Sourly Patched Theology

This poem was written out of my frustration with comments I have heard recently from people who call themselves Christian. I am a Christian…I remember my grandmother’s faith and strength and that of her siblings. I went to what was then a small country church when I was a child…I loved VBS, Sunday school, and all things between. And I still love the words of Jesus.

But some people have left love and hope out of their faith. They use their faith to exclude others and judge others. That’s not from the faith I know and follow. My faith tells me to welcome and sit with strangers, to hug people who hav been rejected by others, to encourage and love those with broken hearts…to be a Mama Bear…to speak out against abuse…to speak out for children being harmed…to give hope…to be a light in darkness…to care…to listen…to be open to leaning something new…to embrace the diversity of God’s creation…

Sourly Patched Theology

I wade through the murky bog
filled with your misconceptions
and self-informed thoughts
of who I am and I watch you
live out your sourly patched theology—
patched together with verses
cut from the whole and
stitched together to wrap
you comfortably in your
creation that you name truth…
the sweet for those you choose,
the sour for those who differ,
and gone when we don’t bend
to the pressures of your
need for others to conform
to your convenient readings
of the Holy Word you toss
around to prove the rightness
you need to cling to so
your house built on comfort and
convenience doesn’t
wash away with the
waves of truth our presence
sends into your life, and
I wonder why you
withhold seats at the table
and close doors and build
shelters from those you
claim to fear when you
have locked yourself away
from the joys being sent your way
and from the love waiting
just outside of the walls
you say are God-designed,
and you offer a superficial smile
and quick hugs to the peers
who join you in your
steeple-topped fortress
and polished pews
often built or cleaned
by the hands you push away
and your stained glass
hides the view of the hurting
and the hunger and the brokenness
you deem deserved by those
who carry the load, and
you toss out demands
to push any wanderers
farther away from
the hope you have locked
away by your own false fears
and your moat filled
with self-ordaining
holy water
that drowns out
the cries of those
clinging to the cross
you claim as yours
and yours alone…
your birthright to
the land you claimed as holy…
your inherited right
as one of the chosen few…
your legal right
as a citizen of the inner circle…
your claimed right
as a person who deserves
to feel happy and secure.

I wade through the waters
you called baptismal
but had tainted with your
own rumors of who
I needed to become
when I arose from
the cleansing depths,
and I pushed through
the falsehoods you
heaped upon me
and spewed about me…
thoughts born of your own
prejudices and fears and
assumptions believed
because you declare that
your own opinions and
interpretations are what
must be engraved in the
stones of the foundations
of your faith,
and you fear that my
presence may unearth
the roots you grow from
and may cause you
to face uncertainty
rather than the peace
you call yours to claim…
and I break free from the cross
built from your insecurities
that you tried to nail me to
and I move into the clearer waters
that are cool and refreshing
to my soul and the waves
of hope wash over
my wounds and cleanse them
and open arms pull me
from the depths of
my struggles and into
the arms of the Loving One
who had himself broken free
from your cross you nailed him to,
and he walked across the waters
of your moat and met me on the
the other side and together
we dined on the hillside
with others you tossed aside,
and I listened to his
words of love and hope
that only resembled the
words you had said were true,
and he called me by name
and saw me and touched my wounds
as I touched his
and he built a table
for all of us and we
saved a seat for you…
we’re waiting just outside
your walls of hate and fear
and disbelief…we have shed our labels
you branded us with…and
we dance and sing and
break bread and learn from
the One who is The Word…
and with the bread,
he left a trail that leads
you to the Life that
The Word called you to…
Come to the table
on the other side…

–Chris Pepple ©2019

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The Teens I Know

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about a group of people that I know quite well because I’m a Mom. I’m going to talk about teenagers. Go ahead and laugh…what a crazy subject, right?

But teens truly play an important role in our society. We see them speaking out on many social and political issues. We see them taking a stand in their communities, stepping up and volunteering in local, national and international organizations, and developing new products that have the potential to truly save lives.

So, teens are definitely worth looking to see. I’m not going to talk about teens in general, though. I’m going to talk about some teens that have become very special to me because they are friends with my son.

