An Illusion of Freedom

 

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I’ve had plenty of experience with legalism and the ritual of dead religion. After all, I spent a decade in Bill Gothard’s cult. (For more info check out the category “My Story”.) Formulas abounded in my world – if you do such and such, then you are guaranteed this fabulous result, but woe to you if you don’t. Rules, standards, commitments, all these kinds of things supposedly made you a better Christian and more likely to have God’s blessing on your life. “Godly” people acted this way, dressed that way, and avoided these things, etc. Performance, outward show, controlled behavior, fear, and anxiety…I’m excessively familiar with all of this.

Unfortunately, you don’t have to be in a cult to experience legalism or ritualistic religion. There is plenty of it spread throughout “mainstream” Christianity. How exciting.

Many Christians will tell you that they aren’t legalistic (even though they are following a specific code of behavior) because they aren’t trying to earn their way to heaven. However, if you ask why they do good things, you will find that they are still trying to earn something: blessings, God’s pleasure, or maybe just the image of a “Good Christian”.

I do believe the Christian community is starting to wake up. There are a good handful of us talking about legalism, exposing it, reacting to it. I love this! But, we cannot confuse rebellion against legalism and religion with actual freedom that comes through grace.

I’ve seen it and I’ve been there. We hate legalism, we realize how stupid it is, and we reject it and embrace things that we’ve always been told were wrong. But here’s the thing, how do we know if we are really experiencing freedom? What if we are just trapped again in outward actions and missing the heart? What if we are still missing the point of Christianity?

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Rebellion and freedom often look the same outwardly. There might be changes in music, clothing, beliefs, or education choices. People get tattoos and/or piercings. Sometimes people start dating, dye their hair, grow dreads, go to college, change jobs, or make other big life decisions. I love this! I love freedom and non-conformity. But, how do we know if we are really free and not just trapped in rebellion?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the rebellion of non-conformity. Since coming out of my cult, I’ve discovered what a rebel I really am. Want a stupid example? Female speakers/writers often wear blazers, right? You will never see me in a blazer, ever. Give me a good reason to avoid conformity and I will. However, living in a constant state of rebellion is exhausting. Jesus promised us peace. If I’m not experiencing peace, then something is wrong.

When we are motivated by rebellion against legalism, ritual, and religion, I think it looks a bit like this. Anger and frustration drive our choices, and these choices are often a reaction to previous rules. If someone were to ask us why we do things, our answer would probably sound like, “Because I can, dang it! I’m free.” But we don’t feel very free. We feel stressed and tired because we are still “trying” to do something. We might be more consumed with things we can do instead of things we shouldn’t do, but our focus is still on outward actions. And, because we are still obsessed with behaviors, deep down we also struggle with believing that God actually loves us and wants a relationship with us.

If this is rebellion, then what is freedom? I believe real freedom starts with understanding that our relationship with God has nothing to do with our own efforts and everything to do with Jesus Christ. Jesus came to show and give us grace, something we could never earn and would never deserve. The point of Jesus’ death and resurrection was never to make us into moral people who followed the rules. The point was to restore our relationship with the God who created us and loves us. He forgave us so that we could know Him. God wants to know us. We are free to be friends with Jesus! Knowing Jesus changes us, but the real change starts at the core of who we are and works its way outward.

When we are free because we understand grace, our actions might look similar to someone still stuck in rebellion, but our hearts are different. We might still get a tattoo or cartilage piercing, for example, but our motive is different. The reasoning is no longer “Because I can, dang it”, but simply, “Because I want to.” We aren’t reacting to anything, we are resting in our relationship with Jesus. We are believing in the scandalous grace of God and extending that grace to others. Instead of obsessing over outward actions, our focus is inward on heart motivations. As we get closer to Jesus, we realize He is making us more like Him. His Holy Spirit is giving us things like love, joy, and peace that doesn’t make sense.  Because our heart is changing, our outward actions might change too.  But, that change is a result of God’s beautiful grace and not an angry reaction to legalism.

