When Your Situation Is Not Typical

It was the morning I had to officiate at an ordination ceremony in Sanford, Florida. A colleague and friend of mine was telling me about his twenty-one-year-old daughter, and there was an obvious beam in him as he spoke of her. He said, and I quote, “She has been her father’s daughter since she was born. She’s daddy’s girl, and always will be.” As I sat there, I quickly looked away. I looked out the window, at the floor, at my hands, anywhere but at the one who was speaking. I felt like someone had hit me with a brick. I suddenly realized, in that simple statement that was not meant to offend nor smart, that I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. I had no frame of reference. I had no identity for the statement. It was something I couldn’t relate to, no matter how hard I tried.

It was one of those undeniable, face-to-face reality moments that you can’t pretend didn’t happen. It’s not that you feel bad, or longing, or even hurt by what was said. There’s just something about what someone said that made you realize there’s something you don’t relate to, nor understand, nor to a certain extent, ever will. It makes you feel self-conscious, self-aware, almost like you are sitting in front of those people uncovered, even though they have no idea what is going on in your mind at that moment. It doesn’t mean you long for or want what they are talking about. It’s just that you have no idea what it is.

I had only felt that way one other time in my life. When I was in junior high, the eighth graders were given a “Class Night” by the seventh graders behind them. It was a formal sendoff because eighth grade was the highest grade in our school and it meant we were officially leaving, for good. During “Class Night,” there was always a segment reserved as a “Father-Daughter” Dance. So I literally walk in the door of my classroom, minding my own business, not even there one minute when one of the girls starts: “Lee Ann! What are you going to do about the father-daughter dance on Class Night?”

Did I forget to mention it was October when she asked me this, and Class Night wasn’t until June? And the girl herself didn’t have a dad in her household, either?

I replied, “I’m going to go down to the Rent-A-Dad store on Main Street and rent one for a night.”

My reply was snarky and quick thinking on my feet, but it gave me that same self-conscious feeling, like someone else was making some sort of a statement I couldn’t relate to. I had never been to a father-daughter dance, and I never would go to one. It was a frame of reference I would never have, nor understand, no matter how many years I lived.

Late last year I saw an episode of Dr. Phil that involved a crazy, messy family situation. It consisted of a mother who was out of control and her daughters (I think there were three or four of them). One daughter in particular was in her late teens and wanted her mother to apologize for what she’d done to her and admit she had done her wrong. No matter what this girl, her sisters, or Dr. Phil said to this woman, she was not going to admit nor apologize for anything. So what Dr. Phil said to the girl in turn was most poignant. He told her that he understood that she wanted a mom who cared about her and loved her, and that she wanted a good relationship with her mom, but that wasn’t her experience. It might have been natural to want what we hear everyone else claims to have or what the “norm” should be, but no matter what she did, it wasn’t what she knew. He was also quick to tell her that no matter how much it wasn’t her experience, it was not a reflection on her. It didn’t mean she couldn’t have a great life, or become something really extraordinary. There was no reason her experience had to hold her back or mar her identity for life.

Ahhhh, clarity. In those words, Dr. Phil set me free from my own self-consciousness on these issues. Being my father’s daughter wasn’t my experience. Going to a father-daughter dance wasn’t my experience. I don’t have a ton of great memories about my sisters. We didn’t do the “normal” sister things, in part because we have a severe age gap between us, and also in part because of who they are as people. I don’t have happy memories of large family get-togethers, because by the time I was seven, I never saw or heard from two of my sisters ever again. It wasn’t because I did anything wrong. But my experience was my experience. It wasn’t typical, it wasn’t pleasant, but it also is not a reflection on me.

I hate it when people ask me about my family. It’s not something I am apt to talk about, because I don’t feel like it’s anyone’s business. I don’t like having to reveal that I am not on speaking terms with any of my siblings or my father, because people immediately assume I did something to deserve that or am not doing something right. I don’t feel like telling the entire story, yet again, in defense of myself and my family’s reality. I don’t want people’s first response to be pity, or how “sorry” they are, or prayers for family unity, because it’s not the situation I have, or am going to have. I want to live in and feel that people empathize and care about my reality, about the world I live in, and that even though my reality may not be theirs or be the picture-perfect image that makes people feel comfortable, that I am still welcome, as I am, with the situation I’ve learned to live with, reality and all. No amount of praying, hoping for change, or pushing me to do something I know I am not supposed to do is going to inspire me to pursue a false hope that things will be other than they are. It doesn’t matter who believes it or doesn’t. My situation is not typical, but no amount of false hope is going to change that.

I think this is part of why I often work with minority and disenfranchised communities through ministry. For many years, I tried as hard as I could to make myself and my ministry work as “typical” as possible. I wanted to look right and sound right, and I wanted to be received by the right people. That meant avoiding certain topics and dodging many questions about my personal politics and opinions about things. It also meant sitting through a lot of uncomfortable conversations, time and time again, as people beamed about their family life. It meant watching as people celebrated their fathers and children, husbands who doted on them, and spoke things, at times, that made me feel about as big as a thimble. It’s meant that as people talk, and often pretend, that their lives are perfect, you feel like someone is going to know that something within you is not this picture-perfect scenario they all hope for. And as everyone pretends, is it any wonder that the church is where it is today?

We talk about issues such as submission or roles in harsh, angry, legalistic terms with no consideration for domestic violence victims or rape victims and how such statements might make them feel. We prattle on and on about some bizarre and imaginary concept of family and family values and are quick to make anyone who is divorced feel like they have done the worst imaginable thing by their kids, who will never recover. We make the children of divorce feel as if there is something permanently wrong with them: they will never have successful relationships or love other people, and will be scarred for life. We make LGBTQ individuals feel as if they are damaged goods, rubbing it in when they have family members who don’t love them unconditionally and cause them to feel empty because their families aren’t around. We make single people feel like pariahs, like they are missing something so essential and meaningful in life, only to treat them as if they have no purpose.

We don’t relate to people who have a situation that’s different, nor do we make ourselves relatable. Instead we rub salt in wounds of shame and hurt, making people feel more flawed, more like they missed something essential, more like they will never be healed, and more like they can never, not in a million years, be made whole.

The longer I minister, the more I believe the Gospel is there for the “different.” Yes, the typical can receive it, too; in the end, the Gospel is there for everybody. But it takes a truly different person to see the Gospel from a freedom perspective. We can be churchy all day long and talk to people about God from a dull, dry perspective. We can even throw some Bible verses in there that we’ve memorized at heart. A typical person is always going to see God through a typical lens: through the eyes that the church has taught, good, bad, or indifferent, slightly distant, severely authoritative, a Father in concept but not in personality, and will spend their lives trying to uphold the typical image of nuclear family, perfectly dressed Sunday attire, children in tow, as if there are no problems or thoughts to their lives that challenge that image. It takes a different person to grab hold of that Gospel and find freedom from that image, the confines of society that are frequently passed off as those of God, and experience God in a manner where they come to know God as more than just an image or a role, but as a personal and integrated part of one’s life.

I’ve read the Bible’s views on family and it’s funny that I don’t see what we often typify as “family values” therein. We’ve confused Biblical viewpoints with Americana. The Bible is full of family dysfunction, right out the gate, even as far back as Adam and Eve. The Bible’s views of family aren’t perfect; they are messy, because families are messy. Even the best-looking family has reality lurking under that surface. We can admit that or we can pretend, but either way, the upholding of shiny, perfect families is hurting our witness far more than it’s helping it.

To all those who don’t have a typical situation, don’t give up. I know it feels like you are sometimes swimming upstream, in an endless vat of people who want to tell you where it’s at and sometimes what they say stings, even if they don’t mean it that way. You had an experience, and it is yours, and you need to own that for yourself, because it is your truth (as in it is truth that has become personal). There are those of us who do understand. We are conscientious of what we say, because our situation wasn’t typical, either. We’re here to be family, to be friends, to provide that spiritual comfort and insight that you need, because we know what it feels like. We’ve been there, too. And when you’re ready to receive it, know we are here.

© 2017 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

It’s Not Them, It’s You

Have you ever looked over the Bible and wondered why some of the stories are in there? Certainly many of the accounts don’t exactly paint the “heroes of the faith” in a very positive light. Before you protest, think about it. No matter how much we might like to make it look, some Bible stories just…don’t sound…very noble. Or heroic. Or even decent.

Samson’s triste with Delilah. David’s affair with Bathsheba. Jephthah possibly killing his own daughter because he spoke a vow hastily. Dinah’s rape and her brother’s extreme vengeance. Absalom raping his own sister, Tamar. Jonah…being Jonah. Abraham lying to Pharaoh. And onward it goes.

Sure, people try to teach lessons out of these different stories and slant them in a light that makes us think about something in a different way or consider it somehow more deeply, if you will. Nothing wrong with this, not at all. But it still begs the question…why put it in there in the first place?

We like to put our best foot forward, and we expect that, in the history of people who sought to follow God, that He would want to do the same, right? So…why…didn’t He?

All throughout the Bible, we note a common theme of human nature: people who don’t want to take responsibility for what they do. Adam blamed Eve. The Israelites thought their problem was their surrounding neighbors and the pagan idolatry they all followed. The first-century Jews thought their problem was the Romans. The New Testament Christians with a Jewish background thought the former Gentiles were their problem, and vice versa.

In reality, Adam made the choice to disobey God, the Israelites made the deliberate choice to fall into idolatry, the first-century Jews were living out prophecy as part of their Roman occupation (which was due to disobedience), and the New Testament Christians all needed an attitude adjustment.

The problem was they themselves, not everyone else. It seems pretty obvious to us now, we want to scream it from the rooftops. “HEY YOU, YOUR SIN IS A PROBLEM, DUH!” That’s why all those stories showing less-than-stellar human nature in play are found in the Bible. It wouldn’t be right to gloss over a history with a bunch of “alternative facts,” so they are in there. They prove, once and for all, no matter who they might have felt was their problem – the problem wasn’t everyone else, it was them.

Food for thought for all of us. Or it should be.

Today it seems like the church has mastered the art of finger-pointing. The problem for things deemed as societal breakdowns are always someone else’s fault: feminists, gay marriage advocates, the school system, presidents, immigrants, Muslims, terrorists, radical Muslims, women who’ve had abortions, women who march on Washington, we don’t like the president, and any other barrage of options. It’s as if we think if we aren’t getting our way, we can act and do whatever we want. In other words, we sound like a bunch of big, whiny brats.

It deeply disturbs me that this trend is now often found in the highest of places, where people openly degrade others because they don’t agree or respond in agreement. The other individual might have done nothing wrong, but as some of the most powerful people in the world call names and attack the integrity of others through social media under the guise of “if they did it, I can do whatever I want,” it should make us realize just who our “problem” is.

There’s always someone else who is the reason we aren’t Christian enough or godly enough ourselves. Call it defense, call it protection, call it retaliation, even call it a difference of political belief, the way we act and live is simply not right. We can sit on social media all day long, cuss and swear, throw shade at people and act like morons, but we’re just doing it because of “someone else.”

It’s time you realized that your biggest enemy isn’t anyone you think it is – it is you.

