Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Temple

I heard the sounds of Monks chanting and smelled burning incense as we climbed the steps to the
Buddhist temple in remote China. With every step, I prayed under my breath that God would give
me discernment. I trusted Him to help me make the right choice, if I was faced with one.

God was busy in my life – teaching me to trust Him and hear His voice. I auditioned and applied for
Survivor eleven times – every six months for five years – knowing it was something He was asking
me to do. I faced rejection after rejection and ridicule from folks who just didn’t think God would
ever ask someone to go on a reality show. With the blessing and agreement of my husband, I kept
trying.

I knew God’s voice. I had no doubt He was calling me to be a Survivor and I completely trusted He
would guide me each step of the way on my journey. So as I prayed to Him at the temple, I had no doubt I would know if I were crossing the line. Little did I know the choice I was going to face would send ripples throughout the world to millions of people watching.

Survivor is a game where sixteen Americans from every walk of life are stranded in the middle of
nowhere and are left to fend for themselves. They are divided into two tribes and every three days,
there is an Immunity Challenge and the loser of the challenge has to go to Tribal Council and vote
out one of their members. When there are ten Survivors left in the game, they make up a jury as
they are voted out and they decide from the final three who will walk away with the million dollar
prize.

Before the game began, I made it clear that I wanted the other people on the show to get to know
me as a person before they found out about my faith. It’s not that I’m ashamed at all to be a
Christian – but I know the impressions and judgments that people make when they find out that
you are a Christian. Immediately, they assume you are judgmental. They file you away in a box
without getting to know you first. I wanted them to see me as a real person – not a stereotype.

The show’s host, Jeff Probst, began to speak. He said the local people just wanted to welcome us
with a ceremony and they knew we all had our own religious beliefs and this ceremony was purely for
welcoming and blessing, not worship.

During the next hour or so, we went from room to room in the Temple. The monks were chanting
something I could not understand while incense burned and things were spoken over us. The people
were extremely friendly and seemed so warm. I wanted to respect them and learn from their
culture.

I began to feel a very intense spiritual battle going on when we entered the final temple room. The
monks put down sixteen pillows on the floor right in front of this enormous golden statue of Buddha
that was surrounded by literally hundreds of smaller golden gods.

They asked us to bow down on the pillows. I remember thinking “Well, I suppose I could just bow down and pray to Jesus – He knows my heart and would never hold this against me. I mean, it’s just a game, right? And I wouldn’t want to offend the locals. Plus, they said it wasn’t worship, so this is just part of the ceremony.”

As my heart pounded, I tried to put one knee down on the pillow. Immediately, I felt the presence of God like never before. It’s as if He picked me up from the floor and said, “Now you’re crossing the line!” I turned to one of the producers and said “I can’t do this”. He shrugged and so I got up quickly and quietly and stepped out of the temple, crying and shaking from having such an intense experience with God. Someone was going to be offended – and it couldn’t be Him.

Once the ceremony was over, Jeff Probst called us all down in front of the Temple and said “So, Leslie
– I noticed you didn’t make it through the entire ceremony” and I responded “I didn’t mean to be
disrespectful, but it felt like worship to me.” Then he said “Even though we told you this was not a worship ceremony…” and I replied, “You know, I’m not a religious person but I have a relationship with Jesus Christ and I’m only going to put my face on the floor for Him."

Then Jeff said “Aren’t you afraid of how this might play out in the game?” and I said with confidence, “You know, I’m really not. I’m going to play the game and be me. If they like me, great. If not, I’ll deal with that.”

So much for my strategy of keeping my faith to myself! I often think back to that moment and
giggle when I realize how naïve I was to think that I could keep my faith to myself. I mean, Jesus
Christ means everything to me!

I did not walk out of that temple because I was afraid God would be mad at me. I did not walk out for
religious reasons and that is why I said I wasn’t religious. I walked out because I have a relationship
with Jesus Christ and I just couldn’t break His heart by bowing before another god.

I thought about how my husband might feel if he saw me kissing another man. I could tell him that I
was thinking about him the whole time, right? Yeah, right! It would still be heart breaking for both of
us. I have no desire to kiss another man. Even thought he knows my heart, I can’t help but imagine it
would still be hard to see. Not to mention what our children would think! I knew my children were
watching the show. How would I explain to them if I bowed to a foreign god? I just couldn’t do it.