They are amazing teens in my eyes, but they are also very average as teenagers go. They are very “normal” in so many ways—they need a lot of snacks, like caffeine in a variety of forms (coffee, sodas, etc.,)—are constantly either moving, talking, or napping—they know a lot about fashion, but their choices in clothes for the day often reflect comfy rather than trendy. Some of them aced the ACT, and some of them struggled with it. Some of them can work any math problem you hand them, and some of them avoid math as much as possible. There are both readers and writers, artists and comedians in the group. The shy ones surprise me at times when they are laughing and talking as much as the others. The more social ones surprise me at times with their reflectiveness. You know what I’m talking about if you are around teens much.

I’m not around these teens a lot, but I have gotten to know them through some time spent around a local community group and through my son. They’ve been over to the house for a crazy camp out. They’ve bowed for applause together in local plays. They’ve let me know who is vegan and who can’t have dairy and who eats gluten free. I know who needs a ride from time to time and who is always late. I know a few of the Moms and a couple of Dads.

So, ok, teenagers…is this group of people really worth a podcast episode. To me they are. Why? Because so many in this group are misunderstood in today’s society. I’m speaking for the ones that aren’t currently being heard. I’m an ally for this group of kids… this group of transgender teens.

Yes, you heard me correctly…transgender teens. Being a life-long learner, I have been reading everything I can about the transgender community and individuals who walk among us who have declared that they are no longer living as the gender assigned to them at birth.

When I first started to learn about what it truly means to be transgender, I found a lot of misinformation. So, how do I know it’s misinformation? Well, I’m currently teaching a critical writing class to teens. In the class, I teach the students how to identify accurate sources when doing research on a topic. I tell them to look and see the credentials of the person sharing the information. Do they work in the field you are researching? Do they represent an organization that works in the field you are researching? Do they offer actual data instead of opinions? Do they give you the sources of their data—sources you can then verify yourself? Are the sources professional sources in the field?

Why does all of this matter? Well, let me give you an example before I go back and talk more about the teens. Any emotional person connected to an event is certainly qualified to give you their opinion … an eyewitness to a tragedy, a grieving parent, a victim. We need to hear their stories. I don’t ever want to silence anyone. I read many blogs and follow many sites that offer personal accounts on a variety of topics. However, most of the posts that I read are just that…personal, emotional accounts. They teach me a lot about human experiences and perspectives, and I certainly grow a lot because I read them.

However, if that’s all I read about a topic, then I am possibly missing a lot of information. For example, I listened to a college student talk about the trauma of being raped on her college campus. I was able to glimpse the emotional pain she still carried with her. I read posts by a Mom whose teen has faced cancer and had her life forever altered by the damage caused by the very chemo that saved her life. I had no idea how long the effects from chemo could last.

But if I stop by reading these two posts, I certainly am not qualified to make a statement about rape on campuses or about surviving childhood cancer. If I want to really understand these issues, I need to dig further and go to professionals in the field and find verifiable statistics about rape on campuses and about lifelong effects of some life-saving cancer treatments. I have to read data from professionals in the law enforcement field, in the victims’ advocacy field. I have to find medical professionals writing about childhood cancers.

I go to the sources to gain a deeper understanding of the issue. It’s not that I don’t believe the personal accounts…actually, it’s just the opposite. I believe the people I listened to and want to educate myself on the issue so I can better understand how to support these individuals and how to respond to them with compassion and how to help bring about changes that may benefit others. What would bring about change? What groups should I support to bring about change? what research can I donate to? What family support groups can I volunteer with or donate to?

So why am I telling you all of this before I talk about transgender teens? Because we base a lot of our beliefs about transgender people on emotional testimony alone and on misinformation that stems from those statements. Many people aren’t looking at the information from medical professionals, psychologists, or professional organizations that work with transgender people. We are taking information from a religious source alone or from an individual who says they personally thought they were transgender but really weren’t, trying to lead us all to believe, therefore, that no one is really transgender.

So, first, I met some wonderful transgender teens through a community group in my hometown. I’m guessing I knew transgender people in my past, but none that were open about their lives. I heard rumors about people, but I never asked questions or tried to engage anyone. I stayed in my own little safe world and minded my own business, which is what I was taught was the best way to live as a Southern woman.

Even when I had a family die of AIDS in 1993, no one close to me talked very openly about the LGBTQ community. Then I made a few friends while getting my master’s degree who were part of the LGBTQ community…people who were fun to be around, good students to study with, loyal friends. I babysat for some single mothers who also happened to be lesbians who had adopted children. These women were such amazingly good moms and were mentors to me in some ways as I struggled with an abusive marriage and so much confusion around what my career path would be.

