The Elusive Knowledge of Good and Evil

tree-207584_1920 (1)

“You won’t really die,” the serpent hissed. “God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God. You will know about good and evil.”

What the serpent said made sense…maybe Eve was just confused. Maybe she had misunderstood God’s original instructions. The fruit was lovely to look at, and it would make them more like God. Why would God keep this knowledge from them? Surely, eating the fruit was the right thing to do…

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil offered an elusive promise.

Forgetting she was already made in God’s image, and thinking she was becoming more like God, Eve listened to the serpent’s words. Deceived, Eve believed she was making the good choice. Ironically, choosing to disobey God and eat from the tree immediately perverted the knowledge Adam and Eve gained.

As humans, we now have the capacity to know good and evil, but can we really differentiate between the two? I’m honestly not sure we can.

Think about these examples.

Growing up in an ultra-conservative version of Christianity, many normal behaviors were considered evil. Listening to rock music, dating, going to college, women wearing pants, men growing beards, being friends with the opposite gender, women working outside the home… All of these things were bad, not to mention going to movie theaters, drinking alcohol, getting tattoos, multiple piercings, etc. It was a long list.

If you don’t come from a conservative background, this list of “evil things” seems ridiculous. But, look at extreme versions of any religion and you will find the same scenario. In a frenzied desire for holiness, normal, good things become evil.

The opposite is also true. People call plenty of hurtful, damaging, truly evil things good. I don’t need to make a list of the behaviors and attitudes we see in our world, because just reading that sentence brought them to your mind…

fog-240075_1920

We know that there is such a thing as good and evil, but our ability to distinguish the two has been perverted.

It gets worse.

In our brokenness, we not only want to classify behaviors as good and evil, we also want to classify people. This is where we really screw things up!

Differences can be scary and uncomfortable. We don’t like that feeling. If you are different than me (in your beliefs, your actions, your looks, etc) you must be wrong…you must be bad. It is true that sin has broken people and some of them are unfortunately controlled by evil. But, different isn’t the same as evil. Different isn’t wrong; it’s just different. And that’s okay!

Then there’s motives.

Motives can make good behavior evil. Prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, Scripture memorization, giving, serving…all of these things are good, right? Not when they are done to gain something, or to prove something, or to pridefully show off spirituality. When our motives are evil, then our good actions are no longer good.

But, people can also do bad actions with good motives. If the bad things they do are motivated by a desire for justice, or because of intense hurt, are they really bad? Does it make them bad people?

Are you confused yet?

This is kind of a depressing blog post, Christy. The world, and the people in it, are really messed up!

They are. It is. It’s a mess. A dark, confusing, depressing mess. But into that darkness came a Light.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:9-11.

Jesus lived as the only perfect person to walk our little planet. He defied human laws, norms, and expectations. He loved people no one else would look at. Everything he did was right and good, even though sometimes it looked wrong. He was God in a human body, but the religious leaders said he was possessed by the devil. They missed the Messiah because he didn’t fit their ideas of good and evil.

These religious leaders murdered an innocent man, convincing the Roman’s to crucify him even though they couldn’t find fault. And yet, that horrific act of evil was the best thing that ever happened. Because, as Jesus drew his last breath, as his blood dripped down, He provided forgiveness for the world. He became our Savior.

It’s broken, you guys. We are broken. The sooner we realize that, the better off we are. We desperately need Jesus. He is the only hope. The good news is, we can have Him! He offers Himself as a free gift for the taking. 🙂

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:11.

It gets better!

Jesus didn’t leave us alone. The Holy Spirit, Jesus’ very Presence, comes to dwell within everyone who believes! Not only does the Spirit convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgement (John 16:8), He also gives us the power to live (Romans 8:10).

But, how should we live? How do we know what is right and wrong? Does it really matter? When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, ultimate list of right and wrong, what did Jesus say?

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” Matthew 22:36-40.

heart-700141_1920

“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” Romans 8:2.

Since we are terrible at truly discerning good from evil, and our fixation on correct behaviors only brings death, maybe we should focus instead on love. How can I love God with everything I am? And, how can I truly love my neighbor? If we are genuinely seeking to love God and others by the power of the Holy Spirit, I don’t think we can go wrong. 🙂

How do you think focusing on love instead of behavior would change you?

 

 

 

Rediscovering Jesus – On a Mountain

western-tatras-2661497_1920

Slowly the old man trudged up the trail, his feet weighed down more by dread than age. One hand clutched his staff, the other stroked a piece of flint he carried in his pocket. He could feel the knife on his belt bump against him with every step. Behind him strode a boy just stepping into manhood. Lean and agile, he hardly seemed to notice the weight of the wood strapped to his back. With eager eyes and sure feet, the hike up Mount Moriah was more adventure than effort for him. Suddenly, the boy stopped.

