But First We Are People

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We recently took our kids to Chicago for a quick weekend. I’m not a city girl, not by a long shot, but I do like a good adventure. My husband is also pretty willing to take a chance. So, after finding a great deal on a hotel north of the city, we decided to take the Metra train into Chicago for the day and then use buses to travel around. It seemed like a good idea. We weren’t exactly familiar with public transportation, but how hard could it be?

Almost impossible actually.

Buying our train tickets online was a breeze. Getting onto our train and traveling into Chicago was exciting. And that’s where the fun ended.

Silly me assumed that once we got into the transportation center there would be an information desk where a nice person would tell us which bus to take and where to find it. I was wrong.

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This is London, not Chicago, but it felt similar!

Instead we were dumped into a vast sea of people who were all in a tremendous hurry and knew exactly where they were going. There was no information desk of any kind. We finally found a bus stop outside with a map, but it made absolutely no sense.

And there we were, in downtown Chicago, with our two young children, and no clue what to do next. The Internet was as useless as the bus map since all the websites we found already expected you to know how to use the bus system.

When you are a country girl, the big city can be a scary place. 

After wandering around for half an hour, we eventually ended up back inside the transportation center where we found a nice woman at a ticket counter who told us that we could buy bus tickets in the waiting room. Unfortunately the ticket machine was in cahoots with the bus map and Internet sites and was less than helpful. While we stood there trying to make sense of anything, a girl came up with her bus card. She was attempting to put more money on it, but as I just said, the machine was totally uncooperative. I jumped in to help and together we figured it out.

While my new friend and I were wrestling with the ticket machine, a young man appeared behind us. He explained the process of getting and using tickets to my husband and then pulled three single-use tickets out of his wallet and just gave them to us. We tried to pay him, but he waved us off. Beyond grateful, and with tickets in hand, we headed back down to a bus stop that we were reasonably certain was headed to Navy Pier.

Within minutes a bus sporting a beautiful 124 pulled up and the doors opened. The bus driver confirmed he was the bus to Navy Pier, but then told us he was going the wrong direction. His bus just left Navy Pier and was on it’s way back into the city. The right bus stop was across the street, but it had just left. Seriously?

The driver took a look at our dejected faces and told us to get in. That sweet older man not only gave us a free ride, he also explained the bus system to us including telling us about an app that we could download to give us real time bus locations and arrival times.

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My faith in humanity was restored. It didn’t matter that my friend at the ticket machine was Asian and that English was obviously not her first language. It didn’t matter that the man who gave us free tickets was heavily pierced and tattooed. It didn’t matter that our kind bus driver was an older African American. And it didn’t matter that I was a white, suburban housewife. Because, first we were people. People who cared, and stepped up, and helped one another.

I think about the state of our sadly divided country right now, and I shake my head. And then I honestly wonder if we are as divided as the media, and politicians, and other people in power want us to think we are. 

If we had stopped to talk about politics or religion or anything like that, these people of Chicago and I would probably have had different opinions. But those opinions don’t actually matter when it came to connecting as human beings. Because as humans we have more commonality than we have division. At our core we feel, and love, and long, and need the same. We all share the deep things that make us people.

We don’t have to believe exactly the same to love one another. And just because we disagree in some areas doesn’t mean that we have to hate each other. Different isn’t bad; it’s just different.

There is so much fear in our world these days. At least that’s what the news and social medias tell us. We are afraid and must be afraid of anyone who is different than us. That is the message drilled in over and over from both sides. But it’s simply not true.

I’ve been working on Chapter Nine of my book Impostor Jesus: Rejecting Religion in a Search for the Real God. Chapter Nine is all about being motivated by fear. Here is a little excerpt from the rough draft.

“Fear is an excellent motivator if you want power. Capitalize on people’s fears, convince them you have the only answer, and they will give you control. I see this in so many areas of life these days. People often make choices about schooling, health, vaccines, or politics based on fear. It might not be obvious on the surface, but if you look closely, you will see the familiar underlying motivations. Social media, blogs, the Internet in general, these are all excellent ways to spread fear. People in power like to use fear because it works; I know that personally. Which is partly why, as I began to get to know the Real Jesus for myself, the things I had been taught began to make less and less sense.

