Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Don't Believe a Lie: I'm Gonna Take Back What He Took From Me...

I woke up early this morning. I was filled with a sense of impending dread.

I felt anxious. [But why? Everything was in place, nothing was wrong.]
I felt unworthy. [Where did that come from? I've been doing great.
I felt fear. [Here we go... now this is making sense...]

I felt like I was being watched. I felt like I was late. I felt troubled. I felt like I was "in" trouble. I felt like my career was uneasy. I felt fear for my finances. I felt unaccomplished and like I'd wasted my life. I felt regret and remorse. I had one hundred things running through my head. My dreams seemed small, insignificant and well, stupid. My heart was pounding. My mind wouldn't calm. I couldn't seem to get the name of Jesus out of my mouth. I felt like I didn't want to even get out from under the covers. I wanted to hide and call into work. I wanted to just "not be." I wanted peace and to find something that would quiet that noise. Those were the emotions. Those were the feelings. Those were the... lies.

But here's the reality: I've done my job well - really well. I've made a career out of it, even when I should have gone into ministry. And God's blessed that. I've done more and accomplished lots: secularly and spiritually. God has used pretty bad things done TO me, and God has used pretty bad things I've done to others... in ways for healing and reconciliation that I could have never engineered. The bottom line is, I've got more in me. I've got more to do. I'm not done yet. I've not reached even my potential yet. I'm not coasting on the other side of a hill, and this isn't my greatest achievement yet. Do you know why? Because I was promised more. Do you know why I believe that? Because I'm not dead, yet. It is really that simple.

Now, about this morning... the truth is I did pray. I did get the name that can calm any storm (even emotional or spiritual) out of my mouth, and I did start to rely on what I know vs. what I feel and I did get up. I even got in the shower and got ready for work. I sang and mentally prepped for my day. And over and over in my head started an old kid's chorus... "Well, I'm a-goin' to the enemy camp. Gonna take back what he took from me..."

I can't imagine how I would have handled those thoughts 2 years ago, 1 year ago, 6 months ago, even. I'd have likely used a mental health day, shopped online, watched some movies and worried needlessly all day. Maybe I would have called some friends, arranged a time to go out and complain about it. Maybe I would have medicated those feelings. I would have taken a pill and ignored them, rather than confront them. How would you handle that? For those that go through mental anxiety and stress and worry... what do you do? When you know that you are told one thing, and that you believe something, but your feelings take over and run wild with you? Have you been lied to lately? Have you been told you can't do something? Regardless of if it is church, or secular, have you been told that you can't complete something, learn something, know something, be something, or accomplish something? I mean, that's just not true, is it? (Philippians 4:19)

What's your dream? What's your calling? What excites you and makes you get out of bed in the morning? What do you love? Why aren't you doing that? Have you been told that you can't? Have you been turned down? Failed? Messed up? God is faithful to help you execute the dreams He calls you to. (1 Thessalonians 5:24) Did you try once and give up? Did you try twice and give up? Why? There is a great Japanese proverb that says, "Fall seven times, get up eight." Have you been lied to by people telling you your dream will never happen? Have you been lied to by people in church, telling you how you have to be "this" or "that" before you can come to God? God never retracts his callings and He never gives up on those He calls. (Romans 11:29) Have you believed those lies? Have you been told you can't be a Christian unless you're "good?" Have you been told that if you don't walk, talk, and look like everyone else that you are not "there yet?" (Revelation 22:17) God will meet you where you are. Don't worry about people, or tradition, or even being embarrassed. God will clean you up, and He doesn't require input or help from anyone. He will convict you, wash you, change you, and help you. And He can do it all without the condemnation of even one of His trusted saints! Take for instance the woman at the well (James 4:1-26) Jesus did address her sin, but he also gave her salvation. Or how about one caught in adultery? (John 8:1-11) Can anyone really cast a stone? Yes, he helped her and saved her, and yes... He told her to go, and sin no more. Lies would have had her killed in the street, with self-righteous theologians feeling justified. Don't believe the lies of anyone. Trust me, God will use you anywhere. God loves you everywhere. God is a god of everything. You are not unlovable, unsavable, and expendable. If you never ask, the answer is never given. If you never reach, your hand will always be empty. If you hold onto your past, your hand isn't open to receive your future.

I want to list a few things for you. These are secular, but valid, examples of what this world may never hold if people believed lies and never tried:

--"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." -- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

--"Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons." -- Popular Mechanics, 1949

--"I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year." -- The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957.

--"But what...is it good for?" -- Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.

--"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." -- Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

--"640K ought to be enough for anybody." -- Attributed to Bill Gates, 1981, but believed to be an urban legend.

--"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." -- Western Union internal memo, 1876.

--"The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys." -- Sir William Preece, chief engineer of the British Post Office, 1876.

--"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" -- David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.

--"While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility." -- Lee DeForest, inventor.

--"The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C', the idea must be feasible." -- A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith's paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)

--"Who wants to hear actors talk?" -- H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

--"I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face and not Gary Cooper." -- Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in "Gone With the Wind."

--"A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make." -- Response to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' Cookies.

--"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." -- Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

--"Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax." -- William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, British scientist, 1899.

--"So we went to Atari and said, 'Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you.' And they said, 'No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, 'Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.'" -- Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak's personal computer.

--"If I had thought about it, I wouldn't have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can't do this." -- Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M "Post-It" Notepads.

--"It will be years -- not in my time -- before a woman will become Prime Minister." -- Margaret Thatcher, 1974.

--"I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious sensibilities of anyone." -- Charles Darwin, The Origin Of Species, 1869.

--"With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market." -- Business Week, August 2, 1968.

--"That Professor Goddard with his 'chair' in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react--to say that would be absurd. Of course, he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools." -- 1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard's revolutionary rocket work. The remark was retracted in the July 17, 1969 issue.

--"You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can't be done. It's just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training." -- Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the "unsolvable" problem by inventing Nautilus.

--"Ours has been the first, and doubtless to be the last, to visit this profitless locality." -- Lt. Joseph Ives, after visiting the Grand Canyon in 1861.

--"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You're crazy." -- Workers whom Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.

--"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau." -- Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.

--"There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will." -- Albert Einstein, 1932.

--"The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives." -- Admiral William Leahy, U.S. Atomic Bomb Project.

--"Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value." -- Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.

--"There will never be a bigger plane built." -- A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the 247, a twin engine plane that holds ten people.

--"Everything that can be invented has been invented." -- Attributed to Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899, but known to be an urban legend.

--"Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction." -- Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872.

--"The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon." -- Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873.

What if any of these believed the lie? I wouldn't be typing this on a computer. I wouldn't be using a service that connects me to others called "the internet." I wouldn't have a phone, a tablet, #Glass, and the history of mankind in the palm of my hand. Why? Because the lies were present. Progress was considered evil. Phones, TV, Computers, Copiers, Internet, Cell phones... Surgery, psychology, treatment... travel, airplanes, ships, and cars... People rail against change, be it technological, social, societal, political, and spiritual. But hear me:

You have been lied to.
You will be lied to.
You will believe some of the lies.

But fight against that!! Fight with everything inside of you. You are not made to be broken, belittled, and thrown away. Your dreams, your callings, and your worth are not tied to any political party. You are more than a pawn as a woman, a minority, or a type of sexuality. You are worth more than what your vote is, who you vote for, and what you sell your vote for. [Yes, I really did just type that.] What you vote for, and what you sell your voice for, matters. And while you can rally, and rail and fight for or against, bear this in mind: you are a real, live human that has something to offer. You have a life to live. You have stories to be written, songs to be sung, and your own destiny to fulfill. You are more than a number in a multitude. You are more than a statistic. You are more than what someone else tells you that you are. Believe that you are capable. Believe that you are able. Believe that God has you, even when you don't know what to think of your neighbor, your family, your old church, your new church, your friends, and your own self at times. Believe God. Believe that you can trust that. Believe that where you are short in your ability, that God will complete rest. There is a proverb that says "God uses your availability, not your ability."

