Sunday, December 30, 2007


I've been thinking more about that "my" vs "Thy" salvation devotional.

When it was "my" salvation, my joy wasn't really in salvation at all -- it was in human accomplishments. I was happy because I believed that, at least for the moment, the scales were tipped in my favor. My joy came from a temporary assurance.

I certainly have a lot more joy in my life now that I'm secure in my salvation--not the ecstatic laughter stuff that I used to call "the joy of the Lord," but a deep (and still deepening) sense of gratitude and awe that still makes me smile every time I think about it. This joy isn't a passing emotion that I need to "work up" and attempt to maintain on my own strength; instead, it is more of a silent, steady undercurrent that is always there. I can draw from it at church, at work, in the car, anywhere...

Before, "joy" was a stream that I had to feed. Now, it's a stream that feeds me.

That's a huge contrast...

Friday, December 28, 2007

"Thy" salvation vs "my" salvation

The Purpose Driven Life devotional was really good this morning. It talked about how Ps 51:12 can sometimes get mis-quoted as "restore unto me the joy of my salvation" instead of "Thy salvation."

One little word can make a big difference: "my salvation" implies that it originated with me; "Thy salvation" acknowledges that it is not mine, it is a gift from God.

The devotional goes on to say:

"If our joy about Jesus is based on what we’ve done, then we’ll always wonder if we’ve done enough. That joy is only temporary. But if our Jesus-joy is based on the grace of God, it’s permanent – “it is finished.” (John 19:30)"

That's true... but in my experience I'd have to take it a step further. I don't think there's any real joy in the "my salvation" view. There's a lot of fear and worry, punctuated by short periods of relief that might appear to be joy... but it's just a deceptive calm.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

End of the year

I've always enjoyed making New Years' resolutions... most of which don't seem to last very long. I've gotten more realistic over the years, but I still have mostly mixed results.

For example, from last year:
  1. I resolved to get in shape during 2007. That didn't happen.
  2. I wanted to get a better job. Success! I managed to do that!
  3. I was going to complete an IT certificate program. That didn't happen.
  4. I promised to have a daily quiet time. I kinda did that... but I can do better.
  5. I wanted to read more and watch TV less. Hrmm. I think I managed to read more, but I also managed to watch more TV... so I would have to count that one as a wash!
I might not have managed to live up to all of my resolutions last year, but it was still an excellent year for me. I got off to a slow start, but I did manage to get some material written for this site. I got to know some wonderful people. I found out what grace was all about. I got baptized. Not bad!

Here's the beginning of my list for 2008... subject to change (of course) until Jan 1:
  1. Get some exercise 4-5 times per week
  2. Read through the Bible at least once, maybe twice this year (NLT first... then NASB)
  3. Save more money
  4. Take a real vacation (which could sabotage #3!)
  5. Complete the online classes at

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Excellent Resource

I asked my "grace awakening" pastor if he knew of any online Bible classes... and he had an excellent recommendation for me. It's - run by the "Our Daily Bread" folks. I can remember getting those little devotional booklets back when I was in high school, although I have to admit I thought they were a bit cheesy back then. That was... a long time ago! Probably 18-20 years... so it's nice to know that these classes have the backing of a ministry that has been around for that long. Of course, longevity isn't everything...

This isn't just a course or two -- there's twelve courses for Old Testament Survey, and twelve for New Testament Survey, along with some apologetics and other stuff. I'm going to start with New Testament Survey.

Feel free to join me!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bible courses?

It's been an incredible month for me. I've learned so much, and I don't want to stop.

Maybe this is just a crazy idea, but I really want to dig deeper into the Bible, learn more about the historical and cultural context, maybe even dig into the original languages a bit. I would love to just spend weeks (or months?) digging into a book one verse at a time...

I'd love to take some classes online or even in a classroom setting someplace local on evenings or weekends... it's just hard to tell what programs are legit and which ones aren't. Even among the legitimate schools, I want to make sure that they are similar theologically to what my church believes. I definitely don't want to take classes from a school that is affiliated with a charismatic/Pentecostal denomination...

It seems like many of the 'legit' schools that advertise on the 'net are aimed more at folks who would like to be full time students -- people who want to get a degree and go into ministry themselves. That's not me...

I'm going to ask around and see what I can come up with. Maybe it is just a crazy idea... but it won't be the craziest thing I've ever done.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

(Re)Defining the relationship

I used to wonder if it was really possible to have a "friendship" relationship with God. I used to wonder what that even meant. I was afraid of losing my salvation. I was afraid that God was punishing me when things didn't go right. I read books about having a relationship with God... even if I didn't completely understand them.

That was reality for me for a long time... but it all seems like ancient history now.

When I was trying so hard to be a good Pentecostal, I believed that having a close relationship with God meant living a powerful, supernatural, happy, healthy, and successful life. It would mean having that "direct line" to God that my pastors, leaders, and other spiritual superstars seemed to have. It meant never ever having any doubts. I thought that I could get there by living a certain way, memorizing lists of verses then repeating them, saying certain things, and avoiding other things. If I could experience a little bit of the supernatural or get a warm fuzzy emotional buzz during a worship service, then I could convince myself that I was "still saved"! But the real goal was to get to the point where every moment of every day was that same kind of emotional / spiritual high.

Needless to say, I never got there! Instead, I've found myself with a radically different understanding of what a relationship with God really is.

I'm not chasing a high anymore. I'm secure in my salvation, whether I feel anything at that moment or not. Of course, there's been a lot of emotion involved in what I've learned over the last few weeks--a lot of relief, joy, peace, and just plain excitement--but emotion fades, and that's OK. My relationship with God isn't any more or less real because of my mood.

I'm not afraid of circumstances anymore. Bad things will happen, and have happened even in the last few days. I still have obstacles to overcome... but now I can overcome them without feeling ashamed that I didn't have enough faith to just make them go away. Difficult times are even more difficult when faced alone--and I used to believe that if I was facing a difficult time it was because I had done something that prevented God from helping me. There is tremendous freedom and encouragement in knowing that God will be with me no matter what I go through, and He is just as close in the tears as He is in the laughter.

I'm not afraid of messing up anymore. I'm not talking about abusing grace, the attitude that you can do anything because God will always forgive--in fact, I want to please God more now than ever before. I'm learning what it means to really be motivated by love rather than fear. I'm learning what it means to receive His grace when I do mess up.

