Here We Go Again

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Another well-known Christian influencer, raised in church and the son of a pastor, has come forward to say that he no longer believes in God. John Steingard, lead vocalist of the band Hawk Nelson shared via Instagram how his doubts and questions have brought him to this place. Here we go again.

If you’ve been around this blog or listened to my podcast, then you will know that I have no judgement for people who walk away from Christianity. Doubt, and questions, and lost faith are legitimate experiences and can be incredibly valuable.

No, I have no problem with people who walk away, but I have a huge problem with a religion that claims the name of Christ and yet never introduces them to the Real Jesus in the first place.

My heart is breaking, my eyes are full of tears, and I’m so angry I’m struggling to get words out. This. Is. Not. Okay.

I’d encourage you to read John’s lengthy explanation. The thoughts he expresses are real and very familiar.

  • He talks about a Christian culture that was shared without explanation or understanding.
  • John describes behavior based expectations that felt manipulative.
  • He uses Christianese phrases like “accepting Jesus into your heart” and “praying for signs and wonders.”
  • There was a definite initial suppression of any doubts.
  • And finally John shares his questions that just don’t seem to have acceptable answers.

John is describing his experience with a broken religion, an experience that many of us have shared. Religion is not enough. A set of beliefs, or a checklist of behaviors, or even a happy, little bubble-world of likemindedness is NOT enough.

There is only one thing.

“”Christy, why are you still a Christian?” My friend, who also happened to be an atheist, looked at me intently from across the room.

It was a valid question, and one I had been pondering myself lately. Over ten years had passed since that midnight lecture on the couch, ten years and countless life changes. I was a youth pastor’s wife and mother of two. I wore jeans every day, had a Bachelor’s degree from a secular college, and every song on my iTunes playlist included drums. People in my current life knew that I had been homeschooled, but even my husband was oblivious to the extent of crazy I’d experienced in our cultic-subgroup of Christianity. That was changing…

…the door to my past was beginning to crack open. I learned that a man we previously respected and followed was being accused of sexual harassment, with multiple girls, over decades. I discovered a website dedicated to exposing truth about the cultic organization my family was a part of through my teens and early twenties. I found online support groups filled with former students like me. These discoveries confirmed things I had always suspected. The flood gates opened. My poor husband listened patiently to many rants, frustrations, and memories. I sorted through truths and lies. I connected and reconnected with people who shared an understanding of my crazy past. It was exciting, healing, and heartbreaking.

I was overwhelmed by the number of people who grew up like me but left Christianity completely. I understood in theory…if what we had experienced was the real God, then no wonder they wanted nothing to do with Him. But it made sad. And it made me question.

Why was I still a Christian? Why hadn’t I run away too? I knew why.

I’d met Jesus. And while I rejected the legalism, and the ridiculous standards, and the performance driven faith, I couldn’t reject Him. Because I loved Him, and I knew that He loved me. It was worth the fight…it was worth deconstructing and reconstructing my faith to find the real God.”

Impostor Jesus – Christy Lynne Wood

Guys, meeting Jesus changes everything. And the hard work of deconstructing and reconstructing what it means to be a Christian is worth it.

The Real God is more than the religion that we have created. He is more than correct behavior, or emotional experiences, or Christianese phrases.

But He is also more than our own understanding, or feelings, or doubts.

He has legitimate answers to our questions if we are willing to look. And He is a Living Presence who will change our view of reality if we let Him. He is REAL real, but He might also be different than we think He is.

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Hey there! If this is your first time here on my website, I just want to say welcome! I also want to link a few of my other blog posts on this topic so that you don’t have to search through years worth of articles to find them. 🙂

The Value of Losing Our Faith

Why I am Still a Christian

Irony & Apostasy – Finding a Solid Faith

I’m Just Here for the Broken Ones

 

A Virus and a Savior

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Many of us used to think that the modern human being was advanced, intelligent, and sufficient. We had impressive technology, evolved thinking, and a vast array of resources. Any problem that anyone threw at us would be solvable. But a tiny little virus destroyed all of those beliefs in a matter of days.

Rather than being sufficient, we have discovered that we are helpless with no cure or proven treatment. Instead of evolved intelligence, our smartest scientists struggle to explain the hows and whys. There are more questions than answers. Despite all of our technology and resources, we are left facing a very real fear of death.

It is a scary time, filled with uncertainty and disruption. But it is a gift. Because we have to realize that we are lost before we can be found!

We elevated our advanced intelligence, but now we are left helpless. We declared humanity to be “basically good,” but rampant selfishness has been on display all around us. It’s hard to deny that humanity’s goodness has been corrupted. We decided we were sufficient not needing the crutch of religion, and yet we find ourselves terrified of death.

