The One Thing that Stops Grace

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I’m rereading this theological fantasy series right now. You’ll hear a bit more about it tomorrow in my email newsletter. (Not signed up yet? Click here.) The Archives of Anthropos were written by the late Christian author, psychiatrist, and pastor, John White. I first read them as I was a teenager, and then again to my husband after we were married. But reading them now a decade later, I’m struck fresh by the wisdom and truth that White weaves through his story.

In Book One, there is a boy who is supposed to be the Sword Bearer. He has an impressive sword and a mission to accomplish. But because he stubbornly refuses to drink the wine of free pardon, he cannot get his sword to leave the scabbard. He is powerless on his own and is currently pridefully refusing the power of the Changer. I’m so irritated with this character right now and so convicted at the same time.

I find it ironic that the only thing that stops God’s grace is our stubborn pride.

No sinner is too sinful for God’s grace. We can never be too far away from it. Yet He allows us to resist. He wants to give us the Kingdom! But He doesn’t push anything on us.

Often we think of pride as feeling superior, like we don’t need God or His grace. That we are fine on our own. But reverse pride is just as dangerous, maybe more. Reverse pride is deciding that we are too messed up, too bad, or too far away for God to reach. That somehow we are outside of God’s grace.

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The wine of free pardon is available to anyone in Anthropos. The initial sip is full of bitterness and fire, but those who choose to drink are filled with inexplicable joy and peace. They receive supernatural healing and strength. I get this.

Surrendering to God’s grace, admitting we need it and that we have nothing to offer in return…it’s humbling. And letting go of control can be terrifying. Control brings feelings of safety.

But, you guys…grace is amazing! It’s beyond our wildest imagination. Free pardon. Based on total Jesus and on nothing me. It’s crazy and insane and beautiful. And once you’ve tasted it, you can’t go back. Not just grace for salvation, but grace for life. Grace is not just a word or a concept, it’s a force.

I wish there was something I could do or say to convince you to jump into the abyss that is God’s Grace. To leave your pride and stubbornness and control on the top of the cliff and just jump, screaming, eyes shut, arms flung wide.

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It’s not worth clinging to those broken, plastic toys.

But God will not force you, and I can’t either. He will woo you, draw you, tantalize you, but ultimately He will let you decide. And if you choose to stubbornly resist, He will let you.

Too many of us have experienced grace for salvation and called it good. We don’t know what we are missing.

Receiving the full force of God’ grace doesn’t take any action on our part except for repentance and an open hand. Repentance means that we agree with God. We admit our pride and fear and desire for control. We agree that those things are holding us back, that they are wrong. Then, with head bowed and most likely teary eyes, we just open our hands. And we let God overwhelm us with His grace. This is not about us. It’s about Him.

I pray with all my heart that you will experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ. That you will choose to drink deeply of the wine of free pardon. And that you will never be the same.

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Boy Meets Girl and Other Romantical Nonsense.

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I have a confession to make: I’m totally in love with Netflix’s Anne with an E. Potentially bordering on obsessed. Fortunately for me I don’t have time to binge-watch anything so each episode is stolen in little chunks. Unfortunately I then stumble around life in a daze dreaming of Gilbert Blythe.

I realize they totally butcher the story line, but I’m not purist. Mostly because the characters they’ve created are so REAL that I would watch them do anything.

Anne was a peer of mine growing up so I’m kind of attached to her, not to mention Diana, and Gilbert. Spending my teens in an ultra-conservative, cultic sphere of Christianity like I did, I related more to Anne, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the girls of Little Women than I did to the other kids in the 90s. I spent years wishing I’d been born in the 1800s where I belonged.

I’ve been recording stories from my middle years for Season Two of my podcast. This last week I talked about the purity culture. The first of those episodes is coming out tonight (#23). It’s ironic that I’m thinking back to the old courtship days while watching Anne and Gilbert dance around their feelings for each other. (Romantic sigh)

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Photo Credit: Anne with an E Facebook Page

I think I miss my rosy view of life.

Becoming a woman while reading healthy doses of old-fashioned romance and not actually having interactions with real men gave me all kinds of romantical ideas. I truly believed in happy endings and the goodness of humanity.

The real world has stripped me of most of this nonsense, but I still wish it were true. And I think this is why, despite everything I’ve gone through, I just can’t be a cynic.

It’s like my heart knows things are broken and corrupted here on this planet, but it also has caught a glimpse of what should be, what could be, and I can’t let go. I still believe in a happy ending, just not necessarily between boy and girl and all that.

I love this quote by C.S. Lewis: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

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“The only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

I feel that. Do you? We were made for more.

We have got to stop trying to stuff our hole with things, and distract ourselves with entertainment (even great Netflix shows), and hide our ache with business. There is no shame in the aching hole we have in our hearts. It doesn’t mean we are broken (although we are), it means we are loved.

