I Need Your Help! (Book Update)

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“Reporter Table” by koratmember from freedigitalphotos.net

It’s your turn to write to me! 🙂

As I have been creating my Book Proposal for Impostor Jesus I’m realizing that the information I want to share will be much more powerful if I have more that just one voice (mine) sharing it. It’s one thing to believe that I have found common lies and themes between my cultic upbringing and Evangelical Christianity as a whole, but I need to hear what other people have to say.

How you can help:

  1. Answer any or all of the three questions below, whatever pertains to you. You can answer them in a comment on this post, send me an email through the “Contact” page, or send me a message on my Facebook page.
  2. Share this post or the questions on my Facebook page with your friends and family and ask them to take the time to write me.
  3. Invite me to come and share my story with your group (I live in the Grand Rapids, MI area) so that I can chat with them about these same questions. I am not picky about what kind of group it is. It could be a singles group, college group, Bible study group, small group, mom’s group, or maybe we just meet some of your friends for coffee.

The broader the spectrum of people I can talk to, the better! I am hoping this gets shared far and wide! I look forward to sifting through all of the stories and thoughts to see what kinds of themes come out. I might even give you a peek at some of them sometime soon!

The Three Questions:

  1. Have you felt frustrated, disillusioned, “burned”, or disappointed by Christians or the Christian church? Did it cause you to leave Christianity or the church? What happened?
  2. What do you see as some main problems within the Evangelical Church as a whole? What lies are Christians believing?
  3. If you consider yourself an active, growing Christian, why are you choosing to pursue this lifestyle?

Thank you to all of you who decide to share your story and thoughts with me!

A Million Ways to be Saved

how to be savedMel slowly admitted how distant she felt from God, how distant she had always felt. Even though she had walked the aisle at church multiple times and given her life to the Lord on numerous occasions, she still felt disconnected.  “It’s like there is a blockage between us,” she whispered with tears in her eyes, “And I just can’t figure out what it is.”


“What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30)

Ask this questions to a bunch of different Christians and you will probably get a bunch of different answers. Such as:

  • Pray the sinners prayer
  • Ask Jesus into your heart
  • Raise your hand, walk the aisle, etc
  • Make Jesus the Lord of your life
  • Repent
  • Be Baptized
  • Admit, Believe, Confess (ABC)
  • Receive the Holy Spirit
  • Etc.

Good old “Christianese”, the words and phrases that we Christians throw around without stopping to think about what they actually mean… It’s a problem, and I’m guilty too. Until a few years ago, answering the above question in Acts 16:30 terrified me. What if I said it wrong or didn’t get it exactly right? Honestly, I avoided having to “share the gospel” if possible. When an opportunity presented itself, I often went with well-meaning but meaningless things like “God loves you” or “I’m praying for you”. Those sound nice, but they aren’t the Good News!

It wasn’t until I went to Bible school (at Frontier School of the Bible) with my new husband, and sat in a Personal Evangelism class taught by Dr. Richard Seymour that it finally clicked! Strangely enough, I wasn’t the only one there who had never understood salvation. My college friend, Kristine, who had been in church her whole life, ended up getting saved in Dr. Seymour’s class. (Something Dr. Seymour says happens every year!)

Which leaves me with a question: what in the world? Every year people who love God enough to want to go into full-time ministry come to Bible school, hear the clear gospel, and get saved? What is wrong with our churches? Maybe it’s our Christianese!

What exactly is it that saves us?

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

By grace, through faith, not by works. As in, it is not based on anything I DO! Well, that knocks off praying a prayer, raising a hand, walking an aisle, repenting, being baptized, etc.

What about “Ask Jesus into your heart”? This phrase is incredibly confusing, especially if you take it literally. And who does it get used with most? Children (who happen to be super literal)!

The Bible tells us that we are given the Holy Spirit once we are saved as a guarantee of our salvation. (Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:9-10) So, we don’t have to ask for Him to come in.

There is a verse (Revelation 3:20) that talks about Jesus standing at a door, knocking, but it is not talking about the “door of our heart. And, when you read it in CONTEXT (yes, I’m yelling) you will see that the verse is being written to a Christian church and it is not talking about salvation. Hmmm… So, why do we use this phrase when telling someone how to be saved?

