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My ecclesial history began with Protestantism; to wit, as a lad I having Jewish friends, Catholic friends, having Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on the door, asked my mom what religion are we?

Her reply? “We’re Protestants.” That apparently was to be the end of the matter, as no further explanation was forthcoming. I had no idea at all (at that age) what a Protestant was, or what were in fact protesting.

I guess we were protesting the whole thing, because the only church we ever darkened the doors of as a family was my grandma’s. And that only when we annually traveled to visit her. That, aside from maybe a VBS (“Vacation Bible School”) or two was the sum total of my church experience growing up.

Quite frankly what piqued my interest in church was the cute girl at the drugstore who invited me. We spent countless hours together talking about life, the universe, and everything. We visited:

Assemblies of God

Charismatic

Vineyard

& Nazarene

Churches

As I had no prior experience, or theological instruction, upon which to draw I had no preconceived notions about what church was. And darn if some of it didn’t stick! I prayed the sinner’s prayer, and promptly went to a party to get drunk.

I didn’t have a fat clue of what a Christian was, or how they comported themselves. I don’t know how much praying I did, but I did carry around a Bible given to me by my grandma; it was a large, white KJV (King James Version) affair. At the time, I didn’t know it was a family Bible, and was meant more for a coffee table than for constant, conspicuous carrying around.

As I awakened to the the message of the Gospel, it seemed the next step was to get baptized. I mean that’s what believers do, right? Get dunked/sprinkled/submersed/wet…

So I did on a warm September evening some four months after “accepting Christ.” I really didn’t grok at the time that it was some kind of big deal to be baptized, as my then-girlfriend’s family indicated that they wished they’d been there.

I didn’t know it was some kind of symbolic affair significant of anything other than basic obedience to one of Jesus’s commands. Afterwards, I didn’t feel anything other than wet.

Somehow, after being baptized at an Assemblies of God church, we ended up attending a Charismatic fellowship. It wasn’t until much later that I knew it was weird. And by weird I mean I had a fun experience being prayed over by a group white shirt wearing, yellow pit stained elders who wanted me to “recieve the initial evidence of the indwelling.”

Translation: they we’re praying for me to receive the gift of tongues, or in more formal parlance, glossolalia. They, being Charismatic, made it a doctrinal certainty that speaking in tongues was the evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; in other words, the practice tongues were to make me a living proof text of God’s work in my life…

The result? I mean I was willing, wanting whatever God has for me. So, sure. I was young, naive, and having no religious background thought why not?

When it didn’t happen, as these four grown men, sweaty-faced, their voices rising in ecstatic fervor, lapsing in and out of their Heavenly Languages, as they circled my seated form, finally (and flatly) stated: “Don’t worry, brother; it’ll happen. Just start muttering.”

Just. Start. Muttering.

I’m not sure that’s what Paul had in mind when he wrote of the gift of tongues. Although I suppose I have been muttering to God ever since…

Through

Highs and lows

Successes and failures

Jobs lost and found

Health issues

Death, and new life.

And I’m thankful He’s never yet despised the bleating of this wayward sheep.

The following post comes courtesy of Grace Hill Media in sunny Southern California. As the genre, and responsible parenting/consumption of media are near to my heart, it was a no-brainer to feature their byline here.

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Lessons For Christians From Horror Movies

The popularity of horror films continue to grow, especially among teens and young adults, who flock to movie theaters on opening weekend.  This Friday, August 11, for example, the movie “Annabelle: Creation,” about a possessed doll hits theaters nationwide.  It seems difficult to believe that any movie created to frighten and give us nightmares might have a meaningful spiritual lesson for Christians.  And yet, anyone who has been brave enough to watch “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” written by Scott Derrickson, a Christian filmmaker, knows full well that horror movies can serve us with cautionary messages and, might just inspire the audience to head to their nearest church pew.
To be clear, not all horror films are the same. The genre has different versions.  
There’s no takeaway from “slasher” or disturbing “torture” movies meant to provide nothing but shock.  However, there are horror movies that depict spiritual warfare (which we know to be real) and the battle between good and evil. These supernatural films, oftentimes written and produced by Christians and based on real-life events, are filled with lessons about something we as people of faith have stopped discussing in an increasingly distracted secular world – that evil is real.

