When God Unexpectedly Heals

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A few weeks ago my little family went camping in my old stomping grounds, and something unexpectedly beautiful happened. 🙂 But first some background.

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I was raised in an old farmhouse, near a small town, in the middle of Michigan’s “Thumb.” For anyone reading this who is not from my state, Michigan is shaped like a mitten and the Thumb is a peninsula that sticks out into Lake Huron. It’s mostly flat farm fields with a speckling of tiny towns thrown in. We had to drive twenty minutes to get to a Walmart and almost an hour to get to any decent sized city.

My parents sold our old house and moved away from the Thumb when my dad retired, so I haven’t had any reason to go back for years. It’s not like you randomly pass through on your way anywhere else.

I concocted a plan to bring my family back to my hometown for the annual Freedom Festival over the 4th of July. We could swing by my old house, see some of my favorite places, and even visit the lighthouse where we got married. It would be amazing!

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While the first two-thirds of our trip was fun, it was also disappointing. My house looked very different. The trees were much larger, the new owners had changed a ton of things, and they weren’t even home so we couldn’t really poke around. Strangely though, twenty years later, my old swing was still hanging from the tree in the side yard…the swing I asked for when I turned eighteen (because I was a young, homeschooled, old-fashioned eighteen, LOL). It was a bit surreal.

 

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The grassy field next to the lighthouse where we got married surrounded by a cathedral of trees was now filled with an old, beat up, life-saving station that they were refurbishing. The trees had all been cut down due to insect infestation and you couldn’t even tell where we had stood to say “I do.” So much for renewing our vows…

We had a great time playing in the Lake, but it was basically a different place.

 

After these types of experiences, I didn’t go into the Saturday festival at my hometown with very many expectations.

The hour-plus parade was exactly what I remembered, complete with overflowing bags of candy and every emergency vehicle in the county bringing up the rear with horns and sirens blaring. My children were thrilled! We wandered around afterwards, taking in the craft fair, free inflatables, and a strongman competition. While there I suddenly realized that the bald, bearded, tattooed man pulling a semi truck was the naughty, little boy my Jr. Choir director used to make sit next to me so I could help him behave when I was ten and he was five. Life is weird sometimes.

I began to process my life in this small town. We were part of the community when I was little. I knew people from my old church before we joined our cultic organization. Then I spent ten years living in the community but apart from it, before finally coming back to a local Baptist church for a year or two before I left for college. Many of my memories of this town and the people in it were being aloof from them, feeling better, special somehow. But I wasn’t that person anymore. So much change and growth had happened since then.

They were having a community devotion in the evening, kind of like a joint service with the various churches in town. I just knew I needed to go. My kind husband agreed to bring the kids and come with me.

There weren’t very many people in the little park, but that was okay. One of the boys from my old church where I went to Jr. Choir and did Bible Bowl had grown up and become the pastor. He was there along with pastors from four or five other churches. A trio of older musicians led us in some country style worship, a few hymns I knew and some songs I didn’t. A young associate pastor gave a short devotional. Then we celebrated communion.

It wasn’t the quality of the service that affected me. It was the choice to be there and willingly participate without judgement or condemnation. These were the people in my community that I had looked down on as less spiritual and worldly, but now I was here with them worshiping our common Creator and Savior.

During communion, a pastor and his wife from one of the more liturgical churches approached us with a loaf of bread and a glass of grape juice. We indicated that we would like to participate. She tore off a piece of bread and he dipped it into the juice, “The body of Christ, broken for you,” he whispered as he offered it to me. I don’t know how to explain what happened as I accepted and ate that bread, but I’m crying as I write this.

Dr. Henry Cloud wrote a book called Changes that Heal, and one of the things he talks about is good time and bad time. He says,

“When we truly live in time, which is where we are now, we are present with our experience… If we are not aware of our experience, or are not experiencing some aspect of ourselves, that part is removed from time and is not affected by it…. Whatever aspect of ourselves that we leave outside of experience, that we leave in ‘bad time,’ goes unchanged. Grace and truth cannot affect the part of ourselves that we won’t bring into experience.”

It was like the old me was able to reconcile with the new me. Something deep was brought out of “bad time” and was healed.

Since I started telling my story, there was a part of me that always felt the need to justify who I am now. There was a strange defensiveness in my heart. It’s only been a few weeks, but it feels like that part is gone. Like I can just be me and accept my story without needing to prove anything. It’s kind of a beautiful feeling. 🙂

Thanks for listening to some personal ramblings this morning. I don’t have any profound applications to make except that God is good and gracious, and healing can happen in unexpected ways.

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What if Salvation is More Like an Ambulance Ride?

