When I Can’t Feel God…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me remind you of some truth.

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

Here is the simple truth.

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

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

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

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

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


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


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The Lengthy Process of Writing a Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I need your help!

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

Thanks!! 🙂

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

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Enemies of God

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

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

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

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

But, we are His.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Value of Losing Our Faith

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I’m not sure what I believe these days.

I think I’m losing faith.

I don’t even like going to church.

I don’t know how to be a Christian any more.

Scarily honest statements. Beautifully raw. Terrifying to admit even to ourselves.

If you said them to the wrong person, they might have freaked out. And you may have gotten an earful of Christianese…those secret phrases and well known statements that only make sense to other Church People. There may have been panic on their faces. They might have interrupted you with Bible verses and prayer chains. I’m sorry!

Perhaps you have kept your doubts and questions to yourself because you don’t want to deal with the drama I just described. Maybe you are quietly drifting away.

If you are asking these kinds of questions and dealing with these types of doubt, I’m glad. I’m more than glad, I’m ecstatic!! I might also be crazy. 😉

I believe there is great value in losing our faith. In realizing that we don’t know everything. In living in the mystery of unanswered questions. It’s not something we should be afraid of…it’s something to welcome. Too often religious Christianity delights in straight answers, cut and dry theology, and blind faith. There isn’t room for doubt or questions. And that’s not okay.

God is definitely big enough to handle our doubt, confusion, and questions. They do not scare Him. I think He loves them!

Struggle isn’t a bad thing. Wrestling is good. Lean into it! Be fully present in this scary place of doubt. It is okay! You are okay. 🙂

Here’s the truth. There is much in modern Christianity that is just tradition and religion. We get so caught up in doing Christianity that we forget it’s about knowing and being. God gets neatly packaged in a pretty box, and we forget that He is not tame or containable. Our god becomes more of a concept than a Real and Powerful Being.

Guess what? We need to lose our faith. I want every one of you to lose your faith!

Because too often our faith is not actually in the real God. Our faith is in the Christian religion we were taught and the fake god we think we understand.

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Becoming disillusioned with our faith, feeling like we are losing it, is the first step to finding the real God for ourselves. Because He is real. He’s just might not be who we thought He was…

The real God will NEVER fit in the tiny box we make for Him. He is way too complex, enormous, and seemingly insane. I love that about Him!! We will never understand Him. There will always be more of Him to experience and explore.

And God wants to be found. He doesn’t make it hard for us. Even in the darkest seasons of history, He has always been available to those who sought. The Real God does not change.

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Will you come with me? Let’s struggle and wrestle, question and doubt. Let’s hunt for the Real God. And as we search, let’s remember one thing. There aren’t just two options…this complicated world isn’t just black and white. There are many answers in the middle ground. Truth is often found in tension…within two seemingly opposing realities. It’s not less of a truth just because we can’t totally wrap our minds around it. We are dealing with the God of the Universe after all.

So, go ahead. Lose your faith! It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. 🙂

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Finding Answers at Book Club?

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Why are so many of us, former Church People, so cynical and cranky? Even those of us, like me, who haven’t actually left the church? What’s wrong with us?

I’ve wondered about that (and what to do about it) for a while now. Thanks to Mike Cosper, I finally have an answer.

Who would’ve thought it would happen at Book Club? Who would’ve thought I’d ever end up at Book Club? I guess that’s what happens when you make new friends and ask the Holy Spirit what to do next.

I am NOT a literary. I’m not really even a writer, at least not personality wise. That fact is made painfully obvious at every writer’s conference I attend. I actually prefer Math over English because it is concrete and has nothing to do with people’s opinions.

herbal-2562218_1920But there I was, tucked into my corner of the couch, knees curled, a mug of hot tea cupped in my hands, listening to the Book Club members talk about pencils. Apparently there is a store in New York City dedicated to pencils and they were very excited. Then the topic switched to pens and the size pen point they like to use on their paper because of the way it feels. They might as well have been speaking Mandarin. I was that lost. I like black pens. Black pens that write smoothly without leaving excess ink on my paper. And that’s all I got. 😉

It’s good to get out of my comfort zone. Book Club is good for me. It’s good to listen to truly literary people talk about authors I’ve never heard of, and pencil stores in New York City, and favorite pen sizes. And it’s okay that I can’t contribute to those conversations. I’m learning that we need all sorts of people in our lives! We cannot live in a bubble with people who only think like us. It’s not healthy. We need to be stretched in order to grow.

Besides, we are going through a book by Mike Cosper called, Recapturing the Wonder – Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World.

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Reading the title is what convinced me that I needed to join Book Club. I want transcendent faith! Who doesn’t? But as I started reading the introduction, my heart lurched. Trigger words!! This book was actually about spiritual disciples? Sneaky Mike Cosper!

I have struggled with the concept of spiritual disciplines ever since I left my legalistic church/mindset. Sure, I practice some of them, but I don’t call them disciplines. Spiritual Disciplines were too often used in an attempt to impress God and other people with our spirituality. Maybe I didn’t want to go to Book Club after all.

