“Unhitching” from a Misused Old Testament

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On Wednesday, The Christian Post ran an article about Pastor Andy Stanley’s recent sermon where he stated that, “Christians need to unhitch the Old Testament from their faith.” The Internet went crazy.

I’ve taken three days to think and process before I respond. Because, while I disagree with Pastor Stanley, I also agree. I believe that we do need to abandon the Old Testament in a way…just not the way he suggests.

Stanley expressed concern that the Old Testament has caused people to leave their faith, and he wanted people to reconsider a Jesus without all the baggage of the the “Jewish Scriptures.” Unfortunately, while that’s really sweet, it doesn’t exactly line up with 2 Timothy 3:14-17. Paul is talking to his young disciple, Timothy.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Since Timothy grew up while the New Testament was being written, all he had were the Old Testament Scriptures. He learned them from childhood and they gave him wisdom to understand salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Wait! Aren’t these the same Scriptures Andy Stanley is worried will push people away from faith?

Paul very clearly tells us that all Scripture has been breathed out by God. Peter confirms this in 2 Peter 1:20-21.

“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Again, since the New Testament was still being written, both Peter and Paul are referring to the “Hebrew Bible” as Pastor Stanley called it.

Can I make a bold statement?

The problem isn’t with the Old Testament itself. The problem is what Evangelical Christianity has been doing with it, often with the very best of intentions.

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Well meaning pastors, Sunday school teachers, and college professors teach the historical stories and add opinion and explanation that just isn’t in Scripture. It’s not always wrong, but that doesn’t make it right.

I’m reading Judges right now in my morning Coffee & Jesus time and I’m in shock. Half of what I assumed was in there just isn’t. There are no cute morals, or mysterious formulas, or detailed exposes. It’s just history. Stories of God and people. The thing that is hitting me the most is the utter lack of condemnation. The people are messed up, and God patiently uses them anyway with abundant grace. Maybe He’s always been like that.

Why do we feel the need to add a moral or a formula to every Bible story? Why do I have to find a way to apply them to my life? I don’t apply George Washington to my life! Can’t I just read these stories of real people, observe their successes and failures and be awestruck by God’s absolute faithfulness?

The Old Testament has also been horribly misused across Christianity. It gets distorted in an attempt to control people all the time. Where did my old cult leader get most of his ideas? By using the Old Testament out of context. In fact, just about every strange group or slightly-theologically-off person I’ve ever come in contact with was was basing their beliefs on the Old Testament.

We need to acknowledge a fact. The number of people who have been spiritually abused by a misapplication of the Old Testament is devastating. Which is why I agree with Andy Stanley that we need to unhitch ourselves from the Old Testament…just not from the real one.

Instead of unhitching from the Old Testament, let’s ditch the one we think we know and start over. Let’s read it correctly and in context.

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  • If it’s a history book, then enjoy the stories of God interacting with His precious creation. Watch for the hints that a Savior is coming, and marvel at the appearances of the pre-incarnate Jesus.
  • If it’s a law book, then stand in awe of the fact that it was never actually about those laws. It was always pointing us to Christ and our need for a Savior. Remember that Jesus came and fulfilled every bit of that law for us.
  • If it’s a book of prophecy,  then be struck by awe and slight terror as God describes Himself. Rejoice at the fact that Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies when he came to earth. (Side note: we have GOT to stop trying to apply those prophecies personally. Most prophecies are specific to Israel and have already been fulfilled.)
  • If it is a book of songs, then experience the beautiful, raw emotion of an intimate relationship between a human being and their Creator.

And if we are confused or have a problem with something as we read the Old Testament, let’s wrestle with it. Dive into Biblical culture and the customs of the day. Dig, seek, and ask questions. But please don’t read someone else’s blog (even this one) and just believe their opinion.

We need the whole Bible to get a accurate picture of God, ourselves, and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We can’t trash parts because they are confusing or uncomfortable. But we can take the time to wrestle through them for ourselves. That wrestling will bring us face to face with an unexpected God who is patiently waiting to reveal Himself to those who seek.

The real Jesus is worth it! But don’t take my word for it. 🙂

“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” John 4:42.

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Who was the Real Deborah?

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I struggle with the idea that we small, “wise” humans can decide which parts of the Bible are no longer true. But I have discovered something that irks me even more. “Truths” that get added to the Bible at some point and then keep getting taught for generations even when they aren’t actually there.

I recently read the story of Deborah the prophetess and judge in Judges 4. Initially thinking I knew the story, I quickly became puzzled. Some of it was missing!

