Being a Christian. It’s Not About…

…eggs, chocolate, or bunny rabbits. Resurrection Sunday is about Jesus Christ rising from the dead on the third day and defeating death to pay for OUR sins – past, present, and future.

…Santa Claus, expensive presents, stress shopping, or getting time off work. It’s about celebrating the birth of Christ because without His birth, there would be no prophecies fulfilled, no sacrifice for our sins (even the ones no one else knows about), and no hope for eternity in Heaven.

…many ways to God. There is only one way to God and that is Jesus. Yes, it’s narrow – He said it himself. Jesus is the only son of God, the only perfect sacrifice for our sins and the only willing person to do it for us, even when we didn’t deserve it or want it. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

…intolerance. It’s about trusting in God’s word to tell us what is good and right in His eyes through the Bible. We love everyone and respect their point of view, but we still look to God for the final word. On everything. Even if it’s hard. Or not popular.

…rules. It’s about understanding God’s Moral Laws that tell us right from wrong. We look to His counsel first before we consider any other. We know that every breath we take is because He gives it to us and our families, our lives, our comforts – all come from Him.

…going through the motions. Showing up at church on Sunday, “sleeping” through service, and forgetting about God for the rest of the week is a watered down spiritual disservice to ourselves. If God is alive in us, He is with us every minute of every day. Conversations with God are just as easy in a car or in line at the grocery store as they are at church.

…making God pay for the idiot actions of someone who acted ungodly. It’s not about taking revenge on God because someone who “claimed” to be a Christian was cruel, or misrepresented Him, or pursued an agenda under His name.

…making God pay for the actions of a bad church. Church is where two or more true believers are gathered, it’s not a building. It’s a coming together of the faithful. Hypocrites and liars can just as easily sit on a church pew as they can on a bus.

…hate. A true Christian does not hate, he loves. Despite adversity. Despite mockery. Despite circumstance and politics. He may not agree, but he does not hate. Do not misinterpret a view that is not the same as yours as “hate.”

…peace, love, and joy. There is no magic pill that you take once you become a Christian that makes your life “easy.” It’s the opposite, because you now understand that your beliefs no longer match the “feel good doctrine” of this world and, as Jesus said, you WILL have troubles. It’s not about bailing on Jesus the moment your life gets complicated and you wonder why He doesn’t just fix it for you. It’s about endurance. And faith. And being gut-wrenchingly honest that the majority of those troubles, you actively helped yourself get into.

…being perfect. It’s about Grace. God’s grace. It’s about owning up to sins (from “white lies” to stealing to not honoring your parents – and no one on this planet has not done this), understanding that we have not sinned against each other, but against God himself, the creator of the universe and before Him, we are truly guilty. It’s about understanding that by breaking just one of His laws, we have sinned, and over our lifetimes that’s not just once, it’s thousands of times. It’s about holding on to the fact that despite our sins, Jesus died for us so that we could be right with God.

…them killing Jesus. Jesus was a willing participant every step of the way. He knew His role and he took it upon Himself to die for me and for you.

…doing more good than bad and hoping to get to Heaven. Trying to “do good things” so you can “even out the scales” is like trying to bribe a judge. If you did wrong, all the nice things you did in your life do not eclipse the fact that you have broken the law. You still have to pay for your crime. If you were able to bribe God, He wouldn’t be God.

…actions and rituals. Going to church, being christened, wearing a cross, or owning a Bible does not make you a Christian any more than throwing on a lab coat makes you a doctor. God knows what is truly in your heart. He knows if you feel the full weight of the wrong things you’ve done and if you’ve realized that you are helpless under his judgment. He knows if you have truly understood and accepted the weighty sacrifice that Jesus made for you on the cross. The people of the world may be fooled by your rituals and good deeds, but God is not.

…fluffy clouds and angel wings. It’s about an eternity with the creator of the universe, the goodness and power of God, and being with Him every day forever. And ever.

…fantasies and wishes. It’s about real events that have been documented in a book that has outsold any other book in history. It is about the Old Testament driving inexorably towards the New, quietly revealing Jesus in every page. It is a book that will elude many who read its words because their hearts are hard and they refuse to believe. It is a book that is a comfort to millions because they believe and understand and see its incredible value. It is THE source of information on the character of God and man and His love for us.

…a tragedy. It is about a wondrous and everlasting hope that every single person can have in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

…mountains of data before a decision. Not deciding to live for Christ is denying Him. “Not now” is an answer – it’s “no.” It’s not about fighting over the minutiae – it’s about trust and belief. Faith. But not blind faith. Anyone can pick apart something if they truly are in a mind to do it. The leap of faith first, THEN comes the reward. Not the other way around.