And, “make Jesus the Lord of your life”? This is the idea that in order to be saved (or as an evidence of salvation) a person must completely surrender, give Him total control, and make Him “Lord”. Isn’t Jesus already the Lord whether we live like it or not? And isn’t this basing our salvation on works?

When I first came out of my legalistic, standard-filled, cultic Christianity, this was the type of gospel I preached. I thought that people should be serious about living like a Christian. Even though I was beginning to understand grace, I wanted to make sure people lived “right”. My pastor pulled me aside one day after my gospel lesson to 5th-6th graders and gently corrected me. I’d never heard of “lordship salvation” before.  (If you’d like more information about lordship salvation, I’d encourage you to Google it. There are some great sites with information for and against.)

I feel like this approach has good intentions, but misses the mark because often people end up either trusting or doubting based on their own actions (if they are making Jesus “Lord”). There is too much emphasis put on me and my performance, and not enough emphasis on Jesus and what He accomplished for me on the cross. Christians who believe in lordship salvation have a lot of verses they use to back up this idea, but I’d encourage you to look them up and put them in, you guessed it, Context! 🙂

So, then, how can I be saved?


I listened to my new friend as she shared her heart and her frustrations with Christianity and God. She wanted to be close to God, but it wasn’t working. I asked if I could share some verses with her. We turned to John 3:16-18

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (A familiar verse) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” 

“What if you have always struggled to feel close to God, because you never understood salvation?” I asked. “What if you were always trying to do something instead of believing in and accepting what Jesus has already done?

Mel examined the verses in front of her. “Can it really be that easy?”

I smiled, “I think it is.”

She signed, and I could almost watch a weight fall off her shoulders. Then she smiled.

I don’t know if that was the moment Mel trusted Jesus, but the “when” and “how” aren’t really important…The important thing is that we “do”!


What do you think? Too easy? What are you reacting to? What emotions are you feeling?Want to know more? I’d love to hear from you!

I included a link to Dr. Richard Seymour’s website if you click on his name. I’m also including a link to a Facebook note about salvation that I wrote back in 2008 after sitting through Dr. Seymour’s class.

 

 

 

 

Some Simple Theology

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The past few days I have had some interesting conversations, read some unique articles, and come to a few conclusions. Friends, we are an obsessive culture! Currently it feels like we are obsessed with intellectuals…the way we view intellectuals, wanting people to think that we are intellectuals, etc. We value knowledge, and ideas, and information. These things are not a problem in themselves; however, when we feel that we as mere, created humans have figured out God…that is a problem!

People have created complex, often contradictory, theology, each sure that they have figured out how to explain Christianity and the God behind it. Covenant vs Dispensation, Calvinist vs Armenian, Theistic Evolution vs 6-Day Creation, etc. I listen to it all,think about how I once let a “wise”man lead me (Gothard), and then look at my Bible. (This is a long passage because I have a serious problem with showing you just one verse to make my point…it’s called context!)

1 Corinthians 1:20-25  “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”        

What if we are making everything too complex with all of our intellectual theology? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t search for answers or try to understand God as much as we can. But, when we come to the place where we feel like “we have the answers” and “they don’t”, then we have become foolish. I see truth in a variety of different theories about God and Christianity. Would you like to know my simple theological beliefs? Here they are:

  1. If it makes God seem bigger, then it is probably right. If it makes God seem smaller or more understandable, then it is probably wrong.

Maybe this sounds overly simple, but I believe in a God who in infinitely bigger, more powerful, more amazing, more unbelievable, wiser, crazier, and just MORE than I can ever imagine or understand. This is my problem with Theistic Evolution…so you are saying that God isn’t big enough to just speak everything into existence? He had to use a process that man “discovered” scientifically, that they can’t actually prove? And the only One who was there, and says He spoke it, is wrong…because created humans (who don’t want to believe in God) say so? Sorry, it just doesn’t add up in my mind.

