Rediscovering Jesus – Rediscovering the Bible (Part 1)

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

These are legitimate and difficult questions.

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 It’s especially effective if you use a version with outdated English: full of words no one uses anymore and definitions that have changed over the years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bible itself is not the problem.

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

Part 2 coming tomorrow. 🙂

Shhh! Don’t Talk About the Can’t Talk Rule.

As I continue my way through “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” I am recognizing more and more that the extreme circumstances I faced as a teen and young adult are just a tiny piece of a larger problem. It is making me rethink the focus of my blog and the book I want to write. It’s easy to get tunnel vision looking at your own experiences. It’s easy to judge people who grew up like I did and left Christianity. But I’m realizing they have very valid reasons…

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV).

There is a lie spread throughout Christianity and it really bothers me. I’ve experienced it firsthand both in my Christian cult days and in “normal” settings since then, seen it expressed on social media, and read it in articles.

This lie allows people in Christian leadership to cover up serious problems. It allows abusive situations to continue, and it keeps hurts and issues buried.

Let’s talk about the “Can’t Talk Rule.”

Although, it can be stated (or left unstated) in a variety of ways, the core lie goes something like this: We must ignore, hide, or cover up sin (including unethical behavior and abuse) for the sake of Christ, to protect God’s name, for the sake of unity, or something similar…

Please hear me. I am not advocating gossip. But there are times when the truth needs to be told. Talking about a problem does not make you the problem. It is not okay for Christians to use fear, intimidation, or twisted biblical ideas to shut people up!

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Consider this:

If God really believes in sweeping people’s sin issues under the rug to protect His name, wouldn’t He have left certain stories out of the Bible…David & Bathsheba…Samson & Delilah?

If God really feels that it is vitally important to hide issues for the sake of Christ, why did He publicly kill Ananias and Saphhira?

The “Can’t Talk Rule” is a lie. The only people who benefit from it are the perpetrators.

Yes, we should be careful who we tell and why we tell it. Yes, we need to avoid gossip. But without accountability, Christian authorities have unlimited freedom. This is dangerous. Even as Christians, we are still broken sinners who are capable of incredible evil when left to ourselves.

 “Leaders are more accountable because of their position of authority – not less accountable. Why? Because if you are a leader people are following you, behaving the way you do” The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, pg. 69.

Sadly, there are a lot of wrong things that secretly happen within Christian churches and ministries. And because of the Can’t Talk Rule, people who talk are considered the problem instead of addressing the real issues.

Countless, precious individuals, made in God’s image, are being injured by Christians and are walking away from the church deeply wounded.

If that’s you, I’m SO sorry! Please know that the Can’t Talk Rule is not Biblical. It’s not from God. That’s not how He feels. People can misuse Bible verses and twist them to make you think this is truth, but God is never on the side of the abuser. Never!

Fellow Jesus followers, we have GOT to stand up for the victims of abuse, including spiritual abuse.

  • We cannot continue to turn a blind eye, or allow things to be swept under the rug.
  • We cannot blame victims.
  • We must humbly recognize our own lack of perfection and desperate need of grace.
  • We need to be aware of how Christianese terms and ideas may reinjure these precious, hurting people.
  • We need to evaluate our own beliefs against the Word of God. Just because we were taught something in church doesn’t make it truth. Ouch.
  • We must be like Jesus…full of love, grace, and acceptance.

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How has the Can’t Talk Rule affected you? Have you felt the pressure to stay quiet? Have you become the problem because you talked? I really think that much of the hurt behind this rules comes from a misunderstanding of grace. But we will talk about that next time. 🙂

 

Just a note: The words libel and slander can be used as threats, but you should know that in the United States legal system, things are only considered libel or slander if they CAN’T be proven true!

An Uncomfortable, Awkward Topic – Spiritual Abuse

This book, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse,” that I am reading…wow, it’s eye opening! I resonate with so much of it from my own life experiences.

When I started this blog just over four years ago, I thought I was writing to people hurt by legalistic systems like Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Principles (the place that wounded me). But as I wrote and heard back from my readers, I realized that many of you had never heard of Bill Gothard. And yet, we still struggled with similar false ideas about God and performance based faith. At first I thought maybe Gothard had subtly influenced more of Evangelical Christianity that anyone knew. However, I’m starting to recognize a different truth. 

This is just the brokenness of humanity.

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I realize that spiritual abuse is a difficult term. The word “abuse” seems harsh. But what is more abusive than screwing up someone’s idea of the Bible, God, Jesus, themselves, and possibly jeopardizing their eternity?

Just like any other type of abuse, I really think there are varying degrees of spiritual abuse. Not everyone who is abused will spend time in a Christian cult like I did. It might be a lot more subtle.

  • A church where the pastor is “the ultimate authority” and no one dares oppose him.
  • A small group where people are pressured to practice the same spiritual disciplines or their “spirituality” is questioned.
  • A youth group where teens leave feeling like all God cares about is their outward behavior.
  • A Christian ministry where “correct behavior” is valued more than individual people.