Please be kind. Kindness is never the wrong answer. Compassion and love are never the wrong choice to show others, even when they hurt you. I love you, right where you are.

If my hair gets any taller today, God's going to cause it's languages to be confused! #TowerOfBabel #TheHigherTheHair

Cheers, #JustBeingMichael ツ

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Feeling vs. Fact; Faith vs. Fallacy

Do you ever base your reality on how you feel? I have been so tempted to do that over the past few days. Sometimes, it's easy to take a word, a glance, or lack of "instant gratification" and get discouraged. It's easy to forget where we came from. It's easy to get distracted on our journey. But, that is my feeling vs. fact. That's fallacy vs. faith. It made me think about the prodigal son, about Joseph, and about Daniel. I know the prodigal son’s story. I’m living it. I want to compare myself to Daniel or Joseph, but that’s not true… not quite accurate. I wasn’t taken, or forced somewhere. I didn’t hold onto my principles in a foreign land. I am the prodigal. I took my blessings, talents, and gifts and squandered them. And I am making the journey home.

That’s where I am - on that journey. But I have to wonder… how humbled to get up from a pig pen, and take those steps. How hard was that journey home? It can’t have been an easy, quick, painless journey. And it was probably still rife with distraction, but how did he make it back? Providence? Grace? Mercy? I don’t have all of those answers… but I know that it’s easy to forget where we came from. Those distractions and those side streets on the journey make it really easy to forget what your goals are and the laser-vision of where you want to go! My feelings tell me that I am no better off. My feelings tell me that this is just an emotional high, and a group hypnosis. My feelings tell me that I am just nostalgic for a time, place, and people that no longer really exist. My feelings tell me that I’ll never hear Brenda LeDoux playing the organ, while Brother Wolfe leads worship service on Robinson Road again. My feelings tell me I’m still sick and fat and that I am going to fail in work and other areas. But that’s just feelings. Those are not reality. We can’t always trust feelings.

So, I went through my notes, my old tweets, blogs, and statuses. I got to adding time up... I started on this new life journey on 10/25. I had to count down for 8 eight weeks for surgery. And on 12/20, I had that surgery (and a big ole helping of miraculous occurrences). Let's revisit, back in October:
--I weighed in at a whopping 307.
--I drank almost every day (usually sugary white wine or a white-lightening-sangria recipe)
--I smoked over a pack a day (of cigarettes, yo. Get it right.)
--I was barely mobile. My feet, ankles, and knees would swell if I was too "active."
--I never cooked and I ate out every day. Not all was gross fast food. Lots were, but some were fancy, rich, decadent restaurant foods. Those aren’t' bad, but you can't eat like that every day.
--Less than 25% of my food was green.
--I was diagnosed with Advanced-Stage GERD
--2 ulcers
--Hiatal Hernia
--Barrett's esophagus (mine was cancerous)
--Ulcerated esophagus (from the acid and GERD)
--Daily vomiting based off of bad food choices.

My doctor said that I needed surgery. Like, serious surgery before I perforated my esophagus, or worse. Also, I would need to quit smoking, quit drinking (he actually said that I could only have red wine or clear liquor. No dark, and not much.), no acid (foods, tomatoes, orange, lime, lemon), no fast food. My only other option was to wait for death. I can't say I didn't consider it, if I am being honest. I had a choice. And I made the choice that I wanted to live. I wanted to live. I want to live. 

I did countdowns to the surgery. I dieted. I exercised. I walked. I juiced. I drank water. I quit smoking. I worked my butt off. That willpower alone was a miracle. Well, here's an update for you (for me, because I need it today), since 10/25:
--No cigarettes! (Not even one. Not even a puff. I, have, kept my e-cig close by - just in case.)
--No drinking yet. I took a sip, but just couldn’t get into it. I am happier not drinking and it's helped immensely.
--NO sodas. That was the hard part. I wanted some so bad. Sigh. But the chemicals and empty sugar just aren't worth it. I did sip some Sprite Zero once, but even that has chemicals so that it is "zero." Sigh. Having none is just better.
--NO fast food. I've had to make hard choices during travel, but... I made good choices and have pulled through. For the purposes of what could have transpired - I've held strong! Even fast food salad is better than nothing, and you can always make a good choice when you have to.
--Activity. Some type every day (take the stairs, park further away, walk to work, #C25K - 3.1 miles/day - usually, with days off here and there)
--I've lost 42 lbs.
--I can walk without swelling in my joints.

Now, let me tell you what I didn't expect. I didn’t expect recovery. I didn’t expect to get better, I just hoped I’d stop getting worse. I didn’t expect miracles or help or hope. I didn’t expect grace or mercy. I figured that what I’d spent 20 years doing to my body would just be there. I am a big believer in consequences. If you did the crime, do the time. If I ate and drank and was merry like there was no tomorrow… well, I did this to my body. But God is greater than that.

--I didn't expect that the inflammation in my joints would clear up. Like, my shoulders, elbows, knees. Gone.
--I didn't know that the clump where my hair had fallen out and some red patch was there would clear up. My hair actually thickened. Maybe that’s not a miracle to you, but it is to me.
--I didn't know that during surgery, they wouldn't find anything. Read that again: The cancerous cells: gone. The Barrett's esophagus: gone, The hernia: gone, the scars and ulcerated esophageal tissue: gone. They did the scope and fixed one thing, but all of the other - GONE. Healed.
--I didn't know that I'd feel better. Just feel better. I don’t have to plan food and sleep in recliner and worry about what to wear if I have to eat trigger foods. I don’t stress over food. It’s a HUGE deal to not spend lots of waking hours worried about your digestive track.
--I didn't know my brain and mind would function better - like back when I was young! Memory, speed, cognitive... all have improved function. I actually noticed it and wanted to track so I'm doing IQ speed tests and Lumosity so I can track any improvements based on diet and activities I participate in.
--I didn’t know I’d feel God again. Reread that… when I started this, I didn’t start it from a spiritual perspective. I started this because my Doctor harangued me into taking my own health under control and taking ownership over my own bad choices. But, getting off of alcohol, cigarettes, anxiety-reducing pills, and body-numbing food actually blew my spiritual receptors wide open. I could listen for God. I wasn’t using drinking, partying, and food to cover up emotions or to numb annoyances. I had no choice but to listen. There’s theology there somewhere, but I haven’t researched it. Bottom line, I got clean and God got my attention.

So what is the moral of this story??? Don't freak out if you have a bad day. Don't kill yourself over your perception of where you are in that moment. Take real, true stock of your location, and your situation. Take care of you. You are the only you there is. You are worth taking care of. If you cheat on something, you are only doing that to yourself. Examine yourself and find out why you are not important enough to you, and care enough about you, to cheat - be it on a diet, a drinking binge, smoking, your taxes, a test... Whatever your challenge? Why are you not important enough? You do you. You will get where YOU are going. If you don't see immediate results, that’s okay. You didn't immediately get where you are. Miracles still happen – so be one. And if you don’t “feel” it, that doesn’t make it true. Sometimes, you have to just do what you know is right.

