Being Saved…

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I am a Christian. I believe that I am saved and that after this life I will live eternally in Heaven. I keep finding myself in discussions about what “salvation” means and this morning I woke up with this post circling around in my head.

I’ll be honest. I’ve had more than one existential crisis in my life. The most recent was only seven or eight years ago. We were in a church with unhealthy leadership, I was grieving the many losses in a very short period of time, my husband was under federal investigation for something he did not do, and I was dealing with the reality of parenting a very broken and destructive little girl that I had been certain God wanted us to adopt. I was angry with God. I was disappointed. I was scared. I had no hope. And I began to question everything I had ever believed about my faith. If you’re in the middle of your own existential crisis, let me offer you some hope. You’re in the right place!

When I found myself at the lowest, scariest, most desperate time of my life, I made a conscious decision to start seeking truth from the Bible instead of looking for answers from books or sermons. I spent some time cutting out the middle-man. I won’t lie and tell you that it was easy. I had to come to the realization that much of what I’d come to not only believe, but practice and cheer for, simply wasn’t found anywhere in God’s Word. Probably my biggest revelation was concerning exactly what it means to “be saved”.

Romans 3:10 And the Scriptures agree, for it is written:

There is no one who always does what is right, no, not even one!

Romans 3:23 for we all have sinned and are in need of the glory of God.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Salvation is a gift that cannot be earned. We are ALL sinners and deserve death, but God offers eternal life. But what if you’re a good person? We are ALL sinners.

James 4:17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

Yeah. Did you eat well and care for you body today? Did you help the old lady at the grocery store that was struggling to load things in her car? Did you let the Mom in her minivan with three carseats have that perfect parking space you’d been waiting for? When your spouse said something that offended you did you respond with love and grace? Sin is sin is sin. It doesn’t matter if you committed adultery last night, or if you gossiped about your neighbor, or failed to pick up the phone and call your depressed friend when they crossed your mind. You’re a sinner.

But what if I’m a REALLY GOOD person?

Ephesians 2:8-9 For it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in him. Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ! So no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving.

There is nothing you can do to earn salvation, except to choose it.

John 3:16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Dear friends, let me give you clearly the heart of the gospel that I’ve preached to you—the good news that you have heartily received and on which you stand. For it is through the revelation of the gospel that you are being saved, if you fasten your life firmly to the message I’ve taught you, unless you have believed in vain. For I have shared with you what I have received and what is of utmost importance:

The Messiah died for our sins,
    fulfilling the prophecies of the Scriptures.
He was buried in a tomb
    and was raised from the dead after three days,
    as foretold in the Scriptures.

 

To be saved means to wholeheartedly believe that John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 are true.

This is where what I believed about salvation got a little messy. Chances are good that if you’ve been in any church in America (and many other countries), at the end of a service you’ve heard someone ask those in attendance to pray a prayer if they wanted to be saved and then raise their hand if they’d “prayed that prayer”. While hands are raised the person who has led the prayer most likely counted.

Romans 10:9-10 If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.

My guess is that the “sinner’s prayer” (as the prayer is often referred to) is derived from the requirement of “openly declaring”. But guess what? There is no “sinner’s prayer” in scripture. I struggle with a visceral response to anyone that measures the success of a church on the number of people who “prayed that prayer” on a Sunday morning.

If you’re struggling with believing that you ARE saved, let me offer you some freedom. If you believe and you openly tell others that you believe, you ARE saved. It’s really that simple.

But it’s not simple.

Once you believe, you have responsibilities.

1 Peter 2:1-3 So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

2 Timothy 2:22-26 Run as fast as you can from all the ambitions and lusts of youth; and chase after all that is pure. Whatever builds up your faith and deepens your love must become your holy pursuit. And live in peace with all those who worship our Lord Jesus with pure hearts. Stay away from all the foolish arguments of the immature, for these disputes will only generate more conflict. For a true servant of our Lord Jesus will not be argumentative but gentle toward all and skilled in helping others see the truth, having great patience toward the immature. Then with meekness you’ll be able to carefully enlighten those who argue with you so they can see God’s gracious gift of repentance and be brought to the truth. This will cause them to rediscover themselves and escape from the snare of Satan who caught them in his trap so that they would carry out his purposes.