The Bible tells its less-than-stellar stories to prove that the biggest problem we have is right here, within ourselves. No matter how much the people might have sincerely sought God at times, there were other times when they didn’t feel real saved and certainly didn’t act like it. It’s not there to form public policy or debate, but to make each one of us look at who we are and deal with it unto the end of redemption. We sit and argue over eternal security and whether or not we can lose our salvation, but maybe, just maybe, the part of the debate we don’t want to hear is that we aren’t letting God redeem us. We are so hung up on something and someone else that we aren’t letting God do within each of us what He wants and needs to do. It’s an unfortunate fact that you can dance, shout, run around the room, be a genius with church protocol, be the best preacher your church has ever seen, and be completely and totally lost, so far away from redemption, that you wouldn’t know God if He fell on your head.

The consistent aspect of the Bible is that somewhere, some way in time, God dealt with all these people. He dealt with their lack of accountability and responsibility, He addressed the idolatry, He addressed their attitude adjustments, He addressed their bigotry and racism, He addressed their hasty words, He addressed their violation of others, He addressed their lying, and He addressed their hasty actions. They had to come to a point where they dealt with what they had done, and lived with those realities.

We can forever turn our faces to everyone else and make them our problem. We can forever avoid the realities we face right now and the consequences that remain for us, be they personally, nationally, or globally. We can blame where we are on everyone else, but at some point in time, we will come to the end of ourselves and God will deal with us. In that day, there will be no fancy apocalypticism to fall back on, no false doctrine, no escapism, just us and God and the reality we have woven.

“Then He will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’” (NIV)

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (NIV)

You can’t be a Christian and have some of the attitudes and behaviors I’m seeing. They don’t represent a true transformation of grace. If we understand we are saved by grace through faith, that means facing ourselves and our sins as we transform ourselves more into His Image and less into our own. The behaviors and the attitudes I am seeing reflect a deeper problem, one that prove we aren’t getting the teaching and instruction we need because it assaults too much at who we are and makes us feel too uncomfortable. When we have to answer what did we did or didn’t do, I pray mercy falls on the souls of too many whose fate the Bible has already sealed. God’s not going to care about all the things you were against. He’s not going to tolerate that you didn’t help a refugee or a foreigner because they were Muslim. It won’t matter that the reason you abandoned your child is because they were gay. It won’t matter that you didn’t educate yourself because you hated the school system. It’s not going to matter that you stand behind something because you hate now or did hate a former leader. It won’t matter that you didn’t help out someone because they had an abortion and you’re against abortion. All these things we stand upon in self-righteousness and pomposity will not matter. All that will matter is what you did not do because you disobeyed Him.  It won’t matter how much you danced or shouted down the house. If you sat in ignorance and blamed everyone else, God’s going to give you a message you won’t like, so I give it now while there is still time:

It’s not them. It’s you.

Look at yourself. Fix you while there is still time.

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. – The Gospel of Thomas, Verse 70

© 2017 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Why I Do Not Celebrate Christmas

As for the man who is a weak believer, welcome him [into your fellowship], but not to criticize his opinions or pass judgment on his scruples or perplex him with discussions. One [man’s faith permits him to] believe he may eat anything, while a weaker one [limits his] eating to vegetables. Let not him who eats look down on or despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains criticize and pass judgment on him who eats; for God has accepted and welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on and censure another’s household servant? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he shall stand and be upheld, for the Master (the Lord) is mighty to support him and make him stand. One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike [sacred]. Let everyone be fully convinced (satisfied) in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. None of us lives to himself [but to the Lord], and none of us dies to himself [but to the Lord, for] If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or we die, we belong to the Lord. For Christ died and lived again for this very purpose, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you criticize and pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you look down upon or despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God [acknowledge Him to His honor and to His praise]. And so each of us shall give an account of himself [give an answer in reference to judgment] to God. Then let us no more criticize and blame and pass judgment on one another, but rather decide and endeavor never to put a stumbling block or an obstacle or a hindrance in the way of a brother. (Romans 14:1-13, AMPC)

I am Dr. Lee Ann B. Marino. I am an apostle. I have been in ministry for 19 years. I have a confession.

I do not celebrate Christmas.

Actually I don’t celebrate any conventional or secular holidays. Not Christmas, Easter, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Patriotic holidays, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, Columbus Day, none of them. I haven’t celebrated any of them for approximately 16 years. I will not ever celebrate them again.

I am not anti-observances. I feel Pentecost is perhaps the most relevant day of the church year, as it’s the church’s birthday, but we seem to allow that to pass our calendars without a single thought. I consider communion to be an observance of the believer’s Passover, but we also seem to allow communion to slip from our fingers as we don’t want to dress for church or run the risk that our church service might run over longer than we would like. I even observe my own birthday, which I probably wouldn’t if I could ever get people to do things for me any other time of the year, but I digress. But when it comes to the holidays that the world tells us we have to celebrate, count me out.

Call it the non-conformist in me, but there is more to it than that. That might be what keeps me going, but it isn’t how it all started. 16 years ago I was still a student, and in the process of studying the origins behind different religious groups, I stumbled across the history of modern holidays by pure accident. I learned where they came from, I did not like what I learned, and I literally let every one of them go, cold turkey. I never regretted the decision. It is a conviction; it is how I feel about this issue; and I do feel it deserves respect. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get it.

Just last night I saw a post on Facebook that said to the extent: “If you don’t want to celebrate Christmas that’s fine, but you don’t have the right to govern what other people do. If you want your beliefs respected, then respect those of others.” I beg to differ with the statement. In the 16 years I have not celebrated Christmas, I have never governed another individual’s right to celebrate the holiday (or any holiday, for that matter). I have never told someone they will go to hell if they celebrate Christmas and, to be quite honest, I don’t care if someone celebrates Christmas, or not. If that is someone’s choice, then that’s fine, but then I don’t want to have the holiday shoved down my throat, which is exactly what happens in the process. I have felt the pressure, year after year, to keep quiet about my beliefs and not only that, hear people whine, moan, and complain about everything they hate about Christmas. In my personal opinion, if you hate it that much, stop observing it. But beyond that, every time I ever try to discuss the issue in any form, whether it’s because I was asked about it or because I wrote something about it, I am met with a long line of defenses, much like the status I saw earlier. The message I get, loud and clear: this is what I want to do, and don’t you dare do or say anything to threaten my comfort in doing so.

I’m not writing this to be belligerent or to start an argument. In fact, I don’t really want to hear why you celebrate Christmas because I don’t care if you celebrate it. I care if you celebrate it and it interferes with your relationship with God, but I don’t need to be that involved in the discussion with you if I am not already. I don’t want to argue. I want to point out that because this issue is so ridiculously emotional and hostile, nobody ever listens to anyone else’s point of view, and that by itself is offensive. I’ve heard why those of you do choose to celebrate; I have respected your choice; and now I am here to explain why it is my choice not to observe the occasion for the sake of our own learning and because I have as much a right to my opinion as you do to yours. As the Bible says, some of us view all days as the same, and others view things as special (I’ll put aside Romans 14 was not talking about Christmas for the time being and look at the principle, instead), which means I have just as much a valid perspective as any one who celebrates the holiday.

A note as I move forward with my position: I have done so much research on the history of Christmas over the years, I don’t remember where many of the facts in this article are from. I have a book where I detail many of the references, and that book is currently being reworked and will be released at a later point in time. All of the information that is presented, however, can be discovered through simple research, and if you have any question about the facts I present, feel free to look them up.

Jesus was not born on December 25 – If you don’t know that Jesus was not born on December 25, that gives me a disturbing insight into the lack of proper education and training in churches today. Truth is, we don’t know when Jesus was born, neither in month, day, or exact year. Throughout history, Jesus’ birthday has been observed in every month of the Julian calendar. The reason Christmas is observed on December 25 is more sinister than we might like to imagine: December 25 was the date for the Roman Feast of the Invincible Sun, often observed in different cultures around the time of the Winter Solstice. If you do some history into the pagan holiday, you will note that many of the traditions sound familiar: giving gifts, large parties, spending large amounts of money, using evergreen to decorate, etc. When the Catholic Church was devising its calendar in the 300s, Christmas was added as a means to try and make church membership more appealing to the pagan masses. The church was also associated with the Holy Roman Empire, and that meant it needed to build up its available army to conquer (yes, in a military sense, not a spiritual one) other countries. Instead of making the pagans Christian as a part of the New Testament’s one new man, it made the Christians pagan. What basically happened is the baby Jesus got plopped right in the middle of a pagan feast, churches made Christmas day a mandatory day of observation, and voila – you have Christmas as it came to be known among the church.

The early church did not celebrate Christmas – There is no record, anywhere in anything, that Christmas was ever celebrated by the early church. In fact, we know it wasn’t celebrated by the early church, because the birth of Christ was regarded as a secret. If you think about Herod and his personal crusade to kill all the infant boys, keeping his birth a secret made sense. Even as Jesus got older, His birth date would need to remain a secret because discovering He survived through Herod’s mandate could get Him killed at any point in His life, taking Him out before He fulfilled His destiny. By the time Jesus was an adult in ministry, nobody probably knew when it was (no birth certificates, no birth records, etc.). Jesus’ birth was known only to a few when it happened, and everyone made every effort to keep His presence on the QT for fear He would be killed. Christmas was not a facet of the New Testament church (or the church for several generations thereafter) and I do not believe that given all they had to overcome as a people that celebrating a pagan holiday with a little Jesus mixed in would have been deemed appropriate.

Neither Biblical nor apocryphal records support all the details we believe about Christmas – There’s no record that links the visit of the Wise Men with the birth of Christ. The Bible states that Jesus was a “child” in a “house” when they visited Him; not a visit to the manger. This makes more sense, as they didn’t just hop in the car or on a plane and zoom across many countries to visit Him. Land travel took a long…long…long…time to accomplish, and it most likely took years for them to arrive at their location. Nothing says there were three Wise Men. Some might say these things don’t matter, but I’m into technicalities. So to me, these things matter.

Nothing about the birth of Christ was about family – When Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph were a long way from home due to a census. They weren’t with their families and they weren’t around anyone that they knew. The push for family at Christmas has nothing to do with family values, although many like to tell themselves that. Family images, having the perfect dinner, the perfect meal, with everyone looking quaint and cute, is a marketing gimmick. It exists so you will be willing to go out and spend thousands and thousands of dollars to make it happen on food, travel, gifts, decorations, and general “Christmas spirit.” The media wants us to think there is something wrong with us if we accept ourselves and our situations as we are, and maybe admit that we don’t like our families the rest of the year, because if we come to a place of acceptance, we won’t be so quick to shell out extensive amounts of money to spend time with a bunch of people we don’t even like.

Secular Christmas figures are decidedly racist and supremacist, not endearing – You are seldom, if ever (more like never) going to see a Black Santa, or an Asian Santa, or a Mexican Santa in the media because that’s not the image of Santa that has sold throughout the decades. The image of Santa represents the stereotype of 1800s American ideas about what “benevolence” and “charity” looked like: older, white, bearded and mustached wealthy men who had pity on all the poor, unfortunate little children who didn’t have the good fortune to be his kids. As for the elves, they have a long history as spirits of pagan lore (I’m sick of hearing about the spirit of Jezebel, I want to hear about the spirit of elves!) that worked mischief, including that of a sexual nature, among unsuspecting individuals. However, in the case of Santa Claus, they also represent enslavement, as they do all the work in his factory, for free, year after year…and it’s understood they are not paid for what they do. Sounds a little too much like a mythical version of cultural slavery as existed in the time period when Santa came into existence.

