The Subtle Side of #metoo

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I was a sexually naive, college age, camp counselor. He was a 50-something volunteer. I didn’t know enough to be uncomfortable. He flattered me, told me how pretty I was, how amazing, how gifted, etc. Then the long, tight, full frontal hugs started. A hello hug, a good-bye hug, etc. Maybe he just liked me? One day he pulled me in close for a spontaneous dance.

And that’s as far as it went. Was it actually sexual harassment? I didn’t know enough then to complain…

It went on for a few summers.

Then I got married. As a now-sexually-aware woman, I looked back on those interactions and cringed. They disgusted me. I talked to my husband who had been at camp with me back when we were single. He acknowledged that at the time it made him uncomfortable. I talked to one of the full-time camp staff.  He also admitted that it seemed weird to him.

The question is, why didn’t these men step in? Why didn’t they say something to me? To the volunteer?

Our paths crossed again a few years ago. My “admirer” tried to start up the frontal hugs. He always wanted to touch me and put his arm around my shoulders. It was all supposed to be friendly and fatherly.

This time I stopped it.

I looked him in the eyes and told him that he made me uncomfortable. I told him that I didn’t want him to touch me any more. He blustered and made excuses, but I stood my ground. It was awkward, but it was worth it!

***

For every horrific story of abuse and harassment that has come out because of the #metoo campaign, hundreds of these subtle, uncomfortable stories simmer beneath the surface. It’s not just in the secular world. Horrific stories and subtle stories abound within the Christian community: within churches, and camps, and organizations. It’s not okay! 

  • It’s not okay that Christians keep young people so sexually naive that they don’t know when something crosses the line. Because I’m not the only one.
  • It’s not okay that Christians sweep things under the rug to “protect the name of God” or to “keep unity” or to “prevent the world from mocking us” or whatever other dumb excuse they conjure up. Stop hiding and deal with it!
  • It’s not okay that Christians choose to blame women for men’s actions.
  • It’s not okay that Christian men don’t stand up for women being harassed and/or assaulted.
  • It’s not okay that Christian women are terrified to tell the truth because of the shame and blame they know will come if they are honest.

The Christian community should be a place of safety. A place where women are valued, heard, and protected. We are equally made in God’s image. Sin is sin. Light is supposed to expose darkness. There shouldn’t be any excuses just because you are a man.

That’s not how Jesus acted. He valued women. He protected and supported them.

So, what do we do?

  • Stop making excuses.
  • Call sin what it is, SIN.
  • Stop sweeping things under the rug.
  • Blame the perpetrator and not the victims.
  • Teach people to stand up for themselves.
  • Stop avoiding hard topics.
  • Start acting like Jesus.

I know that me sharing this story is just scraping the very tip of the iceberg. Many of you have similar stories and worse stories. I am sorry! It’s not okay! You are loved, valued, and forgiven. It’s not your fault. Feel free to contact me if you want!

 

 

The Start of Something New

“How does one get back to Jesus…truly? I would take that. Blog soon?”

I’ve been pondering this question for the last few days.

The question was inspired by a discussion on a Facebook group for former Bill Gothard students. I had asked these precious people to tell me why they chose to walk away from Christianity and/or the church…or why they chose to stay. They opened their hearts to me…so very honestly. Many of them left Gothard’s organization just to be re-injured by a normal church where they thought they were safe. The hurt is real. And so are the questions, frustration, confusion, anger, and sadness.

After all the talk, it seemed like we boiled down to three types of survivors. Some of us had left Christianity completely. Some of us had been able to separate Jesus from the abusive religion we experienced but struggled with the corporate church. Some of us recognized the mess within the church, but knowing it wasn’t Jesus, were trying to stick it out.

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Here’s the thing. You don’t have to be raised in a Christian cult to fit into one of these categories. There is plenty of broken, legalistic, irrelevant Christianity within the “normal” church. There are plenty of people who have been hurt and left…who didn’t get their questions answered and left…who felt it was an empty religion and left… Look at the statistics! (The Barna Group has a bunch of great research.)

People aren’t leaving the American church because it’s facing persecution for being like Jesus. (Please hear my sarcasm.)