  1. See the Bible for what it is: not a book of mystic wisdom, but the story of God and the people He created.

As I said previously in “Bill Gothard’s Bible”, I was raised to see the Bible as this mysterious, mystical book that I could open to any place, on any particular day, and gain a “rehma” for my daily life. Talk about yanking verses out of context! What I have discovered is that the Bible is actually God’s story of the world He created and the people He loved, lost, and redeemed. It is a beautiful story of passionate love, sacrifice, mercy, and grace. The Bible teaches us about who we are and who the God is who made us and loves us. But, we can’t write off parts we don’t like or understand, because they are ALL important! We need the Old Testament to understand how huge, holy, just, and perfect this God is who crazily enough decided to become a person and die for the sins of the world. Without seeing the holy, scary, fiery LORD, we cannot truly appreciate Jesus, the Savior and Servant King in the New Testament. I could say so much more, but that would be another blog post. 🙂

  1. Read the Bible book by book taking into account the type of literature each book is, who the author was, who they were writing to, the culture surrounding it, and what the author was trying to say.

If it is a history book, then I read it like history (Genesis, Exodus, Matthew, etc). If it is a book of prophecy to the nation of Israel, then I read it like prophecy (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc), some of which has been fulfilled and some of which is still to come. Does this make sense? Here’s the biggest problem I see when it comes to the Bible and modern Christians: they don’t read it and are therefore unfamiliar with it. As a result, we become vulnerable to lies and teachers who take Scriptures out of context. We don’t know what the Bible really says, or how to read it, and so we don’t know how to filter what people tell us.

I really don’t think that Christianity is about being or looking like an intellectual. It’s not about having the right apologetics so that you can defend your beliefs against people who don’t agree with you. I think it’s more about being childlike, having faith, knowing the Bible, and believing in a God who is WAY TOO big to understand or fit into any box that we can make.

I Thought I Understood the Bible, Then I Went to Israel!

Touring Israel was never on my bucket list. However, it has always been on my husband’s! Which is why, a year ago, we packed our suitcases, left the kiddos with grandparents, endured a twelve hour flight (with little to no sleep), and spent eight, amazing, life-changing days in the nation of Israel.

I don’t know why I was never interested in going to Israel. Maybe it’s because the tour info packets make it seem so mystical. Or because they say corny things like, “Walk in the footsteps of Jesus” or “Have your life changed in the Holy Land”. Perhaps it’s because I thought as an American, Evangelical, Bible schooled Christian, that I was plenty familiar with the Bible. Everyone tells you that Israel will change your life and that you will never read the Bible the same again. I’m the first to admit I was a skeptic. It’s just a place, right?

It IS just a place. But it was also a place that continues to change me and continues to bring the Bible to Life! Go figure! I discovered how much I don’t know, and how much I had wrong!

I didn’t know I would see prophecies being fulfilled before my eyes.

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A sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea from our 11th floor balcony. Natenya, Israel

Do you see the skycranes in the top left corner of this picture? They are everywhere in Tel Aviv, and Natenya, and in-between. Why? Because people are building, building, building. They can hardly keep up with the amount of housing needed by Jews who are coming back to Israel from all over the world! We sat on our balcony enjoying the sunrise and our strong instant coffee, and I read my husband Isaiah 54.

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more that the children of her who is married, says the LORD. Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen our stakes.” Isaiah 54:1-2

This was just the first day! Our Israeli tour guide pointed out prophesies coming true almost every day of our trip!

I didn’t know that Jesus wasn’t a “carpenter” and didn’t get laid in a wooden manger.

As Americans, we hear the word “carpenter” and think wood. Problem is, there really isn’t much wood or trees in Israel. (Which would explain why they got their cedar from Lebanon all the time in the Old Testament.) There are a lot of rocks! Both ancient and modern homes are often made of rock.  Most likely, Jesus was actually a stone mason. And that manger you picture in your head or have seen in a Nativity; it was probably also made out of stone. It didn’t take too long before I started feeling like an outsider looking in! Why have we put so much of our own culture in our version of Bible stories?

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A stone manger and bowl. Tel Megido

I didn’t know the Sea of Galilee was so SMALL!