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Have you experienced God’s grace that sets you free? Do you believe that He loves you and wants you right where you are at? Do you realize that there is no favor to earn and no rules to rebel against? Grace says, “Your mess does not shock me or turn me off. In fact, it makes me love you even more. I want to set you free…free from your mess and free to know Me.”

Hate Cannot Drive Out Hate

I’m so tired. So tired of the anger, stress, arguing, protesting, fighting, etc. I’m tired of seeing it every time I open up Facebook, or other social media, or watch the news. It’s exhausting.

I’m not saying that anyone’s beliefs are invalid. You have a right to your beliefs, but the action, reaction, and then over reaction is getting old…really old.

Can I just be real for a minute? Just because someone doesn’t agree with you doesn’t mean they hate you! It doesn’t give you the right to say horrible things about them. This goes for both sides!

As someone who was brainwashed, I feel like I can say some things about brainwashing. People, anytime you think that your opinion is the ONLY ONE and everyone else is the enemy and must be destroyed, you have been brainwashed! You are being used by someone and their agenda. Again, I’m talking to both sides here.

We are all human and thus have the potential to be wrong. A little humility can do wonders. The best stretching and growth comes from having respectful, intelligent, honest, genteel conversations with people who have different perspectives than we do. We can all learn something from each other if we are willing to listen.

So, please stop encouraging the madness and please do your part to spread love and peace.

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I don’t care if you are devastated by current events or excited by them. If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, then listen for a minute. Our country, our world, needs us right now. They need hope. They need Jesus! As Martin Luther King Jr. so beautifully said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” If we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior, then we have the greatest Light and the greatest source of Love living inside of us. Now is not the time for anger and verbal battles. Now is the time to share the amazing message of the gospel!

Do your best to avoid getting into arguments on social media or in the comment section of news articles. Think before you post anything reactionary. Ask God to give you wisdom and to help watch your tongue (fingers).

Instead, share the beautiful truth that our Creator loved us so much that He did whatever it took to bring us back into a relationship with Him. God sent His Son, Jesus, to die a brutal death on the cross for our sins and then to be resurrected, conquering the power of death forever. We have the opportunity to KNOW God. This is good news! The best news. 🙂

If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or even panicked, remember that God has not left His throne. It takes more than a president to throw Him off His game. Where is your trust? This world is not our forever home; it’s just a temporary, broken tent. It’s never going to be perfect until Jesus is reigning as King.

I’m going to finish with some of my favorite verses from Habakkuk.

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He make me tread on my high places.” Habakkuk 3:17-19

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Knowing (Experiencing) Jesus

This is a condensed repost of two earlier blogs I wrote a couple years ago. It was on my heart again. 🙂

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There is a huge difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing them.

I write and talk a lot about legalism and religious Christianity vs a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It sounds good in theory. I’d much rather have a friendship than a list of rules to follow! But how does it work?

God often feels like a celebrity to us. We know (or think we know) a lot about Him. We read articles, blog posts, and books about Him. We listen to sermons, podcasts, and songs about Him. We hear lots of people’s opinions of Him, both positive and negative. But do we actually KNOW Him personally?

How do you get to really know someone like God?

I believe that everything God wants to tell us about Himself can be found in the Bible. One of the things that He tells us over and over again is that if we looks for Him, we will find Him. Check out some of my favorite verses.

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Paul speaking to the religious but lost people of Athens said:

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God promises that if we look for Him, we will find Him. He says that even if we have our eyes closed and are bumping around in the dark feeling for Him, we will find Him because He is close by. God wants a relationship with us! He wants us to KNOW Him, not just facts about Him.

Jesus made this relationship possible! We can’t get to God by doing good things, following all the rules, praying a prayer, raising our hands, or going forward in church. We can only get to God by trusting that Jesus’ death and resurrection paid for our sins.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:17-18

This is great news! But, how do we actually experience a relationship?”

When you get to know someone like the God of the Universe, you have to think outside of the box. He will blow your mind. You might not understand or being able to explain Him. And that’s okay with me!