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It started with a podcast. I’ve been mentioning Alisa Childers on my Facebook page and blog for a couple of months now. Her podcast and its interviews of various incredibly-smart-Christians has been rocking my brain. And I love it.

My husband, who also started listening to Alisa Childers, found this particular two-part series first. Consistent with his systematic approach to life, my husband started at the beginning and has been slowly working his way through the episodes in numerical order. My approach is more haphazard. Basically I just scroll through the options, see what sounds interesting, and listen to that.

Anyway, my husband asked if I’d listened to the podcasts on Molinism yet. He went on to say that he didn’t really like these episodes because they were complicated and confusing. He also didn’t think he agreed with the guest who seemed to say that everyone was saved unless they rejected Jesus.

What in the world was Molinism? I’d never heard of that before. I expected it to be some strange cult that Alisa and her guest were refuting, but my husband said that they appeared to agree with the theology. I skeptically checked out the podcasts the next day.

And I’ve been thinking and processing ever since.

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Photo credit: Wikipedia

Molinism refers to the teachings and theology of Luis de Molina, a Jesuit priest and scholar from Spain who lived in the 1500s. Molina was part of the Reformation, but unlike more well-known reformers such as Luther and Calvin, Luis de Molina chose to stay within the Catholic Church and try to reform it from the inside out. His attempts didn’t work since the Church rejected his teachings.

Molina attempted to reconcile the Scriptures that talk about free will with the Scriptures that also talk about the sovereignty of God. Rather than reject the idea of human free will, like John Calvin, Luis de Molina saw the opportunity for both. He suggested the concept of Middle Knowledge: that God not only knows everything that has and will happen, He also knows all of the “what ifs” that lie in-between. To put it in more modern terms, God knows all of the different timeline possibilities (thank you Avengers). Therefore, God is still sovereign and totally in control, but in at least some instances, He allows humans to choose. This concept is known as Libertarian Free Will.

This intense theological thinking definitely boggles my mind and I know it’s an intellectual stretch from some of my other blog posts. But, I really believe that wondering about theology is good for us! Paul told the Philippians to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13).

As I skeptically listened to the podcast episodes, Alisa and her guest, Tim Stratton, starting discussing analogies regarding salvation. They agreed that salvation is totally the work of God and tried to explain what little part we play in it. Alisa suggested that salvation is like a sick person going to the doctor and being given medicine. It’s their choice to take the medicine or not. But Tim wanted to take it a bit farther and this is where I’ve been stuck ever since.

He roughly quoted author Kenneth Keathley’s  Ambulatory Model of Overcoming Grace. I know this because after I heard the episode, I looked it up. Here is the blog post on Tim Stratton’s website called FreeThinkingMinistries.com.

And here is Kenneth Keathley’s model in his own words.

“Imagine waking up to find you are being transported by an ambulance to the emergency room. It is clearly evident that your condition requires serious medical help. If you do nothing, you will be delivered to the hospital. However, if for whatever reason you demand to be let out, the driver will comply. He may express regret and give warnings, but he will still let you go. You receive no credit for being taken to the hospital, but you incur the blame for refusing the services of the ambulance.”

Tim Stratton, after discussing this ambulance model said these words that have embedded themselves in my brain ever since, “If you do nothing, they will save you.”

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My brain struggled to reconcile this new idea with the theology I’d always been taught. But my heart resonated with a God who was this big and loving. I cried my way through the rest of the podcast.

The idea within this Molinistic view is that God’s grace and forgiveness is available to everyone. (Something I agree with.) We are able to resist God’s grace and reject Jesus. (Something I also agree with.) However, if we do not resist, God will bring us to the place where He saves us. (A new concept I am still wrestling with and yet find myself wanting to accept.)

If you do nothing, they will save you.

When I think about this Ambulance Model regarding personal salvation, I totally resonate with it. Waking up in an ambulance and allowing your EMT’s to take you to the hospital requires just a couple of minor things from you. First, you have to become aware that you are in trouble and need saving. And second, you have to recognize that these guys can save you. Then you have to let them. Is it just me, or does this just scream the Real Jesus?

It’s not Universalism, the idea that everyone goes to heaven no matter what, although I supposed people could take it that way. I am not a Universalist, nor do I intend to ever go there. I’m not saying that by doing nothing, or staying neutral, we will be saved. I still strongly believe Jesus’ words in John three.

“Whoever believes in him (Jesus) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” John 3:18.

Jesus death on the cross is the only way to be saved. But, too often God gets viewed as distant and angry. Religious Christianity says that we need to do the right things in order to appease Him. Salvation becomes something we attempt to achieve by a series of correct behaviors.