Regardless of others’ perceptions, or your own perception, you have to keep doing – day in and day out – what is right for you. I love you, right where you are, how you are, and for who you are.

#JustBeingMichael ツ

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Every Believer's Calling

"The chimes of time ring out the news, 'Another day is through.'
Someone slipped and fell. Was that someone you?
You may have longed for added strength, your courage to renew.
But do not be dis-hearted, for I bring hope to you.
It is no secret, what God can do.
What He's done for others, He'll do for you.
With arms wide open, He'll pardon you.
It is no secret, what God can do."

It's not a secret that I've changed. It's apparent. It's... tangible... I suppose. I spend some time last night reading and re-reading my blog(s). The subjects matter, the language, the words used, or not used. I spent time remembering when I would worry about the audience and the reaction to what might be "too churchy or preachy." But, I can't help it... I've been changed, and it's no secret. It's not "unspoken," because - believe me - it's getting spoken about. And it ways I never thought it would. I've received criticism from places I never thought I would. Seriously. And I've received support from people I never expected to support me. That's not meant to be incendiary, it's just fact. People in church I thought would turn me away, have been nothing but supportive. People that I thought would be supportive have been critical, or dismissive. Friends that are not Christian, but believe in individual liberty, have been supportive (wonderfully so). And those friends that require so much support and "liberty" in their lives have been judgmental because I'm being vocal about "Christianity." The response is myriad. But let me just take a minute to say that my heart, and what I've purposed in my heart, isn't myriad. It isn't varied. It isn't even unclear. My heart changed. There are too many things that came together that God used… Mamaw’s death, dreams and seeing the hand of God, daily, move in my life, surgery and the fact that I was just healed. I mean, there's no other way around it. My life was literally upended with a series of miracles that I never expected God to do...

I can't help but talk about it. I can't help but live it. I can't help but re-evaluate some of the selfishness, sin, and direction my life was taking. Was I awful? No. Was I even "bad?" No. But I wasn't saved. I wasn't being the best version of me. I wasn't being faithful to God, or to any of the callings and directives that my life required. And as that becomes more apparent, it's also more apparent to me that God has me in a way I've not seen in my nearly 4 decades on Earth. I've seen it in others' lives. I've seen real miracles before. I've seen deliverance and joy and... peace... before. But I've seen it in others. It's new to be experiencing it.

Why this blog? Why this confession and review (again) of what God has done? Well... because we are all called to testify. We're all called to witness. We'd never hear the end of the lotto, if you won. We'd never hear the end of it if one of you actually won that furniture room-makeover you keep "sharing" on Facebook. Or if someone actually got that free iPad in the contest they tweeted 8 times a day??? We'd hear all about it. Over, and over, and over. I mean... look at how many times you have taken a picture of your food, put a filter on it, and acted like you were the Queen of Sheba at a Banquet!!! Girl, you are at Waffle House, okay? And I am guilty, too. I do it, and I love it, and I join right in... But how much more should I do that for real things God is working on in my life?

Matthew 28:16-20 "The eleven disciples went to the hill in Galilee where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him, even though some of them doubted. Jesus drew near and said to them, 'I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.'"

Now, this is an entire sermon unto itself. Notice that the disciples were "where Jesus had told them to go." #Snap When they saw him, they worshipped him. #Snap. But my point here is that he commissioned them to go and bear witness to the things they knew. That's all I'm doing. I can't talk about things I don't know. I know tech, I know social media. I know tons about partying. I know lots about fashion. I even know about laughter. And, now, I have to talk about God.

Acts 1:6-8 "When the apostles met together with Jesus, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time give the Kingdom back to Israel?” Jesus said to them, “The times and occasions are set by my Father's own authority, and it is not for you to know when they will be. But when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

You will be filled with power. You will be witnesses. (You will be witnesses) to all the ends of the Earth.

One of my friends used to use a "tagline" or a quote in her blogs and posts years ago. It said, "Bloom where you're planted." That's good stuff. It's great advice, regardless of your faith, regardless of your spiritual status. Regardless of your money, your social clout, your stature in the community bloom where you are planted. Be a good steward over where you are. We all talk about the "ends of the Earth." But how about where you are? Start there. Be a good witness and live a good life where you are. I know people that God has touched and I know people that God needs to touch. I know what that feels like. I know about not using God and good things to heal yourself and fulfill your spiritual needs. I know about people that are addicted to drugs and leading a hopeless life. But I also know that "It is no secret..."

What is your life saying? What are you living today that expresses any relationship with Christ? I don't mean your hair, your clothes, or your mouth. Being white, conservative, and affluent does not make you a Christian. Do you care about others? I mean, really care? Are you concerned with their lives? Not just their souls, getting your numbers up in a revival, and making sure they are cookie cutter “christianists,” but their lives and their day to day walk with the Lord? Are you hiding behind your standards and not using your mouth to befriend and witness to people? I'll be more direct: Do you really believe in Christianity? Not just being “Apostolic” or “Baptist” or even, “Spiritual” for those that hate a label… but, really? Do you believe in Jesus? If you do, you'll live it. Not out of fear, or under the law, or even "standards." But love will make what seems humiliating into a humbling and loving experience. Love will take you from fearing "others" to bearing witness to God's Grace and power. Love will make you swallow a lot of pride and be kind in the face of cruelty, love will make you react with dignity and grace towards those that treat you poorly.

Don't assume who God loves or will use. Don't be the judge for God. Your job is to show Christ and His Love to people. You are to be the living witness of Christ on Earth. Loving God involves not just having a personal relationship with Jesus but also sharing Him with others. The world around you needs the power of Christ, it is no secret.



Monday, January 20, 2014

I had a conversation recently with a friend about active worship in church services. I love and respect all of my friends. And many, many of my friends are not Christian. So, my next statement colors the foundation of what I am about to say. I am a Christian. And I am a Pentecostal, at that. I am one that will cry, cry, cry if I feel God's Spirit. I tear up at the drop of a hat in church. I am demonstrative, but I am not a big aisle runner, I don't shake and shout and dance like some. Not that I think it's bad. I just tend to crumple up and weep under God's annointing. That's just me.

That being said, we got on the topic of "why" active worship in church was "needed." Why do people need to do that? Why is that appropriate? Why is that called for? Well, there are many instances in the Bible of people raising their hands, praising the Lord in marching, dancing, shouting, and all forms of demonstrative worship. It's all scriptural, just like it's scriptural and right and timely to have moments of silence, reflection and reverence.

But, why not??? Have you never seen ice-cold fashionistas clap and get excited about a runway look in NY? I have. Have you never seen women that are classy, regal, and well-bred trample and stampede over a Choo or Blanik sample sale? I have. Have you never seen someone at a club get happy over their drink and dance the night away? Dance and drink to forget, celebrate, participate, etc? I have. I've seen people breathe sighs of relief over the fact that I had the very type of liquor they wanted, when I was bartending. Have you never seen people get excited over sports? Can  you hoop and holler about a game? Can you cuss, and tweet, and FB, and instagram your pain, pleasure, outrage, and joy over a game? Can you raise your hands, do the wave, get up out of your seat, and shout at the top of your lungs over a game? Over a sporting event? Or a new fashion line? Over "your jam" being played at the club?