“Father! I am carrying the wood for the sacrifice, and you have the knife and flint. But, where is the lamb?”

The old man sighed, and a tear trickled down his leathery face. Little did his boy know what was about to happen. His heart threatened to break within him. Yet, the father held on to hope. It had been a long and sometimes difficult journey becoming a friend of the Most High God. There had been many failures along the way, but Abraham had learned one thing. El Elyon could be trusted; His promises were true. And so, the old man drew a deep breath and spoke from a heart of faith.

“God will provide the lamb for the offering, my son.”

And He did! Just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his beloved only son, God stepped in and provided a substitution.

“So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided'” Genesis 22:14.

I have heard this beautiful story used over and over again in moralistic or formulaic ways, and maybe you have too.

“What are you holding back from God?”

“What is your Isaac that God wants you to sacrifice?”

“When you give things to God, He will give them back.”

Blah! I agree that we can learn things from the life of Abraham and that we can indeed apply this account to our own lives. However, I think we often miss the main point of this story.

The New Testament has this to say about Abraham.

“and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’ – and he was called a friend of God” James 2:23.

“Abraham believed God.” The funny thing is that he didn’t. At least not all the time. Abraham is listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11, but if you read his story in Genesis 12-22, you will see more instances of doubt than of faith. Twice Abraham pretended that his wife was his sister and allowed her to be taken into a harem. He fathered a child with his servant because he doubted God’s promise, and then abandoned them both in the desert. Abraham wasn’t some super spiritual giant of the faith. He was just a guy who became friends with God…and that’s the point.

clouds-1837129_1920

Years before the Law, before the sacrifices, before the temple, before Jesus died on the cross, there was a man who became friends with God. It wasn’t because of the rules he followed, or disciplines he undertook, or any of his outward actions. Abraham had a relationship with God through faith.

He talked with God, followed God, questioned God, doubted God, and saw God do miracles. Eventually, after a lifetime of this relationship, Abraham was at a place where he knew the Most High so well, and his faith was so strong, that he was willing to do the unthinkable.

But it didn’t happen, because the angel of the LORD stepped in.

“But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven… “Do not lay your hand on the boy…” Genesis 22:11-12.

The angel of the LORD is the one who shows up all throughout Abraham’s life. He is the one Abraham meets, feeds, talks to, argues with, and the one who stops his sacrifice. So, who is this angel of the LORD?

Are you ready for this? Most theologians believe that the angel of the LORD is pre-incarnate Jesus. Jesus!!! I love this! I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love this!!

It get’s better. 🙂

Roughly two thousand years later, Mount Moriah, the mountain where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, had been developed into a city. Jerusalem. One spring, on the outskirts of that city, a controversial rabbi was crucified.

“On the Mount of the LORD, it shall be provided.”

And it was.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.

Whoever believe in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in condemned already, because he has not believed in the same of the only Son of God” John 3:16-18.

plant-2435790_1920

Jesus has always been Jesus. 🙂 The God whose name is I AM does not change. The Jesus that we shake our heads at, and yet adore, in the New Testament, is the same in the Old. If you look closely, you will recognize Him: the God who pursues, forgives, loves, gives grace, and sacrifices Himself for the sins of the world. He is powerful, amazing, crazy, confusing, addicting, and beautiful. Will you seek Him with me? Let’s keep rediscovering!

For more info on the angle of the LORD, check out this link.

 

Rediscovering Jesus – In the Garden

sky-2586577_1920.jpg

We were made to be magnificent.

Human beings were the culmination of His creation. God lovingly, personally fashioned us from dust. Intentionally sculpted and gave us life. Beautiful…powerful…creative…intelligent…capable…we were built in the very image of God. We were especially designed for relationships: able to intimately know others, and able to walk with God.

Until it all fell apart.

Christy, you said you were going to do a series on rediscovering Jesus. What are you doing in the Garden of Eden?

This is where Jesus starts, friends. This is where the gospel begins!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” John 1:1-4.

Eden is where we first discover the nature of God and the nature of ourselves. It’s where we first experience grace. I’d go so far as to say that without the Garden, there is no Gospel. (And yes, I’m one of those foolish people who believe that Genesis 1-3 is a poetic retelling of actual events. 🙂 )

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden? You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” Genesis 3:1, 4-5.

tree-tomato-2435826_1920The problem wasn’t just that Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate the fruit. It’s never just about our outward actions. No. They doubted God’s character. Wondered if He was really good…if He was holding out on them. They believed the Enemy’s lie and chose to do it their own way.

