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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When Wrong is Right

He pushed himself up against the spikes one last time, his body trembling from exhaustion and desperate pain, and drew in a ragged breath. 

Collapsing once more, he spoke three last words.

“It…is…finished…”

His bloody head fell forward; his torn body sagged. Jesus of Nazareth was dead.

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Could there be anything more wrong? A truly good man, totally innocent and absolutely perfect, had been betrayed, falsely accused, denied a fair trial, tortured, and finally brutally executed. He hadn’t done anything to deserve it. But the religious leaders, motivated by things like jealously, fear, pride, and hatred had set him up. Pilate, not wanting to cause conflict with the Jews, agreed to their scheme. It was totally unjust, inhumane, and undeserved. It was evil. It was sin.

And it was also the most right thing that has ever happened.

Jesus’ death was right because it was God’s sovereign plan for the redemption of the world. It was right because He wanted it. Is it possible that the same can be true of our lives? That terrible, painful, unjust, and wrong things can happen and still be right?

I think so…

God never loses control. Sometimes He allows horrible situations for reasons all His own. His plans for us do not always include peace and happy feelings. Sometimes He doesn’t make any sense. But we CAN trust Him. I believe that with all of my heart!

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This truth doesn’t mean that we have to think positively about difficult and even evil experiences. We don’t need to make excuses or justify. Circumstances can still be very wrong. It’s okay to see them like that. But I believe that we can also see these painful times as right…because God was in them, working, moving, and changing us.

Often it’s the terrible things that draw us into God’s heart. It’s the unjust actions that show us sin lurking within our own lives. Sometimes it’s the devastating situations that end up setting us free.

The Kingdom of God is kind of ridiculous and rarely makes sense.

It’s crazy when we can look back on the brokenness and see God’s fingerprints all along the way. When we realize that He never left us alone, He never abandoned us, and He always had our back…then we can shake our heads in amazement.

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The Creator who allowed Himself to be wronged, tortured, and killed because He loved us, will use everything for our good. 

Do you believe that?

I have been contemplating this idea since last Sunday…and it has literally begun to set me free from painful circumstances that were weighing me down. If Jesus can turn His own horrific wrong into right, He can do that for you and me too!!

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Finding Hope this Christmas

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The lights seemed to twinkle. I sat in the quiet morning, the only one awake, staring at my Christmas tree. My Bible was in my lap; a cup of coffee in my hand. I should have been feeling peace and contentment, delighting in this special season, right? Yeah, not so much. Instead, I was very aware of the wrongness in the world, and I was feeling depressed, dissatisfied, and hopeless.

“Why, God? Why don’t you stop it? Why don’t you fix it? The world is so screwed up! When are you going to do something?”

“Two thousand years ago”

It always surprises me when God actually answers me, not out loud, but in my heart. (Although, out loud would be surprising too!)

I was out of time at the moment, kids to wake up and get out the door. So I couldn’t keep contemplating God’s answer. A couple hours later, I was alone driving in the car and my thoughts went something like this…

Yup, the world is a mess; it’s broken. Christmastime can make us even more aware of that brokenness. This deceptive holiday pretending it should be a time of warmth, smiles, and tingly feelings, but often more a time of stress, feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and frustration. Humph! But, what am I supposed to be celebrating? Jesus. The hope of the world. Baby Jesus. This story is too familiar. God, let me see it new!

Jesus coming to earth. This is where everything really changed. Before Jesus: laws, and rules, and animal sacrifices, reminding us that we couldn’t be perfect, that we were separated from God. There were promises of hope, vague prophecies yet to be fulfilled, stories that pointed to something coming, but it wasn’t clear. And then, something crazy happened, something hinted at, but never guessed. The Creator became one of His creations. God quietly slipped into the world. Coming as a baby. The Savior was here. Hope was born.

I found myself crying and smiling at the same time.

The world hasn’t changed. It’s still a broken mess. But, Jesus… Jesus brings hope.

