When Wrong is Right

He pushed himself up against the spikes one last time, his body trembling from exhaustion and desperate pain, and drew in a ragged breath. 

Collapsing once more, he spoke three last words.

“It…is…finished…”

His bloody head fell forward; his torn body sagged. Jesus of Nazareth was dead.

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Could there be anything more wrong? A truly good man, totally innocent and absolutely perfect, had been betrayed, falsely accused, denied a fair trial, tortured, and finally brutally executed. He hadn’t done anything to deserve it. But the religious leaders, motivated by things like jealously, fear, pride, and hatred had set him up. Pilate, not wanting to cause conflict with the Jews, agreed to their scheme. It was totally unjust, inhumane, and undeserved. It was evil. It was sin.

And it was also the most right thing that has ever happened.

Jesus’ death was right because it was God’s sovereign plan for the redemption of the world. It was right because He wanted it. Is it possible that the same can be true of our lives? That terrible, painful, unjust, and wrong things can happen and still be right?

I think so…

God never loses control. Sometimes He allows horrible situations for reasons all His own. His plans for us do not always include peace and happy feelings. Sometimes He doesn’t make any sense. But we CAN trust Him. I believe that with all of my heart!

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This truth doesn’t mean that we have to think positively about difficult and even evil experiences. We don’t need to make excuses or justify. Circumstances can still be very wrong. It’s okay to see them like that. But I believe that we can also see these painful times as right…because God was in them, working, moving, and changing us.

Often it’s the terrible things that draw us into God’s heart. It’s the unjust actions that show us sin lurking within our own lives. Sometimes it’s the devastating situations that end up setting us free.

The Kingdom of God is kind of ridiculous and rarely makes sense.

It’s crazy when we can look back on the brokenness and see God’s fingerprints all along the way. When we realize that He never left us alone, He never abandoned us, and He always had our back…then we can shake our heads in amazement.

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The Creator who allowed Himself to be wronged, tortured, and killed because He loved us, will use everything for our good. 

Do you believe that?

I have been contemplating this idea since last Sunday…and it has literally begun to set me free from painful circumstances that were weighing me down. If Jesus can turn His own horrific wrong into right, He can do that for you and me 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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Thoughts About Obscurity

It started with one word.

Number eight on a list of Ten Traits of a Servant. Obscure.

Google’s dictionary defines obscure as “not discovered or known about.” It’s ironic.

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Every writers’ conference I’ve ever attended holds entire sessions on how to build your platform…how to become known…how to be found. If you want a chance at writing a book, you’d better have a couple thousand followers on at least one social media platform. Put yourself out there. Schedule posts that will keep popping up through out the day. Build your tribe! Find your people!!

Be a servant…be willing to be obscure…not discovered…unknown.

I don’t know if I can be both.

I’ve been wrestling with this for months. The pressure to build a platform has always irked me. But obscurity? How does that work? I want to write a book. Isn’t being an author and being obscure two opposite things? Yet, I resonate with obscurity. I hate the rat race of trying to collect followers.

Two weeks ago, I read this really long but incredibly deep blog post by Timothy Willard called “Have We Lost Our Minds?”

It was like Tim took the disjointed thoughts of my heart and put them into words. He talked about the lost art of thinking and the value that it brings to our lives. He reminded me about how much of our modern lives are made up of reacting, blurting, and doing.

“But the more I surveyed social media, where everyone including (especially?) Christians seems hell-bent on screaming their own point of view towards people, the more I concluded: we don’t care what anyone else thinks or says.

We only care for ourselves.

When we fail to look past our own ideas of how things should be, we cease to be people of vision, we cease to really think.” – Timothy Willard

Tim shared five examples of how the Christian community is failing because of “non-thinking.” One of these examples had to do with the Christian publishing industry. In his opinion, the industry is encouraging shoddy theology because so many of the new authors get published based solely on their online popularity and not because they actually have anything to say. Wow!

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My mind was exploding and I had no idea how to express it. It was time to think. 🙂

My thoughts led me back to “Recapturing the Wonder” by Mike Cosper. Seriously, you all need to read that book!

In a disenchanted universe, where God is absent or distant, building a platform makes sense. No one is going to make anything happen for you except you. Fame is the goal…along with getting your ideas out to the public. Therefore, you do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

But, I want to believe that we live in an enchanted Cosmos, with a Creator who is actively present. I want to believe in a mysterious Spirit who is intentionally working out His will. And if His will for me is obscurity, excellent! If His will is a published book that makes the best seller list, great. And if it’s somewhere in between, then fine!

