How Two Gay Christians Changed My Life

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It all started late last spring when a good friend of mine gave me a book. She told me that it had transformed her entire view of homosexuality. It was a little, unassuming looking book by a man named Wesley Hill. I had never heard of that author before, but I was excited to read it.

Homosexuality and the LGBTQ+ Community as a whole is such a hot topic among Evangelical Christianity. People hold pretty fiery opinions which have often left me feeling like I was splashing around in the middle of two opposing camps. I couldn’t agree with the more conservative views, but didn’t fit into a liberal way of thinking either.

I knew that the Bible is pretty clear that a homosexual lifestyle is part of the brokenness caused by sin, but I also knew that the LGBTQ+ Community belongs to the world that God loves and sent His Son to save in John 3:16. I wanted to love and accept people the way Jesus did, but I also wanted to stay true to Scripture. Wesley Hill was about to show me that both were possible.

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I read Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness & Homosexuality with my heart in my throat. I didn’t know that it was possible to feel so close to an author. As Wes poured out his heart and struggles and was honest about his loneliness and fear, I felt my own heart break.

It wasn’t the kind of book that I could read in one sitting because I needed to process and think. I took Wes camping with me over the summer. I read him sitting around the campfire with a Kleenex in my lap so I could catch my tears. I read him in the laundry mat while waiting for clothes to dry in the middle of a thunderstorm and posted these thoughts on my Facebook page.

A friend gave me this book earlier this summer and it is opening and expanding my mind in amazing ways. Written by a Christian man who struggles with same-sex attraction but who is choosing to live a celibate life…it’s just powerful, and gut wrenching, and eye opening.

I don’t know if I have ever felt such love, and admiration, and respect for an author before.

You need to read it. Need to!!

We CANNOT live in a bubble.

And the best way to intentionally pop it is to expose ourselves to people and thoughts and perspectives that don’t exactly meet up with our own.

Washed and Waiting allowed me to stretch my mind. It’s easy to have staunch opinions about issues when we have no personal experience. But those lofty opinions are formed at a distance. It’s a completely different thing to have opinions that are formed by interaction with a person living the experience themselves. Even if that interaction is just reading a book.

I had never loved an author the way I found myself loving Wesley Hill. I even became a groupie and followed him on Instagram. 🙂

That is until I found David Bennett.

I have a good friend who works in Christian Marketing. We originally connected over a shared love of Jesus and disgust with religion. That connection morphed into breakfasts at our favorite coffee and bagel shop. I was telling her about Wesley Hill’s book and how incredibly life changing it had been for me. She got all excited and started talking about a book she was working with by a former gay activist who discovered Jesus. My friend was so enthusiastic that she gave me a copy of the book the next time I saw her.

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I’ll be honest, I devoured David’s book called A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus. I could not put it down. He challenged me, stretched me, made me reconsider how big God is, and spoke truth to my heart. I read with tears, and laughter, longing and hope. Then I followed David on Facebook and Instagram. 😀 I really wanted to be his best friend, but since he’s living in England going to Oxford for his PhD, I decided I’d have to settle for being an active follower. Here’s a sneak peek of the main idea of A War of Loves.

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Don’t you just want to go grab it and read it for yourselves?! Seriously, go order it on Amazon. I’ll even give you the link.

Guys, he met Jesus!!! And that changed everything. David has a message for the LGBTQ+ Community, but he also has an incredibly vital message for the church as a whole.

I love that God is calling and using gay Christians to share His message of truth. If that isn’t just like Jesus, I don’t know what is. 🙂 He has always pursued and used people the religious elite called outcasts. (The only thing is, that makes us Evangelicals the Pharisees…convicted much?)

So, what have I learned from my new favorite people? And how have they changed my life? Here’s a few thoughts.

  • We, the Evangelical Church, have royally screwed up and it’s time to acknowledge our failure and repent. I don’t know if it was out of fear or a religious focus on behaviors, but we have alienated an entire group of people from the gospel. Many people in the LGBTQ+ Community have felt nothing but hatred from Christians. That’s a serious problem! Especially since Jesus said people would know His disciples by their love…
  • Popular thought in our culture says that if you don’t agree with me, you must hate me. That’s not true. We don’t have to agree to love. And disagreement doesn’t have to mean that we hate. We can disagree in healthy ways while still loving each other. We can believe that same-sex attraction is a result of the Fall and that the Bible is clear that a homosexual lifestyle is sin, and we can still unconditionally love and accept people who identify as LGBTQ+ without focusing on their behaviors.
  • We don’t have to actively announce our personal beliefs. If you look at Jesus’ example, He was always seeking out the religious outcasts. He loved and accepted them without expectation FIRST. Then He called them to repentance.
  • It’s not our job to lecture people about their behaviors. It’s our job to introduce them to Jesus. If we teach people how to know Jesus, the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to do His job of conviction. God cares SO MUCH more about our hearts than our outward actions anyways!
  • The Evangelical Church needs to get educated! There are so many lies and false concepts circulating about homosexuality, gender identity, and such. It’s easy to be afraid of what we don’t know, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We need to get out of our Christian bubble and down from our ivory tower of spirituality and meet people in the LGBTQ+ Community. Let’s read authors like Wesley Hill and David Bennett. Let’s engage in training from places like The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender. (They have awesome, Biblical teaching with a beautiful balance of truth and love.) Let’s talk to actual people who are different from us.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you will know that I am passionate about two things. I am passionate about everyone knowing the Real Jesus. And I am equally passionate about rejecting behavior-driven Christianese religion. When it comes to the LGBTQ+ Community, it’s time that we left behind our traditions, and fears, and stereotypes. It’s time we embraced the Whole World with the truth of God’s love. 