Matthew 16:24-26 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”

If you read those three passages and thought, “Holy crap!” How on earth will I ever perfect being a Christian?” Well, you won’t. If we could perfect it, we wouldn’t need a savior. But we DO need a savior. And I’ll let you in on something…

2 Corinthians 5:14-17 Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! THIS MEANS THAT ANYONE WHO BELONGS TO CHRIST IS A NEW PERSON. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

When you wholeheartedly believe, you are changed. I once heard a sermon on salvation where the pastor posted a picture similar to this… screen shot 2019-01-04 at 9.47.12 pm

It is a great representation of what it feels like to believe and know Jesus. Sin is not the only thing we need to be rescued from. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t felt like they were drowning in some bad situation, or emotions, or illness, or addiction, or pain; at some point in time. Salvation is God reaching down and pulling you out of that thing you are drowning in, or at least holding your hand so that the thing doesn’t kill you. It’s a new and changed way of living.

Christianity offers so much more than eternal life. It makes it possible to endure human life.

It offers grace…

1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

It offers healing in relationships.

James 5:16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

It offers hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a HOPE.

It offers physical healing, and emotional healing, and freedom from all things that hold us in bondage, and peace, and favor, and all the good things we can never seem to find through our own efforts.

If you’ve read this far… wow! I’m impressed.

If you’ve read this far and want to share with someone that you believe, feel free to contact me. I filter my comments so you can leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

If you’re going through your own existential crisis, or you’re drowning in church wounds, or you prayed a prayer and raised your hand and nothing changed in your life, or this is all completely new information to you… I’d be happy to answer your questions, but I’m NOT the authority on Christianity. If you reach out to me I’d be happy to pray for you, but the very best thing you can do in any of the above situations is to READ THE BIBLE! If you don’t own a physical Bible I highly recommend that you get one (I’m a big fan of the NLT and ESV translations). If you don’t own a physical Bible and you’re not interested in getting one, you can download the YouVersion app on your phone or you can read it online at Bible Gateway.

Philippians 1:6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

 

 

 

Excruciating…

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Throughout the Lenten season this box has greeted anyone that walks into my home. For six weeks words of repentance and forgiveness have been scratched out on pieces of paper and dropped into the box.

“I forgive _____ for hurting me.”

“God, I repent for not trusting you.”

“God, I forgive you for not yet healing my child.”

etc…

All those words meaningless without the power of this day, the very best and the very worst of Fridays.

The word “excruciating” was created just to describe the events that took place on Good Friday. Its Latin derivative is literally “out of the cross”.

    Excruciating:
    adjective
    1. extremely painful; causing intense suffering; unbearably distressing;torturing:
Every single thing that holds you back in life? Every bit of suffering, pain, distress, and torture.. Let it all go. Jesus experienced “excruciating” on Good Friday so that you don’t have to carry any of it. ANY of it!
As a tangible reminder of what died on the cross, the forgiveness/repentance box that greets those who enter my home will be burned on Resurrection Sunday.
Today, on Good Friday, I encourage you to let go of anything that holds you back. Build your own box to burn on Sunday.
Resurrection is coming.
Redemption is yours for the taking.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful to forgive.
Matthew 6:14… Forgive others. …Be forgiven.
Hebrews 4:16 Boldly approach the throne of grace…
2 Corinthians 12:9 His grace is ALL you need…
John 19:30 IT IS FINISHED!

 

 

 

Forgiveness is better than karma.

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In the weeks since I wrote the letter to General Becker, I’ve received countless messages saying things like, “I don’t know that I could forgive him for what he did.” and “How can you forgive the people who destroyed your husband’s career?”

With the questions have come miracles. Miracles we never dreamed or imagined…

As we’ve digested the impact of the miracles, I have struggled with how to answer questions regarding forgiveness, but here’s the gist of it…

I have no choice.