The knowledge of good and evil consumed Adam and Eve. They realized they were naked. Tried to fix the problem with fig leaves. And ultimately hid from their Creator and Friend.

Does this sound familiar? We humans have been living like this ever since.

We still believe lies about God all the time. We still doubt His character. We still choose to go our own way. We continue to try and fix the brokenness ourselves. And we often hide ourselves from the Presence of God.

I hear people talk about how our “true self” is a wretched sinner. That brokenness is our real identity. I also hear other people violently react to that teaching.

I believe that our “true self” is the magnificent creation we were made to be. Remnants of our magnificence remain even now, but it is mangled and perverted because of the sin that is also a part of us. This is the nature of our humanity. We glimpse the potential, and we come face to face with the perversion every day.

But God…

If He was really the God of anger and punishment that some people make Him out to be, God would have killed Adam and Eve and started over. He had every right to do so. They broke the rule and destroyed His perfect creation. He had promised death if they chose to disobey.

Instead, God sought them. He called to them. He drew them out of hiding and to Himself.

“But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9.

God reached out to His broken, magnificent creations with questions He already knew the answer to. In gentleness and love He gave consequences for their disobedience. There had to be consequences. But amid the curse, there was also a promise. A man who would someday destroy the power of the serpent. And instead of guaranteed death falling on Adam and Eve, it fell on the animals God used to make clothing for them. A picture of a Savior who would one day substitute His life for ours.

tree-2581426_1920 (1)

So here is the question…who is this God in the Garden? A God who has feet to walk with the people He created and footsteps that they can hear? A God who seeks the broken? Does He sound familiar to you?

 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” Luke 19:10.

Think on this for a minute. Let it soak in. What does this mean for you?

It makes me love Jesus even more…through tears. 🙂 What an amazing, powerful, loving God we have the privilege to know!

“Church Hurt” is a lot Like Miscarriage

I’m starting to think that “church hurt” is a lot like miscarriage. It’s way more common than we would ever imagine but no one talks about it.

person-976759_1920

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I had a dinner date that made me rethink my entire book idea…Devoured a book that blew up my old “cult” and it’s leader…And am in the middle of another book focused on spiritual abuse.

I feel like I have been thrown ten miles up into space and am looking down with a new, much wider perspective.

What do these have in common? What is the theme that is emerging in my mind?

Broken people break other people, all within the supposed “safety” of Christianity. 

I can think of at least five stories right off the top of my head of people who were deeply hurt by Christians in church or ministry situations. I’m sure that each of you reading this have stories you could share…about your own hurt or people you know who have been wounded.

But, like the pain of miscarriage, we don’t talk about it. Words like “gossip” and “bitterness” may stop us…or maybe we are trying to “protect God’s name.” I don’t know. But I do know this, Noticing a problem does not make you the problem. That might be my favorite quote from the book I am reading called, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.”

desperate-2293377_1920 (1)

It’s not new. If we look at the Bible we can see it’s been happening for thousands of years. False prophets leading people astray with promises of pretend peace… Pharisees laying burdens of impossible rules on people… As Solomon says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9.)

Guys, here’s the absolute truth: We are ALL broken people who are capable of causing terrible hurt. Even as Christians, we all have the capacity to inflict deep wounds in other people. Each one of us is in desperate need of Jesus!

  • We need His forgiveness.
  • We need His Spirit to be at work, restoring, convicting, and empowering us.
  • We need His grace.
  • We need to be aware of our need for grace, so that we can in turn extend grace to others.

And do you know what else? We are all passionately and scandalously LOVED by the God who made us.  We are ADORED right where we are at, warts, wrinkles, blemishes and all. Jesus sees and understands our broken hearts, not just our outward actions. He gets us at a level no human will ever comprehend. He wants us to be His friends.

hand-1549399_1920

The hurt that people have inflicted in the name of Christianity is in complete opposition to the real God who exists.

Isn’t that good news?

Stay tuned. I’ve got more. My heart is bubbling over.

Jenga Builders Anonymous

“Hi. I’m Christy, and I build with Jenga blocks.”

“Hi, Christy!”

