friend of mine once ranted about the prayer requests that are asked for in church life. He wanted so much to pray for his congregation and felt a great need to pray for them and their needs, but just couldn't bring himself to pray for "my cousin's daughter-in-law's nephew's hairdresser's cat." That wasn't a specific prayer request, but you get the idea.

At first I thought it was an insensitive thing for a pastor to say. And then there was Facebook...

Prayer request after prayer request. All of them important, all of them worthy of prayer. Even "the hairdresser's cat" is important because we're not just praying for the cat, but for the person who feels a great sense of worry over his/her most trusted and loyal companion. (I know-it's a cat. But there are a few.) But doggoneit, it's overwhelming!

In one day I may receive as many as 7 requests for prayers or "positive vibes." (I pray. I think prayer is  more powerful than my positive vibes, especially when I'm not feeling positive.) That doesn't count my family, prayer requests from church, friends who I know need prayer, or my own personal requests.

What about those in my immediate circle who are in pain? What about my friends who are struggling hard with pain I could never imagine, like the death of a child? What about my friends whose life is falling apart, bit by bit? What about my friends who are lonely or childless or jobless? What about MY hairdressers cat?

A friend of mine once commented about how she uses Facebook. She refrains from adding friends just because she knows them or had some connection with them in the past. She doesn't want the people she cares about most to get lost in the shuffle. She wants to be connected with people she has a strong connection with.

Exactly! As I am re-shuffling and re-thinking how I want to use Facebook, I am giving myself permission to only pray for those I am closely connected to. (With some exceptions, of course--things like our soldiers overseas, the Newtown tragedy, or the Boston Marathon victims.) God has given me a flood of people throughout my life who have blessed me, changed me, or challenged me. I am blessed with friends, family, and friends who are like family. They need prayer. I need prayer. It's an honor for me to pray for them and for them to pray for me.

And, like my friend's reasons for protecting her Facebook account, the numerous prayer requests cause those closest to me to get less "air time." They get a brief prayer, just like the rest of them. Because that's what I have the energy for.

When I do really get humble before God and beg Him for the grace to heal or comfort someone in my closer circle of connections and spend a tremendous amount of emotional energy on their need, I find that I just don't have the same passion for a stranger's cat.

Is praying for others important? Oh, yeah! Is praying the right thing to do? Of course! But I see now that I don't have to pray for the whole world. God gave me beautiful people I can invest my energy into. He gave me particularly annoying "neighbors" * that He commanded me to pray for. HE put these people in my life right now for "such a time as this."** The others have someone God has gifted them to, as well. They will be prayed for by someone who will take the time to beg for their healing or their comfort. They will pray with more passion and compassion. God has not made me responsible for everyone.

Not even your cousin's daughter-in-law's, nephew's hairdresser's cat. Just your cat.

(For my friends who may not understand some of my references, I wanted to make sure you understood where I was coming from, should you desire to do so.

(Matthew 5:44 Bible
* But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you

(Esther 4:14b Bible
* * ...and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Anne of Green Gables: Who Is This New Cover Girl?

I went to bed Wednesday night in a rage.

Well, rage might be exaggerating, but my blood was boiling and it took me longer than 2 minutes to fall asleep (nearly a record). I was offended, shocked, angry, and I was having a hard time putting it into words.  Anne Shirley, my beloved Anne girl, has a new look. Blonde, buxom, and wearing a 21st century "fake farmer" shirt, as my daughter put it.

That's the cover picture for the new publishing of the book, Anne of Green Gables.

Blonde? Hello! She was a redhead! That's a very central part of the book. And she's leaning attractively on a bale of hay, fingers combing through her hair, with a look that says, "Well, hello there!" Boiling, I tell you!

Apparently, I'm not the only one. As of this moment, there are over 350 negative reviews on Amazon for this specific edition and guess what they are upset about? The cover! There are comments ranging from the over-sexualization of girls to the mere fact that this girl on the cover doesn't look anything like Anne Shirley.

And yes, I wrote one! And no, I wasn't subtle.

In fact, I also created a facebook page for people to post their opinion that I could then pass on to the publishers in a form of a link. (AnneShirleyIsNOTBlonde) Kind of like an online suggestion box. Or online army of women. As of right now, there are 17 people who have "liked" the page and 3 comments, not counting my own. Not exactly viral, but at least I felt like I was doing something. (Does that make me a micro-activist?)