I want you to think on this... We "use" church. We "use" God. We "use" other Christians when we feel bad or need something, and we never see them when we don't need them. If all is well after God got you that job, healed you, and helped you... where are you when things are going great? Here are some common sayings about church that I'd like you to read, but with church replaced:

1. The coach/designer/DJ never came to visit me, personally.
2. Every time I went, they asked me for money.
3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly. The people in front of me were too loud.
4. The seats were very hard.
5. The referees/bartender/artist made a decision I didn’t agree with.
6. I was sitting with hypocrites—they rooted for different players and they only came to see what others were wearing!
7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.
8. The band played some songs I had never heard before.
9. The games/shows/serving hours are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.
10. My parents took me to too many games/shows when I was growing up.
11. Since I read a book on sports/fashion, I feel that I know more than the coaches/designers, anyway.
12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport/clothes they like best.

Growing up a PK, and having ministered myself, these are real quotes from real situations that people use to skip church and to avoid church... If you can teach your kids that Ole Miss will ALWAYS be better than State, why can't you teach them why you believe in God and about God's blessings on Ole Miss? Do you not believe it "enough" to make it tangible for your family? If you can always know that you are going to monitor your kids food and freak out over gluten and the very possibility that they ingested a GMO, why can't you talk to them about Jesus and the possibility of ingesting things that are far worse, spiritually? If you can get excited about your new hair, glitter, makeup, runway looks, sports, football, baseball, who's in what playoff, someone's after-game interview, and what Housewife on Which Franchise Has a Fake Boyfriend and Called Out a Fake Marriage then you can SURELY get just as excited about God and what He's done for you in your life, right? When He helped you pay that car note, keep your relation-"ship" out of crazy waters, and got those lights turned back on? What about when he helped you out of that ticket that would have raised your insurance? What about the fact that you are alive, got up this morning and have some type of internet service this allowing you to read this, right here, right now? Right? Hello?

Is this on?


Oh well, I love y'all anyway.

#JustBeingMichael ツ

The Courage of Our Conviction...

Today is MLK day. And he has one of my all-time favorite quotes. It’s not the dream, it’s not the ones that are so often used. It’s simple, and it’s clear he lived his life by his convictions:
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
That quote speaks more to me than so many others attributed to that man, or many other activists and well-known ministers. He clearly walked the walk. We all know he was a gifted speaker, but he, literally, walked the walk. It's often been said that someone has "the courage of their conviction..."
What does that mean exactly? I am so glad you asked! Conviction (besides court and law definitions) is listed as “a strong belief or opinion” or “the feeling of being sure that what you believe or say is true.” So, to have courage behind your conviction is a state that people aspire to. It is mostly said in a positive light. That person, regardless of peer pressure, and regardless of obstacles has "the courage of their conviction!” Sometimes, it is used negatively, to show that even in surmounting evidence and even though proven incorrect, a person held onto their beliefs and had “the courage of their conviction.”
To me, conviction is usually when God is speaking to my heart about something. Conviction for me is when scripture isn’t easily translatable, isn’t forthcoming, isn’t plain – but God tells me what is good and bad for me. Now, I don’t find, or make, those applicable for everyone, and I don’t judge others on this – because it’s a gray area, spiritually speaking. What’s off limits for me, may not be for you. What’s bad for me, isn’t necessarily bad for you. What I think IS a sin for me, because of what God tells me, may not be for you. There isn’t any judgment on my part for others. And, I generally don’t accept or condone judgment BY others on me (although so many do try to put their beliefs and judgment on me. It takes strong faith in the God that delivered, healed, and saved me to know that our relationship is REAL, and that He will finish the work in me that He started. I don’t have to depend on others. It’s a great, freeing, and peaceful belief.) I have a relationship with God. I have quite an open dialog, and even though I am still working through my life, my sin, my forgiveness, and my redemption – what God has for me, is for ME.
And then, there are general belief structures and accepted modes of conviction, behavior, and what should be common among believers. There are just times where I have the “courage of my conviction” because scripture, translations, and God could not be any plainer or straightforward in what God’s People ought to do. But how do we, as a people, as believers – and hopefully, as Christians – get there?
Well, for starters, you have to actually have conviction. You have to be convicted over something - anything, really. But so many people today just hate feeling convicted. (I hear gasping amongst my readers.) Is this too much, too soon? Okay, but you know it’s true.
--You have to know what you believe. (That’s hard, MK. You’re making this hard.) Okay, so that’s still too much for this generation, and this spoiled and “instant-gratification” society. Let’s take it back even further.

--You have to have studied and taken some self-reflection. (That hurts my feelings, Michael. It hurts and it’s dumb. I don’t like conviction. It hurtsbecause it makes me responsible for my own actions. I can’t blame my parents, teachers, professors, boss, or preacher. This makes me accountable. I have to own my own soul, mind, and body. I have to own my reactions to others. Is there anything easier to swallow on the menu?) Okay. That’s still too much? Is it, though? Is it too much to think that we are vile, sinful, and deceitful by nature? Is it too much to think that we need conviction, and then the courage of those convictions to walk in liberty, grace, and victory? (Yes, MK, that steps on my toes and makes me feel bad. I don’t like God and church if it makes me feel bad.) It is?!? Okay. Let’s just make it super simple.

--You have to believe IN something. (That’s a little more complicated, MK. I believe there is a higher power. I believe that all roads lead to the same God. I believe that the Universe is out there. But I don’t know the details, nor care. I believe that people are good, and that all of this talk is depressing.) Um, okay. Is this still too hard? Well, everybody believes something. Everyone wants to be right. Everyone wants peace. Everyone wants to be thought of as “upstanding and righteous.” But, none of us are. No one. Not one. Not even you, not even me.

--You have to believe something. (Okay, I believe in God.) Great, now we are getting somewhere. But – even the devils believe and tremble. Belief is great, but when you TRULY believe something, you act on it. #JustSaying
Once you really know WHAT you believe, you can then shed old fears and doubts. You can begin to live in courage. You can begin to face those fears and those doubts and overcome them. You can be someone that has the “courage of their conviction.” But you’ll never walk in that peace, that kindness, and that grace if you never know what you believe or why you believe it.

Read Romans 14. Read the entire chapter IN CONTEXT and use your context clues, couple with historical relevance, historical context, and oh… some common sense… and you’ll see that God wants us to listen to His Spirit, and his wisdom for us. Yes, under Levitical Law and under the Jewish Law there were things that were unholy, abominations even… that could not be done. And the freedom that these “Christians” found under the Grace of Jesus allowed them to eat, drink and be merry because a real savior was here, had been found, fulfilled messianic prophecy, and was going to save them all by setting up a physical, real kingdom. Right? They were free! They found liberty. Their faith and their walk induced great miracles and many were added daily… But they were still fighting. Those clinging to old tradition were calling out those that had abandoned it, or worse – had never had it and were newly added Gentiles. Surely these people that ate and drank as they pleased were sinful and sinners and must not be as good of a Christian as US! Jesus is the King of the Jews, hello! Jewish still applies here folks!!! Right? Well, that’s what they thought and that’s how they acted.

What Paul (or his writer, or his transcriber) tries to point out is that we are not under the law, and all things are lawful. All things are permissible, but not all things are great. They can be stumbling blocks to others. They can cause others to fall and ruin your witness. They can ruin your walk. They can ruin your ministry. Even when they are not salvation/heaven-or-hell issues to you personally, or even if scripture isn’t really clear under a dispensation of Grace. Focus on:
--Romans 14:19 “So then, we must always aim at those things that bring peace and that help strengthen one another.” I love this scripture. It points out the very basic and the very lawful “Two Great Commandments.” One being love God above all else, the second being “to love your neighbor as yourself.” Once you “get” that, all other law and things we do for God, ourselves, and others become moot. If it offends your mom that you drink liquor, it becomes easier to not do it around her, or throw it in her face that you CAN drink because you love her as yourself. You would want her to do that for you. Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it, especially if it will ruin peace, kindness, and especially if it will ruin your witness (not for today, because that subject is too long for this already-long topic… but we don’t live in fear of being caught or seen doing something for our witness. We protect our witness here because of compassion and being a stumbling block.)