For many years, the people who know me well have heard me say, “I LOVE forgiveness!” Sometimes people respond with an emphatic, “Me too!” and sometimes they look at me like I have a third eye. There’s this thing I’ve noticed about the third-eye-people; they always say something about karma and how it’s a bitch or how they can’t wait to see karma come full circle at the mention of the word forgiveness.

Matthew 6:12-13 “…and forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”

That verse up there. ^^ It’s not just any verse. The first sermon Jesus ever preached was the Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon, Jesus said, “Pray like this…” and then he gave what became known as The Lord’s Prayer. Every Catholic and Protestant on the planet will learn that prayer. Yet, many still believe in karma.

Jesus was pretty clear. “Pray like this…” Ask God to forgive your sins to the same degree you’ve forgiven others. It’s the simplest of prayers and the clearest path to freedom…

Forgive so that you can be forgiven.

beer-goggles

I’m sure you’re wondering, “What the heck do beer goggles have to do with forgiveness?”

Here ya go… Beer goggles make things look prettier than they may actually be. I know this to be a fact. Do you know the antonym for beer goggles? What accomplishes the opposite of making things look prettier than they actually are?

Unforgiveness is the answer.

Unforgiveness makes things look uglier than they actually are. The longer you hold on to unforgiveness, the uglier a person becomes. When you refuse to forgive, eventually, you can no longer see any good in a person.

You wanna know the difference between karma and forgiveness? It’s pretty simple. Do you choose to give a person a pardon or do you choose to put them on probation. When a person has committed a crime and they are given a pardon, all is forgiven. That person is free to live their life and they no longer face any consequences for their crime. When a person is on probation, they are living with conditional freedom. They have to report to a probation officer and they have to meet constant expectations and work to prove that they have changed.

I have witnessed it repeatedly. It’s impossible to live a life based on karma without the expectation that karma will dish out revenge to those who hurt us. People that rely on karma don’t forgive and they put people who’ve hurt them on probation. They just keep waiting for those who’ve hurt them to reap what they’ve sown. They believe that “revenge is sweet”. I know. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And to be honest…. there will likely be a time in the future when I will venture down that road again. It feels good to think that people who’ve hurt us “will get what’s coming to them”.

One thing about karma is that it is indeed a bitch. It creates a circle of waiting to get what you deserve and waiting for others to get what they deserve. It holds everyone in that circle prisoner. I’ve seen people I love waste their lives looking back and waiting for karma to get even with someone who’s hurt them. All they see is ugly. All they do is wait.

But oh forgiveness… it sets people free.

That’s what I choose. I choose to forgive. I choose freedom.

In an attempt to teach my children the power of grace, I’ve made a repentance/forgiveness box for the last few Lenten seasons. The boxes are wrapped in paper with a slot cut in the top for inserting notes. I write scriptures, love notes really, about grace and forgiveness all over the box and attach a nail to the top that represents the ones used to hold Jesus on the cross. next to the box are notepads and a jar of pens. Between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday everyone who enters our home is invited to leave their sins and their unforgiveness in the box and on Easter night, we burn the entire thing.

Except this year… Dear Hubby and I have been stuck. I made the box on Mardi Gras and for six months, everyone who entered our home, was encouraged to leave something behind. And although the box was full and I had given my word to many that it would be burned, we held on to it. I only intended to delay the burning until I FELT like I had forgiven the people whose names I’d deposited in the box. But the delay turned into days, and then weeks, and then months. We just kept delaying the letting go. In the waiting we kept adding to the collection of paper in the box. Week after week, some days hour after hour, we would scribble names and details on pieces of paper, fold them neatly, and insert them in the box’s opening.

If you read the Sermon on the Mount, skip forward to Matthew 18 and read the parable of the unforgiving debtor. It’s a perfect picture of the difference between forgiveness and karma. In the beginning of the parable Peter asks Jesus,“Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!…”

For most of my life I was overwhelmed by this concept. Are we really required to forgive someone four hundred and ninety times? What does that even look like? Can you imagine telling your six month old baby, “I forgive you for puking on my favorite sweater.” FOUR HUNDRED AND NINETY times?!

