We Are Not Okay

we are not okay

As I processed the news of yet another shooting last Friday, this time at the Navel Air Station in Pensacola, a simple thought began to settle in my mind. We. Are. Not. Okay.

As a society, a culture, and a people, we are not okay. I don’t need to make a list for you, because you already know. But here is a short one anyway. Feel free to add to it.

  • Increased violence across the board
  • Increased mental illnesses, specifically depression and anxiety
  • High levels of negative emotions such as anger and fear
  • Mistrust of others and rampant divisiveness
  • Broken families and relationships
  • We could easily continue…

We are isolated behind our screens. Our fear puts us into echo chambers of like thought. We are lonely and disconnected and lost.

But we don’t deal with this reality because we distract ourselves constantly with technology, sound, entertainment, and substances. Not only do we struggle with our close relationships, we don’t even know ourselves.

Because we don’t take the time. Because it scares us. Because we don’t know how.

We are bankrupt in more ways than just financially. We play the debt game well, but it’s going to catch up with us eventually. So advanced as a society, and yet so miserable. Can you see the brokenness? Can you feel it? It’s everywhere.

We cannot save ourselves; we need a superhero.

Religion won’t save us, not even the Christian religion. Applying correct behavior may diffuse some of the negative consequences we face, but we will still be empty. And while religion can control some outcomes, it can never heal our broken hearts.

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Religions have some commonalities, specifically sets of correct behaviors to follow to earn our way to God. Even religious Christianity does this if you look closely. Religions have distant gods who need to be appeased by our behaviors, gods who act a lot like people, especially controlling, powerful ones.

Our broken society does not need more religion. It doesn’t need moral behavior, or church attendance, or pat Christianese answers in cute memes. We definitely don’t need gods who demand to be appeased through power and control. We need Jesus.

Jesus is a different kind of god. He isn’t religious, and He didn’t come demanding appeasement.

Coming as the exact image of the Real God (not the one in our head), Jesus slipped onto earth quietly, choosing to grow for nine months in the womb of a young virgin. What kind of a god does that? Instead of looking for power and control, the Real God came as a helpless baby and announced His birth to a few humble shepherds.

Jesus, who IS God, chose to live quietly for three decades in a small town in a small country. He didn’t look for recognition or fame. He just was. Jesus spent three-and-a-half years publicly speaking truth, loving broken people, and continuing to stay relatively obscure, before allowing Himself to be crucified for the sins of the whole world thus appeasing Himself.

This is not a god that humans would create. He is nothing like us. He makes no sense. In fact, He’s kind of crazy. 🙂

And it’s not that Jesus WAS, Jesus IS. You can talk with people today who claim to have encountered Him in a way that changed their lives forever. I am one of those people.

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We are not okay. We need saving. And the Good News is that our Savior has already come.

I know this isn’t the most popular message right now and it’s definitely not politically correct, but it’s the message that saved my life. Jesus has changed me. He is real in a way that I cannot logically explain. His Spirit does things in my heart that I am powerless to accomplish myself. Nothing else in this world satisfies my soul the way He does and there is nothing I want more than to follow Him for the rest of my life.

The Real God has been seeking and fixing broken messes since Adam and Eve first chose to disobey Him. The mess in our culture and society doesn’t shock Him. This is what He does…He seeks and saves the lost. He heals the sick and broken. He pursues and loves His enemies. And that is AMAZING NEWS!!

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All of the Things

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My husband and I just got back from a delayed anniversary trip to a Caribbean island. We hadn’t been on a lengthy purposeful vacation with just the two of us since our honeymoon and it was absolute paradise. I felt zero sadness at missing an entire week of Michigan November while basking in sunshine and 86 degree heat. 🙂

Early into the trip I asked my husband if he thought vacations like this change people. Always the practical one, he answered with a negative. But looking back, I disagree because I feel changed. In multiple ways.

IMG_4291A week to relax, and explore, and unwind is an amazing gift, especially when you get to enjoy it with your best friend. But an even better gift was not having any cell phone service. I could connect to somewhat sketchy wifi when we were back at our Airbnb and that was all. My phone was simply my camera and clock for an entire week. It was weird…and wonderful.

I quickly realized how dependent I’d become on my phone to entertain me with random information the second I became bored. It’s pathetic, but at first I didn’t know how to just sit and enjoy a car ride. I struggled to use a paper map to help navigate our adventures. It was strange to have to wait and look up information we wondered about later in the evening (if we remembered that we wanted it). But as the week progressed, I felt like my mind became more clear. I was able to fully experience and invest in the moments and people in front of me.

