Friday, August 31, 2012

WWJVF? (Who Would Jesus Vote For)

As you probably know, unless you've been hiding under a rock (and I've been trying)... It's approaching election season and the mud-slinging is in full-force. Now don't get me wrong, I love me some drama, mud-slinging action... but I prefer when it's on Jersey Shore or Toddlers and Tiaras than CNN. When Ronnie yells, "Come at me bro!" I get significantly more excited than when Mitt Romney says, well, anything. In fact, the state of politics makes me sad. And not just the state of politics, but the state of our country's PERCEPTION of politics.

The age of the internet could have... SHOULD HAVE... made us better citizens. More thoughtful voters. But all I ever see posted from people are insanely one-sided articles with half truths mixed in.

To give myself some credentials, or maybe a lack thereof that would actually be more convincing, I've never voted. I know, I know, it's my right, it's my duty. And I should. I fully acknowledge that I should take the time to make an informed decision and vote. I have several issues with this, though.

1.) I am painfully liberal when it comes to social issues and painfully conservative when it comes to fiscal issues... or as I like to call it, I'm a member of the "Don't Tell Me What To Do" party. Don't tell me who to marry or how to manage my body or health or who my money needs to go to... Just don't. You're my government, not my mother.

2.) I don't like the kind of people who run for office. It takes a "special" kind of person to run for public office. I don't even really know how to describe the personality type... but I know that it's something I'm not a big fan of in people. When I look at two people running for office, it's like I'm picking between hanging out with a dude wearing a fanny pack or a Miami Heat fan. I really don't need to know more. If you're running for office, wearing a fanny pack, or a Miami Heat fan... I'm pretty much turned off at that point... Sorry. :-\

3.) This might be the biggest one...
I don't know how/if my faith should affect the way I vote.

I've come to realize that my faith is desperately ingrained in who I am as a person, which is how it should be. But I really struggle what that means when it comes to politics. Does that mean that since I believe that God values every life, I should only vote for a candidate that's pro-life? What if he makes crazy douchetastic statements about rape victims? Do those cancel each other out then?

Should I vote for someone who has the best family and Christian values? I feel like George W. Bush was pretty solid in those areas, but I think I can say with little resistance that maybe he wasn't the best president we ever had.

Should I try to eliminate issues of faith in the election? But if that's not important to me, what is?

I have pretty strong opinions on just about everything... but I really don't on this. I'm genuinely confused how these convictions should mingle. I believe in the separation of church and state, but I don't believe in the separation of life and faith... So you tell me... Who would Jesus vote for?

I probably won't vote yet again this year, imagining Barack in a fanny pack and Mitt cheering on the Heat... I guess I'll just convince myself that Jesus wouldn't approve of our constrictive two-party system to help me sleep at night. :-)

Monday, August 13, 2012

No One's Ever Good Enough: Why Legalism Can't Work

I want to tell my blog readers a story that breaks my heart. It makes me angry too, but the class and compassion with which it’s been handled doesn’t afford me the privilege to go around cursing about it. This is the story of my friends, who I will call “Edward and Bella,” only because I think it’s funny to reference them as Twilight characters. Edward and Bella are actually originally from the south, but moved here after Edward got his Master’s degree and found a job in Peoria doing Youth Ministry at a church in the denomination he was raised in.

Edward and Bella are amazing friends and Christians. Bella is one of the few people that I really feel comfortable opening up to because we both share a growing faith, but can still laugh and take jokes too far, and just enjoy life together. Edward and Bella have one of those marriages that you can just TELL is so strong and grounded in Christ. They also have a lot of compassion for the youth of their church and truly enjoy leading them. I’ll stop raving, but I want you to understand those things before I tell you this story.

