How to Believe the Bible and Still Love People

Rant time!

I am sick and tired of people in the media or on social media assuming that there are only two types of Christians. Type #1 being the “extremists” who actually believe the Bible and can’t wait to smack people with rules, condemnation, and judgement. And, type #2 being the “progressives” who care more about cultural relevance, social justice, and tolerance than what the Bible actually says. It’s as though it is impossible for me to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and love people at the same time. That makes me mad! Why do they think that? Possibly because of a media bias against Christians, and possibly because of the MANY Christians who don’t seem able to combine belief with loving words and actions.

This rant continues with 4 reminders for those of you who, like me, hold a literal interpretation of the Bible and want to be a loving example of Jesus Christ.

  1. Belief ≠ Reaction

pout-1190741_1920This is a pet peeve of mine. We need to think before we post that meme, or share that article, or make that comment on social media. Are we reacting in a way that honors God or that makes us look stupid? I’m not happy with the state of our country, or current politics, or some of the policies that have been made lately, but I try really hard not to publicly react.

Let’s attempt to think things through and ask questions like, “If I do/say this will it make God look bigger? Will people think He is awesome? Will this create an atmosphere of love and acceptance? Will it push people away?”

Just because something makes me upset, doesn’t mean I have to react on social media. (That’s what my husband, and sister, and friends are for.)

  1. Belief ≠ Talk

speech-1026399_1920We need to know when to say nothing. Just because I disagree doesn’t always mean I have to let people know. It is possible to “not agree” without vocally disagreeing. It is possible to wait to share your opinion until someone asks for it.

When Jesus was here on earth, He asked tons of questions. This is interesting to me because, of all people, He actually had accurate information to give. What if we followed Jesus’ example and worked on asking good questions that encouraged others to talk and process instead of just pushing our beliefs on them?

  1. Belief ≠ Stupid

stupid-487043_1920Just because I do not believe in many of our culture’s more liberal ideologies does not make me stupid. However, sometimes Christians can look stupid because they haven’t taken the time to figure out why they have certain beliefs. I’m not talking about screaming apologetics at people. I’m talking about knowing what the Bible says, searching your own heart, talking to God, and taking the time to “work out your salvation” (Phil. 2:12). Personal stories and experiences are way less threatening than “statistics” and “facts”. Listen, ask questions. Be gentle, be full of grace, and please, try to sound intelligent.

  1. Belief ≠ Hate

heart-462873_1280Just because I do not agree with a homosexual or transgender lifestyle, doesn’t mean that I hate these people! Absolutely not! On the contrary, when I read about the high percentages of  depression and suicide within the LGBT community, it makes me care about them even more!

I believe that everyone was made in the image of God. I believe that everyone has a sin nature that separates them from a relationship with God. Even though I think homosexuality is a sin, I also think that looking at porn is a sin, along with lying, gossiping, and eating too much! Sin is everywhere and it is something Jesus came to destroy! He took the punishment for sin and He destroyed the power of it. How is anyone going to hear and believe the amazing news of Jesus if His followers (Christians) are too full of hate and fear to share the gospel?

We need to love people with the same crazy, radical, intense, unconditional love that Jesus has for us! Don’t think you can do it? Ask God to give you as much of His heart for people as you can handle. I guarantee you will be a tearful, broken wreck who can’t stop loving people even when it doesn’t make any sense!


So there you go. I can believe in traditional marriage, literal creation, Jesus as the only way to heaven, etc. and still passionately love the people in the world. I will avoid public reactions, realize it’s possible to disagree without being vocal about it, work to have intelligent reasons for my beliefs, and destroy hate by the power of God’s unconditional love. Will you join me? If Jesus lives really inside of us, then let’s show Him to the world!

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Is It Really Jesus Calling?

Disclaimer: This is NOT a rant! This is what happens after I have ranted to my husband, and sister, and random other people. This is me attempting to write a logically thought-out response toward something I feel passionate about. 🙂 

“What do you thinking about the book, ‘Jesus Calling’?” This post started with an innocent question from a friend. What did I think? I didn’t know…

what do i think

I’ve never been a fan. In the twelve years since it was first published, I’ve never owned a copy. The few times I picked it up at a friend’s house, I thought it was a little sketchy and kind of weird; but, I’ve never thought I needed to vocally condemn it either. I basically dealt with my iffy feelings about “Jesus Calling” by ignoring it. However, after looking into the book, the author, other people’s opinions, and deciding what I personally think, I can’t ignore it any longer. (Especially since “Jesus Calling” has been a top seller for the past decade.)