…doing cruel things in defense of God. It’s about persevering and being patient in His name. It’s about letting Him be the judge, not us. It’s about prayer and love, in spite of how ugly other people can be “in the name of religion.” I submit to you that many of the things done in the name of religion were done by zealots, not Christians.

…us being God. We’re not. We will never be God. We are created in His image, but we are not Him. We can’t speak for Him. We can’t pretend to know what His intentions are. We can’t fit Him to be what WE want. He is God. We can accept Him or reject Him. We can love Him or hate Him. We can even pretend that He does not exist. But we will never BE him.

…running the endless treadmill trying to please God. We can’t. There is nothing we can give Him that he does not already have. He can’t be bought or bribed. He can’t ignore sins and he can’t go against His own good nature. What we can do, is gratefully accept the sacrifice He has provided for us so that we can be right with Him.

…long and drawn-out prayers which say more about our need to be the center of attention. God knows what we need. He knows our pain and our struggles. He doesn’t care about Shakespearean orations, He just wants our honesty. Our gut honesty. We can’t hide from Him. We should run to Him when life gets hard, not run to a bottle, a warm body, a handful of pills, or a new “toy.” Sin is pleasurable for a seaon, and then it takes it’s pound of flesh. Again. And again. And again.

…getting it right before going to God. It’s about coming to Him right now. Right as you are. Broken. Weak. Tired. Frustrated. Hopeless. If we waited until we had our lives together, we’d never seek Him in the first place.

…politics and culture. Culture and politics reflect the tone of the day, and that is rarely in agreement with God’s will because no matter how well meaning, these are human agendas and, thus, selfish by nature. We value money, fame, status, and keeping up with the Jones’ over sacrifice, humility, grace, and giving. We value the stars of television and sports over the word of God. We look to Oprah before we look to the words of Jesus.

…the path of least resistance. We are sinners and our primary objective will be to do what we want, sometimes at the cost of others, sometimes at the cost of much more. We can justify and play the victim, and try to explain away our actions as “not as bad” as that other guy, but when we stand in front of God, all those short cuts and slights we did along the way, there will be no one else to be compared to. It will be just us and just Him and his standard is high.

…saying we’re sorry to God. Everyone is sorry…when they get caught. We cannot stand in front of God on the Day of Judgment and apologize for the bad things we did when we were alive and hope we’ll skate by. By then, it’ll be too late. We had our chance. This is the age of communication. This is the age of information. Few have not heard about Jesus and His sacrifice. True ignorance is no longer an excuse for those of us in the western world. We let pride get in the way. We put God into a box that we find more “palatable” – one that doesn’t have us end up in Hell.

…judging others. We who are Christians know better than anyone how sinful we are. We understand that, in God’s eyes, sins carry equal weight from murder to adultery to lying (and 20 years ago sins are the same to God as sins we did that morning – lest anyone use that “I was a kid” excuse). We know how many times we have let Him down ourselves, so we – more than anyone – know that we are in no place to judge. Sharing, in love, what God says is not judgment if the person isn’t being a jerk about it. But conviction is uncomfortable, so if you feel convicted, that’s God speaking directly to your heart. Now is the time to start paying attention. God’s word and moral laws are for our instruction and information and should be shared with love. Not condemnation. We do not judge. God does. And, whether we like it or not, He will be the judge.

…cramming our beliefs down your throat. It’s about The Great Commission. This is what Jesus has asked believers to do – spread the word of His love and sacrifice to those living in a dark world. In love, we want every friend, family member, co-worker, and acquaintance to be standing in front of God and seeing his or her name in the Book of Life with us. We want to be able to stand in front of God and say, “This life you gave me, I passed on your message as best as I could. Some listened and some didn’t. But I passed it on.”

…being perfect. We want to be better people. We want to be growing in Christ every day, using His example as a beautiful example to live by, and that is hard. We don’t do it because we’re trying to “please” God or because we’re trying to be better than anyone else. We sincerely want to live a life that is a testament to the gift He has given us. We want to be a light to those who are still floundering in darkness.

…outdated ideas. It’s about timeless wisdom and a moral conscience that guides us daily. Jesus took many of the “internal” commandments (the ones others don’t see – but God does) and upped the ante. He said that even looking at woman with lust was committing adultery of the heart. Or hating our brother was committing murder in our heart. It’s not just about what we DO. It’s about what’s inside us. What we feel and think and plot, even while we smile and go about our business. It’s a good thing to honor your parents (not JUST obey them), it’s a good thing to not lie or cheat or steal. It’s a good thing to be faithful and to love God more than any other thing in your life. And when we do these things we’re not supposed to do, we feel bad. This is a God-given conscience that tells us we have sinned. Ever been lied to? How’s it feel? Ever been cheated? How does that feel? The backbone of our entire legal system is founded on these principles because they are good and solid principles.

