The Christianese Religion and the Real Jesus

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I’m working on getting back to regular blogging on this site. Lately I’ve been doing more “mini-blogs” over on my writer Facebook page. I’d love it have you join me there as well. I typically post some simple thoughts about once a day. This blog post is an expansion of one of those mini posts.

The scariest thing about the Christianese Religion is that you don’t even notice you are following it until it stops working for you. The formulas, phrases, and culture seem good and real while you are in the bubble. The things you do and believe appear to be genuine. You are part of a community that is like-minded.

What do I mean by the Christianese Religion? In his book Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World, Mike Cosper says this, “Religion is the business of appeasing gods.” For the past year, I have not been able to get that sentence out of my mind. It finally connected the dots between the ten years I spent in a cultic sub-culture of Christianity and the disillusionment people experience within “normal” church.

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When we are religious (which we naturally are), we are focused on behaviors. We are trying to do things in order to please God. But often the god in our head is more of a concept that a Being. We make him in our own image and shove him into a box. And in our obsession with performing correctly we completely miss the Real Jesus.

Christianese works great until it doesn’t. If that has happened to you, then you know. Maybe you got on the wrong side of the spiritual authority or you asked the wrong questions and felt the sharp sting of rejection. Maybe life fell apart and suddenly you realized that the pat answers no longer satisfied the deep brokenness of your heart. Empty religion may appear to work for a while, but it will always leave you searching for more. Because your soul wants Jesus.

There was a reason Jesus spent all of His time with the social outcasts and religious rejects. They knew they needed Him. They were broken and ready to hear His words of life.

The Pharisees had their religious system down and they missed God walking in front of them. I’m afraid the same thing is happening in churches all across the country. We are substituting religious experiences for the Real Jesus. But well-meaning people don’t even notice…because right now the system and the culture are working for them.

Maybe brokenness and disillusionment is actually a blessing because it opens our eyes to the emptiness of religion. Maybe not fitting in or feeling rejected is actually a good thing because it causes us to seek for more. I pray that our seeking bring us to the feet of the Real Jesus!!

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(This story is paraphrased from John chapter eight.)

She stood there silently, her head bowed in shame. They wanted to stone her. And according to the law, those religious leaders had every right. She’d been caught in the very act of adultery. But they were using her as a test, and now they waited to see what the young rabbi would say.

He didn’t say anything, just knelt down next to her, and began to write with his finger in the dirt. She saw his hand out of the corner of her eye, felt his presence next to her. He ignored the clamoring crowd and was silent as he drew. Finally, he stood. “Any of you who are without sin can be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again, he knelt next to her and quietly wrote in the dirt with his finger. That was it. There was an awkward silence.

After a moment, she noticed that the crowd seemed smaller. Peering through her hair, she realized that the religious men were slowly leaving. Eventually, it was just her and Jesus alone on that dusty patch of earth. He looked at her. She lifted her head. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” His voice was kind. She looked around; they were all gone.

“No one, sir.”

“I don’t condemn you either.” He smiled. “Go, and from now on sin no more.”

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Pastors, Abuse, and the Church

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Yet another mega church pastor was fired last week for inappropriate behavior. This kind of thing is starting to become old news. What in the world is going on? Having spent ten plus years under a spiritually abusive leader myself (although he wasn’t a pastor), I decided to do a little research.

It’s not new. The Abuse of Power and Religion have been best friends since The Fall. Throughout history we see broken people using religion to gain power and control…from corrupt priests in the Tabernacle, to the religious Pharisees who had Jesus crucified, to the Holy Roman Empire prior to the Reformation, to the modern Evangelical American pastors that have been in the news.

It’s not uncommon. I have talked with a shockingly large group of people who have experienced brokenness, abuse of power, or just regular abuse within a church or Christian organization. It crosses denominational lines and exists within conservative and liberal settings. I know of many people who escaped a spiritually abusive situation only to fall into yet another church filled with brokenness. And I know that for every mega pastor who makes the news, many more smaller churches are dealing with the same things. Why does this happen?

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While digging around on the Internet, I came across an article by Dr. Darrell Puls on the American Association of Christian Counselors website. Dr. Puls talked about how, as an Associate Pastor, he was nearly destroyed by his Senior Pastor and ended up resigning in despair. Later he discovered that this Senior Pastor fit the diagnosis of having Narcissistic Personality Disorder. After recovering with help from Christian therapists and psychiatrists, Dr. Puls went on to work as a peacemaker through conflict resolution in the faith-community. As he dealt with conflicts, Dr. Puls began to notice a large percentage of them that stood out as different. Familiar with NPD, and because of his own experience, Darrell quickly realized that all of these different conflicts had a NPD pastor in the middle of it all.