We need a Savior.

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Do you think it is a coincidence that our fight with this virus overlapped with Easter? Hardly. The Real God knows exactly what will make us stop and think, and consider and turn. He has been after His people since He created Adam and Eve. We were made by God for a relationship with God. And since the beginning, despite the fact that people always run away, God has done everything necessary to make that relationship possible.

The Real God became a man and lived on this world with us for three decades. Jesus blew the religious leaders’ minds by refusing to follow their rules because it has always been about hearts and not actions. He chose the rejects, loved the broken, and forgave the sinners. And then at just the right time, Jesus allowed corrupt people to torture and kill Him thus becoming the Ultimate Sacrifice for the sins of the world.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said” 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (NLT)

This precious truth is at the core of any version of Historical Christianity. God Himself died to forgive our sins, was buried, and rose again, and those who put their faith in Him will be restored to eternal life.

And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son” John 3:14-18.

We were helpless, but God Himself stepped in to be our Helper. He did not leave us alone, but came to live among us so that we would know who He was!

We were corrupted, but God took our sin upon Himself and offers us His righteousness in exchange if we will trust in Him.

We feared death, but God offered us eternal life through a Savior, Jesus Christ.

It’s a crazy story. Crazy and unique. Every other religion includes human effort and sacrifice in an attempt to appease the god or gods. No other religion has a God who became a man, took the punishment on Himself, and offers free forgiveness and life to anyone who believes in Him. 

It’s an insane story that has transformed lives for the last two thousand years. It’s transformed mine. Not just the story, but the Person behind the story. Because Jesus is alive and I am foolish enough to believe that I’ve encountered Him personally. I’ve met Jesus. I’ve experienced the forgiveness and life that He offers, and I won’t ever be the same. He’s waiting to meet you too.

Happy Easter!!

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Healing and Surrender

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“I’ll heal you if you’ll let Me.”

I heard the Spirit’s whisper clearly in my heart. Fear and worry had wrapped themselves around my body threatening to strangle me. Again.

Some of my earliest memories include freaking out because someone was sick in my family, or in my Sunday School class, or at the grocery store. I worried about many things as a kid but sickness was one of my biggest.

As an adult, I’ve been able to work through many of my fears. And while I no longer fear my own illness, I hate my kids or husband being sick. Because I feel helpless. Because I’m out of control. Because I can easily imagine worst case scenarios. Because I love comfort and happy, easy moments of life. Because I hate not being in control.

As I sat there contemplating these things, I realized what a powerful grip fear and a desire for control have on me. A grip that I felt powerless to resist.

Maybe you can identify with this. Maybe it’s also fear and control for you. Or maybe it’s something different.

“I’ll heal you if you’ll let Me.”

If you’ll let me. The irony isn’t lost on me. In order to get rid of this fear and desire for control, I needed to surrender my control. I needed to let go.

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about right and wrong, why we should choose to reject sin, and what it means to believe that Jesus is Lord. I know that it has to be more than behavior designed to earn something because that’s just religion again. But at the same time, the Bible clearly shows God’s desire for our righteousness and holiness. How do they both work together?

I love that the people who are helping me work through this are people that much of the church doesn’t know what to do with. There is a group of Christians within the LGBTQ community who call themselves Side B. These people identify as LGBTQ but also believe that God’s design for sex and marriage is between one man and one woman. That’s a really uncomfortable place to land because you get criticized from all other sides.

Laurie Krieg, author, speaker, and podcast host, is attracted to women but is married to her husband Matt. I recently heard a podcast episode with Laurie, Matt, and David Bennett author of A War of Loves. David, a former atheist gay activist, is attracted to men but is choosing to live a single celibate life. They talked about surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus, not just in their sexuality, but in all of life.

I’ve heard people use the phrase make Jesus the Lord of your life in a way that makes me cringe. It usually comes with a list of behaviors that prove you are indeed making Jesus Lord. Often this phrase is also linked to salvation which I can’t accept because I believe salvation is a free gift of grace that we can do nothing to attain on our own.

But as I listened to David and Laurie talk, surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus felt different. Surrender for Laurie and David is costly, uncomfortable, and strange to the modern world. They aren’t doing it to earn anything. And somehow what they have found through that surrender is more than worth it. I find myself convicted and challenged. Jesus is Lord whether we acknowledge that fact in our lives or not.

Surrender sounds like death. It’s giving up control. Letting Jesus be in charge. Laying aside my own pride and way of doing things. It’s scary.