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More great organizations to further discussion and learning:

Revoice – Fostering Peace, Honoring Dignity, Preserving Faith

Hole In My Heart Ministries

The Christianese Religion and the Real Jesus

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I’m working on getting back to regular blogging on this site. Lately I’ve been doing more “mini-blogs” over on my writer Facebook page. I’d love it have you join me there as well. I typically post some simple thoughts about once a day. This blog post is an expansion of one of those mini posts.

The scariest thing about the Christianese Religion is that you don’t even notice you are following it until it stops working for you. The formulas, phrases, and culture seem good and real while you are in the bubble. The things you do and believe appear to be genuine. You are part of a community that is like-minded.

What do I mean by the Christianese Religion? In his book Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World, Mike Cosper says this, “Religion is the business of appeasing gods.” For the past year, I have not been able to get that sentence out of my mind. It finally connected the dots between the ten years I spent in a cultic sub-culture of Christianity and the disillusionment people experience within “normal” church.

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When we are religious (which we naturally are), we are focused on behaviors. We are trying to do things in order to please God. But often the god in our head is more of a concept that a Being. We make him in our own image and shove him into a box. And in our obsession with performing correctly we completely miss the Real Jesus.

Christianese works great until it doesn’t. If that has happened to you, then you know. Maybe you got on the wrong side of the spiritual authority or you asked the wrong questions and felt the sharp sting of rejection. Maybe life fell apart and suddenly you realized that the pat answers no longer satisfied the deep brokenness of your heart. Empty religion may appear to work for a while, but it will always leave you searching for more. Because your soul wants Jesus.

There was a reason Jesus spent all of His time with the social outcasts and religious rejects. They knew they needed Him. They were broken and ready to hear His words of life.

The Pharisees had their religious system down and they missed God walking in front of them. I’m afraid the same thing is happening in churches all across the country. We are substituting religious experiences for the Real Jesus. But well-meaning people don’t even notice…because right now the system and the culture are working for them.

Maybe brokenness and disillusionment is actually a blessing because it opens our eyes to the emptiness of religion. Maybe not fitting in or feeling rejected is actually a good thing because it causes us to seek for more. I pray that our seeking bring us to the feet of the Real Jesus!!

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(This story is paraphrased from John chapter eight.)

She stood there silently, her head bowed in shame. They wanted to stone her. And according to the law, those religious leaders had every right. She’d been caught in the very act of adultery. But they were using her as a test, and now they waited to see what the young rabbi would say.

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 quietly 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 earth. 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.”

“I don’t condemn you either.” He smiled. “Go, and from now on sin no more.”

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Pastors, Abuse, and the Church

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Yet another mega church pastor was fired last week for inappropriate behavior. This kind of thing is starting to become old news. What in the world is going on? Having spent ten plus years under a spiritually abusive leader myself (although he wasn’t a pastor), I decided to do a little research.

It’s not new. The Abuse of Power and Religion have been best friends since The Fall. Throughout history we see broken people using religion to gain power and control…from corrupt priests in the Tabernacle, to the religious Pharisees who had Jesus crucified, to the Holy Roman Empire prior to the Reformation, to the modern Evangelical American pastors that have been in the news.

It’s not uncommon. I have talked with a shockingly large group of people who have experienced brokenness, abuse of power, or just regular abuse within a church or Christian organization. It crosses denominational lines and exists within conservative and liberal settings. I know of many people who escaped a spiritually abusive situation only to fall into yet another church filled with brokenness. And I know that for every mega pastor who makes the news, many more smaller churches are dealing with the same things. Why does this happen?

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While digging around on the Internet, I came across an article by Dr. Darrell Puls on the American Association of Christian Counselors website. Dr. Puls talked about how, as an Associate Pastor, he was nearly destroyed by his Senior Pastor and ended up resigning in despair. Later he discovered that this Senior Pastor fit the diagnosis of having Narcissistic Personality Disorder. After recovering with help from Christian therapists and psychiatrists, Dr. Puls went on to work as a peacemaker through conflict resolution in the faith-community. As he dealt with conflicts, Dr. Puls began to notice a large percentage of them that stood out as different. Familiar with NPD, and because of his own experience, Darrell quickly realized that all of these different conflicts had a NPD pastor in the middle of it all.

After talking with a colleague, Dr. Glenn Ball, who also noticed a similar trend, the two men decided to conduct some research. Embedded in their survey was a validated NPD test instrument. With permission, they were able to test an entire Canadian denomination’s active and retired pastors. They wondered how many narcissistic pastors they would discover.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, between 0-6.2% of the general population has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. However, Dr. Puls and Dr. Ball discovered that 31.2% of the pastors they surveyed met the criteria for full blown NPD. Their shocking findings are published in a book called Let us Prey: The Plague of Narcissistic Pastors and What We Can Do About It.

A similar study conducted in the Netherlands in the early 2000s showed that 90% of the pastors surveyed displayed narcissistic tendencies at the least. Um, this is kind of a problem! And it also makes a lot of sense. Being a pastor is an upfront position with lots of power, praise, and often a total lack of accountability.

So it’s not just your imagination, the research shows us that a significantly above average number of pastors are either narcissistic or have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This explains why so many of the mega pastors get to the place they are and also why they are falling. It also explains the shocking number of tragic church situations I’ve heard about.

Most likely, there has always been a larger number of people with NPD in the pastorate than in the general population. Abuse has been happening within churches throughout history. However, thanks in part to the #metoo and #churchtoo movements, people aren’t staying quiet any more. And that’s a good thing.

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If this is the case, then what can we as the church do?