It became obvious that most of the information typically flooding my brain was not only unimportant, but unnecessary. 

This truth has become even more obvious since coming home. I wanted to stay detached from my phone, but it’s been a whole lot harder than I expected it to be. However, the more I’m back on social media, the more I that know I was better off without it.

So, I want to share some things that are on my heart.

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Things I learned about myself without constant access to the Internet:

  • I’m insecure about myself when I’m on social media all the time, and much more comfortable and confident when I’m not.
  • I’m quick to compare myself and decide I’m not good enough especially when I see other people’s ratings and numbers.
  • Things I think are SO important actually aren’t.
  • I miss actual interactions with people. Everyone has a story and I want to know it, the real story. It’s a whole lot easier to change reality hiding behind a screen.

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Things I love about life on a tropical island:

  • The slow pace of “island time” can be hard to get used to, but is a lovely gift once you do. We tend to live our lives so frantically that days end up flying by like tornadoes. I desperately want to be more intentional.
  • We met so many cool people who chose to move from the States to a small island in the Caribbean sea. They were all a little edgy, natural, hippie-ish, real, friendly, and I just wanted to BE them. I couldn’t help what makes some of us willing to do crazy things and live a wild, fun life while others of us stick to “normal” things that make logical sense and avoid risk and adventure?

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Things that actually matter:

  • People. People matter a whole lot! Everyone is different and everyone has a story that shapes the way they see life. We need to stop being so sure of our own perspective and practice listening, empathizing, and understanding one another.
  • Jesus. Religion is so prevalent, but Jesus rejected behavior driven religion and pursued the broken people who knew they needed Him. The Gospel is all about the incredible love of God for people who can’t get back to Him by themselves. And I will preach this beautify truth until my dying breath.
  • Humility. It’s so easy to get caught up in the popularity scene when you are trying to publish a book. But I don’t have all the answers or the corner on truth. All I have is my story and Jesus. I want to humbly bring those things to God and let Him use me in whatever way He wants.

I love the way rest helps us to get better perspective on life…super grateful that we got to get away, adventure, relax, and think. 🙂

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The Awkward Middle Way

Christy Lynne Wood (1)

When my friend Rachel invited me over to her family’s fall harvest party I had no idea I’d be running into people from my past. Or that there would be an awkward stare down over the bonfire.

Although Rachel and I had both grown up under the influence of the same cultic organization, her family had been on the fringe and missed a lot of the craziness I experienced. Still, we had a bunch of mutual friends. Something I unfortunately forgot. I hadn’t seen these people in at least five years and let’s just say a lot had changed. For me that is; they looked exactly the same from their blue jean jumpers and tennis shoes, to the rolled curl of bangs across their foreheads. It was kind of surreal.

Maybe no one would recognize me. Maybe they would just think I was a worldly soul in need of conversion.

Rachel couldn’t let that happen. I was warming myself by the bonfire when I realized that I knew the woman directly across from me. She didn’t notice me until my dear friend announced, “You remember Christy Mills don’t you?”

Her icy glare swept from from the tips of my jeaned legs to the top of my short hair. I’ve never felt so judged and condemned in my life, but I managed a sheepish smile, “Hello, Mrs. So-n-so. How are you?”

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Sometimes I still feel like I am getting glared at – only this time it’s from two sides of the bonfire. Maybe you do too. We don’t fit in with traditional conservative Christians but we don’t fit with the more progressive groups either. Welcome to the awkward middle way.

I imagine David Bennett, author of A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus feels this way too. Despite his book being absolutely amazing, (seriously, go on Amazon and buy it) David has gotten flack from both sides. The conservatives are upset because he calls himself a gay Christian and identifies as LGBTQ and the progressives are upset because he affirms an Orthodox Christian view of marriage and sexuality and is choosing to be celibate. He can’t win. And yet, there are many people who have joined David in the middle way and are celebrating his journey with him.

Guys, we are great at choosing sides, but what if truth is actually found in tension?

My church talks a lot about tension theology. That’s the idea that we need to hold onto two seemingly opposing truths to have an accurate understanding of reality. We have to embrace the paradox. I’ll never forget the story our pastor told us about trying to put up a trampoline.

Someone gave his family a used trampoline and he decided to surprise the kids by setting it up. Because it was used, it didn’t come with any instructions. However, my pastor managed to get the frame together and started connecting the springs. But the more springs he connected, the harder it got. Although one side was hooked up, the other side wasn’t even close to connecting. “This trampoline is too small,” he thought to himself. No matter how hard he pulled, my pastor couldn’t get the second side of springs to reach.