I started by looking into people’s criticisms online. There are some pretty negative reviews, including accusations of New Age and occult influence. Some of the reviewers were crazy, fundamentalists yelling about demons and women preachers. I crossed them off the list. A few complained about Sarah Young’s mystic version of God. I could kind of see their point. I found one critique that seemed intelligent and balanced, although I still didn’t agree with everything he said. That author was concerned about how similar Young’s teachings were to a popular New Age book he recently read. It made me curious.

I borrowed a copy of “Jesus Calling” to look at for myself. I read the entire Foreword where Sarah Young gives her testimony of finding salvation, her experiences in Jesus’ Presence, and how she came to write the book. Even though she writes as though her words are coming from Jesus Himself, she makes sure to tell her readers that they are not Scripture. I also paged through the book, reading sections here and there and looking up the Bible verses she used to support her thoughts.

So, what do I think?

I don’t think that “Jesus Calling” is an evil book from the devil, and I do believe that the author, Sarah Young, has a good heart and purpose behind her writings. That said, I also have some serious problems with the book and cautions for those who love it.

altar-window-1059741_1920My biggest problem is that Sarah Young created this “pretend Jesus” who does all the talking. Maybe this would be fine if the real Jesus was just a good teacher, or if she was paraphrasing his actual quotes. But, she isn’t paraphrasing Jesus, she is coming up with words and phrases and ideas that never came from Him. Some of these are Biblical concepts, and others are not. Jesus wasn’t just a good guy who said nice things; He is the very Creator of the Universe, the Sovereign God, the Beginning and the End! Imagining things and pretending Jesus said them seems…presumptuous. Okay, honestly it terrifies me!! God is WAY too big for me to be putting words in His mouth. I struggle to even read some of the sections because I can’t deal with the fact that “Jesus” is supposed to be talking to me… I just keep wondering what the Real Jesus thinks.

I worry about new or immature Christians who don’t have a good background in the Bible. Will they get confused and think these are truly the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Do they have discernment to see that some of the things she says are not in fact truth (even though they sound wonderful)?

Are people actually looking up the verses at the bottom of each page? I know that’s how the author wants the book to be read, but is it happening? Are they reading the context surrounding those verses to see what they really mean? Are they actually getting into the Word of God or are they only reading the words of “fake Jesus”? This is especially concerning to me after coming out of a cult where every lie was backed up by a Bible verse reference. (But when you read the verse in context, it didn’t make any sense.)

Maybe growing up in and then leaving a cult has given me a highly sensitive B.S. meter, or perhaps God has given me the gift of discernment. All I know is that “Jesus Calling” is setting off warning signals in my brain. Reading the Foreword, where Sarah Young talks about how she came to write the book, is where it started getting sketchy for me.

bench-1289528_1920“I began to wonder if I could change my prayer times from monologue to dialogue. I had been writing in prayer journals for many years, but this was one-way communication: I did all the talking. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God might want to communicate to me on a given day. I decided to “listen” with pen in hand, writing down whatever I “heard” in my mind…My journaling thus changed from monologue to dialogue. This new way of communicating with God became the high point of my day.” Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

Maybe I’m crazy, but I thought God gave us the Bible to communicate with us!

Sarah Young doesn’t claim that her writings are inspired (which is good), but I still feel like she is setting aside the living Word of God to pursue “subjective experiences”. In my own life this is usually when things start getting weird. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Holy Spirit speaks, and I have felt often Him speak to me personally, but it’s not normally when I’m seeking it, and it’s usually through the Bible itself.

“In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and peace.” This quote explains why Young chose to wrote this devotional. I appreciate her heart. I agree with her conclusion. But, I worry that her fake Jesus has distracted people from the real One.

Jesus says He is with us always (Matthew 28:20); if we are in Christ, we have been given the Holy Spirit to dwell within us (Romans 8:9-11). We don’t have to seek after a Presence or an experience, rather we need to become more aware of the God who is always with us. Where do we learn more about Him, who He is and what He sounds like? The Bible.

