Challenge: 1 Peter 3:15

I was raised in a Christian home with both my parents being born-again, washed in the blood, saved by grace through faith Christians.

Those parents took us (themselves, my sister, and I as my brother was not yet born or even considered by them. See I Close My Eyes for background on that.) from a church where the pastor was more concerned about elevating and justifying himself than he was about helping the church body to grow in their knowledge of and faith in God to a church that taught hard-core theology. The accounts in the Bible – Old and New Testaments – were taught as early as in the nursery. By the time you got to high school youth group or the adult classes, you were onto in-depth learning about not only how the lessons and teachings in the Bible apply to our daily lives but also information to supplement those lessons and teachings such as the history behind the book of John, what was happening in the world at the time the book of Romans was being written, what is the difference in the original Greek words that translates to the same word in English, etc.

Soon, it was time to start school. Due to….loose morals at the local public school, my parents felt led to put me into a Christian school ran as a business ministry of our church. (That’s a whole other post – one which does not necessarily need to be published…) At that school, our teachers emphasized they were supplementing what our parents taught us at home, not taking their place. In order to graduate or pass each grade, you had to take a semester of Bible for every semester you attended. Elementary, it was looking at the lives of missionaries – recorded in the Bible and those of our time – in addition to the teachings of the Bible. Salvation was always taught as was creation and the accounts of the lives of people in the Bible. Rather than simply reciting those accounts, they were built upon every year. Example: in kindergarten, we learned the days of creation. We had plates that we glued/colored pictures of the different created subjects and learned a rhyme. By the time we got to senior year, we were talking about how God was able to create something out of nothing; what does it mean that God is omnipotent? How is He self-sufficient? Looking more at Who the Creator Is – not just what He created when (that was in science as we looked at how the order of creation was perfect for the sustainability of life.).

We had chapel once a week. In elementary, it was usually the teachers rotating through with the occasional special speaker (local pastor or a missionary home on furlough). In high school though, it was either our Bible teacher or a pastor/missionary – including the presidents and vice-presidents of local mission agencies – who taught chapel. It was always frustrating to myself and fellow students who went to the same church when we had youth pastors from other churches speak. Some of us may have referred to their lessons at the character lessons we had back in elementary school. On the flip side, our peers who went to those other churches hated when our youth pastor taught because they were not used to so much hard-core, in-depth theology being thrown at them in such a short amount of time.

Flash forward a few years. Our pastor was called to his heavenly home. That amazing youth pastor was called to be a senior pastor at a different church a forever long drive away. Due to other events, again, that would be a whole different post, I found myself without a church to call home.

My parents moved back to their home church now that there was a new pastor in place. I began attending that church with them. Where to start???

It is a church where you will hear the Biblical gospel preached. It is a church where the members love God. When my grandpa died, the message preached was so passionate and Biblically sound that I actually forgot I was sitting 5 feet away from the body of my grandpa. The people are sincere.

That being said, it’s not my home church. I believe I have already posted about the worship there – if not I will another time.

The sermons are similar to those chapel sessions when we had pastors from other churches speak. They apply lessons to your person without any additional information such as what the Greek or Hebrew word is and how that ties into the context of other words used. It’s essentially taking what the passage says and saying, “ok, this is how this verse applies to your life in this situation.”

It is teaching of the word of God which is a powerful tool used in conviction. I have learned through these sermons, but I am almost always left wanting more, not feeling satisfied or full. I often go home and pull-up a podcast of a sermon of my former youth pastor in his new church to get that in-depth lesson.

I have tried explaining this to my parents, that I feel as though I went from milk (like an infant) to steak and now I’m back down to a hamburger. There’s nothing wrong with a hamburger. I like hamburgers, but they’re not as satisfying or filling as a 16oz steak. That did not go over well. I probably could have worded it a bit better especially as they are both satisfied there. I’ve also pointed out that my learning style is different than both of theirs…but I think that was mentioned at the same time as the hamburger thing, and the subject was needing to be changed before all our blood pressures sky-rocketed.