But the best part is knowing that this is just the beginning!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Souvenirs from the fringe

In the spirit of making a fresh start, I decided to spend this afternoon doing a little cleaning.

It started with my books -- I still had a bunch of books from my "fringe" days. I don't even know why I held on to them this long. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I figured I'd give them to one of my Pentecostal friends rather than just toss them...

Books are one thing. But my collection of souvenirs from the fringe gets even better. I didn't even know I still had this stuff until I opened a storage box that probably hadn't see daylight since I my last interstate move.

Among the more interesting items:

  • Assorted "Prayer cloths" (little pieces of fabric that had been prayed over in some revival service somewhere)
  • A couple of vials of annointing oil (one would even clip on your keychain, in case you needed that extra annointing on the go!)
  • A little plastic tube of what appears to be water -- "holy water"? I don't even remember.
  • A small white landscaping stone (it was part of an object lesson from a meeting I attended in the mid 90s)
  • A gazillion program booklets and cassette tapes from conferences I've attended
  • An impressive collection of handwritten "prophetic words" that were given to me
  • The new members' orientation handbook from a church I left years ago.
  • A little baggie with some "gold dust" (looks exactly like glitter, and that's probably exactly what it is) from another "revival" meeting back in the mid 90s
At some point in the past, all of these things were significant to me -- significant enough that I held on to some of it for more than ten years! There is one common thread that unites all of these items: they are all physical things that were supposed to help me feel connected to God... and re-enforce the validity of the ministries that produced them.

It felt good to get rid of that stuff. I don't need a trinket or a ministry to connect me to God anymore. I don't need to see signs and wonders. I'll always remember those times (although now I'm more likely to cringe than to smile when I do), but I'm never going back.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I got baptized tonight!

I was nervous... and the water was a little colder than I had expected... but it was awesome!!

I shared a little bit of my testimony before the baptism (and yeah, I got a little teary). Even tho the water was chilly, everything else was perfect. The weather was absolutely beautiful. It was warm and pleasant outside. There was a really good turn out: most of the folks I had invited were able to attend. Getting baptized in a beautiful setting, surrounded by friends... I couldn't have asked for more! It was definitely something that I'll never forget.

After the baptism, I had some great conversations with people over dinner. Everyone hung around for a bit and toasted marshmallows & made smores around the bonfire.

I'm really glad that I got baptized again...

Thursday, December 6, 2007


In less than two days I'll be getting baptized!

I've been inviting everyone. I honestly have no idea how many people will be there. Over the last few weeks, I can hardly keep quiet -- I've told everyone who would listen (and a few who wouldn't) what I've learned about grace. I used to have such a hard time sharing what I believed... but that's probably because I wasn't completely convinced myself. Now, it comes so naturally. I wish I could get more "nonchurch" friends to come to my baptism, but even extending the invitation gives me an opportunity to share my story.

I guess I should probably explain what's going to happen. I'm not getting baptized in a church service, but at a friend's house--in their pool. Yes, it's outside. No, it isn't heated. Yes, it's December!! My baptism is going to be "really cool" in more ways than one! Of course, this isn't as bad as it sounds since I live in Florida. I won't have to break any ice to get in the water!

I will be baptized by the same associate pastor who taught me about grace -- and that means a lot to me. It makes it very personal. This isn't just some minister asking me if I've trusted Christ as my Savior, this is the pastor who took time out of his schedule to show me what it really meant to trust Christ and not my own efforts.

For the baptism itself, I'm not expecting some "charismatic style" spiritual experience, but I am expecting it to be meaningful and significant. It'll probably be a little emotional for me. I'm marking a new beginning, celebrating my new relationship with God... a relationship that I had previously written off as impossible. I'm just beginning to understand God's grace. I'm only starting to comprehend the magnitude of what Jesus did for me -- the free gift of salvation with no strings, no threats, and no regrets. Baptism is a step of obedience, a response to the gift, and an identification with the Giver.

I can't wait...

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Starting Over

It's been about two weeks now since the beginning of my "grace awakening." In so many ways, I feel like I'm starting over with God... although "starting over" implies that I've been here before, and I really haven't. I'm entering brand-new territory!

Before, I was afraid of God -- intimidated -- scared that He'd reject me whenever I messed up. I wanted to have a relationship with Him, but most of the time I thought the best I could do was keep a respectful distance.

At times, I wondered if the stories of people's "intimate" relationships with God were just that -- stories. I wondered if what I had experienced at times in the Pentecostal church was genuine or just a manipulated experience or emotionalism. I longed for something real, but had no idea if that sort of thing was even possible. Every once in a while I'd get a glimpse of something more than what I was living... but not consistently.

I thought I was pretty spiritual. I read the Bible. I had quiet times. I went to church. I served. I gave. But in some key areas, I still managed to miss it completely.

I didn't understand grace. If you had asked me about it, I would have confidently answered that I did. But if you watched me, my pride would have demonstrated that I was not familiar with giving or receiving grace. What I knew was legalism -- but I wasn't just a passive victim of legalism, I was an active practitioner of it. I judged others the way I didn't want to be judged. I had my own set of unreasonable standards for other people... and I felt superior to the ones who didn't measure up.

I didn't understand God's power. If you had asked me about it, I would have sworn that I believed in His omnipotence. But my insecurity betrayed my true belief that His power was no match for my mistakes. It wasn't just a false belief, it was a sin. I never would have stated it this way, but essentially I believed that I was more powerful than God. I believed that my ability to obey was more important to my salvation than Christ's sacrifice on the cross. That's arrogance in the highest degree.

I couldn't even begin to understand God's love, except in the most general of terms. The idea that God truly and unconditionally loved me wasn't compatible with the idea that He would reject me if I made too many mistakes. And I was even worse than what I imagined God to be: I don't know if I ever offered love or acceptance without strings. If someone offended me, I could stew over it for a long long time. It took me a while to get really annoyed with someone... but once I reached that point, I had a very difficult time forgiving, and an even more difficult time putting it behind me.

Thankfully, that's all starting change now. I'm learning how to accept God's grace towards me, and now I'm starting to learn how to extend it to others. It's been painful to see the truth about myself in these areas -- but it's a good pain. And I know that I'm making progress.

Today, the idea that I could lose my salvation sounds just as ridiculous to me as the idea that I could have earned it in the first place. I have a new understanding of grace... and that has brought with it an amazing freedom.