While raised in ultra-conservative patriarchy I’d been taught that Deborah was wrong to be a woman in leadership. She was only leading because there were no men available, and that her leadership was actually a curse. I thought that Barak was supposed to be the judge, but because he was too wimpy, Deborah took over. None of that was in the passage.

I did a search to see where else Deborah is mentioned in Scripture. It’s only Judges 4-5.

Not only is Deborah not condemned for being a judge, she is called a prophetess. Last I checked there were only two kinds of prophets in Scripture – false prophets and true ones. She is obviously not a false prophet, so that must make her a true one. Becoming a prophet is not something you get to choose. God picks you, gifts you, and fills you with His words. Things were starting to feel sketchy to me.

I looked further into her interactions with Barak. He was the military leader not Deborah. She called him and gave him a word from the LORD. He was nervous and asked her to come with him to battle. Deborah agreed to come, but it never mentions that she fought. She didn’t take over. Deborah lived as the strong woman God created her to be and inspired greatness in those around her.

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The truth about Deborah filled me with delight! I finished my coffee and chalked the whole thing up to one more crazy lie I’d been taught back in the day. But then something else happened.

My husband and I had a date night, and over our craft beer and fried pickles I asked him what he thought about Deborah the judge. You need to understand that my husband is my total opposite. He wasn’t raised in church and didn’t start a relationship with Jesus until he was sixteen. After graduating from public high school, he spent four years at two different Bible schools. They were conservative in theology, but incredibly tame compared to what I experienced in my legalistic Christian cult.

Do you know what my husband told me? That Deborah was only the judge because there were no available men to lead. What? In shock, I explained what I’d found that morning and we ended up having a friendly debate (that was finally solved on Google).

We found ultra-conservative blogs denouncing Deborah. But we also discovered many other articles, such as this excellent one from Bible.org “Deborah: The Woman God Uses” that celebrated the things God did through her. It didn’t take much convincing.

Horrified, my husband exclaimed, “Gothard’s ideas are everywhere!” As much as I’d love to blame him, I know my old cult leader (Bill Gothard) isn’t the mastermind behind every oppressively conservative view of life. But if not, then what?

I’ll be honest, this discovery about the real Deborah has rocked my husband and I. It makes us upset and skeptical. Why are so many things taught in conservative, evangelical Christianity that aren’t actually from Scripture? How do we know what to believe? And where are these lies coming from? No wonder people get disgusted and just chuck the whole thing out the window!

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I’m not willing to leave the cores of Christianity. But I want my beliefs to be based on Scripture, and I want to stick with the real Jesus. I really believe that Evangelical Christianity needs an overhaul. We need passionate, discerning, truth-loving people to look into tradition and opinion and figure out which beliefs are solid and which need to get trashed. The lies about Deborah need to go in the garbage.

Deborah was a wonderful, gifted, wise, discerning woman who heard from God. She wasn’t a curse, and she didn’t lead just because some man failed. Deborah used her skills and abilities to guide people into the truth. God designed her on purpose, gifted her for “such a time as this,” and never, NOT ONCE, condemned her for being female.

As a strong, passionate woman who has spent most of my life trying to push down and contain my personality and abilities, this gives me immense joy. 🙂

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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P.S. I was in the middle of writing this blog post when I came across the post Beth Moore wrote yesterday: A Letter to My Brothers. Wow! Take the time to read it. It’s powerful and confirming. I feel the Spirit moving!

 

 

 

 

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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The God We Long For…and the Real Jesus

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A couple of days ago I threw a few scattered thoughts out on Facebook.

“What if God cares more about your heart than your outward actions?

What if He wants to heal your deepest wounds and messes more than He wants your behaviors to change?

What if He wants you to understand yourself…your deep needs and longings and the things that trigger you?

What if He cares about ALL of you, the visible and invisible parts?

What if, instead of expecting you to get your act cleaned up, Jesus wants to sit with you in your mess? Sift through it? Sort it out?

What if He is totally okay with that? What if that brings Him joy?

Would that give you HOPE?

It makes my heart sing!!!

Those words resonated with you. I love when the Holy Spirit is doing the same thing at the same time in more than one of us. 🙂

This is the kind of God our souls long for…and the kind that we are afraid doesn’t exist.

But. He. Does.

There are a lot of Jesus impostors out there, even among Christianity, even in the church. This shouldn’t surprise us. Think about it, the most religious people in Jesus’ day completely missed God walking in the flesh right in front of them. Not only did they miss Him, they hated Him, and eventually had Him killed. Ironic. Religion killed God.

But that death set us free from Religion’s power, and the Real God won!