***

If you didn’t get a chance to read my blog post last week, this won’t make any sense. 🙂 Don’t worry! I’ve linked it here God Does Not Care About Your Jenga Blocks so you can catch up.

night-1245875_1920

Last week I wrote:

“There we are, trying to build our Jenga towers, poking out blocks and stacking them on top, carefully balancing all of the “good things” that we are “supposed” to do, hoping that everyone, God included, is noticing. When everything stacks up, we feel satisfied, proud and accomplished. But when life falls apart, when we lose control, when we screw it all up, we feel guilt and shame. Surely God is disappointed in us…

I’ve got news for you. God does not care about our Jenga blocks! He doesn’t care when we stack them impressively tall and he doesn’t care when they fall over. Because, God isn’t playing Jenga with us. God is playing Hide-n-Seek.”

jenga-1941500_1920My little sister, and best cheerleader, came over for coffee last week. We started talking about the Jenga block analogy and I quickly realized there needed to be a part two! Here’s why: I think there’s a good chance that a lot of you out there are like me…recovering Jenga block builders.

Maybe we have tried playing Hide-n-Seek with Jesus, maybe we even like it. But, we struggle with those Jenga blocks…they are so tempting…they distract us…we see them out of the corner of our eye…just one… I. just. want. to. stack. one!

It’s not worth it, guys! It’s not worth it. Honestly, playing Jenga, living obsessed with outward behavior, is pretty miserable.

Think about it. When we are focused on outward behaviors instead of pursuing a living relationship with Jesus this is what we look like:

  • We are quick to compare ourselves with others and feel good or bad based on the results.
  • We judge other people’s Jenga towers…they aren’t building them right…or at least not like we would.
  • Sometimes, we even feel happy when someone else’s blocks fall. Their failure justifies our issues and distracts from our own wobbling tower.
  • There is a good possibility that we are annoyed by people playing Hide-n-Seek.
  • By the way, “rebelling” by playing dominoes with our Jenga blocks instead of stacking them is still playing with Jenga blocks. We are still missing the fun, and laughter, and closeness of Hide-n-Seek. We are still living focused on outward behavior. (Read An Illusion of Freedom for more on this topic.)

It’s not about our behavior! It’s not success or failure. It’s not about “doing the right or wrong thing”. If this is our focus then we are missing the point! Jesus died so that we could know God. When we know and abide in Jesus, good fruit will follow. But, it’s the fruit of the Spirit, not of our own effort.

This is what I’ve noticed in my own life with Jesus…a frustrating, vicious cycle.

Something happens that pulls me towards Jesus (often something painful) and I start to seek after Him. It’s so beautiful and I love our relationship! But, over the course of time, that seeking becomes second nature…my prayers become more routine…before I know it I’m just going through the motions…I stop seeing and feeling my need…I become numb… Soon I’m building Jenga blocks again, just doing the good things that a good Christian should do. Yuck! Then something else wakes me up and the cycle starts all over again.

I don’t even like playing Jenga! But it comes natural. It feels like I am fighting the way I was wired… Sound familiar? A former Jenga block builder, the apostle Paul, is familiar with this battle.

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do NOT do what I want, but I DO the very thing I hate…I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Romans 7:15,18″

I’m so grateful that it doesn’t end there! We haven’t been left on our own to figure this out. A couple of verses later we see this hope.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God though Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25

The answer is Jesus…The answer is always Jesus! 🙂

pipeline-918414_1920

I think we need a support group, Jenga Builders Anonymous! A place that we can come, admit our tendency to perform, and find help to continue seeking after Jesus. We need people who will be honest and say, “Hey! You’ve got a Jenga block in your hand. Put it down. Com’on, we are playing Hide-n-Seek.”

 

God Does Not Care About Your Jenga Blocks

background-1706662_1920

A couple of weeks ago, I was writing in my journal during my morning “Jesus time”, wrestling through the way we view our relationship with God.

“We don’t understand that it’s not about being good and doing the right things…it’s about knowing Jesus. Ha! It’s like we aren’t even playing the same game as You, God. We’re playing Jenga, but You’re playing Hide-n-Seek..”

We are playing Jenga, but God is playing Hide-n-Seek

I’m so tired of the way performance based thinking has hijacked Christianity! It’s not just people like me, raised in extreme legalism…it’s spread throughout the whole church. There we are, trying to build our Jenga towers, poking out blocks and stacking them on top, carefully balancing all of the “good things” that we are “supposed” to do, hoping that everyone, God included, is noticing. When everything stacks up, we feel satisfied, proud and accomplished. But when life falls apart, when we lose control, when we screw it all up, we feel guilt and shame. Surely God is disappointed in us…

I’ve got news for you. God does not care about our Jenga blocks! He doesn’t care when we stack them impressively tall and he doesn’t care when they fall over. Because, God isn’t playing Jenga with us. God is playing Hide-n-Seek.

Have you ever played Hide-n-Seek with a toddler? They can’t even count to 10; so, it becomes this wild race to beat them to the hiding spot. I remember putting my kids in the kitchen nook and then dashing for a spot behind the bedroom door before they saw me. You have to remind your little one that you are hiding and give them a hint as to which room you might be in. So, you call, “Come find Mama (or Daddy). Where am I?” You aren’t really trying to hide…you’re trying to get them to find you.

