Saturday, June 25, 2016

Religious Rehab

I used to cringe when I saw people with tattoos.  I confess it made me uncomfortable.  I was told that the only people who got tattoos were people who went to prison. When someone would say a "bad word" I would shake my head in dismay.  Drinking alcohol made you a sinner, dancing was for the ungodly and if you wore jeans or shorts of any kind, you were not a real "Christian lady".

In middle school, I was in an extremely legalistic and religious church and from an early age I was told that behavior modification was a big, huge deal and that if you didn't have the right behavior you were to be shunned or avoided.  So I acted accordingly.

Then I rebelled.

I would still pretend to be a "good Christian girl" on Sundays and at youth group activities, but I began making choices that did not line up with the expectation of my church when I wasn't there. I felt like everything I did was judged and I honestly couldn't measure up. Eventually, by the time I reached college, I ran from church.  All the rules were weighing me down.  Religion without relationship always equals rebellion.  All the judgment was making me cynical.  Something was missing and I knew it. I had it backwards. I was trying to change from the outside in, but God wanted to change me from the inside out.

Ezekiel 36:26 tells us that God wants to give us a new heart.  He wants to remove our old, stony, stubborn heart and replace it with a "heart of flesh".  He will put His Spirit in us so that we can obey.  This tells me something huge.  If His Spirit is not in us, we will not obey.  I mean, we can pretend to change.  We can't really obey from our heart though.  We just have an outward behavior modification program of sorts.  It will never last.  If our hearts don't change, our behavior may change on the outside, but all that religion on the inside will eventually lead to rebellion.

In 2003, I gave my heart to Christ and He replaced it with a new heart.  This one wants to obey.  This one doesn't want to judge, shun or wag my finger at anyone.  This one loves deeply.  This one is super-natural and it's Christ in me - the Hope of Glory! This heart knows that an outward appearance of "godliness" doesn't always mean that person is "holier" than another. God is not as concerned with our outward behavior as He is with our heart condition.  If we have pristine behavior, but our heart is still made of stone, God is not impressed.  If we have a new heart of flesh, given to us by Christ, but our behavior is still a work in progress, God is pleased.  It goes against all we think we know!

What's worse?  Someone with tattoos who is still addicted to alcohol but loves his neighbor as himself and pursues Jesus or the one who has a "clean life" and is told to love his neighbor as himself and doesn't?  We usually shun those who do the latter, but isn't it a sin to overlook the addicted and afflicted?  It's so sad to me how we often reject those who are changed more on the inside than they really look on the outside yet, but we open our arms to the ones who are cleaned up on the outside, but are loveless, gossiping and judgmental.  Which one do you suppose Jesus would approve of? (If you still aren't sure you know the answer, read this.)

I do believe God is still working that false religion out of my heart, though.  It's like "religious rehab" of sorts.  Every day I realize I'm still stuck in some of my old thought patterns.  It's a little different now, though.  Now, I find I'm pretty judgmental toward the religious folks. The ones who are still shutting people out.  The ones who are turning people away because of how they look or what they do.  But my being judgmental toward the "judgmental" isn't good, either.  They are only doing what they have been taught to do and they really think they are doing what is right. They are misguided.

Oh, Lord, help me.

There's quite a few of us who have been so "religionized" that we've lost sight of what really matters.  Jesus came to save the broken and the lost, not the ones who think they have it all together.  Even though my new heart does not want to do the same old habits of judging, finger wagging and being cynical, I still do them sometimes.  But it grieves my heart.  And I want to change.  Because Christ has changed me from the inside out, I realize He is constantly changing my heart for people and I want to do things that please Him. He has changed me (and continues to change me) from the inside out.

We all need Jesus.  We are all messed up in some way.  We all have sins we are dealing with.  Are we so worried about being "God's Gestapos" and pointing out the sins of others than we are not allowing Him to show us our own sin?

Oh, Lord, help us all.