I still can't claim to understand God's love, but now I believe that it is truly unconditional and unfathomable. God's love for me is far beyond anything that I'll ever be able to comprehend. I deserve nothing -- in fact, I deserve less than nothing. I've broken God's laws, I've broken His heart, and nothing I could ever do on my own would even begin to bridge the gap that existed between myself and Him. Even if I devoted myself fully and perfectly to the task, it would be absolutely impossible for me to make things right.

That's why the cross only had room on it for one person. That's why Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice. "I do not consider the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, there was no reason for Christ to die." (Gal 2:21)

I still have a long way to go, but for the first time in a long time -- if not the first time ever -- I'm not scared of losing my salvation. I'm not scared that God would punish me or let something bad happen to me so He could teach me a lesson. I'm not scared that I'm vulnerable to attack because I'm not following a formula and I've removed myself from "divine protection."

For the first time in a long time -- if not the first time ever -- I can accept that God loves me, and that He actually wants me to have a relationship with Him. I'm just starting to get to know Him. I'm just starting to trust Him, rather than worry that my efforts are falling short.

I'm learning to appreciate the depth of the grace and love that God has extended toward me... and as that grows, so does my desire to show the same grace and love towards others... only I'm not motivated by guilt or rules this time.

I'm absolutely certain that I can never go back to the way things were...

This is such a significant change for me that I've decided to get baptized on Saturday evening (after the Saturday service at my church). I'm really looking forward to it. I've been baptized before -- but at that time, it was more about formulas and requirements than anything else. This time, I have an entirely different understanding of what I'm doing and why.

Monday, November 26, 2007


The last few days have been nothing short of amazing. I feel like I'm starting all over again. Even worship songs that I've sung a thousand times are alive with new meaning.

I was feeling a little sick Friday and Saturday (probably at least in part because of all that I ate on Thursday!!) I used to look at sickness as a sign of weak faith -- and even though I had moved on from churches that held that belief, it was still a nagging doubt and a fear that I had to fight whenever I felt ill. It went like this: If your faith isn't strong enough to ward off a stomach bug, how can it be strong enough to be saved? Out of habit, I had started to think along those lines again... but then I realized something.

I had the equation backwards -- it doesn't say that you're saved by faith through grace, it says that you're saved by grace through faith. For years I believed that if my faith was strong enough, God would be gracious enough to save me. Now I'm learning that the strength is in God's grace -- and I couldn't even have faith without Him first extending His grace.

There's tremendous freedom in that realization. It was hard for me to believe that God really loved me when I also believed that I could lose my salvation at the drop of a hat. I respected God, I feared God, and I loved Him from a (hopefully safe) distance... but the thought that He loved me? Maybe He would someday, when I was closer to perfect... but for now, I figured He just tolerated me (and there were times when I even wondered about that).

I've finally begun to find what I've been looking for ever since I left the Pentecostal church. I wrote it on the RP homepage back when I started this project in July: "I just wanted to get back to basics, to rediscover a genuine relationship with God that wasn't based on performance, emotion, ritual, or pretending."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

An Epiphany

This is one of the definitions of "epiphany" in Webster's dictionary:

(1): a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2): an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3): an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure b: a revealing scene or moment

Several years ago there was a movie that dramatically illustrated an epiphany: it was called The Sixth Sense. The climax of the movie comes when the central character realizes, in a moment of stunning revelation, that things were not at all the way he thought they were. The neat thing about this movie is that the audience (at least the first time they see it) also experiences the epiphany for themselves. Up until that point, they were assuming the same things that the character was. At the moment of revelation, the audience (like the character) starts replaying previous scenes in their minds, and now the signs are plain to see, the hints jump out from the background, and the puzzle comes together in a most unexpected way.

I feel like I'm in the middle of an epiphany right now.

After I wrote my post on Monday, I emailed it to one of the associate pastors at my church -- the one who had recommended that I read Stanley's book. I wanted to know if he thought someone could lose their salvation, and if so, how? I've always believed that you could lose your salvation (and lose it quite easily), so the idea that you couldn't lose it was almost inconceivable to me. Surely there had to be a line somewhere, and when you crossed it, you were out... maybe the line wasn't where I thought it was, but it was still there SOMEWHERE... wasn't it? Grace without strings--come on, how could that be true? It was too easy. It was too extravagant.

Tuesday evening that pastor and I met at a coffee shop and he shared some of his story with me. He comes from a pentecostal background too, so he grew up believing that he could lose his salvation. He was afraid of God. Then he shared some things that helped him understand what grace really meant, and what impact that had on his relationship with God.

This pastor had a child who went through a very difficult rebellious phase. It hurt him very deeply, and even tho that child had walked away from the family, the pastor never stopped loving his child. He never lost his place in the family. In that experience, he recognized that if an earthly father was capable of loving his child through a situation like that, surely God's capacity to love His kids was even greater.

Anyone can love a person who loves you back and behaves correctly. It's harder to love someone who turns away from you... harder still to love someone who wrongs you. But that's exactly what God does.

When God adopted me into His family, it was forever -- warts and all. My capacity to walk away from Him will never exceed His capacity to hold on to me. I don't have to be afraid of losing my salvation on some silly technicality. God's not looking for an excuse to get rid of me.

In the course of one conversation it was as if my world was turned upside-down. Grace without the strings? Salvation that I couldn't lose? Could this really be true?

It seemed like there were a lot of verses in the Bible that supported the idea of losing your salvation... so that night I started looking for them. But even as I began to write out my questions, I could see some answers that hadn't been obvious to me before. Something inside "clicked," and I started to see everything differently. The clues had always been there. They were in plain view, I had just been oblivious to them. I had missed it... but now, in a way I had never anticipated, the puzzle was coming together.

Within a matter of hours, I had done a complete 180 on something I had strongly believed for ~15 years. And if felt really good.

Two days later, it's all still sinking in. I can't even completely put it into words yet, but I know that I can never look at things the same way. I've never known peace like I've known in the last two days. I can have a relationship with God now that isn't based on fear.

It seems especially appropriate that today is Thanksgiving. I've never understood grace or salvation more clearly than I do today, and I just can't help but thank Him for such an extravagant gift.

Monday, November 19, 2007


I read a very short but interesting book on Friday. It was called How Good Is Good Enough by Andy Stanley. It was really written for nonbelievers, but as I read it I realized that much of it applied to me as well.

