There is No Magic Formula, But We Still Have Hope…

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In my last post, I wrote about ways we try to manipulate God, twist His arm, and push the right buttons on His “heavenly vending machine” to get what we want. While most of us would never come out and say it this bluntly, the formulaic way we treat God speaks for itself. We believe the lie that there are specific spiritual steps we can follow to achieve a desired outcome. We try to claim Bible verses (out of context) and say they promise things like physical healing. And when none of these things work, we blame ourselves or others for a “lack of faith” (as though there is a certain amount of faith that is guaranteed to make God do anything).

Perhaps we create formulas because we are trying to grasp for a feeling of control in a shaky, frightening, and often heartbreaking world, trying to make sense of things we don’t understand.

Even though we believed, prayed, and did everything we could…

  • The cancer still won
  • Our marriage still fell apart
  • We still miscarried
  • I’m still single
  • My husband is still looking at porn
  • Our child still died
  • I still lost my job
  • We still didn’t get pregnant
  • We still went bankrupt
  • They still don’t love Jesus
  • The world is still a mess

How do we reconcile a supposedly good, all-powerful God and the “good” things that He fails to accomplish? Believe me, I wrestle with this often!

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I think we start by expanding our minds. We throw away the understandable “god in a box” that we have created in our own image. We allow the real God to be bigger, greater, and just more than we can comprehend. Does the Bible say that God is good? Yes! All-powerful? Absolutely! Does He still choose to let bad things happen and take good things away? Yeah, actually the Bible says that too. Check out one of my favorite verses.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” Isaiah 45:6b-7

I found this verse after our second late-term miscarriage. Even though I didn’t know why God choose to take our baby, it was comforting to me to know that He never lost control, it was something He did, and He was big enough that He didn’t owe me an explanation. Maybe I can’t possibly understand God or make sense of Him, but a God that huge who also promises He is good and loving is something I am okay with.

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If there are no secret keys, no hidden formulas, no special chants, no magical ways to get God to do our bidding, then what can we expect? What has God really promised us? The answer might surprise you.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

“Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.” John 15:20-21

Let’s get this straight, we’ve been promised trouble, temptation, and persecution? That doesn’t sound like a very nice promise! I thought life with Jesus was supposed to be warm fuzzies, roses, and sunsets? You know, easy and peaceful?

You might hear some Christians say that, but it’s not exactly in the Bible.

The Bible very clearly tells us that the world we live in is broken. It happened at the Fall, when sin first came into God’s perfect universe. Creation is broken so we have things like disease and natural disasters. People are broken, so they make choices that hurt not only themselves but also those around them. We will face trouble BUT look at the other promises in those verses.

Jesus wants to give us peace! He encourages us by reminding us that He has overcome this world. He is faithful! He will provide a way out of the temptation. And in chapter 14 of John, Jesus tells his disciples that he will not leave them (or us) alone; he is sending the Helper (the Holy Spirit).

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So, life is going to hurt, but I will never be alone? That’s right. And a God who is more, and better, and bigger than I can ever imagine is in complete control even when it doesn’t look like it? Yes. And He wants to walk with me through life, to help and comfort me, because He loves me? Yup!

He wants to walk so close with you that He actually lives inside of you. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

I don’t know about you, but rereading that last paragraph brings tears to my eyes. It’s so much better than a vending machine, or a magic formula guaranteed to bring me what I want! HE is a real, living, incredible, loving Being, who wants meHe wants to be friends with me and help me. He wants to give me peace and joy, despite the brokenness of this world, not based on anything I do or don’t do, but simply because of His amazing grace!

How about you…are you willing to believe in and trust a God who is way too big for you to twist His arm, who might not always give you what you want, who is impossible to understand, but who is in complete control and will walk with you through each heartache in this broken world? I sure am!

 

But God is Not a Vending Machine…

Reblogged with a few tweeks from last year because I needed to hear this again!

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It’s easy to say that we believe God is all-powerful and that He has the ability to intervene on our behalf. But what about when He doesn’t?

When a young couple, serving on the mission field, looses their healthy, newborn son to unforeseen complications, after two previous miscarriages… When a wonderful, loving pastor’s wife suddenly dies… When a family battling cancer with their teenage son finds out their second son also has cancer…

Really, God? If you are really in control and absolutely powerful, why would these things happen?

If we are honest, we will admit that we have all been there. Something falls apart, or a prayer doesn’t get answered, or a tragedy happens, and we start wondering: Is God really real? Is He really in control? Is He really good? Am I believing a lie?

vendingmachine_lead1 There are plenty of examples of miracles in the Bible, and we hear modern-day stories. There is a “good” outcome we want, and we know that God could do it. Our desires are possible too. But, how do we get God to agree? Will He cooperate? How do we “twist His arm”? Which combination of buttons do we push on His heavenly vending machine?

