Irony and Apostasy: Finding a Solid Faith

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There is something amazingly ironic about a Christian songwriter and an Evangelical poster-boy announcing they are leaving the faith, and then the lead singer of a Christian rock band nailing the world with the truth. John Cooper, lead singer of the band, Skillet, went viral over the past few days with his bold and honest Facebook post.

Skillet. There was a time when I was pretty sure a Christian rock band like this actually worshiped the devil. Haha! Now I find myself shaking my head and smiling, because this is exactly how the Real Jesus works.

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“What in God’s name is happening in Christianity?” John Cooper asked. ” More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once “faces” of the faith are falling away. And at the same time they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?) as they announce that they are leaving the faith.”

John Cooper has tattoos, sings in a rock band, and wears eyeliner! That’s enough to give many conservative Christians a stroke. But he also stepped up passionately to defend the faith and the God that he loves. I can’t even begin to describe my glee. (Make sure you read his full statement that I linked above if you haven’t already.) This is the Real God…He uses people that don’t fall into the “good Christian” category all the time.

People rarely get this animated about a religion or a belief system. But they do feel this passionately about Someone they know personally. And I think that’s the difference.

People can fall away from a set of rules or beliefs, but if you have encountered the Living Person of Jesus Christ, it’s a different story. It’s really hard to walk away from Jesus; I know that from experience.

SO, WHAT DO WE DO?

I believe that a vibrant Christian faith needs a mix of two things. It needs a balanced mix of truth and experience. If either one of those gets out of wack, we run into problems. Someone once told me that I’m a practical mystic and I kind of like that.

On one side people can get so focused on knowledge, apologetics, and information that their faith is purely intellectual. I’ve heard it said that people who are argued into the faith can just as easily be argued out of it. Knowledge is good; Christian education is necessary. But if that’s all we have, then we are missing something vitally important. Someone.

But on the other side, there are people who are caught up in emotional experience without any knowledge of the Bible, theology, or the historical Christian faith. If this is the case, then our spirituality is based on feelings without any solid ground to stand on. One good wind storm and our faith is shattered.

The answer is found in combination. If you make an effort to learn how to read the Bible in a responsible way, how to understand and apply Scripture, and become familiar with the core tenets of the faith… But you also recognize that God is a Spiritual Being who wants to be active in our lives and you are open to that reality… Boom!

Welcome to the amazing, ridiculous, often backwards Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It’s pretty great in here. 

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There’s a bit of panic among some Christians right now as they watch all these prominent leaders publicly walking away from the faith. But I’m not worried. It’s causing us to have some really great conversations. It’s making us think. It’s giving us an opportunity to reevaluate our Christian faith and what it means to us. Sounds like something the Spirit might be actually be behind…

And the people who have walked away? Their story isn’t over yet. They probably needed to leave their religious Christianity and their impostor Jesus, so that they can eventually find the Real One. God continually pursues people, and if we stop resisting Him and start seeking, we will find Him.

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” Jeremiah 29:12-13.

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When God Unexpectedly Heals

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A few weeks ago my little family went camping in my old stomping grounds, and something unexpectedly beautiful happened. 🙂 But first some background.

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I was raised in an old farmhouse, near a small town, in the middle of Michigan’s “Thumb.” For anyone reading this who is not from my state, Michigan is shaped like a mitten and the Thumb is a peninsula that sticks out into Lake Huron. It’s mostly flat farm fields with a speckling of tiny towns thrown in. We had to drive twenty minutes to get to a Walmart and almost an hour to get to any decent sized city.

My parents sold our old house and moved away from the Thumb when my dad retired, so I haven’t had any reason to go back for years. It’s not like you randomly pass through on your way anywhere else.

I concocted a plan to bring my family back to my hometown for the annual Freedom Festival over the 4th of July. We could swing by my old house, see some of my favorite places, and even visit the lighthouse where we got married. It would be amazing!