Guess what? We’re the toddler and God wants to play Hide-n-Seek. He wants us to find Him! Can you hear him? He’s calling.

“‘You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.’ declares the LORD…” Jeremiah 29:13-14

Can we put down our Jenga blocks? Do we believe that God doesn’t care about them?

Here’s a crazy thought: What if it’s not about us being and doing right or wrong anymore? What if it never was? Don’t freak out and think that I’m saying we should go and sin as much as we can because it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that…that wouldn’t be knowing Jesus either. But I AM saying that we HAVE to stop our attempts at perfection. We can’t do it!

jenga-1941500_1920Stop playing Jenga! Better yet, let those blocks fall. The sooner you realize that it’s okay to be a mess and not have it all together, the better off you will be! Just push them off the table. Enough!

God changed the rules…or at least it looks that way to us. The Bible clearly says that He planned Jesus from the beginning of time. It was never about us being good enough or doing enough. It was always about Jesus…always about a relationship between us and God.

God wants to take you on adventures that you can’t even imagine… He wants to heal the hidden brokenness that you can’t even talk about… Jesus wants to set you free from addictions and habits and make you so alive you can’t even handle it… But this can only happen if we stop performing and start seeking. It can only happen when we really find Jesus.

I say this all the time, but I absolutely believe it: when we begin to KNOW God…we will be changed. It’s Jesus changing us from the inside out, not a surface display of outward perfection. He changes our hearts and our actions follow…not because they have to, but because we want them to. We WANT to be like Jesus and sin no longer satisfies.

leaf-409258_1920

So, what do we do? How do we stop playing Jenga and start playing Hide-n-Seek? It might look like this:

  • Let your blocks fall and then shove them off the table. Stop trying to be good; stop defending yourself; stop making excuses. Own the wretched sinner that you are. Own it! You will NEVER be able to appreciate Jesus and his grace until you realize how much you need it.
  • Choose to believe in God’s crazy love for you, in His delight of you, in his never ending grace and forgiveness, even thought it makes absolutely no sense. 🙂
  • Start seeking. He’s calling you. He’s making it easy. Acts 17:27 says that we can even find him blind and groping in the dark. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus is the exact image of God the Father, so maybe start there. Dig through the gospels and get to know Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I’m awfully tired of Jenga. I’m tired of the pressure and stress, trying to get it right and always failing. I want to laugh and giggle and run around with my Daddy God instead. I choose Hide-n-Seek.

 

 

More than a Follower

running-573762_1920

It might just be me, having been raised in legalistic Christianity, but I struggle with the way discipleship is often portrayed. I feel like there is this heavy emphasis on what we are supposed to DO as a disciple even from mainstream pastors and teachers.

Follow * Deny Yourself * Take Up Your Cross * Be Like Jesus

These statements, or at least the thoughts behind them, ARE in the Bible. And they aren’t wrong. But I think something is missing. Or rather, Someone.

There has to be more to being a disciple of Jesus Christ than just action verbs focused on our behavior. There is more! Check out this “Jesus encounter”  from John 1

“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God.”

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed him. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.” John 1:35-39

According to Bible scholars, this is most likely NOT the time these two men became disciples of Jesus. “Followed Jesus” simply means they literally followed him. I LOVE this story…might be a little obsessed in fact. 🙂

Jesus is walking by, just doing his thing, going about his business. And John, knowing who Jesus is, points him out to a couple of his friends using a strange name. He calls Jesus “The Lamb of God”. The disciples are curious. Who is this man? So, they follow him. (My imagination starts running wild.)

Jesus turns around, and being God, already knows these guys, already loves them, already has every moment of their lives planned out. He can’t help but smile as he asks them what they want. They want to know where he is staying…basically inviting themselves over for dinner. With a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eyes, Jesus says, “Come and see.” He doesn’t even tell them! He just invites them to come with him, to walk with him, and spend time together. They haven’t “believed in him for salvation”…they haven’t “committed themselves to him”…they haven’t “made him the Lord of their lives”… Yet Jesus invites these seeking men to meet with him, to get to know him. They end up spending the evening hanging out with Jesus. After those few life-changing hours, what passionate conclusion do they come to?

“We have found the Messiah!” John 1:41

This is what we are missing! There are way too many people trying to be Jesus’ disciples without ever having met him. Sure, we believe good, Biblical, intellectual things about Him, we know a lot ABOUT Him, but we do not have an experiential, intimate relationship with Jesus. We are trying to be like him, trying to copy him, at a distance. But Jesus wants more! Jesus died so that we could have SO MUCH MORE!!!

stones-1586686_1920

What if discipleship looked more like this?