As backstory, Bella did not attend church until she was about 12, but she immediately became interested and involved, and accepted Christ and was baptized, by sprinkling, at 13. Her and Edward met in college, started dating, and she accepted his denomination’s views (one of which was immersion baptism) as they moved forward in their faith journey. Bella knew that her conversion story might be perceived as an issue, but when Edward was interviewing for his first job, it never came up. For the past year, they’ve been working with a small youth group, trying to be deeply involved of the lives of the teens. Three weeks ago, they went to Wednesday night class that only two students were at. Edward had a lesson planned about Psalms, but one of the girls had just gotten some disappointing news and they ended up discussing it for almost all of class. 

This girl had applied and interviewed to be a Junior Counselor for a local non-denominational kids church camp. She wound up being turned down for the position for several reasons, one of which was her take on baptism, salvation and the link between. The student was hurt, upset, a little angry. Bella, Edward, and the two girls started talking through this issue. They told her how sorry they were, how unfair it was that in the process of trying to be all-inclusive the camp did, in fact, exclude her because of her beliefs. They talked about what she could say in the interview next year to further clarify her beliefs, etc. 

Throughout this conversation, the girl told Bella and Edward three times that she could not understand how people could think differently than her. So after the third time, Bella spoke up and told the girl her faith journey and sprinkling baptism story. They were both receptive, and Bella and Edward talked them through how different churches do baptism, how sometimes churches have baptism celebrations (perhaps once a year), etc. They also said that they believe that full immersion baptism is the best form of baptism and that's what they’d teach people and kids. But they wanted them to understand that there are intelligent Christian people that have been brought up with different beliefs. Edward and Bella encouraged the students to come talk to them if they had any further questions or if their parents did.

A few days later Bella and Edward got an e-mail from an elder of their church, requesting that both of them go to a meeting with the elders. 

At the meeting, some of the elders said that, because of her conversion story, they were not assured of Bella’s salvation. Two of them said they felt that “salvation is found in the water.” So basically, they told her (and her husband) that if she died that night, they would not feel assured that she would go to heaven. Even though she had been teaching their kids. Even though she invested time in them and their church. They said that if they'd known about this at the hiring process Edward wouldn't have gotten the job. Edward and Bella expressed that they didn't mean to hide anything from them. If they had felt like they had something to hide, they never would have mentioned it to the youth. 

Bella offered to get re-baptized to be completely obedient to the Word and to their leadership, but not for salvation. She explained it to me this way, “At the point when I knew Edward was pursuing being a minister, I knew my history and baptism style might be a problem. I struggled with this. I knew. I knew I was saved. 100%. I had felt the Lord with me, I knew I had the power of the Holy Spirit in me. My life isn't and never was perfect, but I did know that I had the security of the redeeming blood of Jesus.”

The church elders, however, said if Bella wasn’t being re-baptized in order to gain salvation, she wasn't doing it for the right reasons. When the elders said this, Edward said that he believed that Bella’s baptism was relevant and that he doesn't necessarily believe that baptism has to be the point at which one receives salvation, referencing churches that do baptism ceremonies once a year, etc. The elders had a huge problem with both these points. 

Edward and Bella left the meeting on a civil note. Two weeks later, they got back to Edward and Bella with their decision to let Edward go. 

The grace and compassion that Edward and Bella have maintained through the whole experience has been breath-taking. It’s honestly made me re-evaluate my level of compassion and forgiveness in every area of my life. They have peace, because they have Christ. And because they stuck to their beliefs instead of selling themselves out.

When you run a church…or a life… on legalistic principles, instead of love, NO ONE can ever be good enough.
So please pray. Pray for Edward and Bella. Pray for the elders in their church. Pray that their youth group will ask hard questions that will make the elders, their parents, and the whole congregation think just a little bit harder about what a life in Christ is.

If there’s one good story that comes out of this, though, besides Edward and Bella’s inspiring grace, it comes from one of the students there for the discussion on baptism. Before Bella knew what the final decision on Edward’s job was, she pulled the student aside to apologize and clarify. Bella asked the girl if she had any questions or was confused or upset by hearing Bella’s baptism story.