Some ideas include:

  • Stop defending. Too often I see Christians trying to defend a fallen leader rather than calling sin what it is. I hear things like “It could have been any of us” and “we just need to give grace.” While these things are true, we also need to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” Ephesians 5:11.
  • Stop giving grace to the wrong people. As a Christian community we are far too quick to give grace to a perpetrator while blaming their victims. This needs an about face. We must give grace and love to the victims of abuse while putting the blame and consequences on the offender. God is full of mercy, but He is also a God of justice.
  • Stop staying quiet. Manipulative leaders are great at condemning “gossip” with a broad sweeping brush. My old leader created an entire teaching and system on Only Giving a Good Report  and then The Defilement of Listening to an Evil Report in order to keep people quiet so they wouldn’t connect the dots. Just because you verbalize that something is wrong doesn’t make it gossip. Gossip has to do with the type of information you share, who you share it with, and what your motivation is for sharing it. When abuse of any kind is kept quiet, the only people who benefit are the ones in power.

And then:

  • Start exercising discernment. Just because someone is a charismatic leader and seems legit initially doesn’t make them someone to follow. There was a reason Jesus called false teachers wolves in sheep clothing. It is perfectly acceptable to inspect the fruit of someone who is in charge. If you get red flags, run!
  • Start developing your own relationship with Jesus. If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you will know that I am passionate about the difference between a living relationship with Jesus and a religion you follow. Religion is easy to manipulate and control. But when you know Jesus for yourself and the Holy Spirit is whispering to your heart, you will be uncontrollable. 🙂
  • Start understanding the difference between power and authority. The word “authority” gets thrown around a lot in Christian circles especially by manipulative leaders. They try to make you believe that they have biblical authority and therefore you must follow them. But Jesus is the only true Head of the Church. Power is the worldly ability to make people do what you want. But, according to my current healthy church, true biblical authority, like Jesus had, is only available when you live a life so genuine that people just want to follow you. And you can’t fake that!

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For more information:

  • This is a link to Dr. Glenn and Dr. Puls’ paper written for the American Association of Christian Counselors.
  • This is a link for the study done in the Netherlands. The full report does need to be purchased.
  • This is an article on signs of a narcissistic pastor from churchleaders.org
  • Let us Prey: The Plague of Narcissistic Pastors and What We Can Do About It by R. Glenn Ball and Darrell Puls
  • The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson

 

 

The Lump Under the Rug

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It started small and undetectable. Just a few little things brushed under the rug to create peace. But as time went on a noticeable bump rose in the middle of the room. Everyone ignored it. Life continued. The bump grew into a lump. People had to walk around it to get from one side to the other. It was slightly awkward, but no one wanted to talk about it, so the lump stayed. It’s amazing what you can get used to, what you stop noticing after a while, and what starts to feel normal.

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Then one day someone new came along. They tripped over the lump under the rug. Picking themselves up, the newbie stared at the lump and started asking questions. People freaked out. “Don’t look at the lump! There is no lump. Stop talking about the lump.” They told the new person to stop gossiping. They scolded them for disrupting the peace and unity. The newbie was now the problem because they noticed the lump, but the lump itself went excused and ignored.

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It was easier to ignore the lump. The lump was frightening, and ugly, and messy. Getting rid of the lump would take a lot of work. It was easier to blame the person who tripped. “They should watch where they are going. I guess they just aren’t coordinated enough.” It was easier to condemn them for noticing and talking about the lump. “We are all used to it. It’s not really a problem any more. Stop gossiping and just walk around it.”

But there was still a huge lump under the carpet.

This is an example of a broken system. It could be a family, a marriage, a church, an organization, etc. Whatever the system, it’s not healthy. It’s dysfunctional and abusive. This kind of system happens in the secular world, but for some reason it is especially prevalent among Christians. Maybe because our religious version of Christianity is so often behavior based. We somehow think God is looking for good people, and when goodness fails we sweep it under the rug.

If you noticed the lump, you aren’t wrong no matter what they are telling you. They are probably afraid more than anything, and it’s coming out as anger and condemnation. It’s not necessarily gossip to talk about the lump under the rug, as long as you are talking with someone who can help you (such as a therapist) or someone who can help to get rid of the lump. Sometimes talking helps other people notice the lump too. It’s validating to find other people who also recognize it.

I think that people are often terrified of what they will find under the rug if they actually acknowledge it. It’s gross, rotten, moldy…it’s been there a long time. The ones condemning are afraid of condemnation themselves. They are afraid of being wrong. But it’s okay to be broken. We are all broken. And Jesus adores broken people!

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The best way to deal with that lump is for safe, loving people (people who have humbly faced their own mess) to join you and Jesus around the rug. Then carefully peel back a corner. Wow! Yup, that’s a pretty yucky lump. It’s gonna take a while to sift through and throw away. But that’s okay.

What if we just sat down with Jesus and other safe people and dealt with that lump? What if we discovered it wasn’t so scary after all? That Jesus wasn’t condemning us because He already knows? That He isn’t looking for pretend perfection but for a soft, broken heart? That other people will still love you? That they will understand because they are messed up too? That would be true healing and cleaning. It would bring life!

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If the other people refuse to move the rug and clean up the lump, if they insist that you are the problem for noticing it, it may be time to find new people. Easier if they are a church or an organization, much more difficult if they are family. You can only change you…but you can get help setting up boundaries and safety nets!

 

 

 

 

When I Can’t Feel God…

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I listened as he shared his story with us. It was a privilege to be part of this sacred moment. God had redeemed so much in his life. His story was a beautiful example of grace and growth.