I would encourage you these next few weeks to find a quiet chunk of time where you can really contemplate what it meant for Jesus to come to Earth. Let it sink in and be reminded of the hope we have because of Him!

 

Stay tuned! I’ve got more to say about Jesus. 🙂 Up next, how Jesus destroys our false views of God!

 

 

 

Getting to KNOW Jesus (Pt. 2)

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(Yes, I do realize that Pt 1 and Pt 2 of this post are months apart. :-))

How does someone really get to know Jesus, experience Him as a very real Being?

There is no magic formula, no three step process. But as I said in part one of this post, God wants us to know Him. He has promised throughout the Bible that if we seek Him, we will find Him! And I can promise you both from my life and lives I have seen changed, that when you really find Him, you will never be the same!

It’s like experiencing an alternate reality, think Narnia. Suddenly all the knowledge you had in your head explodes into living color, and you get it! He changes you and you realize that you never wanted anything else.

That’s great, but how do I get there?

Here are some suggestions.

  • Become familiar with the Bible, so you know who you are looking for, so you know His character and what He sounds like, the kinds of things He says. I recommend Max Lucado’s “The Story”. It’s a fantastic overview using actual portions of the NIV and some summary in between.
  • Intentionally take quiet time away from noise and electronics. While I was in college, I used to go sit in this cemetery on a bluff, overlooking a lake. It was beautiful, and quiet, and made me think about how short life is.
  • Tell Jesus you want to know Him, and wait for Him to “show up”. This is actually the best part. Because if you have trusted in Jesus as your Savior, then He already lives inside of you. So it’s not really Him showing up as much as it is you slowing down and becoming aware of His Presence.

What does is look like, sound like, feel like when Jesus becomes real? It’s different for everyone, but chances are you have already experienced Him and just didn’t recognize it. Sometimes it’s like this:

  • A song comes on the radio and it’s exactly what you needed to hear.
  • You are listening to a sermon and you start wondering if the person speaking is psychic or has been reading your journal.
  • As you read the Bible, a verse just jumps out at you in a way you never saw before.
  • Your friend calls/texts/messages you with a truth that you needed to hear right then.
  • Something really hard happens but you have a strange peace about it.

I really could go on and on. This is God, the Creator of the Universe, speaking to you, being intimately involved in your life. The more you become aware of God’s Presence, the more you will recognize Him.

I’m going to share what it feels like for me, but remember that each person is different and we can’t put God into just one box.

When I seek God, I start with just quiet. (Remember, this is more about us becoming aware of God and less about Him coming to us.) I quiet my heart and mind and remember who it is that I am seeking: my Creator, the Awesome All-Powerful One, my Savior, my Friend, etc. I think about His love for me. Then I just talk to Him. When I am aware of Jesus’ Presence, I usually feel peace, contentment, surrounded and almost held. I know I am loved and I am completely satisfied. Usually there are tears in my eyes…not sadness, but possibly because the emotions I feel are too big for my little human body. (They are here right now as I write this.)

The Kingdom of God is backwards and inside out, so it doesn’t always make logical sense. The weak are strong, foolishness is wisdom, you get everything for nothing… It’s crazy! And the key to this secret kingdom? Faith!

Will you take a chance and step out in faith and ask Jesus to make Himself real to you? Let me know what happens!

The Duggars, Bill Gothard, and Me

TLC’s favorite super-sized, conservative, homeschooling family, lately receiving less than positive attention. The founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, who stepped down in 2014 amid allegations of sexual harassment stemming back into the 1970s. And me, a pastor’s wife, mother of two, and blogger just trying to live a “normal” life. What could we possibly have in common? Actually, more than I want to admit.

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This is me hiking (yes, hiking!) in 2001. Look familiar at all? The Duggar girls are actually more stylish than we ever were. 😛

And here I am, also in 2001, wearing my navy and white (a requirement) while working at one of Bill Gothard’s Basic Seminars.