We were created by a Being who made us for more. And the best part is that we CAN find Him even here on this corrupted planet. But we will definitely find Him for all of eternity because He came to find us. 🙂 Now that’s a story that my romantical heart loves.

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Old Journals, the Enneagram, and Exciting Changes

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Reading through journals from your early twenties is a scary thing. Especially when those journals were written by an emotional, sheltered, homeschooled-in-a-cult young woman who was totally naive but thought she knew everything. (Insert face palm.) The first few were especially cringe worthy.

In preparation for Season Two of my podcast, I took my journals from the middle years with me on our road trip to Georgia over the New Year. These were the years after I got away from our cultic group and before I married my wonderfully opposite husband. As I got past the cringe and stopped judging myself so hard, I began to enjoy remembering those years. I was kind of a basket-case, but I definitely loved Jesus. And I enjoyed working with difficult children, especially showing God’s love to the most broken. It was fun to watch the Real Jesus strip extra stuff away as He pursued my heart.

In the midst of these journals and spending time with my brother’s family, I also took an enneagram test. I know, I know, I’m a little late to the party.

The results were not what I expected.

It wasn’t my first enneagram test. A few months ago I took one with the college girls I mentor and got a 2. For those of you not familiar with the enneagram personality test, the 2 is a Caregiver. These people love to connect with and serve others. They are empathetic and generous. It sounded like a lovely personality and I was very happy with my results.

Since taking that original test I’d found website on the enneagram that I really enjoyed. My husband, brother, and sister-in-law all took the test from that site and were nailed perfectly with the results. On a whim, I decided to retake my test.

I came out as a 4. A what?

Surely I must have taken the test too quickly and without enough thought. I tried again slowly this time with my husband backing my answers. It was still a 4.

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4s are the Creative. They love to be unique, and meaningful, and artistic. The 4s basic desire is to be significant and they are full of emotions. I read the description in disbelief. What a terrible personality! I couldn’t be a 4 because I really wanted to be a 2. Obviously 2s were better, much more significant. Yeah…

After spending the evening and most of the night in denial, I began to face the facts. Sure, I like taking care of people. I’m a huge nurturer. But that’s not the biggest motivator of my heart.

I spent my entire childhood competing with my younger brother because his success made me feel insignificant. I’ve always flitted from one crazy project to the next but tend to be too temperamental to ever finish, or get accomplished at, anything…piano, singing, guitar, drawing, refinishing furniture, designing jewelry, making things with old wood, the list goes on.

Reading through my old journals, I was definitely a young 4…no doubt about it.

I processed almost all the way home. And then I decided that if I’m a Creative, if God has given me that personality, then I need to be a good steward of it and actually create. This is where the exciting changes come in.

I’ve reworked bits of my website. A few changes to the Home page…like calling it Welcome and changing some of the pictures and wording. Big changes to the Free Resources page…the devotional I put together is now available for download by anyone at anytime. It used to be tied to my email newsletter, but not any more.

And speaking of newsletters, this is the biggest change of all. I’m going to be starting a monthly newsletter called #rethink. It will have exclusive content in three categories: Something I’m Questioning, Something I’ve Read, and Something I’m Learning. My goal is to provide extra encouragement as we sort through cultural and religious Christianity on our journey to find the Real Jesus.

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I finished up the rough draft of the first issue yesterday. If you already get my random newsletters that I send a couple of times a year, then #rethink 101 will be coming to your inbox this Wednesday (January 15th).

I know it’s kind of confusing, but just because you get my blog posts in your inbox doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get my newsletter. If you haven’t signed up for my email list yet, or aren’t sure, you can click here to join. 🙂

And there you go…it’s crazy what can happen when you start an adventure of self-discovery with Jesus. I love how God has created us all so unique with our own gifts and callings. It’s a beautiful thing.

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The Gift of Brokenness

5798BD51-44AE-4CAA-834F-FFD2E9FCE4F6.pngWe stopped by the Creation Museum in Kentucky to take in the awesome light display and live nativity on our way down south to visit my brother’s family after Christmas. My father is a lifetime member which means that he has guest passes readily available. Which is why we have been there multiple times over the last few years while passing through on on our way south. It’s always a unique experience for me. The Creation Museum brings together an eclectic collection of Christians that kind of makes me cringe. I love the people watching but always come away slightly triggered. 

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It’s a fresh reminder that a powerful Christian bubble exists. One that you can enter, live in blissfully, and die without leaving. It’s a seemingly peaceful echo chamber of like-minded people. A place where you all agree and never have to question your beliefs, preferences, or interpretations of the world.

There are many, many people still blissfully living in their Christian bubble. Because when religion is working, you never stop to question it. 

This was the beginning of my ponderings.