I’d like to re-introduce you to a man named Zacchaeus.

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His profession was traitorous. His character sketchy. He definitely wasn’t a model Jewish citizen. Instead, Zacchaeus had become wealthy by working as a tax collector for the Romans and cheating his fellow Jews out of their money. His behaviors definitely didn’t line up with the Law.

Then one day Jesus was passing through the area and Zacchaeus was curious.

“…he was seeking to see who Jesus was…” Luke 19:3.

There is so much that we could unpack from these words, but the most important thing is that Zacchaeus was seeking… I love that! Fellow seekers, this gives us HOPE. 🙂

Unfortunately Zacchaeus had a height problem. Unable to even catch a glimpse of Jesus, he climbed a tree. Perched at the edge of the road, isolated from the crowd, Zacchaeus was ready for Jesus to pass by.

Jesus was also seeking. He was seeking for a messed up, too short, social traitor and religious outcast. Jesus deliberately stopped by the tree, looked up at Zacchaeus, (smiled I’m sure) and said:

“Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down, for I must stay at your house today” Luke 19:5.

What?? The crowd’s grumbling reaction tells you how crazy this was! Jesus just boldly announced that He is going to intentionally hang out with an obvious sinner.

Jesus doesn’t give Zacchaeus a list of rules to follow. He doesn’t condemn him, or reject him, or tell him to clean up his act. Jesus seeks, notices, affirms, accepts, loves, and demonstrates His desire to build a relationship with Zacchaeus. And something interesting happens.

Face to face with the real God, Zacchaeus falls apart. 

“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” Luke 19:8.

Jesus is delighted! Not because of the changed behaviors, not because of the list of right things Zacchaeus is going to do, but because salvation has been accomplished. Zacchaeus’ heart has been won.

“Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” Luke 19:10.

The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. That is amazing news!!

Because that’s me! I’m lost. I need seeking and saving. That’s you too. We are desperately lost, desperately broken, but it’s okay because we are also desperately loved. We are insanely and scandalously adored! Jesus came specifically to seek and save us. He wants all of us, every bit of our broken pieces. He wants to forgive our sin and gently put us back together.

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Coming face to face with the real Jesus will change us. But contrary to Religion’s beliefs, change isn’t the goal. The goal is knowing Jesus. Experiencing Him, believing Him, and allowing Him to make us into the very best version of ourselves.

Religion, even Christian religion, is always about behavior, always about control. And religion never gets God right…because it doesn’t understand who He really is.

The real Jesus doesn’t control. He doesn’t motivate us with guilt and shame. He draws us with loving-kindness. He patiently woos us. He seeks and saves the lost. 🙂

 

Doesn’t that make your heart fill with hope? Explode with love? Jesus is amazing, and mind blowing, and crazy, and I don’t even know what to say! But I’m gonna let Him love me. Will you?

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I Don’t Want to be an Evangelical Anymore

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Fair warning: I am passionate but trying to be loving at the same time.

We’ve screwed it up, you guys. Big time.

I read an article a few days ago with a quote by Michael Steele (former chair of the Republican National Committee). Mr. Steele was angry with Evangelical leaders who were once again defending President Trump. What he said has haunted me ever since.

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

His statement made me catch my breath. I was not offended. In fact, I absolutely get where he’s coming from. The man has a point!

I don’t think I want to be an Evangelical anymore. And I’m not the only one. I found this post back in December and immediately resonated with it.

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If you read my blog, you will know that I am not a progressive liberal. I lean conservative. I take a literal stand on Biblical interpretation. But I am passionate about truth, and Evangelical Christianity needs a healthy dose of truth right now.

We are not being persecuted for our faith. We are being called out for being two-faced jerks. We are being nailed for being hypocrites. We are being condemned for living a lie. They are right, and we are wrong.

Evangelicals have been very good at calling out “sins” such as homosexuality and abortion. But at the same time quick to excuse or cover up things like abuse and sexual assault that happen right in our own churches and ministries. We call it “protecting the name of Christ.” The world looks on and calls it what it is: hypocrisy.

We claim to follow a God of love, and yet we refuse to welcome strangers and those in need. We call it “protecting our own interests.” The world calls us fakes.

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We are afraid of people who are different from us. So we isolate ourselves and condemn them. The world recognizes our fear as hatred. It might not actually be hatred, but it’s definitely not love.

I’m not going all “social justice warrior” on you. People can be passionate about social justice and have never met Jesus. But if we have truly encountered Christ, we absolutely will love people.

“By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:35.