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The Duggars are avid followers of Bill Gothard, although they have tried to distance themselves a little bit since the allegations came out in 2014. They use his homeschool curriculum (if you can call it that), and so did my family.

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you will know that I began to question a lot of Gothard’s teachings as I grew in a relationship with the real Jesus of the real Bible. (Who you will find, if you read it in context without someone twisting everything to meet their own agenda.)

The Duggar’s first appeared on TV in 2004. I was only two years “out” at this point and their original photographs (which you can find here) practically gave me a panic attack. (Okay, honestly, they still do.) I identified with this kind of family. We went to the “crazy church” with them. I had a friend who was still stuck being Cinderella in her large family with parents who wouldn’t let her leave. It was all too familiar, including the “facade of perfection” while dysfunction reigned underneath. I couldn’t talk about the Duggars for years without getting angry and emotional. So, mostly I just ignored their existence as much as possible.

I also didn’t talk much about Bill Gothard and his cultic organization until about two years ago. I would tell people that I was raised in a conservative Christian home. In reality there was tons more to the sub-culture I lived in, but it was incredibly hard to explain without sounding insane. So, I just tried to leave it all behind.

Everything changed for me two years ago when Recovering Grace (a website run by former students of Gothard’s “curriculum”) began to expose not only an incredible number of women who accused Bill Gothard of sexually harassing them, but also began to publish information and testimonies from people back in the 1970s and 80s that showed corruption in his organization and personal life. Suddenly all my doubts and questions and hesitations seemed vindicated. I’d known for years that something was off in his teachings, but Recovering Grace put words to my feelings.

I joined a support group Recovering Grace runs for those recovering from Bill Gothard’s teachings and tried to reach out to confused and damaged people, tried to share the real Jesus and real gospel of grace that I had found. My blog happened soon after; I became passionate about sharing truth as I noticed the ways Gothard’s lies have infiltrated “normal” Christian people and churches.

So, why am blogging about my connection to the Duggars and Bill Gothard right now? Because, believe it or not, Gothard is trying to start a new “ministry”, “seminar”, whatever. It’s the same old garbage, with a new name. You can find a link to his page here. The same vague wording with grandiose promises if you follow his secret steps. He posted on Facebook about it yesterday. (Or one of his minions did; I doubt Gothard himself is on Facebook.) And a bunch of us from my support group began to ask questions and post comments. They were quickly deleted by the “moderator” of the page. Anything that was questioning or negative was deleted and only the positive, encouraging comments were left up. Here is a screen shot of my comment, which had over 10 likes in a matter of five minutes before it was taken down.

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There is something screwy when a “Christian” organization can’t deal with criticism that their teachings don’t line up with the gospel!

So, why am I writing this post? For the same reason I write this blog. I am passionate about the truth! The truth that I believe is found solely in Jesus Christ. I’m writing in the hopes that someone who is looking for truth will find this post. I’m hoping they will read some other posts I’ve written and start to question themselves. I’m hoping to point people to Recovering Grace because they have a ton of resources showing the problems with Gothard and his teachings. But most of all, I’m writing because I am obsessed with Jesus and His grace, love, and forgiveness that He freely gives to all who believe. John 3:16-18

Choosing What is Right

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As a Christian, why do you chose to do what is right?

Is it because you are afraid of making God angry or disappointed? Do you have a long list of what you need to be doing in order to keep God happy with you? Is it so that you will look good to other people? So that you will have a “good testimony” and they will think you are “godly”?

Or maybe you don’t follow “rules” and just do whatever, with whoever, whenever you want. After all, isn’t that what grace is all about?

These are often the two camps of Christianity. And one group is always yelling about the other group and their faults. The rule-followers call the no-rules “worldly” and “licentious” (which is a big word that just means they don’t follow the rules). The no-rules call the rule-followers “close minded” and “legalistic”.

I’m here to say 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 live for myself.