Then again, that baby’s first words might be, “I forgive you…” Hmmmm….there’s some food for thought.

Despite the fact that the abundance of forgiving might produce a ridiculously graceful child, I really don’t think that’s what Jesus was saying at all. I believe that Jesus was saying that you keep forgiving until your heart stops hurting. If you’re still seeing ugly in a person, you probably need to keep forgiving them. If you’re still expectantly waiting for someone to get what they deserve, you’re not done forgiving.

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For four months my husband and I dropped notes in the box that said abstract things like, “I forgive the Army.”, “I forgive the people who made the false accusations against my husband.”, “I forgive the people or person that is trying to destroy my husband’s career.”

And then… in June, we got the investigation notes and we had actual names attached to actual faces. We had actual actions and words spoken. Our notes changed. Our forgiveness changed.

If I had to guess, between the day we got the investigation notes and the night we burned the box, we each wrote several thousand notes. It may have actually taken 490 scraps of paper covered with two specific names for our hearts to feel free…

Fun fact: Forgiveness does not only release the forgiver and the forgiven. It also releases the power of God to move in miraculous ways.

Thirty-six hours after we burned that box, my dear hubby got a phone call from one of his old bosses. Someone that has not contacted him in four years and whose name was dropped in the box a few times, called to apologize. That’s worth repeating… He apologized. Profusely. And… he promised to get dear hubby’s security clearance immediately reinstated. And he did. He also did much, much more to restore what we thought was forever gone. And now my dear hubby is getting ready to start a REALLY SWEET job that will allow him to finish well. For four years we’ve prayed… “God, please allow him the opportunity to finish well. Amen.” The career-killer letter? It’s gone.

I want to make something clear. Forgiveness CANNOT be tied to an apology. There’s not a single place in scripture that says so. I had to forgive my Mother for some big, huge, ugly things after she was dead. I’ll never get an apology from her. She is still forgiven. I’ve been hurt by complete strangers (and close friends) who’ve said ugly things about my stimmers (my kiddos with autism). I may never get an apology. They are still forgiven. The men who made the accusations against my husband will likely never apologize. We forgive them anyway.

Sometimes you get an apology. Most of the time you don’t. Forgive anyway.

The apology my man got. It’s a gift. It’s our lagniappe. It’s one of our many miracles.

One more thing… That little note at the top.. the one about Karma not having a menu? That makes me sad. I like menus. I like choices. Some days I want the calamari and some days I want the stuffed mushrooms. And let’s be honest… Do any of us actually want what we deserve? If I got what I truly deserved I’d be feasting nightly on dirty dishwater. But God… He loves me enough to have given His son so that I get to feast daily on His goodness and forgiveness.

So when given the choice between forgiveness and karma; I choose forgiveness. Always.

a season of grace

Growing up in south Louisiana is a privilege.  I’ve been around the world and I’ve experienced no culture, food, or people, quite like those of my home.  In south Louisiana Mardi Gras is a season.  Much like Black Friday and tree sales initiating the Christmas season, I grew up with king cakes, parades, and Mardi Gras balls initiating the Lenten season.

As a little girl I wanted so badly to be Catholic.  I was just about the only kid in elementary school who didn’t ‘get to’ go to catechism.  We were (still are) non-denominational Christians and listening to the other kids plan out and talk about their catechism carpools and the mean nuns left me feeling like a red-headed step-child  (no offense to my ginger friends).  I wanted my own rosary and I wanted to see my friends get hit on the back of their hands with a ruler by a nun when they talked during prayer.  king-cake