Then he stopped and looked down. “I’ve never admitted this before in a group.” Tears filled his eyes as he looked back up at us. “When people talk about feeling the love of God or experiencing His Presence, I don’t get it. I’ve never felt that.”

We leaned forward encouragingly as he finished his story. Afterwards, the group leader opened it up for questions and response. A well-meaning listener asked if he really wanted to feel God’s Presence and if he’d ever asked to feel it. They had suggestions for how to make it happen. The man was completely broken. He’d asked, prayed, and begged so many times and it had never “worked.”

A few years ago I would have been that well-meaning listener, and my answer would have been horrifyingly similar. But it’s not anymore. If you are someone who feels like they are missing God’s Presence, or if He seems distant, quiet, or nonexistent, please keep reading. I am not going to give you any Christianese answers or formulas, but I am going to remind you of some truth. 🙂

Paul prays an amazing prayer for the church in Ephesus in Ephesians chapter three.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” Ephesians 3:14-19.

I am obsessed with this prayer, absolutely in love! There is so much that could be unpacked. But I want you to look at the bold words “know” and “knowledge.” In the Greek they are forms of ginosko — an intimate, experiential knowledge. It’s more than just information we know in our head; it’s personal.

Jesus uses this same word in John 10 when He talks about knowing His sheep and His sheep knowing Him.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…” John 10:14-15.

 

And He uses it again in John 17 when He tells us what eternal life actually is.

“And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” John 17:3.

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Jesus obviously thinks it’s possible for us to know Him in a personal, intimate way. But I don’t think that our understanding of that knowledge is the same as His. And that’s where we get tripped up…that’s where we end up feeling like it doesn’t work for us and that God is far away.

Maybe you have been to a service or conference where the worship was amazing and people (including yourself) were swept up in an experience. The lights were dim, the music swelled, hands were raised, and people cried. We declare that “the Spirit was moving tonight!” We ask people if they “felt God’s Presence?”

Was it really God? Or was it just our own emotion?

I want you to watch something amazing. This is Huge Jackman practicing for the Greatest Showman. They definitely have an emotional experience together and it’s quite moving! It even looks a bit like worship… But while beautiful and inspiring, it’s completely secular. It has nothing to do with God. Guys, if they can do it, so can we.

We can create emotional worship experiences with lights, music, and energy that have nothing to do with the actual God. We can feel things emotionally and physically that are amazing, and yet are not really the Spirit. Emotional experiences do not automatically equate to God’s Presence. How’s that for truth?

Those spiritual highs we get during a retreat or a worship set feel incredible, but they are hard to hold on to in real life. And it’s very possible that they have little to nothing to do with a connection to the Real Jesus. 

The Old Testament includes stories about a prophet named Elijah. He led a wild life and got to experience some amazing God moments. If you remember, Elijah was part of a crazy contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. (1 Kings 18) After the prophets of Baal spend the entire day begging their god for fire, the Real God shows up, sends fire from heaven, and burns up a sacrifice completely soaked in water. It was pretty spectacular.

However, not long after Elijah is in the wilderness asking God to take his life. He’s exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and he just wants to die. God sustains Elijah and eventually sends him to a cave to wait for Him. While Elijah waits in the cave a terrific wind passes by, but God is not in the wind. Next there is an earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake. Then comes a fire, but God is not in the fire. Finally Elijah hears a low whisper…and immediately he knows it is God.

I think too often we look for wind, and fire, and earthquakes as an experience of God’s Presence and we forget that He is actually the quiet whisper.

Let me remind you of some truth.

  • Didn’t God say He would never leave us? (Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5-6)
  • Didn’t Jesus promise to be with us always? (Matthew  28:20)
  • Didn’t Jesus say that He would send us a Helper? (John 14:25-26; 15:26)
  • Isn’t the Holy Spirit our guarantee of salvation? (1 Corinthians 1:22)

Here is the simple truth.

If we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior, then He has given us His Spirit to dwell with us forever. It doesn’t matter if we can “feel” Him or not. He is with us. He doesn’t go away. 🙂

If the Spirit dwells within us, and He is just as much God as Jesus and the Father, then we have God with us always…in all His glory and power and majesty.

I think we often look too far away, and for too much of an experience. The Real Spirit is as close as our next breath. He is here with us, quiet, gentle, whispering to our hearts, giving us strength for the day, telling us truth, and pointing us heavenward. We might not be able to feel the Spirit in the moment, but looking back we can see His shadow and we can hear His footsteps.

I’m not against experiences, they just need to go in their place. When I stop to consider Jesus, and remember the Spirit, my body often has a physical response. Tears come to my eyes, or I feel tingles. But that physical response is not the Spirit…that’s just my body responding to truth. Jesus and His Spirit is just as real and just as close even if I don’t get tears or feel tingles.

One final thought. Everyone is different. We experience human relationships differently. Why shouldn’t we also experience our relationship with God differently? It’s okay if you don’t “feel” God like some people do. You are probably experiencing Him in your own way…look for that. This is about you and the Real God. He’s pursuing you in the way He knows you will respond to best. Let go of guilt and shame. It’s not from God! Let Him be who He really is and not who we think He should be.


OUR EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL RESPONSES DO NOT MAKE GOD ANY MORE OR LESS REAL THAN HE ALREADY IS.


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Mental Illness, Possessed Baby Dolls, and the Church

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I’m going to tell you an embarrassing story. When I was a teenager, in the middle of religious cultic craziness, I thought I’d been given the gift of spiritual discernment. I truly believed that I could discern whether or not people’s toys, specifically baby dolls, were possessed. Parents in my church brought me their children’s dolls so that I could stare into their eyes and tell them if there was a demon inside or not. Yes, I now recognize that this is absolutely nuts. Yikes!! But at the time, it seemed very real.

