Rediscovering Jesus – Rediscovering the Bible (Part 4)

I hope you have enjoyed this little series on the Bible. I have one final post to share with you. 🙂

The Bible is history…the story of God and the people He created. The Bible is prophecy…some of which has been fulfilled and some of which is still to come. The Bible predicts a Savior and then reveals Him to us. It shows us our value as God’s creation and encourages us to seek after the God who made us. It demonstrates God’s incredible grace, love, forgiveness, mercy, and faithfulness. But even more than this, the Bible claims that it is alive, powerful, and able to change hearts, all by itself.

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I’ve actually seen this happen.

During my husband’s first year of Bible school, I taught math to 6th-12th graders at a Catholic, residential, psychiatric treatment facility. It was quite the job, in case you are wondering! Almost immediately, I had some run-ins with a young Satanist named Ben*. He was a sweet kid and willing to dialogue about God, but determined not to believe in Him. I bought him a book called “101 Reasons to Believe in God.” It contained a bunch of little proofs from science, psychology, the Bible, etc. All pretty gentle. Ben refused to read it. He even left it behind when he moved on from the facility.

However, his roommate, Matt*, picked it up feeling intrigued, and began to read. A while later, Matt came up to me after class and started talking about the book. He asked me if I could get him a Bible. Of course! I found him an easy to read translation and he was excited.

A few weeks later Matt told me that he had read Genesis and Ex-e-do-sis. Knowing what was coming next (Leviticus), I encouraged him to skip to the New Testament. We didn’t talk again for a while.

Time went by. One day, during after-school detention, the kids in my room started talking about the saddest books they’d ever read. Matt piped up, “Luke. Luke was the saddest book I ever read.” I was surprised. He smiled. “But then I read it again, and I realized it wasn’t sad after all.”

I asked Matt if he liked Jesus. Of course he did! So I sent him to the book of John. A week or so later, Matt was back in my room telling me how much he loved Jesus, how he believed that Jesus was God, and that he knew Jesus had died for him.

No one “saved” Matt…no one told him how to have a relationship with Jesus, no one preached to him, or led him in a prayer. He read the Bible, and he believed it.

This is the point. This is the purpose of the Bible!

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When you take an honest look at your heart and your opinion of the Bible, what words come to mind? Mystical, difficult, boring, old fashioned, and complicated? Or alive, amazing, revelation, and life-giving? Are you willing to let God show you the truth about the book He wrote for us? Will you try to separate what people have told you about the Bible and what the Bible actually says?

I know that it might be super hard. I get it, I do. But this is where we have to start. Get a new translation, buy a study Bible, listen to it on your Smart Phone, etc. Do something different that won’t be as triggering.

The Bible has been misused to tell lies and to abuse and control people throughout the centuries. But it’s not the book itself that’s the problem. It’s the people who use and abuse it. Please stick with me as I share some of the lies I used to believe and the truths I have found about the amazing, God of the real Bible. That is the objective of this blog: to search for the real God. 🙂

If you enjoyed the story of Matt finding Jesus, I know you would love the story of our Uncle Jim. A skeptic, a cross country trip, and a KJV Bible on cassette tape bought with the purpose of disproving it.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

 

 

Rediscovering Jesus – Rediscovering the Bible (Part 2)

Fresh out of homeschooled high school, and because our cultic group rejected traditional higher education, I was pursuing some online college-like classes through Bill Gothard’s Institute. The stress of assignments, deadlines, and a demanding English teacher was hard enough. But, the impossible task ahead of me put me over the edge.

books-2546038_1920Two of my classes asked me to go point by point through the Basic and Advanced Seminars and use the Bible to prove them true. At first, I genuinely tried to complete the assignments, but I struggled to find verses that actually matched the things Gothard claimed. Eventually, as deadlines loomed and tasks piled up, I grabbed our trusty Strong’s Concordance. Every godly family had one of these enormous, ten-pound books. I started looking up specific key words, searching for a verse that I could tweak or write out just enough to make it sound right and use it.

Surprisingly, my online teacher never corrected me.

As I continued to use this method to “prove” the Seminars’ points, I started to get suspicious. I wasn’t finding anything genuine to back up this supposed truth. What if this was the way everything had been proven originally? Ironically, the very education that was supposed to protect me from backsliding in a secular college environment planted the seeds of doubts that eventually freed me from my cult.

Unfortunately, it’s not just Christian cults that use the Bible out of context. It happens all the time within the normal church.

Have you ever heard someone quote the verse, “By his stripes we are healed” when they are praying for physical healing for someone? It’s a pretty popular one. However, if you look up the actual passage in Isaiah 53, you will find that the whole chapter is a prophecy of the coming Savior. It clearly shows that he is going to suffer and die so that our sins can be forgiven. In its entirety verse 5 reads like this: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

We cannot grab those six words out of the rest of the verse and claim that God has promised to heal our physical ailments. He has done one better. He has forever healed our sins and removed our separation from God. God has brought us back into a relationship with Him, if we will chose to believe in the name of His Son!

