We Are Not Okay

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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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The Awkward Middle Way

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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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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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Why I am Still a Christian

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Somewhere in the course of a six hour excursion to Urgent Care on Saturday, in the middle of our less-than-fantastic camping trip, I came across an article on Facebook. It talked about how Joshua Harris, author of the infamous I Kissed Dating Good-bye, announced he was also saying good-bye to his Christian faith. There has been a lot of faith deconstruction going on lately. And if you’ve read other blog posts of mine, you will know that I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. But this one has rocked me.

And the more I’ve looked at articles, checked out blog posts, and read Josh Harris’s own words over on his Instagram, the more broken I feel. I’m going to try to make this blog post cohesive, but there is a lot on my heart, so I hope you will bear with me.

Josh Harris grew up in a very similar environment to me. In many ways we were peers although we never met. We experienced the same rules and formulas, an abundance of fear-based beliefs, and felt an unfortunate amount of pride because “we were special.” He has mentioned all of this over the last few years as he renounced the book he wrote and the beliefs he once held.

Deconstruction is healthy. There is a lot of religious Christianity filled with rules and formulas and twisted truth that many of us need to ditch. But I wish there was a safe, grace-filled place for people to deconstruct with hope. (If they want to.)

It often feels like when people are going through deconstruction the only place to safely land is in liberal Progressive Christianity or agnostic/atheistic worldviews. People who hold these views seem to be much better at encouraging and championing deconstruction than most traditional Christians. Traditional Christians tend to be afraid of questions and lost faith. Too often they are quick to condemn, label, or hand out useless Christianese answers.

Why can’t we just be kind to one another? Encourage questions? Be okay with doubt? Give grace? Try to understand where people are coming from? Let them have the time they need to heal?

I am devastated by the horrible things people who call themselves Christians have said to and about Josh Harris via blog posts and comments. These were public, so I can’t even imagine what he has received privately. Seriously people, being told hundreds of times that “you were never really a believer” by self-righteous, religious Christians will not encourage anyone to rethink Jesus. It makes me so angry I just want to punch something through my tears.

If God is real (and I absolutely believe He is), then He is not diminished by our doubts. He is not angered by our questions. If anything, as our Creator, He is the one who understands us the most. He is big enough and loving enough to handle them all.

If you are someone who is questioning, doubting, or walking away, I don’t want you to feel condemnation from me. But I also don’t want you to think that the only option is to reject everything you’ve ever believed. (However, if you need to leave it all for a while, I get that too.) There is a tricky, messy, sometimes confusing, middle way.

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People have asked me why I am still a Christian after coming out of my cultic sub-culture of Christianity. It’s a good question, and one I have been rethinking yet again the last couple of days.

Honestly, the decade I spent in my fundamental, legalistic version of Christianity isn’t the only time I have been hurt by Christians. I have a very clear and more recent memory of falling off of my bed, sobbing, wanting to die, and wondering if anything I believed was even real. I know what it is to be wounded by religion. But here I am championing our search for the Real God while holding on to historical Christian beliefs. Why?

I have a lot of reasons 🙂 but here are my top three.

  1. Two-thousand years of Christian history. I’ve loved listening to all of the smart people talk on Alisa Childer’s podcast the last few months. From scientists, to philosophers, to New Testament scholars, these people have serious intellectual reasons to believe in God, Jesus Christ, and the historical creeds of our faith. It’s ridiculously encouraging.
  2. Jesus. Both as a historical figure, and the man I believe was also God, Jesus is crazy amazing. If the Real God could love us enough to come as a person we could relate to, both to save us and to show us a glimpse of His heart, well, that’s a God I want to know. In the middle of man-made, religious Christianity, Jesus gives me hope. The more I understand about Him culturally and historically, the more I am blown away. He is nothing like we expect God to be and I love that about Him!
  3. Finally, I’ve met a Real and Living Presence. Probably more than anything else, this is why I’m still a Christian. For me to walk away from the faith, I’d have to walk away from a Being that I know and love. And I just can’t do that.