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Eventually, he took all the springs off and just connected one. Then he walked around to the opposite side, pulled and connected one. After hooking on a spring in each of the four directions, my pastor was able to get all of the springs to stretch and reach. This is the same with tension theology.

Is God holy and just or loving and merciful? He’s both. Predestination or free will? It’s both. Is God three or one? He’s both. See how this goes? It doesn’t always makes sense to our finite minds, but that’s just it. We are the creation not the Creator. It’s okay if we don’t understand it all. In fact, if we can explain everything about God, then our god probably isn’t the Real One. There is much truth that needs to be held in tension.

I heard the phrase Via Media from my good friend, Alexis. Yes, the same friend who talks theology with me over bagels and coffee. Via Media, or the Middle Way was first used religiously by Anglicans to refer to the Church of England as a middle way between the extremes of Roman Catholicism and Puritanism.

I guess people have always been good at extremes.

I love the Via Media because it’s where I seem to fit best these days. I’m just muddling around somewhere in-between the extremes of the right and left: religiously, politically, socially, etc. I refuse to compromise my orthodox view of the Bible and Christianity. But I also refuse to go along with the religious traditions of cultural evangelicalism. I want to passionately love the people God has created, and I want to hold to the actual truth of His Word at the same time. It’s an awkward place, and kind of messy, and I definitely might get stuff wrong, but I’m okay with that. It’s not that I’m compromising, I’m just choosing to hold truths in tension.

I want to dialogue with people who are different than me. I want to learn from people I disagree with. I want to hold my perspective with an open hand. While at the same time continuing to believe in a very big, very real, incredibly amazing God who knows it all. Grace and truth, that is the goal in my pursuit of the awkward middle way. I want to hold tightly to truth in one hand and grace in the other. I want to be like Jesus.

It’s been amazing to find more middle way muddlers lately. Sometimes this journey can be lonely. But together we can be a tribe, a family. Figuring this out together in humility. Giving plenty of grace. Understanding that it’s not really us vs. them and rarely is anything actually black and white. We might get glares from both sides of the bonfire, but that’s okay because Jesus got a lot of glares too.

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You can listen to my corresponding podcast on any of these listening platforms. It’s Episode #15 The Awkward Middle Way.

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The Theology of Me

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Once a month or so my friend, Alexis, and I meet for breakfast. I don’t have many friends who are up for deep theological conversations at 8am, so Alexis is pretty special. We drink coffee, eat bagels, and ponder God. She’s a decade or so younger than me and her perspective on life is refreshing. Alexis was the one who inspired this blog post and corresponding podcast episode when she mentioned a double-sided theology of God.

We are both taking night classes at our church. I’m taking a Bible Study Methods class (which I’ve been consistently talking about on my Facebook page), and Alexis is taking a Theology class. “In order to have an accurate view of God,” Alexis began, “we must believe in His transcendence and immanence.”

Those are big words and I had to look them up.

Transcendence means that God is above us in every way. He is hidden and we can never know Him fully here on earth. But immanence means that God is also with us. He has revealed a portion of Himself to us and He is able to be known.

One of these beliefs about God without the other creates a god that is out of balance. This theology quickly becomes more about me than anything else.

My brain started to spin. How else we have created a Theology of Me within our versions of Christianity?

Maybe it’s because we can’t see God and don’t have daily physical interactions with Him. Or maybe it’s because we are naturally His enemies. But for whatever reason, we humans are constantly misrepresenting the very Real and Living God of the Universe. And we are pathetically good at extremes

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Jumping to a side comes naturally with a black and white or us vs. them mentality. But I think truth is found in tension, in the Awkward Middle Way (that I’ll be talking more about next time), as we hold onto two seemingly opposing truths.

Here is what I see happening in modern Western Christianity.

There are two extreme versions and neither is accurate. One group focuses on God’s love and goodness (as defined by their own opinions). Their god is nice but he is also kind of wimpy. He cares more about people’s happiness and other positive emotions than he does about what they do or don’t do.

The Bible becomes irrelevant as people pick and choose the parts that seem good to them. Somehow, they seem to believe that they are more advanced than the original authors of Scripture or even God himself. Salvation is vague if even necessary at all.

This kind of theology might seem good because it is kind and loving and hopeful, but people are the real gods here and it’s actually a Theology of Me.