After talking with a colleague, Dr. Glenn Ball, who also noticed a similar trend, the two men decided to conduct some research. Embedded in their survey was a validated NPD test instrument. With permission, they were able to test an entire Canadian denomination’s active and retired pastors. They wondered how many narcissistic pastors they would discover.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, between 0-6.2% of the general population has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. However, Dr. Puls and Dr. Ball discovered that 31.2% of the pastors they surveyed met the criteria for full blown NPD. Their shocking findings are published in a book called Let us Prey: The Plague of Narcissistic Pastors and What We Can Do About It.

A similar study conducted in the Netherlands in the early 2000s showed that 90% of the pastors surveyed displayed narcissistic tendencies at the least. Um, this is kind of a problem! And it also makes a lot of sense. Being a pastor is an upfront position with lots of power, praise, and often a total lack of accountability.

So it’s not just your imagination, the research shows us that a significantly above average number of pastors are either narcissistic or have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This explains why so many of the mega pastors get to the place they are and also why they are falling. It also explains the shocking number of tragic church situations I’ve heard about.

Most likely, there has always been a larger number of people with NPD in the pastorate than in the general population. Abuse has been happening within churches throughout history. However, thanks in part to the #metoo and #churchtoo movements, people aren’t staying quiet any more. And that’s a good thing.

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If this is the case, then what can we as the church do?

Some ideas include:

  • Stop defending. Too often I see Christians trying to defend a fallen leader rather than calling sin what it is. I hear things like “It could have been any of us” and “we just need to give grace.” While these things are true, we also need to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” Ephesians 5:11.
  • Stop giving grace to the wrong people. As a Christian community we are far too quick to give grace to a perpetrator while blaming their victims. This needs an about face. We must give grace and love to the victims of abuse while putting the blame and consequences on the offender. God is full of mercy, but He is also a God of justice.
  • Stop staying quiet. Manipulative leaders are great at condemning “gossip” with a broad sweeping brush. My old leader created an entire teaching and system on Only Giving a Good Report  and then The Defilement of Listening to an Evil Report in order to keep people quiet so they wouldn’t connect the dots. Just because you verbalize that something is wrong doesn’t make it gossip. Gossip has to do with the type of information you share, who you share it with, and what your motivation is for sharing it. When abuse of any kind is kept quiet, the only people who benefit are the ones in power.

And then:

  • Start exercising discernment. Just because someone is a charismatic leader and seems legit initially doesn’t make them someone to follow. There was a reason Jesus called false teachers wolves in sheep clothing. It is perfectly acceptable to inspect the fruit of someone who is in charge. If you get red flags, run!
  • Start developing your own relationship with Jesus. If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you will know that I am passionate about the difference between a living relationship with Jesus and a religion you follow. Religion is easy to manipulate and control. But when you know Jesus for yourself and the Holy Spirit is whispering to your heart, you will be uncontrollable. 🙂
  • Start understanding the difference between power and authority. The word “authority” gets thrown around a lot in Christian circles especially by manipulative leaders. They try to make you believe that they have biblical authority and therefore you must follow them. But Jesus is the only true Head of the Church. Power is the worldly ability to make people do what you want. But, according to my current healthy church, true biblical authority, like Jesus had, is only available when you live a life so genuine that people just want to follow you. And you can’t fake that!

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For more information:

  • This is a link to Dr. Glenn and Dr. Puls’ paper written for the American Association of Christian Counselors.
  • This is a link for the study done in the Netherlands. The full report does need to be purchased.
  • This is an article on signs of a narcissistic pastor from churchleaders.org
  • Let us Prey: The Plague of Narcissistic Pastors and What We Can Do About It by R. Glenn Ball and Darrell Puls
  • The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson

 

 

Words for the Year

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Last year I posted this on my writer Facebook page:

“I’m gonna be honest…I was feeling kind of snarky about all these “words for the year” on social media right now. Kind of cynical and cranky.

Like seriously, people do not need to get a word from God for the year. How do we know it’s really from God? How do we know we aren’t just pulling something out of our own mind? Stop pressuring people with strange, Christianese junk!

It reminded me of the emotionally charged relationship I had with Jesus back in the day…back in my crazy fundamental days.

Then, I was sitting with my hot coffee and journal on January 1st. I wrote out the date for the first time, 2018…and I got a word. 😆 The Holy Spirit’s sense of humor is something else sometimes!

The word filling my heart and mind was HOPE. I look into 2018 with hope…hope for continued healing in my own life and in the lives of those I love…hope because God is good, and huge, and more than we can imagine.

Hope is what I want to give away through my blog, and Facebook page…hope that the real God is full of love and grace…hope that we don’t have to perform to earn anything from Him…hope that we can indeed find our way back to Him.”

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As I look back on 2018, it was indeed a year of hope. Hope restored and hope given. It was a year of healing and growth and possibility.