It draws people away from church and Christian faith – Now let me say, I didn’t say it draws you, who are reading this away from church and the Christian faith, but as a minister, I can’t deny what I see in people every year, at this time of the year. The first thing that typically happens is people stop giving to their church and to ministries they know. This might sound contradictory to you, because the image we see in the media and we see stereotyped as the spread of good cheer is that this is the only time of year when people want to give to church. This is, unfortunately, a falsehood. It might have been true at one time in history, but 16 years into ministry, I don’t know a single ministry that is not hurt financially every year when Christmastime rears its head. Let’s examine why this is: Christmas costs money. It doesn’t cost a little bit of money, it costs a lot of money, and the cost of it increases every single year. The holiday quickly becomes the priority over everything else in one’s life, and that may also include one’s relationship with God as they pursue their way to prove something about themselves or their families at this time, each year. As of the writing of this blog, the debate of the year is as to whether or not churches should be open because Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. There are those who are the first to condemn everyone to hell for all the things they do all the time who are saying if their churches are open, they will refuse to go to church because they want to spend time with their families. To me, in my ears, this sounds an awful lot like idolatry, like you are putting your family (which you can see before church, or after church, or can come to church with you, or you don’t like anyway so what difference does it matter) ahead of your priority to worship God. Look, I grew up in a church that regarded Christmas as a “holy day of obligation,” which meant if the day ended in a “y” you had to show up for service. If it fell on a day other than Sunday, you had to go to church on Sunday, and then that day, and then the following Sunday, again. All this mess tells me is that people’s priorities are screwed up. If you are even in question as to whether or not you should go to church on Christmas, then stop telling me you celebrate Christmas because “Jesus is the reason for the season.” In that instance, no He isn’t and I know straight up He doesn’t appreciate getting the blame for excuses to get out of worship.

I can’t afford it – People tell me all year they can’t afford tithes. They can’t afford offerings. They don’t have the money to sow into a mission trip. They can’t afford their school tuition. They can’t afford this. They can’t afford that. These same people always have money for Christmas, the expensive Christmas. Food costs money. Trees cost money. Decorations cost money. Lights cost money (electric bills are not friendly). Presents cost money. Travel costs money. Christmas cards cost money. Christmas pictures cost money. And the reality is I do not have the extra money to spend on all the “holiday” things that others think I should be doing at this time of the year. To me, it’s really simple: God is the One Who called me into ministry, and that means I am called to be financially prepared and prudent for the things He wants me to do in each season of my life. If it’s a question between hosting a ministry event or going on a mission trip and celebrating Christmas, Christmas is going to have to lose, because I have other priorities. You can say all day long you can do both or have both, but the realities speak otherwise. If you can’t tithe all year or give all year, or can’t travel all year or hold events, but all of a sudden Christmas rolls around and you find a way to celebrate Christmas, then that tells me where all that money went! It might be said, even be intended that you can do it all, but I’ve been at this long enough to know it never happens. If it’s a question between obeying God or having myself a merry little Christmas, I have to obey God. We never think about God putting us in a position to make those choices, but if we are serious about ministry and even our faith and something ties up our finances, our ability to work in and help the church, and do a work we say He called us to do, then we have to seriously think about our actions and what our choices are doing to our call and relationship with Him.

I can’t get away from it – If I post a status that you don’t like about not celebrating Christmas, you have every choice to keep on scrolling and forget you ever saw it. But I don’t have the choice to forget about “seeing” Christmas. I go to the grocery store on December 20th just to do regular shopping, because I have to live, but I am barraged by Christmas gifts, checkers who think it is comfortable and friendly to ask me what I am doing for the holidays, decorations that reflect and are hard on my eyes and severely affect my ability to see due to a physical light sensitivity I have due to albinism, rude crowds, incessant Christmas music that is repeated year after year, and people who send greetings for the holiday, even after I have told them I don’t celebrate. That sounds to me like people are forcing me to get into something that I don’t want to be a part of, and it’s honestly very disrespectful. I understand that those who don’t know me don’t do it out of harm, but it is so automatically assumed that everyone is celebrating it, I can’t get away from it. Then I come online and see the mess of people defending various positions, arguing back and forth in favor or against, and it’s like everyone takes a posture that is both rude and inconsiderate that maybe, just maybe, everyone doesn’t automatically feel the way about Christmas that you do and maybe we all get tired of hearing about it.

It makes people treat me differently – My decision not to observe Christmas is rooted in my faith and my strong conviction as a Christian and what it means to be one. I am sorry if you do not agree with me about that, but that does not give you the right to question my faith or my ministry calling. One of the reasons I don’t talk much about not celebrating holidays is because it always seems to cause others to treat me differently or not feel I am as “anointed” as I was before they found that out. Suddenly I am perceived not to be a Christian anymore, as someone who has no faith and there is something wrong with. Let’s look at the images we often have of people who don’t celebrate holidays: The portrayal in classic literature and movies is always of anti-Christmas people as stingy, selfish, workaholics, unkind, hardened people while those who want to celebrate are infringed and forced to do things so they can’t observe the holiday because of these evil Scrooges and Grinches. It’s implied and sometimes outright stated that those who don’t celebrate just want to keep people from what’s “really important” in life and the only way they can change their sinister ways is to do what – celebrate Christmas. This mentality has filtered down to today: if we don’t celebrate it, we aren’t in alignment with God in some way. This sounds an awful lot like faith by works to me, that somehow celebrating Christmas is what makes us a Christian, and last time I checked, the Bible is really clear to me that our faith is NOT based in our works. Maybe those who insist it is necessary need to go read their Bibles again.

I’m not sentimental – This one is just a personality quirk of mine. I don’t lament over the “good old days.” I want to move forward to what God has for me, not sit around and cry over sappy commercials. I can’t stand the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” There’s nothing wrong with being sentimental, but there’s nothing wrong with not being sentimental, either, and we need to make room for those who are different as much as those who are conforming to a societal concept of “heartwarming.”

For many, Christmas hurts – Suicides are higher between Christmas and New Year’s than any other time of the year. As you go about your time, prattling on endlessly about your family gathering, there’s someone out there whose mother, or father, or child, or sibling, or close relative, or close friend recently died (or maybe died a few years ago) and doesn’t feel joyful or happy this time of year. There are people who have been rejected by their families, who refuse to have them in their households, for one reason or another, or who make them feel unwelcome there. There are people who live in true poverty and who do not have money to get their children anything, and there is no community goodwill or other organization to make up for their lack of gifts. This time of year makes these feel more empty, reminds them of what they do not have and of what they have lost. Instead of wanting a Christmas card or to hear another Christmas song, they want a hug, they want to know someone cares about them and is there for them instead of feeling lost in the Christmas shuffle.

I hate the “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays” battle – For crying out loud, can we all please grow up? I grew up in a small community that had a very active and thriving Conservative Jewish congregation. I grew up in one church, with one set of Christmas traditions, and many of my friends went to other churches that celebrated different observances. There were kids in my class who were not Christians, even when I was in Catholic school. There were kids whose families only went to church on Christmas, and others who celebrated Christmas, but never went to church. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and I feel that saying “Merry Christmas” instead of wishing people a blessed season or “Happy Holidays” is shoving Christmas down their throat, like it’s some sort of battle. It is not a witness; it is trying to impose your feelings on everyone else, and that’s just not right. Respect goes a lot further than arguing over cups in Starbucks or automatically assuming it is the right thing…because history is full of people who were zealous over things, and were wrong in their approach.

I am grateful Jesus was born every day of the year – This is the most significant factor for me, and it is why I have saved it for last. I am able to regard “all days as alike” because there isn’t a day of the year when I am not grateful that Jesus was born. There isn’t a day of the year when I am not grateful that Jesus rose from the dead and is just as much with me today as on that day, all those years ago. I don’t need Christmas to be grateful He was born, and I don’t need Easter to be grateful that He is alive. God wants ALL of us, not just a period of time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The summary to me of it all is from Isaac Watts’ hymn, “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross:”

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

All days are alive because all days of the year, God loves me, and that requires my soul, my life (not just one day or a few days a year), and my all. He is the “I AM,” not the “I Christmas.” If I don’t need it to feel close to Him, then I shouldn’t have to put on a show or pretend that I do just to make you like me better or accept me as a fellow believer. You regard some days as special, then that’s fine. That is between you and God. But my lack of observance is also based on what is between me and God, and I have to observe all days as alike. You have your reasons for what you do, and you believe them to be valid, and as I have proven here, I have my reasons, as well. Mine are just as valid as yours. The point of Romans 14 is to prove that no matter what we do, we should be doing it unto God. If you’re not, and that’s obvious, then you need to make changes accordingly, because that which is not done in faith is done in error. This shouldn’t be a debate and it shouldn’t be such a cause for venomous division and bitter hatred between believers.

Maybe what all of this proves is that no matter how Christian we claim to be, there’s still an awful lot of ways that we cling to our traditions as proof of our belief and we don’t focus enough on our actions aligning with what we believe. Christmas or not, one day should not hinge so much of our identity as believers. Every day, we have the chance to do something good for someone else, to visit our families, to buy or give someone a gift, or to do something for others that matters. We shouldn’t just try to cram it into a holiday that has a spurious history and causes more trouble than it is often worth. The Bible tells us that they will know we are of Christ if we are of love. Thus, the one thing all of us can do is learn to better love one another, no matter what day of the year it is.

© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Selah

The word “selah” gets thrown around since it was popularized by a musical group who used it as their main identifying theme. What we do know of selah is that it is found in the Bible seventy-four times, seventy-one in Psalms and three in Habakkuk’s third chapter. It is most definitely some sort of musical notation, but its exact meaning is unknown. What we do know of it, however, can be explained in the following as either one or all of the following explanations:

As a musical note, to indicate that musical forte should be used and overall sound should be louder.

To joint two different ideas together, or to link two thoughts.

As a division, to divide thoughts

As a way to take the command that has been given, which one should pay attention to and think about.

In the Amplified Bible, the word selah is amplified as “pause and calmly think about that.”

The past week, the Lord has spoken the word “selah” to me. When it has come to me, no other words accompany it; just “selah.” Given the different understandings of the word, which I believe can all apply in one form or another, I believe it is a word that God is speaking to me as is relevant to the season I am in that is now coming to a close.

Selah fits.

A little over a year ago, I thought the season I was in was truly over. I was at a new phase of things. We were moving into a building and we were starting Sanctuary here in Raleigh. I wasn’t starting a new company, but was working on a new partnership that I hoped would better income, as income was a major issue. All the words that people gave me pointed to the fact that this was a new season, I was even given word from one individual that I was walking into a “new season,” it was a new time, and I should have faith and trust that the support would be there and the people would come.