The day I walked out of that Temple, I knew it could cost me the game. I knew there was a possibility
they could pull in an alternate to take my place. I knew judgments would be made immediately. I
knew all of this, but I didn’t care. All that mattered to me was Him. I sobbed outside of the temple
as I realized He means more to me than anything!

I was voted out in the third episode. I hated to go, but I learned something so important – Man’s
rejection is always God’s protection! I lost seventeen pounds in nine days on the show – I was very sick
and nothing would have made me quit, so God knew it was time. I found out the reasons they voted
me out were because I got along too well with the other tribe, I played too nice of a game and they were nervous I would join up with the other tribe at the merge.

I have had tremendously positive responses from believers world-wide because of that Temple
scene. I have also had some persecution from folks who think I was intolerant, rude and
inconsiderate. Some Christians even opposed me because I said I wasn’t religious. I think they
thought I was lying, but in reality I was trying to make a point that there is a difference between
religion and relationship with Jesus.

I suppose everyone has an opinion. That is one thing God has taught me through this experience – His opinion is all that matters.  Galatians 1:10 says “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of
God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Every day we are faced with choices. Sure, our country was founded on Christian principles but more often than not you will find most people don’t really know who Jesus Christ is and how He affects our everyday lives. So that means we are stepping into a Survivor situation every day when we walk out our door. Some of us are in a Survivor situation within the walls of our own homes. Our choices reflect our beliefs and whether we realize it or not, our choices speak louder than our words could ever speak.

God taught me so much through this adventure. I learned never to give up on a God-given dream no
matter how impossible it seems and that stepping out of my “Christian Bubble” is difficult but He
gives me strength to do it. I learned to stand up for Him, no matter how difficult. But the biggest
lesson I learned was that God means more to me than anything else in the world. And that is worth
way more than a million bucks!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Who Was That Woman Driving My Jeep Yesterday?!

I was having a nice dinner with my family last night when I decided to confess to them that I had done something out of character earlier in the day.  I confessed that I followed a woman a bit too close because I was angry that she had pulled out in front of me.  I felt horrible when the woman pulled over to the side of the road just so I would pass her and she could get me off her tail.  As I passed her, I felt horrible.  Who was that woman driving my Jeep yesterday?!  It was so hard to come face to face with my ugliness.  My heart sank as I realized how wrong I had been.  I was the one pulling over a month before as a young man tailgated me!  I remember whispering under my breath, "Jerk!", and wondered if she did the same thing.  Oh, this was a big wake up call!

I thought my family would support me, encourage me, tell me how I was such a good person and not to worry - after all, it was not something I would normally do.  But that's not what happened.  They all decided to let me know that what I did was not out of character for me.  Apparently, I'm an aggressive driver - and I didn't even realize it!  I sat there and listened to them, trying not to burst into tears because I really treasured that they were being honest...I just didn't like what I was hearing. 

Later last night I was praying and asking God to help me not to be so angry when I drive.  I mean, when I'm face to face with people, I'm super nice.  I was voted "Friendliest" in high school!  I love people and usually I'm very positive and encouraging.  So what was it...why was this such a struggle?  I immediately felt He whispered to my heart that it is a heart issue.  If we boil it all down, I guess it's pride - pride in my heart that somehow deceived me into thinking that the road belongs to me, that people owe me respect and that when someone offends me, they should pay for their actions.  But God opposes the proud, according to the Scriptures.  He lifts the humble up and gives them grace (something I desperately needed to show to this woman), but He opposes the proud.  God was not interested in my excuses (believe me I tried to convince Him that it was her fault - she made me mad by pulling out in front of me and risking my life!).  But two wrongs do not make a right.

If I could apologize to her, I would.  If I could do it all over again, instead of being angry I would pray for her instead.  It's so hard to be mad at people when you pray for them.  I would imagine that she was having a hard day, not assume she was trying to make mine hard.  After all, it's really not always about me, you know.  I know...big shock, huh? (smile)

Today has been tough as I am still wrestling through this, but one thing I can honestly say is that as I've posted about this on Facebook and discussed it on the air this morning, I'm not the only one who struggles in this area.  The good news is - Jesus still loves us.  But He does want us to become more self-aware and more like Him in the process.  He wants us to confess our sins to Him and repent (turn away from the sin) and accept His forgiveness and grace.

