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.”

 

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.”

A God to Fear

Why are we so quick to stuff God into our little “god boxes”? Explain Him, minimize Him, dismiss Him… Too often we act like we have God all figured out. What if we are wrong? What if we are terrifyingly wrong?

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I’m sitting here feeling inadequate to even write this. But, I am SO passionate about Christians, believers in Jesus, really meeting God, really experiencing who He is, that I have to say something.

In youth group last Wednesday we watched a short video with Francis Chan. The topic was fearing God. I used to hate that phrase… Growing up in my Christian cult, we had a fear of God, but it wasn’t a healthy one. I felt afraid of god because if I didn’t perform correctly or follow the right steps, then god would punish me. The god I learned about seemed distant, angry, and scary.

In the video, Francis Chan was more concerned with the way the church has downplayed the idea of fear into mere reverence, respect, or awe. And it’s true. The church doesn’t talk much about a God who is frighteningly MORE than we can ever imagine.

I could be wrong, but it seems like Christianity often gets stuck in one of two extremes. Either zealous Christians get obsessed with Old Testament theology or progressive Christians want to dismiss the Old Testament as irrelevant and just talk about loving Jesus.

Truth out of balance or out of context is no longer truth. We can’t just pick and choose which part of the Bible we want to believe. We will never get a clear picture of who this God is who created and saved us if we don’t take the entire Bible into account, even the parts that make us uncomfortable.

We must believe in and accept the holy, all-powerful, and often frightening God revealed to us in the Old Testament if we are going to fully appreciate the wonder of Jesus, the God-man, in the New Testament.

Too often we treat God like we would the CEO of a company or the president of a country. They have a more powerful position than we do, and so we give them a little more respect. God has a little respect in our minds, but we aren’t scared of Him.

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The real God is not like us, you guys. We were just made a little bit like Him. Listen to this:

“With whom, then, will you compare God?
To what image will you liken him?…Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

“To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:18, 21-26

The Bible gives us plenty of examples of people having visions of God and just falling on their faces in fear. What makes us think that we are any different?

Maybe I’m crazy, but I like this kind of God. I long for this kind of God. I want Him to be bigger and holier and more powerful and just MORE than I can ever imagine. I want to be terrified. I want to fall on my face before Him. I want to know that I am nothing and He is everything. I want this healthy fear to help control the way I live, and the way I read His word and pursue Him, and the way I share His message of hope with others. Not in a bad controlling way like I used to live in, but in a positive way.

If God is really real, like REAL, and really as great and awesome and…yeah, my words are failing me…then that changes everything. That changes how I live. Not because I’m afraid of what He’ll do to me, but because of WHO He is!

Because… This very real God isn’t just huge and scary; He is also SO good, and SO loving, and SO gracious, more than we can ever imagine. And He wants me. He wants you. He wants a relationship with us. As often as the Bible talks about fearing God, it also says “don’t be afraid”. It’s like we get to this point where we realize just who He is, and we are rightfully terrified, but then He just smiles and opens His arms. He is that big and scary (not in a mean way just in a powerful one), but we don’t have to be afraid, because God is for us. He is on our side.

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It is okay to believe in a God you don’t understand and can’t explain. We aren’t supposed to be able to… After all, we were made in God’s image; He wasn’t made in ours. Let that sink in.

So, what do we do? We let God out of our “god box”; He never fit in there anyway. We read the whole Bible and stop thinking we are smart enough to decide which parts are true or not. We realize that we are the creation and He is the Creator. We ask God to show us who He really is…so that we will fear Him. And we bask in the wonder that we can call this Amazing Being our Daddy and our Friend!!

At least that’s where we start… What do you think? Do you fear God? How does that phrase make you feel? What would a healthy fear of God look like in your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Is God Your Heavenly Vending Machine? (Pt 1)

 

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We say we believe God is all-powerful and that He has the ability to intervene on our behalf. But what about when He doesn’t? I had a mini “crisis of faith” this week that has made me reevaluate what I believe about God, His promises, and how to get what I want.