I won’t lie; I had my doubts. I was hesitant to enter into a contract for a building when I was not sure we would be able to pay for it for the duration. I believed that if I didn’t have all twelve months upfront to pay for the property, I couldn’t afford it. That was branded as a lack of faith by several people and the word I was given encouraged me to move forward despite my doubts. It was supposed to be a new time, a season to stretch my faith and watch God show up and show out in ways I could never have imagined.

Discernment is a funny thing. I did discern that moving into the building and doing the work that I was to do was God-directed, but I had serious doubts about the long-term outcome. We hadn’t been in the building two weeks and God was already telling me that we weren’t going to finish out the lease. The one thing He did tell me was that we wouldn’t be evicted for non-payment, which did reassure me that He was in this, even though I wasn’t sure how it would all make sense. I thought we were into something new, it was time to be over with the past, and that the reason I was sent to this area in the first place was finally starting to manifest. I expected good, different things to happen.

So imagine my surprise when the season didn’t end and it was filled with the same issues of the past season: attacks from people I covered and devoted time and attention to assisting. People leaving the ministry with hard feelings when I did nothing to prompt those hard feelings. Attacks from people outside of the ministry, nonstop, that I didn’t even know that well but seemed to have plenty of opinions. Money wasn’t an issue immediately, but about five months in, it became such a focal point, the lease became the only reason we continued in the property. We noticed mold at one point that turned into an infestation, eventually causing the lease to terminate early (as was God’s word). By that point, it was a relief. Those who were attending the church stopped coming after the woman training to be pastor got angry that someone else under the ministry was getting ordained and the whole situation just turned into one problem after another. The issues did not end there, and included other people who refused to be accountable under the ministry, step up and do their job, and just left me in a position to be both high and dry, out of money, and plain tired.

What God showed me earlier this year is that I misjudged the season. I didn’t misjudge it by myself; I had help in that. I assumed the season was over because I was starting something new and it seemed like a new beginning. What really happened is that I was wrapping things up from the current season, making sure that those who didn’t need to be involved in the future stayed wherever they were and I was able to move forward without them. I needed to know things to move forward, both about others and the process of ministry growth involved. More than anything, I needed to see that I have been carrying people for a long time who need to be dropped somewhere. Instead of expecting them to grow, I have tried to work with them where they are, and in the process, I have tolerated a lot of things I shouldn’t have. That’s what happens when we misjudge seasons: we try to make things fit that just don’t and foster things that don’t work in the name of moving forward. In reality, we do nothing but stand still and spin, frustrating ourselves and feeling a lot of animosity and hard feelings.

Yes, there are people who care about us, but who just don’t have enough interest, motivation, or desire to do what needs to be done and to be there when you need them. This goes for those who are covered as well as those who might mentor or cover, and the truth is that sometimes it’s just burdensome. It’s difficult to be in seasons and situations where you don’t really feel like anyone is there to care for you or to take your issues into their prayer closet because everyone is so focused on their own. It’s a lot harder to live it, and to stand around and realize that if you want change to come, you have to change most of the people who are around you.

The problem with misjudging the season is, obviously, the results. Everything pointed to a new beginning. I consulted what was supposed to be “wise counsel” and when things did not seem new to me, I couldn’t get anyone who had made statements of visions, promises, and moving forward to say anything useful to me. In fact, nobody I consulted who gave such word were even willing to take the time and answer me when I reached out to them. It was the same story, the same scenario all over again, where people push us into a decision that they won’t have to answer for or be accountable for and then you are left holding the bag. Then when accountability and responsibility come calling, nobody takes responsibility for the fact that they missed God and spoke word that encouraged something inaccurate.

I believe that people were accurate in telling me God was in my actions, but I believe that they misjudged the results. Instead of telling me that I was at the end of something and that this was a project that was a part of a cyclical completion, the push for new and the promise that it would all work out in such a way that would be different from before was very misleading. I would have so been blessed if someone would have said to me, “This is something you have to do, but don’t expect the results to be different, because you’re not done yet.” It would have brought clarity and while it might have hurt and I might not have readily accepted it, it would have been words that would have hallowed in my ears when things started to change.

I’ve said many times I wish that someone would have been honest about not hearing from God, but I know that won’t happen. They won’t admit they didn’t hear God fully and misjudged the word themselves. They will do what so many do and try to cleverly contort what was said, making me out to misunderstand or accusing me of going into it with wrong faith or motive. Instead of saying they are sorry and standing up for the difficulties of the season, I am supposed to cheerlead now for whatever it is they want to do and pretend their season is new…when it’s exactly the same.

This season is coming to a close. I know the official sign that will mark its end, and I am looking forward to a new season. To get to it, however, I need to be different. I need a “selah” moment, one by which my praise is louder, my thoughts are divided and new ones are joined together, to hear God’s command above those who want to speak for God, but are not hearing from Him, and to pause and think about whatever is said. It’s God’s decisions who leaves, who stays, who moves forward, who will change and who will not, because sometimes we need to accept that people can’t be what we need to do new things around us.

To get to where we want to be, we need to stop and consider where we are and what it will take to go to the next place. Sometimes, in those interims, we need to stop looking for a word, stop relying on those who are around us, and stop and think about God. If we don’t want to make the mistakes of the past, we must pause, stop jumping around with the thrill of the words “It’s a new season!” reiterated every time we get in church, and learn to tell the true from the false in a deeper sense. We need to know God, we need to know times and seasons for ourselves, and I really feel we need to listen to and embrace true teachers. Just because a leader tells you all the stereotypical churchy things about family, abortion, gay marriage, voting Republican, and the traditions you’ve grown accustom to embrace doesn’t mean they are teaching you the things you need to know to embrace God for yourself and to recognize where He has you and for what reason.

When our standards increase and we expect more of those around us as well as ourselves, our seasons will shift. Only when we stop and pause to think about important things will we realize where God desires us to be. More than where we are going, we will realize what we need to gain from the season we are currently in. God doesn’t shift every week, every day, every time someone gets on Facebook and wants to speak a word over us. It’s not over, we aren’t coming out, it’s not already done, and we are not always harvesting. These things might encourage us, but they don’t encourage us to do right and stand back as we have our selah moments. In God, we will stay right where we are until we are ready to move forward. God knows when that will be, and that means the time for our shift is in His hour…definitely not ours. We can dance, shout, scream, speak in tongues, go to a million conferences, get slain in the Spirit every time, and believe whatever we want, but to quote a famous phrase, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Here’s to change. Here’s to new beginnings. Here’s to the growth God wants us to have. Here is to true word, true prophets, true five-fold leaders, and true people who hear from God and know Him from their own selves or their own rhetoric. Here’s to new seasons that are new, for real, when God knows we are ready. Here’s to leaving the past behind. Here’s to God: yesterday, today, and forever.

Selah.

An Introduction To The Law For Christians

If you spend any time online, you’ve probably encountered someone who claims to espouse a doctrine that is radically different from what you have been taught the Bible teaches. They may state it is improper for believers to eat pork, shellfish, or any meat at all, they may believe in exclusively using Hebrew names and terms for God (there’s nothing wrong with using such, but telling people they will go to hell of they don’t use them is certainly wrong), and they are probably pretty quick to recite different aspects of the Old Testament that you’ve never noticed before or ever considered. Some might have told you that if you don’t follow the law, that you aren’t really a believer and that believers are still required to follow the law, in its totality, without question. Some might elevate the Ten Commandments above other aspects of the law, saying those are the only aspects of the law still enforceable. They might claim any assortment of beliefs and theories, but all who do this have one thing in common: they believe that the law, in whole or in part, is still enforceable for Christians (or believers, if they don’t call themselves Christians) today and if you do not follow their understanding of the law, you cannot be saved.

There is one thing these people get right, and in actuality, atheists and agnostics often get it more right than Christians do: we do need to have some understanding of the law. Groups like this continue to emerge because we really don’t understand the law in Christianity today. Very few of us were ever Jewish in our lives and very few of us have a proper understanding of the Old Testament law and just what the “law” is that we were redeemed from.

I was never much for the law myself because the way it was often taught by various groups and instructors was so complicated, I lost interest in it. They made it sound impossible to understand and it always seemed like we picked and chose what aspects of the law seemed most enforceable and applicable, while ignoring the finer points of the law that were more complicated. It wasn’t until I set out to write my now best-seller, Ministering To LGBTs – And Those Who Love Them (Apostolic University Press, 2016) that I took an interest in discovery of the law and more of its understanding as applied to the issues pertinent to homosexuality. I am not going to get into my findings on that particular topic, as they can be found in my book, and I want us to look at the principle of law rather than at specific laws and how they apply or do not apply today. While a blog certainly cannot cover the intricacies and ins and outs of the law, there are some basics we can get on understanding the law for Christians.

Let’s start with a couple of basics:

The term “law” is used in a few different ways, and it is important to understand the different ways it is used to better understand what the term “law” actually means.

In the New Testament, when Jesus, the Pharisees, and Sadducees spoke of the “law,” they were not just referring to specific edicts found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. The “law” is a reference to the Torah, or Pentateuch, which consists of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The use of it as the term “law” is not a reference to law as we understand law or regulation today, but the foundational establishment and understanding for the Hebrew people as those selected and set apart by God.

The Torah “law” within Jewish tradition also accepts and includes rabbinical commentary on the meaning of the Torah, which is held on par with the written word of the Biblical writings. This is going to be important later, so remember this.

There is the “law” that are the specific 613 commandments given in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. When we think of the “law,” this is often what we are thinking about. The commands given range from issues that seem practical to absurd by modern standards, and relate to things spiritual, practical, governmental, legal, hygienic, and interpersonal.

The Ten Commandments, as we understand them, are not a separate part or a separate part of the 613 commandments, the “law,” we just spoke of. They are not special, nor are they detached, from the rest of the law. Some assume them to be a summary, but in reality, they are, more or less, an introduction to the law and the complexities of the law that were yet to come. Technically, there are not ten commandments cited, but only nine. In certain Jewish traditions, the way the ten sayings are divided varies even further, reducing the number. For our purposes, however, it does not matter. The point is that they are a part of the 613 commandments, not a special or divided part of the law, so what we are discussing here means they apply the same as everything else.

Jewish “law,” as is understood today, is based on the traditions of the rabbis and is now known as the Talmud. The Talmud is a collection of interpretations of the law, social regulations, cultural commentaries, and general guidelines for interactions with others. It is related to the writings on the Talmud mentioned above and was known as “traditions” or “traditions of men” in dialogues between Jesus and the Sadducees and Pharisees.

And now, let the confusion begin.

I can’t write this blog and lie to everyone and say that understanding the law is an easy thing that can be done in a few minutes, because that’s not true. The reality is that the law is confusing, but I think that’s part of the point. Parts of it appear to contradict other parts. If we study the Bible in its entirety, we can see that the Israelites never, at any one point of their history, followed the law completely. There was never anyone in Old Testament times who embodied the principles of the law in their lives in full, even those who understood and studied its complexities in the most intricate of ways. What they did, instead of trying to follow it completely, was find loopholes and ways around the law, exceptions and clarifications, to try and make it so that the law was, well…not the law anymore. The confusion of the law reflects the fact that, as human beings, we can’t understand it in full; there was no way that, in an average day, a person could follow all 613 of the laws and not screw one of them up or screw up in some subsidiary way; we can’t follow it in full; and that must mean that God had another purpose all together for us when it comes to the law.