What if the Divine Trinity is more like a team of EMT’s? They not only want to save us, they are fully capable of doing it. All we have to do is agree that we need saving and let them save us. Just do nothing. 

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

As much as I adore this view of salvation, I also love this picture of sanctification. So much of our relationship, or rather our lack of a relationship, with God is based on resistance. Whether it’s lies we believe about Him or about ourselves, an idolatrous love of earthly things, or sin we refuse to let go of, it often feels impossible to change. But what if real life and healing is found in letting go? What if repentance is simply changing our mind and admitting that we need saving? If you do nothing, they will save you.

It’s also called surrender.

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Could the Real God be so big, and so powerful, and so full of love, grace, and forgiveness that if we do nothing He will save us? From sin? From lies? From ourselves?

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” Galatians 5:1.

My guess is that when we stop resisting, He will come close. He will do the work He has wanted to do for a long time. We will be amazed at His love and mercy, and His indescribable beauty will cause us to love Him in return. Because we love Him, we will want to obey Him and through that obedience we will experience even deeper closeness. By doing nothing, we will find the life that is truly life.

Imagine that you are on that gurney in the back of the ambulance. What does it look like for you to lie still and let the Holy Team of EMT’s save you?

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Finding a New Name for My Christianity

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About eighteen months ago I wrote a passionate blog post called I Don’t Want to be an Evangelical Anymore. My post was inspired by a quote I came across from Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican National Committee. Angry with Evangelical leaders who were once again defending President Trump, Mr. Steele said,

“I have a very simple admonition at this point. Just shut the hell up and don’t ever preach to me about anything ever again. I don’t want to hear it.”

Yikes! As I processed this quote, I came to an important conclusion. I don’t think I want to call myself an Evangelical anymore. It didn’t take long to discover that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Greg Stier, the founder of Dare2Share Ministries posted this quote on his Facebook account.

“What could be a new word for “Evangelical” that still means theologically orthodox and actively evangelistic but doesn’t come with the political and cultural baggage? #justwondering”

I couldn’t agree more. In my blog post I expressed my intense frustration and posed a few suggestions for change, but I didn’t really have any ideas for a new name or identity.

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Since writing that blog, I’ve continued to struggle with the baggage, both religious and political, that is associated with the word evangelical.  I’ve longed for a title that would describe my classical theology without causing people to automatically make assumptions about who I am as a person.

During some recent research for my new podcast coming out in late summer, I discovered even more people who felt similar to me, and they had a name for their set of beliefs. Guys, I now have a new phrase to describe myself and I love it. I actually used this phrase in a conversation with an unbeliever the other day as we talked about religion, and science, and God. And it felt fantastic! There wasn’t the push-back or shut-down that I have experienced before when I shared my faith. I was able to define myself and what I believe in a way that my new friend was interested in, in a way that encouraged them to ask more questions.

Are you going crazy with curiosity yet? Okay, I’ll tell you.

I am a Historical Christian.

What does that mean? It’s really pretty simple. I hold tightly to the core creeds of Christianity that have been passed down for the last two thousand years. My more peripheral opinions or preferences stay in the periphery. Let me share an example:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic* church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

*that is, the true Christian church of all times and all places

This is the well-known Apostles Creed. Although most likely the apostles themselves didn’t write it, it is a brief overview of their most important teachings and can be traced back to the forth century.

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Creeds are something that many evangelicals have lost sight of over the years. However, they have been important to the historic church since the first century. Biblical scholars believe that the earliest creed is actually quoted by the apostle Paul in First Corinthians chapter fifteen. The way it is recorded suggests a quotation rather than an original thought. Here are verses three through seven.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

Historical Christianity, also known as Orthodox or Traditional Christianity, has been a beautiful discovery for me. It has put words to the thoughts and feelings of my heart while at the same time giving me a community and a sense of belonging.

For a while now I have felt a little lost. I saw through a lot of the religious facades in many evangelical settings, but I couldn’t give up my orthodox beliefs. I didn’t belong in the Progressive Christian circles, but neither did I belong in more Conservative Evangelical ones. I was just floating around in the middle somewhere. I know that many of you have felt that way too. Well guess what? We are not alone, and we have a home.

As Historical Christians we can fully embrace Biblical authority, a crazy big and powerful God who created the world, the literal Fall of humanity into sin, and the Savior, Jesus, who came as a person both to show us God and restore our relationship with Him. At the same time, those Christian beliefs tell people nothing about our political leanings. They give no insight into our stance on issues of social justice. And that is so refreshing! 

Too often Christianity has been divisive rather than unifying. We focus on the differences in our peripheral beliefs rather than the common core beliefs that unite us.