…looking or acting a certain way. God created us as individuals in all shapes, sizes, and histories. We Christians are pearl-wearing, dress and gloves types, but we’re also tattooed, long-haired granola-munching Jesus freaks who play drums and guitar and love God with every fiber of our being. We do not fit into a stereotype found in Hollywood because we are individuals. But we are all united in our love for Jesus and our absolute trust in His sacrifice. Not just belief – believing doesn’t get us to Heaven, even Satan believes in Jesus.

…watering down the message so people will be more “comfortable.” As easy as it would be to say that God is all about peace, love, joy and nothing else so that seekers would come to church in droves, there are many aspects to God and some of them we may never understand this side of Heaven. Many will be turned off by the “harshness” they see that God is being. Many will see the truth of it and understand. But to only provide a cure (salvation), without showing people they have a disease (sin), the gift would be meaningless. If people don’t think they need a savior, why toss one at them? It’s only when we understand that we are ALL sinners, doomed to eternity apart from God, that we see the true value and love behind Jesus’ sacrifice.

…arguing. We believe and we trust in Jesus. We trust and believe that the Bible is true and accuruate. We believe and trust that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, that Noah built an ark, that Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden and we have been living with sin ever since. We believe that Jesus was born, lived a sinless life, and willingly went to the cross to die for our sins. We believe that there are other viewpoints in the world and other religions and we admit that others will believe what they want. But we believe that Jesus is the only true way to God. There is no other way.

…worshipping the creation. It’s about worshipping the Creator. We loves us some trees and the universe and the stars and the heavens. But we do not worship them. They are not God. They have no power. God, the creator of these things is the one we worship. We do not “thank the Universe” because it can’t do anything. Only God has the power and authority to fix our lives and only God is worthy of our worship.

…looking strong. It’s about admitting weakness. Admitting failure. Admitting fear and hopelessness when things are falling apart. God is not a crutch. He is not a “last resort.” He is the first place we should turn when our lives spin out of control. There is no weakness in admitting defeat or failure. The weakness comes from pride and arrogance thinking that we know better than God and that we can fix things on our own. Because that’s worked so well for us in the past.

…Jesus being a good teacher and example of how to live our lives. Jesus SAID that he is God. He spoke of Hell. He spoke of ignorance and wickedness. He spoke of the last days. He spoke of how the world would despise those who trust in Him and who would die in His name. He is so much more than just the Sermon on the Mount.

…tomorrow. It’s about today. We are appointed to live once, die and then face judgment. There are no second chances, third times the charms, or multiple do-overs once we die. And we do not know when that is. This side of heaven is where our eternity is decided. We can ignore the truth, will it away, explain it away, and just pretend it is not so – but we WILL all die. After that, it is too late for a decision. If we tell God, “no thank you” in life, on Judgment Day, He will take us at our word. God does not send anyone to Hell. They choose it.

…scare tactics. It’s about the Good News. God showed us our disease and He provided a cure. All we have to do it take it. It’s free. It’s easy. It’s amazing. But it’s a choice. This is what Free Will is about. Free Will to choose God and Heaven and eternity or free will to decide they’re lies or garbage or fairy stories. We can choose to ignore the opportunity for a spirit-filled life, and daily assurance that we are God’s children and WILL go to be with Him in Heaven when we die.

We spend more time researching our next car than we do truly and honestly looking into a decision that will affect not just the next 20 years of our lives, but eternity. There is no measure to how long that is when you consider that our time on earth is like a drop in the bucket. With eyes, ears, and hearts wide open, look at the easiest decision in the world to make and make it. This is GOOD NEWS. And it doesn’t cost a dime. And it’s open and available to everyone and you don’t have to lift a finger to earn it.

Church In a Do-It-Yourself World

So I attended church this morning.  My family and I got up, we picked up my step-daughter’s friend, and drove to church. 

Religious Backlash

The Christian church has taken a few beatings lately, especially with the new Obama administration.  Abortion, embryonic stem cell research, Prop 8 – all of these things, biblically speaking, the church is against.   I’ve heard people describe church, Jesus, God, and church-goers as:

  • bigoted
  • hypocritical
  • narrow-minded
  • archaic
  • judgmental
  • useless
  • irrelevant
  • dangerous
  • bloated
  • money-grubbing (high-profile church leaders – usually associated with Jim Bakker, Oral Roberts, et al)
  • dominating
  • opinionated

The list goes on.  The church is too opinionated.  Why does the church get to tell me what to do.  Why is God even in the equation when it comes to affairs of the State.   The bible isn’t real anyway, and even if it were, look at all the brutality of the Old Testament – you call that a loving God??