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The fancy mega churches with their coffee bars, bands, lights, and fog machines have the same problem as the tiny, traditional, conservative, KJV only churches. In the midst of our own ideas, beliefs, and traditions we have lost sight of the One who made us Christian in the first place.

If Jesus showed up on a Sunday morning, would anyone even recognize him? The religious people missed him last time…

How do we fix this? Where do we even start? It feels so overwhelming.

The first step is to acknowledge the problems…not ignore them…not pretend they don’t exist…not blame the people who are hurt. And the next step is to reconsider Jesus and reinterpret the Bible, God and all of our Christianity through Him.

Over the next few days (and maybe even weeks) I’m going to be pondering some things…wrestling with them…honestly. Please feel free to ask questions and get involved in the discussion. It’s something we need to talk about.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Consider this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

An Uncomfortable, Awkward Topic – Spiritual Abuse

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

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

This is just the brokenness of humanity.

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

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

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

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

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

Ready for some truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

My heart breaks for you.

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

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

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

“Church Hurt” is a lot Like Miscarriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t that good news?

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

A Plane Ride, Politics, and Pharisees

 

Full Disclosure: This is a rant which may mention politics. But it’s more than politics.

I spent the entire flight home talking with a beautiful woman named Patricia. She was sweet, kind, passionate, friendly, and liberal. Listening to Patricia, I was reminded again where Christians and the Conservative Right went wrong.

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Patricia loves people, but she doesn’t sense that love from conservatives. She was raised in a church but struggles to link Jesus with the people and politics that claim His name. I feel her pain.

Too often, Christian and political conservatives have one thing in common. Obsessed with morals and outward actions, they forget about people.

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Since when did “proper behavior” become more valuable than human beings? Or why are people only valuable when they look and act like “us?” Maybe this isn’t the way we feel, but too often this is the way conservative Christians come across.

Who gave Christians the job of being the “moral enforcers?” I thought our job was to preach the good news of Jesus to the world. Our relationship with Jesus should affect every area of our lives including our politics. But our primary job is not to “save our culture through moralism!”

I didn’t tell Patricia where I stood politically because I was hoping to talk to her about Jesus.

Isn’t that sad?

It’s gotten to the point where people hear “conservative” and immediately think about obnoxious, hate filled, “morality police” who wear the name Christian. Seriously guys, we can do better.

Do you know who the “enforcers of morals” were in Jesus’ time? The Pharisees. Do we really want to imitate them? In their obsession with outward behavior, they sort of missed God…and He was right in front them.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have morals. Or that it’s bad to believe in right and wrong. Jesus had morals. Jesus was clear about right and wrong. But Jesus also loved people, passionately. If you were to simply observe Jesus as He “ate and drank with sinners,” it might even look like He approved of them. There was no condemnation. Truth, yes. Guilt and pointing fingers, not so much.

Morals by themselves are empty. There are plenty of “good,” lost people out there. Cleaning someone up on the outside, making them follow your rules and standards, this does nothing to change the heart.

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Back to the Pharisees again…Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs”…they looked clean on the outside but inside were full of rotting corpses. Do we really want to emulate the Pharisees? I sure don’t! I want to be a Jesus follower.

The answer is not to become more liberal or progressive. The answer is Jesus. If we really get to know Him and see His heart, He will change us. Whatever our political beliefs, we will love with more passion and truth…truly caring about the people we meet and not just their outward actions.

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.

 

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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What Now? How to Live After the Election

It was a rough political season. Tuesday was a hard, divisive election. Now we are dealing with the emotional, draining aftermath. At least we are on the internet, specifically social media.

I cringe before going on Facebook right now. If you read my other election post you will know that I have hidden a bunch of my more political friends. Still, my news feed is full of political articles, political comments, and political arguments. Do you know what I see and feel on Facebook right now, even from some of my Christian friends?

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Hatred, Fear, Worry, and Pride. Christian brothers and sisters, This. Is. Not. Right.

Hatred – For some reason, people seem to think that they can post awful things on social media that they would never say face to face. I have seen so many harsh, judgmental, rude, condemning comments. I have heard sweeping generalizations. People are ruthlessly fighting. There is very little love.