We had all heard anecdotal stories of people’s experiences with possessed toys. We had heard stories about demons coming out of synthesizers and electronic keyboards.(Because rock music, you know, was from the devil.) The amount of fear involved was ridiculous. No one wanted demons in their houses. People do strange things when they are afraid.

Mental illness often gets put in the same Christianese category as possessed toys. While not on the same level, it’s something that we fear, don’t understand, and want to control. Christians feel like there should be a formula to change it. It feels safer to tell people that it’s the result of sin. It feels more comfortable to categorize it as “spiritual warfare.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there isn’t such a thing as spiritual warfare. I just don’t think it usually looks like we think it does.

I think we give way more credit to fear, anecdotal stories, and just brokenness in the world, and not enough credit to the subtle lies the enemy whispers to us about ourselves, other people, and God. Satan isn’t necessarily behind the cold you caught, the fact that your car broke down, or even your anxiety. But, he definitely loves that you feel hopeless and doubt God’s love for you.

As humans, we are naturally afraid of things we don’t understand.  But when you combine fear with religion, the idea that I have to do something to get results, brokenness and destruction happens.

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Do you know how many people are silently struggling with things like depression and anxiety within our churches but are afraid to say anything? Do you know how many people are told that their mental illness is a result of a “lack of faith” or “bitterness” or some other problem on their part? They aren’t doing enough and that’s why they are broken. People are afraid to speak up and ashamed to seek help or admit they need medication. That’s not okay. No one should have to struggle in secret. No one should be isolated in their pain and afraid of the body of Christ. It’s wrong that the church has made them feel this way.

How did we get here? I believe three things have played a huge part.

  • Religious Christianity

“Religion is the business of appeasing gods.” This sentence from Mike Cosper’s book Recapturing the Wonder has been challenging my thinking for almost a year now. We do that within Christianity. We put our ideas about God in a tiny box. Then we work our hardest to appease our god-in-a-box because we want his approval and blessings. That’s religious Christianity. Formulaic thinking abounds within religious Christianity. We search for a magical guarantee to make our god do what we want.

We can be conservative, religious Christians, or we can be liberal, religious Christians. It’s all about the box. We might have different ideas about God in our box, but if we are focused on doing things to make our god-in-a-box happy, then we are religious.

The real Jesus doesn’t fit in a box. He will always be bigger than our understanding. He will never make sense. And He doesn’t need to be appeased, because He already appeased Himself on the cross. 🙂

  • Lack of Education

The church has been suspicious of psychology for far too long. There is nothing wrong with learning how the human brain tends to work. Just because some of the scientists that made breakthroughs in psychology weren’t Christians doesn’t make their work invalid. Psychology is a beautiful thing. It’s exciting and freeing to understand potential whys behind thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Somehow, Christians often separate the spiritual part of people from the rest of them. I just don’t think that’s an accurate way of doing things. We are complex beings. And our spirituality, that is our ability to connect with God, is interwoven deeply with our story, our beliefs about our self, the way we interact with people, etc.

The church that we currently attend loves psychology. And honestly, the more I have come to understand myself, the healthier I have become spiritually.

  • Fear

Ironically fear is often the motivator behind our religious Christianity and our lack of education. We are afraid of the god we have imagined, so we create a list of religious behaviors to follow. We are afraid of a lack of control, so we try to earn God’s blessings by our actions. People are afraid of psychology, so they don’t get better educated. We are afraid of God and people’s condemnation, so we keep our depression and anxiety to ourselves.

Fear is not from the real Jesus, friends! Do you know what the most repeated command in the Bible is? “Do not be afraid.”  Wow! While fear is a legitimate emotion, it does not need to control us. Fear is not a helpful motivator. And the real Jesus is bigger than our fears.

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Let me just close with some thoughts.

  • Spirituality is very abstract. Sometimes we need concrete help before we can deal with abstract spiritual things. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. If I’m in the middle of a panic attack, frantically praying or trying to quote the Bible is not nearly as helpful as taking deep breaths, using some grounding techniques, and speaking truth to myself. Once I’m in a better place, I can take a look at what triggered me and go from there.
  • Because we are complicated, spiritual beings, many parts of us are intertwined and affected by other parts. Are there lies that we are believing about ourselves, God, and others that might be adding to our depression or anxiety? It’s very possible. However, we need to help our brains get to a place where we can logically deal with those lies.
  • If you are struggling with a mental illness, it’s not your fault. We live in a world broken by sin, and one of the things that is affected is our brains. They are complex organs, and sometimes they get sick. The best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out and look for help. You are not less spiritual because you go to therapy or are on medication. It’s okay! Those are good things. God is not disappointed and He doesn’t condemn you.

I know that the church’s attitude towards mental illness has often been more hurtful than helpful. But the church is made up of individuals. The church culture towards mental illness can change as more and more of us develop a healthy attitude and understanding. I have hope! 🙂

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Enemies of God

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enemy: a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something.

Is God our enemy? It’s a question that I have been pondering for the past few weeks. Sometimes He feels like our enemy, and I’ve heard Bible verses that make Him sound like our enemy, but is He really? This is an important question! Because, I am much less likely to want to get to know Someone who is actively opposed to me…

There are plenty of verses that talk about God opposing the proud, or sending judgement on the wicked, or hating certain sins. Can He do those things and still not be our enemy? I think it depends on His motives, His heart behind the actions. Is God “actively opposed or hostile” in those situations? Or is He working out of love to get someone’s attention? Is He standing back and allowing cause and effect to happen? Is He feeling hatred because of the pain sin brings to the people it affects? It’s important to read these types of verses in context. As I’ve studied, I’ve found nothing that contextually makes God our enemy.