Fear is not from the Real God. He is not a God of fear. He doesn’t use fear to control us. These are important truths to grasp in our minds and believe in our hearts…”

I wonder what it would look like to live in a world without fear, or at least with less fear. What would happen if we refused to give into the fear driven story-line portrayed by the media? What if we purposely chose to get to know people who are different from us just to discover their beautiful humanity and the things that we do have in common?

Guys, the only people benefiting from our fear are the ones in power. And I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of that. I’m tired of the drama, and the fighting, and the politics. I want to live real life with the real and precious people around me. I want to broaden my own perspective by learning from people who are different from me. I want to practice acceptance, and grace, and love. I want to get out of my comfort zone and experience the richness that comes from diversity. Will you join me?

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Learning from People I Thought I Disagreed with…

About a month ago, I set out on a journey of learning and discovery through reading. You know what I’ve discovered so far? I’m kind of a jerk. Good to know, huh? 😉

When I first started my book proposal a couple of years ago, there were three books somewhat contemporary to mine that totally irritated me. Not that I’d ever read them, mind you. But I knew (or thought I knew) the conclusions the authors came to and I disagreed with them. These women had all become disillusioned with evangelical Christianity and were looking for something different. They had significant followings. It irritated me. Prideful much?

In my last post, I talked about how I bought those books and was looking forward to reading them. Here is what has happened so far!

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I started with Addie Zierman’s When We Were on Fire and was immediately hooked. Addie writes with shockingly brutal honesty. I could hear the subtle cynicism in her voice as she shared about her emotionally charged years in youth group, her disillusionment in Christian college, and her struggle with depression as a young adult. The Church People had Christianese answers that sounded good…but nothing touched the pain or satisfied the searching questions of her heart.

Surprisingly, I didn’t hate Addie’s book. Instead, I loved her. I was captivated by her story, and I needed to know if she ever found the real Jesus. So I immediately bought her second book, Night Driving, and devoured it in a matter of days.

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Addie is incredibly genuine in sharing her doubts, vulnerable about her brokenness. She asks questions for all of us. Points out the flaws in our Christianese…in our formulaic religion. Ironically formulaic for people who claim “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”

I gave myself a few days off, and then I picked up Elizabeth Esther’s, Girl at the End of the World. I knew going in that we had similarities in our childhood, growing up in performance based, legalistic, fundamental, patriarchal Christianity. But I didn’t realize how abused she had been, that her grandparents were the founders of the Christian cult, or that she didn’t escape until she was a married mother of three. Grace, I needed to give Elizabeth grace. Seriously, it was amazing that she was even seeking to know God after all the craziness and abuse!

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The fact that Elizabeth and her husband converted to Catholicism kind of threw me for a loop. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more it makes sense. Isn’t GOD big enough to use anything? She was trying to seek the real God, but kept running into her grandfather’s voice and interpretations of Scripture. She needed something strikingly different…and what is more different than the church she’d been taught was the “whore of Babylon” growing up?

They changed me…these books that I thought I hated. They changed the way I want to write.

I feel like I have a new understanding of my intended audience. If I’m going to reach the broken and searching, it needs to be with hope in an outstretched hand…with grace, and love, and questions instead of answers.

I’m realizing that we are all on our own journey as we try to find God. Thankfully, He’s happy to be found. God knows what we need, knows how to reach us, and how to speak to us individually…how to meet us where we are at. We’ve got to let Him out of our box. And I need to stop judging people before I read their books!

I have one book left, Rachel Held Evan’s, Faith Unraveled. I’ll be honest, I saved it for last because she scares me the most. I know that Rachel is pretty progressive and pretty vocal. But I’m willing to listen to her story, feel her hurt and frustrations, and try to understand where she is coming from. It’s good for me! And who knows, I’ve been wrong twice now…LOL.

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Letting Go of Perfect (Blogging at PastorsWives.com)

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Hope you enjoy my monthly contribution to PastorsWives.com. 🙂

After a crazy summer, I was looking forward to our perfect vacation. We’d rented a three room suite at a resort by Lake Superior. I was anticipating lazy beach days, exploring, and snuggly family time. Things didn’t go as planned.