You don’t talk like that? Me either, at least not out loud, but that’s how we act!

We don’t understand God, we can’t! He is way too big. So, we tend to create a version of God that we can understand, a god made in our own image. We can manipulate people, why not God? How do Christians do this?

We Create Formulas

I was raised under the shadow of the king of formulas. If you can get your hands on any of Bill Gothard’s materials, you will see 3 steps to this and 5 steps to that, always promising blessing and success. A perfect example is the book Gothard wrote called “The Power of Crying Out”. He basically shows verses (mostly out of context of course) where people “called out” or “cried out”. Then he turns around and promises that if we pray loudly God hears us and will respond better than if we pray quietly. What?

It’s not just my old cult leader who does this! I’ve read formulaic thinking on blogs, and in books, and heard it from the mouths of Christians across the range of Evangelicalism.

I have seen people take Bible stories and turn them into formulas. So-and-so did x, y, and got z, therefore, if we also do x, and y, we will get our z. Sorry, it would be nice, but I don’t think it works this way! God is not a vending machine! We cannot enter A5 and B10 and get a Snickers bar and bag of Doritos every time.

We Claim “Promises”

Ever heard this verse used as a promise for physical healing? It’s pretty popular. “By His stripes we are healed.” It amazes me how many people quote this verse and are clueless about the context. First of all, it’s not even a whole verse; it’s a phrase at the end of one. Read the whole thing and see if you can figure out the context.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)

It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to see that this verse is a prophecy about the coming Savior and how we would be rescued by his death. Jesus’ wounds healed us, but it wasn’t a physical healing, it was a supernatural, spiritual one!

How about this? “We walk by faith and not by sight.” People use this verse to claim all kinds of things. But don’t forget context! We cannot rip verses out of the Bible and make them mean whatever we want. This phrase comes from 2 Corinthians 5, ironically a chapter about heaven and one day being with Christ. It is not talking about getting physically healed. Here is verse 7, sandwiched between verses 6 and 8 for context sake.

“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NIV)

Claiming “promises” like these (even if they WERE in context) is still at their root a formulaic approach. We are still trying to find a way to guarantee a specific outcome, to push the right buttons on God’s vending machine.

We Take the Blame (or put it on others)

“I guess I didn’t have enough faith.”

“We didn’t have enough faith.”

“Their faith was lacking.”

These are all real responses that I have heard from people when their prayers weren’t answered the way they hoped. Right. Because there is a specific amount of faith that will twist God’s arm and make Him give us what we want. I don’t think so. It’s formulaic thinking again!

Where do we get this idea that our lack of faith is to blame? From the Bible. There are tons of verses talking about having faith, and asking for things in faith. Here are just two of them.

“He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:6

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” James 1:6-7

If these were the only verses I read, then I could easily believe that I am at fault because of my lack of faith. However, when I take a closer look, I realize that James is talking about asking God for wisdom (James 1:5). The specific promise is that if we ask for wisdom, God will give it to us.

Unfortunately, there are no verses (used in context) that guarantee any and every outcome based on our faith. While it is important to have faith as we pray, we need to ask ourselves this question: what is the object of our faith? Is our faith in our ability to move a mulberry tree (or a mountain), or in the God who made them?

So, in this broken world full of hurt and disappointment, what does God actually promise us? 

Check back Monday for part 2.

 

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.

 

 

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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A Vision That’s Bigger than Me (Book Update)

I’m going to be honest today and just share the thoughts going through my heart and mind…give you a little glimpse into what Jesus has been doing. And, I’m begging you for prayers, lots of prayers!

My husband, who is a youth pastor, and I took some of our youth group to Chicago this past weekend for Dare 2 Share. It’s a great conference, all about teaching teens to share the gospel. I love it!

Anyway, so there I am being a youth leader, minding my own business, and suddenly God is speaking to me about my own life. Funny how that happens!

We had left the teens in the main session with our other youth leaders, and were in a special “youth leader training session”. Greg Stier, the founder of Dare 2 Share took us through six keys to being a strong leader in a shaky world. And suddenly there it was, right in front of me on the page. This quote:

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Honestly, this past year has been incredibly hard for me personally. I’ve struggled with identity. I’ve struggled with fear. Some of my “not so nice” parts have come out. I’ve felt empty. Much of the time I haven’t felt up to the challenge of writing. My book has pretty much been on hold. It’s been really humbling. (Which isn’t a bad thing.)

As I looked at this quote from Greg, I realized that I’ve basically abandoned any vision I might have had. Instead, I’ve believed the lies Satan has whispered to me: lies about not being good enough, or talented enough…lies that encouraged fear and doubt…lies that distracted me from Jesus and the power that I have in Him. I was convicted.