What prompted this post tonight? I just finished reading and am already planning on re-reading an incredibly book titled Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by (recently called home to heaven much to my dismay) Nabeel Qureshi. I plan on buying the rest of his books (I actually planned on begging local pastors to invite him to come speak, but that won’t happen now!) as this one was so, so well written!

He begins by recollecting and telling the story of his Muslim upbringing. The reader can appreciate his love for his family and his culture while beginning to see the questionable aspects of the Islamic belief system. He transitions smoothly into when he began to realize that what he had been taught literally since moments after his birth may not be correct.

God truly did send him the right person to befriend him and guide him along the journey to salvation. As I was reading, I was in awe of how knowledgeable his friend was. I thought being raised by godly parents in addition to 13 years in a Christian school in addition to a solid, Bible-preaching church would have prepared me to answer some of the questions resulting from comparison of the Quran and the Bible. Nope. I recognized the conflict and the responding verses, but I could not put them together. At one point, I wondered if his friend, David, got home from those discussions sometimes and just sank to the floor thanking God for putting the thoughts in his head and the words in his mouth. I’ve had those moments myself after in-depth conversations with friends and co-workers when I was half asleep and usually not able to process light conversation let alone theology.

All the while I was reading this book, I was thinking about the Muslims with whom I am acquainted. Would these topics come up? I began praying that God would open the door for me to witness to those acquaintances, and that He would put the appropriate responses on my brain, heart, and tongue. At that point, I realized that while yes, I have been completing Bible studies, I have been neglectful in studying the Bible. I have fallen into the habit of thinking, “what does this passage mean for me” without adding, “what does this passage teach me about God? How does strengthen my faith? How would I explain this passage to an unbeliever?”

As I told one of my mentors, reading through this book showed me where in my Biblical studies I need to spend more time to strengthen.

I have always been awful with remembering the references for verses. I can remember math equations and formulas, random and important dates throughout history, but those chapters and verses get confused in my head. When my youth group was preparing for what was my first missions trip, we were given “random” verses as well as Galations 6 to memorize. Myself and one of my friends were the only two to memorize Galations 6 in addition to those other select verses. To this day, if I hear someone quote a verse out of Galations 6, I may not be able to say which verse it is, but I know that it comes from that book and chapter!

There are not a lot of verses that I can point to and recall when I memorized it or first felt its importance. 1 Peter 3:15 was one of those seemingly random verses we memorized for that first missions  trip. I remember it. I actually recognize the reference for that verse. I remember reading through it several times, just because of the strength of the challenge, maybe command, maybe advice of that that verse. 1 Peter 3:15 was referenced in Qureshi’s book. I immediately had to close the book, pause, and then slowly grin as I again resolved to up the intensity of my Bible studies and not be ok with what, to me, are sometimeshamburger sermons. (Note: those sermons may be steak to other believes; we are all at different points in our relationship with God. It may be that those sermons are buffalo burgers to someone and just what they need in their life in their present situation. As I said, I have still been convicted and/or taught during most of those sermons!)

As I flipped to that verse to include it in this post, I got another chuckle. It is surrounded by notes in my Bible including a reminder to not be a know-it-all and our faith is not a blind faith, accepting of what is being taught from the pulpit purely because it is taught from the pulpit. We are to know the reasons or the logic of what we believe.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. . . ”      1 Peter 3:15

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I Close My Eyes

When I was three years old, when we were driving somewhere, I told my parents I wanted a baby brother. My parents said take it up with God because after 1 (near) perfect pregnancy (that would be me) and 1 incredibly rough pregnancy/delivery (that would be my sister), a third kid wasn’t likely to happen. They like to tell how it got quiet in the back seat, so my parents looked back and saw my little hands folded, my eyes shut, and my little mouth moving in a silent prayer for a baby brother. Five days after I turned 4 years old, my baby brother was born. When my mum went to the doctor, before he as born, they asked her if she wanted to know the gender of the new baby. She said nope, her daughter had prayed for a brother, so she knew it was a boy.