You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things...Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God's judgment when you do the very same things? Don't you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to do you? Can't you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?  (Romans 2:1, 3-4)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Yes, I Got a Tattoo Today!

Today I got my first tattoo! Some of you just gasped in horror and others of you want to fist bump me and welcome me into the club. I know the drill.  Actually, I've wanted this tattoo since 2007, the year I was on Survivor China. I wanted to share my "why" before I shared the photo of how it turned out.

I will start my story with a journal entry I wrote just before we were released into the Chinese jungle on Survivor.  We were in China, but we were not playing the game yet (we had about a week or so before the game started but we were not allowed to talk or form relationships).  I wrote in my journal to pass the time and to try to remember every moment as my dream was unfolding.  This particular journal entry really touches my heart...
June 21, 2007
I’m really getting anxious to begin this adventure called Survivor! Can’t wait to get things moving. I must say I’m enjoying the quietness and peace though. I spent some time outside, overlooking the water in the lagoon today and listened to worship music. It’s so beautiful here. I feel like the dragonflies (which are everywhere!) have some significance but I can’t put my finger on it. They remind me of God’s presence and protection for some reason. It’s a strange and yet such a beautiful feeling.
Days later, after I wrote this, I had to giggle when I was placed on the Fei Long tribe, which translated in Chinese means "Flying Dragon". Sure, it could be a coincidence but I don't really believe in coincidences. After all, God is sovereign!

I noticed dragonflies reflect the sun's light beautifully. Their wings almost look like a rainbow in the sun's reflective light, which reminded me of a promise God made back in the days of Noah. I saw many of them at our camp and if you watch the China season of Survivor, you will notice several times where they got an up-close shot of a dragonfly with the camera.

A couple of weeks after I returned from China, I went to visit my sister, Marie in Minnesota. We went up to her husband's family lake house for a few days and while we were sitting in the back yard talking, I saw hundreds of dragonflies again. I told Marie about how I had seen so many in China and showed her the journal entry where I talked about how there was something about them that made me feel God's presence and protection. Just then, as I sat in the grass in the yard discussing my journal entry, a dragonfly landed on my left foot. It just sat there. I was speechless. Then, as if on cue, another one landed on my sister's left foot - in the same exact location! I'm not even kidding. We didn't move and we both held our breath as we watched them sit for about thirty seconds before they both flew off at the same time. We giggled like little school girls who had just been noticed by the good looking quarterback! In that instant we decided that one day, we would tattoo this moment on our feet as a reminder of the beauty of that moment. As if that wasn't cool enough....

I was in Nashville a few months later and Steve Brown with Key Life radio was there delivering a Keynote speech. It was a Christian Radio Broadcasters Conference. He mentioned the dragonfly and when he did, my ears perked up. He was talking about how he read a great book called Brother to a Dragonfly by Will Campbell. He said that Will compares the dragonfly to a brother in Christ. Here's what he said:

Once the dragonfly comes out of the depths and darkness of the deep waters, they are exposed to a whole new world. A waterless world where they can fly and be free! They fly around a bit but then go back and hover over the water, trying to get down to where those they love are stuck in the darkness of the deep water to tell them "Hey! You can fly too! Come out and experience this new life!"

It's like the dragonfly can't help himself. He has seen and tasted what life can be like when he emerged from the darkness, and as if by instinct he can't help but go back to tell others. I can totally relate!

Tears streamed down my face as I realized that those dragonflies in China served as a reminder to me that maybe, just maybe, God had me there because He knows I've got a desire to let people know that there is freedom in the Light. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I reflect the Son's light - just like dragonflies reflect the sun's light.
Marie is on the left - I am on the right. 

This is my heart - to reach those who are living in darkness and show them the truth of Jesus Christ and the freedom that He brings to us when we trust in Him and follow Him. "Come out! Look - there is freedom in this new life - you don't have to live in the deep darkness anymore!"