Back in the Garden of Eden, humanity chose to go its own way and have its own independence. Human beings sacrificed relationship with God in favor of doing things themselves and making their own decisions. It wasn’t long if we look at Biblical history to see that humanity still wanted its own willful way, but still wanted to receive or touch eternity through their own means. Through the law, God wanted humanity to realize just what they were doing, trying to handle things on their own. God gave humanity just enough of a taste of what they sought to do on their own so that we would realize we can’t do it on our own. Enter Jesus, Who was the only One ever in history Who could follow the law.

Let’s not assume we know more about the Word than He does; He is the Word. His understanding, His insight into the law was not only challenged, it was downright condemned by those who were interpreting the law however they saw fit. The result was Jesus was not just following the law, He was the fulfillment of it; He was the being, the individual, the promise that the law pointed us to and instructed us to seek out. If we can’t do it for ourselves, then God had to send someone to do it for us. That means the law and the limitations it brings out within each and every one of us shows us our sinfulness; where we falter in right and wrong; and above all, that indeed, salvation is impossible for human beings to accomplish on their own. The law reminds us that we are limited.

That is an aspect of the law that we simply do not want to hear about, especially when talking to groups that try to say we will follow it perfectly if we are really believers and really “saved.” Not once has this ever happened for someone in history, and never will it, because the whole point of Christ, of the work of Christ, is to remind us that we can’t do this without God and we can’t do this without relationship with Him. If it was as simple as following a law, then Christ wouldn’t have been needed and we would still be bound by it because it could “save” us.

None of this means that the law is bad or that the law is evil or useless. It simply means that the perspective of the law’s purpose was much deeper than any in history and any of us now ever considered. It was to make us look at ourselves and see our own limitations and look to God to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. There is a difference from seeing the law as a teacher, as is spoken of in Galatians 3, and seeing it as an enforceable legislation, something that is used to penalize and judge. There is nothing wrong with believing that the law consists of good precepts or things that teach us more about loving God and others, that we can now glean from even though we are not subject to the law. It also does not mean that we will never be in a situation where evangelism dictates that we follow parts of the law to stand as a cultural, religious, and personal beliefs in order to witness to someone else, right where they are. But when it comes to our own relationship with God, we are now following the guardian that is Christ, led by the Holy Ghost, who leads us into all truth (not the law), and the leadership that He has given to us in the five-fold ministry. We are a part of the church, which is His body. We are in Christ; we are a part of Him, and He of us. We are one, which means we are in relationship with Him. It doesn’t mean we never falter or sin, and for that we thank God for relationship; for His guidance that leads us beyond written regulations that often have no literal application today or practical understanding for us; and that we do not even understand. Through the Spirit, the Lord’s commands and His direction lead us into everything we should do and can discover because He is with us. We die daily; not once, and then it’s over; and we constantly strive for that better relationship, and understanding, in Him and with Him.

You can know a person, or you can know a written code. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Under the law, none of us will ever stand. Thanks to grace, we now have a chance. The choice is yours.

I could come on here and debate the Word. I could come on here and throw around a ton of verses, but that’s not productive. That’s all we do, is play “a verse for a verse.” There is deeper understanding needed to see what Jesus has done for us and why the relationship we have with God is so essential. It’s more than going to church and lifting up your hands or spouting off verse after verse that does not change life. It’s about your own transformation, about moving from the fallen to something more. Your ability to know the law forwards and backwards doesn’t mean that you have the first clue of how to follow it. We, as people, need to understand the Word. Even in Biblical times, the Israelites understood that there needed to be divine understanding and explanation for just what the Scriptures meant and how to apply them. Even though they missed the mark, we now have the revelation present in the work of the five-fold to guide us. We can pray and seek God for ourselves to get guidance for our own lives, and while that is different from doctrinal revelation or interpretation, the Spirit, if we learn to follow it rightly, will take us to exactly where we need to be. The law can’t do that. It can make us look at ourselves, but it can’t take us where God can.

It is possible to idolize the law and to idolize the written word. If we think it’s obvious to jut apply it without understanding, we aren’t including God in our assessment. Whenever people fight over keeping or establishing a Ten Commandments monument on public property, they are, themselves, in violation of the law because they have created a graven image out of them (an idol). We can try so hard to do good, we can completely miss God and finding Him, discovering and knowing Him. If He desires us to know Him, and the power of His resurrection, that means our focus needs to be on something than the law or throwing shade through the law. Receive what God has for you, and let Him do His transformation within you. Let Him do His work within you and you do your work with Him.

Stop hiding behind the law, because that’s exactly what we are seeing today. Stop throwing shade with it, stop offending others with it, and grow your own self up to be transformed, glory to glory and faith to faith. On judgment day, that legalistic veil won’t save you; it will condemn you.

© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Are You Really Saved?

1507875_10203434881180765_1321237933_nI’m concerned. Not to mention discouraged.

It’s 3:25 AM here and I’m awake, because I am concerned. I have avoided speaking on what I am about to speak on tonight for months, but I can’t keep it within me anymore. We’ve got a problem. It’s time to stop pretending we don’t.

Ever since the direction for the current presidential election in the United States was announced I knew it was going to be a monumental, epic disaster. It has been so bad, I am embarrassed when people from other countries ask me about it. Right now, there are many signs that the work of this ministry is going to start expanding into other nations with more than just people following the work (as we have now) and every time someone mentions to me a particular candidate who is running, I find myself mortified. I can’t believe this has happened here, in the United States, in a nation that is supposed to be one of the top of the world. I don’t want to talk about it. I want it to go away.

But, here it is. In more ways than one.

I’ve tried very hard to maintain my firm belief in the unity of the church and that earthly politics should not divide us. I don’t believe God cares how anyone votes. I don’t even believe God cares if you vote. The early apostles lived in a society where they were allowed to vote and we never see any of them exercise that right. That doesn’t mean you can’t vote, or should not vote, or anything of that nature; I just don’t think that it makes a difference in the sight of God and I do not believe that on Judgment Day we will be judged for not voting or for voting or for anything having to do with the political system (save if you are a politician!). There’s a difference between earthly matters and spiritual ones, and the purpose behind why someone does or does not do something as pertains to voting or government involvement is between them and their country. We keep trying to stick God into a mix because somewhere in time, a politician convinced Christians that “voting the Bible” is a viable thing and that Christian religious beliefs should be secular ones. I am not going to get into the debate over this issue here because that’s not what this blog is about, and I do expect that any comments will refrain from igniting this debate. The point is that there was a time in American history as well as in the history of all nations where Christians did not expect their secular leader to exemplify their values and where citizens did not throw a temper tantrum when they did not get their way.

Which brings me to my deep concern and discouragement.

Ever since this election started, I am seeing things that are shaking me to the core in concepts and beliefs I have long held about the church and about those who profess to be “Christian.” It’s not a big secret that I’ve had a love-hate relationship with much of the church, overall, over my years as a believer. It’s taken me up and down to places and points where I have even wondered if I want to be a Christian. I feel like I spend all of my time reprimanding people for their conduct or attitudes. As much as I have tried to take a peaceable approach, especially working toward becoming all things to all people and learning to accept that we don’t all have the same viewpoints but that should not destroy relationship, I am finding myself at a place where I am having to disconnect from many people for reasons that I should not have to.

Yes, there is one side of the election’s camp that has been more trying than another, and we all know which one that is so I’m not even going to mention it by name. It’s not bad enough people are shoving candidates down people’s throats, fighting over ideals and what they believe to be best for their country, now they are fighting over everything. There is something about the nature of this election, about the heat and the candidates involved that is bringing behaviors to the surface that are unspeakable.

In the past two weeks, I have either unfriended, blocked, called out, or reported at least thirty people on social media due to their conduct. This conduct has included:

When Pastor Mark Burns endorsed Donald Trump, it came out that he lied about his entire bio. There wasn’t a thing in it that was true. When this simple fact arose, people rose in his defense, saying that he was being “persecuted” because he was a black man endorsing Trump. When confronted with the reality that the man was a liar, people turned and attacked individuals I know, resorting to name-calling and degrading others because they pointed out the man lied.

One man had a post on his page that criticized people as being “a bunch of whiny babies” because he spoke “the truth” and they just didn’t want to hear it. He had a post below this one that encouraged hanging and then endorsed his candidate for president.

Another man had a photo of a young man hanging himself in the shower. It was supposed to be a “joke” because the young man hung himself with a toilet paper noose. He thought it was hysterical.

There was a man a few weeks ago who described himself as a “church elder” in his FB bio who proceeded to write a status that told women who were being beaten and abused in their relationships not to complain or tell anyone about it as he “drags you across the floor” (direct quote) because “you passed up a good man in order to be with that one.”

I saw a mother berate and tear apart her own child because she insisted that she needed to tell her daughter “the truth” (there’s that word again). This was after several people missed the whole point that what was posted was a joke, done in good tongue-in-cheek humor and took it completely out of context.

Someone on another person’s page had the ignorant nerve to ask, “When is White History Month?” in response to a post that pointed out that while we emphasize remembering 9-11, we have totally forgotten about the history of slavery and wrongdoing on the part of American culture. Even though the woman who posted the status made it clear that there have been many groups wronged by the United States, the woman still wanted to know where “White History Month” is.

This was after weeks of seeing people threaten to boycott the NFL because a player made the personal choice to sit during the national anthem in protest. Screw the fact that sports heroes of all sorts get away with drugging and raping women, beating their girlfriends or wives, and that numerous groups do not salute the flag or stand during the national anthem for all sorts of reasons, but apparently the real travesty is someone having a contradictory opinion. If you want to boycott the NFL feel free, but post after post criticizes, judges, and one even threatened physical violence against someone who did not agree with someone’s opinion about it.

This list is just a sample of the things I am seeing go on, every day, online. More and more I am seeing name-calling, people viciously attacking one another for no good reason at all, hostility and tension, and I can’t deny that these things are coming forth because people are picking up on the general nature and tone of the election. I also can’t deny that the people who are engaging in these behaviors are supposed to be Christians. Several are supposed to be ordained ministers in positions of leadership.

See why I am concerned, not to mention discouraged?

I am to a point where I can’t see the posts anymore. I can handle that you have a different opinion than I do or that you feel differently about how this country should move forward from a political opinion. In fact, I probably won’t even want to talk about that with you. But I can’t sit by and watch post after post that serves no purpose but to be mean and attack other people for no good reason at all. I can’t suffer through the illusion that you and I are in unity with one another or that you and I worship the same God, because the God I serve expects us to lay down our flesh and put on the nature of Christ. Some of these people who are first in line to scream the loudest about Jesus and being saved aren’t really saved and aren’t even close to it. It is this unsaved nature, lurking below runs around the church, pretty clothes, and reciting Bible verses from memory that is disturbing to me. There is something in this election that is causing all these different thoughts, feelings, and realities that people keep buried deep inside to surface and what is surfacing isn’t pretty. We aren’t going to get delivered if we don’t deal with it, and we aren’t going to get anywhere just letting this behavior go on, unchecked. If you don’t want to deal with who you are, that’s fine, but I’m disconnecting from you. If I’ve disconnected from you, don’t come asking why I did that when I have made my position very clear. If you have followed me for any semblance of time, you know what I stand for and behaving with pure and unadulterated hatred is not something I desire to be around nor is it something I am going to stand by and pretend to love while you spew mess.