--Romans 14:20 “Do not, because of food, destroy what God has done. All foods may be eaten, but it is wrong to eat anything that will cause someone else to fall into sin.” That seems so simple, right? But most of us are offended when others become offended. Our gut-check moment is usually: “That heifer is crazy to be offended by me, and I’mma tell everyone how crazy she is.” Don’t compound others’ issues. If God has given you the mindset of liberty and freedom, lead others to it. Don’t be the reason they run from it. Don’t add gossip and malice to your recipe for drama. Yet, we are usually so defensive. But, why? Yes, all things are lawful under Grace, but not all things are good. If you are offending others, you don’t have to make a show of your liberty. You can be free in your home, you can certainly practice modesty, moderation, and other principles of your walk with God, how you see fit, as your conscience guides and still not be offensive, or DEFENSIVE of your walk with Christ.
A person of conviction has become convinced, by either evidence or argument, that their beliefs are true. Today, most men and women would rather live by preference than conviction. (Ooh, MK… you are going to lose FB friends, Blog Readers, Tumblr Followers… Your friends will think you are crazy for this.) Yep, likely, I will. Likely, my old JCM friends will roll their eyes and think I am talking about standards, but I’m not. My family, my friends, and my loved ones will think I’m hiding some kind of gay agenda under all of this, but I’m not.

I’m merely blogging about my life, my beliefs and what I’m going through. I am forever changed because of God. I’m different. I am not comfortable with it, I am not even sure of how far-reaching the effects of God has been to me, and on my life. I don’t know and I can’t rightly say that I have the full knowledge of just how much God touched, healed, and forgave. But I know this: I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day. I know my conviction is to write and share what I’m going through, not just as someone that is gay…. Not just as a southerner… not just as a sinner that needs Jesus and is trying to live in Grace and follow… but as people’s son, as people’s friend, as people’s family, brother, and as someone that has been an “other.” I know what it’s like to be thrown away as a lost cause. Worse, and my own regret is that I know what it’s like to buy into that myth – because that’s what it is… a myth. I know what it’s like to be shunned and to be told that people love me, but hate everything about me (Isn’t “love the sinner, hate the sin” great that way!) I know all too well what it’s like to want Jesus… to want to be in church and be delivered and saved and used and just… be a part. And to believe the lies of the devil, and the Christians the devil uses to push people further from God. I know perfectly how it all goes. And it took a miracle, a healing and God coming to me to shake me, convict me, and show me. Hear that! It was not people, but God. It was tangible. It was supernatural, and it was a touch from what I knew was eternal and forever! And that conviction is what brings courage. No peer pressure or fear of my family and friends could prevent me from writing these things. No peer pressure from family or friends could make me change my course. Conviction is also a defense against doubt, and it’s a defense for which I am grateful.

People that don’t have true conviction choose to believe something based on certain conditions and circumstances. When the situation changes, so does their loyalty. In other words, a lot of people vacillate on issues that require a firm resolve. Yet, contrast this generation’s selfishly wishy-washy approach with the mindset of the great men and women of Scripture:
--Despite many years of unfair treatment, Joseph never wavered in his commitment to godly principles. As a result, he was in the right place at the right time to ensure Israel’s survival (Gen. 50:20).
--Daniel, another righteous man in an idolatrous land, earned the trust of foreign kings by standing firm in his beliefs (Dan. 1:20). When his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego also refused to compromise their beliefs, they influenced a king to recognize Jehovah as the one true God (3:29).
When everything seems foolish, when it all seems like you are the lone crazy person – are you? Are you by yourself because you have believed a lie? Or do you have the courage of your convictions? Do you have scripture, and word to be the foundation and to not just rely on your feelings? As these biblical examples show, Godly convictions can withstand the changing winds of opinion and the persuasive arguments of opponents. When God tells you something, you don’t take it lightly. If you really believe God, then trust God. If you really are grounded in the Word (and use Word here as a synonym from John 1) and trust what God has said, stand firm in your beliefs. Confidence in your God, and the conviction your God brings, breeds the courage to remain strong amid conflict.
Once you know what God says, you have a choice to make: Believe Him and commit to living according to your conviction, or continue being tossed by waves of doubt and indecision (James 1:6). Root yourself in God’s Word and be called one of His oaks of righteousness (Isa. 61:3). Instead of following your own preferences, choose to live by godly conviction. The Bible has much to say about the most important aspects of your life. See if God’s principles and promises hold true. Through prayer and study, allow Him to firmly root you in solid biblical convictions. Don’t lean on people. People will always fail you, people will always disappoint you. That sounds bad, and depressing, but it’s true. Your parents, your pastor, your friends, you lover, your spouse, your kids… they are NOT perfect, and they are NOT God. They cannot and will not fill the hole in your heart/soul/life that only God can occupy. Read:
Jeremiah 17:7-8: “But I will bless the person who puts his trust in me. He is like a tree growing near a stream and sending out roots to the water. It is not afraid when hot weather comes, because its leaves stay green; it has no worries when there is no rain; it keeps on bearing fruit.” Plant yourself by God. Plant yourself in Jesus. Plant yourself so that drought, dessert winds, “dry spells,” and the fallacy of mankind won’t uproot you. You might lose some branches, you may even shake, shudder, and lose your leaves from time to time, but you will survive the storm. You will be planted.
Are you living under the law? Do your convictions come from fear, peer pressure and negative space? Or do your convictions come directly from God or His Word? Are you living your life to your best? Do you trust God to help you and lead you? Are you ignoring your convictions and leading a completely free life that doesn’t ground you? Here are some things to consider:
--Do you consider the Bible true and trustworthy? If you don’t, then why go through all of the drama associated with being a Christian?

--Do you think that believing in Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved? If you don’t, then why worry about what His Word says? If you find another way for salvation, by all means… have at it.

--What is the Holy Spirit’s role in the lives of believers and unbelievers? Do you have the Holy Ghost?

--Are we to forgive others in every situation?

--How should Christians approach finances?

--What’s your purpose in life? Do you have a purpose?

--What is your role in the church and at work? What supersedes what?  

--How should you think, and act, regarding social issues like homophobia, civil rights, women’s rights, capital punishment, abortion, and racism? Should you, as a Christian, be involved? Have you been taught that you look the other way?

--When you hear of the news of horrors in our country, what is your gut reaction? Is it, “Serves them right!”? Or are you reaching out, in love, through Christ?

--How do you get your news? Your education? Your teaching? Do you rely on others to give it to you? Are they accountable? Or are you accountable? Are you responsible for knowing the truth, seeking it out, learning it?
There is no right or wrong answer to these questions. There are no “bad” ways to go about this. But you HAVE to know where YOU stand. You have to know where your direction is coming from. When you read these and have an instant reaction, where does that come from? Is it from God? Is your reaction a stumbling block to others that prevent an "other" from getting to God? Then you may want to consider where your source of conviction comes from. You cannot lean on your parents, your preacher, your job, your boss, your sister, or your friends for YOUR personal convictions and YOUR walk with God. I love you. I love you right where you are, how you are, and for WHO you are. Evaluate what the Bible says rather than looking at an issue through the lens of personal preference. Ask, What does God say? How is God speaking to me? What does God’s scripture, answer, and guidance mean for me? Don’t ask only, “What does this mean FOR me, or TO me?” Don’t merely think of your preferences and selfishness.