I didn’t grow up a Christian.  I grew up in an alcoholic family of divorce.  I didn’t focus on God, I focused on being invisible and making sure everyone around me thought that my life was “just fine”.  I had no one to really rely on and I managed to eek out a pretty good existence with some issues here and there.  

From the outside looking in, God and the church and all those “believers” is incredibly daunting, as if they know something you don’t know.  They have “all the answers” and it’s irritating when they try to tell you what you’re doing wrong.  So it’s easy to be offended by that, as if they know what’s right for you.

I went to church today.  And this is what I got from a big group of “narrow-minded, antiquated, judgmental” people who believe in “something that probably doesn’t exist anyway”.

My pastor spoke about past hurts and how with Jesus’ sacrifice all those mistakes we’ve made, they’re gone.  Guilt?  That’s gone, too, because when you’re forgiven it’s not just for twenty minutes, it’s for life.  Judgment?    If you’re a believer, that’s not God whispering in your ear telling you didn’t earn it or deserve it, well, that comes from a whole different and much darker place. 

How can I possibly explain to someone who has never “let go” of their life and given it over to the Creator of the universe that trust is not a four-letter word?  How do I explain the kind of heart-shattering love that comes with knowing there is ONE person out there who loves you more than even you can imagine and has only the best plans for your life?  How can you put that into words to someone who thinks I’m weak because I believe in something that isn’t fully understandable, but is absolutely knowable? 

We did Communion today as a remembrance of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us and although it’s a little disconcerting to think about the trauma that Jesus went through for us (if you’ve seen The Passion of the Christ you have a very good idea of what it was probably like) so that we could be free of these very real, though intangible, chains that bind us and crush us and strangle us. 

I looked around as the choir sang Amazing Grace and I saw the Prayer Team, just regular people who love God and want to use their gift to help others, praying with people they didn’t even know in one big group until every single one of them had been prayed for.  I don’t know what the issues were, anything and everything.  Just because we believe in God doesn’t mean we’re not human, with the infinite capacity for making mistakes – even really big ones. 

Through my pastor, I heard what God thinks about my finances, how I should be a good steward of my money and becoming a slave to another lender.  Hear that, those of us who are in debt to credit card lenders?   I learned about how everything in life is cyclical and when pastor asked us who had ever  been in rough financial times to raise our hands, nearly 90% of the entire congregation did.  Know what that means?  It means we have been there.  It means there is no shame in needing help and it means that for those people who thought they were alone, well, they were wrong. 

Then pastor directed people to information about programs the church offered from Finance Seminars to Celebrate Recovery (like biblical 12-Step), to Hannah’s Hope Chest (free shopping if you can’t afford clothes, food, etc.), to Premarital Counseling and Marriage Seminars.  Do you know how much all of this costs to the people taking part in these church-sponsored activities?  Usually – nothing.  Maybe the cost of a workbook. 

You know who pays for all of that?  The people of the church who give their time, talent, and money to the church so that God can use it in a way that will be a blessing and aid to others.  Many people don’t agree with the church or what God says about many topics today.  In fact, when it comes to many issues, a lot of people don’t want to hear what God has to say.

Unbelievers – Before

  • God shouldn’t tell me what to do with my body
  • Sleeping around is my business, not anybody else’s
  • I get high,  so what?  It’s not hurting anyone
  • I don’t know what the big deal is, I lost my virginity when I was 12
  • The only person I gotta worry about is me
  • We need tolerance, but I can’t take what those Christians are preachin’, they shouldn’t be so narrow-minded
  • There is no God
  • What I achieve and what I have shows everybody how important I am
  • Religion is for suckers and weak people who can’t handle life

Unbelievers – After

  • I wish I hadn’t done it, I never knew it would be this hard – I still think about it
  • I’m pregnant / I thought he loved me, but he left me / I have a commnunicable disease / I feel used / It wasn’t worth it
  • I got busted / I got in an accident / I owe money to this guy… / I don’t feel like… / Whatever, who cares?
  • I wish I had waited / He was such a jerk, he told everyone / I didn’t love him / He pressured me / It wasn’t worth it
  • I wish I had someone to talk to / I’m lonely / Why don’t people like me? / Would anyone even care if I wasn’t here?
  • People should be able to believe whatever they want – except the Nazis, and the Christians, and those Jihad Muslims, and…
  • There is nothing but me.  Nothing.  But me. 
  • I’m exhausted / What if I fail? / What’s the next big thing? / Are they impressed? / Oh no, I failed, I’m losing it all.  I’m nobody.
  • I wish I had someone to share this burden with / Why doesn’t anyone even care? / How do I handle this on my own?

