Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Are You KIDDING Me, Arizona!?

I'm angered (and saddened) to see a hundred years of progress going right out the door. Yes, I'm talking about you, Arizona. When I read the headline, I thought I was possibly reading one of those fun parody newspapers, the satirical "Onion" perhaps. But, no. You're actually allowing businesses to refuse service to people based on their sexual orientation with the backing of a closely held 'religious belief'. Here's where I stand on my soapbox, folks.

I don't care what religion you are. I really, really don't. The bottom line is, nobody is better than anyone else. Black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor, or anywhere in between, how can you possibly believe in a God that thinks you're better than someone else? Because regardless of what you believe, a sin is a sin is a sin. If you think it's a sin to engage in a homosexual lifestyle, that's your choice of belief system. If you choose to not serve someone because they engage in what you consider sin, that's fine.

That gives me the right to choose not to serve you because you are a hypocrite.

Yep, that's right. That's what I said. Are these so-called 'religious beliefs' of yours your version of 'Christianity'? If so, let's take a look at that word. The suffix "-ity" means 'The condition of being", so this means 'Christianity' is 'The condition of being Christian'. Being a Christian means that you are a believer in the teachings of Jesus, called Christ and, likely, you're basing your belief system on the stories told of Him in the New Testament.

If this is true, if you feel it describes you, then before you stand on your lofty high horse looking down at those who are different from you, feeling superior in your whiteness or your straightness or your wealth,  I highly suggest that you READ IT.

There's a group of people that Jesus specifically calls out, rails on, admonishes, tells off... whatever you want to call it. And they're not gay, they're not poor, they're not 'losers' or 'degenerates'. They're the Pharisees. They're the ones who did exactly what you're doing up there. They looked down on everyone who wasn't like them. Too lazy/no time to read the whole New Testament that you base your entire 'religion' on? Here. Read Matthew 23. Go ahead, click on it. Or are you afraid you'll find you're not really as perfect as you thought you were?

Or how about Matthew 20:26 where He says, "Whoever wants to be the leader has to be the servant." (Psst, that means you have to serve people. All of 'em. Even ones you don't like or agree with.) Or good old John 8:7 where He says, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." (Psst, that means you sin, too! Does that give me the right not to serve you because I know you cheated on your wife, or that you called your father a bad name, thereby dishonoring him, or that you sat around for an hour thinking about your neighbor's car and how he doesn't deserve it but you do, or how you worked a night shift last Friday on the biblical Sabbath, or that you took a sandwich from work without paying for it?)

Look, people -- I'm not professing to be any better than anyone else here, either. But let's have a little common decency. Let's have a little humanity in the human race. For the love of that God you so claim to believe in, let's stop persecuting people and marginalizing them for the way God created them. It doesn't surprise me that people are treated horrifically simply for who they are -- Jesus Christ was the Son of God and the Savior of the world, the only perfect person ever to grace the face of this planet, and we beat and brutally murdered him. But I find it unbelievably ugly, this hatred. It's not becoming on you, humanity. So let's do something else, instead.

"I put on righteousness as my clothing. Justice was my robe and my turban."  Job 29:14

Not your own righteousness. The righteousness of Jesus. Not your own flawed 'justice' but what's truly right for humanity. And then take a good, hard look at 1 John 1:7 which really sums it all up if you want to keep calling yourself a Christian:

"But if we really are living and walking in the Light, as He Himself is in the Light, we have true, unbroken fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin and guilt and keeps us cleansed from sin in all its forms and manifestations."

Let's stop looking at each other and start looking UP. When our eyes are on the Kingdom, everything else is pretty easy to put into place.

Fine, I'm off my soapbox now. Carry on. Preferably with more love and kindness and acceptance and forgiveness and humility.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Meeting Needs > Preachy Preachiness

I'm hesitant about the word 'ministry'. I've had several people ask me why we're using that word for what we're doing with Green Olive Ministries. In everyday life, people equate the word with preachy Jesus stuff and, while the co-founders and some of the team members are Christ-followers, preachy Jesus stuff is not what we're in this for. One of the definitions of the word 'minister' is: "to give service, care, or aid; attend, as to wants or necessities." (www.dictionary.com)

I spent some time in Matthew 14 today and the character of Jesus once again just blows me away. In 14:12-14, Jesus finds out that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been beheaded and He is obviously sad and contemplative at this tragedy. Yet a huge crowd is still following Him. He 'withdrew from there privately in a boat to a solitary place.' But the crowds followed. Does He tell them to leave Him alone in His grief? Does He admonish them for their selfishness? Does He send His disciples to teach them today instead? Nope. 'He had compassion (pity and deep sympathy) on them and cured their sick.' It goes on to say that the evening comes, the huge crowd has been there all day, and everyone is hungry. The disciples want to get rid of the crowd and have them go find their own food, but Jesus has a different plan. 'They do not need to go away. YOU give them something to eat." (16) The disciples complain that they don't have anything, just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. (17)