I’m beginning to recognize gifts that God has given me…gifts that don’t always look like gifts. (You have them too!) My story is a gift, even the broken parts. My personality, as much trouble as it gets me in, is a gift…my ability to see truth and communicate it, my boldness, passion, and intensity. All of that is marred by sin and can absolutely be used wrongly…but it’s also still a gift.

I don’t want to treat myself as a commodity to be sold…spending my time worrying about who likes me, and how many followers I have, and if I can get published. I want to recognize the gifts God has given, and out of gratitude to Jesus, share them with you.

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More than anything, I want this blog and my social media posts to be about Jesus regardless of where that gets me in the publishing industry. I’m willing to serve in obscurity.

So what does that mean? 

I don’t really know. Maybe I will write less…but maybe I will write more. I want to write without the pressure of needing to share something once a week or once a day, but instead because I have something to share. I want to focus less on my social media presence and more on my real life.

It’s still winter in Michigan, the yucky part where Christmas is long past, but spring is a distant dream. We took the kiddos away for 24 crazy hours at Great Wolf Lodge enjoying 84 degrees and bathing suits.

I’ve been working as a Shipt shopper, buying groceries and delivering them while the kids are in school. It’s a fun and fast paced job, but not very Instagram worthy unless you like pictures of shopping cars and sales receipts. Haha!

We are settling into our new church family…learning to be “normal” Christians instead of being in ministry…learning how to have a relationship with God that has nothing to do with taking care of anyone else. We are slowly healing and growing, and it’s good.

That’s a glimpse of my real life. I want to value and enjoy it. I want to follow the Spirit wherever He leads. And I want to share my questions, frustrations, and God ponderings with you. Because you are also valued and loved. Thanks for being here. 🙂

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Finding Answers at Book Club?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love this!!

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

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

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

Our Cranky Hearts are Leading Us Home

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This is the final part of a three part series. Yesterday I left off with this sentence:

“So where do we go from here? How do we find enough faith to seek when we just feel tired, and cranky, and cynical?”

That’s exactly where we are going to pick up. Fair warning, this might be a rant! 🙂

Don’t be ashamed of your doubt and questions about God. Or afraid of your cynicism and the snarkiness that simmers just beneath the surface when it comes to organized religion. Or feel guilt because of your depression and/or disillusionment with Christianity.

Can I be honest? I am so over American Christianity. I literally HATE how political it has become. The black and white thinking on both sides of the spectrum drives me insane! Besides, what does politics have to do with Jesus anyway? He refused to become a political puppet two thousands years ago, and you’d better believe He doesn’t want to be one today either!

I’m sick and tired of cheesy Christian movies, memes, and marketing. I’m frustrated by tradition, and ritual, and people who say “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” while piling on expectations and standards. Christianese phrases, and formulas, and “easy answers” make me cranky. And don’t even get me started on the gold dust and angel feathers supposedly demonstrating God’s Presence at Bethel Church in California!

I just want more. I want something real. I want truth.

If you resonate with anything that I just said, then I have good news for us. We want more, because there is more. Our cranky hearts are disillusioned because they are calling for home.

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

What if our frustrations, and doubts, and disillusionment are simply evidences of the real God?  How’s that for a crazy thought?

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As people, we have such an intense longing for connection, for meaning, and for acceptance. We try to satisfy those desires through people, social media, technology, entertainment, etc…but they all fall short. Why? Because we were created to be intimately connected to God. How do we get there? How do we find that connection? How do we find satisfaction and “the more” our hearts desire?

It starts with faith.

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” Hebrews 11:6.

We believe a Real God exists, and we begin to seek Him. Our whispered prayer is, “Show me who You are.” We believe that He will reward our search with Himself. God is our reward! The best ever!!

Jesus is next.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” Colossians 1:15.

“Show me who You are” will lead us to Jesus Christ. He is God in human form. So we seek Him through the gospels. We soak in His words. We watch how he treats people. We follow Him to the cross. We listen to what He said about Himself.

For whatever reason, the Old Testament God is who people turn to when they want to boss you around with Christian religion. He seems to be easier to twist to their own advantage than Jesus. So, we will run to Jesus and choose to interpret God in the Old Testament through Him.

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And then we need more faith.

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

We believe in Jesus…that He is God and that His death gives us life. This is the gospel! The good news that God Himself came to heal the relationship between Creator and creation. We acknowledge His amazing love and we are overwhelmed by His grace.

It gets even better!

“In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” Ephesians 1:13.