But, really, after I graduated, I retreated back into my own world of church life and family struggles and eventually children of my own.

But then I opened my eyes and opened my heart and realized that I was going to miss out on knowing some wonderful people if I turned my back on someone just because they are different than me.

What I loved most about these kids I met was how much grace they showed me as I was learning about what it means to them to be transgender. If you are caring and respectful to this group I met, they will return that respect.

So here’s a few things I learned. I’m not going to quote all of the sources here. I’ll try to link to some when I post this on my WordPress blog. I’ll mention my sources here, of course, because I don’t believe conversations can occur without people quoting from reliable sources that can be cross checked by others in the conversation.

  • I’ve learned that science tells us that people are born transgender. This isn’t some new trend to come out and change your identity. There’s a lot of researchthat states that hormone levels of the mother can affect the gender identity of the child. Science also tells us that our “outside” sex organs develop early—by the end of the first trimester. Brain sexuality isn’t developed until the end of the second or the beginning of the third trimester. There are differences in our brain structure that direct our gender identity—our internal sense of whether we are a boy or a girl. Gender isn’t defined just by our visible sex organs. Gender involves our sex chromosomes, internal sex organs, outside parts, hormones, and brain sexuality. This is just a quick bit of information offered here, but you can find Harvard research studies and many othersthat back this up.
  • I’ve learned that Judaism—even in ancient times—recognizes at least five genders. There are even six genders in the Jewish Mishnah and Talmud. God created day and night (and many times between–dawn, dusk, high noon, darkest midnight, and lands that see days and nights stretch on for months at a time); God created land and water (and many forms between–marshy areas, quicksand, swamps, deserts, ocean floors); God created male and female (and many gender expressions between).
  • I’ve learned that many transgender children are now being vocalabout who they are at a very early age.
  • I’m not going into Scripture here or sexuality in depth because sexual identity is different from gender identity, but you can read a book titled Unclobberedthat goes into depth about our misuse of the Bible on the topic of homosexuality. Oh, I also learned that the word homosexual wasn’t in the Bible until a translation in 1946. In Corinthians, the word we translate as homosexual technically translates as “soft man” and in other places in the Bible this is translated as “a soft man who has not earned his place, but has inherited his wealth without working hard and still doesn’t work hard.” There are only six verses that we today translate as anything to do with being gay, and two are in Leviticus. None of us live by Leviticus. It’s a sin to eat any shellfish, it’s a sin to be in the room with a woman menstruating, Leviticus calls for all debts to be forgiven every Jubilee year. We can’t wear woven cloth made from two types of fabric—so all of our clothes purchased in stores that aren’t pure cotton are sinful according to Leviticus.

 

Why tell you this? Because we are doing serious harm in our nation when we misunderstand gender identity. I have walked past signs telling transgender teens they are going to hell. I have read too many news stories about bullying and high suicide rates among the transgender community. People are murdered just because they are transgender. And people fear them just because they don’t have information to understand.

These teens I’ve gotten to know are amazing. They are smart and strong and funny and talented and loyal to each other and compassionate and leaders and also just teens. They are beautifully and wonderfully made. Let’s look to see the transgender people in our communities. Have a meal with a teen. Go see a play by a queer theater group. Read books such as Becoming Nicole; Being Jazz; Transgender History; or Redefining Realness.

Let’s don’t cause harm to others just because we don’t understand someone with a different identity than our own. Let’s don’t fear what we don’t understand. Instead, reach out and look to see the reality of others. I’m glad I have.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Walking Together

I want to tell you a true story. Johnny was my cousin and my favorite person to hang out with as a kid. He was four years older than me, but never excluded me from what he was doing. We played in my grandmother’s attic for hours in the winter and on top of her flat-roofed garage every summer. During his teen years he turned to music. He could play anything. I loved to hear him on the piano. Once, when I was a teen, I told him that more than anything I wanted to play a song on the piano (I couldn’t read music). He numbered the keys in the order I would hit them, and I played The Entertainer!