Jesus never asked us to impose our moralistic views on our culture. We were not mandated by God to create a Christian nation. Are you kidding me? That’s a bunch of crap! Do you know what the Greco-Roman culture was like during the 1st Century? Do you know what kind of darkness those early Christians experienced? But they weren’t working on government reform…they were too busy shining like stars (Philippians 2:14-15).

We are missing the entire point, people. And until we figure it out, maybe we need to “shut the hell up.”

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It’s not just a surface problem. It’s not just about issues like gay marriage, abortion, or immigration. Our problem is deep. We need heart transplants.

We need to be broken, recognize our own sin, and repent on a heart level.

Somehow many Evangelicals have become obsessed with outward behaviors…Christian codes of conduct. Black and white. Good and bad. I think we all know deep down that we are screwed up and that terrifies us. For some reason we think we have to be perfect, but also know we aren’t. So we become really good at justifying, and defending, and excusing our own behaviors, all while pointing fingers at others to get the attention off of ourselves.

That’s all a lie.

Do you know what Evangelical Christianity needs? It needs the gospel. Ironic isn’t it?

There is a very real God who passionately loves us. We are magnificent creations, made in His image, and made to know Him. But, we chose to do things our own way. The world and the people in it are now broken by sin. We are a mess. But God…loves us. Jesus came as one of us, lived, died, and rose again. His death provides forgiveness and a way back into a relationship with God. Jesus gives His Holy Spirit to everyone who believes in Him. His Spirit is at work in our hearts, pointing out things that need to change and empowering us to live like Jesus.

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This is the core of Christianity. It’s simple information, but do we believe it? If we truly believe the good news of Jesus Christ, it will transform our lives.

  • When I accept the fact that I am a messed up, but very loved sinner, I stop pretending I’m perfect.
  • When I let go of my own efforts and accept the grace of God, I am able to extend that grace to others.
  • When I recognize just how much I have been forgiven, I can forgive others as well.
  • When I see the amazing love of God for me, I will in turn love people.

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I personally have had a very interesting last eighteen months. There was a lot of brokenness and pain. It made me reevaluate my Christianity. It softened me. It made me willing to listen to other people who were also broken, even people I disagreed with.

I’ve rethought and reevaluated my stance on a lot of things both religious and political. Some of the results have surprised me. It was the hardest and best thing that’s ever happened to me. 

I’m not saying we need to become progressive liberals or that we need to change our core beliefs and theology (although some of that might change)…but we do need to evaluate our beliefs and take stock of our attitudes. We need to lose the arrogance and fear. We need to learn to listen. We need to be willing to be wrong. We need to see all people as precious images of God. We need to value hearts over actions. We need to truly believe the gospel we proclaim.

And maybe once that happens, we can start talking again.

 

 

 

 

 

A Peek Inside My Heart

Welcome to a peek inside my heart… A random collection of my current thoughts and experiences. 

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A year ago I was in the middle of the darkest season I’ve ever gone through. It was bitter, and painful, and long. It felt like the Valley of the Shadow of Death that David talks about in Psalm 23. There were times that I just wanted to die. It completely broke me.

I’ll be honest, healing takes time. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing good, and sometimes it still hurts. Last week, memories were coming back in a flood. I stood there in church during worship fighting back tears…just one person among hundreds…feeling so alone.

“Your brokenness was a gift.”

I heard the Holy Spirit’s gentle whisper…five words in the core of my heart. And as I recognized the truth, the feelings of pain, loss, and despair slowly melted away…

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” Psalm 23:4.

Jesus WAS with me! I feel like I walked through fire but didn’t get burned. Instead, I got melted. Which is a good thing! 🙂

Good gifts came from my melted brokenness.

I had six sessions with a fabulous therapist who is also a Jesus follower. After our first day, where I just poured out my heart, she spoke these words. “You have been hurt.” Sometimes we just need people who will acknowledge our pain. God used her to start my healing journey.

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I found a book called, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen. Seriously, every Christian should read this book! It put my experiences as a teen and young adult with Bill Gothard and IBLP into perspective while opening my eyes to more prevalent issues. Any of us are capable of abusing others when we lose sight of (or never experience) a life of grace in Christ.

I am less sure of myself and more willing to listen to others. Which brings me to my next step of learning and discovery…

When I first started the (lengthly) process of writing Impostor Jesus, there were three popular memoirs that irritated me. These authors all came from conservative evangelical Christian backgrounds but became disillusioned and left. They have large followings. I was frustrated because I went through “more extreme” circumstances and I still believed in an evangelical version of Jesus. How dare they lead people astray?! Prideful much?

