Saturday, February 26, 2011

Salvation First

This week marked the first week of nightly Bible Study devoted to the End Times. We began by taking care of the most important business first: SALVATION. That sounds like a simple enough term, doesn't it? But when eternal life hangs in the balance, that word should rank as the most important term for discussion in all of our lives and in all of history as well.

How many of you could rattle off, without much thought, the reason you know that you know that you know you are saved and marked for eternal life? Interesting thought, huh? How many of you came up with those thoughts on your own, based on an in-depth study of scripture joined with hours of study in history, to make certain your beliefs are based on as much factual evidence as possible? And how many of you would be willing to argue vehemently, threatening family relationships and friendships, over those beliefs?

OK, Baptists and Pentecostals (I can say that because my family and hometown was loaded with Baptists and Pentecostals), I can already hear your reply: "Salvation comes through FAITH! I don't need a bunch of facts."

Sure, faith is a key component of salvation since it revolves around the belief in One we cannot see with our eyes, audibly hear with our ears, or physically touch. However, it should not be overlooked that the Bible is full of pertinent facts, and recorded history can serve to back those facts, but it can also occasionally challenge them. It is for this reason, I believe, there are so many different religions, cults, sects, and denominations in our world. Say whatever you want to say, but everyone on earth believes something. And most either embrace what their family believed because it was such a positive experience for them, or they turn away from what they were taught as a child because they witnessed hypocrisy of some sort, making the beliefs they were taught unauthentic.

While Scripture is mysteriously timeless and unchanging, as we mature through our life experiences, the meaning of scripture often changes too. In other words, as our life perspective is altered, we essentially develop ideas and thought through a brand new lens. I have a recent example:

As a teenager, I read the book: "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. I read it again in December. One of the most famous quotes from the book: "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a Mockingbird."

If asked when I was seventeen, I would have told you the book was written about the issue of prejudice surrounding blacks and whites. I remember feeling sad when Tom was killed in the book, and outraged by the injustice of his guilt sentencing. If I had been asked why the author gave the book such a title, I would have replied that Tom Robinson was the Mockingbird, and it was unfair for him to be shot and killed just because he was a black man.

My perspective had changed so much by the time I read the book 25 years later, I was stunned by it! Literally, it was like I was reading a completely different book. Through my new life lens, I was startled to realize the strange Boo Radley I had seen as an out of control boy in need of discipline when I was seventeen had turned into a mentally frail and disabled fellow who had become sucked into the wrong crowd as a young teen and was being parented by an overbearing father who was ashamed of him....Mrs Dubose, the old witch of a woman with a haughty spirit who had screamed at poor little Scout and Jem when I was seventeen became a drug addicted woman fighting with everything she could muster to be set free from drugs before she died....and Tom Robinson, the wonderful black man in the book, part of his arm had been cut off in a cotton gin accident leaving him with only part of an arm that didn't work at a teenager, his having only one arm made his innocence of rape a stark reality even though the jury still found him guilty, and this made me angry. But as a teen, I missed the fact that Tom was both handicapped AND a minority.

The difference? I wasn't mom to three disabled children, and I was still blind. (It is interesting to note Harper Lee's mother was mentally handicapped and stayed shut in their family home most all of Lee's life.)

"To Kill A Mockingbird" is a book written about being open to accepting all people....being willing to look past the outer layers into the heart of a person.....especially the "least of these" who might be physically handicapped, mentally handicapped, part of a minority, or a person addicted to a substance or behavior. At seventeen, I had mastered the foundation of racism in the book with tremendous pride, but I had missed the intricate detail that had been masterfully woven into the very fibers of the foundation.

I wonder if we are guilty of the same thing when we read scripture? when we speak negatively about religious doctrine that differs from our own? when we turn our face away from the needy because they aren't easy to look at or to deal with? Have we been so religious that we have missed the intricate fibers that have been masterfully woven into the foundation....the very foundation of the world? Have we been so entrenched with promoting doctrine that we have too often missed the key to "the book of all books"..... "LOVE"?

For argument sake, Chappy and I discussed many of the different religions of the world with our children this week. The word "religion" is derived from the latin word: religio (verb: religare), meaning "to bind" or "place an obligation on". From a purely websterial standpoint, then, religion is simply a group of people who come together and obligate themselves to believe the same things...their similar beliefs is what "binds" them.

This week, instead of discussing the many ways world religions differ, our family worked to find a similar thread between all of the major religions. Of course there are many differences, but in order to see things from a "new lens", we focused on trying to find a common thread that might "bind" us all in some way:

Judaism: The Jews (named after the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve tribes of Israel) follow the teachings of the Torah and the Talmud. Jews believe in ONE God. The God of Abraham.