So, while I’m willing to question the traditions, the formulas, the silly Christianese phrases, and the many terrible ways we use the Bible, I choose to do it through the lens of a very Real God. A God that I definitely don’t always understand, but Who I believe is good, and loving, and on the side of the people He created.

Speaking of this, I’m launching my new podcast in just four weeks! It’s been a long and slightly terrifying process. But it’s nearly together, and I’m excited to share it with you and whoever else finds it and wants to join me in looking for the Real God.

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I’ll warn you, if you are someone who wants to deconstruct without God or without picking through the broken pieces of religious Christianity, then this podcast probably isn’t for you. But if you find a longing in your heart for more, if you have hope that God is real, then please come along for the ride!

And, Josh Harris, if for some reason you find this post and read this far, I want you to know that I get it. You have a lot of religious crap to unpack and sometimes that’s easier to do by just dropping everything. Sometimes the God we think is real needs to die, so that the REAL God can be. It’s okay to wonder, and question, and doubt. If God exists, He is big enough and loving enough to handle it all. I’m sorry for the terrible things people who call themselves Christians have said to you. I love that you have hope as you begin this new journey, and I hope that you eventually find yourself at a place where you can begin to search for God again.

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The Only Condemnation was in the Commentary

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

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

Or is He?

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

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

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

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

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

But, is that really important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Value of Losing Our Faith

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I’m not sure what I believe these days.

I think I’m losing faith.

I don’t even like going to church.

I don’t know how to be a Christian any more.

Scarily honest statements. Beautifully raw. Terrifying to admit even to ourselves.

If you said them to the wrong person, they might have freaked out. And you may have gotten an earful of Christianese…those secret phrases and well known statements that only make sense to other Church People. There may have been panic on their faces. They might have interrupted you with Bible verses and prayer chains. I’m sorry!

Perhaps you have kept your doubts and questions to yourself because you don’t want to deal with the drama I just described. Maybe you are quietly drifting away.

If you are asking these kinds of questions and dealing with these types of doubt, I’m glad. I’m more than glad, I’m ecstatic!! I might also be crazy. 😉

I believe there is great value in losing our faith. In realizing that we don’t know everything. In living in the mystery of unanswered questions. It’s not something we should be afraid of…it’s something to welcome. Too often religious Christianity delights in straight answers, cut and dry theology, and blind faith. There isn’t room for doubt or questions. And that’s not okay.

God is definitely big enough to handle our doubt, confusion, and questions. They do not scare Him. I think He loves them!

Struggle isn’t a bad thing. Wrestling is good. Lean into it! Be fully present in this scary place of doubt. It is okay! You are okay. 🙂

Here’s the truth. There is much in modern Christianity that is just tradition and religion. We get so caught up in doing Christianity that we forget it’s about knowing and being. God gets neatly packaged in a pretty box, and we forget that He is not tame or containable. Our god becomes more of a concept than a Real and Powerful Being.

Guess what? We need to lose our faith. I want every one of you to lose your faith!

Because too often our faith is not actually in the real God. Our faith is in the Christian religion we were taught and the fake god we think we understand.

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Becoming disillusioned with our faith, feeling like we are losing it, is the first step to finding the real God for ourselves. Because He is real. He’s just might not be who we thought He was…

The real God will NEVER fit in the tiny box we make for Him. He is way too complex, enormous, and seemingly insane. I love that about Him!! We will never understand Him. There will always be more of Him to experience and explore.

And God wants to be found. He doesn’t make it hard for us. Even in the darkest seasons of history, He has always been available to those who sought. The Real God does not change.

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Will you come with me? Let’s struggle and wrestle, question and doubt. Let’s hunt for the Real God. And as we search, let’s remember one thing. There aren’t just two options…this complicated world isn’t just black and white. There are many answers in the middle ground. Truth is often found in tension…within two seemingly opposing realities. It’s not less of a truth just because we can’t totally wrap our minds around it. We are dealing with the God of the Universe after all.

So, go ahead. Lose your faith! It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. 🙂

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