Ah, the mysterious Holy Spirit…I love this part! This is where the relationship happens. This is where it gets awesome and crazy!! (And once again takes faith.) If we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior, then we are God’s children and He has given us His very Spirit. Which means that we are never alone. When we cry out in the darkness, “God, where are You?” we must not miss the gentle whisper in our ear, “I’m right here.”

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And that, my friends, is where we start to reconstruct our deconstructed faith. These are the simple core truths of original Christianity.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, or know me in real life, then you know I’ve experienced some of what this broken world has to offer. I spent ten years in a legalistic, twisted, cultic sub-culture of Christianity.  We had two late term miscarriages in a row, and I delivered my second, tiny baby on Valentines Day. My father-in-law died suddenly and tragically a few years ago. I’ve been hurt and betrayed by Church People I trusted on more than one occasion. Prayers I’ve prayed for years have gone unanswered. I have more than enough reasons to doubt.

But, I’ve met Jesus, and there is no way I am leaving Him. I want you to meet Him too!

You aren’t going to find Him on a screen. 🙂 You might find information about Him, people’s opinions, Bible verses, etc. These are a good start. But you will need to put your device down and seek the old fashioned way if you are really going to meet Him.

Be quiet. Listen to the longings of your heart. Ask the Spirit to show you who He is. Let me know what you find!

 

I’m including some links to other posts I’ve written as well as to a few books I found amazingly inspiring. 🙂

The Missing Member of the Trinity

God Does Not Care About Your Jenga Blocks

Rediscovering Jesus – In the Garden

“The Jesus-Centered Life” by Rick Lawrence 

“Recapturing the Wonder” by Mike Cosper

 

 

The God Who Wants to be Found – Pt. 2

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If you read yesterday’s post, then you know that I am treading on some shaky ground according to some conservative Christians. Asking some slightly heretical questions. 😉 That’s okay! Questions are good!

Let me clarify some things before I continue.

I don’t believe that sincere faith in just any religion guarantees access to heaven. I do believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father. I do believe in a literal hell. But I also agree with C.S. Lewis.

“We do know that no person can be save except through Christ. We do not know that only those who know Him can be saved by Him.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Throughout the Old Testament, we clearly see God having relationships with people who had never heard about Jesus and were not even Jews: Job, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek Priest of Salem, the Queen of Sheba, and the wise men for example. How did they seek and find the Living God? What’s to say that similar things are not happening today?

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God is not hiding up in heaven. He is not cold and distant. Both the Old and New Testament abound with verses telling us that God is near.

  • If we seek after God, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:12-14).
  • He is close enough to find while feeling in the dark (Acts 17:26-28).
  • The creation itself screams to us about God’s character and attributes (Romans 1:19-20).

What if God is the God Who Wants to be Found? What if He makes it very easy?

I am certain that God gives every one of us opportunities to seek Him. We all have a choice. Whether we live in the USA or in Outer Mongolia. It doesn’t matter. If we seek for the Living God, we will find Him!!  And He will show us enough to save us.

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For example:

In the late 1800s, a Liberian prince named Kaboo (later known as Samuel Morris) was captured and tortured by a rival clan. During one of the intense whippings, he heard a voice from heaven, felt his ropes fall to the ground, and saw a bright light. The light led him through the jungle to a town where he found a mission. Samuel Morris was introduced to Jesus through the story of the apostle Paul and he recognized the God who had set him free.

A video from New Tribes Bible Institute tells the story of a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea where missionaries were teaching chronologically through the Bible. They had gotten just past the Passover in Egypt when one of the old men in the tribe got very sick. As he lay dying, the man cried out to God’s Passover Lamb to save him. He’d never heard of Jesus, but there is no doubt in my mind that that man is in heaven!

There are thousands of amazing stories coming out of the Middle East recently from Muslims who have begun to seek after the true God and Jesus has appeared to them in dreams and visions.

I read once (and it’s driving me crazy because I cannot remember where) about some national missionaries in China who had a remote people group on their heart. They prayed for these people and attempted to reach them. When they finally arrived, Jesus had beat them to it! The people were ready for the gospel, because Jesus had already been there.

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I can’t explain any of this! But it resonates with what I know to be true about the Living God. I am absolutely confident that the God of the Universe LOVES us and WANTS us to know Him. He never forces Himself, but if we look for Him, we will find Him.