God knew the woman driving my Jeep yesterday was me - but He also sees who I can become when I focus not on all my short-comings, but on becoming the woman He wants me to be - by His grace.


Friday, August 17, 2012

How to Be a Parent to an Adult

I've got two kids who have moved out of the house at this point and it's been a very interesting transition to say the least.  Not having them here is difficult because I miss them so deeply but it's also very exciting at the same time.  I'm not necessarily excited for me, personally, but for them.  They are following their dreams and turning into adults.  The problem is, I'm just not sure how to be a parent to an adult.  This is tricky!

I try not to worry.  I really do.  I know to trust the Lord, that they are His children, that He never leaves them.  But I think down deep every mom has a twisted, messed-up idea that worrying about their children may somehow prove to be effective; that it means they are actively parenting and showing how much they still care.  But it doesn't help.  It isn't effective and it's totally against what the Bible says we are to do as parents.


Rod & Stephanie
When my daughter graduated, my husband turned into what I thought was a "Nazi-parent".  He was adamant that she move out, stretch her wings.  My daughter was terrified and cried buckets of tears.  She tried to go to a college close to home but my husband stood his ground that she needed to move away.  I was a mess.  I knew the Bible was clear to submit to the husband's decision, but I really thought he was being tough on her.  I tried to cushion it a little and then worried like a sick puppy the first few months she was in college.

Now, guess what?  She had a talk with him last week while I had the pleasure of listening in.  She said "Daddy, thank you for pushing me.  I'm so happy and I know I'm where God wants me to be!  I would have never gone to this school if you hadn't done that and I'm so grateful."  Big hug.  Huge tears.  And my husband said "You know that was the hardest thing I've ever done.  I didn't want to be mean - I just knew in my heart it was the right thing to do."

I'm sitting there watching this feeling like I'm in the Twilight Zone!  What?  I thought it was wrong!  I thought it was over-bearing!  I was convinced I was the right one by being the protector and spending countless hours worrying over whether or not she would survive!  And yet....he's the one she's thanking.

Big wake up call.

I told Stephanie that I was sorry if I coddled too much and she said she needed me to at that point, but that she saw after awhile how good the decision was for her.  I told her she was the first born so she is the "guinea pig" when it comes to me learning along the way!  Maybe by the time my 11-year old is her age, I'll finally figure out what it means to be a parent of an adult. 

But I think I know the first step now.  I will no longer be a worrier.  What a complete waste of time and energy! I heard once that worrying is like rocking in a rocking chair - it gives you something to do but it gets you nowhere.  It does not make me a better mom.  It is not proactive parenting.  It is the opposite of trusting God!  Instead, I will be a warrior.  Instead of worrying about my kids and feeling out of control, I'm going to relinquish that control and pray like nobody's business that God will protect them and guide them.  He did it anyway, even though I worried, but what good did the worry do me?  I guess it gave me a few new wrinkles and a lot of sleepless nights...but it got me nowhere.  Praying, instead of worrying, will bring me into the peaceful place of rest that God intends for me as a parent.  Trusting.  Believing.  Honoring his word!

This mom is officially a warrior.  A prayer warrior!  Thank you, Lord, for opening my eyes.  Sometimes the decisions we make for our kids are hard - especially as we let go more and more as they become adults.  But the rewards are astronomical.  I've got an amazing adult daughter who is walking confidently into the call God has placed on her life - and she's turning into quite the warrior herself.  Thank God my husband is the strong man he is and he could see that, even though it was the hardest thing he'd ever done, he had no choice but to do it out of love and obedience to God - so he did.

Now.....to apply my new warrior mentality to my 20-year old son, who is free-spirited and travels all over the country following his dreams.  Rod had to push him out, too.  I see a pattern here.  

Lord, help me!

Philippians 4:6-7
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Burning off the Ropes That Bind

During the first episode of Survivor China, I was faced with a spiritual dilemma in a Buddhist Temple. The producers told us that it was a welcome ceremony, not a worship service, but at the end of the ceremony they had the entire cast bow down in front of a statue of Buddha. I was unable to do this because of my convictions so I respectfully walked out of the ceremony.