Towards the end of our visit in the South, my sister-in-law (who is also a blogger and hopeful author) and I spent a delightful afternoon disusing the bubble over cafe miels at a local coffee shop. She explained that if you are a Southerner then you are generally a Christian, at least culturally. But too often it’s a pray this prayer and get just enough of Jesus to inoculate you from the real thing. Ouch.

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I’ve been exploring my old journals from the middle years in preparation for Season Two of Looking for the Real God. These were the years where I no longer accepted the teachings of my cultic group, but before I married my wonderfully opposite husband. They are a bit painful to read. I was in my early twenties and thought I had the whole world figured out.

As I’ve read, listening to my mind stretch and grow, seeing fresh how God broke me of my idyllic worldview, and watching Him humble my ever prideful heart, I’ve felt embarrassment and gratitude. I identify with the Christian bubble and cultural Christianity because I lived it.

But through pure mercy, God smashed my bubble and got me out. Brokenness ended up being the most precious gift He could have given. Because when the bubble broke, I was able to see that it and the god I was following were both fakes. It’s been a process as I’ve been reminded of in my old journals. The gift of brokenness has been something God has given me multiple time. But each time my bubble world shatters, I discover more of who the Real God is in comparison to my little, religious, god-in-a-box.

And this is why I’m going to say this crazy thing.

If you have been broken by religion and left confused and doubting, consider it a special gift. 

It may seem like a curse, but in reality it is a precious blessing given to you by a Real God who wants to reveal Himself to you. Because…

We will never doubt our false beliefs when they seem right.

We will never look for a Real God when our fake god is enough.

We will not question our religious Christianity when it is working for us.

But when it all comes falling down, smashes into one thousand pieces at our feet, and leaves us broken and confused, then we will seek for something more.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it forever. As humans we are naturally religious. It’s part of our sinful natures. We want a checklist to follow so that we can appease god and get the good results.

But the Real Jesus is not religious. He doesn’t need appeasing because He already appeased Himself. His greatest desire is for us to know Him. We were created with the capacity to have an intimate relationship with our Creator. And that’s a little wild and scary.

There is no formula or checklist. There is no guaranteed outcome. But there is a very real Living Being who has done everything necessary to restore our relationship with Himself. God gave us the Bible as a revelation of Who He is and how He has continually pursued humanity since the beginning of time. Jesus provides His Spirit as a helper and comforter until we see Him face to face. We can know God.

When I look at the state of evangelical Christianity, or the church, or the inoculation of cultural Christianity, I feel overwhelmed with discouragement. But just last week I was talking to Jesus about this, and He reminded me that this is what He does. This is how the broken world works.

People have always run away, and misrepresented God, and chosen religion over Him. And the Real and Living God has always pursued humanity with love, patience, and grace. This is the story of our world.

And in that truth I find hope.

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Healing from Spiritual Abuse

Healing from Spiritual Abuse

The last few episodes of my podcast have been dealing with spiritual abuse and false teachers. It’s not the most traditional Christmas topic I know. However, if you cut through the decorations, manger scenes, and fuzzy feelings, I think this is exactly what Christmas is about.

Knowing our broken human tendency towards religion, power, and control, the Almighty God became a human being. He came in humility and gentleness, without demanding anything from us or exerting any power or control over us. Jesus lived among humankind for three decades, as the exact image of God, showing us the heart of the Father before making the ultimate sacrifice. Rather than demanding religious behaviors from us, God appeased Himself.

And that is the real point of Christmas. 🙂

Brokenness is all around us, even within communities of Christians. I know that many of you have experienced church hurt or spiritual abuse within your church setting. Or maybe the abuse came from Christians who weren’t a part of your church. Maybe it was an organization, or Bible study, or youth group. Whatever the situation, you came away broken, wounded, and confused.

Now what? How do we heal from this kind of pain? Will things ever be normal again?

This post and the podcast that accompanies it (dropping at 5pm tonight) won’t have all the answers. There is no quick fix. Honestly, you won’t ever go back to the person you used to be. There will always be residual junk to deal with: scars and triggers that are now a part of you.

I recently came across this nine minute video from Lina AbuJamra who worked at Harvest Church in Chicago and experienced immense brokenness while there. I’ve never heard anyone express my feelings so perfectly. She nails it.

We know what it is to be broken. Let’s keep talking about healing.

The goal of healing isn’t to bring you back to where you used to be. It’s to make you healthy. And you may discover someday, as I have, that you are healthier because of the wounding. Despite the pain that I’ve gone through, honestly because of it, I am softer. I care more about people’s hearts and less about their outward behavior. I am much quicker to give grace because I have a better understanding of how much grace God has given me.

Am I fixed? No (laughs). There is still a wound. There are still things that trigger me. I am still skeptical about church leadership and people in power. But I am healing.