God often seems kind of crazy, and He doesn’t usually make sense. Experiencing Him might make you cry, a lot, even when you’re not sad. But, He will also make you laugh. His love is ridiculous, and overwhelming, and amazing.

There is no magic formula for being a friend of God, no three step process. But, here are some suggestions.

  • Become familiar with the Bible. Sometimes we think we know what the Bible says, but we actually know what people SAY the Bible says. It might surprise you to actually read it for yourself. I highly recommend Max Lucado’s “The Story”. It’s a fantastic overview using actual chunks of the NIV with some summary in between.
  • Intentionally take quiet time away from noise and electronics. While I was in college, I used to go sit on a bluff at a cemetery overlooking a lake. It was beautiful, and peaceful, and made me think about how short life is. Now, I just try to get up before my children. Haha!
  • Tell Jesus you want to know Him, and wait for Him to “show up”. This is actually the best part. Because if you have trusted in Jesus as your Savior, then His Spirit already lives inside of you. So, it’s not really Him showing up as much as it is you slowing down and becoming aware of His Presence.

What does is look like, sound like, feel like when Jesus becomes real? It’s different for everyone, but chances are you have already experienced Him and just didn’t recognize it. Sometimes it’s like this:

  • A song comes on the radio and it’s exactly what you needed to hear.
  • You are listening to a sermon or podcast and you start wondering if the person speaking is psychic or has been reading your journal.
  • As you read the Bible, a verse just jumps out at you in a way you never saw before.
  • Your friend calls/texts/messages you with a truth that you needed to hear right then.
  • Something really hard happens but you have a strange peace about it.

This is God, the Creator of the Universe, speaking to you, being intimately involved in your life. The more you become aware of God’s Presence, the more you will recognize Him.

Will you take a chance, and step out in faith, and ask Jesus to make Himself real to you? You were created for a relationship with Him. This is the true point of Christianity. You will not regret it!

 

A God to Fear

Why are we so quick to stuff God into our little “god boxes”? Explain Him, minimize Him, dismiss Him… Too often we act like we have God all figured out. What if we are wrong? What if we are terrifyingly wrong?

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I’m sitting here feeling inadequate to even write this. But, I am SO passionate about Christians, believers in Jesus, really meeting God, really experiencing who He is, that I have to say something.

In youth group last Wednesday we watched a short video with Francis Chan. The topic was fearing God. I used to hate that phrase… Growing up in my Christian cult, we had a fear of God, but it wasn’t a healthy one. I felt afraid of god because if I didn’t perform correctly or follow the right steps, then god would punish me. The god I learned about seemed distant, angry, and scary.

In the video, Francis Chan was more concerned with the way the church has downplayed the idea of fear into mere reverence, respect, or awe. And it’s true. The church doesn’t talk much about a God who is frighteningly MORE than we can ever imagine.

I could be wrong, but it seems like Christianity often gets stuck in one of two extremes. Either zealous Christians get obsessed with Old Testament theology or progressive Christians want to dismiss the Old Testament as irrelevant and just talk about loving Jesus.

Truth out of balance or out of context is no longer truth. We can’t just pick and choose which part of the Bible we want to believe. We will never get a clear picture of who this God is who created and saved us if we don’t take the entire Bible into account, even the parts that make us uncomfortable.

We must believe in and accept the holy, all-powerful, and often frightening God revealed to us in the Old Testament if we are going to fully appreciate the wonder of Jesus, the God-man, in the New Testament.

Too often we treat God like we would the CEO of a company or the president of a country. They have a more powerful position than we do, and so we give them a little more respect. God has a little respect in our minds, but we aren’t scared of Him.

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The real God is not like us, you guys. We were just made a little bit like Him. Listen to this:

“With whom, then, will you compare God?
To what image will you liken him?…Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

“To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:18, 21-26

The Bible gives us plenty of examples of people having visions of God and just falling on their faces in fear. What makes us think that we are any different?