It started before I got sick. A couple we knew in Bible College lost their healthy, newborn son to unforeseen complications, after two miscarriages, while on the mission field. Then a wonderful, sweet, loving woman, who was also a pastor’s wife, suddenly died. Really, God? So I was already questioning, already doubting, and then I got sick.

I hadn’t been this sick in over 20 years, not since I was a kid! It dragged on and on!! I was supposed to have a lovely day to work on my book proposal while my mother-in-law watched the kiddos. She still watched my children, but I laid on the couch while they were gone and tried not to die. I was supposed to go with my husband (a youth pastor) and the teens to an exciting conference this weekend while my parents kept the kids. They went without me. My parents still kept the kids, and I laid on the couch. I couldn’t even keep my thoughts straight, let alone write a coherent sentence. I’d prayed for healing, lots of people were praying, and I was still sick. Sick and filled with doubts.

We have all been there. Something falls apart, or a prayer doesn’t get answered, or a tragedy happens, and we start wondering: Is God really real? Is He really in control? Is He really good? Am I believing a lie?

My feverish brain had four days to wrestle with these questions in-between naps and excessive amounts of Netflix.

vendingmachine_lead1We see a “good” outcome we want, and we know that God could do it. There are plenty of examples of miracles in the Bible, and we hear modern-day stories. We know our desires are possible too. How do we get God to agree? Cooperate? How do we “twist His arm”? Which combination of buttons do we push on His vending machine?

You don’t talk like that? Me either, at least not out loud, but that’s how we act!

We don’t understand God, we can’t! He is way too big. So, we tend to create a version of God that we can understand, a god made in our own image. We can manipulate people, why not God? I see this happening in at least three ways.

  1. We Create Formulas.

I was raised under the shadow of the king of formulas. If you can get your hands on any of Bill Gothard’s materials, you will see 3 steps to this and 5 steps to that, always promising blessing and success. A perfect example is the book Gothard wrote called “The Power of Crying Out”. He basically shows verses (mostly out of context of course) where people “called out” or “cried out”. Then he turns around and promises that if we pray loudly God hears us and will respond better than if we pray quietly. What?

It’s not just my old cult leader who does this! I’ve read formulaic thinking on blogs, and in books, and heard it from the mouths of Christians across the range of Evangelicalism.

I have seen people take Bible stories and turn them into formulas. So-and-so did x, y, and got z, therefore, if we also do x, and y, we will get our z. Sorry, it would be nice, but I don’t think it works this way! God is not a vending machine! We cannot enter A5 and B10 and get a Snickers bar and bag of Doritos every time.

  1. We Claim “Promises”

Ever heard this verse used as a promise for physical healing? It’s pretty popular. “By His stripes we are healed.” It amazes me how many people use this verse and are clueless about the context. First of all, it’s not even a whole verse; it’s a phrase at the end of one. Read the whole thing and see if you can figure out the context and whether or not it’s appropriate to say it promises physical healing.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)

It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to see that this verse is a prophecy about the coming Savior and how we would be rescued by his death. Jesus’ wounds healed us, but it wasn’t a physical healing, it was a supernatural, spiritual one!

How about this? “We walk by faith and not by sight.” People use this verse to claim physical healing. You know what I’m going to say: Context! The verse comes from 2 Corinthians 5, ironically a chapter about heaven and one day being with Christ. It is not talking about getting physically healed either! Here is verse 7, sandwiched between verses 6 and 8 for context sake.

“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NIV)

Claiming “promises” like these (even if they WERE in context) and others, is still at their root a formulaic approach. We are still trying to find a way to guarantee a specific outcome, to push the right buttons.

  1. We Take the Blame (or put it on others):

“I guess I didn’t have enough faith.”

“We didn’t have enough faith.”

“Their faith was lacking.”

These are all real responses that I have heard from people when their prayers weren’t answered the way they hoped. Right. Because there is a specific amount of faith that will twist God’s arm and make Him give us what we want. I don’t think so. It’s formulaic thinking again!

Where do we get this idea that our lack of faith is to blame? From the Bible. There are tons of verses talking about having faith, and asking for things in faith. Here are just two of them.