And I want to share some things that have helped me heal with you.

Things to know:

  • Give yourself time. People take a varying amount of time to heal from spiritual abuse depending on who they are and how they process etc. Don’t rush it. Don’t feel guilty because you are still sad and angry. You have been hurt and it’s okay to not be okay right now.
  • Feel ALL the feelings. So often in Christianese Land only positive feelings are acceptable. That’s a lie. Don’t minimize what happened or the negative feelings you feel.
  • Avoid spiritual bypassing. I didn’t know this was a thing until recently, but it’s so good. Spiritual bypassing is when we use spirituality to avoid dealing what’s actually going on in our hearts. We can pray about something or think I just need to forgive. We can quote verses or use Christianese phrases, but we are really just trying to ignore heart issues. Deal with your heart issues!
  • Give yourself grace. Grace may be a foreign term to you depending on the type of spiritual abuse you’ve been through. Shame and guilt are not from God. Relax, let down your guard, and allow yourself to lament. Grace is a beautiful thing.

Things to do:

  • Find a good therapist. Not all therapists are created equal, so look for someone who comes with excellent recommendations. Validation is a huge part of recovery. Having someone else tell you that you aren’t crazy, and the stuff you’ve experienced is wrong, and that you’ve been hurt goes a LONG way in healing.
  • Find safe people and if possible a safe community. I know that not all churches are safe. But finding a Christian community of people who understood, gave grace, and allowed me to be broken, also allowed me to heal.
  • Get a new Bible translation. This one was huge for me! I could hardly read my old Bible because people from my cultic organization were talking in my head. Getting a different translation opened the Bible up to me again. I was able to read it for myself and seeing the context around misused passages allowed me to find truth for myself. On a similar note, learn about good hermeneutics. Discovering that there was a proper way to read the Bible based on understanding principles of literature was incredibly liberating.
  • Don’t pressure yourself to perform spiritually. If you need a break from reading the Bible or formal praying or whatever other spiritual behavior you were burned by, that’s okay.
  • Start a lie journal. As you recognize lies that you were taught or that you just believe about yourself or God or spirituality, write them down. Leave a line for the truth when you discover that as well. This allows you to remember the lies and choose to believe truth even when you don’t feel it.
  • Read about Jesus. For some reason false teachers seem to fixate most on the God in the Old Testament. I think He is easier to twist than Jesus is. So I would encourage you, when you are ready, to being reading the gospels. Jesus shows us who God is, and if our view of god doesn’t match up with Jesus then that god in our head probably isn’t real.

I don’t have all the answers, just my own story. And for better or worse, spiritual abuse is a part of that story. I’ve come to grips with the fact that the things I’ve experienced will affect me for the rest of my life. But even as they’ve broken me, God has used that brokenness to draw me closer to His heart.

Although there was a time when I would have thought I was crazy, I can honestly say now that I am better for having been broken.

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Books that may (or may not) be helpful:

  • Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero
  • Spiritual Sobriety by Elizabeth Esther
  • The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen

Looking for the Real God Podcast Links:

We Are Not Okay

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As I processed the news of yet another shooting last Friday, this time at the Navel Air Station in Pensacola, a simple thought began to settle in my mind. We. Are. Not. Okay.

As a society, a culture, and a people, we are not okay. I don’t need to make a list for you, because you already know. But here is a short one anyway. Feel free to add to it.

  • Increased violence across the board
  • Increased mental illnesses, specifically depression and anxiety
  • High levels of negative emotions such as anger and fear
  • Mistrust of others and rampant divisiveness
  • Broken families and relationships
  • We could easily continue…

We are isolated behind our screens. Our fear puts us into echo chambers of like thought. We are lonely and disconnected and lost.

But we don’t deal with this reality because we distract ourselves constantly with technology, sound, entertainment, and substances. Not only do we struggle with our close relationships, we don’t even know ourselves.

Because we don’t take the time. Because it scares us. Because we don’t know how.

We are bankrupt in more ways than just financially. We play the debt game well, but it’s going to catch up with us eventually. So advanced as a society, and yet so miserable. Can you see the brokenness? Can you feel it? It’s everywhere.

We cannot save ourselves; we need a superhero.

Religion won’t save us, not even the Christian religion. Applying correct behavior may diffuse some of the negative consequences we face, but we will still be empty. And while religion can control some outcomes, it can never heal our broken hearts.

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Religions have some commonalities, specifically sets of correct behaviors to follow to earn our way to God. Even religious Christianity does this if you look closely. Religions have distant gods who need to be appeased by our behaviors, gods who act a lot like people, especially controlling, powerful ones.

Our broken society does not need more religion. It doesn’t need moral behavior, or church attendance, or pat Christianese answers in cute memes. We definitely don’t need gods who demand to be appeased through power and control. We need Jesus.