Our suite had plumbing problems, so the owners “upgraded” us to their home. It was beautiful but also awkward and nerve wracking with two small children. Our four-year-old decided this was a great time to express how the summer’s lack of consistency had affected him. He turned into a raging, defiant, fit-throwing monster every time things didn’t go his way. It rained. A lot.

So much for perfect.

Our ideals rarely come true. Perfect vacations. Perfect marriages. Perfect children. Perfect churches or ministry situations. It’s pretty obvious that we live in a world broken by sin.

We can drive ourselves crazy striving for perfection. Continue reading here!

Don’t Judge Me…A Matter of Perspective

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It really was innocent, but it looked scandalous.

Let me take you back to my last winter youth retreat in my “cult”. I was super close to being out. In fact, I was already a closet rebel as this story will confirm. 😉

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Our church had rented this small Christian camp for years, both for family camps and youth retreats. I loved the rustic chapel with its fireplace and knotty pine beams. I thought I knew every crook and cranny until my friend’s younger brother asked me if I’d ever seen the attic. Apparently there was a secret staircase in a closet that led up to a small storage area.

Always up for adventure, I decided to let him show me. Just going up to the attic together was sketchy because it was a boy and girl alone. But things got worse from there.

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From my Scrapbook! 🙂

For some reason the closet door was located about two feet off the floor and the closet was filled with old televisions and other junk. So we had to climb over and around to reach the stairs. Going in wasn’t a problem. But my long, straight, denim skirt became an issue on the way out. I tripped over a television, my legs got trapped in my skirt, and I fell out of the door. Fortunately, Dan was there to catch me. But that catch was another shocking sin because he was a boy and he touched me!

 

It would have been fine, but as we turned and he set me down, we were face to face with a young, all-in, super committed girl from the youth group. Her eyes and mouth were wide open. The realization of what it looked like struck us. We started laughing so hard we couldn’t even breathe let alone explain.

Christy and Dan were alone in the closet and came out touching each other and giggling!!!

It’s a funny story, but we all do it. We make snap judgments and condemn people without knowing all the facts.

Years later, I was out of my cult and working at summer camp. Normally I worked on the elementary camp, but today I was up at the high school camp helping my friend teach a choreography to some of the older campers. It was an elective drama class and there was one boy. I knew why he was there. Girls! He must be a total player with terrible motives. What a jerk. I only spent an hour with this guy, but he made such a strong impression on me that I can still remember what he was wearing.

Four years later I married him.

Yeah…

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I have come to discover that my perspective is just that, my perspective. In order to get a clear and accurate picture, I need multiple perspectives and all of the facts. It’s easy for us to feel wise and discerning, but we are not infallible. We need community, and we all need grace.

Will you join me? Let’s give grace before judgement. Let’s listen before we condemn.

“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” ~ Jesus, (John 7:24 NLT).

There is No Magic Formula, But We Still Have Hope…

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In my last post, I wrote about ways we try to manipulate God, twist His arm, and push the right buttons on His “heavenly vending machine” to get what we want. While most of us would never come out and say it this bluntly, the formulaic way we treat God speaks for itself. We believe the lie that there are specific spiritual steps we can follow to achieve a desired outcome. We try to claim Bible verses (out of context) and say they promise things like physical healing. And when none of these things work, we blame ourselves or others for a “lack of faith” (as though there is a certain amount of faith that is guaranteed to make God do anything).

Perhaps we create formulas because we are trying to grasp for a feeling of control in a shaky, frightening, and often heartbreaking world, trying to make sense of things we don’t understand.

Even though we believed, prayed, and did everything we could…

  • The cancer still won
  • Our marriage still fell apart
  • We still miscarried
  • I’m still single
  • My husband is still looking at porn
  • Our child still died
  • I still lost my job
  • We still didn’t get pregnant
  • We still went bankrupt
  • They still don’t love Jesus
  • The world is still a mess

How do we reconcile a supposedly good, all-powerful God and the “good” things that He fails to accomplish? Believe me, I wrestle with this often!