I should know, I came from deep darkness, too. But now I'm free to fly - free to soar like wings of eagles and experience the freedom in my life that I never knew was possible. Why wouldn't I want to tell others? It's like an instinct. And now, my sister and I get to share this story with everyone who asks us about our dragonfly tattoo on our left foot.  We have been deeply impacted by something and our tattoos are a beautiful invitation to others to ask us about a moment in our lives that took our breath away. And we can share the love of Christ at the same time.

That is why I got a tattoo. :) And I love it.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Busy Signal

Remember the "busy signal"? Ugh. It was so frustrating. Back in the day before our precious little "cell phones", we had to make phone calls on a phone attached to a wall (Egads!) and when we would try to call someone, this obnoxious "beep...beep...beep..." blasted into our ear to let us know that whomever we were trying to reach, well, they're just too "busy" for us right now. It's interesting to me that we never hear the busy signal anymore, yet I would venture to say that our lives reflect more busyness than ever with all of our electronic devices at our fingertips. These days, if you want to reach someone, you will never hear that obnoxious sound.

This morning I was trying to focus in my quiet time with the Lord but first I decided I would open my computer to check my email since I get several quality devotionals sent to my inbox each morning.  I love reading them.  The only problem is, often when I open my laptop, I get sucked into distraction and before I realize it, my "quiet time" has turned into anything but quiet time.  I mean, the room is quiet, but my mind is not.  I've checked my email, my facebook, my twitter and I've caught up with the world's news.  But that time spent, quiet in the presence of Almighty God, is absent and I feel it in my spirit.  I begin to grieve.  I've done it again.  My bible is lying right beside me, unopened.  My heart sinks.

Maybe that is why I feel like when God is ready to "download" some important truths, some foundational precepts, into my heart and mind but He keeps finding a busy signal.  My mind is busy.  So busy, in fact, that I often forget what I'm doing and go off on little rabbit trails in my mind that take me far from the presence of God.  

I read this verse the other day and it sent shivers up my spine:  Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink He will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear Him. Right behind you a voice will say, "This is the way you should go", whether to the right or to the left.  Then you will destroy all of your silver idols and your precious gold images. You will throw them out like filthy rags, saying to them, "Good riddance!" (Isaiah 30:20-22)

So...what was it about this verse that sent shivers up my spine?  Well, it was the part that says, then you will destroy all of your silver idols...".  My MacBook Pro is silver, and it's an idol to me when I choose to spend time with it before I spend time with my God.  Isaiah was saying that once you've experienced the presence of God and the leading of God, you will do away with those silver idols out of a pure desire to hear from Him.  Granted, I'm pretty sure he wasn't talking about a computer in the year 2016, but you get the idea. Once you've tasted what it's like to be in the presence of God, nothing else can compare!  

Please hear me here: I don't believe computers are bad at all - but I do believe that when we choose to use them over spending time with God, that is wrong.  It eats my time up like a moth on cloth.  It distracts me and prevents me from experiencing true intimacy with God.  So, at times, it is my "silver idol" and it must be destroyed. 

Now, please don't think this is as drastic as it sounds.  I'm not going to go blow up my MacBook Pro.  I'm not even going to get rid of it - I need it for the work I do.  But today I'm going to promise God in the presence of those who read my blog, that I will not open it until I've spent my quiet time with Him.  I can feel the difference on those days when He is first and I need that daily.  I'm deceiving myself if I think for one moment that I can do this without Him!  I need the accountability and I need the focus. 

I know He has much to show me and download into my heart and mind and until the busy signal is gone, it will evade me.  So I'm going to free up the line.  I'm going to free up my heart.  I'm going to free up my ears to hear from Him.  Once I've heard from Him, I know I can freely open my silver MacBook Pro and as I hear from the world, my facebook friends, my tweeters and the news, I will be hearing it through the filter of His Truth.

I can already hear Him saying, "I have so much more for you.  You only have to be still and listen." 

So the Lord must wait for you to come to Him so He can show you His love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God.  Blessed are those who wait for His help.  (Isaiah 30:18)

Got Questions?