Here are a few other lessons from supernatural horror films:
1) Exorcisms are also real.  Although incredibly rare, people can get possessed by evil.  “The Exorcist” is based on a real-life possession of a young boy, and “Annabelle: Creation” is about a possessed girl.  

2) God will always defeat evil. No matter how powerful the enemy may be, God will always come out on top.  In the Bible, one of the most powerful miracles that Jesus performed was The Miracle of the Gadarene Swine in which Jesus cast unclean spirits out of a man.  In real-life and in all supernatural films that have a faith message including “The Conjuring” and “The Rite,” evil will always be vanquished.

3) Ouija Boards are a big no.  Perhaps one of the strongest and most valuable lessons to come from supernatural horror movies (which just as true in real life) is that those who become plagued or possessed by evil may have inadvertently invited those spirits or demon to come into their lives.  This is done through certain “gateways” that many priests and Christian leaders warn us about.  Christians, especially Christian parents must teach kids and teens to stay away from Ouija boards, tarot cards, fortune telling, or any sort divination.  These are all means in which evil can take hold of our lives.  In the second “Conjuring” movie the character becomes possessed after playing with a Ouija board.  This was based on a true person and event.
 
4) Prayer is the most powerful thing in the world.  Prayers protect and deliver us from evil.  In horror movies, those who are plagued by evil must often turn to a person of great faith or priest to help them.  That Christian leader is always portrayed as someone who believes prayer to be of utmost importance and is shown onscreen praying to God throughout the film.

5) Faith is the most important thing in the world.  Believing in God and being baptized in the Christian community protects and strengthens us.  It is a natural defense again evil.  In times of weakness, we must lean on our faith and turn to God.  The upcoming movie, “Annabelle: Creation,” is a cautionary tale that depicts what happens when one turns away from God and succumbs to temptation during a period of grief and weakness as opposed to leaning on God for grace and healing.  

All movies, including horror movies tell stories.  In the last century, before we had television and films, parents told stories and tales that were meant to alarm and even frighten children and youth from a certain place or course of action.

Now these stories, meant to be lessons, are brought to life onscreen, complete with sound effects and make-up.  They are terrifying and they should be – evil is something to stay away from.  But for Christians, there is a stronger message, one that should always comfort and strengthen us – that we have a savior and that he will always come to protect and fight for those of us in need.
 

There is scene in The Lord of the Rings which Professor Tolkien felt was the pivitol moment of the book; in it, Gollum nearly repents, having been won over by Frodo’s kindness. But the well-meaning Sam interferes. Chastened by Sam’s meanness, Gollum sulks off. Following are Tolkien’s thoughts:

“For me perhaps the most tragic moment in the Tale comes when Sam fails to note the complete change in Gollum’s tone and aspect….His (Gollum’s) repentance is blighted and all Frodo’s pity is (in a sense) wasted. Shelob’s lair becomes inevitable” (Letter #246).”

One wonders how often this happens, e.g., when a sinner is close to repentance, but one of God’s well-meaning children interferes? More often than we’d care to admit. There will be much one day which we will have to answer for. Many surprises are in store.

Along these same lines are the all-too-often instances of when a brother, or sister (or both), are hurting, and reach out for help. Let’s say that they’re getting help, finding some measure of mentorship, of folks coming alongside them. Things are happening, God is moving.

Then the church steps in.

The church leadership. If the church is a hospital, they are its doctors facilitating a connection to the Great Physician. Not this time. Not on their rounds.

The church says “No, you can’t do it that way. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting helped, making connections. You’re not doing it under our auspices. You have to stop.”

There again, Gollum is shut down, shut out, feeling cast aside… Wondering “What did I do wrong? I thought the church was supposed to help me? Isn’t this a spiritual hospital? God was moving, my struggles were getting better. Why did you shut me down?”

Brothers and sisters this ought not to be. But it happens over and over again. 