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I think we start by expanding our minds. We throw away the understandable “god in a box” that we have created in our own image. We allow the real God to be bigger, greater, and just more than we can comprehend. Does the Bible say that God is good? Yes! All-powerful? Absolutely! Does He still choose to let bad things happen and take good things away? Yeah, actually the Bible says that too. Check out one of my favorite verses.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” Isaiah 45:6b-7

I found this verse after our second late-term miscarriage. Even though I didn’t know why God choose to take our baby, it was comforting to me to know that He never lost control, it was something He did, and He was big enough that He didn’t owe me an explanation. Maybe I can’t possibly understand God or make sense of Him, but a God that huge who also promises He is good and loving is something I am okay with.

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If there are no secret keys, no hidden formulas, no special chants, no magical ways to get God to do our bidding, then what can we expect? What has God really promised us? The answer might surprise you.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

“Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.” John 15:20-21

Let’s get this straight, we’ve been promised trouble, temptation, and persecution? That doesn’t sound like a very nice promise! I thought life with Jesus was supposed to be warm fuzzies, roses, and sunsets? You know, easy and peaceful?

You might hear some Christians say that, but it’s not exactly in the Bible.

The Bible very clearly tells us that the world we live in is broken. It happened at the Fall, when sin first came into God’s perfect universe. Creation is broken so we have things like disease and natural disasters. People are broken, so they make choices that hurt not only themselves but also those around them. We will face trouble BUT look at the other promises in those verses.

Jesus wants to give us peace! He encourages us by reminding us that He has overcome this world. He is faithful! He will provide a way out of the temptation. And in chapter 14 of John, Jesus tells his disciples that he will not leave them (or us) alone; he is sending the Helper (the Holy Spirit).

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So, life is going to hurt, but I will never be alone? That’s right. And a God who is more, and better, and bigger than I can ever imagine is in complete control even when it doesn’t look like it? Yes. And He wants to walk with me through life, to help and comfort me, because He loves me? Yup!

He wants to walk so close with you that He actually lives inside of you. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

I don’t know about you, but rereading that last paragraph brings tears to my eyes. It’s so much better than a vending machine, or a magic formula guaranteed to bring me what I want! HE is a real, living, incredible, loving Being, who wants meHe wants to be friends with me and help me. He wants to give me peace and joy, despite the brokenness of this world, not based on anything I do or don’t do, but simply because of His amazing grace!

How about you…are you willing to believe in and trust a God who is way too big for you to twist His arm, who might not always give you what you want, who is impossible to understand, but who is in complete control and will walk with you through each heartache in this broken world? I sure am!

 

Jenga Builders Anonymous

“Hi. I’m Christy, and I build with Jenga blocks.”

“Hi, Christy!”

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If you didn’t get a chance to read my blog post last week, this won’t make any sense. 🙂 Don’t worry! I’ve linked it here God Does Not Care About Your Jenga Blocks so you can catch up.

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Last week I wrote:

“There we are, trying to build our Jenga towers, poking out blocks and stacking them on top, carefully balancing all of the “good things” that we are “supposed” to do, hoping that everyone, God included, is noticing. When everything stacks up, we feel satisfied, proud and accomplished. But when life falls apart, when we lose control, when we screw it all up, we feel guilt and shame. Surely God is disappointed in us…

I’ve got news for you. God does not care about our Jenga blocks! He doesn’t care when we stack them impressively tall and he doesn’t care when they fall over. Because, God isn’t playing Jenga with us. God is playing Hide-n-Seek.”

jenga-1941500_1920My little sister, and best cheerleader, came over for coffee last week. We started talking about the Jenga block analogy and I quickly realized there needed to be a part two! Here’s why: I think there’s a good chance that a lot of you out there are like me…recovering Jenga block builders.

Maybe we have tried playing Hide-n-Seek with Jesus, maybe we even like it. But, we struggle with those Jenga blocks…they are so tempting…they distract us…we see them out of the corner of our eye…just one… I. just. want. to. stack. one!

It’s not worth it, guys! It’s not worth it. Honestly, playing Jenga, living obsessed with outward behavior, is pretty miserable.