Stanley says that most Americans believe in an afterlife, and if you ask those Americans what it takes to get to heaven, most of them will give some variation of the same answer: be good and you'll get in. He spends the rest of the book showing why that is a bad answer -- not just theologically, but logically.

Even though I might not have been in the target audience, I saw myself very clearly in the pages of that book. I've been living on a variation of the "good enough" belief system for a very long time. I don't believe that doing good things can earn me a place in heaven--I have always understood that only Jesus' sacrifice could do that. But once I was saved, I believed that salvation was basically mine to lose. If the Baptist view of salvation could be summed up as "once saved, always saved," then the Pentecostal belief could be stated as "once saved, barely saved." You could lose your salvation for any number of infractions.

Early on, when I attended churches with "Holiness Standards," the line was very clear: you dressed a certain way, no jewelry, women never cut their hair, men always had short hair, etc. Baptism (and baptism by a certain formula) was essential for salvation, as was speaking in tongues. Leadership was to be respected. Tithes were to be paid. Of course, they also had the more traditional list of terrible sins from which one was not likely to recover, but any violation of the rules could disqualify you from salvation. Essentially, works were still a part of the salvation equation.

I've moved on from that church -- and I've been in a couple of churches now since then -- but somehow, that belief has stuck with me. The list of salvation-losing mistakes has gotten shorter, but it was always there.

Salvation by grace? To me, grace meant getting another chance to get it right. Grace was like a chance to re-take a test that I had performed badly on at school. Grace was an extra few days to get a bill paid. Grace was getting a do-over when I really should have struck out. It was undeserved, it was very welcome, it was still amazing... but even after receiving grace, I still had to do something. Grace was the thought that Jesus died to give me a chance to know God... a chance to repent, get baptized, and live by the rules.

If you blew it, then the grace didn't matter. If I got just as bad a score on the test when I took it the second time, where was the benefit? What if I didn't get the bill paid in the grace period? What if I struck out again on the do-over? What if I violated the rules and lost my salvation?

But if I'm understanding Stanley correctly, that's not grace at all. Grace is failing the test, but being given an 'A' that someone else earned on my behalf. Grace is someone else paying the bill. Grace is not dependent on what I do.

Is salvation really that kind of grace--a grace without the strings?

Is the idea that I could do something bad enough to lose my salvation just as absurd as the idea that I could do something good enough to earn it?

Thursday, November 15, 2007


The memory verse this week at church was 2 Chr 16:9a - "The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him." (NLT)

I'm not sure if that verse is encouraging or not...

It certainly wasn't meant to be an encouragement... not if you look at it in context. It's actually part of a pretty harsh rebuke from a prophet to a King. Rather than relying on God, the King relied on an alliance with an enemy. When the prophet rebukes him, the King gets so angry that he throws the prophet into jail.

Even out of context, there's a "sting" to this verse. Can I ever really say that my heart is fully committed to God? I don't know if my heart has ever been fully committed to anything. At any given moment, I'm going in at least four or five different directions. I can't say that I'm fully committed to any one of them. I like to say that I "multitask," but the truth is that I just work in fits and starts. I'll work one project intensely for a little while, start think about another project... switch gears and go that direction for a while... then on to a third, etc. Even writing this blog I might interrupt myself half a dozen times -- respond to an email, check a website, etc.

I say that I'm a Christian, a "Christ Follower," but am I really? What about when I ignore someone who needs a hand because I'm too busy? What about when I snap at a coworker? What about when I judge someone else or think badly of them? I can't honestly say that I'm fully committed to God in those situations. I can focus on doing better, but even when I do the right things, I don't always do them for the right reasons!

If God is seeking to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him, then I'm in deep trouble.

And I suppose I'm not alone either.

"I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin." (Rom 7:21-25 NLT)

It's a little unfortunate, I think, that the chapter ends there. It implies (at least to me) that there is a break in the flow, a change in the topic... and that's not the way it was written. The very next verses are "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death." (Rom 8:1-2 NLT)

Now, that's encouraging.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Oneness vs Trinity

The last few weeks, the messages at my church have centered around the basics of the Christian faith. Last week introduced the Trinity, this week talked about God the Father, and over the next two weeks we'll hit the Son and Holy Spirit.

This is all very interesting to me since I was part of a Oneness Pentecostal church, and I spent a lot of time when I first left trying to sort out what I believed about God.

In Oneness teaching, God is one person: Jesus. The Father, Son, and Spirit are "roles" rather than "persons." Just as one person can be a father, a son, and a husband at the same time, so God could be all three at the same time while still being one person. God is the Father in creation, the Son in the incarnation, and the Spirit who dwells in us. Jesus is the Father, Son, and Spirit.

In Trinitarian teaching, God is one God in three persons. The Father is a person, the Son is a different person, and the Spirit is another different person. All three have always existed and even talk to eachother. They have different roles, but they are not just different aspects of the same person. Jesus is not the Father or the Spirit, Jesus is the Son.

To complicate issues, and because Trinitarians don't tend to talk about the Godhead so much, there are preachers with Oneness beliefs who teach in Trinitarian circles. For the most part, the language of Oneness is not offensive to Trinitarians. After all, they believe that there is one God and they believe that Jesus is God... so as long as they're not talking about baptism in Jesus' name, the average Trinitarian wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

After all, you won't find the word "Trinity" in the Bible. There was a time when I really struggled with it... but then I realized something. When a child is very very young, they might not have a very developed understanding of who their father is. They know him as Daddy, they know that he loves them, and they know that they're safe with him. There have been times in my life when that's really just about all I could say about God with any kind of certainty. It's also all that I needed...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mail & Miracles

When I collect my mail, I sort it into the "important" pile and the "probably junk" pile. The important stuff gets my attention, while the junk gathers dust until I have time to sort through it, shred it, and trash it.

I've been waiting for a letter from my bank -- I recently asked for a new ATM/Check card. The card was sent a few weeks ago. I was supposed to receive a separate mailing a week or two later with instructions to activate it. So I've been waiting for that second letter...

Thursday night, I decided to sort through my out-of-control junk pile. Guess what? That activation letter I've been waiting for was in the pile! The envelope didn't have my bank's logo or address on it. There was nothing to indicate that the letter was important. In short: it wasn't what I was expecting, so I missed it.

Last night in my small group, we discussed a few more chapters from the Lifestories book. I'm really enjoying this study.