I’m still not a crazy fan of “words for the year.” I still think they can be overdone. I still think that people can feel pressured to get one from God. But ironically, as I was thinking back over 2018 and wondering about 2019, a word popped into my mind. It’s not a word I would have thought of myself. In fact, I’ve sat on this word for a couple of weeks now without sharing it. But as I’ve prayed and thought about it, I think it really is from the Holy Spirit and I’m excited to see how it plays out.

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When I first heard the word, VICTORY, I also wanted a verse to go with it. 1 John 5:4 just jumped from my phone as I scrolled by. It’s not about circumstances that seem victorious or about getting everything we want out of life. It’s about an inner victory that happens no matter what is going on in this world: our faith in the real Jesus…getting to know Him for ourselves in an experiential way.

That is my prayer for this year. I want to know Jesus and I want you to know Him too! I want our faith to be in something more than religious beliefs. I want our faith to be in Someone Real…that is the victory that will overcome!

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The Lump Under the Rug

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It started small and undetectable. Just a few little things brushed under the rug to create peace. But as time went on a noticeable bump rose in the middle of the room. Everyone ignored it. Life continued. The bump grew into a lump. People had to walk around it to get from one side to the other. It was slightly awkward, but no one wanted to talk about it, so the lump stayed. It’s amazing what you can get used to, what you stop noticing after a while, and what starts to feel normal.

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Then one day someone new came along. They tripped over the lump under the rug. Picking themselves up, the newbie stared at the lump and started asking questions. People freaked out. “Don’t look at the lump! There is no lump. Stop talking about the lump.” They told the new person to stop gossiping. They scolded them for disrupting the peace and unity. The newbie was now the problem because they noticed the lump, but the lump itself went excused and ignored.

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It was easier to ignore the lump. The lump was frightening, and ugly, and messy. Getting rid of the lump would take a lot of work. It was easier to blame the person who tripped. “They should watch where they are going. I guess they just aren’t coordinated enough.” It was easier to condemn them for noticing and talking about the lump. “We are all used to it. It’s not really a problem any more. Stop gossiping and just walk around it.”

But there was still a huge lump under the carpet.

This is an example of a broken system. It could be a family, a marriage, a church, an organization, etc. Whatever the system, it’s not healthy. It’s dysfunctional and abusive. This kind of system happens in the secular world, but for some reason it is especially prevalent among Christians. Maybe because our religious version of Christianity is so often behavior based. We somehow think God is looking for good people, and when goodness fails we sweep it under the rug.

If you noticed the lump, you aren’t wrong no matter what they are telling you. They are probably afraid more than anything, and it’s coming out as anger and condemnation. It’s not necessarily gossip to talk about the lump under the rug, as long as you are talking with someone who can help you (such as a therapist) or someone who can help to get rid of the lump. Sometimes talking helps other people notice the lump too. It’s validating to find other people who also recognize it.

I think that people are often terrified of what they will find under the rug if they actually acknowledge it. It’s gross, rotten, moldy…it’s been there a long time. The ones condemning are afraid of condemnation themselves. They are afraid of being wrong. But it’s okay to be broken. We are all broken. And Jesus adores broken people!

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The best way to deal with that lump is for safe, loving people (people who have humbly faced their own mess) to join you and Jesus around the rug. Then carefully peel back a corner. Wow! Yup, that’s a pretty yucky lump. It’s gonna take a while to sift through and throw away. But that’s okay.

What if we just sat down with Jesus and other safe people and dealt with that lump? What if we discovered it wasn’t so scary after all? That Jesus wasn’t condemning us because He already knows? That He isn’t looking for pretend perfection but for a soft, broken heart? That other people will still love you? That they will understand because they are messed up too? That would be true healing and cleaning. It would bring life!

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If the other people refuse to move the rug and clean up the lump, if they insist that you are the problem for noticing it, it may be time to find new people. Easier if they are a church or an organization, much more difficult if they are family. You can only change you…but you can get help setting up boundaries and safety nets!

 

 

 

 

Finding Hope this Christmas

 

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The lights seemed to twinkle. I sat in the quiet morning the only one awake, staring at my Christmas tree. My Bible was in my lap and a cup of coffee in my hand. I should have been feeling peace and contentment, been delighting in this special season, right? Yeah, not so much. Instead, I was very aware of the wrongness in the world, and I felt depressed, dissatisfied, and hopeless.

“Why, God? Why don’t you stop it? Why don’t you fix it? The world is so screwed up! When are you going to do something?”

“Two thousand years ago”

It always surprises me when the Holy Spirit actually answers me, not audibly but in my heart. (Although, out loud would definitely be surprising too!)

I was out of time at the moment, kids to wake up and get out the door. So I couldn’t keep contemplating God’s answer. A couple hours later though I was alone driving in the car and my thoughts went something like this…

“Yup, the world is a mess; it’s broken. Christmastime can make us even more aware of that brokenness. This deceptive holiday – pretending it should be full of warmth, smiles, and tingly feelings… But often filled with stress, feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and frustration. Humph! But, what am I supposed to be celebrating? Jesus. The hope of the world. Baby Jesus. This story is too familiar. God, let me see it new!

