Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Hater's Heyday

I spent quite a bit of time reading through comments online about the interview Phil Robertson (Duck Dynasty) gave GQ magazine today. It was such a mess of hatred. Sadly, a lot of the hate was being spat out by people referring to themselves as Christians. It honestly breaks my heart because it is so very clear to see why many people have such a poor view of Christians. Many of the comments were judgmental and just plain mean. Some people would start out nice, but then after being attacked would spout out lines of hatred.

I love God. I love his word, the Bible. I hate sin. Sin is clearly spelled out in the Bible. I could probably fill pages and pages with possible sins a person could commit. That isn't what being a Christian is about. Being a Christian is about understanding that no matter how hard I try, I am never going to be able to live a life without sin in it. The only way for me to be without sin is by accepting the forgiveness Christ offered by dying on the cross, by completely accepting that I can't do this without him. It comes by daily, sometimes hourly or by the minute, putting down my desires and seeking God to instead give me his.

I think by writing this I want to remind myself, as well as whoever may read it, we are the face of grace here in this world. What do our faces look like? What reason are we giving people to pick up a Bible and want to know that gift of grace? Why would anyone want to be part of Christianity that they see as judging and hating them? Satan is the accuser, but he has turned the hands and feet of Christ in this world into the fingers pointing and mocking.

What we need to be mad at is that we have somehow had our salvation twisted to be the very thing that keeps others from knowing God. And for what? So we can be right? So we can prove exactly what sins someone is or isn't committing by clearly pointing it out in whatever translation of the Bible we think would be the most effective?

It is not our job to convict someone's heart. When we try it turns to judgment and hatred. God is the only one who can convict, and he does it gently. He meets each person where they are and lovingly corrects them in a way we are not capable of.

I am guilty. I say mean, cruel and judgmental things and try to use the excuse that it's not wrong because clearly, it's sin. It's not my place to do that. My job is to worry about the sin God is gently guiding me through in my life. My job is to steer clear of the things God has corrected in me or shown me in his word.

My biggest job, however, is to love. It is to show grace and kindness to others, whether Christians or not.  My job is to pray that I can somehow show Jesus love physically to people who have not seen it, so then they can have a desire to know him.

The really awesome thing is the grace God gave me is so exciting, so awesome and appealing that it is impossible to ignore when I shut up and really seek him to do the speaking, whether actual talking, or through my actions.

What does that all mean? For me it means stopping myself when I get irritated in line at the store. Instead of getting angry, show compassion to that cashier. It means giving that waitress who gave me poor service a great tip. It means telling her I appreciate the job she did serving me. It means holding doors, smiling, speaking kind things even when I want to criticize. Showing kindness and love to someone isn't hard. Maybe that means stopping and having a conversation with the worker that I just realized is a guy instead of a girl. Other times I may have walked by and then stopped and laughed and pointed it out to whoever was with me. Showing love is sometimes just as simple as shutting my mouth and listening, really listening to someone. It's acknowledging people, that they have worth and it can be done in many small gestures.

Every person I meet every day is a sinner. The one I need to be the most worried about is the one I see in the mirror, first thing in the morning every day. When I forget the mess I am without Christ and I start thinking I have it all together, I waste the gift he gave me. I am a big fat sinner and always will be while I'm here on this earth. I pray God corrects me every time I start to forget that.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

That Dicey December of 1994

Lately I've been feeling a rush of thankfulness for people who have changed my life. The emotions just start to rise up in my heart, leaving me feeling like I'm going to pop. I need to share this, to let it gush out, sort of like one of those volcano's I made in school with baking soda and vinegar.

This is in honor of my sister, Jana. Many know our story, but some of you don't, so I'll start at the very beginning.

As a very young child, I remember laying in bed, praying to Jesus that he would give me a little sister. I knew a younger sister would make my life complete. I remember being so disappointed the longer I went without seeing that prayer answered. As I grew older, my prayer seemed silly to me. I mean, come on, like God was really going to give a little girl a baby sister just because she asked?? I knew it was a silly dream, a silly thing to ask of God.

Well, nineteen years ago this month God delivered my baby sister to me.

I had recently returned from Teen Challenge. Sometimes I would be called on to go talk to a teenager who was out of control. The goal was to try to get them into some type of rehab program. On a cold and snowy December morning in 1994, one such call came. It was cold, I had just finished working an overnight shift at my job. The last thing I wanted to do was to go try to persuade a belligerent teen to get some help. I begrudgingly packed up my arsenal of photo's I carried to help sell the cause and drug myself down to the juvenile detention house. There I met a 15 year old that was about as warm as a polar ice cap. She sat stiffly listening to what I was saying. There was absolutely no indication that I was doing anything to persuade her, I could just feel this stubborn kid cussing me out in her head. I gave her my regular speech with only half of my heart, this was pointless.