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While the first two-thirds of our trip was fun, it was also disappointing. My house looked very different. The trees were much larger, the new owners had changed a ton of things, and they weren’t even home so we couldn’t really poke around. Strangely though, twenty years later, my old swing was still hanging from the tree in the side yard…the swing I asked for when I turned eighteen (because I was a young, homeschooled, old-fashioned eighteen, LOL). It was a bit surreal.

 

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The grassy field next to the lighthouse where we got married surrounded by a cathedral of trees was now filled with an old, beat up, life-saving station that they were refurbishing. The trees had all been cut down due to insect infestation and you couldn’t even tell where we had stood to say “I do.” So much for renewing our vows…

We had a great time playing in the Lake, but it was basically a different place.

 

After these types of experiences, I didn’t go into the Saturday festival at my hometown with very many expectations.

The hour-plus parade was exactly what I remembered, complete with overflowing bags of candy and every emergency vehicle in the county bringing up the rear with horns and sirens blaring. My children were thrilled! We wandered around afterwards, taking in the craft fair, free inflatables, and a strongman competition. While there I suddenly realized that the bald, bearded, tattooed man pulling a semi truck was the naughty, little boy my Jr. Choir director used to make sit next to me so I could help him behave when I was ten and he was five. Life is weird sometimes.

I began to process my life in this small town. We were part of the community when I was little. I knew people from my old church before we joined our cultic organization. Then I spent ten years living in the community but apart from it, before finally coming back to a local Baptist church for a year or two before I left for college. Many of my memories of this town and the people in it were being aloof from them, feeling better, special somehow. But I wasn’t that person anymore. So much change and growth had happened since then.

They were having a community devotion in the evening, kind of like a joint service with the various churches in town. I just knew I needed to go. My kind husband agreed to bring the kids and come with me.

There weren’t very many people in the little park, but that was okay. One of the boys from my old church where I went to Jr. Choir and did Bible Bowl had grown up and become the pastor. He was there along with pastors from four or five other churches. A trio of older musicians led us in some country style worship, a few hymns I knew and some songs I didn’t. A young associate pastor gave a short devotional. Then we celebrated communion.

It wasn’t the quality of the service that affected me. It was the choice to be there and willingly participate without judgement or condemnation. These were the people in my community that I had looked down on as less spiritual and worldly, but now I was here with them worshiping our common Creator and Savior.

During communion, a pastor and his wife from one of the more liturgical churches approached us with a loaf of bread and a glass of grape juice. We indicated that we would like to participate. She tore off a piece of bread and he dipped it into the juice, “The body of Christ, broken for you,” he whispered as he offered it to me. I don’t know how to explain what happened as I accepted and ate that bread, but I’m crying as I write this.

Dr. Henry Cloud wrote a book called Changes that Heal, and one of the things he talks about is good time and bad time. He says,

“When we truly live in time, which is where we are now, we are present with our experience… If we are not aware of our experience, or are not experiencing some aspect of ourselves, that part is removed from time and is not affected by it…. Whatever aspect of ourselves that we leave outside of experience, that we leave in ‘bad time,’ goes unchanged. Grace and truth cannot affect the part of ourselves that we won’t bring into experience.”

It was like the old me was able to reconcile with the new me. Something deep was brought out of “bad time” and was healed.

Since I started telling my story, there was a part of me that always felt the need to justify who I am now. There was a strange defensiveness in my heart. It’s only been a few weeks, but it feels like that part is gone. Like I can just be me and accept my story without needing to prove anything. It’s kind of a beautiful feeling. 🙂

Thanks for listening to some personal ramblings this morning. I don’t have any profound applications to make except that God is good and gracious, and healing can happen in unexpected ways.

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Down the Rabbit Hole and Back Again

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I was surprised to read a week ago Thursday that Progressive Christian author, blogger, and speaker Rachel Held Evans had been in a medically induced coma for the past two weeks. And then I was even more shocked last Saturday to hear about her death.