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And ultimately, I keep coming back to Jesus. If God were really our enemy, then Jesus would have been completely different. An enemy does not pursue peace. They do not treat us with ridiculous love and scandalous grace. They are not humble and gentle. An enemy does not seek out the broken and needy and give them value. They are not willing to be tortured and murdered for our sake. If Jesus is God, and I absolutely believe that He is, then God is not our enemy. He can’t be!

But, we are His.

Did you know that you can have an enemy without being one? Someone can be hostile and opposed to you without you returning the favor. They might even think and feel that you are mutual enemies without it being accurate.

The truth is, people are absolutely God’s enemies. Look at the definition of enemy…there is no denying it. We are actively opposed and hostile towards God. Every day.

The unbelieving world twists His character, argues against His natural law, and denies His existence. People in the church, who call themselves Christians misunderstand, misrepresent, and ignore Him at the same time. We are in a constant fight against God. It’s one of the results of sin.

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The creation surrounding us proclaims God’s eternal nature and divine character, but we claim it happened by accident. God created us in His own image with emotions, intellect, and the ability to connect in relationship, and we use our intelligence to decide He doesn’t exist. Jesus came as the exact image of God, and we proclaim Him to be “just a good man.” God breathed out the Bible, speaking to multiple people over thousands of years, and we either ignore it, twist it, or use it to our own advantage.

Yes, we are definitely God’s enemies. But God refuses to be ours.

Even as we fight, struggle, and insist on believing lies about Him, the Spirit of Jesus is calling us and drawing us to Himself. He never stops loving us, even when we hate Him. He is always ready to be found by people who seek Him. He never gives up on us. He always wants us. Isn’t that crazy?

Let’s throw away the lies, and shame, and discouragement. God is not our enemy! And even though we are His, He has already taken the first steps in reconciliation! We are loved, redeemed, and wanted. 🙂

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” Romans 5:10.

“For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” Colossians 1:1.9-20

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The Only Condemnation was in the Commentary

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I’ve reached a pretty important conclusion. God isn’t who we think He is.

I realize that the Old Testament God often has a bad reputation. It might be hard to hate Jesus, unless you’re an uber-religious leader, but Jehovah of the Old Testament does some pretty terrible things. He’s harsh and demanding.

Or is He?

I’ve been puttering around in the Old Testament during my morning devo time for the past four months or so. Basically ever since a well-known preacher told Christians to “unhitch” from it…I know, I’m a total rebel. 🙂

So far I’ve made it through Judges, Ruth, and First Samuel. I’m working my way through Second Samuel right now. What I’ve found has shocked me! Half of the stories are missing. Or rather, the stories are there but certain parts I remembered are gone.

  • Did you know God doesn’t seem to care that Deborah is a woman in leadership? There is no negativity or suggestion that she is only leading because no good men are available. In fact, she is celebrated. That was new to me!
  • Struggling with fear and insecurity, Gideon needs not one but two signs from God before he obeys. God patiently provides miracles for Gideon without comment (along with the strength to win an impossible battle). God does not appear fazed by Gideon’s needs or weaknesses. He never condemns Gideon for a lack of faith.
  • Samson is a narcissistic, womanizing, self-centered jerk who only wants revenge. There is no record of him ever repenting or caring about God at all. Even at the end, when God gave Samson back his strength, Samson only wanted it so that he could kill his enemies. Yet, somehow Samson ends up in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews chapter eleven.

Do you know what has hit me over and over again? The utter lack of condemnation. The Bible records facts in a historical, matter of fact way. God interacts with broken people to accomplish His purposes. Nothing stops Him. And the only condemnation is in the commentary. I actually had to stop reading the commentary in my study Bible because it was so irritating to me. If God’s not condemning these people, we sure don’t have any business adding it.

good-1123013_1920Condemnation is what we often hear in Sunday school, sermons, devotionals, etc. We humans can’t seem to get away from an obsession with behaviors and a desire to moralize and judge. We have to make sure people know that certain actions are bad.

But, is that really important?

The last five chapters of Judges detail some historical events that happened before there was a king and when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” They aren’t pretty stories. It’s a dark time in the nation of Israel.

Judges ends on that note. The tabernacle, the priesthood, and the worship of Jehovah have become twisted and corrupted. Everyone is doing whatever they want.

Next, the book of Ruth jumps back in time and tells the story of two women who lived during Judges. Ruth was a Moabite who came back to Israel with her mother-in-law after her husband’s death. She ends up marrying another Israelite man and goes on to be the great-great-grandmother of King Solomon (David’s son) who built the temple.

Why is this important? Well, in Deuteronomy 23:3, the Law declares that no Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD even to the tenth generation. There are only four generations between Ruth and Solomon! What? What kind of ridiculous mercy and lavish grace is being shown by Jehovah? What happened to the harsh, demanding God who wrote the Law?

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Maybe He isn’t who we assume He is. I mean, who better to disregard the Law than the One who wrote it? Maybe the Law was never meant to be perfectly followed…maybe it was meant to show us the heart of God.

Finally we arrive at First Samuel, and I love this part. We left off chronologically at the end of Judges (since Ruth happens somewhere in the middle) with terrible and tragic situations in a spiritually dark time. Into that darkness comes the prophet Samuel.

There is so much to unpack that I’m just going to use bullet points.