As a result, my Christianity was front and center. The host, Jeff Probst, asked me why I left the ceremony. I told him I was not a religious person, but I had a relationship with Jesus Christ and the only time I was going to put my face on the floor was for Him. This stirred up some serious controversy to say the least!

When I came back from China, many people said they thought of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the way they did not bow down to the King’s statue in Daniel chapter three when they saw the scene in episode one. Sure, I was faced with the same choice, but I did not have a flaming fiery furnace as a penalty for not bowing down! I’m grateful for that. I suppose I was put through a fire of sorts, as I dealt with criticism and persecution as a result of my choice, but it was nowhere near the fire those Hebrew boys were put through.

I was reading Beth Moore’s study on Daniel a few months after my return from China and while studying the chapter of the fiery furnace, she noted how the ropes that bound them were the only things burnt off in their experience in the furnace. She then said “If you’ve been through a fiery trial in your life, what ropes have been burned off of you that have been binding you?”

What a great question! I was blown away by it because even though I never thought of it that way, I actually did have some "ropes" burned away that were binding me in my life as a result of that moment in my life.

First of all, my fear of people's opinions has diminished a lot. I have always struggled with being a people pleaser and it's funny, because one of the scriptures I felt I needed to memorize prior to going on Survivor was Galatians 1:10 that says, "Obviously, I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ's servant". I never understood why I felt the strong need to memorize that scripture until I found myself standing outside of the temple. It brought me such comfort as I initially agonized over whether or not I offended anyone in the ceremony. I realized that all that mattered at that point was that I had done the right thing for God, no matter what anyone else thought.

As time has passed since that first episode, I have had tremendous support and encouragement from so many folks - both Christian and non-Christian, who respect that I was true to myself and to God. But there has also been tremendous back-lash from people who do not understand what I did, and even hatred that I have never in my life been exposed to! That hatred was the fire that has burned my ropes as I realize that it doesn't matter if those people feel the way they feel - I know in my heart that I did the
right thing.

So, yes, the ropes have been burned. Thank God I didn't have to go through a real "fiery furnace"! But being under-fire (so to speak) has really taught me a lot and I can honestly say that I'm glad for it. I have grown so much in my faith and the scripture I keep thinking of that gives me peace now was said by Joseph to his brothers after they had abandoned him and he confronted them years later: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good." (Genesis 50:20).

What ropes has the Lord burned off of you through difficulties?


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Family Rules


My kids know the rules of our house.  My husband and I both communicate the rules and expectations of our household to them and they know they should obey those rules as members of our family.  When their friends come over, they are expected to abide by our rules, too.  It is a matter of respect.

But if their friends go home, they abide by their parent’s rules.  Their parents may not have the same rules as we do.  We would never expect a child to go home to their parents and abide by our rules.  There would be no accountability, no expectation and no obligation.

As believers, we are members of the family of God.  In other words, if we have made a conscious and deliberate decision to become a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we are in His family.  If we have not made that decision, according to the Bible, we are not.

Our Father has rules that He has given for His children, and He has given us His Spirit to help give us the power to obey those commands (Ezekiel 36:27 says He gives us His Spirit so that we can obey His commandments).  Without His Spirit, we are not children of God and cannot obey.  So that means that if we never made a conscious, deliberate decision to become a child of God through faith in Jesus, we are not in His family.

Should we expect those who are not in our family to submit to our family’s rules? 

Here’s what the Apostle Paul had to say about the matter to the church in Corinth:

When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.  I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.

It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.  God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

As God’s children, would it not be wiser for us to deal with the evil inside of the church family before we try to judge the world’s sin?  I understand that we have beliefs and convictions, but we cannot impose them on those who are not in our family.  They don’t understand or comprehend our rules and are not under any obligation to follow them.

When we are obedient to God ourselves and love those not only within our family but also those who are not, I really think that will leave a much better impression on them than boycotts, protests and angry arguments.  They just don't get it.  Why impose our house rules on those who are not in our family?  It just does not make sense.  But we can be an example – through our obedience and love for others and for Christ.   

I have found that people are much more interested in what I have to say if they see my behavior lines up with my beliefs and if I show them respect, gentleness and love.  After all, I used to be in their family, too.  But by God's grace and mercy, I am now adopted into His.


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