He died when he was 30–January 1993. I lost someone very special. He died of AIDS. Yes, he was gay, but to me he was almost a big brother, a musician, an artist–he could turn any fabric into bedspreads, comforters, curtains…he died in Key West surrounded by friends and his parents. I flew down and conducted his funeral because, despite the fact that he had been a church musician before he contracted AIDS, no preacher would visit him. The church as a whole…all churches I knew of…turned away. It was that same year I met a woman in Georgia as she wept. When I asked her what was wrong, she answered, “I can’t tell my church that my son is dying of AIDS. They won’t let me return, or they won’t conduct his funeral.”

When I flew into Key West, a very kind gay young man picked me and fed me lunch. That night two gay men fed me dinner and invited me into their home as a friend. They rented a boat and a group of gay men went out onto the ocean (along with his parents) to scatter his ashes. They packed a lunch for us all. They never asked me to pay for my own meal.

The year before, I had been struggling with serious family issues. The only professor at Emory to reach out to me was a professor who also happened to be a lesbian. She helped me find a Christian counseling group that basically saved my life for the next two years.

During my lifetime, I have been friends with several people in the LGBTQ community. I haven’t thought of it much until lately, because I just thought of them as friends. I didn’t worry about their sexuality. But with all of the news about their rights being taken back away, I can’t help but want to speak up. No one in that community has ever harmed me, tried to have sexual relations with me, tried to “recruit” me, judged me for my faith or my struggles. They have just been friends.

As both a married and now a single woman, plenty of straight white Christian men have invited me to “sleep around,” let them “comfort” me, have a little fun that I didn’t ask for. Some of them were married and asked me to be discreet if I accepted their offer. I turned them down. That’s not who I am.

I get it that for some of you this is an issue of faith–you see a gay person as a sinner based on your theology. Please live out your faith! If that’s what you believe, never engage in a same-sex marriage. I live in a democracy that supports religious freedom. Many of my friends live out their faith differently. Many of my friends identify as Christians also and worship, serve on mission teams, teach, etc. I support their rights in this democracy also.

I will be hurt if my friends lose the right to love whom they choose to love after they fought for that right. They have stood by me when the church didn’t. I will stand by them out of the same friendship and love that they showed me. I am not going to try to define anyone’s theology. But I am going to speak up for someone who wants to grow old with a person they love. That’s beautiful, and it hurts no one!

This is not a theological debate on what defines sin. None of us would ever agree on that. When I was going through my divorce, I had plenty of people quoting Scripture to me and telling me how sinful I was. And for friends remarried, many Christians believe a second marriage is a sin. Divorce and remarriage are legal in this country (even though I wish divorce never had to happen–it hurts many people). I would not have survived my marriage if it had not ended.

But nowhere does Jesus tell me to legislate what I define as sin. And if I could, I would legislate most of his words that people forget to live by. Feed my sheep. And what if we legislate his words to the rich young ruler when he said the man had to give everything away? And what if we legislate turn the other cheek? Luke 14 telling us to bring in the poor? Matthew 20, lead by being a servant.

We can’t legislate our beliefs. We can only live them and in this nation we are blessed that we can share them. But this is about the secular world and democracy. I will not legislate away the rights of people I care about.

Dear Christians…

Dear Christians, we have a long and complicated history of those of us claiming this name. I don’t think there has ever been a time when we all agreed. Even Paul and Barnabas had their disagreements. We all have to look to Scripture to find Truth, but that can be complicated because of the many ways to interpret some things. So we have to stay in community to discuss together what Truth looks like. And we look back to history and tradition to see when we have gotten it right and when we have gotten it wrong.

I keep reading posts quoting preachers like Franklin Graham that seem to justify seeking our own comfort and safety over the lives of others. I have a lot of respect for the Graham family. Don’t get me wrong on that—I am not calling them evil or intending disrespect to any of their ministries. But just like you and I are flawed, are sinners, so are ministers. They can get it wrong at times and history is very clear about that in the following examples that I think you will agree with:

First, look at who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote the Letter from the Birmingham Jail to—Christian ministers and leaders. It was his response to a public statement of concern and caution issued by eight white religious leaders of the South. They wanted to keep their churches safe and their white members out of harm’s way. Outside of that, these were respected ministers doing very good work in other areas. Look at the wording—the ministers were calling the Civil Rights Movement “unwise and untimely.” They were also calling for a ban of the “outsiders” (King and his colleagues) coming in to their communities. Sound familiar?

“Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid. Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea.” –Dr. Martin Luther King—History has proven this minister right and the other ministers of that day wrong.