  • Despite the fact that most of the country is in spiritual darkness, Samuel’s parents Hannah and Elkanah seem to know the LORD personally. God always has been, and always will be, found by those who seek Him! 
  • After being given a miracle baby, Hannah gives her young son back to God and sends him to live with the priest Eli and serve in the tabernacle. Eli’s sons are totally out of control and yet are serving as priests. Worship at the tabernacle has been corrupted by thievery and prostitution. But this doesn’t stop God!
  • The beginning of Chapter Three declares that “the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” But, in Chapter Two, an unnamed Man of God shows up out of nowhere and gives Eli a prophecy about his sons. Where did this guy come from? What is his story? I don’t know, but God is still moving and working even though corporate worship is a mess!
  • And then directly after the declaration that God is not speaking to people, He audibly calls the child Samuel. Verse seven of Chapter Three specifically says that at this point Samuel does not yet know God and has never had God’s words revealed to him. All that is about to change! Samuel will go on to become a mighty prophet of the LORD.

Into a time of spiritual darkness and depravity, Jehovah shows up. He calls people, speaks to people, and patiently reveals Himself to them. He isn’t harsh, or demanding, or condemning. They haven’t been following the Law, but He doesn’t even mention that.

I don’t think God is Who we think He is…

It’s not that God doesn’t point out sin, because He does. But He points it out mater-of-factly with abundant grace and truth and an utter lack of condemnation. His conviction is meant to draw people to Him, not push them away. There is no shame or judgement. The more I read the Old Testament, the more Jehovah reminds me of Jesus. Crazy, isn’t it?

Part of our brokenness resulting from sin is an inability to relate to God. The Bible calls us enemies. Not that God is our enemy, but we are His. And yet, He is purposefully and passionately pursuing us. He always has been and He always will. (More on that next time.) 🙂

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Embracing My Strength

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“Do not let your adornment be merely outward…rather let it be…the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” 1 Peter 3:4. (NKJV)

How did this verse get so twisted and taken out of context that it stopped meaning having a heart that trusts Jesus and started meaning having a soft voice and quiet demeanor? I have no idea. Welcome to the crazy place where I lived during my teens and early twenties.

When you spend a decade or more being told that your personality, gifts, and abilities are sin, it takes a while to recover. But I’m working on it.

I know that I’m not the only strong woman out there who has been shut down by the traditions of religious Christianity. I’m not here today to argue theology, but rather to share my story in the hopes that it will encourage you. I want to encourage strong women to flourish in the gifts God has given them, and I want to encourage men to stand up and support women of strength as co-laborers for the kingdom!

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A year ago, my husband and I started attending a small group with our new church. It was amazing to meet with these people who were honest about themselves and accepting of us on our journey. God put that small group together and I loved it.

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But as we drove away that winter night, I was curled in a ball in the front seat, tears running down my face, my heart breaking and terrified. I’d done it again. The bad part of me had escaped and now they wouldn’t like me.

“What is wrong with me? Why can’t I keep myself contained?” I moaned. Then it got real. “How can they like me,” I asked my husband in desperation, “when I don’t even like myself?” Gut level stuff was spewing from a wound that I didn’t even know I had.

Even as I said it out loud, it hit me. “I don’t even like myself.” It was true.

What terrible thing did I do to cause this trauma? It was simple. Our group leaders had shared their stories and, along with the rest of the group, I asked some questions and made comments. Everything was fine until our leader complimented his wife for answering “when Christy came on strong.”

And that’s when I freaked out and shut down. I hadn’t meant to be strong; I didn’t even know I’d been strong! My strength had gotten me in trouble so many times before…

I’ve always wished I was naturally sweet, quiet, and gentle. I even spent three years in my teens pretending I was. But I’m not. I’m loud, and blunt, and passionate. And I have a really hard time keeping my mouth shut.

I’ve learned over the years to keep myself in check, but the strength still occasionally escapes. Mostly because I’m not really a quiet pushover. I have strong feelings and opinions. I love truth. I care deeply about people…sometimes too much. I identify with Elsa from Frozen. When my strength finally blasts its way to the surface, it’s usually unhealthy and unhelpful. It gets me in trouble. I do and say things I shouldn’t…

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“Why do you have to control and hide your strength?” my patient husband asked. “Why can’t you just be who God made you?”

Because it’s bad.” was my quick reply.

My experiences, both during my ultra-conservative season and even more recently, told me my strength was dangerous, unwanted, and possibly even sinful. How could God have made me this way?

Why can’t you just be who God made you to be?” It was a valid question. What would happen if I accepted my strength and lived out of it? What if I stopped stuffing it down until it exploded? I decided it was time for help.

Our church has certified counselors on staff. Isn’t that amazing?! I went to see of them. I wanted to know if it was possible to be a strong woman and love Jesus at the same time.

The counselor listened patiently, like great counselors do. Then he made two observations and one suggestion.

  • “I think you have a deep need to be heard.”

I’d never thought about it that way before, but it was true. In fact, just about every big conflict in my life has happened because I didn’t feel heard or understood and then responded with negative strength.

  • “I like your strength and your passion.”

Being told my strength was good, even likable, was amazing.

  • “Try to let your strength come from a place of brokenness rather than a place of needing to be heard.”

Brokenness…I’ve got lots of that! But, it is interesting to stand back and recognize the way Jesus has used every bit of the brokenness I’ve experienced in both my recent and distant past to make me who I am today. He has humbled and softened me through pain. It’s funny how that works.

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Being broken myself allows me to understand other people’s brokenness a little better. I have more empathy and less judgement. Embracing my brokenness seems to stabilize my strength on a deep level. It is good.

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Probably the most healing part of this journey of living in my God-given strength is the men in my life recently who have encouraged me. It was a patriarchal society that originally told me I was bad, and unfortunately that same attitude often trickles into traditional Christian circles as well.