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“Jesus coming to earth. This is where everything really changed. Before Jesus: laws, and rules, and animal sacrifices, reminding us that we couldn’t be perfect, that we were separated from God. There were promises of hope, vague prophecies yet to be fulfilled, stories that pointed to something coming, but it wasn’t clear. And then, something crazy happened, something hinted at, but never guessed. The Creator became one of His creations. God quietly slipped into the world. Coming as a baby. The Savior was here. Hope was born.”

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I found myself crying and smiling at the same time.

The world hasn’t changed. It’s still a broken mess. But, Jesus… Jesus brings hope.

This season can be so stressful and full of stuff. But it’s not about the cookies, or the presents, or the decorations, or the parties. It’s not about the perfect experience. At it’s core, Christmas is about a God who slipped quietly into the world because He loved us.

I would encourage you these next few weeks to find a quiet chunk of time where you can really contemplate what it meant for Jesus to come to Earth. Let it sink in and be reminded of the hope we have because of Him!

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When I Can’t Feel God…

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I listened as he shared his story with us. It was a privilege to be part of this sacred moment. God had redeemed so much in his life. His story was a beautiful example of grace and growth.

Then he stopped and looked down. “I’ve never admitted this before in a group.” Tears filled his eyes as he looked back up at us. “When people talk about feeling the love of God or experiencing His Presence, I don’t get it. I’ve never felt that.”

We leaned forward encouragingly as he finished his story. Afterwards, the group leader opened it up for questions and response. A well-meaning listener asked if he really wanted to feel God’s Presence and if he’d ever asked to feel it. They had suggestions for how to make it happen. The man was completely broken. He’d asked, prayed, and begged so many times and it had never “worked.”

A few years ago I would have been that well-meaning listener, and my answer would have been horrifyingly similar. But it’s not anymore. If you are someone who feels like they are missing God’s Presence, or if He seems distant, quiet, or nonexistent, please keep reading. I am not going to give you any Christianese answers or formulas, but I am going to remind you of some truth. 🙂

Paul prays an amazing prayer for the church in Ephesus in Ephesians chapter three.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” Ephesians 3:14-19.

I am obsessed with this prayer, absolutely in love! There is so much that could be unpacked. But I want you to look at the bold words “know” and “knowledge.” In the Greek they are forms of ginosko — an intimate, experiential knowledge. It’s more than just information we know in our head; it’s personal.

Jesus uses this same word in John 10 when He talks about knowing His sheep and His sheep knowing Him.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…” John 10:14-15.

 

And He uses it again in John 17 when He tells us what eternal life actually is.

“And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” John 17:3.

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Jesus obviously thinks it’s possible for us to know Him in a personal, intimate way. But I don’t think that our understanding of that knowledge is the same as His. And that’s where we get tripped up…that’s where we end up feeling like it doesn’t work for us and that God is far away.

Maybe you have been to a service or conference where the worship was amazing and people (including yourself) were swept up in an experience. The lights were dim, the music swelled, hands were raised, and people cried. We declare that “the Spirit was moving tonight!” We ask people if they “felt God’s Presence?”

Was it really God? Or was it just our own emotion?

I want you to watch something amazing. This is Huge Jackman practicing for the Greatest Showman. They definitely have an emotional experience together and it’s quite moving! It even looks a bit like worship… But while beautiful and inspiring, it’s completely secular. It has nothing to do with God. Guys, if they can do it, so can we.

We can create emotional worship experiences with lights, music, and energy that have nothing to do with the actual God. We can feel things emotionally and physically that are amazing, and yet are not really the Spirit. Emotional experiences do not automatically equate to God’s Presence. How’s that for truth?

Those spiritual highs we get during a retreat or a worship set feel incredible, but they are hard to hold on to in real life. And it’s very possible that they have little to nothing to do with a connection to the Real Jesus. 

The Old Testament includes stories about a prophet named Elijah. He led a wild life and got to experience some amazing God moments. If you remember, Elijah was part of a crazy contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. (1 Kings 18) After the prophets of Baal spend the entire day begging their god for fire, the Real God shows up, sends fire from heaven, and burns up a sacrifice completely soaked in water. It was pretty spectacular.

However, not long after Elijah is in the wilderness asking God to take his life. He’s exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and he just wants to die. God sustains Elijah and eventually sends him to a cave to wait for Him. While Elijah waits in the cave a terrific wind passes by, but God is not in the wind. Next there is an earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake. Then comes a fire, but God is not in the fire. Finally Elijah hears a low whisper…and immediately he knows it is God.

I think too often we look for wind, and fire, and earthquakes as an experience of God’s Presence and we forget that He is actually the quiet whisper.

Let me remind you of some truth.