My challenge for you:

If you want to know what the real Jesus sounds like, then I challenge you to do this. Put away your “Jesus Calling” for a while and S.O.A.K. your way through the gospel of John (the gospel with more of Jesus recorded words than any other). Read a little section or a couple of verses at a time. This is not a race or a competition, this is a slow soak. You will need a notebook.

S – Scripture, take a minute or two and write out your verses for the day. This slows you down and makes you actually think about the words.

O – Observe. What’s going on in the passage? What just happened? What comes next? Who is He talking to? What is the context? Etc.

A – Apply. How do these verses apply to your life right now?

K – Kneel in Prayer. Obviously you don’t have to actually kneel, but take some time to talk with Jesus about what you just read and observed and want to apply to your life. I like to write out my prayer because it make me think and it gives me something to look back on.

Jesus Calling

What am I trying to say? Here it is in a nutshell. I have problems with “Jesus Calling” because of the fake Jesus who does all the talking. Not everything Sarah Young writes is Biblical and I think God is WAY too big for us to presumptuously put words in His mouth. I agree that we are looking for a deeper experience with Jesus, but I believe that we will find Him in the pages of the actual Word of God and not in the imaginations of a human author.

I realize that this blog post holds potential for controversy, but I’m still curious to know your thoughts!

 

An interesting article for futher reading: http://www.cicministry.org/commentary/issue125.htm

If There is No Magic Formula, Then What? (Pt 2)

Yesterday we talked about ways we try to manipulate God, twist His arm, and push the right buttons on His “heavenly vending machine” to get what we want. While most of us would never come out and say it this bluntly, the formulaic way we treat God speaks for itself. We believe lies that there are specific spiritual steps we can follow to achieve a desired outcome. We try to claim Bible verses (out of context) and say they promise things like physical healing. And when none of these things work, we blame ourselves or others for a “lack of faith” as though there is a certain amount of faith that is guaranteed to make God do anything.

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Perhaps we create formulas because we are trying to grasp for a feeling of control in a shaky, frightening, and often heartbreaking world, trying to make sense of things we don’t understand.

 

 

 

Even though we believed, prayed, and did everything we could…

  • The cancer still won
  • Our marriage still fell apart
  • We still miscarried
  • I’m still single
  • My husband is still looking at porn
  • Our child still died
  • I still lost my job
  • We still didn’t get pregnant
  • We still went bankrupt
  • They still don’t love Jesus
  • The world is still a mess

How do we reconcile a supposedly good, all-powerful God and the “good” things that He fails to accomplish? Believe me, I’ve been wrestling with this for the past few weeks!

treasure-1238318_1920I think we start by expanding our minds away from the understandable “god in a box” that we have created in our own image. Allow the real God to be bigger, greater, and just more than we can comprehend. Does the Bible say that God is good? Yes! All-powerful? Absolutely! Does He still choose to let bad things happen and take good things away? Yeah, actually the Bible says that too. Check out one of my favorite verses.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” Isaiah 45:6b-7

I found this verse after our second late-term miscarriage. Even though I didn’t know why God choose to take our baby, it was comforting to me to know that He never lost control, it was something He did, and that He was big enough that He didn’t owe me an explanation. Maybe I can’t possibly understand God or make sense of Him, but a God that huge who also promises He is good and loving is something I am okay with.

If there are no secret keys, no hidden formulas, no special chants, no magical ways to get God to do our bidding, then what can we expect? What has God really promised us? The answer might surprise you.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

“Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.” John 15:20-21

Let’s get this straight, we’ve been promised trouble, temptation, and persecution? That doesn’t sound like a very nice promise! I thought life with Jesus was supposed to be warm fuzzies, roses, and sunsets? You know, easy and peaceful?

You might hear some Christians say that, but it’s not exactly in the Bible.

The Bible very clearly tells us that the world we live in is broken. It happened at the Fall, when sin first came into God’s perfect universe. Creation is broken so we have things like disease and natural disasters. People are broken, so they make choices that hurt not only themselves but also those around them. We will face trouble BUT look at the other promises in those verses.

Jesus wants to give us peace! He encourages us by reminding us that He has overcome this world. He is faithful! He will provide a way out of the temptation. And in chapter 14 of John, Jesus tells his disciples that he will not leave them (or us) alone; he is sending the Helper (the Holy Spirit).