Christianity: The Christians, encompassing all followers of Jesus Christ, follow the Old and New Testament of the Holy Bible (the Old translated from Hebrew and the New translated from Greek). Christians believe in ONE God. The God of Abraham.

Islam: The Muslims, encompassing all followers of the teachings of the prophet Muhammed, study the Q'ran and follow its principles. They believe in ONE God. The God of Abraham.

Mormonism: The Mormons, encompassing all followers of the teachings of the prophet Joseph Smith, study the Book of Mormonism, the Bible, and other revelations of Joseph Smith. Mormons believe in ONE God. The God of Abraham.

Hinduism: Originally believed to be rooted in Hebrew Scripture when European tribes invaded India and introduced the new religion, Hinduism is a belief in one ultimate supreme God. Hindus accept the worship of many "gods" and "goddesses"; however, they believe each of these "deities" are ultimately lower manifistations (different representations) of the ONE true God.

(Buddhism: Many Buddhists believe in God, but Buddhism is not a religion. Buddhism is a formalized practice of working toward denying oneself of all human desires in order to find true peace and happiness.)

So what's the point of all this, right? The point is the human race is more alike than different and ALL people are searching for salvation and freedom from sin in one way or another...they use different words to describe their journey, but we are all on the same journey. Another interesting point to note: each of the religions listed above follow guidelines that are eerily similar to the Old Testament Ten Commandments, because the majority of mankind desires for their lives to have order, to have purpose, and to be honorable.

Our End Times study will be taken from a scriptural standpoint only, but I welcome thoughts from any of the religions listed above. Here are scripture passages we discussed this week as we discussed the epic theme of SALVATION:

2 Timothy 2:15: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."

Isaiah 64:6: "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are like filthy rags."

Isaiah 61:10: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels."

Philipians 2:12: " out your own salvation with fear and trembling."

Luke 18:7-8: "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"

James 2:19-20: "You believe there is one God, you do well. Even the demons believe and tremble. But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?"

John 14:23-24: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My commandments; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my commandments; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me."

Matthew 7:21-23: "Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who doeth the will of my father in heaven. Many will say to me that day: 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name and in your name have cast out devils and in thy name done many wonderful works?' And then I will profess to them: "I never knew you, depart from me, you that work iniquity."

John 3:16-21: "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."

Psalm 32:1-2: Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit."

Open our hearts, Father, to Your Will and Your Way! Amen.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

End of Time?

There is so much talk in Christian (and non-Christian) circles about the end of time and how signs point to the dramatic conclusion of the world as we know it drawing near. Since our children have had lots of questions on the subject, I have decided to dedicate the next several weeks to an end times study of sort. I am no expert on scripture, but I do have an open mind and a crazy work ethic when it comes to digging into depths of history. In an effort to chronicle this "journey", be forewarned, I plan to blog about it.

In addition to an in-depth study of scripture, I will present current issues impacting our world and how these matters might relate directly (or indirectly) to prophecy in scripture. My dialog will not be based on any denominational bend, nor will I attemt to persuade the reader. My purpose for our children, for myself, and for this blog will be to offer thought for consideration based on scripture, history, theological opinion, and current events. Some of the material might be controversial in nature. I hope so. By pushing ourselves beyond what we have been taught throughout our lives to consider other options and opinions, I believe we necessarily gut ourselves of religiosity that too often hinders us from the work of the Spirit.

In closing, I hope you will agree we serve a loving God who would never wish us to be left off-guard. The very purpose of the Bible is to instruct us and prepare us. If the end of the world is drawing near, and certainly we are one day closer as each new day dawns, He will want us to be prepared and excited about the grand finale.

"Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were wise, and five of them were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps, but took no oil with them. But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight, a cry was heard: "Behold, the bridegroom is coming, go out to meet Him!" Then all of the virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise: "Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out." But the wise answered, saying: "No, lest there not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell and buy for yourselves." And while they went to buy, the Bridegroom came. Those who were ready went with Him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward, the other virgins came also, saying: "Lord, Lord, open to us!" But He answered and said: "Surely, I do not know you!" Watch therefore, for you know not either the day or the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." (Matt. 25)

Will you join me on this journey? If so, I look forward to your thoughts on the subject as we open our hearts and minds to the King of ALL Kings!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Pro Life"....REALLY???