Jesus is a different kind of god. He isn’t religious, and He didn’t come demanding appeasement.

Coming as the exact image of the Real God (not the one in our head), Jesus slipped onto earth quietly, choosing to grow for nine months in the womb of a young virgin. What kind of a god does that? Instead of looking for power and control, the Real God came as a helpless baby and announced His birth to a few humble shepherds.

Jesus, who IS God, chose to live quietly for three decades in a small town in a small country. He didn’t look for recognition or fame. He just was. Jesus spent three-and-a-half years publicly speaking truth, loving broken people, and continuing to stay relatively obscure, before allowing Himself to be crucified for the sins of the whole world thus appeasing Himself.

This is not a god that humans would create. He is nothing like us. He makes no sense. In fact, He’s kind of crazy. 🙂

And it’s not that Jesus WAS, Jesus IS. You can talk with people today who claim to have encountered Him in a way that changed their lives forever. I am one of those people.

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We are not okay. We need saving. And the Good News is that our Savior has already come.

I know this isn’t the most popular message right now and it’s definitely not politically correct, but it’s the message that saved my life. Jesus has changed me. He is real in a way that I cannot logically explain. His Spirit does things in my heart that I am powerless to accomplish myself. Nothing else in this world satisfies my soul the way He does and there is nothing I want more than to follow Him for the rest of my life.

The Real God has been seeking and fixing broken messes since Adam and Eve first chose to disobey Him. The mess in our culture and society doesn’t shock Him. This is what He does…He seeks and saves the lost. He heals the sick and broken. He pursues and loves His enemies. And that is AMAZING NEWS!!

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All of the Things

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My husband and I just got back from a delayed anniversary trip to a Caribbean island. We hadn’t been on a lengthy purposeful vacation with just the two of us since our honeymoon and it was absolute paradise. I felt zero sadness at missing an entire week of Michigan November while basking in sunshine and 86 degree heat. 🙂

Early into the trip I asked my husband if he thought vacations like this change people. Always the practical one, he answered with a negative. But looking back, I disagree because I feel changed. In multiple ways.

IMG_4291A week to relax, and explore, and unwind is an amazing gift, especially when you get to enjoy it with your best friend. But an even better gift was not having any cell phone service. I could connect to somewhat sketchy wifi when we were back at our Airbnb and that was all. My phone was simply my camera and clock for an entire week. It was weird…and wonderful.

I quickly realized how dependent I’d become on my phone to entertain me with random information the second I became bored. It’s pathetic, but at first I didn’t know how to just sit and enjoy a car ride. I struggled to use a paper map to help navigate our adventures. It was strange to have to wait and look up information we wondered about later in the evening (if we remembered that we wanted it). But as the week progressed, I felt like my mind became more clear. I was able to fully experience and invest in the moments and people in front of me.

It became obvious that most of the information typically flooding my brain was not only unimportant, but unnecessary. 

This truth has become even more obvious since coming home. I wanted to stay detached from my phone, but it’s been a whole lot harder than I expected it to be. However, the more I’m back on social media, the more I that know I was better off without it.

So, I want to share some things that are on my heart.

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Things I learned about myself without constant access to the Internet:

  • I’m insecure about myself when I’m on social media all the time, and much more comfortable and confident when I’m not.
  • I’m quick to compare myself and decide I’m not good enough especially when I see other people’s ratings and numbers.
  • Things I think are SO important actually aren’t.
  • I miss actual interactions with people. Everyone has a story and I want to know it, the real story. It’s a whole lot easier to change reality hiding behind a screen.

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Things I love about life on a tropical island:

  • The slow pace of “island time” can be hard to get used to, but is a lovely gift once you do. We tend to live our lives so frantically that days end up flying by like tornadoes. I desperately want to be more intentional.
  • We met so many cool people who chose to move from the States to a small island in the Caribbean sea. They were all a little edgy, natural, hippie-ish, real, friendly, and I just wanted to BE them. I couldn’t help what makes some of us willing to do crazy things and live a wild, fun life while others of us stick to “normal” things that make logical sense and avoid risk and adventure?

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Things that actually matter:

  • People. People matter a whole lot! Everyone is different and everyone has a story that shapes the way they see life. We need to stop being so sure of our own perspective and practice listening, empathizing, and understanding one another.
  • Jesus. Religion is so prevalent, but Jesus rejected behavior driven religion and pursued the broken people who knew they needed Him. The Gospel is all about the incredible love of God for people who can’t get back to Him by themselves. And I will preach this beautify truth until my dying breath.
  • Humility. It’s so easy to get caught up in the popularity scene when you are trying to publish a book. But I don’t have all the answers or the corner on truth. All I have is my story and Jesus. I want to humbly bring those things to God and let Him use me in whatever way He wants.