Meet * Become Mesmerized * Follow * Listen * Believe * Be Changed

What if you met Jesus, like really met him? What if you took whatever time you needed to search the gospels and actually get to know this crazy, radical 1st century rabbi who changed the world? I guarantee that the more you learn, the more mesmerized you will become.

Dig into the culture of Jesus’ time (thank you, Internet!) and be even more amazed. Follow Jesus through the pages of the New Testament. Picture yourself there; imagine being the people he interacts with; listen to his message. Let his words sink deep into your soul. As you believe, you will be changed. You will want to follow him and be like him, not out of a sense of duty but one of burning desire!

Yes, there is denial of self, there is letting go of sin, there is choosing to let Jesus change you. But when you KNOW him, and you are in a relationship with him, it’s different. Obeying him is easier when you know his character and trust his heart. Letting go is easier when you believe in his love. Everything is easier when he is right beside you giving you the strength and power through his Holy Spirit. It’s no longer your effort, your action verbs…you are doing it together!

No one can make this happen for anyone else. You have to want it. You have to seek him.

prairie-1246633_1920

You’ve been following him for weeks, maybe even months now. It’s hard to keep track of time. You’ve watched him do miracles, tasted the food he made from nothing, listened to his stories and pondered their meanings. It used to be enough to just be part of the larger crowd, but lately you have felt a longing for something more. You have found yourself jealous of Jesus’ friends who stay with him after everyone else goes home. But would he want you? Would you be welcome?

One day, you linger after the crowds leave. You feel naked and exposed, no longer “one of the group”. Slowly you approach the friends gathered around the fire, talking and laughing. They see you. He sees you. You freeze, but Jesus stands and walks toward you. His eyes, so full of life, passion, emotion, love, fire…it’s like he’s looking into your soul, terrifying and thrilling at the same time. Then he smiles and says hello. You say hello. He asks your name, but you have this feeling that he already knows. You tell him anyway.

The smile that breaks across his face as he says your name, destroys any doubt. His love overwhelms you. Jesus wants you, it’s so obvious, and all he’s said is your name. Then he asks a question, “What do you want?”

“I want to know you. Can I spend time with you? Can we talk? Can I follow you?”

Of course the answer is yes.  It’s all he’s ever wanted. With his arm around your shoulders, Jesus leads you back to the fire. It happened! You left the crowd and became a friend!

 

 

My Best Friend, The Adulterous Woman

daisy-1346049_1920

A story based on John 8:1-11

She lay there in the dirt, torn from the embrace of her lover, caught in the very act that condemned her. They wanted to stone her. According to the law, they had every right to circle around and hurl small boulders, bruising, crushing, breaking her body, silencing her screams. But they waited to see what he would say, this young rabbi; they challenged his beliefs with her very life.

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 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 dirt. 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.”

“Neither do I condemn you.” He smiled. “Go, and from now on sin no more.”

I LOVE this story! So unexpected, so against human nature, so full of grace.

Ah, grace. We sing worship songs about it, read verses about it, talk about it, but do we really understand it? Do we really believe it? Have we felt the overwhelming flood of God’s grace for ourselves? There is a strange conundrum when it comes to grace…the least deserving experience it the most. And, those who think they deserve it rarely find enough to scrap together.

You can’t earn something and get it for free at the same time.

“…that he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:7-9

Friends, it was not the good, moral, religious people who enjoyed the grace of Jesus Christ on his first visit to planet earth. It was the rejects, the scumbags, the dirty-filthy-sinners who felt the full power of his amazing grace.

Here is where it gets sticky. Most of us would never pretend we are earning our way to heaven through good works. We would quickly say that salvation comes by faith. To us then, Paul asks this question, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Gal 3:3

Evaluate your heart with me:

  • How do you feel about personal failure?
  • Are you defensive when people correct or challenge you?
  • Do you ever think that God must be disappointed in you?
  • When was the last time you “avoided God” because you were too messed up?
  • Why do you do good things?

wood-1664799_1920

I had an interesting conversation with a college student at camp this summer. She was struggling with fear and anxiety, worried she wasn’t doing enough for God, and feeling like a failure. After listening for a while, I asked her why she was concerned about doing these “good things”. She told me that it was the right thing to do. I asked why. She told me it made God happy. I asked why doing good things makes God happy. She said because He wants us to do good. I asked why.

“Because He does…”

Does He? Does God really want us to try to be good?

I think too many of us are struggling to be “good” when we should just be sitting in the dirt being sinners. Because, guess who’s sitting there in the dust next to us?