I’ll be honest, sometimes I am more concerned for us Church People in America than I am for those in distant tribes. They can look up to a starry sky and wonder about the Cosmos and the God who created it. We see a Universe and contemplate if it happened by accident. We get distracted by our technology, by our barrage of constant information via social media, podcasts, the news, etc. We become cynical in our overwhelming amount of Christianese knowledge.

Maybe it’s not God who is the problem. Maybe it’s us. Isn’t that an unsettling thought?

Every sunrise and sunset screams His glory. Pounding waves throb with His certainty and faithfulness. The immeasurable vastness of the Universe echoes with His power. Animals and insects, fish and birds sing of His creativity and sense of humor. We are surrounded by God’s character and divine qualities. But still we doubt…

“For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” Romans 1:20.

Jesus walked among us as the very image of God. Arguably the most influential man in all of history. He happily lived in calm obscurity for barely three decades. And yet, He managed to completely change the world. But we still question…

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” Hebrews 11:6.

So where do we go from here? How do we find enough faith to seek when we just feel tired, and cranky, and cynical?

Apparently there is a part three to this blog series. 🙂 Coming soon!

The God Who Wants to Be Found – Pt. 1

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Is God truly loving? And if He is, then how can He condemn millions of people to hell? If God is really good, then what about all the people in the world who have lived and died without ever hearing the gospel?

How can people be responsible for their sin if they never knew anything different? What if they were sincerely following their religion? Shouldn’t that count?

If God condemns people to hell who aren’t responsible, then He can’t be good and loving. He must be angry and horrible. Who wants to believe in that kind of God anyway?

“The space between doubting God’s goodness and doubting His existence is not as wide as you might think.” Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard those questions from people who have grown up in church. But reading them again was sobering. They are legitimate questions asked by people searching for real answers. Too often all they get in return is Christianese.

If you’ve been following my last few posts you will know that I have been on a journey of discovery, reading books that I thought I disagreed with. The first couple were a pleasant surpriseFaith Unraveled was a little more difficult. Written as a memoir, it explains how Rachel Held Evans left a staunchly right, evangelical worldview in search of answers to her many questions. I was left conflicted.

Often Rachel and I would be on the exact same page, using the same Scriptures for the same arguments. Then without warning we’d each take an abrupt 90 degree turn and end up with completely different conclusions. Ultimately though, I didn’t hate the book as much as I anticipated. And I appreciate the questions Rachel forced me to wrestle with as I read.

“There are millions of people, past and present, who have had no exposure to Christianity at all. Are we supposed to believe that seconds after Jesus rose from the dead, everyone on earth was responsible for that information?”

Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled.

Again, legitimate question. Let’s tackle it.

This isn’t going to be a theology lesson. I just want to share my heart with you about the God Who Wants to Be Found.

It’s okay to ask scary questions. I really is! They are good. But as we ask, let’s not suppose too many things about the God of the Universe.

  • We can’t suppose that our understanding of the gospel is the only way. That people must pray a specific prayer, or “walk down the Roman’s road”, or “repent and make Jesus Lord”, or whatever pet phrase you want to use. What if it’s easier than that
  • We can’t suppose that God is either loving and let’s everyone into heaven, or angry and happy to condemn people to hell. What if His wrath has already been satisfied and everyone has an opportunity for eternal life? What if it’s our own choice that condemns us?
  • We can’t suppose that God is hiding up in heaven, aloof and withdrawn. That the only way to find Him is through the Bible or the American version of the gospel. What if He is closer than we can imagine?

These questions sound almost heretical, don’t they? 😉

I’m not a Calvinist, or an Arminian. And if you want to debate theology with me, I’ll have to disappoint you. I’m just a girl who thinks that God is always bigger than we can imagine, always more powerful, more wonderful, more mind boggling. If we think we have Him in a theological box, we are sadly mistaken. He will never fit!

It’s okay to step outside and wonder. How do these questions make you feel? What have you been wondering about? It’s easy as people to become black and white in our thinking. But I think life might actually be a lot more gray.

I’m going to finish these thoughts tomorrow. Share some stories and verses from the Bible. Keep talking about the God Who Wants to be Found. Stay tuned!

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But Jesus isn’t White…and Why it Matters

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

Sweet Jesus in white robes, surrounded by children.

Tough Jesus, arm wrestling Satan.

Gentle Jesus, holding a lamb.

Powerful Jesus, calming the storm with one outstretched hand.

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

Hot Jesus, tall and handsome with a confident stride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does your mind feel boggled yet? 

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

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

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

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

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

Why does this matter?

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

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

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

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

Why does an accurate picture of Jesus matter to you?

 

 

Learning from People I Thought I Disagreed with…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!