  • Didn’t God say He would never leave us? (Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5-6)
  • Didn’t Jesus promise to be with us always? (Matthew  28:20)
  • Didn’t Jesus say that He would send us a Helper? (John 14:25-26; 15:26)
  • Isn’t the Holy Spirit our guarantee of salvation? (1 Corinthians 1:22)

Here is the simple truth.

If we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior, then He has given us His Spirit to dwell with us forever. It doesn’t matter if we can “feel” Him or not. He is with us. He doesn’t go away. 🙂

If the Spirit dwells within us, and He is just as much God as Jesus and the Father, then we have God with us always…in all His glory and power and majesty.

I think we often look too far away, and for too much of an experience. The Real Spirit is as close as our next breath. He is here with us, quiet, gentle, whispering to our hearts, giving us strength for the day, telling us truth, and pointing us heavenward. We might not be able to feel the Spirit in the moment, but looking back we can see His shadow and we can hear His footsteps.

I’m not against experiences, they just need to go in their place. When I stop to consider Jesus, and remember the Spirit, my body often has a physical response. Tears come to my eyes, or I feel tingles. But that physical response is not the Spirit…that’s just my body responding to truth. Jesus and His Spirit is just as real and just as close even if I don’t get tears or feel tingles.

One final thought. Everyone is different. We experience human relationships differently. Why shouldn’t we also experience our relationship with God differently? It’s okay if you don’t “feel” God like some people do. You are probably experiencing Him in your own way…look for that. This is about you and the Real God. He’s pursuing you in the way He knows you will respond to best. Let go of guilt and shame. It’s not from God! Let Him be who He really is and not who we think He should be.


OUR EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL RESPONSES DO NOT MAKE GOD ANY MORE OR LESS REAL THAN HE ALREADY IS.


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Mental Illness, Possessed Baby Dolls, and the Church

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I’m going to tell you an embarrassing story. When I was a teenager, in the middle of religious cultic craziness, I thought I’d been given the gift of spiritual discernment. I truly believed that I could discern whether or not people’s toys, specifically baby dolls, were possessed. Parents in my church brought me their children’s dolls so that I could stare into their eyes and tell them if there was a demon inside or not. Yes, I now recognize that this is absolutely nuts. Yikes!! But at the time, it seemed very real.

We had all heard anecdotal stories of people’s experiences with possessed toys. We had heard stories about demons coming out of synthesizers and electronic keyboards.(Because rock music, you know, was from the devil.) The amount of fear involved was ridiculous. No one wanted demons in their houses. People do strange things when they are afraid.

Mental illness often gets put in the same Christianese category as possessed toys. While not on the same level, it’s something that we fear, don’t understand, and want to control. Christians feel like there should be a formula to change it. It feels safer to tell people that it’s the result of sin. It feels more comfortable to categorize it as “spiritual warfare.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there isn’t such a thing as spiritual warfare. I just don’t think it usually looks like we think it does.

I think we give way more credit to fear, anecdotal stories, and just brokenness in the world, and not enough credit to the subtle lies the enemy whispers to us about ourselves, other people, and God. Satan isn’t necessarily behind the cold you caught, the fact that your car broke down, or even your anxiety. But, he definitely loves that you feel hopeless and doubt God’s love for you.

As humans, we are naturally afraid of things we don’t understand.  But when you combine fear with religion, the idea that I have to do something to get results, brokenness and destruction happens.

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Do you know how many people are silently struggling with things like depression and anxiety within our churches but are afraid to say anything? Do you know how many people are told that their mental illness is a result of a “lack of faith” or “bitterness” or some other problem on their part? They aren’t doing enough and that’s why they are broken. People are afraid to speak up and ashamed to seek help or admit they need medication. That’s not okay. No one should have to struggle in secret. No one should be isolated in their pain and afraid of the body of Christ. It’s wrong that the church has made them feel this way.

How did we get here? I believe three things have played a huge part.

  • Religious Christianity

“Religion is the business of appeasing gods.” This sentence from Mike Cosper’s book Recapturing the Wonder has been challenging my thinking for almost a year now. We do that within Christianity. We put our ideas about God in a tiny box. Then we work our hardest to appease our god-in-a-box because we want his approval and blessings. That’s religious Christianity. Formulaic thinking abounds within religious Christianity. We search for a magical guarantee to make our god do what we want.

We can be conservative, religious Christians, or we can be liberal, religious Christians. It’s all about the box. We might have different ideas about God in our box, but if we are focused on doing things to make our god-in-a-box happy, then we are religious.

The real Jesus doesn’t fit in a box. He will always be bigger than our understanding. He will never make sense. And He doesn’t need to be appeased, because He already appeased Himself on the cross. 🙂

  • Lack of Education

The church has been suspicious of psychology for far too long. There is nothing wrong with learning how the human brain tends to work. Just because some of the scientists that made breakthroughs in psychology weren’t Christians doesn’t make their work invalid. Psychology is a beautiful thing. It’s exciting and freeing to understand potential whys behind thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Somehow, Christians often separate the spiritual part of people from the rest of them. I just don’t think that’s an accurate way of doing things. We are complex beings. And our spirituality, that is our ability to connect with God, is interwoven deeply with our story, our beliefs about our self, the way we interact with people, etc.