Just wait, it gets better! I love when Jesus shows up. 🙂

On Sunday, our pastor “just happened” to be speaking about every believer using their gifts to strengthen the body of Christ. It was a powerful sermon and I was filling in the second point (Using our Gifts is a Matter of Stewardship) when all of the sudden I felt the Holy Spirit poke me. I wrote down the words I sensed in my heart. “You have been gifted to speak truth. I want you to speak for MY glory. Expose the lies of religion. This is what I have called you to do. Stop being afraid. Catch the vision and obey Me.”

It sounds kind of crazy, but I knew that what I had written was from God. Ironically the next point was Using our Gifts is All for the Glory of God. I wrote it down.

“What do you want, Christy?” The Holy Spirit was talking again… What did I want? If I let go of my fear and doubt, if I chose to live with a vision that required an act of God to accomplish, what would it be?

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“I just want the world to know You, Jesus.” I wrote on my sermon note paper. “I want people to reject religion but search for You. I want a genuine revival in the church…a revival that happens because people actually experience grace and salvation through You. I want to speak truth. I want to destroy the Enemy’s lies.”

Friends, I’m tearing up writing this! Because, I feel the passion in my soul, but I know the terror in my heart. I can’t do this…I can’t make this happen. It would take an act of God to accomplish this vision. I think that’s what I’ve been missing.

I write about grace, and the Holy Spirit, and the power we have because of Jesus. But I’ve lived in fear thinking that I have to DO life on my own. Not any more.

By the grace of God, I am grabbing hold of this new vision. Not because I am anything special…but because I serve a God who is!

I need your prayers! 

  • My sister-in-law “just happened” to get two copies of The Christian Writers Market Guide 2017 and gave me one of them. This book is full of publishers, agents, editors, writing conferences, etc. I know that if I am going to “be published” then I need an agent. I read through the descriptions and found a handful that seem to be interested in my type of writing. Pray that I send it to the right person/people.
  • In order to get my book proposal ready to send, I need to write one more chapter. The chapter is on lies we believe about the Bible. I’m struggling to get my thoughts organized. I have a lot that I want to say, but I need wisdom in how to put it together. Please pray that God will sort out my thoughts and help me to connect the dots.
  • I’m thinking that God might be asking me to do a “Bible study” walking through the lies I want to expose in my book Impostor Jesus…lies like God being disappointed in us, feeling like we need to perform and be good, etc. Just pray that I would listen to God’s voice and not to fear and doubt.
  • There is a highly recommended writers conference in North Carolina in May that I would love to attend, but financially it’s impossible. Please pray that if it’s God’s will for me He would provide the money.

Thanks, friends! For your support, encouragement, and prayers… And for letting me be honest today and loving me anyway!

When your Neighbors Pee Outside your Kitchen Window (some thoughts on losing your life)

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I should preface this story by telling you that I’m a country girl. I grew up in the country. We didn’t have any neighbors next to us; we had corn fields and fence rows. And, while we did have a neighbor across the street, we were separated by our huge front yard, and the road, and lots of trees, and their front yard, and their trees. You get the idea.

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My husband and I moved into our current home in the month of November. It was cold. Everyone in our new small-town-neighborhood was safely inside. I recognized that since we had a corner lot, most of our yard was on the side of the house. I realized that my “back yard” all fifteen feet of it, directly overlooked the neighbor’s yard and their shed. I just didn’t think it mattered. And it didn’t, until spring.

As it turns out, that yard was something of a party place. There were crowds of teenagers and young adults (mostly male) hanging around all the time. In fact, I couldn’t really enjoy my own yard because of the smoke and language coming over the chain link fence that stood between us. To top it off, suspicious stuff happened in that shed. I knew because when I was standing there, doing dishes in my sink, looking out the window, I could see things. Things like people constantly coming and going, to the point that they wore a path to the shed, and sometimes I even saw sketchy packages and money exchanging hands.

If all this wasn’t enough, those same smoking, partying, and possibly drug handling boys would pee behind their shed. “Behind” is a relative term, because although their friends couldn’t see them, they were in full view of their innocent, suddenly surprised, dish-washing neighbor. That was the last straw for me! I wanted to call the police…my husband wanted to be good neighbors.

Thankfully, one day during dish-washing, when a young man got the urge to take a leak, my husband opened the window and yelled, “Hey, we can see you!” That got the boys’ attention. After that they went under the tarp which was over the shed when they peed. I still knew what they were doing, but at least I could only see their feet.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:34-35

These words are so uncomfortable! What is Jesus talking about? Surely he doesn’t mean that I die to the idea of having a pleasant yard or being able to do dishes without seeing someone peeing outside my window. Aren’t those basic human rights? And yet…what’s more important? Being able to “enjoy” my life or being someone who shows the love of Jesus to a broken world? “…for My sake and the gospel’s…”

Unfortunately I’m not a very fast learner…which is bad for me but good for stories.