Fear – So much fear is being expressed on social media right now. Terror, really. It breaks my heart. Also, since I grew up in a fear-based cult, I know first hand that people who are afraid are easier to control. It’s not good.

Worry – Another way to describe worry is “borrowing trouble”. People are creating scenarios that are currently not true. Rather than focus on this beautiful fall day, where the sun is shining, and the sky is blue, people are consumed with “what if’s” that might happen.

Pride – When we feel that we are smarter, or more intellectual, than others, when everything seems black and white to us, or when we refuse to try and see from someone else’s perspective, that is pride.

The only one winning in this wildly stressful scenario is our enemy, Satan. The Bible calls him “the father of lies” so let’s fight him with the truth.

The TRUTH:

  • God is still the same as He was on Monday. He has not changed. He is not surprised at the results of the election. He has not lost control. We might not understand why He allows things to happen, but He has a purpose for everything.
  • The Bible is full of less-than-stellar leaders that God used anyway: Samson, the womanizing judge, Saul, the angry, sometimes possessed, first king of Israel, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon who took God’s people into captivity, etc. God will work His will through whichever messed-up person happens to be our president. It’s not like He hasn’t done it before.
  • This world is broken. The people who live in it are all broken. We will not have a perfect society until we are being ruled by King Jesus Himself.

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Feeling powerless is never a comfortable thing. It’s scary! So, what can we do if we don’t like the President-Elect, or if we can’t convince other people that our way is right, or if someone is telling us that we are ignorant and multi-phobic?

Let’s CHOOSE to control the only thing we can: ourselves.

  1. Choose grace: What would happen if we were willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt whether or not our ideologies agree? Instead of making broad assumptions and condemnations, what if we choose to give grace? Instead of typing or texting or saying something, stop and think if it’s really necessary, if it will build up those who read/hear it. We need to remember that all people were created in the image of God, and He loves them and died for them (just like He did for us).
  1. Choose humility: None of us has the “perfect perspective”. The lenses through which we see life are affected by our past, our present, our personality, etc. None of us are smart enough to see the whole picture alone. We get the clearest perspective when we are able to hear from multiple people with different views, when we are able to share and listen without judgement or assumptions.
  1. Choose truth: We have an enemy, friends, and he wants to destroy us. His lies are sneaky and they often sound like our own thoughts. Have you been hearing things like “This is hopeless” or “Everyone is against me”? Those kinds of thoughts are not from God. The enemy wants to destroy you. Don’t let him! Choose to reject lies and fill your mind with God’s truth.
  1. Choose love: In a world that is increasingly filled with hate, choose to act with love. Reach out to others, including strangers, with a smile, a kind word, hold the door, etc. Choose to love your friends and family in tangible ways. Loving others also includes holding your tongue/fingers. Is that social media argument really necessary? Probably not.
  1. Choose gratitude: Instead of focusing on everything around you that isn’t going your way, instead of being frustrated by the people who don’t agree with you, choose to be thankful. Enjoy the blessings that God has given you such as your family, friends, home, possessions, this beautiful fall weather, etc. We have SO MUCH that we take for granted every day.
  1. Choose trust: You might feel like life is out of control, but God never loses it. Instead of freaking out, place your hope in a God who is bigger and more powerful than you could ever imagine. Rest in His Sovereignty and the fact that this world is not your home. Dream of heaven and life forever with your Savior.
  1. Choose mental health: If Facebook or Twitter or other social medias are stressing you out, if the news is triggering anger or worry, then I have a suggestion. Close your computer. Turn off your tablet or TV. Set down your smart phone. Take a walk, grab a coffee with a friend who won’t talk about politics, or get a massage to work out those tense muscle knots. Live your life! Make cookies, refinish some furniture, read a book with your children, recognize that your actual life has not changed. And, if it does someday as a result of this election, God is still on the throne!

Remember, no matter what, Jesus is still Jesus, the Gospel is still the good news, and God is still in control. Christian friends, let’s choose to believe truth and act with love and grace.