I love the way rest helps us to get better perspective on life…super grateful that we got to get away, adventure, relax, and think. 🙂

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The Awkward Middle Way

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When my friend Rachel invited me over to her family’s fall harvest party I had no idea I’d be running into people from my past. Or that there would be an awkward stare down over the bonfire.

Although Rachel and I had both grown up under the influence of the same cultic organization, her family had been on the fringe and missed a lot of the craziness I experienced. Still, we had a bunch of mutual friends. Something I unfortunately forgot. I hadn’t seen these people in at least five years and let’s just say a lot had changed. For me that is; they looked exactly the same from their blue jean jumpers and tennis shoes, to the rolled curl of bangs across their foreheads. It was kind of surreal.

Maybe no one would recognize me. Maybe they would just think I was a worldly soul in need of conversion.

Rachel couldn’t let that happen. I was warming myself by the bonfire when I realized that I knew the woman directly across from me. She didn’t notice me until my dear friend announced, “You remember Christy Mills don’t you?”

Her icy glare swept from from the tips of my jeaned legs to the top of my short hair. I’ve never felt so judged and condemned in my life, but I managed a sheepish smile, “Hello, Mrs. So-n-so. How are you?”

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Sometimes I still feel like I am getting glared at – only this time it’s from two sides of the bonfire. Maybe you do too. We don’t fit in with traditional conservative Christians but we don’t fit with the more progressive groups either. Welcome to the awkward middle way.

I imagine David Bennett, author of A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus feels this way too. Despite his book being absolutely amazing, (seriously, go on Amazon and buy it) David has gotten flack from both sides. The conservatives are upset because he calls himself a gay Christian and identifies as LGBTQ and the progressives are upset because he affirms an Orthodox Christian view of marriage and sexuality and is choosing to be celibate. He can’t win. And yet, there are many people who have joined David in the middle way and are celebrating his journey with him.

Guys, we are great at choosing sides, but what if truth is actually found in tension?

My church talks a lot about tension theology. That’s the idea that we need to hold onto two seemingly opposing truths to have an accurate understanding of reality. We have to embrace the paradox. I’ll never forget the story our pastor told us about trying to put up a trampoline.

Someone gave his family a used trampoline and he decided to surprise the kids by setting it up. Because it was used, it didn’t come with any instructions. However, my pastor managed to get the frame together and started connecting the springs. But the more springs he connected, the harder it got. Although one side was hooked up, the other side wasn’t even close to connecting. “This trampoline is too small,” he thought to himself. No matter how hard he pulled, my pastor couldn’t get the second side of springs to reach.

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Eventually, he took all the springs off and just connected one. Then he walked around to the opposite side, pulled and connected one. After hooking on a spring in each of the four directions, my pastor was able to get all of the springs to stretch and reach. This is the same with tension theology.

Is God holy and just or loving and merciful? He’s both. Predestination or free will? It’s both. Is God three or one? He’s both. See how this goes? It doesn’t always makes sense to our finite minds, but that’s just it. We are the creation not the Creator. It’s okay if we don’t understand it all. In fact, if we can explain everything about God, then our god probably isn’t the Real One. There is much truth that needs to be held in tension.

I heard the phrase Via Media from my good friend, Alexis. Yes, the same friend who talks theology with me over bagels and coffee. Via Media, or the Middle Way was first used religiously by Anglicans to refer to the Church of England as a middle way between the extremes of Roman Catholicism and Puritanism.

I guess people have always been good at extremes.

I love the Via Media because it’s where I seem to fit best these days. I’m just muddling around somewhere in-between the extremes of the right and left: religiously, politically, socially, etc. I refuse to compromise my orthodox view of the Bible and Christianity. But I also refuse to go along with the religious traditions of cultural evangelicalism. I want to passionately love the people God has created, and I want to hold to the actual truth of His Word at the same time. It’s an awkward place, and kind of messy, and I definitely might get stuff wrong, but I’m okay with that. It’s not that I’m compromising, I’m just choosing to hold truths in tension.

I want to dialogue with people who are different than me. I want to learn from people I disagree with. I want to hold my perspective with an open hand. While at the same time continuing to believe in a very big, very real, incredibly amazing God who knows it all. Grace and truth, that is the goal in my pursuit of the awkward middle way. I want to hold tightly to truth in one hand and grace in the other. I want to be like Jesus.

It’s been amazing to find more middle way muddlers lately. Sometimes this journey can be lonely. But together we can be a tribe, a family. Figuring this out together in humility. Giving plenty of grace. Understanding that it’s not really us vs. them and rarely is anything actually black and white. We might get glares from both sides of the bonfire, but that’s okay because Jesus got a lot of glares too.

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You can listen to my corresponding podcast on any of these listening platforms. It’s Episode #15 The Awkward Middle Way.