And then there’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer—another minister like King who got it so right. He was a German minister and theologian who came to America to study. While here, Hitler began his rise to power. Bonhoeffer could have stayed safely in America and lived out the rest of his life here. Instead, he returned to Germany and spoke out against the injustices towards the Jews and eventually was executed for his stand. While alive, he begged Christian churches to hear the cries of the Jews and take a stand.

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.

Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.

There is no way to peace along the way to safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture.—Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship

 Let’s be clear:  If you read the Bible from front to back as a whole, you will see that there is nothing logical or safe about Christianity. Every call to follow God’s will through the entire Bible calls for actions that don’t fall into line with human reason and logic. Nothing Jesus did was logical. Nothing tells us to worry about ourselves first. And if we put our nation above God’s will, that is idolatry. True Christians throughout history risked their lives for others in Jesus’s name–hiding Jews in their homes at great personal risk. The white Christians who finally stood with Dr. King.  Think of all of the heroes of our faith. Think of Corrie Ten Boom. Think of the people whose names we will never know. Read about Rahab who hid the spies in her house. Read about the wise men who refused to return to Herod and tell him the location of the child. Read about the people who brought Paul into their homes all of the times the authorities wanted him dead. Think of the person who hid the disciples in his upper room when everyone was sure Romans and Jews would kill any sympathizers. That is Biblical. Think of the displaced Americans on 9/11/01–their planes had to land in Canada when our airports closed. It’s a beautiful story of 7,000 stranded, unvetted travelers who landed and the people of a small town who took them in and fed them and cared for them not knowing if some of the travelers were ones who might cause harm.

Some people will confuse the facts about who is a refugee—a refugee has that name because he/she has proven to be persecuted because of faith, race or location of their home. They are wanted dead by those who hate them not because of the refugee’s actions but because of the hate in the heart of the hunter. These people undergo extensive vetting. These are not people seeking a visa to get a job. None have attacked us. None caused 9/11. These are people trying not to be killed just because of who they are. Tell me you don’t really think Jesus would say, “Now, you people over here be safe. Let somebody else help if they want to.” And Jesus never told us to just send money. He said go. He said heal. He said love above all else. He said put your life on the line, Peter, Paul, John…Christians. He said take up your cross. It may kill you, but I will reward you. That’s Biblical.

I love you and am glad we are on this journey together.

Dear Refugees…

Dear Refugees,

I can’t imagine what you must think about Americans right now, much less American Christians. You must be tempted to hate us, though we both know that hate solves nothing. You must be weeping tonight because lies and fear are putting you in harm’s way—keeping you from family members who are already here in America—keeping you in war zones where your children go to bed crying every night wondering if they will die or if they will waken to find that they have been orphaned.

Our nation—the same one who just held a march about being pro-life—have said through our actions that your life doesn’t really matters as much as our comfort. We know the odds are that you will die of disease in a refugee camp or be killed by a bomb set off by someone who hates you just for the sake of hate. But our nation just declared that you are somebody else’s problem. My faith tradition tells me that my Savior said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40). But my nation, my fellow Christians, just said that we will see if somebody else will help. It’s not going to be us. I am so sorry. I love you and would do anything I could to save your life. I know what it is like to be scared.

The Scriptures of my faith tradition, God’s Holy Bible, says “fear not” to us 103 times in the King James Version. There are more than 300 passages that don’t use those exact words, but still tell me the same message: just do my will without fear or worry. Walk on water. Have my Son. Lead my people. Cross the Red Sea. Stand up to Pharaoh. Take up your cross. Heal in my name. Go where you have never gone before. Yet today we allowed fear to win and rule our nation. People decided they should fear you—young mother, small child, worried father, aging grandmother, lost brother, wandering sister—because some people have done wrong. Many American men beat their wives daily, but we are more afraid of you according to people I hear declaring that you will be an outcast forever. I know your pain. I know what it is like to have no voice, to be ignored. I love you. I hear you. I am sorry.

My faith tradition reads our Bible each Sunday—the Bible that says this about love in I Corinthians 13…If I speak in the tongues] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal… If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing….Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love… But many people have chosen not to love you even though our Savior declared that He gave us a new command to love as He loved (John 13:34). He died for us. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to die because I love you enough to grant you safety, but even if I do, it is what I was asked to do by the One who died for me. If I believe Him, I must choose to love you enough to help you find life. It’s my turn to return the love I have been granted. I am sorry so many are refusing to love you. I love you. I will do my best to show you.