While my facebook page was far from highly populated, the buzz about this new cover was definitely heard on the internet! News articles started popping up and, according to one news source, Twitter was all chirpy. The 17 of us were not alone.

And then I couldn't believe my eyes...

After over 350 reviews, suddenly Amazon is "Temporarily out of stock!" Wait-people aren't buying these, are they?

Or maybe the fact that Amazon also took the picture off of their website means that our voices were heard, very loud and quite clear! i can't wait to hear what Amazon says tomorrow!

But in all this mess, I began to wonder, Who is this girl?

The picture is a photograph, not a drawing. This is a picture of a real girl. She'll be reading the comments about how sexy she looks, her bedroom eyes, her come hither look, and her buxom body. She'll read about how this picture looks trashy, about her looking vampy, and she will read review titles like, "It's Anne of Green Gables, not Anne DOES Green Gables." What will she be thinking?

I have to wonder if she'll think, "It's just my Senior picture, people!" because, honestly, it looks like a lot of Senior pictures I've seen.

Will she think, "What? There's not even cleavage. My picture is far less provocative than your Facebook profile picture!"

Will she feel misunderstood? Will she go to school tomorrow and be swarmed with boys? Will the girls give her dirty looks? (Assuming she's under 18.) Or maybe she'll just stay home tomorrow.

Compared to what I see many girls wearing today, she's very modestly dressed. And the way she's leaned against the hay bale, combing her fingers through her hair, and the way she is looking at the camera is hard to quantify. But somehow, when you put this picture in the context of Anne Shirley, it turns sensual.

Turns sensual or, sitting in place of Anne Shirley, does the body language become glaringly obvious that there's a lot more to sex appeal than high heels and low-cut dresses? Perhaps that's the object lesson (no pun intended) we needed to see.

Personally, I think the picture is inappropriate and the publishers are using sex appeal to get people to buy the book, which is peddled to 10 year old girls, no less. I'm really not OK with that. But I have to wonder if this girl will be turning her tears into her pillow tonight, trying to sort out all the mixed messages we send.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Demon Possession-That's Crazy Stuff, Right?

I have been challenged.

I am reading "Revolution in World Missions" by K.P. Yohannah.  (Get it free here.)  He is the founder of Gospel for Asia.  His organization is doing amazing things.  They are building schools, finding sponsors for missionaries, women, and children, building Jesus Wells (clean water), providing farm animals to villages, they have a radio ministry, they are helping in flood relief efforts, and running Bible colleges.  All of this in the name of Jesus.  This book is his journey on the mission field.  He has been beaten, stoned, received death threats, seen thousands come to Christ, and witnessed miracles and cast out demons.

And I'm only on Chapter 2.

Cast out demons.  Ummm... that's all fake, right?  Or at most it's what used to happen.  You know, back in Bible times.  Christ and many of his followers cast out demons, but everything I've seen as far as miracles and demon possession goes looks fake.  I've seen the televangelists and I just want to scream when they start asking for money for some holy prayer towel or special prayers from them, as if they possess a special favor with God that He would hear their prayers, but not the prayer of the one in need.  Those "pastors" have fraud written all over them.  It's the same deception and manipulation as the selling of indulgences.

I have never seen demon possession or miracles like you read about in the Bible in person.  Sounds downright scary.

As I read the pages of this book, I think of the people I know who have said that they witnessed these sorts of things first hand.  I'm incredibly skeptical, even though I trust that these people are telling me the truth.  I just don't know if they saw what they think they saw.

I think about the missionaries I've read about who say they are doing healings in the streets and it's always accompanied by speaking in tongues in a way that I don't find Biblical, although I trust their sincerity.  Something is happening, I'm just not ready to say they are speaking in the "tongues of angels."  Should I not accept a reality that includes demon possession and healings because I do not accept the reality of tongues today as I see in scripture?

Ugh!  These are big questions for someone who has gone to a Baptist church since birth!

A large part of why I want to go on a mission trip is because I want to see for myself if what I read and hear about is true.  I am a highly skeptical person, I think because of how many times I have believed something and found it to be false.  Our world is surrounded by lies.  Nearly every advertisement lies.  Nearly every politician lies.  Hollywood lies continually.  And I have to admit that when email was new and did not exist, I fell for a lot of urban legends and jaw-dropping, fabricated lies.