“He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:6

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” James 1:6-7

If these were the only verses I read, then I could easily believe that I am at fault because of my lack of faith. However, when I take a closer look, I realize that James is talking about asking God for wisdom (vs 5). The specific promise is that if we ask for wisdom, God will give it to us. And while it is important to have faith as we pray, what is the object of our faith? Our ability to move a mulberry tree (or a mountain), or the God that made it? There are no verses that (used in context) guarantee any and every outcome based on our faith.

So, what does God actually promise us?

Stay tuned! Part 2 is coming tomorrow…

How My Parents Joined a Cult

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Every time I tell my story, people ask the same questions. “What about your parents? How did they get involved? What do they think about Bill Gothard and IBLP now? How do they feel about you writing publically about all of this?” Well, here are some answers! I have talked with each of my parents separately and together to get these answers, and they have approved this blog post.

An Introduction to Bill Gothard:

64804_458336314496_4891626_nMy parents were first-generation Christians. They began their relationship with Jesus in college and got involved in a wonderful Christian campus ministry. The campus minister was instrumental in their spiritual growth. Unfortunately, He was also a supporter of Bill Gothard and took students to Gothard’s Basic Seminar every year. The community of Christians at college was alive and vibrant. Students were serious about growing in Christ and my parents absolutely loved it!

After they graduated and left the campus ministry, my parents struggled to find a church with the same passion for Jesus. In every church they went to, the people seemed fake, like church was just something they did on Sunday, but their relationship with God didn’t really matter.

Homeschooling with Bill Gothard:

Some of their closest friends from college, a couple who was a few years ahead of them in marriage and children, decided to homeschool. This was back in the 80s when No One was homeschooling! It appealed to my parents and they decided to homeschool as well. Their friends started to use Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute (ATI). Gothard promised that ATI was an exceptional homeschooling program that would automatically make your family and children succeed. You also had to be approved to join the program, have your life in order, commit to various standards, pay a yearly fee, and promise not to share, or even show, any of the curriculum to anyone who was not “ATI”.

If you ask my parents now, they will tell you that they wish they’d paid more attention to the red flags. But, their trusted friends believed Gothard, so they thought it must be okay. Plus, my parents were pretty new Christians and they didn’t have the Biblical background to see through the lies and out-of-context Scripture. They thought they could weed out the bad and keep the good.

We joined ATI when I was twelve. Before ATI we were just an average homeschooling family. My mother liked to garden, and sew, and make bread. My siblings and I devoured books, played outside, did chores, and went to homeschool group outings. We went to a regular church in town and looked relatively normal (for the 1980s and early 90s). After joining ATI, things began to quickly change.

Joining the Cultic-Church:

IMG_3984Our Family, Christmas 1998

When I was fourteen, we left our regular church and started driving an hour and a half twice a week to a new church. It was made up of conservative, homeschooling, Gothard following, mostly large families. At the heyday, we had families coming from as far as two hours away, even some from Canada. The church promoted a safe environment for teens, protection from the world, like-minded fellowship, and deep spiritual teachings. Sundays were an entire day of church with a lunch and fellowship time in-between two two-plus hour services. There was no Sunday School, Children’s Church, or nursery. There was lots of singing, testimonies, prayer, and long sermons. My parents saw people who were actually “living out” their Christianity for the first time since college and were excited. Once again, they thought they could weed out the bad and just enjoy the good.

Unfortunately, even more than the ATI program, this cultic church was damaging for my brother and me. Adults have an easier time picking and choosing what they believe. As teens, we bought it all, hook, line, and sinker. It didn’t help that we went to special teen events where we were “indoctrinated” even further. There were red flags at this church as well, especially as my dad got involved in leadership. It took us seven years to leave.

More About My Family:

My family was never “Gothardites” like some people I knew. They always saw Bill Gothard as just a man and didn’t agree with everything he said, especially my dad. My parents both had genuine relationships with Jesus before Gothard and ATI, and continued those relationships while we were in the program (cult). We were a “fringe” family. We didn’t make the yearly pilgrimage to Knoxville, TN (a huge mega conference just for ATI families); I think we went twice. My parents didn’t send us to training centers (where most of the abuse happened) or let us go overseas with groups of ATI students. My dad was a public school teacher for crying out loud, so he was almost considered a traitor. In fact, I credit my father and his skepticism with protecting me from getting further involved than I did.