“No...” the girl said, “And really… even if immersion baptism is the only legitimate form of baptism… how could God expect you to know that, being only 13 and raised in a church that didn’t teach that…?”

Bella and Edward have planted a seed in that church that will grow and flourish in love. And they will plant many more in years to come, in future positions of ministry and leadership.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

14 months

Today one of Bridgeway's church plants, Second Chance Church was at our service in Pekin today. It was really pretty incredible to see everyone back. When we stopped to talk to Matt Robinson, he said something about being excited about how God's moving in our lives, and I agreed. But as I got time to sit down and think about just how drastically God has been moving in the Morrison household, I knew I needed to share this. With everyone.

I don't know why I haven't really, truly considered this before, but maybe it's because I have such respect for Matt and his family. I should say, that in the process of planting their church, I thought they were crazy. Matt moving across the country, taking a low-paying hourly job, Brooke being pregnant... You guys seemed crazy. Except I'm learning more and more that when you're called by God, it's usually at least initially to do things that make no sense. So when Matt said something about God moving in our lives, I had to sit back and think.

I'm going to take you to about 14 months ago. That's a calendar, plus a couple extra pages. Or if you spring for a nicer one, it might just be a calendar... you know, the one that wraps up the year for you and gets you to February of the next year.

The Morrison household was far from bad, but also far from good. I want to show you a quick snapshot:

  • Married just under a year. I'd say we were relatively content, but also nearly always at odds about something.
  • Over $8,000 in debt, in the form of a $260/month car payment for Nate's Grand Prix. Meanwhile, my 1999 Firebird was basically falling apart
  • Gave "what we could afford" to our church
  • 50% stocked emergency fund (about $500)
  • Both in jobs we hated
Now, here's what that looks like now:
  • Married just over two years. We regularly pray for each other and truly remember that we are best friends, first and foremost.
  • Nate's car is completely paid off. The Firebird has been replaced by a slightly lame by exceptionally reliable Aveo, that we paid cash for.
  • Give "what we can afford" to our church - over twice as much at 14 months ago (our income has not increased), and we've been able to give sizable one time gifts as well.
  • 100% stocked emergency fund - plus finishing up a savings fund for medical bills and maternity leave. We've also put over $1,000 in a college fund for Blakely and have about $150 set aside for Christmas gifts so far.
  • Both have new jobs... and Nate a new purpose, education plan, and career goal.
These things didn't happen over night. Not even close. But they all happened because we said "yes" to God. And to be clear, this doesn't look like the following conversation:

God: "You should really pay off your car loan."
Us: "Yes, God."
God: "And get rid of your smartphones."
Us: "Yes, God."

It looks much more like this:

God: "I have big plans for you, and I want you to be very ready to take the next steps when the time comes."
Us: "Uhhh...?"

But God doesn't leave you and continues to lead you from that point. He lets you deal with consequences of your actions because he LOVES you and wants you to succeed. I know one thing that was really hard for me about 14 months ago was our one year anniversary. Nate and I had always talked about starting our family after a year of marriage. At that point, I looked at our life and cried. We weren't in a bad spot... we just weren't in a good one. I didn't have a permanent job with insurance and Nate was just starting a new job. We had no real savings and a huge car loan over us. Shortly before that point, I had overdrawn both of our accounts to pay for an $800 repair on the car that we still owed $8,000 on. I KNEW that wasn't how I wanted to bring a child into the world, or how I wanted us to live, for that matter.

As we handed more and more of our lives over to God and continued to act in obedience to him, things began to happen. He was moving... he was moving US to push forward, push through, push ahead. When I told my boss at Cat that I was taking a job with another company, she seemed shocked and asked how much I would be paid. I honestly answered, "a little less than I make here." But I knew God had other things for me. We cut our living expenses literally in half. We began paying off debt. We began giving more time and giving more money.

So much has happened in the past 14 months... a baby, new jobs, new cars, new budgets, new callings... Where does God want to move in your life? Where are you now and where could you be in 14 months? Let God move you! Your life will never be the same.