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The Theology of Me

The Theology of Me (1)

Once a month or so my friend, Alexis, and I meet for breakfast. I don’t have many friends who are up for deep theological conversations at 8am, so Alexis is pretty special. We drink coffee, eat bagels, and ponder God. She’s a decade or so younger than me and her perspective on life is refreshing. Alexis was the one who inspired this blog post and corresponding podcast episode when she mentioned a double-sided theology of God.

We are both taking night classes at our church. I’m taking a Bible Study Methods class (which I’ve been consistently talking about on my Facebook page), and Alexis is taking a Theology class. “In order to have an accurate view of God,” Alexis began, “we must believe in His transcendence and immanence.”

Those are big words and I had to look them up.

Transcendence means that God is above us in every way. He is hidden and we can never know Him fully here on earth. But immanence means that God is also with us. He has revealed a portion of Himself to us and He is able to be known.

One of these beliefs about God without the other creates a god that is out of balance. This theology quickly becomes more about me than anything else.

My brain started to spin. How else we have created a Theology of Me within our versions of Christianity?

Maybe it’s because we can’t see God and don’t have daily physical interactions with Him. Or maybe it’s because we are naturally His enemies. But for whatever reason, we humans are constantly misrepresenting the very Real and Living God of the Universe. And we are pathetically good at extremes

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Jumping to a side comes naturally with a black and white or us vs. them mentality. But I think truth is found in tension, in the Awkward Middle Way (that I’ll be talking more about next time), as we hold onto two seemingly opposing truths.

Here is what I see happening in modern Western Christianity.

There are two extreme versions and neither is accurate. One group focuses on God’s love and goodness (as defined by their own opinions). Their god is nice but he is also kind of wimpy. He cares more about people’s happiness and other positive emotions than he does about what they do or don’t do.

The Bible becomes irrelevant as people pick and choose the parts that seem good to them. Somehow, they seem to believe that they are more advanced than the original authors of Scripture or even God himself. Salvation is vague if even necessary at all.

This kind of theology might seem good because it is kind and loving and hopeful, but people are the real gods here and it’s actually a Theology of Me.

The other side holds tightly to truth (as defined by their opinions). They focus on God’s power and rules. Their god is holy and just, but he’s also kind of a manipulative narcissist. He demands correct behavior and good people who are afraid of him.

The Bible becomes a rule book filled with dos and don’ts. Rather than seeing the Bible as the story of God and people, they see it as a recipe box filled with formulas to get desired results. Salvation is often fear based and focuses on behavior.

This version of unbalanced theology might seem like it’s about God, but if you look closely, it’s actually not. I perform. I follow the rules. I get blessings and success because I am a good person. Under the guise of “righteousness,” it’s still a Theology of Me.

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The Living God is either real or He’s not.

And if He is real, then we must accept that He is unlike us, above us, and incomprehensible to us. However, He has also chosen to be with us, and He allows Himself to be known and experienced by us.

When God is God instead of us, we get to live in this beautiful place of tension and mystery. It’s not all going to make sense because He is so much more than we are. But this amazing Living Being wants an actual relationship with us. We have the capacity to know Him. Our relationship with the Real God is not going to be one where we get to call the shots. But it’s one where our questions and doubts are welcome.

In this place of tension, we find a God who is just and holy, but filled with grace and love. He is all-powerful and yet allows us to choose to reject Him. The Bible becomes His revelation to us. I love this next quote.

“The Bible amounts to baby talk, because God is so much more than He can communicate, but the Bible remains true knowledge because God is not different or other than what we see there” Dr. Mike Wittmer.

Salvation is a needed gift from God to us because we could never get back to Him by ourselves, but the only behavior it is based on is the sacrificial behavior of Jesus Christ.

Making ourselves the gods comes naturally as we create gods in our image. But if the Living God is real, and I believe He is, then it’s not our job to create Him, but instead to find Him.

Whichever side of the Theology of Me you find yourself on, I hope that you will stop to consider the possibility of a tension filled Living God who is both far above us and near enough to be known.

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You can listen to my corresponding podcast on any of these listening platforms. It’s Episode #14 The Theology of Me.

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Not-So-Silent Women

Not-So-Silent Women

I don’t want to be a pastor or lead a church. But I would like the freedom to share my story and the message that God has laid on my heart with both men and women.

I’m not looking for power or authority; I just want a voice.

I’m not a radical feminist. But I’d like to publish a book that doesn’t have flowers on the cover.

This shouldn’t be too much to ask. 

Growing up in my conservative, patriarchal community, none of those ideas ever entered my mind. Women were created to be help-meets which meant they stayed home, cooked, cleaned, and produced copious amounts of children. Male leadership used verses like 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15 to keep us females in our place.