The church that we currently attend loves psychology. And honestly, the more I have come to understand myself, the healthier I have become spiritually.

  • Fear

Ironically fear is often the motivator behind our religious Christianity and our lack of education. We are afraid of the god we have imagined, so we create a list of religious behaviors to follow. We are afraid of a lack of control, so we try to earn God’s blessings by our actions. People are afraid of psychology, so they don’t get better educated. We are afraid of God and people’s condemnation, so we keep our depression and anxiety to ourselves.

Fear is not from the real Jesus, friends! Do you know what the most repeated command in the Bible is? “Do not be afraid.”  Wow! While fear is a legitimate emotion, it does not need to control us. Fear is not a helpful motivator. And the real Jesus is bigger than our fears.

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Let me just close with some thoughts.

  • Spirituality is very abstract. Sometimes we need concrete help before we can deal with abstract spiritual things. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. If I’m in the middle of a panic attack, frantically praying or trying to quote the Bible is not nearly as helpful as taking deep breaths, using some grounding techniques, and speaking truth to myself. Once I’m in a better place, I can take a look at what triggered me and go from there.
  • Because we are complicated, spiritual beings, many parts of us are intertwined and affected by other parts. Are there lies that we are believing about ourselves, God, and others that might be adding to our depression or anxiety? It’s very possible. However, we need to help our brains get to a place where we can logically deal with those lies.
  • If you are struggling with a mental illness, it’s not your fault. We live in a world broken by sin, and one of the things that is affected is our brains. They are complex organs, and sometimes they get sick. The best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out and look for help. You are not less spiritual because you go to therapy or are on medication. It’s okay! Those are good things. God is not disappointed and He doesn’t condemn you.

I know that the church’s attitude towards mental illness has often been more hurtful than helpful. But the church is made up of individuals. The church culture towards mental illness can change as more and more of us develop a healthy attitude and understanding. I have hope! 🙂

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The Dangers of Chocolate or Vanilla

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It’s the middle of the afternoon on a warm, sunny day and you are feeling hungry. Across the street, you see an old-fashioned ice cream shop that advertises thirty-six flavors of homemade ice cream. You begin to dream of fresh waffle cones and your mouth starts watering. Quickly crossing the street, you open the door to the sweet tinkle of a bell. There, in all their homemade glory, thirty-six beautiful containers of ice cream rest in a case behind a glass window.

The shop is quiet. You don’t really notice the tables of silent people hunched over their bowls of ice cream because your eyes are focused on the menu. How in the world are you going to choose? Maybe they will let you have more than one kind on your cone.

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You approach the case and stare dreamily at the swirls of fudge, raspberry, and peanut butter. You pause to gaze at the creamy green circle of mint chip. Then you hear a voice.

“Would you like chocolate or vanilla?”

You look up from the ice cream case to see the attendant staring at you. Puzzled, you wonder if you heard them right. “Excuse me?”

soda-jerk-713089_1920“Do you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream?” They ask again.

You are confused. There are thirty-six different flavors of ice cream. Why do they want you to chose between chocolate and vanilla?

The attendant is still staring at you. “You should pick chocolate. We all eat chocolate ice cream here. In fact, only bad people choose vanilla.”

Now you are really confused. “But, I was hoping for mint chocolate chip.” you stammer.

“Mint chip is basically vanilla. And you can’t have vanilla. Only stupid people eat vanilla. How about chocolate?”

You don’t really like chocolate ice cream, but you are starting to feel intimidated.

“Mackinaw Island Fudge?” You ask slowly. “It’s got chocolate in it.”

“That’s VANILLA ice cream!” The attendant shrieks. “Vanilla ice cream is BAD! Only terrible people eat vanilla ice cream. What’s wrong with you?”

“Butter pecan?” you whisper.

The attendant glares at you. In a cold voice, they slowly say, “If it’s not chocolate, then it’s vanilla. Vanilla is evil.”

Ice cream has lost it’s appeal and you turn to leave.

“Where are you going? You can’t leave without eating some chocolate ice cream.” The attendant has moved from behind the counter and is blocking your path to the door. The tables of customers stare silently at you, hunched over their bowls of chocolate ice cream.

With a yell, you push past the attendant and make a run for the door. Safely outside, you turn to look back. Your appetite for ice cream has been ruined and it’s doubtful you’ll be heading into any ice cream shop in the near future.

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Believing that there are only two acceptable options or opinions is called Black and White Thinking. In reality, situations, people, and beliefs are rarely black and white. Most of the world is actually a misty gray. Black and white thinking is common within religion. This mindset is also evident in the recent, extreme political divide in our country.