“I’ll heal you if you’ll let Me.”

Surrender may sound like death, but holding onto control feels like death. I hate what worry and fear do to my heart and mind.

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I sat there with my fists clenched at first. There was an utter lack of condemnation or shame in His Presence, just gentle love. Slowly I opened my hands. I wanted healing more than I wanted control. Palms up, I surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus.

It’s not going to be an instant healing. It’s going to be a journey of surrender. I know that the Spirit will continue to show me areas where I’m holding on but I’m already seeing glimpses of freedom.

I think this is real life with Jesus. It’s a process, a daily adventure, continual surrender. God longs for us to live in righteousness and holiness because He loves us and because He knows that this is where we will flourish and find life that is truly life.

It’s about so much more than behaviors and right vs wrong. It’s about our hearts. It’s about healing. And it’s about the Lord Jesus restoring His precious creation.

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Click here for David and Laurie’s podcast episode.

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The One Thing that Stops Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We Are Not Okay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We cannot save ourselves; we need a superhero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why I am Still a Christian

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Somewhere in the course of a six hour excursion to Urgent Care on Saturday, in the middle of our less-than-fantastic camping trip, I came across an article on Facebook. It talked about how Joshua Harris, author of the infamous I Kissed Dating Good-bye, announced he was also saying good-bye to his Christian faith. There has been a lot of faith deconstruction going on lately. And if you’ve read other blog posts of mine, you will know that I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. But this one has rocked me.

And the more I’ve looked at articles, checked out blog posts, and read Josh Harris’s own words over on his Instagram, the more broken I feel. I’m going to try to make this blog post cohesive, but there is a lot on my heart, so I hope you will bear with me.

Josh Harris grew up in a very similar environment to me. In many ways we were peers although we never met. We experienced the same rules and formulas, an abundance of fear-based beliefs, and felt an unfortunate amount of pride because “we were special.” He has mentioned all of this over the last few years as he renounced the book he wrote and the beliefs he once held.

Deconstruction is healthy. There is a lot of religious Christianity filled with rules and formulas and twisted truth that many of us need to ditch. But I wish there was a safe, grace-filled place for people to deconstruct with hope. (If they want to.)

It often feels like when people are going through deconstruction the only place to safely land is in liberal Progressive Christianity or agnostic/atheistic worldviews. People who hold these views seem to be much better at encouraging and championing deconstruction than most traditional Christians. Traditional Christians tend to be afraid of questions and lost faith. Too often they are quick to condemn, label, or hand out useless Christianese answers.

Why can’t we just be kind to one another? Encourage questions? Be okay with doubt? Give grace? Try to understand where people are coming from? Let them have the time they need to heal?

I am devastated by the horrible things people who call themselves Christians have said to and about Josh Harris via blog posts and comments. These were public, so I can’t even imagine what he has received privately. Seriously people, being told hundreds of times that “you were never really a believer” by self-righteous, religious Christians will not encourage anyone to rethink Jesus. It makes me so angry I just want to punch something through my tears.

If God is real (and I absolutely believe He is), then He is not diminished by our doubts. He is not angered by our questions. If anything, as our Creator, He is the one who understands us the most. He is big enough and loving enough to handle them all.

If you are someone who is questioning, doubting, or walking away, I don’t want you to feel condemnation from me. But I also don’t want you to think that the only option is to reject everything you’ve ever believed. (However, if you need to leave it all for a while, I get that too.) There is a tricky, messy, sometimes confusing, middle way.

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People have asked me why I am still a Christian after coming out of my cultic sub-culture of Christianity. It’s a good question, and one I have been rethinking yet again the last couple of days.

Honestly, the decade I spent in my fundamental, legalistic version of Christianity isn’t the only time I have been hurt by Christians. I have a very clear and more recent memory of falling off of my bed, sobbing, wanting to die, and wondering if anything I believed was even real. I know what it is to be wounded by religion. But here I am championing our search for the Real God while holding on to historical Christian beliefs. Why?

I have a lot of reasons 🙂 but here are my top three.

  1. Two-thousand years of Christian history. I’ve loved listening to all of the smart people talk on Alisa Childer’s podcast the last few months. From scientists, to philosophers, to New Testament scholars, these people have serious intellectual reasons to believe in God, Jesus Christ, and the historical creeds of our faith. It’s ridiculously encouraging.
  2. Jesus. Both as a historical figure, and the man I believe was also God, Jesus is crazy amazing. If the Real God could love us enough to come as a person we could relate to, both to save us and to show us a glimpse of His heart, well, that’s a God I want to know. In the middle of man-made, religious Christianity, Jesus gives me hope. The more I understand about Him culturally and historically, the more I am blown away. He is nothing like we expect God to be and I love that about Him!
  3. Finally, I’ve met a Real and Living Presence. Probably more than anything else, this is why I’m still a Christian. For me to walk away from the faith, I’d have to walk away from a Being that I know and love. And I just can’t do that.