My faith tradition tells me to go into the world, to embrace you and tell you that Jesus loves you. How can I tell you Jesus loves you if I don’t show you? Jesus didn’t just tell me—He showed me. It’s what we are called to do.

We have Americanized our faith to believe that God wants us to feel safe and happy I can’t find those words in my Bible. My faith never asked me to pledge allegiance to my nation (but I do love my nation). My faith asks me to love, to go, to heal, to be among you, to embrace all people, to fear not, to walk on water and just do what I truly know is right.

I’m sorry many in my Church have ignored your pain and your tears, have labelled you evil instead of called you a child of God (even if you don’t know you are yet), have chosen our desire for comfort and happiness over your need for life. I love you. Hear that. I will be your voice as much as I can. I would swim to your rescue if I had a way. I would fly you to safety if I owned a plane. If you make it here, I will call you friend. I will pray with you. Just know many of us are trying to pray you to a new life until we can find more practical ways of helping.

 

 

Why do they pray?

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Last month, I released Two Frontiers, my third book—first historical fiction. The book is set during the time of the Mexican-American War (late 1840s, pre-Civil War). Three of my main characters pray occasionally throughout the book. Their prayers are not printed, but I do make reference to them praying for other characters. I have been asked by readers why I incorporated prayer into my fictional book. Here’s my answer:

First, I believe that prayer keeps us centered on the holy in our lives. Prayer keeps our focus off of fear and limited hope and empty wishes and keeps our focus on an all-powerful, loving God who truly wants us to come seeking answers and comfort. When my prayer life is not strong, I get off-track in my goals and with my emotions. My characters needed the same focus (don’t want to tell you why—too many spoilers).

Second, my characters (just like me) needed a place to pour out their sorrows and fears and hurts. When they faced fears, they needed a Holy Presence to help comfort them and grant them strength to go forward. I am not a self-sufficient person (even when I am stubborn and try to be). I need God in my life to guide me at all times and to help carry me and strengthen me when I feel broken. I wanted my characters to reflect this same need.

Third, praying does not mean that the outcome of a situation will be automatically be changed (one spoiler—one character is seriously injured in the war). I have prayed for the health of people who still died way too young. I have prayed over my life and have still had to climb mountains to survive. I have prayed for my children, and they have still made some pretty big mistakes (great girls, though—love them dearly). Prayer didn’t always change the outcome to suit my wishes. Prayer changed me, though. Prayer gave me a stronger peace of mind and a sense of comfort. Prayer helped me find insight into the situation. Prayer led me to new hope that I would have never found on my own, to answers that came in a way much better than what I had asked for.

So my characters prayed in my book. It’s how I get through life; it’s how I had them get through their challenges. I pray. It changes me for the better.

Why are “they” on the list?

Why are “they” on the list?

A friend once asked me to explain why I thought the people listed in Hebrews 11 were on the list as heroes and heroines of faith. Here’s my answer:

They are on the list because they yielded control (though quite imperfectly, as we see by their sins) to God. Granted, they did not yield control early in life for many of these on the list. Many of us hold on to part of our lives. We plan our careers or our families or the place where we will settle or travel. We think God approves just because we prayed and things are working out well. We tell God, “I’ll give you Sunday and Wednesday. That’s really doing better than a lot of people I know.” We also tell God, “Here’s the amount of money that is yours. Tell me how you want me to donate it.” We also tell God, “Here’s how I am willing to help. Show me where you want me to do the things I am comfortable doing.” We are quite pleased with ourselves when we say those things because the bar is set really low for what we are expected to do as Christians. God asks for all of us…to pray unceasingly…to follow faithfully…to give all that we have that separates us from God (Matthew 19–rich young ruler)…to witness everywhere we go… He does not ask for our lives as a slave owner. He asks so he can set us free and we can find the deep joy of loving him and being in a relationship with him.

To me, the power behind Abraham’s courage was his obedience to God. He yielded control of all of the details of his life. That’s very hard to do in reality. Abraham faltered at times, not sure about how to follow or bring about God’s plan. But he is a hero of faith because he was willing to drop all of his excuses and give God control of his life. Even when he sinned, Abraham still turned to God for the renewal and the second and third chance to keep going along the path God called him to. God told him where to travel to. God told him what all of the plans were to be. Go asked him to leave his native country and his relatives and go to a place that God would show him. That is the standard God set for us to follow. Things only became messy when Abraham tried to be in control of the planning. Look at Moses, Paul, and Peter, or any of the disciples. “Come and follow me.” It started in the Old Testament and continued throughout the New Testament. Follow me… not “follow me when it makes sense or is convenient.”