The first time we saw the Sea of Galilee was at night. Our hotel was next to the water. It was dark, but we could see lights from the other side. Both my husband and I were shocked at how small it seemed. We are from Michigan and are used to the Great Lakes. The Sea of Galilee seemed so tiny in comparison!

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The Sea of Galiee from the top of Mt. Arbel.

 

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Getting ready to ride a “Jesus boat”!

This is the lake that Jesus calmed when He said, “Peace, be still!” What??!!

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Sunrise with some fishermen over the Sea of Galilee.

I didn’t know I would fall in love with Jerusalem.

Israel is not a mystical, magical place. It’s not going to magically make anything happen in your life. It’s just a country, an awesome country, a special country, but just an ordinary place. Jerusalem, the Old City, and the Western Wall, they might be magical. 🙂

I enjoyed being in Galilee. Floating in the Dead Sea was pretty incredible, but Jerusalem… Jerusalem stole my heart! If my children hadn’t been home in the U.S.A., I might have stayed forever. We arrived in Jerusalem in time for dinner at our hotel. Then our guide invited us on a walk through the Old City to the Western Wall. It was the Sabbath. We walked along the city wall, over cobble stones, and down dimly lit streets. Music, singing, and soft Hebrew words filled my ears. Our guide led us to an over look, and there it was.

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The Western Wall (Wailing Wall) on a Sabbath night.

We spent three days soaking up Jerusalem culture. It was incredible! Here are some highlights.

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Mt. of Olives, overlooking a cemetery, the temple mount, and the dome of the rock.

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The Old City wall with me showing the scale.

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Religious Jewish women praying in the Western Wall tunnels.

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Camel ride!

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The Old City of Jerusalem

I didn’t know that I would LONG to go back!

I, the one who didn’t want to go in the first place, want so badly to go back to Israel and learn even more about the culture and land of the Bible. I love being able to read God’s Word and think, “I’ve been there” and have a mental image of what it looks like. I love having a better understanding of who Jesus was as a Jewish rabbi. I love what has happened to my heart regarding the Jewish people…I found myself identifying with the religious Jews because of my legalistic, ritualistic past. God poured His love into my heart as I walked through the Jewish Quarter of the city. I want to go back!

Guess what? We ARE going back! And you can come with us!! My husband (who is a pastor) and I are leading a trip to Israel next year, February 18-28, 2017. It will be an 11 day trip through Galilee, down to the Dead Sea, and finally ending in Jerusalem. We will stuff ourselves with information and Israeli food and it will be amazing!

The trip costs $4173 and includes all airfare (from Grand Rapids, MI, but that can be changed), hotels, breakfasts and dinners, taxes, tips, etc. The only things you will have to pay for once you are in Israel is your lunches and souvenirs. We will be traveling with Imagine Tours & Travel. You can check them out at www.ittworld.com. For more information, please contact me. We would love to send you a brochure!

 

How My Parents Joined a Cult

Every time I tell my story, people ask the same questions. “What about your parents? How did they get involved? What do they think about Bill Gothard and IBLP now? How do they feel about you writing publically about all of this?” Well, here are some answers! I have talked with each of my parents separately and together to get these answers, and they have approved this blog post.

An Introduction to Bill Gothard:

64804_458336314496_4891626_nMy parents were first-generation Christians. They began their relationship with Jesus in college and got involved in a wonderful Christian campus ministry. The campus minister was instrumental in their spiritual growth. Unfortunately, He was also a supporter of Bill Gothard and took students to Gothard’s Basic Seminar every year. The community of Christians at college was alive and vibrant. Students were serious about growing in Christ and my parents absolutely loved it!

After they graduated and left the campus ministry, my parents struggled to find a church with the same passion for Jesus. In every church they went to, the people seemed fake, like church was just something they did on Sunday, but their relationship with God didn’t really matter.

Homeschooling with Bill Gothard:

Some of their closest friends from college, a couple who was a few years ahead of them in marriage and children, decided to homeschool. This was back in the 80s when No One was homeschooling! It appealed to my parents and they decided to homeschool as well. Their friends started to use Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute (ATI). Gothard promised that ATI was an exceptional homeschooling program that would automatically make your family and children succeed. You also had to be approved to join the program, have your life in order, commit to various standards, pay a yearly fee, and promise not to share, or even show, any of the curriculum to anyone who was not “ATI”.