Think about it. When we are focused on outward behaviors instead of pursuing a living relationship with Jesus this is what we look like:

  • We are quick to compare ourselves with others and feel good or bad based on the results.
  • We judge other people’s Jenga towers…they aren’t building them right…or at least not like we would.
  • Sometimes, we even feel happy when someone else’s blocks fall. Their failure justifies our issues and distracts from our own wobbling tower.
  • There is a good possibility that we are annoyed by people playing Hide-n-Seek.
  • By the way, “rebelling” by playing dominoes with our Jenga blocks instead of stacking them is still playing with Jenga blocks. We are still missing the fun, and laughter, and closeness of Hide-n-Seek. We are still living focused on outward behavior. (Read An Illusion of Freedom for more on this topic.)

It’s not about our behavior! It’s not success or failure. It’s not about “doing the right or wrong thing”. If this is our focus then we are missing the point! Jesus died so that we could know God. When we know and abide in Jesus, good fruit will follow. But, it’s the fruit of the Spirit, not of our own effort.

This is what I’ve noticed in my own life with Jesus…a frustrating, vicious cycle.

Something happens that pulls me towards Jesus (often something painful) and I start to seek after Him. It’s so beautiful and I love our relationship! But, over the course of time, that seeking becomes second nature…my prayers become more routine…before I know it I’m just going through the motions…I stop seeing and feeling my need…I become numb… Soon I’m building Jenga blocks again, just doing the good things that a good Christian should do. Yuck! Then something else wakes me up and the cycle starts all over again.

I don’t even like playing Jenga! But it comes natural. It feels like I am fighting the way I was wired… Sound familiar? A former Jenga block builder, the apostle Paul, is familiar with this battle.

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do NOT do what I want, but I DO the very thing I hate…I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Romans 7:15,18″

I’m so grateful that it doesn’t end there! We haven’t been left on our own to figure this out. A couple of verses later we see this hope.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God though Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25

The answer is Jesus…The answer is always Jesus! 🙂

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I think we need a support group, Jenga Builders Anonymous! A place that we can come, admit our tendency to perform, and find help to continue seeking after Jesus. We need people who will be honest and say, “Hey! You’ve got a Jenga block in your hand. Put it down. Com’on, we are playing Hide-n-Seek.”

 

God Does Not Care About Your Jenga Blocks

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A couple of weeks ago, I was writing in my journal during my morning “Jesus time”, wrestling through the way we view our relationship with God.

“We don’t understand that it’s not about being good and doing the right things…it’s about knowing Jesus. Ha! It’s like we aren’t even playing the same game as You, God. We’re playing Jenga, but You’re playing Hide-n-Seek..”

We are playing Jenga, but God is playing Hide-n-Seek

I’m so tired of the way performance based thinking has hijacked Christianity! It’s not just people like me, raised in extreme legalism…it’s spread throughout the whole church. There we are, trying to build our Jenga towers, poking out blocks and stacking them on top, carefully balancing all of the “good things” that we are “supposed” to do, hoping that everyone, God included, is noticing. When everything stacks up, we feel satisfied, proud and accomplished. But when life falls apart, when we lose control, when we screw it all up, we feel guilt and shame. Surely God is disappointed in us…

I’ve got news for you. God does not care about our Jenga blocks! He doesn’t care when we stack them impressively tall and he doesn’t care when they fall over. Because, God isn’t playing Jenga with us. God is playing Hide-n-Seek.

Have you ever played Hide-n-Seek with a toddler? They can’t even count to 10 so it becomes this wild race to beat them to the hiding spot. I remember putting my kids in the kitchen nook and then dashing for a spot behind the bedroom door before they saw me. You have to remind your little one that you are hiding and give them a hint as to which room you might be in. So, you call, “Come find Mama (or Daddy). Where am I?” You aren’t really trying to hide…you’re trying to get them to find you.

Guess what? We’re the toddler and God wants to play Hide-n-Seek. He wants us to find Him! Can you hear him? He’s calling.

“‘You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.’ declares the LORD…” Jeremiah 29:13-14

Can we put down our Jenga blocks? Do we believe that God doesn’t care about them?

Here’s a crazy thought: What if it’s not about us being and doing right or wrong anymore? What if it never was? Don’t freak out and think that I’m saying we should go and sin as much as we can because it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that…that wouldn’t be knowing Jesus either. But I AM saying that we HAVE to stop our attempts at perfection. We can’t do it!

jenga-1941500_1920Stop playing Jenga! Better yet, let those blocks fall. The sooner you realize that it’s okay to be a mess and not have it all together, the better off you will be! Just push them off the table. Enough!