Maybe I’m crazy, but I like this kind of God. I long for this kind of God. I want Him to be bigger and holier and more powerful and just MORE than I can ever imagine. I want to be terrified. I want to fall on my face before Him. I want to know that I am nothing and He is everything. I want this healthy fear to help control the way I live, and the way I read His word and pursue Him, and the way I share His message of hope with others. Not in a bad controlling way like I used to live in, but in a positive way.

If God is really real, like REAL, and really as great and awesome and…yeah, my words are failing me…then that changes everything. That changes how I live. Not because I’m afraid of what He’ll do to me, but because of WHO He is!

Because… This very real God isn’t just huge and scary; He is also SO good, and SO loving, and SO gracious, more than we can ever imagine. And He wants me. He wants you. He wants a relationship with us. As often as the Bible talks about fearing God, it also says “don’t be afraid”. It’s like we get to this point where we realize just who He is, and we are rightfully terrified, but then He just smiles and opens His arms. He is that big and scary (not in a mean way just in a powerful one), but we don’t have to be afraid, because God is for us. He is on our side.

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It is okay to believe in a God you don’t understand and can’t explain. We aren’t supposed to be able to… After all, we were made in God’s image; He wasn’t made in ours. Let that sink in.

So, what do we do? We let God out of our “god box”; He never fit in there anyway. We read the whole Bible and stop thinking we are smart enough to decide which parts are true or not. We realize that we are the creation and He is the Creator. We ask God to show us who He really is…so that we will fear Him. And we bask in the wonder that we can call this Amazing Being our Daddy and our Friend!!

At least that’s where we start… What do you think? Do you fear God? How does that phrase make you feel? What would a healthy fear of God look like in your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Let’s Be Honest…

2016 was not my favorite year. And from what I see on social media, I’m not alone in that feeling. I came across this great meme a while back on Facebook:

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This image pretty much sums it up for me! Yikes! That’s not to say that there weren’t great moments and fabulous people in my life, because there were. I have many blessings that I am grateful for…but it was still a hard year.

I’m normally a pretty optimistic, positive, hopeful person. And I normally look forward to a new year with excitement, anticipation, and a sense of adventure. However, on New Year’s Eve, as I enjoyed some quiet after my kiddos were in bed and while my hubby was still out partying with the youth group, I realized that I’m struggling to look forward to 2017. The clock striking midnight wasn’t going to magically erase the hard things that would be following me into the next year. 

I know that a lot of you understand what I’m talking about. Most of us carry around heaviness and burdens. (Some of us just hide them better than others.) We live in a broken world and it hurts! Life isn’t peaches and cream, there isn’t always a “happily ever after”, and the prayers we pray through tears don’t always get answered in the way we want.

That said, we still have hope. Praise Jesus!

My husband and I are almost finished with an incredible book called “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripken. We love and hate this book at the same time. It is challenging our beliefs and stretching our faith. (If you haven’t read it, you should make it a goal for your new year.)

The first half of the book is the author’s story of being a missionary/relief worker in Somaliland for six years. Nothing goes well, he fails in every attempt, there are no new believers at the end of his years of sacrifice, and the believers who were there before him have been murdered. Despite Nik’s best efforts, he hasn’t put a dent in the overwhelming humanitarian disaster that exists. Finally, his son unexpectedly dies. Talk about a crisis of faith…

But, the story doesn’t end there. In the second half of the book we find Nik traveling around the world discovering personal stories of Christians living in persecution. His own faith is restored as he sees the faith of these believers and hears stories of how God is incredibly real to them despite terrible situations.

That’s kind of how I feel.

I’ve faced some hard times this year. I’ve felt defeated, confused, alone, frustrated, and empty… But, in those broken places, I have also experienced God’s grace free and undeserved. I have been humbled in a good way, and as a result, I have seen Jesus more clearly.

I don’t know how your 2016 went, but I do know that we can face 2017, despite everything, with confidence. We can have hope because we have a Savior who is bigger than our circumstances, who meets us in our pain, and who loves us unconditionally. We can trust Him even when we can’t trust anything or anyone else. He’s got this and He’s got us. And that’s enough.

 

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