If this is what is within the church, then no wonder no one wants to be a part of it. Forget that’s why no one is getting delivered, or why we are standing still.  Too many of us hold bitter, venomous hatred within our hearts that just has a chance to spill out every now and then. Right now, it’s exploding everywhere, all over everyone, and not only is it hurting our witness, it’s hurting our unity as a church. We talk all the time about unity and why we’re not united, well look at the things that are coming out during this election. We can’t even be civil and agree to disagree about things that are not eternal, no wonder we never get to a point where we are willing to sit down, shut up, and accept that we don’t know everything and we need to be taught. If there is one thing the Holy Spirit should teach you while you seek Him to reveal the Scriptures it’s that you don’t know half as much as you think and that you should get connected to a place, to a leader who can help you get the full connection of God you need.

Yet, alas, here I sit. I’m tired of the arguing, of the fussing, of seeing people at odds. That means if you’re inner troublemaker has surfaced, I’m praying for your leader, I’m praying for your church, I’m praying for your family, and I’m no longer in unity with you because there’s no way we can be one if you can’t even see your way to forgiveness or understanding.  I can’t teach you what you refuse to learn and I know better than to think you’ve never heard teaching on this subject. I am done teaching people who think they know better. Some things we have to learn the hard way, and this is going to be one of them. If you can’t find one part of yourself that loves, then you can’t find one place with me. I forgive you, but I know you not. And I pray that at the end of time, that’s not what the Lord says to you.

I leave this, in conclusion, with the words of Ephesians 4:25-32:

 So you must stop telling lies. Tell each other the truth [Let each one of you speak truthfully to his neighbor; Zech. 8:16], because we all belong to each other in the same body [are members of one another]. When you are angry, [or Be angry, and] do not sin [Ps. 4:4; C there is a time for righteous anger, but it must not result in sin], and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day [don’t let the sun set on your anger]. Do not give the devil a ·way to defeat you [foothold; opportunity]. Those who are stealing must stop stealing and start working. They should ·earn an honest living for themselves [do something good/useful with their hands]. Then they will have something to share with those who are poor [have need].

Don’t say anything that will hurt others [let any rotten/unhealthy word come from your mouth], but only say what is helpful [good] to make others stronger [build others up] ·and meet [according to] their needs. Then what you say will do good [give grace; be a gift] to those who listen to you. And do not make the Holy Spirit sad [grieve/bring sorrow to the Holy Spirit]. The Spirit is God’s proof that you belong to him and he will make you free when the final day comes […by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption]. Do not be bitter or angry or ·mad [raging]. Never shout angrily or say things to hurt [slander; insult] others. Never do anything [Get rid of all kinds of] evil.  Be kind and loving [compassionate; tenderhearted] to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ. (EXB)

Don’t just read this blog. Don’t just like this blog. Examine yourself and change before it’s too late…because one day it will be. Just like we always say.

Selah.

© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Praying In The Midnight Hour

As I sit midnight_manifestationhere today, I am coming off of about four hours sleep following one of the worst three-week stretches I’ve ever had with my neighbors. This place has always classified as the “Cary hood” as I call it, but these new neighbors of mine are a real mess. Every night for the past three weeks, they have managed to keep me up. One night their windshield got smashed because they owed someone money, another their tires were slashed, still others fighting in the parking lot or loudly revving engines and radios at all hours of the night, loud and obnoxious, keeping the whole neighborhood up. So when God told me to re-start our prayer line and have it at midnight, I figured I’d just be awake by default since I’ve been awake the past three weeks in a row, every night, at least part of the night. Thus I was rather surprised when I found myself drifting off around 11:30 PM because, lo and behold, there was no noise whatsoever in the neighborhood last night.

Drifting off or not, I shook it off and restarted our prayer line, at midnight, in obedience to God. We’re calling it “Midnight Manifestation.” Many of our prayers seem to be answered, figured out, or properly understood in the “midnight hour,” thus the connection with “midnight manifestation.” But I’ll openly admit that while I understood that my apartment’s noise was enough to keep me up all night, I did wonder why God was instructing this as a mandate to involve other people. One of the main reasons I stopped hosting my prayer call before was due to lack of participation. Originally the prayer call met on Fridays, then Mondays and Fridays, then we went to Fridays, then Sundays, until it reached a point where hosting it seemed like a waste because we weren’t getting enough people interested in it to come on regularly, thus the line went on hiatus. Even though I did try to get it up again at different points, it wound up on a looonnnggg hiatus because nothing seemed to motivate participation.  So imagine my logic, thinking it seemed difficult to get people on the call at a civilized hour, let alone in the middle of the night, during the workweek.

When we got on last night, I was already tired. I could hear the tired in the voices of the others who made the commitment to be on and who came on regardless of how tired they were, how many hours it was going to be before they had to get up to go to work, or how long ago they’d gotten off work. When it was time, we came together in accordance with the verse I read when we started, Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (NIV) We prayed and supported each other, and the longer the call went on, I started to realize all the reasons why God requires the new call, the new line, the new hour for the call to be at midnight.

The call is new, and we do it at the literal hour of the new day – Midnight is the time of day when days change. We don’t tend to think of it in this way because we think of day as being our workday or the time from the coming of the sun to its setting. And, in a certain sense, I understand where we get this from: Biblical days run from sunset to sunset. The catch to this is that we don’t live in Biblical times anymore and we live on a steady, universal schedule where each literal 24-hour day starts at midnight and ends right before midnight. When we start talking about God coming through in the “midnight hour,” we’re referring to our current understanding of time running out, of a day having only a few minutes left before the next begins. The midnight hour represents newness, a new start even though it is dark and no one is awake, and a passing of things from one to another, even though it is missed by so many people so often.

We’re going to avoid the temptation to be all “deep” and “super spiritual” at midnight – If God wants to reveal something to us or we truly desire to receive from Him, we need to empty ourselves of ourselves. All our brilliant-sounding spirituality sounds like nothing before God, and all the complex theologies and theories we form to sound smarter than we are don’t hold up in the presence of the Divine, the Almighty. Too often, we approach things like prayer lines or calls with the intent to dazzle others on the line with what we perceive to be brilliant spiritual thoughts, only to confuse others and sound stupid in the long-run. If we are tired from the day, we aren’t going to be as apt to try and impress everyone else, and this gives the line the perfect opportunity to be about whatever God wants it to be about. Being on late at night takes the desire to be noted as the best pray-er and word-giver out of the equation.

Along the same lines, midnight prayer opens us up to both pray honestly and receive honestly – If there is one thing I can’t stand, that sends me into head-banging-against-the-wall mode every time, it is people who ask for prayer and then argue the prayer or argue the word you give them in response to their request. If your heart is genuine, then you are seeking prayer for an answer from God, not to dictate the request and the answer all-in-one. If we are standing still and waiting for God late at night, the temptation to be argumentative is not going to be so tempting.

It forces us to be less selfish and more thoughtful in our prayers – I reached a point with our old prayer line where I just couldn’t pray for one more person’s finances. Even now, I refuse to pray for people to find spouses or dates. When it comes down to it, I believe that one of the best things we can pray for is God’s will in someone’s life. The problem comes in when someone has their own will in mind and starts praying for that specific thing to manifest within the will of God, whether it is God’s will, or not. If you start to break down the prayer lives of many Christians, there’s a mighty fine line between what they decree and declare and witchcraft because they have never learned the proper way to pray and the proper way to approach prayer. If we are praying late at night and we handle requests along with prayer for one another, it is going to force all of us to be more careful and interested about what we genuinely want prayer for and what we desire others to agree with us to change or come to pass.

We need to learn how to pray – Prayer is one of the most forgotten aspects of Christianity today and it disturbs me that we have done away with the concept of prayer in favor of “decreeing and declaring.” Some people are so disrespectful in what they claim to be prayer that they sound as if they are barking at God, circumstances, and people to “line up” with whatever it is they want. This has taught us that communication with God is a demand rather than a petition and we’re missing the point that our relationship with God, our prayer with God, is a part of becoming one with Him and with His will. If we force true prayer – not endless preaching, not giving endless word, not calling things out on a prayer line, not even using a prayer line for an altar call, but focusing on the point of a prayer line as just that – prayer – it makes us all look at prayer and change our interaction with God for the better.

God is requiring us to “press through” – Having a prayer call at midnight is not a convenient time for most people. It’s an hour when most are either sleeping, getting ready for bed, kicking back and relaxing, or doing something else unrelated to prayer. That means those who make the commitment to come on are pressing their way to believe for God’s manifestation in the midnight hour. Too much of what we do in church revolves around people’s convenience and availability. Before we do anything, we ask everyone when they can be on, and yes, we think we’re doing a good thing. We think we are going to get everyone’s available times and coordinate it into a time when everyone is available. What we are doing, in actuality, is finding out when people will not be available. The odds of everyone in a group (even if it is small) coordinating one scheduled time to be available is unlikely, and when people tell us when they ARE best available, they are also telling us that if we don’t have it at that specific time, they won’t be there. Giving people too much input in when we do things has led to us cancelling events and projects time and time again because we are giving people too wide a door to be uninvolved. If you make something inconvenient on purpose, picking a time when it seems no one will be reasonable available, that shows who is really with you and who is not, who is serious and who is just along for show. Doing things at midnight: the hour of darkness, the hour of secret things of God teaches us about manifestation, and how it comes forth. Manifestation comes when we seek His face and seek Him in the secret place, the secret hour, more than when it’s easy to do so. Anyone can show up at church, fresh-scrubbed and bright-eyed, ready to show off their incredible spiritual thoughts with their gigantic Bible in hand. It’s a lot harder to lie or pretend to be something you’re not when it’s time for the secret place to emerge. God calls us to be press-through-ers, not people who dance during the dawn and sleep through the secret places.

We’re on the call every Wednesday night/Thursday morning at 12 AM (EST). If you’re ready to press and manifest, then be sure to call in and join us, because we will be there. (218) 548-0975 code 955321#. See you in the midnight hour.

 

© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Old Things Passing Away

I had a blog brewing within me before I saw the news about Jan Crouch’s stroke a few days ago.  When I saw it, I knew she was going to die.  I can’t explain how I knew it, except to say that I have had my eye on several other older preachers who I thought were a lot further toward the death front than she was who seem to keep holding on.  When I saw the news she had her stroke, I knew that it was over.  Another preacher from a bygone era, one that popularized prosperity preachers and over-the-top lifestyles for Christians was now gone, further proof that the “shifts” we all constantly seem to want to talk about or try to push ourselves into has yet come into existence.