Strangely, even after I got out of my cultic-subgroup of Christianity, mainstream Christians still didn’t seem to understand how to interpret these passages of Scripture. People either declared them outdated and worth ignoring, or they continued to use the passages to limit women within the church.

Honestly, none of it really mattered to me until more recently. As my online following has grown and as God has zeroed in on the passions of my heart, I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated. More than anything, I want to honor the Real God of the Real Bible. But if you’ve read any of my posts, you will know that I don’t believe all religious tradition is actually Real.

About eighteen months ago, I took a little journey through the Old Testament and one of the surprising things I discovered was that God didn’t seem to have a problem with Deborah being a prophetess. Taking that into account along with the way God specifically includes women in the genealogy of Jesus, makes sure to tell stories of women interacting with Jesus, and lets women be the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection…well, I started to wonder how much of this limiting of women in the church was just religious tradition and not truth.

A friend of mine passed the video below on to me this summer. It’s produced by a group that is affiliated with Asbury Theological Seminary. As I watched Dr. Gary Hoag explain 1 Timothy 2:9-15, my mind was blown. Of course there was background knowledge that we don’t understand. 1 Timothy is a letter written by a real person (the apostle Paul) to a real person (Timothy) at a real place (Ephesus).

My next step, thanks to a wonderful mentor, was to research the Hebrew words ezer kenegdo. These are the words that the LORD uses to describe Eve before He makes her. They get translated as suitable helper or help-meet, which is honestly nowhere near what the Hebrew means. I’m linking my favorite article here, but do yourself a favor and look these words up. It’s well worth it!

This brings me to yesterday. This fall my church decided to offer free Bible Institute classes on Sunday nights. I’m taking a Bible Study Methods class taught by a professor from Dallas Theological Seminary. The point of the class on Sunday night was to use structure to understand meaning, that is how to take apart verses clause by clause. But I think our professor may have heard about the John MacArthur and Beth Moore mess that happened the day before, because he decided to demonstrate using 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. (Side note, the most accurate translation to practice this with is the NASB because it keeps the clauses in the same structure as the Greek.)

After organizing the independent (clauses that could be a sentence by themselves) and dependent clauses (ones that can’t), the verses looked like this.

The women are to keep silent in the churches;
          for they are not permitted to speak,
          but are to subject themselves,
               just as the Law also says.
     If they desire to learn anything
let them ask their own husbands at home;
          for it is improper
          for a woman to speak in church.

Our professor asked what we noticed. We responded that it looked like the women were asking questions in the middle of the service. He reminded us that culturally Greek (and Jewish) women were not educated, so they would have been missing some of the information readily available to men.

Next our professor had us back up and look at the whole of Chapter 14. We quickly noticed that the entire chapter was about having an orderly worship service. Other types of people were also told to “keep silent.” If there is no interpreter, then the person who speaks in tongue must keep silent (vs 28). Prophets needed to take turns and when someone else had a revelation, the first one must keep silent (vs 30).

The professor asked if these people had to stay silent forever. The obvious answer was no. He reminded us that the Corinthian church was a mess and most of Paul’s letter was addressing all of their many issues. And this particular chapter was about having a more orderly service. That’s it.

I left class feeling so excited and validated as a Christian women. 

I didn’t even know about the things John MacArthur said about Beth Moore yet. But the next morning I posted to my writer Facebook page and the post exploded.

The best quote from my Bible Study Methods class last night.

“People who think they can understand the text using just the English translation are…let me think of an inoffensive word…simple.”

Then the professor proceeded to tear apart 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 where it says women should be silent in the church. He TORE IT UP! And laid it out again just by looking at the structure of the clauses. And in the process he validated all Christian women and boldly handed me my voice.

This incredibly smart professor is my new hero. 😁

Everyone wanted to know what my professor had said. Hence this blog post.

As in so many other areas, I’m personally looking for truth in tension. I am okay holding onto two seemingly opposite truths. I still believe in male headship and female submission, two concepts which are totally Biblical. But they don’t look the same as they used to in my mind. Empowered Christian women can still choose to come under male leadership, similarly to the way a basketball team follows their captain. But…

Submission is not the same as oppression.

And leadership does not mean lordship.

John MacArthur was quoted during the conference this past weekend as declaring “When you literally overturn the teaching of Scripture to empower people who want power, you have given up biblical authority,”

I’m just not sure those “teachings” are actually biblical which means that the authority wouldn’t be biblical either.

People who are reading this, we have never had easier access to study tools and information. Let’s question, and learn, and dig into Scripture for ourselves. Don’t just accept religious tradition at face value, but don’t mindless throw things out because you don’t like them. Let’s find out what the Bible actually says and let’s be willing to live in the Awkward Middle Way, in the tension of truth. I’m linking a few of my favorite study tools below. Happy digging!

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Favorite Study Links:

Bible.org and within that NetBible.org

Blue Letter Bible