Believers – Before

  • I’m afraid, I don’t know what to do
  • I messed up – big time
  • I feel alone
  • I need wisdom and guidance
  • I’m hurting right now
  • I’m lost
  • What is my purpose?
  • How can I make a difference?
  • How do I share my gifts?
  • How can I turn my awful past into something that will help others?
  • What does God expect from me?

Believers – After

  • I prayed and even though I didn’t get the answer right away, you wouldn’t believe how God communicated to me…
  • I went to church and Pastor said that God has already forgiven us, we need to let it go and accept it.  I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from me.
  • I joined a ministry, so now I help in the kitchen and I met some really great people / I joined a singles group and met my husband / I attended a seminar and met some…
  • I looked up a great passage in the Bible and it was so weird how it answered my question perfectly, I just needed the moral reminder to make the hard decision
  • I got a call from the girl in my Small Group and she said she saw me looking out of sorts so she felt compelled to call me, it was weird, but the timing of her call was so perfect
  • I felt really far away from God, I was doing some stuff I knew I shouldn’t be, maybe hiding from God, but I went to service and sat in the back and prayed and now I felt better – it was so dumb to try and hide from God, He knows what I’m up to, but just talking to Him and getting it out like that made me feel so much better
  • I never thought I could feel so alive and useful delivery home-cooked meals to someone who is bed-ridden, but the way she lights up every time I come over, if I were in her shoes, I’d want the same thing.  I feel like I make a difference and even though I’m exhausted, inside my heart I feel so energized!
  • I didn’t think it was a big deal donating that crib, but when I heard the story about the family who lost their home during the hurricane, it really showed me that even the small things make a difference
  • I joined a Ministry at church and now I greet people at every service and it is so wonderful to see how they go from nervous and confused about what to do, to smiling back and thanking me for showing them around.  I may have just led someone to their seat who could become a believer today.
  • I never in a million years would believe I’m telling the story of my life to an auditorium of over 5,000 people.  So many came up to me after the talk and said how they were experiencing exactly what I had. 
  • I always skated by on life before, I was never really very moral before and it really burned me, but now, I hold myself to a higher standard – Jesus’ standard – and even though I can’t be perfect all the time like He was, I know that when I am honest and trustworthy and sincere, that people see I’m someone who is decent inside and out.  I am someone that they can rely on and someone that they look up to. 

So I went to church today.  I saw people joyful loving and praising all the great things God has done for them.  I saw people in earnest prayer seeking God’s guidance and forgiveness for mistakes they’d made, mistakes they wanted to turn away from.  I saw people give and receive love from perfect strangers.  I saw tears of joy, heartache, relief, and sorrow.  I saw a community of people who collectively believe that they are not all they will ever have, that there is something/someone far bigger and more capable of handling the problems of their lives – and more than willing to do so, if they will let Him.

I saw a community of people who trust in God, as crazy and strange as it sounds, and I have seen miracles and wonders that He’s performed even in my life.   His way is not easy, it requires sacrifice, changes, moral inventory, walking away from things that – even though they feel “good” at the time – eventually sink their hooks and suck the life right out of us.  It’s a scary thing walking away from being free of moral responsiblity, believing in God, believing in Jesus and that He existed, and that the bible is true.  

But ultimately we have two choices:

  • live up to God’s word and standard and create a life of purpose and have guidance along the days of our lives
  • live down to the world’s standard, where everything is about you, you’re the only one that matters, and you are your own god

I went to church today and I learned just another wonderful lesson about life.  And my family did, too.

~Melissa

Be Zazzled!

I sure have been.

I have been playing around with Zazzle and doing something I’ve been telling myself I should be doing for years.  (How’s THAT for a confusing sentence?)

Writing greeting cards!

I love quippy cards with a bit of humour, I love writing chick lit, I’m a Jesus Freak, and I love stationery so what better way to showcase my crazy impulses for all of the above but creating my own cards?

So there you have it.  Me in a nutshell on Zazzle.

Here’s my gallery:

http://www.zazzle.com/miskela

~Melissa

Mayan Adventure Trailer

I wrote the script and co-produced this short Christian film.  It was made on a shoestring budget (enough money for paint and videotapes), with amateur actors, and a completely volunteer crew.  Dave Huwe directed.

I wrote the script from February to May, 2007 and then we went into rehearsal and filming until October.  The film premiere was November 7th at Family Community Church in San Jose, California.