God changed the rules…or at least it looks that way to us. The Bible clearly says that He planned Jesus from the beginning of time. It was never about us being good enough or doing enough. It was always about Jesus…always about a relationship between us and God.

God wants to take you on adventures that you can’t even imagine… He wants to heal the hidden brokenness that you can’t even talk about… Jesus wants to set you free from addictions and habits and make you so alive you can’t even handle it… But this can only happen if we stop performing and start seeking. It can only happen when we really find Jesus.

I say this all the time, but I absolutely believe it: when we begin to KNOW God…we will be changed. It’s Jesus changing us from the inside out, not a surface display of outward perfection. He changes our hearts and our actions follow…not because they have to, but because we want them to. We WANT to be like Jesus and sin no longer satisfies.

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So, what do we do? How do we stop playing Jenga and start playing Hide-n-Seek? It might look like this:

  • Let your blocks fall and then shove them off the table. Stop trying to be good; stop defending yourself; stop making excuses. Own the wretched sinner that you are. Own it! You will NEVER be able to appreciate Jesus and his grace until you realize how much you need it.
  • Choose to believe in God’s crazy love for you, in His delight of you, in his never ending grace and forgiveness, even thought it makes absolutely no sense. 🙂
  • Start seeking. He’s calling you. He’s making it easy. Acts 17:27 says that we can even find him blind and groping in the dark. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus is the exact image of God the Father, so maybe start there. Dig through the gospels and get to know Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I’m awfully tired of Jenga. I’m tired of the pressure and stress, trying to get it right and always failing. I want to laugh and giggle and run around with my Daddy God instead. I choose Hide-n-Seek.

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An Illusion of Freedom

 

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I’ve had plenty of experience with legalism and the ritual of dead religion. After all, I spent a decade in Bill Gothard’s cult. (For more info check out the category “My Story”.) Formulas abounded in my world – if you do such and such, then you are guaranteed this fabulous result, but woe to you if you don’t. Rules, standards, commitments, all these kinds of things supposedly made you a better Christian and more likely to have God’s blessing on your life. “Godly” people acted this way, dressed that way, and avoided these things, etc. Performance, outward show, controlled behavior, fear, and anxiety…I’m excessively familiar with all of this.

Unfortunately, you don’t have to be in a cult to experience legalism or ritualistic religion. There is plenty of it spread throughout “mainstream” Christianity. How exciting.

Many Christians will tell you that they aren’t legalistic (even though they are following a specific code of behavior) because they aren’t trying to earn their way to heaven. However, if you ask why they do good things, you will find that they are still trying to earn something: blessings, God’s pleasure, or maybe just the image of a “Good Christian”.

I do believe the Christian community is starting to wake up. There are a good handful of us talking about legalism, exposing it, reacting to it. I love this! But, we cannot confuse rebellion against legalism and religion with actual freedom that comes through grace.

I’ve seen it and I’ve been there. We hate legalism, we realize how stupid it is, and we reject it and embrace things that we’ve always been told were wrong. But here’s the thing, how do we know if we are really experiencing freedom? What if we are just trapped again in outward actions and missing the heart? What if we are still missing the point of Christianity?

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Rebellion and freedom often look the same outwardly. There might be changes in music, clothing, beliefs, or education choices. People get tattoos and/or piercings. Sometimes people start dating, dye their hair, grow dreads, go to college, change jobs, or make other big life decisions. I love this! I love freedom and non-conformity. But, how do we know if we are really free and not just trapped in rebellion?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the rebellion of non-conformity. Since coming out of my cult, I’ve discovered what a rebel I really am. Want a stupid example? Female speakers/writers often wear blazers, right? You will never see me in a blazer, ever. Give me a good reason to avoid conformity and I will. However, living in a constant state of rebellion is exhausting. Jesus promised us peace. If I’m not experiencing peace, then something is wrong.