It is my hope that these questions will open the eyes of those who haven’t contemplated how their personal philosophies have developed. It’s time to change that. Study the Bible and make God’s Word the cornerstone of your thinking. Kindness is never the wrong answer.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Hope of Peace

What would you give for peace?

I don't mean your pageant answer or your impressive exposition for a public that adores you. I mean, what would you give for peace of mind? What would you pay, besides your current pharmacy and physician bills, to sleep the sleep of the worry-free? What is it worth to you to rest in childlike faith and know that you are cared for, loved, and that everything will be okay? Think about that. Take a second and really think. Ponder on this. Close your eyes, breathe in, and think: What if I didn't have to worry about ______?

Fill in that blank.

Fill in that blank and think about how much you would borrow, beg, steal and give away to have peace in your mind. Peace in your heart. Peace in your soul. You, see, as believers, we are "At Peace with God" - Romans 5:1: "Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

I am reminded of the song, "It Is Well With My Soul." The story of the writer is beautiful. And while I cannot fathom the trials he went through to be able to pen and write that song, it's amazing to me that it could be written, at all:
"When Peace, like a river, attendeth my way.
When sorrows, like sea billows, roll.
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul."

My own life is a testimony in the search for peace. If you ever need a lesson in how NOT to use your life for God, look to Michael Kennedy: Waste. Selfishness. Vanity. Escapism. Hedonism. If you can think of it, I've probably tried it. But... peace? kindness? love? grace? No. I didn't know them. I've spent my life, even during my formative years in church, searching. Searching for ways to blend in, searching for ways to see how others had these things, searching for answers and peace. It's vastly different when you meet the source of peace, rather than just know about the peace. I know 1%-ers that would give any amount of money to be able to be breathe deeply and have peace. I know people stricken with illness after illness that would sell all of their belongings to have peace of mind and be well. I know people in poverty that would, by any means necessary - legal or not, give anything they had to have a moment of peace that security can afford. But you cannot buy peace. You cannot sell peace. You cannot trade for peace.

Despite humankind's best efforts, the world's longing for peace remains unfulfilled. Each new generation has higher and higher hopes for peace. We, as a people, and as the human race have longed for reconciliation among people and nations but in the end, we all end up facing disappointment. Daily, the news seems to bring more and more bad news. One day Christ will return and one day, peace will reign. Until then, believers are called to be His ambassadors of peace. Reread that. Until the Rapture, until God comes back, until time ends... we, the believers, are called to be Ambassadors of His Peace. We are his ministers of reconciliation. We are what the world sees when they see Christ. What does the world see when they look at you? Can they tell a difference between you and them? Do your actions, words, and attitude make you seamlessly one with the world? Or does it set you apart? Is there anything in you that should make them want Christ?

Does the love of Christ come from you?
Does kindness and how Christ would treat them come from you?
Does grace and doing what the God of all creation come from you?
Does peace, and the Peace of Christ come from you?
Do you reflect anything worth taking note of?

Or do you reflect other qualities? These are hard questions for hard times. Christ doesn't hate. He doesn't separate. He doesn't divide. He doesn't treat unequally. Christ isn't unkind. He doesn't overlook the addicted, the dirty, the poor. He doesn't overlook the hungry, or the needy. Christ doesn't react without grace and wisdom. Christ doesn't speak in extremes of US and THEM. He doesn't treat Samaritans differently than Jews. He died for Gentiles and Pagans. He died for Pharisees and Sadducees. Christ doesn't promote division and war. Christ provides peace.

Even as "Christians," at times we're quick-tempered and impatient and find it hard to live in harmony with others. But why? If you really believe in God, and trust in Jesus, what wouldn't you do for others and in His name? We may have trouble letting go of attitudes or habits that hurt those around us—and occasionally we don't even want to. But ask yourself why. Only you, inside of yourself can answer what your true motives are for your actions, words, and deeds. In reality, no one wants to think they are a bad person. No one likes to be reprimanded or feel guilt. It's humiliating and we justify and rationalize our works - "we only lied because..., we told that fib to avoid confrontation. We didn't want to have a confrontation in our home, in our family, at work, at the grocery store, at the gas station. We only told that gossip because they needed prayer. We only confirmed that negative truth about a friend that isn't doing very good because we needed to make another friend feel better. We only made fun of her dress because she should have known better than to wear it. We have a million excuses. We have a million reasons. But, God knows our true character and has provided the Holy Ghost to transform us into Jesus' likeness. The Spirit of God opens our minds to understand and apply Scripture. He gives us the power to say no. Hear that. You have the power to say no to things. You are not required to say yes to ungodliness. You have been given the ability, brain, rationale, and intestinal fortitude to replace selfishly-motivated, "me-"centered thinking with a Christ-centered viewpoint. He patiently produces His fruit in us, which includes love, joy, and peace (Gal. 5:22-23). With His help, we can become peacemakers who work to bring about reconciliation between God and others (Matt. 5:9).

We, as believers, have answers. While our world keeps hoping for peace through man's solutions, we know the only source of lasting unity is Jesus. The Lord wants our hearts to be ruled by His peace (Col. 3:15) and our relationships to be marked by a spirit of oneness. Oneness, as children of God, and especially as the people he gave His name to! How encouraged other people will be when they realize it's the transforming power of God in our lives that brings about reconciliation in our marriages, families, and churches. What will they see in your life that draws them to Christ? When you live for God, no one has to ask. When you live for God, you don't have to say a word. When you live for God, you never even have to explain. You just live. Your very life is the witness. It's not details of how short your skirt is. It's not if you wear shorts, or play sports, or drink or smoke, or cuss, or if you like things your grandparents do not. Following God isn't a rulebook of "dos" and "don'ts." I am not recommending that you abuse Grace, but it's not about your hair, your TV, your movies, your music, your makeup or your money. God will work on all of that, and God will convict you and lead you where He wants you to go. But you - your life - are what really and truly draw people.

Where are you today? Are you kind? Do you want kindness? Do you give kindness to others? Do you take time to think about the words you say, how they are perceived and how they'll be interpreted? Or do you carelessly let your actions and words hurt others? You cannot unthrow a stone. You cannot unsay words that have been said. You cannot unhurt people that have been hurt. Be kind, it's never the wrong answer.

Where are you today? Are you peaceful? Do you have peace in your life? Or are you drama-filled and in a constant state of reaction? Do you have time to proactively manage your life? Or are you continually reacting to people, situations, and events? Do you want peace?

You can have peace today. You can know peace in an instant. You can have peace faster than you've ever even dreamed. Regardless of your situation, your burden, or the consequences in life you will have to go through - you can have peace. Here's another verse of "It Is Well.." And this is one that applies to me. It gave me peace, even very recently:
"My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!"

I have peace today. I wasn't given partial peace. I will never earn it, nor will I ever take it for granted again. But hear me - I am peaceful because "not in part, but in whole." Whoever you are, wherever you've been, and whatever comes - I love you, right where you are.

#JustBeingMichael ツ

Friday, January 10, 2014

Searching Till I Found...

I suppose the subtitle of this blog could be "Who Are You?"

I ask that sometimes, when I'm in the mirror... when I am convicted... when I am pricked in my heart over something... I ask that of others sometimes... when I am shocked by an action... when I am shocked or surprised by inaction... or when I see a side that I didn't know existed.