In other words: What we are always talking about, hoping will come, want to see come to pass, is now already here.  We just keep missing it because we are too busy holding on to what was, the long-lost images, the days when people felt TBN was legitimate, the new ideals and concepts that had yet to come to pass, and the concepts, the hope, the promises that we still believed in.  Now, despite the realities that the promises were made did not come to pass for the average person, the hope for many is lost, and hasn’t been replaced by anything substantial has left a feeling of “fluff,” something that causes people to desire to look back, to hope back, to want something else.

John 1:24-28: Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.  They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know.  It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (NASB)

John 4:19-26: The woman said to Him, “ Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” (NASB)

I can’t help but reflect upon the verse above, and hear us, today, in that passage.  In the first century, the Jews and the Samaritans had a specific concept about what the Messiah would look like and how He would be.  Jesus didn’t meet with that image, so when He stood there, staring them in the face, they had no clue that what they sought was right in front of them.  They were interested in the old, the traditions, the way they’d been told it would be, and instead of embracing that God’s movements have nothing to do with what we think, they held so tight, they missed what was staring them in the face.

Despite all the talk about “new” all the time, we seem to have an unhealthy preoccupation with the old.  We talk about the past days of the church in misty-eyed remembrances, almost as if a certain reminiscing goes along with the nostalgia of the “good ol’ church days.” We remember summertime revivals (we forgot how hot and uncomfortable they were), we remember the way that people were with their leaders (we forgot how controlling and domineering some of them were), we remember how touched we were by the Christian life we led (we forgot how limited we felt by rules as pertained to our hair, our attire, not being able to wear shorts or pants, or make-up or jewelry), and we remember those moments of “Holy Ghost-filled power” that we thought would never end (we forgot how brother or sister so-and-so sleazed up against us at that moment or how many of them never came back). No. We remember in shades, in black-and-white versus color; glossing over the histories of many who were in leadership, who were important or larger-than-life, and our own personal histories somehow get just as shadowed out, not remembering the realities about those who were around us, what we experienced, or how we really felt about those times.

As a result, I am seeing a sort of yearning for those “days” present in preaching today.  We want hard preachers, dramatic preachers, sing-song preachers drenched in sweat, who tickle our ears, tickle our fancies, and appear to have an old-time, “Holiness or hell” message.  Since things are different now, that has to be the way it should be, right?  That has to be the answer, the thing to do is go back, instead of go forward.  We aren’t going to embrace anyone new or different (since any time anyone says they are different, that’s just code for “exactly the same.”), because to do so would mean all those old things we did, all those old things we were, all those dear memories…weren’t so dear, after all.

The reality of those old days: they weren’t that great. They had their drawbacks.  We complained through them, just like we complained through today.  We were looking for something after the newness of what we were experiencing finally wore off.  We were left with the same empty feeling when someone else seemed to do better in their faith than we did, and we were disappointed when someone didn’t get their healing or the things they had hoped to receive.  We were still green with envy when Sister SuperChristian got promoted at church and we didn’t, and we still felt the same injustices, impartialities, and unfairness that we feel in church, now.  Those good ol’ days didn’t solve these problems or issue us into an era when we had solutions for them, and they left us…hanging…seeking…searching…and without good answers that weren’t recycled church nonsense, spoken time and time again to keep us coming back, yet empty, at the same time.

God doesn’t desire that we remain in such a state, dependent on trite, cute sayings that don’t solve our problems.  It isn’t His will that we remain Biblically illiterate, relying on archaic translations that we don’t understand and a few arbitrarily placed Bible verses quoted over and over again, with no meaning. It isn’t His will that the gifts are so voided of power, we actually get bored when people start manufacturing them at services.  It isn’t His will that someone, like me, is downright bored most of the time at other churches because I know the same, predictable old-school style will flow, without fail, and without any power.

I am finally at a point in my life where I am embracing the reality that I have never been an “old school” preacher.  I did try to embody and receive such in my life at an earlier time, but it never really worked.  I’ve never been into collars or robes (you’ll get me in them only for ordinations, weddings and funerals) and I’ve never been a sing-song preacher.  It’s hard enough to get up there and hear from God, let alone try to make a dramatic performance out of it.  I think I tried to make the “old school” label work for me because what I saw around me didn’t fit me, either, so I assumed that the style and values I embodied had to be from an earlier time.  Truth be told, I know “holiness or hell” never worked, even though someone did describe me like that once upon a time, they didn’t know me very well and I actually took offense to the reference.  Sure, I have tried to be more dramatic or more of something else in my preaching, but it was never me.  The only way I have ever been “me” in the pulpit is if I did and said what God would have me to say, and trust that however it comes out, it will fit being “all things to all people” for whoever would receive it.  Sometimes I was more excited than others, sometimes more quiet, but in all seasons, the best messages have always been those that embraced the leader that I am, as myself.

So it’s meant that my sermons on pop culture references, slang terms that we embody one to another (considered unfit for the pulpit), song lyrics, and inspired ways of interpreting the Bible might not be for many churchgoers who refuse to let go of these older ideals and ways.  It means that I’m not going to preach in their churches.  It means they aren’t going to receive what I have to say.  I’m not old school, I’m not new school; I am something else, something that moves and shifts with the Kingdom, intensely attentive to changes in spiritual times and seasons, who wants to be a part of what God wants to do now, rather than earlier.  It’s having the ability to see karios time, not just what we see in the natural with our eyes.  It’s time to preach something eternal, rather than moving from temporary shift to shift.

As I prepare to do an ordination this week, I realize how much things have changed, not just for me, but for all of us.  Good, bad, or indifferent, Jan Crouch is dead.  How she lived and what she embodied is not between her and us anymore; it’s between her and God.  The era she was a part of, good, bad, or indifferent, is over, too.  It’s a new season; it’s a new time.  We can’t embrace what God is doing if we refuse to let go of those older times, of the memories and the not-so-accurate histories we keep dear to our hearts.  The seasons have shifted.  The things we keep looking for have already come.  We aren’t embracing them because they don’t come in the package, in the way we expect, because we are looking at things too natural, too temporal.  If we keep looking at things from the temporal view, we are never going to see the depth of what God is bringing to focus in this time.

I might not be traditional, but I am here, and as I look over at my silver and black dotted robe and zebra print shoes to wear to the ordination this weekend, I feel the shaking, the shifting, the movement.  It’s not what we expect. It’s not what we want.  It’s not what’s been done before.

Ready or not, change is here…and it’s staring you in the face.

© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Come As You Are

attire_postI saw the attached picture on Facebook as I made the rounds this week.  It’s not the first time something like this has cropped up; it won’t be the last.  As we live in eras that are increasingly more permissive than days past, a sign like this is shocking, to say the least, to even most churchgoers.  There was a time when many of the rules on this list were standard in several denominations, while they might not have been posted.  They were expected, and were a part of the unspoken ordinances that guided what was classified as church behavior.  As a result, there were a variety of opinions and comments posted in regard to the picture.  There were those who are still a part of those systems who feel that is the way church should be and that churches should be the guardians of such concepts, considering them to be marks of integrity.  There were those who came from legalism who were grateful for freedom, seeing the perspective that all the rules and regulations seen once upon a time didn’t keep anyone saved.  Then there were those who couldn’t ever imagine being party to such legalism.  The replies varied from such a response as “BYE!” to the church, to arguments over whether or not the Bible advocates the message, “Come as you are.”

To be honest, I didn’t ever hear “Come as you are” in church when I was a kid.  I was Catholic; we didn’t encourage people to come as they were.  Being Catholic meant you were something else; you were Catholic.  You weren’t “you” anymore in the sense that if you came, you got yourself baptized and you were now supposed to be something else.  If this happened to you as an infant, it means you weren’t “you” long before adult converts.  Thus, we never sang things like “Amazing Grace” or “Softly And Tenderly Jesus Is Calling,” because in Catholic mindset, becoming Catholic was something that they felt should have been obvious and an obvious difference in one’s life.  If you didn’t experience that change, you didn’t work the system right, and the fault had to, of course, lie within you. Thus, I first heard the phrase, “Come as you are” in a song by Nirvana back in 1991.  I still remember the first time I heard the lyrics, heralded with Kurt Cobain’s soulful, bluesy-haunting voice:

Come as you are, as you were
As I want you to be
As a friend, as a friend
As an old enemy

Take your time, hurry up
Choice is yours, don’t be late
Take a rest as a friend
As an old

Memoria, memoria
Memoria, memoria

Whenever I hear someone use the phrase “Come as you are,” this song with these lyrics is the first thing that comes to my mind, even all these years later.  It’s pretty bad to say that my first thought is of a secular song, rather than acceptance found in the church, but the song doesn’t have something bad to say in it. I hear that message, which is not all that unbiblical, when we stand back and think about it.  We may not find these literal, specific words in the Bible, but the concept that we should come, just as we are, as a friend, as someone who used to be an enemy of God but is no longer such, and that we should do such with haste…is not an unscriptural message, at all.

I didn’t comment on the picture I saw on Facebook because I knew if I did, all I would do was start a huge argument.  Instead, I sat there and sang Nirvana lyrics in my head, and started thinking about the principle of “come as you are” and its concepts in terms of the Bible.  Then I started looking at everyone’s responses and the Lord dropped in my spirit the following words: How many of us in church are doing the exact same thing as that sign, just with our unwritten rules and regulations?

Hmmmmm. Wasn’t expecting that one.

The catch is, what God said to me is exactly the truth of where we are in church today.  Truth be told, not too many churches are from the school of thought to be bold enough and post a sign like that one I saw online earlier this week.  But all over the world, especially within the western world as we divide over politics and ignore the love of our neighbor, we have all sorts of invisible signs posted that make it mighty clear that “come as you are” doesn’t apply here.

For example, how welcome would a gay person be in your church – or does your invisible sign say, “No gays allowed?” How welcome would a transgender person be in your church? What kind of an awkward position would you put a visiting transgender person in if they walked in your door?  What about single mothers? You might not post a sign, but there is probably a lot of teaching from the pulpit that is going to make her feel excluded, unimportant, unwelcome, and like she is doomed for all eternity because she is a single parent. What about a woman who feels called to preach or minister?  Is she getting the invisible sign, “NO WOMEN ALLOWED” when it comes to the pulpit ministry?  What about people who are divorced or single? Every time we start extolling the virtues of marriage and how wonderful marriage is without teaching the counterpoint of its responsibility, we make someone who is divorced feel like a failure and someone who is single feel like they are hopeless. What about an infertile couple?  You might not tell them they can’t come in the door, but when all you do is talk about family and how wonderful children are, they automatically only see what their life is lacking, rather than hearing the message that they can come as they are and receive from God.

…And the list goes on and on.  We could go down the endless lists of people who have valid reasons to feel rejected, unwanted, and unloved at church.  The second people get in the door, they are so bombarded with our thoughts and feelings, our opinions and our ideas, they don’t even get a second to collect their own thoughts and see God for who He is, because we are shielding His way.  We might say “come as you are” with our mouths, but often what we really want to say is, “Come as you are, but when you get outside the door, get exactly like us.”