Then I got melted and things changed. I’m realizing that there is a huge number of people who are angry and disillusioned with the evangelical church, and they have legitimate reasons. Their stories have value. Their hurts need to be validated.

I bought those three memoirs on Amazon and I’m looking forward to reading them. Not as someone trying to pick apart theology or judge beliefs, but as someone feeling their pain.

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Which brings me to my book.

I’m still planning on writing Impostor Jesus, but it’s changing. I’m realizing that my extreme experience in legalism is simply part of a larger problem. The modern Christian church is too often just a religious system instead of a group of people who love and follow Christ. We’ve lost sight of the real Jesus. If He showed up, I’m afraid we’d miss Him. Instead of being disciples, we would be the Pharisees…upset because God doesn’t fit our idea of who He is supposed to be.

It’s time for another revival, for another awakening. The church has been overhauled multiple times in the course of history. Let’s do it again!

Christian Religion is Not Enough

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I just finished a book called, Unveiling Grace, by Lynn K. Wilder. It’s the true story of a family finding their way out of Mormonism and into a relationship with the real Jesus. Amazingly, Lynn and her husband were converts to Mormonism as adults even though they were exposed to Christianity as children. Their story proves the burden on my heart.

Christian religion is not enough. Attending church or Sunday school is not enough. Living a “good life” is not enough.

I’m afraid the corporate American church is horribly broken.

I’ve met a lot of people lately that agree with me. People who have left, and people who have stayed. Frustrated, bitter, cynical, hurting people. It’s not okay that so many people have been damaged by an institution that is supposed to be the body of Christ!

The world, is lost…broken…dying. Have you listened to the news lately? It’s terrifying. And we, people Jesus asked to be salt and light, don’t seem to have the real answers.

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The answer isn’t in bigger, fancier, more awesome mega churches with hip pastors, talented worship bands, fog machines, relcaimed wood stages, or trendy coffee bars.

The solution will never be found in sticking to the “old time religion,” the KJV Bible version, and whatever other standards and rules we want to impose on people.

The answer is not to focus on social justice issues. People can have equality, clean water, and physical freedom, but still spend their eternity separated from God.

The solution is not moralism. Yelling about abortion, the LGBTQ+ movement, or pornography does not show God’s love and grace. There are many very moral people who have never met Jesus.

The answer is not to become culturally relevant by discarding passages of the Bible that don’t fit with our ideology. Human reasoning and intellect is not the ultimate source of truth.

So, what is the answer? What is the solution to the brokenness within the church and within our own hearts?

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” Matthew 7:13-14.

Growing up, I thought this verse was talking about worldly, sinful people waltzing down the wide road of death. While good, moral, spiritual people stuck to the hard, narrow road of life. But who was Jesus talking to here? Very spiritual people who had been given the word of God. An ethnic group called “God’s chosen ones.”  Men who had memorized the first five books of the Bible by the time they were twelve. Yeah…

So, what is this narrow gate? This hard way? Maybe it’s not a what…maybe it’s a WHO.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me‘” John 14:6.

It’s Jesus, you guys. It’s always been Jesus, and it will always be Jesus.

Jesus is the only solution to the brokenness in the church. Have you met Him? Do you know Him?

True Christianity is not a moral code, or a Sunday service, or an ideology.

  • It’s an encounter with a man who is also God.
  • It’s a door into healing and restoration of our most broken parts.
  • It’s a lifestyle because we have been changed from the inside out.

I’m afraid that there are a lot of people who sit in church on Sunday, and do their “good Christian” things, but have never met Jesus.

We can slap on some spiritual paint, add some emotional glitter, and think we are good. But, without the real Jesus, we have NOTHING.

Jesus isn’t just part of Christianity. Jesus IS Christianity.

Do you really KNOW Jesus? Do you believe that you can?

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If your version of Jesus is boring and mundane…if thinking about him makes you say, “meh,” then you haven’t met the real Jesus. If the grace of salvation seems unimpressive and dull…if you “already know everything” about it, then maybe you need to question if you really understand.

Where do you start? Have an honest look into your own heart. What does Christianity mean to you? And then seek to know Jesus. Read the gospels with childlike curiosity. Who was/is He? The answer will transform your life.

 

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The Elusive Knowledge of Good and Evil

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“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…

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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.

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“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 – Rediscovering the Bible (Part 4)

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

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

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I’ve actually seen this happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Names changed to protect privacy.

 

 

Rediscovering Jesus – Rediscovering the Bible (Part 2)

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

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

Surprisingly, my online teacher never corrected me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part three coming tomorrow!