If you ask my parents now, they will tell you that they wish they’d paid more attention to the red flags. But, their trusted friends believed Gothard, so they thought it must be okay. Plus, my parents were pretty new Christians and they didn’t have the Biblical background to see through the lies and out-of-context Scripture. They thought they could weed out the bad and keep the good.

We joined ATI when I was twelve. Before ATI we were just an average homeschooling family. My mother liked to garden, and sew, and make bread. My siblings and I devoured books, played outside, did chores, and went to homeschool group outings. We went to a regular church in town and looked relatively normal (for the 1980s and early 90s). After joining ATI, things began to quickly change.

Joining the Cultic-Church:

IMG_3984Our Family, Christmas 1998

When I was fourteen, we left our regular church and started driving an hour and a half twice a week to a new church. It was made up of conservative, homeschooling, Gothard following, mostly large families. At the heyday, we had families coming from as far as two hours away, even some from Canada. The church promoted a safe environment for teens, protection from the world, like-minded fellowship, and deep spiritual teachings. Sundays were an entire day of church with a lunch and fellowship time in-between two two-plus hour services. There was no Sunday School, Children’s Church, or nursery. There was lots of singing, testimonies, prayer, and long sermons. My parents saw people who were actually “living out” their Christianity for the first time since college and were excited. Once again, they thought they could weed out the bad and just enjoy the good.

Unfortunately, even more than the ATI program, this cultic church was damaging for my brother and me. Adults have an easier time picking and choosing what they believe. As teens, we bought it all, hook, line, and sinker. It didn’t help that we went to special teen events where we were “indoctrinated” even further. There were red flags at this church as well, especially as my dad got involved in leadership. It took us seven years to leave.

More About My Family:

My family was never “Gothardites” like some people I knew. They always saw Bill Gothard as just a man and didn’t agree with everything he said, especially my dad. My parents both had genuine relationships with Jesus before Gothard and ATI, and continued those relationships while we were in the program (cult). We were a “fringe” family. We didn’t make the yearly pilgrimage to Knoxville, TN (a huge mega conference just for ATI families); I think we went twice. My parents didn’t send us to training centers (where most of the abuse happened) or let us go overseas with groups of ATI students. My dad was a public school teacher for crying out loud, so he was almost considered a traitor. In fact, I credit my father and his skepticism with protecting me from getting further involved than I did.

My parents are wonderful people! They were just deceived by a manipulative con artist with amazing promises of success. Unfortunately, Gothard’s program and teachings seemed to appeal to mentally unstable, abusive type people, and many former ATI students experienced horrible abuse in the name of Gothard. This was not my family! We were just a nice, homeschooling family who lived a sheltered, old-fashioned life.

What My Parents Think Now:

188910_10150138743979497_913088_nRegret. This is the word I hear most often when we talk about Gothard, ATI, and the “crazy church”. My parents regret their choices. They regret not noticing or listening to the red flags they saw along the way. They are sorry for the damage that was done to their children. They regret not listening to cautions from others and from their own hearts.

How They “Got Out”:

Since we were always a fringe family, getting away from Gothard’s teachings just kind of slowly happened for my parents over the past ten or twelve years. Then, when everything started coming out two years ago, first girls and women accusing Gothard of sexual harassment and abuse, and then learning about all the misconduct in the 1970s, it just solidified everything for them. They realized that all the cautions and hesitations they had had in the past were validated.

How They Feel About My Blog:

My blog and the book I am writing reminds my parents of the choices they made and makes them feel regret, and that is hard. However, they assure me that they are supportive of what I am doing. They are glad that I can use this venue to work out the damage I experienced and help others in the process.

I have had to remind my parents multiple times, especially my mom, that I am not mad at them. I am not upset. I don’t blame them for the choices they made. I have come to the place where I embrace my life. There were a lot of wonderful moments, friendships, and memories within the craziness of it all. Besides, without my past, I wouldn’t have a story to tell, or a blog to write, and I wouldn’t have the passion behind my search for truth instead of tradition.