When we are motivated by rebellion against legalism, ritual, and religion, I think it looks a bit like this. Anger and frustration drive our choices, and these choices are often a reaction to previous rules. If someone were to ask us why we do things, our answer would probably sound like, “Because I can, dang it! I’m free.” But we don’t feel very free. We feel stressed and tired because we are still “trying” to do something. We might be more consumed with things we can do instead of things we shouldn’t do, but our focus is still on outward actions. And, because we are still obsessed with behaviors, deep down we also struggle with believing that God actually loves us and wants a relationship with us.

If this is rebellion, then what is freedom? I believe real freedom starts with understanding that our relationship with God has nothing to do with our own efforts and everything to do with Jesus Christ. Jesus came to show and give us grace, something we could never earn and would never deserve. The point of Jesus’ death and resurrection was never to make us into moral people who followed the rules. The point was to restore our relationship with the God who created us and loves us. He forgave us so that we could know Him. God wants to know us. We are free to be friends with Jesus! Knowing Jesus changes us, but the real change starts at the core of who we are and works its way outward.

When we are free because we understand grace, our actions might look similar to someone still stuck in rebellion, but our hearts are different. We might still get a tattoo or cartilage piercing, for example, but our motive is different. The reasoning is no longer “Because I can, dang it”, but simply, “Because I want to.” We aren’t reacting to anything, we are resting in our relationship with Jesus. We are believing in the scandalous grace of God and extending that grace to others. Instead of obsessing over outward actions, our focus is inward on heart motivations. As we get closer to Jesus, we realize He is making us more like Him. His Holy Spirit is giving us things like love, joy, and peace that doesn’t make sense.  Because our heart is changing, our outward actions might change too.  But, that change is a result of God’s beautiful grace and not an angry reaction to legalism.

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Have you experienced God’s grace that sets you free? Do you believe that He loves you and wants you right where you are at? Do you realize that there is no favor to earn and no rules to rebel against? Grace says, “Your mess does not shock me or turn me off. In fact, it makes me love you even more. I want to set you free…free from your mess and free to know Me.”

Clickbait, Disagreement, and Choosing What is Right

 

This week I got into an online discussion over on Jefferson Bethke’s (author of Jesus>Religion and It’s Not What You Think) Facebook page. He posted an article called “9 Sins the Church Is Surprisingly OK With as Long as You Love Jesus” and asked what we thought.

I thought it was a stupid clickbait title with a clickbait image. (Definition of clickbait – content on the internet of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular website.) But I perused the article anyway. I didn’t get further than their supposed nine sins: fear, apathy, gluttony, worry, flattery, comfort, consumerism, patriotism, and lying, before I started feeling frustrated. Sure, some of those things can be considered “sins” and all of them can be bad for you, but really? Guilt and shame anyone?

I posted a comment expressing my feelings. Jefferson Bethke agreed! (I was a little excited about that.) Surprisingly, that comment quickly became the most popular, but then the disagreement started.

I was told that “you are deceived when you don’t know the scriptures.” and “You need to know Jesus, the Character of God, and your views will change. Otherwise you will suckle milk and look like you do for a very very very long time.” Nice. Thanks. Did you read my comment?

The personal disagreement didn’t bother me. I like a good, healthy discussion. But what did bother me was all the other comments on the post. People struggling with anxiety disorders feeling judged and condemned. “Christians” saying pretty mean things to each other… Lots of comments that didn’t sound like Jesus coming from people who claim His name.

As I sat and processed, I was reminded of a blog post I wrote a year ago. So here it is, with some tweeks because I can’t help myself.

Why do we choose to do right…to stop sinning?

Is it because we are afraid of making God angry or disappointed? Are we trying to keep God happy? Is it so that we will look good to other people? Are we trying to maintain a “good testimony” so that people will think we are “godly”?

Or maybe we don’t worry about it, because you know, grace! Doesn’t that mean we can do whatever we want and still be forgiven?

I find there are often two camps within Christianity: the rule-followers and the no-rulers. The rule-followers call the no-rulers “worldly” and “licentious” (which is a big word that just means they don’t follow the rules). The no-rulers call the rule-followers “close minded” and “legalistic”. Yada yada. You get the point.

I’m pretty sure that they are both wrong.

Paul says in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free; stand firm in it. And do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Jesus wants us to be free. He died to set us free. Free from rules, and free from sin.