I love that I have Historical Christian brothers and sister who cross denominational lines. Not just within other evangelical denominations, but within the mainstream denominations such as Anglican, Lutheran, and Episcopalian. I’m excited about my family in Christ who has different worship preferences or traditions. I look forward to learning from them. We can be different and still believe in the same beautiful core truths of Christianity. There is a unity that is powerful. It provides connection back through history as well as with the world wide church today. 🙂

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I’m really curious about your thoughts! Please feel free to share. I’ve gotten a lot of my information from Alisa Childers, both on her website and podcast. If you want more, I’d encourage you to check her out.

One final thought: The interesting thing about Historical Christianity is that while it unites me with my family in Christ across denominational lines, it also stands firmly against the Progressive Christian ideas that are creeping into the church as a whole. But that’s an entirely different topic that I will tackle next time!

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Down the Rabbit Hole and Back Again

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I was surprised to read a week ago Thursday that Progressive Christian author, blogger, and speaker Rachel Held Evans had been in a medically induced coma for the past two weeks. And then I was even more shocked last Saturday to hear about her death.

I’ve been down a rabbit hole of thought and research ever since.

Rachel’s second book, Faith Untraveled, was one of three books I read eighteen months ago when I was trying to learn from people that I disagreed with while processing my own recent church hurt. Of the three books I read during that time, Rachel’s was the hardest for me. We were so similar in many ways. There were many paragraphs that I felt like I could have written myself. We saw problems within the mainstream evangelical church through almost parallel eyes. I loved her raw honesty and wit. But just as I would start to agree, we would both take an abrupt right angle turn and end up at polar opposite conclusions.

As I’ve read reviews and excerpts of Rachel’s more recent books over the past few days, I know that there isn’t much we would have agreed on theologically. And yet we both felt the emptiness of religious Christianity, and we both grieved the pain people have caused in the name of Jesus. Rachel was passionate, fierce even, with a strength that I recognize in myself. I think that’s probably why I was so irritated with her while she was alive. Our “truths” definitely did not align. And yet I can’t help but admire the intentional way she lived.

It’s easier to ignore people and ideas that we don’t agree with than to face them. As I’ve journeyed down this rabbit hole of progressive thought the past few days, I’ve just been faced with the overwhelming amount of people who have been terribly hurt by the church, by Christians. Well-meaning or not, people who claim the name of Jesus have left a trail of wounded in their dust. That’s not okay. The rabbit hole is exhausting and I feel overwhelmed and under-qualified to address the issues and lies and pain.

The pull of Progressive Christianity with it’s focus on love and relative truth is attractive. It’s inclusive and comfortable and happy. And if the only other option was Bible Thumpers who want to quote verses and force me to behave while ignoring my questions and doubts, then I’d become a Progressive too. But, as I’ve said so many times before, there aren’t only two options. The world is not black and white.

Despite everything humans have done to prove otherwise over the years, God is Real. He is more real than the chair I’m sitting in or the iced chai latte I’m drinking. I know because I’ve met Him and He has radically changed my life. I’ve met the Living Presence that is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Jesus who came as a human being to show us the Father and the way back home. Not just by living a life we are supposed to emulate, but by being the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We aren’t going to find Him by finding our own truth. The truth is Jesus and we will only find the truth as we discover Him – not the other way around.

In the time between when I started this blog post and today as I finish it, I stumbled across a podcast by Alisa Childers. She is a historical Christian who loves apologetics. I’ve been absolutely devouring her show. The incredibly intelligent people she interviews amaze me.

I would also identify these days as a historical Christian. All that means is that we believe in the historical view of Christianity passed down for the last 2000 years. We agree with the early creeds and views about the Bible, Jesus, salvation, and God Himself. This contrasts with the progressive view of Christianity which is more fluid and less literal.

I have no plans of becoming a apologist, and you probably won’t even notice in my blog posts or social media that I am listing to all of this intellectual stuff. But I feel like it’s a solid base for me to have as I work my way towards a podcast of my own.

I’m going to continue questioning ritual, tradition, and Christianese cliches. And I’m going to continue to point people back to the Real Jesus. People mess up the truth when they start putting in their own twists and spins on either side of the spectrum. My story is proof of that!

More than anything else, I long for you to know the Real Jesus. He exists and He wants to be found.

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The Nature of Worship

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But as I peered through the dimness at the crowd surrounding me, singing with closed eyes and raised hands, I felt a question flash through my mind. Are we really worshiping? Or are we simply being emotionally manipulated by well-meaning people?

I don’t mean to come across as cynical. I like singing. I enjoy a good musical worship service. But I also know that if we are going to develop a genuine relationship with the Real God, we must be grounded in truth.

Music is powerful. It has the potential to move us at a deep emotional level whether it’s secular or religious. But does worship automatically equal music? Those two words are often synonymous in the Christian culture. Or is worship something much bigger?