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I wish this context problem was an exception, but it’s not. I hear verses taken out of context all the time. Just recently I was doing a popular women’s Bible study with a group of friends. After we read a chunk of Scripture the author was using to make a point, we stopped and looked again. When we backed up and read the previous verses, it was obvious that the author hadn’t considered context. Not that her point was necessarily wrong…it just couldn’t be backed up with this particular Scripture passage.

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Just because someone uses a Bible verse to prove a point doesn’t make them right. If we are going to find the truth, it’s absolutely vital that we understand what the Bible is and why it was written. We must consider the original audience, each author’s intent, and the surrounding verses and chapters. If we want to avoid lies and abuse, we must know the Bible for ourselves.

I realize that I am kind of hardcore on this topic of context, and sometimes I can overreact. But if you’d been lied to for over a decade by someone who claimed to be getting truths from God’s Word, you might be a little sensitive too. 😉

If you are curious, I wrote more about the topic of context in my post “But God is Not a Vending Machine…

Part three coming tomorrow!

Rediscovering Jesus – Rediscovering the Bible (Part 1)

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When people of other religions become Christians, they leave behind their old religious books, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, etc. and start reading the Bible. It seems obvious. But, how do you leave behind the Bible and then start reading the Bible? How do you locate the truth when it’s supposedly found in the book that was used to tell you lies? How do you unravel lies about the God of Christianity without leaving Christianity altogether?

These are legitimate and difficult questions.

Unfortunately, the Bible can be used to say just about anything. Grab a verse here and a verse there, or just half of a verse, and you can prove whatever you want. It’s especially effective if you use a version with outdated English: full of words no one uses anymore and definitions that have changed over the years.

Not only is this the wrong way to use the Bible, it’s also spiritual abuse. Regrettably, this type of abuse is not uncommon in Christianity. And then we wonder why people are leaving the church with a broken view of God, and want nothing to do with His Word…

Growing up in Bill Gothard’s Institute, I was never taught how to correctly read the Bible. I never thought to consider the context of the verse and passage, the intended audience, and the author’s original intent as they wrote. Any verse could mean whatever anyone wanted it to. As a result, it was easy for spiritual authorities to control those around them because god could say absolutely anything and who were we to disagree?

We were taught to look for rhemas as we read the Bible. Gothard’s definition of rhema (a Greek word for “word”) was a verse or portion of Scripture that the Holy Spirit brings to our attention with application to a current situation or need for direction. We were supposed to use these words or phrases to guide our lives. It didn’t matter if the word used in the KJV had a different meaning than today, or if the verses were out of context, or if the prophecy was about the nation of Israel or even Jesus Himself. The Bible became like a religious Ouija board. We attempted to use God’s Word to find specific answers to our questions and then claimed that they came from god.

Through this method, god told people to move to specific towns, leave their jobs, and marry off their children, etc. It sounds crazy now, but when spiritual leaders are claiming to have found hidden mysteries and new revelations, followers feel the pressure to find them too.

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It makes total sense, after going through this kind of craziness, that people can’t handle the Bible anymore. It was used to control and abuse them. How in the world can it be good or from God? It’s way easier to completely reject something and find a new thing to believe.

Seriously, how in the world do you find the truth when it’s only a foot, or an inch, away from the lie?

I know I’m not the only one who either has, or currently does, struggle with the Bible. The book we call God’s Word can seem so mysterious, so confusing and mystical. If this is you, I absolutely do not blame or condemn you. I get it. I do. But, can I propose something?

What if it’s not the Bible that’s the problem…what if it’s the people who used it? What if the Bible was distorted and abused for their own gain? What if the Bible you think you know is a lie?

You should know that I absolutely believe that the Bible is the infallible (foolproof, reliable, watertight) and inspired Word of God. All of it! I do not pretend to be smart enough to figure out which parts are true and which parts are fake. I realize this is a popular method within progressive Christianity, but the God who breathed it out is way bigger than me, and that attitude kind of scares me (in a good way).

The Bible itself is not the problem.

The problem is, we don’t understand how to read it. We don’t understand what it really is or how to use it.

Part 2 coming tomorrow. 🙂

“An Impostor Jesus” – The Introduction

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I wish I looked this cool when I write!

Last week, I gave you the first paragraph of my book. In honor of the fact that I am going to The Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in less than a week, I have decided to give you more. 🙂 Pray for my journey! Pray that I will listen to the Holy Spirit, that I will be humble and available, that I will be bold and courageous, and that most of all God’s will is accomplished!

Don’t miss another thing. Click here to join my mailing list.

***

“I’ve been brainwashed. The unexpected thought tugged at my mind. We were a sleepy bunch of teen girls, dragged from our beds after midnight to be lectured by an adult chaperone. Clumped together on a couple of ratty old couches, we yawned and tried to listen. I was all too aware that my alarm was going off in less than six hours. Prayer meeting started at 6:30am and if you cared at all about giving off a spiritual vibe, you would be there. Which meant getting up even earlier to shower, and blow dry and curl your hair, because for some reason curly hair was also a sign of spirituality.