We shouldn’t be living under a yoke of slavery to rules trying to make God happy with us and avoid His judgment. He already put His wrath and the judgment for sin on His Son, Jesus Christ. Once we trust that Jesus took the punishment for our sin, we have access to a relationship with a God who loves us unconditionally!

But neither do we have to live under a yoke of slavery to sin. We don’t have to be controlled by our habits and addictions any longer. When Jesus died, He set us free from the punishment of sin, but also from the power of sin. He has given us His Holy Spirit to live inside of us and empower us to follow Him.

Why do I chose to do what is right? Mostly because I love Jesus and also because I don’t like the consequences that come when I choose sin and live for myself.

This article and the online debate that it generated once again reminded me that rules and standards cannot overcome our sin nature. Only Jesus can set us free, only by the power of His death and resurrection.

If your version of Christianity is about anything or anyone other than Jesus, then it’s wrong.

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If you think you are making God happy with your rule following, you aren’t. If you care more about yourself and your good/fun life than you care about Jesus and developing a relationship with Him, then you are missing the point.

When our “Christianity” stops being about Jesus, His amazing grace, and our ability to know God through Jesus, it ceases to be true Christianity.

I’m finishing with a beautiful prayer from the apostle Paul. This is why we chose to do the right thing…not because someone showed us a list of 9 sins to avoid, but because of JESUS!

” I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19

To Be “Like Jesus”

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Staff training week is almost over at camp. I’m not there full time yet, but I’ve been working on the health clinic and getting it ready for summer almost every day.

Summer camp is like a bubble and an incubator at the same time. Everything is stronger and more vibrant, both the good and the bad. You live with this giant family all summer. People’s flaws, and idiosyncrasies, and annoying habits are in your face constantly, and they drive you crazy. You learn to give grace, forgive, and let things go. But, your flaws, idiosyncrasies, and annoying habits are also in other people’s faces constantly, so you learn humility, how to apologize, and that maybe you aren’t always right.

It’s too hard to do by yourself, so you learn to lean on each other and ask for prayer and help. You learn what it means to rely on the Holy Spirit for power and wisdom, and God becomes real as He fills you in unexplainable ways. You get to watch God use you and it feels absolutely amazing!

I recently wrote in my journal, “I’m taking a break from doing church stuff all the time (my husband is an associate pastor), to go and be the church this summer.” Working with other Christians for a common purpose, growing together, building relationships, serving, pouring yourself out…that’s summer camp! What if that was also normal life as a Christian?

I was sitting on my porch early Saturday morning with my Bible, journal, and a cup of coffee, thinking about this last week…about how amazing it felt to pour into others and watch God work through me. It’s exhausting, and sometimes incredibly frustrating, but ultimately it’s awesome! I got to thinking about Jesus and what His life on Earth looked like. And then it hit me…what if this is what the Bible means when it talks about “being like Jesus”?

Usually when I hear about how we need to “be like Jesus” a list of do’s and don’t’s follows. But what if it’s actually totally different? What if it’s not about attaining perfection (something we already have in Christ) or performing correctly…what if it’s about loving Jesus and loving people…what if it’s about pouring our life out for others…building relationships…serving…loving? Thinking about this made me cry! Then I remembered the verse in 1 Corinthians where Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” I looked it up.

It’s in 1 Corinthians 11, the first verse. So, I backed up into chapter 10 to see what Paul was talking about. Guess what?? It’s about doing everything to glorify God and reach others with the gospel! Look at these beautiful words:

“So whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to the Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Cor. 10:31-11:1

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I’m sure that you could make this legalistic if you wanted to…turn it into a list of things you have to DO. But that’s not what it’s supposed to be about! It’s about doing everything with the purpose of loving God and bringing Him glory, and then loving others so that they can find true salvation and a relationship with Jesus! And THAT, I believe, is where we start to find joy, peace, and life that is really LIFE.

I don’t know about you, but when I stop focusing on making myself happy, and I ask God to give me His eyes and heart for others…when I surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to flow through me…when I live my life seeking to help others find Jesus…that is when I taste a tiny bit of heaven. My heart is full to overflowing, and I laugh and cry, and know that this is who I was meant to be. What if that’s what it means to “be like Jesus”?