My brother led worship for years both on a traveling revival team and professionally at a church. He is a gifted musician and composer. One day he called me to talk about a book he was reading by Elizabeth Esther called Spiritual Sobriety. The premise of this book is that many of us are religious addicts looking for the next spiritual high rather than people who are actually connected to the real God.

I remember my brother telling me about planning  worship services. He said that looking back, he knows there was emotional manipulation involved. It was done with good intentions of getting people to have a worship experience, but it was manipulation none the less. As a musician, he knew that if they played this succession of songs with that chord and those beats, people would feel something. It was convicting to him.

What if much of our musical worship experiences are just that, emotional manipulation?

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If that is the case, it makes sense why we feel a high at retreats or conferences and then come back down to earth once we get home. Feelings are a beautiful thing created by God and they should not be discounted or ignored. However, we can’t live securely based on feelings alone. They are like shifting sand that moves with the waves under our feet. We need a rock to stand on. We need truth.

What is true worship?

Historically, people came to temples to worship their gods. Many also had shrines within their homes. They brought sacrifices to appease the gods and hopefully gain a desired outcome. This still happens around the world today. While music is often involved, it’s just a part of the worship experience. In the Old Testament, even Jehovah was worshiped in a temple with sacrifices. Worshipers came with offerings of animals, grain, and wine to gain forgiveness and blessings.

Jesus changed all of that. Through Jesus, God offered the ultimate sacrifice and appeased Himself. Now the Bible says that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). What does that mean? What does that look like? What do these truths do to the concept of worship?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks this question: What is the chief end of man? It then give this answer: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

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What if real worship is just enjoying God?

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we have full and total access to God. Because God sacrificed Himself and no longer requires appeasement, we don’t have to go to a temple to worship. We are the temple and God lives within us when we trust in Jesus as our Savior. We are able to enjoy God everywhere and doing anything.

Can we worship God through music? Absolutely! But I can also worship Him driving in the car in silence, taking a walk through nature, eating at a favorite restaurant, serving in the church nursery, etc. The possibilities are endless. If worship is just enjoying God, then there is a lot to enjoy!

As Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman in John chapter four He said,

“The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…but the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him” John 4:21, 23.

When you feel tingles and tears as you worship corporately with powerful music and lights and raised hands, please realize that the same God is present with you when you feel numb and dead inside and cannot sing at all!

Strong emotion does not necessarily mean worship. Feeling emotion does not indicate God’s Presence. He is with us always whether we feel Him or not. And you can truly worship without intense feelings. Emotions can be fun, but facts and faith must come first. 

Guys, although the Real God is enormous and powerful, holy and passionate, and although He could come in a hurricane and sweep us off our feet, He is usually quiet and still. He is close, so close. He is a Living Presence that can sneak up and overwhelm you when you least expect it. (Like just now when I typed those words and then had to sit in silence with hands raised in surrender and tears dripping down my cheeks.)

 

 

As you worship corporately in church, or don’t, I hope you take some time to contemplate the nature of true worship. Music is just one way to enjoy the God who created us and loved us enough to be The Way Back. Emotions might come as you worship God, but they are a byproduct of worship and not the experience itself. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well as your favorite places and ways to worship God. 🙂

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Confessions of a Former Pharisee

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I used to be a Pharisee. One of those well-meaning religious people who totally missed God walking in front of them because they were so consumed with rules and spirituality. Yup, that was me.

And it wasn’t just back in my days in a cultic sub-group of Christianity. Honestly, I was a Pharisee up until a few years ago. I can still be a Pharisee right now.

I’ve been that religious person who only cares about people cleaning the outside of their cup and whitewashing their tombs. (Matthew 23:25-28) The one who wants you to fix your behaviors while missing your hurting heart. God used four teenage girls in leggings to remind me again just the other day.

When I’m not writing, or taking care of my family, or having coffee with friends, I’m probably Shipt shopping. That’s right, I’m a professional grocery shopper. LOL! Not exactly what I imagined myself doing for a career, but it’s all good. 🙂

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The other day I delivered to the Life Skills teacher at a local high school. I parked out front and waited for her students to come collect the pizza making supplies I’d just purchased. Four young girls showed up with a cart. They were polite and friendly as we unloaded the groceries. Pretty girls, put-together and made-up, they were typical of the upper class, suburban area where I work.

I shut my trunk, hopped back in my car, and started to drive away. Out of nowhere, tears began to sting my eyes and I felt my heart break. I’ve been learning to pay better attention to emotion and not assume that I know where its coming from. What I discovered this time surprised me. I wasn’t crying for those girls. I was crying for me.  They were tears of brokenness and repentance for the person that I have been.