What they fail to realize is that Jesus has put His own grief and emotions aside out of His compassion for the people around Him (including the disciples!) They also fail to realize that people who are in deep need are not going to glean anything just from talk. If you do not meet their need, they are going to be so consumed with said need that none of your words are going to make a bit of difference in their lives. This, my friends, is the birth of 'Practice what you preach'. You cannot preach love, compassion, generosity, kindness, humility, gentleness, meekness, self-control, forgiveness... if you are unable or unwilling to have these traits yourself. It's super easy to say," Send them off to get their own food. We've done our job today. We've preached." And then you have a crowd of people who see nothing except for that you're long-winded and that you know nothing about their plight. How, then, are your words alone going to make any bit of difference in their lives?

If you can put aside your own emotions, if you can empathize with people and withhold judgment, if you can go into the community and find out where the need lies and fill that need, you are doing the right thing. Without preaching, you're showing Jesus to people. Jesus, the Son of God who stripped down to a servant's garb washed the dirty feet of His own disciples, teaching them humility. Jesus, who left His own pain and suffering to the side, not just at His cousin's death, but at His own upcoming fate, and ministered to the needs of the people whether they were hungry, thirsty, or in need of forgiveness, mercy, or hope. Jesus, who celebrated children and their faith and trust as something to strive toward in the Kingdom, not something to be seen and not heard. Jesus, who brings high the lowly with respect and dignity and shoots down the haughty.

How do you know you're loved by God if no one has ever shown you that you're loved by God?

Green Olive is a ministry not because we're out to preach Jesus to people without making a difference in their lives. It's a ministry because we're out to BE Jesus to people and make all the difference in the world to them.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pieces of the Puzzle

I've told you before I have a puzzle piece tattoo on my right foot. For those of you just tuning in, it represents the idea that everything in life happens for a reason, whether good or bad -- when you look at just a single piece of your life, it may not make sense, it may be ugly, but when you put it together with all the rest of the pieces, it creates a beautiful masterpiece designed by God. It's not the most beautiful of tattoos, but that's really the point. It means something to me every time I look at it. It fits with the tattoo my little sister got with me, and the other two points on the puzzle piece are for my husband and my best friend (who, coincidentally, were also supposed to get puzzle pieces on their feet for my birthday, but didn't... subtle reminder, if you're reading...)

Anyhow, lately I've been telling the same stories over and over. How important each person in your life is, because God put them there (and you in their life) for a reason. I must've said that ten times in a day to one of my good friends recently, and here I was reading Joyce Meyer's "Change Your Words, Change Your Life" again today and came across this:

"God puts us all in each other's lives to impact one another in some way." (16)

Follow these steps: at 16, I was engaged to my second 'real' boyfriend. I planned to go to Western Michigan University, but followed him to the University of Michigan instead. I received my degree in English Language and Literature in 1999 and married him two months later, already miserable. Moving closer to home in 2001 to a tiny little town, I needed something to remove me from my misery. I auditioned for a play half an hour away and met some great people (including my best friend and the man I would later marry, though I had no idea yet.) We divorced, I dated the cute guy from the theatre, we moved in, got married, got custody of 2/3 of his kids, I had to find a different job so I could have flexible hours, and I started working at the coffee shop where my husband worked. I met Andie, Marla, Krista, and so many others who have ended up being a part of our ministry in some way, shape, or form. Theatre and coffee shaped my life, right?

No, God shaped my life. He intricately put together each piece of the puzzle right before my very eyes, and I could never doubt the masterpiece He's creating, still.

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, February 13, 2014

When You Hear His Voice

I gotta admit, I used to be one of those people who rolled my eyes when someone said, "God told me..." I mean, seriously? Like, He told you like He told NOAH to build an ark? Or MOSES to lead the people out of Egypt? Or ABRAHAM that he'd be the father of nations? But the thing I've found out, as I've prayed more, read more, and, above all, LISTENED for Him more, is that He speaks to us every day just like He spoke to them. There may not be lightning flashing, thunder rolling, sparkly angels appearing, or bushes burning but the theatrics don't make a bit of difference if we're discerning His voice from the other voices in our head.