My parents are wonderful people! They were just deceived by a manipulative con artist with amazing promises of success. Unfortunately, Gothard’s program and teachings seemed to appeal to mentally unstable, abusive type people, and many former ATI students experienced horrible abuse in the name of Gothard. This was not my family! We were just a nice, homeschooling family who lived a sheltered, old-fashioned life.

What My Parents Think Now:

Regret. This is the word I hear most often when we talk about Gothard, ATI, and the “crazy church”. My parents regret their choices. They regret not noticing or listening to the red flags they saw along the way. They are sorry for the damage that was done to their children. They regret not listening to cautions from others and from their own hearts.

How They “Got Out”:

Since we were always a fringe family, getting away from Gothard’s teachings just kind of slowly happened for my parents over the past ten or twelve years. Then when everything started coming out two years ago, first girls and women accusing Gothard of sexual harassment and abuse, and then learning about all the misconduct in the 1970s, it just solidified everything for them. They realized that all the cautions and hesitations they had had in the past were validated.

How They Feel About My Blog:

My blog and the book I am writing reminds my parents of the choices they made and makes them feel regret, and that is hard. However, they assure me that they are supportive of what I am doing. They are glad that I can use this venue to work out the damage I experienced and help others in the process.

I have had to remind my parents multiple times, especially my mom, that I am not mad at them. I am not upset. I don’t blame them for the choices they made. I have come to the place where I embrace my life. There were a lot of wonderful moments, friendships, and memories within the craziness of it all. Besides, without my past, I wouldn’t have a story to tell, or a blog to write, and I wouldn’t have the passion behind my search for truth instead of tradition.

An Honest Confession – I’m Afraid of Failure!

This is just an honest update about me and this book that I am supposedly writing. I’m going to give some background, be honest, tell you what happened yesterday, and ask you for prayer!

I never set out to write a book, or even have a blog for that matter. It all started about two and a half years ago with the website called Recovering Grace. Yes, I had spent ten plus years in a cult (I didn’t call it that back then), but I had tried to put it all behind me. It wasn’t something I talked about. Even my husband didn’t know most of the stories or the ways the teachings had affected me. Then Recovering Grace happened.

IMG_3567Recovering Grace is a website run by former ATI (Advanced Training Institute) students. ATI is the homeschool program created by Bill Gothard, creator of the Institute in Basic Life Principles. The Duggars use this curriculum (which if you dig deep explains a lot of their behaviors and beliefs),and so did my family. If you Google Bill Gothard right now, you will find that he, and IBLP, are being sued for sexual misconduct by 18 plaintiffs (which is the very tip of the ice berg since one of the plaintiffs was his driver for a few years and says he witnessed over 150 young ladies being harassed). You get the picture.

Two and a half years ago, Recovering Grace started publishing stories about women who were sexually harassed. Once they published these, the wheel started turning; people came forward from the 1970s and gave them hard copy information alleging financial and sexual misconduct, manipulation, intimidation, slander, etc. I started remembering, dissecting, processing.  After joiningg a Facebook community of former ATI students, I encountered many people who wanted nothing to do with Jesus or God because of the “Christianity” they experienced. It completely broke my heart! I realized that I was one of a few former ATI students who still considered themselves a Christian, who still had a relationship with Jesus.

I spent time in soul searching and introspection. As I thought about the lies we were taught about God and Jesus, I started to realize that the same lies are subtly present in much of Modern Western Christianity. Jesus found me in the middle of the legalism and lies, and showed me how to know Him. That is my desperate desire for the world…to actually KNOW God because of His Son, Jesus.

That was the beginning of this whole crazy journey. God wants me to write a book. He has made that abundantly clear over the past few years. But I don’t want to, and I have been dragging my feet. Mostly because I am afraid.

Look at what God has done!