We find Jesus in the dirt.

Grace is only good news if you are broken. “Good people” find grace offensive  because it says that we have nothing to offer and that nothing we do makes any difference. It slaps our pride in the face.

Another conundrum…how can I be worth everything and nothing at the same time? My self effort at goodness is worth nothing, but my broken, sinful humanity is worth everything? Yup, that’s right. Our worthless, helpless, sinful, messed up selves are priceless in the eyes of Jesus. But our works, our efforts to clean up, our lists, our standards, our resolutions, they are just old, dirty rags, something to be thrown away. How can this be?

Welcome to the backwards, inside-out kingdom of Jesus Christ!

I’d like you to meet my new best friend, the woman caught in adultery. Can you imagine how she felt? How condemned? Judged? Guilty? Ashamed? I hate those feelings…I know them all too well… And yet, there in that painful, hard, shameful, broken place, she met Jesus. She found lavish grace. It was grace that the “good”, religious people would never taste.

I often find myself sitting in the dirt next to my sister and friend. I feel the condemnation from myself and others. It’s heavy, overwhelming. But then He is there with us, just quietly writing in the dirt. He looks at us with eyes filled with tender love and whispers, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? I shake my head; no, none of those voices matter, only His. “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and leave your life of sin.”

I can breathe again. The weight falls off. I am loved, wanted, forgiven, free. Because of grace.

lake-1031104_1920

 

An Illusion of Freedom

 

rusty-chain-1531132_1920

I’ve had plenty of experience with legalism and the ritual of dead religion. After all, I spent a decade in Bill Gothard’s cult. (For more info check out the category “My Story”.) Formulas abounded in my world – if you do such and such, then you are guaranteed this fabulous result, but woe to you if you don’t. Rules, standards, commitments, all these kinds of things supposedly made you a better Christian and more likely to have God’s blessing on your life. “Godly” people acted this way, dressed that way, and avoided these things, etc. Performance, outward show, controlled behavior, fear, and anxiety…I’m excessively familiar with all of this.

Unfortunately, you don’t have to be in a cult to experience legalism or ritualistic religion. There is plenty of it spread throughout “mainstream” Christianity. How exciting.

Many Christians will tell you that they aren’t legalistic (even though they are following a specific code of behavior) because they aren’t trying to earn their way to heaven. However, if you ask why they do good things, you will find that they are still trying to earn something: blessings, God’s pleasure, or maybe just the image of a “Good Christian”.

I do believe the Christian community is starting to wake up. There are a good handful of us talking about legalism, exposing it, reacting to it. I love this! But, we cannot confuse rebellion against legalism and religion with actual freedom that comes through grace.

I’ve seen it and I’ve been there. We hate legalism, we realize how stupid it is, and we reject it and embrace things that we’ve always been told were wrong. But here’s the thing, how do we know if we are really experiencing freedom? What if we are just trapped again in outward actions and missing the heart? What if we are still missing the point of Christianity?

blizzard-1245929_1920

Rebellion and freedom often look the same outwardly. There might be changes in music, clothing, beliefs, or education choices. People get tattoos and/or piercings. Sometimes people start dating, dye their hair, grow dreads, go to college, change jobs, or make other big life decisions. I love this! I love freedom and non-conformity. But, how do we know if we are really free and not just trapped in rebellion?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the rebellion of non-conformity. Since coming out of my cult, I’ve discovered what a rebel I really am. Want a stupid example? Female speakers/writers often wear blazers, right? You will never see me in a blazer, ever. Give me a good reason to avoid conformity and I will. However, living in a constant state of rebellion is exhausting. Jesus promised us peace. If I’m not experiencing peace, then something is wrong.

When we are motivated by rebellion against legalism, ritual, and religion, I think it looks a bit like this. Anger and frustration drive our choices, and these choices are often a reaction to previous rules. If someone were to ask us why we do things, our answer would probably sound like, “Because I can, dang it! I’m free.” But we don’t feel very free. We feel stressed and tired because we are still “trying” to do something. We might be more consumed with things we can do instead of things we shouldn’t do, but our focus is still on outward actions. And, because we are still obsessed with behaviors, deep down we also struggle with believing that God actually loves us and wants a relationship with us.

If this is rebellion, then what is freedom? I believe real freedom starts with understanding that our relationship with God has nothing to do with our own efforts and everything to do with Jesus Christ. Jesus came to show and give us grace, something we could never earn and would never deserve. The point of Jesus’ death and resurrection was never to make us into moral people who followed the rules. The point was to restore our relationship with the God who created us and loves us. He forgave us so that we could know Him. God wants to know us. We are free to be friends with Jesus! Knowing Jesus changes us, but the real change starts at the core of who we are and works its way outward.