Later I found out she was being released and was moving into my parents house. She had decided that she was going to go to Teen Challenge. I was more than a little surprised because of the way she had reacted during my sales pitch. She left for Teen Challenge a few months later. She did really well there, and God completely changed her. I remember not knowing how to feel when she would introduce me as her sister. It felt fake, like something needy or insecure people do to try to make themselves feel part of something. I wanted to claim her, but I held back because I didn't want to accept her as my sister and then have her reject that relationship later. That didn't change for quite a while.
Twelve years ago God really started cementing our relationship. Sometime during that time I suddenly saw exactly what happened. All those years ago when I said those silly little girl prayers, pleading for a baby sister, God said yes. God said yes, but we had to keep walking until the right time for him to bring our paths together.

When God made my little sister and I he cut us out of the same fabric. We don't share any DNA physically, but spiritually we are blood.  We are different in a lot of ways, like any sisters, but when people meet us they never think we aren't actual sisters. We look alike, we talk alike, we are passionate about all of the same things. We finish each others sentences. Sometimes our kids are mistaken for siblings. In every way possible, God has woven us together as family.

Now to the sappy stuff.

Jana builds me up. She loves me when I'm not loveable. She tells me the truth, even when I hang up on her after she does. Jana knows how I'm feeling without me having to say the words. When I rejoice, she joins me in the party. When my world falls apart she climbs in the pit with me and hugs me. She forces me to be a better person. She always turns me back to Christ. I wouldn't be half of the person that I am if I didn't have her in my life. She is the wisest person I know.

That cold December morning in 1994 changed my life. I thank God I went to meet that stubborn kid. God answers our prayers sometimes in the most unlikely place, with the most unlikely people and in the most unlikely ways.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Unchained Melanie

I've been planning on writing this for quite some time. I want to share the story of an unruly wild woman who changed my life. Her name is Melanie, or for those who love her, "Mel Mel".
Melanie has always marched to her own beat. When I say that, I mean it quite literally. When she sings, plays drums or guitar it was literally at a different beat than anyone else. She was completely off tempo and out of tune but was mesmerizing. At first I thought I couldn't tear myself away because it was like watching a train wreck, but as time went on it became clear that it was something else completely that had me transfixed. When Mel was "making her joyful noises" something awesome happened to her face. She just glowed. This was a woman who was overflowing with joy, praising God in a way I had never seen. She didn't seem to have any clue that music wasn't a natural gift, she didn't care. She was going to praise God.
Melanie also had an unconventional look. She always had her hair in a mullet, business in the front, party in the back. Many of Mel's clothes were things she delightfully found on the beach. I remember walking the beaches with her as a 16 year old girl. I wanted to walk back a ways because of embarrassment. Mel didn't just walk the beach, she marched it, singing out of tune and praying out loud sometimes stopping and laughing at something God was revealing to her. At the time I was afraid people would see I was with this woman who looked like a crazy homeless person. Mel did not care in the least what anyone else thought, she was praising God.
Mel had frequent migraines, and still does. I remember her calling me to her room. It was totally black and she was laying in the bed, whispering and tensing from the pain. She grabbed my hand and placed it on her head and said, "Pray for me Chessa. I need you to pray for me." I felt so incapable of praying anything that could possibly help her. She even fed me the words to pray. Over time she taught me how to pray, to pray with faith and urgency.
Melanie is the one I went to when I completely messed up. There was a time that I had done the worst possible thing I could imagine. I was so scared to tell her, I just knew she was going to be so angry and I was going to be in so much trouble. When I finally managed the courage to get the story out, what happened baffled me. She started sobbing. She didn't yell or accuse me, she just cried. She was crying because she hurt for me. She was crying because of the pain I was in and that I came to her with it. I had never experienced something like this.
The lessons I have taken from this God given mother are more than I can write.
Melanie taught me to pray. She taught me to love God with abandon. She gave me a glimpse of the pain God feels for me when I make mistakes, not the fire and brimstone God I grew up believing in.
Mel showed me what love looks like.
The most important thing she taught me took a long time for me to recognize, however.
2 Cor 12:9 "But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
In Melanie I learned that God really can take our brokenness to show his power. If Melanie had been a terrific musician, I wouldn't have seen that joy and abandon she found praising God. I wouldn't have experienced just how lost a person could get just experiencing God.
If Mel had been perfectly dressed with her hair always styled just right, I wouldn't have found her approachable. She would have intimidated me. Because she was a mess I felt safe sharing my messes with her. I knew she would receive me, she wouldn't judge me.
Many of the parts of Melanie that really influenced my life were the parts that were weak or broken. They were the things that we so often look at as our failures. In her flaws and inabilities God showed me his face.
My lesson from Melanie is that while God blesses us all with gifts and skills, sometimes it's our lack of skill that is the most effective if we are willing to just serve him with it anyway. When we stop holding back self consciously and allow people to see all of us, even the ugly spots, God is able to use us for his glory, more gloriously than anything we can do with natural skill and grace. It is in our weakness, our clumsiness, our messiness and our downright dirty spots that he can show his strength.
I love you Mel Mel.