A month or two later I was coming home with my children. My husband was gone for the night. As I turned the corner in my mini-van, I noticed two teenage boys standing under one of the beautiful maple trees in our front yard. They were smacking at it with sticks, leaves were flying, and small branches covered the ground.The minute they saw me, the boys took off. I was furious! I’d put up with so much from these neighborhood hoodlums, they were not going to get away with destroying my tree.

Without thinking, I slammed my van into park, grabbed my babies, and chased those boys down the street. Seriously! With a baby on my hip and my three-year old dragging behind me, I yelled at those big, scary, teenage boys to stop because I was done with this! Surprisingly, they stopped and let me question them. Even though I’d seen them with my own eyes, they vigorously denied knowing what happened to my tree.

About this time, I realized that I was home alone tonight, and these boys weren’t the safest people, and they had a lot of friends. With that in mind, I let them go and took my babies home. Then I got scared. What had I done? Was I safe? What happened to being a light in a dark world and showing our neighbors the love of Jesus?

I locked myself in my house, put my children to bed, and prayed.

A short time later I heard noises outside. The boys were back…with rakes and plastic bags! I went out on my porch and watched them as they cleaned up the leaves and branches under my tree. We talked. I thanked them for admitting what they’d done and cleaning it up. They were surprised I wasn’t angry with them any more. We enjoyed the summer evening together. It was good.

Somehow after that, we were friends. They would wave at me when they walked by, and I’d wave and smile back. I felt safe because these “hoodlums” were on my side, even if they did still pee under the tarp outside my kitchen window.

The next school year, one of them unexpectedly showed up at our youth group for a night. Even though he didn’t come back again, I know he heard the gospel and the saw love of Jesus.

I wonder how  different things would have been if I’d had my way and called the police instead of choosing to love and be good neighbors. I have a feeling that by trying to “save my life” I would have lost a lot…

This “losing your life” stuff, this “denying yourself”, it’s hard! Sometimes it hurts. And it’s not a one time deal. This story is from almost four years ago, but I’ve been learning more about taking up my cross and choosing to lose my life in the last few weeks than I ever imagined was possible. It’s uncomfortable and humbling and it goes against our human nature. But it’s worth it! Jesus is worth it! The good news of the gospel makes it worth it!

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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.”

Hate Cannot Drive Out Hate

I’m so tired. So tired of the anger, stress, arguing, protesting, fighting, etc. I’m tired of seeing it every time I open up Facebook, or other social media, or watch the news. It’s exhausting.

I’m not saying that anyone’s beliefs are invalid. You have a right to your beliefs, but the action, reaction, and then over reaction is getting old…really old.

Can I just be real for a minute? Just because someone doesn’t agree with you doesn’t mean they hate you! It doesn’t give you the right to say horrible things about them. This goes for both sides!

As someone who was brainwashed, I feel like I can say some things about brainwashing. People, anytime you think that your opinion is the ONLY ONE and everyone else is the enemy and must be destroyed, you have been brainwashed! You are being used by someone and their agenda. Again, I’m talking to both sides here.

We are all human and thus have the potential to be wrong. A little humility can do wonders. The best stretching and growth comes from having respectful, intelligent, honest, genteel conversations with people who have different perspectives than we do. We can all learn something from each other if we are willing to listen.

So, please stop encouraging the madness and please do your part to spread love and peace.

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I don’t care if you are devastated by current events or excited by them. If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, then listen for a minute. Our country, our world, needs us right now. They need hope. They need Jesus! As Martin Luther King Jr. so beautifully said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” If we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior, then we have the greatest Light and the greatest source of Love living inside of us. Now is not the time for anger and verbal battles. Now is the time to share the amazing message of the gospel!

Do your best to avoid getting into arguments on social media or in the comment section of news articles. Think before you post anything reactionary. Ask God to give you wisdom and to help watch your tongue (fingers).

Instead, share the beautiful truth that our Creator loved us so much that He did whatever it took to bring us back into a relationship with Him. God sent His Son, Jesus, to die a brutal death on the cross for our sins and then to be resurrected, conquering the power of death forever. We have the opportunity to KNOW God. This is good news! The best news. 🙂

If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or even panicked, remember that God has not left His throne. It takes more than a president to throw Him off His game. Where is your trust? This world is not our forever home; it’s just a temporary, broken tent. It’s never going to be perfect until Jesus is reigning as King.

I’m going to finish with some of my favorite verses from Habakkuk.

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He make me tread on my high places.” Habakkuk 3:17-19

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