One of the questions asked if we could remember a time when God had done something miraculous in our lives and if we were willing to share it. Immediately, I started thinking about things like instantaneous healings--something overwhelmingly and undeniably supernatural.

That wasn't what everyone else was thinking about. Some shared about the birth of their children. Others talked about the salvation of a friend or relative. Someone else talked about how God was working in their lives through a slow but steady recovery from a medical problem.

It's amazing to me how different the discussion would have been if this was a Pentecostal small group. Same materials -- different conclusions.

If I were reading this book on my own, I might have never considered miracles that didn't fit my narrow definition, which is admittedly a hold over from my Pentecostal days. It made me look at the whole chapter differently. I wonder how many "miracles" I've overlooked because they didn't come in the package that I was expecting.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Here I Go Again & Suicide

My small group is going through the Lifestories book from Casting Crowns. Tonight, one of the songs we discussed was Here I Go Again. It talks about sharing our faith with others... or more to the point, what happens when we don't share our faith.

Mark Hall shares the story of a friend that he failed -- twice. Ultimately, this person took his own life. Mark had opportunities to speak to this person, but never said what he felt he should have said.

That was a tough story to read... not just because it's tragic. It was tough for me because there are parallels to my own life. There have been times when I felt like I needed to talk to someone about God and I didn't... and I walked away from the last opportunity I would ever have to share God's love--or anything else, for that matter--with them.

That's a tough lesson to learn.

I've often wondered if my input would have changed those story lines at all. Maybe... maybe not.

We also wound up talking about suicide. A lot of Christians believe that if you commit suicide, you go straight to hell. That's what I was taught, anyhow. Several others in my small group were taught the same thing. Depending on the "flavor" of your upbringing, the idea is that either suicide is such a terrible sin that you lose your salvation over it, or the very act of committing suicide demonstrates that you never knew God in the first place.

I can't accept either of those positions. It's a horrible thing, a sin, and as far as I'm concerned it is never the right choice to make--nothing justifies it. But I refuse to believe that they are automatically condemned to hell. Only God knows what was in their heart.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Blog moved

I just moved the blog from godaddy to blogger... not sure it will impact anything. I couldn't figure out how to "import" the posts, so I just copied them over one at a time. Not that any of this is particularly important to anyone but me!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

God is closer than you think?

I've started reading a book by John Ortberg. The title just caught my attention, even if it is half a page long: God is closer than you think and this could be the greatest moment of your life because this moment is the place where you can meet God.

The title is provocative... but just as interesting (to me at least) is the fact that John Ortberg is a Presbyterian. I'm showing my ignorance of "mainline" denominations here, but I didn't think Presbyterians cared that much about a relationship with God. All of the ones I've met were more consumed with social issues (and often socially progressive ones).

Apparently, Ortberg is also a prolific writer with a bunch of other books whose titles are longer than some of my blog posts. I might have to check them out...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Emotions & other subjective things

A funny thing has been happening recently. I've started to really enjoy worship again...

It isn't that I haven't liked worship up until now, it's just different from what I was used to. Different, but good. Different, not just in style, but in content.

Pentecostal worship music is more touchy-feely, more emotional. It was also considerably longer.

Services that lasted 3-4 hours weren't all that unusual. The praise and worship portion of the service could run for a good hour (sometimes more) at the beginning, and then they'd do more at the end. It was intense. The worship leader didn't just lead the music, he preached a bit, "coached" you to do things or say things, etc. It is easier to "feel" like you're participating in worship (rather than just observing it) when you have time to warm up & encouragement do something (raise hands, shout, dance, whatever). I began to wonder whether what I had enjoyed for so long was truly fellowship with God or just some well orchestrated warm fuzzies.

The services at my current church are upbeat, but not manipulative. I've appreciated that from my very first visit. I've always enjoyed the music... but lately, I've caught myself slipping into that place that I used to call "real worship" again. It's hard to describe if you haven't been there. For me, it's when I'm singing a song and the words come alive, even tho I've sung them a million times before. It's the point where I'm singing not because everyone else is singing--not because I like to sing--and certainly not because someone else wants to hear me--but because at that very moment those particular words have brought to life a powerful reality about God in a way that I can't ignore. I might as well be hearing them for the first time. It's a "wow" moment.

When I stopped going to charismatic/Pentecostal churches, I thought that maybe those "wow" moments were just warm fuzzies or moments that were created by emotionalism and manipulation... and that needed to be left behind. I'm glad I was wrong.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Benny Hinn?

My church recently kicked off a new season of small groups, little Bible studies that meet in people's homes, and I decided to visit one this week.

Any time a new group of people get together, there's always some awkward and uncomfortable moments. The group leaders were trying to fill those gaps with conversation and attempting to get to know the people who were there. One of the couples mentioned that they were going to a Benny Hinn crusade.

Now granted, Benny Hinn isn't a traditional Pentecostal. He gets criticized by many on the Pentecostal fringe for being too ecumenical, although even then people tend to be careful of what they say because of the "don't touch the Lord's anointed" clause. There's plenty of scare-lore out there about what happens to bad little boys and girls who laugh at the eccentric evangelist. He also gets criticized by those on the other side of the spectrum for being too "fringe."

I guess it just surprised me that someone in this church would find Benny Hinn pallatable, let alone appealing.

It was also strange because it wasn't like the conversations I had in the past with more "fringe" Pentecostal friends. When they talk about going some distance to see a famous minister, it's full of expectation for getting their breakthrough or receiving a healing or "getting a word" from God. There's a spiritual purpose in making the trip, not to mention a significant emotional investment. For them, it isn't like going to six flags or a football game. It's a pilgrimage. Their faith might be misplaced, but it is nothing if not sincere.

So this raises a couple of questions for me.

First, how can someone sit in the same church as I do, hear the same sermons that I hear, and still want to go to a Benny Hinn meeting? Second, why would someone want to go to a Benny Hinn meeting purely for the entertainment value?

I have no answers...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Just for kicks

Just for kicks I read some stuff from a "revival" discussion group today. I'm going to visit a friend of mine who is in revival this weekend, so I guess I wanted to do my homework, find out about the latest buzz, etc.

There's some scary stuff out there... and it is amazing how easily these folks get into arguments with one another. Most of the discussion involved people attacking eachother in spiritual-sounding language, while simultaneously speaking about the need to love other people in other threads.