That was the first time I experienced the power of prayer.

Since then, I have seen it numerous times. Sometimes the answer is no; frustratingly enough the answer is often wait, and sometimes the answer is yes!

I have learned a few things over the years. Be specific in prayer. When I ask my daddy for something, I am usually specific because he has that same ornery streak I do and will look for loopholes just to watch the expression on my face. When I talk to my heavenly Father, I am specific because, well, humans had to get that ornery streak from somewhere…we all know God has a sense of humor. More importantly, He created the universe in 6 days. Why worry about asking Him for something specific? It’s not going to be too hard or impossible for Him. If He says no, then it’s not good for you at this point in time.

Don’t be afraid to claim God’s promises. We are told several times in Scriptures that vengeance belongs to God – not us. Nothing we as humans can do comes anywhere near to what God, El Elyon, God Most High, can and will do to those who harm His children. Several times in the last five years, I have thrice claimed that promise found first in Deuteronomy 32:35 and repeated in Romans 12:19 and cried out for God to wreak havoc on those who hurt me. I didn’t need to see it; I didn’t know when, though chances are I would hear of it. I knew He would handle it in the best way in His time.

It is pretty common for me to go running to my parents with an idea for project and later go back saying I changed my mind or tweaked it a bit.

One of those times I cried out for vengeance, I went back to God a couple years later and told Him that if He was still wanting to avenge the pain caused me, ok. I wasn’t going to ask for it anymore though. Instead, I asked He convict the person instead. Specifically, I have been asking that person be unable to sleep due to a feeling that something is wrong in his life. I have been asking that poking through his thoughts is the one thought that he is missing something in his life, that what he has been doing is wrong, and that he needs the forgiveness of sins offered by God. I was able to forgive this person for how he wronged me for 11 long, long months. When I realized I was no longer angry and hurt anytime I thought of this person, I realized I should no longer cry for vengeance. Instead, if I truly forgave him, I should be 100% concerned for the status of his eternal life and less concerned about what happened several year ago with his earthly life.

I am not ADD or ADHD….maybe some OCD tendencies. I am not easily distracted, but I am always or almost always alert – looking for potential threats, remaining aware of my surroundings. With the exception of when I am driving, I have started closing my eyes when I am talking to God. Not just closing them, but also covering them with my hands or arms (my eyes don’t always close all the way unless I focus on that which takes my focus away from God). My phone gets turned off; computer gets closed. I can focus on talking to God, one on One, with no outside distractions. Obviously when I’m driving, that cannot happen. During that time, it’s more like I’m talking to someone I can actually physically see where I go on rabbit trails or talk to myself after being reminded about something and have to figure out what I was telling God before that distraction.

The differences I’ve noticed are hard to describe, but I am going to try. When my eyes are open, without a face toward which I can direct my words, as already mentioned, it is a conversation all over the place. Unfocused, unpurposed, just random thoughts. There is not necessarily anything wrong with that. However, it’s not really prayer warrior worthy discussion. It’s not as serious. Obviously, you’ll still see answers, but I personally do not feel as though that should be the norm for talking to God when it comes to requests such as vengeance, conviction, healing, protection, etc.

That is why I close my eyes. If I don’t have a face towards which I direct my attention, I need that focus of one-on-One. I check my surroundings, and then I trust that El Roi will set a guard around me while He and I talk.

And Let It Begin with Me

I was planning on writing a post about breed bans (I am 100% against them), but this morning at church, as usual, my mind was changed.

Apparently, pastors and churches are of the opinion that America will not see another big revival because they feel we’re too close to the second coming for it to happen.

How DARE they limit God?!

How DARE they decide that people no longer need to hear the gospel or have another opportunity to be saved?!

How DARE they ignore the part about only God knows when the rapture will be?!

Last time I checked, the job of Christians is to bring glory to God and to tell the world of the good news of the hope of salvation.

After September 11, 2001, many people in this country bent their knees and put their faith in God. Just because it may take something horrendous such as the deaths of over three thousand people in the first attack on US soil since December 7, 1941, to bring about a revival does not mean that revivals can or will not happen in this country again.