I've also found it's never the easiest thing in the world to just drop everything and follow His lead. I have plenty of excuses and hesitations. Reading up on it, I discovered long ago that I wasn't the only one who felt that way. Not everybody in the bible just said, "Oh, yeah, sure, God. Let me do that right now." Moses hesitated because he was a stutterer and felt it wasn't really the greatest idea of God's to have him be the one to lead people. Jonah hated the Ninevites and didn't want anything to do with preaching to them, so much so that he ran from God (but God DOES have a way of finding you if you hide, he found out...) Abraham and his wife laughed at God for suggesting they'd get pregnant in their old age and even came up with a plan of their own which was borne out of not really believing God could/would do what He said. So my little excuses and hesitations are just more in a long line, historically. When God told me to stop working in a toxic work environment, I said, "But... the money is really good and we can't afford for me not to work!" When He told my husband to go to school full time at the same time as I quit the job, I said, "Well, we CERTAINLY can't afford that, but..." And when He told me to stop being a stubborn jerk and start loving people I had cut off from love, I said, "But... I don't WANNA! [insert foot stomping here]"

Eventually, I came around and did what He told me to do. How did I know He was telling me to do it? Because they were things that 1) I didn't have any inclination to do on my own, 2) scared me and made me uncomfortable, and 3) I was feeling like I was supposed to do anyhow. Ever been there? Kind of like you're standing on the edge of a cliff, feeling like you're supposed to jump? Looking into the abyss thinking, "There's no way I'll survive!"

God has a parachute. And a hanglider. And a luck dragon (yeah, this only makes sense if you've seen The Neverending Story).

The point I'm trying to make is, God's never going to tell you to do something that's not the right thing to do. When you hear Him, or think you hear Him, put it to the test. Read the bible. Know His character. Remember that when He's leading you, you're in good hands. If YOU'RE leading you, that's rarely the case! (Trust me, I know from personal experience.) I've never been happier or more fulfilled in life than when I've listened for His voice and then heeded it when He's spoken.

I pray only the same for you, all the days of your life.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Monthly Check-In?

Well, I feel sheepish. Once a month is just plain unacceptable for blogging, and I apologize profusely. I have plenty of explanations, but no real excuses. Life is busy, you know? Working three jobs, starting up the ministry with Andie, directing a show at the Opera House, plus trying to spend time with family as much as possible. Sometimes a hot bubble bath is the most I can manage for 'free time'. But here I am at work playing a mindless video game and it occurs to me... you should be writing, woman. That's your whole purpose in life.

So, some updates!

We're working on getting the second half of our grant money from The Pollination Project which should come soon, as we've sent the report of what we did with the first half. We've raised a little over a thousand dollars on our IndieGoGo campaign and have just over thirty days to raise the other nearly NINE thousand that we'd like to start with. We were on Fox 28, in the Elkhart Truth, and are all over social media right now which is fantastic, but we're antsy to get started with the actual project at the end of March (coincidentally right after the show I'm directing, COMPANY, is over!) Our tax returns are due back soon so I'll have a little bit of breathing room in the work arena. My husband's on the dean's list at school (yes, yes I WILL brag about him, thank you very much) and we're all right where we need to be, doing what we need to be doing.

I realized today how much I really miss GOING to church. We used to go on a regular basis. We still 'go', we just watch it online at home. Sometimes the wifi's wonky, sometimes the feed is not so great from the source, sometimes it's too cold to leave the house, sometimes we're just lazy. But, to me, there's something about being in that great big room with the lights dimmed and the music playing where I feel like I don't have to answer to anybody but God, and that's the way I want to feel all the time. I'm sick of having to be 'ON' all the time. I'm a human being. I'm flawed. I make mistakes. I do stupid things, I say crap I shouldn't. I hurt people, I offend people, I make snap decisions that I can't take back. But this is me. I'm ME. And Dr. Bob reminded me today that there's only one Being who loves with the kind of love that overlooks all of that ALL of the time, and that's God. (Believe me when I say that my husband's a pretty forgiving, amazing, loving human being, but I know I get under his skin sometimes even when I don't mean to, so I can't fault him for being frustrated with me at times. Probably even God's frustrated with me at times!) Anyhow, I'm rather hoping that sometime soon we get the chance and the gumption to get into the building for church, even if it's just once a month. It would really be great if this weather would disappear and the pretty little melty rivers in the middle of the streets would  begin.

I just finished reading the bible for the fifth time in a different translation again, and it was my favorite time through (The Everyday Life Bible, Joyce Meyer devotional edition, given to me by said awesome husband for Christmas 2012). My intention was to finish it by 2013 Christmas, but a month and a few days later's not too shabby. This year, I'm going back through again (not the whole thing) but really studying what Jesus Himself had to say, highlighting all of my favorite verses, and spending more time on individual verses in context. I get something new out of it each time and that's the whole point, really. We're never going to totally understand it, or 'get' life, or figure out our purpose completely but the Journey to it is what counts. Learning, growing, loving each other along the way.

I'm so blessed I forget sometimes to thank Him for it because I just take it for granted. I gotta stop those shenanigans. I might not be making the big bucks, but He's sending us enough to pay all of our bills, keep a really nice roof over our heads, have our daughter in a good school system, allow my husband to be a full-time student, have me start a ministry with my friend, and provide us with the luxury of heat in this ridiculous frozen tundra of late. I can't ask for more, and I wouldn't want to.

Let's see how long it takes me to write again, huh? Facebook me and tell me to get off my butt. I have no excuse!

Stephanie Jean