Mrs. W droned on and on about cliques, and friendship, and I felt myself drifting off. Then she said it, the real reason this meeting had been called.

“It just grieved my heart, to look out the window today and see you all playing in the snow. I couldn’t tell who the boys were and who the girls were since you were all wearing snow pants.” Her voice dripped of judgmental disappointment.

Yes, at this winter youth retreat, we were all wearing snow pants to play in the snow. Shock! Horror! What?

In previous years, most of us, at least the “godly” ones, had worn skirts or culottes over our snow pants.

How do I explain culottes? They are kind of like gauchos only much, much uglier. The first ones I wore as a young teen were homemade and looked like an intensely gathered skirt with a waistband. However, unlike a skirt, if you grabbed the voluminous sides and pulled, voila, there were two sections of fabric, one for each leg. Over the years, our culottes eventually shrank down to a slightly larger version of the more familiar gaucho. We wore them when a skirt was a health hazard, such as swimming, horseback riding, or downhill skiing. However, it should be noted that downhill skiing in culottes, even skinnier ones, feels a bit like skiing with two flags attached to your legs flapping wildly in the wind.

The ridiculousness of it all began to sink in. We had been dragged from our warm beds in the middle of the night to be lectured about modesty and femininity because we had failed to put another layer of clothing over top of our already poofy snow pants.

I rested my head on the shoulder of the girl next to me and stared skeptically at the woman lecturing us. An increasingly familiar feeling of rebellion crept over me. I had always been a “good girl”, one of the “godly” ones, but that was about to change. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t rock music, or blue jeans, or college that was turning me into a rebel (like we’d been warned about). It was Jesus.

If you are at all familiar with TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” show and have seen the Duggar family, then you have an idea of how I grew up. Only, don’t think of the “stylish” Duggars we all know now. Do me a favor and Google the 2004 version of the Duggar family. Yup, that was me: long hair, awkward bangs, homemade jumpers and all.

My siblings and I were homeschooled before homeschooling was a thing. We were educated at home back in the day when kids like us were afraid of the yellow school bus (there were occasional conflicts with a local school district). Back when grocery store clerks had to scrape their chins off the floor when we told them why we weren’t in school. “Is that even legal?” was a commonly heard question.

Obviously, not all homeschoolers are Duggar-ish. How did I end up at a youth retreat getting lectured about snow pants at midnight? The short answer is that my parents joined a cult…

I’m skipping this section because you can read it on my blog. Just follow the link above.

“Once I “got out” I chose to close the door on my past. After being chased through Cedar Point by a former friend so that they could yell at me about my new cartilage piercing, I just needed to be done. We were no longer attending the cultic church, so I moved on and started college. (I might have still worn homemade jumpers and had waist-length hair my first year, but hey, it was a step in the right direction.) I told new friends that I had been homeschooled in a conservative Christian home and that was all. My husband didn’t even learn the truth about my past until we had been married for over five years.

A few years ago, I started to get connected with former ATI students and people who had been influenced by Bill Gothard’s teachings. Many of them were no longer Christians. Having been burned by the version of Christianity they experienced, they wanted nothing to do with God, Jesus, or church. I didn’t blame them, but it made me wonder. Why was I still a Christian? Why hadn’t I run away? I started to go back and process for the first time in over a decade. As I worked my way through memories and former ways of thinking, I came to a simple conclusion. I met Jesus. He became so real to me, even while I was in the cult, that I couldn’t leave Him behind. I left the legalism and lies, but I couldn’t leave Jesus. After all, He was the one who showed me I’d been brainwashed.

One afternoon, after an online interaction with some of my former “cult-mates”, I found myself in my basement doing laundry and talking to Jesus. It broke my heart to hear from people who had such misconceptions of God and who didn’t want to give Jesus another chance. I got it, but I hurt for them. Sitting on my basement floor, with tears rolling down my cheeks, I whispered “I just want to represent You well.” And the Holy Spirit whispered back to my heart, “Write. Tell your story.” So, here I am.

It’s not just people raised in a Christian cult who are walking out on the church and Christianity. Many “normal” people raised in good, “normal” churches are leaving their former faith as well. Recognizing this growing trend, I started to wonder if there was a common thread. What if people across the board are leaving the religion and tradition of Christianity because they have never met Jesus? I think this common thread is what makes my rather extreme story universal.

Think of me as the Samaritan woman at the well, in John chapter four. I met this amazing, radical, mind-blowing man named Jesus. He changed my life, and I want you to meet Him too. It is my prayer that as you read this book and hear some crazy stories, you will consider lies you might be believing, and question your own view of God and Christianity. By the end, I pray you will be able to say with the people of Samaria, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:42.”

I hope you enjoyed that sneak peak! Thank you for your prayers as I take the next scary but exciting step forward. 🙂