  • As all of this went down, God confirmed that I was supposed to write, even having another woman say out of the blue, “Maybe you need to write a book”.
  • I started my blog, despite having reservations.
  • The speaker for  our spring Ladies Day at church not only confirmed my calling, but gave me the next step, the Speak Up Conference which just happened to be in Grand Rapids.
  • I won a full scholarship to the 2014 conference!
  • At the conference I shared my One Page (kind of like an introduction to your book idea) with a publisher and an agent and they were both interested. This does not happen!
  • After the conference, I freaked out and although I continued to occasionally blog, I ignored the whole book idea.
  • God did not let me get away. I continued to run into people who reminded me that He wanted me to write a book. I had plenty of excuses.
  • Over a year later, I revised my One Page and sent it to another agent (referred to me by a writer friend). She loved it and wanted to work with me. This does not happen either!
  • The Speak Up Conference this summer “just happens” to be on the only weekend that would work (since I’m working as the health officer at camp again) and they are willing to give me a significant discount.
  • I found an awesome cabin that I can get for cheap, on a lake, to go and focus on writing since I’m supposed to get my full Book Proposal done before the conference this summer.
  • BUT, I’m freaking out!! And freezing and wanting to run away…

All of this brings me to yesterday. We had a guest speaker at church. The minute he opened his mouth I realized that God was speaking to me, including a pounding heart and tingles going down my spine.

“If you’re on mission, just do what you’re supposed to do.”

Then he asked four questions, questions that originally came from Jesus.

  1. What are you afraid of? Failure, rejection, change, success, basically everything!
  2. What do you want God to do? This question scares the crap out of me. If I actually allow myself to dream, I’d say, I want God to use this book to push people to evaluate their Christianity, to make them question their beliefs, to see lies, and to start seeking for the real God, the God who is only more than we can ever imagine. I want people to realize that if they are feeling discontent and disillusioned with their version of Christianity, maybe they too have found an impostor and not the real Jesus. I want God to use my book to bring people to a real relationship with Him!
  3. What are your excuses? (Do you want to get well?) I have plenty! Trust me! Including not having time, being the mother of small children, not being wise enough or good enough or etc.
  4. Who do you say God is? If God is really who I say I believe He is, then I just need to shut up and get to work. It’s one thing to believe in my head and another to believe with my heart.

Ok, this brings me to the end of a very long blog post (389 words over my normal limit). Friends, I need you to pray for me! Pray that my faith will be stronger than my fear. Pray that I will stop making excuses. Pray that I will be obedient! I’m going to be starting a prayer team. If you are interested in joining me, please let me know on Facebook or by contacting me here. I’m closing with a final thought from the speaker-sent-from-God. 🙂

“God doesn’t measure success; He measures obedience.” Thank goodness!!!!!

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What if God is more like TobyMac?

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You know that God you doubt/hate/are mad at/are scared of/etc? What if he doesn’t really exist?

Last week I was talking with an older, wiser friend, and one of the things she said stuck with me. It went something like this, “Too often we make God into our image instead of remembering that we were made in His.” I can’t stop thinking about it! I don’t expect non-Christians to have an accurate view of God, but those of us who call ourselves Christians should have it right…Right?

One Christmas, soon after I married my husband, my father-in-law was trying to figure out how to make a poster on Microsoft Publisher. I ended up helping him. We inserted an elephant and a bunch of ants from Clip-Art. Then he explained to me that God was the elephant and we were the ants getting stepped on. Ouch! But, if we are honest, I think many people share this view of God: a distant God, an uncaring God, a God who punishes us…

I used to think that God was angry a lot of the time. I used to think He liked me better when I was being “good” and following the rules. I used to think He was disappointed in me when I messed up.

My version of God was cut and dry, black and white, understandable. He fit in my box.

I also used to think that rock music was evil, and that anything with a beat was from the devil. Instrumental hymns or classical music with no drums were the only types of music that “godly” people should listen to. Yeah… Confession: Today I was totally rocking out to TobyMac’s “Feel It” in my living room. Freedom is amazing!!

Love came crashin’ in, Never gonna be the same again, Yeah, You came crashing in, You wrecked me, You wrecked me!