Having grown up in an ultra religious sub-culture of Christianity where black and white was just the way we thought, I’d like to share some reasons why I believe this mindset is dangerous.

Black and White Thinking isolates us. We always think our perspective it correct; its OUR perspective after all! But in reality, our perspective is warped because of our biases, experiences, personalities, etc. By only surrounding ourselves with other people who think like us, our biased perspective is confirmed. We are right and they are wrong.

Honestly, if we are going to have a more accurate understanding of life, we need to get to know and listen to people who are different from us. We need to hear the heart of who they are, the experiences they have had, and the reasons they think and feel the way they do. Reality is found within a combination of different perspectives.

Black and White Thinking creates enemies. If there are only two options, then life quickly becomes us versus them. Supposed truth and safety is found within the comfort of our camp. Anyone who doesn’t think like us is viewed with suspicion. We do not see the complexities of others’ humanity and we ignore their stories and experiences. We are quick to bestow motives on them based on our own opinions and not on their actual intentions. In reality, there are very few truly evil people in the world. Most people have legitimate reasons for their perspectives, whether or not we agree with them.

Black and White Thinking is often based in fear. We are naturally afraid of things we do not understand. This fear can easily be exploited by people who are trying to control us. Most differences are not bad, they are just different. When we are controlled by black and white thinking, our fear keeps us from exploring or pursuing people who have differences. That fear traps us within our own narrow perspective. Fear is not from God! We need to evaluate our fear and discover if it is truly rational or not. Is our enemy Satan, a spiritual leader, or even the media exploiting our fear in an effort to control us? This leads me to my next point.

Black and White Thinking only benefits those in power. This is true in a religious setting, in a political one, and anywhere in between. People in power love to promote black and white thinking because minions who think like this are easier to control. If we went back to the ice cream illustration I started with, who is benefiting in that scenario? The makers of chocolate ice cream! Who benefits in a religious system? The guy in charge of the church, cult, or organization. Who benefits in politics? The media and the people in political power. Black and white thinking is not helpful for the minions. We would be much better off connecting with all sorts of people with various backgrounds and beliefs. Our own opinions might be strengthened or changed as they are challenged, but we will be free to hear from one another.

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And so, I would challenge all of us to take a good look at our own hearts and minds. Do we really think there are only two options? Do we have to be right? Is it possible to live in the tension of misty gray?  Are we willing to see other human beings as valuable whether or not we agree? Can we choose to listen carefully and ask questions as others share their opinions and beliefs? Will we challenge the powers who are encouraging this dangerous mindset?

I’ve experienced the damage that black and white thinking produces first hand. It’s not worth it! The best thing that ever happened to me was learning to listen to people that I didn’t agree with… We don’t all have to be on the same page in order to get along.

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The Lengthy Process of Writing a Book

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Five years ago I felt like God asked me to write a book. It wasn’t something I’d ever planned on doing, but I was up for the challenge. Or so I thought. I had no idea how long of a process this would be, how many disappointments I would face, how discouraged I would get, or how much my book would change over the years.

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you will know that I used to post about it often. Lately, not so much…

Originally I wanted to write the story of how I found the real Jesus (or rather how He found me) in the midst of cultic, legalistic Christianity. I was heartbroken over the many people who grew up like me, but chose to reject God.

I’m honestly glad that first book didn’t get written, because there was a prideful ring to it…kind of like, “I survived and still love Jesus. What’s your problem?” Blech!

My book changed genres over the years from Memoir to Christian Living to Cultural Commentary. I went to multiple writers conferences and even worked with a few agents unofficially. My finished book proposal still told my story, but wove it together with similar lies I saw in normal Western Christianity. It was a better book, but I still didn’t love it.

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Then I got broken. About two years ago my husband and I began going through some excruciating conflict at the church where he was a youth pastor. He ended up being asked to resign and we walked away from people and a ministry that we loved dearly. I’d never experienced pain like that…not even growing up in my cult. It nearly destroyed us. But God never lost control.

Broken myself, I began to read other people’s stories of being broken by Christianity. I was willing to hear from them, even when I didn’t agree with their conclusions. The more I read, and talked, and processed, the more I realized that the enemy wasn’t just legalism. People were being burned by normal churches and ministries just as much as they were by ultra-conservative ones. I began to see patterns emerge.

Behavior based, religious Christianity is what destroys people. The unconditional love of God gets replaced with lists of acceptable actions. People feel shame and condemnation when they fail. Hearts are ignored. The real Jesus is missing along with His scandalous grace and unconditional love. Legalistic Christianity, like I experienced in my teens, is just a piece of a bigger issue.

Church people across denominational lines hold little god-boxes filled with tradition, religious practices, and our ideas of God. We work religiously to appease these gods-in-a-box. But the real God, powerful, incomprehensible, and definitively not boxed-sized, gets forgotten.