There are two main messages here today:
  • Who Are You? You can drown in Christian Service. You can hide behind works. You can even die, and go to hell - forever - while in the very service of Christ.
  • Jesus Never Fails. If you search for Him, you will find Him. If you call out to him. He will answer you.
John 13:21
21 After Jesus had said this, he was deeply troubled and declared openly, “I am telling you the truth: one of you is going to betray me.”
22 The disciples looked at one another, completely puzzled about whom he meant.

Yes, we know that the Christ had to be betrayed to fulfill scripture. But, this... technically, was the very First Communion in history. Think about that. Think on the fact that for the first time in history, a group of believers in Jesus broke bread together and he told them that the bread was his body, and the wine was his blood, and that they were to commune and share, and support and believe... together... in His absence. Imagine what that's like at a restaurant when you are all together with friends and you are listening to 4 different conversations and hear a snippet of news between people. It wasn't quiet. It wasn't sermon-esque. It was supper. It was casual. They were lying around talking and eating. They were communing. And then in the verses leading up to verse 21 are where Jesus is talking and explaining that He is God. He'll go away. Terrible things are coming... and then He explains that someone in His very own group will be that someone. It will be someone close... someone in the very room... someone seated at that very table... someone trusted... someone of position... someone that close will be the one that betrays Jesus. Someone that close...

Notice though, it still hurts. Jesus was "troubled in His spirit." And no one knew. In fact, Peter did what almost ANY good Southern lady would do and asked "the disciple that Jesus loved" to ask him directly and report back. And that's what happened. And that's when Jesus directly spoke to Judas. And that is when Satan also entered Judas, and all of his work - not undone, or forgotten - changed in an instant. He wasn't erased. He wasn't not Judas any longer. He probably justified every bit of what he did, in his mind. But, be clear... it was still betrayal and it forever altered the course of his life. He had followed Jesus everywhere. He had seen miracles. He had cast out demons, gone out in the "two-by-two's" of the disciples. He'd been there when Jesus raised the dead, healed the sick, and forgiven sins. He'd been there and seen it with his very own eyes. He held the treasury for the very disciples of God that are purported to be listed on the foundations of New Jerusalem.

What are your reasons? Are you bogged down in Christian Service? Are you concerned with the treasury? Do you see Jesus as the very reason you have salvation? Are you concerned with works? Do you worry more about what others think of you, and what you'll be perceived as? Are you humiliated to think of yourself as equal to the lowest? Do you balk in the fact that we are like the homeless that reek of body odor, or human waste? Our own righteousness is as filthy rags. Does that give you pause? Do you wonder if you are finally good enough because your grandmother, mother, and now you are all generationally attached to the same church and you "do your best?"

No one I've ever met in this life deserves God. Not one. This seems depressing, and it's not great. But it's possible, and it happens every day. I've been raised in church, around church, and loved church my whole life. But "church" doesn't save you. It won't keep you. And it won't make you new. Don't be sad. Don't fret. Don't despair. Listen for the second part of this...

Matthew 26:47
47 Jesus was still speaking when Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs and sent by the chief priests and the elders. 48 The traitor had given the crowd a signal: “The man I kiss is the one you want. Arrest him!”
49 Judas went straight to Jesus and said, “Peace be with you, Teacher,” and kissed him.
50 Jesus answered, “Be quick about it, friend!”

Now, I have a many, many friends from every walk of life. Every one. And in conversation, be it at work, the mall, a club, a lounge, a restaurant, in the gym... anyone I've ever "counseled" can attest that I'll be the first to quickly admit that no one is worthy of God. We don't deserve God. YET, let me be the FIRST to stand up and say that the passage in Matthew is the one I'll rest in. It gives me unparalleled hope and reminds me of the grace of Jesus (or , the "Grace" of Jesus, if you are like me and realize that it probably deserves a capital G). Of all the passages I could point to that describe the Lord’s devotion to an unworthy people, today’s is the one I think best showcases the unqualified friendship He offers His followers.

After the supper and the First Communion, mentioned above, Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane. Now, being God, Jeuss knew that this was the prayer meeting of all prayer meetings. We can lay on our faces in the prayer room. We can remember 4A. We can even rest on our laurels and think back to old conferences and Because of the Times. We can remember saints that have gone on... but this - THIS - prayer meeting was the flesh God wore, calling out in stress, distress, and anguish at what was coming. This was the night before His crucifixion. And what happened? What came?

Judas - member of the original 12, man that held the money, church secretary, treasurer, demon-caster-outer, preacher, minister, pastor, trusted - Iscariot approached him with a band of men. He stepped forward. He walked to Jesus. And he embraced him and kissed him. Think on this in the dark, and in the night... he walked to him, in a garden, and stepped forward and kissed the face of God incarnate. And what was Jesus’ response? According to Matthew, He called the man “Friend."

Now, I know that we call him the betrayer, we have names that describe the horror of what happened to Judas and God even cursed the field where his blood fell. But, Judas expected Jesus to establish His kingdom on earth and drive the Romans out of Israel—anyone who could calm a storm at sea could easily remove an oppressive government! But Judas’s interest in Jesus was more personal and political than spiritual. Hear that, and let it sink in again... Judas was interested in Jesus, and he KNEW who He was! He was God! And He was there to save and help and deliver! But, you can know who God is, know that Jesus is God, and still think of him in a political, governmental, and financial way. Are you concerned with your organizations treasury? Do you spend more time balancing the books and lobbying for your church's political clout than on your face before God? Do you need respectability more than you need repentance? We use the name of Judas now to describe any betrayer. In fact, John reported that his fellow disciple stole from the money box (12:6). Today the man’s name is synonymous with those who betray others for personal gain. Here is the good news: In spite of Judas’ greed, blind ambition, and betrayal, Jesus never stopped loving him; He still used the word “friend” to address the one-time disciple. The Lord does not place conditions on His love or reject people who fail to meet certain standards. He simply cares for us as we are.

People cannot earn Jesus, the Christ’s love and friendship. He takes the initiative, reaches out, and draws into fellowship those who are willing. We are not worthy, but we are privileged to live in His love anyway. In the Lord, we find a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24).

I am the very lowest of the low. I am not what I need to be. I am nowhere near even where I've been before. But I know forgiveness. I know the love of God. Do you? You can. Do you feel anxious? Do you feel like something is amiss? It's humiliating to admit you need help. It's humiliating to admit that you are lost, and that you need intervention. It's humbling to finally admit that you cannot do this. You cannot save yourself. You cannot bear this weight. It's painful. God can bear it. God can save you. God can heal you. God can forgive you. God can clean you. God can make you new. Is today your last day? It doesn't have to be - it can be your first day. Jesus never fails. If you search, you will find. If you call out, you will be heard. If you ask, you'll get an answer.

I love you, right where you are.

#JustBeingMichael ツ

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Trustworthy Guide - I Still Trust You, Lord

Psalms 32:8-9: "The Lord says, “I will teach you the way you should go; I will instruct you and advise you. Don't be stupid like a horse or a mule, which must be controlled with a bit and bridle to make it submit.”

Ouch. Well, ouch to me anyway.

I am more like the latter in my natural state - I require harsher guidance. I require a bit & bridle. Anyone who is honest will admit that he or she is ill-equipped to go through life alone. We, as humans, just are. Everyone wants a spiritual high. Everyone wants to be needed, used, appreciated, special... Everyone wants to be loved. Not everyone wants to put in the work, time, effort, and sweat-quity to be prepared to be special. To prepare to be used, and be able to fill needs. We get a hint of a whisper of what God wants for us, and we want it NOW.