People aren’t perfect. I’m not meaning to imply that we don’t need to work out issues in our lives, including sin, including alienation from God, including the host of things that people want to bring up when we start talking about “come as you are.” It doesn’t mean that once we come to God, we have nothing to work out with Him (although what we might think is most relevant to work out is probably not what God will put on their table to begin with, although that is a topic for a different message).  The problem is that while we might be horrified at the idea of someone posting something that suggests expectation, most churches in the world have their own expectations, unwritten social pressures, that take various forms of closing people out, insuring someone won’t feel welcome and won’t want to return because they feel God rejects them in the same way that we do at church.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23: For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to everyone, so that I may win more [for Christ]. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews [for Christ]; to men under the Law, [I became] as one under the Law, though not being under the Law myself, so that I might win those who are under the Law. To those who are without (outside) the Law, [I became] as one without the Law, though [I am] not without the law of God, but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became [as the] weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means [in any and every way] save some [by leading them to faith in Jesus Christ]. And I do all this for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings along with you.

When God started dealing with me about the principle of becoming “all things to all people,” it wasn’t a Bible passage I was familiar with.  He used a bisexual distant ex-boyfriend of mine and an openly gay minister that I didn’t like to challenge me on the concept that if I was going to be a true apostle, I needed to be willing to work with anyone He sent to me and go anywhere He sent me, no matter how uncomfortable, awkward, or societally unacceptable it might be.  Talk about awkward, one of them I talked about marrying at one point and the other one was so annoying, I couldn’t wait to get off the phone when he would call.  Before that, it was HIV patients and HIV testing.  Before that, it was women who contemplated abortion or who had abortion. After that, it has been a host of people, issues, concepts, and ideals that often many would probably question or tell me it wasn’t really “God.”  Yet I know His voice, and I know God uses the things of this world misunderstood, confusing, and awkward to teach His people the lesson they need to hear.

Our “Come as you are” isn’t just for those who come; it’s for us, too.  It’s for us to learn how to converse, talk to, and stand as agents of healing for those who need nothing more than to come before God without reservation, just as they are, and find the love and acceptance they need to be complete as human beings.  It stretches our love for our neighbor because it makes us look to God just that much more and receive His love for us so we can extend it to others.  Becoming all things to all people isn’t just about getting people saved. It’s also about walking in and adopting more of the image of Christ.  Doing it isn’t an option, it’s a requirement. If you claim to be a part of love transformed, then you, too, must show yourself transformed by love.

Matthew 11:28: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation].” (AMP)

It’s been a lot of years and yes, I still hear Nirvana.  Yet after this week, I am also hearing “Softly And Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” – that’s my version of “Come as you are.”  It’s something we all need to hear, even if we have heard it a million times before.  Come home, come home, ye who are weary, come home.  Why? Because softly and tenderly Jesus is calling – not with a billboard that tells you all the reasons you can’t come in, or the way you have to come, but just tells you that this is where you need to be…and now you are home.

© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

Be Not Afraid

Bathrooms. Bathrooms, bathrooms, bathrooms. Every time I come on Facebook, all I hear about are bathrooms. Every time I watch the news, all I hear about are bathrooms. It’s to the point where I am having dreams about bathrooms when I go to sleep. I have never cared about bathrooms, nor been interested in them, nor taken an inventory on who exactly is going in or out of them. A bathroom is a bathroom is a bathroom.

I’m sick of hearing about bathrooms.

Why are we so afraid of bathrooms? When I was growing up, it was all about germs on the toilet seat. I was told not to sit when I went to the bathroom in public, which always resulted in a disaster. Let’s just say there is a reason we are supposed to sit, and not hover, over the toilet seat. Then it was that you could get AIDS from a toilet seat (you can’t). Or an STD. Or, my favorite, hemorrhoids. Or people were putting pushpins on the toilet seat so you would get hepatitis. Then it was sexual predators outside of men’s bathrooms. Then it was getting kidnapped in the bathroom, because there were rumors that someone was hiding in the stall. Then it was they weren’t clean. It was always something.

Now, thanks to HB2 in North Carolina, people are afraid of bathrooms for a whole new reason: perverts who are going to pretend to be transgender and use the bathroom under an anti-discrimination policy that did not pass. Instead, we were left with the opposite: HB2, which effectively ended discrimination laws of all forms in the state. If someone wants to sue for discrimination now, they will have to do so on the federal level. While everyone was busy fussing over their fear of bathrooms, all the state laws which protect workers, the elderly, women, men, minorities and yes, the LGBT community were dismantled. Now if a male boss wants to go into a bathroom in North Carolina and assault his female secretary, she has no protection under the law, thanks to the law that so many people think allayed their fears about sexual predators and their access to unassuming bathroom-users.

But, I guess my question is, what is really at the root of all this? Now I see people sharing, liking, posting, and discussing the matter of bathrooms and genders and paranoid fears of predators, justifying their support for a bill that isn’t even in their state and they don’t even understand, and what is the root of it? Our all-American fear of bathrooms in each and every form. They don’t have these problems in Europe. In fact, most bathrooms in parts of Europe are unisex. Even when I was a kid, most of our bathrooms were unisex, especially at school when we had in-classroom bathrooms. We never had a problem, not a sexual predator, nor gender questioning children (at least that we knew of). Most of the bathrooms I have been to in church are also unisex, and I have never heard of a problem in one, although I have heard a lot of fictionalized accounts of such based on the fears people have about them. I am well over thirty years old and I have yet to ever meet anyone who was assaulted in a public bathroom by a complete stranger. Rape and sexual assault statistics state that over 90% of rape and sexual assault victims are attacked by people they know. Date rape is on the rise. I have never met someone who got a disease, an illness, an STD, or anything else from a toilet seat, even if it was dirty. The people popping around, hoping for a shot to assault someone in a bathroom? Doesn’t exist. In fact, maybe instead of being so paranoid, we should stop giving them ideas with our over-active imaginations.

The root of all this bathroom/gender mess is fear. Sure, we talk a good game in the church about not being afraid and avoiding our social anxieties. We talk about overcoming our fear of what others think and our fears that relate to negative thoughts or practical fears, such as failure or personal well-being…but we don’t talk about the big fears. If anything, I think the church has a way of promoting and deliberately instilling fear within its people. Preachers want their people afraid, because fear keeps them coming back for more, looking to their leaders as if they have all the answers and investing in that church, whether they are comfortable with the message, or not.

If anything, the nature of fear perpetrated in our churches re-emphasizes the fleshly issues and ideals that we hold close to us, that we hold onto in defense of being about ourselves and trying to protect ourselves with our own emotional insecurities. We are afraid of the world, of the people in the world, of people who are different, people who don’t sound or look like us, and people who don’t engage like we do. We are afraid because they seem to be against us or our values, and they aren’t at all, not in any sense, what we seem to like, look like, want, feel, or think.

“Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.” (Deuteronomy 1:17, NIV)

We like to justify our fears, and if you listen to what people say when they state their oppositions, they always have a reason that sounds, at least on the surface, justifiable to non-suspecting ears. We’re afraid it’s the end times, and so conditioned for fear, we are afraid every time we watch the news or see something, anywhere, about current events. We’re afraid of aliens coming in and taking our tin foil hats. We’re afraid the government is going to come and round all of us up and take all of our churches. We’re afraid of persecution to the point where we claim we are being persecuted when we aren’t. We’re afraid of Muslims, because they are going to come in and take over our culture and force us all into their cultural submissions. We’re afraid of immigrants and refugees, because they are going to take all our jobs. We are afraid of gay people, because they are going to force everyone to be gay. We are afraid of sex education, because it’s going to make people have sex. We are afraid transgender people are going to make everyone want to be a different gender. We are afraid of divorce, because we think it is going to ruin marriage. We are afraid of women, because they are going to be better than the men at what they do. We are afraid of minorities, because they are going to take over the establishment. We are afraid of Wal-Mart. We are afraid of the Illuminati. We are afraid of celebrities. We are afraid of the music industry. We are afraid of everyone and everything. They aren’t new fears. If you read sensational news story books, like The Late Great Planet Earth or New World Order, they were all saying the same mess, years ago, none of which has yet to come to pass (and since they said it would by certain time frames, that makes them false prophets…but we hold on anyway, because they threw in a few Bible verses). Afraid, afraid, afraid. And the church, as a whole, perpetrates, encourages, and even promotes these fears, invalid as they are, because it makes sure that people will hold on to something, even if what they are afraid of…surprise…isn’t really real.

“Fear not [there is nothing to fear], for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My [victorious] right hand of rightness and justice.” (Isaiah 41:10, AMPC)

Consistently in the Scriptures, I hear “Be not afraid.” Whether it was a command not to be afraid of a genuine perceived enemy, a real enemy, for one’s livelihood, for one’s ministry, or for one’s welfare, God consistently tells us to not be afraid. We can’t evangelize the world if we have already cursed everyone and everything in it that is different from us. If we see everyone who comes up to us as an enemy, as a minion, as evil, we aren’t going to be able to engage with them for the sake of the Gospel. Whatever someone is doing is irrelevant, because before God, we are all still sinners. It doesn’t matter what the sin is, it doesn’t matter if we can see the sin; that sin is somewhere in there, and we need to stop being so judgmental that we can’t see the image of God in people, regardless of who they are or what they have done. No matter what you feel is sin or not sin these days, if you can’t see God in someone who is different from you, then you aren’t Christian enough. The church encourages us to hold on to our hostilities and anger at other people, and it calls us to, in what is perceived to be a defense of the Scriptures, stand on a perceived concept of Christianity that is just not very Christian. Yet somehow, some way, by truly walking with God and laying down our oppositions to other people, we are able to see people…friends…even hope for the lost…if we will stop being afraid long enough to allow God to take over control.

Too many of us just aren’t there yet. We want to use our fear to justify where we are. We want to use our fear to keep others out and see enemies walk down the street instead of people who need to hear the Gospel. It keeps us comfortable, it keeps us safe. It makes sure that the sins of the church go unnoticed and that we can say the world is just giving us a bad rap. They aren’t. They are right when they say we aren’t living up to what we should be. We get defensive when it comes up but they’re right. They are seeing through our protests, our hatred, our embittered behavior, long enough to say that we aren’t willing to give up the control we maintain through fear so maybe we can make a difference in this world.
There’s a much higher price that we are paying for our fear, and that’s our own lack of healing. Nobody has to accept, agree with, or believe in anything they don’t want to believe in, but there is no reason why we should be in such a state of fear, running from perceived enemies that don’t really exist. If in every person that passes you see a perpetrator, that is a dangerous place and world to be in…and I truly know (and believe) that is not Jesus’ will for you in the grand scheme of things. It’s time to get free…free from the fear of the unknown, the different, and the things that happen that we cannot change.

Be not afraid! People, it’s just a bathroom. It’s not a battle ground. If I have to go to the bathroom, I don’t want to deal with the governmental pervert at the door who is going to decide which bathroom I should go in (and gee, what about the fact that preoccupation with that is kind of strange?). I don’t like that we are using fear to teach our daughters to be discriminatory and that yet another generation of paranoia sweeps through the bathroom. That person you feel you are fighting isn’t the real enemy; control is, and fear is the weapon used to keep you fighting the wrong enemy. In the Kingdom, no fear should live here: not of people, not of enemies, not of social anxieties, not of finances, not of any of it. We need to have enough trust in God to realize that the Kingdom of God is here, close enough to touch, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18), because perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.