I’ve been down a rabbit hole of thought and research ever since.

Rachel’s second book, Faith Untraveled, was one of three books I read eighteen months ago when I was trying to learn from people that I disagreed with while processing my own recent church hurt. Of the three books I read during that time, Rachel’s was the hardest for me. We were so similar in many ways. There were many paragraphs that I felt like I could have written myself. We saw problems within the mainstream evangelical church through almost parallel eyes. I loved her raw honesty and wit. But just as I would start to agree, we would both take an abrupt right angle turn and end up at polar opposite conclusions.

As I’ve read reviews and excerpts of Rachel’s more recent books over the past few days, I know that there isn’t much we would have agreed on theologically. And yet we both felt the emptiness of religious Christianity, and we both grieved the pain people have caused in the name of Jesus. Rachel was passionate, fierce even, with a strength that I recognize in myself. I think that’s probably why I was so irritated with her while she was alive. Our “truths” definitely did not align. And yet I can’t help but admire the intentional way she lived.

It’s easier to ignore people and ideas that we don’t agree with than to face them. As I’ve journeyed down this rabbit hole of progressive thought the past few days, I’ve just been faced with the overwhelming amount of people who have been terribly hurt by the church, by Christians. Well-meaning or not, people who claim the name of Jesus have left a trail of wounded in their dust. That’s not okay. The rabbit hole is exhausting and I feel overwhelmed and under-qualified to address the issues and lies and pain.

The pull of Progressive Christianity with it’s focus on love and relative truth is attractive. It’s inclusive and comfortable and happy. And if the only other option was Bible Thumpers who want to quote verses and force me to behave while ignoring my questions and doubts, then I’d become a Progressive too. But, as I’ve said so many times before, there aren’t only two options. The world is not black and white.

Despite everything humans have done to prove otherwise over the years, God is Real. He is more real than the chair I’m sitting in or the iced chai latte I’m drinking. I know because I’ve met Him and He has radically changed my life. I’ve met the Living Presence that is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Jesus who came as a human being to show us the Father and the way back home. Not just by living a life we are supposed to emulate, but by being the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We aren’t going to find Him by finding our own truth. The truth is Jesus and we will only find the truth as we discover Him – not the other way around.

In the time between when I started this blog post and today as I finish it, I stumbled across a podcast by Alisa Childers. She is a historical Christian who loves apologetics. I’ve been absolutely devouring her show. The incredibly intelligent people she interviews amaze me.

I would also identify these days as a historical Christian. All that means is that we believe in the historical view of Christianity passed down for the last 2000 years. We agree with the early creeds and views about the Bible, Jesus, salvation, and God Himself. This contrasts with the progressive view of Christianity which is more fluid and less literal.

I have no plans of becoming a apologist, and you probably won’t even notice in my blog posts or social media that I am listing to all of this intellectual stuff. But I feel like it’s a solid base for me to have as I work my way towards a podcast of my own.

I’m going to continue questioning ritual, tradition, and Christianese cliches. And I’m going to continue to point people back to the Real Jesus. People mess up the truth when they start putting in their own twists and spins on either side of the spectrum. My story is proof of that!

More than anything else, I long for you to know the Real Jesus. He exists and He wants to be found.

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The Nature of Worship

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But as I peered through the dimness at the crowd surrounding me, singing with closed eyes and raised hands, I felt a question flash through my mind. Are we really worshiping? Or are we simply being emotionally manipulated by well-meaning people?

I don’t mean to come across as cynical. I like singing. I enjoy a good musical worship service. But I also know that if we are going to develop a genuine relationship with the Real God, we must be grounded in truth.

Music is powerful. It has the potential to move us at a deep emotional level whether it’s secular or religious. But does worship automatically equal music? Those two words are often synonymous in the Christian culture. Or is worship something much bigger?