That's a major red flag to me now when I'm looking at any organization. If the people involved, especially the leadership (self-proclaimed or otherwise), can't handle basic questions without getting defensive or resorting to "because I said so" (or in the case of churches/ministries, "because God told me so")... I back WAY off. People who get defensive or rude in response to honest questions... major red flag. It's just not worth the stress. People who can't get along within their own organization, but talk about a desire to unite with other organizations... red flag.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The buck stops here

The car saga continues... I'm still having issues with it. It's a tight spot to be in financially... but I'm definitely not alone in that. I don't think I've spoken to anyone in my church who isn't going through some sort of financial tight spot... some very serious. Many are accompanied by significant health issues, family issues, or other complications.

It's still a little "weird" to me to have an open, honest conversation with other Christians about this stuff. There's a significant part of me that still feels the need to hide the struggles... that it's not possible to be a good Christian (or at least one with any amount of faith) if you're struggling with these things. In the "name it and claim it" economy, if you talk about your problems, you'll just get more problems. If you keep your mouth shut and just talk positive, you'll get the positive.

The problem with this way of thinking is that it tends to isolate people. How can we comfort one another with the comfort we have received if can never admit that we need to be comforted? How can we bear one another's burdens if we don't know that someone has a burden?

Over the weekend I had an opportunity to hear someone share about the struggles their family was experiencing, and I was able to share how I had also been going through some difficult times. There were no profound answers, no supernatural reassurances that everything would be OK... but there was strength in knowing that we were two believers who could pray for eachother. When I left, my car was not supernaturally repaired. The money to repair or replace it didn't supernaturally show up in my mailbox. But I'm richer today because that relationship is stronger than it ever could have been if we had both just smiled and pretended that nothing was wrong.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Car Woes Continued

I spent a lovely few hours at the mechanic's shop again this morning. The car was "fixed" Thursday, but when I picked it up, the service engine light came back on. The shop was closed by then, and I didn't have a ride, so I had no choice but drive it home. Yesterday and today, the service engine came on 3 out of 4 times that I'd start it. It was on for the entire trip from my house to the mechanic this morning... but, of course, it didn't come on again when the mechanics started it up.


The car needs more work... but I don't know if it's worth it. I've probably kept the thing on life support for too long anyway. I'm kinda stuck -- I've spent so much repairing this car that I don't have too much to put into buying a new one. So I keep pushing it a little further -- $400 here, $150 there... hoping that it will run long enough for me to get ahead. It's a losing battle.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Embracing the Hurt

The Purpose Driven Life devotional caught my attention again today.

"Have you ever considered that heartbreak is part of God’s plans for you, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”? (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) We put so much energy into avoiding the hurt when God would have us embrace it. He wants us to know that he can heal our hurts, even use our hurts for his benefit, and for us to faithfully believe that sometimes the circumstances we think are harming us are actually positive situations God is engineering."

That's a tough one... I don't know if I've "embraced the hurt." At this point, just being honest about it seems like a huge step in the right direction... and I haven't exactly mastered that step yet. My knee-jerk reaction is to hide the pain and pretend everything is OK. But I like the idea that pain and harm are not the same thing... and who defines harm? Just because we think something is harmful, that doesn't necessarily mean that it is...

The author goes on to say "avoiding the pain in our lives is actually an act of faithlessness. God calls us to faith in him during difficult circumstances; we’d rather place our faith in avoiding the circumstances."

Umm, ouch. It's tough to imagine having faith during the difficult circumstances when you've been taught that true faith is your ticket out of the difficult circumstances.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Car Woes

My car broke down today. Nothing big or dramatic, it's an older vehicle and it's definitely showing its age. I pulled into a parking lot and called a friend to pick me up. It's just a potentially costly inconvenience... but with the timing, I can't help but wonder...

Over the last week or so, I've been working on this "Recovering Pentecostal" website. It hasn't even launched yet, really... I've just been setting it up, writing some background information, trying to sort out what I really want to say... It's been an opportunity to look back and think about a lot of things.

So now these negative things happen, and my knee-jerk reaction is STILL to wonder what I've done wrong: Did I miss a tithe on something? Is there some horrible sin in my life? Did I let my quiet time slip? Or the worst of the guilt trips: Is God punishing me for working on this site?

This is a perfect example of what a Recovering Pentecostal is. I'm in a great church now, and they don't teach anything even remotely similar to the concept of guaranteed divine protection for those who tow the line. I've been away from that sort of thing for over a year. I've done some study on the subject, and I know that the prosperity/protection teaching is deeply flawed. So why am I STILL jumping back to that mindset as soon as something bad happens?

Welcome to my world.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What is Faith?

There was an interesting devotional this morning from the Purpose Driven Life people. Here's a quote:

"To many Christians, “faith” means sincerely believing something is true when you don’t have any evidence. In fact, faith is acting on what you know full well is true: God is able to keep his promise and can be trusted to do it. Faith that is only theoretical conviction isn’t faith yet. Real faith – living faith, saving faith – does something about it."

I can relate to that first sentence. For years I heard the mantra that "faith IS the evidence." If you believe it, it is true. If doubt, you're in trouble. If you believe, it will happen. If it doesn't happen, you must not have believed. It was also impossible to have faith in something that you knew for sure. In a sense, if you already knew it was true, it wasn't faith: it was just a fact. The idea that God is able to keep His promise and can be trusted... that was very much a conditional thing. God would do what he promised IF we played the game right, and it was extremely easy to get disqualified on a technicality.

Now, doing something about it: that's one I can relate to. I have no problem understanding that faith is meaningless if it is all in your head (or even your heart). If it doesn't influence your life, it's not faith, it's just an idea.

So that begs the question -- if something influences your life, is that what you have faith in, even if you say you don't believe it?

Monday, May 7, 2007

The intimidation factor

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to someone who had a pentecostal background. They mentioned how it took them a while before they could really see God as a friend, instead of being intimidated by Him. That struck a chord in me.

It's hard to have any kind of "deep" relationship with someone who intimidates you. You instinctively want to keep them at arm's length. You don't have to dislike them--in fact, you can hold them in very high esteem and still keep them at a distance. Unfortunately, that's where I am in my relationship with God right now... and that's where I've been for quite a long time.

The problem is, I don't really believe that God loves me unconditionally. I know it in my head, but I don't really believe it yet in my heart. I believe that He loves me when I do the right things, say the right things, etc etc...