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God PUT my husband and I in our current church. There’s no other way to explain it. We landed there broken and hurting, and we met Jesus. I didn’t know churches like this existed. Real people, being real about themselves, and living fully in the grace and love of a real God. We weren’t condemned, or pushed to have answers, or even encouraged to get it together. We were just accepted brokenness and all. The Jesus I encountered blew my mind! And it made me think…

What if God isn’t who we think He is? What if He is much closer and much more real that we can imagine? What if all He really wants is our hearts? What if He wants us to flourish with abundant life?

If my heart longs for this kind of God, then I know that other people are longing for Him too! With this in mind, I began to rewrite my book. I’m still sharing my story, but I’m asking a lot more questions. I’m inviting my readers to join me on a quest so that we can search together for the real Jesus.

I love this new book of mine! I’ve never felt like that before.

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Typically I’m a very temperamental writer. But I can literally be having the most terrible day, and sit down at a coffee shop with my book, read where I left off, and start excitedly writing again. I’ve cried over each chapter.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I’m going back to a local writers conference in a couple of weekends. There will be agents and editors to meet with again, and I will have my new book proposal. And then…who knows? I’ve been at this place many times before, and nothings happened. But that’s okay! Here we go again. 🙂

And I need your help!

  • First by praying. Please pray for me as I finished tweeking my proposal and one page (mini proposal). Pray as I go to the conference that God will guide my steps and interactions.
  • And secondly by sharing. Publishers want platform…which means numbers on social media and such. I’ve come a long way since the beginning, but still have a large distance to go. You can help in a couple of ways.
    1. Share one of my blog posts that you enjoy and ask your friends to check out my blog.
    2. Like my Facebook writer page and share it with your friends.
    3. Invite your friends to like my Facebook writer page.
    4. Sign up for my email list (there is a link on my home page).

Thanks!! 🙂

Ultimately, I don’t really care if now is the time for this book to be published or not. I know that God is totally in control and that His timing is perfect. I’m excited about where I am at right now with Jesus…working through things and sorting out the junk. I’m loving sharing what I discover with you. It’s a great place to be!

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Enemies of God

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enemy: a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something.

Is God our enemy? It’s a question that I have been pondering for the past few weeks. Sometimes He feels like our enemy, and I’ve heard Bible verses that make Him sound like our enemy, but is He really? This is an important question! Because, I am much less likely to want to get to know Someone who is actively opposed to me…

There are plenty of verses that talk about God opposing the proud, or sending judgement on the wicked, or hating certain sins. Can He do those things and still not be our enemy? I think it depends on His motives, His heart behind the actions. Is God “actively opposed or hostile” in those situations? Or is He working out of love to get someone’s attention? Is He standing back and allowing cause and effect to happen? Is He feeling hatred because of the pain sin brings to the people it affects? It’s important to read these types of verses in context. As I’ve studied, I’ve found nothing that contextually makes God our enemy.

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And ultimately, I keep coming back to Jesus. If God were really our enemy, then Jesus would have been completely different. An enemy does not pursue peace. They do not treat us with ridiculous love and scandalous grace. They are not humble and gentle. An enemy does not seek out the broken and needy and give them value. They are not willing to be tortured and murdered for our sake. If Jesus is God, and I absolutely believe that He is, then God is not our enemy. He can’t be!

But, we are His.

Did you know that you can have an enemy without being one? Someone can be hostile and opposed to you without you returning the favor. They might even think and feel that you are mutual enemies without it being accurate.

The truth is, people are absolutely God’s enemies. Look at the definition of enemy…there is no denying it. We are actively opposed and hostile towards God. Every day.

The unbelieving world twists His character, argues against His natural law, and denies His existence. People in the church, who call themselves Christians misunderstand, misrepresent, and ignore Him at the same time. We are in a constant fight against God. It’s one of the results of sin.

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The creation surrounding us proclaims God’s eternal nature and divine character, but we claim it happened by accident. God created us in His own image with emotions, intellect, and the ability to connect in relationship, and we use our intelligence to decide He doesn’t exist. Jesus came as the exact image of God, and we proclaim Him to be “just a good man.” God breathed out the Bible, speaking to multiple people over thousands of years, and we either ignore it, twist it, or use it to our own advantage.

Yes, we are definitely God’s enemies. But God refuses to be ours.

Even as we fight, struggle, and insist on believing lies about Him, the Spirit of Jesus is calling us and drawing us to Himself. He never stops loving us, even when we hate Him. He is always ready to be found by people who seek Him. He never gives up on us. He always wants us. Isn’t that crazy?

Let’s throw away the lies, and shame, and discouragement. God is not our enemy! And even though we are His, He has already taken the first steps in reconciliation! We are loved, redeemed, and wanted. 🙂

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” Romans 5:10.

“For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” Colossians 1:1.9-20

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