My brother led worship for years both on a traveling revival team and professionally at a church. He is a gifted musician and composer. One day he called me to talk about a book he was reading by Elizabeth Esther called Spiritual Sobriety. The premise of this book is that many of us are religious addicts looking for the next spiritual high rather than people who are actually connected to the real God.

I remember my brother telling me about planning  worship services. He said that looking back, he knows there was emotional manipulation involved. It was done with good intentions of getting people to have a worship experience, but it was manipulation none the less. As a musician, he knew that if they played this succession of songs with that chord and those beats, people would feel something. It was convicting to him.

What if much of our musical worship experiences are just that, emotional manipulation?

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If that is the case, it makes sense why we feel a high at retreats or conferences and then come back down to earth once we get home. Feelings are a beautiful thing created by God and they should not be discounted or ignored. However, we can’t live securely based on feelings alone. They are like shifting sand that moves with the waves under our feet. We need a rock to stand on. We need truth.

What is true worship?

Historically, people came to temples to worship their gods. Many also had shrines within their homes. They brought sacrifices to appease the gods and hopefully gain a desired outcome. This still happens around the world today. While music is often involved, it’s just a part of the worship experience. In the Old Testament, even Jehovah was worshiped in a temple with sacrifices. Worshipers came with offerings of animals, grain, and wine to gain forgiveness and blessings.

Jesus changed all of that. Through Jesus, God offered the ultimate sacrifice and appeased Himself. Now the Bible says that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). What does that mean? What does that look like? What do these truths do to the concept of worship?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks this question: What is the chief end of man? It then give this answer: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

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What if real worship is just enjoying God?

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we have full and total access to God. Because God sacrificed Himself and no longer requires appeasement, we don’t have to go to a temple to worship. We are the temple and God lives within us when we trust in Jesus as our Savior. We are able to enjoy God everywhere and doing anything.

Can we worship God through music? Absolutely! But I can also worship Him driving in the car in silence, taking a walk through nature, eating at a favorite restaurant, serving in the church nursery, etc. The possibilities are endless. If worship is just enjoying God, then there is a lot to enjoy!

As Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman in John chapter four He said,

“The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…but the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him” John 4:21, 23.

When you feel tingles and tears as you worship corporately with powerful music and lights and raised hands, please realize that the same God is present with you when you feel numb and dead inside and cannot sing at all!

Strong emotion does not necessarily mean worship. Feeling emotion does not indicate God’s Presence. He is with us always whether we feel Him or not. And you can truly worship without intense feelings. Emotions can be fun, but facts and faith must come first. 

Guys, although the Real God is enormous and powerful, holy and passionate, and although He could come in a hurricane and sweep us off our feet, He is usually quiet and still. He is close, so close. He is a Living Presence that can sneak up and overwhelm you when you least expect it. (Like just now when I typed those words and then had to sit in silence with hands raised in surrender and tears dripping down my cheeks.)

 

 

As you worship corporately in church, or don’t, I hope you take some time to contemplate the nature of true worship. Music is just one way to enjoy the God who created us and loved us enough to be The Way Back. Emotions might come as you worship God, but they are a byproduct of worship and not the experience itself. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well as your favorite places and ways to worship God. 🙂

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Confessions of a Former Pharisee

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I used to be a Pharisee. One of those well-meaning religious people who totally missed God walking in front of them because they were so consumed with rules and spirituality. Yup, that was me.

And it wasn’t just back in my days in a cultic sub-group of Christianity. Honestly, I was a Pharisee up until a few years ago. I can still be a Pharisee right now.

I’ve been that religious person who only cares about people cleaning the outside of their cup and whitewashing their tombs. (Matthew 23:25-28) The one who wants you to fix your behaviors while missing your hurting heart. God used four teenage girls in leggings to remind me again just the other day.