Do you see where I am going with this? There are a lot of people out there who have been wounded (abused) by other Christians. It gets worse.

Too often, instead of recognizing the legitimate hurt of these beautiful, loved children of God, words get thrown around like “bitter” or “gossip” or “unforgiveness.” As my grandpa said, “Christians are the only armies in the world that shoot their wounded.” It makes me sick.

Ready for some truth?

You can forgive someone and also refuse to put yourself back into an unsafe situation. That doesn’t make you bitter or unforgiving. Taking care of yourself is a good thing.

Talking doesn’t make you a gossip. It all depends on who you are talking to and why. The “can’t talk” rule is not healthy and it only protects abusers. (More in a coming post.)

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There are many fabulous, loved, valued people, made in God’s image who want nothing to do with the Bible, God, or the church because of things Christians have done, said, written, or left unsaid.

There are many incredible, valued, loved people, made in God’s image who struggle in their relationship with God…how they view Him, themselves, etc…because of things Christians have done, expected of them, or claimed the Bible said.

If this is you, I am so, SO sorry!

You have been hurt. You have been wronged. You have been lied to. It’s not okay.

My heart breaks for you.

Will you try and believe me when I say, this is not the real God?

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Stick with me. Let’s keep talking and questioning. Because I have caught a glimpse of an amazing, mind-blowing, good, faithful, absolutely unconditionally loving God. He’s real and He wants you to know Him too.

If you have a story you want or need to share, please feel free to contact me or connect on Facebook or Instagram. I’d love to encourage you. 🙂

“Church Hurt” is a lot Like Miscarriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t that good news?

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

Jenga Builders Anonymous

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

“Hi, Christy!”

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

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Last week I wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

God Does Not Care About Your Jenga Blocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More than a Follower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What if discipleship looked more like this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

My Best Friend, The Adulterous Woman

 

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

He didn’t say anything, just knelt down next to her and began to write with his finger in the dirt. She saw his hand out of the corner of her eye, felt his presence next to her. He ignored the clamoring crowd and was silent as he drew. Finally, he stood.

“Any of you who are without sin can be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Again, he knelt next to her and wrote in the dirt with his finger. That was it. There was an awkward silence.

After a moment, she noticed that the crowd seemed smaller. Peering through her hair, she realized that the religious men were slowly leaving. Eventually, it was just her and Jesus alone on that dusty patch of dirt. He looked at her. She lifted her head.

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” His voice was kind. She looked around. They were all gone.

“No one, sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evaluate your heart with me:

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

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

“Because He does…”

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

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

We find Jesus in the dirt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Cult Next Door” A Documentary

Does your voice sound strange to you when you hear it on a recording? Tell me I’m not the only one! I always think, “Oh gosh, do I really sound like that?” No one else seems to notice because, yes, I really sound like that and everyone is used to it. It’s even worse to watch myself on tape. Yikes!

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I’ve done two on-camera interviews over the years, and both times were…unique. The first interview was for the Bible school we went to after we got married. We were supposed to answer the questions with scripted answers put into our own words. I couldn’t get my lines right and it felt silly, so in the finished project, my husband does most of the talking and I just look like I’m about to burst into giggles at any moment.

Our second interview was a couple of years ago in Israel. We were supposed to talk about the tour we were on but had no script. We were on top of a building having lunch. I’m squinting in the sun trying to come up with something to say. Awkward!

I’m not overly comfortable on camera. So what am I doing in this picture, obviously being interviewed? 

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Photo courtesy of Youngman Films

In November, I was contacted by a gentleman, Jake Youngman, who was working on an investigative documentary focused on my old cult leader, Bill Gothard, and his organization, The Institute in Basic Life Principles.

I am more passionate about exposing the truth than I am uncomfortable being on camera. And so, Jake and I talked on the phone and then met twice to do interviews. Even though it was sometimes awkward, in the end, I’m very happy to have been a part of this project!

The documentary, “The Cult Next Door” was released online last night and I am excited to be able to share it with you.

Bill Gothard has had more influence on Evangelical Christianity in the past fifty years than we may ever know. Hundreds of thousands of Christian men and women attended his seminars and were influenced by his faulty belief system and blatant lies. Many of them never went farther into his cult, never joined his homeschool program, or believed he was a “messenger from God”. Many attendees probably never recognized how Gothard’s teachings skewed their view of God or His “principles”, and yet they carried those subtle lies into their churches, seminaries, ministries, and homes. They in turn influenced many others.

My goal in life is not to expose Bill Gothard, but to point people to the real Jesus.  It’s overwhelming to try to identify and correct all the many lies spread throughout Christianity. But, I know that if people begin to search for and find the real Jesus, He will show them the truth about who He is and who we are because of Him. I know that the real Jesus is fully capable of revealing truth and exposing lies. So, I will continue to talk about Him and point people to Him with every bit of my energy for the rest of my life. That is my passion.

The Cult Next Door (Official Short Film) from Youngman Films on Vimeo.

An Illusion of Freedom

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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