So, while I’m willing to question the traditions, the formulas, the silly Christianese phrases, and the many terrible ways we use the Bible, I choose to do it through the lens of a very Real God. A God that I definitely don’t always understand, but Who I believe is good, and loving, and on the side of the people He created.

Speaking of this, I’m launching my new podcast in just four weeks! It’s been a long and slightly terrifying process. But it’s nearly together, and I’m excited to share it with you and whoever else finds it and wants to join me in looking for the Real God.

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I’ll warn you, if you are someone who wants to deconstruct without God or without picking through the broken pieces of religious Christianity, then this podcast probably isn’t for you. But if you find a longing in your heart for more, if you have hope that God is real, then please come along for the ride!

And, Josh Harris, if for some reason you find this post and read this far, I want you to know that I get it. You have a lot of religious crap to unpack and sometimes that’s easier to do by just dropping everything. Sometimes the God we think is real needs to die, so that the REAL God can be. It’s okay to wonder, and question, and doubt. If God exists, He is big enough and loving enough to handle it all. I’m sorry for the terrible things people who call themselves Christians have said to you. I love that you have hope as you begin this new journey, and I hope that you eventually find yourself at a place where you can begin to search for God again.

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When God Unexpectedly Heals

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Confessions of a Former Pharisee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I had it backwards.

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

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

That was when everything changed.

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

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

I don’t believe that anymore.

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

Because Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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Chasing Eden

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Something isn’t right. We know it in the very core of our being. We see it every day in the news, in our relationships, and in the creation around us. We are surrounded by death.

Beauty and brokenness. Hope and disappointment. The contradictions overwhelm us.

Life is a struggle. Relationships hurt. We sense the wrongness.

death-2998446_1920 (1)There is an emptiness within us that we cannot fill…not with money or possessions, not with job promotions or titles, not with exercise or food, not with sex, alcohol, or our drug of choice. We dim the ache by staying busy and avoiding silence. We appease the longing with social media and various forms of entertainment. We try.

Our longing isn’t just spiritual or metaphorical. We can tangibly and physically feel the ache for something that we can’t exactly explain.

It seems like religion should make a difference, believing and doing the right things, but even that falls short of satisfying our emptiness. This is shameful to admit…because people say that God is the answer. We hear Christianese phrases like “there is a god-shaped hole in our hearts” and we wonder what’s wrong with us. If this is true, then why isn’t religion filling our hole?

Once upon a time, there was a garden…Eden.

In that garden, for however briefly it lasted, God walked with the people He had created in His own image. They knew what His footsteps sounded like. The people lived in perfect intimacy with God and with each other…with nothing between them and without any shame. But they lost it, and humanity has been chasing Eden ever since.

Do you believe that? Or is Eden just a pretty myth?

We do ourselves a disservice by dismissing Eden. That garden explains everything to me.

I was created to live in Eden…created for an intimate relationship with my Father God and with the people around me. Created to live in a perfect world where everything works according to it’s design. In the depths of my broken soul, that is what I long for…that is why I am never satisfied. I was made for more. You were too.

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We are magnificent creations trapped in broken bodies in a corrupted creation. Everything and everyone has been affected by sin and death. Destruction is a part of life.

No amount of religious activity, or busyness, or social media, or money, or status, or anything else will ever satisfy our ache for Eden. We will live with that ache until we die. But there is hope!

Too often salvation gets presented as a list of behaviors.

  • We do bad things (sin).
  • Those bad things need punishment.
  • Jesus died on the cross to save us.
  • Pray this prayer.
  • Now go do good things to show that you really love Jesus.

Wow! That’s not even close.

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Salvation is about restoration.

Yes, sin entered the world when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. But before they behaved badly, they were already doubting God and listening to lies. Their perfect relationship with Him was already breaking. It wasn’t a surprise to God…He knew this was going to happen and He made them anyway. Why? I haven’t a clue!! God is way too intense and crazy for me to figure out. 😀

Salvation isn’t about our behavior. It’s about God’s unending grace, love, and forgiveness.

Jesus came and showed us WHO God IS…face to face. Shocking the religious people, amazing the crowds, and touching the broken, Jesus reached into our hearts and began to restore. He started by restoring our concept of God. God is not who our doubts and fears tell us He is…He is only better, bigger, and more good.