All the recent articles posted on Facebook about Josh Duggar have reminded me once again that rules and standards cannot overcome our sin nature. Only Jesus can, only the power of His death and resurrection.

If your version of Christianity is about anything or anyone other than Jesus, then it’s wrong. If you think you are making God happy with your rule following, then you are wrong. 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 wrong. When our “Christianity” stops being about Jesus, His amazing grace, and our ability to know God through Jesus, it ceases to be true Christianity.

Someone was Missing

empty-cross-01Growing up, I didn’t hear much about Jesus, except for the commands he gave (many of which were taken out of context). The teachings I heard in ATI/IBLP, and from other legalistic speakers, seem to mostly focus on God as He is revealed in the Old Testament. They point out His holiness, His perfection, His hatred and judgment of sin. They remind us of the stories where He killed sinners with plagues, hailstorms, snakes, and earthquakes. They focus on the law that God gave the Israelites, and the thunder, smoke, darkness, and trembling mountain that came with it. God seems unapproachable, harsh, and frightening. God becomes this Deity to be served and obeyed out of fear. The requirements of the law are shoved down our throat as God’s demands.

What they seemed to miss is that God also showed His love, mercy, and salvation at the same time: for instance, when He saved Noah and his family from the flood, rescued Lot from the town of Sodom, and protected the Israelites by making a way through the Red Sea. The Old Testament is full of stories like these, full of verses that show God’s love, and that talk about His patience and forgiveness. These are just a few examples!

The Bible claims to be the very word of God. It reveals the person, nature, and character of God to us. It tells the story of humankind and our relationship with the One who created us. God doesn’t change. He really is huge and powerful. He really is perfect and holy. He really does hate sin. He really does punish sinners. And, He really does love the people He created. The whole Old Testament is the story of God pursuing the people He created. The people ignore Him, forget Him, reject Him, disobey Him, and He just doesn’t give up! From the very beginning, when Adam and Eve chose to disobey their Creator, God promised redemption; He promised a Savior. He continues to remind people of this promise all the way through the history books, the poetry books, and the prophecy books of the Old Testament.

Without an understanding of the huge, scary, holy, just God we see in the Old Testament, we cannot fully appreciate what happens in the New Testament. Because, God turns the full force of His hatred of sin, His judgment and punishment of sin, on His own Son, Jesus Christ. That’s how much He loves us!

Jesus Christ, fully human and yet fully God, comes and spends 33 years on earth. He loves, He Heals, He teaches; He rejects the legalistic “righteous” Pharisees and hangs out with the people who know they are sinners. But, people hate him, humanity hates their creator, and so they kill him. In His death, Jesus Christ, the only person who doesn’t deserve to die, takes the total and absolute punishment of the sins of the world upon himself. He is tortured and dies one of the most agonizing deaths ever invented.

God dies.

God, the same terrifying, earth shaking, law giving, God of the Old Testament murdered His Son…for you and for me. Because He wanted us. And this was the only way. He never gave up on us. He did everything that needed to be done. That’s how much He loves us!

When Jesus died, one of the things that happened was that the veil in the temple, the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies (where the very Presence of God dwelt) was torn in two from top to bottom. This was a serious curtain! They believe that it was 60 feet tall, 30 feet wide, and 4 inches thick! It showed the separation between God and humankind, separation because of His holiness and our sin. But when Jesus died, God tore the veil! There is nothing, absolutely nothing standing in-between us and God anymore, nothing stopping us from having a relationship with Him, from experiencing His love and acceptance. Jesus did it all, and all we have to do is accept His gift.

This is the story of the real God; we can find it in the real Bible. This is the real good news, the real gospel, that Jesus Christ came to save sinners so that they can know Him and enjoy Him forever. Maybe like me, you were lied to and truth was twisted and taken out of context. Maybe Someone was missing from the “Christianity” you experienced. Here’s my suggestion: throw all the garbage away, but don’t throw away Jesus, instead look for the real one!

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because He has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:16, 18

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation, the old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“‘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