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) has really been kicking me in the pants as of late. With the onset of hormonal changes, our twelve year old Natalie is struggling with a noticeable increase in her symptoms. Unless you have parented a child with FAS, you have no idea what it is like to teach and discipline a child who too often lacks the ability to comprehend attempt to explain a world full of abstracts when young determined eyes are betrayed by the twinkling portal to a hidden mind only capable of understanding try to adequately express the fact that being "different" or being called "weird" by peers is not the end of the world to a tear-streamed face with teeth gripping so tight the muscles in her face give the same instructions day after day for nine solid years, one million times at least, knowing you will have to say it another two million times......while bearing the painful realization that part of the information will never completely sink in. Self control for a child with FAS? Always a battle. And boundaries for a child with FAS are only set to be tested. As a result, these little ones have to be parented constantly, and it proves to be exhausting to both parent and child.
What would you think about a law that would require pregnant mothers who are caught drinking alcohol to spend the remainder of the term of their pregnancy behind bars, locked in jail? While it will never happen in this country, the thought is worth pondering. According to statistics, 1 in 12 women drink alcohol during pregnancy, and 1 in 30 will binge drink. Those same statistics report any and all alcohol during pregnancy will impact the unborn child in a negative way, and every drink during pregnancy puts the unborn baby at risk for FAS.
Another statistic you might find alarming: Did you know 60% of the prison population has FAS? AND, to make matters worse, many of those inmates lacked the cognitive ability to make a logical judgment before committing their crime because of a disability that was 100% preventable. Perhaps locking up an alcohol-addicted expectant mother for 9 months would save her unborn child from spending adulthood locked behind bars for crimes that were unintentional and/or uncontrollable. I would argue the real crime was committed during pregnancy with a drink of alcohol.
There are so many orphans and unwanted children in our world (including our country) with FAS; the numbers are, in fact, quite staggering. While these children are difficult to parent, they are precious human beings with real emotions and deep feelings. With plenty of love and consistent instruction, these children grow to become productive adults who make a positive difference in the world. All they need is a chance.
As Nat and I navigate through this period of her life with its occasional mountaintops dotted with hundreds of extreme valleys, I find myself becoming more discerning and contemplative as my heart both grows and pains for my daughter. My mind is definitely more keenly attuned to the world around me since I now sift all flow of information via the lens of a mother with three special needs children.

The truth is, I can't help rolling my eyes when well-meaning Christians pridefully broadcast the term "Pro-Life" as if it is a spiritual battle cry while the 'Natalies of the World' are rotting away in the foster care system and orphanages with no prospect of hope. To a simpleton like me, you see, being "Pro-Life" has come to mean a lot more than salvaging a child in-utero....and it also amounts to more than mailing a monthly check to support organizations reaching out to unwanted children. I clearly see through our nine year experience with Natalie that she would have been destined for a life of imprisonment, drug/alcohol addiction, or even early death had it not been for our taking her in and parenting her.
In thinking through all of this, I do not want to leave the unsung heroes out of this blog: Natalie's mom and Charlie's mom are two women to be admired. Both found themselves young, single, and expecting a baby. Both could have chosen abortion. Both, however, valued life enough to have their babies, digging just deep enough to find faith in the belief that a family would come along who had the desire and ability to make their little ones a part of something priceless. Both were correct. Each time I successfully talk Natalie through the personal conflicts she continually battles because of FAS, I walk away feeling energized with the remembrance that her birth mother and I chose LIFE....and Natalie is worth it! In the same way, when I cuddle my little red-headed Charlie until he is softly snoring in my arms, I often grin with thoughts of his birth momma who valued his life and trusted in humanity enough to allow someone else, me, the gift of raising him.
Pro-Life. It is a gigantic phrase. Before we go preaching it, perhaps we need to make sure we are living it! In my "Independent" political run for State Senate, I was educated on so much more than I ever anticipated by both sides of the political aisle. It might surprise you, as it did me, to know 'why' the Pro-Life stance is such a joke to the Democratic Party. More times than I can count, I was told that Republicans/Conservatives are "Pro-Birth", but not "Pro-Life". Unfortunately, alarming statistics can be rattled off to show the number of unwanted children around the globe who are either in less-than-perfect foster care systems or orphanages/institutions. Too many of these statistical children grow up to become adult prison statistics or suicide statistics when their destinies could have held such more if they had only had the love of a family. As stated to me by many Democrats: "After the Pro-Birth Republicans save the fetus, they forget the child." It is a subject worth considering....and that is something we can change!
The good news is there are hundreds of adoptable children in the United States right now who are waiting on that chance to be your "special someone", and the adoption cost is very minimal. Can't afford the expenses of raising a child right now? Then why not be a wonderful parent to a foster child? The foster care system will pay all the expenses for you. But if you have been blessed with financial security, why not travel to another country and save one orphan from the millions who are wasting away with no hope? Give the gift of hope! It will be the greatest decision you will ever make. Pro-Life means human beings are valuable in-utero until they take their last breath. I believe it, do you?