The excuse that surely we must be close to the rapture and second coming is just that: an excuse for laziness in the church. It’s an excuse for people to stay in their comfort zone or their bubble where they don’t risk being mocked or persecuted in some form for their beliefs and willingness to share those beliefs.

Here’s the thing: God is watching. If you have put your faith in Him and the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus but are not doing your job and in fact are living according to what the world wants you to do (usually, that’s the opposite of God), then you will be in trouble when you get to heaven regardless of it is following your death or the rapture.

I personally would rather see and hear of another revival in America because Christians are doing their job as Christians than because we suffered another massive tragedy. Have you considered that maybe we have so many shootings and hurricanes and fires because that is how people are coming to God?

President Trump this past week said that the attack on Christian-Judeo morals and values has come to an end. I cheered when I read that. I know many Christians working in the secular workplace who have kept their mouths shut as their co-workers actually asked how to get to heaven or what does salvation mean because they (the Christians) were worried about getting made fun of or losing their jobs because they knew the answer. I know of Christians who got tired of being mocked and left the narrow path to blend in with the world. I know of Christians who have wandered so incredibly far from God that I shudder thinking of what it will take to bring them back to Him…because they saw the world profiting and appearing to have more fun than their Christian circle. All of them will have to answer for those choices. Maybe now that we have a president who has said that our morals and beliefs are not to be attacked, now that we can legally fight back, Christians will finally come out from under the rock they’ve been hiding and do their job. Maybe now, they will end this nonsense about “oh, America will never see another revival” and instead say, as the old song goes, “Lord, send a revival, and let it begin with me.”

Children of Fire

Children of Fire

*high pitch beeping*
“____________ Fire and Rescue, request for your department. (address) for a structure fire.”
“____________ Rescue, request for your squad. (address) for male not breathing. CPR in progress.” 

The sounds of my childhood. Actually, I’ve been hearing those sounds – the beeping, the voice – since before I was born since both my parents were on our fire department.

Those calls or something similar would come over the pager, and my daddy would jump to answer. Before he left, every time, he would hear my mum; my sister; my brother; and I say, “Be careful. Have fun. I love you.”

His response, depending on how far out the door he was, usually was “yup” or “love you too” or “oh always.”

My mama is an old ER nurse from the days when nurses were actually allowed to put patient care first in their work. Supper conversation usually started with the question, “so did anyone come in for something stupid?” or “did anybody lose a finger?”

Let’s add to that. I wasn’t just raised by a firefighter/EMT and an RN/EMT; I was raised by two strong, Bible-believing Christians. My brother, sister, and I have all claimed Christ Jesus as our Saviour. We do not fear death. Process of dying? No, not looking forward to that part, but death itself is gaining an eternity in heaven.

Death. Trauma. Accidents. All were common discussion in my family. All of us have known that every time that pager goes off, especially for a fire, something could go wrong. Anytime you have a bonfire or get in a car, the rest of the family might hear those tones drop about the same time they get that sinking feeling that something in the family is wrong.

I have never in my entire life told either of my parents or my siblings that I hate them. To my knowledge, neither of my siblings have ever said such a thing. Because, God forbid, that could have been the last thing we ever said to that loved one.

Sure, we might hate the actions of that person. We might hate the feelings we experience that person has invoked in us, but we don’t hate that person.

I know many of our classmates in school and church have told their parents they hate them. They didn’t truly hate them, but the powerful words of “hate” and “love” are thrown around so carelessly in this world, that they didn’t even think about the consequences of that phrase. This morning, the preacher said something along the lines that it was pretty common for him to hear any of daughters say, “I hate you.” I could not stop thinking about that the rest of the message. All I could think about was every time I’ve stayed up listening to the pager to make sure my daddy and the other men got back to the station and signed off the air. Or every time they switched to a fireground channel, leaving me pacing around my bedroom waiting to hear them switch back to the county channel I could hear.