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Okay, here’s the deal. What if we are totally off on our view of God? What if we have made Him into our image? What if in our modern Western love of knowledge and intellectualism, we have put the Creator of the Universe into a box that we can understand. What if we think He’s like an instrumental hymn played on the piano (Nothing against hymns! This is for comparison purposes.), but He is really TobyMac? What if the god we have created for ourselves in our own image doesn’t exist? This is good news for people who were burned by Christians or the church and thought that was God!

I believe that God is bigger, and crazier, and more terrifying, and more wonderful, and stronger, and more full of love and grace and passion and emotion and depth, and more radical, and scarier, and wiser, and more incredible and mind blowing, and just MORE than we can ever imagine or comprehend. Even when we are trying to think outside the box, He is going to be MORE!

In our attempts at intellectualism, we pin God down and try to make Him human-like and something we can understand and dissect. We turn Him into big words and concepts. Or we stop trying to understand and just ignore Him, choosing to focus on what we can see and taste and touch. But God says that His foolishness is wiser than our wisdom, and His weakness is stronger than our strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

I don’t know about you, but I’m throwing away my calm, understandable, “instrumental” version of god, and reaching out for the radical, wild, incomprehensible, crazy “TobyMac” version that I believe exists! I want the real God to blow apart the box I have built to try and contain Him. Something deep inside of me longs for More, for Someone I was made to know. I was created in His image. You were created in His image! And guess what? He has promised over and over that if we seek for Him, we will find Him.

I’m not throwing away the Bible, because I believe that God wrote it and it’s one of the best ways to discover what He is like. But I am looking for a fresh understanding. I’m going to question and search and stop believing just because someone told me. If a thought or theology or mindset makes God seem smaller or more predictable or more containable, I’m going to doubt it. This isn’t supposed to be a religion! I’m supposed to be the daughter of the King of Kings. I wanna get to know my Dad, my Creator, my Savior, my Friend! For myself!

What about you? Is your god in a box? Do you long for more? Will you join me in looking for the real God?

What the Lawsuit Against Bill Gothard and IBLP Means to Me

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Yesterday a lawsuit was refiled against IBLP (The Institute in Basic Life Principles) and now includes Bill Gothard. It was originally filed on behalf of 5 women who claimed sexual abuse. The new lawsuit includes 10 women and the charges are more severe. You can read the whole story here at the Washington Post, or google Bill Gothard and read it on a number of other news sites.

There will be Christians who use this story to cry “persecution” and there will be people who are mad at how Christians are taking other “Christians” to court. People will stand up for Bill Gothard and claim that this is all slander invented for the purpose of destroying a “man of God”.

I am someone who has a bit of an inside perspective since I was homeschooled for seven years in Gothard’s ATI program and was involved in his “ministry” until I was 22. I attended his seminars, went to a church heavily influenced by his teachings, and spent a year taking online classes from his “college” including two classes where we took apart his Basic and Advanced Seminars and found Scripture to back up his points. (Which I couldn’t do and which ended up being the beginning of my doubts about everything.) I even, regrettably, helped to teach children’s programs while their parents attended Bill’s Seminars.

I now believe that not only are Bill Gothard’s teachings twisted and dangerous, not only were they created with ulterior motives, but they have also influenced, either directly or indirectly, a huge percentage of evangelical churches and Christians. Gothard’s teachings have destroyed families, encouraged abuse, supported legalism, and created a false view of God (among other things). I would go so far as to say that Gothard made up an impostor Jesus based on his own personal goals and ideas.

With all that said, how do I feel about the lawsuit? I am NOT gleeful that all of this is being paraded in front of the world; I DON”T feel satisfied revenge for all the damage done to me and people I love. BUT…

I am very excited that both Bill and his organization are being shown for what they truly are. I hope the organization known as IBLP goes down in smoke and rubble and is completely discredited. And I hope that Bill Gothard is shown to be who he truly is and not who he has pretended to be. I long for people who are still trapped in this system of beliefs to be set free. I hope that people who have been influenced by Gothard and his teachings will have their eyes opened to the lies, twisted Scriptures, and false beliefs about God.