So, life is going to hurt, but I will never be alone? That’s right. And a God who is more, and better, and bigger than I can ever imagine is in complete control even when it doesn’t look like it? Yes. And He wants to walk with me through life, to help and comfort me, because He loves me? Yup! He wants to walk so close with you that He actually lives inside of you. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

I don’t know about you, but rereading that last paragraph brings tears to my eyes. It’s so much better than a vending machine, or a magic formula guaranteed to bring me what I want! HE is a real, living, incredible, loving Being, who wants me;  He wants to be friends with me, and help me. He wants to give me peace and joy, despite the brokenness of this world, not based on anything I do or don’t do, but simply because of His amazing grace!

How about you…are you willing to believe in and trust a God who is way too big for you to twist His arm, who might not always give you what you want, who is impossible to understand, but who is in complete control and will walk with you through each heartache in this broken world?

poppy-1128683

Is God Your Heavenly Vending Machine? (Pt 1)

 

vending machine

We say we believe God is all-powerful and that He has the ability to intervene on our behalf. But what about when He doesn’t? I had a mini “crisis of faith” this week that has made me reevaluate what I believe about God, His promises, and how to get what I want.

It started before I got sick. A couple we knew in Bible College lost their healthy, newborn son to unforeseen complications, after two miscarriages, while on the mission field. Then a wonderful, sweet, loving woman, who was also a pastor’s wife, suddenly died. Really, God? So I was already questioning, already doubting, and then I got sick.

I hadn’t been this sick in over 20 years, not since I was a kid! It dragged on and on!! I was supposed to have a lovely day to work on my book proposal while my mother-in-law watched the kiddos. She still watched my children, but I laid on the couch while they were gone and tried not to die. I was supposed to go with my husband (a youth pastor) and the teens to an exciting conference this weekend while my parents kept the kids. They went without me. My parents still kept the kids, and I laid on the couch. I couldn’t even keep my thoughts straight, let alone write a coherent sentence. I’d prayed for healing, lots of people were praying, and I was still sick. Sick and filled with doubts.

We have all been there. Something falls apart, or a prayer doesn’t get answered, or a tragedy happens, and we start wondering: Is God really real? Is He really in control? Is He really good? Am I believing a lie?

My feverish brain had four days to wrestle with these questions in-between naps and excessive amounts of Netflix.

vendingmachine_lead1We see a “good” outcome we want, and we know that God could do it. There are plenty of examples of miracles in the Bible, and we hear modern-day stories. We know our desires are possible too. How do we get God to agree? Cooperate? How do we “twist His arm”? Which combination of buttons do we push on His vending machine?

You don’t talk like that? Me either, at least not out loud, but that’s how we act!

We don’t understand God, we can’t! He is way too big. So, we tend to create a version of God that we can understand, a god made in our own image. We can manipulate people, why not God? I see this happening in at least three ways.

  1. We Create Formulas.

I was raised under the shadow of the king of formulas. If you can get your hands on any of Bill Gothard’s materials, you will see 3 steps to this and 5 steps to that, always promising blessing and success. A perfect example is the book Gothard wrote called “The Power of Crying Out”. He basically shows verses (mostly out of context of course) where people “called out” or “cried out”. Then he turns around and promises that if we pray loudly God hears us and will respond better than if we pray quietly. What?

It’s not just my old cult leader who does this! I’ve read formulaic thinking on blogs, and in books, and heard it from the mouths of Christians across the range of Evangelicalism.

I have seen people take Bible stories and turn them into formulas. So-and-so did x, y, and got z, therefore, if we also do x, and y, we will get our z. Sorry, it would be nice, but I don’t think it works this way! God is not a vending machine! We cannot enter A5 and B10 and get a Snickers bar and bag of Doritos every time.

  1. We Claim “Promises”

Ever heard this verse used as a promise for physical healing? It’s pretty popular. “By His stripes we are healed.” It amazes me how many people use this verse and are clueless about the context. First of all, it’s not even a whole verse; it’s a phrase at the end of one. Read the whole thing and see if you can figure out the context and whether or not it’s appropriate to say it promises physical healing.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)

It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to see that this verse is a prophecy about the coming Savior and how we would be rescued by his death. Jesus’ wounds healed us, but it wasn’t a physical healing, it was a supernatural, spiritual one!

