“Unhitching” from a Misused Old Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can I make a bold statement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who was the Real Deborah?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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

 

 

 

 

I Don’t Want to be an Evangelical Anymore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all a lie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Our Cranky Hearts are Leading Us Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It starts with faith.

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

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

Jesus is next.

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

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

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

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And then we need more faith.

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

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

It gets even better!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Missing Member of the Trinity

God Does Not Care About Your Jenga Blocks

Rediscovering Jesus – In the Garden

“The Jesus-Centered Life” by Rick Lawrence 

“Recapturing the Wonder” by Mike Cosper

 

 

The God Who Wants to be Found – Pt. 2

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

Let me clarify some things before I continue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The God Who Wants to Be Found – Pt. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled.

Again, legitimate question. Let’s tackle it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

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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. 🙂