I've had to completely re-think what it means to be loved by God. I used to believe that God loved me when I felt the warm fuzzies and did the carpet time and got the "prophetic words" and life was going well. So much of what I understood in the past was tied up in either emotions or results. Emotions, because it was so important to feel God's presence, power, and love in a tangible way; results, because God's favor was guaranteed if your relationship with Him was right. You could guage the health of your relationship with God by those factors.

So what happens when you take those things away?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Asking tough questions

We're in the middle of a great series at church - Honest Answers to Tough Questions. I've heard some of the answers before, but others are completely new to me. I'm learning a lot. I know this will sound funny, but the best lesson I've taken from this series so far is that it's actually OK to ask the questions in the first place and look for evidence in history, archeology, etc. I thought it was a sign of weak faith to even ask questions like that in the first place.

On Easter the subject was the resurrection. Last week it was why bad things happen to good people. Today, it was the reliability of the Bible.

The first part of the message covered historical evidences: the number and accuracy of manuscripts & archeological finds. That was encouraging. Then the prophetic aspects were covered: stuff the Bible predicted that has proven to be true, prophecies about Jesus, etc.

If the Bible is reliable, we should study it. One of the verses used to illustrate this was Acts 17:11 - which talks about the Bereans searching the Scriptures to see if what Paul preached was true. I can understand that, but somehow I pictured this as the leadership of the Bereans testing what this travelling preacher was teaching, not the rank-n-file folks. But today, that's exactly what my pastor did: he invited everyone in the church to check it out for themselves--he told the whole church it was OK to question him! The idea that the "average" Christian would do this seems foreign to me. What if they found that it wasn't the truth? Then what? Do they ask the leader for clarification? Do they just leave? How much room is there for disagreement?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Virginia Tech Massacre

Wow. Today was a horrible day -- it makes me sick to think about it. 32 innocent people just wiped out by one nutcase.

Yesterday's message from church seems somehow even more relevant today.

I'm just hoping that some well-meaning "Christian" leader doesn't add to the pain of these students and families by suggesting some profound sounding psuedo-spiritual reason for the massacre. That absolutely disgusted me in the wake of hurricane Katrina -- "Christians" claimed that Katrina was divine punishment for everything from gambling to drunkenness to slavery.

After 9/11, I was actually in a church where the pastor said that more people would have survived if they had been "tuned in" to God and listened to his warnings. He cited instances of folks who only survived because they were late for work that morning or decided to run other errands before coming to the office. What an insensitive position to take... not only is your loved one gone, but they couldn't have possibly been "tuned in" to God when they died. In other words, they must have been lousy Christians if they were Christians at all.

My thoughts and prayers are with the students and their families... and with those who will be ministering to them in the days to come. I hope they will have the wisdom to apply salve rather than salt to the wounds.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bad things happen...

Why do bad things happen to good people?

That was the subject of today's message at church. It was really refreshing... no earth-shattering revelations, just some practical wisdom. Basically, bad stuff happens because choices have consequences--they could be our choices, they could be other people's choices. Bad stuff also happens because we live in a world where stuff happens. God promises us peace in Him, but many trials and sorrows in the world.

Those who believe in iron-clad 'divine protection' would answer that question in an entirely different way: Bad things happen to people who are outside of God's will. At first, this approach was attractive and seemed to make sense: God is all powerful. We're God's kids. God will protect His kids, as long as they stay close enough to Him and did what He said to do. When I was younger, it seemed to work pretty well. I was relatively healthy. Finances were steady. The family was stable. Life was good.

Well, life has a way of changing and throwing in a few curves. Those curves are difficult enough to handle on their own... but when you actually believe in guaranteed divine protection, it makes the hard times considerably harder. Not only are you dealing with a difficult circumstance, but you have the added weight of wondering what you did (or neglected to do) to bring this punishment on yourself... and the uneasy feeling that those around you are probably wondering where you went wrong too. An illness becomes a symptom of some deeper spiritual problem. A business failure also represents failure of your faith or a deficiency in your spiritual life. You can always respond to an altar call and have someone lay hands on you and declare the problem solved... but what if your situation is still unchanged afterwards?

One of the things that I love about my current church home is how open everyone is about their struggles--whether it be health or finances or jobs or family. We pray for eachother in small groups and get regular updates on how things are going. We're vulnerable with eachother... and it is only in that willingness to expose our individual weaknesses that we can discover the strength of fellowship and community.

People just aren't as willing to share when they believe that their struggles are a sign of some spiritual failure. They keep their struggles to themselves, and keep others far enough away so that they can't see what's really going on inside. It's actually quite sad. If you are reluctant to share when you yourself are struggling, you'll also be reluctant to share your experiences as an encouragement to someone else who is going through a tough time. You miss out on the support of your friends, and you miss out on the awesome opportunity God gives us to comfort one another with the comfort we ourselves have received.

This is probably one of the reasons why the community here is so much deeper and richer than it ever was for me in a pentecostal (especially "Word of Faith") setting. We build relationships when we share common struggles. We strengthen the ties when we bear eachothers burdens.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Rethinking everything

There is one nice thing about being in an ultra-strict church: at least you know exactly what is expected of you... and you'll probably hear about it if you stray! Over the years, I've learned to adhere to a certain set of standards. They never felt overly restrictive--I just accepted them as the norm. It's easy to feel that way when you spend most of your time building friendships only with those who hold the same beliefs.

The problem is, everyone doesn't hold those beliefs. In fact, the majority of the Christian world doesn't.

So now I'm part of a considerably less restrictive church... but my pre-programmed knee-jerk reactions to certain otherwise "normal" things is still about as strong as it was before. It's not unusual for folks come to church in shorts and tank tops and other clothing that would have been considered completely inappropriate in my previous churches. It's not unusual for people to talk openly about their illnesses and the prescription medications that they are taking. In many pentecostal circles, that would have been met with a stern rebuke. (If your doctrine says that sickness is the result of sin or demonic attack in your life, then the appropriate response to illness is repentence, prayer and study -- not a doctor's visit.) Sometimes stuff like this still catches me off guard.

Secular music is no longer taboo, but it still seems strange for me to hang out with folks from my church and listen to secular music. I feel a twinge of... guilt. Like I'm doing something wrong. Alcohol was completely off limits in pentecostal churches - but here, moderation seems to be the rule. I had always been open to having a glass of champaigne or wine at a special family dinner or celebration... but it was rare and certainly not something I would have ever mentioned to a pastor. In some of my previous ministry-related jobs, a violation of these standards was grounds for immediate termination.