The other side holds tightly to truth (as defined by their opinions). They focus on God’s power and rules. Their god is holy and just, but he’s also kind of a manipulative narcissist. He demands correct behavior and good people who are afraid of him.

The Bible becomes a rule book filled with dos and don’ts. Rather than seeing the Bible as the story of God and people, they see it as a recipe box filled with formulas to get desired results. Salvation is often fear based and focuses on behavior.

This version of unbalanced theology might seem like it’s about God, but if you look closely, it’s actually not. I perform. I follow the rules. I get blessings and success because I am a good person. Under the guise of “righteousness,” it’s still a Theology of Me.

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The Living God is either real or He’s not.

And if He is real, then we must accept that He is unlike us, above us, and incomprehensible to us. However, He has also chosen to be with us, and He allows Himself to be known and experienced by us.

When God is God instead of us, we get to live in this beautiful place of tension and mystery. It’s not all going to make sense because He is so much more than we are. But this amazing Living Being wants an actual relationship with us. We have the capacity to know Him. Our relationship with the Real God is not going to be one where we get to call the shots. But it’s one where our questions and doubts are welcome.

In this place of tension, we find a God who is just and holy, but filled with grace and love. He is all-powerful and yet allows us to choose to reject Him. The Bible becomes His revelation to us. I love this next quote.

“The Bible amounts to baby talk, because God is so much more than He can communicate, but the Bible remains true knowledge because God is not different or other than what we see there” Dr. Mike Wittmer.

Salvation is a needed gift from God to us because we could never get back to Him by ourselves, but the only behavior it is based on is the sacrificial behavior of Jesus Christ.

Making ourselves the gods comes naturally as we create gods in our image. But if the Living God is real, and I believe He is, then it’s not our job to create Him, but instead to find Him.

Whichever side of the Theology of Me you find yourself on, I hope that you will stop to consider the possibility of a tension filled Living God who is both far above us and near enough to be known.

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You can listen to my corresponding podcast on any of these listening platforms. It’s Episode #14 The Theology of Me.

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I’m Just Here for the Broken Ones

Christy Lynne Wood

My grandpa loved burnt cookies. That last pan that got forgotten in the oven, the extra crispy ones with the hard brown edges that no one else wanted to eat, those were his favorites. When my grandparents came to visit, he always had the same question for my mom. “Got any burnt cookies?”

At first I thought he was joking or just trying to make my mom feel better if she’d burnt any. But as I grew up, I realized that my grandpa was actually serious. One of thirteen siblings, his mom was just a little busy and burnt cookies were often the result. Strangely, Grandpa not only got used to burnt cookies, he actually preferred them. I recently learned that various relatives would burn a pan for him on purpose. Good old Grandpa!

It makes me think of Jesus. As people, especially in our virtual world of social media, we value having it together. It’s important that we are looking good, behaving well, or at least pretending. But while He was on earth, Jesus seemed to prefer the broken ones, choosing to make rejected people His closest friends. He was always pursuing the outcasts and the obvious sinners. I think He was a little bit like my grandpa.

I love imagining Jesus coming in with outstretched hands and a smile, “I’m just here for the broken ones.”

I’m just here for the broken ones.

We’re all broken. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others. The tax collectors and prostitutes that Jesus befriended weren’t any worse sinners than the Pharisees. Sin isn’t just outward behaviors.

We desperately need a bigger understanding of a lot of things. I think religious Christians often see sin as merely behaviors they need to avoid. Somehow the goal has become outward goodness and our real issues get shoved under the rug and into the closet. Guilt and shame keep them there and as a result many church people never get to fully comprehend grace.

Religion_ I’m too much of a mess. Gotta get it together before I come to God.

Sin isn’t just behavior. It’s the deep self-centeredness that colors everything. It’s in our thoughts, and attitudes, and the motives of our hearts. We cannot get rid of it by ourselves. But we don’t have to!

God doesn’t want good people.

How’s that for a crazy thought? God does not value human effort at goodness. It is utterly impossible for us ever to be good enough on our own. And pride stops grace.

But this is why the gospel is good news. Jesus loves broken people, messed up ones, and total failures. And those are the kinds of people who love Him back. Because they know they need Him, because they know they can’t do it on their own. Because they come humbly to the cross and accept His free gift of forgiveness.

When we are broken, then we are able to be healed. When we are lost, then we are able to be found. When we are a total sinner, then we are able to experience forgiveness. In humility we find abundant grace, and mercy, and love.

Let’s stop trying to cover up our messes. Let’s just be burnt cookies!

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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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