My wonderfully-opposite-husband, who never even heard the word patriarchal before he met me, has always supported and even pushed me to be the woman God created me to be. He’s never been intimidated by my strength, and from the beginning of our relationship knew how to lead and guide me in a way that encouraged rather than suppressed me.

I’m at a church right now that wants me, with my strength. When I was honest about what happened that night in small group, our leader not only acknowledged my feelings, but let me know that he didn’t mean strong in a bad way. The counselor I spoke with (who is also a pastor) told me he liked me with my strength and gave me pointers to use it well.

We were recently talking to our pastor of young adults. My husband mentioned a conversation the two of us had where I had called him out on something. The pastor laughed, and said, “Christy doesn’t beat around the bush, does she?” But there was no condemnation in his voice, just appreciation. He went on to say, “I want Christy and her passion in this ministry. I am excited to have you guys working with us.”

I’ve got tears in my eyes right now as I write this. Being accepted and loved like that…being appreciated and wanted…is an amazingly powerful thing. 

These days I am embracing words like strong, passionate, and fierce. I am passionate about truth; God has gifted me with strong faith and the ability to love fiercely. Strength can be a beautiful thing when it isn’t exploding in unhealthy ways, even in a woman.

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Choosing Trust

(Re-blogged with some  tweaks from a post I originally wrote a few year ago.)

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Looking at the ultrasound monitor, I didn’t need anyone to tell me. I knew as soon as I saw him. My baby was dead.

Less than an hour later, we sat silently in a small waiting room, surrounded by dim lighting and multiple Kleenex boxes, waiting for the doctor. Four weeks ago our baby was wiggling all over that monitor, waving to us, measuring just right, looking good. And now he was dead. Why would God do this to us again?

We had just lost our first baby seven months ago. By the time I started miscarrying at 18 weeks, he was already absorbing into my uterus so I had to have a D&C. I thought it was the hardest thing I’d ever gone through. We asked so many questions, felt so much grief, and yet God had carried us.

We had been way more careful this time, had many more ultrasounds, and things had been looking good. It seemed like God was answering our prayers. But now my heart was breaking all over again. Why? Why would God let this happen?

The doctor finally came. He told me our baby was bigger this time. He told me it would be better if I delivered him. He wanted to know if tomorrow would work. Tomorrow was Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day will never be the same for me, but I’m okay with that. I spent February 14, 2009 in the hospital laboring with my tiny baby. It was a bit surreal. To be on the maternity floor. To hear babies crying. It lasted all day until finally, at 9:34pm, we got to see our teeny, little, baby boy. He was about 15 weeks along, even though I was at 17 weeks, with tiny fingers and toes, and little ribs. You could even see his fingernails starting to form. The nurses let us spend as much time as we wanted with him. It’s hard to explain the pain I felt, kind of like my chest was ripping in two. I wanted that baby! I wanted him so much! But I wanted him to be alive. And he wasn’t.

I remember them asking if we had a name for him. I didn’t had any names for dead babies, only for living ones! We didn’t know what to do. My husband and I talked about it. We were struggling to trust God and believe in His goodness. It felt impossible to hold on. So, we chose to take a step of faith, and we named our son, Trust. Not because we felt it, but because we didn’t. We chose to trust in a God that we could not see and did not understand. And instantly, I felt peace flood my heart.

I know what it means in Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Because the peace I felt didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t like anything had changed in my circumstances…but I had absolute peace.

“…I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity. I am the LORD who does all these things” Isaiah 45:6b-7.

I found this verse before my babies died, but afterwards it became my life verse. I had heard well-meaning people tell others who were grieving that God was sorry their pain happened. I didn’t want God to be sorry, because I didn’t want Him to be weak.

I didn’t want Him to be like, “Oops, sorry about that!” I wanted a God who was totally in control. It comforted me to read this verse and hear God tell me, “Christy, I took your babies. I did it on purpose. It was not an accident.”

Because a God who is completely in control and loves me is safe even if I don’t understand Him. I love believing in a Being who is good and loving, but so far above me that He doesn’t owe me an explanation for His actions. It brings me peace.

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Jesus carried me after my babies died. He held me five weeks later when I shared my testimony of loss and trust with a group of juvenile delinquents on a Reservation in South Dakota. He held me up so that I could still reach out to the junior high kids in our youth group. Jesus carried me through my friend’s pregnancies, and baby showers, and seeing young teen mom’s at Walmart. Oh, I cried, often! But they were not tears of hopelessness and despair, just of sorrow and somehow trust. Choosing to trust does not mean that we don’t feel pain. I was a blubbering mess just writing this!

One year after we lost Trust, despite thinking we might never have children, God miraculously provided a diagnoses, a fertility specialist who just happened to be one of the best in the nation, $8000, a surgery, and a brand new baby growing in my tummy.

Our daughter Zoe’s birthday (July 21) and Trust’s due date (July 23) are just two days and one year apart.

Sometimes God gives us the desires of our hearts even when it seems impossible, and other times He doesn’t. I have friends who struggle with infertility, even going through IVF and God has chosen not to give them a baby. Why? I don’t know.

Often we will never know that answer, but we can believe that God never loses control and we can choose to trust.

“…I the LORD, do all these things” Isaiah 45:7.

It gives me confidence knowing that nothing can come to me that hasn’t passed through the hand of my Heavenly Father. His plans and thoughts are so much larger than mine.

We can trust Him.

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This experience has continued to carry me through more heartbreak, disappointment, unanswered prayers, and pain. This broken world hurts and often things don’t make any sense. But I KNOW that God is real, that He is in control, that He loves me, and that He will not leave me alone. The same is true for you too!

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