So all of this is still a little weird for me. It's not that I was completely unprepared: I expected (and even looked forward to) many of these differences. Yet, when I see these things which were taboo for me for so long, my knee-jerk reaction is still to kinda look down on them and judge it as "wrong." I wonder how long it will take for me to shake off those feelings...

Walking away from a church or organization is the easy part. Leaving behind old attitudes and mindsets... this could take a while...

Monday, March 12, 2007

The worship experience

The first time I attended a charismatic church some 15+ years ago, the thing I liked the most was the praise & worship. It was--well--alive! I could understand it and enjoy it. I could close my eyes, raise my hands if I wanted to, and not worry about what anyone else in the room was doing. For me, that was the very definition of freedom. I loved the worship, and even when I was unfamiliar and uncomfortable with other aspects of Pentecostalism, it was the worship that kept me coming back.

I guess I ought to make a distinction between the worship and the music. The worship was great. The music was OK. The musicians were (by and large) not professionals, just folks who loved God and (kinda) knew how to play a few chords. They hit wrong notes sometimes. They tripped over the words. They couldn't always stay on pitch and the harmonies were often less than harmonious. The songs themselves were simple... and looking back, some of them were just kinda silly or even downright embarrassing.

The music has come a long way since the 80s. Most churches today have paid worship leaders who are accomplished musicians. Larger churches even pay other members of the band. If you visit a contemporary-style American "mega church" today, you're guaranteed a quality show complete with all the staging, lighting and multimedia that you'd find at a modest concert.

In more recent years, I wound up attending a pentecostal mega church. It was a very good church--no scandals, no major conflicts or controversies, respected in the community, etc. Everything they did was very high quality, including the music. It should have been everything I wanted and more, but before long I found myself wishing I could go back to the worship I had known in the early 90s. Something was missing. I couldn't pinpoint what it was, but I was certain that I'd know it when I found it.

I started visiting other churches. I went to special services and conferences. I even enrolled in a worship school! I found a place where the services were nearly identical to the style and atmosphere I had loved so much in the 90s... but even though I had found exactly what I was looking for, it was a short lived and empty victory. Maybe time had skewed my memories of "the good old days." Maybe I had grown older and less open-minded. I just couldn't stomach some of the stuff I was hearing. It was easy to avoid asking the tough questions when I was in a less "extreme" pentecostal church, but now I was being confronted with large doses of things I had never been entirely comfortable with in the first place.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Evangelistic license

Sometimes, it's so easy for things to just roll off my back. They don't bother me. I never give it a second thought. Other times... I can't seem to let go. I replay the situation over and over in my head. I get angry.

An advertisement for a Pentecostal "crusade" hit one of those hot buttons for me recently.

I'm used to seeing a lot of "pull-on-your-heartstrings" stuff, so much so that maybe I dismiss it too easily. It doesn't bother me so much when ministers are promoted as larger than life heroes who do everything from build orphanages to raise the dead. I'm not phased by emotional clips and soundbites from past services (even if I have good reason to believe that the lady who got up out of the wheelchair at the fall 2002 conference was the same one who got up out of the wheelchair in another minister's spring 2003 conference and who knows how many other places). But this one promotional video in particular just made my blood boil. It hit too close to home.

I'm originally from the New York City area. Images of 9/11 are permanently etched in my mind. The fact that some people have tried to profit financially from the losses of others is just about the worst kind of ugly I can imagine. The fact that some of these people are ministers is downright disgusting--and I would feel the same way no matter what "flavor" of minister they were.

The offending promo video was produced sometime last summer. It featured clips of the minister at a conference in NYC in the 90s. He was warning them to get right with God, what if a missile were to hit Manhattan? Images of the 9/11 attacks flashed across the screen. The implication was that this minister had predicted the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That's outrageous enough in and of itself. I've been around ministry long enough to know that most itinerants preach the same basic message wherever they go. I wonder how many other cities had been warned of impending attacks that never happened? Even a stopped watch is right twice a day.

OK, so maybe that could be chalked up to "Evangelistic license." After all, he did say it, and something did happen, and perhaps his staff was just a bit too zealous in promoting him.

But what they were promoting was a new series of meetings, and they were seeking financial support to make them possible. They used images of people dying in NYC to raise money for their ministry.

I felt like screaming: If you're such a good minister, if you have such an "in" with God, why didn't you intercede for the city and make it stop? If you believe that your prayers are answered, what the heck were you praying for??

It was horrible the first time I saw it months and months ago, it was still horrible when I saw it again just recently. It makes me a little sick just thinking about it.

It also makes me wonder about what I believe and what I used to believe. What do I do with all that supernatural stuff? Is it really supernatural at all? Is it just luck? Is it fake? I think I've seen some genuine miracles, but I know for sure that I've seen a lot of fluff and attention seeking and outright fakes. I wanted to believe in divine protection, but I didn't want to be in a church where every time I got sick, had to fix my car, or had something happen in my family, people were wondering what sin I had committed to get outside of God's favor.

I've heard a lot of so-called "Words from God" or prophetic words... and often wondered how much of that was God and how much was an expression of that person's desires. I've seen them horribly misused. If your pastor has a "word" and you disagree with it, you're either disagreeing with God or challenging the pastor's relationship with God. If you say nothing, but don't do what the "word" directs, you're rebelling against authority. That's a terrible spot to be in.

What if I wasn't from NYC? What if 9/11 was just an impersonal tragedy to me? Would I be cheering that minister on, contributing to his crusades?

For now, I guess I just have to put this whole mess on the back burner.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Old school

I went to a Bible Study last night, and was quite surprised to discover that the majority of those in attendance had very little knowledge of the Old Testament, even of some pretty significant characters. I'm not a Bible scholar by any measure, but at least I've read it a couple of times. I guess it surprised me that such a large collection of individuals who had gathered together for the purpose of studying the Bible hadn't read it... or at least hadn't read it recently.

I'll admit, I skip over most of the so-and-so became the father of so-and-so stuff... but there are some really good stories in there too! The story of Esther was turned into a book & movie recently. The prayer of Jabez became a full-blown Christian fad a few years ago when someone took two sentences from the Old Testament and wrote a book about it. Christians and non-Christians alike know the stories of Noah and Moses and Joseph and Jonah etc etc... or at least I thought they did!!

Maybe I'm just "old school"!