I resisted the urge to pitch the book across the room and kept reading. Near the end of Chapter One, I found this gem.

“But if our starting place with God is the radical grace extended through Jesus, then the spiritual disciplines are invitations, not obligations – ways of being with God, not appeasing Him.”

The first two chapters ended up being a breath of fresh air. Redeeming. Freeing. Then I got to Chapter Three and this huge light bulb exploded in my brain! Everything was weaving together and it all made sense.

We are spiritual beings living in a disenchanted world. Our modern culture doesn’t embrace the supernatural and mysterious anymore. We have logical answers and a scientific understanding for everything. It’s cut, and dry, and over. And this disenchanted world is totally unsatisfying. We long for more.

The Christian culture has bought into this idea too. We don’t expect God to actually show up, so we go overboard to “make an experience” in our church services, retreats, youth events, etc. As Mike says,

“If we’ve primed ourselves to live in a world where God doesn’t show up, then we have to figure out how to make something happen on our own.”

As a result, we live from one emotional high to another, but it doesn’t really satisfy and we kind of know that it’s fake. So we end up cranky and cynical.

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We don’t know how to have an ordinary, every day life with God. We don’t know if it’s really possible. We are so busy seeking the big moments (and yet feeling cynical about them) that we miss the still, small voice of the Spirit.

“All of our religious efforts grow from hearts that long for redemption, for transcendence, and that most of all long to connect with God.

The mountaintop experiences don’t satisfy, but the presence of Jesus does, and he’s promised that he won’t forsake us” Mike Cosper, Recapturing the Wonder.

I love this!!

Sometimes I just get so overwhelmed with the problems in our modern church. I’m frustrated by all the people who are blissfully ignorant of the problems and content within their Christian bubble. I’m angry at all the hurt that happens and gets covered up in the name of “Jesus.” But as I’ve read books, and written, and heard your responses lately, I’m also encouraged.

There are a lot of us cranky people out there! And we are seeking after Someone who will satisfy our desire for more. He probably won’t come in a whirlwind or a burning bush, but we are gonna find Him. We are going to learn to hear His still, small voice in the ordinary moments of our lives. Because He promised we would…because He wants to be found!

And we ARE the church. So, there is hope!!! 🙂

But Jesus isn’t White…and Why it Matters

PicMonkey CollageBack when my husband was a youth pastor, one of his favorite object lessons was to print a bunch of images of Jesus and lay them on the floor. He would ask the teens to choose a picture that they resonated with and stand by it. He found some really crazy Jesus’s as well as more traditional ones.

Sweet Jesus in white robes, surrounded by children.

Tough Jesus, arm wrestling Satan.

Gentle Jesus, holding a lamb.

Powerful Jesus, calming the storm with one outstretched hand.

Bad Ass Jesus, with his sleeve rolled up showing a “love” tattoo on his muscular arm.

Hot Jesus, tall and handsome with a confident stride.

There were some similarities in the Jesus pictures, most noticeably His apparent ethnicity. In almost every image, Jesus had fair to medium skin tones, long hair, and light eyes. He appeared to be tall, thin, and good looking with definite European features.

But here’s the problem. Jesus isn’t White.

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Why do I love that so much? I think it’s because I can trash my mental image of Jesus along with my churchy, Christianese ideas of who He was. I’m super excited about starting from scratch!

While the Bible doesn’t give us a clear snapshot of what Jesus looked like, we definitely get some clues from Scripture as well as from history.

Jesus was a Jewish man in the 1st century. So, He looked Middle Eastern, with dark hair and eyes, and a medium to dark skin tone. Historians agree that 2000 years ago, the average human was significantly shorter than we are today. It’s likely that Jesus was just over five feet tall! And, don’t freak out, but there is absolutely no evidence that He had long hair or even a beard.

Jesus grew up in Roman occupied Israel where the cultural norm for men was short hair. I think people confuse the fact that He was a Nazarene (meaning He grew up in Nazareth) with being a Nazirite (someone who took a specific vow that included not cutting your hair). Jesus was not a Nazirite, so He probably had shortish hair….definitely not the long feathered locks we see in many traditional images.

As far as beards go, the only Biblical reference to a beard is a prophecy about the Messiah in Isaiah 50:6 “I gave my back to those who strike me, and my cheeks to those who pluck out the beard…” The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John mention soldiers slapping Jesus in the face before they crucified Him, but that is all. No beard pulling.

Does your mind feel boggled yet? 

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It gets better. We know that Jesus was a carpenter before He started His 3+ years of ministry…or we think we do. “Carpenter” in our language means someone who makes things out of wood or potentially builds houses. I’ve seen many movie scenes with a tall, slender, European Jesus making wood shavings. But there is a problem with this picture. Israel doesn’t really have trees and they don’t build with a lot of wood.