See, every one of those girls was wearing leggings. A couple of years ago, that’s all I would have noticed. I would have been upset at their lack of decency and I would have missed their precious hearts. But that’s not who I am anymore.

I used to be a pastor’s wife. My husband and I went to Bible college right after we got married. We were in full-time ministry of some sort, either Christian camping or church, for the next seven years. I thought that I was free from all of the legalism and rules that I had grown up with in my teens and early twenties. But I look back and I see someone still trapped in religion, someone still obsessed with behavior.

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I cared more about people’s outward actions and appearances than I did about their hearts. Good Christian kids didn’t date too early or too much, they didn’t wear spaghetti strap tank tops or two piece swim suits, and they came to youth group every week. I pushed good behaviors on people in the hopes that their hearts would change.

But I had it backwards.

There were some women who came to our church that I didn’t think were actually Christians. I remember overhearing a conversation they were having about taking one of those big pedal bikes around to the local breweries. I didn’t say anything out loud, but my face said everything anyway. Good people definitely didn’t do that kind of thing. Those women eventually stopped coming to my church and at the time I supposed they just weren’t actually serious about God. But honestly, I think they probably felt judged and condemned. I think I probably helped to push them away.

I’ve held a lot of stones over the years, and I’ve thrown a lot of them too. I didn’t even realize what I was doing until one day when the stones were pointed at me. I was the one who had messed up and made a mistake. I was the one who fell into sin. And I was the one who felt the judgement and condemnation from the other religious people holding stones.

That was when everything changed.

As I sat in the dust of condemnation and rejection, I found that Jesus was sitting there with me. Brokenness brought me face to face with my Savior, and in Him I found forgiveness and unconditional love, even in the middle of my mess.

I used to think that sin was avoidable…that we could work hard enough to be good people. Of course perfection was impossible, but somehow goodness was attainable. I thought that God wanted us to be good. I thought goodness held value.

I don’t believe that anymore.

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Sin is more than just the things we do or say that are wrong. Sin is the deep self-centeredness that colors everything. It reaches into the very motives of my heart. I have been completely broken and corrupted by sin. There is no getting it together or being good. It’s never going to happen. And it doesn’t need to.

Because Jesus.

The more I sense the depth of my sin, the more I know I need rescue. I’m lost, helpless and without hope. But Jesus loves me. He has forgiven ALL of my sins. He is with me always and He wants me. I’ve known these truths since I was a child, but somehow the more broken I become, the more precious they are.

I don’t think that God values goodness as much as He values brokenness. All of my attempts at goodness are just dirty rags anyway. But when I am willing to just be broken, to repent, and to let go, then I am swept up in the beauty of His glorious grace. God has gifted me His incomprehensible goodness because of Jesus, and that has nothing to do with my pathetic attempts at fixing myself.

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little… And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace'” Luke 7:47, 50.

The more I recognize my need of a Savior, the more I love Jesus. It’s not a passive love either; its a gut-wrenching LOVE. I would do anything for Him, give up anything, whatever He asks. I just want Jesus whatever that means.

Jesus wants my heart. He is after your heart too. It’s not about being good or looking like we have it together. It’s about being broken people who need a Savior.

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But First We Are People

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We recently took our kids to Chicago for a quick weekend. I’m not a city girl, not by a long shot, but I do like a good adventure. My husband is also pretty willing to take a chance. So, after finding a great deal on a hotel north of the city, we decided to take the Metra train into Chicago for the day and then use buses to travel around. It seemed like a good idea. We weren’t exactly familiar with public transportation, but how hard could it be?

Almost impossible actually.

Buying our train tickets online was a breeze. Getting onto our train and traveling into Chicago was exciting. And that’s where the fun ended.

Silly me assumed that once we got into the transportation center there would be an information desk where a nice person would tell us which bus to take and where to find it. I was wrong.

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This is London, not Chicago, but it felt similar!

Instead we were dumped into a vast sea of people who were all in a tremendous hurry and knew exactly where they were going. There was no information desk of any kind. We finally found a bus stop outside with a map, but it made absolutely no sense.

And there we were, in downtown Chicago, with our two young children, and no clue what to do next. The Internet was as useless as the bus map since all the websites we found already expected you to know how to use the bus system.

When you are a country girl, the big city can be a scary place. 

After wandering around for half an hour, we eventually ended up back inside the transportation center where we found a nice woman at a ticket counter who told us that we could buy bus tickets in the waiting room. Unfortunately the ticket machine was in cahoots with the bus map and Internet sites and was less than helpful. While we stood there trying to make sense of anything, a girl came up with her bus card. She was attempting to put more money on it, but as I just said, the machine was totally uncooperative. I jumped in to help and together we figured it out.