I started wondering how we impart that caution or thoughtfulness that, as far as I know, every Child of a Firefighter (EMT) has with their words. I’m not saying we say the right thing all the time. I regret a lot of what I’ve said. I’ve left my parents house angry at one or both of my parents. I’ve hung up on my sister and my brother because all we were doing was angering each other. Every time though, I’ve sent a text or called them to say that I love them. Every. Single. Time. They write back they love me too.

Johnny Cash has that famous song I Walk the Line. I’ve seen wives and mothers of firefighters and cops have adopted parts of that song to put on shirts and cars and even coffee mugs. It’s a shame that not everyone has that sense of cherish every moment, never let them leave without knowing they are loved obligation that families of emergency workers and military families have.

It doesn’t matter that I’m on the department right there with them. My daddy and my men are mine, so I walk that line. Because I’ve walked that line my entire life, I will never tell someone that I hate them.

 

Old Soul Raised Right

The door is open letting a breeze blow into the house. Birds are singing. Alabama, Alan Jackson, and others are singing in the background of the sound of dishes being washed while coffee cake bakes in the oven.

I’ve been told before I have an old soul in a young body. I think I was just raised right – simple, appreciative, well-mannered.

As I mixed that coffee cake, I chuckled to myself. I was using my grandma’s KitchenAid mixer, Tupperware measuring utensils while other Tupperware pieces dried in the dish rack, and the recipe used is from my copy of the “big red cookbook” from which many recipes of my childhood came as my mama followed and tweaked the recipes in her copy of that cookbook given to her by her mama.

I should be used to it by now, but I am still shocked when I hear my friends say they don’t cook or when they say their girlfriends or ex-girls never baked for them. Most Saturdays, after chores were finished, the kitchen became mine as I baked cookies or cakes or some other (usually) tasty treat for my family! I was raised by a mama who loves to cook for anyone and everyone! I have that same mindset. It makes me happy to cook for family and friends and co-workers and people I’ve never met.

It truly makes me sad to hear that my age group and those younger than I no longer take pride in their ability to throw a meal together for unexpected company or no longer have a cake or bread on stand-by. Ice tea in the fridge? Nope.

(Sidenote: I’m excited to be getting a new Tupperware pitcher! It will probably be tea-stained by the end of the summer!)

I don’t know if I’m just an old soul in a young body and not up to modern behaviour or if people these days just aren’t raising their kids right – with manners and preparedness -, but as I listen to the ballads of Brad Paisley and smell the cinnamon in the coffee cake heating up, I’m content.

 

Sunday School

This morning, while getting ready for church, I wrote a – in my opinion – brilliant post in my head about slavery. I was super pumped to type it out here.

At church, while watching a video about the sanctity of life, I started writing a post, again in my head, about individual world-views. I was excited about.

After church, ran into my parents in town for lunch where we started discussing Sunday school.

Background: I grew up in a church that was quite sizable. Children’s Sunday school was divided by school grade and age. Youth group was youth group, 7th-12th grade. College and Career was essentially everyone out of high school into their late 20s/early 30s. After that, I’m not entirely sure on all the different classes. I know there was a class titled “Homebuilders.” You picked which class you wanted to attend. (You could pick right out of high school, maybe in senior high too, but most chose to go with age we transitioned from kid to adult.)

Back to today: The question was brought up: do churches need or should have a college and career aged Sunday school class? Why can’t the young adults join the older adults in a group Sunday school?

My thoughts: Yes. Here’s why.