Is poverty as bad as the media reports?  (Speaking of lies, I failed to mention the media!)  Are the stories they tell the exception or is it common?  Are people in poverty really as happy as people tell me they are, despite their ghastly circumstances?  And are there really miracles and demons cast out in other countries?  Is it really, truly like what I read in the Bible?  Are we more progressed in the USA and know better than to believe this or have we, swimming in our riches and comfortable lives, regressed into spiritual apathy and powerlessness?  

I was once a part of a Baptist church that was full of people who were ready to experience Christianity differently.  They were ready to do things that they saw as Biblical, even if it meant that other Baptist churches in our association would call us heretics.  (As far as I know, they didn't.)  It probably sounds like child's play to those in charismatic churches, but we decided to lay hands on a woman who had been experiencing back pain for years.  She laid on the pew many Sundays because of the pain.  She was tired of trying this and that and experiencing little or no relief.  And so we prayed.  The entire congregation gathered around her, laid hands on her, and prayed.

Within 2 weeks she received a call from a doctor, saying they had a new treatment.  She experienced incredible results!  It was thrilling to see God work!  She wasn't healed instantly. She wasn't healed completely.  But I find it hard to believe that it was all a coincidence or that our prayers were like a placebo effect.  It was God, I know it!  I cherish those times.

I don't want to spoil the story, so if you have a chance to hear Francis Chan speak on what happened with his ministry event in San Francisco with Trader Joe's, DO IT!!!  My jaw literally dropped.  It wasn't Jesus turning 5 loaves and 2 fishes into a meal for thousands...with leftovers...(Matthew 14 and 15) but it was no doubt supernatural.  It was God!

And Francis Chan says that miracles are happening and he says that he is seeing things like they did in the Bible, like he always wanted to see today, but figured they were all in the past.  He, like me, wondered if those things still happened today and he has discovered that they do!

Whoa!  Really???  This is a new thing to him.  When I read his books and hear his words I think, "You are reading my mind!"  He had the same questions, the same thoughts.  What exactly is he now experiencing?  Does he mean all of it or just the obvious Divine intervention?  Is he telling the truth?  I have no reason to doubt that he is.

And here I am once again, just like when I started this whole journey, full of questions with little answers.  And I have to admit that it's scary to ask these questions.  I don't want to play the fool and find out that, once again, I have been lied to.  And I don't want to find myself with answers that I don't like.  I may find out that everything I have believed so far is true.  Or I might not.  Or maybe I'll find out I'm asking the wrong questions.  I just want to see it for myself.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What If I Never Go?

I think the thing I have battled most over the last year is the knowledge that I may never get to go on a mission trip.

I believe from the bottom of my heart that God has put this desire in me and I know without a doubt that He is calling me to go on a mission trip.  But God hasn't told me where.  So many times in scripture Jesus explained things to his disciples and they almost always took it to mean something physical while Jesus was trying to teach them something spiritual.  I picture Jesus banging his head against the wall saying, "C'mon, people!  Don't you get it?"  What if my mission trip is not on the physical world map, but in the familiar - but mostly uncharted- territory of my heart?  

What if I never actually go on a mission trip?  What if the sacrifice God wants of me is to let go of my desire to see first hand all that I have learned and to be physically present with the children of India or somewhere else?  What if the money I would spend on a mission trip is the money that God is asking me to give away?  That does make the most sense.   After all, the amount of money it takes to buy plane tickets alone for our family is enough to build a school house, sponsor almost 18 children for a year, sponsor one child all the way through adulthood, buy 7 Jesus Wells, provide 54 pairs of milk-producing goats to be divided among several villages, or a blanket for 625 cold children.  Logically speaking, going on a mission trip is completely contrary to my greater desire to change a life.  

If I preach sacrifice, I need to be willing to do it myself.  

I may never get to go overseas on a mission trip.  I may never be the one to hold the hand of a child who needs someone to show them love.  I may never have that mission trip experience I hear others talk about and that I long for... and I need to be OK with that.  

What if I never go?  If I'm going to do this Christian thing for real, I need to be willing to accept whatever God's answer is to that question.

It's been a year and I'm still struggling with that one.