While my new friend and I were wrestling with the ticket machine, a young man appeared behind us. He explained the process of getting and using tickets to my husband and then pulled three single-use tickets out of his wallet and just gave them to us. We tried to pay him, but he waved us off. Beyond grateful, and with tickets in hand, we headed back down to a bus stop that we were reasonably certain was headed to Navy Pier.

Within minutes a bus sporting a beautiful 124 pulled up and the doors opened. The bus driver confirmed he was the bus to Navy Pier, but then told us he was going the wrong direction. His bus just left Navy Pier and was on it’s way back into the city. The right bus stop was across the street, but it had just left. Seriously?

The driver took a look at our dejected faces and told us to get in. That sweet older man not only gave us a free ride, he also explained the bus system to us including telling us about an app that we could download to give us real time bus locations and arrival times.

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My faith in humanity was restored. It didn’t matter that my friend at the ticket machine was Asian and that English was obviously not her first language. It didn’t matter that the man who gave us free tickets was heavily pierced and tattooed. It didn’t matter that our kind bus driver was an older African American. And it didn’t matter that I was a white, suburban housewife. Because, first we were people. People who cared, and stepped up, and helped one another.

I think about the state of our sadly divided country right now, and I shake my head. And then I honestly wonder if we are as divided as the media, and politicians, and other people in power want us to think we are. 

If we had stopped to talk about politics or religion or anything like that, these people of Chicago and I would probably have had different opinions. But those opinions don’t actually matter when it came to connecting as human beings. Because as humans we have more commonality than we have division. At our core we feel, and love, and long, and need the same. We all share the deep things that make us people.

We don’t have to believe exactly the same to love one another. And just because we disagree in some areas doesn’t mean that we have to hate each other. Different isn’t bad; it’s just different.

There is so much fear in our world these days. At least that’s what the news and social medias tell us. We are afraid and must be afraid of anyone who is different than us. That is the message drilled in over and over from both sides. But it’s simply not true.

I’ve been working on Chapter Nine of my book Impostor Jesus: Rejecting Religion in a Search for the Real God. Chapter Nine is all about being motivated by fear. Here is a little excerpt from the rough draft.

“Fear is an excellent motivator if you want power. Capitalize on people’s fears, convince them you have the only answer, and they will give you control. I see this in so many areas of life these days. People often make choices about schooling, health, vaccines, or politics based on fear. It might not be obvious on the surface, but if you look closely, you will see the familiar underlying motivations. Social media, blogs, the Internet in general, these are all excellent ways to spread fear. People in power like to use fear because it works; I know that personally. Which is partly why, as I began to get to know the Real Jesus for myself, the things I had been taught began to make less and less sense.

Fear is not from the Real God. He is not a God of fear. He doesn’t use fear to control us. These are important truths to grasp in our minds and believe in our hearts…”

I wonder what it would look like to live in a world without fear, or at least with less fear. What would happen if we refused to give into the fear driven story-line portrayed by the media? What if we purposely chose to get to know people who are different from us just to discover their beautiful humanity and the things that we do have in common?

Guys, the only people benefiting from our fear are the ones in power. And I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of that. I’m tired of the drama, and the fighting, and the politics. I want to live real life with the real and precious people around me. I want to broaden my own perspective by learning from people who are different from me. I want to practice acceptance, and grace, and love. I want to get out of my comfort zone and experience the richness that comes from diversity. Will you join me?

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How Two Gay Christians Changed My Life

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It all started late last spring when a good friend of mine gave me a book. She told me that it had transformed her entire view of homosexuality. It was a little, unassuming looking book by a man named Wesley Hill. I had never heard of that author before, but I was excited to read it.

Homosexuality and the LGBTQ+ Community as a whole is such a hot topic among Evangelical Christianity. People hold pretty fiery opinions which have often left me feeling like I was splashing around in the middle of two opposing camps. I couldn’t agree with the more conservative views, but didn’t fit into a liberal way of thinking either.

I knew that the Bible is pretty clear that a homosexual lifestyle is part of the brokenness caused by sin, but I also knew that the LGBTQ+ Community belongs to the world that God loves and sent His Son to save in John 3:16. I wanted to love and accept people the way Jesus did, but I also wanted to stay true to Scripture. Wesley Hill was about to show me that both were possible.

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I read Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness & Homosexuality with my heart in my throat. I didn’t know that it was possible to feel so close to an author. As Wes poured out his heart and struggles and was honest about his loneliness and fear, I felt my own heart break.