When I’m not writing, or taking care of my family, or having coffee with friends, I’m probably Shipt shopping. That’s right, I’m a professional grocery shopper. LOL! Not exactly what I imagined myself doing for a career, but it’s all good. 🙂

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The other day I delivered to the Life Skills teacher at a local high school. I parked out front and waited for her students to come collect the pizza making supplies I’d just purchased. Four young girls showed up with a cart. They were polite and friendly as we unloaded the groceries. Pretty girls, put-together and made-up, they were typical of the upper class, suburban area where I work.

I shut my trunk, hopped back in my car, and started to drive away. Out of nowhere, tears began to sting my eyes and I felt my heart break. I’ve been learning to pay better attention to emotion and not assume that I know where its coming from. What I discovered this time surprised me. I wasn’t crying for those girls. I was crying for me.  They were tears of brokenness and repentance for the person that I have been.

See, every one of those girls was wearing leggings. A couple of years ago, that’s all I would have noticed. I would have been upset at their lack of decency and I would have missed their precious hearts. But that’s not who I am anymore.

I used to be a pastor’s wife. My husband and I went to Bible college right after we got married. We were in full-time ministry of some sort, either Christian camping or church, for the next seven years. I thought that I was free from all of the legalism and rules that I had grown up with in my teens and early twenties. But I look back and I see someone still trapped in religion, someone still obsessed with behavior.

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I cared more about people’s outward actions and appearances than I did about their hearts. Good Christian kids didn’t date too early or too much, they didn’t wear spaghetti strap tank tops or two piece swim suits, and they came to youth group every week. I pushed good behaviors on people in the hopes that their hearts would change.

But I had it backwards.

There were some women who came to our church that I didn’t think were actually Christians. I remember overhearing a conversation they were having about taking one of those big pedal bikes around to the local breweries. I didn’t say anything out loud, but my face said everything anyway. Good people definitely didn’t do that kind of thing. Those women eventually stopped coming to my church and at the time I supposed they just weren’t actually serious about God. But honestly, I think they probably felt judged and condemned. I think I probably helped to push them away.

I’ve held a lot of stones over the years, and I’ve thrown a lot of them too. I didn’t even realize what I was doing until one day when the stones were pointed at me. I was the one who had messed up and made a mistake. I was the one who fell into sin. And I was the one who felt the judgement and condemnation from the other religious people holding stones.

That was when everything changed.

As I sat in the dust of condemnation and rejection, I found that Jesus was sitting there with me. Brokenness brought me face to face with my Savior, and in Him I found forgiveness and unconditional love, even in the middle of my mess.

I used to think that sin was avoidable…that we could work hard enough to be good people. Of course perfection was impossible, but somehow goodness was attainable. I thought that God wanted us to be good. I thought goodness held value.

I don’t believe that anymore.

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Sin is more than just the things we do or say that are wrong. Sin is the deep self-centeredness that colors everything. It reaches into the very motives of my heart. I have been completely broken and corrupted by sin. There is no getting it together or being good. It’s never going to happen. And it doesn’t need to.

Because Jesus.

The more I sense the depth of my sin, the more I know I need rescue. I’m lost, helpless and without hope. But Jesus loves me. He has forgiven ALL of my sins. He is with me always and He wants me. I’ve known these truths since I was a child, but somehow the more broken I become, the more precious they are.

I don’t think that God values goodness as much as He values brokenness. All of my attempts at goodness are just dirty rags anyway. But when I am willing to just be broken, to repent, and to let go, then I am swept up in the beauty of His glorious grace. God has gifted me His incomprehensible goodness because of Jesus, and that has nothing to do with my pathetic attempts at fixing myself.

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little… And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace'” Luke 7:47, 50.

The more I recognize my need of a Savior, the more I love Jesus. It’s not a passive love either; its a gut-wrenching LOVE. I would do anything for Him, give up anything, whatever He asks. I just want Jesus whatever that means.

Jesus wants my heart. He is after your heart too. It’s not about being good or looking like we have it together. It’s about being broken people who need a Savior.

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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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