But isn’t that illogical? Financially risky? Unwise? Unsafe? Crazy? That’s why we might shun many of the people on the list, not because of their sins alone, though. I think we would shun them for the part they got right. We would say they were crazy. Leave everything you know and go somewhere that God says he will show you? Really? Have checked with your accountant first? Maybe the elders should talk to you about this plan, Abraham. Have you been feeling OK? Have you talked to your physician about how this will affect your health? We often ask for more pre-planning and a better, more secure package in this world.

Because of Abraham’s great faith, God told him, “This is what the LORD says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed — all because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:16-18). (Not because he was perfect, but because he gave God control of the plans. When he sinned, he was still trying to bring about God’s plan…he just forgot for a moment to trust that God really knew what he was doing. After he sinned, he still turned right back to God, giving God control over the mess Abraham just made by his sin.)
Not withhold even your son…we all withhold so much so that we feel secure, we feel wise in our planning, we feel comfortable. I just finished a study of Acts. Paul let God direct every part of his journey. When Paul tried to go where he thought was best, Acts tells us that God would instead lead him where God needed him next. And Paul went. Not many of us would witness as tirelessly as Paul witnessed.

Now, of course, God calls us all to different paths. Paul had many friends in each city who were called to help him and minister with him, but were not called to journey with him or be as abused as Paul was. I am not saying that we should all pack our bags and sell our homes and get on a camel or a boat and head out. But are we really willing to do whatever God asks? If we are in prayer and we have truly turned our entire lives over to God, he will use us in miraculous ways. Do we listen for God’s call? When he does call, do we respond with complete obedience and faith? We don’t get to choose the call.

Take Rahab as another example. Wasn’t her life complicated enough without some strange men coming in to take shelter? Wasn’t it illogical for her to let them in and hide them? If God sent someone to our door, would we listen to what he was asking us to do or would our human logic take over? Would we have handed them a few bucks and sent them on their way? Rahab put her entire life at risk for a plan that she could not have fully grasped at the time, though she did have an understanding about God’s ways. She followed faith rather than logic and “good sense.”

In Joshua 2:9 she says, “9. And she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.”

Her house was apparently part of the wall of the city. She had a questionable reputation. She raised and/or bought flax and had it drying on the rooftop. Her house must have also doubled as an inn at times since the guards naturally thought visitors may know to go there or be sent there. Others in Jericho had news of God and his miraculous work and the conquests of the nation of Israel, but we are only told that this one person stood on her faith. Many people wouldn’t even risk their lives for friends, but she risked her life for spies for the “enemy” of her people because she believed. She had no guarantee (at the beginning) that she would survive. Are we willing to serve without guarantees? Do we have the courage of Rahab?

It takes an incredible amount of courage and faith to look for solutions outside of our own experience and comfort zone. Rahab had to look past her heritage, past her comfort, past her own traditions, past what common sense as a Canaanite woman told her in order to do what God asked her to do. Rahab knew that she could not serve two masters–she had the choice to make of which side to stand on. She chose God/Israel.

Sometimes the answers are outside of the boxes we construct through our traditions and through our education. But if we daily read God’s Word and pray daily that God use us as He desires, then we can open our minds to His answers and His way. Sometimes nothing we have done or learned in the past prepares us for the answer we need to give.

Yet, also, sometimes God uses our past sinfulness for his good when we say yes to him and are renewed. Part of her past did prepare her for this night. She had flax drying on the roof. Rahab had the nerve to defy authorities. Hadn’t these been part of her past? But now God was using this for his glory.

That brings me to my second point of this list of Heroes of Faith…who are willing to minister with? Many of us would easily minister to the people on the list…an old man wandering around the area…a harlot with questionable business practices…a drunk man…an adulterous woman. But many of us have, as you said, set the bar too high for people we will minister with. Will we teach a class with a recovering alcoholic whom everyone knows drank away his family savings? Will we join a mission team with a former adulterer who is really trying to find where God is leading him?