When we were visiting Israel in 2015, I noticed this fact almost immediately. Historic and modern buildings are built from stone (along with things like chairs and mangers).

It is more likely that the real Jesus was some kind of stone mason. There goes slender, wimpy looking Jesus. If the real Jesus hauled around stones for a living, he probably had some decent muscles…which explains him easily flipping tables in the temple. 🙂 (Matthew 21:12-13.)

A prophecy in Isaiah 53:2 says that “…he had no form nor majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

Jesus was just an average looking Jewish man. He blended in well. So well in fact, that he was able to slip into the crowd and disappear on more than one occasion. (Luke 4:30, John 6:15, and John 10:39 for example.) Jesus was so ordinary looking that sometimes people didn’t even know who it was who healed them (John 5).

Why does this matter?

It matters because Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and everything about Him points us to the Father. The truth is that the All-Powerful God of the Universe chose to come to earth as an ordinary man, a very ordinary man. His humility blows my mind and makes me catch my breath.

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It matters because if our mental image of Jesus is totally wrong, maybe other things that we believe are wrong too. Maybe there is a lot of tradition mixed up with our truth.

It matters because too often we modern Western Christians seem to think we have a special insight into Christianity, and we need to remember that we are just Gentiles. We don’t have a full grasp of the Bible because we don’t have a full grasp of the Jewish culture. (Wow, did I feel that when I visited Israel! It was so good for me!!)

I want you to throw out every image of Jesus you have ever seen, and instead picture a short, stocky Middle Eastern man with dark hair wearing neutral colored robes and sandals on his dusty feet. His looks might be average, but the things He says and does are radical! And that beautiful, ordinary, incredible, unremarkable man is also God in the flesh. He came to show us the invisible God, die for the sins of the world, and restore our relationship with our Creator. And that’s amazing news!!

Why does an accurate picture of Jesus matter to you?

 

 

Learning from People I Thought I Disagreed with…

About a month ago, I set out on a journey of learning and discovery through reading. You know what I’ve discovered so far? I’m kind of a jerk. Good to know, huh? 😉

When I first started my book proposal a couple of years ago, there were three books somewhat contemporary to mine that totally irritated me. Not that I’d ever read them, mind you. But I knew (or thought I knew) the conclusions the authors came to and I disagreed with them. These women had all become disillusioned with evangelical Christianity and were looking for something different. They had significant followings. It irritated me. Prideful much?

In my last post, I talked about how I bought those books and was looking forward to reading them. Here is what has happened so far!

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I started with Addie Zierman’s When We Were on Fire and was immediately hooked. Addie writes with shockingly brutal honesty. I could hear the subtle cynicism in her voice as she shared about her emotionally charged years in youth group, her disillusionment in Christian college, and her struggle with depression as a young adult. The Church People had Christianese answers that sounded good…but nothing touched the pain or satisfied the searching questions of her heart.

Surprisingly, I didn’t hate Addie’s book. Instead, I loved her. I was captivated by her story, and I needed to know if she ever found the real Jesus. So I immediately bought her second book, Night Driving, and devoured it in a matter of days.

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Addie is incredibly genuine in sharing her doubts, vulnerable about her brokenness. She asks questions for all of us. Points out the flaws in our Christianese…in our formulaic religion. Ironically formulaic for people who claim “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”

I gave myself a few days off, and then I picked up Elizabeth Esther’s, Girl at the End of the World. I knew going in that we had similarities in our childhood, growing up in performance based, legalistic, fundamental, patriarchal Christianity. But I didn’t realize how abused she had been, that her grandparents were the founders of the Christian cult, or that she didn’t escape until she was a married mother of three. Grace, I needed to give Elizabeth grace. Seriously, it was amazing that she was even seeking to know God after all the craziness and abuse!

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The fact that Elizabeth and her husband converted to Catholicism kind of threw me for a loop. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more it makes sense. Isn’t GOD big enough to use anything? She was trying to seek the real God, but kept running into her grandfather’s voice and interpretations of Scripture. She needed something strikingly different…and what is more different than the church she’d been taught was the “whore of Babylon” growing up?

They changed me…these books that I thought I hated. They changed the way I want to write.

I feel like I have a new understanding of my intended audience. If I’m going to reach the broken and searching, it needs to be with hope in an outstretched hand…with grace, and love, and questions instead of answers.

I’m realizing that we are all on our own journey as we try to find God. Thankfully, He’s happy to be found. God knows what we need, knows how to reach us, and how to speak to us individually…how to meet us where we are at. We’ve got to let Him out of our box. And I need to stop judging people before I read their books!

I have one book left, Rachel Held Evan’s, Faith Unraveled. I’ll be honest, I saved it for last because she scares me the most. I know that Rachel is pretty progressive and pretty vocal. But I’m willing to listen to her story, feel her hurt and frustrations, and try to understand where she is coming from. It’s good for me! And who knows, I’ve been wrong twice now…LOL.

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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. 🙂