I eventually got over the desire to be Catholic and decided to just embrace the parts of Catholicism that I found enjoyable and comforting.  Even so, not living in Louisiana for more than twenty years means that I’ve missed out on being immersed in the season.  For many years I whined about missing the parades and having to make my own kingcakes.  And then, a few years ago, I realized that I was not only missing all the fun aspects of the Mardi Gras season. I was missing the reverent aspects of the Lenten season as well.  Although I had been one of the few non-Catholic kids in school, just living in Baton Rouge meant that I didn’t have meat in the cafeteria on Fridays and that I didn’t have school at all the week of Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday.  And, even though my Mom would explain to me every year from the time I was six that I “didn’t have to”, I still gave up something every year for Lent.  I had to have something to add to the playground conversations and to be honest, I liked the discipline of the giving up.  I still do. I fast from various things at various times throughout the year and I am always blown away at the really BIG WAYS that God shows up when I’m giving something up and replacing that something with Him.

A few years ago, during the Lenten season, something amazing happened.  While I was in Lake Charles, Louisiana caring for my grandmother, my dear hubby was home in Virginia studying all things Ressurectionish.  I returned home to find a mezuzah attached to the frame of our front door and a book laying on the kitchen counter telling how to prepare the Passover Seder.  My former Catholic, very Italian husband, got in touch with his Jewish roots.  He found a desire to honor the beauty of Christ’ life, death, and resurrection in physical, tangible ways.

As dear hubby and I gave homage to all things Christ-centered, we talked to our children about the Lenten season and the crucifixion and the resurrection.  We reminded them over and over that all of it was for grace.  That Christ did not just come to earth and live as a man and die FOR us, but AS us.  We told them that he felt pain and misery and abuse so that we could let go of those things when they happen to us.  We told them that he was tortured and beaten for every wrong thing that any of us would ever do.  We told them that he conquered death so that all of those wrongs would not have the power to dictate how we live our lives.  We told them that he died for our freedom.  He died for our redemption.  He died because he loves us.  He died for grace.

Romans 8:38-39 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We’ve told our children these things throughout their lives, but grace and love and freedom are so much bigger than what can be told. They must be shown.

Yes, my children know what this season is about. But the same year that my husband found his Jewish roots, I found myself burdened. I want my kids to experience Christ, not just know about him. I desire more than anything for grace and freedom to be part of their identities, not just part of their knowledge base.  I knew all about Jesus when I was a teenager, but I was clueless when it came to grace and freedom and unconditional love.  Unfortunately, my lack of understanding led me to believe that choices I made could never be forgiven. My lack of experience with the realness of Christ’ sacrifice led to years of running and self-destruction.

I want more for my children. God, let them know!  Let them know how BIG your love is.  Let them know how BIG your grace is. Let them walk in freedom every day of their lives. Give them total understanding that NOTHING can separate them from your love. Give me wisdom in showing them these things. Amen.

John 15:13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

When I was giving up something for Lent as a child I appreciate that my Mom made it clear that I had free will and that I did not have to.  But I really wish she had taken the time to teach me what Lent was about.  I wish I had known that the “giving up” was in honor of what Christ gave up for us.  I really wish that I had had some tangible symbolic activity that I could connect to scripture as a reminder that freedom and love and grace are mine for the taking.  But I didn’t.  And now… I have a chance to redeem my story.  I have four (not-so) little people in my care that I CAN provide with a tangible symbolic activity that can be tied to scripture.  In my endeavor to find that activity, I came across this blogpost by Ann Voskamp.  Read it.  Be inspired.  repentence box

On New Year’s Eve 2012, we had a little party at our house.  Instead of having people sit around and discuss or write down their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and resolutions for 2013, I gave everyone a couple of index cards and a pen at 11:30pm.  I asked everyone to go find a quiet spot and write down ALL of the things that they would like to leave behind in 2012.  And then… just before midnight, we put our cards, one-by one, in the fireplace and watched them burn.

For the last few years, as an attempt to SHOW what Holy Week is all about, I build a repentance box. Our family (and friends who stop by during the week) write out our bad choices, our pains, every ounce of unforgiveness. All the junk Christ carried to the grave, we place it in the box and let it go.  And just before midnight, on the Saturday before Resurrection Sunday, we will turn it all to ash.

Happy Season of Grace!

Go build your box. 😀