How about this? “We walk by faith and not by sight.” People use this verse to claim physical healing. You know what I’m going to say: Context! The verse comes from 2 Corinthians 5, ironically a chapter about heaven and one day being with Christ. It is not talking about getting physically healed either! Here is verse 7, sandwiched between verses 6 and 8 for context sake.

“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NIV)

Claiming “promises” like these (even if they WERE in context) and others, is still at their root a formulaic approach. We are still trying to find a way to guarantee a specific outcome, to push the right buttons.

  1. We Take the Blame (or put it on others):

“I guess I didn’t have enough faith.”

“We didn’t have enough faith.”

“Their faith was lacking.”

These are all real responses that I have heard from people when their prayers weren’t answered the way they hoped. Right. Because there is a specific amount of faith that will twist God’s arm and make Him give us what we want. I don’t think so. It’s formulaic thinking again!

Where do we get this idea that our lack of faith is to blame? From the Bible. There are tons of verses talking about having faith, and asking for things in faith. Here are just two of them.

“He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:6

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” James 1:6-7

If these were the only verses I read, then I could easily believe that I am at fault because of my lack of faith. However, when I take a closer look, I realize that James is talking about asking God for wisdom (vs 5). The specific promise is that if we ask for wisdom, God will give it to us. And while it is important to have faith as we pray, what is the object of our faith? Our ability to move a mulberry tree (or a mountain), or the God that made it? There are no verses that (used in context) guarantee any and every outcome based on our faith.

So, what does God actually promise us?

Stay tuned! Part 2 is coming tomorrow…

God is Not Disappointed In You (Revised)

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This was the first post I ever wrote on this blog. Even though it was originally less than 300 words long and probably not my best work, it still gets traffic. People often search “is God disappointed in me” and find their way to my blog. Feeling like God is disappointed in us is very common! Today I am re-posting it with some revisions and new thoughts because I need to hear it again, and maybe you do too!


Have you ever found yourself avoiding God because you could feel His disappointment?

I do! Back in my cultic days, I used to feel like I needed to perform all the time so that God would be happy with me and like me more. If I failed, forgot to pray, didn’t read my Bible, fell back into old habits, chose to be selfish, etc. then I “knew” God was disappointed in me, so I avoided Him. These feelings still creep in from time to time.

Maybe you can relate.

Here is our problem! Too often, we create a God “in our own image” instead of remembering that we were made in His! We can easily picture our parents, teacher, friends, spouse, children, etc being disappointed in us, so why not God? It just makes sense to us. We don’t understand God; He is too big, too different, for us to “get”. And as a result, we tend to create an image of Him based on what we do understand. Well, I have news for you!

God is never disappointed in us. God doesn’t get disappointed!

Don’t agree? Let me explain. I’ve searched the Bible to find God’s disappointment and I can’t! I found instances where God felt  angry about sin and sad about sin, but never disappointed. Why?

I believe disappointment is a purely human emotion. In order to feel disappointment, you have to have higher expectations for someone than they can, or choose to meet. God doesn’t have higher expectations than we can meet. He knows everything about us, including the absolute depths of our mess, and He chooses to love us right there in the middle of it. Nothing surprises Him! He knows about the secret sin that you can’t seem to get rid of. He knows about the anger and hurt you hold inside. He knows the things you hope no one ever finds out. And even though He knows, He loves us! He is not disappointed!

I don’t know about you, but I find that freeing!

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1.

No condemnation, ever. When we chose to believe that Jesus Christ paid for our sins by His death on the cross, our sins are gone. (Psalms 103:8-18) God doesn’t see them anymore and there is no condemnation. (John 3:18) He is not disappointed in us. He delights in us! God  wants us to enjoy the freedom we have been given to know Him and be His child! Yes, there is a need for confession and repentance (1 John 1:9) but we can seek God for forgiveness and strength and help, confident of His love, knowing we will never face His disappointment.

You want more? Read the whole chapter of Romans 8. It’s beautiful! And refreshing! And amazing! Here is another snippet.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

If God will never be disappointed in you, what does that mean to you?

It reminds me that I can come to Him without fear or shame, no matter what state I am in! And, that is a wonderful thing because I need Him!