Have you been there? You think you’re doing the right thing, reaching out, in evangelicalese getting “plugged in,” but it blows up in your face, and then crumbles into dust… Leaving you wondering why you ever did this in the first place. You’re left feeling like you’d find more camaraderie, more acceptance, down at the corner bar. At least there they won’t judge you for being a sinner seeking solace, relief, healing.

What do you do when the church fails? Where do you go?

Who has the words which bring you life? Can life be found? Is it worth trying again?

Jesus, where are You in this?

Jesus

You’re an introvert. You love Jesus. You love His people. But you have a problem. You have trouble forging bonds with Jesus’s people.

You’re an introvert in a strange land:

A new church.

You’ve tried so many times. Big churches, and small. Baptist, and Pentecostal. You’ve tried the:

Megachurch (bonus points for allowing anonymity, but major demerits for the crushing crowds)

Independent, non-denominational Charismatic church down the street (where the elders in their sweat-stained shirts hunched over you in prayer, imploring God for the sign of the initial indwelling)

Finally, you settle on a community church. The people seem friendly, warm, welcoming. They invite you in. You join the small group. For the first time in a long time, you let your guard down. You get real, tell folks what’s really going on inside. Peel back the hood of your sweater to let them see you. The real you.

And it happens. Again.

Just when you were feeling comfortable, when you felt like you’d found a church family, the small group falls apart. “It’s not you,” they say. It’s not you… But this isn’t your first rodeo. You’ve been down this road.

You feel suckered. You feel gut-punched, the wind knocked out of your spiritual sales. “How could this happen again,” you ask yourself? How could I be so stupid as to think this would be any different?

You want that connection, you long for a spiritual intimacy with like-minded people, but it keeps getting denied you.

Why?

Where are the real people who’ll be there for you–the ones for whom you’ll be there for, too? Will the real, true Christians please stand up (please stand up)?

So it starts again. You’re again searching for the place to call home, for the people with whom you can do life. Will you find what you’re looking for? Your heart hurts. You want to lay down, to not try. But that still, small voice keeps whispering, “There’s something more.” But you’ve heard it a thousand times before…

“What’s different this time, God?” you scream at the sky. “What’s different? Where were you last one hundred times?” you wonder.

Why is this so hard?

Why does your heart hurt so much?

Where are you, God, and where are Your people in this?

If this is your best life now, you’re saying “Check, please.” Because, stick a fork in it, you’re done.

But you don’t want to be. It doesn’t have to be this way. But you don’t know how to make it better.

There’s got to be a better way…

We Lost the War

randomlychad  —  May 30, 2014 — 3 Comments

For decades it seems the American church has been fighting a war on culture. Well, we’ve lost. I don’t say this lightly, but it also seems pretty clear that we marched into battle under faulty premises. I mean when are we ever  mandated to convert the culture in which we find ourselves to some semblance of Christian conduct?

Is it even reasonable to expect Christian conduct, or morals, from culture? From the world? I submit it is not. Moreover, we’re not even on the same page when it comes to values.

So we’ve fought a war, which we’ve arguably lost, and awoken in a world we don’t recognize… Because we didn’t fight biblically. Pop quiz:

Where was the Apostle Paul most effective–on Mars Hill, where he tried to be culturally relevant, or with the Phillippian jailer? How about Jesus? Was He after the masses, or the individual? You see, those of us who believe serve a God Who isn’t all about efficiency. He wants the one lost sheep who’s strayed, scans the horizon for signs of the prodigal son, tells the woman with the issue of blood that her faith has healed her… Or the woman caught in adultery to go, and sin so more.

Was the command to go into all the world and save the culture, or rather was it to make disciples? You see, it’s easy to lionize Hollywood, or lambsaste the gay agenda.

But it’s hard to confront the sin in our own hearts, check our motives, and then go forth with the message of God’s love.

For individuals.

It’s easy to write off entire segments of the populace. It’s far harder to love those souls for whom Christ died.

Changed lives don’t happen culturally, or societally, but rather face-to-face, one-on-one.

But we’re afraid, hiding in our holy huddles. It’s no wonder we’ve lost the war.

But it’s not too late.

Wake up, church: the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God.