  1. If all the adults are sitting in the same area being taught the same lesson, how is that any different than the main church service? Especially in smaller churches?
  2. Sunday school classes typically have more interaction when smaller. A quieter person might be able to work up the courage to give their thoughts on a topic or passage of Scripture when there are only their peers in the room but remain silent when faced with talking in front of “older” Christians are adults they’ve grown up listening to in church.
  3. Graduating high school can be overwhelming to a teenager; why have that stress or overwhelming feeling at church too? A college and/or career class allows that teenager to transition from high school to adulthood a bit easier. They can learn with their peers facing the same struggles or those who have recently gone through the same struggles – budgeting, relationships, new co-workers – how to handle those specific challenges Biblically in comparison to sitting through a lesson on how to handle disciplining young children according to the Bible and trying to focus on that instead of their new trials.
  4. Sunday school does not take the place of morning worship service, evening worship service, or Wednesday night prayer meeting. Those are all still combined – all ages – when the younger adults fellowship with other believers across the range of ages.
  5. New members or those visiting a church for the first time might feel more at ease with their own age group, be less concerned about what that senior saint is thinking about them, and actually focus on the lesson.

I realize the college group could hold Bible studies apart from church, but, in my experience, those studies are sporadically attended by this age group due to work and school schedules.

These are just the reasons I could think of today for why churches shouldn’t dismiss the idea of a college/career group. I’m sure I will think of more over the next few days. Feel free to comment your thoughts on the subject!

The God of Fire

If you never have an imaginary conversation or attempted to plan a conversation with someone in your head, you are lying to yourself. Tonight, my conversation was with someone I love dearly who is now unfortunately brainwashed by a treehugger and with the idiotic treehugger/brainwasher.

At some point, this conversation turned to the world being destroyed by fire by God after the rapture and tribulations and the rest of the prophecies in Revelations. The idiot, in my imaginary conversation, asked how I can I follow a God Who will allow the world to be destroyed. I answered with He is the just God who has had literally billions of His children, throughout history, suffer unimaginable pain and death for their attempts at warning people of the upcoming judgment. The idiot then asked how would I be able to stand seeing the world be destroyed.

I, being me, responded that since I will be seated on the stoop of my personalized mansion, safe from the power of destruction of the fire, I don’t anticipate mourning the destruction of a cursed world. I also pointed out that as a pyro and a firefighter, I love fire. I love watching the beauty of the dancing flames and listening to sound of the fire consuming the fuel.

That got me thinking away from the treehuggers about how appropriate it was that God, the Creator of the universe, will destroy the universe – cursed but still beautiful – with something as beautiful as fire. Fire is the element that with restraint is beautiful and beneficial. Fire is also the element that, when unleashed, is powerful beyond belief and can continue to consume everything that stands in defiance of that power. From there, how appropriate that God appeared as a pillar of fire to guide the Israelites through the wilderness.

He created this universe out of NOTHING. I’m redoing my house right, slowly, so very slowly, but surely. I can have a perfect design in my head, but only based on what I have with which to work. I can draw out my dream house, but only based on what I’ve already seen. Architects can design a new house, but they have to be within codes and regulations based on what has already been done. God designed the world with no previous worlds (that we’ve been told), and it is beautiful even while cursed! Clearly, He has a respect, knowledge, and love of beauty – including in fire.

He also appeared before them as the element that can consume forests and towns and civilizations – as we were reminded recently with Gatlinburg, Tennessee – before it stops or is stopped. The power of fire is uncontested world-wide. Israel was overtaken by fires and aided by other countries who realized the amount of destruction – and the threat to them – of those fires. What better element would the just, powerful, and holy God choose than the purifying fire? Oh yes, fire purifies.

It is truly sad the amount of death in Tennessee right now – people, woods, and animals. However, that area will come back to be even more beautiful and full of life after the impurities have been burned away. Farmers burn away left-over crops and weeds to clean and enrich the soil for a better harvest. We are told a couple different times in the Bible that Christians are being purified through trials the same way fire purifies. The holy God cannot allow sin in His kingdom. When He creates the new world, it will be after the impurities of this world have been burned away.

Yes, I realize God appears as wind or rather a gentle breeze in Biblical accounts as well, but this line of thought focused on the fire and the different characteristics of God we can see through fire.

The last thing we can see through the account of God being the pillar of fire guiding the Israelites: mercy. They were wandering because of their sin. That fire could have been used to consume the entire nation, but God restrained from doing that because while they were wandering as consequence for their sin, they were wandering because God showed mercy and allowed them to live to wander rather than choosing a different people to be His.