When we are free because we understand grace, our actions might look similar to someone still stuck in rebellion, but our hearts are different. We might still get a tattoo or cartilage piercing, for example, but our motive is different. The reasoning is no longer “Because I can, dang it”, but simply, “Because I want to.” We aren’t reacting to anything, we are resting in our relationship with Jesus. We are believing in the scandalous grace of God and extending that grace to others. Instead of obsessing over outward actions, our focus is inward on heart motivations. As we get closer to Jesus, we realize He is making us more like Him. His Holy Spirit is giving us things like love, joy, and peace that doesn’t make sense.  Because our heart is changing, our outward actions might change too.  But, that change is a result of God’s beautiful grace and not an angry reaction to legalism.

worried-girl-413690_1920

Have you experienced God’s grace that sets you free? Do you believe that He loves you and wants you right where you are at? Do you realize that there is no favor to earn and no rules to rebel against? Grace says, “Your mess does not shock me or turn me off. In fact, it makes me love you even more. I want to set you free…free from your mess and free to know Me.”

Knowing (Experiencing) Jesus

This is a condensed repost of two earlier blogs I wrote a couple years ago. It was on my heart again. 🙂

caffeine-1846293_1920

There is a huge difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing them.

I write and talk a lot about legalism and religious Christianity vs a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It sounds good in theory. I’d much rather have a friendship than a list of rules to follow! But how does it work?

God often feels like a celebrity to us. We know (or think we know) a lot about Him. We read articles, blog posts, and books about Him. We listen to sermons, podcasts, and songs about Him. We hear lots of people’s opinions of Him, both positive and negative. But do we actually KNOW Him personally?

How do you get to really know someone like God?

I believe that everything God wants to tell us about Himself can be found in the Bible. One of the things that He tells us over and over again is that if we looks for Him, we will find Him. Check out some of my favorite verses.

sunset-658583_1920

drip-339939_1920

Paul speaking to the religious but lost people of Athens said:

moon-1859616_1920

God promises that if we look for Him, we will find Him. He says that even if we have our eyes closed and are bumping around in the dark feeling for Him, we will find Him because He is close by. God wants a relationship with us! He wants us to KNOW Him, not just facts about Him.

Jesus made this relationship possible! We can’t get to God by doing good things, following all the rules, praying a prayer, raising our hands, or going forward in church. We can only get to God by trusting that Jesus’ death and resurrection paid for our sins.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:17-18

This is great news! But, how do we actually experience a relationship?”

When you get to know someone like the God of the Universe, you have to think outside of the box. He will blow your mind. You might not understand or being able to explain Him. And that’s okay with me!

God often seems kind of crazy, and He doesn’t usually make sense. Experiencing Him might make you cry, a lot, even when you’re not sad. But, He will also make you laugh. His love is ridiculous, and overwhelming, and amazing.

There is no magic formula for being a friend of God, no three step process. But, here are some suggestions.

  • Become familiar with the Bible. Sometimes we think we know what the Bible says, but we actually know what people SAY the Bible says. It might surprise you to actually read it for yourself. I highly recommend Max Lucado’s “The Story”. It’s a fantastic overview using actual chunks of the NIV with some summary in between.
  • Intentionally take quiet time away from noise and electronics. While I was in college, I used to go sit on a bluff at a cemetery overlooking a lake. It was beautiful, and peaceful, and made me think about how short life is. Now, I just try to get up before my children. Haha!
  • Tell Jesus you want to know Him, and wait for Him to “show up”. This is actually the best part. Because if you have trusted in Jesus as your Savior, then His Spirit already lives inside of you. So, it’s not really Him showing up as much as it is you slowing down and becoming aware of His Presence.

What does is look like, sound like, feel like when Jesus becomes real? It’s different for everyone, but chances are you have already experienced Him and just didn’t recognize it. Sometimes it’s like this:

  • A song comes on the radio and it’s exactly what you needed to hear.
  • You are listening to a sermon or podcast and you start wondering if the person speaking is psychic or has been reading your journal.
  • As you read the Bible, a verse just jumps out at you in a way you never saw before.
  • Your friend calls/texts/messages you with a truth that you needed to hear right then.
  • Something really hard happens but you have a strange peace about it.

This is God, the Creator of the Universe, speaking to you, being intimately involved in your life. The more you become aware of God’s Presence, the more you will recognize Him.

Will you take a chance, and step out in faith, and ask Jesus to make Himself real to you? You were created for a relationship with Him. This is the true point of Christianity. You will not regret it!