#NewsFlash: Noah built an ark on dry land, having never seen rain and for decades' worth of hand-blistering, back-breaking work. He was made fun of, he was told he was crazy - until the first rain fell on the face of the planet. But how must that have felt? That way embarrasment makes our faces hot and flushed. We sweat and feel awkward and want to hide or leave a situation. You can't leave a project of that magnitude and proportion. And you can't run from God and responsibility. Moses, after learning that his entire life was a lie, leaving everything, and denouncing a life of privilage and comfort, fought his adopted brother, wandered for 40 years, and yet, STILL, never made it to Canaan. Timing, patience - those were the reasons. Elijah, Elisha, Prophets... all alone time, all told to wait. John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus, spent how long alone in a desert? Jesus, being God with skin on, waited 30 years to do something that must follow a natural oder and must follow God's time - not human, nor the flesh, nor Earth's time. Even Jesus went away and spent some alone time in the desert.

What makes us think we are unique, special, and deserve the immediate answer and attention of Almight God? Our all-knowing God created us with a need for His guidance. In our own strength, knowledge, and reasoning power, we are simply not able to figure out how to make the wisest decisions. I am living proof with my history of instant gratification and my need for immediate answers and resolutions. Trust me, though, the Lord’s assuring hand at our shoulder can lead us down right paths to good choices. More than that, the Lord is willing and able to guide us, if we will let Him. It isn’t difficult to fall in step with Him. Acknowledge that you have wandered down paths of life that led to sin and disobedience.

I have friends from all walks of life. Friends from well-to-do privilege and an insulated place high above what many of us realize is a very real, cold, and harsh world. And I friends that would love to even be considered povery level. Friends that know what it is like in the real world with parents that are addicted to meth and that know that "bad things" happen to "good people" and that eating and surviving sometimes involve things we "nice folks" don't want to have to think about. I have friends from every sexuality on the spectrum. Every gender and fluidity of cis-trans-somewhere on a scale. Friends and loved ones from every race, ethnicity, nationality, and every faith... And I love them all dearly. Not for what I think they should be, or if they agree with me. Not for what they would be to me if they choose my faith, or what I believe is true. And how can that be? Because. I choose that. I don't agree with many of them. I don't believe what they beleive and I don't lie, coddle, or pretend to be something or someone I am not - that would be unkind, unfair, and untrue. But I love them. I love them both in and of myself and I love them from my Christian perspective and do wish for them to know what I know, not just in my head, but in my heart. If they never do, I'll still love them. Duh. Why would anyone ever want Christ, the Holy Ghost, or anything to do with being a Christian, if you don't live the tenets of that faith? I've said this before, and I'll repeat it: Being White, Affluent, and Conservative doesn't make you a Christian. Following the Christ, however, does.

But that being said, I know that just beyond our last heartbeat lies eternity. And for me that is a very real and very somber and very sobering thought. I was near there. I was near that place. I have been touched by eternity. I wasn't ready. I wasn't even close to ready. It's not because of what most would assume is sexuality or standards, or TV, or the length of my sleeves, or if I grow a beard. It wasn't because I have had alchohol or smoked a cigarette. It wasn't because of the company I kept, or didn't keep. That's superficial. That's not my heart, nor my salvation point. But know this, God knows, and I wasn't ready. I wasn't a cheater. I wasn't a drug addict. I wasn't even a bad drunk. I didn't lie to work, or loved ones. I didn't purposefully find things to hurt people. I didn't even really want to be "bad." But that's not really the point, either. I "tried." I tried really hard. I worked hard. I made money. I paid my bills and I even tithed. I did lots of the right things. Lots and lots. But I wasn't ready. I wasn't real. I was lukewarm. I wouldn't have been one of those that heard "Well done." I didn't give God water. I didn't feed God. I didn't see that God was cold and clothe and nurture God. I was complacent. I thought that if I worked myself to death to pay a bill, why didn't eveyrone? I judged. Harshly. I thought unkind things, and usually even spoke them. I was superior in my own mind. I was "good enough." I used my talents and blessings on vanity and selfishness. I squandered what could have been years doing the right thing, vs. doing things right. There is a difference in wanting to pray through and be used and on a platform, than realizing that the cross is your only true and real salvation - that death is near and you are not ready. Knowing that death would be the end of something and that the next steps are not ones you want to take. There is a vast difference in knowing that you have wasted time and years and gifts and then been given a true, real, honest second chance - that God doesn't hold a grudge, take your gift away, take your calling away, and take your life for your sin. Even when He should have and would have been well within any right to do so. It's even more humbling when you realize that God will hug you, wipe your eyes, chastise you in Love, and tell you that you still have to do what he told you to do so long ago. That you are still required to submit, love, live, and go forth... Sometimes God is funny. Not, funny "haha."

This entire post will make sense to very few... and that's okay, too. I trust that this level of me being this honest and this "naked" will help whoever it is supposed to help. That’s where our Savior is pointing us, right? Help each other? The days are short? Lean on me? The path may not be clear to our eyes, but Jesus is leading us there with a steady and sure hand, I have to beleive that. Our part is to follow in obedience. I am on a journey. I am learning literally moment by moment. I am restructuring and relearning. And I am praying for trust.

I love y'all.

I Still Trust You, Lord

Monday, January 6, 2014

Only Trust Him

Today is bittersweet.

I've spent two weeks recuperating, resting, and restoring myself. I've spent Christmas and New Year with family and loved ones. I've done a lot of soul searching. I've reached out to the past, reconciled old hurts, and begun the process of repentance for a life spent in selfish vanity. I've taken communion with my sweet family, got to hear my Momma pray a prayer that would raise the hair on the back of your neck, and gotten to be in service with precious loved ones and cousins.

I've seen the hand of God touch me and literally heal me in the past weeks. We always hear of others far off. We always think it's someone's cousin's little sister's roommate from junior camp in Texas somewhere that gets truly healed, or touched by God. Or one of the Bournes. It's never us. Well, this time it was me. God's chased me since I was a child, and He's never faltered. It's odd to be this lucid, and see things this clearly, and feel this much wonder.

I'm changed. Forever changed. Forgiven. Called. Commissioned. And, embarrassingly enough to admit, scared. What is your reaction to realizing you've run from God? Wasted resources? Not been a very good steward? What do you do when the supernatural touches your life, gives you an unmerited gift, restores what you've abused, and offers peace and grace?

I'm sitting in an airport... crying... and wondering what in the world my next steps are. I'm in a peaceful turmoil. I am so sad to leave my family. I am not thrilled to return to my privileged and selfish life and begin the real work of dismantling bad habits, bad decisions, repair relationships, and move forward in grace and fulfill callings I've long-enough ignored. Yet, I'm blessed. I'm peaceful. I keep running over in my head that I am loved, and protected. I am in God's will, so what's with the anxiety and stress? And then I remember that I still have 20 years of consequences, reparations and many, many things to disentangle from my life. I feel partially like Joseph, having been sent on a difficult, but ultimately, rewarding, multi-decade detour. And partially like the prodigal son.

God made good on His end and healed me physically - you'd think that would be the hard part... The next steps, moments, hours, and days are for what I covet prayer. I'm humming this to myself today, "Only Trust Him," over and over. That, while so simple, is my best and next step. And the next. And the next.

"Come, every soul by sin oppressed,
There’s mercy with the Lord,
And He will surely give you rest,
By trusting in His word.
Only trust Him, only trust Him,
Only trust Him now.
He will save you, He will save you,
He will save you now."