It wasn’t the kind of book that I could read in one sitting because I needed to process and think. I took Wes camping with me over the summer. I read him sitting around the campfire with a Kleenex in my lap so I could catch my tears. I read him in the laundry mat while waiting for clothes to dry in the middle of a thunderstorm and posted these thoughts on my Facebook page.

A friend gave me this book earlier this summer and it is opening and expanding my mind in amazing ways. Written by a Christian man who struggles with same-sex attraction but who is choosing to live a celibate life…it’s just powerful, and gut wrenching, and eye opening.

I don’t know if I have ever felt such love, and admiration, and respect for an author before.

You need to read it. Need to!!

We CANNOT live in a bubble.

And the best way to intentionally pop it is to expose ourselves to people and thoughts and perspectives that don’t exactly meet up with our own.

Washed and Waiting allowed me to stretch my mind. It’s easy to have staunch opinions about issues when we have no personal experience. But those lofty opinions are formed at a distance. It’s a completely different thing to have opinions that are formed by interaction with a person living the experience themselves. Even if that interaction is just reading a book.

I had never loved an author the way I found myself loving Wesley Hill. I even became a groupie and followed him on Instagram. 🙂

That is until I found David Bennett.

I have a good friend who works in Christian Marketing. We originally connected over a shared love of Jesus and disgust with religion. That connection morphed into breakfasts at our favorite coffee and bagel shop. I was telling her about Wesley Hill’s book and how incredibly life changing it had been for me. She got all excited and started talking about a book she was working with by a former gay activist who discovered Jesus. My friend was so enthusiastic that she gave me a copy of the book the next time I saw her.

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I’ll be honest, I devoured David’s book called A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus. I could not put it down. He challenged me, stretched me, made me reconsider how big God is, and spoke truth to my heart. I read with tears, and laughter, longing and hope. Then I followed David on Facebook and Instagram. 😀 I really wanted to be his best friend, but since he’s living in England going to Oxford for his PhD, I decided I’d have to settle for being an active follower. Here’s a sneak peek of the main idea of A War of Loves.

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Don’t you just want to go grab it and read it for yourselves?! Seriously, go order it on Amazon. I’ll even give you the link.

Guys, he met Jesus!!! And that changed everything. David has a message for the LGBTQ+ Community, but he also has an incredibly vital message for the church as a whole.

I love that God is calling and using gay Christians to share His message of truth. If that isn’t just like Jesus, I don’t know what is. 🙂 He has always pursued and used people the religious elite called outcasts. (The only thing is, that makes us Evangelicals the Pharisees…convicted much?)

So, what have I learned from my new favorite people? And how have they changed my life? Here’s a few thoughts.

  • We, the Evangelical Church, have royally screwed up and it’s time to acknowledge our failure and repent. I don’t know if it was out of fear or a religious focus on behaviors, but we have alienated an entire group of people from the gospel. Many people in the LGBTQ+ Community have felt nothing but hatred from Christians. That’s a serious problem! Especially since Jesus said people would know His disciples by their love…
  • Popular thought in our culture says that if you don’t agree with me, you must hate me. That’s not true. We don’t have to agree to love. And disagreement doesn’t have to mean that we hate. We can disagree in healthy ways while still loving each other. We can believe that same-sex attraction is a result of the Fall and that the Bible is clear that a homosexual lifestyle is sin, and we can still unconditionally love and accept people who identify as LGBTQ+ without focusing on their behaviors.
  • We don’t have to actively announce our personal beliefs. If you look at Jesus’ example, He was always seeking out the religious outcasts. He loved and accepted them without expectation FIRST. Then He called them to repentance.
  • It’s not our job to lecture people about their behaviors. It’s our job to introduce them to Jesus. If we teach people how to know Jesus, the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to do His job of conviction. God cares SO MUCH more about our hearts than our outward actions anyways!
  • The Evangelical Church needs to get educated! There are so many lies and false concepts circulating about homosexuality, gender identity, and such. It’s easy to be afraid of what we don’t know, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We need to get out of our Christian bubble and down from our ivory tower of spirituality and meet people in the LGBTQ+ Community. Let’s read authors like Wesley Hill and David Bennett. Let’s engage in training from places like The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender. (They have awesome, Biblical teaching with a beautiful balance of truth and love.) Let’s talk to actual people who are different from us.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you will know that I am passionate about two things. I am passionate about everyone knowing the Real Jesus. And I am equally passionate about rejecting behavior-driven Christianese religion. When it comes to the LGBTQ+ Community, it’s time that we left behind our traditions, and fears, and stereotypes. It’s time we embraced the Whole World with the truth of God’s love. 

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More great organizations to further discussion and learning:

Revoice – Fostering Peace, Honoring Dignity, Preserving Faith

Hole In My Heart Ministries

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