Jesus then grabbed sin and death around the neck and annihilated them. He effortlessly destroyed them once and for all. Jesus set us free.

But even better than seeing God face to face and having Him be nothing like we feared He was, and even better than being set free from the power of sin and death, Jesus put Eden into our hearts.

The Holy Spirit, that mysterious third member of the Trinity, comes to dwell within everyone who chooses to put their faith in Jesus. God within His creation. The possibility of oneness with our Maker. And the restoration continues. The Holy Spirit never leaves us…no matter what it feels like. He empowers us, teaches us, and begins to remake us into the amazing creation we were intended to be. We get to dwell with God NOW and for eternity. That’s salvation!

It’s more than religion, more than behavior; more than belief. It’s a new reality.

What does experiencing Eden in our hearts look like? I don’t know. I think it’s different for everyone. God is not limited to one cookie cutter experience. There isn’t a right Sunday School answer. This isn’t about religion. 🙂

For me, it means embracing the discontent and reminding myself that this is my pull towards eternity. It means recognizing that there is more to life than the physical things around me. It means accepting the reality of a mysterious Spirit and learning to know Him. It means giving value to the people I run into every day.

In these truths my heart can find hope, peace, and satisfaction. ❤ What does Eden mean to you?

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The Vine and the Branches…But No Religion

 

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I had a friend ask me a question yesterday that sent me on a wild journey of thought. What I found surprised me, and I’m super excited to share it with you! Here is her question.

“How do we attach and re-attach ourselves to the Vine without it being works?”

She was referring to John 15 and the familiar passage about abiding in the Vine. Jesus is speaking.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:1-5.

I have heard this passage preached in a very works-based way. I have also heard it preached less “worksy” but with a checklist at the end…Ten Things to do to Abide in the Vine, etc. Abide isn’t a word we use anymore in everyday English. What does the word even mean, let alone an abstract concept like abiding in Christ?

As I read the passage again this morning, four little words jumped out at me. And it changed everything. 

Abide in me, and I in you” John 15:4

The grape vine grows down into the ground, sucking up water and nutrients, providing life for the branches. The branches are not doing anything. They aren’t trying desperately to hold onto the vine, trying to remain in it, trying to stay attached. They are just automatically part of it. The vine’s life and strength are in the branches. And because of that life, the branches are able to bear fruit.

We are so quick, as humans, to look for what we have to do. Religion, the business of appeasing gods, comes naturally to us. But that desire to appease is part of our old nature, not our new one. We have to remember that!

tori-1976609_1920I really believe that religion, more than anything, is the true enemy of God, especially within Christianity. It’s subtle, it distracts; it makes us believe we have effort to offer. It takes away from the beauty and wonder of the free gift. And it turns a life-giving friendship into dutiful servanthood.

Can I stretch your mind a little?

What if true Christianity isn’t about a checklist, or behaviors, or a list of rules to follow? What if it is about a restored life? What if, because we have been restored and reconnected, our lives are transformed? Not because of effort or determination or discipline, but because a new life-force flows within us? The life of the Vine.

Do you believe that? Did you feel your heart give a leap of hope? That’s the Spirit. Our life-force. 🙂

Here is the simple and beautiful gospel.

We have all been broken by sin and that sin separates us from God. Our very core has been corrupted, and the ones God created to be His friends are now His enemies. But He would not let us go…His love is far too great! So Jesus came and died, paying the price for sin once and for all. He rose again demonstrating His power over death and sin. If we will admit that we need forgiveness and trust in Jesus alone to save us, we will be restored.

It gets better! Not only has God forgiven all of our sins through the death of Jesus, He gives us His very Spirit to dwell within us. The Holy Spirit is all about restoration and transformation. If we will let Him, He will not only show us our broken places, He will empower us to heal. He will transform us into the image of God we were meant to be.

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True abiding has nothing to do with action or works, and everything to do with resting in our position. We don’t DO anything. We accept salvation. We accept the Spirit. We accept the life, and the transformation, and the power He offers. We accept His friendship, and we live as friends. We believe the truth about God and ourselves. As we rest in the Vine and in the Power that flows through Him, we will automatically bear fruit. Because that’s what happens with healthy branches who are connected to the vine.

And where does following God in obedience fit with all of this?

“Obedience is the natural offspring of trust-motivated love. All true obedience arises out of the heart and is attended by a deep inner sense of personal delight. You could call it obedience, or you could call it friendship.” – Pastor Ty Gibson

I love that! ❤ ❤ And I would love to hear your thoughts too.

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