I want, more than anything, for people to find the real God, and the real Jesus who is not full of “49 Commands” (a Gothard teaching), but grace and love and mercy. I want them to discover the God who created us for a relationship with Himself and did whatever it took to make that relationship possible, including murdering His own Son… The God who doesn’t love us more when we follow the rules, but who knows the depths of our sin and selfishness and loves us anyway… A God who does not operate in formulas and steps, or give secret, hidden messages (like Bill claimed multiple times), but who is so amazing we can never understand Him, and so simple that a child can believe.

There you go, my thoughts on the lawsuit. What do you think?

 

Here are some more links if you want more information:

For truth about all things IBLP/ATI/Gothard check out Recovering Grace. They have some great Facebook support/recovery groups for ATI Students, ATI Parents, and a new one that was just started for anyone influenced by IBLP.

If you want to read the whole lawsuit, you can find it at Homeschoolers Anonymous. Just a warning though, it is graphic.

 

 

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.

Finding Grace and Getting a Cartilage Piercing

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[This is the third installment in my story of finding grace. Part 3 of 3]

I was early, a couple of hours early, despite the fact that I had gotten lost on the way. The dirt road slowly crunched under the tires of my red ’91 Ford Probe. Turning the corner, I took my first look at the place I would call home for the summer…an open grassy field, a cluster of beige cabins made of cement block, an old farm house, and some tall trees. It wasn’t much to look at, but this humble little summer camp would end up changing my life.

It was the summer of 2002 and I was 21 years old. Disillusioned with legalism and starting to realize I may have been brainwashed, I still showed up at PRBC in my ankle length skirts, waist length hair, and a long list of standards and beliefs. I came to camp thinking I was going to be sharing Jesus with children. I had no idea that I would find grace, freedom, and normal people who loved God in ways I’d never seen.

Since I was two hours early, I helped the full time staff set up the staff lounge for our training week. Oh staff training! I still get nostalgic just remembering the old, white, plastic tables set up in a U shape in the musty, slightly drafty staff lounge. We sat there for hours each day learning everything we needed to know, the brave tipping back in their chairs, with our Nalgene bottles on the tables, twirling chewed pens in our fingers, flies buzzing in the window screens. They were some of the best days of my life!

Here I was, thrown together with all these “normal” young adults, sticking out like a sore thumb, and they just accepted me. They might have asked some questions, but they never rejected me or made me feel like I was different or not “part of the group”. Acceptance was not something we (the people in my “cult”) were good at. We could judge and condemn and alienate with the best of them, but graceful acceptance was a foreign concept. It felt incredible!

Summer camp challenged me, stretched me, and strengthened me. I had a lot of firsts. Listened to Contemporary Christian music (rock beats were bad), watched a PG-13 movie (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), made friends with boys, and decided to go to college.

I had been given a false definition of grace during my teen years. We were taught that grace was: the desire and power to do God’s will. My summer at camp taught me that grace was something God gave me because He wanted to, even though I didn’t deserve it.

As I realized that God wasn’t waiting for me to perform before He blessed me, I let go of silly rules and found freedom. I clapped and swayed to contemporary praise music and discovered a worship that I didn’t know existed. Believing in people’s acceptance of me, I let my crazy side come out and participated in skits and planned pranks. Boys became my friends as we hung out, talked, and even flirted. I bought a couple of pairs of capris (gasp!). And I experienced freedom!

Before camp ended, another girl and I went to the mall and got our cartilages pierced. Upper ear piercings were looked down on in my old circle. I wanted mine pierced to remind myself of what I had learned, so I would remember not to judge others and that I was free. (Ironically, I was literally chased through Cedar Point after camp by a “friend” who felt the need to confront me about the worldliness of my decision.)

After I left camp, I went to college, something my dad had always wanted me to do. And the next summer I went back to camp, and the next, and the next, and the next…

Now, 13 years later, guess what I’m doing this summer?

I’m going to camp! With my kiddos in tow, I’m heading to camp for the summer to be the health officer. And maybe God will use me to show someone else grace, acceptance, and freedom. Maybe I’ll get my cartilage re-pierced…you never know. 🙂