Do we talk behind their backs, an act that sabotages the effectiveness of their witness? Do we make a list of accomplishments they have to achieve or milestones they have to reach before they are “reformed enough” to join us in ministry? As men and women are released from prison that we have ministered to, do we invite them into our pews and into our programs, hoping that they may lead one day?

Who would have joined Rahab’s Bible study group? Not many of us, I am afraid. But Matthew’s genealogy list puts Rahab in the lineage of Christ. Christ does not hold the past against any person, but opens the door for a full restoration of each sinner who believes and repents. We get a new life. But do most of us really allow everyone to get a new life. We gossip or mistrust or give a small task to a person so they will “be busy and stay out of the real work.”

Rahab had two strikes against her… she was part of the Canaanites and she participated in questionable sexual and business practices. But when she was called by God, she responded in complete faith. God responded with love and acceptance. He sought her because he knew her heart and knew she would respond. Her faith and her actions are tied together. God saw her through his eyes, not through our perceptions.

This is what makes the list in Hebrews 11 so powerful…these are people who had faith and who acted on that faith–who listened for God and responded when God called. And God renews. It is God who makes us courageous enough and wise enough and strong enough and patient enough to serve. It is God in us that makes us able to respond in faith as Rahab did. She was not just a woman … but she was a woman filled with God. That made the difference.

So that is what we are called to do… have faith and act on that faith every time God calls. We are also to know that we are forgiven when we stumble … forgiveness gives us a chance to get back up and respond to God once again. And we are called to serve with others whom God calls … we aren’t the keepers of God’s call. Paul was a murderer. Peter was a coward and often confused at times.

I am a divorced woman … a former victim of abuse. I have been homeless. I have sinned. I have been a coward at times. I have been confused. Somehow, God called me. I understand why it is tempting to be my judge. I have heard the whispers behind my back. I have known people who were willing to minister to me, but not with me. I am not their judge. I am not the keeper of their call from God. I am just a person who must respond when and where God calls me. I blog. I write. I teach. I speak. I go. I listen. I pray. I read. I study.

It is all about God, though. It is about God acting in and through us. That is what Hebrews 11 is about to me…being a vessel carrying God’s will, God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s hope.

I picture Rahab when she first felt renewed by God. Can you imagine the feelings that swept over and through her when she felt God’s cleansing and renewing and empowering love…when she first understood what God was about…when she felt God embrace her in a pure and loving embrace that didn’t use her or degrade her or shame her, but rather built her up and made her feel whole. That empowerment and love soaked into the depth of her being…that feeling of renewal stayed in her memory. It was from that feeling that she was able to draw the courage and wisdom needed to serve and go forward in life. It was her personal relationship with God that allowed her to seek his path for a dilemma, for life, for our journey. She had to think fast. If we aren’t in tune with God and his power, we tend to make lousy choices when we have to think fast. But Rahab knew what God could do–God was miraculous. He could take these Israelites and make impossible things happen. God can also take a harlot and turn her into someone that eventually points to Christ in the lineage, someone who is held up as a heroine of faith.

So we have asked, do we obey God’s call? We have asked, who will we minister with? Now we have to ask, who can minister to us? I think about the spies here…obviously they were servants for God, willing to take on a dangerous mission. What would have happened to them if they had said, “I’m not going to ask for help from her… a harlot, a questionable businesswoman…a Canaanite. I’m not going to be in her house! She’s a sinner!” They would have died, no doubt. They were saved by God through Rahab. Wow! Would we allow her to minister to us? Would we go in her house, follow her directions, seek her advice? Great question!

Do we hear God’s voice when it is spoken through someone we are judging too harshly? Can we accept that God speaks through these people on this list of heroes in faith? She had a bad reputation at that moment…we are not talking about years later. We are talking about right then and there when she was considered bad news, a bad example, an outcast. Didn’t God get the memo about using good people first? Well, we forget that God writes the memos and his message said that she’s the one he called. She listened. She responded. Can we handle that in today’s world? God is God…his character and nature has remained the same throughout the ages. So if he called Rahab then, he would call her now. If she taught a class, would we attend and listen? We would seek God’s Word though her?

This list is about God’s renewal and his power and love. He loved these people. He loved Rahab! He put the seeds of his love inside of her. She felt them growing even in her sin and imperfections. She allowed God’s Word to grow inside of her to the point of it overflowing into action!

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